Wednesday, November 24, 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?
In remembrance of Bill Sim
Mr. Cable: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Bill Sim. Bill passed away on October 1 of this year after a long battle with cancer.
Bill was born in 1941 in Winnipeg and attended many schools between Moose Jaw and Toronto. In 1960, Bill joined the Canadian Army as a member of the military police.
He served in many Canadian locations as well as three years with NATO forces in West Germany and six months with the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Cyprus. He left the forces to attend Mount Royal College in Calgary where he received an honours diploma in correctional social work in 1974. Shortly after, he arrived in Yukon to join the community and corrections services in the Department of Justice. He spent 21 years with the Department of Justice.
Bill married a Prince Edward Island woman, Sheryl Roddick, in 1979. They have two sons, Andrew and Graham. As the boys grew up, Bill spent more and more time on minor league hockey and soccer as a coach, a referee and a fundraiser. Bill was instrumental in getting the Yukon Claim Jumpers Junior B hockey team into the Western States Hockey League.
On September 25 of this year, Bill went to the hockey arena for the last time to watch his team defeat the North Division champions. Bill was inducted into the Yukon Sport Hall of Fame shortly after he passed away.
Bill was an all-round athlete, a tough but fair competitor. I made the mistake, Mr. Speaker, of once challenging Bill to a game of squash, and I was taught a lesson I won't forget by a superb athlete.
With Bill it was a case of what you see is what you get. There were no hidden trappings in his character. Whether sitting around a campfire with Bill or canoeing in the rain or just sitting around shooting the breeze, it was a pleasure to share Bill's company, and count him as a friend. Bill will be missed.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus, I also rise to pay tribute to long-time Yukoner Bill Sim, who passed away recently. While I never had the pleasure of knowing Bill on a really personal basis, I do recall playing hockey with him more years ago than I care to remember.
As a father and a husband, a coach and a referee, Bill was a willing volunteer for all sorts of things within the community and touched and influenced many lives over the course of his lifetime. Coaching representative and house leagues, Bill's most notable achievement was his work in securing a position for the Whitehorse team in the Western States Hockey League.
Bringing common sense and energy to the table, Bill helped organize the Yukon Claim Jumpers Junior B hockey team, which began playing in the Western States Hockey League in September of 1998.
Bill was also involved in the soccer community and was always volunteering to do sports-related things in the community. He was an incredible supporter of minor sports in the community and very seldom took credit for the untold hours of helping others realize their goals. To commemorate his contributions, as the previous speaker said, he was inducted into the Yukon Sport Hall of Fame.
Bill will be sadly missed by his family and, indeed, will be fondly remembered by all of us as a fellow Yukoner, a long-time employee of the Government of Yukon, and a very special man. It is very appropriate that we pay tribute to him here today.
Mr. Hardy: I rise also, on behalf of the NDP, to pay tribute to Bill Sim. Already, a lot has been said about Bill here, and sometimes the best way to pay a tribute is to tell a story. It has already been touched on about Bill's dedication to the sporting community and to his family. It came through at the arenas, the soccer fields and indoor soccer, as well.
But I'll tell you a story about how dedicated this man was to the youth of the Yukon. Last year, I needed another coach for the Canada Winter Games, and Bill was a third-level coach, which is pretty well the highest level of coaches we have in the Yukon - in hockey it is, anyway - and that's the requirement of the Canada Winter Games. I called Bill, even though I knew he was ill. I called him and asked him if he was interested in helping me with this team of youth to go down to Cornerbrook, Newfoundland. Bill took about 10 seconds and said, "Yes, I'd love to do it."
Now, I thought I knew how ill he was, and the story he'd tell me was that he was doing well, although he was taking treatment. Over the next three months, I worked with Bill, and it became very obvious that the illness was taking quite a toll on him, and he was not going to be able to do this trip, but he wanted to do it. He wanted to do it for the youth. And also, his other commitment was to the Claim Jumpers, and he was part of a group of people that worked very hard to make it happen in the Yukon, and I know that there are many people in the Yukon who are very happy to see a junior team here. And there is actually a junior player in the stands today.
I believe he's also a coach. There might be a few people up here who were coached by Bill.
But it became very obvious his illness was taking its toll. Finally I went over to his house one day, and we sat down and we talked, and I was very moved by the compassion he had and the desire he had to continue to work with the youth, even though he knew he was dying. And nothing to me can be said more than the fact that this man was willing to dedicate the last part of his life, still, for the youth in the Yukon.
The other side of it, as well, is that he was a family man, and he loved his family, and I heard that many times, in talking to him. He was so proud of his children, Graham and Andrew, and he was never shy about telling you what their goals and accomplishments were. In some ways, like many parents, he lived through his children, and his memory will live through his children.
Many of us have played with him, as the member opposite has said, have coached with him, have coached against him, or just met him. He had a big smile - a huge smile - and a booming voice that went along with it. You could hear it from one end of the arena to the other. When he was excited in a game, everybody knew it.
He was at that game that was mentioned, where they defeated the state champions in the Western Hockey League, and that was the first time the Yukon team did defeat that team. My son, who was playing that night, told me afterwards that he was conscious of Bill at the corner of the rink - and I went down and talked to Bill there; he was in his wheelchair. Bill had coached him for quite a few years, and he knew he was playing this game for him, as was the whole team. And I believe that, even at that last moment, Bill inspired those kids to play better than they'd ever played in their lives.
So, the NDP caucus extends their condolences to Sheryl and Andrew and Graham, and we know Bill's memory will live on through many of the youth he taught.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to welcome Mr. Wes Sullivan's grade 11 socials classes to the Legislature today. Mr. Sullivan's classes are finishing up their government unit and their exam has been delayed by a day so that they could come and visit us, and I know all members will join me in welcoming them to the Legislature and wishing them well in their studies.
Ms. Buckway: I'm pleased to introduce some visitors from the Sonrise Christian Academy in my riding. Catherine Gartshore is a grade 8 student. Sharon Mahaffy is the grade 8 teacher. Lee Ann Gartshore and Ben Steinberg are in grade 6, and Rhonda Shalstrom is the grade 6 teacher.
They're here this afternoon as part of their studies, to observe government in action. Will members please join with me in welcoming them to the Yukon Legislature.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have for tabling today three reports: the 1998-99 fleet vehicle agency report, the 1998-99 Queen's Printer agency report and the 1998-99 property management agency annual report.
Mr. Fentie: I have for tabling today a document on the Yukon government's forestry mission to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Speaker:Before calling ministerial statements today, the Chair will provide the House with a statement about ministerial statements and a ruling as a result of a point of order raised by the third party House leader on November 10, 1999.
The third party House leader raised the point of order in reference to a ministerial statement given by the Minister of Government Services on rural telecommunications and telephone service. The third party House leader stated that the ministerial statement was "a reannouncement of government policy that was publicly announced several times in the past few weeks."
The Minister of Economic Development, speaking to the point of order, said, "What the government did with this ministerial statement is announce new initiatives, new policy, new directives that we engaged in as a government around a very important public subject." The minister went on to say, "Mr. Speaker, I want to say, with regard to your ruling, which obviously we respected, that that's why we announce new initiatives such as the fact that the Member for Kluane will be engaging the public on this very subject, travelling the territory. That is a tool of implementation and a policy of this government." The minister also said, "And when you make your ruling, I would ask you to examine very thoroughly the practice under the administration formerly of this territory, of the Yukon Party government, and the initiatives that they announced and, at times, reannounced through the use of ministerial statements."
The rule covering ministerial statements is to be found in Standing Order 11(3), which, in part, states: "On Ministerial Statements . . . a Minister may make a short factual statement of government policy." The Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges recommended, in October of 1979, "That Ministerial Statements be made only on subjects of significance and primarily for the purpose of announcing new government policies." The House concurred in that recommendation.
A review of ministerial statements made in this and previous legislatures reveals the obvious point that they are not always on government policy. For example, on November 22, 1999, the Government Leader provided the House with information on the timing of devolution. He did not provide a statement of new government policy but he did quite properly and appropriately use a ministerial statement to provide the House with important information about the devolution process.
It is not necessary for the Chair to spend the time of the House outlining the variety of legitimate purposes ministerial statements have been put to. The point is that they have been used in many ways that have not been objected to and that have expanded their use beyond statements of government policy.
The issue of whether ministerial statements have been used primarily for the purpose of announcing something new is not so easily determined. Ministerial statements of the past can, of course, be found in Hansard. A simple review of those statements, however, does not reveal whether they were new or whether they might have been reannouncements of something already known.
An important point about the issue of "newness", which was identified in the ruling of November 8, 1999, is the difficulty when points of order are raised questioning whether a ministerial statement contains enough that is new to justify its being given. Such points of order can only be raised after the ministerial statement has been given. Therefore, if the Chair were to rule a ministerial statement out of order after the fact, it would not be possible to let proceedings continue and opposition members would be denied a chance to respond.
As members will be aware from the ruling of November 8, 1999, Yukon legislatures since 1979 have chosen not to develop what Deputy Speaker McRobb described as "a more definite and helpful description of the purpose of ministerial statements." The Chair, therefore, has given consideration to practices found in this House and in other legislatures across Canada and has found the following to be generally accepted guidelines for ministerial statements and for responses to those statements:
(1) Ministerial statements are to be used to allow a minister to provide the Assembly with information of interest and urgency on government policy or administration when no other proceeding offers a suitable opportunity.
(2) Ministerial statements and the responses to them should be brief, factual and specific.
(3) Ministerial statements and the responses to them should not refer too directly to previous debate in an argumentative manner.
(4) Ministerial statements take place when no motion is before the House and the statements and the responses to them, therefore, should not contain partisan debate or argument.
(5) The purpose of ministerial statements, as is set out in Annotation 350 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, Sixth Edition, is "to convey information, not to encourage debate."
In conclusion, the Chair has found, from a review of the general practices in Yukon and other jurisdictions, that the central feature of ministerial statements is that they should be brief, factual and specific and that neither the statements nor the responses to them should contain partisan debate or argument. Secondly, it is clear that this and other Houses have accepted that there are legitimate uses of ministerial statements that go beyond the wording of Standing Order 11. Further, as has been noted in previous rulings of this Chair and previous Chairs, it is not a useful exercise to demand that the Chair make judgments about a ministerial statement being in or out of order based on whether it contains enough that is new.
Finally, the Chair has listed some guidelines which may be discerned from the practices of this and other jurisdictions. In this context, the Chair has reviewed the ministerial statement given by the Minister of Government Services on rural telecommunications and telephone service and finds that it meets these guidelines.
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Trade missions, cost to government
Ms. Duncan: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. In previous debates in the Legislature, the minister has indicated that the most recent total of the frequent-flyer trade missions is 29. On the eve of his trip to Hunan in China this summer, the minister said, "We've been looking and finding niches in places like Alaska, the Lower 48, Chile and Asia, the Pacific Rim." We also know that there have been trade missions to the far eastern parts of Russia.
We'd be hard pressed, Mr. Speaker, to find a part of the globe the Yukon government has not travelled to. Would the minister tell this House what the total cost is of these trade missions?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I obviously don't have that information at my fingertips, but I will say that it has been a very important part of our partnership with the chambers of commerce, with the labour community, with the First Nations, to get out there and hustle and diversify our economy in this territory, and look to expand the market of the Yukon. It's a very small market. It leads to impeding businesses here to develop. Particularly when government expenditures are cut back, or when we see a downturn in areas like mining and metal prices, it's that much more important that the territory gets out into the big world out there and hustles to find niche markets and products.
We've had tremendous success in Asia in raising money through the immigrant investor fund - $26 million. Our trade missions to Calgary have yielded some $30 million in investment. A trade mission that the forest commissioner took forestry industry reps on yielded sales in those products for the people in that industry. The 20-some businesses we took to Alaska last year on the NEBS tour that I was on with them, I think seven or eight of the businesses increased their exports to Alaska dramatically.
We think that there's potential in China for increasing our tourism through business incentive tours. We think that there's also potential perhaps in road building. Some of our road builders presently in the territory accompanied the minister responsible for highways to Malaysia, because they feel that there are possible expansion opportunities there for them to provide services and show the Yukon know-how to the world, and create some jobs and economic opportunities.
All the other provinces in the country are doing this, and it's important that we don't sit back and let the world pass us by.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister is very proud of all his trips, and I hope that he will provide me with the total cost of them by legislative return.
We have had many discussions in this House about performance indicators or, more simply put, results. The minister even said, "It's an interesting concept, and one we will be looking at in a whole host of areas." It's good to know that the minister is looking for results, because so are Yukoners. The minister's trade and investment coordinator said about the trip to Hunan: "We'll have scoped out a number of business opportunities by the end of the trip." Interestingly enough, Mr. Speaker, that was also said about the trip to the Russian far east in 1998. We actually had a memorandum of understanding signed with the Sakha Republic, the largest state in Russia, in 1998. The opportunity for the Yukon in Sakha was thought to be in commercial and residential construction, infrastructure, technology, education exchanges and training.
What are the actual results of the frequent-flyer trade mission to Hunan, the Russian far east and the Sakha Republic?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Frankly, Mr. Speaker, I just gave the member some performance indicator statistics yesterday. Maybe I'll read them out again for her.
In terms of international export of goods, the period from January to August 1998 produced $2,135,000 in international exports. Mr. Speaker, the period of January to August 1999 produced $4,819,000 and, of course, lumber, heavy equipment, doors and windows, wood furniture, and a lot of other things that Yukoners weren't making to such a degree are now being exported out of this territory.
In terms of cultural industries and tourism opportunities, I just recently met with Matthew Lien, who played to over 100,000 people on a trade mission to Taiwan. Representatives from the Tourism department were there, along with representatives from Economic Development, who are going to be following up with Yukon businesses, exposing some of the doors that were opened there for Yukon businesses to expand our market.
Mr. Speaker, the Russian economy has been going through some extremely difficult times, which is going to make it more difficult to provide short-term benefit out of that particular mission.
But in terms of Hunan, we still see potential; we recently sent road builders from the highway department to look at BST opportunities. I was talking personally to one of the Yukon road builders who is interested in a contract in China and actively engaged in working on it now, which provides some benefit and some jobs for Yukoners. As I said, our trips to Asia for the immigrant investor fund yielded $26 million in investment. The business trip that we made with Team Canada - we expect to see Japanese fam tours and trial runs, this winter as a matter of fact, in that particular area. So on every mission, on every aspect, we're getting some benefit for Yukoners.
Ms. Duncan: The minister didn't answer the question. We are all very well aware of the minister's ability to cherry-pick statistics. The Yukon Liberal caucus has said all along that we should be focusing on the largest market, next door in Alaska. We recognize that there are opportunities in Alaska - not in the Sakha Republic. I asked the minister for the results of three very specific trade missions, and I asked for specific results from those. At least two of them are a year old; that's long enough to see some results. What have Yukon businesses exported to the Sakha Republic in Russia and the far eastern states in Russia, and can the minister show us specific contracts and jobs from those three trade missions?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It will take time to diversify this economy; this economy has been far too dependent on the London Metal Exchange and metal prices. What we decided, as a government, while working with the chambers of commerce, different partners, people out there whom the member opposite has called "losers", is to work on diversifying this economy, expanding the market of this territory. We have made successful ventures and taken business trips with numerous Yukon businesses to Alaska. I think we did four trade missions to Alaska in the last year. We've done them to southern Canada. We've done them to the Far East, into Asia, with a lot of success. These relationships take time to build. As I've said with Hunan, and the mission to China, we expect that we will have some very tangible benefit for this territory, and I'm sure the member will be pleased with that. In terms of Russia, their economy obviously has gone through, since the time of that trade mission, some very difficult times, worse even than Asia - so perhaps we'll have to take a little bit more long-term view in terms of some turnaround and solid benefit in that respect.
However, I do hear that some other provinces and territories are now getting back into that particular country - and I think it may be a little bit early from our perspective - but they're in there because they do know, with some of the programs that the federal government has put up in the International Monetary Fund, that there is some possibility of guaranteeing payment for jobs done there. That was the fundamental issue that has led to a decrease in economic activity in those particular countries.
Question re: Protected areas strategy, process
Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Renewable Resources concerning the protected areas strategy.
The Government Leader has said that one of the changes he's thinking of making to the protected areas strategy is to set a cap for land quantum. Twelve percent has been the most common number talked about, I believe. There are areas already protected - national parks, for example. So I'm wondering: does the minister plan to put 12 percent of the Yukon in total into protected areas, or is it 12 percent in addition to what's already protected? Is that the plan?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, what I said to the member opposite is that we have taken the concerns that have been put forward to us by the Chamber of Mines, Chamber of Commerce, the environmental community, and I said that we would be looking at them.
At this point we have not determined a number. We want to make sure that when we do look at these ecoregions that we do have the proper protection that's necessary for each of the 23 ecoregions in the Yukon.
Ms. Buckway: The Minister of Renewable Resources, the Minister of Economic Development, and the Government Leader have, between November 15 and November 22, given three different messages on the protected areas strategy to three different audiences: "We followed the process", "We accelerated the process", "We didn't follow the process as envisaged".
The government has shown that they didn't follow the protected areas strategy; now they're going to change it. What assurances can the minister give the House that this government will follow the strategy once they get it right?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Liberals on the other side of the House have said that they supported the strategy and then they didn't support it. There is internal fighting among themselves, and it's really recognized out there by the general public.
What we said to them is that we sped up the process. We had some interest from the First Nation - Vuntut Gwitchin - and we had interests in oil and gas. They're very real interests. People in Old Crow are quite glad to see that the strategy actually is producing something for them that's near and dear to them. As far as oil and gas, just two weeks ago it was announced that $20 million is going to be spent on exploration over the next five years in north Yukon.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think we did the right thing in taking care of the interests of oil and gas and the First Nation. We sped up the process. We know that there are concerns with the strategy. We think we can improve it in several different places.
Ms. Buckway: What at first seemed like a straightforward process - identify areas of the territory that should be protected for a specific list of reasons and outline how they will be protected - has taken some interesting twists and turns, leading to a lot of uncertainty for environmental interests, mining, and oil and gas interests, as well as for the Yukon public in general. Now the government has introduced a new layer of uncertainty, saying they're planning to make a number of changes to YPAS. The government has admitted that the protected areas strategy has been driven by what's politically expedient. Can the minister assure this House that, from now on, it will be driven by what's right for the Yukon instead of what's right for the NDP?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It's good to know that the members are continually criticizing the protected areas strategy. At one time, they said that it doesn't work - it hasn't worked and it doesn't work. So I take that message back to the people in Old Crow. Did it work or what? And they would see a result of a very significant part of the Yukon having protection in the future and forever, for us and for our great-grandchildren to enjoy years down the road.
What we said we would do is fine-tune it. We knew that when we adopted the strategy. Fishing Branch was the very first project we had under the strategy, and we said at that time, in December of last year, that, of course, this could be always improved upon. And that's what we'll do. We'll improve the strategy as we go along. It may be that after we do this, more issues will arise a year from now, and it may be that we have to look at it again.
Question re: Yukon Housing Corporation, rent calculation policy
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Government Leader. Ten years ago, the federal Parliament passed a resolution to eliminate child poverty by 2000. The motion was presented by the former NDP national leader, Ed Broadbent and, last night, Mr. Broadbent and other concerned Canadians marked the anniversary of this unanimous Commons resolution on child poverty by lighting candles at a vigil in Ottawa. Mr. Broadbent told the crowd, put money back where it's needed, into direct funding for kids, into social housing, and the many other things that our children need.
Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm now asking the Government Leader to light a candle under his minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation to stop picking the pockets of parents by taxing their child support payments. Will the Government Leader do that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The member asked me this question yesterday. He knows full well what child maintenance payments are. He must have personal experience, according to him yesterday.
Mr. Speaker, the formula for calculating these payments considers all costs of living, including housing.
Mr. Jenkins: But they don't have to be. That's the issue. Since these programs have been devolved from the federal government to the Government of the Yukon, there is the latitude within the Government of Yukon to not tax these child support payments.
Now, we're trying to address child poverty right across Canada, and this is an area where the government can make some initiatives. The recent child tax credit was something that we advanced. Finally the Government of the Yukon glommed on to it.
Here's another area where they can stand up and take some credit for doing something in a positive vein. Once more, I go to the Government Leader. I can't get anywhere with the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation. Will the Government Leader instruct the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation to go back and change this policy?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party, in their time in government, had every opportunity to do this. Did they do it? No, they didn't make any attempts to devolve CMHC to the government, to the Housing Corporation. They didn't do that.
What else did they do? What did they do for the people in the Yukon? They cut back on people's wages, the employees' wages, and they increased taxes, and that was their contribution to poverty in the Yukon Territory.
Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member that we have been doing a number of things in regard to communities and children. We have created the children's drug and optical program. We have created a food for learning program in the schools, and also created a children's dental program, and a kids' recreation fund. We have direct operating grants to daycares.
What did the Yukon Party do? Nothing, Mr. Speaker.
We also have the Yukon healthy family initiatives, dollars for a child development centre in rural outreach, and the Yukon child benefit, as has been said and raised in this House many times, including the low-income family tax credit.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, this minister's wrong. He's dead wrong. When the Yukon Party took office there was a $64-million deficit that we inherited from the previous NDP government. When the Yukon Party left office, we left them with a $50-million surplus, so they had adequate money. There wasn't the ability of the Yukon government to change this policy. The ability came when the program was devolved to the Government of the Yukon, and that was 1998. That was the first time that the Yukon government had the ability, and it was under the NDP reign.
Now, when is this issue going to be addressed? It took a long time to get in a child tax credit here in the Yukon Territory under this government. When is this issue of taxing child support payments going to be addressed? When is the Yukon Housing Corporation going to amend their policies and not tax these child support payments?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, just to be clear, there are no taxes at all. These are child maintenance payments, which go toward the cost of living, including housing. The member said they couldn't do anything in government. They're right - they couldn't do anything. They couldn't negotiate another agreement on the Shakwak project. They couldn't do that. They left it for this government and the previous NDP government to do. And we did it, and we do those types of things.
There are so many things that they didn't do, and now they want to backtrack. When they were in government, they didn't care about the poor and unfortunate people - and now they do? They're not going to fool Yukoners, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Youth of Today Society, petition
Mr. Phillips: My question is to the Minister of Health and Social Services on his response to the Youth of Today Society's petition.
On November 10, I tabled a petition in this House, which was bearing 1,060 names, calling upon the government to give the Youth of Today Society a home to provide a drop-in, resource centre for youth at risk in downtown Whitehorse. The minister responded to this petition yesterday, and his response was extremely disappointing. He insulted the 1,060 people who called upon the government to provide a drop-in, resource centre, and not a "flophouse", as the minister called it. The minister's response was nothing short of insulting, and I'd like to call upon that minister today to apologize to the Youth of Today Society and to all the people who signed the petition, and for the minister not even bothering to read the petition.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, au contraire, if I may borrow a phrase from my friend from Riverside. I did respond, and I responded in a very complete way as to what we were doing in terms of providing a youth resource centre in town. We have committed considerable funds to this - $150,000. I also outlined that we are providing, through Community and Transportation Services and Education, as well as ourselves, a commitment for ongoing maintenance. We've also been working with community groups.
We have buy-in from the Lake Laberge Lions, we also have buy-in from Crime Prevention, and we have buy-in from the city. I am committed to seeing this project go. I am committed to seeing a youth resource centre in town. However, with reference to the flophouse very early on in this debate, the whole question of exactly that kind of structure was raised, and I felt obliged to address that particular issue.
Mr. Phillips: It's interesting to watch the minister squirm. It was the minister who rose in the House yesterday responding to this petition, who talked about a drop-in centre and a resource centre for these youths, and he described it, trying to paint it in his picture, as a flophouse for youth. It's an insult to those youth at risk who are trying so hard, Mr. Speaker - so hard - to find a home in this community, and the minister turns around and throws it in their face.
He owes an apology to those youth at risk, and to the adults and other people who are working with them, to try and find something better for these kids, and that minister should rise on his feet today and do the right thing, and respond the way he should have and now apologize to these kids for accusing them of trying to develop a flophouse when it's the furthest thing from the truth.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think the Member for Riverdale North there is really hoping that he wins some kind of Academy Award, because last year - last year - his dramatic presentation was riding out on the evils of youth - those evil kids who are out there in our group homes committing crimes. Now he wraps himself in the flag. Now he piously cries those crocodile tears and says, "Oh, I'm a defender."
The fact is that we have been working with youth groups; we have been working with community; we've been working with groups like BYTE; we've been working with groups like the Lake Laberge Lions. I think we're working on a project that has broad-based community support, and I feel that because of that, the project is going to succeed.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, as usual in Question Period in this House, the minister avoids the question. Yesterday, the minister was responding to a petition, which is specific, and it was the minister who rose in the House and described the Youth of Today Society as trying to set up a flophouse. That is false, and the minister should stand on his feet today and apologize to the Youth of Today Society, who are working very, very hard - the youth and the adults supporting them - to try to do something good for the kids at risk in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask that minister one more time to stick to the question, stick to the petition, and apologize to the youth at risk for what he called them yesterday.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, it's obvious that the member didn't follow my response yesterday. I don't believe I tied the two together at all. I responded to an issue that was raised about an overnight shelter.
If the member wants to get exercised and very dramatic on it, he can. If he wishes, I can probably dig up my response and read it over again for him - the entire thing.
Question re: Protected areas strategy, process
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Renewable Resources, and it concerns the protected areas strategy. On Monday of this week, the Government Leader went over to the Geoscience Forum and announced a number of changes to the protected areas strategy. He basically said that they screwed up on this first protected area, because they didn't follow the process, and they think there are some problems with the strategy: "Bear with us; we want to work with you."
The minister said today they want to improve the strategy. I asked the minister yesterday how he planned to implement these changes, and he had no response. The protected areas strategy was put together by a public committee over 18 months. Maybe the minister can answer the question today. Will he recall that public committee to deal with the changes that have been proposed by the Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, the Government Leader didn't say that, Mr. Speaker. He said that we could be making improvements in several different areas, and that's nothing different from what we've been saying on this side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite will ask me this question - what, tomorrow or the day after - and we're going to keep answering the same thing. Somehow she thinks that it's going to change.
What we said is, we will make these improvements. It doesn't mean that right now, tomorrow, that the changes are going to happen. What we've done is taken the process that was put together by the general public, and used it in the creation of Fishing Branch. We used it in the process to a certain extent with Tombstone Park, because these are both results of claims and direction that comes out of First Nation final agreements, and there was not specifically a local planning team set up to do this on its own. But Fishing Branch had an agreement in the Vuntut Gwitchin final agreement to look at expansion and to look at more protection around the core area that they had selected, and the same thing with Tombstone.
What we're doing here, Mr. Speaker, is gathering more information from the public out there. If they would like to see how we can -
Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister just keeps wrapping himself in so much spin. I'm going to keep asking this question until I get an answer.
This protected areas strategy was put together over 18 months by a public committee. There have been changes proposed. The minister himself has said that there are going to be improvements made. The question is, how? Will the minister recall the public committee? If he's not going to do that, how are these changes going to be made?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Liberals' way of making a change is, the very first public comment that's out there, they would go through a whole public process to make a change. We haven't even got the recommendations back from the local planning team on Fishing Branch. Still, that process is going on. What we've done with the Fishing Branch is sped up the process in the interest of oil and gas and the First Nation's interest in dealing with this whole issue. For many, many years, there has been information gathered, a lot of talk in the last four years on Fishing Branch and an interest in protection of Fishing Branch for the last 27 years. What the member would like us to do is make these changes, go back to Fishing Branch and start over again. Well, we're not going to do that.
Ms. Duncan: The minister can make all the suppositions about what I'm asking that he wants. The point is that the minister has said there will be improvements. The Government Leader has said there will be changes. The Minister of Economic Development admits that they made mistakes. The question that I am asking is how and when are you going to make these changes? The Government Leader's promises, for example, said setting out rules for establishing protected areas in legislation. When will that legislation be ready? Will it be ready before we begin establishing more protected areas? How is the government intending to deal with the changes proposed by the Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Liberals' answer to that would be delay, delay, delay. We had the public design this strategy for us, and it took so much time to do it and so much energy on behalf of the steering committee and so on. And I would say they did a really good job with this strategy. And you know what? We had a bit of a celebration, CPAWS did, in the foyer of this building - that's with Tombstone - and what was presented to the Government Leader? A charter with close to 130 names. I can't remember what the numbers were.
There are over 1,000 names on this charter, and what does it say? It supports the protected areas in the Yukon.
Now, what the Liberals want us to do is to go and slow this down, stop it, whatever way they can. She doesn't support this strategy. Half of her team does. The Member for Lake Laberge does, and we could clearly see that split yesterday.
So, Mr. Speaker, we are taken in - because it's out there in the public and things are happening, and things are happening quickly here. I must point out that this is a process of a size that Yukon has never engaged in before, and we took on the tough jobs of having protected areas in the Yukon.
Of course, we're going to get feedback. Of course, there are going to be concerns with regard to the strategy itself. We'll take them. We'll look at them, and we'll work with the stakeholders and make improvements to the process.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
motions other than government motions
Clerk: Motion No. 188, standing in the name of Mr. McRobb.
Motion No. 188
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Kluane
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) all elected members of this Assembly have an obligation to their constituents to stimulate new economic activities by proposing solutions on the floor of this Legislature;
(2) all members should work together to improve our economy for the best interests of all Yukon people; and
(3) these efforts must continue to involve communities, First Nations, organizations, labour, business and the federal government.
Mr. McRobb: First of all, I'd like to review the intent of this motion this afternoon. Simply put, I'm calling on all elected members of this Assembly to try to work together in proposing ideas this afternoon that could help to improve the Yukon's economy.
I want to appeal to all members to be helpful and constructive, avoid being political; let's put Yukoners first, we all know they deserve it. I want to respectfully remind all MLAs that they have a duty to act responsibly in the best interests of constituents and the Yukon Territory. We owe it to constituents to cooperatively find ways to improve our economy. Yukoners want fewer political games played; they want their elected representatives to have a more constructive working relationship. This Legislature is a forum for debate of ideas, and this is very important to the Yukon, so let's discuss those ideas this afternoon.
The other day I was talking with a constituent who commented that all he ever heard, read and saw coming out of this Legislature was unconstructive negativity. I agreed with his observations and identified two reasons for this. First, our legislative system is built on an adversarial style that is much different from, let's say, our First Nation governments, which strive to work cooperatively together for the benefit of their people. Second, the media tends to avoid covering the largely routine business of the House, and instead chooses to focus on the controversy and sensationalism usually found in Question Period, and certainly today was no exception.
So, because I know members will all conduct themselves cooperatively and constructively, I don't expect the media to give too much attention to this motion. Unfortunately, for the Yukon public, it seems it's just another wasted Wednesday. More frequently than not in this House on motion day, there is not enough time for all members to speak before 5:30. Let's try to accommodate each other's interests and allow an opportunity for each member to speak by trying to limit our discussion to 10 minutes.
So then today, Mr. Speaker, Yukoners are listening for suggestions on ways to improve our economy from each of the 17 MLAs in this House, with the exception of yourself. Let's lob our ideas out there. Don't be shy. Let's put them on the table. Maybe then we could ask the Department of Economic Development to sluice through them for any nuggets that could help improve the territory's economy.
I've struggled to limit my suggestions to six. There are many others that I could touch on, but have decided not to out of respect for my colleagues, both on this side of the House and across the way.
Before getting to them, it's important to put on record some of the initiatives currently underway that cannot be ignored in this discussion.
Number one, diversification of the economy - this is a major focus at the present time. Much of government's available resources are working on diversification. The goal of diversification is to develop facets of our economy, in addition to mining, in order to avoid the boom-and-bust cycles that have plagued our territory's economy for decades.
Investments in key infrastructure - to maintain our ability to export heavy goods, ports at Skagway and Haines are being secured for long-term Yukon interest. To build on our strong tourism economy, retailers and operators will benefit from the improvements made at the Whitehorse Airport, which already are leading to three direct flights from Europe each week.
Many economic opportunities are being created as a result of the recent Connect Yukon initiative. This $18-million project will connect approximately 800 Yukon homes without current telephone and Internet service.
In addition to bringing video conferencing services and distributed learning to our communities, new schools and health care facilities are making the Yukon a better place to live.
There is a trend of more seniors staying in the Yukon and moving to the Yukon. Earlier today, the Health minister was showing me statistics that show that more than two-thirds of Whitehorse residents want to continue to live in the Yukon in their retirement. As for more seniors moving here, I know of several cases where parents of constituents have come up for a visit, looked around, saw the opportunities and the lifestyle in the territory and have moved here. My own parents are a similar example, Mr. Speaker, having decided to relocate here after spending the past eight years in Terrace, B.C.
Thirdly, the approach of government in deciding which direction to take is very important to Yukoners. People want to be consulted, treated respectfully and given the opportunity to provide their input. In fact, in many situations, the Yukon government is required to consult with First Nation governments when proposing developments in traditional territory.
The Yukon government continues to share decision-making with Yukoners. Strategic partnerships have been formed to encourage and stimulate economic diversification. Equally important, Mr. Speaker, is the need to identify some suggestions that it will not be identifying, which include the proposed railroad through the Yukon to connect B.C. to Alaska and points beyond. This is because such a project would automatically improve our economy, and because the green button for this multi-billion-dollar project is simply out of our reach. The proposed Foothills pipeline, back in the news again two weeks ago, would follow the Alaska Highway corridor and bring with it an unlimited supply of cheaper energy and greatly encourage new industry. Reasons for not identifying this idea are the same for the previous examples because it's a no-brainer, and it's not our decision to make.
More manageable, but still unmentioned, are suggestions that sound good but would cause negative trade-offs, and result in cutbacks in other areas. One example is just suggesting across-the-board tax cuts.
Likewise, I'm avoiding mention of specific projects that might better fit within umbrella-type policies and actions.
Let me now get to my suggestions, Mr. Speaker. The first one is continued support for telecommunications and e-commerce. This is ensuring proper follow-through on the Connect Yukon initiative so as many Yukoners as possible can be connected to the information highway, ensuring continued monitoring of telecommunications and e-commerce to identify opportunities for the Yukon government to be proactive in providing further assistance when sensible, and when a need is demonstrated.
As mentioned, the Connect Yukon initiative is a major undertaking currently underway, which received mention in a newspaper article this week, Mr. Speaker. It's heralding the program initiated by the government as a first in this area, and clearly as a good example for other jurisdictions across the world.
The second suggestion is promotion of Yukon lifestyle to attract new residents, to attract new small business and industry.
Lifestyle choice is now more important than ever to people all over the world. Generally they prefer to live away from the concrete jungles and hustle and bustle of life in the big cities. There is definitely a trend being established in places like Bozeman, Montana. People and small businesses are moving to Bozeman for lifestyle choice advantages.
Last spring in this Legislature, I recounted how Dr. Ray Rasker from the Sonoran Institute spoke about the successful formula that other communities might want to consider regarding this concept. It included scenic wilderness viewing from the community - a good example of this is Haines Junction; quality high-speed Internet access to accommodate, for example, the day-trader type of person - Mr. Speaker, with the Connect Yukon initiative, all of our communities will have that ability; good airport facilities; good education facilities; and, finally, Dr. Rasker mentioned the one-hour rule, which means that no more than one hour of time is required to travel from home to a favourite wilderness spot. As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon is wonderfully suited to this. In most places it's more like the 15-minute rule. So it strikes me that there is tremendous potential for several Yukon communities to consider following up on this suggestion.
Number three is promotion of Y-to-Y for tourism and Yukon lifestyle. Similar to the previous examples and as far as the net result is concerned, but different in approach, is the suggestion to capitalize on the promotion elsewhere of the Yellowstone-to-Yukon initiative. Y-to-Y, as it's known, is a highly publicized conservation strategy to protect wildlife corridors and promote the survival and diversity of our wildlife populations. It stretches from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory. To clarify, Y-to-Y does not create a monstrous-size park. Rather, it would identify reasonably sized and much-needed corridors between areas already protected. Cashing in on Y-to-Y could be very helpful and successful in marketing the territory's tourism industry.
Number four, venture capital assistance, not to be confused with the existing program, which is limited to a loan of $100,000 responds to the need to help provide capital to attract new industry. With the Bre-X fallout, it's very difficult, if not impossible, for industry to find capital required to start up. To clarify, this is not a grant but a loan, or perhaps just limited to providing assistance and helping industry negotiate with others to obtain the capital required for start-up. In any event, we would need to secure firm guarantees and security if a loan is provided. The Canadian junior mining companies were particularly hurt with the Bre-X fallout, especially in the west and the north, because Bre-X's head office was in Calgary, Alberta. The entire Canadian mining industry received a black eye as a result.
The United Keno Hill mine is one example that needs resource capital. This potential mine at Elsa, according to its mining plan, needed about $23 million to start up. This mine would employ several hundred workers and pump millions of dollars into the Yukon economy. It had everything else it needed - a mining plan, a water licence, roads, power, firmed-up resources. I think there were more resources identified on the horizon at Elsa than all the silver mined there in the previous 50 years of the former mine, so the potential for a long-standing, profitable mine was there; the stumbling block was no resource capital.
Maybe this is something that can be looked at, Mr. Speaker, to overcome external roadblocks to economic development, such as dried-up venture capital.
The fifth suggestion relates to federal assistance programs. As I understand it, the Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in the country without a federal program offering start-up capital for Yukon entrepreneurs. In western Canada, there is the western Canada diversification fund. The last such program here in Yukon flowed from the old economic development agreement, or EDA, which expired about five years ago. Since then, there has been nothing, Mr. Speaker.
So perhaps pursuit of a similar new program for the Yukon would be something to consider.
Finally, my sixth suggestion, Mr. Speaker, I'll call the boom town blues, the revival of single-industry communities. I have a book here that I sent away for after listening to a CBC interview last spring featuring one of the authors, Anne-Marie Mawhiney, speaking about how Elliott Lake was successful in transferring to a retirement community, away from an exhausted mining town. This was particularly of interest to me because the Yukon is full of abandoned mining towns and is likely to have more in the future - towns such as Clinton Creek, Cassiar in northern B.C., Tungsten just inside the N.W.T. border - the list goes on and on.
Also, since the interview, it has come to my attention that Gold River on Vancouver Island is progressing in a very similar direction, trying to attract people there for lifestyle advantages and marketing along those lines as a result.
It strikes me that the Town of Faro has potential in this regard. Currently, I know the mayor and some councillors are contemplating these possibilities, because I spoke to them about it while there in early September.
This afternoon, Mr. Speaker, I'll be listening very closely to everyone to hear their ideas and suggestions. In my summation, after everyone has spoken, I hope to identify some of the more promising suggestions. This is regardless of political stripes or by whom the suggestions were made. I'll be listening for what I believe to be constructive suggestions.
If anyone would like a transcript of today's discussion, it's available on the government Web site or they can contact my office and request a copy. I'd be glad to send one out.
I look forward to an interesting and cooperative discussion this afternoon.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cable: The motion is fairly straightforward and will be supported by the Liberal caucus.
I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that members of this Assembly have a number of obligations to their constituents, both inside and outside this Legislature. The first obligation, of course, is to hear from them about their concerns and what is affecting their lives. These concerns are not just restricted to economic activities.
Over the last few years, the Liberals have put forward motions dealing with gambling, FAS, sale of liquor, seniors housing, and many other people issues - issues relating to the quality of Yukoners' lives. The Liberal caucus just put forward a motion setting out the Liberal position against a two-tiered health system. Earlier, we brought forward a private members' bill on domestic violence, which later saw life as a government bill supported by all parties. We put forward a motion on this government's relationship with public servants. The motion was called by our newest member, the Member for Laberge, and received vigorous debate last week.
On the economic front, we put forward and called for debate on motions on public/private partnerships, and on investment tax credit. In countless Question Periods we have raised questions about the business summit report, gasoline prices, the immigrant investor fund, red-tape initiatives, energy issues, government contracting practices, the tourism marketing fund, local hire, highway construction funding and many, many others.
In this session - to use a quote from the mover's motion: "on the floor of this Legislature - we have asked questions about the government's relationship with business, the funding of the new proposed mall in the City of Whitehorse, the protected areas strategy, the government's proposed purchase of lands in Alaska and many others.
Our newest member - the Member for Lake Laberge - has asked questions about telephone services. All these bear directly or indirectly on the economy. Over the three years that the Liberal caucus has served in the present mandate, we have responded to countless ministerial statements dealing with economic issues. One just has to go to the index to Hansard to follow Liberal comment on the issues, and I would have to say that there has never been any reluctance on the part of the government to attribute positions to the Liberal Party when it suited their purposes.
But the real question before this House, Mr. Speaker - and in the public, in the coffee shops and on the street - is not whether politicians have an obligation to propose solutions on the floor of the Legislature. The real question is, what is this government actually doing? Beyond the trade missions and the countless press releases and the repetitive ministerial statements, the question arises: where is the action?
Beyond the agreements with the Sakha Republic and the photo opportunities, what is this government doing? Beyond the talk, where is the action?
Now, it has been said before in this House that there's no magic bullet for economic recovery, and there's no shortage of ideas, here in the House or outside on the street.
Yukoners and the Yukon economy have been held ransom for years by the big mine at Faro. As it has gone through its several ups and downs, Yukoners' economic fortunes have gone up and down. The need to pull the economy out of its hole has been recognized for years. No one program and no one initiative is going to put all our unemployed back to work or stop our people leaving.
There was an interesting exercise that took place in this territory in the last decade, in the mid-1980s. It was called Yukon 2000. Mr. Penikett, the premier at the time, said in 1987 - that's 12 years ago - that "the Yukon economic strategy is our government's response to everything that was said in the months since we began this project. So numerous are the proposals that they will realistically take years to implement, but the end result should be a much more self-sufficient community."
The problems were identified. Some of the solutions were put forward. Here are what the goals were that were set out in the Yukon 2000 report. It says on page 3, "The importance of these goals should not be underestimated. They form the foundation of this strategy and will be the guide for future government decisions." Number one - there were four mentioned - is the option to stay in Yukon.
Number two is control of our future. Number three is an acceptable quality of life. Number four is equality. Under the heading, "Our Changing Economy", at page 7, it states, "The Yukon economy is currently dependent on three major sectors: mining, tourism and government. Each has made and will continue to make a significant contribution to the economy. However, each is subject to outside influences beyond our control. Developing other industries like manufacturing, renewable resources, processing and finance, which now play a relatively small economic role, will help offset the dependence on any single industry and generally strengthen the economy."
And here's what it says on page 9, "Our emphasis will be on diversifying resource-based economic activity to increase employment and stabilize the territorial economy..." Underlying everything was the need to stabilize the economy, so our lives and the economy could be taken off the roller coaster. The answers, in general terms, were spelled out, and we are not, in 1999, discovering the wheel by talking about it again. What we need in 1999 is action. That action has to be taken by government. If the government is either devoid of ideas or unable to put its ideas into action, it should be examining why it isn't capable of doing this. Governments hire public servants. Governments direct research. Governments set policy. Governments set budgets. Opposition members don't do these things. And, what's most important, it's governments that can and should translate talk into action.
There's no great criticism with many of the ideas that have come out of the government side. Let me get that on the record. There's no problem with trying to diversify the economy. That was identified many years ago.
The Minister of Economic Development told us today that it takes time to diversify the economy. Well, I have to say to him that the people are waiting. They heard that music in 1987. Now they want some results. We, on this side of the House, can't instill confidence in that side of the House. That's the job of that side of the House. When the government talks the diversification game, we need to see diversification. When the government talks about prefab-housing projects, and a year later we see nothing, we need an explanation, or at the very least a status report. That's the obligation that the people in the Yukon are concerned about.
To use a term the mover of the motion used, we have the nuggets. The nuggets are already there. What we need now is the jewellery. The mover has called for suggestions. I have one: many of the initiatives that this government has put forward have merit. My suggestion is: follow through.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I must say that I'm really thoroughly disappointed by the Liberal speech, given the spirit of the debate introduced by the Member for Kluane who, at a minimum, put his ideas on the table as a private member - some of which I'd agree with, some of which I don't. He, as one member, was prepared to put his ideas forward. He outlined them, I thought, quite clearly.
However, we just were witness to a phenomenal speech by the Liberal Party, so empty of substance, so vacuous that I was bewildered when the member actually sat down.
I didn't know when he was going to begin to talk about the Liberal views on where the economy should go. It was kind of like a ruling from the former Speaker, the former Member for Porter Creek North, when he used to be speaker. You get this sort of surfboard action where it was on one hand, on the other, and you never quite knew till the punchline exactly what he was going to say. The only problem with the Member for Riverside was that he had no punchline other than he wasn't going to say anything, except he was going to keep on criticizing the government.
Mr. Speaker, I think the Liberals think it would be really neat-o to be government, and they really think it's time for them to be government because it would be really neat-o. But do they have any ideas? I know that at least when the Yukon Party gets up, they're going to tear a strip off the government, but at least they put forward, from time to time, every now and then, when they're prepared to stand in this House and debate the economy, some ideas. They're very clear. A protected areas strategy under them would be tostidos. They think that the entire territory should be hooked up to one giant power grid. I mean, their ideas may be cockamamie. There may be a lot of problems with them. They may increase everybody's electrical bills, but at least, even though they're living in that back-to-the-future world, they have the ability to put some ideas forward, and I respect that.
It's funny, Mr. Speaker, this sort of veiled shot they took at the agreements we've signed in China and in Japan and in Alaska and in the other parts of Canada, and at the agreement we signed with the Sakha Republic. Interestingly enough, that agreement was signed by Premier Klein from Alberta, the former premier from the N.W.T., us and the Sakha Republic. It was a four-way agreement. The reason that Alberta and the N.W.T. participated in the signing of that agreement was because, at that time, the Russian economy was starting to show signs of coming out of its long, dark years of communist rule, and they have a tremendous amount of resources there.
The N.W.T. built a lot of buildings in Sakha. They built the airport there, and they built Canada Place. There were millions and millions of dollars' worth of contracts that N.W.T. architects and others were successful in receiving, which is what attracted our attention. That was something that put a lot of bucks in the pockets of people in the Northwest Territories. And of course, Alberta, which has probably the most aggressive traders - they're the biggest frequent flyers in the entire country, to use the Liberal term - gets out there and hustle, and I've got to give them credit for that. They saw what was happening in the N.W.T., and they said they wanted a piece of that action for Alberta, and that's why they did it.
We've not only been doing that in the Sakha Republic, but in other parts of the U.S., in Alaska, in parts of Canada, in Asia and Europe. Look at the results in South America with the Housing Corporation and what they're trying to do with some of the local people in Chile. It takes a lot of work, but we can't just say, because you don't get results in a year, or even two, that you just completely dump that whole diversification strategy. My view, in terms of ideas, is that we've got to do more. As Yukoners, we've got to get out there more. We've got to recognize that we've only got a 32,000-person market - 31,000, or even if it's 35,000. Even if it's 30,000 - it's still not big enough. It's still just not big enough. In order for our businesses to stop being capacity-locked, they have to find other markets.
The same holds true for tourism, in terms of bringing in new numbers. If we want to attract capital investment in upgrading facilities and expanding the tourism season, we've got to get winter tourism so that there is a cashflow throughout the year for a lot of operators. Secondly, we've got to ensure that the visitation continues to increase, because when banks and financiers see that there's an upward trajectory then, of course, they're prepared to invest dollars.
Mr. Speaker, our government was just taunted by the Liberals for action. Every time we talk about action, they dismiss it. The last budget alone, which they voted against, had 43 new economic initiatives.
We invested new money all over the place, from training, to healthy families, to investment tax credits.
Mr. Speaker, we were working on tax credits before the Liberal Party ever learned about that term, and the public/private partnerships that we had always said we would participate in, which they had envisioned, which were just, basically, totally debt-financing with questionable payback, were not where we were headed. We were headed in an appropriate direction.
You know, when the Faro mine went down in 1993-94 under the Yukon Party, the GDP dropped 17 percent - mass exodus of people - and the response at that time by the Conservatives was to raise everybody's taxes. We have outdone them a thousand times in terms of new economic initiatives and bringing forward real ideas.
Their bacon was saved by the Shakwak agreement, which was negotiated by the NDP, and the hospital - the $50-million hospital project that the federal government built, another agreement negotiated by the NDP.
Mr. Speaker, mineral exploration in 1996 was the highest, not just in the Yukon in many years, but the highest in Canada. Boom years prior to Bre-X - now, I know the leader of the third party really believes, scarily enough, in his own mind that he was the architect of that, even though the Liberal government controls mining here. But I have to tell him that it's just not reality. Look at the numbers across the country. Look at Alaska this year; it's down 26 percent for mineral exploration. Look at the NWT; it's way down. The only action going on there is diamond related. Watch Northbeat and the problems they're having economically in Yellowknife, trying to deal with the loss of the Giant Mine, the impact that's having on them.
There's a false impression that the members opposite try to create, that everything is hunky-dory in other places. We're all dealing with the reality that we have to diversify. This country is doing fairly well economically because the United States is. We trade with them. We trade with them because they're a huge market and a wealthy market.
But the provinces that are doing well are the ones that are the quickest to diversify, like Alberta, like Saskatchewan, like Manitoba, like Newfoundland now even, who is now getting into new facets in oil and gas and new tourism markets while trying to adjust to the fishery, which devastated their economy. We have to continue to diversify, and the action and the results are all over the place. We can argue about statistics all we want. The opposition likes statistics and likes to raise them to indicate government's poor performance when they're going down, but when they're turning around and going up, they try and pick away at them and say they're not truly reflective - I mean, the same statistics, the same criteria, but they try to pick away at them.
Mr. Speaker, look at what's happening in oil and gas and forestry in this territory. The Member for Watson Lake has worked hand in hand with the feds to try and ensure that this industry, while we don't have control of it, gets off the ground for the first time - really gets off the ground. And we believe, fundamentally, that we must have devolution. We have put thousands of thousands of hours into that project only to have the Liberals turn it back, but that's because we've been involved. In the mining industry, just in terms of ideas alone, we wanted devolution. Look what happens in oil and gas when you have Yukon NDP government control - investment flows. Look what happens when you have reasonable markets - investment flows. Look what happens in the mining industry when you have a Liberal government in control - nothing flows; very little. Thankfully, this year, we beat the forecast of the Chamber of Mines by $2.5 million, but it could be a lot better; we'd like to see it better.
If markets improve, I think it will. If our blue-book project that we're working on with the mining industry - that we have led the charge on and paid for to review the CEAA process and the mine permitting and the red tape - works out, I think it will improve the mining investment climate for what investment there is out there in terms of capital dollars. We have a tax roundtable underway once again with the local business community and other interests to talk about tax reform, tax cuts, tax ideas, tax incentives, how do we make things happen in this territory - clear, concise, constructive ideas.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals, in that - once again, I must say - vacuous speech, said that because they raised questions on our agenda, they're somehow putting forward ideas. But one has to listen very hard to find an idea from them. And one has to really try and really struggle to find a position, in terms of a question, that they take.
Even today, we saw the Member for Laberge and the Liberal leader fighting about whether they supported the protected areas strategy or not. We don't know from one day to the next. I assume, given the ferocity of the comments from the Liberal leader that she is opposed to the Fishing Branch, the product at the end of the day. And I think that's a shame because we're proud of it. We're proud of it, and we're proud that a land claim commitment made many years ago is finally resulting in the protected area of Fishing Branch, and we worked very, very hard.
Now, of course, Mr. Speaker, in terms of ideas, we just put forward a bunch more the other day to the mining community - fresh ideas. We're doing so many things. Just on the protected areas alone, the Government Leader talked about six areas we'd like to investigate further with the stakeholders, to go back to them on to try and improve the protected areas strategy.
It was interesting, you know - we had a fellow up from the Chamber of Mines of Manitoba, their executive director, who is also a member of the World Wildlife Fund, talking about what happened in Manitoba. They had a lot of trouble in the first couple of years with a Conservative government trying to implement a protected areas strategy there. He referred to one event as the "press conference from hell", where the government announced a number of initiatives that they didn't like, and everybody was at each other's throats. They established some protocols, working together between conservationists and industry. And it really looks like it's helping to improve things there. The parallels were quite stark to what's happening here, because there are no stone tablets for these kinds of things. You have to work through them. You have to deal with issues. You have to make improvements. Even the other day, at the Chamber of Mines' Geoscience Forum, we put forward new ideas.
Just look, just a couple of weeks ago, at the Connect Yukon, wiring the entire Yukon for communications. Now of course, the Liberals voted against that in the supplementary budget, and all the other tourism marketing funding that was put in there - opening an Asian desk, trying to get those flights going. They voted against the distance education component of Connect Yukon. I think that was $3 million in the supplementary budget. They voted against rural phones, and they nit-pick in Question Period. They said it was not going to connect everybody. I guess 800 out of 1,000 isn't a good enough improvement for the Liberals. Of course, they didn't even have this idea. They weren't even asking for it, Mr. Speaker, when we put it forward.
So nit-pick, nit-pick, nit-pick.
And they stand up today and say that, somehow, they're putting forward ideas.
Mr. Speaker, we are following through in a whole host of areas. Look at what the Tourism department and the minister are doing, in terms of airport expansion, the new plan for the airport, just tabled the other day. Talk about new ideas - every day.
Look at port options. Two weeks ago we announced the purchase of port options to investigate purchasing two properties for long-term access to tidewater. That was just something that the members opposite hadn't even heard of - a brand new idea.
So, Mr. Speaker, look at the statistics starting to turn around economically, whether it's export or retail sales, whether it's the size of the labour force, whether it's the value of building permits. Look down Second Avenue - business expansion at Home Centre Plus, a new office building - a very large new office building - a new Boston Pizza. If you go down the street, there's even more construction, then go up Second, Third, Fourth Avenue. Things are starting to happen.
Why does someone - I have to ask the question - want to invest $35 million in a new retail complex in this territory, if they don't think there's a future for the economy? I mean, ask yourself that question, Mr. Speaker, and I guarantee you that you'll find out that the prophets of doom and gloom opposite are propagating that particular notion for their selfish, political purposes, because they want the public to cast the blame upon the government, so that they can get into government, and wouldn't that be neat-o for the Liberal Party or the Tories.
Mr. Speaker, we have put forward a whole host of ideas, as I mentioned, from Connect Yukon just about a month ago, to the port options that we put forward, to the moves we've made in mining and protected areas, the mineral exploration tax credit, the tax table that's underway right now - the list of initiatives is staggering. If you look at the training trust funds, if you look at what we're doing with the community development fund in the different communities - just last year, we helped the group in Dawson build the new arts centre and school up there. I mean, it's a fantastic project.
And they're not all our ideas. One of the things I'm most proud of about this government is that when a community comes in and talks to us about these initiatives, we listen. The Government Leader had meetings with those folks and decided that the project, based on the merits they put forward, made sense, and we funded it.
Look at cultural industries now, Mr. Speaker. Aside from forestry and oil and gas, which is all opening up, and I think, the whole host of other areas where we're starting to see some turnaround - slowly, gradually, but it's coming and diversifying. Tourism is another key area, Mr. Speaker.
I attended today a seminar on tourism potential and Yukon product potential in Taiwan, as a result of the work that Economic Development and Tourism, and Yukoners, such as Matthew Lien, have been doing over there. It's incredibly impressive to see a Yukon artist who has skyrocketed to the top of the charts there, selling hundreds of thousands of CDs. I watched a concert where there were some 50,000 people there on video - part of it - where they were talking about the Yukon Territory - interviews all over national TV there, talking about the Yukon Territory.
Now, we can work with this gentleman - whether you're a fan of his music or not here locally is irrelevant - to try to open doors for Yukon products and services. When we go over there and look at the tourism potential, I see it as staggering. And here you have Birchwood Tours in Watson Lake - already, two or three years ago, started working on the Taiwanese market. I think they had over 200 visitors last winter, and things are expected this year.
It can work, it will work, and that's why we're doing what we're doing in that area.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Kluane challenged this House today to put forward ideas. Our government has put forward dozens and dozens and dozens of ideas, and are still, every week, generating new initiatives, new ideas. He himself put forward some ideas. He challenged the Liberals to say something constructive, to say something substantial about what they would do, to pretend for a second that they had the reins, to step aside from their partisanship...
Speaker: Member has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Harding: ...and put forward what they would do.
Mr. Speaker, I know when the Yukon Party gets up they may at least have an idea or two of their own. Of course they'll criticize the government, but they may even have a suggestion. It may be about power grids or infrastructure, like the ports we've been doing, or the airport runway extension or telecommunications, but at least they may have an idea. Let's hope so.
Mr. Speaker, I'm proud of the record of our government on showing results - 142-percent increase in exports, in export trade, in investment diversification, and the investments we're seeing in forestry - $30 million in oil and gas. I'm proud of the investments that we're making to wire the territory in high-speed Internet service - a $18-million investment there. And Mr. Speaker, I think you'll see that it's going to pay off - and it is paying off - in showing results for the long-term for Yukoners.
Mr. Ostashek:Thank God for time limits.
Mr. Speaker, when we look at the motion that was put forward by the Member for Kluane - (1) "All elected members have an obligation to their constituents to stimulate new economic activities by proposing solutions on the floor of this Legislature" - I don't have any difficulty with that, none whatsoever. But I would suggest that the Member for Kluane ought to have talked to the Minister of Economic Development before he came into the House.
I didn't hear anything new. All I heard was the defensive attitude that that minister and this government has had for three years because of their inability to create any economic activity in the territory.
They took over - and this is fact, and they can put all the rhetoric around it they want - an economy that was booming in 1996. Booming. It was the lowest unemployment any time in the history of the Yukon. It was the largest workforce in the Yukon, and it wasn't all tied to the Faro mine. There was over $50 million in grassroots exploration that was creating hundreds and hundreds of well-paying jobs in the territory. They blew it. They blew it. They took that over, along with a $60-million surplus. Four years earlier, when the Yukon Party came to power, we had a $64-million deficit. We left a cash position - a net benefit - of $124 million to an incoming government. And they blew it. They have no excuse. They had a hot economy. They had lots of money, and more money coming from the federal government because of the increases in population. They were not being faced with any cuts from the federal government. In fact, they were getting millions and millions and millions of more dollars from the federal government, and they let it all slip away. They let it all slip away, not because of Bre-X. Bre-X had nothing to do with the way this government devastated the economy of the Yukon.
It was their own policies, and for them to put this motion forward today and ask for new ideas, all they have to do is go back and read Hansard and at least see what the Yukon Party has been saying for the three years they've been in government and pointing out where we believe they're making mistakes. Unless it was an idea that came from the government, it wasn't even worth talking about. It was just pooh-poohed by the Minister of Economic Development - a Minister of Economic Development, Mr. Speaker, who is going to have the dubious distinction of going down in history as presiding over the economy through one of the most devastating times in the history of the Yukon. That's going to be the dubious record that this Economic Development minister is going to have.
The Economic Development minister says that all the opposition can do is go out and blame the government for all of the hard economic times and try to convince the public that it's the government to blame. Well, I want to tell the Minister of Economic Development and his colleagues that we don't have to do that. We don't have to do that at all. They have done a superb job of doing it, and it's the Yukon public that's telling us that, and this government is not listening. It's not listening at all, Mr. Speaker.
They ask for ideas, but when we give them ideas, do they follow them? No. They don't want to hear ideas. We just heard the Minister of Economic Development stand for 20 minutes, defending all the things he's doing. He's got this vision in his head that things are turning around. Get out and talk to some Yukoners, because things are not turning around. Yukoners, in the month of November this year, this fall, this summer, are looking forward to going into this winter, and I'll bet that seven out of 10 Yukoners for sure have told me that they believe that this will be the toughest winter, as far as the economy goes, in the history of the Yukon. That's what Yukoners believe. That's why I'm saying to the government that there's no optimism out there. This government has killed optimism in the Yukon, and they've done it through their policies. They have driven investment out of the territory.
Yes, mineral prices are down, but the mineral industry hasn't been devastated in other jurisdictions like it has in the Yukon. It's this government's policies. And, in the few minutes I have today, I will, once again, point out what this government has done. I know they'll get up and criticize me - the speakers who'll follow me. They won't listen to us again, but they ask for our ideas.
And I just want to go back and go over some of the ground, and point out some of the areas and what I've said, and what they now, in the last two days, have picked up on when they finally got beat up so bad by the general public that they are now starting to say the things that I've been saying to them for two years. For two years, I've been telling them about it on the floor of this Legislature, and now all of a sudden it's twigged on them that, well, maybe that might be a good idea. Or, maybe they're not sincere in what they're telling the public out there. Maybe it's just that we're getting within 12 months of an election, or 11 months of an election, and maybe this is just all window dressing and pretending that they're listening.
On October 21, I released a seven-point plan of what a Yukon Party government would do, and some of the areas it touches on are areas where this government has failed and, as a result, has crippled investment in the territory, because through their policies they have not created an environment for investment - in fact quite the opposite.
Number one is the expeditious settlement of the seven outstanding land claims. This government told Yukoners, in their little pink book that they put out in 1996, that land claims weren't being resolved fast enough. The NDP government is going to resolve land claims, get them all done. The Yukon Party government wasn't moving fast enough. They came in, fired all the head people in Land Claims Secretariat, brought in their lap dogs from British Columbia - they're all gone now, or most of them, moved off to other jobs if they're still here - and we still have seven outstanding land claims. It is a detriment to investment in the territory - uncertainty.
Number two is that the Yukon Party government changed the protected areas strategy to focus on multiple use rather than its current focus on excluding large areas from resource exploration and development.
They just got beat up severely by the Chamber of Mines, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce on that very issue - on that very issue they just got beaten up. The Government Leader received three of the most severe letters of criticism that I have ever seen in the time that I've been in this Legislature - scathing letters, scathing letters on what this government was doing with protected areas. Now what do we have? We have the Geoscience Forum on, we have the Minister of Renewable Resources standing up in the House and saying, "No, we didn't do anything wrong; we followed the process." The Government Leader himself stood up in the House a couple of days ago and said, "We followed the process; we didn't do anything wrong." Now, all of a sudden, the Economic Development minister comes out and says, "Well, we did some things wrong." The Government Leader goes over and says, "Well, we could have done some things better." He wouldn't go as far as to admit they did some things wrong, but that they could have done things better.
And now we're going to make some changes. We'll consider making some changes. What are the changes they're going to make, Mr. Speaker? For one thing, they're going to put a cap on land quantum. They're going to consider that. Who has been telling them that in this Legislature for two years? And then they say we don't have any ideas over here. For two years I've been saying to them, "You have to put a cap on how much land is going to be removed under the protected areas strategy." Did they listen to us? No.
Now they're going to consider it. Now they're going to follow the process.
They didn't do resource assessments and that has caused them a great amount of problems. It has also caused great problems for the economy of the Yukon, because we will not have potential investors investing in a climate of uncertainty. And I hope the government has now gotten the message. You can't play those games. You can't go out there with three messages for three different constituents: one for the environmentalists, one for the First Nations, and one for the developers - not when all three of those messages are totally different. You can't have the Government Leader saying there should be no development on the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd when he's in opposition, and then coming in government and saying, "Well, responsible development is okay." You can't send those kind of signals to the investment community and expect them to invest in your province or your territory.
The government has an obligation, a fundamental role, in providing wealth-creating infrastructure; that's infrastructure that'll allow the private sector to operate in a competitive manner. This government has done none of that that they can point out to me. They've spent their money on their priorities, and it isn't that they didn't have any money; they've had millions and millions of dollars and they get some $30 million to $40 million dollars extra every year just because they haven't kept up with tax cuts in other jurisdictions - $30 million to $40 million dollars a year extra, sitting on an $80-million surplus - and yet they've allowed all our skilled labour to leave the territory for lack of work. And at the same time, they're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on training, trust funds and training new people - and when I say all of the skilled labour, we're talking about all the skilled labour that can't find jobs under the economy that has been created by this NDP government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the Member for Watson Lake has got to grasp onto something because he doesn't have very much constructive to say anyhow. That's the member that said all we needed was a forestry policy and all the people in the forestry industry would be working.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: That was three years ago - all we need is forestry policy, everybody will be working. Well, we saw that one go down the tubes, too.
Mr. Speaker, we believe that the government ought to have dedicated more of this excess revenue they had to wealth-creating infrastructure so that our businesses could be competitive, but they didn't. Tax incentives and the elimination of conflicting and excessive regulations - we've heard the criticism on that time and time again, where they're going to reduce regulations and, in fact, through their local hire policy and through other policies, they've created far more regulations than there ever were in the past.
Mr. Speaker, it's sort of ironic to see this motion being put forward by the Member for Kluane on ideas for stimulating the economy, because I can remember, in a debate in this House when I relayed some of the things we did under the Yukon Party, such as helping Archer Cathro walk a backhoe into the Aishihik area, the Member for Kluane's response was that they were worried that they might find a mine in there and that's why they wouldn't support it, and what would we do if we found a mine in there. That's what he did for his constituents. Heaven forbid that we should create some jobs in the territory. It's no wonder that this government can't do anything about a crippled economy.
Mr. Speaker, point number six, achieving a proper balance between environmental protection and resource development - that is something that has been lost under this current NDP government. Existing legislation must be enforced to protect the environment from the negligent mining companies, but responsible resource developers with good environmental track records must be given access to land and encouraged to explore.
Mr. Speaker, I think that's probably one of the biggest shortcomings of this government, and one of the reasons why we've watched investment flee the territory.
It's not all Bre-X. Bre-X affected Alaska. It affected other jurisdictions. It affected the whole world. Yet, those investment dollars have left the Yukon and are going to other jurisdictions, even other jurisdictions in Canada. A lot of them are going to Alaska, paying a 50-percent premium to explore there in the same Tintina Trench that runs through the Yukon. But they believe that if they find something on the other side of that line, they'll at least be able to develop it. They won't have the boondoggles of Tombstone. They won't have the boondoggles of the Fishing Branch. They won't have the controversy that was created by this government. Mr. Speaker, quite clearly this government has to bear the brunt of the responsibility for the devastation of the Yukon economy. They're the ones that create the policies.
To say that we're going to diversify the economy is great. Every government that I know of - previous NDP governments, Yukon Party government, Conservative governments before that - have all worked on diversifying the economy. But they didn't make it the only thing they were doing. They didn't do it at the expense of mining. They didn't do it at the expense of everything else.
A little over a year ago, the Government Leader must have gotten some negative messages as he was going around on his fall of 1998 tour around the communities, because he made a ministerial statement on new actions on the Yukon economy. It was quite interesting to pull this off Hansard and look at it and see what he said, and see if anything has changed. I can't see anything that's changed except that the economy continues to deteriorate and people continue to leave the Yukon. Let's look at what he said about mining in here.
He talks about the four pillars - four major policy pillars - on which his government is building a new economic agenda for the territory. What does he say about mining? "The second pillar of our economic agenda is building on our recognized strengths. For over a century, mining has been a major private sector industrial activity in the territory. Our government believes in responsible development of our mineral resources and will continue to support this important segment of our economy."
That's it - that's all he said about mining. It was the largest private sector employer in the Yukon at one time, and that's all he had to say about it - not a ringing endorsement for mining in the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, we heard the Member for Kluane talking about Y-to-Y. This government has not yet got the message that their swing toward the environmental agenda - that dramatic swing that they've made at the expense of resource developers - is what has killed the economy in the Yukon, and yet they were talking about piling more on top to get the economy going.
I don't know whether those members don't talk to Yukoners, don't listen to Yukoners, or what their problem is. They can use the political spin, use their spin doctors to the maximum as much as they want, but the public isn't buying it. The numbers aren't bearing out what they're trying to tell Yukoners. It's not there. They have one year left in their mandate. Mr. Speaker, I hope that they will at least take something from this debate, look back at their track record on listening to the opposition.
There are numerous things we've put in Hansard and on the agenda to give them ideas about what we think we should be doing with the economy. If they don't do it all, they could at least take a little bit, and it would be an improvement.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: First, let me say that I believe the Member for Kluane's tabling and debate of this motion in this Legislature is very valid.
The thrust of this motion, Mr. Speaker, is to get a debate stimulated in this Legislature where the opposition members in this House will provide ideas, bring forward their real suggestions and help Yukoners as they work toward diversifying this economy.
I can tell you right now that the Liberals failed miserably. They put forward one idea after subtly trying to spin negative results toward this government. They put forward one idea that no Liberal in the world can accomplish - that's follow-through.
The reason, Mr. Speaker, is because that would mean getting off the fence and making a decision, and they cannot do that, and they've shown time and time and time again in this Legislature that they're not capable of making a decision or getting off the fence. They will tell anybody in this territory anything they want to hear, simply for partisan, political gain. So their one suggestion is something that they can't even deliver on themselves.
On the other hand, this government does follow through, and when it comes to the economy of this territory and focusing on diversifying this economy, we have followed through in many, many areas.
We have followed through on the resource sectors. We have followed through in trade and investment. We have followed through in tourism, and we continue to follow through in many areas in working toward diversifying our economy.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals can't sit in this Legislature and tell the Yukon public that, if they want to hear what the Liberals would do to improve this economy, they'd have to wait for an election.
That's a disservice to the Yukon public, and I think the Liberals should be ashamed of those types of comments. They have a duty to provide suggestions and bring forward their ideas in this House. Yes, I'll admit that criticism of the government side of the House from the opposition benches is part of our system; however, even in the public forum, through news media and talking publicly, the Liberals have stated that they are not willing to bring forward one single, solitary suggestion - one idea - toward improving the economy in this territory and our economic future. They say, "Wait for the election." It will be interesting to see their platform.
Mr. Speaker, I don't want to spend a lot of time rebutting the Liberals because, all in all, they have not provided any suggestion here, and they haven't even grasped the thrust of this motion that the Member for Kluane has brought forward. Its intent was to stimulate debate and have the Liberals bring forward ideas. The only positive result here today is that the opposition in this Legislature has chosen to actually perform their duty, sit in this Legislature and debate this motion, something that they failed to do in the past.
Now, let's consider for a moment some of the ideas that the Member for Kluane brought forward. Whether we agree with those ideas, whether the Yukon public agrees with all those ideas, the member did bring forward suggestions and ideas that he believed, from talking to members of his constituency, would play a role in improving our economic fortunes in this territory.
The point is he did bring forward ideas. The Yukon Party, on the other hand, Mr. Speaker, in this Legislature, the leader of the third party - and I want to point out that this is a leader of a party who, a short time ago, was the government leader, recently was the leader of the official opposition and today is the leader of the third party in this Legislature, so it's obvious the Yukon public is not buying into what that member is saying on the economic issues, or any other issue, in this territory. That is why they are now the third party in this Legislature.
However that member, because of that fact, chose not to bring forward ideas in this House but chose to berate and badger and basically call down this side of the House, and ignore any recognition of the work that has been done - and there has been a lot of work done.
Led by the Minister of Economic Development in this government, we - the NDP government - have taken that first and most major step toward diversifying this economy and moving this territory away from the boom-and-bust cycles that we have suffered under far too long.
The Yukon Party's only approach to the economy in this territory is mining - mining, mining, mining, mining. They also state that, under their regime, this territory's economy was booming. And I can tell you, as a citizen of a community in this territory, under the Yukon Party's regime, the economy was not booming, and people out in the communities suffered under the Yukon Party regime.
There was a loss of jobs. There was absolutely no recognition that there were communities out there. When people went to their government - the Yukon Party government - with suggestions on what may help our economic fortunes out in the communities, they turned their backs on Yukoners. They failed to even recognize or give any validity to what we tried to bring forward.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party doesn't have any ideas when it comes to this economy. The member opposite, the Member for Porter Creek North, has stated - and this goes to show why the Yukon Party is in the position they're in today, and it goes to show why the Yukon public ousted them as a government and it goes to show why we can never follow their course, their lead, when it comes to the economy of this territory - the Member for Porter Creek North stated minutes ago that there is no optimism in this territory. Nothing, Mr. Speaker, could be further from the truth.
The member states, "No optimism." What is Argus? A $35-million investment in a shopping mall, a retail centre in the City of Whitehorse. Does he class that as no optimism?
Mr. Speaker, one of the most sought-after franchises in the fast food industry in this country - and indeed probably around the world - is Boston Pizza. We are now witnessing the construction of a Boston Pizza in the City of Whitehorse. No optimism?
Mr. Speaker, I was just discussing with a hotel proprietor last night the fact that he has just spent in excess of $1 million in renovating his establishment. The reason he spent that money is because he is optimistic about the future economic fortunes of this territory.
Yet the Yukon Party leader states there's no optimism in mining. Well, let me tell the member opposite and the opposite benches that mining as an industry in this country is in a crisis situation not just in the Yukon Territory, but across this country.
Canada is losing the market share of investment dollars in exploration. Now, why is that? Well, I can tell you quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, because the federal Liberal government in this country has failed to recognize the problems in the industry and has failed to act. That's a Liberal government. This government on the other hand, in addressing the mining industry and it's problems in the territory, has acted. A 22-percent tax credit for exploration in this territory does not result in chump change. It's a real action by a government doing it's level best to address the problem under the very jurisdiction that we have, but we can't do this by ourselves.
I recently attended a mining conference where all provinces and territories were represented, and I can tell you that, right across the board, jurisdictions in this country - provinces and territories - have recognized that there's a problem here. The Yukon led the charge at the conference in lobbying the federal government to address that issue, to try and come up with ways that they can build in incentives to attract more investment dollars in this territory when it comes to mining.
One of the suggestions made and supported by the provinces and territories was the re-creation of a flow-through share program. Now, the Yukon Party loves to hold up Alaska - look at what's going on in mining in Alaska. Well, I can tell you today, Mr. Speaker, that exploration expenditure in Alaska has dropped by 26 percent, so it's no rosy situation in Alaska either.
The leader of the third party states there's no optimism in this territory. What are the millions of dollars that have been invested in oil and gas? That investment comes to this territory because oil and gas companies are optimistic about the future. Cominco, one of the largest mining companies in this country, forges ahead with licensing its property at Kudz Ze Kayah, and if base metal prices - zinc and lead prices - had a stable trajectory, that company would be operating mines today in this territory. The reason they are not operating those mines, Mr. Speaker, is because they can't make a profit.
Now, that's where the Yukon Party is completely out of touch with reality when it comes to what it takes to develop and manage an economy. There must be a profit margin in investment. There must be a reasonable return on investment.
The Yukon Party is very quick to criticize this government when it comes to forestry - very quick - and I can tell you that, when it comes to forestry, a sector of our economy in this territory that is very important in terms of investment, job creation and benefit for Yukon people, under the Yukon Party regime, it failed completely. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party, which stands here day after day after day stating how many jobs they created in this territory, actually were the architects of the loss of hundreds of jobs in the forest sector. They were the overseers of a moratorium in forestry. People could not even access firewood under that Yukon Party government's regime in this territory.
To say in this Legislature that they were the job creators and that under their regime and tutelage this economy was booming is a joke. It's a complete joke. The Yukon Party can't even read statistics and come out with a conclusion that is factual. It is fact that the forestry sector in this territory was dead under the Yukon Party. We, on the other hand, Mr. Speaker, instead of telling the Yukon public that it's a federal problem and there's nothing we can do and turning our backs on Yukoners, went to work on that issue. The result was the Yukon forest strategy, which is, by the way, Yukon government policy, and which today, as we go through the process of implementation, has resulted today in millions of dollars of investment in the forest sector - investment because those people who have spent their money on creating a manufacturing sector in this territory in the forest industry are optimistic about the economic future here in the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party completely ignored that sector of the economy. In fact, the Yukon Party didn't do anything while in office to even address or sit down and think about diversifying the economy. They raised taxes, they cut back wages - by the way, in a sector that spends a great deal of those earned dollars in this territory - they simply spent the money and called that economic boom. They brought forward one of the highest budgets ever in this territory. Did the Yukon Party government do anything in the communities? Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker. It did nothing in the communities.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite, the leader of the third party, has stated that we have devastated the economy in this territory.
Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The oil and gas sector is now starting to increase and is up and running. As I stated, forestry has millions of dollars in investment and jobs well in excess of 200, Mr. Speaker - a manufactured product flowing out of this territory. What we have are investment dollars in this territory in that sector that have resulted in the creation of local jobs through access of local resource and the manufacture of a product with that resource.
Many times the leader of the official opposition in this House has asked me where the First Nations are in the forest sector. I can tell the member that the First Nations are investing their money in sawmills in this territory to create jobs and economic benefit for the people of this territory. That, Mr. Speaker, is where the First Nations are. And that is something that was achieved through the help and the good work of the NDP government here in the Yukon Territory.
Let me remind the Yukon Party that they couldn't even talk to the First Nations. The leader of the third party states that the land claim issue is one of our major stumbling blocks in this territory -
Speaker: Order please. The member has two minutes to conclude.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the member states that the land claim issue is one of the major stumbling blocks in this territory when it comes to our economic fortunes. And I've just pointed out that the First Nations, under this government's regime, are investing in such things as forestry, and that we haven't done nothing in terms of settling land claims. Well, nothing could be further from the truth in that regard. We have completed our work. We are now awaiting issues from the federal Liberal government to be addressed and dealt with.
Mr. Speaker, I can say that the Yukon Party is absolutely void and empty of any ideas when it comes to helping to improve the economy in this territory, and the Liberals will not get off the fence because they will always play politics. And those benches - the members opposite - are doing a disservice to the people in this territory, and I believe that they should be honest with the Yukon public and bring forward their ideas in this House, and let the Yukon people judge.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, they must be scared of the Liberals, I'll tell you that much. I've never heard such a thing. The last three years it's like we didn't even exist. Suddenly - "The Liberals, the Liberals are sitting on the fence. The Liberals, the Liberals, they have no ideas." Well, we do have ideas. We have great ideas, and they were stolen by the NDP.
I'm quite proud of what we've done. The first thing we brought forward was a motion on P3s - or public/private partnerships - and I remember quite distinctly on that day that there were four members on the side opposite - on the government side - who said that we'd be mortgaging our future if we had anything to do with public/private partnerships.
Guess what. What a difference a year makes. Not only are they a wonderful idea, but they're the NDP's idea. No one else ever said anything about it before, and now they're in favour of them. They still don't know what a public/private partnership is, but now they're in favour of them.
The other idea we brought forward was the idea of an investment tax credit - similar to the one at that time that had just been brought into the N.W.T. And, as usual, the suggestion fell on deaf ears on the government side. But now, of course, it's the answer for the economy here in the Yukon.
But, you know, the only suggestion that wasn't listened to and stolen by the side opposite - the one they would steadfastly refuse to consider - is that the government should listen to the advice of the local business community. You know, the people who were here throughout all the ups and downs - when the mines closed, when the interest rates went through the roof; the people who sign personal guarantees on everything they own, down to the clothes in their closets; the people who were here, the people who have always been here, the people who will always be here, and know how to do business in the Yukon. Why should we listen to them?
Well, we should listen to them because they know. You don't have to get some expert from outside to tell us the economy's in the tank; we know that. There are tons and tons of excellent suggestions that come out of the business summit in January of this past year, but those weren't even discussed on the floor of the House - oh no, because they had to bring in their own experts to tell us that the economy's in the tank. Well, guess what, Mr. Speaker, the economy is in the tank.
We'll be supporting the motion. We can't believe that the government is being so negative about their own members. They have a majority in this House - they have a majority in this House - and there seems to be this underlying suggestion that the people in this House, the members of this Legislative Assembly, aren't doing their jobs. Well, may I suggest that the majority of those members are on the opposite side of the House and if they have a problem with their own members not doing their jobs, then they should keep it to themselves. I'm not interested in them airing their dirty laundry in public, not interested at all. We're doing our jobs, we're representing the people of theYukon well and I'm darned proud of the suggestions that we've brought froward to this House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: Actually that was quite an interesting, short statement that was just made by the member opposite. I don't know. Personally, I always get a little queasy talking about ideas - not ideas, but stealing ideas, and who owns what ideas, and who gets credit for what ideas. You know, the basic question is, is there an original thought out there left in this world? Personally, there are not really that many. What happens is, you talk to someone, often a constituent of a business associate or a person that you work side by side with, and they've heard something, whether it's from another part of the country - and there's nothing wrong with having people -
Mrs. Edelman:Point of order.
Speaker: The Member for Riverdale South, on a point of order.
Mrs. Edelman: There is no quorum in the House.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during a sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring and do a count.
Speaker: Order please. I have shut off the bells, and I will do a count. There are 12 members. As quorum is present, we will now continue debate.
Mr. Hardy:I'm going to go back to what I was saying about original ideas. You talk to your constituents. You talk to your friends. You may talk to your business associates. You may talk to your fellow workers. You may talk to your children. They may have heard something. They may have thought of something that they feel is important and would like to share with you. It may come from another part of the country. It may come from the community of Haines Junction, Watson Lake, Ross River. It could come down from Old Crow. It could come out of Whitehorse. It could come from Sweden, Germany, Japan, United States, and it grows and expands and adapts to the conditions that we live in in the Yukon. So, somebody brings it forward, the idea about the economy, since we're debating ideas, solutions to the economy. Somebody brings this forward, and all of sudden there's a claim to it, that it's our idea. Somebody else picks it up, and they figure it's their idea. And you get these words used like "stealing", "theft". How can you steal an idea?
It just absolutely baffles me how you can actually steal an idea. Now, if you want credit for an idea, that's fine, but is it really your idea, is it really your party's idea, and is it really new? I would put it to this Legislature to show me a new idea, one original thought, that hasn't been developed or thought of somewhere else. Show me. Stand up here and point to it and prove to me that this is a thought that's never been thought of before, and it's your own idea.
That's not what we're here in the Legislature for. We're not in the Legislature here to steal ideas, as the word has being used. What we're here for is to represent our constituents, of course, who elect us, but also the people of the Yukon, to the best of our abilities, to bring forward solutions to problems that we may have in this territory, and to share those solutions with our neighbours, whether it's our neighbour across the street, whether it's our neighbours in Alaska, or whether it's our neighbours in British Columbia or Alberta, and hope that they share their solutions to problems that they're facing with us.
The motion speaks about the responsibility to our constituents. I would say we can expand on that. We have a responsibility to each other in this Legislature to speak the truth, to try to get along, to listen - something that I feel at times is not one of our greatest attributes in here - and maybe to be a little social with each other once in awhile. Because, if we don't, we are always going to be on opposite sides. Maybe that's the way -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Yes, I know. The Member for Kluane says I'm such a socialist, and that's very true. I am such a socialist.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: But I think it's important -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Yes, I'm so happy to stand here and talk about this.
But I think it's important that we do talk inside the Legislature and outside the Legislature. We talk as neighbours. We talk as people when we bump into one another on the street. I don't want to walk down the street and see people walking toward me and say, "Liberal - hmm. Yukon Party - whoa. Oh, NDPer - Hey, how are you doing? I know you. You're great. You've got an idea - I can listen to it." I hope I don't ever end up in that state, and I hope no one else gets like that. When I finish in here, whether I get elected next term or not, whether I stay around for a few years and try to represent the people as best as I can, I want to be able to leave here and be able to run into the members across the floor and be able to talk to them as people of the Yukon, as friends of the Yukon. They have tried to do their best, as we, on our side, have tried to do our best, as well.
In my view, that's kind of what I take from this motion. There are huge lists of the amount of work that has been done by this government, and it's debated. There are contributions that have been made by the opposition, and those contributions are debated. There are motion days; we debate them. Sometimes, they're amended. But at the end of the day, we go back to our constituents. We have to be accountable to them, and we hope that the work we've done is appreciated and is viewed in the light as being for the betterment of Yukon.
I, for one, am really tired. You know, I'm really tired of standing in here and just trotting out the same old lines and hearing the same old lines come back, and trotting out the same old lines. Maybe it's because it's the middle of the session, and it just beats you down after awhile. You know, maybe what I have to do is go back to the doorstep and talk to some more people, and share their lives, and hear their problems, and hear their victories and successes, and, hopefully, be a good listener in order to bring their issues forward.
Every one of us in here does casework, and personally, I believe casework is what roots you. We can talk about the big issues, the huge issues. We can talk about devolution; it's a major, major move for the Yukon. We can talk about land claims and the difficulties of negotiation, successes and failures in that area on all sides, whether it's the First Nation views or the government's views or views of the people of the general public. But ultimately, I personally find that it's the people who make the appointment to come to my office - or I go to see them - and they talk to me about their child's problem at a school, or some difficulty in getting some funding together to get their children in some sports, or the cost of food and the availability of it, and shelter, and how their garden is growing in the summers, and deaths in the family, as we had a tribute today. You talk to people, and share their lives, and you share yours with them. That to me is what roots me anyway. I have to go back, and I have to stay in touch.
I think we work in here, and we work in an environment that I personally don't believe is the best system.
I don't think the British system that we work under is the best system for delivery of representation or democracy in the world. I think it's something that we could probably work on more. But it's something that we have to work with, and it's an adversarial system. Unfortunately we buy into the conflict a lot faster than we'd buy into the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: - consensus, yes, thank you to the member opposite - consensus. And it's so much easier to find fault, so much easier to pick apart, whether it's we on this side or the opposition on the other side, and I don't know if that makes us better people; I for one don't think it makes me a better person and, I don't know, I'm just a - I don't want to come out of here totally jaded and mean. I'm proud of a lot of the work that we do, and I respect the structure of an opposition and I feel a strong opposition is one of the most central parts of the structure that we work under here, the British system. A strong opposition - and it has been said many times before - but a strong opposition makes a government better, and I believe that the members on the opposite side recognize that that's their duty: to supply a strong opposition.
When you think about it, even the name is difficult, you know. You're automatically in opposition; no matter what happens, you're called the opposition. But anyway, it is the way - it makes the government better, and I believe it's true - if we're going to work in this system a strong opposition is essential for us as is the government side - just as previously, when the Yukon Party was in and they faced many, many difficulties, a strong opposition was good for the Yukon.
Just as it is today. So their duty, I guess, on the opposite side, from my perspective, is bringing constituents' issues forward, bringing solutions, bringing their ideas forward, ideas that they've gathered, fighting for them, fighting for their constituents' concerns from the calls, from the constituent calls that they get down in their offices. They're also talking about the big issues in the territory that many of the constituents really don't want to get involved in. They expect us to do that, and deal with that, on our side. We have the same situation. We have constituents. We have to work within the confines of this government, and we shape and direct it and put our stamp on it, from our perspectives. And we have seen the Yukon Party's; we have seen the previous NDP; we have seen previous to that the Conservatives.
What the future holds, I don't know. Election comes along. Democracy has, once again, an opportunity to exercise its right. But we can't predict it. We can only do the best work that we can. Hopefully, at the end of the day we can hold our heads high, when we did good work, and try to contribute, each and every one of us.
I think it's a good motion. It's not one I want to go and list a whole pile of things about, but I think it's a good motion, and I think the people in the territory will recognize it as a decent motion, the one that speaks to them from their constituents' concerns and direction that they need to give to us to ensure this is a better place in the Yukon.
Mr. Jenkins: This is one of those motions that we have no objection to supporting, but the rhetoric surrounding the motion gives me great concern. Some of the statements made by the mover of the motion are nothing but political grandstanding, which clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of commerce, a lack of understanding of what drives an economy, and a lack of understanding of the message that a government must send out, the confidence that must come out of a government in order to attract industry, to attract and retain that investment and to allow it to work in a manner that enhances the lives of all of us here in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker.
When I look at the message that has been coming forward from this government over the last three years, I'm very much appalled. Try as they might, it appears to be very much a mixed message, very much a message that does not generate any confidence in the investment community. In fact, when one looks at the amount of investment here in the Yukon the last few years, it's probably at an all-time low, given the amount of investment generated in the rest of Canada.
That, in large part, is because British Columbia and the Yukon are tarred with the same brush. They both have an NDP government, and they both have an NDP government that industry, the business community and the investment community, have lost confidence in - completely lost confidence.
Oh, yes, they're staying on the periphery, Mr. Speaker, keeping an eye on the Yukon, buying up mining claims and oil and gas leases because our potential is vast. It's a vast potential, but until there is some uncertainty surrounding the actual percentage of the Yukon that is going to be under parks or protected areas, that certainty is being developed and encouraged by this government. Those provinces and jurisdictions that have set out a program as to the total percentage that is going to be set aside for protected areas and for parks have moved ahead a long way in gaining the confidence of industry and investors, especially in the resource sector.
The Yukon hasn't made such a move. Well, it sort of has, if you listen to the Minister of Renewable Resources. With respect to the total area to be protected, he stated, "Well, it won't be over 50 percent, or it'll be just slightly less than 50 percent, or around 50 percent."
Mr. Speaker, that's a vast, vast area to protect. Until those decisions are made by this government, we're not going to move ahead. We're not going to move ahead at all. We're going to be static.
British Columbia, on the other hand, which has care and control over those areas, has just destroyed the resource industry. I have not spoken to an investor that wants to put money into the resource sector in British Columbia, and for decades and decades, British Columbia was the fastest growing region of Canada. Now, alongside the Yukon, it shares the distinction of being at the bottom, as far as development.
There's an exodus of people from the Yukon. Our population is shrinking and has been shrinking for the last several years, Mr. Speaker. School populations are down all through the Yukon. Those are clear indications that there is not much in the way of opportunity or work here. People have given up. They're moving out.
That's a shame. As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Speaker, we have one of the greatest areas of Canada here in the Yukon and a tremendous amount of potential. The political direction is sadly leading us down this garden path where we will have no opportunities for our children, other than perhaps working for the government in one form or another, or working on a government grant, so long as the federal government keeps transferring the amount of money to the Yukon that it is currently transferring.
One only has to look at the activities that are going on in mining and oil and gas in Alberta and Alaska.
Now, the Member for Watson Lake said exploration in Alaska was down last year. He's absolutely correct. It was down some 20-odd percent. But have a look at the dollars. Have a look at the dollars, Mr. Speaker, that were spent on exploration in Alaska. They were primarily Canadian dollars, generated on the Vancouver and Toronto exchanges, taken to Alaska, and virtually a 50-percent penalty is paid on that money before it is spent in Alaska. But the Canadians are flocking to Alaska in the mining industry. The mining industry in Alaska is virtually controlled by Canadians, and last year mining contributed $1.1 billion to the economy of the State of Alaska. That in itself is significant - $1.1 billion. Yes, their exploration was down, but it was still 20 times greater than what went on here in the Yukon. Again, it was undertaken by Canadian mining companies.
This summer was an interesting summer, Mr. Speaker, in that the visitor industry in Dawson had a number of individuals who historically have worked out of Dawson in the exploration field, and they did stop in to Dawson this summer on their way from Vancouver through Dawson into Alaska. That's where the majority of the geologists spent their summers, working on the Pogo deposit and the area surrounding it, in the same highly mineralized zone that flows from Alaska all the way through the Yukon and into northern British Columbia.
This mineralized zone is predominantly in the Yukon. The potential is unbelievable as far as it is resource bearing. But what are we doing? We're not encouraging mining exploration. Oh, yes, we have the tax incentives. Yes, they could help, but only if there's certainty at the end of the day that after a mining company stakes the claims, develops the claims, it can actually go through due process and mine the claims. The Member for Kluane - I don't think I'll ever forget his remarks dealing with mining claims. He says, "My gosh, we don't want them to explore on those mining claims they have. They might find something. They might find something, Mr. Speaker, which means they'll go in and mine it. Well, my gosh, what's the whole exercise about? What's the whole exercise about?
When we look at the oil and gas industry, the potential of the northern part of Yukon is tremendous, and it has been amply demonstrated in the southeast corner of Yukon. Some of the largest finds are just over the border in the Northwest Territories. The fields in southeast Yukon have been producing and piped into the system for quite a number of years, and royalties have been flowing back into the Yukon. Well, how do we access it? The road that accesses all that field comes up from British Columbia.
Where's an initiative from this government to punch a road from Watson Lake over into southeast Yukon? A road to resources. It could open up a vast area that has known oil and gas reserves. It could open up a vast area that has tremendous timber potential. But, oh no, we don't want to do that.
Yes, there will probably be some oil and gas exploration there. And the hype surrounding it, generated by the Minister of Economic Development, would lead us to believe that there are going to be a lot of Yukoners working in that oil and gas industry. There are ongoing courses where one could become certified in WHMIS and H2S, and get the necessary background. But virtually all of these jobs that will be offered to Yukoners are entry-level jobs. They're not going to be paying anywhere near what the mining industry has historically paid out nor what the government's payroll has offered - nowhere close, Mr. Speaker.
So, for all of this hype, what do we end up with at the end of the day? We end up with a few entry-level jobs and not much else - a shame. Yet, the potential of our oil and gas industry - I don't think there are too many people who can grasp it. It has been explained to me, and it's vast. It's tremendous.
We had the Northern Cross extracting a pretty sweet crude from the Eagle Plains area for the last few years. They were seeking a partnership with government or government agencies to use that product for power generation or heating purposes. I think virtually every road block in the book was thrown in front of Northern Cross. Today, they are disillusioned. I don't think you'll see them around. They'll just sit on their reserves, wait until there is a change in government, and then look at developing their known reserves of oil in the Eagle Plains area.
We just have to go back a few decades, when there was a potential for a gas transmission line either down the Dempster, down the Mackenzie Valley, along the Alaska Highway, and there was a major inquiry.
It never happened. A moratorium was placed on it for a decade, yet we have the First Nations from Mackenzie Delta banging on doors in Calgary just a few years ago saying, "Hey, look, let's come back and have a look at this gas and see what we can do." And today Inuvik is getting piped natural gas.
There are opportunities similar to that in the Whitehorse area, but what are we doing? Not a thing, Mr. Speaker. We're not even exploring gas potential, gas distribution - not even looking at it. As long as those big bucks keep flowing from Ottawa, I guess we don't have to. We can spend, spend, spend.
One just has to look back a few years and see the changes in the financial position of this Yukon government. When the Yukon Party came to power it inherited a $64-million deficit. The perversity factor was about $1.50. I believe it was $1.56. The economy was turned around under their term in office. The population was growing. Yes, there were some hard decisions that had to be made. Taxes were increased to cover off the deficit, and there were those dreaded wage rollbacks. Hindsight is always 20/20 in retrospect. If done again, there are some decisions that wouldn't be made in the same manner.
But at the end of the day, the economy was booming. There was money in the bank, and this government, when it came to power, inherited that surplus, chose not to lower taxes, chose not to give back any of the wages...
Speaker: The member has two minutes to conclude.
Mr. Jenkins: ...which they were in a financial position to do. Instead, the perversity factor shrunk to just over a dollar, which meant a windfall amount of money flowing to the Government of Yukon of approximately $40 million additional per year, along with the census adjuster of some millions of dollars. So, financially, they're very well off.
But Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, at the end of the day, this motion presented by the Member for Kluane is very much a commonsense, logical motion. It's really what we're all here elected to do, only some individuals and some parties have the ability to do it a lot better than it's currently being done.
So, at the next election, we'll look forward to that opportunity being presented once again, and probably the NDP will try to buy the next election, as they're doing so now, but hopefully common sense will prevail, and we can go on with our work as legislators, because the issue is one of common sense, good rules, attract investment, attract dollars, encourage trade and commerce, and encourage it in a manner that is sustainable.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: What a bleak, dark and pessimistic world the Member for Klondike inhabits. He took the opportunity to portray a fantasy world of the Yukon Party's imagination. He decided that this was the opportunity - this Wednesday afternoon of all Wednesday afternoons - to take a constructive motion put forward by the Member for Kluane and paint the bleakest possible picture that his imagination could possibly generate, and in so doing - and this will be one for the historians - he has decided that perhaps now is the time to continue the Yukon Party habit of rewriting the Yukon Party's brief but painful term in office and suggest that perhaps it was indeed necessary a few years ago to raise taxes, to cut public servants' wages. All in the effort to do what? To support the largest budgets in Yukon history. This was not a time when the government revenues were declining dramatically.
In fact, the budgets that the Yukon Party was promoting in those days were the largest we'd ever seen. In fact, this supplementary that we have today - this is three years after the Yukon Party thankfully, and to the relief of many, left office - is the first time we have ever matched the Yukon Party's spending record, in terms of gross expenditures. We must remember as well, Mr. Speaker, that within six months of those taxes being raised, the Yukon Party was engaged in huge, new multi-million dollar spending programs that they had their blue-chip committee behind closed doors dream up in order to get some capital spending into the economy.
So, their prescription for economic growth - and we have to remember what they were facing; shortly after they came to office they were facing Anvil Range mine shutting down - their prescription was to pick everybody's pocket and cut people's wages. And they say that that was necessary.
I disagree. I disagree most profoundly. Now the Yukon Party says the NDP should be working overtime to reverse their record, reverse their agenda. Well, we have been working very hard to reverse the Yukon Party agenda. People forget already that we cut taxes this last budget, not the next budget. No, we're not promising for the next budget yet, but for the last budget we cut taxes $4.5 million - $4.5 million. And we've provided wage increases to public servants in every year we've been in office.
We are trying hard to reverse the Yukon Party record but we can't do it at once. It took years to rebuild the relationship with First Nation governments and with municipal governments and all the people - the NGOs and women's transition homes - everybody was at war with the Yukon Party while in government. It has taken a long time to rebuild some trust and a good relationship.
Mr. Speaker, what kind of fantasyland do these folks live in? Here we have a situation where they stand up and say the business community and the investment community have completely lost confidence in the NDP government, the same government that has, for the first time ever, got a partnership with the business community on our trades strategy, on the investment strategy, where we're all speaking together, we're all meeting together, we're learning from each other, we're working with each other, and we're pursuing a whole array of economic measures to build and diversify our economy.
This is a partnership that the Yukon Party could only dream of and were unable to accomplish because they were too busy doing war, doing battle, with people around this territory.
But into the third year of our mandate, we have got a solid partnership with everyone from the chambers of commerce to the Federation of Labour to the Association of Yukon Communities, Yukon College, First Nation governments, the Tourism Industry Association and others - even the federal government - on our basic economic strategy. The only place it's not reflected or acknowledged is in this Chamber. This is almost a twilight zone. The moment we walk out of the Chamber, we've got relationships, we've got partnerships, we're doing things, and having good relationships, undertaking everything from new telecommunications initiatives. Matthew Lien had a big show about the successes he was experiencing in Taiwan, and there were hundreds of people celebrating with him.
I have meetings with mining companies, and they're saying we're doing well in a very difficult environment. I come into this Chamber and hear nothing but pessimism and negativity and accusations that the citizens who are working with us, and we, are all a bunch of losers. How is it that the investment community has lost faith in this government and this territory when we've just secured tens of millions of dollars through the immigrant investor fund, a fund that the members opposite thought we'd be lucky if we were able to get just a few million dollars in subscriptions. And we ended up getting $27 million or something. People thought opposite, that the oil and gas industry was moribund, that nothing would happen.
And we have $30 million in investment that is the first in 20 years. Even in the retail industry, Mr. Speaker, if there were ever a bellwether for determining whether or not somebody was going to invest in a community, you'd think the retail industry would be an example where people would be retrenching. One business that opened up 10 months ago - that's closing now - has been nothing but championed as an example of what's going wrong with the economy.
And yet there are developers who are developing a $30-million project down the street. Walk out the front door of this building here in Whitehorse, walk down the street and you see buildings being built. Someone has confidence in the economy. It's out there someplace.
All that is routinely ignored by the members in the opposition - both parties - commented on with disdain by both parties, as if that activity was a complete fiction.
If there is a mill operating in Watson Lake, with 70 employees - I happen to know that those guys go to work every day with a lunch pail, and they pick up a paycheque. That's real.
So to come in and say the government has no oil and gas agenda - just a flat statement, no oil and gas agenda, as the Member for Klondike so blithely speaks - when the NDP government, in its time in office, has not only secured the transfer of oil and gas from the federal government, but has also done some record-breaking things in terms of new investment in oil and gas - where? In Eagle Plains.
Northern Cross did not express concerns about the NDP government. I was at a business meeting where a Northern Cross representative stood up and said that the NDP government was good for their business. But the members opposite think they can simply contradict that and say that it doesn't happen and that nobody is doing anything, and if they're lucky - and they have been pretty lucky so far - the media are simply going to imitate that and take it as fact. It's pure fiction.
The Member for Riverdale North sits back, laughs and giggles, as he generally does. This member criticizes the Minister of Tourism for not doing enough. The member opposite thinks that he was the champion of tourism. The Minister of Tourism today is doing many times more things than the member opposite could ever have done when he was Minister of Tourism, and he's got real product to show for it - not fantasy product or a string of failures behind him, but real product. Those planes are really landing, Mr. Speaker. They're really dropping off people who are taking advantage of our tourism industry. I speak to people in the tourism industry too, and they say that they're taking advantage of those opportunities and are excited by them. Do you know what the eloquent response is from the Member for Riverdale North? It's a giggle. This is a game. The whole thing is just a game.
Mr. Speaker, I like to think that the people of this territory can separate the silly gamesmanship of members in the opposition, particularly the Member for Riverdale North, and separate that from the hard work that, normally, they are doing themselves but are doing jointly with us in government.
And when all the rhetoric has passed, and when we actually have to be called upon to vote, to stand for something, maybe they'll see what's going on here.
We had come into this Legislature with $1.8 million in the Tourism budget, hundreds of thousands of new dollars in marketing, and what happens when the vote comes? Cut apart from the rhetoric, what happens when the vote comes? Where do people stand? And do you know what? Opposition Liberals and the Yukon Party vote against it.
Mr. Speaker, what happens when the telecommunications initiative, which is sought by people around this territory, supported by people - I haven't found a detractor in this territory to that initiative, whether it be the telephone initiative, or the high-speed data transmission, or the video conferencing. I've found not a single detractor of that project.
There is $2 million in this budget. What did the opposition do? The opposition Liberals and the Yukon Party voted against it. When it all came down to the bottom, what happened? They voted against it.
Now, on the one hand, the Yukon Party can say: "Well, that's what oppositions do. They vote against the government." The Liberals can't say that, because they voted with the Yukon Party government. They voted for their budgets, and they're voting against these budgets today. So when you cut through all the nonsense, what happens when the vote comes? They're voting against these items.
We've got money in the budget here for waterfront development in Whitehorse, something that people in the City of Whitehorse have been longing for for a long time. There's money here - a lot of money in here - for waterfront development. What is the opposition doing? They're voting against it.
They came in saying it's going to be economy, economy, economy. If we hadn't offered opportunities for the members opposite and encouraged the debate, they would have dropped it after day one. The first half of the first Question Period was about the economy, and then it was dropped. So, what did we do? We sponsored a debate on the economy. The members in the opposition walk out and they're considered heroes by some, by their supporters. Then we have a debate about the - then the quick-spin artist. We've got to find an answer for that one. Well, it's really the supplementary budget we're going to talk about the economy on. When we bring the supplementary budget in for debate, the Yukon Party boycotts the debate.
Mr. Speaker, I rest my case. This is a fantasy world. What's going on in this Legislature bears no relationship to what's happening in the street. We have never said once, on our side of the House, that the economy needs to be supported, that we need to try new things, that we were suffering from the downturn in the mining industry, suffering from the fact that the Faro mine went down. And we're trying, with the community, in partnership with organizations throughout this territory, to resurrect our fortunes and diversify. We've never denied that once. That's the working reality.
But the pessimism, the mind-boggling pessimism - negativity - coming from members in the opposition benches is just numbing.
Mr. Speaker, one day last week, as I was speaking, I was suggesting perhaps in jest that the world was listening. Members in the opposition were laughing because the world wasn't listening. If they're not listening, it's because they don't respect the fact that this Legislature, members in the opposition, acknowledge what citizens are doing.
And when it comes time to put new suggestions on the table, they're either hugely generalized - like, "Get on with diversifying the economy" - or there is no suggestion at all. Tax breaks for small business - yeah, sure, we did that.
Mr. Speaker, I frankly don't know that there is much point in pursuing the remarks from the Member for Klondike, because the analysis doesn't obviously have a great deal of depth and certainly doesn't have much credibility. But I would appeal, as the Member for Kluane has done so, that if members have suggestions, they should put them on the table. There's no shortage of people in the Parliament of Canada putting suggestions on the table every day. As much as I may disagree with the Reform Party from time to time, I don't see them being shy about putting ideas on the table. They put some ideas on the table and they hammer away every day, but in this Legislature it's either the mind-numbing criticism from one member or other in the opposition, or it's a claim that they don't want to put anything on the table.
I think that people will probably draw their own conclusions. I feel very comfortable that not only are we pursuing new ideas and an array of new ideas, but we're open to the public, listening to new ideas that they may raise, following through on a regular basis, and that is why members in the opposition have been calling our budgets - even last year's budget - election budgets, because they realize that they're good budgets. It's too bad they can't vote for them. There are a lot of good things in them.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to open my remarks by indicating that I would hope that my disruption in the speaking order didn't cause anyone any inconvenience. I took a rather longer time than I expected. I expected to take a few moments to speak with some constituents, so I appreciate the patience. I know House leaders work very diligently negotiating these speaking orders.
The Yukon Liberal caucus will be supporting the motion that has been presented by the Member for Kluane, as my colleagues who have spoken earlier have indicated. The motion speaks to something that we already do. It's a matter of public record. We work with communities, First Nations, organizations, labour, business and the federal government, and we will continue to do so. And when I say "we", I mean all members of this House. In the spirit in which the Member for Whitehorse Centre spoke, I do believe that members do make every effort to work with the communities that we have spoken with, that I have spoken of, to varying degrees. Certainly in our caucus we will continue to do our best to work with these groups, and the method in which we endeavour to work with these individuals and with the organizations and levels of government is in a respectful manner.
The Member for Kluane has only to read Hansard to see that the Yukon Liberal Party has brought forward ideas and suggestions. I hope that he will do that. The government accepting the suggestions that we have brought forward is another thing altogether. The Yukon business community got together and produced the Yukon business summit report, and there were a number of very good recommendations put forward to this government that have sat on a shelf and been ignored.
There have been a number of ideas in improving the economy that have been suggested by the Yukon Liberal Party and by others. Again the Member for Whitehorse Centre made that reference in his speech.
The government has adopted some of them, has discussed them with others, has improved, modified and, as government is able to do, brought them forward - small business tax credits, labour-sponsored investment funds.
There are a number of suggestions that we have put forward that have been ignored, and that, Mr. Speaker, is another interesting discussion as well.
One of the tactics - one of the methods - used by the Minister of Economic Development when he's not ignoring the suggestions is to laugh at them.
In my early days in this House, when there were discussions around the bison hunt in general debate, I suggested that that particular management tool be used to the best social and economic advantage of all Yukoners, to which the Minister of Economic Development burst into great laughter, and continually hearkens back and says, "Oh, yeah, that's her best idea - buffalo burgers."
Well, I'd just like to share with the minister responsible for Economic Development and the House - as that phrase is used and great gales of laughter are sprinkled throughout the last few years of Hansard - this letter.
In January 1999, the only Yukon non-resident wood bison hunting permit was auctioned at the Safari Club International convention in Reno, Nevada. The hunt sold very well and, for the second time, it was purchased by a Canadian for $5,250 U.S. Seventy-five percent of that amount is available for wood bison research.
Assuming an exchange rate of 1.5 Canadian, because expenses were not deducted, the non-resident hunter's contribution to the Yukon wood bison total was $18,000. Now, maybe $18,000 is a great source of humour to the Minister of Economic Development, the Member for Faro, but another $18,000 generated locally is, at least, part of a job at a time.
It was really interesting to go back, in preparation for this discussion, and look through the file I kept on public/private partnerships. It's a file of research commissioned by the Yukon Liberal caucus, a file of notes and the discussion in Hansard. And I was absolutely fascinated to hear the Member for Faro say, "We always said we would participate." My response to that, Mr. Speaker, is completely unparliamentary - completely unparliamentary.
When we asked for a discussion, the minister said, "We will not mortgage our children's future." Now, every second media release from that minister's department is about partnerships - public/private partnerships. Yet the government refuses to table the memorandums of understanding, the partnerships agreement, or to actually follow through and have a solid discussion of a P3 model.
The Government Leader's previous remarks about the righteous umbrage just amazes me - we have partnerships, and that this place is nothing but a twilight zone. Mr. Speaker, we're supposed to be asking questions. We're supposed to say, "Show us the results." How much did the trade missions cost? Where do you go? What did you return with? Who is working as a result of it? How is it going?
We're supposed to ask those questions.
One can't help but ask why they are so defensive, and I'm sure the minister responsible for Health and Social Services, the Member for Whitehorse West, is going to fire over the quote to me about "He thinks thou dost protest too much." It's exactly what goes through my mind every time I listen to the defensiveness from the ministers opposite.
I must say, the NDP doctors of spin are working overtime, Mr. Speaker. They're absolutely working overtime to convince the public that no one has any ideas but the NDP, and, by gosh, we're following through with them, and, by gosh, we've talked to everybody. We really do do something for all this stuff we're talking about. We have results. We can show you, not just the frequent flyer points but we can show you the jobs, but when they're challenged to show us the jobs, challenged to show us something more than the empty rhetoric, somehow those questions in Question Period never seem to get answered. The endless repetition line is, "Well, what would you do? What are you going to do? What would you do?"
Why don't you look at what we have done. We have encouraged the NDP to deliver the same message, whatever the issue, to all Yukoners. They didn't follow that advice. We have encouraged the NDP, as the business summit did, to treat all businesses and NGOs equally. They haven't done that. We've encouraged the NDP not to use government money to compete against private business. We have encouraged the NDP to promote local hire. Let's talk about NovaLIS. Let's talk about the Old Crow school built in Alberta.
The new continuing care facility is being designed in Victoria - the list goes on and on and on. We have encouraged the NDP to stop relying on the B.C. NDP for financial advice - they've ignored that. We've encouraged the government to focus their export trade initiatives in Alaska - they have done that. We didn't suggest Russia; they did that. We have asked about removal of trade barriers with the N.W.T. - biggest complaint from one of the contractors in the Member for Laberge's riding, phones me regularly on it and asks me why we aren't dealing with the N.W.T. and the trade barriers; de nada from this government.
The Liberal caucus has fulfilled its obligation to our constituents by talking about solutions and economic ideas on the floor of this Legislature, and we have done it off the floor of this Legislature in our casework as well. I was really interested in the Member for Whitehorse Centre's remarks about, that's how we focus our work as members. The member is right - that is what focuses our efforts, that's what brings us back, is when we go door to door and we talk to people in our riding. When we went door to door in our annual trips to constituents, the Member for Riverdale South and I, over and over and over and over again we heard concern about the economy, and we heard questions about the trade missions, questions about the funds and the expenditures of funds, and how the government was going to show results for it; when we asked those questions on the floor of this House, as we are expected to do on behalf of our constituents, we're not coming up with new ideas. Over and over again, we heard it when we campaigned in Laberge. I think the 18 percent achieved by the government in that by-election speaks for itself in their record on the economy and on the other issues of concern to people in that riding.
One of the solutions, if you will, that has been proposed to me and that I have gone through in my casework, deals with a particular section of federal legislation. The benches opposite are fond of saying, "Well, it's federal responsibility; we can't do anything about it." Well, there is one section of the Yukon Quartz Mining Act in which the minister is permitted to grant relief from mining exploration claim expenses, which are very expensive. This summer, when we had such a downturn in metal prices, and miners were experiencing real difficulty, there were a number of miners who looked at that section and said: "Hey, can we apply for relief under this? Can we deal with this? Is there something the minister could do?"
Well, the Minister of Economic Development could have spearheaded that initiative. The Minister of Economic Development could have dealt with those questions from constituents. The Minister of Economic Development could have seen that there was another $18,000, $20,000 in excess - perhaps maybe even $50,000 - that wasn't a required expenditure of miners and exploration people, to the point where they could have spent that money on things like mortgage, food, groceries, children's needs. I didn't hear anything about the infamous minister who seems to do everything doing anything about that.
Now, that's a small issue, and I'm sure the Minister of Economic Development is going to have some smart remark about that at some point in time, and laugh about it and say, "Oh yeah, buffalo burgers. Here's another dumb idea from that person opposite." Well, the miners I dealt with didn't think it was a dumb idea.
Mr. Speaker, it speaks to the whole economic issue of mining. It talks about protecting the security of existing mining claims. This government has put a great deal of effort into attacking the rights - legitimate rights - of claim holders. Instead of helping them, they're the bad guys. There is no help from this government.
The Minister of Renewable Resources blamed public servants for accepting the land claims. What kind of message does that send? What kind of message does that send to the mining industry? It sends a mixed message, and that's part of the problem with this NDP government. There's no security of tenure. Follow the protected areas strategy, for example. The government has ignored that advice. We said to follow it. No, we can't accept that criticism. We can't answer that question from the opposition benches, and it has a fundamental economic impact on this territory - a fundamental impact. No, this government cannot, will not, does not accept suggestions that are put forward or answer questions about what they are doing - ideas that we have said we support. We believe in the trade and investment diversification. We want to know how they're doing it. We want to see results. That's the question we're supposed to ask in this House, and it shouldn't be rocket science to the members opposite, either.
Some of them have been on these benches, and I challenge them to go back through their speeches and find out what they proposed to the government - not much.
The Yukon Liberal caucus has encouraged the settlement of land claims. We've asked questions about it in Question Period, we've asked in general debate, and whenever I've been offered a briefing, I've taken it. DAP has been a difficulty for this government. Devolution - I am more than on the record in our support to negotiate the best possible deal we can get for Yukoners and to do devolution. Yukoners should be in control. I've been arguing that since I was in high school, for heaven's sake. We encouraged the Yukon government to follow the protected areas strategy that Yukoners worked 18 months to develop. The biggest problem on the economy and on everything else is that this government doesn't do what it says it will do. They just don't get it.
The Liberal caucus has done what we said we'd do. We said we'd come forward with ideas on the floor of this House, and we did. We wanted a reasonable discussion, a full exploration of P3 partnerships. We asked. We put forward the ideas in a motion on investment tax credits. The N.W.T. model has a number of different funds in it that we thought were worthy of exploration. We supported the labour ventures capital fund when it came forward on the floor of this House. I'm answering questions about it every day. The minister -
Speaker: Order please. The member has two minutes to conclude.
Ms. Duncan: We have fulfilled our obligations to our constituents to put forward these ideas and to propose solutions on the floor of this House. The NDP have adopted some of them. They have ignored most of them.
Mr. Speaker, they have their ideas about how to manage the economy, and we have ours. It's up to the voters, just as the Government Leader said, to decide who they think will do the best job managing the economy. Since the NDP came to power, over 3,000 people have left the Yukon and the unemployment numbers have remained high. A lot of Yukoners voted with their feet. Let's let the voters decide who they want managing the economy.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to just go back to the central theme that the Member for Kluane brought forward, which was that it was the opinion of this House that all elected members have an obligation to their constituents to stimulate new economic activities by proposing solutions on the floor of this Legislature. Well, quite frankly, I've heard anything but solutions. What I've heard have been tired, old, hackneyed phrases that come out every day.
You know, Mr. Speaker, it's by their deeds that you will know them. We have had opportunities and we have presented opportunities to our friends across the floor, to work with us, to work with us on tangible ideas and tangible proposals to assist people in this territory, to assist economic growth and to assist social development in this territory. At each juncture, at each occasion, both parties in the opposition have chosen to negate those attempts by voting against them.
Not too long ago, we brought in a proposal, and it's still pending - the Connect Yukon proposal. This is not something that we entered into lightly. It's not something that we entered into ill-considered.
This is something that grew out of the number of consultations that the Government Leader had had around the territory, and what we perceived as a growing capacity problem in this territory to be able to address some of the needs of telecommunications.
We have been looking at opportunities in this regard, and we chose to commit to a major undertaking to upgrade the telecommunications infrastructure in this territory. It's costly; it's ambitious, but we felt that, given the state of the development in this territory, given the state of where we had to move in our future, given the state of the inability of small Yukon firms to be able to compete - particularly in issues such as e-commerce - we felt we had an obligation to move into that area.
As we explored it, we began looking at two other issues. One was the issue of rural telephones, because we realized that, as we were taking a look at the entire issue of, I guess, building - if one wants to put it this way - the pipeline to carry high-speed data and Internet communications. We also realized at the same point that there were a tremendous number of Yukoners who were either unserved or underserved in basic telephone services, and that that in turn impacted on their ability to participate in the full economic and social life of this territory and, because of that, we chose to bring that in as a second component.
The third component that we saw was what we felt was a challenge for our young people to be able to participate in a growing world of high-tech and information-age technology. We felt that we needed to move in that and, because of that, the third component came in, which was the entire issue of distributed learning.
And out of that a project grew that we believed had a fundamental positive impact on the life and future of people in this territory. This is something that we didn't particularly just sort of dream up on our own. This was something that we heard from ongoing consultations with people in the community. This is something that became apparent to us because of our inability in some areas to develop particular things, such as being able to provide services to our schools. It certainly came home to me, and some of the limitations that we had, as we tried to implement developments in telemedicine.
All of those factors, plus continual and, I might say, ongoing representations from the technology industry, prompted us to take what I considered to be a bold and fairly visionary step.
Now, when we did this, an interesting thing happened. My friend from Klondike, who has been raising the issue of digital versus analogue technology and the limitations that that puts on people in the Klondike area and the north Klondike Highway, despite those protests, chose to vote against it. Our friends in the Liberal Party, one of whom I presume represents a rural, predominantly rural, riding, where I was getting a lot of representation, a lot of representation, about the need for basic telephone service, chose to vote against it. My question would be, why would you vote against your own constituents? Why would you vote against basic telephone service for your own constituents, and why, in a larger sense, would you vote against the future?
Now, there are two things that one can do. You can either acknowledge that ideas have some merit, and perhaps in the political realm that we deal in that isn't always fashionable. However, there comes a crunch point. There comes a point at which you have to make a decision. You have to make a decision as to whether or not, despite the fact that an idea may be proposed by a political opponent, that idea has merit, whether that idea has value, whether it has some merit for your constituents, and what I find -
Mr. McRobb:Point of order.
Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, pursuant to section 3(2) of the Standing Orders, I believe there is not a quorum present in the House.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during the sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring until we do have a quorum.
Speaker: Order please. I have shut off the bells, and I will do a count. There are nine members present. A quorum is present, so we will now continue debate.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, as I was saying earlier, there is a fundamental issue of putting one's words into deeds. Our friends in the Liberal Party have trotted out the issue of public/private partnerships. We have never said, at any point, that we're adverse to public/private partnerships. What we were looking at is an appropriate utilization of public/private partnerships.
Connect Yukon is an example of a public/private partnership, a partnership where we explored some of the basic principles and realized, in this case, that we could utilize a partnership with a private corporation to develop telecommunications infrastructure, and we've chosen to do that.
Now, on the first occasion that they get to vote on a public/private partnership, they opt not to. So, what does that tell me about their credibility on this issue? Once again, they have words, but they don't have deeds. So, what we have got are rather idle words being trotted out every day.
Now, the Member for Riverside in his comments has talked about all the kinds of things that the Liberal Party had brought forward and all the kinds of questions they had raised, in terms of issues.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, it was fairly light reading because it didn't have too much substance. The unfortunate thing is that the Member for Riverside seems to have mistaken simple criticism for an idea. To my way of thinking, one can have a critical examination of an issue, but for it to move forward, that assumes that there are going to be some tangibles placed at the end of the day - some concrete ideas, some concrete suggestions.
That is what I think is fundamentally lacking in some of the criticism that we've seen come forward. We haven't really seen too much in terms of practicalities from the Liberal Party, but then, one of the issues I think with the Liberals is, they want to be everything to everyone, and that's laudable. That's laudable, but one of the problems is that, at a particular point, you have to take a stand; at a particular point, you have to say this is what I believe and this is what my actions will be, and I haven't seen that. I haven't seen anything beyond some vague generalities. I'm still, to be quite frank, somewhat at a loss as to what their position is on the entire environmental question. On one hand they're saying, "Oh, we support the protected areas strategy, but we don't like this," which would lead me and I think has led a number of people within the environmental community to raise the issue of, do the Liberals have an environmental position. I was meeting some time ago with an environmentalist, who remarked that there was a nearby parking lot that would probably represent the Liberal view of Tombstone and Fishing Branch, in terms of relative size.
We've also heard the same thing on a variety of other issues that have come forward. We are continually exposed to ideas that, well, we have to do things to stimulate the economy. I might point out that some of the things, including some of the tax incentives for small business, some of the things such as the mining tax incentives, were brought in by this government - those are concrete. Those are tangible things that have gone forward.
There's also a measure of political risk when one does things like that, because sometimes when you do that you're seen as favouring a particular segment of the community over another segment of the community.
But the fact is that, by taking those actions, you're willing to make that effort. You're willing to go beyond simple idle words, and you're actually willing to do something to bring your actions into fruition. I haven't seen that. I haven't seen it from any of our friends across the floor.
What we get, unfortunately, from the Yukon Party is some kind of Homeric legend where they hearken back to the golden days, where all the heroes of the Yukon Party Olympus all sat around and did wonderful deeds, and they wrestled the public service to the floor and gouged out their two percent. They didn't like it, but they had to do it. So we get these kinds of legendary things from the Yukon Party.
But, I mean - as my colleague from Faro had said - the one thing about the Yukon Party is that occasionally they do have an idea. Granted, they're 17th and 18th century ideas, but they are ideas - outdated and outmoded as they are. I guess they're sort of paying homage to their spiritual leaders, the members of the Reform Party. So -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Hang on every word.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Speaking of legends. Thank you.
With respect to our friends in the Liberal Party, I think they're well-meaning, well-intentioned. They just don't want to offend anyone and, therefore, "Let's not take a stand on anything, and let's come up with things that we can really take a strong position on."
I thought the one on two-tier medicine - that had to be a classic. That's like saying - the member brings forward a motion that it's not a good idea to ram your head into a wall.
I mean, Mr. Speaker, is there anyone - well, with the possible exception of our friends from Alberta and possibly their nephews, the Yukon Party - who actually believe in two-tier medicine? Is there anyone who does? And that is passed off as an idea. Well, that's a big idea. Canadians fundamentally - fundamentally - are opposed to the concept of two-tier medicine.
Mr. Phillips: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Speaker: The Member for Riverdale North, on a point of order.
Mr. Phillips: I don't believe we have a quorum, Mr. Chair.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during a sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring and do a count.
Speaker: I have shut off the bells and I will do a count. There are 11 members present. A quorum is present. We will now continue debate.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's just unfortunate that I was hitting my rhetorical stride there when someone stuck out their foot to try to trip me. But I, however, shall continue.
So, once again, I guess what I want to go back to is the central idea that mere carping and mere criticism is no substitute for tangible ideas and tangible solutions. What we have tried to do on this side is listen to people, to take in ideas from the business community, to take in ideas from communities, to bring forward some practical solutions.
I think one of the best examples of this has been the CDF. I know our friends on the Liberal side, because they didn't - it wasn't one of the ideas that we stole from them, I guess. They see that as some kind of ministerial slush fund. Well, tell that to the folks who did the Dawson art centre, which I understand opened up very successfully - the reconditioned Oddfellows Hall. Tell that to our friends out at Mt. Sima, who were trying to develop their structure for the forthcoming Arctic Winter Games. Tell that to the people for Options for Independent Living, who are trying to create a sheltered living environment for adult individuals with FAS.
Why don't we tell that to the myriad of groups that have benefited from the CDF. Tell that to the people who find that they are getting their facilities fixed up, or they're being able to develop things that they could never do before. While we're at it, the funds for trade and investment, the funds that have allowed people to move into other areas of development and economic activity - why don't we tell them that their ideas aren't worth the paper they're written on.
Why don't we tell that to the people who have benefited from the tourism marketing fund or a whole variety of other practical solutions that we have done? Why don't we tell them that?
So, these aren't ideas, according to our friends across the floor. I find that flabbergasting. I find it flabbergasting that when a government does try to stimulate economic activity, when a government does try to provide the environment where the tourism industry can flourish and develop, where we can encourage more international flights and more international commerce into this territory, then that's negated. That's somehow dismissed. The challenge, I think, that came out loud and clear from my friend from Kluane is why don't we bring forward concrete ideas that we, as a group in this Legislature...
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: ...can debate and debate the merits and, hopefully, arrive at a point in the not-too-distant future where we can make concrete suggestions, where we can make, in the spirit of informed decision making, positive contributions to each other's ideas, and hopefully improve those particular ideas.
We have never said that all situations are fixed. I have never said that. So what I can tell the member is that we have always said that we're flexible, that we're open to ideas, that we encourage forthright discussion, we encourage -
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., the Speaker will now leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m.
Debate on Motion No. 188 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Mr. Fentie: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and 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.
Bill No. 19 - Third Appropriation Act, 1999-2000 - continued
Department of Justice - continued
Chair: Committee is dealing with the supplementary estimates. We are on the Department of Justice. Is there further general debate?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: When we left general debate, we were discussing crime statistics, and I would like to provide some information for members from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Juristat. These are the crime statistics in Canada for 1998.
The highlights begin with the fact that Canada's police-reported crime rate decreased for the seventh year in a row in 1998, falling four percent. The 1998 rate was the lowest rate since 1979. The report breaks down the Yukon crime profile, and it shows that for violent crime there was a decrease in the Yukon between 1997 and 1998 of 11 percent. The decrease in property crime between 1997 and 1998 in the Yukon was a 14-percent decrease. There was also a decrease of other Criminal Code offences of 13 percent and a decrease of the Criminal Code, excluding traffic total, for 13 percent. The further breakdown of various Criminal Code incidents also shows that there have been decreases in sexual assault, decreases in assault, decreases in robbery, decrease in break and entering, decrease in other theft, and decrease in property crime.
Mr. Cable: We started the discussion yesterday on the issue of restorative justice, and the personnel requirements for restorative justice, and I think the minister and I were having a vigorous agreement that the judges were moving more people out of jail, and other ways of dealing with them on their convictions.
She wasn't prepared to accept the fact, though, that this would raise the requirements for probation officers or counselors or other staff people to make the restorative justice system work, the reason being, as I understand it, because the crime rate was being reduced.
So I have two questions for the minister. She was going to produce some documents, I think, or some material that would show there's a linkage between the reduction in crime and some programs that the Justice department has been working on. The question I have for her is, all other things being equal, what are the staffing needs for the restorative justice option? Is it more or less than the conventional justice system?
I'm talking about probation officers, or counsellors, or whomever else is needed to staff the restorative justice option. What I'm leading up to is, where is the minister going on her staffing requirements? Are they part of the restorative justice strategy? What is she going to do at the end of the road, after she gets all of these programs in place? Is she then going to make a decision on staffing, or are we going to be doing that as we go along?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft:Well, Mr. Chair, this is a subject that we debated in the main budget in the spring, and I anticipate it will be the subject of a great deal of conversation in the main estimates. There is not really a change in the supplementary budget picture in relation to funding for community justice activities.
Now, the first subject that the member touched on was probation officers. The Department of Justice employed 10 probation officers on December 31, 1998, and the number is the same as of today. I also had the department do some further research. The average client load for adult probation officers was 51 per officer, as of December 1998, and today the client load for probation officers is 56 per officer.
In relation to the broader question of what kind of an impact restorative justice will have on staffing requirements, I think we can anticipate seeing a gradual swing of resources from the back end to the front end. We anticipate that many of these restorative justice activities will, in fact, see less of a demand on the system, as prevention is effective, as community responsibility is working to bring about changes in communities, and as a number of the early intervention measures and other recreation activities for youth and so forth do have an effect in the communities.
Mr. Cable: I accept the minister's proposition that there is no money in the supps, and the question I was asking, really, in a roundabout way was why isn't there?
The community consultation report indicates that there are already alternative measures in restorative justice projects present in the Yukon. Page 7 of the report talks about diversion projects, alternative dispute resolution, mediation victim/offender, reconciliation, community work and others. I think for years the community work orders have been more or less a joke, because there have not been people there to ensure that the offenders, particularly young offenders, do the work.
There hasn't been the necessary follow-through, so they haven't been treated very seriously. If the restorative justice initiative is to work, it has to have the appropriate people power attached to it. I'm not surprised, but I ask the minister where she is going on staffing needs. Is there some formal review taking place as the restorative justice initiative moves through its various phases?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's part of the work that the Department of Justice is charged with. We have shifted some money internally to support various activities. We continue to offer training for members of community justice committees with the Department of Justice and the RCMP holding training sessions. I would remind the member that the community consultation report was published just last month, in October of 1999, that we're still reviewing it and meeting with numerous community groups on how we can move forward to implement it. We will have a better picture when we come forward with the mains budget in the spring.
Mr. Cable: What has been the experience in other jurisdictions? I know some jurisdictions are down the road into restorative justice. Has there been an increased need for probation officers or people who do counselling services?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we can find out that information. In my conversations with other ministers who have worked on implementing restorative justice in their jurisdictions, the subject of an increased number of probation officers has not come up, but I can look into that.
Mr. Cable: Okay. I think, in view of the fact that this House may be moving rapidly to completing its fall work, could the minister reply to my written question if there are any loose ends that need tidying up, and also the questions that are raised here by letter? I don't think we need to do that by way of legislative return, because I don't want to get hung up until the next session.
Would she agree to do that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I have read into the record the responses to some of the written questions the member has prepared. I anticipate having a final response available for him soon. If it is not submitted before the House rises, then I will send a letter to the member.
Mr. Cable: I thank the minister for that.
On another issue, where are we at on evaluating circle sentencing? The topic has been raised in the House. It was my impression that there was going to be some sort of evaluation of the effectiveness of it on the criminal system - particularly on the rate of recidivism, the repeat offender rates.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the Chief Judge has agreed to work with us on an evaluation of circle sentencing. I'll be meeting with him again shortly, and can discuss the subject with him again. We also have a couple of First Nation people, who have agreed to work with the Chief Judge and the justices of the peace on the project.
Mr. Cable: From the comments during the budget session, I thought that the minister was going to meet with the judges on setting up the criteria for evaluation. I would have thought that that would be underway by now. Is this what she's talking about in meeting with the judges - the setting up of the criteria?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes.
Mr. Cable: What type of contact is going on with the judges? Are we working through the Judicial Council, or is it a direct meeting with the judges?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: There have been, and are continuing to be, various levels of meetings. The Chief Judge meets with the director of court services. The Chief Judge has also been meeting with the deputy minister, and I have had meetings with the Chief Judge.
Mr. Cable: On another topic - the Territorial Court Act. We had an extensive discussion in April about the proclamation of the act. I had gathered that by now we would have seen at least part of it proclaimed. Where does that sit?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, there has been an implementation committee working on the proclamation of the Territorial Court Act. The Chief Judge and court services have both been participating in that exercise. We anticipate that the proclamation date will be soon. I'm anticipating it before the end of the year.
Mr. Cable: Is it anticipated that it will be proclaimed in whole, or are we going to be proclaiming it in parts, in particular the parts relating to the Judicial Council? When is that going to be coming up?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we anticipate that the proclamation date, when it is effective - and I will happy to communicate it to the member when it is - will include proclamation of the sections relating to the Judicial Council.
Mr. Cable: One of the questions I asked the minister in the spring was what are we going to do with the appointments to the Judicial Council? Is the minister in the near future going to be seeking recommendations from various groups and, in particular, the opposition? Is that her intention?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I have asked the department and the implementation committee to have a public education component to the proclamation of the Territorial Court Act and to put ads out as part of the public education in relation to seeking nominations for the Judicial Council. If the members opposite do not see the ads in the local media, I will ensure that they are mailed letters seeking their input on putting forward any candidates whom they would like to nominate.
Mr. Cable: I thank the minister for that undertaking.
On another topic, we had vigorous debate a few days ago in this House on the funding of legal aid. I went back through copies of Hansard. When the minister was in opposition, I think she took the position that, after the Ottawa funds were capped, the then-government, the Yukon Party government, should fix it. It didn't matter whether Ottawa had cut the funds or not; the necessary funds should come from this government. This government has been in power now for three years, and there has only been a little trickle into the legal aid program. What is it? $75,000 additional? I know it needs -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: It's twice our salary, the Member for Whitehorse West has reminded me. It's more than a trickle; he's right. But I think it's safe to say that the program is grossly underfunded. When women cannot go into the Legal Aid office and get proper representation for custody of their children, there's something wrong with the system. Why has the minister not addressed this problem earlier?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, we are addressing that problem. I do not dispute with the member that legal aid is in a difficult financial situation. I would like to make sure the member acknowledges that the Yukon government has gone above and beyond the 50/50 yearly cost-shared agreement between the Government of the Yukon and the Government of Canada. The federal Liberal government has frozen legal aid funding levels since the late 1980s, and it most recently has cancelled a meeting with all jurisdictions that was to have taken place in early December. This is a concern for all jurisdictions. Nonetheless, we have provided some additional funding to the legal aid program for the last two years.
The Department of Justice is also working with Legal Aid to identify their caseload, to look at the voted amounts and consider pressure points and case coverages. There may be a different way to do business, and we're looking at that with the Legal Aid office.
There is also a need, I believe, to work with the bar, and that work is underway.
Mr. Cable: What I can't understand, though, is the problem was identified in 1994. We knew the federal government had chopped the funding and had kept the funding and the minister, I think, quite rightly expressed a lot of umbrage at that time and told the government at that time, "We don't care what the problems are; just fix it."
Now we have seen fit to give money to property developers, but we haven't seen fit to give money to fund the legal aid program. I find that rather surprising in view of what would normally be expected from an NDP government.
Where are we going with this? Are we thinking yet that there will be a smaller overall budget for legal aid? Are we looking at efficiencies? Are we looking at new types of delivery, or just what are we doing?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, we're not looking at reducing the budget for legal aid. As I have just stated to the member, we have increased the budget for legal aid. I've also indicated that we're going to look at the whole picture involved in legal aid. We need to look at all the issues, including funding. We need to look at the use of house counsel and certificates with members of the bar outside of house counsel.
Our tactic has been to pressure the federal government to meet its obligations. While we have been pressuring the federal government to meet its obligations and to increase the funding, as we still believe that they should, we have covered the shortfall for legal aid so that they could provide 24-hour duty counsel and pay their rent and cover general caseload increases, as well as upgrade their computer system.
Mr. Cable: What's the present estimate of the shortfall? This is before the work that is now being done will yield some product. What is the Legal Services Society asking for in the way of additional funds?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, they have not presented a budget requesting a specific amount of money. They do not have the accounting records and, although we have asked for them over the last six to eight weeks in a recent meeting, they did not have the full accounting picture. That is something that they'll be bringing forward as they prepare it, and it will be part of the whole picture as we look at legal aid, and the demand and the services that they provide.
The additional funding that we have provided in this year and in the previous budget year was based on increased costs to cover their rent, to cover implementation of a 24-hour duty counsel system and general caseload increases. We're waiting to see the figures before we determine the best way to respond.
Mr. Cable: Another topic is whistle-blower legislation. The conflicts commissioner made a recommendation that there be whistle-blower legislation to protect public servants who had disclosed things that shouldn't in fact be disclosed.
Which department is taking the lead on the review of whistle-blower legislation?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I believe the Government Leader has had conversations with the opposition critics on the conflict of interest legislation that is being prepared, and on that subject generally. The lead is the Executive Council Office.
Mr. Cable: Has the Justice department done any review of comparable legislation in other jurisdictions as a backup for the Executive Council Office's efforts?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Department of Justice has done drafting work on the proposal that was taken forward to the opposition.
Mr. Cable: Has there been a recapitulation, though, of legislation in other jurisdictions that can be provided to the opposition?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I will look into that further and see if there's additional information that has been gathered by the Department of Justice that we can provide to the members opposite.
Mr. Cable: I thank the minister for that.
On another issue - the Whitehorse Correctional Centre - the restorative justice paper, the community consultation report, talks about the role of jail, and I think it's generally acknowledged that we're not going to be doing away with jails, that there will have to be a jail around for those people who cannot respond to restorative justice initiatives.
In the restorative justice paper, it says, "Community members also recognize that there will always be high-risk, violent persons who will be unable to control their violence and require separation from the community; thus, a key part of a comprehensive restorative justice initiative in Yukon is a need for correctional reform." It goes on to say, "A recent review of Yukon adult correctional centres and the poor condition of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre shows a strong need for change."
In the multi-year appendix to the last budget, a number of steps were being taken with respect to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Where do we sit on that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, $300,000 was allocated for the planning of the new secure custody replacement of Whitehorse Correctional Centre in the mains capital budget. There are a number of costs associated with the preliminary and conceptual design concepts of a new secure custody facility. Monies will be spent on consulting services for schematic design and the technical exploration of planning. The technical information could include drawings, blueprints and functional program assessments. We're working with Government Services now to put together the relevant technical specifications and hope to go out to contract before the end of the fiscal year.
Mr. Cable: I'm sorry, I didn't get that - contract for construction, you mean, or contract for engineering?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: The minister is saying a contract for the design. Are we on target with the construction of this new centre? If so, what is the target?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, we made a commitment to begin with the restorative justice initiative and, as the member was just commenting, there is a section of the public consultation report that deals with correctional reform. Now that we have completed the initial public discussions and heard from communities on the role of jail and some ideas for correctional reform, we're putting together the specifications for a contract for preliminary and conceptual design. The member will know that, in the multi-year budget that we put forward, the steps were to begin with the conceptual design and then to work on a design and construction contract into the future. The subject will be part of the deliberations that I am looking forward to in the spring on the main estimates.
Mr. Cable: Is the minister saying there is not a target date for completion of the construction of the facility at the present time?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's correct. We do not have the design stage completed yet and do not have a target completion date for the construction. In the multi-year budget, we indicated that we would begin planning work in this fiscal year and hope to be able to begin construction after the design work is done over the next two fiscal years.
Mr. Cable: Just one last question. There were initially some mixed messages on whether we were actually going to replace the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. I think the minister has firmed up that position, but just for the record, we are, in fact, going to replace that jail. We're not going to do away with the facility here in Whitehorse?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm not sure what the member means when he states that there were mixed messages. I have always expressed the view in this House and brought forward budgets indicating that we will need to plan for a replacement of Whitehorse Correctional Centre. However, we were not prepared to proceed with replacing Whitehorse Correctional Centre before we spoke with the public about restorative justice initiatives, before we considered correctional reform and the role of a jail and what kind of an institution we may need to build, and what size of an institution would be needed in a changing picture of how offenders are dealt with.
Mr. Jenkins: Currently underway in Dawson City is a meeting with the Department of Justice officials and the RCMP. The initial meetings were set up encompassing the elected officials from both the First Nations and the municipality, city managers, the managers from the First Nation offices, business leaders, clergy and the elders.
Today, at the last minute, the meeting with the elected officials from the city, city manager, business leaders and clergy was cancelled. Can the minister advise the purpose of the meetings, number one, and why a large part of the community was shut out of this consultation process?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I will have to get an answer to that question for the member. I'm not aware of the meeting between the RCMP and Justice officials and the representatives from the City of Dawson being cancelled for today, so I'm afraid I'm at a loss to give the member an answer on the floor this evening. I will look into it and get back to him.
Mr. Jenkins: It was not only cancelled with the city officials, but with all of the business leaders who had been lined up and the local clergy who had been included. It was cancelled at the request of officials from the Department of Justice. That's the information I have, Mr. Chair, and I'd very much like to know why. It seems to be 100 percent focused on the First Nations now, not on the community as a whole, and I'd like to know the reason for that change at the last minute.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I have no information in relation to the subject the member is bringing forward. I will have to look into it and see what information I can bring back.
Mr. Jenkins: I think it will be fairly easy to get an answer on that issue, and I would appreciate it if we could have it at the latest by next Monday, Mr. Chair. Can the minister give us that assurance?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'll try to get back to the member tomorrow with an answer. The deputy minister, who is here, and other officials don't have any knowledge of this, but we'll see what we can find out and get back to the members as quickly as possible.
Mr. Jenkins: Earlier, the Member for Riverside looked at the WCC replacement, and I'd like to know what the intentions are with respect to the Teslin correctional facility. Just in the contracts listed by department for this last period of time to the end of September, there are justice negotiations for Teslin - the sum of $50,000 - and consulting Teslin Community Correctional Centre for an additional $900.
Just what are we going to do with the Teslin Community Correctional Centre, given the extent that it's being underutilized?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the contract that the member refers to is in relation to the administration of justice negotiations between the Teslin Tlingit Council and the federal government. The Yukon government is a party present at the table. That is pursuant to the land claims and self-government agreements of Teslin Tlingit Council.
The member also asked about the future of the Teslin Community Correctional Centre. I've responded to some questions from the member's colleague in Question Period on that subject.
There is a memorandum of understanding between the Yukon government and the Teslin Tlingit Council. We are working with the Teslin Tlingit Council and with the staff of the centre and the community of Teslin on what the future may hold for that facility. We will continue to work with the community in order to come up with the solution.
Mr. Jenkins: Are there any timelines on when a solution will be arrived at?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I met with the Teslin Tlingit Council a couple of weeks ago. They indicated that they would get back to me before the end of the month and would be scheduling a meeting with the Teslin Tlingit Council and their community, and also a meeting in the community of Teslin. We'll continue to work with the Teslin Tlingit Council and the community and take the time that is needed over the next few months to arrive at a solution.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, one of the options that has been spoken of quite extensively is to donate the facility to the First Nation in Teslin. Is this an option that is being actively explored by the minister and her department?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we're not exploring that option right now. We're looking at how we can maintain our commitment to the community.
As the member may be aware, the agreement that was signed in the memorandum of understanding between the former Yukon Party minister and the former Chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council provided for the facility to be turned over to the First Nation at a date which is still 10 years from now.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm aware of that agreement, Mr. Chair, but the issue before us is that the facility is currently being well underutilized, and I'm given to understand that there's a move afoot to just transfer it before expiry of this arrangement with the Teslin Tlingit First Nation. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, that hasn't been discussed at the tables that I've been at. I can't be responsible for what the member may hear on the rumour mill.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other areas that is interesting in the contract listing, Mr. Chair, is the number of expenses we're incurring for the supervision of offenders on probation. Do we not have enough probation officers currently within the department?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the contract expenses that the member mentioned on the administration of justice costs are recoverable from the federal government. That's the contract for the administration of justice negotiations with Teslin, pursuant to their land claim agreements.
I didn't understand the question the member asked. Could he repeat that, please?
Mr. Jenkins: In the contract listing by department, there are a number of areas that jump out. Those are costs that we are incurring to supervise offenders on probation, and the other area is line-of-sight supervision. Now, the question for the minister, Mr. Chair is, is this because we do not have enough probation officers within the department and have to contract out some of these areas?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I'll have to get the information on the contract that the member refers to on supervising offenders on probation. I can tell the member that we presently have 10 probation officers, which is the same number of probation officers we had a year ago. I read their average caseload into the record earlier. So, I'll have to come back with further details for the member. Is this a Department of Justice contract? This isn't a young offender in Health and Social Services?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Okay, I'll have to look into it and get back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: For the record, it is a Department of Justice contract listing by department.
Now, the other question that I'm constantly asked about the Department of Justice is, what is the total number of lawyers currently on staff, and is it up or down over the last year?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, there are approximately 14 lawyers. The only increases have been in the aboriginal justice area and for administration of justice negotiations. Those costs are recoverable from the federal government.
Mr. Phillips: I have a few questions in general debate. Mr. Chair, I'd like to focus on the costs associated with the Timmers inquiry and would like to get some more details on the record, if I could, from the minister.
The minister said in her opening remarks that there is an extra $325,000 in consumer services, and that is attributed completely to the Timmers inquiry. That would be the coroner's office. Does the minister have a breakdown of exactly how much for whatever in that office? Could the minister provide that for us?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair, I will provide that information for the member. The expenditures in the coroner's office for the Timmers inquiry are $325,000. The largest amount is for legal counsel. The coroner's office has contracts with Greiner Bethel & Company and Gower Legal Professional. The value of those contracts is $190,000.
The next largest sum of expenditures for the Timmers inquiry was for expert witnesses. The coroner's office engaged the services of Dr. David Skinner, Dr. S. Lohrashe and Jason Alexander. The amount for expert witnesses was $75,000.
In addition, transcription services were provided by Kors Consulting and Mega Reporting for inquest clerk, recording and transcription fees in the value of $18,000.
Forensics, pathology and evidence duplication is $10,000. Judicial expenses for the professional services of the hon. Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde was $10,000. Travel costs were $10,000. Jury expenses were $6,000. Accommodations were $5,000 and freight for courier costs of inquest materials were $1,000.
That is the $325,000, and although there are some billings that have not been received, we believe that this will cover the entire amount for the inquest.
Mr. Phillips: How many days did the inquest last exactly?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I believe that it was nine days and I'll confirm that for the member, but I think that that was the amount of time that was spent on the inquest. That doesn't include the time that was spent on preliminary motions.
Mr. Phillips: Some of these numbers are quite shocking, to say the least, for an inquiry. I see here that the judge who sat there for nine days got paid $10,000 and an expert witness got paid $75,000. Is that a normal fee for an expert witness? That seems to me to be an awful lot of money for an expert witness who, I would imagine, wouldn't be there for the whole nine days, would look at some of the evidence and then come forward in a day or two and give their testimony. That seems to me to be a rather expensive witness.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The coroner's office is independent. I would remind the member that there was more than one expert witness engaged. The coroner's office, however, is independent and the expert witnesses whom they engaged and the legal counsel contracts that they let were the call of the coroner, and the further deliberations of the coroner's inquiry were at the call of the coroner and their counsel.
Mr. Phillips: Is that a normal cost - $190,000 - for an inquest of this type to have some outside legal counsel? Is there any kind of record in the past where we've had an inquest of a serious nature where we've had any kind of fees or costs that anywhere relate to this amount of money? It just seems to me for an inquest of this nature, with the number of witnesses that were called and the time period that the inquest took - the nine days - plus the preparation time - you know, we're looking at, I think, $475,000 including the $150,000 for the Council of Yukon First Nations for legal aid. It seems to me to be an outrageously high sum of money for an inquest such as this. Have we ever paid this kind of money before for anything like this?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: There hasn't been an inquest of this nature before in the Yukon, so there have not been costs of this nature associated with a coroner's inquest in the Yukon previously. Under the terms of the Coroners Act, the coroner's office does act independently and did engage the legal firms and conduct the inquest as they felt was necessary. I have asked my department officials to, as these costs were coming forward, look at comparable inquests in other parts of Canada where they have been held.
There hasn't been an experience in the Yukon of this nature, and so no, we haven't incurred these costs previously.
Mr. Phillips: Well, if the minister has asked her department to compare comparable types of inquests in other jurisdictions, what has the minister found out? Are we higher, lower or right on? Where are we at with respect to these kinds of costs?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we haven't got that information yet.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, when does the minister expect to get the information? And when the minister does get it, would she provide copies to the opposition parties?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I will send the member opposite, and the critics for both opposition parties, a letter when I have that information and will provide it to them.
Mr. Phillips: I think I asked the minister when she expects to get it. Does the minister have any idea?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: I hear some chirping from the background there. I don't know. It sounds like somebody coming from the forest.
Mr. Chair, the minister must have some idea when they expect to get it. I don't imagine the minister asked for it and is just going to wait a year or two for it, so I would wonder when the minister may expect to receive it.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we have asked for the information. We hope to hear back from people within the next couple of weeks. It might take more than the next couple of weeks. It might be a month before we see the information come back. When I do receive the information, I will forward it to the member.
Mr. Phillips: That's fine. That's a little more defined area than the minister gave me with her first answer - that she just didn't know. So I appreciate that the next two or three weeks might be fine.
Mr. Chair, for the $150,000 that we paid for legal aid to the Council of Yukon First Nations, have we cut them a cheque? Do they have the money? I know there was an agreement that the minister said they were going to sign, or did sign. I think we asked the minister to table the agreement, and she said she would after it's signed. So, is the agreement signed, and will the minister table it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we have not provided a cheque to the Council of Yukon First Nations for funding for the Timmers inquest.
We have approved $150,000 as a contribution to the Council of Yukon First Nations and have that money in the supplementary budget before us. We are waiting to receive a budget and an invoice from the Council of Yukon First Nations. I understand that they have allocated internal resources to prepare for and take part in the inquest.
I have previously indicated, in discussion with the member opposite, that when we have the budget and the invoice, I will make that available publicly and to the member.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I seem to recall that when we asked the minister this last spring, the minister told us that they were signing an agreement or signing some kind of a document to provide some funding, and she couldn't provide it at the time because it wasn't finalized and it wasn't signed yet, and that was six or eight months ago. Is the document signed now, and can the minister provide it for us?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I haven't signed a document that I'm able to provide to the member opposite. I've indicated to the Council of Yukon First Nations, as I've indicated to the members and to the public, that the Government of Yukon is prepared to contribute $150,00 toward the cost of the First Nation to participate in the inquest into the death of Harley Timmers.
The relationship between aboriginal people and police is important in the Yukon. And the cooperation between the Government of Yukon and CYFN is important to us.
Subject to the provision of information from the Council of Yukon First Nations on their budget, we will provide a cheque to them. I will provide that information to the member when I have received it.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I have no quarrel with the minister's rationale - working with the First Nation and the RCMP working with First Nations. That's not my question, and that's not even my point. My point is that the minister told us last year that she was going to sign some document with the Council of Yukon First Nations. She couldn't produce it then because she hadn't signed it yet. Today, the minister says that there isn't even a document she's signing, and that she's just waiting for the bill to come in. I'm trying to figure out what is really happening. Was there an intended document, or did the minister just want us to go away at the time, so told us something to make us go away? Or is the minister really serious about a document? Is there some kind of a contribution agreement? I think we were all led to understand there was. Last year there was going to be a contribution agreement, and today we find out that the minister is just waiting for the final budget and the bills from the Council of Yukon First Nations. I just want the minister to come into the House with accurate information, so we can find out if things that the minister says are being done are being done.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, my recollection of the discussion in this House on the subject of the support of the Yukon government to the Council of Yukon First Nations for their participation in the Timmers inquest is as follows: I believe that I indicated to the member that I had asked the Council of Yukon First Nations to provide a budget. I have asked them to provide the information to us on what they needed the funding for and what would be covered in that budget. I indicated to the member that I would provide a copy of the budget to the members opposite. We are spending public funds in order for the Council of Yukon First Nations to appear at the inquest to represent the interests of the family of the deceased and the First Nation to which the deceased belonged.
The member indicates that he doesn't have a problem with that, that he recognizes the importance of ensuring that there is a good relationship between aboriginal people and the police in the Yukon, that we need to ensure good cooperation and communication between the RCMP and the communities. I think it was in the public interest for there to be a full inquest with the participation of the Council of Yukon First Nations. We agreed to support that contribution financially. We asked the Council of Yukon First Nations to provide us with a budget. The budget will provide information as to what their costs were and break down how much of those costs is associated with legal fees and with other costs to enable them to have standing at the inquest.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, that's now, and what I'm going to do now is I'm going to read into the record what the minister said on April 14, 1999 on page 4984 in Hansard. The minister said she's going to wait for their budget and wait for their bills to come in. She said nothing today about a contribution agreement. But back on April 14 the minister said, "Well, Mr. Chair, as I have indicated to the member, this has been the subject of some discussion over the last few months, from 1998 into 1999. We received a budget that included costs for legal fees and we have not yet sorted out the details. As I've indicated to the member, though, we would be providing a payment on the basis of a contribution agreement and putting specifics into the contribution agreement." Mr. Chair, that's totally contrary to what the minister told us here today. The minister can't just change her story. She should get her facts straight.
Now, can the minister table the budget that she received from the Council of Yukon First Nations? She said she has already received it. She said that on April 14. Today, she said she hasn't received it, but I want her to table the one she received on April 14. Will she do that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the budget that I discussed with the Council of Yukon First Nations was a preliminary budget with large numbers but without details. They did not leave that budget with us. They made a commitment to come back with a detailed budget and when they provide the detailed budget, we will be prepared to provide the funding. I will bring back the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Member for Porter Creek North, who hasn't been listening to the debate up until now, should be aware that I have indicated that we have not issued a cheque to the Council of Yukon First Nations. We do require accountability for funds that we expend. When we receive a detailed budget, we will be prepared to provide the funding to support the legal fees and other expenses associated with the Council of Yukon First Nations' participation in the inquest. We believe it was in the public's interest to support their participation at the inquest.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, like I said, that was then and this is now. The minister has changed her story. The minister told us she had a budget and they were just reviewing it. She didn't say anything about it being a preliminary budget; she said they were reviewing it.
She said that once they sign a contribution agreement, they would provide it to us, and that's not what she said here again today. So, I just wish the minister would get her story straight.
We're just trying to find out - as the minister even said, I think, at that time, this was a very uncommon event, and at the time, Mr. Chair, the minister told us that the cost of this uncommon event would be $150,000.
In fact, she was going to ask the federal government if they would pick up part of the share of the $150,000. Can the minister tell us if the federal government is prepared to kick in a share of the $150,000?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I have written to the Solicitor-General and to the federal Minister of Justice. At this point, they have both refused to provide funding toward these costs.
Chair: Do members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is dealing with general debate on the Department of Justice.
Mr. Phillips: At the beginning of the break, the minister told us that she wrote a letter to the federal minister asking the federal government to come up with some of the costs to share the $150,000. The minister said the federal government refused. Could the minister provide copies of the letters that she sent, as well as copies of the correspondence she received from the federal government saying that they refused to pay for any of the costs incurred?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I would hope that those are available and that they could be provided forthwith in the next day or two.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I will ask my staff to review our correspondence files and provide copies of the correspondence the member has requested in short order.
Mr. Phillips: I don't think it's an onerous request. I think it's something that should be easily obtained without any problem at all.
Mr. Chair, let me go over this again just so I'm sure I have got it right. The minister initially, when the inquest was called, received a request from CYFN to make an appearance at the hearing, to have standing at the hearing. And the minister agreed with the standing. Then it appears that the minister asked for a budget from CYFN and, prior to April 14, had received a budget from the Council of Yukon First Nations, and said at that time that, "We received a budget that included costs for legal fees but we've not yet sorted out the details." Then she said, "I've indicated to the member, though, that we would be providing a payment on the basis of a contribution agreement and putting specifics into the contribution agreement."
That was back in April. Was there any work done on developing a contribution agreement from April until the time the inquest started, or did the whole matter sit there until the present day? It appears there isn't a contribution agreement today, so nothing has been decided. Maybe the minister can tell me how meetings took place, whether an agreement was drafted, whether the Council of Yukon First Nations or the government has trouble with the wording in the agreement. Why isn't there an agreement in place?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I'm certain that the member opposite is familiar with the requirement of the Financial Administration Act that there be a contribution agreement in place in order for the government to provide a cheque, in this instance to the Council of Yukon First Nations. There have been a number of meetings between the Department of Justice and the Council of Yukon First Nations. There have also been meetings between me and the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.
As the member may be aware, there have been some changes at the Council of Yukon First Nations with their Grand Chief. We have requested an accurate, detailed breakdown of the council's budget in order for us to prepare the contribution agreement and be able to provide some funding so that the Council of Yukon First Nations could have standing at the inquest and could participate in this important inquest being conducted into the death of Harley Timmers.
We have not yet received the final detailed budget information from the Council of Yukon First Nations. Once that has been received - and we believe we will receive it shortly - it should not take very long to finalize the contribution agreement.
I will provide members opposite with copies of the budget in the contribution agreement when they are signed off.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, wouldn't the minister admit that this is an unusual way for the government to do business? I mean, the $150,000, whether we approve it or not - we don't have much choice in approving it because the money has really been spent. It's still in the government bank account, but it has been committed, and the money is going to flow out of the government bank account no matter what we do in here, because it has been committed.
I don't buy the minister's argument that the reason that we haven't reached an agreement up until now is because there's been a change in the Grand Chief. Well, if my memory serves me right, the Grand Chief change took place about a month ago or six weeks ago. We're talking about April 14, which is seven months ago. Doesn't the minister think that that's an awfully long period of time after a government has made a commitment to sit down and come to some kind of an agreement on what would be spent and what amount would be spent and the criteria? Is there no document the minister can show us which lays out what guidelines might have been set out according to the Government of the Yukon, or were we just waiting for invoices from the Council of Yukon First Nations? It seems like a really loose approach to accounting for an expenditure. I'm trying to find out what the minister was doing, if she was doing anything at all, to account for the expenditure.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we agreed that we would fund up to $150,000 for the costs of the Council of Yukon First Nations, in order for them to have standing at the coroner's inquest into the death of Harley Clayton Timmers. We requested the Council of Yukon First Nations to provide us with detailed budget information. We have had meetings between the finance officials at Department of Justice and the finance officials at CYFN. They have shown some numbers on what their costs were. We understand that their costs were far in excess of $150,000. The Yukon government placed a ceiling of $150,000 on what we would fund of the coroner's inquest.
I think the member needs to appreciate that this has been a very difficult and traumatic incident. The people working at CYFN have been working with the family of the deceased, dealing with the trauma of members who were affected by the unfortunate death of this young man, and have incurred costs. We believe they have acted in good faith. We anticipate receiving a detailed budget breakdown and signing a contribution agreement before we cut a cheque.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, the Government of the Yukon agreed to a $150,000 figure before it had any idea of what this whole thing was going to cost for anybody. It committed $150,000. The minister made that decision without seeing any trace of an invoice or a bill or any idea whatsoever. She just made a decision and set a figure of $150,000, and we now find that this whole thing is costing way more than that.
Mr. Chair, the other day when I asked the minister some questions in the House about the Timmers costs, and I asked if these were all the costs that were incurred by all the parties, the minister said that we have an agreement with the RCMP and that the cost of the RCMP's lawyer came out of that agreement - the $10-million agreement.
The minister said that the other day, that the RCMP costs come out of the RCMP agreement. But on April 14, the minister said that the RCMP legal costs are going to be paid for by the Solicitor-General's office, not from the Yukon's RCMP agreement, which she said the other day in answer to my question.
Which one is the truth? Is it the Solicitor-General's office that paid for the RCMP, or is it what the minister said in the House here the other day - that it's through our normal agreement, a transfer payment of some $10 million? Which one?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the agreement between the Government of Yukon and the RCMP provides for a split between what the federal government funds and what the territorial government funds. The federal government - the Solicitor-General's office - funds the legal costs for the RCMP.
In the case of the Timmers inquest then, it would be the Solicitor-General's office that would be responsible for the cost of legal counsel incurred by the RCMP.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister certainly wasn't clear about that the other day. The indication, I think, that we all received in this House was that that money came from the $10 million that the Government of Yukon pays to the RCMP for their operations.
So again, the minister hasn't been clear on how this has all been financed.
Can the minister tell me if she knows, or can she get a hold of, the cost of the RCMP for the Timmers inquest? What did it cost the federal government to provide legal counsel for the either the RCMP individual who was involved or the RCMP in general? Do we have an accounting of any legal costs incurred by the RCMP?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we have requested that information. I do not know if the RCMP has received all of its final accounting information on the cost of the coroner's inquest. I will be receiving that information. It's available under the access-to-information legislation, and I'd be pleased to provide it to the member when I have it.
Mr. Phillips: I'd prefer to get it from the minister in a timely fashion rather than having to go through the access-to-information legislation to get it. I think it's information we should have and need here.
Mr. Chair, I want to go back again to the cost to the coroner's office. The minister said that the expert witnesses cost $75,000. Could the minister provide me with a breakdown of who the expert witnesses were and how much we paid each expert witness and for what services we paid them?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I can provide that for the member.
Mr. Phillips: Could the minister also provide me with a breakdown of what services we paid Greiner and Gower? Are they the same law firm? Is that the same law firm, or are we talking two law firms there?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, there are two law firms, and if the member reviews the Blues, I've provided the correct spelling of the law firms to Hansard for them to put into the record.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I didn't ask the minister about the correct spelling for the law firms. I asked the minister about a breakdown of the cost from the two law firms. And what did we pay them for? I mean, the law firms must have provided the coroner's office with a breakdown, as lawyers do when they charge you for the various services, telephone calls, the breakdown of their bill - their invoice. And I wonder if the minister could provide those for us as well, so that we can get an idea of what it costs us in per diems and travel and the actual legal cost, so we get a sense of what all this cost.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we will provide the member with the breakdown that we have on the legal counsel costs that were incurred by the independent coroner's office and its conduct of the Timmers inquest.
Mr. Phillips: The minister keeps hinting toward this independent coroner's office, like I shouldn't be asking any questions about the coroner's office. Well, I can tell the minister that this independent coroner's office is receiving $325,000 from this Legislature elected by the people of the territory, so we have every right to know about every penny that the independent coroner's office is spending in this case, and I would hope that we would get details and a fairly detailed breakdown on what this was.
Mr. Chair, the minister also gave me a figure, and I didn't get a chance to write it down. She said "other costs". Can the minister give me the breakdown again of the $325,000, just so I can refresh my mind on what those other costs were?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I believe that I have provided the information to the member in a cooperative fashion. I have no difficulty providing that information to the member. If the member reviews the Hansard record tomorrow, I broke down the nine different expenditure areas for the member, which include legal counsel, expert witnesses, transcription, forensics, judicial expenses, travel costs, jury expenses, accommodations and freight.
Mr. Phillips: Okay, Mr. Chair, I'll look forward to that. Are there any other costs associated with the Timmers inquiry in the Justice department, or any other department of the government, that we should be aware of?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I believe that I have provided the member with a full accounting of the costs, and they are accounted for in the Department of Justice budget.
Mr. Phillips: The other day, the minister said that the maximum that the Government of Yukon is prepared to contribute to the Council of Yukon First Nations is $150,000. Is that regardless of what bills or invoices come in from the Council of Yukon First Nations? Have they been clearly told that that is the cap and no more?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair. As I've indicated to the member previously, the initial budget submission from the Council of Yukon First Nations was higher than that amount. We indicated that we would be prepared to cover their costs to a maximum of $150,000.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister said that she expects to receive very shortly, I guess, the second budget from the Council of Yukon First Nations. As we were made aware of tonight, she already received one on April 14, but she's going to receive another one shortly. I hope that it is shortly, and I hope that we can put this matter behind us with respect to the invoices and the costs and sorting all of that out.
One of the concerns I had about this matter a year ago is that the minister said herself that this was a very unusual funding agreement. My concern was the precedent-setting of this agreement, where the Government of Yukon is funding other parties at inquests.
Has the minister had any more thoughts about who will qualify in the future if there is another tragic accident of one kind or another? If, for instance, someone in my family or someone else's family or anyone in the territory were involved in a tragic accident or incident, and there were a big coroner's inquest, which might be very costly, and people needed lawyers, is the government now, because of this particular incident, prepared to step in and help with some legal costs of the parties who want to make representations in these cases?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, we spent considerable time debating this in the last session of the Legislature. It was an unusual event. We hope that it's an incident that will never be repeated. As the member is aware, there were considerable racial tensions and trauma within the community as a result of the young man being killed.
We do not believe that we have created a precedent here, and we certainly hope that there is not another incident of this kind that occurs in Yukon history. It is a unique event and anything in the future would also have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Phillips: Well, then, the policy prior to this event was that there was no funding, so the minister has now confirmed that the policy today is that each and every event that is tragic and traumatic to any parties involved in a death or a tragic accident will now be considered, or people can make application to the government for some assistance if they feel it's necessary?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I would recommend that the member read the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
This inquest has a dimension that reaches across the entire Yukon, and it had the potential to have an extremely negative effect on the relationship between First Nations communities in the Yukon and the RCMP. We felt it was important to support the Council of Yukon First Nations to have standing at the inquest so that there was a full and fair hearing with all parties represented. We have been debating tonight the considerable costs that are associated with the coroner's office itself that exceed the cost of providing support to the Council of Yukon First Nations.
The member has put forward the idea that a member of his family may be involved in a tragic accident and that he would come to the Yukon government to apply for standing to appear at a coroner's inquest. I would suggest to him that, in the case of the death of Harley Timmers, we were dealing with something beyond the effect on a family of a death in an accident.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, in many of these tragic cases, most of them have an effect on more than the family. Most of them have an effect on an awful lot of people. Inquests affect an awful lot of people, make recommendations that affect an awful lot of people. All I'm trying to get from the minister is, does the minister see this as a unique and unusual event? I have to agree; it's a unique and unusual event. The minister has now opened the door for any other unique and unusual and tragic events such as this, so that people can come to the Government of the Yukon and receive the same treatment that was received here.
Prior to this event, the Government of the Yukon didn't provide any assistance to anyone for these kinds of things. That was our policy before. We now have changed it, and I know this one had some racial overtones and was based on some racial issues out there, but there might - and may - be others that come forward in the future. We hope they don't. I just want to get from the minister that the minister is now prepared to look at those kinds of things that come forward in the future and will be prepared, no matter what they are, if they're serious enough, to provide funding in the same way she's providing funding here.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: People come forward to the government seeking funding frequently and for many different events. This was an extraordinary event, and it was considered on the basis of the merits of the unique case.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I think I'll leave that matter now and move on to some other matters, but they are somewhat related. We have discussed this as well in the House, and that is the matter of legal aid. The minister knows that many people were concerned and upset and figured that some of the money that was going to CYFN is, in fact, for legal services and could be considered legal aid.
At the same time, we have a fairly tight restriction on our legal aid budget in the Government of Yukon and we've been denying some people legal aid based on the amount of money we have.
I'm wondering if the minister, after our discussions the other day, is prepared to make representation or prepared to do something for those women in particular who are faced with custody battles in the face of people coming back to court to look at the maintenance and custody issues. Is the minister prepared to put some more money into legal aid? We're putting money into all kinds of other things, and I wonder if the minister is prepared to put more money into legal aid to allow the Legal Services Society to consider helping to fund these single mothers who are forced to go back to court to defend their rights and protect their children. Is the minister prepared to do that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, it's unfortunate that the member didn't hear the discussion earlier this evening with the official opposition critic on this same subject. Nevertheless, I'm happy to repeat my answers for the member's benefit.
We have requested information from Legal Aid on their budget shortfall. We have also agreed to work with Legal Aid to look at their caseload, to look at the voted amounts that they have received and to look at the federal and territorial contributions to the legal aid budget.
As the member is aware, this is a federal program that has been cost shared with jurisdictions. The Yukon government has increased its funding in the absence of the federal government meeting its obligations.
But we also want to discuss with Legal Aid the pressures that they face and the coverage of cases and whether there may be a different way to do business. We're going to look at the question of house counsel compared to contracts with the bar outside of their house counsel, and we'll follow up with Legal Aid when we have received all of that information and have looked at their financial picture in order to look at their needs for year-end.
The additional cost that we provided to Legal Aid cover 24-hour duty counsel and their rental costs, as well as some other areas that they required additional funding for.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't necessarily buy the minister's argument that she uses all the time, that we have to wait for the federal Liberal government to kick in the money. I mean, I was a Minister of Justice at one time, too, and I had as much difficulty as the minister's having in getting the Liberals to pay their share, and, in fact, they cut back, I think, when we were in government, and it created all kinds of problems for us.
But one of the problems I have now is that you can only use that excuse for so long. The problem now is that Yukoners are suffering, and the problem is, as well, that part of it is brought on by the depressed economy, and the economy is in very poor shape, and the Legal Aid people tell us that there are more and more people seeking legal aid, and there's much more of a draw on the system.
At the same time we have a government with a $40-million surplus that can find money to study butterflies in Keno City. It's hard for me to explain to a single mother who wants to receive some legal aid that this government is more interested in counting butterflies in Keno City than it is in helping her out as a single mom defending her right in court to keep her children. And this is about the Minister of Justice having some clout in Cabinet and making some arguments that kids are more important than butterflies.
I just want the minister to make a strong representation in Cabinet that she should have a look at where some of these funds are going for some of the little pet projects of some ministers in there, you know.
Mr. Chair, we built a gigantic chess game in Faro, but we can't fund mothers with legal aid. That's the federal Liberals' fault. I think it's a matter of choices and a matter of priorities.
Mr. Chair, I would suggest to the minister that she can keep working on trying to get the Liberals to pay their share. She may not be successful, because not very many people have been, because they're doing their pet projects as well.
But at the same time, she can look at the surplus she has, and she can look at the discretion the minister has in her funds, and they can look at helping out some of these people who really need help by dealing with the issue of the increased demand on legal aid because of the depressed economy.
So, I urge the minister, in the strongest terms, to do something about it and do something about it quickly. It's not getting any better out there for these single moms. And they're having to go to court, some of them on a fairly regular basis, and I get phone calls. I had a phone call today from someone who was very upset. Her husband wants to vary the order, and they have no way to defend themselves, because the government refuses to pay legal aid and they get upset when they see the government throwing money, willy-nilly, all over the place, studying butterflies, building gigantic chess games, ministers flying all over the world piling up a bunch of points, drinking champagne and enjoying themselves at cocktail parties, and they can't see the legal aid budget increase. It's pretty hard to explain to the average person.
So, I ask the minister to give consideration to changing the legal aid budget so that these types of people can be received a little better by the government.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, the only contribution that member has to make to economic debate in this territory, when he stays in the Legislature to speak on economic motions, is to be critical of what we're doing to further economic development and to diversify our economy in this territory. I think that's pathetic.
The member also just spoke about ministers piling up points. The member knows very well that, when ministers travel, they do not accumulate travel points. The travel points for ministerial travel are used to offset the medical travel budget, and we incur a significant advantage to the medical travel budget by applying the points, not just of ministers who travel but of Yukon government officials who travel, to the agreements that Health and Social Services have with the airlines.
Legal aid is cost shared between the federal and provincial governments. The national funding agreement expired several years ago, as the member may be aware. The provinces and territories are continuing to try to negotiate with the federal government. These haven't been easy negotiations.
I've said previously this evening and in the House that we did have a meeting set with the federal Liberal government for early December, but it was cancelled, without explanation, by the feds. And the Yukon is not the only jurisdiction that is experiencing difficulties with the level of funding. This is a problem across Canada.
We have responded to the difficulties in funding that the legal aid budget has faced. We recognize that there has been an increased demand for services. I think the Yukon Legal Aid Society is doing a good job in continuing to meet the increasing demand. The delivery of legal aid services in the Yukon is effective, and the society is doing an excellent job of using the resources that are available to them.
In both the 1998-99 budget and in the current fiscal year, the Yukon has topped up our 50-percent share of the costs and has added an additional $75,000 to the legal aid budget. The legal aid budget for the Yukon this year is $931,000. We have asked Legal Aid to support their request for additional money with financial statements. We are awaiting accounting information from Legal Aid on those financial statements.
The executive director met with the deputy minister this week to discuss legal aid concerns. We agreed that we would work together to review the demand, to review the services provided, and to see if we can offer further improvements in the future.
I'm very sympathetic to the issues of the need for legal aid. We brought forward amendments to bring into place the federal child support guidelines that were designed to help reduce the number of cases where maintenance orders are varied. We have brought in legislative amendments to improve the maintenance enforcement program and to provide for better administration of that program and for better enforcement of judgments so that custodial parents are getting the support that they need. We will continue to work with Legal Aid to try to resolve the problems that they face.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the minister says on one hand that everything's fine and they've been funding legal aid, and then she says that she has sympathy for those in need of legal aid. Well, I can tell the minister that sympathy isn't what the single moms want. It's help. I just don't know how long it's going to go on.
The Legal Aid Society has told the minister it has a problem. I know they're working on the problem now, but I want the minister to give us a commitment on the floor today that she will address the problem in the next month or two. There are people every day having to go to court, and we're getting calls from these people who are concerned. And every day that the minister takes to come to a resolution of this, sympathy or not, it's not helping these people. They need financial help so they can get a lawyer so they can defend themselves. The minister has to make a decision.
One of the members on the other side of the House, the Minister of Health and Social Services, said the other day it's about being in a position and making decisions. Well, get on with it, you know. I asked the Minister of Justice to get on with making a decision about legal aid for these single moms. I asked the minister responsible for Yukon Housing to get on with a decision about not including the child benefits - the maintenance payments they get - as part of the income of the mother so we can help the children. But make a decision, like the Member for Whitehorse West said.
And so I just encourage the minister in the strongest terms and would like a commitment from the minister that she won't let this go on for much longer, that the minister - whether the federal Liberal government decides it's good to get back in or not - will make some kind of a commitment to make some changes to help some of these people out. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, that's why we're working with Legal Aid to try to make some changes. I might point out, for the member's benefit, that the federal government at this time has a huge surplus. We think that they should be using some of that surplus to support programs that they are responsible for, such as the legal aid programs.
I've indicated to the member that we have, in fact, increased our contribution to legal aid funding, that we have provided more than the 50 percent, that we are sympathetic to the needs of Legal Aid, that although it has had a negative effect on our ability to negotiate with the feds and to take the position that they need to be responsible and meet their obligations to programs, such as legal aid, that we have, in fact, topped up our funding.
There are pressures on the legal aid system, and we're working with the Legal Aid office at this time to look at the case coverage and whether there might be a different way to do business and how we can help them out.
In the past when they experienced a deficit, we did help them out. We're providing them with additional funding so they could implement a 24-hour duty counsel system. They had increased rental costs and general caseload increases. They had a need to upgrade their computer system. We provided them with additional funding in order to meet those needs.
We first provided that funding for the 1998-99 year. We have also added that increase for the current fiscal year. When we receive the accounting from Legal Aid on exactly where they stand at present, we will follow up with them for what their needs are for year-end.
I've indicated that to the member. I've had questions from the critics in both opposition parties to respond to that. I've given the members our response. We will continue to work with them.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, 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 the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move 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 9:25 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 24, 1999:
Fleet Vehicle Agency 1998-99 Annual Report (Sloan)
Queen's Printer Agency 1998-99 Annual Report (Sloan)
Property Management Agency 1998-99 Annual Report (Sloan)
Yukon forestry mission to Fairbanks (May 2 to 6, 1999): summary (Fentie)