Thursday, December 2, 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 Chuck Rear
Mr. Phillips: Today I rise on behalf of all members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly to pay tribute to a very special Yukoner and a friend, Chuck Rear, who passed away recently at the age of 61.
Chuck was born to Glen, originally from rural Alberta, and Ella, a First Nation woman from Mayo. He was the second of 10 children and grew up in Teslin, Brooks Brook and Whitehorse.
Looking back over the years, Chuck tried his hand at almost everything. As early as the age of 15, he joined the workforce starting as a labourer at Cassiar, B.C. He painted bridges and houses for DPW and was the general manager of the old Whitehorse Inn; he was a real estate agent, a part-time driver for Murdoch's Fuel and a sales rep for Seagram, which was one of his more favourite jobs.
He also served as a firefighter for over 20 years and was forced to retire after suffering a disability. Not one to ever stand still, Chuck continued to work at various jobs, including house painting and, more recently, worked at the Mountainview golf course, where he squeezed in the odd game. Chuck also tried his hand at politics in the 1992 general election, when he ran as the Yukon Party candidate in Whitehorse Centre, and he only lost by, I think, three votes. He was revered as one of the finer athletes in the territory, earning many trophies and medals. He especially loved the game of softball, and he was given the honour of being inducted into the Softball Hall of Fame in 1987 for his contribution to the sport.
Mr. Speaker, I would have to relate a story to this House that was told at his funeral yesterday, and it was one that shows you, I guess, Chuck's eagerness to win, but also his sense of humour when he was not winning. In this case, it was a ball game being played at the Whitehorse ball diamond. It was a fairly important game, and as usual, Chuck was the pitcher. A guy called Morgan was playing centre field. The game was very close at the time in the early innings, and a fly ball was hit out to centre field. Morgan ran under the ball, and, for some reason unbeknownst to anybody, he missed it and the ball fell between his legs. Chuck was rather upset, because he thought the ball should have been caught. But he didn't say anything at the time. He was so upset that it must have disrupted his pitching a bit, and the team got a little further behind. So they made a change, and they put Morgan in the pitching position, and they put Chuck in centre field. Well, as luck would have it, another fly ball was hit out to centre field, nice and high, and everyone watched as the ball sailed down. And the only noise that could be heard from centre field was Chuck Rear when he said, "Hey, Morgan, should I catch it?" Obviously, Chuck was still feeling the pain of the drop ball from Morgan earlier, but it was one of the many humorous stories that were told of Chuck Rear at his funeral yesterday.
Well, Mr. Speaker, among other sports that Chuck enjoyed and did well at the same time were basketball, curling and golf. And Chuck was described by many as probably one of Yukon's most naturally gifted athletes. While many of us were inspired by his athletic abilities, others learned from him through coaching and encouragement. Win or lose, his kindness and understanding brought the best out in people. He was incredibly supportive of our community and yet seldom took any credit for the untold hours of helping others realize their goals. Chuck will long be remembered for his sense of humour and his words of wisdom and his heart of gold. He was a good person whose contribution to the Yukon will not be forgotten in years to come.
Chuck will be greatly missed by his daughters Cathy and Brenda, and his little treasure, his granddaughter Cheyenne. As a long-time Yukoner and a very special man, it is appropriate that we pay tribute to Chuck Rear here today.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
National Safe Driving Week
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to the 45th annual National Safe Driving Week, which began yesterday and runs until next Tuesday.
We live in a society in motion, where a driver may spend hundreds of hours behind the wheel. National Safe Driving Week allows Canadians to reflect on ways to reduce injury and death on the highways.
The World Health Organization and the Red Cross agree that motor vehicle accidents are a major health problem and are the leading cause of death and disablement in the world for people between the ages of three and 35.
According to Transport Canada, last year alone there were 3,064 road fatalities in this country, and 40 percent of them were alcohol related.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon still has a long way to go, as far as road safety and impaired driving are concerned. Statistics show that the Yukon has four times the national average for impaired driving charges. I congratulate the RCMP for continuing to make this problem a priority.
We're making progress. Last year impaired driving charges dropped by three percent from the year before. Our government is committed to finding ways to make our roads safer. We're taking a tough stance with people who abuse their driving privileges and endanger the lives of others. These initiatives include tougher regulation on licence suspension for impaired driving; roadside suspension of up to 90 days effective immediately on being found driving while impaired; tougher regulations for vehicle impoundment for Yukoners found to be driving impaired.
We have determined that tougher messages are needed to make people sit up and to take notice on the importance of safe driving.
Over the next few weeks, we plan to issue a wake-up call to Yukon drivers. We call it a tough-love approach to safe driving messages. We want to prevent any further injury or loss of life by reinforcing the need for all of us to practise safer driving. With the holiday season almost here, I would urge Yukoners to exercise safe driving practices every day, to plan ahead to get home safely every time they get behind the wheel.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have some correspondence on the railroad discussion and proposal on the right-of-way.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I have the Motor Transport Board annual report, and I also have the Yukon Medical Council annual report.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have the annual report of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) workers have the fundamental right to choose to be represented by a union or professional association;
(2) the Education Act discriminates against first-year, temporary teachers, because it denies these teachers the fundamental right of representation by their professional association; and
(3) the NDP government has delayed the mandatory review of the Education Act until after the next general election, thereby allowing this discrimination to continue; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to introduce an amendment to amend section 195 of the Education Act to include first-year, temporary teachers as employees, thus allowing these teachers the fundamental right to representation by their professional association, the Yukon Teachers Association.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Alcohol and drug addictions
Mrs. Edelman: I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
The lack of services for youth suffering through alcohol and drug addictions in our communities is an ongoing concern. The Substance Abuse Prevention and Yukon Tobacco Reduction Strategy Final Report: Community Solutions came out in January of 1999, and one of the recommendations from that report was that government work with communities to identify and promote recognition of adult role models for youth, especially in the outlying communities.
The government hasn't followed up on that recommendation, and I'd like to know why, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, we do take the issue of substance abuse and tobacco abuse very seriously, and we will certainly be following up on any and all recommendations. We have focused our energies, as I have said, on youth, particularly with respect to tobacco, and we have an active program for alcohol reduction with youth as well. I think I have gone through this before, and I'd be happy to go through it again.
Mrs. Edelman: I asked the minister about role models, particularly in the outlying areas, and once again the minister has not answered the question.
Mr. Speaker, a court decision was recently handed down in the youth court of the Yukon, and part of the judge's decision illustrates the problem that we're talking about, in very simple terms. The judge said, "Substance abuse is widespread among many young people in this community, yet there is little by way of substance abuse counselling or treatment in this territory which is suitable for young people."
Mr. Speaker, more needs to be done. The cost to society is simply too great to let it go on. Does the minister agree with the judge's opinion that there is little by way of substance abuse counselling for treatment in this territory that is suitable for young people?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With respect, Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that perhaps the judge in this case is not aware of some of the things that we have been doing for young people in terms of ADS counselling and prevention. We have a counselling position that provides support to the young offenders facility, youth probations and also to F.H. Collins. We've been working as well, in terms of prevention, primarily directed at younger children, and there's a pilot program being developed in Elijah Smith Elementary School. We've got development of a Web site underway, increasing involvement with the school system in terms of prevention and National Addictions Awareness Week.
We've been involved with schools on a request basis. We've assisted staff at Porter Creek Secondary in the development of lesson plans and curriculum to assist the CAPP program for grade 8 students. Planning is underway to increase a greater degree of addictions-prevention programming. We're in the process of synthesizing information for positive action with Yukon youth and seeing what we can do to assist youth in concrete terms. We're identifying alternative activities for youth, resource issues, data partnerships, et cetera, et cetera. We've contributed money toward a sober graduation in all three high schools in Whitehorse and committed another $2,000 to assist with a youth conference. We've also developed resource kits on alcohol and drugs for primary school teachers, a pamphlet on drug facts, working for parents, and a resource book for teachers in concert with the RCMP, Department of Education and ADS.
Mrs. Edelman: What would Question Period be without the mandatory listing of programs, none of which have anything to do with what I was asking about - again. I was talking about treatment and counselling, not prevention programs. Some of those programs are very good. I agree with the minister. I'm talking about treatment and counselling for youth with alcohol and drug problems in the territory. Now, another report was recently released. It was called Restorative Justice in Yukon: An Overview, and a short look through that report would lead anyone to conclude that not enough is being done in our rural communities to treat youth with alcohol and drug addictions. Mr. Speaker, there are very few treatment services available in Whitehorse, and there's nothing in the communities.
The Substance Abuse Prevention and Yukon Tobacco Reduction Strategy Final Report: Community Solutions, a very high-profile court decision and the restorative justice report have all pointed out the same problem and offered the same solution: there needs to be better treatment facilities for youth with alcohol and drug problems, particularly the ones in the rural communities who have nothing. Will the minister help make that happen?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I guess I could paraphrase it and say, "What would Question Period be if the member didn't have reports to quote from?"
We have been working very actively with rural communities. We have been working with First Nation partners in development of wilderness treatment programs at Aishihik Lake, Tatl'a Man Lake. We're looking at expanding that program. We have allocated additional money into that particular area. We are interested in trying to get some of those services out to communities, and we also see those programs as addressing some of the rural youth problems, and, as the member is well aware, that was one of the focuses of the Aishihik Lake program. We have also been the driving force behind some programs at Yukon College in terms of addictions courses. We have been working with community workers, in terms of training community workers on delivering a relapse prevention program and a whole variety of other areas. Prevention staff, after-care and training, have completed a community after-care needs assessment, and we have been working with communities in trying to deliver further services.
So, I think we are working. We're working with rural Yukon. I think we're committed to trying to reduce those issues, particularly around youth addictions, and we'll continue to do so.
Question re: Historic resources centre
Ms. Buckway: I have some questions for the Minister of Tourism. Yesterday in this House, I noted that the NDP had failed to build a historic resources centre as part of the Beringia Centre as they had promised they would. The minister had this to say: "Well, I take exception to that, Mr. Speaker, because the New Democratic Party never said that we were going to build a heritage resources centre - never did."
In the 1996 election campaign, the NDP answered written questions from the Tourism Industry Association. Here is one question: the Beringia Centre as planned has a research facility component to provide academic opportunities and convention use. Will the government proceed with this planned component? The NDP response was that the research facility component will be the historic resources centre, and the government recognizes the need for historic resources research to be undertaken.
Mr. Speaker, that sounds like a promise to me. Why has the NDP not followed up on this promise?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It's always a pleasure to go back to Beringia and speak about Beringia.
This government has not broken a promise on Beringia, Mr. Speaker. We are absolutely out there trying to find ways to make Beringia work. We've commissioned a business plan, after the fact and when it was put together. We've commissioned a business plan to try to make it reflect an ongoing business. The business plan was based on the numbers that were used for projection to make it work.
Of course we obviously know that those numbers are not working at this point in time - absolutely not working. The New Democratic Party has done everything we could to follow through on Beringia. We have never said - and I will say again - said that we are going to develop the historic resources centre. We've gone with heritage initiatives in many other cases, and we will continue to work with them.
As I said yesterday, the Yukon has been compared to heritage heaven out of all jurisdictions in Canada. That is our ambition; that is what our goal is: to continue to work that way.
Our goal is also to work with the museums, because a lot of the museums in the rural communities - the local museums - were at a little bit of a disadvantage; they had thought the Beringia resource centre would take away from resources.
So we're working with the museum community at large, and we will continue to do so.
Ms. Buckway: I'm glad the minister recognizes the numbers at Beringia aren't working, but the question pertained to a historic resources centre.
Let's go back to March 14, 1996. The NDP Tourism critic had this to say: "The minister and I jest about the Beringia Interpretive Centre, but I have a fundamental problem with the whole concept of the Beringia Interpretive Centre, and particularly its location. I have less difficulty with the heritage resources centre, which I believe has a value. I would like to see it given a higher profile, and the Beringia Centre less."
The same member also promised at a meeting in Haines, Alaska during the election campaign that the NDP would build a historic resources centre. The NDP said one thing before the election and something different after the election. Why is the minister denying that these promises were made? Why hasn't the NDP made good on its promise to build a historic resources centre?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, as a representative for heritage heaven here in the Yukon Territory, it always gives me a great pleasure to be able to speak to these types of issues.
As the member can see - and we might be up for debate on it later on in the day, or certainly on Monday - this government has brought forth dollars to store and preserve artifacts. You do not need a great, huge concrete building to do these initiatives.
We have done this, and we're going to continue to do these types of initiatives. It's always a pleasure to be sitting here in heritage heaven and be able to work on those issues, because heritage is very much a fundamental part of our tourism strategy, and we'll continue to showcase our tourism strategy through our heritage heaven concept, if I could say so.
So we have put money into it. It does not take a great, big, huge physical building to store artifacts, as the long-ago man - the ice man - that was just recently discovered. We're looking at taking steps and measures to be able to help with those types of initiatives.
So we are there, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Buckway: Let's look at yet another example. This is the current Government Leader speaking on Thursday, April 13, 1995.
"Do I believe there should be a historic resources centre? I was a member of the Cabinet that helped to prove the museums policy, ... Do I think there should be a historic resources centre where there should be proper laboratory facilities? Yes, I do."
The NDP is on record many times saying how they support a historic resources centre. As a government, they have failed to follow through. There is no money in the budget for it, and no money in the five-year capital plan.
This is the same government that promised to reduce unemployment, cancel the wolf kill, stabilize power rates, settle land claims, finalize DAP, and return the two-percent rollback. It's a long list of broken promises.
Why is the minister denying that these promises were made? Why hasn't the NDP made good on its promise to build a historic resources centre?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, as the member has so generously quoted from me in my past life in the opposition, I feel that it would be only appropriate that I respond.
Now, the historic resources centre, or the facility to keep preserved artifacts, is something that can be done at Yukon College. It can be done in facilities elsewhere. It does not have to be a grandiose, big, large facility that the member seems to be wanting the taxpayer to fund.
Mr. Speaker, this is a very practical example of wanting to preserve artifacts in the budget that we are debating right now, in the Tourism estimates right now, and the Liberals, including the member who just asked the question, voted against those expenditures. If the member really cares about preserving artifacts and is not simply trying to make a bogus, partisan, political argument, if she really cares about the subject matter, she would have voted for the budget, which actually had something concrete happening.
So, Mr. Speaker, we do believe in artifact preservation. We have taken concrete steps to do such things, and we will continue to over the objections of the Liberals and the Yukon Party.
Question re: Protected areas strategy, Fishing Branch
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, since the Government Leader is in such fine form, I will direct my question to the Government Leader, and it's on the protected areas strategy.
The Minister of Economic Development has publicly admitted to mistakes being made in relation to implementing the protected areas strategy in the Fishing Branch and Tombstone areas. The Government Leader himself has said that there were problems with the way the strategy was being implemented, and one of the major problems, Mr. Speaker, was that there hadn't been any comprehensive mineral assessments done prior to designating park boundaries.
In view of the split in the NDP Cabinet over the protected areas strategy being implemented, with the Government Leader and the Minister of Economic Development on one side and the Minister of Renewable Resources on the other, I'd like to ask the Government Leader, is he prepared now to address the concerns of the mining community with respect to the mining claims in the Fishing Branch protected area?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The position the Yukon Party is taking now hasn't changed in regard to the protected areas strategy. I must remind him again that we took a more concerned approach to putting the strategy together and working with Yukoners. It took a year and a half to do and, as a result of that, we came up, I think, with a very good document for us to use for many years to come.
We've had Tombstone and the Fishing Branch developed and worked on through the strategy as a result of the claims. The strategy really hasn't been tested yet on its own for an ecoregion and, Mr. Speaker, we knew that this was our very first project with Fishing Branch, and we knew that there would be concerns raised with regard to the process itself. We've been listening to people. We've taken down their concerns, and we'll be looking at what we can do to improve the strategy itself.
Mr. Ostashek: Let the record show that the minister didn't answer the question. The question was quite specific. It was in regard to the mining claims in Fishing Branch. There have now been 32 claims staked in the Fishing Branch designated protected area. Mr. Speaker, there was an earlier report that the government was going to ask Ottawa to reject these claims.
My question to the Government Leader: has he in fact written the federal government asking that these claims be rejected, or does the government now recognize them as being legitimate claims?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, in regard to Fishing Branch itself, we have made the public aware that this was going to be and will be a protected area. This was full knowledge for many years. It has been talked about for 27 years and, more actively, in the last four years with the people in Old Crow, Government of Yukon and general public.
So, the public did know that this was going to be a protected area. We have done a map notation, and soon we'll be deciding what the boundaries are going to be from recommendations back from the local planning team and proceeding with mineral withdrawal at that point.
Mr. Ostashek: Let the record again show that the minister failed to answer the question.
Mr. Speaker, perhaps the government ought to adopt the Yukon Liberal position, and that's to buy them out. That's the Yukon Liberal position - expropriate them.
My question to the Government Leader: it is stated that the protected areas strategy should become law, as opposed to simply being government policy. I'd like to ask the Government Leader to explain how this would aid the process if, in fact, it's the government itself that's breaching the process, as it has now done in two instances?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have followed the YPAS process in developing Fishing Branch. Tombstone was a totally different process. It directs us to form a steering committee through the land claims agreement. I'm sure the member understands that, and if he doesn't, read the First Nation final agreement of Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in.
What we said here is that we sped up the process for many interests - First Nation interests, interests in oil and gas - and as a result of that, we have had people coming forward, interests in the oil and gas industry. And we announced a few weeks ago that $20 million will be spent for exploration work for oil and gas. That's a positive thing. We have worked with the First Nation on this whole thing. They wanted to see it happen. It has been in their hands for many years, and they wanted to see progress being made. We worked with the communities to make it happen. We think that we can fine-tune the process, and we'll be taking concerns down from people.
Question re: Physician recruitment, Dawson City
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the minister responsible for Health and Social Services. On November 16 and again on November 30, I raised the issue of the large increase in medevac flights from communities such as Dawson City and Ross River because of the lack of medical services being provided in those communities.
With respect to Dawson City, the increase in medevacs is largely due to this minister's failure to negotiate an on-call agreement with local physicians. The minister is trying to portray the physicians as the villains by saying that they are asking for another $400,000 to $500,000 when, in fact, this is simply not true.
What the City of Dawson needs is a third doctor, and the only way Dawson will get the third doctor is by having on-call availability fees as part of a package that will attract and retain health care professionals into the rural parts of Yukon.
Does the minister not agree that the money being spent on increased medevac flights could be better spent to hire a third doctor?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the practice in Dawson was approved for a third doctor, and it was our understanding that the physicians in Dawson were recruiting a third doctor.
So if the member is saying that we were somehow deceived in that, I would be very disturbed. We understood that the physicians there had applied to recruit a third physician and that that was approved.
Mr. Jenkins: It was quite a period of time before the minister did approve a third billing number, but Dawson is a different Dawson in the summer and in the winter. Without the on-call availability fees added in to the fee for service, there's simply not enough room there. The population requires and justifies a third doctor, but it can't be supported.
In view of what one of the doctors in Dawson said about the cost of bringing in a third doctor, it would appear that the government and the doctors are effectively agreed on the cost. And I would ask the minister if he would defer his political attacks against the doctors, sit down with them, and work out an appropriate arrangement that would benefit the Klondike, and the Yukon taxpayers, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We've made a whole variety of offers, which we think could accommodate Dawson, including making the offer of contract positions. It would seem to me that that would address the need for a third physician. We have made consistent offers since early in the spring, and I have a list of the offers that were made as well as the total incremental cost of what it would mean to the Department of Health and Social Services. I realize this is difficult for the Member for Klondike to realize, with his concept of Dawson being the navel of the universe; however, he does have to appreciate the fact that we have rural physicians in other communities. When we figure in the incremental costs, we have to figure them for other rural communities. So when we gave out the costs, we were addressing the global costs for the whole territory. Now, we have said that we have made a series of offers. I can go through them if the member would like, and I could also go through the counter offers that were proposed and what they would mean in terms of incremental cost.
Mr. Jenkins: I would ask the minister to table those offers so that everyone can have a look at them and we'll see what we're discussing, because the issue is one of salary versus a fee for service. And the only area that the minister is hanging his hat on is that it has to be a salaried position. It is my understanding that the medevac flight increase in Ross River is largely due to the fact that the two nurse practitioners hired last spring have left, and that is because of this government's inability to put together a package that will attract and retain health care professionals in rural Yukon once again. Can the minister advise the House what his immediate plans are for meeting the nursing problem in Ross River?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, the member's premise is wrong when he says that the only thing we've looked at is the salary positions. We have made a variety of offers, including stipends, including different kinds of arrangements to cover off some of the costs for physicians, all of which have been rejected to this date.
With respect to Ross River, there are two auxiliary nurses in there. There's an acting nurse-in-charge and there's a second nurse practitioner who will be there until December 10 - another one is coming in. We are at the point right now of recruiting a nurse-in-charge candidate, and we hope to soon confirm that, and we are in the process of recruiting a second nurse practitioner.
Question re: Liquor Act review
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation.
In December of 1996, the minister stood in this Legislature and promised to review the Yukon Liquor Act. He said, "We've had talks with the president of the Yukon Liquor Corporation and had direction from the people to do some type of review of the act, and we'd like to have a look at it internally before we do a bigger public review of it."
This is one of our oldest pieces of legislation, Mr. Speaker. There have been numerous changes to the act and regulations over the years - 1989, 1992 - but no going back to Yukoners to see if this act still makes sense to them and reflects the way we should sell and regulate liquor today.
The minister knows this act needs a public review. Why has he broken his promise to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, the Yukon has a semi-arid climate and, every now and then, we experience a drought. There is a drought in the Yukon right now, and it's happening across the floor with the opposition. You can tell that when they start asking a Liquor Corporation question.
Mr. Speaker, the board of directors of the Liquor Corporation have been meeting in communities, they have been taking concerns down, and they've had board meetings in communities. I asked them to go around to get feedback from the general public on how they conduct the Liquor Corporation business. They have been doing that and will continue to have meetings throughout the Yukon.
We have had one most recently in Old Crow to get more feedback, and we have had many people express an interest in having a review of the Liquor Act, and it ranged from one end to the other, from not even having alcohol in the Yukon altogether to having more freedom, a little looser laws, in selling alcohol.
So, it's all out there, and there is a lot of concern about it, and we will continue to work with communities to get more feedback for us.
Mrs. Edelman: Two things, Mr. Speaker: first of all, if there are so many concerns out there, maybe it's time to review it. And the second thing is, perhaps this minister's afraid of reviewing this act because it's going to be very contentious. The issues that are coming out of that review will be very contentious, and it's an election year, and we wouldn't want to do that.
Now, there have been ads in the papers about those meetings the minister just talked about, out in the communities, and I'll read from one of those ads. It says that these meetings will provide opportunities for you to ask questions or express concerns about issues related to the Yukon Liquor Act and its regulations, and that's an ad from June 4, 1999.
Now in a letter to me of August 20 of this year - this summer actually - the minister said that there are currently no plans to make specific changes to either the act or the regulations.
So, "We want to listen to you, but we're not going to make any changes to the act or the regulations."
Now, despite that, the minister has made some piecemeal changes to the regulations to accommodate licensees who operate sports-related facilities. So, "We're making changes; we're not making changes. We're making changes. Oh no, we're not going to make any changes. We're not going to listen to people. We're not going to make any changes."
Now, why has the government taken this piecemeal approach to fixing a very serious problem? Why not the full review, as promised?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, the member doesn't understand how a department works, or a corporation works. There are always revisions to acts or regulations. What we said is that we're not going to do a review of the act in our term here. We have clearly laid out what we wanted to do, as far as workload with the general public, and we're doing exactly that.
What the member wants us to do is make changes to the act and do a review right now. What we want to do is go to the communities and work with people and get feedback from them, and I want the board of directors to go into the communities and get a feel for what really is out there.
And that's exactly what's taking place.
Mrs. Edelman: What is the point in going out and having a consultation if you're not going to listen to what people say and make any changes? What's the point of that? What's the point of doing a half job?
Let's go back to the House, on April 20, 1998, and this is the minister and he's saying: "Well, if we started to get into the issues of where we would like to see amendments in the Liquor Act, I think we would be filling up the agenda quite full in looking at all the different sections of the Liquor Act. I know that there are some in there that the general public right now would like to see changed..."
Yes, Mr. Speaker, they would like to see it changed, they'd like to see a public review, and they'd like to hear that what they say to this government means something. That's what they would like to see. They asked for a public review. The minister said he was going to do a public review. He hasn't done it. Why not?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, the member is not listening. I gave direction to the board of directors to go to the communities. What is that in the Liberals' eyes? Is that not going out and seeking public input into what the board of directors does and how they carry out their business? We have laid out, as a government, what we were going to do over our term in office here. Clearly, it is laid out in the document A Better Way.
We have taken on the tough issues that the Yukon Party wouldn't touch, and the Yukon Liberal Party jumps all over it - for example, the protected areas strategy, which has a lot of tough issues to deal with, and we have taken it on as a government for the betterment of Yukoners.
With the Liquor Corporation, we have asked the board of directors to go out, talk to the community people, have public meetings, and that's what they're doing, and they're getting good feedback. They haven't talked to all the communities yet. They're getting good feedback, and that gives us a better view of what people are thinking of as far as what should be done for a review of the Liquor Act, and I can tell the member that it is going to be controversial, and it is going to take a long time, and it does have to have a lot of energy put into it, and we're willing to do that, but we want to talk to people first.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: We will proceed to government bills.
Bill No. 92: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 92, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 92, entitled An Act to Amend the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, the Public Service Act and the Cabinet and Caucus Employees Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 92, entitled An Act to Amend the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, the Public Service Act and the Cabinet and Caucus Employees Act be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, in the past year, the Government of Yukon has undertaken a review of the conflict provisions in the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, with an intent to expand the coverage of the act to deputy ministers and the employees of the Cabinet. We began by undertaking a review of the legislation with both opposition parties with a view to seeking a consensus position in improving those provisions.
I'm happy to report, Mr. Speaker, that a consensus position, I believe, has been struck, which brings clarity to the definition of conflicts; it brings more rigour to the process of assessing conflicts that may be assessed by the conflicts commissioner, and it ensures that deputies and the staff of Cabinet and caucuses are brought under the general framework of the conflict rules.
Mr. Speaker, the proposal to address the issue of conflicts for public servants generally, we believe, has been adequately covered through the Public Service Act and the Teaching Profession Act, and feel that existing policy is sufficient to meet public expectations and the public's high standards for ensuring that any conflicts or apparent conflicts are properly and appropriately addressed.
There are other provisions in the act that have been reviewed by the conflicts commissioner that improve upon the existing acts, including a provision that ensures that those persons in the public service who are providing advice to the conflicts commissioner, or evidence to the conflicts commissioner, on any matter that is brought before him or her, that that person is protected in their employment and ensures that no negative action is taken against that person for contributing their knowledge and understanding of events. Mr. Speaker, I believe that the act before us is a substantial improvement over the good work that had already been done in this area, and I'm happy to give it consideration before the House today.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to rise in support of the bill that is before us. I would like to make a few remarks with respect to this piece of legislation. The conflicts commissioner, Mr. Hughes, in one of his early reports to the Legislature - the 1997-98 report to the Legislature - made a number of comments. He emphasized his availability to members and urged that we call and consult him and obtain his opinions in writing. He noted that such an approach obviously pays dividends for members and allows them to vote their time in a productive way.
That report from Mr. Hughes also made two key recommendations. One of them, was a response to an editorial in a Whitehorse newspaper that had asked why the conflicts commissioner had not reviewed or been asked to look into the allegations swirling around former and current public servants. Mr. Hughes quite appropriately noted that the application of the act was only to the activities of elected members of the Legislative Assembly.
In his recommendation, Mr. Hughes had written to the B.C. Legislature that he raised the matter of senior officials because it was his experience that there are those in government who, because of the responsible and sensitive position they hold, are more often confronted with ethical dilemmas and potential conflict-of-interest situations than are backbenchers in the Legislature, whether they are on the government or opposition side.
Mr. Hughes noted that he referred particularly to politically exempt staff of the premier and his minister and also to the deputy ministers and those who rank at that level, usually by virtue of order-in-council appointment. The holders of these positions often have access to extremely confidential information, and some of them are in a position to exert considerable influence through input into policy decisions and legislative initiatives.
Mr. Hughes concluded by noting that consideration of whether those in these positions ought to meet the standards imposed on members of the Legislature by virtue of requirement of the Members' Conflict of Interest Act is, he believes, worthy of consideration of the decision-makers in government.
The Government of Yukon has extended the conflict of interest standards to deputy ministers in government in this legislation and established that the Government Leader may make rules of conduct for Cabinet employees, and other leaders may make such rules for the conduct of their employees. There is also provision in this legislation for these codes of conduct to be made public.
This recommendation from the 1997-98 report from the conflicts commissioner has been followed and I'm reasonably satisfied that the legislation before us fully follows Commissioner Hughes' recommendations in this respect.
In an additional report, the most recent 1998-99 report, Mr. Hughes said that, again, it is noteworthy and speaks to the conduct of this Legislature. No investigation on the issue of compliance or non-compliance was necessary. The result was attributable to the efforts that all members are making to honour and respect the requirements of the law.
At the risk of self-praise being no honour, I choose this opportunity to restate this, as I believe that, too often, being a politician is not portrayed as an honourable profession, and when members of all parties take steps to ensure we act with integrity, that it should be noted in a public forum, as the Government Leader has also done today in noting that the parties worked to reach consensus on this legislation.
The conflicts commissioner also noted and chose the opportunity of his second report to say that the Legislature would be giving consideration to whether the act is in fact meeting the needs of Yukoners, and appended to that report was the report of a three-person panel in the Northwest Territories to review and report recommendations on the conflict legislation pertaining to members in that territory, and those recommendations were the result of an investigation that cost taxpayers in the Northwest Territories $1.7 million - a rather hefty sum.
I reviewed the Northwest Territories report in some detail in preparation for this legislation and noted some of the recommendations that were obvious and already a long-standing tradition in the Yukon Legislature. Mr. Hughes chose 10 of the 38 recommendations for consideration by members, and they have been dealt with, as I will note in my remarks, in this legislation before us.
The first four: that Mr. Hughes, the conflicts commissioner, be the sole source of advice; members' disclosure statements be filed with the commission; and there is a requirement to meet with the conflicts commissioner; and combining the conflicts commissioner with another legislative office.
Mr. Hughes currently is our sole source of advice, although he is not recognized as such in this legislation. In fact, we have discussed in the past having other individuals work alongside in a mentoring position with Mr. Hughes to assist in the future. We have not, to my knowledge, made progress on this matter, that I am aware of, and I would like to invite the Government Leader to indicate that there has been some progress in this sensitive matter, in his remarks.
The requirement that members file their disclosure statement with the commission and the requirement that they meet with the commissioner are addressed in this legislation; however, they could be more fully addressed. The law before us requires the disclosure statements to be filed with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and, as soon as practicable, forwarded to the commissioner. This can put the Clerk in the position of being asked for advice, which, clearly, is not Mr. Hughes' intention. One could also assume, as in the spirit of cooperation and consensus noted by the Government Leader, that the Yukon legislation may be written this way simply for practical purposes. Our conflicts commissioner is not resident in the Yukon. Therefore it makes more sense to file statements with the Clerk. I am fully prepared to accept and support the legislation as it has been presented, recognizing that it is drafted this way for practical purposes.
Under the requirement to meet with the conflicts commissioner, the government has chosen in this case to use more permissive language in this section. A member "may" meet rather than a member "shall" meet. This is the government's choice, as the decision makers, and my position is that the section should read "shall" rather than "may"; however, I would not withhold our support for the bill on this point. It is a matter that, in the spirit of consensus, the Government Leader may choose to examine further in Committee and line-by-line debate. There is also the point about combining with another office that we have not dealt with. The reasons for this are obvious and, I'm certain, would be the subject for future discussion between party leaders.
The other recommendations, the retention of the high standard of ethical conduct for all members - and this section could be referred to as a definition of conflict. The definition of conflict for the members is outlined in the preamble of the act.
And, while it states the good intentions of the piece of legislation, it does carry somewhat less weight than if it were included in the act.
Other recommendations include three with respect to deputy ministers and those functioning at an equivalent level, subject to the same standards, subject to post-employment restrictions, and concerns with respect to senior officers functioning at equivalent levels reported to the Government Leader.
These three key recommendations respecting deputy ministers have been met, and they fully meet with the recommendations from Mr. Hughes. The post-employment restrictions currently in policy are codified into law.
Another recommendation from Mr. Hughes was that the conflicts commissioner should have the discretion to meet with a member of the public to receive complaints and accept a verbal complaint. This is section 224 in the legislation before us, and, as the section reads, no job action may be taken against a person as a result of that person either bringing matters to the attention of the conflict of interest commissioner, or assisting the conflict of interest commissioner in the course of his or her work.
In this section 224, the whistle-blower section, the Yukon has made some progress. The section notes "An employee who, at the request of the commission", therefore an employee takes it upon themselves to inform the commission is not afforded - it would appear at first glance - the same protection. We could strengthen this section and provide greater clarity, and I would look forward to a discussion on that in line-by-line.
I would like to restate that our caucus, the Yukon Liberal caucus, fully supports this legislation. We are pleased that it has come forward to be dealt with in this session.
I have made some suggestions in my remarks today for ways in which I believe the bill could be somewhat strengthened. I recognize that, with the majority of members in this House, that it's the government's choice whether or not to accept these suggestions, and I look forward to the government's response.
My support, our caucus support, does not hinge upon them.
The point that we are making in bringing these issues forward is a reflection that there has been progress made, as noted by the Government Leader, and that progress speaks well to the ability and work of this Assembly in working with Mr. Hughes, and shows how seriously we do take this issue.
In closing, I would like to thank the officials and Mr. Hughes, our conflicts commissioner, for their assistance in reviewing this legislation, and to the other party leaders for their spirit of cooperation in approaching this sensitive subject and working toward a better bill for all Yukoners.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the bill as amended and, as the Government Leader has stated, we have had several meetings over the last year to reach a consensus on the bill. Unlike the Liberal leader, I don't have any difficulty with it. I don't think there are any further changes that are required to the bill at this time. The fact is that the report by the conflicts commissioner, which says he hasn't had to investigate any complaints, speaks for itself and speaks for the strength of the bill and the integrity of the members that the bill covers.
The clause that says a member "may" meet with the commissioner I think is fully adequate and needs not to be changed to "shall".
What this does - each member, I believe, has met with the commissioner anyhow.
It's only in their best interest to meet with the commissioner, and to make sure that their finances are in order and they're not in a conflict, or in a perception of conflict.
But I believe the strength in this bill, Mr. Speaker, is not in the bill itself; it's in the fact that we have a conflicts commissioner to whom we can go for advice. That's what gives us the strength.
It helps us by not having to guess, or to go out and hire a lawyer who isn't familiar totally with the conflicts - and he has to do a lot of research if he's going to give you an opinion. Here we have a person who is well-versed in what is a conflict and what is a perceived conflict and what is not a conflict, and this person's available to us. We can sit down and discuss whatever issues we need to discuss. And that, I think, is the strength of our Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act. As the Government Leader said, and I fully agree, the Public Service Act and the teachers' act, or the Education Act, addressed the issue of conflict adequately enough that it need not be addressed in this bill.
With the deputy ministers, it does allow them to be able to have the same flexibility as elected members in approaching the conflicts commissioner and making sure that their affairs are in order so that they wouldn't be in a perceived conflict, and that in itself I believe will go a long way to heading off any potential problems that there could be.
As I stated earlier, Mr. Speaker, the fact that the conflicts commissioner has not had to conduct an investigation of any sort speaks for itself, and speaks for the integrity of the people selected to this Legislature.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the member now speaks he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll be brief. Firstly, I will agree with the leader of the Yukon Party's assertion that the real benefit of this bill, of course, is that the avoidance of conflicts is the goal and the ultimate benefit to all Yukon people. The unrestricted access to the commissioner by members and by deputy ministers, by Cabinet and caucus employees, will help ensure that questions or concerns are answered and any potential conflicts are avoided. That is the intent of the bill. That is what we seek to achieve in the legislation, and I believe that goal has been achieved to date and these amendments will strengthen that intent.
I'd be more than happy, of course, to discuss any suggestions that the Liberal leader has for improvement. I was not aware of these suggestions in the discussions that we've had up to this point. I tried to detect any concerns in the consultations but, obviously, I was not successful. I must say that, with respect to the one issue that the Yukon Party leader raised, I agree with him and, while I'll be interested in hearing whatever arguments people may make for some improvement, I believe that the bill is a significant advance and wholly sufficient to meet the tests and the high principles that the Yukon public expects of senior people in the public service.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 92 agreed to
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 House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 19 - Third Appropriation Act, 1999-2000 - continued
Department of Government Services - continued
Chair: Committee is now dealing with the Department of Government Services in the supplementary estimates. Is there further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What I'd like to do, if I just might, is to respond to some questions raised the previous evening.
The question from the Member for Laberge: is it possible to break out the amounts Sorrento received on two different contracts as opposed to the outside firm? Sorrento is a subcontractor of NovaLIS. We believe that Sorrento received about $70,000 of work from these contracts.
When is the LIMS project projected to be completed? The land titles and disposition components of LIMS are complete. The mapping component is the final component, scheduled for early spring 2000. By that date, all the digital topographical and survey data for the Commissioner's land will be in the system and functional. Data map conversion will continue after that date for up to about a year, and other parcel information will be added to this system as it becomes available.
When will the remaining local contracts be tendered for LIMS? There are no further contracts for the LIMS project. All the remaining contracts are for map conversion. Map conversion is an ongoing effort.
The following contracts for mapping are expected to be tendered in the next few months. For base map text conversion, an RFP was issued November 24 and the award is expected by December 10 for the work between December and April. The estimated contract value is between $25,000 and $35,000. For minerals claims map conversion, they expect to issue an RFP in December for a January start. This has an estimated contract value of $15,000. For cartographic editing, a request for a qualified source list is expected to be issued in February, with small contracts being issued from this, and valued between $15, 00 and $25,000. For surveyed mineral claims - three to four RFPs issued during January, and valued at $100,000 to $125,000. YTG is working with Northern Resources Canada, NRCan, to scope the size and the amount of individual contracts required, ensuring that there are sufficient resources available at NRCan to provide the quality assurance for the contracts.
What are the details of the $84,907 contract with the University of Alberta to do an air quality study at the Whitehorse administration building? The contract with UBC for an air quality study of Whitehorse main administration building - the contract was for this building. The initial study was completed in 1995 by Dr. Van Netten, Professor of Epidemiologywith UBC. Upgrades were completed in 1998 at the Whitehorse administration building.
There is a total of $36,666 remaining on the contract for the final report, which may involve another final review of the site. As there are numerous demands on Dr. Van Netten's time, it has been difficult to schedule completion of this final component.
Why was there so much repair done on 502 Hoge Street in one period of time? In total, $22,000 in capital maintenance projects were contracted this fiscal year for 502 Hoge Street. This is not considered unusually large for a facility of this age and purpose. It is a 24-hour facility.
Has the government purchased any vehicles from Nanaimo Nissan? No, the vehicle with the Nanaimo Nissan sticker is one that was transferred to YTG from the federal government in the Health devolution. I think I alluded to that last night. The fleet vehicle agency purchases all vehicles from local suppliers.
Can the minister share with us what it might cost to bring these buildings - those being included in devolution - up to standard in technology, and information technology costs? The 1997 total cost estimate to upgrade all buildings, including the residences, was $878,000.
The federal government has confirmed that all these upgrades have been completed. Another YTG/federal review of the buildings will occur just prior to devolution.
Through devolution negotiations, YTG was given one-time funding of $2 million to migrate the devolving Northern Affairs computer applications and data, networks and records into the standardized YTG technical environment.
Why were avalanche protectors purchased for Yukon College? This was the one that baffled me, because I had never heard these things referred to as avalanche protectors. I had always heard of them as ice guards. These are guards to catch snow falling from the roof of Yukon College near entrances.
We used to get a listing of Yukon hire recommendations for the implementations in chart form. Could the minister provide that? I have that here for the members.
Could the minister provide a letter of understanding between YTG and CYFN for the Connect Yukon? I have that as well. I also have available for the opposition critics what I hope is a simplified form of the Connect Yukon cost summary. I thought that might be of some utility to the members. I'll send these over now.
So, hopefully, this will be of some use to members.
Ms. Buckway: I have one more question, then, on 502 Hoge. Was any of that $22,000 in repairs that he mentioned due to vandalism?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No. I would imagine a good deal of that actually has to do with just the upgrades. If I'm recalling 502 Hoge, I think that is the building that is now euphemistically referred to as "the Ritz", the youth residential treatment centre. When we took it over from Northern Network of Services, there was a great deal of work to be done to bring the building up to specifications. There had been some issues of vandalism before, and we had to get the building into shape. If I'm thinking of the right building, there was a fair amount of work that we had to do on that.
It is a 24-hour facility so there is continually staff in there. It's a little bit different from the standard government utilization, where we can bring in people after hours to do custodial and so on. It is a 24-hour facility.
Ms. Buckway: I have some further questions for the minister about Connect Yukon, and I apologize if some of the answers are contained in the paperwork I haven't yet had time to read.
The minister had noted, in his ministerial statement on this initiative, that he anticipates additional money at some point from a national fund designed to help meet the cost of providing telephone service to high-cost serving areas. How much additional money does the minister expect to see, and when does he expect to see it?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, that's the many-million dollar question. When we did our submission to the CRTC, we supported the idea of the high-cost serving area, and we were hopeful. We had had a number of false starts, in terms of dates, when we expected some response on the high-cost serving area.
When we actually got a response on the high-cost serving area, I guess there was a measure of disappointment for us, because, one, it really didn't lay out how much would go in. The high-cost serving area is being based on the idea of a tariff on southern calls, and we haven't got a sense of how much that tariff is going to be, so we don't know how much the fund is going to be.
Also, there hasn't been a firm timeline set for the development of the high-cost serving area. So, we're hopeful that, in the next two to three years, there would be some - at least a sufficient amount of - funds in there that we could then begin, perhaps, to recapture some of our outlays. We're not holding that out as the only thing. We're hopeful to get some money on that.
I guess the other thing, too, about the whole issue around the high-cost serving area has been, in a sense, some of the plans that we were making, particularly in terms of rural telephones. We were somewhat hesitant to get too far out on that, for the very simple reason that, if we had said, "Look, we're willing to commit funds to this", it would be an easy out for a southern carrier to say, "Why should we contribute to a high-cost serving area, you know, if another government is willing to do it?" So, we kind of hedged our bets until we actually got some confirmation that there was going to be something, but it kept delaying us a bit there. We would be hopeful that sometime within the next two to three years, we would be getting something on that, in terms of the national fund, that we could then make application to.
Ms. Buckway: Will there be strings attached to this money? Could the minister advise? Will it be an outright grant or will we be expected to pay it back?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The premise of the high-cost serving areas is twofold, and I have to say that there are different views on this. When we approached the high-cost serving area, we looked at it from two points of view. One was, we were seeking some funds from this amount. We felt it should go into two things. One was infrastructure development and, two, rate relief. In other words, to keep the tariff on long-distance calls down. Northwestel's view was that they would prefer to see the money go into rate relief. In other words, so that they could be competitive with, perhaps, some of the southern discount carriers - the Sprints and so on - that come in. We felt that, yes, we wanted to see the rates as low as we could, and, certainly, any funds coming from the high-cost serving area we think should go into that. But we also recognize the fact that there were some woeful inadequacies in terms of infrastructure in this territory, and we hope to see some of that go in.
The strings on the high-cost serving area would seem to be more on the direction that is being given to Northwestel in terms of service improvement. I think the onus is going to be on Northwestel, and I think we have probably seen, in the last few days, Northwestel actively addressing this issue in terms of a series of advertisements seeking public input in terms of how they are required to improve their service.
Ms. Buckway: I gather there will be technical evaluations done before Connect Yukon goes into any area. Can the minister explain when these evaluations will be carried out, where they'll be carried out and who is going to be doing them?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can give the member a bit of a timeline right now. We'll be calling in the next month for technical proposals from prospective service providers, and we'll be laying out what the minimum standard is required. Essentially the minimum standard is improved voice capacity, plus we want a 56K modem capacity, because we wanted people to have the ability to use fax, and so on and so forth.
Then we'll review the options in terms of the status of the CRTC and any applicable federal programs that are available, and we'll be setting the benchmarks of the cost to lot owners at the time. As we get into the technical proposals, we'll be doing the evaluations, saying, okay, this is approximately how much it will cost in this area.
We'll be sending out a preliminary information package in the next while to all known rural property owners. Then what we hope to get back in late December and early January is technical information from the telephone service providers. What can they provide? What are they proposing, in terms of meeting the goals? And we will be establishing proposed telephone extension service areas, and what we'll be doing is establishing the service areas.
We'll be defining in ways to maximize the opportunities for an area to receive service, as well as keeping the cost within a reasonable amount. So, for example, if there's a collective group of potential lots, and they're grouped in an area that makes economic sense to deliver it in a particular way, that would define a service area, as well as what technical capacity is there.
In January, the results of the technical proposals will be incorporated into an information package that we hope to send out to all property owners. Property owners will be asked to comment on the technical proposals in January, and the definition of a service area, before a final decision is made on this
In February, a choice of technology in service providers will be made; the service area and cost to each lot owner will be finalized. Once we get the proposals in and have a sense of how much it will be, we'll send that out. In March, we are proposing a one-time vote be taken in each service area. Service areas where 65 percent of the lot owners vote in favour of the program will be scheduled for service installation, and we are proposing that service would be installed during the summers of 2000 and 2001. Is that of assistance?
Ms. Buckway: Could the minister advise if the results of these technical evaluations could mean that a particular area might not get access to Connect Yukon? I'm not talking about after the vote; I'm talking about if there are technical hitches in the evaluations, could a particular area be deemed unsuitable?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Quite frankly, I think the driver there would probably be the financial aspect. I suppose one can overcome anything with technology to some degree; however, understanding that there are certain limitations on specific kinds of technology that would meet the standards - wireless technology is a good case in point, because sometimes that can't meet the 56K benchmark - but I would think the true definer would be the actual financial costs, just how much it would cost to deliver into a specific area, and that's why we feel the areas with - I hate to use this term - a critical mass of lots in a relative area of proximity would be the main defining cost feature.
Ms. Buckway: The minister has mentioned now a couple of times, last night and just a few minutes ago, that lot owners in a particular area can ultimately have the final say on whether they'll be accessing this Connect Yukon initiative, and he noted that it has to be a 65-percent vote - one way or another - of the lot owners in an area.
I have a couple of concerns about that. We have already seen - and admittedly the percentage was a little higher - that absentee landowners - people from Florida and Skagway and southern Canada - can prevent Yukoners from getting the services they want.
We have seen that already in the Deep Creek area, just to give the minister one example. It's extremely unlikely that these people who are here only for a short time each summer, if at all, will be willing to spend any money for Connect Yukon. It's possible that absentee land owners can, once again, prevent full-time Yukon residents from accessing a service that they want.
Basic phone service is a safety issue, Mr. Chair, yet people who don't even live here can ensure that it doesn't get installed. Can the minister commit to finding a way around this problem?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, it is a sticky issue, and it is a problem that has been voiced to me, particularly the question of not only absentee land owners, but multiple lot owners - so, in other words, a person who might own two or three lots in proximity.
It's something we're going to be struggling with. Because the costs will be relatively low in terms of expenditures, we think that the economic incentive, particularly for areas such as Deep Creek and some others, might overcome that, but it is a problem that we're struggling with, and it is a problem that we're still trying to work around. We were looking for a mechanism in this regard. The RTP process seemed to be well-established, and we thought that was a good benchmark.
Ms. Buckway: So, if I am understanding correctly what the minister is saying, then someone who owns two or three lots would be paying the same fee for each of those lots, not just one fee?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's what is being proposed.
The other thing, too, is that the way this would be structured is that it would go as a charge on property taxes, and it could be amortized over 15 years, for example. Say, for example, the costs to a lot owner, - quite frankly, in some of the lots in places like Tagish and Marsh Lake - would be relatively low, and the large majority would fall clearly into that benchmark.
There would be $1,000. If we amortized that over a period of 15 years on property tax, it works out to about $75 a year. So, we think that the actual financial incentive will make that attractive.
Ms. Buckway: Can the minister commit to putting it in terms like that - the cost per year amortized over a long period of time - so the absentee landowners will understand and maybe have a little more incentive to participate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, that's our intention. We are planning to send out information packages, and at that point we would try to break it down in terms of what the projected cost would be, how this could be handled over a period of time to make it more attractive so the people will say, "Well, this is something we want to buy into."
We know that there will be some people who choose not to, and it may be for issues of cost, or it may be issues, quite frankly, of just personal choice. I have already had some people tell me, "I don't want a phone. I like not having a phone." I guess, you know, those are the kinds of things that people will have to wrestle with, and hopefully, by us putting up the money to make this more attractive, people will take advantage of the opportunity.
Ms. Buckway: Can the minister advise who will pay the ongoing O&M costs of the Connect Yukon system?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: If I could direct the member to the sheet that I gave out - the Connect Yukon project cost summary - the top table involves the capital cost, the rural telephone service, what the government is paying, what we estimate for service providers and lot owners, and then in terms of the technical infrastructure for the upgrade of the high-speed data, which is $14 million - $11 million from government, $3 million from the service provider, in this case Northwestel.
Distributed learning is $2.5 million, project management is $.3 million. Both of those will be by appropriation. Now, when we go down, it says that the budget figures do not include interest or costs associated with borrowed money. Final cost of the telephone component will depend on how many services are installed under this. The one-time appropriations were identified. The one-time and ongoing costs to government directly associated with the project will be the one-time appropriation and the amortization of borrowed money, bulk purchase of communications and distributed learning materials. These are seen as ongoing costs. There will have to be replacements, certainly, of distributed learning materials. From the point of view of the government, particularly on the matter of high-speed Internet and so on, we are projecting that we would go, I believe, to - is it $138,000 a year or something for that?
If the member could just hang on a second here, I'll just pull up what our ongoing costs are going to be in this. We anticipate that we would be a major tenant on this, and I'm just trying to pull our ongoing costs. As part of the package, the Yukon government will be an anchor tenant - and we're referring to the high-speed Internet and data transmission - in a lease package service for our own operations for a period of five years. The exact cost of the package will be determined; however, the estimated costs are about $100,000 a month. We're currently paying $25,000 per month. So we will be the major tenant on the program. I think we can estimate about $1.2 million a year in ongoing costs for the improved data and telecommunications service.
Ms. Buckway: The minister has called Connect Yukon a private/public partnership. Can he supply the House with more details on the structure? Is it going to be run by a board of directors? Will it be a Crown corporation? Just what will the structure be?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What we're anticipating is something, I guess, along the lines of a Crown corporation. What we would be looking at is that the structure would essentially be us and Northwestel as a major partner, but we're also looking at other partners coming in, though we would not be suggesting that they would have to put up any cost in this case. What we'd like to do is to bring in some business partners, some groups like the Northern Research Institute where we have been doing some of our work with telecommunication innovations - the innovations centre up there. Some of these people could be partners to give us advice and to give us some input from the public - the larger public, the technical world public - as to issues we have to be addressing along the way.
But we're seeing this, in terms of private/public partnerships, as being us and Northwestel as the principal investors.
Ms. Buckway: Is it anticipated that all the other partners would be local, would be based in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That would be the goal. We would want companies involved in the technical field, certainly, to be part of this, because we do have some local issues here and we would like to have as many of our local partners involved as we can.
Of course, needless to say, we'd be seeking involvement from our First Nation partners as well.
Ms. Buckway: Can the minister advise who the watchdog will be?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not sure what the member means in terms of watchdog. Can she give me a sense of what the concern would be in that regard?
Ms. Buckway: If there were a complaint about anything to do with the project, who will oversee it to make sure that it is functioning properly?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would daresay that with us being the principal source of money, we would get most of the complaints and concerns. It would be incumbent on us, as one of the major partners and certainly the major financial source, for us to bring that forward at the table. When we say public/private, we being the public in a sense - the public government - and the private being Northwestel and other private partners, we would certainly have some input into this whole structure.
Ms. Buckway: If somebody had a complaint about the government's participation in this process or some such thing, or if somebody wished to appeal, where would they go with that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan:I'm not sure what the member means - in terms of appealing how the service is delivered to them or in what regard? If, for example, we're talking about telephones, our role in terms of telephones is going to be to facilitate the process. Once the infrastructure is in place, then the individual will be dealing with the carrier, so any concerns in that regard would go to the carrier.
In terms of telecom, I think I have already indicated that we are planning a corporate structure, in which there would be partners from the private sector and government, and I think there would be clear avenues for people to raise any concerns in that regard.
Our participation in this, basically, is to develop infrastructure. We have no interest, quite frankly, in running a telephone system. That's not our goal. We are interested in developing the infrastructure in the territory and being able to make services available to individuals, but we have no interest in either managing the phone service or anything of that nature.
We anticipate, as I indicated earlier, being one of the principal users of the telecom service, because, quite frankly, we anticipate that, as the telecommunications service develops, our capacity to do more things with that service will increase to the point where we will be looking at developing a lot of educational programs. We will be looking at video conferencing and looking at everything from court proceedings - Certainly, from our point of view, we're interested in telehealth, so we see, as the structure develops, that we will become, increasingly, a larger participant in these kinds of developments.
Ms. Buckway: There have been some concerns about the state of Northwestel's communication technology. Somebody had said it was just barely more advanced than their kid's tin-can phone, and they're concerned that the government is investing millions in this project. Are we confident that we will be using the highest technology available?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we are confident that, working with Northwestel, we will be able to develop that. At the time when we were considering this project, we began looking at various forms of technology, and we consulted with people within the technical field as to relatively different kinds of technology. The choice was made to go with a combination of microwave for long distance delivery and fibre optics into communities. Those were made on some technical assessments.
We feel that Northwestel may have some issues to address in terms of its own service, and certainly they've been given that direction by the CRTC, but we feel that they will be a good partner in this. We feel that we're providing some of that money to develop high-speed Internet and other services.
I think we have to be very, very frank and recognize that, if we think that anybody else is going to come into this territory and duplicate Northwestel's infrastructure, I don't think it's very likely. To be very frank, if we do get anyone coming in - let's just say a discount phone carrier like Sprint, and competition will come - one of the things they will have to do is use Northwestel's infrastructure at any rate, and pay them charges.
So, we know that Northwestel is not going to go away, and we know that it's unlikely that another phone service or another telecommunications company will come in and duplicate the kind of infrastructure.
In addition, I also think that Northwestel has made a substantial human and other types of investment in the territory. I know that there are a number of people - Northwestel, if not the largest, is one of the largest private sector employers. They employ many people in high paid technical jobs, the kinds of jobs that drive the economy and will drive the economy in the future.
And I'm certainly interested in making sure that we can keep those kinds of people here, that we can develop that capacity. I don't think we can look at Northwestel as being some kind of company that's sort of out there and not part of the community. I think they are part of the community; they have long been contributors to the community, not only in terms of investments, but in terms of jobs.
The individuals of Northwestel are part of this community, this Yukon community, in terms of the kinds of efforts that they bring forward. They have supported arts, they have supported recreational ventures, and they are our neighbours. I mean, they are the people down the street, they are the people who deliver a service for us, and I think we need to recognize that as well.
Ms. Buckway: Something the minister has just said has raised another question in my mind. In a government news release from October 20, announcing this project, it talks about the choice of Northwestel as a partner being based at least partially on a conclusion that ground-based digital radio is the best technology for Yukon's infrastructure. That was in response to a question on the page of why don't we use satellites or fibre cables on power lines. I gather from this news release that fibre would be used in parts of the project where it is appropriate.
Can the minister clear up this inconsistency?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think what we mean, actually, is microwave technology when we talk about ground-based.
Our estimate is that there would have to be at least three additional microwave sites developed to carry the kind of band width that we would require.
Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, it's my understanding that ground-based digital radio is vastly different from microwave technology, that digital radio is somewhat newer. Microwave technology is now getting fairly ancient. Which is correct: microwaves or digital radio?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We're planning on developing the microwave capacity. We have been looking at the idea of developing microwave towers, so I'm presuming - okay, I'll just read this.
In terms of business and employment opportunities arising out of the project, construction of the physical infrastructure will require the installation of up to three towers and some fibre optic cable connections from them into the communities. Additional microwave and ancillary networking equipment will be needed at existing tower sites. Then it goes on to describe some of the specialty crews and some of the areas of expertise that we would require, in terms of technicians and so on. Then it also talks a little bit about the fibre optic capacity.
I think we may be mixing up the terms interchangeably, but as it indicates here, we are looking at the additional microwave capacity.
Ms. Buckway: If the minister would back up one section to why we don't use satellites or fibre cables on power lines, and the government's news release says that the capacity and technology to be installed is based on studies conducted jointly by the Yukon government, Industry Canada, Northwestel and expert consultants. The choice of Northwestel as a partner is based, at least partially, on a conclusion that ground-based digital radio is the best technology for Yukon's infrastructure. Satellite technology appears attractive because of its low entry cost; however, this technology is limited by low capacity and the cost of operation. Fibre technology has a higher capacity than digital radio, but the cost of this technology for the project as a whole would be at least 50-percent greater. Fibre will be used in parts of the project where it is appropriate.
So, what I hear the minister telling me is that you don't mean ground-based digital radio at all. You mean older microwave technology.
Hon. Mr. Sloan:I'll provide some technical details for the member on that. I'll get one of our technical people to provide a breakdown of the two various terminologies there.
Ms. Buckway: Obviously, Connect Yukon will be a huge capital project. We went through the hospital scenario a few years ago, where it was virtually all outside contractors. If Connect Yukon is going ahead, can we be sure that Yukoners will be primarily employed?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have to remind the member that we're working with Northwestel. They're going to be one of the principal people in terms of installing the necessary capacity. They're going to be the people who actually do this. We're not going to be getting into us doing it in terms of our Government Services people, or anything of that nature. So I would imagine that they will be using their own staff. I imagine that they'll also have to bring in - they may need specialty crews. We believe that there will a lot of support jobs for local community workers. Northwestel workers tend to be Yukon workers in this case. We think that there may be some areas in which we have to bring in a particular technical person but, in general, we think that it can be done primarily by Northwestel using Yukon workers.
Ms. Buckway: I would hope that the minister would not imagine something. I would hope that he would insist upon Northwestel using Yukon workers wherever possible - that he would insist.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we'll certainly pass the concerns on to Northwestel. I'm sure that they're very cognizant of the local sensitivities in this particular one, and I can't see where they would want to alienate either Yukon businesses or other individuals.
I can just tell the member that, having spoken with the president of Northwestel up here, they're very aware of the need for local involvement and the need to put local dollars into communities.
Ms. Buckway: This public/private partnership was created without a tender proposal. Can the minister advise what safeguards are in place to create some dynamic tension in the relationship to keep the private partner honest and give Yukoners the maximum bang for their bucks?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we have developed a working relationship with Northwestel, and we have a formalized agreement that addresses a number of those issues. If it doesn't interfere with any issues of commercial confidentiality, I'm sure we could provide at least an outline of how that will work and what some of the issues are.
We do have - if I can just make quick reference to a letter of intent. The letter of intent between the Yukon government and Northwestel lists some of the guidelines: adequate public access to telecommunications infrastructure; that we will utilize our relative positions and resources to facilitate the development of a new Yukon-based telecommunications infrastructure; that they will develop improved telecommunications infrastructure that is capable of carrying agreed-upon levels of telecommunication.
So, in other words, we have set what we want. We'll set the goals in negotiations with Northwestel as to what we want.
Northwestel will offer public access to this infrastructure through the provision of specified data services in the communities identified in the final agreement at agreed upon rates that are uniform across the Yukon. Northwestel will use the increased capacity made available by the improved telecommunications infrastructure to develop improved voice telephone services in Yukon communities.
And then it goes on to address some of the other issues such as financial concerns. Under other considerations, Northwestel will exercise best efforts to maximize business, training and employment opportunities for Yukon residents in the course of carrying out the development.
The needs of Yukon communities, as expressed by members of the community and Yukon First Nations, will be taken into account through an input process agreed upon by the parties.
Northwestel will not introduce dial-up Internet services in Yukon communities that have existing Internet service providers at the time of the community network upgrade. This restriction is in effect from two years from the date of the community network upgrade, but does not apply to Northwestel's dial-up Internet services in Whitehorse.
Northwestel will act as "the provider of last resort in those communities where there is no existing ISP," Internet service provider, "at the time of the community upgrade. Northwestel will offer the wholesale high-speed Internet service to Yukon-based ISPs at rates agreed upon by Northwestel and YTG. Technical restrictions may constrain the extent of this service offering in remote communities. Financial risks are shared by both parties," and so on.
So, I think what we have built in there is a number of considerations, trying to ensure maximum availability for Yukon communities, local Internet service providers and First Nations, and we have contained those within our letter of intent, and we are currently - have we reached our final agreement on this? I believe we have.
So, as the member can see, we are working on this and trying to ensure that all the bases are covered for Yukon companies and Yukon individuals.
Ms. Buckway: If the minister could provide us with a copy of that agreement, or at least an outline, it would be much appreciated.
There will still be Yukoners with no basic phone service when Connect Yukon is finished. That's a fact. The minister has admitted that.
Is there potential for a similar program, a wireless program, that could serve remote Yukoners, people like Don Taylor at Stewart Lake, that could be a joint venture with the government and other companies that currently provide that sort of service?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, at this point I can't predict what it will be. I also can't predict where the technology will go.
We do know that we're going to have some issues around Old Crow, for example, where it will have to be a satellite-based technology, and I understand that there are developments in that area all the time.
Now, that being said, I think there are some practical limitations in terms of, for example, data transmission and so on, with wireless types of technology. We have committed to trying to overcome some technical problems in Old Crow, and I think if we are able to develop workable wireless technologies and so on, we could look at some kind of additional program down the line.
What we're going to focus on now is basically getting upgrades of local telephones, developing the Internet capacity, and moving into the distributed learning field. I think once we're well underway we can look at other ways in which we can do this.
We're already looking down the line at trying to identify some ways in which we could use information technology to enhance government services, for example - government services in the generic term, whether it's on-line applications or whatever.
I think this holds a tremendous amount of promise. I think this has the potential to tear down some of those barriers of distance and geography that have long been a constraint on us, and we are moving ahead as best we can.
Ms. Buckway: When I'm referring to a potential wireless program in the future, I'm referring more to basic telephone service than I am to data transmission of other sorts. It's a safety issue.
Could the minister advise - I'm wondering if the, I believe it's called MDMRS, the multi-departmental mobile radio system, that's used currently by the government and, I believe, the RCMP all over the territory - if that system could be expanded to include Yukoners in remote areas who have no reliable communications at present?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not sure how that could be adapted, but that is really under C&TS. That has not been part of our discussions at all, nor actually part of our responsibilities, so I think that would be probably better addressed to the Minister of C&TS.
Ms. Buckway: I have some questions for the minister about telephones of another sort - cell phones. It's my understanding that most of the trades people in the minister's department carry cell phones for communication. Now I understand the cell phones are going to be replaced by pagers. Is this correct?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Those pagers are just for purposes of Y2K, in case we have some difficulties with the great rollover, in case there are some unanticipated things. The pagers are just being used for that, so that people can be sort of pulled in if we, for example, have a billeting breakdown because of perhaps a chip or a heating system or something like that that maybe doesn't comply. We think that we've got a lot of the Y2K stuff covered, but we also have pagers so that people can be paged if they don't have their cell phones on to respond.
Ms. Buckway: So there's no plan to replace the cell phones. That's good. I was concerned about the future of the eyes and ears program and this government's participation in it.
Mr. Chair, we now have less than a month to go before the dreaded New Year's Eve, when we find out if everything in the world with an electronic chip in it is going to go crazy. I'm confident that the electronics in my house will be fine, but I am wondering about the readiness of the Government Services department for Y2K. Can the minister advise what steps he has taken, aside from issuing pagers, to assure that New Year's Day will dawn peacefully?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We did pass out the Y2K readiness report that we had, and I can just advise that we have been working through a task force that involves such things as Yukon Energy Corporation, City of Whitehorse, Association of Yukon Communities, RCMP, EMO. We have spent a considerable amount of money in preparation for Y2K - a considerable amount of investment in this regard.
We feel that we are well-prepared.
I don't have the table with me, but there is a table showing the readiness level of all departments and systems, and, since the publication of that table, a number of those - I do have the table here. It's slightly illegible because we decided to do some snappy coloured presentations, but I'll just go through it briefly.
For Community and Transportation Services, the mission critical systems are 100 percent complete. The workstation servers network is 100 percent complete. Embedded chips are 100 percent complete, and the contingency plan is 100 percent.
For Economic Development, the date on this one is the 15th of the 11.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I find it so difficult because we, in Government Services, find this fascinating. This is the kind of thing that we, in Government Services, do at our parties. We like to sit around and read these tables to each other. We find it's better than videos.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: But the Member for Klondike doesn't share my enthusiasm on this.
Where was I? I only have a mere 12 more departments to go.
Let me just say that, in general, most of the mission critical systems range in the high nineties to 100 percent, and we are standing government-wide at 99-percent mission critical systems, 97-percent workstation servers, embedded chips at 99 percent, and contingency planning at 90 percent.
So, we feel we're right there. Unfortunately, in doing this, I have ruined the entertainment for the Department of Government Services Christmas party, but I guess I'll just have to live with that.
Ms. Buckway: What about the human factor? Can the minister advise if there will be Government Services people hard at work when the clock ticks over to the new year?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: ISB and property management will be the two departments that are sort of brought up to a bit more strength at that point, because those will be the critical systems. We have over-clocked the mainframe a couple of times with no ill effect. In other words, we have run it past the date on at least two occasions to ensure that our mainframe is well up there, and we feel that we will be in good shape.
Interestingly enough, in the last discussion I had with the group that has been working on this, an interesting anomaly kind of came up. One of the things that we think may be particularly problematic will be on midnight on December 31. Probably the first thing that people will do is to pick up the phone to see if the phones are working, or they'll call their aunt in Saskatoon or whatever. Now, one of the things that is being anticipated is that, as everyone picks up the phone at about the same time, the system will just kind of gridlock, so the phone companies across North America are going to be suggesting, through a series of ads, that this might not be the best thing to do, to maybe wait for a little while. Because what's the first thing you would do? You'll pick up the phone - everyone has picked up the phone - and there is no dial tone. Well, disaster has struck. Then I'll be forced to eat all that tuna fish I have got crammed in the closet there.
So, I think we'll be well-prepared, and I think the Yukon in general is going to be well-prepared.
Actually, one of the things that is probably in our defence is the fact that some of our systems - for example, our electrical systems - are stand alone. We're not hooked into a major grid, whereas in southern Canada the interconnection of many grids, I think, could mean that if there's a problem along one system it could be magnified.
Ms. Buckway: All I was attempting to determine was how many Government Services people will be at work on New Year's Eve. If the minister could advise that: how many would be at work, and how many might be on standby, as opposed to actually working?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We'll get the numbers in Government Services, particularly in property management and ISB, that we anticipate either to be on duty or on a standby basis.
Ms. Buckway: I'm wondering what standby would mean in terms of remuneration for an employee. Would they be on standby for eight hours and paid for one, or what?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Those are contractual issues. I'm not familiar with what it would involve in different classifications, but certainly I can factor that in - what anticipated costs we have.
But, in general, we do have people working on standby over the holidays, and that has been just traditional over the years. I know that there have been occasions when, for example, school facilities have suffered boiler problems or something in very cold spells and, even though it's holidays, there are individuals on a list at that point who can come in and respond.
So we can find out what we're anticipating in that regard, and how many staff.
Ms. Buckway: When an employee is on standby, what are the requirements on them, in terms of carrying on their normal life? Would they, for example, be able to attend a New Year's Eve party or not, if they were on standby?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm not sure. I guess you'd work on the - stay away from the eggnog, I guess. I'd have to find that out as to - quite clearly, our property management people here, in terms of the security, would not be attending parties.
I would imagine that an individual who's on standby would be - they're required to be within city limits, and available.
But as to the parties, I guess they would just have to exercise appropriate judgment.
Ms. Buckway: I look forward to the information that the minister will be providing, and I'd like to thank the Public Accounts Committee for their work on the Y2K issue.
I have got a couple more questions for the minister. One of them is a janitorial issue. I understand that employees at the Whitehorse liquor store do their own janitorial work. They mop the floor and carry out the garbage, and I'm wondering why that is.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That would be a Liquor Corporation question. I think it would be probably more appropriately addressed to the Liquor Corporation as to why they have chosen to do that.
Ms. Buckway: I understand that security is the concern, but you can bond janitors.
Yes, the Cabinet documents are, I guess, an equal concern. A janitorial company also cleans the Liquor Corporation offices themselves and not the liquor store.
However, I have a red-tape issue for the minister, if he can bear with me for a moment.
A Yukoner obtains a hunting licence and does all the paperwork he needs to get a moose, and he's successful in the hunt. He quarters his moose in the bush, hauls it out, takes it home. A local butcher is contracted to cut and package the meat. Some of it is turned into sausage, to which pork and fat and spices are added. The Yukoner wants to send some of this sausage to friends in Alaska. He also has some Alaskan-caught fish that he has pickled. He packages this all up for his friends for Christmas and goes up to the Whitehorse Airport to ship it on one of the local carriers that flies to Alaska on Friday and Sunday afternoons. This is a Sunday afternoon. He is asked to declare the contents of the package. He does so. He's told, "You need a YTG export permit for the sausage." Of course, it's Sunday afternoon, so there's no way he can get one. He unwraps the package, removes the moose sausage, repackages the fish. The fish is no problem.
This Yukoner wants to know two things from the minister. Why can't an export permit be issued at the airport - that's the first one. He was unaware that he needed one until that point.
And his second question: at what point does a Yukoner take ownership of game? It's duly licensed, legally obtained. Is it when he shoots it, when he gets it home, when he takes it to the butcher, when he gets it back from the butcher, when it's on his dinner table, or sometime later when it hits the sewage lagoon? Is it the government's business that he has this moose sausage throughout the scenario I have just outlined, or does the government cease to care at some point?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, that kind of sounds like the sort of questions you would get when you were in grade 7 math. You know, a train leaves from Chicago and another train leaves from San Francisco and one is travelling at - there are a lot of questions here.
I have to say that Government Services closed down the sausage administration division a number of years ago. There are quite a few questions here that relate to food services. As well, there are also some things that appear to relate to Justice. With all due seriousness, I'll take some of these questions and pass them on to the related departments.
We try to work with the departments and have them identify areas of red tape that they can reduce. For example, when we convene sectoral tables, at those sectoral tables issues come up that may have to do with liquor licensing, employment standards, WCB issues and so on, and what we've done is that we've taken those and forwarded them on to the respective departments and have had them make responses.
There are a number of things here. Some of them, just offhand, look like they have to do with Consumer and Corporate Affairs. A couple of questions look like they have to do with Renewable Resources. I'll take the information and pass it on to the departments and ask them what kinds of solutions they can propose to this.
Ms. Buckway: I am aware that there is a perfectly legitimate argument for restricting trade in moose sausage because of the fear of trade in illegal animal parts. However, this constituent was quite concerned about that, and I thank the minister for looking into it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I hope my questions are a little bit more stimulating than the great moose sausage debate, Mr. Chair.
If I could just ask the minister a couple of questions, Mr. Chair, as to how contracts are assigned to the various departments - and the heckling from the back row behind the minister is quite interesting, as to who's the pork sausage today. I guess that's the connotation, Mr. Chair. I'm not sure.
The issue surrounds the various departments and categories, and when one looks through all of the various departments - if we want to take Department of Education, for one - when we get into the maintenance in Department of Education, some of it's in property management agency, some of it's in Government Services, and some of it's in Education. And the same holds true for virtually all the other areas, Mr. Chair.
Now, who determines what is assigned where?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, I think it would depend on the nature of the contract. For example, there are obviously contracts that would be specific to Education, in terms of consulting services and so on. There would be contracts that would be with Government Services in terms of capital development. For example, we would manage construction projects, or we would handle the construction projects, even though the funds would originate with Education because they don't have the capacity.
So our contract services would do such things as architects, construction - the construction contracts - and so on, or if there were such things as service contracts for specific things like training, perhaps computer training for teachers, or specific contracts having to do with legal services, or anything of that nature; those would be more properly under Education itself.
I think it really would depend on the nature of the contract and the scale of the contract, and that would be essentially where it goes. Then, within property management, which handles certain things for Education, Government Services may give out contracts to such people as local trades people for building cabinets or for doing minor modifications around a school.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the issue is not surrounding the capital. The capital is easily identified, and it is usually directly associated with specific projects and, accordingly, Government Services handles the capital, although it's an Education issue.
But if you look in the Department of Education, there are quite a number of contracts for garbage collection at the rural schools, and the school in Old Crow, fuel supply, the contract number is SS98-03-3081-01142, and then it goes down to SS98-03-3084-01195, and there are three contracts for garbage, and then there's one for fuel supply for the school and teacherage in Old Crow, and yet when you go into property management agency, you see virtually the same thing repeated for other schools.
Now, how do we get a handle on who does what where, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The department itself has the option of whether to buy certain services from property management or to buy them from someone else, so they may make the choice depending on the level of service that they want from either another contractor or from property management itself.
Mr. Jenkins: Then how does the minister explain something like the Workers' Compensation Board when they buy furniture? On one occasion, it's done directly by WCB. The office renovations the next time is done through Government Services. Why on one occasion is it done one way, and on the next occasion it's done a different way?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: For example, WCB is outside of the general guidelines, but, notwithstanding that, it depends also on the capacity of that particular corporation or department. They may choose, in the case of WCB, to buy their furniture locally from a local supplier, but they may choose to come to Government Services for a project management of, say, something like renovations, and we can supply that service to a corporation. But there are certain corporations that are outside of the purview of the general government guidelines, and they include WCB for one. A similar corporation might be the Hospital Corporation.
Mr. Jenkins: That's just what I'm getting at, Mr. Chair. On one occasion, virtually the same service is provided directly to one of these entities. On the next occasion, it is provided through Government Services. The same holds true for the Department of Education. The same service is provided either through the property management agency, Government Services, or directly with the Department of Education.
How do we get a handle on what's going on? And how do we keep a handle on it when the same service is provided through three different government agencies, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It may have to do, as well, with the location, in terms of what services are available and what can be administered. For example, in terms of property management, we don't have a property management agency in Old Crow. We serve it out of Dawson, as the member is well aware. It may have to do with, for example, in Ross River, many of the services to public buildings may be served out of Faro and so on. So it depends on the availability. It depends on the capacity of the department to get the service delivered.
It may also have to do with such things as just what a department requires in terms of time, and so on, and there is discretion given to staff, such as principals, in terms of education. In the past, I know that I have dealt with local suppliers on such things as cabinetry, which either the local office doesn't have the capacity to do or it would take a crew coming down from Whitehorse, or something of that nature.
So, I think it really depends on a number of things: availability, choice of the department to exercise their own discretion in what makes the most sense for them at any given time.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's take Old Crow. Let's take the Department of Education. There's a contract here, and the contract number is SS98-03-3099-01422. It's to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and it's to supply fuel to the school and teacherage.
Now, the fuel tanks in Old Crow are virtually all owned by either Yukon Electrical or the Government of Yukon. How does the Vuntut Gwitchin get in the middle of supplying fuel to the school? For all the other schools in the Yukon, the fuel contracts are directly between a fuel supplier and the Government of Yukon, and it's tendered, and it's awarded, and this is the only school where the fuel contract is peculiar and outside of the normal way of dealing with it.
Could the minister advise the House as to why this occurs, or why it's happening this way?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to that specific contract, I'm not familiar with all the details, but I do know that the Vuntut Gwitchin do bring in bulk fuel for their own facilities. They do have buildings that are dependent on fuel. What they may have done is purchase enough that they can supply both the school and the teacherage.
I would have to take a look at the period - well, when I take a look at the period in which this contract is for, between 9/98 and 6/99 - that was a period in which the new school was not in place and we were using buildings, some of which belonged to the Vuntut Gwitchin. I suspect, though I'd have to go into further detail, that in that particular contract perhaps the fuel, in this case, was being supplied by the Vuntut Gwitchin for buildings that were essentially owned by them, and then there was a charge-back. I'll go into the details and find out on this but, given the dates, that would be my speculation.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the minister could provide that information, I'd certainly appreciate it. But it still doesn't answer the question as to why there isn't a consistency across the departments for the provision of, basically, O&M services. There doesn't appear to be. The Education department is a prime example, when you have three different agencies of the government - the property management agency, Government Services and the Department of Education - all contracting for virtually the same services. It comes right to the surface when you look at it, Mr. Chair. I was just wanting to get some kind of a handle on that and an understanding of it. Is there some kind of a rulebook or a policy manual that states where we are to do these kind of things?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, we generally don't dictate to departments. What we do is we supply services. In some cases, the services may be deemed not to be what the department wants in that case, or it may be deemed to be too costly, or it may be deemed that the service is not available locally from another source, so the particular department may be obliged. I think it would be overly restrictive for us to put too many restrictions on a department and not give them a measure of autonomy.
One of the things that had long been a source of irritants, particularly in the Department of Education, was the inability - for a number of years - for people within Education administration to have control over their own budgets, and that has been changed. That was changed under the Education Act, and one of the things that it did allow was for front-line staff to be able to get some things done locally and avoid the delay, and avoid the wait.
It's much easier when a community is in reasonable proximity to Whitehorse. I know that, in the time that I served in Carcross, if I needed something done by property management, it was a relatively easy thing to do. I called up in the morning, and an hour and a half later those people would be there and be able to perform the service, in most cases or, if they couldn't do it, they could contract with somebody from Whitehorse - in the case of sound systems, and so on.
Where it becomes far more problematic is when you're out in Dawson or Watson Lake, or even Teslin, to be able to schedule those kinds of things.
So there has been some autonomy given to departments to be able to make those kinds of decisions.
Mr. Jenkins: But certainly the minister must agree that the provision of basic services like water, sewer, heating oil, electricity and the paying agency and who awards the contract should be all done through one entity of government, not spread across three different entities of government. Does the minister not agree with that kind of premise? There seems to be a difference as to who provides and who arranges for garbage service in Whitehorse vis-à-vis the communities vis-à-vis which agency of government pays for it.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With respect to the idea of us administering most contracts, we do administer most contracts - for example, tendered contracts and so on. We do the tendering of contracts.
However, the respective paying agency, I think, is the issue in this case, who actually does the contracting for a particular service. If I take a look at Education, there are probably a number of things here which may make some sense in being understood in departments. But there are others - for example, a chattel move from Montreal to Whitehorse. If we take a look at that and ask if we, in Government Services, should be arranging for the moving of teachers. Or, is that something better done within the Department of Education, which has an ongoing relationship that is established at the point of hire and can address some of the issues of travel and transportation. They in turn have to interact with Yukon Housing and make sure staff housing is available, and so on and so forth. If we did that through Government Services, we would have to expand our contract department vastly, and we would be monitoring contracts, which are basically better left with certain departments.
We have contracts that, even though they follow a particular form in Health, are for some very, very specific services. We may have, in Health, for example, some extremely specialized psychological services.
Our staff have a fairly good sense of who is available. They have a fairly good sense of what kind of services can be delivered here locally, and what can't, and I think that for us to look at a central agency being responsible for all contracts would probably not be practical. And, while we can administer and follow the guidelines, or follow the wishes of the department and raise issues as we see points of concern, I don't think that it would make sense, for example, for my staff over in Government Services to be making a decision on which psychological service a child under the supervision of Family and Children's Services who has a very, very specific needs - say something like Prader-Willi Syndrome - would be best handled.
We have people in the department who have a level of expertise and make those sorts of decisions. I mean, we could go through every contract here and say, well, why is this one done, and why is this one done? There are local issues, there are local matters that we have to take into account, and we have a trust with the department that they are - after all, they're responsible for administering their own budgets, and if they choose to make decisions that are not financially sound, are not in their own best interests, then they have to live with those budget consequences.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the example the minister uses is not a very good example. It is a specific area of expertise that is needed. What I'm referring to, Mr. Chair, is the same service being provided to, say, the Department of Education, and provided in one instance through the Department of Education, and the same service provided in the next instance through Government Services, and the same service provided in the next instance through property management agency - that's the issue: same type of service. But I don't think we're going to get anywhere, and I would ask the minister to spend a bit of time having a look at that, and I'll move on to the next area, and that's one of the changes to the employment standards here in the Yukon last year, and the definition of an employee and a contractor.
I start looking through contract registry for the Executive Council Office and notice a number of individual names coming to the forefront.
Could the minister advise if there is any sort of a test that the Executive Council Office does when they award a contract to an individual to determine whether they are a contractor, according to the Employment Standards Act, or whether they become an employee? Because in a lot of cases the same individual's name appears time and time again in the contract registry, year after year.
How does the government determine whether these individuals are employees or contractors?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I think these are probably some issues that would be best directed in an Executive Council Office debate, and I'm wondering why we get them now.
But what we can do is that we can provide for the member some guidelines with respect to some of these issues about employees - how many people work for them, and so on and so forth. We can get that to the member.
I can only speculate that there are certain people that the department, in that case, have used and have been satisfied with the level of service, and satisfied with what can be delivered, and choose to use them on an ongoing basis.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it's not just in Executive Council Office, it's across a lot of the contracts, and it deals with how the government determines that that individual is a contractor, because they're awarding them a contract.
Now, usually one of the first prerequisites is that they have a business licence. One of the other prerequisites is that they have workers' compensation coverage, and it goes on and on.
One of the other tests that the federal government uses, the tax department, is where the majority of the income of that individual is derived from, and after the majority of the income of that individual is derived from one source, they cease to be a contractor; they then become an employee. I'd like the minister to advise the House what kind of a test the government uses in this regard to determine how these individuals conform to being a contractor.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We will send the member the guidelines. I don't have them here at this point.
Are there specific concerns? Because if the member can identify some specific concerns, we can see what the issue is. I would imagine many of these people conform to the guidelines that we have. But if the member does have some specific concerns, we can work from there and see what the issue is.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there are a lot of individuals who are hired time and time again to serve in the same role - a facilitator or public speaking, things of that nature, and these are specific individuals.
When the minister examines this, I'd like to know also whether these employees are covered for worker's compensation, either directly or through the government. Are they covered directly by themselves with WCB, and is that a requirement - that they swear an affidavit when they pick up their cheques that they have WCB coverage and they are contractors? I know in the larger contracts that that's a requirement, but on these individual contracts, are they required to do so, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that it's contained in the contract that they have their own coverage.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what the minister is saying is that everyone who is awarded a contract from the government has to swear an affidavit or provide proof that they are covered for WCB coverage, especially when it's an individual?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: They sign a contract form in which it is specified that there is some form of coverage. Quite frankly, there may be someone who comes in who may be with, for example, an institute through which there would likely be some kind of corporate coverage. I notice, going through the Executive Council Office, that there is a contract with the Klondike Visitors Association. That would be corporate, and they would have their own coverage. Also Northwestel Cable obviously, and so on and so forth. The Fraser Institute - I bet they've got their own coverage.
I would imagine that, when an individual enters into that and they sign the contract, they are attesting that they are adequately covered.
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, the minister used examples specifically that we would all be quite confident had in place adequate WCB coverage, but let's just go into the H's and the ECO. Contract SS99-02-3057-00907, and following after that there are four in a row there that are made out to an individual - on page 26 of the contract registry.
Government contract summary report by department, April 1, 1999 to September 30, 1999 - the minister tabled it earlier in the Legislature, Mr. Chair. But there are four individuals there. What I'm seeking is the minister's assurances that these individuals are all contractors.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I imagine if they signed a contract, then they would be attesting that they're contractors and have met the requirements of the contract. I don't know these individuals. We haven't used their services directly. This is an ECO matter.
I guess I'm just surprised that we haven't raised this during ECO debate, if it was that kind of an issue.
I would imagine that all these individuals, because they signed contracts, would be contractors.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, one of the other areas that was of concern when the Legislature previously sat was that contracts or stat declarations were signed and subsequently proven to be inaccurate. Subs had not been paid. And I'm sure the minister could recall at least two of the contractors that I brought to his attention.
What has been the outcome of the investigation that the department launched into these false stat declarations, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that all the subcontractors have been paid, and the issue is still in the hands of the RCMP.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I know the bonding company, with respect to the Whitehorse Airport, had to pick up the tab and pay the subcontractors, but the issue surrounds the signing of a false statutory declaration. Now, the minister says it's in the hands of the RCMP. That has been an extensive period of time for an investigation to be underway. What reporting has occurred back to the minister, and what steps have been taken by the department with respect to this false statutory declaration?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we don't know when the RCMP investigation will be complete. The statutory declarations that the contractor signed indicated that some subcontractors had been paid, and therefore I guess it would be signed falsely. The RCMP were alerted. The information was given to them. All the information was turned over to them and, as I said, they're currently investigating, and we're not aware of what the status of their investigation is, at this point.
Mr. Jenkins: After this one hit the news media, it was subsequently reported in the news media that the same contractor had signed a statutory declaration for a subdivision development for the Government of Yukon and had not paid for the pipe. Again, I guess the supplier had gone through the courts to launch a suit against the contractor. Again, this shows that a statutory declaration was apparently not signed in the appropriate manner.
Is the minister aware of this, and what steps has his department taken with regard to that statutory declaration?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We've been working primarily on the Whitehorse Airport runway issue. We haven't had the other one brought to our attention.
What we've done is we've worked on this particular issue, and I'm assuming that, if an individual has concerns in that regard, in terms of not paying a supplier, then it would be incumbent on the supplier to alert us that they have not, in fact, been paid, and if the company has signed a statutory declaration that they had paid the supplier, and that turns out to be false, we can relay that information also on to the RCMP.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I give the minister's department credit with respect to one contract that I brought to his attention, and the department did contact the suppliers for this job and did ask if they had been paid and when, in fact, they hadn't been paid, followed up with the general contractor and ensured that they were being paid. This was some time after the fact, after all the statutory declarations had gone through.
And there are a number of other times when this has arisen and members of the minister's department were contacted and told that, "Hey, I haven't been paid on this job," and, basically, they were told, "Well, you've only got so many days after you supply the material to lien the job. It's outside of that period. Tough."
That was the basic response. Is there not a higher level of cooperation between Government Services and some of the suppliers than what has been conveyed to me by not just one supplier, but we're talking several suppliers, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Is this in relation to this one particular contract, or does this have to do with other issues?
We are bound by certain guidelines in terms of time, and we obviously can't go chasing after every contract where people are not paid. On some occasions, there have been issues that come to us, particularly around the hospital contract with some of the subcontractors and, in particular, with some of the local subcontractors. One of the contractors was actually based in Calgary, and we did follow up to try to pursue this and were successful in getting the local companies paid. But we can't police every action, and I think we have to trust that, in general, the Yukon contractors up here are honest and do mean to do well by their subcontractors.
I know that there are occasions when anyone who has been involved in any kind of construction here is always aware of the fact that you may get into issues between suppliers and subcontractors and such issues as holdbacks and liens and things of that nature, but in general I think that most of the contractors up here try to deal honestly with their subcontractors.
Whenever the issue is brought to our attention, we always try to resolve it in the least intrusive way possible and try to get the contractors to fulfill their obligations. We do have certain restrictions, though, and in some cases, we have had people come back a year or a year and a half later and tell us that they haven't been paid. They didn't bring it to our attention, and it becomes very, very difficult to chase people down at that point.
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 still dealing with the Department of Government Services. Is there further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister advise the House if his department has a policy for when it is brought to the department's attention that there is an irregularity in the statutory declaration, or it's shown up front that they were a sub on the job and they haven't been paid - what's the department's policy as to how to deal with these irregularities? If there is such a policy, could the minister table a copy of that policy?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There is not a policy per se. What we do is we attempt, as I indicated earlier, to resolve the issue, and if we find that in fact there has been an illegality occur, in terms of a statutory declaration that is indeed false and is known to be false, then we pursue the appropriate legal channels as we have done in this case.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm aware of at least six statutory declarations that were filed incorrectly during the minister's term of office. The one that I did bring - I brought two to the minister's attention. One was conveyed to the RCMP.
Could the minister advise the House as to how many of these irregularities have been brought to the attention of the RCMP and they've asked them to investigate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I don't have that information at my fingertips. I'll have to provide that for the member. However, I would say that we all have an obligation as citizens that if we do know of a wrongdoing then I would think it would be incumbent - if the member has, as he says, six cases of where someone has filed a statutory declaration, we would certainly be appreciative of getting that information. If he is convinced that those have not been resolved, and that the individual in fact filed a false declaration, then we would certainly be grateful for any information that he can pass on and will take the appropriate action.
Mr. Jenkins: Let me ask the question this way. How many irregular statutory declarations is the department aware of, let's say during the past three years?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'll get back to the member on that. I don't deal with the policing function of the department on a daily basis. I will trust that the department can handle that. I will ask them for the information and pass it on to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not asking the minister to act as a policeman for the department. I'm just asking the minister to do his job, Mr. Chair, and it's part of his function to ensure that all of these contracts are dealt with in the appropriate manner and that, when a statutory declaration is received, it duly reflects the conditions of the contractor and that he has met his obligations according to the terms of the contract.
That's all I'm looking for, Mr. Chair, that kind of assurance.
But when there's a laissez-faire type approach from the minister, I'm sure the department is going to react accordingly and subs are going to get somewhat annoyed when they don't get paid, and the whole system falls apart. So, there is an obligation on the part of the minister to ensure that these areas are followed.
The minister indicated that there is no departmental policy on what to do and how to do it with respect to follow-up when a statutory declaration is proven to be irregular. Why not? Why isn't there?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, we have been chastened by the paragon of moral rectitude and propriety, and I'm sure that we will follow up the best we can. I will provide for the member the list of statutory declarations that we have turned over for review and how many we have received.
But I can tell the member that in many, many cases, we have people come to us with a complaint about a contractor or subcontractor about a contractor. We try to see if there is some way that the situation can be resolved and, hopefully, come to an amicable arrangement.
In some cases, I have to tell the member, all is not crystal clear. As a matter of fact, there are many cases where there are issues of supply, where, in some cases, the job was not done to our specifications, and when we have gone back to the contractor or subcontractor, we have found that, in fact, there were issues of perhaps supply and materials and so on.
So, we try to solve many of those situations and try to work with the contractors and try to work these things out in a reasonably harmonious way. I don't think it's to anyone's interest that we have our contractors and subcontractors at war with each other, and I think if there's anything we can do in the role of adjudicating in such cases, I think it behooves us to do so.
In the case of illegalities, we have our own avenues in terms of failure to complete contracts for us. We have taken legal action, we have pursued legal channels, and we'll continue to do so when we deem it necessary.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, just for the record, the only war out there between the contractors is for the little work that there is. There are so many contractors and so little work as a consequence of the devastating effect of our economy that a lot of the contractors are moving elsewhere. That's the war that is existing between the contractors, Mr. Chair.
But I'd like to encourage the minister to develop a policy to deal with this area, and I would ask that he confirm that he will be doing so, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'll discuss the issue with the department. We have ongoing interactions with the Contractors Association, and we'll get some feedback from them, and see if indeed we need a more formalized process. If necessary, we'll develop that in due course.
Mr. Jenkins: In other words, don't hold our breath, Mr. Chair.
One of the other areas I'd like to explore with the minister is the Yukon hire recommendations, and the ones that haven't been implemented. Recommendation number 6 is that the government should implement a hiring agency, which contractors on Yukon government construction projects would be required to use. The status is that the government is exploring options.
Could the minister advise the House just what options are being explored, and where this initiative is at?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, with respect to this, we have had some discussions with labour interests and contractors with respect to number 6. We held those in February, and we held them in May and June of this year. I believe yesterday we identified four issues that were discussed, and we're developing some options in regard to the issues that were raised that would be further taken back to stakeholders before we identify a pilot project that we would like to try this out on.
Mr. Jenkins: Were any of the contractors supportive of a hiring agency at these meetings that the government has held with the Contractors Association?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Some expressed an interest, and, I think, some had a degree of concern about what it means. Certainly the contractors have become more and more aware of the need, particularly in rural communities, to address some of the issues around section 22, and some contractors have become extremely good at developing relationships with First Nations in terms of hiring and training and so on, and I think many of our contractors are becoming aware of the fact that, as self-government comes to fruition, there are going to be a lot of opportunities in this regard, and they are looking at developing those kinds of relationships.
So I would say that a good deal of it has to do with how this process would be implemented. They have identified some issues that they think would be worthwhile for us to discuss, and we will be working with them on some of these issues before we would proceed with a pilot project.
Just with reference to some of these discussions that we have had, we have worked and have attempted to work with the contracting community. And, in particular, the member has suggested that on the issue of some of the problems with the statutory declarations and that, in fact, our ongoing consultations with the Contractors Association is an excuse to do nothing. I would suggest that nothing is further from the truth.
We have made a commitment to work with the contracting community and the labour community, and we're interested in getting their input in and going from there. We've also tried to address some of the issues of the business community on a variety of things. So, we're interested in proceeding on this issue, and we're interested in working with them.
Mr. Jenkins: Have any of the Contractors Association members indicated to the minister that it's necessary to have a hiring agency here in the Yukon, Mr. Chair? Has that been something that's come to the forefront, the need for a hiring agency?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I don't sit down and discuss these things face to face. We have staff that meet with the contractors and, on occasion, I have met with some contractors to address these particular issues, and I've heard their views. In one case of meeting with one of the local contractors, they expressed some reservations on the issue of a hiring agency. However, they were amenable to some other suggestions within there, in terms of ways that the overall effect of a hiring agency could be accomplished without a formalized structure.
So, there have been some suggestions brought forward, and those are suggestions that we would take into account and continue to discuss.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other Yukon hire initiatives was number 33, to establish an authority to handle appeals, complaints and suggestions concerning contracting and hiring practices and decisions. Once again, it's not implemented, and the government is exploring options.
Could the minister advise where we're at on setting up this second government agency flowing from the provisions of these Yukon hire recommendations that have been adopted by his government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think that would be something that would be incumbent in the whole question of hiring practices and so on, and I think that's something else we'd want to discuss in the context of where this particular issue is.
I think what the member is ignoring is the fact that a substantial part of these recommendations has been implemented, and we have made some progress. With respect to 33, we have taken a look at some legal advice in that regard and at some recommendations from the Bid Challenge Committee, and we're also consulting internally before we proceed with that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we currently have a number of functions the government does with respect to bids. There's the bid challenge procedure, as the minister pointed out. But the need for another authority, another department of government, to deal with appeals, complaints and suggestions concerning contracting and hiring practices and decisions, just how does the government envision implementing this provision of the Yukon Hire Commission's recommendations?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think I indicated that we have done some consultation on this.
The member is presuming that we would need some kind of separate organization, or separate function. That may not, in fact, be the case. It could be that there may be some opportunities for us to utilize some of the dispute resolution mechanisms that are available to us, with such things as the bid challenge or perhaps variations on the bid challenge. There are issues around this one, in terms of general dispute.
I know that the Department of Justice has an interdepartmental working group to look at alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and to try to provide some fair and effective resolution of all types of disputes.
So I think there are probably some issues there for Justice. With respect to 33, we have looked at some other ways that we could deal with this. There have been some suggestions that, perhaps, issues around such things as the bid challenge, or variations on the bid challenge, could be employed. We're interested in any particular positive suggestions. However, there are some legal issues as well, because people do have recourse to legal action if they choose.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there are the two sections - section 6 and section 33 - of the Yukon Hire Commission recommendations that have been adopted by this government. There are two of them that call for the formation of a new agency, or a new department of government, or a function of government that currently exists to be expanded to encompass this area. So there are going to be costs associated with this.
I'd like to ask the minister when this government will be fully implementing these two sections. What are the timelines for their implementation, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think one of the things that was identified there was an appropriate pilot project, and I think that is going to be one of the things that would have to be considered, as well as our interaction with both the labour and the business community in this regard.
I didn't know that the member had quite that zeal for a hiring agency. I'm actually quite surprised that he's such a strong advocate of this. Certainly we weren't aware of his enthusiastic endorsement of this, and I can only presume that by his zeal, particularly on 33, he is urging us to get cracking on this and to implement a hiring agency.
I'm surprised but, I guess, we'll have to see what we can do to gratify him. I wasn't aware that he shared quite the enthusiasm of some of the folks who favour this. But certainly, it's a surprise for me, and we'll have to take that into consideration.
Mr. Jenkins: Let the record reflect that the minister has failed to answer the question. Mr. Chair, it was this minister and his government that adopted the recommendations of the Yukon Hire Commission, and they adopted them all, and they said they were going to fully implement them all.
Now, some of them have been implemented, and the two main ones that are the most contentious out in the public domain are number six, the formation of a government hiring agency, and number 33, another department of the government to handle appeals, complaints and suggestions concerning contracting and hiring practises and decisions. And I would like to know from the minister when this minister is going to adhere to the policies that his government has adopted, which is accepting all these recommendations, and they're going to implement them fully. I just would like to know the timelines. What are the timelines for implementing these two recommendations?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think that any government proceeds - or hopefully any government proceeds - in a well-reasoned, appropriate way with adequate consultation. I know that the Member for Klondike is screaming for us to implement the hiring agency immediately. We don't feel that would be appropriate at this point. We feel that there needs to be consultation. There needs to be a number of issues addressed around this, and there needs to be an appropriate project identified and so on, that would lend itself toward this particular project.
Now, the member is calling for us to implement number 33, and he wants us to do it with tremendous alacrity. I would suggest that, despite his ardour for the concept of a hiring agency, we might be somewhat premature on this point without having addressed all the issues.
I would suggest that he may want to take a more reasoned approach, despite his enthusiasm for this project.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, all I'm looking for are the timelines when this government is going to adopt what they said they're going to adopt, and implement what they said they're going to implement. I'm not looking for a whole bunch of rhetoric. I'm just looking for timelines. Three months, six months, a year? What are the timelines for implementing these two recommendations? It's a simple question.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We will implement all the recommendations in the fullness of time and when we have assessed that the conditions are appropriate and that all the parties in this case have got a sense that they've had some input, that their concerns are being addressed and that we can proceed with a project where we won't have impediments, in terms of people not having had a chance to participate in the project.
I was unaware that the member was quite such an enthusiast for the hiring agency, and I'm sure it comes as a surprise to some of my colleagues. I can't guarantee that we'll do it within a week or a month or several months. All I can say is that we have implemented a number of them. We're proceeding to look at our options around some others, and we will bring them forward in the fullness of time.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the minister believes that governments march ahead on a fine course and listen to everybody and consult with everyone, I know where he can probably buy a couple of fast ferries from some of his NDP colleagues just south of us here. They certainly followed procedure and consulted with everyone, just like the minister is purporting to do here today.
But, still, it brings us back to the question that the minister has still failed to answer. What are the timelines for implementing recommendation 6 and recommendation 33 of the Yukon Hire Commission's recommendations?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think I have responded to those, and with respect to fast ferries, I can tell the member that we don't have any plans to develop any fast ferries. As I understand it, the George Black ferry is functioning very well. I can't see any need for a fast ferry. I can't see us getting into the cruise ship industry, so I really don't see why he wants us to get into a new venture, that of maritime transportation.
I have addressed the issue before, that we'll be proceeding with these things. As time develops, we'll be working with our partners in labour and business to try to rectify some of the concerns that they have and try to address some of the issues that have been brought forward.
No one has a crystal ball and can predict when these things will happen. We'll simply work through them and try to reach accord.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess we could simplify it for the minister into a simple yes or no question. Will the Yukon Hire Commission's recommendation numbers 6 and 33 be implemented in the next six months by this government? Yes or no, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have no way of predicting that, Mr. Chair, and for me to do that would be purely speculative, and I don't think that would be in anyone's interest.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess we could go to 12 months or 18 months, but is there any hope of these being adopted by this government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Hope springs eternal, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Looks like this is going to be something that's dumped on Yukoners or imposed on Yukoners at the last moment before an election or something of that sort. The minister fails to acknowledge his responsibility as to when these are going to be implemented. It's a simple, simple question.
The minister has danced all around the question and still hasn't offered any sound explanation as to the timelines when sections 6 and 33 of this Yukon Hire Commission's recommendations will be implemented. That's, I guess, the NDP way, the better way, Mr. Chair. We're going to do it, but we don't know when. We don't know how, and we don't know with whom. But we're probably going to create two new departments of government - a hiring agency and another agency that will handle appeals, complaints and suggestions concerning contracting and hiring practices and policies. It's not enough that we have labour standards, that we have bid challenge. We have a whole number of departments of government and agencies in there protecting the interests of all, yet we can't come up with a firm policy and timelines for it as to when it's going to be implemented.
I'm very, very disappointed in the minister for not being able to identify fully when his government is going to adopt these recommendations. But I don't think I'm going to be getting anywhere there, Mr. Chair, so let's move on to the issue of Connect Yukon - the arrangements between YTG and Northwestel.
The minister indicated previously that this was going to take the form of some quasi-type Crown corporation or such. Does the minister have it sketched out in a kind of a proposal as to how this entity is going to be created?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, Mr. Chair, just a couple of things with the member's preamble. I will do my best to steel myself for the member's disappointment in me. It pains me deeply. He knows the regard in which I hold him, and his personal disappointment in me cuts me to the quick. I will try to console myself by hoping to perhaps take some religious consolation.
I will try to endure the slings and arrows in this case. I know that I have a caucus here that will try to support me in this. It's hard to endure, Mr. Chair. It is hard to endure. You know, the Member for Klondike is such a paragon of virtue that none of us can really aspire to that particular standard, but we can try. We can try, Mr. Chair.
However, I was somewhat disturbed by the fact that the member seemed to disregard the role of the Bid Challenge Committee. He seemed to feel that it was some kind of lightweight organization that didn't serve a function. I should remind the member that it is an organization. It is a body that's made up of representatives from business and so on, so I would not be so quick to dismiss their efforts.
The member is also assuming that there was some fondness for creating a huge ongoing agency. We have never suggested that. I suppose he might regard the fact that we involved people from the Vuntut Gwitchin, that we hired a local project manager, and that we attempted to work out socio-economic agreements in Old Crow and on the Ross River project as being a huge bureaucracy that does not have any credence or any value. We disagree.
We respectfully disagree, because we think that there is an obligation for us to employ local people and local contractors on these projects, and we have been quite gratified by the amount of local employment that has grown out of these - not only local employment, but local economic opportunities and local training. We feel that those are actually valuable contributions, so I'm somewhat disappointed that he seems to dismiss all the good work that has been done in this regard, and really negates the efforts of people within Old Crow and Ross River and other projects as being worthless.
We have had a nursing station being built in Teslin that's being built by a Teslin contractor and being built by local labourers, and that was largely developed in concert with the Teslin Tlingit First Nation.
I'm disappointed that he doesn't see any virtue in that. My friend from Watson Lake has pointed out the tremendous boom that has been created in Watson Lake because of some of the projects.
I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I was so mortified by the member's disappointment in me that I momentarily lost my train of thought there. The members can see that it has deeply affected me. I can barely contain myself.
With respect to the partnership with Northwestel, I think I did list, under the agreement that we had with Northwestel, some of the principles underlying it, some of the issues that we have addressed. Are there specific concerns that the member has? Does he feel that the partnership with Northwestel is not appropriate? Does he have some sense that Northwestel is not a good partner for us to work with? If he could bring to me the issue of his concerns with Northwestel, perhaps I can address some of his concerns.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to know more, much more, about the arrangement that's being forged between the Government of the Yukon and Northwestel - its format, whose benefit it is. The way it's portrayed out in the public domain by this minister is that we're going to be pumping $18 million into this new entity and everybody's going to be equipped with a phone and, boy, we're all going to be connected, and it's all going to be warm and fuzzy and yes, this is the best thing that has hit the Yukon since sliced bread.
But we all know that reality is going to be something else. There are going to be some Yukoners who will benefit and a lot who will not in rural Yukon, Mr. Chair.
But what I want to know is the arrangement between Northwestel and the Government of the Yukon. Now, the minister just gave it a cursory overview and said it could take the form of a Crown corporation, and if it does, fine. But let's get the information out into the public domain as to how this arrangement is going to be formed between Northwestel and the Government of the Yukon. Do they have an equity position? Obviously, they have got to get a rate of return on it - the Government of the Yukon - and CRTC dictates that Northwestel will have a rate of return on their asset base, and there are all sorts of other areas that have to be examined and should be explored. And a lot of it, when we're talking that sum of money, should be done on the floor of this Legislature, but the minister is going to hide it away somewhere and we're not going to be given the opportunity.
So, could the minister just start off by outlining the arrangements that are being proposed between Northwestel and the Government of the Yukon - what form it's going to take? And after it's all said and done, I'd like him to table those arrangements that have been reached today.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Okay, Mr. Chair. The member seems to have little faith in both Northwestel and us. He has described the arrangement and, in fact, the whole idea of trying to connect the Yukon in fairly pejorative terms. I might remind him that he was the one who for the last three years has been decrying the lack of capacity up the north Klondike Highway and complaining that his constituents were being poorly served. When we step up to the plate and try to rectify that situation, he doesn't want anything to do with it. He thinks it's a sham. He thinks that it's false. He thinks that there's no value in this. No, the member is quite satisfied to go on with these snide, wheedling preambles, but what he doesn't like to hear is his own words cast back at him. He's very good for dishing it out, but he sure can't take it.
So, let's just describe, if we can, in verbal schematics, how this would work. The Yukon government would supply an $11-million amount in the form of a loan to a Yukon telecommunications council. That would be made up of Northwestel, Yukon government and small business. There would be a repayment aspect. $11 million would go to Northwestel to purchase assets as part of the Yukon telecommunications council. There would be an operating lease with a buyout provision. The physical infrastructure, which would be about a $14-million equipment purchase, would render some revenues to Northwestel. There would be a service agreement to supply services to the Yukon government. There would be a repayment, once Northwestel has recovered their expenditure of assets, as the member has pointed out. Then, any funds in excess would be returned to the Yukon.
So, I guess we can ask: why Northwestel? Well, Northwestel is the regulated supplier of telephone services and has considerable infrastructure. The member seems to ignore that.
Northwestel is the Yukon's largest private sector employer. They'll employ Yukoners, buy goods from Yukon services, from Yukon businesses. They'll train and employ community-based Yukoners.
The profits to the shareholders will be from the - in terms of - there will be a repayment aspect; revenue sharing is included in our agreement, which I read out earlier, and that's basically to ensure that Northwestel doesn't earn a return from the investment made with public monies.
I can go through, in detail, the arrangement that we've concluded with Northwestel. I thought I did before. In terms of the letter of intent, I can read that through again. I'll read through the aspects on financial considerations. YTG and Northwestel will be party to a financial mechanism that will enable Northwestel to obtain the capital necessary to construct the required telecommunications infrastructure. Northwestel and YTG will, if necessary, make an accommodation to support that mechanism so long as the accommodations are consistent with the interests of the parties. Northwestel will not include the net capital investment advanced through public investment under the final agreement in its utility rate base.
Northwestel will make payments to the providers of the capital investment, according to a formula based on excess revenues earned from the investment, and the formula will be established by agreement between the parties. YTG will enter into a contract with Northwestel for the provision of specified data services for a period of five years, such services to be used exclusively by YTG and its agents for the delivery of government programs and then the other considerations, such as maximizing business, training, et cetera, opportunities.
It's unfortunate that the member seems to consider that Northwestel is not a suitable partner for us, and that's regrettable. We know that, basically, we're creating a public infrastructure here. It seems to be a good opportunity for us to make an investment in public infrastructure in partnership with a private company, a private company that has some expertise in this field, and we feel that it will be of benefit to the territory in general.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That, too, Mr. Chair, is an interesting point that you have asked me to mention - that the partnership with Northwestel is restricted specifically to what is called the public infrastructure, that is the pipes between communities. And I also noticed that you have also noted in your - oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I thought this was from you. It's from my friend in Riverdale South. She has asked me to mention that there is a fairly broad consensus in communities that this kind of approach is necessary.
I couldn't agree more. I'm gratified by her interest in this. With respect to it being the greatest thing since sliced bread, I always enjoy sliced bread.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Well, I have a concern as to how the debt, the public money that's going to be advanced from the Government of the Yukon to Northwestel, will not be regulated by CRTC. It will not be allowed into the asset base of CRTC, and CRTC will not authorize a rate of return on that amount of money. That's $11 million. That still leaves the obligation to provide a rate of return on it to the Government of Yukon. That's not spelled out, other than it's going to flow from excess revenue of the system. Usually, excess revenue of the system is called profit, but this must be a new term that the NDP government of the day has coined. Why, I don't know, Mr. Chair, but the chances of it flowing are predicated on the standard utility process, where the asset base is allowed to have a rate of return on it. We can't allow that to happen.
Now, there are pluses and minuses to that scenario, Mr. Chair - the plus being that the cost of service provided out of the system should be lower to the end consumers, because they don't have to debt service the $11 million at the current rate of return, which is, I believe, about 11 percent or 12 percent allowed by CRTC on this. So, there is a net saving there if someone points something-million dollars that won't have to be sucked out of the system to debt service.
But just where is this excess revenue going to come from, given the position that Northwestel finds them in today, where they say, "We have a real problem up here. Unless we're subsidized from the south, we can't continue to operate in this manner. We have to crank up our rates, because there's going to be competition coming in here. If competition comes in, we might be in a loss position."
It's interesting to note that they're going to determine excess revenue of system. How are they going to isolate just that specific section of the system, or are they going to isolate that specific section of the system?
Are we going to be lumped in with all of Northwestel's controlled area, virtually all of north of 60? We all know that the Eastern Arctic has a significant subsidy today. When that was taken over by Ma Bell, a considerable sum of money flowed from the parent company to Northwestel to maintain the viability of the system in the Eastern Arctic. So we still have to continue with the Eastern Arctic; we still have to continue with operating that system there - or Northwestel does -
Chair: Order please. The time being 5:30, I will now rise and report.
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, and I now 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.
The time being past 5:30 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until Monday at 1:30 p.m.
The House adjourned at 5:31 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 2, 1999:
Railway link (proposed) between Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia: letters between Yukon, the federal government, British Columbia and Alaska (Harding)
Motor Transport Board 1998-99 Annual Report (Keenan)
Yukon Medical Council 1998-99 Annual Report (Keenan)
Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment 1998-99 Annual Report (McDonald)