Tuesday, June 13, 2000 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: As we begin proceedings today in this Assembly, we ask for divine guidance. May the deliberations in this House be characterized by temperance, understanding and reason, and may we, the elected members of this House, serve all Yukon citizens with dignity and honour.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Tribute to Yukon's 102nd birthday
Mr. Kent: I rise today on behalf of all members of this Legislative Assembly to pay tribute to the Yukon Territory on the occasion of our 102nd birthday.
Since inception as a territory on June 13, 1898, we have seen it all, from the world famous Klondike Gold Rush to the construction of the Alaska Highway to our place in today's modern world. And let us not forget our pre-gold rush era, an era rich in First Nations culture and history.
I'd like to read a couple of excerpts from the Consolidated Ordinances of the Yukon Territory, dated 1902, which illustrate how much things have changed in the past 102 years.
Under the Yukon Council heading, indemnity to members, or members' indemnity: "The Commissioner shall pay to each elected member an allowance of $1,200 for each year of service after election."
The second reading has to do with reckless driving: "Any person riding or driving in or through the streets or highways of any town, village or assemblage of dwellings in the Yukon Territory at a rate or pace greater than six miles an hour shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding $50 and costs to be recovered summarily before a Justice of the Peace."
Under subsection 2 of that ordinance: "The provisions of that ordinance shall apply to the driving of dogs, as well."
The Yukon Day Act, an act that was passed to commemorate June 13, was passed at a special sitting of the Legislature on June 13, 1998 in Dawson City. Under Bill No. 100, it states, "Yukon Day shall be a day on which citizens of Yukon are encouraged to reflect on the history and heritage of their land and its peoples and to celebrate the lives, traditions and cultures of all Yukoners, past and present."
In closing, I would like to encourage all Yukoners to do this by taking advantage of those whom I like to call our living history books - the seniors and elders of our territory. The lessons and advice that they can pass on to us will go far toward shaping our future. Thank you very much.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. McLarnon: I'd like to introduce friends of the Speaker today in our gallery, Murray and Muriel MacMoraine of Whitehorse, and their friends from la belle province, Québec, Bob and Jean MacDonald. Welcome to the House.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to introduce Mr. Deuling's grade 11 social studies class from Vanier Secondary School.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon government work to expand trade and export markets by:
Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that spending money on economic development is no guarantee of success;
THAT it is only by evaluating programs that Yukoners can gauge which ones are producing results; and
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon government should evaluate economic development programs to determine which ones are helping to create jobs and work with the business community to reduce red tape.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Tombstone Park, mining claims
Mr. McRobb: Having reviewed the Premier's June 6 letter to the federal DIAND minister, Bob Nault, on the matter of purchasing the buyout of the claims in Tombstone Territorial Park, I was very disappointed to find it contains nothing to fulfill the Liberals' commitment to buy out mining claims in this park. We have heard the Economic Development minister on this matter but what about the Renewable Resources minister? He is responsible for demonstrating leadership and direction on the environment to Yukoners, but so far he is taking a back seat to the Department of Economic Development on this matter.
Can the minister please tell this House which department is taking the lead on negotiating the buyout of these claims?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mrs. Speaker. As has been indicated in the past, we have indicated to the members opposite that this side of the House works as a team. It is not necessary for any one portfolio to take a lead over another, so we will work in concert to find a solution to the problem that was created by the members opposite when they were in power.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, here we go, another group hug, but no definite answer as to which department is taking the lead.
The letter was void of any mention of where the Liberals stand on mining in parks. Yet, it wasn't long ago that they had lots to say on this matter. In his reply to the throne speech, the Minister of Renewable Resources spoke about the need to preserve our environment, but in reality the environment is slipping off the Liberal agenda. The Liberals are on record saying that Tombstone claims never should have happened. Can he confirm that the Liberals will be changing the Yukon protected areas strategy to have immediate staking withdrawal on mineral interests in proposed park and protected areas?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, with respect to the Tombstone, the Minister of Renewable Resources is of no different opinion than is the Premier. There are a variety of interests and concerns regarding Tombstone. We have the Tr'ond?k Hw?ch'in final agreement. We have legitimately staked claims within the proposed park area and there is a third party to the final resolution of this problem, and that is the federal government. It really is a surprise to me that members opposite continually remind the House and continually remind the public at large - Yukoners all over - of their past transgressions with respect to the claims being contained within, as one of the hon. members across the House has constantly reminded us, the gem of the Yukon.
We have constantly, consistently, persistently indicated that we will find a resolution to this problem. That requires that we sit down, respecting the process of other governments, to resolve this problem. We will find the solution to the problem. And I would invite the member opposite, as he has indicated previously, to work cooperatively with this side of the House and offer solutions or actions that can be taken.
Mr. McRobb: The federal government is waiting on this territorial government to ante up. The ball is clearly in his court.
Now, I would like to direct my final supplementary to the Acting Premier, who, in her newsletter, said it was a simple issue to resolve. All you had to do was approach the mining company and buy out the claims, and presto, the problem is gone. Can the Acting Premier please elaborate on how she intends to follow through on her commitments to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: As I had indicated to the member opposite, we work as a team on this side of the House, and we are of the same voice. This government wants to negotiate a settlement on the issues, we want to take action and have written to the federal minister, inviting him to come and meet. We have written to the Chief of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in. We do want to sit down and review the possible options that are available to us.
I would also like to bring to the attention of members opposite that the holders of the legitimate claims, now located within the proposed park boundary, in a letter to the editor in the Yukon News stated that, "The solution to this situation will take creative thinking by all parties." We would invite that comment as a willingness to at least entertain the solutions that will be created by the collectiveness of this House, and I'm hoping that the member opposite will take me up on my invitation to sit, meet and discuss things with the former Minister of Renewable Resources, as he knows full well the story. Hopefully, we can find an equitable solution for all Yukoners, and everyone will be happy. We'll have our park, and, if the holders of the claims now located within the park so choose to ignore the offers extended, then we will have legitimate claim within our Tombstone Park.
Question re: Tombstone Park, mining claims
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, it isn't enough that the Liberals are riding high on our budget for the next year or so. Now they want us to make all their decisions on these tough issues for them, too. Why don't they just go fishing and move the Cabinet room downstairs and we'll make these decisions for them.
My question is for the Acting Premier. The word on the street is that the cost of buying out the claims is several million dollars and rising every day. The minister and the premier have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership and direction to Yukoners.
Can the Acting Premier please give this House a ballpark estimate of what the government's initial buyout offer will be. Is it $1 million, $2 million, or more?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, it is the members opposite who continually espouse that the final solution is going to be financial compensation. What we have continually stated on this side of the House is that that is an option that will be considered part of the package as presented to the legitimate holders of the claims, and I guess I shouldn't expect a whole lot from the side opposite in inviting them to find solutions to a problem that they created.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, they want to work with us, but in reality they treat us like a distant cousin. We didn't get the Premier's letter to the federal minister until this week, when last week they sent it to their friends, they sent it to the media, but they withheld it until Monday before they gave it to us. So, they tell you in Question Period and the folks back home watching on TV that they're inviting us to work with them but, in reality, they're keeping us from the material that's important to see. They say one thing and do another.
The federal minister said he was waiting for the territorial government to ante up. The Liberals have promised to buy out these claims. Nothing can happen without a cheque from this government.
How much is the minister prepared to pay to keep this promise?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, as we have continually reminded the members opposite, there are a number of options that will be reviewed before we approach the legitimate claim holders within the proposed Tombstone Park, and this government will not act unilaterally in moving on this. There are other governments involved that are due the full respect of us sitting down and working collectively with them and also seeking input from other stakeholders. The members opposite may choose not to work with this government in finding a solution to a problem that we have accepted as ours to resolve. We acknowledge that it is our responsibility now, and we have continually positioned ourselves that way. Again, I invite the member opposite to work with us to find a solution. I am sure that they are as interested in having that beautiful part of the Yukon protected in a park, as are all Yukoners.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, to resolve the claim in Tombstone Park issue, this government is going to have to ante up. To get us to help them make the decision, they are going to have to ante up with some information. How much is the federal government prepared to put on the table to buy out these claims? How much is the territorial government prepared to put on the table to buy out these claims? As a starting point, that is the bare minimum we need to work with on this side of the House, in order to help them take the glory for resolving this long-standing problem.
Please, can the minister give us the information we need? Mr. Speaker, as a former chair of a regulatory process, I know he respects the views of stakeholders and the need for information and all the quasi-judicial process to go with it. I am sure he can sympathize with us when we ask for information. Now, it is his turn to divvy up.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: This side of the House has been sitting on this side of the House for about a week and a half. We have continually suggested and stated that we will find resolve to the Tombstone Park one way or the other, but it's going to take the concerted efforts of others. It's going to take some careful planning. We want all Yukoners to have that beautiful area up there as one of the gems in Yukon.
The member opposite has continually said that they need more information. I would, again, suggest that he talk to the former Minister of Renewable Resources, who was intimately involved with the process of establishing the park and was aware of the step-by-step process.
As a matter of fact, on April 19, 1999, the former Renewable Resource minister said, "I believe that these claims should not have been staked in the park in the first place," and followed that up on the same day saying, "As far as I am concerned, they're nuisance staking."
The members opposite are fully aware, fully apprised of the situation. We are trying to find a solution. We'll work hard and diligently to do that, and, again, if they feel that the invitation to participate in the solution is a slight of responsibility, then they'll have to live with that.
Question re: Whitehorse Correctional Centre, construction of new facility
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice. The budget includes $1 million for the design of a new correctional facility that can support new kinds of programming. The Whitehorse Correctional Centre needs to be replaced, and an NDP government made a multi-year commitment to build a new jail. Yesterday, the Premier threw a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the NDP's multi-year funding commitments.
Will the Liberal government proceed with design work -because it's in this year's budget that they tabled - and cancel the planned construction of a new jail?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We will live up to existing commitments that are in the budget and I'm not going to speculate on future budgets. There is a commitment in this budget and we will live up to it.
Ms. Netro: On February 25, 1998, in one of several media releases on this subject, the Liberal Justice critic said, "A phantom announcement of an unfunded $3 million isn't going to build a new jail". In opposition, the Liberals said, "build a new jail." The time for waffling is over.
Mr. Speaker, I want to know if the Liberal government is waffling on their commitment. Does the Liberal government intend to go ahead with plans to build a replacement for the Whitehorse Correctional Centre during this mandate?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We made a commitment to Yukoners that we would table the budget, and that means we will honour projects, like the jail, that are in the budget. I'm not going to speculate on future budgets.
Ms. Netro: The public deserves an answer. We believe a new correctional facility based on correctional reform is needed. The public has offered many constructive suggestions for improved program delivery in a new facility. The Member for Riverside said that the staff at the centre and the inmates deserve it.
When will the minister build a new jail?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We are honouring our commitment to Yukoners and doing what we said we would do. We said we would live up to the commitments that are in the budget, and that includes the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. We said we would honour the commitments in the budget, and we are going to do that.
Question re: Health care professionals, recruitment and retention
Mr. Harding: The jail, of course, is going to take commitment beyond this fiscal year and into the future. My question today, however, is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Last week we heard from the hospital that the long waiting lists are starting to become the norm. We heard that there is a growing shortage of medical professionals, from doctors to nurses, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, et cetera. If this continues, it's going to seriously harm our health care system in Whitehorse and rural Yukon. I'd like to ask the Minister of Health and Social Services: now that the Liberals have announced a new policy of $1-million signing bonus to the YTA for retaining teachers, will they commit to providing the same for the hospital workers and to all health care professionals to aid in their retention and recruitment so we can avoid the erosion of health care services to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Yes, the retention of health care specialists is probably in a dilemma state right now across the country. We are basically going to feel that pinch even moreso in the north. One of the problems that we have here, of course, is our distance, and we have to look at where and how we're going to retain our professionals. Hopefully, over the next few years, we will be able to pull together some enticing aspects that are going to again encourage people to come north. That's how I came north - because I was enticed here and I stayed. So, hopefully, we can continue that type of trend to build for the future.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the minister didn't answer my question. One of the reasons the Liberals voted against our budget when we brought it in in the first place was because they said there wasn't enough funding immediately for the retention of health care professionals and for its recruitment.
Now, yesterday, the Premier announced that the surplus as of the end of March 31, 2000, when they came to government, has reached $56.2 million. They have provided a $1 million signing bonus to YTA, so why doesn't the Liberal government just do the same thing in health care and solve the problems of our long waiting lists, lineups and shortages?
Will the Liberals do what they did for the YTA and increase the grant to the Hospital Corporation and in his department to help retain professionals and health care workers to solve what is rapidly becoming a crisis?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, just to remind the opposition again that what happens here is that we keep hearing this figure of $50 million, $60 million, $61 million, $80 million - whatever the surplus is that they dream up. The actual surplus at the end of March, 2001 will be $14 million. That's the real fact.
What we're going to do again is look at how we're going to build. One of the things we're doing is continuing to build the $200,000 professional development fund for our doctors. We're also going to be looking at how we expand nurse bursaries. We need to have more nurses. More local people need to be involved in that program because they know the north. We're also looking at the fact, which is a reality here, that although the fee for doctors here is fairly good, we'd like to again sit down with them and look at what's going to keep them here.
Nurses employed by the government have been reclassified, so that is a factor, too, where we have raised the income of our nurses, particularly in the rural areas, and hopefully we can continue with those kinds of initiatives.
We have frozen the nurses' rent in many of the rural areas, so that they do not have to pay more. We have provided a nurses residence at No. 1, Hospital Road in order to encourage local nurses, or nurses who can come in for a short term. So, we are working on it. We are in the process now of putting together a massive, what I call, retention drive, to encourage more of our health care people across Canada to come north.
Mr. Harding:But the minister just read out a list of retention initiatives that the NDP government initiated. If the member opposite doesn't believe me, I will read out a quote from the Premier yesterday in the House: "The forecast accumulated surplus - March 31, 2000 - is $56 million, as the member well knows." Now, anything that the Liberals choose to spend this fiscal year is their choice. Whether it's a supplementary or the budget they tabled. They are the architects of the fiscal situation of this territory as it stands today.
Now, they have got money for prospector grants, increasing them by $250,000. They have got a $1-million signing bonus for YTA members, but we know about the shortages that are occurring in our health care system.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are very critical of the NDP for not addressing it now, but so far we have had a very bureaucratic response from the minister. I'd like to ask him again today. Will he do what they did for the YTA on the retention and signing bonus to help recruit and retain health care professionals to avoid this coming crisis?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, just to remind my fellow colleague that the surplus as of March 2001, once again, will be $14.5 million, and this is by their own books. Remember, the budget that we are promoting is their budget. So, these are their figures. We haven't altered it at all, so this is where we're at.
What is the department doing? Well, they are working with professional organizations here in the Yukon. They are looking at strategies that will probably, hopefully in the future, give us a positive when it comes to recruiting some of our professions. We are in a crisis situation right now, and when the members opposite demand that we have this service and that service immediately, the reality is that people have to be trained in these areas, and if we are not training them, then we can't offer the service. So, hopefully, we can look at these things and try to build for the future. We have to look at bonuses; we have to look at monetary incentives; we have to look at recruiting possibly foreign professionals; we have to look at the Yukon hire policy, which sometimes impedes spouses from coming north.
We have to look at how we continue their professional development here in the north because of our isolation. We must also look at how we can offer courses here to constantly upgrade our professionals. There is really no acute crisis at this point in time, but there will be in the future. What we're doing, as a department, is trying to put together a massive PR program in order to build our case to ensure that people outside have the understanding that coming north is going to be one of their chances of a lifetime.
So, we are working on it. We are working with our fellow colleagues. We are team players. We don't have all the answers. We would expect that everyone in the Yukon will help in trying to build this package. This is not a short-term problem; it's a long-term problem, and it's a national issue. It's not just a Yukon issue.
I recently learned at the ministers meeting a couple of weeks ago that we are in good shape, considering what's happening in other parts of Canada. So, there are some very positive things happening here, and we're going to continue doing that.
Question re: Education Act review
Mr. Fairclough: The Liberal math is sometimes incredible. It varies from day to day.
Mr. Speaker, during the election, the Liberal Party made many promises to Yukoners. They promised to review the Liquor Act; they promised to create more jobs in the Yukon, and they promised to complete the seven outstanding land claims speedily. They also promised that they would involve Yukoners in decisions that affect them. The Liberals said they would do what they said they would do.
Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Education. One of the minister's senior officials recently advised the president of the Teachers Association that a review will begin in the next school year on the role educational assistants and remedial tutors play in Yukon schools. Would the minister explain how this review links to the upcoming comprehensive review of Yukon's Education Act?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, in response to the member opposite, I am just bringing myself up to speed on the process with respect to a review of the Education Act. I know that there has been a committee struck and it's comprised of department officials, teachers and the public at large and from the school councils. I will be meeting with them later this month on determining their definitive course of action, their scheduling, reviewing what process they will be undertaking with respect to the whole of the Education Act, and I think that the component that the member opposite had mentioned will be included in that discussion.
Mr. Fairclough:It doesn't seem that the Minister of Education understands that this review is linked directly to the education review. We get, "No", "I don't know", "The review is under review", and no answers form the members opposite. I asked the minister to go back and talk with his colleagues, read through some of the briefing books so that maybe we can get some direction in this Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, this official has indicated that the department will establish a working committee led by school superintendents and two departmental representatives and three representatives from the Yukon Teachers Association. Can the minister tell us why First Nations and parents of school children are not included in this working committee?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker. Again, just as I mentioned earlier, I will be meeting with the full contingent of the review committee, and I will be looking into the component of the committee. As the member opposite has also suggested, I am sitting down with the officials. I am going through the briefing books, but I'm sure that the member opposite's briefing book is every bit as comprehensive as mine and he can appreciate how much time is required and how much there is to absorb. With respect, it's a huge department. Its responsibility is huge. It touches every member in the territory, so it will be with clear and due diligence that we will enter the process of reviewing the Education Act.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, he is the minister. He is the one who is supposed to set the direction, not the briefing books.
We have the same answers as we did yesterday. I asked the member that the Yukon Education Act is based on the principle of respectful partnerships, which this committee doesn't seem to take into account. Now, will the minister direct the department to include First Nations and parents in this review of the role of paraprofessionals in Yukon schools, in keeping with their commitment to involve the public in decisions that affect them? Would the minister commit on the floor of this Legislature to at least include First Nations and parents in this review? Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: As I had just indicated to the member opposite, Mr. Speaker, I will be looking at the set-up of the committee. I would also remind the member opposite that it was the former Minister of Education who reviewed the options available as provided by the department on which way to proceed in reviewing the Education Act, and it was the choice of the former Minister of Education that she actually set up the committee and its components. I will take under advisement what the critic has suggested, and we'll have a very good look at the composition of the committee. I do appreciate the concern offered.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the official opposition to be called on Wednesday, June 14, 2000. They are Motion No. 23, standing in the name of the Member for Faro, and Motion No. 5, standing in the name of the Member for Faro.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
committee of the whole
Bill No. 2 - First Appropriation Act, 2000-01 - continued
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is dealing with Bill No. 2, First Appropriation Act, 2000-01.
Do the members wish to take a brief recess before we start?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate on the estimates?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Yesterday, we heard that we have committed to those projects that have started and will start this year. We have not committed to the rest. Obviously, projects such as the Mayo school will take more than one year to build. Obviously, we will fund it to completion.
We have had no discussion about which projects may or may not be included in the future multi-year capital plans. That's the point of the planning exercises that we are undertaking this summer. I'm not going to speculate on what will or will not be in future budgets. I'm not going to speculate on specific projects in future budgets.
Now, as for deficit budgets - this was a subject that came up yesterday - I'm not too sure what financial advice the NDP have had that will help us in creating budgets. The spending patterns of the NDP are unsustainable.
They have managed to spend the surplus down from $80 million to $14 million. That kind of reckless spending cannot continue. We are not going to engage in that type of reckless spending, and as for long-term planning, Mr. Chair, it is interesting to note that it took the NDP two and a half years to produce a long-term capital plan. We have not produced one in our first six weeks in office, and the opposition is shocked. Well, we are working on it.
The current spending priorities were set by the NDP for this budget. We have tabled this budget. We are committed to this budget, but this government will set its own spending priorities this fall.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, yesterday the Premier said: "The forecasted accumulated surplus - the end of March 31, 2000 - is $56 million, as the member well knows." It's a direct quote. March 31, 2000, was the last year that the NDP was in office. Now the Liberals chose to bring in the NDP budget, which means that they are responsible for any expenditure contained therein.
Not only that, they increased the spending. We have already seen a commitment for half a million dollars in this fiscal year for the signing bonus for YTA and $250,000 for the prospector grants.
Yesterday, the Premier admitted that the Liberal spending patterns are unsustainable, so how the member opposite can lecture the NDP, when they have only increased spending and have made commitments on the floor already in this session for a dialysis machine and for more legal aid, is beyond me. Obviously, the member is not well-briefed, which doesn't really surprise me because I'm not sure how much she would retain.
Mr. Chair, yesterday I asked the question on what a revote was, because the Premier wasn't aware. A revote is a choice the government makes - in this case a Liberal government - to revote projects they want to continue. Now, they can choose to revote or choose not to revote. They can choose to bring in an NDP budget or bring in their own budget. They could have cut spending by $10 million or $20 million. They could have cut a couple of projects. No, they chose to bring in the NDP budget, which had a current-year deficit, and they chose to spend more in their supplementary. In their throne speech they said to us that they were going to spend even more.
So, does the member even understand that concept? If they spend more, it's going to draw down the surplus further. That will be a choice that the Liberals make. It's very basic math.
So, Mr. Chair, when they tell us that the NDP has spent down the surplus, it's pretty clear that their actions are only further contributing to any draw-down of any surplus. And yesterday, the Premier admitted there was a $14-million increase in the surplus for March 31, 2000 in lapsed funding. Now they say that some of that has to be revoted. It doesn't have to be. It could be. The choice could be made to revote it, but that will be the Liberals' choice. What the surplus is for the Liberals is going to be what they have to work with, and when the Auditor General reports in the fall, I'm sure he will report an accumulated surplus as of when the Liberals took over government, which is what they have to make choices with, of probably $56 million to $60 million.
So, yes, the NDP left them an excellent kitty with which to make decisions. We are exceptional fiscal managers. Now, the tax-and-spend Liberals, on the other hand, are turning out to be a different kind of cat. They are spending more, and not only that, they're raising people's taxes in the Yukon. They have rejected the 12-percent tax cut that the NDP put forward and have said now that they don't have the money. What they are finding out as they get briefed on the finances is that the price tag on the promises the Liberals made, all across this territory, is outrageous. From Grey Mountain Primary School to new jails, to dialysis machines, to continuing care facilities in rural Yukon, these promises are huge.
They also have to build the new school in Carmacks, they also promised more highway construction money and more highway maintenance funding. Mr. Chair, this is a government that doesn't seem to have a clear policy, or any sense of direction or vision for that matter. Yesterday, they took four different positions on what they were going to fund or not on a multi-year basis.
Now, I know the former member just read something that was written down for her. Unfortunately for her, in Committee of the Whole, we're going to have an opportunity this afternoon to explore what she just said in more detail.
Because the first position taken by the Premier yesterday with regard to multi-year projects was that they would fund what they called substantive projects, and that they - and here I quote the Premier - "would not have the rug pulled out from underneath them." Then, 10 minutes later, she said that they will not make any commitments whatsoever to future-year funding. Then she said that they would make commitments to future-year funding only if there was a contractual obligation.
Today, we had the robotic performance of the Minister of Justice, as she was scripted for her message-box response to the question on the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. She said she's committed to projects that have started. By our definition, then, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, with $1 million in the budget this year, has started, and we expect them to fulfil the long-term multi-year funding commitment. I believe it's $2 million next year and $6 million the following year. The price tag for that facility is going to be fairly substantive.
What we also derive now from what the Acting Premier just said is that the Carmacks school is going to be chopped by the Liberals, because that has not been started. So, the Acting Premier is telling the people of Carmacks that they can forget about having their school, because it has not started. She just said that only projects that have been started this year will receive funding commitments into the future.
So, I know the MLA from Carmacks and all the people in rural Yukon, who have received no attention whatsoever from this Liberal government, will be kind of upset to hear that the Liberals are now backing out on the commitment to the Carmacks school. Perhaps that's because Grey Mountain School is in the member opposite's riding in Whitehorse, and she committed to funding it. So, the priorities for the Liberal government will be in Whitehorse, at the expense of previous commitments in rural Yukon.
That's outrageous, Mr. Chair, and the Acting Premier has just made the situation worse. She just cast another cloud of uncertainty on the situation for the people of Carmacks. And we're going to get into this because I have to know - for example, if you take the Campbell Highway, the Tagish Road or some of the other projects, they are started in the capital budget this year, but there are long-term funding commitments. So, when she stands up and says that the projects that are started will continue to receive long-term commitments of funding, does that mean the Tagish Road and the Campbell Highway will receive their funding next year or not? What's their definition of "what has started"? Is she talking about design work, or is it actual foundations? She has just raised a whole series of questions on this issue.
So, Mr. Chair, the Liberals have proven an inability to understand the budgeting process. They have proven an inability to accept responsibility and accountability for the fact that when we left them the bank account, it was at $56 million. When they make a choice to bring in the NDP's budget with a current-year deficit, that then becomes their choice.
So, what the surplus is at the end of the fiscal year, March 31, 2001 - we're not the government. They are the government.
Yesterday, we found out that there was $14 million in lapses. A week after the election, as of April 25, as I tabled yesterday, the surplus was pegged at $41 million. Yesterday, the Premier announced that the surplus will actually increase by some $14 million to $56.2 million.
Now, the Liberals, when they came in, if they really wanted to deal, as the Acting Premier says, with the unsustainable level of spending of the NDP, could they have made some reductions in the expenditure? Yes. Did they have the Cabinet Management Board authority? Yes. Did they have to increase spending as they did on the YTA signing bonus, as they did with the increased grants for prospectors? The answer's no. They made a choice. They could have increased revenues and did what they said they were going to do during the election campaign and, when Argus defaulted on the agreement, asked for the money back from the city; $750,000 would have flowed back into the coffers of this territory. They could have used that for legal aid, which they backed out on, and broke another promise on. While people wait in uncertainty for the dialysis machine because they have everything under review, they could have taken that money and purchased the dialysis machine. They could have provided more money for retention of health care professionals in this territory, for recruitment. But no, the choices by the Liberal Party and the Liberal government are what they must be accountable for.
Yesterday, we even heard that they weren't going to commit to long-term funding for NGOs, and the Acting Premier just committed again, because she said that only long-term capital commitments that are started this year will be funded into future years.
So, does that mean non-government organizations: the Fish and Game Association, Yukon Learn, the Trappers Association, the Chamber of Mines, Yukon Federation of Labour, and Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake? So, the Acting Premier has a lot of explaining to do with regard to what she just said, because this is the fifth position on long-term capital commitments the Liberals have taken. And it's accountability time for the government.
It's one thing for the Acting Premier to stand up and read out a speech that probably the principal secretary prepared for her. He sends her down here - go ahead, you give that NDP heck - but what she said doesn't reflect reality. It is a complete alternate to reality, to avoid being ruled out of order there, Mr. Chair.
As far as we're concerned, it's important that we determine precisely what the position is in a number of areas, and we still have to find out, with regard to the Yukon Liberal government, what their position is with regard to land claims. We see they brought in B.C. Liberal advisors, and down in B.C., the Liberals are very opposed to the land claim process. They fought the Nisga'a treaty, and we're starting to see elements of that sort of attitude from this Liberal government in the Yukon.
We see that the Premier has taken the position, by not responding to my questions in Question Period yesterday that she is in support of Bob Nault's position. When he opened the door a year ago and said he was going to resolve section 87, and when he said he was going to make some changes on the loan repayment, he created expectations with First Nations.
He came up to the Yukon and said he wasn't prepared to do anything that he said he was going to do - very similar to the Yukon Liberal government here. When we ask the Premier to take a position, does she support Yukon First Nations or Bob Nault's position? She refused to answer the question. I think that is a shift. I think when we hear the thinly veiled movement toward cutting health care - the only issue the Liberals have identified - it's interesting to note, and we'll have to get into this as well with them, that that continues to be the issue that they target as deserving attention of their knife, to reduce expenditures.
And of course, they have learned well, perhaps, from the Liberals in Ottawa, who have cut billions out of the health care system in Canada, but that does not make it acceptable to the Yukon New Democrats, who consistently increased health care funding in this territory; provided funding for new equipment, such as the CT scan; such as contributions to the mammography unit; such as increasing the contribution to the Yukon Hospital Corporation; such as ensuring that when we bargained with our employees, such as the YTA or the Yukon Employees Union. We increased the grant to the college, we increased the grant to the hospital - the same amount. We increased the wages of our direct employees, so that the corporations would have the opportunity to provide, at a minimum in their bargaining, that level of increase.
We've seen the teachers, through the YTA, receive a $1-million signing bonus. When I asked the Liberal government to provide the same to health care professionals, where we have a very immediate crisis, as the minister said today - a crisis in the health care system - he said that he's going to review and study it. That's after the Acting Premier said she was going to vote against the NDP budget only a couple of months ago, because it didn't do enough immediately to increase funding for health care professionals.
So, you have the Liberals saying one thing and doing another. That was then, this is now. Now that they're the government, they can never stand up, any day in Question Period, and make a commitment on behalf of Yukoners. It's so bad, Mr. Chair, that we actually have ministers telling us that they can't make a policy announcement because they haven't read a briefing book yet. Who's in charge? Is it the authors of the briefing notes, or the minister? Who sets the policy for government in our democracy? I would argue it's supposed to be the minister.
Now, the Premier, on land claims, had all the answers. Prior to the election, land claims wasn't even a difficult problem. Now, she says 18 days in, two months in, from the election, she's not fully briefed yet. Well, I don't think Yukoners thought, when they heard her espouse her vision for settling land claims and that it was going to be an easy problem to resolve, she would, later on, tell them she had to hide behind a briefing book. I think Yukoners probably thought she had some idea, herself, from a policy prospective, about how she would resolve land claims.
Now, the Liberals do a lot of talking and they want to blame the NDP for everything, but, you know, we haven't heard one policy statement - with the exception of signing bonuses for public employees - from this government. We haven't seen one, new economic initiative.
The Premier missed an opportunity to go out and promote the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline at an event that actually would have had some resonance. She let the Northwest Territories jump way out in front of us. Then she tells us that the Mackenzie route is not a competing route with the Alaska Highway. I don't know who wrote that briefing note for her, but it certainly is not what I remember. Certainly, the Mackenzie is a competing route and the only reason that the Mackenzie would even be considered is to get the gas from Prudhoe Bay across the top of the Yukon - something very alarming. She seemed to say, "Well it's okay." What does she think is going to happen if the Mackenzie route is built? Does she not think the next logical step is right across the calving grounds - you'll see the Prudhoe Bay gas line?
Mr. Chair, I mean, that's obvious to anybody, except the Premier. So, when the Liberals stand up and admit, as they did yesterday, that their spending cannot be sustained, when they continue, as an ancillary comment, to say that health care is out of control, it's pretty obvious where they're headed. We're going to get some health care cuts.
And when we hear in the throne speech that it's going to be in the fall - wait for the fall, wait for the fall - when you're going to see a throne speech from us and a supplementary budget that reflects our commitments, we have already seen what priorities the Liberals have: $250,000 more for prospector grants, nothing for legal aid. We already know what they're all about.
The Member for Riverdale South played so cruelly on people's emotions about FAS/FAE, saying she really cared. She said, "Fund legal aid now", when she was in opposition. But what a different story, now that she sits as a minister of this government and on the front benches, and now, today, as the Acting Premier. What a difference a couple of months make. Obviously, that was all saying something to get elected, but not backed up in any way, shape or form by actions in government.
Mr. Chair, Yukon people are quickly wising up to the fact that the Liberals don't do what they said they were going to do. Every day, on the morning and afternoon news, is another story about a broken promise by the Liberals. Every day, the list of broken promises grows and the credibility of this government diminishes.
It's only early, and there are still people out there saying, "Give them a chance; give them a chance," and we expect that for a while, but it's our duty, in the face of that, to point out these broken promises and these pressure points, like health care, where I see they're going to be cutting.
Now, they'll have no time whatsoever this summer to present this supplementary that they built expectations so high for, particularly when I've just been lectured by the Acting Premier that the level of spending cannot be sustained. Does that mean the Liberals are going to bring in a supplementary budget in the fall that's going to increase spending even more, a second supplementary budget that increases spending? Wouldn't that be a contradiction?
The other question is, what are they going to chop? Probably the community development fund, because that's something that's important to rural Yukon, like the Carmacks school to Carmacks. It will be interesting to see what we get from the Liberals in the fall.
Now, of course, the Auditor General's report will come out in the fall as well, and that will be good, to say the least.
My guess is that the Liberals - they have lots of money, so there will be more spending in the fall because the Liberals haven't proven yet that they know how to say no to anybody. Certainly, that wasn't reflected in what they said at the doorstep and it wasn't reflected in their election platform nor was it reflected in three-and-a-half years of promises heaped up on the floor of this Legislature where, every day, they stood up and asked for more and more and more.
Today, the Health and Social Services Minister was sad, really. He has asked for a retention review for a massive, massive campaign, but the only initiatives he could list out to this point were initiatives that were brought in by the previous NDP government to improve retention and recruiting of nurses. Again, no agenda, no vision, no sense of direction on a serious problem. He called it a crisis, and then later on in the same question said it wasn't a crisis.
Does the Liberal government really know where it's going? Does it really have any vision at all? What is the definition of a project that meets the qualification "substantive"? What's the level of construction or design that meets the criteria that the Acting Premier just discussed?
Let me ask her this. She just said that projects that are started will receive their funding in multi-years. What about a project that has just had the design work started? Will that suffice in the Liberal definition as a project that has started and will be funded to completion?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Thank you, Mr. Chair. There's so much to say and so little time. Let's go through it again. The current spending priorities were set by the NDP for this budget. This government will set its own spending priorities this fall.
Mr. Chair, I would remind the interim leader of the official opposition that the issue on the table is the main budget, not the supplementary budget.
Mr. Chair, the interim leader of the official opposition talks about revotes. That member is fully aware that those issues are dealt with in the fall, usually in the supplementary budget. That certainly was the case when the interim leader of the official opposition was in government.
One of the other issues that he brought up again today - well, exactly like he did yesterday, as a matter of fact - is the issue of the surplus. This wonderful surplus that apparently is counted on as $60 million. Now, it's interesting to note that during the election campaign, the NDP accused the Liberals of having no platform, not standing for anything. Now that we are in the Legislature, we are suddenly accused of promising everything and standing for everything. It's a little confusing, Mr. Chair. Which is it, Mr. Chair? The NDP can't have it both ways.
I should mention for the record that the surplus at the end of this year is going to be $14.5 million. That's what is in the bank. The $60-million number that the NDP have been throwing around is how much money was in the bank before the NDP started passing special warrants. By the time we took office a good portion of that money for this year was already spent. We are looking at a cushion of $14.5 million, not $60 million. Just because members opposite say it over and over and over again, doesn't make it real.
Something about representing all Yukoners - we are all Yukoners. The members opposite are constantly trying to divide this side of the House and that side of the House. Well, it should be that way. That side of the House holds us accountable. They are the official opposition, and that's their job. When we were on that side of the House, that's what we did, and that's why Yukoners, Mr. Chair, made the choice that they did.
Mr. Chair, if there is an expenditure in this budget that requires an expenditure next year to complete a project - and I'll say this again, it has been said many times before - we are committed to that. So that would be the commitment to the Mayo school.
Mr. Chair, we were talking about tax cuts earlier on and I'd like to remind the members the timing of the election call created uncertainty for all Yukoners. By adopting this budget, we are endeavouring to cause as little disruption as possible, and it is for that reason and that reason alone that we are proceeding with the numbers before us.
I should mention that the budget contains tax cuts. Real tax cuts. The Yukon Liberal government is reducing people's taxes by two percent this year. Now, the previous NDP government talked about reducing personal income taxes. They talked and talked and talked, but when it came right down to it, they would rather have a two-percent real tax cut than the 12-percent phantom tax cut they talked about.
The NDP talked about reducing taxes. I remember it well, Mr. Chair. I remember it very well. They went on and on and on and on about the phantom tax cut. This Liberal government is actually doing it. That's the difference between us and the NDP.
We haven't rejected further tax cuts. We will be examining future cuts when we prepare future budgets.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite, the interim leader of the official opposition, brought up the issue of land claims. Now, settling land claims is one of our top priorities. It is the key to turning around the economy, and one of the reasons our economy is in bad shape is because the NDP only settled one land claim when they were in power. One. The Premier has attended the principals meeting. She has met with the Grand Chief a number of times, and she has met with Bob Nault, the minister responsible on the federal level.
We are working on Yukon government issues that remain unresolved at the negotiating table. It is in the best interests of all Yukoners to see land claims settled, and that is what we are trying to do. We believe in settling outstanding land claims. It is one of our top priorities.
Now, it's really interesting to hear the member opposite - the Member for Faro, the interim leader of the official opposition - talking about settling land claims.
We have a letter that appeared in one of the local newspapers from Andy Carville, who was the Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. I'll read it. It says: "The CTFN strongly disagrees with Mr. Harding's assertion that all the matters related to the territorial government have been resolved and only federal issues remain outstanding with respect to the Yukon First Nation final self-government agreements. This statement is misleading and inaccurate." We're trying to do better than that, Mr. Chair. We're trying to do a lot better than that.
Mr. Chair, no doubt we're going to go through this all day, just like we did yesterday. Mr. Chair, I can hardly wait. There's so little time, so much to say - again.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, the Acting Premier didn't answer the question because she doesn't know the answer. Liberals don't stand for anything. That doesn't mean that they didn't make a lot of commitments. I'm talking about principles, vision, direction. They don't stand for a thing. They made a lot of commitments. So, she's mixing apples and oranges. When I say they don't stand for anything, it's because they don't have any principles. They're not motivated or guided by principles - patronage and power. That doesn't mean that they didn't make commitments.
The member talks about phantom tax cuts. How about phantom increases to legal aid by the Liberal government? How about phantom buyout of the Tombstone claims by the Liberal government? How about phantom increases to FAS/FAE funding by the Liberal government? How about phantom increases to alcohol and drug services by the Liberal government? These were all commitments made. Shouldn't we have believed their press releases, in which they said to fund legal aid now, build a jail now, don't do it tomorrow, do it yesterday?
The reality is that the NDP negotiated, almost to conclusion, four land claims. Two issues remain.
But unfortunately the big issues were the issues of a federal nature that were not a difficult problem according to the Liberals before the election. Now, she just stood up and said there are still Yukon issues at the Carcross-Tagish First Nation land claims table. What are they?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we don't negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Well, she just had lots to say about it, so I'd like to ask her what the issues are. She just said there are issues outstanding. What are they?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I am serving notice that if I have to repeat this 4,000 times - and I think we probably have enough time. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: I'm not asking her to negotiate land claims. I'm asking her to tell us what the outstanding issues are.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: She just stood up and said in the debate that there are still Yukon issues on the table. I'm not asking her to negotiate them. I'm asking her what they are. She opened the door in the debate by raising the issue of the Yukon issues on the land claims table of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. Does she not know them?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this government is respectful of the land claims process. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Does she know the issues that are outstanding that she just mentioned?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, whether or not I know the issues that are outstanding is not the issue. The issue is that this government does not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: She just brought the issues of outstanding land claims matters with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation to the floor of this Legislature. She said she doesn't want to negotiate on the floor of the Legislature, and I'm saying to her, absolutely, I couldn't agree more. I'm not asking her to. I'm just asking if she knows what the issues are that she brought into the debate.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I should repeat what we brought into the debate. It was from the Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, Mr. Andy Carville, and he said that the CTFN strongly disagrees with Mr. Harding's assertion that all the matters related to the territorial government have been resolved and only federal issues remain outstanding with respect to the Yukon First Nation's final agreement. This statement is misleading and inaccurate, since many matters under the jurisdiction of the Yukon government are outstanding at the CTFN negotiation table.
The chief, at no point, was specific about the issues. He would not do that. He would not negotiate in the media, just like we will not negotiate on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Does the member know what the issues that she just said are still outstanding are? I mean, it is one thing for the member opposite to say that there are issues outstanding and to introduce that in the debate; it's quite another thing for her to not be able to go into any detail about what they may be. We're not asking her to negotiate. What are the issues? Does she know them? Does she know what she's talking about at all?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this is so much fun. I'm really enjoying this. I could speak all day. I'm really enjoying this. However, on the issue of specific issues, under land claim negotiations, no one on this side of the House will negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Bravo, to the member opposite. So, what are the issues that are outstanding?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we have probably got enough time to repeat this 3,889 times, so I will say it again. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature. We do not discuss specific issues.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: The Member for Watson Lake, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: This is becoming quite ridiculous, and we do have rules to address this type of situation. If we refer to Standing Orders, pursuant to section 19(1)(c), a member will be called to order during debate if they persist in needless repetition.
Chair: On the point of order. From the Chair's perspective, the repetition is coming from both sides of the House. I would instruct that there is no point of order. I would ask the members to proceed with debate.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, the Liberals have introduced an issue into this House, and we don't want to negotiate. They have said that there are outstanding issues, and they were the ones who brought up a specific claim, so I'm simply asking the Acting Premier if she knows what the issues are. We don't want to negotiate, nor would we. We fully respect the land claims process. Does she even know what they are?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation said that there are outstanding issues on the table. There are outstanding issues on the table. We are working on those outstanding issues. The land claim issues that are on the table with regard to land claims in the Yukon - Government of Yukon issues. The Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation says that there are issues on the table. Is the member opposite saying that the Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation doesn't know what he's talking about?
Mr. Harding: What are the Yukon government issues? The MLA for Ross River-Southern Lakes can ask the chief. I'm asking the member opposite if she knows what the issues are. I don't want to negotiate. Just tell us what the issues are. Are they land quantum? Are they issues pertaining to taxation? What are the issues? Just globally, what are they? Lay them on us.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, specific issues are not for discussion on the floor of this Legislature. That will be a part of negotiations. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. This government doesn't.
Mr. Harding: Well, the member opposite brought it up. She used it as a debating point, so I'm simply asking her if she knows what the issues are, in a very general context. Is it a special management area? Is it hunting and fishing? Is it access to resources? Is it community land? Just generally, what are they? We don't want to negotiate. We'd just like to know what the issues are that she is now the Acting Premier to speak to.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, our government believes in respectful negotiation with Yukon's First Nations. We do not discuss specific issues during the land claims process on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Well, how many issues are there? How many?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we don't try, as a government, to interfere in that process in any way. We do not discuss specific issues in that process. That is a negotiating process.
Mr. Chair, I grew up with land claims. All my life in the Yukon, we have talked about land claims. At no point did anyone come out and tell us the specific issues at any particular table. No one has ever done that. I don't know why the member opposite, who has been here for a few years, would know any different and would expect people to do that.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, the member opposite introduced this into the debate - very snidely, very confidently - and yet it's obvious that, when I ask even from a global, high-level context whether it's a game issue or renewable resources, community lands or whether it's an issue of a special management area, she's not even prepared - there's just a blank stare coming from across. Then she said, "We don't try and interfere in these things," when I asked her how many issues there were. "We don't try and interfere." What does that mean? You're the Yukon government. You just said you're working to resolve the issues.
Let me ask the member opposite this: have they provided new mandates yet to the negotiators for the Carcross-Tagish land claims negotiations?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: To be absolutely clear with the member opposite, we certainly don't discuss specific claims. We do not discuss specific issues.
Now, settling land claims is, once again, one of our top priorities. It is the key to turning around our economy.
The Premier has attended the principals meeting. She has met with the Grand Chief a number of times, and she has met with Bob Nault, who is the federal minister responsible for this issue. We are now working on Yukon government issues - not specific issues, and I'm not going to bring those to the floor of this Legislature - that remain unresolved at the table.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, she just brought them to the floor of this Legislature. She opened her mouth and brought them to the floor of this Legislature. She introduced the specific claim - the Carcross-Tagish First Nation claim - to the debate. We don't want her to negotiate here. We just want to know, globally, what kind of issues they are. We want to know how many issues are left. We want to know if they provided a new mandate to the negotiators. These are policy questions. We are not asking to get into the details of the negotiations - heaven forbid.
What's the mandate? Has it been changed by the new government yet?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we are working with Yukon First Nations to settle outstanding land claims.
Mr. Harding: Have they given out a new mandate to aid in that?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this is a negotiation process, unlike the constant repetition in this Legislature.
Mr. Chair, we do not negotiate First Nations land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Is there a new mandate given by the new government to the negotiators for the Carcross-Tagish First Nation?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we do not discuss specific land claims on the floor of this Legislature. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
So little time to repeat the same answer, over and over and over again, to the same question that gets asked over and over and over again.
I know that the member opposite is very, very good in debate. I wish we could hear a little more of that.
Mr. Harding: I shall oblige her. She introduced into this debate the issue of the Carcross-Tagish claim. Now she says that they don't talk about specific claims in this House. Now, she has taken this position to the sublime, in saying that she can't comment as to whether or not negotiators have been given a new mandate. This is a complete contradiction - one of many by the Liberals.
So, Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask the member once again - a matter of high policy plane. If she can't answer, why is she even standing here? Why are we even in general debate? It's pointless. We might as well wait for the Premier to come back on Monday. Why don't they just turn the lights out here, because the Acting Premier doesn't have a clue about what's going on in the government. She doesn't -
Chair: Order. I'd ask the members of the House not to refer to absences of members.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, I'll put it this way. I'd like to have general debate with somebody who knows something, and this Acting Premier doesn't know anything, obviously, because I've asked her three times whether or not they have given a new mandate to the negotiators for the Carcross-Tagish First Nation - which she introduced into the debate. She can't tell me, so what's the point of even having general debate with an Acting Premier, who is here only in a make-believe role? I have to discuss this with the Premier. Can she tell me if there has been a mandate change for the Carcross-Tagish First Nation negotiators? It has been over two months since the election.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Well, the interim leader of the official opposition has already said that there probably are issues on the table. The member knew, when he was in government, what those issues were. He has the member next to him, who apparently knows what those issues are. Perhaps he should check with his colleagues.
Mr. Chair, we do not negotiate First Nation land claim settlements on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: I'm asking her if the new government - not the old government - has changed the mandate for the negotiations. It's a simple policy question. She doesn't know the specifics, so I'm not going to ask her the specifics of what issues are there. I'm just asking her, can she tell me the most basic answer: have they changed the mandate?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: The hon. Member for Mount Lorne on a point of order.
Ms. Tucker: As my colleague so kindly pointed out earlier, 19(1)(c), "persists in needless repetition or raises matters..."
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, you have already ruled on that particular point of order that I, myself, brought up. The ruling was to continue debate. There is no point of order.
Chair: The Chair sees no point of order. I would ask that the debate continue.
Mr. Harding: So, as I try and confirm that there has been a mandate change, I asked the member opposite - and I really am starting to wonder why I'm asking the Acting Premier, because the fact that she can't even tell me that there has been a mandate change speaks volumes about her lack of knowledge. Could she find out from somebody if there has been a mandate change? Get a note from downstairs.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: First of all, we get our notes from upstairs. We were downstairs; we moved upstairs.
I think that we need to remember that the members on this side of the House - on the government side of the House - are the ones doing the negotiations. The members on that side are not. It's a negotiation process; those negotiations do not take place on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Does the Acting Premier have any knowledge of the negotiating mandates?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: All members of the Yukon Legislature on the government side of the House were briefed on these issues in a very general way. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: There are no negotiators here, nor am I asking her to negotiate land claims on the floor of the Legislature. I'm asking her - she has just told us she knows about the issues - has there been any direction to change the mandate for the negotiations? They say they are working hard to resolve all outstanding Yukon issues that were left on the table so I'm asking her, as an aid to that, have they changed the mandate for the Carcross-Tagish First Nation?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: We do not discuss specific land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. The member opposite, the interim leader of the official opposition, is fully aware of that.
Mr. Harding: This is a very, very poor performance. It's pointless to be in here with the Acting Premier. She's obviously not well-briefed. She doesn't know the issues. Every now and then we're getting frantic notes from upstairs. She's so clever when I misspoke myself that she's not getting the notes from downstairs. As a matter of fact, we just had a note brought in downstairs, but anyway, Mr. Chair - she has told us that she doesn't discuss specific land claims on the floor of this Legislature, yet she brought a specific land claim into the debate. So, she has completely contradicted herself, and set herself up for questioning on the issue.
She's quite right that we shouldn't negotiate land claims on the floor of the Legislature. It begs a question as to whether there's any point in discussing any land claims issues whatsoever. Is she saying that mandate questions with regard to the federal government are off limits for debate in this House, in general debate? That we, in the opposition, can't exchange thoughts about the direction of the approach that the Liberal government may want to take with regard to Mr. Nault's statements? Certainly, these are going to influence specific claims, like she just brought up.
So, why did she introduce it and then become unable to even entertain whether there has been a change in the mandate to the Carcross-Tagish First Nation Yukon government negotiators to, as she put it, work hard at resolving the issues? Does she even know?
This is completely pointless. It's pointless, because the Acting Premier doesn't have a clue on these important issues. They might as well have a pylon over there.
So, Mr. Chair, I'm sorry that I have to keep asking these questions and get no answers. But we need to know whether there has been - you know, just at the most high policy plane, whether there has been a change in the negotiating position. I won't even follow up with asking her what that is. Just tell us. Just simply tell us: have they given new instructions to the negotiators for a new mandate for that land claim?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, you know, why don't we just repeat it for the - I should have been keeping track. I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, that would have been kind of interesting, but I haven't been keeping track. I will now.
But I will repeat again that we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature. But the member, the interim leader of the official opposition, brings up the point that I did introduce a specific issue to the floor of the Legislature, and that was through a letter that was written by Andy Carville, who's the Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. Let me read on in the letter. It says, "While Mr. Harding may wish to gain some political benefit by criticizing the federal government, such comments are unproductive and do not contribute to finalization of the CTFN final and self-government agreements." Unproductive - much like the debate today, Mr. Chair. "In fact, such comments" - I'm reading again from the letter - "may ultimately hinder the progress of the negotiations. The CTFN urges the Yukon government to concentrate its efforts at the negotiation table to conclude the outstanding Yukon First Nation final and self-government agreements, rather than making political, self-congratulatory statements."
I'll read again from the letter, because it speaks very much to this repetition, this constant statement that apparently this member, the Minister of Tourism, brought this issue to the floor of the Legislature, and this is how I brought it forward. It says, "If the Yukon government believes it has nothing more to contribute and is simply waiting for the federal government to conclude its negotiations with the CTFN, then perhaps the negotiator of the Yukon government, the CTFN and the federal government can sit down at those meetings and resolve the outstanding matters, including the land matters."
Mr. Chair, we do not negotiate - I'm going to keep track of that; that's another one - land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Let me read a question. This is from Ms. Duncan, the Premier. It is a question to the former Government Leader: "Mr. Chair, before I let other members into the general debate on the Executive Council Office, in reviewing the minister's answer on land claims and the minister's answer given to me previously on the subject in the update, I didn't hear any mention of outstanding issues - Yukon government issues at the table. Are there any issues - strictly YTG issues - that the Government Leader feels are at a difficult negotiating point at this point?"
I will ask the question that the Liberal Premier asked of the former Government Leader in general debate on the Executive Council Office. Then we'll hear what the Acting Premier, the phoney-baloney leader, has to say, and then I'll read the -
Excuse me, Mr. Chair. I shouldn't use that. I will retract that.
I'll read the acting leader's answers, the leader who is not able to answer the questions, and then I'll read the answer of the former Government Leader, who actually answered the question and moved debate along.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding:This is so rich. Mr. Chair, I will read out again the question of the Premier - Premier Duncan - to the former Government Leader on land claims: "Mr. Chair, before I let other members into the general debate on the Executive Council Office, in reviewing the minister's answer on land claims and the minister's answer given to me previously on the subject in the update, I didn't hear any mention of outstanding issues - Yukon government issues at the table. Are there any issues - strictly YTG issues - that the Government Leader feels are at a difficult negotiating point at this point?" Can the Acting Premier tell me, in answer to Premier Duncan, what they may be?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I will not, cannot and won't negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. It is a very interesting quote from Hansard. We have thousands from the interim leader of the official opposition, which we will bring forward in the weeks, perhaps, to come.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, I'll read out the answer of the former Government Leader. "Hon. Mr. MacDonald: "For Carcross, there are some individual community land selections and that sort of thing that would be outstanding. In Kluane, there is another issue I didn't mention, which is the land selection in a national park, which is outstanding as a specific claim. For Ta'an, there's nothing; for Kwanlin Dun, there are, of course, issues - we are not finished. For Ross River, we're still completing land and self-government negotiations. For Liard, nothing. We have to go back and see whether or not First Nation accepts the Liard's negotiators' agreement at this point. We've not heard anything from them and, to my knowledge, we have not heard a call to return to the table. There probably wouldn't be a return to the table in any case, because we won't be going to any tables without the federal government's presence. White River, nothing. As I say, the land selection issues are, I believe, relatively minor in nature in the Carcross claim. The big issues that everyone is talking about are federal."
Now, that was what somebody who was being open and accountable would say when they're asked a general question like Premier Duncan asked when she was leader of the official opposition. Instead we have got this stalling, repetition and inability of the Acting Premier to even answer the most basic question about land claims, which makes this a completely pointless exercise for the official opposition who is trying to find out whether there has been a change in the mandate whatsoever and what issues are still remaining on the table. So, I don't know why the Premier attended the conference in Calgary to leave an Acting Premier. Mr. Chair, I didn't make reference -
Chair: Yes, you did. I'd ask you to please not refer to the absence of ministers.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I'll respect your ruling, but I said the member attended a conference in Calgary; I did not reference this House in any way, shape or form.
Anyway, Mr. Chair, back to the point of the question: why would we have an Acting Premier who is not prepared to answer even the most basic question about land claims issues? She introduces it into debate and then says she's not prepared to raise specific claims after she raises a specific claim.
She just read a letter out that must be four or five months old now, after saying that she is working hard to complete the outstanding issues. What a jumble of contradictions. The repetition is not the fault of the opposition in this case. If we could get the most basic answer from the Acting Premier - I mean, what are we going to get on the economy from this Acting Premier? What are we going to get on issues around Tombstone? What are we going to get about their views, in terms of direction, on economic diversification? What are we going to get in terms of health care policy and finances? More of the same? It's very, very bad, Mr. Chair.
So let me ask the member opposite, given that the now Premier asked a question, does that give it any more weight? Does that prompt the member opposite to think a little differently, instead of just getting up and repeating the pat line? Can't she just stand up and say, " Well, you know, the Liberal leader, when she was in the official opposition, asked about these issues, and the former Government Leader responded, so therefore maybe it's incumbent upon me to provide some modicum, some basic level of detail on the most basic policy question?" Why would she not do that?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, let's be clear that general debate is for policy discussions. The issue here is about land claims. Our policy is that we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. Our policy is that we do settle land claims. It's one of our top priorities. It's the key to turning around the economy. The Yukon government right now is working with Yukon First Nations to settle land claims. The Premier has attended the principals meeting. She has met with the Grand Chief a number of times, and she has met with Bob Nault, who is the federal minister responsible. Our policy on land claims and the settling of land claims in the Yukon Territory is that it is one of our top priorities and that we are going to work with Yukon First Nations to settle those claims. Part of that process is to not negotiate Yukon First Nation land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Fentie:Well, I'd like to explore with the Acting Premier of the acting government - and, by the way, the government's performance to date can be compared to a very bad B-rated movie. I have a number of issues I'd like to explore with the Acting Premier regarding the budget in general debate here this afternoon.
Now, the Liberals have made much about the fact that they have answers for land claims, devolution, deficit spending, O&M spending, the economy, oil and gas, forestry, mining, tourism, small business. They have informed the Yukon public that they know how to address many, many, many, many issues. To date, in this very short sitting, we have seen the Liberals continually run from commitments and what they expressed as their priorities, whether it be land claims and the bomb that Nault dropped in that process, because no matter what the Acting Premier may be standing on her feet here today to say and mocking this Legislature in her answer, the facts are that it doesn't matter how many Yukon issues are on the table if there is no resolution to loan repayment and taxation. We may be going through a very difficult period in this territory when it comes to the settlement of land claims.
Now, I would like to know, first off, from the Acting Premier: we have a Liberal caucus, who a few short weeks ago, stood in this Legislature and voted against the budget. Now that voting record is not something to be ignored. The Liberals can't ignore it. It's a hard, fast position. They voted against the budget. Yet, after taking office - with all the minions that they have working with the hired professionals, with the hired political professionals, to come and help them - they still tabled the same budget that they opposed.
Now, that tells me the Liberals were not that up front with the Yukon public when it comes to their positions. What they've said here in this Legislature is that the reason they tabled the NDP budget is because Yukoners asked them to. Well, why would Yukoners ask you, the Liberals, during the election, to table that budget? I think it's obvious why. It's very obvious why. But you can't hide behind that fact. You did table that budget. It is now your budget and you are accountable to the Yukon public for that budget.
Chair: Order please. I'd ask you to make your remarks through the Chair rather than using the phrase "you".
Mr. Fentie: Pardon me, Mr. Chair. I retract that.
The Liberal government is accountable for that budget.
Now, we've witnessed, so far every day in this sitting, the new government's inability to understand fiscal year-end. So, they have many, many commitments and priorities out there. They had the opportunity to at least address some of them, but they're claiming poverty. The facts are, the Liberals took office with money in the bank that relates to the fiscal year-end, March 2000. What happens in March 2001 is entirely the Liberals' doing. To date - and we now know that it is factual, factoring in the lapsed funds - there is $56.2 million in the bank. Where are those priorities that the Liberals espoused in this Legislature time after time when it comes to legal aid; where is that help for those poor, single mothers?
They talked about the teachers' settlement not being a matter of money at all but of bringing back respect and integrity into the collective bargaining process, and then, without any consideration for what that really means, simply hand $1 million to a bargaining unit as a signing bonus.
And they have admitted it. The minister responsible for the Public Service Commission has admitted on the floor of this Legislature that that $1 million is, in fact, a signing bonus. This is the same group of Liberals that said, "We have to get O&M spending in check in this territory. This is very bad - O&M spending." And the first thing they do, upon taking office, is increase O&M spending dramatically. And they have also set in motion, a course, through their ministerial statement on the floor of this Legislature, which now has government delivering a new policy when it comes to collective bargaining, and that is the fact that collective bargaining now must include signing bonuses. So, now one can just visualize what that means when we deal with the government union employees and hospital workers. All you have to do is get out your calculator and figure out where the O&M spending is going to go in this territory. It certainly ain't going to go to the people, who the Liberals, only a few short weeks ago, were the champions of.
Mr. Chair, how can the Liberals stand in this Legislature and say, "We accepted the NDP budget and tabled it because Yukoners wanted us to," and then, in the same breath, state that they will not speculate on future budgets. Well, this budget that you have now taken ownership of - that you are accountable for - is predicated - pardon me, Mr. Chair, I retract that - that the Liberal government is accountable for is predicated on the fact that there is long-term capital spending. It's the foundation of the budget. How can the Liberals say, in this House, that, "Yeah, we now support this budget; we are accountable for this budget, but we will not speculate on anything else"?
We went around and around this little puppy all day yesterday, with no answers. The fact is that it's the government's duty to provide answers. That's why we're here. Those answers are not for us in the opposition alone. They are for the Yukon public. We are here to provide information through debate, so that the Yukon public knows what the heck is going on with their money, because every dime that the Liberals are about to spend is the Yukon taxpayers' money. You have a duty to provide that information.
How can the Liberals, on the one hand, support the budget, yet, on the other hand, give no indication on what initiatives that budget is creating in the long term? They can give no indication about what they are going to do.
Furthermore, we had a throne speech in this sitting, which was an embarrassment. Any government in this country would be embarrassed to deliver the throne speech that we witnessed here in this Legislature. The throne speech was the mechanism that the Liberal government should have used to provide the Yukon public with an insight into where the government is taking this territory from now and into the future. The throne speech did no such thing. We have tried, time and time again on the floor of this Legislature, through debate and Question Period, to come to some conclusions in many, many, many areas to do the same thing: provide Yukoners with some insight to where this government is leading us - nothing.
We had a budget speech that indicated absolutely nothing, other than the fact that "Yukoners wanted us to table the NDP budget," but that's it - nothing beyond. We had the Premier, who was the leader of the official opposition a few short weeks ago, when asked publicly what she would do in terms of addressing our situation as far as economy is concerned. The Liberal leader, then the leader of the official opposition, stated, "You'll have to wait until the election. We'll tell you at the election how we're going to address that."
So, we all waited, hanging on the gate with bated breath. What are the Liberals going to do to address our economy? And we have some real gems here, but it begins and ends - the way the Liberals have presented themselves - by the settlement of land claims.
We have every right to ask the Acting Premier whether or not the Liberal government has, in fact, given a mandate to the negotiators to proceed with the settlement of land claims in this territory. It is the Acting Premier who brought to the floor of this Legislature the fact that, in one specific First Nation, there are some outstanding Yukon issues. We didn't bring that to the floor of the Legislature, not the opposition side. It was the Acting Premier. So we have a right to ask what those issues are.
When the former Government Leader was asked that very same question, he provided an answer that anybody here in the Legislature or in the public can sit down and look at and at least derive an opinion on where this is at. What we have from the Acting Premier today is nothing more than a mockery to this institution.
Now, the Liberals may think this is funny, but it isn't. Nobody in the public is laughing about this joke, which the Liberals seem to think we're playing here in this Legislature. So, Mr. Chair, can the Acting Premier inform this Legislature and the Yukon public if, in fact, the Liberal government has issued a mandate for its negotiators to begin and/or continue land claim negotiations in this territory?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, so little time and so much to say. The only jocularity we have seen in this Legislature is from the members opposite, who laugh and joke their way through the entire proceedings.
I need to tell you a story, Mr. Chair. The story is about 76 days in the Yukon Legislature - not the past government but the one previous. And my father, who was a member of the Legislature at the time, was sitting in this Legislature and he told me about it. He would come home to my house at night, and we'd often break bread together, and he would tell me about the 76 days in the Yukon Legislature and about tag teams. The NDP at that time were in opposition, and they played tag team. Tag team was where one member from the side opposite, from the official opposition, would come in and ask a series of questions, really important questions, often about grader blades in Burwash or about issues that they knew darned well that the people in government could not possibly answer, and that they were legally unable to answer. But they'd ask the questions over and over and over and over again. And then they'd get up and leave, and the next person from the side opposite, the official opposition, which at that time was the NDP, would come in and ask exactly the same questions. That went on for 76 days, and it was totally unproductive. It was a total waste of time of this Yukon Legislature.
It cost an awful lot of money, and that's why the three leaders at the time - my father, the former Government Leader, and the former leader of the official opposition and the former Government Leader at that time - signed an agreement that they would expedite the business of the House by giving briefings, by being respectful of each other's duties here in the Legislature.
Mr. Chair, they're doing the same thing. They're playing tag team. One member from the official opposition, which is the NDP again, comes in and asks a bunch of questions and then leaves. Then another member from the NDP stands up and asks exactly the same questions, questions that they know can't be answered, questions that they know won't be answered. It's exactly the same behaviour, and you would think, Mr. Chair, that, after this great length of time and noticing that it's not successful, the members opposite in the official opposition, which are the NDP, would not continue the process. But they're doing it again. They're playing tag team.
Well, I have got all summer; it doesn't bother me. I rather enjoy being in the Yukon Legislature. I was voted in here to represent the people of Riverdale South and that's what I'm doing. That's what I did for four years; that's what I'm doing now.
The member opposite talks about mocking this Legislature. I have not mocked this Legislature. I have great esteem for the Yukon Legislature - great esteem. I do not repeat endlessly - over and over and over and over and over and over and over again - the same question.
The member opposite talks about the voting record. Certainly, we did vote against this budget when it came out. It's a financial instrument. We voted against it because we had no confidence in the former government. We had no confidence that they could take that money and put it into the Yukon economy. And you know what, Mr. Chair? The rest of the Yukon agreed with us.
Let's go back to some of the other comments - the rather unpleasant comments from the side opposite. We don't hire "minions", Mr. Chair; we hire very qualified people to work for us, and I presume - because I have great respect for the members of this Legislature - that they also hire very good people to work for them - very, very qualified people to work for them.
The last thing I would like to ask, Mr. Chair, is why, why are the members opposite trying to stall the passage of this budget? This was their budget; are they not proud of their budget? Do they not want that message to go out to the Yukon public? Are they not proud of it? Why are they trying to stall the passage of this budget?
Mr. Fentie: Well, I would like to thank the member opposite for the snapshot of yesteryear; however that was then and this is now and the government of the day has a duty to debate in this Legislature the issues that are on the floor. And we happen to be in general debate in Committee, and it happens to be the budget.
And, yes, we are very proud of the budget.
It's not a question of us wanting or not wanting to pass this budget. The question is: what does the Liberal government stand for? What is the Liberal government doing on behalf of Yukoners? What is the Yukon government's position on many, many issues? We haven't got any answers. It's not a stalling tactic. We're trying to find out why the Liberal government decided to do an about-face, a 360o, and support a budget they voted against, and then not inform Yukoners why or where they're taking Yukoners, or what's ahead of us - no answers. When it comes to mocking this Legislature, I think that the opposite side has done a pretty good job of that already, and we have only been here six days.
Mr. Chair, the member also makes reference to the fact that the rest of Yukon disagreed with the NDP government. I have pointed it out before in this Legislature, and I'm going to point it out again. There's a vast area in this territory outside of Whitehorse, with a lot of people in it. They had a different view. They didn't support the Liberals at all. So, the government we have here today in this Legislature is representative of the City of Whitehorse. How is the Liberal government going to handle that fact? You do not represent, by elected officials, rural Yukon at all.
Land claims in rural Yukon are as big as, or bigger than, the issues that it brings to the City of Whitehorse. Now, I ask again - and this not tag-teaming, nor is it repetition. This is a different question entirely. I'm asking the Acting Premier whether the Liberal government has, in fact - because they made land claims the top priority - instructed or given a mandate to its negotiators to proceed with negotiating and settling the remaining land claims in this territory?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The Yukon government, for as long as I can remember, has been committed to settling land claims in the Yukon Legislature. That commitment continues. I grew up here. We were settling land claims when I was a child. I grew up here. When I was a teenager, they were trying to settle land claims. I grew up here, and when I was a young adult, they were still trying to settle land claims. Now, I am a more mature adult, and we are still trying to settle land claims. This government is committed to settling land claims. We are committed to a respectful negotiation process. Part of that is not negotiating land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Fentie: Well, trying to find out if the government has in fact instructed negotiators, by a mandate, to now proceed with negotiating land claims, is not negotiating land claims on the floor of this Legislature. It is providing the members of this House and the Yukon public with the information that the government has instructed their negotiators to proceed or that the government, at this time, has not.
Can the Acting Premier inform this House whether or not the Liberal government of the day has now issued instructions to its negotiators to proceed with negotiating the remaining outstanding land claims in this territory.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Whatever instructions may or may not have happened to our negotiators on the land claims table is part of that negotiation process. And to be absolutely clear, we do not settle land claims or negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I have to take exception to that answer, because we are not, through this question that I've asked, negotiating land claims whatsoever. We are trying to find out whether the government has, in fact, now proceeded, by mandate and instructions to its negotiators, with negotiating the settlement of the remaining land claims in the Yukon.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The member opposite and I disagree. It's quite a surprise, but we do disagree. The member opposite's perception of land claims is totally different from this minister's perception of land claims. It is our perception, on this side of the House, that giving instructions on negotiations is part of the negotiation process, and we do not negotiate the settlement of land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Fentie: Okay, let's try it this way: what is the Acting Premier's perception of land claims?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Good grief. Mr. Chair, my perception of the land claims process - which has been ongoing in the Yukon Legislature for close to 30 years - is that there are Yukon First Nations who have a valid claim to land and to self-government here in the Yukon Territory, and the negotiation process is a three-party negotiation process between the First Nation, the federal government and the territorial government. It is a tripartite agreement that is reached. That is my perception of what land claims are, and you know what? This government will have a respectful negotiation process with people at the land claims table. We do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Fentie: Well, that's not much of a perception of land claims, because if the Acting Premier had any perception at all of Yukon land claims, one of the first things the member would have alluded to is the umbrella final agreement.
Therein lies a major portion of what the land claims and this territory are all about.
Let's try it again, Mr. Chair. The Liberal government, during the election, stated to the Yukon public that the answer to bringing certainty to this territory and the top priority of the Liberal government is the settlement of land claims. We are now a number of weeks into a new mandate. If the settlement of land claims is of such a high priority to the Liberal government, did the government, at this time, instruct the negotiators to proceed to negotiate the remaining land claims in this territory, or have they not instructed the negotiators at this time to proceed? Which is it?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we do not mention specifics; we do not mention direction. That is part of the negotiation process: respectful negotiations with Yukon's First Nations. I will read, however, for the member opposite our commitment on land claims, by the Yukon Liberal Party. We are now the government. (1) Fundamental of a strong Yukon economy is certainty of land tenure for resource development. Decades of negotiations have resulted in an umbrella final agreement and seven of 14 land claims being settled. First Nations and other Yukoners are frustrated that only one claim has been signed off in the past four years - that's under the NDP. Yukon Liberals will work with First Nations in a respectful and professional manner. (2) Make the settlement of the remaining land claims our top priority.
Mr. Fentie:Let's go about it this way: it's an important point to note that this side of the House represents 12 of the 14 First Nations.
I think that's a very important point to be made here.
So, this side of the House, representing 12 of 14 First Nations in this territory, is respectfully asking in a respectful manner the government of the day, the Liberal government, whether they have in fact issued instructions to their negotiators to proceed with the settlement of the remaining land claims in this territory.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, just a reminder to the member opposite: this side of the House represents Yukoners as government. To be absolutely clear, all of us represent our individual ridings. We represent our constituents.
Mr. Chair, dealing with instructions to negotiators, dealing with specifics on a specific claim, is, in our view and our policy, negotiating land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature, and we do not do that.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I had to make a couple of phone calls, and I did hear some of the debate that was going on. It's very apparent that we're not getting any answers from the Liberals because we have an Acting Premier, and I don't really believe she knows the answers so she's clinging to this line that she can't even answer the most basic question. I just heard her say that the Liberals have said that they're not, as a position, prepared to discuss any issues on a specific claim, yet I have read out quotes of the leader of the official opposition, the now Premier, who did just that, and we graciously explored at a high level some of the issues, and I don't know why the Liberals are refusing to be open.
We're not asking them to negotiate the claims. We're not asking them to do anything other than what we did when we were the government. After all, the Liberals campaigned on being more open and accountable. That's not what we're getting today.
There are many issues that are publicly discussed about land claims - about third-party interests, or preimplementation of renewable resource councils, or taxation issues around section 87, or whether or not it's forgiveness of loans, or whether or not it's economic development funding agreements or special management areas. These are all issues about land claims that are discussed in the public. We are not asking to know about the give and take of a particular claim. We are asking basic questions. Has the Premier directed officials to have a new mandate to approach the negotiations with - yes or no? Now an open government would stand up and say, "Yes, we have," or "No, we have not. We're still under the same mandate as the previous administration."
I mean, the responses we are getting today are really insulting to the opposition and to Yukoners. The former Government Leader was open with the members opposite at a high level about these issues, and I know that the members opposite feel that they have been given divine right to govern by the electorate, but, speaking from experience, I know that can evaporate pretty quickly and people can be very, very fast to judge.
And time will tell just how respectful a relationship exists at the end of four years between First Nations and this Liberal government. We have members elected here in the NDP caucus who have in their ridings 12 of the 14 First Nations in this territory. So, to put forward sweeping positions of divine right, as I've said, by the members opposite to govern is not fair. It's not open and it's not accountable. So we can't clear general debate. We are in another conundrum because we can't clear general debate until we get the most basic of answers.
Now the members opposite can say, "Well, that's no problem with us. We'll be here until the end of the summer, and we love to hear the official opposition debate with us," and, you know, thump their chests about how tough they are and say that they want to go all summer, which, we all know, are completely ridiculous statements by the members opposite.
But anyway, nobody here, frankly, wants to be here all summer. But we do want some basic answers about renewed mandates, and we would like to get some sense of what issues of a general nature are still on the table for the various claims, as we provided to the members opposite when we were on the other side of the Legislature, where they're sitting now.
You know, I read out a question from the then leader of the official opposition, now Premier. I think what's happening is that the Liberals are so enamoured with their election win, they feel they're above accountability - that somehow the members opposite are just nuisances that they should tread upon, that they should ignore, and let them get on with the business of governing this territory. Well, thankfully, it doesn't work that way in our democracy.
And we have substantive issues to discuss with the government, but we can't get any answers. We can't get any answers to the most basic, simple questions. Why? Because we have an Acting Premier, who is not well-briefed, who is enamoured with her election win, and who wants to show everybody that she's not going to answer any questions she doesn't want to. I don't think that's productive. We could have moved on a long time ago. The repetition in this House this afternoon is the result of a government that refuses to even answer, if you can believe this, whether or not they provided negotiators for the Carcross-Tagish First Nation land claim a new mandate or not. I mean, that's frankly stunning. That's completely ridiculous.
One wonders what will happen if we start asking about special management areas. And then we think about other issues that are of importance to people in this territory, and it's pretty clear, without a doubt, that we're going to get a government that is intransigent, that will stand up and say, "We won the election and we don't have to tell you anything." Standing up here and saying, under the guise of not negotiating land claims on the floor of this Legislature - well, of course we support that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Who was the Yukon government when the umbrella final agreement was concluded, and the first four band finals?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Exactly. It was negotiated by Yukon New Democrats. But we never shied away from discussing, at a high level with the opposition, the general tenets of the arrangements at the table. In response to another question by Ms. Duncan, November 1999, she asked about Yukon issues, territorial issues, and our leader at the time said that it depends on the claim. For example, on the Carcross-Tagish land claim, there are some minor lands issues that I'm certain can be resolved quickly. They don't appear to be significant, but they're not what's holding up the land claim. As I indicated, there are some loan repayment issues that are large and are shared by Kluane, Carcross and certainly the Kaska, who have expressed strong opinions on that point. I'm certain that Kwanlin Dun would have an interest as well, although I haven't specifically heard of their interest in that issue. There are also tax issues that fall out from people's interpretations of the Nisga'a claim, and also fall out from the concerns that some First Nations, which are settling late, have with respect to their ability to enjoy a certain tax holiday after the claim is negotiated, similar to that which was enjoyed by the first four First Nations that had a four-year tax holiday after the claim was negotiated.
It is an issue with respect to that, which the First Nations have raised with the federal government. There are, as well, some ongoing, inherent right negotiations, which, I believe, should not hold up negotiations. There are certainly sufficient irritations on that front to cause trouble for the land claims negotiating team.
Then he went on to speak about the Kaska claim, the transboundary issues, and the Ross River claims still being negotiated - and progress is being made with that claim. Then we talked about Kwanlin Dun. He said that, of course, there is Kwanlin Dun. Well, there was a period when very little of substance was going on with Kwanlin Dun. That has changed, and negotiations are going along at a pace, and we are trying to continue to conclude that claim. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next three and a half years on that particular claim. That's a brief dissertation as to where those stand.
The former Government Leader went on and on, when questioned by Liberal members, about high-level issues. He wasn't engaging in negotiations on the floor of the Legislature, but he was simply giving a sense of whether there were new mandates, what the approach was to implementation and loan repayment.
There is a new government here. I can't just turn to my colleagues on the left and right side of me and ask them. It's a new government. We need to know if there's a new mandate. So I would respectfully submit to the members opposite that what we should do is simply stand over general debate until we can get some answers from appropriate people on the issues.
We would be more than willing to do that and move into Tourism, where the member might have more knowledge - perhaps she has been briefed on the many issues there - and proceed. Then we can carry on with the Premier.
Chair: If everybody is in agreement, we'd like to take a recess and have the House leaders discuss this, if so agreed, to stand over debate?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: As everybody is in agreement, we will take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
The government House leader did not agree to set aside general debate. Committee will continue with general debate on the estimates.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, it's interesting. The opposition tries to be accommodating in the House, much more accommodating than the government, offers to stand over general debate on an issue until the Premier can answer questions because there's obviously no knowledge on the key issues by the Acting Premier, and the government decides that that's not acceptable to them. That says something about this Liberal government, this government that was supposed to bring a new manner of decorum to this House and a new approach to the Legislature. I think this is anything but that.
To have an Acting Premier who does not know the answer to basic questions of policy on land claims, which is supposed to be their top priority, and expect the opposition to somehow assume that that is good enough, is frankly barking up the wrong tree. So, we proposed to stand over rather than engage in an endless series of responses by the Acting Premier of standing up, saying she doesn't know anything.
It's pointless, so we propose something to alleviate that and move on in the debate. Again, the Liberals use their majority to say, "No, we're going to have our Acting Premier stand up and say nothing." Might as well put a tape recorder there. But the problem is that these are serious issues. This is our top priority, and we can't get any answers.
You know, Mr. Chair, we can't get any answers even though I have proven and established that the same questions we are asking today were asked by the Liberals when they were on this side of the House, in opposition, and we answered them. The difference was that the person answering at that time, the Government Leader, knew the answers.
The Acting Premier today is either evasive or unknowing, and I would suggest both. So, we say, as an opposition, "What's the point of this? Why don't we talk to the Premier?" Now, the Liberals might say, "Well, the Premier wouldn't answer the question any differently." Well, I'd like to prove that, because if that's the case, I'd like to hear it first-hand, because if the Premier answers the same way as the Acting Premier, this will be a major issue. Right now, nobody really cares what the Acting Premier says, so it's not a major issue. But if the Premier comes to this House and answers and acts in the manner of the member opposite, the Acting Premier, that's an issue, because the minister responsible is not being open and accountable, in even the most basic way.
That would cause us to take some issue. This debate this afternoon is irrelevant given the answers of the Acting Premier, because she has not participated in any intelligible way in the debate, other than to state that they believe in land claims. Well, wonderful. We don't dispute that, even though some of their actions bring that into question. We would just like to know if they have given direction to the negotiators in the Carcross-Tagish claim and some other claims, which presents a different mandate.
We aren't even going to ask the details of that mandate. We just want to know if there has been a new policy under a new government. It's one thing to stand up and thump your chest and say that you're going to resolve the issues that you accuse the NDP of not negotiating in good faith on or not resolving. It's another thing to say that you've given new direction on outstanding issues.
The member opposite's response has been to read a stale letter of five months ago - or whenever it was - from the Carcross-Tagish First Nation chief and introduced the issue into the debate - the issue of a specific claim - followed up by the Acting Premier saying, "We're making efforts to conclude this claim." Then when we asked what those efforts might be, as to whether there is any negotiated proposal that changes the mandate or whether there is a statement of direction from the Premier that changes the mandate, they say that they won't negotiate on the floor of the Legislature. That's preposterous. We're not asking her to negotiate on the floor of the Legislature. We're not giving and taking on behalf of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. We're simply asking a question that the Liberals used to ask when they were over here and, irony of ironies, to which they got very good answers from an NDP government.
Today this bunch opposite who promised Yukoners a different style of government - less confrontational - doesn't even provide that. And to follow that up, when the opposition proposes that they stand down on this particular item so that it can be discussed in detail with the Premier and we move on in the debate to perhaps some line items in the budget or legislation so that the time of the House is not wasted with non-answers from an Acting Premier, they say no.
It's a fundamentally different position from what they said they were going to do for Yukoners. Fundamentally different.
So, we're here, not moving ahead, with motion debate tomorrow, back into general tomorrow night. Thursday. Monday we can ask the Premier. It's in the control of government.
Now, if I ask about transboundary issues, is the member opposite going to be able to tell me if there has been any change in mandate on the transboundary claim with the Kaska? Let's start there. Could she tell me?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, when the member, the interim leader of the official opposition, was a House leader and I was a House leader, we used to have meetings upstairs at the table, in what is now my office, and we would talk about debate for the next day, and we did not call debate on a department if we knew that the critic from one of the parties was not in the House. We wanted to make sure at that time that everyone had ample chance to talk about that particular department.
The member opposite is playing games with the situation, using the rules of the House to his own ends. The member opposite thought that he had divine guidance to govern the Yukon. He said it earlier in the debate. I couldn't believe it - absolutely couldn't believe it - that it was his divine right to govern at the time.
Mr. Chair, this government has respect for all members of the House. This government wants to discuss the next budgets properly. We will do that. We have respect for all members of the House. The member opposite is confused. He's not getting answers he wants; therefore, he thinks he's not getting answers. The answers they gave when they were in government are vastly different from the answers he's getting now. He's unhappy about that. I feel sorry for him.
The member opposite has asked for our policy - of course, general debate is all about policy. It's about policy on issues. He has asked about our policy on land claims. We have given it to him, ad nauseum, since the beginning of the day.
Our policy is that land claims are a top priority with this government. They are very important to this government, and we are doing everything we can to deal with land claims. Part of that is not negotiating specifics, not talking about specifics on the floor of this Legislature and not doing negotiations on the floor of this Legislature. If the former Government Leader felt that he could do that, then that was their policy. Our policy is that we do not do that.
We have checked with our officials. This is absolutely correct. Asking for instructions given to negotiators at the land claims table is affecting negotiations. We do not do that. We do not negotiate on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Now, the member opposite is not going to like that answer. He has not liked it the last 27 times that I've given it, but that is our policy. Just because he doesn't like it, doesn't mean that he's not getting an answer.
The member opposite is quite correct. They did author this budget. We are passing it here on this side of the House. What amazes me is that the member opposite is delaying the passage of his budget - his former budget. Are they not proud of that budget? Do they not want those dollars to go out and fund the Yukon Family Services Association so that they can do counselling? Is the member opposite not proud of the authorship that he brought to this particular budget? Why is he trying to delay it? Over and over and over again he asks the same question, and I give the same answer. He asks what our policy is, and I say what our policy is.
Mr. Chair, that's just the way it is. That's just the way it is.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, that was a very silly statement by the member; one of many this afternoon. First of all, she just accused us of delaying it. But this is the party over here that just proposed standing over this item and moving on to something else so that we can engage the Premier. They said no. They used their majority to say, "No, we are going to continue to give you this, because we won and you lost." She said that we are getting different answers than we gave when we were the government. That couldn't be any closer to the truth. We are getting very different answers. We are getting no answers.
If the member thinks that by saying that they've given negotiators a new mandate that that is negotiating in public, it's no wonder that nothing happened at the gold show when the new Premier and Bob Nault got together, because they obviously don't have an inkling of what negotiating is.
Because they're not negotiating by saying they have instructed a new mandate. They're not negotiating by saying that there are some basic issues with regard to the federal government or the territorial, and what they may be or alluding to them.
So, on every count, the member is wrong, wrong, wrong. She is right about one thing though: she can stand and delay all she wants. It's her right, absolutely. She can stand and answer the same question all she wants.
She said that the general debate was about policy on issues. It's interesting, you know, that the Liberals said that it is their policy not to discuss land claims issues on the floor of the Legislature. I would like to know when that policy became a reality, because they discussed them all the time, only a couple of months ago, sitting on this side of the Legislature. I don't know where the consistency is in that argument either. Because when Ms. Duncan, the now Premier, asked us if there were any issues, strictly YTG issues, that the Government Leader felt were a difficult negotiating point at that point, she got answers. It certainly wasn't a Liberal policy then to not discuss issues pertaining to land claims in the Legislature, was it?
Today the Acting Premier, with her self-professed divine right to govern, has just dictated that the Liberals have a new policy. So, that leaves us shut out in the opposition. I asked her a specific question about transboundary claims. Is there a new position given to the negotiators for YTG on the transboundary issues? Or, does it remain the same as with the previous government?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, let's go back. The member opposite negotiates one way, his government negotiated one way. We negotiate another. Their policy was to discuss specifics on the floor of the Legislature. That is not our government's policy. We do not discuss specifics about specific claims or specific issues on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. We also do not discuss direction given to negotiators at the land claims table on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. That may have been the policy of the previous government, but it is not ours.
The member opposite asked about transboundary claims. Is there a new position? Once again, this affects one of Yukon's First Nations. The transboundary-claim issues deal with Yukon First Nations, and, as we have said - this is now the twenty-eighth time - we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: The Liberal government is completely embarrassing itself here. I'm just asking them if they have given a new mandate to the negotiators to resolve the issues, not to negotiate. It's a very, very arrogant response that the member is giving us. Sure, it affects the ultimate conclusion, but it doesn't affect the negotiation to tell us there's a new mandate. It's not negotiating. Is there a new mandate?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we have been arguing semantics for most of the afternoon. The minister - pardon me, my goodness, what a slip. The interim leader of the official opposition negotiated one way. We negotiate another. The interim leader of the official opposition is saying that if we give direction to the negotiators, there will be a new mandate, that's there's a new way of negotiating, then that is not talking about specifics of the negotiating process. That is very much talking about specifics of the negotiating process. When we give direction as a government to the negotiators at the land claims table, that is specific and that is part of the negotiating process. We do not negotiate Yukon First Nation land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: So there has been no change in the mandates to any of the particular First Nations. It's the only thing we can conclude. And that wouldn't surprise me because there has been no change on anything else. They bring in our budget and the word from the bureaucracy is that the government has no new ideas, that they are completely fixated on reviewing and trying to change aspects of NDP programs and given them a new name and re-announcing them. That's what the complete doctrine - so far enunciated to the bureaucracy - is of this particular administration.
We haven't seen one new policy announcement. We saw an angel-food-cake throne speech. We had, two days in a row, the Education Minister stand up and say, "I'm still being briefed" on matters that he's the minister responsible for - where he should be providing the direction. It's a simple matter. On the doorstep, I'm sure the Liberals didn't say they wouldn't say what they're going to do until they read the briefing books.
I mean, it was hilarious yesterday. It was all over the radio today, with the Health minister doing the reversal on the continuing care facility. "I've read my briefing notes and I've concluded that this is a job well done." We should have got the Health minister to read the briefing book before the election perhaps, and then the Liberals may have supported where the continuing care facility was being placed -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Yeah, it was almost painful to watch that display. I had a meeting with the officials and, by golly, it was a good idea after all and all that stuff about the NDP treating seniors like second-class citizens and, you know, the Member for Whitehorse Centre was involved in some of that. He criticized, extensively, where it was. Lo and behold, he didn't know what was in those briefing notes. He didn't know that it was a job well done. As a matter of fact, the Health minister went on to say, "It's a model for how all decisions should be made."
Good work, NDP - second-class citizens. That's what they said before the election. This is a bunch that stands up and tells people that they are going to do what they say. Yukoners don't know when this government said something to get elected or when they said something that they actually meant they were going to implement. They can't tell. There's a daily reversal. We don't know what is next. A particular minister will read in their briefing book that they will, lo and behold, find us more models of the performance of excellent public government on behalf of the NDP government, but we anxiously await hearing more about that.
Let me ask the member opposite, in general debate on the land claims process, what types of questions does she consider to be in order. What issues will she talk about? Are there any?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Let's go back. One of the most refreshing days in the Yukon Legislature was the day when the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, who at the time was the minister responsible for Yukon Housing, stood on his feet and said, "I don't have all the details with me now, but I will get back to you on that issue." That was one of the most wonderful days in the Yukon Legislature, because it was the only answer we got for four years and it was an honest one, and it was much, much appreciated. We're doing that here and members opposite are having a problem with that.
We have been in here for 20 days, and it's not an excuse. We are responsible. We take complete responsibility for the Government of the Yukon. We are here, we were elected to do our jobs, and we're doing that.
The member opposite has his version of the election and we have ours.
The member opposite repeats and repeats and repeats the same story. He constantly brings issues and subjects and details to the Legislature that are questionable. We always go out and question whatever he brings to the floor of the Legislature, because many, many times they have not been accurate representations.
The member opposite asked what this member thinks is an appropriate subject for general debate. He has been here for eight years. He knows what is appropriate for general debate. I have been here for four - I know what's appropriate. Mr. Chair, what is appropriate is a general policy discussion on the budget before us. This is general debate. The member opposite knows it; I know it; everybody in this room knows that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Harding: Well, what land claims issues can we talk about, then?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Twenty-nine times we have stood on the floor of this Legislature and stated our position or policy on land claims and the settlement of land claims. Despite that, the member opposite has asked the same question over and over and over again. He has asked for specifics. He has asked what direction has been given by this government to the negotiators at the land claims table. He knows those are questions we will not answer, because we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Over and over and over again, he repeats, he repeats, he repeats. The member opposite is famous for repeating things over and over and over again, until he thinks they become reality in the minds of the Yukon public. But they are not. They are figments of the member opposite's imagination. Just because you repeat it over and over and over again, it doesn't become reality. It becomes a mindset. It becomes a mindset that is not productive, and it doesn't help us to move this debate along any better than it is moving along right now.
I don't know - if I were the author of this budget, and if I had gone out and spoken to Yukoners, if I knew this was the product - this budget that I'm holding in my hand, the mains for 2000-01 - of an awful lot of consultation with Yukoners, then I would be proud of it. I would want it to go through. I would want this budget to be passed and that money to go out to the Yukon public and be spent, because that was a message that was given by the previous government about what they thought their priorities were.
I would have been proud if this had been the budget that we had authored. When our budgets come forward, I will be proud of them, because I will know that they are the product of consultation with all Yukoners. I will know that it is the best to bring forward. The member opposite is not proud of this budget. He wants us to sit here, languishing on the floor of this Legislature, while he endlessly asks the same question, over and over and over again.
Well, I'm fine with that, Mr. Chair, if that's what he would like to do. It's his business, if that's the way he wants to conduct debate. I know - and this is the real shame of it, Mr. Chair - that the member opposite is a wonderful debater. He can debate things in such a way that you would actually believe what he's saying. Even without the acting lessons, he did a great debate.
Mr. Chair, it would be wonderful if we could move forward on this budget and talk about some of the substantive issues that are represented here in this budget today.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, she just said that land claims are not substantive issues. I think land claims are substantive issues. I didn't ask the member for specifics of the new mandate. I asked her if she has given any new mandate instructions or new policies from the previous administration to the negotiators. There is a fundamental difference here in that question, if she understands it. Maybe she doesn't. I don't know. I tried to explain it to her.
She also says that she knows what is eligible for debate in general debate. She knows very well. That is a very true statement. I'm shocked today, but I shouldn't be so shocked, because it is readily apparent from the members opposite that they are more than prepared to be belligerent in the House and exercise their majority. She is conveniently forgetting that we have already proposed to stand this item over and move into other areas.
We could have been into line-by-line and moving things along. It's the Liberal government's choice to stay on this issue, not ours. We made a proposal, on the record, on the floor of this Legislature, so she's the one who wishes to continue to stand here and say she's not going to answer any questions about a new mandate for the negotiators. She's not going to answer any questions, even though she expected the NDP, as did her Premier, to answer those questions, and we did.
Is she saying now that, in Executive Council Office debate, answers to these questions should be and would be provided, as they were by the previous NDP government?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, when we get to the ECO departmental debate, the minister responsible will answer those questions.
Mr. Harding: Well, that's interesting; that's good, okay. Well, that brings a new perspective to it, Mr. Chair. The Acting Premier has just said that the questions I've been asking will be answered by the Premier when we get to Executive Council Office debate.
So, Mr. Chair, I would say to the member opposite that if that's the case, why is she avoiding answering them now?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, here's the rub: the member opposite may not like the answers that he gets during departmental debate, and the answers that we're giving today will be the same answers as they are in the departmental debate. That's just the way it is. The member opposite doesn't like the answers he's getting. Those are the answers he's getting. He is getting answers. He doesn't like them. They're not the answers that they gave when they were government, but that was then and this is now.
Mr. Harding: They love this, you know - they won, we lost, and they're the government and they have a majority. They're going to keep saying it -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Right. I think they've reached their crescendo electorally, that's for sure. They love saying that, and it's great. Keep it up. And every time it gets a few chuckles and thumps on the chest, pats on the back from their colleagues, it's great. I love it.
You know, Mr. Chair, we haven't got any answers, and I don't like the answers because the government has broken another promise to be open and accountable. That this is actually an open and accountable government is just a big joke now in the Yukon public's mind.
And it's amazing, actually, to me, so soon after the election. I would have thought the honeymoon would have been a lot longer, but it's already starting to unravel.
One saw the article yesterday. We had one minister triumphantly say that he'd resolved the YTA negotiations in a matter of a couple of weeks, whereas the previous government took months. Famous last words there. He'd better hope that the vote goes not for conciliation because, my goodness, we have some wonderful questions for the now Minister of Justice. We'll be bringing up some lovely quotes, which will be another broken promise by the Liberals.
And, you know, it's only a matter of time. In Whitehorse I think the election here was won or lost by about 400 or 500 votes altogether, and it's just tick, tick, tick. I've already had some e-mails and comments from people who felt that, on these issues, it was Argus or where the continuing care facility was going to be, those seniors who voted for the Liberals who wanted the continuing care facility in a different location - well, they didn't realize that the Liberals didn't mean what they said.
They didn't know that the new minister from the Liberals was going to read about all the good work the previous minister did and declare that this was an all-clear - a go-ahead. As a matter of fact, it was a model for how decisions should be made by government.
So, here we have the top priority of the Liberal government and we can't discuss it. It's absurd. Very disappointing.
The member may be right, the Premier might come back and take the same position - they seem to hunt in packs - but I'd like to hear that for myself. So, we proposed an alternative to the members opposite and they said, "No, we've got a majority. We won't stand over this debate and move into the lines. We're going to keep refusing to tell the opposition anything about whether we've even provided any new mandates to any of our negotiators on the land claims situation. And further to that, even though we expected the NDP government to give us a broad, high-level sketching of the issues in the remaining claims, we will refuse to do that as well, because we are the government."
So much for a new kind of Legislature. So much for open government. So much for honesty and accountability. I think, Mr. Chair, when we look back on this legislative session and the themes that have developed about this government - the fact that they break their promises - the fact that they are arrogant, taunting, like to gloat about their win - the fact that they played upon people's emotions in opposition only to dash those expectations they, themselves, created - the fact that they don't seem to have any direction whatsoever, or any of their own new ideas, are going to become quite prevalent in the thinking of Yukon society.
It reminds me of 1992, the first session I sat in with the Yukon Party - very similar. They were very similar to the members opposite.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: As a matter of fact, the Premier was trying to get in with the Yukon Party at that time, or was that the Independent Alliance? Oh yeah, it was both. That's right. Both that member that I'm talking to, the Acting Premier, and the Premier were both charter members of the Independent Alliance as well.
That Yukon Party government did much the same as the members opposite. "We're the government; we're not going to tell you," and that's it.
Mr. Chair, on fundamental issues, that's a difficult position to sustain. It's one thing to take that position on some inconsequential issues, but on land claims, surely the members on this side, that have 12 of the 14 First Nations in the entire territory represented in their constituencies, are entitled to some sense of whether or not there's even a change in the negotiating mandate and some sense as to whether or not there are some land issues or renewable resource issues or special management area issues.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: The hon. Member for Mount Lorne, on a point of order.
Ms. Tucker: Under section 19(1)(j), the use of language of a nature likely to create disorder - I'd like to point out that the member, the Acting Premier, has never been a member of the Alliance, and that that was incorrect.
Chair: There is no point of order here; that's a dispute. It's a dispute between members. There is no point of order.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I urge the member - ask the Clerk - to inspect the charter of the Independent Alliance. And she will find the names of the Premier and the Member for Riverdale South. I think they are 73 and 109 on the list. And she'll find out and, hopefully, come to the House to apologize - maybe tomorrow, just before Question Period.
So, I live by what we said, and the member opposite can check it out for herself because we did. She's a little red over there right now, the Acting Premier, and I don't blame her.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Yes, it's not Liberal red.
But you had to be a member in order to sign this list. It wasn't just a petition. You had to be a member. The document says that these are the members. Of course, we also know that the Premier also tried to run for the Yukon Party but didn't want to run in a contested nomination.
Anyway, that's really neither here nor there. I was just making the point that I have seen this before. So it warms my heart to see this kind of attitude. However, it's a shame how the Liberals are acting because it has done a disservice to the people in the territory.
What's that first rule to live by when you're a lawyer? You never ask a question you don't already know the answer to. The House leader might want to check into that thesis. The way the Liberals have performed, signalling to this House that, even on the most cursory, high-level plane, they will not even tell Yukoners and this House - the people of this territory - if they've even changed the negotiating mandates. That is an unsustainable position, and we will test this theory with the Premier, and I will bet the members opposite that they can't sustain it because the Yukon public won't stand for it. They won't stand for a government that comes in with all the answers to land claims, talks about all the issues prior to the election, scopes them out, talks about section 87, says that this isn't a difficult resolution and then - presto - becomes the government and says, "We are not even prepared to let people know whether we've even provided a new policy to the negotiators." The member thinks it's a policy to say that we believe in land claims as our top priority? That's not a policy; that's just an airy political statement, a group hug. That's not a policy. It's true the Liberals don't stand for anything, if that's what they think a policy is. A policy is a statement of intent, a belief, a direction, a desire to implement a certain objective, one that's clear. It has to have some detail, some substance. None exists in the statements from the member so far.
And it's unfortunate when one considers the gravity of the situation, given what has happened with Bob Nault's recent performance in the Yukon. And, I think it was on the radio this morning, very clearly, that the Premier didn't know or didn't want to answer a question about Bob Nault's recent position taken in the territory. So perhaps the Acting Premier and the Premier are completely consistent, they are simply going to refuse to tell the Yukon public what they are going to do about land claims - keeping Yukoners in the dark. Now maybe that's a reflection that they don't yet know what they intend to do, but, rather, I think it's a reflection of a lack of knowledge as to how to proceed. If that's the case, they should just stand up and say, "We're still assessing the options. We haven't given any direction yet to the negotiators to change the mandates. We haven't formulated and thought through the issues well enough yet, given the information we have obtained and the meetings that we have had with the Grand Chief and with the Kaska leadership"- et cetera, et cetera - "or the Kwanlin Dun leadership, but we'll be thinking that through some more and we'll provide new direction to the negotiators." But, worse than that, they said, "We're working hard at the table to negotiate conclusion on the issues." But they won't say what issues, and they won't say if they provided new direction. That's an affront to the Yukon public.
I certainly respect the sanctity of the negotiations - the fact that, in land claim negotiations, the substantive discussions should be done between the parties. But it is important for the Yukon public that the public government state a general sense of direction, certain limitations, certain principles and policies as to how they want to approach the negotiations.
That goes further than saying, "We believe land claims is our top priority; we will settle land claims."
I don't know if the Acting Premier was ever a member of the Yukon Party or participated, like the Premier, in their events and functions. I don't know how long she was a member of the Independent Alliance. But maybe that's where some of this is coming from.
Let me say, unequivocally, that it is an affront for the members opposite to behave in the manner they are. We are not going to be able to stop them. We can't. We don't have that authority. They can answer in any way they want. I think the Standing Orders reference that very clearly. There is no obligation for a member to even answer a question. As a matter of fact, the member could sit there all afternoon. The former Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, previous to the current member, used to do that quite often - simply not answer any questions in Committee of the Whole, just sit there. They have that right, Mr. Chair.
But is it conducive to public accountability? Is it appropriate professionalism? Is it appropriate action with the reins of public government in the members' opposite hands? I think not. Is it an appropriate position for the Liberals to say, "We will not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature"? Absolutely. But, we are not asking them to do that.
We don't even know, frankly, Mr. Chair, what we are allowed to ask and what we're not allowed to ask. I asked the Acting Premier what land claims issues she believes we can even ask about, and she said that we were limited to her policy statement, which is, "We believe in land claims; it is our top priority." Can you imagine that?
People who have been around here for a long time in this Legislature, and people who have watched the debate - could they believe that answer from the Liberal government? They'd be shaking their heads, saying this is an extreme, in terms of positioning by a new government. And I can assure the members opposite that they won't be able to sustain it in Question Period, because the media won't stand for it, either. And right now, they don't think that the opposition speaks for, or to, the Yukon public because they have just won the election. But they can, and they will. It will take some time. They are still riding high on the election win. But eventually, they'll start making decisions. They might even have a policy or position out sometime in the future. People will start getting upset with them. It's already starting to happen in some areas. I have seen some literature about their position on the YTA negotiations around F.H. Collins, and I've talked to a few teachers. I talked to some teachers who had never voted against any collective agreement that this government had proposed, but who have voted against this particular initiative. As I understand it - I'm sketchy on some of the details - some of the teachers had already voted.
So, with that, I move you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 2, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2000-01, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:28 p.m.