Thursday, June 15, 2000 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: O Great Spirit, Creator and leader of all people, we are thankful to be gathered here today. O Great Spirit, I ask that you touch and bless each and every one of us in this House. Grant that we, the elected members, will make only strong, fair, sound decisions on behalf of the people we represent throughout the Yukon.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce Bea Firth, the former sitting Member for Riverdale South.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling It's All About the Future, the Yukon Liberal platform document from the previous election.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling a document.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the federal Liberal gun control legislation, Bill C-68, does not recognize that firearms are an integral part of the lives of northern Canadians and that the need for a firearm differs between Old Crow and Toronto; and
THAT this House urges the Liberal Yukon government to use its special relationship with the federal Liberal government to exempt Canada's north of 60 from the gun control law by tying its application to the northern allowances section of the Income Tax Act.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Firearms (gun control) Act (Federal Bill C-68): Supreme Court decision
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House to comment on the decision released by the Supreme Court of Canada today regarding the firearms reference. I am very disappointed in the decision, but remind Yukoners that it is a decision on the constitutionality of the law, not the merits of the law.
The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal by the provinces and territories challenging the Firearms Act, Statutes of Canada, commonly referred to as the gun control law, which requires the holders of all firearms to obtain licences and to register their guns.
The court decided that the only issue was whether or not Parliament has the constitutional authority to enact the law. They concluded that it was not an issue of whether gun control is good or bad, whether the law is fair or unfair to gun owners, or whether it will be effective or ineffective in reducing the harm caused by the misuse of firearms. The court stated that the gun control law comes within Parliament's jurisdiction over criminal law. The court found that legislation might be classified as criminal law, if it possess three prerequisites: a valid criminal law purpose, backed by a prohibition and a penalty. The court found that the fact that some of the provisions of the Firearms Act are not contained within the Criminal Code has no significance for the purposes of constitutional classification. Although the criminal law power is broad, it is not unlimited - "A properly restrained understanding of the criminal law power guards against this possibility."
The court found that the regulation of guns as dangerous products is a valid purpose within the criminal law power. The court concluded that, "the issue before us is whether or not the licensing and registration provisions in the Firearms Act, as they relate to ordinary firearms, were validly enacted by Parliament."
While we may not agree with this law and its impact on law-abiding citizens, nevertheless it is the duty of the Minister of Justice and the government as well as the people of Yukon to defer to the courts and Parliament. Our obligation is to respect the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada and to follow the law.
Yukoners have collectively opposed this legislation and stood together in their opposition to it. The courts have ruled, and we accept this decision. The ruling changes nothing for Yukoners. The federal government has administered the firearms registration in the Yukon since April 1, 1999. That will continue. We will pursue our opposition at a political level and would welcome the assistance of all parties.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to address this most important issue.
Ms. Netro: The first thing I think about when I hear the word "gun" is respect. That's how I was raised. All the women in my family are hunters and trappers. We use guns for survival. We shoot game for food and clothing, and we treat the animals with respect so that they will be there to ensure future survival.
In our tradition, a gun is presented as an honourable gift from a father or a grandfather to their son or grandson as a symbol of reaching adulthood. Bill C-68 is an intrusion on all First Nations' traditional way of life. I was disappointed that the federal Justice minister, Anne McLellan, refused to meet with the Council of Yukon First Nations. She said that there has already been enough consultation, but the consultation process on Bill C-68 did not respond to issues raised by Yukon citizens.
The Liberals did not want to listen to the public. The Liberal government was determined to impose its gun law on all Canadians, regardless of the differences between living in urban centres like Toronto and Montreal and living in Old Crow or in Whitehorse.
Here, in the Yukon, guns are used as tools. When northerners travel in the bush, we carry a gun for safety. Yukon people are responsible in the way they use guns. This law has not recognized that.
Mr. Speaker, the political opposition to this gun control bill will not change the Liberal government's mind. The cost of mandatory gun registration has gone well beyond original estimates. There is still no evidence that this law will have any impact on the use of firearms in the commission of crimes.
Our caucus is extremely disappointed by the Supreme Court decision announced today. The minister's statement points out that the court only ruled that the law is constitutional. It did not say if it is a good law, a fair law, or even an effective law. Certainly, northern people do not think it is a good law or a fair law.
In her final response, I hope that the minister will tell us how she intends to use the special relationship that this government claims to have with the federal Liberals to make sure that northern concerns are being heard and taken into consideration in the future.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party, I am pleased to respond to the ministerial statement on Bill C-68.
Mr. Speaker, this is a sad day for Canadians. The federal Liberal gun control legislation, Bill C-68, is a bad law. It is a law that is fundamentally flawed and punishes law-abiding Canadians, not the criminals. It is obvious that the Liberal drafters of this bad law never lived in the bush or off the land, where a gun is a tool.
Some of its provisions are just plain stupid, Mr. Speaker. Can you imagine a Yukon trapper, living in an isolated trapper's cabin, having to store his rifle in one cabin and building another cabin just to store his ammunition? How foolish can you get?
The search and seizure provisions of the law are something you would find under a dictatorship or in a communist country, not in a parliamentary democracy such as Canada.
This is a law that is designed to placate the fears of Canadians living in large metropolitan centres. It does nothing for the lifestyle of northerners. It is a law that does not respect the lifestyle of aboriginal Canadians. It is a law that does not reflect or deal with reality. Reality is that 95 percent of all violent crimes in Canada do not involve firearms. Reality is that 80 percent of deaths in Canada by firearms are actually suicides. Reality is that only one percent of accidental deaths in Canada involve firearms.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I notice in the statement that the minister stated: "While we may not agree with this law..." I want to make it abundantly clear - crystal clear, in fact - that we, on this side of the House, and the majority of Yukoners, do not agree with this bad Liberal law.
Once again, we have the Yukon Liberal position sitting on the fence: they may not agree with the law. Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party anticipated this response from the Supreme Court of Canada and during the recent election campaign proposed that Canada north of 60 be declared a gun control-free zone. Minutes ago, I tabled a motion that we believe would alleviate the impact of this unjust law, at least upon northern Canadians.
We are proposing that the federal Liberal government recognize that the lifestyle of northern Canada is different. If the Government of Canada can recognize the difference through the Income Tax Act, through its northern allowance provision, why can't it do the same in relationship to the application of the gun control law? All that the Yukon Party is proposing is that the federal government utilize the same concept.
Mr. Speaker, I have stated that the Yukon Party intends to be a constructive opposition. While it is my job to critique the performance of the new Liberal government, I will also be proposing solutions. I trust the Yukon Liberal government will accept the Yukon Party's proposal, support my motion, and use their special relationship with their federal counterparts in Ottawa to gain consideration for it.
The minister says that the ruling changes nothing for Yukoners. A lot of Yukoners will disagree with the minister, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the members opposite. I will stress once again that the Supreme Court ruling handed down this morning was on the constitutionality of Bill C-68, not on its merits. We need to remember that. It is that decision that we are addressing this afternoon, and I hope the members aren't suggesting in their comments that the Supreme Court was being less than impartial in its unanimous decision. The independence of the judiciary at all levels is one of the fundamental elements of our democratic system.
From most of what the members say, it's obvious that we agree in our reaction to this decision. I note with interest that Alexa McDonough and the federal NDP are in favour of Bill C-68. It's interesting, Mr. Speaker, that both territorial Liberals and territorial New Democrats are opposed to their federal counterparts. Yukon Liberals have been opposed to this legislation from the beginning, Mr. Speaker, and we have spoken out about it in this House, in the media and with the federal government. The late Senator Paul Lucier spoke passionately against this legislation in the Senate of Canada. The current senator, Ione Christensen, is working actively in opposition to the legislation.
It is no secret that I do not like Bill C-68. Laws designed to address a big city problem have no relevance to rural and remote areas of the country. How registering a gun is going to prevent crime has yet to be explained so that I can comprehend it. Education, working to eliminate poverty, reducing drug and alcohol abuse will all have a far greater effect on reducing crime than registering guns will.
The Yukon Liberal government will continue to lobby against the gun control legislation and encourage the opposition in the Yukon Legislature to assist us in that effort since they agree with us on this point. The gun legislation is the law of the land. The Supreme Court has made its ruling and, as law-abiding Yukoners, we will govern ourselves accordingly. As Minister of Justice, it is incumbent upon me to advise that it is an offence to counsel others to break the law. We will pursue this at a political level and continue to attempt to have changes made to the gun control legislation. And, as I said, nothing will change for Yukoners as a result of this morning's ruling, which is what we are speaking about here this afternoon. The federal government has administered the firearms registration in the Yukon since April 1, 1999, and will continue to do so.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Highway funding
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, in opposition the Liberals had a lot to say about spending on our highway system. Now, two months later into their mandate, Yukoners have yet to hear a peep from them about this important matter.
Well, Mr. Speaker, as critic for the Department of Community and Transportation Services for the official opposition, the New Democratic caucus, it is my job to hold the government accountable to the public on promises they made with respect to our highways. One such promise by the Liberals was to increase highway maintenance.
My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. How much does she intend to increase highway spending, and why didn't the Liberal government do what it said it was going to do by putting it in the supplementary budget?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the member opposite is so passionate about an increase to highway funding when it was his government that cut the funding, and the government before that, the Yukon Party government. The capital budget for highways has gone from approximately $20 million a year about eight years ago, to less than $4 million now. The previous governments were cutting where it didn't show. And we are to the point now where we need to restore funding to highways. However, since the surplus they left us is not where they have stated, it's going to be a little tricky to accomplish that. Once we pass this budget, we can work on this little problem.
Mr. McRobb: She didn't answer the question, and the reason I'm so passionate about this matter is that it's my job to hold them accountable to what they promised to Yukoners. And now that they are in government, it's up to us to hold them accountable to do it, to do what they said they were going to do.
This is an important matter to Yukoners. The Premier told Yukoners that increased highway spending would start at the beginning of the Liberal government's mandate. Now that's beginning to look like another broken promise. In opposition, the Member for Riverdale South stood in this House on March 23, 1999 and demanded more highway spending. The Premier told the Chamber of Commerce that the Liberal government would increase highway spending. The government can bring in another supplementary budget as early as Monday of next week. With the stroke of a pen, the Liberals can honour this promise.
Mr. Speaker, they have the money, they made the promise, but where's the delivery? The minister has the opportunity to deliver in time for this summer. Will she do that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, there is no broken promise; we have pledged to restore funding to highway maintenance, and we will do that. That is just one of the many NDP mistakes that we will have to fix.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, this is another broken promise, because they said they would do it at the beginning of their mandate. Now all we get is waffling on this matter - no commitment at all. Every day the list of broken promises just gets longer. Already, Mr. Speaker, it's longer than the Liberals' budget speech and throne speech combined.
Now, there's more than enough money in the bank to deliver on this promise. Last week, the Premier said the surplus was $41 million. Then, this week, the Premier said it's $56.2 million. The issue is that the Premier said it was absolutely essential to increase highway operations, maintenance and capital spending. The Liberals did not do this in the supplementary budget, even though they told Yukoners that they were committed to do so. What about rural Yukon, Mr. Speaker? What about all the highway workers who took the Liberals at their word? What about our highway camps, places like Haines Junction, Carmacks, Carcross, Drury Creek and so on? They were promised more money. When will the minister deliver?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I say again: there is no broken promise. We have pledged to restore highway funding, and we will do that. Obviously, the highways were not a priority with the NDP because they kept cutting and cutting and cutting their funding.
Question re: Highway funding
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, that is simply not true. We did not cut maintenance funding for highways. The minister should get it right. We will hold them accountable for their promises, Mr. Speaker, and we have it documented.
Yukoners are also concerned about whether or not the Liberals will live up to their promise to increase the budget for highway construction. The Premier vowed this to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. The Acting Premier demanded this in the Legislature. The Liberals got a lot of mileage riding on increased highway funding, but now they're riding on the fence.
The Liberals had a chance to honour this promise by including the necessary funding in this month's supplementary budget, but, once again, they didn't do what they said they would do. How will the minister responsible for highways ensure that the budget is increased in time for this summer, as they promised Yukoners?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We have pledged to increase funding to highways and we will do so. We have first the small problem of passing this mains budget. Once we have done that, we will proceed.
Mr. McRobb: Once again, Mr. Speaker, the minister did not answer the question. They have the opportunity, as early as Monday, to bring a supplementary budget to this House. Mr. Speaker, the issue is that the Premier said it was absolutely essential to increase highway operations, maintenance and capital spending - absolutely essential. The Liberals did not increase highway funding in its supplementary budget, even though they told the Yukon public they were committed to doing just that.
It wasn't long ago, Mr. Speaker, when the Liberals had lots to say about highway construction, but now it appears it has slid off the Liberal agenda. This week, the Liberals bailed out of the long-term commitments made in the budget they tabled in this House and now before members. For highway construction, that means no funding for projects like the million dollars per year to upgrade the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction; the million dollars per year to upgrade the Campbell Highway; the million dollars per year for the Tagish Road and the other million for other roads in this territory. Many highway construction workers are counting on the Liberals to follow through and increase spending. Will they do this now, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, the member has a very active imagination; he is imagining things that were never said. We are pledged to restoring funding to highways and we will do that. Thanks to the previous two administrations, the highways are approaching a crisis state. The Liberal government will fix that.
Mr. McRobb: Well, it's their crisis, Mr. Speaker; they're in government now. They're the ones who campaigned on this. We have their material right here. Here's one here from the Acting Premier. Here's a speech to the Chamber of Commerce. This will all be coming out in due course. "Highway construction jobs increase safety for the travelling public" - the very words of the Acting Premier in this House on March 23, 1999. Why isn't this government doing more to employ Yukoners this summer doing highway work? Again, Mr. Speaker, her own words. The Liberals campaigned on it. When will they stop this highway robbery?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, this is most amusing; however, we have pledged to restore highway funding. I am committed to proper highway maintenance, proper capital, proper O&M, and we will be seeing to that. We will be fixing the problems that the previous two administrations have created on our territory's roads, and I think that's shameful.
Question re: Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds, protection of
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Renewable Resources.
Traditionally, in opposition, the Yukon Liberals refused to state their position on issues, saying, "Wait for the election to find out where the Liberals stand." Well, the election has come and gone and now, in government, the Liberals are still refusing to state their position on land claims, or anything else for that matter. I can picture the next cartoon in the paper. It'll be a fence with nine Liberals sitting along the top of it, governing the Yukon.
On one issue, however, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Liberals were forced in opposition to state their position and that was in relation to the development activity in the winter range of the Porcupine caribou herd. On March 4, 1999, in this House, the opposition leader, now Premier, stated, "My position on behalf of our party is that development should not proceed until the Vuntut Gwitchin is prepared for it to proceed."
Can the minister advise the House whether this position still stands or are the Liberals, after eight days in this Legislature, going to renege on that position as well? Or is it confidential? What is it?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I am unable to answer the question at this time, Mr. Speaker, because I have not conferred with the Premier, and I do not want to misspeak at this time.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that the Vuntut Gwitchin are opposed to oil and gas leases being issued in the Eagle Plains area and went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to block such development, can the minister advise the House what position the Premier conveyed to the World Petroleum Congress this week in Calgary? Is she saying there will be no oil and gas development in northern Yukon until such time as the Vuntut Gwitchin are willing to proceed?
What is it? If the Minister of Renewable Resources can't answer, perhaps the Acting Premier can?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, the information that was given at the meetings the Premier attended in Calgary was simple; it was all about the future. It was the messages that were enclosed within our platform. Nothing has changed; they are the same issues. We want a pipeline for the Yukon; we want a pipeline for the Yukon; we want a pipeline for the Yukon, and we want it to go down the Alaska Highway corridor.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, so much for a pipeline. What about something to put into the pipeline from the Yukon? We have awarded leases in southeast Yukon and up in the northern part of the Yukon. Is the government of the day going to allow these individuals to proceed?
The other promising area for oil and gas development is in southeast Yukon, but here again the Liberals, and particularly the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, took the position during the election that there should be no development in that area until after the Liard First Nation claim is settled. So, I would like to know what the Premier said in Calgary. Are both northern and southeast Yukon off limits to oil and gas development? Where is Yukon going with respect to oil and gas? Are we going to do anything, or are we going to sit there on the fence? Or are we going to have to wait until everybody confers in the government of the day? Or is it confidential?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, obviously the Premier did not go down to that meeting to sell off oil and gas leases. She went down there because there were many, many people very interested in investing in Yukon and very interested in bringing a pipeline to the Yukon. That's what she did.
This issue is a very, very important one to our government. We would like a pipeline to go down the Alaska Highway corridor. Our Premier went down there and is very aggressively pursuing this issue, and that's what she was doing in Calgary.
Question re: Extended care facility, Watson Lake
Mr. Fentie: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Yesterday, the minister stood on the floor of this House and denied any knowledge of the fact that the Liberals have promoted and, in fact, committed to the building of an extended care facility in the community of Watson Lake.
Will the minister now stand on the floor of this House, correct the record, and tell this House and the people of Watson Lake when the government will build the extended care facility in Watson Lake?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, I said yesterday that I knew of no information that said that we were going to be building an extended care facility in Watson Lake. If that was the personal opinion of a candidate or person who was running, it is their opinion. I am not even sure it was.
I can't apologize for something that I wasn't aware of, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, this is the same minister that continually alluded to the fact that the Liberal government is a government that will do what it says it will do. The minister is wrong - dead wrong.
I have here a copy of a press release from the member's own colleague - the Member for Riverdale South - promoting the building of a multi-level care facility in Watson Lake. Will the member now tell this House when the government intends to build that care facility in the community of Watson Lake?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: No, I cannot, because it's not in the planning books at this point. We haven't even assessed whether or not there's going to be a building of an extended care facility in Watson Lake. So, I cannot tell you when. I can't even tell you where.
Mr. Fentie: Let me help the minister. During the campaign, the Liberal candidate in Watson Lake clearly committed to the building of an extended care facility adjacent to the hospital in the community of Watson Lake. This is a government that claims to be open and accountable, and a government that will do what it says it will do. When will the minister commence the construction of an extended care facility in the community of Watson Lake, as the Liberals have promised, or were they just playing politics on the backs of the seniors and elders in the community of Watson Lake? When will this be, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, I'm not sure whom the promise was by; it would appear that you're making the promise. I did not make that promise. My government did not make that promise. If it's something that, as I said earlier, a Liberal candidate or any candidate made, that's something that they did on their own. It's not in our platform, so it's not one of our promises. I'm not sure where the member is coming from.
Once again, he's trying to use that division tactic that they constantly use. Basically, we're not into this game. We're into the game to play the right type of thing for people. We're here to help Yukoners. But to raise an issue like that -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, you said it. It's a field of dreams and, guess what? You people have it.
Question re: Health care, future cuts
Mr. Harding: So, Mr. Speaker, the Liberals aren't accountable for the budget they tabled. They're not accountable for their own ministers committing to extended care facilities in Watson Lake, and now, unbelievably, the minister just tells us that they're not accountable for what their candidates said to tens of dozens of people in public meetings in the election campaign. It's unbelievable - a new low in this Legislature.
I have another question for the minister. Their recent mini budget speech sent up a clear trial balloon that the Liberals are planning health care cuts for Yukoners under a system that's already under strain. The budget described health care as a pressure point and said that it is going to have to be "dealt with" in future budgets.
My question for the minister: can he assure the Yukon public that, as they deal with health care, there will be absolutely no cuts to health services during the term of this Liberal mandate?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'm not sure where the member is getting the idea that we have made any comments about cutting anything to health care. I think it's one of those phantom dreams that the member opposite has, and he constantly tries to portray it as fact. Yesterday I spent a good long length of time stressing the very clear fact, Mr. Speaker, that we, as Yukoners, are going to be working with Yukoners to build our health care system, not tear it down. So I would hope that that message is one that is left with the people of the Yukon, because we're not about tearing things down; we are about building as a team.
Mr. Harding: He did not answer the question clearly. And where I'm getting the idea is from the Liberal budget speech 2000-01, where it says, "Health care costs are escalating rapidly and they are going to have to be dealt with shortly." So, I'm asking him again. He can just answer yes or no. Will he commit to the Yukon public that there will be absolutely no health care cuts to the services that they are providing the territory during the term of this Liberal mandate?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: That's not a hard commitment. We said it. How many times did we say it? We will not cut health care in the Yukon. We never have, we never thought we would. I don't know why you constantly state we should.
Speaker: Could the hon. member direct the comments through the Chair. Refer to members by their titles please, or their constituency, not "you."
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The member opposite is always trying to drive wedges in what we already have. He is always trying to drive wedges in what we would like in the future. The whole process of working with Yukoners is being honest and upfront, trying to find the best situation for all of us. And I would hope that - and we have extended that branch to the members opposite - they would work with us in solving problems in the Yukon. We basically want to use all resources in developing the Yukon for the future. Thank you.
Mr. Harding: Well, we got the commitment that I wanted from the minister and I look forward to holding him accountable to it. I also want to ask him a question about retention. Now, after the Premier told Yukoners that the bargaining of the YTA had nothing at all to do with money and that it was only respect, she promptly plopped a million-dollar signing bonus on the table. Why are the health care workers and professionals, where we are facing a coming crisis, not worthy of the same respect from Liberals to aid in their retention?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, we didn't say they weren't worthy. Those are words coming out of the opposition, not out of us. We sit down with our respective professionals and we work with them to look for solutions. If, basically, we have to come to some agreements as to what we would like to do and where we want to go, we will utilize those resources; we will utilize the comments; we will utilize the recommendations to make the best plan for all Yukoners so that we have those guaranteed services and support in the Yukon.
So, to constantly refer to the fact that we don't treasure and we don't respect them because we're not giving them a bonus right now is completely out of order, Mr. Speaker. That has nothing to do with working with people in a cooperative environment.
It was the government opposite that just recently completed an agreement with the YMA. I didn't see any bonuses in it. Now we, all of a sudden, have to put bonuses in it. They have an agreement, Mr. Speaker, and I think it's one of those things where if it's something they feel they can't do, everybody else has to do it.
So, I think what they have to do is look at it; if they can't do it, then don't talk about it.
Question re: Northwestel, increased local access rates
Mr. Keenan: As members are aware, the CRTC has been holding hearings on Northwestel's application for rate rebalancing and the company's plans to improve services to northerners. Now, our caucus supported the Yukon government's position except for two important pocketbook issues for Yukon people, so my question to the Minister of Government Services is, why did the minister fail to stand up for Yukon seniors and people on low or fixed incomes by asking the commission to deny Northwestel's request for increased local access rates?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, at no time did we fail to stand up, as the member opposite put it. We discussed further that the northern pay, at a higher rate than for southerners, for the services - with today's national and global competitive market place. Any difference puts our residents and businesses at a disadvantage. Yukoners expect to get an affordable service at a quality and price that is comparable to the rest of Canada. We put it to the CRTC hearing in the last couple of days, and we took a stance that we're not for the $5 raise. We opposed this $5 increase to the rate.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, that is not what happened at all. That's why I asked the question, so I don't see how the minister can stand here and say he did one thing when he did not do it.
There are a lot of Yukon people out here who don't make long-distance calls and who will be worse off if the local access rates go up.
There was another glaring omission in the minister's presentation, and that's the matter of long-distance charges between Whitehorse and the peripheral area. The population of these outlining communities is growing steadily and is included in a number of home-based businesses that rely on affordable telephone service. Why didn't the minister ask the CRTC to eliminate those long-distance charges between Whitehorse and these outlying communities?
Hon. Mr. Jim: The Telecommunications Act sets the standards of equivalent service for all rural and urban communities. Those who live in the most remote and difficult areas to serve are the ones who could benefit the most from this modern telecom service.
Yes, you know, that is something that we will be looking at in the near future. With a little bit more planning with our technology service program, we will prepare a stronger standpoint in the near future.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, you had your opportunity. You must show leadership. You can't be saying, "It's under review", "We're getting briefed." You are the government, and you must show the leadership.
Speaker: Order please. Would the member please direct his comments through the Chair.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So, I'm encouraging the government to show some leadership and to stand up for the Yukon people, not to be under review, not to go fishing.
I'm beginning to understand why the Premier took the Connect Yukon project away from this minister and gave it to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. So, I'll direct my question to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, who has been very outspoken in her opinions about Connect Yukon.
Will the minister now assure the House that the existing agreements and implementation schedule for Connect Yukon will be honoured and not changed for political expediency?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I have a small issue with the member opposite. The assignment of Connect Yukon happened at the time ministerial assignments were handed out. I believe the member opposite should apologize for his allegations against the Minister of Government Services.
As we have said, in response to his question, this Liberal government does not tear up signed agreements.
Question re: Education committee to review the role of paraprofessionals
Mr. Fairclough: Two days ago, I asked the Minister of Education about a plan to review the role of educational assistants and remedial tutors in Yukon schools. From his answers, it was obvious that he was not up to speed on the issue. Now that he had a chance to finally open up his briefing books, I ask the Minister of Education: will he ensure that the review of the role of paraprofessionals in Yukon schools will include parents and First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The review of the educational assistants is contained in a letter that is attached to the tentative collective agreement with the YTA. When that agreement is signed, they will be able to determine the composition of this committee.
Mr. Fairclough: The members opposite, the Liberal party, had committed to Yukoners to involve parents, to involve the public in decisions that affect them. It is not a big decision to say that you would allow parents and First Nations in decisions that affect them. The minister can't escape from the fact that the letter was sent from his assistant deputy minister to the president of the YTA during the final days of the contract negotiations. The letter made no reference to the involvement of either school councils or First Nations in that review. That seems suspiciously like a backroom deal between the Liberal government and the union leadership to get a deal done. Now, will the minister tell the House which direction is the real government position on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: As I have just stated, the composition of this committee will be determined once the tentative agreement has been signed by the teachers association.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, the general public is wondering what's happening out there. Who is taking control? Is the minister not giving direction to his departments?
Mr. Speaker, we are witnessing another example of the Liberals saying one thing in opposition and doing something else in government. I am curious about how they intend to increase public confidence in government if they are giving such contradictory messages.
Mr. Speaker, does the minister intend to take this kind of piecemeal approach to reviewing important educational issues during the Education Act review, or will he ensure this House that the review will fully involve all partners in education, as required, under the act?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, an offer by the Department of Education to review the roles of paraprofessionals in the schools is contained in a letter attached to the tentative agreement with the YTA collective agreement. The existence of the committee will depend on the ratification of the YTA agreement.
The proposal is for a working committee to clarify what tasks are expected of a paraprofessional with respect to tasks expected by teachers. The review is a response to an employer/employee concern, and thus, committee members will be chosen from employers and employees.
Speaker: The time for Question Period have now elapsed. 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
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Committee will recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: I will now call the Committee of the Whole to order. The Committee is dealing with Bill No. 2, First Appropriation Act, 2000-01.
Bill No. 2 - First Appropriation Act, 2000-01 - continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I need to recap some of the issues that we discussed last night with the Member for Klondike.
First of all, land claims - once again, we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature. The settlement of land claims is a negotiated process that comes out of the UFA, or the umbrella final agreement. It is a three-party negotiation process with First Nations, the federal government and the territorial government.
The land claims process has been going on for almost 30 years. It has been a very, very long time to negotiate. One of the many reasons that this negotiation has gone on so long is that every time a new territorial government is elected, people at the land claims table, the three parties - YTG, the First Nation and the federal government - perceive that there is a new mandate being given to the YTG negotiators and that everything previously on the table is gone, and negotiations can start all over again.
Now sometimes there is no new mandate given to the YTG negotiators, and sometimes there is a new mandate. Regardless, the point is that it's a negotiation.
And in some ways, it's like when you are trying to negotiate for the price of a new car. If the other parties at the table know exactly what you have to offer, it is not a negotiation. If the other parties at the table know exactly how much you are willing to spend, then there is no point in negotiating. The negotiation on the price of the car, or the land claims negotiation, is over.
Now, as for successive governments coming in and giving new mandates to their negotiators and then announcing those specifics to the public, well, telling the world that everything has changed now in the negotiation process - and that a new mandate has been given to the YTG negotiators - means that everything starts again. It's a whole new set of negotiations. Then negotiations go on and on, and suddenly, 30 years have passed and there are still seven outstanding land claims.
The previous NDP government only settled one land claim during its term in office, and that could be because they kept announcing their strategies at the negotiating table, and that could be because they announced specifics of the negotiations at the table. We will not do that; we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Chair, the previous government only settled one land claim, partly because they did their negotiations in public and partly because they kept announcing that the land claims negotiations from the YTG side, anyway, were already over. Issues were settled.
This probably came as a complete surprise to the First Nations. In fact, Chief Andy Carville of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, wrote a letter to the editor, which said - and I quote from this letter, and we have been using this letter extensively over the last few days - 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 final agreement and self-government agreements. This statement is misleading and inaccurate, since many matters under the jurisdiction of the Yukon government are outstanding at the CTFN negotiating table. For instance, the bulk of the outstanding land matters are discussions between the CTFN and the Yukon government. The CTFN believes, however, that these matters can be resolved if all the parties are committed to finding solutions by way of good faith negotiations. While Mr. Harding may wish to gain some political benefit by criticizing the federal government, such comments are unproductive and do not contribute to the finalization of the CTFN final agreement."
In fact, such comments may ultimately hinder the progress of the negotiations -
Chair: Order please.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: The hon. Member for Klondike on a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: What the Acting Premier is going on about has nothing to do with the questions that I raised yesterday. She is responding to the leader of the official opposition and the land claims issue. All she is doing is vying for television time here today. That's it. That's the bottom line. It has nothing to do with responding to the questions posed by me at the end of yesterday's sitting, Mr. Chair.
Chair: The hon. Member for Watson Lake on the point of order.
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 19(1)(d), a member may be called to order if a member reads unnecessarily from Hansard or from any other document, and so far what we have witnessed from the Acting Premier is a complete recitation from a document in front of her. I would ask you to rule on this matter.
Chair: The Member for Mount Lorne on the point of order.
Ms. Tucker: There is no point of order. We referred and listened to the hon. member opposite talk about land claims during the early part of his speech earlier, and I think, if we look back in the transcripts, everybody talked about land claims.
Chair: On the point of order, there is no point of order for two reasons. First of all, with respect to the reading of documents, I have noticed that members throughout the House have been reading from documents. In my opinion, this has not been at great length. I would remind all members present that it is important to understand that there are limits to reading documents, but in this case, we have found that it is not at undue length.
As far as dealing with the question from Mr. Jenkins, since all members have spoken on land claims, the Acting Premier, in her response, can discuss anything spoken to in the previous debate. She does not need to refer completely to the previous question or previous speech.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the member opposite spoke at some length about the secrecy surrounding land claims last night - at some length.
Mr. Chair, also to respond to the issue around the surplus - apparently, we're supposed to go out and spend tomorrow the alleged surplus. The real surplus is projected to be just over $14.5 million at the end of this fiscal year; in fact, it's $14.7 million as of the end of the year 2001.
Other issues that came up last night - once again, there was land claims. This is one of the top priorities of our government. It's one of the issues that speaks to land certainty within our territory. We will respect the process, we will respect the parties, and we will not negotiate on the floor of the Legislature for the reasons I just outlined. We won't discuss whether mandates have changed or not, as that would jeopardize the negotiations. Once again, the Premier has met with the Grand Chief and Mr. Nault from the federal government.
We tabled the NDP budget to create certainty and to fulfil a commitment we made to Yukoners to do this. We will not rip up signed contracts. We will honour agreements that are already in place for multi-year funding. Despite what the Member for Klondike says, we will continue to fund NGOs, we will fund the completion of the Mayo school and all other projects that have been started by this government this year.
We do not want this government to operate on warrants or on interim supply bills, because that's not what we said we would do. We are keeping an election promise by tabling this budget.
We also told Yukoners that we will present a supplementary budget in the fall that will reflect some of our spending priorities. We are working on a planning exercise this summer that will help us with that process. We are working hard. It did take the NDP, the previous government, two and a half years to table a capital budget.
Another issue that came up last night, Mr. Chair: Tombstone is a mistake that we must now resolve. This mistake was totally preventable and was caused by NDP inaction. Fixing mistakes takes some time. We are working toward a creative solution. We are working hard to turn the economy around. The Premier, as mentioned earlier in the sitting today, has been in Calgary promoting the pipeline. We have introduced and will pass a real two-percent tax cut, not the phantom 12 percent that the NDP never did bring in.
The Premier is meeting with potential investors in Vancouver. She will be telling them the same thing she told Yukoners in the election, and that is outlined in the platform. She is speaking to them about -
Chair: Order please. I would ask all members to ensure that they do not refer to absences of ministers or anybody else.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I was very clear that I wasn't giving a timeline on when the Premier was in either Vancouver or in Calgary. While the Premier is in Vancouver, she will be speaking about the competitive advantage that we have in the Yukon: the competitive tax rates and royalty regimes. We want to show an attitude to investors that makes them feel welcome. We know that certainty of land tenure is important, and we are working toward those goals.
This debate is about the budget, the passing of the budget that we have before us. We need this budget to create certainty. This is what is best for all Yukoners. We made a commitment to Yukoners that they could count on this budget for this year, and we are honouring that commitment.
Mr. Jenkins:Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the Acting Premier for sending over the document on the Liberal platform, It's All About the Future.
The understanding that I and most Yukoners have is that this document all about the future was what was going to take place after the election. Well, the election has taken place. I guess the future is still down the road before we see what happens. We are certainly not seeing any indication from this Liberal government as to what is going to transpire in the next little while and how they are going to spend some $60 million in surplus dollars to create certainty and employment opportunities here in the Yukon.
Regarding the Premier's attendance at the international petroleum event in Calgary, I refer to the press release and I refer the Acting Premier to the questions that I raised earlier on oil and gas. It would appear that the secondary role of the Premier in Calgary is to advance the development of the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline project.
The first initiative, according to the Liberal government press release - if you want some further information, Mr. Chair, I would suggest that the Acting Premier contact Jason Cunning, the principal secretary. "This event is an excellent opportunity to promote Yukon oil and gas interests", Duncan said. "If we want this industry to grow, we must be prepared to take advantage of every opportunity to promote the Yukon's oil and gas development potential and competitive advantage." It goes on to explain it in great detail. The last paragraph is: "While in Calgary, Duncan will also meet with Alaska-based petroleum industry executives about Yukon's role in advancing the development of the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline project."
It's kind of an afterthought, Mr. Chair. There is nothing about the realities of the day-to-day growth that we could experience in oil and gas exploration. My question today in Question Period concerned oil and gas exploration in the northern part of the Yukon and what the Liberal position was on it, and oil and gas exploration in the southeastern part of the Yukon and what the Liberal position was on it. The Minister of Renewable Resources just bowed right out of the whole equation. He didn't have an understanding of it, and perhaps the Acting Premier can shed some light as to what the official Liberal position is and how we're going to move ahead and how we're going to honour the commitments.
Oil and gas leases in the northern part of the Yukon and southeast Yukon have been awarded. The industry would like to get in there and do something. What is the Liberal position with respect to oil and gas exploration in the northern part of the Yukon, on the existing leases that have been let, and in southeast Yukon?
Now, we're told that the Liberals are opposed to oil and gas exploration in the northern part of the Yukon, until such time as the Vuntut Gwitchin are in agreement. They feel that - irrespective of due process and the awarding of these leases - the oil and gas people should be made to wait until some consensus has been reached with the Vuntut Gwitchin. It is the same thing with oil and gas leases in southeast Yukon. The Liard First Nation's land claims have not been settled in that area. Oil and gas leases are let. What is the actual Liberal position? That picket fence that the nine Liberals are sitting on, Mr. Chair, must be getting awfully uncomfortable. We can't get a position out of them with respect to anything other than grandstanding for the camera -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Everything is confidential or we hide behind something. I'd like the Acting Premier to give us some indication of what the position is with respect to oil and gas in northern and southeast Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, with respect to the oil and gas leases in north Yukon, there are areas up there presently that are being designated for getting ready for sale. There are no sales at this particular time. With respect to southeast Yukon and the land claim negotiations that are going on there right now - land use planning, forestry and a number of concerns - there are no proposed oil and gas lease sales down in that area either.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to thank the new Acting Premier for his overview of the oil and gas, but the question still has not been answered: what is the Liberal government's position with respect to oil and gas? Is it going to take place? Are they encouraging it, or are they just hiding behind policy? Or is Anderson stranded down in southeast Yukon? What's happening? Will they be allowed to go in, and will the government honour the leases that are currently there, and will they be proceeding with oil and gas exploration in that region, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, as I have just indicated and as the Acting Premier has repeated many, many times, the members opposite, if they don't like the answer they get and it's the answer we're providing and it's the only answer that we have at this particular time, they just go on and on and on.
With respect to the oil and gas leases in north Yukon, we do have to respect ongoing processes up there. There are others involved. We work cooperatively, not unilaterally. That goes for northeast Yukon as well as southeast Yukon.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, unless I'm missing something, Mr. Chair, land claims have been settled totally in the region of northern Yukon, the Nacho Nyak Dun, the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, and the issues of overlap have been resolved between these three separate First Nations, so what is the process that the new Acting Premier of the Yukon is referring to in that area that's proving to be an impediment to oil and gas exploration in that region?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I think we need to go back to the beginning of this. Oil and gas leases go out to a bid process. They are open bid processes. We will honour existing agreements that are already in place.
I'd like to bring the member opposite back to one of his statements about the Premier's trip down to Calgary. He talked about the comment about how this event is an excellent opportunity to promote oil and gas interests. Mr. Chair, this is not an opportunity for the Premier to go down and sell off oil and gas leases. That is the comment that came from the member opposite. That was the comment.
The Yukon government will hold future land sales, and that process will take place in consultation with the VGFN and the Kaska First Nation. That is in the Yukon Oil and Gas Act. And the member opposite from the NDP points out that we all voted for it, and indeed we all did. It was a good act.
Now, before there are land sales, we will consult with the First Nation - any First Nation - that is being affected. I'm not going to prejudge those consultations. We will honour existing commitments; for example, Northern Cross will be allowed to proceed.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Anderson has leases. They are actually stranded in that region unless there are future oil and gas leases. They are paying $20 million. I believe that they have paid the $5 million down, and they're ready to go. But the uncertainty is not from the oil and gas industry. The uncertainty is government.
Now, what steps is this government taking to provide some certainty? It takes approximately six months before you can put together the whole program for oil and gas leases to be awarded - to get them ready. Is the government working on this initiative? Are we going to see any exploration this winter, or do we go through another winter with no oil and gas exploration?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, at this point, I think we can leave the technical questions on these issues to the departmental debate. That departmental debate will be coming up very shortly, much like the very technical questions that came up on tourism last night. Those questions are best left for departmental debate. If we can ever get through general debate, we will explore those issues in far greater detail.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, that's pure bunk. This is one of the main drivers of the Yukon economy - or, it could be, and it used to be. But it won't be, unless this government gets off its butt and starts addressing its responsibilities.
Now, Anderson is stranded out there. It takes approximately six months to put together a program. Where is this government on this initiative?
One of the main economic tools that could be used for development here in the Yukon is our oil and gas industry. It's not a detailed question. It's a simple, straightforward question as to policy - policies that this government is moving ahead with. Where are they at? That's the basis of the question.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Here we go again, Mr. Chair. We'll just ask the same question over and over endlessly for the entire day. So, tell you what, Mr. Chair, I will give back the same answers.
Obviously the Premier is interested in oil and gas development. That was one of the primary focuses of our platform during the last election. She went down to the petroleum event in Calgary. She was very, very clear that she was there to promote oil and gas interests. The policy, again, is that the process will take place in consultation with the local First Nation. Whether that is the VGFN, the Kaska First Nation, the Kwanlin Dun - whatever First Nation is affected. Before there are land sales, we will consult with the local First Nation. We will not prejudge those consultations and we will honour existing commitments.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the government has to follow the oil and gas agreement to the accord that they have with the First Nations here in the Yukon. That's enshrined in legislation - legislation that we all approved - that this side certainly is aware of and hopefully the government of the day is aware of. What I'm looking for is how this Liberal government is going to proceed in that area. Anderson currently has committed to $20 million. They have given the Government of the Yukon their down payment of $5 million. They have indicated clearly to the government that they want additional leases in that area. Has this government embarked on a program, and how far away are we from awarding new leases in this area? Will it happen? When will it happen? That's the question.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The member opposite is asking for great detail and has supplied great detail on a particular case. This is an issue that would be best brought forward during the departmental debate. There are people listening in that department - in the Department of Economic Development - and they can provide further information. However, it is best provided by the minister responsible for that department.
The Department of Economic Development is not on the floor for debate right now. It is general debate. It is general debate on policy of the Yukon government. And the Yukon government policy is quite clear, and I'll repeat it again: these processes on oil and gas leases will take place in consultation with the local First Nation. We will not prejudge those consultations, but we will honour pre-existing commitments.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds very much like the Acting Premier is taking lessons from the Minister of Justice as to how to read a script, and I'm disappointed to see that It's All About the Future is moving down the road much further.
What this indecisiveness on the part of this new Liberal government means, Mr. Chair, is that there will probably be no oil and gas exploration in the Yukon this winter. The lead time for this type of an initiative, for the sale of leases, is approximately six months, and that's if everything goes tickety-boo. That's the window.
Now, my question is very simple. I'm sure the Liberals have developed a policy, and I see that a note is being conveyed to the Acting Premier. Now, it's either going to be a definite answer or it's going to be another way of avoiding the question. I want to know if anything is going to take place in the oil and gas industry this winter. What steps is this government taking to ensure that something happens?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I know that the member opposite is kind of lonely; there's nobody to pass him notes.
Mr. Chair, how does the member opposite know that there will be no exploration this winter? He throws these things out on the floor of the Legislature as if that were true. How would he possibly know that, unless he has some sort of divine inspiration or he knows what's going to happen in the future. He doesn't know that. Mr. Chair, he certainly does not know that.
We have been very clear about our policy when it comes to oil and gas. The process will take place in consultation with the local First Nation. We will not prejudge those consultation processes, and we will honour existing commitments. As for the specific case, in a general sense, we are going to have future land sales. I'm not going to tell you the exact date because it hasn't been determined. The Premier has discussed that with Chief Linklater. We are not going to announce when oil and gas sales are going to take place.
That is not a policy issue. I have been very clear about the policy of this government when it comes to oil and gas leases - very, very clear. It will happen in consultation with the local First Nation. We will honour existing commitments. That is our policy. If the member opposite wants more specific information, then he should wait for the departmental debate. He is very familiar with the process around budget. He has sat in this Legislature for four years. He understands that.
Mr. Jenkins: The Acting Premier is very correct. I haven't got anyone over here to pass me notes, but I spend the time and try to do as much of my homework as I can so that I know what the issues are surrounding these various undertakings that could provide work, could provide development and could provide opportunity in the Yukon. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case with this Liberal government. It's all about the future, and we never know when the future is going to occur. It's down the road. And if it's not about the future, Mr. Chair, it's confidential.
The Acting Premier did recognize that there are going to be future sales of oil and gas leases. As to when, the Acting Premier would not speculate and would not provide that information.
The lead time for these types of initiatives is some six months, Mr. Chair, and, if steps are not currently being taken by this government, what it means is that there will be no exploration work in the oil and gas industry this winter in the northern part of Yukon. That's the bottom line, and Anderson has as much as stated that. They want more area so they can do a bigger seismic project. That's their position and that has been conveyed to the previous Government of the Yukon and to this new Liberal government. So, why this new Liberal government has not chosen to act on it or is refusing to make any statement as to where they're at, defies the imagination. I guess that picket fence is getting a little bit awkward to remain seated on as to which side they're going to fall off. Whether they're going to make a decision or not I do not know. I'm very hopeful that they might.
Well, I see, Mr. Chair, we're not going to get any kind of an answer on that area, and we might have to get back to it on Monday when the Premier of the Yukon returns and we're still in general debate on this same area of the budget.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask the Acting Premier about where we are on some of the other commitments that were made in this Liberal document. Let's deal with one of the areas that is really having a tremendous effect on Yukon. I'd like to know what the policy is as to when the government is going to be setting up this independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse here in the Yukon. This is a situation that affects all of us. Where are we at with respect to this commitment that was made by the Liberals in the last election, and how far along are we on this issue?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, like the other 120 promises within the platform document, we are going to be sitting down this summer, looking at our priorities and assigning possible dates for the completion of those promises. We are going to be sitting down as a caucus, discussing all of the issues together. This is something we are very, very committed to. We pledged to the Yukon public that we would commit to the promises made within this platform document - the one that the member opposite read from on a number of occasions last night, much to our delight.
Mr. Chair, the Yukon Liberal caucus will do what we say. These are what our promises are. They are here in the platform document. We will be examining all of these issues in the context of all of the other constraints and all of the other opportunities we have as a government. We will come forward in the fall with a supplemental budget that will outline some of those promises being kept. Obviously, there will be other budgets of this government. There will be a complete budget in the spring of 2001 and other budgets will follow in the following three years. Those will outline how we will keep the commitments contained within this document.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, all I'm looking for are timelines for honouring that one commitment. This is the independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse. I guess, Mr. Chair, we can ask - Jason, if you're listening upstairs, could you please send down a note to help out your Acting Premier? It's sadly needed. We need some help here.
This is one that could do a lot of good for all of the Yukon.
Alcohol and drug abuse affects our society considerably, Mr. Chair. And that is an extremely good initiative that this Liberal government proposed during the election, and it is one that I certainly sanction. But what are the timelines, or are we just going to be told that it's under review, or is it a secret? What is it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the member opposite said that he was going to give constructive criticism, and he has. He is keeping his word, and we will keep our word. Our word is that we will fulfill the commitments made within the platform document.
There are other commitments in here that are not primarily budget items. They are legislative promises, and they are changes in attitude that we hope to bring to certain aspects of our society. We will honour our commitments within the budget - or within the platform document.
I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, I keep thinking that we are on the general debate in our budget - and we are. That's why I'm getting confused by some of the detail from the member opposite - because we are not yet in the departmental.
The independent commission on alcohol and drug abuse is a good idea. That's why it's in the platform document. It is one of many very, very good initiatives that we will be looking at over the summer. It is one of the many, many, many very good ideas that will be reflected in our budgets to come and in our legislation as it comes forward in this House.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what I am looking for are some timelines. This, I believe, is a top priority for all Yukoners, and I was very hopeful that we would have seen it in the supplementary budget that was tabled here, but it's not. And I'm not so sure that it cannot be done in the context of the existing budget without a further allocation of funds by this Legislature, Mr. Chair.
I'm hoping that the Acting Premier can provide some sort of a commitment as to the timelines. Will we see it this fall? Will it occur this summer? What are the timelines for this area of the Liberal platform to be committed to and provided to Yukoners? Or, is it an issue that is all about the future and will be down the road so far in the future that it might be an election issue in the next campaign, four years from now? Which way are we headed?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, these commitments will be carried out over the next three and a half years. Some of them are very long-term commitments. They will continue on past our mandate. That is our commitment to Yukoners.
I think that the member opposite should remember that previous governments have taken years to come forward with capital plans and to complete planning exercises on large projects. This is one project that may not be as large, obviously, as some, but it is a project that we will deal with in the next three and a half years. That is our commitment to Yukoners. We will do that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm really appalled with this Acting Premier's position with respect to this extremely important issue. This is not capital planning. It is not a long-term undertaking that requires ongoing funding that requires the approval of this Legislature. This appears to be an area that could be done within the terms of the existing budgets and existing legislation.
The Acting Premier could set up this independent commission tomorrow. She has to sit down with her Cabinet colleagues and obtain some advice, and it could move ahead.
Now I'm very, very hopeful that that is what the Acting Premier will do, that she will stand on her feet and say, "We are going to be moving ahead with this forthwith. You can expect to see something, an announcement, in July or August of this year, or perhaps earlier." Perhaps she can still make that announcement in this House - a ministerial statement - in July or August, but I'm just looking for some sort of a commitment for timelines on this extremely important issue.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: First of all, if we are here in July and August, that would be great. I love to spend time with the member opposite.
Setting up this commission is a change in policy. It is a new project. We need legislative authority to spend the dollars. There will be dollar costs incurred. We are also going to consult with Yukoners; that was our pledge. We are going to go out on Cabinet tours. We are going to consult with Yukoners before we pass our next budget. We are hoping to go out on yearly Cabinet tours. We're hoping to go out this summer on the weekends, when the Legislature is not sitting, or this fall to all the communities, and, at that point, we will talk to Yukoners. That is also our pledge.
We are very concerned about alcohol and drug problems in the Yukon, and that's why we're setting up a commission. The Minister of Health is already working on this initiative, and I certainly agree that it is an absolute priority. It was a priority for us when we were on the side opposite. It is a priority for us now, here in government.
Mr. Jenkins: So, if I read the Acting Premier correctly, nothing will happen until the Cabinet tour takes place throughout the Yukon. I think we all used to refer to them as dog-and-pony shows. So we will probably have to await the results of this tour, and then, after the tour, all that information that's gathered will have to come back and be sifted down to what direction we are going to take.
You won't find any argument from Yukoners about the need to address our alcohol and drug abuse problems. You don't have to run around the Yukon and consult with Yukoners to recognize that there's a problem in this area. We have a wealth of background information on the problems and the associated problems of drug and alcohol abuse. That's a self-evident fact, Mr. Chair. So, it's not going to take a tour by the Cabinet around the Yukon to conclude anything different, other than to postpone the obvious and to postpone the commitment to set up an independent commission, which was made during this election.
Now, I'll ask the Acting Premier once again if she's prepared to make a commitment as to the timelines for this independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse? Will it be in the next six months or is it a year? Now, I don't want to hear that it's going to be sometime in the mandate of this government, in the next three and a half or four years. That's totally unacceptable.
We want to know what policies you are going to adopt and when you're going to adopt them and when you're going to move ahead. That shouldn't take an Einstein to make a statement with respect to this extremely important issue, but you can't continue to sit on the fence. A decision has to be made.
Chair: Order please. We'd ask all members to refer their remarks through the Chair.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, being in government is all about making decisions. Certainly there is no problem with this side of the House making decisions, but we make decisions together and we make them with Yukon people. The new, independent commission for alcohol and drugs is a new project. It is a new policy. It will require spending authority in order to make sure that this project works.
We can't just go out tomorrow and create it. That's against the law. The member opposite knows that. The member opposite says that it doesn't require an Einstein to see that there's a problem with alcohol and drugs, and you're right. It's a plague upon our society.
Chair: I would ask members to refer through the Chair. Please do not use the word "you".
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I thought that I would train myself right out of that; however, I obviously have not.
The Minister of Health and Social Services has referred to alcohol and drug abuse as a plague upon our society, and he is quite correct. It is an issue that we take very seriously. It's an issue that we are going to address. The independent commission on alcohol and drug abuse is just part of that process. There is more, far more.
Now, the member opposite insists on talking about specific projects. The member opposite knows that we have made a commitment to follow through on our commitments from the platform over the next three and a half years. That is a time commitment. That will happen. If the member opposite wants to talk about specific issues, he may want to wait until the departmental debate, because that is the process in the Legislature. If he wants a general policy commitment on alcohol and drugs, yes, we consider that one of our worst problems here in the territory. Historically, it always has been. Hopefully, it will not always be.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, this side is not looking for the generic spin on these issues, Mr. Chair. We are looking for policy statements as to where this Liberal government is going to be taking Yukon during this next year. We're into the budget debate. We're into the specifics of this budget. We're into general debate on the entire budget. So what we have to say is all-encompassing here. It crosses all departments. I am looking for some policy statements that dovetail the Liberal Party's platform in the last election into what is being tabled here today, the supplementary budget and the mains.
We're dealing with the mains, and I just want to know how this Liberal government is going to dovetail their new policies. I'd like to know more about their new policies in all these areas and how they're going to be plugged into the budget, and some timelines. I can't seem to get an answer anywhere over there, Mr. Chair. I'm really, really disappointed, and Yukoners are waiting, and there are many, many Yukoners who need the assistance of support for drug and alcohol problems.
Yes, there are all of the social programs currently in place, but the Liberals, during this election, campaigned on forming an independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse. Other than a few generic spins on the issue, Mr. Chair, we have not heard anything as to how it's going to take place, or when. All we have heard is that the government is going to run around the Yukon and they're going to consult with Yukoners. Fine. I guess we could go out and consult with Yukoners as to when the sun rises and the sun sets, too, but it's rather meaningless when there's a wealth of information on this subject matter.
All it's going to take is for the Liberals to do what they said they were going to do.
Now, I'll ask the government leader, the Acting Premier, once again: when will she get off the fence and when are we going to move ahead on this initiative? Is it contemplated to be during this first year of their mandate? A simple yes or no, Mr. Chair.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Keenan: With the indulgence of the House, I'd like to introduce my partner, Margaret, along with my daughter Adine, and my favourite grandson and only grandson, Kevin.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, to be clear, we are not sitting on the fence on this side of the House. We have made clear promises to Yukoners within our platform document. We will be instituting those commitments over the next three and a half years. That is our timeline. There will be a fall supplementary budget and another full budget in the spring of 2001. If the member wants to speak about this issue in further detail, is he interested in clearing general debate on the budget and going to the department?
Mr. Jenkins: As I understand my role in this House, I ask the questions and the minister attempts to answer them, Mr. Chair. I would urge the minister, the Acting Premier, to address her responsibilities and not try to abdicate them. I'm just looking for a very straightforward answer, a yes or no answer, with respect to this independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse problems, as promised in the Liberal platform. Will that be forthcoming during the first year of their mandate? I'd like a simple yes or no.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, over the next three and a half years, yes, we will create an alcohol and drug commission, an independent commission. That will happen. That is our commitment to Yukoners. As for making the commitment within the next year, we have to sit down and look at all of our priorities.
This commission is going to be addressing the worst social problem we have in the territory - alcohol and drug abuse. The member opposite and I agree on this issue. All people in this Legislature know that this is the worst problem we have here in the territory. It creates endless grief for all Yukoners. It affects us directly; it affects us indirectly; it affects us constantly.
So certainly we are interested in dealing with this issue. This particular commitment is in Health and Social Services and if the member opposite wants to discuss the specific issue, then it can be best discussed within the departmental debate - in the general debate on Health and Social Services. But the alcohol and drug commission is not for discussion in the budget that we have before us. I understand that debate is always free ranging at this point. I am so pleased that the member opposite has given us an opportunity to speak about what our policies are toward alcohol and drugs in the Yukon. We are very aware of the issues around alcohol and drug abuse in the Yukon. It is our policy to deal with that issue as best we can. One of the ways that our party felt we could deal with it best was to produce an independent commission on alcohol and drug abuse. That is our policy, that is what we are going to do. The timeline is within the next three and half years. Knowing that this is a very high priority with our government, then the member opposite can make his own guesses as to when that would be. Right now we need to sit down as a team and look at all of our priorities. This is a very high priority with our government.
If the member opposite, once again, wants to discuss this issue in the departmental debate, then that's fine, because it certainly is not a general policy discussion. It's a specific project. It needs to have legislative authority in order for money to be spent on this project. That project is not in this budget. That is the budget that we are discussing.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: So I guess that what Yukoners will conclude from the Acting Premier's statement is, ""We recognize that there's a problem. We have committed to setting up an independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse, but it's not in this budget. It's not in our supplementary budget that we authored and we tabled in this Legislature. It's not an issue that we care to discuss, but it'll be dealt with during the terms of our mandate."
So this extremely important area, once again, is left sitting off on the sidelines. Let's put it right in the place where it belongs. It's sitting on the top of the fence teetering. We don't know when something is going to happen, one way or the other, alongside the issue of whether or not there has been a new mandate given by this government to the Yukon land claims negotiators. The government of the day, Mr. Chair, is hiding behind that thin veil of "We don't negotiate on the floor of this House".
It wasn't really the question. We're well-aware that land claims are not negotiated on the floor of this House, but the issue is this: has there been a new mandate provided to the negotiators by this new Liberal government, yes or no? We can't even get an answer for something that simple. Previous governments have responded, and this new, open and accountable Liberal government is hiding further back behind a veil of secrecy. The generic spin doctors are at work overtime, avoiding questions, avoiding issues, avoiding very, very important issues, Mr. Chair, that Yukoners need and must have addressed.
With respect to the economy and oil and gas, we can't get any understanding of that issue. On mining, this new Liberal government can't even make up its mind as to whether it's "buy" or "purchase" claims. The last time that I looked in the dictionary, "buyout" and "purchase" were the same. But we're taking a course of action that very much splits hairs.
Some of the other extremely important policy issues surround education, small-business program evaluation, managing government, labour relations. Could I ask the Acting Premier if this new Liberal government has made any policy decisions whatsoever, other than to stonewall and avoid answering questions in this Legislature? Have any policy decisions been made?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, yes, we did make a decision and we decided, and it was one of our election commitments, that we would pass this budget here in the Legislature, so that we could get people to work, so that organizations wouldn't go under, so that businesses wouldn't have trouble making their bills. That is what we decided. That was our first policy decision and it was a large one.
This is a half-a-billion-dollar budget. A half-a-billion dollars is going out into the Yukon economy. Yes, we made that decision and it was a good decision. It's something that's going to help all Yukoners have certainty in their economic dealings here in the Yukon Territory. This is a lot of money. We had to do it. It wasn't our choosing to table a budget that doesn't reflect our priorities. It wouldn't have been our first choice, but because of when the election was called, we had to create certainty for Yukoners, so we did by tabling this budget. We tabled this budget. We tabled this budget because, Mr. Chair, it creates certainty for Yukoners. It was a promise that we made during the election. We do what we say we do. We tabled this budget. That was our election commitment and we had to do it right away. It would be beneficial to Yukoners to get this money out there in the Yukon economy. It would be beneficial to Yukoners to pass this budget. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I'd just like the Acting government Premier to correct the record. She stated categorically: it wasn't our choosing. Mr. Chair, that's false. It was the Liberal government's choosing to table this budget. Now, would the Acting Premier please correct the record?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I may have misspoke myself. What I meant to say, and which apparently I didn't say, was that it wasn't our choosing to call the election when it was called.
That often happens on the floor of the Legislature when you discuss the same thing over and over and over again. You have déjà vu experiences. We are doing exactly what we said we would do. We are acting responsibly. We are working carefully with Yukoners. We are working respectfully in our negotiations. We are not going to quick-fix items to satisfy opposition timelines. We will not be setting arbitrary dates. We will do our best.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm just disappointed. We can come up with a $1 million signing bonus for the Yukon teachers, but we can't come up with the cost of an independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse here in the Yukon.
How does one get approval for a $1 million signing bonus, and how does an independent commission to review alcohol and drug abuse fall through the cracks? I'd suggest to the members opposite that that issue is probably equally as important - both of those issues are probably equally as important, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I think the member opposite should be aware, and he is aware, that paying our teachers is not a new project. It is not a new project. It does not require legislative authority outside the budget that we have tabled here for debate. An independent commission on alcohol and drug abuse is a new project. It's a new policy. It is not contained within the budget. Paying our teachers is in our budget and it will always be in the budget of the Yukon territorial government.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, is the Acting Premier prepared to table a supplementary on Monday that will address this issue, if she wants to cross all the t's and dot all the i's?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I hope we continue to pay our teachers. This side of the House finds that an extremely important item. We should pay our public service. One of the reasons why we're here is to provide services to Yukoners and to pay for those services.
As for running out and acting irresponsibly, not looking at the larger picture, not sitting down and doing good planning exercises and talking to Yukoners, but instead running out and doing one project at a time indiscriminately with no particular thought given in a measured way, we're not going to do that. We're going to act responsibly. We're going to sit down in caucus this summer. We're going to look at our priorities. We're going to set timelines for projects that work with other projects. We have 121 promises within our platform document. We will make sure that those promises are kept. We have committed to those promises. They will appear in future budgets. Some have already appeared in a supplemental budget that we did sit down and talk about, one that we did look at in some of our priorities.
The timelines are three and a half years. That is our timeline: three and a half years.
We have been in government for less that two months. We are working hard to represent Yukoners in the best way we can. Part of that is to pass this budget so that money goes out into the economy. If the member is so interested in this specific subject, does he want a clear general debate so that we can move into the departmental debate, specifically into the Department of Health and Social Services so that he can discuss this one issue?
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, I'll remind the Acting Premier that it's our role to ask the questions and her role to answer the questions, and it will save her having to repeat that question on an ongoing and continuing basis, Mr. Chair, and save some of the time in this House.
It seems like we're getting fewer and fewer answers all the time. If we once again look at It's All About the Future - and the future is getting further and further off, Mr. Chair - one of the other areas is infrastructure development - highways, airports, communications. Could the Acting Premier advise the House as to what policies we were looking at or have adopted in this area? Because it was a big, big commitment to road-builders in the Yukon that there was going to be more money put into this budget and into pockets, and more road construction. Other than the existing Shakwak projects and what was announced previously, nothing has really changed. What policy decisions have been made and what direction is this new Liberal government going to be taking in this regard, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, much of our policy as a governing party is in our platform document, It's All About the Future. That is the name of the document. Mr. Chair, the future is not getting further and further off as the member opposite points out; the future is now.
We are the government. We are governing the Yukon Territory. Our commitment to Yukoners is in the platform document. Our policy on infrastructure, and particularly roads, is within that document. This is a tabled document. It is available to all. It already was a public document. The member opposite tabled their platform document earlier today. We've had duelling platforms here today.
Some of the commitments to infrastructure are as follows: that we will involve community representatives in the design of government-funded projects. The member opposite and I both served at the municipal level, so we know how important that commitment is. Many, many projects on the municipal level occurred without even being mentioned to the local government. I well remember being on city council in Whitehorse and the trucks arriving on the site to do sewer work, and we knew nothing about it. This is, and was, typical of what happened in the communities, as well. That is an extremely important commitment to Yukoners.
We said that we will review and prioritize the sewer and water infrastructure needs for all Yukon communities and begin planning for the construction. Now, the member opposite asked specifically about Yukon's highways. In here, we have "restoring funding for the maintenance of Yukon's highways". That is an important commitment. That is our policy commitment that we are making to Yukoners in our platform document. For interest's sake, as well, under infrastructure, we will aggressively promote Yukon's interest in the Alaska Highway pipeline and railroad project.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: So, I guess that begs the question, Mr. Chair, as to why these items weren't contained in the supplementary budget.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, there were items included within the supplementary budget that reflect some of our platform commitments. There will be other commitments that will be fulfilled in the fall supplementary budget. That throne speech will better reflect our priorities over the next three and a half years. At that time, we will be clear about timelines for certain projects, but we do not budget beyond the year. That is the way it is. That is the legal authority to spend in the Yukon Territory.
But, Mr. Chair, to be clear, the commitments in the platform document will be fulfilled within the next three and a half years.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we'll look forward in future years to see how we progress before the Liberals take their positions up after the next election on this side of the House, Mr. Chair.
We dealt at length with the visitor industry. We didn't receive any answers. On infrastructure, we didn't receive any answers. And one of the other interesting areas was "changing how government works". The minister has made a commitment to reinstate Cabinet tours of all communities, and it sounds like we're going to experience one of those trips some time later this year. But where are we at with respect to all of the other commitments in that position, Mr. Chair? How are we going to provide balanced representation to all Yukoners within the framework of the existing budget?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, one of the commitments that the Yukon Liberal Party made at election time, and prior to election time, was conducting an electoral district boundary review. That was how that commitment would be fulfilled. That commitment is not in the budget before us, to be absolutely clear, much like the money is not in the budget specifically for the independent alcohol and drug abuse commission. The money that is in the budget before us is for contracts that are signed - commitments that are made for Yukoners.
The member asked earlier why the proposed settlement with the Yukon Teachers Association is not in the supplementary budget that we tabled. To be clear - and this is always the practice - you do not put money into a budget for a contract that is not signed. That just tells the other side that you're negotiating with how much to ask for, just as if you tell people at the land claims table that there is a new mandate. If the deal is ratified this fall, it will appear in the supplementary budget that will be tabled.
Mr. Chair, we cannot correct all the NDP mistakes in eight weeks. We will do that over the next three and half years.
I agree with the member opposite that there is not enough money being spent on highways, and we plan to address that in the future. We have made commitments in the supplementary budget to the youth leadership program. This is a program that takes place within most rural communities. There were 600 children, pardon me, teenagers - they don't like to be called children - who passed through that program over the last three years. It was not funded in the lines by the previous NDP government. We made that commitment in the supplementary budget. We also made a commitment to increase student grants, and that is reflected in the supplementary budget.
We also made a commitment to mining, and the research and development tax credit reflects that commitment to mining. That's a commitment that I know the member opposite also shares. He comes from a community that is very much based on mining.
Mr. Chair, over the next three and half years, we will look at the commitments within the platform, we will implement those commitments, but we will do it in an orderly way. We will do it keeping in mind all the other commitments that we have as a government: the ongoing commitments, the O&M commitments, the commitments that we have to our economy and to improving our economy, the commitments that we have to those who suffer from alcohol and drug abuse, our commitment to children, our commitment to seniors, our commitment to Yukoners who want to stay in this territory, make a living and prosper.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the NDP government did such an awful job of balancing and working the economy and governing the Yukon, I find it very, very hard to fathom why a Liberal government would table their budget in its entirety for the first year of their mandate. And, of the 120-odd commitments that were in their platform, to cherry-pick two - mining incentives and tuition - to fund when there was no real reason why many more couldn't have been picked that would have put Yukoners back to work and that would create some certainty.
I just can't fathom the thinking in the Liberal caucus, Mr. Chair, as to why these two, and only these two, were selected for the supplementary budget. All of these other areas that we spoke of at great length are significant drivers in our economy, and they could have been selected, money could have been earmarked for those various areas. We could provide a lot more certainty than what is currently being provided by this government, Mr. Chair.
We might be able to begin turning this economy around, but the bottom line, Mr. Chair, is Cabinet and Management Board have to start making decisions. That fence is going to get awfully, awfully thin and extremely uncomfortable. This government can't continue to sit on that fence.
Mr. Chair, one of the other areas that was a thorn in the side of the Liberals when they were in opposition was board and committee appointments. When can we expect to see an all-party committee set up to select appointees to major government boards and committees, as promised? Will that be during the term of this mandate, this first year, or is that something into the future?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Actually, this brings me to another point. Sometimes I have problems with my memory. One of the problems I've had with my memory was earlier this week. One of the members opposite brought up the point that I apparently signed a petition for the former Member for Riverdale South to gain party status. I did not recall that at the time. It completely slipped my mind. It was almost a decade ago. That, along with many other things, have slipped my mind over time, although it is surprising what I remember from quite a bit further back.
Mr. Chair, I want to set the record straight right now. I did sign that petition, and I supported my member in the Legislative Assembly at that time so that she could receive pension benefits and could be recognized in this House as a party member, to better represent the people of Riverdale South.
I was one of her constituents, and she represented us very well. That was a petition for Bea Firth, who was the former Member for Riverdale South, and who is actually in the gallery today - which is what finally got my memory going on that particular issue.
Now, Mr. Chair, this was an issue that came up, unbelievably, during the policy debate on the budget. So, that's what it has to do with the budget now.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite seems to have a real problem with what we did pass in the supplementary budget. He voted against it. He seems to have a real problem with financial assistance to Yukon students. He seems to have a real problem with the youth leadership program, a wonderful, preventive program that helps youth at risk. He seems to have a real problem with mining and with any sort of tax credit for mining, and with l'Association des franco-yukonnais, which needed money to pass through that supplementary budget in order to function.
Mr. Chair, I'm not too sure what the problem is with the member opposite. We don't sit on a fence. On those issues we took a position. We supported those initiatives - many of them are in our platform - with money in our supplementary budget. We are not afraid of making decisions.
One of those commitments that we have made in the past is to have an all-party committee on boards and committees. We're looking at a framework for that now. That was one of our first priorities. The Premier and I have talked about this so often, over so many years, that, in some ways, we knew that it had to be one of our top priorities immediately. It was a way for us to work with the members opposite and to gain their expertise when looking at who are the best people that we can have sitting on our boards and committees. So, we want to work with the other parties in the Legislature on appointing people to boards and committees. We are still in the process of developing that framework. We want that to happen, and it will happen within the next year. We look forward to gaining the expertise from the other side of the floor, which wasn't used during the previous NDP, Yukon Party and Conservative governments. We value the opinions of the members opposite. We recognize their right to criticize. We hope to hear their voice for their constituents. That is their right; that is what this is all about.
We are not afraid to make decisions or listen to their advice in an all-party committee for the appointments of members to boards and committees in the Yukon Territory.
Mr. Jenkins: So I will take it that we can look forward to seeing a new set-up for the appointment to major government boards and committees and an all-party group here in the House in the next little while.
For the record, Mr. Chair, I want to make it abundantly clear that I voted against the supplementary budget that your government tabled in this House, as a consequence of the Liberals not fulfilling a great deal of their election promises and their commitments. I am very much in favour of more money for the areas that have been earmarked. I am not opposed to the money. A lot of that money was federal government flow-through from the feds to YTG. An example would be the l'Association des franco-yukonnais funding. That is not additional new money from this government; that's just a flow-through. You're just the vehicle for delivering the funds, Mr. Chair, so that's why that was included. But as to the two significant issues that were addressed in the budget, they were two of the 100-odd, and there were just not enough decisions being made.
Mr. Chair, I can't seem to get any very definitive responses from the Acting Premier, so I'll continue with the Premier when she returns on Monday and turn the floor over to my colleagues here, Mr. Chair. So I'd like to thank the Acting Premier for her attempt at answering a lot of these questions. I'm sorry that the answers she provided on a lot of them are not acceptable, and we'll just have to explore them with the Premier on Monday, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I was absolutely clear that the member opposite would not find my answers satisfactory, long before this debate began.
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a number of items I would like to explore with the Acting Premier and, in fact, any of the members opposite who may want to get involved in general debate here today.
Firstly, I'd like to point something out to the Acting Premier that, though she keeps going back to this document of the election platform of the Liberal Party, it's evident there are many, many, many commitments out there that seem to have not found their way into this document that the Liberals made during the election.
When the Acting Premier states that they're passing the NDP budget, and the Liberals can't understand why we're taking so long in general debate, it's because we're not getting any answers. It's because in the throne speech there was no vision, no direction, nothing that would indicate what this Liberal government is all about. What sets them apart from the other parties in this Legislature? There are reasons that we have to ask these questions. That's our job. It's called holding the government accountable.
To date we have witnessed, in this short sitting, the Liberals break promise after promise, and it has to do with commitments.
The Tombstone issue. The Liberals promoted, beyond any doubt, that the solution was buying out the Tombstone claims. They demanded that the government of the day buy out the claims. When given the opportunity to address that issue, did they follow through with the hard and fast position that they had taken in opposition - the position they promoted of buying out the claims? No. They most certainly did not - a promise broken.
When it comes to legal aid, the member herself, the Member for Riverdale South, was very vocal with the demands that she made to the government of the day to put more money into legal aid when given the opportunity. The government is the decision-maker. You have the purse. What did they do? Nothing.
When the Premier stated clearly for the Yukon public that the problem with the teachers negotiations, with YTA negotiations, was the need to bring back respect and integrity to the collective bargaining process and that it just simply is not about money, the first act that this Liberal government produced was a signing bonus for teachers that cost a million dollars to the taxpayers of this territory - another promise broken.
Mr. Chair, highway maintenance, the expenditure of money on Yukon roads and highways - it did find its way into this. Now, I think we can agree that the Department of C&TS has a number - probably a considerable number - of projects sitting there on the shelf. It wouldn't have been an arduous effort by the Liberal government to put money into their supplementary for highway maintenance in this territory now. It was a commitment to the Yukon public here in this document and during the election campaign, and it was, while in opposition, a Liberal demand over and over and over. What did they do? Nothing - another promise broken.
We have also witnessed the Liberal state. The member, on the floor today, stated that oil and gas is a primary focus, yet when one of the most important conferences and gatherings of industry - the pipeline association conference - took place a number of weeks ago, instead of providing political leadership, the Premier and the Liberal government were conspicuously absent while the competing interests were there lobbying heavily for their project. Again, this is another commitment that seems to have gone amiss.
Then we have a situation on the Argus properties issue. The Member for Whitehorse Centre was very clear, and he substantiated that yesterday in his impassioned speech, which I thought was a good one. He did, again, state that he opposed the project, and there was an election commitment there. When the funding is retracted, the developer can then proceed on a level playing field. Those are not some wishy-washy weasel words. That is a hard, fast commitment. We witnessed on the floor of this Legislature, the Premier pull the rug out from underneath the Member for Whitehorse Centre - another commitment, another promise broken.
Today we witnessed an even worse example of that fact when it comes to our seniors. The Minister of Health and Social Services went on and on and on yesterday about how he and the Liberal government are supporting seniors, and at this juncture I don't dispute that; however, a commitment was made during the election. Commitments made in an election campaign are commitments to the voting public of this territory that this is what you would do if elected as a government.
That means all candidates. The Liberal candidate in Watson Lake committed to the construction of a continuing care facility. The Minister of Health and Social Services, at a low point in this Legislature in my short tenure here, completely cut the legs out from under that candidate; another promise broken. What we are witnessing is a litany of Liberal promises that have already, in such a short period of time upon taking office, simply been cast aside. That's problematic and that's why we're here in general debate going over these issues. It's our job to hold the Liberal government accountable. So far, this government that claims to be open and accountable, and a government that does what is says it will do, has been nothing of the sort - not even remotely resembling a government that does what it says it will do.
Mr. Chair, the Liberals claim that they plan to rebuild our economy and that's a pretty bold and broad statement. The facts are that the economy is and was turning around. Numbers don't lie. Those are the facts. So, in the context of, as the Liberals put it, rebuilding the economy, I would ask the Acting Premier - and this is not department detail in any way, shape or form, so I'm sure the Acting Premier must have this information available to her - to stand on the floor of this Legislature and tell this House what the Liberal view is of the Yukon economy. What's it made up of? What does that look like to the Liberal government?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the economy is in bad shape. That's our view of the Yukon economy. It is quite clearly the view of most Yukoners.
Mr. Chair, the member has gone on and on. He says that we have given no answers. When we do give answers, he doesn't like them. He doesn't agree with them. Of course he doesn't agree with them; he's in opposition. We do give in answers; he doesn't like them. He doesn't like the fact that we followed through on our commitments to increase student grants. He doesn't like the fact that we have provided another incentive for mining in the Yukon. He doesn't like the fact that we have provided for a youth leadership program for youth at risk here in the Yukon. He doesn't like them to the extent that he voted against them. He voted against those fine initiatives in the supplementary budget.
In the fall throne speech, much like the member opposite did when they were in power, we will outline our priorities for the next three and a half years. We will specifically outline what is going to be in that budget document for that year's spending. One of our biggest promises during the election was to pass the NDP budget. We have done that. We do what we say we will do. We did it because we wanted that money out into an economy that is ailing.
The member opposite doesn't seem to be proud of that budget. He delays and delays and delays the passing of that budget. It's very, very difficult to understand.
We are a government that sets the priorities. We have set some of our priorities. Some of those priorities came forward in the supplemetary budget. There will be more in the fall supplementary budget. There will be more over the next three and a half years. We will fulfill our commitments within the platform document.
The member opposite continually wants to schedule the Premier and decide which meeting is more important than another. I would like to suggest to the member opposite that he may or may not have the expertise to decide if one meeting is more important than another. I would like to suggest to the member opposite that what the Premier is doing on behalf of Yukoners, in order to help our ailing economy, is to go out and proactively go after investors - people who want to come to the Yukon and spend money, people who want to help our economy.
The member opposite goes on and on and on and on about the agreement that the interim leader, the Member for Faro, signed on the Argus development. He goes on and on and on about an agreement that was tabled, the tripartite agreement that was tabled in the Legislature yesterday, which he may or may not have had a chance to examine. The member opposite claims expertise on the commitments made within that agreement. I'd like to suggest for the member opposite that he needs to take a much better look at that agreement, or perhaps ask the Member for Faro exactly what the commitments are on behalf of the territorial government that were made by the Member for Faro when he signed that agreement.
Mr. Chair, we do what we say we're going to do. We said we were going to table and some day pass the NDP budget. We will do that, and if it takes all summer, that's fine with us. That is our job. We are here to represent Yukoners, much like the members opposite.
Mr. Fentie: Well, no answer, Mr. Chair.
I asked a very simple question: would the member explain to this House what the Liberal view is of what the makeup of the Yukon economy is? I didn't hear anything in that regard.
Furthermore, I'll tell the member what I don't like. I don't like the fact that the Liberals, during the election campaign, made many, many promises to the Yukon public when they have no intention to keep them. That's what I don't like.
Furthermore, I don't have to ask my colleague anything about an agreement. The facts are clear. The Member for Whitehorse Centre openly, publicly, opposed the Argus project and the expenditure. So did the Premier herself. You are now the government. You had choices to make. You didn't make them. You can't hide behind the agreement. I retract "you". The Liberal government can't hide behind the agreement any longer.
Now, the Liberals say they're going to rebuild the economy. Will the member explain to this House what the Liberal view is? What is the picture? Give us a snapshot of what the Liberals perceive to be the Yukon economy. What is its makeup? What are the components?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: It is the policy - because this is general debate, and this is where we discuss policy on the budget - of the Yukon Liberal government to look at the economy as having many sectors. There are the public and private sectors. There are responsibilities within the economy, specifically to business. Those responsibilities, from a Yukon government perspective, are to let business do what it does best. Therefore, we would provide a level playing field for all businesses.
This government did not sign an agreement with Argus; the former government did. It is our policy to provide a level playing field for all businesses. We listened to that when there was a forum for Yukon businesses here in the City of Whitehorse last January. We listened, and we heard what they had to say. One of their first priorities was to create a level playing field. Despite that, the NDP government of the day went out and signed an agreement that did not respect the information given to them by Yukon businesses.
The economy is small business; it's big business; it's the public sector and it's the private sector. When I speak about the public sector, I'm referring to all levels of government - First Nations, federal government, territorial government, municipal governments and local governments.
Five levels of government - that's part of our economy.
I think the member opposite is trying to get to some question about what our policies would be on a specific issue. I guess I'm not really clear on where he is going with this. The member opposite dances around issues, doesn't ask specifically about a particular point or policy that the Liberal government may or may not have. He asks hypothetical questions, he asks definition questions. Perhaps the member could frame his question in such a way that he would be speak about a specific policy that's appropriate for discussion and general debate on the budget that the NDP authored, that they seem to be very, very unhappy about passing through this legislature.
Mr. Keenan: Point of order.
Chair: Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, on a point of order.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I don't believe there's a quorum in the House.
Chair: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(4), if at any time during a sitting of the Assembly the Chair's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Chair will cause the bells to ring and then do a count.
Chair: I have shut off the bells and I will do a count.
There are nine members present. A quorum is present, We will now continue debate.
Mr. Fentie: Well, getting back to my point, I'm not skating around the edges or anything else. The Liberals committed to rebuilding the economy. What I'm attempting to find out, in that regard, is if the Liberals really understand what the Yukon economy is made up of. What are its components?
So, let's try this again: can the Acting Premier explain to me today, here in the House, what the Liberals believe to be the economic engines in this territory at this point in time?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the private sector is always the economic engine in any economy. It is only in the Yukon where the economy is not doing as well as it could. Everywhere else in Canada, the private sector is creating more jobs than the public sector. Here in the Yukon, that's not as true. The biggest engine in any economy has to be the private sector. The private sector has to be supported. Small business, big business - it needs to be supported. That is part of what our government is committed to.
The business summit, which the members opposite totally ignored, put out a number of recommendations, very good recommendations, in January 1999. They put out a number of recommendations. One of them was for a level playing field.
We will listen to the greatest economic engine. That is the private sector. We will end the current practice of providing government incentives when they are competitively harmful to existing businesses. We will hold an annual business summit to obtain recommendations from the private sector. Unlike the previous government, which ignored those recommendations, we will consider the needs of home-based businesses when developing policies or services to support business. We will promote the development of joint ventures between First Nations and other investors. Yes, one of the greatest economic engines is small business; it is the large business; but it is definitely the private sector.
Another one of the things that we can do is to evaluate the programs that we are delivering to small business from the government. That was done, some of it, by the previous government. There was an effort to reduce red tape. I remember the red-tape monitor quite well. I even had my picture taken by it at one point. That process started and it needs to be continued. We need to work with the business community to reduce more red tape to streamline processes. Some of that was done - and I will admit it - by the previous government. We will evaluate Economic Development programs to determine which ones are helping to create jobs. So when there is a program that comes forward from this government, we'll see how many jobs are going to be created from that program.
Spending money on economic development is no guarantee of success. Some government initiatives work and others definitely do not. It is only by evaluating programs that Yukoners can gauge which ones are producing results. That's some of our policy around small business: an economic engine. That's some of our policy on how government works with small business and with large business.
Mr. Fentie: Well, then I assume that one of the main planks in the Liberals' commitment to rebuilding the economy is bringing certainty to the territory. So now we have a problem. In the mining industry, just the Tombstone issue itself - that the Liberals fumbled badly already - has cast a cloud of uncertainty. Furthermore, the Acting Premier's refusal to even hint to the Legislature, the First Nations and the Yukon public that, yes, they have instructed their negotiators to proceed aggressively with the settlement of land claims has cast another major cloud of uncertainty over this territory's ability to attract investment.
Furthermore, there was the Premier's inability to recognize the pipeline producers and that association's conference of a few weeks ago. It was extremely important for the Yukon to be there with political leadership.
On that issue, which has created a great deal of uncertainty in the oil and gas industry, which, by the way, could be a major economic engine for this territory, the Premier and the Liberal government are leading from behind. So, we have problems already with the Liberals' start on their so-called commitment to rebuilding the economy.
Now, I notice that the Acting Premier, when asked this question of what the components of our economy are, didn't get into any specifics, so let me try and help out. We have, in the Yukon Territory, a great dependence on resource development, obviously. That area is a major component of our economy. The Liberals have committed to bringing certainty back to the mining industry and have done little to show that they can or are going to be able to or even will do that. They passed the NDP budget. Of course, the NDP budget did a great deal for the mining industry by offering such things as 22-percent tax credits for the mining industry. So far, the Liberals have only been able to proceed with the NDP budget, policies and agenda. What sets the Liberals apart? That is why we are in general debate asking questions. We are trying to find out who the Liberals are and what they really stand for and what they intend to do on behalf of the Yukon public.
Mr. Chair, will the Acting Premier explain to this House, then, what they intend to do for mining, one of our main economic engines, to attract investment into the mining industry in this territory this year, the year 2000-01?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, just before the break, we did pass - or, we haven't passed it yet - the supplementary budget, which had a research and development investment tax credit. That was for mining. That was what the member opposite voted against. So, that's one of the things we're doing this year to help mining in the Yukon Territory. Passing the NDP budget and creating certainty in the economy is another one of those things.
Mr. Chair, I believe it's time for the break.
Chair: Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will recess for 10 minutes.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on estimates.
Mr. Fentie: When it comes to the budget that we're debating here today, a great deal of that budget has a lot to do, through expenditure, with the Yukon economy. So we have to now look at the fact that the budget is based on and built from long-term capital planning, my point being that the Liberal government has made the economy the big issue. They claim that the economy is shattered and so on and so forth, but what we have to try to ascertain is how the Liberal government intends to get from here to where they claim they're going. With this budget that they are now responsible for and accountable for - it's now the Liberal budget - how, given the fact that they have completely opposed any further long-term capital planning from this budget, do they intend to get us down the road that they claim we're heading on?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we have been talking about roads today. How we are going to get there is outlined in our platform document, It's All About the Future. That's our blueprint for the future. The details of the priorities will come up in our throne speech this fall. The member opposite has heard that particular statement a number of times today and yesterday and the day before that and the day before that and, I believe, the day before that.
One of the ways that we are going to get there, which we hope is going to be a vibrant, sustainable economy, is to bring mining back to the Yukon. The Premier today talked about how important the oil and gas industry is to the Yukon. Unlike the mining industry, it does not have a hundred years of history in our territory. We cannot overstate the importance of the mining industry to the economy of the Yukon. The Yukon Territory was created because of the gold rush in the Klondike. Our roads and power, most of our communities were built around mining projects.
The Yukon has a small and specialized economy that is strongly dependent on mining. There has been an increase in the size of government, and there has also been an increased economic diversification, but mining activity remains the most important economic business sector.
Ten years ago, 1,300 people were directly employed in the mining industry in Yukon. Today, that number is down to less than 400. The Yukon now has the third highest unemployment rate in Canada. Ten years ago, the Yukon produced $400 million in minerals. At that time, it would have been the entire Yukon government budget. Last year, that value was only $62 million.
So, how important is mining to the Yukon? It's absolutely important. Right now, our number one industry is tourism, but only by default. Mining has always been our number one industry. Things have changed. The economy is not doing well. We're hoping to change that. The Premier has been very proactive, going out and looking for investors for the Yukon. She has gone to Calgary. She has gone to Vancouver. She has spoken to many people about coming back to the Yukon and about investing in our territory.
She will continue to do that. She is being very proactive, very aggressive in bringing people into the Yukon. We know now that there will be new investment in the territory over the next three and half years, investment that would not have happened had there been an NDP government, investments that happened because there is a Liberal government in the Yukon Territory. It is true that there has never been a Liberal government, so therefore people are not as expectant of certain things from this government because there is no history. What there has been are a number of promises and commitments to the Yukon public made in the election and prior to the election by Yukon Liberals. Those commitments will help us rebuild the economy of the Yukon. Those commitments are a pledge to Yukoners. That is how we will rebuild the economy of the Yukon Territory.
Mr. Fentie:Well, we would hope that the Premier's trip to Calgary and Vancouver is a trip to aggressively promote the Yukon, and not just a chance to showcase a wardrobe. We expected that that's what she'd be doing. The member hasn't said anything here that would indicate how the Liberals intend to deliver a rebuilt economy.
The member is very, very good at repeating that the Liberals are a government that will do what they say they will do, that the Liberals have committed to rebuild the economy, and that they're going to rebuild it. But we're a little concerned, and so is the Yukon public. We're already talking to people daily who are wondering what's happening to all of the Liberal commitments made during the election campaign. They're falling by the wayside, one after the other. There is concern out there already that we may have a serious problem here. So, the member, in debate, needs to do more than recite whatever lines they're getting from their professional expertise and give us some indication how they intend to do things and live up to their commitments.
Let me move off that. We'll wait for the Premier to return, obviously. We're not getting any answers out of the Acting Premier.
Let's move on to a very important part of this budget, the community development fund, and, within the community development fund, the fire smart program funding and rural roads program funding.
Again, we get back to this long-term approach to things, where a throne speech that had some content to it, instead of an empty, hollow vessel, would have given us an indication as to what the Liberal government intends to do with the community development fund.
Now, there's no secret here. We don't have to argue this point or debate this point. The community development fund has been an extremely positive initiative and expenditure of the Yukon government throughout this territory. It's a targeted expenditure that addresses the needs of Yukoners, that promotes the development of projects that come from the grassroots and from the community. So I'd like to get an indication from the Acting Premier, because we don't have anything here in the throne speech, the budget speech or, something the Liberals are very good at, press releases. We have nothing that indicates what they intend to do.
Can the member tell us today in the House what their intention is with regard to the community development fund for this territory?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, our obvious commitment is to pass the budget with $3-million worth of commitments to the community development fund. That is our first commitment. There is $3 million sitting there, waiting, in the community development fund, for this budget to be passed. By going into line-by-line or by going into the departments and getting through general debate, we can get on with the business of passing this budget - going into the departments, going into line-by-line, getting this money out into the economy.
Our commitment to the community development fund is to pass this budget, the budget the members opposite are no longer proud of, the budget the members opposite seem to want to delay passing by going through an endless litany of question after repetitive question after repetitive question. They get answers they don't like and, therefore, say they don't get answers.
Mr. Chair, that is our commitment to the community development fund. It is to pass this budget sometime this summer and to pass this budget so that the community development funds will be available for expenditures under this legislative authority.
Mr. Fentie:Well, here we go. The community development fund is an extremely important expenditure for this territory when it comes to the communities. Can I ask the Acting Premier then, given her answer, which is simply that we are here to pass this budget and there's nothing beyond that - we don't have anything, again I point out, in the throne speech. We have no indication as to where the Liberals are going. What do we tell all those Yukon people, groups, municipalities, non-profit organizations, NGOs and First Nations, which are busily putting together projects and applications to the community development fund as we speak? What do we in this Legislature tell those people? What should they do? Should they continue putting together their projects and applications, or should they stand down and wait for the Liberals to get over their ecstasy from their election victory and get on with the business of governing this territory?
And part of that is giving answers in this Legislature. Let me point out to the Deputy Premier: we opposition; that side of the House, government - decision makers, you're responsible and accountable. That means you've got to provide answers in this Legislature, or we're here until we get some.
What do we tell the Yukon public who are busily working on applications for their CDF monies? What's going to be beyond this fiscal year for them? What's the answer?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The answer is that this side of the House tabled the NDP budget. It is now our budget. We made that decision; we are tabling $3-million worth of commitments to the community development fund. That's the answer.
Here's the other part of the answer: the members opposite who authored this budget are delaying its passage in this House, asking endless questions to which they get answers that they don't like and, therefore, say they don't get answers. That's what you can tell them. You can tell them that you are delaying the passage of the budget that has $3-million worth of commitments to the community development fund. That's what the members opposite can tell their constituents. That's certainly what we on this side of the House are telling our constituents. We have made a commitment; we have made a decision; we have tabled the NDP-authored budget. That is the decision we made. Half-a-billion dollars worth of commitments to the Yukon people - that is the commitment that we have made - and $3 million in the community development fund. Thank you.
Mr. Fentie: Well, if that's the answer, then I guess we'll tell Yukoners that the community development fund is only going to have $3 million. That's it, game over. The Liberals are going to do something else. They can't give any indication, even though they committed to the Yukon public that, when it comes to these issues like CDF, TMF and TIF, they were going to improve accountability and do all those wonderful things. Where was that in the answer, Mr. Chair?
The answer we did get, seeing as the Acting Premier is so sensitive about the fact that we seem not to like the answers, then we'll accept that one. There's only $3 million left for CDF, and that's it.
Now, let's get back to the supplementary for just a second here, because it is related to this budget. The Liberals had an opportunity with the supplementary to meet a lot of commitments. Part of the community development fund is the fire smart program, and I can recall this very member, the Member for Riverdale South, when the government of the day implemented the fire smart program funding through CDF, calling the news media and roundly criticizing the government because it wasn't enough. It wasn't enough money. So here we have a Liberal government, which recently had the opportunity in the design and development of their supplementary budget to put more money into fire smart. Can the Acting Premier explain why, when the member herself was so vocal about the fact that the fire smart program wasn't enough money, they did not put more money in when they had the opportunity?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, what the members opposite don't seem to like is their own budget. They don't want to pass it. It's the strangest thing. It's the oddest thing. The people whom we talk to out in the communities and people whom we talk to in the City of Whitehorse are wondering what is going on. This is the budget that the NDP offered. We are tabling it in its entirety, and they're delaying its passage. It is the oddest thing you can possibly imagine, similar to calling quorum in Committee of the Whole. It's the oddest thing.
Mr. Chair, there was $1 million in this budget that went toward the fire smart programs. By tabling this budget, we have committed to the fire smart program for the year 2000-01.
Similarly, this government has made a commitment to community development fund for $3 million, which is also in this budget. The community development fund board has been appointed. We planned and put in place a citizen board for future allocations. We had real problems when we were in opposition about the way this money was allocated. We'd like to keep this at arm's length. We are going to have a citizen board like we said we would and that's going to take time.
It's going to take time to fix the many, many, many mistakes that the NDP made.
The member opposite said: why isn't there more money in the supplementary budget for the fire smart program? Well, Mr. Chair, the member opposite would have voted against it. I mean, good grief, the member opposite voted against youth at risk and the youth leadership program. The member opposite voted against student assistance grants. The member opposite voted against a research and development tax credit. Certainly the member opposite would have voted against the fire smart program. Certainly he would have done that.
So, our commitment is clear. We tabled the NDP-authored budget that they no longer seem to like; the one that they're delaying here in the House. We made a commitment of $3 million to the community development fund and we made a $1 million commitment to the fire smart program. Those were our commitments. Further, in the supplementary budget that the member opposite voted against, we made a commitment to youth at risk and the youth leadership program - a program that takes place in the rural communities of the Yukon Territory. The member opposite voted against that. In our supplementary budget, we put in monies for the student grant, finally increasing an amount to help students, and the member opposite voted against that.
We put money in our supplementary budget for R and D - a tax credit on research and development; the member opposite voted against that. So he voted against students; he voted against youth, and he voted against mining. Certainly if we put the fire smart program in there, he would have voted against that as well.
Mr. Fentie: Well, this is sweet. Let me say that the Acting Premier is all wet on this one. In fact, we, on this side of the House, voted against the supplementary budget because it didn't do enough for mining; it didn't do enough for children and youth, it didn't do enough, period, based on the commitments that the Liberals made. So the member can talk all she wants about delaying the passage of this budget. It certainly isn't this side of the House that's delaying it. It's the member herself and her colleagues, who seem to forget that their duty is to answer to the taxpaying public - the voting public - and provide answers in this Legislature, and it's high time they start getting into that mode of doing their job.
If the supplementary budget would have contained a serious attempt at living up to commitments made, the vote might have been a different story. So, let's get the record straight. It's the member opposite who demanded more money for fire smart, yet when they had the opportunity to put it in, they didn't. I asked why they didn't, and instead I get a lecture about how we vote. Let me remind the member that it wasn't that long ago that the Liberals voted against the NDP budget that they now passed and are voting for because it didn't do enough. Funny how an election can change their mind. I think it's a problem with the Liberals, who simply lust for political power and to heck with everybody else.
They're more interested in their own headlines than in what the Yukon public's needs are.
Mr. Chair, let's look at another area of our economy. Sadly missing in this much-vaunted platform - which, by the way, the Liberals, given how they have been living up to their commitments to date, should probably have written this on softer paper and put it in a roll, because it might have got some use. Sadly missing in this much-vaunted platform from the members opposite - we have to laugh at ourselves. Where is forestry? Where is forestry in this Liberal commitment other than, "We're going to develop legislation with First Nations." That's been said time and time again, this year, last year, the year before. Where is forestry?
And I'll tell you why I ask that question. So far, all we have got out of the Acting Premier is that the economy is shattered; it's dead; we're finished, and the only answer here is the Liberals.
But the member is wrong. The member is dead wrong, because there is an economy in this territory and it is an economy that's beginning the diversified route that was so needed. It's an economy that's beginning to move away from boom-and-bust cycles and become a stable, sustainable economy. And one of the main vehicles - and, by the way, the Acting Premier failed to mention this in her snapshot view of what makes up our economy - is our developing forest sector. Today, in the Liberals so-called view that there is absolutely no investment in this territory and now there will be because the Liberals are here, well, let me remind the member that millions of dollars, under the NDP watch, were invested in this territory in forestry.
The forest sector today is producing benefits and jobs for the Yukon Territory in a huge way. It is a major economic engine in this territory, yet the Liberals don't even give it honourable mention in their platform, their supplementary budget or their throne speech - nothing. Will the Acting Premier, if she's paying attention - would she like me to wait for a few moments?
Will the Acting Premier explain what the Liberal government intends to do to ensure that what the NDP created in the forest sector, under their watch, continues? Also, how does the Liberal government intend to build on what the NDP government accomplished when it comes to forestry?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'm going to pass this question on to the Minister of Renewable Resources. This is plainly a departmental question. We're in general debate on policy, but the Minister of Renewable Resources will answer this question.
To go back and clear up one of the statements by the member opposite, we, as the Liberal Party, voted against the NDP budget because it was a financial instrument or financial bill. We had no faith in the ability of the NDP government to use the money within that budget constructively to improve the economy of the Yukon. We voted against it, like we voted against that government.
I'll give your question, then, to the Minister of Renewable Resources.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I'm not going to presuppose to know more about this industry than the member opposite who brought the question up. At this particular juncture, I would not want to go head-to-head with the Member for Watson Lake, so I won't even attempt that - maybe.
What I would do, though, because he does have a very good understanding of the forest resources in his section of the territory, is to sit down with him and discuss these things with us. Let's work together in trying to get this valuable resource industry up and going.
We also have to consider, as we have said from time to time, that we are in partnership with the federal government, which presently has this resource under its direct control. I know that there has been, with the previous government, direct discussions about how to manage the resource and how to allocate harvesting agreements - whether they are short term or long term. There are concerns that have been expressed by conservation groups. There have been concerns and rationale provided by the industry in the Watson Lake area.
These are issues that the previous government has asked the federal government to be continually apprised of and how their decision making affects the resource in that area. It is another reason why we have to get on with devolution, so that we can be making these decisions that directly affect our resource and our economy.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the member opposite for an answer. I appreciate that. That's what this is all about. That's what general debate is all about and debate in this Legislature is all about. I thank the member for the invitation to collectively work on this issue, because there are no political boundaries out there in our forests.
Let me remind the Acting Premier that the reason we're asking questions here in general debate specifically about policy is because we, along with many, many Yukoners, are very concerned that the Liberals and this Liberal bus - the government bus, which now has the Acting Premier at the wheel, hopefully with both hands on it and both eyes staring straight ahead at the road in front - isn't going to hit the ditch. We're a little concerned that we're going to be in the ditch here shortly, because so far the Liberal government has managed to renege on a number of major commitments that they made while in opposition and during an election campaign. So, there's a lot of concern, and that's why we're asking questions.
The Minister of Renewable Resources touched on a very important point: devolution. Can the Acting Premier - and this is a policy question - explain to this Legislature what their position is on devolution as it relates to land claims? Is it the Liberal position that all land claims will be settled first, before the Yukon Liberal government proceeds with finalizing devolution?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we actually have quite a bit to say on devolution. First of all, we are committed to the March 31, 2001 deadline. We are still committed to that date. The devolution process has been discussed for many years. Part of devolution - the health transfer, for example - has occurred. The Yukon Liberals have stated publicly how important devolution is to all Yukoners.
The Premier went to Ottawa with the previous government's leader to speak with members of the House of Commons and the Senate, knowing that the question would be asked sometime in the near future to vote on the Yukon Act, which will change the way we, as people of the Yukon, will be viewed by people outside and even how we will view ourselves.
After devolution, we will be making all the hard decisions that were made by Ottawa previously. There are many difficult and complicated issues involved with the devolution process. Many of the details of the devolution agreement are still being negotiated with the federal government, as the members opposite well know. They were part of that process. The Government of the Yukon and the Yukon First Nations are also part of that process.
The federal responsibility, fiduciary duties and obligations to Yukon First Nations who have not yet reached a settlement will remain. We will be responsible for ensuring the transfer of administrative control of our lands and resources, which include the people presently working for the federal government, and we are hoping that that transition happens as smoothly as possible.
When the transfer occurs, the people of the Yukon will have control and administration of mining and minerals, forest management, water management, and land management. The transfer must occur without disruption of services to Yukon people. The transfer must occur without compromising our fragile economy, and the transfer must occur without unduly stressing Yukon's public employees.
The transfer includes all equipment necessary to manage the lands, forests and waters of the Yukon. We are committed to that process, Mr. Chair. We are committed to the date of March 31, 2001.
Mr. Fentie: Well, an answer, and even though it was all out of the briefing note, I appreciate the answer, and now we know that the Liberal government, even though land claims is their top priority, is going to proceed with devolution, as far as timelines, was laid out under the previous government. I wonder how that rests with their special relationship. We know that the First Nations are opposed to proceeding with devolution ahead of land claims.
We have heard the Grand Chief state that clearly.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to turn this over to one of my colleagues. I think it's important that the Liberal government starts to provide answers in this Legislature, as we have just witnessed two now - two answers - and that helps. We're getting somewhere and I want to leave the floor of this Legislature, so I can rush to my office and write them down. So, I'll wait for any further debate for the Premier to return and I'll be turning this over to one of my colleagues.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: To be clear, the member opposite doesn't have to write it down. It will appear - all comments will appear - in Hansard. Just to save him some time and some energy.
Mr. Chair, to be absolutely clear, the Yukon Liberal government does not presume to speak for Yukon First Nations, even though other parties may.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair, I have a few areas I would like to explore. The first one is on the government's invitation to collaborate with us in resolving decisions for the betterment of the Yukon. I would like to know how they propose to do this, because in the week and a half of this Legislature so far we have seen them behave in a manner that is not conducive to a good relationship. I'm talking about the flow of information and the timely flow of information and the need to respect one another, as far as time goes, in reviewing that information.
We saw the government table reports, deliver a ministerial statement on something and expect us to reply before we even had the report. We've seen them table letters only after sending it out to their friends and to the media - a few days afterwards. That's not respectful.
We constantly get press releases long after they're posted on the Internet and, presumably, also sent to the media. That's not respectful, either. I know this is a matter that I have raised with the Minister of Renewable Resources. I know that he would be concerned about this, as well, in his former role as chair of a quasi-judicial tribunal, which recognizes basic principles of natural justice, such as providing the other side the opportunity to respond and be in a position of knowledge.
So, I would like to know how the government intends to follow through on its offer for us to work better together.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, we already made one commitment to work with the side opposite. That commitment was that, within one year, we would have an all-party committee to make appointments to boards and committees.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The Member for Faro is saying, "A year? Why is it going to take that long?" Well, it has taken - how long has the Yukon government been around? - a hundred years to get to that point. I think we're actually doing quite well, having made a commitment after only eight weeks. We are doing extremely well, actually, Mr. Chair - extremely well.
I remember being on the side opposite. I remember it well. I remember it well. I remember getting ministerial statements with no report, and having no idea what the ministerial statement was referring to because there was no report. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to talk to the members in my caucus at the time and say, "You know, you need to follow through with these things." We have problems. We have had some problems trying to get our administration together, but we have heard what the members opposite said. We had the same problem. We are working diligently to make sure that that never happens again. Hopefully, it will never happen again. Certainly, we have heard more than enough about it, and we never want to hear about it again.
I remember quite well getting ministerial statements from the side opposite at a quarter to one. We were supposed to respond to it in 45 minutes - ministerial statements about major policy changes. We remember quite well being on the side opposite and being expected to debate a department, prior to getting a briefing in that area, because it inconvenienced somehow the minister responsible. I remember quite well being on the side opposite and being treated the way I was treated by the NDP government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The Member for Faro is saying that I did say that he was a good House leader and actually I did say that, and the reason I said that was because he had served in opposition prior to becoming government. So, he was aware of what that meant. One of the other House leaders at the time - that would be Mr. Phillips, Mr. Doug Phillips - had also been in that situation and he was a great House leader. Many were the discussions that we had around the table that's now in my office, upstairs, when we were all House leaders. Many interesting discussions, some of which I should probably write down the content of - not the absolute detail on those things, because the discussions of the House leaders is something that we need to keep private - because it was really hard to believe that we have had some of those conversations.
But the thing that makes this government different from previous governments is that we're not afraid to hear from the side opposite; not afraid to work with the side opposite on committees to make this Legislature work better and to make Yukon government work better. We want to have people from the side opposite give us their expertise and knowledge on the subjects that they know best. For example, the Member for Watson Lake goes on quite a bit about forestry, and the Minister of Renewable Resources recognized the fact that he has expertise in that area.
The former Minister of Economic Development has considerable expertise in agreements, particularly with the private sector and the City of Whitehorse. He has knowledge of all of those issues. We are interested in hearing what they have to say.
An all-party committee to appoint people to boards and committees in the Yukon government is a substantial change in the way we have done business in this Legislature - that is this side of the House letting go of a little bit of power and trusting the side opposite to work with us. And, quite frankly, I consider it a tremendous risk after having served in opposition with the official opposition being the government. I consider it a tremendous risk.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Like the Member for Klondike points out, it is all about the future, and that is true. And even though the Member for Klondike thinks the future is far off, it's actually today; it's happening every second. And that is something that we're committed to. We're committed to the future of Yukoners. We're committed to working with the side opposite; we're committed to hearing from the side opposite about their issues, their constituency issues, their comments and their critiques - most of them constructive - on the issues that are before this House every day.
Members opposite may not believe it, but we learn from the members opposite when they stand up in Question Period and ask us about the issues that are outstanding, the issues that are before the Yukon public. We're brand new; we've never been a government before. The Yukon Liberal Party has never been a government in the Yukon Territory. We're learning.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: And the Member for Klondike is saying that it has become more and more obvious everyday. And I hope that's true, because we're going to do things differently. Part of that is that all-party committee to appoint people to boards and committees.
We hope that we don't act the way the previous governments have acted. We hope that we change things. Just as the members opposite, when they were in government, hoped that they were going to change and improve things, that's also our hope. Part of the way that we will do that is by changing the processes that come through the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Chair, the Member for Faro - the interim leader of the official opposition - talks about the land claims process. That is one of the ways that we are going to be different from previous governments. We are going to keep specifics from the land claims table out of the public, so that negotiations can take place confidentially. We are going to change the way we deal with Yukon First Nations. We are going to treat those other levels of government, those other Yukoners, differently. That is our hope. That's what we will do. We are committed to doing that. We were committed to that during the election. We were committed to that prior to that, during our public life as members of the opposition. So, yes, we're going to be different.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to report progress on Bill No. 2.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I disagree that progress should be moved, Mr. Chair. There's clearly about six minutes left in this day and I did not get an answer to my question. I would like to follow up on it, and there's time to do that now.
Chair: It's not a point of order. Since there's a motion on the floor, the motion has to be voted on, so there would be a vote first.
Are we agreed that the motion to report progress on the bill be carried?
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Chair: Ms. Edelman still has the floor as she made the motion to move progress. That's where we left last.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: If you would read the Standing Orders when the Chair asks for order, the person has to sit down as a response to the Chair asking for order.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 2.
Chair: There has to be an intermediate step now.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman:I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I wasn't aware of the process, one of the many processes of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. And you're right; I'm new to this side of the House. I'm hoping to do a better job than some of the other people that have been on this side of the House. Absolutely, Mr. Chair. And part of that is respecting the members of the opposition.
It was so frustrating being on the opposite side of the House, having information that we wanted to share. We would often send information over to the other side with notes; we'd get back cartoons.
Mr. Chair, I know that there is quite a bit of intelligence, quite a bit of deep thought that goes on on the other side of the House. I hope that the members opposite feel free to share some of their thoughts - their deep thoughts in particular - with the people of the Yukon and with this side of the House. We want to hear what they have to say. They represent people of the Yukon. Their voices should be heard in this Legislature. We want to not only hear them, but to listen to what they have to say. That's part of the way we're going to be different as a government.
That's our pledge to Yukoners. We're going to do government differently.
Mr. Chair, we will enjoy going out and speaking to Yukoners this fall about their priorities. We will continue to have a dialogue with Yukon people that is respectful. We will listen to what Yukoners have to say.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I move that 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: Mr. Speaker, 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.
Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled June 15, 2000:
Yukon Liberal Party (Election 2000) Platform: "it's all about the Future"
Yukon Party (Election 2000) Platform and Commitments: "Now More Than Ever"