Wednesday, June 28, 2000 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I have for filing a letter dated January 27, 2000, from myself to Minister Bob Nault.
Speaker: Are there any other returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) non-governmental organizations provide a wide variety of important and necessary services to Yukon people on behalf of the government; and
(2) in order to plan properly for effective service delivery, it is essential for such organizations' access to be assured of stable long-term funding; and
(3) the Yukon Liberal government's refusal to make any financial commitments beyond the current fiscal year is creating uncertainty for many non-governmental organizations whose existing long-term funding agreements will be expiring shortly; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal government to negotiate new three-year agreements with all non-governmental organizations that provide services on behalf of government and to table the supplementary budget that provides the necessary resources to implement these agreements.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Alcohol and drug services: review of
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I rise to comment on a very important issue and a very important direction that we, as a Liberal government, want to take. I want to inform the House of an initiative being undertaken jointly by the Department of Health and Social Services and the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, which we anticipate will result in improved alcohol and drug services in the Yukon.
We have asked AADAC to work with YTG on a comprehensive review of the services currently provided by alcohol and drug services. We believe, Mr. Speaker, that a complete and transparent review of the present services by this credible reviewer from outside the territory will provide us with the answers to some of our fundamental problems.
The delivery of alcohol and drug services throughout the territory is a complex interaction of various organizations, players, funding sources and approaches. While the services provided by the Yukon government are only a piece of the puzzle, they are an important part of the fundamental piece.
We need to know if the services we currently offer are appropriate; if they are sufficiently resourced, if and how services are being integrated with other service deliverers, and the current community need for the service.
Our government is committed to creating an independent alcohol and drug commission to be the sole agency responsible for funding alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment throughout the territory. This review will look at the many issues associated with the setting up of a commission such as the AADAC in a jurisdiction the size of the Yukon, and provide recommendations to us on how to best move forward.
Mr. Speaker, the present focus and direction of the alcohol and drug services program is based on the research findings of the Yukon alcohol and drug strategy approved in 1995 and further affirmed in 1999, and the health promotion survey. As a result, alcohol and drug services has set its priorities, not only at reducing alcohol consumption in the territory, but also toward increasing the services to youth and women. In addition, time and resources have also been directed toward after-care and support in Yukon communities, and delivery of general population messages focusing on responsible drinking and the role of the families.
Public concern over substance abuse is justified. The overinvolvement of alcohol in crime statistics, the birth of fetal alcohol damaged children, and the deaths on our highways is something we should all be concerned about.
The current public perception of the effectiveness of the alcohol and drug services in combating the affects of substance abuse in the territory is quite negative.
This review will be the first step toward restoring public confidence in these services.
Mr. Speaker, we believe that working together with the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission on this review will help us to find the answers that we can take toward a better solution to this obvious and heart-breaking problem.
It is anticipated that this review will begin within the next few weeks, with completion by the end of August and recommendations to me in the fall.
This is not a problem to be taken lightly. We want to do what is best and right for all Yukon residents. This is our first very little step.
Mr. Harding: The objective of reducing the scourge of alcohol and drug abuse in the territory is indeed a solid one, and I would like to be more complimentary of the Liberal government's first foray into this area. However, I must say that I am concerned with the lack of substance in this ministerial statement.
Now, one would ask why the Liberals would promise the electorate an alcohol and drug commission, and then not even be able to tell us after the election what it actually looks like. When they promised Yukoners that they were going to do this, they did it under the guise of improving alcohol and drug abuse services to Yukoners. They didn't tell people that, after the election, they would have to go to Alberta to seek that advice in order to deliver this for Yukoners.
Now, one knows that, under Mr. Klein in Alberta, there have been substantial concerns identified with health care and with social services, and one wonders if that is next for this Liberal government to run to Ralph Klein on. Perhaps it will be health care and how the Alberta government has handled health care, and we all know about the move to privatization in that area and the debate that has been sparked in this country and, indeed, very, very hotly in that province.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon New Democrats, when in government, knew that this problem was a very difficult one for Yukoners and invested a lot of resources. Our health care and our social services budget reflected that each and every year. The support we gave to treatment centres, such as Aishihik and Tatlmain, and the money that was invested, even in this budget, that we first brought forward and voted for - and the Liberals voted against - increased funding for FAS and FAE to fight that plight in the Yukon Territory. So, Mr. Speaker, we believe that it is important to ensure that adequate resources are placed in that area.
We must also question that there isn't a lot more substance in this review. One would have thought that there would have been a lot more thinking in terms of how they were going to respond by this time, as a result of being given a mandate by the Yukon people, and that the minister could stand today and list the action steps the government is going to take. This is another review being conducted by this government. Time and time again, we are seeing that just about everything is under review, but very little action is being taken.
Mr. Speaker, if you look at the supplementary budget, compared to our budget that the Liberals brought in, it contained $250,000 for increased prospector grants but contained no new money to fight FAS/FAE. That was after they had criticized the NDP budget previously for not having enough resources in this area.
So, it's a question of choice and priorities. The funding that the government has access to is very, very large. To be left with a $56-million surplus, when you look to our neighbours to the east - the Northwest Territories, which is facing a $232-million accumulated deficit - it shows just how well the coffers have been left to fight this illness that hurts the communities of this territory.
Mr. Speaker, I'm also interested, given that they are undertaking this review, in who they will be consulting, because they have engaged in this review and given the fact that they don't have their own ideas, in the midst of the summer. One would think that they would have thought it through a little more before they provided this as a plank to the Yukon public. I'm sure many people in the public assumed that they had thought it through in advance.
So, Mr. Speaker, I wish I could be more positive about this initiative, but the official opposition doesn't yet know what this commission is going to do, how it will be structured, what its objectives are going to be, and I frankly don't think the minister himself or the Liberal government knows either.
So, while we laud objectives and real action to fight alcohol and drug abuse in this territory, and we in the past indicated our improved support for those lofty goals and objectives that we want to fight for, we need to see more action -
Speaker: Order please. The member has 30 seconds to conclude.
Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
We need to see more concrete action from this government. Everything cannot be "under review". We expected that they would actually announce action in this area.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise in response to this ministerial statement on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus.
What we have before us today, Mr. Speaker, is one of Yukon's most serious social problems, and I must admit I am very puzzled by the direction the Liberal government is taking in relation to Yukon's very serious alcohol and drug abuse problem.
The government has announced that the Department of Health and Social Services, in conjunction with the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, is going to undertake a comprehensive review of the services currently provided by Yukon alcohol and drug services.
Well, this review may be a good thing. One of the major findings of a review has already been predetermined, and that is the creation of an independent alcohol and drug commission to be the sole agency responsible for funding alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment throughout all of the Yukon, Mr. Speaker.
Now, when you examine what the minister is saying, it appears that much of the review is going to be devoted to setting up the commission itself, rather than on programs and initiatives to deal with FAS/FAE, or an in-patient, Crossroads-type facility, such as the one that was dissolved here in Whitehorse.
I raised the issue in Question Period on June 21, asking the minister if this independent commission would be established in legislation similar to that creating the Workers' Compensation Board, which is an independent agency of the government. One of the problems related to the creation of an independent agency involves the issue of ministerial accountability.
Now, do Yukoners really want or need to establish an independent agency for alcohol and drug abuse that, once created, the minister can say he isn't responsible for? Alcohol and drug abuse then is no longer his problem. The minister then hides behind another board and correctly points out that he will not interfere with the board's direction and initiatives. So much for ministerial accountability, so much for addressing a problem - another Liberal solution, Mr. Speaker; another review.
But I have some questions for the minister that I ask that he respond to in his rebuttal. What's the time frame for establishing such an independent agency? Will it be established in legislation, and, if it is, we could be looking at a delay of at least a year or more while legislation is being prepared and administration policies and procedures are being established, and, in the interim, what happens to Yukon's immediate problems with alcohol and drug abuse?
We're so wrapped up in process that the problems we are to address become secondary. The process is of prime importance. What will happen to the current staff within the alcohol and drug services branch? And has the Yukon Employees Union been consulted, and do they agree with the setting up of this independent commission? These are just some of the questions I would like the minister to answer in his response.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I appreciate your comments and your questions. I will try to answer some of them. I just have to make a few preamble remarks here.
Under the NDP government, the drug and alcohol program was in shambles, and this is why we are where we are at now. We have to come up with something that is going to look at the future.
I am pleased that the Yukon Liberal government has been keeping its commitments to Yukoners. We have been in power less than two months, and already we have made many commitments to Yukoners in a number of areas. In order to establish an effective and independent commission on alcohol and drugs in the Yukon, we must first review what we have. I don't understand how we can launch into programs if we don't even know what we have. I think the former government, obviously, didn't know what they had, or they would have done more.
The alcohol and drug review will be completed by the Alberta system because they are one of two commissions in the country that are the best in the country. This group is an established commission in the Province of Alberta; they have been asked to do the review for the Yukon government in order to ensure that there's an independent review. Again, the review is expected to be completed by the end of August. I look forward to providing the results of this review to Yukoners in the fall.
The commitment reflects our position of requesting a review when we were in opposition, time and time again. This demonstrates how we follow through and we do what we say we will do.
We are investigating because we believe Yukoners want this. They want to go on. They don't want to be mired in what we currently feel that we are. There is progress in where we are going now, but we have to go on; we have to continue to go on.
We have moved the economy. We have put in an additional $250,000 for mining incentives. We have reached an agreement with the Kaska Nation on interests associated with oil and gas. This, the former government could never do; we did it. The Premier has represented the Yukon at the World Petroleum Congress and has met with industry to work on pipelines. The Premier has met with mining executives in Vancouver so that we can get mining back on the road.
We have also moved on a number of commitments; for example, the Yukon student grant, which the member from Dawson voted against - 20 percent for our youth. He voted against it.
We funded a Yukon youth leadership project, which again the member from Dawson voted against. We even looked at the whole process of trying to rebate for our Yukoners. Mr. Speaker, we have been keeping other commitments to Yukoners as well. We have forged a new partnership between government and the tourism industry. We have jointly funded an older worker pilot project initiative. We have launched a new Web site. We have launched into an initiative that I would think is going to solve and serve all Yukoners.
These are only some of the things that the Yukon Liberal government has done, and we will be doing more. My colleague from Riverdale South said yesterday that we had done more in two months than the last government did in four years, and just by that, I know we have.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: Order please. The Member for Watson Lake, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, the member opposite is making a speech on the economy and none of the content that he is speaking about has anything to do with this ministerial statement. That is against the rules of this Legislature and I would ask you to judge that and call the member out of order.
Speaker: The Member for Whitehorse Centre, on the point of order.
Mr. McLarnon: It is the general rebuttal to comments that were made from the other side of the floor. He has to rebut comments made or else comments made are allowed to stand, and they don't necessarily represent all the facts.
Speaker: Order please. We will review the Blues and we will give the House a ruling tomorrow.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Just to wrap up, Mr. Speaker, the last government did not even recognize FAS/FAE in their mandate, up until the last year of their time in office. We are looking at doing this now, at the beginning of our term. We want to look at the issues and come up with some solutions. We can't do this alone. We don't have all the answers. We have a lot of very important people at work in this area. We are going to use our resources, visit our communities and look at what we can do and, as we have said in previous announcements, consult. We consult honestly.
We are investigating to ensure that we do it right. As to the time frame, I don't have a specific thing on whether it's a year or two years. Hopefully, within the next couple of months, we'll have the report and we'll be moving very quickly.
I'm just going to comment on that. You had better believe it -
Speaker: Order please. I would ask the member to address his remarks through the Chair and refrain from using the term "you". Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: We are really embarking on a review -
Speaker: Order please. You have 30 seconds to conclude your answer.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: We are now embarking on a review of the alcohol and drug services in the territory. It is another commitment that we made to Yukoners. This government takes action on commitments.
Speaker: Are there any further responses to the statement? If not, this brings us to Question Period.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: I'm sorry, leader of the official opposition. Did you want to respond further?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Okay. This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Old Crow community bus
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. I reminded her yesterday of the promise the Premier made in this House that a budget commitment is a budget commitment. Now that the minister has had time to reflect, has she now given direction to her department to purchase a community bus for Old Crow, as promised in the budget tabled by the Premier?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government did promise to pass the NDP budget. We are doing just that. We promised to pass the NDP budget to ensure that Yukoners could keep working this summer. The Yukon Liberal government will deliver on its elections commitments, but we will not deliver on ill-conceived ideas. We will not deliver when there has been inadequate consultation and, Mr. Speaker, we will not deliver when inappropriate priorities were set by the previous government.
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, the minister was on the radio this morning saying the request for this yellow bus was not from the community. The previous government, the NDP government, identified the need for it. Those were her exact words. Can the minister explain to the House why she feels so confident about speaking so publicly on behalf of the community of Old Crow?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The issue is, do we live up to a poorly thought out commitment, or do we do the reasonable thing? We have been advised that there is a potential health problem with the creek running through the community dump in Old Crow. That, Mr. Speaker, merits a quick response, and it can be paid for with money that was committed, inappropriately, to a bus.
Ms. Netro: The minister told the media that nobody she had spoken to in the community seems to think it's needed. Maybe she should visit Old Crow and find some new people to speak to, Mr. Speaker.
I have written records of a meeting on October 4, 1999 at 3:00 p.m. with the Vuntut Gwitchin chief and council, during which the bus was specifically identified as a community priority.
Will the minister now stand up and apologize for insulting the leaders and the people of the community of Old Crow with her unwise and uninformed remarks?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would like the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin to help me. Would she prefer to have a healthier community or one with more material goods, like a school bus?
The potential health problem with a creek running through the community dump was identified by community leaders as a priority, and we would prefer to deal with that priority.
Question re: Gun control legislation
Ms. Netro: My question is for the Minister of Justice. Yesterday at the Council of Yukon First Nations general assembly, the Premier said that the minister hates the Liberal gun control bill and will fight it all the way. Can the minister tell the House what steps she has taken since the Supreme Court of Canada gave its decision upholding Bill C-68, to make the federal Liberal government aware of the Yukon's objections to it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The federal Liberal government is already well aware of the objection of the Yukon government to Bill C-68.
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, the Nunavut government has filed a court challenge of the federal gun control bill, stating that it contradicts the Nunavut land claims agreement.
Has the minister met with the CYFN leadership and other Yukon First Nation leaders to discuss how the Yukon government can work with them to fight this bill?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, as I understand it, the Nunavut challenge is alleging that Bill C-68 discriminated against First Nations people. Yukon, as a jurisdiction, would not join on that issue without taking legal advice, without consulting with First Nations people and without ensuring that it's in the best interest of all Yukoners.
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, the Premier made it clear that she is giving this minister the responsibility for fighting this gun law that does not recognize the needs and values of the north.
Has the minister given instruction to her new deputy minister for the Government of the Yukon to seek intervenor status in the Nunavut challenge of the gun control bill or to launch a separate challenge?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I believe that Bill C-68 discriminates against all northerners, not just against First Nations people. Many Yukoners of all races own guns and use them responsibly. Before we would join with anyone in an action on behalf of only First Nations people, we would have to have legal advice, we would have to consult with all Yukoners and we would have to carefully consider the implications.
I am concerned about enforcement of a law that would be applied differentially to Yukoners. That, Mr. Speaker, seems unjust to me. This is a very complicated issue - not of our making, I might add - and it needs to be dealt with very carefully if all Yukoners are to be treated fairly.
Question re: Gun control legislation
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I didn't quite get the answers I was looking for from the Minister of Justice, so let's go back over this same question again. Let's go back to the CYFN assembly in Burwash, where the Premier spoke and, on behalf of the Minister of Justice, stated that the minister hates - hates - the Liberal gun control law. Now, "hate" is a very strong word. Yukoners are unaccustomed to that degree of passion coming from the minister, criticizing her federal Liberal counterparts in Ottawa. That was probably only during the election; I don't know.
It should be noted that this strong statement was made by the Premier on behalf of the Minister of Justice. The Premier herself was just a new convert to Liberalism, and the minister is a lifelong dyed-in-red-wool Liberal, Mr. Speaker.
I would like the minister to speak on her own behalf today and tell Yukoners how she is going to continue the fight against this unjust Liberal law - just what steps is she going to take? Could she provide the correspondence and probably a log of the phone calls she has made. What are the steps she is taking with respect to Bill C-68?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is alleging that I am a lifelong Liberal. The member knows full well that is not true. I had no political affiliation, as he well knows, during the 23 years that I was employed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The member opposite knows that full well, and I would ask him to withdraw that remark.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the question is quite specific of the minister. The minister has to stand on her own two feet. What we had yesterday was a spectacle in this House of the Minister of Tourism running around like a chicken with her head cut off, saying, jobs, jobs, jobs. I can envision the same Minister of Justice now, running around saying, hate, hate, hate. Now, these are awful, powerful words, but there's no action.
What steps is this Minister of Justice taking with respect to Bill C-68? And I don't just want to hear that she hates it. What steps is her government planning to take to fight it, repeal it, or have it removed from the books?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We will continue to lobby the federal government, in opposition to the legislation. I have said it before in this House and I'll say it again.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the Minister of Justice is going to lobby the opposition. Sounds like a great way to accomplish something for Yukoners, Mr. Speaker. One way the Yukon Party proposed to deal with the federal law is to declare northern Canada a gun-control free zone by tying the application of Bill C-68 to the northern resident section of the federal Income Tax Act. Does the minister support such a solution and will she convey it to her Liberal friends in Ottawa? At least this is an initiative that might work, Mr. Speaker, instead of running around saying, "hate, hate, hate".
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I said previously, we will continue to lobby the federal government - not the opposition - the member misheard me. In opposition to Bill C-68.
Question re: Old Crow community bus
Mr. Fentie: My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. The minister, Mr. Speaker, stood on the floor of this Legislature and, through the public media, has discredited the leadership of the Vuntut Gwitchin and the people of Old Crow. The community bus is a community priority. It is budgeted in this budget that the Liberals take ownership of.
Will the minister now stand on her feet in this Legislature, apologize to the leadership and the people of Old Crow and honour the commitment in this budget, and ensure that the community bus, in fact, is a reality?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, as I said to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, we did promise to pass the NDP budget. We are doing that. It's going to take all summer but we're doing that. We promised to pass it so that Yukoners could work this summer - something the NDP didn't seem to be concerned about - and we will deliver on our election commitments.
However, ill-conceived ideas are not on, Mr. Speaker. There has been inadequate consultation and I believe the previous government set inappropriate priorities.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the minister and the Liberal government have committed to honour the expenditures in this budget, except for Old Crow. One would only wonder if that is because the Liberals did not win in Old Crow.
Mr. Speaker, this is not an ill-conceived priority by the former government. This is a community priority, and the people of Old Crow have asked for this community bus. The minister also makes the claim that the money would be better spent at the dump site. Well, the Liberal government has a $56.2-million surplus, and they could fix the dump too.
Will the minister now clear the record, commit to the bus for the people of Old Crow, and fix the dump?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We are committed to working with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to determine joint-funding priorities. I may say again that the surplus is not $56 million. It is $14 million.
Mr. Fentie: We'll let the Auditor General confirm that fact. No matter what the bottom line is, it isn't petty cash.
Mr. Speaker, the minister has to clear the record. She owes the people of Old Crow an apology. The Premier stated in this Legislature that every expenditure in this budget will be honoured. Now this minister is deviating from that commitment by her Premier.
Will the minister - and I ask again - stand on her feet and honour the commitment in this budget, honour the priority of the people of Old Crow, ensure that that bus becomes a reality, and also fix the dump that the minister feels is so important?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We are currently reviewing the issues involved with the proposed community bus purchase, which includes school bus regulations, estimated operating costs associated with the purchase, and comparable existing services available in the community. I do not believe there was sufficient consultation with the community. The people whom I have been talking to say that there is no need for a bus.
Question re: Alcohol and drug commission
Mr. Harding: Once again we see why the Premier doesn't let the ministers talk to the media, only the principal secretary.
I would like to ask the Minister of Health and Social Services a question about the alcohol and drug commission. The minister said today that he is currently looking at reviewing options. My question for the minister is what options is he looking at and did he know what this commission looked like before he promised it to the people of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Yes, I would have to say that we do know what the commission looks like. We took a model that works and basically we want them to come here and explain to us what will work here. That's basically what we want. We want some advice. As I have said before, we don't have all the answers and we know there's expertise everywhere, and we'd like to tie into some of that expertise so we do it right for the next 10 years.
Mr. Harding: We know that the member opposite doesn't have all the answers, but that wasn't the question. I asked him what options, what specific options, they're looking at; he didn't answer that. Let me ask him another question about the alcohol and drug commission. Is this commission, that has been so much ballyhooed by the Liberals, even though they don't know what it looks like, going to expand alcohol and drug abuse services to Yukoners or are they just going to be rearranging chairs and offices?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Again that's one of those hypothetical questions that the members opposite are always asking. I'm not going to prejudge what the commission is going to do. I gave some generalities as to what I think will happen. I would hope, with their expertise and their long track record, that we will have some good ideas as to what we can do. I'm not sure what those ideas are going to be. They're going to be consulting with Yukoners, Yukoners are going to be feeding into what this report will finally be, and I am hoping that we can begin again the process of doing something that the last government did not do.
Mr. Harding: The NDP put lots of resources into health care and social services in this territory. They are now the government, Mr. Speaker.
Now, he just stood up and said, if you can believe it, that he's not going to prejudge whether this is going to expand alcohol and drug services to Yukoners, but before that, he read out a ministerial statement that said it's going to improve the quality of alcohol and drug abuse fighting services in this territory. He has contradicted himself completely.
I'll ask him the question again: will he be expanding funding and programs to fight alcohol and drug abuse through this commission?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, just to correct again the interpretation that the member opposite always feels he can put his own twist on, this whole idea is to hopefully improve services in the Yukon. We are basically trying to look at a very serious problem. I call it a plague, because it is a plague, and I think if we don't start looking at where we're going, we're going to end up doing nothing, and, to me, this is again one of those planks in trying to better the system. Again, I invite the opposition to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and to try to help us along so we can do the right thing, because Yukoners want this. Yukoners are not interested in the bickering and the things that go off accusing people of this and accusing them of that. Let's get on with it.
We have a job to do, and if we don't do it, our people, our Yukoners, are going to suffer.
Question re: Alcohol and drug commission
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the minister just stood up and said that Yukoners want this commission, but I'll bet your bottom dollar that he can't stand here and tell us what it is. So, how could he make the claim that Yukoners want something when he doesn't even know what he's talking about? He hasn't been able to relay anything to Yukoners, other than a review.
Now, I asked the minister opposite to drop the rhetoric and answer a simple question. It's a yes or no answer. Will he be expanding funding to fight alcohol and drug abuse in this territory?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, I guess, once again, that I have to suggest that that is another hypothetical question. It's basically asking: will we? If we're not in good shape as it is, Mr. Speaker, then I would expect that we will look at improving the system. I'm sure that that will take resources. I'm hoping that, through the review, we will have a good assessment of where we are currently at. We will look at all the good parts of the program that are in place now and, hopefully, look at how we can improve it.
Interestingly enough, we are working with all sectors of the Yukon population. We want to do it right, Mr. Speaker. I believe that if we look at it from a positive point of view, we can come up with something that all of us can be proud of, because we do want something that is going to be long term.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, last week, when I asked the minister if he would stand up and commit to absolutely no social services cuts in the next four years - after he had, the week before, committed to that in health care - he refused to do so. That says something to the official opposition about what this minister is really planning to do.
I would like to ask him another simple question. He hasn't answered the funding question, standing behind a statement about it being somehow hypothetical. Will he commit that absolutely no employees will lose a job as a result of this commission and does he intend to see more employees working to fight this problem?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: We are not about to undermine collective agreements that are currently in practice. Any changes or any movement to go in any direction will be in full consultation. This is the kind of government that we are. We consult honestly from the beginning, not after the decision has been made.
Mr. Speaker, that is our guarantee. We want people to be part of the solution, not the problem. I know that Yukoners want this.
Mr. Harding: I've got to ask the minister this question then.
After the ministerial statement today, I'd like to ask him how many meetings he had with the union to talk about this commission before he read the ministerial statement today announcing the review. How many times did he meet with them to discuss the review?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: This member always goes on and on about all the things that we should have done when, for four years, they did none of these things. They came after the fact, Mr. Speaker, and told people what had to be done, because they ruled by divine intervention.
We don't do that. That's basically why we are a party of consulting. We believe in meeting people at grass roots. We're not going to be hypothetical; we're not going to say that we're going to lose employees. We have very valued employees, Mr. Speaker, and we want to use their resources in order to build for the future.
So, we're not interested in determining whether they should be gone - no, not at all. We want them part of the solution. I've made that comment many times, Mr. Speaker, and I'm hoping, through the review, that we will come forth with some new guidelines, some new approaches, and a new way of dealing with alcohol and drugs, using all those resources we currently have as part of our stepping stones, because we need to use all the things that work.
Question re: Alcohol and drug commission
Mr. Harding: How many times before announcing the review did the minister meet with the union? He just told us he loves to consult.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, once again, Mr. Speaker, that is one of those hypothetical questions. Why would we want to meet with the union? For what purpose? What are we going to tell the union? What is the objective? And, of course, fear-mongering is a very good practice of the member opposite. He uses it all the time. He likes people to be in complete panic so that he can get their views and, basically, believe that he is right.
So, Mr. Speaker, I am sorry. We will not be hypothetical in trying to develop where we're going to be. We'll let the report come through, we will sit down with Yukoners; and we will come up with decisions.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, this minister is unbelievable. He has just told us today that, if I ask him a question about more funding for alcohol and drug services, that's hypothetical. He took that one step further in his last answer, in which, when I asked him how many times he met with the union prior to announcing this review, he said that was hypothetical too. That is completely nonsensical.
Mr. Speaker, let me ask the minister this question, because it's obvious that he hasn't met with anybody, even though he's bragging that this government consults with everybody. It's kind of like the "jobs, jobs, jobs" line of the Member for Riverdale South when we see people in Watson Lake getting pink slips, pink slips, pink slips. I want to say to the member opposite: will he commit to this House that he will not be contracting out services that will affect the jobs of the people in the alcohol and drug commission?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Once again, Mr. Speaker, the fear-mongering goes on by that member. He is a master at it. He believes that if he runs this whole process of being hypothetical, people will really believe what he has to say. I don't think the member opposite has the message. People are not listening to that any more. They believe in what we're doing. They believe that we are honest consulters. They believe that we want to do it for the right reasons.
And, Mr. Speaker, before we can go into massive consultation, we're basically trying to find out where we're at, and that's the whole objective of the review, to find out where we're at. Right now, we don't know where we're at, and I can tell you right now -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, I'll be honest. At least I'm honest about the issue. The problem with the opposition is that they were never honest about anything, and obviously you end up with what we have got. You have people who don't know where we're going in drugs and alcohol, so we have to use expertise.
Basically, that's why we want this review to take place. We want to know where we're at when it comes to drug and alcohol. We want to know where we should go, and at least we're willing to listen to what other people have to say. That's not the point, when I see the opposition. They already had all the answers -
Speaker: Order please. Would the minister please conclude.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the minister finally said it. He said that they don't know where they're at, and that's the problem with this Liberal government. They had all the answers before the elections, and now it's very clear that there's no substance opposite. Mr. Speaker, what's coming from the government benches is hollow, and it's clear that there is no agenda and no sense of direction. But this is a very important issue, and it's scary for the Yukon public that we have someone with such a rudderless sense of direction steering this ship.
I'd like to ask the minister: when he says that this commission is going to be independent, he's making the best argument for that that I've heard today. Is he going to have any authority over this commission other than just providing block funding for it to operate?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: One of the reasons, Mr. Speaker, that the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission was invited to come here is that they're doing it basically for free. They basically will be paying some of their travel, probably some of their living accommodations, and possibly some of their other expenses. Besides that, they have a reputable record.
I think the important part in this is that the opposition picks up on comments that make them look good, when, really, we wouldn't be here if they had done their job. If they had done a thorough review of alcohol and drugs when they were in government, we wouldn't be here at this point in time doing what we're doing. We basically want to know where we're going with this program, we want to involve people in the process, and we want to make sure that we do it right. The former government obviously didn't.
Question re: Teachers contract negotiations
Mr. Fentie: My question is for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. Yesterday in the House, the minister, in his capacity as Minister of Education, stated that there is no current teacher shortage in the Yukon. Would the minister then tell the House why this government offered a $1-million signing bonus to retain teachers if there is no shortage of teachers at this time?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The reason that there was a retention allowance being offered was to encourage teachers to come back. That is the simple answer to that.
Mr. Fentie: I would like to make it clear that we, on this side of the House, place great value on our teachers for their dedication and commitment to educating our children. It is the leadership of the Yukon Teachers Association that made this so-called serious shortage an election issue. That was backed up by their brothers and sisters in the Canadian Teachers Federation. The reward was a $1-million signing bonus.
Now, the minister knew already that the teachers had committed to the next school year. Why then, now that the minister has admitted that there is no teacher shortage here in the territory, did the Liberal government give the Public Service Commission a mandate for a $1-million signing bonus?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, the retention allowance was, again, as I indicated to the member opposite - put in the proposal that's being reviewed by the teachers and has now been accepted by Yukon Teachers Association - was a recognition of their skills and abilities.
I do agree with the member opposite. We do value our teachers here. We want them to stay. We want them to keep coming back. We want them to keep working year after year. So, the retention allowance was put in place for the long term.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the Premier herself stated that this issue was not about money. Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government have no trouble finding money to sweeten the deal and offer a $1-million signing bonus to teachers. Yet, when it comes to our seniors and to people who are in desperate need of legal aid, the Liberal government deviated from their commitments.
The minister has to set the record straight. This is a signing bonus to teachers who had already committed to the next school year. This is a signing bonus under the guise of a teacher shortage. Why did the Liberal government sweeten the deal for the YTA leadership when they were not facing a teacher shortage this year?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: It amazes me continually how the members on that side of the House continue to remind the public of their past transgressions in saying these are the problems that we face now when we have only been in power for two months. We have to have all the solutions available in two months. We have been sitting in the House trying to pass their budget for about three and a half weeks now. We are still in the House. As the former members opposite, as ministers, recognized, the government business doesn't stop because we sit in here, so we are addressing those concerns and needs as well.
We are concerned about recognizing and valuing our civil service. They do one incredible job.
In recognition of the value that we place on our teachers, we felt that a retention allowance was well worth the investment in our teachers.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:The Member for Watson Lake, on a point of order.
Unanimous consent requested not to proceed with opposition private members' business
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), the opposition has unanimously agreed to stand down on private member business today in order to expedite debate in this Legislature, and it is our hope that the government side would reciprocate in a productive and forthright manner.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Mr. Kent: 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 acting government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 2 - First Appropriation Act, 2000-01 - continued
Chair: We will continue with general debate on the Department of Education general estimates and budget.
Department of Education - continued
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, let's just rehash some of the responses we received from the minister in the Education debate yesterday.
One of the questions I posed to the minister was concerning the teacher shortage here in the Yukon, and also the pending retirement of a lot of the administration staff. Where that comes from, Mr. Chair, is an article in the Yukon News on March 3, 1999, and this is quoting Paul Nordahl. Last year, 18 teachers retired and half of the total teacher population here is eligible to retire in the next nine years, said Paul Nordahl. Where on earth are we going to find 200 teachers?
This is exactly like the situation with rural nurses. And he goes on to say that the first place the teaching shortage will hurt is rural Yukon, which echoes the nursing situation. He went on to say that they are not worried about it being a problem this year but it will ramp up next year and the year after.
When I first raised that with the minister, Mr. Chair, he said that there is no teaching shortage. Yet, when we look at one of the initial actions that this Liberal government did when they took office, it was to settle the union negotiations with the Yukon Teachers Association, and add a $1-million signing bonus.
Now, the purpose of that signing bonus, we were told or led to believe, was to retain teachers, and already, for the next teaching year, we knew which teachers had signed and had agreed to return, and it wasn't out of line with previous years. Yet this outstanding set of negotiations was settled by throwing a million dollars at it.
Of course, we heard the Premier say that it wasn't about money; it wasn't about money at all, Mr. Chair. It's amazing what $1 million will do. It is certainly amazing.
I went on to ask the minister if he had any statistics or estimates as to where the shortages would be most prevalent. He had sort of a quasi-response, but he was totally unaware of the shortcomings in the administration end of the teaching portfolio. So much for a thorough briefing of the Department of Education.
I guess I would take the minister back to the claims that the Yukon Liberals made during the recent election: "It's all about the future". If we look at the what the Yukon Liberals promised, they promised to bring the Conversations in Education to a swift conclusion and proceed with the Education Act review. I haven't heard anything about that.
When asked yesterday about details of the review itself, the minister wasn't able to convey very much, except that a consultation plan is being drafted as we speak and that a report would be available a year from now. No details, Mr. Chair, about the scope of the review, terms of reference, extent of the review - just that the steering committee had been given a mandate to look at the whole situation.
On a similar note, Yukon Liberals had very much to say about the important role home-schooling played in the territory and believe that more support should be made available to parents who have chosen to school their own children at home. The Premier went even so far as to say that changes would be made within one month after they attained office. Mr. Chair, a month has come and a month is gone and we're now over that period of time in the mandate.
I don't know if the Premier has advised the Minister of Education as to the plan she has for the portfolio that this minister has, Mr. Chair.
We look at the supplementary budget that was recently tabled - no reflection of that promise. Very interesting. Given that there was very little, if any, mention of the additional funding for mining incentives, all of a sudden at the gold show, a quarter of a million dollars is added to the pie.
I can tell you I was present when that announcement was made, and hardly a ripple and hardly applause came out of the audience. Virtually everyone in that room in the actual mining community was more concerned with providing certainty to the mining. That meant settling the land claims here in the Yukon and having some certainty surrounding the regulations under which the miners operate.
Furthermore, when I asked this minister what resources would be made available to Yukon home-schoolers, we hear yet another review is underway - another review.
Commitments were also made by the Yukon Liberals during the recent election campaign to support Yukon youth by ensuring that they have a meaningful voice in the decisions that affect them. In opposition, the Liberals voiced considerable disagreement with the efforts made by the then government, the previous NDP government, to address youth, including the development and implementation of a youth strategy. We now hear that this government is indeed in support of the previous NDP government's youth strategy and will indeed be following the goals of the strategy - quite interesting; another Liberal flip-flop.
When we look at the wonderful slogan that the Liberals came up with during the election campaign - "Doing what we say we are going to do" - that slogan takes on an entirely new meaning, especially if we reflect back on Question Period today with the Minister of Justice and Community and Transportation Services, and responses from the Minister of Health and Social Services, never mind the answers from the Minister of Education in general debate yesterday - an entirely new meaning to the Liberals' campaign slogan, "Doing what we say we are going to do."
Well, another promise that was committed to was to enhance the teacher-training capacity in the Yukon to ensure that teacher shortages in southern Canada do not adversely affect our children's education. The minister's response was that there isn't really a teacher shortage. He wasn't aware of any. It's very interesting.
The minister wasn't even sure about where I got the figures with regard to the number of years there has been a teacher shortage and where it was looming. For the record, Mr. Chair, the eight years isn't a number I just pulled out of a hat; it's the number that has been used by the president of the Yukon Teachers Association on a constant basis - eight or nine years.
Perhaps it would be important to the minister if I asked him to make an appointment with the president of the Yukon Teachers Association so that he can sit down and discuss these important issues with him and members of the executive, and get an idea of what's going on. This minister is charged with a lot of responsibility. Yet, when we question the minister on the basic components of his portfolio, he doesn't even understand that.
The minister claims that there is no current shortage of teachers. So why did we throw $1 million into it as a retention amount? Was it a bribe, or is it a payoff to Liberal friends in the teachers union?
I guess that's a question that'll loom out there, Mr. Chair. It'll loom out there for quite some time.
Yesterday, when I left off in general debate, I raised a question of the minister, Mr. Chair, in relationship to the teacher training program that the Premier announced - I guess the department would be announcing. Now, I'm not sure who's pulling the strings. I guess the next cartoon in the Whitehorse Star or the Yukon News will be a picture of the Premier holding a bunch of puppets, controlling all the strings. I'm not sure if it'll be the Premier or Jason Cunning but, somewhere up there, someone's pulling all the strings.
I'm sure it must be Jason, rather than the Premier.
So I'd just like to ask the minister where we're going with this teacher training program that the Premier announced, that the Liberal government would be introducing. I guess we could start off there and see how much more misinformation we can get on the record from this minister, Mr. Chair.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Chair: Before we proceed to Mr. Eftoda, I would beg the indulgence of the Legislature to introduce parts of my family - my sister, who has just returned from Ottawa, and my mother, Sylvia McLarnon.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I can't believe that, in this House, there would be an inference that we would be, or there is a consideration, or some mention of a bribe. I just find that abhorrent.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: You can call it whatever you want. That is disgusting. That's disgusting, Mr. Chair.
Chair: I would remind members to direct their comments through the Chair and to not use the word "you".
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: On a number of other points that the member studied in Hansard over the night, I would respectfully respond to the member. Firstly, yesterday, the hon. Member for Watson Lake asked about the completion date for the youth services directorate. At this time, the plan, as I understand it, is to try to complete the directory by approximately the end of August. Distribution would then be planned for the fall, and, as the member is aware from my previous comments about our commitment to youth, the directorate is being developed in consultation with youth to ensure that the look and feel appeals directly to the youth.
Secondly, the Member for Klondike presented some numbers yesterday respecting numbers of administrative positions within the Department of Education. To clarify the record, I'd like to provide the details to the members on FTEs in a written format at a later date because numbers can be somewhat confusing, and bantering back and forth in the House not only confuses the Member for Klondike opposite, but also the public at large. I will be respectfully responding in writing to his request for clarification.
On the issue of teacher shortage, yesterday I had indicated - and I am sure the member read incorrectly - in my response that there is no immediate shortage, and the concern for retaining quality teachers, people we now have in our system here, is an ongoing concern and an ongoing consideration for the future, and we want to ensure that we do retain our quality teachers. We owe nothing less to our students.
I would just remind the Member for Klondike that he did vote against the supplementary, which will provide additional assistance for not only students in the Yukon but students travelling outside. And he did vote against that, so I'm wondering exactly what his position is with respect to care and concern and consideration for our students.
Another point of clarification is that signing bonuses are usually, as I understand it, awarded for new positions. The retention allowance is for this government to recognize the quality of teachers, to enable that they are retained in the Yukon so that we can offer our children the quality of education that they deserve and are getting, and I would ask the member opposite if he is opposed to the retention allowances - wow.
His concern that the Education Act review, as I outlined yesterday - and I thought that I provided an adequate response to his question, in that we do have a competent group of individuals who are assigned the task presently to review the act and to come forth with a consultation paper for us to review. And again, I would say that it almost infers that he is not in support of partnering up with the likes of First Nations and school councils, and is not respecting the review capabilities - the inherent expertise - that is within the group. It just doesn't seem to me that he's in support of the consultation exercise that we would like to extend to the Yukon public when the report is sufficiently and completely and as thoroughly as possible put together within a year.
Again, that is a commitment. We have said we will do what we will do, and that is one of our election platforms. Again, the Member for Klondike snidely remarks that maybe the Premier didn't inform the Minister of Education exactly what was on the agenda. It really is amazing that the redundant rhetoric that comes from the other side of the House is not constructive.
I do respect the opinion of my colleague, the Minister of Tourism. She has stated right in this House that, in most instances, the Member for Klondike provides constructive criticism. We have tried to encourage that in this House but it seems to be falling on deaf ears across the way.
The home-schoolers discussion - again, it's not something that you can just snap your fingers and there's a complete resolution to the issue. We are going to be having discussions with the home school association. Then again, I guess he expects immediate resolution of all issues that we inherited and have admitted we are now responsible and accountable for - but things that we inherited from the previous government. We are looking at those situations and, as well as dealing with them, addressing the concerns and considerations that are inherent in those problems. We are making every attempt to move forward with our own agenda, our commitments that we made to the electorate during the election and as outlined in our document that was tabled in the House previously by the then- Acting Premier.
The teacher training aspect, again, is an exercise that requires a review of options within the next year - examples of university options, what types of programs they feel would best satisfy and adequately serve their needs, and how to develop a program that meets the needs of the Yukon system.
The area of shortage, which was a concern of the previous government, and is also a concern of this government, is the shortage of specialists. There are always difficulties, even in southern areas, to secure people for such assignments as music, automotive mechanics and special education.
The Yukon can also expect fewer applications for positions in some of the rural communities.
The member has mentioned retirement. This is not anticipated to be a major problem for the Yukon in the near future. While we have 124 teachers at age 50 or older, of those only 22 will be eligible to retire with full pension within the next five years.
On a final note, the Member for Riverside, who is charged with the responsibility of the youth directorate, has informed me that there is now a draft implementation plan in place and we do have an individual from advanced education conducting the review of that implementation plan, as of last Friday.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's take these points one by one, Mr. Chair, that the minister has just gone over, and let's deal with them accordingly. The minister made considerable mention and went to great pains to point out that I, in opposition, had voted against the budget in the supplementary budget. And he's absolutely correct. I did and I have and I will continue to do so as long as this Liberal government doesn't do what it says it's going to do. Just because one votes against the budget, it doesn't mean that you do not support a lot of the initiatives contained within that budget. But then you would just only have to look at the Liberals themselves, who in opposition voted against a budget, opposed that budget, then were elected to form this government, took the same budget, tabled it and are now supporting it. They changed a few priorities that they saw, but there was no change in the text or content of that budget. So, the minister is way, way off base.
Furthermore, with respect to the supplementary budget that was tabled by this new Liberal government, it only addressed two of the 122 platform commitments that were made by this Liberal government before the recent election. Had it addressed a considerable amount more of them, there would have been a good chance that I could have supported that budget. But, because of the wisdom of someone on that side who is pulling the strings, that wasn't the course of action that was taken. I can't support the supplementary budget.
That doesn't mean that I am not in support of where that money is flowing to or the end result or intention of what that money is dedicated to; in many cases, I support it. Some of the initiatives in the supplementary budget - the flow-through money from the federal government to the Yukon government to the l'Association des franco-yukonnais is a very beneficial and worthwhile program. To enhance the spending on secondary education - very, very worthwhile. I have no quarrel with it, but overall the Liberals have failed to live up to their campaign commitments. That's why I have voted against the supplementary budget and, unlike the Liberals, the mains I voted against in opposition and still continue to vote against. The Liberals have flip-flopped. In opposition, they voted against it and now, all of a sudden, it's a very good budget - "We have accepted it, we're moving ahead with it and we support it now". What a flip-flop.
We look at the numbers surrounding the FTEs and where this information came from - for the minister's benefit, I'll have a photocopy made of this letter from the Deputy Minister of Education with a breakdown of the FTEs that clearly indicates there are 890 FTEs - not FETs, so the minister might want to check the record from his initial statement - in the whole department, of which 453.64 are teachers. A further 73.96 FTEs are educational assistants; remedial tutors, 27.10; native language instructors, 32.41; for a total of 587.11 FTEs within the department. That was as of June 14, 2000, Mr. Chair, and I'll be happy to send the minister over a copy of that letter so he has a full understanding.
As to where the information comes from with respect to the teacher shortage, I'll be happy to photocopy this and send it over to the minister - all he will have to do is read the contents and understand it.
The Yukon News reported, on March 3, 1999: the Yukon won't have enough teachers to fill classrooms in the near future, warns the president of the Yukon Teachers Association. Last year, 18 teachers retired and half of the total teaching population here is eligible to retire in the next nine years, said Paul Nordahl. Where on earth are we going to find 200 teachers? This is exactly like the situation with rural nurses.
That information is very valid information. Last year, 18 teachers retired. Now, I guess if we can extrapolate it over five years or seven years or nine years or three years - whatever looks best when you move the window for the general population to see is the exercise if you're a union negotiating a contract. If you're the government stating a position, you want to put forward a window that spells out the reality of the situation.
Now, this might be slanted one way. I'm sure that the minister and his colleagues have bought this hook, line and sinker, and thus the retention bonus or signing bonus - a million dollars; a million dollars thrown into the pot.
It's amazing what a $1-million bonus or election campaign commitment or backroom negotiated commitment will do, Mr. Chair. Just simply amazing.
When we look at some of the other areas - teacher training - and we look at what the minister said with respect to qualified and capable individuals, I take the minister to the Blues, page 416. In response to a question from myself: "Does the minister have any idea or estimates as to where these shortages will be most prevalent and what steps his government is taking to address these shortages?" The minister responded that, "The shortages, in all probability, are going to be in the specialty fields again, such as music and auto mechanics - we're looking at options of partnerships in the communities, and, if necessary, we'll get into the standard recruitment exercise of looking outside. But let's look inward first and see what qualified and capable individuals we have right here in the territory."
Now, I took the minister at his word, made a few phone calls - what a mistake, because that's simply not the case. We do have a lot of qualified administrators and teachers here. Let's put one before the minister right now. There was a principal's position open; there was an individual who was a former member of this House, who was qualified, and yet the department hired a principal from Saskatchewan. What the minister says and what the department is doing, Mr. Chair, are two different things. They're not in synch with each other. The minister says to look inward first and see what qualified and capable individuals we have right here in the territory. Well, I guess the minister deems the former member of this House not qualified as a principal despite him having taught in Pelly, Watson Lake and here in Whitehorse - so much for looking inward.
Now, I'm sure the minister is going to get some sort of an idea from his department as to how to handle that hot potato and come up with some gobbledegook that will try to smooth over the widening crack in the umbrella of this new Liberal government, Mr. Chair, but the Minister of Health and Social Services summed it up very, very well by saying that they don't know where they're at.
Let's look at the issue surrounding training. Let's look at the issue surrounding the Premier's announcement of a teacher training program.
We are told that it will be similar to YNTEP. What kind of a program does the government have in mind? Where are we at with this new initiative? The Premier of the Yukon made the big announcement. What is the game plan?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The short answer is that we are examining all our options. We will get back to the member and keep him informed. The review of options in the teacher training aspect will be looked at within the year. As I indicated, the program has to meet the needs of the Yukon system. This is our concern, and this is where we're making our focus, and that is where we are going.
Mr. Jenkins: Under review again, Mr. Chair - very, very interesting. I wonder if this is the 10-year review or if it will be going on longer than that.
What about the advisory council on education? Where are we at with that? It was disbanded. Is there a move to reconvene that body, or is that under review?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I'm afraid I'm going to have to get information specifically on this question back to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'd like to thank the minister for clearly demonstrating his lack of understanding of that area. But, just by way of a bit of background, the minister may or may not be aware that the council was first set up in 1995 by the previous Yukon Party government and it was to advise the minister on educational issues. It had representation from the school councils, Yukon College and Yukon Learn, among many other organizations. It had a lot of potential.
The point I would like to make is that the now-Premier launched a considerable amount of criticism at the government of the day for canning this advisory body. The now-Premier was extremely opinionated as to the worth of this body, the benefits it could accrue to the department and to especially the minister, and was disappointed that it had been cancelled. I was hoping that the minister might give some thought to reinstating it.
The press release from the Liberal caucus office of the day said that the NDP government is terminating a 12-member advisory council on education that was set up in 1995 to advise the government on all matters relating to education in the territory. Porter Creek South MLA Pat Duncan is puzzled by the minister's action. It appears to be another case of the government saying one thing while in opposition and doing another once they are elected.
They value consultation with the public only when it suits them.
All we have done is move some people from one side of this House to the other and nothing has really changed.
When the establishment of the advisory council was debated in the Legislature, Education critic Lois Moorcroft referred to the new group as a broad-based effective council to advise the minister on education. In the council's terms of reference, the role of the council was to consult with individuals, groups and the public about educational issues. Duncan said, "It is really unfortunate that the Advisory Council on Education was not given an opportunity to provide how effective they could be. The council was put in place to examine the broad philosophical discussions surrounding education. It was a broad-based community group and included representation from school councils. Why didn't the Minister of Education give the advisory council a chance to prove themselves?"
Well, now we have a Liberal government in power. Is this an area that is going to be under review and looked at? It was of great concern to the now-Premier, who was a critic for Education back in 1997. Really, we have the same issues here in the Yukon. Duncan concluded, "Ms. Moorcroft, as minister, had an opportunity to consult with Whitehorse school council chairs on the issues as recently as December, and I am advised by people at the meeting that she did not. If school council chairs are not partners who should have been consulted, who is?"
You know - same problem, different minister. Now I'm not saying that this minister has more or less of an understanding than the previous minister, but one would conclude that that is very much the case - probably considerably less of an understanding. But I'll await a legislative return, and I would understand that to be a legislative return that the minister will be providing on the issue of the 12-member advisory council on education.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I had indicated to the member opposite that I would send it directly to him, and I will.
Mr. Jenkins: I think it would probably be better if I asked the minister for a legislative return. Then it is circulated to all parties. Would the minister agree to a legislative return on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair. I thank the member opposite for his suggestions on that subject, and I will duly consider them.
Mr. Jenkins: I am looking for a commitment for a legislative return. Would the minister please commit to a legislative return? He has committed to waffle all around and duly consider them. Can I get a legislative return on this matter, please?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I already gave the member opposite an answer.
Mr. Jenkins: Then I take it that the answer is yes. What I heard was that he was going to take it and have a look at it.
On Grey Mountain Primary School, Mr. Chair - during the election, the minister and the Member for Riverdale South made the commitment to build a new Grey Mountain Primary School in Riverdale. Could the minister advise the House when they plan to proceed with planning and construction of this new facility?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair. I do thank the member opposite for this question. I do understand that there has been some planning and design work done. I would like to have an opportunity to look at the previous designs and see if they would adequately provide for the current needs of the community school. There is really no timetable that I can provide the member opposite at this time, but I will certainly keep the House apprised.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's narrow this down a bit, Mr. Chair. Will it be in this mandate of this Liberal government or will it be the next Government of the Yukon's mandate?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I believe that yesterday I had indicated to the member opposite that it would be under the current mandate of this government.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's look at Copper Ridge. The targeted population growth in that area is quite significant. Are we looking at any expansion on schools there or any new school in that area, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Not at this time.
Mr. Jenkins: What we have in Grey Mountain is a declining school enrolment, going down, down, down, and we're going to build a new school. We have Copper Ridge, with a school enrolment that's going up, up, up, and we're not looking at enlarging the school population there, or building a new school. Is that the way the department looks at? Because that's the reality of the situation.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I just gave an answer to the member opposite. If he's looking for something a little more specific, could he clarify the question, please?
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Let's look at the totality of the situation. The minister has made a commitment that they're going to build a new Grey Mountain Primary School. That's fine. The school enrolment - the number of students attending Grey Mountain - is continuing to decrease. The number of students attending school from the Copper Ridge subdivision area is increasing, but the minister has clearly indicated that there are no plans to build a new school up in that area or enlarge existing schools in the area.
I guess the question is rather self-evident: why would we be building a new school in areas where there is a declining school enrolment and not building a school or enlarging schools where there is an increasing school enrolment?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, I'd like to inform the Member for Klondike that I am now currently being briefed in detail on the enrolment factors on all Yukon schools within Whitehorse and the rural communities, on trying to identify the specific needs, the projected growth and all of the factors; and it does take a little bit of time to become fully cognizant of the issues with respect to enrolment with the current aspects and the current functioning of the schools, and I think it would be incredibly irresponsible of me to be making decisions just to satisfy the House after only two months. I think that would be very, very irresponsible.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister has already made a rather profound statement that they're going to proceed with the Grey Mountain school construction. That's a heck of a commitment, and the question still stands. I can understand that the minister is going through briefings and trying to get an understanding of his department, but we have Grey Mountain Primary School with a declining enrolment - a declining enrolment, Mr. Chair. That student population there could be spread around the other schools in the area. And we have the schools over in Copper Ridge area that service that area, and their enrolment is increasing. There are no plans afoot to build or enlarge any of the schools up in the Copper Ridge area, and yet we're building a new Grey Mountain elementary school. That has already been committed to by this new Liberal government after only a couple of months in office.
On the surface, when you contrast these two initiatives, the biggest reason for building a school is to address the needs of a school population, and usually you enlarge or create a new school when it's growing.
Now, why are we going contrary to the normal procedures, or does the minister want to state categorically that it was just to fill an election campaign that got them elected in this last election?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, with all due respect to the former government, the design of the schools that are built in the rural communities are wonderful, in that they are multi-purpose in design and multi-use. They serve the needs of the community in a greater and expanded role than just an elementary or kindergarten-to-12 capability. There is also room for Yukon College campus extensions. It also takes into consideration that they can be utilized by the community for social functions in the gyms. It provides meeting rooms.
I think that the whole of the design in future schools should be premised on that design, and that they are multi-use and multi-purpose. Again, I will repeat to the Member for Klondike that I am becoming, every day, more aware of the complexities of student enrolment throughout all of our school system, so that we can utilize best our resources and the expertise within the department, provide a healthy working environment for our students, and provide the resources that we need for our educators.
Mr. Jenkins:Well, I'm not looking for bafflegab; I'm looking for an answer to the question. The Grey Mountain school population is declining. The school population in the Copper Ridge area is increasing. The Liberal government is committed to a new school at Grey Mountain. Why are we committing to build and construct a new school in an area with a declining enrolment when there is another school enlargement or a new school needed to service a growing and expanding school-age population? Why are we embarking on these - one initiative and not the other? One makes an abundant amount of sense to enlarge or increase the facilities in Copper Ridge. Is it, as we suspect, just to fill a Liberal campaign commitment? Is that the real reason for this decision being made this quickly?
Now, I could understand if the minister had stood up and said, "We're not making this decision until we complete a full review." But the decision to proceed with Grey Mountain is a fait accompli by the Liberal government. It would appear on the surface that it was made solely for political reasons, not on the basis of the school population and its projected growth. So why one set of rules for one area and another set of rules for another, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I deliberately did not use "review" because it's something that the members opposite find to be a dirty word, so I'm not going to say that, but certainly the issues of education are very complex, and with all due respect to the department - they're going full-tilt to provide qualified rationale for assisting the minister in making decisions that affect just about every household in the territory. The Yukon Party had committed to building a new school at Grey Mountain. They waffled, they procrastinated, and the school wasn't built. The school got older. The previous government had made the same commitment, and I would invite the Member for Klondike to just walk through that school and notice the quality of the educators there and the well-being of the students, despite the condition of the school.
It's a serious concern for its safety and so we have committed to replace it.
Mr. Jenkins: The issue before us is one of construction of the Grey Mountain Primary School. If the minister is committed to that, we would appreciate him stating so.
I guess he criticizes the Yukon Party for not having done so after the campaign pledge was made during one of the previous elections. He fails to recognize that when the Yukon Party came to power, there was a deficit of some $60 million. When his government took office, just recently, there was $56.2 million in the bank at March 31 - $56.2 million.
Now, for the minister to understand the difference between almost a $120-million gap, that in itself is quite significant in the budget of this government. That's about 25 percent of the total budget. So, that's the order of magnitude that we are talking about, as to when one government came to power and when this Liberal government came to power. So, the excuse can't be a shortfall of money.
I recognize that there are difficulties with the Grey Mountain Primary School. It's a modular unit. They only have an effective life. But, in light of the declining enrolment, wouldn't it be best to maybe look at another addition to one of the existing schools in the Riverdale area? Has that been explored?
What are we going to do with the increased enrolment up in Copper Ridge? That isn't even being entertained. Are we going to put the students on shifts up there? Is that the next game plan? Or are we going to bus them over to this new Grey Mountain Primary School? Is that what we're going to do? It's an option, I guess - probably take the money that we're not spending on the bus for the community of Old Crow and move it down to Whitehorse here, build the Grey Mountain Primary School over in Riverdale and bus the students from Copper Ridge over there - heck of a game plan.
I guess, in some respects, Mr. Chair, it would mean that you have honoured your election campaign commitment, but is that in the best interests of Yukon students?
So, once again to the minister: why are we proceeding with one initiative and not the other?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I do believe I had indicated to the member opposite that I am being brought up to speed on the whole of the situation, and that the department is apprising me of enrolment factors and the needs and conditions of all our schools. I believe that Copper Ridge will be included in the details as they are provided to me. Again, I would also suggest to the member opposite that the Elijah Smith Elementary School is currently at 43-percent vacancy. I mean, there are concerns and issues throughout all our schools.
We will look at it. We will bring the information willingly to the Legislature. We have already committed to working with members opposite, whether they want to or not. We'll inform them, keep them open. We're transparent, we're committed, and we want to make the best decisions that we can for all Yukoners. It involves a matter of time to be fully informed, especially when the decisions affect just about every household in Yukon, and I'm a little surprised at the members opposite joking about trucking people here and trucking people there. I'm taking it a little more seriously than that.
Mr. Jenkins: If that were the case, Mr. Chair, then the minister would have an understanding of the portfolio that he's responsible for.
Mr. Chair, all I am targeting at this juncture are the areas that were raised during the recent election and which the now Liberal government committed to and used in their campaign.
Those are the areas I'm exploring with the minister: those areas and statements made by the now-Liberal government when in opposition. Those are the issues I'm bringing forward. Those are the issues I have on the table for discussion. This fall, when the minister is fully responsible, and it will be their own budget next year, we're probably going to be exploring in much, much greater detail all facets of the budget and, at that time the minister had better be up to speed and have a complete understanding of his whole portfolio, Mr. Chair.
Again, another area that the previous government was looking at: the NDP government eliminated territorial examinations in math and sciences in grades 8 and 10, and kind of eliminated the excellency awards available to Yukon students. Are we looking at any kind of a reinstatement? That was a topic of discussion on the doorsteps in the last campaign.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, with due apology to the member opposite, could I ask you to repeat that, please?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's go back. About three years ago, the previous NDP government eliminated territorial examinations in math and science for grades 8 and 10. What it did was effectively reduce the number of excellence awards available for Yukon students. Now, this was a topical issue on the doorsteps in the last election and the recent election campaign. I want to ask the minister: are there any plans to reinstate these exams?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, is the member opposite asking for awards or exams? I'm sorry about that, but I want to be sure that I get it right.
With respect to the awards, the Yukon excellence awards are available for students achieving excellence on grade 9 Yukon achievement tests and for any grade 12 provincial exam. That is currently in effect. For the year 2000-01, the Yukon achievement tests are available for mathematics 9, mathématiques 9, English 9, French language arts 9. This is the same as there was last year in the school system. The forecast for the number of awards is about 315, to a total dollar amount of $125,100.
Mr. Jenkins: What has transpired is that we have only targeted a couple of years in which exams were eligible for excellency awards, and, during the election, a lot of people wanted to know why that was changed and why the number of grades where exams were provided but no excellence awards offered. Because a lot of the students were looking at that money accumulating to pay for their post-secondary education or to assist with their post-secondary education, and they strive for excellence in order to obtain these awards. It was a heck of a good incentive. It worked.
Now, it was reduced three years ago. In my area and in a number of other ridings, it was raised on the doorstep as a concern and a question. Liberal candidates supported its reinstatement. Where are we at with it, or have we bought another hundred "under review" signs, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, despite the cynicism included at the tail-end of the question, I will admit, forthright to the member opposite, that we will look into it again if that was a commitment made during the election, based on grades where Yukon achievement tests are done, as part of the whole assessment plan.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you. Let's have a look once again, Mr. Chair, with the minister as to qualified and capable individuals right here in the Yukon Territory, as to what the game plan is. Why are we going outside the Yukon to hire when there are capable individuals right here?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: With all due respect to the question, and not to be evasive, but I believe it really isn't the business of the House to be debating qualifications of employees.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, we're not looking at qualifications of employees. I'm taking the minister at his word from yesterday when he said, "We're looking at options of partnerships in the communities, and if necessary we'll get into the standard recruitment exercise of looking outside, but let's look inward first and see what qualified and capable individuals we have right here in the territory."
I'm taking the minister at his word that he's going to look in the Yukon Territory for teachers and administrators before we hire outside of the Yukon. Can I ask the minister if that exercise has been fully completed and is that the reason why a recent principal was hired from Saskatchewan, in light of the number of available, knowledgeable, trained individuals residing here in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I'm not going to presuppose what the total number of qualified individuals are in the territory. I will attempt to answer the question, in that the speciality positions are certainly reviewed here in the territory. We do depend on the competency of our Public Service Commission to review the adequacy of applicants. The Department of Education is also involved in that. I believe that it is a last resort that recruitment occurs outside.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'll hold the minister to his word, but that's not the case. Let's take the minister over a situation that just arose. In April of this year, there were two superintendent positions posted in the newspaper. The competition closed May 19. Those who were eligible received letters in the mail explaining that the decision had been made not to proceed at this time. As it stands, these positions will be vacated in the first part of 2001. The reason why these positions were advertised so early was to allow some time for overlap.
Now, it begs the question: why was there a decision not to proceed with filling these positions at this time, particularly when there is a looming shortage in the administration end of things, including superintendents, principals and vice-principals, within the next two years? Why spend all that time advertising if you are going to subsequently cancel it, after you have gone through all the rigmarole? There must have been tremendous justification to go through this hiring exercise and initiative. Then, after everyone has sent in their applications, their CVs, it was cancelled. Didn't you like what you saw? Or were there too many Yukoners applying?
Chair: Before Mr. Eftoda answers, I just want to remind members to please refer statements through the Chair rather that using the word, "you".
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: With respect to the positions that the member opposite is referring to, again, I think it's our responsibility to make reasonable and sound decisions. The fact is that there has been movement and instruction to the department to fill these positions on a temporary basis. I have full faith in the department determining the qualification of the individuals for those positions.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Well, why was the decision made to go out and advertise instead of just back-filling from within? Usually, that's the first avenue explored; you back-fill from within the department.
Obviously, that wasn't the solution at the time. So, these positions were posted and appropriate ads sent out. Things went quite well, Mr. Chair. I would take it that the department received a number of applications from various individuals. Was the reason that this initiative was cancelled after the fact and back-filling was used that they didn't like the candidates that applied?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, it has nothing to do with the candidate's qualifications or origin. I do understand, being new to politics - being new to government - and as the member honoured me with the comment earlier that the Premier saw fit to give me this portfolio, I am charged with the responsibility to work with the department in a sound and responsible way, which I intend to do. That means not running out and making all kinds of scatter-brain decisions in the first couple of months in the job. I also understand that it is usual, when there is a change of government, that there is a need to take a look at all senior positions.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess the corollary to that is that if we all used the same approach during the election campaign, they wouldn't be here, because they were making a whole series of scatter-brain promises and commitments that now they find they can't honour.
If I could suggest to the minister that this initiative to hire two superintendents was cancelled because the Yukoners that applied had known political leanings, would that sit well with the minister?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I'll accept his suggestion.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. He'll accept the suggestion. Mind you, that's contrary to the Human Rights Act: that the political affiliation is not to be a measure of reasons for hiring or not hiring an individual but, be that as it may, I thank the minister for his acceptance of my suggestion. I don't think it will be taken too lightly, and I'm sure upon reflection the minister will stand up and withdraw his remarks and probably put something on the record that's quite different.
Mr. Chair, one of the other issues raised during the election was that there is a need for more resources for special-needs students. What has been brought to my attention is that a student wishing or requiring a proper psychological assessment must wait a minimum of one year, and possibly as long as three years, making it difficult to identify what the problems are and then again much more difficult to allocate the necessary resources to help the student through the educational system.
Now, as this was an issue on the doorstep in the last campaign, I'm sure the minister is aware of this problem. What action is he prepared to take to reduce those waiting lists, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the member's question may be a little bit dated, in that, over the past couple of years, it isn't the case that there is a waiting list from one to three years. This was a problem in the past with respect to staffing difficulties but, over the past couple of years, the department has included education psychologists and is working diligently in those schools of most need with the team within the school who have identified the specific concerns and needs within the student population.
So, they are focusing on the most-need cases and addressing the situation duly.
Mr. Jenkins: So what are the current timelines for a proper psychological assessment of students?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I will have to get back to the member, Mr. Chair, on the exact waiting period and also take a look at the respective schools to specifically get the information that is requested. That will take a bit of time, so I hope he'll be patient in allowing me to do that.
Mr. Jenkins: Let us move on to students with FAS/FAE, their early diagnosis and setting out the appropriate intervention. It's especially critical, and in order for the type of student with this affliction to move ahead, they have to have a team of professionals looking after their educational needs.
What has improved in this regard? It was topical on the doorstep during the election campaign. Where is the Department of Education heading in this regard? Perhaps the minister could spell out what his priorities are with respect to the special education in this area.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, it is with pleasure that I say that the department is moving in on this. I don't think there's anybody in the House who has not stood up and mentioned or alluded to the fact that this has finally come to the fore as a significant concern here in the Yukon. I know that my colleague from Riverdale South has constantly brought it to the attention of this House, even while in opposition, that it is a concern and needs to be addressed.
We are taking action on that. The Minister of Health and Social Services is certainly cognizant and aware. We are, within the Department of Education, addressing the concern, as well. Under the Education Act, individualized education plans must be developed and implemented to meet the specific students' needs.
Teachers are aware of the importance of accuracy in assessing the needs of their students. The parent and/or guardian can refer students who are suspected of FAS/FAE to a medical practitioner at any time. It is the parent's discretion if this information is shared with the school personnel or not.
At this particular time, diagnosis of FAS/FAE is not required to access services from the Department of Education. In-service and training programs in the areas of behaviour management, early intervention and remediation in reading and writing skills, teaching functional life skills and the development of individualized education plans are offered on a continual basis. Materials are made available so that teachers in schools can have access to the most current information available on FAS/FAE.
In-services - the Yukon Teachers Association conference on September 23 to 25, 1999, addressed many issues relative to FAS/FAE. A brief overview of some of these sessions included the following: the fetal alcohol syndrome in school children; developing ideas to help work with alcohol and drug-affected children - that was a specific two-day workshop; the fourth R, going one step beyond the classroom - the teacher's role now extends beyond the three hours, a heavy-duty responsibility on teachers to the single most important aspect of classroom - and relationships; identifying students with language impairments, and strategies to assist them in the classroom; five-stage intervention model to make decisions and provide support for special-needs students; possible development outcomes of chronic and acute trauma on the brain; differentiating with style, using learning-style research and planning programs to meet student needs.
There are also resources that have been identified and guides from Alberta and British Columbia recently placed in schools review physical, educational and behavioural characteristics of students with FAS/FAE, giving descriptions of specific strategies that may be helpful in meeting the challenges of these children present in the classroom.
The teacher support resources recently placed in schools also addressed these issues: the topic dealing with diversity in the classroom setting, awareness of chronic health conditions, teaching students with learning and behavioural disabilities. So, the department, to their credit, has moved in this area and is dealing with it head-on, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Keenan: Just a couple of questions for the minister pertaining to Education, surrounding some constituency issues that I face, and I'd like to start with the first one, being a letter that I have from the minister that was sent to me regarding the resource room in Teslin. I certainly appreciated listening with some anticipation to the minister's comments here earlier in the debate, speaking of partnering, and I think what we have here is a good opportunity to do just that.
I had given the minister a heads-up a couple of weeks ago concerning this problem, and I was just wondering if the minister could give me an update as to any future or further developments?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I'm really glad that the member brought this up. This is one of those opportunities, and I hope that they increase. There was a dialogue between the member opposite and me in addressing a concern of his constituency, and it is obviously a warranted and serious concern that he has brought forward.
I did respond to the member in writing, and he approached me again and asked for a reassessment, a re-evaluation, another look by both me and the department. I will be getting back to the member on that, and hopefully we can find a mitigable resolution to the situation that he has addressed.
Mr. Keenan: I certainly appreciate the newness to the job of the minister, and I will accept the answer, but I would just like to give a brief history here, if I may, on this.
The problem is not just a problem in the community of Teslin, but it is a problem that is throughout the world. I guess I could say it in that manner. It affects many people throughout the world. So, Teslin is certainly not peculiar here.
What it's going to take, though, is that uniqueness and that partnering. The previous Minister of Education and I had been working toward those ends, where we would get the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Education, the First Nation government in the area and the school council to sit together and try to find some ways, because this certainly is not just an Education problem; it's a holistic problem, if I could, and it's going to take a holistic approach to find a solution.
I have had a couple of chats in the last month or so with members of the school council. They are very, very concerned for the students, concerned that they're not just rushed through the system, but that the students are actually learning, learning in a good environment and not to the detriment of one another. So, it's going to take some good imagination. It's not going to necessarily fit within the formula, because I know there are monetary formulas for student ratios per teachers. As I understand it, the school is, I guess, meeting the formula and maybe in some cases exceeding the formula. But, they're looking for the willingness to just sit down and to be able to move forward.
So, I would certainly appreciate it if we could move forward on this rather quickly. Hopefully we won't be in the House when the school year starts. We'll certainly give the minister some opportunity to do some work. I see the Member for Riverdale South going, "Oh well, but..." We both have four years of experience in here and we both have seen hundreds of millions of dollars getting spent in an hour in this Legislature, so, if we just hunker down and do our jobs, we'll get out of here.
But certainly, I would very much like to instill in the minister that this is very much a community problem. It's a problem that the community will look to and will use imagination and their own resources and partnering to fix, so I would certainly appreciate an expeditious solution to this, and if I could have that commitment from the minister, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: It is this kind of partnership, this kind of openness, this kind of sharing, and this kind of consideration and concern that is going to make us all benefit from partners in getting things accomplished. With all due respect, I am pleased to hear that there was a healthy relationship between the member and the previous Education minister; I certainly support partners on this and other problems. If we can model a resolution on this situation, then we can apply it to similar situations in other schools that have similar problems. I have already sent letters out seeking opportunities to meet with all Yukon school councils and the one school board that we have here. I want to do that as quickly as possible, as the member has indicated, so I appreciate this kind of open dialogue with the member opposite and will work hard to maintain that kind of partnership and open dialogue.
Mr. Keenan: So I guess, Mr. Chair, that the answer to my question is that certainly we'll look for solutions that are mutually beneficial to the community of Teslin. I appreciate that.
Mr. Chair, while we're doing some research on the Teslin school, could the department please look into their - maybe it's in the archives - specific claim on the reserve lands the school now sits on in Teslin. It was due to expire - maybe somewhere off the top of my head, it's early in the decade that the school is due to be replaced. I would appreciate it if the minister could dig into the archives and find out about that agreement and forward to me as to when the agreement is up and the school should be replaced. I would imagine it's soon, because I remember working on that school when I think I was 13 years old, so it's probably due for replacement soon. I would appreciate a copy of that.
Another thing I would like the minister to do if he could is look at the school bus criteria. I heard the Minister of Community and Transportation Services today talking about the school bus criteria - that you have to be so many miles away and there has to be so many children for the school bus service. In certain parts of rural Yukon, it gets quite cold - very cold - especially in the Tintina Trench. I'm speaking specifically of Ross River. Ross River does not necessarily meet the criteria for a school bus service, but if you look at some of the things that are not in the criteria and should be included in the criteria, one is the cold in the winter months. It's not a difference of walking a mile in 60 below. Sometimes, if you walk 500 yards or metres in 60 below, Mr. Chair, you can still get mighty cold. It does not make for a good learning environment for children. I would appreciate if the minister could please look at that and find a way to make it work, and let's try and find something that is made in the Yukon.
If I could get the minister to look at the Ross River scenario or the school bus criteria and try to find ways to make things work instead of saying, I can't do it because of this, he says, let's look at it in this light, so I would appreciate it if we could have that type of consent.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, just a point of clarification: in the tail-end of your comment, you just mentioned the Ross River school. Is the situation in the Ross River or the Teslin school? Then I can respond to the rest of his question as well.
Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, there were two questions: Teslin school replacement - when, contained within a copy of an agreement on a specific claim many years ago - and the Ross River bus. The community of Ross River is desirous and needful of a community bus but, I guess, has been restricted by the criteria. I think we should be looking at the criteria, and I'd appreciate it if the minister could commit to looking at the criteria.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, thank you for that from the member opposite. I will commit to looking at the busing in rural communities and what set of criteria is in place now, and will look at the needs and concerns of the communities.
With respect to the Teslin school, I will try and dig out of the archives the document that the member has mentioned, and as soon as I get it, we can sit down and have a review, if that's okay with him.
Mr. Fairclough: I have one question, or maybe a couple of questions, for the member opposite.
During the election, the Liberals made a promise to end the Conversations in Education swiftly, and, after getting in, that happened. We felt that it was quite important to get the public talking about education before the review of the Education Act, and there was a lot of participation by the general public.
With that action taken by the Liberals, does the minister agree with that action of cancelling Conversations in Education?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I do believe that there was a lifespan to the Educhat program and that it was coming to its natural conclusion, and now we have moved on to the next phase of reviewing the Education Act.
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's my understanding that the final phase in Conversations in Education did not happen. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I'm sorry. I do believe that only the last event was cancelled.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, it's that one that I guess I'm asking questions on, because I do believe it is quite important that the final discussion that was to take place was to be on First Nations culture and heritage. I believe that we would have got a lot of interested people in that discussion. I'm sure that the member knows that there is a lot of value in having this discussion before the Education Act, and it wouldn't have taken long to complete.
Would the minister engage in that discussion to complete the Conversations in Education?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, I suppose then that it was unfortunate, but I'm not quite sure when the decision was made to cancel the last Educhat presentation. I am also aware that there is direct involvement by CYFN on the committee to review the Education Act, and I'm sure that inclusion within the recommendations that will be coming in for review will be addressing the specific needs and concerns that the member opposite just brought forward.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, this is quite important to many people around the territory. This is a part of the discussion, and I know it's going to be part of the Education Act review, trying to get local curriculum, or culture and heritage, being taught in school, or part of the way the structure is put together in the Education Act, and I feel this would have been important, I guess, information that the department could use in setting up the Education Act review. I'm wondering whether or not the government and this minister would continue and complete that. It's not something that takes a long time to do. It's very short, and I think it could be done before the Education Act review starts.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I will take into consideration the suggestion just brought forward by the member opposite. At this particular time, there is no plan for that, but I will consider his suggestion.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I appreciate the minister taking that as a serious suggestion. I have a couple more things. I would like to continue on in regard to the priority list for schools and school construction. I also have a concern and I don't know if it was addressed. I can't think of when it was addressed.
There were some concerns raised to me by the people in Stewart and Mayo about the equipment that's on the buses. I know that you said that you would look at the criteria in contracts, and so on, but part of the concern was that, for example, last year there was a breakdown of the school bus. It was fortunate that there was another vehicle there to take the kids from Stewart to Mayo. There is always the concern that that road is not used a lot, especially in the early morning, and it could be some time before a vehicle could get to them. They don't have proper survival gear on the bus itself.
I questioned this before and I believe I got the answer back that we have first aid kits and space blankets and so on. People like to see the real thing - real blankets and maybe an axe - that could be used by the driver or maybe even by the older students. I wonder if the minister could look into that and respond to me in writing.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, the safety of the schoolchildren is paramount. That's absolute and, as the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes had requested a review of the busing criteria, I have committed to that review. I will, within that review, look at the requirements specifically with respect to student safety. I would like to ask the member opposite that, when the busing tender comes up next year, he remind me again that these concerns and issues be addressed within it, but between now and then I will be taking a look at the concerns that he has brought forward.
Mr. Fairclough: One more quick question: I had asked questions of the minister about priority lists and which major new school construction is next. I know that the Mayo school has been budgeted for and the contracts will go out, if they haven't gone out already, and construction should be starting very soon - in July some time. When we first got elected into government, three-and-a-half years ago, it was a commitment by myself to see this project go ahead, but it was painful to see it not happen right away. The reason for that, of course, was that we wanted to follow a plan. I know the member said we didn't have a plan but we met with school councils and we had a priority list, and we had a plan to build these schools.
I do one every year. Now, of course, Old Crow school is the first one up to be built, and Ross River and Mayo. And it took a long time to see this project happen, and it's finally happening now, and I know that people in Mayo are quite appreciative that the budget was passed in its entirety here and this project continues to happen.
We have also been working with the department, and they have identified the Carmacks school - Tantalus School - and the school in Pelly Crossing as the next school for completion. Now, that's not a replacement school; it's just adding on and tearing down the old sections of the school.
The minister had committed to me that we would work together on this, and I would really like to have a conversation with the mayor and council in Carmacks and the chief, and maybe sit down and talk to the member opposite about this a little bit, because the department has seen the Carmacks school as the next priority. We have moved forward a little bit to try and clean things up, and we have bought a property, which was the Sunset Lounge, which was not a good scene for the community at all. The students would, you know, go to school and on lunch breaks, when the bars open, you see people with whom students really shouldn't be hanging around. So that was really a big and positive move on the part of government to clean that up.
Now, it has lots of positives, of course. If the school was ever to be completed, you can tear down the old building that's there, expand it and clean it up quite nicely without disturbing the class because the other end of the school would still be intact until such time as the school is built.
That was such a positive move, I would really of course like to see that particular project happen. I would like to work with the minister on this. I know that he's going to be working with school councils on this, too. I think that's the right move to make. I just want to be part of it and see that project happen.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I have absolutely no problem with committing to working with the member opposite, with his school council, his mayor and the chief in the Carmacks area, and to be apprised fully of the concerns and issues in the Carmacks area. I have committed to that and I will, for the record, substantiate that commitment with the member opposite.
Chair: The time being 4:30 p.m., do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: We'll continue with general debate on Department of Education.
Mr. Jenkins: I have a couple of local issues, and one of the concerns that has brought to my attention on a regular basis is the program to attract and retain professionals - specifically teachers in this case, and principals - in rural Yukon, and it's the issue surrounding the provision of staff accommodation through Yukon Housing.
Now I know that the department is arm's-length from Yukon Housing. They have certain standards, and we saw clearly yesterday that that department marches to the tune of its own drummer; it doesn't often relate to government.
I was wondering if there has been any initiative within the department to approach Yukon Housing to look at improving on the quality of the housing units that are made available to teachers in rural Yukon - specifically, the quality of construction, the size of the units. These all relate to some of the other areas, but I was wondering if there was a move afoot to improve the quality. We've been through the same equation with the provision of staff accommodation, and I equated it yesterday to what the RCMP have done over the years. They've gone through trailers, modular homes and stick-built to kind of a quasi standard to full-blown practical homes.
Their effective life is considerably longer. They are much more comfortable and the utility costs for heating, by and large, are less, Mr. Chair. I was just wondering if there was any move afoot to address this issue, because it has really been a concern expressed to me by a number of teachers who have been posted into our community as to the quality of the house, and again they get into the utilities and what they're paying. It just doesn't relate to reality in many cases.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I have also been apprised of the issues just mentioned by the Member for Klondike, and I am examining the options available to our professionals, our teachers. The department has been instructed to look further into this, and will, hopefully, within a relatively short period of time. I'm sorry I can't provide a specific timeline on it, but we are aware of those issues and we are concerned. The Yukon Housing Corporation has been approached by the department and they discussed the issues, I believe in the middle of this month, so hopefully soon I'll be getting some response to that initiative.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the issue is to provide a suitable housing unit, especially when you're looking at the teachers. Some of the apartments that are provided in our community especially, really, if you have a look at them, you wouldn't want your dog and cat to live there in many cases. Some of them are that bad. It's a sad state of affairs and it's not that the money hasn't been spent on these units over the years. We have pretty well, in many cases, gold-plated probably a barn in many respects.
The size of the unit is critical, especially given the long winters and the darkness, and the insulating values, so you can at least enjoy a standard of heating throughout the unit - the floors are warm as well as the bathroom, and the whole house is warm, so you don't freeze your feet off when you put them on the floor, as is the case with a number of these relatively new housing units constructed by Yukon Housing for various agencies of the government.
Utility costs are very, very disproportionate, and I cite the issue of propane heat, which you may or may not be able to obtain. There is usually a contract with one supplier, and the tank is supplied by one company, so you're pretty well stuck with that one company. If they show up, it's great. If you let your tank run down because of the cold weather and the truck doesn't come up, the chances of your heat going out are quite considerable. A lot of the teachers, being from somewhere else where they do not even deal with these temperature extremes, are shaking their heads as to what they're doing there.
So, there's an issue, and we could enhance the package that we offer to our professionals that we attract to rural Yukon by providing a better standard of housing. I'm looking for a commitment from the minister. I know he says it's under review. I'm looking for a commitment, because this is one of the areas that we can address that will serve to improve the retention rate of teachers - if you want to specifically target teachers - in rural Yukon: an improved standard of housing.
So, will the minister make a commitment that he will examine it fully? I'm not asking for a pledge that he will make immediate changes. I'm not even asking for timelines. But until it's done, we're not going to move ahead in that area, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I'm very appreciative of the Member for Klondike bringing these issues forward. As I have indicated, we are committed, because we have already started, mid-month, to meet with the Yukon Housing Corporation. I very much appreciate the fact that he shares the same concerns we have with respect to teachers. We will definitely keep him apprised of the responses that I get back from the department on it.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other issues surrounding housing in rural Yukon is the utility cost of many of these units. The costs are very disproportionate to their size. They are nowhere near the costs that were purported by whomever did the interview and advised these people as to what the cost of the heating was going to be. They are usually fairly accurate with respect to electrical, but heating costs have been way off the mark with respect to these costs.
I was wondering if there was some way we could look at these areas.
Again, it would probably translate back to building or constructing a relatively decent home, that's well insulated and doesn't leak around its windows and doors. That's usually the first thing one does to keep the heating costs in line. I was hoping we could get a commitment from the department to insist on standardizing with respect to heating. Maybe down the road it might be a good idea to put in natural gas, but currently solid fuel is about the best and at least there's a variety of options for suppliers there, whereas with respect to propane heating, there isn't. Most of the complaints arise from those units heated with propane. The costs just go right through the roof.
The other one is electric heat, and I know of the one situation in Pelly Crossing where one of the teacher's bills for heating was just right through the roof. It was an electrically heated trailer, and that individual had no idea as to what they were facing until they got their first bill and thought there must be a tremendous mistake with it. But there was no mistake. The bill was probably 10 times what any of us normally accept as a power bill.
The same thing holds for propane heating, in my area specifically. There have been considerable complaints with respect to heating in that area.
So, a standardized heating or, alternatively, the department could explore with Yukon Housing a cap, where they pay to a maximum of so much, because if you're hired, let's say, last fall, you move in and you expect your heating cost to be such, and oil doubles in cost basically at the barrel - and heating oil in our area, wholesale, went from just over 30 cents a litre to just over 50 cents a litre. Well, we haven't experienced the same and we use a lot more of it up here than people do in the lower part of Canada, Mr. Chair.
So, it's costs that people we recruit to the north are not expecting, and when they get hit with it, it really deters them. So, our turnover rate as a consequence is considerably higher. The RCMP have addressed it; they have a fixed cost for housing. In fact, a lot of people in the private sector use their cost figure when the company pays for all of the costs associated with the house. If you use the RCMP figure and your accountant accepts it, that's what I'd do for my rent. You take it to your accountant, you present it to Revenue Canada and they accept those numbers, because that's what the Government of Canada is doing with its own employees.
So, there's a kind of cap on what they pay for everything and at the recruitment level, while it's a bit different for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police than for teachers, is pretty well the same thing. If the individual is not comfortable in that housing unit and if the utility costs are way out of line as to what they expect, they're not going to stick around. It doesn't matter what the teaching conditions are; housing conditions are critical to retaining those employees.
So, I'm looking for a commitment that that be part of the package.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Again, I very much appreciate the mutual concerns expressed by the member opposite. I do believe that the department is looking after some of these concerns with respect to Yukon Housing. I will definitely pass on these additional suggestions - the ones that may not have been included in the original review, as mentioned by the member opposite - for consideration. Most definitely.
Mr. Jenkins:While we're on the same topic, one of the other areas being explored by the Minister of Health and Social Services - I'm not sure if he's shooting from the lip with respect to looking at a rent reduction or lowering the rent to attract health care professionals, but is this in the equation as far as the review of housing for teachers in rural Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, that is something that I am unfamiliar with, but again, it's a suggestion for consideration. I will be inquiring of the department on that fact.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other issues that has come up in our community is kindergarten - the number of students, and who determines when there are certain numbers of students, and it only qualifies for one class, whether it be an a.m. or a p.m. class. Who is that determined by?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I do believe that that is left up to the school. It would depend on the number of kindergarten students, and that would be determined between the parents and the school - whether they attend in the a.m. or the p.m.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's point out the specific example, Mr. Chair. Last year in Dawson, there were enough students to have two kindergarten classes, so we finally had an a.m. and a p.m.. For this coming year, it appears that the enrolment is down considerably. Most people are leaving to find employment opportunities somewhere else as a consequence of the continuing depressed state of the economy, initially aided by the NDP and now enhanced by the Liberals.
But the issue is, there's only enough to form one class, and it has been determined somewhere that that class will be an afternoon kindergarten class. I would like to know who makes that determination.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I believe again - and I stand to be corrected - but I would assume the logic is if the class is big enough to have two, they would have an a.m. and a p.m. But the determination, really, I believe, is left up to the administrator in the school, the teachers and the parents.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'd like further clarification of that, Mr. Chair, if the minister would be kind enough to send over a legislative return spelling out who specifically makes that determination. I'd like to narrow it right down, because we're going around in a circle in our community. A lot of parents are saying we want a morning kindergarten class. It's already been determined that there's only going to be an afternoon kindergarten class and no one seems to know how the decision-making process came about.
In black and white, we probably have something as to who made the decision and how. So, if the minister could agree to provide one of those, we can move on, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I will provide an answer to the member opposite and I'm assuming that it's with respect to the school up in Dawson, so I will find out and I will get back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, we're at a juncture now where I have just about finished everything I have in general debate, and we can probably clear the balance of the department very, very quickly. There's an agreement between the House leaders to clear the balance of the department, but I'm seeking assurances from the minister that the supplementary this fall will include funds for the wage and benefit settlement and increased utility costs. Is the minister aware of anything that will be in the supplementary this fall above and beyond those items and, if so, what are they? What additional priorities will be forthcoming? Furthermore, what I'm looking for is some assurance that spending will approximate the outline that we have before us here.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I believe I can respond positively to that question. The design of the supplementary in the fall, of course, is speculative at this time. I can't indicate, at this time, anything further with respect to the question.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, as it stands right now, our capital has been committed, pretty well - probably just about half of the budget has been committed and we know where that is going to be spent. The biggest component in here is the wages, and we know where that's going. So, what I'm looking for from the minister is assurances that we're not looking at any additional initiatives that we haven't covered in the House. If the minister can provide those assurances, then we can clear the department.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I would say at this time that an expenditure is approximate and is basically what is contained in the current budget. But, I will, most definitely, commit to advise the member now if there are new initiatives to be introduced.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, pursuant to an agreement of House leaders, I would ask unanimous consent of this House to clear the Department of Education, both capital and operation and maintenance, in their entirety.
Chair: Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted. All line items in Operation and Maintenance and Capital are deemed to be read and carried. Education has carried.
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Education in the amount of $84,281,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Education in the amount of $13,753,000 agreed to
Department of Education agreed to
Chair: Committee will now go to Public Service Commission.
Public Service Commission
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Today I am pleased to introduce the 2000-01 budget for the Public Service Commission. The commission is requesting $9,910,000 for operation and maintenance expenditures over the next year. These funds support the core functions of the Public Service Commission to provide personnel, administration and the corporation management and recruitment and direction of human resource services for the Yukon government.
The Public Service Commission's primary focus is the delivery of an effective and comprehensive human resource management service that is consistent with governing legislation. The commission continues to provide these services in partnership with departments. This government continues to support the training and development of employees to ensure a qualified and proficient workforce.
Training and development in support of land claims and employment equity are important training initiatives that will continue to be funded with this budget. Initiatives in this area include land claims training, temporary assignments between governments, mentoring of employees, literacy programming, support for the accommodation of disabled employees and executive development programming. The Yukon government leadership forum is a recent program created to enhance the development of leadership skills within our current workforce. This initiative will support the development of employees, which will then provide a pool of potential applicants for senior positions when these positions become vacant due to increasing numbers of retiring employees. This budget supports the well-functioning and well-trained public service needed to provide programs and services for Yukoners.
This concludes my introduction to the operations and maintenance budget of the Public Service Commission for the fiscal year 2000-01.
Mr. Fentie: I would like to begin, Mr. Chair, by exploring an issue with the minister, and it has to do with the Public Service Act. Can the minister indicate to this House whether or not the Liberal government - the new government - has any intention of reviewing the Public Service Act at this time?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, we have currently not made any commitment to do so.
Mr. Fentie: Has the minister or government any intention of doing so in their mandate?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Again, I will repeat that, at this particular time, we have no plans to review the Public Service Act.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the Liberals, during the election, made some commitments with regard to the public service. One of the commitments relates to the respect and integrity of the collective bargaining process.
Now, we have recently explored the proposed agreement or settlement with the Yukon Teachers Association, and we have to deal with this particular aspect of this proposed agreement when it comes to the signing bonus.
I would ask the minister to tell this House if he firmly believes that a signing bonus is a method of fully respecting the integrity of the collective bargaining process.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I thought I had defined earlier, through questioning on the Department of Education, the difference between a signing bonus and a retention allowance. A signing bonus is usually awarded to new employees and, at present, within the government we don't have that. What we have included in the agreement with the Yukon Teachers Association is a retention allowance, which recognizes the quality of our teachers and is an encouragement for them in subsequent years to return, so that if they're coming back, the retention allowance is then awarded.
Mr. Fentie: In that case, Mr. Chair, we have already established the fact that the teachers here in the territory were already committed to the next school year so, given that fact, one can only conclude that there was not this need for a retention bonus. The minister himself has also called this $1-million arrangement to appease the leadership of the Yukon Teachers Association "a signing bonus". Also, I'd like to add that the minister himself tabled and presented a ministerial statement in this Legislature, which, of course, we all know is to be a short, factual statement of new government policy.
So now we have the situation, with regard to the integrity of the collective bargaining process, where the Liberal government has now instituted signing bonuses as a new government policy. So am I to understand now that, in future collective bargaining, a signing bonus will be a part of that bargaining process in terms of respecting the integrity of the collective bargaining process?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: What it really was was a respect of the quality of teachers whom we get up here in the territory. We recognize and value their commitment to return to their teaching positions year after year after year. That is why the retention allowance is used. For the record, I am also going to admit that during the heated debate, after the ministerial announcement was made, I misspoke when I said "retention bonus". I want to stand on the record as correcting myself. It's a retention allowance.
So, therefore, tuning into the process of this House, wanting to be open and transparent and honest with the questions that I provide, I find that it is imperative, at all times now, to measure almost every word. But I want to reply to the questions as openly and honestly as I can, and I will continue to do that.
The fact is, as well, that the same option was provided for the nurses, under the Public Service Commission, at the hospital, in that we recognize the quality of the individuals we get here. We respect them; we want them to stay.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I respect the minister's desire to be as open and forthright as he possibly can in terms of answering questions in this Legislature, but this was an election issue. This was very much an election issue. The deal that was tabled with the leadership of the Yukon Teachers Association upon the new Liberal government taking office was essentially the very same as the previous government had on the table, but with one distinct difference. It was sweetened with a million dollars, and one can only conclude, given all the facts, that it is a signing bonus.
Now the minister just said that it's the same thing with the nurses. Does the minister mean that we've already made an offer to the nurses that includes a million-dollar signing bonus?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: In principle, it's the same scenario between the nurses and the teachers, and, quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, I don't think it's appropriate, while the teachers are still reviewing their collective agreement that was negotiated in good faith between the Teachers Association and the Public Service Commission - I think that's being disrespectful to the teachers in allowing them an opportunity to fully become cognizant of the agreement before they cast their vote in the fall.
Mr. Fentie: That is very interesting. It wasn't me or this side of the House that opened the door. The minister, in presenting to this House the ministerial statement while the teachers were, in fact, still reviewing the offer, is the issue that we're now dealing with. The minister, if he is saying now that this is not a respectful thing to be discussing in this Legislature because the teachers have not yet decided on this offer - it is not we who began this process. It was begun by this government through a statement of new government policy.
Let me then go about it this way: one of the commitments that the Liberals made during the election is on implementing a multi-gains bargaining process, which I am grappling with somewhat to understand exactly what that means. Could the minister explain what the Liberals meant in this commitment to the Yukon, as far as the multi-gains bargaining process is concerned?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Just a slight correction: mutual gains is the appropriate term.
As I understand it, it's premised on pre-bargaining, where the parties sit down and have discussions before they get into the full bargaining.
Mr. Fentie: Am I to take it then, Mr. Chair, that this procedure - this mutual gains bargaining process - was implemented when it comes to the offer that the government immediately made to the Yukon Teachers Association's leadership?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I'm sure the member is fully aware that the negotiations with the teachers were already underway before this government came into power.
Mr. Fentie: Can the minister then explain in a little more detail exactly how the Liberal government intends to proceed with such a bargaining process? Do they have some sort of a framework - a terms of reference? Is there something that would indicate how that process is to be implemented and what it actually, in fact, looks like?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, there are many textbooks on it. It's a concept; it's called interspace bargaining or mutual gains. It's usually a preamble to the full-fledged bargaining process. There are all kinds of books available on the process, but I could certainly request the department to put a composite together on the principles of this practice.
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So, the commitment then to the Yukon public during the election, based on the Liberal platform on mutual gains bargaining - the Liberals don't actually have a process in mind. They are referring to what they have seen or experienced in the past, or what is in these textbooks, so there is no real, hard approach to this as yet?
Can the minister then provide this House with some sort of indication of when they would be prepared, at the Public Service Commission level, to actually begin this type of bargaining - this mutual gains bargaining process?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I have just been informed by my colleague, the Minister of Justice, that there was a motion put forward while the member was in opposition. The motion had outlined what this process was; it was debated at length in this House, and the NDP government of the day refused the motion to come to a vote. I think that, had they approved the motion, the member opposite would be more informed on this process.
Mr. Fentie: Would the minister just bear with me? First off, that was then. That was the twenty-ninth legislative sitting. We're now in the thirtieth.
Secondly, I don't believe we committed then or now to this type of process. I am merely trying to get some idea of what the Liberals' intentions are, what the government's intentions are here with this type of process. I don't need a lot of detail at this time. I merely need to get a handle on what this means. In the minister's words, what exactly is the intention here when it comes to the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, what we, on this side of the House, are prepared to do is to get into full discussion with proponents so that all the issues can be laid out on the table, and those issues that are mutually agreed to at the outset are set aside. What this attempts to do is to mitigate the adversarial aspects of negotiation.
So, I think it's quite a positive and affirming way of respect and openness - early face-to-face dialogue. I think it's a positive thing all around.
Mr. Fentie: I take it to mean, then, that this is a process that, even before the bargaining of a new contract between the Public Service Commission and whichever union it may impact, would happen before the actual contract negotiations take place?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Exactly. These pre-bargaining discussions do manage to get rid of a lot of easy task items identified through discussion and mutually agreed to. Then, when going into full bargaining, those issues are discussed through the mutual gains process. In the post-agreement period, there is agreement to continually dialogue, and there is joint discussion occurring after an agreement is signed.
Mr. Fentie: Just another point of interest then. The Liberals are committed to all-party committees. This particular approach to the collective bargaining process, if in fact the mutual gains bargaining process is a pre-contract negotiation process - the first part of the question is, is the government then going to set up some sort of vehicle, a group of people who sit down with a group of representatives of a particular union to initiate and follow through with the mutual gains bargaining process? If that is the case, would the minister commit here today to implement one of the Liberal government's main commitments in all-party committees, form an all-party committee for this pre-contract negotiation process, and use that vehicle for the mutual gains bargaining process?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I hope I'm understanding fully the question. Is the member opposite asking if this full-party committee, made up of House members, conduct these pre-discussions? I don't believe that would be quite appropriate. Right now, the employer representative, along with department officials, conduct them at the present time and the union or whoever determine their team as well.
Chair: The time being close to 5:30 p.m., we will take a brief recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We'll continue with general debate on Public Service Commission.
Mr. Fentie: When we adjourned for the supper break, the minister and I were exploring this multi-gains bargaining process. I am a novice at this, but I had mentioned that the possibility of setting up this type of process through an all-party committee. That seemed to not fall on very receptive ears on the opposite side of the House. I just wondered if we could go over that one more time and have the minister submit to the House whether he even thinks that idea has any merit at all in terms of setting this up through an all-party committee.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I would answer the member opposite by simply stating that, pursuant to the Public Service Act, section 8(1), the Public Service Commission has the authority "to negotiate on behalf of the Government of the Yukon with an authorized bargaining agent, pursuant to any act of the Legislature." Clearly, the authority is not with the House, i.e. an all-party committee.
Mr. Fentie: I think my point is more toward before actually being in a bargaining process. When I'm looking at this, and implementing a multi-gains bargaining process, I'm talking about preimplementation of that process - an all-party committee that would sit down and provide some structure, which we would then pass on to the Public Service Commission with respect to this type of bargaining process - the multi-gains process.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the multi-gains process spells out - and I brought the member opposite a couple of reference manuals that would certainly be worth having a look at. One was called Getting to Yes. It outlines the principles of this process, as well as negotiating the art of mutual gains bargaining. As a matter of fact, I'm at liberty to hand one of these manuals over to the member opposite, if he wishes. Unfortunately, Getting to Yes doesn't belong to me, so I can't hand it over, but I would certainly encourage the member to make reference to it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, with all due respect to the member opposite, I guess the Member for Klondike is trying to become the leader of the official opposition by counselling members.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Okay.
In any event, if the member is willing, I can hand these manuals over.
I am a little apprehensive at looking at committees upon committees upon committees to getting into the negotiating process. The mutual gains process does outline a process that is the responsibility of the Public Service Commission, under the Public Service Act, and therefore I don't believe it would be incumbent upon us to be structuring committees to look after a process that is already being established.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I thank the minister for that, and I most certainly will view those two books and see if I can't get a little better understanding of a mutual gains bargaining process. So, thank you.
Moving on, Mr. Chair, another commitment by the Liberals was to implement a mentorship program to develop a more experienced and successful workforce.
I thank the page for that.
Could the minister explain to the House how he sees that developing and if there are any timelines that we can look to here with regard to this mentorship program?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the process has actually started as a pivotal part of the new strengthening public sector management initiative.
The Yukon government leadership forum focuses on preparing employees to assume senior management positions within the Yukon government.
Like other jurisdictions in Canada, the Government of Yukon -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda:No, Mr. Chair, I respect the opinions of the others, and I will listen to their chatter on the other side.
Mr. Chair, the Government of Yukon faces a situation where the number of management employees who are eligible to retire in the next five years will have a serious effect on leadership continuity. One third to one half of Yukon government management employees are eligible to retire during the next five- to 10-year period. Without a strategy to develop the skills required for performance at deputy and senior-management ranks, the government will have a serious leadership void. This program, therefore, focuses on the development of personal leadership skills as well as exploration of current theory and management issues.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I guess it's pretty easy to honour commitments on initiatives that are already started. So I take it that the Liberal government has merely adopted a program that was already underway, and I assume then that they will be following through with the Yukon government leadership forum. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, yes.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, in regard to the Yukon government leadership forum, it seems to me that there are some real possibilities here that show that restructuring a government within this process is definitely one of the outcomes. Can the minister explain in that regard, of restructuring government, if there are any ideas yet on exactly how that process may begin and what it might look like?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, with all due respect, I would request the member to be a little more specific in his information request.
Mr. Fentie: I am asking the minister for specifics. The idea that I speak of is something that I think also can be very much connected to the devolution process and the Yukon government taking down the federal powers in this territory. Maybe I'm using the wrong terminology, but the restructuring of government may very well become a reality throughout this government leadership forum and also coupled with the devolution initiative that is, in all probability, upon us by April 2001.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: With respect to devolution, I don't feel it's appropriate for me, as minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, to be discussing the aspects of devolution and would certainly defer to the minister responsible. I know that with the devolution into the government, she will be addressing those concerns more specific to the question that the member opposite asked.
Mr. Fentie: I think that the Public Service Commission is going to play a very big role in devolution. Obviously, in anything that happens in the way of restructuring government, the Public Service Commission is again going to be front and centre. Can the minister provide any information in that regard as it pertains to devolution and his portfolio of the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The member opposite is absolutely right, and I know that he is very aware of the processes that are in play right now. In June 1999, Public Service Commission hired a full-time resource dedicated to ensuring that the joint human resource plan is successfully carried out. Public Service Commission staff has attended several DIAND employee information sessions throughout the Yukon in response to questions surrounding devolution. Human resources communications are now jointly drafted and distributed by Yukon and Canada. A summary of the HR chapter of the AIP is currently being drafted for public distribution. Full agreement between the negotiators on the HR chapter should be achieved within the next several weeks.
A joint staffing strategy has been developed and signed off by the Public Service Commissioner and DIAND's Regional Director General. It will address ongoing HR needs and ensure YTG participation in staffing of evolved positions up to the effectiveness of devolution. This strategy will take effect six months prior to the effective date of devolution, once the YTG job offers have been issued to the Northern Affairs' intermediate employees.
The most important task that remains for Yukon to complete, as set out in the joint human resources workplan, are as follows: crosswalk exercise with DIAND and YTG Human Resources and directors to ensure job matches make sense and to identify a definitive list of NAP employees who are not yet matched with positions; negotiations of the human resource terms of the NAP transfer agreement; final Cabinet approval of human resource transfer terms; consultation with PSAC regarding personnel issues of the transfer agreement; issuing offers of employment to devolving NAP employees; and, provisions of orientation and information sessions to new employees.
So, Mr. Chair, to the member opposite, I do believe that the Public Service Commission is well underway to assimilating employees for the transfer.
Mr. Fentie: Is the minister comfortable that the Public Service Commission, and all that is going to go with the transfer, will allow us to have a smooth transition and not disrupt or impact negatively any services in the territory that the federal government and/or the Yukon government now deliver? Can the minister relate to this House whether he is confident that that, in fact, can be managed and that the Public Service Commission has everything it needs to carry that out?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I have full confidence in the Public Service Commission in addressing the needs and concerns of the employees now with DIAND coming over to the territorial government.
Mr. Fentie: I would like to take the minister back to earlier this afternoon. We were talking about a review of the Public Service Act. It wasn't that long ago that the Public Service Alliance put out a questionnaire and had the parties provide answers to the questions in the questionnaire. When I asked the minister if he had any knowledge or any consideration of the Public Service Act review, he stated emphatically, no. However, the Yukon Liberals' answer was that they would sit down and be prepared to discuss overhauls of these pieces of legislation with the Public Service Alliance. We're talking about legislation that goes back almost 40 years. As the Public Service Alliance points out, it has been borrowed from the federal system.
Can the minister take a look at this again and explain to the House that it is the case that the Liberals are considering these two pieces of legislation that are related to the Public Service Commission? Would the minister tell this House when they plan on sitting down with the Public Service Alliance to discuss possible changes to the Public Service Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, just a slight correction to the member opposite's reference to the long overdue overhaul of the Public Service Act: I do believe that it was amended and overhauled in 1987.
In response to a questionnaire, the Public Service Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act are important pieces of legislation.
We are prepared to discuss, with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, overhauls of these pieces of legislation, but we feel a deadline of the fall of 2001 is not adequate to do a proper update of theses acts. Any changes to these pieces of legislation would be developed in partnership with stakeholders, including the public and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Mr. Fentie: Has the minister sent an invitation yet to the Public Service Alliance in regard to this matter of discussing the legislation?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: No, we haven't.
Mr. Fentie: Can the minister indicate to the House when that invitation would be going out?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, that wasn't a designated priority; therefore it's not being considered at this time.
Mr. Fentie: I just have a few more items here and I would like to pass this off to my colleague from the Yukon Party.
The Liberals had much to say in opposition, Mr. Chair, about reclassification and the backlog. This pertains to nurses and ambulance attendants and so on. Now, with the devolution process obviously in gear, do they have any plans on how to improve those transfer agreements?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, again with all due respect to the member opposite, can I ask him to just slightly rephrase his question, or is it specific to transfer agreements?
Mr. Chair, I do believe that a contract was let to KPMG, and we are awaiting their report on this specific subject.
Mr. Fentie: When does the minister expect the report to be available?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, toward the end of summer.
Mr. Fentie:This afternoon, Mr. Chair, the Minister of Health and Social Services delivered a ministerial statement in this House about the alcohol and drug commission. Could the minister tell the House if he has any concerns or if the Public Service Commission has any concerns on employee issues with regard to the contract of this alcohol and drug commission?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I do believe that the Minister of Health and Social Services had also indicated that we'd honour existing collective agreements.
Mr. Fentie: I take it, then, that there are no concerns with the Public Service Commission or the minister with regard to the alcohol and drug commission. They had no concerns at all.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, as I stated, under the provisions as described by the minister, I am assuring the member opposite that we will honour the existing collective agreements.
Mr. Fentie:I would like to again discuss and explore with the minister this issue on the questionnaire from the Public Service Alliance. It's very obvious in the questionnaire that the Liberals committed to sit down with the union and discuss the review of these pieces of legislation, and even went on to say that they felt the union's desire to have this done by the fall of 2001 was simply an unrealistic timeline. Given the commitment, would the minister at least give some indication in this House when they plan on sitting down with the Public Service Alliance to in fact discuss the pieces of legislation that the alliance is referring to?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I think that we had specifically said that we felt the time frame indicated in the questionnaire was inadequate, and I'm sure the member opposite knows that we have also committed to a review of another significant piece of legislation, namely the Education Act. So that would be our priority at this time, and I think we have to respect the resources that are available to go through the manoeuvring in a review of major pieces of existing legislation.
Mr. Fentie:Well, that's some of the trials and the tribulations of government, balancing all those demands and desires and commitments within the restrictions of what there is available. I ask the minister again: given the commitment by the Yukon Liberals to sit down with the Public Service Alliance of Canada to discuss a review of the Public Service Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act, will the minister indicate to this House when they are prepared to have that discussion with the union?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: No.
Mr. Fentie: Does that "no" mean the government will not be discussing these two particular pieces of legislation with the Public Service Alliance?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The question was, would I consider the suggestion made by the member opposite, and I said no.
Mr. Fentie: My question was, if the minister could indicate, given the commitment by the Yukon Liberals to the Public Service Alliance, when they would be prepared to sit down and discuss those particular pieces of legislation. The minister answered then, a succinct "no". I could only conclude that that meant, no, they weren't prepared to discuss the legislation. Let's try this again. The commitment is there, in writing; can the minister indicate to this House when the government's prepared to discuss with the Public Service Alliance these particular pieces of legislation?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Just for the information of the member opposite, which I am sure he already knows, the NDP, in their answers to the questionnaire, indicated that they couldn't look after it within the mandate should they have won the election.
I am not really prepared at this time to put a definitive timeline on this action in light of the other pieces of legislation that we're considering reviewing at this time.
Mr. Fentie: Well, firstly, the Yukon NDP committed not to discuss the legislation, but to actually review it, and went on to clarify that a review could not be completed by the 2001 deadline. Furthermore, the Education Act reviews an entirely different department and should not have a huge bearing on the Public Service Commission being able to discuss, with the Public Service Alliance, the legislation we are speaking of. I would remind the minister that this is, again, a commitment to Yukoners - this is what they would do. Can the minister give us an approximate time when they will sit down and discuss this matter with the union?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, as indicated in the questionnaire, we are certainly committed to the review process. There is a slight correction with respect to the review of the Education Act. The Public Service Commission is intimately involved with the review of that act, with particular attention to the staff relations aspect of it. So, our commitment is to be involved, but I cannot, at this time, provide the member opposite with a realistic timeline or a definitive timeline for us to address these review requests.
Mr. Fentie: I take that to mean, then, that the minister is then going to discuss with the Public Service Alliance the two pieces of legislation, but he is not quite sure exactly when that is going to take place. However, the minister will be sitting down with the union and going through the discussion of this legislation.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, within this mandate, I do believe that we are committed to sitting down with PSAC people to do that. Yes.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, this looks like a government with a big agenda. We know that they're going to have a review of the Education Act, the Liquor Act, WCB and now the PSC is in the barrel, too. It sounds like four bear traps, Mr. Chair.
Let's see if we can get some information about one of the areas that the PSC is responsible for: recruitment of teachers for this forthcoming year. How many teachers have not signed up and how many teachers are going to have to be recruited for this forthcoming year?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, just a slight correction to these scenarios of review that the Member for Klondike just listed. We have committed ourselves to discuss it with PSAC. And his second question was about hiring teachers. That is under the purview of the Department of Education and not the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the Public Service Commission doesn't put together all of the necessary ads? That's not done under the Public Service Commission, Mr. Chair? That's done under the Department of Education? Each department is responsible for its own hiring. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the member again is wandering off. The Department of Education is the only department that looks after the hiring of teachers. The rest of the departments in the government are addressed through the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the Department of Education is responsible for hiring teachers. Okay.
What about the balance of the staff in the Department of Education - administration staff?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: As indicated under the Education Act, it is up to principals and vice-principals that the hiring is conducted through the Department of Education.
Mr. Jenkins: Above that, in the administration ranks, how many new employees is the Public Service Commission looking for in the Department of Education?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I believe that was reviewed. I believe I supplied the Member for Klondike those numbers under the review of the Education budget.
Mr. Jenkins: If the minister did, I don't recall. I brought to his attention that there was a recruitment for principals. That has been subsequently recalled. There is a request for two superintendent positions posted in April, and the competition closed on May 19. Many of the people who applied were then sent a letter explaining that a decision had been made not to proceed with their hiring at this time. Is that level - the superintendent - under the Education department hiring or under the Public Service Commission hiring?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, again I could get the answers that I provided to the member opposite out of Hansard, and I do believe that I also qualified that it is my understanding that, when a new government takes over, there are a number of senior positions that are held in abeyance until the new government becomes familiar with the operations and with the departments, and I already provided that answer to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what the minister is saying is that, down to the level of superintendents, a political decision is made and the new government makes that decision? I thought we were only looking at the deputy minister level, where they serve at the pleasure of the government.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I do appreciate the member opposite suggesting things that I have said, but I would appreciate very much if he would not try and paraphrase me as verbatim.
That being said, I think that the government only holds those positions in abeyance in a holding position. We do not become involved in the actual staffing actions for those positions.
Mr. Jenkins: Perhaps the minister can explain just how many positions are in that category that are held in abeyance until the new government gets a handle on things and an understanding of the various portfolios. How many departments, how many positions, and down to what level within the government, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, all we did was ask the departments to hold off on staffing. That is not in any way interfering with the process of the actual staffing. We just asked departments to hold off until we got a little more settled into the job. I cannot provide a definitive number to the Member for Klondike, but the levels that were requested to be held in abeyance are the DMs, the ADMs and directors. But that's where we are.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like we're really politicizing the Public Service Commission, Mr. Chair. Is that the case?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I apologize. Could the member repeat that question, please?
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It sounds like we're really politicizing the Public Service Commission and their hiring priorities, practices and when they take place. Is that the case?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, that is absolutely not the case.
Mr. Jenkins: So, could the minister perhaps explain in further detail the reason for not filling the positions down from DMs, ADMs and directors, until this new government gets a handle on the government of the day? What's the reason?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I think that we have repeated - I, other ministers and other caucus members. And I'm sure the member opposite fully realizes that we have been called "green", so I'll use the phrase in the response to the member opposite.
Becoming familiar with the intricacies of the departments, becoming aware of the functioning of the department - I'm sure that the member opposite can appreciate that it does take some time to become familiar with all aspects and that until we get a little more comfortable with things, he must appreciate the magnitude of information that we're assimilating, and we are acting in a very responsible way, I believe. We are being accountable for our actions. I would just like to remind the member opposite that the Yukon Party did the exact same thing on all positions within the government.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't really want to call this government a "green government". It might be a slight on those involved in the environmental movement. So, we'll leave that one alone and move on.
If we go back to the reasons that the Yukon Party, upon coming to power, put a hold and freeze on hiring, it was because there was almost a $60-million deficit. And I remind the minister that at the end of March 31 this year, there was a $56.2 million surplus. Now, when you add those two extremes together, that's a difference of a considerable sum of money. It amounts to about one-quarter of the total budget of this current budget, Mr. Chair, and that in itself is a significant sum of money.
So there has to be a reason for a freeze on the levels below DM. As I understand government, the elected officials provide policy direction. The day-to-day operations are left to the DM on down. The appointment of the DM is an appointment that serves at the pleasure of the government. So, why are the day-to-day operations not allowed to continue - not allowed to be hired and terminated as normally occurs? Why is there suddenly a freeze when the new government takes office? I don't want to hear that they want to get a handle on things, because the exercise of a minister is not to micromanage his department. It is to have a very good understanding of his department and to set policy and direction.
Why would we be dealing with the day-to-day operations and the hiring of levels down to ADMs, DMs and directors?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I do appreciate the acknowledgement of the member opposite that we are in a learning curve in the details of the department.
Again, I would remind the member opposite that the staffing watch is a temporary measure. And again, I might ask the member opposite why, when the Yukon Party got in, did they freeze the whole of government?
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, as I understand it, I'm here to ask the questions and this minister's here to answer them. When the role is reversed after the next election, that's fine, but at this juncture, Mr. Chair, this minister is failing to answer the questions, and that's his responsibility and that's his role.
But for the minister's benefit, I will tell the minister once again: when the Yukon Party came to power, there was a $60-million deficit. That's no money - $60 million. And that can be confirmed by the Auditor General. If the minister wants to go back and have a look at the audited financial statements, he will find that was the order of magnitude of the deficit when the Yukon Party took office.
Now, contrast that to when this Liberal government won the recent election. There was a healthy bank account. And the Auditor General, I am sure, will confirm the surplus at some $56.2 million. That's at March 31, 2000. So, there is a considerable sum of money in the bank and when you add the deficit and the surplus together, you approach an amount equal to about 25 percent or a quarter of the current budget of the Yukon government. We're talking half a billion dollars of a budget this year, Mr. Chair, and we're talking a quarter of that being the difference between its deficit, when the Yukon Party came into power, and the surplus when the Liberals came into power. There's money in the bank.
I just want to know why a freeze has been put on hiring on the levels from the DM down - the senior levels: the DMs, directors, assistant directors, ADMs. Why is there a hiring freeze on at this time?
Now, I don't want the minister to throw out the rationale that the Yukon Party did it; they did it for a reason. There wasn't any money to meet the payroll. You've got to get a handle on the finances first.
You're in the fortunate position, Mr. Chair, that you don't have to do that. The "your" is referring to the Liberal government. Your government is in a very fortunate position in that they don't have to get a handle on the finances other than to understand it.
They don't have to make up for a deficit. This government can move ahead.
Now, I want to know from the minister why this Liberal government has put a freeze on hiring from the DM on down - the senior levels and senior positions in government.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: As I have explained to the member opposite already - and I am pleased to hear that he is acknowledging that we are setting our agenda and we are setting our policies. I think it is only appropriate that we do put a staffing watch on the senior management level of government until we get our policies in place - or, at least, that we are starting to generate our policies - and that we continue to comprehend fully and extensively the intricacies of the respective department obligations.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that still doesn't explain why there's a hiring freeze on the day-to-day operations of the government. These are very important positions. Policies are one thing. It's the political line that develops and implements the policy and direction of government. But, the day-to-day operations of government are carried out from the DM on down. The minister still hasn't provided a reasonable or satisfactory explanation as to why those senior positions have a hiring freeze, and I'd like him to do so.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I am in constant contact with the Public Service Commissioner, and she has been directed to provide me with those positions that are in most urgent need to be looked into. As a matter of fact, we have moved on some of those positions upon her advice.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's rather a backward answer, but we're sort of getting there, Mr. Chair. Now, what's the explanation for the balance of the positions? Why aren't they being filled?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, as I indicated earlier as well, this is a temporary staffing watch. The Public Service Commissioner is keeping me apprised at all times as to the urgency in those positions.
Again, I can only repeat that, until we become familiar with things, the staffing watch in its temporary mode will be in place.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, how is it determined if a position is urgently needed to be filled? How does that come about? It seems like an administration function, and the minister just rubber-stamps it, or is there some other way? How is the urgency determined?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, that is actually the responsibility of the department. The department will report to the Public Service Commission, and the Public Service Commission will provide me with the appropriate rationale.
Mr. Jenkins: If they provide the minister, Mr. Chair, with the appropriate rationale for hiring, the appropriate rationale must, somewhere along the line, have to be there to justify not hiring. Where does that originate?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, again I'm going to have to apologize to the member opposite. I didn't get the full extent of the last question.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the question to the minister was that it was the Public Service Commissioner who brought to the minister's attention the urgency and the requirement to fill the position. Now, if the position is to remain vacant, what is the process we go through? How long are the positions allowed to remain vacant?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I think the member opposite is actually asking me to get into the actual departmental details and the process of hiring, which is the responsibility of the Public Service Commission.
In a follow-up answer to a previous question, the sense of urgency is, again, determined by the department, but the departments themselves can allow people to work or suggest to the Public Service Commission that people can move into a position in an acting role. So, again, until this government becomes completely familiar with the details of its departments, we'll continue in the same mode.
Mr. Jenkins: It would probably be prudent, if we want some answers, Mr. Chair, to introduce the de facto Premier of the Yukon, Jason Cunning, who just came into the House. Perhaps we would get some better answers from him than what we're receiving here in the House today.
We still haven't received a satisfactory answer, Mr. Chair, with respect to the staff watch or, basically, the hiring freeze that we have here on the senior levels of government, and how it's determined not to fill the positions. We have determined that a recommendation comes from the Public Service Commissioner to fill them. Now, to not fill them, there has to be a similar exercise to go through. Where is the determination made to not fill them?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, that determination is made by the department.
Mr. Jenkins: That begs the question, Mr. Chair: if the determination to not fill them is made by the department, why are the positions in existence?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, again I'll repeat that the departments themselves actually determine whether or not a vacant position is absolutely required or if they can hold off filling that position. It's entirely up to the department. If they feel that there's an urgency for the position to be filled, then they approach the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Jenkins: So, could the minister confirm if there is what the minister refers to as a "staff watch" - if there is indeed a hiring freeze across all departments?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, yes. The staffing watch is across all departments, but I think it's important to point out to the member opposite that, in the newspapers, the advertising for positions are ongoing. Again, the departments are the ones responsible for monitoring the specific needs and positions within their department.
Mr. Jenkins: And rightly so. The departments have the responsibility. We, as the legislators, approve the budget for the respective departments. From the DM on down, the departments run. We set policy in this Legislature. It would appear that the new Liberal government is micromanaging the senior levels of government. Is this to put into effect political appointments to a lot of these senior positions, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, absolutely not with respect to the allegation of political impropriety. On these positions, when they become open, we will go full bore into the hiring. The responsibility of the Public Service Commission is to ensure that we get the best persons in those jobs, regardless of political affiliation.
Mr. Jenkins: I would hope that the minister would add to that: looking at Yukon hiring first, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, we do, with due diligence, look into the hiring of Yukoners first, yes.
Mr. Jenkins: Which takes us to the Yukon hire provisions under the former NDP government. Have the provisions of the Yukon hire commission been adopted by this new Liberal government, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the practices of the Public Service Commission remain in effect now until, again, we've had a little bit of time in the House.
In response to a previous question that the member had, I was just provided with a statistic that states that between April 1, 1999 and March 31, 2000, 98 percent of all appointments were local hire.
Mr. Jenkins: That's an excellent time to assemble the statistics for, Mr. Chair, given that most of them are re-hires in all of our visitor reception centres, given that the highways branch hires out of their laid-off staff over the winter.
So, I would have to agree with the minister that they're going to be predominantly Yukoners. So, I commend the minister for grabbing that statistic quite quickly, but I'm sure that, upon analysis, he'll conclude the same as my understanding currently is, that they're predominantly re-hires of seasonal and part-time and casual employers coming back to work in a number of areas of the government.
But I would like to take the minister back to the Yukon hire commission and its recommendations. Has there been any direction given to the Public Service Commission or any of the agencies of government that the guidelines or the initiatives under the Yukon hire commission are to be adhered to or not adhered to? Is it in the loop or is it out of the loop, Mr. Chair, at this juncture?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, we have not provided instruction at this time to the Public Service Commission to change the current practices. Just to follow up again to the previous answer that I provided the Member for Klondike: the 98-percent figure are new hires, and the statistic that I provided does not include seasonal auxiliaries, and they are not included in that figure that I provided.
Mr. Jenkins: Perhaps, for the record, the minister could break out - of that 98 percent - how many individuals we are talking about, what departments were they hired into, what positions? Are they full-time positions, casual or what are they hired into?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I could provide to the member opposite copies, or I could read into the record the two percent of individuals who were hired from the outside. I'll leave that option to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: If the minister could send over a copy, we could probably break now, Mr. Chair, and I'll have a look at it and we'll see what we conclude.
Chair: Being 8:30 p.m., do the members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will recess for 10 minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue on with general debate on the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Jenkins: The 82 percent refers to 23 positions, Mr. Chair, that were filled, according to this information that the minister just provided to me. The following is a list of outside hires who have been offered and accepted positions between April 1, 1999 and March 31. I guess that begs the question: how are outside hires defined? Are they outside the government, but inside the Yukon? Are these the positions that have been filled? How are we defining this "outside hire" term?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Just a slight correction: the list I provided the member opposite is only the two percent - outside of the 98 percent. The other part of the question is that these positions are from outside the territory.
Mr. Jenkins: So, Mr. Chair, if 23 positions constitute two percent, the other 98 percent constitutes about 250. Perhaps the minister could share with me that information also - the total number of positions that were filled here in the Yukon - because these are the positions that are very hard to find. They're mostly very skilled professionals. We're talking about social workers, nurse practitioners, nurses, some very senior policy analysts, and a director. Could the minister share with me the information for the balance of the positions that were filled within the same period, please?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, there were a total of 958 positions filled in that time period using local hire criteria. The member was right to identify from the sheets I provided that the skills of these individuals were required to be obtained outside.
Mr. Jenkins: Still, I'm confused as to why this government, given that they have hired the number of individuals that they have, would have a staff watch or a hiring freeze on a lot of these senior positions. The only conclusion that could be reached, Mr. Chair, is to fill these positions with known Liberal supporters as a political plum. Is that the case? Because that certainly would really be the only reason why a hiring freeze would be in place at this time. There's really no justification for it. There was $56.2 million in the bank at the end of March 31, when the last fiscal year ended, so there is adequate money. We have agreed that this government is wanting to proceed with the same budget that was tabled last year, which would lead one to conclude that we're looking at the same staffing levels.
Why, all of a sudden, is there a hiring freeze on - or a staff watch, as the minister prefers to call it?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, it certainly isn't for the reason that the member opposite had indicated - that these are awaiting plum jobs for Liberals to fill.
I just want to also let the member opposite know that only eight positions were directly affected by this staffing watch, and three of those positions, actually, have been advertised. So, there are only five left that are not felt by the department to be urgent.
Mr. Jenkins: So would the minister want to share with the House the five individual card-carrying Liberals who are going to be appointed to these five remaining positions or are they being saved for the deputy minister ranks?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: These positions are being looked at and they will be duly advertised and filled by the most appropriate and skilled individuals.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like there's some political meddling within the ranks of the Public Service Commission much more so than we have seen in a long, long time. Let's move on to the Yukon hire commission report. There were some 40 recommendations; there's been no change in the government's position. Does that mean that this new Liberal government now concurs with all of the 40 hiring recommendations that were adopted by the previous NDP government?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Our tax dollars should be used to support our local economy. Whenever possible, government should spend its resources locally. Despite promises to do this, the previous government delivered multi-million dollar computer programs from Nova Scotia, land claim negotiators from British Columbia, architects from Victoria and materials for the Old Crow school from Alberta and Alaska.
The Yukon Liberals will enforce the spirit of the existing contract regulations to ensure fairness for the local builders; repeal the Yukon hire commission requirement to use a government-hiring agency for construction projects; scrap the NDP plan for the creation of a department of labour; create and support the buy-local campaign; expedite payments from government to the local suppliers for goods and services.
Mr. Jenkins:Now is this going to be accomplished or done before all these known Liberals are appointed to these nice, plummy positions, or after?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Most of the situations that I just outlined are already under the purview of the Public Service Commission, and some of the others are under the Government Services portfolio, so I would suggest that the member opposite ask the appropriate minister.
Mr. Jenkins:I appreciate the minister's comment, and that will be done with respect to the Yukon hire commission when we get into general debate under the Government Services minister, and I'm sure that under that minister, the answers will be as forthcoming as they are here today.
But let's just move on a little bit. This new drug and alcohol commission - has Mr. Brohman been contacted and have the implications to the members been discussed with him with respect to the set-up of this commission?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I do believe that I already answered this question by the Member for Watson Lake, so I will repeat, respecting the question from the Member for Klondike, that we will honour the existing collective agreements. And I think the Minister of Health had also indicated that once we did have some additional information within the planning process, we would be more than willing to share that information with all the members of the House.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess that - when we have some of the additional information, we'll share it with members of the House - can be interpreted as meaning: when we know what we're doing, we'll let you know. Mr. Chair, it might take some time before that understanding comes about.
Well, given the type of undertaking that setting up an independent commission entails, one of the first steps is to provide a measure of certainty to all the individuals within that department that it's going to affect. Have there been any memos circulated by the Public Service Commission to the employees with respect to this initiative, to provide them with a measure of comfort?
Now, for the minister to say, "we will honour the existing collective agreements" - that's reality. You don't have a choice. You have to, unless you legislate otherwise. And I don't think this government is going to undertake that kind of a tactic, not with $56.2 million in the bank.
So, has there been any approach made to the employees to comfort them during this time? We've got to maintain the existing services while we go through this great big study with the Province of Alberta officials and come to some conclusion and filter it through. It'll probably go in one colour and come out looking another. I suggest it might be red, but be that as it may, it's going to take some time and the employees within that department, Mr. Chair, need a measure of comfort. How is that being provided by the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I believe that that is the whole purpose of the collective agreement. That in itself provides certainty.
Mr. Harding: I have some questions about this hiring freeze and a question as well about the personnel issues and the minister's response to me with regard to a question that I asked about Mr. Taylor, the former Liberal leader and a Cabinet or a Executive Council appointment to a DM-level position within the government.
Now, the minister got up and said, in response, that he couldn't answer personnel issues on the floor of the Legislature.
It would be inappropriate for him, as Public Service Commissioner, to do that.
Now, he would have been correct if he had been referring to the hiring of a person in a position below a deputy minister, but the government and the Cabinet is quite accountable for discussion of matters pertaining to deputy minister positions. Does he see that distinguishing factor between the two types of positions?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, with all due respect, I would believe that the member opposite would agree that all personnel issues are of a confidential nature.
Mr. Harding: No, I wouldn't agree with that. When Cabinet decides to appoint a person to a DM-level position, certain aspects of that arrangement may be confidential, but would the minister not agree that they are accountable to the Legislature and the people of the Yukon to explain the rationale for that decision, as a Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I really feel that it's inappropriate for me to be discussing details of things that haven't occurred yet. I just feel that it's a personnel issue and that I feel that, morally, it is not appropriate for me to be discussing these things.
Mr. Harding: So, he said, "...details of things that haven't occurred yet". When are they expected to occur?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, as I have just indicated, I am not prepared to discuss personnel issues on the floor of the House.
Mr. Harding: Well, you know, I used to say that when the Liberals used to ask about reclassifications of specific categories of employees and when they used to ask in Question Period about who was going to get a raise. I think that was a pretty appropriate response. It is for the minister now, too. They used to ask about a woman - a former teacher - on the floor of the Legislature and about personnel issues. They used to get quite indignant about it, actually. They would vociferously demand a response. Mr. Chair, it's interesting to note that the Liberals have now taken a different approach, even to the extent that they have said now that personnel issues concerning Executive Council appointments, which is quite a different bird, are also personnel matters beyond discussion.
Of course, we all know now that, according to the Acting Premier, anyway, and perhaps the de facto Premier, Jason Cunning - as it was so well put by the Member for Klondike - that all aspects of land claims discussions are confidential.
Mr. Chair, I won't belabour this with the member because I'll see how long he holds on to that line when these appointments are made. We have heard that Mr. Taylor, Mr. Smith, Mr. Cable, Mr. McLachlan - and, of course, we all know there is a new DM-level position at the Liquor Corporation - are all being considered for positions. We're hopeful that, at a minimum, if the government decides to exercise its Executive Council privilege and prerogative to have them in the government, they are serving at the pleasure of the Cabinet and not put into politically manipulated positions that are going to extensively politicize the public service of this territory or that they are federal appointments, as the new Commissioner position, which Mr. Cable is due to receive, as we understand it, anyway.
I would like to ask him: does he have any knowledge about Cabinet considering appointments for any of these people to positions through Executive Council?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, again, with all due respect to the member opposite, I do believe it's not appropriate for me to be discussing personnel issues on the floor of the House.
Mr. Jenkins: So, we'll just wait for the announcements to be forthcoming. As soon as the Legislature rises, I'm sure we'll hear a whole series of announcements from this Liberal government as to who received which political plum and which deputy minister has been shuffled aside and who is now the new deputy minister for whatever department. It's kind of interesting - even in the Yukon News, Mr. Chair: It said neither the Liberals, nor Public Service Commissioner Patrick Daws would comment on Whitley's firing.
"'It's a personnel issue - not going to discuss it,' said Jason Cunning, the Liberal's principal secretary.
"'These changes needed to be made.'"
I guess it begs the question: why did these changes need to be made?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I hope that was a misquote in the paper, because I believe it's Ms. Patricia Daws, not Patrick.
Again, I will repeat that we do not discuss personnel issues on the floor of the House.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the Liberal position in opposition certainly wasn't the same as what we're hearing now from this minister, Mr. Chair. I apologize; it is Patricia Daws.
These changes needed to be made, said Jason Cunning. So says the Premier of the Yukon, Mr. Chair. But why were these changes needed? There were two very capable individuals fulfilling the roles. Why did these changes have to be made?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I will repeat that we do not discuss personnel issues on the floor of the House.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the de facto Premier of the Yukon, Jason Cunning, went on to say that Duncan has now made all the necessary personnel changes to her government, and further appointments are not expected. That's very interesting. I would see the appointments forthcoming, Mr. Chair, probably as soon as the Legislature rises sometime for the balance of the summer - maybe before, maybe slightly after, but they should occur within those timelines.
I'd like to take the minister back to the Yukon hire initiative and ask if the policy changes that he just previously outlined in the House - and advised the House that the Liberals had accepted some and are going to be changing certain ones. This policy and these changes are effective when?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I'm going to have to advise the member opposite, with respect to the Yukon hire commission and its conduct, that I believe it would be more appropriate that the Member for Klondike ask the appropriate minister questions in that regard.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm asking for is a policy. I can see me going back and forth like a ping-pong ball between two ministers here to get an answer. We are not going to do that, Mr. Chair. What I am looking for is a firm, definitive answer for those sections of the Yukon hire that are under the purview of the Public Service Commission. Of those initiatives in the Yukon hire report - and there are some 40 of the recommendations - and of the ones within the Public Service Commission domain, how many of them have changes? What are those changes, and when are they going to be implemented?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I believe there were 40 that the Member for Klondike had mentioned. Two of them are with regard to the Public Service, and they have already been implemented.
Mr. Jenkins: Have they been implemented with or without changes from what the original recommendations were?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I don't believe that there were any changes.
Mr. Jenkins: That was carefully couched. Were there changes or were there not changes? Were they adapted as they were, or have there been some changes - yes or no? To say that he doesn't believe that there were changes, there's a way out if there were changes. I'm just trying to get a firm understanding of the issue.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I do believe that they were implemented without change, and that was done by the previous government.
Mr. Jenkins:And the balance of them, the minister indicated, are under Government Services. Is that the case?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the majority of them are under Government Services, but there is a slight mix with other departments.
Mr. Jenkins: Would that slight mix with other departments have any personnel issues affecting whereby the Public Service Commission enters into the equation?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, no. Just the two that I had indicated.
Mr. Jenkins:One of the other issues that came to light when we looked through the contract registry was the amount of outside consultants hired by the Public Service Commission to develop such things as job descriptions and the like. Is there not the in-house capability to develop job descriptions? Given the size of the department, why is the need so constant for outside consultants in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the member was asking a question that also impacts and is relevant to other departments, but, with respect to the PSC, the only hire outside was for the classification purposes of devolution.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm referring to the other departments. The Public Service Commission, I'm told, is basically the hiring agency for everything in the government with the exception of teachers. Now, that being the case, job descriptions are constantly outsourced, even the development of the ads that go into the various papers are outsourced - contracted, not to a large degree but on a regular basis - to consultants. Isn't there the in-house capabilities within the Public Service Commission to develop ads and develop job descriptions?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, just to correct the member opposite, job descriptions in ads are placed by respective departments.
Mr. Jenkins: Still my question hasn't been answered. We have a department, the Public Service Commission, that is constantly involved in hiring. This is the human resources branch in a big company. Normally, in the human resources branch, there is the expertise to develop job descriptions and newspaper ads for the various functions. Why isn't this function carried out in-house? Why is there constantly a need for outside consultants to develop ads and job descriptions for all the departments when we have a whole department within the government that seems to - I don't know sometimes. Teachers are hired by somebody else. Everything is somebody else's responsibility. Why isn't there the ability to address this need in-house?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I'm sure that the member opposite recognizes that the departments themselves recognize their responsibilities and they do best understand how the job description could best accommodate the hire of that individual; therefore, the human resources branch within the department does do the job descriptions. The Public Service Commission does get involved in the interview process and also looks after the ad aspect.
Mr. Jenkins: It's kind of interesting, the amount of money that the department consumes - just shy of $1 million. Actually, $1.3 million. The total O&M is $9.9 million to run the department and we have to outsource more and more it seems, Mr. Chair.
One of the other issues that I was asked to find something about was the sensitivity training that was provided to a lot of members of the government. Just where are we at with the provision of this undertaking? He'll probably suggest, Mr. Chair, that the Speaker perhaps should take it and he's going to suggest that I should take it, but before we go there, just where is the government at with respect to sensitivity training?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, that was a good one from the member opposite. I appreciate it. We do need a little levity from time to time in here, so it's good to see that the Member for Klondike has that capability.
In response to the question asked - and this does refer to land claims and employment equity in conjunction with the First Nation governments - a training program that deals with Yukon First Nations history, culture, and intercultural communications has been developed. This program is being offered to all government employees. This government is also continuing to develop and deliver training that delves into the details of the umbrella final agreement and First Nations final agreements, which is specific to the business concerns of the departments and work groups.
Other initiatives which support employment equity, implementation of land claims and self-government include funding to support the reintegration of persons with disabilities, emergency support for temporary assignments, strengthening public sector management initiatives, mentoring and literacy services.
Mr. Jenkins: Was this program offered to employees of the Government of Yukon, or was it a requirement that they take the training?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, just as the previous government did, this government will follow suit, in that we believe that, yes, these initiatives should be and are being implemented for all government employees.
Mr. Jenkins: So, it's not being offered to the employees; it's mandatory that they take this training?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, yes, some departments are making it mandatory.
Mr. Jenkins: Excellent page you're providing. Pretty high-priced for this Legislature, but I see the need.
I was just wondering, with respect to an overall policy within the government - when is it mandatory, and when can it just be taken at the employee's request?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, earlier the Member for Klondike indicated that he was to ask, and I was to answer. I do believe that we are in Committee of the Whole and we do have the opportunity to return questions. Therefore, I would ask the Member for Klondike if he doesn't think it's a good idea to implement these initiatives within the government and to have all government employees understand land claims and to have members understand the First Nations culture in the territory.
Mr. Jenkins: Still, the question I posed to the minister has not been answered. For the minister's information, on any of his long drives around the Yukon, he can get audiocassette tapes, "Understanding the UFA". They're very, very good, and I'm sure that, after he plays it for hundreds of miles along Yukon roads, visiting the respective areas his portfolio covers, he will come to a very quick understanding of the UFA and its various sections and implications to us all. There are subsequent tapes that are available from the Northwest Territories and from other First Nation final agreements. The minister might benefit from listening to them. But that's a side issue to the question I posed in the Legislature, and I would once again ask the minister: what is the policy of the government - when is it mandatory that a YTG employee take this sensitivity training, and when is it an option? What is the policy?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, we have suggested that all employees take it. I think it's out of respect. As a matter of fact, some deputy ministers have made it incumbent upon their department people to take it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the question still begs an answer: when is it mandatory and when is it optional? Where is it optional and in which departments of government, and where is it mandatory? There must be consistent policy across the whole government.
I welcome the minister's suggestion that it should be a required undertaking of all YTG employees. Now, be that as it may, the minister has told the House that some departments are mandatory and others are not. When is it one way and when is it the other? When can we get a good understanding of who must take it, who doesn't have to take it, the reasons for having to take it, and the reasons for not having to take it, Mr. Chair? We have probably one of the biggest issues before us, which is going to get the Yukon moving ahead, and that is the settlement of the First Nations land claims. Indian land claims is a top priority. The Yukon is going to be dormant and remain dormant for the foreseeable future until Indian land claims are settled here in the Yukon.
Now, given that that was the platform under which virtually all parties ran - the Liberals, the Yukon Party and the NDP - an understanding of the issues surrounding land claims was of paramount importance to all of us, and the minister suggested to the House that this undertaking - this sensitivity treatment - was available. Well, in some departments it's mandatory, in others it's not quite mandatory. To get an answer as to which departments are mandatory, which departments are not, and what the government's policy in this regard is like pulling hen's teeth from this minister.
Now, there has got to be some firm, rational thinking behind who takes it, who is required to take it and for whom it is an option to take this sensitivity training. That's all I'm looking for: a sound, rational policy. Policies are what the government's elected officials are responsible for, Mr. Chair, but we just can't seem to get that message out there and get a firm answer. So, I guess we'll just have to continue until we get that answer, and I'll look forward to the minister providing it in general debate tomorrow.
Mr. Chair, seeing that the time is approaching 9:30 p.m., I move that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Kent: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 2, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2000-01, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:29 p.m.
The following Document was filed June 28, 2000:
Forestry management: letter dated June 27, 2000 to the Hon. Robert Nault, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs (Canada) from the Hon. Dale Eftoda, Minister of Renewable Resources (Yukon)