Tuesday, July 4, 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.
Tribute to Canada Day volunteers
Mr. Fentie: I rise today to pay tribute to the hundreds of volunteers whose efforts made Saturday's celebration of Canada Day a memorable and special occasion throughout the Yukon.
Tributes in this House are meant to be non-partisan expressions of respect. In a similar way, Canada Day is a time for setting aside differences and celebrating the things that unite us as citizens of this land.
We can take pride in the fact that we share the world's longest undefended border with our southern neighbours. We can take pride in the fact that Canada has been recognized for seven years in a row as the best place to live in the world. We can take pride in the fact that people of all cultural, religious, economic and political backgrounds have been part of building this land from sea to sea to sea. We can take pride, as well, in our tradition of addressing the problems we face as a society through open and democratic means rather than through coercion or armed conflict.
By this time next year, the Yukon is expected to take another major step in its constitutional development. We can look forward to this achievement as a symbol of our coming of age within the Canadian family, and we look forward to Canada Day next July 1 as another occasion to celebrate our territory and our nation with friends and neighbours whose roots in this land go back thousands of years, as well as those who have come from far and wide in more recent times.
Happy birthday, Canada.
Mr. Jenkins: I, too, rise to pay tribute to Canada's birthday. It's unfortunate that Yukoners, unlike the Premier, knew that Canada's birthday was Saturday, July 1 and not Monday, July 3, as the Premier stated in a tribute to her government last Thursday. If Yukoners actually believed what the Premier stated in her so-called tribute to Canada's birthday, we would still be waiting for the parade that never came.
Mr. Speaker, although July 1 has come and gone, I believe it is important that we, as members of this Legislature, take time to pay tribute to Canada's birthday as an opportunity to reflect upon our achievements as a country and why we have so much to be proud of.
On June 20, 1868, a proclamation, signed by the Governor General, called upon all her majesty's loving subjects, throughout Canada, to join in a celebration of the anniversary of the formation of the union of the British North American provinces in a federation under the name of Canada. That occurred on July 1. Under the name of Dominion Day, the July 1 holiday was established by statute in 1879. As Canadians, we can be proud to live in a country where the diversity of our landscape is equal to the diversity of our many cultures. Not only is Canada recognized for having natural beauty second to none, our bilingual and multicultural society has become one of our country's greatest assets.
Mr. Speaker, Canadians have several distinguishing traits that make us different from other nationalities. Other nationalities know that when the going gets tough and there's a job to be done, that's when you call on the Canadians.
Canada's performance during times of war and in subsequent peacekeeping missions are testimony to this fact. As Canadians, we do rise to the occasion. This reflects our will to work together for common causes and for the betterment of our society and others. The United Nations and the people of the world continue to view Canada as the best country of the world in which to live. Canadians have every right to take pride in ourselves and our country, and I am confident that we will continue to do so in our own quiet, unassuming way. I'd like to recognize the many volunteers who helped make this year's Canada Day celebration the success that it was.
Mr. Speaker, I salute Canada's birthday, Happy 133rd. You are still number one in my books, Canada.
Speaker: If there are no further tributes, we will proceed to introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Fentie: Today I'd like to introduce in the gallery Mr. John Devries, former MLA for Watson Lake, former Speaker of this Legislative Assembly. I would ask all members to join me in welcoming John to this Legislature.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Mr. Jenkins: I have a petition for tabling, a petition entitled, "Please consult the Bear Creek Residents". It bears the signature of 24 residents in Bear Creek. It urges the Minister of Health and Social Services to follow the proper procedure for establishing an open custody group home and to consult with the residents of Bear Creek and receive their concurrence prior to operating a group home at Bear Creek.
Speaker: Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Fentie: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) during the last election, the Yukon Liberal Party campaigned on a promise of modelling professional behaviour in the Legislature; and
(2) the governing party can demonstrate professional behaviour by ensuring that Cabinet ministers are in the House, properly prepared and willing to answer questions pertaining to their departments at the times appointed for doing so; and
(3) much of the responsibility for the manner in which public business is conducted in the Legislature depends on the ability of the government House leader to work respectively and cooperatively with the opposition House leaders, both in the Legislative Assembly and out; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal government to model professional behaviour by ensuring that Cabinet ministers are available and prepared to answer opposition questions at the appropriate time, and by directing the government House leader to discharge her duties in an organized, professional, respectful and cooperative manner.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Fuel prices
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Premier. While tourism is up in many parts of Canada, it appears that, in the Yukon this year, tourism will be the opposite of that, and we will see some decreases in that area. Yukoners, consumers and businesses are getting pounded at the pumps and it is starting to have quite a dramatic impact in terms of people's ability to do business, and to ensure that they, themselves, for recreational uses, can go to the gas pumps and fill up without having to pay through the nose.
When we were in government just a few months ago we pushed extensively for some drastic action by the federal government to meet, with nothing else on the agenda, with federal and provincial counterparts to develop and construct an action plan to deal with this very important issue. I would like to ask the Premier what specific action has the Liberal government taken on this gas pricing issue?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member indicated that the previous government had pushed to be part of a Canadian fuel study on gasoline prices, and I'm pleased to advise the House that the Conference Board of Canada's examination into the fuel markets is to be conducted in December of this year on behalf of Natural Resources Canada and Industry Canada and that gasoline markets in Whitehorse are to be included in that, which is new since the member opposite was last in government. So, Whitehorse is being included in the study that is being conducted in December of this year by the Conference Board of Canada.
Mr. Harding: It's good to see the NDP government's hard work paying off, but I asked the Premier a different question, which was: what has the Premier done on the gas-pricing issue?
Mr. Speaker, we pushed for a meeting on what is, I believe, a national and international crisis for North America, because what's happening with the gas prices is putting untold pressure on inflation, which is having an impact on the stock market. It's also having an impact on the interest rates in this country, and it's also making it very difficult for Yukoners to fill up at the pumps for recreational purposes and for business purposes.
Now, a recent Ontario task force has recommended that the federal government has to take much more dramatic action on this issue, and we took the same position in government and called for a meeting on this crisis to deal with it. I'd like to ask the Liberal Premier what specific action she has taken on this.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I, as Premier or as Minister of Economic Development, have not taken additional specific action on gasoline prices. What we have done is to continue to support and ensure that national efforts are inclusive of Whitehorse and the Yukon. This issue has been raised at previous Council of Energy Ministers meetings. Those meetings are again scheduled for September of this year. My understanding is that this may be on the agenda, given the points that the member opposite has made with respect to the concern of all North Americans about this issue. I fully anticipate that it will be.
We are supportive of competitive retail fuel markets. We have not taken any additional specific action on fuel prices.
The member opposite also stated that tourism visitation and the tourism industry was down. In fact, for the record, Mr. Speaker, Yukon visitor reception centres show an increase in visitation from May 1999, and border crossings are also up.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, we're certainly hearing from people in the tourism industry that they are not staying here very long and they're not spending very much money. We are talking to the people who are actually conducting the business and hearing quite a bit of concern out there.
Secondly, this has become a very big concern for Yukon consumers themselves, for business purposes, commercial purposes and recreational purposes, and the Premier has just told this House that she has not taken any additional specific action. She is showing no leadership.
The previous government took the initiative nationally to call and take the lead for a federal/territorial/provincial meeting, with nothing else on the agenda, and the federal Liberals have been denying their obligation to Canadians to lead on this issue to try and break this log-jam that is hurting consumers at the pumps.
I would like to ask the Liberal Premier why she is behaving like a part-time government member and why she isn't taking specific action on this issue herself?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, this is hardly a part-time task and nor has any member of this government been behaving as though it were. First and foremost, gasoline prices and prices at the pump are increasing and are an issue of concern for all Yukoners. We have all witnessed and felt the increase when we pay for the gas to put in our vehicles and, as the member opposite has pointed out, our recreational boats or four-wheelers when hunting season is upon us.
The options for the government in terms of action are twofold. One, to ensure that we are part of the study by the Conference Board of Canada into Canadian fuel markets. It's to be conducted in December 2000. The Yukon has lobbied aggressively to be included in that study, and we will be, as I have told the member opposite. The only other suggestion that I have heard out there - other than another endless meeting - is to axe the fuel tax, and that is not under consideration by this government.
Question Re: Forest industry, support for South Yukon Forest Corporation
Mr. Fentie: My question is for the Premier in her capacity as Minister of Economic Development.
Mr. Speaker, we are now in the midst of a shutdown of the forest industry in the southeast Yukon, with South Yukon Forest Corporation ceasing operations as of Friday, June 30, due to the lack of stable access to timber. Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government has made much about how this is a federal government responsibility. The Premier herself was warned back on May 12 that this shutdown was imminent because of the lack of stable access to timber.
Now the federal government, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, is pointing the finger squarely at the Yukon government, stating the delays in the process to ensure stable access to timber are solely the fault of the Yukon government. The Premier stated that the buck stops at her desk. Will the Premier act, as she failed to do earlier this month to avert the shutdown? Will she now act and address the problem of delays in the process as a result of the Yukon government and make sure that our industry in the southeast Yukon is back up and running with a stable access to timber as is needed?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the suggestion that the Liberal government has failed to act is not a correct one.
With regard to the issue of access to timber, the Minister of Renewable Resources has answered a number of questions on that, has outlined, publicly in this House and through the local media, the actions that he, as Minister of Renewable Resources, has taken to ensure that the Yukon's and Yukoners' voice are at the table on the access to timber issues. The Minister of Renewable Resources has taken very clear action on that, and the member is well aware of it.
With respect to the shutdown, as the member knows full well, there was a two-week planned hiatus and that has been taken by the company. The member also suggests that this government is doing nothing to be of assistance to the company when, in fact, this government has been of assistance through the efforts of the Minister of Renewable Resources and the efforts of individuals within the Department of Economic Development.
Mr. Fentie: That's pretty interesting, Mr. Speaker, because the facts are that, the Minister of Renewable Resources, who has fled the Yukon in the midst of a forestry crisis, was asked about this crisis in the forest sector in southeast Yukon, and after the fact he wrote a letter to the minister asking that the Yukon government be more involved. The facts are, Mr. Speaker, that, for the last three and a half to four years, the Yukon government has been very involved, and that's the reason the process moved to the point where we had an actual forestry operation in production, producing jobs and benefit for Yukon people.
Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, on July 5, in Watson Lake, is a very, very important meeting of the forestry sector in this territory. DIAND will be present. Will the Premier attend that meeting in Watson Lake, explain to the people of Watson Lake and southeast Yukon how the Yukon government intends to get the forestry process back on track and ensure that it becomes the vital economic engine that this territory needs?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is suggesting that this government has taken action after the fact. I would remind the member opposite that the Liberal candidate in Watson Lake, prior to the election, wrote a letter to Mr. Nault with regard to the Yukon's presence at the table.
The Member for Riverdale North and the Minister of Renewable Resources have followed up on this issue and have followed up diligently with regard to the timber access issue. Commenting on the minister's work at the Environment ministers conference is, as the member well knows, not appropriate in this House according to our Standing Rules. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that the Minister of Renewable Resources, who is in touch with his office daily, is also bringing back the conference of Environment ministers to the Yukon by his presence at those important meetings in New Brunswick.
The suggestion that this government has been doing nothing on this very important issue is completely incorrect.
Mr. Fentie: Well, it's not this side of the House that's pointing the finger at the Yukon Liberal government; it's the federal government. It's true that the Yukon Liberals have been doing something; they've shut the industry down because they've delayed the whole process, Mr. Speaker. That's the problem here.
I'll ask again: with the meeting tomorrow in Watson Lake, an extremely important meeting on addressing the issues now and well into the future for the development of a forest industry in the southeast Yukon and, indeed, this territory, will the Premier address the issue - the problem of the Yukon government delaying the process - solve that problem and ensure that our industry is back up and running and becomes the most vital economic engine that we need in this territory, especially in the southeast Yukon? We have now lost 125 jobs, and our economic future in Watson Lake is now in question. We've gone backwards under this Yukon Liberal government. Will the Premier act now, act decisively and solve the problem of delaying the process?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the Premier, the Minister of Economic Development and the Minister of Renewable Resources have acted and have acted decisively.
The first and most important issue that has to be resolved is the timber harvest agreements that allow for proper forest management and the security that operators require. The member opposite knows that. We know that. The federal government knows that. We believe that the Yukon, which does not as yet have the responsibility for forestry, needs to be heard when those decisions are made. That is what the Minister of Renewable Resources has been working on and will continue to work on.
With respect to my own performance and the Department of Economic Development, the member knows that training funding has been provided to South Yukon Forest Corporation. There has been an engineering loan provided to South Yukon. Investigations for funding sources for proposed mill expansion have been done by officials, and officials from the Department of Economic Development are working with the company. I will, as the company has requested this morning, meet with them this Friday.
Question re: Fuel taxes, elimination of
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Premier in her capacity as the Minister of Economic Development. I would like to take her back to gasoline and fuel prices here in the Yukon.
The Premier has recently been a very outspoken promoter of oil and gas development in the Yukon, but on one issue she has been strangely silent: that is, on the issue on fuel prices. She indicated that border crossings are up and attendance at the visitor reception centres is up, but the translation into economic benefits here in Yukon are certainly down. Our visitor industry has slipped considerably under this Liberal government.
Previously, the federal Finance minister proposed that the federal government would eliminate its tax on fuel if the provinces and territories did the same. Does the Premier not agree that a 16-cent to 17-cent reduction in fuel prices, plus the applicable GST, would be of benefit and could increase our visitor industry immediately here in the Yukon? Why won't she do that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the member opposite would share with the House and members of the Yukon public, where that money - the approximately $6 million that Yukon receives from fuel taxes - would be recovered? Or is the member suggesting that we not build the Mayo school , we not put the $3 million into community development funding that has already been committed, or that we not build the extended care, or that we not examine the issues in the member's own riding?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the Premier won't react to that. I can tell her where she could save $6 million: quit travelling to Calgary and the east coast of Canada to attend all of these conferences, tend to business in the House, get the economy of the Yukon up and rolling. What the Premier is saying is that she wants to continue to be part of the problem and not part of the solution. The elimination of the federal and territorial taxes on fuel would show leadership on the issue, something that is sadly lacking in this government.
Mr. Speaker, if the federal government is prepared to forego its fuel tax revenue, which is much more substantial than the revenue this government makes from fuel, why won't this government follow suit, especially in view of the positive, immediate impact it would have on our economy?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite is suggesting that this government change its direction and modify its financial statements based upon some media report. There is no proposal from the Finance minister or the Government of Canada to the Yukon stating that we eliminate that tax, how that would impact upon our formula, how we would raise the money, how we would deal with that internally. This government is not looking at removing those fuel taxes. Members of my riding, my constituency, lobbied me during the election campaign to ensure that we did not do as the member suggested.
The member has suggested that the government is doing nothing in this regard, and I would remind him, as I reminded the Member for Faro, that we are participating and are considered part of the Natural Resources Canada's Conference Board of Canada's study on this issue.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the issue is getting this economy back on track, Mr. Speaker, and that is something that this Liberal government is dismally failing at doing. We are here to critique the government and to offer solutions as well as to provide criticism. That is a very valid solution: eliminate the tax on diesel and highway gas. It would have an immediate impact. It would boost our economy and, contrary to what some of her constituents say, who probably own shares in oil and gas industries, it would have an immediate impact. It could turn our visitor industry around.
Why will she not entertain it, and why do we have to wait for the results of another study that doesn't start until December 2000?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the voters have already shown what they thought of the Yukon Party idea of axing the tax. The Yukon Liberal government is not considering removing the fuel tax. There are opinions other than those of the member opposite, and those opinions are also being listened to and respected by this government. We are not removing the fuel tax.
Question re: Oil and gas pipeline, Vuntut Gwitchin approval
Mr. Jenkins: Another question to the Premier is in her capacity of Minister of Economic Development. There's an old adage, Mr. Speaker: if you don't succeed the first time, try, try, try again. Now, on her first trip to Calgary the week of June 12, the Premier, at the World Petroleum Congress, sent some very mixed messages both about the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline and the issuance of oil and gas rights here in Yukon.
Now we presume she has got her message straight and is going to try a second time. The Premier's now spending more time in Calgary than she is in this House, Mr. Speaker.
The Premier, when in opposition, stated that the position of the Liberal Party was that there could be no oil and gas development in northern Yukon unless it is approved by the Vuntut Gwitchin.
Can the Premier advise the House if she will be conveying that position to the oil and gas executives when she meets with them tomorrow in Calgary?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my attendance at the World Petroleum Congress was a commitment that was booked by the previous government and lived up to by this government. The member's sense of jealousy that they were not the people in attendance is loud and clear.
The World Petroleum Congress was an opportunity for me, as Minister of Economic Development and as Premier, to convey two messages to the oil and gas industry: first and foremost, our support for the Alaska Highway pipeline route. The only mixed message on that, Mr. Speaker, is coming from the member opposite, who won't admit publicly his support for the northern routes through Yukon's fragile ecosystems. The second message was that Yukon would proceed with the oil and gas land sale. There has been no inconsistency in the Government of Yukon's message.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's not the case. There has been a very mixed message out there. I'd like to remind the Premier that three strikes and she's out. This is a second strike, so it's time to get the message straight. If the oil and gas companies are going to be spending millions of dollars exploring for oil and gas in the Yukon, they're going to want the right to develop it. It's like finding a big ore body and not being able to develop it. Under the existing rules, they can't, Mr. Speaker.
Is the Premier giving assurances to the oil and gas companies that she will allow them to develop those reserves in northern Yukon, even if the Vuntut Gwitchin oppose such development? And in southern Yukon, will they be allowed to proceed to the development stage even if the Liard First Nation land claims remain outstanding? Is that the case, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the only mixed message is the confusion of the member opposite. There is a very clear message from this government. First and foremost, we are supportive of the Alaska Highway pipeline project. Secondly, Yukon has a common oil and gas regime: clearly laid-out processes that we follow and live up to. The negotiation of an economic impact benefit agreement with the Kaska is something to be celebrated, something appreciated, something the oil and gas industry and the Kaska First Nation are very excited about and willing to work within, contrary to the member opposite's opinion.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if you listen to what the oil companies have to say - and they have indicated that they are not interested in Yukon until there is some certainty and land claims are settled. That was the message that the oil companies came back with.
Will the Premier be telling them that land claims talks have broken down and little progress can be expected until there is a new DIAND minister, or will she be telling them that everything is okay and on track, that they can explore but can't develop if they find anything? What is she going to tell the oil and gas industry?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I'm going to tell the oil and gas industry exactly what I told them when I was there at the World Petroleum Congress. I'm going to tell them that we are very supportive of the Alaska Highway gas pipeline, that we are doing everything in our efforts to advise producers of that, and that we are vehemently and vigorously opposed to two northern route options. I'm going to tell them that there's a common oil and gas regime in the Yukon - remind them of that - and remind them that we are committed to a land sale. I'm going to speak about the economic impact benefit agreement reached with the Kaska, and I'm going to advise them, as I did when I was at the World Petroleum Congress last month, that we are continuing to work very hard on land claims negotiations, that there are seven agreements that are outstanding at this point, and that we are making best efforts, as one-third of the parties at the table, to ensure that those seven outstanding land claims are signed.
Question re: Haines and Skagway port access
Mr. Fentie: My question again is for the Premier in her capacity as Minister of Economic Development.
Mr. Speaker, during the election campaign, the Liberals made much of the need for infrastructure and its positive impact on the Yukon economy. One of those areas of infrastructure that is critical to the Yukon and its economy is access to tidewater. The previous government made the move in accessing ports in both Skagway and Haines, Alaska, to ensure that in future we do have access and that our producers of goods and products have an available tidewater access to ship their goods and products to world markets.
Can the Premier provide assurance here in the House today that the Yukon will continue to have access to tidewater at both Skagway and Haines, Alaska?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the Government of Yukon is evaluating the options taken by the previous government. We have those two ports under consideration. I can advise the member that the Yukon Mineral Advisory Board was very supportive of this, and many Yukoners I've spoken with are very supportive of these options. I have determined that there are a number of pieces of information that were required prior to making a decision and that information is being developed and Cabinet will be considering them.
Mr. Fentie: Well, again, we're in the situation of a Yukon government reviewing initiatives such as this while, in the real world, there is competition for these particular areas. In Skagway alone there are other potential buyers of that particular site. It's well-known that the option was exercised at Skagway. It's now a matter of bringing closure to the sale. Will the Premier inform this House that indeed it is the case that we are now nearing closure, and the Yukon is soon to own access to tidewater in Skagway, Alaska?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: This government gives very thoughtful and careful consideration to what we are doing. This is taxpayers' money that is being expended and the Government of Yukon, as I've already told the member opposite, is giving careful consideration to these issues. The member will be advised in due course, and I anticipate that a decision will be reached by early this fall.
Mr. Fentie: This is also taxpayers' money, trying to get answers out of the government side. This issue is critical. This fall may very well be too late. The option was exercised already. There are competing interests for that particular property. Can the Premier assure this House that we will in fact bring closure to the sale and maintain our access to tidewater at both Skagway and Haines, Alaska - yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have told the member opposite that, yes, this government understands what the previous government had attempted to do and understands the importance of access to tidewater, not just to the mining industry but to other Yukon industries as well. We fully understand that issue.
We were elected on April 17, 2000. We were sworn into office on May 6, 2000. This is an issue that is under consideration. This government has taken steps to ensure that we give this matter careful and thorough consideration, ever mindful of the fact that this is taxpayers' money that's being spent and exactly the state of the surplus that was left to us, which is $14-point-something million.
The other point that I made to the member opposite is that the Government of Yukon would reach a decision on this matter in early fall, and that's exactly what we intend to do.
Question re: Family day homes, CSA standards
Mr. Harding: The Premier herself told me it was $56.2 million - the surplus that was left to this government. But, I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Riverdale South, before and during the last election campaign, was very critical of the previous government adopting CSA standards for playground areas. She made it clear that the CSA standards should only be used for unsupervised playgrounds and that the government should create made-in-Yukon standards that would be less stringent for family day homes. I would like to ask the minister: has he directed his department to implement other than CSA-approved standards for family day homes, as they promoted in opposition?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: At this point, yes, we have been brought with that issue. It was one of those issues that was put on my desk again, assuming the office; it was an issue that was brought up during the last government. It wasn't dealt with; it was basically meant to leave it there so that we, as a public, didn't know where it was going. The moratorium is still in place and that's where it is going to be for the time being.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, let me refresh the minister's memory. These are comments from the Member for Riverdale South, just so he can get a sense of what she felt - what the Liberals felt - about these standards. She said, "The CSA guidelines don't make a lot of sense". To the former NDP minister, she asked, "When is the minister going to utilize a little common sense?" In another fine quote, she said that these standards are "ridiculous". Now we find out that the Liberals are going to review it. Why do the Liberals take one position before the election and now determine that they're going to review it after the election?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, we, as a government, believe in consultation. We as a government believe in working with all the parties that are affected by whatever rules or policies are being put in place. I have to share with you, Mr. Speaker, that at this point, that was not done, and so we are doing that. We are reviewing where we are at with all the stakeholders and we hope that, in the next month, we will have the conclusions of this review and we will have an announcement to make. Thank you.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the minister is saying that nothing was done before. That's not the case at all. The previous NDP government got a legal opinion on it, had placed a moratorium on it and was reviewing it. At the time, the Liberals said that that was ridiculous and that it was not common sense.
The Member for Riverdale South, who is now a minister in the Cabinet, was the judge, jury and executioner on these rules in the midst of what we were trying to do in terms of reviewing it. Mr. Speaker, she kicked up quite a fuss with a lot of the day home operators, telling them that she was going to make sure that they got made-in-the-Yukon rules for this particular area.
I'd like to ask the minister once again: why, when they had already predetermined before the election that these rules didn't make any sense, are they now reviewing it?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, I guess the member opposite doesn't hear very well. Obviously, what happens is that when you do consultation, you have to make sure you consult with all parties, not just a select few. It's my understanding that that's what happened the last time around. They spoke with a few people and came up with a policy that they then tried to implement. They went and put the moratorium on it because they knew this was a hotbed. They knew they were on the wrong track. Basically, we're trying to, again, fix another one of the mistakes that the last government made. We're going to do it right. We're not going to do it instantly. We're going to make sure we consult with the proper stakeholders. We're going to ensure that we do it right, from the beginning.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of government private members' business
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, in order to expedite the business of the House and pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that the government private members do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, July 5, 2000, under the heading of Government Private Members' Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 2 - First Appropriation Act, 2000-01 - continued
Chair: We will start on Department of Community and Transportation Services. Is there any general debate?
Department of Community and Transportation Services
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, please allow me to introduce the 2000-01 main estimate for the Department of Community and Transportation Services. As the main estimate shows, the department plans to spend $64,105,000 in operation and maintenance and $46,419,000 in capital. The department also plans to recover $2,831,000 of its operation and maintenance expenditure and $33,405,000 of its capital expenditure. Revenues are estimated at $6,332,000. Taking recoveries into account, the department's net combined main estimate for operation and maintenance and capital is $74,288,000.
Mr. Chair, there are items in the capital main estimate that are important, both in terms of the level of funding and the nature of the projects. The department has allocated substantial capital funds in support of municipal projects. Included in this are the Dawson projects and the Whitehorse recreational facility. The Shakwak project will continue to be a major undertaking in the upcoming and subsequent fiscal years. The operation and maintenance estimate includes $19,288,000 in transfer payments.
Mr. Chair, this budget reflects the diverse programs and services provided by the Department of Community and Transportation Services that directly benefit all Yukon people. The department continues to undertake many worthwhile capital infrastructure projects. The transportation division continues to focus on major construction activities and the maintenance and operation of roads and airports to promote safe and efficient movement of people and goods, in support of economic development. The land development program addresses a broad range of types of land needs in the Yukon.
The department will continue to support the operations of Yukon communities through municipal financing, funding for sports and recreation and various other public health and safety programs, which benefit unincorporated rural communities as well.
The department will continue to strengthen and support emergency measures preparedness, response and related communications in order to provide effective services to Yukoners in those areas.
The department will continue to support the land claims settlement and self-government implementation processes by working closely with the Land Claims Secretariat and the Association of Yukon Communities. The department's main estimate reflects continuing commitment in all these areas, which contribute to the social and economic wellness of the territory.
Mr. Chair, I would now like to identify specific highlights of the department's main estimates. On the operation and maintenance side, in line with its mandate to strengthen the safe and efficient movement of people and goods in the territory, the department has allocated $37,509,000 for highway maintenance, airport operations and administration of regulatory responsibilities.
To meet continued municipal and community affairs commitments in the areas of public health and safety, land availability and support for Yukon communities, a total of $24,119,000 is allocated for operation and maintenance. This total funding is higher than the 1999-2000 level, mainly due to increases in transfer payments.
Major components of municipal and community affairs operations and maintenance budget include comprehensive municipal grants at $11,817,000; grant-in-lieu of taxes at $3,712,000; homeowner grant at $2,267,000; and, contributions toward sport and community recreation at $1,250,000.
In addition, funds are also allocated for the Association of Yukon Communities at $100,000. Community and local advisory council grants are provided at $76,000. Required levels of funding are also included for support services in the areas of land development, public safety and property assessment and taxation. Continuing to recognize the importance of effective emergency measures organizations and communications, a total of $642,000 is allocated for operations and maintenance.
On the capital side, funding is allocated in support of highway construction projects, community facilities, public health, roads and streets and for airport improvement projects. The department has allocated the department main estimates mostly based on needs identified by communities. $31,681,000 has been allocated for the continued improvement of the territory's transportation infrastructure that links communities and provides access to resource development.
We believe capital investment in transportation infrastructure provides the stimulus for private sector investments in resource development and tourism, which in turn will permit long-term economic growth and increased levels of employment. In the short term, these projects will generate significant employment in the road-building industry.
The Alaska Highway will continue to see major reconstruction under the Shakwak agreement; $25 million is allocated for this. Upgrading work will also be carried out in the Whitehorse sections of this highway at $695,000. Considerable construction work will take place on the Campbell Highway and on the Tagish Road at an estimated cost of $1,750,000; $1 million is allocated to continue the rural road upgrade program. Bridge upgrades and reconstruction work will take place at an estimated cost of $391,000 at various locations to ensure structural integrity and safety in the movement of people and heavy products.
Funding of $1.6 million has been allocated for two major airport projects: $995,000 for phase 1 construction of a new water main to the Whitehorse airport in partnership with the City of Whitehorse; $200,000 for various improvements at the Old Crow, Dawson, Whitehorse and other airports; and, $215,000 for design of a new air terminal building and apron improvements at the Old Crow airport.
Mr. Chair, the projects for the Whitehorse International Airport will help increase the appeal of Whitehorse as a continuing destination for international air carriers. By improving our facilities, we are offering better services to air carriers who regularly use the airport and those who would be flying into the Yukon for the first time.
Continuing with the commitment to make affordable land available to the public, a total of $7.1 million has been allocated for the land development program. Commitment to local involvement in the planning and development processes will continue. This funding for lands, which is a component of the capital estimate under the municipal and community affairs division, is aimed at improving Yukoners' quality of life. In this fiscal year, we will continue focusing on developing industrial, residential, commercial and recreational lots. We will continue to be active in carrying out feasibility studies, legal surveys, and development and rehabilitation of quarries.
This government is committed to being sensitive to, and address, environmental and lands claims issues and concerns associated with all land development projects. The primary focus in residential land development includes seven projects in the Whitehorse, Dawson and Haines Junction areas.
Of these, the major projects include country and rural residential development in and around Whitehorse, the start of the twinning of Hamilton Boulevard, and the development of 11 country residential lots in Haines Junction. In addition, preparations for recreational lot development will be undertaken in areas such as Braeburn Lake, Canyon Lake, Aishihik Lake, Hopkins Lake and Pine Lake. Industrial and commercial land developments will take place in the Whitehorse area to make adequate numbers of lots available to meet demand.
The various projects that are to be funded out of the capital estimates of $2.3 million in community services - $1.8 million in public health, roads and streets, and $2.4 million in recreation facilities - reflect our commitment to support all communities in attaining improved quality of life and recognition of their needs.
The community services branch will continue to work with and assist communities in planning and implementing their own community visions. Community-based planning will continue to be of importance.
In areas of public health, roads and streets, the necessary capital funding is allocated to meet set objectives of the program. We will continue to provide service to unincorporated communities with respect to water supply, treatment and storage, sewage treatment and disposal, flood and erosion control, road and street upgrades, and various other community facility improvements.
Public safety and recreation programs will receive continued support. The capital estimate has $350,000 for the construction of a new fire hall for the Mayo Road area. Residents of the area, with the help of the fire marshal's office, have already formed the Hootalinqua Fire Protection Society.
Registered volunteers from the society will begin training with the Ibex Valley Fire Department, in preparation for the completion of this new fire hall in this fiscal year.
The Ross River Community Recreation Centre repair and completion of their new swimming pool will be funded at $375,000.
The capital estimate includes $1 million as the first year contribution toward design and construction of a new recreation centre for Carmacks.
As I stated earlier, the department's main estimate reflects the continued commitment to advance economic growth and well-being of Yukoners by investing in infrastructure, by supporting municipalities, by providing municipal-type services and facilities to unincorporated communities, and by making contributions to the land claims settlement and self-government implementation initiatives.
Mr. Chair, when the opposition received their budget technical briefing on this budget, there were a number of questions relating to Community and Transportation Services, and I would like to address those questions.
The status of disaster financial assistance arrangements recoveries for Old Crow, Pelly Crossing and the Burwash fire were requested. With respect to the DFAA recoveries from the federal government concerning the Burwash fire, the claim has been initiated. The federal Privy Council has approved Provincial Emergencies Financial Assistance Order No. 37, which authorizes Emergency Preparedness Canada to action the Yukon's claim. We expect settlement of the claim soon after completion of an audit, which is being performed by Canada.
With respect to Old Crow and Pelly Crossing, our claims relate to DIAND rather than DFAA. The department billed DIAND and is still trying to resolve the non-payment problem with DIAND. We anticipate that DIAND will send us a formal response shortly.
The question was asked: who decides on whether it is Community and Transportation Services or Yukon Housing Corporation who should do land development? What is the future direction of this? The current mandate with respect to development and sale of individual lots to the public rests with the Department of Community and Transportation Services. There is no plan to move this responsibility out of the department at this time.
The question was asked: what is the status of the cottage lot and shoreline development policy? Draft cottage lot guidelines are being developed by the Department of Community and Transportation Services. Renewable Resources has commenced work on refining their draft shoreline guidelines, which are expected to be completed by the end of this month. The final cottage lot and shoreline guidelines will provide guidelines on how and where recreational cottage lot developments should take place. These guidelines will be used as a basis for discussions with the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation and other First Nations related to their interests in specific recreational lot development proposals.
The question was asked: how many Cabinet submissions are there at this time? Currently there are 18 active Cabinet submissions in varying stages of the process.
There was a concern expressed about the Kluane Wilderness Village. The sign indicating that visitor facilities are two kilometres ahead is leaning, and we were asked if it will be straightened before tourist season picks up. Vehicles are speeding in front of Mr. Trout's place because the 30 kilometres an hour speed signs were removed and not replaced. Will action be taken to correct the situation? One of the visitor facility signs is leaning; it has been straightened by Destruction Bay camp staff. The 50 kilometres per hour signs were removed to accommodate the reconstruction activities going on in the area. The entire highway located in front of the Kluane Wilderness Village is within a construction zone, and the speed limit is posted at 50 kilometres per hour. If speeding is a concern, the RCMP should be contacted.
The question was asked: is there going to be a move to annual application of indexing current market value for assessment in taxation instead of the annual gathering of assessment data in four- or five-year cycles? The department has been striving to work within a four- to five-year reassessment cycle; however, we understand that some areas of the Yukon are past that timeline. The department is continuing to convert and cost the remaining manual records over the next three assessment field seasons - 2000, 2001 and 2002 - using a computer-assisted mass assessment system. Once the field data is verified and captured electronically, it will enable subsequent reassessment cycles to be reduced to a two- to three-year cycle.
The department plans to move in the direction of application of annual market cost adjustment factors once it is satisfied that integrity of all base inventory data has become current.
The question was asked: what is the assessment plan for 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003? Can you provide what areas are to be assessed, by year, beginning with 2000 and 2001?
The areas scheduled for reassessment in the year 2000 are Dawson City, Carmacks, and downtown Whitehorse, along with residential areas of Riverdale, Crestview, Hillcrest, McIntyre and Granger.
The 2001 reassessment schedule is anticipated to include Haines Junction, Mayo, Teslin and the remainder of Whitehorse neighbourhoods such as Porter Creek, Takhini, et cetera.
The 2002 schedule is projected to include the rural areas of Beaver Creek, Destruction Bay, Old Crow, Ross River, Upper Liard and properties along Yukon highways such as highway lodges.
The 2000, 2001, and 2002 reassessment schedule represents the remaining three years required to complete conversion of data to the new computer assisted mass assessment (CAMA) system.
The question was asked: can I have the package on the community meetings on Shakwak? Is public input taken with respect to the location of the new sections?
The recent meetings were in fact open houses to present the findings of the environmental assessment work for the Jarvis River to Quill Creek section. A handout summarizing the process was provided to members of the public who attended. Public input is considered with respect to location and there has been extensive consultation with the Kluane First Nation and other concerned parties. I have the Shak-facts brochure.
The question was asked: what kind of financial impact will licensing and refund policy for trailers and trucks have?
The motor vehicles refund policy for commercial vehicles is based on section 12 of the Motor Vehicles Act regulations, which deals with compulsory registration periods for vehicles. Commercial vehicles must be registered for a minimum of six months; therefore, owners may be refunded all of the unused portion of the registration except for the minimum six-month period. The recent amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act allows the motor vehicles section to refund the entire unused portion of the registration fees when a truck becomes unserviceable and is certified as such in writing by a mechanic.
In the past, the amount of the refund was restricted to six months. To date, no requests for mechanically unfit truck refunds have been made. It is expected that the financial impact will be minimal. The Motor Vehicles Act was recently amended to allow owners of trailers to register for either a one-year term at a cost of $12 or for a 10-year term for $35. There is no refund for trailer plates. This amendment was proposed to reduce red tape for trailer owners.
The question was asked: are vehicles such as those used in shows and films and then sold to the public, checked before registration? Vehicles imported into Canada for use as show and film props cannot be registered in the Yukon until the vehicle is cleared through Canada Customs and duty charges, if any, paid. The vehicle is cleared through the federal government registrar of imported vehicles, which means the vehicle is checked to ensure it complies with Canadian safety standards. Vehicles are inspected at inspection facilities designated by the registrar of imported vehicles for this purpose, and the owner presents the motor vehicles office with the imported vehicles form, which has been completed by Canada Customs, the registrar of imported vehicles and the inspection facility. The owner also has to present proof of valid insurance.
The question was asked: how far along are we with respect to checking trucks, for fuel tax purposes, the Canadian agreement of vehicles registration, or CAVR, with inter-provincial and the United States? This is the system for inter-provincial and U.S. sharing of revenues, tax and fees. The Yukon has no plans to join CAVR, nor the international registration plan between Canada and the United States, as this is not cost effective for the Yukon due to our small number of commercial vehicles. Two separate studies have indicated that the Yukon would lose considerable revenue and incur significant administrative costs should the decision be made to join CAVR. The Northwest Territories also has no plans to join CAVR, nor IRP.
The question was asked: what is the commitment to handing over the Haines Junction weigh station property to the Village of Haines Junction and what is happening with the Haines Junction weigh station? The department plans to retain the Haines Junction weigh station property in its control, as the asset is in place and operational. The mobile safety officer uses the building for an office and part of the building is leased to Renewable Resources at the present time.
In August 1997, the Village of Haines Junction indicated an interest in obtaining the weigh station building and property when the department dispenses with it. In October 1997, the department advised that a notation would be placed in the file outlining this interest in the building and property. However, there were no immediate departmental plans to dispense with these. This year, the department will be conducting an evaluation of the Haines Junction weigh station building to determine the feasibility of its continued use as office space. Once the evaluation is completed, the department will determine what should be done with the building.
We were asked what is the story on the portable scale on the Alaska Highway at Beaver Creek this spring. The feeling was expressed that there should be more enforcement. There was no additional enforcement at Beaver Creek this spring; however, during the road restrictions this spring, the department operated the Haines Junction weigh station, on a periodic basis, to monitor truck traffic on the north Alaska Highway. No significant weight or mechanical fitness problems were detected during this time.
The department has one mobile safety officer stationed in Haines Junction. This officer patrols the north Alaska Highway on a periodic basis. The vast majority of truck traffic, travelling north or south on the Alaska Highway, is weighed and monitored in Watson Lake or Whitehorse as the trucks pass through these communities.
The question was asked: will there be a uniform weigh scale standard for all other jurisdictions and the United States? The Yukon continues to work toward harmonization with other Canadian jurisdictions on vehicle weights and dimensions. Following substantial safety research, a memorandum of understanding on vehicle weights and dimensions was signed many years ago. The Yukon is a party to this MOU and, for the most part, Yukon regulations allow Yukon carriers to transport slightly higher weights on Yukon highways than some other Canadian jurisdictions will allow. Alaska allows considerably longer truck-trailer combinations and more axles than the Yukon. It is not likely that Alaska will change its vehicle weights and dimensions to bring them more in line with the Yukon standards.
The Canadian MOU on vehicle weights and dimensions is focused on safety and stability of trucks and trailers operating on our highways, and would not change unless there is an overall North American agreement in place. As a result of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico, there is work being done to come up with North American standards. When these have been agreed on, the Yukon will adopt these standards.
The question was asked: when will the graduated driver licensing program be implemented. I am attempting to have the graduated driver licensing program implemented in September 2000.
The question was asked: how is the Golden Horn local area plan coming along? The Golden Horn local area plan steering committee recently met and will be forwarding the Golden Horn local area plan to the department for review. The plan was developed through an extensive public process, which commenced in 1998 with the formation of a steering committee made up of local residents and it included several public meetings during the plan's development and review.
The local area plan proposes community goals, policies and recommendations for future land use in the area. The plan has involved local residents, Yukon government, Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Ta'an Kwach'an First Nation. A community issue regarding subdivision of commercial and light-industrial lots will be dealt with through the department's review of the plan. In addition to the planning process, the department is working to bring conclusion to two Golden Horn development proposals brought forward by Mr. Brown and Mr. and Mrs. Todd. The developments will require amendments to the Golden Horn area development regulations, and the department is working on the proposed amendments.
The question was asked: how is the Ibex Valley local area plan coming along? The plan has been completed and received the endorsement of the hamlet council. The department is currently reviewing the document to ensure consistency with related policies and regulations. Once the plan has been formally approved by the government, we look forward to working with the community to implement the plan through the development of area development regulations.
The question was asked: how is municipal borrowing being monitored vis-à-vis the allowable three-percent assessed value of properties. Municipalities are required to submit their financial statements annually, and these statements include their debt information. Also, borrowings can only be done by bylaw, and municipalities are also required by legislation to submit copies of all their bylaws. The convention has been for municipalities to borrow from the Yukon government, as they can do so at lower rates. To do so, they submit a request to the Department of Finance, together with their adopted borrowing bylaw. The Department of Finance routes these requests through the community services branch for confirmation of borrowing limits. When such requests are received, total assessed value of all real property figures provided are confirmed with the assessment and taxation branch. The municipality's borrowing limits are then calculated and compared to their current debt from all sources, plus requested borrowing. Our experience over the past couple of years has shown that any municipalities that have requested a borrowing through Government of Yukon have been well within their borrowing limits.
We were asked about the impact on the Community and Transportation Services budget of the devolution of properties from the federal government. With respect to vacant lands that will be devolved to the Yukon government, do we follow Yukon government's policy or federal government's policy in terms of payment of grant-in-lieu? The devolution financial negotiations are currently ongoing. We do not have the final impact figures with respect to the Yukon government's budget revenue at this time; however, municipalities would not be adversely affected.
Chair: Order please. The minister has two minutes to conclude.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Yukon government will use past practice and legislation - the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act - to pay the grant-in-lieu, equal to taxes.
We were asked about the status of the septic field at Destruction Bay. There was a problem with servicing the lowest house, adjacent to the in-ground system next to the lake. The plumbing in this house will be altered so that it can be connected to the new in-ground system.
There was a complaint about the cleanup and completion of the project. Engineering and development plans to have a meeting with the contractor and our inspector to clarify the outstanding deficiency list and timing of the work. The work is expected to be completed by the end of July.
Mr. Chair, as you see, I have many more questions to answer. I'm sure I will have a chance to do so during line-by-line.
Mr. Harding: I would like to thank the minister for her filibuster. Perhaps now we can ask some questions.
I would like to begin by asking the minister about highways. She said in the House a couple of weeks ago that highways in the Yukon were in terrible shape. Perhaps she could elaborate on what she meant by that and tell us more about why she thinks the highways are in terrible shape.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have referred several times to figures from 1992-93, when the capital budget for highways was over $22 million, and to this current estimate, where the capital expenditures are $3,886,000. With a decrease like that, over the past eight years, the highways are not sustainable without a substantial influx of capital money. That is what I meant when I said the highways were in bad shape. The capital has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where we can't continue at this.
Mr. Harding: Well, that's interesting, Mr. Chair, and I look forward to this minister bringing that budget back up as she stated. When she said that they were in terrible shape, did she mean that it was a safety concern for her?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There are some safety issues developing that will have to be dealt with, like Brewster's Corner in Haines Junction, for example.
Mr. Harding: That's not what I was asking. It's a very telling statement for the highways minister if the Government of the Yukon admits the highways are in terrible shape, and I was asking her if it was a safety concern. She has identified one area, which has been a long-standing safety concern. As a result of what she has eluded to, i.e. decreasing capital, where are her main safety concerns and where does she see the biggest impact to the travelling public of the roads that are in terrible shape, in her opinion?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It's like someone owning a house and failing to adequately maintain it; failing to look after the roof; failing to repaint the siding; failing to do a number of little things. The effect is cumulative and at some point very soon, we will be faced with a big bill for repairing this essential infrastructure, which the two previous administrations have allowed to deteriorate.
Mr. Harding: This is all very interesting. You can always tell a new minister when they answer their first question in Committee of the Whole. She has identified that the roads are in terrible shape and that there are some safety concerns. She has come up with a little analogy comparing building a road to building a house and then not properly maintaining the house. When will she start conducting this plan to repair the mistakes, as she put it, of the previous two administrations? When can we start to see the increases in the funding?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, departmental officials are working on the next budget now.
Mr. Harding:Mr. Chair, I bet you they are. I'd like to ask her if, since they're going to be bringing this forward and she has said that the highways are in terrible shape and unsafe, she anticipates that there will be an increase in funding in the fall, or will we see it next spring? When will she start to, as she put it, repair the mistakes of the previous two administrations?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Given that we are working with limited resources with a $14-point-something million surplus, not the $56-point-something million that members opposite keep insisting on, it may take awhile to restore the funding. I am hoping that we can put some funding back into highways in the fall supplementary budget, but, until we complete our budget work, that remains to be seen.
Mr. Harding: So let's just say, for argument's sake, that she has $14 million and not $56 million, which she does have. Let's just say she has $14 million, as a result of their conclusion that this is 2001 already. But let's go along with it and say there's a surplus of $14 million. You've got the highways minister of the Yukon saying that the highways are in terrible shape and there are safety concerns, but she's now telling the House that's she hoping there will be a supplementary budget increase in the fall. Why would she scare people like that, and then say she can't commit to providing any more funding in a fall supplementary budget, when you have highways in terrible shape, according to her, and safety concerns?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As the member opposite well knows, $14 million in surplus funds is well below the cushion recommended by the Department of Finance. For a basic surplus, there is no new money at this point. The member opposite well knows that.
Mr. Harding: That's all about choices. There's a sizeable budget of over $500 million to change around. She has indicated now that $500 million isn't enough for her to find some money to repair a situation where the roads are unsafe and in terrible shape. Does that sound reasonable?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I have already indicated that department officials are working on the budget.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, can the minister tell us what programs are under review in her department?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Could the member clarify what he means, please? Is he talking about capital projects or what?
Mr. Harding: Well, we're not sure what's under review in this government, because every day we stand up and ask about programs, and different ministers in O&M and capital say that everything is under review.
So, I'm just asking her, as a general question, if there are any programs in O&M and capital that are under review - programs that were conducted by the previous administration?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The capital funding for highways and the O&M for highways are under review.
Mr. Harding: And nothing else is under review?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Harding: So, the minister is going to be providing a community bus for the community of Old Crow?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I didn't say that.
Mr. Harding: Well, is she going to buy it or not? Is it under review?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It is being looked at. As the member well knows, it is more a Department of Education concern. A bus for Old Crow is not a program. It is one line item in the budget.
Mr. Harding: Well, I asked if there was anything being looked at. I asked her if there was anything being reviewed. No, I asked her if there was anything in the O&M or the capital that's being reviewed. She just stood up and said that the community bus is an example that's being looked at, because there was nothing else under review.
So, just so I'm clear with the minister, is there anything else - program or expenditure - that's being looked at by the minister?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member is asking if there are any changes to the budget that was tabled. There are no substantial changes to the O&M budget. The funding request for the impact of the collective agreement, which is approximately $500,000, will be brought forward in a future supplementary.
With respect to the capital budget, the department plans to make a couple of adjustments, which are expected to be reflected in a supplementary in the fall.
Included is land development funding of $1 million allocated for the Marwell trunk upgrading. It may not be required in this fiscal year, as the City of Whitehorse is not prepared to proceed on this project in 2000-01.
There is $1.75 million allocated for the Hamilton urban residential Copper Ridge development, and may not be required since re-evaluation of the current trend of lot sales does not warrant proceeding with the development. There are adequate lots in inventory at this time to meet current demand.
Two hundred thousand dollars was proposed to undertake feasibility analysis and purchase land from United Keno Hill Mines for development purposes. However, this will not be proceeding due to legal issues surrounding the land ownership.
The proposed purchase of a school bus for Old Crow at $120,000, as I have said many times in this House, requires sorting out several issues. The school bus regulations do not cover the use of a school bus in Old Crow. It is a precedent that would be set for all other communities. There is also the responsibility for operation and maintenance. In addition, there is an identified need to correct an environmental problem regarding an intermittent creek that flows by the Old Crow garbage dump, for which funding is required.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, the member opposite has stated that there are no substantial changes to planned expenditures, but I'll make a bet with her that the people of Old Crow will see that the community bus is a substantial change, and the fact that she has chopped it is a substantial change to the budget, and that will play out in the future. I'll bet the minister opposite that there is a community bus in Old Crow this year, and it will be, I bet -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: My colleague has laid a number on the table. I'd be willing to go a lot higher than that.
Mr. Chair we will leave that for the time being to the community and the meetings with the Cabinet that are upcoming, and we will see.
With regard to the rural roads program, is the funding and the criteria for that going to remain the same, and is the government committed to that program?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there is $1 million identified in this budget for the rural roads programming. And back to the school bus in Old Crow, I had a conversation with the chief last Friday. He says that the current blue van provided in 1995 by the Department of Education, and later transferred to the First Nation, is overcrowded and unsafe. He indicated to me that the primary use of the van is to transport children to school. It is also used to transport elders and dignitaries. Chief Linklater told me that most of the kids take the school bus. He used the term "school bus" throughout the conversation, not "community bus".
The van is designed for a driver and up to 14 passengers. As many as 20 students were boarding. That is an unsafe situation. It is also a situation that the driver of the van can control. As a result of this situation, someone complained to the former Government Leader that perhaps they needed a bus. Since learning of this overcrowding, the Department of Education has insisted that no more than 14 students be allowed on the bus at a time.
If the member wants to discuss the school bus regulations, that would be the Education Act, and that would be the Minister of Education whom the member should be talking to. The van was provided to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation not to be operated as a regular school bus but as occasional transportation for students, such as in cold weather for field trip preparation and so forth. Regular transportation of students to and from school requires a fully equipped yellow school bus under the motor vehicles regulations.
If the Department of Education were contracting to have students transported in Old Crow, the contractor would require a proper bus. I explained to Chief Linklater that C&TS does not provide school buses or community buses. Among other things, it would be precedent setting. I also explained that a 30-passenger, yellow bus would require the driver to have a class 2 licence and that the driver would have to leave the community to take the test, as there isn't enough road in Old Crow. Also, the roads in Old Crow were not designed for large vehicles.
The old school was located at the west end of the airstrip, close to the nursing station and the airport terminal building. The new school is located at the other end of the airstrip. The new location is directly between the original village and the new subdivision. For those students in the new subdivision or at the east end of the original village, it is actually closer. The farthest distance most of the students would need to walk is approximately 1.5 kilometres or one mile, with most walking far less - a few hundred metres. There are some new houses up by the ski chalet, which would make the walking distance a little longer if you are travelling by road. Again, I stress that the community does currently have a functioning van.
Mr. Harding: How many times has the minister been to Old Crow?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Five or six times, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Harding: And then, Mr. Chair, does she understand that Old Crow is a community with a different sense about it, a community that is not connected like all other Yukon communities, that the community bus - as she read out in her briefing note after her conversation with Chief Linklater - is utilized for many different purposes. Does she understand that, having given her extensive experience travelling to Old Crow?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I do understand the situation in Old Crow. The chief also understands the precedent that would be set if Community and Transportation Services were to provide a community bus. I repeat: throughout our conversation, the chief referred to it as a "school bus", not as a "community bus".
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, we will let the First Nation take up that particular initiative on that particular item over the next little while, and we will see. We will see the members opposite again in the fall and discuss it further.
Has the minister identified any areas where they can reduce expenditures in order to meet their priorities?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, departmental officials are working on budgeting for the next year at this time.
Mr. Harding: I'm asking the minister: what about the minister? She is the minister. Has she identified any areas where she can reduce expenditures?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Once the Legislature is done with this sitting, I'm sure I will have plenty of time to work with officials to do just that.
Mr. Harding: What does that have to do with anything whatsoever? We don't sit in this House until 1:30 p.m., four days a week. Mr. Chair, there are weekends as well. Is the member saying that she has no ability to direct officials or set policy when the legislative session is underway?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: At this point, I think it would be fiscally imprudent of me to require officials to be working overtime. That is not an expense I would like at this point.
Mr. Harding: Do officials come in at 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon, or do they start at 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m.? The House starts at 1:30 p.m.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member opposite must have a horrible perception of what Yukon government employees do. The people in Community and Transportation Services work quite hard, during their normal working hours, all day.
Mr. Harding: That's just a silly response by the member opposite. She said that she couldn't direct officials or set any policy because the legislative session was in. I asked her why that was; she said it was because it would be fiscally imprudent to ask them to work overtime. So I'm asking her what she meant by that bizarre comment when the House goes in at 1:30 in the afternoon and the officials come in at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m., I'm sure, and some of them earlier. What's the problem with the minister?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I said before, my departmental officials are working on the budgeting process now.
Mr. Harding: What about her?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As time permits, I am working with departmental officials on a variety of issues, questions, problems, et cetera.
Mr. Harding: I can see that there's not a lot there to work on from the minister opposite, so I will defer further follow-up on the minister until the fall.
The Member for Riverdale South has a problem.
In the technical briefing with regard to some issues the member talked about, one issue that was not addressed, that I didn't hear clearly, was the Haines Junction intersection project. Does the government plan to spend the $400,000 in capital at the Haines Junction intersection project in the budget this year?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Safety at the intersection of the Alaska Highway on the Haines Road has been raised with Community and Transportation Services as a concern by local organizations and individuals in Haines Junction. The village council has expressed a desire to have overhead signs installed and to have traffic signals at the intersection as well as having pedestrian crosswalks across the Alaska Highway and rumble strips at the entrances to the community. In addition, council has requested an extra lane on the Alaska Highway and new street lighting.
The department is working with the community, through the village council, to find an effective solution to the safety concerns and, as part of this, is undertaking traffic studies to ensure that an appropriate solution is designed. Subject to finding an agreeable solution, we are prepared to undertake work to improve safety at the intersection within budget limitations and in relation to other safety priorities on the Alaska Highway. It may be possible to do some of this work later this summer.
Mr. Harding: Well, there's $400,000 identified in the budget, if I'm correct. Is the minister stating that that is the budget limitation number?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, initially, council in Haines Junction had favoured an option that would make the Alaska Highway the through road. Traffic on the Haines Road would have to stop at the intersection. We now understand that council has a different position, and we're working to try to accommodate the community wishes while we, at the same time, provide a safe and logical intersection.
The changes originally requested by council would fit the parameters of the U.S. federal highways administration. They would pay for the changes under the Shakwak project. As long as the highway configuration leads American visitors coming from Whitehorse to go south to Haines, instead of west to Tok, the Americans are not likely to fund the intersection improvements.
Mr. Harding: With regard to highway signs, I'm sure the minister has heard from constituents who have made some complaints about commercial signs, and options have been bandied about around kiosks and that kind of thing as an alternative. When does the minister plan to complete her review of the private highway and commercial sign regulations?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There has been some work done in this area. It needs some further discussion by caucus and Cabinet.
Mr. Harding: Can she tell me more about that? Does she have a timeline when she expects to complete the review?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The department expects to have a package ready for Cabinet to consider by the fall.
Mr. Harding: I have a couple of questions on multi-year capital planning. I had a bit of an interesting discussion with the Premier on this, and perhaps the minister as well. There are projects underway in the budget, with some over the next couple of years - the Whitehorse Airport water supply system, the Old Crow Airport. There are a lot of projects that are started this year. Is it still the position of the government that if the projects are started this year, they're going to see them through to completion over the subsequent funding years?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, generally that would be the case, allowing of course for unexpected developments, which could change things.
Mr. Harding: That's fairly open ended, Mr. Chair. I will defer on that as well for now.
With regard to the new sewage facilities that were identified in the platform, extensive planning was to be undertaken in a number of areas in the Liberal platform - Carmacks, Dawson City. They were going to be coming forward to review and prioritize the sewer and water infrastructure needs for all Yukon communities and begin planning for their construction. When will we see that start to happen?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, we are putting a proposal together for next year's capital budget. In-house work in the department is already underway on that, and it is a priority to ensure that all communities have functional and environmentally responsible sewer and water systems.
Mr. Harding: But when does she anticipate there could be some construction of new facilities?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there is some work underway in Carcross this year, and also in Burwash. We are, as the member knows, working with the City of Dawson, and in Carmacks there should be some work a year or two down the line as well.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, this issue was raised by the Liberals with some immediacy. Just to take Carmacks, for example, only about 40 percent of the community is served by the existing system. Is the plan that they are looking at over the next year or two for construction to service the whole community?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, in Carmacks, the work that is underway is based on sewage treatment.
Mr. Harding: For the entire community?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: For the entire municipality of Carmacks, yes. As the member is aware, the First Nation is on the other side of the river and not within the municipal boundaries.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, just on the Old Crow terminal building and design work there, there is $215,000 in the budget for design. Is the minister reviewing or looking at that project as well, or is that a go-ahead?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, design work is proceeding for the construction of the new Old Crow air terminal building.
Mr. Harding: On the block funding for municipalities, they have had not a lot in the way of increases over the last few years. In the last two budgets, there was a one-percent increase, and in the one previous to this, there was two percent in this particular budget before us. What does the minister see in terms of future increases for the municipalities? Is she going to continue the trend of seeing increases in each fiscal year?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, that's something that'll be considered in the budget cycle. Officials are working on the budget now, and if an increase is possible, we'll look at it.
Mr. Harding: How does this work with this minister? Does she ever tell the officials what she'd like to see, or do the officials tell her what all the budget priorities will be?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I like to work on the theory of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I think the Community and Transportation Services department is working fairly well considering the budget restraints imposed upon it by the two previous administrations.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, we will talk to this minister in awhile, and see if she's still singing the same song about how she's going to jack up the funding for all these areas she has identified as problems. After her first budget session would probably be a good time to talk to her. Anyway, that's another topic for a long discussion in the future.
With regard to the Campbell Highway, there was some work planned for chipsealing on the Campbell Highway this year. I would like to know what the plans are with regard to the Faro to Ross River portion and if there have been any changes.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, this year, on the Campbell Highway, we are finishing work at Grew Creek, including BST - there are three kilometres of BST elsewhere - and extensive work beginning on Margaret Thomson Hill.
Mr. Harding: There was some chipsealing planned on the Faro to Carmacks portion. Is that no longer the case?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I have just outlined the work that is planned for this year on the Campbell Highway between Faro and Carmacks.
Mr. Harding: I'm not familiar with any chipseal between Ross River and Faro. Why would we be chipsealing Grew Creek? Why would the government be doing that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, when the department rebuilt that section, it got a stronger base, and it was felt appropriate to BST that area in the interests of protecting the roadbed.
Mr. Harding: So, there's a $1 million planned expenditure in the area she has identified in capital. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I believe $1 million total is approximately correct.
Mr. Harding: In terms of the work that's being undertaken, is there any chipsealing being done out of the O&M budget on the Faro to Carmacks portion?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, that was the three kilometres I referred to.
Mr. Harding: That's Ross River. It's between Faro and Carmacks.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there will be, between Faro and Carmacks, three kilometres of BST this year.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, she just said there'd be three kilometres of chipsealing done between Faro and Carmacks, but earlier I thought she told me - and correct me if I'm wrong - that the three kilometres was going to be at Grew Creek, which is between Faro and Ross River.
Where will the - okay, she's shaking her head, no. Where will the three kilometres between Faro and Carmacks be done?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I had said we were BSTing the area at Grew Creek that we had rebuilt and that there was three kilometres of BST elsewhere. I will get the department to provide me with the exact kilometre points for the member.
Mr. Harding: So, she doesn't have the information right now. Is it, for example, at the end of where they finished chipsealing last year - between Frenchman Lake and Carmacks?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I will get the information for the member. I'm sure we'll be still on C&TS tomorrow. I'll undertake to provide that tomorrow afternoon.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't intend to be too long. I'm not getting any answers from the minister opposite, so I don't intend to belabour things. There will be a time in the fall to hold her accountable for all the wonderful things she has told us this legislative session, and I look forward to it.
Back to the Haines Junction issue: has the minister received a copy of communications with regard to the Haines Junction area - the intersection work that was being planned in the middle of the Haines Junction area - and has she responded to the council?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, to this point I have seen no correspondence from the council on this issue.
Mr. Harding: Thank you. Mr. Chair. Well, I think the member will be expecting some, certainly the MLA has received a copy of the correspondence. We'll just wait and see. I just can't stress enough that this is very important to the mayor and council there. I have no further questions.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Community and Transportation Services?
Seeing no further general debate, we will now discuss general debate on the Office of the Deputy Minister, page 3-6.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Office of the Deputy Minister
Chair: Seeing that there is no general debate on the office of the deputy minister, we will proceed line by line.
On the Deputy Minister's Office
Deputy Minister's Office in the amount of $277,000 agreed to
On Emergency Measures
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister just go over where we're at with the recoveries on EMO from DIAND? I'm more concerned with the duration that those have been outstanding and what initiatives are being undertaken by the department with respect to collections.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We have written to DIAND recently and are expecting a response. We can't say for sure that they are going to give us the money, but we certainly hope that they do.
Mr. Jenkins: The Legislature will probably recall the issue surrounding the recoveries of medical from Indian and Northern Affairs. This is virtually the same situation. The evacuation of Old Crow took place quite some years ago now; the evacuation of Pelly quite some years ago. We are talking years, now, and in the normal course of business, is that all we do within the department? The minister just writes a letter. What initiatives are taking place? We're talking a considerable sum of money. Could the minister spell out just how much money we're looking at for the various areas, for the Old Crow evacuation, for the Pelly evacuation? When did they take place? When did the Government of the Yukon bill the federal government? We are talking five and six years, from my recollection. What initiatives are taking place for the purposes of collection, other than just writing a letter?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I don't have all the details of dates here in front of me, or the amounts outstanding. It is another government that we are dealing with. We are attempting to resolve the non-payment problem with DIAND and we are expecting a formal response from them shortly.
Mr. Jenkins: That's just not good enough, Mr. Chair. These go back to the Yukon Party time in office so all through the NDP there was nothing accomplished with respect to collection. Would the minister agree to provide a legislative return and a date these debts were incurred? When were they first billed? What follow-up has there been to date on the collection of these outstanding amounts, for both the evacuation of Old Crow and Pelly, and any other related EMO initiatives, where the Government of Yukon incurred an expense that rightfully belonged to the federal government for which they have billed and not received payment?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We will undertake to get that information for the member.
Mr. Jenkins: And provide it by way of a legislative return. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: If the Member for Klondike prefers to have the information by way of a legislative return, we can make it so.
Mr. Jenkins: If we could just move on to EMO, there appears to be some downloading to the various communities with respect to this initiative. Have there been any policy changes, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, if the member would be more specific as to what he's alluding to, I might be able to provide him with an answer.
Mr. Jenkins: Have there been any policy changes with respect to the provision of EMO initiatives?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member said there appears to have been some "downloading to communities." Could the member be more specific?
Mr. Jenkins: The question stems from what appears to be a downloading to the communities, and I'm asking the minister, have there been any policy changes within EMO?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There have been no policy changes.
Chair: Any further debate on emergency measures?
Emergency Measures in the amount of $642,000 agreed
Chair: Are there any questions on statistics?
Mr. Jenkins: Is there any initiative in the provision of TV to the various unorganized communities and areas? Are there any changes in what we're providing, how we're providing it, and is there any initiative to bill for these services?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There have been no changes.
Mr. Jenkins: With regard to the provision of AM radio around the Yukon, has the government adopted any sort of a policy to approach CBC with respect to maintaining AM radio or are we going FM everywhere?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There have been no changes, and if the member opposite has some issue with CBC and their provision of service in the Dawson area, I suggest he take it up with them.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, what a condescending approach to a question. The statistics clearly identify that the Government of the Yukon, through the Department of Community and Transportation Services, has and continues to provide CBC radio services in a number of areas, and they're spending money. They're also spending money in the mains for provision of TV.
Now, all I'm looking for is whether or not there has been any initiative. What I'm looking more at, rather than maintaining the existing, is increasing coverage area, because this is done in concert with YTG, Mr. Chair. I'm looking for increasing coverage along the principal highways - FM radio coverage. Have there been any changes, because usually this initiative is driven by Government of the Yukon.
Now, I'm sure the minister in her capable understanding of the issue has been handed a briefing note and that this proven as a lifelong, died-in-red-wool Liberal knows how to read a briefing note. So, now that she has one, she can stand on her feet, not display the condescending attitude, and just answer the questions.
We can move ahead very quickly here, or we can spend a lot of time just dealing with foolishness on the minister's part, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I think we all know where the foolishness is.
There have been no changes.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, are there any initiatives to increase FM radio coverage along the main highways of Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, that would be a capital budget item for a future year.
Mr. Jenkins: Is there anything in the works, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, my officials are working on budgeting right now.
Mr. Jenkins: Is there anything in the works in this specific area, Mr. Chair? This is getting to be like pulling hens' teeth.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I don't believe there is anything at this precise moment.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I would urge the minister to make it somewhat of a priority. We're not talking about a great deal of costs, but it is important to have radio coverage along all of the principal highways of Yukon. And it was at one time very, very good when it was broadcast on the AM, but now that it has gone to frequency modulation - the FM - the coverage is line-of-sight, and where there is coverage, it is very good. Where there isn't coverage, it's non-existent, whereas under the old system, at least you could get it from time to time. So I would recommend to the minister that this is an area where she can enhance the lifestyle of rural Yukoners, those of us who travel the highways - I know the minister doesn't have a great deal of travel to do to get from her home to the Legislature every day, but outside of that tremendous distance, there are a lot of us who travel the highways on a continuing basis, and it's very, very nice to have radio.
That's where I'm coming from, and this has been brought to my attention by a great number of individuals. There are also those in the trapping field who rely on AM radio and who no longer are in receipt of it, so it's a very valid question.
Now, if the minister wants to bring it up under the capital side of the equation, we can do so, but it's just a policy question under these statistics. That's all.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I'd be pleased to look at the issue of highway radio coverage. I know I certainly appreciate in my vehicle the radio coverage I get, and I must say that on the road to Dawson, I only lose the signal for a couple of kilometres very close to Dawson. Other than that, I've got pretty well full coverage throughout the territory.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister must be listening to CHON-FM and not CBC, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Are there any further questions on the statistics?
Are there any questions on the allotments?
Office of the Deputy Minister in the amount of $919,000 agreed to
On Corporate Services Division
Chair: Is there any general debate on corporate services division?
Mr. Jenkins: Are there any personnel whom we're looking to seconding to any other agency of the government, to the federal government or in-house?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: This must have been quite an extensive briefing. The simple answer is, yes. How many? Where? Where are they going? For how long? Let's get to specifics, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I don't have the details with me. I would be pleased to provide them to the member tomorrow, when we no doubt will still be engaged in C&TS debate.
Mr. Jenkins: So, I can expect another legislative return tomorrow, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, if the member prefers everything by way of legislative return, we will undertake to do that as soon as possible.
Mr. Jenkins: As soon as possible - then it will be tabled tomorrow. Thank you. I would like to thank the minister. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, because of the formality of a legislative return, it will take a little longer.
Mr. Jenkins: Since we're into specifics, could the minister define "a little longer", please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, we should be able to provide that for the member by Thursday.
Mr. Jenkins: If we could just look at the policies that are emanating out of C&TS with respect to seasonal re-hires, there appears to be quite a change in how these occur and the length of time these individuals are being hired back for. It used to be that most individuals re-hired for the summer were pretty well given six-plus months - maybe as long as eight or nine months - of employment, and that period of time has been reduced considerably.
Can the minister advise the House how this change in seasonal re-hires came about, how many individuals we are talking about in that category, and the impact that it's having on the budget, because I'm sure it was done to reduce the costs within the department, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the reduction in the O&M budget certainly is a major factor there.
Mr. Jenkins: What the minister is saying is that there has been a change in the policy within C&TS with respect to seasonal re-hires. Now, was it done solely for financial purposes, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the policy hasn't changed, but the length of service time has been adjusted to fit the budget.
Mr. Jenkins: So, in order to accomplish this, Mr. Chair, it would look like the standards to which we're maintaining our highways - and I refer specifically to snow removal - are of a lesser standard, and if we look at summer grading of gravel roads, that is also to a lesser standard, because in order to reduce from where we were before, we're still maintaining the same amount of highways, if not more, but we have developed standards for snow removal on our major highways.
I don't suspect that the standards have been changed, but the highways that apply to the various categories in these standards must have been altered somewhere along the line. Could the minister advise the House where this has taken place and to what extent? And I'd like to know the financial impact on these seasonal re-hires coming back for the shorter duration. How many dollars are we talking about saving, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There has been no change in the standards for snow removal. Thankfully there hasn't been too much snow on the highways since I took office. Adjustments have been made generally in summer activities. I point out that the O&M expenditures have gone from $34 million and change in 1992-93 to $28 million in this budget, so previous administrations have again cut the budget in O&M as well as in capital in highways.
Mr. Jenkins: So the standards haven't changed, but the O&M budget has been reduced from $34 million to $28 million. Now, if you index that for inflation, you're probably talking at least a $14 million or $15 million gap, given the current rate of inflation, between where it was in the early 1990s to where it is today. That in itself is a considerable sum of money. Now, how was that accomplished? The standards for snow removal on highways haven't been changed.
My other question to the minister: have the highways that enter into the various categories been adjusted? It used to be that the priority for snow accumulation was so many millimetres before the highway crews were sent out, and that was the entire route from the Faro mine site right through to the border on the south Klondike Highway. Have the categories of highways been altered or changed? What has happened to effect this considerable reduction in O&M costs?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the standards haven't changed, but we have, for example, downgraded in a couple of areas where reduced traffic permitted us to do so - namely, the Campbell Highway and the South Klondike Highway when the ore haul stopped, but the standards haven't changed.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, that's what I was getting at. I know the standards haven't changed, but the roads that entered into the equation have been, let's say, adjusted or re-adjusted to reduce the amount of money that's spent on maintenance on those highways. While we are on highway maintenance and FTEs assigned to various regions, why is rural Yukon treated as a second-class system, whereby an individual can only learn to become a grader operator in rural Yukon? An individual can't learn to become a grader operator in and around Whitehorse, but it's okay to learn to become a grader operator and get certified in rural Yukon. Why is this the case, Mr. Chair? To get the classification required to work around Whitehorse an individual has to be sent out on the Haines Road or up to the Dempster. It appears to be the only way to learn and obtain an operator's certificate for a grader, and then you are allowed to operate in and around Whitehorse. Why the double standards, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, rural Yukon generally provides better training opportunities for new grader operators. The Dempster Highway, for example, is a gravel road, and snow conditions there and on the Haines Road and the Skagway Road would be substantially different. If you are able to run a grader in rural Yukon I would say you could run one anywhere. Our grader operators are among the best in the world.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not discussing the quality of the grader operators. I'm discussing where you can get the training, and I was referring specifically to snow removal, and whether the road is gravel or not, snow removal is the same in all areas if you're looking at what they commonly term a "three-pass system".
So, again it raises the question for the minister: why is there a double standard? Why can you not train to operate a grader and come from a certain level to the next level in Whitehorse, in the Whitehorse grader station? Why does it have to be in rural Yukon and only rural Yukon, Mr. Chair? Why is this requirement of the personnel department and C&TS so adamant?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member opposite obviously believes that no one of their own free will would choose to live in rural Yukon. I hate to tell him but he's wrong. As far as training grader operators, there is a lower traffic volume in the rural areas, so it is a safer place in which to learn this skill.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, the department of highways does compile statistics as to traffic volumes across certain roadways, and I would call into question the minister's understanding of traffic volumes, because there are some areas in rural Yukon that actually exceed some of the principal roads leading in and out of Whitehorse, and they exceed it on a regular basis, so that's not even in the equation. As soon as the minister gets an understanding of her portfolio, we might have come to a different conclusion than what we have here today.
But still the question is: why does the department have this double standard? Why does a grader operator in Whitehorse have to have a certain level whereas in rural Yukon it's less of a level, and that's the training grounds, and you can only achieve that higher level - in spite of having worked for 10 or 15 years in and around Whitehorse, you virtually are required to go and work up the Dempster or out on the Haines Road or some outlying area before you can be granted your level of certification to grade highways in and around Whitehorse.
Now, snow removal is probably one of the simplest of grading operations, and I don't expect the minister to understand fully the equipment side of it but she can consult with her officials. It's one of the simplest of grading operations and techniques, but there's a double standard that has been created in the department of C&TS, and I really want to know why, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there is no double standard.
Mr. Jenkins: Then perhaps the minister can provide an explanation of why you can only achieve the highest level of grader operator if you work outside of Whitehorse for a period of time. Why, if you have been employed in the Whitehorse area for 10 or 12 years, you're not automatically upgraded even after successfully completing all of the requirements within C&TS? Why is it required that you go and serve a stint for training on the Dempster Highway or on the Haines Road - one of the outlying areas - before you are elevated and promoted to the highest level? I submit, Mr. Chair, that there is a double standard. It's just probably called some other different catchword now within the department.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe it's a matter of getting experience on rural roads as well as city roads - a case of getting the widest possible range of experience.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess we'll leave that, Mr. Chair. The minister of towns and trucks just doesn't understand what she has got herself into, and I'll look forward this fall to having a more thorough examination of this subject than what we've had today. I would urge the minister to take the time and understand the various roles within the department, because it is a major bone of contention with a lot of the C&TS employees. One is the length of time they're recalled for, and the other one is how they get promoted within the system, and both of these have to be fair and reasonable. And I submit, Mr. Chair, that both of these issues are extremely important, and in a large number of cases that have been brought to my attention, the personnel have not been treated reasonably or fairly, and a double standard has been created. But let's move into another area, Mr. Chair, policy planning and evaluation.
What is the total complement of engineers within this department in the planning and evaluation end of things, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there are no engineers in the policy, planning and evaluation department.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess we'll have to deal with that over in the personnel side of C&TS in highways. Is that where it would be? Is there policy, planning and evaluation specifically attached to the highways end of it?
What I'm targeting, Mr. Chair, is that we have a number of FTEs that were transferred from the federal government to C&TS. Where are they now in this maze and what are they doing?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, this dates back to 1992. The engineers the Member for Klondike is speaking of are in the transportation engineering branch. That will be discussed in the capital budget.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the last time this question was posed in this House, they were all involved in the planning and the engineering of new highways and new roads. Some of them were being seconded to the federal government or to other governments to oversee some of their projects. I just want to know where I should be looking for these individuals. We are incurring a big cost. It has been suggested that we have one engineer for about every 100 kilometres of highway in the Yukon. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, with the number of kilometres of highway that we have, the member is suggesting we have 45 engineers. I think his estimate is a little high.
Mr. Jenkins: If the truth were known, it's probably a little on the low side, Mr. Chair.
Have there been any assignments within this policy planning and evaluation for projects outside the scope of the Government of the Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, that information will be shown in the legislative return that the member has already requested.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm specifically targeting, Mr. Chair, is if there's any of the policy planning and evaluation FTEs within C&TS that are being employed or have projects that are outside the sphere of YTG?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, Mr. Chair, none in this area.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on corporate services division?
We will proceed line by line.
On Human Resources
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, currently we have quite a convoluted system for hiring in rural Yukon. Someone from Whitehorse has to come out from the department. It seems like each department has its own human resources branch.
Just how many FTEs are we spending on this process, whereas previously the re-hiring was done by the area superintendent? Because, by and large, they were the same individuals who were re-hired year after year after year, with very little exception. I'd just like to know what kind of expense we're incurring on this area, Mr. Chair, and if we're accomplishing what we set out to accomplish.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The department is using the same process as it has used for years. There are four FTEs in this area and no substantive changes.
Human Resources in the amount of $359,000 agreed to
On Finance, Systems and Administration
Finance, Systems and Administration in the amount of $830,000 agreed to
On Policy, Planning and Evaluation
Policy, Planning and Evaluation in the amount of $369,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Corporate Services Division in the amount of $1,558,000 agreed to
On Transportation Division
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Given the tremendous decrease in capital expenditures on highways in this last number of years and YTG initiatives, I take the minister at her word when she says she's going to be increasing the amount of money we spend on highway reconstruction and rebuilding. I would like to point out to the minister that the two major road-building contractors in the Yukon, Pelly and Golden Hill - given the amount of money that they have left on the table for probably the last five or six years - have been responsible and paid for more miles of highway than YTG has built in that same period of time. I'm sure the minister can concur with that statement.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I am sure the member is correct about what has occurred during the two previous administrations.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much. Could the minister just advise the House about her new game plan and initiative with respect to which highways we're going to see and what areas we're going to be improving? What's the duration of this review that's underway within C&TS and when are we going to be prioritizing it? Is there going to be any community input, or is this just an internal review, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member opposite suggests that a review is underway. That is not the case. It's the preparation of capital budgets for future years. That process is underway.
We will of course be seeking input from the communities but, as I have said before, some major work is required on our highways, considering the shape the previous two administrations have left them in.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's just go into some of the program objectives, Mr. Chair, and some of the initiatives that have taken place with the Yukon government, which deal specifically with the State of Alaska and the initiative that was signed between the then leader of the Yukon and Governor Hickel for the upgrading of the Taylor and the Top of the World highways.
The Top of the World Highway of course has been chipsealed from the U.S./Canada border to that impassable stretch at certain times of the year called the Yukon River, which must be addressed sooner or later. But the standards for highway construction on the Top of the World Highway are such that it's one of the last routes in the Yukon where weight restrictions come off in the spring. The break-up of the Top of the World Highway is showing very, very extensive signs of deteriorating. In previous questions to previous governments - same department, mind you - the answer came back that the standards that the road was constructed to were lesser standards than some of the other major roads.
Is that the case? The minister is shaking her head, no, but I submit, Mr. Chair, that it is the case. The roadbed on the Top of the World Highway is built to a considerably lower standard than any other normal Yukon highway. Which way is it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the Top of the World Highway does have a lower standard sub-base. One of the reasons is the difficulty in getting material for it. The other reason is the short season in which the road is open.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like we're working on excuses to not keep the highway open for a longer period of time. The road base is of a lesser standard than other Yukon roads. Why would the road base be built to a lesser standard there? It's not holding the chipseal as well as it should and it is deteriorating very quickly. I can tell the minister that the chipseal is probably deteriorating on the Top of the World Highway faster than any other route, not on the corners or grades where it normally deteriorates, but even on the straight, level sections. This is as a consequence of the road base not being up to an acceptable level.
Why would we, figuratively speaking, gold-plate a sow's ear, Mr. Chair? We have a nice chipseal, but it doesn't stand up. Given the level of traffic and the duration of the season that the road is open for, why couldn't we anticipate that we're going to need that highway? It could be extended for longer and longer periods of time if we upgrade it and build it initially to an acceptable standard. Why are we going substandard, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the weak areas on the Top of the World Highway have been identified and plans are being made to rectify the problem over the next few years. The lower standard sub-base is, as I said, because of the lack of availability of material. If good grade material were available, is the member perhaps suggesting we fly it in? He's looking very sceptical across the floor there. The road was reconstructed to a lower standard with a very limited budget. Failures were expected and the adverse spring weather conditions last year created more damage than expected in a normal spring. Last fall, drainage improvements were made in one short area, kilometre 74 to 76. If that proves to be effective, we will continue with that type of drainage work.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's not use the excuse that there is no material in that area. That's pure bunk. I suggest the minister just contracts with Nuway Crushing here in Whitehorse and they'd be happy to crush whatever amount of material they want. So, there's an abundance of material up there. It just has to be approached with the commonsense approach that we're going to be crushing, hauling and building a road. We're not going to do it in a half-baked manner.
Mr. Chair, in the spring of the year, the Top of the World Highway is the last route for the weight restrictions to come off. The Dempster Highway is not weight restricted nearly as long as the Top of the World, and maintenance costs per kilometre are higher overall on the Dempster Highway.
The minister just asked the deputy minister if they are, and they are, so we can move on from there.
Just where are we heading to upgrade the Dempster Highway, and is there any anticipation of chipsealing in the near future, at least on the Yukon side?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, no significant chipsealing is planned on the Dempster Highway. There is some erosion protection coming in future years' budgets.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given that after a highway is chipsealed there is a significant reduction in the O&M cost of maintaining that highway, as long as the sub-base is built to an acceptable standard - and the minister can confer with her deputy minister, but that is very much the case - can't a case be made to chipseal a good portion of the Dempster Highway, given that it would effectively reduce O&M costs?
Hon. Ms. Buckway:Mr. Chair, chipsealing the Dempster is something that has been talked about. It requires, as the member well knows, a substantial capital outlay and obviously it was not a priority of the two previous administrations.
Chair: Order please. The time being close to 4:30 p.m., do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will have a 10-minute recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate in the transportation division.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, just before the break we were discussing the chipsealing initiatives and the other area of concern is the load restrictions on the Top of the World Highway. Mr. Chair, this spring weight restrictions were on for an inordinate amount of time on the Top of the World Highway. It impacts on our community in a number of ways, Mr. Chair. Number one, the cost of fuel, both gasoline and heating oil increases by about five cents a litre, as a consequence of fuel arriving from North Pole, Alaska from the refinery there vis-à-vis coming up the Alaska Highway or coming from Skagway. The effects on our economy are quite drastic as a consequence of these weight restrictions, and given that the weight restrictions were imposed and then released or removed. Then all of a sudden, just before a weekend, bang, they were imposed again. I did go to the minister, Mr. Chair, and give the minister a heads-up and ask the minister what this was all about. That is after I spent a little bit of time on the phone trying to ascertain the reasons for it and the minister did send me over a note saying that the weight restrictions had come off that Monday morning.
As a sideline to the imposition of weight restrictions after they had been removed, it's interesting to note that immediately on the declaration that there were weight restrictions on the Top of the World Highway - and it was only for a very small section from the U.S./Canada border to the Sixtymile turnoff. It appears to be targeted strictly at the fuel trucks. It's interesting that the YTG sent their enforcement officials up to the border, and they were camped out there immediately upon the imposition of these weight restrictions.
Now, all of the loaded trucks, Mr. Chair, come in from Alaska. They go back empty, but, even returning empty, they have to be scaled now in Dawson. I would like the minister to tell me the rationale for imposing this restriction on trucks returning empty. They're fuel trucks; they're going back empty. Why do they have to be scaled before they go and cross the ferry and take the Top of the World Highway, even though they're empty, Mr. Chair? There's considerable cost associated with this exercise. There's considerable time involved for the trucking industry.
And to make a statement that time is money is, in fact, an understatement, Mr. Chair.
Those are some of the issues that the trucking industry has faced, and it doesn't appear that the department is playing fair ball. They have the right to impose weight restrictions at any time, but in this case, Mr. Chair, there was no justification whatsoever for weight restrictions on the Canadian side of the border. And I'm sure, when the minister stands up and reads her briefing note into the record, she will admit that there was no justification.
It was a request originating from Alaska, from the division of transportation, with respect to a very small section of the Taylor Highway that had washed out that they had thrown minimum resources at to open and get back on track. As a consequence of that washout, Dawson was faced without a road link into Alaska for some three days. Speaking with some of the people who were in attendance at the repair site in Alaska, the enthusiasm up the chain of command was very minimal to address the repair work necessary in that area, and that also was brought to the minister's attention, Mr. Chair.
I would like to know, upon hearing of this road closure, who the minister contacted in the State of Alaska? What kinds of initiatives or thrusts were made by the minister to ensure that this major transportation highway was reopened at the earliest opportunity and what additional resources did the minister request that the State of Alaska throw at the road closure?
Now road closures happen on all of our major highways from time to time. We have had road closures along the Alaska Highway. In fact, at that time, the traffic was subsequently routed up the Klondike Highway to Dawson and across the ferry. I'm not going to thank the minister of the day for having closed the Alaska Highway - the north Alaska Highway - but if it does happen again we would very much appreciate the opportunity for that additional amount of traffic, Mr. Chair. It would provide a boom to our economy in the Klondike, which this year is suffering tremendously as a consequence of the inability of the current Government of Yukon to address their responsibilities and get the economy back on track - get the mining going, get the mining exploration up and at least see some oil and gas exploration in the Eagle Plains area.
It would appear that virtually everything has come to a rapid standstill under this government. We did have some oil and gas activity, but the opponents of that activity up in the Eagle Plains area have mothballed everything. They did so early this year in February and shut it down. So, what we're left with is very little going on. Anything that this minister can do to close the Alaska Highway and route the traffic up through our area would be greatly appreciated.
I take the minister back to the issue surrounding the road closure on the Top of the World Highway. I'd like the minister to confirm that, after the initial weight restrictions were lifted, the subsequent imposition of those weight restrictions on the Top of the World Highway were done not because of highway conditions in Canada or in Yukon, Mr. Chair, but totally at the request of the State of Alaska. Now, can the minister confirm that that was the case?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I wasn't sure whether the Member for Klondike was making a speech or asking a question.
As the member knows, there were numerous washouts from mile 65 to mile 90.6 on the Taylor Highway in Alaska on June 16. As a result, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities closed the Taylor Highway for two days. The highway reopened on the morning of June 18. Poor road conditions on the damaged section of the Taylor Highway in Alaska continued. They had planned road closures the week following to repair some damaged culverts and they placed a 75-percent weight restriction on the Taylor Highway to prevent further damage and to provide safer driving conditions.
The member opposite seems to think that weight restrictions are imposed frivolously and for no apparent reason; however, they are imposed to prevent damage to the road and to provide safer driving conditions for the travelling public. The State of Alaska asked the Department of Community and Transportation Services for assistance in enforcing the weight restrictions in the interest of public safety, because fully loaded trucks increase the damage on the road and therefore increase the risk of harm to travellers on that section.
So, in order to protect the safety of people using the Top of the World Highway, the Deputy Minister of Community and Transportation Services ordered a reduction in legal axle loading to 75 percent on the Top of the World Highway from kilometre 87 to the Alaska/Yukon border. That was in effect June 21, and it was lifted at 8:00 a.m. the morning of June 26.
If the member can think of a way to get a fully loaded truck over a damaged section of the road without going over it, I'd like to know about it. Perhaps he's got some helium balloons up his sleeve or something. But there's no point having fully loaded trucks on any section of that road if a section of it is under weight restriction, unless you have some way to transfer part of the load off.
And, yes, we did it as a result of Alaska asking us. I think we did the right thing. I defend the decision made by the deputy, and the issue is one of protecting the roadbed.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to thank the minister for her response, Mr. Chair. With respect to this road closure, the minister wasn't even aware of it until I brought it to her attention, and didn't even know there was a weight restriction on the Canadian side.
It begs the question as to why weight restrictions would be imposed on the Top of the World Highway from just outside - from the Sixtymile turnoff to the border - and why we would send up the enforcement people to that site immediately upon imposing those weight restrictions, when virtually 99.9 percent of the vehicles are entering Canada and are scaled at Tok on the Alaska side.
Now why did we get involved in sending up our enforcement people? That's an unprecedented undertaking at that juncture. It's the first time I've ever seen them camped out on the Top of the World Highway ever, Mr. Chair, and the issue is one of fairness. Everyone knows the truckers who are travelling that route. Everyone knows - their numbers are listed in the phonebook - I'm sure if they're contacted and told the weight restrictions, they'll accept them with tremendous reservations.
As the minister becomes more and more familiar with highway construction, reconstruction and washouts, she'll know full well that you can take a fully loaded truck through an area that is not built to the standards of current national highways here in Canada, or in the U.S., for that matter. It's done all the time. I'd suggest the minister perhaps have a look at the weights on some of the equipment servicing the oilrigs, some of the equipment that's moved on really substandard mining roads. It's not something that is done on a continuing basis, but it is done, and we are not talking a great number of movements of vehicles. We're talking about six loaded vehicles a day for the one major transportation company that services Dawson's fuel needs.
Now, that's a given, but does the minister have any idea what that 75-percent weight restriction does to the motorcoach industry? Was any consideration given to that part of the equation? Now the minister is probably going to stand up and say that it wasn't for motorcoaches, but they were advised that they were being restricted to 75 percent and that the 75 percent would be enforced upon them. As a consequence, our community lost a number of tours.
Because a lot of these tour companies originate out of the Lower 48, and the minister may or may not be aware, but there are phone numbers to call to find out road conditions. There are two numbers for Alaska, one for the northern region, and I took the time to phone them. They are an 800-number within the State of Alaska; it's a long-distance charge from outside the state, but you can find out the information quite readily, and the information that was being provided was that the weight restrictions were on, they had no timelines as to when they were coming off, there was major, major reconstruction that had to take place, and it was ill-advised to travel that highway with a motor coach.
Does the minister recognize the impact that kind of a statement has on our visitor industry in the Klondike? You know, if there were timelines provided as to when this road would be repaired, when it was going to be reopened to normal traffic, or if indeed, Mr. Chair, they would allow motorcoaches to travel through, irrespective of the weight restrictions, we would provide some certainty.
Mr. Chair, government is responsible for, really, the tripod on which you build an economy: transportation, energy and communication. I don't know if we could do the job much worse in the transportation field in my region than what is currently being done. We have a road - the Top of the World Highway, one of the main entrances into the Yukon - that may or may not be open, may or may not be weight-restricted at somebody else's request - no reason for it because of the condition of the road on the Canadian side. Can you imagine a Canadian trucker arriving at the border, having been scaled in Tok, and told he has to be scaled again because this next 15 or 20 miles is weight-restricted to 75-percent legal axle load?
I can understand why some of these truckers become unglued with the Department of Community and Transportation Services. And the buck stops at the minister's desk. I want to know what the minister is going to do about this situation? I really don't want to hear about it or see it occurring again. The other information that should come out in a forthright manner is from the agencies involved in providing that information as to the duration of the road closure - three days, five days. Or we anticipate three days, five days, two days or whatever, but not that it can go on for the rest of the summer. That's the kind of picture that was painted. That's kind of what occurred.
Yes, there were only a few tours cancelled as a consequence; one coming up in July and one coming up in August. It is not just Dawson that loses. It's the whole north that loses. Our economy is fragile enough. We do not need any of these half-baked ideas as to how to deal with a situation when requested by another government. We should have an understanding with that government as to what information they are going to give to the travelling public and it should be of prime importance that the information go out in a manner that is constructive and positive, like I provide consistently here in this Legislature.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: It's not a case of berating the government, although it's easy to berate a government for their sheer stupidity from time to time, but the bottom line is, transportation is a government domain. No one else does it, with the exception of perhaps Pelly Construction and Golden Hill. With the money they have left on the table for the last five or six years of constructing roads, they're probably responsible for building 20-odd miles of highway here in the Yukon. That, in itself, is much, much more than the Government of the Yukon has done in the last little while.
So, I want to know, Mr. Chair what steps this minister is going to take to ensure that this situation, should it occur again - and Mr. Chair, it will occur again -- has a proper procedure to follow; that information is given out in an accurate and timely manner, so as not to impede the flow of visitors to our area. What steps is this minister going to take?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member opposite kept looking at his watch. If he has someplace else to be, I wouldn't want to hold him up.
First of all, I was aware that the Government of Yukon was imposing a 75-percent legal axle loading on the section of the Top of the World Highway in question. I point out that the road report to which the member is referring is the State of Alaska road report and not the Government of Yukon road report. Generally, the duration of a road closure or a weight restriction is until we get the road fixed. It is not always possible to predict, as accurately as the member would like, when the road might reopen. As the weather conditions that had caused the problem were continuing, it was particularly difficult in this case.
The State of Alaska has recently released its plans for upgrading the Taylor Highway and when that is accomplished, it may go some way to solving the problem. We have been lobbying them to do so. In 2001, they will be doing design work for reconstruction of mile 64 - Chicken - to the border and doing surfacing and minor improvements to mile 44 to 64. That is the rebuilt section, which remains gravel.
In 2002, there will be some right-of-way work from mile 64 to 82, Chicken to Walker Fork, which is about 5 miles east of the turnoff to Eagle. In 2003, there will be reconstruction from Chicken to Walker Fork and in 2004, reconstruction from mile 82 to the border at mile 105.
Should the situation occur again, and the State of Alaska requests the help of the Government of Yukon to reduce legal axle loading, for the same reasons that they did this time, we will do the same thing again, because we have to protect the road. If the road is closed, nobody gets through to Dawson. Legal axle loading is one tool to protect the roadbed at times of breakup and at times of poor weather conditions.
I think it was the member opposite they were coming to take away. However, we did the right thing in this case, and, given the same circumstances, Mr. Chair, we would do it again.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, if I disagree with the minister, it's because her understanding of her portfolio is very minimal at this juncture, and I'm sure there's a possibility that, as time proceeds, she might get somewhat more of a handle on it. But I submit that there was an opportunity to go to the State of Alaska and ensure that the road report, as it came out from that state, was positive - that it's closed on a day-to-day basis, we anticipate a road closure of this many days' duration. That's done all the time. She might want to take it upon herself, Mr. Chair, to phone the B.C. line when they have a road closure, or the N.W.T. It comes out in a positive way.
If the minister herself were to contact Joe Perkins at the Department of Transportation - he's the Commissioner of Transportation over in Alaska - and suggest to him that, hey, if we're going to do this, we need positive information coming out on your side of it so as not to discourage the visitor industry, to not discourage transportation.
I further submit, Mr. Chair, that closing and weight restricting the Top of the World Highway from the border to the turnoff on the Sixtymile Road, which is maybe about 18 miles, does nothing for Canada. It could have been posted at the border. It could have been posted at the ferry landing. But the first time we hear about it is when we have the highway enforcement people come from Whitehorse, all the way up to the border, sitting there, ready to pounce on everyone.
Now, we have Canadian truckers who come through the scales in the U.S. The length of time that they're allowed to travel, Mr. Chair, is such that they very often sleep along the Taylor Highway to coincide their arrival time with the border opening.
The minister might want to take the time to understand the transportation industry, as to how it flows and what makes it work. She has a very influential role in ensuring that that occurs. I would encourage her to learn more about this area, because it's extremely important and can have a very positive impact on our visitor industry and our commerce, and it can have a very negative impact, depending on how the situation is handled. So, I would encourage her to take a more positive, proactive role than just accepting her briefing notes and reading them correctly and accurately into the records. We will probably move ahead a lot better.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Jenkins: Oh. I thought the minister was going to have some kind of half-baked answer to my very serious and direct question, Mr. Chair, but obviously she is going to take it under advisement.
The bridge at Dawson - last study is underway. Just where are we at with this project? In 1996, it was a major Liberal platform and campaign pledge in our area that they were going to build a bridge. In fact, they were going to impose a toll on it. This last election, there wasn't boo about any sort of a bridge at Dawson, although it did raise its head. A lot of people recognized the importance of it - the need for it - and the potential for increased commerce that it could create. Where are we at with the replacement of the George Black Ferry with a bridge at Dawson, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: A decision won't be made on the construction of a bridge in Dawson until the environmental impact studies are completed. I believe the member knows that quite well.
Mr. Jenkins: A number of studies have taken place over the past few years, even one under the previous Minister of Community and Transportation Services, the Hon. Dave Keenan. He insisted that that project move ahead. There seems to be one study that has yet to be proceeded with. The major study was the fisheries study, and it came out positive that a bridge constructed in the area that is envisioned, Mr. Chair, would improve the fish and the fish coming up the Yukon River to spawn. It would enhance their time in the river. Now, I don't know how you enhance a depleting number of fish, but that was the conclusion of the fish study, and the one last study is underway. Could the minister give us some timelines as to what we are envisioning for the completion of this last study, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there is a hydrology ice-effect study currently in progress, and I believe it is expected that that study will be completed sometime this year.
Mr. Jenkins: But there's one more study that has to be concluded. I thought that it was already finished. I guess the data was assembled, but it's just in its final stages. But there's one more study to be concluded that has just been initiated. What are the timelines for this last study, and is it indeed the last study, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, vegetation and wildlife impacts remain to be completed, and there are some socio-economic issues and public consultation that would be done in the preliminary design stage, once a decision has been made to go ahead.
Mr. Jenkins:The only flora that I'm aware of that could be classified as flora or crops over in that area are the mushrooms and the pot that grows through that area. Perhaps that's what's needed to access it - a bridge, Mr. Chair. Is that what the minister is suggesting, that this is the last study? Are we going to evaluate the economic potential of these two cash crops?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I don't know what I could have said that led the member to such a conclusion.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's move on to another double standard, Mr. Chair. Let's look at the Klondike Highway coming out of Dawson City as far out as Henderson's Corner. It's narrow, two lanes, and there are no shoulders, and it's not lit. The traffic count that was done quite a number of years ago supports its widening, it's lighting, and yet, what do we have to wait for? More people to get killed in that stretch before this government's prepared to react, like they had to react after the deaths that occurred on the access into Ross River, on that road before the 20-odd street lights were placed on that arterial road? This is a serious safety factor - very serious. The vehicle count on that section of the highway supports the widening of that route. It has been concluded that it is unsafe in its current width. Now, when is this government going to react and widen the highway and light it appropriately?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, planning for upgrading of the Klondike Highway and that area is ongoing. Street lighting and accommodation of pedestrians and cyclists is being considered as well. The planning work will identify the various options available and help in coming to a practical long-term solution. There's $50,000 in the 2000-01 budget to complete the planning and design phase.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm disappointed that it's not an initiative that we're proceeding with, Mr. Chair. I spoke with the previous minister of C&TS and I raised this issue quite extensively in the House previously, but to no avail. We have $50,000 in for a planning exercise. I was given to understand that, this year, the widening of the highway would be addressed and that lighting would be installed. Now, I don't know why the wheels have come off the cart, but unless something happens there very quickly, the potential for some litigation against the Government of the Yukon as a consequence of their negligence in not addressing their responsibility is very, very likely.
The Government of the Yukon has gone ahead and created a number of new subdivisions opposite Callison, out in the tailings piles, and the traffic increase in that area is very significant, Mr. Chair. The number of people on bicycles has increased, the number of people walking their dogs has increased, and we have a two-lane highway.
I went to the previous minister and asked for street lighting where the school children waited for the school buses in a number of locations, and those were installed. Now, why can't the department react to its own studies in a more timely fashion? It suggests to me that there is a double standard, because if this situation occurred anywhere around the periphery of Whitehorse, there'd be an immediate reaction. But as soon as you get further and further out of Whitehorse, the reaction time, the timelines when something occurs - and it doesn't matter what area - is very, very disproportionate.
Now, why is the minister creating and maintaining this double standard? Why can't she address her responsibilities head-on, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: What the member is suggesting is not true, and he knows it is not true. The wheels are off the cart because -
Chair: Order please. Order please. I would caution the members to use parliamentary language. "Not true" implies lying, so I'd ask you to withdraw it at this time.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Of course, Mr. Chair, I will withdraw the remark.
The wheels are off the cart because the member's putting the cart before the horse. It wouldn't make a great deal of sense to reconstruct the highway before the planning is complete, and I'm sure the member comprehends that. The design work and the tender preparation will be completed in 2000-01. If the work is not further advanced, as the member would wish, it is the fault of the previous administration, not the current government.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I would suggest to the minister that that is pure bunk, that she asked the minister. The design is on the shelf right now, Mr. Chair. The design for most of the upgrading and the widening of that highway has been completed. It was completed quite some time ago. I have had discussions with a number of the officials within C&TS, and I'm sure that if the minister turns to her deputy minister, the deputy minister will confirm that the design has been concluded. There might be some retouching of it or there may be some things that have to be looked at because of new access routes and things of that nature, but by and large, that design has been completed; it's on the shelf. Perhaps the tender documents are not there ready, but given the number of individuals we have in this department, I don't think it would take very long for these individuals to be tasked to complete that tender document for that initiative. All it takes is some direction from the minister, if she's capable of providing that direction to attend to this safety issue. That's what I'm asking the minister.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, as the member opposite well knows, it takes money to build roads. There is no money in the current capital budget. The design work and the tender preparation will be completed in this fiscal year.
Mr. Jenkins: The $56.2-million surplus that they were left by the previous NDP government is a considerable sum of money, Mr. Chair. A safety issue is not an excuse to hide behind "no money" - especially when there is a considerable sum of money.
One of the other double standards that I'd like to address, Mr. Chair, is the issue of right-of-way clearing along Yukon highways. Again, as you travel outside of Whitehorse, the brush clearing along the side of the highways becomes less and less of an initiative, and the foliage is not removed to the width of the rights-of-way in outlying areas to the same degree as it's removed in close proximity to Whitehorse.
Why has the minister created or allowed this double standard to occur, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there has been a reduction in the amount of funding in the O&M budget, and some of those things that C&TS normally would have done, like brush clearing, is not being carried out. It is due to lack of funding.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the minister does agree with me that there is a lack of brush clearing along the right-of-ways for the principal highways of the Yukon and, as you move outside of Whitehorse, it increases in intensity. Again, it's a safety issue and again it's a double standard. Why is this minister allowing this to continue? We're looking at a ballpark of anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 a running kilometre to remove all the vegetation. And that's when it's 10-, 12-, 14-, 16-feet high, which takes some five, six or 10 years to grow.
In all of your other jurisdictions, Mr. Chair, they just go out with a grass clipper on the side of a piece of equipment to cut it down. We don't do anything until the trees are about 15-feet or 20-feet high, and then we have a major, major cost that we incur on reopening the right-of-way again. In a lot of cases, it's impeding the signs on the side of the highway, both traffic signs and information signs. Now, why is this minister allowing this double standard to continue?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, while I will agree with the member that budgets have been cut, I will not agree with the member that there is a double standard. The O&M budget has shrunk in recent years and some of the things that the department used to do, it has been unable to do. The location of a particular road in the territory is not an issue. The member would have you believe there is a double standard, but in fact there is not. Trees grow.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the next thing we are going to hear from the minister is that trees grow faster in the Klondike than they do along the south Klondike Highway or something to that effect. I urge the minister, Mr. Chair, when she has a few days to travel in any direction out of Whitehorse, to notice the vegetation on the side of the highway. As you get further and further from Whitehorse, there is more and more vegetation. In fact, in some places it is actually encroaching on to the highway right-of-way. If you are driving a larger piece of equipment -- a van - you will actually brush against the trees in a few places on the north Klondike Highway.
Now, in my opinion and in the opinion of the people who brought it to my attention, and as one who travels these highways on a consistent basis - I took the time to have a look at what was done in various areas. The minister is not in a position to say that there is not a double standard, because there certainly is a double standard, Mr. Chair. There is one standard for clearing highway right-of-way in and around Whitehorse and, as you get further and further out of Whitehorse, there is another standard - just let it grow, don't do anything. Now the minister is charged with safety issues. There are a lot of safety issues that come to light with respect to the clearing of the foliage on the side of the highways and the last being, Mr. Chair, line of sight and wildlife, and they are very important in critical situations.
Now, when is this minister going to take her responsibilities seriously and address these safety issues? Because they are very much a safety issue. Is the minister being negligent in addressing her responsibilities? Is that the case, Mr. Chair? Or is she going to deal with the safety issues along Yukon highways?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I hear the member opposite accusing me of negligence. That doesn't sound terribly parliamentary.
Where the highways have been reconstructed, the brush has been cleared right to the edge of the right-of-way, and that has happened in the areas where highways have been reconstructed. In other areas it has not. There was some brush-clearing done recently in the Pelly Crossing area. Perhaps the member notices that as he zips by on his way to and from Dawson.
Again, the O&M budget has been cut in recent years, and we have been unable to carry out all the work we like to do.
Mr. Chair, the time being close to 5:30 p.m., I move that you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by the Minister of Community and Transportation Services that progress be reported on Bill No. 2. Are we agreed?
Some Hon. Member: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Chair: The ayes have it.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has discussed Bill No. 2, First Appropriation Act, 2000-01, and has instructed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:29 p.m.