Tuesday, November 7, 2000 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Netro: It is my pleasure today to introduce to you our chief from Vuntut Gwitchin, Chief Joe Linklater. Please help me make him welcome.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have for tabling the Motor Transport Board annual report, 1999-2000, and two legislative returns.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling a review of the Yukon alcohol and drug services final report, September 18, 2000.
Speaker: Any further documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. Jim: I have for tabling the government contracting summary report.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Tucker: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes that:
(1) the government continues to be actively involved in the addressing of climate change issues;
(2) the government recognizes that climate change will particularly impact those Yukoners who rely on traditional lifestyles;
(3) potential threats to the environment include melting permafrost, habitat loss, potential extinction of plant and animal species, and potentially longer and more severe fire seasons; and
THAT this House recognizes that the Yukon Government has been given the highest possible grade by the Energy Efficiency Alliance due to the extensive energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction programs it has implemented; and
THAT this House urges all Yukoners to participate with the Yukon Government in continuing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Review of alcohol and drug services
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, earlier today I tabled the Review of Yukon Alcohol and Drug Services, a report on the current Yukon alcohol and drug services, by the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission.
I would like to ask for the indulgence of all members of the Legislature in addressing this new policy initiative, because alcohol and drug addictions is of vital importance to Yukoners, and this ministerial statement is somewhat longer than most.
My government made a public commitment to create an independent alcohol and drug abuse commission to be the sole agency responsible for funding alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment throughout the Yukon; however, we wanted an independent review before we made any final decisions.
As we suspected, Mr. Speaker, the report concludes that while people appreciate the services currently being provided and the dedication of the staff, alcohol and drug services branch needs to be enhanced to better serve Yukoners who require treatment for addictions.
The review supports the government's new policy to separate service delivery from direct government involvement, and has recommended a less costly and more effective approach than a full commission.
It recommends the establishment of a secretariat, headed by a chief executive officer, who would report directly to the Minister of Health and Social Services.
This government supports and is ready to take action on this policy direction. The secretariat is something slightly less than a full commission, in that it does not incorporate use of a board of directors to oversee the operations of the staff.
The review concludes that establishing a board with sufficient expertise, commitment, and no conflicts of interest may not be practical in the Yukon, given our small population. Rather, the review recommends a panel of professional and technical experts be available to support and advise the CEO on an as-needed basis.
Mr. Speaker, we will shortly begin the search for a chief executive officer who can lead alcohol and drug services into a new era.
The report sets out a plan for a more comprehensive and enhanced alcohol and drug service than has ever been available in the Yukon. This also addresses one of our top seven priorities: addressing alcohol and drug addictions.
There are more than 25 recommendations contained in this report. The majority of these are operational in nature, and many talk about continuing work that is already underway.
The report recognizes the work ADS does to train allied professionals and in the area of prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome. It supports the continuation of work in those areas.
Much of the report's focus is on the need for increased services and increased staffing. It recommends an ongoing adult day program with residential support, with a continuous admission rather than what has been used in the past. It also suggests that this be offered in communities through a mobile treatment program and that outreach workers be hired to work with the national native alcohol and drug abuse program.
The report also talks about a residential adolescent treatment program with a strong family component. Another important recommendation of the review document is partnership, something that I, as minister, strongly support. All of these recommendations will be carefully considered by the CEO and a full implementation plan developed that will be brought forward to Cabinet for approval.
The problems caused by alcohol and drug addictions are shared problems and the solution must be shared too. As well as maintaining the working relationships we already have in place, such as the fetal alcohol working group, we need to expand that circle. We need to partner with Yukon College to ensure that graduating social workers are knowledgeable in what we believe is a new beginning in a higher profile and a new direction of alcohol and drug services, which will be welcomed by Yukoners.
The secretariat will create a larger, more significant presence within the community. I believe this approach responds to demands more effectively and provides a much-needed fresh start. Any new money required will be well-spent.
Mr. Speaker, I am confident that a new era is dawning, both for alcohol and drug services in the Yukon and for those who need the services. As we move toward this new structure, recognizing that change does not happen overnight, I must stress that every effort will be made to ensure clients are not inconvenienced during the transition period.
Mr. Speaker, as the first government that is willing to really tackle this problem head-on, I think it's very important that we do this. I have also been in touch with the First Nations. They want to share the same goals and objectives with us. We will work with other service providers to ensure that we're working together.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the creation of an alcohol and drug services secretariat responds realistically to an important government commitment. The reviewer spoke to more than 80 stakeholders, including the staff, First Nations and community agencies. I think it's very important that I met with the Grand Chief, Mr. Ed Schultz, to discuss this matter. Mr. Schultz would like to work with us and all First Nations, so that we can build a better program for the future.
Mr. Fentie: I rise today in response to the ministerial statement.
First, let me say that we in the official opposition truly support the need for us to address alcohol and drug addictions in this territory. It is indeed of vital importance to all Yukoners, and it is incumbent upon all of us to try and deal with this affliction that is in our society.
However, I must also say that we have now finally seen from the members opposite a ministerial statement that reflects policy, but that policy brings to mind a number of questions. It's evident that the policy, contrary to the Liberal government's commitment of consultation, is indeed void of that. And I say that, Mr. Speaker, because, if the minister had consulted with his colleague, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, he would have realized at that point that contracting out services - government services, public services - are in violation of the collective agreement. This statement is obviously a statement of the Liberal government's policy to contract out public services.
Mr. Speaker, furthermore, the establishment of a secretariat and the need for a chief executive officer, when we look at the collective agreement, means that this must be a deputy minister. Now, this government across the floor has shown a great propensity to partisan appointments, and Yukoners are very concerned that creation of this position is merely another attempt to find a way to reward a Liberal operative.
Mr. Speaker, further to that, it's important to realize that consultations in this territory mean more than a private, outside agency discussing an issue with stakeholders.
Real consultations must take place on this. Whom did the minister consult on making this move away from the establishment of a commission to a contracted-out service called the secretariat?
Mr. Speaker, it also brings this question: what is next? If government policy here today, as has been stated by the minister, is to contract out public services, what in the public service is next?
Mr. Speaker, it's evident that when this government states that it is a government that does what it says it will do, Yukoners did not realize that that meant, this is a take-it-or-leave-it government.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party, I wish to respond to this ministerial statement. Alcohol and drug abuse is one of Yukon's major problems. Yukon's alcohol and drug abuse problem is likely to increase as the Yukon's economic situation deteriorates. This ministerial statement raises more questions than it answers.
Now, the Liberal election platform made a commitment to create an independent agency to be the sole agency responsible for funding alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment throughout the Yukon. Now, that was the Liberal election pledge.
Now, I wasn't extended the courtesy of receiving a copy of the report in advance, to review its more than 25 recommendations, but I gather from the minister's statement that an independent commission with its own board of directors simply isn't practical; it will not work here in the Yukon. It took the Liberal government six months to recognize their idea wasn't going to work.
It's against the collective bargaining agreement to start; it is against the law, Mr. Speaker. What we have instead is a transformation of a branch of government - the alcohol and drug services branch - into an alcohol and drug services secretariat, with a CEO and professional staff. I do trust, Mr. Speaker, this CEO position will not be used to create yet another patronage appointment.
Happy day, Mr. Speaker; all our alcohol and drug problems are solved now. I don't believe that, and I don't believe anyone here in the Yukon believes that. Whether the minister sets up a commission, a secretariat, or retains the branch, is not the central issue. The central issue is the programs and services the government will provide. The vehicle to deliver the service is not the issue.
I'm not sure that the report is advocating the reinstatement of the Crossroads residential treatment centre, but that's another issue. The report talks about the ongoing adult day program with residential support and with a continuous admission. Is it the intention to replace the previous Crossroads program? Perhaps the minister can clarify that ambiguity in his response.
Now, the Yukon Party proposed a five-step action plan to deal with fetal alcohol syndrome and effects. The plan featured prevention programs to reduce alcohol consumption by high-risk parents, early diagnosis of FAS/FAE, professional counselling, and a wide range of services to provide a stable home environment for victims of FAS/FAE, the creation of a team of professionals to deal with FAS/FAE, both at home and in schools, as well as a study to determine if special group homes for adults afflicted with FAS/FAE should be set up. That was the Yukon Party and that's what it was going to do.
There is only a passing reference in this ministerial statement to FAS/FAE about trained professionals, and little else to tell Yukoners what this government is going to do about the most serious consequence of alcohol and drug abuse. The minister makes the claim that creating a drug and alcohol secretariat rather than calling it a branch of government is giving alcohol and drug abuse a higher profile. You be the judge, Mr. Speaker. This is nothing but window dressing.
Last but not least, I'd like the minister to advise the House what is going to happen to the current ADS staff. Are they going to be offered positions in the new secretariat, or laid off? What will this new secretariat cost to implement and to operate?
In closing, this ministerial statement effectively means it has taken this rookie minister, who is prone to making mistakes, six months to discover that his commission idea wasn't going to work. This is delaying the solution to dealing with Yukon's major alcohol and drug abuse program by at least a year or more while this Liberal government tries to get up to speed.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Thank you for those observations. True to form, Mr. Speaker, the opposition, on the surface say, "What a wonderful program but let's not do anything different." Let's just continue what we haven't done or what we're trying to do. Of course, fear-mongering is one of their main cues. They love to fear-monger among the populace of the Yukon.
Number one, in response to the Member for Watson Lake, this is not taking another approach toward separating a contract. This is not a contract-type situation. This is going to be part of government. What we have done is remove it from the umbrella of the Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services. It's going to be a stand-alone secretariat directly under the minister. I think that is quite significant, Mr. Speaker.
The only point that we have made, as far as making a direction - at least to find out where we have to go - is to approve the fact that we need to separate it from where it is now. We are going to use our chief executive officer, whomever he or she may be, to actually get out and consult.
The report is now available. We want the information to go out to the communities and we want the communities to respond. We haven't got all the answers at this point, Mr. Speaker. We are going to be consulting. We are expecting to do that in a very short term. We are not going to be spending a long time doing this. We want to ensure that it reflects what communities and what Yukon needs.
There are some programs in place now that work very well. We know that they are not connected. The whole objective, Mr. Speaker, is to connect all the programs so that we have sort of a seamless sheet so we know where to start and where it will end.
The Member for Watson Lake talks about patronage. Mr. Speaker, I don't know how to underline the patronage. They wrote the book on patronage. We could give you books of patronage appointments that they made under their leadership. We admit that we made one appointment and it was well made. We have no problems with that.
We can't forget it. We admit, Mr. Speaker, what we have. We went for quality, and that's what we have.
This is a government program. This is not contracted out. The Member for Klondike said something to the effect of, "What happens to the employees who are currently there?" Mr. Speaker, the employees will continue to work for alcohol and drug services. They will continue to work for the new concept. Mr. Speaker, there is no disruption to their pattern or security.
What this fear-mongering does, again, is to seed among the employees that somehow we are going to disjoint them and start all over. No, we take what is there, what is working and what is well, and we build on that.
Mr. Speaker, we've talked about Crossroads. That was a model that was in place at one time. It worked. It will be incorporated in one shape or form in the new direction, I would hope. But I don't want to prejudge what is going to come out of the consultation parts of it.
Also, on FAS/FAE, there was a mention that we have not responded to it or talked about it. Today, the caucus met with the FASSY group and also with the department to discuss all the FAS/FAE programming in the territory. They will be integral in our future and in the direction of where we want to go with alcohol and drug development.
I think another question that was asked was about the current cost. Right now, we're going to be looking for a CEO, so that could be around $80,000 or $100,000.
Speaker: Order please. The minister has 30 seconds to conclude.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I appreciate the comments. Hopefully, they will be part of the solution in the future and will contribute to a better model for all Yukoners.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Physicians, recruitment and retention
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Health and Social Services, and it is regarding the shortage of doctors in the territory.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Medical Association met over the weekend, and the one serious concern that they had identified was the shortage of doctors and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining doctors in the north.
Now, Mr. Speaker, in the election platform, it's all about the Future - let me quote directly - it says, "work directly with our communities to ensure that each community is staffed with adequate numbers of doctors and nurse practitioners" - another example of campaigning from the left and ruling from the right. What specific steps are this Health minister and the department taking to address this serious issue of physician recruitment and retention in the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Mr. Roberts:I do agree with the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes that there is a problem in Canada with the recruitment of health professionals. There is a problem with recruitment of doctors in many jurisdictions in Canada. We are working very hard at this point trying to ensure that we work with our partners in building a surety that doctors will come north because of, number one, lifestyle; number two, because we attract them and they want to stay here because of the monetary advantages that we give them; and number three, because communities have made them welcome and equal partners in the delivery of health services in the Yukon.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, that just doesn't cut it. In July, the Minister of Health and Social Services said, "...ensure our health care professionals were treated with the highest degree of respect." He went on to say that the communities needed to make sure that doctors were appreciated in order to keep them. The YMA has provided options, so beyond respect and beyond appreciation, what incentives - I will repeat, what incentives - are being offered to the health care professionals, including the doctors, to keep them and encourage them to work in the communities?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: There are many incentives, Mr. Speaker. Number one is that the rates, the per diem rate, is 25 to 50 percent higher in the Yukon than most jurisdictions in Canada. That's one incentive.
We have a professional development program for doctors that is very lucrative, and it's very positive in trying to maintain their skills. That's also another incentive.
We also have, Mr. Speaker, situations whereby we have contract doctors in two of our communities, and these doctors are provided with a number of incentives, like free housing or reasonable housing.
Mr. Speaker, I can just go on and on about some of the incentives. But we're not there, Mr. Speaker. At the current moment, we are sitting down with the YMA. They are submitting their ideas; we have our ideas. These ideas will be coming to Cabinet and caucus, and we will be moving forward.
We are continuing to work on it, but we're not there yet.
Mr. Keenan: I'll say you're not there yet, Mr. Speaker - the government's not there - because the doctors are leaving the territory.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to bring to the attention of the minister that Rome is burning, and that the emperor's doing nothing but adjusting the bowstring and playing the fiddle. That is all that is happening.
Now, the member opposite is absolutely right, that this is not just a Yukon concern. It's a Canadian concern, and it's a world concern. But we're in competition with the United States, as well as the rest of Canada.
Now, the government has offered signing bonuses to our educators. The nurses had their salaries upgraded, according to this minister. What is this government prepared to do for the doctors to ensure that Yukoners have access to adequate health care services - and please, not just needless repetition, not just needless repetition.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The problem, Mr. Speaker, with repetition is that I give the same answer because the opposition doesn't want to hear the answer. They want to hear something else, that we're not doing anything. But we are doing a lot.
As a matter of fact, in the paper of yesterday, the YMA president made a comment here. It's apparent, she said, that the previous NDP government was reluctant to tackle the issue of recruitment and retention. I mean, we're doing so much in six months. They didn't do anything in four years.
So it's important, Mr. Speaker, that the member opposite understands that we still have one of the lowest patient/doctor ratios in the country, one doctor to 700 patients. That's one of the lowest. The average in Canada is 1,200. We're not resting on that. We know we have to work hard. We know we have to continue to build, but it's not going to be done overnight. It's going to take some dollars, and I'm sure that when they hear how much it's going to take to do it, they're just going to be crying because, my gosh, how can you spend all that money on the doctors? So, on one day they're on this side, and on the next day they're on the other side, Mr. Speaker. But you can't have it either way.
We carry on doing our homework, being practical, and using common sense. That's what this side is all about.
Question re: Physicians, recruitment and retention
Mr. Fentie: My question is also for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, the minister can stand on his feet and blame the NDP, the former government, all he wants. It's the Liberals who are the government here today in the Yukon, and there are definitely some changes.
On June 15, the Minister of Health and Social Services stood in this House - and this is where the minister has a credibility problem - and stated that there would be no cuts in health care. The realities are, Mr. Speaker, in the community of Watson Lake, in the last few months, we have had no delivery of home care services; we have had no respite care.
Can the minister get on his feet today and explain that contradiction?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Once again, the member opposite likes to inflame any issue. To say that there's no home care at all is a very blatant statement. Mr. Speaker, there is home care going on in all communities, in one shape or form. It may not be the quality that the speaker opposite wants. There may be some changes in staffing, but home care is still there. I am not sure where the Member for Watson Lake is coming from.
All of a sudden, he doesn't know what's going on in his own community. I think, Mr. Speaker, that he should check the facts.
Mr. Fentie: Well, let's deal with the facts. The facts are that there has been no home care nurse in Watson Lake for the better part of two and a half months. It's just recently that that minister's department have finally posted the job of a home care nurse in the community.
Furthermore, this is not fear-mongering. This is people in a community who are deeply concerned. This is proof positive that the government across the floor is nothing more than a cold-hearted government.
Now two doctors have left the community of Watson Lake. That, again, is a decrease in the delivery of health care. Will the minister undertake to go to Watson Lake immediately and address that community's health care services?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is always fear-mongering. That seems to be the way that some people like to operate.
I have no problem with going to any community. The problem I have is that the instant, magical surfacing of doctors isn't going to happen just because I go to Watson Lake. Just to put it into perspective: in Watson Lake, we have a doctor who is in private practice. That doctor recruits his own people. The department doesn't recruit doctors for Watson Lake, just as it doesn't recruit doctors for Dawson. These doctors are in private practice.
That would mean interfering with their work. So, to blame the government and say that we have not recruited, that is false.
Speaker: Order please. I remind the member not to refer to falsehoods in the House.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'll withdraw that Mr. Speaker.
The important part here is the fact that there are different situations in the territory, and each one is unique and each one has to be treated that way. We don't want to interfere and step on toes when people are in private practice.
Mr. Fentie: Well, thank God that we have a doctor in Watson Lake who has taken it upon himself to recruit his own doctors, because if we waited for this minister to do so, we wouldn't have any health care. The doctor in Watson Lake has given 23 long years of service to that community, and I think this minister would be well-served if he looked at those facts instead of this political rhetoric we're hearing across the floor.
This government committed to no cuts in health care services. Today in the community of Watson Lake, it is a fact that services have been decreased. Why is that the case? Will the minister explain to the people of Watson Lake why the delivery of their health care has been decreased under this government's watch?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Once again, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Watson Lake constantly, constantly fear-mongers. I think the Member for Watson Lake believes that that's the way you get attention.
The point is that doctors who are in private practice recruit their own replacements or added support. We don't interfere in the private sector, and the services that the doctor in Watson Lake has contributed to that community are much appreciated. That is remarkable that he has stayed there for 23 years, and that person needs to be applauded for his dedication and commitment to his work.
We understand the fact that there is a problem. We are trying to work on it, but we're not going to step on the private sector's toes in trying to ensure that there are more doctors there. That has to happen from those individuals. Those individuals have to make those decisions. What we can do is work with them in partnership in trying to build a better package. We can work with them in trying to attract prospective people to the Yukon, but as far as hiring doctors for these private practices, we can't do that. We don't do that here in Whitehorse, and we don't do that in Dawson. That is the prerogative of those doctors in those communities. So to blame the government, as the Member for Watson Lake is saying, for not hiring more doctors, that's impossible.
Question re: Physicians, recruitment and retention
Mr. Jenkins: Same minister, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health, responsible for creating a two-tiered health care system in Yukon: one for Whitehorse and one for rural Yukon.
The two-tiered system has become so apparent that the minister believes it's wrong for him to attend health summits if they're held in rural communities. He won't go to Ross River; he won't go to Haines Junction. While the doctor situation in Whitehorse is not good, the situation in rural Yukon is much worse, where Yukoners in communities such as Watson Lake and Dawson will soon have to rely on the services of one doctor.
The federal government actively went out and recruited doctors to come to these communities. With the transfer of health to the Government of the Yukon, nothing was supposed to change. We've learned now that a lot has changed. This government won't honour the commitments that were transferred to it.
When is this government going to come up with a concrete policy of attracting and retaining health care professionals for Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, I'm going to have to correct the Member for Klondike. The health summits were not for city folk. They were for rural people, and, Mr. Speaker, I asked to go to them, and they felt that no, these were for rural people. And so I responded to that in a professional way. I did not want to impose or interfere, and that is the reason why I didn't go to the health summits, not because I didn't want to. It's because they felt that that's how they wanted to conduct those health summits.
And, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike is also one of those politicians who likes to inflame and make all kinds of innuendoes and accusations. My understanding, Mr. Speaker, is that when you're in private practice, whether you own a hotel or whether you are a doctor in private practice, the government doesn't go around trying to hire people for either working in your hotel or for your practice. That is up to those people in the private practice.
And so I'm just miffed here as to why we should be suddenly be out hiring doctors, when the understanding is that if you're in private practice, that is the obligation of those people in those particular situations. If we were to interfere, there would be great concern about government interference. So, Mr. Speaker, no, we're not hiring doctors for positions that are already in place. That's up to those people.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister is absolutely wrong. When the federal government controlled the delivery of health care in the Yukon, they had a policy to attract and retain health care professionals, including doctors in rural Yukon - including doctors to the community where I reside. I am very familiar with the situation and how it worked under the federal government.
When the transfer of health care went from the federal government to the Government of Yukon, nothing was supposed to change. What we're seeing is that, under this Liberal government - this NDP-clone government - we have a change in policy. They are not getting involved in this area. When is this government going to come up with a policy to attract and retain health care professionals for Yukon, and, specifically, rural Yukon? But more importantly, all Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, we have changed nothing. We are following the same principles and policies that have been in place since the transfer took place. So, I'm not sure where the Member for Klondike is getting his information.
Now, if those things were changed during the transfer, that could have been. Maybe, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike is not up to speed on what took place during those times. At this point in time, when you are in private practice, you do your own recruiting.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, once again, the minister is absolutely wrong. He doesn't even understand the fundamentals of his portfolio. I am appalled.
What this government has is no policy to attract and retain health care professionals. The Yukon has opted for the more expensive medevac route. It is now costing millions of dollars and that cost is going through the ceiling. We are medevacing people into Whitehorse at an alarming rate, and they are medevacing themselves. When is this government going to come up with a policy to attract and retain health care professionals for rural Yukon and Yukon? When are they going to do this?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike is appalled. I'm shocked that the Member for Klondike does not know what the procedure is when you're in private practice. I'm really shocked that we should be interfering, as a government.
Just to correct some of the allegations made by the Member for Klondike, and this is on medical evacuations - the Member for Klondike constantly says that the medical evacuations from Dawson are up. From April of this year to August of this year, there were 88 evacuations from Dawson. From April of 1999 to August of 1999, there were 133 evacuations from Dawson. So, there is a difference there, Mr. Speaker. The member opposite constantly talks about there being a great increase from Dawson. Well, the facts speak for themselves. There has not been.
To answer the question of the Member for Klondike, I have said on many occasions, as often as I can, that there is a Cabinet submission now in process, in draft form, that is going to be submitted. It will be part of the whole strategy of enticing, promoting, developing and trying to build for the realities of the future.
Question re: Executive Council Office, service contracts
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Premier on her government's policy regarding service contracts, particularly within the Executive Council Office.
The government's contract registry lists two contracts through the Executive Council Office to James Almstrom. There is one for $14,325 to J.E. Almstrom, Professional Corporation, for transition coordination services between April 18 and July 31. There is another for $60,000 to James E. Almstrom, Professional Corporation, and that's for Cabinet support services between May 6 and July 19.
Could the Premier tell the House what Mr. Almstrom's duties were under these two overlapping contracts, which are both sole sourced, and will she provide copies of those contracts?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker. I can advise the member opposite that James E. Almstrom is very well-known to this Legislature and to Yukoners. He was, as the member may have forgotten, involved in drafting the Elections Act, and has been involved in drafting numerous pieces of Yukon legislation. He is a former Yukoner, who is returning to the territory.
Mr. Almstrom provided advice to us during the transition period, as the member opposite has noted in the first contract. The subsequent contract is certainly well within the guidelines when one is requesting and seeking legal services. I will be pleased to provide the member opposite with copies of the contracts, provided that it is within the guidelines.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, according to the B.C./Yukon Law Society, Mr. Almstrom is considered a non-resident of Yukon, although he is qualified to provide legal advice to the territory. Perhaps the minister can shed some light as to whether Mr. Almstrom is a resident of the territory or perhaps another country.
Is Mr. Almstrom still doing work for the Executive Council Office and, if so, would the Premier tell us what his current duties are? Will she also provide copies of the relevant contract or contracts?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I'm not in the habit of getting into the details of one's personal life on the floor of the Legislature. For the member opposite's information, it is public knowledge that Mr. Almstrom's mother is still resident in the territory. Mr. Almstrom is also in the process of returning to the territory and is satisfying some other personal requirements.
He is currently working with the Department of Justice. If there is additional information and subsequent contracts, as I've stated earlier to the member, I will be pleased to provide them.
Mr. Fairclough: The contract registry lists a third sole-sourced contract to James E. Almstrom, running from July 20, 2000, to July 20, 2000. That was worth $60,000. It is interesting that this contract is not with Executive Council Office, but with Justice. It's for legal advice on various departments.
Taken together, these three sole-sourced contracts were worth $134,000. That's not bad, for a little more than three month's worth of work. But they do raise the question as to whether the government is buying legal advice or political advice from this consultant.
Will the Premier advise the House if there have been any new contracts with Mr. Almstrom or his professional corporation since July 20 or any change orders in any of the contracts listed in the contract registry?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, for the third time, I would provide in writing copies of any contracts for the members opposite. I have stated that in response to earlier questions.
For the member's information, the member ought to know from his former colleague, the former Minister of Justice, that the Yukon legislation has not been updated in years and years and years. There has not been a consolidation of statutes.
The member opposite, in his first session, rammed through a bill regarding animal protection, when the members of the opposition - both parties - asked for one omnibus bill to deal with this old legislation.
Mr. Almstrom is one of the finest legislative drafts people. Ask any member of any former Legislature, or the Department of Justice. Mr. Almstrom is a very good legislative draftsman. We have contracted him for his expertise, and I've already stated to the member opposite that we'll provide copies of that contract. We have contracted Mr. Almstrom for his legislative legal expertise.
Question re: Beringia Interpretive Centre, purchase of gift shop
Mr. McRobb: I have a question for the Minister of Tourism on the contract buyout involving the Beringia Centre gift shop.
The contract between the department and Mike's North committed the government to paying all substantiated contractor's costs for suppliers listings, for those items approved under the product-review approval process.
In her letter yesterday, the minister said that the corporate services branch had conducted a thorough financial review. Yet the minister has been reported in the media as admitting that there was no third party review.
Given the sensitive nature of these negotiations, does the minister not think that an independent third party review would have been a good idea?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, here we go again.
The member is making comments about my position in the paper and is, as usual, taking comments out of context. Why don't we just get to it? Why don't we just get to it, Mr. Speaker? The member opposite has allegations. Let's bring them out. But let's talk about the ruling from yesterday. This is the ruling from the Speaker, and I'll read the sections that are applicable: "If members desire an investigation into the conduct of a member, they have two avenues open to them. First, they may lodge a complaint with the Conflicts Commissioner... the second way in which members may pursue an investigation into the conduct of a member is to bring to the House a substantive motion containing the charge they are making and offering a proposal for dealing with it."
Simple justice requires that no hon. member should have to submit to investigation of his conduct by the House or a committee until he has been charged with an offence. Those are the avenues that are open to the member opposite. Mr. Hughes is going to be here on Monday. Maybe he can just wait and do it then.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, those remarks are condescending and not representative of an open or accountable government.
Yukon people want to know, and they deserve to know, exactly what the government got for this $68,000 buyout. As taxpayers, they want to know if they got their money's worth. The minister has offered to provide more documentation for us, which we hope will be forthcoming soon.
Will the minister provide full details of the contractor's original costs for all inventory and equipment subsequently purchased by the government, as well as any documentation of the actual book value of this material at the time the government bought these items?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, here we go again. The member opposite asked for this information seven times yesterday, and seven times I said he would have the information. If he's saying now that apparently this is different information, other levels of minutia or detail that have absolutely nothing to do with the issue, but if he wants that information I would be happy to provide it to him. We're open and accountable. The member keeps asking for tiny, tiny details. I keep saying that we will provide them, and that will be continuing.
Once again, if the member has an allegation to make, let's hear it. The ruling from the Speaker yesterday was quite clear. There is a way to do that. The member is aware of that. He has been reminded of it again recently. I'd be happy to hear that allegation at least coming out into the open, as opposed to pussy-footing around it every day in this way.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, again condescending and not representative of an open and accountable government.
The minister has also been quoted as saying the cost of the materials the government purchased was a joint evaluation done by a representative from the department and the operator. Will the minister tell the House when that joint evaluation process began, who initiated the process, and who the representatives of both sides of the contract were?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Once again, Mr. Speaker, as I have stood on my feet every day and said, I will be happy to provide that information to the member opposite.
You know, the member has to be aware that the level of detail now is getting extreme; however, I will be happy to provide that information. I certainly have been very open with the member opposite and have been very accommodating of his requests. I will be happy to provide that information but, once again, the member seems to be making allegations about the Speaker now, and that somehow the Speaker's ruling is somehow condescending.
The member opposite needs to be aware that there are avenues open to him. If he has a question about the behaviour of one of the members of this Legislature, there are ways that he can broach that subject with people in this House. There are ways and means available to him to do just that.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of government private members' business
Ms. Tucker: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the government private members to be called on Wednesday, November 8, 2000. It is Motion No. 9, standing in the name of the Member for Riverside.
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: Good afternoon. 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. 32 - Municipal Loans Act - continued
Chair: We will continue with general debate on Bill No. 32. Ms. Duncan has the floor, as Mrs. Edelman adjourned debate last night.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: As you have noted in your opening remarks, Mrs. Edelman dealt with the general debate yesterday in Committee of the Whole. I have had an opportunity to review the Hansard, the Blues, from yesterday and review the questions that were put to Mrs. Edelman in my absence in general debate. Those questions were very well-answered, and I understand that there was a commitment for a document regarding the loans. The Member for Klondike asked if the minister could advise the House of the longest period of amortization of any of the loans currently on the books, and that information was provided to the Member for Klondike, and I'll ensure that a copy is sent to the interim leader of the opposition as well.
I am prepared to answer any additional questions in general debate on this legislation.
Mr. Jenkins: The issue surrounding the Municipal Loans Act, which increases the amount of funding left for municipalities to borrow, increasing it from $5 million to $15 million, is a very serious issue, Mr. Chair.
There are several municipalities here in the Yukon that are being told that, rather than go through the normal procedure when a capital project is over 1.5 times the municipal block funding, YTG will kick in and cost share. And that has been the practice historically. In Whitehorse, probably the major project that was cost-shared was the Whitehorse secondary sewage. It was cost shared 85:15, with Government of the Yukon kicking in 85 percent; the City of Whitehorse government paid the 15 percent.
With respect to what is coming forward in Carmacks, it's into the replacement of its secondary sewage treatment, and it has been told by the government that it's going to have to borrow the money. It can't access any of these cost-sharing arrangements.
With respect to Dawson, they have also been told that if they want to continue with their capital projects, they have to borrow the money. They're not prepared to cost share the major capital undertakings.
With respect to Watson Lake, Watson Lake has been told it has to cost share. And we only have to look at some of the capital undertakings that are done in Whitehorse; there appears to be a separate set of rules for Whitehorse and a separate set for rural Yukon, Mr. Chair.
We only have to witness the twinning of the Hamilton Boulevard, which was a capital project. It came in half-a-million dollars overbudget. There was a separate set of rules for that when it came in overbudget. The Mayo school comes in half-a-million dollars overbudget, and it's cancelled.
The issue that I am looking at - and I believe it's a very serious issue - is a change in government policy, or interpretation of government policy, or a new twist on it with respect to municipal borrowing.
The other area that concerns me - and it concerns me greatly - is the amount of borrowing that these municipalities will have on their books. The rule of thumb under the Municipal Act is that, once borrowing exceeds three percent of the total assessment of that municipality, the only way you can borrow beyond that is with ministerial approval or by going to a public plebiscite. It's a check and balance, the same as you, Mr. Chair, have on yourself when you go to the bank for a mortgage to purchase a new home. The bank will only lend you so much of your total income or disposable income to buy that home. They'll only allow you to carry so much of a mortgage, because that's about all you can debt service.
It's the same thing with municipal governments. The checks and balances there are three percent of the total assessment base, and there's also a caveat on that. It's three percent of the total municipal assessment on which grant-in-lieu is paid or on which private individuals pay taxes.
So, there's a check and a control there. In the case of a number of these municipalities, they will be going to a multiple of two or three times their effective, allowed municipal borrowing. They are being given that privilege and advantage by the minister of the day, which is unprecedented.
The minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services has indicated in letters to one community that I'm aware of that she gives her approval to exceed the borrowing limit, without going to plebiscite. That, Mr. Chair, in itself, is unprecedented. Where are the checks and balances, especially when we're looking at these communities amortizing the payments over 25 years? There is no certainty surrounding municipal block funding.
As long as the arrangements between Canada and Yukon continue, they will probably continue to flow to the municipal governments. The arrangement has just been renegotiated. But, we are nowhere close to a 25-year agreement with Canada for the provision of transfer payments. It is renegotiated on a much shorter period than that. So, it begs the question: what is going to transpire, given the debt load that these municipalities are going to be assuming? All we are doing with this act before us is allowing the municipalities to borrow. The mechanism is in place. It is setting a bigger fund in place.
But it also signals a very clear direction from this government that things previously that were paid for at the territorial level are no longer being paid for at the territorial level, unless, of course, you are in Whitehorse - one set of rules for Whitehorse, another set of rules for TROY, the rest of the Yukon, and I find that very, very disconcerting.
The bottom line is: how were the municipal governments going to pay, unless there's some certainty surrounding their municipal block funding? Why are we deviating from the formula that has been in place and has been policy, where, once capital works or a capital undertaking in that municipality goes above 1.5 times its municipal block funding, the territorial government kicks in with additional funding. That in itself is very, very disconcerting and quite a problem.
If we look at the amount of loans that have been issued - and the list only goes back 15 years - they're predominately for Whitehorse. But when you add up the total commitment for Whitehorse, it's well within its limits of three percent of its total municipal assessment - well within, and in fact there is additional room for borrowing. It's not so for Dawson City, where they currently have a debt load of over $2 million - just around $1 million to the Bank of Commerce. And they are going to be rolling quite a sum of money into this new borrowing that will take them up to, in total, about $6 million of total indebtedness, which is over two times - it's approaching three times - the borrowing limit set under the Municipal Act without going to plebiscite or without going to get the minister's approval.
And this is the first time that I'm aware of, Mr. Chair, that a municipality has gone to that upper limit of its borrowing, without having to go to plebiscite. That's very, very disconcerting, and I would be very, very hopeful that the government of the day could see its way clear to find another vehicle to cash flow some of these initiatives, other than long-term indebtedness.
If we look at the Government of the Yukon itself, it's virtually debt-free. It does have some acquisitions that it's still paying for, with respect to the assets of Northern Canada Power Commission that are on the books, and that, I believe, is the largest sum of indebtedness that the Yukon has in one aggregate amount. But there's also the indebtedness for Yukon Housing Corporation - that it is a guarantor, as it is a guarantor on some of the other initiatives.
But by and large, Yukon has been very, very fortunate, and it's virtually debt-free, and it cash flows its own capital undertakings. And historically, communities have been in that same boat. It's a very fortunate financial position. But this Municipal Loans Act sets an upper limit that's three times what historically it has been, and in my opinion what we're seeing is a downloading of responsibility from the territorial government to municipal governments. They are being told and forced to borrow to meet the capital obligations, and it seems to be peculiar to rural communities, Mr. Chair - not so much Whitehorse, which is well within its means.
There are several questions - and I'm sure they've been discussed at the caucus table, Mr. Chair - as to why there is this change in policy. Why has it been initiated, and why are we seeing it having such a great impact on rural Yukon communities?
Why are the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Community and Transportation Services taking this tack?
I understand they didn't get any elected representations until probably after this current by-election from rural Yukon, but that's not the way to treat rural Yukon, Mr. Chair. Everyone has to be treated the same. We have seen that deviation in Whitehorse with the last capital project, the twinning of Hamilton Boulevard where it went overbudget by half-a-million. It was approved. We never heard anything about it until we went to the briefing. In fact, the minister responsible didn't even have an understanding of it, that it had occurred, even though an overexpenditure of that magnitude would have to go to Management Board, on which she sits. Mayo school goes over the same amount. We don't hear anything, other than that the project's cancelled. Two separate sets of rules - one for Whitehorse, one for rural Yukon.
We have created two Yukons in the health care portfolio, two Yukons in the Community and Transportation Services portfolio, two communities in the Finance portfolio. Why is this Liberal government doing this, Mr. Chair? Why is there such a significant change in policy that is impacting on the lives of Yukoners? They have virtually continued to destroy the economy of the Yukon. Yukoners are leaving because they can't find work or jobs here. That should be the focus, not giving Yukoners more debt to service. Why is the government taking this tack, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, why hasn't the member opposite done his homework on this bill? Why hasn't the member opposite listened to the responses and re-read Hansard? Why is the member opposite insisting on using such offensive phrases as "rule of thumb" when they're against our Standing Orders? "Why" seems to be the question of the day. Let me answer it.
This bill is required because of a legal technicality in the Financial Administration Act. The Department of Justice has advised the Department of Finance that we require legal authority to do this. We require a piece of legislation in order that there can be a section of our budget documents that says "loans and appropriations", "loans to municipalities". Previously, there was a piece of legislation in place.
There was authority from the 1981 act; there was authority under the 1986 act; there was authority under the 1989 act. That authority totalled $12,546,357. That authority is used up. That piece of legislation has expired, has lost its life and is no longer valid. Municipalities, which the member opposite purports to speak for, want to borrow money from the Yukon government. So, we have to have an act in place that says, "Yes, we can." That way, we can put that section in our budget documents that says, "loans and appropriations."
We have been loaning to municipalities for many, many years. We provided information to the member opposite that further supports that and talks about loans for different purposes.
The member opposite has suggested that we are changing our financial dealings with municipalities. This bill does not change our municipal dealings with municipalities. I have no idea how many more ways we can say that, unless I spell out each word for the member opposite. This bill renews the authority to continue doing what we have always done. Not passing the bill, which has very serious consequences, would constitute a change in dealings with municipalities.
There has been no policy change regarding cost sharing. The member opposite has used up valuable House time, speaking to the camera, with all sorts of information that is factually not correct with respect to this bill. There is no change in policy regarding cost sharing. We are doing this to renew our authority and to renew the House's authority. Subsequent governments will use this bill over and over again.
There is no restriction on the amount of money municipalities can borrow. The bill only deals with borrowing by them from this government.
This legislation does not allow municipalities to exceed their borrowing limit. Section 3 of this act specifically says that any municipal borrowing from YTG is subject to the Municipal Act, and the Municipal Act says that if they wish to exceed that, they may - may - make a request.
Let me quote the exact section for the member opposite - "Over three percent, a municipality would go to referendum, if the minister requests it" - if. And the member spent hours and hours in this House, working with my colleague, the Minister - who was then the critic - of Community and Transportation Services, on this bill, on the Municipal Act. It was greatly debated in this House, and there was a lot of work by municipalities. If he would only ask his new found friend to the left - pardon me, to the right; they are all the same, Mr. Chair. They all look the same.
The Minister of Community and Transportation Services has said that Dawson - and that's what the Member for Klondike is referring to - did not have to go to referendum. And the referendum - if the Member for Klondike had bothered to pay attention when they were doing the Municipal Act, or had bothered to ask his new found colleague, he would realize that that can be at the minister's request, exactly as it was debated in the Municipal Act.
Mr. Chair, we're not requiring municipalities to borrow anything. There has been no change to the way we deal with municipalities. All we're asking for is passage by this House of an act that will give us legislative authority to loan municipalities money and to include the appropriations section in our budget documents.
There is no nefarious conspiracy. There is no change in our dealing with municipalities. There's no hidden agenda. There are no motives beyond passing a piece of legislation and doing what's right for Yukoners, in a fully open and accountable manner. We have explained this in many, many ways to the member opposite - many ways. The only borrowing by municipalities that might appear larger than usual is by Dawson. They're borrowing $4.6 million. $888,000 is a refinancing of an existing loan - an existing loan that was given under the authority of an act that has now been used up, so we need a new piece of legislation in our books so that we can do this. That's all we're asking members opposite to examine and to agree to. I would strongly encourage the member opposite to please do his homework on this legislation.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much for the lecture from the Minister of Finance. Unfortunately, it doesn't shed any light on what is transpiring through the Yukon. There is very much a downloading of responsibility on Dawson, on Carmacks and on Watson Lake with respect to major capital undertaking. That has only occurred recently and it has occurred under this Liberal government. It did not occur under the previous NDP government nor under the previous Yukon Party government, so there has to be very much a change of policy. Now, whether it's written or whether it's not, there has to be a change in policy and a change in the way that Community and Transportation Services are acting in their dealings with municipal governments.
The minister went on at great length to cite sections of the Municipal Act, but the bottom line is that, at the end of this year, the borrowings from rural municipalities will probably be at an all-time high if things carry through, and in two cases, it will be beyond their three percent of total municipal asset base, and that signals an alarm, Mr. Chair, especially when it's done without going to plebiscite, especially when it's done just on the signature of the minister of the day. It's the minister in Executive Council.
Can the Minister of Finance cite me another occasion where a municipal government has exceeded its borrowing capacity by a multiple of two or more, without going to plebiscite?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, if the member opposite has a problem with the Municipal Act and a problem with the way that that clause was worded, why didn't the member opposite then debate it or bring forward an amendment to the Municipal Act, and we'll debate it?
What we're dealing with here is the Municipal Loans Act. Until 1974, for the member opposite's information, all municipal loans were covered by the specific Municipal General Loan Ordinance, as it was then called, for each municipality. From 1974 onwards, the Municipal General Purposes Loan Ordinance covered three municipalities: Dawson, Faro and Whitehorse. These acts were usually for more than was loaned, so a surplus of lending authority was built up. The total amount of the lending authority was in excess of $30 million.
These, Mr. Chair, were one-time authorities. They weren't revolving, which meant that, when it was paid back or used up, a repayment didn't replenish the lending amount. So this is also exactly what has happened. We have used up the amount under the previous act, and municipalities, as they were wont to do and as they would like to do, are borrowing money from the Government of the Yukon.
That is the municipalities' choice and that's what they're doing. It is what they are empowered to do under the Municipal Act. If the member opposite has a problem with the way communities are empowered to borrow money from the Government of Yukon, then let's debate it under the Municipal Act. That authority does not come from this act. This act is our authority to loan municipalities money. That's all it is. It is a three-clause act.
The member is trying to suggest that we've changed some policy or that we should bring about changes under the Municipal Act. Well, if that's the case, let's debate it under the Municipal Act. This is the Municipal Loans Act. I would ask the member opposite to seek agreement from municipalities and the Association of Yukon Communities to change the Municipal Act. If that's what the member opposite wants to do, I challenge him to reach the consensus with the Association of Yukon Communities and bring forward an amendment to the Municipal Act. That's not what this bill is about.
This bill is about giving the Yukon government the legal authority to include the appropriations in our budget document. We are not changing policy. We are not changing amounts. What we are doing is giving ourselves - giving this House - the legal authority to loan municipalities money. That's all we're trying to do. If the member opposite wants to debate it and change the Municipal Act, I challenge him to reach consensus with the communities and bring it forward to the Community and Transportation Services minister and then to this House.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, for the minister's enlightenment, I believe that the Municipal Act is a very good act. It is very workable. I am not suggesting any changes to it whatsoever. I am not even going to take up the challenge of debating an act that I am probably much more familiar with than she will ever be, Mr. Chair. So be it.
The Municipal Act is the bible of communities. It has been around for quite some time. I am very, very supportive of it. It's probably one of the best acts existing in Canada for municipal governments.
What I see though, Mr. Chair, and where I disagree with the Minister of Finance, she says the municipalities want to borrow. That's not the case. The municipalities are forced to borrow. That I find very disconcerting. It's quite a change and that change must be signalled from the Cabinet offices. That's where it has to originate. We are not going to cost share these initiatives with the municipalities; we're not going to do it in the same format that it has been done before; we're not going to change any policies; we're just going to selectively steer the economy of the Yukon. Rather than allow the municipalities to borrow, which will be our presence in the public domain, we're going to force the municipalities to borrow. That is what I am taking exception to. The amount of money that the municipalities will end up borrowing to meet the expectations of their communities for secondary sewage treatment in Carmacks and in Dawson is very, very alarming. Under the old formula where capital projects over 1.5 times the municipal block funding occurred, the government of the day kicked in. Everything was cash flowed. It was set up in the form of capital reserves by the government of the day. The previous NDP government set up X number of dollars per year to be used for recreational purposes in Dawson, or to be used for secondary sewage treatment purposes. So there's no debt.
Now, this Liberal government was left in a very, very strong financial position. They virtually have no debt.
That is thanks to the fiscally conservative positions taken by the previous governments of the Yukon and also to an act that says you can't go into debt. Otherwise we'd probably be borrowing and spending like the Liberal governments in Ottawa are known to have done for time immemorial, Mr. Chair. We're still trying to pay off the accumulated debt under one previous Liberal regime in Ottawa that's going to be a burden on the backs of our grandchildren.
So I want to know from the Minister of Finance: what policy change has occurred that is now forcing municipalities to borrow? Municipalities make it abundantly clear that they don't want to borrow. They're forced to or they have to, because the other vehicles of financing these capital undertakings on the arrangements that have been in prior existence are no longer happening for rural Yukon under this Liberal regime. And I submit, Mr. Chair, that this is probably because they haven't elected anyone from rural Yukon, so they're going to treat rural Yukon very poorly, and that's very, very evident with the Mayo school.
If it's a capital project for Whitehorse, Mr. Chair, it's not a problem. Hamilton Boulevard - half-a-million dollars over budget. That is passed, and no one hears anything about it. We see the equipment out there working. With the same amount overbudget for a school in Mayo, it's cancelled, deferred, delayed. Why is there this treatment for rural Yukon, Mr. Chair? I'm appalled.
Why are municipalities now being forced to borrow, instead of being financed with the arrangements that were previously in existence, Mr. Chair? Why has that occurred?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Member for Klondike has been told on at least three occasions this afternoon and innumerable times in debate on this bill that there has been no change in policy regarding cost-sharing - no change in government policy. No one is being forced, as the member is making allegations. The member is making many allegations about our government, and they are simply incorrect. No one is being forced and no municipality is being forced to borrow from this government.
This bill, the Municipal Loans Act, is about providing this Legislature with authority. That's what this is about. No one is being forced to borrow, and no one is being treated differently by any member of this government. We treat Yukoners like Yukoners, with the high regard in which we hold them.
Mr. Jenkins: Let me just get this correctly from the Minister of Finance, the Premier. If a municipality has a capital project underway that exceeds 1.5 times its municipal block funding for this year, is the government going to be cost-sharing at an 85:15 percent cost-sharing basis, as has previously been the case? Yes or no.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There has been no change in the government's policy regarding cost-sharing.
Mr. Jenkins: I still didn't get a definite yes-or-no answer, Mr. Chair. I asked the Minister of Finance, the Premier, for municipal capital projects over 1.5 times the municipal block funding for that year, will YTG be cost sharing that on an 85:15-percent basis? Yes or no.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There's a policy in place regarding cost-sharing with communities. There has been no change to this government's policy - no change.
Mr. Jenkins: I still didn't get a yes-or-no answer. I asked the Minister of Finance - the Premier - if there is a municipal capital project over 1.5 times the municipal block funding, will YTG cost share at an 85:15-percent basis, as was previously the case? A simple yes or a simple no. If there has been no change in policy, so be it. There are ways of interpreting the policy that will put a different spin on anything that's done.
I want to know if the government of the day is going to honour the commitment that, for a capital project over 1.5 times the municipal block funding for that fiscal year, YTG will cost share on an 85:15-percent basis. A simple yes or no is all I'm looking for, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have told the member opposite that there has been no change to our policy - no change to the Government of Yukon policy regarding cost sharing. I've told the member several times. All sorts of things can be interpreted half a dozen different ways, depending on the tone of voice versus the printed word. There has been no change in the Government of Yukon policy regarding cost sharing.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that begs this question: why don't the capital projects undertaken in Dawson City - and soon to be necessary in Carmacks for secondary sewage treatment - effectively kick in the 85:15-percent cost sharing?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite knows very well that there are individual agreements negotiated with communities. I have said to the member repeatedly that there has been no change in the government's policy regarding cost sharing. Individual agreements are negotiated.
Now, if the member would like to have a thorough discussion with the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on each one of those agreements, I would invite him to do so; however, what we are debating on the floor of this House is the Municipal Loans Act. That's what we're talking about. We are talking about the legislative authority to loan money to communities. We are not in a policy debate or a debate over each individual agreement negotiated by this government.
What we're talking about is the legislative authority to allow this government to bring in a budget in April in which there will be a section on loans and appropriations. That is what we're talking about.
And that's what I'd be pleased to discuss with the member. If the member wants to discuss each municipality's agreement with the Government of the Yukon regarding individual facilities, I would invite him to do so with the minister responsible. There are individual agreements. I've said over and over and over and over again that there has been no change to the policy. I've explained this bill to the member opposite many times. It's a three-clause bill, which gives the Legislature authority. Pardon me, it's a four-clause bill.
Mr. Jenkins: We'll soon be hearing from the Minister of Finance, like the Minister of Justice, who can't even get the title right on these bills, but we'll wait for that.
Mr. Chair, this is a hand-in-glove situation. What we're debating on the floor of this House appears on the surface to be a very simple Municipal Loans Act - the authority of this government to be able to loan municipal governments sums of money up to $15 million. It appears to be very, very straightforward and very specific. And on the surface, a layperson would say, "Oh, yeah, okay, that's the normal course of business." But what has to be looked at, Mr. Chair, is the total picture - the implications, financial, to the municipal governments when they plug into that source of funding that is virtually three times what it has been in the past. The total aggregate has been upwards of over $10 million - I believe it has totalled about $12 million - but it's normally running about $5 million a year, as to what the Government of the Yukon has loaned in the past, and this will give them the authority to loan some $15 million. And the period of amortization that we're looking at does not provide any certainty when, on the other side of the ledger, the municipalities have no certainty with respect to their municipal block funding.
Has the government looked at the total equation, or are we just looking at this in isolation, Mr. Chair? The Minister of Finance, the Premier, who is responsible for I don't know how many different departments - virtually every department either directly or indirectly - should have a handle on the total finances. I would hope very much that she's obtaining that handle.
At the end of the day, what we have to look at is a fair and equal treatment of all municipal governments. While the Minister of Finance, the Premier, might say that the municipalities want to borrow, it appears that under this new Liberal regime, the avenues of financing capital undertakings, while they're still on the books, are not being followed or adhered to. Municipalities may not want to borrow money but are forced to.
Has the Premier, as Minister of Finance, looked at the business plan for repayments of the sums of money that are initially requested under this Municipal Loans Act? Has she actually taken the time to look at the level of indebtedness that some communities will have? Because when you add up the total amount that's being loaned to the City of Dawson, it's not $4.6 million, as the Minister of Finance stated. It's $4,460,000. It includes $880,000 of refinance of a previous debenture, but it excludes approximately $1 million that the City of Dawson also owes to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. So, when you add up the total indebtedness of the city, their total municipal assessment is approaching $90 million. Three percent of $90 million is $2.7 million. Now, that's if all the properties pay taxes, and that's if all of the grants-in-lieu come through. But that's not the case, Mr. Chair.
It's about $75 million of municipal assessment in Dawson on which grant-in-lieu and taxes are paid and received. That's where it's at. So, if you take three percent of $75 million, even giving the equation the benefit of the doubt, go to $80 million that's $2.4 million. If you look at the total indebtedness, it's over twice what the Municipal Act allows without the ministerial approval or without going to plebiscite.
The only other time this ever occurred was back in the early days of Faro when they were in dire financial straits and they were going to borrowing bylaws from YTG for everything including vehicles. Their financial situation at the time, as a brand new community, was precarious. I don't want to see that occur again, especially given the financial position that this government inherited.
I want to know from the minister why there is a change in policies with respect to municipal borrowing. For capital projects over 1.5 times municipal block funding, the Yukon territorial government has historically cost shared on an 85:15 percent basis. There is a caveat on that. If it's a water main extension in Whitehorse, or a water main extension up to the airport, or if it's a twinning of Hamilton Boulevard, YTG picks up the whole cost irrespective of how much the cost overrun is. So, there appears to be a separate set of rules for Whitehorse and a separate set for rural Yukon, even though it is supposed to all flow from the same policy.
Could the minister advise the House why this change of policy was necessary?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, the member opposite has alluded to a change in policy. There has been no change in policy. There has been no change in policy. There has been no change in policy.
The member opposite has tried to suggest - and on several occasions the member opposite has, in his inimitable fashion, stood on his feet and suggested that members on this side are less than stellar. Well, that's the member opposite's opinion.
The member opposite also seems to want to re-fight the municipal election. This isn't the forum for doing that either.
I, as Minister of Finance, have, yes, thoroughly scrutinized the loan sought by the City of Dawson. I have sat down with Dawson City's treasurer. I have also sat down with Finance officials in great detail, and I have looked at the big picture, as have the very capable and competent public servants who work for this government and for municipal governments throughout the territory. Yes, this government has examined the total picture. No, there has not been a change in policy.
The member opposite wants to talk about municipal long-term debt. The assessment subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu - the total - is almost $1.5 billion. The Municipal Act, section 252, on borrowing limits - three percent of the current assessed value of all real property. That's $44 million in total.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: That is the total. We're talking about Yukon municipalities, the total. The member opposite asked me if I had looked at the whole picture. I'm telling the member the whole picture.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite doesn't seem interested in the information, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's deal with information that's relevant. What the minister is quoting is the total assessment for all Yukon municipalities, which includes Whitehorse. Why doesn't she break it down to municipality by municipality and look at each municipality on a stand-alone basis? The City of Dawson can't lever itself on the municipal assessment of Whitehorse, Mr. Chair, nor can Carmacks lever itself on the City of Whitehorse assessment, nor can Watson Lake. They have to stand alone. It's three percent of its total municipal assessment. The total municipal assessment with respect to Dawson is approximately $90 million.
Now there is a caveat on the three percent. It's the total municipal assessment for which you receive taxes or grant-in-lieu. So, that reduces it significantly, Mr. Chair. While the minister is undertaking a briefing from her officials and getting up to speed on the issue, I guess we can await a further answer with respect to a breakdown.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the only individual in this House not up to speed on this particular act that is before us for debate is the member opposite.
Regarding the municipal long-term debt, the table I have in front of me is as follows: the assessment, subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu, for the Village of Carmacks is $12,984,880. That, according to the Municipal Act borrowing limits, which is three percent of the current assessed value of all real property, would be $389,546. The Town of the City of Dawson is $90,322,690. The three percent is $2,709,681. The Town of Faro is $37,660,000. The Municipal Act, section 252, borrowing limits, which is three percent of the current assessed value of all real property for the Town of Faro, is $1,129,801. The Village of Haines Junction is $30,243,440. That's their assessment, subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu.
The Municipal Act section 252, borrowing limits, which is three percent of the current assessed value of all real property, is $907,303. The Village of Mayo is $12,267,950. The Municipal Act section 252, borrowing limit for the Village of Mayo is $368,039. The Village of Teslin is $15,783,940. The Municipal Act section 252 borrowing limit is $473,518.
The Town of Watson Lake is $67,028,090. That's their assessment, subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu. The Municipal Act, section 252, borrowing limits, is $2,010,843. The City of Whitehorse is $1,213,096,060. The Municipal Act, section 252, borrowing limits, three percent of the current assessed value of all real property is $36,392,882. The total assessment, subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu, is $1,479,387,090. That's the total. Municipal Act, section 252, borrowing limits, three percent of the current assessed value of all real property, is $44,381,613. That is what the member opposite was asking for.
The Government of the Yukon had loaned municipalities, as of March 31, 2000, $10,645,000. The latest maturity dates on these loans is 2024. The interest rates range from five percent to 13.25 percent.
YTG charges the municipalities an interest rate. We can only borrow at market rates. We can borrow based on our past practice, and YTG had loans payable at March 31, 2000.
The Government of the Yukon had made the following loans to municipalities in the 1999-2000 fiscal years: the City of Whitehorse, $433,988,000 at six percent for 15 years; the Town of Watson Lake borrowed $515,000 at five percent for 10 years; the town of Haines Junction, $411,000 at 5.5 percent for 25 years.
That total, for the members opposite's math, is $1,359,988.
To date in 2001 the following loans have been made: to the City of Whitehorse, $677,000 at 25 percent for 15 years. There's an additional loan that has been made, $423,480.
We have refinanced loans in the past. The member opposite has alluded several times to the City of Dawson. The City of Dawson plans to borrow $4,460,000 at six percent for 25 years. Of this amount, $889,000 is a refinancing of existing debt - existing debt - and $3,571,000 is new borrowing. There has been no change in our policy. Those are the current figures.
We have offered the member opposite extensive briefings on the Municipal Loans Act, which the member opposite has been unavailable for. I have said several times that this is not a change in policy, that this is simply providing legislative authority, that, in spite of the allegations by the member opposite, we have reviewed the situation in total, that we have discussed this with municipalities, and I will continue to provide the member opposite with precisely the same answers until the member finds something else to discuss.
Mr. Jenkins: Just for the record, the numbers that the Minister of Finance read into the record with respect to the total municipal assessment - could the Minister of Finance confirm that they are the value of all real property within the municipality that is subject to property taxes or grans-in-lieu? Could the minister just confirm that, please?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what is the total assessment of Dawson City currently, all lands, buildings and everything within the municipal boundaries? What is the total municipal assessment?
The only way I can proceed, Mr. Chair, is that I'm very familiar with Dawson as to its total asset base and municipal -
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the figures I have are for the assets that are subject to property tax or grants-in-lieu of taxes, and that figure, again, for the member opposite, for the City of Dawson is $9,322,690.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't think it would be highly unusual if I did disagree with the minister that that number is the total municipal assessment of all lands and buildings within the municipality of Dawson. It is not the value on which grant-in-lieu or taxes are received.
The amount of property that is owned by the city is not subject to tax or grant-in-lieu. The improvements that are included in there that are owned by the city are not subject to grants-in-lieu or taxes. Vacant land that is owned by the federal government in Dawson City on behalf of the First Nations, or for their own use, is not subject to grant-in-lieu.
From that $90 million, there has to be a reduction to identify those areas, Mr. Chair. So, while the Minister of Finance might offer this information on the floor of the House, I submit that it is not accurate; it's not correct.
I would ask if she would check, because the total municipal assessment for Dawson, in its entirety, is $90 million. To obtain the figure that is required under the borrowing limits of section 252(1) of the Municipal Act - the total principal amount of debt that a municipality may owe at any time shall not exceed three percent of the current assessed value of all real property within the municipality that is subject to property taxes or grants-in-lieu of taxes. That's where we're at. So the total figure is considerably less than the figure stated. Can the minister provide more of an overview or update?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, at present, under the Municipal Act, municipalities may borrow up to three percent of their assessed value of all real property within the municipality that is subject to property tax or grants-in-lieu of taxes. The best information we have, which I have been provided by the Department of Community and Transportation Services, says that the assessment subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu, in the City of Dawson is $90,322,690. Borrowing three percent of the current assessed value of real property would allow the City of Dawson, based on that figure, to borrow $2,709,681.
The Town of the City of Dawson's long-term debt, as of March 31, 2000, was $2,240,640. They may, under the Municipal Act - which the member was reassuring the House he is fully supportive of - with the permission of the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, exceed that borrowing limit. They have sought the minister's permission.
The minister has done her homework on this, as has the Minister of Finance and as have all the officials within both the departments of Community and Transportation Services and of Finance. We have examined this issue very closely. We have agreed that, yes, the Town of the City of Dawson may borrow in excess of that. However, in order to allow that to happen, because previous authorities to loan municipalities money have expired and been used up, we need to pass a new act.
That's what we're trying to do in the Legislature.
The member opposite is trying to have an argument on the floor of this House about how municipal finances are being conducted in Dawson City. As a resident of that city, he's perfectly entitled to ask the municipal council. What this Legislature has the authority to do is - we have the authority and we are seeking the authority - to continue to loan municipalities money when they ask for it. That's what we'd like to do.
If the member has an issue with the way a municipality is conducting business, and it happens to be his own community, then the member has some choices, it would seem to me, Mr. Chair. The member can vote against this legislation or the member can take the matter up with the Mayor of Dawson. He seems to enjoy his frequent chats with the Mayor of Dawson, so if he has a question about their financing, I would invite him to address them.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I hope that, after our debate, the minister will go back and get her numbers straight, because the fact is that the total municipal assessment for Dawson is some $90 million. But grants-in-lieu and taxes are not paid on the total amount, Mr. Chair. It's significantly less than that.
The minister also stated that with loans to communities for the last number of years the interest rate varied from five percent to some 13 percent. Yesterday, in her absence, Mr. Chair - and I know I'm not allowed to refer to her absence - but the Minister of Tourism filled in and sent over information on loans to communities for the last 15 years. It clearly indicates that the interest rates varied from five percent to 14.19 percent. So, perhaps the minister is only as good as her briefing notes, but she has to read her briefing notes, Mr. Chair.
So, if the minister could just correct the record with respect to the interest rates and with respect to going back - I'm looking for a commitment to go back and check the total municipal assessments, because what they're pulling off is the total assessment of the entire municipality. They're not making any provisions for any vacant land owned by the federal government, on which no grant-in-lieu is payable. They're not making any provisions for any land or improvements owned by the City of Dawson that does not receive any grants-in-lieu or taxes.
I would further submit that that would further reduce the amount on which the maximum borrowing of three percent would be, and this situation, I'm given to understand, is not peculiar to Dawson City. Under the change in policy that is becoming more and more apparent from this Liberal government, Mr. Chair, Carmacks and Watson Lake are going to be burdened with a very heavy debt load. I am concerned about that.
Under the previous governments, whether they were a Yukon Party government or an NDP government, when a capital project was over 1.5 times municipal block funding, YTG kicked in, came to the cost-sharing arrangement, and paid 85 percent, with the municipal government paying 15 percent. For the capital costs that Carmacks is looking at for the undertakings necessary in that community, there is no way, Mr. Chair, that they can carry the debt load that is anticipated to meet their needs for facilities, including secondary sewage treatment.
Watson Lake is in a predicament with the hopeful completion of their new infrastructure. They are going to be forced to borrow in order to complete these projects. In all cases - all cases - these three communities will exceed their three-percent borrowing limit. That, in itself, is scary.
I would ask the minister, once again, why the government is conducting business in this manner and treating rural Yukon communities differently from Whitehorse?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite started out by asking me to go back and tell our hard-working public servants that all the information they've collected and provided me is wrong. I'm not going to do that because I don't believe it is wrong, and the member has not proven his case that it's wrong.
The member opposite has, in terms of the assessment subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu, the amount that I read out. The member suggested that the figure I read out was wrong and that I should go back and check. In the spirit of cooperation, openness and accountability, I will ask that the figures be verified for the Town of the City of Dawson, assessment subject to taxes or grants-in-lieu, the figure of over $90 million.
The member opposite has suggested that the minister is only as good as her briefing notes. Wel, this minister read into the record that interest rates went up to 13.25 percent. The member is suggesting that I have neglected to include the 1984-85 loan to the City of Whitehorse which was repaid at an interest rate of 14.19 percent. The reason that figure was not included is because the loan has been repaid. That's the reason. So, no the minister is not wrong. Yes, the minister did her homework and that's the figure.
Perhaps the member could stand on his feet and explain what he's looking for or what he wants to prove by this debate or what he is trying to suggest. I have said to the member that there's no nefarious plot, that there is no change in policy, that we are not treating any communities any differently, that we are trying to work with communities and we are trying to respond to community needs. The member opposite has maligned the City of Dawson in its efforts and suggested that we have not done our homework by allowing them to exceed their borrowing authority, which can be done with ministerial approval. Ministerial approval was given after the full, fair - very fair - consideration by both the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and me as Minister of Finance and a full, fair and thorough discussion with the parties concerned.
Should there be any other requests to exceed borrowing authority, they will be considered as fully and fairly as every other consideration given by this government. However, we need the legislative authority to actually loan the money, and that's what the act is about.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's look at the Minister of Finance's ability to split hairs. I mentioned the interest rates. I mentioned that they varied from five percent to 14.19 percent, and not as the minister stated. She said that, well, that's because that old loan was 15 years ago and it has expired; it was only a 10-year amortization period. But then she fails to recognize that there are other loans in here that have also expired and are reported on. They are at much lower interest rates. In 1991-92, to Dawson, it was a five-year amortization. There is one back in Whitehorse - in 1991-92 to Dawson, and 1994-95 to Whitehorse, with five years still remaining. All of these loans are still on the books.
The interest rate that the minister quoted was wrong. It varied from five percent to 14.19 percent. So, the minister should correct the record and not just state that that loan was a long time ago - 10 years outstanding, and it still says that it has 10 to go. Perhaps she could ask the minister who stood in for her yesterday for a copy of these loans to communities for the last 15 years and have a look at it.
I don't want to belabour the point on the interest rates, but it just points out how accurate some of the information tabled by this minister or offered in the House is, Mr. Chair. It's not always accurate.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, the member has made an accusation. I stated that the Government of Yukon had loaned municipalities $10,645,000 as of March 31, 2000. The latest maturity date on the loans was 2024. The interest rates range from five percent to 13.25 percent.
The member opposite accused me of presenting misinformation to the House. I indicated to the member opposite that it was not misinformation. I will correct and examine the $90 million that the member opposite has asked about when the member opposite does his homework on this legislation.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, it's just a disagreement between members. The minister hasn't done her homework, and continues to not do her homework, and all I'm asking is that she do her homework.
Chair: On the point of order, there seem to be two figures, and two different ways of discussing this, and I would say this is a dispute between members.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Yes, I have a question of the minister, and it deals with the treatment afforded rural Yukon communities. Why is there such a significant change in policy with this Liberal government? Why is there, in effect, two interpretations of this policy when we're told it hasn't changed? There is one interpretation for Whitehorse and one interpretation for rural Yukon, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Duncan:Mr. Chair, there has been no change in policy.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I acknowledge there might not have been a change in policy. There's a change in the interpretation of policy. There's an interpretation change that is different for Whitehorse than it is for rural Yukon communities, and I'd like to know why such a significant change in interpretation has come about under this new Liberal government.
Is this the better way that they were going to undertake to do it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there has been no change in policy; there has been no change in the interpretation of the policy. If the member opposite would like to run for the Mayor of Dawson, I'd invite him to do so.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not looking at running there, Mr. Chair, in that capacity. Been there, done that. It's a situation that is not just occurring in Dawson, Mr. Chair. It's occurring in Dawson, Carmacks and Watson Lake. And the treatment afforded rural Yukon communities, forcing them to borrow vis-à-vis, they want to borrow, as is the interpretation put on by the Minister of Finance - the Premier, Mr. Chair - is simply incorrect.
The municipalities would be forced to borrow, because the avenues open to them, which were previously open to them, for the funding of capital projects, appear to have developed a different interpretation. Let's concede that the policy is consistent; the interpretation is different. There are two different interpretations: one for rural Yukon communities and one for Whitehorse. Why is the government interpreting the policy differently, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the government is not interpreting the policy differently.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Bill No. 32, Municipal Loans Act?
Chair: Can we look at this, since it's very short, as read and passed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Clauses 1 to 4 deemed to have been read and agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 32, the Municipal Loans Act, out of Committee without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Duncan that we report Bill No. 32, Municipal Loans Act, out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 29 - Electronic Commerce Act
Chair: Our next bill will be Bill No. 29, Electronic Commerce Act. Is there any general debate on the Electronic Commerce Act, Bill No. 29?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Member for Klondike has suggested that this is the Minister of Justice's bill, but in fact it is not. It is sponsored by me as the Minister of Economic Development.
I have spoken in second reading about the electronic commerce legislation and how we're very supportive of it, as this is bringing Yukon into the 21st century in terms of our e-commerce. It provides a legal framework and, again, I would remind members that it is a model bill developed by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada.
I'm pleased to answer questions. The members opposite did not indicate what precisely their questions were on this legislation. I'll be happy to answer them in either general debate or in clause-by-clause debate.
Mr. Fentie: I wonder if the minister could just give a very brief overview on her thoughts on how this particular piece of legislation - understanding that it brings us in line with the rest of the country. Does she see benefits accruing to the Yukon, as far as economic development, with us passing this legislation. As we've stated, the official opposition is in support of this act. I'm just wondering if she'd just give us a very brief overview of her thoughts on how this may assist us in the territory in enhancing economic opportunity and development here.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite is asking, essentially, if this is going to ensure that we have an immediate huge growth in the technology industry. And no, it won't. What this bill will do is give us the legal framework to enable that to happen, so that we're well-prepared. So the economic advantage is that we're ahead of some other jurisdictions in Canada in terms of having this legislation, and it's really a be-prepared type of economic foundation.
Mr. Fentie: Being prepared brings me back to my Boy Scout days; it is a motto.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: The minister said that the Girl Guides had it first, and I won't argue that point.
In our electronic world today, there is always a concern of those who tend to invent ways to beat the system. And when we get into this - in just going over the act, it's evident that a lot of traffic can take place now in the territory - banking and transactions, so on and so forth. Are there some safeguards along with the legislation to ensure that Yukoners who now step into this area are comforted that some of the pirates who are out there are going to - we'll be able to address that issue.
I'm just merely wanting to know if the legislation itself, as we have brought forward - bringing us up to speed with the rest of the country. Are there safeguards in all of this to at least address the fact that there are those out there who are very efficient at beating the system, especially when it comes to the computer side of things?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member's referring to what I think in common parlance would be called "hackers", without being unparliamentary, and the ability of very skilled individuals to penetrate computer systems and cause damage or inflict damage.
There is no specific requirement or specific section of this act that deals with that particular eventuality. There are always improvements that are being made to legislation, and if the member had an amendment that he could suggest, I would certainly be open to it. This act has fundamentally been dealt with in terms of the Uniform Law. They have assisted us in the drafting. They have similar laws, so there isn't a section of their law that we left out. That simply is something that has not been dealt with under law yet.
Mr. Fentie: Well, that leads me to this question then. A signature is usually an element that is required for a legal and binding transaction or contract or whatever. Could the minister just in brief layman's terms explain the section of the act that's dealing with signatures? What exactly would that be under this particular legislation? Is there any number of signatures that are valid, or is there a certain signature that is required?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's section 10 of the act. Section 10(1) says that a requirement under any enactment for the signature of a person is satisfied by an electronic signature. In layman's terms, basically what this says is that an electronic signature can be considered a signature, and the definition about what a signature is can be done by regulations. So, once there's more information out there about definitions of a signature, we can add more by regulation.
Mr. Fentie:Okay, so there's going to be follow-up.
Okay, this legislation will enact regulation. Regulation will then address the signature portion. And it brings me back to my earlier question about hackers, if you want to name them "hackers". Obviously, if they can capture signatures and duplicate them or use them in a counterfeit manner, that's where we step into problems here. So the regulations will deal with exactly what this signature must be, and that's where safeguards can obviously be provided.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is absolutely correct in that what the problem is, to put it simply, is that there's no technical standard out there right now for what constitutes a signature, so when the Uniform Law Conference of Canada comes out and says, "These are the technical standards that define a signature," we can pass that by regulation. We don't have to go back in and amend our act.
This is a really new area of law for Canada, and what we're doing is laying the foundation and the framework with this. The member has raised points that we will have to deal with in future sessions of this Legislature and by regulation. As those standards are being developed by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, we will bring them forward as well. What we want to do is fit within those national standards.
Mr. Fentie: In that case, could not the Yukon, in a proactive manner, develop some of their regulations even ahead of or even outside of what the standards are nationally, and maybe make us a more attractive place for e-commerce to happen? Is that a possibility? Could the minister provide that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Sure, Mr. Chair. This government is open to ideas and open to the member's suggestion, and it's something that we could be working on. You have to walk before you can run, so we needed to get started with this Electronic Commerce Act, and I take the member opposite's suggestions seriously.
Mr. Fentie: I have no further questions.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Bill No. 29, the Electronic Commerce Act? Shall we proceed clause by clause, or shall we consider it read and passed?
Chair: It has suggested we consider the bill read and passed. Do I have unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Clauses 1 to 26 deemed to have been read and agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I move that Bill No. 29, the Electronic Commerce Act, be reported out of Committee of the Whole without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Duncan that Bill No. 29, the Electronic Commerce Act, be reported out of Committee of the Whole without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 30 - Electronic Evidence Act
Chair: We'll next proceed to Bill No. 30, the Electronic Evidence Act. Is there any general debate?
Mr. Fentie: Just as a matter of clarity, the Electronic Evidence Act is backing up or linking to the Electronic Commerce Act, correct? And it's a requirement for us in the territory to pass this legislation to make this legislation good. Is that correct? Or is this different?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, one is not a requirement of the other. The Electronic Commerce Act relates to the business community, and the Electronic Evidence Act provides a legal structure for the development and use of electronic evidence in legal proceedings.
So, what one could consider is that we've recognized the electronic age in the business community, and now we're recognizing it in the courts, in layman's terms.
Could I just add, Mr. Chair, with respect to signatures, which the member opposite seemed quite interested in? In the case where someone questions the authenticity of an electronic signature, it's dealt with in the same manner as if someone alleged that it was a forgery. So, in that respect it's the same. An electronic signature is defined by the person who has alleged to have signed with one who alleges he did not sign; you'd have to prove it, basically.
So, with regard to electronic signatures, that's just some more information I wanted to provide to the member opposite.
Mr. Fentie:That leads me to this particular point, then, in the Electronic Evidence Act. Would it not be advisable to have some sort of clause in this legislation dealing with that very fact, versus waiting for regulation?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I should have elaborated when I spoke to the member opposite about the link between the two. Quite often, we also have business dealings that often end up in court, so there is a link in that respect between the two. The member opposite is asking about electronic signatures, so what the member is asking, in straightforward terms if I can repeat his question, is: if one can work and start work on electronic signatures under the Electronic Commerce Act, why aren't you doing the same under the Electronic Evidence Act? Is that the member's question? I see the member nodding.
Yes, again, I advise the member that we are getting started in this area. I do take the member opposite's suggestion seriously. What we will be doing is following up with the Uniform Law Conference of Canada and seeing what they have developed so far, and we would either bring in a Yukon model - and if they aren't working on it, then we can get started.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the minister for that. I have no further general debate.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on the Electronic Evidence Act?
Shall we proceed with this clause by clause or consider it read and passed?
Chair: Do I have unanimous consent to consider this bill read and carried?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Clauses 1 to 9 deemed to have been read and agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I move that Bill No. 30, Electronic Evidence Act, be reported out of Committee of the Whole without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Duncan that Bill No. 30, Electronic Evidence Act, be reported out of Committee of the Whole without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 22 - An Act to Amend the Elections Act
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, An Act to Amend the Elections Act is an amendment to the Elections Act, which we brought forward when the Elections Act was originally debated, and we are once again doing what we said we would do.
This amendment to the Elections Act contains the terms of reference for the electoral district boundaries commission. And during the responses, the members opposite said that there were a number of issues, and I'd like to address those issues as they appear. Some of the members may have forgotten the lengthy discussions we had when the Elections Act was first tabled. These amendments, again, are based on recommendations from the chief electoral officer in a report that the previous NDP government directed him to bring forward.
The recommendations relating to this particular area of the Elections Act, the electoral boundaries review, were ignored by the previous NDP government. These recommendations were made after consultation with all three political parties, yet for some reason, there was something different tabled by the previous government, something that no one had asked for and was not part of the consultations. The amendments that we've tabled will create good legislation, and they'll follow through on what people have asked for.
The interim leader of the NDP indicated that he had concerns with the type of consultation that took place with First Nations on the proposed amendments. Mr. Speaker, that's quite interesting because the First Nations were the ones who set the parameters for the consultation.
When the NDP was in government, the leaders of the three official parties of the Legislature agreed that a review of the election legislation needed to be done. The NDP, in government at the time, directed the chief electoral officer to conduct that review. The NDP government determined how the review would be done. The NDP decided what sort of consultation should occur, and consultation did occur. The three parties were invited to and did participate in the review.
The chief electoral officer sent letters to labour groups, chambers of commerce, the Council of Yukon First Nations, community associations, 14 individual First Nations and the three represented political parties. Unfortunately, there was very little response except by the three political parties.
The interim leader of the NDP has suggested we didn't do appropriate consultations on the amendments that have been put forward. The NDP, when they were in power, decided what the consultation process for the review of election legislation would be. The review was conducted by the chief electoral officer, and he submitted his report. His report recommended what is in the amendments that we have put forward. The NDP refused to follow these recommendations on boundary review. The NDP, in fact, put through legislation about the boundary review process that no one had asked for and that no one was consulted about. If the interim leader of the NDP has concerns with the consultation process on this legislation, then perhaps he may wish to ask his own caucus about it.
One of the other issues that has been raised was a concern that the commission may incorporate the riding of Faro into another riding. None of us in this House can prejudge what the commission will recommend to the Legislature - none of us. I would like to remind the member opposite, under the legislation that his government put forward, that could have also happened. Under the legislation that his government put forward, the previous Minister of Justice stated in this Legislature that she expected a boundary review to be conducted prior to the 2004 election. So, while the representation of the people of Faro is a concern to everyone in this House, these amendments have no different impact on that situation than the legislation that the previous NDP government created.
Both the interim leader of the NDP and the Member for Klondike have raised the issue of whether a judge or a retired judge, who is resident of the Yukon, should be on this commission. The reason that the chief electoral officer made this recommendation was to ensure there would be a neutral chair for the commission. It's also important that the chair be very familiar with Canadian law. In the NDP's legislation the commission would be solely comprised of an independent individual who may be a member - may be a member of the judiciary.
If the members opposite feel that there is somehow a better choice for chair of the commission, I'd invite them to bring forward an amendment for debate in Committee.
Mr. Chair, the members opposite also raise the issue of whether it would be better to have someone from outside the Yukon to chair the commission. If members would remember, the last electoral boundary review was conducted by a judge who was from outside the territory. There were subsequent discussions among all three of the parties about how that may not have been the best approach. One of the advantages of limiting the members on the commission to Yukon residents is that they have a better understanding of the unique aspect of many of our communities. They have a better appreciation for things such as accessibility and transportation and communication patterns between different areas. They will have a broader understanding of any special circumstances relating to electoral districts.
Also, Mr. Chair, by having Yukoners on this commission, we will have a made-in-Yukon recommendation, or recommendations, I should say, and it will keep our costs lower. And I would remind the interim leader of the official opposition that the previous Minister of Justice defended her position of holding an electoral boundary review only once every 10 years by stating that it would save money.
Really, the result of the amendments we have put forward is the best possible combination that you could ask for, a better product and lower costs.
The interim leader of the official opposition and the Member for Klondike both commented that they didn't believe that there was any mechanism in these amendments to ensure that there would be adequate representation or balanced representation from rural Yukon. I'm not sure, Mr. Chair, if they have read these amendments, because these amendments improve that representation in two very important ways.
The previous legislation had one commissioner who would conduct the boundary review. These amendments ask each political party represented in the Legislature to appoint someone to the commission. This provides some ability to appoint rural Yukoners to the commission, something that was less likely under the previous - the NDP's - legislation.
The second improvement in these amendments is that the commission "must" consult. The NDP's legislation stated that the commission "may" obtain public input for the purposes of a preliminary report. These amendments indicate that the commission "shall" - a requirement shall establish a process for receiving representations leading to an interim report, and it is required that public hearings be held prior to the preparation of the final report.
Mr. Chair, I agree wholeheartedly with members opposite when they say we need to ensure that the commission does not solely focus electoral district boundaries on population. I agree wholeheartedly, as does our caucus. We need to recognize that other factors are important. These amendments set out a number of criteria that the commission must take into consideration. These criteria include such things as accessibility, size, physical characteristics of any area, facilities, and patterns of transportation and communication, the boundaries of municipalities and First Nation governments, special circumstances and the public input that has been obtained.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I look forward to general debate and clause-by-clause debate on the Act to Amend the Elections Act.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, this is the biggest legislation brought forward by the Liberal government this sitting, and I think it's an important one. It certainly affects many Yukoners out there and, once again, Yukoners are faced with the possibilities of having their electoral districts moved or changed or amalgamated or maybe even eliminated.
Mr. Chair, I question the timing of this whole thing. For the members opposite, before the last general election, it was a big issue to get it done, and get it done right away. It needed to be done, in their minds, before the territorial general election.
Now we've gone through that process. Elections are over, and we have a census coming out in 2002, which could move things around, I guess, quite a bit and could even possibly determine where there could be possible electoral boundaries, particularly in the Whitehorse area.
And the Premier has not said or given us any rationale for why this is to move through right now, quickly. It's one of their first priorities as a government to change it and have renewed electoral boundaries in the Yukon. There's no rationale behind it, other than the fact that it was a commitment, and they're doing it. Well, that's great. And it needs to be done, but there's time for it to be done over the next couple of years. And at this point, there are some people who have a lot of concerns about this - particularly people in Faro, who know what the Liberals have said in opposition about that riding. There were a lot of anxious moments there, Mr. Chair, when questions came up with regard to the electoral boundaries about Faro and the fact that it would have been nice, I guess, at the time, for the opposition to have seen a new boundary in Faro. But the fact is, like many communities out there, Faro has its uniqueness, and things could change in that community in a year from now or six months from now, where you'd see a larger population in that particular community.
So to come through and change the electoral boundaries and have the possibility of people in Faro not having their own district - maybe joined in with Ross River, and it gets divided again and again - this is a concern with them, Mr. Chair.
We in the past have had the parties get together and work on this, so this hasn't happened since the Liberal government has come in. We haven't all sat down to try to work this through, even in regard to timelines - when is the best time to have this done. We all want it completed before the next territorial general election. I think we all do, but the timing is one thing.
Also, Mr. Chair, there are issues here that are big and I would think that if the communities were questioned about it - in Whitehorse and outside of Whitehorse - there may be a different amendment to this Elections Act as we see before us. I have not seen, lately, any major papers going back and forth and chiefs dealing with this whole issue through the Council of Yukon First Nations. I've not seen that. And with the public, I haven't seen that. What we're talking about are very important things in this amendment. We're talking about terms of reference and how the commission is going to go out there and establish new boundaries. And I think it's very important that communities now know what's in there before it even comes forward to us, Mr. Chair. The previous commission had some tools and guidelines to work with, some terms of reference. They looked at the 25 plus/minus in communities. They had a lot of discussions with First Nations in regard to traditional territories and keeping a voice - making sure that First Nations do have a voice in this Legislature.
They had a lot of tools to work with and I don't believe that what we have here, right now, has a lot of input from the communities out there. I believe people thought they had time to be able to deal with this big and important bill.
Now, of course, in 1996, when we were dealing with this whole issue in the Liberal platform, they said they would involve Members of the Legislative Assembly in developing this policy or any legislation through these committees that are set up through this House. Obviously, it's not happening. So, that commitment to the other parties has just vanished from the Liberals' hands. Instead, it has already been drafted up in amendments to the Elections Act and brought forward.
I would ask the Premier if she is basically willing to listen to the opposition's views on this and bring it forward at a later date in another amendment to the Elections Act. That was their commitment. Is it still there?
We're bringing this forward and we're going to have a lot of discussion about it. Is it there? Is the timing - do you have to do it right now, push it through in a matter of days? This gives the terms of reference to the committee to go out there and do their work. Or, is the Liberal government willing to sit down with us in opposition and go through this a little bit more carefully, and also work with the communities and First Nations?
The Premier also pointed out that they were involved in discussions that took place when the NDP was in government, in drafting these amendments to the bill. Certainly, there was consensus reached in the passing of the bill.
Now, the Premier had also said in this Legislature that there was, when we started this process, some degree of cooperation and willingness to work to ensure that we had the best rules, and that cooperation still exists at the party level. That was only about a year ago.
Now, what we've seen is that a number of bills have come to this House for us to consider, to debate and to pass. This one - I know the members opposite know very well that we have a lot of questions on it. Timing is one. During that time, we have had no offers to either of the political parties on this side to work on this outside of the Legislature.
We certainly have plenty of time to do that. I think that this bill could be brought forward again, if the Liberal Party so chooses, in the spring sitting, when more issues can be addressed by communities, the general public and First Nations. I believe that some people may feel that this is rammed through and not done openly. All of a sudden, after the Liberals are in for six months, then, boom, it comes to the floor of the Legislature. The general public just has not seen what the Liberal government has to offer or is thinking about with regard to terms of reference for this commission to be established.
It's not inconsistent with past practices either, because this commission has always received input from all political parties to move this forward, and I don't believe I have got anything from the members opposite on this in the last little while. I think it would be basically an effective way to move the agenda forward and address the issues that we bring forward here. Certainly, once that takes place and we involve the communities out there, senior governments that are going to be affected by this and also the Council of Yukon First Nations, that this will be, of course, out in the open. It will be seen by the public as moving ahead to completion before the next general election. It does not step in the way of, hinder or leave questions in the minds of voters, for example, in the by-election in Faro, or if there's any other by-election in this territory. And what happens with that? Should there be a by-election and all of a sudden the boundaries have changed and they are no longer, basically, the same riding as they used to be after a by-election, what happens then? And what happens when the boundaries are changed and we've elected officials in our districts and a by-election takes place? Where do we move from this? This is supposed to kick in in the next general election.
I believe that this commission, like always, would be independent of government. They're certainly going to be directed a lot from what is being passed here in this House in regard to the terms of reference.
I'm sure the members opposite have gone through the reports from the boundaries commission and have read through that extensively. It talks a lot about First Nation people, making sure that they have a right and have an effective voice in this Legislature. It talks about rural Yukoners and small communities and the fact that there are a lot of diverse interests in the communities and that Yukon is very much different from the rest of Canada when it comes to one city basically dominating the Yukon electoral boundaries. That's a big concern also of the community people. What direction does this legislation give to the commission? Does it talk about fairness or does it talk about balance? More so than ever right now, because all the Whitehorse ridings are on the government, certainly communities are feeling that tremendously right across the board - even in how and what gets approved by this government. The feeling out there right now is that it's just not fair. The processes are just not fair right now.
And if there's any mention of balance, the common question in the communities right now is: what is the balance with regard to ridings? Well, it's Whitehorse, and the communities are always below.
So the community people have always pushed for representation - fair representation. First Nation people are pushing to have a voice and to have recognition of the uniqueness of communities, and of their community. Specifically, Old Crow has always had a voice in this Legislature, and that should not be taken away at all, and it should be looked at in a more serious manner. And places like Faro should be looked at, to see and make sure that Faro is looked at with a lot of interest and detail, and not have it just bumped off the map. Look at its uniqueness. The fact is, in a year from now, that community could be bigger than most communities in the Yukon, without an MLA of their own.
Also, communities in the Yukon seem to be overlooked for what they contribute to Yukon as a whole, because the numbers aren't out there, with regard to population. But still the activities are there. There is a lot of wealth out there. Just have a look at what Faro contributed to the Yukon over the past years, and look at the number of services and businesses that do supply those services to Faro out of Whitehorse and other communities along the highway.
It was not a small thing. I think it was something bigger than some are willing to admit, but I believe that Faro should not be just ruled right out at this point. I also don't believe that the terms of reference are clear enough to really spell out what we reported on, say, for example, in the last boundaries commission report.
If the members opposite took that seriously, it should have been reflected in their amendments.
We have also had changes in the Yukon government's structure - tremendous changes over the last 10 years.
I know that all these things will be raised again with the commission as they travel around to the communities, but at the same time, I believe that these changes should have had some input from the First Nations, which are basically senior governments like the Yukon government, and should have more input into the terms of reference that are going to be guiding the commission.
I do wish that the members opposite would read through the commission's report and pay particular attention to the First Nations section. I think it's a good eye-opener for some people, and a good reminder of the fact that the First Nations people are actually getting to vote these days in elections, which was not the case 40 years ago.
I do have some questions for the members opposite on this. I guess that, in starting off, I would ask the Premier to give her reasons again as to why this bill is coming to the House now. I know they committed to it, but what is the rationale and why can we not wait for the census to come out or wait a year from now? Or, why can't we wait until we, on this side of the House, at least have more input into this?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm pleased to respond to the member opposite's comments. First of all, the member opposite asks about the timing and members of the opposition having input into this. First of all, this is precisely what we said we would do. More importantly, in terms of the member opposite's concerns about having input, this is exactly the amendment that Mr. Cable, our previous colleague, proposed, that we entreaty - if that is the correct English - the then-government to listen to it. We spent hours asking the Minister of Justice to please consider it.
The member opposite seems to be defending the previous government's desire to have this based on the census data. The Yukon Party voted against the Elections Act for precisely this reason. The previous government didn't deal with the boundaries. They wanted it based on census.
The member opposite is suggesting that somehow, by bringing this forward now, we are not being fair. This commission, as proposed in this bill, is far fairer than just one individual. I can go into a long discourse as to why we have the judge and jury system, but the more opinions we have, the more likely we are to ensure that everything is heard.
I'd like to go through a timeline. For the sake of argument, if this bill is assented to in January, 2001, it wouldn't be until the fall of 2002 before any recommendations were considered. And the time frame is clearly outlined in the Elections Act.
So, the member's suggestion - first of all, I take great exception to the member's suggestion that this is about one particular riding, because it certainly, certainly, is not. It is absolutely not about one particular riding.
It's not about one particular community. It's not about one particular area. It's about ensuring that the boundaries are fair. Nothing will change to this Legislature, and to the members sitting in it - say, we have representation from Faro - over the course of this term of the government.
If this - once this particular amendment passes the Legislature, it will be fall 2002 before there would be legislation about any changes, and it would not, in the interim, affect anybody sitting here, other than we're going to have a Member for Faro join this Legislature soon.
That's what's going to happen over the interim. I can't see into a crystal ball and predict whether or not there will be a by-election in anybody's riding, for whatever circumstances, but the boundaries that the individual would run in would be the same. The seats are here; they're here till the government's dissolved. The boundaries are here until we get new legislation, and even then that legislation and those boundaries go through a very, very extensive public consultation process.
This is a public consultation process, Mr. Chair, which we're saying the public shall be consulted on. The previous government only said, well, they could consult if they felt like it - one person. We're saying a five-person commission shall.
They have to. And it's all spelled out as to there being an interim report - there's a commission appointment, there's an interim report, there are public hearings, there's a final report that comes back to this Legislature, and it comes back for lengthy discussion and debate here in this Legislature. We've also made sure, in our amendment to this legislation, that the commission shall take into account things like the density and rate of growth for the population. So we've met the member opposite's needs of wanting to defend this previous government's insistence on the census data by including it as a consideration. There is the accessibility, size and physical characteristics of any area; the facilities and patterns of transportation and communication; demographic information; the number of electors in the electoral districts appearing; any special circumstances relating to existing electoral districts; the boundaries of municipalities and First Nation governments. This amendment recognizes that that has to be a consideration in determining seats. The previous government did not. The previous government wouldn't do that.
The member opposite wants to talk about consultation with the other two parties. This is the amendment that was brought forward that we had extensive consultations about. We asked the Yukon Party members then many times - then there was more than one. They examined the amendment brought forward. We asked over and over and over again the Minister of Justice to consider the amendment to the Elections Act. We asked in this debate endlessly, when I was sitting in the chair the member now sits in. We spoke passionately about the need for Yukoners' views to be considered.
We're asking that Yukoners' views be considered in a timely and effective manner.
The member talks about First Nation people being able to vote. Women have held our franchise for only a short time - too short a time in many views as well. We feel very, very strongly that Yukoners should be heard on this issue, that they should be heard in a timely manner and that the authority to make changes, ultimately - should the commission recommend them - should come back to this Legislature and that it should be a fair commission. For that fair commission, we've set out what I believe is the best suggestion we could come up with. I have invited the members opposite to make amendments and come up with other ideas for the commission. We feel it should be more than one person. We feel it should be representative of all three political parties represented in this Legislature. We feel, most importantly, Mr. Chair, that the commission should consider the unique views, needs and desires of the Yukon.
This bill is very timely. These election boundaries are very fresh in people's minds. We will have had not just one by-election in the last 24 months; we'll have had two. We have polling districts that vary between federal and territorial elections. We have many, many issues that are out there. We've had a general election; we will have had two by-elections. We're not ramming this through the House; we're putting it forward in a timely manner for discussion by Yukoners as we said we would do. We want to see these changes to the Elections Act. Why now? Because they're good changes; they're good amendments and they're the same amendments that we wanted last fall when we debated this legislation. They're just the same and they're just as important if not more so now than they were then. I look forward to debating this proposed bill.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the members opposite said that it's no different for anybody else, that it was important to have this amendment in place, but they didn't tell the general public that they were going to do it within six months of coming into office. It certainly would have made a difference if the elections weren't when they were. Is the member saying that what she would like is to have the Liberals' views on this pushed through here and not the Legislature's? Do we not have input? I thought that was what the member said earlier about what we see here as proper process. Why couldn't that be? Why couldn't the members opposite go that route rather than, "This is what we want."
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the consultation with opposition members took place on this amendment. We consulted extensively with the Yukon Party when we brought forward this amendment when this legislation was discussed last fall. We discussed it extensively with the NDP, extensively.
The member opposite is suggesting that somehow now there should be an all-party committee to discuss this amendment. Well, they won't even participate in any all-party committee. They won't participate. We have brought forward the same amendment we brought forward last fall, which we consulted extensively on. We tried for hours in the members' lounge; we tried for days to get the former Minister of Justice to consider this amendment. She kept saying, "I'll take it back to caucus."
The member opposite was consulted on this amendment, and the member opposite suggests that this isn't what we said we'd do to the Yukon public we'd do. It's precisely what we said we'd do. We're on public record about it in Hansard, and it's part of our election platform. We said we'd do this and we're doing it. We're doing it in a manner of timing that will allow this commission's recommendations to come back for full debate in the fall 2002. At that point, should the Legislature agree with the commission, there is still plenty of time before the next election to effect changes or not effect changes, depending on what the commission recommends.
And I have no preconceived notions about what the commission is going to recommend. I have no preconceived notions. Personally, in my own riding, privately, it boggles my mind every day that four people on one particular street vote in one riding and the rest of the street votes in the other. That boundary division makes no sense to me. But that's my own view. It's up to the commission. And it's up to the commission hearing from Yukoners and paying attention to things like municipal boundaries and First Nation governments. And I think that is so important that that and census data and special circumstances be considered by this commission. The members opposite, when they were in government, didn't think that was important. It could be based solely on the census data by one individual. We've opened this up. We've put the process in place and we're asking people to do it in a timely and appropriate manner with full consideration for Yukoners.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, things have changed. When the members opposite say that discussions have taken place, of course they have. There are new members in this House. There are a lot of new faces in the House, particularly on the government side.
There are also a lot of questions out there right now and renewed interest in this, yet the member just wants to move forward on it. Of course, one of them that was raised in here was the fact that previously we had one member of the commission who was an independent individual. And now we've gone to a judge or a retired judge of the Supreme Court, who resides in the Yukon, and who is also chosen by the senior judge of the Supreme Court. So, what does that say to the people in the Yukon?
Well, it's obviously narrowed down to two, possibly three people who could do this job. Does the member not see that this could be a concern for the general public out there?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's precisely for the public's interests that is why we want to do this now. It is because there's a lot of public discussion. That's why we're bringing forward these amendments.
If the member has a concern about clause 408(1)(a) "a judge or a retired judge of the Supreme Court resident in the Yukon who is chosen by the senior judge of the Supreme Court and who shall be chair"- if the member has a better suggestion as to whom should be appointed under subsection (a) to be part of this. The previous government just wanted the chief electoral officer to have this responsibility. We want to broaden it.
If the member has a suggestion about who might be a better appointment under (a), I'm most open to hear it. I have only heard criticism. I have not heard a suggestion.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I'm wondering how seriously the government will take these suggestions. One that could be thought about now - and there's plenty of time to debate this bill, but one that could be taken right now is to strike the amendment and continue having the Commissioner choose the independent individual, after consultation with all political parties in this Legislature.
Is that something that the members opposite would take seriously?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, this side of the House, unlike previous governments, is very open and interested in solid amendments brought forward. We're interested in debating them. I don't see how the member opposite would think that the Commissioner would be more independent than a judge, than the senior judge of the Supreme Court. Judicial independence is, of course, a quality that everyone in this House holds dear.
If the member has a written amendment, then I would invite him to bring it forward. And, again, I said at the outset that we believe that, with the way the commission is structured now, a judge or a retired judge of the Supreme Court resident in the Yukon who is chosen by the senior judge is a very independent chair. If the member wants to open that up to - I don't see how the Commissioner, in consultation with the three political parties, is any different or somehow more independent than the way we've suggested it. But if the member wants to bring forward an amendment, we'll debate it.
Mr. Fairclough: One of the things that I said is possible - we can bring this forward again as an amendment, maybe down the line - was to have the Commissioner choose the independent individual, but after consultation with the political parties in this Legislature. And they haven't mentioned that part. And certainly that's something that we may be looking at. For right now, I just wanted to get a feel for that from the members opposite.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have assured the member that we're open to amendments. I was offering him feedback on his proposal. I'm not certain that constitutionally, et cetera, the Commissioner would want that responsibility, because there are differences between the role of the Commissioner versus the role of the Legislature.
If the member wants to bring forward an amendment, we're open to amendments. We're open to discussing them.
Again, what I encourage the member to examine is the fact that what we have proposed here is a full and fair review and a full and fair commission. It is an expansion of the previous act, which delegated the sole responsibility to the chief electoral officer based on one consideration, census, whereas this is a large, five-person commission that is entrusted to look at very key Yukon considerations. And it's five Yukoners. That point is something that we feel is very important.
Chair: The time being close to 4:30 p.m., do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We'll continue with general debate on Bill No. 22, An Act to Amend the Elections Act. I believe Mr. Fairclough has the floor.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I would like to ask whether or not the Premier believes that the amendment to this act, with regard to a judge or retired judge of the Supreme Court who is chosen by a senior judge of the Supreme Court - how many people does the Premier believe the choice narrows down to?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The Member for Klondike has suggested that there are three people. I would like to provide the member opposite with more concrete information. I'll just double-check on that.
Mr. Chair, there are two judges and one retired judge of the Supreme Court resident in the Yukon. The senior judge of the Supreme Court would make the choice between either of those two judges or the retired judge.
Mr. Fairclough: Does the Premier feel that this is a big enough pool to satisfy Yukoners in this regard?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I do. I also believe in the ability of both and have absolute, utmost respect for the ability of the retired judge and the current sitting judges to be fair, impartial and completely independent.
Mr. Fairclough: I believe that we do know part of the background of one of the judges, and I believe that Yukoners should have more ability and a bigger pool to have a choice. I know that the member opposite is narrowing it down to basically two people - possibly three, but two people - and that's not very much of a choice for many of the people out there who just might not have the confidence in either of those two people. If that's all we're limited to - these two people - what happens if neither one of them want to do it?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I take very seriously the role of the judiciary. And I'm sure the member, upon reflection, would not want to call into question the independence of any current members of the judiciary or retired members. I'm sure the member would not want to call into question their impartiality. If the member opposite does not feel that three is an adequate number or that the requirement to be resident in the Yukon is not appropriate or the member could bring forward an amendment to eliminate the "resident in the Yukon". And I'm sure the member would want to defend that.
Mr. Fairclough: My question wasn't answered, Mr. Speaker. I asked the Premier what happens with her amendments should they push it through the way it is and not accept our changes to it. What happens if both of these people did not want to take on the job?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: What would happen if a senior judge of the Supreme Court asked either a judge or a retired judge to chair this commission and they all refused? As the member knows, it's a very hypothetical question, and I invite the member opposite to bring forward a suggestion. Does the member want to amend that clause to eliminate the residency in Yukon? That's what got us the boundaries we have now. If the member would like to expand it to perhaps say "any judge of a Yukon court" or something along those lines, we could get into lengthy debate on that particular clause. And I'd be happy to, as I said. Let's talk about other ideas.
Although we've gone through this over and over and over again, we haven't been able to come up with anything better. The hypothetical situation - it's hypothetical.
I'm quite certain of a number of things: first of all, the independence of the judiciary; secondly, their ability to act on cases and questions that are put before them.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I believe that government has given this a lot of thought. They are narrowing the choices to a couple of people, and they must have a backup plan for what they thought would take place here. There are only two people, so what happens? There's a good possibility that it could happen. They may just not want to get involved in this process and don't want to do it. So what happens? Do we throw our hands up in the air and come back to the Legislature with an amendment because we do need one to the Elections Act?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has called into question section 408.1(a) and suggested that it's too narrow, it's not enough people, or that they might refuse. We have, as the member said, thought long and very, very hard about this particular section. We felt that this was the fairest individual, the most impartial. Certainly, who is more impartial in society or considered more impartial in society than a Supreme Court judge? No one is considered more impartial.
The member opposite has raised a very real difficulty in that we have, in all of my time, albeit short, in this Legislature, been unable to appoint an additional conflicts commissioner. Nobody wants that job. That's a very real issue that this Legislature has to deal with and that we should be dealing with. Our act, I believe, allows us to appoint three, but we haven't done that, and that's an issue we have to deal with. No one wants to take that on.
I don't believe that, because we're asking a judge or a retired judge to solely act as chair of this, we would be refused. However, the member opposite sees a concern, or perhaps the member opposite sees a plot where there isn't one.
We could, if the member wanted to bring forward an amendment, perhaps - well, let me put it to the member: what does the member suggest we expand it to? Should it be expanded to include Territorial Court judges?
Mr. Fairclough: Well, before we bring any amendments forward, I'm trying to get some thoughts on how the Liberals were thinking when they brought this forward. I'm trying to get some rationale behind these numbers. Obviously, they've thought it through extensively. I want to know why there was only a small pot to pick from here and what their backup plan was?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention to the member opposite's question. The rationale behind this particular section was that, first of all, we wanted a commission. That is per the electoral officer's recommendation. It's a difficult issue. There are a number of questions to consider. It takes, speaking of divisions, the wisdom of Solomon, in many respects.
You don't ask just one person to try and deal with this issue, so we wanted to clearly add people to the chief electoral officer. We wanted to add people. So, what is the fairest and most respectful way of doing that? It is to add a representative from each political party that is represented here. In the current circumstances, that makes four. Now, you still don't have one person then to act as chair. You need a chair. So, who do you get? Who do you ask when you want the most impartial, fair, reasoned and independent person you can think of? It's a judge.
Or a retired judge; someone who's used to having cases, arguments, information put before them, and being asked to make a reasoned solution that's appropriate to the case and appropriate to the situation.
That's why we went forward, and why we have come forward to this House with section 401(a) that the chair be a judge or a retired judge of the Supreme Court. Justice Kenneth Lysyk was charged with doing this. It was a judge; it was a justice that we went to last time.
The difficulty there is that Justice Lysyk did not reside in the Yukon. I don't want to criticize the individual, but I'm not certain he fully recognized the difficulties of places on one side of the highway voting in separate areas, and on separate candidates, than folks on the other side of the highway. It divided the Yukon throughout the territory, and it wasn't perhaps - the boundaries need review.
So, who do you get to do it? You get the most impartial person you can think of in the community - a person who's charged with these responsibilities in other situations. That person is either a judge or a retired judge.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, having the pool narrowed down to two people - certainly the government must have known that this would be questioned by the opposition.
So, in making their choices, can the minister tell us what other routes were they going? What other avenues could they have taken? Could she tell us, so that maybe we can consider it here. Maybe there was a better one for members opposite to choose from.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we have had so many discussions on this particular piece of legislation over such a length of time. I'll go back to our files, because we had extensive research work done on this when we first proposed the amendment. I'll go back and see what other possible options for 401(a) were considered. It is three people, and any one of those three could be chosen by the senior judge of the Supreme Court. So it's three - not two - in the particular circumstances we find ourselves now.
The other point the member opposite would want to consider is the fact that legislation is designed to stand the test of time, as well. So while it may be three at this particular point in constructing the electoral district boundaries commission, in five years from now, it could be five individuals. Who knows? It could be that an amendment is required. Again, I encourage the member, if there's a better idea out there, bring it forward as an amendment.
In researching this and doing our homework, we could not think of a more impartial chair to be found in our Yukon society today. If the member has a better idea of who might make a more impartial chair, I invite him to bring it forward.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I get a sense of where and how the Liberal government has come to make this choice of narrowing the pool down to two people, or possibly three. It's not hard to name those people. Because the pool is so small, the government must have a backup plan, but I don't see it here in the amendments at all.
Can the Premier make it a little more clear: what would they do, should these people refuse the job?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It's a hypothetical question and I'm not going to answer a hypothetical question. We put forward an Elections Act amendment that we feel creates a boundaries commission in a timely manner that is fair, that is representative of the Yukon, that is impartial and that is the best anyone in the Legislature could come up with. In examining other electoral district boundary commissions and their structures, this is the best we could come up with. I invite the members opposite to give it full consideration.
Mr. Chair, I think it's useful to go back for a moment and think about how we arrived at these amendments to the Elections Act. The Elections Act amendments and recommendations that were made came as a result of work done by previous political parties in the House and previous individuals. Previous leaders met with the NDP government of the day. They made recommendations. The electoral officer was charged with reviewing the Elections Act. The NDP gave instructions as to how that review was to be done. They decided what sort of consultation would occur. Three parties were invited and did participate in the review, as did the public.
There was consultation. We went through a great deal of consultation on the Elections Act on the electoral boundaries. The electoral officer made a report and made recommendations. The NDP chose not to include them in their last edition of the Elections Act.
The last edition of the Elections Act was some 400 pages, and there was a great deal of work done by political parties on the whole issue around election financing. We reached agreement on that. And we voted for that legislation, because we didn't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, if you'll pardon the expression, Mr. Chair. We voted for it because the rest of the act was good. The problem with the Elections Act, as passed by the previous government, is that it didn't deal with the question of boundaries. The way they dealt with it was to appoint one person - one person - and base it on the census data - one factor.
We have come forward, as we said we would do, and we have brought forward amendments to that one section of the Elections Act. We've asked for a commission and recommended to this House that the commission be five people and that they consider a number of factors relevant to Yukon life. We have gone further in the fairest fashion we can think of, based on research and, most importantly, Mr. Chair, based on listening to Yukoners, and brought what we believe to be solid, clear recommendations for changes to the Elections Act to this House. I've said to the member that if he and his political party and his colleagues can come forward with an amendment, then I invite him to bring it forward and we'll have a full debate on it.
I've said that, of course, we'll listen to suggestions. I haven't heard any. I've just heard: are we open to them? Yes, we are. I haven't heard the member come up with a better idea. The member asked on what basis is this amendment supported? It's the previous amendment we brought forward that the NDP absolutely refused to give serious consideration to. It's based on our work as legislators and our research work. It's based on our work with Yukoners and our very clear, solid knowledge of Yukon life.
It's very important to do this. It's important to do it now, in terms of timing. It's very important that we do it right. We feel that this amendment is right and that it's the best. It's written in the best way it can be. If the member has an improvement, I invite him to bring it forward.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I just pointed out a possible problem, but that was the best, I guess, the Liberals can do on this.
Can the minister tell us where the recommendation to narrow the pool down to two or three people came from?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: We are not narrowing the pool to three people. We are asking that the chair be the most impartial person recognized in Yukon society, as a resident of Yukon - the most impartial and the best able to serve as chair, having listened to debate and information, and who is knowledgeable about Yukon life and life itself. That is the basis for the recommendation. It's the most impartial person we could think of to act as chair.
It's not just we, on this side - it's what Yukoners - this is a reflection of Yukoners' views. Yukoners have a long-held tradition of recognizing their judges and their retired judges as fair individuals, as people who are used to hearing information, as Yukoners, and who have the ability to make decisions and recommendations in a timely and effective manner. Because there is a very clear time frame here, as well. This is whom Yukoners recognize as impartial - free from partisan, political debate - and who can act as chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I asked the member where they got the recommendation from for this narrow pool. I would like to know the reasons. What individual or organization recommended this narrow pool to choose the chair from? I would like to know that, so that I can, I guess, give more assurance to the people out there that this is a good thing and that there is a backup plan.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I apologize to the member opposite. The recommendation is on page 46 of the chief electoral officer's report, dated December 1997. It's taken straight out of there.
Mr. Fairclough: Was there a backup plan for that? People are going to be questioning this. What if we go through this whole process here in the Legislature and we don't have a chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, page 46 of the chief electoral officer of the Yukon's report - and the correct reference is "Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Yukon on Elections of Members of the Legislative Assembly and Other Related Matters."
Page 46, Recommendations: "That the membership of the commission shall consist of a judge of the Supreme Court (of the Yukon) chosen by the chief judge of the Supreme Court to be the chair of the commission; the chief electoral officer of the Yukon; and a resident of the Yukon chosen by each leader of a political party registered pursuant to the Elections Act and represented in the Legislative Assembly.
"That the names of the members of the commission shall be provided to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly within 60 days of the date of the last return to the writs of the second general election following the last electoral district boundaries commission."
The recommendation goes on to page 47 and includes secretariat and budget provisions, and criteria for and direction to a commission.
The recommendation of the chief electoral officer does not contemplate the refusal of a judge or retired judge to act as chair. There are enough individuals who are experienced and are available that I would suggest to the member opposite that that such refusal would be highly unlikely and unusual.
There are enough people, and this recommendation was the work of the chief electoral officer. It's a reasoned, thoughtful suggestion and most importantly, it points to an impartial chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, finally, I guess we're getting down to the reasons as to where the Liberal government has looked for recommendations.
It's obvious there was consultation taking place. Was there any more pre-consultation?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have a list of recipients of the letter from the chief electoral officer, including organizations, and this is page 64 of the report that I referenced earlier. I would invite the member to review it. The recommendations and the consultations are included in there.
Also, the member opposite should be aware that, again, I would reference that perhaps he would like to contact the former Minister of Justice, because there was a great deal of consultation with the Minister of Justice and the former leader of the other party opposite. There were many discussions about the recommendations that we brought forward.
The amendment that we brought forward was based upon this report - the report of the chief electoral officer - and the amendment, now that we're in government, is based upon the recommendations of the chief electoral officer as reported to this House in December 1997.
Also, Mr. Chair, I was remiss in also noting that the chief electoral officer is also fair and impartial, and is in the same consideration as the judges and retired judges.
Mr. Fairclough: So, is the member saying that recommendations put forward in 1997 are considered to be pre-consultation to these amendments that are being put forward by government now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: What I'm saying, Mr. Chair, is that in 1997, the three political parties in this House at the time, and the leaders at the time, met and said there should be a review. They asked the chief electoral officer to do it. The electoral officer did a review in December 1997. The results were tabled in this Legislature. There was consultation then.
The results of the chief electoral officer's work, with the exception of the boundary recommendations, were included in the last Elections Act. The NDP stubbornly refused to include them. We have included them. There was consultation on this amendment previously. When the last Elections Act was discussed, there was consultation in this Legislature among legislators about this amendment. What the amendment most importantly does is that it provides for consultation about boundaries with Yukoners. The act that the NDP brought forward in the last Legislature did not provide for that consultation with Yukoners. They said it might happen, if they felt like it - "may". This requires that consultation. It says, "shall occur".
And it also broadens the responsibility. It's far more inclusive - of political parties, of individuals, of legislators, of Yukoners. It's far more inclusive. It also includes impartial persons within our community: the chief electoral officer and a chair who is either a judge or a retired judge.
So, it's a far more inclusive commission; it's a far more inclusive amendment, because this amendment allows for the factors and boundaries associated with First Nation governments to be considered as a factor. The previous government didn't even consider that; they wouldn't even consider that. It was census data only, once every 10 years. The Yukon is about far more than the numbers. Elections and electoral boundaries are about far more than the numbers.
Mr. Fairclough: The member opposite is big on consultation. Are you saying there was no pre-consultation on this amendment?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I'm saying there was consultation by the chief electoral officer in doing the report. When he prepared this recommendation, he conducted consultation. Yes, there was consultation on this amendment. We're bringing it forward.
Mr. Fairclough: A lot of things have changed since 1997. I would like to know what consultation took place? Is that all you're relying on? Was there no talk with the First Nations at all about things that affect them?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, this amendment requires that there be consultation with Yukoners about the boundaries, about electoral district boundaries. It requires consultation with Yukoners. There's a lengthy process. Should this bill pass this House and be assented to in January 2001, recommendations of the commission, after thorough consideration of factors, which include the boundaries of municipalities and First Nation governments as just one of the factors - and there are many others - the final report would be tabled and then legislation would come before the House.
What this amendment does is it kick-starts, ensures and requires that Yukoners be heard on where they vote in a territorial election. That's what this amendment does. The consultations that arrived at this amendment took place some time ago. The fact that it took place some time ago is a direct result of the fact that the NDP refused to do this. They refused to do this, and Yukoners want it done. That's what we're trying to do. And we said we would do it.
Mr. Fairclough: Maybe the member opposite didn't take into consideration that direction did flow from the people up to the NDP. And now, without talking to anybody, they would like to kick-start this thing, as she calls it, and basically spell out the terms of reference and give the marching orders without talking to the general public - not one bit of consultation.
So, does the Premier think it's appropriate not to talk with CYFN, First Nations with self-government agreements, and communities?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The direction came from the people. The direction came from Yukoners, including the Council of Yukon First Nations, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Federation of Labour, the Klondike Placer Miners Association, the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation, Kluane First Nation, Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Liard First Nation, First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Ross River Dena Council, Selkirk First Nation, Teslin Tlingit Council, Ta'an Kwach'an Council, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, White River First Nation, three political parties. All of these received a letter from the chief electoral officer. They were consulted. This report was tabled in this Legislature and was available for public comment. We, as legislators, have a responsibility to take this report that's tabled to us for information and discuss it, talk with people about it, and respond. We have a responsibility to respond, and that's we're doing.
That's what we're doing. We're responding to a recommendation by putting it into a bill before this Legislature, which is something the NDP refused to do. We are taking direction from the people. The people have asked for this.
I invite the member opposite to ask all the candidates who ran in the last election about boundaries, to ask how many Yukoners think the boundaries should be changed.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite is saying that we didn't put this bill out for consultation and is somehow suggesting that. There has been consultation; there has been a report; we're following the report; we're putting it forward before the bill; and he has a responsibility as a legislator to come and debate it, and, if he doesn't like the bill, to bring forward an amendment to make it better. That's where we're at in the chain of responsibility.
If and when this bill passes this Legislature, what happens to it then is that there's a commission created, and as a political party, the NDP are invited to put forward a representative. As a registered political party and with one seat in this Legislature, the Yukon Party is invited to put forward a name. And we are invited to put forward a name, as the Liberal Party. And there's a retired judge or existing judge chosen by the Supreme Court judge and the chief electoral officer, who are two impartial bodies named to this commission. And then there is a consultation process. There's a commission approved. Then there's an interim report to the Speaker, and the Speaker tables it within five sitting days. Then, within five months, there is a requirement that public hearings be held, that it be done. There's a requirement for consultation. The NDP did not bring that forward in their bill. They didn't do it. We're doing it. We're following a recommendation that was duly arrived at after public consultation. We're doing what the public has elected and asked us to do. We're working on laws and good legislation for Yukon, and this legislation is a darn sight better than the previous stuff - a darn sight better. And I can use that, I believe, Mr. Chair. The Chair's frowning at me.
It requires consultation. It's a good amendment and I have challenged the member to bring forward something better. He hasn't done that. I have challenged the member opposite, just as the chief electoral officer was likely challenged to try and come up with someone more independent. There isn't. It's the best bill we can put forward, and it's a good bill. It responds to the needs of Yukoners. It responds to the hundreds of thousands of Yukoners who want to see the boundaries more representative. It responds to the potential of a court case, which serious Yukoners were considering, prior to the last election. It's very good legislation. It's well-written. It's clear. There are no typos in it.
I just can't understand what the member opposite finds wrong with the bill, and the member opposite hasn't come up with a better idea.
So, if he wants - if you would like, Mr. Chair - we can get into clause by clause and have endless debates about 401(a) or some other section of the bill. What more can I say? It's good legislation and I'm proud of it, and I'm glad to bring it forward.
Mr. Fairclough: So, after all of that talking, what the member is saying is that she has not done any consultation. She has been elected for six months now and has not gone out and said to the public, "This is what we're bringing forward as amendments to the Elections Act." She didn't do that. She didn't talk with First Nations, didn't say, "This is what we want to bring forward" - didn't do that. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member is not correct. I spent from September 30, 1996 until today and every day consulting with Yukoners and talking with them about issues just like this.
On April 17, Yukoners elected us. We talked about dealing with - the exact words were, Mr. Chair, page 9, in it's all about the Future - "Restoring confidence in government. Conduct an electoral district boundary review." And the results of our consultation on April 17, 2000 were abundantly clear.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, maybe the member could table for us whatever commission or group she put together that went to every community - every First Nation, every interest group, every NGO - and talked about these few amendments that they were going to do since 1996. I'm sure the public is going to be quite interested to see discussions that took place with those particular groups. I'm sure that the Premier must have had more than one political view on this whole thing as she was consulting with Yukoners or with this group on this particular issue.
So, the member must have that and could table it for us - the extensive consultation that must have taken place since 1996 on these amendments. She must have it readily available and could table it tonight, so we could have a look at it and maybe show the general public how fairly the group was put together by members opposite.
Obviously, it wouldn't have just been a Liberal group that went around. It wouldn't be that. I mean, that's not fair consultation - or maybe it is, in the member's eyes. Maybe it is.
But, if it's what they're relying on in bringing forward amendments to bills like this, I certainly hope that they do go out there and talk with the general public and not go back and say, "Oh, there was a study done four years ago, and we think it's good enough for Yukoners now" - like they have now.
And all we've done is go through, basically, one change here. We saw some flaws in there. The members opposite didn't see that. They didn't think that having such a narrow group was a big deal - no backup plans - and if these people refuse, what do we do? They cannot answer that to the general public at all, other than saying, well, we're going to have to obviously come back to the Legislature with another amendment to the Elections Act to maybe broaden the scope a little bit, because these people just may not want to do the job. But I don't believe the Liberal Party thought about that in putting this together. Let's put something on paper. If they at least talked to somebody out there, did some consultation, they might have got some direction on this and we wouldn't have to deal with this whole issue here today.
The reason why I raise this is that, obviously, people know it's out there in the public right now and are coming forward and asking why we didn't have some discussion on these amendments important to Yukoners, important to communities within Whitehorse and outside of Whitehorse, and certainly important to First Nation people across the territory. And yet the Liberal Party didn't feel that it was in the best interests of Yukoners to talk with them on this amendment.
Mr. Chair, I know that the Liberals are hyping up a lot with regard to consultation. They feel that to go and visit a community once, you've got their views - boom, that's it, and you don't have to go back. We're certainly seeing that in a lot of the things that they are doing today - not talking with the people, hiding behind things like boards and so on, and not being open and accountable. Now why couldn't the Liberal Party take this forward and say that this is what they want to bring forward to the Legislature and have people comment on that. These are their amendments to the Elections Act, and it would be making life a lot easier for people to maybe have their comments somehow woven into the amendments and we would have avoided the need to have to go through and do amendments in this House. The members ask us to come forward with any amendments that we feel are necessary, and there's lots of time to do that, and we will be bringing forward amendments to this act.
I wish that it is not taken lightly by the Liberal government, that it take our recommendations seriously and not just vote against it, and have this thing go through like they want it to, without even talking with anyone or even taking into consideration what we have to say on this side of the House.
Given the time, Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fairclough: Oh, 5:30 p.m. Keep going? Okay, Mr. Chair, maybe the Premier can enlighten us about whether or not she would consider taking this back out to the people of the Yukon.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, when the chief electoral officer of the Yukon reported to this House after a consultation period, the chief electoral officer made a very serious recommendation about the makeup of a boundary commission. The NDP government, who, needless to say, did not take their act out for consultation to First Nations governments or anybody else - didn't take that out, not the electoral boundaries, and not this section of the act. They didn't take it out. We did.
Whom did we consult with? The member wants me to table it. I'll have to table the voters list from every single riding of the Yukon, because we talked to every single Yukoner in the past election campaign. Every single Yukoner. And we said to them - we also hand-delivered our platform. We said we would change how government works. We said we would conduct an electoral district boundary review.
This is not some Liberal suggestion. This is not some NDP suggestion. This is not some Yukon Party suggestion. It did not just land out of thin air. This is the very good work that was tabled in this Legislature. It was very good work.
What we want to do, unlike the NDP, is consult with Yukoners about how the boundaries should be done. We said we'd conduct an electoral district boundary review. We're doing it, openly and accountably, by putting forward the recommendations of the impartial chief electoral officer. That's how we're doing it. We're putting it forward so that we, as legislators, can debate in this Legislature as is our responsibility and as we were elected to do.
The member opposite wants to know what the results were of the consultation. Well, the results of the consultation are very clear in this House. They're very clear - save one seat. They're very clear. And Yukoners want this.
The people of Porter Creek South want this, as do the people of Porter Creek North and Laberge and Mount Lorne and Mayo-Tatchun, because everywhere in the door-to-door that I heard in the member's own riding was, "How come we don't have our own seat any more?" That's what I heard.
I have spoken as a private citizen to previous electoral district boundary commissions, representing the Chamber of Commerce, on the importance of having the Vuntut Gwitchin seat. I have done and lived through elections, as the member opposite has, and lived through all kinds of boundaries. Porter Creek has gone from being east to west to north to south. My own home has been in three different ridings. This is a necessary fact of Yukon life. Our population changes. Municipal boundaries change. There are final land claim agreements reached.
There are demographic changes. Our population, as the Minister of Government Services has said repeatedly and reminded us regularly, is ageing. There are demographic changes that we need to take into account. There are changes in density and rate of growth. Who would have predicted, several elections ago, the growth in certain areas? For example, who would have predicted that Marsh Lake would be the fastest growing community in the Yukon. Who would have predicted that 10 years ago? We need electoral boundaries that recognize that kind of growth, which recognize Tagish as a retirement community and a vital community.
We need to have Yukoners making these decisions because Yukoners know what meets their needs best. Most importantly, we need to do this. We can't put it off for yet another census and wait a year for that data. We can't burden one individual with the responsibility of this. That's not fair. The member often stands on his feet and speaks about fairness. It's not fair to burden one individual. It's fair to ensure that all three political parties, as represented in the Legislature, are on a review commission. And it's fair to ensure that the chair is as impartial as he or she can be. And it's fair to make sure that the chief electoral officer, who handles all these issues in one way or another, is there. It's a fair commission. It's a good amendment to what is, in many respects, a good bill, except for the fact that it didn't deal with this. And it needs to be done. It must be done. It's unfair, completely unfair - justice delayed is justice denied. And what the previous bill did was delay. It just delayed and delayed and delayed the boundary review.
It was delayed to the point where we could realistically have anticipated a court decision. I don't want the courts having to review this situation. I want Yukoners being asked to hear the facts about Yukon life and make these decisions, and, most importantly, it's doing what we said we'd do in a timely manner. We didn't say "timely" in our election platform. We didn't use the word "timely" because that's an expectation. We're not going to wait until the fourth year of our mandate to wave around a document and say, "See, we did it."
We're doing it, we're living it, we're breathing it, we're trying to fulfill it every single day that we serve Yukoners. We're doing what we said we'd do. And by doing what we said we'd do, we're bringing forward not a hastily crafted bill, but a very well-thought-out bill, a well-written bill that is based entirely on the recommendations of the chief electoral officer, recommendations that we urged this House to act on.
In the time since I have been here, we have been urging the government to act. We now are the government, and we're acting. We're doing it fairly, we're doing it responsibly, and we're doing it following the recommendations. Consultation did take place, and, most importantly, consultation will take place. It will, because this amendment requires that consultation.
The member opposite and I have engaged in debate on other pieces of legislation when he was on this side and I was over there. I asked the member repeatedly to consider an amendment. The gallery had individuals who cared so much about the legislation. They were interested in it. We cared about the legislation being written well enough that it recognized the rules of natural justice. We spent hours one afternoon just asking the member to consider - just to consider - an amendment.
I have already said to him, several times, that we would consider an amendment, but the member opposite can't bring one forward. We have the best recommendations and we have good recommendations - very good recommendations.
They have stood the test of time and this bill will stand the test of time. And this bill, most importantly, will give Yukoners fair representation, because there is an impartial commission that will make recommendations and that will take factors into consideration that are very important to Yukoners. And their recommendations not only require public input, Mr. Chair, but also require full and fair debate in this Legislature. Full and fair debate.
There is plenty of time for consultation built in. If this amendment is passed and proclaimed in January 2001, in the fall of 2002 the member and I will debate the committee's recommendations. And if by then there is an air of cooperation and an all-party assent, who knows? Maybe the recommendations will be accepted unanimously. Who knows? I have no idea what the recommendations are going to be from this commission. I have no idea. I have no idea what recommendations are going to come forward. It may be that the commission says the boundaries should stay the way they are. I don't know.
I do know that I want Yukoners to have an opportunity to comment on it, to talk about the boundaries, to talk about their frustrations and to talk, for example, as a community. Why don't they have a representative - their own representative - in the Legislature? They used to.
Those are the sorts of issues Yukoners want to talk about, and what this does is it gives them the ability to do that - gives the forum, gives the question. In order for the question to be answered, it has to be asked.
And that's what's going to happen. There will be a commission that asks the question. As it is now, the Elections Act delays and denies every Yukoner that opportunity. The Elections Act, right now, doesn't provide for consultation and public boundary review. It doesn't require it. It provides for it; it says it could happen, but it doesn't require it. This requires it.
We believe that that's important. We believe this amendment is important. That's why we're doing it. And we're doing what the chief electoral officer recommended to this Legislature. That's important, too.
The member opposite has tried to suggest that we didn't consult with Yukoners. Well, the NDP, when they were in government, did not consult on their denial and delay of the boundary review. They just said it was their way, and that was the way it was going to be.
There was no public consultation about that. We were lucky to be able to persuade the then-minister to hear us out on our proposed amendment, which recognized recommendations of the chief electoral officer.
This is a fair bill; it's a full bill, in that it finally, fully takes into account the recommendations of the chief electoral officer. It deals with that cloud hanging over us, of the 25-percent ruling. It deals with Yukoners having representation in this Legislature. Ultimately, that's what we're supposed to be doing representing Yukoners and this bill represents them, and ensures their fair representation.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the Liberals said that they've consulted. They said that they consulted with the public on the amendments and it's untrue. They can't, as a Liberal government.
Chair: Order please. Untrue is an implied falsehood. Could you please rephrase that?
Mr. Fairclough: Give me a word that I can use, Mr. Chair. Well, the government is wrong in saying that they have consulted the public on the amendments that they brought forward to this Legislature. They cannot bring forward any documents to say that they have consulted with the people of the Yukon.
This is their recommendations on the Elections Act and they could not say that, because there is no - and hasn't been any - consultation at all on this particular act. They haven't done any pre-consultation.
Now, it would have been an easy process. Work has been done, it's familiar in people's minds and people know that a commission is going to be, basically, put together. There are changes now, of course, and some different views that Liberals have on this. They want to give marching orders to the commission in the terms of reference and have it start the whole process of doing a review of the electoral boundaries in the Yukon.
But the reason why I questioned the whole issue about consultation is not for the members to bring up recommendations as brought forward. There are concerns from the general public about these amendments. And I have not had any reassurance from the Liberal government at all about directions that they have been given by the public about these recommendations, about concerns that were raised, about each one of those amendments to the Elections Act. We, on this side of the House, would like to know. And we have concerns. I've pointed out a couple that could have a fairly huge effect on what takes place in the Yukon. And narrowing the pool down to pick a chair, for example - we cannot get one. What do we do? Do we come back to this House and go through the whole process again? Is that being streamlined and more efficient, in the member opposite's view, to do that? I don't think so. I think people have a lot to say, and a new government coming forward with an amendment - it would be nice, just out of respect, to even say, "Hey, we're bringing this forward, and we heard your comments before, and we've obviously got some agreements by First Nations on this whole issue." And maybe things would have gone a lot more smoothly than they have today on this important amendment to the act.
Now, of course, the Premier took an opportunity to try to slam the NDP for its actions. There's no other way to move on this but put blame on other people.
This is your amendment. You're bringing it forward. You want the House to accept this, whether we bring forward amendments or not. That is what you want to do. That is what the members opposite would like us to do - accept this.
The tactics being used in here - is that the new Liberal way? Is that bringing more respect to government or restoring confidence in government? Acting a bit differently in the House than what has taken place previously - is that how the Premier would like to have her Liberal government seen now?
Now, Mr. Chair, there are not many amendments to this act. I'm just bringing forward concerns that the general public have passed on to us. So why can't the Premier answer the questions and give us, on this side of the House, the reassurance that those amendments that she would like us to pass are good ones - are the best from the pool of recommendations that have come forward?
I hope it's not a new Liberal policy to come forward to this House with amendments to an act about studies that took place many years ago or recommendations that came forward. I would hope, as the new government, that it would come forward, be open with the people of the Yukon and say, "Look, this is what we would like to do. I would like your comments on that." But it hasn't happened. And it hasn't happened at all with this particular one.
Now it raises questions when it may not have had to go through this process at all. That's just the one. All we have dealt with basically here is the pool that the Liberal government has brought forward, and it's being so narrow. It's down to two people - three people maybe - who could refuse to do the job. Of course, all kinds of concerns are going to come forward by us because of us reviewing this bill, and the marching orders that are going to be given to the commission are going to be the result of the amendments to this act and how things are being set up, interim reports that would have to come out, and so on.
So, we have a lot more questions on this particular bill and amendments to the Elections Act.
Do you want to break for the evening, or do you want me to keep going?
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Fairclough that I report progress on Bill No. 20.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Chair, I move the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Tucker that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered the following bills: Bill No. 32, Municipal Loans Act, Bill No. 29, Electronic Commerce Act, Bill No. 30, Electronic Evidence Act, and directed me to report same without amendment to the Assembly.
The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 22, An Act to Amend the Elections Act, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:54 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 7, 2000:
Motor Transport Board 1999/2000 Annual Report
Alcohol and Drug Services (Yukon) Review: Final Report (dated September 18, 2000)
Government Contracting Summary Report by Department (April 1, 2000 - September 30, 2000)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled November 7, 2000:
Connect Yukon - 19596 Yukon Inc.: information pertaining to Yukon Government Fund loan
Oral, Hansard, p. 156
Hamilton Boulevard contract: explanation of supplementary budget provisions
Oral, Hansard, p. 249