Thursday, November 23, 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
Hon. Ms. Duncan: We have a number of visitors in the gallery today. Joining us once again from Porter Creek Secondary School, the school that borders both Porter Creek North and Porter Creek South, are the grade 11 students, along with Mr. Wes Sullivan and Mr. Mike Toews. Welcome to the Legislature today, students. It's good to have you with us.
I would also like to introduce the former MLA for Whitehorse Centre who has joined us, Mr. Todd Hardy, and Denny and Judy Lewis are visiting us from Bellingham, Washington. They are in the gallery today, as is the mayor and city treasurer from Dawson.
Mr. Jenkins: I would like to introduce the former MLA for Klondike, Dave Millar, who is with us here today. Please welcome him to this House also.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling a letter dated November 23, to Mr. McLarnon from the MLA for Kluane on an investigation by Commissioner Ted Hughes and a letter from Mr. McLarnon to Mr. Hughes on the same issue, dated November 23.
Mr. McRobb: I have for tabling a letter of today's date to the MLA for Whitehorse Centre. I have an academic paper on the definition of "goodwill" and I have another definition of "goodwill" from the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.
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?
Speaker: Before calling for notices of motion today, the Chair will rule on the point of order raised by the official opposition House leader yesterday when the government House leader was giving a notice of motion.
A portion of that notice of motion read as follows, "THAT both the NDP and Yukon Party House leaders, as recently as November 21, 2000, have misrepresented the content of House leaders' meetings in the media."
The official opposition House leader, in arguing that there was a point of order, said, "The member opposite has just stated that we in the official opposition and the leader of the third party had misrepresented discussions and items as House Leaders. That would be implying that we have uttered falsehoods, and that's simply unparliamentary in our Legislature..."
The Chair would cite Annotation 494 from Beauchesne, which, in part, states: "It is not unparliamentary temperately to criticize statements made by Members as being contrary to the facts; but no imputation of intentional falsehood is permissible."
An electronic search of Yukon Hansard from 1987 to the present has revealed numerous instances when the word "misrepresented" has been used and none on which it has been objected to nor ruled to be unparliamentary. The most recent example of its use was on October 30, 2000, when the Member for Kluane stated, "That fact is misrepresented by this Liberal government."
The Chair has some sympathy with the point raised by the official opposition House leader in that accusations of intentional or deliberate misrepresentation are likely to create disorder and, therefore, should be of concern to the House and the Chair. It must be admitted that the review of past issues of Hansard has not revealed any occasion when members or the Chair have objected to the word "misrepresentation", even when the member using it has clearly implied that the alleged misrepresentation was deliberate.
However, members should understand that no matter what the House's previous experience, it is the responsibility of the Chair to consider the language being used in the context of the moment and to determine whether it is likely to lead to disorder. The Chair, therefore, in the future may well step in on occasions when it appears that allegations of intentional or deliberate misrepresentation are being made.
With regard to the motion the government House leader gave notice of yesterday, the Chair will allow it to stand on the basis that the Chair cannot determine, from its wording, whether the government House leader was making an accusation of a deliberate misrepresentation. That would only become clear during debate on this motion and, through this ruling, the Chair has indicated its expectations that no accusations of deliberate misrepresentation would be made at that time.
Returning to Daily Routine, are there any notices of motion today?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McLarnon: I give notice of the following motion:
I move that it is the opinion of this House that small business is an integral part of the Yukon economy; and
THAT this House urges the government to:
(1) provide a level playing field for all businesses,
(2) consider the needs of home-based businesses when developing policies or services to support business, and
(3) promote the development of joint ventures between First Nations and other investors.
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that current economic statistical information, being released by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, because of the limitation on information being received from Statistics Canada, is not accurately reflecting economic activity in the territory; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to take whatever actions are necessary to ensure that the statistical economic information being released by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics is comparable in accuracy to the information being released in the provinces, and to utilize the same economic indicators, such as housing starts, to reflect economic activity in the Yukon.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that oil and gas, forestry, mineral and other resource development in southeast Yukon at the present time are providing benefits primarily to northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories rather than Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to consult with the Town of Watson Lake and First Nations governments concerning the construction of a resource road in southeast Yukon that would provide access to oil and gas, mineral, forestry and other resource exploration and development in the region, and enable the people of Yukon to benefit from these developments.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Government's reaction to situation in Watson Lake
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I rise on a matter of urgent and pressing necessity to give a ministerial statement on the government's reaction to two situations in Watson Lake.
The principal grocery store in Watson Lake burned last night and I want to report, for the benefit of this House and the residents of Watson Lake, the actions we have taken this morning. An official from the municipal and community affairs branch of my department is en route to Watson Lake. His mandate is to liaise with the municipal government and report directly to me as the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. His role is to represent the Government of the Yukon in facilitating identification of the needs of the community of Watson Lake as identified by the municipal government. Once we have ascertained the community's needs, we'll make every effort to assist the community to restore its grocery supply and distribution.
I also met with Mr. Fentie, the Member for Watson Lake, to share information. He had a number of excellent suggestions that we are acting on as part of our response to this calamity, and I thank him for that meeting.
In addition, we have learned of an additional potentially serious situation: a health official has recommended that the elementary school in Watson Lake be closed due to an outbreak of diarrhoea. This recommendation will be discussed during a conference call to be held shortly. This conference call will involve Department of Education officials, the health nurse in Watson Lake, the territorial health officer, and the principals of both the elementary and the high school there. There's a possibility that the diarrhoea outbreak is not a school-specific issue, and this is being investigated. At this time, I have no information regarding the cause of the outbreak, but we are looking into it.
As part of the coordinated government response, we'll be setting up an information line to provide information to the residents of Watson Lake. We want to assure the residents of Watson Lake that we're taking both these situations very seriously and will be working closely with municipal officials and the MLA for Watson Lake on this issue.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: There is no doubt that the community of Watson Lake hardly needs to go through this situation that it now finds itself in, given the fire and the recent developments in the elementary school.
I'd like to extend my appreciation to both the Premier and the minister for their quick response to my request for a meeting this morning. It is imperative that we all collectively put forth every effort we possibly can to minimize the impact and the hardship that the community will face, and I'm sure, through that, we will soon come to a solution and resolution and solve the problems that we will be facing there over the coming days.
I want to extend to my community also best wishes, and hang in there.
Speaker: If there are no further statements, we will proceed to Question Period.
Question re: Beringia Interpretive Centre, purchase of gift shop
Mr. McRobb: My question is for the Minister of Tourism.
I want to make it clear to the minister that my question is not about the Member for Whitehorse Centre nor about conflict of interest. My concern is with how this government conducts business.
Now that the minister has some knowledge of her department's buyout of the Beringia Centre gift shop concession, is she satisfied that the entire transaction will stand objective scrutiny?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I have the utmost respect for the people who work for the Department of Tourism. I know that they have dispatched their duties very well in the past, and I am quite clear in my mind that there has been no wrongdoing.
Once again, even in the letter to Mr. Hughes, there are no specific charges made about this particular process, which was the buyout of the Beringia gift shop, and I still would like the member opposite to be very clear and specific about what exactly he sees to be wrong with the process in the Beringia gift shop buyout.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the member is starting to behave like a conflicts commissioner. She's not, and I'm not. She is the Minister of Tourism. I simply asked the minister about the government's policy of doing business. She did not answer the question.
Now, the minister and her communications people have provided various pieces of information to the media, some of which they have provided to this House. From this information a reasonable person would conclude that this government paid a private business for goodwill and for items that would normally be considered business costs. Many of these items do not appear in the original contract between her and the department and Mike's North Communications, which the minister has provided.
Can the minister tell us if schedules 1, 2, and 3, referred to in the contract signed May 29, 1997, are separate from the contract itself, and why she has not provided those schedules?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, if the member opposite would like copies of those schedules, once again, I would be happy to provide that information.
The member opposite is suggesting that I did not answer the first question. The first question was whether the process for the buyout of the Beringia gift shop was correct. I said to the member opposite - and I'll say it again - that I have complete confidence in the staff and that they did a good job. They did their job to the best of their abilities. We have nothing to hide. There was nothing wrong with this process. If the member opposite feels that there was some wrongdoing, could he please be specific about what exactly it is that he feels was wrong with this process.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think most Yukoners can see through that smoke-and-mirror show from the minister. Not only does she not answer the question, she does not provide information. This information was requested about two weeks ago, Mr. Speaker, and we have not received it yet. I would be very surprised if trips to Las Vegas and long-distance phone calls were anticipated in the original contract as being something the government should pay for.
Business people in this community are adamantly telling us that they consider items such as these to be part of the cost of doing business. There is a growing perception that this was a bad business deal for taxpayers. Will the minister now commission a thorough, independent, non-government audit of this entire transaction?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The member has still not given me a reason why.
And the member opposite knows that there is a process that he has not followed to have conflict-of-interest issues dealt with by the members of this Legislature, and that process is to take those issues to the conflicts commissioner and be specific in the allegations. And the member opposite is holding up the letter, which still does not say what the specific wrongdoings are. He nearly asked for an investigation, but he doesn't say why. And the member opposite says that he doesn't get information. Well, the entire government is not going to grind to a halt to answer every single issue the very next day after the member asks the question.
I have been providing information continuously to the member opposite. Sometimes he admits that he gets it; sometimes he denies it. It's quite interesting. To be absolutely clear: if the member opposite has a specific charge, I would dearly like him to make it.
Question re: Beringia Interpretive Centre, purchase of gift shop
Mr. Fairclough: The Minister of Tourism is a little testy this afternoon.
I have a question to the Minister of Finance on the same subject, and it's very short and to the point. Did the buyout of the Beringia Centre gift shop concession have Management Board approval before it was concluded?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member formerly was a member of Management Board and knows that each financial transaction of the government does not require Management Board approval.
Mr. Fairclough:It is a yes-or-no question, and it's obvious that the Premier is saying there wasn't.
Now, there are many legitimate questions about government policies that the Premier must answer as a senior elected official of this territory. These questions are about when government should pay contractors for normal business expenses and what the standards for documenting those expenses should be. And I'd like to ask the Premier one question in particular: does she think taxpayers should pay for goodwill to a private business that has operated in a government facility and has already been subsidized by the public?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the Government of Yukon, in its business transactions with Yukon businesses and out-of-Yukon businesses, conducts its business fairly. We pay our bills on time. In fact, we have instituted procedures to speed up our payment to contractors, as we committed to doing in our platform. We work very well with the business community as a whole. We pay our bills on time. What's more, we as a government are managing the territory's finances very well.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance did not answer the question. She did not listen to the question properly.
I asked whether she thinks that taxpayers should pay for goodwill to a business that has operated out of a government facility and has been subsidized by the public.
The Premier has talked a lot about performance indicators and business cases. Mr. Speaker, Yukon people think that the business case for this transaction is very, very suspicious. The Minister of Tourism has been trickling information out on a piecemeal basis. The answers simply don't add up to one clear picture.
As Minister of Finance, will the Premier now direct that a full, independent, non-government audit for this transaction be conducted without delay?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to circulate this document to the side opposite. The side opposite continually ignores the fact that this document exists. This is the Beringia Centre functional and financial analysis, produced by Luigi Zanasi, former NDP candidate. It refers, in the document, under operations, to the gift shop operation. In this contract analysis, it says that the existing contract with the contractor has a number of clauses. For example: buyout of equipment and product related to this transfer. It would cost about $60,000 - this is dated, by the way, from December 1999 to February 2000 - to buy out the contractor's inventory, equipment, goodwill, et cetera.
Question re: Fuel prices, removal of GST and other taxes
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Premier.
The recent shutdown of the turbines at the Whitehorse dam by frazil ice has brought the high cost of fuel home to the Yukon Energy Corporation. It costs Yukon Energy Corporation $45,000 a day to run the diesel plants. Yukoners who have to heat their homes and run their vehicles don't have the deep pockets of government to pay these high fuel prices, made worse by the Liberal government and the federal Liberal government.
Now, in view of the fact that in Yukon the federal Liberals and the Yukon Liberals are one and the same, will the Premier ask the Prime Minister to remove the GST on fuel as a partial fulfilment of the Liberals' commitment to do away with the GST altogether? Will she do that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it never ceases to amaze me how the member can get from frazil ice to GST rebates in one question.
The member is quite right. The turbines were shut down as a result of frazil ice. It occurs once about every 10 years in the Yukon, and it's a result of the global warming, in part. Perhaps the member would like to have a discussion about what's going on in Kyoto and Canada's efforts in that regard.
With respect to the GST and fuel tax, that is not an issue that the federal government Finance minister is, at this point in time, prepared to move on. It has been raised. What the federal government has done instead is institute tax rebates and tax credits and initiatives that will help lower income Canadians deal with home heating fuel costs for this year, which is very real and is going to help those who need it most, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, speaking about Kyoto, I don't have to remind the Premier about her flight to Ottawa on the government jet. That burned as much fuel in that round trip as Dawson diesel plant burns in a whole week, Mr. Speaker.
So much for this Liberal commitment and doing what they said they were going to do. This Liberal government can help Yukoners with high fuel prices by removing the territorial gas and diesel road tax.
Will the Premier commit to doing that, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, no. If we were to remove those taxes, which are the lowest in the country, there is no guarantee that that saving would be passed on to the consumer, and that's the most fundamental and important person in this whole equation - the consumer. And there's no guarantee they would see a decrease in their costs.
We have the lowest taxes in the country. We also offer millions of dollars in rebate to industry for their fuel costs - for example, the placer mining industry in the member opposite's own riding, other industries - and we are actively examining ways to extend that rebate to other industries, such as the wilderness tourism operators. So we are doing something. We're doing the most important thing, which is working to benefit Yukoners.
Mr. Jenkins: So we have a plan in place to help industry; we don't have a plan in place to help individual Yukoners with the taxes and the high cost of energy. Shame.
This Liberal government was left with a $64-million surplus coming into power. Now, they can pay children to go to greet the Prime Minister of Canada; the Liberals can pay them $10 to wave a placard, pay for a crowd, but they can't help Yukoners. What is this Liberal government going to do with the exorbitantly high fuel costs today? What is she going to do about it?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There are a number of points that the member opposite is trying to suggest in his rhetoric from across the floor. The issue for all Canadians and North Americans is high costs of fuel for this coming winter.
Yukon's fuel taxes are the lowest in the country. Lowering them or eliminating them is not going to benefit, and it will not necessarily be reflected in the price the average consumer pays. Yukon already helps many people through the pioneer utility grant, through other initiatives that this government and previous governments have undertaken. The federal government has introduced a new initiative to help lower income Canadians.
So I know that member opposite hates to listen to the facts of the matter, Mr. Speaker, but this government is doing a good job managing the territory's finances; and, what's more, we're working on behalf of average Yukoners to deal with the high cost of fuel and other issues that are facing them.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Alaska Highway gas pipeline
Mr. Fentie: My question today is for the Premier, and it has to do again with the pipeline.
Under this Liberal government the Yukon's economy has been diminished to one hope: somewhere in our future, the construction of a pipeline. The Liberals claim that they are going to rebuild the economy, and they are trying to do that without any blueprint. We now have a number of confusing issues going on when it comes to our only economic hope under this Liberal government - this so-called pipeline - and I think it's time that the Premier cleared up this record.
Does she not agree that the Prime Minister's recent comments have shed a serious cloud over the Alaska Highway route? And will she undertake immediately to have the Prime Minister and the federal Liberals clear this matter up? Yukoners are concerned and want to know.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, there is no confusion as to where this Liberal government stands on the issue of the construction of an Alaska Highway pipeline. There is no confusion as to where the Prime Minister stands in support of an existing Canada/U.S. treaty that supports the construction of the pipeline. The only confusion in the minds of the public is the fact that the NDP federal leader does not understand or even know anything about the pipeline construction, as evidenced by her recent letter in the paper. It's not on her radar screen. The NDP Member of Parliament can't make up her mind whether she supports it or not. She keeps giving conflicting news information and media interviews. And the members opposite can't make up their minds. In one speech it's a one-time wonder that could leave a big black hole in its wake - a far off pipe dream. And now they're so anxious to get on board, the member opposite is asking me a question every day about it. And every day I invite the member to review the facts of the matter. He simply won't do it, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Well, let me inform the Premier that I am going to continue asking this question until we get some answers. Furthermore, the NDP, quite frankly - federally and territorially - is ahead of this government and the federal Liberals, when it comes to the pipeline. It's a no-brainer about supporting a pipeline in this territory down the Alaska Highway. What we're concerned about is ensuring that we maximize jobs and economic opportunities for Yukoners and not compromise our environment at the same time.
We want to know, given comments from the Prime Minister - and let me point out that after he said those comments, the Northwest Territories government was very, very taken aback because they have never heard this from him before. He has always supported the Mackenzie line. What we want to know and Yukoners want to know is what does this mean now? Is the federal government and this territorial Liberal government seriously going to address the issues of the pipeline and the Alaska Highway route? Are they or are they not?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we have been seriously addressing the issue of construction of an Alaska Highway pipeline since we took office. We were sworn in on May 6, and we have been seriously addressing this issue ever since, unlike the previous government.
I have provided the member opposite - I've tabled the facts of the matter. I have invited him to visit the Web site. I have stated this party's and this government's position. I've stated the Prime Minister's position over and over and over again. Let me remind the member opposite that there is a Canada/U.S. treaty that recognizes the construction of an Alaska Highway pipeline project. The Prime Minister recognized that treaty and re-emphasised the fact that there's a particular section in it that states that that treaty is valid for 35 years from the date it's signed. There is a certificate of public convenience and necessity, issued by the Parliament of Canada and by the American Legislature. There is a land title and an easement registered with land titles in Whitehorse. We have a pipeline unit in the Government of the Yukon's Department of Economic Development, which is ensuring that all of the reviewing of the treaty and ensuring that all of the comments that are in that treaty have Yukon's best interests. There's a group that's going through that. They are going through the environmental permits that were issued in 1982, and for the member opposite from Ross River-Southern Lakes - and his snide remarks the other day about refreshment - yes, the environmental issues are of tremendous concern to this government, and that matter is being refreshed.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, let me point out to the Premier that it was the NDP government - the previous government - that started that whole process. It was the NDP government that put money on the table to look into the existing agreements and permits to ensure that the maximum benefits accrue to Yukon and that we are not compromising our environment. It wasn't this government. No, this government claims that it is aggressively promoting the pipeline and is hanging its hat on agreements that are 20-plus years old.
Mr. Speaker, this is crucial for the Yukon. This government seems not to be aware of the fact that it's not governments that are going to finance this project; it's going to be industry and they're going to go where they're most welcome. Right now, the Northwest Territories is leading the Yukon in that regard. What is this Premier doing to ensure that the Alaska Highway pipeline is going to be a reality for this territory and it's going to be the first line built, beyond photo ops and speaking engagements?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, that member was part of a government that thought that $100,000 in a budget was enough to compete against the millions spent by the Northwest Territories, promoting a route that is environmentally unacceptable to Yukoners - the offshore route. It is environmentally unacceptable to many Alaskans, as well.
The member opposite is quite right. This will be a private sector decision. And it's private sector money that will finance it. I would remind the member opposite that it is the Government of the Northwest Territories that is asking the Government of Canada for $230 million to build this pipeline. The Alaska Highway route is a private sector project. It's another reason for the tremendous amount of support that that route now enjoys.
The member opposite is suggesting that this government does nothing but participate in photo opportunities. Well, the member opposite should take a good, hard look at what has been done by this government in the last six months - all of the members on these benches and all of the staff. It's not lots of travel for the Member for Mayo-Tatchun. It's hours of work in terms of making presentations, not just by me in front of 450 pipeline engineers, another couple of hundred people at insight conferences and more people in Anchorage. It's far more than that. It's meetings with BP Amoco; it's meetings with Phillips; it's meetings with Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd. It's working with the industry to ensure that they -
Speaker: Order please. Would the minister please conclude her answer.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate the member opposite recognizing and looking at the facts.
Question re: Economic situation in Yukon
Mr. Fentie: Well, at the risk of being mischievous, I would say to the Premier that she can retract her claws. We're trying to find out, on behalf of Yukoners, what this government's really doing. To date, when it comes to our economy, they've done nothing but dismantle it. Now, we're in jeopardy of losing probably one of the biggest, most important initiatives that this territory has ever, ever faced. Yukoners are concerned, because this government didn't even see the future in ports in Skagway and Haines, Alaska, and have -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Whitehorse Centre, on a point of order.
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I am rising right now to ask the Member for Watson Lake to retract his statement "retract her claws". Our Premier does not have claws and is not an animal. This is demeaning language, and I would ask that the decorum of this House be preserved. We cannot be compared to animals in any way. We are human beings and, especially our Premier, deserve respect, especially in front of this large audience.
For that kind of slander, Mr. Speaker, the member must be punished and asked to retract his statement.
Speaker: The Member for Watson Lake, on the point of order.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, there is no point of order. It was a few short days ago that the Premier compared me to a dog chasing its tail. You, yourself, Mr. Speaker, ruled that that was not unparliamentary and not out of order. I rest my case.
Speaker: Order please. I would ask the members to be judicious in the choice of their words. However, I find there is no point of order at this time, and I would ask the Member for Watson Lake to proceed with his question. You have a few seconds before your time is up.
Mr. Fentie: Yukoners are concerned. They have already witnessed this Liberal government's lack of vision when it comes to the ports, and they are worried about their vision when it comes to the pipeline. The pipeline is an important project for this territory, one of the most important projects ever.
Will this Premier immediately have the federal government clear up the record on which line the federal government is going to support?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has put a number of issues into his question.
First of all, I would disagree that the Yukon economic picture is solely based upon this important project. The people who attended the Anderson Resources open house and the Expatriate open house last evening - I didn't see the member opposite there - are very excited about those particular projects, about the oil and gas industry as a whole and about the future of the mining industry in the Yukon. This government is making inroads in that industry and is working with them.
In terms of the port decision, the member opposite is suggesting that this government should have spent, at a minimum, $6 million Canadian and subsequently tens of millions more in developing a port option. This government believes that $7.2 million is more urgently required in health care for Yukoners than it is in a future, far-off development, when there is every reason to believe that we have - and we will continue to work toward - good relationships with our Alaskan neighbours.
In terms of the pipeline, this government has aggressively promoted the Alaska Highway pipeline route; we will continue to do so. We have also supported the construction of two pipelines, and many industry executives have joined us in that support. The Prime Minister of the country supports the fulfillment...
Speaker: Order please. I would ask the Premier to conclude her answer.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: ...of the Canada/U.S. treaty, and it is every likelihood that the Prime Minister could, as I have done, support two.
Mr. Fentie: Well, let me point out to the Premier that the oil and gas industry is excited because crude oil is at $35 a barrel, and there's money to be made. Furthermore, they're a profit-driven industry, and they're going to go to where they can make the best money. The Northwest Territories right now is far ahead of the Yukon when it comes to infrastructure development. Pipeline rights-of-way are already happening. There is an existing line as far as Norman Wells. They're already hooked to the grid. The industry is going to be looking at those things.
What is this Premier doing to offset the fact that the Northwest Territories is ahead, and now the federal Liberals have thrown a cloud over the Alaska Highway line by stating that they do support the Northwest Territories line and the Alaska Highway line. The key issue here is which one is built first.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has been reading my speeches. I've said all the way along there should two pipelines constructed and that the Alaska Highway should go first. I've said that all the way along, in spite of comments from the Northwest Territories that support a northern offshore pipeline, which we do not.
The little, black rain cloud that seems to be following around the NDP is reminiscent of their comments on the pipeline. They can't seem to decide whether they agree with it or support it, and they can't seem to bring themselves to understand it.
Mr. Speaker, Gulf Canada has recognized that the Mackenzie Valley pipeline can stand alone - that the Alaska Highway pipeline project should be built first. That's exactly the position that we have taken and that's exactly the position that I have encouraged Canada to take. And the Prime Minister, who is far clearer than the member opposite, stated that the Canada-U.S. treaty should be fulfilled. And that treaty specifically spells out the construction of the Alaska Highway pipeline route, the jobs, not just for Yukoners but for all Canadians, the money to flow to Yukoners and the environmental processes.
Mr. Fentie: Well, again I want to point out that it was the NDP government that began the process of promoting this pipeline. And we are more astute than the Liberals opposite because we knew that maximizing benefits to Yukoners and ensuring the environmental road blocks did not compromise this project should be addressed immediately. Let me ask the Premier this: she keeps hanging her hat on the existing agreements. In the agreement between Canada and the U.S. it states that in all of the communities along the route - right from Beaver Creek to Watson Lake - the owner of the pipeline's expenditure will not exceed $2.5 million Canadian in 1977 dollars. Is the Premier going to stand on her feet and tell the Yukon public that that is maximizing our benefits - a $2.5 million expenditure?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: All the figures outlined in the Canada-U.S. treaty have also been indexed for inflation and GDP indicators. No I am not going to stand here and say that the member opposite's figures are correct because they are not. The Canada-U.S. treaty exists; it's valid. I have indicated that we have had people going through it. The member opposite has suggested that this work is all thanks to the NDP government. Well, it's not. This government took office on May 6. There was $100,000 in the budget to try and deal with all of the issues in regard to the pipeline. There was no way that that was enough - especially when we're competing with the Northwest Territories' support for an underground, offshore pipeline. We do not support that. That's the only point we are in competition over. We have consistently said that this pipeline should be built down the Alaska Highway and so should the Mackenzie Valley line. Industry has come to that position. Other Canadians have come to that position. The only thing is that the NDP can't seem to come to any position on the pipeline - let alone support for it.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We'll proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Deputy Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will resume with general debate on Bill No. 31, An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act.
Bill No. 31 - An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act - continued
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I begin, I have for tabling a document: telephone interviews, Yukon insurance brokers and companies, November 2000, which I said I would table at the beginning of the debate. This is information that the Member for Klondike had asked for, so if I may do that - and I have a few things to say at this point.
The safety of road users remains a paramount concern for this government. The opposition has suggested that this government show leadership in matters that affect Yukon people. This government has demonstrated leadership since taking office, and Bill No. 31 is an example of our continued leadership in the fight against impaired driving.
Bill No. 31 is also an example of doing what is expected of government, fine tuning the laws that need fine tuning to ensure they are as effective as they should be.
The major work on this bill was started a few years ago by Mr. Brewster and, I believe, Mr. Fisher, who were ministers of Community and Transportation Services. The work was continued by the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes. We are now continuing with the fine-tuning process.
Contrary to what the opposition would like Yukoners to believe, there are no hidden agendas contained in Bill No. 31, nor are there any additional powers being given to officers who are currently appointed to enforce the Motor Vehicles Act.
The Member for Kluane continues to suggest that the government is planning to increase our contingent of officers. He is factually incorrect. The people who are currently doing the work are the people who will continue to do the work. The Member for Kluane suggests that officers could abuse the power they currently have, and yet he has not been able to provide one relevant incident as justification for this concern.
His continued suggestion that the existing officers serve only to harass commercial vehicles on our roads is incorrect. On behalf of those officers, I am deeply offended by the member's comments.
The amendment that we have spent many hours discussing will not, on it's own, increase the powers provided to anyone already appointed under the Motor Vehicles Act, nor will it increase the number of people appointed.
The current officers were appointed by a similar process under the previous administration, the NDP government. We are not changing the process.
As in the past, the government is putting enabling legislation in place and will, during the development of the regulations, consult with those affected before sending the regulations to Cabinet. The department has consulted with the Yukon Transportation Association following this model, during the development of the National Safety Code and highways regulations. The Yukon Transportation Association is comfortable with this model.
Mr. Chair, I want to be on the record as stating that the Liberal government believes in consultation and will consult during the regulation-making process. This bill contains only enabling legislation that allows Cabinet to make appointments through regulations. Appointments would not be made, nor would there be any changes made to the current officers' powers without consultation with those who would be affected. I want to be very clear on that.
The Member for Klondike has suggested a system to deal with uninsured drivers, and I have agreed that it sounds like a good idea. Departmental staff have consulted with the Yukon-based insurance brokers and companies, and have been advised that this type of system would be quite onerous for them until such time as a computer link were established between the insurance companies and the motor vehicles office.
They have also indicated that the system proposed would not, on its own, deal with uninsured drivers. The concept needs more analysis, and I have committed to the Member for Klondike that the department will investigate this further and could include it in future Motor Vehicles Act amendments.
The Member for Klondike is also concerned that the bill contains a provision that will require anyone teaching a new driver to drive to be drug free and have a zero blood-alcohol content. Well, Mr. Chair, the government is acting on a direction provided by Yukoners during the graduated driver's licensing consultation in 1999. Eighty percent of adults and almost 75 percent of youth supported a zero blood-alcohol content for co-drivers. The people most affected by this amendment indicate strong support for it. It's obvious that the time has come for different thinking when it comes to drinking and driving.
I'm proud that Yukoners have very clearly said that the time has come to separate drinking from driving completely. They are a deadly combination.
Like many other Yukoners, my family has been affected. We have lost family members as a result of an impaired driver on our highways.
Yukoners have said they don't want the co-driver to provide supervision and instruction to a new driver when they had a blood-alcohol content of .08 milligrams, nor do they want the co-driver to have a blood-alcohol level of .04. They wanted the blood-alcohol content level of a co-driver to be zero, and they made that very clear. The government is showing leadership by establishing a zero blood-alcohol content level for co-drivers.
The Member for Klondike indicates that some of the amendments in Bill No. 31 constitute overregulation. I disagree. When the safety of the public is at the heart of the matter, the public expects the government to establish rules that protect society. This bill contains many amendments that will increase safety on our roads and deal with unsafe drivers. The government remains concerned about impaired drivers on our roadways. Bill No. 31 will, for the most part, fine tune the vehicle impoundment, roadside suspension, and alcohol ignition interlock device programs. Just like motor vehicles themselves, the laws that deal with drivers and vehicles need tune-ups as well.
The Motor Vehicles Act contains provisions to reduce the number of people who drive impaired or without insurance or without a valid licence on Yukon roads.
This bill before us, Bill No. 31, will strengthen the impoundment and licence suspension legislation. The roadside suspension program started in September 1998, and the vehicle impoundment program began in April 1999. Since implementation, some weaknesses with the legislation have become evident.
In previous consultations, Yukoners stressed that they wanted tough laws to deal with people who abuse their driving privileges by driving impaired without a valid licence or without insurance. The amendments contained in Bill No. 31 will ensure that the Motor Vehicles Act can deal effectively with those who continue to pose a threat to public safety on our roads. Hard-core drinking drivers pose the most significant impaired driving threat of injury or death to the public on our roads. Current penalties have not significantly deterred the driving habits of hard-core drinkers who drive with blood-alcohol levels two or three times the legal limit.
Bill No. 31 will make a driver with a blood-alcohol level of double the legal limit, or higher, subject to double the current impoundment period. Bill No. 31 will limit the number of times a vehicle can be released early from impoundment that was imposed when the driver was impaired, driving without a valid licence or driving an uninsured vehicle. Provisions in the current Motor Vehicles Act allow vehicles to be released before the impoundment period is over if there is an important health, employment, education or safety need. This provision is continued; however, Bill No. 31 will make improvements because some people have abused the early release by reoffending and endangering the public.
The current law does not specifically allow a government representative to present information to a review officer when a person challenges a vehicle impoundment or driving licence suspension or disqualification. It is recognized that there are occasions when this is necessary, and Bill No. 31 will allow a government representative to attend the review when there is a challenge that would warrant this attendance.
Bill No. 31 harmonizes Yukon law on the alcohol ignition interlock device with Canadian criminal law. The Criminal Code of Canada was amended in June 1999, and this has caused some of the Yukon Motor Vehicles Act to contradict some of those 1999 amendments. The improvements in Bill No. 31 aim to make the device available to Yukoners who qualify for licence reinstatement and agree to use this device in their vehicles.
Also, Mr. Speaker, I have sent a letter now to the Association of Yukon Communities to pass on to municipalities with some highlights of this act; and that, I hope, will clear up any misunderstanding on the part of the municipalities on what is actually in this act.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, what we have before us is the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, some 50 amendments after this Motor Vehicles Act was passed just a couple of short years ago; and we were told that they're necessary housekeeping. but we look at the extent and the scope of the changes that are being proposed. They're quite extensive, and they do set some new precedents. What we have learned and what we concur with is that there will be tougher penalties for people that drink and drive. We have no problem with that and support this kind of initiative.
Where we do have problems, and where the minister appears to be completely out of tune with reality, is with the double standard that she is creating before the law with respect to introducing a new level for impairment for individuals operating a motor vehicle. Now, there's one additional category being added: a beginner driver under a graduated driver's licence must have a zero blood-alcohol level. Now we're amending that section to add the co-driver, or the person in the right-hand seat, who may have to take over care and control of that vehicle at any given time.
That person also must have a zero blood-alcohol level. What we've failed to recognize is that there are a whole series of individuals in a same, or perhaps more responsible, position than the person beside the person earning their graduated driver's licence. Let's take an example of people operating school buses. Why are they not included in this new category? What about transit bus drivers? Why are they not included in this new category of zero blood-alcohol level?
It doesn't make much sense to specifically single out this one area, Mr. Chair, and include only those individuals, when the implications and the results of people with an impairment of half the legal limit of .08 still have a degree of impairment - they still operate a school bus. They can still operate a transit bus, or any other type of vehicle for that matter, Mr. Chair. Now, is that fair and reasonable?
What the minister is creating is a double standard. I don't know if she has obtained a legal opinion on this area or not, or whether she has gone ahead, being the novice Minister of Justice that she is, and implemented this without any forethought as to the Charter of Rights or the laws that currently exist.
All of these situations are based on case law and, rather than have a court challenge down the road to this section of this Motor Vehicles Act, it would be prudent to seek some sort of legal opinion to ascertain whether it can be upheld and if it is a legitimate request. I don't believe the minister has obtained that kind of legal opinion or legal advice on this issue. At the end of the day, the taxpayers are going to foot the bill.
But someone along the way may be hurt or maimed in a motor vehicle accident. We want to make our roads as safe as possible, but we don't want to create a double standard.
And I went on at great length asking the minister if she believed that everyone is equal before the law. And Hansard will substantiate that the minister failed to answer that question. She wouldn't answer that question, because the only way that she could correctly answer that question was to say yes, everyone is equal before the law. But what she is doing is creating a standard where everyone is not equal before the law, and I have concerns with that.
I want to make it abundantly clear to the minister that of paramount importance is the safety of our highways, the safety of people on our highways. We concur with the tougher penalties for people drinking and driving. We concur with the initiatives supporting that area. But we do not concur with creating a double standard in some of the other areas.
Now, if there were a broad stroke of the pen and we created a total new category that encompassed all Yukoners in the same like manner, that would be acceptable. But the minister is not doing that. If there were a legal challenge on this initiative at the end of the day, I'm sure that this would not be upheld. With respect to the insurance area - and I had the chance to review the questionnaire that was done in November 2000. So contrary to what we were told earlier, this telephone interview only took place this month - probably just yesterday or the day before. I don't know when in November this took place, but we are only 23 days into November. It just seems to be an after-the-fact initiative of this government - probably after this bill was introduced in the House and they knew they were going to receive some sort of questions on this area.
It's correctly pointed out that there's a cost associated with complying with a system where the insurance carriers must provide proof of financial responsibility directly to the government. But also, Mr. Chair, what the minister is failing to recognize is that as a consequence of not having this system in place, virtually all policyholders in the Yukon must carry an uninsured rider component to their policy, which in itself has a cost. If there is a compliance requirement for insurance coverage and a compliance requirement of the insurance carrier that they file with the Government of Yukon that insurance is in place and will remain in place until they are advised otherwise - and they will give them seven days' notice or something of failure to comply - then, at the end of the day, we will ensure that insurance is in place.
We could subsequently reduce the cost - probably not eliminate completely - of the uninsured rider on the policies. However, I'm sure, as a consequence, the cost of that rider would be reduced significantly.
It's probably a wash with respect to costs. I'm just so disappointed that the minister can't see the benefits of an initiative in this regard, especially in light of the fact that we're probably going more and more to e-commerce for government. One only has to look at an article recently in the The Economist magazine - I believe it was in the summer of this year - where they went through a couple of states in the U.S. where e-commerce has been constantly applied to government's role. The whole motor vehicle branch - you could file for your licence plates on-line. You can pay on-line. You have to show proof of financial responsibility on-line. The insurance carrier provides that proof by e-mail.
As does the cancellation notice. As does the notice going out to the owner of that vehicle that their insurance is no longer in force and that their plates are no longer valid. Notification goes out that this vehicle must be picked up. It's interesting the steps you can eliminate if you give some forethought to the application of current technology, Mr. Chair, and current technology is with us. In fact, this government has recognized the importance by adding another half a million dollars into the budget for computer hardware and software and IT technology.
Mr. Chair, it's an area in which it wouldn't take a great amount of forethought to put in place a system that would be cost-effective and, more importantly, very efficient and very effective with respect to Yukoners, ensuring that they have public liability insurance in place on their motor vehicles.
The other issue that hasn't been addressed that was recently addressed is the upper limits for public liability. It, Mr. Chair, is currently artificially low. Why is there not an incentive on the government part to increase the amount of public liability insurance? There's nothing here in that regard.
PLPD for a commercial vehicle is set at a minimum of $2 million. If you operate a commercial vehicle in any of the states, you have to show proof of $5 million. And that's not $5 million Canadian, Mr. Chair. Those are real dollars. That's $5 million U.S. That's the requirement if you operate into the State of Alaska or into the Lower 48.
Where are we with respect to PLPD? And yes, it could be argued that the U.S. is more sue-crazy than we are in Canada, but more and more often, motor vehicle accidents result in lawsuits.
At the end of the day, there's a criminal proceeding and then there's a civil proceeding, and I'm not sure if the minister knows the difference between a civil and a criminal proceeding, but a criminal proceeding is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and in a civil proceeding it's the balance of probabilities. So it's much, much easier to find fault in a civil proceeding with respect to a motor vehicle accident than it is in a criminal proceeding, Mr. Chair. And that should be recognized by increasing the upper limits of liability insurance carried; it hasn't been, Mr. Chair. The minister hasn't even addressed it and hasn't even looked at it.
So once again, Mr. Chair, I'm saying to the minister that she's overlooking so many wonderful initiatives and so many ways of increasing the protection on our highways, and yet she has failed to recognize them, failed to do anything about them, and has singled out a few small areas that are being addressed.
Probably at the end of the day, Mr. Chair, we'd be much better off if this novice Liberal government gave some forethought to this - what appears to be a routine housekeeping bill - before they bring it back into the House. And I know it's going to be hard to accept, but we would support taking this bill off the table, going back and giving it the work that it needs so that we'll actually make our highways safer. Because at the end of the day, all this is going to do is facilitate a few government employees, and it opens the door to creating a whole new category of government employees for enforcement.
It currently exists. The regulations can be changed tomorrow, Mr. Chair. The minister is shaking her head and saying no, but the category can be expanded on in the regulations.
The games branch and the Department of Community and Transportation Services foremen - they can all be granted the powers under the Motor Vehicles Act under this existing legislation by a change in the regulations. It will require no change in legislation. And I have concerns with that, especially given the broad and sweeping powers that have been accorded the existing individuals in the highway enforcement and weigh scales area.
I really don't have a quarrel with the individuals involved with the National Safety Code. They are, by and large, more involved in the inspection of the vehicles.
The other area I have some concerns with is that we have reciprocal arrangements with other jurisdictions. And more often than not, commercial highway vehicles will be stopped at the weigh scales in Whitehorse. On occasion, it's officials from the State of Alaska who are doing all the inspections under our legislation, so that gives you an idea of how sweeping and how broad the regulations are. We have U.S officials - I don't even know how they're allowed to work in Canada when they don't have a working permit, but they are undertaking inspections of Canadian motor vehicles at the weigh scales here in Whitehorse. That will give you an idea of how sweeping the powers are under this act here that we have before us.
To expand the powers beyond what they currently are is a very simple exercise. It just requires a change in regulations. I have concerns with that. And the alarm bells should be going off in a few people's heads when they see how far and how broad this enabling legislation is. And what we have is enabling legislation that leaves more to the regulation side than it does to the legislation side.
And the regulations are designed and implemented after the legislation is passed. We don't even get the courtesy of seeing what the proposed regulations are going to be, Mr. Chair, until sometime after the acts are in place. So you don't know what the thought process is with respect to the implementation of many, many components in these pieces of legislation that appear on the surface to be routine; they're not. The only opportunity we as the opposition have to -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it's probably more accurate - the official opposition.
But, Mr. Chair, the only chance that we have as opposition members to hold this government accountable is when these acts are being debated. And it would be very, very helpful if we had some insight as to where the regulations were going to take us and what the regulations were going to be, and if they were tabled at the same time as the act was tabled.
Now, I've left a lot of substance on the table for the minister to respond to, and I hope we can start off by her answering, Mr. Chair, the very, very last question I left off with when we last debated this act: does she believe all Yukoners are equal before the law? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Thank you, Mr. Chair. If the member opposite would review his Hansard, he would find that I had answered that question relatively early on in our discussion on Tuesday. He obviously was not listening. Of course I believe all people are equal before the law, and I had said that at that point.
The member is forgetting a couple of things. The category he is referring to can already be expanded under the regulations, Mr. Chair. They were approved by the previous NDP administration. Some of the regulations that the member is concerned about go back some years - well before 1990, I believe.
The member's party had the opportunity to change those regulations, and it did not.
On the matter of the zero blood-alcohol content for co-drivers, I believe that a beginning driver is entitled to be taught to drive by somebody with a zero blood-alcohol content. The inclusion of that in these amendments is because of the graduated driver's licensing program. Yukoners have asked for a zero blood-alcohol content for co-drivers. The Member for Klondike is not interested in hearing that. I would prefer young people I know and other beginning drivers to be taught by somebody who wasn't under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I would prefer them to be taught by someone who is under the influence only of good common sense, and I'm sure the member would agree with me that his children have the right also to be taught by somebody who isn't impaired. It's a role-model issue, as well, Mr. Chair. I have mentioned that a few times.
As to the matter of the other categories, I had offered the other day, during our previous debate, to look at making it mandatory for everybody to have a zero blood-alcohol content when they get behind the wheel. I'm sure the member isn't suggesting that, however.
I also thank him for the law lesson on public liability. I was unaware that he had added "lawyer" to his list of accomplishments. Those limits, Mr. Chair, are set in the Motor Transport Act, not the Motor Vehicles Act, which is the act that's before us.
In terms of uninsured vehicles, one problem that will remain until we have little locator buttons on every vehicle is finding the vehicle. It's not as easy as the member would have it seem.
And in terms of insurance, we are working in that direction, obviously not as quickly as the member would like. However, we are working in that direction, and I have committed to look at it for the next round of Motor Vehicles Act amendments.
Also, one way to increase protection on the highways - and I'm sure this is of concern to all members - is if people observed the speed limit. That's also one of the important things people should remember.
Mr. Jenkins: I don't know how we got from zero blood-alcohol level to observing the speed limit, Mr. Chair. The minister probably doesn't have an understanding of the issue before her and the implications.
I appreciate that the minister finally recognized that everyone is equal before the law. And if that is the case, Mr. Chair, why is this government attempting to create a double standard? Why is this minister attempting to create a double standard, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the graduated driver's licensing consultation asked that co-drivers have a zero-percent blood-alcohol content level. A clear majority of Yukon people asked for that, and the member opposite seems clearly to be suggesting that they're wrong, that they have no right to ask for that. It is, as part of the graduated driver's licensing rules that we are proposing this amendment, because it is what Yukoners asked for. That is the reason, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: And has that request been subject to a legal review? And does the minister have a legal opinion with respect to the validity, or could this provision of zero blood-alcohol level be considered to be ultra vires? Where are we at? Have we had a legal review?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, there has been no legal challenge anywhere in Canada to zero blood-alcohol content for new drivers. Since this provision to have a zero blood-alcohol level for co-drivers is not yet in place here, we don't know if there would be a challenge. I would strongly suggest that there would not be. Anybody who would make such a challenge would be rather foolish.
Mr. Jenkins: The question to the minister is has the minister obtained a legal opinion on broadening this category, so that the co-driver must have a zero blood-alcohol level and also be drug free? Does the minister have a legal opinion that says that this can be done within the existing legislation and it doesn't conflict with the Charter of Rights, and that everyone considers it so much of a benefit that it doesn't conflict with the provision that everyone is equal before the law?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I personally have not obtained such a legal opinion, but I would be more than pleased to check with the Justice department to see if they have done work in this area. Thank you.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we haven't a legal opinion on this very critically important area. Why not?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: This is what Yukon people want. A majority of people - again 80 percent of adults and 73 percent of youth - supported a zero blood-alcohol content level for the co-driver during the GDL consultation with Yukoners in 1999. Yukon people have asked for this. The member opposite seems to believe that they are wrong. I beg to differ.
Mr. Jenkins: What the minister is saying, Mr. Chair, if I could sum it up, is that the majority of Yukoners surveyed wanted a law pointing in this direction, and I really don't have any quarrel with the direction that they're suggesting. I applaud it and probably believe it to be quite reasonable and acceptable.
On the other hand, the Minister of Justice has a responsibility to ensure that this new law conforms to the laws of Canada. Before it is passed into law in this House, we would be remiss in our responsibilities if we did not ask if the minister had obtained a legal opinion with respect to whether this provision is valid or not. On the surface, it would appear to be an area that could be challenged.
So, before we pass a law, we should ensure that it's going to pass the test of conforming to the federal laws of Canada.
We want to make good laws. We want to make laws that are workable and it's the Minister of Justice who should be overseeing and ensuring that that is the case.
Now, why isn't she doing her job, Mr. Chair? Why isn't she ensuring that this law, as written and as proposed, conforms to the laws of Canada?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have said that I have not personally asked for a legal opinion. However, the Member for Klondike obviously is suggesting that the Department of Justice is careless and just drafts laws with no direction. This provision was drafted by the Department of Justice, who did not express concern about this amendment conflicting with federal legislation or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I trust my staff, Mr. Chair, to do the right thing. I believe they have done so, but if it will make the Member for Klondike feel any better, I will ask that specific question of them.
Mr. Jenkins:Well, I point out that if the minister was doing her job, she would have asked that question at the onset; she wouldn't have just accepted, verbatim, a position that was advanced.
The ability to question the application of laws is what elected individuals are here for, Mr. Chair. It's our responsibility to hold the government accountable. That's what opposition is all about. And if the Minister of Justice doesn't even have a basic understanding of what she is dealing with, she would be hard pressed to ask for a legal opinion on that one area. When can we see this legal opinion? Are we going to be asked to pass this before we get the legal opinion, or is it going to come after the fact, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: In the first place, we don't give legal opinions in the House, as the member is well-aware. In the second place, I trust my staff. And in the third place, since no doubt we'll be debating this bill for some time, I'm sure I will have ample time to get the member the information he is seeking.
Mr. Jenkins: I knew we didn't provide legal opinions in the floor of the House or in this Legislature. It was offered by the minister. That shows you how much of an understanding she has of the procedures in this House, Mr. Chair. Until she was advised by the Premier and the Minister of Tourism, it would appear that the Minister of Justice was going to provide the legal opinion, but I recognize - and have recognized for quite some time - that it couldn't be provided. I thank the minister for obtaining that kind of an undertaking and will look forward to hearing the outcome of it, Mr. Chair.
Let's go back to the area of zero blood-alcohol level.
Why would we allow school bus drivers and transit bus drivers to operate motor vehicles - much more responsible with respect to their responsibilities - and yet the law currently allows them to have a blood-alcohol level to as high as .08? At that level they are impaired, but they could be driving, having had a drink or two, and still be within the law. Now, it sounds like the law is a farce with respect to its application to these kinds of individuals. And it seems to be tempered with reality with respect to a co-driver who may or may not have to take over the reigns of control of the vehicle but is ultimately responsible.
So, what is the rationale behind this, Mr. Chair? Why on one hand are we providing a completely new set of guidelines for a graduated driver's licence and the co-drivers, and yet not looking at other areas of equal or greater importance in responsibility or amount of responsibility? Why is the minister remiss in addressing her responsibilities?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I suspect we would move further along if the Member for Klondike would quit playing games. However, as I have explained several times, the zero blood-alcohol content for co-drivers provision was part of the graduated driver's licensing consultation, which is something new in the Motor Vehicles Act.
Now, if the member is so concerned about transit drivers and school bus drivers, I'm a little puzzled that the previous NDP government or the Yukon Party government before that did nothing about it, because these provisions have existed for some time. I would be pleased to look at that in the future. But right now, we are dealing with an amendment that resulted from the graduated driver's licensing consultation and we're making that change because GDL is now a part of our law.
Zero blood-alcohol for learning drivers has been placed in the law of six Canadian provinces. In 1999, the blood-alcohol limit was challenged in New Brunswick. Those two challenges to the zero blood-alcohol limit for graduated driver's licensing failed, and it is expected to be the same for co-drivers, but we can't have a challenge when it isn't in the law yet. If it is challenged, once it is law, we will deal with it then.
As for the other situations, we will be looking at further amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act within a couple of years. In our continual fine tuning, we'll be looking at insurance, and we certainly could look at zero blood-alcohol content for other categories of people. However, today, with these amendments - Bill No. 31 - we are not going there.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's leave the school bus driver and the transit bus driver out of the equation. I'm aware of the test that we have for blood-alcohol level and how accurate it is. How is the enforcement end of it going to determine drug-free? How is that going to be determined?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Section 222(1) of the Motor Vehicles Act already recognizes that alcohol, drugs, or other substances can impair a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. The type of drug isn't relevant; it's the issue of impairment or no impairment. People who use legal medications according to a doctor's directions or as instructed by the manufacturer are rarely impaired. Prescription and non-prescription medicines that do cause impairment in their regular doses are clearly marked to inform the user that impairment occurs with using them.
Similar signs of impairment exist, and the only safe level of impairment is none, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's deal with legally prescribed drugs. How is the enforcement end going to determine whether someone is impaired with legal prescription drugs?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, a person displaying the obvious signs of impairment, but registering a pass on a roadside screening device, may be suspected of being impaired by some other substance or by fatigue, stress or any number of things. The impairment of a driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is of paramount concern to enforcement officers.
Roadside screening devices only detect the presence of alcohol, so officers must rely on other tools to detect impairment by drugs. If the officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that the person is impaired by drugs, the officer can administer the standardized field sobriety test, which is intended to detect impairment by drugs, including prescription drugs, illicit and licit drugs. More emphasis is being placed on the use of these tried and true tools to detect impairment other than by alcohol.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister threw out a couple of new categories: impaired by stress, impaired by fatigue. How is that going to be determined, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, if someone is overstressed or over-fatigued, they can be displaying some of the same signs of erratic driving as somebody impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Mr. Jenkins: I am thankful that the minister isn't involved in the enforcement end, because reality has to prevail in that area and the enforcement area needs a clear definitive set of rules as to how to go about their job and how to address their job. Now, with respect to alcohol, it is black and white.
This other area is, as I'm sure the minister will admit, a very grey area. And unless it is very, very obvious and extremely erratic behaviour that is displayed, it is very, very hard to pinpoint someone who is impaired by a prescription drug, fatigue or stress. And if that were the case, probably half of the Liberal government would go home after Question Period here, if stress were impairment.
It's quite interesting that the minister would expound on this area, bring in a whole new category and yet have no way of clearly defining how the enforcement end is going to work. I do have some concerns with that. Now, I ask the minister to go back and reflect on what she has said and see if she can come up with a comprehensive, easily explained way that the enforcement end of the law is going to determine the level of impairment under prescription drugs and these other categories that the minister is mentioning - fatigue and stress. There is a wide range of variables in all of these categories. And to make a determination of the amount of training it would take, even with a couple of doctors on hand, you would probably get two different opinions from two different doctors. I'm sure you would get two different opinions from two different lawyers on it, and they would charge you for both opinions. I'm sure even the medical community would be very similar.
So, I would ask the minister to stand on her feet - I know she doesn't have very much in the way of briefing notes on this - and provide a more thorough explanation than she has been scripted to provide to date.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm amazed that the Member for Klondike is making light of impairment by fatigue. People who are impaired as a result of fatigue on our highways are a serious threat. Many of them wind up injured or injure others. Many of them wind up dead, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I've yet to hear an explanation. I just heard a whole bunch of rhetoric. Can I please have an answer from the minister on that very important question?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, just so we can be absolutely clear, Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to provide, in due course for the member opposite, a written explanation of that, so he can be sure to comprehend it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what the minister has just admitted in the House is that she doesn't know, she doesn't understand, she doesn't have an answer to the question and she just doesn't know her job, Mr. Chair. She's going to send over a written response sometime down the road. Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a sad, sad day for Yukon when we entrust this much power to an individual and they don't have an understanding of their basic responsibilities. That type of response, Mr. Chair, is getting to be quite usual for this minister, especially when she is addressing any of the areas that she is responsible for.
Let's look at the issue of zero blood-alcohol level for school bus drivers and transit bus drivers. Could the minister give me a clear explanation as to why, in her overview of it - which I don't believe took place, other than a cursory five-minute briefing on it - she didn't even give any thought or any consideration to that area? A number of people that I've spoken with agree, as do I, that a beginner driver should have a zero blood-alcohol level. They also agree that it's reasonable and probably very proper to ensure that the co-driver has a zero blood-alcohol level.
But there's also a whole series of other categories - very, very similar - that should be addressed and looked at, and they have not been, Mr. Chair. That I have a concern with.
Now, what the minister is saying is that the co-driver is in a more responsible position and must have zero drug and zero alcohol levels, but the operator of the school bus, who might have 50, 60 or 70 children on board that school bus - or a transit bus with 10, 20 or 30 passengers - is not in an equally responsible position. Now, why is the minister creating this double standard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There's no argument that school bus drivers, transit drivers, and all sorts of other drivers are in equally responsible positions. I have explained for the member several times - and he seems to be failing to grasp it - that this particular issue of zero blood-alcohol content for co-drivers is as a result of the graduated driver's licensing consultation.
The Member for Klondike would have me just put these new provisions in the act, just like that. I do believe such a move would require fairly extensive public consultation, which the members are demanding for almost everything else, but not in this case, apparently. I expect a certain amount of consultation would be required, and I have said this is something that I will look at for the next round of Motor Vehicles Act amendments, and I will. And if the member isn't satisfied with that, well, I'm sorry.
Mr. Jenkins: So why is the minister set on creating a double standard for drivers on highways?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, for about the twenty-fifth time, zero blood-alcohol content for co-drivers is what Yukon people asked for in the graduated driver's licensing consultation. Eighty percent of adults and 73 percent of youth supported zero BAC for the co-driver.
It sounds to me, just like it sounded the other day, as though the member thinks it's perfectly fine to teach somebody to drive while they're under the influence of alcohol. I happen to disagree. I think it's a matter of a role model, among other things. A learning driver has the right to learn from somebody who is unimpaired and can serve as a good example. If the member thinks it's fine for somebody to drink and then teach someone to drive, it had better not be one of my relatives or friends whom he's teaching, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, using the same analogy, it's okay to have a couple of drinks and then go out and drive a school bus, according to the minister. That's exactly what the minister is saying. It's okay to have a couple of drinks and go out and drive a transit bus or a tour bus, where the responsibility is for 10, 20, 30, perhaps 70 individuals - the lives of 70 individual children on board that school bus. That's what the minister is saying, Mr. Chair.
Why is the minister insisting on creating this double standard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Zero blood-alcohol content for co-drivers is what Yukoners asked for in the graduated driver's licensing consultation in 1999. This is what Yukon people want.
Now, to deal with the matters that the Member for Klondike is raising would also require public consultation, which certainly can be done, and the results of that reflected in amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act at some point in the near future.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'll tell you what Yukoners want: they want jobs and they want an economy. This Liberal government has failed to deliver on that. And yet they seem quite determined to create a double standard and allow school bus drivers or transit bus drivers drive when they have had a couple of drinks, but not allow a co-driver, who may or may not be taking the wheel. As far as I'm concerned, if we are going to do it for one, we should do it for all of that same type of category. Otherwise, it is creating a double standard before the law. And that, I have difficulty with.
I don't have any quarrel with the co-driver having a zero blood-alcohol level. What I'm saying to the minister is that she hasn't taken the time to spend the time and review the implications. When you create a whole new category, you have to look at the totality of the act that you're dealing with. And this minister has failed to do her job and address that issue. It is a very important issue, because it is equality before the law. And the minister has finally stood on her feet and said yes, we are all equal before the law. Yet she is determined to make a law that will make inequalities. Now, that's not fair; that is not reasonable.
All I am asking is if the minister could be consistent across all of the same categories. Now, is there anything wrong with that request, other than we'll look at it, we'll consult and we'll do it down the road the next time? It might be two years or so before it comes back to us? Well, the minister has a responsibility.
I'm getting smirked at by the Premier, because she doesn't like the line of questioning, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Hon. Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, the member opposite is making references that are unfounded, and the member opposite should withdraw them. I am not part of this debate. I am here in support of the minister, endeavouring to listen to the member opposite. My facial expression or the letter I am signing on my desk is of no business or relevance to this debate, and the member should withdraw that.
Deputy Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the Premier is sitting there, mouthing remarks across the floor of the House. She's constantly turning around and providing information to the minister. She's just part of the debate. So, if she wants to get in on the debate, she certainly can. She's adding input to the minister of the day who can't answer on her own. We don't have a point of order, Mr. Chair; we just have a dispute between members.
Deputy Chair: I find that, on the point of order, there is no point of order. This is just a dispute between members, but I would ask members in the House to use caution with their remarks. As we were having such a wonderful afternoon, I would like to see it continue.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Chair, before I was so rudely interrupted by the Premier and her point of order that was not valid, I was exploring with the Minister of Justice the issue surrounding the double standard she has created, and I ask her once again why she is determined to create this double standard for Yukoners.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I should point out for the member opposite, who clearly isn't aware, that the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act are in my role as Minister of Community and Transportation Services, not as the Minister of Justice.
The double standard seems to be on the part of the member opposite, who, on the one hand, is complaining that there isn't consultation and, on the other hand, wants us to put through changes to these amendments and affect transit drivers, school bus drivers, et cetera, et cetera, without any consultation.
Now, he can't have it both ways, Mr. Chair. I have said that I would take the further step, as zero blood-alcohol level co-drivers are as a result of a specific consultation on graduated driver's licensing - as the member is well aware - to undertake to look at further steps for other categories of people for the next round of amendments.
Mr. Jenkins: Just for the record, let me make it abundantly clear for the minister that I never suggested that there wasn't any consultation - never once, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, let's go back to this issue of the double standard that this minister is insisting on creating for Yukoners. Why is the minister adamant and determined that she must create this double standard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Zero blood-alcohol content level for the co-driver of a learning driver is what Yukon people have asked for. I have explained this for the member opposite several times and he clearly isn't hearing me. Eighty percent of adults and 73 percent of youth supported zero blood-alcohol content level for the co-driver during the graduated driver's licensing consultation. This amendment is as a result of that consultation.
Mr. Jenkins: It still doesn't answer the question about the double standard. We have to be consistent in our application of the law. This minister is not. Why not?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: A majority of Yukon people asked for this. The member opposite seems to be suggesting that they are wrong or somehow misguided. I do not believe they are, but he clearly believes they are.
Mr. Jenkins: That still does not answer the question. It creates a double standard across all of the licensing ranges and categories.
Why is the minister insisting upon creating this double standard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, Yukoners have told us quite clearly that they want this change and that they are ready for this change. The people most affected by this amendment have indicated strong support for it. A majority of people who may become co-drivers have indicated that they support this amendment. I have attempted to explain to the member that this amendment is as a result of the graduated driver's licensing consultation, not of any other consultation, but of that specific consultation. This amendment arises from that.
There may be other amendments of a similar nature in the future, but this is the amendment that we are dealing with now.
Mr. Jenkins: By making this amendment now, we create a double standard for the application of this zero across drivers in the Yukon, Mr. Chair. That's what this minister is doing.
Well, let's switch gears out of there for a little while. We can get back to this in a few minutes, Mr. Chair.
Let's go into the category 6 driver's licence, and that is?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I believe the member opposite stopped in the middle of a question.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm asking the minister about the category 6 driver's licence. What is it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I believe that's a motorcycle licence, of which I still have one.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, let's explore with the minister the provisions of the graduated driver's licence under this area. How is it envisioned that a trainer accompany an individual who is learning how to drive a moped or a motorcycle? Usually, they graduate from a bicycle, and it's primarily a balance requirement to operate a moped, a two-wheel vehicle, or a motorcycle, a full-blown motorcycle.
And after the balancing is learned or grasped - somehow I can't envision this minister on a big Harley Davidson. I just can't. But if she has the appropriate licence, that would be a very interesting undertaking. But let's get back to the issue of the training on this type of a vehicle.
Let's assume that the Minister of Justice, the minister of towns and trucks, is learning how to drive her Harley down the highway. Somebody has to follow her. Is there any distance or any kind of provisions - or just in sight? What do we do in corners or in traffic? How is this going to work? Let's think this process through.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, the co-driver of a motorcycle or moped must ride on or in another vehicle within sight of the learning driver. Balancing a motorcycle takes practice and concentration and is more difficult with another rider on the bike. The extra weight of a passenger changes the way a motorcycle handles - especially the smaller motorcycles.
The majority of people who responded to the 1999 GDL public consultation indicated that the learning motorcyclists should not be permitted to carry passengers for those reasons. The learning motorcyclist is expected to learn to handle the motorcycle in a safe environment - like an empty parking lot - after receiving instruction on its safe operation and handling.
Most jurisdictions do not allow a learning motorcyclist to carry passengers - not even a co-driver. That is the case in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories. Alberta allows the co-driver to follow in another vehicle or ride on the bike.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, I do have some concerns with travelling behind that individual learning on a motorcycle and staying within sight of him. On the open highway, that's not a problem, but a lot of the provisions have to take place in traffic and built-up traffic areas. How is this provision going to be adhered to? Is the co-driver breaking the law when they lose sight of the individual on that motorcycle? Is it the responsibility of the individual learning to stop when they lose track of the co-driver behind them? The question: do we have a workable arrangement here, Mr. Chair? On the open highway, it's not a problem. In built-up traffic areas, it may be. And perhaps there should be some provision in there that a co-driver just look at the initial stages when we're training - that they follow them - but after so many hours that they're on their own, rather than a full-blown graduated licence system through there.
A motorcycle licence is a separate category. It's probably one of the most difficult ones to obtain, but we have to have a workable arrangement for the co-driver, Mr. Chair. And what I hear being suggested is not workable in all cases. So I'm only asking the minister to look at that aspect of it. I don't have any quarrel with what is being suggested, but it has to be workable, and there have to be provisions and variances in that arrangement. There are none. Why not?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, we believe this is a workable arrangement. The learning motorcyclist requires the co-driver within sight during the learning stages of the licensing procedure, and we believe this is a workable arrangement. As I've said, when a person is learning to drive a motorcycle, they are expected to learn the handling in a safe environment - like a parking lot, not out in traffic - so once they've mastered that, then they can more easily proceed.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I thank the minister for the answer, Mr. Chair, but let's look at my understanding of it and what the law says, and your understanding of it and what the law is. We have probably three different scenarios, Mr. Chair. Is there some sort of provision, in the motorcycle learner's licence, where you have to spend so many hours or so many miles running inside a confined area? There is not. There is no actual definition of the graduated all the way up through. There are suggestions in the kind of guidelines, but there's no definitive response.
Let's look at some of the other areas where we teach individuals. Take scuba diving. You go for your initial PADI open water; you have to have a logbook. Take up flying; you have to have a logbook. You log the initial amount of hours that you fly, whether you're pilot in command or whether you're just sitting beside someone as a co-pilot. All of these areas are logged, and until you have the required number of hours, you can't proceed to the next stage.
Now, I'm not suggesting we have more paperwork; I'm just suggesting we have a workable arrangement, and this area does not. It's one of those loosey-goosey-type situations, Mr. Chair, that needs some clarity put to it. I'm asking the minister if she can do so?
Hon. Ms. Buckway:Mr. Chair, there is a logbook - 30 hours before the person moves on to the next step - so his concerns about a logbook are unfounded because there is one.
Mr. Jenkins: Yes, I'm aware that there's a logbook, but then the driving conditions - there's a whole series of other parts that go into the equation. Motorcycles - when would you do training? Do the streets have to be dry? No, you could go out and you could train somebody to run a motorcycle up and down the highway today. That's not reasonable, not practical, and unless you're a very, very knowledgeable motorcyclist, you had best not be out on the roads today.
There's nothing to preclude you from doing so.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, as a pedestrian, I'm not happy being out on the roads today, because it's slippery. However, I am satisfied that the graduated driver's licensing provisions address all these areas that the Member for Klondike is concerned about and that we don't have learning people out on the road in an unsafe environment causing a hazard to other people. I am satisfied that the graduated driver's licensing provisions are an improvement over what existed before.
Mr. Jenkins: I agree with the minister. Over what we had before to what we have now, there is an improvement, but can the minister answer yes or no? If someone wanted to learn how to drive a motorcycle, they could legally go out and do so today, in these weather conditions - yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there is a co-driver involved, with some experience, and the co-driver would certainly be expected to exercise good judgement.
Mr. Jenkins: But the way the law is written, someone could go out with a co-driver today and learn how to drive a motorcycle. Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, Mr. Chair, in theory. I doubt in practice if anybody would be foolish enough to attempt it.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the law says you can do it. That's what I'm getting at, Mr. Chair. The intentions and the law are two different things, and the practicality of a situation and the laws that apply to that situation are two different things. What we're debating here is the law as it applies to that situation, and we have to be practical in the application of the law. Does the minister believe she is being so? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, I do believe I am being practical in the application of the law. I would point out that the graduated driver's licensing provisions are an improvement over what we have had before. The previous provisions stood for some time and obviously were not of sufficient concern to the member's party for them to make any changes, prior to the previous administration's introduction of graduated driver's licensing in our minds and the subsequent passing of it as law in September.
Mr. Jenkins: I point out to the minister that this is all done in regulations, not in the law. Could she confirm that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike delights in playing games.
On his previous point, if someone were out learning to drive a motorcycle today, I believe the law would say they are driving without due care and attention.
Mr. Jenkins: My question to the minister was if this area was covered off in the regulations, not in the act itself. Could the minister confirm that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, graduated driver's licensing is covered by regulations.
Mr. Jenkins: I thank the minister and notice that she had to be prompted by her officials with the correct answer. That shows the extent of thoroughness and understanding that the Minister of Justice and the minister of towns and trucks has of these very important proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act.
Let's switch gears once again. Let's go into the YTG vehicles. What kind of insurance liability card do they carry? They are self-insured.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: YTG vehicles are self-insured.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, occasionally, YTG vehicles operate out of the Yukon. I know they're self-insured. You have to have proof of financial responsibility if you're involved in a motor vehicle accident in, let's say, Alaska, because occasionally YTG vehicles travel the Top of the World Highway and come back by Beaver Creek. Sometimes they go down to Skagway. What proof of financial liability do they carry in their vehicles?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: They carry a sticker or a card that says that they're self-insured.
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister provide a copy of the actual information in this regard? I don't believe she's totally accurate, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I expect I can provide a Xerox of a card, if that would make the member happy.
Mr. Jenkins: No, Mr. Chair, it's just an area that I was asked about - about YTG vehicles operating in Alaska and what is their insurance, and I responded the same way that the minister did, Mr. Chair. I said that they're self-insured. Well, how do we know that over here and what kind of proof do you have? Because the law requires that, in every jurisdiction in Canada, you show proof of financial responsibility - a pink card - and that is the law. I just wanted to cover it off.
Mr. Chair, one of the other areas that commercial highway drivers have when they operate interjurisdictionally is, if you have a class 1 driver's licence in the Yukon at my age, you have to have a medical every year. But in most jurisdictions now, you have to have a licence with the appropriate endorsement: your air endorsement and your hazardous goods endorsement, as well as a medical card.
Has the Government of Yukon looked at having that requirement, that you have a medical card as well? Because you have to produce a medical card if you operate motor vehicles, transport buses, coaches, and enter into the U.S. You have to have a medical card as well as your driver's licence. Why has this area not been dealt with by the Government of Yukon, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I'm a little unsure of exactly what the member is asking, because there was quite a lot of verbiage there. If he could please synthesize the question?
Mr. Jenkins: If you have a class 1 licence and you operate motor vehicles, coaches, tractor trailers, 18 or 28 wheels or whatever coaches, and you operate interjurisdictionally outside the Yukon, you have to have a licence that is valid for that class of vehicle as well as the appropriate endorsements. It's usually an air endorsement, it could be hazardous goods, it could be any number of endorsements, but it's usually primarily air. To obtain a licence in the Yukon, you have to have a medical examination. More and more jurisdictions are requiring that you have a medical card separate from your driver's licence.
Now, we're supposed to have a uniform standard all across North America. The Yukon is buying into some of this uniform standard, but it's not buying into others. Why not?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators is currently working with the United States to harmonize the regulations to do away with that requirement of a separate card.
Mr. Jenkins: I would like the minister to share with us when this may or may not occur. Because according to the information I had two weeks ago, it has not come into place. There are still many, many states that insist on a driver's licence as well as a medical card.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member is quite correct. I said they were working on it - possibly sometime next year.
Mr. Jenkins: Sounds like we have another review underway. I thank the minister for her response. I'm thankful that the Minister of Health and Social Services didn't respond - it would probably be a 10-year plan. We've narrowed it down to maybe next year.
Let's go back into the enforcement end of it. Could the minister confirm that the regulations could be expanded to include a greater number of individuals than currently enforce highway regulations - without changing or amending the act - so that additional enforcement people could be hired in additional categories?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, that is the case. More people could be hired. Fewer people could be hired. I point out that this state of affairs has existed for quite some time. These changes were made by previous administrations to permit this.
Mr. Jenkins: Do we have any rule of thumb as to the population base? The number of motor vehicles on our highways is down significantly over, say, three years ago. The number of licensed vehicles is down considerably from last year to this year. The number of commercial vehicles registered in the Yukon is down, and yet the number of enforcement people is the same if not increased.
We have approximately 130 members of the RCMP posted here in the Yukon. We have the RCMP auxiliary. We have our weigh scale people. We have the safety people. We have the highway enforcement people from YTG. Just how many individuals do we need on the highway and is there some kind of formula that the government has in mind when the population decreases by over 10 percent? Do we look at a reduction in this area by over 10 percent? All I've seen is a constant increase, Mr. Chair.
We never, never look at scaling the amount of individuals needed for that area to the actual workload. In fact, today, the Klondike Highway is probably the most sparsely travelled highway I've seen since I've been in the Yukon - some 30 years. You can now travel from Carmacks to Dawson at this time of the year without even seeing a vehicle. I have yet to encounter that before.
There's less and less traffic; fewer and fewer people; we have more and more enforcement of all categories - why?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I believe the member may be factually incorrect. There is no more enforcement. People are still using Yukon highways as a way of getting from Alaska to the Lower 48 states. There still is traffic through the territory. The number of enforcement people belonging to the Yukon government has not changed and no increase is planned.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not suggesting an increase, Mr. Chair. An increase can be made under the provisions of this act. But I'm saying that, given the downturn in our economy, given the reduction in our population, given the count of motor vehicles travelling our highways - which is down - given the number of motor vehicles registered here in the Yukon - which is down and reducing constantly - given the number of commercial highway vehicles - which is down and reducing constantly - the minister might want to have a look at her own budget in Community and Transportation Services and see how much of a reduction is anticipated in licence fees for the next fiscal period.
There's a significant reduction. It translates at $35 a year per plate on the private side to some 600 vehicles, and that's only an estimate, Mr. Chair. On the commercial side, it's pretty hard to gauge it because the cost of commercial plates varies. But we are looking at a significant downturn. Do we need all of these individuals whom we currently have, is the question, and is there some sliding scale where we will reduce enforcement and the number of people involved in this area when the population and the traffic count goes down? Simple question, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike is making a number of allegations concerning figures. I will be pleased to check the member's figures. No reduction in the Yukon government enforcement staff is contemplated at this moment, and neither is an increase.
Mr. Jenkins: So the minister is saying that we need all the enforcement people we have - yes or no? It sounds like work expands to fill the time made available for it. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I'm saying that I'll check the figures provided by the member opposite to determine their accuracy.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the figures are the minister's own figures in the Department of Community and Transportation Services. They show a significant reduction in the amount of fees that will be collected for private licence plates and commercial licence plates, and I would have thought, Mr. Chair, that the minister would be very familiar with the revenue side of her department ledgers as well as the expense side of it, but it doesn't appear to be the case, Mr. Chair. Once again, I'm not alarmed; it doesn't alarm me. I've come to expect this from this minister.
The issue before us is this: given the downturn in the economy, given the vehicle traffic counts that are down on all of our highways, Mr. Chair, given the commercial vehicle reduction - just go back four years to the number of commercial vehicles on our highway. It is down not just a small component, but significantly. We don't have any more ore trucks hauling out of any mines here in the Yukon. We don't have any more logging trucks in the Yukon. They have all gone south, thanks to this Liberal regime, both at the federal level and the territorial level. But we still have the same amount of government in this area.
The question to the minister: why do we need all this government, given the tremendous reduction in trade and commerce that we have experienced and given the tremendous reduction in the amount of vehicle traffic that we have? Why do we need as much as we have?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I find it interesting that the Member for Klondike is suggesting that we cut the size of the civil service. These staff do more than enforcement. They staff our weigh stations and run our compliance programs, like the National Safety Code. They have a number of duties.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the minister must admit that the workload is down, and down considerably. Does she acknowledge that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I do not believe that the number of kilometres of highway has changed. The same amount of highway is still there.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, it's a sad day for Yukoners when we can't get a straightforward answer from the minister. Everyone knows that, if anything, the number of kilometres of highway in the Yukon has actually increased in the last little while, so they're not the same. They have actually increased, and many of them have been improved upon, but that's in a large part thanks to Uncle Sam.
Now, we don't have an Uncle Sam, we have a Jean Chrétien, who - I don't know. It doesn't matter what he speaks on, it's usually out of both sides of his mouth together, and at the end of the day, Yukon ends up going backwards. Our colonial status is being reimposed on us, and the apologists for the federal Liberals are quite evident here in the House.
But the workload for the department in all areas has decreased significantly. Now, given that significant decrease in the workload, can the minister justify the expense we are incurring in all of the areas that she is responsible for with respect to highway enforcement?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike is alleging that there has been a decrease in workload. I believe the enforcement staff we have is doing its job thoroughly and responsibly. We are not contemplating a reduction in staff, nor an increase in staff.
Mr. Jenkins: There is no question that the job is being performed thoroughly, professionally and accurately. That's not an issue. It's just the volume of workload that we currently have. Does it warrant the level of staffing that we have on the enforcement end?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike is alleging that the workload has decreased. I do not believe that to be the case.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the minister doesn't believe that, perhaps she can show and table the highway count figures for vehicle traffic, the highway count figure for weigh scales. And the one area that probably hasn't changed is the number of inspections carried out by the officials under the National Safety Code, although it has gone down the last few years. They are doing less and less.
Initially, when the National Safety Code was implemented, they were all over the Yukon Territory, and they did a very thorough job. But their funding level was cut, Mr. Chair. The number of staff addressing that issue has not been increased and yet we have more and more in the enforcement area on our highways.
So I'd ask the minister to table vehicle counts. The highway counters are all over. The weigh scale counts are readily available. And just go back two, three or four years - go back to when mining was a boom and logging was still a viable undertaking here in the Yukon, until the federal Liberals and the Yukon Liberals got on-board and destroyed it. Let's just see what we have today in the number of commercial vehicles crossing our weigh scales now. It's a very small semblance of what it used to be.
If the minister is suggesting, Mr. Chair, that that is not the case, she'd best take off her rose-coloured glasses and look at reality, because there has been a very, very dramatic downturn in trade and commerce here in the Yukon - a very dramatic downturn in the number of vehicles licensed, both commercial and private and a very, very alarming downturn in the number of individuals residing here in the Yukon. It's just not what it used to be and it begs the question: do we need the same level of enforcement on our highways as we had in the peak of our economic times?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Perhaps the Member for Klondike is not aware that the department did close two weigh stations some time ago. He should also know that the existing enforcement staff play an integral role in protecting our highway infrastructure and protecting road users through the administration of the safety program, and from what the member himself has said, it shows the National Safety Code is working. People are complying.
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I wonder if I could, just for a moment, briefly enter this debate.
I tried to deal with this issue with the minister last week, or earlier this week, I guess it was, on this particular act and I was making the point that the commercial traffic, here in the Yukon, especially the local traffic, is starting to feel harassed. I think we're getting to the crux of the problem here.
The minister, rightly so, admits that the workload has not decreased, but it is a fact that commercial traffic on our highways has decreased. Consequently, with the enforcement people continuing to operate at the level they had in the past, they are more and more stopping and dealing with the same vehicles and the same commercial traffic, over and over and over again. I think that is what's at issue here.
Can the minister not understand that when these things start to develop, the driving public and the commercial traffic begin to get those feelings? Maybe there should be a closer look at this amendment and this act to address that situation.
We do have weigh scales where safety inspections are done. We do have the industry here, which has been complying with the National Safety Code and safety inspections. As well, they have to do these things just to obtain insurance on these vehicles. They can't just go and get insurance and hand somebody a plate that says this is a 1989 Kenworth truck. They must produce a long list of paperwork proving that this truck is mechanically fit and roadworthy.
So, with the situation we're in, the local commercial traffic is starting to feel more and more harassed or stopped in the department's necessity to keep workload at the same level. Can the minister agree with that point?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there are a lot of kilometres of Yukon roadway, and we have very few staff members out on that roadway. I do not believe that they are harassing the commercial travelling public. I hope that's not what I hear the member opposite suggesting. I do not believe they're doing that. They're merely there to ensure that people are complying and to watch out for cases where they see that somebody is not.
Mr. Fentie: No, I'm not implying anything here. What I'm saying is that I, for example, get a number of calls from truckers in the territory, specifically from my riding, who are starting to feel this way, and I'll give you an example.
They go through the scale in Watson Lake. They weigh their load, bring in all their related paperwork, and off they go. Then they get into Whitehorse here, and, all of a sudden, they're going through this big, long, delaying inspection when they have already been through a scale that has deemed them legal and has given all their paperwork, National Safety Code stickers, fuel stickers, inspection stickers and documentation. They're asking why this is happening when they have already produced all this stuff 285 miles from Whitehorse.
What I'm pointing out here is that maybe department officials and enforcement people who are actively trying to do their job are now actually doing the job with the same few vehicles over and over and over.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I'm not aware that there is a requirement for vehicles to be inspected twice, so if this is in fact occurring, the driver should be bringing that to the attention of the weigh scale supervisor. I was not aware that this was happening, because there's no requirement for it to happen.
Mr. Fentie: I believe that the truckers are bringing this to the attention of scale supervisors. And these aren't planned, predetermined inspections. These are spot checks. And that's where this feeling is starting to creep in to the local, commercial traffic, and they are starting to resent it. And what we on this side of the House are trying to point out is that the best approach to achieve safety on our highways is industry compliance.
Now, if enforcement is going over the line somewhat, the resentment on the commercial traffic side tends to have them start to move away from compliance. It's just a natural course of events. And I think what the member is trying to point out is why don't we seriously look at how we are doing these things, given how dramatically our traffic on our highways has decreased?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, I can look into the point the member is raising. I don't believe we have an excessive staff out on the highway for the workload at this point, though.
Mr. Fentie: I'll accept that from the minister. And I think that looking into it would be a very good idea. And I'll be passing that on to the number of complaints I have received.
And obviously I don't bring these up with the minister with reams and reams of letters going to her, because having been in the trucking business in the Yukon for a number of years - over a decade - I understand what happens. They are the same feelings I've gone through. I think what we have to do to make this legislation good legislation and target safety on our highways is to address those types of things and have industry wanting to comply, wanting to work with enforcement people. And I can only point to the British Columbia jurisdiction and how badly this can go. Because right now in B.C., no enforcement people go out on highways to do checks without the RCMP in tow, and I think that speaks volumes to what can go wrong.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: From speaking to truckers myself within the last couple of months, I'm quite aware that the vast majority of them want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. So, I will check.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the trucking topic and enforcement area, interjurisdictional problems are still arising. If you have a truck in British Columbia, you can come into the Yukon and you can work here - no problem at all. Just buy a licence plate and you go to work. Try going the other way.
When is the minister going to be leaning on her counterpart in British Columbia to get that province in sync with this area? We've got interjurisdictional enforcement; we've got the highway enforcement people; we've got 17 of them running around, and it looks like the Premier wants to get into the debate now and is going to offer some advice to the minister that we're off topic. But we're not. We're looking at the enforcement and the number of enforcement people, Mr. Chair.
Just simmer down. Don't lose your cool. Let's look at the number of enforcement people we have. We've got interjurisdictional highways; we've got parts of British Columbia highways and the Alaska Highway south of Whitehorse around Swift River; we've got B.C. highways going on the Whitehorse to Skagway Road and on the Haines Road. And the Yukon is responsible for its maintenance and we have arrangements with B.C. on those portions of the road. Where we have a problem is the back-and-forth flow of commerce into British Columbia.
Now, we were able to achieve the Trevor Harding amendment on fishing, so that people could fish in Teslin Lake, but not so for trucking. Where are we at?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Yukon is now responsible for enforcement on the B.C. sections of road that are within the Yukon as well and, if you will allow, I believe the Premier can answer part of your question.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: For the member opposite's interest and information, this is a subject of concern in the Intergovernmental Relations Accord with British Columbia. In November, I met with the Deputy Premier of British Columbia to ensure that we restarted the process of renewing the Intergovernmental Relations Accord, and we revisited these issues to ensure interprovincial cooperation.
That process has now started at the officials' level. The last accord was signed in January. It's good for a year, and it was signed on January 27, 2000, so a similar accord is anticipated early in January wherein we would have a meeting between the two premiers to deal with these issues.
Mr. Jenkins: If I could just explore with the Premier - the accord was signed on January 27, 2000. That would have been under the previous NDP government. The Premier indicated she has held meetings subsequent to the accord being signed, or was that just at the officials' level?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite didn't clearly understand my answer. January 27, 2000 is the date on the last accord. It was signed between Government Leader Piers McDonald and - I'm not sure if Premier Dosanjh was present at that point or not, but anyway, it was signed by Government Leader Piers McDonald.
On November 6 of this year, I met with the Deputy Premier of British Columbia and discussed with her re-establishing the Intergovernmental Relations Accord and working on such issues as the member opposite has mentioned, among others. There are a number of interprovincial issues that we need to deal with.
That was agreed to at that meeting and now the work has begun at the officials' level.
So, the various officials from Community and Transportation Services, for example, would work with our intergovernmental affairs unit in Executive Council Office, and an accord meeting between the premiers is anticipated to take place some time early in the new year.
Mr. Jenkins:Well, I'd like to ask the minister of towns and trucks if she has a departmental list of the issues relating to this area that are going to be dealt with?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I don't have the list in my personal possession, but the department is well aware of what issues need to be worked on.
Mr. Jenkins:Has this list been recently gone over with the trucking association here in the Yukon - the Yukon Transportation Association?
Hon. Ms. Buckway:It hasn't been gone over with them recently, as far as I'm aware, but we do talk with them on a regular basis, and before any such accord is finalized, we would of course be seeking their input.
Mr. Jenkins: Isn't that putting the cart before the horse? Wouldn't it be best to send over the list of concerns to the Yukon Transportation Association, have them look at it, see if they have any more input, and then take it off to Victoria and see what we can do with coming to some agreement with the provincial jurisdiction in this regard, rather than after the accord is signed?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member clearly didn't hear what I said, and he clearly didn't hear what the Premier said. The Premier said that her governmental affairs people in Executive Council Office would be working with my officials in Community and Transportation Services. Once they have had discussions, then would be the time to consult with the Yukon Transportation Association. It's the member who is putting the cart before the horse.
Mr. Jenkins: On the contrary, Mr. Chair, it's the minister who is not aware of her responsibilities. The issues are stemming from the trucking industry and if there is a list of areas of concern that the trucking industry has, wouldn't it be best, before we even start any kind of a process, to go back to the trucking industry and say: "Here's the list of concerns that we have had from prior consultation with you. Is it current? Are there any other areas that we should be addressing? We're looking at this at the senior government levels and will be taking it to British Columbia." That's the way the process should work.
Now, if the minister has another way of working it that's more streamlined than that - but the information has to come from the grassroots itself, or are we doing it another way around?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The information will come from the grassroots.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other areas that I have been asked to find out about is with respect to care and control of a vehicle. The driver is in care and control of a vehicle at all times. Now, someone with a command start in their vehicle is impaired, stands across the street and pushes the button. Who is in care and control of that vehicle, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have no personal experience with command starts. However, it was my understanding in discussion with somebody just the other day that once you have used a command start to start the vehicle, before you can actually take it anywhere you have to shut it off and start it again. So, beyond that I don't know.
The member always raises intriguing questions. And I'll be glad to find the answer for him. This question does not relate to any of these amendments but, nevertheless, I will be glad to find an answer for him.
Mr. Jenkins: It's an area that is covered off in this amendment dealing with ignition locks and things of that nature, and how they work and how the interlock devices relate to each other. Because you could have an alcohol interlock device on the ignition, and you could override that quite easily with a command start. That was pointed out to me. You stand across the street and push the button, it starts the vehicle for you. Who is in care and control of the vehicle?
It's a question that begs an answer. It hasn't been dealt with before the courts. There's no case law on it that I could ascertain, but I'm sure if it's going to become an issue, it will become an issue in the north, where command starts are relatively prevalent.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will have to check on this. I believe the member may be factually incorrect. I'm not sure that a command start will override an alcohol ignition interlock device. I don't believe it will. Furthermore, the command start isn't going to sit in the vehicle and blow into that device in order to get it to move.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister's understanding of electronics in this wonderful new world is amazing, Mr. Chair. But she might want to just talk to her officials and ask them to ask the people who put these alcohol interlocks in as to how they work and how they function, and it's very, very easy to circumvent them, from what I've been told. They are very, very costly. What can I say? The minister has to prepare for every eventuality.
Mr. Chair, one of the other areas that I'd like to explore with the minister is the amount -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the Minister of Health and Social Services is piping up in the background because he doesn't have anything better to do, so perhaps he has something to add to the debate. I would doubt it, though, Mr. Chair.
The minister mentioned that there has been some sort of a study that has concluded that seat belts are not required in school buses. I'd be interested in obtaining a copy of this study, given that the main problem in an accident is not so much the seat belts, but it's the individual hitting an object in front of them that causes the bulk of the injuries.
In this act, we're going to put in provisions that rental vehicles must have car seats for infants and for toddlers, and I really don't have any quarrel with that, Mr. Chair. I believe it's a very good amendment and that it is in the best interest of the travelling public. But at the same time, I am equally concerned with how school buses are allowed to operate without seat belts. Even if you get into motorcoaches, the majority of them do not have seat belts, save and except for the ones that come over from Europe. They have seat belts in them. Europe has seat belts in its motorcoaches.
Obviously, there have to be two different trains of thought with respect to the use of seat belts in motorcoaches, and why they're not used in school buses is beyond me. When you start putting three children to a seat on each side of a school bus all the way to the back, you're talking some 70 children odd. It's not so much the number of children, but where they go when you have a sudden stop, because they all go forward, Mr. Chair, and they all hit something, and that's usually the seat in front of them.
I'm sure the minister can come up with a whole series of statistics that conclude that seat belts are not necessary for school buses, but what kind of information do we have to date in that regard? What type of information do we have in that regard with respect to seat belts in motorcoaches? And why does Europe treat motorcoaches differently than Canadian jurisdictions, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There is a great deal of information available. The member raises an interesting point and I have often wondered this myself. School buses and seat belts and motorcoaches and seat belts are a federal responsibility, not a territorial responsibility. I refer him to the Transport Canada Web site, and I'm sure I can provide him with several kilograms of paper for reading.
Federal standards currently call for high-backed seats in school busses, made of soft, energy-absorbing material to retain occupants in their place in the event of an accident. Information from all types of school bus collisions demonstrates that the current school bus design provides a high level of protection to occupants. School bus crash tests conducted by Transport Canada revealed that lap-belted occupants would be more likely to sustain serious head and neck injuries than would unbelted occupants in frontal collisions. As I have said, there is a great deal of information available. The Transport Canada Web site has the information that I just mentioned. And I'm sure the member, through his own sources, could acquire a great deal of information, also. But again, it is a federal and not a territorial responsibility.
Mr. Jenkins: The issue surrounding lap belts versus shoulder belts is a very interesting one, but there is no information on what would occur with shoulder harness-type belts - over-the-shoulder belts versus lap belts, which are currently the design that is accepted and provides a greater measure of restraint than a lap belt.
I don't want to belabour this area, but there has to be a different train of thought, because in Europe motorcoaches must have belts. You must wear a belt there, unless it is a transit bus in a city itself. But highway coaches - in fact you can look at the coaches that come over from Germa125
ny, which travel through the Yukon. All the occupants are belted.
I made that inquiry, because I never had a clear understanding of it. I recognize that it is a federal jurisdiction versus a territorial jurisdiction, but the thought process behind it justifies what I have been taught today as to what is safe for children and what is not safe. We go to the extent of providing for lap belts and restraining devices for children - in fact, up to a certain weight they have to be rear facing. Then, after a certain weight, they can be forward facing and lap-belted in and quite well-restrained.
And it's a double shoulder belt now, Mr. Chair, whereas before it was just a lap belt. So there have been tremendous improvements, and the information must be there. And I was just wondering if any representation has been made by the minister or department to Transport Canada on this issue as to its continued validity in light of what is transpiring in other jurisdictions, primarily Europe, with respect to belts in motorcoaches?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, representation has been made through the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, of which Ms. Jennie Howie is the president this year. It's an area of concern to me, as well, and there is, as I say, a great deal of information available.
I suspect that buses would need to be completely redesigned before something like this could happen. Transport Canada believes that combination lap and shoulder belts could also pose problems, because school students come in a variety of sizes, and they can't be properly adjusted to safely restrain smaller children, and any slackness could injure a child. So there's a great deal of work to be done here, but people are certainly concerned about it and are asking questions, and I can provide you with more information if you wish. I'm sure the member has access to the same information I do.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, it is an issue. I've been asked about it many, many times, and the only way I can respond is by saying it's a federal area. Write your federal Member of Parliament, because the Yukon doesn't have any control over that area of the law.
Mr. Chair, I am going back to the enforcement area, and I would like to get into the total number of people that the department currently has in the enforcement area on the highways and the total number in the Yukon in all categories. Because when I add up the RCMP, when I add up the two highway enforcement branch officers - the one based in Carcross who commutes to Whitehorse, and the one based in Haines Junction - and when we add these all up, we get an astronomical sum of people in total enforcing basically the same legislation. And I would suggest to the minister that it's one of the highest per capita in Canada, if not the highest.
It probably is the highest, and I was just wondering if the minister had the total numbers of individuals in all of the categories available for the House?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Not at my fingertips, no, Mr. Chair. I also note with interest that, despite the high number the member suggests, we continue to have motor vehicle accidents. People continue to drive impaired, et cetera. Highway safety is of paramount concern.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, she had some of the information there a little while ago. Just the scale people and the total number of individuals that she has within the department. Let's start with that.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Seventeen total, within the department. This is the number that we have mentioned several times, and I thought the member was well aware of it.
Mr. Jenkins: Seventeen, and the breakdown of those 17? Are all 17 of those individuals fully conversant and informed about all the aspects of the Motor Vehicles Act and permitted to enforce every aspect of it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There are 17 transportation officers. There are six weigh station operators in Watson Lake and one mobile enforcement officer. This information is already in Hansard from Tuesday. There is one mobile enforcement officer in Haines Junction. In Whitehorse, there are six weigh station operators, one weigh station supervisor, one mobile enforcement officer and one National Safety Code inspector.
Mr. Jenkins: Would the minister confirm that all 17 of these individuals have the same authority and jurisdiction under this Motor Vehicles Act?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: They do not, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: In what respect do they vary?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Thank you, Mr. Chair. There's a great deal of variance. Perhaps I could table a couple of documents that would help the member: Order-in-Council 1997/41, the Motor Vehicles Act from February 28, 1997; and Order-in-Council 1997/40, the Motor Vehicles Act also from February 28, 1997. I will table those documents, which I'm sure will help the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. So, what we're saying is that there are two orders-in-council, both passed in 1997, which set out the responsibilities and the duties of the various individuals. Can the minister confirm that, with the change or implementation of this act, there will be significant changes and alterations in the new orders-in-council from what they currently are?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, Mr. Chair, there will be no significant change from the current situation. I have also said that a number of times.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess we're getting caught up, Mr. Chair, in what is a significant change and what isn't a significant change. Let's go back. There will be change. There will be new orders-in-council issued.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, potentially, but not necessarily.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what's the whole purpose of passing this legislation, which pertains to this very section, if we're not going to change the terms of reference and the duties and responsibilities of some of the highway enforcement people?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The amendment is merely to give the government the tools to appoint enforcement officers outside of municipalities as well as within municipalities. We're back to where we started on Tuesday, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: What the minister is saying is that there are not going to be any new orders-in-council? Or will there be? I am suggesting that there will be new orders-in-council issued and there will be expanded hours for the enforcement arm. Is the minister prepared to deny that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There are no plans in place at this point. This is enabling legislation to give Cabinet the power, in consultation with the Yukon Transportation Association, to make changes to the regulations. There are no specific regulations waiting to be signed. The member is again seeing nefarious plots where there are none.
Mr. Jenkins: Again, we are asked to provide for enabling legislation where, under it, the Government of Yukon can, by regulation, basically do whatever they want. Now, there must be some anticipated changes. I'm not looking for any big plot or government plot. These changes - these two orders-in-council - obviously are going to be amended and replaced by new orders-in-council. All I am asking of the minister is this: what is anticipated? The minister will stand on her feet and say, "It's just enabling, it's just going to give us the power." I want to know, after she has the power, what she is going to do with that power. What changes are going to be made, and what changes by way of order-in-council can we anticipate?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, at this point there are no changes planned - none whatsoever.
Mr. Jenkins: Then why should we be dealing with this act, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, this is enabling legislation. The identical process has been followed before with, I think, reasonable success by the previous administration. I believe the identical process was followed before by the Yukon Party government.
What I'm hearing the member suggesting is that since it's a Liberal government, we have to be afraid of it. And that is not the case, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we have to be afraid of it because the minister doesn't usually have a handle on what she's doing and where she's going or have an understanding of the issues she has on the plate before her, Mr. Chair. That's the issue.
More importantly, the issue is, where are we going to go after we pass this enabling legislation? We must have some understanding in the department as to why this was brought forward and what changes we anticipate. That's all I'm asking the minister, Mr. Chair. What changes do we anticipate?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, no specific changes are anticipated. This is enabling legislation.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the minister is saying that she doesn't expect to amend these two Orders-in-Council - 1997/40 and 1997/41 - and impose two new orders-in-council on us, or one new order-in-council that is all-encompassing, Mr. Chair. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, it's my understanding that you do not amend Orders-in-Council; you do new ones. The Member for Klondike is displaying a lack of understanding of this area.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's go back to the orders-in-council. We can take these Orders-in-Council 1997/40 and 1997/41, and we can add to them, delete from them, and issue new orders-in-council. Now, what does the minister anticipate doing if and should this enabling legislation pass? Obviously, there's some determination by the department as to where we're heading, or is the minister's head in the sand and we're naively moving forward, not knowing or not seeing? There has to be some sort of a game plan as to what we're going to do after the enabling legislation has been passed. All I'm asking for is an insight as to what area this government is going to pick up on and be changing.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, there are no anticipated changes.
Mr. Jenkins: So the minister can categorically state that we will see no new orders-in-council coming forward during this term of office from this minister on this issue of the Motor Vehicles Act.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There may be or there may not be. At this moment, I am not anticipating any changes.
Mr. Jenkins: Well this moment is fleeting, Mr. Chair. It's probably going to be gone in a moment. Now after that moment expires and after this enabling legislation potentially passes this House and is assented to, the department must have some understanding of what areas are going to be expanded upon and when. Can we have an understanding of what new orders-in-council will be forthcoming?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have no anticipated changes at this moment - probably not for the rest of this day, since the member is being cute with his words.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, once again I go back to this enabling legislation. Enabling legislation was expanded greatly under Mr. Trudeau, because he could hide a lot of things in the regulations that subsequently were developed and implemented. The main components were dealt with on the floor of the House; very, very broad enabling legislation was passed, and then the problems arose with the regulations that were developed under the enabling components of that legislation.
We have the same thing before us again, and what we're being asked to do, Mr. Chair, is to support and approve enabling legislation without having an insight or an opportunity to even consider review or to even have a look at where the government is heading or will be heading with the regulations that flow from this new legislation.
That's really not fair, Mr. Chair, to ask us in opposition for support for these types of bills, which are so broad and sweeping, because at the end of the day, the government will stand up and say, you either support it or you don't support it. A lot of the bills, when they're just routine housekeeping, Mr. Chair, we support. But when, flowing from that legislation - that enabling legislation - there's going to be a series of regulations forthcoming, we should, as a courtesy, be extended the opportunity to see what those regulations will be and kind of have a look to see how they will impact the various aspects of Yukon society. Such is not the case. The minister's hiding behind her position that she doesn't anticipate any changes at the moment. Now "the moment" is a very definitive period of time.
After this bill becomes law, we will have to deal with the consequences of it. In many respects, a lot of this enabling legislation has trouble with the regulations. That's where governments usually get into trouble, and the way to overcome that is to slam through another order-in-council, just address it, add another clause.
It's interesting going through the orders-in-council that have come down - very interesting, indeed, Mr. Chair, given the impact they have on society. By and large, the regulations have more impact on how we live and how we work than do the actual laws that we deal with in this House.
So once again, I ask the minister if she could stand on her feet and tell me what the thinking is and what we anticipate changing by way of regulations after this act is possibly assented to.
Deputy Chair: The time being 4:30, do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We'll take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on Bill No. 31, An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. I believe Ms. Buckway has the floor.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I have committed to the Yukon Transportation Association that we will consult if we are going to make any changes as a result of these amendments. I would offer that same opportunity to the Member for Klondike - that we will consult with him if we are going to make any changes.
Right now, when our staff are out on the highways, they occasionally have to do things they don't have the powers to do, and we want to protect them. That's the reason for this proposed amendment. On Tuesday, I outlined some examples.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what I don't want to see at the end of the day is the minister empowered to run up and down the highway in her van or on her Harley hog with clearance lights and red lights, stopping traffic and inspecting them. That's where I'm at, Mr. Chair.
In my opinion and the opinion of many others, we have enough enforcement people out on the highways. Given the downturn in the economy and the tremendous reduction in commercial vehicle traffic and general traffic, there is less and less for them to do. So they find the time to do the same people more and more frequently. And therein lies a problem.
One of the other Liberal initiatives that was brought forward in this House previously, back in February of this year, was an initiative - actually in the form of a motion - by the Liberals to provide for two licence plates on vehicles. Now, is this something that is being contemplated or are we going to have to widen the licence plate because we don't have enough digits on them? Where are we going in this regard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I've asked about the same thing myself, and I believe we are in the middle of the contract period now with the manufacturer of the licence plates. Again, this is something I am prepared to look at in the next round of amendments.
Mr. Jenkins: So, is the minister saying that design is already done? Where are we anticipating heading? Given the extension of the licence plate - and we know all the hassle we had when we wanted to remove the little goldpanner from it once. I'm not sure of the total number of digits but, given the number of digits and letters, we probably have enough to plate every vehicle and enough opportunity, with the combinations, to plate every vehicle in Canada, let alone Yukon. Do we need all the digits and numbers we have and do we need two plates? What's the advantage, if the minister could elaborate, to having two plates?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, Mr. Chair, at this point, we have one plate. Is the member suggesting we should change it to two?
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, on the contrary. What I cited was a Liberal motion, back in February 22, 2000, when the Member for Lake Laberge was also a member of this House and the motion read that it is the opinion of this House that the presence of two licence plates on vehicles aids the RCMP and citizens in the identification of vehicles and that this House urges the Government of Yukon to reinstate the use of two licence plates for all vehicles licensed by the Government of Yukon.
It's a Liberal motion. Where you stand on it is the question, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member has just neatly outlined the reason: to aid the RCMP. However, we are in the middle of a contract period now with the manufacturer of the licence plates. I have said we will do some work on this and see if it's a logical thing to do when the next round of amendments comes forth.
Mr. Jenkins: So this initiative was driven by the RCMP. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is attempting to put words into my mouth.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, somebody must. We can't get any answers out of this minister that are going to provide any benefit to this debate.
This was a Liberal initiative. Now, what is the background on this Liberal initiative to restore two plates to Yukon vehicles - one on the front and one on the back? What precipitated this motion?
Given the majority, this government has the ability to impose its will on vehicle owners here in the Yukon by a simple order-in-council, if they so choose. So, what precipitated it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I wouldn't dream of touching the licence plates without public consultation.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, a lesson learned, Mr. Chair, and I thank the Premier for adding to the debate.
Mr. Chair, the issue surrounding the licence plates and the number of digits on them gave rise to a great deal of concern, and I see the current Minister of Tourism, who brought forward this motion to put two licence plates on Yukon vehicles, has apprised the minister of towns and trucks as to why this motion came about, and perhaps she could just share that information with the House, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, it's always a delight to be patronized and condescended to by the Member for Klondike.
The motion was to ask the government, as I believe the member read, to explore the options surrounding the use of two licence plates instead of one. Now, if the member's seeing a nefarious plot in that, I'm sorry.
Mr. Jenkins: And it's always nice to be patronized by the member, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, especially as a defence when she doesn't understand the basic issues she is debating in the House and hides behind this façade of berating the opposition for asking pointed, intelligent, well-though-out questions of the minister. The responses are none of the preamble that I just gave to my position, Mr. Chair. Has there been any consideration given to the number of digits and letters on Yukon licence plates?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Not yet, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Is this another area that will be going out for consultation, and if so, when?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The current manufacturer hasn't expressed any concern that we are running out of digits or letters, so in that regard there is no urgency to this matter.
Mr. Jenkins: Given the number of variables as to letter and digit combinations, how many licence plates can be issued with the variables? It's one massive factorial, according to my calculations.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, since the member has already done the calculation, perhaps he would share the result with the House.
Mr. Jenkins: Unlike the minister, I am not an accountant. I do have an understanding of math, though, unlike the minister. But be that as it may, Mr. Chair, the issue before us is this: how many combinations do we currently possess in the given numbering and lettering system we have? How many different plates can we issue?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm sure I can ask the question of the department, and they can find out for me. If the member would enlighten us as to why this information, which he already has, would be useful, that would be helpful.
Mr. Jenkins: Given the different number of combinations that are available, I'm aware of three instances in the Yukon - one in my own riding - where the same licence plate was issued both in Dawson and Whitehorse. And there have been other examples of this. Now, how does that occur, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I knew the Member for Klondike would get around to the point eventually.
We'll be glad to check with the department and see in how many instances this has happened.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the last one was relatively recent, Mr. Chair, where a vehicle was licensed in Dawson and the same plate was issued to another vehicle in the Whitehorse area. It's not the first time this has occurred.
Given the number of different combinations, one would be of the opinion that there would be no need to duplicate licence plates. I would just like to know how this happens. Do we have a computer program that scans this to see? I don't even know how it was discovered.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I suspect it was a manufacturing error, but I will be glad to check, and I thank the member for bringing it to my attention.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, there's a task for the minister. When she's driving about the streets on her big Harley, she can see if she can find two licence plates the same, Mr. Chair. A wonderful task for her to spend her time at, especially with the changeover that's contemplated.
One of the other areas that I have concerns with is when a vehicle is impounded - it's basically just put into storage - who carries the insurance on it should it be damaged while impounded? Who is responsible?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the personal policy of the owner would come into play and the impoundment yard also has liability insurance.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what the government is saying is that they have no responsibility for the vehicle while they have impounded it. The responsibility rests with the owner, who may or may not carry insurance to that effect, and it rests with the pound owner.
Now, in some areas in rural Yukon, it's going to be in a government compound. What's the position of the government with respect to an impoundment in these areas?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, that's a hypothetical question. We haven't impounded any vehicles in government yards.
Mr. Jenkins: I beg to differ with the minister, Mr. Chair. There have been some impoundments along the highway where, initially, the vehicle was stored in a government compound or on government property before it was moved. So, what's the position of the government when this occurs?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I will check the member's facts with the department, and if the facts are correct, I will attempt to get him an answer.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I wouldn't be bringing it up if it hadn't been brought to my attention. It's an area that happens in rural Yukon, primarily along our highways. When the RCMP impounds a vehicle and there isn't any place to put it, sometimes it goes to the RCMP yard. But they're acting on behalf of the Government of the Yukon. So, if a vehicle's impounded and kept in the RCMP compound, who is responsible for it should it be vandalized or damaged there?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I've said I will check the statements that the member is making, and if that situation does indeed occur, I will get him an answer.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it has occurred, Mr. Chair, and it has occurred in rural Yukon.
Mr. Chair, one of the other areas that I just omitted and didn't examine fully with the minister was surrounding the definition of buses and coaches and smaller buses. When you get into vans, a 15-passenger van can be classified in one of two ways. It's usually classified as a bus.
Who makes that determination as to which way you can go? Is it up to the owner? Because it's a different class of licence required should an individual be operating a passenger-carrying vehicle over so much capacity, even if it's registered privately.
And if you look at the definition of a bus, and if you look at how vehicles are registered, if you take a 15-passenger van, it can be registered either by GVW or it can be registered by the number of seats. Who makes that determination, and who categorizes that vehicle?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, that determination is made by the government.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, it can't be so, because I've seen them registered both ways. So there has to be some leeway given there. I just can't get a handle on it as to why there's some flexibility in an issue as straightforward as that, but the number of seats should determine whether it's a bus or a taxi or a coach or a van - how you get into definitions there. But if you look at a number of the 15-passenger vans that are registered, some of them say "van", some of them say "bus". Have a look at the registration sheets, Mr. Chair.
So, there has to be some leeway there, and unless each territorial agency in the licensing authority here in Whitehorse has a difference in how they interpret things, I don't know how this comes about. Could the minister advise the House?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I may have missed something somewhere. Is the member referring to all vehicles or only commercial vehicles?
Mr. Jenkins: I am referring to 15-passenger vans and how they're registered. Let's be specific. Some of them are registered as vans; some of them are registered as buses. Who makes that determination, and what is the basis?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I suspect that it depends on the use. If you have 13 kids, it is probably a van. If you're using it for commercial purposes, it may be something else. But my official is checking on that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what I am getting at is that there doesn't appear to be a consistency within the government as to how they apply a definition for this category of vehicle. As soon as you get into that number of seats, the class of licence that is required to operate it is a different class of licence. And yet, even the Government of Yukon owns and operates 15-passenger vans and the operators of them are not required to have any more than a class 5 licence, unless they are used for specific applications.
Check with the Department of Tourism, which use the van on a continuing basis and just have a look at it. You have 12-passenger vans and you have 15-passenger vans. And it's different, and they can be licensed differently - they can be licensed as a van or as a 15-passenger bus. There is a formula - every seat costs so much. I can't recall exactly - I believe it's about $132 to license a 15-passenger van, based on the seats. On the GVW, it is something else, but you can still have 15 seats in it. So, why is this variance in existence, and why can we go both ways?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe it's depending on the use, but I thank the member for bringing this intriguing apparent discrepancy to my attention. I will have the department look into it and report back to him.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess the concern is that when you get into a vehicle carrying that many passengers, it's characterized as a bus and comes under the National Safety Code, but you don't even have to wear a seat belt in it. You're not required to. You'd be foolish not to. In fact, you'd be downright stupid, especially given this minister's inability to cut the brush on the side of the road, Mr. Chair.
The standards for a driver's licence to operate a passenger-carrying vehicle are much higher and much more stringent than a standard category class 5, Mr. Chair, and I would see it as incumbent upon the minister to ensure that passenger-carrying vehicles of that magnitude - that the licensing requirement is consistent with what would be standard accepted practice in most other jurisdictions.
I can assure the minister that you can't do this in British Columbia, and I know for a fact that you can't do it in the Province of Quebec either. There's a definition in their licensing requirements in this regard. In the Yukon, the goalposts move all over. Mind you, probably once we have two licence plates on the vehicle, we can identify them accordingly and we won't have a problem with it, Mr. Chair.
Given that there are some problems in that area, I would hope that the minister could take a bit of time to review that area and see what can be uncovered.
One of the other problems with two licence plates is that, after a short period of time, especially if one is in rural Yukon, the licence plates on the front become very, very badly damaged from rock chips and the debris left on the highways - because the minister hasn't properly cleaned the highways - and because of the type of highways used by those of us living in rural Yukon. So, that is another aspect that should probably be looked at with respect to going back to two licence plates.
I guess it's all right if you are a Whitehorse-based individual, but if you live in rural Yukon and have to travel on any of our gravel roads, chances are that that plate will become very, very badly damaged extremely quickly. You are not allowed to operate a vehicle with a licence plate that is defaced, otherwise, one of those 17 individuals might stop you on the highway and fine you, Mr. Chair.
So, there is a whole series of things and considerations that have to be made before we can look at two licence plates here in the Yukon. I would be very, very hopeful that this consultation process could be put off until the next Minister of Community and Transportation Services assumes the responsibility, and we don't have to deal with it. I'm sure it will be a very lively topic. Of course, it's probably one of the areas this Liberal government might want to concern themselves with, given that they can't address their main role, which is the economy - the deplorable state of the economy here in the Yukon, the lack of mining exploration and the lack of oil and gas, save and except for Liberal gas.
At the end of the day, I guess we have to concentrate on these minuscule types of areas, because really, we haven't any hope of turning this economy around under this Liberal government - this wonderful arrangement between the Yukon Liberals and the federal Liberals, which are one and the same, Mr. Chair. We're seeing that quite dominantly during this election campaign here in the Yukon. There's no difference between a Yukon Liberal and a federal Liberal, and all we have is a colonial government that is an apologist for the federal government. Perhaps our licence plates will soon be issued out of Ottawa, Mr. Chair. They'll probably become more colourful, and we can end up with some different decoration on the licence plate.
Mr. Chair, I have a number of other issues that I'm sure we'll get into in line-by-line debate. I'd like to ask the minister if she could provide her assurances that the information that she has agreed to provide will be forthcoming before we clear this act. There's all day tomorrow and part of Monday for her to diligently address her responsibilities and ensure that the information is forthcoming on the floor of this House. I'll look forward to receiving it, but I'm seeking the minister's assurance, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, at the rate we're proceeding, I don't think we'll have any problem getting the Member for Klondike that information by the end of the year. I'm told that the National Safety Code defines "bus" as 10 passengers or more, so that's something for the member to keep in mind. Again, I thank him for bringing that intriguing apparent discrepancy to my attention, and we will certainly look into it.
With regard to a couple of his other comments, I'm sure he'll be providing under the Christmas tree for me a machete for brush clearing and perhaps a nice push broom for clearing the gravel off the road. I look forward to it. Under no circumstances, Mr. Chair, would I like to see the Member for Klondike out enforcing traffic with the red lights.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I was looking for something a little bit more appropriate than a machete for the minister. I was thinking along the lines of this big Harley hog that she's licensed to operate, with a sidecar on it and a brushcutter on the side of it. I think that would be very, very appropriate. It would do an excellent job. I'm not sure how much in the way of clearance lights it would require, but I'm sure that it would be more than the standard.
Given the red lights on the top and the big, big extension on the side for brush clearing, Mr, Chair, I would see that in keeping with her role in ensuring that safety on the highways is maintained and kept. Also, that brush clearing device on the side of the sidecar could also be exchanged for a rotating broom to sweep in the summer, Mr. Chair, which would also be appropriate.
I don't want to suggest a snowplowing device, because it would probably, given the varying depth of the snow - mind you, in the short distance that the minister travels with her vehicle to work every morning, I don't think she would encounter a problem. But, for some of us, out on the highways, there might be a variance of snow depth and on a motorcycle in the winter she might have some difficulties.
Be that as it may, it's probably a very good suggestion that we provide the minister with a machete. If the conditions along Yukon highways next summer are as deplorable as they were this last summer, Mr. Chair, I can assure that I will be more than likely providing the minister with a machete, and probably even a lawnmower. It will be a push lawnmower. It won't be a gasoline-powered lawnmower or self-propelling, it will be just one of those push ones. I would urge her to get out there, because for those of us who live in rural Yukon and drive these Yukon highways extensively, one has to recognize that there's a safety factor with the growth along the highways.
And it's an area that this minister has ignored. She is going to blame it on the tremendous amount of water that came down this summer. But if they hadn't addressed it when they did this fall - in fact they were still cutting brush up around Stewart Crossing about a week or so ago - they would have had to go to the federal government and get a timber-harvesting licence because the trees growing in the right-of-way were so large on the butt that you couldn't cut them with conventional means; you would have to go in there with a chainsaw. And that hasn't occurred overnight. It has taken probably a year of two.
Now, these are some of the minister's responsibilities, and if she wants to do it on her Harley Davidson hog, that's her prerogative. I'm sure we can even throw in a few bucks for goodwill, and she can move on to her appointed task.
I have a number of other questions in line-by-line debate, but I'm sure that the Member for Kluane also has some questions in general debate, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I had no idea the Member for Klondike was willing to spend so much on my Christmas present. A Harley would be lovely. And I will assure him that I will stick to the speed limit on the north Klondike Highway of 90 kilometres when I am doing the brushcutting.
Mr. Jenkins: And I can assure the minister that I also stick to the speed limit.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I'm not sure if I should enter this debate at this time. It seems we are talking more about brooms and shovels around here than anything else. And maybe those are two very appropriate tools to have at hand. Because, for one thing, this housekeeping government prides itself on keeping its desk clean and not looking after Yukoners' priorities. We know that. If we start to raise matters they don't like, they certainly try to sweep them under the rug. We know that too.
About three hours ago - three and a quarter hours ago almost - the minister stood up and replied to some comments from the other day. I don't want to address all of the insults directed my way, Mr. Chair, but I think it's appropriate to put on the record that, when she says my assumptions were irrelevant, or not relevant, it means the same thing, purely that's her opinion. It was established later in the discussion today when the leader of the third party pointed out there are two levels of highway enforcement now in these extra positions created on the open highways. I recall making that example specifically on Tuesday. So, that's not relevant. It was proven out.
The minister also prides herself on consultation. I couldn't quite believe my ears, Mr. Chair, as she went on, talking about how these amendments are grounded in consultation. I had thought, after all the examples given, which included letters from the Yukon Transportation Association, the Village of Teslin and other references, that Yukoners were quite concerned that there had been no consultation on these amendments.
Sure, the graduated driver's licensing program had some consultation, but what about the other areas? What about the areas of the expanded enforcement? What about the areas of some of the more technical requirements in this bill? There was no consultation - none.
The minister, when she was on her feet, had already admitted that. They didn't consult the Yukon Employees Union, industry, other levels of government, First Nations, business or the public, and they certainly didn't consult us. Obviously, they think they know it all.
That's not the platform they brought to the public at election time. I read part of their platform, and it clearly indicated they were humble enough to listen to others, because they admitted they didn't have all the best ideas.
But things have changed in six months. Clearly, from their actions and lack of will to consult anybody, they do think they have all of the best ideas.
Mr. Chair, what kind of a style is this government showing? We have referred to the press release fired out last Friday. It says, "The NDP and Yukon Party vote against tougher penalties for drunk drivers." Clearly wrong. It was even quoted as saying, "They are obviously out of touch with public opinion on this issue." Wrong again, Mr. Chair. The examples I just gave show how the Liberals are out of touch - not us. We're in touch with the public on these issues.
Now, Mr. Chair, is the minister going to stand up and blame this press release on their handlers, too, like the Minister of Tourism did? Or are they going to take responsibility for their criticisms and exaggerations in their press releases?
It seems that about every week there's another Liberal caucus press release. I have quite a collection of these already. They're probably rivalling my comic book collection for the amount of laughs in them, because it also shows how thin-skinned this government is and how aggressive it is in government, especially if it's going to exaggerate the facts in doing so.
It doesn't indicate that it's a government that has accepted the responsibility to govern. It indicates it's more interested in antagonizing the opposition, attacking them and confusing the issues.
That's another big aspect - confusing the issues to the public. We see all kinds of examples of how that is done. Now, we asked the minister to pull back on this bill and bring it to consultation; she refused.
We acknowledge that we have no choice on this side of the House; we're outnumbered. That's a fact, Mr. Chair. We're outnumbered.
So, what role can we possibly have in ensuring this is good legislation? Well, one possibility is to put our concerns on the record. We could also put our suggestions on the record. Now, a number of those are on the record, because this is about the third day of debate on this bill; yet the minister refuses to make any changes to the legislation.
Now, hopefully, when we go line by line and if something comes up, she'll be open for some change, because I think there are some problems with some of these clauses, and no doubt we'll hit on those problems and see if they can be straightened out.
So, I hope we have the indulgence of the government side and try to raise the bar of cooperation a little bit, instead of firing out press releases including practically every answer and insult or provocative remark, and let's see if we can get through this bill and ensure that it's as good as we can make it, given the lack of consultation, and get on to meet the priorities of Yukoners dealing with the economy and so on, Mr. Chair.
So with that, I don't think I have any more comments in general debate.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Just a couple of points. Once again, no extra positions are being created as a result of these amendments. The one exaggerating the facts is the Member for Kluane, because he insists that there are extra positions. There are not.
I also point out to the Member for Kluane that, before bringing in these orders-in-council in 1997, the NDP did not consult with anybody. So I rest my case, Mr. Chair. I will undertake, as I have said to the Member for Klondike, to consult with him as well as with the YTA before we make any changes to the powers of these officers.
I would also undertake to consult with the official opposition on the same matter.
Mr. McRobb: I have to respond to that, Mr. Chair, because the minister has said several times that the NDP consulted on these amendments back in 1998. Her comment this time was qualified, in that it was before 1997. So I'm not quite sure what the difference is.
However, the main point here is that these amendments were rejected by the previous government because it was felt they were intrusive - some of them very intrusive - to the business community. As everybody knows, the previous government was interested in reducing red tape and working with business, trying to promote economic expansion of the territory, not just overregulate the industry.
Mr. Chair, I thought it was clearly on record that these amendments are a child of this Liberal government and nobody but they can accept responsibility for them. So, if the minister is trying to absolve herself or her government of responsibility for these amendments, I suggest that there are lots of more productive ways in which she can be spending her time.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Not at all. I think these are good amendments. They will increase safety on our highways. I think they are good for Yukoners, and I'm proud of them.
Mr. Jenkins: I have some questions surrounding the early release of impounded vehicles. One of the areas that has been brought to my attention - and I have some concerns with it - is that more and more we are into the visitor industry, and more and more we are into fly-drive arrangements, and more and more we have a number of Europeans who come over and pick up a rental unit. What happens when they get charged with impaired driving? A citizen from another country - let's use someone from a European country as an example. What happens to the vehicle? Now, we are suggesting that we restrict the number of early releases. Is that not the case for commercial vehicles? Now, how does it work?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Companies that lease or rent vehicles and have their company name on the registration of the vehicle will not have an impoundment that is caused by the actions of the driver recorded against them. Impoundments are not meant to be counted that way. The purpose of the change is to have the party who caused the impoundment to bear responsibility for it, not the rental company.
Mr. Jenkins: What recourse do we have to the driver from Europe, other than give him a subpoena to appear in court? What happens? He is probably long gone before his court appearance.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, if the member's talking about laying charges against him, yes, he's correct in the recourse available.
Mr. Jenkins: Is the minister aware as to the impaired driving charge - the DWI in Alaska. Is she aware of what the initial reaction is of the police in that state and how they deal with it there?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I'm sure the Member for Klondike would be pleased to enlighten the House on that matter.
Mr. Jenkins: I thought, given her understanding and her time she spent in Alaska, Mr. Chair, that she would have a thorough knowledge of that area. It's a mandatory, immediate three days in jail. Has this avenue been explored in the Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Not yet, Mr. Chair. We can suspend someone's licence or disqualify them.
Mr. Jenkins: So we're going to suspend someone's licence or disqualify them, and then they get on the plane and go back home, or they leave Canada. What recourse do we have? We don't have any reciprocal arrangements with, for example, Germany.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, we have reciprocal licensing arrangements, so a licence suspended there would be honoured here and vice versa, but I suspect not to the extent the member is thinking.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, in the Yukon, Mr. Chair, if you're charged with impaired driving, your licence is gone for a year and your vehicle is impounded if you own it.
Now, let's apply the law equally across the board, Mr. Chair. If we have someone fly in to Whitehorse, pick up a rental vehicle, subsequently be charged with impaired driving - really, all they're issued with is a subpoena to appear, and they leave the country. The chances of them appearing before they leave are very, very slim. It's not the same way in other jurisdictions.
If you look at Alaska, when you are charged, you immediately appear before a magistrate. They wake them up in the middle of the night and run you before them. It has never happened to me, but I know some people whom it has happened to. Because, contrary to what the minister is suggesting in this House, I'm a very safe and conscientious driver. It's those darned moose that jump out of the bushes that cause me grief because the minister has failed to cut down the brush along the side of the highway.
Given the problem, there has to be a way to address that problem that is uniform and consistent. If you're a Yukon driver, licensed and resident here, one set of standards would be applied to you. If you're a European driver, there is a different set of standards. You're on the plane, you're home, you're driving over there, and you don't give a fat rat's whatever about whatever has been charged here, Mr. Chair. It doesn't matter. Oh, well, you just can't go back to Canada for a few years. That's about it. So, there is a double standard as to the application of the law. But if you look at what other jurisdictions have done when faced with a similar problem, they have approached the problem and have addressed it.
Now, once again, it would appear that this minister hasn't been as all-encompassing, far-reaching or as thoughtful in her process as she could have been, because the same problem exists everywhere you go. The only place where you can get out of a DWI very quickly is probably still Mexico by paying off the federales. That used to be the case in Quebec, but not any longer.
Here in the Yukon, we have one set of rules and one set of enforcement conditions for an impaired driver who owns his own vehicle and another set for a visitor.
Once again, the minister has created a double standard. Why?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I do not believe that I have created a double standard. This situation has existed for some time and, if it were that important, the previous Yukon Party administration surely could have dealt with it.
I think it's something worth looking into. Safer roads are the goal and the member seems to be suggesting that, on a first offence, everybody should go to jail for a period of time. That's definitely worth looking into before the next round of amendments. That can be part of the public consultation.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, we have a very serious problem here, and the serious problem is people drinking and driving and continuing to do so after they have been charged and their licence has been suspended. Even without any insurance, they continue to drive.
If you look at the individuals that cause the biggest amount of concern in this area, it is a very, very small percentage of the total population here in the Yukon - very small indeed - but it's a very serious concern. All this minister can do is blame it on the Yukon Party; blame it on the NDP; blame it on the previous governments.
We have a Liberal government. They have a clear majority and a clear mandate. Rather than just bringing in housekeeping bills, why not take this bill back and look at some sound, thoughtful undertakings with respect to how we can make this work?
Because all we've done is expand the role of 17 more enforcement people - at least 17 - and that doesn't include the minister on her Harley, Mr. Chair. But at the end of the day, if we were to enact all of these proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act tomorrow and if they were law, probably the same individuals would be out on the highway drinking and driving. I'm pretty comfortable in saying that, because I believe that that is the case.
So what have we accomplished? And what are we looking at accomplishing here? Yes, there are a few areas that we can address to tighten up the law, but have we really done anything? Not really. We've spent $1,000 an hour of Hansard time, but have we taken any more drunk drivers off the road? I would suspect not. Because they really don't care what the law says. They have chosen to ignore it time and time and time again. So it's probably appropriate if we don't take the Liberal approach and put a couple of band-aids on it and talk out of both sides of our mouth together.
Let's just get to the problem and fix the problem. The first offence, impaired driving, go immediately to jail, do not pass go. Three days, automatic, or seven days automatic.
Let's come up with something that's consistent with other jurisdictions and that's proven to be a deterrent, Mr. Chair. The fact that we impound someone's vehicle - well, that can probably place a lot of undue hardship on the family. It's a reasonable move, but we still have the problem. That's evident by all of these amendments two years after this Motor Vehicles Act came into place.
The minister has a choice, Mr. Chair. She can fix the problem, or she can live with the problem and come back and say nothing has changed, nothing has improved, which I'm sure she'll be doing in a couple of years. But if you list the problems in order, they are, number one, alcohol on our highways; number two, insurance problems. You know, that person who drives a motor vehicle on our highways and the tags have expired, it really doesn't mean anything, Mr. Chair. Yes, it's subject to a fine. But let their insurance lapse, and we have a potential for a very serious problem.
And given the extension granted last time for when you could renew your driver's licence and the period it would lapse and you didn't have to go through all the testing - I have concerns with that also, Mr. Chair. If you can't remember to renew your driver's licence, renew your tags on your licence plate and renew your insurance, my gosh, we've got a problem. In descending order, Mr. Chair, your insurance is probably the most appropriate, but your insurance is not usually valid if your licence plates are not valid and your driver's licence is not valid.
Mind you, insurance companies have been remiss in not honouring liability claims when the plates haven't been valid or when the driver hasn't been a bona fide, legitimate, licensed driver. So, there has been some flexibility in there by the insurance carriers.
Mr. Chair, there's much, much we can do to make the highways safer. But if the minister would stand up and say that these amendments are going to improve our highways - I can't agree with that. They won't, Mr. Chair. They will do little of anything but add more red tape to the regulatory process, probably give work to another individual in the licensing bureau or someplace by following through on this undertaking.
Let's collectively do something that's going to benefit Yukon. Let's look at this drunk-driving legislation. Let's hit it head-on, and let's put in place a law that is going to make a first time offence, a mandatory X number of days incarceration. That's the only thing, Mr. Chair, that's going to stop this and stop it very quickly. The second offence is mandatory here in the Yukon, not the first offence. And with the second offence, you have to go through due process. And I'm aware of occasions where someone has been apprehended for impaired driving and given the normal court appearance, and before they even appear in court they're charged once again and they're treated as one offence. Well, that's not fair. That's not reasonable. That's the law. It's what they can do.
If you look at what other jurisdictions have done, when you blow over .08, they usually give you a second test in these other jurisdictions. If you fail that, it's do not pass go; go directly to jail. And if they have to wake the magistrate up in the middle of the night to get you there and put you there, so be it. It's done and it's done immediately.
That kind of a message would be a very beneficial message to send out, Mr. Chair, because when you look at all of the processes that someone goes through when they're charged with impaired - they go to their first appearance and it's, "Oh, I have to get legal counsel and I have to get legal aid next appearance. "They play the system and they can go on for just about a year playing the system. Then, at the end of that period of time, "Oh well, yeah, I'll take my medicine." Or by then they have moved to another jurisdiction and you can't even find them. They change their middle initial or their date of birth by a digit and apply for another licence in another jurisdiction. That's happened and continues to happen.
What I'm urging the minister to do is reconsider this piece of legislation we have before us. Don't stand up and say yes, I'll take your suggestions under advisement and perhaps look at them and go to consultation and bring them back in two years' time. If you want to fix something that's not working, fix it.
They have a clear mandate in this Liberal government, Mr. Chair, but it appears they're not prepared to address any of the issues head on, whether they be land claims, whether they be the economy or the state of the economy such as it is, or whether it be this Motor Vehicles Act.
This government was elected on a pledge that they'll do what they promise to do. But they haven't promised very much, Mr. Chair. I'm sure the Liberal spin doctors are upstairs, thinking of a wonderful press release to issue today that might conflict with reality and might conflict with what was said. But it's pretty interesting when they are batting very inaccurate press releases as of late. And I really take exception to the Yukon Liberal caucus media release, as it's called - "NDP and Yukon Party vote against tougher penalties for drunk drivers". Well, show me where the tougher penalties in here are. There are really no tougher penalties to speak of. There is really no deterrent. Perhaps if the minister could take some of the suggestions that have come forward in the House today and fix the issue of impaired driving and fix the issue of insurance, we might be able to improve society here in the Yukon, or at least address the shortcomings.
Mr. Chair, I can't say I have nothing but disappointment arising out of the debate on this act before us. I can say that I have been very, very disappointed in the answers provided by the minister.
As we get further and further into the Motor Vehicles Act, it becomes abundantly clear that the minister has not addressed the fundamentals of her portfolio in this regard as it relates to the law. I know that being newly elected, she has to rely extensively on briefings and information supplied to her by her officials.
If we look at what has developed in the House in the last few days, the Premier, as Minister of Finance - her briefings, I'm sure, she's grasped, because she's improved considerably in her understanding of the Department of Finance portfolio. And I look at the deputy minister there as being very capable, as I do the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
It appears, Mr. Chair, that the minister is the one who hasn't grasped the information provided to her from her deputy minister on this very important act and the amendments to it. And from time to time, one has to weigh and rationalize what the department puts forward and what the public and the political direction should be. A compromise has to be made, but when it comes to life and safety, I don't believe we have room to compromise. A tremendous compromise is being made by this Liberal minister. It upsets me.
I would be very, very hopeful that this minister could do more - can do more. I would urge her to reconsider this bill that we have before us, these proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, and take them back, reconsider them and improve upon them, so that they can enhance the lives of Yukoners and provide a greater degree of comfort and safety. Because what we're creating in here in these amendments are a lot of double standards.
I, for one, do not like double standards, and I don't believe anyone does or should.
I guess when you're the recipient of a benefit from a double standard, you say, "I support it." But we are charged, Mr. Chair, with the responsibility of ensuring our highways are safe, continue to be safe, and we haven't addressed the number one problem on our roads here in the Yukon. We haven't done it - tougher penalties for drunk drivers. Mr. Chair, nothing in here is going to deter that portion of the population that is responsible for the repeat drunk-driving offences. There isn't one iota in this legislation that is going to deter them from driving.
They're going to continue to do so, and they will do so. It doesn't matter how much law or paperwork or impediments we put in their way. The stopping point is incarceration in this case, and that works. It has worked in other jurisdictions, and I believe it is incumbent upon us, Mr. Chair, to debate it fully, because at the end of the day, we're all charged with the same responsibility, which is to make laws that are fair, reasonable and in the best interest of all.
As opposition, it is our responsibility to hold the government accountable, and it's a very easy thing to do, given how novice and inept they are proving to be in addressing their responsibilities.
Mr. Chair, given the hour, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that we do now report progress.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: I move that 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 Bill No. 31, An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You've heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Member: 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 stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:56 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 23, 2000:
Conflict of Interest Commission (Yukon): letter from Mr. McRobb, Member for Kluane (dated November 23, 2000) to Mr. McLarnon, Member for Whitehorse Centre, re expanding the scope of the investigation
Conflict of Interest Commission (Yukon): letter from Mr. McLarnon, Member for Whitehorse Centre, to Mr. Hughes, Conflicts Commissioner, re expanding scope of the investigation
"Goodwill": academic paper, "Accounting for Goodwill" (dated 1995), by Venkatesan Sundararajan
"Goodwill": definition and accounting approaches, from "Accounting Recommendations" (dated March, 1999), The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants