Tuesday, November 28, 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: I am honoured today to introduce several people in the gallery: a friend and an extraordinarily successful campaign manager, Mr. Shayne Fairman, Mr. Dave Black from Watson Lake, and our newly elected Member of Parliament, Mr. Larry Bagnell.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have for tabling the Government of the Yukon contract with Mr. Jayme Aylward Consulting, and I have for tabling the government contract with Alastair Campbell of Ottawa, Ontario.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Jenkins:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the following principles should be included in the Protected Areas Strategy legislation:
(1) The concept of multiple use, rather than removing large areas from all development, should be enshrined in law;
(2) Environmentally sensitive core areas should be protected from development, with differing ranges of multiple use to be permitted in other less sensitive areas;
(3) Mineral assessment should be obligatory on all lands withdrawn for protection;
(4) If at all possible, resource-rich areas should be excluded from being included within park boundaries;
(5) A review period should be provided to identify what core areas are to be excluded from development and how much land is to be withdrawn;
(6) Where resource-rich areas are found within environmentally sensitive areas, special management regimes and other measures should be examined to determine if development will be permitted and what reclamation initiatives would be required, should development be allowed to proceed;
(7) The procedures in the strategy should be clearly set out in the legislation, public consultation should be guaranteed, and representation on local planning teams should reflect an appropriate balance of stakeholders; and
(8) The legislation should include a sunset clause requiring an automatic review once the 23 ecoregions have been protected.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Contracts with government, sole sourcing
Mr. Fairclough: I have a question for the Premier about some spending items in the Executive Council Office. According to the contract registry on the government's Web site, this Liberal government spent almost $200,000 on sole-sourced contracts directly related to transition services, Cabinet support, caucus planning and MLA research. Can the Premier tell us how that compares to the amount spent by previous Yukon governments on those specific items, and will she provide details to those contracts?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The interim leader of the official opposition asked a question yesterday regarding two specific contracts. Mr. Aylward's business licence is with the government; it is Yukon wide and that is noted. That should be noted because he is ineligible for a City of Whitehorse business licence as he is a rural Yukon resident. Mr. Campbell's contract off the contract registry shows MLA research, when in fact he is contracted out of the Ottawa office, as I had said yesterday.
With regard to the specific contracts that the member asks about today, I don't have each and every contract with me here in the House. I can advise the member that certainly the costs are entirely in keeping - if not less than - what has been previously spent. That has been closely monitored, and I will provide a detailed breakdown for the member opposite.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the Premier for that. One interesting contract went to Jim Slater & Associates for transaction coordination services between April 18 and July 31. As the Premier knows, this contractor soon became the executive assistant to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Can the Premier tell us when that appointment became effective, and how much of the original $10,000 transition contract to Mr. Slater was not paid?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I find this line of questioning of individuals who do not have the floor of this House to defend themselves somewhat difficult. However, I will answer the member opposite's question.
Mr. Slater was retained by the newly elected Liberal government for his transition services, which he ably provided. When he was hired to deal with transition services, it was a period of time when we were making up our mind as to who would be hired, how many people would be required, and so on.
I will find out the precise details of Mr. Slater's contract for the member opposite. I can assure the member that, in fact, yes, Mr. Slater provided services to the transition team and, secondly, that Mr. Slater was also subsequently hired to serve as the very capable executive assistant to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, who is also very capable.
Mr. Fairclough: I would appreciate the breakdown on what amount was not paid out of that original $10,000 transition contract.
Earlier this fall, I asked the Premier to provide a full list of travel costs for Cabinet caucus and political staff. One item on the list was for Jim Slater to accompany the Minister of Tourism to a tourism trade show and the Tourism ministers conference in Calgary, two days after the Cabinet was sworn in. Can the Premier explain what particular expertise this contractor brought to that exercise and why the Executive Council Office would spend over $3,000 to send a transition coordinator to a tourism get-together?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the interim leader and the official opposition are doing an interesting thing here. They are basically casting aspersions on individuals who can't defend themselves in this House.
The member opposite knows very well that, during the time of transition - perhaps he has forgotten, because it was some time ago - people are hired to provide assistance. The Minister of Tourism was required, immediately upon her appointment, to travel to Calgary for a Tourism ministers meeting. At that point in time, there had been no executive assistants hired. Mr. Slater, as part of the transition team, was asked to accompany the minister, which he very ably did. He provided support to the minister at that point in time.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, what I'm trying to get at -
Speaker: Order please. Is this a new question?
Question re: Contracts with government, sole sourcing
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, what I was trying to get at is that this government is spending taxpayers' dollars, and I'm trying to focus on that and where the money is going and to whom, and to let the general public know that. I have a question again to the Premier on the same subject that we were discussing.
Another sole-source contract was for transition coordination services that went to Debbie Hoffman. Can the Premier tell us how much of that contract was paid out before Ms. Hoffman was hired as the Premier's chief of staff?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Again, Mr. Speaker, I find this line of questioning very interesting from the members opposite. I have said to the members that, first of all, we are an open and accountable government. All of these contracts are available on the Government of the Yukon Web site. There were some problems with that, which I noted from the line of questioning yesterday. I have told the member opposite that I will provide a complete and more detailed listing of each of these individual contracts and precisely how much was spent.
The member opposite should be aware that it is entirely appropriate for any newly elected government to spend, first of all, time and, yes, money during the transition period. The amount spent by the Liberal government is entirely in order, if not less than what has been spent previously, Mr. Speaker. I will defend those expenditures and the talents of any individual who has either subsequently been hired or who served us during the transition time. Any individual whom this government contracts with I will gladly defend, although I would again advise the member opposite that would it not be more appropriate to discuss the business of the government as opposed to the business of individuals who aren't on the floor to defend themselves?
Speaker: Order please. Before we continue and this gets out of hand, I'd like to make a statement here, and then I'll allow the official opposition leader to continue. I'm referring to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice Manual, and the copy is usually on the desk in front here. In there, it says, "Reference by name to members of the public - Members are discouraged from referring by name to persons who are not members of Parliament [or the Legislature] and who do not enjoy parliamentary immunity, except in extraordinary circumstances when the national interest calls for the naming of an individual. The Speaker has ruled that members have a responsibility to protect the innocent, not only from outright slander but from any slur directly or indirectly implied and has stressed that members should avoid as much as possible mentioning by name people from outside the House who are unable to reply and defend themselves against innuendo."
And with that, I would ask the members to please be judicious in your choice of words, and leader of the official opposition, please continue. First supplementary.
Mr. Fairclough: This is an extraordinary situation, and we're talking about process here and looking for a clear picture from this government about how taxpayers' dollars are being spent, Mr. Speaker. It's not putting any staff people down; it's about how government is spending money.
I would like to take the Premier back to the travel list I referred to earlier. The list that was received covered the period from May 6 to October 6. Did the Premier's chief of staff undertake any travel outside the territory on behalf of this government during this period?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: This is not an extraordinary measure; the member opposite is asking questions about individuals and an individual's business, which, Mr. Speaker, you have clearly said is not within parliamentary procedure. Nonetheless, as the member points his pen at me, I would remind the member that, to the best of my knowledge, he has been provided with a complete listing of travel. To the best of my knowledge, Ms. Hoffman did not travel outside of the territory on government business - and I am going immediately from memory. Prior to October 6, Ms. Hoffman has recently travelled with me to Anchorage. But prior to that I don't believe that she has travelled outside of the territory.
Mr. Fairclough: I am asking questions about government business and process and how monies are being spent. The member opposite is right; we don't have a listing of this particular travel for the chief of staff during that time. It's not on the list of Cabinet and caucus and political travel. But it appears that Ms. Hoffman may have accompanied an official in the Economic Development department to Vancouver some time back. Can the Premier advise the House if her chief of staff did make such a trip and what was the nature of that assignment?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member again, on this third question, is asking questions about an individual's work outside of their ability to defend themselves and their business.
The chief of staff's specific travel and reason for the travel from the date of hire until the day the return is filed, to ensure that we are precisely dealing with all of the facts, I will provide to the member opposite.
Question re: Land claim settlements, meeting deadline
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Premier. One of the central messages coming from the Yukon Liberals during the election campaign was that Yukoners had to elect a Liberal Member of Parliament in order to receive benefits from the Liberal government in Ottawa. Well, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon has delivered. We now have a Liberal Member of Parliament, a Liberal senator, a Liberal Commissioner, a Liberal Yukon government - a Yukon Liberal government that has hired all its Liberal friends to work in the Executive Council Office on contract and otherwise; we have all of the patronage appointments that the Liberals have put in place. The red tide has swept over the Yukon. Unfortunately, the water is just above our eyes, Mr. Speaker.
This is an all-persuasive mandate. It's now time for the Liberals to deliver. We can't have any more excuses. My question for the Premier is this: can the Premier advise the House if she is in agreement with the March 1, 2000, deadline to settle the seven remaining land claims, set by the Minister of DIAND when he visited Whitehorse on February 26? Does the Premier support this deadline and what is the Liberals' policy if the deadline is not met?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm so glad we finally got to the question. Things were certainly flowing in here, but it wasn't a tide - they were a bit thick, from the member opposite.
Mr. Speaker, this government is clearly committed to the settlement of land claims. So, Mr. Speaker, is our Prime Minister, re-elected as of last night. The current, newly elected Member of Parliament is so committed to the settlement of land claims, as are we, that he and I met this morning, along with the senator and with the Grand Chief, Mr. Ed Schultz.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, last February, the Minister of DIAND stated that not much could be done to resolve the First Nations loan-repayment issue, which required Yukon First Nations to pay back as much as 65 percent of their settlement money. That was for negotiations. It had to be paid back to the federal Liberals. That is national policy. Does the Premier not agree that the federal Liberals set this national policy, and why can't it be changed?
Hon. Ms. Duncan:First of all, the settlement of First Nations land claims that are outstanding right now is a priority for this government, and it's a priority of the federal government, as the Prime Minister committed this to the Grand Chief when he was here. The Prime Minister committed to the Grand Chief that, yes, he too wanted to see land claims settled.
The Grand Chief, the Prime Minister, the Member of Parliament and I are all very, very committed to the settlement of the seven outstanding land claims, as is, yes, our Liberal senator.
Now, the member opposite may not appreciate that the individuals who have expressed this commitment, like the federal government, have been re-elected for less than 24 hours. The Member of Parliament elect and I have already met with the Grand Chief. We have already talked about this and how we're going to advance this agenda forward with the federal government. We will continue to do so.
I look forward to announcing to the member opposite - that we are so committed - that we actually have it done. I'm looking forward to that day.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like we have it done. It sounds like we have a love-in of all the Liberals who have been elected in the Yukon. That's about all we have, Mr. Speaker. But the issue is the settlement of the First Nations land claims that remain here in the Yukon.
Now, the devolution and the management of Yukon resources - not the ownership of these resources - has been touted by the Yukon Liberals as the panacea to solve all Yukon's mining and resource development problems. Yet, it has been delayed until April 2002. Should the seven outstanding land claims not be completed by that date, will devolution proceed anyway? What is the top priority of this government: the settlement of land claims or devolution?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the top priorities of this government are the settlement of land claims, devolution and rebuilding the Yukon's economy.
Question re: Alaska Highway pipeline, establishment of a task force
Mr. Fentie: My question is for the Premier, and let's talk a little bit about rebuilding the Yukon's economy.
Mr. Speaker, the election is over, the Liberals have been returned to power in Ottawa, we have a Liberal MP from the Yukon, and the Liberals said, "Elect a Liberal candidate and we will get things done." So, now it's time to deliver.
The pipeline is the Liberal government's major economic initiative and, in fact, the only economic initiative for this territory.
Will this Premier and the MP immediately contact the Prime Minister to convene an intergovernmental task force for this territory, properly funded, so that we may start addressing the issues that need to be addressed, such as environmental regulatory processes, training, and ensuring that Yukoners will maximize their benefits from this project? Will she do so now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we have already done this, as have Premier Kakfwi and Premier Okalik. Each territory has prepared and has worked on the northern economic development strategy with federal government officials. That document has been prepared, and my understanding is that, once a Cabinet has been sworn in in Ottawa, the desires of the three territories for a northern economic development strategy will be put forward on the Cabinet agenda. I am very hopeful that that will take place sooner rather than later. I understand it is ready to go.
The member opposite is asking specific questions regarding environmental regulation for pipeline development and training for pipeline development. That is another issue that we have dealt with and are dealing with, but the key question from the member opposite was about this northern economic development strategy, and I am pleased to advise the member opposite that officials have been working very hard and it's ready to go in Ottawa. It's a matter of a Cabinet being sworn in.
Mr. Fentie: Well, that's not what I am talking about. Furthermore, the Liberals in Ottawa have been there since 1993. We haven't got any economic development in this territory - quite the contrary. They have shut down mining due to regulatory processes. They have shut down forestry because they can't get their act together. What Yukoners are concerned about is that they are going to hamper and impede the development of the pipeline project. We are suggesting that the Premier play a major role here and get the federal government to commit to a task force in this territory so that the Yukon is in the lead on this and not relegated to the back seat like the federal Liberals love to do here. Will she do so?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The commitment for a northern economic development strategy was in Paul Martin's 1998 budget that was delivered to the House of Commons. That had not yet been realized. And that's a point. All the premiers at the annual premiers conference endorsed the position for development and putting money into and allowing the three northern territories to focus on areas that each of us are concerned about in terms of developing our economy. That was the commitment. That had unanimous support from the annual premiers conference. That message was delivered to Paul Martin. That message has been worked on in Ottawa. We have stated our priorities. There is an economic development strategy paper that has been worked on and has been presented to Ottawa. There is a new government in Ottawa and there is a re-elected Prime Minister; however, Cabinet has not yet been appointed.
Our newly elected Member of Parliament will be briefed on this as soon as there is an opportunity to do so. In terms of pipeline, we don't need a task force. We need to get this work done. First of all, we need the project approved, which this government has been working very hard on. At the same time we have been working on training and we've been working on the environmental and legal issues as well as the socio-economic issues.
Speaker: Order please. Would the Premier please conclude her answer.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker. And I'm more than prepared to defend our actions in aggressively supporting the Alaska Highway pipeline route to the member opposite or anybody.
Mr. Fentie: We know all that, Mr. Speaker. We know that the Premier is committed to aggressively promoting the Alaska Highway pipeline. We know, because the NDP government started the review of the existing agreements, that that's what they're doing. What we're saying is: take the initiative, get things going in this territory to ensure that, out of a $2-billion expenditure on the construction of this pipeline, we retain as much of that as we can and don't compromise our environment.
More importantly, Mr. Speaker, when the Premier talks about her economic strategy, remember the 1993 red book? There were all kinds of economic promises in that, too. Where are they in this territory? They're non-existent, broken, discarded.
Will this Premier act and act decisively and ensure that the federal government does not foul this up, like they've done with so many other things, and ensure that we are in the lead? And we are suggesting the way to do that is by implementing a task force that includes the territorial government, the First Nation governments and the federal government, so that we do not take a back seat when it comes to the Alaska Highway pipeline. Will she commit to doing that now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, nobody is taking a back seat to anyone, particularly in terms of aggressively promoting the Alaska Highway pipeline.
With respect to the northern economic development strategy, that was a commitment by Finance minister Paul Martin in his budget speech, and maybe the member opposite doesn't recognize it, but millions of Canadians recognize the very good work of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the Finance minister, Paul Martin, and there are no broken promises.
This is a promise that is going to be fulfilled. I have every confidence in that - not just because I have confidence in the Prime Minister and the Finance minister, but I have every confidence also in the unanimous support of our colleagues that this will be delivered and that we will get it done. We will have a northern economic development strategy, and it's a well-thought-out and productive economic document, Mr. Speaker. In terms of the pipeline, we don't need a task force. There are four main players involved in the selection of the Alaska Highway route.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes will get an opportunity, I'm certain, to ask questions. I've offered this information to the members opposite before. Three out of the four key players involved are on side. We are working very hard to ensure the selection of this project and that Yukoners benefit environmentally, economically and socially.
Question re: Fire smart program
Mr. Fentie: Well, it's comforting that the Premier is so committed to the Liberals in Ottawa and is sure that they're going to live up to their promises. Well, let me point out that twice as many Yukoners didn't vote Liberal as did, so Yukoners aren't that confident in Liberals being able to deliver on what they promise.
Mr. Speaker, we need some jobs now in this territory. The pipeline is at least two years away if the flag drops. One of the vehicles that would ensure that Yukoners could go to work and earn a living this winter is the fire smart program. Every community in this territory can benefit from that program. Will the Premier now bring in another supplementary budget in this sitting and put $1 million into the fire smart program to put Yukoners to work immediately? Will she do that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: With a $33-million deficit this year, no, we will not bring in an additional supplementary this year.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the Premier's answer is ridiculous. The fact is that the reason this Liberal government will not proceed with the fire smart program, community development fund, the tourism marketing fund or the trade and investment fund is because they are actively trying to repackage those very good and valid programs in this territory, so that they can politically gain from any expenditure through those programs. What they are doing is sacrificing Yukoners for political gain. That's a disgrace, and that is why twice as many Yukoners did not vote Liberal this federal election. That is the reason.
Will this Premier now remove her stubborn, cold-hearted attitude and help Yukoners this winter? They desperately need it. They need it now. Put the money into fire smart program and put Yukoners to work.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, I appreciate that the member opposite is somewhat prickly today.
The member opposite asked me if I were introducing an additional supplementary now to put money into the fire smart program. I stood on my feet and I clearly asked if I will bring in an additional supplementary this year, for this particular program. "Not with a $33-million deficit." I also said to the member over and over and over again that this side of the House is very supportive of the fire smart program, recognizing the fire threat to our communities. We are also doing something about it. The program was not perfect, no matter what the member likes to believe - he's a perfect 10 - the fire smart was not a perfect program.
There are improvements that can be made to it. We are going to do that.
Now the member opposite would like to suggest that there is no work going on this winter. I would invite him to visit the community of Dawson. I would invite him, later on this winter, to examine the work that's going to be done by Anderson Exploration. I would invite him to speak with the Kaska about the very ambitious and good work that they have been talking about. It's work and training for people - for Yukoners, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Well, first off, the Premier's answer regarding a $33-million deficit doesn't wash. There's lots of money - lot's of money to help Yukoners out this winter. These Liberals are very efficient at spending money on themselves. One fire smart application, initiated in the community of Watson Lake, would cost less than it cost us to politicize the Education Act review by the partisan appointment that this government made. That's a disgrace. This government is sacrificing Yukoners' well-being for their own political gain and it's a shame. Will this Premier do the right thing, help Yukoners out this winter, put money into the fire smart program, while they review it - there's no reason to stop it. You can make it better if you want, nobody disputes that, but put Yukoners to work now. Will she put a million bucks into the fire smart program and help Yukoners out? They need help now.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, clearly, the people of the Yukon had no faith in the ability of members opposite to create jobs or to manage the Yukon economy. The member can catcall and make all sorts of references to last night's election results. Democracy has spoken. The voters have spoken. Whether the member opposite chooses to respect that or not, is his choice. The member opposite is railing on about the fire smart and ignoring the fact that there are other areas where this government has been working to deal with the Yukon economy, which suffered four years of devastation under the previous government. We have been working very hard on it. We're very concerned about Yukoners and work - not just this winter, Mr. Speaker, but for the next three and a half winters. We're very concerned about it and that's why rebuilding the Yukon economy is a key priority of this government.
Question re: CT scanner
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services today.
The 2000-01 budget included $1 million for the purchase of a CT scanner for the Whitehorse General Hospital, and it also contained $400,000 for operating costs. Instead of following up on that commitment, which they said they would do earlier on in the year, the minister chose to refer that item to a technical review committee. Now, that committee has had lots of time to look into the purchase of the new machine.
Has the new CT scanner been ordered?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The question is a very specific one, and it's one that does not require a knee-jerk reaction, Mr. Speaker.
The government of yesterday - even when this item was put into the budget, it was a knee-jerk reaction. Somebody said, "We need a CAT scanner." So the next thing we knew, Mr. Speaker, it was in the budget. No investigation, no research, no O&M - nothing was done. We do our homework, and that's what we're doing now.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, the question has not been answered. There has just been a lot of fear-mongering, if I could say that, from that side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, if the member would only look into the budget - the budget that they have adopted, that good document that represents people - and implement it, that would be great. Because it is not knee-jerk. There was capital allocation and there was also operation and maintenance allocation.
So, for the member to stand on his feet and say that is absolutely ludicrous, but it's absolutely what I'm beginning to expect every time from this member opposite, on the defensive.
If I could continue, with the $400,000 that is in there for operation, do we have trained staff to operate this equipment if and when it comes? And, if we do not have the trained staff, why do we not have the trained staff and what is holding up the process?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I am pleased to hear that the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes finally understands the word "fear-mongering." He is starting to use it now. I hope he understands that when the member opposite gets up on his feet and starts pontificating about all of the injustices that the member opposite understands that he should have the facts before the actual expressions come out, Mr. Speaker.
Homework is a big word for the members opposite. It is one that I think that, hopefully over this session, we will try to reinforce takes time to do. Homework means using your expertise. It means using your resources. It means using the technological capabilities of understanding how a technological advancement like the CAT scan would work in our hospital. It also means a long-term commitment. It's not just a million dollars for the purchase of the CAT scan; it is also the operation that will continue for the next number of years while the CAT scan is operating.
I specifically do not control what the hospital does. I don't micromanage. I believe that's the responsibility for the hospital board and their CEO. And I would expect that if this item was put in the line budget and it was approved, they are preparing for the eventual purchase of the CAT scan and are therefore doing the training.
Mr. Keenan: Well, again Mr. Speaker - every time I stand on my feet in this House I have to use the word "appalling" because that is what I find. The side opposite is absolutely appalling.
This is the same minister who has ignored the commitment in his government's budget to increase social assistance rates, saying he is going to do things his way - his way or no way. Now, here is a fact for the member opposite. Fact 1: the minister himself said that, "The purchase of a CAT scan will greatly enhance an accurate and timely diagnosis for patients in the Yukon and support the medical community." And that's a direct quote from the Minister of Health at this point in time.
The government is spending $35 million this fall and they're spending it on government. They must remember that it is the people who put them there and the people need help at this point in time. They need CAT scanners. We need jobs. So, instead of saying, "That is what I said but that is not what I meant", will the member opposite explain why this purchase is being delayed and when the new CAT scan will be up and running? Will the member do that and quit hiding behind a board, quit hiding behind consultation and do what he is supposed to do?
And Mr. Speaker, I apologize if the member thinks I'm a fear-monger. I just want a simple answer -
Speaker: Order please. Question please.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Once again, grandstaging for the public. Really, the question is a very simple one. The important part about the $35-million VISA that has come in - this is a $35-million VISA from the government of yesterday that has come in. We have to pay it. That's what the supplementary budget is all about. There's a $35-million VISA that has come in. We are paying for it. That's what we're supposed to be discussing now.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, I think that's the problem, Mr. Speaker. We are training people right now for the CAT scan - the eventual purchase of the CAT scan.
Mr. Speaker, about the $1 million, we are not sure that that's even enough to purchase the kind of CAT scan that we need. That, again, is the knee-jerk reaction of the members opposite. They just threw $1 million into the budget, to the amazement of professionals and technical people. They didn't understand where this money came from. Suddenly, it's $1 million. There was no investigation or research. They just threw it in there and we can purchase it.
Well, Mr. Speaker, it takes a lot more than that to purchase a major technological advancement for our hospital. We are committed to doing it, but we are not going to do it the day the money is put in the budget. It takes research, expertise and technical skill to do that.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mr. Jenkins: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, November 29, 2000. It is Motion No. 41.
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the official opposition to be called on Wednesday, November 29, 2000. They are Motion No. 53, standing in the name of the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, and Motion No. 54, standing in the name of the Member for Watson Lake.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I now call the Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Motion re appearance of witnesses
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Chair I give notice of the following motion:
THAT Tony Armstrong, President of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Dale Schmekel, Chair of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28, 2000, to discuss matters relating to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Tucker that Tony Armstrong, President of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Dale Schmekel, Chair of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28, 2000, to discuss matters relating to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Motion agreed to
Chair: We will continue now with the business of the Committee. We're dealing with Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 2000-01.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 2000-01 - continued
Chair: We're on general debate. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Fairclough: I can't believe we're still debating in general debate this supplementary budget, but I still have some questions and comments in this supplementary.
First of all, Mr. Chair, the Liberal government was left with a very healthy bank account from the previous NDP government, and I know they knew this. It was said, and advice was given to them by their financial advisors, and although they still did not admit that to the general public as a matter of fact, each and every one of them on the Liberal side has been crying poverty about having only $14 million left in the surplus for government, which was not the case.
A total of $64 million was left to the Liberal government - a very healthy amount of money, since what normally would be in there is around $20 million, and that would take care of any type of emergencies that could take place in the Yukon with regard to fire, floods or that type of thing. And the previous NDP government was to spend that down over a number of years to get rid of this roller-coaster ride that Yukon has been on in the past. It was well-thought-out, although we thought that there was going to be $56.2 million - the same amount of money that the Premier had said in this House. And with that, the Liberal government had come forward and said there was a $34-million deficit, but it did not hurt them or have any influence on them at all. They came forward with a supplementary budget that is $37 million, additional spending to what was out there already - of a budget that was close to $500 million.
That's probably the biggest supplementary budget that has ever been introduced into this Legislature after a budget has been presented. You would normally think that it would address the immediate needs of Yukoners - what we're facing right now with regard to the economy - but, in our minds, it did not address that. It's not a job-creation supplementary budget at all.
What it does do, though, is increase the size of government. When the Premier was on this side of the House, government O&M was a bad thing and capital was a good thing. You would have thought that, once they got into government, that O&M would have been reduced, but it was not. Instead, it was increased by a substantial amount of 6.4 percent. Normally, budgets that are introduced in the spring have an increase of one percent or 1.5 percent, and now we have an increase in government of around 6.4 percent in O&M.
There is a $37-million surplus supplementary that doesn't address the needs of Yukoners.
In the past, the NDP always introduced a supplementary budget in the fall to look at the conditions and try to help Yukoners in regard to jobs and so on, once the Auditor General's report had come back showing what our surplus was and whether or not we could be flexible in spending some of that money.
Now, we, as the opposition, introduced Supplementary No. 4 - a supplementary bill - to this House that was $7.7 million. That's the difference between what we have - $63.9 million, and $56.2 million. So, really, it would not have moved that supplementary budget, but we did get additional funds from Ottawa that boosted our surplus in government. That was the amount we put down on paper; we thought it made sense. It put people to work. It benefited communities.
If this were passed through this House, there would have been people working in virtually every community in the Yukon Territory. I know that the Liberal government did like this, because they accepted it and we passed it through first reading.
If it weren't for the rules of this House and the fact that the Chair did rule it out of order, we could have been debating this particular supplementary budget that was put forward by the opposition. And I know that the government liked it, because they did not oppose it, Mr. Chair. As a matter of fact, they were somewhat influenced by it in looking for monies within the departments for the community development fund, for example, and finding an additional $250,000. So I'm hoping that, in the future, this supplementary budget that we brought out would have more influence on the government opposite and they can show some action toward boosting up some of the dollars in the different programs that we outlined.
Now, there were questions today: why not put a million dollars into fire smart and put people to work? It's on-the-ground work; it's for people who have been looking for work for a while and need to work before Christmas. And the urgency to this is that this House is not going to sit for much longer, Christmas is coming, and people want to work.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, a person came into my office today who wanted to meet with the Premier but could not get a scheduled meeting, and his concern, of course, was jobs. And, of course, the community was looking for work with regard to replacing and building a new school in Mayo.
Work is important, and the programs that we have listed out may have given him that opportunity - fire smart or the community development fund, which could have been used for the priorities of the community.
The Premier and the Minister of Education were in Mayo. They made some commitments to the people of Mayo. One of them was that those who took the carpentry training for preparation work for construction of the new school would be put to work this winter, right away, before Christmas. I know the government has been working with the community, the First Nation and the village to drum up some projects, and I understand, from my recent visit to Mayo this past weekend, that there are some projects going ahead. They are doing renovations to several buildings - moving one Yukon Housing building and doing renovations to it - so there is going to be some work and hopefully some additional training with regard to apprenticeships taking place with those projects they came up with.
One interesting thing was that there was a commitment that those who took the training - the 11 people or 12 people who took the training - would be put to work. There were a couple of people there who did not make it through the course - experienced carpenters who have been building homes for a long time. And now we have these projects going in Mayo, and they can't get on.
I think there's something wrong, and I'm hoping the Premier will look into that with some seriousness and address this. One particular gentleman whom I was speaking to has all kinds of experience in building homes and has been doing it for a long time. He knows how to read blueprints and so on, but he took this particular training and did not make it through. He still wants to be part of the projects that are drummed up in the community along with government and have that additional work before Christmas. I hope she takes that seriously and looks at that with some interest. There were commitments made, and I hope they don't break those commitments.
It is good to see that the Liberal government is following a lot of the initiatives that the NDP had put out in the budget for 2000-01. Although they are not implementing it to the fullest - the CAT scan isn't in place right now, it's under review; the two-percent increase, which is not very much, to social assistance rates has not been implemented, nor has it been given to clients for any retroactive pay. And I find that a little hurtful, I guess. It's not a big increase, and it could have been beneficial to those very low income families. But, as I read through the NDP's brief description - the NDP names are still on the budget - I am hoping that the government would follow that to the T. So far they have, Mr. Chair.
With the reduction in income tax that was put forward - the 12 percent less - that is one that came out as a ministerial statement. And I am sure that the Minister of Health is going to come forward with another one, saying that they have now done the work, they have now done their homework, and they have now read the briefing books and are now up to speed with what really is involved with the CAT scan, and they'll be purchasing a CAT scan and identifying the proper dollars for O&M on the CAT scan.
It's interesting to note that the medical travel has been up. Is part of it because we don't have this type of equipment here and are constantly sending people out? Well, it would be interesting to note and bring forward and bring back to this House.
Mr. Chair, we have also had - should the government have passed and introduced, and they still have that opportunity. We can take our names off this Supplementary No. 3 and give it to the Liberal government, and they can introduce it to this House and show some leadership - because their supplementary certainly didn't - and address the issues that are out there right now. One of them, of course, is the Mayo school, and it does identify $500,000 in there. That could have had that project up and going right now and had contractors in and everybody prepared again for the construction of the school.
We have had the adult winter home support program, and I know it has to be liked by the members opposite. It is not a huge expenditure - $300,000 - but it does help out some of our elderly people across this territory, and it could put people to work for a very short time, Mr. Chair.
We have also had the youth pre-employment programs, which would have helped our unemployed youth to take part in paid training in life skills and literacy and so on, to help them get ready for more specific job training. I know, if the members opposite would have done their homework and looked at this a little more carefully, they would accept it.
The training trust funds that have been put in place in the past - we would like to see this going toward things like, in regard to the Liberal priorities for a pipeline going through the Yukon, pressure welding and training our skilled labour force now for these projects that may come in a couple of years from now, and so on. This training could take a lot longer than six months or a year if we, the people in the Yukon, want to see and get better jobs when the pipeline does come through.
So, I'm hoping that maybe the members opposite will look at that seriously and react to it as being a priority when it comes to preparing for the megaproject that could be coming to the Yukon Territory.
We have also identified dollars that have gone into the older workers' pilot program. This would not just be a Yukon program, but it would be a joint program with the federal government to help older workers prepare to re-enter the workforce.
Just to add to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services' department, the roadside visual hazard clearing programs basically address the safety issues by slashing and removing brush and those kinds of things. It should not be in the regular O&M of highways, where they go through a specific process to tender contracts and so on. This can be done to directly put people to work and not have a single contractor come in with a machine and brusher of their own, taking away this type of work. It is to put people to work. That's part of the reason why this particular program was put in place.
Of course, another that could very much help Yukoners would be increasing the pioneer utility grant to offset things like diesel fuel and so on.
So, there is a lot in our supplementary budget. I'm sure the members opposite will address those safety issues that are in there. Not all of it was toward job creation. There was a small portion of it that went toward things like street lights and lighting in and around Dawson City and a couple of other places, such as Tagish and so on.
So, Mr. Chair, we've identified the training trust fund, the tourism marketing fund, and the trade and investment fund, which you all know affect small businesses in the Yukon. One in particular that was in the paper was Chilkoot Brewing, which could have used additional assistance to expand their business, put more people to work, and so on. Of course, the community development fund, which addresses the priorities of communities and organizations in Whitehorse, in the communities - the non-government organizations, those who are applying for that fund - puts people to work. It would probably, if it were looked at properly, put people to work in virtually every community in the Yukon Territory, and so would the fire smart program, giving a sense of safety to the people and to the communities around the Yukon Territory.
So, if the Liberal government would take a close look at what has been presented to this House by the official opposition, we certainly won't have a lot of discussion on it, and it could be passed through this House, knowing that it does put people to work.
I would like to, again, go into some of the questions I had. When I left off, I was questioning this particular one with regard to schools and the priority of schools. I was happy to hear that the Premier was on the same wavelength as the Minister of Education on this particular issue, with regard to priorities, but I know that their House leader has been saying something different. So that's why I asked the question about the priority list. And I am glad that was clarified for us on this side of the House, because it is a very important issue and a very important process to follow.
We do have a lot about the amount of dollars that is put forward in here - about the future. There are some pretty big expenditures in here too. We have never really had a breakdown of how this could be spent. For example, the additional monies that go into oil and gas - the $100,000 put in there was for promotion. The Premier had said it was not enough, or not nearly enough. And that very well may be once you start getting into the project a little deeper. I am wondering if the Premier has a bit more of a breakdown on this particular expenditure. I know we are going into it during line-by-line debate, but I don't want to spend a whole lot of time on that either. We only have another four months to go before the next fiscal period. How much of the money was spent, and does she see lapses that could take place with this particular line item?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to enter into the debate with the member opposite this afternoon. For the record, to advise the member opposite that, as the member noted in the budget documents - specifically page S-2 - using round numbers, the surplus at March 31, 2000, is $64 million. The annual deficit, using round numbers, is $34 million, and the budgeted deficit for this year is already over $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the Yukon.
That level of spending is not sustainable. Mr. Chair, the Minister of Health put it most eloquently when he said, "The VISA bill is due."
We have to have government spending in such a manner that it's affordable for Yukoners and that we deal with the needs of Yukoners, including, Mr. Chair, the needs of our health care system, which are reflected in this supplementary that's before us.
The members opposite asked about some specific questions with regard to the CAT scan, some specific questions with regard to Mayo school construction and a specific question with regard to the issues around work for individuals in Mayo this winter and a specific constituent. The ministers of Health, Education and Government Services will be happy to address those specific questions, and I would urge the member opposite, with regard to this specific constituency concern and the good work of the Minister of Government Services in working toward employment with the Minister of Education for the people of Mayo this winter, that he ask that he meet with those ministers. I'm certain that an opportunity could be found and we could deal with this constituent's concern. I can commit my ministers to such a meeting.
In terms of the specific detail on the level of expenditure and the expenditure of funds for the additional supplementary funding for the pipeline unit in oil and gas, I would be happy to answer that question in Economic Development. I can just provide the member with the broad-brush information that the additional expenditure is paying for such work as the continued aggressive promotion of the Alaska Highway pipeline, which the members opposite don't support. That includes the legal work that has to be done, the engineering work that is done by the pipeline unit, and, as well, there are some public initiatives, such as work with the Yukon Conservation Society, Yukon environmental groups, Yukon labour union groups. That sort of liaison work is being done, as well as the liaison work with First Nations being undertaken by Mr. Birckel.
I can provide the specific detail on some of the other expenditures under that item when we get into the line-by-line debate in Economic Development.
Mr. Fairclough: I can tell the member opposite that we are in support of the pipeline. What we have here are concerns - some very real ones that have come forward from the communities and organizations that are out there. For example, the Member for Whitehorse Centre had said, "We looked at it, and it looks good." It is as if it has the green light already.
When it comes to environmental concerns, the work that was done in recognizing this pipeline route was for exactly that, not for any development that takes place on it. So, communities coming forward have those concerns - what development is going to take place, what type of pipe is going to go on it, what kind of methods and technology is going to be used on it. Those are the concerns that are coming forward. Where does it go? Does it just float on the bottom of Kluane Lake? Does it go through lakes? How many lakes does it go through? Because it does, it is very much an environmental concern for us and for the communities.
I'm hoping that this is given a lot of consideration by the Liberal government when they are going through this whole process, because everybody likes it. They like the opportunity. They like the fact that we might have a bit of hope out there with this pipeline, but don't throw away the concerns that the communities and people of the Yukon have. That is the most important thing right now. If we can do some preparation work and work with them right now, particularly on the environmental side of things, it will be beneficial to us all.
Also, the training, as I mentioned before - and I'll bring this up again when we go through the particular department - is important because it takes so long. If we can have our welders trained, for example - I know that they have new technology and that they do use a lot of robotics and new equipment to put the pipe together, but there's also a lot of manual work that has to be done, and it would be very beneficial to Yukoners if we were to engage in that type of training right now.
We have $37 million in the supplementary budget, and I don't know how government has come to prioritize the different line items. Maybe the Premier can tell us what criteria were used for that, because a lot of job creation - small amounts of monies that could have been put in there were not put in there. The $37 million that was identified - how did we reach that figure? Why wasn't it $35 million? Why wasn't it $40 million? How did $37 million come up? Were there projects that were dropped, or were there projects identified and then dollar figures put to them?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we seem to have found ourselves in the start of a pipeline debate. For the member opposite's information, an application for the Alaska Highway pipeline route and project has not been filed with the National Energy Board. That route has not been selected. We're not at that point. We're continuing to aggressively promote the Alaska Highway pipeline route. It is not selected yet. It's looking good, but it's not selected yet.
And before we train every single Yukoner to be a welder, like the member opposite is suggesting, let's get the project. May I remind the member opposite that we also have to be sure we deal with expectations. There's a constituent in my riding who, in the 1970s, obtained the high-pressure welding ticket for pipelines, who bought the welding truck. He has maintained his residency in the Yukon, and that welding truck is used for other purposes.
We have to make sure we have the route; however, we also have to do the planning, and there's $612,000 in the budget that's outlined to research exactly those sorts of questions - to go back and look at the 1982 environmental approvals, to talk about different sizes of pipe, what would need to be refreshed, what new technologies are out there. And we're also not just focusing on the pipeline in terms of training for Yukoners; we're looking at immediate and long-range training. Those needs are being assessed by the advanced education branch, the oil and gas branch and community representatives, Mr. Chair.
Training has already been provided in Watson Lake, Carcross, Dawson, Faro, Old Crow, Ross River and Whitehorse. The advanced education branch, Faro training trust fund, Carcross-Tagish First Nation, Liard First Nation and HRDC Faro Industrial Adjustment Service have all provided funding for oil and gas training. Anderson Exploration, Akita Drilling and others have provided company training. Those are oil and gas companies. Training is taking place at Yukon College as we speak, Mr. Chair. There are advertisements that are publicly noted.
We're doing our homework on this. We've budgeted items. We're concerned about these issues. We're dealing with them. We're also ensuring that we're dealing with them in a responsible and fair manner.
In terms of how the $37-million figure was arrived at for this particular supplementary budget - well, there is no flexibility in the territorial revenue. This is the additional revenue that was received as a result of the formula. There is a formula there, and that figure is the result of the formula. The Canada health and social transfer that was agreed upon at first ministers - the transfer from Canada, including the pension that we're dealing with, is a fixed amount. Recoveries - those are what money is recovered. The O&M figures and capital figures are very clear. We will be discussing them in each specific line. The point is the $34-million deficit. That's $1,000 for every -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: We are talking about the supplementary, and the supplementary, as a result of this work, shows a $34-million deficit. That is more than $1,000.
If the member opposite thinks it is perfectly all right to spend more and more and to run our surplus into an unconscionable level, then that's the member opposite's choice. And when he was in government or if and when he gets elected to government, that will be his answer as Finance minister, but it's not our answer. We are very concerned about making sure that there is enough money in the bank to deal with the day-to-day needs of Yukoners and deal with any emergencies. And that figure - the $30 million - as shown in this supplementary document is very close to just enough. The recommended amount is between $35 million and $40 million, and so the supplementary budget accounts for the health care needs of Yukoners, it accounts for the pension issue, and it accounts for the wages of very hard-working Yukon public servants.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, the government does have $64 million. They do have that. They cannot say it is not there.
What was put forward was their priority list. They may have a plan to have a huge lapse in the next year. The CAT scan, for example, is $1 million. The plan is not to bring it forward now. It will get lapsed into next year's funding. The Mayo school is another $5 million. If this keeps up, government could be faced with a $100-million surplus by next year. It doesn't appear that they know how to spend this money properly, in a way that will affect Yukoners.
One of the things the member opposite says is that it addresses the needs of Yukoners. If so, how come we have a $6.4-million increase in O&M? I know that a small portion of that does go to people and their needs - small portion of it. The rest is increases.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini introduced another program - $500,000 of IT, which creates no work at all - nothing. What it does do is buy the departments bigger computers and bigger monitors and so on.
So, I'm asking the Premier about the criteria. What was used to put forward and bring forward this supplementary budget that they're asking us to pass? Was it because our economy is down and government wanted to look at putting people to work? Well, that's not what she said here. I was quite disappointed that something like that did not come forward. I did ask the Premier if she would introduce this Supplementary No. 3 that does put Yukoners to work. We would vote for it on this side of the House. It is an increase of $7.7 million. Maybe she can cut back on her supplementary that amount, put people to work and have a good supplementary budget.
The Premier also talked about the amount of training that took place with regard to the pipeline with the previous government and the many communities and people preparing for it. I did ask that we should be preparing now, not for every person in the Yukon to be a welder, but there are people who would like that type of work. Once they have this training, it's not a waste. It's like education. It's never a waste at all.
I would like to ask the member: how trained is our workforce in preparation for this pipeline?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in answer to the last question, I indicated in my answer that the immediate and long-range training needs are currently being assessed by community representatives as well as the oil and gas branch and advanced education.
The member opposite asked what the priorities were. Let me try and answer the question in a different way, and perhaps this will satisfy the member.
The priorities in setting this budget were as follows: revotes, as these are important because otherwise we would be leaving projects unfinished; a negotiated wage increase, which is mandatory; increased pension cost, which is mandatory and it's built into the formula. We have recovered the money from the federal government. We feel it is very important to maintain essential services that were underbudgeted, particularly in the area of health. And, Mr. Chair, there are some Liberal priorities. There is more money for individualized education plans. There's money for the Alaska Highway pipeline analysis that we have just been talking about. There's money in other departments - for the stay-another-day program in Tourism. There's money in Justice for legal aid. These are all people issues, they're employment issues, and they're Yukon issues, and they have been dealt with very well in this supplementary budget.
The member opposite is probably going to stand on his feet and want to know exactly how much were revotes and how much was the wage increase and how much was the pension cost and the specific line item in each of the priorities I have outlined. That's in each department, and we'll get to that when we get to line-by-line.
Mr. Fairclough: Maybe the Premier has to forward some information to us. I did ask about the $400,000 for the employee settlement and whether or not the amount of increase they got was reflected in the departments already, that they had to cover that, or was this additional to that. She said it's not additional. Is that something that will come forward as another line item to cover that amount? I had thought what was taking place - and it was my understanding - that the departments were to swallow that in this first year.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I explained this before to the member opposite. When the previous Finance minister tabled the budget, there was an amount in the contingency. There's a negotiation going on. It's not known, until that negotiation is concluded, what the wage settlement amount will be. Of course, you cannot go back to departments and say, "Well, we've gone and negotiated X amounts; go swallow it within your department." That's not possible. It has to be a budgeted amount and you have to transfer the funds and that's what this supplementary budget does. It shows where the money is being spent. I've answered this question before.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, when we were in government we asked the departments to eat this cost in this particular year. They have got flexibility within their department. I know there's a whole pile of increases - their wish lists that they didn't get when we were in government but they have now. I really do wish, for example, in Renewable, that you would look at it a bit more carefully because when I looked at the big black book and itemized everything that was in there, they were purchasing things like 21-inch monitors. I wouldn't think that was a necessary item at this stage in government or with the departments.
I don't think it was. Now, it could be, when it comes to the GIS in departments; I can understand that. That was the direction given. I was wondering, with regard to the departments eating this increase, whether that has been thrown out and that's the reason for having the $400,000.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I don't know where the member's getting the $400,000 figure, but negotiated wage increases have, to the best of the knowledge present over here, always been budgeted for in this way. Merit increases are what the departments are asked to absorb, but not negotiated wage settlements. They're always budgeted in this way. There's a difference.
If the member wants to debate the particular merits of the additional funding in the Government Services program, the Government Services minister will be here to defend that when we get into the line-by-line.
Mr. Fairclough: If I said $400,000, I meant $4 million. That was in your line item.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Again, Mr. Chair, negotiated wage settlements are always done in this way. Departments may have been asked to absorb merit increases in the past, but not negotiated wage settlements. They're done in this way. And it was a negotiation done by the previous government that we're inheriting, and we are showing that transaction in the supplementary budget.
I'm not denigrating the previous government; it was budgeted for in the contingency. However, the transaction - the actual cashing of the cheque, the actual showing of the amount of money going to departments - is shown in the supplementary.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I know we discussed the previous budget, but that amount was also put in there, and that's why I'm questioning the additional $4 million.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, no, it wasn't. I'd invite him to go back and speak with his former Minister of Finance. When the budget was tabled, there was a contingency amount. There were negotiation discussions going on. The actual settlement with Yukon government workers - the transaction for each department is shown here in this supplementary. That's what I'm explaining to the member opposite.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I am not clear on this and I am not convinced of the Premier's answers. It may be that that is correct. I would ask her to have this discussion again, and if there is any difference in what she is saying, can they please inform me.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I will go back and reread the Blues. I will go back and re-discuss this with the Department of Finance. If there are any differences, I will be pleased to advise the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: I would like to get into the debate on this very important supplementary budget. What we have before us is a $37-million increase in expenditure; $25 million of that is in O&M; another $12 million is in the capital side of the equation. What this translates into is a six-and-a-half-percent increase in the cost of government - nothing more. Upon further analysis we find out that the collective agreement is costing us an additional $4.5 million and superannuation another $9 million - $13.5 million worth of the total expenditure.
We look at the revotes and come in at another $11.6 million. And the other initiatives appear to be costing us some $11.9 million. The Minister of Finance explains it as meeting the day-to-day needs of Yukoners. It sounds like a Liberal election slogan. Basically what we are doing is meeting the day-to-day needs of government.
Let's focus in on one of the major areas. Let's focus in on the major increase in Health and Social Services costs, and let's just get into that somewhat, Mr. Chair.
There is no clear connection between more government spending in this area and better health for Yukoners. I defy the minister to put forward a sound analysis of the Department of Health and Social Services that clearly indicates that, because it can't be done. We're spending more and more and more money in the area of health and health care, with no measurable or improved results. In fact, in many aspects, we appear to be sliding backwards, Mr. Chair.
What I submit, Mr. Chair, is how the system is organized and paid for critically affects what you get for your money, and it's about time that the government stood back and looked at this one department alone. Since I have been in this Legislature, that one department has been constantly overspent. Now, if it was overspent and it was benefiting Yukoners, I wouldn't have a quarrel with that, but it is overspent and more and more Yukoners are crying out about the delivery of health care - not just a trip to the hospital, but the provision of health care all across Yukon.
What this Minister of Health and Social Services has done is to create a two-tier health care system, Mr. Chair: one for Whitehorse and one for rural Yukon. The train of thought that currently prevails in the Liberal camp is accelerating the distinction between rural Yukon and Whitehorse.
We have a very high and continuing growth in health care professionals. We have a need in this area to recruit and retain more of these areas, but I do not see any initiative in this regard - none whatsoever. I have heard that the Department of Finance and the Minister of Finance have set up an internal audit. Well, I welcome and applaud the internal audit committee, but what we need more than an ability to count the numbers is an ability to perform a management audit on many aspects of the government.
I would like to ask the Premier, as the Minister of Finance, why this approach is not being taken. We cannot continue to spend the money we are spending in many of these departments. We have to get to the root of the problem, identify it and fix it. It begs the question: do we need all the government we have? After we take all these programs that the Minister of Health and Social Services has taken in-house, it's very hard to alter or change them, given that the vast number of individuals are within the bargaining unit. We have to do what's best for Yukoners. We can only do that if we have the flexibility and ability to conduct a management audit.
I would ask the Premier if any thought has been given by this Liberal government to a management audit in some of these major expenditure areas.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite started off his discussion this afternoon talking about health care and health care in our country and how we pay for it. And if I might be permitted, I would just say to the member opposite that certainly this is a very, very, very lively discussion among the premiers both at western premiers and at the annual premiers conference and, of course, at the first ministers conference. And this government as a government is very, very clearly committed to a one-tier health care system. So no matter how many times the member opposite says "two-tier," that is not what we have in the Yukon - absolutely not - and it just shows his complete lack of understanding of what a two-tier health care system is. And I would love to enter into a debate at some point about this, but this is not the time.
The issue with regard to the management audit - that is exactly what we have done, and I thank the member for his applause for our efforts. We didn't just re-establish internal audit to do the checks, get cash by the right body, but it is a management audit function that we've asked to be lodged in Executive Council Office and we've asked them to undertake. We're reinstating this management audit function, so I can't reel out a list of completed projects yet for the member opposite, but one of the first things they're dealing with is this community development fund and some of the other projects. I can bring the member back a complete listing.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it seems like we're addressing some of the areas that the Liberals had problems accepting under the NDP. I'd suggest to the minister that the areas that are going to be looked at via a management audit are probably the fire smart and the community development fund program. Well, Mr. Chair, they're probably the last two that we want to look at a management audit of, given that we could probably use them as tools to put Yukoners back to work, immediately.
This Liberal government has no ability to anticipate needs of society for work this winter and has done nothing with respect to creating winter work.
If we're going to look at a management audit, let's do a management audit of the area that we know we have a great deal of problems with. We know that it's costing us a great deal of money in not just a budget line item, but in the supplementary budgets, year after year after year. That department is Health and Social Services.
Could the minister advise when the Department of Health and Social Services will come up for a management audit? Such a review is not something that's going to take place overnight, but it doesn't even seem like it's in the hopper as one of the areas of concern, Mr. Chair. I find that very much a disappointment. I welcome and applaud this initiative of a management audit, but let's focus correctly, Mr. Chair - let's focus on the areas where we have problems and where we're spending more and more money.
This government and this Minister of Finance are focusing primarily on those areas where they probably were a little upset with the previous NDP government's expenditures, and that was the community development fund, fire smart and the trade and investment fund programs. While I didn't agree with some of those programs, the net benefits that accrued to Yukon were significant. We received a lot of employment opportunities and a lot of them in rural Yukon. Under this new Liberal government, Mr. Chair, rural Yukon is being ignored, either via expenditures, job creation or with the two-tiered health care system that they so capably created and managed to perpetuate - not only perpetuate but enhance upon.
It is now more and more difficult than ever to get in to see a doctor in rural Yukon. Your chances of being medevac'd to Whitehorse now are probably at an all time high. And that is even in spite of the fact that we have fewer and fewer people working in rural Yukon and very few, if any, industrial accidents. I know, for the longest time in my community, industrial accidents were the main reason for medevacs. Well, thanks to the previous government and now this Liberal government, there isn't anybody working, so we don't need those medevacs for industrial accidents because we are not having them. Thank you very much to this new Liberal government. But the bottom line is this: when are we going to address these departments - where we know we have a great deal of problems, where we know we have constant expenditures - with some sort of management audit and look at the problem and ways to fix it? And I am specifically referring to Health and Social Services.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite knows that many of the expenditures are legislated. And there is no question that the whole area of health care funding throughout the country has to be looked at - there is no question. And that includes the Yukon. It is a huge task and it engenders all kinds of debate. The Member for Porter Creek North, the Minister of Health and Social Services, has been present with me when premiers have discussed these very issues and how we, nationally and provincially or territorially, are going to deal with these questions.
I agree with the member that there is no question that this whole issue of health care funding needs to be examined and we are actively participating in discussions in that regard. What the member started out talking about was the management audit function and when health care, as a whole, might be scheduled on that list. And the issue of health care funding is bigger than the management audit and it is being addressed both territorially or provincially and nationally.
Mr. Jenkins: I know it's difficult for the minister to grasp the fundamentals of what I'm getting at, but right now in the Yukon we're in the fortunate position of having a $64-million surplus. No matter how you slice it or cut it, the bottom line is that that's what the Auditor General reported. That is the amount of money. I'm sure that, at the end of the next fiscal period, given the amount of lapses that we'll probably see, we'll be in a very similar position, Mr. Chair.
So, let's not even get into the money side of it, because while it is critically important, we have a significant surplus that will allow us to address the importance of health care. But we can't just address health care by throwing more and more money at it.
I want to know specifically, from the Minister of Finance, when a management audit is going to take place on this one department.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it is a question that will be addressed by the audit committee. There has been an initial meeting to re-establish the audit committee, but a subsequent meeting to determine their additional agenda has not yet happened. When the health care management audit is anticipated, I'll be pleased to let the member opposite know.
Mr. Jenkins: What we have clearly identified, Mr. Chair, is that this minister is not doing her job. In the day-to-day functions of making sure there's money there to meet the ongoing bills, yes, but the provision of meeting the day-to-day needs of Yukoners, which this minister stressed in the House is her responsibility, is not being done. Not being done. While we currently do have a surplus, given the forecasting that we have seen from this government, it's not going to be there for much longer. It's going to be dissipated over the next four fiscal periods, or drawn down.
We're going to draw down our bank account to a level that is probably on the scary side as far as the amount of funds that we have on hand. So I would urge the minister to address the day-to-day needs. All one has to do, Mr. Chair, is to look at the departments where the supplementaries are significant, ask the reason why they are so significant, and identify the problems that those departments are having.
And we all recognize that Health and Social Services has a whole range of difficulties within that department, and the minister is not equal to the task of addressing them, Mr. Chair. So what we need is the Minister of Finance to address the shortcomings, and the only way we can begin that task is by conducting a management audit on the whole department. Then we can focus on the areas where we can probably, by way of streamlining or promoting an enhanced service delivery, reduce our costs. Because all we're doing is throwing more and more money at the health care portfolio, and it is not translating into better health for Yukoners. It is not. I wish it were.
What I'm suggesting to the minister is that how the system is organized and paid for critically affects what you get for your money. That's where I'm suggesting the minister should be looking, and the only way to do that, Mr. Chair, is via a management audit.
So, this Liberal government has kind of just identified that: "On the surface, we really don't like the way the community development fund was working, we really don't like the way the fire smart program was working. Yes, they created jobs, primarily in rural Yukon, but, heck, we really don't have anybody from rural Yukon, so let's just cut it off. Let's not bother with identifying with rural Yukon. We'll just conduct a management audit." But they should be addressing the shortcomings of our health care system, finding out what the problems are and fixing them so that we at least can get our health care system up and running.
The minister says it's a problem all across Canada. Yes, we know it's a problem all across Canada. It's a problem all across Canada because of the federal Liberals cutting the funding. Now, they've made an election campaign to throw the money back into the pot. Great. You take it away with one hand, you give it away with the other and you pat yourself on the back at the same time as you give it back. How to get elected. They've done an admirable job of selling this kind of a platform. I admire the Liberals for that. It's a wonderful sleight of hand but, at the end of the day, we have problems with Yukon's health care system - our two-tiered health care system.
Now, is the minister going to give me some sort of a start date on a management audit in the Department of Health and Social Services?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have already agreed with the member opposite that there are big issues out there. There are Yukon-specific issues in terms of how health care is funded. The issue around the management audit, while it might be Yukon-specific, there are larger issues to be dealt with, such as compliance with the Canada Health Act, and how our health care delivery fits in with that. There are issues being addressed and discussed throughout the country.
I have said to the member opposite that, when a date is selected and it is decided what a management audit of health would encompass, I will provide him with that information. I don't have it. A decision has not been reached yet.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm pleased that the minister has recognized that we do have a problem with our health care system, and I'm pleased that she has recognized that we do have a $64-million surplus. I'm pleased that she has recognized the shortcomings of her Minister of Health and Social Services and that she's going to be conducting a management audit somewhere down the road. Where do we go from there?
We've got the compliance with the Canada Health Act. What we need is a Minister of Finance who is going to address Yukon issues while conforming to federal legislation. It has never been a problem in the past. Why is it suddenly a problem now?
It sounds to me more like we have a Minister of Finance who's behaving as an apologist for the federal Liberals and their position, rather than addressing the shortcoming of our Health and Social Services department here in Yukon. That's primarily what her responsibilities are - addressing the needs of Yukoners.
I guess, on the other hand, we have to find out the best possible way to get the most amount of money out of Ottawa, but that shouldn't be a problem now that we virtually have a red path of Liberals on all levels, Mr. Chair. That excuse is going to go out the window if it fails to produce results, which it probably will in short order, Mr. Chair.
But, at the end of the day, why were only the fire smart and community development fund singled out for a management audit? Why not the most expensive department that the government has, with the most problems? A management audit is usually conducted, Mr. Chair, to deal with problems. I don't think there would be any dissension, Mr. Chair, in all of us in this House recognizing that the Department of Health and Social Services has a whole series of problems. I don't believe that anyone would dispute the fact that it is the most frequently overspent department of all departments in government - it is. You just have to go back through all the previous budgets and supplementaries.
It has been overspent consistently, Mr. Chair, and to an alarming degree. Now, if you're the Minister of Finance or the finance person in a big company, that usually brings up alarm bells - what's going on here, why are we overspent? At the beginning of the fiscal period, you came in and said this is what we needed for funds to operate the department for the year. At the end of the year, you come back and you're the most overexpended department. Funds from Ottawa have increased during this time. What is going on?
Why has the Minister of Finance singled out CDF and fire smart for a management audit to start with? Why choose those little programs? Was it because they were producing results and she didn't like to see results in rural Yukon, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it is a complete abrogation of my responsibilities to Yukoners to argue with the member opposite or take issue with the member opposite. Thousands of Yukoners are throwing things at their radio now, as they listen to the member opposite, so I'll let them argue and scream at their radios and I will focus on the member opposite's question.
In terms of what is before the management audit at the moment, there are legislative audits that are required, such as the one under the Environment Act, and there are other priorities of this government that have been selected for the initial, very preliminary work of this particular team within government.
The reason why health - which I agree is an area of concern - is not part of the initial, very preliminary work of this team is because there is the legislative requirement to do the Environment Act, which the previous government ignored, because we wanted immediate answers on some of the very good suggestions we have had from, for example, municipal and First Nation governments on how to improve funding programs, and because we have heard from Yukoners.
The member opposite says that we should have done health because alarm bells are going off all over the place about health.
Health was also underbudgeted by the previous government, and there have also been tremendous volume and price increases, neither of which were anticipated when the budget was tabled last spring.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I am not only referring to the increased cost in the Health portfolio. On the service delivery end, there have been increased cost and volume cost increases. I am not even going there.
Let's just look at programming. Let's look at some of the initiatives that were in the private sector that have been taken in-house. Let's look at a whole range of the department initiatives that should be subject to some sort of management audit or review to see if we are on the right track. Because what this minister has created is a two-tier health care system for Yukoners. And it can't be stated any better than that; we have created a two-tier health care system - one for Whitehorse and one for the rest of the Yukon, or TROY, as we shall call it. And that's becoming brutally honest.
I would urge the minister to move outside of Whitehorse and look into Whitehorse. It is an entirely different vista from sitting in Whitehorse and looking out, Mr. Chair. That's why I urge the minister to conduct a management audit of this department. It could be done at arm's length. It could be done through the Auditor General's office. It could be done in very short order, in probably a year's time, given the scope or order of magnitude of the department and the vastness of it. But this isn't just something that has recently occurred - that the Department of Health and Social Services is overspent on the O&M side.
It has occurred continuously for a great number of budget cycles, and it's the only department that's consistently in that category. This minister is doing nothing about it - I guess because doing your job now that you're elected doesn't get the public appeal and all of the support out there, but there is a job to be done in government, and that's making sure it provides the highest consistent level of service at the best possible cost, Mr. Chair. That is not the case for this department.
And the minister in charge of this department is oblivious to the reality of the issues facing him, Mr. Chair. We have the same thing with the minister of towns and trucks, but let's focus on the Minister of Finance, who has the overall responsibility for meeting the departments' budget needs.
The minister has agreed, Mr. Chair, that a management audit is needed. Now let's just move forward with it and decide how it's going to be done and the timelines for it. Does the minister not agree that that's the next step? Because I don't believe there's the expertise in-house to conduct a management audit on the Department of Health and Social Service. Really, for it to be done effectively, it should be done at arm's length. Does the minister not agree?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has suggested previously that the Auditor General could complete such a management audit within a year. A similar type of audit is being conducted by the Auditor General in Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. That is estimated to take two years, and they are currently engaged in that particular file.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the biggest problem facing the Auditor General's office is staff. There is also a whole series of private sector firms that could be engaged. But if we're not even in the hopper at the starting gate looking for a consultant or a firm to engage for this initiative or asking the AG's office when we can entertain such a management audit, we don't even have a start time.
So, before we continue to perpetuate this two-tiered health care system in the Yukon, which the minister has grown so fond of, I believe it's important that we move forward and move forward very quickly to either set the terms of reference and go out into the private sector or, alternatively, find out from the AG's office what kind of timelines they would put on this. Perhaps this is a task that would be beyond the scope of their current personnel and our only option would be to go into the private sector.
But unless we address this need in this area very quickly, we're going to find ourselves, a year hence, coming back with another supplementary budget of probably the same order and magnitude - perhaps more, perhaps less. At the end of the day, we have a lot of serious problems with this one department.
Why isn't the Minister of Finance doing her job?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, my question to the minister is this: why isn't the Minister of Finance doing her job in this area?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I already told the member opposite that the internal management audit group has been re-established. It is a team within government. They have some preliminary work that they are doing, when the committee meets, to determine what will be undertaken next. I will advise the member opposite, as I indicated previously, and I will restate it for him.
Mr. Jenkins: The member is finally on the right wavelength, but the reaction is a very knee-jerk reaction. Internally, there is probably the ability in the internal management audit team to conduct a review of initiatives like the community development fund or fire smart. Does the minister and the department believe that there is the expertise to conduct a management audit of the entire department in-house?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I don't believe the member opposite's comments about either the individuals who work for the Government of the Yukon, the Minister of Health and Social Services, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, or me, as the Minister of Finance. I do not believe the member opposite's comments, no.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not asking her if she believes them or not. They are probably set down for the record and they're a reality, and if the shoe fits, wear it, Mr. Chair. But, at the end of the day, does the Minister of Finance believe that there is the ability in-house, in this management audit team that she has assembled, to conduct a review of the entire Department of Health and Social Services? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it depends upon the terms of reference; it depends on the questions we ask them to investigate; it depends on the frame of reference. This is a much larger issue than simply the Yukon, and the member has started to touch on some areas of it. It's a very, very big question for Canadians and for Yukoners. This government is dealing with it and we will continue to deal with it.
Mr. Jenkins: As I pointed out correctly, Mr. Chair, the only way this government is dealing with it is by asking for and presenting a supplementary budget that asks for more and more and more money all the time.
That's what we're seeing. Under this Liberal government and under the previous NDP government, there was a constant request for more money in the supplementary budget toward the end of each fiscal period, because the department had overspent. All we're hearing now, from this Liberal Minister of Finance, is that the previous NDP government underfunded that line item. That's simply not the case. If that were the case, it's been underfunded for about the last eight or nine cycles. Probably, it goes back about 12 or 13, Mr. Chair.
That, Mr. Chair, should raise alarm bells in anyone in government, that we have a problem, and what are we going to do? I haven't heard a game plan coming out of this Minister of Finance, as to how she's going to address her responsibilities. She says she's looking at the day-to-day needs of Yukoners, but shovelling money at a problem constantly, time and time and time again, Mr. Chair, is not going to improve the health care system. What we're seeing is very self-evident. There's no clear connection between more spending and better health here in the Yukon. If there is, I'd like the minister to point it out to me, because I clearly can't find it. Our expenditures per capita are going up and up and up and up and up. We've got to find a way to address the shortcomings, because the needs out there are not being met.
This Minister of Finance is just paying lip service saying that we're meeting the day-to-day needs of Yukoners. It's becoming abundantly clear, Mr. Chair, that we're not. This government is not - specifically in the health care area.
It's not being done. It's becoming brutally evident that a two-tier health care system exists in the Yukon, which is being perpetuated by this Liberal government.
Now, I would like a more definitive answer as to what this minister is going to do with a management audit, other than this loosey-goosey arrangement that I'm hearing about, Mr. Chair. I believe it's time that this government recognized that they're in power, they are having to address the needs of Yukoners. In order to do so, they are going to have to do it in the most cost-effective manner while at the same time delivering the highest level of care possible. It can be done, but it's not going to be done if we just sweep it under the table and don't look at it or look at it down the road.
Mr. Chair, this is a critical area. When are we going to see some initiatives taken by this Liberal government? And I'm not looking for a ministerial statement on some aspect of health and social services. The whole department should come under the scrutiny of a management audit to see how we can best perform the services that are needed and to see how we can best perform those services in the most cost-effective manner for the Yukon public that it's serving.
That's the exercise, Mr. Chair. It's not to make a whole bunch of new government positions up in Executive Council Office; it's not to make a whole bunch of ministerial travel to far-off places just to see what the rest of the world is doing. We have to be cognizant of what the rest of the world is doing, Mr. Chair, and we have to dovetail into it. But there are 30,000 people in the Yukon Territory, and we're an area half the size in land mass of the Province of Ontario.
We are a very small area population-wise, and we have a half a billion dollars at our disposal a year to spend on providing the services that government is responsible for. The minister can't even address that.
So I am looking for some more definitive answers with this department, given that it is the most frequently overspent department and that it is frequently the most underbudgeted, and we have the most problems in feedback from the general public on the lack of service delivery from this department. The alarm bells are on all over the Yukon.
When is this minister going to get her head out of the sand and recognize that this is an extremely important area that needs immediate attention? We have to find out how to address the shortcomings in the Department of Health and Social Services. When is this minister going to wake up, get her head out of the sand and start addressing her job? When can we see some initiative with respect to a management audit here?
Now, I am looking for something very, very quickly. I believe it's important. I believe that it is a critically important issue in a critically important area, because the health care system, as it currently exists, is failing Yukoners. It is failing Yukoners. The message has got to be there, it has got to be taken, and this Liberal government has the financial ability to do something. But the first step is a review of what we're doing, how we're doing it, and to decide if that's really the best way to do it.
Mr. Chair, I'm looking for a commitment from this minister to start immediately on a program to review this whole department - a management audit. And I'm hoping that the minister can provide that kind of direction very, very quickly. It will probably take an outside individual or consultant to look at it, and I'm sure that the terms of reference could be decided upon very, very quickly. It is a critical area of importance for Yukoners, and I would urge the minister to do something very quickly in this regard, with respect to an immediate management audit of this entire department. Will she do so?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I thank the member opposite for his representations on the need for reviewing the expenditures in the Department of Health. This government sets the agenda and the terms of reference for the audit committee and any such reviews, and when we have established that, I will provide the member with a definitive answer on time frame. The member opposite will not get a more definitive answer than that.
Mr. Jenkins: There are two reasons why the minister won't provide a more definitive answer. Either she is not qualified to provide one, or she doesn't know. We'll leave that up in the air as to which one it is, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, let's go into some of the other areas where there appears to be an abnormality in the way the Yukon is treated.
I will focus in on the capital side of the equation with respect to the cancellation of the Mayo school construction project, and I will contrast that to the Hamilton Boulevard construction, which, initially on the surface, were both overbudgeted by some half a million dollars. The Hamilton Boulevard initiative was explained with, "Well, we're going to recover it from future land sales." That's interesting. The reason for the cost overrun on Hamilton Boulevard is because the City of Whitehorse, with the location of their multiplex, required another intersection.
Could the minister advise the House who, when a second or additional intersection has been required in a highway project, has paid in the past for the cost of that intersection?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I was unaware that we are in line-by-line in either Education, Government Services or Community and Transportation Services.
The Mayo school has not been cancelled. Yes, this minister is perfectly capable, as is our entire caucus, of making up her mind. The member is, when he refers to the Mayo school and Hamilton Boulevard in the same sentence, mixing apples and oranges. They are two entirely different projects.
If the member would like to focus on either one or would like to have a discussion, as we are in general debate on the supplementary, on capital and how we account for capital, I would be happy to address those issues. Otherwise, I would suggest that the questions are better suited to line-by-line.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, we are in general debate on the supplementary budget. It is all-encompassing. What I'm pointing out is that there is a different treatment of projects in rural Yukon than there is of projects in Whitehorse under this Liberal government.
I want to make it abundantly clear that the Hamilton Boulevard initiative was overbudgeted, after the tenders were received, virtually to the same degree that we were initially told that the Mayo school was overbudgeted.
We have two capital projects, one in Whitehorse and one in rural Yukon, Mr. Chair. Both overbudgeted by virtually the same amount and yet one proceeds and one is cancelled.
I go back to my previous question: in the event of a highway initiative or highway construction project, when there's a requirement for an intersection or an additional intersection, who, in the past, has paid for that additional intersection?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in a moment of levity the Member for Watson Lake just walked out and said "the taxpayer", which was a moment of levity in the House, which I'm sure, those listening would have appreciated, had the words been said on the mike.
On Hamilton Boulevard, the member opposite suggested that the costs were not recoverable, when in fact they are, from future land sales. In fact, it's my understanding that some of those additional costs have already started to be recovered.
As for what has happened in the past with specific intersections in either the City of Whitehorse or the Village of Haines Junction or the Town of the City of Dawson, I'll be happy to have the Minister of Community and Transportation Services provide a written answer, if the member really wants it. I'd be happy to have the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and those hardworking officials supply a written answer for the member opposite, because that would appear to be what the member opposite requires.
Mr. Jenkins: What the minister has once again said in the House is, "I don't have the answer. I don't know what the answer is. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services probably doesn't know it, either. We'll send you over a written answer."
Well, let's look at one of the recent initiatives along the Alaska Highway. Let's look at the pullouts for the previous Lomak terminal along the Alaska Highway. Who ended up paying the costs for the pullouts along the Alaska Highway for that? It was the proponent who built and established that service centre in that area, Mr. Chair. And after the Hamilton Boulevard initiative was costed and the City of Whitehorse came along and said that they're going to put a multiplex in there, it identified, after the fact, the need for an additional intersection. Now, what the Minister of Finance is saying is that we went along with that initiative, we ordered that into the drawings, we paid the additional $300,000-something costs, and the City of Whitehorse wasn't obliged to address any of those additional costs, and we're going to pass those costs on to the purchases of land in new developments on the upper end of Hamilton Boulevard, Mr. Chair.
Just how much additional cost is being contemplated for the cost overruns and for the twinning of Hamilton Boulevard, Mr. Chair? Just how much in the equation is anticipated for charging each property owner for the additional costs here? What kind of formula is being used? Because I have not heard of it before, and I'd say I'm probably reasonably familiar with Community and Transportation Services and the land development aspect of that portfolio, unlike the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
So we've got a major issue before us: there are two sets of rules, Mr. Chair, one for Whitehorse-based capital initiatives and one for capital initiatives in rural Yukon.
I take exception to that, Mr. Chair. I believe that we should have one uniform and consistent application of rules across the Yukon.
If we look at the Mayo school, I found it extremely interesting that the Village of Mayo put up some $480,000 worth of capital to go into that capital project, because they had asked for a few little extra bells and whistles. And they wanted that whole plan to meet the ongoing obligations of the community. It's a community school. Contrast that to the number of schools that have been built. Just go back to the past little while, where a community has requested additional components to the school so it could be used for a multitude of uses - like Old Crow, Pelly Crossing, or Dawson City. Like some of the schools in Whitehorse. The government has picked up the entire costs of those initiatives, Mr. Chair.
The community hasn't been asked to come to the plate and put money on the table and yet Mayo, because they were so determined that they wanted to see this initiative proceed and they wanted a few changes in it, came to the table and put some $480,000 into the project. I applaud them for that. But at the end of the day, Mr. Chair, this government chooses to cancel that initiative in Mayo. Why does this government have a double standard - one for Whitehorse and one for rural Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the time now being 3:45 p.m., as per the agreement of House leaders, I move that debate be now adjourned and, after a short recess, that the witnesses Tony Armstrong, President and Dale Schmekel, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board then appear.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Duncan that we now adjourn at 3:45 p.m. for a 15-minute recess, so that witnesses Tony Armstrong, President and Dale Schmekel, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board then appear.
Motion to adjourn debate agreed to
Chair: We will break until 4:00 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. The Committee will now be dealing with Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. I would remind members to refer all their remarks to the witnesses through the Chair, and I will also be informing members that I will be leaving my seat and Mr. Kent will be taking over for a portion, as I also have questions to direct. I would like to invite the witnesses to sit down.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, it gives me great pleasure today, as the minister responsible for Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, to present to the House, the Chair of the Board, Mr. Dale Schmekel, and the president and CEO, Mr. Tony Armstrong. Today we will be discussing topics pertaining to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Mr. Schmekel has been on the board since late February this year. He was selected as chair as a result of consultation with both business and labour. Mr. Schmekel has displayed a strong commitment to the board's sometimes thorny issues and has demonstrated both neutrality and fairness in representing these issues to workers and employers. As well, we know that the board must deal with some very complex and difficult themes. And Mr. Schmekel has shown a great deal of energy in raising public awareness of the board's decisions and concerns.
Mr. Armstrong has worked at the board since 1993. He was appointed president on July 31, 1998. In the last two years, Mr. Armstrong has taken the board from some trying and difficult times into a period of growth and positive change. His role as president and a member of the board is a challenging one. Both the board's employees and its clients have benefited greatly from Mr. Armstrong's leadership and his commitment to the workers' compensation and health and safety issues.
To begin, I know that Mr. Schmekel and Mr. Armstrong want to make some brief statements to you, the members of the House, and after that, they will be able to answer any questions that you may have.
So with that I welcome both Dale and Tony, and invite your opening remarks.
Mr. Schmekel: Mr. Chair, I'd like to open by providing some brief information on our activities at the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board in the last year.
As most of you may know, most of the board was newly appointed at the end of February. It is composed of me, as the chair; an alternate chair, a position that has been vacant since last April; two worker representatives, namely Barb Evans and Doug Rody; two employer representatives, Ivan Dechkoff and Arden Meyer, until he resigned this August. Arden has been quite a loss to the board, as his historical perspective on issues, although we have access, has largely been lost. It's unfortunate.
The chair of the appeals tribunal, Heather MacFadgen, and the president and CEO of the board are also members of the board, and it also includes Tony Armstrong, who is with me here today.
As a board, we play a governance role for both the Workers' Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Since assuming our role in March of this year, our priorities have been to review policy CL-35, loss of earnings benefits; review the board's investment policy; work collaboratively with our workers and employers advisory committees and stakeholders. We wish to facilitate the beginning of the special examination of the compensation system by the office of the Auditor General of Canada, which is a mandatory requirement as a result of Bill No. 83. And, of course, we wish to meet all of our obligations and legislated requirements, including the ones that were part of the Bill No. 83 amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act.
On CL-35, I can report to the members that we are very close to coming to an agreement on this policy. This has been a very contentious issue, as it is within all of the other jurisdictions in Canada.
It has been a very challenging and exhausting process that the board has gone through. The board has spent hours and much more time than was anticipated by the members on this particular issue. I am confident that we have explored every possible option and the impacts of this policy.
We also went to public consultation and heard a wide variety of comments from both employers and workers. We feel that we have a strong understanding of what the board's concerns are around this policy.
At this point, we are waiting to brief our new employer representative on the board on our direction on CL-35. We need to ensure that he is in agreement with our direction. This is absolutely critical, since we are required to balance the interests of both the employers and the workers. This has been an extremely difficult policy, not just for the board but for every board in Canada, so we are looking forward to finding a workable solution and moving on.
There are many other policy issues that presently require our attention. The other policy that the board has committed to reviewing as soon as possible is a deeming policy. In early 2001, we will be reviewing this policy.
We anticipate that that is going to take quite a bit of the board's time again. The other policy that the board has reviewed is the investment policy. This policy review is critical to our fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities and maintaining the health of the fund.
We are very lucky in the Yukon to be able to provide workers with one of the best benefit packages in Canada, and at the same time, Yukon employers pay some of the lowest assessment rates in Canada.
Investment income is our chief source of revenue, providing over 50 percent of our revenue in 1999. We are committed to providing Yukon employers with value for their assessment dollars. We believe that our new investment policy will provide us with the means to keep Yukon employers' assessment rates low and stable.
Bill 83 - we have been working to ensure that Bill No. 83 amendments have been implemented during a formation and functioning of the appeals tribunal and the start of the special examination of the workers' compensation system. As you know, the office of the Auditor General of Canada was chosen by the board to conduct a special investigation into the workers' compensation system, including all workers.
At the beginning of November, the federal order-in-council was posted that allows the Auditor General to commence with the examination. We expect the Auditor General to report back to us with a plan for the examination within the next three months. The Auditor General has committed to submitting a final report of the effects of the examination by December 2003. We anticipate that there may be reports provided to the board at dates prior to that.
In other words, we will have the final report from the special examination in time for the review of the Workers' Compensation Act, which we are bound to do, again, as a requirement of Bill 83.
The Auditor General has also assured us that he will be able to provide interim reports before the final report is submitted in 2003.
Finally, I'd like to report to the House on our prevention activities. This summer, our safety officers saw a wide range of safety infractions at Yukon worksites. Employers, supervisors and workers are not following the safety regulations and, consequently, are being injured on the job. Our safety officers are finding worksites with a lack of first aid, lack of fall protection, and numerous scaffolding infractions. They have also seen many workers who are not wearing the necessary protective equipment, such as high-visibility vests, hard hats, safety footwear, glasses and their hearing protection.
Consequently, over 1,000 Yukoners were injured on the job in 1999. That's more than the population of Carcross and Carmacks combined. We face a huge challenge in turning around public perception and placing a value on workplace health and safety.
I'd like to use this forum to emphasize to all Yukon employers and workers that it is important to think about safety every day and every hour while they are on the job. We will need to work together in order to prevent these workplace injuries from happening.
That concludes my remarks.
Mr. Armstrong: At our appearance in 1999, I spoke of the board's strategic plan and the initial steps that had been undertaken in implementing this. Throughout 2000, the organization continued implementation of the strategic plan. I will not take the time today to review once again for the Legislature the organization's core values, although we remain committed to them; nor will I review the organization's eight core strategies, although we remain committed to them, also.
Organizationally, we remain committed to prevention and customer service. The board chair has just spoken briefly about prevention, and I'll speak briefly about that, as well.
In the area of prevention, I believe we have a great deal of work to do. The 1999 annual report, as the chair has pointed out, shows that more than 1,000 people suffered a work-related injury in 1999; and of these, 421 people lost time from work as a result. The majority, if not all, of these unfortunate occurrences are preventable. The role of education and compliance is paramount in dealing with these matters. It is my belief that we are better served by preventing an accident from happening than trying to deal with the results of those unfortunate occurrences.
Customer service: in 2000, we had hoped to conduct a survey of our customers and clients, these being our stakeholders, workers, injured workers, dependants and employers, to determine and better understand their needs and expectations of the compensation system. This was not accomplished.
I am critically aware that our stakeholders have needs and expectations of the compensation system, and only they are able to let us know what these are. Through various forums in past years, our stakeholders have identified issues they have with the system, and we have an obligation to address those issues wherever and whenever possible. We're attempting to do this. I suggest, however, that there is an important difference between issues and needs and expectations.
Organizationally, we must ask our stakeholders what their needs and expectations are. We must determine our ability to meet these, communicate that, measure our performance today, and set standards for tomorrow. I believe this is of the utmost importance in developing satisfaction with the system for our stakeholders. In 2001, we hope to undertake this work.
Mr. Chair, if I can now, I will give some highlights from the year 2000. We redesigned our newsletter format and circulation method, added new information to our annual report, participated in public presentations providing information and education, participated in public consultation, hosted a session for our stakeholders to discuss the special examination with the Deputy Auditor General of Canada during our annual information meeting, continued to provide the first aid training subsidy program, continued to deliver courses to workers and employers, such as the young worker program, continued work site inspections and consultations with workers and employers, and conducted accident investigations and occupational health and safety investigations. The service teams, about which I spoke last year, toured some Yukon communities, introducing themselves and their services to workers and employers, and they have been well-received. Information sessions were held for the public, the Yukon Medical Association and service providers, regarding chronic pain.
If I may, I will now turn our attention to some financial information from 1999. These points are contained in the 1999 annual report, specifically on page 19. Our investment income in 1999 was $12,319,000. Our assessment income in 1999 was $6.5 million, which represents after subsidy. Our recoveries were $906,000, for a total revenue of $19,725,000. Our claims expenses total for 1999 was $13,843,000. Administration costs were $4,730,000. Occupational health and safety expenses were $943,000, for a total expense of $19,516,000. This equates to an operating surplus of $209,000 for 1999.
If we now turn to page 27 of the annual report, if anybody has that, it discusses the benefit liability. Our benefit liability in 1998 was $67,489,000. This has increased in 1999 to $74,144,000. This represents an increase of $6,655,000.
Page 28 deals with reserves that the board has, of which there are three. The prevention and benefit enhancement reserve in 1998 was $11,371,000. In 1999 this reserve was $12,531,000. This represents an increase of $1,160,000.
The target reserve - this reserve is for catastrophic claims, adverse claims experience and occupational disease claims. In 1998, this reserve was $25,548,000. In 1999, this reserve was $27,135,000, representing an increase of $1,587,000.
The remaining reserve is the rate transition reserve. This is the reserve that provides for our minimum subsidy of 45 percent to private sector employers. In 1998, this reserve was $22,807,000. In 1999, this reserve was $20,269,000, representing a decrease of $2,538,000.
Lastly, Mr. Chair, I'd like to speak on our administration and prevention expenses. These are contained on page 30 of the 1999 annual report. In the areas of salaries and benefits, in 1998 it was $2,992,000 and in 1999, $3,240,000. This represents an increase of $248,000. The increase is a result of filling vacant positions within the organization, reclassification of some positions and the negotiated salary increase.
Consulting and professional, 1998, $1,161,000. In 1999, $780,000. This is a decrease of $381,000. Amortization, 1998, $254,000. In 1999, $432,000. This is an increase of $178,000 and reflects the requirement for the organization to depreciate capital expenditures such as buildings, furniture and equipment, computer equipment and software development and the mining safety equipment.
Board expenses in 1998 were $244,000. In 1999, $282,000. This is an increase of $38,000 and is reflective of the increased meetings and work done by board members. Automobile and travel in 1998 was $158,000. In 1999, $181,000. This is an increase of $23,000.
Buildings in 1998, $174,000. In 1999, $180,000. This is an increase of $6,000. Computer systems in 1998, $237,000. In 1999, $162,000. This is a decrease of $75,000.
The rest of the figures represented on page 30 do not represent a material change in budget amounts. Overall this represents an administration budget in 1998 of $4,647,000, and in 1999, $4,730,000, for an increase in 1999 of $83,000.
The budget for occupational health and safety in 1998 was $934,000, and in 1999, $943,000. This is an increase of $9,000. Combining these administration and prevention expenses in 1998, $5,581,000, and in 1999, $5,673,000, for an overall increase of $92,000.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Chair: At this time, do any of the members wish to ask questions?
Mr. Keenan:Certainly, Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the witnesses from the Compensation Board for coming in and making themselves available to the Legislature for questioning and access to information. I very much appreciate that you're here.
I must say that I do have a few opening statements also, if I may. We've just come through a territorial election earlier this year and, of course, all in this House were out on the doorsteps talking to people, and people tend to share with you a lot of their concerns certainly in those cases and those times. I was flabbergasted at how many concerns came up about the Workers' Compensation Board.
I take it very seriously. I have talked to folks. As you know, I have a riding that's quite large. It's Ross River-Southern Lakes. It reaches many people. There are rural people. There are people who, I guess, you could say are city slickers who live close enough to the city that they are influenced by the city - that's a bedroom community of Tagish. And in every one of those instances, Mr. Chair, people brought forth concerns, and some were very, very concerned, and I share that concern with them, and I've even attempted to bring some of those concerns to the House through the appropriate minister.
The appropriate minister, the hon. Minister of Health and Social Services, has pointed out that in some of the situations - about which I maybe asked him for information, and if he would get me that information - I'd be asking him to break the law. Well, I didn't even bother returning to that question or letter because I thought it might be a point there, but to me it's a moot point, simply because whom do the people have to turn to? If they can't turn to the ministers politically, if they can't turn to their MLAs to bring forth their concerns, who, in the greater spectrum or in the macro, I guess - the greater picture in life - could they turn to?
And, Mr. Chair, I would certainly suggest that maybe one sitting a year is not enough. I would suggest that, Mr. Chair, and I would certainly ask you to consider that maybe we could look at it on a more continuing basis, because if the board of governors is the governance, then the people must have access to that governance in the macro look at things, and that is to talk about big picture stuff.
I've had the pleasure of seeing my daughter for a week for the first time in a year, and I was walking downtown with her on a Saturday afternoon, and people came up to me twice with frustrations about the Workers' Compensation Board. One was a frustration of a working-class hero, and I think we're all, in this room, working-class heroes. Many of us have done different things in our lives, and I think that's a challenge of the Yukon Territory, that we must be able to do those different things in our lives. As you grow older - and we all must grow older - you might at some time have to change your life and your lifestyle, and when people hurt themselves and are forced into the situation to change their lifestyles, I see where the Workers' Compensation Board should be the grease to the axle to make that happen. And the stories that were told to me in the streets - well, Mr. Chair, they didn't bring tears to my eyes, but they were very close to bringing tears to my eyes.
So, I guess what I'm saying here in my opening remarks is that I take this very, very seriously. There are working-class people out there who do need help, and they do not need to be involved in a process of frustration. And I feel that, at some point in time, that's very much what was involved for the people.
So now I do have some questions for the witnesses, Mr. Chair, and I've heard the chair, who spoke about clause 35. Now, I know that we've been hearing about clause 35, and clause 35 speaks to the seasonal workers. You're saying that you've done consultation, you've done comparisons of different jurisdictions across the country.
That was just one Saturday I was telling you about. Other times that I've talked about, people have told me about the seasonal working situation and how frustrated they were with it. Now, my understanding of this issue is that the existing policy is one that was not approved by the board of directors.
So when will this existing policy be repealed, and when will the board of directors approve a new policy that will reflect the views and the concerns of all the stakeholders? And I know you've been out for consultation, so I'd very much appreciate a time frame, if I may.
Mr. Schmekel: Mr. Chair, I'd like to respond to that. CL-35 is a very, very contentious policy. Presently, the board has determined that they won't address the concerns of CL-35 at this time, simply because we are short a member from the employers side of the board. We expect that to be remedied rather quickly and we are very, very close to a determination. I can't give you a time frame at this time, because I don't know what the opinion will be of the new member of the board, but I presume that we have made great headway and it looks like there will be a solution and the outcome will be done rather shortly. I'm talking within a matter of five to six to maybe eight weeks.
Mr. Keenan: I wish it could be sped up, Mr. Chair. I certainly wish it could be sped up, because it sounds to me like it's a governance situation, and I have been in some governance situations. Governance situations can be brought forward. You can find your way through those things. If you have the foresight and if you're in a governance position, you should be able to do that.
I understand there are up to 60 cases in the system that are in limbo at this point in time, right now - 60 cases. There are 60 cases of people sitting back, living very uncertain lives, wondering whether they should go to the right, to the left, or where they should go, how they should do it, and the resources are not there for them.
So I would certainly suggest that the governance situation be looked at. If you have to go through more strategic planning - and I certainly see that reflected within the report here - there are dollars for those types of things, and I really suggest that we get a bit more proactive if we could.
I'd like to also know if it will be retroactive. If these situations are in limbo and we have clause 35, the old clause that never went out for consultation and never went to the board of governance - I think it was in 1995. We're going through new consultation. We're over here now, and there's a gap here. Is it the board's wish, Mr. Chair, that that would be retroactive for those people in need?
Mr. Schmekel: Whether it will be retroactive or not rests with the jurisdiction of the board members. They will make the decision. Simply, as chair, I have a neutral position and there has been nothing put to me or put to the floor at this point. I certainly don't know what the individual members of the board will achieve and what they will submit. I can't imagine that at this point.
Mr. Keenan: I find that as a non-answer, Mr. Chair. I find that as a non-answer. I do find that when people are in need - and I'm not trying to be personal about this at all, I am just giving my feelings that I have for the people that I represent, and many of them are in limbo. So, I know you can't speak for people that are not here, so that's why I would suggest that maybe the system get tightened up quite a bit and do some good strategic planning so that these situations will not be created.
While we sit in absence of a governance structure, we cannot make decisions. There are people out there who are suffering. They are definitely suffering. So, do board decisions on policy have to be unanimous or is it just a majority? Can it be done either way or do you need that other person?
Mr. Schmekel: At this point, the board has directed that we need the other person.
The board understands that this is a rather contentious issue. It has been before the board for quite some time. It would do very, very little to have both parties not involved and attuned to the solution. It would only recur within six months again. We are very, very determined to do it correctly and as quickly as we are able.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I would ask you to get the witnesses to talk about what their findings have been in other jurisdictions and how close they are to coming to, or providing, a consensus-approval process, I guess, to the board when we have a board. Or is the process stopped at this point in time until we get a board, so that we might be able to reinvigorate the board of directors or - what do you call it? - the mandate, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Schmekel: No, the board has only determined that the issue of clause 35 will only be resolved when there is a full complement of board members. That does not stop the board from debating and making decisions on other policy issues.
Mr. Keenan: I guess, Mr. Chair, it wasn't the other policy issues I was talking about. It was clause 35 I was talking about. The economy here in the Yukon Territory is very poor. I would say, having been a seasonal worker myself for many years of my life, that seasonal workers deserve respect - very much respect. Seasonal workers sometimes have to be able to have three different trades in order to survive for one year. So, I would suggest that we should speed it up, in light of the people there. And we should look for ways to speed it up administratively, whether it's through strategic planning or reinvigorating the governance structure - the terms of reference of the governance of the board. I do believe it could be done.
I don't want to rail away about this for the whole two hours. I do have a colleague who would like to express some opinions, as well, and I'm going to allow my colleague that time. But I think you can see from the tone of this House at this point in time and from the people who are sitting behind you - and I know you don't have eyes in the back of your head - that when you bear witness to very contentious issues, people are interested and people are listening. I say again that maybe two hours a year is just not quite enough to bring these items - the interests of the general public - to the representatives here.
Mr. Chair, I've been told a little bit about videotaping, and I've been told that the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board has been videotaping claimants, I guess, reminiscent of 1984 and Big Brother, maybe, or other insurance companies or something like as such.
But I would like to know: do you ask people for permission when you go out and do these things? Are people aware that you're out there and that you have this ability? And if you have this ability, how is this ability described in law?
Mr. Armstrong: To maybe come through this from the back of the question through to the front of the question - and I hope I don't miss any of the steps in between - the authority to take and have this kind of activity occur is contained within the Workers' Compensation Act itself, in that there is a requirement for adjudicators to investigate appropriately claims that come before them and then to make decisions based on the investigation.
"Investigation" is a rather broad term. That may be as simple as phoning someone for verification of injury information, or it may be something much more significant than that. There have been very limited occurrences where an investigation regarding the compliance or non-compliance with the legislation has been conducted, and there may have been those instances where videotaping was actually conducted.
As to whether or not the permission of the individual is asked for, prior to the videotaping occurring, no, it's not. The videotaping on the rare occasions when that occurs is as part of an investigation, and hence, it would probably lose some its validity if permission were sought prior to actually going out and doing that.
Mr. Keenan: In a generic type of way, are the claimants aware that you have this capability that you might be able to go out there and do it if they are under investigation? That's what I am asking. Are they aware that there is this mechanism to go out and videotape people?
Mr. Armstrong: Well, I would have to be quite frank in saying that, no, we don't advertise the fact that there are times when, as an organization, it is deemed appropriate to conduct an investigation, nor do we really talk about the different abilities that the organization may have to follow through on that type of an investigation.
Mr. Keenan: Well, I would certainly make the witnesses aware that I, for one, do believe that people who are in this situation are hurting. They are in situations where they are hurting, maybe not only physically, but mentally also. They are suffering from lack of wherewithal for their families and whatnot. And certainly, Mr. Chair, I believe they should be made aware of what tools the board has at their disposal.
I would suggest that maybe you should take that to the governance board and make that suggestion. I think that it is just only right to be open and fair with all people. I am not asking you to notify them when they are out cutting the lawn and you think that there is a discrepancy going on. I am not here for the people who are abusing the system - please do not get me wrong. I am here for the people who are not abusing the system but are not accessing the system as they should. There is a problem with this board or with this system, and we must get to making it work for people.
I would like to know more about this videotaping and how many prosecutions have been undertaken using this information. And are these tapes on file or accessible to the clients on request?
Mr. Armstrong: Part of that question, Mr. Chair, I am able to answer. The other part I would have to defer and get back to the Legislature with an answer.
The results of an investigation may or may not be placed on an individual's file. If the results of the investigation are used in any way in the adjudication of that file, that information is available. If the results of the investigation are not used for any adjudicative purpose, then they're not placed on the file.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I guess I come from an old school, or I come from some type of school of maybe openness and accountability, and I know that many times in my life, I have put my foot in my mouth and have been embarrassed by it, but I think the average citizen, the individual and the client should and must have the knowledge that there's something on their file.
If it does not go to proceeding with the case, then was there a case in the first place? And why were they being videotaped in the first place? And if they were not videotaped after they're videotaped, and it seems that there's not enough evidence here, well, that tells me that there might not have been enough evidence for that person to be looked at in the first place. At least there should be a courtesy that if that person is under investigation or even alluding to investigation, that person should know of the circumstances surrounding that investigation. And that calls for the videotaping. It should be very open, because it's very reminiscent of 1984 and Mr. Orwell.
So, I'll leave it at that, and I would expect that he can get back to the Legislature or he can get back to me with the thoughts of the board of governance on that.
The claimants will be receiving interest on their claims when there has been a delay on receiving that claim. Now, this can range from just a few months' to many years' worth of interest. It's my understanding that the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board will not pay out the interest until the board creates a policy on the rate of the interest. So, I'd like to know where we are on the rate of interest and when this policy will be set? What will the interest rates be? I would like, again, a time frame on these types of things. I would like to know when it's coming to conclusion, so that we might be able to share this information with all those who are affected.
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, I'd have to say that I wasn't quite fast enough to get all of those points. Might I ask for indulgence and perhaps the member could go through that and then - some of them I got, but I'd like to be able to answer fully.
Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair. I guess it's just the nature of this House that you've got to squeeze out as much out of a minute as you can. But, today we don't have to do that. We can slow down.
So, I'd like to know about the policy. We cannot pay out interest until the board creates a policy on the rates of interest. When do you expect this policy to be set?
Mr. Armstrong: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's quite correct that the board has not yet put in place a policy regarding interest. There are a number of factors - policy issues - which the board will need to consider in putting that policy forward. Some of those would be things such as retroactivity - if interest is warranted, to what point in history do you go back to pay that interest. There are a number of options around that and the board has to consider those.
Also, what's the rate of interest that would be paid? There needs to be consideration around that. Do you tie it to some other body that establishes an interest rate and, if so, what particular body? There is a discussion paper that will be coming forward to the members of the board in the very near future outlining some of the options around how to approach the interest issue. The board, I'm sure, after having consideration of that, will give the administration some direction in where they would like to see that policy development go.
In the interim, administratively, we have been tracking those cases where we believe there is a probability that interest would be warranted. That particular piece of legislation came into effect with Bill No. 83, and so we have administratively been tracking those files so that once the board does make its determination around the rate of interest and the effective date - meaning the retroactive nature of that interest - we'll be able to pull those files forward and deal with that quite quickly.
Mr. Keenan: Well, okay, Mr. Chair. We talked about when the policy will be set, and it's not there, and when the interest rate will be set.
I guess what I'm coming up with here, Mr. Chair, is just what in the heck is the Workers' Compensation Board doing sometimes, because it's certainly an organization that has been around. We know what the purpose of the organization is. And to be delaying very important issues and very important policy because we haven't had direction administratively or we've got a gap in the board, that just don't cut 'er; it just don't cut 'er at all. And I hope, Mr. Chair, that the next time that we have the Workers' Compensation Board bear witness to this House, answers will be more forthcoming and there will be truly answers and they won't be alluding to answers. Because, Mr. Chair, we talk about being able to go back and whatnot, but if this is such an important issue, then why is there not an interim policy in place?
Mr. Schmekel: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to explain that most boards in Canadian jurisdictions meet on an average of twice a month, and maybe for two days each time. This board, whose members are employers and workers, meets on an average of anywhere from 8 to 12 days a month.
That's basically unheard of within the system. These people are volunteers. They devote their time to the board, and they do the best they can in the interest of their stakeholder groups.
We apologize if people feel that we don't develop policy as quickly as possible. We are obliged under the legislation to go to public consultation. That takes additional time. As chair of the board, I'm very proud of the group that I have and their dedication to their stakeholders. It's very, very difficult to commit to a time frame. We, as a board, are so busy at present that it's with extreme difficulty that we can give anybody any time frames about when particular issues are going to be done. We are simply doing our best with the time that's allowed to us and when we schedule meetings.
Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I understand that it's very hard work, and people do put their hearts on their sleeves, and people do their very, very best. I understand that. I understand that members are employers and employees. I understand that you might meet on an ad hoc basis. I understand that you said that other jurisdictions meet twice a month, whereas this jurisdiction has been meeting much, much more.
Well, if that's the case now - not to speak historically - then there shouldn't be any problems. So, please, Mr. Chair, do not let the witnesses get offended by what I say, because I am here to represent the people, as they bring their concerns to me. And that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm not here to beat anybody up or to slander any names. But I'm certainly here to bring forth the concerns of the injured workers. And, as I said in my opening statement, some of those concerns were appalling and very hurtful to me, as a human being.
I, as legislator and MLA, who represents people, have a jurisdiction, confined here in this House, but the tentacles spread out very much to reach many, many people. Some of those people are hurting, and some of those people are suffering.
So, I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, if I offend anybody here, but the tough questions will come. Maybe through some of this tough questioning, we will be able to get into a more fruitful production of whatever it is that the Workers' Compensation Board should be doing for the people it works for.
Mr. Chair, I still did not hear an answer as to why there would not be an interim policy in place.
Mr. Armstrong: As much as developing an interim policy may be seen as a way of addressing the issue, I believe that the board's experience has been that interim policies tend to develop as many problems, if not more, than they attempt to address. To develop a truly meaningful interim policy basically requires as much time of the organization and as much time of the members of the board as developing the non-interim or standing policy. I don't think that there is any desire to not deal with these important issues, but I believe that there is a desire to deal with them as quickly as possible, but in as thorough a way as possible. That's to ensure that the best policy the board can create is, in fact, developed and implemented.
A quick approach to this particular question on interest, or many other policy issues, as I was saying, often can create more difficulties than it solves.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I beg to differ on that. I think that if we're looking for innovation and we use innovation, innovation will come. It will be there.
Just in the situation of the policy on the interim rate of interest, I'm sure we could make it ridiculously low but it would put those dollars into the pockets where they belong.
Mr. Chair, I could follow this up with a question that would ask something like this: are we making money? Is the Workers' Compensation Board making money off the backs of injured workers? That's one question that I will not ask, but that's the type of follow-up that you could do.
So I think that if you do look, we could find ways to say, "Yes, we can work toward those ends."
I would like to move on to the maximum wage rate. Section 90 of the previous act requires that in January of each year the rate be increased. I would like to know what the increase was this year?
Mr. Armstrong: I believe the member is asking about the prior legislation. Is that correct? Not the current legislation.
Mr. Keenan: Yes, it is section 90 of the previous act.
Mr. Armstrong: The previous act, the act prior to this one, which came into force January 1, 1993, had a particular methodology - I don't have it before me, so I may not quote precisely what that methodology is, but I will come close for the purposes of understanding the issue. Basically, that piece of legislation required that the maximum wage rate for the year would be calculated using the earnings of workers injured under that legislation and paid in the year prior to the year that you are calculating the maximum wage rate for. In simple terms, that would mean that to set the maximum wage rate in 1990 for 1990, you would take all of the workers who were injured under that piece of legislation in 1989. You would take the earnings of that group and use it to calculate the maximum wage rate for the next year.
That system worked just fine until January 1, 1993. Since January 1, 1993 we had a new piece of legislation coming forward. Hence, there were no further workers injured under the prior legislation because it's a rolling year - it's always the year prior. So, for example, in 1999 there were no workers injured under that prior piece of legislation. Hence, their earnings couldn't be used for the calculation of the maximum wage rate for that piece of legislation.
The board had attempted to come up with a methodology to deal with that problem and was able to do that for a few years but has not dealt with the maximum wage rate in either moving it up or moving it down for that piece of legislation. It has not done that for the last couple of years, simply because, from the legislative perspective, it's not doable. That piece of legislation doesn't allow us to calculate the maximum wage rate, so the maximum wage rate has stayed as it was.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I'd like to get an opinion, I guess. Does the board think that this is fair, then, that the maximum rate under the old act is $45,000? Some people would be captured in time under that old act, I take it. And under the new act, it's $60,000. Do you feel that the old act will ever catch up to the new act? And, again, I ask the question: does the board think that this is fair?
Mr. Armstrong: Personally, as president and CEO, many times I have a sense of what I believe to be fair or unfair, but my role in administering the organization is, on the one hand, to have the question of fairness in front of me at all times as a screen that I must use to make decisions. At the same time, I have to have the legislation in front of me, also as a screen, in that what is done should not violate the act; it should not break the law.
And on the question of fairness between $45,000 and the maximum wage rate under the current piece of legislation being $60,000, there is obviously a difference between the two, as there was on January 1, 1993, when this act came into force. We should recognize that on January 1, 1993, a worker who was injured five minutes after midnight had a maximum wage rate of $50,000; but if he were injured five minutes before midnight, he came under the other act, and the maximum wage rate was $40,000. And both of those pieces of legislation required that those were the maximum wage rates that would be applied to those individuals.
I believe that there's a way around this, in dealing with it, but that requires an amendment to the legislation. In the methodology to calculate the maximum wage rate for the prior legislation, it would have to be linked to some due process. I'm not sure, today, what that due process would be. But, it would have to be linked within the current piece of legislation. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. That's exactly the type of thinking that I've been trying to get at and I appreciate that the CEO would be able to provide some of that input because certainly, in absence of a daily session where you can go back and forth, it might not be the prettiest thing in the world at times, but it's an accountability session. It works both ways. I've been on both sides of the House to understand that there is an accountability factor built in.
I too see it, that we do need mechanisms, such as the role of the CEO to liaise with the board to say that there is a hole here - that there is a grey area. I think that's just doing your job. I think that's doing a good job. I also think that it would be the role of the board of governance to notify the minister, the Premier and the caucus at large as to where we should go. I don't think there's anybody in this room - legislators, members of the board or chief executive officer - who wants to kerfuffle things. No, I don't think anybody here wants to kerfuffle things. They want to shake the sheets, get the wrinkles out of it, get the grey areas out of it and proceed with what the intention and the history of the claim is.
So, I appreciate if that could be looked at and again brought forth to this House in some way, so that it can be debated or at least the Cabinet can consider those legislative changes and bring them to the House. Then, it's into this realm and then we, as legislators, can talk about it at that point in time.
On page 9 of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board annual report, under the graph "claims by decision status", there are 38 claims that are identified as not decided. I know that the document was signed off on March 31, 2000. It's three months after the end of the year and these claims are not decided. Some of those workers have no income. I guess what you could say is that they're in limbo - those 38 claims on page 9. Oh, you shook your head, sir - Mr. Chair, so I'd appreciate clarification.
Mr. Schmekel: Mr. Chair, the claim may not have been finalized, but that does not mean there aren't benefit payments being made to the injured worker at this point. It's just that they were not finalized.
Mr. Armstrong: Thank you for entertaining my addition, Mr. Chair.
I would point out that the member is quite correct in that, on page 9 of the annual report, there are 38 decisions that are pending. In order to accomplish the publication of the annual report, we freeze the data at a specific date in time, recognizing that there are, unfortunately, people experiencing a disability or injury from an accident almost on a daily basis in the Yukon. It may well be that these 38 people experienced that disability very close to the time when the data set is frozen, so at any given time within the adjudication of the claims at the Compensation Board, there is always a group of individuals for which the decision is pending.
That's simply part of the adjudication process. There is that need to review the documentation, to have contact with the appropriate parties, and to render a decision. That does take time. We would very much like to shorten that time, but it does take time, and that's what is reflected in those 38 cases where a decision is pending.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I'd like to talk about the appeals commission. I understand there is a very high volume in the appeals, and as soon as I understood that, it sent a shudder up my back a little bit because if there is a high volume in appeals, then certainly it seems that the process might not be fair.
So, I'd like to know how many decisions have been heard through the appeals commission over the last year, and how many are being upheld?
Hon. Mr. Schmekel: It's my understanding that there have been five matters before the appeals tribunal, and I understand that four of them have been overturned. However, when we talk about figures, such as 60, or X number of files being outstanding, I would like to remind members that the appeals tribunal is an independent body. It was established under Bill No. 83, for the express purpose of making it independent of the Workers' Compensation Board. We don't know how many appeals are before it. We aren't party to that information.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the answer. Again, I'd like to reiterate that I'm not here to harass or make enemies of anyone from the Workers' Compensation Board, but I'm here to ask those questions.
In terms of good management and building structures, I think people are sensitive - and they are. We're talking about injured workers in this situation. If we're going to be out on that dusty old trail, we should be reading the sign on the trail. If the appeals commission is getting a lot of appeals, even if they're independent - I understand that - and some are being overturned and some are not, then I'd say it's just looking ahead. It's trying to find something that may not be working and finding ways to make it work. Again, I'm not here to thump on you, and I'm not here to get thumped. I'm here to ask some hard questions for the people affected.
I'd like to talk about the Workers' Compensation Board harassment policy, if we do have one. If we do not, when is it expected that we will get one? I understand that we do need one.
Mr. Armstrong: The question of harassment in the workplace is a subset of a broader issue, really, and that's the whole question of violence in the workplace. This has been a concern that has been raised by some stakeholders, and an interest has been expressed that there be regulation created in this particular area.
I think it is important for us to understand that if we are attempting to deal with violence in the workplace or harassment in the workplace, it really is a regulation of which we are speaking, rather than a policy, because we would be binding a certain situation on all employers and all workers within the Yukon.
Now, as I said, stakeholders have brought that interest before us. The occupational health and safety regulations have been under review and a rewrite has been underway for some time. Those regulations have gone out to the stakeholders on a couple of occasions for full consultation on their content. The regulations will be moving forward to the members of the board for their consideration and, once that consideration is given, for their recommendation to Cabinet for Cabinet's consideration.
Having said that, there is not a regulation being proposed regarding violence in the workplace. This is, relatively speaking, a fairly new issue and one that the board - and by board, I am talking administratively - wishes to take some time with, to pull together what is happening across the country and to pull together the best practices and approaches in order to deal with violence in the workplace, or, in this subset, harassment. But we think it is important that the whole of the issue be investigated and that the whole of the issue be brought forward, but, at the same time, proceed with the regulation review as it is, because we do have several hundred other regulations that we do have to have updated and brought into force as quickly as we can.
Mr. Keenan: So I can take it from that answer that the administrative board is in support of a workplace harassment regulation, that they are going to be looking across the country to other backdrops and bringing it forth to their administrative board so they can get approval of it, fine-tune it, and then take it forth to Cabinet for Cabinet consideration to put into regulation. Is that correct?
Mr. Armstrong: It's a fairly close summary of what I was saying, but I would wish to summarize for myself. I take no offence, however, at having others summarize on my behalf at the same time.
The administration has undertaken a review of violence in the workplace issues and will look at what a Yukon regulation in this area would look like. Once we've done that, we would be bringing it to the members of the board to make some determination as to where the members of the board see that particular thing going. So it's very close to what the member said.
Mr. Keenan: I guess I'd better stick to horseshoes instead of summaries, Mr. Chair. It's better if you can get close in horseshoes.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to speak about some education and training initiatives here. I believe recently you might have received a letter from the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Watson Lake. It's kind of a bit of a horror story, I guess, and you might be familiar with it. A person who was injured on the job had been working in one station in life consistently for many years. He hurt himself and could not be rehabilitated to go back into that same type of job. Mr. Chair, I guess the person got trained as a driver of 18-wheelers, a truck driver, and, Mr. Chair, the person is illiterate. Mr. Chair, with that person being illiterate and trained as a truck driver and his skills lying in other places, it's just not a good thing.
So I was wondering if the representatives of the Workers' Compensation Board might be able to elaborate, in a short way, as to just what their education and training benefits are. I think we have to consider education as a part of training and that we should be looking, if I could say in this manner, at the whole worker and not just taking, say, the injured part of the worker and leaving the rest of the worker there. This is hypothetical, of course, Mr. Chair. But it seems we're only trying to fix the part that's hurt, and sometimes that's not all. We have to look at the whole worker, so I would appreciate a very quick summary.
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, I have to agree with the member and I do that quite happily - I realize how that sounded when I said that. Education is an important component of vocational rehabilitation, of training, and dealing with issues of literacy is of importance to the organization and can and should form part of vocational rehabilitation.
I am aware of the particular case the member is referring to. All I would care to say in that particular regard is that I have received the correspondence and we will be responding back to the member in regard to that. But I am not able to speak specifically on that file and I don't believe the member was asking me to.
Mr. Keenan: Absolutely not. I was not asking him to speak specifically to a file, but I was asking the witnesses, Mr. Chair, if they might take that specific scenario and expand it into an expansion of policy so that those types of issues will not be slipped through the backdrop. That's exactly what I'm asking.
So, you do not have to give a specific answer, but I'd like a specific answer on the point I just raised. Will this issue develop into broader policy?
Mr. Armstrong: The short answer I would provide would be that, yes, this issue that has been brought forward does raise some concern and some interest. Administratively, we will look at just what the circumstances are. And, if there is a requirement for us to either communicate in other ways about what things we can or can't do or if there is a need for us to suggest to the board that we have a policy issue here or a hole, and we need to be addressing it in that forum, we will be doing that. We will use this instance to make as positive an impact as possible.
Mr. Keenan: To be fair, Mr. Chair, I think that's exactly what the Workers' Compensation Board should be doing. We should be using it as a springboard to a better life for people, because I do know that people do wish to change.
I just have one more question, and I'll turn it over to my colleague, the Member for Klondike, if I may. I wrote a letter to the Minister of Health and Social Services about a month and a half ago, and I just received a letter back. Inadvertently, I sent it to the wrong person.
But I guess it's about medical opinions. Holy moly, this surprised and shocked me, and it kind of peeved me off a little bit, too. Because many years ago, a person was injured in the Yukon, then moved to Saskatchewan and, I believe, ended up in the United States for a little bit, had to come back to Saskatchewan, and got referred to Calgary - and I'm speaking off the top of my head and being as close as I can remember. That doesn't quite work out, and this person gets referred to another doctor in Vancouver, but all the time living in Saskatchewan.
So, I was wondering what the board takes into consideration when we have these conflicting medical decisions. I guess you have people who are specialized, and then you have surgeons, and you have family doctors. But in the meantime, we have some of these injured workers trotting all over the doggone place and trying to find a medical doctor.
For the benefit of the workers, how can we bring some certainty to these conflicting medical decisions?
Mr. Armstrong: There can be a wide range of reasons why a worker may be sent to various doctors at various times, but I don't believe the member is looking for me to recite all of those, or even give examples.
There is one methodology to quickly resolve the case where you have conflicting medical information, and that is through a - now I'm going to be lost on the terminology, and I want to say "required medical examination", but it's not - independent medical examination.
Bill No. 83 actually creates the situation whereby the worker is able to request an independent medical examination.
The appeal tribunal is also able to require an independent medical examination. The organization - meaning the administration - does not call for independent medical examinations, but may call for a required medical examination, the purpose of which may be to clarify where you have conflicting medical information before any decision body. In the area of the independent medical examination, the act states that the results of the independent medical examination are conclusive on those issues unless the board or the tribunal, whichever the case may be, rules otherwise. I hope that answers the question, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Keenan: Yes, it does answer it. I have a suggestion that might be able to be worked, and if it takes legislative changes, regulation change, administrative change - I'm not sure. But certainly, Mr. Chair - and I'm writing down what would trigger this, and I guess it could be triggered by their own work or by the board, but at some point in time I guess it could become personality driven. And that, I would never want to happen. I would never want that to happen, because the person could become frustrated and show their frustration in ways that are not normally like that person. And then, of course, if you're sitting across from somebody and you say something inadvertently to hurt or offend them, it will be held against you. We would never want to get into those situations.
What I see here is a gap, and we should be trying to identify a ceiling, if I could say it in that manner - where it would take away from that personality-driven, grey area - my language of course - but focus it into the question, when does that person stop bouncing off the doctors' walls to get what we want? I would like to see the board take that into consideration and find some way to bring a ceiling to it. You don't have to answer the question, but I would certainly like some type of correspondence on how you are going to follow through on that. And, certainly, I will be asking the same question the next time I see you folks, unless, of course, it's on the street, and then it will be in a much different tone.
I do thank you for allowing me to ask the hard questions. Again, I say, no offence intended. I very much appreciate that you would volunteer your time and bring yourself forth on behalf of the employers and employees. But the tough questions have to be asked and I do believe, from the bottom of my little heart, that they have to be asked more consistently. I would suggest to this House that we may bring them in at each legislative session so we can do it. So again, my thanks to you for answering.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I'd like to explore with the WCB officials two areas of concern that I have. They have remained relatively unchanged for quite a period of time.
The initial one is the injured workers, in that the WCB addresses their work-related injury in a timely and fair manner. Most of the cases that have been brought to my attention - and we're all probably very conversant with them and the individuals involved - surround this notorious CL-35 policy. We have learned today that the WCB is addressing this but they're waiting for a full board complement before they address this and finalize their policy. This CL-35 policy review has been in the hopper for some number of years, and it has led to a considerable amount of distress on the part of a great number of injured workers.
It must be addressed, and I'm going to ask both of these officials if we can get a more definitive answer from the officials with respect to the implementation and finalization of this CL-35 policy. We have just learned that it will take place after they have a full board complement. Well, Mr. Chair, we also are aware that it just requires a majority of the board to approve a policy. It doesn't require unanimous consent of the board members. It was a decision of the board that it would have to be a full board complement to address this issue.
I'm sure all the background information is in. Everything is before the board, and, other than the lack of one board member, is there anything else that is going to impede a rapid resolution of this CL-35 policy?
Mr. Schmekel: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm pleased to advise that, as early as this morning, we had a meeting with the advisory group. They are people who are selected by the stakeholder groups. They meet with the board monthly or as required.
We as board members had determined that it might be proper, in addition to having them address their concerns to the board, that they be part of the process. We can relate this to the problems that we've been having with clause 35. What would happen is that we would get an issue before the board that would become a large issue for discussion. We might resolve the issue only to turn around and find out that the advisory groups were going in another direction. Happily, this morning the advisory groups have agreed that they are going to establish a process by which they could bring this information back to us.
On the issue of clause 35, I believe that we are reasonably close. However, the board, within its jurisdiction, has determined that no decision will be made until there is a full complement. That's out of respect for the other side of the table. Labour has agreed that no decision shall be made until that appointment is made and that person is appointed to the board. Alternately, I think they would expect the same consideration on the issue, had it been reversed.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: And do we have any indication, Mr. Chair, of when we will have a full board complement, or is that up to the patronage appointments of the government of the day? Where are we with respect to this issue, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, as the member opposite knows full well, consultation has to take place in naming any board members, and this has taken a bit of time. We will try to do it, ensuring that we've consulted with all the stakeholders. Right now, that has been the delay at this point. It's making sure that the public has full input into who this board member could be. We will make the final decision, but that is part of the process at this point.
Mr. Jenkins: In spite of the fact we had a full board complement up to just a short time ago, this clause 35 issue was not addressed. It's still on the table, it still hasn't been decided, still hasn't been finalized, Mr. Chair. Now, the ball is in the minister responsible for Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board's court as to the appointment of this additional member.
There is an urgency surrounding the resolution of this clause 35 issue, Mr. Chair, and I would urge the government of the day to address their responsibilities in a very timely manner. This CL-35 clause is a bone of contention for a great number of people - a great number of injured workers.
Mr. Chair, there's another area I'd like to explore with the officials and it surrounds a decision of the board. I was always under the impression that a decision of the board was final and, in some cases, it has been left up to the administration side of Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board to, perhaps not institute or immediately implement the decision of the board, but to postpone it, alter it or delay it. Can I ask the officials if there's any kind of a policy as to the timely implementation of a board decision and why are some of them being overturned or postponed by the administration?
Mr. Armstrong: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Just for a point of clarification, I believe that the issue that we're speaking of here would be appeal decisions. The administration of the organization does not have the authority or the ability to overturn an appeal decision of the board, of the appeal tribunal or of a committee of that tribunal. There is a responsibility within Bill No. 83 for decisions to be reviewed for two reasons: one for their compliance to the legislation, and their compliance with policy.
The administration does pull together a review and submit it to the members of the board in those instances.
As far as the implementation of a decision goes, Bill No. 83 requires that a decision of a panel be done within 30 days or an implementation plan be provided within 30 days, which spells out how that decision will, in fact, be implemented. So, there is time requirement attached. The administration does not have the ability to overturn, ignore or override a decision.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it has been brought to my attention that, on a couple of occasions, decisions rendered by the board have been looked at and continue to be looked at and reviewed for an inordinate amount of time. I was just curious as to how this comes about, given that there are timelines under the new act, Bill No. 83, that require that decisions be implemented within a certain period of time.
There are individuals out there who are not receiving the benefits that they felt were accrued to them - or allowed and provided to them - by way of an appeal process. Where is the system tripping up? I thought the system was there for injured workers and to address their needs. That doesn't appear to be the case, Mr. Chair. We get all muddled up in these internal bureaucratic processes that impede injured workers from receiving their just benefits. Why is that?
Mr. Armstrong: I certainly agree that the compensation system and the appeal process is there for two parties. The one that is foremost in our mind every day is the injured worker. The employer is also part of that system and we are there for them, and the appeal process is also there for them.
The concern about delay in implementation of - I think we're probably looking here at decisions of the tribunal more specifically. The concern around that simply flows from the structural issues or relationship that has been created by the amendments done with Bill No. 83.
Bill No. 83 establishes an independent appeal tribunal with jurisdiction to hear those appeals. At the same time, it creates a legal obligation on the board to review those decisions and ensure that they comply with the legislation and policy. There is time involved in the board being able to review those decisions, but it is an obligation that they have, under law.
I believe the board is trying to do that as quickly as it can and, while that process is underway, the administration is, as required by law, developing an implementation plan and communicating that implementation plan to the affected worker, to the employer and to the appeal tribunal.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like work expands to fill the time made available for it, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I'm very seriously concerned about this issue. If the officials within the WCB could spell out, in written form, what areas of the Workers' Compensation Act would have to be amended or altered to provide for a more speedy resolution of this area, it would certainly be appreciated.
Furthermore, Mr. Chair, it might be prudent if we, as legislators, have a look at a number of the policies and have a look at those policies being enshrined in legislation so there is a definite certainty surrounding their implementation. We get into this see-saw back and forth where the act doesn't support it or we haven't got this policy in place. We have a board that meets eight to 12 days per month, which is way in excess of how often any other board in Canada normally meets, yet the number of insured workers in the Yukon is probably one of the smallest in Canada, and shrinking, Mr. Chair.
The number of assessment dollars flowing in is down considerably over the last several years and will continue to shrink as our economy shrinks, Mr. Chair, but we still have to address injured workers. We have an obligation to the people who pay the premiums - the employers - but we have an equal degree of responsibility, in my opinion, to meet and address the needs of any injured worker. That has not been the case.
One of the other areas is interest due to a claimant. Now, let's not look at the retroactivity, but we're having difficulties within the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board in even determining the rate of interest.
Mr. Chair, there's probably a very easy solution: tie it to the rate of return that is received annually on the deposit side or on the investment portfolio of the WCB so that we have a clear, annually reviewed rate of interest to be paid to injured workers. Now, why does it take so long, Mr. Chair, if I can ask the officials, to resolve a very simple issue like interest to be paid on past-due claims, or on claims that are not dealt with and were won subsequently, and then there's an outstanding amount for quite some time and there's a retroactive payment on which interest is due? Why is there such a difficulty in determining the rate of interest to be paid on that?
Mr. Schmekel: Mr. Chair, I really don't think it's that difficult. I tend to agree. However, with the workload that the board has, it's a matter that hasn't come before the members yet. We have established our priorities, and we're trying to work to those priorities. And it is an issue that we'd may be able to deal with reasonably soon, and it may not take any length of time to come to a conclusion and appropriate policy.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I don't think that anybody out there in the public domain who is listening to this public debate is going to be comfortable with that kind of an answer to this kind of a question - that we are heavily burdened with a tremendous workload at our board level and we can't address it because it hasn't been put on the agenda to be addressed. Could I ask the board officials - the chair, Mr. Schmekel - when he anticipates this item arriving on the board's agenda for discussion? And when can we expect a resolution of this issue?
Mr. Schmekel: I would think that an appropriate time frame would be by the end of January or the middle of February.
Mr. Jenkins: My only hope is that we are speaking of 2001 and not any subsequent year. Another area I have serious and grave concerns with is the fact that we have an expense side of the ledger in administration costs that, in my opinion, far exceeds the current level of workers' compensation activities and claims that we currently are experiencing and have experienced in the Yukon in the last little while.
We have less and less of a workforce that is insured. Other than the tremendous amount of time and effort that we exert on the backlog of claims, we certainly can't justify $5.6 million worth of administration costs on less than probably 15,000 workers who are insured today, Mr. Chair.
By way of background, in some of the other jurisdictions, the Coles Hewitt report pointed out that their costs are equally as high or higher, but at the end of the day we have to receive value for our money. And that value is in the form of addressing the work-related injured worker in a timely, fair manner, and not charging the employers an exorbitant rate. Right now, the employers are getting something of a free ride as a consequence of the investment portfolio, and so be it.
That suggests that employers were overcharged for a great number of years on the assessment side and that prudent investments were made with the money that the employers were overcharged.
When this new Bill No. 83 came into force, we were advised that the implementation cost to WCB was going to be some $461,000 and that it would result in an ongoing cost of some $329,000 per annum. But at the end of the day, we see an increased cost of some $90,000-odd this last fiscal period in administration costs.
Just how high do the WCB officials figure the administration costs are going to go? What drives it to the rate that it is? Why do we need to spend that much on administration, when we're not even addressing the needs of injured workers in numerous areas? The same people are banging on my door now, with the same concerns and complaints, as three years ago, by and large. Some of them are still in the system. I find that disgusting and appalling, and I don't believe it should be allowed to continue. Their claims should be addressed. Their areas must be explored, and they must be dealt with fairly. When are we going to see that, and what is it going to cost to administer the board? That's a double-edged question, but if we can't address it now at $5.6 million, what is it going to cost to address the needs of the injured workers whom we currently have? How much in administration costs is it going to take - double that? Where are we at?
Mr. Armstrong: Just as a point of clarification, I'd like us to understand that the 1999 annual report deals with the financial situation in 1999 and that the Bill No. 83 amendments came into force in January 2000 and on April 1, 2000. So, any of the incremental costs as a result of the Bill No. 83 implementation actually won't show up until the reporting for the year 2000. Having said that, a ballpark would be that it's probably not far off from what we projected it would be when we were in the House a year ago.
As president and CEO - and I'm going to drop that, I have to. But I agree with the member in that it is critical. As I said in my opening statement and as we've heard from every concerned person in the Legislature, it's critical that we deal fairly, that we deal humanely and that we deal with the whole person when we're handling these claims.
How much does it cost? How high does it go? What drives it? I would suggest that there are two things at play here. One is the actual allocation of the resources within the organization and how it delivers its programs, and the second is, what programs should it be delivering? Both of these, I think, are more at the crux - not the cost, but what is it that we're delivering?
I believe, as an administrator, I have every desire for us to look at that. I believe, the members of the board have every desire to look at that also, and I know full well that the special examination will in fact look at that, and the Auditor General of Canada is charged with looking at effectiveness and efficiencies. I would believe that the Auditor General, when talking about effectiveness and efficiencies in that special examination, won't be looking for the cheapest. He'll be looking for the best bang for the buck. And I think that that's what we're all talking about here - the best bang for the buck, while at the same time not being unreasonable about how many of those bucks we are going to spend.
In reply, I don't see that it's a question of, well, if we just spent $7 million more, what would I suggest? If we just spent $7 million or $9 million or $10 million on administration, we'd have these things addressed. We may not. I think it's more appropriate to look at, as I said, the programs that we deliver. Are they the right programs? Are they the programs that our clientele, workers, injured workers, employers, and dependants want? Are they the programs that they need, and do they deliver on those needs and those wants?
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, that's exactly where I was headed. I said that the previous fiscal period reporting on the increase in administration costs was up some $92,000 over the previous year. We have yet to feel the impact of the implementation of Bill No. 83, An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act. We were told that the initial implementation cost was going to be in the order of magnitude of some $461,000 and that, afterwards, there was going to be an additional $329,000 in ongoing costs.
What costs can we anticipate seeing for administration this next fiscal period, Mr. Chair? Just where are we headed, and is there ever going to be a ceiling on the administration costs?
Mr. Armstrong: In talking about Bill No. 83 and its implementation, all I can advise is that, once the legislation is passed, we are then obliged to implement that legislation, and there is a cost associated with doing that.
In regard to the total cost for Bill No. 83 and what that has done to administration costs, I don't have the figures before me, because we're not at the end of that fiscal year for me to be able to report on that. However, in ballpark figures, I can say that the budget for the appeal tribunal in the year 2000 was in the neighbourhood of $230,000, and that the budget for the workers' advocate office was in the ballpark of $296,000. As I say, I don't have those figures before me, but if you roll those two together, there's a little more than $500,000 there.
Mr. Jenkins: It has been pointed out to me that if they want to save some money, they could probably do their jobs properly at the board level, Mr. Chair, and they wouldn't need a workers' advocate, so there'd be considerable savings there.
There's an issue as to how many levels of appeals and costs we're incurring because the board is having difficulties making decisions in so many different areas. It's very disconcerting.
I'd like to explore with the officials, Mr. Chair, the issue surrounding the maximum wage. If we go back to 1997 - if we go way back, 1992, with some $40,000 a year; 1993, $41,000; 1994, $43,000; $45,000 in 1995; and then it stayed static. What formula did they use and how are we dovetailing all the different provisions? We're covering several different acts. How are we dovetailing them? Because there seems to be a lot lost in the process with respect to retroactivity. And how is this being accomplished within the Workers' Compensation Board, Mr. Chair?
Mr. Armstrong: My pause in reaching for the microphone was that I'm not sure I captured the question. I know that it was well-articulated; it wasn't heard well on my part. If I could ask for the question again, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, there's an issue surround the maximum wage payable to injured workers when they're on full disability. If you go back to 1992, it was $40,000; 1993, $41,000; 1994, $43,000; 1995, $45,000; and then it flattens out. And we're covering off this issue with two separate acts. How is the retroactivity going to be addressed and how are we dovetailing the two provisions of these acts so that injured workers that are on long-term disability are treated fairly? Or is what the board is saying is that if you were injured back in 1971, you're paid out and that remains flat for the whole period of time? Or today you're at $50,000 a year, and you're flat for the next period of time until retirement? What kind of a policy is in place, and is there any provision for retroactivity when you dovetail both of the acts together - the new act and the old act?
Mr. Armstrong: The member is quite right that the scenario around the $40,000 through $45,000 maximum wage rate was established under the prior legislation. That maximum wage rate has not changed since that last figure was developed. The methodology that was used at that time was as close as possible to the methodology prescribed within that piece of legislation. In other words, those workers injured in 1992 were the subset used for the calculation throughout that period of time.
The difficulty that we come into in doing any further look at that maximum wage rate, as the acts stand right now, is that, as injured workers within that 1992 subset come off of the compensation system, we run the risk of that maximum wage rate, in fact, going down, not going up. Now, what can we do about this? As I suggested, right now those two pieces of legislation and the ability to calculate the maximum wage rate is dependent on each one of those, and they aren't currently dovetailed. That's not to say that it wouldn't be possible to dovetail.
Now, the board hasn't brought that to the attention of the Legislature recently, but within the past couple of years, it has done that and talked about the need to address the concern between the maximum wage rate process in the prior legislation, the maximum wage rate process in the current legislation, and administrative difficulties within the new act around establishing that. I would suggest that it is something that is solvable through the appropriate amendment to legislation. And, on the issue of dovetailing, you could accomplish that at that time, and the issue of retroactivity would have to be addressed at that time also.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what the officials are saying is that it's a legislative responsibility that was overlooked in the last Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act. I'm sure the current minister responsible for WCB is taking careful note of this issue and will be bringing forward an Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act in due course. Hopefully I will see that at the next session. It would probably be a short series of amendments that could adjust the shortcomings, and I would encourage the minister to bring them forward.
Mr. Chair, back in October, I gave an interview to the Yukon News in which I made some comments on WCB. Subsequently, the chair of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, Mr. Schmekel, responded in an open letter to the editor. In it, he claims that the actual figures taken from the 1999 annual report were as follows: claim expenses were $13.8 million; investment revenue was $12.3 million; assessment income was $6.5 million and administration costs were $5.6 million.
Well, it clearly indicates that the income side of the equation was $18.8 million, and the expense side was $19.4 million. We're relying more and more on our investment portfolio to carry the day, and we are currently on a collision course with problems down the road with WCB, given the artificially low assessment rates. Just how long a period of time can we continue the way we are continuing with the artificially low assessment rates and the payouts that we have to injured workers? Or, are we just not going to pay the injured workers and allow them to carry the day?
Mr. Schmekel: Mr. Chair, this matter will shortly come before the board. The assessment rates and the pattern in the subsidization were established and they were effective until 2001. However, I would like to stress that the investment policy that the board has recently developed and has presented in draft - we anticipate that we will be able to raise an additional $5 million to $12 million. That would offset any of the problems or perceived problems that we're having with the fund.
However, I would like to remind members that the investment revenue alone was $12.3 million. No other board in Canada has that luxury. The decision on how long we will be able to subsidize employers' assessment rates will rest with the board. A public consultation process will commence within a reasonable length of time to determine what the employers would like. Some employers in some jurisdictions do not require that their fund would be over by 30 percent. Some simply say, "Return X number of dollars to us and let us adjust the rates yearly." That's certainly not the impression that I have heard from employers in this jurisdiction. They are quite happy to note that our investment revenue is $12.3 million and, as a result of that, we are able to subsidize their rates an average of 45 percent.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much. Well, I tell you what the public wants and what employers want. We want the lowest possible rates that you can provide. We want the best possible level of support given to injured workers that you possibly can provide and we don't want to see the expenditure on administration that you're currently incurring. It's out of line with reality. It's out of line with the workforce we currently have here in the Yukon and it can't be sustained, given the rate that it has been increasing, Mr. Chair. That's what is wanted.
I'm not going to get an undertaking and I'm sure the Member for Whitehorse Centre has a few questions and he wants in on the debate, so I'd like to thank the officials from Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board for their attendance here today.
Mr. McLarnon: Thank you. I would like to thank Mr. Jenkins for giving me some quick time to ask some questions. Can you tell me, how old is the oldest case that you're currently dealing with now? Can you give me an idea - if it's decades - if it's years? Can you give me an idea how old your oldest case is that's still in your system?
Mr. Armstrong: What I can do, Mr. Chair, is advise that the oldest file that I'm aware of is one from, I believe it's either 1958 or 1955, and is still active. There may be files that are prior to that, but that one just came to my attention as a result of other matters. To my knowledge, I know we go back at least 1958 or 1955, but there may be older files than that.
Mr. McLarnon: I would ask the witness if he could tell us what is the oldest case still in appeal and not dealt with at this moment?
Mr. Armstrong: Off the top of my head, Mr. Chair, I'm not able to advise what the oldest file would be under appeal. I do want to make a comment, though, in regard to that. This is, if not the only jurisdiction, one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that does not have a time limit on appeals. So, for example, with the file from 1958, there may be a decision that was made in 1967 on that 1958 file, and today in the year 2000, that worker can appeal that decision. There is no time limit on those matters. That would mean that you would have a decision appealed from that file in 1967. So if we have files in the process that are from 1981 or 1991 or 1995 and have a decision under appeal, it doesn't therefore follow that the appeal was initiated in that year. It's simply that that's the date of the decision from which that's being appealed.
Mr. McLarnon: I guess the reason why I'm asking is because it has come to my attention that there has been a 22-year-old appeal. There has been a 22-year-old case that has gone through the law courts, gone through the decision that it should be returned back to Workers' Compensation, and this is where I find the largest catch-22, and can you tell me if this is accurate and what would be planned procedurally to fix it? What I understand from the claimant is that he has been referred back to Workers' Compensation because he feels that the appeals committee would have to make a judgement before the courts could rule on it.
Once it is appealed, the old decision is overturned and the courts will have to look at the new decision from the appeal board. So, in fact, he has a legal case with good legal standing now, but he will be forced to go back to the appeal board. At this point, the decision could be changed to a more legally defensible point of view from the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, at which point the court would rule on it.
So, in this case, the person with the appeal that has been standing for 22 years unresolved is in a dilemma where, by taking his case to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, it can change the way the decision is reached, which makes it legally indefensible in the courts. So what I am asking is, do you see a problem with this? I certainly do. And, I guess, the question I am asking is, what are you going to do to straighten out the appeal process for workers' compensation so that justice can be reached? Because right now, we have frustration where, after 22 years, a case has still not been settled and it is now going through a legal roller coaster and merry-go-round.
So I am asking you - I am sure you know the case; it has been on the desk for 22 years - how this is going to be fixed within the corporation so that justice can be reached by its workers?
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, I have to be honest - as I prefer to be - in that in this particular case, I'm not reminded of which one we're talking about here. It's not coming to mind - a 22-year-old appeal. However, let me say that any decision that is made is always appealable. Any decision made by an adjudicator is appealable at any time. As I was saying, there is no time limit.
Once appealed, the first level of appeal, established under Bill No. 83, is a hearing officer or, under the old legislation, it was referred to as an internal review. The decision of the internal review or hearing officer can then be referred to the appeal tribunal, and a committee is established within the appeal tribunal to hear it.
The particular case - as I say, I'm not familiar with the case, or at least it's not coming to my mind - but if there were a situation where an individual had a decision that they wish to appeal, and their concern was that if it was heard by the board, the board might change its decision to make their perspective more legally defensible, it would then go to an appeal tribunal - an appeal committee of that tribunal. It doesn't go to the board. So, the tribunal is established at arm's length, and I suspect that they are making rulings very much at arm's length from the organization.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: In light of the time, Mr. Chair, being 5:55 p.m., I would like to thank the witnesses for appearing. It's not an easy time to be grilled, but I've heard the members opposite, too. We might want to look at whether this once a year is good enough. I'm not too sure the witnesses want to come back a second time during the year, but I think it's something we could look at. It's very important for the public to understand what's going on and to have that opportunity to ask questions.
I would also like to recognize that we have a few people in the gallery who are also very interested in this process: Mr. Doug Rody who is a member of the board, and we also have two worker advocates here, Mr. Mike Travill and Eldon Organ, and we also have a representative from the injured workers, Mr. Kenneth Achtymichuk. I'd like to give them thanks for attending. We also have three staff members from Workers' Compensation who have come here to listen, and I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to do that. It's not often we get an audience, and we really appreciate it when you do come.
The questions, I think, are very important. If you have more questions, please submit them in writing. I'm certain the board and the president will be pleased to provide more information.
Once again, I thank you for your attendance and I thank you for your honest and candid responses.
Deputy Chair: The witnesses are now excused. Thank you very much.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy 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. Kent: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 2000-2001, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Mr. Speaker, Tony Armstrong, President of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and Dale Schmekel, Chair of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appeared as witnesses before Committee from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2, passed earlier this day.
Speaker: You've heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 28, 2000:
Government contract (Executive Council Office): Jayme Aylward Consulting (Whitehorse) for general research
Government contract (Executive Council Office): Alastair Campbell (Ottawa) for research and advice on the Alaska pipeline project, Yukon Act process and federal funding sources