Monday, December 4, 2000 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
By-election Return to Writ
Speaker: I wish to inform the Assembly that I have received a letter from the chief electoral officer respecting the by-election held in the Electoral District of Faro on November 27, 2000. The letter, dated December 4, 2000, reads as follows:
"The resignation on October 22, 2000, of Trevor Harding, the Member for the Electoral District of Faro, caused a vacancy in the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
"A writ of election to fill this vacancy was issued on October 27, 2000, with polling day being November 27, 2000.
"I hereby advise that the returning officer for the Electoral District of Faro has certified in the Return to the Writ that James R. McLachlan has been elected as the member to represent that electoral district in the Legislative Assembly.
"Patrick L. Michael
"Chief Electoral Officer."
New Member Takes Seat
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present Mr. James R. McLachlan, representing the Electoral District of Faro. Mr. McLachlan has taken the required oaths and now claims the right to take a seat in the Legislature.
Speaker: The member may now take his seat.
The hon. Premier escorts Mr. McLachlan to his seat
Speaker: We proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Scouts Canada Yukon Awareness Week
Mr. McLarnon: I rise today to pay tribute to Scouts Canada Yukon Awareness Week. This organization has touched nearly all of us, whether it would be involvement with the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Venturers or Rovers. Like many others of my age, I also was a Boy Scout. I went through and I would like to personally thank the leaders who helped me through, Brother Guy Levesque and the departed George Sinfield.
On a personal level, I'll always remember the days at Mary Lake and the nights that I learned how to stay warm in snow huts. It was truly a growing and good experience for me.
Throughout the years, dating back to 1914 in the Yukon, young men, and now young women, have enjoyed the camaraderie, structure and downright fun of being involved with this organization. Scouts is an organization that has stood the test of time, and today there are 220 registered adults and youth in the territory. Whether they be five and six year olds in Beavers or the 19 to 26 year olds in Rovers, these Yukoners have been provided with valuable tools to expand their life skills.
The Yukon region of Scouts Canada has more than made its name heard over the years. Territorially, nationally and internationally, Scouts Canada has acknowledged the contributions by the Yukon Scout Council in these areas of youth development, leadership and citizenship. And over the years, Yukoners have shared their knowledge with others, attending jamborees in Kluane Park, Dawson, Vancouver Island, Prince George, Norway, Australia and Chile, to name a few. These events don't include the numerous community service projects undertaken over the years.
Presently, the Yukon is leading the B.C./Yukon provincial council for recognizing the need to raise the profile of this valuable worldwide organization within the Yukon Territory.
To help in this respect, the local Yukon regional council has enlisted Ken MacAteer of Burnaby, B.C./Yukon Provincial Commissioner; Bob Heaslip, vice-president of the Vancouver coast region; Doug Campbell of Edmonton, the divisional executive director for B.C., Yukon, Alberta and the Northwest Territories; and Ann Thiessen of Prince George, the vice-president of marketing and operations, northern region.
I would like to welcome Ms. Thiessen and Mr. Heaslip, who are in the gallery today, as well as Sean Munro, the commissioner for the Yukon region, and John Grainger, assistant regional commissioner for training.
While I am recognizing people for their efforts, I would be remiss if I didn't pay tribute to Monique (Monty) Rousseau, who was recently awarded the scouting award for gallantry, silver cross, involving considerable risk to life.
Ms. Rousseau, a co-advisor with the Venturers of the Yukon, risked her own life to save her physically handicapped father-in-law while on a canoe outing in the summer of last year. The canoe that the two of them were in tipped over while in the Yukon River, near Little Salmon village. Despite windy conditions and near freezing water temperatures, Ms. Rousseau managed to get both herself and her father-in-law to safety after nearly an hour and a half in the frigid water. Ms. Rousseau's heroic effort was followed by another rescue when the rest of the expedition came upon the duo, who were in advanced stages of hypothermia. With the help of the Venturers, both were quickly warmed and revitalized. For this effort, Ms. Rousseau was honoured with her award.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, the Scouts organization is committed to helping young people in the Yukon achieve full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential, and I applaud what they've done, what they are doing and what they will accomplish in the future with the youth of the Yukon, and I stand here as a humble testament to the good work that they can do.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. McLachlan: At this very important day for Faro and for us, I would like to introduce in the gallery my wife, Dora, and my daughter, Crystal. One son, Jason, is in college in Vancouver.
Speaker: Are there any returns and documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: I have for tabling a letter from the chief electoral officer respecting the by-election held in the Electoral District of Faro that the House was informed of earlier today.
Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda:I have for tabling a legislative return in response to an oral question by the leader of the third party.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that third party interests such as mining claims should be recognized and protected in land claim negotiations and that it is the duty of the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon to ensure their protection.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Northwestel, CRTC decision concerning competition
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to state that, on balance, I am pleased with the effectiveness of this government's intervention in the CRTC hearing on Northwestel.
While we were concerned about the increase in local phone rates, they will not rise as much as initially proposed, and this landmark decision will result in an unprecedented investment in the north's telecommunication system.
The main benefits of the decision will be two-fold. First, competition will be introduced into Northwestel's long-distance market and also long-distance rates will be coming down. The residential phone customers will now pay only $25 a month for virtually unlimited long-distance calling.
This is similar to the $20 per month plans Yukoners have heard about from friends and families in the south, which to date, have not be available in the Yukon.
Second, Northwestel's service improvement plan has been approved in principle. This multi-million dollar plan will extend telephone lines to approximately a thousand Yukon homes that currently have no phone services or are under served.
The flip side of the decision is that there will be some costs. In my presentation to the CRTC hearing in June, I stressed affordability. Ideally, I would have preferred that the decision would have left local phone rates unchanged. The CRTC heard this message and partially responded to it. The decision will result in an increase of $3 per month in local residential phone rates. This is less than Northwestel's proposed increase of $5 per month; however, the next result, when the lower, long-distance rates are factored in, will be lower phone bills for the majority of Yukoners. Although Yukon consumers will be paying more for local phone services, the CRTC balanced approach will mean that everyone else with a stake in this decision will also be paying more. Northwestel will be paying more in the form of reduced rates of return.
Southern phone companies will be paying $15 million in 2001 and more in subsequent years to subsidize the extension of services to rural Yukon. Competitive phone companies will be paying more to access Northwestel's lines to offer competing long distance packages to Yukoners.
Over all, I am satisfied with the decision and our role in protecting the interests of Yukoners. We have achieved our main goal of securing for the Yukon a level of telecommunication services equivalent to those enjoyed in the rest of Canada.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to respond to this ministerial statement.
On balance, the minister has said that he is pleased with the effectiveness of this government's intervention. Well, Mr. Speaker, I want to point out that it took pressure from this side of the House, the New Democratic Party, for the minister to realize that his presentation to the CRTC on Northwestel's proposed rates was inadequate and that the minister then had to resubmit. I would like to point that out.
Now, in this government's original submission, there was no criticism of Northwestel's proposed $5 increase to basic monthly phone charges. We in the official opposition felt that such a large increase was unfair to the customers on low and/or fixed incomes, who do not benefit from reductions in long-distance charges. To them, the telephone is an essential lifeline service.
Again, this government refused to stand up for Yukoners living in communities close to Whitehorse. They were being treated unfairly by the old rate structure, charging them long-distance for calls to and from Whitehorse. This Liberal government is boasting about something that they had originally had nothing to do with.
This government has been unable to create its own niche at all, because all they are capable of doing is riding on the backs of the New Democratic Party's initiatives and programs. There is no mention in this statement that it was the previous New Democrat government that spearheaded the whole matter of a subsidy from southern telephone companies to offset the costs to unserved and underserved Yukoners. There is no mention of Connect Yukon, which would have hooked up almost all Yukoners to telephones in two years, not the four years that this government and Northwestel are promising.
I still have some questions. When will we see this $15 million from the southern telephone companies? Is there an appeal of this decision? If there is, by the southern companies, will this delay the payment of this money to Northwestel? Will we see immediate savings on our long-distance bills immediately after the new year? Can the minister promise that hookups to Yukoners with no telephone services at the present time - such as areas in the Teslin cottage lots, the Morley Bay area, Mendenhall, the Takhini River area, areas around Tagish and Lake Laberge - are watched and then implemented?
The CRTC decision is a step forward to improving the telephone service in the Yukon as well as making it more accessible and affordable in some instances. We need to be cautious and we need to be vigilant to ensure that telecommunications in the Yukon can keep up with and abreast of exciting and innovative changes worldwide.
To conclude, this government needs to buckle up and ensure that Northwestel fulfills the direction given to them from the CRTC and that Yukoners will get the maximum benefit from these decisions.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, there is both good news and bad news in this recent CRTC decision on Northwestel. The good news is that it will bring competition. Effective January 1, 2001, off-peak long-distance calls will cost 10 cents per minute, capped at $25 for the first 600 minutes. The bad news for Yukoners who do not use long distance and who are having a tough time making ends meet is that they will have to pay an additional $3.00 per month for basic telephone service, and if you're a business, it's an increase of $5.00 per line for that business.
Those are the most evident changes, but there is much more at stake here. Of major concern are Yukoners who do not enjoy basic telephone service now. Northwestel has announced plans to move from analog to digital technology, and has a four-year service-improvement plan that will cost an estimated $70 million.
In the minister's response, I would like him to explain if this $70-million service-improvement plan is in any way dependent upon the subsidy Northwestel is to receive, because Northwestel asked for $30 million of subsidy and they're only going to be receiving $15.1 million of subsidy. And that's if, in fact, they do receive it.
In other media reports, the service-improvement plan is intended to extend single-line service to over 500 homes that don't currently have telephone service. However, the minister, in his statement, states that approximately 1,000 Yukon homes will be provided with service. What is it, Mr. Speaker? Is it 500 homes or 1,000 homes? A clarification, please, and, more importantly, what areas in the Yukon have been singled out for this improvement and according to what time schedule over the next four-year period?
What connection, if any, does this $70-million service improvement program have with the $23.5-million Connect Yukon project, which was supposed to provide basic telephone service to Yukoners?
Further, just prior to the federal election campaign, the federal Liberals announced a $1-billion program to bring fast Internet service to every community in Canada by 2004. Now that both Canada and the Yukon have been hit by the Liberal red tide, can the minister explain what portion of the $1 billion the Yukon will be entitled to and how it will be relating to Northwestel's $70-million service improvement program and the $23.5-million Connect Yukon project, in view of the fact that they are all taking place and being implemented over the same time period?
It appears that millions and millions of dollars are going to be spent over the course of the next four years to improve telecommunication service to Yukoners. There should be some coordination of these various programs so that, at the end of the day, Yukoners - and especially underserved rural Yukoners - have an advanced digital telephone system together with high-speed Internet access. What a happy day that would be.
While the minister is on his feet responding, I would like him to clarify why the government is breaking the law in relation to the use of the immigrant investors fund to sponsor Connect Yukon. The Premier promised a response to me by October 31 about how the Yukon government was trying to get around the legalities of the situation, but I have yet to receive that response. So would the minister kindly advise the House how we are circumventing the law with respect to the Connect Yukon money being drawn from the immigrant investors fund?
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Jim: As you know, the Connect Yukon project has been transferred to the Community and Transportation Services where it belongs. It belongs to an external department, which looks after external services for local and commercial markets.
The CRTC is an independent, federally mandated body that controls the communications industry in Canada. This government made a detailed submission earlier this year and at no time did we ever have a resubmission to the CRTC because the New Democrat Party decided to influence us.
Our submission was once and one time only. This government made a detailed submission earlier this year, along with many others, which stated that a $5 rate increase was too much for Yukoners to bear. The CRTC has come with their ruling of $3 for residential customers and $5 for commercial customers. Long distance rates will fall to about 10 cents per minute on off-peak hours. The rate increase was subject to a number of factors, but they come attached to some real benefits for Yukoners. These rate increases and the new subsidy for southern phone companies will help pay for a service improvement plan that will bring telephone service to individuals who didn't previously have full service and improve service for those whose services are substandard.
This southern subsidy will also be so large that, for every 10 cents that Yukoners have to pay for in improved services and cheaper long distance rates, $1 will come from southern companies. Mr. Speaker, under this ruling, nearly 1,000 homes in the Yukoners will be added to those customers receiving full telephone service.
In addition, mileage service charges for rural users will be eliminated. The long-distance rates are being dropped significantly under this ruling. The net cost to users who buy long-distance service will now be a lower overall bill. There's also the provision of competition for the long-distance buyer. A typical long-distance user will see their long-distance bill for off-peak hours capped at $25 for the first 600 minutes of long distance.
Mr. Speaker, I will put this in perspective. If I were to call my pal, the Member for Watson Lake, over the Christmas break and we talk for 600 minutes in total between Christmas and New Years on off-peak hours, it would cost about $138. This rate is the same rate, incidentally, that it would cost me to call my other pal, the Member for Klondike.
Now, Mr. Speaker, if I were to call the Member for Klondike after the new year and talk to him for 600 minutes - about what, I can only imagine - it would only cost me $25.
I could, however, choose not to call either of them and, instead, save all my calls for after New Year's and call all over Canada after New Year's, and that would cost me $25. The point is, Mr. Speaker, long-distance rates are going down dramatically. I will refer specific questions regarding the Connect Yukon project to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If there are no further statements by ministers, this then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Argus Properties, government meeting with
Mr. Fairclough: I have a question for the Premier about some statements she made last week.
For three days in a row, this open-and-accountable Premier was very evasive and very defensive on the subject of a meeting her chief of staff had in Vancouver in September.
Will the Premier now confirm that her chief of staff did meet in Vancouver with a senior official of Argus Properties in September, as her principal secretary told the media?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the chief of staff travelled to Vancouver. The agreement that the member is referring to - an agreement signed by the previous government with the Argus corporation - is an agreement that was signed, sealed and delivered by the previous government, and it's the same deal today.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Premier didn't answer the question again. How many times do we have to ask before we get the truth out?
This is a very serious situation.
Speaker: Order please. I would ask the member not to refer to such issues as "getting the truth out" or "untruths" or suggest "falsehoods". That's not acceptable in the House and it's unparliamentary. Please continue.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, the general public would like the facts and that's what we're trying to get out of this Premier.
The Premier has given one version of events in here, and her top political advisor has given something completely different. Whom do we believe, Mr. Speaker?
When I asked the Premier if her chief of staff had taken outside trips on government business, she denied it, but later she admitted that it did take place, but it wasn't on the travel information because she says it was the Department of Economic Development that paid for it.
Will the Premier now tell the House categorically that, yes, this trip did take place, and will she explain why it was not recorded on the information she sent to me?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have already provided the member opposite with that information. I will provide it again.
Yes, the chief of staff travelled to Vancouver. Yes, the costing for that trip was paid for by the Department of Economic Development, which is why it was not involved in the information that had been provided to the member previously.
And, Mr. Speaker, I have not denied that the trip took place. The principal secretary and I have no disagreement, nor have we given any conflicting information to the member opposite or to the media.
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier did not answer the question, again. I would like to table the letter that I wrote to her on October 5, asking for travel information on the caucus and Cabinet and political staff. That was not on the travel list, and I asked the member why and she did not answer the question.
It asks for - and I quote from the letter - "all sources of funding, such as travel, including Executive Council Office, individual departments and other sources, including the federal government." Can the Premier tell us why this particular trip was not included in the information she sent to me, when it was paid for by her own Economic Development department?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: When I examined and signed the response to the member opposite, I considered it to be complete. Also, the response says on it - the heading is "Expenses covered by the Executive Council Office". There is no reason why it is or is not on this particular letter.
The point is that I have said that the chief of staff travelled to Vancouver. If it was not listed in the letter - and I have it in front of me, and I will go back and review the six or 12 pages of information that we provided, and I will double-check it for the member opposite. I've already committed to do that.
Question re: Argus Properties, government meeting with
Mr. Fentie: I'd like to follow up with the Premier on the same issue, Mr. Speaker. The Premier has been very evasive when it comes to this particular question. In fact, last week, she accused me of putting words in her mouth. And while we were questioning the Premier last Thursday, the presses were rolling with the facts in this particular matter, totally contradicting what the Premier was saying on the floor of the Legislature. So we're merely trying to get the facts straight.
Mr. Speaker, we know a meeting did take place with Argus; we know the Premier sent her chief of staff to accompany a department official, and we know the Premier's chief of staff is a lawyer. What instructions did the Premier give her chief of staff before sending her to Vancouver to meet with a senior official of Argus corporation?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the instructions given to the chief of staff were political, in the sense that she's a political staff person. I was not available to attend the meeting nor to be a part of the meeting as Minister of Economic Development, nor should I have been. I was represented by political staff.
The situation, Mr. Speaker, regarding the agreement with Argus - the deal is the same. So contrary to the illusions that the member opposite is trying to paint, the deal is the same; the agreement hasn't changed at all. The chief of staff travelled to Vancouver. That much I have indicated to the members opposite. That isn't a surprise, and there's no hidden plot. There's nothing sinister here, Mr. Speaker. The chief of staff has been doing a very good job as a member of the political staff. What more do the members want?
Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr Speaker, the problem here is the Premier was giving this House different facts from what came out in the news from her principal secretary. That gives us reason to ask the questions. What we're trying to ascertain is why did the Premier scramble such a high-level political staff person to attend with a department official. And we believe it's because the Premier did not want to see the Yukon government in court. There were threats of lawsuits. Let's give the Premier another chance: did the Premier give her chief of staff or Economic Development officials a mandate to negotiate new terms with Argus in order to keep the matter out of court?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is once again trying to put words in my mouth. I have said to the member opposite that the chief of staff travelled to Vancouver with Economic Development staff. She is a political staff person. That's what political staff do.
I have said to the member opposite that the agreement with Argus is the same and that this government does not want a lawsuit. The member opposite has also suggested that we rip up the Argus agreement. Has he phoned and advised the former minister who negotiated it that that's what he wants to do?
This agreement was signed by the previous government. The deal is the same. The agreement is there. This government is trying to live up to it, because we said, during the election campaign, as we have said thousands of times in this House, that we don't rip up signed agreements, unlike some other parties.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I would never try to put words in the Premier's mouth. Far be it for me to do such a thing. We're merely trying to get the facts in this matter because there is no off-site infrastructure. Money has flowed.
Let me point out that it didn't take the Premier long to cut the Member for Whitehorse Centre loose, who campaigned on this very issue, saying that when the money is returned to the taxpayers of this territory, the corporation can then start from a level playing field. We have that now. The Argus property is quite level. It cost us over $600,000 for that.
Mr. Speaker, the facts are that the deal was unravelling, lawsuits were pending and being threatened, and suddenly we see that all is quiet on the Two Mile Hill.
Will the Premier table any modifications to the agreement with YTG, the City of Whitehorse and Argus, resulting from the meeting in Vancouver on September 11? Will she do so and do it this week, please?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The deal that was signed, sealed and delivered by the previous government is the deal that is still in place. The city paid out invoices that were owing to Yukon contractors. Yukoners received money that they were owed for work that they did. Obviously the member opposite seems to have a problem with that particular point.
There is nothing sinister here, Mr. Speaker. The agreement has stayed the same. The agreement remained the same after I met with Mayor Bourassa and discussed this, among a number of other issues. The agreement remained the same after my staff met with Argus.
The member opposite seems to think that we should rip up the Argus agreement - their agreement - and put Yukon taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in another lawsuit, just like Taga Ku. We won't do that, Mr. Speaker. The deal is the same.
Question re: Asi Keyi special management area, mining claims
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Premier. The policy decisions being made by this Liberal government have created a U-Haul economy here in the Yukon. The Yukon now has the fastest shrinking economy in population of any jurisdiction in Canada. If you look at the labour force, it has shrunk by 600 in October. In November there was reduction of another 200 in our labour force. If you compare that to the statistics for the unemployment rate, it would be some 13.3 percent currently. If you start looking at the 125 forestry workers in Watson Lake - they have left the territory. Those skilled in oil and gas are working elsewhere in the Northwest Territories. Now the Premier is trying to drive the few remaining miners out of the territory by including their mining claims within the federal and territorial park boundaries.
Can the Premier explain why she was so adamant that the claims in the much expanded Tombstone Park had to be bought out, while the claims in the new Asi Keyi park do not have to be bought out? Why the difference? Is it because neither the federal Liberals nor the Yukon Liberal government want to pay compensation for those claims?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is trying to bootleg three questions into one. That's quite a feat for the member opposite.
First of all, with respect to the member's view of the labour force statistics, I would remind the member opposite to examine closely the statistics for the past three years. This year does compare relatively well with the figures for the past three years.
Mr. Speaker, it's not that the NDP record on the economy is anything to be proud of. We're working to change it. In the eight months we have been in office, we're starting to see some of the effect of our work on the Yukon economy.
The member opposite would like to try and discuss the Tombstone and the Asi Keyi special management areas. I would invite the member, when he returns to his feet, to decide which one of those two he wishes to speak to, and I invite him once again to put his position on land claims clearly on the record.
Mr. Jenkins: We can't get an answer out of this Premier. Everything is someone else's fault. Now she's blaming the current state of the economy on the previous government and even the government before it. What I'm pointing out, Mr. Speaker, is that this Liberal government, in opposition, had a policy to buy out mining claims in the Tombstone Park, not so for Asi Keyi park. It's a different set of rules now that they're in power.
The reason the Yukon government is at the land claims table is to protect third party interests, such as mining claims.
Can the Premier advise the House why she agreed in August to the inclusion of the Archer Cathro mining claims within the park boundaries, and why did she keep it a secret for the last three months?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has accused me incorrectly. As I understand, to say "falsely" would be unparliamentary. I will not use that term. The August 7 document was a reaffirmation of a land withdrawal that was initiated by former Government Leader McDonald and Minister Stewart. I was not advised that the order-in-council had been passed until Monday last week.
Mr. Jenkins: The fact still remains that the minister, the Premier of the Yukon, knew in August that this was going to occur, and she kept it a secret for three months. Archer Cathro voluntarily gave up their claims on Tombstone Mountain without compensation, and for this gracious action, they have been rewarded by having their claims in the Kluane area included within yet another park. How can the Premier ever hope to bring mining back to the territory, when she is part of the Yukon Liberal and federal Liberal collusion, not to protect mining claims?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite is walking a very fine, parliamentary line.
I was not aware that the land had been withdrawn and the order-in-council had taken affect until Monday. I was not aware of that land selection.
The member opposite can accuse me of keeping secrets all he wants, Mr. Speaker. That is not the case and that is not true. The member opposite is wrong - absolutely, fundamentally wrong - and I would challenge the member opposite on that point. The order-in-council that withdrew this land was passed by the federal government, by the Privy Council. I was advised of it -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the Premier said the facts that I relayed in the House were not true. She implied falsehood. That's unparliamentary, and I stand on the record that the Premier knew back in August and she kept it a secret and she's acting in collusion with her government and the federal Liberal government.
Speaker: Hon. Premier, on the point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: On the point of order, the member opposite's facts are incorrect, and the member opposite has suggested that I have kept a secret and that I have acted in collusion. And, Mr. Speaker, I pointed out last week, when the member first used those words, that I considered them unparliamentary.
This is far more fundamental than simply a dispute between members, because the member opposite is accusing me of lying and that is not the case.
Speaker: I certainly heard the comment that was made. The Chair was doing its best to determine if the Premier, in her remarks, was accusing the leader of the third party, as he just stated, or if she was trying to impress to me not that the statements were not true, but that the accusations were not true, as she had interpreted them.
Until I review Hansard, I will have a difficult time determining which way it is. It is definitely on the line. I would like to take this under review. I will review Hansard and address the question tomorrow.
I believe that that is the end of that question. We will begin with a new question.
Question re: Argus Properties, government meeting with
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up with the Premier again on the Argus matter. And let me point out that the Liberals across the floor have made many claims that they are an open and accountable government. We are continually experiencing here in this Legislature that they are nothing related to that. They are, in fact, a secretive and closed government.
Mr. Speaker, we know that things were very antagonistic and heated up between the city and Argus Properties. We know finally, after days of questioning, that the Premier sent her emissary and staffers from Economic Development to meet with the company, and suddenly things cooled off.
Can the Premier enlighten this House as to why, subsequent to that meeting in Vancouver in September, things cooled off between the city and Argus and why this is no longer an issue? Will she explain that to the House?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, because we're doing our job; because this government said we'd live up to existing agreements. That's what we were doing. The agreement that was signed and in place is still the same. The deal is still the same, and this government is still the same. We're trying to live up to the deal the other guys negotiated.
Mr. Fentie: Well, we know that this Liberal government did pass the budget, and in that budget was an expenditure that flowed to the City of Whitehorse for off-site infrastructure. We also know that there were other terms in that agreement, terms that Argus, the corporation, must meet. So far, the terms that Argus were to meet have not materialized, and we do not see any off-site infrastructure. The Premier has stated in this House that $600,000 plus of the expenditure allotted to the municipal government in the budget has flowed. What we're trying to find out is what changed the terms of the agreement from off-site infrastructure to property development on the Argus site.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have stood on my feet and said the deal that was negotiated is the deal that's still in place. The terms have not changed; the deal is the same. The agreement remained the same after my staff met with Argus; the agreement remained the same after my meeting with Mayor Ernie Bourassa - mayor-elect, as he was at that point. There's nothing sinister here, Mr. Speaker. We're simply trying to live up to an agreement that the previous government negotiated because this government said we wouldn't tear up signed deals with Yukoners. The member opposite seems to think we should rip up the Argus agreement - their agreement - and put Yukon taxpayers on the hook for millions and millions of dollars. Is that what the member opposite is suggesting?
Mr. Fentie: I'm not suggesting that at all, Mr. Speaker. I'm trying to get the facts, here. Yeah, live up to the original agreement. That means there would be a mall there and off-site infrastructure. That didn't take place, and taxpayers' money has flowed. Now, we know a meeting took place on September 11 with a high-level political staff person from the Premier's office, officials from Economic Development. We also know that the Premier has had a number of discussions with Argus on this very matter, and things have cooled off.
What responsibility does Argus have in this matter, and will the Premier tell this House why on-site property development took place with the money that was directed for off-site infrastructure? What responsibilities does Argus now have when it comes to that property?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the city paid out invoices that were owing to Yukon contractors. Yukoners received money for work that they were owed. That makes sense even under the NDP's version of math and under the NDP's version of the economy.
The deal that was signed, sealed and delivered by the previous government is still the deal that's in place. The deal is the same. The terms have not changed. Again, the agreement remained the same after I met with Mayor Ernie Bourassa and discussed this and a number of other issues. The agreement remained the same after my staff met with Argus.
The member opposite once again seems to be suggesting that we should have come to office and ripped up the agreement. That's not something - it would cost Yukon taxpayers millions of dollars - we're prepared to do.
Question re: Trade and investment fund, government assistance to companies
Mr. Fentie: Well, let's talk about something that the Premier and her government have ripped. They have ripped the heart out of the Yukon economy, Mr. Speaker.
I want to ask the Premier, in her capacity as the Minister of Economic Development, a question regarding the trade and investment fund. Now, we already know about the Yukon Brewing Company's success because of trade and investment funding, and it's ability to market its product outside of the Yukon.
Last week, we heard of another shining example of the trade and investment fund's success. Midnight Sun Plant Food is now putting its product in 1,000 Home Hardware stores across the country, with potential beyond Canada - into the U.S. and Asian markets. Why is this minister and this government turning their backs on Yukon businesses that want to expand by keeping the trade and investment fund dormant while it's under review? Why is that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to thank the member opposite for recognizing one of our newly elected member's constituents as the business success story out of Faro. I appreciate the member opposite's point in that regard.
With respect to the trade and investment fund, Mr. Speaker, when the member opposite was on this side of the House, the NDP government received the very, very strong recommendation from the business summit that was held in January 1999 that the comments and programs made by government should be fair to all businesses. One of the questions around the trade and investment fund was the fairness of the application and the review procedure. That was one of the items we wanted to look at, and want to look at, and it's one of the items we are looking at.
Mr. Fentie: Well, it gives reason to ask why have the fund dormant? The Premier, when she gives the example of the business summit, is packing all that baggage from two years ago. We're talking about today, under this government's watch.
Mr. Speaker, there's plenty of money. The Auditor General's report shows it - $64 million in the kitty. Even on a worst-case scenario, if this Liberal government paid all their friends off in this territory, there would still be at least a $30-million surplus by March 2001.
Will the minister now swallow her pride, stand down on her stubbornness, and put some life back into the trade and investment fund while this review continues and help Yukoners go to work this winter? They need it.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it's no wonder viewers throughout the Yukon turn off when we hear the business community recommendation referred to as "baggage" and the personal attack from the member opposite.
The point is this government committed to rebuilding the Yukon economy. It's going to take more than the six months that we have been in office to do that. It's going to take some time. We have already started to see signs of that. Lewes River Timber established a new value-added mill at Marsh Lake. There is a private sector group actively planning tourism development in Carcross, together with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. The member opposite's former leader is actively investing in the Yukon.
The continuing care facility, a new arena in Dawson, and Connect Yukon all provide employment over the next few months. The Mayo school this spring, and Tourism Yukon working with Air Canada - all of these are long-term substantive issues and investment in the Yukon economy, something that we are working toward. The trade and investment fund is something that we committed to review and, in fairness to future applicants and to those who have received the fund, that is what we are doing. We are reviewing that fund.
Mr. Fentie: Well, quite frankly, there is no reason - no reason - not to help Yukoners out, and create jobs and benefit this winter in this territory by just simply reviewing the fund. The funds don't have to stop flowing.
And, yes, this government can make it better if they so choose. But they are not. What they are doing is dismantling everything a former government accomplished so that they can repackage it and get some net political gain out of it.
And as far as the business summit, I attacked no one personally. But I don't put a lot of stock in Liberal operatives when they come to this Liberal government and inform them that this is the way it should be. This is the government that says they believe in a level playing field. Well, we already know that that simply isn't the case. Their level playing field is to have Yukon businesses flat on their backs - another 500 Yukoners out of work this month.
Will this minister agree to put the $700,000 into the trade and investment fund, which we recommended in our alternative supplementary budget to get something happening in this economy this winter, especially in communities where it is desperately needed? Will she do so?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, Yukoners have had about all they could take of the NDP's advice on the economy. We committed to being fair in our programming, and that's what we're doing. We also committed to rebuilding the Yukon economy, to making it better, and we're starting to see results. The member opposite would be well-advised to review those statistics that he is so easily bandying across the floor. In fact, the unemployment situation is better than it had been under the previous administration, Mr Speaker. And their economic record is not something to be proud of, Mr. Speaker. We are working very hard to rebuild the Yukon economy and to build a strong foundation for it. Businesses are investing in the Yukon. We're starting to see some results of our work, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Winter works projects
Mr. Fentie: Well, I think the Premier's wrong, Mr. Speaker - wrong as wrong can be. Try the communities for unemployment, and the facts are, Mr. Speaker, that Yukoners have so little faith in this government that instead of joining the unemployment line they're leaving the territory in droves. They're leaving here to go make a living elsewhere, because they have no confidence that this Liberal government is going to rebuild anything. Because what they've shown to date is they're dismantling the economy. This Premier and this government have done little to date to implement any positive initiatives in our economy.
Now, another very important initiative is the fire smart program. That could have dozens of Yukoners working this winter while providing less risk for wildfires in our communities. Why won't this Premier put the million dollars that we have in our supplementary budget into fire smart and put those Yukoners to work this winter where they so desperately need it? Will she do that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the money that the NDP committed to the community development fund, including the fire smart program, in their budget, which was expected to last to March 31 of next year, was $3 million. In the 17 days before they actually left office - in the 17 days of the new year, they spent $2.5 million of it. Mr. Speaker, we have committed over and over again, on the floor of this Legislature, that this government is committed to, and interested in, the fire smart program. We're also interested in making it work better for Yukon communities, as per their advice to us. That's what they have advised us to do and that's what we're looking at.
Mr. Fentie: Well, again I point out that there's no reason to stop the flow of the funds. Go ahead and make it better, but if the Premier wants clear evidence of how successful the fire smart program is, go out to the communities. Get out of the capital here, and go out to the communities and take a look. It is very visible. Talk to the people in the communities and they will tell the Premier and this Liberal government how important that program was. It was the communities that triggered and spearheaded the fire smart programming. We, the former NDP government, listened.
Mr. Speaker, many, many people, especially in outlying communities, are in desperate need of work this winter. This government has done nothing to address that fact. People are leaving in droves.
Why won't this Premier set aside her stubborn approach to governing, set aside her ego and help out those Yukoners this winter? There's lots of money. There are literally millions of dollars in the bank. A million-dollar expenditure on fire smart would be a worthy cause -
Speaker:Order please. Question.
Mr. Fentie: Will she do that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite knows, or ought to know, that this government is spending Yukon taxpayers' money responsibly and wisely. The NDP, Mr. Speaker, had four years to work on the economy - four years. Under that government - the NDP - Yukoners left in droves. We still get calls from people who are looking forward to coming back.
We're working on the Yukon economy, and real change takes time. We're working on real change, Mr. Speaker - our infrastructure, our roads. There is additional money, for example, in just one department alone, on rebuilding Yukon's road infrastructure, in gravel crushing, in the highway maintenance. All of those projects, Mr. Speaker - and we can reel off lists of them - put Yukoners to work. Yukoners are working in Dawson City. They are working in Whitehorse. There are a number of projects that are ongoing. Yes, we could do more. Yes, we are doing more. We're doing the real work of rebuilding the Yukon's economy.
Mr. Fentie: Well, that is complete rubbish. Nothing could be further from the case. We have a $37-million supplementary budget that we are debating in this House, and most of that money is being spent on themselves - on government. And this Premier has the audacity to state that the Liberal government is spending money wisely and responsibly. They only spend it on themselves. They certainly don't help Yukoners out when it's needed.
Since this Liberal government has taken office, the unemployment rate has risen steadily. Since this Liberal government has taken office, people have been leaving because they have no more faith - no more faith in this territory's ability to provide a living for them. This Premier is responsible for what has happened up to this point and time.
All that this Premier has to do is show a little compassion, show a little heart for those people out there in the communities ...
Speaker: Order please. Please get to the question.
Mr. Fentie: ... and put a million dollars into a supplementary budget for fire smart, and dozens of people will go to work this winter and benefit from that expenditure. And that is spending money wisely and responsibly.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The facts are that the supplementary budget contains a negotiated wage settlement with Yukon workers. And I'm so pleased to hear the member stand up and say that that's not a valuable investment. The supplementary budget contains $7.5 million in health care. And I'm so pleased the member opposite has finally revealed his true colours and stood up and said that he doesn't support that either. Let me remind the member opposite of the unemployment rate. In 1997, under an NDP government - this is the April to November figures - 13.1. In 1998, under an NDP government, 12.6. In 1999, under an NDP government, April to November, 12.3. In 2000, 10.9. It's still too high, Mr. Speaker, and we are working on it. Real change, a fundamental shift, takes more than the short period of time we have been in office. However, our message is getting out there because we are seeing Yukoners invest in the Yukon economy. Is the member opposite also standing on his feet and saying that he has no faith in his former leader's investment in the territory - in Lewes River Timber, in the other private sector initiatives in Carcross, in the continuing care facility, the new arena in Dawson City, Connect Yukon? The member opposite is standing there saying he has no faith in Yukoners. Well, we do have faith in Yukoners and we have faith in the Yukon's economy.
Speaker: Order please. Would the Premier please conclude her answer.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are rebuilding the Yukon economy, one step at a time.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. No. 35: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 35, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Duncan.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 35, entitled An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 35, entitled An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2, be now read a second time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The Member for Mayo-Tatchun is eager to speak on this particular issue.
Mr. Speaker, this bill will implement two important tax initiatives.
Firstly, it will see the Yukon's personal income tax rate drop from its present 49 percent of basic federal tax to 46 percent of basic federal tax, effective January 1, 2001.
Secondly, it extends the Yukon mineral exploration tax credit for one more year, to March 31, 2002, and increases the value of the credit from 22 percent of eligible expenditures to 25 percent of those expenditures.
It is crucial, Mr. Speaker, that our tax regime be competitive and attractive to individuals and businesses. During the election campaign and after assuming office, we promised to examine the public finances with a view to ensuring the affordability of tax reductions. A quick review enabled us to announce the reduction from 50 percent to 49 percent of basic federal tax for the current year.
Now, especially given the improvements in the formula financing calculations, we feel confident that the measures contained in the bill can be implemented. This reduction in the personal income tax rate will significantly reduce the tax burden upon our citizens while, at the same time, serve to stimulate the economy by increasing personal disposable income.
Of course, Yukoners are already saving money because of the tax cuts we have brought in for this year. The changes we are bringing into law today will mean substantial savings to Yukon families.
Starting in 2001, a single person earning $30,000 will pay $71 less in taxes and $213 over the next three years. A family of four with an income of $45,000 will pay $124 less in tax and $372 less over the next three years. A family of four with an income of $60,000 will pay $168 less in tax in 2001 and over $500 less over the next three years. Finally, a family of four with an income of $100,000 will see their Yukon personal income tax reduced by $414 in 2001 and by over $1,240 in the next three years.
I'd like to compare these numbers to the personal income tax cuts brought in by the NDP during its four years in office: 1996 - zero; 1997 - zero; 1998 - zero; 1990 - zero. It's quite a comparison, Mr. Speaker. Real tax cuts from a Liberal government and no tax cuts from the NDP. And the Yukon Party record on taxes: tax increases from 1992-96. We also hope that lower rates of personal taxation will serve to encourage the expansion of existing businesses and the establishment of new ones.
Each point of personal income tax reduction is worth approximately $700,000 on average, although it can fluctuate quite significantly from year to year. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, this measure will put $2.1 million into the hands of Yukoners in the next and subsequent years. This is money that will be spent on local products with local retailers and local businesses.
In a similar vein, this is the reduction in the government's revenues, which we will see next year. This has been built into the projections that I tabled with the Supplementary No. 2 several weeks ago, where, to be conservative, we have used a reduction of three-quarters of a million for each point.
The mineral exploration tax credit has proven to be quite popular and, we believe, effective in contributing to exploration activity in the territory. To date, in respect of the 1999-2000 fiscal year, this credit has been utilized to the extent of roughly $1.4 million. Final figures will not be available for that year for some time, so it's reasonable to assume that the take-up will be somewhat higher when all is said and done. Reasonably definitive figures for 2000-01 are, of course, not available at the present time.
Members will know that this tax measure was originally implemented for two years only and was to expire on March 31, 2001. Our government feels that this credit has much merit and has decided that it should continue for at least another year. Therefore, as I have previously announced, the Yukon mineral exploration tax credit will be renewed for one more year and will be enhanced so that 25 percent of eligible expenditures will be subject to the credit. This will provide a valuable incentive to the industry for another season and has, I might add, been very well-received by the mining sector.
Combined with the federally announced 15-percent flow-through share initiative, I am optimistic that we will see an increase in exploration next summer in the Yukon. It is, of course, difficult to estimate the take-up on a measure such as this, but I believe that we should look at something in the neighborhood of $2 million for the 2001-02 fiscal year. This is not incorporated in the long-term plan that I have tabled, but, as members will note, the plan has some manoeuvring room for important issues such as this.
We believe that this bill and the taxation changes it contains are important enough to bring forward at this time, rather than during the spring sitting.
By passing the legislation now, Mr. Speaker, we will provide more certainty to the mining industry as they plan next year's exploration program. This can only help the legislation to better achieve its purpose. At the same time - and this is a very important point - quick passage of this bill permits the federal government to build the personal income tax reductions into the tax tables to be provided to employers for January 1 of the new year.
So, Mr. Speaker, in effect, what happens is that employees see the effect of this immediately, rather than waiting for the spring session when we would pass the legislation.
Our citizens do not have to wait for mid-year modifications to the tax table to notice a reduction in our taxes on their paycheques. We are very pleased and proud to be able to present this legislation to the House. It will reduce the burden of government on Yukoners and help stimulate and diversity economic activity in the Yukon. These are goals that we as a government are committed to and intend to expand upon in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fairclough: This bill, of course, we in the official opposition do support. It is continuing on with the initiative that the NDP brought in and is being following through by this Liberal government. Now, we introduced tax reduction in our budget in this House and the Liberal Party voted against it - they voted against the tax reduction. I can recall when a Liberal was in opposition along with an NDP opposition, there was, through the Yukon Party, a two-percent wage reduction and the Liberals felt that there was no reason to vote against it. So they voted for the budget, for that two-percent reduction. So I don't believe the Liberal government really knows where they are going with this. At one time the Premier got up and announced that she will not be following through with the long-term plan in reduction to income tax and immediately ran into opposition on that matter. The telephones were probably ringing off the hook. At the same time, the Liberals in Ottawa announced a tax reduction and of course this Yukon Liberal government had to go along with that. The Premier has announced over and over again that they do not tear up contracts; they do not tear up agreements. And we, on this side of the House question, time and time again, why the government is doing what they are doing, because it's different from what they said they were going to do.
For example, we will pass the budget in its entirety - that was announced during the campaign. Immediately upon getting into government what did they do? Start cutting it up and cutting out things they felt were not important - like the Mayo school, for example - and cancelling a lot of contracts. It's just with pressure from the community that we got it back on track, and things may take place later this spring.
Other things that are important to very low-income people, such as the SA rates, for example - that's not being implemented in the budget here. The Minister of Health and Social Services is not implementing that part of the budget, so they are not, in my view, true to their word on that. We do not see increases - that two percent, those small increases - to SA rates around the Yukon. People were expecting it and wanted to see it retroactive. It did not happen.
What we did see, though, is the Liberal government coming forward with a supplementary budget, and we have a $500 million budget already - the biggest supplementary budget ever introduced in this House - that builds a bigger government. And that was their input to the economy and creating jobs, Mr. Speaker.
The 6.4-percent increase in O&M - something they always disliked when they were in opposition, saying that O&M was bad and capital was good. All of a sudden they did not use their Liberal philosophy on that and they are developing a supplementary budget that it is truly reflective of the opposite.
We on this side of the House are wondering who is running the show on the government's side, when we see that type of increase in a supplementary budget to make government bigger.
Now, Mr. Speaker, we have a Liberal government here that introduces a bill that reflects what was in the budget - long-term planning in the budget presented by the NDP. It was voted against by this Liberal government. They voted against it; they did not like that decrease. I don't know what they have seen - they were going to get into hot water if they did not pass this and introduce legislation to reflect the two-percent and up to 12-percent decrease in the income tax.
It was not a Liberal initiative, like the members opposite had said; it was brought forward by the NDP. It was a very strong direction that came from the communities and, right across Canada, you have seen a similar trend in many places. So, the members opposite cannot say that this was not done. As a matter of fact, the budget, which was introduced by the Liberal Party, still has the original ministers' names on it. I would say that that's pretty unusual - having ministers' names there who cannot defend the budget on their own, although we would like to if we could.
What's taking place now, is this Liberal government is finding ways to cut initiatives out of that budget. They will save as much money as they possibly can for the spring sitting and they will have a very big surplus - a very big surplus and what we'll have is a reduction in income tax across the Yukon Territory. The Liberal government will introduce a very big budget in the spring. I will say that they will be forced to bring forward, again, the many NDP initiatives that were laid out in the budget because the general public is basically out there telling them that this is important. I do hope that those issues coming out of rural Yukon are supported by this Liberal government.
So, Mr. Speaker, I'm glad that the Liberals are basically taking the initiative the NDP laid out and are carrying it forward and having that reduction and additional dollars - the percentage increase to 25 percent. Of course, those again are not new initiatives put forward by this Liberal Party. But, Mr. Speaker, it does mean a lot to Yukoners, and I do hope that we get a unanimous consent on this and not have a division on the government side on this particular bill, because, Mr. Speaker, they did vote against this bill and this initiative once already. It might just happen again, and I hope that we do have unanimous consent on this.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, at the outset I want to tell the House that I am in support of this Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2. I do have some reservations as to how we've come from the start of this process to probably unanimous support of this amendment in this House, and I'm very much concerned with the behaviour of this new, novice Liberal government with respect to this income tax act.
At the outset, one would have thought that they would have honoured their campaign position of adopting the previous NDP budget in its entirety. Well, Mr. Speaker, that is not the case. That's what was said in public. Reality was something else. They chose to ignore many aspects of the NDP budget. They chose to cherry-pick a number of areas in the NDP budget and to proceed with some of the initiatives, but not all.
And it would appear that this new Liberal government has created more of a division in Yukon and created two Yukons, and has amplified that to a great degree, Mr. Speaker, in that we now have rural Yukon, or the rest of Yukon, and Whitehorse.
When one looks at the capital budget and at the capital expenditures, if the initiative were in Whitehorse and it went overbudget by half a million dollars - like Hamilton Boulevard, it is passed and approved with no fanfare whatsoever. But if it were an initiative in rural Yukon, like the Mayo school, it is badly needed and is probably threatening the health of quite a number of students there and is a half a million dollars overbudget - that project is cancelled.
When we start to look at other areas in the supplementary budget - a $37-million budget - it translates into a 6.5-percent increase in the O&M cost of government.
We currently have - and it's continuing to escalate - the largest O&M budget ever in the history of the Yukon. It is the largest O&M budget ever.
Government is spending more money on itself than ever before. The economy ain't what she used to be and she's getting worse. It's going backwards at an alarming rate. And all we hear - probably the best analogy is that we have a whole bunch of Liberal plant food coming out of the mouths of the government of the day, which is doing nothing to generate economic stimulation here in the Yukon. It's doing nothing whatsoever.
Speaker: Order please. I find the remark by the member to likely be insulting and of a nature likely to cause disorder - the comment about the plant food.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: I don't know how we can, in parliamentary language, explain it any closer to that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I thank the Speaker for the ruling, Mr. Speaker, but if I were to call it what it actually is, you would call me to order. But this is kind of a round about way of explaining the realities of the situation, and I thank you for the latitude that you have allowed me. We will find another approach to this situation.
If we start looking at what we are seeing coming out of this government, it's not very much to stimulate the economy, not very much indeed. Yes, we are going to be receiving a reduction in income tax rates, but why isn't it the full amount at the onset as was promised by the previous government? It's amazing how things change after a government comes into power versus before, Mr. Speaker. We do not have any quarrel with the mining tax credit. This is a very good initiative, but we have virtually scared all the mining out of the Yukon. They are gone and they are not coming back. And the minister, today, even in Question Period, failed to answer a series of questions around the simplest of things, of buying out mining claims in the new Asi Keyi Park. Prior to that, it was, "Buy out the claims in Tombstone." Now, I guess because of the cost, we can't even look at buying out the claims in this new park that was just created with the full knowledge of the Premier. She knew in August; she had to have received a briefing on it.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The hon. Premier, on a point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Once again, the member opposite is making a statement that can be disproved and which I have stated in the House is not the case. And this is such a fundamental point, Mr. Speaker, that I would encourage you to ask the member opposite to withdraw those remarks pending your ruling tomorrow. This is a very important issue where the member opposite has accused me of, in essence, lying to the House, which is a very, very serious accusation, and one that I find very offensive. You will be ruling on that matter tomorrow. I would ask the member to not use those remarks until you have ruled.
Speaker: The leader of the third party, on the point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, it has been recorded that the Government of Yukon met in August and was briefed by the federal land claims negotiator and by their own land claims people as to the issue surrounding this park. It's a matter of record. One of the negotiators, Mr. Jim Bishop, Ottawa's chief land claims negotiator, made a point and fielded questions about the park. He said that his statements are on the record with respect to this. The bottom line is the Government of Yukon was fully briefed in August as to the issue surrounding the creation of this park. They had to be briefed. No one raised any additional concerns at that time, and the project went forward as it was previously envisioned.
Had there been concerns raised at this time by this new Liberal government, things could have been changed. They weren't, Mr. Speaker. That's a matter of public record.
Speaker: Hon. Premier, on the point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it is not a matter of public record. What is a matter of public record - and the member opposite would be very well-advised to examine the transcripts from the media interview - is that it has been clearly stated that this was not a Cabinet decision by this government, nor was there a briefing of this government or this Premier on that issue. The member opposite should examine the facts of the matter. I would encourage that, as a public Legislature, this requires a discussion of the accurate public facts, not the interpretation of the member opposite, particularly when the member opposite is calling into disrepute the reputation of a member of this House.
Speaker: This is certainly not an easy matter for me to rule on right now. I would again like to take it under advisement, so that I can review the records and come down with, I hope, a common-sense decision tomorrow. I would ask the members to please be judicious in their choice of words, and to try to keep the House going along in a manner so as not to create disorder.
With that, I would ask the member to continue.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, the fact is that this Liberal government, acting in collusion with their federal counterparts, are doing everything to scare away mining and mining activity here in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker. It's a constant, and it has been ongoing for a considerable length of time, and it continues to this day.
On the other hand, this government is attempting to throw out a small olive branch in the form of a tax credit for mining investment. On the other hand, they're carving out huge tracts of the Yukon and alienating the ability of the mining community to even enter within lines for the purpose of exploration or staking claims. And that's all being conducted in secret - in secret. It is an arrangement between the Yukon Liberals and the federal Liberals. So on one hand, our party and I welcome the tax credits for the investments of the mining community; but on the other hand, Mr. Speaker, the playing field has to be level and consistent. These arrangements made behind closed doors to the detriment of the mining community are going nowhere - nowhere whatsoever to make Yukon an attractive place for the mining community to come and explore and develop a mine. That is the reality of the situation. And this Liberal government, Mr. Speaker, is only paying lip service to the mining community.
They've taken every opportunity and every initiative to scare them away from the Yukon. It doesn't matter if we go back to the gold show and the first visit of Mr. Nault, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. The message he gave to the placer mining community specifically at that time was very, very definitive, and in a subsequent meeting that the Premier had with mining officials in Vancouver, she made it abundantly clear that Minister Nault was persona non grata in the Yukon.
All I can get out of the Premier of the Yukon is: check against delivery. But the reality of it is that that is what is transpiring here in the Yukon today. The Liberal government and the Premier throw us out a small olive branch on one hand to the mining community and then, with one fell swoop of the other hand, carve out tremendous tracts of lands and alienate it from the mining community. And, more appallingly, no notice is given.
And then, Mr. Speaker, to double the whammy, the minister stands on the floor of the House and says that she had no prior knowledge, that all the arrangements for Asi Keyi park were made with the previous government, that they didn't know anything about it. Well, if she didn't, it's a sad day for Yukoners. That makes it abundantly clear that the minister wasn't doing her job and wasn't being currently apprised of where the land claims negotiations were and probably did not even attend her briefing. If she was there, she didn't understand what was put forward.
Now, I'm sure that the opposite prevailed. I think the minister was very well-briefed, because I have a lot of respect for the land claims department here in the Government of Yukon, and I'm sure the Premier was well-briefed and well-informed as to this initiative and where it was. She chose to ignore it, Mr. Speaker. She chose to ignore this very important initiative. I find that appalling.
Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day, the uncertainty surrounding the next park in the Yukon and when it's going to be created is further alienating the mining community.
We are pretty well sure, Mr. Speaker, that Wolf Lake will be the next federal park here in the Yukon. That appears to be fait accompli. When the announcement will be made, I do not know.
What I suggest, if we want to stimulate the economy here in the Yukon, is that we give a contract out to the carpet layers, the floor layers here in the Yukon, and we could probably carpet the remaining part of the Yukon that's not withdrawn from staking by one way or the other, because there wouldn't be very much land left, Mr. Speaker, and we could give a few workers gainful employment this winter.
Right now, we are at an impasse. If the economy continues to go backwards at the rate that it is, by next spring we will have to import a work force to meet the growing needs that usually come with each spring. There will be a few construction projects. The visitor industry - if you look at the hiring practices of the major tour company that operates a series of hotels in the Yukon, its hiring practices are currently to hire in Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and the Lower Mainland, bring them all up for the summer and then ship them all back come fall. And that will continue and accelerate.
So why do we need a reduction in the income tax? Because most of these people are filing income tax somewhere else. But I do welcome the reduction in tax rates that will be paid by the remaining few Yukoners who are gainfully employed and who contribute to the taxes of Yukon and, indeed, Canada.
It is interesting to note that virtually the same act, with some amendments to it when it was presented in the House previously, was voted against by the Liberal government when in opposition. Once again, we witness a tremendous flip-flop. In opposition it is always no good. And I refuse to take that tack, because there are some areas that are very beneficial and very good. I believe that, in opposition, when we hold the government accountable, we should always make mention of some of the areas that they are doing a good job. But I can find very few today, Mr. Speaker. And there are getting to be fewer and fewer as this government goes on for longer and longer.
We could probably do much better if we had no government at all in the Yukon. If the Liberals just stayed home, things would probably go a lot better and be a lot smoother. If they didn't interfere and constantly make excuses as to why things were going backwards and why they do not know, we wouldn't have to deal with that aspect. Probably the Yukon would be much better off at the end of the day.
Speaker: Order please. The member has two minutes to conclude.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, I am going to be voting for this Act to Amend the Income Tax Act. It is going to be an act that will, by and large, be well-received by the few Yukoners who are remaining here and still working. But as to the olive branch extended to the mining community with this mining tax credit, the Premier and her colleagues are going to have to go a long, long way before any benefits will be seen to accrue to Yukon as a consequence of this initiative. That's especially in light of the very negative way that they are treating miners and virtually every other aspect that they have input to in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the Premier now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my initial comments covered most aspects of the bill. In any event, it's very simple in its principles. The bill reduces taxes for all Yukon taxpayers and for the mining industry if they conduct exploration activities. We all want competitive tax rates and a vibrant economy, and this legislation will go some way to achieving that goal.
Our personal income tax will be reduced from its present 49 percent of basic federal tax to 46 percent for the 2001 and subsequent taxation years.
Mr. Speaker, I committed to the initial tax cut proposed - it was never passed, never actually implemented by the previous government - and that we would look at the subsequent ones. We have done that. We took a good, hard look at them and the territory's finances, and not only have we brought them in, we have brought them in on time so that Yukoners will actually see a benefit this January, which is very important.
We have also recognized them in our long-term financial projections. It will increase the disposable income tax cuts of Yukon taxpayers by over $2 million a year - a substantial sum by anyone's measure, Mr. Speaker.
And the bill extends, for a further year, the mineral exploration tax credit, which was scheduled to end on March 31 of next year, and it increases the value of the mineral exploration tax credit by three percent, from 22 to 25.
Mr. Speaker, there is no question that, in the previous years, the mining exploration industry and mining industry have endured some difficulties. The most grievous difficulty at the moment is the appalling behaviour from the Member for Klondike.
The lack of support exhibited by that member for duly negotiated special management areas and part of the land claims, which he supposedly supports - however, his behaviour indicates otherwise. The member opposite's phrases and comments with regard to special management areas, the settlement of land claims, the mining industry and the behaviour of this government - I question his use of the English language. I invite you, Mr. Speaker, and members of the public to give them a very close examination.
The point of this bill before us is that personal income tax deduction tables distributed by the federal government by January 1 will reflect reductions in taxes. Mr. Speaker, the message to the mining industry has been extended. It has been clear and, what's more, the mining exploration industry has been fully in support of this government's work in terms of the exploration tax credit. I invite members' support as we invite them to clearly vote on the record on this particular piece of legislation.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, on a point of order.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I have heard consistently in this House that there have been no monies left over. I think that the Premier - the Finance minister - has inadvertently acknowledged that there was money left over. I would like to take this time to thank the minister for inadvertently acknowledging that she was left with a very healthy surplus to implement this. Thank you.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There is no point of order from the member's comments. The member is disrupting the House. The supplementary budget figures have been clearly tabled and his point of order has nothing to do with this bill.
Speaker: Order please. I find that there is no point of order.
Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Order please. Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jim: Agree.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Agree.
Ms. Tucker: Agree.
Mr. McLarnon: Agree.
Mr. Kent: Agree.
Mr. McLachlan: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Ms. Netro: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 15 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 35 agreed to
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Good afternoon. I now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: It seems the agreeds have it. We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee of the Whole will consider Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 2000-01.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 2000-01 - continued
Chair: We are now on general debate.
Office of the Ombudsman
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The change in this supplementary budget for vote 23, office of the ombudsman, is an increase of $49,000 in operations and maintenance and of $5,000 in the capital estimates. The increase of $49,000 in operation and maintenance is due to a Members' Services Board decision of June 29, 2000. The board, which is comprised of me, the government House leader, the Speaker, the leader of the official opposition and the leader of the third party, in response to a request from the ombudsman/information and privacy commissioner, recommended that this amount be provided in the supplementary budget for the purpose of assisting him to address a backlog of work in his office.
The $5,000 being provided in the capital estimates for vote 23 was intended to have been included in the main estimates. Due to a misunderstanding of the Members' Services Board direction respecting the vote 23 estimates, it was not. This $5,000 amount, which is no change from the previous fiscal year, is therefore now being provided in the supplementary estimates.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Chair: We'll start then: operations and maintenance expenditures, $49,000.
Operations and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $49,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
Chair: We'll continue then next to the Elections Office. Is there any general debate on the Elections Office?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the change in the supplementary for vote 24, the Elections Office, is a decrease of $64,000 in operations and maintenance. There's no change in the capital estimates.
The main reason for this change is that the general election crossed over the last fiscal year and into the current fiscal year. The entire cost of the general election had been budgeted for the current fiscal year. As a result of the election being called before April 1, $100,000 of the forecast total of $436,000 was spent in 1999-2000. That amount has been identified as a surplus.
Additional expenditures being accounted for in this supplementary are $30,000 to cover the costs of the by-election in the Electoral District of Faro and $6,000 in personnel costs. These personnel costs are due to the collective agreement increases and to the increase in the employer's portion of the superannuation costs. The overall result, then, is that the $100,000 surplus is being reduced by $36,000, leaving a total decrease of $64,000 in this vote.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
On Operations and Maintenance Expenditures
Elections in the amount of an underexpenditure of $64,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Elections Office in the amount of an underexpenditure of $64,000 agreed to
Elections Office agreed to
Chair: Now, to make sure - because I made an error - we will just refer back to 16-3.
Office of the Ombudsman in the amount of $49,000 agreed to
Yukon Legislative Assembly
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The increase in the supplementary for vote 1, the Yukon Legislative Assembly, totals $132,000 in operation and maintenance. There is no change in the capital estimates. The O&M increases occur in four programs: legislative services, Legislative Assembly Office, Hansard, and the conflicts commission.
Within the legislative services program, there is a $15,000 increase in caucus funding. This is due to caucus funding being adjusted in accordance with the percentage increase in the pay received by the public service - 2.25 percent on January 1, 2000, and a further 2.25 percent on January 1, 2001.
The Legislative Assembly Office program is being increased by $29,000, of which $10,000 is related to the pay increase due to public servants and $19,000 is to cover the employer's cost for employee benefits. This includes the superannuation cost increases due to higher employer contribution rates effective April 1, 2000.
There is an increase of $78,000 in the Hansard program, of which $66,000 is to cover an increase in the number of sitting days expected during the current fiscal year. At the time the main estimates were approved by the Members' Services Board, the forecasted number of sitting days for the 2000-01 fiscal year was 64.
This forecast has been revised to 73 sitting days and 11 overtime hours. This forecast is based on there having been 23 sitting days and 11 overtime hours during the past summer sitting, an assumption that the fall sitting will take no more than 25 sitting days and that there will be no further overtime hours and that the spring sitting will begin in mid-February, 2001.
The increase of $66,000 in costs due to this revised forecast, is broken down between $60,000 for Hansard production and $6,000 for television production. The remaining $12,000 being requested in this program is to cover the cost of air time distribution on the aboriginal peoples television network. This cost was not included in the main estimates, because at the time these estimates were being prepared, the Assembly was broadcast on NNBY, the APTN predecessor and there was no charge for airtime. Since that time, the Assembly has been paying APTN $240 for each hour of airtime.
The conflicts commission estimates are being increased by $10,000, from $13,000 to $23,000. This is based on information received from the conflicts commissioner indicating that his costs will be higher this year due to the extra time required of him, following an election.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, seeing the increases in a number of the areas in these departments, I was curious as to why caucus funds are fast and firm as to their allocation, and why we can't move them around internally if we have a surplus in, say, travel for the leader of the official opposition or the leader of the third party. Why can't we move that into the staffing component?
I'm not suggesting that we have an increase in the budget for the whole area. I'm just curious as to why we're not permitted to move funds around internally so that they net out the same.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the current rules are based on past practices. That would be a matter that the member should bring before the Members' Services Board.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, obviously it's not an issue that is going to be resolved by the Members' Services Board, given the frequency of its sittings. It believe that it has sat once in the last three years. I'm concerned as to why we're hard and fast as to the rules about the allocation of the funds and why they can't be moved around internally.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, during the first six months of our sitting, we have convened the Members' Services Board. If the member wishes to address this, I have no difficulty in convening a Members' Services Board meeting.
I cannot go in, as Premier, nor can the member opposite, and arbitrarily change the rules on caucus funding. Certainly, it's a question that, as leader of the official opposition, I raised as well. I suspect that it's based on past practice. The House of Commons' rules used to be very similar.
Mr. Jenkins: Even though it doesn't show an increase in the total department, in fact there will probably be a rollover or a surplus at the end of the year in the total area of caucus funding. What are the hard and fast rules that do not permit us to move that money around? What's the issue, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in every other department of the government, for example in Economic Development or in Government Services or in any one of the other departments, there are rules in the Financial Administration Act which allow the minister responsible to reallocate funds as required, just as the member opposite is suggesting.
Although I answer for the Legislative Assembly on the floor of this House for their budget, I do not have that ability. I am simply here to provide the information. I don't have the ability as minister to be able to do that. It would require a Members' Services Board meeting, and I would suggest to the member opposite that if that's what his caucus of one wishes, then bring it before Members' Services Board and, as a member, I will certainly make myself available to attend Members' Services Board meetings.
Mr. Jenkins: I certainly have to agree with the minister when she states that she doesn't have the ability, Mr. Chair, but let's move on and find out what we have to do to move that money around. In all the departments, it's the minister who can move the money from one line to another, as long as it nets out - as long as it doesn't result in an increase.
So, what is the difference between this department, for which the minister or the Premier is responsible, and any other department of the government? What's different between this department and another department of the government, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The difference is that this is the Yukon Legislative Assembly. It's not just a department of government. It's a separate precinct. It is entirely different, outside of the other departments. It is not like every other department. For example, the member opposite will note that the Speaker of the Assembly is listed as the minister. The Clerk of the Assembly is listed as in support. The Yukon Legislative Assembly is the Parliament of the Yukon. That is the difference. It is not like every other department. It is separate and distinct. It is the duly elected Legislative Assembly and the financing that supports it. The Premier, or previously, the Government Leader, answers for the purposes of debate. I am not the minister responsible in the respect of being able to move money around. Different rules apply. This isn't a separate department; it is the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I submit that it is a different department; it is the Legislative Assembly department, and the minister responsible for it is the Speaker. So, why can't the Speaker move money around if it is requested, as long as there is no change and as long as it nets out the same? Why doesn't he have the ability, the same as every other minister, to move money around within that department? What's different in the Legislative Assembly Office from any other department?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The only ability there would be for the Speaker, at the direction of Members' Services Board - and I would submit that this requires an investigation under all of the Financial Administration Act rules and everything else, to ensure that this could be done. It would require rewriting the rules of the House and so on. This is an issue for Members' Services Board and also it starts to touch on issues related to the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I'm still not happy with the response I have received. There must be something else there. Is there some statute that acts as an impediment to the movement of the funds internally?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Members' Services Board formula is set out in statute in the Legislative Assembly, such as the rate at which members are paid and so on. It's all set out in statute. There is not the ability to move money around.
Mr. Jenkins: So, in order to effect a change, we have to change the statute. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes.
Mr. Jenkins: So if one wanted to move money around within the caucus budget, what is the procedure?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Again, the member would have to go to Members' Services Board, and Members' Services Board would have to make a recommendation on changes to legislation and changes to the statute, because the statute sets out the rate at which amounts are paid.
Again, Mr. Chair, if this is an issue, I would invite the member opposite to undertake a thorough discussion with the Clerk responsible and the Speaker's office, and again, I would invite the member opposite to request the convening of a Members' Services Board meeting.
Mr. Jenkins: What's going to happen, seeing that the budgeted amount - let's say in Hansard, we're going to be underbudgeted unless we rise tomorrow, on December 5, which is the due date. Now, there is a very good chance that we might only be recessing for Christmas and New Year's and continuing this session into the new year. How is that shortfall picked up?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, if that were the case, then we would have to come back with the additional funds required in an additional vote next year. We have a budgeted amount of funds. If we are over that budget, we have to come back and ask for more.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we have a supplementary to the supplementary, but we can't move money around within that department.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No, Mr. Chair, any more than we could - well, I suppose the Members' Services Board could question official party status and could question those sorts of things. But, again, that's a Members' Services Board discussion. No, the money is set in the line items.
Mr. Jenkins: Is it in the best interest of the Legislature to conduct business in that manner? Just because something has been an established practice for so long, is that an area that's really in our best interest to be hard and fast within the total budget and not have the flexibility to move it around?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it is in the best interest that it be set out in a requirement of Members' Services Board as opposed to government acting arbitrarily. It is in everyone's best interest that the amounts are clearly set out.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I don't have any quarrel with the total amounts being set out. I just have some concerns, and I believe it should be a party function to be able to have some flexibility and move those funds around to achieve the best possible ends, Mr. Chair. And that is an area that appears to take a considerable length of time to deal with, and it's a long, drawn-out process. It kind of appears that the easiest way to proceed is just put more money into the pie. I don't want to suggest that that is the way we proceed, although on the surface that's the easiest way to proceed, given the firmness of the regulations.
I'm sure that after the Minister of Finance has a look at it, she'll certainly have to agree that the easiest way to deal with it is to put more money into it. I'm not suggesting that.
I'm just suggesting that there should be more flexibility in having the ability to move the funds around to the various areas. Are we sure that having everything as well-defined as we do currently have is in the best interest of this Legislature. And I would submit, Mr. Chair, that we should perhaps look at opening that area up and not being as firm as we currently are. Because at the end of the day you want to get the biggest and best bang for your dollar that you've expended and, at the same time, conform to the Financial Administration Act. But when caucus funds are as small as they are currently, anything one can do to enhance them and pull from other pots that one has at their disposal is in the best interest of the government.
And I'm sure that the minister is going to have the same problem, seeing that - if you want to look at Executive Council Office, her travel budget there is just about gone for the year. That's it; it's blown. I don't know how many times the Premier can go to Anchorage and Calgary, but I know there has to be a way to move some more money into that line item, rather than just pouring more money in. There has to be a way of moving the money around internally. There has to be, because there are initiatives in various fronts. And what happens at the end of the day, Mr. Chair, is that in the budgeting process, after the expense has been incurred, the department looks at how they can allocate it into the various aspects of the budget to basically make it fit. It's not a wonderful hand-in-glove relationship. It's more of a situation where we have a glove over there that is partly empty, so we'll see what we can plug into that glove.
That's where I'm coming from, Mr. Chair. I'm not getting much sympathy from the Minister of Finance, but I think that common sense will prevail at the end of the day, and we might have the ability to be much more flexible without jumping through the hoops. Because it's done in all of the other departments, and money is moved around internally, and it's done at the minister's discretion; within the Legislative Assembly Office, it's hard and fast.
It's done by statute and the ability to move it around is less flexible. Do we need that much assurance on the whole procedure and the line items as clearly defined as we currently have? I submit that we do not, Mr. Chair. I was just wondering if the minister had a position on that.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I do. It's set out for a reason. It's set out clearly in legislation and statute so that it's fair, it's clear and everybody knows the rules. If the member opposite is suggesting that we cut his caucus funding, that's a very good reason, Mr. Chair, why it should be spelled out as it is. Based on past practice and on statute, there is not the ability to move money around in the Yukon Legislative Assembly vote - there is not. Again, if the member opposite has an issue with funding, with caucus funding and the way funding is allocated, I would strongly urge that member to participate in two things - the Members' Services Board and the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Those are the two avenues through which caucus funding and caucus issues, such as privileges of members, are dealt with.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm not suggesting that we cut anything. I'm suggesting that we net out the same. That was what I stated in the initial opening remarks that I made, Mr. Chair. Nothing has changed. I'm looking that everything nets out the same. I'm not looking at taking away or adding to the pie. I'm just looking at netting out the same, but just moving the monies around.
The government must have that ability, because they can add a half a million dollars into a Hamilton Boulevard project when it's within the Liberal domain in their own riding and they want to see the project go ahead. Or, they can cut a three or four or five million-dollar project for the Mayo school. The ability is there somehow, because it's done all the time.
If we want to look at ECO, Mr. Chair, their budget for travel has just about gone for the year, but I'm sure the minister and her officials are not going to be remaining in Whitehorse for the remainder of the fiscal period. We still have almost four months remaining in the fiscal year. There is December, January, February and March. That's almost four months. We're only at the beginning of December, so there are over four months in the fiscal period, and the budget is gone. So, we have a considerable length of time there, and it would suggest to me that we're going to see an awesome supplementary.
It doesn't matter what we look at. If there's a political will to accomplish something, which there appears to be under some of the Liberal government areas - like if they want to see a park created, they can hide that and act in collusion with their federal counterparts to bury it for the time being. If they want to see the Argus situation not go to court, they can cut a side deal with the Argus people and bury that and hide it, and it will come out at the end of the day. Politically, if they want to see an initiative move ahead and there's a political will, it's done.
What the minister is saying is that, if we had the same set of rules for all the departments as the Legislative Assembly Office, ECO would be parked in their offices from now until the end of the fiscal year, until they have a budget for the next fiscal period. But we all know, Mr. Chair, that that is not going to be the case. That won't happen. The minister will probably be calling upon the Prime Minister of Canada to send the jet up here again because she can't make connections.
But she's keeping good company when she flies in the Challenger. There are only three of them in western Canada. Max Ward has one in his rental pool, and Jimmy Pattison has the other one, and if you want to check on the hourly rate of flying those little puppies around, they burn about 2,400 pounds of fuel an hour, so the fuel consumption just to fly from Ottawa up here is equal to what Dawson burns generating electricity for an entire week.
That's the reality of the day. So we can always find the money when there is a political will.
Now, the initiative that I have, Mr. Chair, is a very good initiative, which allows our caucus to be somewhat more flexible and move some of the funds around. And the official opposition are saying, "Just give us more money", and that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying, allow us the flexibility to move the money around internally. What kind of a change will it take?
Probably at the end of the day the Minister of Finance will say that the easiest way is to just give you more money. I'm not looking for more money. I'm also not looking for a cut. So I just wanted to be very, very clear on that aspect and invite the Premier to spend a little time focusing on this important area. In the not too distant future, the Premier is going to be in opposition and she is going to have to focus on it again, so it might be prudent to allow some flexibility so that she has the opportunity in opposition - probably not even official opposition, Mr. Chair - to move some of the funds around.
You always anticipate the future. Don't go outside today anticipating that it is going to be sunny and 20 degrees, because it will have a minus sign in front of it. And you have to dress accordingly. You have to anticipate what is going on. So it's probably a prudent move on the Premier's part, as Minister of Finance, to look at ways to better enable caucus funds to be moved around. That's all I'm suggesting to the minister. And the minister throws it back and says, "Can we ask the Members' Services Board to be convened and deal with it there?" Well, I've been to one meeting of the Members' Services Board in four years.
I don't know how often it's convened, but most of these boards, like SCREP, like all of them, are not convened on a regular basis. And, Mr. Chair, most of them are convened at the call of the current government. The big stick is there and Big Brother is watching, and this is the way it's going to be, and there's no other way to proceed, other than the way the government of the day wants it to proceed.
It's very, very difficult to deal with a group that advances a position like that. All of these situations are give and take, and one has to be constantly cognizant of the future. So, Mr. Chair, once again, I put it back into the Premier's lap, the Minister of Finance, and ask her to recognize what's going to be transpiring down the road and ask her if this can be dealt with in an upfront manner that would expedite the business of the House. Perhaps we could come to some agreement that will be beneficial today to opposition parties; but in the not-too-distant future, it would be beneficial to her party when, once again, they are in opposition, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Seeing no further general debate, we'll go line by line.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Legislative Services
Legislative Services in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
On Legislative Assembly Office
Legislative Assembly Office in the amount of $29,000 agreed to
Hansard in the amount of $78,000 agreed to
On Conflicts Commission
Conflicts Commission in the amount of $10,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Legislative Assembly Office in the amount of $132,000 agreed to
Legislative Assembly Office agreed to
Executive Council Office
Chair: Is there any general debate on Executive Council Office?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: This supplementary provides an overall increase of $1,261,000 in operation and maintenance spending by the Executive Council Office. This is an increase in O&M expenditures of 16 percent over the main estimates and a decrease in O&M recoveries of $7,000.
The details of the operation and maintenance increases are as follows: $187,000 to reflect the increase in salaries related to the negotiated agreements; $483,000 for employer superannuation contributions due to benefit calculation changes; $448,000 for the severance packages for the Cabinet staff of the previous government; $150,000 toward the Yukon Act legal work and public forum. There is a decrease of $7,000 transferred to capital from the aboriginal language program. In capital, the $7,000 for two computers for the aboriginal language program - this is 100 percent recoverable from Canadian Heritage.
I provided members with an overview of the supplementary estimates for Executive Council Office. I would invite general debate questions prior to moving into line-by-line questions.
Mr. Fairclough: I do have a few questions in this department. It has been laid out by the Premier that there are priorities in this department and in government and they are reflected as increases in this particular department. Again, the top priority was settling outstanding land claims. It was also mentioned in their throne speech that this was their number one, top priority. There are also increases and support for this particular line item that I see here.
I would like to know from the members opposite what work has been done to move this up as a top priority, because what we've seen from government actions is not what is said is a top priority. What we've seen are other things taking over, other than settlement of land claims.
It was said by the Premier herself that settling outstanding land claims was a top priority because it was key to increasing economic activities. To me, that's not what land claims is all about. It's not because we're in a recession and need to get things up and going on the economy side. It is to take care and look at the issues First Nations are bringing forward that are near and dear to them. Protection of some lands and putting control into their hands, of course, is the most important issue to deal with.
I've heard no mention at all in regard to implementation of land claims. There are increases reflected in here for the implementation secretariat, and to me, those who have negotiated agreements many years ago are put in a very tough position of trying to make things happen and make things work through their agreements. It doesn't fall totally on the Yukon government, of course; it's through the federal government too. But there are things in there that can be done to move things ahead, and First Nations are working hard on this, with regard to PSTAs and so on. There could be some very interesting things that come out of it - for example, in Education, and some communities may want to take over that whole department. It would be nice to get some updates as to where things are at in this House when questioned on this.
I would like to ask the member, I guess, the very broad question in regard to land claims, as to where it is and whether she can give us, again, the number of negotiations that have taken place over the past eight months and where things are at. Are they stalled with First Nations? Are they waiting for some movement to take place between them and the federal government? Is this why things are not moving? I understand there are First Nations out there who could ratify their agreements, for example the Ta'an have been sitting there for a number of years, even through our term, and have negotiated an agreement before we even got in, so it was a very tough issue for them.
Maybe she can give us a quick update on that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'll be glad to, and I thank the member opposite for the question.
There are really four key initiatives that we have undertaken to help fulfill our commitment to settle outstanding land claims. They are the common forum process, the executive management committee, the role of the chief land claims negotiator, and the First Nations relations office.
I will just speak briefly about these four initiatives. With regard to the First Nations relations office, we have built upon previous work and done a lot of this effort in-house. We have also had some contract individuals doing some work for us in this regard. The member has asked about that. This work resulted in a very successful summit meeting and there are additional initiatives planned in this area. This work, again, I would remind the member opposite, is intended to establish that process so that we can do the very good work of implementing the land claims agreements. It is apolitical work. It's intended that this First Nations relations office should live on past our terms in office.
The chief land claims negotiator - the member opposite will recall that I said that I felt that this needed to be high profile and lodged with a person very key in the department. It is at the deputy minister level. And the deputy minister has set up within Executive Council Office an executive management committee, which, as a group, does exactly what the member opposite has just asked me to do, which is review the progress on specific claims from a government/corporate perspective, and they meet on a regular basis.
The common-forum process is very key, and the member may not be aware of what has happened. Common-forum discussions are active and productive. What has happened is that the Yukon is willing to be creative in contributing to solutions without going outside the umbrella final agreement. We're not reopening quantum discussions. The intent of the common forum is to settle any outstanding Yukon issues so that the tripartite tables can fully focus on outstanding federal issues. For example, the member opposite mentioned the Ta'an Kwach'an. While there was a great deal of work done previously, the agreement was not finalized, and there are still the odd issues that are out at the table. And the intent of the common forum is so that the Yukon issues can be resolved.
So we are making good progress on land claims, and we have recognized that we still have seven outstanding land claims. We recognize that there's work to be done; however, there has also been a good deal of good work going on in the last eight months. I'd love to be able to stand here and say we've brought the two outstanding federal issues to resolution; we're still working on that, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier had said that there were four issues, I guess, that they've been working on to move this ahead, and making a change to the land claims negotiator was one of them. There have also been other movements that recently took place, and also this common forum has been established. In the view of the Premier, were those things not happening in negotiations? Were First Nations not sitting down and talking with government on these issues?
She also mentioned the intergovernmental relations and how this will move the negotiations ahead. I'm just wondering how that is taking place, since that organization is not established yet. There is no secretariat in place and that type of thing. You have some people who are still working on trying to get people onside to make sure that this is formed.
So, this is one of the key issues that has been identified by the Premier. I was wondering if she can give us an update on how that organization is now helping out to ensure that speedy negotiations of land claims take place?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: With respect to the common forum, that was not established under the previous government. What happened is I was approached to see if we could resolve the outstanding Yukon issues at a common forum table with a number of the First Nations with outstanding land claims - settle the Yukon issues. And we agreed to that. So, that offer was in August and the common forum have met and had several good meetings and are making progress.
The end result will be that there will be no Yukon issues left to resolve in these specific land claims. There will only be those two federal issues and those will be complete. That's the end result of the common forum. And that is a new initiative of this government. And it's a new initiative with CYFN, with the chiefs involved, as well.
In terms of the intergovernmental relations secretariat, there is an interim office established. And that is not just being driven solely by our government. It is also being driven by the chiefs. So, that is a process that is moving along, but it's not solely our agenda to move forward. It's a joint matter, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier said that there is an interim intergovernmental relations office being established right, but what I asked the member is whether or not the issues with those First Nations who have outstanding claims and government were taking place and resolving those issues. I believe they were. That's part of what negotiations are supposed to do; however, under the NDP, it was not called "a common forum". Meetings took place. They threw a name on it. It's not covering all the bases - it's not covering all the First Nations who have outstanding claims, so it is a forum that, I guess, is an invitation to those who have not - for example, the Liard and Ross River bands - come forward to be a part of this forum.
In moving ahead and trying to get negotiations done, it is working to some extent, but more than likely not to the extent that members opposite would like to see it happen.
I was always thinking that, in government, one can always establish avenues for First Nations to use and put support in place, but it's ultimately going to end up, as far as ratification and negotiations go, at the speed of the First Nations. I'm sure that the Premier is learning that very quickly. When it comes to a couple of big issues that First Nations feel they should stop and resolve before negotiations, then it again will be at their own speed.
So, this common forum is dealing with Yukon issues, as the member said, where there is a First Nation that has outstanding claims but has not resolved the two big issues that have been put forward out there - for example, the loan repayment.
I asked a question of the Premier in the House about loan repayment and how recommendations could be given to the Finance minister in Ottawa, treating this similar to the forgiveness of debt to one of the poor countries around the world, and we're not even focusing on ourselves here.
Has that taken place with the members opposite and the Finance minister in Ottawa?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, perhaps I could clarify for the member opposite, as I'm not certain he heard all of the information I presented. Perhaps I wasn't clear. Let me clarify it for the member opposite.
The common forum is intended to address the four First Nations who have outstanding land claims and who, contrary to what had been previously stated in this House, still felt that there were Yukon issues at the table. So, of those four - those four being Ta'an Kwach'an, Kluane, White River and Carcross-Tagish - we're making sure that, at the common forum, there are no Yukon issues left on the table. That's the purpose of the common forum.
The purpose of the intergovernmental relations office is to work with all First Nation governments on a government-to-government basis.
What we have in the Government of Yukon, as the member knows very well, is a minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services and we have a minister responsible for intergovernmental relations on a national and an international scale, but there really isn't a body or a group of officials assigned to Yukon's relationship with First Nation governments and that's what the intergovernmental relations office is to do, and that's what they're doing.
It's an interim office, because we don't want to arbitrarily say, "This is it." We want to work with First Nation governments and develop that office and have this set of operating principles that are agreed to by both parties at the table.
That's the difference between the two.
The member opposite asked me about the finance issue. When I met with Minister Martin in August, I indicated to him that this was an issue that is barring the resolution, or not helping us resolve, seven outstanding land claims.
I didn't present it to him in the context the member just said - that being, you know, you've forgiven the Third World debt, and you should forgive this. That's not the context I presented it in to the Minister of Finance. It wasn't the loan repayment that I dealt with. When I outlined the two issues to the Minister of Finance, he looked at his officials and said, "Well, the finance issue is clearly ours," to which his officials agreed. And they are interested in working with us to try and resolve that, and there are three parties at the table and we're working to try to resolve it.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I was making that suggestion to jump at the opportunity while Canada is doing this forgiveness of loans. They are First Nations; they are nations. They are senior governments that are here, and it is like a double cost to them to negotiate these claims. And I thought it would be in the best interests of all Yukoners to ensure that those dollars stay right here in the Yukon Territory. I know the members opposite would agree to that. It's just that there's an opportunity that could have been folded in as Canada goes and forgives all these millions of dollars of debt that are out there.
Now, I know about the intergovernmental relations. I know about the secretariat that has been set up. It is an NDP initiative. We've had people hired on and are still working on setting up the intergovernmental relations. I know how it works and how it's supposed to work under what I thought would be formed as a secretariat. Whether that has changed or has moved around, I don't know. But we've had several meetings with all of the First Nations on them, and we're working on issues that are of top priority to them, and that's what this forum was to be able to do. And I think that sometimes, by the looks of it, we're jumping the gun. We don't have the secretariat formed yet, although we have forums that could be dealt with under this secretariat.
So information loss could be a real problem out there in the future, and it's a precautionary thing, putting together a forum that's fine to deal with these outstanding issues. It still goes back to Cabinet, and discussions do take place on how you can move things along and move negotiations along if there is a stumbling block that comes forward.
That's what I had asked - whether it was just moved into a forum, and obviously it is.
To the members opposite, a lot of issues are being dealt with here. Are the Yukon issues close to completion through this forum with these four First Nations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: As I suspected, Mr. Chair, we are closer on Ta'an Kwach'an, White River and Kluane. There are still some issues to work on at the common forum with Carcross-Tagish First Nation.
Mr. Fairclough: Is that not dealt with through this forum? Are they land issues that we're talking about?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: In some cases, yes. The member opposite is correct. In some cases, yes, it is land.
Mr. Fairclough: The question I asked the Premier before is whether or not land quantum was being discussed within this common forum, or whether it was, basically, a side deal that's taking place. The Premier is shaking her head, saying that there is not. Can the Premier then tell us whether or not there are discussions on land quantum?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It is not land quantum, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Are there discussions about land quantum with these First Nations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No.
Mr. Fairclough: Now, we're dealing with other First Nations that are also negotiating - Liard and so on. Are there discussions on increased land quantum with them?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: In the spirit of negotiations, there may be discussions around quantum, but the actual land quantum itself will not exceed the amount spelled out in the umbrella final agreement.
Mr. Fairclough: So the answer to my question is no. There is no increase in land quantum that is being talked about with those First Nations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Not above what is provided for in the umbrella final agreement.
Mr. Fairclough: I know that there was all kinds of talk about it, particularly with Liard, looking at the whole Kaska Nation. Is that discussion not there any more in negotiations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I believe the member opposite is referring to transboundary issues, and those are separate from the umbrella final agreement discussions.
Mr. Fairclough: I am talking about Yukon lands with these First Nations, not anything outside of the Yukon. I know that there are separate talks taking place with Teslin, for example, and so on. That's ongoing. I am just talking about Yukon and Yukon land quantum.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite knows that Ross River and Liard are the only two Yukon First Nations within the Kaska Nation in discussions. The land quantum for those two is spelled out, and there has been no changes.
Mr. Fairclough: I know that there was some talk about increasing land quantum in negotiations. Now, what has been said is that there will be no increase in land quantum under the negotiations of the umbrella final agreement. And that's why I asked the member opposite whether there is something going on on the side here - a side deal of some type - to address those issues raised by First Nations.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there are no side table or side deals or side discussions that deal with the land quantum issues. No, there are not.
Mr. Fairclough: Is the Premier saying that that is not being discussed at all, that it's not an issue?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's an issue, but neither the Yukon government nor the federal government at the negotiating table are increasing the land quantum that's set out.
Mr. Fairclough: This has been raised by the Liard First Nation, has it not?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm not at the negotiating table, sitting with the negotiators. So, whether it has been raised at the Liard table or not - that may be the case. The point is that we are not increasing the land quantum that is set out. It may be raised. All sorts of things get raised at negotiating tables, but we are not increasing the land quantum.
Mr. Fairclough: Are negotiations going well with Liard?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, of course Liard and Ross River are complicated by the Kaska issues and the litigation that is underway in that particular area. So to say that they are proceeding apace, I can say that. But as the member opposite knows, having negotiated, there's nothing simple about these issues. With Liard in particular, it's complicated by the Kaska issues as well.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the Premier tell me what the possible stumbling blocks are in proceeding and completing negotiations with them? I know the transboundary stuff is one of them - but within Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Again, Mr. Chair, the issues for both Ross River and Liard are complicated by the Kaska issues and, in particular, the amount of quantum the B.C. Kaska are seeking. And, of course, there are also the issues around the lawsuits by the Kaska Dena Council. So, those are the complicating factors.
The member asked about stumbling blocks. I would prefer to use the term "complicating factors." One of them is the Kaska Dena Council.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the reason I asked the question is that I'm trying to get at what the Premier knows about the negotiations. I know that the staff is always updating government and particularly the Premier should have been updated on these things - where there are possible stumbling blocks or issues that have to be dealt with. That's why I asked about land quantum. I know that this is one of the issues that are being discussed. It is totally off the table, from what I am told. It has not been dealt with in any way by any side forums or any other manner. It is not compensated in any way by something else in the agreement, and that's why I asked the question.
I want to know where this thing is going. It was brought up. It is basically out there in the general public right now, and if the Premier is saying that it's totally off the table, then, well, if somebody asks me, I can pass on that message on, too.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I just want to be clearly on the record for the member opposite, following his comments. There is no question that questions arise around land at the table. The relationship with the land is the fundamental principle. And certainly land questions come up. But the quantum that is spelled out is what we are dealing with and what we are living up to. There is no question that various issues and questions about land arise at the negotiating table, but the amount of quantum has been spelled out, and we are sticking with that, if you will, to put it in very simple terms.
Mr. Fairclough: The question I have been asking is not what's laid out in the umbrella final agreement. The issue that has been brought forward is something that is beyond the umbrella final agreement, and that is quantum. There is a certain amount of land going to each of these First Nations, and if this comes up as a major issue, then it has to get kicked into a different forum. It has to, of course, involve the federal government. Is the member is saying that there are no discussions taking place with that at all?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: In his opening remarks, the member said conflicting things. Quantum is spelled out in the umbrella final agreement, and we are living within the umbrella final agreement. We are negotiating within the umbrella final agreement. So I'm not sure where the member is going with his questions. That hasn't changed.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, negotiating within the UFA is fairly straightforward, but if there are any additional discussions taking place, those are outside of it. Is the member saying that there is no reflection of the land quantum at all in, say, the self-government agreement that is being developed? Because that's more flexible to the First Nation.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I can provide and offer to the member, if this would be helpful to him, within some prescribed limits, a briefing on the land claims unit and where negotiations are on each specific claim.
But, with regard to quantum, self-government and the self-government discussions under each land claim do not give more land, and that's what we were talking about - land quantum. The self-government agreements don't give more land.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I understand that. I understand what the self-government agreements are about. I wanted to know whether the Premier has been looking at other avenues that may address the issues of the First Nations, and I just threw that one out there. Is that something?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Okay, I understand now more clearly where the member is coming from. At the negotiating table, we are looking at as creative an option as we can, within the umbrella final agreement, to settle the land claims. Yes, we are doing that, within the umbrella final agreement and within the mandate.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I was talking about outside the umbrella final agreement. There are a number put forward in the umbrella final agreement. That is what every First Nation is taking forward. I think there is a bit of a down side to this for the First Nations, because they're not flexible to move outside the umbrella final agreement, even though they want to and they're pushing the envelope on some of the things as much as they can.
Now, if this is an issue, the member said it was brought up and it was talked about, but you're not going to be dealing within the umbrella final agreement. Is there an agreement with the Liard First Nation to deal with this issue at another time, after negotiations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The principal issue here is resolution of the outstanding land claims and we're working toward that. If, in a post-settled land claim era, with respect to land discussions - at that point, is the government open to this? Well, certainly. That's part of good government-to-government relationships.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the Premier tell me if that type of discussion took place with First Nations? If they are open to that type of a resolution, is the Premier looking at possibly opening up the land claims agreement to increased land quantum?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No. I talked about a post-settled land claims era. Are we looking at opening up the umbrella final agreement and increasing land quantum? No.
Mr. Fairclough: I'm just trying to get at where the government is thinking on how to resolve some of the log jams that are with First Nations. In regard to land quantum, does she feel that what is laid out in the umbrella final agreement is fair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I didn't negotiate that. I've come to government with seven outstanding land claims and an umbrella final agreement. I didn't negotiate that. We're trying to work within it, and we're trying to do our best, in the four key ways that I've outlined for the member opposite, to try and bring these land claims to resolution. I can't give the member opposite any different answer than that. I wish the member would indicate what answer or what the member opposite is looking for.
Mr. Fairclough: I'm looking for solutions and what the Premier might possibly have with regard to these issues, Mr. Speaker. She didn't answer the question. I would think that, if she felt what I just said was fair, she would have just said, yes, it's fair. If she doesn't feel that, well, that's okay, too, and we'll just leave this whole thing to the side.
Now, the Premier said that there were some problems with the Liard First Nation negotiations - some of the bigger issues, the Kaska's and so on. Can she tell us what the timelines are for completion and negotiations with them?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the current mandate for the federal government expires on March 31, 2002, and we're trying to work within that mandate.
Mr. Fairclough: I would think that it would be more of a priority for this government to try and resolve that as quickly as they possibly can. To look at that end date could mean that you could tack on more years to it just by not having the drive within governments or First Nations to have it done more quickly than that.
Now I know it could be done more quickly, because it has been done. By the time you get to the negotiation table and governments on all three sides sit down and start negotiating a land claim agreement, that could be done fairly quickly.
That's why I asked the question. Obviously, there has to be time for each individual First Nation to lay out how they are going to ratify their agreements and make sure that every one of their members, wherever they may be in this world, have the opportunity to vote on whether or not they feel that this is a good deal for their First Nation.
With regard to the Kaskas, I would think that there needs to be a lot of work done, because it's not only the Liard First Nation that can vote on their agreement. The Ross River First Nation can do the same thing. If there is something in there that they don't like, then they have that veto power, unlike the Northern Tutchone or Southern Tutchone, who have done their negotiations on their own. That's why I bring this forward. I know there weren't a whole lot of issues to deal with, with the Liard First Nation. Focusing on 2002 seems to be a bit far off. Does the Premier feel that the job could be done much quicker than that - say six months or one year?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite opened up the discussion and noted several times during his remarks that these things can't be rushed. There has to be opportunity for every member of a First Nation to vote on an agreement and that we have to work on it. We are making sure that, whatever is within our ability to do at the land claims table to bring the seven outstanding land claims to resolution, we're doing it. We are trying to be creative, effective and are trying very hard to work with our First Nation partners and the Government of Canada at the table to resolve these seven outstanding land claims.
Do I think it can be done by March 31, 2002? We're certainly working toward that.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I mean, I know it's a difficult thing to get completed. Any governments that come into place will feel that once they start getting updates on what the issues are. It could be the smallest thing - community lands, for example.
I see that we could have tremendous problems in negotiating with Kwanlin Dun, for example, in the City of Whitehorse here, and what their demands could be. Maybe the Premier could give me a quick update on what is taking place with Kwanlin Dun, before I go on to the next question.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I can advise the member that the Government of Yukon, the chief land claims negotiator and other negotiators have been meeting frequently with Kwanlin Dun over this fall and have been working very hard to try and bring some resolution and put forward some ideas.
I can advise the member opposite also that, with respect to the City of Whitehorse, this is one of the items that I discussed with Mayor Ernie Bourassa, with whom I had served on a previous board but who has not been as intimately involved with negotiations as, for example, the member opposite. So we have offered Mayor Bourassa a backgrounder and information, and he is very interested in seeing land claims resolved and working with Kwanlin Dun. I know that he has met with Chief Rick O'Brien, so I feel we are making good progress with the Kwanlin Dun negotiations.
Mr. Fairclough: One of the issues the member outlined was the land claims negotiator. There has been a recent change now in having two deputy ministers in this department.
Is the Premier at all concerned about the fact that the new chief land claims negotiator is basically still an employee of the federal government? Is that not a concern?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, no. The Deputy Minister of the Executive Council Office is on a leave from the Government of Canada. He is employed as a deputy minister with the Government of Yukon, and it is also not new with respect to having more than one deputy minister working within Executive Council Office. What is new is the role of associate deputy minister in that department. That is new, and that's in order to ensure that the deputy minister has the ability and time to deal with and focus on the land claims negotiations, to fulfill the role as chief land claims negotiator.
Mr. Fairclough: Is there an increase in duties in the Executive Council Office?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No, there has been no increase in duties in Executive Council Office, if that was the question.
Mr. Fairclough: There's no increase in responsibilities that the Premier has in this department?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There's no increase in responsibilities in the list of duties. There's certainly an increased emphasis in that we have increased the emphasis on settling seven outstanding land claims and have organized the unit in that regard. We have also increased our efforts to ensure that devolution discussions are completed and also that we are prepared for devolution.
Chair: The time being 4:30, do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on the Executive Council Office. I believe Mr. Fairclough had the floor.
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I was asking the Premier about the increased duties of the Executive Council Office and it sounds like it's basically the same thing. I haven't seen any changes in its structure. Its responsibilities are still basically the same.
There always has been an increase or a lot of activity, for example, in the land claims side and negotiations and so on. The staffing and so on are still there. I was wondering about the duties of the minister in charge. There appears to be no increase in that sector. Maybe the Premier can tell us then why another deputy minister would be hired for this department?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, during the NDP government's reign, there was a deputy minister who focused attention on the Yukon Act negotiations and discussions. That deputy minister worked out of the Executive Council Office. It is not unusual for there to be an associate deputy, which is what we have now. We have given the position a clearer title - associate deputy minister. It's not unusual to have an individual within the department taking on some specific priorities and emphasis in that department at any given point in time.
Mr. Fairclough: What are the reasons for the increase - to focus a lot of attention on negotiations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, is the deputy minister position a temporary one?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the deputy ministers serve at the pleasure of the Premier.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I understand these are duties in regard to negotiations. She could maybe clarify herself on the last comment there, but in regard to negotiations and the duties of completion of land claims, does the Premier see the position of this additional deputy minister disappearing?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, I thank the member opposite, because this gives me an opportunity to state for the record how much I appreciate the work of the deputy ministers' community as a community, how supportive they are and how much I enjoy working with the very strong professionals that are there. With regard to the future, I, too, am very excited about the day when we can all look to the seven outstanding land claims and realize they've been settled and signed. I certainly hope that happens in the near future.
The member opposite asked if I anticipated the associate deputy minister's position no longer being there once the land claims have been signed. It depends on the emphasis of the government. It may be that there are other challenges before us at that time with the devolution files. So, it's difficult to predict.
Mr. Fairclough: I can understand wanting to move things ahead more quickly when it comes to negotiations. I am not sure if hiring an additional deputy minister would do that. I guess the proof will be in the results. I want to know whether or not the additional work that has been done by the deputy minister is really needed. The Premier has other responsibilities, and I feel that she has taken on a very big workload.
The reason why I am asking these questions is that I am not sure whether the Premier is fully updated when it comes to these very important and top priorities of government, like negotiations. For example, the newly formed park has taken place. It was looked at again by this government, and no changes were made from the previous government, and a park was developed out of these negotiations. Are the other duties that the Premier has interfering with this type of work?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: I expected that answer, Mr. Chair, but I do believe that there are many things that have taken place and these agreements that have been negotiated are brought forward to government's attention and, in this particular case with the new park, have been reaffirmed by the government opposite, and I don't believe the Premier was fully updated in that regard.
There is an increase in this department in intergovernmental relations, and this is also one of the issues that the Premier said will help move negotiations along - maybe implementation, too, but negotiations in particular.
I know that there was one position that was developed when we were in government, and I notice that there is another position shifted toward it and others that are moving or have moved in support of the secretariat that could be formed. I don't know. Maybe it's a different name that the Premier is using now, but there are about three people who are fully focused on increasing the relationship with First Nations and we have a $56,000 increase. Is that the total to date? Will we be seeing an increase in that line item? I should think there would be, once a secretariat is formed, but what about just in regard to the personnel we have now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member can anticipate a new line item for a First Nation relations office in the Executive Council Office, and that's the public service end of our intergovernmental relations.
The secretariat is funded by the Executive Council Office and is supported by CYFN as well. It's independent, if you will, of government, in order that there is an opportunity for the relationship between the Yukon government and Yukon First Nations to build. So they are really two separate and distinct functions.
Mr. Fairclough: Has the structure changed at all from what has been proposed by the NDP?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes, Mr. Chair, there was a visioning exercise conducted by the previous government, and there was a contractual obligation entered into. Since that time, there have been changes in the government, there have been changes at the First Nation chiefs' level. The direction to the secretariat has been strengthened by our government and it has been asked to focus in a number of areas, and the direction has also been given by chiefs themselves.
Mr. Fairclough: So the overall framework of the secretariat hasn't changed. I know that governments come and go, and there are new members and new people on the list, but what has been developed? Has the framework at all been changed?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's still under construction. We, as a government, have put forward some initial ideas, and the Grand Chief and chiefs have made some suggestions as well. They are still bringing those forward to us. So the framework that the member alludes to is really under construction.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I know that there were a lot of discussions with First Nations in developing what the secretariat is to look like, and there were agreements between chiefs and so on on how to move ahead and how this whole secretariat can work. Does the member know what the changes are, and can she enlighten us about how this is improved or made better?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the best way to describe the changes for the member is that there is still an area where we're building, in terms of how the secretariat should work between First Nations, governments and us, and between the chiefs and us. There is a bit of working through solutions to ensure that the framework works, as opposed to a flow chart on a piece of paper that I could hand to the member opposite and say, "This is how it works." We're still working through that.
Whatever the framework ultimately is, it will be a joint decision between the chiefs and the government.
Mr. Fairclough: I'm trying to get an understanding of what was developed, what was worked on by chiefs and by the government in the past, what has been proposed and whether these changes are causing a delay in setting up the secretariat. And the member said that there is still an area where government is working with First Nations. My concern is that this secretariat may get shuffled back there and not have the impact that it should; for example, even the forums that are being developed right now could be the result of the secretariat. That direction could be given to resolve many of those major issues. I'm just wondering where and who proposed the changes to this whole framework? I'm not talking about the details; I'm talking about the framework that was put forward.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I think the best way to describe this for the member opposite is to explain the situation and perhaps that will help clarify it for the member.
The chiefs and ourselves, as a government and the previous government, had asked and have asked one of the very, very well-respected former chiefs to take on the role of making this idea work and how it would work best for everyone. That is a role that that particular individual is fulfilling, and it's fair to say that I have certainly had many discussions with this individual, as have others, and I've had some individual discussions with First Nation chiefs.
As a whole, we as a government and the First Nation chiefs have had an initial meeting to discuss the secretariat, and we are meeting again to fine-tune the discussions that this liaison person has had and to finalize these discussions in January. So, it's making progress. It's not being held up by any one individual. There's no massive change in direction. It's a matter of working to try and further develop, enhance and refine ideas to ensure that they work to the benefit of all the parties.
Mr. Fairclough: The hiring of an individual to go around to First Nations and try to get them more up to speed about what the secretariat really means and what it is was key to making sure that the secretariat gets set up. There were commitments from government to fund the secretariat and for First Nations to be kicking in some monies into this secretariat. Is that still the agreement?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It is still the intent that this should be jointly resourced, yes.
Mr. Fairclough: What portion of the costs of the secretariat are the First Nations putting in? What percentage?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Right now, Mr. Chair, we are funding this initiative and asking this individual to continue on with the very good work. It is independent. Although it is funded, it is with the understanding and appreciation of both governments - First Nation governments and the Yukon government. The future funding, et cetera, and future resourcing of this are subjects for further discussion.
Mr. Fairclough: I wasn't talking about the monies that YTG has put in to work on getting information out to First Nations with regard to the secretariat. I meant the secretariat itself. There have been commitments by First Nations. I wanted to know what the percentage was that they would be kicking in for this.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: That is why it is an interim secretariat at this point. Right now we are funding this position. It is a subject for further discussion. Although the member opposite is talking about the public service function, right now we are funding the interim secretariat.
Mr. Fairclough: When was the interim secretariat developed?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the individual in question - those contracts were initially entered into by the previous government. I don't have the contract in front of me as to what date they entered into it. I know that I was first advised - because this is such a non-partisan approach that has been adopted, I was first briefed on this in, it seems to me, January of this year. But I'll double-check my own notes on that and I will double-check back on the previous government's contract registry to find out when the contract was first entered into.
Essentially, the initial contract dealt with consultation around the summit secretariat model and the next contract is focused on bringing it into existence. The first contract we entered into was May 16.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I have not heard any announcements about an interim secretariat. I know there was a position hired to move things along and there was no development of a secretariat then.
When was the agreement finalized between First Nations on the interim secretariat? And where is it housed right now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's independent of government. We're trying to work with First Nation governments on this. In the way of establishing relationships, it's best if this be independent of government. Our first meeting toward the summit was - the summit was held in October.
Mr. Fairclough: October of this year? Yes. And at that time, was a decision made that an interim secretariat be developed and established?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It was agreed upon at that point in time that the work and effort would continue and that we would be meeting again in January. The interim, if you will, applies at that point.
Mr. Fairclough: It sounds like there is no interim secretariat. There are positions posted now.
I would think that if there were an interim secretariat set up, it would be major news for Yukon. It would be major news for Canadians, because this isn't done anywhere else. This is a unique move by governments on all sides and I'm sure the Premier would have announced this if there were an interim secretariat set up. That means that there is a structure that is being used to deal with First Nation issues, but right now there isn't. Is there not an interim - is that just a wrong choice of words? Maybe you can clarify that for me.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The point is that there has been a very well-known, very skilled individual who has asked to undertake the development of a First Nations summit and secretariat. The summit was held in October. It was agreed upon at that point and time that that individual's very good work would continue and we would be meeting again in January.
This is a very good initiative and the member opposite is quite right; we lead the country in so many ways in terms of relationships with First Nations, and this is but one of them. It is unique. We're not shrieking it from the hilltops or putting it in a press release, because the work isn't done yet. It's ongoing.
Mr. Fairclough: In other words, it's not an interim body?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, for the sake of argument, if in January, the chiefs and the government members decide that we want to go down a different path, or construct some other form of secretariat, or that we don't like the format proposed, which I think is highly unlikely - I think there has been some very good work done on it to date by the chiefs and by ourselves - at that point in time, we'll see where it goes.
Until such time as there are final decisions made by the chiefs and by ourselves, it's an interim. We're working on a model. If that should become the final model, then the use of the "interim" word is quite absolutely correct. If it's not a final model and we decide to go down a different path for a secretariat, well, the person still has been working on this. So, I think that we're arguing six of one versus half a dozen of the other. The point is that there's an individual doing very good work in this area. The member opposite has been offered a briefing by the individual on this and can be fully apprised of all of the details. Again, this is a non-partisan issue.
It feeds all governments. It's something that I hope will live on, past our government and the next and the next and the next. It's a good initiative, and I would like to see it reach a conclusion.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, it is a good initiative. It was on the hard work of the NDP that this came about. We had close discussions with chiefs, and we have had three very good meetings that I can recall on developing what the secretariat should look like. That was the focus, that this was what was going to be developed.
So, what you are saying now is that there is an interim secretariat. For clarification, I would like to know what that is. If somebody comes up to me on the street, I would like to say that it's done. Maybe you can outline what the structure of the secretariat is.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the secretariat will only finally be in place when the chiefs agree on the model and when we agree on the model. The member opposite has said - and quite defensively and short with me - that it was all a result of the good work of the NDP. No one has denied that the NDP has worked on this.
My response to the member opposite has been that the work is continuing, and it's not done yet. That has been my point.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, part of the problem, Mr. Chair, is getting people up to speed about what the true understanding of the secretariat is and what its mandate is. The members opposite said that there is an interim secretariat. I'm very interested in it because it's something that I think will work for all of the First Nations. So, if it is, who agreed to an interim secretariat? Is this a pilot project or trial run? Did the chiefs agree to this?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes.
Mr. Fairclough: So is the member saying it's a pilot project?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm saying for the ninety-third time that a fully functioning working secretariat, as per the model that has been discussed, is only going to be achieved by this government when First Nation chiefs agree and when there is agreement between both parties. There was agreement in October that we would continue with the work that we're doing - that we could continue with the model as proposed. We're still working on finalizing and nailing down that model. Until it's final, it's interim. And the chiefs have agreed, and we have agreed, at the very good, productive summit meeting that that's what we would do.
I don't understand where the member's going with these questions.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, all I want to know is whether there is a secretariat formed, and the member's saying there is. There's a structure in place, people hired, staff working, and so on. And you'd think that she would announce that.
Maybe it's catching some of the other Cabinet ministers and caucus members off guard to say that it's an interim secretariat. The secretariat could be dissolved at any time if things don't work out, and I'm sure the chiefs are going to voice that. So really, it's basically interim anyway. It could be something that's established forever once it gets legislated in this House, but the members opposite said it was interim. It's going to do a trial run and it is a pilot project.
I haven't heard the chiefs talk about it. In my riding, for example, I've got three First Nations that have final agreements, and I haven't heard them mention once that we have an interim secretariat in place.
Now this is big news and nobody is talking about it. The government is not talking about it. I asked when it happened. August, July, this summer - I don't know. This is really big news and should be put out there as the biggest accomplishment that this government has ever done to date and probably in the future.
So I guess the Premier doesn't seem to have a full understanding of the secretariat. If you're calling it interim right now and it isn't, just say it isn't. And there are people still working on developing this with First Nations. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have a full understanding of what we are trying to accomplish here. The member opposite is trying to suggest some kind of ulterior motives or trying to suggest that we are not aware of it. Our caucus is fully aware of this. Our caucus as a whole attended the First Nation summit. We are not restricting it to Cabinet ministers; our whole caucus attended.
And as far as issuing media releases and so on, I don't know why the member is - I don't think any government has been in a practice of issuing media releases on this particular subject. Certainly the member opposite has said that it is all the NDP's work and it's all the NDP's idea. I can't recall them ever issuing a press release.
What I can recall is that the individual who was contracted to put this in place and to work on this particular issue took the opportunity and the time to brief me, as leader of the official opposition, on the non-partisan aspect of this, which I took to heart and believe in. I believe that the best functioning for this would be non-partisan, apolitical, if the member wishes, with the objective being to find a methodology to strengthen Yukon government to First Nation government relationships. That's what we are trying to do. A secretariat is the model that is proposed.
In October, the chiefs and this government - and that includes all the caucus members - agreed that we would continue to work on this, including the three First Nation chiefs whom the member opposite is so well acquainted with.
Mr. Fairclough: If this were important news, I'm sure the Premier would have at least made a ministerial statement that probably would have qualified as a ministerial statement in this House, Mr. Chair. And if this were a decision made by the members opposite, they should at least inform the First Nation chiefs so they know that there is an interim secretariat.
Of course, there should be better relations with First Nations, but the secretariat is set up to deal with issues and to resolve them jointly, whether they are heated discussions on both sides and whether or not there are good relationships. That's what the secretariat is supposed to be up and running for.
It's interim. Where is it housed right now? Where is the secretariat housed?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, right now the contractor works out of Closeleigh Manor.
And I would remind the member opposite that I cannot recall his former leader making a ministerial statement on this particular issue. The member went on and on about how it was an NDP initiative, which I have never disagreed with. The point is that this is apolitical. This is government to government. I do not recall Minister McDonald making political statements about it.
Our statement has been that we are continuing this work. We have continued with the contractor and contracted that individual to continue the consultation and to bring the model into existence. That's what "interim" means.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite disagrees.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I would think that, if you're going to give something a trial run, you know what the structure is and the fact that it's agreed to by all sides. The member has not said that there was a structure agreed to.
Is it still not agreed to? It's not interim.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fairclough: So, there is no structure that is set up as a secretariat. There isn't one. What you have are some people working to make sure that it does get set up. So, there is no interim secretariat, and I don't know why the member opposite would call it that, if it isn't. Why isn't everyone else calling it an interim secretariat? I'm sure the media would love to know what the structure is and how issues are now funnelled through the secretariat and resolved.
Okay, we have an interim secretariat. Have many issues been brought to the table? How is the structure set up to resolve this?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it hasn't been formalized. We're working toward formalizing it. We are working toward ensuring that this body is in place. Until it is formally in place and a formal structure is agreed upon, it is an interim structure, and we're working through it. And we're working through it with the agreement of the First Nation chiefs.
It's the subject of good government, and it's the subject of good working relationships. It's not the subject of a battle in the media. Again, the member opposite has been offered by the contractor and by myself - at my request, I have asked the contractor to offer the member opposite a briefing, and I would ask him to take advantage of that.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the NDP has been working to develop the secretariat. Until such time as it is agreed to by First Nations, then you can do announcements. Now, if an interim body is already set up and monies are flowing toward this, and First Nations are kicking money into this interim secretariat, then make the announcement. If there isn't one, then don't call it an interim secretariat, because it is not.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, the member opposite is arguing about semantics. The member opposite refused to allow me last week to refer to him as the interim leader of the official opposition. He has not yet been voted in by the party, and yet his House leader insisted I use the term "leader of the official opposition". This is no different. It's an argument over semantics.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, I have never heard so much bunk in my life as what the Premier of the Yukon is raising on a point of order. There's no point of order. It's just a dispute between members. Can't we get on with the debate? Just because the minister doesn't have the ability to answer the questions, she rises on a point of order.
Chair: Mr. Fentie, on the point of order.
Mr. Fentie: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, there's a distinct difference between the leader of a political party and the leader of the official opposition, the leader of the third party. The Premier, the Government Leader - that's exactly what you are; that's exactly what the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is; that's exactly what the Member for Klondike is. It's a different story when it comes to political parties outside this Legislature.
Furthermore, it's obvious that under this Liberal government watch, there is no progress in government-to-government relations with First Nations, which makes the situation even worse.
Chair: On the point of order, there is no point of order. This is a dispute between members. Thank you. Please continue.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I'm not getting any clear answers from the member opposite. I would like to know - and maybe she doesn't have the answers in front of her right now, but if there is a body set up, please let the general public in the Yukon know, because this is very big news. It's not done anywhere else; this is pretty important stuff. And if I can go back to my constituents and tell them what's being developed and lay out how things will flow, then let us know, and I can relay that message.
I hope the member does get up to speed on this secretariat, because I don't believe that she has all the facts in front of her.
I know that the people are hired and know what their jobs are. I know they are working to develop this. But I don't believe that there was a body that was set up as an interim for a pilot project. It's just not there. I don't see any monies flowing to First Nations to fund this body. Neither was it a line item in the supplementary. If it were done, then I am sure that it would have been reflected in there.
In regard to devolution, I'll move that up. I know the member may want to get back to me in writing on this. I have to say that the person that she has hired, who was hired on by the NDP, is quite capable of carrying out that task for the betterment of better relationships in Yukon with First Nations. I am hoping that we do have a secretariat that is up and formed and that is reflected in the spring budget that is coming up. I'm sure things could be moved that quickly. I have not heard opposition from the Premier on the secretariat itself. I think that it is a pretty important body in resolving issues between governments - First Nation governments and the Yukon government.
In regard to devolution, now that the federal government has been re-elected and has a fairly big majority and they said that they would be recalling the House of Commons, is devolution still off the table for another year? Is that not one of the items that will be pushed through the House?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: For the betterment of enhanced relationships between the member opposite and me as leaders in this Legislature, may I strongly recommend, given his high faith in the individual who has been contracted, to undertake a briefing on this particular subject. I have no idea why the member opposite seems very intent on politicizing this process. It was clearly outlined to me when I was in his shoes that this is not a political issue, that this is a matter of enhanced government-to-government relationships.
With respect to devolution, this government is very committed to the process of devolution and in seeing it achieved and realized. There has been no change in our anticipation that it will now not be on the legislative calendar until, likely, the spring, but there are a lot of variables at play here. For example, the federal Cabinet has not yet been appointed. It is my understanding that that won't happen until early December, sometime in early December. There is a matter for the Christmas hiatus, in terms of direction, et cetera, and Cabinet meetings at the federal level. And toward the end of January, I would anticipate having a clearer understanding of precisely where on the timetable the devolution is with the federal Cabinet, once they've been appointed. So I would anticipate having more answers for the member opposite toward the end of January.
Mr. Fairclough: So, basically, the dates still stand, as the Premier had outlined - April 1, 2002. That date still stands, but is she saying that it could be bumped up?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No, Mr. Chair, because the realistic dates for the transfer of devolution are at fiscal year-end for the federal government and us. It's unrealistic to have it happen on April 1, 2001, so April 1, 2002, is a very realistic, very achievable time frame, and that's what we're working on.
What I'm saying to the member is that nothing has changed since I last updated the House on this particular issue. And furthermore, should there be any sort of updates or enhanced timing, it would, at the earliest, be late January before I would have any news of that.
Mr. Fairclough: It's the federal election that basically caused a delay here. Is that what the member is saying - that additional work had to be done on the Yukon Act and that details had to be worked out?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Again, as I said in my ministerial statement, the broad concepts have been agreed to, but there are details to be dealt with. As to the details in the devolution transfer agreement, there are some fine points with regard to the Yukon Act. There is some work to be undertaken by both parties. It's not signed, sealed and ready to go to Parliament. A devolution transfer agreement has to go to the federal Cabinet and it has to go to this Cabinet. There's still work to be done. It's not just the federal election. There is still work to be done.
What the federal election timing did, though, was extend the transfer date - or, what the federal election did was change the timing of the parliamentary calendar, excuse me.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, that's what I'm getting at. I know the details need to be worked out and could be worked out in regard to the act, so it was the federal election that has delayed it. This is nothing new. We have seen time and time again in regard to negotiations with First Nations that they get delayed because of elections. That's the bottom line.
You have to have the ministers up to speed and dealing with these issues, and give the proper mandate to negotiators to make sure these are carried out.
Have there been any changes with regard to the devolution package from what was put together by the NDP?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, like the other negotiating mandates, the mandate has continued, but there has been more work done. There have been more details worked out since the member was on this side of the House.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the Premier tell us where those details were focused? Was it on things like the transfer of forestry responsibilities to the Yukon? I know the big issue there was money. Was money talked about?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, when I asked the former Government Leader that question, the key issues were human resource issues, environmental liability and fire suppression. More work has been done on the environmental liability. The question was, when I was on that side of the House, was is responsible? If the environmental liability occurred on Canada's watch, Canada was responsible, and if it occurred on Yukon's watch, it was Yukon's responsibility. That was the detail that was worked out when I asked the Government Leader that question.
Where we're at now is that a negotiator has been talking about the processing of payments and how that could be accommodated. More work has been done on that. In terms of the human resource issue, there were discussions around sick leave and accommodating that transfer. The issue of fire suppression was coming to a conclusion when I was in opposition and, as I understand from my last briefing on this particular issue, has largely been concluded.
Again, I would suggest to the member opposite that devolution negotiators - because the agreement is about three-quarters of an inch thick and many of the details are discussed, I would again offer the members opposite a briefing, just as I received when I was in opposition.
Mr. Fairclough: I only have a few questions with respect to devolution, and I wanted to know where there were some improvements.
Environmental liability, when we were still in government, had been worked out - or, I thought it was, anyway - and so had the fire suppression issue, although there were still questions about the amount of annual dollars that should be coming forward and the upfront monies.
What I wanted to hear, in response to my last question, were answers to where there were more improvements or more focus. Was there a mandate to focus more on getting more dollars for fire suppression - that type of thing? That's what I asked. I basically wanted an update from where the NDP left off.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's recognized that there was still a great deal of work to be done when the members opposite left government.
Again, there are a lot of details that have been worked out in the ensuing seven or eight months, and again, I offer the member a briefing on those details.
Mr. Fairclough: It was my understanding that a lot of this was done and agreed to. So maybe the member could tell us where all this other work - she said a great deal of other work that had to be done. Where, with regard to devolution, can we see it?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Largely in those three key areas was where the additional work had to be done. Yes, the member can see it; yes, the member is entitled and most welcome to a detailed briefing on the subject.
Mr. Fairclough: The member is saying that there was a lot more work that took place with this Liberal government in those three areas. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes, Mr. Chair. The negotiators have been working on this devolution agreement. They have been working very hard since we took office. There has been more work done on reaching agreement with Canada on details around those specific areas and others, and I've invited the member again, and I would invite the member , as we received.
Mr. Fairclough: I only had a few questions with regard to devolution. I would like to know where it's at. I know that the data has been bumped back, and that hasn't changed now that the Liberals have been re-elected in Ottawa. So the date is still 2002.
The Premier did say that the Yukon government has been doing a great deal of work, and it has been focused on the human resource, environmental liability and fire suppression. And all we're trying to do is find out what the change is there. What's the change from the previous NDP? I haven't heard any. Maybe you can lay out a couple of them, and if you can't and don't have the answers with you right now, then I would like to have it in writing and tabled here to have a closer look at it. This, of course, is of great interest to me.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Let me give the member opposite an example. The member opposite may have thought that an agreement had been reached on clause xyz of the devolution agreement to deal with fire suppression. During this ensuing eight months that we have been in office, there are times when the other party at the negotiating table might have changed their mind on clause xyz and come back with a new proposal. And it's in the spirit of negotiations, which the member opposite is very familiar with, that discussions go back and forth.
What I am saying to the member opposite is that it has been largely in those three areas that discussions at the devolution table have occurred, that there has been no change in the mandate, that the agreement is three quarters of an inch thick. And where every comma and clause section has been renumbered, those details are available to him in a detailed briefing, which is far more adequate than what I can give in the House. The Member for Watson Lake shakes his head and looks disgusted. This is exactly the same answer that the previous Government Leader gave. And I took advantage of those briefings and listened and understood the devolution agreement as a result.
The DTA - devolution transfer agreement - is a large, complex document. And if I were to stand in the House and go through or attempt to write out every one of the meetings that have taken place and the negotiations in those meetings, it would be a waste of the member opposite's time. The member opposite could do as I did in his position and sit down with the negotiators and say, "Okay, where is Yukon at on this DTA now?" I am aware of where the negotiations are. I am aware that we have reached agreement on some key areas. Now, the member opposite stands up and says, "Oh well, we've reached that too." Well, positions at the negotiating table change - they go back and forth.
Our position has been maintained that we want the best deal that we can get for Yukon. And I would invite the member to review it.
Mr. Fentie: That's strange, because the minister, DIAND's minister, had signed a timeline and an agreement and an arrangement that would see devolution take place in April 2000.
Now, I would suggest that, given those three areas that the Premier is relating to within the devolution agreement itself - environmental liability, the human resource issues, and we all know what one of the biggest stumbling blocks was in that regard - and fire suppression, the chances are, given that special relationship with the Liberals in Ottawa, that we in the Yukon are going to get hoodwinked here when it comes, for example, to fire suppression, because we all know how efficient the federal Liberals are at shirking their fiduciary responsibilities. All we have to do is look back to our DEW Line situation and our environmental cleanup in the north, which the feds traded away for a bunch of used weaponry, and this same Premier stood in this House and passionately defended the federal government for that boondoggle.
So now we're heading down the same road with devolution here in the Yukon. I would suggest that one of the biggest reasons devolution has been delayed is because of the members opposite. Why didn't this Liberal government, on behalf of Yukoners, demand that the timelines be adhered to, and if the federal government couldn't deliver, why didn't this government enter into a cooperative management approach on resources and other issues in this territory when it comes to decision making? We all know how little the responses are that we get out of Ottawa in this territory. It's this Liberal government's job to protect Yukoners' interests.
So I would suggest, unless the Premier can prove otherwise, that it's the Liberal government here in the territory that has delayed devolution. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No, Mr. Chair, it's not the case.
Mr. Fentie: What's the problem? Fire suppression was all set. It had a formula; the feds were in it for another five years. What's the problem? Environmental liability was all set. Everything up to the point that the transfer takes place is federal government responsibility. And naturally, once we take over decision making, is it not our responsibility? So, what is the Premier saying? Is it that the feds came back to this government and wanted to change those areas? Okay, how did they want to change fire suppression? What's the difference in fire suppression?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Again, I offer the members opposite a briefing on the negotiators' meetings over the last eight months and the current status of the devolution transfer agreement. Again, I offer the members a detailed briefing.
Mr. Fentie: In the first place, it's this minister's job to inform this House where this particular initiative is at. If we want a briefing, Mr. Chair, I'm sure we'll take the minister up on that briefing. Our issue right now is what the minister knows, because it's the minister's job to inform this House exactly that. I ask again: what's the difference in the fire suppression arrangement that was already negotiated and signed on to? What is the difference today?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite can stand and ask me if fire suppression is on page 12 or page 44 of the devolution transfer agreement. I didn't bring that level of detail with me to the House. I am well aware of the status of Yukon and the status of the negotiations around devolution. I am not with negotiators in Vancouver, Ottawa or Whitehorse when they are signing off on these specific items. I am aware that the devolution transfer agreement has been, substantively, in the past - the opposition parties and the third party have been offered substantive briefings on the devolution transfer agreement.
As a former leader of the official opposition, and as the former leader of the third party, I appreciated those briefings. Many issues were discussed, including some completely unrelated to devolution, such as whether or not the Old Crow fire evacuation had been paid for. That was Mr. Ostashek's favourite question at the devolution briefings.
I would invite the members opposite to a full and substantive briefing on the devolution transfer agreement. What I am expected to know in this House and what I have answered is the time frame for devolution, and it is as I have outlined.
Mr. Fentie: Yes, we know the timeline is delayed.
All right, let's do it this way, Mr. Chair. The Premier just stated a few short minutes ago in this House that there are some renegotiations going on. Are the Yukon negotiators just running around like loose cannons, doing their own thing? What did the Premier give her negotiators in terms of a mandate for fire suppression if the federal government, as the Premier states, reopened that particular area of the devolution agreement? What is the mandate?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the mandate to negotiate for the devolution negotiators has not changed. Let me remind the member opposite of a few key points. I articulated these in a letter dated November 3, 2000 to Minister Nault, which I also copied to the Prime Minister. I noted that the federal government will now recognize that an April 1, 2002 transfer date is the logical choice, given the present circumstances. An April 1, 2000 transfer date was not achievable. It may have compromised the work that had been done.
Another point that I made in my letter to Minister Nault and copied to the Prime Minister was that devolution is a priority for the Government of Yukon. It's fair to say that Yukon and Canada have reached an agreement around the critical concepts, such as fire suppression, if not on most of the details.
The reset of a transfer date wasn't required to delay the completion of the devolution transfer agreement. It's merely an ability, then, to continue negotiations and include the work that they're doing. The goal is to conclude an agreement in time for consideration by the new federal Cabinet, and that's what we've been working toward, with realistic timeframes included.
The key for us as a Cabinet and a government, as was the key for previous governments - and I'm sure previous governments before that - was ensuring the best possible deal for the Yukon and for Yukon's future. That's what we've been working toward. So, the mandate hasn't changed. There was no need to change the mandate. What happens now is that once the negotiators reach a devolution transfer agreement, it goes to the federal Cabinet and then it goes to our Cabinet. And if it's not acceptable to this government, we won't agree to it.
The member opposite has chosen to focus in on fire suppression. Another example is that, at one point in time, the federal government came back with wording in the Yukon Act that was not acceptable to us. So, this is the sort of work that goes on at the negotiating table. Negotiators would come back and advise me in general terms of those discussions and also continually advise me that we're working toward resolution of issues with Canada, and that they hope to be bringing a devolution transfer agreement to our Cabinet in the near future. That is what we committed to Yukoners to work on, and that's what we're doing.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I didn't get an answer to the question. There was already an agreement in place. There was a timeline in place.
The minister informed this territory that, on a certain date, a transfer would take place. Fire suppression issues were dealt with, environmental liabilities were dealt with and an arrangement was made. That has changed. The minister's own words from a letter state that the timelines were unrealistic.
I would suggest that this Liberal government has a lot to do with what is happening on the devolution front. Therefore, we would like to find out what the Yukon negotiators are doing. Are they running around, running amuck? What are they doing? They must have some direction from this minister, who is in charge at this point in time, about what they are supposed to be doing. What has changed, where is this mandate and why did the Premier in her own letter state that the timelines are unrealistic?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, no one is running amuck. Yes, this government is in charge. Yes, we are aware of the full impact of devolution upon this territory. Yes, we are aware of how important it is. Yes, we are working on it. The member opposite is trying to build some kind of a case that is really a stretch. The member opposite would like to know precisely where we are in the devolution transfer agreement negotiations.
There was a meeting as recently as two weeks ago on this between the negotiating groups. I have not had a detailed discussion of those meetings. I will ensure that a detailed discussion takes place, and I will come to this Legislature and open the general debate on this particular department with the member opposite tomorrow, with the detailed discussions that the member opposite seems to refuse to participate in in another forum.
Given the time, Mr. Chair, I would move that you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Duncan that we do now report progress. Are we agreed?
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 2000-01, and directed me to report progress on it.
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 5:54 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 4, 2000:
Election of James R. McLachlan as Member for Faro, letter dated December 4, 2000 from Chief Electoral Officer to Speaker
Travel: letter (dated Oct. 5, 2000) to Premier Duncan from the Leader of the Official Opposition asking for details regarding travel by Ministers, political staff and private MLAs on behalf of government for the period of May 6 to October 6, 2000; request for Ministerial travel budget balances for current fiscal year
The following Legislative Return was tabled December 4, 2000:
Restructuring of the Public Communications Services, Executive Council Office: information pertaining to
Oral, Hansard, p. 463