Thursday, March 15, 2001 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In remembrance of Hector Lang
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I rise to pay tribute, on behalf of the Legislature, to a very special Yukoner.
Hector Lang is best remembered as a builder of the Yukon, using his ingenuity, his honesty and his trust. His word and his handshake meant more than a signature on a paper. Hector was a mentor to some and a supporter to many. He was a man who loved his family, surrounded himself with good friends and was genuinely concerned about those around him.
Hector and his wife Margaret came to the Yukon in 1958, where they raised their family - Mary, Heather, Archie, Danny and Sarah. They taught them to work hard and to be proud of their heritage. As time passed, their family grew to include nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In the Yukon, Hector started working as a carpenter, at the Whitehorse dam and the fish ladder. Later, he and his business partner, Gunnar Nilsson, worked hard and long to link Yukoners together by building over three miles of bridge throughout the Yukon. Some of these bridges were the South Canol, the North Canol, Macmillan Pass, Campbell Highway, Carmacks and Faro.
Hector and Marg loved to travel all parts of the world, yet what they cherished most was their home in Whitehorse. He was well-read and knowledgeable about so many things, which was very apparent to anyone having a discussion with him around the kitchen table. I remember my first introduction to Hector. I had heard his name for many years in my history here. I was out campaigning in the MacDonald industrial area and he was at H. Coyne & Son's gravel yard. He spent a lot of time there advising the Coynes about the good and bad of life.
I can remember him when I walked in. He knew who I was. He said, "Oh, here comes Don Roberts, that Liberal." Then I find out later that Hector had been a long-time Liberal when he lived in Alberta, so he and I have a spirit together.
Hector was a Navy man, a family man, but most of all, importantly, a gentleman. He will be greatly missed by his family and everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I would like to introduce at this time his family, Dan Lang, his partner Val Hodgson, Archie and Karen Lang, Hector Ian Lang, Fraser Lang, Gordy and Daisy McIntyre, and Bonnie Brett, a good friend. I would like the House to welcome them here for this procedure. Thank you for coming.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Are there any further introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have a legislative return relating to a matter outstanding from a discussion with respect to negotiations with Liard First Nation and Kaska First Nation on February 28, 2001, in Hansard, page 1085.
I have a legislative return in response to a question that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun asked on February 28. This is an oral question in Hansard, page 1087 to page 1088.
Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return relating to a matter outstanding from discussion with respect to contracts and transition costs related to Executive Council Office on November 14, 2000, in Hansard on pages 377 and 629 to 631.
Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return. On March 8, 2001, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun asked an oral question in Hansard, page 1243, regarding the Intergovernmental Relations Accord, and I have the accord for tabling.
Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return with respect to a matter on February 28. The Member for Mayo-Tatchun asked a question regarding the government reporting process, and I have the legislative return.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
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?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Oil and gas exploration bids
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I rise today to inform the Legislature about the results of our second call for bids under the Yukon Oil and Gas Act.
Anderson Resources Ltd. submitted the winning bid of $2.89 million for a parcel of land in the Eagle Plains region. $2.89 million reflects the highest value for exploration work to be undertaken on the parcel of land within the initial term of the permit.
This is the culmination of over nine months of work that began in June of last year with government-to-government consultations with First Nations. The process also included consultation with industry and conservation groups and the general public. In fact, our process for oil and gas dispositions under the Yukon Oil and Gas Act is the most open in the country.
I am very pleased that Anderson continues to look for new opportunities in the Yukon. This winning bid represents a commitment to explore and develop this area and could lead to a significant discovery in the Eagle Plains basin.
Our government has recently issued a geophysical exploration licence to Anderson Resources allowing the company to conduct seismic work on two parcels of land that Anderson selected in November 1999. The result is that Yukoners are working now in this new industry.
Today's announcement brings the total amount that Anderson has committed to spend in the Yukon to over $23 million and proves that the future of oil and gas development continues to be bright.
We are now in the planning stages of our 2001 call for bids. We have made a commitment to industry that a land sale will be held every year. An announcement will be made this spring regarding what area of the Yukon will be under consideration.
I look forward to receiving the support of all members of the Legislature on this very positive development.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: I'd like to thank the minister, the Premier, for this press release. It's obviously not a ministerial statement of government policy but an announcement. It's an announcement that we, on this side of the House, are very pleased to hear - that our oil and gas industry is continuing to develop. We are also comforted to know that the Liberal government is following through with the good work of the former NDP government with regard to the Oil and Gas Act and oil and gas development in this territory.
It's also important to note though, that announcements like this should be factual in their entirety. One of the things that jumps out is the statement that $23 million will be spent by this particular company. It should have been noted also that this $23 million covers a period of six years, and that they will only spend the full $23 million should their seismic work, which is a much smaller expenditure, prove successful, triggering further exploration for oil and gas.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, and this is a sad note, Anderson, as early as today, is screaming for a trained workforce, which is no longer in this territory. In fact, many of the trained workers in this particular sector have already gone to the Northwest Territories, to areas like Fort Liard, to seek employment, and are actively working there at this time. It is our hope that we can supply a workforce for Anderson Exploration here in the territory.
We are also very hopeful, on this side of the House, that the fruits of their labour will bear results, and our oil and gas industry will continue to grow and flourish, so that for many, many years to come, maximum benefits can accrue to this territory and its people.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise in response to this announcement. It's not a ministerial statement, Mr. Speaker.
Now, while any economic news about resource investment in Yukon is good news, all one has to do is examine what is going on in the Northwest Territories in relation to oil and gas exploration, and compare that to the Yukon. The N.W.T. is approaching $1 billion in oil and gas exploration. What's going on here in the Yukon? A few million dollars perhaps.
Mr. Speaker, it could be said that the Northwest Territories is having a massive prime rib roast, and what the Yukon is left with is a measly little meatless rib bone and we're trying to make some soup of it, and it's pretty thin soup indeed.
Let's look at the current situation. Anderson Resources has 31 people working in the Eagle Plains area, 26 of whom are Yukoners. These hardy Yukoners are cutting the 270 kilometres of line by hand on snowshoes, and the snow is pretty deep this year, Mr. Speaker. The company needs a lot more workers, so I'd encourage the Premier and her Liberal colleagues to sign up now so that they can gain some first-hand experience in the oil and gas industry and what it entails. Unfortunately, the current exploration phase is only for 60 days. After the line is cut, the surveyors will follow and then the seismic drillers. The Premier and her Liberal colleagues must be aware that it's difficult to make a living in Yukon with only two months of work.
Can the Premier, in her response, advise the House how many year-round jobs will be created overall in this new $2.89 million bid by Anderson Resources? Further, can she give a breakdown of how many jobs will be created in each category - for line cutting, survey and seismic work - as well as the duration of each category of job? This information will give Yukoners a better understanding of the job opportunities that may become available in the oil and gas industry.
Previously, the Premier indicated that there were going to be 60 jobs created in northern Yukon this winter. Does this estimate still stand, in view of the fact that there are only 31 people currently working? Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but make note of the fact that the Premier is making much of Anderson Resources spending $23 million in the Yukon, which I presume is over a four- to six-year period, whereas she completely missed the boat with regard to the $75-million U.S. feasibility study of the alternate pipeline routes, an estimated $20 million of which is slated to be spent here in the Yukon.
But it was awarded to outside companies. While Yukoners would welcome any work that they can get, including the tough job of cutting line, there will hopefully be some much longer term, permanent jobs created in the oil and gas industry here in the Yukon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, it's interesting to hear the comments from the opposition today, from the members opposite. It is interesting that the Member for Klondike, no matter how many times I provide him and the general public with information, proceeds with his own view of the world.
When our government announced the call for bids last spring, both opposition parties were opposed to us calling for bids. Now we are not making enough money from the same bids. Now we are not doing it right. The NDP and the Yukon Party are on both sides of this debate. The winning bid is close to $3 million, and it demonstrates that the industry has confidence in this government and in the common oil and gas regime in the Yukon.
The members opposite do not seem to appreciate exactly what a work proposal bid system is for our oil and gas regime. I would just like to advise them that, with regard to a work bid proposal, the way the system works is that when rights are issued on the basis of this type of bid, the company that proposes to spend the highest total amount of money doing exploratory work on each parcel within the initial term of the permit is awarded the rights. In this case, government does not receive the money that goes into general revenue, as it would if it were under a cash proposal bid. This is a very complex system, in that other governments, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, operate under a different system. Northwest Territories and Nunavut - well, Northwest Territories more so than Nunavut - operate under a different system from that.
The members opposite asked what else we have been doing and what Yukoners are doing. Yukoners are being trained to work in this industry, and I would also advise that this government has also worked very closely with Western Geco, an oil field services company out of Calgary that has won almost all of the large seismic contracts in northern Canada. We have worked hard with this company on my various, very criticized trips to Calgary. We have encouraged them to hire Yukon people. They have done that. We have been successful in that regard. And, as a result of this first successful initiative and continuing discussions, they have agreed to hire a full seismic crew capable of cross-shifting from Whitehorse.
These are Yukoners who will be working and who will continue to be Yukoners.
We are going to continue to move forward, and we are planning our third land sale, as I noted. An announcement will be made later about what area of the Yukon is under consideration.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Oil and gas industry
Mr. Fentie: Well, the evidence is piling up that it is the Liberal government that needs to learn more about the oil and gas industry. One of the things the industry doesn't like is confusion.
Let me ask the Minister of Economic Development, with regard to her speech to the Chamber of Commerce the other day - when it comes to confusing messages. She states, "The federal government must leave the decision about what route is chosen to the producers." And this with regard to the pipeline. She goes on to say, "I don't believe it is the role of the Government of Canada to tell the North Slope producers that they must go one way or the other." Then the Premier, one short sentence later, goes on to say, "I intend to visit Ottawa again in early summer to keep the pressure on." Which is it - federal government butt out, federal government butt in, or is this just more Liberal butkus? That's Yiddish for "nothing".
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I certainly compliment the members opposite on their command of various languages.
Mr. Speaker, it's absolutely obvious - or it should be, to the members opposite - that what I said to the Chamber of Commerce - and everyone in that room understood - was that it's the private sector and the producers who are making the investment who should decide the most economical and best route for getting their gas to market. Ottawa's role is the regulatory role. You bet I am going to be in Ottawa - and everywhere it takes - saying that Ottawa has a regulatory responsibility here. Make sure they're ready to deal with it and deal with it in a timely manner.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'm glad the minister cleared that up for us. So, let me go on about confusion.
Today, in Alaska, when Mr. Scott Ogan, an Alaska State Representative, asked, "What is this territorial Liberal government's position on ANWR?", no answer was given. The position is not known. That is troubling for the producers, because a great deal of what will drive the Alaska Highway pipeline is obvious. It's the resource coming out of northern Alaska.
What is this government's position on ANWR? Can she clear that up for the producers?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the producers know very well, as does Governor Knowles, where I and this government stand on ANWR. We have supported Yukoners - the Gwitchin - who are the most eloquent spokespersons on this issue, in our opposition to drilling in ANWR.
What the member opposite doesn't know, because I guess he didn't bother to read Governor Knowles' speech or any of his remarks, is that Governor Knowles has said, repeatedly, that the discussions around ANWR and discussions with respect to transportation of the North Slope gas are entirely separate and distinct issues. They are not linked in either the minds of the public or the producers.
I will loan the member opposite my copy of Governor Knowles' address, if he would like, so he can read it for himself and understand that point.
Mr. Fentie: It is not necessary for the Premier to give me her copy of Governor Knowles' speech. We understand it fully.
Mr. Speaker, the Premier and this Liberal government's only economic plank is the oil and gas pipeline. It's looking more and more today like a mere sliver.
Mr. Scott Ogan, Alaska State Representative, went on to say today that the producers want to increase the flow should the Alaska Highway pipeline become the project, from 2.4 billion cubic feet per day to 4.0 billion cubic feet per day. He went on to qualify that by saying that this means the existing agreement must be rewritten. That says to me that everything is back on the table. We're no further ahead than with either of the other two options. Can the Premier clear this up for us?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, sure I can, although I do note that the member opposite has bootlegged in a shopping list of questions.
With respect to the gas pipeline project - and, no, this is not the only project the Yukon government is working on with regard to the economy - and the treaty and whether or not the size of pipe and the amount of gas could be changed, there are legal opinions that support the fact that the treaty is valid, should some of those conditions change.
Question re: Highway funding
Mr. Fentie: Let's go on to some more confusing messages when it comes to Yukoners and what this Liberal government is doing about our economic situation.
At the same speech in front of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Speaker, the minister went on to say about job creation in this territory, "We have, for example, increased spending on highway construction to more than $30 million. That means jobs for Yukoners, meaningful work for Yukoners, now." I understand that the Premier, the minister, was being a little overzealous and exaggerated the claim because the facts are that, compared to the NDP budget of two years ago, highway spending hasn't changed one bit. It's the exact same.
Will the Premier, the minister, now clear this up?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, we're going to spend all afternoon no doubt discussing the Community and Transportation Services budget, and included in that is highway spending. The fact is we have increased highway spending. The fact is it will and is generating work for Yukoners and, what's more, it's investing in our infrastructure, and that is a sorely needed investment of Yukon taxpayers.
Mr. Fentie: Well, let's go on with this particular line of questioning, then. The facts are that the Liberal claim to increasing highway spending simply is not the case. What they've done is decrease spending on Shakwak, cut the community development fund, cut rural roads, cut fire smart - eliminating all those jobs to increase or to create a couple more jobs in the summer on our highway.
Mr. Speaker, this government has a healthy surplus. Will this government now take some concrete action and put some of that surplus to work by creating jobs this summer through such avenues as rural roads by increasing that funding or Project Yukon, or by putting back the funding that should be there.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, let me be sure I got this right. Yesterday, the member opposite's leader stood up and said, "You've spent all the surplus." And today the Member for Watson Lake is standing up and saying, "You've got a healthy surplus." So when the NDP math is finished doing its various configurations, the member opposite will realize a number of things. First of all, it is perfectly normal that the Shakwak level of funding does what it's doing. It has gone from $23 million to $21.5 million. It's a normal fluctuation in the Shakwak budget. We have also increased the highway spending overall. Brushing and weed control - for various members opposite's benefit - has increased in excess of $100,000. The members opposite should also be aware, when he stands up and crows about the community development fund, that we all know what the review stated. The members opposite should remember that in their first year in office, the community development fund, which was supposed to cover everything, including arts and fire smart, was a total of $1.5 million. In fact, the total funding for Project Yukon, fire smart, and the arts fund is $2.5 million.
Mr. Fentie: The real problem here is that the Minister of Economic Development, also the Minister of Finance, doesn't really know how much money the Liberal government has.
Mr. Speaker, there is, by their own figures, a surplus at the end of this fiscal year - in a matter of two weeks - of some $45 million.
Will this minister now use some of that surplus to balance some of the jobs that she has eliminated by making the claim that they have increased highway spending in cuts to other areas and put some of these people back to work? They have the money. All they need is the will and the capacity to do so. Will the Premier do so?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, what I just heard in that question was a plea from the Minister of Community and Transportation Services to the Minister of Finance to please increase the highways budget. That's what the member opposite was saying. I also heard the member opposite say, you know what, you have increased that - pardon the use of the word "you" - the government has increased the highways budget, and that's a good thing. I thank the member opposite for the compliment.
Question re: Government openness and accountability
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Premier.
The Liberal election platform had a section entitled "Managing Government", which states, "Yukon Liberals want to create an environment of open and accountable government." Does the Premier believe her ministers are living up to this commitment when it can take up to six months to answer a letter? In fact, a lot of letters go unanswered. Some letters are not even answered at all, and the letters that are addressed to the ministers are automatically directed to the departments instead.
How does the Premier equate this with her government's promise to be open and accountable when, in many, many instances, the ministers aren't even aware of the letters that have been addressed to them?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, since the member opposite seems to know so much about the mail system, clearly we are being open and accountable. Or maybe he thinks he knows so much about the mail system.
If the member opposite has a problem and has not received a response to a letter, I would be happy to take that up. Perhaps there is a problem. No one in this Legislature is perfect. If there has been a problem with the letter and if there has not been a response, I will be more than happy to look into it for the member opposite. Send me over a copy and I will be glad to look into it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the issue is how the mail is currently directed. Now, unless the letter is marked "personal and confidential", the letter does not go to the minister, who it could be addressed to. It goes to the department.
The Premier's chief of staff has stated that this Liberal practice of sending the mail to the department before it comes to the Cabinet office allows the minister to not only receive the letter on his or her desk, but also to have all the background material provided by the department, together with a response. This makes the whole process, in theory, that much quicker.
Will the Premier consider providing the ministerial signature stamps to the department, so that they can complete it and send it back? Then they can be entirely out of the loop and we can speed things up.
It appears that the Minister of Tourism returned from Europe, and the spread of foot and mouth disease is quite evident in the Liberal caucus.
The problem is that responses are not being -
Speaker: Order please. Will the member please get to the question?
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When will letters be answered in a timely fashion, and when will ministers see correspondence directed to them?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, for heaven's sake. Does the member opposite want me to discuss the filing system next? For heaven's sake.
The Legislature is about dealing with issues that Yukon people are concerned about - about policy issues. If the member has an operational problem, in that he or some constituent has not received a letter, I am more than happy to be of assistance to the member opposite. However, needless characterizations and suggestions of the use of a signature stamp by this government are absolutely needless in this Legislature.
If the member wants to apply for a job in the mailroom, I will take his application. Actually, I'll direct it to the Public Service Commission, because they deal with the operational end of it. If the member wants to deal with an issue or raise a problem about not receiving a response to a letter, I will be more than happy to get it for him.
Mr. Jenkins: The whole concept of parliamentary democracy is based on the premise of ministerial responsibility. The buck stops with the minister. Let's acknowledge that. What is happening in the Liberal caucus is that the mail directed to the minister does not go there. It goes to the department first and then it is routed back. Then there is delay upon delay upon delay. How her ministers are giving political direction when, in fact, everything comes back to them. The response is there, they just rubber stamp it, and they don't know what is going on. When are we going to get timely responses to correspondence and when are ministers going to be made aware of the mail coming to them immediately, instead of going through the whole system that is now currently in place, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The concept of ministerial responsibility is that ministers give direction to the departments, that ministers respond to constituents, and that ministers are members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. As a member, and as a minister, I can assure the member opposite that I see the mail that is addressed to me, I sign the answers - in fact, I do not even have a signature block, and I am quite confident that there isn't a member on this side who has a signature block or who has the use of it. And it's actually a signing arm. The only signature block that I have - actually, I stand corrected, Mr. Speaker - is for Finance. And I don't sign every cheque personally. I think that would be a misuse of my time, to personally sign every single cheque. But I can assure the member opposite that I see all the correspondence that is addressed to me and that I have sent many letters back marked and rewritten that have been suggested and drafted. I know that ministers on this side are very conscious of correspondence and are very aware of what they are signing and are acutely aware of their ministerial responsibility.
Now, if the member opposite has a problem that we on this side have failed to answer - either a letter to him or a letter to his constituents, or to any constituent - I will be more than happy to deal with it. I have told the member that three times.
Question re: Internet use by government employees
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, today I have a question for the Minister of Government Services.
We recently heard about a situation in Saskatchewan where government employees were disciplined for inappropriate use of the Internet, so I'd like to ask the minister about this government's monitoring actions and monitoring policies.
This is about monitoring policies. Does the Yukon government monitor Internet use by employees or keep logs of e-mail that they send and receive?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, I guess it's back to the Web site page again. We have actually put together a new Web site. It's in play and should be up and running fairly soon here.
The member opposite has asked if we monitor. Again, that's an operational question and I'm sure the Web site is being monitored by ISB. Again, we have a lot of other projects and activities underway with ISB, and we are maintaining and as accordingly as possible with ISB.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I'd be absolutely embarrassed to stand on my feet in this House and answer in that manner. I did not ask an administrative question. I asked a policy question. I didn't ask a Web site question.
So, for the sake of the minister, I will repeat the first question and then I will add another question, so there will be two questions.
The first question is, does the Yukon government monitor Internet use by employees or keep logs of e-mail that they send and receive? That was the first question.
Now, the second question is, because of the privacy laws and the buzz that is out in the business world and the buzz that is in the government world, are logs of e-mail traffic ever requested by Cabinet ministers or their political staff, and under what circumstances would such a request be granted?
Hon. Mr. Jim: We do send out, I think, with the Internet process, warnings probably every three months or so to employees who use the Internet system. I'm not exactly sure what the member opposite is getting at. If there is something he wishes, certainly I could get it to him by way of a legislative return or by way of a written document to him.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I'm asking a very, very serious question, and I'm absolutely surprised again that the Cabinet or any member of the opposite side is not aware about Canada, at least, and especially about Saskatchewan. It was a policy that was being developed and had been developed. I asked another question as to whether or not there was any e-mail traffic requested by the minister. I can't get that through.
You can read Hansard. I would appreciate an oral answer to my question. That is what I would appreciate.
Now, does this department or any other department maintain records of e-mail traffic or Internet use by the opposition members or by our staff. Again, it's a policy question, and I would appreciate an answer.
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, Government Services looks after the information services branch. The ISB looks after providing Internet services to different departments. The departments are not responsible to look after the security or the information that comes through the Internet and the use of the Internet by employees.
In terms of providing services, we are working at that process. If the member opposite wishes to see further how far we go on that, in terms of security of Internet information coming through in our departments, I will be sure to return that information to him shortly - as soon as possible.
Question re: Yukon Housing Corporation, mortgages on First Nations land
Mr. Keenan: Well, so much for an open and accountable and a very transparent government, Mr. Speaker. I'm starting to think that maybe Big Brother is alive and well here in the Yukon Territory.
I have another question, Mr. Speaker, and it's for the same member, only it's in his capacity for Yukon Housing.
Now, last year, I wrote to this minister on behalf of constituents who applied for home repair financing, but were refused that financing by the Yukon Housing because they don't have a method to secure loans on First Nation land. Now, the minister said that he recognized that difficulty and that folks on settlement land are getting mortgages, and he promised to work on that for me with the Housing Corporation to provide solutions for that problem. So I'd like to ask the minister now, what direction has the minister given to the Housing Corporation to make sure that adequate, affordable and suitable housing is available to all Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, we've actually been working on a few First Nation communities. Yukon Housing Corporation is working fairly hard on it. We realize the issue out there about having mortgages on First Nation lands. We also understand that there are few funding agencies - such as the banking systems - that do provide mortgage loans on First Nation lands.
We are exploring a number of options that are available, and we are looking at the CMHC model, where the band-owned lands will be signed over to the proposed homeowner. What we're trying to do in that area is open up a working relationship with First Nation communities on housing and try to assist as much as possible.
Mr. Keenan: Well, that answer is just starting to lend a little bit of credence to the Member for Klondike's question here. Now, the minister did stand on his feet and say that he understands that CMHC does it. Well, yes, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has been working with First Nations in this capacity for many, many years - I think for a decade now. We mentioned that to the minister in our communication earlier about this problem, so we do know that there is a prototype and a benchmark out there. I fail to understand why we have to wait so long for this. The building season is coming up at this point in time. I understand that the First Nation in question is proposing a new lands title system. So I would like to ask the minister now if he is prepared, and what interim steps would the minister be prepared to take to correct this inequity.
Hon. Mr. Jim: I thank the member opposite for his question. I also say that we are taking interim steps. We are providing the home ownership program. I am positive this is what he is talking about. What we are doing is working at a number of options that are still under assessment or review. Hopefully this spring we will be coming out with a number of possible options that we could look at regarding home ownership. That is open to both First Nations and non-First Nations. With respect to home ownership on lands owned by the First Nation governments, we are still looking at options for that.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, this is not about home ownership. This is about home repair financing.
I put the minister on notice last September, after it had gone through the Yukon Housing Corporation, that this individual had applied, was very frustrated, didn't get the answers - didn't get any answers; not a positive answer - and was told, "We're looking at it." This individual has waited and is looking for home repair financing. There is a benchmark. There is a prototype within the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation. I don't see why we couldn't adapt those and look at them quickly.
I'm trying to give the minister the benefit of the doubt, but again I state that this has been around since last September and the building season is about to start. So I would like to know, again, if the minister will do something in the interim, because I don't have much faith that there's going to be anything in place for the coming building season. This will be two seasons that this minister has put off financing those repairs for this individual.
Will the minister please look into this, and do it sooner rather than later, so that maybe we can have some repairs and economics happening in my region of this territory this season?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, we are actually looking at different options that are available and, yes, I take this under advisement. I will be looking into it again and I will give a response to the member opposite in regard to the home ownership program and also the home repair program.
I know that in the home repair program we have addressed that it has to be titled land. We are looking at making those changes and we are looking at options that we can come up with. Certainly, things will not happen overnight, but we are working fairly hard on it.
Question re: North American Tungsten
Mr. Fentie: My question is for the Minister of Economic Development. Yesterday, the minister admitted that there were ongoing negotiations with North American Tungsten Ltd. Can I ask the minister to tell this House today what, in terms of industrial support, is North American Tungsten asking the Yukon government for?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Certainly. I appreciate the member opposite complimenting us on the work that we're doing with North American Tungsten and the fact that we have been working on this issue. We have been working on it since - mentions prior, and in an official meeting on February 28. In fact, the president of North American Tungsten met on Monday evening with the Member for Riverside.
The message from North American Tungsten has been very clear. The only request has been for infrastructure work with respect to the roads. That has been the only request. This government is fully prepared to deal with it.
Mr. Fentie: It certainly is easy to compliment the minister.
Mr. Speaker, here is a chance for this minister and this Liberal government to honour the claim that they've made, that they have increased the capital spending on our highways. In this budget, we have a mere $200,000 for the Nahanni Range Road. This falls far short of what's required to bring this road back into shape so that it can handle heavy truck traffic.
We know that the surplus, here for the Yukon in two weeks, will be approximately $45 million. Will this minister now seek an allocation of at least $2 million out of that surplus and put it toward the Nahanni Range Road?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite's cost estimates are very, very high, and the member is suggesting that that is what will be required. The first written request from North American Tungsten was on February 28. This budget was tabled February 22. That's why the member opposite doesn't see a larger expenditure for the Nahanni Range Road. We have been speaking. The cost estimates are changing. They are not finalized, and the cost estimate for the amount of work that has been required has not been detailed.
Now, the member opposite might want us to stand and issue a blank cheque on the floor of this House, but I certainly am not going to do that. This is Yukon taxpayers' money, and we are very mindful that we are managers of it, and we manage it wisely. When the company and the Government of Yukon officials have an estimate of what the cost of the roadwork will be, this government is fully prepared to ensure that the infrastructure is there. The supplementary that the member is asking for is not required at this point in time.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'm to take it, then, that this good Liberal government is committed to upgrading the Nahanni Range Road so that it can handle heavy truck traffic again.
My final supplementary is to the minister. Watson Lake, as a community, is devastated economically. Any work on the Nahanni Range Road could certainly help many of the businesses and people of the community. They have the equipment, they have the capacity and they have the expertise to do this kind of work. Will this minister and her government now commit that, should any work take place on the Nahanni Range Road in the context of upgrades for North American Tungsten, people in Watson Lake, companies in Watson Lake, will get first crack at this work to help alleviate the severe economic burden that they are now under?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: First of all, I have committed to the member opposite on no less that four - probably five - responses yesterday and today that this government is fully prepared to deal with opening and maintaining the Nahanni Range Road. That is what we were asked to do by the company. That is what we are committed to doing. We don't know what the cost of that is going to be as of yet. We are still working on those arrangements with the company. If the member opposite is asking that I abandon the tendering process for road contracting work in the territory, I am not prepared to do that.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise to seek clarification of your ruling yesterday, Mr. Speaker, concerning a point of order regarding reference being made during debate to the absence of members both in the Assembly and in Committee of the Whole. Your ruling was made with respect to a statement that I made on March 7, 2001, when I said, "It is interesting to note that the government of the day is so concerned with decorum and the way that the House operates that they can't even maintain a presence here, Mr. Speaker." When a point of order was raised about this statement, I stated in defence, "I made no reference to specific members being absent. I believe that is what the Standing Orders refer to. I made reference that the government couldn't maintain a quorum in the House." As you well know, Mr. Speaker, the presence of at least nine members of the Assembly, including the Speaker, is necessary to constitute a meeting of the Assembly for the exercise of its powers. And eight members including the Chair constitute a quorum in Committee of the Whole.
You note in your ruling, Mr. Speaker, that the Standing Orders of this Assembly do not, in the provisions respecting rules of debate, address references being made to the absence or presence of members. You state, however, that, based on parliamentary authorities such as Beauchesne's, it has long been the practice of this House to prohibit drawing attention to the absence of members. Annotation 481 in Beauchesne's Sixth Edition states that a member, when speaking, must not refer to the presence or absence of specific members.
Mr. Speaker, this is what I was referring to in the statement of my defence, in that I wasn't referring to the presence or absence of specific members, but there weren't enough members in the House to maintain a quorum in keeping with section 3(1) and section 3(3) of our Standing Orders.
In your ruling, however, you went beyond annotation 481 in Beauchesne's and made reference to page 522 of House of Commons Procedures and Practices, as well as referring to a footnote citing eight examples between 1994 and 1999, when the Chair ruled on reference to the absence or presence of members. You concluded from these references that even the most oblique reference to who is present and who is not is not allowed.
Mr. Speaker, section 3(2) of our Standing Orders reads as follows, "If, at any time during a sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and then do a count. If there is still not a quorum, the Speaker shall adjourn the Assembly until the next sitting."
In view of your rulings yesterday, even the most oblique reference to who is present and who is not is not allowed. Will you please clarify if a member who draws to the attention of the Speaker that there is no quorum present pursuant to section 3(2) above will now be found to be out of order and ruled out of order in contravention of your ruling. Mr. Speaker, I seek your clarification.
Thank you very much.
Speaker: Thank you for that, leader of the third party. Would the Chair have the benefit of your prepared point of order, or will I be able to take it out of the Blues? Will that be satisfactory? Obviously, that was quite long, and I'm not prepared to make a ruling on that now, but I will certainly review the Blues and review what was in my ruling. I won't guarantee it for the next day that the House sits, but I certainly will address the concerns you have and do everything I can to make it fair and the best ruling I can. So the Chair will look at it again. I can't do it now.
If that is satisfactory, I will then return to the business of the House and proceed to the Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, I move 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
Deputy Chair: I now call the Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We'll take a 15-minue recess.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will proceed with discussion on Bill No. 4, the First Appropriation Act, 2001-02. We're in general debate on the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 2001-02 - continued
Community and Transportation Services - continued
Mr. Jenkins: Well, when we left general debate yesterday, we were posing a series of questions to the minister, and most of them went unanswered. In fact, we were posing questions identical during this session as last session that still haven't been answered from the last session.
One of the questions that was of paramount importance was dealing with Old Crow and dealing with the licensing of snow machines, three-wheelers and four-wheelers, and the law really hasn't changed with respect to this area for quite some time, but there has been a concerted effort over the last year and a half to license all these snow machines and three- and four-wheelers.
My suggestion to the minister was why not make an exemption for the residents of Old Crow so they can utilize their snow machines and their four-wheelers in the same manner that residents of the Northwest Territories currently do in the outlying communities, and residents of Alaska do in some of the outlying communities, Mr. Deputy Chair?
Virtually the same question was posed at the last sitting, and no answer was received from the minister, and it's the same this time. It's ironic that the Liberal government is saying we don't want to create a double standard with respect to licensing across the Yukon Territory, but Old Crow is a prime example of a First Nation community, accessible only by air, that is dealt with in a distinct manner, which recognizes their culture, their heritage, and rightly so, Mr. Chair. We only have to look at some of the requests originating in Old Crow for an exemption from the Liquor Act so that it could be a dry community. An amendment to the Liquor Act was put in place to accommodate their request.
What I'm suggesting to the minister, Mr. Chair, is a further amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act to exempt Old Crow - that specific area - from provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act with respect to snow machines and three- and four-wheelers. Why not? It's a lifestyle. It's a way of living. I guess the minister is going to come back and say there's an inherent risk associated in doing this but, given the number of kilometres of roadway that currently exists in Old Crow that the Government of the Yukon is responsible for, it's a stretch.
It's a real stretch, Mr. Chair. There is another area that is interesting to note, dealing with Old Crow, which is costing the Government of the Yukon money, that needn't be. Again, it's a political decision, and that is dealing with the usage of fuel. Virtually all of the fuel going into Old Crow is used for heating, power generation and, to a very small degree, to power vehicles. And in Canada, on highways, vehicles using fuel must use a fuel that is sulphur-free. Exemptions can be obtained when there is a need. In Canada, the northern part of Quebec has an exemption. What it means is that you have to take in a specific amount of fuel to utilize vehicles on the highway. In Old Crow, 50,000 litres of designated fuel has to be flown in each year, kept in a separate tank, and used just in the vehicles on the roads, to conform to the letter of the law in Canada. Now, it's a political decision not to seek an amendment or a variance from the laws of Canada in this regard. Northern Quebec has it and the Northwest Territories has it.
The State of Alaska, where a great deal of our fuel comes from, has also been exempted by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. of the provision of requiring sulphur-free fuel for highway vehicles. Alaska burns more fuel in two days than the Yukon does in a year, Mr. Chair. So the order of magnitude that we're talking about is considerably different. In Alaska the product is referred to as P50 or P60. And it's used in all of the jet engines for aircraft, it's used in the U.S. military, it's used for power generation, it's used for heating, and it's used for on-road vehicles operating on the highway systems.
So what we have is the ability of this government to seek a variance from this provision and avoid an additional cost, without really putting any undue strain on the environment, because what we're talking about is a very small amount of sulphur being burned in the fuel in the highway vehicles - vis-à-vis the same fuel being burned for power generation in Old Crow. And now the school is completely heated with oil versus wood. There are also the emissions from the fuel that contains sulphur there.
Unless we're going to say no sulphur fuel across the Yukon, we have to rely on that fuel. A lot of it comes from the refinery just south of Fairbanks, at North Pole. It does have a sulphur content, as does heating oil manufactured in southern Canada.
We have also explored with the minister a number of issues surrounding the land development and land issues. We didn't receive many responses to the questions. Let's start off with the area surrounding Old Crow and see if the minister has any responses today. The minister has had all last session to review her position and create an answer. It was not forthcoming. The same question is being posed in this sitting of the Legislature.
Does the minister have an answer as to why Old Crow can't be exempted from the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act for the licensing of snow machines, three-wheelers and four-wheelers? And I must comment, Mr. Chair, that three-wheelers are not licensed anywhere else in Canada. In fact, you can't license them anywhere else in the Yukon.
So, there is kind of a double standard there, if you want to refer to it accordingly. But so be it. I don't really have a quarrel with creating a double standard when it enhances or produces benefits for Yukoners and makes their standard of living and quality of life that much better. This certainly will. The minister only has to start asking a number of people who have to run around and find receipts for their snow machines, where they bought it from or obtained insurance, and, indeed, in some cases, even obtain a driver's licence.
Does the minister have a response to why we can't exempt Old Crow like we have done in the Liquor Act? We made specific provisions for Old Crow in the Liquor Act. Why can't we do the same in the Motor Vehicles Act?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Deputy Chair: Ms. Buckway, on a point of order.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would like to draw the attention of the Assembly to the presence in the gallery of Bill Braden, the MLA for Great Slave in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Bill was a long-time resident of Whitehorse, and he and his family are here being tourists this week. We hope they stay another day.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The MLA for Klondike has again gone through the same territory he went through before the close of business yesterday, on the question he raised of exempting snow machine and three- and four-wheelers in Old Crow. The residents of Old Crow are required to comply with the Motor Vehicles Act just as all residents of other Yukon communities and other areas of the Yukon Territory that aren't communities are required to comply.
Registration of snowmobiles, ATVs and other motor vehicles used on the roads in Old Crow is required under the Motor Vehicles Act, section 38. Registration under the Motor Vehicles Act is not required when the vehicles are used exclusively off-road.
Old Crow residents have indicated to the licensing contractor that they were pleased with the service being provided in Old Crow, and the RCMP have indicated that they are also pleased with the level of registration compliance.
Section 39 of the Motor Vehicles Act prohibits the registration of vehicles that, due to their nature or their characteristics, would present a hazard to other road users, such as three-wheel ATVs. The department confirms that there are no three-wheel ATVs knowingly registered in the Yukon.
The RCMP reports that they have seen no three-wheel ATVs on Old Crow roads since May 1999, and they are not aware of any being registered.
I find it interesting that the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has not asked for an exemption. The MLA for Old Crow has not asked for an exemption. Nobody in Old Crow whom I have spoken to or any of my colleagues have spoken to has asked for an exemption. Nobody, except the MLA for Klondike, has asked for an exemption.
On the matter of the sulphur-free fuel, where, again, the Member for Klondike would like to institute a double standard for Old Crow, I am not aware, as I said yesterday, why the previous government chose not to ask for an exemption from the federal government for the community of Old Crow. Again, the MLA for Klondike is the first one to raise this with me as a problem. But I would be happy to look into the situation and get back to him.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what we are doing on this side of the House is pointing out ways of improving the lifestyle and standard, reducing the cost to government, and showing leadership, Mr. Chair - something that the side opposite, the government of the day, is having difficulty doing. But these are two very important issues, and I can assure the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and her government that she will be hearing further from Old Crow on the issue of licensing. That initiative will probably be forthcoming in due course. I hope that she can give that request serious consideration, and not just the brush-off answer that the minister has given - or the length of time that it has taken to put together.
So, I noticed that the words were carefully crafted that the government is not aware of any three-wheelers knowingly being licensed. I respect that position.
The other area that we were exploring with the minister yesterday and got little, if any, answers was surrounding the Whitehorse waterfront development - the historical high-water mark and who actually owns the land.
Could the minister advise the House as to who has title to that land? Has she found that out or ascertained that information in the last 24 hours, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe yesterday I said to the member that I would get him a legislative return on that subject, and indeed I will.
Mr. Jenkins: I thought that, just out of curiosity, the minister would ascertain who owns what land down there, and where historical high-water marks currently are and where they were when the land was surveyed, because it does bring forward quite a number of questions. I'll leave that issue alone for a little while. I'm sure we'll get back to it.
Mr. Chair, the other issue was the rental of a motorhome for the highway enforcement people to attend on the Top of the World Highway for just over a month - the month of May and the month of June, according to the information received from the minister. I believe the minister said they were sent up from May 28 through to June 30 of last year.
Could the minister provide the Legislature with the total cost of sending the individuals out and keeping them on the Top of the World Highway for this length of time? There are the basic salaries, the travel time, the time away from home and costs of room and board - they had to purchase food to live out there. What actually was accomplished? There must have been a report done by the department as to the effects of this. I'm very interested in knowing the reasons for it, in that road restrictions were not placed on that route for quite a period of time.
Could the minister advise the House if weight restrictions will be coming into force this year on the Top of the World Highway, and, if so, will the weight restrictions be in sync with the Alaska side so that we have the same weight restrictions on the Alaska side as the Canadian side? Because there seems to be an issue there - that we have two standards - and I would be very hopeful that Canada could parallel the U.S. weight restrictions, if indeed they impose them on this route. It is primarily the importation of fuel from North Pole, Alaska. When fuel arrives in Dawson from that route, Mr. Chair, it reduces the cost of fuel in Dawson by five cents a litre. Mr. Chair, that's a significant reduction in fuel costs for the Dawson area, let alone the GST compounded on top of that five cents a litre, Mr. Chair. Now, will there be weight restrictions on that route this year? If so, will they be consistent with what the weight restrictions will be in the State of Alaska, Mr. Chair, on the Taylor Highway?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I'd like to correct the Member for Klondike on something he said. The dates I noted yesterday with reference to the motorhome rental were the dates of the contract. That is what I said, and I will ask the department if the cost for that period of time for the enforcement officer or officers on the Top of the World Highway can be pulled together.
As for the reason they were there, the reason they were there was to enforce the weight restrictions that were in place last spring, which were being disregarded by some people. We expect that there will be weight restrictions on the Top of the World Highway again this year. As to whether or not they will be the same as the weight restrictions imposed on the Alaska side, that is hard to say, Mr. Chair, because there are differences in road surfaces, differences in the shape of the road. And the primary purpose of the weight restrictions is to protect the road surface, and we will protect the road surface. That is our primary consideration.
Mr. Jenkins: Interesting. I take the minister back to page 1336 of Hansard and her remarks yesterday. The statement was made by the minister, "The motorhome rental was April 28 through June 30 of last year, and it was for the mobile weigh scale crew on the Top of the World Highway during the period of weight restrictions..." If the minister wants to correct the record and apply different dates to it, I'm prepared to accept that. But that's what the minister said yesterday, Mr. Chair. I can't see there being a point of order.
The contract period that is clearly identified is the 4th, the 28th to the 6th and the 30th in the contract book, but what the minister said is clearly on the record.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I was reading from the dates in the contract book. It's quite likely that the motorhome wasn't actually out there the first day or wasn't still there the last day.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm seeking from the minister is an overview of which days, what crews were put out there to monitor highway weight restrictions, what they accomplished, how many trucks they actually weighed, and what it cost. I'm seeking that information. It appears that we have another legislative return underway. Is that the case? Will this be by way of legislative return again?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: If the Member for Klondike wishes for the information to be provided by way of legislative return, it will be. It will take some time to pull that information together.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm having difficulty accepting the minister's premise that the weight restrictions in Yukon could possibly be different from the weight restrictions, if any, in the State of Alaska. It's the same road with the same conditions, built to virtually the same standards, if not better in some cases.
The minister, if she has had an opportunity to drive the Taylor Highway in the last few years, would find that, from the Tetlit Junction toward the Yukon/Alaska border, the first 23 miles are chipseal. The road is being upgraded at the end of that 23 miles, to just before Chicken, and chipseal will be applied. The contract has been awarded, and the contractor was there actually working on it late last summer. It's Quality Asphalt out of Anchorage that has the job, Mr. Chair. They're working on it currently, but it didn't get chipsealed last year.
So, to say that the road situation in Alaska is different from the road situation in Canada is pretty difficult, given that there are only a few individuals who know the technical nature of the surface and the technical nature of the roadbed.
What I'm seeking from the minister is a uniform approach to weight restrictions on both sides of the border. Given that 120 miles of the road is in Alaska, and 60 miles is in Canada, what problem does the minister have with applying a uniform standard of weight restrictions to this highway, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Yukon government does attempt to coordinate with Alaska, but it is not always possible. Our first responsibility is the protection of our road surface, and we do sometimes have to make decisions different from those made in Alaska.
For example, if they didn't put any weight restriction on the road this year, that would cause the Member for Klondike a problem, because we almost certainly will have weight restrictions on the Top of the World Highway this year. But the protection of the road surface is our primary consideration.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the minister was of that opinion, she would have equipment in there now where it is melting, and she would have the road surface cleaned down to the chipseal and graded off to the sides. But that may or may not even be possible this spring, and that will cause more breakup of the chipseal surface than virtually anything. There is not a vehicle on the highway. Now, I am sure that her officials will confirm that that is indeed the case. I would like the minister to stand up and say that, yes, she is aware of that - that if they don't clean the snow off the road, if they don't push the snow back from the shoulders, the potential for breakup of the chipseal is usually very acute and usually happens at an alarming rate. Can the minister confirm that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Of course it causes damage to the road surface if we don't take the snow off it. That's why we take the snow off it.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister confirm that there is the possibility this year of not being able to get that heavy equipment over there to undertake this work? Or is it fait accompli that that heavy equipment will be over there - the graders and the snow blowers necessary to open the road?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We believe that the necessary equipment will be able to get over there on the ice bridge and will accomplish the snow clearing. However, there is still a distinct possibility that there will be weight restrictions imposed on the Top of the World Highway, as has happened as a matter of course over the past many years.
I realize that the road surface is different now. But again, the departmental experts make that decision based on the condition of the road, based on the weather, et cetera. We are also quite aware that five cents a litre is saved by hauling fuel over the Top of the World Highway, but, I repeat, the protection of the road surface is our main consideration, because if the road surface is damaged, the cost to repair it becomes excessive. I know that the Member for Klondike understands that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, even if there were just the lightest weight traffic traversing that highway, given that the roadbed was not built to the normal standards, the chipseal isn't going to stay. It was a cognizant decision of officials within the department and probably a political decision not to build the Top of the World Highway roadbed to the normally accepted standards and to apply chipseal on the top. It's breaking up irrespective of the weight of the vehicles.
Now, can the minister just confirm for the record that the roadbed was not built to the normally accepted standards for a highway with that weight loading, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Upgrading work on the Top of the World Highway began in 1993 and was finished in 1998. BST was completed in the summer of 1998. The road was reconstructed to a minimum acceptable BST standard with a very limited budget. Failures were expected and adverse weather conditions in the spring of 1999-2000 created more damage that expected in a normal spring. There are some structurally weak areas on the Top of the World Highway. We know where they are, and over the next several years we'll be fixing them.
However, weight restrictions will, in all likelihood, be necessary this year to avoid further damage to the road surface.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, weight restrictions normally are removed from a highway when the frost comes out of the ground. Could the minister advise the House how we determine when to remove the weight restrictions on the Top of the World Highway?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: When the frost is out of the ground is the main consideration for when weight restrictions are removed. It also depends on the stability of the road surface and how much moisture there is, which is why we take the snow off. There is no guarantee in this business.
What the member is wanting me to say is that you can haul as heavy loads as you want across the Top of the World Highway this spring. Well, I'm sorry, I cannot give him that assurance. In all likelihood, there will be weight restrictions on the Top of the World Highway.
Mr. Jenkins: No, Mr. Chair, to the contrary. What I'm looking at and what I'm seeking from the minister is that the Yukon will have the same weight restrictions on the Top of the World Highway as Alaska has on their portion of the Taylor Highway, so that we have a consistent pathway for the haulers to bring their product. What is currently happening is that the haulers can haul a specific weight to the border. They have to offload a certain amount, so that they conform to the Yukon weight restrictions.
Now, it would make an abundant amount of sense to a layperson that the same rules should apply on both sides of the border. Could the minister give an explanation as to why they cannot? Why can't we have the same rules as Alaska, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: In the first place, the weights and dimensions laws in the United States are different in many respects from those in Canada. In the second place, Mr. Chair, I have already explained to the Member for Klondike that we try to coordinate weight restrictions so they are the same on both sides, but we cannot guarantee that.
The protection of the road surface is the primary consideration, which the member seems determined not to understand. There are some structurally weak areas on the Top of the World Highway, and running heavier loads on those areas will cause more damage. It's probably like having a weak point in an artery or something. The blood flow will go along just fine until it hits that weak point, and suddenly you've got a problem.
You need the weight restrictions to protect the weakest area of the highway. Now, in an ideal world, we would have the same weight restrictions as Alaska does, but that is not always possible. We try to coordinate, but it is not always possible, and we have to think of our highway surface first. That has to be our main consideration.
The member doesn't want to hear that, but that's the truth, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, one doesn't have to be an Einstein; one only has to drive the Top of the World Highway and the Taylor Highway to witness first-hand that the weakest sections in that highway are in Alaska, and yet we can't get in sync with Alaska with respect to weight restrictions.
Mr. Chair, let's go to the other end of the Yukon. Let's go to Highway 37, B.C. It leaves just north of Watson Lake and goes down into B.C. Why are we out of sync with British Columbia with respect to weight restrictions there on that highway. Why can't we have the same weight restrictions in the Yukon as British Columbia has on their section of Highway 37?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe the Member for Klondike occasionally goes south for vacations because it's warmer down south. The south end of Highway 37 has substantially different weather conditions than the north end, and the north end happens to be our responsibility. As well as that, we have to protect our road surface and plan our weight restrictions according to our road surface in the Yukon, not the road surface in B.C.
The frost comes out of the southern part of Highway 37 a lot earlier than it does our Yukon section. Again, we make the decisions based on our roads, not on somebody else's.
Mr. Jenkins: I would urge the minister to undertake a briefing on this issue from officials so that she has a clearer understanding of it than what is being portrayed here in the House. But, what we are aiming for across North America is a uniform standard. The northern part of Highway 37 exists in virtually the same weather conditions, if not more adverse, than exist in the part of Highway 37 that comes into the Yukon. Its standard is not anywhere near close from Dease Lake north to the border, as it is from Kitwanga coming north. There is a beautiful section of highway in there that is paved or chipsealed to a very, very high standard but, after one leaves that area, there is a section where the Government of British Columbia ripped up some chipseal and reduced it back to gravel because they were having difficulty maintaining it. Why can't we be in sync with the other jurisdictions with respect to weight restrictions on our highways? The only one that appears to have some consistency and uniformity is, in large part, the Alaska Highway. With the other routes, there is not. That's all I am asking the minister. The rationale that the start of Highway 37 is a different highway with different weather conditions from the northern part just doesn't add up to the end results that we are currently seeing. There is a considerable weight restriction on Highway 37 in the Yukon that doesn't exist in British Columbia. Their Highway 37 goes through a very, very difficult terrain and a considerable variance in temperature extremes.
They go from almost a - well, down on Highway 16 East, there could be a lot of snow and a lot of rain where Highway 37 takes off from, but by the time it hits the Yukon border, the weather conditions include some of the most adverse snow and are very similar to what we experience in the Yukon. In fact, the snowbelt there is known to be one of the highest. So why can't the Government of the Yukon get in sync with Alaska and British Columbia with respect to weight restrictions on our routes?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It would be lovely if we could upgrade all our roads to the strength of the Alaska Highway.
The department does talk to the Government of B.C. about the weight restrictions. However, we have to make our own decisions for our own section of road, based on their condition and other factors. I note with interest that B.C. did have to rip up some BST and replace it with gravel. Perhaps if they had had weight restrictions more like ours on that section of road, they wouldn't have had to do that.
However, again, the protection of the road surface is our primary consideration, and each jurisdiction must make its own decisions based on the factors I have outlined several times.
Mr. Jenkins: The reason British Columbia tore up a section of BST along Highway 37 had nothing to do with the weight of the vehicular traffic on top of it. The BST was applied over a substandard base, similar to what the Government of the Yukon has done on the Top of the World Highway. They have applied BST over a very substandard base.
And there are going to be problems, and those problems are going to become acute, and there's going to have to be an expenditure of money on the Top of the World Highway to rebuild the base and reapply BST, if that is the political direction chosen. Because I don't think the minister would receive any support to just tear up the BST. But it still goes back to the question, Mr. Chair, of why the Government of the Yukon can't be in sync with British Columbia and Alaska with respect to weight restrictions on some of the secondary highways that we have.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I've already answered that question.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it's obvious that the minister doesn't have an understanding of this area in her portfolio, and I'd urge the minister to ask her officials to fully apprise her of this very important area, because it is an important area, especially for truckers - truckers who supply the lifeline to the Yukon, because virtually all of the commodities we consume here in the Yukon are imported - oil, groceries. It doesn't really matter. They are virtually all arriving on our doorstep via highway. Very little comes in by air, Mr. Chair. And that we do not have the ability to institute a uniform weight restriction on our highways - I guess it's the lack of political will on the minister's part. We'll put it down to that and leave that issue alone, because it is a very, very important one, and it's one that the government is going to miss the boat on.
While we're on the topic of highways and uniform rules and regulations, is the Yukon getting in sync with the rest of Canada with respect to - I'm not referring to the National Safety Code. So that applies with respect to the balance of the rules with transports and licensing of vehicles so that we have one uniform standard all across North America. Or are we going to be the odd jurisdiction out, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, Mr. Chair, we're not moving in that direction at this time. It is an extremely expensive proposition.
Back to the Top of the World Highway for a moment, I note that the less-than-high-quality road was installed during the Yukon Party government. If they had put in a suitable road, perhaps the member wouldn't be complaining about the weight restrictions at this point.
I have replies to some of the other questions the Member for Klondike asked yesterday. He was asking about the north end lots developed by the City of Dawson, and whether they were actually in the inventory of the Government of Yukon and not the City of Dawson. I told him at that point that they were. They are in the inventory of the Government of Yukon.
The member asked about contracts in the contracting summary report, whether they were just lapses that have been accounted for, or are they going to be subsequently let and issued. In general, some contracts can lapse from one fiscal year to a subsequent one, either because of the agreed-to completion date in the contract or because the planned work couldn't be finished for reasons acceptable to the contracting authority, which in this case is the government. In such circumstances or conditions, the budget allocated also lapses and gets revoted in the immediately following fiscal year so that the work can be finished and the obligations met under the contracts. Contracts lapsing over fiscal year-end are not terminated and subsequently let and issued.
The specific contracts identified were to install aircraft run-up pads in Dawson City, some quarry development on the Shakwak project and to produce and stockpile aggregate. There was another one with the City of Whitehorse, all except the one with the City of Whitehorse were completed and closed since the date the contract report was issued. That was issued September 30. The contract with Bonanza Sales closed October 18. The one with Ketza Construction for quarry development on the Shakwak project closed October 23, and the one to produce and stockpile aggregate had closed on May 11 of last year.
The contract with the City of Whitehorse regarding a playground in Spruce Hill subdivision still remains open. That one had been issued on December 7, 1999.
The Member for Klondike had asked about the maintenance of land value in the books and whether or not I could provide the actual amounts that the lots are on the books for, and I would like to provide some clarification to my response yesterday.
Land inventory is recorded in the financial systems and reported in the public accounts at development cost. As I stated yesterday, records with sale prices attached to finished land lots are also maintained in the land inventory system, as well as in hard copy at the land disposition front counter.
The Member for Klondike also asked yesterday about the provision of telephone service to the Callison area lots in the Dawson City area. My department and Northwestel have an agreement in principle on the provision of telephone service to these lots, as I outlined yesterday to the member opposite. The Department of Justice and Northwestel's legal department are reviewing the wording of the final agreement, and the telephone installation will proceed this spring.
As for the sale of the lots, lottery ads will go in the papers, including the Klondike Sun on April 5, and will run for three weeks. The lottery will close April 30 at noon, and the lottery and the tender will be held in Dawson City on May 2.
Mr. Fentie: I'd like to follow up with the minister on this issue of weight restrictions because it has been an ongoing issue year in, year out for a long, long time.
Firstly, let me point out to the minister that every Yukoner pays for weight restrictions, because what happens is that trucking companies faced with hauling a 75-percent payload merely recoup their loss in revenue by upping their freight rates.
Secondly, I have yet, as many, many other Yukoners have yet, to see the evidence that distinguishes road damage that would happen at 100-percent weight restriction versus 85-percent weight restriction. If there is a soft spot in the highway, whether you are 100-percent loaded or 85-percent loaded, it's based on frequency of traffic over that spot that will pound it out. Thirdly, a 15-percent weight reduction is in payload; therefore, you have to look at what happens in the overall truck unit. That 15-percent reduction is spread out over every axle. There is no evidence here that warrants an arbitrary number of weight restriction, like 85 or 75 percent. What is the basis for choosing those reductions in payload?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Every Yukoner will pay if there are no weight restrictions because we will be rebuilding all of our highways. I offer the members opposite a detailed technical briefing on the reasons for imposing weight restrictions. You choose the time and we'll set it up. I certainly hope that the members will attend because it will give them some understanding of this very serious situation.
Mr. Fentie: I am not trying to be argumentative here. What I am trying to point out to the minister, and what I am asking for is this: what is the evidence, and what is the rationale? The reason that I ask this is because I have experienced it for many, many years of my life, and I can tell you that it doesn't work that way. It doesn't work that way. Any amount of traffic on a thawing road can ultimately, at some point, if the frequency of the traffic is such, cause some damage in a thaw. What I am trying to ascertain here: are we needlessly pulling out these arbitrary numbers from 100-percent payload to 85-percent payload to 75-percent payload?
What's the rationale? What's the evidence that shows that that is the instrument that protects our highways?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It's not arbitrary, Mr. Chair, and I urge the members opposite to take me up on my offer of a detailed technical briefing. The highway engineers would be more than pleased to explain this to the members opposite.
Mr. Fentie: Well, it's not necessary. Anybody who has bounced over frost heaves and then, in the spring, had to bounce through them again because they have sunk, understands what this really is all about.
Let me ask the minister this then: when we have a mine site like Faro operating, how is it that those ore trucks can haul at a certain weight when they're already grossly overloaded throughout the year, because they have that extra payload on? How is it that they can truck, and they don't seem to damage the highway, yet in other areas, this problem arises?
The engineers have not proven to the minister, or probably have not shown the minister, any evidence that 15-percent, 20-percent, 30-percent weight reductions are actually being effective.
The point is, why are we choosing those percentages when, in other areas and under other trucking conditions, those things aren't being applied, yet our roads seem to be there, year in and year out, with minimal damage?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Campbell Highway between Carmacks and Faro was in very good condition when that ore haul was taking place, and it was also primarily a gravel road, and on gravel roads excess weight isn't as big a problem as it is on chipsealed or paved roads.
I am not a highway engineer; I don't pretend to be a highway engineer; however, I certainly believe my highway engineers, and I urge the members opposite to take advantage of the technical briefing I have offered them on this subject, so that they will gain an understanding of the reasons for the road restrictions.
Mr. Jenkins: The bottom line, Mr. Chair, is that there was a political decision made a number of years ago when the Faro mine was in operation. Whether it was White Pass or, subsequently, Lomak, it was hauling from Faro to Carmacks to the turnoff on the Alaska Highway, along the Alaska Highway and down the road to Skagway. They were permitted to operate at 100 percent of legal axle load for 12 months of the year. There were never any weight restrictions placed on that.
There were a couple of times in the early years of White Pass when they did have some minor weight restrictions. I'm not aware of any that were imposed on Lomak. Yes, the Campbell Highway is primarily gravel, but the highway from Carmacks to Whitehorse is chipseal. The Alaska Highway is hot asphalt in part, and chipseal virtually all the way to Skagway, except for a few hills that are hot asphalt.
That decision at that time was a political decision that was made. All I'm asking the minister to do is look at the disparity between British Columbia and Yukon on Highway 37. Bring weight restrictions into sync with British Columbia. All I'm asking the minister to do is to look at the Top of the World Highway and the Taylor Highway, and if there's a need for weight restrictions, bring them into sync with Alaska.
We are talking about virtually the same road surfaces. There are probably a bit better standards in Yukon than in parts of Alaska, if we are referring to the Taylor Highway. Certainly Highway 37, in the northern part, is in the same weather conditions as we have here in the Yukon. So, that's not an excuse.
There just seems to be decisions made in isolation, whether they be in respect to how we dovetail our rules and regulations here in the Yukon with the rest of Canada - because we are out of sync with the rest of Canada. The minister is stating that it's going to cost us a lot of money to come into sync with the rest of Canada.
Could the minister table a current overview, given the tremendous downturn in licensing here in the Yukon, of what the financial equation would be with respect to coming into sync with the rest of Canada on motor vehicle regulations - not National Highway Safety Code, that's a given? Mr. Chair, I don't believe those numbers have been crunched since the days of Lomak's operations, and if they have, they show a steady, steady downturn. We only have to witness the amount of revenues that were derived by the Government of Yukon from vehicle licensing last year in the commercial sector. I'm sure the minister's official has those numbers at her fingertips. Just how much of a reduction have we experienced in the last three years with commercial vehicle licensing in, say, the last three years? What has the downturn been, in total dollars, say, from the last year that Lomak was in operation to today? We've got to go back five years, but we're talking a significant reduction from when the mines were in operation until today. So to get into sync with the rest of Canada, I don't think we're waiting for the oil and gas industry to provide a boom, because most of those vehicles that come in here will be permitted. The bottom line is, Mr. Chair, we've got to get into sync with the rest of the world. We're in a global economy; transportation is a key.
The minister doesn't appear to have an understanding of it and doesn't appear to be capable of providing adequate political direction, and that's a shame, Mr. Chair.
So, if there's a technical briefing being offered, I'd urge the minister herself to take the time and gain an understanding of it, but don't just insist on a technical briefing from her own officials. When she's visiting other jurisdictions, ask the same questions. Ask the same questions when she visits Alaska. Phone up Commissioner Perkins and talk to him. I'm sure the minister has met with the Commissioner of Transportation in the State of Alaska. I don't know who she would talk to in B.C. today at the political level. They're changing as fast as I change my socks, and that's daily, Mr. Chair, but there's someone there who has an understanding of this issue.
All I'm looking for is a commitment from the minister that we look at getting into sync with the United States, specifically Alaska, and with British Columbia, specifically on northern Highway 37. Can the minister undertake that kind of a review, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I certainly will agree with the Member for Klondike that, in the global economy, transportation is the key. It's too bad that previous administrations didn't recognize that when they cut our highway capital spending from $20 million in 1992 down to $3.8 million in the previous fiscal year. If they truly recognized that transportation is the key, they would have put the money into the infrastructure. We have $2.3 billion in highway infrastructure, Mr. Chair. The previous NDP government just left it there to rot. They put no money into it at all.
It's hard to be in sync with the adjoining jurisdictions that have much larger highway capital budgets. Our first priority is to protect our road surface. I have said that before and I will continue to say it, and that is the reason for the road restrictions.
The members opposite obviously aren't interested in a technical briefing. They don't want to know the truth about road restrictions.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister is categorically wrong with respect to her priorities. The first priority is not to protect the road surface. The prime reason for a highway is to provide an access corridor for the movement of goods and people - on which to build an economy. The minister needs an understanding of the basic tripod on which an economy is built: transportation, energy and communications. And the highway is part of that transportation corridor.
Now, if the department insists that their priority is to protect the surface of the highway, we might as well just remove all traffic from the highway - and I must admit that the Liberals are doing one heck of a fine job at doing that here in the Yukon. Our economy is in the doldrums, our visitor industry is going backwards, about the only traffic that we are experiencing is the traffic on its way to Alaska or on its way through the Yukon from Alberta, up the Dempster Highway, to Inuvik, and on to the Mackenzie Delta.
There was another document that was commissioned during the NDP regime. It was a highway corridor study. Could the minister advise where that study is at and when we will be seeing it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There have been a number of studies. I am not sure which one the member is referring to. And I would point out that had previous administrations spent the money that they should have spent on the highway system to rebuild them, we might not need road restrictions. But when the highways aren't as top-notch as they could possibly be, you need road restrictions to protect the highway surface. If you don't protect the highway surface and you allow fully loaded or overweight vehicles to run on them, you pretty quickly won't have a highway surface, and one-third of your triangle is gone.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, better to have to rebuild one-third of the triangle than the whole darn triangle, or the tripod that the Liberal government is managing to destroy.
I'm kind of disappointed, Mr. Chair, seeing that the minister doesn't have the answers to the questions, is not prepared to obtain them, and just blames everything on previous administrations. That's not fair. I'm asking the minister, Mr. Chair, to look forward, to move ahead. The minister indicates she's trying to. I have to admit, she is very trying but, be that as it may, Mr. Chair, the issue is to have a uniform and consistent set of rules here, not developed in isolation, but developed in sync with the adjoining jurisdictions. Why can't we do that?
Alaska has the same conditions on the highway as we do. British Columbia has the same conditions on its northern highways as the Yukon does. In fact, in a lot of cases, it's Yukon contractors who are building the same highway in both the northern British Columbia and Yukon jurisdictions, Mr. Chair.
It was a Yukon contractor, operating under his Alaska entity, that built a good deal of the Taylor Highway.
So the standard to which they're being built is not much different. It's just the interpretation being put on by the respective departments of highways. Now, Yukon meets on a regular basis with British Columbia; Yukon meets on a regular basis with Alaska. Why can't the two jurisdictions get in sync with respect to weight restrictions - when weight restrictions may or may not be necessary? Why can't that be done, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike is choosing not to hear the answer. We don't have the money to rebuild our roads to the required standard. If they were all like most parts of the Alaska Highway, weight restrictions might not be necessary. Many of the roads are not to that standard.
I don't have the budget that Alaska has for their roads. I don't have the budget that B.C. has for their roads. I'm trying to get the budget back to what it was eight years ago. We are at a 10-year low in this current fiscal year and we're making a start on restoring highway funding. Once the highways are all in top-notch shape, we can be in sync with B.C. and Alaska. But the Member for Klondike is choosing not to hear this.
If we do not protect the road surface we have now, we will not have any road surface. We will not have any transportation corridor. The member is choosing not to hear this, and he knows better.
Mr. Jenkins: I always appreciate being lectured by someone who is very much a novice in the department for which they are -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Ms. Buckway, on a point of order.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We've been through this several times, that personal attacks have no place in this House. And we would get a lot further along if we could just get down to the work at hand.
The Member for Klondike had been complaining on Monday this week about personal attacks directed at him. It's obvious that he thinks that personal attacks by him on other members are just fine, and I think that's a shame, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, there's no point of order. There's a dispute between members, and I note that the minister has the remarks all scripted for her in this regard. It's really, really interesting to see where the thrust and emphasis of this minister is.
The issue before us is to debate the budget and debate the department. Answers are not forthcoming. Now, the answers are not there because the minister doesn't know. That would lead one to conclude that we have a novice minister. That's it. That's a fact. It's not a personal attack on the minister; it's a statement of fact.
Deputy Chair's ruling
Deputy Chair: Well, I find that there is no point of order here. It is merely a dispute between members. I would ask members to refer to comments made by the Chair, Mr. McLarnon, yesterday, urging members to be judicious in their choice of language to facilitate debate during Committee. With that, I would ask the member to continue.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So, once again, to the novice Minister of Community and Transportation Services on the issue of a standard application of rules through our jurisdiction - Highway 37, British Columbia, same highway in Yukon, and the Top of the World Highway and Taylor Highway. What I'm looking forward to hearing from the minister is a commitment to go back and have a look at this area to see if there is any impediment to imposing the same weight restrictions as the other jurisdictions have on their section of the highways.
Now, there has to be some rationale for proceeding the way we do, Mr. Chair. The only rationale is that the highway officials have decided that, and they've sold the minister on it. I have to admit, Mr. Chair, that there's a great deal of technical expertise within the Yukon's department of highways.
The bottom line is, in some areas, that a political decision has to be made to ensure that trade and commerce flow in a meaningful and commonsense manner. That manner is kind of out the window; it's sidelined, Mr. Chair. I ask once again for the minister to have a look at the arrangements that the Government of Yukon had with Lomak. Lomak, when they were here, were allowed to haul a 100-percent legal axle load from the Faro mine site to Skagway, Alaska, 12 months of the year - 12 months of the year. It's interesting to note that 100-percent legal axle load existed on the Klondike Highway from the turnoff from the Alaska Highway to Carmacks, 12 months of the year, when Lomak was in operation. But as soon as they cease operation, weight restrictions are brought into force. Why would that be, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the Member for Klondike asked if there is any impediment to bringing our weight restrictions into sync with those of B.C. and Alaska. Yes, there is. Our roads aren't up to the same standard. I would like to ensure that trade and commerce will flow through the territory and they won't if we don't protect the road surface. The member seems to be having a lot of trouble figuring that one out.
Millions and millions of dollars were spent upgrading much of the road for the Lomak ore haul. The money for adequately maintaining that road has not existed for many years. The money for adequately maintaining all our roads hasn't existed for many years. The money for rebuilding them simply hasn't been there.
We have to restore highway funding and get our highways back in the shape they should be. The reason for weight restrictions is to protect the road surface so the trade and commerce isn't stuck in the ditch, which it's going to be if the Member for Klondike has his way.
I would urge the member to accept my offer of a detailed technical briefing so he can understand the severity of the problem, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's move on to another Yukon highway that's going to require considerable expenditure. What's the order of magnitude of expenditure we're anticipating on Highway 10?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member loves to play silly little games and refer to roads by their number, rather than by their name. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: What kind of a nonsensical, silly answer was that, Mr. Chair? I asked a very legitimate question. I would expect an answer from the minister. I'm sure, as soon as she finds out where Highway 10 is in the Yukon, she'll be able to refer to her briefing notes, Mr. Chair, and provide an answer. In case the minister doesn't know, all Yukon highways are numbered.
Anyone who looks at a map can refer to the Yukon highways by their number, starting with Highway 1, which is the Alaska Highway, and Highway 2, which is the Klondike Highway, and so forth. Highway 9 is the Top of the World Highway; 10 is the Nahanni. Are there any highways the minister doesn't know their numbers? If so, I'd be happy to provide her with a road map of the Yukon so she can come to an understanding.
Could the minister stand up and tell the House what order of magnitude we're anticipating spending on the Nahanni Range Road, Yukon Highway No. 10?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Thank you, Mr. Chair. As the Member for Klondike well knows, it has been a number of years since I read the road report on a daily basis.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Buckway: He says, "Can't remember." No, I can't remember the number, Mr. Chair. I certainly know the Nahanni Range Road. The number isn't the important part. The name of the road is the important part. The Yukon government is very pleased at the prospect of North American Tungsten reopening the mine at Cantung, and we are looking at the impacts, in terms of highway maintenance needs. The meetings with North American Tungsten took place after this budget had been prepared.
My department met with mining officials on February 26 and committed to assist them with the road opening this spring, to permit the mining company to get equipment like generators to the site at an early date. We also agreed to develop cost estimates for maintaining the road on an ongoing basis and this work is currently underway. I expect that the figures will be available in the next few weeks. So, at this point, I can't give the member the answer he is seeking.
Mr. Jenkins: Is this mine site going to be treated in the same manner as other mine sites that are charged on a per-tonne-mile basis or per-kilogram-kilometre basis? What is the scenario?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It would be premature to speculate on an answer for the member. Those discussions have not yet taken place with North American Tungsten. The Faro mine had extra heavy loads - the member is shaking his head. The member knows everything, but that is fine. The discussions have not yet taken place.
Mr. Jenkins: Does the minister's department have a policy with respect to how they recoup their expenditures? My understanding is that there is going to be a considerable expenditure of money to bring this road up to standard. There are quite a number of washouts. There are quite a number of multiplexes that they are going to have to replace. There are permitting requests. There is the wonderful Department of Fisheries that will have to be contacted to have all the necessary permits put in place for the road opening. The initial stages won't be much of a problem but to bring it up to any standard that can be used on a continuing basis is going to cost quite a sum of money. I want to know this from the minister: does her government have a position with respect to how they are going to recover that cost? Is it in the same manner that the Anvil Range mine and some of the other Yukon mines were paying, or are we just going to do it from the goodness of our hearts? What is the rationale and how are we going to recoup the losses?
There must be a departmental policy or position on these types of expenditures, especially when they're going into a mine site that may be in operation for a year or two years - maybe 10 years, we don't know. The other area of concern is that royalties will not flow to Yukon, in that the mine site is located in the Northwest Territories, other than being a supply hub. Watson Lake can enjoy a tremendous amount of commerce, supplying goods and services, and I'm sure the Yukon workforce will be tapped - what remains here in the Yukon after the Liberals have virtually devastated the Yukon workforce, scaring it away to other jurisdictions, primarily Alberta and the Northwest Territories. There will still be opportunities for Yukoners at the North American Tungsten mine site - the old Cantung mine.
What is the department's policy? Or do they indeed have a policy?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have explained that the department is working on cost estimates for this. The Canada Tungsten mine stopped operating in 1986 and the Nahanni Range Road hasn't been maintained in the winter since that time.
There are very low traffic volumes on that road in the summer, so maintenance in the summer is basically just an inspection patrol and some very minor preventative work. The annual budget is in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.
While the mine was operating, the Yukon government maintained the Nahanni Range Road from kilometre 0 to kilometre 134. At that time, the cost was about $3,300 per kilometre. We are estimating now that it is more like $6,800 per kilometre, or, $915,000 for kilometre 0 to 134. We are also looking at some additional equipment at a minimum cost of $110,000.
Now, historically, the mining company looked after maintenance from kilometre 134 to the Yukon border at kilometre 188 and on to the mine site at kilometre 201. Historically, they spent in the order of $350,000 annually to maintain this section. Current estimates for that section would be about $418,000.
The current owner of the mine, North American Tungsten, has asked the Yukon government to support mine reopening by reinstating year-round maintenance to kilometre 134 and to consider maintaining the rest of it, and that is what we are looking at at this point. Because this mine is in the Northwest Territories, it does put a slightly different picture on things than if it were a Yukon mine, but we appreciate the importance it would have to the people of Watson Lake and are taking that into consideration as we're doing our work.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given the order of magnitude of the cost of maintaining the road, approaching $1 million a year, even when you do not factor in the capital acquisition cost of new equipment, what it will probably require is maintaining the camp on the Campbell Highway at Tuchitua year-round versus just seasonally. There are all sorts of additional costs there.
The normal method that has been used by previous governments to recover costs from the mines is a charge per tonne mile. Now, what I want to know from the minister is what's the government's policy on this kind of expenditure?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have already explained to the member that we are pulling the numbers together now. The dollars per tonne mile relate to the extra heavy trucks that were at Faro and at Sa Dena Hes. And discussions on this project are ongoing, as I have explained to the member several times.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister stated on the floor of the House that we're looking at an expenditure approaching a million dollars to maintain this section of highway year-round to the standard that's necessary to support the mine, and I'm given to understand that that doesn't even take into consideration the short section from the Yukon/N.W.T. border right to the mine site. There's another section in there that I'm given to understand North American Tungsten have asked the Government of the Yukon to look at maintaining and costing out for them.
So, what I want to know from the minister is what is the government's policy with respect to meeting these costs? Are we just going to fund this out of general revenues, or is all this cost billed back to the mine owners, or what do we do in these cases? Because if you look at the mine in northern British Columbia that was going to be accessed through the Yukon, there was a request that went into the B.C. government to meet part of the cost of the highway.
What is the government's policy on recovering these kinds of costs?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The first meeting my departmental officials had with officials from North American Tungsten was on February 26. That was only a few weeks ago. We're still pulling the numbers together. The Premier has stated that we will assist this mine. Cabinet has not had a chance to discuss this because we don't have all the information we need to make a decision on it.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not looking specifically, at this time, at this road. What I want to know is what the government's policy is with respect to recover maintenance costs on a highway used specifically, like 110 percent, by the mine site. Probably about 99.9 percent of this road will be used by the mine site. There will be a small percentage of individuals using it to access the wilderness in that area or in the fall for hunting. But other than that, to maintain it to the standard that's being suggested, the additional cost to the Yukon government is approaching a million dollars a year.
I want to know what the government policy is, Mr. Chair, on the recovery of this order of magnitude of expenditure.
Or does the government have a policy, Mr. Chair? We seem to have a policy when it comes to putting into place weight restrictions on highways. They don't have to dovetail with anything or any corresponding or adjacent jurisdiction. They just put them on, throw a dart at a dartboard, I guess. I don't know how they're achieved.
What we're looking at, Mr. Chair, is a considerable expenditure of the taxpayers' money here. Now, what is the government's policy with respect to recovering these kinds of funds?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike heard the Premier say yesterday that she was confident that the Yukon government will be able to meet the wishes of this company. We're working to ensure that we can maintain that road and ensure it's in good shape. And, as I said, we're pulling together the numbers. We haven't yet had a Cabinet discussion on this specific project.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister just confirm that the government does not have a policy on recovering of costs on a mine road such as this - that there's no policy in place?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I keep attempting to explain to the member, this is a unique situation, and Cabinet has not yet had a full discussion on it because all the information we require is not available.
Mr. Jenkins: So, could the minister just confirm that the government does not have a policy in place that deals with this kind of an expenditure - opening a highway to industrial traffic to a mine site in another jurisdiction? Because we have not just one potential; we have two - one in British Columbia, and one in the Northwest Territories.
So surely we have to know what the added costs will be to Yukon to maintain those roads, and we have an indication here that it's going to approach a million dollars a year to maintain this Highway 10. Now, I don't have any quarrel, but what is the government's policy with respect to this kind of initiative both here and with the potential mine site in northern British Columbia? What's the government's policy? And if there isn't a policy, could the minister just kindly say so, instead of skirting all around the issue?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I've already answered that question.
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister just confirm that there is no policy in place to deal with this issue? Just a simple yes or no.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I've already answered that question.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the minister has not answered the question. The question to the minister is: does the Government of the Yukon have a policy in place to address this issue? A simple yes or no.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the Member for Klondike is not listening. The Premier has said that we will be working with this company. We just don't have the details yet.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I asked the minister for the government's policy on dealing with a mine site in another jurisdiction where we have to upgrade and maintain the highway to it. What is the government's policy about cost recovery? That's what I've asked the minister, because it's not just the North American Tungsten in Northwest Territories, but we also have another potential mine site in northern British Columbia that will be accessed through Yukon roads. Now, surely the government has recognized that there are costs associated with the added industrial traffic that will be brought to bear on our highway surfaces, and there are added costs. It's clearly indicated. The minister has indicated that the maintenance on Highway 10 will go from $10,000 a year to a figure approaching a million dollars a year, and that's not even taking into consideration the additional capital requirement for more equipment.
What is the government's policy on roads leading to mine sites outside the Yukon that we have to maintain? What is our policy with respect to cost recovery of the maintenance on those roads?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I have already answered that question.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm still waiting for an answer, Mr. Chair.
Deputy Chair: Is there any further debate?
Mr. Jenkins: The Tulsequah mine in northern British Columbia - what is the cost to this government of maintaining the road to the standard that will be needed, and how will it be recovered?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Those figures are not a part of this budget. I don't have them available right now.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I know that the department has met with the officials from the Tulsequah Chief mine. Numbers have been assembled. Could the minister endeavour to provide those figures as to what we're looking at in the Yukon for maintaining our section of the highway and upgrading it to meet the needs of the Tulsequah mine?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I could endeavour to provide those figures.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not asking her if she could. I'm asking her to do so. Can the minister confirm that she will do so, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member's words were, "Could the minister endeavour to provide..." Yes, I will.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the other area I found a bit disconcerting was that the budget last year was about $10,000 to maintain the Nahanni Range Road. This year, we're looking at a number approaching a million dollars. Now, between $10,000 and a million dollars, there is a considerable gap. We are told by the Premier that that money will be found within the existing budget. That would lead one to conclude that there must be an awful lot of fat in Community and Transportation Services if we can find almost a million dollars.
Given the additional capital that is required to purchase new equipment, we are over a million dollars. So, that's the order of magnitude of the funds that we are told are necessary, and we are told they can deal with that issue within the existing budget. That's quite a stretch, and that's quite hard for an individual who has to look at a department's budget and hold them accountable for the up to a $1-million expenditure that can be found within that budget. Now, what is the minister going to cut or eliminate to put together that million dollars? Or is there just that much fat hanging around her department?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There's no fat in the Community and Transportation Services department except on the minister who is wearing the pedometer and doing the 10,000 steps a day to get rid of it.
However, as I have explained, the department's first meeting with people from North American Tungsten was on February 26, after the budget had already been tabled. The discussions on the details of this have not yet happened, and I am looking forward to those discussions.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it becomes abundantly clear that the government doesn't have a policy in place on access roads to mine sites outside of our jurisdiction. I would urge the minister to consider developing one so that there are some guidelines in place as to what we can recover and how we can go about recovering it. There are lots of ways other than just a straight cheque being written by the mine owner to the Government of Yukon. There are all sorts of ways. There is a lot of potential for a lot of business that could come our way and could focus.
So I would urge the minister to have her officials develop a policy to deal with these areas, because we have two potential mine sites - one in British Columbia and one in the Northwest Territories. There are two of them, Mr. Chair, and both may produce results.
Before I leave the issue for this session, unless some further information comes to light, Mr. Chair, I'd just like to go back on the issue of highway weight restrictions and a policy being developed by the government of the day to be consistent with other jurisdictions. I would urge the minister to go back to her officials and, when these weight restrictions come into force, if she could just ask her officials what the weight restrictions are in the corresponding jurisdictions, and if we do vary and if we don't vary and the reasons for it. Because I'm sure if we brought the highway engineers from B.C. up into the Yukon, they'd probably laugh at the weight restrictions here, as would our people here in the Yukon probably shake their heads at some of the decisions made in British Columbia. I know that to be the case from time to time, Mr. Chair.
We have to get in sync with the other jurisdictions. It might not necessarily mean any major deviation. We have different axle loadings, we have different axle spacings, we have a whole series of differences between Alaska and Yukon that should be worked on by this minister. In fact, in one of the discussions I had with the Commissioner of Transportation in Alaska, Mr. Perkins, he said, "Well, bring me a proposal. We'll look at it."
So, I'd ask the minister at this time to take up the challenge and to bring a proposal to Commissioner Perkins in the State of Alaska, the Commissioner of Transportation, through her department officials, to bring into sync a uniform axle spacing and loading in both jurisdictions.
It's something that can be done; it's something that would improve the trucking industry, and it would lower cost of products that are brought our way, Mr. Chair.
Now, currently, the major commodity that's trucked into Yukon from Alaska is oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, whatever you want to call it. That constitutes the biggest amount and biggest volume of product that's trucked our way. If we go on the premise that these truckers simply want to do a job and make a dollar, like everyone else, it's up to government to put in place a consistent set of rules - consistent between the jurisdictions.
Will the minister endeavour to take up this challenge and see what she can do, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I met with Commissioner Perkins in Juneau not long ago, and we did talk about the differences in our regulations, and we did talk about potentially synchronizing our weight restrictions. However, we do have to remember that the protection of our road surface is the most important thing. Once we get the highways back up to the standard they should be at, there will be no problem.
Cooperation between the Yukon and Alaska, with respect to all sorts of aspects of vehicle weights and dimensions, pilot escort vehicle requirements for over-dimensional loads, signing and vehicle visibility is feasible and could have a mutually beneficial effect on transportation between the Yukon and Alaska. We will continue to keep in touch with Commissioner Perkins and his officials for further discussion in these areas.
However, no other jurisdiction can be allowed to determine our weight restrictions. That has to be our decision.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, no one is suggesting that the Yukon do anything but develop its own weight restrictions, but what currently seems to be the trend is to develop them in isolation from what's going on in other jurisdictions.
I'm sure the minister has to stand up and defend these decisions. I don't know to what end or for what purpose. It only serves as an impediment to trade and commerce here in the Yukon, Mr. Chair.
It's not just Alaska where we have problems; it's also British Columbia. Could the minister advise what steps we're taking with British Columbia to bring our highway regulations in sync with British Columbia?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, we are working with all jurisdictions in Canada on vehicle weights and dimensions agreements. That work is well underway, and B.C. is a part of that process.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm not really concerned at this time with the rest of Canada. I'm just really concerned with our neighbours to the west and to the south, Mr. Chair. B.C. appears, in many respects, to be out of sync with the rest of Canada, as is the Yukon. I don't know why. It may be a western alienation process or something like that.
But the issue is that there's quite a bit of difference in highway regulations between British Columbia and the Yukon, and the same rules do not apply to Yukon truckers going into B.C. as to B.C. truckers coming into the Yukon.
And I was just curious as to when we can hope to see this area addressed. Could the minister advise of any progress? If you want an example, Yukon truckers cannot truck logs from Watson Lake south to the mill. It has to be a B.C. trucker who comes up to pick it up. They can operate freely in the Yukon, whereas Yukon truckers cannot operate freely in British Columbia.
I am sure that the minister has been directed to the appropriate page of her briefing notes. Could she advise the House as to what initiatives are being taken by the Government of the Yukon and when we are going to be in sync so that Yukon truckers can operate in B.C. in the same manner that B.C. truckers can operate in Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Economic deregulation has occurred on cross-border trucking, so there is not any reason that I am aware of why people in Watson Lake can't haul into B.C.
Mr. Fentie: It's a well-known fact that Yukon truckers have long, long had a major problem in being able to truck product such as logs out of the Yukon into British Columbia. This is the problem: the Yukon has deregulated but British Columbia has not deregulated in areas such as logs. So, what they do is try and force any Yukon trucker to go through an operating authority process before they can deliver logs into British Columbia, such as the Slocan mill. It has been a never-ending problem, but on the other side of this equation, B.C. trucks freely come to the Yukon. If they are hauling out of areas that are outside of communities like Watson Lake, south on the Alaska Highway, a lot of them don't even bother to buy a Yukon plate; they just simply come, load and go back home.
But they can just drive into Watson Lake, buy a licence plate and commence hauling with no further process, application or any other thing. It's a very unfair practice. It discriminates against Yukon truckers. It has been going on for years and we have yet to solve the problem.
Can the minister at least assure the House that she will make every effort to deal with the British Columbia government so that this practice, when it comes to Yukon wood - I'm not talking about British Columbia timber, I'm talking about Yukon timber - makes it that our product has unfettered access to the marketplace in British Columbia?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, I can look into it and see what I can do, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, that's just one of the problems we face in operating in British Columbia. There's a whole series of problems in British Columbia. The minister only has to talk to those in the transportation industry and the trucking industry to ascertain what they are, and I would urge her to meet with the Transportation Association of Canada on this issue, because it's not going to go away.
British Columbians are more adamant than the minister is and probably know - well, we won't go there, Mr. Chair. They're more adamant than the minister and there's a whole series of problems, the end result of which virtually discriminates against Yukon-owned-and-operated trucks and trailers and equipment, and it's not fair - not fair at all.
Mr. Chair, there are some other areas I want to go back over with the minister. Could the minister confirm that, for the Top of the World Highway, there will be individuals in place from highway enforcement from the Department of Community and Transportation Services this spring to enforce weight restrictions? Could the minister confirm that, and does the minister have any idea what the amount of the weight restrictions will be?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The weight restrictions have not been determined as yet. Enforcement officials will be there if required.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, why would the weight restrictions be any different from last year, if they are going to be imposed?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have been trying all afternoon to explain to the member that weight restrictions aren't arbitrary. They depend on conditions. So, the conditions will be assessed and the weight restrictions determined based on that.
I urge the members opposite to take me up on my offer for a detailed, technical briefing on weight restrictions, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Those of us on this side of the House have lived with those weight restrictions, have been involved with the industry and are very, very familiar with them. We are also very familiar with the tenacity of the respective enforcement agencies and how they can deal with it. But really, what has changed on the Top of the World Highway from last year to this year, other than it being a year later? The snow load and coverage is virtually the same. That can be confirmed by the officials of the water survey. The same domes are snowed in. If you call some of the people who have been over there on their snow machines, they can tell you about the snow levels. The temperatures up there have been consistently below freezing.
What is the formula that the government uses to determine what the weight restrictions are going to be? What is this magic formula that changes from year to year? Does the dartboard they throw a dart at get bigger? What is it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The officials in the Department of Community and Transportation Services are highly competent, and I resent the member making allegations that they aren't. The amount of the weight restriction, if any - and I suspect there will be - won't be determined until we have the snow off the road and officials have had a chance to look at it.
Mr. Fentie: Let's try this another way; maybe the minister and I can connect here. The department makes the decision based on monitoring the road surface and, when the frost starts coming out of the road, is when they start to plan or, even at that point, trigger a weight restriction. What's the formula in that regard that results in the department officials - we're not saying they're incompetent. What they're doing is following policy, and much of this is about policy. Not a lot of it that I've ever been able to experience or witness has to do with the reality of what really happens.
So, what is the formula that suddenly triggers this decision, by policy, to apply a 100-percent, 85-percent or 75-percent weight restriction?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Come to the technical briefing.
Mr. Fentie: We're asking a minister, who is sponsoring this budget, who is in charge of a department, who makes decision by policy that costs Yukoners directly. It has an impact on any Yukoner in this territory who goes into a store to buy groceries. It has an impact on every Yukoner in this territory who has to go up to the gas pump during times of road ban and buy gas. It has an impact on every Yukoner in anything that requires something being trucked to this territory during times of a road ban, because the freight rates increase during those periods.
Every Yukoner experiences this issue. I think it's only fair, then, that the minister of the day in charge of the department that creates that cost to Yukoners can answer this question: what is the formula through the policy in the department that dictates why we go from 100 percent to 85 percent or to 75 percent on any particular road surface? What is that formula?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The easiest way for the members opposite to understand weight restrictions is to come to the technical briefing. From their questions, it is obvious that they think weight restrictions are a bad thing. They don't believe that heavy vehicle traffic damages the road surface, obviously, by their questions. If we did not impose weight restrictions at certain times of the year in certain conditions, the state of the roads would be a lot worse than it is now. Come to the technical briefing.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I understand fully what happens and why road damage occurs. It's called capillary action. When weight on the surface of the road presses down on a road surface, the tendency then is that any moisture in the subsurface or in the grade below is forced to the surface, which then causes road damage.
But I want to point something out to the minister. For 20 years I drove the highways of this territory in heavy truck traffic. The same spots were always the problem. That tells me that not all of the extent of the highway is affected by certain spots. So my point is, Mr. Chair: why are we, because of some policy in the department, going from 100-percent payload to, say, 85 percent? What is that formula?
Maybe we don't have to go that far and we might lighten the burden on all Yukoners, who pay out of their pockets for that decision by the department, in the hope that it will help reduce damage on the highway.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The departmental officials who crunch the numbers to determine what the weight restrictions will be buy groceries here, too. They buy gas here, too. They are all too aware of the cost on their pocketbook. And, yes, there are certain sections of the road, as the Member for Watson Lake says, that have more problems than others. You might be able to have no weight restriction up to a certain point, and then you might need a weight restriction in one particular area. What do you want to do? Do you want to unload the freight truck there and carry the stuff across the bad part? I mean, I don't think so. Let's be realistic.
Mr. Fentie: I am being realistic, because I believe that the policy could be looked at within the department and we could improve this situation. Furthermore, it isn't me who has committed to the Yukon public that the highways in this territory have been neglected for years and that this Liberal government is going to change that. Why doesn't this minister, then, direct her department - because the department knows where those soft spots are on our highways. Why doesn't the minister have them fixed?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Because when the former government was in power - the Member for Watson Lake's government - they slashed the budget.
Mr. Fentie: Rubbish - complete and total rubbish.
Furthermore, the claim that this government makes that they have dramatically increased capital spending on our highways is a bunch of bunk. The facts are that that's not the case. They have made a nominal increase, very small, over what the last year's capital expenditure was on our highways. They have also managed to move money from other programs to make that nominal increase.
But let's get back to the issue - road bans and what is really happening.
Why can't the department give serious consideration to, when applying road bans, adding in a few more things to the formula such as frequency of traffic on the particular road? Because capillary action works when frequency of traffic continually goes over that particular section. How about frequency of traffic as part of the formula?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: When the department is determining weight restrictions, they take all factors into account, and I welcome the member to a technical briefing to get all the details first-hand, to ask all the questions of the departmental officials that he wishes, and to come to an understanding of the reasons behind weight restrictions.
Mr. Fentie: That's completely loopy. It's the minister who should know. Why should I have to know? I'm asking the questions. Why should I go to a technical briefing? The minister should know these things. This is the minister who is sponsoring and is in charge of this department, and these decisions by this department are, in fact, decisions by the minister. It's the minister who should know.
Let me ask the minister this question. Why, in a place like the Watson Lake area, is the Alaska Highway at 100 percent, and then we turn down the Stewart-Cassiar Road - from the turnoff on the Alaska Highway to the border is a short three-kilometre stretch. How does the department come up with the fact that we can haul 100 percent on the Alaska Highway, but to go that three-kilometre stretch, we have to go down to a 75-percent weight restriction? It's virtually the same road. Why is that formula such that those kinds of departmental decisions are made, and then when community people get into an uproar about it, the department changes it back?
The minister must realize that this bears certain scrutiny and the minister should be looking into this issue. Will the minister look into this issue, at how road bans are applied and why?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The three kilometres the member is talking about is a different road surface. It hasn't been reconstructed. We just put $116,000 worth of work into that section, and we don't want to mess it up.
Mr. Fentie: The facts are that the department did relent on the weight restriction on that particular road, and the trucks continued to haul accordingly with the increased payload. I asked the minister if the department found any damage to that road?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Watson Lake should be asking the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes that question, because he was the minister at the time.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, this is going to be a long, long afternoon. Why can't this minister answer those questions?
It is the Member for - what riding is she from? Member for Laberge, sorry, I forgot there for a moment. It's the Member for Laberge who is now the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Why can't the minister just commit to this House and to Yukoners that she will undertake a review of road bans - the formula that is used, how they are applied, and where they are applied. Besides, the Liberal government is an expert at reviews. We're reviewing everything in this territory, including our economy, which is going rapidly into the toilet.
Will the minister commit to what I've asked in terms of road bans in this territory?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Watson Lake obviously believes that the road bans are being applied arbitrarily and that they're being applied to cause maximum discomfort to Yukoners. I can assure the member that that is not the case. They are applied, as necessary, to protect the road surface. If he would come to a technical briefing, he would understand that.
Mr. Fentie: That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying that we could improve this. We could make it better. We could make it less onerous on Yukoners, and the minister has the capacity and the authority to do that. I'm asking the minister to do exactly that. Review it, improve it, and we'll have a much better system of weight restrictions during spring breakup.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I think the system we have now is working just fine. It is protecting our road surface and, if the member would come to a technical briefing, he would understand that. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the minister may believe it's working just fine, and that's one thing but, at the end of the day, it's Yukoners who are paying for that department decision. They are paying for it, and Yukoners want to know if there is a way to improve this situation so that their freight bill - instead of a weight restriction of 75-percent payload, if it could be moved up to, say, a 90-percent restriction from 100 - would reflect that savings. Would this really damage the road if that small change of restriction were applied? We're talking here not about being against weight restrictions. We understand what they are. We know what it does. We know what they're for. We're saying, improve it, so there's less of a cost to Yukoners when the department applies these things, because there have been many occasions where a weight restriction that was applied did not necessarily have to be that low. It didn't have to be 75 percent; it could have been 85 percent.
Will the minister commit to undertaking an initiative to try and improve that system that we have in this territory of applying weight restrictions and how far we cut payload?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: From his comments, the member obviously believes that these numbers are arbitrary. I have explained that the highways officials responsible for them pay the increased costs as well as the member, as do I pay the increased costs. The officials put on the amount of road restriction necessary to protect the road surface during breakup. The system is working very well. I see no need to change it.
Mr. Fentie: Well, if that's how the human race thought, we never would have invented the wheel.
Let me give the minister another example. During times of the road ban and spring breakup, it's inevitable that, during long stretches of that time during the night, Jack Frost returns and road surfaces freeze again. Now, here's an example. And I'm not saying that I promote this or that I am exercised about it. I'm just saying that here are some of the things we could think about - road restrictions that allow a weight change during periods of the day when thawing does not occur.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, on rare occasions we do that on back roads. If our highways were up to the standard they should be, weight restrictions would not be a problem at breakup; however, they aren't, so we have weight restrictions.
Mr. Fentie: I will close by saying this: we have weight restrictions because it is a policy.
There is no evidence that picking a number, like a 75-percent restriction, is saving the road any more than choosing an 85-percent restriction. That is what we are driving at. Surely the minister must understand that this may very well be a very good area of policy within the minister's department that could be reviewed and possibly be improved. That is what we are trying to point out here. And we merely want that undertaking committed to by the minister.
Surely the minister understands that there is nothing cynical here. We are merely trying to, in a constructive way, offer suggestions and the minister could very well find that there are ways to improve this system that will directly affect Yukoners in a positive way.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I ask again for the opposition members to attend a technical briefing on weight restrictions. This briefing has been given to members of the public when they have requested it and they find it most helpful. It gives them some understanding of the difficulty that the highways department faces.
I repeat that these are not arbitrary numbers. There is quite a difference between a 75-percent and an 85-percent road restriction. If the members are refusing a technical briefing, then I don't know what else to tell them. I really wish that they would take advantage of it.
Mr. Fentie: I have to point something out. The minister's answer reflects the fact that she doesn't understand the physics of truck traffic. The difference between 75 percent and 85 percent is not planted on one axle, on one set of wheels where that weight would have an impact on the road surface. It's distributed throughout the axles and the configuration of the unit. That's the point that's being made here.
Where's the evidence that says that the difference between a 10-percent difference, spread out through an eight-axle configuration, is going to cause more damage to the road? There isn't any. Technical briefing aside, there is no such evidence. We're saying that there's reason here, multiple reasons here, to seriously consider looking at the policy, looking at how we apply this particular area of the department's jurisdiction, and trying to improve it for the benefit of Yukoners. Why won't the minister undertake that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Come to the technical briefing.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the minister only has to go to Alaska and undertake that same technical briefing as what's being offered here today. Alaska, I would suggest to the minister, has the same type of road conditions and surfaces in their northern region as we do here in the Yukon, yet their axle spacing and their loading is considerably different, and I would submit that their experts and their knowledge of highway construction, and their understanding of weight loading and axle loading and axle spacing, is probably equally as good as other jurisdictions, if not better. Yet, when we see what the State of Alaska says with respect to axle spacing and loading, it is considerably different from the Yukon, and that's the point I'm trying to get through to the minister - that we don't have a uniform set of standards like we should have across the jurisdictions.
The State of Alaska requires a drop axle. That doesn't even exist here in the Yukon, unless you're running into Alaska.
So, while the minister might offer a technical briefing, the opposition, the Member for Watson Lake, has been in the trucking business long enough to know what he's facing, and has faced, in virtually all of the jurisdictions.
Mr. Chair, a question to the minister: has the minister herself taken a technical briefing on this issue of axle loading and spacing and what the positions are in the various jurisdictions? Has she taken a technical briefing here in the Yukon? Does she have an understanding of what exists in the other northern jurisdictions, which truckers who traverse through our territory are coming from and going to?
Deputy Chair: Order please. The time being 4:30, do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Deputy Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will proceed with general debate on the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, three people asked me for the technical briefing on my way upstairs. I thought that was pretty good. Other people in the building are interested but the members opposite aren't. That's really a pity.
Mr. Chair, since the spring of 1992, we have had spring-load restrictions on several Yukon highways, and I have said that they aren't arbitrary. The members opposite choose not to believe me, but they aren't. As conditions change, the restrictions are altered to reflect the road conditions. They are imposed to mitigate damage to the road system as the roads begin to thaw in the spring. They're only applied as necessary, based on the appropriate combination of Benkleman beam readings, frost probe data, engineering analysis and visual observations. The degree and duration of load restrictions depend on spring, ground and weather conditions and can normally be expected to apply from early April to mid to late May. This year we expect maybe earlier, due to warmer temperatures.
Not all roads are affected at the same time or for the entire duration.
As upgrading of the Alaska Highway from Whitehorse to Watson Lake is now complete, spring road restrictions will not go below 100-percent legal axle loading, east of Mendenhall Creek, approximately 90 kilometres west of Whitehorse.
The Member for Klondike was asking if I have had the technical briefing. I have had enough of a briefing on road restrictions to understand their purpose and importance. In order that the members opposite also understand it, I continue to urge them to take advantage of the technical briefing, which I would be pleased to attend with them.
Mr. Jenkins: I thank the minister for her offer of a technical briefing. I guess the point I wish to make with the minister, Mr. Chair, is the difference in application of weight restriction - rules, axle loading and axle spacing - between the jurisdictions that are adjacent to Yukon, specifically northern British Columbia and Alaska.
Now, if, as the minister is trying to suggest, there is a uniform application of the rules, how come three different jurisdictions came up with three different sets of rules? That would only lead one to conclude that it is because there are three different political regions. It is virtually the same highway, the same road-building concerns and the same methods of construction. In fact, in a lot of cases, the same contractors are building the roads in northern British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. Virtually the same standards are applied.
In fact, the Shakwak standards are U.S. standards. The government of the day tried to shortcut the standards and it wasn't acceptable. The U.S. wouldn't transfer funds to Canada if they were going to go ahead and build it to the standards they suggested. So, we had to adopt the standards here, and they're very good standards.
When one looks at the situation from a trucker's standpoint, there seems to be quite a difference in the opinions expressed on weight restrictions, axle loading and axle spacing between these three jurisdictions.
Now, why is that, Mr. Chair? Why can't we be in sync with the other jurisdictions? What is the problem here?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We have been around and around and around this over a couple of hours this afternoon. I have answered this questions several times. I think that the member just doesn't like the answer that he is hearing, so he keeps hoping that I am going to give him a different answer. I am not.
Mr. Jenkins: Would the minister undertake to ascertain the differences between the Yukon and Alaska, and Yukon and British Columbia with respect to road restrictions, axle loading and axle spacing?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, I will. I will also ascertain the differences in highway budgets.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the issue of highway budget - if the minister looks at the gross amount of the respective jurisdiction, she's going to find quite a contrast. If she just looks at what is specifically applied in that area's budget to that section of the highway, she might come up with a striking resemblance to her own numbers, Mr. Chair. That, from my examination, is very much the case.
Let's look at this situation. During times of rate restrictions in the spring, the majority of the Alaska Highway is restricted to 100 percent of legal axle loading, and no overweight permits will be allowed - fine, no problem. How does the minister explain the situation on the Klondike Highway? When White Pass or Anvil were running it, it was 100 percent of legal axle load as far as Carmacks. Now it's restricted. Why?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the roads aren't in as great shape as they were a few years ago when that ore haul was happening. The Member for Klondike is shaking his head, but he knows in his heart that I'm telling the truth on this one.
Mr. Jenkins: I beg to differ, Mr. Chair. I run that highway twice a week, virtually every week and, other than the minister's inability to cut down the brush alongside the highway, the highway has actually improved, and improved significantly. So, I'll give kudos where kudos are properly required, but the Klondike Highway from the turnoff of the Alaska Highway to Carmacks used to be 100-percent legal axle loading, year-round. Now, in the springtime, it's restricted. Why?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The condition of that road has deteriorated in the last few years. I don't know if the Member for Klondike has been over it in a transport truck recently. I have, and it's a pretty bumpy ride, compared to being in a van, with the wheels barely touching the ground.
Mr. Jenkins: The next thing we're going to hear is that the minister not only has a class 6 driver's licence, but a class 1 with air, and we're going to see her behind the wheel of a Kenworth, toodling up the highway.
I did notice in tonight's paper that CBC is hiring again, after laying off a considerable amount of people, but I would envision that as a much more worthwhile undertaking for the minister than as a transport driver.
I have spent enough time in the transportation end of the business here to tell the minister that that highway is probably in better shape now than it has ever been. On a year-round basis, I would certainly disagree with the minister. I do note that maintenance has been scaled back for snow removal, because of the frequency with which the road is used and the amount of traffic.
But, by and large, the highway is in considerably better shape than I have ever experienced it. The other morning, returning to Dawson, I can tell the minister, Mr. Chair, that the only things I came across on the highway were one moose and about three lynx after the turnoff at Takhini. That's how much traffic there was. So, the traffic is way, way down, and that, in large part, is due to the Yukon Liberals' failure to address the economic shortcomings and turn them around.
Before we leave this, I once again urge the minister to give her utmost consideration to putting in place a set of rules for weight restrictions that dovetail with the jurisdictions on either side of our borders. It makes no sense for a petroleum hauler to be allowed 90 percent legal axle load and come to the border, and, in the last 60 miles, he's only allowed 75 percent and he has to pump off right there. The government has probably spent upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 hiring a motorhome, sending a couple of inspectors and portable scales up to the Top of the World Highway and buying them food to ensure that there is compliance.
The lengths that the minister will go to to ensure compliance are interesting. I guess this is the Liberal way, Mr. Chair. Big brother is watching. George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-four has come and gone, but the Liberals are enhancing their position with respect to enforcement. Nothing else - I guess there's very little else to do.
So, I would urge the minister to take up the challenge and ask her officials why there is a difference in weight restrictions on similar roads in Alaska and British Columbia, and why we can't bring everything into sync. It's a commonsense question. I guess what the minister does is sit down with her officials and accepts verbatim what is provided to her. No one is discounting the expertise in-house, Mr. Chair, but let's compare ourselves to other jurisdictions that operate under very similar conditions and see what conclusions they come to. We could learn an awful lot by following the leads of others and not trying to re-invent the wheel. But if the minister is determined to reinvent the wheel, I guess we have three more years to wait until she finds her job, or a position, back with CBC or driving a transport truck up and down the Klondike Highway. Then she'll learn first-hand the problems that truckers experience.
Let's move on to another area of the budget. Let's move into Community and Transportation Services. I refer the minister to the service contracts, the summary, on page 22. Yukon TV Inspection Services - we spent $6,700 for camera inspection, eduction, grader stations. Now, that sounds like a pretty poopy movie that the minister had commissioned here, but I was wondering - normally camera inspections of sewer lines are undertaken. What is the minister up to here?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe that I will have to check with the department and get back to the member on that. I note that the same company also has contracts for flushing and cleaning culverts. There are some sewer lines involved, so perhaps that is what it is for.
I note that the contract he refers to is for $6,725. The others are for just under $4,000 and for $5,000.
Back to weight restrictions - it's not just about truckers. It's about protecting the infrastructure - the $2.3 billion in highway infrastructure - for the benefit of all Yukoners, for the travelling public, and for the commercial vehicles. We prefer compliance to be voluntary. That is the goal. If a few people choose to behave otherwise, they cause problems for the great majority. I would just like the member opposite to be aware of that. As for his question about camera inspection, eduction at grader stations, I will get back to him with an answer.
Mr. Jenkins: That part of the Yukon TV Inspection Services contract does stand out, in that all of the other areas are rather self-explanatory. They are to flush culverts or to clean out culverts. I know that this firm is very capable in that they provide not only flushing and steaming; they do monitor sewer lines, and they do have a camera that they pull through the sewer lines so you can see what problems that you have. I was just wondering what kind of camera inspection we do on the eduction service. It just sticks out like a sore thumb. It is probably just the explanation provided, which is similar to a lot of the other explanations that are provided in the contract registry, and they just don't sometimes make sense.
It is probably a very bona fide and legitimate expense; I have no quarrel with that, but the explanation that we received is very minimal, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I move into the traffic counts and the traffic locator and the Yukon traffic count summary. I was wondering why it could take so long. Are these electronic counters read on a monthly basis? I don't know the frequency of the data being compiled. It's expressed on a monthly basis, but does somebody actually physically go around and read them on a monthly basis, or is it just done once a year and it's compiled in the data collectors on a monthly basis? How is it done, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: In some cases, I believe people go out; in others, they don't. But I'm not sure of the details on that, so I'll inquire and get back to the member. As for the camera inspection eduction, I guess it's what you call a dirty movie, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't want to go there, because I don't think the uptake on watching a dirty movie with the minister would be too great, given where it was taken.
Mr. Chair, we notice a considerable downturn in traffic in the Yukon traffic count summary. The Campbell Highway is way, way down. Some of the principal highways are way down. Is this, Mr. Chair, directly related to the downturn in the economic conditions, or does the minister have some further explanation?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I wouldn't begin to speculate on why traffic counts may be down on particular highways.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not asking the minister to speculate. I'm asking the minister why vehicle traffic is down.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member's referring to a report that I don't have in front of me. I'm not sure why the traffic counts have gone down, as he is telling me, but this Liberal government is certainly going to get them to go up again over the next couple of years.
Mr. Jenkins: I would have to agree with the minister, given that the Liberals' position is "my way is the highway". It's the highway north to Inuvik, where a great deal of my constituency is currently working, up in the Mackenzie Delta, either for Arctic Tire or some other oil and gas firms.
They are great employment opportunities, and I would urge the minister to see what she can do to maintain the Dempster Highway in a much more open condition than it has been. It has kind of impeded the only flow of vehicle traffic through the Yukon that we have, as of late, Mr. Chair, given the recent closure of the Dempster Highway.
It does have some economic spinoffs, and they're accruing to other regions.
Mr. Chair, suffice it to say that the amount of traffic that Yukon is experiencing and the number of commercial vehicles registered here in the Yukon are down, and the amount of economic activity is down.
That's quite evident when we look at the figures projected here in the various documents, and it doesn't look like it's going to change, Mr. Chair.
Before we leave this section of highways, could the minister advise the House if, in her meetings with Commissioner Perkins in Juneau, she had discussions on the opening of the Taylor Highway and what the position of the State of Alaska is with respect to the opening of it in subsequent years? Further to that, did we come to any written agreement with Alaska on the opening and the timing of the opening of the Taylor and Top of the World highways?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There is no written agreement with the State of Alaska, but Commissioner Perkins assured me that funds are available in their budget to open the Taylor Highway as usual this spring. The Government of Alaska is quite aware of the importance of that highway to Yukon tourism, and it's an important one to them as well.
In response to the Member for Klondike's mention of the Dempster Highway, I would call it a cheap shot, Mr. Chair, but he'd object. As the Member for Klondike knows perfectly well, the weather on that particular highway is occasionally extremely severe, and the Dempster was most recently closed north of Eagle Plains last Friday. It was impossible for maintenance crews to start work on opening it until Monday because the safety of travellers and the safety of our staff are of paramount concern when decisions are made to close roads due to extreme weather conditions.
What had happened in that case, Mr. Chair, was that one of our graders became stuck when the operator was rescuing stranded motorists on Friday, and the grader had to be abandoned in its stuck position due to the extreme weather conditions.
Private individuals tried to get through the closed road and tried to operate the grader. I consider those actions to be extremely reckless. They disabled the machine even further, so recovery of the grader was hampered.
One of the media outlets in Whitehorse had incorrectly suggested that a grader had been taken from Eagle Plains to Whitehorse, leaving Eagle Plains short of equipment to maintain the road. Just over two weeks ago, a transmission failed on one of the graders that was stationed in Eagle Plains. The grader was taken to Dawson City for repairs, not Whitehorse. A replacement unit was taken to Eagle Plains the next day, so there was no shortage of equipment at Eagle Plains, except for that one day.
The Dempster Highway is subject to extreme weather. I don't know if the member has been up there during extreme weather conditions, but it isn't pleasant. It isn't pleasant for crews, and you get to a point where it's not practical to try and keep the road open. It's better to let it close and go back when the storm dies down.
Mr. Jenkins: I would like to thank the minister for her overview of the Dempster Highway and its recent closure. Given the order of responses that we're receiving here in the House, Mr. Chair, I am curious as to why the minister didn't just rush up to Eagle Plains and jump into a pickup. The snow would have melted right in front of her, all the way through to Fort McPherson.
I only have to look back in Hansard at the wonderful answers we've been receiving to date on various issues to recognize the minister's ability, Mr. Chair.
Before we leave the agreement with the State of Alaska, did the minister seek any assurances that the State of Alaska is going to be opening the Taylor Highway on a regular basis in the years to come, or is it on a year-to-year basis? Do we have to go back and lobby each year, Mr. Chair, or is there a kind of understanding that this situation will be maintained for the next few years?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Commissioner Perkins said nothing that would lead me to believe that opening of the Taylor Highway, as usual, will not continue for the foreseeable future. We had a productive meeting. The problems of a couple of years ago were because money was taken out of their budget. As a result of lobbying efforts by the Yukon government and by the Member for Klondike, the funds were restored so that the Alaskan government could open the highway this past spring. But he said nothing that would lead me to believe that the highway won't be opened each spring for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's go about this a different way, Mr. Chair. Did the minister specifically ask Commissioner Perkins about future years?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, I did.
Mr. Jenkins: The answer was structured previously, Mr. Chair. Nothing was conveyed to me that it wouldn't be open on a timely basis, but unless the specific question is posed to Commissioner Perkins, I guess the answer isn't going to be forthcoming. Did the minister specifically ask Commissioner Perkins whether the Taylor Highway would be opened in subsequent years, on a regular basis, or if we can anticipate any change from the standard? I guess the minister has indicated that she did ask that question, and they are going to be doing it on a continuing basis. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We discussed the problem. We discussed what the budget was and their budget has been restored. Unless their budget is removed again, I don't anticipate that there will be a problem.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister's probably not as familiar with the budgeting process and the lobbying efforts, and the pressures brought to bear on Commissioner Perkins and, unless a specific area is concentrated upon and lobbied for on an ongoing basis, it could well be lopped out of the budget in subsequent years.
So, the issue is a very important one. It's a very important one for the visitor industry, and it's obviously a less important one for those of us who have to buy fuel oil, because the minister is very determined to ensure that there's going to be a different set of standards imposed on Canadian highways in the Yukon here than are in the State of Alaska, and we'll probably be paying quite a surcharge on fuel as a consequence of 90-percent legal axle loading in the U.S. and 75 percent on the Taylor Highway. Be that as it may.
Let's look into the rural roads program. In my area, the one area that requires attention is the Henderson subdivision. A lot of the roads in that area are not up to the standards to even qualify for the rural roads upgrading program.
Now, this is a subdivision that the Yukon government sanctioned, and it came about by way of subdivision by lease of an agricultural area, and it does have some history to it. But the government's recognition of this subdivision requires that the roads in that area be brought up to an acceptable level. They all are not.
What initiatives is this government instituting during this cycle to address the issue of the roads in the Henderson subdivision, other than ongoing maintenance?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I note that there was some clearing, grubbing, widening and surfacing done in the 2000-01 fiscal year in the Henderson Corner subdivision area. That area may well see work done again this year, subject to other priorities. All of the areas that are in the hopper will be looked at based on a number of criteria, which I had discussed at length earlier in the week. Henderson Corner may well get some attention.
Referring back to Commissioner Perkins and my visit to Alaska, one of the reasons that we went was to make sure that the Alaska government understood the importance of opening the Taylor Highway; and they do, but that doesn't mean we will let up. We will continue to talk with them about that.
Further to weight restrictions, which the Member for Klondike doesn't seem to want to let go, if this is such an issue for the Member for Klondike and the Member for Watson Lake, why didn't they change the regulations years ago when their respective governments were in power? Why wait until a different government is in power and then get them to change it? I totally fail to understand why things all of a sudden become a problem once the Liberal government is in power. I mean, weight restrictions obviously didn't just become an issue on April 18, 2000.
Mr. Jenkins: No, Mr. Chair, but they'll become more of an issue, with the tenacity with which the enforcement arm of this government is addressing the restrictions. That's the issue.
Mr. Chair, let's go back to the Henderson subdivision. There are a number of roads in that subdivision that are not up to the standards so they can even receive funding under the rural roads upgrading program guidelines. They're substandard; they're below the standard.
Now, the money that has been spent currently is on upgrading of a couple of roads that meet the standards. What is going to be done with the roads that are below the standards so that they don't even dovetail into the rural roads upgrading program guidelines?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I note that in the rural roads upgrading program last year, the Klondike riding received about $130,000 worth of work: $92,000 on the Bonanza Creek Road, $25,000 on the Sunnydale access road, and $15,000 in the Henderson Corner area.
As the member also knows, there is less money in the program this year, so I know we won't be able to fulfill every need, but we'll do the best we can, based on other priorities and other demands.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, here's a government that touted they were going to put more back into roads and they were going to address them and they were going to bring them up to standards. They were going to do a whole lot of wonderful things with Yukon highways, and there is less money in the program this year for rural roads upgrading.
It sounds great, Mr. Chair, but let's look at what happened in the Klondike riding last year. The Sunnydale Road - or the golf course road, whatever you want to refer to it as - still needs upgrading and still needs a lot more attention. I hope the government will give it the attention it deserves before there's a very serious accident on that road, because it's too narrow. It needs to be widened, and it's almost straight down in quite a few places.
The Bonanza Creek Road is self-explanatory. I do want to tell the minister that her officials, in their very capable manner this spring, ploughed the Bonanza Creek Road open just a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Chair, just before the last trek was in town. The trek adds significantly to our economic base and what they do when they're in town. It's called a poker run, and that run takes them up Bonanza Creek, around the top, over the King Solomon Dome, and back down. It's an event that's well subscribed to. Two of them went off without a hitch, but the third one had to be cancelled because the Department of Highways managed to go ahead and open Bonanza Creek Road and grade it right down to the chipseal and gravel. Why they couldn't have waited about three days, I do not know. It's a mystery. I guess the instructions that were given were to just open it to where the school bus goes and turns around, but the grader kept going.
So, I'd ask the minister to ask her officials - who, by and large, in Dawson do an excellent job. No one's questioning the calibre of their work, but the direction given from the minister's office is sometimes very, very misleading or inappropriate.
There's a problem at that level, Mr. Chair, so I urge the minister to pay careful attention to some of the details. Under the rural roads program, Sunnydale Road needs more attention, and it needs it very quickly. Henderson's Corner subdivision - there are a couple of roads in there that are virtually trails. We have to start from the ground and work up with a whole roadbed, but the rural roads upgrading program guidelines do not conform.
Now, these are taxpayers. They deserve the same attention as any other taxpayer in that subdivision is receiving. In many respects, under the previous NDP government, it was very awkward on my part to criticize what they were doing in my riding, Mr. Chair, given the tremendous amount of community development funds that flowed into the Klondike riding. In fact, of all of the Yukon ridings, I believe the Klondike received a significant amount of community development funding. It was very well-received, demonstrated positive results, put Yukoners to work, and the examples of this government funding are clearly identified today in our community, as are some of the expenditures on highways, roads, and road upgrading.
But what we're seeing under the current Liberal government is a bigger expenditure on government, but all the funds appear to be pulled back, or set back, and they're being spent in Whitehorse and the Whitehorse periphery, and very little is filtering out to those areas of Yukon that need it.
The Minister of Health and Social Services has readily admitted that he's hosing down his home riding with tremendous amounts of government money - taxpayers' money. So, I don't know. It's quite interesting.
So, I would ask the minister to give careful consideration to the needs of Henderson subdivision, number one, and the Sunnydale access road. And with the Sunnydale access road, it's a safety issue. It's a very important safety issue. Last year, an initiative made by the government was to place a series of concrete - I believe the concrete barriers adjacent to the edge of the road are about two feet tall. But the road itself needs to be widened and sloped, so that the angle - it is one heck of an approach coming out of there. There is a very, very significant grade on that route.
And, of course, if the minister of towns and trucks can see her way clear, chipsealing that road would probably also be appropriate. It accesses a wonderful region and the golf course, and the dust blows off the road onto the golf course, which we don't want to happen, of course. We want to have the best possible potential realized from these attractions that are built by the private sector.
So, the minister can play a role - a very positive role. And I'd urge her to take up the challenge and address her responsibilities from a safety standpoint and an enhancement standpoint to encourage economic stimulus in the Klondike region. Will she do so, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Of course, the department will consider the needs of the entire territory, in terms of the rural roads upgrade program, and will make their decisions accordingly. I am sure that I will hear representation from every other MLA for work in their ridings, as well.
I thank the member for bringing those issues to my attention, especially the safety issue that he tells me exists on the Sunnydale access road.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, while we are in my riding, I was wondering just where we are at with that wonderful bridge across the Yukon River at Dawson - that Yukon River crossing. Could the minister advise what is going to happen with the ferry this year? Are we just going to keep patching it up or is it going to be repowered and new marine gear thrown into it? Just where are we at? Can the minister advise what kind of money is going to be spent on the George Black ferry this year?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We know that constructing a bridge over the Yukon River in Dawson isn't a new idea; people have been talking about the merits of that for many years now. And we know that some people in Dawson would like to see a bridge built to replace the George Black ferry.
We are looking forward to receiving the current town council's position on the bridge and its priority relative to other local projects. We are also interested in hearing the point of view of others in the Klondike area and others throughout the Yukon on a bridge.
The member knows that we don't have $25 million readily available to commit to the bridge today, given all of the other Yukon government funding requirements. The George Black ferry will go into the river on schedule this year. In the coming year's budget, $150,000 is budgeted to replace the engines and marine gears for the ferry.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister is saying that to repower and supply new marine gear for the George Black ferry is $150,000. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: That is the amount in the budget.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I have an understanding of what the costs of two new marine engines would be and what two new marine gears would be, because basically we're talking about a couple of engines and a couple of Cats that are time-expired, and they can only go through so many major rebuilds. They're at the end of their ropes, Mr. Chair. Reliability is an issue, and I believe the recommendation coming out of Dawson was that they be repowered and supplied with new marine gear. Is the minister aware of this?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: What I just told the member is that funding is required for this year to repower the George Black ferry. The engines and marine gears will be replaced at $150,000 in the 2001-02 year, and in 2002-03 we expect that the steering and monitoring controls will be done at $100,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister just send over a breakdown of that $150,000 to repower and provide the marine gears? Because that doesn't even come close to the cost of two engines and two marine gears. That's to patch up the existing.
And the other area where there are a considerable number of problems in downtime resulting from it was the steering. It was old cable steering, and they were looking at upgrading it to hydraulic. Now, why isn't that slated to go ahead, given the tremendous amount of downtime the cable system currently creates on the George Black ferry, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will get the member a breakdown of the information he requested.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I know the minister wasn't in Dawson when the dog-and-pony show took place, but we had the Member for Faro and the Member for Whitehorse Centre attending, and they heard extensively from the community with respect to the reliability of the George Black ferry and what it was going to take. That was enunciated at great length - the problems with engines, the problems with marine gears and the problems with steering on the George Black ferry. Yet we see a paltry amount. We were given to understand that this issue was going to be addressed this year.
$150,000 would probably do an end-frame overall on both engines, Mr. Chair. That's about the extent of it. It may do an end-frame overall, but to go beyond that and repower it - that amount wouldn't even begin to cover the costs.
Is there a plan afoot to actually repower the George Black ferry with new engines and new marine gears? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have already answered the question. I will get the member a breakdown of the figures, as he has requested.
Mr. Jenkins: If the minister is trying to tell the House that she's going to buy two new Caterpillar marine engines and two new marine gears and install them in the George Black ferry for $150,000, the job will get partway done and we'll be looking for more money.
Then we'll have to come back. I don't know how they do it internally. I guess it's possible, seeing as how the minister has the ability to find a million dollars in her department when only $10,000 was budgeted for an initiative. So I guess the possibility exists that this could be done.
Can the minister bring back some order of magnitude of the costs for repowering? I know what she has budgeted, but there must be some in-house information about two new marine engines and two new marine gears are going to cost, installed in the George Black ferry.
There was discussion around repowering them with higher horsepower. Is this being explored and is it part of the scenario, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will get the member the information he has requested.
Mr. Jenkins: The other area regarding the George Black ferry is that it goes through a lot of downtime as a consequence of steering problems. I know that that's not slated to be done until later. Why can't we be working on this initiative now?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Because we don't have the money.
Mr. Jenkins: Starting April 1, why can't we start on this initiative?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have explained to the member what is budgeted for the George Black ferry for this year. I will get him the breakdown of those figures, as he has requested.
Mr. Jenkins: I don't know what good the amount of money we are spending on it will be, if we can't steer the thing. There is a safety issue. The other issue that's of paramount importance is the reliability of the George Black ferry.
Does the minister have the reliability figures before her as to the downtime experienced last year and in previous years? What is the trend?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, I don't have that information in front of me.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister might want to obtain that information and ask her officials to determine what the availability is of the George Black ferry, because it's the only link in the summertime from one side of the Yukon River to the other side, and it's of fundamental importance. When it breaks down, which it has been doing on a continuing basis, more frequently now than ever, it requires government attention, because it's government responsibility.
What assurances has the minister received that it's going to be a reliable ferry this summer, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would point out to the member that, when we came into power last year, the money to do work on the ferry wasn't in the budget. We put money in the budget for this year. I am confident that the George Black ferry will continue to provide a reliable link from Dawson to the west side.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if we just look at what has been transpiring in the last couple of years, the engines have been known to be just about time-expired. Their effective life is finished. Every engine can only be rebuilt so many times, Mr. Chair. These engines are virtually maxed out, as far as the number of times they can be rebuilt.
The George Black ferry was repowered quite some time ago - I believe it was about 15 years ago - and since that time, it has run virtually continuously from the May 15 through to October 15, with one or two days either side when it's put in the river and pulled out.
The engines virtually never stop. They run continuously. The only time they are shut down is once a week, when they're serviced. That's the nature of the service being provided by the George Black ferry. It is the only link between Dawson and west Dawson, and it's of paramount importance that that ferry be maintained and continued.
It has been a well-known fact that this was the year it required repowering, and this was the year that was earmarked for the steering gear to be upgraded from the old cable gear to hydraulic. I'm very, very disappointed to see the order of magnitude of expenditure that is being anticipated. It's not adequate.
We need to move some priorities around to ensure that the George Black ferry is upgraded to a standard that will ensure its availability for the entire visitor season. This can only be done if those involved with the equipment are allowed to move forward, repower it, and put in new marine gear. I guess we're not going to see that happen this year. We're just going to patch up what we presently have and not do anything else, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I'm disappointed. Under the previous Yukon Party government and the NDP government, a number of studies were done and initiatives made on the bridge.
The last study, I believe, was concluded in the last fiscal cycle.
I have a number of questions to the minister, Mr. Chair, on the issue of the Yukon River Bridge at Dawson, as to whether the department, in-house, is doing an economic evaluation of what it's going to cost and take to upgrade and maintain the ferry vis-à-vis addressing the capital cost of the bridge. Who is undertaking this kind of study, Mr. Chair? I mean, the only problems we were experiencing with bridges, according to the current Liberal government, were when they were in opposition and when the paint chips were dropping into the respective watercourse. But I think we'd suffer the fate of a few paint chips dropping into the Yukon River at Dawson from a bridge versus the tremendous activity associated with the foreshore and far-shore ramps that constantly have to be maintained, and its associated degradation of the river approaches.
Mr. Chair, the financial equation to justify a bridge must be predicated initially on the demand. Probably by itself that demand does not currently exist, but the potential for economic activity and economic stimuli associated with that demand potential is something that must be looked at. Now, I would urge the minister, in her capacity as Minister of Community and Transportation Services, to ask the department to undertake this study - never mind asking them, instruct them to undertake this study, because it's a very, very important initiative.
And when you dovetail the numbers that would arise out of that study with the cost associated with the operation and maintenance of the George Black ferry, I am sure that, at some juncture, we are going to realize that it is cheaper to construct a bridge than to maintain a ferry or, indeed, to replace that ferry, given the effective life of the ferry.
Now, I am not suggesting that we rush off to British Columbia and seek advice on fast ferries, because they have a very poor track record with respect to fast ferries. But there are a couple for sale, and if two or three of them were purchased, they could be moved up into the Yukon River and they could be anchored from shore to shore. And maybe with just a little opening in the middle with a gangplank between them, the approaches could be opened and closed for the river traffic to move back and forth. This would alleviate the problem, but that was probably something that could come to pass when we have an NDP government in the Yukon and one in British Columbia. But there should be some harmony in the not too distant future, seeing that British Columbia is probably going to elect a Liberal government.
I don't know what benefits will accrue to the Yukon, but there will be a couple of ferries for sale. Maybe we can move them up here. They might even have a bridge for sale somewhere; I don't know.
But the issue of that bridge at Dawson City is a very important issue. It is access to west Dawson, and we're told that west Dawson won't receive power and telephone until such times as they can attach it to the bridge. I don't know why. You can get telephone service practically everywhere in the Yukon, but in west Dawson the only opportunity is one of those wonderful M-SAT things if you approach one of the suppliers and they put in a system for you.
It's interesting that Northwestel has the ability to react, and react quickly, in other areas, Mr. Chair. We only have to look at what happened north of Fort St. John when Telus installed a whole series of cell systems in that area. Northwestel reacted immediately through their subsidiary, their wholly-owned subsidiary that is unregulated, and they put a whole series of towers and cells in that region. Now we're neck and neck in competition with Telus Mobility or, at that time, B.C. Tel Mobility.
We only have to look at just recently, in the Northwest Territories and the Mackenzie Delta, which is booming as a consequence of a very capable premier in that territory who has attracted a tremendous amount of oil and gas activity. Northwestel is in there and put a whole series of cells in that region. Yet, when we have a region that needs a cell system, like the Klondike area, Northwestel says their market analysis does not substantiate them putting it in. It's an interesting observation.
Given this government's commitment to Connect Yukon, which we were all sold on - it being a concept that telephones would be provided to every region and, most notably, those underserved regions - I would encourage the minister to find a way to get electricity and telephone service to west Dawson in a cost-effective manner. There are a number of country residential subdivisions up there, and there are a number of full-time residents there who would look forward to being connected to the electrical grid and to being able to pick up a standard telephone.
I'm not looking for a $6,000 contribution for a telephone line, as was suggested in Callison, right adjacent to the telephone lines. I'm looking for something reasonable, cost-effective; something that is acceptable to all.
Well, Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress.
Deputy Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy Chair: It has been moved by Mrs. Edelman 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 Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Deputy Chair's report
Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2001-02, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday, March 26, 2001.
The House adjourned at 5:55 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled March 15, 2001:
Negotiations with Liard First Nation and Kaska First Nations: dates of negotiation sessions and locations (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1085
Devolution Transfer Agreement (draft): information pertaining to Environmental Matters chapter; fire suppression financial resources (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1087-1088
Contract and transition costs related to Executive Council Office (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 377, 629-631
Intergovernmental Relations Political Accord between the Yukon First Nations and the Government of Yukon (dated February 2, 2001) (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1243
Government department reporting process: no changes (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1075