Monday, March 26, 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 recognition of Mining Week in the Yukon
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of all members of the Legislature to pay a tribute to Mining Week in the Yukon, which runs from March 26, today, through to March 31.
This morning, Mr. Speaker, I had the pleasure, on behalf of the members and the Yukon government, of opening the Great Canadian Mine Show, which is our main attraction for Mining Week in the Yukon. It's a multi-media exhibit and travelling in Canada to show Canadians how mining works. Yukon is the very first stop for this exhibit.
I should advise members that the Great Canadian Mine Show is a non-profit educational program that originates in Elliot Lake, Ontario. The Yukon government, in conjunction with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is proud to sponsor the mine show in the first leg of its cross-country tour. The exhibit is a wonderful educational tool, Mr. Speaker, and I had the pleasure of welcoming Pat Berrel, principal at Whitehorse Elementary, and Jim Tredger, the principal at Jack Hulland School, and grades 5 and 6 classes, including Ms. Morham's class, to the Great Canadian Mine Show.
I would also like to note in my tribute that Mr. Ed Andre spearheaded the commemoration of the Pueblo mine cave-in. Mr. Andre's dedication deserves our thanks on behalf of all members of the Legislature.
We would also like to thank the Yukon Prospectors Association and the Chamber of Mines for their support for the Great Canadian Mine Show and for Mining Week.
I would close my tribute, Mr. Speaker, by advising that Mr. Al Doherty is visiting a number of schools in Whitehorse this week to talk to students about mining. He will show them the IMAX movie that he starred in, Gold Fever, which has been designed as an educational tool for use in classrooms.
So, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all members of the Legislature, congratulations to all of those involved in the Great Canadian Mine Show and celebrating Mining Week in the Yukon.
Disturbance caused by presence of stranger in the Chamber
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we just had another tribute, Mr. Speaker, but I'll move on with a tribute to Mining Week here in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker.
Mining has been the cornerstone of Yukon's economy and will continue to provide Yukoners with the greatest opportunity for strengthening and diversifying our economy. It is no secret that when mining does well, the Yukon economy also does well. Unfortunately, over the last four years, mining exploration and development in the territory has plummeted from over $100 million in 1996 to less than $10 million this last year.
Mr. Speaker, mining is not doing well in the territory and, as a consequence, our economy is sitting down in the basement. While this government can continue to blame the demise of the mining industry on low world metal prices, this government must be held accountable for its failure to provide an economic climate of stability and certainty to attract mining investment in the territory.
Mr. Speaker, low world metal prices have affected all jurisdictions throughout the world, yet places such as Alaska and our neighbours to the east are doing much better than both British Columbia and the Yukon in encouraging mining investment, which indicates that it's our government policies that are discouraging mining development here and in British Columbia.
One of the major hurdles facing mining in the territory is the permitting process, which puts the Yukon at a tremendous disadvantage compared to other jurisdictions in North America.
The Premier was supposed to use her special relationship with her federal counterparts in Ottawa to resolve this matter, but all that the Premier has managed to do in this regard is to tell the Minister of DIAND that he was persona non grata here in the Yukon.
The second major issue confronting miners in the Yukon is the uncertainty over land tenure caused by unsettled land claims, the Yukon protected areas strategy and the excessive regulatory burden about to be imposed under the proposed development assessment legislation. Despite the election commitment to introduce changes to the Yukon protected areas strategy that will result in a balanced representation of economic and environmental interests, the Liberal government's partial review of the strategy concerning no development areas effectively made matters worse. I refer to the recent two-day meeting to review the strategy in which seven groups, including the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and the Yukon Chamber of Mines, walked out on the Premier for failing to bring fairness and balance to the process.
The economy, members maintain, cannot live on seasonal canoe trips and week-long backpack excursions. When it comes to mining in the territory, this government has a serious credibility gap. In just less than one year, the government has been party to three instances where bona fide mining claims were subsequently included within park boundaries. I refer to the mining claims in the Tombstone area, the mining claims in the Fishing Branch area and the mining claims that were included within the new federal park being created in the Kluane game sanctuary. Like the previous government, the mixed messages that this government is sending regarding economic development and environmental protection are continuing to have a devastating effect on the Yukon economy and are costing Yukoners jobs.
I'm very pleased to support mining. Mining has been the predominant industry in the Yukon since the very inception of the territory in 1898. Unlike members opposite, however, I want to make sure that it remains an integral and important part of our future economy. It is indeed a sad day in the Yukon when the best this government can do is promote a mine show rather than promote the development of economically viable ore deposits that would result in the direct and indirect employment of Yukoners.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have a legislative return. On March 12, 2001, the leader of the official opposition asked an oral question regarding the exploration tax credit.
Mr. Speaker, I have another legislative return. On Monday March 5, 2001, the MLA for Watson Lake asked an oral question with respect to time lines on timber harvest agreements.
Mr. Fairclough: I have for tabling a letter to the Premier outlining letters dating back as far as May 16, 2000, to which the official opposition have not received responses to date.
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?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 5: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 5, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 2001-02, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 5, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 2001-02, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 5 agreed to
Bill No. 36: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 36, entitled Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 36, entitled Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 36 agreed to
Bill No. 39: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I move that Bill No. 39, entitled An Act to Amend the Jury Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 39, entitled An Act to Amend the Jury Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 39 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills for introduction?
Bill No. 42: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 42, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 42, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 42 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills for introduction?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Fentie: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) the development of a stable, sustainable forest industry in the Yukon could provide a major economic engine in the territory;
(2) the Yukon Forest Strategy was developed through extensive public consultation to serve as a made-in-Yukon model for the management of this important resource following devolution of the Northern Affairs program to the Yukon;
(3) the development of a stable, sustainable forest industry that respects the Yukon's environmental and social values has been severely impeded by the ongoing mismanagement of the forest resource by the federal government;
(4) this mismanagement has recently been demonstrated again with the inappropriate issuance of timber permits in the LaBiche area of southeast Yukon;
(5) the federal government's mismanagement of Yukon forest resources has hampered the territory's economic development, has failed to provide the necessary environmental safeguards, and has contributed to the delay in settling outstanding Yukon First Nations land claims; and
THAT this House urges the federal government not to proceed with any further forestry activity in the LaBiche area until the necessary resource assessments and required data are supplied by the federal government so that Yukon people can make informed decisions respecting the forest resource that are consistent with the principles of the Yukon Forest Strategy and acceptable to Yukon First Nations and stakeholders in the affected region.
Speaker: If there are no further notices of motion, I'll proceed to statements by ministers.
Canada Transportation Act
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to inform the House about this government's presentation earlier today to the Canada Transportation Act review panel. The public forum this morning marks the first time that such an event has taken place in Whitehorse. Previous reviews of the Canada Transportation Act, or its predecessor legislation, have not included the Yukon in their schedules. We are pleased that the federal government has made the effort to include the Yukon in this way.
Transportation plays a prominent role in the daily lives of Yukoners. This morning, the Yukon government had the opportunity, on behalf of all Yukoners, to comment on federal legislation. Our presentation covered a number of transportation-related subjects. Two items are paramount, and I will highlight those here today.
First is the urgent need for a national program to assist the provinces and territories in upgrading transportation infrastructure. There is a wealth of evidence showing that investment in transportation infrastructure will benefit Canadians nation-wide. The Yukon government has increased funding for Yukon highways, but, Mr. Speaker, there is no national program to upgrade vital transportation infrastructure.
The Yukon government recognizes that development and improvement of transportation infrastructure is crucial to sustained economic activity and to economic growth. We have recommended to the panel that the need for a Canada-wide transportation investment strategy must be conveyed to the federal government in the strongest possible terms.
Another transportation concern of this government is the effects of airline restructuring. The acquisition of Canadian Airlines International by Air Canada has been a cause for concern in many areas of the country. The federal government made several changes to the Canada Transportation Act and the Competition Act in response to this market consolidation.
Nevertheless, the Yukon government believes that there remains a need to improve the regulatory machinery that can be used to prevent abuse by any carrier of a dominant market position. The Yukon needs to be assured that passengers travelling between Whitehorse and Vancouver are provided with the same access to lower priced seats as are available to passengers on comparable southern routes; similar provisions should apply to air cargo; and the notification period for a discontinuance of service, below the current two flights-per-day level, be increased from 120 days to one year and involve consultation with the Yukon government.
We suggested several changes to specific sections of the Canada Transportation Act, which, in our view, would provide the means to safeguard passengers and shippers from unreasonable action by an air carrier on a dominated route.
Mr. Speaker, we committed to work effectively with all levels of government. Today was an opportunity for the Yukon to influence federal policy-making. We are doing that on behalf of all Yukoners.
Mr. McRobb: I rise today to respond to the ministerial statement about the government's presentation to the Canada Transportation Act review panel.
First of all, I would like to thank the minister for recognizing the importance of transportation to the territory and also recognize the good work done by departmental personnel in preparing and making the submission to the panel.
Yukoners know that issues outlined in the minister's speech are not new issues. These are matters that have plagued the territory for decades. For a number of years, the Yukon has been lobbying for a Canada-wide transportation investment strategy. It's great, Mr. Speaker, that we finally see the federal government making progress in this area.
Now, there is a difference between making progress in developing policy and making progress when it comes to on-the-ground infrastructure. I would like to point out that the Minister of DIAND has recognized the need to develop infrastructure in the north. The Finance minister has also recognized the need for infrastructure development in the north. This topic has been raised at a variety of meetings, including the western premiers conference, and to the Prime Minister himself.
Now, Mr. Speaker, you will recall that all of the above-mentioned people have visited Whitehorse and have talked to this government in the past year. It is time for the federal government to put money on the table for infrastructure. To date, we have yet to see any progress at all in this area. And as I pointed out in Committee of the Whole on Department of Community and Transportation Services, the Northern Affairs minister, Robert Nault, only in December, doled out $3.7 million to the Northwest Territories for this very type of infrastructure. We are also aware that Nunavut has its irons in the fire.
Well, what is this government doing besides giving input to policy discussions? We need some financial allocation to show that progress is being made. It is the difference between that and developing policy. As we all know, some policies have a habit of sitting on the shelf and gathering dust.
One policy developed by the previous government that I was involved in was the energy policy. There were 56 recommendations. The previous government put action to that policy by investing $16 million into making those policy initiatives actual developments on the ground to benefit Yukoners. So there is a big difference between action and policy development. I would urge this government to ensure that the federal government delivers when it comes to on-the-ground progress.
Now, the issues about airline restructuring and Air Canada go beyond those included in this statement. For instance, the base rate for airfares out of the territory are too high and should be reduced year-round, not just focusing on seat sales. Air Canada needs to pay some attention to the Yukon calendar to avoid problems like we saw last week during spring break. Air cargo rates are similarly high, and problems such as those experienced at Christmas, which resulted in the unfortunate loss of live animals and plants, also need to be addressed.
Mr. Speaker, there is no mention of rail transportation in the minister's statement, and I wonder why. I visited the Canada Transportation Act Web site this morning and saw that a major part of its undertakings has to do with railways. As you know, we were in Alaska during spring break, talking to the Alaskans, and the matter of an international railroad is high on their agenda, as it is for some of us here. But where are the results? The Alaskans are working on a $6-million appropriation for a study. Where's the money from the federal government? Where's the contribution from this territory?
Speaker: Order please. The member has 30 seconds.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Again, we need more on-the-ground progress in these areas. This presentation overall is much too passive. We're looking for something more proactive, and we hope these issues will also be addressed by this minister in her ongoing contact with federal officials and panels.
Mr. Jenkins: I, too, rise to welcome the first visit ever by the Canada Transportation Act review panel. Now that they have come, I hope that they will be prepared to listen to what Yukoners have to say. If ever there were a jurisdiction dependent on transportation infrastructure, that jurisdiction is the Yukon.
The method of transporting goods to and from the Yukon has varied over the years: paddlewheelers on our lakes and rivers; the famous White Pass and Yukon Route; truck transport on the Alaska Highway and other Yukon roadways, as well as the White Pass and Yukon pioneering containerized shipping on the coast.
In the air, the Yukon has progressed from the Queen of the Yukon to direct 737 jet service, and also direct international flights arriving here in Whitehorse.
I join the minister in urging the Government of Canada to develop a Canada-wide transportation investment strategy to assist the provinces and territories in upgrading existing transportation infrastructure and hopefully build new infrastructure, like Prime Minister Diefenbaker's road to resources program.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a plug in here for the Alaska-Yukon railroad project, and urge both this Liberal government and the one in Ottawa to show more of a commitment to this project, as it could bring tremendous benefits to the Yukon, equivalent to the construction of the Alaska Highway. This Liberal government continues to pat itself on the back for spending more money on Yukon highways than the previous NDP government. Let it try to match the previous Yukon Party government's record. Then it would really be doing something.
Where is this Liberal government's commitment to construct the Dawson City bridge, which was touted by the Liberals in the 1996 election? Nothing has been heard from them since they took office.
Mr. Speaker, talk is cheap, but actions speak louder than this minister's words. The federal Liberal government has helped create a monopoly in Canada in air transportation, and Yukoners have been particularly hard hit by the lack of competition. Yukoners are currently being well overcharged for airfares to and from Whitehorse.
I must take issue with the first two conditions proposed by the minister to correct this current gouging. Passengers travelling north to south should have the same costs per seat mile as those travelling east to west. There are two sets of rules in Canada, one for east to west and one for north to south. Why can't they both be the same?
The same provisions should apply to air cargo. Today, it's cheaper, Mr. Speaker, to ship a crate of lobsters from Halifax to Vancouver than it is from Vancouver to Whitehorse. That bodes well for the cost of air cargo.
While we are dealing with air transportation, I'd like the minister to find out from the panel why the federal government didn't upgrade Yukon airports to proper standards prior to transferring them all to the Yukon government. They removed all the fire suppression. They downgraded the standards, transferred the airports to the Yukon government, and then reimposed all new standards and their additional costs. Thank you, our Liberal colleagues and your Liberal colleagues in Ottawa. They're certainly not mine, Mr. Speaker.
Many of our airports were considered acceptable prior to the transfer, but then the federal government unilaterally came in and changed the rules, putting some of them out of compliance.
I would like the Premier to take particular note of what has transpired because of her current devolution dreams of grandeur. Devolution could potentially cost Yukoners multi-millions if not handled properly and implemented at the right time. We have a whole series of programs that are going to be devolved to the Yukon in the next little while, Mr. Speaker. If they're not devolved in the proper manner with the right dollars transferred, we're going to be sitting here holding the bag. We have seen it with the airports. We can't afford any additional costs like that being forced upon us.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I thank the members opposite for their comments.
This ministerial statement represents a significant new era in government-to-government cooperation between Canada and the Yukon. This is the first time this board has ever come to the Yukon to hear our concerns. The lines of communication are very important when fostering strong relationships on a government-to-government basis. This government has committed to improving such relationships at all levels, and this is a shining example of that policy.
Our focus on the Yukon transportation system in this statement is part of this government's overall policy of infrastructure improvement.
I was disappointed that the Member for Kluane chose to minimize the role of the Canada Transportation Act review panel. That's a shame. Our presentation covered more areas than I highlighted in this ministerial statement, and when it comes to rail, the Yukon government is on record as supporting the feasibility study; but I don't believe Washington has yet contacted Ottawa on the rail issue. We have informed Ottawa so that when they do receive an invitation, which I hope will be soon, they will be up to date on the issue.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Mayo school, construction contract
Mr. Keenan: Today I have a question for the Minister of Government Services. Last week, the government made an announcement that the Mayo school contract had been awarded to Dowland Contracting. We understand that Dowland Contracting won the tender in the very first place. Now, government gave a number of reasons for the postponement, but I guess that they'd like to sum it up to say that there were cost overruns right through to contract irregularities.
Now that the government has come full circle in this matter, I'd like to ask the minister why the minister didn't have his officials sit down with Dowland in the first place to discuss how to make the original bid workable and to avoid all the unnecessary delays?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, Government Services has a board called the bid depository committee. This committee is derived from the Contractors Association. The Contractors Association selects these committee members. They in turn deliver the bids and the bid processes and make the decision on the bid itself.
In terms of the Government Services, we are actually asking for contracts and, again, we are working on clarity with contract services. We are looking at bringing up the quality of service. If the member opposite so wishes, we can actually get it a little more clear to the question that he's asking by way of a written document if he wants.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I don't know what to make of that answer. What I would make of that answer is that there was no political will. There was absolutely no political will to complete it at the time.
Now that we have hindsight - and hindsight, of course, is always 20/20 - I would like to get the minister to admit that it was just a big mistake and that the real reason for retendering was so that there was bid shopping, so you could avoid a lawsuit for bid shopping. That is a very costly exercise. It is costly in terms of additional expenses and inconvenience for the students, the teachers and the people of Mayo.
Now, the government claimed that this design would save three-quarters of a million dollars. That was the claim. Now, is the minister confident that his department - and yes, it is your department. It is not a committee within your department. It is your department. Is the minister confident now that you have saved three-quarters of a million dollars? I would like those items to be itemized - the cost-savings.
Hon. Mr. Jim: The member opposite doesn't seem to recall that it was the previous government that pushed the Mayo school project through. At that time, there was $1 million that the taxpayers had to pay that was over on the bid - the amount of money that we had. We saved almost a million dollars of the taxpayers' money by retendering, and that in itself is prudence and fiscal management.
We are looking at this building going through. It will be going through before January 2002. We are very confident that Government Services is providing the best service possible for this. We see that it will go through.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, the question was not answered. I would like to again ask the minister if he would please supply the itemized paper that would outline those savings. Can the minister do that?
I would also like to point out that it was this NDP government that built - I believe it was three schools. We involved people. We brought people from the school councils in, so that they might be able to prioritize. That is what we did.
With the very first school that this government came into play with, they killed the deal. They killed it.
I would like to point out some of the costs that should be included in the minister's report. I would like the cost of redesigning the school plan. I would like all of the multiple trips to Mayo by the minister himself, the other ministers and the other bureaucrats who travelled to meet with all those disappointed people. I would like to know about the make-work project through Yukon Housing last fall. How much is that going to cost? I would like to know about the legal fees to determine the government's potential liability -
Speaker: Order please. Would the member please get to the question?
Mr. Keenan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. These are questions that I am asking. What were the administrative costs of retendering the contract? Will the minister table the list of all additional costs for his department and other departments within government to give us a clear picture of exactly what this fiasco has cost Yukon taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, we saved almost $1 million.
Question re: Tombstone Park, mining claims
Mr. McRobb: My question today is for the Premier.
Last week, we heard that Canadian United Minerals wants to expand its mineral program in the Tombstone Territorial Park. Both the Yukon Conservation Society and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in have said that this amounts to an entirely new project. Has the Premier taken any steps to convey Yukon concerns to the federal minister or to local DIAND officials?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, our position with respect to the mineral claims in Tombstone Park has been clear, and the member opposite has asked if we have done anything recently with respect to contacting the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. No, we have not.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's getting pretty long in the process. The Premier indicated almost a year ago now that the government was working on a negotiated settlement. There's still no progress.
Now, this side recognizes that Tombstone Park was created through the land claims process, which protects third-party interests. We also recognize that the local planning team is working on a management plan for the park, but when they were in opposition, Mr. Speaker, the Liberals wanted the previous government to buy out these claims. The federal minister, in fact, said that mining and parks don't belong together.
What is the Premier doing to get DIAND to settle this issue once and for all?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, at the officials level, we are continuing to work with Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in on possible solutions. We respect existing mineral rights. We prefer no mining activity within park boundaries. We have stated that, and I would ask that the member opposite also recognize that good work takes time, and we are continuing our good work.
Mr. McRobb: It's more like foot-dragging, Mr. Speaker. I invite you to check Hansard. I believe it was on June 7, 2000 when we got virtually the same answer from the Premier, so there has been no progress in nearly a year.
One of the problems is that Canadian United Minerals has failed in its obligations to provide reports to DIAND. It has failed to adequately report on remediation work and water-quality monitoring. It has also failed to submit a wildlife sighting log to the territorial Department of Renewable Resources. We must bear in mind, Mr. Speaker, that the company has not met its environmental obligations to the Yukon Territory.
Can the Premier, or perhaps the Minister of Renewable Resources, tell us what position the department has taken with respect to expanded drilling in Tombstone Park?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have already indicated to the member that I have signed no correspondence in that respect. I will undertake to determine what has been initiated through the two departments. I will respond to the member once I have ensured that I have been made aware of all correspondence. I will advise the member opposite.
Question re: Foot-and-mouth disease, precautions
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Renewable Resources. In Europe, tens of thousands of sheep, cattle and pigs are being killed and burned to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. Foot-and-mouth disease is highly infectious in animals. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says that wildlife such as deer, elk and bison can also become infected and act as a reservoir for this virus.
To prevent the disease from entering Canada, passengers arriving on international flights are required to step through mats of disinfectant to remove any traces of the virus from their footwear. In view of the fact that many Europeans will soon be arriving in Whitehorse on direct flights, can the minister advise the House if similar disinfectant mats are going to be installed at the Whitehorse Airport, and what other measures are being put in place to protect Yukon livestock, to protect the animals on our game farm and to protect our wildlife?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I thank the member opposite for the question because that is a concern to Yukoners, to the agricultural industry that does have animals that could potentially be infected, as well as to our wildlife in the territory. So we are taking every precaution possible. We do have the federal Department of Agriculture monitoring the problem on a national basis and also assisting us in preventative maintenance for anything happening in the territory as well. So we are taking and will be making precautions this summer.
Mr. Jenkins: All the minister stood up and did was to change feet. Now, we've got a serious problem in Europe with foot-and-mouth disease. I asked the minister to outline what kind of guidelines and what action he and his department will be taking to arrest it. Will there be disinfectant mats installed at the Whitehorse Airport? What other initiatives is the minister undertaking to arrest the spread of foot-and-mouth disease here in the Yukon? What would happen if it got into the Porcupine caribou herd? That would be a serious problem, Mr. Speaker. Could the minister just answer what he is doing to arrest the spread of foot-and-mouth disease here in the Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, the Whitehorse Airport manager has had discussions with the local representative of Agriculture Canada. Agriculture Canada, as the Minister of Renewable Resources said, will be monitoring the hoof-and-mouth disease situation closely to determine whether the disease is coming under control.
In the event that there are precautions required when the international flights to the Yukon commence at the end of May - and there may well be precautions required - Agriculture Canada, in conjunction with Canada Customs, will take the necessary steps to implement measures to prevent the entry of the disease into the Yukon. Such measures could include foot baths and closer inspection of arriving international passengers. Ongoing discussions are taking place between the airport manager and Agriculture Canada regarding airport requirements. We take this very seriously, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: My final supplementary is to the Minister of Tourism. Now, in view of the fact that some Canadian jurisdictions such as Alberta are going so far as to place restrictions on the visit by Prince Phillip, what measures does the Department of Tourism have to implement to ensure that our European visitors are well-informed about what they have to do coming into Canada, and what initiatives have started within her own department to address the spread of foot-and-mouth disease here in Yukon, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, first of all, it's Prince Charles who's coming, not Prince Phillip. His Royal Highness is going to be visiting us at the end of April. By that time, we should have a number of alerts on the Internet and on our sites. As well, we are trying to talk to all of the tour wholesalers that bring visitors here on a regular basis. In addition to that, the airlines are doing their own part to try to tell travellers about some of the precautions Canadians are taking in order to prevent this disease from coming to Canada, in particular to the Yukon.
Question re: Job training, industry standards
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Education.
With the oil and gas exploration activity taking place in the Yukon, there should be many opportunities for Yukoners to get jobs. Even at the seismic stage, this is a highly specialized industry that requires a number of certificates such as a chainsaw certificate.
Can the minister tell us if courses currently being offered by Yukon College meet industry standards?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, as a matter of fact, they do meet industry standards. I had already provided information with respect to the training and outlook being actively pursued by the president of Yukon College as well as the advanced education branch in the Department of Education. So, we are certainly keeping up to the current standards that are in effect, and we will maintain those standards through education programs that we have here in the territory.
Mr. Fairclough: Yukoners have been sent by Outreach to receive training for the oil and gas industry in Watson Lake, for example, and we understand that they have been told that Yukon College was not offering this training. If we can't supply a trained workforce, jobs that should go to Yukoners will be going to people from Alberta and B.C.
So, what is this minister doing to make sure that Yukon College is providing the training that Yukon people need to work in this industry? Will he ensure that industry is also fully a part of designing the training program that can benefit Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: As I had already indicated to the member opposite, the department anticipates that there will be a continuing and growing need for oil and gas training during both this year and in the years to come. So, we are working on this. The Department of Education and the Economic Development oil and gas branch, together with community representatives, are addressing and identifying the needs with respect to the training of individuals here in the territory, not only in Whitehorse, but also in the communities, through community college campuses.
So, we are looking into it, Mr. Speaker. We're being very proactive in that regard, and we'll continue to do that.
Mr. Fairclough: We know of other cases where Yukoners have taken training through Yukon College, and they were then told that the company won't recognize their certificates. Once again, this put Yukoners' work at a disadvantage, compared to workers from outside. Once again, knowing this information, can the minister tell us how many people have taken the training that the member has outlined so far, and will he again ensure that Yukon workers who want the training will have access to the training that meets industry standards?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, and again, I'm going to repeat to the member opposite that I'm not sure what his sources of information are, but they're not correct. The three oil and gas companies have also provided company-level training - Anderson Exploration, Akita Drilling and Arcis geophysical.
The advanced education branch, the Faro training trust fund, the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, the Liard First Nation, Human Resource Development Canada in Faro and Industrial Adjustment Service have all provided funding toward the training for this resource.
Entry-level training is also being provided in Watson Lake, Carcross, Dawson, Faro, Old Crow, Ross River and Whitehorse. So we are addressing the needs. We're being as expeditious as we possibly can while maintaining the quality of training for these individuals in the oil and gas industry.
Question re: Alaskan Natural Gas Transportation System agreement
Mr. Fentie: My question today is for the Minister of Economic Development. We have recently learned that major changes to the existing Alaska Highway pipeline agreement are pending. Such changes, as almost doubling the flow through a potential pipeline down the Alaska Highway, have a direct impact on the existing agreement. There are also other changes, Mr. Speaker. Will the minister tell us, and Yukoners, what preparations are being made in the eventual case that the ANGTS agreement may not be relevant in the up and coming potential pipeline construction?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, it will come as no surprise to members of the public that there are differing opinions in this House. I beg to differ with the member opposite in his assessment that major changes to the treaty would mean that the treaty, therefore, is not considered valid or relevant today. There are differing legal opinions in that regard. What this government is doing in terms of preparedness in dealing with this issue is that we have reviewed the treaty from the perspective of the Department of Finance, as well as the Department of Economic Development. As the member opposite knows the terms of the treaty and has clearly read it, he will understand that the dollars that flow through to the Government of the Yukon were negotiated with, yes, an inflation factor - however, before the formula finance funding arrangements were in place.
So there are some serious questions to be answered with respect to the treaty. However, overall, my understanding, my assessment, and the opinions that I have been made aware of, are that the treaty, regardless of such changes as rate of flow, is still valid today. That is also the assessment of the Canadian Embassy.
Mr. Fentie: Well, there are other items that come to mind and are definitely in question. ANGTS agreement was reached before the Epp letter of 1979. We all know what the Epp letter did for the Yukon. It established responsible government for this territory.
The treaty also calls for a Yukon Territory advisory council, but it doesn't spell out the need for direct Yukon representation. What steps will this minister take to ensure that, in any negotiations and any processes, Yukoners are well-represented in the potential construction of the pipeline so that we can ensure not only the short-term maximum benefits but realize our long-term goals in what we are trying to achieve from the pipeline itself?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, I thank the member opposite for giving me an opportunity to advise him, as a member of the Legislature, and all Yukoners, once again, of what we have done with respect to the treaty and in terms of the pipeline preparedness.
Overall, in terms of the treaty, which was signed by the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States, I have personally made representation on behalf of all Yukoners to the Prime Minister and to the minister responsible, the Minister of International Trade, the hon. Pierre Pettigrew. The Commissioner of the Northern Pipeline Agency on paper is Mr. Rob Wright, who is the Deputy Minister of International Trade. I have had several discussions with Mr. Wright, as well other elected members of the government with respect to Canada and this international treaty and Yukon's perspective on that. In addition, there is also the deputy-minister level and official-level committees in Ottawa, to which Yukon representation has been made on several occasions. In short, this is a Canada/U.S. treaty, and Yukon's perspective had to be made known to Canada, and that's what we have done.
Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government opposite has staked a great deal on this potential pipeline project. They have staked a great deal of Yukoners' futures, economically, on this project. But we know that even the producers are not so confident that the existing agreement gives them the comfort level to bring forward such a large amount of investment. So, they are undertaking, themselves, an in-depth review of the agreement. Why won't the minister take steps now to ensure that Yukoners are protected and prepared in the eventuality that this agreement may not be the safeguard that this Liberal government opposite and, indeed, this minister believe it to be?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I must apologize to the member opposite. I must not be making myself clear. We've done that and we're continuing to review the treaty, make representations to Canada about the treaty and review it in the modern-day context of the Yukon. That is some of the work that we're doing. We are not simply lobbying for this particular project. We are ensuring and working toward a level of preparedness - for example, in training, as my colleague the Minister of Education just previous answered to members opposite.
I would also invite the Member for Watson Lake, as he is interested in this subject, to join me and other Yukoners in hearing first-hand, from the producers, on Wednesday evening here in Whitehorse.
Question re: Yukon Housing Corporation, housing repair program accessibility
Mr. Keenan: Today I have a question for the Minister of Yukon Housing Corporation. There is a constituent in Teslin who has been refused home financing for repairs. I raised this question on March 15 with the minister. The minister said, at that point in time, that he would take it under advisement and that things would not happen overnight.
Well, Mr. Speaker, I know we have long winter nights in the Yukon Territory, but this is ridiculous. Seven months ago, I raised this issue in a letter to the minister, so that answer is absolutely unacceptable.
So, I would like to ask again, once again - take two: what direction has the minister given to the Housing Corporation to ensure people living on titled settlement land will have access to home repair programs?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, with respect to the member opposite's question on what action we have taken, we have to say that, through our observations and First Nations' comments out there in the communities, they don't want the Yukon Housing Corporation to be involved in their housing programs. But it is under the obligation of the federal government for housing.
We are looking at assisting them in the development of their programs and in housing design and studies. We are actually working toward working with First Nations in the communities.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, again, I know of one constituent who is a First Nation member and is asking for help. He asked for help over seven months ago. That answer has still not been put together for that constituent. For the minister to stand on his feet in this House and say that people do not want that - well, I'm asking on behalf of real Yukoners who do want it. I do believe that that type of attitude leads to the division of Yukoners and not to the unity of Yukoners.
We have a problem here. We have a vehicle in place, but we don't have gas in the vehicle to make it work. So, I'm just suggesting that we can take a bit of gas, put it in that vehicle and make it work. We have a real problem here.
I would like to ask the minister again if he will give leave for First Nations to guarantee home repair loans in the same way that the CMHC already guarantees their mortgage? There is a prototype out there. Will the minister please look at that and use it?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Yukon Housing's lending policy requires that security be registered on title for all housing loans and Yukon Housing is not able to register security on First Nation lands. First Nation governments are responsible for their housing policy and housing programs on their lands and for their members. Canada, through CMHC and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, provides funding for First Nations to assist them in managing their housing programs.
Yukon Housing is working with First Nations to assist them in developing housing policies and programs. Yukon Housing is also helping First Nations with training opportunities, housing management policies and procedures and building technologies.
We are assisting in any way possible, and if you're asking that we look at getting involved with changing the policy on giving loans to First Nations on First Nation lands, that has to come from the community as a community-driven issue.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm absolutely appalled. I'm absolutely appalled. To have to stand here and listen to that bafflegab is very disgusting. If the minister wants to say no, he should just say no and give some type of security to that person even in the negative answer.
Mr. Speaker, they're in government. I'm asking a direct question on behalf of people and I'm not getting any direct answers. I'm not asking for help in assisting policy on housing issues of the First Nations. The First Nation I am speaking of has that in place. As a matter of fact, I think that First Nation has more in place in their housing policy than what your department has in their policy right now, at this point in time.
So, I'm asking again, Mr. Speaker, for some clarity because it's becoming very confused now. Will the minister direct the Yukon Housing Corporation to look at that possibility and, in the interim, will he ask the Yukon Housing Corporation to work with CMHC - just pick up the telephone and ask them, so that we can get my constituents - and many others who are in that same predicament out there - the help they need sooner rather than later? Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, I really apologize for the member opposite not listening. He may be hearing me, but he's not listening to what I'm saying.
What I was saying is that we have worked with the communities, and it is a community-driven issue. We are actually looking at - I don't know if it's policies that we're trying to change here, that the member opposite wants, or if he wants us to go over to CMHC and ask them if we can have a look at their policy in providing housing for First Nations on First Nation lands.
I'm sure that we can influence in some ways, other than sending letters. If the member opposite brings his letter by again, we'll make another attempt with CMHC and make it aired. But, as far as Yukon Housing aspects with the housing, we've done all we can in terms of providing assistance, in managing some of the housing programs, and in providing assistance in developing housing policies and programs for First Nations, and we are actually looking at trying to change this policy.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Speaker: Before we proceed to business under Orders of the Day, the Chair will provide a deferred ruling. This ruling is in respect to a point of order raised by the leader of the third party on March 15, 2001.
The leader of the third party stated, "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."
In concluding his presentation, the leader of the third party said, "In view of your ruling 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."
The Chair would draw Standing Order 6(1) to the attention of the leader of the third party and the House. That Standing Order states, "The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum and shall decide questions of order. In deciding a question of order or practice, the Speaker may state the Standing Order or other authority applicable to the case. No debate shall be permitted on any decision and no decision shall be subject to an appeal to the Assembly."
Members must recognize that attempts to seek clarification of Speaker's rulings on the floor of the House, no matter how skillfully put, will inevitably constitute entering into debate with the Speaker on the Speaker's decisions and, consequently, pursuant to Standing Order 6(1), will be out of order. However, as is noted on page 263 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Speakers may, of their own accord, clarify or even amend rulings. That, though, would be done on a Speaker's own initiative and not in answer to any member's questioning of a ruling on the floor of the House.
Having said that, the Chair will expect members in the future to refrain from asking for clarification of Speaker's decisions as was done by the leader of the third party on March 15, 2001.
In this case, and without creating a precedent, the Chair will make the assumption that the leader of the third party did not recognize that what he was doing on March 15 was out of order and will provide an answer to the question posed by him at that time.
Standing Order 3(2) states: "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 quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and then do a count."
Standing Order 3(4) provides, in reference to the Committee of the Whole, similar direction.
It, therefore, has been and continues to be quite in order to draw the Speaker's attention to the apparent lack of quorum. Members may say something like, "Mr. Speaker, there does not appear to be a quorum" or, "Mr. Speaker, would you please determine if there is a quorum present."
As was stated in the Chair's ruling of March 14, 2001, it is not in order to refer to the past or present absence of any members, individually or as a group. This includes the moment that the Chair's attention is being drawn to the apparent lack of quorum - editorial comments about who is present or absent are not in order.
I thank the House for its attention to this ruling.
We will now proceed to business under Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Good afternoon. It's nice to be here. I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 2001-02 - continued
Community and Transportation Services - continued
Chair: I believe Mr. Jenkins had the floor.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, when we left general debate, before we had the same recess as the students did - I guess that's to recharge our batteries or something or other, rather than attending to the business of government - we were dealing with Community and Transportation Services and some of the initiatives they had underway. I was wanting to know from the minister just what kind of policies she had in place with respect to opening roads and arterial highways, and we were referring specifically to Highway 10, which the minister now knows is the Nahanni Range Road. We were looking at the budgeted amount of some $10,000 contained in the current fiscal allocation for the maintenance of that road, and we were contrasting it to the announcement that came out with respect to the reopening of North American Tungsten at the end of that road, and the government's position that they were going to look after the opening of that road.
It was going to cost an amount of some million dollars a year to maintain the Nahanni Range Road for North American Tungsten, and I was seeking from the minister some sort of position or policy as to who would pay these costs. If we look at Anvil Range, those companies paid so much per ton-mile of everything that was hauled over the highway from Faro to Skagway, but we don't appear to have a policy when the mine site is outside the Yukon.
Now, this comes into view with two instances - the North American Tungsten, the old Cantung mine in the Northwest Territories, which is serviced by a route out of Yukon, and the Tulsequah Chief mine in northern British Columbia, which is serviced by a highway out of Yukon.
It's interesting to note, Mr. Chair, that the current government can find the million dollars within its own budget - which would conclude that that budget must be pretty fat, if they can find a million dollars. But the minister had a different response as to what was fat within the department, but we're not going to go there.
Then you contrast that with what is transpiring in my own riding of Klondike. The placer miners - although a few of them are starting to arrive back - have asked the Government of Yukon for assistance in opening the Hunker Creek Road, the Dominion and the Sulphur, and they pretty well have to get down on bended knees and beg to achieve any sort of results from the government of the day to open these roads.
Most of them are pretty forthcoming and they put their own equipment on the roads. It's graders and equipment of that nature that they put on to open it up, but the problem stems from the glaciation and the amount of glaciers that are covering that road and the need for a backhoe or steaming crews. Now, the government, after I spoke with the minister, Mr. Chair, did send out and did have graders on the highway, although one broke down and had to be removed so there was only one left there. They did hire a Cat to go out and open the upper Bonanza loop road, but the issue of the glaciers still remains. Some sort of a consistent policy has to be developed by this government to get in and open the mining roads into the areas that are needed, and that has to transpire every spring.
If you look back to the Yukon Party government, Mr. Chair, the Yukon Party government went in and opened these roads up - not only the roads in the Klondike, but the Top of the World Highway and the road down into the Sixtymile when there was a good number of miners working in that area. But, given the low price of metals and the high price of fuel, a lot of the miners have chosen to mothball their operations.
A lot of this is not just because of the low price of metals and the high price of fuel, but it's also because of the regulatory burden that they're having to assume and all of the additional responsibility for filing the related documents to their mining operation. This is a tremendous burden in time that wasn't in existence just a few short years ago, Mr. Chair.
I would like to ask the minister when her government is going to develop a policy to ensure that those mining roads that should be opened in the springtime in the Klondike mining district - not just the Klondike mining district. There is the Mayo mining district. There is all sorts of mining activity that could come into play. And the miners like to return in March. They like to get in and open up their operations, but they can't because the roads are all snowed in. The fiscal year for the Government of Yukon ends on March 31, so there is a reluctance to spend anything right near the end of the budget cycle because it may or may not be there.
How can this government say, on the one hand, that it supports mining and then have a double standard? If it's a mine site in the Northwest Territories or northern B.C., they are in there with their hat and all their equipment and they will spend a million dollars on opening a road, but to spend $100,000 to open the mining roads in the Klondike district, where the taxes paid accrue right to the Yukon - all of the taxes from the business and individuals. Why isn't there the same measure of a helping hand shown to the placer miners, Mr. Chair? What is the government's policy on this kind of initiative?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I am glad that the Member for Klondike had a chance to take a few days off and recharge his batteries last week. I missed him here in the office.
The member is talking about mining roads. Well, my colleagues and I are currently discussing the Nahanni Range Road. We are committed to opening that one and we are negotiating with the mining company. The member should realize that mining roads in the Dawson area were being opened starting last week, as was the schedule. This was scheduled work, Mr. Chair, not as a result of my calling the department after the Member for Klondike complained. When I called to inquire, I was told, yes, that is starting, and so it has.
The member is suggesting that we should be able to open up all the roads in the territory simultaneously. There was a larger O&M budget back when the Yukon Party was in power, I admit that. And all the policies in the world don't do any good if you don't have the money to carry them out, Mr. Chair.
The Member for Klondike also asked about road maintenance to the Tulsequah mine and if we could provide figures for maintaining our section of the highway and upgrading it to meet the needs of the Tulsequah mine. There was a functional planning study and economic analysis for reconstruction of the first 41 kilometres of the Atlin Road completed in 1998. Based on the proposal by Redfern Resources Ltd. to haul ore concentrate from the Tulsequah Chief mine on the Atlin Road and on to Skagway. A number of road improvement options were considered - and these were in 1998 dollars - with no mine haul, the status quo would prevail and the O&M costs would be $8,750 for that section.
With a mine haul, there are a number of options: spot improvement with a gravel surface, capital cost of $7.1 million and O&M costs of $11,250; reconstruction with a gravel surface, $9.7 million in capital costs, $11,250 in O&M; reconstruction to a BST2 surface, $10.4 million in capital costs and $9,200 in O&M; and reconstruction to a BST3 surface, $14.8 million in capital and $5,800 in O&M costs.
While I'm at it, Mr. Chair, the member had asked a number of other questions when last we met. One was why the Yukon Housing Corporation carried out the land development project on Mountainview Place. From researching that, I can tell him that a 1996 Yukon Housing Corporation study identified a need to implement housing improvements for mobile home dwellers in Whitehorse. Problems identified included fire and electrical safety issues, affordability and general living conditions. The mobile home strategy was developed to ensure suitable, safe and affordable accommodation. Implementing the mobile home strategy involved the Yukon Housing Corporation, as the developer for Mountainview Place, with Community and Transportation Services and the City of Whitehorse as resource partners.
I would suggest that, if the member has further questions about Yukon Housing Corporation's work, he ask the appropriate minister when we get to that point in debate.
The Member for Klondike had asked about the pickup of cash at motor vehicles, on the background for the contract with the security company to handle the pickup and delivery of receipts. The further information I have for him is that the processes and procedures for handling of cash are provided in the financial administration manual, section 7.4.1 and 8.2.1. The Department of Finance, pursuant to section 10(1) and 65(1) of the Financial Administration Act, has issued these guidelines.
C&TS contracted the security firm for the delivery of daily cash receipts to the Department of Finance to ensure safeguarding of the government's assets as required by the act and guidelines. The department's decision to have the cash delivered by the security firm instead of employees is also based on employee safety concerns, as I had suggested on that date.
The member had asked about the television inspection services contract in the amount of $6,724, issued to Yukon TV Services to perform work between April 15 and May 30, 2000. The Member for Klondike asked what the work consisted of. The primary reason for issuing this contract was to video the inside of the sewer line at the Watson Lake grader station to try to identify the source of drainage problems that had been occurring at this location over the past two or three years.
The contractor was capable of performing other required work on the trip from Whitehorse to Watson Lake, which saved travel costs that would otherwise have been required. The other work was to flush and pump out floor drains and sumps at Teslin, Swift River and Watson Lake.
The member had asked about the cost breakdown to repower the George Black ferry, and I had given him a figure that he didn't agree with. Estimates have been compiled to repower the George Black ferry with either Caterpillar or Cummins engines. The estimates were virtually identical for either manufacturer, and the breakdown is as follows: two new engines, $35,000 each, $70,000 in total; two new marine gears, $15,000, or $30,000 in total; associated controls and instruments at $10,000 total; and the installation, at $40,000; for a total of $150,000, which was the amount I had given the member previously.
Both new engines will be the same horsepower rating as the existing engines - 270 horsepower. The hull is not designed for higher horsepower or speed.
The existing steering system in the George Black ferry is hydraulic. There are no cable controls. Last season the ferry was down twice: once for two hours for a repair of the hydraulic steering system and once for four hours for replacement of a failed marine gear. The existing hydraulic steering system was rebuilt after it failed last year.
The member had inquired about traffic counts and asked if the electronic counters were read on a monthly basis. Also, what the frequency is of the data being compiled and if someone physically goes around and reads them on a monthly basis or if it is done once a year and compiled in data collectors on a monthly basis. Electronic traffic counters record vehicle counts 24 hours a day, all year. Counts are retrieved at each site on a three to four month frequency by transportation engineering staff. Pneumatic traffic counters record axle counts on a 24-hour basis in the summer season. Counts are recorded on a two-week frequency by transportation maintenance staff. Manual counts are also recorded at border crossings by the Customs services and transportation engineering staff may record short, special purpose manual counts.
These traffic counts are compiled and published each year in the Yukon traffic count summary. The 2000 Yukon traffic count summary is now completed and I have that traffic count summary for filing - one for the Clerk, one for the Member for Kluane and one for the Member for Klondike.
The member had also asked about road restrictions. We went on about road restrictions at some length. The Member for Klondike had asked if I would undertake to ascertain the differences between the Yukon and Alaska and Yukon and B.C. with respect to road restrictions, axle loading and axle spacing.
Weight restrictions are imposed based on thaw rates of the roadbed and observed conditions of the road surface; therefore, the dates vary based on the rate of thaw. As of last Friday, we haven't yet put weight restrictions on our highways, but notice has been given that they could be imposed on 48 hours' notice. Alaska has already imposed weight restrictions, as of Friday, on all state-maintained paved roads in the central region. They are at 75 percent. All state-maintained gravel roads in central region are at 50 percent.
The central region boundaries extend from Homer on the Sterling Highway and Seward on the Seward Highway to Mile 118 on the Glenn Highway and Mile 156 on the Parks Highway.
British Columbia has already imposed weight restrictions on some of their highways as of last Friday: 100-percent legal axle loading on Highway 37, the Cassiar Highway from Dease Lake to the Yukon border, and 80 percent on Highway 37, the Cassiar Highway from Dease Lake south. All roads in the Atlin area are at 80 percent.
Historically, in the Yukon, weight restrictions have been imposed the last week in March at 100-percent legal axle loading, 75 percent in the first week in April, on roads restricted below 100 percent, back to 100 percent in late April or early May, and removal of restrictions in late May and early June.
In B.C., normally in mid-March, it is 80 percent on the Alaska Highway and Highway 37, and in early June, it's 100 percent on the Alaska Highway and Highway 37.
In Alaska in mid-March, it's as low as 75 percent on the Haines and Alaska highways. In late May, it's 100 percent on those highways. In mid-April, it's 75 percent on the Taylor Highway. And in mid-June, it's 100 percent on the Taylor Highway.
I should note that normally the Alaska Highway through the Yukon does not go below 100 percent. So, if the member wants us to harmonize with the other jurisdictions, we would be lowering our weight restrictions.
As to axle spacing and weights, legal axle weights are not lower than neighbouring jurisdictions. I have a chart that I won't attempt to read but I will make sure the member gets a copy so that he can understand this. Gross vehicle weights - in addition to the axle weights, every truck-trailer combination that operates on our highways must not exceed the maximum allowable gross vehicle weight of 63,500 kilograms. Permits containing special terms and conditions may be issued for non-divisible loads above this limit, providing an analysis has been completed by highway engineering to determine that the road surface and bridges along the intended route of travel will not be placed at risk.
B.C. also has a gross vehicle weight limit of 63,500 kilograms. Non-divisible loads may be permitted above this weight subject to special terms and conditions. Alaska allows considerably longer truck-trailer combinations and more axles than the Yukon. In Alaska a truck-trailer combination may not exceed 120 feet - 36.9 metres - without a special permit. That would allow, for example, an eight-axle unit to carry up to 134,500 pounds or 61,136 kilograms. By comparison, an eight-axle unit in the Yukon may not exceed 82 feet or 25.2 metres without a special permit, but may carry more weight than would be allowed in Alaska - up to 63,500 kilograms.
After considerable research on safety and stability of commercial transport configurations, a memorandum of understanding on vehicle weights and dimensions was signed many years ago and Canadian jurisdictions have been working toward meeting the standards established in the MOU. The Yukon is a signatory to that agreement and stands by it. The Yukon's focus is on safety and stability of trucks and trailers operating on our highways and, as such, does not intend to allow truck-trailer combination lengths that would be equivalent to Alaska. We continue to work toward greater harmonization with other Canadian jurisdictions on vehicle weights and dimensions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's go back to the minister and the original question. The Nahanni Range Road and the upgrade of the Atlin Road - who pays for the upgrade and the ongoing maintenance when the mine is outside of the Yukon? It is in another jurisdiction. Who pays? Now, it would appear to be reasonable that the Government of the Yukon is only budgeting $10,000 a year to maintain the Nahanni Range Road. With the mine in operation, it is going to cost a sum approaching $1 million, exclusive of capital. So what is the government's policy when the mine is outside of the Yukon? Who pays for the maintenance of these roads?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I have already indicated to the Member for Klondike, we are negotiating with the mine, and my colleagues and I are discussing the matter.
When it comes to the Tulsequah Chief mine, there is no policy because there is no mine at this point. When the budget was prepared, we were not aware that North American Tungsten intended to reopen the Cantung mine, so the figure in the budget is obviously not the accurate figure. This information surfaced after the budget was prepared.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I just can't get an answer out of the minister. What is the government's policy when a mine is located outside of the Yukon and is serviced by a road and access through the Yukon? Is it the government's policy that 100 percent of the road capital and upgrading and maintenance is recoverable from the mine owner and operator? What is it, Mr. Chair, especially given that the Nahanni Range Road will only be servicing the one property? Now, a case could be made for the road servicing Tulsequah Chief that it serves a multiple purpose and that the Tulsequah Chief mine site and the mine, should it come into production, is only utilizing a certain percentage component of it.
What I'm trying to get at, Mr. Chair, is what is the government's policy with respect to the upgrading of this road and the maintenance of it? Will it be totally recovered from the mine owner, especially when the mine is outside of the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I point out that the road servicing the mine at Cantung will be of large economic benefit to Watson Lake. Although the road doesn't go through there, the Member for Klondike seems to be forgetting that.
As I have indicated several times, we are negotiating with the mining company, and my colleagues and I are discussing the matter.
Mr. Jenkins: So the minister is admitting her government has no policy as to how to treat this kind of a situation. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: This is the first time in our mandate that such an issue of a mining company outside our borders, but using a road through our jurisdiction, has come up. We are still putting the pieces together, and I hope we'll have a decision shortly on how we're going to proceed. But we are committed to opening the Nahanni Range Road.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, no one's quarrelling with opening the Nahanni Range Road. No one's quarrelling with the spin-off economic benefits that could accrue to the Yukon by way of supplying product to the mine or our workforce working in the Northwest Territories. In fact, given the current state of economic conditions in the Yukon, most Yukoners have to move elsewhere to find suitable employment. It's either northern British Columbia, Alberta, Northwest Territories or elsewhere. So, that's a given.
But what I want to find out from the minister - and it's not just an isolated example - is what the policy is, and it doesn't appear that this government has any sort of a policy.
Could the minister just outline some of the factors that are going to play and weigh into this equation with respect to the ongoing O&M cost of maintaining the Nahanni Range Road? We're looking at a million dollars a year for a mine site outside of our border, a mine site that any of the corporate taxes and any of the taxes paid will primarily accrue to the Northwest Territories, not to the Yukon.
Or it could be to the head office of North American Tungsten, Mr. Chair, but it stands that the mine will pay more benefits to the Northwest Territories than it will to the Yukon. So surely the government has to have some sort of a policy, either en route or implemented, with respect to a mine that is being serviced by an arterial road through the Yukon. We have two examples that could occur - North American Tungsten and Tulsequah Chief.
I cite the example of the mine site in Faro. The Anvil mine, or the Anvil Range mine, or even Curragh, in the interim period, all paid the Government of Yukon a fee based on per ton-mile use of the highway. What is being contemplated for North American Tungsten? How much of the $1 million a year is going to be recovered from the mine owners and operators, Mr. Chair?
I can understand the minister saying that all of the components of the highway that the Government of Yukon may or may not maintain inside the border of the Northwest Territories will be totally recoverable from either the mine owner or from the Government of the Northwest Territories, but what I'm looking at is that portion of the road that accesses the mine site. What is the policy?
Now, it's under discussion, or it's under debate. There have to be some sort of mitigating factors. We are looking at an expenditure of $1 million annually - never mind the capital costs, and there are going to be considerable capital costs. What is this government's policy for this kind of initiative?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have already answered this question. I am not going to give the member opposite half of a policy when we haven't completed our discussions.
I find it interesting that he seems to be suggesting that this is an unacceptable cost to the Yukon government, when he knows that it will benefit Watson Lake. However, I have already answered the question.
Mr. Jenkins: I beg to differ with the minister. She has failed to answer the question. The answer is that the government doesn't have any policy. If the government of the day wanted to provide some sort of assistance to Watson Lake - you know, a million dollars on the road or a million dollars into the sawmill could have gone a long way to creating and maintaining jobs in that area. So we missed that opportunity. It seems that we are likely to do more for initiatives outside of our boundaries than we are for initiatives inside of our boundaries. That seems to be the case.
I would like to explore with the minister the initiatives surrounding the Dempster Highway and its recent closure. The closure that it experienced is the longest that I have known it to be closed. Can the minister cite an example of when that highway was closed for that same duration? Because I know of no other instances of that long.
Since the highway was built, the Government of the Yukon, in the area that was prone to blow in, has spent a considerable sum of money widening it. It was kind of like a trench through a mountain. They drilled and slashed it back so that it is a big valley and the snow just doesn't fill in. The roadbed and the right-of-way have been widened, and it is less prone to blow in now than it was when the highway was first constructed. And yet it appears that we are having more and more difficulty keeping it open. Has there been a change in government policy as to the opening of the road, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, there hasn't. The member may not be aware that weather conditions this past winter were a little unusual. Well, he is aware of that because he knows the ice bridge in Dawson went in late, after we thought we wouldn't be able to do it at all. There have been extremely high winds on a number of occasions on the Dempster this winter that have made it impossible for maintenance crews to work. The safety of travellers and the safety of our staff come first when decisions are made to close roads due to extreme weather conditions. The road crews, especially on the northern part of the Dempster, are hampered by high winds, drifting snow and blowing snow. They work very hard through the summer to ensure that drifts will not form, and they are having some success with that but it is not possible always to achieve that. A lot of the problem is just over the border in the Northwest Territories where the pass does fill up, and we have to close the road at Eagle Plains because it's impassable on the Northwest Territories side.
As I mentioned a few minutes ago, there was a larger O&M budget back when the Yukon Party was in power. We, with unlimited funds, could no doubt keep that road open, but, with the present budget, we cannot guarantee keeping the road open during adverse conditions.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I'm somewhat concerned in that, at the end of this month, the standard crew maintained at Eagle Plains is going to be reduced. At the end of this month, it will go down to two operators. Currently, there are three operators - a foreman and usually a mechanic. The mechanic has been switched so that that individual is back and forth, but there is still a great deal of traffic on the Dempster Highway. There's still the potential for it blowing in after April 1, but with the new budget cycle, the maintenance on the Dempster is reduced and dropped back. Usually, the restrictions on accessing the Dempster Highway are the coming into force of weight restrictions on the Mackenzie and the Peel rivers.
Now, that doesn't appear to be imminent, until sometime early in April. It doesn't appear to be April 1. Since we're bound and determined to assist every business outside of our borders by keeping the roads open and paying for them, what are we going to do to ensure that the Dempster Highway is open and maintained after March 31? Because, at that point, the crews have dropped to two operators at Eagle Plains, and there's a potential for it blowing in; there's still full weight loads on the Peel and Mackenzie rivers, and there's still an awful lot of trucking going on. In fact, it's the only stimulus to our economy, currently - trucks passing through the Yukon, going up to Inuvik, where the economy is booming.
So, what steps is this government taking to ensure that the Dempster Highway is maintained and open after March 31, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will undertake to check with the department and verify the accuracy of the figures the Member for Klondike is giving us. The times of reduced maintenance on the Dempster are at freeze-up in the fall and break-up in the spring and, working with the Northwest Territories government, we adjust our crews accordingly, and that is what we will continue to do this spring.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, just this past weekend, I spoke to the operators who were getting laid off March 31. I've spoken to one of the trucking firms, and they have expressed concern, especially given the length of time that the Dempster Highway was closed. They haven't heard of it being closed, historically, for that duration ever before.
Now, I ask the minister to undertake a research of her statistics since the Dempster was first open, and I would ask her to undertake an understanding of how frequently it has been closed, and for what duration.
These were some of the longest times that the Dempster was closed, and it was on two occasions, Mr. Chair.
Now, if the Government of Yukon's policy is to maintain all of these roads for other jurisdictions at our cost, so be it. Why isn't the minister forthright and just give the answer out and say that their policy is to maintain those roads into Cantung and the Dempster Highway for the mine operators in the Northwest Territories and for the oil and gas industry in the Northwest Territories? Fine. There's no economic activity here in the Yukon. This government has managed to destroy the mining industry, the mining exploration, and the oil and gas. We're probably going to make a tax on our visitor industry next and probably have foot-and-mouth disease and a number of factors here.
Every time this government moves, they seem to change feet, Mr. Chair, so what's the Department of Renewable Resources going to do to stem the tide of foot-and-mouth disease getting into the wildlife? Because there are the bison, the elk and the moose, and, my gosh, if it ever got into the caribou, we'd have a real pickle on our hands. But the Minister of Community and Transportation Services bailed out the Minister of Renewable Resources on this issue, and we'll have to look at her carrying the ball forthwith, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, the minister did get back to me on a number of initiatives that I questioned her on previously. The one area that I didn't receive a response to was about the highway enforcement on the Top of the World Highway during the weight restrictions. I didn't get the total cost to the department of that initiative. I'd also be curious as to how many citations were written while the highway enforcement spent the holiday up on the border, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike is having a little fun at the expense of the government. He likes to do that. My officials on the Top of the World Highway last year were not having a holiday, Mr. Chair. They were doing their work.
The other question the member was asking about will be provided to him by way of a legislative return, although one of them, with his subsequent question, may be delayed somewhat.
I was thinking there for a minute that we had made great progress and slid into Renewable Resources debate, but that is not to be.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the only reason why we slid into Renewable Resources is because the Minister of Community and Transportation Services was scripted with a response to a question posed to the Minister of Renewable Resources, which he couldn't answer or didn't answer. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services had the answer.
I was very pleased to see that there is some initiative over there and a little bit of anticipation of questions during Question Period and that the Executive Council Office is keeping ministers apprised of appropriate responses. I guess they'll just get to juggle the responses around so that the appropriate minister receives them.
One of the other responses I received was to the repowering of the George Black ferry. I was given to understand that the horsepower on the ferry was going to be increased and that this was going to result in additional costs. The minister made it abundantly clear that they were going to repower with the same sized engines, either Cat or Cummins. Be that as it may, what is the rationale for not repowering with higher horsepower? The minister said that the hull wouldn't stand it and that it wasn't designed for it. Normally, any of the repowering that goes on is done with a higher horsepower and the engines are actually cut back so that you don't utilize all of the horsepower.
You just put a bigger engine in, you don't use it to its maximum, and you save in the end and the engine lasts longer. That is the rationale that is used. But, again, it results in initial higher capital costs. But I was just curious as to why we are not looking at the commonsense approach to repowering that is being taken by the industry. Is this the Liberal approach?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I had indicated to the Member for Klondike, the new engines will be 270 horsepower, like the existing engines. The hull is designed for higher horsepower speed.
Mr. Jenkins: I see where all these questions posed to the minister with respect to policies or initiatives - the minister is just wandering around in the toolies. I guess she has taken it upon herself to drive her Harley Davidson down the highway and cut the brush down. It has probably missed the road and she is off in the toolies. So, I guess we can move on.
Let's look at the Yukon River bridge at Dawson. Is this coming into focus?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member is talking about a Yukon River bridge at Dawson as though it were there. The only person that I know who can visualize that bridge is our bridge engineer, who has done considerable work on this potential project over the last few years. We know that people in Dawson would like to see a bridge built to replace the ferry. We are looking forward to receiving the current town council's position on the bridge and its priority relative to other projects. We don't have $25 million readily available to commit to the bridge today, as the member knows, given all of the other Yukon government funding requirements, but that is one of the projects that will be up for consideration when we are working on our long-term capital plans.
Mr. Jenkins: Has any cost-benefit analysis been undertaken, or will one be undertaken by the department, given the operating costs of the ferry? And, factoring in the capital, what kind of ferry operating costs are we looking at for the George Black ferry currently, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe we gave the member this information at one of the last two sessions. I will have to check with the department.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not looking for what has been given in the past, Mr. Chair. I'm looking for the current assessment, based on last year's operating costs and based on the projected operating costs. Because the minister did indicate we are going to be spending $150,000 on repowering the George Black ferry. She did indicate, further, that we're going to be spending an additional $100,000 on changing the steering from cable to hydraulic, not just cable-hydraulic assist. So, we're looking at $250,000 of additional expenditure on the George Black ferry. Now, there has to be a point in time where we have a gold-plated sow's ear that may or may not float. In fact, you only have to go to British Columbia and you can find a whole bunch of ferries there that they'd be happy to sell you. I think they refer to them as "fast ferries", Mr. Chair.
A ferry has an effective life. Engines have an effective life. This kind of a study should be done once and then upgraded on an annual basis, because there comes a point in time, Mr. Chair, where the ongoing O&M costs exceed the debt-servicing on the capital cost of a bridge. Unless somebody's fudging the numbers, that has to be coming into focus very quickly, because we're looking at over a million dollars a year, factoring everything in, for the operation of the George Black ferry for basically mid-May to mid-October.
We could have a link there if there were a political will for virtually the same amount of expenditure in debt-servicing a specific amount. Now, has this model been studied or will it be studied? Does the minister have any desire to look at this business case? Does the department have any desire to look at this business case and project it forward, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, of course we have an interest in looking at the business case. A lot of studies have been done, and there is by no means unanimity in the Yukon public that a bridge across the Yukon River at Dawson is desirable. There is still some opposition.
I have, however, been on the record as saying I believe a bridge is inevitable and probably sooner rather than later. However, it is still an expensive item to construct. We, as I said, will be talking to the town council in Dawson. The people in the Klondike region will have a say, and the people of the territory at large will have a say. I don't know what more I can tell the member. What he wants to hear is yes, we're building the bridge next year, but that's not in the cards, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, given the capital cost of the bridge and given the current O&M cost of the ferry, really, we must recognise that we're on a collision course, that the debt-servicing of the capital cost of a new bridge could be met and debt-serviced with what we are currently spending to operate the ferry.
Now, I don't want the minister to get all flustered like the Minister of Tourism and put cold water over everything. What I want is a study undertaken to project the figures. I wonder what kind of Jello we're going to have for dessert. I won't go there.
Will the minister undertake to do this kind of a business case projection of the costs? I'm asking for the capital costs of the bridge, given the order of magnitude estimate that currently exists, and whether it can be debt-serviced utilizing existing funds that would be realized from not operating the George Black ferry. We have to look down the road, because currently we're spending $150,000 on repowering the marine gear, then there's the steering, and we still have a ferry that was constructed in 1967. It still has some life in it, so it would still have a residual sale.
Is the minister going to be undertaking this kind of a review in-house?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would just like to point out that not everything that's old is rusting and useless. I have a toaster that's close to 50 years old. It's still working very well, thank you. A new toaster wouldn't work nearly as well as some of the older ones.
The annual O&M cost associated with the ferry, including building an ice bridge, is $776,000. The department will be doing some more work on this issue in the near future, as there is more and more information and interest in the project available. So, yes, we will be doing more work on this.
Mr. Jenkins: What the minister failed to mention with her 50-year old toaster is that it's just a stick that she uses over the bonfire. It's a metal one, and it has been around for 50 years, and it'll probably last another 50 years.
So, with that, I guess we can move on to the extension of utilities, such as electricity and telephone, to west Dawson. When is this going to occur?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, it's a perfectly nice toaster, with shiny metal sides. It works very well - nice, simple technology.
The member knows perfectly well the answer to the question about phone and electrical service in west Dawson, Mr. Chair. He has no need to be asking.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, these are questions that are bona fide, legitimate questions, and the Minister of Health and Social Services is shaking his head. He should be ashamed of himself, given his limited ability to understand the plight of Yukoners in his area.
But, the question is a bona fide question to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. When will the residents in west Dawson see electricity and see telephone service?
Because, you know, this Connect Yukon initiative was $25-odd million of the taxpayers' money, and it's in the minister's portfolio, Mr. Chair, because none of the other ministers would handle the hot potato. It got moved back and charged to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Mind you, it's debt-serviced through the Department of Government Services, flowing back through to the investors fund so that the investors who wanted to buy citizenship in Canada will be repaid with a profit. So, we have just borrowed from another fund. You know, we could be well-advised to take that $19-odd million. Instead of giving it to Northwestel, we could have built a bridge in Dawson City and debt-serviced it with the savings from operating the ferry.
That hasn't even been looked at or examined but, given that there is a demand in rural Yukon for adequate telephone service and an extension of the electrical grid, when will we see this happen, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the Member for Klondike knows full well that people started settling in west Dawson knowing there would not be those services for the foreseeable future. I was talking to people from west Dawson just recently who don't want electricity. I'm sure they're not the only people who don't want electricity.
Furthermore, Mr. Chair, Connect Yukon is not, never was, still isn't, about telephones. The member has to try that one on for size every few months. Connect Yukon is about high-speed data and Internet service, not about telephones.
I have no specific date for him on when those residents can expect those services.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like Northwestel has disconnected the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and pulled the plug on her, Mr. Chair.
Is there currently underway any sort of an examination of the extension of telephone and electrical services to west Dawson - as to what it would cost? And if not, why not? The demand is there, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Community and Transportation Services is not responsible for either telephones or electricity. Those are the responsibility of other departments.
Residents can apply under the rural electrical program and the rural telephone program if they are interested in those services.
Mr. Jenkins: Contrary to what the minister would lead us to understand as to who is responsible for what, the Department of Community and Transportation Services is usually the subdivision developer and usually liaises with the utilities to ensure that they are all in place in the subdivisions. They play a pivotal role in the installation of utilities.
Yes, it is done third party, but the lead agency, save and except when Yukon Housing gets involved and does a subdivision development, is always the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
While we are over in west Dawson, what are the plans for the Sunnydale Road and its upgrading this year, Mr. Chair? This is a highway. It's an alternate route and it has some very serious problems with it that are of a safety nature. Now, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services is always touting safety.
I guess that she has a couple of choices, Mr. Chair. We could ban the use of the road, which would grant us the permission to not upgrade it and make it safely conform. Or we could weight restrict it so that they can't get delivery of fuel and water over in west Dawson. But neither of these avenues are really reasonable, given that there are a number of RVs that want to move over and go into that area and tend at the golf course and the new RV park that is associated with the golf course.
So, when are we going to see the department upgrade and improve the safety on the Sunnydale Road? I am specifically referring to the area where it leaves the Top of the World Highway and follows the cliffs around and then drops down to the bottom of the hill. It's very, very narrow and treacherous. This and its proximity to the edge of the cliffs are safety factors.
Now, that has been duly recognised. There has been some money spent in the past, but it needs more attention. Will the minister be looking after the safety conditions along this road, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member has just gone over the same ground he went over on this issue previously. The department is offering the rural roads upgrading program, and that's the program that fits that road, Mr. Chair, and it will be evaluated along with all the other roads in need of work when the time comes to make those decisions.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the rural roads upgrading program has been cut back and cut back severely. This is from a Liberal government, which touted that they were going to be pumping money back into the road situation and doing much more. Well, I would challenge them to start approximating the amount of expenditure on highways and roads that the Yukon Party spent during its term of office.
All that is being done under this Liberal government, Mr. Chair, is that they're spending it in-house, looking at more and more travel for the ministers and their officials to go out and look at the roads. But at the end of the day, nothing has really happened, and this road is a safety road. You heard it, Mr. Chair.
The minister ignored the safety factors along this highway and said, "Just apply for funds under the rural roads program." That is a very, very disappointing response from a minister of this government, especially concerning that road, which leads to a major visitor attraction in the Klondike that has a tremendous amount of potential to build upon.
Why can't the minister afford the same level of cooperation and assistance for road maintenance and upgrading to Yukon businesses and Yukon operations as the minister will be doing for North American Tungsten, which is a mine in the Northwest Territories? What's wrong with Yukon businesses here, Mr. Chair? Why can't they get a measure of cooperation from this government?
Why the double standard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike loves to look for double standards. He doesn't find many, and this is not one of those cases. We will be looking at a number of road projects, when it comes time to allocate the rural roads money, and that project will receive due attention.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there's another section in the minister's budget, and it's called "other roads". Given the problems with the safety on the Sunnydale access road, it doesn't really qualify as a subdivision road. It's an access road to a multitude of areas, and it requires attention. I'm looking for a commitment from the minister to address the safety issue. Is she going to ignore the safety issue along this road? Is that what she's going to do?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I'm not disputing that the road needs attention. It still does need some work. There was work done there last year - $25,000. It still needs more work, but so do a number of other roads. We have noted the safety issue. We noted that previously, before the Member for Klondike even mentioned it, and that is one of the criteria that goes into determining which roads receive attention sooner than others.
The member is well aware of that. He's attempting to create an issue where none exists.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm pointing out is that this government appears to be establishing a double standard. If a business is established outside the borders of the Yukon, this government will go out of its way to accommodate their requests for highway maintenance and upgrading. We only have to look at what is transpiring with respect to North American Tungsten and the Nahanni Range Road - Highway No. 10, for the minister's benefit, Mr. Chair.
That road will receive a million dollars of this government's attention, each and every year. The Dempster Highway receives a lot of attention, and that road to resources has virtually been cut off any resources in the Yukon, because the northern part of the Yukon has been turned into a great big park by this Liberal government and previous Yukon governments.
The issue is, we have a number of businesses in the Klondike, where the roads accessing their businesses need attention, and one is the Sunnydale Road. The minister is ignoring the safety issues along that road. The money went ahead in last year's fiscal cycle only because it was placed there by the NDP, because they recognized the need and the issue of safety along the Sunnydale Road. They paid attention to this.
Now, as soon as it comes into focus under this Liberal government, anything in rural Yukon gets cut off. Why is this Liberal government determined not to provide any assistance, by way of road opening, to Yukon businesses in the same manner they're prepared to provide that road assistance and maintenance to companies outside our borders? Why this double standard? Why can't the minister commit to spend some money on the Sunnydale Road and bring it up to a safe standard for our visitors and for the residents in that area?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: So, the Member for Watson Lake is sitting there with great interest hearing the Member for Klondike say that we should not bother with the Cantung mine; we shouldn't worry about the Nahanni Range Road; we should let the people of Watson Lake suffer; we should be insular; we should never do anything beyond our borders - what a shame, Mr. Chair. The Sunnydale access road will get due attention in the rural roads upgrading program when we are looking at the work that needs to be done this year.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that isn't good enough, because what we are looking at is safety and the safety issue along that road. That is what has to be addressed. What I pointed out is that this Liberal government has created a double standard. They have one standard for roads outside of the Yukon or for businesses outside of the Yukon. They will upgrade them and maintain them for businesses outside of the Yukon. When it comes to opening a road into a mining district, they don't want to do it. They do the least amount. When it comes to opening the Sunnydale Road and making it safe, they don't want to do it. Last year they did it only because it was in the NDP budget. That's all. And they agreed to adopt it hook, line and sinker. But, mind you, Mr. Chair, if it's the parallelling of a highway or a route in Whitehorse, like the Hamilton Boulevard, we can go over budget by half a million dollars - no problem at all. The Sunnydale Road isn't looking for a half a million dollars. It is looking for considerably less. But it is looking to make that route safe - safe for the residents there to travel on and safe for the visitors who are taking that road in more frequent numbers than ever before as a consequence of a major attraction being developed in that area.
Now, that's in spite of this government's non-assistance. When is there going to be a level playing field, and when is this government going to assist Yukon businesses and provide proper access and adequate safe access into those areas, Mr. Chair? And I refer specifically to the Sunnydale Road.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike needs to understand that the decisions have not yet been made for the 2001-02 rural roads upgrading program. He is just assuming that the Sunnydale access road won't be on that list.
Mr. Chair, there is a note on last year's list saying "still needs work - safety issue". The department is aware of this, and the member repeating it over and over and over again is not going to get him any further. The department knows there is work that needs to be done, as there is on many other roads around the territory. We have taken note of the safety issue, and we'll deal with it appropriately. The decisions have not been made, so I can't tell the member right now that, yes, it will be done this year, or no, it won't be done this year. This is an inappropriate time for me to be deciding something like that.
The rural roads upgrading program will be determining within the next few weeks, I think, which projects will be receiving attention this year, and the Sunnydale access road will be on the list, Mr. Chair. I can't tell the member any more than that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's get a few things on the record, Mr. Chair. What was the budget for rural roads upgrading last year? What is it anticipated to be for the next fiscal cycle this year, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It's already on the record. It was a million dollars last year; it is $400,000 for the coming fiscal year. It would have been less than that, but we increased it slightly, and that's the best we can do this year. There is not a huge surplus, as the members opposite keep insisting, and there are a number of major road projects that need attention as well.
I agree that rural route roads are important, and I will do my best to get that back up in future fiscal years, but in the coming fiscal year, the rural roads upgrading program is at $400,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Last fiscal cycle, we heard a million dollars under the NDP-Liberal budget. This fiscal cycle, we're at $400,000 under the Liberal initiative, where we're going to spend more on roads because they've been neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair all over the Yukon Territory, and the previous governments haven't been doing their jobs, and a whole bunch of rhetoric.
But the bottom line is that the previous budget spent considerably more on rural roads than is anticipated being spent by this Liberal government with all its fanfare.
Now, could the minister just help me with this? Because I have a real problem. How can we go overbudget on the twinning of Hamilton Boulevard by half a million dollars and find that money at the drop of a hat, yet we're hard-pressed to maintain a million dollars for all the rural roads in the Yukon? It's cut back to $400,000. Could the minister help me with that equation, or is it that we're just dealing with a lightweight in Cabinet and we can't get her position advanced through the caucus?
Chair: This House is for the debate of budget at the current moment. It doesn't help to inflame debate. I'm not standing for any inflammatory words, other than debate on the subject. So, I would ask members to please refer their language and their referrals to other people's abilities - and not now, I won't accept it.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It has already been explained several times in this House that the rural roads budget would be at $400,000 this year. Yes, I know that that's a cut from last year. I hope it will be up again in the next fiscal year, but we're dealing with the 2001-02 fiscal year in this debate and it is at $400,000. That's where it's going to be for this year, because there was no more money to allocate to that important project.
Mr. Jenkins: So, if I get this right, the last budget was $1 million for rural roads. The Liberals are pumping more and more into highways and upgrading, because they've been neglected, but they're only spending $400,000 on rural roads this year. Yet, we see the twinning of Hamilton Boulevard coming in at half a million dollars overbudget and they can find that money virtually immediately. We're seeing the proposed opening and upgrading of the Nahanni Range Road at some $1 million a year. And this government has the ability to find that money internally. It's $1 million and this budget is just $10,000.
Mr. Chair, it raises alarm bells that this government would have the ability to find almost $1 million internally and yet it neglects safety on our rural roads. It's not a good situation.
We're not going to get anywhere on this, so let's move into Shakwak. Why haven't the tenders gone out for this current year for Shakwak? What's the problem? What's the delay? They're postponed, as I'm given to understand. They weren't out at the same time as last year. They were late. This will cause a delay in getting equipment in there, because there are road bans. What is the issue surrounding Shakwak?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Just for the record, capital expenditures on territorial highways, 1999-00 was $4,566,000. The 2000-01 forecast is $4,579,000, and the 2001-02 estimates $6,168,000. We are putting more money into Yukon roads, Mr. Chair.
There is no delay in the Shakwak project. The Jarvis River area, kilometre 1664 to 1674, has been advertised; tenders close at the end of April. Construction starts at the beginning of June. The construction is forecasted to be complete by mid-October. For the Silver Creek area, kilometre 1684 to 1693, tenders were advertised in April and will close in early June. Construction starts in late June, and construction is forecasted to be completed at the end of June 2002. For Burwash Landing to Duke River, kilometre 1758 to 1768 - tenders advertised in early June and closed in mid-July. Construction start - late July. Construction will be completed at the end of June 2002.
Each one of these projects needs to be looked at on its own merits in terms of the work required, and things are proceeding on schedule as far as the department is concerned. There will be considerable Shakwak work this year.
And before the member brings it up, yes, it is a million-and-a-half dollars less than last year, but that is because of the specific projects we are doing this year. We couldn't have used any more money than that on the projects that we are doing.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister confirm that the timing of the issuance of the contracts, the advertising, the closing date, and the issuance for this fiscal period is the same as previous fiscal periods?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, the member is looking for a problem where there isn't one. These are different contracts this year than they were last year. They may not be tendered at exactly the same time as last year, but they are tendered in order to bring about completion of the projects as our highway engineers wish. The area that we're now working in, there is no Shakwak winter work. There was one project this past winter, but we are proceeding on schedule. The member is looking for a problem where none exists, Mr. Chair. There is no problem. The Shakwak project is on schedule.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's not the information I have, Mr. Chair. The information is that the government is quite a bit later this year in advertising and will be later in awarding, and the contractors will be later going to work this year than they have been in previous years. I'm given to understand, given the scope and the order of magnitude of the work, that the delays are caused by the minister in her domain. Now, why have these delays been brought forward? What is the need for them? Why weren't the contracts tendered earlier than they were, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have had no hand in delaying any Shakwak work, as the Member for Klondike seems to be implying. Things are proceeding on schedule as far as our department is concerned. I have just given him the tender schedule, and that was designed so work will be completed on those projects on the dates I gave him. There has been no delay. The member is looking for a problem where there isn't one, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: The point I'm trying to make is that the contracts are being advertised and let at a later date this year than in previous years, and I'd like to know why.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: In previous years on the Shakwak project, we were in areas with a great deal of permafrost and the contract started early. The member is shaking his head. If he doesn't want to hear the answer, why does he bother to ask the question?
We were in -
Chair: Order please. I'm going to start putting lines down. There's no sense in making inflammatory remarks, especially like the one before that has nothing to do with budget debate. So I would ask members to refer their remarks to the budget debate, since this is debate on the budget and not what other people in this House are doing.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: In previous years, the Shakwak project was working in areas with a great deal of permafrost, where there was some winter work, as it was necessary to do some of the work when the ground was frozen. We are now out of that area, and the delay that the Member for Klondike is seeking is a delay in his own mind. It's not an actual delay. Tenders were issued in order to complete the work as per the schedule I have already given him.
The department is not holding up the Shakwak project this year. I state that again: we are not delaying the Shakwak project. The member is still shaking his head, but that's all I can tell him.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's go at this another way with the minister. Why couldn't the contracts be let earlier than when they are currently being let? For a lot of this work and the majority of this work, it doesn't matter if you start in May or June.
Now, what is the problem with backing up and getting the people to work here in the Yukon at an earlier date than what is currently being envisioned? It just appears, Mr. Chair, that the Liberals are determined to shut down every industry, and the road-construction industry is a major driver of the economy here in the Yukon. These contracts could have been issued well in advance of the current issuing date, and work could have started earlier
That's the point I'm wishing to make. Why weren't they?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Shakwak projects this year are summer work. They are not winter work. They are being tendered in time for the work to be carried out according to the schedule we have laid out. Also, as the member knows, this government is going to be tabling a capital budget in the fall of this year, so people will know what work there is for the next summer.
Mr. Jenkins: The point I wish to make is that these jobs could have been tendered earlier than they were. They could have put Yukoners to work ahead of the date they will be going to work, and they could have created more economic activity here in the Yukon than they have. It defies imagination why this Liberal government would take this tack on it.
The other major concern arising from contracts and road-construction contracts is the disparity between the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. Although it's not totally in the minister's domain, it does play into highway road contracts, in that Yukon contractors bidding on projects in the Northwest Territories are at a disadvantage, whereas Northwest Territories contractors coming over into the Yukon are not at a disadvantage. That has happened with the awarding of the Mayo school contract to a contractor who is primarily a Northwest Territories contractor. Now, the same does not hold true for Yukon contractors.
I would urge the Liberal government to level the playing field across the north, so that Yukon contractors can be given the same opportunity to bid on jobs in the Northwest Territories as Northwest Territories contractors have here in the Yukon. That's going to hold true for the Shakwak project and a lot of these other initiatives that are coming downstream.
So, there is a very important issue there, and it's being totally ignored by this government. Why? I do not know. If you look back in history, the same barriers existed between Quebec and Ontario, in terms of their workforce not being allowed to go back and forth. The Ontario workforce could not work in Quebec, but Quebec contractors could bid in Ontario, until the provincial government of Ontario finally stood up and said that enough was enough.
And maybe that is what it is going to take, Mr. Chair. But with these major undertakings, why should Yukon firms be at a disadvantage over other firms coming in here and bidding?
Now, can the minister confirm that? And are there any plans in Community and Transportation Services to address this shortcoming?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Premier has raised this issue with Premier Kakfwi in the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Jenkins: I would like to thank the minister for a non-answer. It's a very, very important issue to the economic development of Yukon contractors, and why more emphasis isn't being placed on this area - I am just disappointed to see that the government here in the Yukon is not doing everything it can to assist Yukon businesses and Yukon contractors.
Mr. Chair, I just have to assemble my notes, and I will let my colleague from Kluane pose a series of very intelligent questions of the minister, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: That would be a refreshing change to the debate.
I would like to continue on with the Shakwak issue. There are a couple of matters here that I would just like to clean up. We are also very concerned, by the way, about the delay to the tendering process. We will look forward to some remedial action on that matter in the days ahead.
But I know that the minister recited off the locations of the projects being tendered for this summer. I would like to know what sections remain to be completed and when we can expect them to be done. Can she give us an indication of that, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I can get the member that specific information. As it doesn't relate to the coming budget year, I don't have it in front of me.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I can accept her getting back with that information, Mr. Chair, but I do want to point out that this is an ongoing project, and any information being requested in future years is not excluded from debate. We're in general debate for the department.
I would also like to know if the minister can indicate who decides which projects on this project are done, because I've heard some people explain that the northern sections were supposed to be done and were supposed to be reconstructed continuously, right down to Jarvis Creek. But now we're seeing a project on the north end and a project on the south end being done, and currently there will be a gap in the middle yet to be constructed. So the projects are bouncing around a bit. Can she indicate who makes the decisions as to which sections are done?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member is correct that generally we've been working from the north down, but the part around Kluane Lake, around Slims River, poses some unique problems, and we'll be working south of there before that section is completed.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I didn't hear the minister explain who decides; that was the question.
In the meantime, I'd like to relate an experience that I had last summer, because it's still an ongoing problem and there could be more accidents this summer as a result. That is the sudden transformation of highway quality to our visitors in the territory. For instance, you can travel now from the U.S. border all the way to Quill Creek, mile 1111 - I'm not sure what the metric equivalent is - on a wide, modern highway. But right at that point, as you're going through the little dips and doodles beside the Kluane Wilderness Lodge and in that area, the road deteriorates significantly, and there is not adequate warning to motorists that that change has occurred.
We have the big Yukon government sign saying how much money is being spent on the project. We might see some other signs, "construction ahead", or whatever but, at the end of these reconstructed sections, the transformation to the old road is not readily apparent to the motorist. Last summer, I came across an accident that was about one kilometre into the old section, where there was a rollover of a new vehicle and someone was hurt. It appeared to me that such accidents can be prevented with a little more proper notice of the transformation they're experiencing, to remind them that, all of a sudden, they're back on the old sections of highway, and they're off the new sections.
I'm wondering if the minister can assure us that a little bit more will be done to increase the awareness of the travelling public about that transformation?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I've taken note of the member's concern, and I'll ask the department for their suggestions. I'm sorry I had neglected, I guess, to mention, in my previous answer, it is the Americans who are providing the money for the Shakwak project and they asked us to work from the north down.
Mr. McRobb: So, am I correct in understanding then that it's the Americans who decide which projects to do first, within the entire Shakwak project?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It's American money that's building the project, so they dictate the general shape of the project. We work very closely with them, and our engineering branch is in constant touch with them on the project.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, the minister didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. I know it's American money, and I know that our engineering branch works closely with the Alaskans, but who actually makes the decision of which section to deal with in this whole project, and in which order? Is that our decision or is that the Alaskans' decision?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would point out to the Member for Kluane that it's the federal highways administration in the United States, and not the Alaskans, who are funding the Shakwak project. Thus, it is the federal highways administration people who work with our engineering branch. We work closely, and it's a good relationship.
The member is asking who makes the decision. He obviously has some specific issue in mind and, if he would just tell us what it is, I can give him an answer.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I notice the minister in her answering this afternoon seems to be very suspicious of a question, and seems to try to anticipate there might be a problem. I'm merely trying to ascertain who makes the decision. Is it the Americans, is it the Canadians, is it the Yukon government, is it the department, or is it the minister? Can she tell us who makes the decision on which section should be done first?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The federal highways administration works with Community and Transportation Services, especially the engineering branch, to determine the work that will be done. It is a close relationship. The member is asking if I make the decisions on which specific projects will be done. No, I do not. Highway engineering is not my expertise, nor do I wish it to be.
Some years ago, the Yukon government had suggested that we work from Haines Junction north, and the Americans preferred that we work from Beaver Creek south, so ultimately it is their decision, if they don't like what C&TS lays out as a suggested schedule for the year.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I'm sorry if anybody feels that this is too harsh, but I think what I just heard is an example of an evasion of responsibility. I am not asking the minister to reveal what she knows in the way of highway engineering. Now, when the government makes a decision which school to build first, I don't expect to hear a response on their credentials on building construction. I expect an acknowledgement. They make the decision to proceed on a project. The minister does not have to be experienced in highway reconstruction to make a decision - yes, we will do the southern portion first or the northern portion first, whatever. It all comes with the job. So, please, please put a halt to these qualified responses based on some kind of inadequate basis that simply doesn't add up. Now, can the minister tell us in black-and-white terms: does she make the ultimate decision? Does she push the button on the projects recommended from this cooperative relationship or does somebody else? And if it is somebody else, who is it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: On the Shakwak project, the engineers in the Department of Community and Transportation Services and the engineers in federal highways administration make the decisions. A decision on which section of the Shakwak project to build is not one that should be made at the political level. It's not a political decision and shouldn't be. The job of the politicians - my job - is to make sure that the funding is there.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, that's inadequate. That's another example of how this government is not doing the job that's expected of it. It does have implications for Yukon taxpayers, and I'll give you an example. I will ask the minister to listen carefully.
If there's a section between the construction zones that has yet to be upgraded and needs to be maintained by Yukon government equipment, it means that the highway crews have to pass through the construction zones to get to that middle ground. In passing through construction zones, we can all appreciate that there will be delays. I have been held up several times going through that section in the construction zones, waiting for the pilot cars to return, as I'm sure others have.
Now, if the highway crews are being paid to sit in line because they have to go to the middle section to maintain it, then there's a cost to the taxpayer. This is a concern to the Yukon.
We can get a flagrant response that completely absolves someone of responsibility, but when you look at it a little closer, there is responsibility, because it's up to us to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent responsibly and efficiently. When we see a section left in the middle, that may not be the case.
I'm merely trying to get information here in order to possibly hold someone accountable, but anyone listening or reading Hansard will see that that is very difficult to do. In the past, I have compared it to trying to nail jelly to the wall. It's more like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling, Mr. Chair. I'm sure you can appreciate that.
I will just put it out one more time. If the minister doesn't answer it, that's fine. I'll just move on. It will be another example of this government not being accountable. Can she indicate if she's the one who makes the decisions on this, and also acknowledge that taxpayers' money is at stake because of delays through construction zones?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will inquire of the department what the difference in O&M might be if the highway crews are delayed by the pilot cars in the construction areas. Which particular part of the Shakwak project is being done at a given time is a decision for the highway engineers, not the politicians. If the politicians start messing in something like that, then we're going to have a problem. We don't have a problem at the moment, Mr. Chair, and I'd like to keep it that way.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair. We're not looking for problems either. We'll tackle that one another day, and I would appreciate the information from the minister on that.
Now, just to close off the Shakwak file for the moment, I'm interested in knowing what training programs are being offered this summer. I have in my hand a report done in December 1998 about the road-building training program that involved several members of the Kluane First Nation and other First Nations, which was quite successful. I would like to know if the government is promoting training programs to bring Yukoners up to the requirements in order to get work on highway construction in the territory through these training programs. Can she indicate if anything is being done about that this summer?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, Community and Transportation Services will continue to work with the First Nations in the area and advanced education on training for the Shakwak contracts.
Mr. McRobb: I guess that means no; otherwise, we'd be hearing about an ongoing program or one about to start. I'd like to ask the minister in regard to the presentation made to the review panel for the Canada Transportation Act earlier today. I'm aware that submissions were made from both her department and the Tourism department. Perhaps others, as well. Is she prepared to provide us with copies of those submissions?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I had intended to table our report today. As I wasn't in the office this morning, it didn't get into the system fast enough, so I will table the report tomorrow.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: On the highways sections for reconstruction of the road to Haines Junction, I reviewed Hansard where the minister described the projects and the estimated cost of each one, and I would like to thank her for that. That's exactly the information I sought in the previous questions. Can the minister indicate if those reconstruction projects go down as far as the Mendenhall bridge on the Alaska Highway? That would be the most eastern point, I believe.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: On this specific project, I can't tell from looking at the map if it goes to Mendenhall bridge. I believe that it does, but I would have to check with the department to be sure.
Mr. McRobb: That's fine. Can the minister provide a map of these projects if it is available? That would be extremely helpful in getting a good understanding of where the four sections are located and exactly what points they start and stop from on the map. Is there a map available? Can she provide that, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There isn't one available, but we will get one.
Mr. McRobb: All right.
There has been considerable discussion about the Nahanni Range Road, and I would like to correct the record. The minister implied on March 14 that somehow I was not in favour of this project. I would like to correct the record on that and first of all indicate that, in the 2000-01 budget developed and tabled by the previous government, there was an allocation for $85,000 to install a bridge on the Nahanni Range Road. Obviously I was in support of that. Consequently, in her budget reply speech, the now Premier chastised the previous government for that spending. So, for the minister to stand up and try to take credit for any attention being paid to the Nahanni Range Road at this point and somehow paint us as being against it simply doesn't add up.
Furthermore, I'd like to add that I'm very familiar with that road. I have probably travelled it 20 to 30 times, and it's a beautiful area. There is great potential for tourism in that area as well, Mr. Chair, as well as other mineral development and exploration. It shouldn't be viewed as just a single-industry road.
I would like to also mention again the fact that Bob Nault, our Northern Affairs minister, has given money to the N.W.T. and is probably in the process of handing out some in Nunavut for these very types of purposes. When are we going to get our share? Maybe the minister can reveal something about that now. Can she indicate when the cheque will be in the mail for Yukoners to claim their benefit of having all the Liberal stars lined up?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member knows perfectly well that I can't tell him the date the cheque will be in the mail.
Mr. McRobb: I wasn't looking for the date, Mr. Chair, but that's fine. Obviously, we'll have to wait again for the promises to come to fruition - promises that were made during the fall election, promises that were made during the election campaign that occurred one year ago. And many other promises have been made.
Yukoners are being told to suffer and wait. This is not only costing us jobs. It's causing us a lesser quality of life, and it's also chasing away outside investment in our territory, or at least delaying it or putting it at risk. We have seen lots of other examples of how this government is chasing away investors, and this may, in fact, work against the territory's economy if the government is not prepared to make a commitment on this road or at least get some federal assistance. We were promised it. That's all I'm saying.
I would like to ask about the issue of rural services. I've asked about this before. The minister indicated previously that they were considering it and there was an analysis being undertaken that she was considering. Can she give us an update on that, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe that this came up just before the spring break. I don't have Hansard in front of me to see exactly what I said, but it is something we continue to work on. I know that the department has some information for me on that issue. Once we're done with C&TS debate here, I will probably have a chance to talk to them about it.
Mr. McRobb: Well, can the minister advise us if there is an opportunity in the line-by-line debate where we can deal with rural services and where that might be?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe that comes up under the community services branch.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I guess we'll put the minister on notice that, at that opportunity, we'll be asking more questions about the analysis. If she has any material she can provide, we would appreciate it at that time.
I would like to move now to the Connect Yukon program. The minister provided some correspondence on September 15, 2000, and included a connection schedule for Connect Yukon. I would like to know if that schedule is accurate or if there are any changes. Is there an updated schedule? If so, can I have it, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Connect Yukon project is on schedule, to the best of my knowledge.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm aware of at least one situation in one community - Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing - where they're having problems with the Internet. They're still not accessing the Internet, from what I understand. It says here in the schedule that that was to be done last year. So is there any information the minister can share with us about those communities?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: In Destruction Bay, I believe that Northwestel was having a problem getting the system up and running. They had tried a couple of times several weeks ago and it wasn't working, but I believe they may have it up and running now or should have. Burwash, as the member knows, is not a part of Connect Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, it's my understanding that Burwash Landing was part of Connect Yukon. Certainly in the schedule provided by the minister, Burwash Landing is mentioned, and it's indicated in the chart that it would be connected in 2000. So now we're hearing from the minister that the community of Burwash Landing is not part of Connect Yukon. So, perhaps she can improve her understanding by providing additional comments on this, please.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will have to review the information I sent to the member. But, as the Member for Kluane knows, the previous NDP government, in their setting up of Connect Yukon, did not include the community of Burwash.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I don't have a spontaneous answer to that, because the rules of the Legislature prevent me from saying that it just isn't so.
Burwash Landing was included in the previous government's vision for Connect Yukon and, as a matter of fact, I have some evidence here to back that up. Mr. Chair, this is material from the committee that I have mentioned a few times - an instrument of the previous government to identify and monitor economic initiatives, something this government doesn't have - and that's the CCEEI process. At the last meeting - I believe it was on January 14, 2000 - I was in attendance, and there was a handout at the meeting. I'm looking at that handout now, and it has a chart that's very similar to the one provided by the minister in September, some eight months later, and it includes Burwash Landing. Mr. Chair, it has a double star notation beside it. Down below, here's what it says, "Subsequently, it has been determined that it's not feasible to deliver the high capacity services in the 2000 construction year." Mr. Chair, these services will be provided, and the telephone capacity issues are dealt with in the service improvement plan.
The community of Destruction Bay has indicated that it's among the target communities for the year 2000. The information provided by the minister backed that up. So, Mr. Chair, for the minister now to say that the community was never part of it and was not part of the previous government's vision is merely trying to revise history. This community was part of it. I was in attendance at those meetings. I spoke up on the issue. I didn't have to speak very hard because the previous Government Services minister always envisioned it to be part of the process. That was in the budget. That was in the whole plan.
So, Mr. Chair, I don't quite follow the minister's logic. Obviously, there was a major shuffle when this government came in. At its own doing, it shuffled the responsibility for this important program from Government Services to Community and Transportation Services. It also shuffled the deputy minister and some technical people. In addition, there is a new minister and new ministerial staff.
Mr. Chair, the continuity of this important project was disrupted severely, and it was all something that the Liberal government did quite willingly. But for the minister to now stand up and tell us how it was - trying to revise history for political purposes - should not be tolerated. And certainly, we don't support it. I guess we'll have to tolerate it if she wants to stand up and say it. We don't have many options in that regard. But certainly, we can provide information to contradict what the minister wants us to believe, and the facts speak for themselves.
In addition, there was a mail-out, some two months after that meeting, to the day - on March 14 - signed by the previous Minister of Government Services, and it included a very similar connection schedule to what was provided by the minister herself back in September.
Now, on page 5, it clearly indicates that Burwash Landing is scheduled for connection in the year 2000. I can table this for the minister if she needs it.
So, Mr. Chair, can she explain for us why, if what she says is accurate - that Burwash Landing is not part of it - is it included in the schedules for connection in the year 2000, even in the material provided by the minister herself?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would be pleased if the member would table that document. It would be most illuminating. And I would be pleased to table, once again, the contracts signed by the previous government, which show clearly that Burwash Landing was not included in the Connect Yukon project. In the letter of intent dated March 31, 2000, the Yukon government and Northwestel agreed to work toward finalizing agreements similar to the Connect Yukon infrastructure agreement to support the delivery of high-speed Internet services to the additional communities of Elsa, Keno, Burwash Landing, Tagish, Faro, Ross River and to rural areas adjacent to Whitehorse. However, as I have noted several times before in this House and in speaking to Yukoners, this letter of intent did not include a budget or commitment to spend on these communities.
The member may also be referring to the service improvement plan, which is a responsibility of the Government Services department and not of Community and Transportation Services. I would be pleased to, once again, table the contracts, which prove quite clearly which communities were and which communities were not included in Connect Yukon. And I invite the member to table the documents that he has been referring to.
Mr. McRobb: I will provide the minister with what I can, and I would also say that there is no need to cut down a few trees and provide something we already have in the agreements that we have on this side of the House. There's no need to repeat that.
Mr. Chair, I still have a problem with this. The service improvement plan, according to this table, spans the years 2001-04. The Connect Yukon was for the year 2000. Burwash Landing is clearly X'ed in that year. Now, this is information provided by the minister to us in the Legislature in September.
Can she reconcile that with what she is saying now, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have already said that I would review with the department what was provided to the member in September.
In view of the time, Mr. Chair, I move we take a short break.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Buckway that we do now take a short recess.
Motion agreed to
Chair: We will recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We'll continue with general debate, Community and Transportation Services, Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02. I believe Ms. Buckway had the floor.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, I'd just like to point out to the Member for Kluane that, again, referring to his questions about Destruction Bay and Burwash, the high-speed Internet is working fine in Destruction Bay and has been officially for at least two weeks, and longer than that on test. Some people, I understand, are now hooked up to ADSL. And in Burwash, as a result of Connect Yukon in the vicinity, they got dial-up access to the Internet, but it is not high-speed, as the Connect Yukon project is for.
Mr. McRobb: I accept that new information, Mr. Chair, because it was my understanding that Burwash Landing was always a part of Connect Yukon. I've heard the minister on several occasions state that it wasn't, and I believe we went around this bush back in the fall, when I expressed my concern that, through the minister's communication that Burwash wasn't included, it had raised concerns in the community. We're glad we're finally on the same wavelength now. I understand that people in Burwash Landing do, in fact, have access to the Internet at reasonably fast speeds - 56K is a reasonably fast speed at this point.
We would hope they would be upgraded to ADSL in the near future as well.
Now, sticking with Connect Yukon, following up on that issue has prompted me to revisit some of the reams of information that exist on this particular program. I did make the minister a copy of correspondence I referred to - the letter of March 14, 2000 from the previous Government Services minister. I will get her a copy of that now.
I would like to point out for the record how this correspondence starts off. First of all, this correspondence, I believe, was mailed Yukon-wide. Everybody in the territory, it is my understanding, received this.
It starts off by asking what Connect Yukon is. It then answers the question by saying, "Connect Yukon is a program sponsored by the Yukon government that will expedite improved telecommunication services to Yukon communities. The program involves bringing basic telephone services to areas that don't currently have access to services, improving services where they do exist, and expanding Internet opportunities to provide better services for use in homes, schools, libraries, community campuses, health centres and businesses."
It goes on to explain how Connect Yukon is a partnership between the Yukon government and the private sector, with Northwestel as a major partner, and, together, the partners will spend about $18 million in the 2000 construction season to improve services to all Yukon communities.
It goes on from there, Mr. Chair. Obviously, it has been demonstrated that the component of bringing basic telephone services to areas that don't currently have access to services was fundamental to the previous government's vision of this program, as mentioned in the text. That has been a claim contradicted by the current minister, and there has been some finger-pointing about this particular matter in the media and some in this Legislature to the effect that that was not so.
Here we see it clearly in black and white, spelled out in this correspondence signed by the previous minister. Mr. Chair, if that isn't a commitment, I don't know what is. It is clear that, in the previous government's concept of this program, telephones were part of it.
Now, before the break, I spoke about the major transition in the personnel involved in this program. It shifted from one department to another. There was a different minister and different staff. There was a different deputy minister and there were different technical people. It can be reasonably expected that some things will fall between the cracks. In this case, what clearly fell between the cracks was the basic telephone service to areas that don't currently have access to those services, because there's no continuity.
Maybe it's something that the Liberal government wanted to propagate to Yukoners as a fault with this program or possibly a fault with the previous government. To their credit, they have been fairly effective on communicating that to the territory's people through a means of ways, including mail-outs, news releases, interviews - all kinds of ways, including, I believe, motions tabled in this Legislature.
Certainly in the minister's retort to any questions regarding Connect Yukon, it's a standard reply from her. We have become accustomed to that. But one thing that the minister is failing to acknowledge and neglecting to appreciate is the certain vision of the previous government to bring telephone services to Yukoners in need. Now, the minister can point to a contract or agreement and say that it is not spelled out in here exactly to that effect. Well, that may or may not be the case, but it's up to politicians of any stripe to also do what is required in order to fulfill a commitment.
Is the minister saying that, had the election results been different a year ago - a case in which the previous government would have been re-elected - Yukoners in need of telephone services would not be getting them now? I dare say not, Mr. Chair, because I can speak for the previous Minister of Government Services, to his credit. He was a man of dignity, and he still is. I shouldn't speak of him in the past tense, and I don't mean to do so, except in his capacity as a member of this Legislature. The previous minister would have done whatever was required in order to ensure that this commitment was fulfilled.
That's all part of being a government, because sometimes a government says something and it doesn't deliver. Other times, it says something and does deliver. But more common than not is when we see a transition in government, and commitments aren't delivered on, and it becomes a game of political hocus pocus. We have seen that. We have seen that from this government on several issues. What are some of them? The Mayo school issue is one of them. Another is with the highway reconstruction projects, where we see the minister stand up and say that the previous government wouldn't have done the projects that the Liberal government is doing now.
That's baloney. I pointed out to the minister that, in the long-term plan campaigned on by the previous government, that roadwork was included in the three-year plan. Furthermore, in my comments on the budget at the time, I indicated the funding would be continuous until the projects were completed. But we hear a different story now on that matter, just as we're hearing on the Connect Yukon matter.
Now, Mr. Chair, sometimes it takes some political will to ensure that a project is completed as it should be completed. Just because there's a change in government does not really give a new government the right to misinterpret the intent of the previous government, especially in a case where the new government campaigned on the same budget. That fact on its own was unprecedented in Yukon political history. As a matter of fact, it might have been unprecedented in Canadian political history, but I'll leave that to the historians to figure out.
The present government campaigned on the budget of the previous government. They indicated that all of these projects were good projects and they would continue them.
Now, Mr. Chair, what we have seen in a number of the projects is a blatant reversal in the direction taken by the new government.
This government has reversed its position on several of the programs developed by the previous government. Programs the Liberals campaigned on continuing have been reversed or repackaged, and some have been cancelled. Certainly overall, Mr. Chair, as a whole, these programs have undergone significant change in the first year.
Now, the Connect Yukon program, Mr. Chair, was a major project developed by the previous government. It spanned about three years, I think, starting in 2000, and I think it was going to be completed in late 2003 or maybe 2004, and everything would be done. But the Liberal government has changed all that. I believe the minister in the fall said that it would be another four years or maybe even five years. The same view has been expressed by the major contractor, Northwestel.
Well, Mr. Chair, what's going on? The government, the political level of government, should demonstrate the leadership, uphold the responsibility and set the pace expected of it, and not just leave all these decisions to other people or other things. Earlier this afternoon, we heard about the Shakwak project, and we discovered that it's not really the Minister of Community and Transportation Services who decides which sections are to be constructed; it's somebody else.
The minister also indicated that she doesn't decide which sections should be done first, because she's not a highway engineer. Mr. Chair, I followed up on that by citing the example of the Mayo school. Does a minister have to be a building contractor or engineer to decide if the Mayo school should proceed? I daresay not. Those qualifications would be beyond any reasonable level of expectation, nor would it necessarily be desirable.
Mr. Chair, who decides which school proceeds, and when, where and how? Is it the school construction engineer? I hope not. I hope it's the minister. Decisions like that are expected from the political level of government, not from an engineer, building inspector, or anyone else. We're in this Legislature because we have been elected as representatives of the 17 ridings in the territory. We were elected here to make the decisions necessary to run the territory.
If the ministers will simply delegate this decision-making responsibility to someone else, then it's also reasonable to assume that the level of accountability in the territory will suffer, the expectations of the Yukon electorate will not be upheld, and the responsibilities expected of the ministers will be greatly reduced.
Clearly these types of decisions are the responsibility of the ministers. So, Mr. Chair, I'm a little concerned about what's happening in regard to the direction and example by this government. It's now nearing almost a full year in government, and the indications to date of the performance level from this government, Mr. Chair, are not very good in many areas.
The areas of taking responsibility and showing leadership are two areas that are really suffering.
The minister has yet to acknowledge that the Connect Yukon project could bring telephones to Yukoners if this government had the will to do it. It is very possible for this government to do anything it wants to bring telecommunications to Yukoners and improve the level of service in the territory.
If it wants to fully develop cellphone service in the territory, the territorial government could look at doing that. That's one example.
The previous government found ways to create and implement such projects. The Connect Yukon project was one of them. Now, previous governments took a standoffish approach and said that it's the responsibility of an investor-owned company like Northwestel. It has its own capital programs, and it's not the role of government to backfill capital programs that have been reduced.
Mr. Chair, the previous government showed leadership and decided that it is not fair to people in the territory to have to suffer needlessly without important lifeline services, like telephones, for what could be years, and it accepted the challenge and fulfilled the responsibility by designing this program and putting it together, presenting it along with a vision - a vision that is in black and white. The previous government wasn't worried about being held accountable. It sent this out. It is clearly on record. Basic telephone services were part of Connect Yukon, right there in black and white.
Now, the minister has pretty much had her way on this since about last August, when she made some sort of pronouncement that Connect Yukon wasn't about telephones, and that is all that we have been hearing about since. We haven't really had a chance to talk about it since then. But, I guess today - I am sorry if people would rather we talk about something else, but I guess I am showing a prolonged sense of frustration about this issue seeing how a new government could come in, change the course of a ship, then point their fingers at the previous captain and crew, and not take any responsibility about where the ship is going or where it should have been. It's all part of leadership.
I know that we can all realize that this government deserves a grace period, but it has been about a year. The honeymoon should be over. This new government would be a lot easier to tolerate if they weren't so proficient at pointing their fingers and criticizing the previous government. It was the minister herself who called the press conference to declare that Connect Yukon was no longer about telephones. We didn't call it; it was her.
Then we received a big stack of material, including all of the agreements, and an editorialist or two kind of backed up what the minister was saying. And, Mr. Chair, it's all rather frustrating because, as anybody knows, there are at least two sides to every story. What we have heard about this Connect Yukon to date has primarily been from one side - the minister's side. That's not fair. There is more to this than just the minister's side. The course of the ship changed drastically. It bailed out the telephones for Yukoners in need. It could be bailing out in other areas, as well. What about Faro-Ross River, Mr. Chair? The future there is still a bit murky.
You know, Mr. Chair, the government has the ability to make all existing programs a success. If it had done so with Connect Yukon by just keeping the ship steaming along until it reached its destination, things would have been fine. It didn't. It set a completely new direction and threw out some of the cargo. All of the boxes of telephones went overboard. That's really unfortunate, because people in the territory deserve phones. And we're not just talking about people in remote locations. We're talking about people within easy travelling distance from Whitehorse.
There is one community in my riding - Takhini River subdivision - that's probably only about 15 kilometres from the end of the telephone line. There is a whole subdivision there - about 40 houses - without regular telephone service.
So, Mr. Chair, this is a real concern, and I know there are other areas. There are areas down near Teslin, at the cottage lots, and all kinds of areas, I believe, in the minister's own riding. It's simple. If the will of government is there to bring telephones to people and keep it part of the Connect Yukon project, then it can happen, but that's not what we have seen.
Mr. Chair, like I said, if I sound a bit frustrated it's because I have had to contain these feelings for several months now, and this opportunity has obviously been the one where I have brought some of this out. It's not only my own frustration; it's a frustration for several people I know - people who were involved in the previous program and so on.
The lasting point I would like the minister to get out of this is how easy it is for her to make something happen in the program, such as delivering on the telephone commitment.
If the minister wanted that to happen, she could have made it a commitment, brought it to the Cabinet table and said, "All right, belly up to the bar. We're going to get telephones for Yukoners and we're going to make that part of the Connect Yukon as it was previously envisioned." And, Mr. Chair, it might have happened, but instead, all we got was a wagonload of excuses and still no phones for Yukoners.
Now, the government has all kinds of money. They don't have to cry poverty any more, Mr. Chair. The teachers strike is over now. The surplus is several million dollars. Mr. Chair, if gas prices stay high, they're bound to be several million dollars even higher. There is $9 million in resource revenues this year compared to about three last year, Mr. Chair. That's contrary to the ad in Friday's paper, Mr. Chair, where it used voodoo economics to indicate that the increase was far less substantial than what it is. The unexpected windfall in the territory is $6 million in resource revenues. Look in the budget; it's right in there - $6 million. Just part of that money would have solved this problem and eliminated all the finger-pointing and helped the people who need it.
Now, Mr. Chair, there are several advantages to bringing telephones to Yukoners. There's more than the lifeline issue, the health and safety issue; there's an economic issue. In places like Takhini River subdivision or Teslin cottage lots, there are people who want to develop and operate home-based businesses and who are simply unable to do it now because there are no telephones. Now, Mr. Chair, where is the consistency in government? We hear one government minister pop up one day and tell us about all the wonderful things they're doing to bring the territory on-line. We've even got a federal minister coming to the territory saying the same thing. But where's the consistency? It's hard to go on-line when you don't even have a telephone, Mr. Chair.
So I know my time's about expiring. I've covered a gamut of issues here, and I know the minister is all pent up with answers to every one of them, and I'd like to hear what she has to say.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: If the previous administration had intended the Connect Yukon project to be about telephones, that would have been reflected in the contract they signed just before the election; it wasn't. If that was their intention, it was not reflected in the contract. The member knows that full well.
Mr. McRobb: That was short, Mr. Chair. I guess one of the best defences is near silence on this matter, but that won't work, because we have lots of opportunity to follow up on this.
One of the immediate things that comes to mind is, again, that it's incumbent upon the government to find creative ways to make something work. If, in fact, a contract signed before an election was not fully inclusive of all the aspects of what needed to be done in the way of implementing the program and developing infrastructure, then there is lots of time to reflect on it and bring in a new contract. This government could have brought in a new contract to get that work done as part of this project. Will the minister not agree to that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The previous government signed the Connect Yukon agreement that would cost the Yukon government $23.5 million before it's done. If it were meant to provide basic telephone service to all unserved and underserved areas, it would have had an additional cost of about $27.3 million. That figure is what Northwestel asked the CRTC to provide through the service improvement plan, which was submitted and approved.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I have to dispute that. What the minister is implying - I have to be careful about how I say this - would lead someone to the conclusion that the cost of providing the telephone component of Connect Yukon would be exorbitant. And the minister also implies that it would cover everything in Northwestel's service improvement plan.
Well, Mr. Chair, there are problems with the implications of that from what the minister just said. The first thing that comes to mind is that if indeed it is $27.3 million for additional phones in the territory to wire everyone - if indeed that is the cost - can the minister table some material that supports that figure? I have yet to see anything on that figure. I would imagine that there are all kinds of ways to come to that figure. Just what does it include? Does it include bringing a landline telephone at a cost of $5 million to someone in a remote cabin on the Dempster Highway? Does it include examples like that? Or is it just for subdivisions like the Teslin cottage lots or Takhini River subdivision? Just what is that figure covering?
In order to follow up on that, I would ask the minister to expedite the delivery of that particular material.
Secondly, Mr. Chair, the minister expects Yukoners to believe that the government should backfill or completely assume the total cost to Northwestel of the service improvement plan. Well, that logic is ridiculous, because there are certain aspects to the service improvement plan that are primary objectives of the investor-owned company. They are extraneous to government's role to fulfil the need to ensure that all Yukoners, within reason, have access to this lifeline service.
So, Mr. Chair, I would ask the minister to also provide us with some information or material to indicate how much of Northwestel's service improvement plan she would find reasonable for government to contemplate paying for. Let's take a look at that material and test it against what we were told in this Legislature just minutes ago. Because it's a far cry from the reality of the economics to provide those telephones when you consider what Northwestel would contribute and when you consider what the high-cost serving areas - the HCSA - would contribute. That's the subsidy program from the southern telcos in Canada to help develop communications infrastructure in Canada's north. It's something that the previous government lobbied hard for and was rewarded with in the way of the CRTC decision.
There are also customer contributions of up to $1,000 per telephone. There is also a cap on the amount provided under the program. I believe the cap was $25,000 per telephone. So, in cases where it might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to bring communication services to a remote location, that cost was greatly relieved through the cap of $25,000.
So, the service improvement plan covered a number of other items including, I believe, reductions to long-distance rates.
These are extraneous aspects to the issue of providing telecommunication services to Yukoners. So, for anybody to roll all of this up together and say that the cost of bringing the telephones in and fulfilling that commitment and Connect Yukon is greater than the entire cost of the program is faulty logic. The figures used by the minister herself are $23.5 million for Connect Yukon and $27.3 million - that voodoo economic figure - to deliver on the telephones.
So, Mr. Chair, I'm not willing to accept what I was told, and I would like to get the material from the minister to take a closer look at those numbers and what's included in those numbers so that I can be better prepared in coming back and dealing with this issue at a future date.
Can she undertake to provide us with that information, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The $27.3 million, as the member knows, is what Northwestel asked the CRTC to provide through the service improvement plan. That was Northwestel's figure. It is not Community and Transportation Services' figure.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, that's my point. The minister has obviously acknowledged the fault with her argument and the merit in mine, and now she has taken my argument and put it back to me. At least we can agree on something, and that is that the $27.3 million is somebody else's number, used for somebody else's agenda that doesn't include the government's agenda.
Anyway, Mr. Chair, I didn't get an answer to the question, which was this: can the minister provide supporting documentation to prove up the figure she used of $27.3 million?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The $27.3-million figure is a Northwestel figure. It is not a Community and Transportation Services figure. This is what I'm asking the Member for Kluane to understand, but he isn't hearing me.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister said - and if I didn't hear it correctly, then I stand to be corrected. The minister said that in order for the telephone component of Connect Yukon to be fulfilled, there would be a requirement for an additional $27.3 million. I see the minister shaking her head, so maybe she can just expand on this or clarify what she meant.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: What I said was very clear. If the Connect Yukon project were meant to provide basic telephone service to unserved and under served areas - which it obviously wasn't mean to do - it would have included additional money for the telephone service. The contract that was signed was not about telephones.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, I can agree with the minister - she said that. But what about the part of the $27.3 million? Did she use that figure as a cost to be able to provide that service or not?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I said that that figure is what Northwestel asked the CRTC to provide through the service improvement plan.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, and is the service improvement plan specifically and solely geared to the provision of telephone services to those who are not served or are underserved?
Deputy Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I expected an answer out of the minister, and obviously she's not prepared to give one. So rather than wasting the time of this Legislature, we will tackle this again tomorrow. I'll look at the Blues tonight on-line and see what she said, and we can take another look at it tomorrow. I don't have to stand here and ask her what she said. I'll take a look at it in the Hansard.
Now, Mr. Chair, there are a few other issues I'd like to get to in general debate. One of them is the CYTIP - the Canada-Yukon transportation infrastructure program, I believe it is. The Liberal government ballyhooed the new CYTIP in its throne speech in the fall and several times subsequent to that as a vehicle to bring water and sewer services to Yukoners, especially in municipalities around the territory.
Now, back in December, I asked for some information about how that program compared to the previous one, and I received some correspondence on it from the minister, and I was a little disappointed to discover that the funding level of the current program is less than the previous one, yet it was one of the star attractions in the Liberal throne speech. They went on about infrastructure improvement, yet the money they got from Ottawa is less than the amount from the previous Yukon government in 1994.
Well, Mr. Chair, this is really disappointing, because it clearly looks like another example of how the Liberals haven't delivered. Where is this so-called close relationship with Ottawa? These federal ministers are flying up here. They just love to come up for a visit and check things out and have a nice time, but they're leaving the suitcase full of money at home.
Will the members across the way, when they send out the invitations, please remind them to bring the suitcase full of money with them next time, because this is disgraceful.
What a letdown. I didn't realize it was going to be this bad until I saw the material and looked closely at the numbers. The amount under this infrastructure program appears to be less than the previous agreement in 1994. The numbers I have are $2,488,000 this time versus $2,597,000 last time. Can the minister confirm those numbers for us, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The $2,480,000 is the amount of the infrastructure agreement that we signed with the federal government in October of 2000. I'm not aware of the amount in the previous agreement.
Mr. McRobb: Well, it was in the minister's previous correspondence, dated December 22, 2000. I hope this isn't another example of the correspondence being routed through the departments and not to the ministers, and them not being aware of what they sign off because, clearly, right on the second page, it has the number $2,597,000 in 1994 - right there.
Now, I don't know what the minister is doing, but this is something that, I think, could reasonably be expected that she should be aware of. It is unfortunate that, once again, we've got to do all of the research work to bring the discussion up to speed where we can both read from the same page.
Now, can the minister explain for us why this program funding from the federal government is less this time than what it was seven years ago?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, Mr. Chair. I can't explain why the federal government is allotting less money to the Yukon government this time than previously.
Mr. McRobb: Well, it would have been really nice in the last two elections in the territory to maybe have that on tape recorder and have it played back right after all of the Liberals claimed how much better off people in the territory would be with another Liberal government because they can communicate better and all the Liberal stars would be lined up and so on. And where is the delivery? There is no delivery. Instead, we are getting answers like the previous one.
The government is running out of excuses to explain the inferior product that it is delivering compared to previous governments. Now, that is a far cry from what Yukoners were led to believe. The Liberals raised expectations that relations with the federal government would be better and the territory would benefit from programs such as this.
I don't think anybody in the territory reasonably expected that really what it meant was we would be visited more frequently by the Liberal ministers, who flew in for fundraising events without their suitcase full of money. If they had brought a suitcase, maybe we could tolerate it, but the way it's turning out is very disappointing to see the poor performance level from this government and its relations with its cousins in Ottawa about delivering a product for Yukoners.
This is another major flagship program, Mr. Chair, ballyhooed in the throne speech. It's no doubt in the budget speech as well. It's a major undertaking - one of the few undertakings from this Liberal government in the way of economic initiatives or programs, and even it is inferior to yesterday's standards.
Well, Mr. Chair, I'm at a loss to contemplate how this could be. When you look at the federal financial situation back in 1994 with a large deficit budget and the huge debt - nobody knew how it could ever be paid off - and compare it to what it is today, the deficit budget's gone, the debt is starting to be repaid, the federal government has many things working in its financial favour, so it has got more money to throw around. But where is our share? People who supported the Liberals with their vote expected some delivery, but it's not happening.
Mr. Chair, that's rather disappointing. It seems that almost every day there is another example to indicate that people's expectations were falsely raised. That's very unfortunate, because we, on this side, clearly do support investment in the territory and we do support the development of our communities and sustainable development of our territory. If the federal government wants to invest here and if it's supported by Yukoners, then, generally, that's a good thing. And we can accept that. It happened to previous governments. If it ever happens again, it won't be unique to this territorial government. It has happened many times in the past, but we expect it to occur more frequently than it has been.
Mr. Chair, I'd be hard-pressed to give one example to date of how Yukoners have benefited from this so-called special relationship. And certainly, this poor performance on the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program is very disheartening. This is an important program for people in the territory. We're talking about basic infrastructure development in our communities - water and sewer and so on.
I know that communities in my riding have benefited from the pumphouse in Mendenhall and various projects up the north Alaska Highway, in addition to several other examples across the territory. Each of them is very important, and each of them contributes to the local economy. Each of them increases the standard of living and perhaps improves public safety, in some cases. They are very beneficial.
Well, one would have expected, given the huge surplus at the federal level and given the so-called special relationship, that we would see a significant increase in the funding for this program. When I looked at the numbers and discovered that the program funding in 1994 was actually superior, I couldn't believe it. That's why I asked the minister to confirm the numbers. When she said she didn't know what it was before, I find that very surprising. It's unfortunate that these Liberal ministers don't have a better handle on these types of issues.
If the minister isn't aware that the funding for this program has been cut, then she is not able to present a viable argument to the federal officials. She is not able to say to the feds that they have to at least cough up what they did before and index it in accordance with any inflation levels. Then, what about the Liberal bonus, added on top of that?
Mr. Chair, this number should be more like $10 million, but it's less than one-quarter of that. Yet, it was mentioned so prominently by this government as a major undertaking. It was a major undertaking because of its special relationship. Talk about falling flat when it comes time to perform. That's a huge disappointment.
It's something that would have gone unchecked had we not asked for the information. This information was provided by the minister - at least she signed it - back on December 22. It contained the numbers.
It was in response to a question I raised on December 6, 2000. Mr. Chair, it highlights the importance of asking for information here in this House, and it also demonstrates how the opposition can be effective in holding the government accountable.
Now, there's no reward to be reaped from this, but certainly I hope there's a lesson to be learned. And I hope if there's a federal spy reading Hansard they'd certainly pass the message on to the relevant minister and say, "Hey, you're going to have to increase this, because what you did provide and what was accepted by the territorial Liberals was grossly inadequate."
So I would also note that, back in 1994, the original figure was supplemented through an amendment that increased the contribution by $408,000. I'd like to ask the minister if she will ask for a similar increase through whatever means, including an amendment to the contribution agreement - if she will ask for an increase, so that the territory can get something more in line with what it deserves. Will she do that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I note that the original agreement in April 1994 was $2.189 million, which is, by my math, less than $2.48 million. So the original agreement was less than the agreement signed in October 2000. Yes, three years later, there was an amendment of $0.408 million, which brought it up to $2.597 million. If appropriate, this government will ask for an amendment.
The things the opposition say they support, and the things they actually do and the things they actually did when they were in government, are two different things - harking back to Connect Yukon. The Member for Kluane insists that the Connect Yukon project was all about telephones, and he provided documentation in support of that. Normally, if somebody is going to carry through on their wishes, they write it down. Mr. Chair, the Connect Yukon agreement that they signed a year ago was not about telephones. It most clearly was not about telephones. It was about high-speed data and Internet service.
Residential telephone subscribers will benefit from better phone services in communities where Connect Yukon is implemented, as Burwash has done. They now have dial-up access. It is regular speed dial-up access; it is not high-speed dial-up access. The Connect Yukon project is not, and never was, about individual telephone service in the Yukon.
Now, provision of telephone service and the quality of phone service are the responsibilities of Northwestel, as regulated by the CRTC. That is what Northwestel's service improvement plan is all about.
Now, if Connect Yukon isn't about phones, what is it about? It is a joint venture between the Yukon government and the private sector. The private sector partners are Yukon-based Internet service providers and Northwestel. This initiative is bringing high-speed Internet and data services to most Yukon communities through building the infrastructure required for this type of telecommunications. The Connect Yukon project was created to begin an upgrade of Yukon's telecommunications network. It's part of building the backbone of that telecommunications network so that it can serve the diverse needs of Yukon people in most communities throughout the territory. It is not about telephones. Telephones are a side issue. The members opposite have only to read the contract, which they say they have done. The name of the former Government Services minister is on that contract and that contract is about high-speed Internet and data service; it is not about telephones.
The Connect Yukon project uses fibre optic cable, digital microwave transmitters and high-speed equipment in order to improve existing services and expand telecommunications capabilities throughout the territory. The Connect Yukon agreement provides for digital microwave from Watson Lake to Beaver Creek, including Carcross; fibre optic cable from Whitehorse to Carmacks; digital microwave radio from Carmacks to Dawson City and Mayo and satellite serving Old Crow.
There have been questions asked about Ross River and Faro and why these two communities were not included in the Connect Yukon project. Mr. Chair, more than a year ago, February 24, 2000, I asked the minister responsible about the provision of service to Ross River and Faro and received this response, "We are intending to hook up all communities," he said. "The priority that we have given on this has been on the Klondike Highway, that being the major unserved route. There are some issues with Ross River-Faro that involve land acquisition and service roads that will have to be overcome. We are planning on doing all communities, but we would be doing the Klondike Highway route first of all."
Mr. Chair, Faro and Ross River were not part of the original contractual document signed by the previous government. Faro and Ross River were mentioned in a letter of intent but no budget was attached and no specific plans were brought forward. This government is looking at options to connect Faro and Ross River, and the schools in those communities need to be served. It's important that they be served as the schools and the college campuses elsewhere in the territory, but the previous government didn't think they were important.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite seems to be failing to grasp that Northwestel's service improvement plan is separate from Connect Yukon. In October 1999, the CRTC directed Northwestel to file a service improvement plan. They wanted to know how Northwestel would extend basic phone service to unserved and underserved areas of its operating territory over a reasonable period of time.
Mr. Chair, basic service refers to a phone line, custom calling features, access to long distance, and local dial-up access to Internet. That is not a part of the Connect Yukon project.
It may help to think of the Connect Yukon project as providing the telecommunications highway to many Yukon communities. The service improvement plan will make use of this highway by providing the driveways to unserved and underserved customers and extending the highway to upgrade services to the remaining communities, ultimately linking residents to the technology necessary to receive improved telephone services and Internet.
Now, I believe that some of the confusion surrounding the Connect Yukon project stems from the various agreements and the different names that have been tossed about that, in some cases, don't have anything to do with Connect Yukon.
On April 1, 2000, a service management agreement to deliver the Connect Yukon project was signed, with Northwestel as the major partner. This agreement outlines the terms and budget for the provision of high-speed data and Internet capabilities to specified Yukon communities through the upgrade of telecommunications infrastructure. The communities included in that agreement are Watson Lake, Teslin, Carcross, Haines Junction, Destruction Bay, Beaver Creek, Old Crow, Carmacks, Pelly Crossing, Mayo and Dawson City.
Mr. Chair, the Liberal government has made no changes to this or any other agreement involved in the Connect Yukon project. My department has been actively implementing the Connect Yukon agreement, as signed by the previous government. The Liberal government has changed nothing. The schedule in the contract is being carried out.
In a letter of intent, dated March 31, 2000, the Yukon government and Northwestel agreed to work toward finalizing agreements similar to the Connect Yukon infrastructure agreement to support the delivery of high-speed services to the additional communities of Elsa-Keno, Burwash Landing, Tagish, Faro, Ross River and to rural areas adjacent to Whitehorse. That was a separate letter of intent and, as I previously noted, this letter of intent did not include a budget or commitment to spend on these communities.
Another term you've likely heard is the "local infrastructure build". That's also separate from Connect Yukon, and that related to the expansion of telephone service in the south Whitehorse/Marsh Lake area. Through that agreement, an additional 261 lots had access to telephone service by December of 2000. The Yukon government and Northwestel signed an agreement on April 12, 2000, to share the cost of a new 57-kilometre fibre optic cable installation between Whitehorse and Marsh Lake. This project established a backbone to enable Northwestel to provide high-speed service to Marsh Lake.
I am hopeful that members opposite now have a better understanding of how the Connect Yukon project will support or complement other work being undertaken and will understand how it's linked to other initiatives but is not the sole delivery vehicle available to provide improved telecommunications service.
Mr. Chair, again, Connect Yukon is not about telephones.
Mr. Chair, I move we report progress.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: It is still about six minutes to the hour. There is enough time for another question here.
Deputy Chair: There is a motion on the floor, Mr. McRobb. It has been moved by Ms. Buckway that we do now report progress.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Tucker that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Deputy Chair's report
Deputy Chair: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled March 26, 2001:
Mineral Exploration Tax Credit: update
Oral, Hansard, p. 1259-1260
Timber Harvest Agreements: timelines
Oral, Hansard, p. 1142
The following document was filed March 26, 2001:
Constituent Casework letters: letter (dated March 26, 2001) to Premier Duncan from Eric Fairclough, Leader of the Official Opposition, listing letters addressed to the Premier that have not had a response