Wednesday, May 2, 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.
Introduction of visitors. Leader of the third party.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I'd ask the members of this Legislature to join with me in welcoming to the gallery His Worship Glen Everitt from Dawson City, Councillor Wayne Potoroka, and our city treasurer, Dale Courtice.
Mr. McLachlan: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome a constituent of mine to this Legislature, Mr. Mario Murphy. He, I and the minister responsible for Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board are working through the system and are making great progress, Mr. Speaker, in helping to solve Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board problems in Faro.
Thank you very much.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. Jenkins: I have for tabling 23 pieces of the Dawson Dome Road, which is falling off the side of the mountain.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have for tabling a legislative return. On March 12, 2001, the Member for Klondike asked an oral question in Hansard, pages 1273 and 1274, regarding representation of the federal government on Yukon's northern offshore boundaries.
Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return. On April 30, 2001, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun asked an oral question in Hansard, pages 1968 to 1969, regarding computer expenditures amounting to $61,000 in the Executive Council Office.
Mr. Speaker, I also have for tabling, for the information of the members opposite, Yukon's oil and gas 2001 economic development information document.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Order please. The Chair is not sure if it is appropriate to store pieces of road here. I will research this and decide at a later day how we're going to handle this matter.
Anyway, thank you. I will proceed.
Are there any reports of committees?
Petition No. 3
Mr. Keenan: Today it is my privilege and my honour indeed to be able to present to the Yukon Legislative Assembly a petition on behalf of the fine folks of Carcross and surrounding area. This petition is signed by approximately 135 citizens, asking the Assembly to support the construction of a new community and curling complex. Not only will this build capacity within the community and improve the quality of life, but it will also allow the community to participate in and host, in part, the 2007 Winter Games, which the Yukon is desirous of hosting.
Speaker: Are there any further petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Kent: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Liberal Government should be commended for their efforts in negotiating an agreement with the British Columbia Government on reciprocal fishing regulations on several transboundary lakes;
THAT agreements such as this:
(1) foster better relations with our neighbouring jurisdictions;
(2) provide expanded opportunities for B.C. and Yukon anglers and others to further explore and enjoy the area's natural resources; and
THAT this House urges all members of the Legislature to support the government in lobbying our Alaskan counterparts on the reduction of fishing licence fees for Yukoners fishing in Alaska.
Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Restoring confidence in government
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the House of some of the steps we have taken to restore Yukoners' confidence in government. We are achieving progress in a number of key areas. This government made a contract with Yukoners to be open and accountable. We promised Yukoners that we would ask questions, listen to opinions and adopt good ideas to improve government, and we are acting on those promises.
It is our intention to continue asking the tough questions about how government is working. Past governments added more and more new programs to government. This approach is fine as long as there was more money to spend and as long as we're willing to let government keep growing bigger.
We have a number of initiatives planned for this year. Today I will be speaking to three of them. Others will be announced in the near future.
This House is aware of the internal audit function. The internal audit unit conducts independent, retrospective reviews of programs to determine how effective and efficient they are. These reviews produce recommendations for improvements that the government will then provide direction on. We have already tabled our first internal audit report on the community development fund, the first that any government has tabled for many years. We took the report's recommendations into account when we developed Project Yukon. More audits are currently underway, including an audit of the government's performance under the Environment Act and an audit of the trade and investment fund.
We will continue to strengthen the public service. For the public to have confidence in government we must have a public service that is respected for its knowledge, attitude and skills. Our government supports the Yukon Government Leadership Forum, which focuses on developing employee leadership skills through mentoring, experiential and coursework learning. The first participants of the inaugural Yukon Government Leadership Forum will graduate in June. Preparations for a second intake of the Yukon Government Leadership Forum are underway. The coaching and assessment components of the program are being enhanced.
We have set up a Better Government Committee. This committee consists of elected members and public servants. It will review suggestions to make government more citizen-centred, effective and accountable. The committee's job is to ensure that good ideas are brought forward and implemented. This committee is currently reviewing over 200 ideas that have been brought forward by departments. We will also be asking Yukoners and the public service for their ideas, which will be reviewed by this committee. That initiative will be announced shortly.
We are proud of the initiatives we have begun to restore openness and accountability to government. This is yet another example of this Liberal government keeping its platform commitments. We will not let our efforts rest, looking to renewal of government.
No one has made a serious effort to review the government programs and practices that have been in place for 20 years or more. Has anyone asked if all of these programs are still meeting people's needs? Are they operating efficiently? Could we be using the money for something else? No one has done this because it's hard work and because it will generate very lively debates about where government should be spending its money. My government will not shy away from this work. Yukoners have asked us to do this.
I want to share with you our vision for restoring confidence in government. Our vision is based on our belief that if the public is to have confidence in government, then the public must be able to understand what government is doing for them. Our vision is to create a citizen-centred government that is accessible and relevant to the public and the business community - an effective government that is clearly focused on its role in relation to its citizens, and accountable government that spends taxpayers' dollars efficiently for results that are relevant to taxpayers.
A vision is a long-term goal. There is no shortcut to achieving this vision. The important thing is that we have set out on a path and we will go down that path until we have made a difference.
Mr. Speaker, we will remain committed to our efforts to restore Yukoners' confidence in their government until we have achieved our vision of a citizen-centred, effective and accountable government.
Mr. Fentie: I rise today to respond to this ministerial statement.
What an earth-shattering statement - restoring confidence in government. Mr. Speaker, how absorbing it must be for the Premier to stand on her feet in this Legislature and recite this statement. Little wonder she is doing so, given the fact that in three sittings, this Liberal government has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is a feeble attempt to restore some shred of credibility by the members opposite with regard to the public's confidence in government.
Mr. Speaker, this statement lays out three initiatives that the Liberals claim is going to restore confidence in government. Let's look at the internal audit function and the recent results that Yukoners have all experienced with the dismantling of the community development fund.
Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, the internal audit, under the guidance of the members opposite, is nothing more than an attempt to politicize everything government does. The real audit on the CDF was done by Yukoners, who demanded that this government continue with that program because it works.
Mr. Speaker, they talk about strengthening the public service. Well, that's a very strange statement by the members opposite. Given the lack of vision, the lack of plan and the lack of direction, our public service has been thrown into chaos. They need the direction of their elected leadership, and it's simply not coming from the members opposite.
The other initiative, Mr. Speaker - we have set up a Better Government Committee. At its face, this is a good idea. However, it certainly loses any relevance when this committee merely produces self-congratulations by the members opposite and this constant tirade of how good the Premier and her government are doing with regard to governing this territory. Yukoners know that that's simply not the case.
Mr. Speaker, this government talks about being open and accountable. Well, we all have experienced the direct contradiction of that very statement by the members opposite. They are nothing even remotely resembling openness and accountability. In fact, they run and hide from those two very important principles.
They talk about a citizen-centred government. Well, quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, this government is centred on a very small centre of influence, which is certainly not citizen led.
They talk about being an accessible and relevant government - strange way of doing that, Mr. Speaker. They censor the public's mail before a minister receives it. They constantly battle and fight with citizen groups. They have definitely attacked the news media. They have constantly stonewalled the opposition. This is simply a ridiculous statement by the Premier.
Mr. Speaker, the Premier goes on to say, "An accountable government that spends taxpayers' money efficiently." Well, Yukoners are comfortable sleeping in their beds knowing that this government across the way, in this very difficult time the Yukon Territory is in, has hosed themselves down with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cosmetic improvements for their working conditions.
Mr. Speaker, they talk about a long-term goal and a path that they have set this territory out on. Well, lemmings have a path too. They travel a path, and it leads over a cliff. This Liberal government's leadership has led the Yukon to the precipice of that cliff. It's the opposition, through their valiant efforts of holding this government accountable, that are keeping the territory from falling over.
Mr. Speaker, the Premier in her rebuttal should do the right thing. The Premier should get up on her feet, apologize to all Yukoners for their lack of openness and accountability, for the lack of leadership, and say that the Liberal government is sorry for the incompetent manner in which they have handled the Yukon's affairs in this long 12 months that we have suffered under their leadership.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise in response to this ministerial statement. I must say that the Premier should be red faced for having the gall to stand up in this House and give a ministerial statement about restoring confidence in government. This novice Liberal government is without question the worst government this Yukon Territory has had the misfortune to experience. This government has even made the previous NDP government look good, something I never thought possible. The Premier has the tenacity to talk about being open and accountable on a day that her House leader has indicated that her government wishes to wrap up the session today, with 12 of the 16 departments yet to be debated in this, the largest budget this House has ever seen, Mr. Speaker.
This Liberal government wants to use the power of its majority to bring closure, so that its incompetent ministers will not have to face public scrutiny on departmental budgets that they are not capable of defending - they don't know anything about them.
This government - in particular, the Premier and the Minister of Renewable Resources have made a mockery of being open and accountable. Instead of answers to opposition's questions, all opposition members receive is a personal attack and misrepresentation of the opposition's positions. I would advise the minister to look up the definition of "accountable" in the dictionary because she doesn't understand the meaning of that word. How can a political party restore confidence in government, when they say one thing and then do something 180 degrees opposite?
The Premier takes pride in the internal audit report on the community development fund. Now, this wasn't a true audit. It was a political audit, and all the Premier succeeded in doing was chopping a very successful program down to virtually nothing and giving it a new name - calling it Project Yukon. This Liberal government is good at changing names - nothing else, Mr. Speaker.
It has taken the Yukon Party's government service improvement program and called it "Better Government Committee". Whom does the Premier think she is fooling? The Premier talks about renewing government and about reviewing government programs and practices. She says that with a straight face, while her ministers have gone about setting up a multi-million dollar drug and alcohol secretariat, a new youth directorate and a new cultural industries secretariat that comes straight out of the blue.
The establishment of this added bureaucracy means one thing: there is less money available to carry out programs for the general public. Let's talk about cutting the Whitehorse Public Library operating hours - $24,000. That's a few paper clips in the department's budget. The multi-million dollar drug and alcohol secretariat, for example, means that there is less money available to help people contend with the lifelong affliction of FAS/FAE. All the money spent establishing the youth directorate is not available to the troubled teens who frequent the Blue Feather Youth Centre or who have the misfortune to live in a government-run group home.
In fact, this government is afraid to have a public inquiry into children in government care because it doesn't want to be held accountable.
It took the NDP government in British Columbia, if you want to use a parallel, five years to become one of the most disrespected governments in Canada. I predict today that this government is going to beat their record.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I rise to respond to the members opposite who have chosen to - as opposed to respond to the ministerial statement and examine in-depth the better government initiatives. Rather, they have chosen to embark upon a personal attack, not only on me, but on members of the public service. I would just like to respond to a couple of points and reiterate for the viewing and listening public, who will indeed judge for themselves the performance of this government.
First and foremost, we are a government that is fulfilling our contract with Yukoners and we keep our word. We said we would restore the internal audit function. We had spoken about it; I had asked many questions in my experience in this Legislature. It's something that was very important to me personally, as I have a great deal of respect for the work of the Auditor General and those involved in government. The internal audit was non-existent under the NDP government; we restored it.
It's most unfortunate that members opposite didn't like the findings. The facts are the facts. They are as stated by the internal auditor, and the Member for Watson Lake says that the real audit on the community development fund was done by Yukoners. Well, Yukoners delivered their verdict on that audit last April, and they spoke very clearly.
The other point that was made by the members opposite with regard to the internal audit was that they chose to take issue with the public servants. Mr. Speaker, the very second point in my ministerial statement spoke about strengthening the public service. One of the key elements to strengthening the public service is having respect for what they do, recognizing the hard work that is done by the public servants, respecting their opinion when we are advised and provided with advice on funding or not, and not meddling with their work. It's also providing opportunity to participate in leadership forums and recognizing the achievements at graduation in June.
Contrary to the member opposite's view, the Better Government Committee, had the member paid attention to the work by my colleague, the Member for Riverdale South, she has consistently asked this question - repeatedly - and has taken that commitment, because we keep our word to government and ensured that we work very hard on establishing and having the Better Government Committee work.
Examples of better ideas that have already been implemented by the work of this committee is the saving and implementing of several hundred thousands dollars by providing alternatives to the transient shelter. The increase in the tobacco tax, which all members of this Legislature voted in favour of, is an example also of one of the better ideas that came forward and was implemented. This government is listening. We are open and accountable and, most importantly, we keep our word.
Speaker: Are there any further statements by ministers? This then leads us to Question Period.
Question re: Legislative session, extension of
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I must point out to the Premier, before I ask my question, because she so graciously has brought up the election of April 2000, that we on this side of the House represent 57.1 percent of the Yukon voters.
It is with that in mind, Mr. Speaker, that I ask the question to the Premier. In this sitting - a budget sitting - almost seven sitting days were used up debating substantive legislation. With that in mind, the opposition had made a very open, cooperative, constructive offer to the government House leader to extend the sitting until May 10 at 6:00 p.m. to conclude the public's business. We were resoundingly chastised for that offer by the government House leader, with accusations that I won't even bother getting into or give any credibility to. My question is to the Premier. Will the Premier now come to her senses and realize that six and a half days are required to conclude the public's business and it can't be crammed into one night? Will the Premier now recognize that fact and agree with the opposition that the simplest way to conclude the business of this House is to end it on May 10 at 6:00 p.m? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite started out his question stating that they represent 57.1 percent of the population. Well, I would ask the member opposite, with all due respect, when the members opposite intend to start representing them well and asking reasoned questions in this Legislature.
Mr. Fentie: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. That's just true to form for the Premier and her government. They have no desire to be accountable. Trying to bring closure through the back door to this Legislative Assembly by the extension of hours is simply not being open and accountable and is a slap in the face to all Yukoners who take the time to go out and vote.
Mr. Speaker, I'll give the Premier another chance. Will the Premier now agree that by sitting until May 10 at 6:00 p.m. through normal hours that we can conclude, as the opposition has offered, the public's business and carry on with truly establishing confidence in government?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has chastised me for answering back to his opening salvo, and if the member took offence to that, I do apologize to the member opposite. I would not want to offend his sensibilities.
The member is asking a question with respect to a closure motion. In fact, Mr. Speaker - and I would share a quote with the member opposite: "There's a fundamental difference between closure and continuation of debate until the conclusion of the budget." That's what the motion is about this afternoon, and the member opposite takes great delight in laughing at that comment. That comment is a direct quote from Mr. Harding, the former Member for Faro.
The member staunchly defended and supported Mr. Harding, the former Member for Faro, in making that comment. The fact is, Mr. Speaker, that this government has presented a budget for full debate since February 22, and full briefings have been provided on time and early to the members opposite, unlike behaviour that was exhibited to us. We have presented minor housekeeping amendments to legislation, to which the opposition not only agreed and then did not keep their word - they were offered briefings not once but twice. In fact, this government has made absolutely every effort to be open and accountable and to work with the members opposite. The fact that the members opposite are not able to work with the government on behalf of all of the taxpayers of the Yukon -
Speaker: Order please. I must ask the Premier to conclude her answer.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Faro/Ross River, doctor replacement
Mr. Keenan: I have a question for the Acting Minister of Health today. It has come to our attention that the doctor in Faro - and the doctor in Faro also serves the communities of Ross River and Carmacks - will soon be retiring. Now, the doctor informed the department two months ago that he plans to retire at the end of June and so far he has heard nothing - nada - about any efforts by this government to find a replacement.
I've got to say that this has not only left the communities in a dilemma but it has certainly put this doctor in an ethical dilemma also. So I would like to ask the acting minister to tell us when the folks in these communities can expect an announcement that a new doctor is on the way.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The Minister of Health and Social Services has given direction to the department to go ahead with recruitment for a doctor for the Faro, Ross River and Carmacks region.
Mr. Keenan: Well, that shocks me, that astonishes me, actually. I think once again that we have an example here by this minister of complete incompetence in leading this department. This minister promised that he would have a phase 2 of a recruitment and retention strategy for health care professionals by last month. I haven't seen it. I ask, where is it? The end of June is rapidly approaching and it is absolutely essential that there be continuity of care within these communities in rural Yukon.
Now, the search for a new doctor gives the minister an opportunity to find a solution that will meet the needs of Ross River, Faro and Carmacks. So will the acting minister give her reassurance that the needs of Ross River, which has a much bigger population than Faro, will be met in recruiting a new doctor for central Yukon?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: There are so many different questions, it's kind of hard to get to the meat of the matter. I need to advise the members opposite that the Minister of Health and Social Services has been meeting with the Yukon Medical Association as well as the Yukon Registered Nurses Association about recruitment issues, as recently as this past weekend.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The member opposite is saying that they apparently beat him up - more examples of violent language within the Legislature. The member opposite asks, "Where is the report? It's due at the end of June." Well, the date is May 2. The report will be here. Let's not get panicky about things until they actually happen.
Furthermore, about taking into account the needs of the people of Ross River, the Health minister takes into account the needs of all Yukoners. He's the Health minister.
Question re: Whitehorse Public Library, hours of operation
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the minister of being penny-wise and pound foolish - the Minister of Education.
Now, this Liberal government inherited a $64-million surplus and received a further $42-million windfall from the federal government under the formula financing agreement. Despite school enrolments that are declining and school closures, the minister - for purely political reasons - is committed to building a new multi-million dollar school in his riding, and then closing another Whitehorse school and busing those students over to his new school in Riverdale. Liberal Cabinet ministers have blown their travel budgets, flying all over the world and living in the lap of luxury.
I'd like the minister to explain why, with over $100 million in extra cash, the minister has ordered the closure of the Whitehorse Public Library on Friday evenings and Sundays. How does the minister justify this travesty in government spending?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, Mr. Speaker, we also inherited a $34-million deficit that we're working with as well.
It was interesting. I do listen to the member, and I listened in earnest to the interview on the radio this morning with him and the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. Obviously they didn't collaborate very much because their stories were very divergent in opinion.
With respect to the public schools, I believe that the director for public libraries and archives, in a follow-up interview on CBC this morning, gave a very detailed and comprehensive response to that.
She clearly had indicated that the public library service has increased dramatically in recent years with more computers, public Internet access and circulation up 30 percent in books from the library. Reference material is up 50 percent. The numbers of patrons have doubled and the space has been tripled within the Whitehorse Public Library.
One of the factors that we are very concerned about, with all that work, is the safety and welfare of our employees. We are addressing those needs first, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, 17,000 Yukoners have Whitehorse library cards - cards that are valid at all Yukon libraries, but are specifically used at the Whitehorse library. There are between 750 and 800 individuals who visit the Whitehorse library Monday to Thursday - maximum 1,000. On Sunday, there are over 400 people. Computer use is up 17 percent. How can the minister, in good conscience, pick on a public library for cutbacks in funds, when his government is floating in a sea of cash and is bragging constantly about receiving more money from Ottawa almost daily in this House?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, we inherited a $34-million deficit as well. We are being very prudent, fiscally responsible and open and accountable, despite what the members opposite have indicated. We have been clear in what our plans and proposals are with respect to the public library. The director of libraries and archives this morning, eloquently, succinctly and informatively let the public of Yukon know what the situation is with respect to the public library here in Whitehorse.
That, I believe, answers the member opposite's question, although he will not agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, we're talking about a small sum of money; $24,000 is what is being cut.
Mr. Speaker, will the minister talk to his Cabinet colleagues about cutting back on some of their out-of-territory travel and devoting those savings to keeping the Whitehorse Public Library open on Friday evenings and on Sundays? Will the minister at least give that undertaking or cut down on the number of paperclips they buy for Executive Council Office? There has to be a way we can find that paltry sum of money, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, Mr. Speaker, a very prominent issue and a priority of this government is the safety and welfare of our employees in our public institutions. He chastises the members opposite for travelling. Well, Mr. Speaker, I believe it speaks well for the successes of ministers and caucus members travelling on behalf of government and what we do bring back, Mr. Speaker.
Just a few of the items: $22 million for health care dollars; $42 million are the result of this government's trip to Ottawa; almost $4 million for improvement to the Dawson City Airport, which the Member for Klondike obviously doesn't appreciate and has stated so publicly in the House; $4.4 million for the strategic highway infrastructure program; $600,000 in initiatives for the homeless, $2.23 million for the national infrastructure program.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, we do travel, but we bring results back and we bring them back quickly.
Mr. Speaker, we have not been assigned our responsibilities for a year yet, but we have done an awesome job on behalf of Yukoners, despite the rhetoric that comes from across the House.
Question re: Homeless shelter
Mr. Keenan: I'd just like to squeeze in another question between this Liberal back-patting, if I may, Mr. Speaker. I have another question for the Acting Minister of Health, if I may.
In our last discussion about the needs of homeless young people, the acting minister provided some answers about the future and I have to thank the minister for her concern and her answers to the question on the subject. It's very refreshing to hear that in the Health department.
Today I'd like to ask about what is being done right now to address the needs of the youth who have nowhere to live and not enough resources. There's no transient shelter any more, and it wouldn't be appropriate to put these adolescents and young folk into downtown hotels.
So will the minister consider establishing a supervised shelter, right away, that would be appropriate for adolescents?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, we do have an emergency shelter that's available for teenagers in Whitehorse. It's important to remember that coming up with a very quick solution is not going to be a long-term solution. I understand that the member opposite has a lot of concerns about this particular group of kids. Quite frankly, that problem has been around for a long, long time. To quickly go in and develop an initiative like an emergency shelter may or may not work.
I spoke previously to the member opposite about working with the group that's working on the report, and we're continuing to do that. What we want to do is come up with something that works for the youth who are at risk here within the territory, and that means sitting down and coming up with a good, long-term solution with all the stakeholders involved.
Mr. Keenan: I accept that, but I'd also like to point out, Mr. Speaker, that this has been around for a long time and likely will be around for a long time. We're looking at the future but right now there is very much an immediate need. The study of homelessness found out that there is a much larger problem than has ever been realized here in the territory. Family and children's services has also seen a very alarming increase in the number of young people over the age of 15 coming into government care for the very first time. An increasing number of teens need support from this government and it's obvious that many of them are not finding that support. One major gap that exists concerns the kids under 18 who are not in government care and can't get access to any social services.
Will the acting minister now take the steps to ensure that this very vulnerable group of people - this group of young people - will get the social services and support that they need right now?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Let's go back on some of the assumptions made by this side opposite. There's an assumption that we're not doing anything and that is factually incorrect. First of all, we have just received the report on homelessness. It speaks about an increase in the number of kids who are at risk in this age group. We know that; it's demographics - they have the same problem everywhere in Canada. It's also not a new problem. It has been like that for a long time, even when the NDP were in government. However, we're sitting down with the stakeholders; we're sitting down with the kids and we are looking at some good, long-term solutions. And there is emergency shelter available for the teenagers.
Now, I think it's important to realize that this side of the House wants to come up with a good solution that is good in the long run. That means giving very considered review to the report that has just been released and working with the groups that are most involved.
Question re: Whitehorse Public Library, hours of operation
Ms. Netro: I have a question for the Minister of Education. This Liberal government has lots of money for political travel. It has lots of money for new carpets in the Cabinet offices. It has lots of money for year-end computer shopping sprees, but when it comes to services for Yukon people, it is broke.
The Whitehorse Public Library has been offering more and better services and attracting more users. Now it has to close its doors on Friday evenings and Sundays because this minister has chopped the budget. Why is the minister punishing children and families by forcing the Whitehorse Public Library to reduce its services?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin is factually incorrect. We have not cut the budget. It has gone up $200,000 this year.
The facts are that the library is being used more and more. The library is providing more and more services. We have to increase our services to the public during the busiest times. There has had to be a redistribution of staff available with the experience in our libraries. We looked at how to minimize the impact on the public, and our statistics, which are very similar to the ones presented by the Member for Klondike, show that Friday evenings and Sundays are the slowest periods of the week.
In order to meet the demands on the busiest days, we have had to redistribute staff, and that has resulted, unfortunately, in closure times.
Question re: Community fire halls, security at
Mr. McRobb: Well, obviously, this government is out of touch and this is another example of that.
Earlier this sitting, I asked the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about security at our community fire halls after a number of recent break and enters that resulted in damage and stolen goods. Now, we must understand that, in terms of infrastructure, fire halls are fundamentally important. The Yukon government is responsible for protecting this essential service from crime. We must also respect our volunteer firefighters.
I understand that the minister has taken steps in her riding - at the new Hootalinqua fire hall - to perhaps install security. I would like to know what she has done for the rest of the Yukon and what resources she has allocated to ensure that all community fire halls in the territory are protected from crime.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We value the work of our volunteer firefighters throughout the territory. Security lately has become an issue with the amount of vandalism that has been going on, and the fire marshal is gathering information on this. As the Member for Kluane knows, the Hootalinqua fire hall is a new fire hall, and some advances in technology are available now that weren't when the other fire halls were built. However, we take this issue very seriously, and I am expecting a report from the fire marshal shortly.
Question re: Teslin sewer, government funding assistance
Mr. Keenan: I have a question for the Premier, if I may. Now, before this year's budget was set, the Village of Teslin gave the government a list of capital priorities. Mr. Speaker, this was done through the budget consultation process, of which the Premier, who is also the Finance minister, was very noticeably absent from that meeting. Now, included in that list - and the Premier knows - that we had a request that YTG fund its share of a sewer line within the village. Now, the Liberal government just got a $42-million windfall. Will the Premier now help the Village of Teslin to build its sewer line?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: A sewer line for the Village of Teslin is one of the items we are discussing in our long-range capital planning. As the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes knows, the next capital budget will be out in the fall.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's absolutely pathetic to have this minister stand up and speak in that manner. The question was to the Premier, the Finance minister. It was about the consultation process, and, of course, the Premier knows naught about it, so it has to get deflected back to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
Mr. Speaker, I'll tell you what Teslin got out of this budget process. They got $7,000. That's absolutely shocking. It's pathetic is what it really is. There are no jobs tied to that. There's no infrastructure tied to that $7,000. Now, what we have in Teslin is a design for a sewer. The village has got its share of money. The community is mobilized and ready to go to work, and they want to go to work. It would help cut the O&M costs of the village.
Now, will the Premier make a commitment to visit Teslin, sit down with the folks to discuss how and when to get this much-needed project underway?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes well knows, municipal and community affairs is the responsibility of the Department of Community and Transportation Services - or he should know, since he formerly held that portfolio.
As I said, the capital planning is being done. We are concerned that the design for that project was done several years ago and may require upgrading. We are working on it. We find it interesting, as well, that at the Cabinet and public meeting held in Teslin with the village and the First Nation, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes was conspicuous by his absence. Where was he?
Question re: Community safety
Ms. Netro: My question is for the Minister of Justice. Recently we have heard more and more about the issue of community safety. As days get longer, kids are out later. People are concerned about their safety and the safety of their communities. Initiatives that promote community safety must be encouraged. Will this minister allocate more resources to support the development of Neighbourhood Watch programs in each community and neighbourhood?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Neighbourhood Watch program relies on volunteers. Some of the Neighbourhood Watch programs were forced to close some time ago for lack of volunteers. I understand that there is a resurgence in this very important program, and I certainly welcome their participation in community safety.
Ms. Netro: Another deterrent to break and enters is a visible police presence. We have heard from community members that visible police patrols make a difference. While patrols do not prevent all break-ins, they do make it more difficult.
Will this minister allocate more resources to allow increased police patrols?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There are citizens on patrol in Whitehorse, which, again, is a volunteer group and is quite visible and quite effective. And the auxiliary constables throughout the territory as well as volunteers are certainly making their presence felt. The RCMP is out 24 hours a day in the community making Yukoners feel safe.
Question re: Economic situation in Yukon
Ms. Tucker: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. This morning on CBC radio the Member for Klondike talked about the efforts the government has undertaken to rebuild the economy, and I quote, "Let's assume that there is going to be a pipeline. Let's assume that there is going to be Minto Copper and that a couple of other mines come back on-line or go into production. So we are going to experience another boom here in this Whitehorse area."
Could the Minister of Economic Development please tell me about what the government is doing to rebuild this economy?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the opposition allowing us to get to slot 9 and being able to ask a question here in the Legislature - and such a worthwhile question it is.
With respect to what this government has done with the mining industry in particular, I would like to remind members of the House about the Yukon mining incentive program and also the increase we have undertaken and put in place for the Yukon mineral exploration tax credit.
In fact the Fraser Institute quoted this year, "In the Yukon the Premier recognizes the need to encourage investment in mining and is aggressively promoting this issue", just as we have also been aggressively promoting the Alaska Highway pipeline.
I note, Mr. Speaker, that successful companies who have been awarded the initial contracts for the feasibility study for the pipeline have been subcontracting with local Yukon companies and individuals, and one of these companies alone has estimated they'll be hiring 40 Yukoners this summer.
WesternGeco have hired 30 Yukoners to do seismic work. We are also hosting discovery tours to bring potential investors from the mining community to the territory. Three tours are coming up this year and these are foreign companies looking to secure long-term supplies of minerals. Of course, members are very well aware of our efforts working closely with North American Tungsten. I'm sure the Member for Watson Lake is especially aware of our good efforts in this regard, and -
Speaker: Order please. I must ask the Premier to conclude her answer.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: So many initiatives, so little time. Thank you for the question.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed and we will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Motion to sit beyond normal hour of adjournment
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 2(6), I move
THAT the Assembly be empowered to sit beyond 6:00 p.m. for the purpose of considering Bill No. 4, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2001-02, in Committee of the Whole; and for permitting the House to consider Third Reading of Bill No. 4; and for receiving the Commissioner to give Assent to the Bills passed by the House.
Speaker: Order please.
It has been moved by the government House leader
THAT the Assembly be empowered to sit beyond 6:00 p.m. for the purpose of considering Bill No. 4, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2001-02, in Committee of the Whole; and for permitting the House to consider Third Reading of Bill No. 4; and for receiving the Commissioner to give Assent to the Bills passed by the House.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, we are keeping our word. The opposition parties agreed with us at the beginning of the session to have a 35-day session. We are keeping up our end of the bargain. Today is day 35.
We have made every effort to be open and accountable, and the fact that we gave the opposition parties notice of our intention to call this motion is an indication of that openness. We are keeping our word.
Mr. Speaker, there are many precedents for this type of motion, including one put forward by the House leader of the previous NDP government on April 30, 1998. At that time, Mr. Harding explained to the Legislature - and I quote from Hansard - that, "This is just a motion consistent with the practice in this House to respect the provisions of the 35-day sitting."
When then opposition leader Mr. Ostashek voiced his opposition to Mr. Harding's motion, Mr. Harding begged him to go along with the motion. Again, I quote from Hansard: "I appeal to the member. Does he understand the implications of what he's doing by not allowing the government to have vote authority into May? The people of the Yukon will suffer, and he should not take them hostage. He should rise above the partisan politics -" My, how attitudes and positions can change in a few short years.
Politics is all the members opposite are playing, and they are needlessly delaying the business of this House and the business of government in this territory. This motion was good government then for the NDP. However, while it appears that this type of motion was palatable to them as members then, while they were in government, now that they are downstairs, they don't like it.
The opposition has unnecessarily wasted days and days during this sitting. They have debated bills at great length, which they had previously agreed were housekeeping bills.
Mr. Speaker, we are keeping our word and staying and committing to a 35-day sitting. The opposition members were offered briefings on these bills. They refused. They were offered further briefings. They refused. It is obvious that they were wasting time in this House. It is plain to see, by their lack of substantive questions during Question Period, that they are running out of things to say. They are running out of questions and are asking the same ones over and over and over again. They simply don't like the answers that we are providing.
Some of the questions this session were ludicrous and obvious in their intent to waste time. The Member for Klondike was asking about the prices of toasters and doorknobs in this House two days ago. The Member for Klondike asked about the legalities of shooting an intruder in his home. The Member for Klondike asked what colour the bus is that's going to Old Crow. But the crown jewel in all of these came from the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes when he asked, "How much time do I have left to waste?" That statement says it all.
The members opposite signed an agreement, and it is their responsibility to manage their time to live up to it. And if they had any doubt about being able to meet the terms of that agreement - any doubt at all - they should not have signed it. We are keeping our word.
To date, we have only completed four departments of 17, and we're on day 35 of a 35-day sitting. What does that say about the organization of the members opposite? What does it say about their competence and preparation? Well, I think it says it all.
Further to this, Mr. Speaker, this morning at the House leaders' meeting, the opposition leaders presented me with yet another offer - this one to wrap up the session by May 10, using normal sitting hours. But, as usual, they concluded with a caveat, whereby the proposed agreement would be offered if we gave them the answers that they wanted, and we answered all of their questions.
So, it was obvious once again that in honouring any agreement it was up to their own interpretation, based on their conditions, and only applicable if they wanted it to be. Based on their past practices, I have difficulty in agreeing with that offer, and we have chosen to bring forward this motion.
I ask this question of the members opposite: why would the members opposite put their word and their reputation on the line and sign an agreement if they were unsure or uncertain that they could keep to the terms of the agreement?
For any of the Yukoners who choose to follow these proceedings, when a motion such as this is put on the floor, the mover, myself in this case, has unlimited time to speak to the motion. The person in opposition who follows me and is the second speaker also has unlimited time. I would strongly recommend that anybody following these proceedings continue on and see how much time is wasted while the members opposite try and talk it out. They have unlimited time to do so, and maybe they will pleasantly surprise us and get on with the business of this House, rather than wasting our time.
Mr. Fentie: Well, well, well. What have we here? This Liberal government across the way, so desperate to hide from public scrutiny, is now, through the back door, evoking closure in this Assembly.
Well, the arguments that the Member for Mount Lorne has just made simply don't hold water, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The government House leader, on a point of order.
Ms. Tucker: On a point of order, I would like to clarify for the member opposite that this motion is not about closure. It is about extending the hours of this sitting, as was quoted earlier from Mr. Harding: "There's a fundamental difference between closure and the continuation of debate until conclusion of the budget, and that's what our motion was about."
Speaker: Leader of the third party on the point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: There is no point of order, it's just a dispute between members. Would the government House leader stop rudely interrupting this session of the Legislature, as her party constantly does throughout?
Speaker: Order please. The Member for Whitehorse Centre, on the point of order.
Mr. McLarnon: Actually, Mr. Speaker, in this case it is a point of order. The reason why I'll put it forward is because rules have been invoked - these are rules of the House. Since the member is actually quoting rules and saying this is what he is doing, he has to make sure that what he actually says he is doing is what we are doing. This is not a closure motion; it is in fact the opposite.
Speaker: Member for Watson Lake, on the point of order.
Mr. Fentie: I was just simply going to let you rule on this. Obviously it's not a point of order. But having listened to what's coming across the floor, I have to point out that it's customary that, when standing on a point of order, the member doing so refers to the Standing Orders and gives notice of which Standing Order has been contravened. In this case, there is no such thing; therefore, this is nothing more than a frivolous attempt at taking more camera time and showing Yukoners how inept the people across the floor really are.
Speaker: Order. The Chair has heard, I believe, enough to make an informed decision. The Chair, over the last several days and weeks, has heard many points of order. The Chair today feels that there is no point of order and that there definitely is a dispute of the facts between members.
With that, I would ask the Member for Watson Lake to continue.
Mr. Fentie: I will get to the comments that the Member for Mount Lorne was making in regard to her dispute of me stating categorically - and I will simply not back off this statement - that, by using section 2(6) of our Standing Orders to extend hours today, the Liberals are, in fact, invoking in a backdoor manner, and in a very underhanded manner, closure to this Assembly.
The Member for Mount Lorne's argument is fundamentally based on the fact that the former Member for Faro, then the government House leader, brought forward a motion on the floor of this Legislature some number of sittings ago to extend hours. Now, if we follow the logic of that argument, we then must conclude this fact. When the member did so, we were at a juncture in debate of the budget that was at the final stages. In other words, Mr. Speaker, we did not have some nine to 12 departments left. We had merely a few lines of a department left to conclude the public's business. Therefore, in our Standing Orders, the option and the ability for the government side to extend hours in debate to conclude the public's business is relevant.
In this case, this is a ridiculous motion, Mr. Speaker. We don't have a few lines left in one remaining department. We have some nine major departments with a total of $230-million odd of expenditures that hasn't been scrutinized and for which this government hasn't answered to the Yukon public through this Assembly. It is their job and their duty to answer to the Yukon public for that expenditure. So we can only conclude, based on what they have done here in their lack of understanding of our very own rules and proceedings of this Assembly, that they are indeed invoking closure because they are running scared.
They are running scared, Mr. Speaker, because of the incompetent manner with which they have managed the affairs of this territory over the last 12 months. They are so wounded, Mr. Speaker, that they are now lashing at anybody and anything. We have seen evidence of that in their attacks on the news media. We have seen evidence of that in the harassment and the attacks on the citizenry, to muzzle them from saying anything derogatory about this government. We have seen that in their total lack of regard for their own backbenchers and not allowing them to speak and represent their constituencies in a meaningful way. This government, this Cabinet of one, is taking this territory on a destructive course and now, with all that in mind, they are dismantling the true democratic process in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, the ridiculous notion that by extending hours today we could somehow conclude, in a professional, productive, open and accountable manner, the remaining business on behalf of the Yukon public, is ridiculous. Unless the members are prepared through some 100-plus hours of debate, there is no sense to this motion. It is ridiculous, Mr. Speaker, and it speaks volumes about the type of government this territory has unfortunately been saddled with.
There is no credibility on that side of the House - no credibility whatsoever. So, to ensure that they do not make their situation worse, they are now ducking and running from public scrutiny of this massive expenditure that they are taking this territory through.
Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House, as I pointed out earlier, represent 57.1 percent of the voting public and it is our right and our duty to hold that side of the floor, the Liberal government, accountable. On behalf of the Yukon public, we intend to do so.
I can tell you that the opposition is by no means going to relent or succumb to this heavy-handed approach by the members opposite. It is not our job to lay supine at the feet of the Premier. It is our job to hold this government accountable.
What does the Member for Mount Lorne think we are, laying out in her speech the reason why they have brought this motion forward? We on this side of the House aren't a bunch of baggage handlers. We have been entrusted with a very critical and important duty on behalf of our constituencies and, indeed, the Yukon Territory in its entirety. This Liberal government across the floor has done everything in this sitting to impede our ability to do our job.
This Liberal government, quite frankly, is an embarrassment to due democratic process. This Liberal government is an embarrassment to the Yukon Territory and its people. It's high time that the members opposite took a real look in the mirror and came to the realization that they, in performing their duties in the incompetent manner in which they have to date, have done a great disservice to the people of this territory. Through this motion, they have only extrapolated that very fact.
Mr. Speaker, the opposition, in making an offer to the government through a motion on the floor of this Legislature last week, gave full notice - not only to the government, but to the Yukon's public - that there was going to be a requirement to go beyond the 35 days to conclude the public's business in this Assembly.
The reason, Mr. Speaker, that that situation arose is not the fault of the opposition. It is in the direct response to how the government side, the job of which is to manage and bring forward the agenda in the Assembly in terms of the public business - it is the government side that created the situation. By overloading a budget sitting with substantive legislation, it has taken some six and a half days for this Assembly to deal with those substantive bills.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the government side has made the argument over and over and over that these bills are housekeeping. And I ask you: how can the An Act to Amend the Trustee Act be considered housekeeping? By its very content, by the 80 to 90 clauses contained in this bill - that in itself would tell any reasonable person that this is a substantive piece of legislation.
How can the amendments to the Public Utilities Act that the Premier, in her blind acceptance of what some outside corporation has brought forward, has sold out the Yukon Territory and its people's ability to develop their own utility to focus on the future and ensure that we accrue maximum benefits from a utility established in the Yukon for the delivery of natural gas, should an Alaska Highway pipeline take place. They've also compromised through this legislation our ability to control what we pay for energy in this territory.
I base that argument on this fact: by the very agreement that the Premier constantly bandies about on the Alaska Highway pipeline and the fact that we in the Yukon can extract gas from that pipeline - and the agreement says that the producers will replace that gas downstream - we in the Yukon have an opportunity to really do something good in terms of establishing a mechanism for sound, sustainable economic development. I say that because we in the southeast Yukon have producing natural gas wells; therefore, we could replace, downstream, the volume of gas that is extracted from the pipeline to service Yukon communities en route. And in doing so, we then can control - because it's our gas - the cost to the Yukon public and indeed create a very sound economic development tool.
The legislation that the members across the way claim is housekeeping compromises that ability. Therefore, it is substantive legislation, given the impact that it will place upon this territory and its people. It has far-reaching ramifications. It is not simple housekeeping legislation. It is substantive in nature. Furthermore, during debate of the An Act to Amend the Jury Act, which the members made loud claims was nothing more than housekeeping, has been stood down by the Minister of Justice. It's no longer a point of debate. Not even in the motion is it alluded to that that is business of the House that must be concluded. And I can tell you why: because it wasn't of a housekeeping nature and the An Act to Amend the Jury Act created a situation which amounted to intrusion on the privacy of Yukon people in the attempt to try and create a list of potential jurors for this territory.
The minister had to back down off this bill because I'm sure that the opposition to this bill, coming from the public, once they realized it was on the docket, was immense. Again, the argument of the members across the floor that this was housekeeping legislation has been blown out of the water.
So now we come to the crux of what the Member for Mount Lorne laid out in the opposition not honouring an agreement we signed. In the first place, Mr. Speaker, the members opposite are who lobbied long and hard for this side of the House to re-sign the agreement, and we, after due consideration, did so in good faith. It is interesting to note that the Member for Mount Lorne did not once make reference to the fact that, within that agreement we signed, substantive legislation cannot be dealt with through a budget sitting. It can be tabled and put on the business of the House, but for debate in the fall sitting.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are who so unceremoniously broke an agreement that we signed in good faith. It is true that that disregard for what they agreed to is why we find ourselves at this juncture, and it's truly unfortunate and a sad, sad day for the Yukon Territory when it comes to good governance, because nothing could even remotely resemble what's coming out of the members opposite when it comes to good governance.
They established that a number of these acts had to be debated on the floor of this Legislature in this budget sitting. We now have reached a situation where, as I pointed out, six and a half days were required to debate substantive legislation. All that the opposition did, in its motion last week, was offer to make up the time, so that we can do justice to holding the government accountable on its budget. We simply stated that we must extend beyond the 35 days.
This morning, at the House leaders' meeting, we made the offer again. We clearly stated to the government House leader that we, the opposition, would conclude debate, the public's business, no later than six o'clock, Thursday, May 10.
Now, let us look at integrity and credibility as an issue and what conclusion the government House leader derived from the statements we made this morning. It's true that we - though I don't call it a caveat - stated that, in this particular instance, this requires a give and take and a cooperative approach by all parties. Our cooperative approach was to guarantee that this debate, the business of the House, would be concluded at 6:00 p.m. on May 10 - Thursday of next week.
However, with this approach, we said the government side must include reasonable discourse - responses. Now, the Member for Mount Lorne has tried to make an issue out of the opposition, through its questioning, wasting time. I challenge anybody to take a look at Hansard, at the Government Services debate. Over and over and over the answer from a minister of this Liberal government, in terms of addressing millions of dollars of expenditure for the people of this territory, was, "I'll get back to the member."
Well, Mr. Speaker, it's impossible, in that environment, for the opposition to be able to do their jobs. So the Liberals have a serious problem here. Quite frankly, the government side is snookered, because in their feeble attempt to restore some shred of credibility by making an announcement to the public that, "We held the opposition accountable by ensuring that they concluded debate in 35 days as they agreed to." Well, it's not going to work, because it's not humanly possible to ram six days of debate into one night.
Therefore, what the Liberals really have done, in a very closed and secretive manner, in a very heavy-handed approach to governing and with a total lack of regard and respect for the members of this Assembly and the taxpayers of this territory, have invoked closure. Well, we're not going to let it happen, Mr. Speaker - no way.
Mr. Speaker, it is a fact that, in legislative sessions, we always come to this juncture. It is also a fact that we have always managed to work out compromises and agreements, as we should at House leaders meetings, to solve these problems. Instead, the Liberal side, wounded as they are, lashing out at anything they possibly can to inflict some damage to make themselves feel better, have chosen this route. That's why I say they're snookered, because it isn't going to happen.
In the first place, this side of the House has much to say about their approach to good governance in this territory. This side of the House has much to say today about the so-called claim the Liberals make of being open and accountable.
This side of the House has a duty to show to the Yukon public that nothing - nothing - could be even remotely close to that statement in regard to the actions the members opposite have taken in doing their jobs as elected members.
Being elected to this Assembly does not mean that the Liberal members have been appointed to the Senate and have suddenly achieved ornament status with a paycheque. It means that they must do something. It means they have a job to do on behalf of the Yukon public and they are not doing that job. That is why they want to shut this sitting down. They can no longer take the constant criticism coming from the public, the constant crises that they find themselves in through their inability to manage issues, the constant faux pas that ministers are creating, the constant washing and airing of their laundry, of the internal fights that are going on. This is a sad, sad day for this territory and unfortunately the Member for Mount Lorne and her colleagues, the Liberal government, have made it an even sadder day.
There is so much to go through; though this motion be of small content in words, it means a great deal. There is no secret here of what the Liberals' real agenda is. In the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, the members recently tabled a two-page document outlining what they want to do to change the Standing Orders for this Assembly. Those changes are closure. That is something that has never, ever been implemented in this Assembly.
It is not acceptable that this government would implement such a thing, and it's little wonder why the former Government Leader, John Ostashek, the former leader of the official opposition, Piers McDonald, and a colleague of the members opposite, the former Member for Riverside, sat down and negotiated a memorandum of understanding, because they had the intestinal fortitude and the level of integrity to ensure that closure did not become part of this Assembly's processes and proceedings. They agreed to a timeline in terms of a spring and fall sitting, and they also agreed to what would be in those sittings.
Today we are in a budget sitting, Mr. Speaker, and the Liberal side opposite has made sure that the official opposition and the third party have had very limited time to be able to debate the budget. It's little wonder, given the mess this territory is in and the fact that this is the biggest budget ever brought forward in this territory by any Yukon government - some $535 million, over half a billion dollars. And in that environment and in that confusion that the Liberal government has created in this territory, what is really happening? We have our workforce depleting rapidly. We have Yukoners of the ages of 25 to 40 leaving this territory. We have unemployment rising.
We have a crisis, and we have a government that is nothing more than an empty vessel, trying to hide from scrutiny, trying to hide from accountability. We have a government that has no plan and no vision for this territory, so they try to disguise that deficiency by coming up with these ridiculous Mickey Mouse notions that they're going to improve governance in this territory by changing how this Assembly operates.
The way to improve government in this territory is for the members opposite to stand up and be counted. That means being open and being accountable and listening to the Yukon public instead of dictating to the Yukon public and dictating to the opposition and dictating to the news media and dictating to groups out there and the citizenry who are trying to do good for this territory. These members opposite should be ashamed, Mr. Speaker, of the mess that they have created for this territory.
Under the former government, Mr. Speaker, a great trend was developing through the hard work and efforts in diversifying our economy. The trend was very clear. The workforce was increasing. Unemployment was going down. Investment in the territory was coming in. In a very short period after the Liberal government took office, that trend stopped, and that trend has now been reversed at an alarming rate.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the Premier, in her very condescending manner, has constantly informed the public and the House that they were elected - yes, sir, they were elected April 17, 2000. But let's look at something, Mr. Speaker. They squeaked into government. The Liberal government, by a measly 500 votes in Whitehorse, managed to win enough seats to become government, but the realities are that they only garnered 42 percent of the vote. That side of the House represents less than half of the Yukon voting public.
This side of the House is the real government, Mr. Speaker. Not only do we represent 57.3 percent of the voting public, it's this side of the House that has had all the ideas.
It is this side of the House that constantly stands up for the rights of Yukoners in the face of this attack on their rights and the due democratic process afforded to this territory under our Constitution. These people across the floor, Mr. Speaker - this Liberal government - are definitely trying to dismantle that very institution in this territory. They want none of it. They don't want to have to go back to the electorate, because they know they have big problems. They don't want to have to do the work, the hard work that would result in them becoming more than a one-term wonder. They want nothing to do with dealing with the difficult issues. Instead, like a turtle crawling into its shell, they are resigning themselves to calling for reviews. Review everything. We're going nowhere, Mr. Speaker.
What have these reviews produced? Well, let's look at one of the biggest bonehead moves ever in this territory - the so-called audit on the community development fund. I have to say that nobody disputes an audit on government expenditures. But the realities here are: who did the audit? Well, in the first place, the audit was done and directed by a very political set of terms of references. This wasn't a true audit. It was a political mechanism to interfere in a very good program so that the members opposite could save political face, repackage the community development fund and bring it out as a Liberal initiative. They disguised it all by saying, "That community development fund - what a terrible, terrible thing. We were wasting all kinds of money."
The fact is that the public, upon the election taking place on April 17, demanded that the Liberal government proceed with the existing New Democratic budget, and within that budget was $3.5 million for the community development fund. What did they do?
Disguised by an audit, hiding behind some Mickey Mouse terms of reference that were nothing more than political interference, they made the claim that Project Yukon was going to be a vastly improved vehicle for community development - rubbish. Rubbish, Mr. Speaker. Project Yukon is a vastly diminished vehicle for community development and is going to do nothing to enhance the lives of Yukoners, outside of what the Liberals will use Project Yukon for - hosing down their own ridings.
Mr. Speaker, other problems developed immediately upon the members opposite taking office. Pork-barrelling began as soon as they hooked up their phones. The most important legislative review ever undertaken in this territory, the Education Act review, was immediately politicized by flinging a pork chop out to one of the Liberals' best friends - against the demands of school councils that wanted a revolving chair. The Liberals made sure that one of their friends got into the captain's seat of the Education Act review, and they have totally politicized one of the most important legislative reviews this territory is facing. As a Yukoner, I find that totally, totally embarrassing.
Now, I see the Member for Riverdale South frantically waving her arms and enticing me to keep talking. Well, I have to inform the Member for Riverdale South that I will keep talking because there is a great deal to say about what the members opposite have done here today.
The fact that the Member for Riverdale South takes this lightly is a complete embarrassment. The member should be ashamed of herself, given her long history through other family members in the political process in this territory.
She has totally diminished the good works of the former Member for Riverside, now our Commissioner, by her very actions in this Legislative Assembly. It shows a disrespect not only for the members on this side of the House and their right to speak on the floor of this Legislature, it shows a complete lack of regard for the Assembly itself and indeed the Yukon public.
This Member for Riverdale South, just based on that very fact, should resign, because she is doing a disservice to the Yukon public by her actions in this Assembly.
If we can extrapolate what she does in this House outside of here and how she conducts the business of her departments, one can only conclude what a shambles they will be in when they come to the end of this mandate.
If the Member for Riverdale South had any sense of what is right, she would stand on the floor and apologize to the Yukon public for how little regard she has given them - for how little respect she has brought to this Legislature and the democratic process for the people of this territory. It's high time that the Member for Riverdale South comes to that realization and does the right thing.
It holds true for every member on that side of the House. From time to time, I know the Member for Whitehorse Centre tries - he tries, and he stands up against all odds, in the face of great, great controversy from his leader, but he stands up and he has had moments with the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation and Tourism. But he has tried to represent his constituents and what did it get him? A banishment from caucus. He is completely isolated and muzzled from being able to stand up and speak for his constituency. I find that disgraceful.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre has every right to stand on the floor of this Legislature on private members' day and represent his constituency to the very best of his ability. When the government, his colleagues, remove that, it only further substantiates the case that we on this side of the House are making that they are a closed, secretive, disgraceful government that we must not allow to continue as is.
I commend the Member for Whitehorse Centre for standing up on behalf of his constituents. As far as I'm concerned, the Member for Whitehorse Centre should probably stand up and announce that he's leaving this disgraceful government across the floor. Even if he were to sit as an independent, he would probably do much better work for his constituency than he will ever be able to accomplish under the leadership of the Member for Porter Creek North and the rest of this Liberal government.
Bravo, Member for Whitehorse Centre. If you ever should come to that juncture, you can rest assured that the opposition will give you the support you need to ensure that you can carry on your duties as an elected member of this Assembly, and not be muzzled or impeded by your own colleagues and, indeed, by how they intend to operate the government of this territory.
Mr. Speaker, this motion was brought forward by the Member for Mount Lorne - the government House leader - who, in many cases, doesn't even know what is going on in the government. I would point out that the reason why we have House leaders' meetings every morning is so that we can help expedite the business of this House. The government House leader doesn't even know what the business is.
Let me point out some examples. Mr. Speaker, we have a House leaders' meeting and we discuss what are the orders of the day - what is the lineup of business to be conducted. And all through this sitting, what we've been given at House leaders has been - and what we have prepared for during the course of the morning for the sitting of the House at 1:00 p.m. suddenly gets changed very close to the convening of the Legislature.
Now, I want to point out something. Mr. Speaker, the members across the way make the claim that we on this side are wasting time of the House. Now, let's look at what goes on once the House leaders' meeting has finished and we all go our respective ways to do our duties. The opposition members, once informed of what's going to be taking place on the floor of this Legislature, then go about the business of preparing themselves. So we spend our day preparing for a lineup.
I'll give you an example of what happened this morning. The original lineup that the Member for Mount Lorne, the government House leader, brought forward for debate in Committee was Renewable Resources, the Public Service Commission, followed by Education. So the members on this side of the House begin their preparations for debate today in light of the fact that the House leader told us these are the departments that are up for debate.
Later in the morning, when the time left to prepare is virtually non-existent, the government House leader sends a memo changing the lineup from what I have just recited, and here's the new lineup. It's Renewable Resources, followed by the Department of Finance. Now, that in itself, Mr. Speaker, may seem minuscule to people but when you look at what's in the Department of Finance for debate and the fact that the Minister of Finance is the person where the buck stops - the Minister of Finance is responsible for the $535 million that we are debating on the floor of this Legislature - we can't, in all fairness, Mr. Speaker, do justice to a Finance debate by preparing for three minutes before it's called.
Now, this particular situation has cropped up time and time again during this sitting. I can tell you why it's happening. For some unknown reason, the members opposite think that this is a very strategic move in dealing with the agenda of this Assembly. Mr. Speaker, all it is showing is the very disrespectful manner in which this government operates.
However, the opposition is certainly not going to lie down and give up. We are going to stand up and fight even harder to ensure that the people of this territory are given what they deserve. Now, I hear the Minister of Education yodelling away across the floor about waste. Well, let's look at the waste that this minister is responsible for.
Let's look at the Mayo school and the fiasco created by this minister. Now, we have heard the Minister of Government Services make the claim that the Liberal government has saved $1 million. But the Minister of Education knows full well that there is a serious mess out there because the foundation is now suspect, and the costs in getting this school up may very well far exceed what the original bid was. And to compound the problem, they forced the community to suffer through a long, hard winter and, at the same time, compromised the existing structure, and for what? For what purpose? Some political pie-in-the-sky position that they are going to be fiscally responsible and, "Oh, there is a cost overrun here, and we can't have that."
But look how quick they are when it comes to waste. Does a $700,000-plus that they hosed themselves down in for new trappings for their offices - can we not consider that wasteful?
Then they're shutting down libraries on Fridays and Sundays, over a $24,000 cost. Can we not consider what they've done through the An Act to Amend the Public Utilities Act wasteful? They've wasted the future of this territory. These members, in bringing forward this motion, are certainly enhancing and substantiating our case that they want nothing to do with being accountable.
There is so much at stake here, so much that must be done in regard to this $535-million budget. However, we in the opposition, even in light of all that, and even faced with all the roadblocks and impediments that the Liberal government opposite has placed before us to stop us from trying to do our jobs, are still willing, in a very professional, cooperative and, indeed, accountable manner to wrap up and conclude the public's business on May 10 at 6:00 p.m. Instead what do we get? We get hit with this ridiculous, frivolous, underhanded motion brought forward by the Member for Mount Lorne, the government House leader, to invoke closure in this Assembly - what a joke.
Now, why - and let me take us back to last week when the opposition fully informed the members opposite, this Assembly and the whole Yukon public that there was going to be a requirement to extend beyond the 35 days because we used up six and a half days on debating substantive legislation.
If we didn't debate that legislation as we did, Mr. Speaker, we would have been remiss in our duties. Then we're no better than the members opposite. We are trying to be better. We are making every effort to do our jobs, and the members are fond of saying "the contract with Yukon public," - well, they've broken their contract a multitude of times. We on this side of the House, with heads high, can stand here and make this claim. We have honoured our contract with the Yukon public every minute of every day since we were elected April 17, 2000. The members opposite, on the other hand, have done everything since that day to break the contract with the Yukon public and have destroyed - dismantled - any confidence that the Yukon public had in their government. This motion only adds credence to that very fact.
Well, Mr. Speaker, when we brought forward the motion last week to extend the sitting, the members opposite, this Liberal government, if they had any desire to be accountable, could have amended that motion and debated that motion on the floor of this Legislature. And, knowing full well that they were going to have to extend, which they just did today, could have done it in a very open and accountable manner. What did they do? They just flatly voted against the motion, voted against extending the sitting last week, and a few short days later come stumbling into this Legislature with a motion to extend the sitting. What are they doing across the floor, Mr. Speaker?
This is ludicrous. How can we get to this juncture? This is supposed to be a government across the floor. They are acting like anything but. They are acting like thieves in the night, intoxicated with power. They are forgetting to whom they answer. They answer to the Yukon public. It is through this Assembly and this opposition, in holding government accountable, that that very initiative takes place - answering to the Yukon public. In doing this, by bringing forward this motion today - nothing could be further from being accountable.
Mr. Speaker, we witnessed today, through a ministerial statement, a completely disgraceful display by the Premier on their government being open and accountable and the contract that they have agreed to with the Yukon public. It was a very sad display by a member of this House who holds such a high office. I am saddened that we have come to this. This is all a direct result of the members opposite and how they have managed the affairs of this territory. They have nobody to blame but themselves, although they have tried, over and over on every issue they have faced, to blame somebody else.
How can we trust in the members opposite? How can we, on behalf of the Yukon public, do our jobs when the members opposite have no desire to do their jobs?
They spend money on travel like it's some ancient right that they can overspend their travel budget and yet, when it comes to Yukoners and the people of Mayo and the school, oh, no. When it comes to our library and the need for $24,000 to keep it open, oh, no, no, that's no good. But on themselves, not a problem there. They're not hesitant one bit to blow vast amounts of taxpayers' dollars on themselves. That, in itself, gives rise to the fact that these members opposite should seriously consider what it is they're doing and make amends.
Mr. Speaker, there is much, much more to go through here and I will endeavour, in my humble way and in my lack of real practice, to try to lay out all there is here on the floor of the Legislature today. But rest assured that the opposition will not succumb to this heavy-handed approach to dealing with the public's business. The opposition will not throw themselves at the feet of the Premier and the members opposite. The opposition will stand, and we will stand and do our duty here in this Assembly and ensure, through every effort, in all our mental and physical capacity, that we hold the Liberal government accountable for the mess that they have led this territory into.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government has many, many claims out there with regard to what it is they're doing and what it is they represent.
We have already blown out of the water any semblance of their commitment to be open and accountable, and it's all done with factual statements on the floor of this Legislature. There is absolutely no way that the members opposite, in any sense of what's right, can stand here any more and make a claim that they are open and accountable. They're not, and they should cease and desist - and they should come clean with Yukoners about what it is they really are. I can tell you what that is, Mr. Speaker - it's closed, secretive, incompetent, vindictive and it has no credibility. Their integrity is shot. The members opposite have serious problems to deal with to save their own bacon. And that's getting in the way of the government across the floor, the Liberal government, dealing with the issues important to the Yukon public.
Well, the most important things to the Yukon public, given our economic situation, and the disaster in our health care that the Minister of Health has led us into, is, of course, a $535-million budget. The members opposite have done everything they can in the 35 days of this sitting to ensure that the opposition could not - could not - debate the budget.
Mr. Speaker, we have a little more chirping going on now from the Member for Riverdale South and now, chiming in, is the Member for Lake Laberge. One of the biggest reasons we are in trouble here and are having to extend the sitting is because of the nonsensical and ridiculous way the minister sponsored and represented her department - and indeed the bills she brought forward.
I want to point something out to the Minister of Justice, the Member for Lake Laberge. It is the minister across the way who staunchly maintained that the legislation they put on the floor of this House was housekeeping, but who has now stood down on the Jury Act. How can the minister still make that claim? How can the minister sleep at night, having made that claim and not correcting the record? She stood down on the Jury Act because it is substantive in nature and an intrusion on the privacy of Yukoners, and we have to hold the government accountable in that regard.
They think it's a joke that we are going to sit here today and debate a motion to invoke closure in this House, and for some reason they just don't see what's coming. They simply do not see what's coming. And worse than that, they have absolutely no regard for Hansard staff, for department officials or anybody else concerned here, other than their mad desire to get out of this House so that there is no more damage inflicted on them.
It leaves me wondering what our summer will bring. Under the tutelage of this government, the sun may never shine. That's a sad statement but that's how bad it really is.
I want, above all else, the members opposite to try to convince the Yukon public that what they've done here today was the right course of action for a government that was making the claim that they are open and accountable to take. I want so badly for the members opposite to go outside this Legislature, to talk to the Yukon public and to try to convince them that that is what they've done here. I can tell you that they're going to get laughed out of the territory. They are scared to go out to the Yukon public. They have a fear of consulting with anybody in the Yukon public because all they are getting now is criticism. What once was this great happening - the Liberals getting elected in Whitehorse and luckily becoming government - has now turned into a complete disaster, not only for the Liberal Party of this territory and for the members across the floor, but indeed for every individual in the Yukon.
It is a disaster, and we are going through a disaster not because of issues out of our control, but because of what the members opposite have done. It is through their actions that this territory finds itself at the precipice of going over the cliff.
As I stated in my response to the ministerial statement, it is this side of the House, the opposition, that is staunchly making the stand and holding the Yukon from falling off the edge of the cliff. Against all odds, against overwhelming numbers, we on this side of the House are doing our jobs, and we are holding up the Yukon. It certainly isn't the members opposite who are doing it, Mr. Speaker. They are trying to destroy this territory and every bit of fabric within. They are dismantling, destroying, ignoring, paying very little regard to Yukoners and focusing entirely on themselves and profile.
Mr. Speaker, I am, quite frankly, disgusted by the Member for Mount Lorne and this motion that she brought forward today. I thought that surely the Member for Mount Lorne, the designated House leader, would have come to her senses by now and stood up and argued with the Premier, who obviously is only trying to inflict damage on the opposition by trying to keep them in the House all night. I would think that the Member for Mount Lorne, as the government House leader, would have made representation and arguments that what the Premier wanted to do simply is not a good strategy. Mr. Speaker, it is a bad strategy because you cannot cram six and a half days of debate, some nine substantive departments left, into one evening. Anybody with any reasonable product in their cranium would understand that fact. There are not enough hours in a day to supplement six and a half days of work.
Unfortunately, the Premier never even gave that consideration, but I thought, Mr. Speaker, that the government House leader, the Member for Mount Lorne, who seems at times to have some common sense, would have come to that realization. I know what the members opposite are going to do here. They're going to say, "Ah, the Member for Watson Lake stood on his feet. The Member for Watson Lake wasted the time of this House by yammering on, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Well, I hope they do. I hope they do that, because I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that we on this side of the House will win this debate. We on this side of the House are not only going to win the debate but we are going to garner widespread support out there in the Yukon public because we stood our ground and we fought the fight to hold this government accountable.
Mr. Speaker, I don't know where the members opposite are getting their information from, but I can tell you, from what's being circulated in the public, that there is a very low opinion of this government throughout the Yukon. People are sick and tired of this incompetent, heavy-handed manner in which the members opposite are governing this territory. "It's my way or the highway," as the Premier stated. It's the highway to Inuvik; it's the highway to Fort Nelson; it's the highway to Fort Liard; it's the highway to Grande Prairie; it's the highway to anywhere but staying in the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, one of the things that the members opposite are making the claim on, if we follow their contract with the Yukon public, which is, I believe, a seven-point plan - and at the top of the list is land claims, the settlement of land claims. We recently witnessed a very disgraceful display by the Premier standing on her feet and trying to take full credit and claim that it is through the magical workings of the Premier of the Yukon that the Ta'an Kwach'an final agreements were initialled.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that is a ridiculous display, and that is a kind analogy. Everyone knows what really is the case when it comes to the Ta'an Kwach'an.
So let's move on to where we're really at in land claims and the need to debate the Department of Finance and the Executive Council Office, the need to spend the appropriate time on those departments because the highest priority that the Liberal government has is settling the land claims. Now, how can we justify and do our jobs in the proper manner if closure is invoked, as the members opposite are trying to do here today. There is much to be asked. There is a great deal that the members opposite have to answer for in that regard. This territory has been brought to a standstill, not only in land claims, but on all fronts.
Now, Mr. Speaker, it is impossible for us, in this working environment that has been created by the members opposite, to do our jobs. So they, in their totally ridiculous approach to government, bring forward this motion and make statements, like how the opposition is delaying and that the opposition, in this total sitting - never mind all the legislation we have dealt with - has only cleared four departments out of 17.
Well, let's look at that fact. Those four departments relate to 50 percent of the total expenditures in this budget. It's ridiculous to make the claim that it's only four departments. It's some $230 million that has been cleared here. That is a vitally important fact.
Now what's left is the balance of that $535 million - some $230 million is left to deal with. If the members opposite had any desire to do their jobs in the appropriate manner, they simply would have agreed to extend beyond the 35 days and conduct the public's business in an orderly, open and accountable manner. Instead, here comes the motion.
For some reason the members opposite think that by bringing this motion forward they are going to re-establish some shred of credibility of their tarnished image. And it's only going to darken the image. It's only going to add more tarnish to the image. This is not a way to conduct the public's business in an open and accountable manner. This is simply unacceptable behaviour, unacceptable actions by our government.
If we look back in historical terms on what has taken place in this House, we will find that in most cases - through the former government, the New Democrats from 1996 to 2000 and in the Yukon Party and even beyond - the business of the House was conducted in an open and accountable manner. When time was needed to go beyond certain dates and times for debate, it was worked out and it was handled, I think, in a professional way.
The lack of professionalism across the floor probably leads a great deal to what we are dealing with here today.
I want to understand, just on my own, for my own self, Mr. Speaker, from the members opposite, should they ever choose to allow anybody else to speak to this - and I would urge every member across the floor to get on record here, because if you don't it's going to be very evident to the public that the Cabinet of one has muzzled all of you and that nobody on that side of the floor is allowed to speak out.
Well, I can remember governments, in history, that started down this path of censorship and muzzling and the propaganda and all the rest of it. I need not go any further with that analogy, but I think the members opposite know exactly what I'm driving at. That's what we're seeing here today. This motion is clear testimony to what the members opposite really think of government, what the members opposite really intend to do.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that we are going to face changes to the Standing Orders, and it's going to get rammed down our throats. A mechanism will be implemented through the Standing Orders so that the government side can invoke closure. I want to pass on to the members opposite that you may be in government now, but a day will come when you will be on this side of the House. The whining and the complaining and the uproar that will take place by those members opposite, especially members like the Member for Riverdale South and the Member for Porter Creek South and the Member for Riverdale North and the Member for Mount Lorne, should they be lucky enough to get re-elected, and the Member for Faro - well, we're not quite sure what the Member for Faro is all about. Mr. Speaker, the hue and cry that will erupt from the Liberal benches over that closure mechanism will be deafening.
Yet, here they are in government, invoking closure in this manner - sneaky, underhanded, through the back door - no credibility whatsoever, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, let's look at what the government claims. And why they're doing this, in my estimation, is around this ridiculous notion that they are somehow making government better. Let's look at a press release. The Premier has launched, on May 2, 2001, this fabulous press release - another ill-advised and ill-thought-through missile of Liberal propaganda, which has splatted onto the laps of the Yukon public in a very slippery, greasy manner.
Mr. Speaker, they talk about several new initiatives aimed at restoring confidence in government. Well, that's a real gem, now that they have invoked closure here today. Oh, that's really going to restore confidence - yes, sir. Yup, that's really going to sell the public on how good governance from the Liberals is brought to bear.
The press release goes on to say - bear with me for a moment - "We want to ensure that government programs are still meeting people's needs and are operating efficiently." The government isn't even operating today under the leadership of this Liberal government. So, what are we doing here? We're invoking closure, reviewing everything; we have stopped the economy, choked off cash flow, destroyed health care - it's totally upside-down - and education is on the ropes. Leading the charge is another Liberal lackey. The members opposite made the claim that they were going to create all-party initiatives, and the first move they made was a pork-barrelling move, which politicized the Education Act review.
All these things, Mr. Speaker, lead to what the real picture is of this Liberal government, and it's pretty disturbing. I, myself, am greatly, greatly concerned for the future of this territory because the damage being done by the members opposite may never, ever, ever be repaired. They may have taken us much too far already.
Now we go to look at why some of these things are happening - the internal audit function. There's a real winner. The internal audit function was nothing more than a vindictive approach to dismantling, destroying, stamping out anything the former NDP government did that was good for the Yukon public. It was an attack on the former government's initiatives. How can that even remotely resemble making government better? They have wasted a year, attacking the former government's programs and initiatives, and yet on the other hand they passed the former government's budget because the Yukon public demanded it. Oops, we got caught here. I can just see them scratching their heads in the Cabinet room. "What do we do now, Premier? The Yukon public wants to pass this budget". "Well, then, we'll pass it," the Premier decreed. And they did. They didn't think it through, Mr. Speaker. They even left the former ministers' names on the departments.
The internal audit function should now be happening, and it should be an audit and a review of the members opposite's work to date and what they have done in this first year. That's what the audit should be.
Well, we also have comments coming from the other side that the Better Government Committee, made up of elected members and public servants, is going to make government more citizen-oriented. Well, I ask you, Mr. Speaker: how can the Premier put out a press release making that claim, which, by the way, I might say is probably a real good idea. Anything that would result in making government better and having government deliver its programs to its people in an improved way is a good thing.
But instead of proceeding in that vein, what have we got? Closure. How can that make government better? One thing that makes government better is accountability to the people who have elected it.
Furthermore, it's evident that we have witnessed time and time again the Premier and the members opposite patting themselves on the back. So it leads one to believe that the Better Government Committee is going to be simply relegated to more fluff coming from the Liberal side in terms of these ill-advised ministerial statements about how great the government is doing when, out there in the public, there is devastation. The members opposite have to get out of the bubble. We can't have better government and we can't be improving government if we invoke things like closure. That's a direct contradiction. Surely the members opposite have come to that realization. When you think it through, better government and closure simply do not connect. They are opposites, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, the members opposite, and the Premier especially, made the statement about the substantive legislation, which caused the problem we're in right now in terms of timelines and debating the budget, that it was going to do much toward establishing economic development in this territory. You know, the opposition showed, time and time again, that there's a fundamental flaw in the Premier's statement. Real, true economic development for this territory begins with and is predicated on cash flow. In other words, money flowing and rotating through the territory.
The legislation that the members opposite have passed, and that we have held them accountable for, results in money flowing out of the territory. That is an impediment to economic development. Outflow of money, especially the hard-earned dollars of Yukoners, does nothing to develop our economy.
I want to tell you a story about how I think the Liberal government has come to deal with the economy. Let me go back in time. Not so long ago, the Premier was in her chambers, adjusting her crown, when there came a knock on the door. At the door were her humble colleagues - her servants - and they said, "Oh Premier, what are we going to do? The economy's in crisis." The Premier said, "What? There's an economy? My goodness, that must mean that economic development is government policy. Fear not, faithful servants, we will craft a press release and a ministerial statement, and we will fix it all." That's how the Liberal government approaches economic development in this territory.
And it has been shown time and time again. The Premier keeps reciting things like WesternGeco and this and that and the oil and gas and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, the facts are - let's look at the seismic work that's being done in the southeast. Does the Premier even realize that the hiring is being done at Fort Liard? Well, Mr. Speaker, that's the Northwest Territories. Hello. Is anybody home over there? We're talking about economic development for the Yukon. Doesn't the Premier understand what her statistics are saying? When we see 600 people leave this workforce and our unemployment rate is still going up, something's wrong. Hello. Anybody home?
They have done nothing in terms of addressing the Yukon's economy but dismantle everything the former government did to turn around a flagging, failing economy and have made the situation undoubtedly worse. That's why Yukoners are leaving. Not only did they lose hope, they just totally gave up on this government. It took just a few short months for that to happen, and yet they stand here on the floor of the Legislature, make the claim that they are working hard, and they are going to address our economic crisis. So when we the opposition want to make sure that the public understands that what they're doing in terms of addressing our economy is the right thing, they invoke closure.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that simply is not going to happen. Closure is not something that we on this side of the House will ever get into, nor will the Yukon public. I again stress to the members across the floor that each and every one of them had better give full and due consideration to what has been done here today. I think every one of them should stand on their feet and put on the record what they really think should be taking place on the floor of this Legislature. What they should be doing is exactly what the Minister of Education just chirped.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I'm somewhat reluctant to break the flow of excellent verbiage from my colleague. However, I'd like to point out that, pursuant to Standing Order 3(1), I wish to draw your attention to the lack of a quorum in this House.
Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order, brought to the Chair's attention that there is a lack of quorum in the House. The Chair has now done a count and there is a quorum, so I would ask the Member for Watson Lake to continue.
Mr. McRobb: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: The record would show that I may have misjudged the number of MLAs present. However, I'd like to point out for the record, which does not indicate the time that had elapsed, that clearly about four minutes or so had elapsed during which time the quorum did reappear, at which time you took your count, Mr. Speaker. So I'd just like the record to reflect that.
Speaker: That's fine. I'll just ask the Member for Watson Lake to please continue. We have a quorum.
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let the record show, Mr. Speaker, that the Liberal government, the members opposite, didn't put enough stock or credence in this motion to keep a quorum in the House - what a joke. What a complete joke.
Speaker: Order please. I think we're starting to go down a road we don't want to go. Although the member wasn't referring to any specific member being absent, there was definitely a reference to absences from the House, which is contrary to the rules and inappropriate. Having said that, I would ask the Member for Watson Lake to continue.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Whitehorse Centre, on the point of order.
Mr. McLarnon: There is a larger point of order.
Speaker: I'm asking the Member for Whitehorse Centre if this is a new point of order.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: This is a new point of order.
Mr. McLarnon: What I object to, and why I am raising the point of order is that the Speaker's decisions in this House are to be accepted without question by all members of this House. Previously, within a minute of the Speaker saying there was a quorum - and under all circumstances under the rules of this House that there was a quorum - the Member for Watson Lake stood up and said there wasn't a quorum.
Mr. Speaker, what we have seen from the Member for Watson Lake is a direct questioning and contradiction of the Speaker's ruling.
Speaker: I certainly didn't hear those words. Maybe they were said. Really, the Chair is not going to rule on this right now because, until I look at the Blues or Hansard, I can't go back right now and recall the exact words that were said. I will definitely review what has been recorded. With that, I would ask the Member for Watson Lake to please continue.
Mr. Fentie: I know that the Member for Whitehorse Centre is chomping at the bit to be able to speak. That is just another sign that the muzzling by their Premier that the backbenchers on the Liberal side have to deal with is really starting to affect them. So I will give the Member for Whitehorse Centre the benefit of the doubt in his point of order.
However, let me continue on. A moment ago, we were discussing the fact that the Liberal government is trying through a press release here to claim to the Yukon public that they are making government work better and yet, by the same token on the very same day, they have invoked closure on the floor of this Assembly and have, in terms of making government better, contradicted that very statement because they are running and hiding from public scrutiny.
The whole purpose of this Assembly and what we do here is for that public scrutiny to take place in a very constructive manner. And anybody who wants to go through Hansard from this sitting will soon determine and conclude that the opposition side has been very constructive in their debate and that it's the opposition side that is continually putting forward ideas.
They make the claim across the floor that we somehow are wasting time. Let's look at some examples of what really is wasting time. When we were faced with dealing with all the legislation that the members opposite overloaded this budget sitting with so that they did not have to debate, in a proper manner, the biggest budget of this territory, we in the official opposition, in realizing which bills that they brought forward were truly housekeeping, passed those bills expeditiously. The members opposite, even though the opposition had agreed to the passage of those bills, were bound and determined to debate each and every clause for each and every bill, wasting time of the House.
The official opposition pleaded with the government House leader to take the bills we agreed to, deem them read and carried and pass them in their entirety. The response we got back was, "We don't trust you." Well, when the Minister of Justice found out - who was on the hot seat, having to debate clause by clause and bill by bill - that the opposition wanted to take six of 11 bills, deem them read and carried, pass them in their entirety, which would have taken approximately three minutes, she chastised the government House leader. She said, "You bet we want to pass those bills in that manner."
So, the opposite benches, the Liberal government, was willing to waste time in this Legislature by going through the bills in that manner. It was the opposition that came up with the very constructive idea to expedite the public's business in this Assembly. Now, that's just one of many arguments that can be brought forward here, Mr. Speaker, to prove that the real waste of time is being generated by the Liberal government.
We ask, "Why?" Because the Liberal government doesn't want to be open and accountable. Because the Liberal government has no vision, plan or direction. Because the Liberal ministers, who sponsor the departments, which, in total, combine for a $535-million expenditure for the fiscal year 2001-02, don't even know why they're spending the money. Now they are saying to us, the official opposition and, indeed, to the Yukon public out there, that they want nothing to do with debating the remainder of the budget, and have invoked closure.
Mr. Speaker, there are a number of other examples about wasting time in this House, and I challenge anybody on that side of the House, on the Liberal benches, to pick up Hansard and go through the debate on Government Services. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that you would quickly conclude, no matter who you are, that the real waste of time is coming from the members opposite. The minister responsible for Government Services, in general debate in Committee of the Whole, could only answer with "I'll get back to the member."
Now, Mr. Speaker, in all fairness, I ask you how we, the opposition, in doing our duty to hold the government accountable for the Department of Government Services, can go through a debate in that manner and do our jobs. It's our job to hold the government accountable. It's the government minister's job to come onto the floor of this Assembly when his department or her department is up and provide answers to the opposition on why they're spending the money they are spending. That's the minister's duty, and the Minister of Government Services shirked that duty and created a delay in debate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister just chastised me and said, "Ask a reasonable question." Well, we asked the minister about why they make the claim that a million dollars is being saved on the Mayo school when, in fact, the case may not be a million dollars saved but a cost of a million dollars over and above what's budgeted, and the minister says, "I'll get back to the member." The minister should know where those savings are and why he's making the claim that the million dollars is going to be saved.
The minister should also have been open and accountable with this Assembly and the Yukon public and informed the House that there were major problems with the foundation because of the decision the members opposite made in shutting down the construction of the Mayo school. They may very well have compromised the very structure of the school and the foundation has to be redone.
Now, who's wasting time in this Legislature, Mr. Speaker? The problem here is that the government doesn't know what it's doing, the government is incompetent, the government has not been prepared to debate their very own budget - the first budget the Liberal government has ever brought forward. It was much easier last sitting because they tabled the NDP budget. What debate was necessary around that? We on this side of the House knew the budget inside out so it's little wonder that the members opposite got through it. We led them through it, in doing our duty to the Yukon public ensuring that we expeditiously conduct the business of this House on behalf of the Yukon voter. We led the Liberal government through the budget and they have the audacity to stand here today and make claims that we're wasting time in the House in debating a closure motion, the first one ever brought forward in this territory.
This is a disgrace. The display by the members opposite with their kibitzing and heckling across the floor, while I, a duly elected member of this House, am on my feet, as it is my right to be on my feet, holding the government accountable - they think it's some sort of joke. Well, Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House quite frankly are getting somewhat tired of this incompetent, heavy-handed, cold, secretive approach to governance that the Liberal members have brought to this territory.
In 12 short months, they have destroyed any credibility they may have had, and in 12 short months, instead of restoring confidence in government - if indeed that was a necessity - they have completely dismantled good governance and are on the road to destroying any form of governance that will provide benefit to the people of this territory. Whether it be economically, whether it be through health care, whether it be through the Yukon protected areas strategy, no matter what the issue is, the members opposite have totally mismanaged the situation.
They have reduced this territory to dealing with their own internal problems on public display, chastising their very own members, like the Member for Whitehorse Centre, who makes a stand on behalf of his constituents. And they air that in public by providing erroneous information and answers on the floor of this Legislature and, minutes later, their own officials contradict what the minister has said on the floor of this House.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Is this a point of order?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Well, order please.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre did not rise or say he was rising on a point of order.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Whitehorse Centre, on a point of order.
Mr. McLarnon: The Member for Watson Lake has just charged members from this side of bringing erroneous information to this House. Knowingly bringing erroneous information to this House is considered uttering a falsehood. I ask that, if we are going to listen to diatribes, at least we should listen to them knowing that the rules are not going to be broken through this large and long string of rhetoric.
Speaker: Order please. The Chair did not hear the member accusing any specific member of intentionally bringing erroneous accusations before the House.
Here again, with all the rhetoric going on here, I am not prepared to rule on it until I get an opportunity to check the words that were used, via Hansard or via the Blues, and I would just ask the Member for Watson Lake to continue.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'm crushed, Mr. Speaker, knowing now that this has been rhetoric. I thought I was waxing eloquently; however, I will accept your ruling.
In all the rhetoric, the point that has to be made is that one of the reasons the opposition has to go back and ask the same question again and again is because ministers answer a question on the floor of this Legislature and, mere seconds to minutes later, their own staff and officials are providing a direct contradiction to that answer to the public through the news media. So it only stands to reason that the opposition must come back in here and ask the question again. That's what our duty is. That's why we are elected, and that's why we are here.
The members opposite, through their ministers, have a duty to answer in a forthright, open and accountable manner. And when we see the indication and examples of that not happening, of course we have to ask the questions again and again and again. Mr. Speaker, we ask the questions until we get answers. It only makes sense that that is how we should conduct ourselves.
I chastise the members opposite to start conducting themselves in a professional, constructive, open and accountable manner - and stop hiding. It only leads us to wonder why, and what, they are hiding from. Now, it's evident they are hiding from public scrutiny, but it also rings alarm bells about what else they may be hiding from.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Speaker: Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Point of order, Mr. Speaker. It's really unfortunate that more members aren't in here to listen to this. Pursuant to Standing Order 3(1), I wish to again draw your attention to the lack of a quorum in this House.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during the sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring and then do a count. Additionally, I will say that the bells are ringing for four minutes.
Speaker: I have shut the bills off and will do a count. There are 10 members present. There is a quorum, so we will continue with debate.
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was stating, Mr. Speaker, before the count, the members opposite have accused this side of the House of wasting time. I have been laying out cases and examples of where that simply is not so. The members are incorrect. The Liberal members opposite are incorrect in that assumption and that statement. I have been showing and laying out examples where, indeed, it has been the Liberal government and the members opposite that have been wasting time.
We have dealt with general debate on Government Services. We have dealt with answers that are contradictory, between what the minister is saying on the floor and what government officials are saying in the public. So, we have no choice but to continue to ask questions. If that is somehow construed by the members opposite as delay, I would suggest that they sit down and really think that whole term through. Quite frankly, it flies in the face of their commitment to the Yukon public to be open and accountable.
They can't have it both ways.
Mr. Speaker, I want to list another example and show clearly - and this one will certainly do that - how unprepared the members opposite are and why we're faced today with this problem of having some 11 or 12 departments left in this budget to debate, of which approximately nine are substantive in terms of the expenditures.
And it's this: some days ago - and I want to point out, firstly, that it's the government side whose responsibility it is to set the agenda each and every day in this Legislature. From that point on, it's the opposition's duty to manage their time in accordance with the agenda that the government side has brought forward. Because of the quick thinking, constructive approach that the official opposition had taken to passing what was truly housekeeping legislation, we reached a juncture in this Legislature, Mr. Speaker, where the government simply got caught and wasn't prepared to bring forward any more business for the House. The reason they weren't is twofold. In the first instance, there was still one more bill to be debated by the Minister of Justice, who flatly refused to debate it, which, I argued earlier, is certainly testimony to the fact that that bill, the An Act to Amend the Jury Act, simply wasn't housekeeping but was substantive in nature, because it certainly created a situation that could have resulted in an intrusion on the privacy of Yukoners. So the minister did not want to debate that bill.
Well, then, the suggestion was made that we move into general debate in Committee on Government Services. Well, the Minister of Government Services wasn't ready to debate his department. Consequently, what happened? Mr. Speaker, well, we adjourned early. We adjourned this Assembly early because the members opposite, the government side, was not prepared to conduct the public's business in this Legislature, and they blame and choose to claim that the opposition is delaying this House. That's a joke.
Another example - and it has happened a number of times in this mad desire by the members opposite to get up in front of the camera and somehow restore some credibility and give themselves some sort of positive profile - they constantly try to adjourn early so as to be on the floor when debate resumes the following day so they get to stand up in front of that camera wasting time of the House. For what? Not for the good of the Yukon public but for their own self-interest. That is a sad, sad state of affairs.
Now, yesterday we again came to a juncture where the government wasn't prepared to continue debate and adjourned early. They moved to adjourn. There was still 15 minutes of time left on the clock. I would suggest that we may very well have got through at least the minister's portion of general debate in the Department of Renewable Resources. Instead we adjourned. And to make matters worse, before they moved to adjourn, we took a break from Committee to await the arrival of the Renewable Resources official who would be here to assist the minister in debate in Committee.
I ask, when looking at those facts, how can the members opposite justify making the claim that we are wasting time of the House when faced with those facts? How can the members opposite justify bringing forward this motion to invoke closure when they themselves have been ill-prepared to debate their very own budget?
That is why we in the official opposition, and indeed the third party, are going to make the stand, because we are right.
We will win this debate because we are armed with what's right. We are armed with the facts. We are armed and charged with our duty to the Yukon public - something the members opposite have long forgotten since the election. Like drunken sailors, Mr. Speaker, they stumble forward, leading this territory into a disastrous oblivion.
And now they stand on this floor, bring forward a closure motion, and seem to think that, in doing so, all is good. That's not the case, Mr. Speaker. It's simply not the case.
Now, I want the members opposite to also start thinking about something else. Mr. Speaker, the members opposite - at least some of them, the Premier and the Member for Riverdale South - were a very short time ago in opposition. They were charged with holding the government side accountable, and I can tell you that the hue and cry that came out of the members opposite when it came to debating the budget was quite substantial. If I wanted to throw it all back at them, we would be here for days, reciting the positions and the comments they made when in opposition, and they certainly wouldn't have accepted this in the manner that we have. I can recall the Premier chastising the government because the government, in her estimation, was limiting her ability to hold the government accountable.
Mr. Speaker, the members opposite know - at least the Member for Riverdale South and the Premier know what's involved in debating the departments that are left. The member knows what's involved in debating the Department of Finance. The member knows what's involved in debating the Department of Renewable Resources. The member knows what's involved in debating the Department of Economic Development, especially given the economic situation and the crisis we find ourselves in today.
The member knows what's coming. The side opposite knows what's coming, and that's why they're trying to get out of here. The members opposite know that there is certainly going to be debate in the Department of Education. How can they justify bringing this motion forward today, knowing full well what it's going to take to go through those departments? How do they justify bringing this motion forward? Don't the members opposite even understand that they are contradicting their own position?
I'm telling you, Mr. Speaker, no matter what, I believe that this Liberal government has lost its way - and I'm being kind. They know full well, with this motion they have brought to the floor of the Legislature to extend sitting hours for this evening, exactly what it's going to take to debate the remaining departments. I want to read the motion, if I may, to give it the necessary exposure. The motion reads:
THAT the Assembly be empowered to sit beyond 6:00 p.m. for the purpose of considering Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02 in Committee of the Whole; and for permitting the House to consider Third Reading of Bill No. 4 and for receiving the Commissioner to give Assent to the Bills passed by the House.
Now, that in itself, the very content of this motion, is evidence of how far off base and lost the members opposite really are. They know - and after coming to the realization of what work is left, I find it astounding that they even proceeded with this motion. How are the six to seven days required to truly debate the rest of the budget going to be crammed into tonight?
How is that going to happen? How did the members opposite think that this was going to take place? It's ridiculous.
Now, before I carry on here, I have a little bit of advice for the members on the side opposite. Whoever is advising you as far as a strategy, fire them, because they're certainly not earning their pay. They're leading you astray. Somebody has to take the initiative over there, seize the initiative and get this ship righted. Somebody has to take control of this disaster that this Liberal government is in.
This ridiculous motion, Mr. Speaker, by its very own content gives credence to the fact that the Liberals, the government, the side opposite, like Moses wandering in the desert for 40 years, are completely lost - hopelessly lost with no rudder, no steering wheel, nothing. There is chaos, discontent, dissension in the ranks, fighting with the public, fighting with the news media, taking it out on the opposition because they're doing so poorly by ramming things like this down the opposition's throat. It's a big mistake, Mr. Speaker.
Now, if there were some common sense in the side opposition, they would have brought a motion forward today that we on this side of the House probably would have agreed to, and we could have come to some sort of compromise position, which we offered this morning in House leaders' meeting. If this motion had stated, Mr. Speaker, that we wanted to extend the sitting beyond its 35 days and even give it a definitive end time and date, this House unanimously would have supported such a motion.
It's why we brought forward the motion we did last week. We wouldn't be doing what we're doing today if there were some common sense brought to bear on what it is that the Liberal government should be doing in terms of governing this territory.
Now, I ask the members opposite: what's wrong with going through a few more days to complete the business of the House? What's the point of forcing officials and people in Hansard to sit up around the clock, trying to wrap up this budget sitting? It doesn't even make sense.
I could understand it if we were on the last department and we had a few more things to go through and we just simply weren't going to make it by the time this House must adjourn, which is 6:00 p.m. Then, extending hours makes sense. But when you have the scope of work and debate required to conduct and complete the remaining public business in this Assembly, this motion is nonsensical. This motion has no place in this House. This motion can only be deemed a motion of closure.
I keep pointing that out because I am astounded, shocked and really taken aback that the Liberal government brought this forward. I call it complete suicide by the members opposite. This will not resonate very well in the public.
Now, the public is very interested in what remains in the budget - the expenditures and why they are being made. The public is very interested, given the performance of this government over the last 12 months, in what they have to say for themselves. All you have to do, Mr. Speaker, is just give a cursory glance at any newspaper or just talk on the street. It will quickly become evident to anyone who is willing to have an open mind that the public is desirous of listening to what this government has to say for itself, how it's going to justify its mishandling of virtually every issue that it was faced with, and how it's going to justify how they have destroyed good governance in this territory and set us back into the dark ages.
We are not living under a dictatorship in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker. Quite frankly, this is supposed to be a democracy, which follows the due process of our parliamentary system. That's what makes this country and, indeed, this territory one of the best places to be on the planet. Why, in the name of what's good, would the members opposite try to dismantle that? Why would we destroy such a wonderful thing with this unilateral act that has absolutely no relevance to what's really happening? It's merely an attempt to duck and run, as I said, like thieves in the night. The Liberals are trying to escape this Assembly and hide from any public scrutiny because they can't take the heat. They can't stand the criticism. They are succumbing to the pressure. They want to get out of here.
All I can say to the members opposite is: that being the case, why are you here? Why did you put your names forward? Why did you bother to construct this budget? Why, Mr. Speaker, did they bring this budget to the floor of this Assembly? Why did we bother bringing 11 bills to this Assembly if that's the attitude that the members opposite have toward our Assembly, toward the opposition, toward the public service, toward the public in general? Why are they here?
Why don't they just resign? Why don't they stay home? In fact, Mr. Speaker, I have another positive suggestion. If the members just simply stayed at home and didn't bother coming here any more, things would probably improve in this territory because we wouldn't have the members opposite fumbling, bumbling and stumbling through the daily routine of trying to govern this territory.
The situation would improve if the members opposite just stayed home. I can tell you that that is a statement that is factual and it's sad because, that being the case, it only shows more clearly how incompetent the Liberal government, under the leadership of the Member for Porter Creek South, really is.
It's truly unfortunate for the Yukon public that we find ourselves in this situation. I can tell you that the Yukon public is very, very, very critical now of what this government's doing. Rural Yukon knew it all along. The results of April 17 clearly showed that rural Yukon wasn't buying into the Liberal lubrication that was being spread around the territory - not a bit. In fact rural Yukon resoundingly rejected the Liberals and the City of Whitehorse - the Liberals, just by sheer luck of vote split, managed to squeak in and become government. They managed to just squeak in. And look what we've done now. Look what has happened to this territory. Here we are today at this juncture dealing with a frivolous motion brought forward by the government House leader that is doing nothing to expedite the business of this House. It is doing nothing to conduct and complete the public's business in this Assembly. It is doing nothing to improve the tarnished image of the members opposite. It is doing nothing to solve the problems in our economy. It is doing nothing to solve the problems in our medicare system, nothing to solve the problems in our education system, nothing to entice investment to come to this territory, nothing to deal with issues like group homes, to deal with issues like homelessness or any issue in this territory.
In fact, it's making the situation worse. And it couldn't get much worse, at least I didn't think so, until today, when the members opposite had all the opportunity to come to an agreement and a constructive way to conclude the business of this Assembly. They turned it down. Why is that, Mr. Speaker? Why did the members opposite turn down every offer made by the opposition to assist them in conducting, in an expeditious manner, the people's business here in the Assembly? Well, I want to do some wrap-up and conclusion and summary on that fact.
I would conclude that the reason that they didn't accept any of that is that they have no desire to be cooperative, they have no desire to provide good governance for this territory, they have no desire to be open and accountable, they have no desire to answer to the Yukon public, they have no desire to treat with respect the members on this side of the House, they have no desire to recognize what it is for government officials to be thrown into this chaotic arena and try to deal with something like this with a minimum of six days of debate left on the budget, trying to cram it into one night. They ignore that fact completely, and that's a disgrace. What about the people in Hansard? What about the people in the public service who are going to have to deal with this ridiculous approach to governance by this Liberal government opposite?
The Liberals are showing now that they don't care about anybody but themselves - have no use for anybody else in this territory but themselves and their close friends. Well, Mr. Speaker, we can't allow this to happen. We in the opposition simply won't allow it to happen.
Now, I'm going to make an offer here, Mr. Speaker. If the members opposite want to do something and do it in a manner that will result in us being able to wrap up this sitting and in us being able to conduct the public's business in the way it should be done, I have an offer to make. It's the same offer we made this morning in House leaders' meeting. I think that the government side, if they choose to be wise on this one, will accept this offer.
Now, first off, my offer is based on the fact that House leaders must reconvene, sit down, and talk about this issue. My offer is all predicated on the fact that the House leaders go to work on this issue and come up with a resolution. So, we have to be able to establish the fact that the government House leader and indeed the government side would be willing to do this.
Once we've established the fact that that's an affirmative - that the government side, through the government House leader, wants to sit down and negotiate through this, then we will look at what it's going to take to solve the problem, because they truly have a problem as to how to wrap up this sitting.
My offer now, beyond the House leaders' meeting, is this: we know, and I think it has been laid out quite clearly, that there is a lot more left in the budget to debate than we can cram into one night, so to go down that road is simply the wrong way to go. So, House leaders could easily sit down, and I would suspect that in less than a 10-minute negotiated process we would come out with an arrangement that, first, would see us be able to conduct and conclude the public's business; second, not impose or cause hardship to officials and Hansard and everybody else, and; third, come to the realization that there's going to be the need to extend in terms of days, not hours.
It's not a very difficult process to get through. All it takes is the willingness from one side of the House. This side in its entirety, representing 57.1 percent of the Yukon electorate, is ready and willing to come to terms on how to conclude this sitting and do it in a manner that reflects our duty and do it in a manner that is in the best interests of the Yukon public.
Now, if I see any signal from the members opposite, I would assume then that you, through some mechanism, would allow House leaders to meet and talk about how we can do this. For the good of everyone concerned but, more importantly, for the Yukon public, I think the members opposite should take me up on my offer. If they do so, we on this side of the House will, in a very open and accountable manner and in good faith, make every effort to come to some resolution.
I think that anyone reading this debate and hearing my offer - if the side opposite does not reciprocate - will clearly know where the problem really lies. I am offering the side opposite a way out of this predicament where we can, in a cooperative and constructive way, do what it is we're supposed to do, and not go through this let's-get-even-with-the-side-opposite thing - those rascally opposition members - for inflicting so much damage.
Why don't we, Mr. Speaker, deal with that? Would the government House leader, through any signal, be willing to take me up on my offer? If the government House leader does not wish to do so, that's fine. We will continue doing our job, but quite frankly there's no way that this House will be sitting beyond six o'clock tonight. That's the long and the short of it. And there's no way we can complete the budget just by extending hours. It's impossible. That means, no matter what, the extension of this House and the time of sitting is going to be in days.
So, my offer makes sense. My offer makes sense, Mr. Speaker, because it addresses the fundamental problem and it comes up with a realistic solution. Because no matter what, this is not an extension of hours; it's an extension of days to get through this. I have pointed out that the opposition is not going to simply back down on debating the budget, and with what's left we are going to be here for days.
So why go through the agony? Why go through the contest of whose stamina will break first? If the Liberal side wants to push that, that's their business, but I'm putting on record here and now that there is no reason for the government side, the members opposite, to do such a thing when they know full well we're not going to be here for a few more hours. We're going to be here for a few days.
So, their motion in its entirety is off base. So let's fix it.
Mr. Speaker, if the members opposite are willing, the government House leader can send me a note at any time during my debate informing me that they would entertain a meeting of House leaders to see if we can't come to some resolution of this issue.
If the government House leader doesn't, then I can only say that I think the members opposite should immediately sit down with their leader, who obviously is spearheading this whole ridiculous debate, and chastise her and demand that she rectify this problem, because it's the Premier, the leader - the buck stops at the Premier's desk - who is directly responsible for what has happened here.
So that offer stands. I am quite confident that the official opposition and the third party will readily agree to an extension of some sort that makes sense and will allow us to conduct and complete the public's business. If the side opposite is not receptive to that idea, then let me say that, no matter what, we will be extending this sitting in days, not hours.
So in that light, if the government House leader wishes not to respond to me, I think we should look at amending their motion. An amendment to the motion is simply something that deserves some debate and scrutiny. An amendment to the motion should be that we all agree unanimously that this Legislative Assembly shall extend its sitting to a predetermined day and time. It is our proposal that we do this in normal working hours, normal sitting hours. There is no -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Now the Minister of Education, in a flippant manner, has accused me of not being serious. Has the minister lost his way? I just stood on my feet here for the last three hours being very serious.
I can't understand what the minister is even talking about. What I'm saying, Mr. Speaker, is that we can do this in a very sensible manner. There is no reason to go down this road, other than the desire of the side opposite to try to inflict some pain on the opposition, when all they're really going to do is inflict pain on the people of this territory.
All in all, looking at that predetermined date and time, and doing it in normal sitting hours, I think it makes sense. Our commitment on this side of the House is to conduct ourselves in a manner that is conducive to concluding the public's business. The side opposite should also commit then to conducting themselves in a manner that's conducive to concluding the public's business.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Education is pointing, I'm assuming, at the Member for Klondike. I can assure the Minister of Education that the Member for Klondike doesn't have a problem with coming to some terms - an arrangement - to wrap up this sitting. We don't want to unmercifully continue to attack the government side. That's not what we're about. The Yukon public will judge. We're only here to do our jobs. We have no desire to continue this bloodbath. What for?
The fact is that we have a desire to complete the debate on the budget. We have some questions in a number of the departments. We have some things to put on the record. This is not very complicated. This is, in fact, what cooperative working relationships are truly all about.
And here we have, after being treated as we have been today with this motion, the opposition again offering another olive branch. After receiving such unkind and unjust accusations about ourselves, we never bothered reciprocating that. We have merely laid out the facts and have now reached the juncture where we think the government side should take a serious look at what I'm offering.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I have here an amendment. And I want to first point out, Mr. Speaker, that this amendment is not a mischievous amendment, that this amendment is not intended to be confrontational; this amendment is by no means meant to be a negative slant toward the side opposite. It's an amendment that is geared and meant to try to bring some sense to this and help complete what we have to do as the legislators of this territory.
Allow me, Mr. Speaker, to read my amendment to the motion that the Member for Mount Lorne, the government House leader, has brought forward.
Mr. Fentie: I move
THAT the motion currently under debate, entitled "Motion to sit beyond normal hour of adjournment", be amended by deleting the words "be empowered to sit beyond 6:00 p.m." and substituting for them the words "extend the current sitting beyond the 35 days stipulated in the memorandum of agreement signed by the three party leaders and continue to sit until no later than 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 10, 2001."
Speaker: Order please. The official opposition House leader has proposed an amendment to the motion to extend hours moved by the government House leader. The amendment is not in order because the motion to extend hours only applies to this sitting. The content of the amendment proposed by the official opposition House leader can only be presented as a substantive motion. It must therefore be given notice and appear on the Order Paper. As I have said, the amendment is out of order and if the official opposition House leader wishes to continue with debate on the main motion I will now recognize him.
Mr. Fentie: Well, unfortunately the amendment is out of order; however, I truly believe that the members opposite certainly get the gist of what this side is proposing. And again, whether the amendment be in order or out of order, we in the official opposition, and indeed the third party, stand firm on the fact that we would conclude the business of this Assembly no later than 6:00 p.m. Thursday, May 10. And we will do so through normal sitting hours. I mean, there is no need to stress everybody out and get into a full-blown panic. Let's conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects the offices we hold, and this type of antagonistic approach simply is not conducive to that environment evolving and indeed developing.
So I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that I believe that what we are proposing from this side of the House is very valid. It has merit. All it needs is the members opposite to be receptive to others and their ideas. I think that if we do things in this manner, we may have broken the ice in this Assembly and taken a huge step toward working in a cooperative manner on behalf of Yukoners. I say that in all sincerity. I say that because I fundamentally believe, as do the members on this side of the House, that that is what restoring confidence is truly all about.
I believe also that such a cooperative approach to operating the proceedings of this Assembly is the first and most important step to achieving our goal of good governance and improving the territory now and long into the future. We here today, when we make our decisions and do what we do on the floor of this House, trigger what is happening in this territory today and long into the future. We must be mindful of that fact, because that's the overriding issue we all face.
It's not whether someone in the public might write a letter to the editor and say, "Well, Dennis Fentie wasted time in the House by filibustering." That's not what's at issue here. And it's not whether someone else will write a letter to the editor accusing the Liberal government of invoking closure. It's what we do that will impact this territory and its people.
What I'm saying, Mr. Speaker, is we have a way to make that work. There is a way to solve this problem, and it's a good, sound way, and it may very well, as I pointed out, break the ice and set us down a course, chart a course for a more cooperative, less antagonistic, more productive, constructive process in this Assembly. I think we should all pay heed to that fact. I think we should all truly practice that type of initiative. Here's a way to start. This is a way that we can achieve that.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, it is not that we on this side of the House want to just continue being like rabid dogs attacking the government side. That's not what we want to do. We want to represent our respective constituencies to the best of our abilities. We want to conduct ourselves here in this Assembly in a manner that the office we hold requires. We want to justify, in the public eye, why we're here. I point that out in relation to the motion brought forward by the side opposite. I'm not being negative, but trying to impress upon the side opposite that this type of extension moves us away from going down that path. It creates an antagonistic environment because of what we all know is ahead of us should we allow this motion and extension of hours to proceed tonight.
It's not pretty, and it's not going to help anybody. It won't help the members opposite, it won't do any good for the opposition, it is certainly going to cause stress on staff and officials, and it's not going to do the public any good. Let's conduct ourselves in a more professional manner. Let's conduct ourselves in a way that allows us to do our jobs, complete the business of this Assembly, wrap this sitting up, and carry on with the business of governing this territory.
I have been very open and accountable. At least I have endeavoured to be that way in my debate here this afternoon. I have tried to lay out a case about why bringing this motion forward is simply not the way to go. I have tried to show that no matter what the side opposite argues, we on this side can counter those arguments. That's nothing new. That's the way it always is between government and opposition. I have tried to impress upon the members opposite the folly of this approach, and I have brought forward a sensible suggestion, an offering of how to get through this situation.
So, Mr. Speaker, I'm a little amazed by the response to this particular offer. So far, it has not materialized in any positive way from the side opposite. That being the case, let me point out where this is heading.
There's no way that this motion will pass today, Mr. Speaker. That's the simple fact. It's impossible for us to conclude what's left in the budget debate by simply extending hours. As I pointed out, it's going to take days.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: Ms. Tucker, on a point of order.
Ms. Tucker: I'd like to set the record straight. The motion to extend hours continues until such time as debate is concluded. That's 24 hours a day until such time as everything is finished, not until the end of today. So there is time to debate the budget.
Deputy Speaker's ruling
Deputy Speaker: On the point of order, this point of order is just a dispute between members. Mr. Fentie, you may continue.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I can't allow myself not to rebut that statement. The whole point of the spending more than three and a half hours here this afternoon is that this motion to extend hours today is really about closure, and what it means is that we extend this sitting around the clock until the balance of $220-million plus has cleared this Legislature. If the members opposite think that that is somehow indicative of good governance, I'm shocked because nothing could be further from the facts.
So what I have said, Mr. Speaker, going back now to before the point of order, was that this motion is not going to pass today, and I'm being very open about that. There's no way we are going to lay supine at the feet of the members opposite. That's not our job.
Mr. Speaker, we are faced, consequently, with this situation. Tomorrow, what do we do? Do the members opposite bring back this motion, or do we sit down and look at how we can conclude the business of this Assembly in a sensible way?
Now if they want to bring forward the motion again to extend hours beyond 6:00 tomorrow, this doesn't stop. Why perpetuate an already bad situation that the Liberal government opposite finds itself in?
The offers that the opposition have made - once the members of the public have had a chance to look at those offers, they are going to really scratch their heads and wonder why this Liberal government refuses to take this up.
Let's give serious consideration to the fact that if the members opposite refuse to work in a cooperative manner and want to ram this down the opposition's throat, we are going to stand our ground. We are going to fight this heavy-handed approach to governing this territory because it's not doing any good for this territory and its people. In fact it's doing a disservice to this territory and its people.
I urge the government to look at the offer and respond. The response I got from the government House leader was that this motion doesn't mean that we're just simply extending hours today, it's extended 24 hours a day until the budget is completed. Now they make the claim that this isn't closure. Oh, no, this isn't closure. It is, Mr. Speaker, and it's also a silly way to try and get back at the opposition who has inflicted a great deal of damage on the government side through this sitting.
Now, we all know that revenge is a rocky road and if the Liberals - the side opposite, led by their Premier, the Member for Porter Creek South - is intent on seeking revenge on this side by making us sit here 24 hours a day, around the clock, until this budget is done, well I can tell you that we on this side of the House will sit here 24 hours a day until Thursday, May 10 or whatever it takes to complete the debate on this budget.
And to make matter worse, this antagonistic approach by the Liberal government is only going to further the debate. Why would they do something like that? You have to ask yourself why they would do that. What is the purpose? To get revenge. What a disgraceful display.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Now, the Member for Riverdale North - south, north, wherever; across the river somewhere - just stated that my comment is a stretch. Well, I challenge any one of those members across the floor to stand up and explain to this House what it is they're trying to do with this motion. Come on. Be open and accountable. What do you have to hide? What are you afraid of? The truth?
I retract that statement, Mr. Speaker.
What are you afraid of? The facts? What is going to happen?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: The minister says, "No way." But I can tell you that there's something afoot here. There's something afoot. I can only conclude, as can all Yukoners, given the debate here today and the offer that was made not only last week in the form of a motion and in House leaders' meetings in the form of an offer, but here this afternoon on the floor of this Legislature as to how to wrap up this sitting. Members opposite refused, and the Yukon public now, in its entirety, can only conclude that the Liberals are bent on revenge. They've thrown away any desire to govern this territory and any desire to take care of the people of this territory and are going to go and try to inflict as much discomfort on the opposition as they possibly can before we wind down this sitting.
Mr. Speaker, that in itself is a disgrace. That is a complete disgrace, but when coupled with the very terrible performance and the incompetence of the members opposite and what they've displayed in this sitting and, indeed, in the 12 months that they have been in government, it worsens and compounds the position they're in.
I would say to the members opposite that, when they go home tonight, they sit down and reflect on what a faux pas they have created here today with this ridiculous motion and what a complete disaster they have led us into.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Now, the Member for Riverdale South keeps trying to get the point across that it's going to be my fault. Well, I can tell you that it's not going to be my fault. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the Yukon public is going to take a very dim view of what the Liberal government has tried to do here today. It's going to take a very dim view of the fact that they refused to accept a sensible, constructive offer, that they time and time again have lamented about how governments and opposition should work cooperatively. Yet every time the opposition has brought forward a cooperative suggestion, the side opposite has slapped it down, stomped on it, thrown it aside, discarded it and treated it like something that doesn't belong on this planet. Mr. Speaker, these are serious, serious statements that I'm making.
The members opposite have never yet - not in one instance - shown that they are willing to work cooperatively. This motion today is a clear example of that fact.
Mr. Speaker, let's go back to my offer and what that means. We are going to wind up sitting this long anyway. The fact is that it will be jammed into hours versus stretched out sensibly over a number of days - the point being that it is going to take that long to complete this budget. Now, whether the members opposite want to do it consecutively, hour by hour, and sit here tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, around the clock, that's the members opposite's choice. I think it's stupid, but that's the choice they're making. I would say to them to wake up. What you are doing here is not going to help your cause. What you're doing here is not going to help your situation. What you're doing here is only going to further the problem and make the situation worse and, in fact, severely limit your ability to get beyond.
When I stated that we may have a way here to work cooperatively to break the ice on the floor of this Legislature, that's not just some off-hand comment. That's a fact, and obviously we haven't come to that on that side of the House. The members opposite have no desire to continue to approach governance in a manner that's conducive to a cooperative environment. They think they can go it alone. Well, Mr. Speaker, that is simply not the case.
They can't go it alone. Mr. Speaker, I again state to the members opposite that they should rethink tonight and I urge them - I plead with them, I lobby them, I request with all due respect - to go home tonight, sit down and reflect on what it is they're doing. There's no reason for us to be at this juncture. There's no reason for us to be debating this motion to extend hours. There's no reason other than this overwhelming desire by the members opposite to even the score.
It's not our fault, Mr. Speaker, that the opposition has exposed a great deal of deficiencies this sitting when it comes to the Liberal government across the floor. It's not our fault at all. That's our job. The fact that we have exposed that means we are doing our job. The fact that now the members opposite want to even that score somehow by forcing us to sit here around the clock until this budget is done, some six days from now, is a sad, sad state of affairs. The members opposite cannot stand on their feet here, not one of them, and justify the motion to extend hours, knowing full well the scope of debate that's left to conduct. They know that. They're ignoring that.
Now the Member for Faro is chirping away, "We don't waste time." Well, let's look at something here, Member for Faro, when it comes to wasting time.
During the Government Services debate - a department that should have been a slam dunk, provided the minister was up to speed on his department - the minister offered to answer questions from the opposition by way of legislative return 30 times during government debate. Thirty times, and the Member for Faro has the audacity - or he has never listened to the debate in this House; I don't know which - to claim that we're wasting time in this House. What a joke. I urge the Member for Faro to get a grip on reality. This is what's wasting time - 30 legislative returns in the budget debate of the Department of Government Services. Now, come on.
I have made a conscious effort today to not be too harsh on the side opposite, but when comments from across the floor, like the Member for Faro's recent one, are thrown at this side of the House, I have to set the record straight. The record shows that the members opposite are ill-prepared to debate their own budget.
The Minister of Government Services should not be trying to make light of this situation, because the minister is one of the biggest problems. The minister is not, by all indicators, capable of governing his department, of leading his department. That is the crux of the problem.
A number of ministers across the floor, beginning with the Premier, who simply doesn't have any plan, aren't capable of directing their departments, and it shows. I know that it shows out there in the public, when government programs are being implemented. It not only shows how dramatically we've increased spending on government, but it shows in the performances of the members opposite here in this Legislative Assembly.
I urge the Minister of Government Services, who should - if anyone else on that side of the House should do this - go home tonight and reflect on what it is he's doing, because quite frankly the minister did not do a good job when it came to sponsoring his department and debating his department.
So the Member for Faro is incorrect in making the claim that this side of the House is wasting time. This side of the House has done everything it humanly possibly could to ensure we do our jobs and hold the government accountable. All along, through this whole sitting, every day on virtually every front, the members opposite have done everything they possibly can to diminish and limit our ability to do so.
I have just been handed a document here that was supposedly the promises of Liberals to the Yukon public. Quite frankly, I don't need to go through this document to stand here and safely say that virtually every promise they've made has already been broken, not to mention promises that aren't even in this document that their candidates were running around with, making promises to all kinds of people - "If you elect me, blah blah blah blah blah blah."
So look where we're at - standing here on the floor of this Legislature debating a frivolous motion.
I think that I have laid out our case clearly. I think that it's evident that the members opposite have no desire to be open and accountable. I think, with all due respect to anybody who enters the political arena, that the members opposite probably shouldn't have done it because they have, quite frankly, brought a lot of harm to the territory and its people, and if we have to continue on for three more years of this disaster, as I've pointed out, we may have gone beyond the point of no return.
I urge the members opposite to reconsider. We have a way to do this and to do it in a manner that reflects the offices we hold.
The offer is there. The offer stands. The ball is in the Liberal government's court. This all lies in the laps of the members opposite. Let's do the right thing. Let's be sensible about this. If not, then I can tell the members opposite that you will see a very united, strong-willed opposition doing their duty and holding this Liberal government accountable to the very quick.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm somewhat taken aback by the heavy-handed demonstration being put forward here by this novice Yukon Liberal government.
In the preamble to the motion - or in the short overview of the motion - that the government House leader gave earlier in the Legislature, what the government House leader referred to was the previous motion on the floor for debate in this Legislature and the NDP's position with respect to that motion. Mr. Speaker, I'm sure the government House leader wasn't fully conversant with all the issues surrounding the motion on the floor for debate at that time. The seriousness that concerned the then Member for Faro was the fact that the government had not approved any interim supply bill. And that was it.
No interim supply bill had been approved. If the motion to extend hours had not gone through - which it didn't - what it meant was that the government was running without the spending authority, contrary to the Financial Administration Act. That's exactly what happened.
So, it was very, very serious at that juncture. That is not the case currently. The Liberals have learned the lesson from the previous motion in this area and had brought forward an interim supply bill that gave them considerable spending authority during budget debate. Whether the government was running without the spending authority or not was not an issue, as it currently is not an issue. The same surrounding conditions do not apply to the motion that we have before us for debate here today.
The government House leader went on at great length that I was entering into frivolous debate. Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. The issue before us is one of examining in detail the budget currently before this Legislature and holding the government of the day accountable - getting them to justify their expenditures, pointing out where they're spending money and, conversely, where they're saving money.
The government House leader went on at great lengths to say that I was debating, asking for, the price of toasters and doorknobs. Mr. Speaker, what I was asking the minister was what the reduction in hardware costs at the Mayo school was, because there's a difference between residential-grade hardware and commercial-grade hardware, and there is a difference between the various types of commercial grades of hardware. In a school or a commercial building such as the government constructs, you want the best grade of hardware possible, and the minister didn't seem to grasp or understand that issue.
So, for comparison purposes, I pointed out commercial-grade toasters versus the one you buy at the local store for residential purposes for $20 versus a commercial-grade toaster that you pay $1,000 for.
That would suggest to me that the minister really doesn't understand some of these issues that the minister is responsible for, Mr. Speaker, and I'm very, very concerned because, if you look at the Mayo school alone, we're talking millions of dollars. Millions of dollars. I was aware there were issues surrounding the initial subfloor and the trusses. It took so long for the minister to come forward with that information too and recognize that yes, indeed, there is a problem and yes, indeed, the government should be addressing it and will be addressing it, but it's only $4,000. Well, I'd suggest to the minister, $4,000 will go a very short way to fix up the problems. If the subfloor has to now be replaced or even doubled, it's going to question the structural integrity and some engineer somewhere along the line is going to have to sign off on that structure.
Mr. Speaker, I suggest that they're going to have to really look at that flooring that has separated because of water damage because of this government's lack of attention to the problem that they've known about for over a month and haven't addressed. They hid it away. The same holds true for a lot of other areas.
Let's look at where we're at today. We've cleared about 50 percent of the total budget. We still have the greatest number of departments to go through. Some of them are of greater importance and will require more examination than others. What the opposition suggested at the House leaders' meeting this morning was that the time spent debating the non-housekeeping bills could be added to the number of days we have agreed to sit. It is obvious by this debate here in this Legislature today that it was soundly rejected.
Mr. Speaker, we are charged in opposition with keeping the government accountable. And the government - this novice Liberal government - said that they had shown us or told us which bills would be presented. They did. I will acknowledge that. We were told at a meeting that these bills would be tabled, and the names of the bills were read off. But until one sees the bill tabled or is given a copy of the bill, one doesn't have an understanding of just how extensive it is or whether it is indeed of a housekeeping nature.
And those bills that were of a housekeeping nature, such as the amendment to the fuel oil tax, which was quite specific, or the income tax or other related bills, which were clearly of a housekeeping nature, were passed. They were passed extremely quickly by the opposition, because we accepted them for what they were. They were bills of a housekeeping nature.
The same does not hold true for the balance of the bills and just the fact that one of the bills - the Minister of Justice stood down that bill, because a lot of representation made to that minister suggests that, as I am sure, there is a lot of concern out there about access to information and privacy surrounding medical records and Yukon health care.
What the government is really seeking to do - or what the Minister of Justice is seeking to do - is open up a whole other area of information on private citizens in the Yukon and make it available to other government departments. This information would be used for a purpose it was not assembled for and it would be intrusive into the privacy of Yukoners. I am sure that's the major reason why that bill has been left to sit on the Order Paper, because they have to take it back and rethink it. Big Brother is watching and Big Brother is watching quite extensively.
One of the initiatives undertaken by this novice Liberal government is to go out and pick a tree. Well, I guess if we assembled the collective wisdom of the ministers in this Liberal government and translated it into a tree, it probably could currently represent the Yukon.
There would probably be some sympathy out there, Mr. Speaker, with respect to this area. We must recognize that the Yukon has come upon very harsh economic times. And a government was elected with a very clear majority, with a $60-million odd surplus, which was subsequently increased by another $40-million odd, to provide them with over $100 million with which to do something for Yukoners and the Yukon economy.
The areas that this Liberal government has chosen to concentrate on, Mr. Speaker, are to cut ribbons and eat cake, fly all around the world, tell all of the oil and gas sector, the mining sector and the forestry sector that, "We're here to help you, we welcome you back, we're going to throw a big party for you"; but the reality is something else. We are looking at probably one of the most dismal exploration seasons in the mining field ever.
Mr. Speaker, that is to a large part due to the responsibility of the Minister of Renewable Resources and his Yukon protected areas strategy, which is going to create in the Yukon nothing but a whole series of parks, from border to border. This minister has bought into the Yellowstone-to-Yukon park scenario, and he's selling it to all of his Cabinet colleagues and to his caucus. He has done a marvellous job of selling it.
But what it has done is that it has driven away the mining community. They're not going to spend any time exploring here, Mr. Speaker, because they know that, if they want to stake claims and if they want to go through the permitting process if there is an ore body sufficient to be put into production, they are going to be jumping through the hoops for a longer time than any other jurisdiction in Canada before they receive permission to put in place an operating mine - shame.
So we have the colonial Liberal master government in Ottawa dictating the control of many of these areas. And the Minister of Renewable Resources here in the Yukon has bought into this scenario and is greatly impeding the flow of this information and greatly impeding the opportunities that previously existed for the mining community.
I predict that this year will see the Yukon with one of the lowest rates of mineral production that we have experienced in a long, long time. And I will further predict that we will see a very significant growth in the mining industry in both the Northwest Territories and in Alaska. What is wrong with that picture? Is it because at the Yukon border, between Yukon and Alaska and between Yukon and Northwest Territories, the mineral deposits stop? To the contrary, Mr. Speaker - mineral deposits pay no heed to borders, nor does venture capital or investment capital.
It pays no heed to political borders. It looks at opportunity. It looks at return on investment, Mr. Speaker. It looks at where it's an investment in a secure manner so that they don't risk any exposure to their investment. Furthermore, they're looking for a good rate of return, a reasonable rate of return. That's all they're looking for.
The same holds true for the oil and gas industry. It's interesting that today, Mr. Speaker, we have learned that the price at the pumps has just been jacked up significantly here in the Yukon, and if you listen to the representatives of the oil industry explaining it away, it's really all the fault of government. In this case, that's partly the truth but not totally.
What we have and what is not being recognized are the massive profits being generated by the oil companies themselves. It doesn't matter if it's on the upstream or the downstream side, there are significant profits being made, and they're growing at an alarming rate for all of the major oil companies that occupy any of the market in Canada, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, that brings us to another area. The oil and gas industry has very, very deep pockets, and they look way, way down the road, such as the one bill that was debated here previously in this Legislature on the extension of the Public Utilities Act to include propane.
It would appear to be a small, minimum kind of change - on the surface that is, until one got in and examined it. The oil and gas companies examine markets and they examine growth opportunities. And they, having the deep pockets that they do, would think nothing of coming into a community like Whitehorse and obtaining the franchise to distribute propane air on a propane air system here in this community. They could lose considerable sums of money until such time as there is a switch over to natural gas. Then there is probably a significant opportunity for the owner of that utility to maximize the rate of return on their investment. It's a regulated utility. Profit is a cost to the consumer. That utility's profit is a cost to the consumer.
We just look at Foothills. Now they've been around the Yukon for a long, long time. They looked down the road -
Speaker: May I remind the member that he has one minute to conclude. Thank you.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much. They look down the road a long, long time. Foothills has invested over $400 million in the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline - that's in constant dollars with no interest charges on it. So they are looking way down the road to reap a rate of return.
This motion is a very, very poor motion that we have for debate. It will do nothing but impede the flow of debate in this Legislature. I cannot support it. I will not support it and hopefully the Liberal government will see the light of day, change things over so that we can continue debate in the time specified and add to the current sitting the number of days that we have spent on debate of these non-housekeeping bills. That's all we are asking, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you very much.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, I must say that I'm rather disappointed to have to speak to this frivolous motion today. Mr. Speaker, I had hoped we'd be clearing the Department of Renewable Resources right about now. Now, I notice the minister pipes up over there, but I would also like to put on the record how we shut down debate a quarter of an hour early last night. There was 15 minutes of debate time clearly left in the day, which would also allow time to move progress and everything else, and the minister and his colleagues lobbied to shut it down, and they outvoted us on this side to end the day early.
Why would they do that, Mr. Speaker? Well, let me reflect on the reasons why: (1) the minister wanted to stand up on the camera, Mr. Speaker, and get his lines across on the camera; (2) the minister didn't want me in that position; (3) the minister didn't want us to have the information that is typically read into the record at the beginning of departments. The minister did not want us to have that information ahead of time because this government is not open and accountable like it says it is.
Mr. Speaker, if you talk to Yukoners on the street and ask them about that - well, what's wrong with the government providing the opposition information if they have nothing to hide ahead of time? - I'm sure they would agree. Why doesn't the Minister of Renewable Resources give us his speaking notes, give us that information ahead of time? Instead, what he did yesterday, Mr. Speaker, is symbolic of what they all do. This is a run-and-hide government. They're not open and accountable like they say they are.
Now, Mr. Speaker, to top it all off - to top off the fact that the Liberals cut a quarter of an hour off of the time yesterday, they come in today with this motion that is going to consume four hours of legislative time. Now, that should come as no surprise, especially given the antagonistic approach in which it was delivered, following House leaders' meetings that have not been cooperative - and that's putting it politely. The situation here has approached the stage of being extremely adversarial.
The government wants to get out of here. It doesn't want to be held accountable for this budget. We in the opposition are fully prepared to do our jobs and stay here for a reasonable period of time. We asked for an extra five days of normal sitting hours. We are prepared to do our jobs. The government wants out. Well, what does that say?
If this government hadn't hijacked the agenda of this spring budget sitting with substantive legislation, perhaps we would be finished now. But as you know, several substantive legislative bills were brought into this Chamber that required substantial debate. It has been said before and will be said again that the government itself admitted that those bills were substantial, because it retracted some of those bills and came back with some amendments to them, after listening to what the opposition members had to say in critique of those pieces of legislation.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that verifies what we have said about the legislation being substantial. The point there is that the memorandum of understanding sets out the number of days in the spring sitting to be 35 days. It also sets out that the spring sitting of the Legislature is to deal with the main estimates budget for the coming year and any "housekeeping bills." Housekeeping bills are bills that are easily passed with a minimum amount of debate. Now, there are, I believe, six bills here that we have identified as being substantive bills. They do not meet the minimum criteria required to be classified as housekeeping bills.
Mr. Speaker, one would assume that a reasonable approach to break through this loggerhead would have been for the government side to approach the House leaders on the opposition side, perhaps in a House leaders' meeting or whatever, and come to an agreement before this stage as to which of those many bills would comply with the spirit of the MOU and then bring only those bills to this Legislature. That would be a very reasonable approach.
Did that happen? No. Why didn't it happen? Well, I'll tell you why it didn't happen. This government does not believe in cooperative discussion. It does not believe in a democratic approach. It likes to flex its muscles and use its majority to pass things through.
I'll go back to yesterday afternoon, Mr. Speaker. I stood up and voted against their motion to end the day prematurely. I was outvoted, but every one of those Liberal members voted for the motion to end the day a quarter of an hour early. We were outnumbered, and that is a typical example of how this government uses its majority to get its way.
This government does it not only to us; it does it to the public as well. And there are already quite a few public consultation processes that have turned out to be what this government decided in the backroom - not what it heard from Yukoners but what was already predetermined.
So the government can circumvent process in the public and can circumvent process in the Legislature. It does what it wants to do to get its way.
Now, Mr. Speaker, this situation we're in now is not a good one, and I ask what we are going to do about it. There have already been some suggestions this afternoon that perhaps the sides get together and come up with a reasonable solution. What are we going to see tomorrow - a repeat of today? Unless there's an agreement, I predict that's exactly what we're going to see. So then what? Well, then we come Monday and, yes, that's Monday of the same week identified in our proposal that we can work together and conclude by the end of, dealing with the budget during regular hours.
Now the alternative is, if the Liberals return with their motion tomorrow, that we give in, go along with it and go around the clock and around the clock and around the clock for as many days as is required to pass the budget. But let me talk to that, because I went through one of those as did probably four or five of the other members here. I believe it was about December 15, 1996 - it might have been 1997 - that we went around the clock until 6:30 a.m. the next day. I remember this fairly clearly because I was in the Chair for most of the evening, most of the night and it wasn't without its events, some of them extremely controversial. Talk about wasting time, that is the same evening the Member for Riverdale South was asking the former Member for Whitehorse West, the former Health and Social Services minister about the colour of jello at the Whitehorse Hospital. After a prolonged debate about that, it finally sank to an all time low when they talked about flush toilets for an hour at about 2:30 in the morning.
Well, you know we heard some examples today about the all time, you know, whatever, from the government House leader. Well, she wasn't here four and a half years ago, but I hope she is listening to this because it really was bad. Now, I was in no position to stop debate and demand a higher level of production and calibre of discussion at the time because as you know, Mr. Speaker, Chairs shouldn't impede discussion as long as it abides by the rules. And the rules of this House certainly do not regulate content as far as productivity goes, and that is quite obvious.
Now, Mr. Speaker, what was quite obvious that evening was the calibre of debate when MLAs are pressured into sitting for extended hours - 20 hours, 25 hours, whatever. It could be expected that debate will suffer as a result. Certainly, if we were to be more productive in this Legislature, we would try to be more realistic and reasonable about the parameters that we try to set for ourselves regarding time. Forcing ourselves into round-the-clock sessions is not reasonable, especially when it's going to involve continuous round-the-clock sessions until the budget is passed.
Now, for myself, Mr. Speaker, I am quite concerned. I have two major departments yet to be discussed - Renewable Resources and the Department of Tourism. I take my job seriously. I want to ask questions about those departments. I want certain information from the ministers, and I don't want to be doing it at 2:30 in the morning or 6:00 in the morning after no sleep. I want to be somewhat fresh because that's what's expected of me by my constituents and others in the territory who also consider these departments to be important.
Mr. Speaker, one could suggest that it's an indication of a closed and unaccountable government to force the opposition to operate under such undesirable and stressful conditions as having to operate around the clock when one is extremely tired. For this Liberal government to come up with a plan like this certainly does not reflect well on their performance. So, whatever comes of this log-jam, I certainly hope there is some agreement, by somebody, to get back on the right road to reorganizing us back into a realistic time frame, one in which we can perform our jobs well, pass this budget and end this sitting.
The government House leader made some rather remarkable comments as she delivered the motion earlier today. She said things like, "We are keeping our word." Well, Mr. Speaker, this government is not keeping its word. It broke the memorandum of understanding itself. During this sitting, there are members on that side, who said that the MOU is dead. That is the same MOU that the House leader is holding up today and saying, "We're keeping our word by going by this agreement."
Well, Mr. Speaker, there's a huge contradiction there. There was some discussion earlier today about the SCREP meetings - the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. I remember back to a fall meeting where the Member for Riverdale South said, during that meeting, that the memorandum of understanding is as good as dead. For this government to now be holding that up as the reason to invoke closure simply does not add up. It does not add up.
Now, the government House leader also said, and I quote, "They are responsible for managing their time." She was talking to us. Well, we have been responsible in managing our time. The Department of Community and Transportation Services was first up. There were six days spent on that department. That's reasonable, given the high amount of capital expenditures in that department, as well as O&M. It's something that the Liberal government held up as an example of new initiatives. Certainly they cut lots of existing initiatives, like the rural road upgrade program, and so on. But it's something the Liberal government ballyhooed itself.
We on this side certainly felt justified in examining that department for six days. Furthermore, one of those days - some members were missing because we were in Juneau for the legislative exchange. That was a Thursday. On that day, the Member for Watson Lake filled in for me. Now, that must be taken into account, as well.
What about all the time spent on the budget speech, Mr. Speaker, and replies to the budget speech? There were a number of days in this sitting spent dealing with other matters than the budget, and that includes some of these substantive pieces of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I want to comment now on one of the pieces of legislation - the changes to the Public Utilities Act. We saw a press release from the Liberal caucus - I believe it was yesterday - again slapping the opposition ...
Speaker: Order please. The member has one minute to conclude.
Mr. McRobb: ... for being anti-business and again reiterating its message that the changes were minor, only to allow for propane distribution to be considered by the board.
Mr. Speaker, anyone who listened to that debate, who retained any knowledge of that debate and who would look at what the Liberals presented as the message of that debate, would know that this government certainly isn't reticent about spoon-feeding the Yukon public with what it wants them to know. That was a substantive bill, and it will have long-term ramifications for this territory. This government ought to be ashamed for even thinking about bringing a bill like that into this Legislature, disguised as housekeeping.
Mr. Speaker, my time is about due to expire, but I have managed to put a few reasons on -
Speaker: Order please. The member's time has expired. It has been 20 minutes, 13 seconds.
Ms. Netro: I rise today not supporting this motion that is before this House. I come from a small community of 300 people, and many of you have heard my story before. It has been almost a year since I have been here. I have been in this House for three legislative sittings, and during that time I have learned much. I have gone back to my community, and I informed the people in my riding about what I have learned here, what I have seen and the events that take place right before my eyes. Some of it I agree with, some of it I disagree with. Some of the events that take place I have no control over.
When I became elected in my riding of Vuntut Gwitchin, from that day forward, everything that I do is for the good of my people, and I take my job very, very seriously. I represent every person in my community, from the babies right up to the elders. My time in this House is very valuable, because I am the only voice that is in this House for the riding of Vuntut Gwitchin.
Every word that I speak in this House on behalf of people of Vuntut Gwitchin is very important. The people of Old Crow watch the legislative sittings every night on TV, they watch what goes on in this House, they listen to every word that is spoken and they take that very seriously. Sometimes the language in here is foreign and it needs to be translated for the elders in my riding and yet we have to take that time to help them understand so that we can continue to use their guidance and support.
My time here is guided by the elders of my community. Every time I leave that community I come here with their vision of how they would like to see my community, how they would like things to be for our people and especially for the young people who are growing up in this day and age when we have to try to make the best of both worlds. And sometimes that is not easy.
I take my seat in this House as an honour from the people from my community.
I am here because I have been taught, ever since I was a young child growing up in my community, reared by many strong women - by my grandmothers and aunties. They took the time to come and spend that time with me, to talk to me about what is right for us as a people and how education is so very, very important in our lives.
When I graduated from F.H. Collins in 1975, I accepted my diploma with great honour, knowing that the support that I got was from my grandmothers. I listened to many hours of advice and stories about what was so important for the people of Vuntut Gwitchin and why it was so important for me to be able to finish school here, in a place that was a foreign place for a 16 year old who had never left her community before, and to be able to go on and spend time in a college yet further away. Those were challenges of those times, and they are still challenges of today.
That is part of my learning that has helped me to get where I am today. I am very proud of that.
I keep in daily contact with my community. That is very important to me. It's part of the communication that I need, because I am from the most isolated community in the Yukon. I need to keep that connection, not only with my family, my relatives and friends, but also with the business sector of Old Crow. They have their vision as to where they would like to be, not only for today, but we are talking about 20 years from now.
The decisions we make in this House today will affect that vision for my people. As decision makers in this House, we each have a great responsibility. I don't take that responsibility very lightly.
I hear noble words spoken in this place about conduct and how we should be. Yet, we can spend time standing here and we have much business to address. There are many departments to take care of.
My colleague put forward a plan to be able to work in a good way. I relayed the message to the people in my community that I would be home on the weekend of May 10, and today, again, I'll have to call and say, "Well, I'm not sure about that now. I might be here for 24 hours a day for the next few days until the business gets done in this House." And I will do that. I will do that. I'm here to conduct business on behalf of Vuntut Gwitchin and I will do that, if that's what it takes.
I have two important departments - the Department of Education and the Women's Directorate - where we address the needs of children, and where we address the needs of young men and women who are graduating in a few weeks, looking forward to their future. They have met their goals. I'm very proud to say that I have seven graduates from Vuntut Gwitchin this year, and they'll be moving on because they have a vision. They are our future leaders, and I'll be there to support them every way I can.
That's part of the reason I'm here - so that I can try my best, because it was taught to me by people before me to try to be a good role model for students and young people in my community. We need people who are going to provide solid relationships and leadership, and we're very fortunate today to have that in our First Nation governments. It is by taking care of business like going through the Education department and other departments that we will get somewhere in this territory.
We're looking forward to the jobs in Old Crow for the summer for our students. We're looking forward to spending time with our families out on the land and teaching them our traditional ways and trying to preserve our language. In the summer months, when the fish are running, there are usually fish camps along the Porcupine River.
And with great regret, that natural resource is in a very critical time and we're able to work with that. We can be flexible so we can move forward. We can be flexible within our communities so that generations to come can experience what we experience today.
I was very impressed on Sunday evening when I heard His Royal Highness make mention of how important taking care of our environment today is for the future of our children and that we should learn from the ancient wisdom of people who walked on this land before us. He was relating to the First Nation people of this territory. That's the message that we have been trying for too long to get across to people, not only in this great country of ours but through international countries. And I say that because the livelihood of my people is at stake.
There's not a day that goes by that it's not on my mind. There are issues that are happening throughout the United States around the Porcupine caribou calving area - decisions that are going to be made by people who know very little about who we are. I can only pray that they will make the right decision for the people, not so that we can ruin a land where the respected animals, birds and people live.
The area I am talking about is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That area is a sacred place for my people, not only because it is one of the best wilderness areas in this world, but because it's a birthing place for the caribou, birds and other wildlife that live there or go up there at this time of year.
In the First Nation beliefs, when an animal is in its time of birth, it is a sacred time for the animals, and we must respect that.
My grandmother has never been to that area.
Speaker: Order please. The member has one minute to conclude.
Ms. Netro: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The area that I talk about is a sacred place for us. Our communities are a sacred place for us. We need to continue to support programs in those communities to provide a healthier environment and a healthier way of life so that we can continue to live in harmony in our own traditional territories.
There's a message that I want to leave today. It is -
Speaker: Order please. The member's time has expired.
Mr. Keenan: First of all, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague and little sister from Old Crow, from Vuntut Gwitchin, I think, for stabilizing every person in this room a little bit here. I appreciate that deeply. Thank you. I needed that, actually. I needed to be reminded. I think we all have to be reminded of what we truly are here for, the people we represent and why we're here.
Certainly there's not one of us here because we want to escape the house or get out of the yard or didn't want to pet the dog or take the dog for a walk today. Every one of us is here to represent people. Every one of us has those desires to make life better. Surely that's what I'm here for - to make life better and to learn as we go along. I'd like to think that we all can learn as we go along, that we have obligations.
The Liberal government had a heading in their election platform to make government better, and I have to say that we all run on highs from election victories and, after a while, you mellow out and, on the opposite side, you run low because you lost and you're not a government but you're here to keep accountable. Well, that should be over and we should all be beyond that and focusing on exactly what we are here for.
If the Liberal government feels that they can just simply put out a statement that says "Make life better" and then carry on the way they have been carrying on, well, Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely unfair to the people at large - absolutely unfair.
I truly do want to work with government. I want to feel a part - now, I know the Member for Riverdale South is shaking her head and looking at the clock anxiously, but I guess I have the privilege of playing cleanup here and I'll have the privilege of starting tomorrow and likely having to do a three-hour shot here tomorrow. But for tonight I will play cleanup and we'll play this game, and it will give me a chance maybe to preach the good word, I think, that has to be preached at this point in time to the opposite side.
So, Mr. Speaker, what I'll do today is just start, and then tomorrow I'll start over again.
Mr. Speaker, I have tried to make things better here. I've asked consistent questions on the floor of this House through Question Period and through Committee of the Whole. I've become very frustrated with the calibre of answers, because certainly there weren't answers there, and I could not feel myself just to - well, you know me, Mr. Speaker, you've known me for many years. You know how I feel, you know how I operate, and you know the goodness in my heart as I know the goodness in your heart.
But how do we get beyond that and expose that for all to see and to take the goodness that the Speaker has, the goodness that the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes has, and incorporate it into government? How do we do that? The tools that we have are Question Period and the Committee of the Whole to bring forth these issues. Then I'm told that, well, I'm not accurate, because there isn't an issue there, and I'm only bringing forth this issue to make myself look good.
Well, this TV camera has only been on here for the last year or so, so that obviously wasn't my motivation for running for politics. My motivation for running for politics was to make things better, and we will.
I have a suggestion for the Liberal government. When the Liberal caucus goes away this summer, and they go into retreat, wherever they go into that retreat, whether it's Kookatsoon campground or whether it's Robert Service campground - go out to the land somewhere. I suggest that they go and get connected, feel and think what it is that this side can offer to this House, feel and think that it is the responsibility of government to reach out with an olive branch. Only in this case, I think they should bring the whole doggone tree - the whole olive tree - because that is the severity with which they have been treating the official opposition and indeed the leader of the third party.
We have brought forth concrete ideas, and we would like for them to be used.
We live in a democratic society, but there are two types of democracy, I guess -
Speaker: Order please.
The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled May 2, 2001:
Oil and Gas (Yukon) 2001: economic development (Duncan)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled May 2, 2001:
Northern offshore boundaries (Yukon): Yukon Government representations to federal government (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1273-1274
Computer equipment expenditures for Executive Council Office: explanation of capital expenses (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1968-1969