Monday, May 7, 2001 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of National Nursing Week
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I rise today on behalf of the government to recognize the men and women in this territory who spend their work days and nights caring for other Yukoners. I refer, Mr. Speaker, to the Yukon nurses. This week is National Nursing Week, a week dedicated to celebrating nurses and their profession. It gives me an opportunity to publicly, in this House, talk about the significant contributions that nurses make in the territory to health care and the well-being of Yukoners.
The theme of this year is "Nurses: Champions for Health". And who makes a better champion for the patients than those who spend the most time with them. Nurses in the territory are also champions for each other and for the system itself.
The first person to meet the patient in the doctor's office or the hospital is often the nurse. I know that the work they do is not easy and that often they do not feel that they get credit or the respect that is due to them. We need to change this and change attitudes toward nursing and nurses. These people are health care professionals who are given the responsibility for ensuring quality, safe health care for all patients. They are the ones who also hold it all together and make sure that the caregiving system does not fall apart.
In the Yukon, nursing representatives have been working closely with the department to develop recruitment strategies. More importantly, they have also been providing input on retention strategies. We need to value the nurses we do have to make sure that they know they are valued. We need them in place to help us build and maintain our quality health care system in the future.
In recognition of Information Technology Week
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to remind the House that this is Canada's first annual Information Technology Week and to pay tribute to the many Yukoners who have been instrumental in the development of IT in the territory.
Information technology has developed at a breakneck speed in the Yukon. It is hard to believe that it was only seven years ago that we were faced with the challenges of connecting the Yukon to the Internet.
Now we are one of the most connected regions in Canada.
This week provides an opportunity to showcase community, industry, education and government achievements in the field of information technology.
It gives Yukoners the chance to forge and celebrate partnerships and to highlight the benefits of developing critical skills that people need to succeed in the modern economy.
Information technology has had a growing and positive impact on the quality of life for Yukoners. It has enhanced our connection to the rest of Canada and the world. Commissioner Jack Cable has recognized the importance of information technology by declaring this week as Information Technology Week in the Yukon.
I invite everyone to take part in the events planned over the next several days to mark this occasion. My thanks to all those who have worked so hard over the last several years to bring information technology innovations to the Yukon. I look forward to working with the community and industry groups as we move ahead in the field of IT.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
In recognition of National Nursing Week
Mr. Keenan: It's my privilege today to rise to pay tribute to Nursing Week. This is a time to acknowledge the people who are on the front lines of caring on the front lines of our medical system.
Here in the Yukon, and especially in the communities, we recognize the tremendous contribution that nurses and nurse practitioners make to the health and well-being of the territory and its people.
Now, we might be a small jurisdiction of just a few people but we are affected by all the same issues as the rest of Canada. We know that all across North America there is a shortage of nurses, and the shortage here in the Yukon is certainly not unique. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it comes down to respect.
We need to demonstrate respect to nurses and nurse practitioners by investing in safe work places, investing in quality health care, investing in training and ongoing learning opportunities. We need to do more to encourage young people in the Yukon to become our nurses and nurse practitioners. When we invest in our health care workers and in our young people, we are investing in the health and future of our communities.
Nurses all over the country are fighting for the rights of the patients, the public, for the protection and enhancement of our public, not-for-profit medicare system. It is the nurses of this country who have mobilized to fight against privatization, from Bill No. 11 in Alberta to the Harris cuts in Ontario. The nurses are there because they see every day that we need to fight against cutbacks; they see why we need to fight against the introduction of two-tier medical care in our country.
Nurses are speaking out for adequate care, which means being able to spend more time with patients than just taking vital signs and administering medications. I know that it is our nurses who have led the fight to preserve medicare. It's all about the five principles of our system: universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensive coverage and public non-profit administration.
So, on behalf of the official opposition, I would like to ask everyone to join me in paying tribute to the tremendous work of nurses and nurse practitioners here in the Yukon and all across Canada.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party, it's my privilege to pay tribute to National Nursing Week, May 7 to May 13.
This year's theme, "Champions for Health", is very fitting. Mr. Speaker, what we're experiencing here in the Yukon is not unique. We have a shortage of health care professionals of all categories, but here we feel the effects almost immediately because of our proximity to the major health care centre in Whitehorse and other centres, Mr. Speaker. Working conditions are another factor. It is only fitting, Mr. Speaker, that the Liberals as a government put in place a specific program to attract, recruit and retrain all categories of health care professionals for specifically nurses and nurse practitioners. The largest component of the Government of the Yukon's budget is in Health and Social Services, and yet we are missing the mark. We are missing the target, and we're losing a lot of health care professionals, specifically these nurses. They are needed, they are on the first line, and it is only fitting that we pay tribute to these individuals at this time.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If there are no further tributes, we'll proceed to introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It is my pleasure today to introduce a very special guest who was just handed over from the Government of the Yukon to the City of Whitehorse. My executive assistant, Dan Cable, brought Mr. Patterson and gave him to Jeanette Bringsli from the City of Whitehorse.
Mr. Patterson belongs to eight-year-old Andrew Kemble from Chatham, Ontario, and he is here as part of a school project. Jeanette was instrumental in his coming here. He has been a very busy little bear. I believe he met Prince Charles. He went to the Association of Yukon Communities meeting on the weekend, was kidnapped by the City of Dawson. Mayor Bourassa had to pay, I believe, $100 to get the bear back. So he came into the Government of the Yukon's care. I brought him back under RCMP escort, and he had an exciting weekend and he has many more interesting adventures.
Please join me in welcoming Mr. Patterson.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would also like to introduce some special guests from the City of Dawson, who had better stay well away from that bear: Glen Everitt, the mayor and, once again, the president of the Association of Yukon Communities, and Councillor Wayne Potoroka and Treasurer Dale Courtice from the City of Dawson.
Speaker: If there are no further introductions of visitors, I'll proceed.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Jim: I have for tabling two legislative returns from the Department of Government Services. One is in response to questions in the House by the MLA for Ross River-Southern Lakes relating to fuel purchases for fleet vehicles and transfer payments for French language services. The other is in response to questions in the House from the MLA for Klondike relating to French language services and the transfer of buildings.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Petition No. 4 - received
Mr. Clerk: Mr. Speaker and hon. Members of the Legislative Assembly, I have had the honour to review a petition, being Petition No. 4 of the Second Session of the Thirtieth Legislative Assembly, as presented by the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes on May 3, 2001. The first page of the petition contains the following prayer:
"Therefore, the undersigned ask the Legislative Assembly to urge the Commissioner in Executive Council to immediately commission a public inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act into the policies, procedures and practices of Family and Children's Services."
The prayer on the remaining pages of the petition is worded as follows:
"Therefore, the undersigned ask the Legislative Assembly to immediately commission a public inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act into the policies, procedures and practices of Family and Children's Services."
As the Legislative Assembly is not capable of commissioning a public inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act, the portion of the petition that contains the prayer asking the Assembly to commission a public inquiry does not conform with the requirements respecting petitions.
However, the first page does contain a proper prayer asking the Legislative Assembly to do something which it is capable of doing. The wording of the petition text in both versions is, in all other regards, identical.
Whenever the Assembly has given consideration in the past to the rules governing petitions, the clear indication received is that, in cases where there is doubt, the Assembly would prefer the benefit of that doubt be provided to the petitioners.
Therefore, it is found that this petition meets the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Speaker: Petition No. 4 is accordingly deemed to be read and received.
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Notices of motion.
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes
(1) that mental health is very important to 91 percent of Canadians, according to a survey released on May 7, 2001; and
(2) that the majority of employees from the Yukon Government's Mental Health Branch, including three psychologists, two mental health nurses and the territory's only psychiatrist are leaving the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Minister of Health and Social Services to ensure that all vacant positions are fully staffed by the end of July 2001.
Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes
(1) that the last public review of capital projects for electrical infrastructure was held in 1993 under the previous Yukon Party Government; and
(2) that proceeding with the $22 million Mayo-Dawson Transmission Line Project at this time will effectively mortgage Yukon's energy future for the next 40 years and will endanger the continuation of the Rate Stabilization Fund that is due to expire on March 31, 2002, and which, if cancelled, could potentially cause a 40- to 50-percent increase in consumers' electrical bills; and
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the $22 million Mayo-Dawson Transmission Line Project should be submitted to the Yukon Utilities Board for a public review to ensure that the project is economical and in the best interests of Yukon's electrical consumers.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Mental health unit staffing
Mr. Keenan: The Yukon's mental health unit is losing all its clinical staff - the psychiatrist, the three clinical psychologists and the two mental health care nurses. That will leave only the supervisor and the receptionist in the office.
Can the minister tell us if there is a particular reason for this mass exodus from the mental health unit?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: It is a problem that many jurisdictions in Canada are experiencing. It is one of those areas that has a high burnout, and it is also an area that people get into and they really want to sort of look at other alternatives after they have spent a long time in there. I think it's more coincidental that we have a larger number leaving at this point, Mr. Speaker.
It is a serious problem. It's something that the department is working very hard on at the current moment. They are soliciting, as far as possible, in order to recruit people to fill these positions.
Mr. Keenan: I would like to point out that just because it's happening in many jurisdictions, it does not necessarily make it coincidental. I would ask for leadership here again.
Now, the Cabinet spokesperson did try to put a happy face on these changes. He said that the department hopes to have a new staff complement in place by the fall.
So I would like to ask, then, what is the department's plan to provide mental health services for people who need them in the meanwhile?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I suppose that if I were to micromanage every department as the member opposite would like me to do, yes, I would know every little detail and have every little action followed, but that is an operational program. That is not something that the minister or the government of the day interferes with. We let the departments do their jobs.
Mr. Speaker, we have held competitions. We are continually holding competitions to fill these positions. As the member opposite mentioned, we expect to be up to full capacity in September.
Those people who are leaving are leaving for a variety of reasons, Mr. Speaker. They're leaving for family; they're leaving to go to university; they're leaving to take jobs with other departments within our government; they're also leaving to just have time away. This is a very high-stress job and, obviously, over time, they need those breaks. Mr. Speaker, we have a number of resources in the community, a number of resources here in Whitehorse that are going to be hopefully backstopping some of these major issues over the summer break. It's just one of those issues where we can't fill every position just at the drop of a pin. It takes time. People have to really look at whether they want to come north, and we have to provide them with the incentives to do that.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, every time I ask a question of this particular minister and this particular minister gets up, he carries on with some new buzz words. This time, the new buzz words are "It's just one of those issues," "I don't micromanage," "I don't interfere." I'd like to also add that the minister does not provide the leadership that a Health minister is required to show.
Now, the resident psychiatrist, Dr. Smith, has apparently offered to be able to continue on a consulting basis after he leaves the territory. So far, as with so many issues in this department, there has been no response from the department - none whatsoever.
So I'd like to know two things: what are we doing in the interim, and what is the department doing right now to recruit a full-time resident to ensure that we have continuity of care for Yukoners? Will the minister please answer that question?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Again, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is always talking about leadership. Leadership, I guess, for the member opposite means interfering. I don't interfere in the operation of the department. That is a job that the departments do very well.
Under their government, we had the same department and same people working very hard to ensure that we have services here in the Yukon. It hasn't changed. But now that they're on the other side, these people working in the department are suddenly the bad people. They are not the good people any more. I wonder why.
Mr. Speaker, we have situations in the Yukon that require all our efforts to work together on. The department is working very hard at recruiting. They are working very hard at trying to entice people to come north. If there are people here in Whitehorse or the Yukon who would like to take on these jobs, we are also very open to those types of applications, as well.
Also, we are looking at the whole issue of the long term. There is no easy solution to this. Hopefully, over time and with positive support from the community and positive support from the opposition, people will come here and believe that they can be integral to the delivery of services. Quite often, a lot of people around here don't get that. It seems that it's "pick on me".
Question re: Mental health unit staffing
Mr. Keenan: Well, gee whiz, I'm sorry for attempting to get any answers concerning leadership out of the Minister of Health. I'm sorry that the Minister of Health takes it so doggone personally. He shouldn't be taking it so doggone personally.
I would like to reiterate that the official opposition does believe in the good people within the department. But there is something lacking, and that is leadership that is required by the political arm - leadership. I find it ironic that the minister would stand there and use the words "leadership" and "interference" in the same sentence. Certainly that is the minister's mentality at this point in time.
Given the complete turnover in mental health clinical staff, it may be a really good time to evaluate how to meet the mental health needs of rural Yukon. I would like to ask the minister: does the department have any plans to restructure mental health services to ensure that adequate services are available to all Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: We're always open to suggestion but at this point, no, I don't think we're re-evaluating.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, this minister goes off on an excuse of having to re-evaluate, having to look into the future, and when there's an opportunity to do the right thing, which would look good on the minister, which would reflect the needs of rural Yukon and indeed the needs of all Yukon, the minister strays away from it.
Now, the minister just returned from a conference in Saskatoon on fetal alcohol syndrome. The minister has made much brouhaha about this being such a good thing, and the Yukon being a leader in this. Well, it was under the New Democrat government that this was required, Mr. Speaker. Yukon has made FAS a reportable condition, yet there is a lack of specialists trained in FAS diagnosis and in treatment.
So, I'd like to ask the minister: is the minister prepared to take the needs of those with FAS into account in restaffing the mental health unit, or would that be interference again?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my visit to Saskatoon. It was a wonderful visit. We invited people to come to the Yukon. People want to come to the Yukon because they know that we are leading in some areas. I know the government of yesterday likes to take credit for their groundbreaking work in FAS. It took the opposition at that time, the Liberals, to beat the government of the day over the head to even recognize that it was a problem. Finally, in their last year, they decided, "Well, we do have a problem; we do have an issue here." Now they're going to take credit for all the things that are taking place.
Mr. Speaker, I think it's very important that this government of one year plus a few days has made initiatives in that one year when it took that government three years to even realize there was a problem.
Mr. Speaker, we are moving very, very well in this area. We have a lot of expertise out there. We have a lot of expertise in the community, and we are going to work with our partners. I know the opposition doesn't like that idea because they are finding out that we honestly do work with our partners. We don't come up with the answers and then tell the community how to do things. We actually listen to the community and they provide answers for us on how we should do things.
Mr. Keenan: Well, to use the minister's own words, that was a magnificent display of grand staging in the Legislature, Mr. Speaker.
Now, earlier this year, we learned that an overwhelming number of inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre have cognitive impairments. It is important that there be adequate mental health services for inmates and staff, as well. So, again, I'd like to ask the minister: what is the minister doing to ensure the needs of Whitehorse Correctional Centre are addressed in recruiting new professionals for the mental health unit? Again, what is the Minister of Health doing?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes well knows, questions about the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are the responsibility of the Department of Justice, not the Department of Health and Social Services. We are confident that, by the time our new Whitehorse Correctional Centre opens, the programming will be second to none in the areas that the inmates require.
Question re: Income tax cuts
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Premier. Now, the Premier has made much of her adoption of the NDP personal income tax cuts, claiming that these cuts are helping to turn the economy around. A graph showing these cuts is included on page 9 of the budget address, which I will now table, Mr. Speaker.
Now, this graph, Mr. Speaker, is even worse than the 23 pieces of the Dawson Dome Road that I tabled previously. The graph shows that a single income earner with a family of four earning $30,000 a year will get a tax break over three years of about $250, whereas -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: Government House leader, on a point of order.
Ms. Tucker: Under the anticipation rule, that question is anticipating debate on Finance this afternoon.
Speaker: Leader of the third party, on the point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: There is no point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a question on economic development.
Speaker: It's difficult for the Chair to determine whether Economic Development will be debated today or not. If it's a question about economic development, I think in fairness, from what I've heard, I would have to allow the question to proceed.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, the graph that I just tabled shows that a single income earner with a family of four earning $30,000 a year will get a tax break over the three-year period of some $250, whereas a similar size family receiving a $100,000 annual income - perhaps from sole-source contracts from this Liberal government - will get a tax break of 10 times the amount of the less-affluent Yukon family.
Does the Premier think that this is fair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, there are a number of points that are muddled together in that particular question from the Member for Klondike. First of all with regard to contracts issued by this government, the member should be aware that often contracts are made out to a professional corporation or to a business. Out of that particular business, whether it's a sole proprietorship or something else, those contracts would also be paying things like rent, heat, light, fuel and transportation costs.
So the member is trying to mix in a number of points there.
It is in fact the conservative estimate of the Department of Finance officials and others that the combined tax cuts between those initiated by the federal Liberal government and those initiated by the Yukon territorial Liberal government will put well over millions of dollars into the hands of Yukoners. $10 million was the figure I used in my speech to the Association of Yukon Communities this weekend. And that is money that the member opposite and I well know that Yukoners spend here in the Yukon. People from his own riding spend it shopping here in Whitehorse and elsewhere. People from all walks of life have a tendency to support local business, unlike the members opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: The point is made. You have to have a job to have income and to have disposable income. That's not the case. Fewer and fewer Yukoners are employed here.
Mr. Speaker, the Premier was so proud of the graph sheet, she published it as an advertisement in the local newspapers. Will the Premier explain why she is trying to rub salt in the wounds of less fortunate Yukoners who aren't on the receiving end of the $100,000 annual income and who are struggling just to make ends meet?
Why do these poor families, who are in the majority, get a paltry $250 tax reduction over three years, while people earning over $100,000 receive $2,500 over the same period of time?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the fact is that this government did, in action, what others have only talked about. We cut personal income taxes. The fact is that the Yukon Party raised taxes while they were in office. There were a number of other questions with respect to fairness from the member opposite's party.
The fact is that the federal and territorial income tax cuts, announced in budgets, will stimulate the Yukon economy. The fact is that they are cuts to personal income tax. That means that when people fill out their income tax form, as most of us have just completed or completed some time ago in time for the April 30 deadline, people are paying less taxes because of work by this government and because of work by the federal Liberal government.
That money is in people's pockets. They are spending it locally, which stimulates the economy. It helps the retail sector. I could go on and on again about the increase in retail sales, in wholesale sales and in building development permits that the territory is feeling. Certainly, that is jobs in our economy.
I find it absolutely amazing that the member opposite is standing up criticizing personal income tax cuts. The rest of the Yukon thinks it's a good idea.
Mr. Jenkins: For the record, Mr. Speaker, I believe personal income tax cuts are necessary but this government hasn't gone far enough soon enough, like the Yukon Party proposed. When the NDP government first proposed those tax cuts, the Premier, then the leader of the official opposition, stated that these tax cuts for the average Yukoner didn't really amount to much. She cited a tank of gas, a couple of packages of disposable diapers, or perhaps a little dog food for a dog musher. That was then. That was on February 22 of last year.
Why does the Premier now believe that a tax cut for the average Yukoner of $83 a year is going to turn the economy around?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Because, Mr. Speaker, we didn't just talk about it, like the previous government. Not only did we do it, we did it in a timely manner and we went further. That's what we did.
And the member opposite, since he's so fond of quoting me, might be well advised to remember that, when asked about those tax cuts by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, I said we'd look at the books and if it were possible we would do it. Not only did we do it but we did it in a timely manner, so that it wasn't in July so that people had to then go back and start to recognize what an impact it had on their tax tables. We did it in a timely manner so it could be felt starting in January. People could then realize that there was more money on their paycheques. They were able to spend on things that we, as Yukoners, so treasure, like being able to put money aside for a recreational vehicle to take advantage of the free camping season and the earlier-opening campgrounds, to be able to spend that money locally, to be able to afford, as families, that new bike or some of the other items that we struggle and save for as families.
The fact is that, between the federal Liberal government and this Yukon Liberal government, $10 million is in the hands of Yukoners where it belongs, and what's more, Mr. Speaker, they're spending it locally.
Question re: Faro/Ross River, doctor replacement
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to point out that that tax cut was an NDP initiative. It was contained within the NDP blueprint, the budget, which the present Liberal government cherry-picked and did what they wished to do.
Now, I'd like to go back and make a link between the need to recruit staff at the mental health unit and the need to recruit medical staff in general. Last week we heard from the acting minister that there is a process underway now to replace the doctor in Faro. After I raised this issue in the House, a senior health official said last week that letters were going out to local doctors soon. The department has known for two months that Dr. Fast was retiring - two months. Can the minister tell us why it took so long to start the recruitment process?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'm just not sure where the member opposite comes from quite often. When they talk about a tax cut that they had in their blueprint, they didn't do it. You may have had an idea, but the idea was not acted upon. We at least did something, and that's the difference between this side and that side, Mr. Speaker. We do something.
The point of the doctor - and, again, I know the member opposite is not going to be happy with this response, but when has the member opposite been happy about any response I've ever given?
The interesting thing about that coming from the Member for Klondike - here's the Member for Klondike, an expert on all people's stocks in the Yukon. The member opposite from Klondike knows what everybody's thinking. I can tell the member opposite that they're thinking, but it's not the way the member opposite would like them to think. They're saying, "What's this lone member doing there? All he does is criticize everything that's positive that this government does."
Mr. Speaker, we don't move into situations like greased lightning. We look at our situation, we evaluate it, and we assess our needs. Now we're being accused of not moving fast enough. Mr. Speaker, we have moved in a timely fashion, and we're quite happy with the process that's taking place at this time.
Mr. Keenan: Well, if you quote the minister's own words. I know that the member opposite is not going to like this question. I know that the member opposite never likes any of those questions that we ask. But I would like to point out from the Liberal election platform of just over a year, it's all about the Future. I would also like to quote, Mr. Speaker, about your party here. This is what they are going to do when it comes to protecting social programs: "We are going to work directly with our communities to ensure that each community is staffed with adequate numbers of doctors and nurse practitioners." Let me file this where it belongs.
We need a doctor in central Yukon. While it is good to know that Yukon doctors have been given first chance to fill this position, letters to local doctors mean part-time services for Yukon.
Does this mean that one of the options that the department is looking at is to staff central Yukon with a part-time non-resident doctor? Is that what that means?
I am glad that the Minister of Renewable Resources finds that funny.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, talk about staging. The member opposite is very good at staging for drama. I think that the member opposite is in the wrong profession. He should be down at the Guild somewhere really showing his stuff.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, thank God, Mr. Speaker. We are looking at trying to better the situation here in the Yukon. We are trying to work with all our partners.
If the member opposite believes that they have a different plan or a better plan, then I guess the member opposite would still be standing here. Obviously, the public has spoken. And, Mr. Speaker, they like what they hear - the fact that we consult, the fact that we share, the fact that we listen and we don't move quickly.
So, we are damned if we do and we're damned if we don't. The point is that we try to listen to all partners in this process and that takes time. Hopefully, we are going to make the right decision.
Well, we are human and sometimes we do make mistakes. I know the members opposite never made any mistakes, but at least when we make them we admit them.
Speaker: Order please. Just before the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes poses the final question here, I would like to bring to the member's attention that, a few minutes ago, the member mentioned that the government side was "my" side and so on. I don't think it's appropriate that the member should try to politicize the Chair. The Chair does absolutely everything to be fair, honest and non-political. It was not an appropriate comment.
I would ask the member to please proceed with his final supplementary, if he has one at this time.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out that the Minister of Health's ego is showing. The sensitivity surrounding this issue is something this minister just cannot take. When a minister stands on his feet and says, "Hopefully we'll make the right decision", Mr. Speaker, I and probably 29,898 other Yukoners are questioning the minister's ability.
If a local doctor agrees to travel and provide weekly and monthly visits, it increases the strain on doctors in Whitehorse. Now, the Yukon is already short of doctors. The Liberal platform, as I just pointed out, said that they would ensure an adequate number of doctors and nurses in communities. Well, the Northwest Territories is spending $3 million and has four full-time employees dealing with this problem.
So, when and what is the department doing to aggressively recruit doctors to the Yukon? When is it going to happen?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I guess I'm wondering what the real question is. On the one hand, we are being condemned for actually going out and recruiting a doctor. Now, the members opposite want to know what we're doing to recruit doctors. We know that this is a very serious problem. We are working very hard to ensure that we work with our partners in trying to build that awareness.
As I shared earlier, we have been meeting with the doctors for the last three months in a very open and transparent approach, trying to work on the future of doctor support in our communities. We are then moving to our next stage, as I mentioned earlier, in trying to develop the next approach that we, as a community, want to move on.
That will be forthcoming to caucus and Cabinet, so we are working very hard. With the nurses, we have worked very hard at trying to build for that future. I have met with the nurses publicly, and I will be doing that again this fall. We are very open to hearing what the issues are so that we can move on, and I would hope the members opposite would join us in trying to be positive and trying to support these very professional people whom we need in our communities.
Hopefully, Mr. Speaker, positive ideas, good ideas - we're always open to them. We believe that we can do it as a team if we have these ideas in trying to develop the proper future for the Yukon.
Question re: Chronic disease program, breach of confidentiality
Mr. Fentie: I have a question today for the Minister of Health.
Over the last month, Mr. Speaker, either through correspondence or questioning the minister, I have been trying to assist a constituent of mine who has been seeking, as a Yukon resident, their right to medicare and, secondly, what is possibly a breach of medical confidentiality regarding their case.
To date, I have seen little action out of the minister, but I did receive a letter last week, which basically ignores the issue and states, to me, that no medical confidentiality or breach thereof has taken place.
One of the issues is a department official's phone call from a residence here in Whitehorse to my constituent, with a third person on the phone at the official's residence.
Can the minister tell me if his investigation, if indeed the minister did one, determined that both people from the private residence making this phone call to their client - did both these people have medical knowledge of this situation and were they YTG employees? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, there was no breach of confidentiality, despite what the member opposite constantly tries to imply.
The issue of the phone call - yes, it did take place, but it was with the view of trying to find and locate the people they were trying to connect with. Attempts were made throughout the day to try to connect with this client but it wasn't possible, so the attempt was made in the evening.
So, Mr. Speaker, it's an employee trying to do the job and working very responsibly in trying to do that job.
Mr. Fentie: A very strange answer, Mr. Speaker. This issue was an ongoing issue at the department level for weeks. Secondly, in the letter that I received from the minister last week, there was a new policy: no more phone calls from department official residences. That really says something to me, Mr. Speaker.
Now, the issue here is a Yukon resident's right to medicare, and secondly, the minister's responsibility to ensure that no breach of medical confidentiality has taken place in this matter. I want to ask the minister this: does the minister believe that he has dealt with this situation in a responsible manner?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: As I have said earlier, there has been no breach of confidentiality, despite what the member opposite constantly tries to imply. The member opposite, as the member has just said, has received a letter from the Minister of Health and Social Services outlining the options that the constituent can take. If there are any more concerns raised by the constituent, then it was noted in the letter that the constituent could then raise those again with his or her minister or MLA. We do our best to help the constituent.
Mr. Speaker, again, it's an employee trying to do their job in the best way possible. I don't know how many employees would try to do their work from their homes in trying to be faithful to the services and support of the government, but this was an employee who tried that. There was no breach of confidentiality, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: I'm finding it hard to fathom how the minister can stand on the floor of this Legislature and make that claim, because obviously the minister hasn't done any investigation, and if he had, he wouldn't be answering the way he is today on the floor of this Legislature.
Let me point out some facts. First off, we have a doctor in Watson Lake, whose commitment to ensure that delivery of health care take place is making sure that the client is receiving her proper medical treatment - out of his own pocket. Secondly, nobody - nobody - in the minister's department, and more importantly the minister himself, has done anything in regard to the possible breach of medical confidentiality. This minister, when elected, did not get appointed to the Senate. The whole idea is that the minister's supposed to go to work, take charge and lead. The minister's mismanagement of his department is creating these situations.
I want to ask the minister this, Mr. Speaker: will the minister now undertake to do a proper investigation so that full disclosure can take place both at the department level and at the public level and that these things will stop happening, that the right to medicare for a Yukon resident takes place, and that no further possible breaches of medical confidentiality will occur? Will the minister now undertake to do the right thing?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Just before the minister answers, may I draw members' attention to the gallery to the presence of a former MLA, Norma Kassi.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The emotion runs high with the members opposite when they believe they have something but they don't have anything.
There has not been a breach of confidentiality - there has not. Now, from the members opposite, obviously, they don't believe that. There is always two sides to a story - always.
In my role as a former administrator working in a school for 32 years, there was never just one side of a story. But the members opposite would like us to believe that the only side that ever counts is their side. And the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes is laughing as if this is some joke. It is not a joke when we talk about clients. The member opposite keeps bringing confidential stuff up on the floor here that doesn't belong here.
The letter that was sent to the member opposite very clearly laid out the direction and the process that can be taken, but the member obviously doesn't want to follow that. The member opposite wants to make political brownie points, believing that something has happened here and nothing has happened. We do not discuss confidential matters on the floor of this House, but the members opposite would love to do that for whatever reason.
To also make the insinuation that we are not working in the best interest of Yukoners, that is not even near the truth.
Speaker: Order please. First of all, I was going to ask the minister to conclude his answer but secondly there was a reference in there to "not even near the truth." Could I ask the minister to please withdraw it and conclude his answer.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I withdraw that.
I think it's very important that we try to work for the best interests of all Yukoners. It is very important that we do that. Mr. Speaker, we are.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Good afternoon, everyone. I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will take a 10-minute recess and return at 2:00 p.m.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 2001-02 - continued
Chair: We will continue with general debate on the Department of Finance under Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02.
Department of Finance - continued
Chair: Mr. Fentie, I believe you had the floor.
Mr. Fentie: As I was saying when we adjourned debate last week, the Department of Finance, and indeed the minister, Mr. Chair, have a very important role to play when it comes to the expenditure of monies in this territory. Over and above the minister ensuring that the government complies or the department complies with the statutes in terms of spending money, it's also very important to note that the Minister of Finance, in her capacity, has a great deal to say about spending priorities of the government and how the money is distributed throughout this territory.
As I was pointing out, it's very clear, at least at this stage of the game with this Liberal government, that very little focus and attention is being paid to rural Yukon in budgeting, and I think the budget itself will clearly show that. We don't have to argue that point. It is all reflected in the amount of money that has been distributed throughout rural Yukon versus the amount of money that has been allocated for expenditure here in Whitehorse.
So I think one of the most important points, Mr. Chair, is that, on behalf of Yukoners, I urge the Minister of Finance to take every initiative possible to see if we can't find ways, vehicles and mechanisms to balance the spending in this territory out a little more.
I think it's fair to say that communities like Watson Lake and Dawson City and, indeed, Teslin and Carcross and other communities throughout the Yukon should get a bigger piece of the action when it comes to budgeting and the expenditure of monies. When it comes to the communities, the cash flow that results from government expenditure is a hugely important element when it comes to the economies of these communities. It's the cash flow that makes them go, and when you choke off that cash flow, the results are very, very negative and the communities are so small in nature that they don't have other avenues open to them, as the City of Whitehorse does, to offset any cash flow reductions that they have experienced over the last 12 months under this Liberal government.
So I have a few questions for the minister in regard to her capacity as Minister of Finance. My number one question, which is a burning issue and has been with us for a little bit of time and is ongoing, is the patriation of the pension fund. I would just like the minister, when she gets on her feet - I will maybe ask a couple questions here and then allow the minister to respond. When she gets on her feet, if she could just give us an update on - I understand the federal government's involvement in this issue. Of course it's a very important part of this equation, but would the minister please explain briefly to this House what the Yukon government's involvement in the patriation of the pension fund is? What is the Liberal government's plan as the federal government and the Public Service Alliance, and of course YTG, proceed down this road of patriation of the pension fund?
The second item is - and this has to do with the federal government also - are there any changes to the formula financing anticipated, given the drop in population of the Yukon? How negative is the impact going to be vis-à-vis the formula financing issue? Are we looking toward any significant reductions in transfer payments from Ottawa because of our drop in population?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: My sympathies, Mr. Chair. It sounds like you have the Yukon cold that has been going around, so I will try not to tax your voice unduly.
There are a couple of points that the member opposite has made. With respect to the myths regarding year-end spending, I would just like to advise the member opposite that there are a couple of points that have to be noted in particular with regard to this year. First of all, there are in excess of 3,000 people who work for the Government of Yukon. They are hard-working, dedicated public servants who certainly endeavour to live up to the goals and objectives of the government and, of course, all of the policies as stated.
Often, in their fiscal and financial management, they will delay the purchase of a particular item, ensuring that there is money for every other program and that every other program comes in on budget before they make the expenditure. This year, expenditures were no greater or less in actual fact than in previous years. They are pretty much in line.
There is one exception to that, in that the Department of Justice had initiated the purchase of some photocopiers in October. Because that would have meant that those photocopiers would have come from outside of the territory, they worked with the private sector locally to ensure that there was a local purchase. It showed up in the year-end, although it was actually initiated in October.
So there are pluses and downsides. There are positive aspects to putting a year-end freeze, and there are also some very real negative ones. Our message to the public service was to be very, very mindful that this is Yukon taxpayers' dollars and that we are trying to ensure we have enough money to do projects like our roads, et cetera, et cetera, so I am confident that there were no anomalies that would give cause for concern to the member opposite.
Now, with regard to the patriation of the pension fund, the member opposite knows that this is an issue that I lobbied hard for as a member of the opposition, and there were two things that needed to take place. One is that any patriation of the pension cannot occur without the full cooperation and support and working with the government Yukon Employees Union, as well as working with the Yukon Teachers Association. The status of those current discussions with those two bodies will be answered by my colleague, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission in the debate on the Public Service Commission budget.
The role for the Department of Finance is to ensure - and I'm optimistic that we will be successful in the patriation of the pension plan - that we have the dollars, that we get the money that should be coming here, that we get the right amount. I am optimistic about those and am working with the Government of Canada. I have a meeting scheduled with the president of the Treasury Board this month, and I will be reaffirming the Yukon's case. I understand we are very close in our negotiations on that amount, and I will be pushing the Yukon's case again on that one.
That point is subject to discussions that my colleague is going to elaborate on - patriation with the employees.
Secondly, with regard to the formula financing arrangement, the member opposite is aware that one of the key elements of the formula is the population. We have, in our calculations of the formula, provided for an anticipated drop in population. The member opposite has provided me with an ideal opportunity to reaffirm the very key element and urge every single Yukoner to fill out the census form, and I'm very thankful to the Member for Watson Lake for reminding us all that the census day is on May 15. We all have the forms in our mailbox, long and short, and I encourage everyone to fill them out. It's well-known also that the impact on the formula is about $10,000 per person, but I assure the member that we have, in our projections, factored in a population drop.
Also, the member should be aware that our census figures aren't in for about 18 months, so there is quite a time lag between when the figure might come in and when there might be a drop or decrease in our revenues, but we have been very fiscally conservative in our estimates.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the minister for that, and we will probably bring up patriation of the pension plan with the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
I would just add one more thing that the minister responsible for Finance could maybe enlighten us on, and that would be this: what's the potential of exposure financially to the Yukon government in terms of the patriation of the pension fund?
I also want to point out to the minister that I totally agree that our public service is a very hard-working group of individuals, dedicated to delivering services to the people of this territory.
But I would also remind the minister that that group of very hard-working individuals are very much happier in an environment where they're receiving direction from the political level and some leadership. That bodes very well for the public service in terms of productivity. Because when they're not receiving that leadership and that direction at the political level, it is very difficult for them to operate in a comfortable, productive environment. Confusion can reign. It is a situation that none of us want to see being furthered from what we are experiencing today.
I would just urge the minister, because the buck stops at the Minister of Finance's desk, to make every effort in budgeting to ensure that her ministers are providing the political leadership that's conducive to a productive working environment.
The next question concerns the formula financing issue, with the 18-month lag. That follows in the long-term planning area. Obviously, the economic situation that we're facing in the Yukon Territory is being to some degree - let me put it this way, Mr. Chair. Government expenditure, to some degree, is probably intended to offset this economic crisis that the territory finds itself in, because we're not generating that much in terms of economic development at this point in time; therefore, the government expenditure side becomes even more vital as it relates to the day-to-day existence of Yukoners.
When it comes to long-term planning and the formula financing issue - this 18-month lag - has the Minister of Finance already made adjustments, or has the minister already put in place the necessary mechanisms to address the possibility that there will be a sharp drop in transfer payments to this territory at the same time as there is little improvement on the economic front? Has the minister at least provided some thought to that and possibly put in some kind of direction to her other ministers and departments to address that issue?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have a couple of points. The member started out with discussion around exposure regarding patriation of the pension, and at the risk of sounding like an accountant and getting into a long explanation, the fact is that there are actuarial evaluations of the pension. In other words, the amount of money that will be required for the exposure and the fact is that we and the Government of Canada have to agree on that actuarial evaluation before the patriation. So our exposure should not be there. We've got to be satisfied that we get the amount of money required in this actuarial evaluation before we transfer the pension.
The member is nodding so I take it that he is accepting of that explanation.
With respect to the census, the member is suggesting that there might be some negative impact in the long term. The fact is that we have taken into account, as we have been doing our financial work, that there has been a decrease in the population because we work on figures. Should there be any negative impact - we certainly hope that we are not going to see such a bill, if you will - there are very strong, solid reasons to ensure that of the amount we were working with regarding discussions on our formula with the Government of Canada, that $15 million is put back into the surplus to ensure that we have the funding available to us to continue to provide the programming and services Yukoners need.
So that was solid reasoning for ensuring that the $15 million is put back there as we have drawn down the surpluses - the member opposite knows both in the budget passed last summer and in this budget as well. The fact is that this budget is producing results in terms of the economy, that we have restored funding to highways, which translates into work for Yukoners throughout the Yukon. The minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services has been absolutely diligent about ensuring there is money being put into brushing, money being put into brushing and clearing so there are no more unfortunate encounters with any wildlife. There was money, as well, put into long, outstanding issues and the Alaska Highway upgrades.
The fact is that we said we would deal with substance and drug abuse addictions, and we are dealing with them by putting more money into alcohol and drug services so that we as a community can work together. And the Minister of Health has established a very strong relationship with other governments so that we are able to tackle these issues, and the personal income tax cuts - we are already starting to see the results with the second highest increase in the country in retail sales. And that's locally, that's money spent locally.
So the fact is that we've worked hard to deal with the outstanding formula issues, that we have finally resolved them, and that brought $42 million new federal dollars into the Yukon Territory. And of that $42 million, $15 million has been put back into the surplus to ensure we have the money available for future programming and to account for any decreases in the future.
Mr. Fentie: I didn't ascertain from the minister's response how the reduction in the transfer payment, because of formula financing and population issues in the equation, are connected to the long-term planning issue, and what I was actually - maybe I'll rephrase that. The minister did state $15 million of $42 million was put back in the surplus; however, that doesn't really connect the long-term planning. That tells me that there's a pool of money sitting there that may be available. However, if the Minister of Finance's view is that the surplus must be kept at level X, and if the negative impacts on formula financing are such that our transfer payment drops over the next two years to where programs and services could be impacted, is the minister then prepared to spend down the surplus? And if so, what's the minister's bottom line in terms of money left in hand after expenditures?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There are two points I'd like to make for the member. First of all, we cannot by law go into accumulated deficit or debt. We can't do that, nor would we want to. That's the Taxpayer Protection Act. It was passed, that's the law, and we certainly will live up to it.
In terms of capital planning and long-term planning, the member opposite is, of course, aware that we are tabling the capital budget in the fall, so that will also provide an opportunity to discuss long-term capital planning at that point in time. In terms of operation and maintenance or ongoing programming of the government, we are discussing that on a regular basis with Yukoners and with members opposite.
Mr. Fentie: Does the Minister of Finance have a bottom line that must be maintained, even if we have to dip into the surplus and spend it down? The minister must have some idea that there is a level below which the minister will not go. Could the minister provide the House with that number?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm going to reference the member to the 2001-02 budget speech - long-term plans, budget highlights and supplementary information that I tabled. In the section on long-term plans and the Government of Yukon projections, the lowest that the accumulated surplus is drawn down to in this budget is $5 million. I certainly would not want to go below that, and even at that it was cause for a few grey hairs on this side of the House.
Mr. Fentie: Well, under a heading of fiscal responsibility, I guess that one could determine that maintaining a bank account of $5 million versus a bank account of say, $25 million - there's a pretty big spread there. Defining fiscal responsibility in that environment or that particular area would be quite difficult. It's probably one of those situations where some may take a dim view of only $5 million in the bank and others may take the view that it's a necessity. I guess we'll leave that for Yukoners to judge.
We will stand then on the fact that the minister's bottom line is to go no lower than $5 million in the bank, no matter what. I'll accept that, Mr. Chair.
Can the minister, in her capacity as Minister of Finance, give me just a quick update on the fireweed fund?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has put on the record an interesting choice of words with respect to my commitment. I would just remind the member opposite that there are an awful lot of variables in any discussion about the bottom line. A lot depends on a variety of circumstances as to what the bottom line is.
What I said was that that was what was tabled in the long-term plans. Certainly I would not want it to go below that and even at that was certainly cause for concern.
The member opposite is aware that we are seeking federal dollars and a significant investment by the Government of Canada to kick-start the fireweed fund. They have not, as yet, been successful in seeking that federal funding. I have, as leader of the official opposition, provided them with assistance and, as Premier, I have met with them on several occasions. There has been no change from the report that I provided the member opposite with before.
Mr. Fentie: Another question I have for the minister concerns a pool of monies that the Yukon government certainly has access to. Connect Yukon is a project that was financed heavily by this fund. The immigrant investor fund, Mr. Chair, still has some monies in it, as the legislative returns have indicated. So I have a two-part question. The first part: does the minister have any plans for the expenditure of the remaining balance of phase 1 in the immigrant investor fund? The second part: what is the ongoing process in regard to phase 2, if I could put it that way, as far as another shot at immigrant investor funds in partnership with the federal government and all the other jurisdictions in Canada? Is the minister aware of this proceeding, and if so, what can the Yukon expect in terms of timelines and a ceiling on how much revenues we can derive from phase 2?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, this has been the subject of discussion in my capacity as Minister of Economic Development, and I could just advise the member opposite that, under the immigrant investor fund, there is a need for an additional project to Connect Yukon, and that Economic Development officials, cognizant of the fact that there has to be a certain amount of money kept in reserve, so to speak, are actively looking at what parameters might be around another project and what sort of initiatives there might be. There is very, very preliminary work done in that regard.
With respect to a secondary call or an additional immigrant investor fund, there have been changes at the federal level and there have been some changes made. We are very aware of those changes, and we are looking at how they might impact on a second Yukon fund. There has been no decision reached at this point in time as to whether or not we might pursue an additional immigrant investor fund. It's a matter that we're gathering information on at this point, but I could provide the member opposite with more details. I didn't bring all my notes from those discussions. I tend to have them more as Minister of Economic Development, and I can answer the member opposite's question in more detail in the Economic Development debate.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the minister for that and we will then revisit this during debate in the Department of Economic Development.
Another question revolves around formula financing for First Nations. Has the Minister of Finance done any work, given any thought, had any discussions at the federal level and indeed with the First Nations here, on formula financing arrangements when it comes to the First Nations in the Yukon? We don't need a lot of detail here, just if there is any ongoing discussion of what is happening in that regard. It is a big issue for the First Nations, obviously.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The Department of Finance, at the officials level, have worked with First Nation governments in loaning expertise on their specific formula issues with the federal government. With respect to our formula and our formula financing discussions with the federal government and First Nation involvement, it has been raised with me in conversation once, and that was recently. There have been no formal discussions, no resolution along that regard or no formal exchange of views.
Mr. Fentie: Well, obviously one of the big issues right now - has been and probably still is and will continue to be - are program service transfer agreements and how that all shakes down. This particular area is obviously a very difficult thing to deal with at the First Nation level, because the whole concept and the spirit of this whole concept was for the First Nations to be able to take down powers that government provides and then administer and manage them themselves. The question is this: how does that all equate when we take the big picture of Yukon in its entirety and our relationship with the federal government in this matter of formula financing? Can the minister maybe touch base on this formula financing issue again with regard to how First Nations want to - the issue here is they want to take down powers. I'll give examples: education is a good example; justice is a good example - how are we going to work that out? Has the minister done anything in that regard, and how does that connect to formula financing?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would like the opportunity to review my Hansard comments - the member's question and my previous answer. I had understood the member to be asking me about the First Nations and the discussions around our federal formula financing arrangement. On that remark, my comments stand, with specific regard to our formula and the provincial escalator - that sort of thing.
With regard to PSTAs and the specifics around the formula, I understand that what happens is that should a First Nation government choose to draw down a program and we achieve net savings under our formula financing agreement, those net savings are given back to the federal government, who in turn transfers them to the First Nations. So, that's how that works.
With regard to program service transfer agreements, the negotiations and discussions around those are dealt with at the land claims table and also in the devolution discussions. I can elaborate on those for the member opposite if he wishes, either under the Executive Council Office or in a subsequent answer.
The member may also wish me to provide a written response to this question. I am looking for guidance from the member opposite regarding his wishes.
Mr. Fentie: Well, for the sake of expediting the business, maybe the minister could provide us with an update via legislative return around the issue. I understand the minister's comment regarding the formula financing and how that relates.
Well, this issue is a big issue, obviously. I will accept a legislative return on it and move on for the moment.
Has the minister, in her capacity as Minister of Finance, done any work in regard to public/private partnerships? If so, what can we expect here in the territory over the next three years in terms of public/private partnerships?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm very interested in the concept and a lot of the work that I had personally done in terms of researching this concept was done at the tail-end of the spring session two years ago. I have not lost sight of the idea and what I have undertaken as Minister of Finance in working with the pre-budget consultations is that there are members of the private sector who are still interested in pursuing this. I have asked them to come back with an idea and those discussions are underway in that they are searching for an idea that might work, bearing in mind the principles around a P3.
Also, there has been work done by this government in that the electrics package in the Department of Tourism is a private/public partnership. The Member for Riverside has met with the United Kingdom Consulate. The UK has tremendous experience in this, and he is also loaning us expertise in working with the Member for Riverside who is working with the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Tourism in that regard.
There is also a committee of various departments that is working on developing criteria from the government perspective of the P3.
So, it's important to remember that, in a private/public partnership, this isn't about creating a win solely for the private sector or the government sector. It's about creating a win-win-win all the way around, so that the client group, be it the film industry, or be it in Iqaluit where there was a hospital or a nursing station done under a P3 - in that case, it would be the patient, the government and the private sector that won or created a winning environment.
So, we haven't lost sight of these ideas. We're still pursuing them. We have not got a specific project other than what we have already done - as I said, the electrics package, where we have said, "Yes, this is how we will pursue a P3." We're doing our homework in that regard. We haven't lost sight of it and we are still interested in it.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'll just ask the minister right out. In her capacity as Minister of Finance, is she prepared to borrow money in regard to a public/private partnership? In other words, would the Yukon government, in its participation in this partnership, go out and borrow money? Because ultimately the partnerships don't work without the cash being injected to get the project, whatever project it may be, up and running and continuing on. It's going to take money. So is the minister prepared, in regard to a partnership, to borrow money?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The straight-up answer is I'd rather not. If there were some other way to do this, I would rather do that. Although it's not the true P3 model, a good example of where our government is trying to do this is with regard to the work that is being undertaken this summer on the Alaska Highway and at the Dawson City Airport, in that the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and officials met with industry and sat down and said, "How can we do this so that we can achieve the maximum for the dollars that we're able to spend?" We have been trying to work with the private sector on that, and I have received positive comments from them in that regard. That is not the P3 in the sense the member is asking about. The electrics package that the Minister of Tourism has entered into is exactly a P3, and it is an injection of cash, and there was not a requirement for borrowing on the part of government in that particular one. So the straight-up answer is that I'd rather not. I'm not losing sight of the idea, though, of public/private partnerships.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I thank the minister for that but would put on the record the fact that I think it's fair to say that the Yukon Territory doesn't have any debt.
One of the upsides for us is that, even though we are going through some very difficult times, what probably makes it less difficult to deal with the situation that we're in is the fact that the Yukon as a territory is not in debt.
Believe me, when you get into these economic downturns, if you have a debt-to-equity ratio that is totally out of whack, your problems compound rapidly and in some cases - not all - recovery is virtually impossible. So I would just leave the minister with the point that, at this point in time, the Yukon has no debt and it may be fortunate that that's the case.
Moving on then, Mr. Chair. Does the minister have any indication, a road map if you will, of long-term revenues? Now, we know that in the oil and gas sector, revenues out of the Kotaneelee have dramatically risen over the last two to three quarters. Revenues coming from the federal government obviously play a role here. Is there any road map at all for the minister to look ahead and begin to calculate long-term revenues in regard to fiscal planning for the territory?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I thank the member opposite for the question, and again I would refer the member back to the long-term projections.
The territorial revenue, which is the revenue from all sources, is projected there, and there is a slight decrease in a couple of years with respect to population and so on. The Canada health and social transfer is outlined there as well, and the transfer from Canada reflects the anticipated transfer in light of a number of figures, including a provincial escalator as well as other factors.
With regard specifically to oil and gas, I should emphasize to the member opposite that these estimates are always fiscally conservative, and that's a good reason why the territory has also managed to maintain its healthy financial state. It's thanks to the conservative financial estimating and the work of all the previous governments and previous Finance ministers. Also, I give high kudos to the staff in this regard.
That being said, for oil and gas, next year the projection is back to historical levels. While industry analysts are anticipating that the price is going to stay high for some time, we, in our fiscally conservative manner, have put next year's back to historical levels. We've shown a slight increase for this year, but next year's are back to the historical levels.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the reason I asked about a road map is that we all know that the special relationship between the Liberals here in the Yukon and the Liberals in Ottawa could spawn an infant here called "devolution".
What's the plan? If we suddenly take down DIAND's powers - let me put it this way - what are we going to do with the royalties from forestry?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the projections that have been tabled in this Legislature do not include any projections around devolution, neither the transfer of authority in terms of royalty regimes nor the transfer of funding to accommodate devolution. This is for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the devolution transfer agreements aren't concluded. While we are very, very close, to use the words of the Grand Chief from this weekend, they are not "signed on the dotted line", so to speak.
The other point with regard to devolution that must be made in terms of the finances of the territory is that a specific reason for ensuring the April 1 transfer date is because you can't do it mid-year. Sorting out the finances would just be a nightmare. In terms of a road map with regard to forestry and transfer of resources, we are working on those issues, and there is the road map in progress. Until such time as it is formally concluded, it wouldn't be included, certainly, in the financial projections until there was a specific date nailed down for the transfer.
Mr. Fentie: Well, let me put it to the minister this way. Whether devolution occurs or doesn't occur on the pre-determined date, we still have something here that we should look at. Whether we are dealing with Minister Martin as Minister of Finance under the federal regime or the minister herself should devolution occur, being the Minister of Finance in the territory, a decision has to be made around forestry and the royalties.
Now, let me say this, Mr. Chair. We are very keen - and I'm sure the members opposite are just as keen as everybody else concerned - to develop a vibrant, sustainable forest industry which contributes in a very positive way to the overall Yukon economy into the long term. It's a given that post-harvest, in terms of the forest industry, creates more jobs and benefit to the actual lead-up and harvest and extraction of resources - it's silviculture. A decision should be made here at the Yukon level to lobby the feds to turn every nickel they earn out of forestry back into silviculture in this territory. The money should not be put into general revenue. If we take over these powers, I seek a commitment on the floor here from the Yukon government and the Minister of Finance, Mr. Chair, that every penny we earn out of royalties - be it the straight taxation or reforestation fee or levy - be put back into silviculture. This is for very good reason, and that is to ensure the sustainability of our forests, to help with research and development, which is going to be a very key element in our future in regard to our forests and, of course, to help generate and maximize the returns that Yukon will accrue in jobs and benefit. Can the minister commit to doing that?
The former NDP government had made a solid commitment around that issue, that every penny earned went right back into the forest itself. Can the minister commit to that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the commitment I can make to the member opposite is that we are committed to the concept of silviculture in the territory and that we are very keenly interested in it. It is a key priority. I'm not going to word the commitment the way the member opposite has. There are also a number of elements with respect to the forests that have been negotiated in the devolution transfer agreement, and I know that the member opposite's leader has had a briefing on devolution. I'm not sure if the member opposite himself has or not, but there are a number of key elements around forestry that have been negotiated, and I would encourage the member opposite to also examine those.
Mr. Fentie: I am up to speed, believe me, on the devolution agreement. My view is, though, that whatever that agreement says does not preclude the Yukon government from making this move, and there is good reason to do that. Silviculture, Mr. Chair, is more than just a concept. It's everything. It's the difference between sustainability and not having sustainability. It's what we do, post-harvest, providing that the officials responsible for making the decisions on how much harvest takes place know what they're doing and have the appropriate scientific data to back it up. It's everything beyond that.
All the more reason to make a solid commitment in this regard. As a government, I think Yukoners would be well-served if this Liberal government across the floor were to make that commitment. I think it's vital, and the last thing we need to see is, in the developing phase of this sector, for this money to just get lost in general revenues somewhere. We have an opportunity here to do something very innovative, very positive, and something that will really impact in a positive way in the long term. I just want to say to the minister that, standing on the floor here, making that commitment will probably result in many accolades going the minister's way, with some of those coming from me.
I think it's a safe bet, a great move, and if the minister would make that commitment here, I would back the minister up on that until my nose bled.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I am very committed to the - the member took umbrage at my choice of the words "concept of silviculture". I am very committed to silviculture. I hear the member's point. He has made it very well. I understand it. I am not going to preclude future governments from possibly even spending more on silviculture than the member opposite anticipates. The fact is that we are committed to silviculture, and that is the commitment that the member opposite wants me to make and we are committed to it.
Mr. Fentie: At the risk of being mischievous, the commitment that I want to hear regards what we are going to do with the money that is coming out of forestry. Because if we are serious about this developing sector, then, in the final analysis, monies are going to be flowing in because it's going to generate revenue and it's going to generate a reforestation levy. Those dollars - although we don't know what that value is as yet, but it can easily be figured out on an average basis - are what I am interested in hearing a commitment on - that we inject everything we make in that sector back into it.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I answered the member's question. At the risk of being mischievous, I have answered the member's question. We are committed to silviculture and we are committed to the forest industry. We are committed to the whole concept of a sustainable forest industry in the Yukon Territory and that it is an economic engine in this territory. We are committed to that. Beyond that, the member is right; it starts to get mischievous. The fact is that we are committed.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I certainly am very comforted that the minister is committed, but why be so scared of making the commitment on the money? Why not do it? Why not take a bold step? Why not be innovative and a leader in this area? Why not come right out and say to the Yukon public, "We will commit to injecting all revenues from the forest sector back into the forest sector?" You know, Mr. Chair, Yukoners, upon hearing that, would probably boost the popularity of this government, from where it's at on the floor, up a few rungs in the popularity department. That would bode well for the members across the way who have been under siege for the last 12 months, reeling from crisis to crisis, stumbling from issue to issue, fumbling the ball and trying to blame everyone else.
I'm trying to get to a very constructive, cooperative approach with the Minister of Finance. I would ask one more time, in all seriousness and with all sincerity: will the minister commit to those revenues being put back into the sector from whence they came?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, this is not a popularity contest. This is not about - I think the expression from one of Canada's national dailies is "what's hot and what's not". That's not what it's about. This Legislature and the discussions in Committee of the Whole debate are about government policy. In this particular case, it's about the budget and the expenditures of this budget.
I am committed to silviculture. I am committed to a sustainable forest industry in this territory. Our government is committed to the forest industry as an economic engine in this territory - a sustainable forest industry.
No matter how many accolades the member opposite is desperate to give me, I am not going to stand on the floor of this Legislature and write a cheque on a bank account we don't have. That's not the way you work and develop the public policy. The fact is, the overriding principle is what the member wants me to commit to, and that overriding principle is a sustainable forest industry, recognizing the role silviculture has to play in that. That's what I've committed to, and the member - principled member that he is - I'm sure will appreciate the fact that that was a principled commitment.
Mr. Fentie: I'm going to move on, but I'll leave this issue with this comment: the former NDP government solidly and clearly committed to every nickel being poured back into the sector from reforestation and royalties, and with good reason. So I will leave the minister with that and move on.
Can the minister explain what designates or what triggers in the department the two-percent bad-debt expense? I mean, when you write this off, you've got a little column in your general ledger that says "bad debts" and you lop a bunch of money in there. In the private sector, you're not taxed on that money. I don't know what happens in the government sector. I think we as taxpayers lose. What triggers the decision to put these monies into bad-debt expense?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's a calculation based on the age of the accounts receivable, to liken it back to the private sector. So once it has passed a certain date, that's the calculation.
Mr. Fentie: To the minister's knowledge, then, are there any outstanding loans or liabilities to the Yukon government in the form of loans that have been put into bad debt?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Under the Department of Finance, the specific bad-debt expense is miscellaneous expenses. With regard to loans in the Department of Economic Development, they have also allowed for a bad-debt expense and I can discuss that further with the member opposite in Economic Development. But in terms of the Department of Finance, it's in miscellaneous items, and there it's based upon age, and there are more details around a specific formula that I can provide to the member opposite if he wishes, but largely it's age. I can give the member some examples if he wishes further discussion on this.
Mr. Fentie: No, I thank the minister for that. That's sufficient.
Mr. Chair, the Liberal government, through the minister, has made the commitment to do a capital budget this fall. Obviously that's a little bit of a change in policy and budgeting in this territory, so, with that in mind, is the minister going to undertake a budget tour - and that means the minister herself, as Minister of Finance, being responsible for the expenditures? No matter what department the expenditures come from, ultimately the minister responsible is the Minister of Finance. Is the minister going to undertake a budget tour, and if so, when and how extensive will it be?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, with regard to the capital planning for this fall's capital budget, there was an extensive budget tour in January and February of this year, and there was a great deal of information contained in that. With regard to specific capital expenditures, a lot of the information was received from communities at that point in time and that planning is underway. We are working with the existing commitments and dollars available.
I personally fully anticipate being most places in the territory as I am travelling constantly throughout the territory, as are all the ministers of the government, and those who do not hold Cabinet portfolios. We are regularly meeting with First Nation governments, municipal governments, as well as ordinary Yukoners. So, a specific capital-only budget tour this summer - no, we have a great deal of the information we need to do that, and communities and members of the public are speaking with us on a regular and continuous basis to ensure that we aren't losing sight of any of the ideas, such as the example given earlier in a discussion around P3s.
Mr. Fentie: Can the minister give us a date on when - obviously this isn't when the budget is tabled - the budget will be completed, pre-tabling in the fall sitting?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Contrary to popular misconception, we are working on the budget right up to the very end, and we continue our work. Right up until it is tabled in the Legislature, we are working on the budget. So we are dealing with the needs and wishes of Yukoners just as promptly as we possibly can.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the minister for that, which brings me to one of my final issues in general debate on this department.
The Minister of Finance just stated that the government side is working diligently on issues for Yukoners and as promptly as possible. I want to ask a direct question to the minister. We've got a serious situation, especially in rural Yukon, because of the cash flow situation being choked off. We have a very watered down community development fund, we have a fire smart program now that is a quarter of a million dollars shy, with an uptake that far exceeds the level of funding in it. These are great job-creation tools but, more importantly, they really go a long way - these two initiatives especially - in rural Yukon to help generate the much-needed cash flow.
Now, there is money available. I don't think we have to argue or dispute the fact that there is certainly money sitting in the bank. I want to ask the Minister of Finance, with all due respect: will the minister now undertake to inject more money into Project Yukon and into fire smart so that dozens of people in rural Yukon over the coming months can go to work and get a paycheque, spend some of that money in the communities, generating that much-needed cash flow?
This is not going to adversely affect the long-term planning for the minister. This is going to, however, have a very positive impact on rural Yukon. Will the minister undertake to do those two things - more money into Project Yukon, more money into fire smart? These are two vehicles that are sitting ready and able to put Yukoners to work and create that cash flow that is so much-needed in Yukon.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, first of all, I object to the member opposite's term "watered down." We are focusing our efforts in Project Yukon on people, structure and places where we can then measure the results. We have taken the fund - and Project Yukon is accountable, it is free from any political interference, and it is not watered down. The first round of applications has been received, and the applications are being processed just as rapidly as possible. The funding of $1.5 million has certainly not all been spent. In this first round, there is an effort to get as much of the funding out as possible and as quickly as possible. We have also set aside half a million dollars for fire smart, and the first round of applications are being sent in. In fact, I had the opportunity to speak with Mayor Richard Durocher from Watson Lake - it is a community particularly interested in fire smart - about their application, and the fact is that the Liberal government has recognized fire smart and set aside funding. It should have been a line item in the budget. It shouldn't have been lumped in with other funding programs. It should have been a line item in the budget and, under the Liberal government, it is a line item.
The money will be spent on fire smart. These programs, under the Department of Economic Development, are going to be spent. They are going to achieve results and they are going to be measurable.
Overall, in terms of working with communities and with Yukoners as a whole on issues where there is government help - and it's not just financial. There are occasions where government has provided expertise and the environment where we can facilitate a discussion of economic ideas in communities.
The Department of Economic Development and I, as minister, are working very hard to work with communities, recognizing that there are opportunities to capitalize on opportunities and to seek out new opportunities. We are working in that regard and we are looking forward to results. I can hardly wait to share them with the members opposite when we do an evaluation of the first year of Project Yukon.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I don't accept the minister's argument that Project Yukon isn't a watered down version of the community development fund. It has $1.5 million less than the former fund. Obviously the uptake on the community development fund with that $1.5 million more in it - there still wasn't enough money to cover all the projects that came forward.
I think that the point that the minister is really missing here is that ultimately the final decision about who gets money is going to be made by politicians. There goes the theory about political interference, because it's this minister and her ministers who are going to ultimately be responsible for that expenditure. Now, the minister is shaking her head. Well, it doesn't work any other way. That's how it is. It's the duty she has been charged with and she will carry out that duty. In the final analysis, it will be the government side, the ministers, who will make the final decision on every dime that's spent in Project Yukon and, indeed, in fire smart.
So, with that, I have nothing further in general debate and will turn this over to my colleague from the Klondike, and I thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I listened in deep anticipation and just have a few areas to explore with the Minister of Finance.
Workers compensation, the WCB, is paid for out of Public Service Commission. I can't remember the exact amount but it's about a $2.2 million annual premium. In addition to that, the Department of Finance picks up the supplementary benefits.
I know there's some controversy surrounding the classification and there is an ongoing dispute between Government of Yukon and WCB.
Has that impacted on the additional costs for the supplementary benefits to the Government of the Yukon and has the issue between the Government of the Yukon and WCB been resolved?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, no, that dispute hasn't been resolved. It is still under dispute. However, the line item that the member opposite is referencing is not part of that dispute. These are individuals who are not government employees; they are former employees who were injured when we were not covered and when we insured privately, and we are topping them up to what they would get currently under WCB.
So there are answers to two separate issues that the member raised in that particular question. No, the dispute has not been resolved; it is still under appeal. And the separate item covers other employees.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given there is considerable cost being incurred with being insured through WCB, has the Department of Finance taken an actuarial review of whether it would be prudent to go back to being self-insured?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It's a loaded question that the member opposite is asking. It would appear on the surface that it would be less than the amount that we would pay to injured workers but as I said, it's a loaded question.
Mr. Jenkins: So the Department of Finance has done an actuarial study. Well, where do these figures or this analysis come from? Prudent management would dictate that one would conduct such an overview given that there is an ongoing dispute with WCB and it could be less costly to the taxpayers to be self-insured, which I believe is certainly the case.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It's actually the Public Service Commission that has done the study and the figures show that it would be cheaper to be self-insured.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given that it's the taxpayers of the Yukon who are responsible for this, is there any movement to becoming self-insured once again? That is pretty well the way that most governments operate. The Government of Canada is still self-insured in Yukon, through Alberta. They just basically administer the workers' compensation program - WCB. That appears to be very cost-effective.
Now, given that our responsibility is to provide the highest consistent level of service at the lowest and best cost to the taxpayers, why is there not a movement internally to become self-insured once again?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I appreciate what the member has said. The example the member has given is the way it used to be here. The concern is the impact that any change by the Government of Yukon now would have on the private sector and on others. We are a large contributor and that is a very real concern.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given that the annual premium or the annual assessment for the Yukon is some $2.2 million, I would suggest to the minister that the Government of Yukon is the largest contributor to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. Would the minister confirm that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes, I think so, by far.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I fail to understand why we aren't heading in that direction. What is happening is that we are artificially supporting the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. The reality of it is that the WCB, in my opinion, is not addressing its responsibilities. All that this is going to serve to do is increase their cash flow and prolong their problems before they are brought to a head and addressed. The Government of Yukon currently can't get a resolution to its dispute with WCB. That should say something to us all.
Given that that problem exists and has existed for quite some time, there's the option there to pursue another course of action. Can the minister provide another good reason why we're not opting out and bringing this to a head?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, first of all, let me agree with the member that he has raised a good question and raised some key points. I think the member opposite, partly now and formerly, as a member of the private sector, can also agree that a very real concern is what impact any withdrawal by the Government of the Yukon would have on the private sector and the premiums that they pay.
Overall, all members of this House share a concern with respect to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. We have the chair and the president - I stand to be corrected on the titles - here to address these sorts of questions in the fall sitting of the Legislature. We also have a minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board who is very concerned about these issues, as well. What I can say to the member opposite is that we hear what he has said, we are concerned about this issue, and we are examining the very questions that the member opposite raises. However, there has been no decision made in that regard. We're gathering information and seeking advice on it. I appreciate the point the member has made.
Mr. Jenkins: I will leave that issue on the table, but it's an area that I will be re-exploring, Mr. Chair, because I believe firmly that we as a government have to do the best for the taxpayers, recognizing everything.
A couple of the other concerns - I'm sure the Department of Finance, comprised of the capable individuals they are, Mr. Chair, have a very good idea as to what the lapses are at March 31. And could the Minister of Finance provide an insight as to what the anticipated surplus at March 31, 2001 was?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we're still gathering the variance reports and information from departments; however, I can advise the member opposite that, at this point, it would appear that the surplus is pretty much as we had projected it, as we tabled it, with the addition of the letter received April 2 from the Minister of Finance regarding the additional formula adjustments.
Mr. Jenkins: Will the $42-million formula finance adjustment accrue to the last fiscal period or will it accrue to this fiscal period?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the way that is "booked", to use the term, is that what is earned up to March 31, 2001, is the $36 million, and that's what will be booked.
Mr. Jenkins: So, $36 million is booked for the last fiscal period to March 31. Now, in addition to that, there are the lapses and accumulated surplus. What is that figure, exclusive of this $36 million?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: We estimated that there would be about $13 million in revotes and about $15 million in lapses. As I indicated in my first answer, the information we have to date is just about as we projected.
Mr. Jenkins: So what the minister is indicating, subject to confirmation by the federal Auditor General's office, is that there is currently a $28-million surplus plus $36 million booked from formula finances - $64 million. Could the minister just confirm that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No, the anticipated accumulated surplus as of March 31, 2001 will be about $80 million.
Mr. Jenkins: $80 million - and we are crying poverty.
Mr. Chair, I anticipated it to be in the order of about $60 million, but I praise the Minister of Finance. She has been able to cry poverty for quite a long, long time, and the surplus is $80 million. That is a significant surplus.
I have some other questions dealing with other areas. We will get back to that. I am sure that that surplus figure of approximately $80 million will be the topic of a lot of conversation around the Yukon.
The issues surrounding formula financing and the First Nations - if the minister could also provide me a copy of the legislative return that the official opposition has asked for, I would appreciate it. The minister is nodding accordingly and I would take that as an affirmative response.
One of the other areas that I know the Minister of Finance is monitoring and has a handle on - although they are in other areas, but they do reflect on the total financial indebtedness of Yukon - is the sum of the financial obligations of the Crown corporations, specifically Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Development Corporation. And I am speaking directly to the flex-term note with Canada whereby the Yukon acquired the assets of the Northern Canada Power Commission some years ago, and there is some dispute currently between Canada and the Yukon Development Corporation with respect to the repayment of this flex-term note. The last we heard was that the amount in dispute is being booked and just carried in a suspense account; it's not being forwarded to Canada. I am sure this is an issue that the Minister of Finance has been involved in.
Just where are we at in a resolution of this issue, and what is the total amount in dispute between the parties - between Yukon and Canada - on the repayment of this flex-term note? Just what is our dispute there, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm very well aware of this issue. My last briefing on it and discussions on it were as minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation, so that was some time ago. I don't have the exact figures the member opposite is requesting or the current status.
I can do one of two things: either have the minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation be prepared with those answers when we come to the Yukon Development Corporation debate, and put him on notice, or I can have the minister responsible respond in a legislative return to the member opposite. I don't have the figures he is seeking at my fingertips here. What would the member prefer? The minister able to respond during debate when it comes up, or does he want me to provide a legislative return?
Mr. Jenkins: If the minister could provide it in general debate on the Development Corporation, that would be fine, Mr. Chair, but the issue is the amount and what the federal government's movement is going to be if it's not quickly resolved. I would have some concerns about that.
Mr. Chair, further to that, it would appear that the Yukon Development Corporation is embarking on another major capital undertaking that exceeds the amount they currently hold in reserves. From where will they obtain those funds? Will they be borrowed internally from the Government of Yukon or will they obtain those funds on the open market? And how? What is their method of borrowing?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there is still some discussion with the Yukon Development Corporation Board. As I said to the member opposite, I am aware of this particular issue and the points with regard to the transfer of the NCPC assets and so on, but the detailed answers and the detailed answer to his last question will be provided by the minister responsible in general debate.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, is there any internal policy that the Department of Finance has with respect to borrowing by our Crown corporations? We see a line item for capital. For the Liquor Corporation, usually it's $1.00 because they don't have any major undertakings. But it would appear that the Yukon Housing Corporation borrows on the open market more often than they borrow internally. It would appear that Yukon Development Corporation borrows on the open market. What is the internal government policy with respect to borrowing by Crown corporations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Generally speaking, if we have the financial resources available and have the cash available to the Government of the Yukon, we would prefer to be the lender, and for the Yukon Housing Corporation, for example, there's a vote through the Legislature. There is control in that respect. They also borrow as the member has indicated, but generally speaking, if we have the cash reserves available, we try to be the lending agency.
Mr. Jenkins: Is there any policy with respect to borrowing by Crown corporations, and if not, why not, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: No, there is no policy. Each corporation has some bylaws in that regard. The member opposite raises a good issue. The Yukon Housing Corporation is voted. The vote authority comes through the Legislature. But others do not. The member raises a good issue. I rule that in, mentally, to this whole idea and questions around governance issues, and it's an issue that I take very seriously. The member raises a good issue.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, just for the record, could the minister confirm that the Government of the Yukon is the guarantor on all borrowing by all Yukon Crown corporations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I would urge the minister to address this issue - that we have a consistent application of rules across all Crown corporations, specifically the Yukon Development Corporation and Energy Corporation. Furthermore, the same goes for the reporting on these Crown corporations.
If you want to look at contracts and contracts awarded, a policy from the Cabinet or the Management Board in this area is important, seeing that the only Crown corporation that reports accurately and consistently on contracts is the Liquor Corporation. The contract registry for the Yukon Housing Corporation hasn't been updated for years, and I couldn't find any or none exist for the Development Corporation and the Energy Corporation. So it's only reasonable to expect a consistent application of rules with respect to terms and conditions of borrowing, contracts and contract registry, and providing that information in a timely fashion - the same as other government agencies. There has to be a consistent policy in this because, ultimately, it's the Government of the Yukon that's responsible for all the transactions and is basically a co-signer on the loan when these Crown corporations borrow.
The Minister of Finance is shaking her head in agreement. It's an area that has been sadly neglected, and it must be brought to the attention of the officials, and a consistent policy must be put in place, Mr. Chair. When can we expect to see such a policy?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I agree with the member opposite. This is one good example, which the member has raised, of things that need to be done with regard to standardizing and working with Crown corporations or other similar entities that are sometimes at arm's length from government and sometimes not. There are many examples of them and there are many issues. As ministers responsible, we are expected to answer for these corporations on the floor of the House, but we aren't given the control in legislation.
So I agree with the member opposite. This is but one area that has, I feel, been neglected. I will share the member's view on that, and it's not often the Member for Klondike and I agree on something but we do agree on that. It's an area that has been neglected in the past, and so is internal audit. One thing at a time - we're working on this. We're working on it now, and I'm hopeful that the member opposite will see some results and some further discussion of this as the term of this government progresses.
Mr. Jenkins: There is another area that I do have some concerns with in respect to the Finance department, and it is control over the Crown corporations. Is there any reporting to the Department of Finance by the Crown corporations with respect to their financial undertakings? How are these Crown corporations watched? Now, I know they have a president and a board of directors, but how does the Yukon government oversee it? Because more often than not, the minister of the day - it doesn't matter which party - doesn't really know what is going on. So how is the reporting to the Department of Finance, which I would see as being the major watchdog on these initiatives, undertaken?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There are a couple of points that I would like to make with regard to the member opposite. We have talked in these discussions about the Yukon Development Corporation, Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Yukon Housing Corporation, but I would also like to remind the member opposite that we have similar types of structures with the hospital and the college.
With the hospital, it is supported through the Department of Health and Social Services, with the college, through the Department of Education, with the Yukon Housing Corporation - there is no difficulty there. They submit their variance reports as do any others. It's the same with the Yukon Liquor Corporation.
With regard to Yukon Development Corporation and Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, Yukon Development Corporation is audited by the Auditor General. So they don't submit variance reports as does the Housing Corporation to the Department of Finance. They are audited by the Auditor General. So each department submits a variance report, for example, and that tells us, as per an earlier discussion, what money will be required to be revoted, what is being lapsed, any changes in the financial picture. We receive those regularly and the minister signs them off, for example, for the Housing Corporation. We don't have that reporting relationship with either Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board or with the Yukon Development Corporation. They are audited by the Auditor General.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, that begs the question - I can understand WC being out of the loop and being audited separately, but the Yukon Development Corporation? Can the minister substantiate why it is treated like a separate entity and unlike other Crown corporations?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it is self-funding. It is seen as more independent. Whether or not it should be is another discussion. It is a discussion around governance, but that is why there is a difference. It is seen as self-funding and it was set up that way. It is set up as an energy corporation. That's why.
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister confirm that the Yukon Development Corporation is indeed self-funding? I don't believe that that currently is the case. It will require massive infusions. It's only self-funding because of some very, very cushy relationships with the Government of Yukon. One of the initiatives was the Education building over in Riverdale, which was rebuilt by the Yukon Development Corporation and leased back.
In all respects, it is very much dependent on the Government of Yukon's support. To say that it is self-funding and that that's the reason bears much more careful scrutiny than what I'm hearing is currently being done.
What I'm looking for is a consistent set of rules across the board, to bring the Yukon Development Corporation into that fold with respect to reporting and monitoring. Ultimately, the Government of Yukon is responsible for backstopping any indebtedness that exceeds their ability to fund and, for any monies they borrow, the Government of Yukon has to co-sign. We are ultimately responsible, so the responsibility should flow both ways. It doesn't, and I want to know why and what's going to be done about it.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I've already said to the member opposite that I don't disagree with the member. These are issues. These are all part of the whole governance issues with the Yukon Development Corporation. I agree with the member. It has to be looked at. It bears closer scrutiny. I committed months ago, last November, to deal with these governance issues, and that's what we're working on. These are the very sorts of questions - I agree with the member, and I have been asking, as has the minister who is now responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation. I was trying to answer the member previously regarding an explanation for history, which the member opposite and I both know. The member wants to know if we are working on these issues - yes. Are we working toward bringing these governance issues into some kind of format? Yes, we are. We are working on them, and we are looking forward to the member's support for the results.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, we've recognized the problem, and we both agree that there is a difference in the treatment of Crown corporations. What I'm looking for from the minister is her assurances that we're going to treat all Crown corporations in the same manner. Is that the goal of this exercise that's being entertained currently by government?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, that may be the outcome, but the point of our work is to make sure that we have the sorts of controls that we should have. As ministers responsible, we stand on the floor of the House, and we answer. Let me use the example of Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, because it's one we all understand in this Legislature. When the minister stands on the floor of this House and answers why we're having difficulty in paying injured workers or processing payments or dealing with appeal boards or why our premiums are what they are, if we're the ministers responsible, we have to be able to answer those questions.
We can't, in all fairness to the Yukon public, stand and say that it's an arm's-length board and not have the control. We have said we want to deal with these governance issues. We want to answer to the Yukon public. I want to answer the member opposite on all of these governance and financial issues, so our government is tackling the governance issues with Crown corporations.
Now, it may be - to borrow the words often used in this Legislature - that, at the end of the day, the Crown corporations will be similar, but it may be that there are still some differences.
The fact is that the member opposite has been asking about governance with relationship to YDC. The other fact is that I have said we as a government are working on it. If the member opposite wants to ask specific questions about the YDC and the financial relationship, I would encourage him to do so. I am certain that the minister responsible is very well-prepared to answer them.
Overall, from a government perspective, I can advise the member opposite that we are working on governance issues.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, for the record, I believe that all Crown corporations should be treated in a like manner by the Government of the Yukon. The only exception, if you want to look at WCB as being a Crown corporation, is that I believe that should be a stand-alone entity. But given that some of the undertakings of the Crown corporation are very much of a political nature or political direction - and the impact on the ratepayers may be one thing, but the impact on the taxpayers might be something else, because ultimately Government of Yukon is the guarantor on all borrowings. So I believe that it is imperative that we have a consistent set of rules applied to all Crown corporations, and that's what I'm seeking from the minister - her concurrence that that is the direction they're aiming toward. All I hear is that, at the end of the day, it may be like that. But I believe that until such time as we have in place a consistent set of rules for all Crown corporations respecting the treatment of capital with respect to reporting and to their financial ability, we would be remiss as members of this Legislature.
We must ensure that there is a consistent reporting across all Crown corporations that we can all easily understand. That is where I am heading, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I see where the member is coming from. I hope the member opposite can also recognize the point that, while we strive to have a consistent set of rules, it may be that there might need to be a separate wrinkle to take into account some factors around social housing through the Yukon Housing Corporation or something.
I see where the member is coming from. Certainly we are striving to clarify the reporting to deal with these governance issues. But at the end of the day the same cookie cutter might need a new wrinkle to deal with some issues around - I can't think of any other example other than perhaps social housing or some other thing.
So I see the member's point. I hope the member can also see that there may be a requirement for other anomalies within a strict set of rules.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the other abnormalities are such things as the immigrant investor fund or funds flowing from Kassandra. Where are these going to be contained and how are we going to monitor that we are receiving what we should be receiving from these funds? How are we monitoring payouts? If you want to look at how the immigrant investor fund is structured - Government of Yukon has borrowed from it and it has flowed through to the Department of Economic Development. The funds were originally held by the Department of Finance, and it's debt serviced initially by Government Services and now it has been switched over to Community and Transportation Services. So, to track all these mechanisms, you've got to be somewhat conversant with what is going on in the budget process. There has to be a much simpler way to set these initiatives up, unless, of course, the Minister of Finance wants to hide something, which may be the case, Mr. Chair.
All I'm suggesting is that there be a consistent, fair and reasonable way of tracking these amounts and reporting on them.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I don't disagree with the member opposite that the immigrant investor fund, as established, is very complex. Tracking it is something that we as a government have inherited and we are dealing with. I don't disagree with the member on that.
With regard to the Kassandra issue, the member wants to get into a discussion on that. On the specific question that the member asked, it is overseen by legal counsel - the funds. And the expenditures are overseen by legal counsel.
Mr. Jenkins: So let me get this right. The funds, with respect to Kassandra, are being overseen by legal counsel, yet the briefing that I was afforded by the Minister of Finance was provided by the Minister of Finance. So that would suggest to me that the Minister of Finance and her officials are intimately involved with the Kassandra issue. They probably have more to do with the day-to-day monitoring of the money and the flow of that money. Where does it accrue? I don't see it under prior years' recoveries. It is just dumped into general revenues? Where does it go?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, all legal bills associated with this are overseen by legal counsel but, in the end, we are responsible. The member opposite has not seen revenues or funds received to date, as they are held in trust. They have not yet been recorded. They are still being held in trust.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the last time we examined the Kassandra issue with the Minister of Finance there had been an issue that had been negotiated, and there was a settlement of this issue. Why haven't funds flowed out of the trust account of the legal beagles into the hands of the Government of the Yukon for our due component?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, perhaps the member opposite misunderstood. There has been no settlement. They're working toward settlement and there has been leave to appeal filed with the Supreme Court. So in part this matter is still before the courts.
Mr. Jenkins: This was an area I had just recently explored, so that may or may not be the case, Mr. Chair. In order to expedite the business of the House, this is a somewhat complex legal matter. Perhaps I could ask the Minister of Finance to provide an overview of this area, save and except for the known directors of this corporation as to where we're at, how much money has flowed, where it's being held in trust and when we can expect resolution and what our exposure is, because virtually all the millions of dollars that have flowed so far have been eaten up by legal fees. There is a considerable sum. It's over $1 million in legal fees to date on this matter, and again it's an issue of reporting and accounting for and where it's done and how it's done. Unless you knew that this matter existed, Mr. Chair, you couldn't, for the life of you, find it anywhere other than in general debate in Hansard.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member wouldn't find this anywhere except in general debate of Finance because it has not reached a conclusion. There are still matters that are before the courts. Now, if the member opposite wishes a verbal briefing, I'm happy to provide that to the member opposite, or I can provide a detailed response in writing. If I could just ask the member to indicate which method he prefers, I will arrange such.
Mr. Jenkins: I have had the verbal briefing previously from the Department of Finance, and all that did was to confirm what I knew, so a legislative return on this important issue would be much appreciated. That's the way I would be prepared to proceed.
One of the other issues in the Department of Finance that I have historically had major concerns with - and I was hoping that this new Liberal government would be bringing it to a head - was the definition of capital and the definition of O&M so that we're consistent across all departments. Where are we on this initiative, Mr. Chair?
Chair: Before I recognize Ms. Duncan, the official opposition has asked if you, Ms. Duncan, could indicate that they could get a copy of the legislative return as well, to expedite debate.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Certainly, Mr. Chair. My understanding is that a legislative return is provided to every member, so they would be provided one as a matter of course.
And what I heard the Member for Klondike ask was that it be formally recorded in a legislative return as opposed to a verbal briefing or a letter. I might just add for the Hansard record, Mr. Chair, that the Member for Klondike had asked for a detailed response during the fuel oil tax legislative discussion, and that written response, rather than being filed with the Clerk, was provided to the Member for Klondike, the Member for Watson Lake and the leader of the official opposition. So that has been received by the members opposite; it was not filed with the Clerk. However, a copy is available, should anyone who faithfully reads Hansard be interested in it.
With regard to the discussion around capital versus operation and maintenance, the member opposite is aware that there are public sector accounting rules in this regard and they have been adopted by a number of jurisdictions. There is also a lot of dispute about them, in that there are some jurisdictions quite unhappy about them and there is some discussion around those particular rules. It's anticipated that, within a year or two, Yukon would have to move toward adopting those specific rules.
At that time there would be a stricter definition of capital, and it quite likely would be a very high threshold as well. So we are moving in the direction the member opposite has asked about, and the anticipated time frame is within a year or two. There are other enormous projects on the plate of the Government of Yukon, so there will be some discussions around that as well as to where it fits.
Mr. Jenkins: Are we headed toward a list of all our capital assets? I am not looking so much for that; I am looking for a clear, concise definition of what constitutes a capital expenditure vis-à-vis what constitutes an O&M expenditure. I am sure that we can do that within the existing time frames. What the Minister of Finance is referring to is the capitalization of assets, and that is something down the road. I see us getting in step with the rest of Canada there, but what I am asking the Minister of Finance to implement is a more clear and better definition of capital and a clear definition of O&M. The painting on a school that's done every five years is capitalized. In the private sector, painting is expensed, except for your initial construction. Re-carpeting is the same thing; most often it is expensed. Sometimes we capitalize it. Again in the private sector, there are various rules for that. It's just a matter of getting in step with what the rest of the world is doing in government, or at least what the rest of Canada is doing with respect to government. Does the minister not agree?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes, I do hear what the member opposite is saying. There are two discussions: there is the capitalization of assets, and then there is a setting of rules that say "at this point it's capital" and "at this point it's an expense." I understand the rules are very clear in business and they are far less clear in government. We would do both at the same time.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, one of the other very important areas that doesn't appear to have the force and effect that it should is our current census. The envelope was dropped off at both my doors - one in Whitehorse and one in Dawson - so I'm not being counted twice. It's wherever I'm residing on May 15.
This is a very important area, given that it approximately translates into $10,000 for every man, woman and child. We're not counting the dogs and cats in this; we're just counting the people - residents of the Yukon. So I would urge the Minister of Finance to mount a much more vigorous campaign than is currently underway with respect to the need and the effect of this census. Currently, most people look upon it as another bit of trash mail. I know a lot of individuals who deposit it right into file 13. That's currently the case.
This is going to impact down the road. The census adjustment will be upon us in about a year and a half, and there will be a clawback. That clawback will be significant, because it will probably show a reduction of between 3,000 and 4,000 Yukoners. We know what that translates into in the formula finance agreement, at $10,000 a person. It is significant.
I would urge the Minister of Finance to launch a more vigorous campaign with respect to the census and get everyone recorded.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, I take the member opposite's comment very, very seriously. I can tell him what we have done as members of the Legislature in our work in taking this responsibility very seriously. As the member opposite knows, every single member has the opportunity in a household mailing to remind members of the importance of the census. All of our members have done that. We have taken out paid advertisements. I went through the trade show this weekend and noticed that the RCMP, through their promotion of the Neighbourhood Watch and Crime Prevention Yukon, also were reminding folks as they walked by their booth of the importance of the census.
At the Association of Yukon Communities this weekend, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services stressed the point with every single community councillor and mayor who was present.
We as legislators, I am confident, have done absolutely everything we can, and I would urge members opposite to do the same. It is very, very important, and the member opposite says that people of his acquaintance have simply dropped them in the garbage. Well, I pray not, Mr. Chair, because it's very important to all of us. I would hope that as a responsible member of the Legislature that the member opposite has encouraged those individuals to get another form and fill it out and send it in, because it is important to all of us. I've tried to reach every single one in the last number of days, as has every member on this side of the House, as has every government employee that I know of. It's very important. Government employees were all reminded with a note in their pay envelopes how important the census is. I am confident that we have done everything we can as a government. I am open to more suggestions. If the member thinks there is something else we can do, I'm open to that idea. What's more, Mr. Chair, I would really encourage members opposite to, on this particular project, work with the government and support the members of their communities, as well, in filling out these forms.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the opposition will do its part, Mr. Chair, but don't pass the buck into our domain totally. You're the government of the day. I'm just pointing out that I don't believe enough has been done to reflect upon our general population the very, very importance of the census and the impact that it has on our finances. I've taken that task up with a number of individuals, but I can reflect on a number of individuals who have just looked upon it as more government mail and dealt with it in the manner that they often deal with it. So the message is not out there completely, and one can always do a better job getting the message out there. That's all I'm urging the Minister of Finance and the Premier of the Yukon to do, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, can I ask the member, then, what else he suggests we do? If the member opposite is suggesting rolling ads on the local television - I know there's a cable channel in Watson Lake and I know there's one in Dawson City. If the member's suggesting that, yes, let's take them up on it. A good idea.
I am so pleased the Member for Watson Lake is shouting across the floor "door to door" because I know every single member on this side of the House does door to door in their riding, and I would encourage the members opposite to do the same.
Mr. Jenkins: If the Minister of Finance, the Premier of the Yukon, wants the job done well, she can probably resign and we could step forward and show her how the job can be done in an efficient, effective and cost-effective manner to improve the whole Yukon, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Keenan: I have a suggestion for the Premier, if I could, on that. If the Premier would like to develop a generic type of e-mail message or something, I'm sure everyone of us on this side could send that message out on our e-mail list. If we can do something like that, that would be something we can do together because it is terribly important that we do it. As a previous member of the Management Board, I understand the implications of what we're talking about and it could be dreadful.
I just want to follow up a little, if I could, with what my colleague from Watson Lake was talking about regarding the First Nations and their financial transfer agreements. If I could just explain that a little, I guess I will.
What we have is that First Nation financial transfer arrangements have been made on a basis and I know they are made with the federal government. They are made in part with the territorial government, but the territorial government has no other responsibility for funding First Nations other than what is negotiated from a PSTA or something like as such. We know that. It's there. The financial transfer arrangements are to be reviewed - and it has been a while since I have looked at this, so I'm coming from memory and I'm talking First Nations at this point in time - in three, five and nine years and we're coming up to, I think, the third review of the financial transfer arrangement and then it's going to be frozen in time. There will be inflation escalators, et cetera, that will be attached to it, I'm sure.
We're going to be getting through land claims here, and the sooner the better in the territory. It has always been my belief - I've been a strong believer in the empowerment of the people. I guess that's why I'm a New Democrat and an ex-chief, because that is what I believe. We'll get there.
What we have on the municipal side of things - I am talking about towns that provide services. There are 10 or 12 out there; there are 14 First Nations but there are some that are mixed communities - some like Pelly Crossing and Old Crow that are predominantly First Nation - and those types of things.
Now, on the municipal side of things, we have enabling legislation through the Municipal Act, which the government, which was the opposition of the day, supported, if I recall. And it was enabling legislation.
And then attached to this - and the minister can stop me at any time or shake her head and say yes or no, because I am also trying to paint a backdrop for myself here.
Now, are the municipal funding arrangements, the financial formulas, contained within the Department of Finance or are they contained within Community and Transportation Services?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Keenan: In Community and Transportation Services? Okay. So, if I could, I am going to carry on with this because it is information for the minister.
Some of these First Nations will be drawing down, through section 17, the PSTAs; and it is negotiated and they will get what they have to deliver an adequate service. In some cases, these First Nations are the only governance in the communities and provide services to all aspects of the community, of which some of them are not their own folks. This might not be the right language, but it seems a bit unfair that we would ask that one group to remain frozen in time through a financial transfer arrangement versus the ongoing flexibility that is contained within the municipal finance arrangements.
What I would ask the Premier to do, if the Premier has the political will - and this does not come from the Deputy Minister of Finance; this is strictly a political question. Does the Minister of Finance, or the Premier, feel that there would be, could be or should be some more attention to this financial transfer arrangement of the First Nations, which is strictly with Ottawa, to see if we can get it to evolve for the betterment of the community? Because they will be delivering, whether it's a capital service such as plowing a road or delivering water or anything like as such.
Right now we have - I don't know - in the Executive Council Office's budget, I haven't really looked. But say there's $5 million per year that goes for the financing of the ECO unit that does land claims. Now, we can take some imaginative looks - and I have had this conversation with the previous Government Leader. We were politically looking at it quite seriously as to how we would enable communities to mature and to grow.
So I guess I have two questions: have I explained enough to the Premier, because I don't want to waste the time of the House, and if I have, would the Premier be willing to look at that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I've listened very carefully to what the member opposite had to say. I would like the opportunity to go through Hansard and explore this issue further.
I haven't had a tremendous amount of discussion with First Nation chiefs on this particular issue. We've been working on other things, as the member can appreciate.
I can also appreciate that this is a federal Yukon First Nation discussion, and the member opposite knows how long and hard I worked on our own formula issues with the Department of Finance and how difficult those discussions are.
I will review the information presented by the member opposite, I will review the discussions, and I will keep the member advised of discussions in this regard and share information with the member opposite.
Mr. Keenan: Maybe if the minister would like, we could have a take-2 at getting together here and talking about something for the betterment of the communities. If the minister would like to take it off the floor of the Legislature, I'm certainly willing to do that, but I'm not willing to let it go until I am sure that the minister is very aware of what I'm talking about. We can certainly do that, not from reading Hansard, but by sitting down and having a cup of coffee for 15 minutes and talking about it. It's strictly political. It is strictly a political issue.
If the Premier would go in that manner, I could live with that also.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm very well aware of the issue that has been presented. I am very well aware that it is also a political issue. Those points were not lost on me. But I'm not going to give the member opposite a political answer without giving this some more thorough consideration, review, thought and discussion. If the member opposite would like to discuss this outside of this Legislature after the sitting, I am certainly prepared to do so.
Mr. Keenan: No, I don't think that's necessary, actually. Just based on the minister's comments, the minister does have a grip on what I'm talking about. I would like to clarify with the minister that it is not strictly, in thinking, a federal/First Nation arrangement. I do see where there is room for YTG participation. It could be through the uniqueness of being a community, whether it is Pelly Crossing, Old Crow or somewhere like as such.
I would ask the minister that when she has that political talk with her caucus, if she could please write me a letter and apprise me of what the direction is, I would appreciate having it.
I guess this also has to be a question for another arena; what I would like to find out at this time might be from C&TS. But I would like to ask the Minister of Finance if she would table the formula for the municipal grants and what it contains. I know if there is an ability to raise money through taxation and revenue, all that has to be factored in. I would very much appreciate a copy of that formula and I would very much appreciate a copy of the grants that are going out to the municipalities and to the hamlets - those types of things. Is that possible, please?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I will send that over to the member opposite, and naturally we'll provide a copy to the member for the third party, as well.
Mr. Chair, I'm sure the member recalls the formula from his days as Minister of Community and Transportation Services, but to ensure that he's not going solely on memory, all public information that's available will be made available to the member opposite.
Mr. Keenan: I appreciate that, and I'd like to know what the funding arrangements with each of them are, whether it's the Tagish Advisory Council, whether it's the Carcross Area Advisory Planning Committee, whether it's the Ross River round table - all of those initiatives. I'd very much appreciate having that in my hands.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Seeing no further general debate, we'll proceed with the departments.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Administration in the amount of $378,000 agreed to
On Financial Operations and Revenue Services
Financial Operations and Revenue Services in the amount of $1,907,000 agreed to
On Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat
Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat in the amount of $1,240,000 agreed to
On Banking Services
Mr. Jenkins: Are we realizing the benefits that we thought would be accrued to Government of Yukon with the banking relationship from the last contract that was just recently signed?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes.
Banking Services in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer
Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer in the amount of $218,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Seeing no questions on the allotments, are there any questions on the statistics?
Treasury in the amount of $3,793,000 agreed to
On Workers Compensation Supplementary Benefits
On Supplementary Pensions
Supplementary Pensions in the amount of $382,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Workers Compensation Supplementary Benefits in the amount of $382,000 agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense
On Allowance for Bad Debts
Allowance for Bad Debts in the amount of $74,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Bad Debts Expense in the amount of $74,000 agreed to
On Prior Period Adjustments
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Seeing no general debate, we'll go right to the line-by-line.
On Prior Period Adjustments
Prior Period Adjustments in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the allotments?
Prior Period Adjustments in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries and revenues?
Mr. Jenkins: Our use of the credit cards for purchases, how is that functioning? Are any problems anticipated? I believe it's the Diners/enRoute card
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I can advise the House that it's working very, very well and we have heard no complaints at all - quite the direct opposite. There has been a lot of support from industry and small business on our initiatives in this regard and on this particular one as well.
Chair: Are there any questions on the transfer payments.
Seeing no questions on either of those, we will go right to the beginning.
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $4,249,000 agreed to
Chair: We will proceed directly to Finance capital.
On Capital Expenditures
Chair: We will go right to Treasury.
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $30,000 agreed to
Treasury in the amount of $30,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $30,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Chair: We will now proceed to loan capital and amortization.
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The purpose of this item is that the loan capital portion of the vote provides the government with the appropriation authority to make loans to third parties, most especially municipalities. We traditionally vote $5 million for this purpose, although in past years - in most years - that has been far more than what was actually borrowed by the municipalities.
The loan capital recoveries indicate that any loans are carried as an asset on our balance sheet, rather than being a charge against the accumulated surplus.
The loan amortization expenditure covers the payments we must make on old loans taken out by the Government of Yukon.
These loans are from the federal government, the Canada Pension Plan fund and the open market, and were taken out in turn to reloan to municipalities. None have been taken out for a number of years. Any recent loans to municipalities have been made out of our cash reserves. The recovery shown for this item consists of repayments by municipalities on loans made to them by the Yukon government.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on loans to municipalities, I do have some concerns with the minister signing off on the loans to Dawson without going to a plebiscite and with the amount of indebtedness that the municipality currently will be carrying, Mr. Chair. Does the Premier as Minister of Finance have any concerns with the amount of indebtedness that Dawson currently has?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the amount of indebtedness was examined by Community and Transportation Services and discussed with the Department of Finance, and we concur with the Community and Transportation Services' departmental assessment. I am satisfied that the minister has fully complied with the responsibilities contained under the Municipal Act - the minister being the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, this money is a 25-year amortization. What assurances has the Minister of Finance provided that municipal block funding will remain in place for the same period of time over which the loan is granted?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I can no more answer for 25 years down the road than the member opposite can. The fact is that we are working with municipalities. Community and Transportation Services has worked very closely with the municipality of Dawson in this regard. We have strong government-to-government relationships with First Nation governments and municipalities, and we are continuing to work in a fiscally responsible manner with everyone.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, any lending institution - and that's what the Government of Yukon is in this case - attempts to see that the cash flow is going to be sufficient to meet the obligations. So, just the fact that the Government of Yukon would see its way clear, through the Department of Community and Transportation Services, to provide this level of a loan to the community of Dawson would also indicate that they are clearly satisfied that the level of funding that the Government of Yukon is going to provide to the municipality is at least going to remain consistent with what it is today, if not be improved upon.
The minister has confirmed that the department is satisfied, so the government is confirming that the level of funding will not drop below what it currently is and that they are satisfied that it will remain in place for the period of the loan amortization. To do anything else would be very, very foolish.
So I would like to thank the Minister of Finance, the Premier, for confirming that that level of funding will remain in place, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Seeing no further general debate, we will go right to the line-by-line.
On Loan Capital
On Loans to Third Parties
Loans to Third Parties in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries?
On Loan Amortization
Loan Amortization in the amount of $449,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries? Seeing none, are there any questions on the supplementary information?
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization in the amount of $2,688,000 agreed to
Chair: We will now take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with debate on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02.
Public Service Commission
Chair: We are now in the Public Service Commission. Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Today I am very pleased to introduce the 2001-02 budget for the Public Service Commission. The commission is requesting $11,728,000 for operation and maintenance expenditures over the next year. These funds support the core functions of the Public Service Commission. These functions include personnel administration, corporate management and direction of human resource services for the Yukon government.
This budget shows an increase of $1,150,000. This includes $109,000 for increases to workers' compensation premiums; and $967,000 for the increased liability for employee leave and termination benefits.
These are corporate accounts that are reported by the commission. The balance of $65,000 is the change to the branch operations budget and is a result of collective agreement benefits, superannuation impacts and other adjustments.
The Public Service Commission is committed to valued partnerships and providing human resource expertise leading to organizational excellence. Effective management of the government's human resources has always been important, and that importance is increasing in a time of limited financial resources. The Public Service Commission will support the government priorities of land claims, devolution, infrastructure development and restoring confidence in government through its priority initiatives for the coming year. These priorities will be accomplished without any major increases to the O&M budget.
The Public Service Commission will provide corporate leadership in human resource management in a number of key areas, continuing to develop and implement represented public service plans in consultation with First Nations. The commission will continue to lead this project in partnership with departments and First Nations.
Human resource management of the devolution of the Northern Affairs program - the commission will work with the affected departments to support the smooth integration of Yukon and federal Northern Affairs staff into the Yukon government organization.
Negotiating the pension patriation - the patriation of the employee pension plan continues to be a very high priority, and union management and excluded employees' representatives are helping to guide this project.
Conducting job evaluation system review - the commission is working with departments to update the current system to meet the organizational needs that have evolved since the system was first introduced.
Finally, strengthening the private sector management - the commission is consulting with employees to identify ways to improve public sector management. The commission is the lead in supporting development of effective leadership and management skills across the organization. These initiatives are being funded through the operational budgets of the commission.
This concludes, Mr. Chair, my introduction to the operation and maintenance budget of the Public Service Commission for the fiscal year 2001-02.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I thank the minister for that overview - a very well-written briefing note. It certainly captures the goalposts that are set out, if you will, Mr. Chair, for the Public Service Commission. In general debate we have a few comments and a few questions to ask the minister and we would hope to be able to expedite that passage of this department.
First off, let me point out that, again, the Public Service Commission - though its people do great work, they are much more comfortable in a working environment that has direction at the political level and it certainly helps them do their job in a productive manner. There is obviously an issue that we've asked about before. I think the minister knows what's coming. We talk about improving government and restoring confidence in government, organizational excellence, leadership in human resource areas, all the rest of it. One of the things that is very important to the employees of the government is the ability to come forward unfettered - with no fears of reprisal, with the law on their side - to provide information on issues within government that may in some cases not be compatible with what the department is trying to do.
Whistle-blower legislation is a commitment by this minister and his government. In looking through here, I think it's probably safe to say that there's nothing really being booked or allocated toward the development of that legislation. We've had discussions already - the minister and I in Question Period - and I think what we have to do now is determine what the timelines are here in regard to developing this legislation.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I do take umbrage with one comment that the Member for Watson Lake started off with when he suggested that I was reading from my briefing notes. I would just like the members opposite to know that I enjoy a very positive working relationship with the Public Service Commissioner and all our employees. I think it is an incredible workforce. We are finding ways to allow them to expand to think outside the box.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: No, I'm not shovelling it, as the member opposite is indicating with body language across there.
So we are moving in a very positive way. There are a number of initiatives - very positive and innovative initiatives - that are occurring within the Public Service Commission, and I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the devotion of those people. I would just like them to know that.
With respect to the whistle-blower legislation and where we're heading with that, I do have for tabling, Mr. Chair, a document for the member of the third party and also for the Member for Watson Lake, if he'll allow me. It does give a summary, and I will credit the department for supplying this information to me. It does come from qualified, knowledgeable individuals on this issue who have been doing research with respect to the whistle-blower legislation. With your permission, Mr. Chair, I'd like to table these documents now.
Mr. Fentie: I'm assuming that there is some indication of timelines in those documents and so on and so forth.
But let me just take the minister back momentarily. My comment on the briefing note was meant to be a compliment, knowing how hard the people work within the Commission to produce information for the minister. I have known ministers in the past who don't even take their briefing notes with them, after all that work. It was meant to be a compliment. I'm sorry that the minister was affronted by my comments.
Furthermore, I agree with the minister that he does have a debt of gratitude to pay to the Commission, given the backroom deals that the Liberal government has already been trying to make in negotiations with the teachers, which backfired miserably and put us into a situation where we had the first-ever teachers strike in this territory.
This brings me to my next issue, Mr. Chair. We have now had the bar raised in terms of negotiating contracts as far as YTG is concerned now that we have reached a deal with the teachers. Even though the government cried poverty, the Minister of Finance just openly admitted today that there was an $80-million surplus as of March 31, 2001, so there was lots of money around. However, we do have a situation now, obviously, where some new approaches will in all likelihood be taken at the bargaining table.
What has the minister got in terms of contingency mandate or whatever else we want to throw out here in the up and coming negotiations with other unions who will, in all likelihood, Mr. Chair, be looking closely at what the teachers negotiated with this minister and then taking it from there. Has the minister plans?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The member opposite knows full well, Mr. Chair, that we do have a contract currently with them that will terminate in 2003. There are already ongoing negotiations between the government and PSAC to address ongoing concerns, ongoing issues, and we'll have to wait and see what happens down the road when we do get to the table.
Mr. Chair, as I'd indicated when I was presenting the budget for the Renewable Resources department, it is my hope that we could debate the budget in a respectful manner without the muck-slinging that is traditional in this House. I don't want to -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, the Member for Klondike is chirping away over there like -
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Eftoda has the floor. All interjections are not allowed under the Standing Orders. We ask that interjections be kept to a minimum or not done at all so that debate can proceed quickly and expeditiously.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
So, I'm going to proceed along in that manner and the member opposite can chide whatever way he wants to get his political advertising across.
We did respect, in all good faith, the bargaining process with respect to the teachers as well and we did finally get an arrangement with the teachers.
As a matter of fact, just this past Saturday I made a presentation during their AGM. I enjoy listening to constructive criticism, constructive comment on how we can start bridging the relationship between the teachers that has been building up for years and years and years and how we can specifically address their concerns, needs, wishes in out-of-the-box thinking again.
I have already extended an invitation to meet with the newly elected president of the YTA and hope to enjoy a conversation positive and constructive with the current president and the incoming president. So I'm looking forward to that. It's a challenge; it's a responsibility that I am looking forward to.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'm very hopeful, as is the official opposition, as are all Yukoners, that a good working relationship can be re-established after the situation that we found ourselves in. This is not mudslinging. I'm only stating the obvious. It's already well known publicly. I'm not slinging mud. I'm pointing out that things have changed somewhat now under this minister's watch. I think the bar has been raised on negotiations. The Minister of Finance has openly admitted to an $80-million surplus effective March 31, 2001.
So hard bargaining is certainly a thing that this minister is going to have to face, and it's coming. I merely asked if the minister has plans on how to deal with that. The pressures are going to be great. I'm hopeful that we don't fall into a situation like we did with the teachers and that lessons have been learned as far as what not to do during a time when there is a tension and issues are difficult. I hope we have learned what not to do in that area and can translate that into other negotiations. That was my point.
So is the minister now fully aware of the money that's around, of how the bar has been raised with the teachers as far as the grid issue? Does the minister have some plans on how to deal with these issues coming at us in the next few months?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I am very aware of what I inherited and, with all due respect to the Public Service Commission, there are certainly individuals there who are skilled in the art of negotiation. They know how to do things and I defer to them in those areas.
We in no way on this side of the House disrespected the collective bargaining process, as the Member for Watson Lake is alluding to. I would ask the member why the issue wasn't resolved prior to our coming into government? Obviously there were issues there that were not resolved.
When we did come into office, we in good faith - the negotiators for YTG sat across the table and believed that we had reached an amenable agreement. Unfortunately, the membership within the Yukon Teachers Association disagreed and it took some time to get back to the table. We have never at any time disrespected the collective bargaining process - not once.
So, honouring that process and listening to what the teachers had to say - because we are very good at listening on this side of the House - we did come to resolution. There are some outstanding issues that we have to work on and we'll continue to work on that. And the member opposite is right, I did have an incredible learning curve going through that process, but I was very fortunate to have the guidance of the Public Service Commission through all of it and I still enjoy that privilege.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'll accept that from the minister; however, I want to point out that it's the minister and the government that will provide a mandate for the Public Service Commission and the bargaining unit.
My question is - there are up and coming negotiations. There are a lot of pressures, if I may put it that way, that are certainly there. I certainly asked if the minister has plans. Does the minister already have the mandate hammered out and can we enter the negotiations with our stick on the ice and our eyes on the horizon?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, as I indicated earlier to the Member for Watson Lake, there are joint consultations going on now and they will continue up to the point where outstanding issues, as they are coming up in six months or so prior to the end of the contract - that is when we really sit down. It is at that time when I am provided with details on those outstanding issues. Then it would be up to caucus and Cabinet on this side to review the options available to us on how we get down to the details. The member opposite knows that. And that is the course that we're taking.
So we have two years to go. I would say that we have 14 or 18 months during which we continue these consultations. At that time, there will be a summary of where we are, what is outstanding and, at that time, we will provide the negotiating mandate to the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Fentie: Let me ask the minister this question then: does the minister already have the bottom line established so that, when the negotiations begin, a clear, concise mandate will be provided and we won't have this wavy issue that took place with the teachers, which won't bode well for good bargaining? Hard bargaining is good, but the government side certainly must have their ducks in a row and there's no time like now.
So does the minister already have his bottom line figured out? Does he know exactly where he's going with the issues? Ultimately, although there are probably many other issues, the biggies, the big tickets and the deal breakers usually wind up around money. Does the minister already have all this figured out?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I thought I had indicated just now to the member opposite respecting the process and negotiations that are going on. Is there a definitive bottom line at this time? No. Will there be, come time for negotiation? Yes. The member has suggested that there was this wishy-washy thing going on with the teachers. The teachers had a position, and YTG had a position - and it was a clear position. Our team worked in that framework. We were very aware and very clear. And as the member opposite knows - yes, it does get very tense during negotiations. And yes, I did experience that with the teachers, as we can all attest to in this House. But that was the result of history, and that cannot go unsaid. It's history that goes back 10 or 15 years.
So, am I ready for the challenge to rebuild and bridge with the teachers? Absolutely. I committed to them on Saturday, and I have committed with the Public Service Commission to do that, and I will do that - that means talking, attending meetings, dialoguing with the president, and going to experience what they experience in the classroom. There are all kinds of options available for me to come to grips and truly understand their concerns and problems - their own stresses. The dynamic of a teacher in a classroom now has changed substantially from when we went to school. So, it's getting in there and seeing what they face on a daily basis, and I have indicated to them that that's what I will be doing.
Mr. Fentie: I wish the minister luck and good fortune. I hope it all works out, because these issues impact Yukoners in general. Given the position the minister is in, he certainly bears the brunt of whatever the results may be, whether they be positive or whether they be negative.
I'm just curious, Mr. Chair. How is the minister handling the fact that his government is looking seriously at contracting out? How does he handle that with the public service union - the issues around contracting out?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: There are currently two items within the collective agreement that address contracting out, which we are obliged to follow. I'm not quite sure where the member is coming from - if he is talking specifically about the PSC or if he's talking about government in general with other departments contracting out. I'm really not quite sure. If I could ask for clarification or specifics, I'd appreciate it.
Mr. Fentie: If the minister, who is the political government, makes a decision to contract something out that is already in government in some area in a department, obviously the Public Service Commission is linked.
My point is that it's obvious that the Liberal government - the members opposite - are looking at contracting out in some areas, and maybe many areas. Nobody knows that for sure. It's why I'm asking. How is the minister handling this issue of contracting out with the Public Service Commission, and has the minister had any discussions with the Public Service Commission around possible contracting out of certain government services?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I'll try again, Mr. Chair. There are quite specific clauses within the collective agreement that address this concern, so we are obligated under that collective agreement to honour those aspects. So, again, if the member opposite could give me an example, that might help speed things along here. But the answer is that we are obligated under the collective agreement, and if there were any change, that would have to be through consultation with the PSAC, with the union.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I'm to take it, then, that there are no plans right now to sit down with the union and discuss options or possibilities of contracting out?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, again, I'm not quite sure what the member is - if the member would come right out and ask a question, I might be able to answer it better. I know that the Better Government Committee is looking at efficiencies through the whole of government, but the Public Service Commission has been charged with the responsibility of keeping the union informed and apprised of where we are going. If there are any concerns or issues that come up in the efficiencies that we're looking at, the Public Service Commissioner herself is responsible for bringing that back to the group and expediting resolve, if there is any, or mitigate any resolve before it gets there.
Mr. Fentie: Well, that's sufficient. Is it the Better Government Committee?
It's a committee anyway, that's looking at making government more efficient. That's more or less what I was alluding to. Those things tend to create scenarios that require reaction and work.
Mr. Chair, patriation of the pension. We brought this up with the Minister of Finance. The minister touched on it, but did make a recommendation that we discuss it with the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
This is merely trying to basically get an update on what's happening, what exposure will the Yukon government have in this issue - if any. What's this going to mean? I know the federal government is probably pushing this hard; however, that doesn't mean we have to fold up like a tent. Maybe there are reasons why we don't do it or maybe there are enough valid reasons why we should do it. I'm just looking for an update from the minister on what's happening and if there are any land mines that we're running into at this time?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the question is quite timely because, as we speak even today, there were ongoing meetings. Unfortunately we're debating PSC right now so the Commissioner has to be here, but meetings are ongoing, specifically regarding this issue. This certainly is, by no stretch of the imagination, an easy one to tackle and there are far-ranging complexities that go into the patriation of the pension.
I do have for tabling, and for the information of the member opposite and for the leader of the third party, the schedule with respect to the patriation that I'm sure they would find interesting.
The meetings do include the representatives from both the YTA and the PSAC, as well as non-confidentials and government representatives, so those meetings are occurring right now.
I would like, with the permission of the Chair, to table these documents.
Mr. Fentie: Does the minister and, of course, the Commission have a plan that would encompass a number of possible scenarios here that will materialize? Are we going in blind, waiting for the federal government's positioning, or do we have a plan on the scenarios that may take place as far as ensuring that we minimize any exposure to the Yukon and that we're not compromising the employees' position here on their pensions?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Au contraire, I must say to my amigo across the way from Watson Lake. As I indicated, this is a very complex issue. He is right that the federal government is looking to change the disposition of this pension plan.
Does the government have a plan? Yes. And YTG is currently investigating several components of the development of a stand-alone plan that would include governance structure requirements and options, actuarial costing, plan design requirements, administrative options and requirements, legislative requirements, PSTA withdrawal processes, and financial formula with the Treasury Board for the transfer of funds.
So there is a lot on the plate right now that is being discussed, and there is a sense of urgency to have this done as soon as possible, of course. But having the number of people involved and affected by this requires quite extensive consultation with those individuals.
Mr. Fentie: Just before we move off this topic, there's quite an extensive agenda and timeline here for all the work that's ahead for the Commission. Right now we're at the April to June 2001 timeline. I would ask the minister, then, to commit to providing an update to this House during the fall sitting - as early as possible in the fall sitting - on the patriation of the pension plan and where we're at at that time, given the fact that we're looking at at least June 2003 or somewhere in that vicinity - December 2002 to June 2003 - before we reach the final draft report.
If the minister would commit to an update early in the fall sitting or upon the fall sitting of this House convening, I can move on.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I will commit to that, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the minister for that.
Devolution and what it means to the Yukon government - this question has probably been asked too loudly, too clearly and too often, but here we go again.
Devolution now, again, has a target date set, I believe, for April 2002, and all that goes with it. What is the Public Service Commission doing with this budget? The minister can be specific if he likes. But what are we doing in the budget in preparation for devolution and what it means internally in the Yukon government at this stage of the game with this budget before us?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, the Public Service Commission is directly responsible for the human resources aspects of the transfer, and we have just completed the details of that. Once it has been approved by the federal government, then we will have to sit down with the unions. It will require final Cabinet approval of the human resource transfer terms.
That is required by both respective governments. Following approval and union consultations, issuing offers of employment will commence.
So a lot of the groundwork has been done by the Commission directly during the devolution negotiations, and now we're getting into the formal process of that transfer.
Mr. Fentie: Is the minister confident that we're going to have a smooth and seamless transfer?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I believe that with all of the work that has been done over the past several years, we're certainly going to do our absolute best to ensure that does occur. So it is my wish, as I'm sure it is the whole of government, that that happens.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the minister for that. Can the minister just give us a really brief overview on telecommuting and its relation to the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: That's a good one. I would like to ask the member opposite - he has just reminded us on this side of the House that every day they get thousands of phone calls. How, in God's name, do you keep track of all that? And then to spend the hours and hours we do in the House here - if he wants to share that with us in his next question, that's great.
As the member opposite knows, in 1998, a Cabinet commission report on energy by the previous government - and I'm sure the member knows the intimate details of this - states recommendation number nine. Now, the report had suggested that a pilot could be done by government or in partnerships with the private sector.
Deputies and PSAC were consulted, and the union's position was not fully in support of telework, and deputy ministers were concerned about the administrative constraints and the very small number of employees who could take advantage of this option. So there are still problems outstanding, and we're still in discussion with the unions on that.
Mr. Fentie: Well, just for the minister's benefit, how we in the opposition receive those thousands of phone calls while we're in the Legislature is due to a giant leap forward in technology here in the Yukon government building, and it's called voice mail. It seems to be working quite well, and hopefully we can continue on with voice mail in government.
So, on the telecommuting issue, the minister, the Public Service Commission and all related departments are diligently working on this issue and trying to figure it out. I'll accept that as a signal to move along.
Yukon hire - over the years, I'm sure the minister will agree and concur that hiring locally, maximizing what we get out of government expenditures at the local level - surgical expenditures, targeted expenditures, the list goes on and on and on. The Yukon hire commission developed whatever it was - 36 or 56 recommendations. What is the Public Service Commission's view today, under this minister's watch, of the recommendations of the local hire commission, and how are we proceeding within government at the Public Service Commission level with those recommendations and, indeed, improving our ability and furthering our ability for local hire and maximizing benefits for Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: This is a great question. All I can advise the member opposite is to stay tuned. It's one thing that I've had a lot of fun with the Public Service Commission over, because we all have concerns and issues that arise out of Yukon hire issues and local hire issues. We're looking for the best and the brightest and all that. I have asked the department to literally think outside of the box on this. What I would suggest to the member opposite is just to stay tuned for the short term. I am sure that he will be pleasantly surprised.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I can assure the minister that we will be staying tuned on the local hire issue.
Mr. Chair, recent developments have all given rise for us to seriously consider how we relate to other ethnic groups, other people and all the rest of it. I don't need to go down that road in detail; however, there has been a substantial amount of money spent, through the Public Service Commission, in working on establishing the ability for the Yukon government to work on a goverment-to-government basis. I believe that this is where the fundamental basis of this should be and I'm hoping it is - for the Government of Yukon and its employees to work with First Nations at a government-to-government level. Obviously, a lot has gone into this to date.
Subsequent to the recent developments, has the minister and Commission undertaken anything here with regard to dealing with that? Are we enhancing our focus on, for instance, working with the First Nations at a government-to-government level? What is the Public Service Commission doing in that regard at this time?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: We do have representative public service planning that is proving to be very well-received by First Nations. It is a major exercise that the Public Service Commission is undertaking. Really, what it is is a government-wide representative public service plan that has been developed jointly with representatives from the Yukon government and First Nation governments. It is turning out to be incredibly positive and respectful of the government-to-government relations that we are establishing and it involves a lot of communication with individual First Nations. That is the way the government is proceeding, working with individual First Nations as there are specific needs and requirements within individual First Nations. We are taking into consideration traditional territory plans for the Teslin Tlingit Council, Nacho Nyak Dun and Champaign-Aishihik First Nations. The government-to-government relationships are being finalized jointly between the Yukon and First Nation governments. There was a two-day planning session that was held in the Little Salmon-Carmacks traditional territory earlier this year, and the same consultations in Dawson have just been completed with representatives from Yukon and the First Nation governments in jointly drafting traditional territory plans.
So, as I do understand, the meetings have been very forthright, very upfront, very frank, but very positive. It's encouraging to see this plan now being implemented positively and constructively.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I think that the ability for mutual respect is most important. And, unfortunately, when things happen like what happened recently, it's sometimes difficult to re-establish that. I'm just hopeful that we can truly create respectful relationships, not only at a government-to-government level, but at any level. And the Public Service Commission obviously has quite a role to play in regard to that, and how it deals with YTG employees and how they relate and react to others in the territory.
Moving on, Mr. Chair, to reorganization in the Executive Council Office - can the minister provide us with what all that is? What are we doing? Are we practising for reorganizing government, or is there some major reason all this chair-shuffling and desk-shuffling is going on within the ECO? How is that all evolving within the Public Service Commission? Where are we heading with all this?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, I do believe that, with respect to the Executive Council Office, those questions may be more appropriately directed to the minister responsible.
As I indicated earlier, we're always looking for efficiencies on how we can better provide service to Yukoners. And I do believe that the rationale for the change within the Executive Council Office - this can be confirmed with the minister responsible, and I may be speaking a little out of turn. To create a greater efficiency within the ECO rather than provide direct service to the public from that office, it was felt that there was a requirement to change the priority of the ECO.
Again, I would respectfully ask the member opposite to ask the minister responsible for that department why that occurred.
Mr. Jenkins: I just have a number of issues that I would like to ask the minister about, and I'm very hopeful that the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission has spent his time in school and has learned the department in as diligent a manner as he has indicated in the House he has done. The minister indicated he is having fun with the Public Service Commission. Well, as far as I'm concerned, it's a very responsible area that the minister is responsible for, and that's the tack that he should be taking.
Let's start off with the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board - the dispute between the Public Service Commission and WCB. How is this intended to be resolved, or is Yukon considering opting out of WCB and self-insuring, which, according to the Minister of Finance, the Premier, would be much more cost-effective than being insured through WCB?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, as the Member for Klondike probably is aware, we have appealed the assessments that have been levied toward the territorial government - that is a significant concern of the Public Service Commission - and we still haven't heard back on the decision of the appeal. We have been waiting for some time for that decision, so we really can't move forward until we get a decision on that appeal.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to thank the minister for a non-answer. The minister certainly can. I would point out to the minister that the current budget projections are that the Yukon government is going to spend $2.2 million for premiums or assessments. The option is for the Yukon to opt out of being insured through Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and do as a lot of other governments do - remain self-insured.
Now, I understand that there has been financial evaluation of this area undertaken in-house that clearly concludes that it would be more cost-effective to be self-insured. Can the minister table that review?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: With all due respect to the member's over-simplistic consideration of this issue, we felt that the rate levied against government by Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board was exceptionally high, which I'm sure the member opposite would agree with. So we have challenged and appealed that.
But the issue is much broader than that. The territorial government employs a lot of people, and if we were to just totally withdraw - I mean, this is a consideration and an option that we have here. Oh, and I didn't have a chance to respond to the member opposite's opening comments by suggesting that my saying I'm having fun with the department was in any way disrespectful to the department, or that I didn't take the department seriously, or they didn't take me seriously. That's incorrect. That's wrong.
I'm just saying that I enjoy a very, very positive working relationship with the Public Service Commission, respecting the uniqueness of that entity within our government. So, before the member gets his message out there incorrectly, I want to correct the record.
Back to this situation, Mr. Chair, these are options that the government has to consider in being responsible. If they did withdraw, it is expected that it would have a considerable impact on other businesses, small and large within the territory, whose premiums would be affected. So, we are looking at options, and it's not to be taken lightly by any stretch of the imagination.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, can I ask the minister if this actuarial study or this in-house study on the government being self-insured is available? If so, could I ask the minister to table it? Because the Premier, the Minister of Finance, said that this in-house study was undertaken by the Public Service Commission. So, I'd like to see a copy of it, Mr. Chair. And for the minister to extrapolate the conclusion that it would impact on the rates of all Yukon businesses - could he supply some documentation that would substantiate that conclusion?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: While we're waiting for the result on the appeal, Mr. Chair, it's rather premature to be doing that, as the result of the appeal will be coming forward to Cabinet for further direction and for further decision. So this information right now is within Cabinet documents, which, of course, can't be publicly distributed at this time. But when the decision has been rendered on the appeal and Cabinet has looked at the documents, once that process has occurred, then I'm sure they can be made public.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm not seeking the document, Mr. Chair. I'm seeking the review that has been done in-house on the benefits versus the costs of being self-insured versus being insured through the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. That should not be a Cabinet document.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, it looks like we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one, because the member suggests that it shouldn't be a Cabinet document, but it is a Cabinet document.
Mr. Jenkins: Okay, if we've made it a Cabinet document to hide behind some information, that's fine. If he doesn't want to table it, that's fine. That Cabinet document that the minister refers to clearly concludes that it would be less expensive for the Yukon to be self-insured than to be insured through the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. Could the minister confirm that?
The Minister of Finance - the Premier - has already done so. I would ask the minister to do so.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I would suspect that that is the basis of the presentation that the Government of Yukon made to the WCB with respect to their overcharging in assessments or premiums. I would suspect that that it is quite a conclusive piece of evidence that is submitted by the Government of Yukon to the WCB. Just how long has this dispute been ongoing with the WCB? When did it start and when do we expect to conclude it?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, I believe that the situation started to evolve in August of last year. There were some questions asked by the Public Service Commission. Those questions were put forward in the fall along with the submission and the rationale for that submission. And I think that the member opposite is also aware that the board is a quasi-judicial board, so we can't and won't be interfering with their process. So we're still waiting on a ruling from the board, and that's where we are at the present time.
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister advise who insures federal government employees here in the Yukon? How are they are insured? They're not insured through the Yukon WCB. How many governments in Canada use their respective Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board to insure their government employees?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Both the N.W.T. and Nunavut do. And as to the extent in the other provinces, there would have to be some research done, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: I'll help the minister and provide him that information so he doesn't have to spend time on his research of it. But here in the Yukon, Mr. Chair, all the federal government employees are self-insured through the Alberta WCB, and we could be in the same situation here in the Yukon - self-insured and basically just having the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board administer the program. We'd pay a cost for administration and we'd pay, on an ongoing basis, the costs that we are incurring, similar to what we have done in the past, and we would effectively be saving the taxpayers of Yukon money. Why aren't we proceeding in that direction, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Quite frankly, Mr. Chair, all those options are being considered. Of course they are. It's the only responsible way to be proceeding on this, but we still have to wait for the ruling from the board on this as well. The ruling was to have come down in February or March of this year, but we're still waiting. So those options most definitely are being considered, yes, and it will be a Cabinet decision that we will proceed from.
Mr. Jenkins: We are waiting for a ruling that was supposed to come down in February or March of this year. We've given them another 30 days, which is April, and now we're into May.
I would just draw the minister's attention to the number of injured workers who can't get a timely decision out of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and you can sympathize with those injured workers who really do not have any source of income other than their pension or their monies that they receive from WCB. And how many of them are kept in limbo?
So the only way that this matter is going to be resolved is if the minister responsible for the WCB takes very clear instructions back to the president of the board, saying, "Look, it is more cost-effective for us to be self-insured, and we will just have you administer it. If you don't want to administer it, what is precluding us from using Alberta, the Northwest Territories or some other jurisdiction? Because the exercise of government is to provide the highest consistent level of service at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. The minister is failing to recognize this responsibility. He's not doing it. Why not?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I take exception to the comments. Again he is expressing opinions; this is a House that does respect opinions. I don't agree with his opinion because he doesn't have all the facts available to him, so of course he is going to come to a conclusion that is certainly short.
I am very aware of the situation and very aware of the problem, and we are following due process. As I indicated to the member opposite, we are looking at all the options. We are respecting that it is a quasi-judicial board that we are waiting on, and unfortunately there is nothing we can do to speed up the process. As much as the member opposite would like us to interfere in these processes like the previous government did, we are not.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, no one's suggesting that the minister interfere in the operation of WCB. I'm suggesting that it would be more cost-effective for the Government of the Yukon to be self-insured.
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins has the floor. Interjections do not help us expedite debate. I would ask that interjections not be used; they're not allowed.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I go back to my original point. It is more cost-effective for the Yukon government to be self-insured in this area. Now, does the minister not concur with that statement?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, I do respect in this instance the member's opinion.
As I've also tried to indicate to him, there are other impacts. There are other situations that we have to take into consideration with respect to all Yukoners. That's what this government's responsibility is.
I will take his suggestions and recommendations into consideration, but we are following due process on this.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I would submit that due process is not sitting back and waiting for an answer. Due process is to lead, not to follow.
Can I ask the minister how many dollars are in dispute? And for the previous fiscal period, I'd like to know, number one, do we go on the calendar year for assessment with WCB or on a fiscal year? All businesses in the Yukon are on the calendar year. Now, is the Yukon government on the calendar year or the fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: As I understand, the dispute is 15 cents on a hundred, and we do operate on a calendar year with respect to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Mr. Jenkins: And just for the record - the flow of funds to Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board from the Government of Yukon - is it done quarterly, or is it done by lump sum at the beginning of the year?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Quarterly, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: And the 15 cents per hundred - how much does that amount to that's in dispute - total dollars?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I will get back to the member with a total figure on that. It's not something that's right here at my fingertips.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board is causing a lot of anguish throughout the Yukon. Its function as a board is not serving the injured workers in the Yukon very well, and it spends more money on itself. It has become a rather self-serving organization, rather than meeting the needs of injured workers here in the Yukon.
We probably have a lot to pay tribute to the Liberal government, in that they have destroyed the economy, and there is no one really working in the mining industry and a lot of these sectors aren't creating cases for Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
That's just an example. There's a whole series of industries that are shut down. A lot of them have a lot of risks to them that are basically not in existence any longer, and Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board's premiums or assessments appear to be headed downwards and their cost of administration is headed through the ceiling. So the Government of Yukon needs to sit down with this organization. Mr. Chair, the Public Service Commission pays the most amount of assessment of anyone here in the Yukon to Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. Now, we can lead by example and get this organization functioning properly, or we can sit back and just pay whatever they want. I don't think that's fair to the Yukon taxpayers; it's not fair at all because, given the order of premiums Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board takes in, their administration costs shouldn't be anywhere near what it currently is. So there's a big problem there.
I'm pleased that the minister is doing something. I urge him to move forward on this initiative and not just sit back and wait for this board to report. It's time the government said, "Hey, look, here's where we're at, now these are our options. We want a definite decision from you by this date."
That's the only thing that's going to bring this to a resolution, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I have some concerns with the patriation of the pension plan, but we'll leave that alone.
One of the other questions that I'm asked extensively about is how long does an acting position remain in limbo here in the Government of Yukon? There are acting positions that have been in existence for years. Don't we have some finality for these acting positions, or can't we place something in there, so that the people acting in these positions have some security? They just go on for ever and ever and a day in an acting capacity. Why should that be?
It's not just in any one area of government. The new phone book was just recently published. You can go through it and pick up the number of acting positions. What's the reluctance on the part of the PSC to establish these positions firmly? And don't hide behind the collective bargaining agreement.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The Public Service Commission is very, very aware of the subject matter that the Member for Klondike just brought up - very aware.
I just want to correct the record with respect to this. A lot of these positions within government are within departments that are not under the purview of the Public Service Commission.
And no, I am not going to hide behind the union aspect at all. This is a subject that I have been in discussion with the Public Service Commission about - how do we resolve this?
Acting positions - you are right - some of them are quite extensive in period but, again, there are a lot of factors. And I think this is the result of government operations over the years where there has been moving and there has been shifting. Some positions are for vacation, some are for extended leave, some are for training purposes, some of them, as the member opposite - I mean, you literally get into a chain-of-events-type thing where one person is acting for another who is acting for another who is acting for another, and we recognize that as problematic within government.
We are looking into innovative ways of how we can change that. But I think it's important to keep in mind that we'll never eliminate acting positions totally. But I understand what the member is saying. I certainly have those concerns. I have talked with the commissioner about them, and we're looking at innovative ways on how we can do that.
I am quite hopeful that it is going to happen within the next year or so - on getting these positions back and getting qualified individuals to work in permanent areas. So, I'm really quite positive about it.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, it's not that the individuals filling in for these acting positions are not qualified. In fact, most that I am aware of are eminently qualified for the acting position that they hold. But because that position is being saved for someone who has moved somewhere else or up the ladder, it is remaining an acting position.
Now, some timelines have to be drawn. Why can't we use 18 or 24 months or something? I'm aware of some acting positions that have gone on for over four years now. Can the minister confirm that some acting positions have been in this state of limbo for that length of time?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I would like to inform the member opposite that there is a committee that is looking specifically at this issue. And then there is another aspect to this. And I certainly didn't mean to insinuate that people acting weren't qualified, because they certainly are, as the member has stated. There are also interdepartmental temporary actions that are going on as well, such as moving people over for training purposes and the like. Quite a few of these are legitimate.
But I would agree with the member opposite - he asked if I know of people in temporary acting positions for four years. Yes, there are, and I can assure the member opposite that we're looking at that whole situation.
Chair: Order please. The time being 6:00 p.m., we'll adjourn for one hour and return at 7:00 p.m.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02.
We were in Public Service Commission. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, when we left the general debate, we were discussing the acting position. The same holds true for the term position and the length of time that some of these term positions remain in existence. Is there a review conducted periodically by the Public Service Commission before these term positions are made regular positions? What's the policy in that area, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, with respect to term positions, term positions are generally specific time. They reflect budget availability, project length. There are a number of factors that relate to term positions. So if a project is going on for the sequential years, then that term will be extended, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there are some serious concerns with the use of these acting positions and the length of time that they remain in existence, with term positions and the way that they are utilized. I guess it's just a heads-up for the minister.
Mr. Chair, one of the other areas that the Public Service Commission recently dealt with is to negotiate a contract with the teachers union. I'm sure that part of the negotiating strategy was the poverty role that the government played - or the poverty card that the government played - in the negotiations with the teachers union. Well, given the lapses of approximately $50 million and another $30-million odd in windfall - a budget surplus at March 31 of this year of what I'm sure is going to come in at well over $80 million. The Premier and Minister of Finance acknowledged that it was $80 million or so. I'm sure it will come in and be confirmed by the Auditor General as being more than $80 million. Could I ask the minister if, at the negotiating table, the financial position of the Yukon government was accurately reflected to the teachers union?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Absolutely, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, given the indicators at the time that negotiations were ongoing, we were given to understand that we'd be drawing down the surpluses and we'd be in about a $13-million range. Is that the figure that was used at the negotiating table?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: That's correct, Mr. Chair.
I do take exception to the comments and innuendo made by the member opposite. Of course, as the Member for Watson Lake had outlined, negotiations at that time were stressful and I believe that both sides were working from the best state of knowledge at that time. So, the fact that we were working on - was it 13 or six at that time? It could have been 13, but I do remember that a figure of $6 million was also considered at that time. There was no knowledge, despite the speculation that might have been going on at the time, to in any way hide the government's position at the time of negotiation.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, could the minister give us the approximate date when the conclusion of the negotiations was reached with the teachers union?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I would have to check my records to give the member opposite a definitive answer, but I believe it was in March. I would have to get back to the member with a specific date when negotiations concluded.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I'm just looking for the month. Was it February? Was it March?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, it was March.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the fiscal year-end of the Government of Yukon is March 31. We have gone through 11 months of the fiscal period. Given the tremendous ability in the Department of Finance for hands-on management of the financial position of the Government of Yukon, one would be of the opinion that, given the order of magnitude of surplus arrived at from lapses, one would have a better handle on the surplus that was going to be in existence on March 31 than what was portrayed to the teachers union.
Mr. Chair, it was well-known that the formula financing agreement was being negotiated with the federal government and that there was going to be additional monies flowing to the Yukon, but let's leave that component - some $36 million or $42 million - out of the equation. Let's just deal with the reality of the situation. The financial picture portrayed to the teachers versus the actual financial position that in all probability was very well-known to the Minister of Finance and Cabinet at least one or two months before the fiscal year-end was considerably different.
Is the minister not ashamed of the way that he represented the finances of the Yukon to the teachers union?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I am not ashamed of how we conducted our negotiations with the teachers. What a sickening thing to propose across the floor of the House - absolutely sickening. But of course, that's how the mind of the man opposite works.
We negotiated in extremely good faith with the teachers, openly and upfront at all times. Of course, both sides did - that's what negotiation is all about.
And now he's smirking on the other side because he thinks it's a joke. He's joking. He thinks it's a joke.
I take exception to the comments. I thought we were debating the budget here in a gentlemanly way, but I can see that isn't going to be the case.
Mr. Jenkins: I wasn't smirking at anything the minister was saying. I was just pointing out the seriousness of this situation. What I was pointing out is that the government has been crying poverty and crying poverty for quite a length of time. And the reality was brought out today, in that there is an obscene surplus of some $80 million - an $80-million surplus. And I submit that I do not believe that the minister really negotiated in good faith and fairly represented the financial position of the Government of the Yukon that was, in all fairness, extremely well-known at that juncture.
This is an issue that is very, very important because it reflects on the whole financial picture that was painted by this government. It was one of poverty: "We're drawing down our surplus. We are on a collision course with disaster. We are going to have $6 million in the bank in a very, very short period of time. That is why we couldn't proceed with the Mayo school. That's why we couldn't do this project. That's why we couldn't undertake this. That's why we couldn't spend any money in southeast Yukon on the forestry. That's why we couldn't put more money into the community development fund."
The litany of areas this government has abdicated their responsibility to goes on and on and on. And now we uncover an $80-million surplus - an obscene amount of money given the financial picture painted by this government. I am afraid the rest of the population is going to draw the same conclusion that the opposition is drawing today, Mr. Chair, that the government painted the picture of poverty - only a $6-million surplus - when the reality was quite to the contrary.
The facts speak for themselves.
Let's move on to another area - the human resource information system. Can the minister advise the House how well that's working and if there are any difficulties with it?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, after the member opposite's diatribe, I guess I can try to reclaim composure in the debate of the budget. It's just a problem with the member opposite. He is always speculating.
With respect to HRIS and the Public Service Commission, the government has made a significant investment in the human resource information system. The question is, how is the system being used and what benefits are being realized from the overall investment.
The original model, relative to payroll and pay and benefits, implemented in January 1999, is in production and being maintained. The government is currently evaluating the situation to determine a course of action for the remainder of the human resource information system, based on an update and a realistic assessment of expected future costs and benefits.
So the system is being evaluated.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, this was a very expensive system when it was first implemented. My question to the minister is this: are we realizing the benefits that we anticipated accruing to government from the use of this system, or is that what's under evaluation?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, as well as evaluating what further benefit we can derive out of the system.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I have a number of other areas that we can explore with the minister, but in the interest of clearing this department, it would appear that we're going to digress into a number of areas that are not going to benefit debate here.
I was interested in receiving the paper from the minister on the whistle-blower legislation. And given the propensity of the officials within the various departments to contact employees and, either by writing or by telephone calls to previous deputy minister, and advise them that they have an oath of secrecy - or individuals within the departments spelling out that they are not to divulge any information, a situation that arose in the Department of Tourism - just how much trust exists within the government, and where are these orders originating from, Mr. Chair? Because it's a sad day when we can't allow individuals to conduct their own business that they're qualified and hired to perform, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess it all boils down to the requirement and the need that was advanced by the Liberal Party when in opposition that there was a definite need for whistle-blower legislation. Now, are we going to lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way? What are we going to do? Because it appears from the conclusion here that the juggling act has everything up in the air at the same time. This is a new area of law for Canada. This government intends to proceed carefully and cautiously. We will only introduce legislation when and if we can be sure that it will accomplish the goal we set out. What is that goal?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The members opposite are now chanting "mazel tov" from across the House, but apparently the Member for Klondike has trouble reading past page 1 in the five pages that I gave him and just goes back to the conclusion. And this is an indication of good faith. I provided the information that they requested, and it identifies clearly in there that there are problems in creating and preparing whistle-blower legislation because there has to be a degree of respect up and down. It's a very delicate and sensitive issue, which the member opposite, of course, has no concept of, obviously, the way he's conducting himself in the House tonight.
So, Mr. Chair, we are proceeding with whistle-blower legislation; we are looking around to find out what is happening in other jurisdictions, and we'll proceed that way, openly, accountably, responsibly. That's how we're going to proceed because that's how we do business on this side of the House.
Mr. Jenkins: Can we expect to see this legislation introduced in the next year or two years? What's the timeline for it, Mr. Chair, if ever?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: We'll be presenting legislation when we find an equitable, fair, open and accountable way to create this kind of legislation, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given the conclusions that are set out in the paper presented to the Legislature or tabled in the Legislature, Mr. Chair, one would see that there are tremendous pitfalls in this type of legislation that the Liberals in opposition never even gave consideration or thought to. I'm sure those considerations are coming home to roost now, just like the negotiating position of the $6 million - "That's all we have left. We don't have any more money. We're broke." Now, we have the same thing here - in opposition, they promise one thing; in government, "Gee, we have to go carefully, look around and see what other jurisdictions are doing."
The conclusions one would draw, after reading the text of this, is that we are a long, long way off. We would be leading the initiative with respect to this type of undertaking and probably establishing case law. So, if nothing else, we would probably have to create another Department of Justice with a whole new bunch of lawyers to interpret this new act because it would be leading in Canada. I recognize that, Mr. Chair, and I'm sure the minister has drawn the same conclusions. So, with that, we'll just leave that.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Seeing there is no further general debate, we'll proceed right into the department.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Finance and Administration
Administration in the amount of $550,000 agreed to
Finance and Administration in the amount of $550,000 agreed to
On Corporate Human Resource Services
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Seeing no general debate, we will go right into activities.
On Staffing Administration
Staffing Administration in the amount of $964,000 agreed to
On Staffing Operations
Staffing Operations in the amount of $63,000 agreed to
On Employment Equity
Mr. Jenkins: Whatever happened to that wonderful NDP initiative, equal pay for equal work of equal value?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: We have it and we're maintaining it.
Employment Equity in the amount of $383,000 agreed to
On Classification/Competition Appeals
Classification/Competition Appeals in the amount of $38,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Seeing that there are no questions on the allotments, are there any questions on the statistics?
Seeing that there are no questions on the statistics, does the total carry?
Corporate Human Resource Services in the amount of $1,448,000 agreed to
On Pay and Benefits Management
Chair: We'll now proceed to pay and benefits management. Is there any general debate on pay and benefits management? Seeing no general debate on pay and benefits management, we'll go right into activities.
Administration in the amount of $998,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments? Seeing no questions on the allotments, are there any questions on the statistics? Seeing no questions on the statistics, does the total pay and benefits management O&M budget of $998,000 clear?
Pay and Benefits Management in the amount of $998,000 agreed to
On Staff Relations
Chair: We will now proceed to staff relations. Is there any general debate on staff relations? Seeing no general debate on staff relations, we'll go right into activities.
Administration in the amount of $569,000 agreed to
On Yukon Government Employees Union/Public Service Alliance of Canada
Yukon Government Employees Union/Public Service Alliance of Canada in the amount of $198,000 agreed to
On Yukon Teachers' Association
Yukon Teachers' Association in the amount of $68,000 agreed to
On Long Service Awards
Long Service Awards in the amount of $90,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments? Seeing no questions on the allotments, are there any questions on the statistics? There are no questions on the statistics.
Staff Relations in the amount of $925,000 agreed to
On Workers' Compensation Fund
Chair: Is there any general debate on the workers' compensation fund?
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister advise if we're paying the full amount to WCB, or are we paying the amount less the disputed amount?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, we are paying the full amount. I would like to provide a little bit more additional information to the Member for Klondike for a previous question. When he was asking about assessable rates, we do pay the maximum assessable rates plus the assessment rate. The fact is that both were increased at the same time. The approximate annual cost of that is $200,000.
Mr. Jenkins: The actuarial study, which I'm sure was taken in-house - the minister indicated previously that that is part of a Cabinet document and can't be made available. Is the previous information as to what it cost the government when we were self-insured available - I'm sure it is - and what the study over the period of years we were self-insured was? Is that information readily available, just to see what we historically have paid out?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I will commit to the member opposite to provide what information we do have on that. It will take a little research to go back and check it out. And, yes, we will provide it to all members opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: I don't know how far the department went back in the Cabinet submission, but the same length of time would probably be sufficient in this analysis for the information that I'm seeking. Can the minister commit to that?
Chair: I will note for the record that the minister indicated yes.
On Workers' Compensation Payments
Workers' Compensation Payments in the amount of $2,284,000 agreed to
Workers' Compensation Fund in the amount of $2,284,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
On Planning and Research
Administration in the amount of $307,000 agreed to
Planning and Research in the amount of $307,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
On Employee Leave and Termination Benefits Adjustment
On Employee Leave and Termination Benefits Adjustment
Employee Leave and Termination Benefits Adjustment in the amount of $3,085,000 agreed to
Employee Leave and Termination Benefits Adjustment in the amount of $3,085,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
On Staff Development
Administration in the amount of $1,681,000 agreed to
On Employment Equity/Land Claims Training
Mr. Fentie: Could the minister give us a brief breakdown on exactly how the $450,000 is being spent?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Travel - this is funding for travel outside the territory for career assessment programs, $13,000. Contract services - corporate land claims training, Yukon government leadership forum is $411,000. Rental expenses for training rooms is $18,000. Program materials include course materials totalling $3,000. Miscellaneous expenses, including repairs and maintenance, supplies, postage and freight, total $5,000.
Employment Equity/Land Claims Training in the amount of $450,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments? Seeing no questions on the allotments, are there any questions on the statistics?
Staff Development in the amount of $2,131,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries?
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Public Service Commission in the amount of $11,728,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Finance and Administration
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, it's evident throughout this budget that when we get to this section, we have a lot of these expenditures - office furniture, equipment, systems and space, so on and so forth - and it's interesting to note that this is a 94-percent increase from prior years. Is it safe to say or reasonable to believe that all of a sudden, in this budget year, every one of these departments had the same failure in office furniture, equipment and so on?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, I can't speak for the rest of the departments, but I know that the capital budget for the Public Service Commission is estimated at $35,000. Of this budget, $32,000 is for the replacement of workstations in the corporate training lab. This will enable the commission to continue to offer up-to-date training on newer versions of office software and equipment. $3,000 is for the replacement of a fax machine that is used by the corporate human resource services branch and is used to fax job ads to the communities.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, does the department capitalize the software? I can understand the hardware, but is the software capitalized too?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I believe, Mr. Chair, it's just for the hardware.
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $35,000 agreed to
Finance and Administration in the amount of $35,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Public Service Commission in the amount of $35,000 agreed to
Public Service Commission agreed to
Department of Tourism
Chair: We will now proceed to the Department of Tourism. Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I am presenting the 2001-02 operations and maintenance and capital estimates for the Department of Tourism.
The Department of Tourism budget is a made-in-Yukon budget. We are strengthening our industries' involvement in determining how the department delivers the programs and priorities that are important to people's lives and livelihood. It's an exciting time as our industries and government face the challenges and opportunities together.
This government has built relationships into partnerships. The biggest partnership success story in government is the Yukon tourism marketing partnership.
The government and our industry partners continue to jointly make decisions that affect tourism in the territory. My department and I are fully committed to providing the cooperation needed to support our partnership.
In meetings held with the arts sector last fall, they told me that they wanted input into arts funding. They wanted expertise and merit in the adjudication of projects. That's peer review. They wanted accountability and objectivity to rest with the arts community in the funding decisions that affected them.
We created the arts fund to support the growth in the arts sector, and we will be working with the Arts Advisory Council, a council that has been created under the authority of the Arts Act for those funding decisions.
We will build the capacity of the cultural industry sector and realize the growth potential through a new cultural industries facilitator, responsible for the cultural industries secretariat. Through the cultural industries secretariat, we are supporting the Friends of the Gallery in the development of the visual arts and craft sector in the Yukon. The Yukon has an abundance of gifted craftspeople. Getting their products to market and building on the economic impact of this industry will support various forms of artistic expression while allowing Yukon artisans and craftspeople to make a living doing what they love.
The government is reviewing the strategy, and through this budget we will work with the industry to develop a plan to implement the recommendations of the Yukon crafts strategy. What that means this year is that we will be doing an inventory this summer and this fall, training people.
The film industry has generated $2 million in direct spending in the local economy in the past year and created 2,000 person-days in employment. We have seen increased training and more energy in the film industry. This government has responded to the growth in the film industry with two additional staff. The Yukon Film Commission will become an integral part of the cultural industries secretariat. We continue to work with the Yukon film industry to develop the infrastructure to attract more commercial film industry.
The 1999 visitor exit survey shows that 55 percent of highway traffic visitors pass through the Yukon on their way to Alaska. The average pass-through visitor spends two days in the Yukon out of an average 26-day itinerary and spends $70 per day on each of those days. These visitors have three to four days of flexible time. We want visitors to spend some of that time in the Yukon.
The stay-another-day program is designed to encourage the pass-through traffic to stay longer and increase spending in the Yukon. The program will increase economic benefits in all Yukon regions. It celebrates Yukon's heritage, arts and culture, communities, people and events.
Recently my department averted what could have been a blow to international air access. Immediately following Air Transat's announcement that they were cancelling their seasonal flight, the department was able to convince Condor to increase the number of flights to the Yukon. I would like to thank my staff for the immediate turnaround of the situation. Not only is the department concerned about international travel, but also the travel of all citizens and visitors to the Yukon.
The air access study was undertaken this spring. We expect to see the results by June. This study will give us factual information on domestic air travel and identify where there is room to expand. What we're looking for, Mr. Chair, are more flights, cheaper prices and better connections. The funding in this budget will move us along to the next step.
Acting on the access study under the expertise of the interdepartmental Air Access Committee and our partners, the City of Whitehorse and the Edmonton Airport Authority - through them, we will explore our opportunities for the future.
People in the Yukon may not be aware of this, but when you call the 1-800 info phone number for the visitor guide, someone in Vancouver answers the phone, and we're changing that. As of October of this year, 2001, someone in the Yukon will answer that call.
I'm also happy to announce a new line item in the budget - the market expansion program. The market expansion program is a cooperative marketing assistance program that will provide financial assistance to Yukon companies that are ready to take their product to national and international markets. The funding program criteria have been developed, and they are under review with our industry partners. We are looking forward to announcing application dates later this summer.
The Yukon Quest is one of Yukon's premier events. It brings international recognition to the Yukon. Tourism recognizes the contribution of the Quest to tourism and is funding the Quest for sponsorship packages and to enhance media attention of this event. The Yukon Convention Bureau is another marketing venue that offers the potential to build tourism in the off-season. We are providing funding to support convention marketing and sales for the 2001-02 fiscal year.
As I promised in the last session, the Department of Tourism marketing budget has been refocused to better reflect the organization and the financial responsibilities. There are new lines in the budget to reflect those changes.
We also have the planning underway for the branding conference that will held later this summer. We want to take advantage of any company, anywhere, that uses the name "Yukon."
While we are investing in growth in the tourism and art sector, we are also working toward restoring the damage done to the heritage sector through successive cuts to the heritage budget. We have increased some of the heritage spending but the devastation done in the past cannot be corrected overnight.
Funding will go toward renovating, stabilizing and restoring our wealth of cultural and heritage resources. Fortymile, Rampart House and Fort Selkirk will receive dollars to go toward planning, preparing and developing.
When I met with the Yukon Heritage Resources Board in Haines Junction last November, they recommended support for the important work being done on southern Yukon receding alpine ice patches. I have responded with some additional funds being provided for this significant Yukon research.
The museum strategy will continue to move forward. This will be a road map for future development. The Lord report dates back to 1986, before land claims and self-government agreements - also before the Internet. We need to review where we are so we can move forward to be where we want to be. This may mean confirming our current direction or setting new directions.
The Yukon Heritage Resources Board will be overseeing the new museum strategy. We have been consulting the federal government and researching what other jurisdictions are doing. There will be consultations through the development of the strategy. We will look forward to hearing all the comments by First Nations, community museums and heritage non-government organizations.
In addition to that, we have recently announced the heritage trust fund. We have topped up the fund so it has now reached $1 million. As soon as the fund reached $1 million, we are able to access the interest from that fund. That interest - half of which will be put back toward the principal - will be available to be allocated to heritage projects throughout the Yukon. Criteria for that funding will be decided by the Yukon Heritages Resources Board.
I look forward to championing with our partner industry sectors to continue to build and develop the economy. By working together, the Yukon will benefit through the economic strength of the tourism industry, the realization of individual and community self-expression and the preservation of our past.
This is a Yukon-made budget, and I urge everyone to work together to make the Yukon a better place to live. I will now entertain questions.
Mr. McRobb: I would like to start off on a positive note and thank the minister for the positive contributions she is making to tourism in the territory and also to recognize the hard work by her personnel in the department and on all the committees and boards that feed into the department as well.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to express some disappointment with the minister for not providing us with her opening speech in advance, despite requesting it last week a couple of times. This speech was available for at least a week, and if expediting debate was so important to the minister and if she didn't have anything to hide, then one would expect that it would have been reasonable for her to provide that information to us in advance so we would have proper opportunity to review it and also to scrutinize it during this opportunity. As it is, Mr. Chair, there is too much on the table and not enough time to review it.
Now, I also have to express some disappointment with how this minister, like some of her colleagues, is giving short shrift to public consultation. And there have been a couple of examples in her department: one dealing with the restructuring of the arts branch with almost a total lack of public consultation in that regard, and another example of lack of consultation is with the YHMA.
I see the minister is exasperated over there, but my comments are validated in the public arena by comments made. She'll recall the meeting we attended about two weeks ago at the Beringia Centre, and my assertions were taken as fact at that time, so I don't see why she would want to dispute that now.
Now, Mr. Chair, I would like to, right from the top, point out that the information provided in the budget book is in need of updating. If you look at the beginning of the Department of Tourism, it contains an organizational chart, and we know, Mr. Chair, that it's already outdated. So I would like to ask the minister if she can provide us with an updated organizational chart specifically identifying the changes to the arts and heritage branches?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Well, let's go back on all of this, Mr. Chair. First of all, the speech was not available a week ago. There was no request made for the speech. I never received such a request. Furthermore, speeches have never been made available in the past. It's quite interesting. Perhaps we should ask the member opposite for all his questions in advance, as well.
The member opposite talks about the short shrift on consultation around the changes to the cultural industries secretariat. Mr. Chair, the announcement was made between the time the budget was tabled with the organizational chart and when we finally got to the Department of Tourism - long after the 35 days that were expected were over, and, indeed, the side opposite had signed an agreement for 35 days.
Now, consultation has taken place, as legislated under the Arts Act, an act that was never passed by the previous government, but was passed by this government in their very first legislative sitting. That shows our commitment to the arts. Now, that legislation asks that consultation on funding issues be done with the Yukon Arts Council.
Now, there was no change in the funding when we announced the cultural industries secretariat. That's because the programs, the funding, and the services to the arts sector have not changed. There is no change whatsoever on any of those issues, and consultation under the act has to take place when there are changes in funding. There was no change in funding.
The member opposite talks about no consultation with Yukon Historical and Museums Association. I have to tell the member opposite, and he may not be aware of this, but I have met with that group on a number of occasions since being elected, as indeed I have met with arts groups on a number of occasions. Now, I need to tell the member opposite that at every one of those meetings to do with the arts, there was a very clear concern brought forward that there needs to be recognition of cultural industries as a separate entity from community art.
They're a separate entity from advanced artists, and that recognition has taken place under the cultural industries secretariat.
The member opposite now wants an updated organizational chart, and I have to tell the member opposite that the final design of the arts branch, the heritage branch and the cultural industries secretariat will be worked out over the course of the next year. There are many, many issues that have to be dealt with. Policy has to be developed. The Department of Tourism, which is very, very responsive to issues, is so easily responsive I think largely because there is so little policy in the department.
This is going to be playing catch-up in a number of different areas around cultural industries, around advanced art, around community art and around heritage. At the same time, we're going to be working with our partners in the heritage community, through the Heritage Resources Board, to work on the museums strategy and on the funding criteria for the heritage resources trust fund. This is going to take a year. I would say, Mr. Chair, that I don't know if I can fully commit that it will be exactly a year, but that is the timeline we're looking at right now. There's a lot of work to be done, and we're hoping to do that with our partners within the arts sector as well as within the heritage sector.
Indeed, I have meetings ongoing with them. There are meetings scheduled for this week, there were meetings last week, and there is continual correspondence between me and various individuals within the arts sector and the heritage sector, by e-mail and by, as the Member for Klondike constantly calls it, snail mail, as well as by phone and in the less formal way through members of the Legislative Assembly who brought their issues forward to me.
So I can't say that there's going to be a quick fix on this. It's something that's going to require a great deal of work. I have a great deal of respect for the people who are within the arts branch and within the cultural industries secretariat as well as the heritage branch, and I know that they can work well with their industry partners and the various sectors to make that happen.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I was hoping that we would be making progress this evening, but it seems that, through the minister's bootlegging in of comments like the MOU and so on, we are gradually taking steps that are regressive here tonight. I'm going to have to respond to such remarks.
First of all, the minister claimed that the speech was not requested in advanced. That would be incorrect. The member can check Hansard from last week. I believe that it was twice that I mentioned it, and certainly during the Renewable Resources debate, when I specifically cued her in. Now, if she can't remember, or if maybe she didn't hear, the minister shouldn't blame that on this side of the House. It is her responsibility to listen to debate when we're in the budget.
The minister also uses the excuse to not provide her speech with the apparent reason that it is not previous practice. Mr. Chair, I don't know if that is accurate or not. I was not a minister in the previous government, nor was I an opposition critic, so I can't really say if it was past practice or not. But I do know one thing: the Liberal Party said, before the election, that it would do things differently, do things better and improve the decorum. Well, I know that the minister is not blind. Perhaps she can recognize that this is such an opportunity to improve relations and build more cooperation in here by providing information in advance.
After all, Mr. Chair, they like to claim that they are open and accountable. I would like to give them another opportunity to prove that.
The minister also accused us of breaking the memorandum of understanding, which identified that this sitting would be 35 days in length. Mr. Chair, it has been put on the record several times, so I know she is aware of this, that we in this opposition party and in the third opposition party believe that the government broke the terms of that agreement by introducing substantial legislation in a spring sitting, when the agreement specifically prohibits that.
So, Mr. Chair, the number of days to debate the budget was reduced by the government, and we felt that we didn't have an adequate opportunity to hold the government accountable by reviewing the various departments in the budget. And that's why we're here this week. So, I know the minister is sore about having to cut her summer holiday a little short to remain in the Legislature, but she should realize that the expenditure of the public purse is very important. And she should also recognize the importance for her government to be held accountable.
Mr. Chair, I can relate a conversation I had with a former Prime Minister of the country, Mr. John Turner, when he was in town about a month ago. His comments about the current federal scene were ones that expressed regret because he said that for there to be a good system, and to be good for the governing party, an effective opposition is required. Otherwise, the system will just deteriorate. I would just like the minister to be aware of those comments.
And the minister then moved on to suggest that no public consultation was necessary with respect to the restructuring of the arts branch. She called it "simple restructuring". Well, Mr. Chair, one of the litmus tests for government on any issue as to whether public consultation is necessary is public reaction. On this issue, the litmus paper would have turned colour, and I would suggest that the minister should turn colour when you consider her comments against what type of public reaction occurred.
Now, too common in the past, government has made a move, like restructuring a department or subordinating one department under another, perhaps, or something to that effect, and has claimed it to be a simple move, but the public has reacted. And Mr. Chair, it's incumbent upon a responsible government to acknowledge that and to try to fend off these negative occurrences by integrating into their process upfront an opportunity for public comment. And that did not occur here.
I would especially appreciate it if the Minister of Health is listening to this, because all too often we have to listen to him go on and on and on about how his government knows how to consult. He goes on about it, Mr. Chair. Well, I would really like for him to be cognizant of this example and try to also consider it the next time he wants to expose us to his views on how the Liberal government always does everything right. Maybe he can reconcile their actions with their hopes and philosophies.
Now, the minister concluded by indicating that these changes will be worked out over the next year, in that she's not able to provide us with an organizational flow chart at this time. Well, Mr. Chair, this is difficult to understand because, on the overhead display at that public meeting a couple of weeks back, there were flow charts in existence that were quickly removed before, I think, most people there were able to absorb the information contained in them, and there was no offer to provide photocopies of them to anybody. So what I would like to do is ask the minister if she can provide us with copies of those overhead slides that were provided to the public by the department at that meeting two weeks ago.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Okay, let's go back to it, Mr. Chair. First of all, I have never committed to providing the speech in advance to the member opposite on this department. I want to make sure that the House has the most up-to-date information available. Therefore, I can tell the House quite honestly that I just finished adding new information to this speech minutes before it was given.
On the MOU, the side opposite and our side have very different opinions on the MOU.
Quite often we have different opinions than the side opposite. Actually, I would say most of the time we have different opinions, and I respect the fact that we hold different opinions about a number of different issues. As for cutting my summer holidays short, I can tell the member opposite was never a minister. I will be lucky this year to get two days. I have been trying quite hard to get two days away from this place that I can spend with my family.
The member opposite says that there was no public consultation on the move to a cultural industries secretariat, and I want to reassure the member opposite again that there was a significant amount of public input on the need for recognition of cultural industries as a separate entity, and we have different opinions on that issue, once again, Mr. Chair.
As for the organizational chart that was presented at the meeting, the member opposite should be aware that at the very top of the organizational chart was the word "draft." Now, that was a draft for a number of reasons. Firstly, because we are going to be working on that over the course of the next year. Secondly and more importantly is that there are personnel and public service issues that have to be dealt with - issues around job descriptions - and that will happen over the course of the next year. The member opposite should know that things don't move quickly through the Public Service Commission. They work well, but they don't move quickly.
Now, as for the copy of the slide, I can give that to the member opposite; but, quite frankly, it's an exercise in futility, because there is no guarantee that that is the way it's going to be a year from now. It's an ongoing process.
Mr. McRobb: I'd like to thank the minister at the end of her lengthy response for finally agreeing to provide the information I requested.
Now, it seems there was a misunderstanding about my concerns regarding the restructuring within the department. The minister points a finger at the cultural industries secretariat and indicates that there was plenty of public consultation and that I was wrong in saying that there was none. But, Mr. Chair, I would like to point out that the target of the cultural industries secretariat is not what I was referring to. What I was referring to was the subordination of the arts branch into the heritage branch. If the minister would like to take this opportunity to explain to us what public consultation occurred on that, I'd appreciate hearing it.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Let's go back to this again. The comment that I made to the member opposite is that there was significant public input before the operational decision was made to create a cultural industries secretariat.
At the same time that we were getting the information from the public that there was a need to recognize cultural industries as a separate entity, there was also the clear message coming from the public that we were not to grow government. Therefore, this government made the decision not to subordinate the arts branch under the heritage branch but to merely move one position over to the film commission, which we have now called the "cultural industries secretariat". It was a move of one position.
Now, the member opposite constantly makes this comment about the subordination of the arts branch under the heritage branch, and that comment is factually incorrect. It's not a question of opinions being different here; it's a question of factual information being incorrect. There is still an arts branch. There is still a heritage branch. There is no change in the funding, programs or services that were offered a month ago; that same funding, services and programs will be offered in an identical manner a month from now. At the same time we are working on a year-long process - hopefully shorter, although I cannot commit to that - in order to develop the policy around the cultural industries secretariat.
To look again at the job descriptions and the way we work within the arts branch and the cultural industries secretariat, and that is a long and laborious process, but it's a process of love because there is a lot of support out there and in this government for community arts, for professional arts under cultural industries as well as advanced artists.
The member opposite continues to make the comment about the subordination of the arts branch under the heritage branch, but I need to tell the member opposite again that he is factually incorrect in that statement.
Mr. McRobb: Whether the minister is prepared at this time to admit that it is a subordination is entirely up to her. But perhaps historians in the heritage branch, if there are any left down the road, will look back at this opportunity and assess it for what it really is. It's the first step on a slippery slope to reduce the arts branch and to make cuts in the arts branch by folding it in with another branch.
Now, the minister can acknowledge that there are administrative costs and savings, et cetera, Mr. Chair, but the fact is that the arts branch could have been set aside as a stand-alone department and it wasn't. The minister frequently responds to that, as she just did, by saying that they heard from the public that they didn't want the government to grow. We heard her, just minutes ago, explain that in the film branch there are an extra two staff in this budget. It seems the minister is prepared to expand some branches but not others.
Mr. Chair, look at the bigger picture. This is a government with about 4,000 employees and there will be more after devolution. If the minister can't justify one or maybe two employees to enable the arts branch to stand alone, then something is wrong. I'm sure those FTEs can be made up from elsewhere among the 4,000 to 5,000 employees.
The arts branch, we can both acknowledge, Mr. Chair, is important. Arts is important to the territory, the development of arts has economic return, and there are all kinds of benefits to the Yukon economy and Yukoners. We all recognize how important it is. The minister had the opportunity to indicate what this government's priorities were with regard to the importance of the arts branch, but it flopped. It could have found the resources.
On top of that, the Premier today admitted the government is sitting on a surplus in the magnitude of $80 million. Well, Mr. Chair, this government is floating in cash yet it hangs on to the smallest shred of information - the same tired old line that really is not relevant any longer - to justify what it didn't do.
What we are really seeing, Mr. Chair, is a total lack of creativity or innovation from this minister. You know, she could stand to learn a little of that creativity from her own arts branch because there was an opportunity lost here.
Now, I'm wondering, "Okay, what if what the minister says is true - that being that the public said it didn't want government to grow?" Well, in what context did the minister hear that, Mr. Chair? Was it in response to a proposal to separate the arts branch on its own, like the cultural industries secretariat? In what context did the government hear it, and who said it?
Now, the minister also tries to justify the subordination of the arts branch into the heritage branch as something that came out of public consultation, but I have a similar concern. In what type of vehicle was that concern delivered? Was it one of many comments from the public that were rolled up, and the government took out the magnifying glass to find it to justify what it really wanted to do? Or was it something the government put on the table to test public reaction to? I would like to know what type of process this comment came out of.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: This is so much fun, Mr. Chair.
Perhaps we need to go back. The arts branch - and I wrote this word for word from the member opposite - was never going to be a stand-alone department. Perhaps that was the plan with the NDP, but it certainly was never the plan with this government. We do not have the resources to fund a stand-alone arts department.
Mr. Chair, what we have heard from the public, including the arts community, is that we need to use our resources wisely. We have certainly heard from the members opposite that we are not to grow government, that we should not increase O&M spending, and that we should push back on the departments to make sure that we are using our resources wisely. And those are exact quotes from the leader of the NDP, the party that the member opposite is a part of.
Now, the member opposite says again and again that there were two positions transferred, and what I have said repeatedly is that one position has been transferred. The rest of the reorganization is still being worked upon. Just because the member opposite says it over and over and over again doesn't necessarily mean that that's a true picture of reality.
The member opposite says that there are many economic benefits in the arts, and I need to remind the member opposite that there is more than economic benefit in the arts, there is much benefit in community arts, as well as having advanced artists within our territory.
The member opposite talks about an $80-million surplus and that's true. But we also have not made our payments to non-government organizations; we have not paid for our construction contracts; we have not paid for our block funding to municipalities. Those bills aren't in yet; we haven't paid them.
We also have a number of other commitments that we have to look at in the future, and those commitments are ever-increasing, as the dollars become less and less valuable.
The side opposite repeats over and over again that apparently we have subordinated the arts branch under the heritage branch. I need to remind the member opposite, as with his comment about how there was more than one position transferred, that just because one says it over and over again, it's not reality. The arts branch is not subordinate to the heritage branch. And so, I'll say that again. Perhaps he can hear it this time. One position was moved.
The member opposite says, "Where did we hear about not increasing the O&M? Where did we hear about not growing government?" And I'll have to say to the member opposite again that we heard it from them.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm rather disappointed in that. The minister didn't respond to the main question, and that is again for the minister: in what context did she hear, from out of the public consultation process, support for subordinating the arts branch in with the heritage branch, and not to have it as a stand-alone branch? How did she hear that, and was that a proposal that was put on the table for public consultation or was it just a comment they heard back?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, let's go back to what government does: government uses the resources that they have been given wisely. Those resources come from the taxpayers of the Yukon - actually, in our case, the taxpayers of Ontario.
Operational decisions as to how to best meet the needs of the community are made by government. So, for example, Mr. Chair, there were a number of positions that were created, moved, and dispensed with under the NDP. At no point during their many years of devastation was there consultation done on any of those movements of personnel. Never was there consultation on moving a position, on changing a position, on getting rid of a position, or increasing a position. Never has that happened.
Now, the member opposite is saying that suddenly the government should change the way it does business. What government does is listen to the needs of the community and respond to those needs. Now, this need was met, and we did not change programs, services, or funding to the arts community in the process. What we did was wisely use the resources that were allocated to us.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, let me dispel the rumour the minister is trying to create that the previous government devastated the heritage branch, because that certainly is not true. Mr. Chair, I can recall a few things right off the top that were undertaken by the previous government, such as the restoration of the Taylor House, the White Pass Railway Building and the Old Fire Hall down on First Avenue. There were a few small railway houses, Mr. Chair. There were countless other restoration projects in the Yukon. I can recall one at Champagne - the Jack Fraser House, for instance.
We also introduced the heritage property tax in our budgets. Mr. Chair, there's not enough time for me to go on reciting the long list of things done by the previous government; instead we should be focusing on this budget.
So I'm not going to fall victim to the minister's tactics of diverting my attention away from the coming budget year, Mr. Chair, because there's certainly enough here to justify a close inspection of this department.
The minister is the one who pointed to the public consultation process to justify the restructuring in her department. Now, upon some scrutiny, she's backing away from that position and is taking the much firmer, heavy-handed position that it's up to government to govern and make these types of decisions. And it's something that no previous government consulted on. Well, Mr. Chair, I would suggest to you that there is a gap in what the minister is saying. Within that gap, there is lots of room to expose what was a public consultation process that was mere window dressing as a charade to masquerade what this government really wanted to do.
Now, I'm going to go back to it, because I want to put my finger on it. The minister indicated that, through the public consultation process, she heard concerns and suggestions that the arts branch should roll into the heritage branch. I want to know: did she put on the table the suggestion that the arts branch could stand on its own? Did she do that?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, the member opposite didn't hear what I said. The previous government devastated the economy and, indeed, the heritage community through continuous cuts. The member opposite thinks that they devastated the arts. Indeed, that's not what I said. Now, to be absolutely clear, we are not backing away from the position. There will be a cultural industries secretariat and a cultural industries facilitator, who will head that secretariat. Let me assure the member opposite again that no one on this side of the House is going to expose themselves tonight.
Let me repeat to the member opposite that there was a great deal of public input from the arts community, as well as cultural industries and the general public, on the need for a cultural industries facilitator or separate recognition for cultural industries. Just because the member repeats and repeats and repeats his position doesn't make it factually correct. To be absolutely clear, our opinions differ drastically on most issues.
Mr. McRobb: Well, let the record show that the minister was unable to indicate where that suggestion to subordinate the arts branch into the heritage branch came from. She was unable to provide any evidence at all to indicate that the government made a proposal to the public consultation process that the arts branch should be rolled in with the heritage branch.
This leaves us with one clear conclusion: this government bushwhacked the arts community, the public consultation process and Yukoners by making a decision to justify what it really wanted to do and to use a public consultation process to justify it.
The public consultation process did not specifically identify this move as a suggestion. So the minister agrees with that. Let's go to the next step. Obviously then, if the government heard it as a concern in the public consultation process, there is one option and that is that it was rolled in with several other concerns. So the government cherry-picked it out.
But what about the other people in the public consultation process? Most of them probably weren't aware that the arts branch was going to be subordinated in with the heritage branch. They weren't aware of it because the government didn't put it on the table. Had they been aware of it, it is reasonable to assume that they would have been most interested in providing their feedback to this suggestion.
Now, once again, did the minister give everyone in the public consultation process the opportunity to comment on this proposal to move the arts branch in with the heritage branch?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Let's go back again. The member opposite has now said twice in this last little diatribe that the arts branch is subordinated to the heritage branch. Let's be absolutely clear that just because the member opposite says that over and over and over again, it still doesn't make it factually correct.
That was never suggested during public consultation - and the member opposite cannot quite make up his mind whether it even happened. On the one hand, he says that we bushwhacked the arts community because there was no public consultation, and then, not even a minute later, the member opposite says, "Where did the suggestion come from the public consultation to subordinate the arts branch under heritage?"
There are two things wrong with that. The first thing is the member can't make up his mind whether or not there was public consultation. The second thing is that the member opposite repeats the same misinformation over and over and over again, thinking that somehow or other that's going to make it accurate. A picture of his reality.
Let's go back to what we're supposed to be doing here in the House, Mr. Chair. If the member opposite has a point to make - and one has yet to see that - then perhaps he should be presenting a compelling argument supported with facts and figures that will make this side of the House buy in to his point of view. That is a rare occurrence in this House, but that is what debate is.
Mr. Chair, making the same political points and repeating the same less-than-accurate information over and over and over again does not make for great debate. It's actually quite tiresome. If the member opposite has a point to make, of any sort, that's supported with facts and figures and logic, I would be glad to hear it. If he is making a political argument over and over and over again, then that's quite clear. But the member opposite has to know. It's because we're not only in different political parties but because we lead very different lives that we have different opinions.
It is our opinion that, after a great deal of public input, we found a way, without growing government, to meet the need to recognize the importance of cultural industries by producing a cultural industries secretariat with a cultural industries facilitator to head that secretariat. We did it the best way that we knew how.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, let the record show the minister once again refused to answer the question and obviously the public consultation process I described was an accurate one because the minister was unable to provide any evidence to the contrary.
Now, Mr. Chair, the minister stands up and challenges me to provide evidence. I submit that is unreasonable. The minister is the only one of us two who has the information out of the public consultation process. She is the only one who has all kinds of information regarding the program, yet she wants me to provide her with information and she won't even provide me with her speech a couple of days in advance. I submit that is ridiculous.
And it further substantiates the fact that this minister doesn't quite understand what public consultation is all about, and that's shameful.
I would like to ask her about what kind of consultation she had with her colleagues, because we hear about the big Liberal group hug and how these decisions are made in consultation with each other. I would like to ask if the minister fully consulted all her colleagues before making this decision to restructure the department.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I have to tell the member opposite that I had detailed discussions with the Premier on this issue. The Premier as well as most of the members on this side have heard repeated representations from the arts community and cultural industries about the need to recognize cultural industries as a separate entity. That happened over and over and over again. It was in the media, it was in meetings with our constituents, and it was with many representations from the arts community, as well as the public at large.
Now, if the member opposite thinks that, every time a small decision, an operational decision, is made in his government and in our government, there is complete consultation with the entire planet on that operational change, then he is quite misinformed. I am quite sure that the member opposite, when he sat in government, was not aware of every single position that was moved, or a job description was changed or a position was eliminated. I am quite positive about that, Mr. Chair, and I need to tell the member opposite that that is normal for the way government behaves. Operational decisions on where positions are to move, or where positions are to be eliminated, or where they are to grow are not part of the everyday policy discussions at Cabinet level, and they also should not be on the floor of this House. Those are not policy decisions.
The policy that was discussed at great length was the need to represent cultural industries as a separate entity, and there isn't a person in this House who didn't hear from at least one constituent that that was important. Now, the member opposite may not have heard that from his constituents, and it certainly wasn't reported in the paper, but there was a great deal of that representation at the meeting we held at Beringia.
And he knows the artist who came forward and said that this is a good thing, and that finally they're going to get recognized as a separate entity. They've had problems in the past trying to move forward with their projects because there has been no recognition of the fact that cultural industries are separate. So if the member opposite thinks that every single time there is a small change in the department, that there is a group hug by the Liberal government, then he's sadly mistaken. We are, some of us, a little bit more physical than others; I'm not one of those people. I can guarantee that. We're friendly. I don't know what the side opposite did, but we try to refrain from an awful lot of that physical stuff.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, what do you do to follow that?
Let me point out, Mr. Chair, the minister keeps steering this back to a simple mantra, which is the creation of a cultural industries secretariat - good. Well, Mr. Chair, I'm not disputing that. I think that's a good move.
What I am concerned about is the subordination of the arts branch. Mr. Chair, the minister had the opportunity, for the umpteenth time, to leave it as a stand-alone branch, and she chose not to do that. Instead, she calls it small decision. She said it's just a change of a job description. Well, Mr. Chair, this is much more than that. As I indicated earlier, it's something future historians could relate back to as the first step on a slippery slope to annihilation of this branch - who knows, Mr. Chair? Certainly it's not getting the recognition it deserves.
Now, the minister admitted there was no group hug on this. Well, Mr. Chair, I'll try to embed that in my memory for future use, because this decision, I think, is a fairly substantial one.
And the minister admitted that she didn't consult with all her colleagues. She went running to the Premier's office and, between the two of them, they agreed to do it.
Mr. Chair, she also went on to indicate that they heard from some groups out there in the Liberal back rooms that they wanted the cultural industries secretariat split off and made independent. That's fine. That's fine, but what the minister should acknowledge is that, when something like this is done, it deserves fair and open public consultation, and certainly having a half-hearted process where only some Yukoners are aware of an opportunity to express reviews on something is neither open nor fair. The minister refuses to acknowledge that.
Now, Mr. Chair, I think there is enough information on record to go with this matter for the time being. I might decide to return to it tomorrow, after reviewing Hansard from tonight. I would like to move on to another area.
First, I'd like to ask, Mr. Chair, if you are planning on calling a break or do you want to roll on through? If you choose the latter, it's okay with me.
Chair: Unless there is a demand for a break, I'd prefer to go right through.
Mr. McRobb: That's fine.
Now, the minister knows the territory needs more attractions. It's fine to say that tourists should spend another day here, but what about the infrastructure needed to keep them here, to entertain them, to keep them interested and so on? Can the minister indicate what she plans to do to fill this need?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Let's go back. If the member opposite thinks that I'm going to let this go, there is not a chance. First of all, the member opposite says, once again - and this is factually incorrect - that the arts branch is subordinate to the heritage branch. Let's be clear that it's not. I'll say again that the same programs, same services and the same funding exist under the new organization.
The member opposite said that it was a small decision. I have to tell the member opposite that it was a small decision, but the result was a way of answering a very large, public need. That was the recognition of cultural industries as separate.
The member opposite seems quite fascinated with his place in history. And the member opposite says, which is interesting - personally I'm here to do the best job I can for the people of the Yukon in tourism; that's my job and I'm doing it - that apparently we have "annihilated" the arts branch. Well, he needs to be a little bit clearer about his facts.
The member opposite says that apparently there was a decision made in the backroom to split off cultural industries. The member opposite is incorrect. That was an operational decision that was recommended by the department in order to meet a need. This is normal and is what happens in government. It certainly happened under the NDP and it's happening under this government. We are trying to meet the needs of Yukoners and we are trying to do it in a responsible way by not growing government and not increasing O&M.
The member opposite says that there was shabby - now we're in the compromise position, Mr. Chair - consultation or half consultation on this issue. I have to tell the member opposite that the legislative requirement is to do consultation on funding issues only. There has been no change whatsoever. I need to tell the member opposite that, over the next year, we will develop policy to do with cultural industries and we will be discussing those issues with the public. Policy, I need to remind the member opposite, is what we should be discussing today.
The member opposite has finally moved on to a new topic, and I am quite delighted, which is the need for more attractions and infrastructure. I totally agree with the member opposite that this is something that we need to keep working on. That is one of the reasons why we topped up the heritage resources trust fund. People come to the Yukon and the top three reasons are to enjoy the pristine wilderness, come to our attractions and events and, quite frankly, to visit family, or to do business.
The member opposite has a very good point; there needs to be more attention paid to that. And under the heritage resources trust fund, which we have just topped up to $1 million - and in a year from now, we will be able to start spending some of that interest - we can start looking at some of those issues. In addition to that there is a considerable amount of money in capital, and we will go into the detail on that later on in our discussions of the budget that have to do with working on our infrastructure. Think of the fine work that has been done in the past by the previous government on Selkirk, for example, which continues to go on. The previous government and the government prior to that as a matter of fact - the work that is going on at Lapierre House and at Fortymile and the many, many different heritage structures that we have.
In addition to that, quite frankly I would like to find a way at some point to work with our arts community and the heritage community together, to look at some of those infrastructure issues. Typically, discussions around infrastructure don't happen with the arts communities unless we are talking about the Arts Centre, and that is something we will have to have further discussions on.
And I have committed to the arts community on a number of occasions and also in legislation that funding issues are going to be discussed with them. Discussions about infrastructure are important. That was identified at the round table, actually, last fall. The member opposite was never at any of those round tables, but members from this side of the House were there and that was definitely one of the issues that was brought up and it's something we do have to look at.
Mr. McRobb: Well, just in response to that last point, I wasn't the Tourism critic last fall, and it wasn't until the beginning of the Legislature that I obtained that distinction.
Now, the minister points out that public consultation is required only for funding matters and not for staff matters, and she points to this restructuring as a staff matter.
Well, this is another example of this Liberal government ducking out from accountability and trying to justify unilateral decisions. I would like to remind them of the Mount Logan decision made by the Prime Minister and how it was embarrassing to watch him flop around trying to justify that. Well, I would like the minister to take heed of that and try not to justify something that is unjustifiable.
We all know that, when you shift staff around and restructure a department, we're talking about funding matters. It doesn't matter who those people are specifically but what happens is a change in the funding. So the logic doesn't add up.
I'd also like to point out that there was plenty of money appropriated by the previous government through programs like the community development fund that went toward heritage projects. I'm sure the Member for Klondike can speak again with reference to the Oddfellows Hall in his community of Dawson City. That was a major project that was not a line item in the heritage branch but which should be considered when discussing what the previous government did with regard to heritage funding. But the Liberals conveniently overlooked that, Mr. Chair, and again it's another example of how they want to justify their spin on what really happened.
Getting back to the question and the minister's answer with respect to my question on what she plans to do to address the territory's need for infrastructure, Mr. Chair, I didn't hear much mention in there of any projects. Just more grandiose ideas, nothing concrete. Can the minister indicate for us where the icon development initiative is at and what projects they're looking at, when she attempts to re-answer the previous question?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Let's go back. The member opposite says that he was not the Tourism critic last fall. I'm sorry; I was misinformed and I need to apologize to the member opposite. I thought that he was.
The member opposite brings up the example of the Mount Trudeau issue. That really was a fiasco in some ways but, on the other hand, I do respect the work of the Prime Minister and I certainly respect the work of Paul Martin, his able minister who brought this country out of debt. I have to tell the member opposite that I do take heed of the Prime Minister. I respect well the work that he does.
I thought we were talking about infrastructure, though, and the member opposite went back to his version of what happened with cultural industries, talks about CDF and, once again, does not support the heritage resources fund that we have recently topped up to $1 million. I need to point out, Mr. Chair, that $375,000 was originally put into that fund in 1992 by the previous NDP government - not the one that was just in government, but the previous one, under Mr. Penikett. Then the Yukon Party put $75,000 into that fund. More dollars were allocated from per diems, et cetera, and the fund went up to $531,000. But the previous NDP government put nothing into the heritage resources trust fund. Apparently they didn't want to think about the future.
The member opposite said that the better thing they did was that they had CDF. A very clear audit of the CDF not only suggested, but told this side of the House, and indeed the Yukon public, that a great deal of political interference went on during the great CDF days, where only the friends of the previous government seemed to get funding.
The member opposite talks about identifying infrastructure needs and icon development, and that will happen, of course, through the museum strategy that is being undertaken right now. The last museum strategy was in 1985 - 16 years ago - and long before the days of the Internet and virtual museums and long before the days of self-government and cultural centres in the Yukon Territory. That will certainly help us identify where we need to go in infrastructure for museums or for the heritage component of our territory.
However, as far as the consultation that's taking place, and continuously taking place, with the arts community on infrastructure, that is an ongoing process. I meet with the arts community on a very, very regular basis and with their representatives. Infrastructure has been identified as a need, and the discussions around that continue.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, that's a sad, sad response. I didn't hear too much in terms of the question about what's happening with respect to the icon development initiative, or the minister still was evasive on failing to identify any infrastructure projects that might be upcoming.
I'd also like to educate the minister, Mr. Chair. Paul Martin did not get the country out of debt. The country still has a massive debt. The term used should have been "deficit", which is the annual adjustment, not the overall debt.
Now, in her assessment of the previous government's handling of heritage, the minister failed to recognize that the previous government introduced the heritage property tax, Mr. Chair. I wonder why.
Now, the minister claimed that only friends of the NDP got money through the community development fund. Well, I'll have to spend part of my summer correlating some of the approvals given to people who, politically speaking at least, certainly weren't friendly to us. I'll come back in the fall and bring that to the minister's attention. In defence of the previous government, I believe that funds like the community development fund were appropriated fairly and after due diligence and scrutiny.
Mr. Chair, what really should be subjected to some scrutiny is the manner in which this government brought in some of their friends to do an audit. Well, where's the accountability in that? That's shameful - spending taxpayers' money to justify cutting a program and repackaging into a nice red-and-white box with a Liberal bow on it. That's shameful, and I've spoken on that point before, but the Liberals didn't care. They didn't listen. They went ahead and did it anyway.
Well, let the voters be the judge.
Now, Mr. Chair, I want to get back to what's happening with respect to the icon developments. The minister, in her response back in December, was much more helpful than she has been tonight. Can she give us an update on what projects the government is looking at in that regard?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Let's go back. Mr. Chair, I said to the member opposite once - and I'll have to say it again - that infrastructure needs are going to be identified throughout the museums strategy. In addition to that, there are ongoing discussions with the arts sector. The member opposite doesn't understand that that's what icon development is.
Now, the member opposite said, and he is correct, that Paul Martin has not yet got rid of the debt, but he will. He has certainly got rid of the deficit and Paul Martin will get rid of the debt. He is still my hero.
The member opposite says that I said that only political friends of the NDP got grants under the community development fund. To be absolutely clear, it wasn't only their friends, because I don't think they had that many friends.
The member opposite says that apparently a friend of ours did the audit. That was a respected member of the public service. And we've seen officials in this House be attacked by the side opposite, because they have such a low opinion of the public service.
Mr. Chair, you know, we can only put up with so much of this. "It's just not on," in the words of a great Clerk.
The member opposite asked about icon development and infrastructure development and I've answered his question repeatedly. Infrastructure development will happen with the museums strategy, and it will also happen in discussion with the arts community. In addition to that, we have ongoing discussions with the Yukon tourism marketing partnership about what's needed by business. Business is a big part of tourism. And business is also a part of the arts and heritage. We have ongoing discussions with business. It is a really good partnership between the department, as well as the private sector. That is a real public/private partnership that works well.
If the member opposite wants to know about icon development, I told him again.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm not going to rise to the bait and respond to some of those ridiculous comments. I want a responsible answer to my question.
Regarding the icon development, I'm not sure if the minister and I are on the same wavelength. My interpretation of the icon development is the development of major tourist resorts.
In the fall, the minister indicated that the one at Kathleen Lake was something that the government was looking at. Now, a few months later in her response, she says that it's something they want to discuss with the arts community. What is that supposed to mean? Is this trying to make up for their deficiency of failing to consult with the arts community on the restructuring of the arts branch? What is it?
There are other sectors out there that are interested in the development of a resort at Kathleen Lake, for instance, or one at Carcross or any of the other locations that have been identified in this initiative. It's probably fair to say that it's of general concern to all Yukoners. So why, in her answers, has she only indicated that one sector will be consulted on this? Why can't she tell us which icon developments the government is looking at?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I think we are having a problem with semantics.
Now, the member opposite talked about icon development at the same time that he talked about infrastructure development. I thought that's what he meant because that's what he said.
The members opposite, through their visioning document, et cetera, identified areas where they wanted to have large projects that would be icon development. A large project in their case was the development of certain sectors within tourism. In our case, the large project that we have ongoing - we actually have a number of large projects, but the big project that we have going right now is the air access study, which will be available now in June, I am recently told. That was another one of those changes I made to the speech just minutes before I gave it.
The member opposite talks about how there needs to be discussion around development like a wilderness lodge. This is one of the reasons I am having problems trying to really nail down what the member opposite is trying to say.
I have to say two things. The first thing is that initiatives from the private sector are initiatives from the private sector because there is a demand for it and somebody thinks they can make money doing it, and that's a good thing. There are a number of people in the Yukon who are making a great deal of money off of tourism. As a matter of fact, the private sector has the largest number of jobs in tourism. It's the number one industry.
The member opposite seems to think that business is going to go out and consult with the entire planet about what they are going to do. Well, business has to be very careful not to do that or someone steals their idea.
So once again, as usual, I'm unclear as to what the member is trying to say. Perhaps the member opposite can be a bit clearer about what exactly he's trying to say. Is he trying to talk about the development of wilderness lodges? Is he talking about infrastructure? What exactly is the member trying to say? What I'm trying to say to the member opposite, if he's talking about large projects, which is typically what "icon" means, then our large project as a government this year - one of many - is the air access study, and that answers the question.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I would submit the minister knows what I'm talking about. We're talking about icon development. It is infrastructure development. They aren't two separate things. When we're talking about developing a large tourist destination, that's infrastructure. The two are the same thing. I don't understand the minister's answer, so I'd like her to think about it a little longer. Maybe we can get back to it tomorrow. She can sleep on it overnight.
Mr. Chair, I want to ask the Minister of Tourism where this government is at with respect to economic development agreements. This member has said, in previous Tourism debate, that she had written to the minister and was very aggressive in pursuit of obtaining an economic development agreement for the territory. Can she update us on that?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Certainly, Mr. Chair, the lead department on economic development agreements is, of course, Economic Development. However, we are having very vigorous discussions at the bureaucratic level on economic development agreements for the territory. In addition to that, our Premier has had a number of discussions at the political level about the need for economic development agreements for the territory, similar to what the western provinces got under western diversification.
In addition to that, I am going to be meeting with Sheila Copps, hopefully, in the middle of this month to discuss what opportunities are available to us in funding from her area in cultural and heritage.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Can the minister indicate what's happening with regard to the Hotels and Tourist Establishments Act, and I'm referring specifically to what has been called a room tax or bed tax or head tax? Could she indicate where that's at for us?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The member opposite is asking about what used to be called the Hotels and Tourist Establishments Act, which we are working on right now, and we are calling it the accommodations act. The reason that we're calling it the accommodations act is that the previous act, among many flaws, did not take into account bed and breakfasts or RV parks or campgrounds when counting the number of individuals passing through the territory. Of course, that's the reason that we're bringing the accommodations act forward, Mr. Chair.
We're bringing it forward because we do not have any idea how many people spend the night in the Yukon on any given day. What we'd like to have is the same information that every other jurisdiction in Canada has, and that's accurate reporting of how many people are staying in Yukon hotels, Yukon bed and breakfasts, Yukon RV parks and Yukon campgrounds on any given night.
The reason we need that information is so that we can make good business decisions, not only as a government, but with our private sector partners. We need to know if the marketing programs that we have implemented are having any effect, and we won't know that until we get some accurate numbers. That was a request that came to us from the Wilderness Tourism Association, as well as the Tourism Industry Association. They said, "We need to know what the numbers are."
The next request they made was that we need to have standards. We need to have some idea of rating the hotels, the bed and breakfasts, the RV parks and the campgrounds so that people know what's available to them, and it has to be a consistent rating system. One of the suggestions that I heard, which I thought was actually quite a good one and very Yukon grown, was that it should be a nugget rating system, as opposed to a star system that they have in other jurisdictions.
Now, the issue that the member opposite brings up, conspicuously, is the issue around room tax. In almost every other jurisdiction in Canada, there is a room tax or a room fee.
This has been a very contentious issue over the years. Now, those room taxes or room fees have been levied at the municipal level, as well as at the provincial or territorial level. Recently this was a discussion at some length in the Northwest Territories. The result of that was somewhat mixed. At the end, there was a sudden pulling of the legislation and it never went forward.
If we were going to be coming forward with a room tax suggestion, we would do it in our partnership, through the Yukon tourism marketing partnership, with the hotel association, with the bed and breakfasts, with the RV parks and with the many people who have private and public sector campgrounds.
If we were going to be discussing room taxes, and that may never happen, we would be talking about that in terms of using those dollars that were raised to support a specific project. That is the one message that we have already got from the hotel association - that there would be some amenability on their part to look at a room tax if the dollars were going to go specifically into something like the Convention Bureau, which fills hotels in the shoulder season - if the money went specifically to a specific project.
Now, I'm not saying that that's what's going to happen, but I am going to say that it is a possibility. What I will go through with the member opposite is our timeline for the hotel act review.
Okay, we're developing - here, I'll go through the whole thing and then we've got it all on record for Hansard.
Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Edelman that we do now report progress.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 9:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:00 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled May 7, 2001:
Government Services: response to questions asked during 2001-02 budget debate re fuel purchase for fleet vehicles; French Language Services transfer payments; and sole-sourced contracts (Jim)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1977, 2014 & 2012
Government Services: response to questions asked during 2001-02 budget debate re special purpose buildings; and transfer of French Language Services and photography unit from Executive Council Office to Government Services (Jim)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2013 & 2004-2005
The following document was filed May 7, 2001:
Personal income tax savings to Yukoners (2002 - 2003): page 9 from 2001-2002 budget (Jenkins)