Tuesday, November 6, 2001 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In remembrance of John Ferbey
Mr. Fairclough: I rise today to pay tribute to a very special person, a man who will be missed by the many people who knew and loved him, John Ferbey.
John dedicated his life to his family and his career to serving the people of the Yukon. Everyone who had the opportunity to know John, whether it was through his work as a dedicated public servant or as a committed social activist or as a friend and a companion, will remember and cherish his humour, his intelligence, his unshakeable integrity and his concern for all.
John first came to the Yukon in 1967, joined the public service and rose to become one of the very finest public servants this territory has ever had.
He brought to his work an energy, devotion and respect that will not soon be forgotten. He will always be remembered for his tireless and invaluable leadership that he provided during the change in government in 1996.
One of the many things that John stands out for was his assistance and support that he freely gave to young people as they began their careers in the public service. He was always glad to act as a mentor and he understood how important it was to pass down wisdom and experience to those who are just starting out. He cared passionately about the future and drew lessons from his past, aided by a keen intellect and sharp memory. He had an unparalleled ability to learn and retain knowledge in all those areas that he explored, from politics to education to history and beyond.
John was a generous man. He was a long time volunteer at the community kitchen helping those who needed a meal. He was an active member of the Riverdale Community Association, and even after he retired, he gave his time to teaching at the Yukon native teacher education program to ensure that every member of the community enjoyed the benefit of a good education.
He believed in justice, truth and beauty, and he practised what he believed in. He was a gourmet cook, an accomplished gardener and a lover of music.
While we grieve at his passing, together we can look back and say that the Yukon is a better place because of John Ferbey.
Thank you, John.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: On behalf of the Government of the Yukon, I, too, rise to pay tribute to a very special Yukoner, Mr. John Ferbey.
John began his career as a Yukon public servant in September 1967, as a teacher in Dawson City. He came to Whitehorse in February 1968, as assistant superintendent of education, and remained with that department in various superintendent roles until early 1979. In April of that year, he led the pipeline coordination branch as director and then deputy head. For several years, he coordinated all of the Yukon's work on the Alaska Highway pipeline and on the Beaufort Sea development.
John was key in establishing the Yukon's intergovernmental relations capacity. He created our first intergovernmental office in Ottawa and, more than 20 years ago, realized the importance of devolution and the development assessment process to the Yukon. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the Yukon was accepted as a full partner at the intergovernmental table. Our acceptance and successes at that table today are a tribute to him.
John served in a number of deputy minister positions: Intergovernmental Relations, Economic Development, and most recently as acting Deputy Minister and Cabinet Secretary of the Executive Council Office in 1996.
In whichever of his many roles, from with the Department of Education to the Executive Council Office, John could always be counted on to take the time to stop and talk and, more importantly, to listen.
He loved the public service and considered it an honour to serve. John Ferbey's most significant and lasting career legacy lies with the people he left behind - those he taught and mentored, both as a teacher and as a public servant. He had an instinctive feeling about people. He could see potential, and had an amazing ability to surround himself with that potential. Many of his proteges have gone on to become deputy ministers or senior officials in this or other governments.
John Ferbey will be missed by many. The Government of Yukon would like to honour the memory of John Ferbey and extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Penny, their sons, their extended family. He was a great man, a consummate public servant and a true mentor to many. He will be sadly missed.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have for tabling a legislative return in response to a question from the MLA for Kluane regarding the North American Tungsten agreement with the Yukon government. I have a legislative return in response to a question from the MLA for Kluane about the rural electrification and telephone program.
I have a legislative return in response to a question from the MLA for Kluane about the Arctic Winter Games and the transportation of dog sled teams.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Fairclough: On a point of order, I would like to draw attention to Doug Van Bibber in the gallery. I'd ask all people in this House to welcome him to the Legislature.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McLachlan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) while in opposition, the Yukon Liberals continually pressured successive governments to replace the Whitehorse Correctional Centre;
(2) after years of neglect and lack of political will by previous governments to tackle this issue, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre has reached the stage of disrepair where it has become a hazard to both the dedicated staff and inmates;
(3) the Yukon Liberal government is lending much more than lip service to this important issue by committing funds to replace this dilapidated building; and
THAT this House applauds the Yukon Liberal government for having the political will to tackle the issue of replacing this decrepit building, and for honouring the campaign commitment to rebuild Yukon's infrastructure.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a ministerial statement?
Renewal - government accountability
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, this week we are reaching the end of the first stage of our renewal initiative. I am pleased to announce today some of the first steps that we are taking to respond to the comments and suggestions that we received.
I first announced the renewal initiative in the middle of June. In the ensuing four months, we have listened to hundreds of Government of Yukon and Indian Affairs and Northern Development employees. We have contacted a significant number of interest groups and organizations, and have received direct feedback from hundreds of individuals and groups. We have visited each community at least once, and some two or three times. All of the comments received are being published, and I have already provided an initial volume of comments to the leaders opposite.
One thing that we have heard repeatedly from the business community, from the public service and from the public at large, is that the government must become more accountable for its actions. In a poll that was done last summer, Yukoners overwhelmingly put better accountability at the top of their priority list of things that would improve government.
Government accountability means different things to different people. To the taxpayer, it can mean managing resources responsibly and getting results. To the citizen, it can mean being able to understand what government is about, having questions answered and getting good service. To the public servant, it can mean having clear, achievable goals.
In response to this, this government is adopting a new framework for government accountability. This framework contains a series of measures that reflect the best practices of many other Canadian jurisdictions. We looked at what others are doing well, we listened to Yukoners, and we came up with a made-in-Yukon approach that will work for Yukoners.
As we speak, all departments are working on the first part of this plan. When we table our next budget in this coming spring, it will be accompanied by the first round of departmental accountability plans. At that time, we also plan to table an accountability act. This piece of legislation will require this government and future governments to explain to the public, in plain language, what we are doing with their tax dollars.
This accountability framework will be tied very closely to the budgeting process. Budgets will look different and will be in a format that can be understood by the average Yukoner. This will ensure that all departments, ministers and this Legislature are all involved in debating the substance of the government's plans and results.
When all of the measures in our accountability framework have been adopted, the government will have the means to show the public what its goals are and whether or not it met those goals. The accountability plans will clearly set out the government's priorities, provide a simple description of each department's core responsibilities, describe clear, measurable goals with strategies and budgets attached to those goals and report back on how the goals were achieved.
When the budget is passed, departments will not only take the resources from it, they will also take away a commitment that they will be held to account for the goals, strategies and results expressed in their budgets.
This represents a very substantial change in the way the government is managed. It will take about three years for all of the measures in our accountability framework to be adopted. It's time the government got started on this, Mr. Speaker, and we have.
These accountability measures and accountability legislation that we will be tabling in the spring will address one of our top seven priorities - restoring confidence in government. It is yet another way that we are keeping our commitments to Yukoners.
My thanks, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to present this ministerial statement, and may I also extend my thanks to the public servants and to the Member for Whitehorse Centre, who has assisted in work on this initiative to date.
Mr. Fairclough: I'd like to respond briefly to this ministerial statement that has been presented by this Liberal government.
One of the things that is mentioned in here is the countless number of public servants who responded in meetings and gave recommendations for it. But the number one concern that was held by the public servants was job cuts. The Premier's own officials said that there are 175 jobs - when is this Premier going to respond to the public servants about the number of jobs that are going to be cut and when they are going to be cut?
The whole renewal process, in past speeches by the Premier, was all about devolution and better services to the constituents in the Yukon Territory here. What we've not seen in this ministerial statement is anything to do with devolution. All of a sudden, we see this Premier walking away from that process because maybe there is a delay, or maybe there is something else the Premier wants to say in regard to this that is not coming out so far. But I'm sure we will soon see this. Mr. Speaker, I think that devolution is quite important and should be reflected in the new policies that this Liberal government brings forward.
The Premier said that this budget, when passed - departments will take the resources from it and they will also take away a commitment that they will be held to account for the goals and strategies that are expressed in this budget. Well, here's a Liberal government talking about the many problems that the public has with the bureaucracy of government, and we're leading back to this whole issue again. Where are the elected people who are responsible for the budgets and are the ones who have the final say, particularly the ministers? What happened to that, Mr. Speaker? I don't see this Liberal government mentioning anything about it whatsoever.
I'm glad that this government has brought forward accountability because, in a year and a half, we haven't seen any accountability expressed by this Liberal government. As a matter of fact, when they say they're going to restore confidence in government, I think that this Liberal government is walking backward. It has been a year and a half now, and we're moving the other way.
We've seen this through backroom deals, and we've seen this through political appointments and through sham consultations. What's taking place here is a presentation to the public where there are all kinds of red tape, something this government should be reducing, not giving out there to the general public.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise in response to this ministerial statement on renewal, on government accountability. This statement is but further proof that the Premier is not listening to Yukoners. This renewal initiative has more resources devoted to it than rebuilding the economy or settling land claims. Virtually all the senior deputy ministers and managers in the Yukon government have been devoted to this one project. It's an initiative that no one asked for and no one really wanted, other than the Premier herself and her government.
The public has shown its disdain for government renewal by not showing up to the public meetings. The approximately one-third of government workers who did participate are likely to be more concerned about the future of their jobs than about this grand scheme of the Premier's.
The timing of the renewal initiative couldn't have been worse. While there is considerable uncertainty in the private sector because of Yukon's economic recession, the Premier has now created uncertainty in the public sector as well.
The Premier talks about her plans to table an accountability act in this Legislature. Now this is from a Premier who refuses to say anything about land claims in the House, unlike any previous government. We are supposed to get accountability from the Premier and her Liberal colleagues whose classic response to answering questions in the House is that the members opposite are, "Wrong, wrong, wrong." So much for accountability, Mr. Speaker.
Accountability cannot be legislated as the Premier is promising to do. Accountability is dependent upon parliamentary custom and tradition, something that the Premier and her colleagues do not have time for. I note that the Premier states that it will take three years to implement her grand scheme. That is good news for Yukoners in that the Premier and her colleagues won't be around to see this wasted effort come to final fruition. For that, Mr. Speaker, all Yukoners can be happy and pleased.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the two members opposite should be ashamed of themselves - their irresponsible comments in this House. They have suggested, on occasion, that federal employees will take Government of Yukon jobs. That is totally incorrect. Federal government employees coming over at devolution will not take Government of Yukon jobs.
They have suggested that, with the government's restructuring process, people should sit up and take notice because when they have problems figuring things out, this government will be to blame. This has never been said, Mr. Speaker. What has been said is that the public will see the real efforts in ease of dealing with government services post-renewal.
The member opposite has suggested that, if people say something bad about renewal, they will be fired. This is ridiculous, Mr. Speaker, and the members opposite should be ashamed of themselves for comments they make like that about the renewal process.
The fact is, Mr. Speaker, that we have communicated with employees and listened to what Yukoners had to say, both from within the public service and without. And when the Member for Klondike stood on his feet today, he said that those views of 800 Yukoners who work for governments in this territory don't matter. We think they do matter and we're listening to what they have to say.
Accountability is about more than parliamentary tradition - parliamentary tradition, such as you have noted in earlier rulings in this House, that we hold an attempt to live up to, Mr. Speaker.
The fact is that this ministerial statement was about accountability, about a new framework for the budget, and we are doing what is the appropriate method for working at something like renewal, which is to communicate, communicate, communicate. We're sharing with the public the views we have heard, and we are now analyzing them and moving forward. Renewal is about devolution. It's about better services. It's also about accountability and it's also about working with employees and changing the culture of government.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: School busing contract
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Premier, whose office is clearly implicated in a very serious matter - a cover-up.
Last Friday, members of the Premier's political staff learned that certain news stories were about to be published. They immediately contacted the Teamsters' local representative and his wife. Their mission was to persuade them to change information that they had already given to the media. Were the Premier's operatives acting on their own or on her instructions?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: And the saga continues.
The Premier's office was merely verifying the facts, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Well, in that case, maybe the Premier should answer the questions.
We've heard many fantastic things over the past two weeks, as the Minister of Education has tried to do damage control on this issue, Mr. Speaker. It's clear that the minister was just acting on instructions from the corner office. That's why I'm asking the Premier this question.
This whole thing could have been dealt with on day one if the Premier had not been so anxious to avoid her responsibilities for the actions of one of her MLAs. When the Premier instructed her caucus to go out and spread the word about government efficiencies, what cost-cutting measures did she expect the Member for Whitehorse West to discuss with the bus driving pals whom he used to work with or with the owner of Diversified?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: In the first question asked by the Member for Watson Lake, he said "cover-up." I would ask that the Speaker rule if that may be unparliamentary or not.
In response to his question, Mr. Speaker, I will again repeat the facts for the members opposite, even though they don't want to hear the facts or verify the facts with other reliable sources. The meeting with the union members took place in early February by the Member for Whitehorse West. That was before the session and before the tender went out. Those are the facts, Mr. Speaker, pure and simple - quite the facts.
The Member for Whitehorse West did not influence this contract and is not in the position of influencing this or any other contract.
Mr. Fentie: Well, what's a real concern here is that the facts are being created by the members opposite, and what the minister has just stood on his feet and relayed to this House has already been contradicted in the public by others involved in this issue.
Again I ask the Premier, who bears full responsibility for this matter: the Member for Whitehorse West may simply have made an error in judgement. The Minister of Education may simply have been a pawn in a cover-up engineered from the Premier's office.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Speaker: Minister of Education, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I believe that "cover-up" is unparliamentary.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I think it can be well substantiated that saying or relaying the word "cover-up" in the Legislative Assembly is not unparliamentary, and I'm sure that there is a lot of data out there that will bear that out. It's simply a dispute between members. It's obvious that the members are very sensitive about this issue.
Speaker: Order please. Clearly the word "cover-up", as it is used here today, can and may be interpreted as being a serious accusation. When members wish to make an accusation it should be done in the form of a motion, which has been done previously in this Legislature. When it is taken as an accusation, it can lead to disorder. It has led to disorder here today. It is quite often not the word but it's how the word is used. I am finding that the way the word is used today is unparliamentary, and I'll ask that the member refrain from using it in the House in the future.
I find that there is a point of order.
Unfortunately, I turned my clock off, so I guess you're not going to lose any time for it, but I'll turn it back on and we'll go.
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I accept your ruling.
Let me point out that this appears to be a charade emanating from the Premier's office, and this minister may have just been a pawn in that charade. The Premier seems to be content, Mr. Speaker, to let other members of her caucus twist in the wind while she's on record as saying the buck stops at her desk. Well, here's an opportunity for the Premier to prove that, to back that statement up.
One more time I ask this Premier: will the Premier clear the air by commissioning a thorough and independent review of this whole matter so that we, in this Assembly, and the public may have full disclosure? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The member opposite is making incorrect statements again, such as twisting in the wind, not working cooperatively. That is wrong, Mr. Speaker, and as a matter of fact the Premier advised yesterday that there would be no inquiry, so she did stand up and answer the question. If the members opposite do have allegations to make, they know full well the process that's required to follow through on those allegations.
Unfortunately, I don't think they'll do that because, quite frankly, they don't have the gumption to fall back and seek the facts from other sources, because it's quite obvious, Mr. Speaker, that they're not going to take the facts as they're presented in this House, which have been consistent and constant ever since they started this smear campaign in the first place.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Watson Lake, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: The comment that we have started a smear campaign is certainly unparliamentary. That's an accusation made to this side of the House, and it's a serious accusation.
Mr. Speaker, the facts in this case are that it's the members opposite who have created the issue, not by consistent answers but by conflicting answers.
So, the members opposite bear the responsibility of the situation they're in.
Speaker: The member gave the Chair no guidance on it, other than to make a statement here. I don't believe there's a point of order here at all. I believe it's simply a dispute of the facts between the members.
Question re: Addictions funding
Mr. Keenan: Today I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services. The Minister of Health realizes many communities have identified healing as their number one priority. Will the minister please confirm that funds available to communities through the community addictions fund have been frozen since last April?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Yes.
Mr. Keenan: I like short, concrete answers, Mr. Speaker. It shows that government can answer the questions in defence of not doing the job they have been elected to do.
Why would this government hold people hostage? Why would they do that? We have communities out there - practically every community, including the community of Whitehorse - that have programming ready to go, mobile treatment, identifying their priorities. I'd like to know: what is going to happen in the interim? What is this minister going to do to make those programs work in the interim? Is there a one-word answer for that? Or two?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Probably not one, but maybe three. We're not holding anybody hostage, Mr. Speaker. Obviously, when you have a new leader in your alcohol and drug secretariat, we basically wanted to ensure that this person had a good opportunity to consult with the communities and look at where we want to go with our program, and that's why we put a freeze on the funds at this point.
Mr. Keenan: Well, that's not necessarily so. That's absolutely not necessarily so. Let me say that the funds that have been frozen that should be going to the communities for their addiction program, for their healing programs, are going into the secretariat itself. They're going into the secretariat so the newly hired staff can travel the Yukon Territory and ask what the priorities of the communities are, when the communities have already identified the priorities.
It's appalling what this minister is doing with this initiative - absolutely appalling. Is this minister suggesting that all things should go on freeze, all things should go on hold, until the empire is built? Is that what this minister is suggesting?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The member is wrong. Obviously the member doesn't have all the facts and ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: ... and the Member for Watson Lake says neither do I. Well, I guess the Member for Watson Lake knows everything. I think the issue here is ensuring that we go down the path in consultation, and that is what our executive director has done. She has gone to every community except one, and to say that we are spending the money on people travelling all over the territory is incorrect, that is not true. The executive director herself has been going to each community to come into contact with each person so they know who she is and offer some ideas and have them offer ideas to her. That is really what the process is.
Question re: Bill C-39, An Act to Replace the Yukon Act
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Premier. Now, with considerable fanfare, the Premier announced that Bill C-39, An Act to Replace the Yukon Act, was tabled in the House of Commons on Halloween. The previous NDP government widely circulated the proposed Yukon Act, 1999 throughout the territory so that Yukoners had the opportunity to see what was in this 19-page act that would govern Yukon's constitution for the foreseeable future.
Can the Premier advise the House why Yukoners were not given any such opportunity to know the content of Bill C-39, which is over 150 pages long? Who in the Yukon, other than the Premier and her Liberal colleagues, has seen this important bill with its changes from the previous Yukon Act, and where can the average Yukoner obtain a copy of this new act?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member's preamble was not quite as thorough as it might have been. What was discussed under the previous administration was discussion with Yukoners on what a revised Yukon Act might look like. The difficulty is, Mr. Speaker, is that it is not our legislation to write per se, it is federal legislation. What has happened is that we have had a hand in writing this. Department of Justice officials in Yukon have worked very closely with Justice Canada in the rewriting of the Yukon Act and in working on it. All the views that we had heard were listened to. We argued the points with the federal government, in terms of their legislation. Ultimately, we have obtained in the Yukon Act what is heretofore not in any other legislation, and that is that any future changes to the Yukon Act cannot be made without full consideration and consultation with Yukon government.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the fact is that Yukoners were involved in the drafting. However, this is federal legislation. It was not available until it was tabled in the House of Commons, which, as the member has noted, was October 31. It can readily be obtained. Either we will make it available at the front desk, or the member can certainly visit any House of Commons Web site and examine some of its progress there.
And I note, Mr. Speaker, that it was the most interesting debate at second reading yesterday.
Mr. Jenkins: So much for an open and accountable government.
Now, the Yukon Act and its proposed changes under the NDP were circulated throughout the whole Yukon - not so under this Liberal regime. They negotiated and dealt with it in the backroom, wouldn't even share that information with Yukoners, and there are substantial differences between this bill that's presently before the federal Parliament and the proposed Yukon Act 1999.
Can the Premier advise the House why there was no consultation with Yukoners on these very, very important changes?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have already answered the member opposite's question. However, I will answer it again. There was a great deal of consultation held with Yukoners. Then the work began of drafting and redrafting the Yukon Act, including working on the devolution transfer agreement. The fact is that that work, like any other piece of legislation, is done by legislative draftspeople, and the act has been tabled in the House of Commons. Second reading debate took place yesterday. I have told the member where it was available. It's interesting to hear the member opposite so loudly defending the NDP. I didn't realize that he had changed his colours, Mr. Speaker.
The fact is that Yukoners have been involved in drafting the Yukon Act. The Yukon Act was tabled with the assistance of Yukon's Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, and the document became public at that point. That is the process for the Yukon Act. And, Mr. Speaker, as I said, I would commend the debate in the House of Commons - the member opposite to look at it - because I know that it was supported by all parties yesterday in the House.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what we have is the Yukon's position put forward when the NDP reviewed the Yukon Act. Not one of those initiatives or suggestions that was discussed at that time is currently in this act, as far as I can see.
This Liberal government has gone ahead and incorporated all the provisions that they wanted to see in the new Yukon Act, and it has gone forward without any consultation with Yukoners.
What consultation with Yukoners took place on this very important act? That's what I would like to know from the Premier, because I'm sure the answer is "none".
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite is sure of his answer before I stand on my feet.
The one thing that I am absolutely certain of is that the member opposite does not support the Yukon Act or devolution and the member opposite doesn't support Yukoners.
Question re: First Nation recreation facilities
Mr. Fairclough: My question is to the Premier. Yesterday during budget debate, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services said that her department does not have any responsibility for recreation facilities for First Nations and that it is the fiduciary responsibility of DIAND.
Does the Premier share her minister's view on that matter?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Department of Community and Transportation Services has provided me with considerable information this morning. The question came out of left field yesterday and I misspoke myself.
There is a certain amount of responsibility, which I will be pleased to outline to the members when we continue debate on Community and Transportation Services.
There are available discretionary grants, salary grants, facility operation and maintenance grants, a swimming pool operation grant, and special extraordinary grants as well.
However, there are processes to be followed for any of these grants to be approved.
Mr. Fairclough: I believe that this Yukon Liberal government is again in damage-control mode. Mr. Speaker, clearly the Minister of Community and Transportation Services in yesterday's debate said over and over again in response to the Member for Watson Lake that this Liberal government does not take on that responsibility of recreation facilities. That's wrong. I asked the Premier if she shared that view. The member opposite said they made a mistake.
What is this Premier going to do to correct that matter and change this Liberal policy that the Minister of C&TS is expressing on the floor of this House?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have said that I have made a mistake, that I am correcting the record. I am not afraid to admit I made a mistake, perhaps unlike some people on the opposite side of this House. I have said I made a mistake and I apologize, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, this is no small mistake that was made. The Member for Watson Lake asked the minister to show some flexibility and respond to the needs of people in the Liard First Nation, and she said, "I cannot change the fact that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development federally has a fiduciary responsibility for such work within the Liard First Nation." Over and over in the Blues, that was said by this Liberal government.
Mr. Speaker, that's the mindset of this Liberal government. That's why the responses are there in the Blues. So when is this going to change? When is the Premier going to give direction to the rest of her Cabinet members to change their Liberal policy?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Blues for today will clearly state that I admitted I had made a mistake.
Question re: First Nations, government relations with
Mr. Fairclough: They made a mistake. It's fine to make that mistake, but when are they going to change the policies? I could see this coming out from any one of the members opposite, any one of the Premier's ministers. We've heard from the Minister of Education calling a First Nation "those people". It was "those people", not even recognizing them as senior governments. So when is this policy going to change? When is the Premier going to recognize that First Nations are senior governments? It certainly wasn't reflected in the ministerial statement today, so when is the Premier going to recognize that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: How many times would the member opposite like me to apologize? I have admitted I made a mistake. I am sorry.
Mr. Fairclough: I ask the Liberal government and the Premier to concentrate because, obviously, they're not listening to the question. I'm not talking to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. I'm asking the Premier when she's going to change the policies this Liberal government is so free to express on the floor of this Legislature.
The member opposite said they made a mistake. Well, when is this Premier going to give the direction to the rest of her Cabinet colleagues to make those changes?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Premier does not need to point out to me that I made a mistake. I realized that as soon as I spoke with the department. I did not have adequate information in front of me. I have apologized. I don't know what else the member would like me to do. The word "grovel" comes to mind, and I'll do that to correct the record if necessary. However, I have admitted I made a mistake. I have apologized. I have said that I'm sorry. If he's not willing to accept that, then that's clearly not what he was after with his questioning line.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, I asked the Premier a question. Others don't have to jump up in the House and answer for the Premier. This is the mindset of this Liberal government - the way their actions are in this House - the way aboriginal people are treated by this government is an outrage. I ask the Premier - because we've heard, not only from one minister but from others, about those people and recognition of First Nation governments. It's not reflected in here. Even consultation processes are not reflected.
So I ask the Premier again: when is she going to make that policy change? That should have been done already, since this is the number one priority of this Liberal government.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is not asking a question about government policy; the member opposite is continuing, as all the members opposite have done, in their awful - their tactics and their lines of questioning, which consistently attack people as opposed to policies of this government. The members opposite have not demonstrated one iota of leadership in their questions or in their ability to accept an apology in the admission of a mistake. The members opposite should be ashamed.
Question re: Education Act review
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education. Yesterday, the minister said that the Education Act Review Steering Committee had to be dissolved since their mandate required the participation of all partners. According to the minister, the remaining partners have agreed to act in an advisory capacity. What actions will the minister take to ensure that all four of the partners have input into the report?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I did answer these questions yesterday for the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, and I don't mind at all repeating them for her.
It was at the request of the partners that the Education Act Review Steering Committee be dissolved. At their request I did that, Mr. Speaker, and the remaining committee members also offered to continue reviewing the public comments and provide me with their advice.
I have accepted their gracious offer. I have also extended this invitation to the First Nation representatives who were there. So, I don't know what more I can do than that. I am awaiting their response on that.
Mrs. Peter: If I had received answers to my previous questions, I would not have more questions for this minister.
When there is no steering committee, there can be no final report from that committee. An advisory group does not have the same impact, especially with one of the partners absent.
How did the minister go about converting a steering committee into an advisory body?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Again I will repeat that it was at the request of the members of the steering committee that I dissolve - and I respect the work that they have done for two and a half years in extensive and exhaustive consultations. I respected the amount of work that they did and they are in the best position to assess the feedback they received on the draft recommendations so that they could put forward a report.
I would ask the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, if she is not content with the answers that I am supplying - I am sure they are full at this time - they're obviously unsatisfactory to the member. I would ask the member if she would be willing to sit down with the members of the advisory committee so she can ask and receive information that may satisfy her quest here.
Mrs. Peter: I believe the minister has part of that as his own mandate. This minister has repeatedly politicized the process. This minister has headed this group with a political appointment, cherry-picked from the draft recommendations, brought forward new legislation and not supported all partners equally in the process. How can this minister expect Yukon people to have confidence in the new process or the report it produces?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I have no doubt that Yukoners are respecting the report that will be put forward to these members, because they acknowledged publicly that these people, for two and a half years, have done a lot - days and days of input, days and days of consultation. It's obvious that the members opposite don't respect that process; they don't respect the good work that they did, don't respect the fact that there were First Nation representations on that for the two and a half years; they don't respect the fact that they talked to First Nations directly, don't respect that they talked to elders and went to all the communities.
Mr. Speaker, there's a tremendous lack of respect by members opposite.
Question re: First Nations, government relations with
Mr. Fentie: I'd like to follow up with the Premier on the line of questioning here, and it has to do with this Liberal government's relationship with First Nations.
Now, I fully accept and thank the Minister of Community and Transportation Services for taking it upon herself to correct the record and do the research necessary in regard to the one specific question I was asking yesterday regarding recreation facilities for a First Nation.
However, there is an unanswered issue here, and the Premier has a responsibility to answer that question. The Premier has said that land claims is her number one priority. The Premier has said that they will establish a good working relationship with First Nations. However, their own actions contradict that very statement.
Will the Premier now stand on her feet and explain to this Assembly how she and her government intend to improve relations with First Nations in this territory?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we have improved working relationships with First Nation governments. We have signed a First Nation intergovernmental accord with Yukon First Nations as a whole, and we have signed a number of individual accords. The members opposite are clearly out of questions. All they can do, Mr. Speaker, when they stand on the floor of the House is criticize people. If the members opposite want to ask a fair question about policies, I'm more than happy to stand on my feet and answer them. And I have given an answer to the member opposite's question about policy. I would suggest the members opposite work a little harder on their questions and stick to policies as opposed to the people.
Mr. Fentie: Well, relations with First Nation governments is certainly a government policy, and that's what we're asking. The members opposite continually treat First Nations as stakeholders, such as Education, when they know full well that the First Nation people of this territory can take down Education and operate that program themselves. And the Premier has the audacity to stand on her feet and say that we are attacking people. Not so, Mr. Speaker. We want this government to come clean with First Nations. How is this government going to improve relations with the First Nations when they won't even extend the Education Act review at the request of the First Nation people of this territory?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is again being irresponsible in his questioning. The fact is that this government has worked very hard and continues to work well with First Nation governments. We have, and we can point to several examples. If the member opposite would like to discuss at greater length, in a reasonable fashion, after having done his homework on renewal, for example, the member opposite would find out that I have communicated directly with First Nation chiefs, as well as there has been communication between administration to administration on the renewal initiative. The same goes for every other initiative in the government. We work well with First Nation governments. For the member to suggest something else is completely irresponsible.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I am not being irresponsible, and I am not suggesting something else at all. I am merely relaying the facts. Well, let's look at the devolution issue. The most important First Nation in regard to the devolution is the Kaska First Nation in the southeast Yukon, given the future possibilities and potential of that region. Yet this Premier totally ignores that First Nation when it comes to the devolution agreement and trumpets this so-called deal that she has got. Well, it's already falling apart, because the Kaska First Nation does not support it and they will fight it with every means available to them. When is this Premier going to come clean with First Nations in this territory and explain to them how she intends to live up to her commitment of making them her highest priority.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, allow me to share the facts with the member opposite as he seems to have once again woven his own version. The facts are that both Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Kaska Dena Council negotiators were participants in devolution transfer discussions and negotiations as well as legal representation for the Council of Yukon First Nations. They were a part of the negotiation discussions and negotiating team. The fact is that the negotiation of the devolution transfer agreement is a good thing, and it has been well negotiated. There has been participation in the negotiation by the Kaska, the Kwanlin Dun, as well as the Council of Yukon First Nations representing the other Yukon First Nations. The fact is that this side supports and will continue to work with the devolution transfer agreement. And, pardon me, the fact is the side opposite supported devolution as well.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in the name of the official opposition to be called on Wednesday, November 7, 2001. It is Motion No. 159, standing in the name of the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes.
Mr. Jenkins: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, November 7, 2001. They are Motion No. 152 and Motion No. 153.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Mr. McLachlan: 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
Deputy Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We will recess for 15 minutes.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with debate on Bill No. 7, Second Appropriation Act, 2001-02.
Bill No. 7 - Second Appropriation Act, 2001-02 - continued
Department of Community and Transportation Services - continued
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb had the floor.
Mr. McRobb: We're on the Department of Community and Transportation Services, reviewing a number of items in the supplementary budget. And it's very clear to us in this Legislature, Madam Chair, that the Liberal government is hiding money away for the next election budget. In the process of doing that, they are ignoring Yukoners in the near term. There is a very large shortage of jobs in this supplementary budget for workers this winter. We see cutbacks in many areas, not only in this department but in several other ones, and it's becoming quite obvious that it's an embarrassment for the Liberals in how the taxpayers' dollars are being spent.
Something this government cannot claim, Madam Chair, is that their budget is grounded in public support. The reason for that is very simple. There has been no public consultation for this budget. The public consultation exercise the Liberals said took place was simply too little, too late.
It happened at the end of January this year, after the budget had already been set. Was there a consultation process this fall, Madam Chair? Of course there wasn't. Yukoners have not had an opportunity to plug into this budget how they want to see taxpayers' dollars spent. And that is a shame, especially given the Liberals' promise to do it better. That is not doing it better, and I would submit that this Liberal government had better pull up its socks pretty soon and start to do what it said it would do.
I know people in my riding of the Kluane region are very disappointed with a lack of expenditures in communities like Haines Junction which really has 25 percent or less than what was in the budget for that community two years ago. That is not recognizing the needs or interests of rural Yukon communities. The Liberals are ignoring ordinary Yukoners, and it is becoming clear that to have any say in the drafting of the Liberal budgets, you have to have a Liberal Party membership card or be a backroom friend of the Liberal government, because, for ordinary Yukoners, there are no opportunities. That is very shameful.
Also, the minister has a lot of room for improvement to expedite debate in this Legislature - if she would answer the questions up front and very simply, instead of dragging on the debate, providing answers that are highly qualified, which only leads to further questions to try to clarify her position and her involvement on matters such as contract changes on a highway contract.
That matter could have been put to rest rather quickly, Madam Chair, last Thursday when we had this discussion, if the minister had just clarified her involvement. But she was not prepared to do that. There were some allegations of political interference on the floor at the time, and the minister was unable to dispell those allegations.
It wasn't until Monday afternoon that the minister, after reflecting on this matter with her department officials, came back and gave us some detail on what those contract changes involved. We still didn't quite hear the answer to the question of whether or not the minister had any involvement or any knowledge or discussions on those contract changes.
So, once again, we get the Liberal minister saying one thing, but when questioned on it, Madam Chair, they try to skate around the answers and they're not willing to be clear in their responses to the opposition. And that's not part of being an accountable government, Madam Chair. An accountable government is always willing to be open and to be tested on its actions, its policies, its inactions. Whatever it does, it's all part of being accountable. We on this side of the House, who see and hear how this government behaves on a daily basis, are becoming quite learned in how this government is not accountable. We are beginning to see many ways of how the Liberal government practises not being accountable, how we hear qualified responses and non-answers.
My colleague beside me for Vuntut Gwitchin asked a question about the Education Act, Madam Chair. It was a simple question to the minister: "What date?" Did she get a response? No. No response, and that necessitated repeating the question again today. So, Madam Chair, this isn't the first time I've delivered this message to the government, and I've heard it from several constituents and other Yukoners.
And that message is: to consider yourselves an accountable government, this group of Liberals has to pull up their socks and start to behave like an accountable government.
Now, I had to get that off my chest, and I feel better now that I did because it's an unpleasant aspect to this job to sometimes bring in some fire to the feet of the government. But it is part of our job on this side of the Legislature, and you can count on us being back, in the future, if there are additional occasions when we should test the government on its lack of accountability, and unfortunately I -
Deputy Chair: Order. The member has two minutes left to complete.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Madam Chair. Unfortunately, I do expect several more of these occasions.
I think that where we left off was talking about what is referred to as the North American security perimeter. I went on to describe how the Yukon government opted out of an initiative by the B.C. premier in this regard.
I asked the minister why her department or her colleagues chose to opt out of this initiative, given the overall impact on the Yukon's economy, especially the tourism economy.
After we got it straightened away, Madam Chair, that indeed it's her responsibility, unfortunately we still didn't get an answer.
Now, I would like to ask the minister again: what is this government's position on what is called the North American security perimeter? Can she enlighten us on that, please?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It has been quite entertaining to watch the Member for Kluane launch his leadership bid for the NDP, following the lead of Gordon Campbell to the south of us.
The fact is, Madam Chair, that the letter seeking involvement in the national perimeter issue from provinces, initiated by British Columbia, was addressed to the Premier. Therefore, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services would not have responded, as it was addressed to the Premier. I, as several other premiers in the country, chose not to sign on with the British Columbia suggestion, due to the tone of the tack taken by British Columbia. I have, instead, followed up on this particular issue at ministers of Finance meeting, where we met also with the minister responsible for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.
At that meeting, I pointed out to the minister responsible for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency that the Yukon has in excess of 395,000 border crossings a year, of which 265,000-plus are Americans, and that any initiative taken in southern Canada to deal with Customs operation, the free flow of goods and people, or of an economic nature, initiatives such as that, must take into account the four border crossings in Yukon, and one of those, of course, being a seasonal operation.
As a result of the comments that I made at the Finance ministers meeting and as a result of work done by this government, the minister intends, as I understand it, to visit the Yukon in the very near future and discuss these issues with the Government of Yukon, at which time, of course, we would fully report back to the House.
As, however, this is general debate on Community and Transportation Services, I would expect that the member opposite's next question would focus more on that department as opposed to this initiative.
Mr. McRobb: I believe that, to be fair, I do get an opportunity to respond. I will keep it brief and say that this morning I read an article in today's Vancouver Sun that followed up on this matter, and there are just a few details that I would like to get on the record to ensure this government is aware.
Let's start with how the economies of both Canada and the United States are highly integrated. There is more than $1-billion worth of goods and services going across the border each day. Annually there is more than $375 billion in trade that creates millions of jobs in both countries. The delays that we are currently seeing on the border are costing millions of dollars. Some delays are in excess of 12 hours, or half a day. We know the federal government likes to stand up and try to protect the security record of our border crossings; however, that position might be a little overconfident, given the fact that this country unfortunately has 27,000 failed refugee claimants who have disappeared underground in the past five years.
This country also has about 350 known terrorists on our soil. This is according to security agencies, and there are also many suspected terrorist organizations raising money in this country.
So, all things told, Madam Chair, this is a matter that requires some serious attention. If it's not addressed, our economy is in peril because we are so highly dependent upon our American neighbours to the south and to the north.
Now, I'm not sure how much further we can take this here. It's obvious the Liberal Government of Yukon hasn't come up with a policy. Instead, it chooses to sit on the fence and wait. Let's hope that doesn't backfire, but there might be further occasions in the future to get back and discuss this matter.
I wanted to ask the minister about the security on the direct flights from Frankfurt and just follow up on that a little bit. Can she indicate if there are any additional security measures that will be undertaken to ensure proper screening in order to avoid any intercontinental passage of anyone suspicious, which could result in tarnishing Canada's image, especially the Yukon's image, should this city be used as an access point? Can she explain to us what additional measures her department is taking?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The matters the Member for Kluane is speaking about are airline matters. They are not the responsibility of the Department of Community and Transportation Services, and if they were, I'm sure he can appreciate that I would not discuss in detail in this House what security measures might be taken, as that would be a breach of security.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Madam Chair, the minister is beginning to sound more and more like our Prime Minister every day, and that's rather unfortunate, because we're not asking for the minutiae; we're not asking for, you know, the confidential details. We're just asking in general terms what additional measures are being taken.
So I see that the minister has a look of regret and probably would like another opportunity to respond to this. So I'd like to ask her again: in general terms, can she give us any information at all?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, there are some options for screening that are being considered by airlines and Transport Canada, including the possibility of government delivering the service, a company delivering the service or airlines continuing to deliver the service. Beyond that, I can't comment.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Madam Chair, that's fine. The minister did give us some information to at least go on, and that's fine. That's the type of answer that I'm sure everyone on this side of the House would encourage all the Liberals to provide, rather than them standing up and giving a non-answer, trying to give us excuses for why they can't answer a question. Now, we were at least provided something to go on there, and I want to thank the minister for that.
Now, I can't complete all my questions in this string because a lot of them followed up on information just provided to me by way of legislative return, and there are several pages of information here, and that will require some time to review in order to follow up. So we're going to be a little disjointed in who is asking the questions this afternoon and switch off here a few times to accommodate this.
I'd like to start this by allowing the leader of the third party just to follow up on the subject matter at hand.
Mr. Jenkins: Earlier this fall, the minister signed off on a letter to myself with respect to this very same issue, that of port of entry into Canada for air travel and travel into the United States for both chartered and scheduled flights, both IFR and VFR because, surprisingly, the Premier earlier related the figures of entry into Canada, specifically the Yukon crossing into our territory. And, when one analyzes those figures one finds that the largest number of those individuals are day trips out of Skagway that may or may not spend anywhere from a half hour to an hour and a half in the Yukon before they return to their cruise ship in Skagway. So, this is impacting on our visitor industry and, for the record, the information that I have received is that Canada has not imposed any additional security requirements on the aviation industry for entry into Canada since September 11, 2001.
They are contemplating changes. They are anticipating changes, and they have asked that security be rigorously enforced, but no changes in this area. I am very concerned with sked and charter flights between Alaska and Yukon. And, given that we have three aerodromes that are Canadian port of entry into Canada here in the Yukon, I am concerned that the level of activity will be maintained, because these visitors who fly in, either in groups or individually, do provide a great deal of stimulus to our economy.
They do spend, on average, on the high end, for the visitors coming into Yukon. And, while the Minister of Community and Transportation Services might think that it's a national security issue, it is very, very important that this government be kept on top of this issue. They must be aware of what's transpiring, because the only area that we have a potential to grow under this Liberal government is in our visitor industry.
I believe that if we're very, very targeted in our marketing for this next year, we might do better than what is anticipated. Because if we don't take some initiative in this area, we're probably going to be sitting in the toilet like another one of our economic engine drivers in the Yukon - the mining industry - which this Yukon Liberal government has devastated, along with the oil and gas exploration industry that this Yukon Liberal government has devastated, and along with the forestry industry that this Yukon Liberal government has devastated.
The only area where I see an enhancement is in the tremendous number of parks that are being created under this Liberal government by backroom deals.
What forward thinking and planning is the minister's department undertaking to at least give us the same status and exemptions as the State of Alaska has with respect to VFR flights here in Yukon and with respect to ease of movement of aircraft between our respective jurisdictions? And it's not all in the summer. We have the Yukon Quest, which usually stimulates a lot of cross-border flights, usually single engine or small twins, that are going to be seriously restricted by the new regulations that the U.S. has imposed.
So could the minister share with the House what steps she has instructed her officials to take to ease the entry into Canada and vice versa in Alaska? What efforts has she undertaken, if any?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: My officials take part in weekly briefings with Transport Canada, where information is shared back and forth. The extremely restrictive rules that the member first referred to are interim rules, and some of them have been dropped. It's U.S. rules that are having the impact. They relate to whether aircraft are Canadian-owned or Canadian-registered, or U.S.-owned or U.S.-registered. And we are tracking what is taking place and we're working with the local operators. If the member feels there are any particular situations that we should be aware of, we would be happy to look into them.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Madam Chair, I asked the minister to tell me what initiatives she or her officials are taking, and all I'm told is that her department attends weekly briefings with Transport Canada and that they are tracking the FAA rules.
Has there been any direct approach made by Government of Yukon to the FAA, with respect to a variance similar to what the FAA has granted VFR flights in Alaska - to include the Yukon in that pool, for Yukon pilots and Yukon-based aircraft and for Alaska pilots and Alaska-based aircraft? Has there been any approach whatsoever? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States are through Transport Canada. They are not done by the Government of Yukon.
Mr. Jenkins: If I could make an approach to the FAA, I'm sure the minister can make an approach, but there's no political will to do anything in this regard. Once again, Madam Chair, it shows how capable this government is of leadership. They are simply not capable of leadership. They're sitting back, monitoring and watching. There's an opportunity here, and there's a window of opportunity, but unless the minister instructs officials of her department to get involved, ain't nothin' gonna happen, and the minister and her colleagues will preside over the demise of another area that might improve and stimulate our economy.
Now, I urge the minister to go back and reread the letter that I sent to her on this initiative, and reread her response to me. She signed off on the letter, because there is a lot that the minister and her officials can do, but they're failing this industry miserably by just tracking and attending weekly briefings, hiding behind the federal government. Where is this wonderful relationship between the Liberal Government of Canada and the Liberal Government of Yukon when we need it?
The reality is that Canada has not imposed any more restrictions on foreign carriers or foreign flights entering our airspace since September 11 than before. All they've asked is that they be more frugal and be very diligent in monitoring.
The only country that has imposed a tremendous amount of restrictions is the U.S., and I believe our wonderful relationship with the State of Alaska lends us an opportunity to call upon that relationship to enhance the movement of aircraft between our specific jurisdictions. The minister was made aware of it yesterday with respect to Old Crow.
Now, there are three aerodromes that are ports of entry in Yukon. In many other cases, Canada Customs can allow other airports to be ports of entry and can clear passengers. But unless the minister takes the onus and speaks with Canada Customs, the chances of something happening are very, very remote, because they are a very capable enforcement agency that does its job. But they do have a measure of flexibility. But without a direct request from the highest level of this government, it usually doesn't happen, Madam Chair.
Now, I want to ask the minister: will the minister get involved, at the highest level possible, with the FAA and with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to expedite the movement of aircraft, both scheduled and chartered, between our respective jurisdictions? And I'm specifically referring to Yukon and Alaska. Will she do so, or is she going to hide behind, "We'll monitor and track it"?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The officials in my department are involved. I have said that they are having weekly discussions with Transport Canada. That is a two-way process.
We are making our approach through Transport Canada, as is proper in providing input where we are aware of impacts.
In terms of Old Crow, which we were aware of long before yesterday, we are working on facilitating the requirements for the Vuntut Gwitchin gathering, and we are also working on other identified difficulties.
The issue is security, which the United States takes very seriously, and so do I.
Mr. Jenkins: So could the minister apprise the House as to whom she is working with in respect to Canada Customs and the initiative in respect to clearing passengers arriving from Alaska into Yukon and getting a variance or a waiver so that the aerodrome in Old Crow can be a port of entry?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As with discussions with Transport Canada, our discussions with Canada Customs are ongoing, and I am unable to provide the member with any further details at this time.
Mr. Jenkins: I would suggest to the minister that she isn't doing anything. I would further suggest to the minister that she is acting very irresponsibly in protecting the interests of the Yukoners by not doing something.
I guess the record speaks for itself as to the level of involvement that this minister deems appropriate. I don't believe she wants to be involved, and she has clearly demonstrated that she doesn't have an understanding of the issues.
Well, we're not going to get anywhere on this area, but I would urge the minister to give it a much higher priority than what she has considered appropriate at this juncture.
I have a number of other issues surrounding the minister's responsibilities.
There was a discussion with respect to providing electrical services under the program that is administered through C&TS, Madam Chair. I have a number of constituents who are within the city limits of Dawson, residing on mining claims, but cannot get access to the rural electrification program. Could the minister advise the House why not?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As the Member for Klondike is well aware, the reason is because they live within the boundaries of the municipality.
Referring back to the previous question on the matter of security, the member is incorrect in his allegations. My department is working very hard with both Transport Canada and Canada Customs. If the member thinks I'm going to tell him the details of our discussions, he is incorrect.
Mr. Jenkins: On that note, Madam Chair, I could probably categorically tell the minister that I don't believe she has had any discussions with Transport Canada officials on this issue, nor with Canada Customs with respect to port of entry. Her officials probably have, but I don't believe the minister has.
Madam Chair, with respect to the rural electrification program, what's the problem with the municipalities buying in and this program being made available to residents within a municipal boundary?
The major land developer, and the major subdivision developer in the Yukon, even within organized communities, is the Government of the Yukon. What is the problem with extending this program to encompass individuals in the expanded boundaries of municipalities so that they can obtain electricity? What is the downside of that? It might require some changes to the regulations. That is about it. Or are we not in the business of selling electricity, seeing that the Government of the Yukon has a virtual monopoly in most of these jurisdictions? What is the problem?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Klondike has asked this question in previous sessions and he has been given the answer. He doesn't like the answer. He keeps hoping for a different one.
The municipality is the tax authority, and the Yukon government is willing to work with the municipalities to administer the program on their land if the municipalities wish. But the people to whom the member is referring live within the boundaries of Dawson; their approach should be to the City of Dawson.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's explore this a little bit more with the minister. Number one, the land is in most cases Crown land. It is not owned by the municipality. It is not owned by the city, nor is it owned by the Government of Yukon. And even if we get into site specifics, there is a reluctance on the city's part to include these individuals in providing them with one of the basic amenities today, which is electricity. I guess we can take it that it is the Yukon Liberal government's position to keep everybody in the dark that is in the dark. And they are doing a very good job with respect to many things, including the recently tabled Yukon Act, but that's another story.
The issue is providing electricity. Is the minister prepared to deal with this matter, deal with the municipalities, so that these people can be brought on-line? It's a simple yes or no.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, the individuals the member is referring to are residents of the City of Dawson. The cost of providing service is fully recovered through our ETP as an add-on to the property tax system. The municipality is the taxing authority, and it is the municipality with whom they should be dealing because they live within its boundaries. We have had this discussion before, and I am sorry that the member doesn't like the answer, but he has had the answer, and he is not going to get a different answer from me, no matter how long he pursues it in the House today.
Mr. Jenkins: The rural electrification program specifically excludes individuals living on mining claims, and those are the ones that I'm referring to, Madam Chair. We have a number of individuals that the city will not deal with, who live on mining claims inside the city limits. By and large, they have homes or substantial homes as well as mining interests, but they're not captured by the current program. The city cannot deal with them because the program specifically excludes property that is not titled.
Now, what it requires and what I'm asking the minister to do is to have a look at it and seek an amendment to it to provide this security for providing electricity in some other manner, rather than a charge against the title and recover it through the tax base, because virtually all of these individuals, even though they are on mining claims, are taxed by the government.
When they are outside of the municipality, their improvements are taxed by the Yukon government. When they are inside of the municipality, their improvements are taxed by the municipal government. So if you deem it appropriate enough to tax them, certainly you would deem it appropriate enough to provide them with electricity.
Now, why is this government being so discriminatory? Why can't an amendment be made so that electricity can be provided to individuals residing on mining claims - either outside of municipal boundaries or inside of municipal boundaries?
The case I have is inside a municipal boundary, yes, but there are cases both ways.
But in all instances where power is provided, it all has to be cash up front.
Now, you can't have it two ways. You can't tax these individuals for their improvements on a mining claim and not be prepared to treat them in the same manner as you treat any other resident of a piece of property. You're the taxing authority; that's abundantly clear.
Why can't some changes be made to this program to facilitate the needs of Yukoners?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We can look at any situation outside of a municipal boundary. For situations within a municipal boundary, the city is the authority that needs to be consulted. I am sorry that the member doesn't like the answer, but the municipality in which the person resides is where they should first go.
Mr. Jenkins: For the minister's information, they have been to the city but, because they are on a mining claim inside the city limits, which the city taxes, the city said they can't deal with them because the rural electrification program does not have a provision to provide service other than to a titled piece of property.
Now, that's what I'm asking the minister to look at and change. Will she agree to look at it and perhaps change that provision in the rural electrification program?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It's certainly something I can discuss with the Association for Yukon Communities.
Mr. Jenkins: Madam Chair, what about outside of organized communities? What's the minister going to do there? She has to make the decision on her own and doesn't have to discuss it with anyone. Outside Dawson City limits, there are a number of individuals on mining claims where her government is the taxing authority and her assessment department is the assessing department and where they pay taxes to the Government of Yukon, yet when they ask for power, they are not given access to power and allowed to amortize it. They have to pay all the money up front. That's the area I want the minister to look at. Will she do so?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, the member clearly wasn't listening. I had already said that we can look at any situation outside a municipal boundary.
Mr. Jenkins: I will leave that one alone. We're not going to get any change in heart for this duly elected representative of the people of the Yukon.
I have another issue originating out of the minister's department. An operating authority for motor coaches was recently granted to the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association. It appears that it's an interterritorial and extra-territorial operating authority.
With funding derived from government from one source to the other, they have gone out and purchased a motorcoach. They are now selling those services to other groups and organizations. We have firms in the Yukon that have invested their money - in fact mortgaged themselves and their personal assets - to acquire motorcoaches to provide these services. And the Government of Yukon deems it appropriate through its various funding agencies to fund these organizations and go into competition with an existing service. I might add that the cost they are charging is in some cases not even known. They don't even go out and secure bids or ask the independent owners to provide a bid on some of these initiatives.
Now, why would the minister, through her sports arm, allow government to take over this area? No one has a quarrel with the intent and purpose of the amateur associations with respect to sports. It is very commendable. It is very worthwhile. But I don't believe that it is the intent or purpose of government to fund these organizations to go directly into competition with existing businesses to their detriment.
Can you imagine what the current Member for Faro would have felt like a few years ago if the Government of Yukon funded a sports association in his community and bought them a bus so that they could carry around sports clubs and school kids to events? He would be shaking his head in disbelief. Well, that is what has happened.
Why did the minister allow this to happen?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I am aware of the situation to which he is referring, and I have spoken with the owner of an established bus company who was concerned, and I had the department do some research for me, and I have a reply to that person, actually, that I should be reviewing this afternoon.
Funding to the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association was not associated with any motorcoach. Only a small portion of their funding comes from government through Lotteries and YRAC, I believe, and it is for specific purposes. These dollars have not been for a bus. Public process was used for the government operating authority, and there was opportunity for individuals and companies to intervene in the application, as is normal.
I repeat that the Yukon government did not fund the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association to buy a bus.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister seems to be somewhat familiar with this issue. The issue of extraterritorial insurance and the requirement for $5 million U.S. and its availability - can the minister confirm that her officials, or her department, in no way influenced the placement of insurance for the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association's motorcoach to the level that it currently is at? Because this is a very, very expensive undertaking for motorcoach operators to have in place the necessary liability insurance, because, in Alaska, ICC requires $5 million U.S. liability insurance. The minister can go back to her office and pick up the telephone and call any of the insurance agents or brokers here in the Yukon and see what success she's going to have to place a $5-million U.S. liability policy for a motorcoach.
So I'd like to know what involvement the minister or her department had with respect to the placing of the insurance for the motorcoach the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association currently operates.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would not be aware of what insurance they would require, but the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association went through the proper process to obtain the operating authority. They went to the Motor Transport Board, as is proper. As to the insurance they require, I don't have the answer to that question. I'm sorry, Madam Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm surprised that the minister says she doesn't have at her fingertips the requirement for insurance, because in the Yukon it's very, very specific that the motor carrier must have and maintain a minimum of $2 million liability insurance. The insurance carrier has to have that policy in force and effect and report it directly to the Government of Yukon agencies that maintain this information. It's the only instance in the Yukon, Madam Chair, where, if the insurance is cancelled or not renewed, the insurance carrier or the insurance provider has to notify directly the Government of Yukon agency that the insurance is no longer in force and effect and the licence plates are revoked. That's how important an issue it is, and I'm very, very disappointed that the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, who's responsible for this area, is not fully conversant with it, nor is she aware of it.
So can I expect a legislative return on what the involvement of the Government of Yukon or its agencies has been with respect to the placement of insurance for the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association? I believe it's through Sport Yukon, through a master policy, Madam Chair, and I believe there's a Government of Yukon involvement that is, I'm advised, quite substantial. Now, can the minister just bring back a legislative return with an overview of this issue?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I can certainly look into it and do that if the member so wishes.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's what I'm asking, and I'll look forward to receiving it.
Just fundamentally, does the minister not see a problem here with a sports association being funded either directly or indirectly by government or government agencies to purchase a major piece of equipment like this to go into competition with existing firms that earn their living in this manner? Does the minister not see a problem here, or is this the new Liberal position that everything is going to be taken over by government, whether it be group homes, whether it be motor coaches - and everything is going to be run by the Government of the Yukon one way or the other?
It makes George Orwell read like it's coming - well, it exists under this government.
Now, I'd like to ask the minister: fundamentally, does she believe in this approach?
Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have already said that the government did not provide money to the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association to purchase a bus. The Yukon Amateur Hockey Association has been around for some years; what they do with money they receive from government is specified. What they do with money they receive from other sources is not specified. As far as I can determine, the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association has done nothing improper by operating a bus, and I am certainly not going to comment on whether I think it is appropriate or not for them to do so, as they are not an organization that is under the control of my department.
I repeat: we did not fund the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association to buy a bus.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister confirm that the Government of Yukon did not fund the bus directly or indirectly through any of its agencies or its granting bodies? Could the minister confirm that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, as far as I am aware, none of the money that the organization received from the government or any of its granting bodies was used to purchase a bus. The Yukon Amateur Hockey Association remains a charitable organization and has not done anything to jeopardize their status in this regard. Whether I believe this was appropriate of them or inappropriate of them is not at issue.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Fentie: I'd like to, with the House's indulgence, turn our attention to the gallery and introduce Mr. Rick Harder, a constituent of Watson Lake and a very hard and tireless worker on the steering committee for the Education Act review. Please welcome him.
Mr. Jenkins: The issue before us, Madam Chair, is a very simple one. You have a non-profit society competing directly with a privately owned, existing firm. Now, it would be another situation altogether if the services weren't already available in the private sector and if the services weren't already there and being utilized, but, Madam Chair, that certainly is not the case.
What the government has allowed is for an operating authority to be granted to a non-profit society to go into direct competition with the private sector.
It would appear that this Liberal government is determined to go out and destroy the private sector economy here in the Yukon. Now I would like to ask the minister if she deems it appropriate for a non-profit society that has access to all government grants and programs on a basis unlike a private corporation to be funded and granted an operating authority to compete directly with the private sector. Does she believe that that is a fundamental right that should exist?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member is asking for my opinion and he is not going to get it. I have already stated that. I have also stated that the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association obtained their operating authority by following the proper process, and I have also stated that my department did not give, grant, or whatever - did not provide in any way - money to the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association to purchase this bus.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it is very, very interesting where this minister is coming from. We can't get any definitive answers with respect to how she envisions the rural electrification program going. She really doesn't care about safety along the Klondike Highway going into Dawson. Before she or her officials react like they reacted to the access road into Ross River by installing traffic lights - it took the death of an individual. Now, I submit that the same thing is going to have to transpire before her government reacts, and I am really, really disappointed.
I'd like to take the minister back to the brush clearing along the highways in the Yukon. I'd like to know what the average cost is for brushing per kilometre on some of these initiatives. What are we looking at for brushing the right-of-way along the highways? I'm not looking for the total contract price; I'm looking for the cost per kilometre along the highways for both sides.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Once we're concluded with Community and Transportation Services debate on the supplementary budget, I'll get my calculator and figure it out for the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Madam Chair, where I'm heading on this initiative is for another department, because currently the brushing is running anywhere from about $1,200 to $1,800 for both sides, if you break it down for the number of kilometres that are cleared and the total contract price, which I don't have a quarrel with. But where we're heading, when we get to the Economic Development initiative of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line, is that the cost per kilometre on the contracts that aren't even bid is $7,500 per kilometre. Madam Chair, that's just a giveaway. We'll be dealing with that with the minister responsible for the Development Corporation and the Energy Corporation. But one has to have a comparison to make for a similar program in a similar area to ascertain the total costs.
Because there are terms and conditions that apply to a brushing contract along our highway rights-of-way, and in many cases, I'm sure, the minister has to run out and deal with Indian and Northern Affairs to get a harvesting agreement because the timber has grown so large along the highways because of neglect. But, be that as it may, I would like the minister to send over the information by way of legislative return on how much it costs along our major highways for brush clearing per kilometre.
Could she do so, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, since the member opposite clearly already has that information, I don't believe he needs a legislative return. He has answered the question himself.
Mr. Jenkins: Madam Chair, I have it for a couple of small areas. I'm looking at the broad picture, because what's going to probably transpire is that the minister is going to say, "Well, that's just one contract in one area." So, until I have the total picture in front of me, unlike the minister, you don't make a judgement call on this. You assemble all the facts, you look at them, and then you make a determination of where you're heading.
I have sketched out what I want the information for and where I'm heading, Madam Chair, and I think that should be abundantly clear. So, once again, would the minister please provide a summary of the brush-clearing contracts, kilometre-to-kilometre, as to what has transpired and how much it cost per kilometre? She can do it by way of letter or legislative return. It's her choice.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: All right. We can provide an average across the Yukon for the type of work we're doing. It may take the department some time to pull that information together, though.
Mr. Jenkins: I thank the minister for finally agreeing, and I'd urge her to go back. There are whole areas that I covered off yesterday in general debate that I'm urging the minister to address. They are, very specifically, the issue of a school bus pullout on the Dome Road. I think that should be addressed forthwith, if not sooner. There's the issue of rural electrification inside municipal boundaries and outside municipal boundaries, for the provision of electricity to those residing on a mining claim - either the Yukon is the taxing authority or the municipality is the taxing authority. It's the same thing.
The issue surrounding the buses, if this continues - what it is going to mean is the demise of another company here in the Yukon, thanks to Liberal government initiatives.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I have explained to the member that this government did not provide the money to the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association for the purchase of a bus. The member is choosing not to hear that, but I have said that repeatedly.
Mr. McRobb: I have had an opportunity now to review some of the material just provided a short time ago and I would like to follow up on a number of matters.
I would like to start with the issue of the Arctic Winter Games and the transportation of the dogsled teams to Iqaluit. This became an issue when the Canadian Armed Forces' Hercules was unable to come through and provide the transportation.
Its impact on the Yukon is such that a number of dogsled event organizers are having difficulty planning events for this winter, which are part of the qualifications for the games, given uncertainty regarding the transportation.
Now, I do note in the legislative return that it closes off by saying that the Yukon chef is somewhat confident, after meeting with Canadian North, that in fact the dogs could be accommodated, and it would be within the current budget for transporting Team Yukon to the Arctic Winter Games 2002.
I'd like to ask the minister if she can endorse that? Does the minister feel the same way?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The legislative return also notes that November 14, 2001, has been set as a deadline by the chefs and the international committee to receive information back from Canadian North on the commitment. Our Yukon chef is confident. I see no reason to feel any differently because he feels it would be within the current budget, and I am not going to disagree with him.
Mr. McRobb: It is not acceptable for us in this Legislature to have ministers deflect responsibility way down the line. In this case we are dealing with the Yukon chef and it's her department's responsibility. Clearly, what I am seeking is indication from the minister to back up the information that she provided to me. That was not received in her response, so I am going to have to pursue this and ask the minister if she also feels confident that things will work out and transporting Team Yukon to the games will be in the current budget?
I just spoke with people about this very recently and every day matters to them at this point for building up to these events and advertising these events and all the organization required. This is not a huge issue in terms of dollars. Certainly this is a government with a $99-million surplus. Sure, we saw $56 million of it burned off on the supplementary budget, but at the same time we are asking the minister to live up to her responsibilities and provide us with the answers that we are seeking. So, can she reassure us that she feels the same way about this?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: What the member is asking is if the information from Canadian North is not what we were expecting; if it were higher, would we still go ahead - that's what the member is asking. The chef de mission has said he is confident. I share his confidence, but the decision on transporting dogs to Iqaluit will be made by the international committee and the chefs, not by the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. This involves the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta as well as the Yukon, Madam Chair, and I have confidence in our chef to make the right decision, whatever that decision may be.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Madam Chair, we like to have confidence in the chef, as well, but we also like to have confidence in the minister, because she is the one responsible as far as sport and recreation for the territory goes, and this is an important event. Unfortunately, it looks like we're going to have to wait until sometime after November 14 to find out anything.
Now, where we left off yesterday, there were some matters the minister undertook to get back to us on. One of them is here before me. It's in relation to the strategic highways initiative program, and she was going to find out if that was in any way related to the national transportation investment strategy. Can she enlighten us on that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I'm sorry, Madam Chair. I haven't had time to get an answer to that question.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Madam Chair, any time the information can be provided, we are quite willing to accept it - the sooner, the better, of course.
Now, we've talked quite a bit about airport security. I would like to ask about the Whitehorse Airport in terms of revenue forecasting.
Can the minister indicate if the forecast for this year has changed at all? From a previous response provided to us, she indicated that the forecast for this year was very close to $700,000. Can she indicate if there has been any substantial change to that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: That forecast was developed before September 11 and it hasn't yet been revised.
Mr. McRobb: That's again a non-answer.
Of course I am aware that the information was provided prior to September 11. I merely have to look at the date on the previous information to know that. What I'm asking the minister: is there any substantial change to that forecast?
I am rather disappointed to not get any information back that is worthwhile, given the fact that she has a number of briefing binders in front of her and an acting deputy minister at her side with considerable experience in management of Yukon airports.
That's not all. There are a number of other helpers out there listening to the discussion in here, who send down notes and information to help the minister respond. I see that she has received another note that could hopefully answer the question, so I will ask it again. Is there a substantial difference to that forecast?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, as I previously said, the revenue forecast dated from before September 11 - the revenues from international travel are so limited that there would be no significant impact, but the forecast has not been formally revised. And I can assure the member that officials are not sitting there listening to his question and revising the forecast as we speak.
Now, in response to his previous question about the strategic highway infrastructure program - whether that is related to the national transportation investment strategy - the national transportation investment strategy was developed by the provinces and territories as a framework for pursuing long-term federal investment in the national highway system and other strategic transportation needs. It is not a program of any government. The national transportation investment strategy outlines the importance of investing in transportation infrastructure to the Canadian economy and global competitiveness. It highlights the importance of transportation to health care, job creation, the environment and regional development.
The strategic highway infrastructure program is a step in the right direction toward the goals of the national transportation investment strategy. However, a much greater commitment of funds by the federal government is needed.
Mr. McRobb: I would now like to turn to highway construction. In the Premier's budget speech, we heard there were 700 jobs provided. I would like to know, after spending all this government has on highways, just how many jobs were produced, and were those in fact part-time jobs or full-time jobs, and how can this government prove up that figure? Can the minister provide me with any information?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, I believe the 700 jobs were in last spring's budget speech, not the speech for the capital budget that's before us.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Madam Chair, that's deflecting the answer again. The Liberals are obviously ashamed to provide any evidence to support their wild accusation of 700 jobs.
That's not surprising to us on this side because we all questioned it at the time. As a matter of fact, the interviewer on CBC radio questioned it at the time, and the Premier was pretty slick in avoiding the question about the part-time jobs, and certainly no information in the way of evidence to firm up that number has been provided yet. The Liberal government obviously doesn't want to be held accountable on it because it probably has intentions again, the next time it writes up a budget speech, to use the same tactic.
So how do we hold them accountable on this, Madam Chair, if there is no opportunity to question them on it and if there's no way the number can actually be proven? I guess it's just an example of how the government isn't accountable, and I guess we all have to live and learn and take what they say with a big grain of salt.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: I have just been informed by one of my colleagues, Madam Chair, that in fact Management Board would be privy to such information, so if the minister can provide evidence to back up that claim, then certainly we would be receptive to it. And if we're not provided with that information, Madam Chair, then certainly it will just increase any kind of question next time.
Now, I would like to turn to the area of highway enforcement. This became an issue earlier this summer, when our weigh scale officers who enforce the regulation on our Yukon highways refused to go out and perform that part of the job. Apparently, according to the minister, those responsibilities were turned over to the RCMP. Could the minister give us an update on where this matter is at?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, before I do that, on the matter of jobs, the member should be aware that there's $30 million in highway construction going on in his riding. I'm sure he could go and count the number of people working. There are quite a few. The member loves to say that his riding got nothing out of this budget. In fact, that is not the case. I think that $30 million of work in Kluane is substantial.
On the issue of the mobile patrols, we have developed a workplan and have finished almost all the recommendations for safety devices at the weigh stations where 75 percent of the truck inspections occur anyway. We have asked the RCMP to respond to all issues relating to commercial vehicles outside of the Whitehorse and Watson Lake weigh stations, either on their own initiative or in response to requests for assistance by our staff. The member is next going to ask how many times we have contacted the RCMP. I don't have the exact figure, but I suspect I could count them on a few of the fingers of one hand, Madam Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Well, obviously the minister doesn't like answering questions and I take exception to that. I have had time now to think about her previous excuse for not answering, and I want to remind her that we are dealing with a supplementary budget for this year, at this present time. And guess what? That supplementary budget is related to the mains budget - the one that the Premier gave us all the big budget speech for and the one she was interviewed on CBC about back in February. So it is the same budget year and this is a minister of the Cabinet who doesn't know that.
Again, this is getting a little ridiculous and speaking of ridiculous, I am not looking for the number of times they have had to call the RCMP or what their phone number and address is. On a higher level, I asked her to give an update of the status and I believe what I heard is that the RCMP is continuing to fulfill the responsibility for highway regulation outside of Whitehorse and Watson Lake. One thing we heard some time ago was the RCMP is apparently quite reluctant to fulfill that responsibility that has landed in their lap. I have heard comments to the effect that, "Forget it - we won't do it." So, I am wondering what the state of the Yukon's highways are in respect to the enforcement of the very laws that we pass in this Legislature?
We know that a year ago we dealt with amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, and we heard how the minister takes it very seriously and is very supportive of safety on our highways. As a matter of fact, we were just reminded about that again yesterday, and on Thursday, too, I believe.
So, all Yukoners are generally concerned about safety on our highways.
Is the minister confident that our highways are being regulated to the extent required in order to provide safe conditions with respect to this problem of enforcement?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, I am. The RCMP indicated to us that they would continue to respond to our requests for assistance, as they have done for many years, and they would also continue to do what they routinely do on their travels between communities, which they have done for many years.
This means that the RCMP could be called upon to respond to all issues related to commercial vehicles outside the Whitehorse and Watson Lake weigh stations. And, should our staff observe commercial vehicles in non-compliance, they place a call to the local RCMP detachment and request the assistance of the RCMP.
Now, during the next few months, a new compliance-based education-awareness monitoring, inspection and enforcement program is being put in place, and it will be administered from either our weigh stations or at specific highway locations in or near communities. The monitoring, inspection and enforcement components of the program will utilize a roadside model similar to the RCMP stop-check program. I am sure that the member will welcome that information.
Mr. McRobb: Madam Chair, there are lots of angles to follow on this issue, but I think some of them are best followed up on at a later date.
I'd like to ask the minister for an update on the health and safety issues that were raised by the union in regard to the highway enforcement workers, particularly at weigh stations. Can she give us an update on that, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I said, we have finished almost all the recommendations for safety devices at the weigh stations, where the vast majority of the truck inspections occur. There are some changes that have been made at the weigh stations: improved lighting in Whitehorse and Watson Lake; employee entrance equipped with an electronic control to restrict entry; remote locks on main weigh station doors; closed-circuit TV; intrusion alarms; personal panic alarms have been provided for officers; and there are public washrooms not accessed through the officers' secure area; et cetera, et cetera.
We take the safety of our employees very seriously, Madam Chair, and the report commissioned by the department in response to weigh station staff concerns about their safety, the Evans report, clearly indicates that the risks associated with the work at 80 percent attributable to how staff undertake their work and that training is needed to improve their ability to diffuse potentially dangerous situations. I had just outlined for the member the work that is being undertaken in that direction, and mobile patrols by our weigh station officers will resume as soon as the safety workplan and the training program are complete.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, Madam Chair, I'm going to look forward to that time. I'm just wondering if the union's requests have been satisfied or if there were any outstanding requests with respect to health and safety issues? Can the minister give us an idea of that, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, we're meeting their requests. We won't let the employees perform any duties that aren't viewed as safe.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Moving on to the area of commercial highway sign policy, this is something that has been brewing for quite awhile, and I believe that when we last left off, this policy was going to be finalized right at about this point in the calendar. Can the minister give us an update on this, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, work continues. We just got the final comments back from the unincorporated communities, and we're taking them into account.
Mr. McRobb: Okay. So in terms of timelines, what can we expect in the development of this policy?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, we're hoping to be able to implement the new policy for the next season.
Mr. McRobb: The next season - would that be the tourist season or the highway sign season? Just what is the minister talking about? And can she indicate when the policy will be available for review by the opposition parties? And I would certainly hope that it's in advance of when the signs actually come into compliance with the policy. That's what I'm most interested in.
When can we on this side of the House expect to see a finalized policy out of this government? Can she give us a time for that, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Some time in the spring, Madam Chair. The member was being frivolous with the rest of his question. The next summer season when sign work can be done on the highways is when we expect to begin implementing the new policy.
Mr. McRobb: Well, some time in the spring. So, it might even be after the spring sitting of the Legislature. How convenient that would be when we don't even get the opportunity to discuss it in here. But, again that is not surprising - not for this unaccountable batch of Liberals we have got to deal with here. Now, I want to ask the minister about a news release from the government a couple months ago, entitled "Sharing the Roads with Trucks". Is this related to the initiative I informed her about - it must have been at least a year ago now - when I sent over some information from the Ontario Trucking Association, which had initiated a program entitled the same, "Sharing the Roads with Trucks". Is there any relation to that program at all?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: If the member is trying to take credit for suggesting it, that won't work. The department was already at work on that area. The department takes careful note of what is happening in all the provinces and the territories and brings forward new information accordingly. And, sharing the highway with trucks is something important for people to keep in mind.
Mr. McRobb: Well, the minister is more concerned about taking credit for something than responding to the question.
I can recall clearly at the time I asked the question that there were stares of blankness coming from both the minister and the deputy who was at her side at the time. So I sent over the information that I had, which was completely new to the minister and her departmental official. Now the minister is singing a different tune. It's all about credit now and who's going to take credit now.
Well, I'm not interested in that so much as trying to identify what this particular program is about. At the time that I informed the minister, I had a videotape, entitled "Sharing the Road with Trucks", and it's a very informative message. It is very clear in its message to motorists and anyone else interested in viewing it.
I would like to know if the Yukon government plans to follow up with any type of public messaging, such as videotapes, in order to promote the objective of this program.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Any public awareness campaign is best tailored to the region it serves. As the member is also no doubt aware, we have some new highway regulations coming out, which we'll make available as soon as we can.
Mr. McRobb: All right. I'm not sure if that answered the question. As a matter of fact, I don't think it did, in terms of what public information material will be provided, but we'll let that one slide for the time being.
I would like to ask about the Nahanni Range Road. This matter came up yesterday and on Thursday, the first day of debate in this department, as it did in the spring when this became an issue after the North American Tungsten Corporation announced plans to reopen the former Cantung mine inside the N.W.T. border on Highway No. 10. The minister is always quick to stand behind the national standards for highways and, listening to my colleague from Watson Lake talk about whether the road was capable of handling heavy trucks and so on, it brought back memories of the days when I drove the road, especially during the wintertime. I can recall how narrow that road is in some places. In fact, Madam Chair, the road is probably about 10 feet or maybe 12 feet wide in some places. Now, I might be wrong, if the road has been upgraded between then and now, but something tells me it hasn't been because the mine closed in about 1985 and the last time I drove the road was in the fall of 1984.
Now, this is wintertime we're talking about, when it's very common to have snowbanks on either side of the road, two or three feet high, maybe even higher in some places and, given the number of glaciers on the road, quite often those snowbanks are very hard because they have been iced up.
On previous occasions, it's normal practice for trucks, when meeting in such situations, especially on short notice, to take the ditch on either side. I have been in situations like that and I'm sure my colleague from Watson Lake has, too.
In bringing this matter back around to national standards, I want the minister to explain for us how this relates to national standards or if, in fact, the winter driving conditions on this highway are expected to be subpar with respect to national standards.
If so, what about liability? This is a Yukon government-owned and maintained road. So in any incident where liability might be in question, are Yukon taxpayers likely to be on the hook?
So, Madam Chair, that's quite a mouthful. I'd like the minister to respond to that as wholly as she could.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Where road conditions aren't great due to weather conditions or the effects of weather conditions, it isn't uncommon for trucks to maintain communication. In winter, we expect drivers to drive in accordance with the conditions, at or below the speed limit. Maintenance will be consistent with prevalent practices. We will endeavour to report conditions at all times so that truckers will be aware.
Mr. McRobb: Madam Chair, that answer is not only inadequate, it's highly ridiculous, and I'll explain why. Obey the speed limit. Well, what's the speed limit? It's probably 70 or 80 kilometres per hour. In the situations I have described - let's term them "problem situations", and just to define that: winter driving, narrow road situations with high snowbanks and two trucks meeting each other.
Now, I would submit that the speed of the vehicles could be far below the speed limit, and that doesn't reduce the situation at hand, in terms of safety. This is a serious situation. My question was geared to the question around national standards - if the minister is still supportive of national standards or if there's an exemption in this case, and, if there is, what about liability factors for Yukon taxpayers?
I would like her to respond to those issues, not tell us that trucks communicate with each other and, as long as everybody obeys the speed limit of 50 miles an hour, everything will be okay.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Kluane is giving truckers no credit at all for common sense, and most truckers I have encountered have a great deal of common sense. They drive according to conditions. There will not be a great number of trucks on that road at any one time. The truckers will be well aware of that. Supply trucks will be well aware of that, and people will drive accordingly. The member is raising a frightening picture that is completely out of touch with reality. He is merely fear-mongering.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I wish the minister would stick to the questions and provide the answers rather than cast aspersions. There are so many areas to go after that answer that we probably don't have time left in this legislative sitting to get to them all.
But I want to point out that truckers going into that mine could be from anywhere. So, the minister standing up and staying that she relies on the common sense of truckers - what she is saying is "truckers from anywhere". Well, that really makes us feel confident on this side of the House because the question was geared to taxpayers' liability. In this case, there are sections of that road that are inferior with regard to national safety standards. We still didn't get a reply to that, and if we can get a reply to that, we can move on.
So, can the minister give us an indication of whether Yukon taxpayers may be at financial risk, given the Yukon government owns and maintains the Nahanni Range Road to the Northwest Territories border, in the event there is an accident with damage claims resulting from an accident on a stretch that may be inferior as far as national safety standards go? Can she give us an indication if that liability would exist?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, the Yukon government will provide the existing level of service as was the situation for years in the past. There is no more or less liability than when the road was used in the past.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Madam Chair, I'm going to move on. But take note that the minister, again, gave an answer that was qualified, and it's so easy for the minister to give an answer that provides us with the information we need.
And I'm not sure why the minister insists on playing this game, because this isn't the only discussion that has taken place where the minister doesn't provide the simple answer and the discussion goes on and on. I can recall several involving the leader of the third party and herself that could have been nipped in the bud. Instead, several pages of Hansard and several hours later, nobody's any better off because the minister evades the answers.
On that note, I also want to take exception to her mentioning how much the government is spending on highway reconstruction in my riding. What has that got to do with anything, Madam Chair? Am I supposed to be blackmailed into submission from raising a highways issue? If that's the case, I'll step down as official opposition critic for this department. What is the minister getting at? Every time I ask a question, I get that lumped in with a response. She likes to stand up and tell everybody how much this Liberal government is spending in the member's own riding.
Letters to the editor even included that type of language. Well, that's not really fair. That's playing politics.
I am quite aware of the highway work going on. I've expressed my support for it on several occasions, which leads to another point. The minister likes to indicate that I'm not in support of the highway work. The fact is, I've always been supportive of completion of the Alaska Highway reconstruction from day one, since September 30, 1996.
The minister likes to stand up and ballyhoo how the Liberals are the champions of this work, but she conveniently forgets that this work was identified in the previous government's long-term plan, just like a number of other projects were - like the Correctional Institute in Whitehorse, various schools and other types of roadwork. All kinds of projects were identified in the previous government's long-term plan. It was simply a matter of time for those budget years to occur before those projects could be done.
The minister likes to try to take all the credit for how her Liberal government is completing these sections of road. Well, it's all about time and money. We all knew the work had to be done.
Each year the Yukon government spends half a billion dollars, and it's reasonable to expect that eventually the work will be done. Hopefully it will all be done within the next two or three years.
As a matter of fact, I remember a year ago questioning the minister and she said she expected all those remaining highway sections to be reconstructed within a few years. Well, Madam Chair, when I followed up at a later date, we entered into a dispute on the definition of "few". I took it to mean that the minister would ensure those remaining highway projects would be completed within the term of this Liberal government, which was indeed a few years at that time. But lo and behold, after the minister got back to her caucus meeting the next day, she heard about it from her colleagues and said she probably got an earful about how she can't make those types of spending commitments on the floor of the Legislature when being grilled on issues from opposition members, so she had to back off. And we heard her definition of "a few" range all the way up to nine years.
Now, that was really disappointing, Madam Chair, because a number of my constituents and other Yukoners are looking forward to the completion of that highway section. In fact, as I have said before in here, that highway section would have been completed years ago had it not been for the major budget cutbacks by the Liberals in Ottawa. Remember the $20-million cut to our health care budget, Madam Chair? Perhaps you don't.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: The leader of the third party sums it up rather well.
Madam Chair, perhaps you don't recall it, because it was before you started in here. It was just before I started in here, too. But I picked up on this story. As a matter of fact, we had a motion debate one particular day in here when it was discussed at length. And I recall that the position of the previous government was rather disappointing - that the federal Liberals would cut our health care budget as much as it did, all in the name of trying to balance the budget.
Well, it's too bad that this country doesn't have an effective official opposition, because the federal Liberals deserve to be held accountable. They deserve to be roasted over this one. Like these Liberals on this supplementary budget, the federal Liberals need to be held accountable. I am looking back at a later period of time at what they said then and what has happened since and what they are saying now. We can see that, last year at the federal level, the government had a surplus of some $15 billion and it was projected to increase. That is not what they were saying when they cut our health care budget. Anyway, the previous government was put into an unenviable position of having to cut as a result. We all know how dependent we are on the federal government for our transfer payment in order to meet our own budgetary requirements. When we suffer a huge cutback at the hands of the federal government, we have got to cut from somewhere. The money doesn't fall from the sky. These Liberals cashed in on the huge federal surplus, and the health care budget has been restored to a great degree.
There have been other handouts, too. We've discussed one of them just a little while ago - the strategic highways initiative program. We also discussed the strategic highways initiative program on which I have material that indicates that is a $600-million program, but the minister says it's not a program and there is no money. So I will have to follow up on that later.
Maybe I can flag that for her to come back and clarify it for us.
Anyway, Madam Chair, if the minister would try to answer the questions rather than provoke debate, especially lengthy debate based on aspersions and a little inflated perspective on how good her government is and how bad the previous one was and the one before that was, and just stick to answering questions, then we could be a lot more productive in here, especially when it comes to the little barbs and hooks, like suggesting the member should look at the road in his own riding, how it's being improved, and therefore he really has no right to ask any questions on highways, because all this work is being done in his riding. Well, that's not fair to me, it's not fair to my constituents, it's not fair to the other MLAs, and it's not fair to all the other Yukoners. So I would ask her to stop.
At the beginning of this afternoon, I alluded to how she handled the questions regarding the Champagne section change orders to the contract, which I asked her about on Thursday. At the beginning of the day yesterday, she came back with a lengthy preamble setting out all the details.
Well, that's fine. That type of detail can simply be provided on paper. It's not required to use up everybody's time listening to all the details.
What I was getting at, at the time, was whether the minister discussed it with anybody, because she said she hadn't had any knowledge of the change orders.
I asked her if she had discussed it with anybody, and she wasn't willing to provide a clear response. Every time I asked, the response was qualified, and that dragged out the debate.
Now, I see the government House leader shaking his head like a good Liberal soldier over there, willing to toe the party line. No matter what the discussion is, he's willing to toe the party line. In fact, I wonder if he's even listening to the discussion. I don't think so.
But anyway, if we can try to help each other out in here a little more by providing the information requested, then maybe things will go a little easier for us all. Maybe we can get more done. Who knows, maybe we can get out of here faster. So I really want to encourage the minister to dispense with these qualified answers and these insults and challenges and all these little political messages that she likes to bootleg into the answers. Let's get on with the business.
Now, following suit, I want to ask the minister about fire hall security. This is an issue that we've discussed in here previously. Where we last left off - there was security in only one fire hall in the Yukon, and it was the one in her riding, compliments of the previous government, I might add.
I'd like to ask her about something that she said she would review and look at. I'd like to ask her how many of the territory's fire halls have improved security, and if it's not all of them, what are her plans?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would invite the Member for Kluane to look in the mirror as he reviews his last speech.
As for fire hall security issues, the fire marshall's office has met with Government Services staff and the area fire chiefs to determine appropriate security measures for each fire department. The fire marshall's office has established a priority list to install security systems in all our fire halls.
Because the thieves who have vandalized and stolen from the fire halls at Ibex Valley, Mount Lorne, Klondike Valley and Marsh Lake may well listen to this broadcast or read Hansard, I am not going into details in here of what security systems may or may not be put anywhere. I will be happy to discuss it with the member outside of the House, for security reasons.
Mr. McRobb: All right, I will review that one a little later.
On the area of fire protection in more general terms, I would like to know if the department is doing anything to lessen the fire risk for Yukon communities.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We are doing work on revising the whole fire protection policy. There were some federal initiatives not that long ago that affected the territory. People need to be conscious of defensible space around their dwellings in rural areas and more urban areas, and there is the fire smart program, Madam Chair.
Mr. McRobb: I'm well aware of the fire smart program and its effectiveness within municipal boundaries to groups who do apply and whose applications are approved and the work is done. There's no dispute there. However, that's only resolving part of the overall problem.
We know many Yukon communities, virtually every one of them, is situated either in or near a boreal forest, and this is a serious matter in terms of fire risk and public safety. We know this is a responsibility of the minister's department, and I can expect she's going to stand up and talk about the jurisdictional gaps and so on, but the fact remains, Madam Chair, Yukoners' lives, property and resources are at stake unless something is done.
I can recall some of the Liberals who were here in the last term raised a fuss about this, so now that they have a chance to do something, what are they going to do?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There is a great deal of boreal forest in the Yukon, in case the member hasn't noticed. Building fire halls in the middle of rivers isn't exactly practical. We are developing a draft fire protection policy and we're going to be putting it out to stakeholders for comment later this month and in December. We need amendments to ensure that the present-day standards of fire protection are in place for the Yukon fire service.
In 1987, we had nine fire departments. In 2001, we have 16. And the current policy is limited in that it provides for only two levels of fire protection. There is no provision for areas that don't meet the policy's limited thresholds, and there's no provision in the current policy for replacing equipment purchased through fundraising by the volunteer fire departments, as has recently become a problem.
So, I look forward to hearing from the member opposite when he comments on this draft fire protection policy later this month or next month.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Madam Chair. I will look forward to receiving the information and reviewing it and commenting if that is appropriate at the time.
But I am concerned that the minister is not on the same page. She is relating my concern and question to fire halls and the coverage provided by our wonderful team of volunteer firefighters in the territory who really deserve a lot of credit.
However, my question was broader, much broader than that. It wasn't about locating fire halls in the middle of rivers. My question pertained to several communities that have a recognized fire threat. Just read the Ember report, Madam Chair, and you too will understand what we are talking about. Many Yukon communities are at risk. What is the Liberal government going to do to alleviate that risk? Does it have any ideas at all?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We look forward to assuming responsibility for the broader forest-fire suppression activity on April 1, 2003, under devolution. I am pleased to see the member taking an interest in this. We are encouraging participation and we provide training where there is an interest. The Marsh Lake fire hall just received new equipment, and there are other initiatives in the capital budget for 2002-03, and we look forward to the members, input in the new policy.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I'm well aware of what is spelled out in the devolution agreement in terms of fire fighting in the territory. And I'm well aware of my own interest in this area, and it's nothing new. As most Yukoners, I've been concerned about fire threat for several years.
And for the minister's information - since it's before her time - I can recall back to the Association of Yukon Communities general meeting held in Watson Lake, I believe it was in 1997, where a contingent from Alaska provided a very informative presentation on forest fire threat to communities. We know that Alaska has suffered far greater than the Yukon in that area. As a matter of fact, several houses and properties have been lost in the State of Alaska to forest fires. This presentation served to increase awareness of this problem for everyone in attendance at that meeting. At the time, the NDP caucus and staff were meeting in Watson Lake and we managed to catch some of that presentation.
I know this is a surprise to the Liberals, because they thought they invented the community Cabinet tours. I hate to disappoint them, but the previous government already had them beat in this area several times over, because not only was the Cabinet touring Yukon communities, but the whole caucus would tour Yukon communities, and most of our staff too, aside from a few people who handled the telephones.
That's another area, possibly for another opportunity to explore further, Madam Chair. But as you're beginning to see, there are so many areas in which we must hold these Liberals accountable that it's getting difficult to manage the list of what the issues are, never mind the detail on the issues themselves.
So in terms of firefighting, now that the minister has had a briefing from the Premier, probably with respect to limited jurisdiction pending devolution, I'd like to ask the minister this: what's going to happen if there's a serious fire problem next summer, when we have to endure these jurisdictional gaps, or possibly the summer after, even though it's after devolution? Is the Yukon going to be prepared sufficiently in order to protect lives, property and resources from the risk and threat of forest fires, should they happen?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The member is fear-mongering, as he loves to do. The responsible agencies in the Yukon will be prepared to defend the territory as required, Madam Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Well, okay, Madam Chair. Let's ask it this way: is the Liberal government planning to do anything other than what it's doing now, which is basically nothing? They're all hanging on for the ride. Is this government planning any special steps in the area of interim fire protection for increased security, given a number of the factors of this matter, which include the need to reduce fuel loading in Yukon communities? Even the City of Whitehorse, Madam Chair, has several areas where such work is required, both inside and outside city boundaries.
So, I would like to ask the minister: is her government planning to do anything other than hang on tight? Are they planning to take any action to backfill these areas of responsibility in order to reduce the hazard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, the member should put his fears to rest. In the event of a forest fire, the territory will be well looked after by the federal government, whose responsibility it is until devolution in 2003.
We will respond in light of our responsibilities and will help out other organizations wherever required.
Mr. McRobb: Somebody just passed me a note that I believe is the Liberal government's official policy on how to react should there be a forest fire in the territory. It says, "Run for your lives. Run out of the building for your lives as fast as you can, just like we did on the morning of September 11, and don't even bother telling the staff. Just run out the building, just like the Premier and some of her ministers did."
So, I guess that's the Liberals' policy in this regard. It's somewhat inadequate, I would say.
And again, part of the reason for raising this issue is to increase the level of accountability, because I recall the Liberals in opposition raising questions like this, even though the previous government invented the fire smart program and funded it each year a heck of a lot more than these Liberals are. I can remember press releases. I see the Member for Riverdale South standing up now. I recall a press release from her on this very issue.
So this is called a little accountability session. I know the Liberals across the way don't like it, and I wish I could describe the looks on their faces because it is rather interesting, but we won't get to that level of personal debate. We'll just move on and say that this is another issue that we will be following up on at a later date. It won't go away, and certainly, Madam Chair, in the event of a very unfortunate incident at some time during this jurisdictional gap, it will most certainly be raised again, but let's hope that doesn't occur.
Now, I've got a question handed to me by a colleague, about a fire truck. I would like to know - since a fire truck is only good for 20 years and then, after that, the unit has to be recertified on an annual basis, and all rural fire trucks owned by YTG are currently certified, can the minister comment on that for my colleague, please?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would just like to point out that this is not, as the Member for Kluane suggests, a little accountability session. It is an opportunity for the members opposite to hurl insults and unwarranted accusations at the government.
Now, on the matter of the fire truck - I believe the member is referring to the Old Crow fire truck - it is a 1989 Ford pumper supplied by Fort Garry Fire Trucks. The truck was purchased new and delivered directly from the factory to Old Crow in 1990, 11 years ago. The unit has been in service in Old Crow ever since. The life expectancy of a fire truck is normally in the range of 20 years. With the limited use that this vehicle gets in Old Crow, and with the superior maintenance it gets, it has many years of service left in it and replacement is not slated for at least 10 years. The truck is serviced and maintained on a regular basis by Yukon government staff in Old Crow.
It's the responsibility, Madam Chair, of the fire chief in Old Crow to report any deficiencies, and we haven't been aware of any deficiencies that have not been addressed to date.
Deputy Chair: Order please. The time being 4:30, do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Deputy Chair: I'll now call Committee of the Whole to order. We'll resume debate on Community and Transportation Services.
Mr. Keenan: Just a few questions and a couple of breakdowns from a riding perspective and whatnot. First of all, I'd like to say what a difference 24 hours makes. And I'm very pleased the minister took off the notion of the fiduciary obligation from the federal government, brought it to the floor of the House, and then took it back on the recommendation of the department. I very much appreciate that because, to me, it took me back too many years, and I have spent too many of my years fighting for Yukoners' rights and First Nations' rights, and that would have just taken me back 30 years. So I very much appreciate the minister recognizing that. And again, I very much appreciate that the department was the one to say, "No, we don't look at things in that light."
If I could, last Wednesday I was speaking on the floor, and driving home on Wednesday evening, I was reflecting on what I had said, and I want to clarify a point I made last week. It will apply to what I'm speaking about with the minister. I spoke about the different things in political leadership I have held in my life - from a counsellor's perspective, to a chief's perspective, to an MLA's perspective, to a vice-chief's and then to a Grand Chief's perspective. What I didn't say - because that sounds like kind of a boastful statement. I didn't mean it to be boastful, because there probably wasn't one of those jobs I did that I did not choose, at some point in time, that I wanted to be away from it.
And it was people saying, "No, you have to be able to do this, because these are the parameters that we work within." I worked within those parameters and we accomplished as a nation very much. I want to tell you about that because it is so important. I have spent half of my time, very much of my time, with people who really have no decisions in any of those processes, but we were working for the betterment of community as a whole within the traditional territory - that's what we were doing.
I went to practically every non-First Nation person, because I know them. I went to the children, to the elders, and I asked, how can we make this better from a Yukoner's perspective, and of course it is based on this obligation from the Royal Proclamation, and it is based on political direction.
So it is very important to me that I clean that up now because I do believe that if we, the legislators, and the government would look to establish a process of - and I am giving direction and not really asking a question here - consultation of all people and empower the MLAs on both sides of the House, and the backbenchers and the Cabinet ministers to bring forth the concerns that we have the people bring to them, because people do bring forth concerns to me and I do bring them here.
The magic of the House - or whatever it is of the House - sometimes distorts it, but I try to focus on what's good for the people. And I think that if we as a Yukon government - 30,000 people - could establish a process, we might all be out of jobs because things would go just so smoothly and our budgets would be allocated in a manner that we choose. That's where I'm coming from.
I'd ask the minister if the minister would look to even consider the establishment of a process of - don't call it accountability, but let's not call it consultation, either. Let's just call it a process of good government and involvement of all members of the House. Would the minister be open to that, or does the minister have a comment at this point in time?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I'd like to believe that such a thing were possible, but considering that the members opposite this afternoon have attempted to make me feel like a useless human being, I'm not so sure I'm prepared to consider something like that.
The members opposite engage in personal attacks, and I'm not saying that the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes does, but others certainly do. And a person can only stand on this side of the House for so long and take insult after insult after insult and be expected not to reply.
So when a member suggests an open and cooperative way of doing things, pardon me for being a little suspicious, Madam Chair. I believe it is possible, but I'm highly suspicious that some of the members on the other side of the House would be even interested. I believe the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes would be, but some of the rest of the members would seek only to politicize such a process, and that would be a pity, Madam Chair.
Mr. Keenan: At least we're talking about it and have something on the floor, and there could be a commonality.
There should be no way in reason - and I feel like using stronger words to tell you the truth - that a person who sits in this chair and who accounts for government should feel like a useless human being. I have said that to the minister on the phone and I have said that to the minister in person. Let's be proud of who we are. Let's recognize our mistakes and carry on.
No, we should not have personal attacks. This is a house of emotion. It's now structured such that it's an adversarial, I guess, party system at this point in time. I'm asking everybody in this House just to go home and sleep on that type of a thought and just see if it could work and how it could work. Because I have had constituents from the Mount Lorne riding working within my riding, talking about these things when we had supper together, and they said, "That sounds good. We do progressively want to do these capital projects, so how come it never gets there." So, I ask you folks to think and reflect on that.
I'd like to point out that I asked the minister just a couple of days ago - off the record, I guess. I just wandered over to the other side of the House and said that I noticed as I was driving home that the Lewes River bridge needed some type of reflectors on it because there was snow blowing in the valley and whatnot as I was approaching it. It scared me, and I drive the road quite a bit, as others do. As you come down, you can't see the bridge. The way it's built now, a truck will come down and all of a sudden you're just about to approach the bridge. The government did good work on the bridge. They replaced a handrail. A lot of people are used to a narrower chute and I have noticed people coming in there doing 50 miles an hour and passing each other within a foot.
We've got to put some lights or reflectors or something on that. The minister said she would look at that, and so I would thank the minister for that.
I have some tough questions for the minister here, though, and I would like to be able to get into them at this point in time.
I noticed that the community breakdown - not in the supplementary budget but in generalities in the next capital budget - has included in there a road job that is just a spit away from Faro and quite a few spits away from Ross River, yet it's in the Ross River breakdown. I was wondering if the minister could tell me, has there been some kind of magic that has happened in the community? Because the minister understands that I have problems with local hire in that community. So, could the minister please explain that - where the breakdown came from; why capital dollars would be associated with Ross River when they are very close to the Faro region?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would have to look at the specific line. We do attempt not to put things in the territory-wide section if they are more closely associated with a community, but I would have to look at the specific line. I believe the member is saying that it should have been attached to the other community.
Mr. Keenan: I would very much appreciate it if the minister would do that. I would also give the minister a little more direction on this if I could, Madam - is it okay to say Madam, Madam Chair? Thank you, Madam.
As we know, there are jobs in Faro and there are jobs in Ross River, and some of those jobs in Ross River are held by folks in Faro.
Now, I've said this repeatedly in this House, and nothing has ever come to fruition - nothing. Nobody has taken an interest in it - nobody.
I get frustrated; I get angry. When I go back to my community of Ross River, they get frustrated and they get angry.
Now, that might be good for the Liberals but it's not good for me and it's not good for community growth. So I want the government to please, through the minister, come back with a fair and concise imaginary line if you could, as to where the distinction lies between the two communities for local jobs.
I'll give the minister more work because this is something she can't stand up and say "Yea" or "Nay" or "Maybe" or "By gosh, we've got to go back now and have some discussion with caucus." But it is serious. And if we do not have the capacity within communities to answer telephones and provide basic secretarial skills, then I would say we shouldn't say that the community doesn't have capacity; I would say that there is a need for an envelope for training. And so would the minister please consider that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I know this has been a concern to the member, and I am sure that it was a concern to the member under the previous government as well, or is he saying that it has only arisen in the past year and a half?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Buckway: He is saying it only has arisen in the past year and a half. I will look into it further and discuss it with the member. Local hire is a very controversial issue, and I will consult with the Public Service Commission as well to see what more I can say about this.
In a society that is going toward more labour mobility in all areas, it becomes a difficulty, as I am sure the member can appreciate. But I will see what more information I can get for him.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much. I appreciate that, and I will reiterate to the minister that there was an imaginary line, because I, like the minister, as the previous minister, had travelled the Yukon Territory and looked at the different roads and the state of concern and listened to the senior officials who were with me at the time and know the history of how some of those lines came about and the reason why.
So it's there, and I appreciate what the minister's saying. The minister uses words like "labour mobility." Well, my labour mobility took me all over Canada, because I had to do that to go and look for work here. But I guess what I'm trying to clarify here is that labour mobility, I think, can be recognized, and there are ways of doing things through local-hire initiatives or district concepts of sorts. But I don't want to see spy versus spy or Yukoner versus Yukoner for a job.
I do believe that the jobs that are within that region of Ross River and Faro could and should be designated for the people of that region. I strongly believe that we can do that. As the minister, we can put into the contracts from the big highway companies for training and local-hire initiatives. I did it, and it can be done. I would ask the minister if the minister would find those training type of tools to put into those contracts to get people there. Because I'm not saying it's going to happen quickly or overnight, but we have to start to bridge the hole, I guess, between the two communities. And I think that it's possible, and I want to be part of a success story, not a complaint.
So I bring that to the minister's attention, and the minister has said that she would look at that, in local hire. Would the minister consider the latter part of my statement about adding to highway contract provisions of local hire, and/or training?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will review in Hansard what the member has said and look at all of it. That does not mean by saying that I will look at it that necessarily anything will change, but I will look at it. Let me assure the member that no government policy has changed in the last year and a half that has brought about the situation that he is upset about. No policy has changed.
Mr. Keenan: I absolutely accept what the minister says - that no policy has changed, but direction has certainly changed. I'm not saying the minister is responsible. What I'm saying is that unless we put in safeguards to ensure this does not happen, it can, and possibly will, happen - and in this case it has happened.
So, I accept what the minister is saying - that there's no policy shift or anything like as such. But why is it now that there are eight jobs here, and none here, and it's like that? So, there is a concrete example, and this is not the first time I have raised this issue in the House. What I will do is pump up the heat on this issue because if the minister will go away and look at it - and I hear the minister say that maybe she cannot do it.
I suggest that the minister can do it, could do it, and should do it. If the minister comes back and says no, well then, that's a whole different debate. But I would like to know if the minister could provide me with a time frame.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As it appears that we'll probably be in Community and Transportation Services debate on the supplementary budget for the remainder of this session, I would suggest probably early in December would be the first time I'd be able to look at it.
Mr. Keenan: We just spoke a little bit about listening to one another and working with one another. I could take that as a personal shot. I'm not standing here to take personal shots at any member across the floor. I am representing my constituents. Well, by golly, I'm paid to be here. I'm paid to do a job and, by golly, I'm going to do that job. So it will come back.
I'm asking the minister for sooner best efforts on this situation. I see the minister nodding her head and I appreciate that. I'll accept that as a positive at this point in time.
Within the land claims agreements, there are provisions for district governance concepts, concepts that would identify, say, the Marsh Lake area, the Teslin area - there are different areas that can pull together a concept of district governance. I was wondering if the minister - and I know the minister is probably aware that those provisions are there, but I was wondering if any First Nations or municipalities have approached the minister for the induction, or the start of this process, of district governance?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Nobody has approached the Department of Community and Transportation Services. There may have been some discussion at land claims tables but I am not privy to that discussion.
Mr. Keenan: No, it would come through the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. It wouldn't be a land claims subject because it's an implementation issue. I accept the minister's word that it wouldn't be there.
We have government going off and signing protocols - the Council of Yukon First Nations, addenda through them to cover the Kaska and the Kwanlin Dun, et cetera - and then we have protocols of individual governments of the First Nations and those types of issues. And I'm wondering, because reflected in some of those accords, if there are or if there could be provisions for capital allocation such as street lights, such as water and sewer - just about any type of capital infrastructure? Every community wants a base, whether it's street lights, whether it's a swimming pool, whether it's a skating rink so you can get your hat trick or whatever. They want them.
They need them and, in my mind, they deserve them, as Yukoners, where we live and the prevention attitudes as legislators.
Does the minister know if those capital items are reflected within those protocols and, if they're not, does the minister believe that they could be?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I don't have enough information on those protocols to give the member an answer to that at this time, but I will certainly look into it.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you, Madam Chair. And a caveat to that would be - the second part of that question is - do you believe there should be?
I guess it's a personal - well, no, it's not a personal question; I am asking a Cabinet minister who is a power broker in government - and I mean power broker in a positive way. They make decisions on behalf and for people.
I can tell you from my aspect, from my line of thinking, I believe there should be, because we've been putting in social programs, those types of issues, into these protocols, so I see no reason why we couldn't be putting them in there.
I do believe personally that that would make government better. That would absolutely make government better. It could give the Member for Mount Lorne, the Member for Klondike, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, maybe just a bit more meaning and a bit more to our jobs. But also - I am so poor with language at times - I don't want to use the word "credibility", and I don't want to use the word "pride" but all of those things evolved into it, because when we say that "Yes, I hear you and I think that it's a good idea", we know that we, as 17 legislators - folks across the floor, as a government, are willing to do that thing and it's just a matter of finding the time and place to do it.
Again, it's not pitting Yukoner against Yukoner; that is what I say, because street lights in my area have been a contentious issue. The First Nation had to finally go out and do it themselves, yet the First Nation does pay land taxes. And now that that is just a statement - or could the minister agree with me?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe the second part of the member's original question related to the first part of the question, and I require more information on that before I can give him an answer, so I think obviously I can't answer the second part either.
Mr. Keenan: Okay. As long as the minister will go away and think about it and caucus will think about it, then I appreciate that, because I guess where I'm coming from is an aspect of Yukon, an aspect of community development and not one against the other, and we certainly realize that different communities are at different stages of growth. Some are contemporary; some are ancient. Some are a bit of both. So I thank the minister for that.
I mentioned taxes. Well, here I am, and practically everybody listening knows where I live, and I live there by choice. I pay top tax buck, whatever you call that. You know, I pay for the firefighting services, I pay for the garbage delivery, I pay for it all. Yet, by golly, I don't get any of that. And to insure my home for fire costs $3,000 a year. Who can afford that, especially because we're paying taxes on that. So, I guess, two questions - oh, yeah, yeah. My property taxes cover that. Now, two questions. The first question: is the minister willing to look at bringing a rural taxation paper forth to this House so that we might be able to straighten out these different tax rates and identify them to the services provided?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I had said a couple of times yesterday in this House, I believe, or maybe it was last Thursday, but I think it was yesterday, that we know that there is an issue with rural services and rural taxation and a need to better coordinate the delivery of services and to make sure that property taxation is rationalized. We are looking at options to address these issues, and I expect the government will be dealing with it before too long. I can't give the member a firm date, but there is work taking place now.
Mr. Keenan: I have a unique situation where folks who live around where I live are covered predominantly by the territorial government and the territorial government's services, and we really receive no service. And I don't mean it in a way. I mean, the highway is plowed and my children - my kids are all graduated, so what am I talking about? But my grandson and those folks are going to be going to school, so I take them as certainly a basic service, and I appreciate that. But when you look at the group down in my little area, in my neighbourhood, and we are spending $15,000 to $20,000 a year from a very select few on fire service, I don't think that is right. But I don't know what to do about it. I really don't. I don't know what the government's clout could actually be in this situation. So for one thing, if we connect taxation to services, that is a good thing, but does the minister feel that she could talk to the Minister of Government Services and maybe the Finance minister or caucus collectively to find out what government could do about this problem? If this problem is within my 10 miles along that little road - holy moly there are a lot of people who live along certain sections of the road. Is there some way, I guess, that we can humble the insurance companies or make them provide a service to us? Does the minister feel that she can play a role in this?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: When we are looking at the new fire policy, we will try to take rural areas into account, but insurance companies also take a number of things into account that this government could have very little influence over. They look at how far you are from a fire hydrant, for one thing and, you know, where the nearest fire hall is. So the insurance is surely a factor, but if fire protection is a factor, perhaps the member and his neighbours could be getting some training in volunteer firefighting as a first step toward organizing a volunteer fire department. That may be one thing that would help.
Rural people and insurance companies have been at loggerheads for some time, and I'm not sure that situation is going to change in the near future.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Lord, let me know. I can't be duking it out with those big insurance companies because I'm just a humble, country boy, and they are great big conglomerates. So, I certainly need the wherewithal of the government. I see the minister standing back there, shaking her head at something I'm saying. I wonder if the minister would clarify that.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, I was just saying to myself that insurance companies go on risk, and if somebody is a significant distance from a water supply and trained firefighters, then their insurance is going to be higher. That, you know, is a fact that the member can't change and this government isn't going to be able to change. I have indicated some areas that we can address, but if the member is expecting that he could have the same insurance rates as somebody who lives in a city, I don't think it's going to happen.
Mr. Keenan: No, Madam Chair, that's not at all what I was asking for. I was asking the government to brainstorm. Government is government. Government can brainstorm. There is a caucus of 10 people during session, I guess. But there's certainly a caucus there that can brainstorm on these issues, and I'm asking the government to consider it. If the government does not want to consider that, the government should just say so, and I will have a level playing field and at least know where the government is coming from. I very much appreciate that.
I'm not looking to put a burden on government. I'm not looking to do that at all. I live 50 feet from a body of water. Maybe I shouldn't have said that because I have probably identified that I'm within the 100-foot high-water mark, but that's where I live.
I built everything to a standard of code. I put in water tanks and sprinkler systems, and it still does not work. I'm asking the government if they could simply brainstorm this through - find a way. Is there a discussion paper? If the word is no, then the word is no, and I certainly appreciate that.
I will talk to my neighbours about being able to provide a fire protection service. I live 22 miles away from the nearest community.
I have folks who live six miles away from that community who are still in the same predicament, and it is a predicament. It's a terrible predicament to be in if you can see your life savings there, with no telephone, with sometimes inadequately plowed roads into the cottage lots - those types of issues. And if a fire happened, folks would lose their fortune - they would - their life, their desire to even live in some cases, so it's not an easy situation to be in. And I'm asking the minister - I'm simply painting a background for the minister so that the minister might be aware.
I have already talked to the minister about the cottage lots and their need for chipsealing, their need for telephone service before the service improvement plan. Has the minister any new direction on this issue?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, on the member's original point, the review of the fire protection policy that I was talking about will consider insurance practices as one of a number of things, and try to take best advantage in the interest of Yukoners. I had mentioned that and will be looking for stakeholder comment later this month and in December.
Mr. Keenan: Well, that warms my heart, Madam Chair, and I thank the minister very much for making that attempt, because that's one step forward and we'll get there eventually.
I asked the minister previously in general debate if there was going to be any planning - if any planning had been done on the access road into Ross River. Does the minister have an update for me?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, no, I'm sorry, I don't have any information with me today.
Mr. Keenan: Well, I'll forgive the minister for that, Madam Chair, although unfortunately it has been close to a year since I originally asked this question. If I could tie this question to my other Ross River initiatives - or "our Ross River initiatives" I guess I could say - the community is a bit disgruntled that they haven't been consulted on any of these issues, and that certainly was one of their top priorities. The department was asked to look at a planning scenario in-house a couple of years ago, so if the minister doesn't have it then obviously it's not done. I can accept that if it's not done, but maybe the community can't. I would like to be able to go back to the community and say that the government may be looking at this or the government won't be or that this is the time frame.
I appreciate what the minister has said, that she has no briefing note or any direction on that, so I will leave it for the minister to get back to me on that issue.
I would plead with the minister, if the minister would please look at upping the rural roads funds as we go through here, because I've gone into the Tagish area. I asked the department a couple of years ago to look at, I believe it's Sidney Street, on the west end of the Six Mile River at the Tagish bridge - the minister would know that there is a very sharp corner there just past a little gravesite that's there, and Sidney Street runs off.
The department was asked two years ago to upgrade that. I do believe that it would take maybe 18 to 20 yards of gravel - that's a dump truck - dump it near the grader, to do that. It has not been done.
I would ask the minister if the minister would, again, check on that.
It's not done, so the minister doesn't have to answer. I'm just going to tell the minister my concerns.
I would also like to point out that, in the Tagish Estates, government is leaving us open and liable to a lawsuit there, and that would be based on a tragedy. And I don't want to see that happen.
Now, I guess the first question I would like to ask is - and I know the answer to it - is government responsible for the Tagish Estates road, even though they did not build the Tagish Estates subdivision?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will have to check on the Tagish Estates Road. The member says he knows the answer. Well, it may be a highway, but it may not be maintained by government; I'll have to check.
In terms of rural roads, we look at all the applications we get for rural roads, and I am pleased that we were able to double the funding from $400,000 in this year's budget to $800,000 in the next year's budget.
The projects are all evaluated based on a number of criteria, and we have made a note that the member has asked about that particular project, so we will put that into the hopper.
Mr. Keenan: If it's not in the hopper right now, I'm surprised, because this is not the first, second or third time I've mentioned this. This is likely the fourth or fifth time that I've mentioned this. I can point out that Tagish Estates Road is plowed by government. I can also point out that government is ultimately responsible for a public road. That's a given; that's an absolute given.
The history of it, if I could for the minister - and I'm not trying to blindside or embarrass the minister, I'm giving the history here - is that that subdivision was built before there was a subdivision standards policy in place. That subdivision, I truly believe, triggered that regulation so that if you're going to build subdivisions, they have to be built to the standard. But right now, we have government in control and have within its jurisdiction a substandard subdivision. There are property lines on both sides right up to the road. And then there are willows growing along - and I said this before - so what you have here is a path of approximately 16 to 20 feet of visibility, and we have school buses on this road. It's in terrible, terrible shape, although God bless the department for going in there and working. The department did some good work in there this year. It was not quite as much as what people wanted. As a matter of fact, it stopped 50 feet away from somebody's driveway, and they have the last driveway on that little strip. And I thought that if we could have just pulled another $200 or dropped the blade of the grader a bit lower, we could have spread it in there, but we didn't do those things.
But I would like the minister to take a really serious look at the Tagish Road, because with the amount of school traffic and the number of buses and people on that road, there is the potential for a horrific accident there. Folks have to get three-quarters of the way into the road before they can see if anybody is coming. And I know that the minister can't slash it because the minister doesn't own it. So it's a bit of a complex problem, but the minister responsible for it - I know. But if the minister would look into that - and the minister has given me a commitment. Is that correct? The minister is nodding her head, saying yes.
I thank the minister for that. This will be the second time I have stated this in this House - or maybe it's not. Maybe it's only the first time. I just like people and, as many times as I can, I try to involve people in my life, whether they're kids or elders. If I'm doing something, I go and do it with them. If there's a chance for a child to make 10 bucks off me by picking up sticks or something with me, and it's good company for me, I do that.
I had that opportunity this summer, to hire a couple of young folks. Trent is 10, I guess, and Daniel is 12 or 13. Trent's the youngest one, and he's the outspoken one for his older brother. Trent told me, "There's nothing to do for kids in Teslin. We can't do anything. There's no recreation, and my brother is skateboarding on the Alaska Highway."
Remember? Well, he's not skateboarding now, but the point is that there's nothing to do in the community. Now, I know that recreational facilities are contained within the municipal grant formulas; I know that. But what we have here is a unique situation where some folks remember my Aunt Virginia, where the dividing line went right down the middle of her livingroom. If you were sitting in the kitchen having coffee with her, you were in the Yukon jurisdiction; if you were sitting in the livingroom having a cup of tea and watching TV, you were in Teslin's jurisdiction. It's craziness.
So, what we have here is these folks living in YTG's jurisdiction.
Now I know, Madam Chair, that it's one of those compounding problems and it's a political problem in nature, but would the minister instruct her department to look at clarifying, I guess, who is ultimately responsible for recreation in Teslin? I know that, through Project Yukon, there's an administrator hired for some-odd thousand dollars to do something, but it's not quite enough, and during my interaction with the kids, or the young people, they ask me to do these things. They even ask me to play with them at times, and I enjoy that, too.
Can I ask the minister to have a good, in-depth look at who should, who could, and who in this government is willing to work in partnership with whomever to provide a safe, recreational type of scenario for those children?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Between the department and Association of Yukon Communities as to initial starting points, I am sure I can find some answers for the member.
Mr. Keenan: At the mention of the Association of Yukon Communities, I would like to ask the minister - and I am sure the Premier is going to be running down the stairs any minute now, because it happened in the Premier's riding. I asked on the floor of this House last spring, just before the Association of Yukon Communities annual meeting in Haines Junction, I believe it was, if the minister - and it was through the Premier - would look to making certain that there is due process of hiring a contractor with public funds. Because what I pointed out to the Premier - and I had people within the Premier's riding - yes, read the Hansard, read the Hansard. And the Premier committed on the floor of this House to take that initiative to the Association of Yukon Communities and to find out what the association would think about putting into place a process of accountability for bidding contracts, whether it is sandblasting the Faro arena or whether it is providing janitorial services for the Teslin Community Centre or something like as such. Can the minister now report back on what the council and the Association of Yukon Communities had to say about that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I don't have the information the member is looking for. I will have to check into that.
Mr. Keenan: I was hoping that these questions wouldn't be too tough, but obviously they are. I guess that just points to the case where they are not really tough questions. It is just that I am asking government and I am holding government accountable. If the government says they are going to do something, then they should do something because I have to get back to folks, and inadvertently I end up saying, "Well, they didn't do it." And it doesn't make me feel good. So, please, I would accept that if the minister would meet with the Premier and find out, even if it were addressed. And if it wasn't addressed - then let's just say it wasn't addressed. Oops, we forgot because it was the end of the session and it was tough and everybody was going. But if it wasn't addressed, I would like to see it addressed because it is hanging out there.
If we can save $50,000 of Yukon taxpayers' money, then, by golly, that's what we're here to do.
Madam Chair, I have looked through the objectives of government - every one of the departments - and I could only find where it alludes to training. No, it doesn't allude to training - it does talk about adult training within the Minister of Education's department.
I know there used to be training provisions within the operation and maintenance portion of budgets for in-house training or for training in a grader station. This is a tough question, I understand, but if the minister doesn't have the answer on the floor of the House, would the minister talk to department officials and find out if there are any training provisions within the O&M budget, and if there are training provisions, have they been constant over the last few years? Would the minister be able to do that for me?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The highway construction training program, which I believe is at least one of the programs the member was asking about, has been used extensively by Yukon First Nations, and First Nations have access to alternative sources of funds for training, like the aboriginal human resource development agreements, which are funded by the Government of Canada.
But road construction training - in 1998, $41,298 and 15 trainees; in 1999, $41,309 and 20 trainees; in 2000, $40,471 and 16 trainees, and for 2001, $55,000 was planned, and I haven't yet heard how many trainees there were and what the final cost was, Madam Chair.
Mr. Keenan: Madam Chair, that wasn't really specifically the question. The question was not to be contained within the O&M portion of the budgets that go out to, say, the grader stations. If I aspired to be a grader operator, moving dirt and plowing the roads - because we have unique roads in, say, the Ross River area. I, as I started out as a labourer - would there be training provisions within the budget so that I might be able to step from a labourer to a grader operator to an HEO-1 to an HEO-2 and to doing those types of things? Would that ability be there, contained within the budget and not specifically in highway construction?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Yes, within Community and Transportation Services there are modules for on-the-job training and we have, I think, two or three staff within the department who look after this area. People who are labourers are able to progress to heavy equipment operator.
Mr. Keenan: I very much appreciate the minister's answer on that. I was wondering if the minister might be able to bring me just a chart, specifically of what has been set-bent on that and if it has remained constant, because some folks have said to me that it's not there any longer and they're looking, in a good way, to be able to do that. I'd appreciate it if the minister would be able to provide me with that flow so that the next time I go into my communities, I'd be able to say, "Well, this is it, and this is what's in the formulas and, by golly, if you look at it in this light, we could do it in this way." That's the type of message I choose to give, if I can. Would the minister assist me in that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As far as I know, nothing has changed since the member opposite was the minister, and the training is ongoing, so I will get him what information I can.
Mr. Keenan: Well, unfortunately, one major change in what the minister said, and one difference is that we switched seats in the House, so I would say that there is a major change. But that's going to change again.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Keenan: Oh, it's out there.
I really get a kick - there was a note on my desk from somebody on that side of the House that said, "Who was Keenan talking to?" and then they put a name - wrong. Not that person; another one.
So, it's there. It's there.
I shall return.
I would like to ask about fuel prices. Now, I've attempted to ask about fuel prices in the Government Services debate in Question Period and, by golly, I'm still confused by that answer, but it will come to me because I've been contemplating and working on that issue.
But I had a chat with one of the folks within my riding who used to provide the service of fuel, and nobody knows any more. So I am asking this minister, who I know used to have the authority for fuel purchases in the communities for the graders and the trucks and that, if the minister would sort this out for me. Because if I ask Government Services they will say that it is a fair, open and accountable process. Yet the folks I've talked to said, "I've never been notified" and "I used to have this contract" and "It used to be this way" and "I'm going through a tough time". And he said, "So I went to that grader station and I asked, doggone it, and that grader station said, oh, it's the driver's discretion."
Well, I've never heard that before.
So now I've got one, two, three different reasons compounding, and I don't know what's going on.
So, I would like to know what the process is for fuel. I am asking the Minister of Community and Transportation Services who used to have it - and I understand it's over there at Government Services now, but would the department be able to put together a description of the process so that I can take it to these folks and say, "No, look, you do have once a year and the oil companies are keeping it secret right now." But right now it's looking like this Liberal government is favouring big oil companies over independent mom-and-pop operations.
And if the minister would like help in clearing this up, I'd very much like to be a part of that, too, so that I might be on a learning curve with this myself. Would the minister be able to do that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, I can get the member the information he's asking for. It is Government Services that administers that process, but either the minister responsible for Government Services or myself can get the information for the member.
Mr. Keenan: I thank the minister very much for that cooperation, and I appreciate that, and I wish that cooperation could be shared among all Cabinet members.
I have no further questions.
Mr. Fairclough: I couldn't help but overhear the conversation between the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and the Member for Watson Lake. In her response, the minister had said that organizations and communities, if there are projects there that need funding, then they can apply to Project Yukon. I'm just wondering if the minister can tell us how much is left in Project Yukon, in that budget?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Off the top of my head, no, I can't.
Mr. Fairclough: Is the minister saying that there's nothing in that budget or she doesn't know? Why would you refer a project to be applied to another funding organization without knowing? Can the minister get information on that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Project Yukon takes applications on a regular basis. I would not know how much money is left in Project Yukon.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I think it's irresponsible of the minister to give directions to organizations and groups to apply to a fund that has no money in it. That's the problem I have here. Why would the minister do that? Why would you suggest to someone to apply and give false hopes to an organization without knowing the full information about it? I would think that if you're going to do that, you would know, Madam Chair, what the amount of money in that project is. That's all I'm asking: is the minister going to seek information and be assured that all members on that side of the House have that information before giving out direction to the general public?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Madam Chair, as I said, Project Yukon takes applications for projects on a regular basis. There is money in the fund, and I'm sure the Minister of Economic Development will be happy to address that when we get to Economic Development in this supplementary budget debate.
Mr. Fairclough: I'm glad the member has said that there is money in the fund, and I'm hoping there is, because people are looking for their projects to be completed.
I'd like to ask the minister about roads and resurfacing a road. There is one road in the community of Mayo, down toward the lands office - or what used to be the group home. That road was supposed to be resurfaced two years ago, and no work has been done. There is a training package that goes with it. Can the minister explain what's happening with this project?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I recall hearing about this project last year. I'll have to ask the department for an update.
Mr. Fairclough: I'd appreciate information coming over. Just for the minister's information, those monies were budgeted for twice now and I haven't seen anything. Last year I believe it was because they ran into weather that it didn't take place, so if I can get an update from the minister I'd appreciate that.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I don't recall the details so I will have to check.
Mr. McRobb: I'd like to ask the minister what the Liberal government is intending to do in regard to bringing telephone service to areas that are currently unserved or underserved within the territory.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: It is the Department of Government Services to which the member should be addressing that question.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Madam Chair, we seem to reach this roadblock time and time again. I want to explore this for a bit here.
I'm looking at the departmental objectives for the Department of Community and Transportation Services, and this is for the budget we're currently looking at. I'll just make sure of that. It clearly indicates that communications are the responsibility of the department. I don't see in the departmental objectives for the Department of Government Services where it has responsibility for telephone-type communications throughout the territory.
And we know that in the past, Madam Chair, the minister has indicated that it's the responsibility of the privately owned Northwestel to install telephones, and she points to that company's service improvement plan. There are some areas that simply will not benefit from the service improvement plan, and those areas are precisely what I'm referring to as in need of telecommunications.
Madam Chair, we know that, under the previous government, a program to bring in telephone and Internet high-speed data service was launched, and that was the Connect Yukon program, which apparently is all but wrapped up at this point. It was a highly successful program, and the accolades for that program are still rolling in as other areas of the country are recognizing how well-connected the Yukon is, given the challenges we face here. And, of course, some of the challenges we face are a low population base, a vast geography, several communities spread throughout a large area, extreme weather conditions, especially in winter, and also the remoteness from the continental communications system.
Those are all the main factors that I can recollect at this time that prevent challenges to us here in Yukon in terms of developing our communications infrastructure. And, when it comes to the privately owned company, there are financial constraints there as well. And, prior to launching the Connect Yukon initiative, the previous government recognized some of those constraints and took measures to meet those challenges and to move toward wiring the territory. The previous government simply found a way to do it.
Now, the minister can talk all day giving excuses about why she can't do it and, frankly, so could have the previous government. But, it chose not to give excuses. Instead, it chose to recognize the need of the people of the territory and to do something about it. And, I might add, it is not only the need of the people in the territory, but it was for the need of the economy, for the need of public safety, for the need of learning in our schools with the high capacity data lines installed for video conferencing and so on - the need to make the Yukon a better place.
There was simply a greater need. There is a greater need at this time to increase the territory's telecommunication capacity in rural areas. I will get to that in a moment.
But government has the responsibility to provide basic infrastructure, and I guess that's what it comes down to - recognizing that need.
I can recall discussions in caucus, when in government, about how that need could be fulfilled. I can recall meeting with executives from Northwestel to discuss the company's capital plans on how such need could be fulfilled. And I recall hearing how the company's capital plans had been scaled down quite drastically - this would have been about 1998. And, Madam Chair, things were not going our way.
When the privately owned utility decides to spend less money in the Yukon in the way of capital spending to develop infrastructure, obviously it's going to be very difficult for Yukoners to appreciate improved service.
So, we recognized that deficiency, Madam Chair, and we acted on it. And through a lot of hard work by department people, my colleagues and people at Northwestel, an agreement was created to try to overcome a lot of those telecommunications deficiencies. As mentioned, that program was highly successful - very highly successful. Today, we see high-speed Internet in virtually every Yukon community. We see high-speed data lines in virtually every Yukon school. I'm not aware of any that are without.
But we don't see telephones in every Yukon community - at least not up to present-day standards. And we know the Liberal government didn't fulfill that part of the agreement. For political purposes, it decided to cut out the telephones and leave it up to Northwestel.
Well, we're back at the original stage then, Madam Chair, back to step one where we have a privately owned utility with a limited amount of capital spending available for infrastructure improvements. Northwestel's service improvement plan has done work that is very beneficial to some areas of the Yukon. However, it's not likely to benefit some other areas.
The minister looks puzzled, and I'll take the opportunity now to explain one such area - the small community of Kluane Village, located at Mile 1118 on the Alaska Highway. On several occasions, I have spoken to the business proprietor at Kluane Village, sometimes called Kluane Wilderness Village, about the sad state of communications at that location.
And, Madam Chair, it's really quite frustrating to realize that a major highway stop such as this has one telephone line that must handle several different purposes, such as accommodating the fax line, accommodating the Interac card service for all purchases of gasoline and whatever else, and handling business calls, employee calls and, most of all, Madam Chair, handling calls from members of the public, whether they're community residents or members of the travelling public.
Quite often at this facility, there is a lineup to use the telephone. Quite often, telephone calls are cut short in order to process someone's VISA bill.
Now this is really inferior when it comes to thinking about what type of service should be acceptable. And, as mentioned, this is an important highway stop in that area, and there aren't too many other facilities in that particular area. As a matter of fact, I know on this side of the lodge it is still quite a ways to the community of Burwash Landing - at least 20 minutes on good road conditions and, in winter, it could be half an hour or more. And yes, you can still see the fire hall from the highway. And, to the north, there is not a whole lot between that stop and the next community of Beaver Creek. There are a couple of lodges, but guess what? They are in the same sad state of affairs in regard to inadequate communications. So I am hoping that the minister is increasing her understanding of the need out there, because it is all too easy just to believe that there is no problem and that the problem will fix itself, because it has been my experience that these problems don't fix themselves.
Government has a role to help provide basic infrastructure like telecommunications, which are so important.
Telephones are referred to as a lifeline service.
People at Kluane Wilderness Village are wondering when the minister is going to give them a lifeline, because telephones are desperately needed.
With that, Madam Chair, I move you report progress.
Deputy Chair: It has been moved by Mr. McRobb that we do now report progress.
Motion agreed to
Mr. McLachlan: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy Chair: It has been moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole.
Deputy Chair's report
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 7, Second Appropriation Act, 2001-02, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You've heard the report from the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. McLachlan: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled on November 6, 2001:
North American Tungsten agreement (dated July 27, 2001): Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Government of Yukon and North American Tungsten Corporation Ltd. (Buckway)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2467
Rural Electrification and Telecommunications program: no policy changes and listing of approved projects 2001-02 fiscal year (Buckway)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2473
Arctic Winter Games 2002: status of transportation of dog-mushing teams and equipment to Iqaluit (Buckway)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2468