Monday, April 29, 2002 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Workersí Day of Mourning
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, this Sunday, April 28, was the annual day of mourning for workers who have been killed or injured on the job. This national day of remembrance was founded in 1984 by the Canadian Labour Congress. The aim of the day is to raise awareness of the tragic consequences of workplace accidents and to publicly renew the commitment to fight for the living as well as mourn for the dead.
The day of mourning is about a commitment to safer workplaces as well as remembering those who were killed or injured on the job. The annual observance of this day should strengthen our resolve to establish safe work conditions.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety estimates that one Canadian worker out of 16 will suffer an injury while at work. This translates into one injury every nine seconds.
In the territory, 19 Yukon workers have lost their lives and over 11,000 Yukon people have experienced a work-related injury or illness in the last decade. These deaths and injuries represent untold suffering and tremendous human loss.
At this time, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you allow members gathered here to rise when all members have finished their tributes to work and remember the workers and their families in a moment of silence.
Mr. Keenan: On behalf of the official opposition I rise to pay tribute to the National Day of Mourning in recognition of injured workers and those who have lost their lives on the job. It was on February 1, 1991, when An Act Respecting a Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace was assented to.
This act was adopted largely through the efforts of the Canadian Labour Congress. Since then, throughout Canada in each and every year, the 28th day of April has been known by the name of Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.
The Canadian flag on Parliament Hill is flying at half-mast. Workers are lighting candles, donning ribbons, black armbands, and observing moments of silence.
Here in Whitehorse, a ceremony marking the day took place over the noon hour at the Elijah Smith Building and, again, it was sponsored by the Yukon Federation of Labour.
The number of people hurt and injured each year in Canada, Mr. Speaker, is simply staggering and very tragic. Some 800 employees die from accidents at work each year. Another 800,000 are injured. Here in the Yukon, in the last 10 years, there have been 19 workplace fatalities and over 11,000 workplace injuries. That means that one out of every three people in the Yukon have been injured on the job in the last decade, and it is very fitting that this day should be recognized as a day of national mourning because the toll on workers and their families is considerable.
The financial impact is also substantial. In total, 16 million days of work are lost each year, and thatís the equivalent of the average annual work of 67,000 people. The full cost per year to the Canadian economy from occupational injuries is more than $9 billion.
I encourage everyone to do their part on this day and every day to ensure that going to work no longer becomes a matter of life and death. Making sure the workplace is safer should be a daily effort.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise also to join with members in paying tribute to National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job, which was held yesterday.
Each year on April 28, Canadians come together to remember those hurt and those killed on the job. Sadly enough, a Canadian loses his or her life every day as a result of workplace-related injuries. Many more suffer injuries or become ill.
While it is important for all of us to take time to remember those who have lost their lives, been injured or become ill, it is just as important to take time out to reflect on the importance of safety in the workplace. The old adage, "A penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure" speaks volumes. Each year, extensive costs result from lost hours of production due to shutdowns caused by injuries, related damaged materials, machinery, and the pain and suffering of the workers and their families.
Mr. Speaker, all injuries at work are preventable and we must work toward that end.
Again, I am pleased to recognize efforts such as the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job as an opportunity to join together to focus attention on the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace and to raise awareness of the role and contribution of our health and safety professionals.
Mr. Roberts: I rise today on behalf of the independents to pay respect to all workers killed or injured on the job. More than 800 Canadian workers are killed on the job every year. Thousands more will die as a result of exposure to toxic substances in their workplace. Thousands are permanently disabled and many more are off the job temporarily because of the workplace injuries.
Most workplace deaths do not receive the headlines and we must remember these workers and pay respect to their families. We must also remember that those who suffer in silence ó we must remember the sacrifice that others have made in order to provide for their families.
Our job as a society must be to fight for those in need and to prevent needless injury and death.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes on this subject?
As requested, to further recognize injured workers and those who have lost their lives, please join me and weíll rise and observe one minute of silence.
Moment of silence observed
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, joining us in the gallery today is a visitor from Toronto, Eric Oickle. Heís here accompanied by people from the Partners in Motion Production Company. Eric is a participant in the Trading Places television show, and he has been spending some time at Yukon Housing, where he is trading places with an employee of ours. This morning, he did a wonderful presentation on a subject he knew absolutely nothing about, and he was very convincing. So Iíd ask you to welcome Eric.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have a legislative return. April 18, 2002, the Member for Whitehorse Centre asked a question at Hansard with respect to the Faro mine reclamation. Mr. Speaker, on April 18, 2002, the Member for Klondike asked an oral question with respect to North American Tungsten and amounts outstanding. And, Mr. Speaker, on Thursday, April 18, 2002, there was a discussion with respect to the Yukon governmentís contribution to the Yukon Foundation, the Yukon teacher mentoring endowment fund, and I have a legislative return on those subjects.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, I have a return for tabling relating to a matter outstanding from discussion on Wednesday, April 17, regarding the Youth Voices endowment fund.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 102: Introduction and First Reading
Mr. Jenkins: I move that a bill entitled Electoral District Boundaries Act be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the third party that a bill entitled Electoral District Boundaries Act be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 102 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills for introduction?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the $1.2-million funding cut to the community training trust fund has caused Yukon College to lose a further $3 million in funding from the federal government and other funding sources.
(2) Yukon College students, particularly in rural Yukon, including students enrolled in the essential skills program, have been adversely affected by these funding cuts; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal government to fully restore the community training trust fund.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Mr. Jim: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that this House urges the Yukon government to immediately established a delegation consisting of business people, First Nations and government representatives to establish a cooperative relationship with the Government of the Northwest Territories to develop the Mackenzie Valley pipeline with the mission statement of the mission encompassing the following three themes:
(1) to ensure that the Yukon natural gas finds its way to market through the Mackenzie Valley pipeline if its construction precedes the Alaska Highway pipeline;
(2) to present a common message to the federal government that the north requires economic development programs and projects; and
(3) to ensure a cooperative government environment so that Yukoners may more fully participate in the economic boom that will be generated with the construction of the route.
Mr. Roberts: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon government should ensure that, during the next two years, the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation develop comprehensive energy efficiency programs that provide Yukoners with information and incentives to understand in the future that all Yukoners will be required to pay the real cost of electrical energy; and
THAT this information be public and ongoing for the foreseeable future.
Mr. McLarnon: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) it is incumbent upon this Legislature to give an accurate account of the Yukonís legislative and financial picture;
(2) to restore public confidence in the Legislature, we must ensure that Yukoners receive accurate and understandable information; and
(3) statistics put forward to the government by the government should be accurately explained to ensure that Yukoners understand the true picture of the economy;
THAT this House urge the government to
(1) introduce legislation with clear goals and clauses explained in everyday language so that the real intention of the legislation can be clearly understood by Yukoners; and
(2) give Yukoners background to statistics presented to this Assembly and to the general public to ensure that the general public understands the debate surrounding them.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a ministerial statement?
Before we proceed to Question Period, the Chair would like to briefly comment on a couple of matters from last week.
Speaker: Before we proceed to Question Period, the Chair would like to briefly comment on two matters.
Last Wednesday during Tabling of Returns and Documents, the government House leader raised a point of order with regard to the results of a questionnaire tabled by the leader of the official opposition.
The government House leader stated that, "when the Standing Orders of this Legislature were created and the slot for tabling returns and documents was put in, it was with the understanding that, when members were tabling documents, they tabled the entire results of the documents, not half a story, not part of a story that only they wanted heard."
The practice of this Assembly is to allow all members to table documents. The few restrictions that apply to such documents are that the author is identified and that they conform to standards of parliamentary language. No attention is paid to whether the document tabled is in any way complete. That is not for the Chair to decide.
A second issue concerns the manner in which members raise points of order regarding unparliamentary language. In some cases it is clear which words or phrases are offensive. At other times it is not so clear. The Chair would appreciate it if, in future, members would identify those words or phrases they find offensive, and which Standing Order they believe has been breached, when raising points of order or advising the Chair as the Chair prepares to rule on points of order. I think we recall the difficulties the Chair had last week trying to determine what the point of order was.
Thank you. We will now proceed with Question Period.
Question re: Grey Mountain Primary School
Mrs. Peter: My question today is for the Minister of Education.
Itís no secret, Mr. Speaker, that the school enrolment in Whitehorse is going down. Fewer students mean the department has to make decisions about staffing levels and what programs can be offered, especially in our high schools. What is the extent of teacher layoffs or program cuts that the department is planning at the high school level for next year?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, the Yukon education system is continuing to do a good job in providing good programs. There may be some reorganization of programs but my understanding at this time is that programs will be continuing and that current staffing formulas will be maintained.
Mrs. Peter: In spite of declining numbers for the elementary and secondary schools, the minister insists she is going to rebuild the Grey Mountain school in Riverdale. The department is already working on a big shuffle of downtown schools to justify this political decision.
Has the minister given any indication to Grey Mountain school council members recently that the school may not go ahead as scheduled for budgetary reasons?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: I have asked to meet with the Grey Mountain school council to make them aware of the fact that there seems to be no support on the other side of this Legislature for the construction of a new school.
Because there doesnít seem to be any support on the other side, I have asked them how they would like to view the matter. Iím somewhat disappointed that there is no support.
Mrs. Peter: This minority government is getting a reputation for back-pedalling, so I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.
At the school councils conference this weekend, the minister appeared to be back-pedalling on the current Education Act amendments. These amendments donít have the support of many partners in education. They donít have the support of this side of the House.
Does the minister plan to take the Education Act back out for more consultation, or is she planning to let it sit on the Order Paper as is until the fall sitting or even the spring sitting of next year?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: None of the above.
Iíd like to just back up on Grey Mountain a moment. If the Grey Mountain school reconstruction does not proceed, it will be because of the lack of support from the members opposite for a new school.
We are in a minority position. Iím going to go and ask the council of Grey Mountain school how they feel we should proceed given the lack of support for a new school on the other side.
In the matter of the Education Act amendments, what I said at the school councils conference is that we support public input. This is the publicís Education Act and their amendments, and Iíll be contacting the major partners to find out how they feel about these issues because there has been so much misinformation out there.
Question re: Water quality
Mr. Keenan: I was quite appalled by the Minister of Educationís answer there.
In a minority situation I think that Cabinet should be trying to work with the people opposite for the benefit of the Yukon, not to blame us. Thatís absolutely hooey; thatís what that is.
Last week I asked the question to the Minister of Health of when this government is going to get on with the job and adopt a territorial-wide standard for drinking water. The minister resorted back to the age-old tact of "we have ongoing discussions."
There also seemed to be confusion in the Cabinet as to who is responsible for this. So Iíd like to ask just any Cabinet minister over there: in light of the boil-water advisory that went into effect in my community on Friday ó thatís the community of Teslin ó will the minister now commit to stepping up the pace for those discussions?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, safe drinking water is an issue that we take very seriously, and we donít take any risks. There are several levels of responsibility to ensure that Yukon drinking water remains healthy. The quality of water is tested regularly from the source to the delivery point. All water providers, whether they are the Yukon government, a municipality or a private water delivery operator, are responsible for ensuring the water they provide is safe. They are regulated by environmental health services, which also tests water samples.
Mr. Speaker, safe drinking water is a priority, and we do everything we can to ensure that our water remains safe. In Teslin, the situation has been dealt with, and the water delivery truck is back in service.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, that sounded just like a message from the media. It didnít even come close to answering the question. The question was: when is this government going to get out and adopt a territory-wide standard for water? And that means they must get out and do some consultation. That was the real question.
Iím pleased that the medical officer moved quickly. Iím very pleased that in Teslin it seems that the actual source does not come from the drinking water supply, but that doesnít change the fact that we do not have a standard. We have to boil water in Carmacks. It could happen anywhere in the Yukon Territory.
So does this department have any kind of program for homeowners to have their water storage units tested on a regular basis, and is there any compensation available for my constituents who incurred some cost to sanitize their systems this weekend?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Homeowners are being asked to clean their holding tanks as a precautionary measure. Mr. Speaker, this is something that the government likes to encourage homeowners to do on a regular basis. Yukon Housing has already embarked on a cleaning and sampling process to ensure that holding tanks in Yukon Housing Corporation housing units are clean.
Guidelines for Canadian drinking water standards must be followed by all suppliers of water in Yukon, and Environmental Health monitors for compliance.
Mr. Keenan: Again, Mr. Speaker, Iíd like to point out that the minister failed and neglected to answer the question. Thatís getting to be quite regular here, I take it.
Last week we had the Minister of Health give the same assurance that this government considers water quality a very, very important issue. She even promised to bring forward a many-faceted solution as soon as possible. Well, we have to point out that itís time for action, Mr. Speaker, not process and not promises, especially at this time of year when the groundwater can be adversely affected by the spring thaw.
So, while we wait for this many-faceted solution, will the minister at least commit to a public education program about how to minimize the risk of water contamination and how to recognize symptoms of water-related illnesses such as beaver fever? Will the minister do that across the territory now?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The information is available and I can ask that it be once again distributed. Information on cleaning holding tanks is readily available, and we will circulate that more widely once again.
Mr. Speaker, the member was asking about liability. Weíre more interested in ensuring that drinking water is safe than in trying to blame people or fear-monger.
Question re: Yukon College, community training trust fund
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Education.
On April 10 in the Whitehorse Star, thereís a picture of the minister handing over a cheque to the chair of the Yukon College Board of Governors. Itís a wonderful photo opportunity. However, the $12.7-million annual operating grant cheque did not restore the $1.2-million cut to the training trust fund. The $1.2-million cut means the loss of another $3 million in leverage money to Yukon College from the federal government and other funding sources. This cut is of grave concern to Yukon College. It will hit rural Yukon College students particularly hard.
In view of the fact that the decision to cut the community training trust fund was made by the previous Minister of Education, can the minister advise the House if she has subsequently met with the Yukon College board to discuss the issue, and is she prepared to reverse the previous ministerís decision? And if not, why not?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: All that in one question. People in the communities asked us to create job opportunities, so some of the funding from the capital budget was taken from training funds and put into construction projects. I have been going around the community campuses and meeting with various education providers throughout the territory to find out how we can more effectively use our education resources.
Mr. Jenkins: If we look at the Yukon College Student Association, itís circulating a petition around Yukon and hopes to gather 5,000 signatures on this issue. If we look at the Minister of Health, when she was appointed to her portfolio, part of the situation was she wanted the CAT scan fully funded.
Did the Minister of Education just not understand the issue and not ask that the funding be restored for the training trust fund? She is now blaming the opposition for the Liberalsí minority position. Will the minister now do the right thing and restore the funding to the training trust?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: There are millions upon millions of dollars sitting in trust funds around this territory that are currently going unused. Part of my responsibility as minister is to find out how we can get better results from the education process. Over the last three months, Iíve been looking into that and will continue to look into it, and look at the best ways we can get the best results for Yukoners.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what we see is the government of the day hiding the money away, squirreling it away on all different portfolios, and this Liberal government has a $78.8 million surplus. The minister canít say there isnít money there. This excuse simply doesnít fly.
Can the minister advise the House why she has not been able to convince the Liberal Cabinet to reverse this disastrous decision made by her predecessor, in view of the serious consequence it will have on Yukon College and Yukon College students, particularly in rural Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: I note with some interest that the member opposite always looks at the budget before we pay the bills and before we look at our future financial commitments. This territory is going to be in very difficult circumstances financially in the next couple of years. One of the things that we need ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Tucker: If you would have the courtesy of waiting for the response, sir. Thank you.
I would very much like to ensure that we as a territory get the best results for the money spent in education. There are a variety of opinions as to where the money would be best used, and Iím looking into those to try to ensure that we do get the best results.
Question re: Tourism marketing
Mr. Fentie: Iíd like to ask the minister responsible for Tourism a question today. Last week, on questioning here in the Assembly, the minister stated that he was listening to the industry. The issue now is, has the minister heard the industry? Letís look at some of the evidence.
We know that bookings are down this year. We know that existing bookings are experiencing cancellations. There may have to be layoffs in the tourism industry, Mr. Speaker and, also, if things get any worse, the closure of businesses.
Obviously we are facing a crisis. The minister said heís listening, but he has failed to act. He has not heard what the industry is saying. How does the minister intend to deal with the pending crisis in one of our last operating economic sectors ó tourism?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I do appreciate the question from the Member for Watson Lake, because he heard the same as I did, in Dawson, that yes, the industry is hurting this year. As a consequence of an event last fall, we are making best efforts in the territory and being very strategic in how we are marketing the territory. As a matter of fact, there was a report on CKRW this morning indicating the flow of cruise ship traffic up the Lynn Canal this year, and we are capitalizing on that by focusing our marketing strategies in Juneau, Skagway, Haines and Fairbanks.
So, Mr. Speaker, we are working very strategically in how we accommodate, at least in the short term, industry and their situation this summer.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the minister has just stated theyíre now chasing tourists who are already booked to go to Alaska and try to entice them into the Yukon. When the industry asked for marketing dollars months ago, the government acted very slowly and, in a minimal approach, put a few hundred thousand dollars toward marketing ó too little, too late.
Now the industryís saying clearly, "Letís market properly; letís do a marketing blitz." Thatís what the industry believes will help the situation now and into the future. Will this minister act now and seriously consider an expenditure in marketing for this territory? We may not be able to solve the problems this year, but we can certainly address the problems for next year. Will the minister act now and put more money into marketing?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact, I am working very hard with the department on exactly that tack. We are looking at, again, being strategic with the financial resources that we do have available here in the territory. In trips abroad, Mr. Speaker, even the Premier has been lobbying very hard in Europe to get the flow of tourism traffic here in the territory.
It is rather interesting, Mr. Speaker, that we recognize the value of our dollar, and we are being very strategic in its allocation and are focusing, for the short term, on garnering the traffic flow from Alaska to Yukon, and we are also looking at a long term.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the minister has stated a number of things that his government is doing, and yet all the trends are down ó down in bookings, cancellations, pending layoffs, possible closures. Obviously, itís not working. Another area that the industry is clear on is that theyíre not happy with the diluted marketing approach of the governmentís marketing corporation. What theyíd like to see is an entity in the tourism department that is totally focused on marketing for the tourism industry in this territory. A good idea perhaps, Mr. Speaker, if the minister were listening and if he heard the industry. Will the minister now act and rearrange the deck chairs again in the Tourism department and get that focused marketing entity up and running?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Itís funny, we were listening to the same discussions that were occurring in Dawson but obviously I came back with different impressions.
The fact of the matter is that we have hired a contractor to assess the marketing strategies within the new Department of Business, Tourism and Culture. We have given this individual until August to present a balanced approach with options.
The Premier has also indicated very emphatically that the marketing dollars allocated specifically to tourism will not diminish ó and they havenít, Mr. Speaker. As a matter of fact we found an extra $303,000. Itís interesting that the Member for Watson Lake thinks itís a piddling amount. Well, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, this government is very responsible in its accountability of tax dollars and we donít believe that we have a cornucopia of money to spend indiscriminately, as the members in the opposition did.
Question re: Grey Mountain Primary School rebuild
Mr. Roberts: I have a question for the Minister of Education.
When the school capacity study was introduced last year, the purpose was to look at the distribution of student populations in our schools. The reason for doing this was because of declining enrolments in most of our elementary schools and to see what the future had in store for school populations.
One of the facts that came from the Statistics Canada results is that the elementary enrolments are declining by 25 percent each year across Canada and the Yukon.
We know also that the Yukon schools capacity study bases its school population numbers on Statistics Canada figures. My question to the minister: could the minister tell the House the dollar costs of the capacity study that was cancelled before it could reach its logical conclusions?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: I donít have those figures with me. Iíll be happy to send them to the member opposite later on this afternoon.
Mr. Roberts: If the school capacity study would have been allowed to be completed, it would have shown where the student population pressures were and where the school buildings were needed to be replaced. This is the idea. The capacity study would have also provided concrete information to the department and school councils on how the schools could be reconfigured for the future.
My question to the minister: was the school capacity study cancelled midstream because the preliminary results were not supporting the building of a new Grey Mountain school?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: This government heard very loudly from all the communities and all the schools that their school was very important to them. We have heard that and we support the schools.
Mr. Roberts: Itís really a pleasure to see that minority governments do work. It is a well-known fact that the Yukon government has in place full consultation guidelines to ensure that all Yukoners are being consulted.
With the rumour mill working full time, as it is just about spring in the Yukon and the fact that the media has suggested that students are going to be moved to different schools, it is my understanding that students and programs are going to be moved from Wood Street to Whitehorse Elementary and also students are going to be moved to Selkirk from Whitehorse Elementary so that the numbers increase at Selkirk so as to justify the building of a Grey Mountain school.
Even with those potential changes, Selkirk school still would not be at capacity. The number of students in the elementary grades is dwindling across Canada and the Yukon at 25 percent a year.
My question to the minister: has the Yukon government gone through the consultation steps with our partners in education so that there will be no surprises for the parents of Whitehorse students?
Hon. Ms. Tucker: It has been very clear from the tone in this Legislature that the members opposite donít support one of the best schools in Whitehorse and in the Yukon, and Iím very sorry to hear that.
There is an ongoing process to try to benefit the youth of the territory, and we have heard very loudly from groups downtown that they would like to see some benefits for those youth. So, thatís what weíre working on, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Yukon Housing Corporation T-4 policy
Mr. Keenan: Last week I asked the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation about a policy that directs the Yukon Housing Corporation clients to prove their income by producing their tax documents. The minister said that this was a policy of CMHC and that Yukon Housing Corporation was merely enforcing the policy.
Now, surely the minister knows that the Housing Corporation took over the administration of CMHC programs in November of 1998. So will the minister correct the record and acknowledge that the Yukon Housing Corporation is not bound by CMHC rules?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The fact is that there has been a policy in place for some time, and Yukon Housing is enforcing that policy.
Mr. Keenan: Iíd like to point out to the public at large that is not exactly what the minister had said when I asked the minister about that question on the floor here when we were going through debate. It seems that the minister just does not want to take the chance and do the right thing on behalf of Yukoners. She just wants to stick within that media message box.
Iíd like to point out that it is this minister who has the authority to decide on Housing Corporation policies that are appropriate for folks here in the Yukon, and I donít think that asking Yukoners to prove their income with a T-4 slip is appropriate.
So will the minister agree to find a made-in-Yukon solution to this problem, so that clients of Yukon Housing are not put through a demeaning process that has them trying to prove their innocence before they are proven guilty? Will the minister do that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes had suggested last week that he had all of a sudden been getting a number of questions about this issue and he was wondering if the policy had changed. I had informed him that no, the policy had not changed. In fact, it is income tax time, and this is the time when yearly assessments are done on the people who live in social housing. When they take up residence in social housing, they promise to provide the information as to their total annual income. So this is merely the follow-up to that promise.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, thatís just not true; thatís just not true at all, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Order please. The member is referring to truths and statements not being true and so on. Thatís not parliamentary in this Legislature and I ask that he rephrase it, please.
Mr. Keenan: Certainly. Thank you very much for the scolding, Mr. Speaker. Because certainly what the ministerís saying is wrong ó categorically, absolutely wrong. Itís funny that the minister would speak about Revenue Canada and their processes here. People rent by the month. They shouldnít be having to come up with their Revenue Canada T-4 slips once a month. Thatís just not possible.
Iíve asked the minister to answer the question; she has refused to answer the question here, time and time again.
Thereís a related issue that Iíd like to bring up with this minister now. Itís about the availability of loans to people who live on First Nation lands. And the minister has either said that nothing can be done or else she has tried to pass the buck back to the federal government. I would like to remind the minister that the Yukon Housing Corporation has a responsibility to ensure that its programs are delivered without discrimination.
Will the minister sit down with First Nations on a government-to-government level and work out a solution to this problem? Will the minister do that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I find it interesting that the previous NDP government did not seem to think this was a problem. When the memberís own party was in power, he did nothing about it.
Mr. Speaker, security must be registered for loans, and that is not possible on settlement land.
As for the previous issue, the member is asking two questions instead of one, Mr. Speaker. Rent in social housing is paid once a month. The assessment on total income is done once a year.
Question re: Economic action plan
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, last week, this Assembly had an opportunity to stand here, debate our economy and come up with constructive initiatives to try to address the issue. The Premier, upon questioning in their handling of that debate in such a disgraceful manner, states in a very flippant way, "The debate that was offered was an opportunity for the Member for Faro, who has not had a question in Question Period yet this session, to have an opportunity to speak." I think we get the gist here ó the Member for Faroís issues are more important than Yukonersí issues when it comes to the economy.
Will this Premier now come to her senses and letís stand down on the government business and debate the economy here and now, so that we can come forward with some constructive initiatives?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, three things. First of all, my point was that the Member for Faro wanted an opportunity to speak.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Members opposite find it humorous that one of the members should have an opportunity to speak on the floor of this House. Thatís what being a member of the Legislature is about, Mr. Speaker, and we often, as Yukoners, have spoken frequently about the community of Faro in terms of our economy, as Anvil Range was, at one point in time, a major part of the Yukon economy.
The Member for Faro well understands the cyclical nature of the Yukon economy, as do all Yukoners. Mr. Speaker, we are more than willing to debate, discuss and work on the Yukon economy. Thatís what we are all trying to do, in addition to providing good government for the people of the Yukon, with programs in education, in health, in social services, as well as working with economic engines such as the tourism sector.
Mr. Fentie: Well, thanks, Mr. Speaker. From that answer, Iím not sure what the Premierís point was, if there was a point at all.
The issue here is, according to the question first posed: will the Premier and her government stand down on government business here and now and let us debate our economy and the woes our economy is in so that we, this Assembly, can come forward with some constructive initiatives to attack the problems immediately? Will the Premier do that? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes, and we are doing it.
Mr. Fentie: Well, itís news to the Yukon public if weíre doing it, because what we got last week in place of constructively debating our economy was a two-and-a-half-hour rant from the Member for Faro, who was so overcome by not being able to speak so far this session that he went completely out of control, Mr. Speaker. We didnít debate the economy, we listened to the Member for Faro talk about endless nothing.
Let us do something constructive on behalf of the Yukon people. Let us debate the economy here and now. Let us come forward with solutions on behalf of the Yukon public. Suggestions have been made. The government side has refused to accept any suggestions. So we are saying to the government: come forward with your own suggestions; weíll try and improve on them; we will accept them. The main issue is: letís address our economic problems here and now. Will the Premier do that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes, and we are. The member opposite asks if we are seeking and bringing forward constructive suggestions. Yes. That, for example, is just how I spent the last three days, listening to individuals in a variety of ridings, a variety of Yukoners from all walks of life, asking those specific questions. And what I am hearing them say is, "Quit arguing statistics with the Member for Watson Lake and letís talk about real people. For example, my construction company is busy until September ó what is the capital budget looking like?" I am hearing that the small contractors are busy. They are very happy ó large and small are both very happy about the capital budget coming forward in the fall. Theyíve got worked lined up until November or December.
I am hearing mixed comments from the tourism industry, although some are saying that bookings are down. We already, this morning, driving down Two Mile Hill in Whitehorse, are starting to see the RVs pull into the Yukon and, like all members, took the opportunity to say, "Welcome. Stay a couple of extra days on Yukon time."
What matters is what we do in this Legislature. We need to work toward not only rebuilding and improving Yukonís economy ó and we are seeing the results because we are doing what we said we would do. It also matters that we debate the issues important to Yukoners ó including the economy. And that is what we are fully prepared to do.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government bills.
Bill No. 61: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 61, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Duncan.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I move that Bill No. 61, entitled Electoral District Boundaries Act, 2002, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Premier that Bill No. 61, entitled Electoral District Boundaries Act, 2002, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present this bill for second reading. This legislation, if passed, will implement the proposals of the final report of the Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission as tabled by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on April 4, 2002.
The commissionís mandate was to review the existing electoral districts and to make proposals to the Legislative Assembly as to boundaries, number and names of the electoral districts of the Yukon.
The Electoral District Boundaries Commission was appointed on March 14, 2001 and carried out its work pursuant to the Elections Act, as amended by this Legislature in November 2000.
Mr. Speaker, this is doing what we as a government committed to do, and what we as a party committed to do during the last election campaign, and as was previously discussed in the last Legislature.
Providing for this review, which is the fifth to be carried out in the Yukon, met a commitment of this government to ensure that there is balanced and fair representation for Yukon citizens in the Yukon Legislative Assembly. This is a commitment that we made in our election platform and in the Speech from the Throne in October of 2000.
As a government, we are doing what we said we would do. There has been substantial demographic change in both rural and urban areas of the Yukon since the boundaries were last adjusted in 1992.
The commissionís ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. The Premier has the floor and has been interrupted by the people across the floor. Please continue.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The commissionís review was conducted independently of government. Retired Yukon Supreme Court Justice, the hon. Harry Maddison, was appointed chair of the commission. Judge Maddison was also chair of the 1984, 1977 and 1974 Yukon electoral district boundaries reviews.
Also appointed as commissioners were three Yukon residents selected by three political parties represented in the Legislature at the time of their appointments. They were Patricia Cunning, Lois Moorcroft, and Doug Phillips. The Chief Electoral Officer of the Yukon, Mr. Patrick Michael, also served as a member. On behalf of all Yukoners and on behalf of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, I would like to thank all of these individuals for their work on our behalf.
Following its appointment just over a year ago, the commission conducted well-advertised meetings throughout the Yukon to encourage public input on the review. An interim report was presented to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on August 29, 2001. The commission then held Yukon-wide public hearings on the interim reportís recommendations, as required under the Elections Act.
The commission made several changes to its draft proposals as a result of the public hearings, and submitted its final report to the Speaker on January 29, 2002, for distribution to members. The report was released publicly at the same time. The commission has distributed the report widely throughout the Yukon. It is also accessible on the commissionís Web site, which can be linked from the Yukon Legislative Assembly elections office Web site.
As the final report states, the commission considered two important guiding principles: effective representation and voter parity, as well as the mandatory factors set out in the Elections Act, section 4(19). In terms of the guiding principles, the commission considered the accepted deviation within an electoral district of plus or minus 25 percent from the average number of electors ó that is, the number of electors in the Yukon divided by the number of districts. It also allowed for a larger deviation in some ridings, where doing so was not considered to diminish the electorsí access to effective representation.
This bill is similar to the existing Electoral District Boundaries Act by setting out, in alphabetical order, the names and boundary descriptions of each district.
I would like to summarize the commissionís proposals, which form the basis of the legislation. I would recommend that those interested in this bill view the commissionís final report for details on the proposed districts.
The report recommended that there be 18 electoral districts in the Yukon ó one more than currently exists. This change, along with the other proposals, will result in an equal number of urban and rural districts and more evenly distribute electors within ridings. The nine urban ridings constitute about 57 percent of the electors in the Yukon, while the nine rural districts constitute about 43 percent of Yukon electors.
In the Whitehorse area, the proposed ridings are: Copperbelt, Whitehorse West, Porter Creek Centre, Porter Creek North, Porter Creek South, Riverdale North, Riverdale South, Whitehorse Centre and McIntyre-Takhini. This legislation will create the new district of Copperbelt as a result of the divisions of Whitehorse West into two districts and include part of Copper Ridge, Granger, Hillcrest, Pineridge and other residential areas along the Alaska Highway.
Also proposed is the new riding of Porter Creek Centre from the division of the Porter Creek area into three districts from two.
In other changes, the Whitehorse subdivision of Crestview has been moved into the proposed electoral district of Porter Creek North.
The Riverdale area will be restored to two electoral districts ó Riverdale North and Riverdale South ó that are bordered by the Yukon River and the city limits.
The existing Electoral District of Riverside will be split between the proposed electoral districts of Whitehorse Centre and Riverdale North, with the Riverdale and Wickstrom Road portions added to Riverdale North and the downtown portion added to Whitehorse Centre.
The existing boundary of McIntyre-Takhini will be changed to locate the entire proposed Electoral District above the airport reserve escarpment. This will result in the Marwell industrial subdivision being placed in the proposed electoral district of Whitehorse Centre.
Outside of Whitehorse, the proposed districts include: Klondike, Kluane, Lake Laberge, Mayo-Tatchun, Mount Lorne, Pelly-Nisutlin, Southern Lakes, Vuntut Gwitchin and Watson Lake. These reflect boundary changes to several ridings and the creation of two new electoral districts.
The proposed new electoral district of Southern Lakes includes the communities of Carcross, Marsh Lake and Tagish. The proposed new electoral district of Pelly-Nisutlin includes the communities of Faro and Little Salmon, along with some communities in the existing Electoral District of Ross River-Southern Lakes; namely Johnsons Crossing, Ross River and Teslin.
For the existing Electoral District of Mayo-Tatchun, there are some changes to its western and southeastern boundaries, slightly reducing the size of the district. These changes reflect proposed changes to the neighbouring districts of Klondike and the proposed electoral district of Pelly-Nisutlin.
The size of the existing Electoral District of Mount Lorne is reduced by including the Marsh Lake area in the proposed electoral district of Southern Lakes. For the district of Lake Laberge, boundary changes are proposed to include electors in the Ibex Valley area east of the Takhini River. The Electoral District of Vuntut Gwitchin has been retained as it currently exists.
The other electoral districts remain largely unchanged, with some changes to reflect adjacent boundary adjustments. For example, the existing Electoral District of Klondike has been retained with a minor change to part of its eastern boundary, where it crosses the north Klondike Highway.
For the Kluane district, there is a slight change by moving the eastern boundary of the existing district to the Takhini River bridge.
The Electoral District of Watson Lake is retained with a minor change to its northern boundary resulting from the proposed neighbouring electoral district of Pelly-Nisutlin.
The proposed legislation also includes several consequential amendments to the Legislative Assembly Act to reflect the changes to electoral districts. The bill will also repeal the existing Electoral District Boundaries Act.
I for one am looking forward to a free and open debate on these proposals to the Yukonís electoral districts. This legislation is something that, during the last debate on the Elections Act, was an issue. Changing electoral districts and electoral boundaries is a difficult issue and, hence, it has not been done save for these five times in the Yukon. It is difficult work, and we are deeply appreciative of the efforts of former Justice Maddison, the Chief Electoral Officer and the three representatives of the political parties. They travelled extensively and listened to what Yukoners had to say. The results of their consultation are reflected in the legislation that is before the House and in the final report that was tabled. They have done good work on our behalf. Electoral boundaries really hit home to all of us when we are doing our door-to-door visits with constituents or during an election campaign when we realize that, in Whitehorse for example, one side of a particular bridge used to vote in one riding and the other side didnít. There was more than one candidate for more than one political party that has been embarrassed on occasion by not knowing the boundaries. So it is an important discussion. It is important that there be a free debate in this Legislature, that individuals not feel hampered by a particular party view but they should absolutely reflect the views of Yukoners and their constituents.
I would encourage members to do that, as I have heard the views of the residents in Porter Creek South on these particular changes and have examined them in light of some of the official community planning and the thought process that went into the Electoral District Boundaries Act.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat and commend this particular bill to all members for discussion. Thank you.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I will be brief in my comments. Iíd like to thank the Premier for finally bringing this act forward. Itís one that we would have liked to have seen debated in the House and talked about and asked questions about, and we would like to see this act go into Committee of the Whole for that very purpose.
Weíre certainly going to be having many questions in that regard.
We have concerns with it. As the official opposition, as a party, we have spoken to the drafts that were brought forward in the public. We have gone to meetings, we have talked to many people about the boundaries and possible outcomes, and we have also made our points. A lot of that was reflected in some of the changes that we see today.
Itís a very difficult one for communities to deal with because, right now, rural Yukon feels that they need more representation in the House. They feel that they have some uniqueness. Old Crow is one of them. There are other communities that would like to be represented as a community in this House, and there is a lot of discussion in that regard that was put to the people dealing with the travelling show to the communities, and I would say they had a very tough task of trying to put something together. We recognize that on this side of the House, and weíre hoping that this could have been debated and brought to the floor so that we can get on with other business, simply because right now, whatís hanging over the Yukon, is whether or not weíre going to go to the polls, whether or not the Liberal government is going to call an election tomorrow or the day after.
This needs to be dealt with because, if that were case and we went to an election, we would be dealing with the old boundaries, and it could be challenged in court, costing the Yukon taxpayers a whole lot more dollars than we expected it would.
So, Mr. Speaker, we would like to ask some questions in Committee of the Whole, and weíd like to see all members of this House, if they would like to speak, speak briefly and have it debated in Committee of the Whole.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, itís about time. Itís about time that this bill came forward. The kind of initiatives that the commission undertook to review the electoral boundaries here in the Yukon is a tough type of situation, and I guess itís difficult in that there wasnít the appearance of a political will to address the issue. That was evident in the previous government, and it appears to be somewhat evident in this government, because this should have been done quite some time ago, Mr. Speaker.
The commission had an extremely tough time, as evidenced by the initial report and their final report and the contrasts between the two, and a compromise was reached. The compromise is going to be a tough sell in some quarters but, by and large, it appears to be somewhat reasonable. The tough sell is that, instead of calling it Whitehorse, we call it urban ridings, with just over 50 percent of the total population in those ridings, and another nine ridings representing rural Yukon.
As I said, it was a tough decision that was reached and itís one that I feel I can support. It maintains the situation in Old Crow, the status quo in that community, which I believe should be maintained, and Iím pleased to see that.
Now, what Iím encouraging this government to do is to move speedily forward on this bill. Iíd like to see it through Committee with an open and frank discussion from all quarters. I would like to see a free vote in the Legislature on this bill, and I would like to see this bill be given assent at the earliest possible opportunity.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that earlier today I tabled a similar act, the Electoral District Boundaries Act, because I believe that there might be some political posturing underway on this act ó that the opposition is going to be held to ransom and this bill would only go through at the end of all of the legislation or not go through at all, which I do not find acceptable.
The fact is that the Liberals, through their own lack of leadership, are now in a minority position and they appear to be blaming the opposition for their loss of a majority status here in this Legislature.
Furthermore, it appears that there is a little bit of political posturing going on in the Liberal house that would see an election called only if they can blame the opposition for causing that election.
That shows the lack of leadership on their part. So Iím encouraging the Liberal government of the day to move very quickly on this bill. Iíd like to see it in Committee, a free vote, third and final reading and, if itís the will of this House to pass it into law, that the Commissioner assent to this piece of legislation immediately, and that, if it does happen, because of a total frustration on the part of the Liberal government ó that the writ is dropped and an election is underway ó weíll be looking at an election fought on the basis of a much more equal representation, that Yukoners will be given the opportunity to have, more or less, an equal vote across the Yukon, as they rightly should.
One only has to look at the existing ridings, the existing members, and see who would have the political advantage of going to the polls under the old set of rules. Now, it wouldnít take much of an Einstein, Mr. Speaker, to see who has the advantage, and that, I suggest, is where the political posturing is coming in.
So, while there are concerns out there with respect to urban and rural and a balance, I believe, by and large, that the commission should be complimented for reaching a reasonable compromise.
It must be pointed out that there was all-party representation on that commission, Mr. Speaker. I know when it visited my community they had to speak to themselves because there was really no one there who was questioning what they were doing in the Klondike. Having attended a meeting in Watson Lake, the opposite was the truth. At the end of the day, the recognition that the initial report had to be addressed and was subsequently changed gave credence to the position taken in south-eastern Yukon by its residents.
So I look forward to open and frank debate on this bill. I donít want to hear the Member for Faro go on for three and a half hours. I know that he can, and I would encourage just a quick debate on this and a free vote.
Letís move forward and see that itís in place in case an election is called because, if an election occurs in the next little while ó in the next month or so ó it will probably be under the old rules without this bill being passed. Thatís going to lead to a challenge and probably the expense of a second election. We know that this Liberal government doesnít mind spending money on itself but the issue is to spend money wisely so that it will benefit all Yukoners, not just one political party.
The basis of democracy is one person/one vote. The majority rules. Letís not try to reinvent the wheel in this area as the Liberals are trying to do in so many other areas, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Speaker order in the House generally is the government, the official opposition, the third party. Iím going to go to the government now and ask the Member for Faro to take the floor.
Hon. Mr. McLachlan: I noticed with interest that when the leader of the official opposition got up in reply to the Premierís speech, he postulated about fixing the problem and they would like to ask a lot of questions. I want to ask the leader of the official opposition: where were they in 1998, 1999 and 2000 when the problem could have been fixed? They were nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be heard, and when they did come up with a formula it was a cockeyed thing based on a census that would occur sometime in the future.
Itís interesting, Mr. Speaker, that this is the side that brought the bill forward, when that is the side that had a chance two years ago and did nothing.
I also note, Mr. Speaker, that itís really interesting. Itís very obvious that the NDP are in a quandary as to a number of things to do on the bill.
I went to a review one night in the Gold Rush Inn when staff from the official opposition leaderís office got up and said something exactly different from what the leader of the official opposition said. So itís clear thereís no direction over there on what do on the electoral boundaries and on which way to respond.
Mr. Speaker, I have been at Faro in one forum or another with electoral interests ever since the first election was held there back in 1970. At that time, we were represented by the Member for Watson Lake, and I think a number of people in Faro would really scratch their heads at the possibility of that happening now ó a Watson Lake rep.
Four years later, in the 1974 election, the population in Faro had grown little. It had grown enough that we did not have to be represented by the Member for Faro. Communities of Ross River and Faro were drawn together in the 1974 election and the riding was called Pelly River. I know that the present drawing of the boundaries does cause some problems for some people in Ross River. There are those around who can remember back to the 1974 election but there probably arenít a lot. And some, in fact, have now become the voting age of 18 since that riding change happened.
In 1978, weíd grown up even further and a burgeoning population at Faro meant that we could have our own riding unto ourselves. That was the same year that the territory grew to 16 ridings. Faro had its own riding in every election since then: 1982, 1985 and 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2000. That is until we see the situation that we face today. Every time the mine stopped production there was always another lifeline thrown our way that meant we would see an immediate influx of population and the chance to keep the same electoral boundaries. With the 1998 closure and two or three years of swinging in the wind, it became inevitable this time there wouldnít be any lifelines. We were on our own. I realize that 250 voters is not enough to support a riding on its own when so many others have four or five times the population of voters, and it is inevitable that we would have to be tied with someone else. The only question was going to be whether we went north, south, east or west.
I myself implored the commission to consider the fact that the distance between centres was a long one and the voting numbers should be correspondingly reduced, the idea being simply that it took far more effort and far more time to see everyone once in the rural areas than it did in the more heavily populated urban areas of Yukon. Thatís the situation that the voters of Faro now find themselves faced with. The electoral numbers are in the range of 800 to 810. Thatís far greater than the 250 Faro presently has, but fewer than the 1,000-plus average that is the quotient in so many other ridings. But so it should be. The mileage is a lot more now, but itís on an even keel with two or three other of the rural ridings.
Mr. Speaker, Iíll be voting, albeit with a heavy heart on this one, when you lose something that youíve had since 1978. But I will be voting in favour of the change because I realize there are no other options left for us. However, on the positive side, all the infrastructure is still left at Faro to support a larger population base, so perhaps in the year 2012, when the boundaries will be reviewed again, and I shall be running again for the fourteenth time, weíll get our own separate riding back again.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the government for the applause. Iíd like to also thank the members for some levity this afternoon, because we should all appreciate that this should not be a political exercise.
We should be doing whatís right for the territory and determine the boundaries, and a number of the important issues ó such as the number of MLAs in this Legislature ó and whatís best for the territory.
Now, I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the boundaries commission members. This certainly was not an easy undertaking. It travelled to virtually every community in the territory, talked to many people, listened very intently to what they had to say. It considered that input along with parameters of the exercise and developed both a draft report and a final report. That certainly is a lot of hard work.
The draft report, of course, contained recommendations that were later changed in the final report. That came after an area of significant concern to many Yukoners, and that was the riding of Tu Cho, which extended the riding of Watson Lake up to include the Ross River area. The commission heard some serious concerns from Watson Lake residents, Ross River residents and those people along the road. The commission considered it significant enough to be a driving force in substantial change to its draft report. That change included adding an extra MLA into the configuration and reconfiguring the ridings to allow for a separate riding in Watson Lake.
With that change comes good and bad, I feel. Overall, it resolves the problem with respect to the Tu Cho riding controversy.
It also adds another MLA to this Legislature at a time of a shrinking Yukon population. To that, Mr. Speaker, I must express some concern about how this, again, is an increase to the rising cost of government.
On the other hand, it allows what should be more effective representation, because the constituent-to-MLA ratio is decreased, and therefore one would presume each MLA would have more time to deal with each constituent. So thereís a balancing there. But, moreover, I think the point is that it resolved the dispute between Watson Lake and Ross River.
In the Kluane riding, there are pros and cons to the final report decision, as well. The big difference in my riding is the exclusion of the Ibex region. The Ibex region has about 150 voters who are affected by this decision, and that makes up about 15 to 20 percent of the total voters in the Kluane region.
For your information, Mr. Speaker, this Ibex region includes all residents along the Alaska Highway between the boundary for the City of Whitehorse and the Takhini River bridge, which is about 50 kilometres west of Whitehorse. It also includes all side roads in that span, such as the Old Alaska Highway, which has many residents, the Echo Valley Road, Loweyís Lane, which runs off it, and Jackson Road, to name a few.
Well, Mr. Speaker, Iím grateful to have represented all the residents who live in those areas for the past five and a half years, and I can assure you that I will continue to represent them until at least the next election, presuming this act is passed in this House.
So, even when this act is passed, Mr. Speaker, in no way should those residents feel they are without an MLA, because I will do whatever I can to represent them.
Many of the people in the Ibex area have become friends of mine during the past five or so years, and I enjoy talking to and meeting with each and every person there. Many of those people include small business owner/operators in the contracting fields, in the field of tourism, cottage industry, and several of them are involved in agriculture, both growing crops and ranching. There are also several public service employees, including employees of the City of Whitehorse, retired people and many others.
I have also enjoyed working with the Hamlet of Ibex Valley and certainly will miss that experience, Mr. Speaker. Learning about issues of importance to the area of Ibex is something I will miss.
Now, people I have talked to in the Ibex area really seem to question the need to be excluded from the Kluane riding. Many of them feel they werenít given an opportunity to express their views on this major change.
In retrospect, one will find that is true because, in the draft report, Ibex was part of the Kluane riding. Then, out of the blue, in the final report, it wasnít. And was there an opportunity to really provide input after the final report? Not really. No, there wasnít. In fact, it is sad to report that there are still some residents in the area who are not aware of this major change. The people I have talked to who are quite concerned about this change really feel there was a requirement for the commission to collect their input and reconsider, but I also note the commission has been disbanded, I believe. And of course the act is before us in this Legislature so it is too late for the government to go and consult on something that should have been done before now.
One of the other things I heard is regret that theyíll become part of the Lake Laberge riding where there is a Liberal MLA. I have assured them that that may not be the case after the next election. So there is certainly hope for these residents and Iíll try to get that word out to provide them with a soft landing for this bad news.
Now with respect to the Kluane riding, there is a good aspect to this. It is something I pointed out in my submission to the commission. And that is, the Kluane region, as identified in the Kluane land use plan, extends from the Alaska border on the Alaska Highway to the Takhini River bridge.
If the commission were to consider a riding that was purely the Kluane riding, then it should look at moving the eastern boundary inward to the location of the Takhini River bridge. I note, Mr. Speaker, the boundaries commission was listening, and it ended up doing exactly that. What this does for residents who are living west and north of the bridge is it provides them with an undiluted voice and representation in this House when it comes to deciding how Kluane residents view the issues. That was a concern before, when the boundaries were extended right to the City of Whitehorse. So, in terms of the Kluane riding, itís more of a pure representation.
Some of the political issues were raised by the leader of the third party, and I find myself in the rare position of agreeing with the Member for Klondike on some of those; that is, how itís rather despicable that the government had to be embarrassed into discussing the electoral boundaries commission report and the subsequent act in this Legislature. For weeks now, Mr. Speaker, weíve been waiting for this opportunity to debate this bill and determine its outcome, yet the Liberal government found it necessary to play gamesmanship with the scheduling, Mr. Speaker, which led to yet further speculation on the outcome of the confused political situation in the territory.
Again, I think that reflects the poor leadership of the government opposite, Mr. Speaker. Not only is the government failing to deal with issues of utmost concern, such as how to improve the economy, but itís fuelling the confusion with many Yukoners out there who are trying to fit their own personal situation into the context of the political situation in the territory. Right now I think we can probably all agree that it is very unclear. With respect to the timing of the next election, under what regulations the election should be called, what ridings, and so on, Mr. Speaker ó nobody really knows the answers to those questions. Many Yukoners are very concerned. I can see the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes is in full agreement that it is a very confusing situation.
Now, the potential for this bill dying on the Order Paper is something else I wanted to address because we heard the Education minister allude to the possibility of the Education Act dying on the Order Paper, a.k.a. the Liberals taking the easy way out, just like they did with unloading the Yukon protected areas strategy and the nomination of goal 1 areas by their target date.
As we heard today in Question Period ó the likelihood of the Grey Mountain Primary School getting dumped off the agenda as well ó it appeared that the electoral boundaries act was also heading for the same fate. I have had some time to think about that, Mr. Speaker, and it doesnít reflect very well on the intentions of this government to do whatís best for Yukoners.
It really puts pressure on us in the opposition during votes, especially budget votes, which can have a bearing on the next election, or confidence bills, as was the case on Thursday. It really places undue and unwarranted pressure on us in opposition to think of the situation Yukon would be thrown into should it be forced to have an election before the passage of this Electoral District Boundaries Act, 2002. I spoke about that in my budget reply speech, Mr. Speaker, in that the courts could be faced with a challenge from any Yukoner who believes the one person/one vote principle is being abused because of the voter disparity situation between some of the existing ridings ó for instance, Whitehorse West versus some of the rural ridings with lower populations. The vote ratio there is actually more than 2:1, closer to 3:1, between the ridings.
This was the case in the Northwest Territories, I believe, where there was a redrafted boundaries act that increased the amount of Yellowknife seats by three and reduced the rural seats by a couple. Mr. Speaker, the fallout from a court challenge to an election would be severe, and it could happen before the election even takes place. As soon as a writ is dropped without this act being passed, somebody could approach the courts and challenge it and, like I said in the budget reply, they would be holding up the final report in one hand to the judge, questioning why the Yukon is in a situation facing an election when the government of the day had hurried up this boundaries commission report to avoid court challenges such as the one before the judge on that day.
So it really didnít make sense to have an election before this act has passed. Yet we in the opposition are faced with that dilemma until this act has passed.
On Thursday, the Liberal government found it necessary to declare the five bills dealing with renewal as confidence bills. The significance of that word "confidence" brings the situation on par with a budget bill, meaning that if any of those acts are defeated, the government would have virtually no choice but to drop the writ and call an election.
So why were we put into that type of a situation without the passage of this act first? Good question. Why wasnít this act brought in at the beginning of this sitting instead of at a point when this sitting is more than half over? Good question. The act was prepared long ago. It is based on a final report of an independent commission. There should be no changes between the final report and this act in front of us. Yet this act was delayed by weeks, and as I said, it further fuelled the confusion about the political landscape in the territory.
Speaker: Order please. The member has two minutes to conclude.
Mr. McRobb: I think Iíll wrap it up by saying that with some regret, because I will be losing many friends in the Ibex region, I will be supporting this act because it is best for the Yukon. And it protects rural representation in this Legislature, which as you will recall was one of the main concerns we expressed one and a half years ago, I believe, when we dealt with the Elections Act.
So, Mr. Speaker, I will be supporting this in the vote, and I look forward to discussion in Committee.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The plot thickens. The member opposite, while sitting in his office having deep thoughts, has constructed the "what-if" land. What if we had actually brought this legislation forward; what-if land ó what if we had got more people to vote for us in the last election, then weíd still be government; what-if land ó what if we had gone and worked our ridings and worked for our constituents so hard that there would be no question whatsoever that we would instantly be voted back into office.
Mr. Speaker, the people on this side of the House will be voting freely on this legislation that we brought forward. Mr. Speaker, when I sat on the opposite side of the House, this legislation had the opportunity to be brought forward many times by the previous government. It was not brought forward. The inequities that are being pointed out in this legislation could have been righted by the previous Yukon Party government, as well. It didnít happen. Mr. Speaker, finally, decades later, things are being fixed, and itís not "what if", Mr. Speaker; weíre doing it. As the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Riverdale South, I rise in support of the recommendations put forward by the Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission. This side of the House will be voting freely on the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike says, "Oh, youíre being allowed?" Well, of course we are. Under the leadership of Pat Duncan, this legislation has come forward.
All members on this side of the House agreed that this is something we would do when we were in government, and we did it. It took a good long time to come forward with the good recommendations that came forward from the all-party committee, but we did it. Previous governments did not.
It has always been important to me that constituents have fair and effective representation. In opposition and since being elected to government, we have supported a review of the electoral boundaries. In fact, our government did what we said we were going to do. We made sure that the timing of any future electoral boundary review was legislated, unlike previous governments.
An electoral boundary review now must take place after every second general election. This will ensure that as the population of the Yukon changes ó and it does ó the size of the ridings will be a good fit for the number of people in the riding.
Voters will be able to count on effective representation ó now and in the future.
The report of the commission outlines that the Riverdale area will be divided into two electoral districts, similar to those that were in place from 1978 to 1992. What this means is that the constituency of Riverdale South will increase by just about 30 percent.
I welcome all new constituents to the riding. For those residents whom I donít already know, I look forward to getting to know them and their families. I will continue to work hard representing the Riverdale constituents ó the constituents of Riverdale South ó for many, many, many years to come.
Mr. Roberts: Iím going to take a different twist. At one time when I belonged to a party, I felt that maybe that was the only way to go in small-time Yukon with 30,000 people.
Now that I have had that experience right on the front fire of being in a party and looking at how government operates, I have changed my mind.
Mr. Speaker, Iíd really like to thank all the commission people for doing their hard work, but I would have appreciated it if we could have had more alternatives.
What the results of this commission have done is just support the party system. It makes all the party people happy because it gives them what they want, and Iím not sure, Mr. Speaker, that is going to turn into good representation and what I call honest representation of individuals in each of our ridings. And Iíll explain why I think this is a problem. In a party, you have what is called party discipline, and if you have very dominant party people, that tends to be the message thatís out there, not necessarily what the message of the constituents is or of the various locations in the Yukon.
So I believe that party politics in the small environment seeds a lot of discontent. I believe that party politics in our small communities divides family; it divides community, Mr. Speaker; it divides friends. It has done that here in Whitehorse, because we stand up for different views and we publicly want to air them.
I really believe, Mr. Speaker, that we have a major problem with how the public out there wants to see their representation, how they want to see us represent them. They want us to represent them honestly, without sort of looking at what the party discipline would be. I believe that this is not going to change the issue at all. We are too small. Thirty thousand people ó thatís one street in any major city, and we act like itís New York City.
I believe that all MLAs should have equal input into legislation. I believe that all issues should be debated on this floor. I believe that is what Yukoners want. They want openness, honesty and transparency. They want us to be what we are. It should not be in the hands of just a few, and that is the problem with party politics. If you have a very dominant party executive or you have very dominant party individuals, it tends to go that route. Iíve seen that over the last 35 years. Not on everything but in some aspects of it, and I donít think that is healthy. If Yukoners are very upset about politics in the Yukon, itís because I think the party-politic model has not been open or as open as it should be. We know each other all the time. We walk with each other. We shop with each other. We do all those things together and yet here we are trying to philosophically go a different route because we believe that is the way Yukoners want us to go, when quite often Yukoners donít.
I believe, as the Member for Kluane has mentioned, that Iíve heard this from a lot of people. We are adding another MLA when the population has dropped by 2,000 people. Whether it is in the city or the rural areas, I think Yukoners want good representation but that has to be open; it has to be the individual. That is why people vote. They vote for people because you represent a certain point of view. You represent yourself; you represent how the people believe you can take that to the floor here. I believe that a lot of Yukoners are shaking their heads about adding another member at this point. The cost of government goes up again. If anything we should have gone the other way.
Porter Creek North is one of the larger ridings. In the past two years, I have been to every home in that riding, some twice. And, if it is one of the larger ridings, and even though I was very involved in government one time as a minister and I could do that, then obviously our numbers still are not that disproportionate.
They are not. Itís not like we have 10,000 or 20,000 people in each of our ridings ó obviously you would never get around. But, when you have 600, 800, 900 people ó and these are usually paired people because most are couples, so you end up going to maybe 400 or 500 homes. That can be done at least twice during the mandate.
Iím going to feel rather sad about losing a good part of Porter Creek. I know almost every home there; I know almost every child, almost every dog and every cat, because Iíve been there so often. I donít believe that moving toward adding more members at this point is where we want to go.
All I believe is that this review keeps the party faithful and the individuals in these parties very happy, because itís a status quo, and thatís why weíre probably not going to get much of an argument about whether itís voted down.
Iím going to listen to the arguments over the next ó when it comes to third reading. Itís going to take a lot to move me toward voting for it, because I really feel that some of those issues are out there, and I think the public is asking those same questions. Is this a self-serving kind of review to keep the parties where theyíre at? Iíd like to see us look at government in a different way. Iíd like to see us involve Yukoners more in the decision making, and I donít believe we can do that through the party system. There may be some other ways we can do that. I think we need a good debate and a good discussion in the territory as to how Yukoners want to see themselves governed.
I know I hear, quite often, that thereís no other way; weíve had the party system, therefore we give up, and weíll just carry on with the party system. I think there are other ways, but we have to have time and discussion and debate to look at some possible alternatives. Even in the party system, there could be a modification of how the parties operate.
I think we have tried to look at how we could be more holistic here in decision making. We have a major issue with the economy. The opposition has asked the government to sit down with us and look at how we can pull together some real initiatives so that all of us are speaking from the same page.
It shouldnít be just the government that believes that they have the almighty power to do what they believe is right. It should be all of us pulling together. We are a small population, Mr. Speaker. And I am very disappointed in the fact that we canít sit down and positively look at creative solutions.
I believe we can. We all want the same thing. The government wants exactly what the opposition wants, and I believe as individuals we get into politics because we want the best for our constituents. But I sometimes believe that party politics gets in the way and that creates more walls than it brings down. I think Yukoners want to see a true change, and I donít believe the continuation of what weíve been doing for the last number of years, just because it seems to be the model in Canada, is the way we should go here in the Yukon. Iím not saying we dramatically change it completely to something else, but Iíd like to have that exercise and that debate with Yukoners. Iíd like Yukoners to be involved, because theyíre the most critical of what we do here. A lot of times itís because of what we do or we donít do. They need an opportunity to look at the question: are there other ways of governing. Because I can tell you right now, many of them are frustrated with how and what they see happening here. They believe we can work together. They believe we should be more consensus building; there should be more sharing of our talents, and there should be more openness in the discussion.
So at this point, Mr. Speaker, I am going to reserve where I am going with this. But right now, itís not very positive because I see two major problems. One is adding more MLAs at a time when the population doesnít merit it and the second one is that it contributes to the party line in the sense that everybody in the parties is happy with it because, of course, it doesnít affect them. I believe that we have some work to do here, so Iím anxious for third reading to come.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Electoral District Boundaries Act, 2002 is one that I support in general with one very strong concern. I appreciate the difficult task faced by the members of the boundary review commission. I thank them for their hard work. They responded to public concern following their preliminary report by making several changes. It is the legislation arising from their final report that weíre dealing with today.
My concern is that the final report of the commission would see the size of the House increased by one member. I am disappointed with this finding. I do not believe we need one more MLA in the Legislative Assembly. At the same time, I recognize the necessity to equalize the population of the ridings as much as possible ó Vuntut Gwitchin being the exception. I wish the commission had not had to recommend an additional member. I had preferred the preliminary report in that case, which recommended one less member ó 16 in all.
I believe that the rural/urban balance in that case was appropriate ó eight and eight ó and the same balance is maintained in the final report ó nine and nine.
The Premier, in her address earlier this afternoon, described the changes in the boundaries of the various ridings, so I wonít go into that again. For my riding, Lake Laberge, I believe the change proposed in the final report is a good one. Crestview, the MacKenzie mobile home court and part of Porter Creek belong in an urban riding rather than a rural one. They belong with the new Porter Creek North. Lake Laberge is a rural riding, despite the insistence of the opposition that it is not. It is more rural in feeling and in fact than downtown Dawson or Watson Lake.
The country residential subdivisions of MacPherson and Hidden Valley have more in common with people just outside the Whitehorse boundary than they do with the urban residents in Crestview, for example. The addition of Forest View, Two Mile of the Mayo Road, and the Ibex Valley area to the Lake Laberge riding is a positive move. The Ibex move was specifically requested by many residents who have felt ignored in recent years.
I note with interest the overwhelming support for the move of Ibex to Laberge in the NDPís own survey that they tabled last week. The Member for Kluane appears not to have seen that.
Assuming that this act passes the House, the existing boundaries will remain in place until the next election is called and the areas that will be moving out of Laberge are still very much a part of the riding until that time and will be represented as such.
Mr. Speaker, with the concern I outlined earlier about adding a member, which I do not agree with, I am prepared to support this legislation as I believe it is beneficial for the riding of Lake Laberge.
Mr. McLarnon: I guess why Iím rising today is to talk about why Iím not supporting this bill, and itís based on the questions not asked of the boundaries commission. There was no question asked whether we wanted ó and we know already what the universal Yukon response would be to, "Do you want more politicians?" Had that been the framework and had we asked that question, "Do you want more", we certainly know we wouldnít be here today discussing 18 ridings. We certainly know that the Yukon right now has probably the highest representation basis in the entire country. To improve on that is noble, but to do it at the added cost to the Yukon government and added cost to the Yukon taxpayers is neither responsible nor demanded by our public in any way.
The overwhelming response I have received from my constituents is, "Vote against it because it adds politicians." Many constituents point to one of the most popular laws in Harrisí Ontario legacy. His most popular law was entitled "the politician reduction act". It was a formation of municipal councils making large cities ó at the same time, overwhelmingly popular in Ontario, because I hate to tell members of this Assembly weíre not popular people with the public.
What weíre here to do, what we could have done in this electoral forum, is increase some confidence in our government that we are actually reflecting some point of view that they have. What we see here instead is a patchwork quilt, putting numbers together that donít represent the Yukon Territory in many of the ridings, in common views or objectives or anything. What we see is a patchwork quilt saying this number fits here, this number fits here and this number fits here, not taking into account the social and economic needs of these people in the ridings, not taking into account language, culture, background ó nothing. The numbers fit ó that is all we see here.
It is probably what I consider ó if we are doing a full electoral boundary review ó the smallest and tightest parameters that you could possibly do it under without considering other questions about whether needs fit, if people understand each other, or if these people even have a common political need to be able to effectively be represented by an MLA.
When we go down to the Canadian Parliamentary Association, members know across the way and tell them how many people we actually represent, and we arenít treated exactly the way we should be. You guys are juniors and youíll grow up sooner or later. People donít believe and canít understand how you can be representing and winning and sitting in a legislative assembly with under 400 votes. This to them and to parliamentarians OSutside will mark the Yukon as nothing other than the place where we play politics. We certainly donít represent politics here.
Now, our numbers, of course, have to reflect population and what we do have here, but increasing it flies completely in the face of any logic that we can possibly explain to our constituents.
Increasing it by one is a complete waste. It is only adding fat to the government fire ó adding fat. Iíll explain this position.
The explanation is very simple in the way that the Legislature works, Mr. Speaker, just to get this on the record. You always have to have as many ministers in the House as the other people can defeat so, in a 17-person Legislature ó letís do the math ó the maximum number of ministers you can have is eight, and the reason why is because then you have nine people who can defeat a Cabinet.
Now, with 18 people in the Legislature, your magic number is still eight. You donít even get to increase the productivity of your Cabinet through this number. It adds the cost of an MLA, approximately $100,000 more, if they have served a long time, with pension, plus the staffing, and itís nothing more.
I also question the fact that ó and letís face it ó three political parties sat on this council; three political parties with people working in them, who have their own industry called "politics". Increasing it served the ends of the political parties, because now you have more politicians, now you have more political infrastructure around to support more politicians, so the costs go up again.
If we see in our government an unstoppable growth, something that we need to get hold of so the Yukon economy can start going ó and letís tie this to the Yukon economy, because the more the government intervenes, the less private industry wants to, or can. We are now creating roles for those people to come in. We are now creating even more government. Eighteen is not the answer; 18 is not the way to go.
Eighteen is the reason Iím not voting for this bill. Mr. Speaker, there are other ways. There are other questions that needed to be asked at this review. We are encouraging people in the Legislature to see it our way, to send this back out for consultation, ask the proper questions to the Yukon, make it a non-party representative government, and bring it to Yukoners, bring the questions that they want to see. For the people on the Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission, we honour you and we respect the work. We understand they had to go to some fairly hairy meetings and probably do a lot of the work the politicians never want to do. It was easy to bring it to a non-partisan group that way, non-elected.
But we do have some problems in the way the questions were asked and what questions were asked. And I am asking that other people see that the fact of the matter is that we have flawed consultation in the sense that the questions werenít asked. Proof of this is, when the three independents here do a road show through all the communities this summer and just bring the question up of whether party politics work in this Yukon Territory, Iím putting dollars to donuts in this House that weíll put more people into our meetings on that question than the entire electoral boundaries review did on theirs.
Thatís the question that Yukoners want to answer. They donít care, really, how many people in their riding, if the street over there votes with them or doesnít vote with them, as it is in my riding. What they do care about is whether the system works. The Electoral District Boundaries Commission didnít answer that question, didnít even pose it.
So if you really want to get Yukoners talking about reform and fairness in our government, ask the real question: do party politics have a role here any more in this territory? Is there another solution?
Those are the questions that should be asked when we go out and ask Yukoners about what theyíd like to see from their government.
As far as this bill goes, it does one good thing. It finally brings downtown into its own riding. The people who live in low-cost housing across the street on Lambert from the people who live in low-cost housing on the other side, have no problem with the division of their riding. They would like to be represented together but, before, they were represented by two different MLAs on the same issue of why they canít get out of low-cost housing, what programs are being put in place so that they can break the poverty cycle theyíre in, and they didnít care if they were represented by one MLA or two. They just wanted one who would do it.
Now downtown, at least, will have a common voice. It adds new aspects to my riding. It enforces some of the aspects. Iím able to happily encompass many of the leaders in the community on heritage issues who have stayed downtown because they believe in preserving an active downtown core, and I love those people and Iíll be able to talk to them at their door on common issues.
It brings together people who are, for the most part, disaffected and under the poverty line in many cases; it brings together and unites a lot of peopleís voices on social issues. One MLA who pays attention to that in the downtown core will be of benefit to the Yukon. I am absolutely sure, though, if we went through the discussions on electoral reform itself, rather than just gerrymandering the ridings, what weíd probably find is a far more in-depth and involved discussion in the south and far more of an audience listening to us than we have today.
The wrong question was asked and the wrong answer was given. Eighteen is a bad number for this Legislature, and it will not receive my support.
Hon. Ms. Tucker: I was listening to some of the members earlier with some amusement when they were talking about the delays on this legislation. Well, the only delays on getting this legislation here was from previous governments. They never undertook the task. We said that we would undertake this task and we have done that. We have tabled the bill and we tabled it in the first week of sitting. Weíve done what weíve said we would do.
Regarding the boundary review itself and its impact on my riding, there are two questions. One, is it outside the City of Whitehorse? There are three distinct areas in planning locations ó Mount Lorne, Marsh Lake and Golden Horn. All three of them independently said that they would like those planning areas to be under one MLA regardless of who that MLA was. Marsh Lake wanted to be a unique and district identity and they wanted all that land use planning and recreation to be under one MLA. Similar comments were received from Golden Horn and Mount Lorne. In the second version of the electoral boundaries review that we see here, in fact theyíve divided the Golden Horn planning area. Iíve been talking to people in that area to find out whether they will support this act or ask me to put forth an amendment on their behalf.
With respect to the two principles of parity and effective representation, we have already acknowledged that there is some question in terms of parity if you have a unique identify. I think the electoral boundaries review has done the best job it can in trying to get parity; however, when we come to the question of effective representation, there have been some chances in recent time which make me question the need for the increase in representatives in this House.
Over time weíve developed ATIPP legislation in the Office of the Ombudsman. They, in fact, are doing a great deal of work that the MLAs used to do.
Also there is a great deal of new technology or relatively new technology that allows MLAs to do business more effectively and more efficiently. Weíve got telephones, faxes, interactive video conferencing, better roads. MLAs can get out and do a much better job now than they used to be able to in the old days when you used to actually physically ride your riding, which I do today sometimes myself. People are quite entertained to see me show up on a horse when I knock on the door.
I, myself, am in a quandary on this issue. I hear from people over and over and over again that with the limited resources that we have, we need to put money into education. We need to put money into health. We need to put money into infrastructure.
I hear from the members opposite that they feel that the party system is failing us. Well, if we could step back for a moment and understand the origin of the party system ó and that was that there were some very strong, divergent beliefs when the NDP used to be an extremely left-wing socialist party, when the conservatives were on the extreme right, and of course the Liberals wanted to find a balance in those two perspectives.
The reason party systems have succeeded and survived over the years is because theyíre voting as much for a concept and a belief structure as they are for an individual. I think that this concept of finding a balance is what has moved the other parties ó the very strong right and very conservative and the very extreme left wing ó back toward the centre and to have more balance.
I think that there are ways to improve government generally ó bringing more witnesses to the House for all parties to question, getting better responses from outside individuals who can give us more perspective sometimes on issues that weíre too close to. Thereís a potential to use a House committee in the Legislature to look at issues. I think that all those are very good ideas, and we have to keep in mind that we have to do business on the floor of this Legislature. Itís a good idea to do business on the floor of this Legislature, and itís a good idea to have that in the public view so that we can make the best decisions possible, then thereís no question about deals being made in the backroom. I think we owe that to people, that all the discussions occur in the public eye.
As I said, at this stage in this reading of the bill, Iíll be supporting it. Iíd like to hear more of debate in Committee, and Iíll reserve a final decision until I hear the completion of that debate and hear final comments from the people in my riding as to whether or not they support the increase in the number of members in this House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: First and foremost, I would very much like to extend an appreciation to the members of the commission who were representative of all parties in this House and did a commendable job on the road of seeking public opinion on the disposition of our boundaries here in the territory. I do think it is a very good idea, also, that after two consecutive elections, there is an opportunity for further review. As the Minister of Health and Social Services had indicated, our population is still quite transient in the territory.
We have heard some comments from the member opposite already about the small community of Yukon and that we are just playing politics because we are a small jurisdiction. I do not agree with that point of view whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I have had numerous conversations with the member who had made those comments on how one who has never had a political experience, per se in the past, adapts to the circumstance that he now finds himself in. I will have to credit him with a compliment because he has helped me adapt to the circumstance in this House in making every attempt to be responsible to those people who elected me and put me here. A footnote to that is that in the riding of Riverdale North, which I very much enjoy serving, there is an incredible divergence of individuals who live in the riding ó a lot of professional people, a lot of government people and teachers. There is also low cost housing in my riding. I have a very, very proud cross-section of representation of Yukon public in Riverdale North. I very much look forward to welcoming into the family of Riverdale North additional members that will be brought in. I know the Member for Riverdale South had indicated her riding was increasing by 35 percent, but I do believe mine is slightly ahead of her and I will probably, in Riverdale North, be holding one of the largest ridings in the territory after the passage of the boundary review.
But getting back to the party politics, it is not easy, quite frankly, being a politician, and itís probably more difficult in a smaller jurisdiction because of the intimacy.
But letís look at the positive side of that, where people can have a direct effect on having their say right here on the floor of the Legislature. I donít think there is any member in this House who doesnít at any time pick up the phone when there is a call from anybody. We all feel that we are responsible and accountable to those individuals, our constituents.
We in government are even more cognizant of that fact, because any individual from the territory who calls on a respective issue within any department can talk to the minister and express his view. I donít think that experience is anywhere else in the country, and Iím very proud that we have that kind of fact here.
It is difficult working on a party-politic basis but thatís what makes it exciting and challenging. Thatís what makes us open and accountable. There are philosophical differences within the parties in the House here, as expressed by the Member for Mount Lorne. And we find that the members on this side of the House are very comfortable with the Liberal philosophy, as Iím sure are members of the NDP and the member from the Yukon Party.
Yes, we do have our differences within our respective caucuses. I think we are all aware of that. Again, the whole wonderful idea about party politics is that we bring messages in from Yukoners at large and we present those ideas, and we do debate them within caucus, within Cabinet, and we do come to an agreement, a consensus on certain issues.
It is difficult at times, though, when you are working so hard on a specific subject, on a specific cause, and you present that argument to the rest of your caucus and, due to other priorities, that may slip down on the priority list and will be looked at at a later date, even though you feel very seriously about it. It is difficult.
It is difficult ó very difficult to do at times ó but we on this side of the House have managed to do that. Our team is very strong, very committed, very open, very accountable, and we will continue to do that, Mr. Speaker, even in a minority situation, because we do what we say weíll do.
Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that there are strong individuals within our respective parties who have strong opinions. Thatís why theyíre there and you respect those strong opinions. You donít always agree with them but you respect them. And if you are adamant about a point of view, you adamantly present the other side to that argument. That is what itís all about and hopefully youíll come to a compromise. Within our side, we do reach those compromises, again with an agreement that the concern or issue from a respective member will be discussed at a later date.
We are prioritizing our issues. We are following through on the commitments, Mr. Speaker. In the Cabinet room, we have a wall that indicates our priorities and we are well on the way to accomplishing a very good number of the serious issues that we do have on the wall. As a matter of fact, we have completed devolution in essence, and we are now moving toward implementation come March.
Mr. Speaker, in defence of party politics, I think we do have very reasonable and responsible people within the House. Athough the official oppositionís job is to criticize government ó that is their role ó I do wish at times it was a little more constructive in nature. We meet these same individuals when we leave the Chamber, and we come to resolution on a lot of issues that are presented here. I understand the party aspects and that it isnít always a good thing to show goodwill to the other side, but the members opposite know that we can get along and we do get along for the most part outside the Chamber.
Mr. Speaker, I do look forward to representing the increased voters within Riverdale North and, again, I look wholeheartedly to meet and welcome those new individuals within Riverdale North and present myself in an open and accountable way. I know I have some big shoes to fill for the predecessor, whom I will be taking over for, namely Minister Kent in Riverside, so I will be looking after our side of the river in a responsible, open, accountable way, making myself available, bringing their issues forward. So I will be supporting this bill.
Speaker: The Chair would just like to remind members here, from time to time in the House, theyíve been referring to other members by their names, and itís really not appropriate. Weíll just ask that members refer to other members by their title or constituency.
Hon. Mr. Kent: I, too, would like to echo the sentiments of a number of the members of the Legislative Assembly here today and thank the commission for all the hard work that they did in travelling to communities and listening to concerns and in preparing the interim report and, of course, in preparing the final report.
I donít think any other member in this House is as affected by the final report of the Electoral District Boundaries Commission as myself. I did attend, after the interim report, when the riding of Riverside was conspicuously absent. I did attend the two Whitehorse meetings of the commission, one at the Gold Rush Inn and one at Mount McIntyre and, at those meetings I committed to put the questions to my constituents.
Over the last number of months, I have heard many concerns from many constituents in coffee shops, on their doorsteps, in telephone conversations and in conversations outside of this Legislature and in my office. While some of the constituents were indifferent about the change, the majority I spoke to did have concerns. Some of the concerns were with representation, as to who would continue to represent them in the Legislative Assembly after the next general election. I heard concerns similar to those raised by the Member for Porter Creek, as well as the Member for Laberge, about the number of seats being increased to 18 and the number of seats being an even number, rather than an odd number. That concern was also raised by some of my constituents.
I also heard concerns about the 25 percent deviation quotient and, although some of the issues and shortcomings of the previous boundaries have been alleviated ó such as the 84.4 percent deviation in Whitehorse West, which is the riding of the Speaker ó I note that, in the final report, there are still three districts that exceed the 25 percent quotient. Riverdale North and Riverdale South, as well as Southern Lakes, are all over and above the 25 percent quotient that was outlined for the report.
Although I believe this report does go a long way in addressing many of the shortcomings that existed under the previous boundaries, the majority of the constituents I spoke to have asked me not to support this bill in this House. So, out of respect for those constituents, I will not be giving my support to this bill when it goes to third reading.
But something that I want to make sure of and put on the record is that until the next general election, regardless of the outcome of the vote on the electoral district boundaries review, I will continue to represent my constituents in Riverside ó the constituents I have on the south side of Lambert Street to the constituents who live on Taylor and Drury downtown, the wonderful seniors I represent from Macaulay Lodge, to the patients in the Thomson Centre, Wickstrom Road as well as Long Lake Road, and portions of Riverdale from Donjek to Tagish to Tatchun to Teslin.
I think itís very important that those constituents understand that I will continue to represent them; I will continue to make sure that their views are listened to and that they have a voice at the caucus table and in this Legislature.
Before I close, there is also one other thing that I would like to put on the record, and that is that if this bill does pass this House and the ridings are redrawn, I will seek the Liberal nomination in another riding. I will run for election in the next general election, and my commitment to the constituents of whichever riding I decide to run in is the same as the commitment that I give the people of Riverside right now ó that I will work hard for them, Iíll represent them to the best of my ability, both inside and outside this Legislature, and I will treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve and that all Yukoners deserve from each and every one of us who occupies a seat in this Legislative Assembly.
Speaker: If the Premier now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to thank all those members who have taken the time to comment upon the report and the legislation that we have entered into second reading today.
Mr. Speaker, all members who have chosen to speak have offered constructive comments and their heartfelt words, and especially their thoughts and a reflection of their responsibility in representing their constituents. However they choose to ride door-to-door or go door-to-door, itís important that each of us stands here and recognizes that we are, at the most fundamental, representing our constituents and the views of Yukoners.
Going back to the Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Act, 2002, I was thinking back on the Elections Act legislation that the three parties worked very hard on, and which was finally presented in this House after much prodding and a great deal of work. A lot of those changes dealt with the funding as well as the issues around electronic communication and some of the issues around enumeration and so on.
At that time, we should have and could have dealt with electoral district boundaries. Unfortunately, the previous government lacked the political will and the courage and the time frame with which to do it, and that was noted at the public meeting at Mount Lorne by one of the party oppositeís members. It was simply seen as too hard by their party.
The fact is that this government committed to Yukoners that we would do it as soon as we were elected. We brought forward the changes and we instituted with and debated at length the implementation of the electoral district boundaries. We had lengthy discussions with members opposite about the formation of the commission, and there was an amendment proposed ó it was a Yukon Party amendment, I believe ó which we then debated and implemented in the legislation, proving once again that this government is listening and is acting upon constructive suggestions that have been brought forward.
The fact is that, regardless of events of past months, this government did what we said we were going to do. We brought forward the Electoral District Boundaries Act, 2002, as was needed to be done. Clearly there was going to be a court challenge if this was not done.
Now, the fact that the good work of five Yukoners has come back with one more seat is difficult. Itís difficult for all of us. However, we have to, at some point in time, trust the advice of the individuals who have been asked to do a difficult job. What they have come up with is what they believe to be the best solution for Yukoners. So I look forward to the debate on that solution.
The fact is that I have been very, very clear with the public and with members of this Legislature. I am not seeking an election this spring. If an election happens this spring, it will be because of a vote from the other side of the House. If the opposition chooses to force an election, that is their choice, Mr. Speaker.
I have been very, very clear with the Yukon public, and the Yukon public has the right to expect the same from members of the opposition.
Ask them to be clear. Do they intend to force an election this spring or not? Make the commitment to the Yukon public.
Leadership is about principles. It is about having the courage to tackle the tough jobs, like the electoral district boundaries review, like accountability, like renewal, like rebuilding infrastructure, like working to settle land claims, like devolution ó that is what principled leadership is about, and it is exhibited by every member on this side of the House, without exception.
With respect to party politics, I am reminded of the comment that those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it. If we go back to looking at this Legislature when it functioned as a council, when members functioned as the executive committee member responsible for, prior to campaigning on a party ballot, there was clearly party politics in the Yukon, clearly. Clearly and unequivocally, and one has only to ask a former member from that time.
The fact is that places that do not have party politics, such as the Northwest Territories, in many discussions with legislators from there, they are looking to this direction, because it happens in any event. The fact is that party politics in the Yukon ó regardless of how much some people suggest we turn the clock back, yesterdayís option isnít an option. And the fact is that what is really at issue and what the fundamentals of government are, is about support and working toward solutions.
Itís about working toward solutions that are right for Yukoners. Itís about being responsible to constituents. Itís about constructive and thoughtful debate, and that is precisely what we are looking for as responsible members on this act thatís before us.
I commend it to Committee. If it is possible, perhaps there is an option for Committee to consider calling witnesses or working to that end. That may be a constructive suggestion that House leaders wish to consider in the fullness of debate in Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker.
In the interim, I look forward to moving this bill toward Committee, and, as I said, to a full debate. I would just finally repeat for the public record again that it is not my intention to seek an election this spring and I would encourage members opposite to indicate to the public where they stand.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Watson Lake, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: I didnít quite hear what the Premier said. I wonder if she would just repeat the last couple of sentences.
Speaker: I donít think there is a point of order there.
Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Deputy Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. McLachlan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Agree.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Tucker: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kent: Disagree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Mr. Jim: Disagree.
Mr. McLarnon: Disagree.
Mr. Roberts: Disagree.
Deputy Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 12 yea, 4 nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 61 agreed to
Hon. Mr. McLachlan: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Good afternoon everyone. I now call the Committee of the Whole to order. The Committee of the Whole will recess until 4:00.
Bill No. 9 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2002-03 ó continued
Yukon Housing Corporation ó continued
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Mr. McLarnon: Iíll start off the debate today by just trying to break down what I consider not very accurate ó well, no, I guess theyíre accurate numbers but certainly not very informative numbers in the Yukon Housing Corporationís budget.
What Iíll point to first of all is that the O&M expenditures we have as "allotments and other" ó a number that comes up to $7,848,000. Thatís a lot of "other". Itís twice what the personnel costs are, so Iím going to need a breakdown as to what $7,848,000 is buying the Yukon taxpayer in program services and expenditures. Iíll leave that with the minister and ask for a breakdown so that we can get into our next line of questioning.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There are a number of items included in the "other", and it relates largely to housing operations. The utilities in that area are $1,233,000. This is for the housing units, which are the responsibility of Yukon Housing Corporation. Property taxes and insurance are just over half a million dollars; social housing rental contracts with private landlords are just under $260,000; other housing expenses, such as janitorial, garbage, security and, of course, GST, is $262,000; housing maintenance, which is a very important part of what Yukon Housing Corporation does, is $1,250,000; and rental tenant bad debts is $60,000. That gives us a total of $3,601,000. And then interest on long-term debt is just over $3 million.
So that is what goes into the other section.
Mr. McLarnon: Okay. So can the minister please explain to me where we would find assorted things like office furniture, office supplies and equipment, and that kind of thing. We just need to find out where that is located. Is that under personnel then?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The office expenses come under the administration section of the budget, and that includes rent for community offices, utilities, taxes and maintenance on the main offices in Whitehorse plus office equipment and supplies, and that is $259,000.
Mr. McLarnon: Since it is included, I need to find out: can we safely say that the Yukon Housing Corporation spends $259,000 on office supplies, furniture and office equipment? Thatís what I am looking for, so I want to know how much we spend on that. And the specific ones that I would like to know are: what do we spend on office supplies, what do we spend on office furniture, and what do we spend on delivering the services that we deliver, in the form of stationery or anything you would buy in an office supply depot.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I can ask Yukon Housing if they can break that down further but I doubt Iíd be able to get down to what the stationery costs are. The figure that I quoted for the Member for Whitehorse Centre includes rent for the Yukon Housing offices in the communities, plus utilities, plus taxes and maintenance on the main building. So the office equipment and supplies would be a smallish part of that.
Mr. McLarnon: Well, actually, I would submit that itís not a very small part at all. In fact, in a government that right now should be watching its pennies and making sure that expenditures are not taken lightly ó you know, we are sitting in positions where weíre told weíre at $41-million deficits. The fact that we donít even have control of our own expenses or an accurate accounting of our own expenses speaks volumes to me.
So, since there has been no breakdown of what the costs are, Iím going to have to take that whole amount of $259,000 to write my amendment on, which is going to be reducing our cost in operating the government.
So what I would like to do before we start ó and this is where the governmentís information is key, to make sure that people who are working and depending on this government are represented. Because I am looking to cut, simply and easily, the amount of paper that every department uses in this government by 20 percent because we have effective technology, we have effective uses of paper products that we could start putting into ó we already own the technology that weíre not using.
We could start putting into effect a conservation program that not only helps the environment in the world by reducing the amount of paper but makes our own government more efficient in the way it delivers and produces that paper. We have the technology to lower costs, and we have the ability. The programs are there, and if weíre going to start looking at the fat of government, thatís the easiest way, because until thereís an incentive for those programs to be used, those programs will never be implemented until the incentive is. So Iím going to force some office conservatism, some local office environmentalism and some productivity increases upon this government by focusing on office expenses and office supply expenses. There is lots of expertise in this community to give us guidance in this government as to how to be more efficient with the amount of office equipment we use, the amount of paper we use, and the amount of time procuring, using and wasting what we have ó lots. So letís get right down to it. If weíre going to point at areas where we can reduce, office supplies, office furniture and equipment are going to be my first targets. I would like an accurate accounting so I do not use the $259,000 as that basis and find out that that has also closed down a rental office in a community like Ross River and so on.
I cannot put forward an amendment to this House until I have an accurate accounting, so I hope the minister sees that Iím not trying to badger the minister. What Iím trying to do is make a responsible suggestion here that will not affect the delivery of excellent programs to the territory but will start making us look at how we spend our money.
So, again, I will ask the minister if I could get a better breakdown, even as a percentage or ballpark percentage of what that is so that I can write an amendment accurately.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Perhaps last yearís actuals would be a help to the member. Yukon Housing does have a conservation program. They do recycle paper. As Iím sure the member is aware, there are many areas in government that struggle every year with old office equipment that the contractors will no longer maintain because it is so old. So periodically some new photocopiers and some new fax machines do have to be bought, because itís simply not cost effective to keep them running.
I will attempt to provide last yearís actuals as soon as I can, but itís certainly not something I can have for this afternoon and possibly not even tomorrow. Iíll have to divert somebody from the work theyíre doing to working on that.
Mr. McLarnon: You see, thatís the problem with budgets as theyíre laid out here. The accountability plans do a good job of trying to explain the goals and patterns that the government wants to set ó and the long-range picture and overall picture. But bringing it right down to the fine point in this Legislature so we can figure out what these numbers are, I feel like Iím unfortunately wasting the Houseís time because this information, right now, as soon as itís applied, will happen in a motion and, since we canít vote on these departments until the information has arrived, I will have to wait until we bring this motion over.
So, thatís my problem ó if we had a better breakdown of costs so that people could really start examining what weíre spending money on, then we wouldnít have to waste the time here going through this. There are a lot of other questions the minister will have to answer today and, hopefully, weíll get that information before the minister does.
I have just a few other questions on personnel and the role that theyíre playing in Yukon Housing Corporation. Going through the accountability plan, we certainly seem to still be planning for more housing developments and new projects. In fact, the policies of the Yukon Housing Corporation encourage the construction of new homes in the Yukon Territory. This is fabulous for new home builders. The problem is that itís not very good for people who own homes right now and who are trying to sell them, trying to deal with a glut in the market in certain areas. Theyíre finding that, often, new houses coming on the market, with new areas developing in the Whitehorse area ó even though our population is dropping ó is causing a glut in the market.
I know the minister across the way used to wear a real estate hat, so Iím sure she has heard some of these reflections. I guess the question I have is, right now, isnít it time to reassess the economic situation in the Yukon? I understand that, possibly, people might be better served by putting money into renovating what they have, bringing it up to more efficiency. Wouldnít it be better to see the transfer ó until we can start seeing a market thatís going to snap up homes across the Yukon, like they did, wouldnít it be better to improve the homes we have, rather than build new ones and leave the people who canít afford to get out of their old ones hanging? Thatís really what weíre facing in the Yukon right now.
That states an opinion, so I guess I canít ask the minister that, but I can ask the minister in this way. Are there any plans to reorient Yukon Housing lending policies and personnel attached to reflect the fact that right now the Yukon is not in need of new housing but in fact would be best served to take care of the housing we do have? Is there any philosophy or discussion at Yukon Housing of the changing new housing market and how it is affecting the old housing market? Because what we are seeing right here is a whole bunch of people living in houses built 15 to 20 years ago, and they canít get anything near what they want for them because of their location in the territory and the fact that new housing is so easy to access. So are we going to help the people who are sort of stuck with depreciating housing because of government policy?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Yukon Housing Corporation home repair program deals with older houses and people do seem quite receptive to that program. Where people do, however, choose to build new homes ó and that is their choice ó we encourage them to build green homes and build accessible homes that can easily work for older people with mobility problems later on. I donít see it as Yukon Housingís role to tell people they canít build new homes, because they donít need Yukon Housing in order to build a new home. Our feeling is that if they are going to, we want them to do it in an energy-efficient and green manner and in an accessible manner for future generations, themselves later or perhaps someone else who may live in the home.
Mr. McLarnon: I guess the minister sort of missed the point. I completely understand that when people want to build a home, they certainly have that choice and I certainly canít blame them. I guess what Iím looking at is the fact that the Yukon government is actually encouraging it.
Iíll use an example that maybe the minister can follow along with. Iíll start off with a very simple question for the minister on this. Itís not a yes-or-no question like sheís used to, but it would sort of set parameters. The availability of a loan ó knowing what the restrictions are that Yukon banks have, would the minister describe the terms and conditions of a loan and also the interest rates as the same, better than the banks offer, or worse than the banks offer? Would the minister say, as a client of Yukon Housing, are they better off or do they have easier restrictions, harder restrictions or the same restrictions as if a person went to a mortgage through a bank?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: When it comes to mortgages, itís generally the same interest rate as the bank but Yukon Housing requires less of a down payment. Banks, I believe, require five percent; Yukon Housing requires a two-and-a-half-percent down payment.
Mr. McLarnon: So I guess this brings us to the crux of the matter. Why wouldnít people want a green home and a loan from the government at better terms if they could get it?
Why wouldnít people want to subscribe to home ownership programs if theyíre getting a better deal than private institutions can? What weíre seeing here is government policy actually interfering in the private sector because the government offers a better deal than our established banks and lenders in this territory.
Does it come up with a newer and nicer house because of the green side? Certainly. Itís even more efficient. Thatís absolutely no problem. But, unfortunately, there are other things, too. If you talk to people who have been through the Yukon Housing programs, when they buy places, they also discuss things like if they miss a couple payments that they wonít have their houses foreclosed on. There is also the relationship with Yukon Housing Corporation afterward ó which, by the way, I donít want the minister to change. The relationship with Yukon Housing after the mortgage has been taken is far more lenient than it is with the banks, and thatís how we should be treating Yukoners, in the sense that if they have a temporary shortfall, the government shouldnít be foreclosing. But then the problem is the governmentís playing the role of the bank. If we donít think that there is more new housing stock coming on the market than we currently need, then you should ask yourself why we see new housing starts in the Yukon Territory when we have so many houses for sale. And we see that itís because we are setting a program that actually tilts the playing field away from the banks, even though this government has promised us a level playing field.
Weíre maintaining a housing program right now that introduces new housing to the territory rather than helping the Yukon people who are living in houses from years ago when they didnít have the advantage of the Yukon Housing programs. Theyíre now stuck with a less energy-efficient house in an area of town that doesnít have as many trees because itís not as developed. Those people now face a market in which the government is placing new housing at a better rate and with better terms than people can get from a bank to buy an existing house.
So does the minister see anything wrong with it, or does she tend to disagree with me. At least could she put into words how she disagrees with me?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Deputy Chair, the home ownership program helps people obtain mortgages when they are unable to do so through a bank, and if the member opposite thinks thatís tilting the playing field, Iím sorry, because I think the goal of many, many Yukoners is to own a home rather than live in rental accommodation all their life, and Yukon Housing is helping to make that possible.
For a green mortgage, the client has to either renovate the home or build a new home that meets a high energy efficiency standard. Green mortgages are available for new home construction and for an energy efficient upgrade of existing homes. The "string", if you will, is that clients must use Yukon contractors and purchase at least 75 percent of their building materials from Yukon businesses. The green mortgages are offered at an interest rate of one percent less than market interest rates, in recognition of the extra costs home owners will incur constructing to that green home standard.
Mr. McLarnon: Can the minister confirm that the Yukon Housing Corporation is now the largest mortgage holder in the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would doubt that that is the case. Iím not aware of what each of the banks hold, but I doubt that that would be the case.
Mr. McLarnon: Thatís why we would sort of like to find out some information, because thatís what weíre being told by people ó Iím being told by some people ó in the banking industry that, as far as residential mortgages, between CMHC and Yukon Housing, they have the corner on the market. I find it rather amusing, when I find out that this government is all about a level playing field with business, that weíre competing on the same front.
Iím going to leave that alone. Weíll find out more about it. Iíll certainly be investigating and bringing these facts in a more substantiated manner back to the minister.
Iím going to go through the renewal process right now with the minister, because I need to get a few things clarified. What we have now is a chain of command where we have a deputy minister with two bosses. We have a deputy minister who is going to be sitting as president of the board. Usually that position is reserved for a person who serves at the pleasure of the board so the board can ensure that the positions of the Housing Corporation, the general public and the stakeholders can get their points of view out, even if it was contrary to the government. Even if it was contrary to what the government wanted to do or say at that time, it was in the interest of social housing and housing policy in the territory that that board was operating under.
Now we are in the situation where we have a deputy minister, who is possibly going to ó well, is going to ó serve at the pleasure of the Premier. So, I sort of need to know ó and a whole bunch of people need to know ó how it is going to work. If the Premier wants something different from the Yukon Housing Corporation, who does the president answer to?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The president of the Yukon Housing Corporation has always reported two ways, if you will: to the board of the Housing Corporation, and the other to the minister. In that respect, nothing has changed. What has changed is that the president is now the Deputy Minister of Community Services.
The governance legislation, as I understand it, does not change the role of the board or change the role of the president, and certainly doesnít jeopardize the independence of the board.
Mr. McLarnon: What I would propose is that it does, and it does is a very serious way. The board hired the president before. The president served at the boardís pleasure. Now the president serves at the Premierís pleasure. What it does is that it does not guarantee a board voice because the president will have to stick with who fires the president, not who heís supposed to serve.
Why I have a problem with this is because we resurrected something that happened years ago, and it was for that same reason that it was changed to this, that it was hands off, even more armís-length.
So I am going to ask: can this be clarified when we go through so that we have a clear position ó when we get to governance legislation, that we completely understand who fires, who hires and how weíre going to ensure that the voice of the board is heard in policy? Because currently weíve set up a political situation rife with possibilities for political interference based on the fact that there is no disciplinary control, no control whatsoever, in the reflection of the boardís mandate from the board to the president to the Premier to the policy.
What weíve got is that the Premier at any time could possibly threaten ó and we would never know ó a deputy minister with his or her job and policies change. So thatís the question: will the minister ensure that we have a clear understanding and clear-cut roles for everybody so we can follow through to ensure that there is no political interference at the Yukon Housing board? Iím not asking for this now. Iím just asking the minister to please be prepared for the governance legislation because this is a question thatís burning up on every board in the Yukon Territory.
Weíll go through that. I see the minister has some briefing notes, hopefully on the budget amount so we can quickly write this amendment up, have it disposed with through a vote and I can get on my way.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Clarification is exactly what the government is trying to do with this governance legislation. The president of Yukon Housing Corporation is already appointed by the government and has a dual responsibility as Iíve outlined to the board and to the minister. The member is leaving the minister out of this equation and bringing the Premier into it. The Corporate Governance Act does not change this aspect of the presidentís role. The act provides for protocol agreements to be made to explicitly resolve any perceived conflicts, and department and corporation responsibilities should not and do not conflict with one another because both serve the same public and the same government. Any improvement in cooperation and coordination would certainly be to the benefit of the public.
I hear the Member for Kluane loudly disagreeing. The deputy minister will be in a position to advise boards on how departments and corporations can cooperate more closely on policy and programs. And they will be in a position to implement very effective, cooperative arrangements without creating overlapping and conflicting activities. This I believe will make the boards more effective in fulfilling their mandates.
Mr. McLarnon: The question is whose mandate? There is still confusion over this and I guess we heard that the protocols will be introduced. Can the minister confirm or deny right now or just to make sure that I know: are we not actually well into the renewal throes of change? Are we not really into the position where this is happening now, and where are the protocols? Since this is actually happening while we are speaking, shouldnít those protocols be defined before the event rather than after the event? Can the protocols be introduced to the floor of this Legislature?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe this question would be more properly addressed in the debate on the Corporate Governance Act, as it covers several corporations and not just the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mr. McLarnon: To tell you the truth, why they need to be discussed here ó and maybe thatís something the government should understand in their process of bringing bills forward ó is that we donít know if there are monetary impacts involved in those. We donít know if this is affecting spending of the Yukon Territoryís budget. So as a result itís really hard to argue, in debate, a budget not knowing if there are implied costs anywhere else. So I have to ask the question as part of a budgetary debate, because it has everything to do with spending authority and the amount of money that is going to come after this spending authority is granted. So again Iíll ask the minister: when will the protocols be introduced to the floor of the House?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: To the best of my knowledge, the protocol has nothing to do with the budget before us, which is the Yukon Housing Corporation. The Yukon Housing Corporation is always looking for efficiencies and linkages, and we will continue to do so.
Mr. McLarnon: Okay. Well, what Iím going to do now, Mr. Speaker, is just prepare an amendment to move this debate along. Since I canít get any raw numbers, this is certainly a warning to every minister across the way ó bring your office supplies, equipment and all those costs in so we donít have to delay while we wait for the numbers to come forward. We are right now going to take the entire amount as a line item of $259,000, reduce it by 20 percent so that we can start showing the government and asking the government to start reducing and recycling and use all the best practices to lower our office equipment expenses, lower the number of trees killed by this government, increase the efficiency of this government in making use of the technologies theyíve already bought.
And this is government-wide, so itís going to be something that every department will face.
So, Iím just about writing this up. Mr. Chair, if I could ask for two minutesí of the Houseís indulgence, as I require technical assistance from the Clerks of the Assembly to ensure that this amendment is written properly?
Mr. Chair, I move that we take a two-minute recess.
Deputy Chair: Agreed. Two minutes recess.
Mr. McLarnon: It is being worked on, so I will now wait until line-by-line to move that forward, and Iíll now give up the floor. I raised some issues that I will be expecting to cover in other debates and in line-by-line.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Iím a little concerned about the direction this is going. The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes finds this amusing.
The board of the Yukon Housing Corporation allocates these lines, so what the member is suggesting is direct interference with the role of the board of directors of the Yukon Housing Corporation. The board will be forced to make cuts on maintenance to buildings, or a lot of basic things that go along with owning and operating the housing many Yukon families rely on.
The bottom line is that administrative dollars equal administrative positions, and what the member is suggesting is laying off staff. Thatís the bottom line.
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, I have to respond to that. First of all, this House, when appropriating money, serves no one except the Yukon public, and any board that requires money from this House still has to go through the scrutiny of this House. That is a given in this Legislature.
Now, the second thing, as far as program cuts within the Yukon territorial government, or programs as a result of reducing office equipment, fixtures, and anything related to office equipment ó this government has known for years that it could tighten its belt. This government has known for years that it is probably the least productive of many governments in the way they use paper and go through office supplies. Now, if this government wonít address that, and if it is going to give the Yukon public the Washington Monument argument that every dollar cut from an O&M budget is a job lost, then this government is not being responsible to the Yukon public or representing the facts very well in this Legislature.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: My point is that it is the board of the Yukon Housing Corporation that makes the decisions on allocating the budget; it is not the minister. It is the board that is responsible for making these decisions ó they have made these decisions. If the member wants to propose a cut and the cut goes through, the member canít say where that cut will come from. He canít say, you canít buy any stationery ó those decisions are up to the board. I want to make that absolutely clear. That is the responsibility of the board of directors.
Mr. Fairclough: I just have one question in regard to the home show. I havenít seen government put on the home show now for a couple of years. Is there a reason for that? Did it not get a good rating when the previous government put on a home show? Are we expected to see one soon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There will not be a separate home show but as the member will notice from the advertising, there is a definite home show component in this coming trade show, which I believe is this coming weekend. The member will see a very strong Yukon Housing presence at the trade show.
Mr. Jim: I have one or two questions here for the minister. I know that the minister hasnít met with the board of directors for the Yukon Housing Corporation, but has she at least made contact in any sort of way in regard to giving directives to the board of directors on what she would like to see happen in the next two years for Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: There is a performance agreement in place between the previous minister and the board. I am currently in the process of reviewing that, and when I do meet with the board of directors shortly, we will be putting together a new agreement.
I have met with the chair of the board and, as I have said, unfortunately Iíve not been able to meet with the full board due to their schedule and my schedule.
Iím expecting a good discussion with them. I know that my predecessor had conveyed to the board the seven priorities of this government: the settling land claims, rebuilding the economy, achieving devolution, addressing substance abuse, maintaining quality health care, developing infrastructure and restoring Yukonersí confidence in government. At this point, there is not much that I would wish to add to that.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, I donít know what that says about directives coming from the minister. What I can say is that I look forward to getting some information as to what directives the minister will be giving or tabling by way of legislative return. Give us an idea of what directives youíve given the Yukon Housing Corporation for the next two years. What Iím interested in is the ministerís perspective of what she would like to see happening with Yukon Housing Corporation, and in turn, what is a way of creating a good working relationship with the board.
Mr. Chair, Iíd like to talk a little bit about the rental stock. We have rental stock for staff housing and for social housing. The Yukon Housing Corporation did a housing study just recently. Can the minister give me a summarized version of that study in terms of rental stock, ownership stock and First Nation stock?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Is the member looking for specific details of how much housing stock is in each community, or what? I went through in detail, I believe, last Thursday, the numbers of units for both staff and social housing. Is he wanting something further than that?
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, I just want a quick overview, which is at the highest point here. Rental stock, is it high? Ownership stock, is it high or low? First Nation stock, is it high, moderate or in between the three of them? Nothing specific here, just general.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe all the information the member is seeking is available on the housing Web site. The housing study data is there, and we know that the state of repair and overcrowding are the biggest problems in the Yukon. The member is well aware of that. One of our goals in the accountability plan is to improve the quality of housing, improve the existing housing stock and enable better housing to be built. That is one of the reasons why there is a substantial maintenance figure in the budget, a figure that I am now afraid is going to be cut.
Mr. Jim: Okay, I guess we are not going to get an answer there again. Letís try this a different way, okay? What is the present ratio of rental to total housing stock in Whitehorse?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Without having specific statistics in front of me, I think it is about 35 percent rental to home ownership. I can certainly get the member the information, although I wouldnít be able to provide it to him in paper any longer. Thank you.
Mr. Jim: We donít even have a pulp and paper mill in the Yukon, let alone trying to provide paper. I would just like to say that all I am looking for is which is highest, the total number of ownership houses as compared to rental units for the Yukon Housing Corporation? Which is highest?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Generally, home ownership is higher than rentals but Yukon Housing deals with rental stock, social housing and staff housing. The member is not being clear with his question.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, Yukon Housing is a little bit more than dealing with rental stock. They also deal with home ownership.
Mr. Chair, Iím looking for rental stock in comparison with ownership stock ó including all units in the Yukon. Do we have a demand for rental stock? Do we have a demand for home ownership stock? Which is it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: About 35 percent of the housing stock in total in the territory is rental, and that is similar to the national average. As of last December, I believe, the vacancy rate was 9.5 percent, which is down from 15 percent the year before.
It is very unclear what the member is asking, so I hope that was it.
Mr. Jim: In October 2001, there was a meeting with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. One of their motions read that they wanted the housing ministers of Canada to establish a rental construction program to meet the needs of the housing crisis here in Canada. Is this government doing anything in that regard?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I donít believe this had anything to do with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. But the provincial and territorial housing ministers met with the former federal minister responsible for housing and agreed on a framework for a new affordable housing program. We in the Yukon are very pleased that Canada is offering the provinces and territories access to funding to address housing needs.
The original intent of the federal initiative was to address the shortage of affordable housing in certain areas in Canada. However, Canada recognizes that housing needs vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and that the housing needs in Toronto are far different from the housing needs in the Yukon.
Subject to certain fundamental principles, the provinces or territories will design and develop their own programs under this initiative. Provinces and territories are required to cost share or match the federal contribution. Iím working closely with the Yukon Housing Corporation to identify housing priorities here in the Yukon that would be suited for the Yukon to cost share with Canada under this initiative.
Mr. Jim: There was a meeting with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in October 2001, where a motion was tabled for the housing ministers of Canada ó to be held in November in Quebec City. That motion reflected the establishment of rental construction programs to meet the housing crisis in Canada.
Iím asking what the Yukon Housing Corporation is doing to remedy this situation.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I said a few minutes ago, there is a 9.5-percent vacancy rate in rental housing here in the Yukon.
Mr. Jim: We could be bouncing this around all day. Letís try to get something more concrete here.
We have an agreement with the Government of Canada that is forthcoming ó a $5-million agreement. Can the minister talk to me a little about the $5-million agreement with the Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I had just been talking about that specific program and said I was working closely with the Yukon Housing Corporation to identify housing priorities here that would be suited for this cost-sharing program with Canada. It would be premature to announce any specific projects, because we havenít reached that point in our discussions yet.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, usually when you have a target bracket, then you obviously have to sit down together to get a basic study or plan, assessment or analysis of exactly what it is that you are going to be targeting with respect to housing. Iím asking if that is something in play now? Is that going to be happening?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I have indicated, those things are happening, but it would be premature to discuss any outcome yet, because we arenít there yet.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, there was some mention in the budget talks of oil and gas impact. What is the Yukon Housing Corporation doing in respect to the oil and gas impact?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We are, like all departments in government, looking at this. We are working with the other departments. We feel itís some way out so, when the time arrives, we will be prepared to deal with it. Weíll have more to say on that as the time gets closer.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, there were some issues previously when I was the minister responsible for Yukon Housing. I worked very closely with both Northwest Territories and Nunavut because, in the region north of 60, we had similar characteristics of housing issues, and I was very adamant that we sit together as three ministers from the northern region. Is that still continuing?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I beg to differ with the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. In some areas there is little similarity between the housing situation in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and that of the Yukon. For example, our 9.5-percent vacancy rate in rental accommodation is a lot higher than it is in Nunavut, where itís hard to find an apartment at all.
I havenít yet had the opportunity to meet with my counterparts in housing in Northwest Territories and Nunavut. I am looking forward to doing that, and I would like the close relationship to continue.
Mr. Jim: In terms of this vacancy rate with rental accommodation, there are a lot of Yukoners who would like to access rental accommodations here. However, they find that 25 percent of your purse is a question and especially at a time of economy right now. Why would you want to go and spend 25 percent of your gross to rent a housing unit, which will never be yours but is asking for top dollar? Other alternatives need to be found.
But in terms of the meeting with the three ministers, the three ministers have now created a front with the Canadian government so that we could talk about flexibility of this $5-million agreement ó flexibility so that we can meet the needs. And this is exactly what I am talking about here: the flexibility of this housing dollar that is coming from the Government of Canada. Can we use these dollars for ownership as well as upgrading rental units? Give me some idea here.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As the member is well aware, the funding that he is referring to canít be used in the way he is suggesting, and the other two territories are well aware of that as well. The funds must be used to improve housing, and Iím afraid the member may be confused. If the 9.5-percent vacancy rate ó Iím referring to all rental stock in the Yukon. The Yukon Housing rate is very low ó close to zero in some communities in fact. The 9.5-percent rate for general rental stock in the Yukon is the lowest in Canada.
Mr. Jim: Being the previous minister, I was talking about flexibility. Could the minister please clarify to me what is flexibility? What does the term "flexibility of funding stock" mean ó funding from the Government of Canada ó with respect to this $5-million agreement?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Rejuvenation of old housing is something that we can likely do with this federal money. With a 9.5-percent vacancy rate in the territory, I donít feel that investing in new housing starts would be a logical idea. The federal allocation for the Yukon is $5.5 million, to be spread over the next five years, and we are working with CMHC to identify projects and programs that might be eligible for cost sharing under this new initiative. Again, the funds must be used to improve housing.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, how does this minister determine her so-called flexibility response to this? How does she determine that it meets the needs of Yukoners?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: That is indeed the challenge. We are currently looking for ways to invest this money so that we help Yukoners, and that is what Iím confident we will do when we finish putting this together.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, we have had a First Nation housing conference, which was held in September 2001 ó a really good turnout, a lot of people showed up. It showed that, at the time, we were working in a closer relationship with First Nations. Most of the content in there was informative. It was an information conference on construction, businesses, how they could work more closely with First Nations. But it didnít address the question of how we develop a closer working relationship with First Nations and how governments can work closely with First Nations.
How might we resolve some of the First Nation housing issues here in the Yukon?
What Iím asking the minister is: from the conference ó and they asked to have more and more conferences like this. But will she be having a conference that will be directing the issue of having a closer working relationship for government to government in the near future?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We arenít planning a conference at the moment, but I believe itís extremely fair to say that every day the Yukon Housing Corporation works on a government-to-government basis with any number of First Nations in the Yukon.
Iím sure heís quite familiar with the various things that are going on in several communities between First Nation governments and the Yukon Housing Corporation, and if he isnít, Iíd be glad to refresh his memory.
Mr. Jim: Iím extremely concerned here because at this point we have no meetings with the board of directors, we have no directives coming to the board of directors, we have no flexibility in the $5-million agreement with the Government of Canada, and we have no conferences or no close working relationship with the First Nations or government-to-government relations.
There is nothing ó Iíve been given no concrete answer here yet. I just wish that in the future, given that the minister is new in her position here, she will start looking at at least addressing the flexibility issue within that $5-million agreement.
At some point in time, I would like the minister to come forth and bring that information about how that $5 million is going to be spent here in the Yukon and meet the needs of Yukoners.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Iím afraid the member has misunderstood what I said on several fronts.
The new federal program is one that we are actively working on. I have had several discussions about it already. As for work with First Nations, the northern and First Nation housing conference last fall, as the member knows, included, for the benefit of First Nations, information on construction, repair and renovation products and techniques, community planning, property management, education opportunities and northern success stories. As the member said, there was a good turnout. I believe conference organizers had planned for about 120 people, but 210 attended.
Now, in Old Crow, Yukon Housing Corporation has been helping the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. They are working with VGFN and the Pembina Institute on a community-wide strategy, which seeks to maximize the sustainable community concept there. An important part of that strategy is the commitment to improve the sustainability of housing.
Yukon Housing Corporation has conducted energy audits on units to be renovated and will be providing training and techniques for renovating dwellings to maximize energy efficiency and indoor air quality, as well as practices for construction of new energy-efficient dwellings.
In Dawson City, Yukon Housing Corporation is helping the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation with training of their staff. A First Nation housing official spent several hours a week in the community housing office actually experiencing the processes involved in property management of rental housing stock.
The corporation has also provided advice on possible sustainable technologies that may be possible to incorporate into the Tríondëk Hwëchíin First Nationís new subdivision along the Klondike River. Tríondëk Hwëchíin staff made a significant presentation at that First Nation housing conference.
In Pelly, Yukon Housing staff have met with the chief and council and the housing staff of the Selkirk First Nation, reviewed their needs and agreed to follow up in areas where the First Nation feels they need assistance. In Ross River, the Housing Corporation staff are working with the Ross River Dena Council on their housing administration, coaching them on how to set up maintenance processes and maintenance tracking systems, on accessing federal funding and on the construction of more building lots and providing the Ross River Dena Council with technical assistance in dealing with permafrost deterioration of housing, which is a problem in that community.
In Whitehorse, Yukon Housing has been working with the Taían Kwachían Council, helping them set up housing administration policy and processes. And Yukon Housing provided a training opportunity for a Taían technical officer within Yukon Housing.
In Teslin, Yukon Housing has worked with the Teslin Tlingit Council in developing the housing administration processes, and Yukon Housing has provided the Teslin Tlingit Council with the design of their purchase agreements, mortgage documents, and loan documents.
Mr. Chair, I could go on, but those are just a few examples of how the corporation is working to support Yukon First Nations, and Yukon Housing is working hard to continue to develop and provide what Yukon First Nations need in the housing area.
Mr. Jim: Mr. Chair, I have just one more question, I guess. I guess the original question was, will the minister have another conference? It will be a brainstorming conference that weíre looking at, because what Iím finding is that the more and more I go to different communities, the more and more I find out that the First Nations are ó the condition of the housing is a real concern here in the Yukon. If we use the numbers of First Nations for votes on election day, we should also reflect that we do carry their interests and that one of the biggest issues that came from this conference was: why canít we sit down together as the three governments ó federal, territorial, and the First Nation governments ó sit down and resolve how we might look after the issues of First Nation housing here in the Yukon?
What can the different governments do to improve the conditions of First Nation housing in the Yukon?
I guess the question now is, can this minister responsible for housing do this? Can she actually create a forum where the three parties can sit down, or even in the way of a conference, and talk about resolving some of the issues of First Nation housing here in the Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I had been under the impression that last fallís conference was to do just that. As I had just outlined, Yukon Housing has committed personnel to assist First Nations as they take over responsibility for their own housing issues, and we will continue to do that.
I am sure there will be another conference. Itís just that there are no concrete plans for another conference at this moment. We are still putting together the information that came out of the conference last fall, so at this time another conference would be premature.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Point of order.
Hon. Mr. McLachlan: I would just like to take this opportunity to inform the House that we have been served notice that there may be an amendment coming in part of the administration area of the Yukon Housing Corporation budget. Were this amendment, in fact, presented, we on this side of the House would probably ask that the Yukon Housing Corporation budget be adjourned for that time until we could assess the effects of whatever that would have. We are not able to make those judgements on the fly, so we would request some time to be able to consider the ramifications of whatever it was. That would have the effect of moving the debate into the Yukon Development Corporation.
Deputy Chair: On the point of order, Mr. McLarnon.
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Deputy Chair, in this particular case, I would have to say absolutely no way. We heard it directly from the ministerís lips that, after the cuts happen, itís decided by the board. It was directly from the ministerís lips, so there are no implications that the government should be considering because the board is going to make the decision.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: On the point of order, there is no point of order. The government has the right to make those demands or call business as they see fit.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, once again, we hear from the Member for Faro. I have a number of questions arising out of some of the discussions I just heard with respect to First Nations. I would like to take the minister to the Yukon Housing Corporation accountability statement and then the overview. It is page 16A-2 in my book. It says, "Yukon Housing Corporation has established working relations with five Yukon First Nations as a means of achieving the goal of building community and industry capacity." That was just explored with the minister by the previous member here, and I would like to ask the minister what is meant by "industry capacity".
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Building capacity in the industry is important so that they can meet market demands. That is what is being referred to.
Mr. Jenkins: So it would appear that Yukon Housing Corporation has established a working relationship with five First Nations to meet the demands. Thatís what I heard the minister say in a roundabout way. She did point out a few minutes ago that there were a number of initiatives that they had undertaken with various First Nations. For the record, could the minister send over the five First Nations that are referred to here if they are different from the First Nations she referred to when she last spoke? Because there appears to be a number of First Nations above and beyond the five that are referred to that Yukon Housing is assisting.
Iíd like to further ask the minister about the meeting that was held jointly by Yukon Housing, CMHC and First Nations. I had a chance to look at the overview, and I didnít conclude that anything really went on other than the decision as to whether they were going to have one or two meetings a year, how the entertainment went, and kind of a critique of a number of events and some statistics. Has the minister had a chance to look at the overview of the conference that was held and the synoptic that has been prepared? If she has, could I ask the minister for her opinion on what has been prepared and presented? A copy has been obtained from CMHC.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I had indicated last week, that is a logistical report on what took place at the conference. It is not an overview of the conference. It is, in effect, an internal logistical review. Itís not a final report. That is still to come.
Mr. Jenkins: I belong to a number of different organizations and usually, after the conference, the results and the conclusions are forthcoming pretty rapidly. Whatís the delay in bringing forth the conclusions of this conference, which was held some time ago? What are the timelines for the final report? Why is it taking so long?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The partner with Yukon Housing Corporation in that conference was the CMHC regional office out of Vancouver, and they have been working together long distance on this. The next meeting will be, I believe, the third week in May, perhaps, to work on the draft report.
Mr. Jenkins: Here we have what I understood was a very worthwhile conference, and weíre only going to be working on preparing the draft report in the third week of May. Why the delay? Why does it take so long? This should be a fairly straightforward conference. The conclusions should be assessed and reported. Are we starting to reinvent the wheel with these conferences? Is that whatís happening? Why does it take so long?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I apologize that it has taken so long, but it is a fact that it has taken so long, and I would hope to see the draft report shortly after that May meeting.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, could I just point out to the minister, sheís now in charge of Yukon Housing Corporation. The umbilical cord flows right from the head of the Yukon Housing Corporation right to the minister. Itís there, it exists. And the minister, whether she appreciates it or not, is fully in charge. That it would take so long to develop a report on a conference that was held some time ago, and the minister doesnít know why and hopes to have it, is just simply amazing. Itís these frustrating little areas that are exactly that, Mr. Chair ó totally frustrating, and Iíd encourage the minister to do her job in this regard.
It goes on to say that staff housing is being constructed to new standards, but what are those new standards? How were they developed? I donít recall any consultation in this area. It was an area where I encouraged the Yukon Housing to develop and improve the standards, the size, and not go into duplexes to the extent they are because, by and large, in rural Yukon, where there is a requirement for staff housing, weíre trying to recruit and attract and retain professionals of all sorts. One of the weakest components in this whole chain is the staff housing that is being provided. Now, how are these new staff housing standards assembled and what are they? Could the minister share that with us?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Certainly, Mr. Chair, as I had said previously in Yukon Housing Corporation debate, the Yukon Housing Corporation is attempting to raise the standard of the staff housing. New units are constructed to better standards than the existing portfolio, and when renovating units, the units are being upgraded, where possible, to better standards.
For example, upgrades include items such as dishwashers, where possible, better quality flooring, cabinets and interior finishes. New units are being built to R-2000 standards with fuel oil heat, which makes them very energy efficient. In 1998 in Teslin, a new duplex was built to R-2000 standards. In 2000 in Watson Lake, an existing unit was completely rebuilt to the new standard. In 2001 in Pelly Crossing, a new duplex was built to replace an older single-detached unit and add an additional staff unit requested by another department. Those units were built to R-2000 standards with some accommodating home features. This year, the Yukon Housing Corporation will be building a new single-family staff unit in Ross River.
I trust that answers the memberís questions. We donít have evidence on the duplex issue that duplexes are a problem for staff, but we are taking his comments under advisement.
Mr. Jenkins: Is the minister aware of how long R-2000 standards have been in existence?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I believe since about 1980.
Mr. Jenkins: Itís encouraging to note that Yukon Housing Corporation is now building to R-2000 standards ó and they have been in existence since 1980 ó and that weíre going to be providing fuel oil heat with a dishwasher. I didnít hear one mention of the number of square feet or square metres that these housing units would contain or the number of washrooms ó if itís a bathroom and a half or an en suite ó and if they are in conformity with generally accepted housing standards that professionals would select if they are residing in a major centre. There wasnít one word.
Now, would it not be ó well, maybe it is too much to ask, but could it not be addressed through a policy that the minimum square footage or square metres of a housing unit be so much and that it be improved upon above and beyond what it is currently? Because if you look at the building code in regard to a heating system, all it says is that it must be able to maintain so many degrees when the outdoor ambient temperature is so many degrees. You could put up a piece of plastic and a great, big furnace and you could meet the intent of the code, but that is not practical. The code is one thing and we have to have a higher standard for our houses. The agency of the government called Yukon Housing has now adopted R-2000 standards. I would encourage the minister to go back, come up with a number of square footage, minimum size and do a decent job. And the minister might want to take a few moments and have a look at some of the RCMPís new homes in rural Yukon. There are two that have just been constructed in my community. Have a look at those. I would encourage Yukon Housing Corporation to build to that same size and same standard. What is the downside of it? Because it is a little bit larger? Actually, because of its energy efficiency, it probably requires less energy to heat and itíll serve as an excellent tool to recruit and attract and encourage a large number of employees to remain in rural Yukon.
The other area that I have mentioned before that I encourage the minister to go back and look at is the buyback program, because the ceiling is too darn low. It is a very, very worthwhile and beneficial tool in rural Yukon.
Iíll look forward to receiving more information on the First Nation conference from the minister and Iím hoping that report, when itís available ó could the minister indicate if I could have a copy of it as soon as itís made available to her, either in a draft or final report? Or do I have to wait until the Legislature sits again in the fall and deal with the new government?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Yukon Housing Corporation wants to share the draft report with the First Nation participants from the conference, but Iíll make sure that the Member for Klondike gets one of the first copies of the final report.
As for new staff stock, we are attempting to build the homes larger. We certainly recognize the points that the member is making.
Mr. Jenkins: While weíre on the issue, before we leave the issue of staff housing, is there a minimum square footage that we construct to? I believe itís just over about 1,000 square feet, which is very, very small.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: For new and future construction, I think 1,400 or 1,500 square feet would be the minimum for going forward with. I recognize that some of the old units are smaller than that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I donít have any quarrel with 1,400 or 1,500 square feet, especially if it has a full basement, but if itís built on one level and thereís no basement, no garage, is there a possibility of increasing this by about another 500 or 600 feet for storage and have another utility room or something of that nature? Because that really is what is needed. The minister only has to live in a dwelling unit with no basement to recognize the importance of a utility room or a room where you can store things.
You start looking at some of the duplexes that Yukon Housing has in my community, and you walk into them, and they have a storage closet where, if you stuff the iron and the ironing board in, you can barely get a pair of boots in them. Theyíre so small, itís just ridiculous.
So Iíd encourage minister ó itís stated in text, "Staff housing is being constructed to new standardsÖ." and when we explore that, weíve adopted the 1980 standards of R-2000. Itís going to have fuel oil heat, and weíre going to put in a dishwasher. Iíd encourage the minister to go back and come up with a standard that includes the number of square feet, the appliances. It should be a minimum of five appliances, maybe even six if you look at a garburator, which is advantageous in some communities. In some communities it canít be used. Itís whatís generally accepted in the real world. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would point out for the member that the R-2000 standard, although it is over 20 years old, has been continually evolving, and I think the last update was less than five years ago. So that does keep changing.
We in Yukon Housing do not build a great number of new units each year, and the requirements for each one may vary depending on the community, but we are putting in extra storage. I canít say there would necessarily be a basement in every case, but we do recognize that more storage is definitely necessary.
Mr. Jenkins: I take the minister to the next area in Yukon Housing, and Iíd like to be on the record with this paragraph: "Perhaps the most significant and anticipated economic news in 2002-03, is the decision on the construction of a pipeline along the Alaska Highway corridor. Construction will generate an increase in population, add to the value of homes, utilize vacancies within the rental market and generate significant economic opportunities. All of these factors can easily have a dramatic impact on the Yukonís housing market, the housing industry and Yukon Housing Corporation."
Was that written by Yukon Housing Corporation or was it a press release for the Liberal government, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Chair, it was written by the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mr. Jenkins: And probably taken directly out of the 1970-odd year-end report where they had a virtually identical statement, Mr. Chair. Itís interesting to note where our priorities lie.
Then it goes on to values, Mr. Chair: "The core values of Yukon Housing Corporation directly relate to the Government of Yukonís values of balance, respect and fiscal responsibility." Just what is meant by the value of balance, respect and fiscal management? Could the minister provide a clear and concise overview of what is meant by that statement?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Balance, respect and fiscal responsibility ó if the member had read the next sentence, he would have noted that the Yukon Housing Corporation has instituted balance between government support and government control through citizen-focused program development. There is respect with all levels of government and respectful treatment of all citizens. Fiscal responsibility and accountability for all spending is embedded within Yukon Housing Corporationís mission statement and is also reflected in the delivery of programs and services.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, when we extrapolate that and look at what is currently happening in the marketplace and currently what is happening, we see that the Yukon Housing Corporation is now just becoming an agent of the Yukon government, and the tentacles flow right to the ministerís office.
The other area that is of concern and must be recognized is that, at the end of the day, it doesnít really matter what the Yukon Housing Corporation spends because their deficit is totally covered by the Government of Yukon. They just send over a cheque to cover the deficit. If they add up all the costs they incur and their overhead and administration, and if thereís a loss, which there usually is ó last year it was $2.7 million and this year itís projected to be $2.4 million ó the Government of Yukon just sends over a cheque to cover the loss.
How does that kind of situation actually demand fiscal responsibility, when there has been very little opportunity to debate the Yukon Housing Corporation budget and explore many of these issues? I guess thatís probably why itís coming to the floor first, Mr. Chair.
Given the new overview and reporting function in Yukon ó the new governance model thatís being set up ó is it going to mean any changes under the Financial Administration Act for the way the Yukon Housing Corporation conducts business?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No changes are being planned in the way the Yukon Housing Corporation does business.
Mr. Jenkins: What I was seeking from the minister was not that any changes were planned, but are any changes necessary for compliance with the Financial Administration Act with the new form of governance that is now in place? Basically itís going from a Crown corporation to being just another department of the government. Same model ó thereís a president and board of directors at the top. But the tentacles ó the umbilical cord ó flow right to the corner office now, with the three de facto premiers in the Premierís office making the appointment as to who is to oversee it.
So thatís a given.
Financial Administration Act ó letís just explore with the minister one area. What is the current treatment of GST within Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Yukon Housing Corporation does pay GST. I donít anticipate any change there.
Mr. Jenkins: What we have is Yukon Housing Corporation set up, it has an input credit for the GST that it pays and then it charges GST on a number of functions. So, in all likelihood, it gets a GST rebate back from Canada on some quarterly ó I donít know if they report quarterly or annually. Iíve never explored this with the government. Do they report quarterly or annually on this issue?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I can certainly get that information for the member. Had he attended the Yukon Housing Corporation budget briefing, he could have cleared up some of these technical details at that time.
Mr. Jenkins: I thank the minister very much for trying to send a slap over my way, but this is one of the reasons that the minister is in charge. She should know these areas and understand them. The issue surrounding GST ó and when a department of government deals, basically they are GST exempt. Now how can you have it both ways under the new reporting and governance model that is being set up?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: The Yukon Housing Corporation is a corporation. As such, it will pay GST. The members opposite seem to suggest that there are some big changes coming. The change is having a president who is also the Deputy Minister of Community Services and the new governance legislation will not jeopardize the independence of the board. The Yukon Housing Corporation will continue to operate as before.
Mr. Jenkins: Currently, does the Yukon Housing Corporation, if the minister wants to refer to it accordingly ó where do they stand with respect to GST? Do they receive a refund or do they actually end up paying at the end of each fiscal period?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I will ask the financial staff and get back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister doesnít know but, given that all government departments are exempt from GST, it would make a great deal of sense to explore the financial arrangements between the government and Yukon Housing Corporation, with a view to reducing costs by reducing the amount of GST that has to be paid or eliminating it completely. Would that not be a good game plan that the minister would want to explore? Or do we just keep paying the bills and say to heck with it?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Iím sure the board would be interested in looking at the memberís suggestion; I will pass it on to them. Thank you.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, on one hand we are saying "respect" and "fiscal responsibility." This is an area where a great savings could probably be realized, not just from Yukon Housing Corporation but from probably a number of other Crown corporations where the government of the day has decided that they are basically going to become a department of the government. Thatís the bottom line.
The minister can spin it any way she wants, but theyíre basically just a department of the government, and there may be some financial advantages to doing that and carrying through to that conclusion. One of the major advantages might be a saving in GST, because the Government of the Yukon is exempt from GST on just about everything it purchases.
So, Iíd encourage the minister to have a more thorough look at this than what has been done to date.
One of the other initiatives that Yukon Housing undertook, which was very well received, was the home show and, to date, we havenít heard whatís going to be happening there or whether itís going to happen again this year. Is there full involvement from Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: As I had said earlier to the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, there will not be a separate home show this year with Yukon Housing, but Yukon Housing is heavily involved in the trade show thatís coming up this weekend. When the member comes up to go around the trade show, he will see a good Yukon Housing Corporation presence.
As for GST, Iím told that Yukon Housing Corporation remits GST claims quarterly and the corporation generally receives a refund. I repeat: the Yukon Housing Corporation is a corporation; it is not a department of the Yukon government.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, there are probably a lot of avenues that could be explored to streamline the accounting system and reduce the payment of GST and, basically, save Yukon Housing Corporation and, ultimately, the Government of Yukon, a considerable sum of money because, at the end of the day in the GST paper chase ó probably another initiative that the guy from Shawinigan was going to eliminate when he got elected, another Liberal promise that we heard a lot of on the federal level that did not come to fruition. I think his words were, "Weíre going to scrap the GST."
So much for "Axe the tax" or whatever but, at the end of the day, itís still here, itís still with us, and the minister might want to ask Yukon Housing Corporation how much of an accounting function it is to track all of this input credit and the GST, because itís a pain in the you-know-where, and itís a costly accounting exercise, and usually for nothing, especially at the departmental level that Yukon Housing Corporation is and soon will be becoming.
Mr. Chair, I note that the amount of dollars that it is anticipated to cost the Government of the Yukon to run Yukon Housing Corporation is going to be down from $2.7 million to $2.4 million. Iím just curious as to whether the government is undertaking less and less through Yukon Housing or what the reason is for the significant reduction. Basically, weíre anticipating picking up about $300,000. O&M, page 16B-3, net operating deficit ó the 2000-01 actual was $2.7 million. Itís projected to be $2,486,000, forecast for 2001-02 ó 2002-03, $2.4 million.
There appears to be a reduction in the amount of work thatís being undertaken by the Yukon Housing Corporation. Is that because our economy is in the toilet and there are not too many initiatives and not too many Mountainview parks being undertaken by this Liberal government, set up to cost us more money? Why has there been such a change ó a $300,000 reduction. I havenít noticed the Yukon Housing Corporation going away.
Is the minister lost on the accounting function? Page 16B-3, net operating deficit. What that means is that, at the end of the year, Yukon Housing collects rents and everything on the social housing, they collect rents from staff housing, they have loans, they have all sorts of programs and, at the end of the day, theyíre in a loss position. So they go to the Government of Yukon and say that this year theyíve lost, and the actual for 2000-01 was a loss of $2.7 million. The Government of Yukon writes the Yukon Housing Corporation a cheque for $2.7 million.
Now, we kind of dwindle that down and the operating deficit is less and less, but weíre told there are more and more programs and more and more initiatives.
The deficit is being reduced by some $300,000 in this department now. So, itís amazing how we get from A to B. Perhaps when the minister goes home this evening, sheíll take her budget briefing book with her. One side of the ledger is usually black, and one is red. When itís red, it means there is a loss. If we have to colour code it, I could probably arrange to do that for the minister.
What it means is that Yukon Housing Corporation has historically been in a much higher loss position than it will currently be in and is projected to be in. Now, that would suggest to me that they are undertaking fewer and fewer initiatives under this government ó not more and more, and I want to know what has changed. I guess weíll get into this tomorrow.
Seeing the time, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that we do now report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. McLachlan: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: Iíll now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, Second Appropriation Act, 2002-03, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: Youíve heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. McLachlan: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:56 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled April 29, 2002:
Faro mine (Anvil Range Mining Corporation) reclamation: status of; Twenty-Seventh Report of the Interim Receiver (dated November 16, 2001) attached (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 3253
North American Tungsten: sums outstanding; road work (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 3248
Trust Agreements: Yukon Governmentís contribution to Yukon Foundation and allocation to the Yukon Teacher Mentoring Endowment Fund; Trust Agreement between the Yukon Government and the Yukon Foundation attached (Duncan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 3253
Youth Voices Endowment Fund (Kent)
Oral, Hansard, p. 3228