Tuesday, March 11, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker:I will now call this House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mrs. Peter:Iíd like to ask members of this House to please help me make welcome my husband, Ernie Peter, who is with us in the gallery today.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza:Mr. Speaker, pursuant to section 5(b) of the Education Act, I have for tabling the 2001-02 Public School Branch Annual Report.
Speaker: Are there any other returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Mr. Fentie:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the placer mining industry in the Yukon is of special significance to the territory, having helped create the territory as a separate jurisdiction in Canada in 1898, and remains an economic mainstay to this day over 100 years later;
(2) the Yukon placer authorization signed in 1993 was established to enable the placer mining industry to continue operations while protecting and preserving fish habitat for a decade;
(3) the recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to phase out the Yukon placer authorization was made without proper consultation and failed to meet the consultation requirements of Yukon First Nation land claims and self-government final agreements; and
(4) the decision failed to give due consideration to all relevant information about the economic and social impact on Yukon people and their families, or on the Yukonís economy as a whole; and
THAT this House urges the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to keep the existing Yukon placer authorization in place until proper consultation has taken place on a replacement authorization that achieves the objectives of protecting fish habitat without jeopardizing responsible placer mining.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, I would like to make a few comments in support of the motion presented to us on the ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Order please. Member for Kluane, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I believe this opportunity is out of order.
Speaker:This opportunity is out of order.
Are there any further notices of motion?
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
THAT this House opposes the privatization of publicly funded facilities and urges the Government of Yukon to exercise extreme caution before entering into any public/private partnerships for the construction of public infrastructure, such as highways, bridges or buildings.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Mr. Rouble: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of Yukon should implement an action plan to deal with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder that includes the following:
(1) promoting prevention programs to eliminate alcohol consumption by high-risk parents in order to foster the birth of healthy babies;
(2) establishing a system of early diagnosis of FASD before the age of six;
(3) supporting people and families with FASD through a wide range of services such as professional counselling and foster homes in order to provide a stable, nurturing home environment;
(4) enhancing supported living arrangements for adults with FASD; and
(5) forming a diagnostic team of professionals trained in personal counselling and social work/health to provide services to Yukon schools in order to provide support for FASD students and their families.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the previous Liberal government made a substantial financial contribution to the aboriginal achievement awards;
(2) such awards recognize the significant national contribution of the Yukonís aboriginal leaders; and
THAT this House urges the current Yukon Party government to reconsider its decision to withdraw financial support for the aboriginal achievement awards and assist in the celebration of aboriginal achievement as other provinces and territories and previous governments have done.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Whitehorse Correctional Centre rebuild
Mrs. Peter:My question today is for the Minister of Justice.
Mr. Speaker, on January 17 of this year, the minister made an announcement that the plans to build the Whitehorse Correctional Centre will be delayed for one year. One month later, on February 17, the Premierís news release announced a very different plan, with signing a memorandum of understanding with Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
Was the Minister of Justice and her department involved in this decision-making process?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. Youíre absolutely correct. In January, I believe it was, I had made the initial announcement to postpone the construction project of the redevelopment of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. It was shortly thereafter we were approached by Kwanlin Dun First Nation to become involved with Kwanlin Dun in the redevelopment project. We proceeded in this manner, and shortly thereafter, the Premier struck a memorandum of understanding with Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and the signing took place. It was very well-received. So, yes, I certainly was involved.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, the news release on February 17 informs us also that one part of this MOU with the First Nation and the Yukon government has agreed to work with other First Nations to review, design and develop programs for the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Will the minister tell us which other First Nations were involved at this negotiation table?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: First of all, the memorandum of understanding is an agreement of intent between our government and Kwanlin Dun First Nation on a government-to-government basis. The MOU does state that all Yukon First Nations, in conjunction with Kwanlin Dun First Nation and other stakeholders, will be fully involved in the programming options. We happen to think that this is a very good step in the right direction. We happen to think that by involving Yukon First Nations in the programming options we can only benefit by way of delivery of corrections in the territory.
Mrs. Peter: One of the repeated commitments of this Yukon Party government is to properly consult with Yukon people before any major decisions are made. First, this was a one-year delay. Then after the news release, with a big announcement, there was silence ó there was no new information made available. This definitely raises questions, confusion and uncertainty for the people of the Yukon public.
Can the minister please tell us what progress has been made to date?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Once again, I believe that we are making progress on this issue. I think that within the three months that this government has served in office, weíve made incredible strides in corrections here in the territory. I think that involving Yukon First Nations as a full partner in the delivery of corrections is a good thing. I believe that Kwanlin Dun First Nation has just recently issued letters of invitation to all Yukon First Nations inviting them to take part in these discussions. So I believe that there certainly is a lot of progress on this front. Negotiations will soon be underway with Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and that will certainly set the framework for the discussions to begin.
Question re: Carmacks fuel spill
Mr. Fairclough:My question could be answered by a couple of different ministers, either the Minister of Environment or the Minister of Health, or even the Minister of Community Services.
On Tuesday of last week, the fourth of this month, 3,500 litres plus of home heating fuel was pumped onto the grounds at the First Nations social services building in Carmacks. This building also houses the community daycare. There is fear that the well water in the area could become contaminated and the employees of that building were asked to leave because of health and safety reasons. I would like to ask the minister what actions he has taken to ensure that the fuel spill is cleaned up as quickly as possible by the company involved.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I can assure the member opposite that the Ministry of Environment has two people from the environmental assessment branch out there monitoring the situation and advising on the situation. But at the moment the matter seems to be between the oil company and the First Nation. It would probably be inappropriate to comment further on that until something develops, but it is being very carefully monitored.
Mr. Fairclough: The Department of Environment does have a polluter-pay policy. This is a health and safety issue, and it is also a fuel spill in the community. This happened a week ago, and I am sure the department should have acted upon this quite a bit earlier than what it has right now. The company is doing assessment work right now, but one week has passed and the employees are still out of the building. This is an important matter and should be dealt with with the highest priority. The employees want to be back in their building. They want to be assured that they are in a safe environment and the community wants their daycare back. This could take months before they are allowed back into their building. Will the minister treat this matter as a top priority and ensure that the cleanup takes place as quickly as possible? Will he at least do that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, absolutely. The matter, again, is between the oil company and the unfortunate incident and the band. We are monitoring that, and we give it a very high priority. As the member opposite mentioned in the question, the environmental assessment is already underway and it was started by the oil company.
Question re: Child care workersí wages
Ms. Duncan:Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier and Minister of Finance on new funding for child care workersí wages.
At a forum held during the recent election, the Premier promised to increase wages for child care workers. The first budget from the Finance minister has come and gone with no increases for child care workers. The government did, however, find new money for a study to look at the issue. They hired a contractor. Can the Premier confirm that the contract was sole-sourced to Mr. Lynn Ogden, a Yukon Party candidate? Could he also table the contract, tell the public how much the contract is for, and perhaps the Premier and Finance minister could advise what qualifications Mr. Ogden has for this contract.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Given that I have the department that oversees this area, I will respond to the leader of the third partyís question.
The Yukon Party government, when they were first elected, recognized the high priority of child care, and an individual was tasked immediately, the first day after we were elected, to consult with all the stakeholders and to ascertain and address the whole issue of child care in the Yukon, and we have an interim report that just crossed my desk. I will be sharing the final report with the House as soon as it has been vetted and we have looked at it as a caucus, but we have not as yet, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: My question was for the Premier in his capacity as Minister of Finance. It had to do with commitments that the now Finance minister made with respect to wages, and I would note that the Health minister has not answered the questions that I asked of the Premier with respect to the sole-source contract.
The budget the government tabled doesnít contain new money for child care workers ó another broken promise. What it does contain is a wage increase for the Premierís top two political staff. In fact, the government couldnít wait to give these two top staff appointments ó the good old boys ó a $20,000 increase each. Why is rewarding the good old boys, the political staff, more important than child care workers?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Given that the question started with the preamble addressing the issue of child care, we might as well stay on the same tack and not allow the member opposite to switch gears in the middle of a question with her supplementary.
The issue of child care is being addressed by our government. The line item for child care in the budget, Mr. Speaker, has an amount there. What I want to share with the House is that there used to be four categories in that line item. There are currently only three, so the amount thatís being funded for child care is not being reduced by our government. In fact, given the federal governmentís position and the new money that they are pumping in ó and weíve all heard the announcement about the federal Liberals pumping more money into child care, and it amounts to billions of dollars on the federal level. But what that translates to, by the time it comes to the Yukon ó on a per capita basis ó is $25,000 of additional funding for child care here in the Yukon for this next year. Thatís all it amounts to.
Ms. Duncan: With all due respect, my first question referenced wage increases. My second question referenced wage increases. Both were commitments by the Premier and Finance minister ó one was actions. The questions and supplementary are entirely in order and on the same subject.
On that subject, would the Premier and Finance minister please explain to Yukoners and to the House why, as Finance minister, he has the ability to sole-source contracts for political friends in excess of $200,000 and has the ability to provide wage increases for the top two political staff in the office immediately upon taking office, and yet the Premier and Finance minister ó who promised publicly on CBC radio, broadcast throughout the Yukon, a wage increase for child care workers? But no, the government has to study that issue.
Why can the Premier provide wage increases to political friends and the good old boys and not the child care workers?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I think we must correct the record. Itís not the Premier or the Minister of Finance who sets the wage scale or job classifications for Cabinet, caucus and staff. There is a due process for that, and that due process resulted in the wage scale that we have in government. I think itís a very effective wage scale. The job classifications are very effective. We have a great team involved with us as government, and thatís a positive for all Yukoners.
Secondly, the reference to political friends ó let me point out that we havenít, in the case of the $200,000 contract for First Nation relations, appointed any political friends. Itís a well-known fact that the gentleman in question is a Liberal. So we make no bones about it and weíll open admit that ó so much for that issue.
Now, when it comes to the child care issue, the issue is about fair wages. Under the existing system there are no guarantees that an increase in funding to child care will result in wages in hand for child care workers. Plus there is a plethora of issues involved here and competing interests. Of course we set about getting the information that we require to make informed decisions. Thatís what this report is all about. From there, we will proceed to live up to the commitments that we have committed to Yukoners. Thatís what government is all about. We donít make knee-jerk reactions, willy-nilly decisions. We think it through and come up with the right decision the first time.
Question re: Public services provided by private sector
Mr. Hardy:My question is for the Premier about his governmentís position on the relationship between the public and private sectors. Both the throne speech and his budget speech make much of the need for new partnerships between the territorial government and the First Nation governments, and we can certainly support that position. However, we do have some questions about the role of the private sector in delivering public services, Mr. Speaker.
Will the Premier tell us when he considers it appropriate for private contractors to be involved in providing services that are traditionally the responsibility of the public government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think this is a very good question, a very good point, that the leader of the official opposition has presented here in the Legislature.
To date, there is no privatization, but what we have said is that the private sector will form a component of team Yukon as too will our public service. I think the evidence of those things will come in time as our plan unfolds. Obviously, when it comes to the public service, when we enter into negotiations, thatís where these issues will become evident and as we continue to engage the private sector to help us rebuild our economy. This is very important because, if you really look at the fiscal realities, 50 cents of every dollar of revenue that accrues to the Yukon government comes from income tax. That is why we must engage the private sector and create a return of the population versus the exodus.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the Premier for that answer. But Iíd like to find out a little bit more about that, because I think it is a good question as well ó try and understand what the relationship is between private and public and where this government actually stands on that and where theyíre trying to take it. It would make it a lot clearer for the people of the Yukon if we knew what that case was.
Will the Premier tell us what type of capital project he has in mind, how many there are or what weíre talking about? Are they highways, schools, possibly a bridge across the river in Dawson City or whatever?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I can tell the member firstly that we will look at all options, because the territory is at the precipice of needing to look at all options to turn the situation we face around, but I can also tell the member that this government will not contravene a collective bargaining agreement. Now, when you put those two things together, I think itís clear how we must proceed.
Mr. Hardy: Once again, Mr. Speaker, weíre hearing the term "precipice", which indicates that we are in a very dire situation. As I said yesterday, that was a big concern for us in conveying that kind of message, as we would hope that this government would be leading in a more positive light and not creating this scenario.
However, I am going to go back to the question I asked earlier. Can the Premier give us some indications about what direction he plans to take any kind of relationships in the private and public ó whether itís the actual construction, whether itís roads, whether it is actually delivery of services? Because that exists there already in some cases. If the Premier could shed some of that light for us, it would assist us in our understanding of where this government is going.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, this is a very important line of questioning because it does relate to constructive debate, and I think that is what we have to have more of here in this House. But first let me point out to the leader of the official opposition that we intend to maximize, in what we do with capital expenditure, the return to the Yukon public. Having said that, that must mean that the equation should ensure that weíve maximized retained spending power. Whatever vehicles that are at our disposal or whatever options are at our disposal to maximize those benefits and retain that spending power for Yukoners is what we will be looking to.
Secondly, we are not presenting doom and gloom here. We are presenting merely the situation the territory is in. Today, well in excess of 80 percent of economic generator dollars in this territory is dependent on government. Less than 20 percent comes from the private sector. We, the Yukon public, do not want to be wards of the southern taxpayer. We want to contribute our fair share to the national stage. We want to develop and grow, and we must have the private sector be a much larger economic generator of dollars in this territory. That is vital to the future.
Question re: Shakwak reconstruction contract
Mr. McRobb:My question today is for the Minister of Infrastructure on Shakwak contracting. Last spring the Yukon government awarded the $5.9 million contract for major highway reconstruction to L.N.R. Excavating of Sidney, B.C. This Outside company raised eyebrows when it underbid more experienced Yukon contractors by some $3 million. As the summer wore on, progress on this road section east of Christmas Creek was painfully slow. L.N.R. Excavating was unable to live up to the original terms of the tender and had to be given time extensions. Then it came as no surprise when the news hit last fall that L.N.R. Excavating was past deadline while the job was barely half done. Can the minister confirm that this contractor has now defaulted on the contract and the situation is in the hands of the bonding company?
Hon. Mr. Hart: That is precisely why bonding is provided on projects of this size. I can assure the member opposite that the bonding company is in charge of this particular application.
Mr. McRobb: Yukoners have many concerns about what has taken place here. One of those concerns is the state of that half-completed road section during spring breakup. Soon the snow-packed surface of the road will degenerate to mud soup on rock. The government has the responsibility to ensure our roads are maintained in reasonable and safe driving conditions for motorists. Yukoners need some assurance in this matter. The Alaska Highway is our major international transportation corridor.
Will the minister provide us with that assurance now?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I assure the member opposite that our staff is working with the bonding company to ensure that proper steps are taken to ensure that safety is provided on that road.
Mr. McRobb: Thereís a lesson to be learned here, Mr. Speaker. We, as Yukoners, must do whatever possible to minimize the chances of Yukon contractors losing these contract awards. That said, I want to ask the minister about another Shakwak contract being tendered now for the reconstruction of the section from Duke River to Burwash Creek.
The closing date was March 6 but, on the very day before the tender bid process closed, the Yukon government changed the tender and extended the bid period for another week; therefore, the government has allowed Outside contractors more opportunity to submit their bids.
Yukon jobs are at stake here. How can this minister possibly allow that to happen?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The addition of the one week was based on a request from one of the applicants for the additional time period.
Question re: Whitehorse Copper residential development
Mr. Cardiff:My question is for the Minister of Community Services. On February 20, the ministerís department wrote residents in the area affected by the Whitehorse Copper development. That letter said, in part, that a screening may be required under the Yukon Environmental Assessment Act, post-devolution, April 1, 2003. Residents are concerned that the government is rushing this development to avoid a year review. Will the minister assure the House that his department will not ram through the Whitehorse Copper development so as to avoid a year review?
Hon. Mr. Hart: This government has put a hold on the particular development pending the results provided by the consultation on January 8. We did provide our results to the applicants of that area. They have asked us for some additional time to review our documentation and we are honouring that process.
Mr. Cardiff: So, Iím not sure whether we got an assurance of whether or not this project will be required to go through the Environmental Assessment Act review process.
I was pleased yesterday to learn that the department had cancelled the open house scheduled for this Thursday. Iím sure the residents appreciate the extra time to go through the information package about this development. However, concerns remain about the scope, the structure and the timeline for the consultation process on the Whitehorse Copper subdivision development. The minister said yesterday that the government is looking at that process. What Iíd like to know is: what is the minister doing specifically to ensure that there is a process of real consultation with people affected by this development?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned earlier, we had provided the residents with information regarding the development. They have asked some additional time. We granted their additional time.
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, at least one member opposite campaigned on the promise to stop this project, and yet the government has identified $5.6 million in its capital budget for residential land development, and this has left the people in the community thinking that this is a done deal out there. Will the minister assure the House that no development will begin before his department has consulted properly with the people affected by the development and address their concerns?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will address it in the manner that I have previously. They have asked for some additional time to review our proposals, and we are allowing that process to take place. Once we have received that, weíll get back to them, and weíll proceed from there.
Question re: School council budget cuts
Mr. Fairclough:Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education. Mr. Speaker, I was disappointed to learn that, in the Yukon Party budget, the budget for education has effectively been reduced. The Yukon Party promised excellence in education, and how do they start this? They started by cutting the budget. Remuneration for school councils and committees was cut by some 34 percent. If the minister believes in the role of school councils as defined in the Education Act, why did he cut their budget?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The school councils are extremely important. We believe in local decision making and we will continue to support them. I would like to correct the member opposite. We did not cut the school council funding.
Mr. Fairclough: Iíd ask the minister to read the budget. The Department of Educationís remuneration for school councils and committees was cut by some 34 percent. The minister could not answer the question about why he cut the budget?
The Yukon Party promised to be open and accountable; they promised to consult and, Mr. Speaker, I believe they broke their promise. As a result, there is less money for school councils in this budget.
Why didnít the minister consult with the Association of School Councils before making this unwarranted budget cut?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I will reiterate what I said earlier. This is not a cut. Monies are provided for honoraria and secretarial services, or secretary-treasurer support, and we will continue to support the school councils.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, Iíd have to say what I said earlier, too. The minister needs to read his own budget. Iím sure he must have had some input into how the budget was presented in this House, or was he not fighting strong enough for the school councils? They are important. The cuts to school councils have huge implications.
As the member said, these monies go toward honoraria and, of course, to such things as administration costs like bookkeeping and so on. These cuts could mean fewer meetings and less efficiency.
So, what is the minister doing to ensure that school councils will be able to have effective input in the final stages of the Education Act review if and when this takes place?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This government does support school councils, and it is going to be maintained. We have just basically changed the payment to a top-up formula.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private membersí business
Mr. McRobb:Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the official opposition to be called on Wednesday, March 12, 2003. They are Motion No. 6, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre, and Motion No. 37, standing in the name of the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
Ms. Duncan: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), Iíd like to identify the item standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, March 12, 2003. It is Motion No. 8.
Government House leaderís report of length of sitting
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:Pursuant to Standing Order 75(2), I wish to inform the House that the House leaders have met for the purpose of achieving agreement on the maximum number of sitting days for the current sitting. The House leaders have agreed that the current sitting should be a maximum of 36 sitting days, with the 36th sitting day being May 1, 2003.
Speaker: Accordingly, I declare the current sitting shall be a maximum of 36 sitting days, with the 36th sitting day being May 1, 2003.
We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Unanimous consent re waiving notice on Motion No. 41
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:On behalf of the House leaders, I would request the unanimous consent of the House to waive the notice provisions of Standing Order 27.1, in order to allow Motion No. 41, standing in the name of the Premier, to be called for debate at this time.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent for Motion No. 41 to be called for debate at this time?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Motion No. 41
Speaker:It has been moved by the hon. Premier
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the placer mining industry in the Yukon is of special significance to the territory, having helped create the territory as a separate jurisdiction in Canada in 1898, and remains an economic mainstay to this day, over 100 years later;
(2) the Yukon placer authorization signed in 1993 was established to enable the placer mining industry to continue operations while protecting and preserving fish habitat for a decade;
(3) the recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to phase out the Yukon placer authorization was made without proper consultation and failed to meet the consultation requirements of Yukon First Nations land claims and self-government final agreements;
(4) the decision failed to give due consideration to all relevant information about the economic and social impact on Yukon people and their families or on the Yukonís economy as a whole; and
THAT this House urges the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to keep the existing Yukon placer authorization in place until proper consultation has taken place on a replacement authorization that achieves the objectives of protecting fish habitat without jeopardizing responsible placer mining.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First let me begin by saying that I am very, very pleased that we have come to this juncture here in the House with all the Members of this Legislative Assembly. I think this is a moment to be marked clearly as an accomplishment for this new Assembly and the members here present in representing our respective constituencies and at the same time representing Yukonís interests, including what is the most important for us ó the public interest.
There is no question that what has happened here is a serious matter for Yukoners. First Nation governments have been completely ignored and neglected in what is the responsibility of the federal government under the final agreements to ensure that the input of those governments are always consistent with the decision-making processes that happen here in this territory. That did not happen with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Further to that, it has an effect on the Yukonís public government because if we are to take over on April 1, the management and control of our lands, water and resources, we need to ensure that a department like the Department of Fisheries and Oceans cannot unilaterally influence and implement its decision-making processes from far away without even so much as contacting the public government on what it is they intend to do. This is not a relationship that will provide a productive and constructive association with a federal department once we, the Yukon government, become responsible in all these areas.
So itís important to us as government to ensure also that we define this relationship and that unilateral action by federal departments that will impact negatively ó especially on Yukoners ó simply cannot happen.
But most importantly, this is about one of the last bastions of private sector enterprise in the Yukon, one of the cornerstones of our economy, one of the most important elements of our history ó it is our culture; it is our heritage; it has been involved with Yukon for over 100 years; it is part of the fabric of this territory, and it was diminished in stature by such a unilateral, draconian measure as brought forward by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
And I can say that the minister in charge was given what appears to be bad advice. The minister was given information in part ó or not the whole equation ó so that the minister could make an informed decision on behalf of Yukoners and indeed in his duty as a minister of the Crown for Canada. So that is why weíve come to this juncture. We have impressed upon this department in Ottawa on all fronts: industry, stakeholder groups, First Nation governments, other orders of government like British Columbia and people in general. There have been countless letters written admonishing the minister, and now today this House has lent its weight, its authority and its ability to impress upon the minister that he must reconsider. We have offered the minister, with this motion which is unanimously supported here, a way to solve his problem and, in doing so, ensure that the impacts of what the department intends to do now and into the future are managed appropriately so that all the ramifications of the decision do not fall on one tiny sector like our placer mining industry but fall on all our shoulders. We will have the responsibility to ensure that we do two things: protect the environment and fish habitat while allowing our placer mining industry to continue in a responsible way.
Again I say, Mr. Speaker, Iím very, very pleased and very, very buoyed by what has taken place with this particular issue by all the members in this Assembly. I commend the opposition for their input. They have strengthened what we, the government side, have previously brought forward. That is what constructive debate is all about. Thatís what we need to build upon. This is a great first step, and for all of us here today, I think we should be proud of the decision made in a unanimous manner by every member of this Legislative Assembly. This will send a clear, consistent and strong message to Ottawa that we are a part of their decision-making process.
Mr. McRobb: We, too, on this side, Mr. Speaker, are very pleased to speak in favour of this motion today. The Premier spelled out the terms of the unanimous agreement on the wording in this motion, and it serves as a very important example for us, as legislators representing all the people in the territory, to come together and form a united front on this matter.
Itís very important for us to send a clear signal to Ottawa that Yukoners, as represented in this Chamber, are united on this matter of such extreme importance to the territory.
The current placer authorization was developed by Yukoners after more than a decade of work through an open process involving stakeholders on all sides of this issue.
On December 16, however, the Yukon placer authorization was chucked aside and in its place the federal government brought in very stringent requirements that will negatively impact the placer mining industry. This decision was unilateral and it failed to involve Yukoners.
Yukon First Nationsí rights were abrogated by the failure to consult them. Iím disappointed that it seems nothing was learned from the recent example of the Mount Trudeau debacle, Mr. Speaker. The UFA in that instance provided Yukon First Nations with the same right to be consulted. It wasnít until a tremendous uproar from Canadians and from Yukoners brought that oversight to the attention of the federal government that it backed down.
Iím sure this will send another message to Ottawa to abide by the terms and conditions of Yukon laws and to consult whenever required.
At this point, itís still unknown if the minister will alter his decision, but the inside word is that something positive could be coming out of this soon. Letís hope so, Mr. Speaker.
Placer mining is an important part of our territoryís history. We owe a lot of our history to the industry. If not for placer mining, the Yukon might not have had its history of paddlewheelers, the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush. Placer mining is part of our culture, Mr. Speaker. Just visit some of the many museums across the territory and it will be very evident just how important this industry is to the Yukonís history. The MacBride Museum has an extensive display; the Yukon Transportation Museum; many museums in communities like Dawson City, Mayo, and others have a good part of their displays credited to the mining industry.
The industry is an important contributor to our economy, Mr. Speaker. I think we can all agree that the non-government sectors of our economy need all the help they can get, especially from government. The last thing they need is hindrance and more regulation that will drive them away. If the territory ever hopes to be self-sustaining some day, we have to do what we can to get Yukon businesses on their feet and keep them there.
Itís also a way of life. Placer mining provides the opportunity for ordinary Yukoners to go seek their fame and fortune in the gold fields, its freedom of lifestyle, and many Yukoners have taken up that opportunity for benefit to not only themselves, their families and the communities, but the Yukon economy.
Some of them are still in operation today. The biggest placer miners are Yukon residents. This has been likened to the family farm of the Yukon. We have to do what we can to support this industry.
The New Democrats have a proven track record of recognizing and supporting responsible mining activity in the territory. That is evident throughout our tax laws and programs offered by the Yukon government.
One aspect of this whole issue that is rather convincing is the impact of imposing these federal regulations on the small economy of our territory, as compared to the rest of the country. We need only look at the Maritimesí oil and gas industry where exceptions to these same rules are allowed by the federal politicians. On the prairies, examples of authorizations exempting the agriculture industry from these same regulations are very evident. On the west coast, the City of Victoria still pumps raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean ó that is another exemption to these same rules that the federal government insists must be applied here.
If everyone in the country had to live by the same rules, it would be a lot easier to take. But it seems that because weíre in the upper corner of the country with a relatively small population ó 0.1 percent of the countryís population ó sometimes our voice is not heard very loudly.
I think that collectively Yukoners can be proud of this united message weíre sending today, that our voices will be heard. We know weíll be sending a transcript of this motion debate to Ottawa, and weíll ensure the message gets through.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the opposition House leader.
As the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, I would like to make a few comments in support of this motion presented to us on the Yukon placer authorization.
I believe everybody in this House understands the history of the gold rush and the placer mining in the Yukon and how important it was in the past, and I think we all understand how important it is today. It is a very large industry for the Yukon, considering the size of the community.
I would like to take a moment and thank everybody in the House for their concerns and their support to the industry, because itís very important that weíre unanimous on this, because we have to get the ear of the people in Ottawa, and they have to get it loud. So thank you.
This federal Minister of Fisheries compromised a made-in-the-Yukon decision. This process, which we had gone through for 20 years ó we were protecting the fish, and we were also being responsible with placer mining. So this decision was a bad decision. The process was bad. It certainly didnít involve any governments. First Nation governments werenít consulted; the Department of Indian Affairs was not consulted; the local government was not consulted, even though we are going to take over the management of these resources in three weeks. So this decision has consequences throughout the mining industry, by the way, people. So this is a very important thing to nip in the bud, work together as a unit, and get the thing done.
And Iíd like to, again, thank all of you people and all of us in the House for working for this thing, and I think maybe we will be successful.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I would like to spend just a moment to speak in favour of this motion. The lack of consultation in this entire matter was rather staggering to me to think that some of the governments should be working together and in this case they were not. They were completely ignored. It does also bother me that they were ignored and that no one in the Yukon was consulted ó thatís actually not true, Mr. Speaker, because there were a few people in the Yukon who were consulted. They expressed an opinion and amazingly changed that opinion very quickly, as soon as the decision came down from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and that too is very sad.
The whole issue shows a real lack of understanding in terms of what the implications of this decision are ó to meet a standard that can only be met by adding chemicals to the water. As Minister of Environment, that makes no sense to me whatsoever, especially in light of DIAND and other federal government departments that estimate that nearly 56 percent of the placer miners will be put out of business with this decision. It makes absolutely no sense. The impacts on the mining sector, the impacts on the economy of the Yukon, the impacts on the tourism of the Yukon ó people come here to see our pristine environment but they also come here to see the gold rush, not only the problems that the gold rush created but in many respects how the industry itself has changed and how it is being done in a better way. It gives me great pleasure to support this motion.
Ms. Duncan: I rise also in support of this particular motion as have the members done before me. However, I would just like to clarify for the record ó the Premier in his speech indicated that it was a rarity that the House had unanimously sent such a strong message. In constructive support of the Premierís argument, there has actually been one other instance in my term as a member of this House when the House has unanimously stood and sent a strong message and motion to Ottawa, and that was with respect to the Minister of Finance paying an outstanding bill for health issues. There was a motion brought forward ó again it was a private memberís motion as opposed to a government motion ó and it was unanimously agreed upon by all members of this House. That sent a very, very strong message to Ottawa.
I would say that I appreciate the initiative of all members of the House to work together on this and send, again, a strong message to Ottawa.
There is a point thatís missing in the motion. Iím not proposing an amendment, but I would just like to ensure that it is recorded in Hansard that we recognize, as a House, the work of our Member of Parliament, Larry Bagnell, and in particular our Senator, Ione Christensen, on this subject as well. They have worked tirelessly on this particular issue, representing Yukonersí viewpoints, and Senator Christensen, in particular, with her experience of having done the inquiry into placer authorization and so on. Iím not proposing an amendment. I would simply like to ensure that Hansard records the recognition of those fellow Yukoners and their initiatives to try and resolve this issue.
There is no question that the members of the Yukon Liberal Party, I, as an elected representative, Jack Cable formerly and Scott Kent in particular, Dale Eftoda with his able chairmanship of the Water Board, and others have a long history and a long support of both the Klondike Placer Miners Association and this particular struggle with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
To borrow a popular expression, now more than ever itís incredibly important that we, as Yukoners, do support the Placer Miners Association and the placer mining industry in the Yukon in the resolution of their issues with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
I know itís only maybe some small comfort to Yukoners in that weíre not alone as a jurisdiction. Other provinces have the same issues ó and not just the east coast fisheries but even semi-land-locked ó Manitoba has significant struggles around Lake Winnipeg with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well and has received less than stellar service from the current Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
So, we recognize their struggle and perhaps their House will do something similar and have a unanimous motion in dealing with this particular minister.
My point, Mr. Speaker, is that, on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party, and as the representative of the third party in this Legislature, we offer our unanimous support to this motion and pledge our continued support and effort on behalf of the placer mining industry. As I said, we have a long history of working with the association on a variety of issues, in particular this one, and we will continue to do so. Iím pleased to work with my colleagues on this particular matter. I did raise it with the Premier in December, as he had often suggested in the past, from this corner of the House, a high-level delegation to Ottawa. I had indicated to him in a meeting in December that perhaps this would be the issue where such a delegation was required, and I would again indicate that I would be prepared to participate in such a delegation.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the members for their attention and the opportunity to contribute my support to this particular motion.
Mr. Hardy: It goes without saying that the actions taken by the federal Liberals have caused a tremendous amount of hardship for people of the Yukon. When I talk about hardship, Iím talking about the relationships that we build up here; Iím talking about the ability to work together to find common ground to move forward. What we have seen, through the actions of the federal Liberals, is a move to create a division among the people of the Yukon, not entrusting them with the ability to resolve the issues that we are facing and the problems that we experience in the Yukon and, of course, the problem weíre talking about today, which is the protection of the fish habitat, as well as the ability of Yukon placer miners to be able to stay in their occupation, make a living and support their families and the towns they are often close to.
Now, I stand here today to say very clearly that we cannot ignore the importance of our environment. We cannot ignore the fact that, within our world today, the pressures upon our environment have continued to grow. It has continued to grow because of our actions, our impact upon the earth. However, we cannot also ignore the fact that people should be allowed to make a living. Somewhere among that, we have to find that balance. The balance is to ensure that people can continue to make a living in their chosen professions or trades, but to also ensure that there will be future habitat for our wildlife ó our fish ó that there will be something there for the next generations.
The other side of it that we also canít ignore is the fact that there are other economies that are based upon the wilderness, based upon the fish of our world. In this case, we have to be very conscious of the fact that there is subsistence living that people choose to live by. There are fisheries. There are ecotourism operations that bring a substantial amount of money into the territory. We canít ignore that. So we canít just take one side and say, "This is right," and we canít take the other side and say, "Thatís right," when weíre trying to find a resolution to it. What we have to do is put up the target ó the goal, what weíre trying to achieve ó put it up there and work to resolve it and work toward it.
Now, one of the biggest concerns I have had over the actions of the federal government is the anger that has been expressed in one segment of our society toward another segment of our society.
That is a big concern for me, especially if weíre planning to move forward in the territory. We cannot in any way, shape or form continue to grow as a territory if we continue to fight among ourselves. This action has caused that stress; this action has caused the one part of our society that feels very deeply about the environment to now also feel fearful to express their opinion about it because of the poisonous atmosphere that exists today within our society. A lot of that can be pointed directly back to the federal governmentís unilateral action over this issue.
I am very, very disturbed, and I feel that if we continue to allow it to grow, itís not going to be just the conservationists or the environmentalists on one side and the mining industry or mining interests on the other. Itís going to spread into other parts of the debate about how our society is made. It could be with the educators, people who believe that the arts have a role to play in education, to those who believe that the arts are a waste of money, and you get this debate that itís not based upon shared ideas to find a resolution to move forward but to take positions, take camps. And once youíre in those camps, refusing to move, refusing to leave the camp to come together, work together to resolve the issues ó in the last couple years, I have seen this shift in behaviour of the people of the Yukon, and more than anything else, in the last few months it has solidified, and that is a danger that we face as politicians in here ó itís a danger that we face if we contribute to that, if we feed into it.
Thatís not our role in here and Iíve said this before but I feel I have to say it again. It is not our role in here to be taking sides and encouraging poisonous debate within our society. I believe our role in here is to bring people together to resolve the issues that we face today, in a manner that best represents the people of the Yukon and finds resolution that people can live with.
In this case, this is a role that we have to play in and, for that very reason, I stand here today to support this motion, because thatís what we have managed to do in the last week ó to find some common ground, a motion that was brought forward a week ago, and to find some common ground in our discussions over the last five or six days, to come up with a motion that we can live with and believe will have some impact. We believe it has some reflection of the values of society that recognizes the Yukon placer miners and their history, but also does recognize the importance of protecting the fish habitat. For those very reasons, I stand here today and support this motion.
Speaker: If the member now speaks he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I think all that needs be said has been said. This is, as I pointed out earlier, a very significant milestone for the Members of this Legislative Assembly. We have shown that we can work together when it comes to issues of public interest, that we can put our collective heads together and come up with a solution. The leader of the official opposition was pointing out the poisonous debate that resulted from this decision in Ottawa. I think that is why the Yukon placer authorization was so important. It removed that kind of debate. It put all the stakeholders at the table and, constructively, they together developed recommendations, solutions and the way forward on behalf of all Yukoners.
So, weíve not only worked together in this House; weíve now sent a clear example to Yukoners of working together, on the protection of our environment and habitat and the protection of our industries. The First Nation people extensively work in this industry. They are much sought after because of their knowledge, capacity and the abilities they show in this area. They also have a great deal to offer in the protection of fish habitat because of subsistence living and their long, long history and knowledge.
This decision by DFO removed all of these very important elements. This motion now puts them in the context of this Assembly and our territory back on track. We are united. Let us send that clear message to Ottawa, that this unity is about protecting the public interest, Yukonersí interests, and representing those interests, as it is our duty and responsibility to do.
From this particular example, I look forward to many others. I think the leader of the third party has pointed out something that is very relevant here. This should be delivered in a way that expresses, at the highest level, what our position is. We will have further discussions on exactly how to do that, when it comes to getting this particular unanimous motion and its decision to Ottawa.
I thank all the members for their input and for their focus and for their living up to our responsibilities here as legislators. This is a great day.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker:Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Arntzen: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 17 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 41 agreed to
Withdrawal of motion
Speaker:The Chair wishes to inform the House that Motion No. 5, standing in the name of the Minister of Environment, will be dropped from the Order Paper as it is similar in intent and subject matter to Motion No. 41, which has just been adopted by this House.
Bill No. 4: Second Reading ó adjourned debate
Clerk:Bill No. 4, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Fentie; adjourned debate, Mrs. Peter.
Mrs. Peter: It is again my pleasure to respond to the budget speech. I was again encouraged by the commitments that I heard in the throne speech and the budget speech to partner with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to address some of the issues that were outstanding for us. I just want to list off some of those initiatives that were brought forward. One is for the construction of the winter road and a rock quarry. The second is the stabilization of the riverbank. The third is ensuring that the Yukon territorial government has equal travel on Air North, which is Yukonís airline. And also the support for the Porcupine caribou issues.
Another one of the issues that I would like to address and make some comments on at this time is about the native languages. Throughout the Yukon, we have several different native languages for each region. For the region that I come from, our language is of the Vuntut Gwitchin. A few months ago, I heard about a study that was done in Canada that brought a really, really serious concern to me and many other people throughout the territory. The study gave information about the native languages across Canada ó we are in a crisis situation.
There are only two languages that are going to survive this century, and the two languages that are going to survive are Inuktitut and Cree.
Mr. Speaker, I would just like to bring the seriousness of this issue to this House, how important native language is for the Yukon Territory. We live in a very unique situation here where we all live with each other in the various communities throughout the territory and we all have an impact on each other. I know that for the community of Old Crow, there are some non-First Nation students who attend because of their families working in Old Crow. They learn some of our languages, and that has an impact on them for the rest of their lives. They learn to say very simple words like, "Thank you very much", and in our language, how we say that is mahsi'cho. And to address a person and say "How are you?" when you meet them on the street. To that individual, whether of First Nation descent or non-First Nation descent, you are acknowledging that person. In the Yukon Territory, we again live in a unique situation where we all acknowledge each other, and we are different in that way from across Canada ó at least I would like to think so.
Another one is the issue around youth. There was a youth conference that was held at the end of January, which I attended, and in the circle discussion that we had, language was one of the highest priorities for them and their connection and relationship with the elders throughout the territory and how much they need to learn in those ways.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I am very pleased to rise in support of the budget that the Minister of Finance, the Premier of the Yukon, presented to this House. On November 4 of this past year, the Yukon Party was provided with a very great mandate to govern. That mandate was predicated on the platform that was advanced by the Yukon Party and that platform was widely accepted. At issue ó and the number one issue ó was the economy. There has been, over the past several years, an exodus of Yukoners because of lack of employment. Traditionally the resource extraction industry has been the backbone of the Yukon economy. That is no longer the case. The backbone of the Yukon economy currently is government. We are a welfare territory, dependent on the largesse of Ottawa. Virtually 84 or 85 cents out of every dollar that changes hands here in the Yukon originates from Ottawa. It used to be virtually the other way around. The royalties from mineral production here in the Yukon used to be the main economic drivers and the source of revenues not only for Yukon but for Canada. Our government is taking steps to address the issues of the economy to turn it around.
The first area that has to be identified and dealt with is to restore investor confidence. Now that is not going to occur overnight. It is going to take awhile.
The investment climate here in the Yukon is in the backwash of Canada. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, our area has one of the highest resource potentials and is the least attractive to the investment community for the purpose of resource extraction. That said, we will see a continuous process by our Yukon Party government to address these issues and to deal with them.
On April 1, Yukon takes over responsibilities for resource extraction. Under devolution, we will receive the responsibility for Indian and Northern Affairs programs here in the Yukon. I guess we will become the caretakers, because the responsibility will still be vested in Ottawa, subject of course, and always, to the federal Department of Fisheries because they seem to be, more or less, the ruling body here in the Yukon. Itís not the Government of Yukon, itís not the various agencies of Yukon; it appears more often than not to be the federal Department of Fisheries. Hopefully, by the motion that was presented today and unanimously consented to by this Assembly, we will see that stopped. Itís rumoured that the federal government is purporting to have a Cabinet shuffle, with the federal Minister of Fisheries being replaced. Hopefully, that will occur and will allow the new federal Minister of Fisheries some latitude to address the Yukon placer authorization.
The main industry here in the Yukon for many, many years ó and indeed the entire region ó came into existence based on the placer mining industry and the subsequent hard rock mining that took place all around the Yukon.
We have so much potential. The resources are still where they were 100 plus years ago when the Yukon was created. We have just tapped the surface of the resource extraction potential here in the Yukon. Also, we have one industry that is sustainable and that is being totally ignored by the federal government, and that is forestry. Here we have the potential for a sustainable industry and yet the federal government has chosen to ignore it and put every impediment in the way of the harvesting of the vast stands of timber.
One only has to go back to the heyday of the Yukon, during the gold rush of 1898, when tremendous tracks of forest were carved down to create barges, boats and houses. In fact, wood was the main construction material; it was used in the mining community for supporting material, shafts, adits. It was used in sluice boxes. It was used to heat ó it was the main source of fuel for the longest time here in the Yukon. Indeed, one only has to look at the transportation corridors, the sternwheelers, and see how many cords of wood a sternwheeler burned in an hour of its journey down river, never mind its journey up river.
Mr. Speaker, vast amounts of wood were harvested back in those days, and yet you can go out, and you can run up and down the Yukon River, and youíre hard-pressed to find an area where you can see tracts of forest that have been carved down. You canít. You can get an idea of where someone has homesteaded or where thereís a campground, but thatís about the extent of it.
Mr. Speaker, I submit we have a tremendous opportunity here in all of the resource extraction areas ó forestry and minerals. The other area that is being totally ignored for whatever reason is the oil and gas. One would be of the opinion, given the drilling programs in our neighbouring jurisdictions, that underground, under the Yukon, the pockets of gas, pockets of oil, stop right at our border. Thatís very much not the case; but look at the southwestern Northwest Territories and the drilling that is taking place and the vast tracts of reserves that have been proven there, and yet the wells that are in production here in the Yukon and south-eastern Yukon have been in existence for quite some time. We have to change that. We have to restore investor confidence. After all, we have to give the news media something to talk about other than just what the elected officials say on a daily basis. This could be the mainstay of the Yukon. This could contribute to our economic well-being.
And after the issues of rebuilding our economy by restoring investor confidence and getting that area, we would have more money to address our social responsibilities. And one of the main bone of contentions of late is that this government has cut the budget for child care. This budget has also been cut for education. I would encourage the members opposite to examine in detail the line items for these areas, and they will find ó if they want to refer to the Department of Healthís budget for child care ó that there were four categories in that one line item under the previous administration. Now there are only three. The amount of money that has been earmarked for direct operating grants for child care is consistent with prior years. It is $1,533,000. Our government is committed to providing the best programs in these areas, consistent with what has been established in the past and, in fact, enhancing them as is evident by the pioneer utility grant increase that will encourage seniors to remain in their own homes. Just give them a little bit of extra opportunity to recover a few more dollars. A fixed pension is pretty, pretty hard to deal with in light of the impact on us from escalating fuel costs.
The Yukon today depends primarily on fossil fuels for heating. There are some who have continued to use wood but, by and large, oil and bottled gas or propane are the main heating substances that we burn today.
We know whatís happening currently with the price of oil; itís going through the roof. That gives rise to another motion that came out of our government that hopefully we will debate in due course and send another very succinct message to Ottawa ó hopefully coupled with the other two northern jurisdictions ó asking the federal government to remove the goods and services tax from heating oils and heating products north of 60. Together we can accomplish an awful lot. I would encourage the members opposite, when this motion comes forward, to have a serious look at it.
The two prime areas that our government will be concentrating on initially is restoring investor confidence in the Yukon, rebuilding the Yukon economy and sending a message out that weíre open for business once again. Our Yukon Party, after its election, worked long and hard. In a few short months, a capital budget and an O&M budget were created. I applaud all of our caucus for spending the hours and hours and hours of time that were necessary to address the development of a budget and address not only the O&M budget but the capital budget and to stay within limits ó it wasnít an easy task. But it allowed all of us an opportunity to become very conversant with our own departments ó very conversant with the expenditures within those departments because we had to undergo the transition from an elected official to basically an administrator ó armís length from the department and dealing with the general issues while allowing the department to carry forward with the program initiatives that they have in place within the guidelines of the budget that we will put in place.
Mr. Speaker, we were also having to address a serious issue, and that was the spending trajectory that was evident over the previous two administrations. It was virtually unsustainable. I know that in the department Iíve been given the responsibility for, $7 million to $10 million a year in spending trajectory has been the historical track record over the last seven fiscal years that I have been involved in this Legislature.
It amounts to just shy of $30,000 a day for the Department of Health and Social Services as to their increase over the past seven years. That, Mr. Speaker, is not sustainable in light of federal government transfers. The potential for a reduction in transfers under the formula financing on the population census adjustment ó yes, we can all laugh, we can all joke about it. But the fiscal realities have set in. We have to work within an existing budget envelope, and we will endeavour to do so to the best of our abilities.
Mr. Speaker, when you look at the initiatives that we as a government have underway, we have planning underway in a multitude of areas under this new budget ó health care facilities in both ends of the Yukon, where the second- and third-largest population bases exist, in Watson Lake and in Dawson City ó so that we can address the health care needs of seniors, so that we can address the health care needs of the residents in those respective communities.
Mr. Speaker, thereís a lot of good work ahead.
We also are looking forward, as I said earlier, to devolution. Devolution is a done deal, and we are looking forward to the opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to implement the changes. We donít have a choice. Itís done. We could argue that it should have been done better, but itís done and we are committed to implementing the changes in the best and fairest way possible.
That commitment extends to the employees who are coming over to the Yukon government. Our commitment to them is to a fair and reasonable treatment. After all, we were told by the previous administration that the transfer was going to be seamless. For a seamless transition, we sure have a lot of issues that have to be addressed, and we sure are having a lot of difficulties with this purported seamless transition. But the issues will be addressed, and those federal employees who are coming over or choosing to come over to Yukon will be treated in the best manner that we possibly can treat them.
One of the other areas that is of major concern and that we will, as a government, be addressing is a very balanced approach to land use planning.
We have a commitment to the special management areas under the final agreements with First Nations and we have already indicated, as a government, that the Yukon protected area strategy is a strategy that was originally brought in by a Yukon Party government, but the process became flawed over subsequent administrations. So with a flawed approach to this process, we really had no choice but to shut it down, to examine it, and I am very, very hopeful that our government will be looking and making announcements in due course as to how we will eventually proceed in this area.
But donít look for a solution overnight, and I am sure the opposition is going to ask when this game plan is going to be sketched out. Well, it wonít be next week or next month ó I can assure the members opposite of that. We have a mandate of four years, and during the course of the four-year mandate, many of these issues will be dealt with, prioritized and brought forward. We have a balanced approach to the agenda before us and, one by one, these issues will be addressed and will be dealt with.
I am not going to go on ad infinitum in my response to the budget, but it is a budget that our government worked long and hard to put together. It addresses as many of the issues as we possibly could address within the budget envelope that we had. It brought down our surplus to an alarmingly low level. The projected surplus will be $1 million. Under the previous administrations, it has been as high as just shy of $100 million.
Thereís something wrong with this picture: all of that money has been spent. Where did it go, and what do we have to show for it? It was under two previous administrations, the NDP and the Yukon Liberals. So we are left to put the pieces back together, to restore investor confidence, to rebuild the economy, to generate some additional incomes, to address the social side of the agenda, the Health and Social Services, the education, and everything else. And, in the course of the next four years, Mr. Speaker, weíll be doing exactly that, because our government is committed to addressing these issues.
Mr. Speaker, I commend this budget to the House. Iím sure at the end of the budget debate that probably even the NDP will agree that itís a darn good budget and will probably reluctantly vote against it. But we will look forward to see where weíre heading.
So Iíd like to thank the House. Mr. Speaker, thank you, merci, mahsi'cho.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in response to the budget speech. Iíd like to congratulate the Finance minister on his first budget. The financial situation in the territory is difficult, and he has provided a clear direction forward, a strong balance between stimulation and restraint.
At this time, I would also like to congratulate all of the Finance staff who worked diligently to put this budget together. I believe that every government, whether it be Liberal, NDP or Yukon Party ó must develop the trust and faith in the people who administer the money. I also honour their projections regarding the financial situation of this government. I would also say that projections are projections; predictions are predictions. When one makes predictions on where financial situations can go, itís also not 100 percent. At the end of the day, if the predictions are for better or for worse, itís still an honest attempt made by the Finance people.
I would like to continue by talking about economic recovery. It is and must be our number one priority. A strong, diversified economy is critical to a prosperous Yukon. A healthy, robust private sector economy that will provide employment and generate additional revenues for the territory is the best and only way to ensure Yukoners will have access to the services they need and want in our communities.
The economy is currently underperforming, but there are opportunities that exist, and we must train to meet those emerging opportunities. Mining, oil and gas and forestry development, together with tourism, offer the greatest potential to advance the economy over the long term. Other sectors providing opportunities to diversify the economy ó information technology, service sector, film, arts and culture ó are areas where we have some strength on which to build.
Education is the key underpinning to a strong economy. Education is key to helping Yukoners develop the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to function effectively at work and in their communities and to be lifelong learners.
Mr. Speaker, education is important from two broad perspectives ó developing our current and future workforce. Preparing Yukoners to participate in local and regional economic development opportunities is key, and this budget provides money to local communities to do just that. As promised, our government will be providing $1.5 million to reinstate the community training funds to their previous level. Funds will be provided for training to enable local residents to participate in government capital projects and local economic development opportunities as well as Yukon-wide initiatives in support of emerging Yukon and northern economic opportunities.
The community training fund will be utilized to support emerging labour market initiatives, such as literacy, oil and gas, pipelines, promoting women in trades, arts and cultural industries, technology, as well as for targeting employment-related training.
Weíre also continuing to provide opportunities for students to gain work experience through student employment programs. Yukon College is a key in providing Yukoners with the skills they need to be the workforce.
With communities doing more training, the flow of funds should increase to Yukon College. This increase in funding is in addition to the $12-million transfer in program payments.
I want to say, too, that we are starting discussions with my education colleagues across the north to identify opportunities for collaboration and cooperation that could make more and better training opportunities available for Yukoners.
Innovation is about doing things differently ó new ideas, new processes and new products that made our businesses more efficient, effective and competitive. We often donít recognize the innovation that occurs here.
Let me give you some examples: a specialized tire prototype that will assist light fixed-wing aircraft in landing and taking off from high altitudes and rough terrain locations; a technique of incorporating compost into tailings to generate vegetative covering and reclaim mining sites; and adaptations to wind turbines for rim-icing environments; also, selections of cultivar for apple products north of 60, plus new ways of marketing tourism products available through the use of new technologies, to name a few.
Our education system is where our young people and our not-so-young people acquire the knowledge and the creativeness so necessary for innovation to develop and flourish. We must nurture the creative problem-solving skills in our students, young and old. Education holds the key to our future, and we must nurture it.
Much has been said lately about the quality of the education here in the Yukon. I think we have much to be proud of. For example, the reading recovery program, which I had an opportunity to observe, was very encouraging for me. I saw a young person who was struggling to learn how to read, who was just motoring through story books that this individual was never able to read previously. So, itís really encouraging to see that program.
We have the experiential science program. We have an all-day kindergarten. We have elders in the schools, learning through the arts, math programs to provide results in math and native language programs to promote native language throughout the territory. Mr. Speaker, can we do better? Not only can we do better, we must do better. We must improve the outcome of our system. Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again: education is not the exclusive domain of the Department of Education. It is an inclusive process. We all need to be involved as parents and community members, First Nation leaders, school councils and businesses. We must to be committed to ensuring we support the schools and institutions. We need our communities to do all they can to ensure learning is maximized for Yukoners. We want to involve the communities in the decisions that affect the learning in our schools. We need to be flexible and adaptable to meet the challenges and opportunities that exist in each community in the Yukon, while at the same time ensuring that our students develop the basic skills and abilities necessary to be effective in the workforce and communities of the future.
Our curriculum and materials must reflect the culture of the communities. We need to look at including the traditional knowledge and multicultural diversity that strengthens individuals, their communities and the Yukon. We need to improve the success rate of First Nation students and, to do that, we need to involve First Nations more in the education system. We need to incorporate First Nation traditions. We all have much to gain from their increased involvement and learning. In my opinion, the First Nations have some very high-quality standards of knowledge, traditional knowledge and traditional values, that will only improve the school systems.
On the capital side, I am pleased that the department has an increase in funding this year. Clearly I am extremely pleased that the capital funding to Yukon College has been retained. This is another indication of the importance that this government places on Yukon College. It is the only post-secondary institution in the Yukon, and sustaining it is a priority for us.
Funds have been provided for a number of building projects ó schools, highways and the like ó in our communities. We will work with local communities to maximize the jobs for local people. As the community training funds will enable the necessary training to enable the local people who are ready to work on these projects, I believe that this is a real plus for the communities and also for the City of Whitehorse.
I will now speak on a more traditional education perspective to this budget. In traditional law, we must be thankful for what we have and what we have in our possession, the food on our table, and be thankful for all the clear air we breathe and society in general.
I would like to say that I learned a lot from my mother and from elders. One of the principal things they taught me when I was growing up was to be thankful. I know my mother always used to say, "You canít always have what other people have. People will be different. Peopleís wants are different. Some people are rich, some people are poor. So therefore you have to be happy with what you receive." I believe this is all relevant to this budget, because Iíve heard over and over that weíre not giving enough. Weíre not giving enough to the people of the Yukon Territory. However, when you go back to the traditional knowledge of accepting what you have and evaluating and understanding what you have, itís very relevant to this budget. Look at all the countries where there is a lot of starvation, for example. We see a lot of programs on TV showing the different countries where there is famine and where the children are in deplorable conditions medically ó theyíre just wasting away. Look at the homes they have to live in. The majority of them probably donít even have a home. Iíve seen pictures of them sleeping under a tarp thatís propped up with a stick, in very unsanitary conditions ó mud, water. The people are just so poor that it would make anyoneís heart break to have to watch that all the time.
When you look at these things ó this is what the elders are talking about when they say to be thankful. I think in the Yukon we do have something to be thankful about. One of the biggest employers, for example, is the Yukon government, and I believe that all of the staff can be thankful for many things. For one thing, there is work and there is the ability to put food on the table. When we look at it from the traditional perspective, we begin to understand that maybe we have to really look at the good side of things rather than seeking out criticism of everything that comes across our plate. We need to start being thankful that we do have food on our tables and a roof over our heads. A lot of the people in the Yukon are driving cars ó thatís a luxury. I believe there are a lot of families in the Yukon who enjoy luxuries. Thatís not to say that there are some who donít, and we have to respect them also.
In the budget there was talk about the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and I will talk briefly about that because the Kwanlin Dun First Nation is within my riding of McIntyre-Takhini. I will say that the Kwanlin Dun First Nation is the largest First Nation in the Yukon, and their traditional territory encompasses much of the capital city of Whitehorse along with the Ta'an Kwach'an First Nation ó they also have traditional territory within the capital city.
I think itís important here that the citizens in the Yukon Territory know a bit about the history of Kwanlin Dun. Now, hereís a First Nation that has suffered many hardships by being located in the capital city. For example, they had prestige land along the riverbank. As the city grew, they saw fit to move them, to force them out of the place of residence that they had held for years. So, lo and behold, they moved them; they moved them to an area they felt they would not need in the future.
However, as the city began to grow even more over the years, it was sought again to have the Kwanlin Dun First Nation people moved again. And their land again was inhabited: the community of Riverdale, for example, sits on that side of the river; the hospital area ó that was alienated. And then it happened again ó I believe three, maybe four times. The third time, another example of the move was from Rotary Park, where Rotary Park is today. There used to be Kwanlin Dun First Nation people living in that area. Itís now a park.
I believe in the last move they were forced into a swamp down in, I guess, sort of the north end of Whitehorse. Again, this area, at the time was, in my opinion, not suitable for residential living, because there was an awfully low water table. For example, everyone there had outhouses, and you only dig down three feet and youíre into water. So you can imagine what kind of unsanitary conditions existed there over the years.
And then, the last move I believe they were shipped off up to the Granger area up where Mt. McIntyre is now. That was the last and final move, so where this is relevant to this whole budget speech is that Iíve heard different comments in the paper about doing special favours for this First Nation. I do not believe in my heart that there was any intent of doing any special favours for anyone. I believe this was a real good government-to-government initiative between the Yukon government and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation government and what they do with that initiative is their business. I believe it is really good for me as a First Nation person to see Kwanlin Dun capitalize on an economic development venture within their territory. It is also my opinion that it is really long overdue. I think this First Nation has endured many hardships by being located right in this capital city and I sincerely hope that this government, the opposition and the community at large in the Yukon Territory will just applaud them in what they do and give them the option to have something positive for their people and for the citizens of the territory because I believe in my heart that we can work in unity with all people in the capital city and outlying communities.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I have now completed my first experience in the budgeting process. Having to participate in a reduction process was very difficult for me because Iím the type of person who would have loved to have given everybody what they wanted. If that were possible, I would have never thought for one minute not to do that. I would have loved to have just given that to everyone; however, it was not possible. I would like to thank my colleagues for their support and understanding with regard to the Education budget and the importance of education in the territory.
I will make note that Education did not suffer as severe a reduction as other departments did. I do support this budget 100 percent.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I rise to respond to the budget speech that was just recently delivered. On November 4, Yukoners voted for change. They voted for change because the way things have been going simply has not been working.
I want to start off by just quoting an excerpt from Machiavelli ó a well-known author and historian ó and how he defines "change". I quote as follows, "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."
These words were passed on to me as well as other colleagues just shortly after being elected, and they certainly resonate, particularly in this time of uncertainty.
Change is never easy, and Iíll be the very first one to admit that. On the other hand, change is healthy. It opens the door to new opportunities, new ideas, new approaches and new ways of doing things. I certainly believe that Yukoners will all agree that these are anything but certain times. Economically speaking, this territory has seen better times ó much better times to say the least.
As the budget speech states, it has been estimated that the Yukonís population has declined as much as 3,000, if not more ó Iíd have to say more in recent years. Of those who have left us, itís primarily our young people, our skilled tradespeople, and it really is truly unfortunate to see people struggling in this day and age, especially within a place like the Yukon, which presents so much opportunity.
Mr. Speaker, rebuilding the Yukon economy is a priority, number one for this government. In order to do that, however, we must do more with less and make wiser decisions with our money. We must work closer than ever before with Yukoners, with industry, with Yukon First Nations, with the opposition and with everyone to do just that. We must be creative and we must be bold.
On that note, Iíd just like to thank both the departments of Justice and Business, Tourism and Culture for all their work over the last three months. Clearly, this has not been a very easy time. Thanks to their efforts, we were able to construct both a capital and an operation and maintenance budget within a period of some six to eight weeks ó in record time, in what would, under normal circumstances, take up to six or seven months.
My hatís off to each of the deputy ministers and to all of the staff within these departments. Theyíve done an incredible job, and I thank them for that. Over the last couple of days, there has been a considerable amount of discussion about a number of issues, including capital projects, which are proceeding within this budget and capital projects that are not proceeding in this budget. As I mentioned earlier, the budget before us is indeed a tough one. It does, however, present opportunity, opportunity, for example, to advance arts education, opportunity to advance the settlement of land claims, opportunity to advance museums in the direction they wish to proceed, and opportunity for hope, to name but a few.
As the Premier alluded to in his earlier remarks yesterday, this government was faced with having to make some very difficult choices. As difficult as it was, however, Iím pleased to say that there have been no job losses. This is especially critical, and very important in this day and age, given the current economic situation that faces the territory. The last thing Yukoners want to see is loss of additional jobs and thereby loss of additional spending power in our communities. We donít want to go down there, and weíre not going down that road.
While focusing on lowering the trajectory of spending, I believe this government has been successful in being able to maintain the level of services that we are currently providing. Now, to do so otherwise, we could take a look at other jurisdictions, jurisdictions like Alaska, our neighbours to the west. In the recent budget that Governor Frank Murkowski introduced a few days ago included an aggressive plan to cut state programs and in turn impose a wide range of taxes and fees on Alaskans and visitors.
For example the governor said he wants a 12 percent per gallon increase in the stateís motor fuel tax. That would mean that Alaskans would pay 20 cents per gallon in state taxes at the pump. Now, have we had to do that? No, we havenít. We havenít been able to reduce the gasoline tax either, but we have been able to maintain our own. Instead we are looking to things such as the pioneer utility grant. We have been able to increase that by 25 percent and index it against inflation. These are positive moves for seniors and elders in the territory and help them get by these tough times rising costs as we speak.
Governor Murkowski also wants visitors to have to buy $15 state wildlife conservation passes to be collected on cruise ships, bus tours and the like. He also wants to hike non-resident big game tag fees, increase state business licence fees from $25 to $200 a year. It goes on and on and on. I guess the point I am trying to make is that we here in the Yukon are very fortunate to have what we have. We have tremendous potential, opportunity for growth, and this budget I believe is able to set the stage for a period of growth. We havenít had to resort to the severe tactics of our neighbours. We have had to make some difficult choices and, believe you me, they are difficult.
Mr. Speaker, within this budget there are a number of positive initiatives. I refer to the ongoing partnerships that we continue to support as a government. Those partnerships are Yukon Quest, Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, Yukon Arts Centre, Yukon Tourism Marketing Partnership, Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Convention Bureau, the Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon and so forth.
Another partnership is with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. After just a few years of existence, KIAC is certainly a quantified success. It sold out programs and has established a strong record of sound financial accountability for the public funds that it has directed toward arts, education, creation and presentation. Itís embarking upon a plan to enlarge and complement its existing programming and to introduce new academic levels of instruction as a diploma-granting institution.
The additional $150,000 funding that KIAC will now receive, as of April 1, will certainly go a long way in expanding the level and length of academic offerings to Yukoners. It will certainly make an education destination for clients from Outside and will place the Yukon in the foreground as a cultural tourism destination. These are all positive initiatives.
I refer to museums, giving them more discretion over their spending by allowing them to provide more direction and more autonomy over the funds they receive from the government and placing it toward the priorities they wish to address. This is another positive initiative.
Earlier ó yesterday, I believe it was ó there were a few points made about the impact this budget will have upon our tradespeople, our small building contractors. Yes, there is certainly always room for improvement for providing additional funds toward capital expenditures but, as my colleague from McIntyre-Takhini just alluded to, we only have so much in the coffers, and we have to realize efficiencies ó we have to start doing more with less.
Iím certainly very familiar with the contracting community. I certainly grew up with it. Our family in Watson Lake ó small building contractors have especially had a hard time and I certainly recognize the very important role they play in this community.
As the Member for Klondike alluded to, we need to restore investor confidence. We need to create a climate of certainty, and whether that is with the protected areas strategy ó that certainly is one area, and Iíd just like to put it on record that it was the Yukon Party government in 1992 that signed on to the protected areas strategy as part of the endangered spaces campaign.
What we want to do ó it has been put on hold for the moment but, as our platform states, we wish to get it back on track, keeping in mind that we want to proceed with the process but with the consent of all stakeholders, garnering consensus. We have to recognize that, just prior to the last election, the previous government did struggle with this process and, as a result, they alienated quite a few different industry organizations ó I believe eight to 10 different business groups. Thatís something we have to avoid in the future, and that is what we are committed to ó working with Yukoners in collaboration built on consensus and, where needed, compromise.
Reinstatement of the community training trust funds, $1.5 million, is nothing small. There are significant opportunities to realize with investing in our youth, in our young people, in Yukoners at large, and advancing them toward their future in this territory.
And again, I liken that to the tradespeople. I certainly recall Watson Lake, where I was born and raised, as a very vibrant, active community back in the 1970s and in the 1980s. While I can say that rural Yukon has managed to fare all right over the last number of years, towns such as Watson Lake certainly have been dealt their fair share of blows, and it is our commitment to turn the economy around, not for just Watson Lake, for southeast Yukon, but the entire Yukon.
I recall a time when building contractors ó there just werenít enough of them, that we were attracting contractors from all over the country. While thatís a very good signal that weíre doing very well economically, I believe that right now we could be doing more by way of putting people to work. But at the end of the day, government only has so much to offer. As a member of the chamber of commerce once alluded to, we canít spend our way out of this economy. What we can do, however, is restore investor confidence by setting a climate that is conducive to the growth of the private sector. And we are very sincere in that commitment, and weíll do so.
Tourism ó I think that is a significant opportunity for growth. We are working very closely with the partners, particularly in the Yukon Tourism Marketing Partnership, in identifying some of these areas that theyíve identified as priorities ó product development, looking at alternate models of marketing, looking at Yukon branding strategy. And, of course, weíve implemented our commitment to create a stand-alone Department of Tourism and Culture. Weíve done that, just as weíve done with the Department of Economic Development.
So, I certainly think all these things go a very long way, and I have to say Iím very proud of all the strides we have made over the last three months ó three short months. It has only been three months, and I continue to remind myself, because it certainly feels like it has been more like three or four years since being elected. It has been a long haul for all of us, but I think weíve all managed very well and can hold our heads up high.
With that said, Iíll just wrap it up right now. I just want to thank all my colleagues for all their support over the last few months. I certainly want to thank the members opposite for their constructive input. I look forward to hearing more of it and hearing more ideas on how we can get the economy together, by working together.
Mr. Cardiff: It gives me great pleasure today to rise and address the budget speech, and itís nice to know today that the members opposite had a lot more to say about the budget speech than they did yesterday.
The number one thing Iíd like to talk about, first and foremost, I guess, is the areas that affect my constituency and the importance of some of the things that are in the budget, and some of the things that arenít in the budget, I guess.
As I mentioned in my response to the Speech from the Throne, about the diverse nature of the riding of Mount Lorne and the many activities that take place there ó the large number of facilities, whether they are community centres, or fire halls or schools ó all these pieces of infrastructure have needs. They have the need to grow and expand; they have the need for repairs, so there are a few things that I can applaud the government on, and there are a few things Iíd like to get on the record that still need to be done.
One of the things that is important in the riding of Mount Lorne is public safety. The Golden Horn fire hall, as I mentioned earlier the other day, received a new fire truck, and the residents can be assured that it will respond to their needs when theyíre called upon to address a situation of a fire either in the riding of Mount Lorne, or as they did the other day when they responded to the need to go and deal with a fire on Squatterís Row, through an agreement with the city ó they have a mutual response that provides the opportunity and takes a bit of the load off of the City of Whitehorse, I guess, or assists the City of Whitehorse in their needs in responding to fires and other emergencies.
Now, I think the new fire truck is a great thing, but itís unfortunate ó and I have to say this again ó that it seems to be jammed in there with little or no room to move around the truck, and consequently you have an issue about turnout gear and whether or not itís going to get torn or whether or not the volunteers who are responding to a fire can even get into it and get into the truck. I know that the government has said that they donít have a lot of money, but Iíd like them to consider this in future yearsí projects.
Another building in the Golden Horn area is the Golden Horn Elementary School and I see that there is money in the budget to deal with issues around the roof leaking, and I think thatís a very good idea. Having worked in the construction industry, I can tell you ó we just have to look across the river at what leaking roofs can do, and we donít want to endanger our children when theyíre at the school with issues like mildew and other safety issues around leaking roofs. One thing I have found in talking to people at the school and people whose children attend the school is that thereís an issue about accessibility to the roof, and I would encourage the government to look at that. Part of the reason why weíre having problems with the roof is because the roof is being used for other extra-curricular activities, if I could put it that way. So they need to look at ensuring that the general publicís safety is looked after and that access to the roof is restricted in a manner that allows the roof to stay intact and the public to stay safe.
As I mentioned earlier also, another desire in that community would be to have the soccer field covered with turf or some form of grass.
One of the other issues, I guess, in Mount Lorne is around the community development fund. The community development fund has been a very successful tool for promoting recreation, and the residents and the community association have tried various ways to try and get some funding for a part-time sport and recreation director. I know that the Minister of Community Services is aware of that and the department is working with people. We all look forward to a positive resolution to this problem. We were told that they could try and use the community development fund, but they werenít able to ó in the end, it didnít meet the criteria. They look forward to a resolution of this problem, as well, and to the sport and recreation act revisions that have been promised.
One of the other issues that is ó Iím going to try and address some of these issues as I go through the critic areas that Iíve been assigned. I note that, in Community Services ó it has been stated in this House many times that there will be no jobs lost. Iím a little new to this process. Over a number of years ó probably the last 10 or 12 years ó Iíve looked at the budgets that the government puts out. I come down faithfully every year and pick up my package and take it home and read through it. My interests lie in certain departments, so Iím not totally familiar with the way that budgets work.
As was said earlier, we have to look at life as a lifelong learning process, and thatís what Iím doing. So Iím hoping that at some point I will learn more about this and I will get a little bit better at it.
I guess what Iím looking for is some assurance that there will be no jobs lost, because when I look at personnel, to me, personnel is either about wages, benefits or services to personnel. When I see decreases of 20 percent in one area alone, in corporate services, a flag goes up. I donít know if it has to do with reorganization, but that does concern me.
I have some concerns around the FireSmart program. In protective services, under fire suppression, thereís a 100-percent decrease in fire suppression in O&M, and as well the FireSmart program has been reduced in capital to $1 million, and we all want to ensure that our communities are safe. I know that Iíve worked on a project a few years back out in Burwash and saw first-hand the effects of what a wildfire can have on a community. We came very ó well, it was devastating, to say the least, and we were lucky it didnít go any farther than it did and that there was a response. To me, it was very, very disturbing to see what had happened there.
We donít want that to happen again. So that creates a little bit of concern for me there.
As I said earlier, in the sport and recreation funding for a part-time sport and recreation director in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, as well as ó I believe it is Upper Liard that doesnít fall within the criteria. In light of cuts that are in the budget, at least municipal grants havenít gone down. I think weíve seen nationally, provincially and territorially a downloading to some extent on municipal governments of providing services and increased demands on municipalities, and I think that needs to be recognized. I think we do need to look at ensuring that, just as with anything, there are increased costs through inflation that need to be addressed. I would encourage them to consider that for the future.
In the service Yukon portion of the Community Services budget, I see that public libraries ó which are an important part of our community, and we know that during the last governmentís tenure, there was a move to reduce the hours of service, and Iím glad to see in the operation and maintenance for public libraries that thereís actually even a small increase. However, there are no provisions for public libraries in the capital budget, and Iím not sure exactly what that means.
Does that mean that there will be no new books for people to read? If you note from the statistics, there are, I believe, 228,000 visits anticipated at the Whitehorse Library alone, yet thereís going to be nothing new for people to go and read.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: Yes, I suppose we could do that.
There was an area around ó my stickies went awry here ó around community land development as well, as I mentioned earlier today, around land development and the $5.6 million for land development. I canít seem to put my finger on it, probably because Iím in the wrong section. But it does provide some uncertainty in my community and in Copperbelt, as well, about whether or not this development will proceed. I think it says a little bit about land use planning and about the need to consult, and there are several areas where the government needs to do a better job on consulting and responding to the needs of residents.
In my constituency, Iím sure they are aware that those things are the Whitehorse Copper development, as well as the hamlet land use regulations and the need to move forward on the Golden Horn land use plan.
Iíd like to talk a little bit about Yukon College as well. The government talks about restoring investor confidence, and it talks about the need to address health concerns and the need to create partnerships. Yukon College, as I said before in this House, is an institution that is second to none in Canada when it comes to delivering good post-secondary education that responds to the needs of northerners, and it addresses those needs and develops partnerships across the north.
While they claim to have maintained the Collegeís base funding ó this is one reason why I always picked up budget packages, because I always wanted to see what was in the College budget. So Iíve seen the numbers manipulated many times over and, quite frankly, there is no change.
The only change in the College budget is derived from an agreement that was reached around increases with regard to collective bargaining. Other than that, there is little or no change. You have to remember that, over the last 10 years, I believe it is, the rate of inflation actually is about 17 percent. The College has had to deal with that on its own. I know that everybody else has had to deal with it too, but it is a matter of where we place the priority. How important is Yukon College and how important is training? So Iíll tell you what I believe. I believe that Yukon College can address some of the needs and the shortfalls of our health care system. Those can be addressed through Yukon College delivering training in communities. It creates healthy communities and if young people and adults in communities are attending the College and learning and gaining literacy skills, they are gaining job skills. They are building their self-esteem. When it comes to a commitment by the members opposite to move forward on land claims and the implementation of land claims, one of the things that needs to be addressed is the capacity of First Nations to be able to take on some of those responsibilities that they need to implement land claims.
I think that the College is positioned best to respond to those needs. They are based in those communities. They interact with those communities on a daily basis and, in a lot of cases, community members are who work in those community campuses.
I have to say that although I donít sound like it, I am pleased that the training trust funds were restored to the previous level. However, this also puts an increased strain on the resources at the College, because it is the volunteer members of community campus committees and it is the staff at Yukon College and the staff in non-governmental organizations who write the proposals, and it takes a lot of time and effort to access and write the proposals for the $1.5 million that is out there for the community training trust.
So, while I applaud the community training trust increase, there are some problems around the base funding for the College and the base funding ó because itís the College that funds the actual community campuses. So there is a need to maintain a level of services both here in Whitehorse and in every community, and those needs are wide and varied ó everything from literacy to job skills to building capacity, as I have said, for First Nations government.
To just touch a little bit on the partnership aspect for a second, in the budget speech the government said that it has partnered with several local cultural and educational groups, with the Canadian Tourism Commission, to create the northern learning tourism project.
And I just would like to know at some point in time whether or not Yukon College is part of this partnership, because theyíve done a lot of work in that area with Elderhostel as well as building a tourism component into the ESL programs that they deliver.
One of the things that the Member for Klondike spoke about and I think was mentioned a couple of other times, as well, is the pioneer utility grant and the price of oil. I happen to know a little bit about that, having worked in the heating industry for 20 years. There are ways that we can address this. Number one, the government said it was going to address the pioneer utility grant and that it was going to increase it, and I suppose they are going to do it. Itís unfortunate that the price of heating oil has increased by at least 30 percent in the last four or five months. Thatís not going to do senior citizens any good for this year. Theyíre being faced with high fuel bills and absolutely no relief. There are a few other ways of dealing with that. In the Yukon Housing Corporation, there are energy management loans and home repair loans. Itís good to see that the home repair loans have been increased, but for some reason, energy management loans have decreased.
Iím not sure why, because in my mind, I think that working with the Energy Solutions Centre and Yukon Housing Corporation ó I know that they do a lot and they provide a lot. There are a lot of training programs that have gone on about alternate sources of heating. I think that itís important that we look at that and that we encourage it. There are a few reasons for that. Number one, I think that if we can reduce the heating bills, especially for seniors and other people who can least afford it, and get them off of the oil or have a more efficient heating source, that will be a good thing. I think it will also be good for our environment.
I have the pleasure of living out in Wolf Creek where the air is a lot less polluted ó and we all know about temperature inversions. I worked downtown for most of my life at businesses in the industrial area, and every morning when you drive downtown, you can hardly help but notice the difference from the highway down to the bottom of Two Mile Hill. This is another way that we can address the health needs of Yukoners ó to provide them with a healthy environment to live in, with clean air to breathe, not just in the summertime but in the wintertime as well ó and reduce their heating costs.
There is one other thing in here that seems to point, to some extent, toward the people who can least afford it, and that is the people who are on fixed incomes, who for some reason donít have the ability to enter the housing market and, to me, mobile homes are ó you know it is up to an individual person as to whether or not that is where they decide to live, but there seems to be a reduction in mobile homes and the assistance for those mobile home owners to move from a rental pad onto a titled piece of property. I donít know if there just isnít a need there, but there is a 50-percent reduction. I think if people want to upgrade the place where they live, they should have that ability, and it would be good if the government could assist them with low-interest loans.
During my time in the construction industry, I worked on many projects that were funded by Yukon Housing, and they both add value ó they improve the structural stability and the mechanical stability and integrity of a house ó and make for a safer place for people to live. As well, they also provide employment opportunities for tradespeople and, quite frankly, in this budget, there arenít a lot of opportunities for construction people.
There are some opportunities in road construction. There is a school being built in Pelly, and hopefully there will be opportunities for people from Pelly to take the skills that they learned at the Yukon College courses that were delivered there and participate in the construction of that school. But other than that, there arenít any major construction projects. We lost the jail. Weíre hoping that the multiplex will be built, and we hope that there will be some certainty around the funding for the multiplex, and we still donít seem to know that. There still seems to be a lot of questions around that.
One other thing that Iíd like to mention is that the members opposite are saying that they applaud the efforts of government, and Iím sure that everybody worked hard on the budget to develop a budget. It was done in only six to eight weeks. Well, that may be so, but I hope that in future years the government would undertake a wider consultation with communities and listen to what needs are out there in the community.
While Iím there, on wider consultation on the budget process with communities and community groups, Iíd like to remind the government that there was at one time a school renovation and replacement plan that was developed by school councils, and I think this is one of the ultimate forms of consultation ó to go to the people who are most involved with that school, the parents of the students who attend that school, and get all the school councils together, or representatives of the school councils together, and look at what the needs are for school renovations and school replacements, address those needs in a timely manner and develop a capital plan.
Thatís one of the other things that I donít totally understand when you come to future yearsí projects ó there donít seem to be any timelines, there doesnít seem to be ó itís hard to tell whether or not these long-term plans are citing prior year spending or future year spending. Itís not laid out very well, and I think that it needs to be a little clearer.
One of the other things that I heard today, as well, was on investor confidence. There are a few things that are lacking here ó this isnít one of my critic areas, but I have some interest in this. Itís in the Department of Economic Development and the fact that there is no money for economic development. I think that, as I said earlier, one of the ways that we can build investor confidence ó I said this in my response to the Speech from the Throne ó is to ensure that we have a skilled workforce. We need to address that, and we need to promote trades as an option for students at a much younger age, and encourage them ó I know that the government promised this in their platform ó to improve apprenticeship programs.
One of the other things, though, on the economic development side, is on access to capital and the fireweed investment fund.
I certainly hope that the minister responsible for Economic Development will look at the fireweed fund and just as he negotiated and went to the wall for health care funding, so should he go to the wall for securing from the federal government monies to get the fireweed venture capital fund going so that people here in the Yukon have access and have the opportunity to contribute and make investments in that fund, and also to access that fund and get capital so that small business ventures can start up and grow.
The other area I suppose is the trade and investment fund, and I think there are lots of opportunities for Yukon businesses to develop and grow, market Yukon-made products and services right next door in Alaska. In B.C., the College is another example of successfully marketing its program in the Middle East and building partnerships in the circumpolar world. So there is definitely an interest in what the Yukon has to offer and I think it is up to the Department of Economic Development and the minister to assist businesses and to go out and promote and encourage people to market what it is that they have, no matter what it is. I think there are lots of opportunities out there.
I think Iím running close to the end of my time here, and one of the things Iíd like to say is that I heard it said earlier today that you have to be happy with what you receive. I wonder how the young people on the street who were being and are still being served by the Youth Outreach van are going to wonder down the road if they should be happy with what they receive and whether or not theyíre going to receive adequate services. I think we need to address the needs of youth and, as I have laid out, I think we need to address some of those needs through the education system, but we also need to be there for them when they really need it. We all have to be happy with what we receive in life but we also have to think about what weíre receiving and how it affects other people. It is about priorities.
Iíd just like to close with a quote from J. S. Woodsworth and maybe expand a little bit upon it.
Speaker: Your time is up.
Mr. Cardiff: My time is up? I didnít know I got a warning.
The quote from J. S. Woodsworth is part of Woodsworthís Grace and it is, "What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all", and I would encourage the members to take that into consideration when theyíre developing their budget.
Mr. Hassard: It is indeed a pleasure to speak today in response to this budget. I would like to thank the people who spent many hours working with us over a short period of time to compile this information. I agree with the Premier that we do not want to be in violation of the Taxpayer Protection Act. Therefore, as he indicated, our best course of action is to exercise fiscal restraint ó as simple as that. We cannot spend more than we have. I believe that most people in the Yukon agree with that.
Looking at this budget, I would like to first look at how it will benefit my riding. We have funding earmarked for upgrades to the Teslin school. These upgrades will surely be appreciated by teachers and students alike. Hopefully, local contractors will also benefit from doing the work. I am confident that Teslin has some of the most qualified carpenters in the Yukon and they will do a great job, given the opportunity. Money has also been allocated for work on the Campbell Highway, which will provide safer travel for the people of my riding and all people who use this highway. It should also provide jobs ó high-paying construction jobs that will provide for local families.
The rural roads program is looked to by many small contractors in my riding as well. They will be pleased to hear that it will, again, provide much-needed income in these slow economic times.
There are several small sawmills in my riding as well. Iím sure they will be happy to see the exemption from road tax on fuel that they use. My limited knowledge and experience with the sawmill industry leads me to believe that this will be a very welcome sight. Profit margins are small in this business in these uncertain times.
The development of a forest policy framework will go a long way to providing certainty to an industry that directly affects my riding. I have first-hand knowledge of the many problems surrounding access to timber. I can honestly say it is one of the foremost reasons that I threw my hat into the political ring. I have been witness to the wasting of hundreds of thousands of dollars in trying to come up with a made-in-Yukon forest strategy. I realize the blame should be placed almost entirely on the federal government for the past mistakes. However, on April 1, it will become our responsibility, and I look forward to seeing some real work happen. I hope we will be able to avoid reinventing the wheel. I believe we can and we will make the necessary decisions to get this industry going.
Weíve heard a lot of criticism in the last couple of days. I believe thatís the members oppositeís job, so thatís fine. But letís look at some of the other very good things in this budget. No new taxes ó in my view, that is good for all Yukoners. It is very important that, as individuals, we get to spend the money that we work so hard for.
In formalizing government-to-government relationships and making them full partners in the economy, this will help to speed up the recovery of this territoryís economy. We can avoid conflicts on many issues by all being on the same page.
Mr. Speaker, enhancement of the CDF and FireSmart programs: we have already seen the immediate benefits to communities from these programs with money in the pockets of Yukoners. We have also put $1.5 million to reinstate the community training fund. People in every community support this initiative. I could go on and on about the things that I like and support in this budget. However, unlike what members opposite sometimes like to do, I do not feel it is my role to pat the government on the back. I will let the Yukon public do that as they see fit. Our role is to implement this budget so that the people and the government can begin to benefit from it. I look forward to playing a major role in its implementation, and I look forward to seeing the positive results of this budget.
I believe this is an excellent budget and I give it my full support.
Mr. Rouble: It is indeed an honour and privilege to respond to the budget. First let me start by saying I truly believe in the Yukon, and I hope that is to the satisfaction of the member opposite. This budget is something that will help get the Yukon back on track. Very soon after the election, we as the Yukon Party caucus sat down with briefings with each of the departments. As I recall, we had over 30 meetings in our first three weeks of taking office. We had briefings in the mornings and in the afternoons we met with the deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and heard about their departments.
It was a very interesting process to go through, and very enlightening to hear their presentations. Our government does a heck of a lot. It satisfies an awful lot of the demands on it. Our employees, our nurses, our teachers, our equipment operators, our scientists, our Finance people ó I hope I donít miss anybody, but Iím sure I will, so Iíll just summarize it by saying all of our employees, our public service, do an admirable job with the resources they have available.
Mr. Speaker, each department made an excellent case for why they should have an increase in their funding ó they all did. They all came forward and pretty much said that with an additional 25 percent in funding, we could do all these wonderful things. Unfortunately, thatís not possible. There are costs involved in this, so we need to look at one of the options. What are the options? Well, reduce one department to fund another ó yes, thatís an option in a budget, and one that should be considered. Changing demographics, changing needs, changing times and the completion of projects require that changes be made in response. Another option is increased taxes, which is certainly not an option Iím in support of. Reduce the surplus ó yes, thatís something that can be done. Itís appropriate to use our rainy-day money as itís certainly a rainy time in Yukonís history, but that will only last for so long.
Actually, Mr. Speaker, I must say that Iím frightened by the prediction that the accumulated surplus will be down to a million dollars. Thatís something that scares the heck out of me. If I sat down and did my budget and predicted, at the end of the month, Iíd be left with a dollar in the bank or $100 in the bank, I know that would certainly cause a lot of apprehension in the household.
Another option is going into debt ó and thatís clearly not an option. Partnering with others ó well, thatís an option, especially if we can share the responsibilities with those who also have that responsibility: the First Nations and other governments. Partnering in this regard will help us all satisfy the needs that we are entrusted to satisfy.
We must accept the fact that there is currently a limited pool of resources available. Yes, we are working to increase that pool, but it will take time for it to increase. We are all here facing a tough job. We are the ones who must make tough decisions. The allocation of this budget is just one of many that we will face. Clearly, just spending money in all areas with total disregard for the consequences would be irresponsible; weíd be bankrupt ó financially, as well as morally.
This isnít a budget that needs defending. Indeed, itís one that deserves applauding. It is a budget that reduces the rate at which spending was increasing ó a rate that would have put us into a debt situation in very short order. It is a budget that satisfies needs ó not all, but most; give us a few years on that one ó and it does it without laying anyone off. It does it without raising taxes, and it does it without mortgaging our future. It is one based on actual figures and one that recognizes that some projects have been completed. Itís a responsible budget.
Mr. Speaker, I truly look forward to the coming weeks when this House will have the opportunity to sit down, roll up our sleeves and get to work, a time when we can have constructive debate and, from that debate, we will all work together to make things better.
Mr. Speaker, Iíd like to thank all of my colleagues who spent an awful lot of hours, nights and weekends working so hard and so diligently to put this together in such short order, and I look forward to implementing it and getting the Yukon back on the road to the riches that we are truly entitled to.
Mr. McRobb: Itís a pleasure to be able to address this budget. Unfortunately for the members on the government side, they will find what I have to say to be somewhat less positive than my reply to the throne speech, but thatís what this is all about, Mr. Speaker. Itís about the finances of the territory for the coming year and the years beyond. The throne speech, of course, is more nebulous. It deals with government direction and other matters that are less likely to relate to the food on the table, the bread-and-butter type issues that this budget does.
I want to start off by agreeing with the members opposite that it is a Yukon Party budget. We, on this side of the House, wonít argue with that point at all, Mr. Speaker. Letís look at what the budget does provide. It provides increases for Yukon Party staffers at the top level. It provides tax breaks for owners of golf courses. It increases the government communications budget. Mr. Speaker, those are among the few exceptions to increases in this budget.
The majority of this budget reduces spending in virtually every departmental area. It has been referred to as a bleak budget. Yukoners havenít seen a budget this bleak since the early days of the Ostashek government some 10 years ago, Mr. Speaker. Iíve also heard it referred to as the slash-and-burn budget because of the many slashes to government spending and because of the enhancements to the FireSmart program.
I see the members seem to be agreeing with that comparison, Mr. Speaker, and that is enlightening ó or, at least, open-minded.
What else does this budget do? Well, it cuts to the heart of the social services programs. It cuts the community development fund to only $1 million per year. It cuts nurse recruitment resources. It cuts highway construction jobs ó some $10 million less in highway construction work this coming fiscal year. In total, capital total works are reduced by some $32 million. Mr. Speaker, thatís the largest decrease I can remember. Possibly in Yukon government budget history, thatís the largest decrease to capital spending.
Many community projects have been cut. I know the fire hall pre-announced for Mendenhall ó there is no mention of it in this budget. That is one example.
So, what really is this government about and who drafted the budget? Well, it appears the Yukon Party insiders, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were the architects of this budget. Was there an opportunity for public consultation? Did Yukoners see ads in the newspapers and on the radio stations for public consultation? No, they didnít. Why not? Why not, especially given the previous position of the two Yukon Party members when they were in opposition, and their criticism and their positions at the time about how the Liberal government failed to properly consult Yukoners. One would have thought that this government would have gotten it right. Well, this Yukon Party government unfortunately closed the door to the backroom. They figured their 12 brains were the end-all, and they were the architects of this budget.
Now, I heard someone over there say that a lot of credit was due to the departmental heads who brought forward suggestions for areas within their departments that could be cut, and that helped to lead the way for the budget cuts this Yukon Party government felt were necessary.
Well, that raises all kinds of questions. Were the department heads really the ones who made those decisions, who identified those areas that should be cut? It will be interesting, as we proceed into budget briefings, to question departmental officials on certain areas and, on the days that follow in this Legislature, to find out exactly what happened. It will be very interesting.
So, there was no opportunity for the public to plug in to the drafting of this budget. There is one other area about consultation that absolutely must be mentioned, and that is the Premierís promise to Yukoners to involve all representatives in this Legislature in the budgeting process. Well, did that happen? No, it didnít. Was there any formal offer at all from this government to the opposition caucuses to participate in the budget process? No, there wasnít.
Now, we, on this side, represent many Yukoners who reside in our ridings ó there are a total of six of the 18 Yukon ridings represented by members on this side of the House ó yet we were not approached for our budget input. There is something wrong there, given the public position taken by this government on that point alone.
Now, aside from that ó and Iíll get to this a little later on when I address some of my riding issues ó I took the occasion a few days after the election to approach the Premier-elect to communicate to him the priority from my riding with regard to the budget.
I knew what the priority was, Mr. Speaker, because I had just finished a very lengthy period talking to almost every constituent in the riding. There was a top priority, and I communicated that to the Premier. Well, was it in the budget? Thereís not even a mention of it in the budget.
The input we gave on the winter works budget back in December was largely ignored. We made 12 suggestions, of which the community development fund restoration and the FireSmart restoration were two. Now, those were very high-priority items in the Yukon Partyís platform. They were two areas this government had identified as being vehicles to deliver winter works money. Well, those two were in the winter works initiative, but the other 10 we suggested were not.
One of the 10, Mr. Speaker, I felt very strongly about. It was the capital planning money. Had some capital planning dollars been allocated as part of the winter works initiative, we could have had advance consultation on projects like the Kluane priority project, so that we could be dealing with capital dollars for construction in this budget to appease the people of the Kluane region and satisfy the tremendous need for this project in that area.
Unfortunately, the Yukon Party government rejected our suggestions for the winter works initiative.
So what do we have so far, Mr. Speaker? We have a winter works initiative and we have an O&M and capital budget for the coming year, of which really the government did not take any suggestions from this side of the Legislature. That directly contradicts the verbiage from the Premier and his associates during the election campaign and afterward of how this government would operate. That is very deserving to be put on the public record, Mr. Speaker.
Now, this government talks a lot about restoring investor confidence. Weíd better get used to that term, because weíll be hearing it a lot, but there is very little in this budget to achieve those lofty words, Mr. Speaker ó very little. There is no room for optimism in this budget. No seeds have been planted to grow the Yukon economy in the coming years ahead. One of those seeds could have been the restoration of the trade and investment fund. Now, I know the Premier, when he was on this side of the House before the election and, I believe, his associate from Klondike, were very strongly in favour of restoring the trade and investment fund, in order to spur Yukon small business and try to develop the Yukon economy. Unfortunately, thatís not part of this budget.
We heard the Premier give an address to the Tourism Industry Association last fall in which he talked about a pan-northern economic agreement ó an EDA. There was no mention of that in here, Mr. Speaker.
From the last sitting, I recall the phrase "the buck stops here" at the Premierís desk, and this budget certainly proves that thatís where the buck stopped.
Letís look at one of my critic department areas ó Energy, Mines and Resources ó where capital spending was cut some 34 percent. There is $1.7 million less in the oil and gas and mineral resource sector. Well, how does that restore investor confidence? The Alaska Highway pipeline resources are cut some 47 percent. How does that restore investor confidence? The resource assessments for oil and gas are cut 54 percent. Again, how does that restore investor confidence? Geological surveys are down 50 percent. Again, how does that restore investor confidence? Yet this government has found it necessary to increase spending on office furniture within that department by some 29 percent. Well, that seems to reflect the priorities of the government but it doesnít match up with the rhetoric we hear about what they say this budget is about ó restoring investor confidence.
I mentioned earlier that they have increased their government communications budget but, based on the spin to date, it looks like it was doing just fine as it was.
The Department of Economic Development gets $1. Well, Mr. Speaker, that says it all ó $1 for economic development. How does that restore investor confidence?
Look at the Department of Tourism and Culture. You know, there are several cuts here. There is 23 percent less on capital works in this department. The arts fund has been reduced by nearly 20 percent. The cultural services branch has been cut by $400,000.
Mr. Speaker, when we hear about the fallout from some of these cuts, it wonít be nice.
Industry development and research initiatives have been cut by nearly 50 percent. Well, how does cutting industry development restore investor confidence?
Look at tourism marketing, Mr. Speaker ó cut by eight percent. How many times did we hear the Member for Klondike harangue the former Premier and the poor Tourism minister about increasing marketing, especially in the wake of September 11? Now, these are the same people who have decreased tourism marketing by eight percent.
You know, last week, when the Premier stood up and tried to cut the connection between what he feels this government will accomplish in this term and its positions in the past, I suspected there were some very good reasons to do that. I think a lot of them have to do with accountability, because how can we hold this government accountable for its actions and positions if, all of a sudden, they have wiped the slate clean?
Well, this is very interesting but, unfortunately, it wonít be that easy. Business trade promotion ó still in the Department of Tourism, Business and Culture ó is down some 32 percent. How does that restore investor confidence? There are so many good questions that donít jive with the rhetoric that I am looking forward to the many days ahead in this sitting where, hopefully, we will get some answers.
That leads me to another aspect of this government getting answers. I recall the Yukon Party, in opposition, complaining bitterly that it wasnít getting answers to questions. Well, I have been in opposition to the Liberal government and, now, the Yukon Party government, and I have to say, when it comes to getting answers to questions, this Yukon Party government has a little improving to do to even get to the level where the previous government was at.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: I hear the Member for Lake Laberge chortling over there, Mr. Speaker, but maybe he is unfamiliar with a bit of the history of this place. Maybe he should take upon himself an assignment of reviewing a few Hansards, and maybe he can upgrade his understanding to the point where he understands what I am saying is accurate.
So there are lots of other areas in this budget that I didnít touch on, like the departments I am not directly involved with, but the cuts are all across the board in virtually every sector except, of course, for the top Yukon Party staffers, the communications people and owners of golf courses.
Mr. Speaker, itís getting to the point where people are wondering if they should pull up their stakes and move to Watson Lake or maybe Dawson City. The Premier is flapping like a beached whale over there, but unfortunately ó
Speaker:The Chairís not entirely comfortable with those types of descriptions. Iíd ask the member to rein himself in a moment.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker ó a dose of reality.
But it is hard, and Iím sure you understand trying to stay in real terms when having to talk for some 40 minutes about this budget, given the disparity between their description that it restores investor confidence and how, in reality, it does anything but.
One area, Mr. Speaker, I know youíll be particularly interested in is the overall financial aspect of this budget and how it seems to draw a picture that all the cuts were necessary. However, there is an unspoken side to this budget, which is that nowhere are the other revenues that are expected to come to the territory identified. Nowhere do we see an estimate of the health transfer dollars the territory expects, the devolution accord dollars, the child services dollars or other federal government money to assist the territory that could be used in this coming fiscal year. Nowhere do we see a balance sheet of those items to consider with the rest of the information in this budget.
Without those items identified, it gives the government a chance to plead poverty, to come out and say that it was necessary to grab the bull by the horn and all the rest of the rhetoric. Unfortunately, the budget gives us only part of the story. Well, in the days ahead we hope to uncover the rest of the story and get to the bottom line.
One of the things that weíll be looking for is where some of the nuts are squirrelled away, because we are very wary that this government ó Iíll be careful, Mr. Speaker. We are very wary that this government is building a war chest for the next election. It knows the tricks, and we fully expect that there will be lots of little strategic things going on that we will no doubt be successful in identifying in the days ahead.
Thatís what this place is for ó itís the forum of accountability and thatís our job: to ensure that this government is a good one. And it is a formidable task. Based on what we know so far, it might even be impossible but weíll try our best. It would help, of course, if the government would listen to our suggestions instead of closing the door.
Now, I mentioned accountability and I think thatís an area that deserves some attention on its own. One of the first acts this government is bringing in is to repeal the Government Accountability Act. Now, what does that say about the priorities of this government?
When one of the first pieces of legislation ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker:The hon. Premier on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, this side of the House would be very agreeable to allow a few moments of respite so the member opposite could untickle his funny bone.
Speaker:I donít believe thereís a point of order. I believe itís simply a dispute.
The Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I guess this is one of the lighter moments in the House and we could appreciate a bit of humour.
It does raise some questions why repealing the Government Accountability Act would be such a high priority.
Now, I recall hearing the Premier say on the radio, I think it was, that theyíll balance that off by restoring the yellow pages. Iíve been mulling that one over for about a week or so, Mr. Speaker, and yesterday when I heard the former Premier talk about, well, how are the deputy ministers going to sign off on the accountability statements, I was left wondering if there was a way for the government to swing that to maybe have the deputy minister sign the yellow pages. Iím not sure, but something tells me it wonít be quite the same, so weíll have to investigate those opportunities in the days ahead, as well.
Now, thereís so much to say and so little time. I had better turn to some riding concerns to make sure I get them in, Mr. Speaker. The project I mentioned earlier ó the top priority is the seniors/elders facility, level 2, level 3 care. I know the Premier is aware of this. Iíve discussed it with him, and Iím aware that other people in the riding have discussed it with him. It seems it was not only the top priority for me but also for Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, possibly some of the other First Nations, and it was also on the list from the Village of Haines Junction.
So it seemed to be a very common theme of all government representatives from the region that it was a very top priority. Iím very disappointed that there is no mention of anything in this budget in regard to that facility.
The second biggest disappointment was the massive cut to the highways projects. Now, the Shakwak reduction of $5 million is one thing, but the YTG projects between Whitehorse and Haines Junction being cut is quite another thing. The previous Liberal government made a commitment, in writing, to complete those projects by about 2006, and this government has failed to make the same commitment. As a matter of fact, the remainder of those projects are stalled indefinitely because there is no mention of them proceeding or recommencing. That leaves the projects about half-completed that needed to be done before they were started back a few years ago.
Mr. Speaker, that raises some questions about the Alaska Highway devolution accord and so on with the federal government and the requirements it has, as opposed to the budget priorities identified by this government, especially the reductions to the Alaska Highway improvements. Now, the actual reduction is some 69 percent, down from $7,141,000 to $2,180,000. Thatís a significant cut. Thatís the largest single cut on any project to do with highways.
Today I raised some other concerns about highway construction jobs and the possibility that, by lengthening the tender process, it increases the chances of these contracts being lost to Outside companies. So how does this restore investor confidence?
There seems to be many examples of how that rhetoric doesnít line up with reality. There are many, many more examples.
But another concern from the Kluane riding is developing the regional economy. We know that in just a few years the Shakwak reconstruction project will be coming to a close. That has a number of people very concerned. What will happen if those dozens of jobs arenít replaced? What will happen to those workers and their families?
Already we see the population of rural Yukon dropping. Well, if this major project comes to an end and there is nothing there to replace it, the population of those rural communities will plummet again.
The future of the Shakwak project is up in the air, too, because no deal has been struck with the Americans for the next appropriation. Time is running out. Weíll be watching that situation very closely.
I mentioned earlier that the new Mendenhall fire hall is not mentioned in this budget. Well, last September the previous government made a public announcement about the Mendenhall fire hall. The Yukon Party said nothing about how it was opposed to the fire hall, yet itís cut from this budget.
There is nothing positive for the riding in this budget other than a fire truck for Beaver Creek. Well, I can pass on thanks from the people in Beaver Creek for the fire truck. They really appreciate it. They will be looking forward to the new fire hall too, because the fire truck barely fits in the building, so weíll look forward to that next year. Maybe the next budget will be the fire hall budget, whereas this one was the slash-and-burn budget.
There is nothing positive about Yukon-wide initiatives, as I mentioned earlier, like the trade and investment fund, which could have been a boon to the small business person. There are no announcements of any efforts to decentralize government positions to communities. There is very little to be optimistic about. It is hard to imagine how this government would develop such a hard-hitting budget without balancing it on the other side with positive aspects. After all, how much would it have cost for some decentralization to some of the communities? These employees have to be paid anyway. Government office space is at a premium in Whitehorse. I think it would have been entirely possible but, again, it boils down to priorities. We have seen what the priorities of this government are: wages increases for top Yukon Party staffers, tax breaks for golf course owners and a greater number of communications people.
Along with all the cuts to various things, including nurse recruitment, community development, social services ó those appear to be the priorities of the government. Those are the labels that are coming out of this budget.
There are a lot of questions around the need for the government to have taken such a hard approach. I know that when the Premier gets up and closes debate on this budget, weíll hear all of those same reasons one more time, about how he took the bull by the horns.
Mr. Speaker, itís hard to really buy into the need to take the bull by the horn unless we see the whole picture, and thatís what we hope to discover in the days ahead ó the rest of the story, to try to put it together.
The Member for Klondike mentioned that we would be voting against the budget. Well, Mr. Speaker, he might be right, he might be wrong, but I can say that we have not made up our minds ó at least, I havenít ó whether or not to support this budget, because at this point not everything is known. But based on what I do know ó I mentioned the concerns regarding the riding, concerns regarding critic portfolios, the concerns overall, Yukon-wide ó itís going to be very difficult to support this budget.
Iím sure that, as more and more Yukoners come to realize what this budget is about ó things like cutting funding for heritage resources and all of the other cuts, Mr. Speaker ó and the extent of these budget cuts and how it affects their lives, the lives of their neighbours, their communities and the Yukon, theyíll come to realize that this is a very hard-hitting budget.
And theyíll question the need for it at this time, and until we see the whole story, put all the numbers together, that case will remain unproven. So until next time, Mr. Speaker, weíll thank you for this opportunity.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Iíd like to thank the Member for Kluane for a very entertaining speech. Iím afraid, though, he might cost the government a lot more money with the increased demand for Hansard. He gives a whole new perspective to this document, and probably it will be a much more read document throughout the territory.
The one thing that is interesting in his analogies, though, Mr. Speaker, is that he said a number of times that we should grab the bull by the horn. That was repeated a number of times. And we should grab the bull by the horn, but as a sort of former veterinarian, I do have to point out that most of the bulls that I work with have two horns.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, if youíre going to grab the bull by the horn, you have to take both of them. But it has given us a good opportunity to observe the rest of the bull.
I do rise to speak to the budget today and express some of my thoughts and concerns on this. I do have a number of concerns about the budget myself. I agree with the member opposite. It became a very difficult thing to do, to go through in seven weeks what basically should have been a seven-month process. It became frustrating to see what we could do, what we had to do and some of the things that we knew we should do but just couldnít do in this budget cycle.
But I do have some concerns there. I do have a concern that I always thought that the House was a place for debate, however formal. And sometimes that formality is irritating, but it does allow each member to talk about their riding, talk about their overall budget concerns, talk about their portfolios and, as my colleague the Minister of Education says, speak from the heart.
But what I hear is rhetoric that is simply read into the record for political gain ó at least, I truly hope this is the case, anyway ó because it is rather hard to believe that the members opposite really mean what they say. An example of this, of course, is the continual reference to a $1 budget item for the Department of Economic Development. This is perhaps naivety ó and it certainly was on the part of a number of us ó that, in order to create a department, there has to be a line item in the budget. There is a line item for $1 for the Liquor Corporation. Does this mean that the Liquor Corporation doesnít exist? It certainly does not. That occurs in other places of the budget, but the members opposite seem to have completely missed that point.
The one thing that Iíve noticed, in having the great opportunity to sit here and listen to some of the responses, is that the opposition seems to measure success only by dollar value. If you cut a dollar value, you are therefore putting that low on priority. This is wrong. There are other ways to do this ó there are a lot of other ways to do this. Itís this creativity in coming up with other ways to do things and thinking out of the box that will distinguish what we do in the next nine years.
The Member for Kluane also mentions that he has some concerns that, in his words, "their 12 brains were the end-all." Well, I donít think anyone considers that they are the be-all and end-all, Mr. Speaker, but somehow we do hope that 12 brains will do much more than four and a half.
The leader of the third party is upset that our government plans to repeal the accountability act, and this is something that has come up a number of different times in the speeches. The one thing that we got, and I quote from yesterdayís speech, "your signature is your word" when it comes to the accountability plan. "Your signature is your word," Mr. Speaker. My concern is that she seems to have completely missed the oath or affirmation that each of us took as members of this austere body.
We each swore or affirmed a document that reads "I sincerely and truly declare and affirm" ó in my case ó "that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my skill and knowledge execute the powers and trust reposed in me as a member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly." Somehow, a few people seem to have missed that part, and now they want us to write out a promise that we will be accountable. Is writing out a promise that we will be accountable on top of that any better than actually saying what we did and letting the public judge us? To me, that seems an awful lot better, to actually explain what we did and let people judge that.
But letís put this into perspective. In my department alone, nearly a half-time senior position was tied up in writing and developing this accountability plan. Supervisors supervised it. Bureaucrats massaged it. Many drafts were printed, and many trees were killed in the process, Iím sure. Administrative staff put it into the proper format. Computer people placed it on the Internet. And yes, even ministers reviewed it and approved it.
I submit that with this massive allotment to promise what weíd already promised, perhaps a better solution is to tell the public what we actually did and allow all of those people and resources to get on with actually doing something that they can be held accountable for. Why do we tie up such massive resources to accomplish something that accomplishes absolutely nothing whatsoever. It doesnít make an awful lot of sense but, as the member opposite says, your signature is your word. Perhaps when we actually write out what we did, we can all sign it, and that will make her happy.
But the silliness doesnít stop there. We are told by one member opposite that we arenít spending enough, but the next member tells us we are spending too much and we are running down the surplus. One tells us that we have cut a budget area when I know that the reality is that there has been more allocated in that on a per capita basis, but the next member opposite says they are happy that something has been left in when the reality is that we know we have slashed that one if they really read it critically.
I have begun to understand one thing in this new job ó and it is quite an amazing job. I often joke that just when you think you have seen the most bizarre possible thing, somebody walks into the office or the phone rings and you realize that was nothing because something else has completely replaced it on a level of strangeness.
We spent seven long weeks constructing a budget that should have taken seven months. A two-hour meeting once turned into a 17-hour meeting to try to refine a budget that we could live with and would begin to accomplish what we set out to do and one that would keep us open for business in the coming years. It was a long process and one that I have to admit is totally unfair to the opposition, and I admit that, Mr. Speaker. How can we spend weeks to refine one point and expect someone to understand it in a couple of days? It is understandable, Mr. Speaker, and I do mean that. But I do have to admit that with more focus on the numbers and the meaning of those numbers and less focus, in some cases, on the vitriol and the bile, the process could be easier.
I am concerned when I hear the members opposite complain about a contract, as an example, for up to $200,000 that may well begin closure on our land claims process. I donít hear the members complaining about the millions of dollars spent over 30 years, but this one does seem to bother them. We donít know the outcome of the contract and we wonít for a number of months. But if it works, Mr. Allen Edzerza will have done in months what others have been spending years trying to do, and for a very small fraction of the price.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Please. The member opposite says that heíll write it down. We certainly hope that he does. That way, you donít have to read it in the Blues this evening.
We all have to go into such contracts with hopes that theyíll work, and I truly do hope, Mr. Speaker, that this contract will produce more than the contracts given out by the Liberal government just before the election. Those seem to have produced a Mackenzie Valley pipeline quite nicely, but no one wants to mention that particular one either.
There is great humour in this whole situation, though, Mr. Speaker, and I have to admit that several of our colleagues and myself have had a great laugh over this one. The humour is, of course, that all of these contracts Iím complaining about, or that Iím praising, went to Liberals. Weíre accused of supporting Yukon Party insiders. Iím sure Mr. Allen Edzerza would get a good chuckle out of that. His family describes him as a rabid Liberal, so thereís great humour in that. If our criticism is that we are looking after our own and that anything like this is a patronage appointment, I will speak to Cabinet and try to get us to aim a little bit better and at least hit our own party the next time, rather than another party.
I found a number of things that bothered me in the budget, too, Mr. Speaker, in going through some of it. The most striking thing I noticed was finding over and over again things that seem to be out of proportion. I donít think anyone in their wildest dreams or claims actually sits down with budget documents and studies them. There are perhaps a few in the Finance department who do that, but other than that, I donít think anyone really does this for enjoyment.
Some of these things, to a casual observer like myself, you have to look at and wonder where it came from or what it is.
For some of these things, when we looked at them, they were certainly in line with the previous year, but when we went back to years before that ó and on further examination ó all of a sudden we noticed there was a huge jump. I give an example of something fictitious so it doesnít embarrass any individual on any side of the House. In one case, an item that was in the range of $300,000 ó and was $280,000 the year before ó was actually an increase from $80,000 the year before that. What we found was that items that had been put in to deal with special circumstances at one point in time simply never left. It becomes part of the base. This is what we talk about when we talk about the trajectory of spending.
A trajectory is a point ó I think it was defined earlier, and I canít really remember that definition by a member opposite ó or a line tracking points, like a firearm, thatís going to go out ó be it up, down or level ó and somehow it seems to be continually confused with spirals. Now, I donít know how anyone else shoots but, if itís anything like me, maybe it does spiral as a trajectory, but weíre talking about something that has continually risen over time.
Once we have a few of these back, what the opposition then sees in the budget is the fact that youíve cut something. Well, it wasnít a realistic thing in the first place. And, interestingly, I donít know, off the top of my head, of any cases in the budget discussions where, if the department actually put up a fight and said no, and gave good and valid reasons for it ó we did cut anything. In fact, in most places when we asked if this was something that could be cut, the departments agreed.
Weíve had exceptional cooperation, Mr. Speaker, from staff and from the departments. And in fact, in many departments including my own, it has brought out some creativity that really has been quite striking.
But the situation of this trajectory gets out of hand. How many homeowners can stretch to replace their roof and then continue to spend this much each following year? You have to get a realistic handle on where this is going. But again, itís not fair to expect anyone to get a handle on this in a couple of days, and that will certainly come out as we get more and more into the budget.
When we look at this trajectory and the problems we have, we have to put that, to a degree, into the context of our neighbours. We always look to Alaska, Northwest Territories and British Columbia ó somehow we never look to our northern neighbour but, of course, as all of us know, our northern neighbour is still the Northwest Territories, as soon as you hit the high-water mark.
I donít want to get into the discussion in Alaska of these huge cuts that our neighbours to the west are going through. They are in terrible shape. I have had a number of opportunities to sit down and have a chat with one of the lawyers for the governorís office, and the picture that he painted was absolutely staggering. They have major problems ó and they have to address that in their own way.
Now, their way, as was done in British Columbia, was massive layoffs ó massive job cuts. They had Black Thursday. Weíre going to have Black Wednesday, but they had Black Thursday. I know people who left the Yukon ó God knows why they left Watson Lake. They moved to Victoria to follow jobs that were very quickly cancelled by the provincial government there.
Each government has to look at how they are going to solve these problems in their own way. Our government believes there is a much better solution, but the Governor of Alaska did make a comment on the news the other day, and I wrote that one down too, because that one isnít published. He made a comment that was very, very true. When a family finds itself going broke, the first step is to stop spending so much. That seems to be a very simple task, a very simple concept.
What scares me the most about the criticism in the speeches that weíve listened to over the last two days is that I would really hate to be a banker dealing with some of the members opposite. I recall the old joke that, you know, "We can still buy it because there are still cheques in the cheque book." Well, that might be true, but there has to be something in the bank account at the same time.
We did take an approach to try to do this and to cut that back, and we have lost no employees, we have fired no one, and we have laid no one off. Theyíre still looking for them, but it hasnít happened. No major programs have been cut in the process. In fact, Mr. Speaker, as Iíll mention in a few moments, there was one program that we were thinking of cutting. We tried to cut it, and the department came up with a marvellous way of getting around it and keeping the program viable, to bring it back to a more realistic approach. I certainly praise them for that.
But no major programs have been cut, no people have been lost. Weíve allowed each department to find their own comfort level on what had to be done and how each department planned to accomplish this. That was the mandate back to the departments at each point. At no point did we walk in and say, "Weíre going to cut this. No, that budgetís gone. Sorry, canít do it." Everything was done in conjunction with the departments.
The problem in doing this is, by the time we finished we had very little left to do anything on our own initiative, and that became a huge problem in terms of trying to accomplish what we as a government wanted to do and what we said we would do during the election. Clear and simple, that is a problem. Thereís no doubt about it. When youíre left with a very tiny figure at the end of the day and youíre like a kid in a candy store ó you have your change and youíre going to have to sort of look at the candies and figure out which ones you want to buy, and there might be good reasons for buying them all, but you have to make the hard decisions sometimes, and thatís a difficult thing to do.
Things like child care are deficient in this budget, and itís something, I think, that bothers all of us on this side as I know it bothers people on the other side. But that doesnít mean that that is going to be left out of the budget or left out of the plans. There are more creative ways to do it. The problem is that weíve got to find those creative ways. Some of them are coming along quite nicely, and that will evolve. But I do have to point out that, with fewer people and fewer daycares, as an example, a drop in funding that is not in proportion to the number of daycares closed is in fact an increase, but that becomes difficult to sort of put together. We do have to do more in this area and I donít think any one of us wouldnít agree with that. As that trajectory of spending comes down and we do see what is left in the lapses, if anything ó and our information at this point is that there is not an awful lot in the lapses ó then this is obviously the first place that has to be addressed.
But the one thing that is most amazing in this new job of mine is that weíve watched many of the members opposite ó not all, but many ó rise to say that we havenít solved everything in three months, weíre deficient, weíre horrible, weíre doing a poor job because we havenít solved everything in three months ó it only seems like three years; I do agree with the Minister of Justice on that one. But three months ó in four years the NDP government had lots that they didnít do. We criticized them at the time but we havenít done it in three months. Iím very flattered at the criticism; Iím very flattered at the compliment. The Liberal government would have accomplished perhaps a great deal more in some direction if they had been here longer, but of course we will never know that ó thatís at least one thing we can be certain of.
Devolution has been another influence on the budget. Some items have increased as devolution begins to take place. Other items will go down or disappear altogether as devolution planning winds down. These are all built into the budget. Many of them I have heard in the speeches as criticisms that we have removed funding from a particular area. As the budget debate proceeds, youíll find that of course we did, the work was done.
Why would we continue to fund something when it is complete? That makes no sense. In other areas, we have been criticized that budget money has suddenly appeared in an account. Well, after April 1, as devolution comes in, there are areas that will fall within that which will have to be addressed. And, again, I do have to admit, as a relative newbie member on this whole thing, some of these things in devolution have wound up in some pretty strange places. I have no idea why some of these things are placed in there, but our best advice and our best advisors assured me that is where they should appropriately go. So, if I canít readily understand why the item has arrived there, then I can only imagine what somebody reading the document two days ago would come up with.
We will be going through this more and more, obviously, and I do truly hope that, as we do go through the budget in detail and as this becomes clear, that we wonít simply continue to try to fall back on the wisecracks and the bad jokes Ė actually, the good jokes today were quite good, and the comment about our Premier is probably mirrored on this side of the House. I donít think anyone here objected to it.
I truly hope that we do try to understand the nuances of this budget though, and I do hope that they donít try to claim that my department, for instance, is falling down on investment in the Porcupine caribou herd, when a one-time monitoring program of this important herd is concluded. I hope that the members opposite donít claim that this government is failing the Yukon Fish and Game Association by reducing their contribution, until they know that we have other more creative ways to inject capital into this worthwhile group that wonít appear as budget line items. They will be kept at old levels; we will just do it in different ways.
I hope that members opposite donít think we are reducing our funds to our parks until they fully realize that some of the funding has been transferred to another department. It is the way that it was set up with some of the restructuring of devolution. It is still there; it just appears somewhere else.
On some of the things, we have reduced consulting contracts as the extensive work on the Wildlife Act comes to an end. That has been a natural progression. Thereís a little bit more to do on that in terms of the regulations, but the massive amount of work on that Wildlife Act is completely done, or close to completely done.
One of the biggest challenges this year is upgrading our computer systems. This appears in the capital budget, and several members opposite have included it in their criticism ó that office furniture, office this, office that, is to be criticized. Itís frustrating, Mr. Speaker, when you sit down at your computer and realize that you canít talk to a good chunk of the rest of your department or other departments. My department has been relatively lucky. When theyíre working, most of our systems do talk to each other, but thereís a point in many of the other departments where, literally, people are working in isolation because they canít communicate with anyone else. So this is a government-wide program. Itís a government-wide gradual replacement of old and decaying equipment, and itís one that we canít avoid. Part of this war, Mr. Speaker, is that Bill Gates won it hands down. We donít have a lot of choice in where we can go with much of this.
Another project weíre looking at is constructing a new compact office storage workshop in Old Crow to support various department programs, including conservation offices and wildlife management. That will give us more of a home in Old Crow. This project is expected to create 24 person-weeks of private sector employment in Old Crow.
Two other initiatives this year relate to the Yukon species at risk and to learn about rare animals, plants and ecological communities found in the Yukon. This isnít YPAS but itís an essential part of developing the technology and the information so that we can made informed decisions.
Why is species at risk legislation necessary in the Yukon? Itís federal legislation and received royal assent not that long ago, and if there is nothing in place in the territory, then that federal legislation applies.
Our problem is that we have a number of species ó two, in particular, being the wood bison and the grizzly bear, that in some parts of the world are considered endangered. We have hunts on both species; neither is endangered in this jurisdiction. To fall back on federal legislation could very easily destroy the harvest of these species, for now and for the future.
So we will start work on a Yukon-wide management plan for identified species of risk. We will be looking at all of this. These plans are urgently required to guide the long-term conservation, the long-term plans of these species and the long-term economic availability, viability of these species. To this end, we will be introducing this fall a Yukon species at risk act. It will be a Yukon-made piece of legislation that will solve our problems and give us a mechanism to protect species at risk.
The NatureServe program is the other part of this. This is building a rare species database. We obtained community input, and there will be some purchasing of Yukon data from other sources ó other groups that produce this. All provinces are a part of NatureServe. We will be the first of the three territories to sign into this very valuable program. Itís not a big amount of money, but it will get us into the playing field, and it will make this information and technology available from other jurisdictions.
We will be continuing our resource assessment work in support of land claims implementation and the needs for special management areas. And we will be proceeding with the work to implement the management plans for both Fishing Branch Ecological Reserve and Fishing Branch Wilderness Preserve and Habitat Protection Area. I wonít even attempt to pronounce the actual name of the park. Iím hoping that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin can give me some help at some point. But I have enough trouble with English; thatís not one Iím not going to even begin to attempt.
Weíll also be starting work and, in fact, have already started work in implementing the Tombstone Territorial Park management plan. Weíll be looking to develop basic park trails, construct facilities and equipment for heavily used backpack country sites and develop visitor information and public information materials to help those who see Tombstone Territorial Park as a major visitor destination.
In this regard, Mr. Speaker, while the capital budget for the visitor reception centre up there, which we certainly look down the road to construct, while that has been put on the backburner a bit, I am very pleased to announce that weíve been able to almost triple the space available in the interpretive centre and provide better living accommodation for those providing services at the centre. People who were running the interpretive centre up there for us were literally living in the back of a pickup truck last year, and thatís not acceptable. So we have arranged for much better living conditions. This will also serve as a location for our conservation officers to call home when theyíre on patrol up the Dempster, et cetera, et cetera. And, no, thatís not in the budget, because we managed to do all of that within this yearís operating funds. So that will be done and in place by the end of the month.
The interesting thing, again, in this whole discussion, though, is what the members opposite continually want to know is what isnít in the budget and what isnít in the numbers, so it does give me some pleasure to give a hint of whatís coming in the next year, and even a lot more pleasure, Mr. Speaker, to say that none of itís in the budget. You wonít find it there. Itís provided out of existing funds.
We will be looking at enlarging, embellishing and developing a much more elaborate deputy conservation officer program. The deputy conservation officers assist conservation officers. Theyíre a bit of a rare breed. There arenít an awful lot of them, but they work in conjunction with the officers. Our vision is to make this relationship much more available to those conservation officers who want to work and to also use this in a proactive role.
In other words, this will allow these people to go out and to deliver conservation education and deliver on the things that our regular conservation officers simply canít do ó they donít have the time to go out and do a lot of these things. They are in an enforcement role.
The other thing, too, is often people donít want to see a conservation officer coming around the corner. The last thing that you want to see is a CO coming around as youíre having a nice day of fishing and then suddenly youíre trying to figure out if your fishing licence is in your pocket. But the deputy COs can go out there and do education. Our vision is that they will not be appointed peace officers, they will not have powers of arrest and, at best, they will hopefully ó if carefully selected ó have great moral suasion powers, and thatís probably a much better thing.
We are also looking at instituting a waste oil recovery program. That is proposed right now out of existing funds in order to do it in select communities and to allow us to ensure that this is a viable enterprise. My vision is that we will make that determination very quickly, and I hope that that oil waste recovery program will be in all communities very soon after.
We have a solid waste recovery program coming down. We are just simply going through some of the mechanisms of how to structure it, and that will look at getting solid wastes looked after ó initially, tires, but down the road we will look at other things: batteries and all sorts of things that we can look at structuring in such a way that these things will be removed from our environment. We donít have to be looking at tires in the ditches as weíre driving along. There is a better way to do it, and this can be done out of existing funds.
The community action program for children ó CAPC ó is conservation oriented and aimed at grades 6 to 9. This is a program that we had a great deal of difficulty in even finding students for. The excellent programs put on by the Fish and Game Association, the excellent programs put on by the City of Whitehorse and many of the communities, by some renewable resource councils and others ó all of these had sort of diluted this program into what appeared to be non-existence. It is this program that has been slightly redesigned, cut back a little bit and weíve put it right back in.
But that whole initiative doesnít really appear in the budget. One of the things that came up in the discussion that you sort of wonder about ó a quote that has appeared several times is "Öyou see a 50-percent drop in monitoring and compliance." The monitoring and compliance also includes a lot of the work in identifying new protected area strategies. The drop reflects that and allows us to use the funds in other areas. It does not mean a drop in monitoring and compliance within identified areas. That is a very, very different thing and that is something that is certainly there and in some cases is actually enhanced.
Two other comments that came up in the course of the discussion that I am still scratching my head about ó the Member for Kluane is concerned about tax breaks for golf course owners and how he didnít see this as a good thing. Well, my understanding of the tax is that it is a road tax. It is for the use of Yukon roads, and I donít know how that member plays golf. Maybe he plays it like me, but roads arenít normally part of a golf course that I know of ó at least they are not supposed to be. So I am not really sure where that comment comes from.
But there was one comment earlier that I almost started laughing at. I was so pleased and thrilled that we were accused that we might try to rush something through, and after three months in government, I am highly complimented that the member would actually believe that anything could be rushed through in government. The word "bizarre" does come to mind on that.
One of the quotes in the Blues from yesterday was a comment from a member opposite ó "Öwhen you craft a budget, itís about choicesÖ" And that has never been truer than in this case.
Itís all about choices. I donít care whether you have a loonie in your hand and youíre at a candy store; you have to make choices about what youíre going to buy. You take your paycheque home and you make choices where youíre going to live, how youíre going to raise your children. Youíre always making choices. And thatís the case that weíre into. We have a budget we have to live within. We canít just say that we can keep writing cheques because there are cheques in the book. The bank account is down. We have to restrict our spending. We have to make choices of how weíre going to spend it. Not everyone will agree with those choices, but the reality is that the choices do have to be made.
It has been an interesting process, Mr. Speaker, in the whole thing ó the monitoring and compliance that we have chatted about.
With some of the things in here ó again, it continually refers to monitoring and compliance and everything else within the department and this simply is not true. We have to arrange our priorities and we have to arrange our priorities particularly within the Department of Environment so that we can get on with economic development. One thing you learn very, very quickly in this crazy job ó I was invited about a week and a half ago to go up and take part in the back seat of one of the helicopters to watch the counting of the Southern Lakes caribou herd. We went up for three hours. Now, I donít know off the top of my head ó and if I give a dollar value itís probably not right. Iím not a helicopter pilot. But I know that these gadgets are in the range of probably a good $600 an hour. I know that we had two staff people on board. I donít get paid. I wasnít doing anything. I was just having a good time watching this, trying to understand the process and how itís done, and it is an exacting process. If anyone thinks these biologists go up and sort of run around and look to see if there are any caribou there, they have a horrible misconception. It is a very regulated, a very regimented and a very scientific study.
But itís also a very expensive study, because as we were coming in, I found out that there were two other helicopters in adjoining zones doing exactly the same thing. Huge amounts of money are being expended to do this. Weíve made the decision that it should be done, but where is that money coming from? What other programs do you have to cut back on a little bit, do you have to short a little bit? Itís all about setting priorities, Mr. Speaker; there is no doubt about that.
With those words ó and I could go on with some of the individual things, but Iím sure that they will come up in terms of going through it line by line ó some of the things that we have cut because weíve formed partnerships with the City of Whitehorse or with other organizations. Weíve talked about water and basically, Mr. Speaker, if you can walk in it or swim in it, itís mine, but if youíre going to drink it, itís the Minister of Health and Social Servicesí. But we work together on that and, as in all of these things, we have to work together. Itís a team approach.
So with those things, Mr. Speaker, I thank you very much for the time, and I will be supporting the budget.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me begin by saying, Mr. Speaker, that Iím very, very pleased and honoured to present this budget to this Legislative Assembly. It was a difficult task; make no mistake about it. Budgets take a great deal of time and work by a great many people and departments and government and outside of government in consultation with the public. Thatís why it takes months to structure a budget.
Considering the election timing and the results of the election and the situation we were in, in the midst of a fiscal year, we had no choice but to compress the timelines of a budget into a few weeks. Those few weeks comprised a great deal of work, not only by government members but by officials ó especially in Finance ó who spent a great many of their weekends working on things. I think a lot of credit should go to those officials for their efforts, because this was not an easy task. Itís something that we will keep in mind throughout this mandate, especially when it comes to calling elections and the timing of elections and what has been prepared by the government of the day, which has a responsibility to ensure that, when they make choices like dropping the writ and going to the hustings, that they have left something in the hands of government that it at least has an ability to utilize.
So when we first took office, the very first event was the Finance officials coming forward ó in fact, the day after the election, November 5 ó and presenting what they hoped would be a clear enough picture for the incoming government to grasp the situation that we were in. When I say we, Iím talking the Yukon Territory and its fiscal situation. It was not a good situation, to be sure. A lot of talk goes on in this Legislative Assembly about surpluses and deficits, and there is this money, there is that money. Thatís all well and good. The final accounting is done by the Auditor General.
Then, each and every fiscal year, there is some time that lapses from the end of the fiscal year to the time when the Auditor General does the final accounting of the Yukon governmentís books. But there is one element that is constant, and that is what we have to work with, and thatís projections.
So, the Department of Finance presented the projections. Now, I think we have to ask ourselves: is it the Department of Finance that has a duty and responsibility in their department, under their purview, to ensure that the records and accounting of government are kept up to date and are done so under standard accounting practices, and so on and so forth? Are we saying here, in this debate, that those officials provided erroneous information? I think not. I donít think the members opposite are implying that whatsoever.
And to that end, I think the members opposite will not argue this point. We presented to the members opposite the very projections that we received on November 5 within days of transition beginning in government. Those projections were presented.
Now, the flow of government during a fiscal year is ever evolving, and thatís why there are variances through each period getting to the fiscal year. But the projections showed something that was very clear. Because of the spending patterns of government, we were in a fiscal situation that showed an accumulated deficit position coming in the subsequent fiscal years. There is no question about that.
Thatís what was presented to us.
Now, letís go back. Letís go back to the official oppositionís government of 1996-2000 and to the short-lived Liberal government of 2000-02. Consistently ó and itís in Hansard, itís on the public record ó it has been stated over and over and over. It began with warnings from the Department of Finance. A long-serving deputy minister issued these warnings continually. Government leaders have issued these warnings continually. Itís unfortunate that governments prior to this one did not heed those warnings. Now, they may have their reasons and weíre not here to dispute what they did. I would say that governments, not only the NDP but the Liberal government, tried. They did what they thought was the correct thing to do. They did what they thought was going to work, but at the end of the day those warnings were very clear, consistent and specific.
The spending of the Yukon government cannot be sustained. Itís impossible. It will not work. Thatís simple arithmetic. You cannot spend more every year than youíre taking in in revenues every year. Thatís the fundamental problem with the trajectory of spending that the Yukon government was experiencing. We were, over many years, since the mid-1990s, spending more money in this territory than the revenues we were getting.
Unfortunately, that spending did not produce the desired results and we have a compounding effect now. The exodus of population, even though our expenditures have gone up to the highest in the history of this territory, is contributing to further reduction of revenues.
Thereís no question that the spending patterns and the trajectory of that spending, as it was, could not continue. Thatís the choice that government had to make. So having said that, Mr. Speaker, we could have, in looking at those projections, done similar things to what other governments have recently done when faced with those warnings, who dealt with sustainable spending problems, trajectory of spending, for a long time now, and in the face of all the evidence and all the warnings, did not act ó they came to a choice that is much different than the choice we made. Both British Columbia and the State of Alaska had one option: to cut deep, loss of jobs, devastating impacts on their jurisdictions, but thatís because the warnings and the spending patterns were not addressed.
We, on the other hand, made the choice not to do that. So we set targets, Mr. Speaker. So in working with the departments, we said, "Look, weíve got a problem here."
Thereís no way, under the Yukon Taxpayer Protection Act, that a Yukon government can go into an accumulated deficit position. And all departments know that, so we said, "Look, we have to set targets here to ensure that that does not happen, but we do not want loss of jobs to further compound the problems weíre facing in the territory with the ever-diminishing spending power here. We do not want loss of programs and services to Yukoners. How are we going to do that within the existing budget envelope?" Thatís the direction that was given.
Now, the leader of the official opposition asked about that. Well, thatís how it was given; thatís how the targets were delivered.
Weíve come very close to the line. Now, even with the calculation of lapsed funds for this fiscal year, we are still very close to the line. If the members look closely at the budget, they would see that there is booked $15 million of lapsed funds, $9 million of revotes, $6 million of monies. Still we are at the very end of the line of a $1-million surplus. We have to understand in this Legislative Assembly that the situation is critical and that we all must contribute to solving it. The first step has been made ó weíve lowered the trajectory. Thatís important, because in the lowering of the trajectory, what weíve actually done is reduce the annual deficit. The annual deficit in this territory was rapidly going out of control.
Letís look at an example. In the fiscal year 2001-02, the annual deficit was some $21 million. In this fiscal year we are now concluding, which ends this month ó the end of March ó the annual deficit was $55 million. That is $34 million over and above the prior fiscal year. That is the problem. Our budget tabled here this week reduces that annual deficit to $9 million. Weíve reduced the annual deficit by close to $40 million. That is lowering the trajectory.
Then you have to factor in the long-term connection here. And we have heard a lot of comments from the members opposite about what the long-term plan is. Well, itís here, and I would urge the members opposite to look at it. I can tell them, beyond any doubt, that the numbers in the projections are based on the best available information. Thatís what we have to work with, thatís what the department provides us with ó the best available information.
Now, the member opposite from the third party knows full well the complexities and the many quirks and the formulae and all that goes with it, and how that is so fluid, and the changes that can happen so rapidly on a month-by-month basis, depending on what happens in jurisdictions. A brief example is that if provincial spending goes up, then Yukonís formula goes up. If provincial jurisdictions cut taxes, in all likelihood the Yukonís transfer will go up. If provincial governments raise taxes, in all likelihood our formula will go down. I mean, there are so many factors and variables and pressures on our formula that we have to deal with projections.
Getting back to my point, the long-term picture shows that by taking this step, this year ó a step that reduced the annual deficit to $9 million ó we have lowered the trajectory of spending. And if we follow through in subsequent years, we will see that weíre going to go from an annual deficit in this fiscal year of $13.5 million to the next fiscal year, 2004-05, of an annual deficit of $3.2 million. Then, in 2005-06, the projections show that we will have an annual surplus.
In other words, Mr. Speaker, this government is moving the fiscal situation of the Yukon toward balanced budgets.
And I think there is a very good reason for that. If you want to send ó though there are many signals you can send to the investment community ó but if you want to send a very important signal to them, it would be what is the fiscal situation of a government of a jurisdiction they may have interest in? If the government has balanced books, has flexibility and availability of surpluses and other things that can be helpful, and is involved in establishing investor confidence, that is an important facet for the investment community. So we are taking, fiscally, the step toward doing that, and that is what the projections show.
In listening to the responses, again I go back to the throne speech. We could have rebutted all those things, and so on and so forth, but we are not going to. We want to try and establish early in this sitting a very constructive high level approach with the members opposite, and we will work with them. We have offered an all-party process for budgeting in this territory. That offerís open, stands today, itís a commitment. We will do that. In this instance with this budget, we made that offer. It was turned down, but we continue to offer that ability.
We believe that involving the members opposite in budgeting involves Yukoners in a meaningful way, and it is important because, then, the members opposite will have what I believe and this government believes will be a very good understanding of what has taken place here in budgeting.
Thatís vital to constructive debate in this House, and weíre trying to reach that goal, Mr. Speaker. So weíre not going to rebut the members opposite in an acrimonious way. Thereís absolutely no point in doing that. What we say to the members opposite is: we accept your criticism; we accept that you do not agree with us. In some cases you may, but we accept all those things. What we ask for is, in the context of that criticism and all that goes with it, that they provide constructive debate. Thatís all. And we will continue to work with the opposition at that level ó in a constructive, productive manner on behalf of the Yukon public as it is our duty and responsibility to do.
Now, Mr. Speaker, we have to begin with the throne speech. The throne speech lays out the priorities, the blueprint, the road map. Those eight priorities are the targets. Those are the things that we are going to go to work on, and throughout this budget, monies flow toward delivering in the short term, medium term, long term on those priorities.
Let me make one simple argument. The biggest expense in the budget is for personnel costs. We can talk about capital projects. We can talk about all the issues you want, but one of the biggest percentages of government expenditure is on our employees.
Under this governmentís direction, those employees are focused on the eight priorities, so we have already contributed a large sum of money and resources toward delivering on those priorities by virtue of the fact that the public service is now working on those eight priorities.
Thatís important because the arguments that there is nothing here that will address these priorities cannot be sustained when you start looking at those facts.
Furthermore, letís talk about rebuilding the Yukon economy. The only way to rebuild the Yukon economy ó and I think recent history will bear this out, that government cannot spend its way out of the economic problem we are in, and the facts are clear; we can get into those momentarily. The only way is to engage the private sector. Why? Well, this territory expends some $500 million to $600 million annually. We need to complement that with millions of dollars of investment from the private sector. Thatís how we will rebuild the economy. Well, where can we look to attract investment? The Yukon has an abundance of wealth and resources and beauty ó you name it. So obviously the first approach is to deal with those assets, that abundance of resources and potential. In the resource sector, there is the availability of large sums of capital investment ó large sums of money that can flow into this territory if we do things properly. The first step is partnership with First Nations. This is not a new thing. This is not something we invented. We just look at where it works, and there are jurisdictions in this country where those partnerships are working and flourishing. The State of Alaska is a clear example. Today there are First Nation corporations in the State of Alaska that accrue hundreds of millions of dollars of annual revenue.
Why are they doing that? Because theyíve been given a fair share of access to resources and the wealth that can be created from their home, their land. Letís look at Fort McMurray. One of the biggest capital investment regions in the country if not the North American continent is that one little place. Fort McMurray used to be a tiny little village. Today itís a metropolis worth hundreds upon hundreds of millions. First Nation companies are involved there. I give these examples because this whole partnership with First Nations is not a new thing; itís not something that we dreamed up, and weíre not trying to engage or draw First Nations into supporting the government. Weíre doing it because it works and it will be a very important element of attracting investors back to this territory. And besides that, this government believes that itís high time that is done in areas like resource development in the Yukon, that First Nations share in the benefit and, more importantly, at the front end, participate and share in the burdens of making the decision. Thatís what this is about. Thatís step one, removing impediments. I mean, over the years, Mr. Speaker, we can list countless examples of where impediments actually did shut down very good potential, shut down opportunities for investment, chased investment away from this territory. Itís unfortunate, because we didnít have to be in this position if there was a government in place with the political will to make the stand. Well, we intend to do that.
And thatís why we are going to embark on a regulatory review. Redundancy, duplication, and obtrusive regulations must be addressed. We need to ensure that our regulatory bodies protect this territory, its future, its environment, its land and all that goes with it, but they also must be responsible when it comes to sustainable, responsible development by mitigating those opportunities and those options. That has been missing in this territory. We intend to solve that problem. Monies in this budget will be doing exactly that.
Devolution is an important facet of what we are about to embark on. Many, many years of work have been put into concluding a devolution agreement. Frankly, there were probably ways to do this better, but we have a deal, and it is now up to the government of the day, in conjunction with working with the members opposite, to implement that deal. Devolution gives us the ability to make decisions in this territory on behalf of Yukoners for the future of the Yukon.
Seeing the time, Mr. Speaker, I move that debate be adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved the hon. Premier that debate be now adjourned.
Motion to adjourn debate on second reading of Bill No. 4 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: 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: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled March 11, 2003:
Education, Department of: Public Schools Branch 2001-02 School Year Annual Report (Edzerza)