Tuesday, April 22, 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.
In recognition of Earth Day
Hon. Mr. Kenyon:This marks the 23rd year that people around the world have stopped for a few moments to reflect on Earth Day. Of course, every day should be Earth Day, but we do take a moment to reflect on this planet, this home of ours ó the only one weíve got ó and to gauge how weíve been doing as modern custodians of our environment.
It has been noted by Canadian organizers of Earth Day that the event is now celebrated in 180 countries. Some countries are now designating April as Earth Month to cover the many activities happening in their respective countries. Here in the Yukon, weíve had National Wildlife Week, the Celebration of Swans events, and the umbrella description of Biodiversity Awareness Month.
Earth Day is actually much more for us. Itís about climate change and the impact that climate change is expected to have on our wildlife populations, our vegetation and our lives.
Some have suggested that the presence of the West Nile virus in North America has actually been helped by climate change.
Itís about the recycling programs that we encourage and promote in the communities and our efforts to instill and encourage recycling practices so that household garbage that can be recycled does not simply fill our community dumps.
Itís about the handling and management of special wastes so that they do not enter the food chain or our waters to harm other living things.
Itís about wildlife management, to do what we can to make sure that our wildlife resources, from the smallest mouse to the largest moose, continue to be part of our day-to-day experiences.
Itís about planning for species at risk and developing management and recovery plans to make sure that we do not have species at risk.
Itís about habitat protection and protected areas so that animal and plant species are not put at risk when we need to proceed with economic developments and new initiatives that might have an impact on our species.
Itís about sharing our unique place on this planet with the rest of the world and promoting ecotourism and the variety of activities that will promote tourism, create new jobs and have a low impact on our environment.
Mrs. Peter: I rise today on behalf of the official opposition to pay tribute to Earth Day, April 22.
Earth Day was started 33 years ago as an environmental-awareness event. Since then, it has grown into a celebration in more than 180 countries around the world. Six million Canadians take part in some activity acknowledging Earth Day.
Action that has come from the original Earth Day has influenced governments to pass legislation and regulations to enforce and monitor laws to improve our environment. Political will is still very much needed to improve worldwide pollution, particularly in North America. The quality of our water and air is such that we cannot continue along the same path that we have in the past. The industrialized countries of the world have 20 percent of the worldís population but use 80 percent of its resources.
Much more action is needed ó even in the Yukon where we treasure our environment so highly. Mother Earth faces many challenges. The youth of the world are very concerned about their future. What kind of a place are we going to leave for them? A world where they will be able to walk their children in the woods, where the birds are still singing and the animals roam free, or will we leave them a concrete jungle where the only green is the blade of grass trying to grow between the cracks in the sidewalk?
Traditional knowledge has taught us the true value of what is important. That is our land, our animals, water and air.
There are many events that will help to celebrate Earth Day across Canada and in the Yukon. I want to bring to your attention one of those that will happen tonight. The Caribou Commons project is organizing an Arctic Action Day. It will bring to the attention of people across North America the need to protect Alaskaís Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development. The event in Whitehorse is tonight, 7:00 p.m. at Hellaby Hall. I would like to encourage all people to participate in this event or other events in the Yukon to recognize Earth Day.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Earth Day.
Today is a celebration of environmental responsibility and stewardship. Someone once said to me that our children are our greatest teachers, and I would like on this day to pay special tribute to our children and the educators and administrators of Yukonís green schools, and there are many.
These children are role models, insisting on garbage-free lunches. They visit Swan Haven, have tidy school grounds ó and at Jack Hulland School they also have a school garden. Whether at school or at Scouts or Guides, our children are stream-keepers, they pick up litter, and at home they are champions of the reduce, reuse, recycle theme. The stewardship they learn at school, they share at home and they practise throughout life.
Today, on Earth Day, and every day, I encourage Yukoners to follow our childrenís example and to celebrate Earth Day in the most basic of ways: respect the earth, keep it clean and recognize our individual roles as stewards of the environment.
In recognition of Law Day
Hon. Ms. Taylor:It is indeed my privilege to be able to rise today on behalf of this House to pay tribute to Law Day. Law Day is an annual event recognizing the anniversary of the proclamation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 21 years ago, April 17, 1982.
Law Day is marked by projects and activities taking place across the country. Activities include lectures on the law, mock trials, courthouse tours, fun runs, open citizenship courts, shopping mall displays and dinners aimed at elementary and high school students. Law Day is organized by the Canadian Bar Association. This yearís Law Day theme is "Access to Justice".
The Canadian Bar Association, through its Law Day activities, offers the public an opportunity to learn about the law and the legal system. This yearís Law Day in the Yukon does not coincide with Law Day nationally. The Yukon branch of the Canadian Bar Association decided to have it one week later to coincide with the 13th annual Law Day charity fun run, which is taking place on Friday, April 25. Proceeds for this yearís charity fun run will be donated to FASSY, the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of the Yukon. This year, participants in the Law Day charity fun run will all receive a Ted Harrison designed t-shirt. There will also be a mock trial held by high school students at the law courts on Thursday, April 24. This yearís mock trial theme is "Youth and Justice" and is actually a shoplifting case that Iím sure will give our students a lot to think about when they learn about our legal system.
Iíd like to congratulate the volunteers who make the Law Day charity fun run and the mock trial possible. Iíd also like to encourage all members of this House and Yukoners to take part in the planned events for this year.
Mrs. Peter: On behalf of the official opposition, I am pleased to pay tribute to National Law Day, being celebrated throughout the Yukon this week.
For the 13th year, the Yukon Bar Association will be presenting many interesting events, including a fun run for charity on Friday, April 25, at noon, with proceeds going to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of the Yukon.
Education about law is very important. A mock trial will be held by high school students on April 24 at the law courts, with a justice of the peace presiding.
Law Day recognizes the anniversary of the proclamation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms declared 21 years ago on April 17, 1982. This yearís theme is "Access to Justice". The right of access to justice is of special importance to women in the Yukon and to First Nations. Although equal access to fair trials and legal support services have long been of value in Canada, it is regrettable that, in practice, sexism and racism are still present in the justice system, as they are in all our institutions, and we must recognize this.
The Canadian and the Yukon bar associations are dedicated to improvement in the law and the administration of justice. Education is a very important aspect in working toward this improvement. Our own Yukon Public Legal Education Association and the Law Line have done a remarkable job in making the law accessible to ordinary citizens over the years. I pay tribute to the hard-working lawyers who have sustained these organizations.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Law Day. The Canadian Bar Association has sponsored Law Day since 1983 in celebration of the anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are a number of events celebrated on Law Day and throughout this week in April to raise awareness of Canadians of the legal profession, the new Youth Criminal Justice Act and the rights and responsibilities we enjoy as Canadians as a result of our access to justice.
I join with my colleagues in encouraging Yukoners to participate in the events in celebration of Law Day. I look forward to hearing the results of the mock trial of Quirky, an alien, which will see Mr. Deulingís class from F.H. Collins argue the case, and Mr. Sullivanís class from Porter Creek High act as the jury.
The Law Day fun run will also be an opportunity for Yukoners to participate in the activities. This year, the Law Day fun run proceeds are being donated to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon.
Iíd like to thank the Canadian Bar Association, the Yukon legal profession and the volunteers who stage the events and raise our public awareness.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
Are there any 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?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Mining in parks
Mrs. Peter:Last week, the Minister of Environment made some unusual comments about mining and parks. Iíd like to pursue that question and try to get some clarity on where the minister stands.
The ministerís exact words were, "Öone of the proposals that has been spoken of, often in glowing terms, is one that appears or is utilized in one of the provinces. It allows mining interests to come into the park after the park is established."
For the record, is this approach one of the options the minister intends to pursue if and when this government establishes any new parks in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: That certainly is an option that has been touted by some southern jurisdictions ó Manitoba sort of sticks in my mind. But the short answer to the member oppositeís question is no. The longer answer is that I donít intend to promote any option. I think that itís much better advised to talk to the people involved, talk to the local people involved, and make local decisions. We wonít be imposing any of our thoughts on that process.
Mrs. Peter: Once again, we are left wandering through a fog of words from this minister when we try to find out where this government stands. Under this government, the Yukon protected areas strategy is gone. Itís not under review. There is no consultation. It is just plain gone. There is no goal 1, there is no goal 2, there is no YPAS.
Will the minister state for the record: does this government believe that mining is an acceptable activity in territorial parks? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I feel the need, basically, to expand on that a little bit, since the answer to my first question was no. Yet what I get back from the member opposite is that itís a fog of words and that we havenít answered the question. I have difficulty when I am asked questions and no one listens to the answers. No one listens to the answers. We simply go on and read the next question.
The 30-day process during the election was an adequate, I think, consultation on one level. We will continue to go back and talk to individual people and individual areas and let them make individual choices. I am not going to say that they can or canít.
My definition of a park doesnít necessarily include a mine. But then again, I am not a dictator. I am here to represent the people, to listen to options and to make informed decisions on those options, unlike other members, as I see it, who probably will get up and say that I havenít answered the question again.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, we do read from Hansard, and we do know that the mixed messages are coming back from this minister. The minister goes on much about the territoryís land mass that is under protection. What we canít find out is what this government means by "protection". Itís not a complicated answer, and his answer is, "No mines in parks." Can the minister state for me again if that is a commitment from this government?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Once again for the member opposite, our commitment is to listen to people, let people make informed choices to express what they feel is reasonable in their area. On one level, I donít feel any more that I have a right to go to the State of Colorado and drop a park on them and tell them how they should be conducting their business, which is why I put a much lower priority on getting a letter from Colorado. I put the highest priority on people from the Yukon telling us what they want in their part of the Yukon. That is the level of consultation, and I will not impose restrictions on that consultation. That would make no sense. If we have predetermined decisions, Mr. Speaker, that totally goes against the concept of consultation. Most people who would wish to be part of a consultation process would like to have a warm, fuzzy feeling that maybe somebodyís going to listen to them, and we will.
Question re: Children in care, Anglin report recommendations
Mr. Fairclough:My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. When asked the question, the minister would not commit to hiring more social workers, as the Child Welfare League of Canada strongly recommended. So we can expect that there would be no change in the caseloads of social workers. In 2001, Professor Jim Anglin did a review of residential care in the Yukon. He is now shocked that no follow-up has taken place over the past two years. One of the recommendations is to close the existing receiving home and develop a system of specialist foster homes to offer a more family-style home for kids who come into government care. When will the minister follow through with that recommendation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Letís just back up to a little while ago in Question Period when I was asked a direct question by the member opposite as to whether or not the department would be hiring more social workers. He asked for a specific yes-or-no answer, and my direct answer to the member opposite was, "Yes, we would." That should put that issue to rest, Mr. Speaker.
Now, with respect to the Anglin report, a number of recommendations have come forward. The number of occupants in our receiving home is down considerably. There is, regrettably, one individual who has been there for 13 months, but that pales in comparison to the two- and three-year periods that residents were there previously.
This is an initiative thatís not going to be resolved overnight, but our government is firmly committed to finding solutions and weíre going to be doing that, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fairclough: In response to the ministerís answer, Mr. Speaker, there is no increase in the number of social workers hired in the territory, and thatís a fact but the minister wonít commit to it.
Here are some other facts. Reports are that receiving homes are often overloaded. Kids are staying there far too long and there is an unhealthy mixture of very young children with teenagers. Also, the receiving home is in a part of Whitehorse where there is a lot of drug activity.
What plans does the minister have to provide the environment these children need and when will we see some action?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, itís interesting that I heard the same questions posed on the news on the radio this morning. Obviously the members opposite are void of questions other than what they can find on the news media.
Mr. Speaker, the issue is a very serious one and our government is firmly committed to addressing it. The number of individuals in the group homes and the one receiving home is less than what it has been in the past. Itís an initiative that we, as a government, are going to be addressing and will be addressing and are addressing.
So, with that said, Mr. Speaker, itís not something thatís going to be resolved overnight. Itís an initiative that is underway and we are making progress.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, the minister didnít answer the question: what plans does he have in place?
All we have seen is a blame game. Is this not an important question? Of course it is. It is in the public eye right now, and we ask the questions. We are hoping to get some answers ó some decent answers ó out of the members opposite.
There are program cuts in many places in this department ó family and children's services branch has been cut by 11 percent, child placement has been cut by three percent, and the youth services branch has been cut by five percent.
The minister, I believe, hasnít put a lot of thought into the consequences of these cuts. We now know that the department will receive more than $36 million over and above what they already get from Ottawa. When will the minister use some of this money to provide a safe and proper living environment for children who find themselves in government care, through no fault of their own? When will we see some of these monies going toward that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Here we go again ó $36 million is mentioned. What the member opposite fails to recognize is over what period of time and for what initiatives these monies under health care are flowing to the Yukon government. There are conditions attached to them. What the member opposite fails to recognize is that over $150 million was cut from the territorial governmentís budget by the federal Liberal government over the past number of years.
The issue of children in care is a very serious issue. Itís not something that we can resolve in the first few months of office. It is an initiative that our government takes very seriously. We are working on it. The number of children in care is about 280 currently. It has been considerably higher with much less staff in place. We are looking at the total picture. We will not be able to fix it overnight, but we will be making progress. We are making progress currently.
Question re: Childcare workersí wages
Ms. Duncan:I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services about the priorities of this Yukon Party government.
The budget weíre currently debating cuts $170,000 in funding from the Yukonís daycares and day homes. On Thursday of last week, the minister announced he had found $230,000 in new money for daycare workers. The result is a $60,000 increase for 200 workers. This works out to a raise of $1.15 a day for daycare workers.
Letís compare this to the raise the Premierís chief of staff got from the government: $20,000 a year, or $77 a day. Daycare workers, $1 a day; high-priced advisors to the Premier, $77 a day. These are the priorities of this government.
Will the minister agree today to rescind the increases to the top political staff and put the money into daycare workersí salaries? Letís see where the governmentís priorities really are.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The question, Mr. Speaker, was surrounding daycare. What the member opposite failed to mention on the floor of this House is that, last year, the uptake on the subsidy wasnít what it was in prior years, so there were some funds lapsed.
Now, when you take into consideration the direct operating grant and the subsidy, we have one of the highest levels of funding per space that is available in daycares anywhere in Canada. Now, if you look at that funding, based on the number of children in day homes and daycare centres, it is the highest and we, as a government, have committed another $230,000 to this initiative ó a total of over $5 million being addressed in this area and directed by this Yukon government.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the fact remains that the government has given political staff raises of $20,000 each ó $77 a day; theyíve given daycare workers a dollar a day. These are the priorities for the new Yukon Party government. Mr. Speaker, the minister is looking for extra funding for daycare workers. He should take a look at the recently updated list of outstanding loans to the Yukon government. He would see that companies owned by the Member for Porter Creek Centre and himself owe almost $400,000. Imagine what good work could be done in our daycares with that kind of money.
The minister says daycare workers are the number one issue for the government. Letís see if itís more important than the business interests of two ministers. Will the minister agree to pay back his loan and put the money into daycare workersí wages?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the issue is daycare. Our government is firmly committed, and it was the top social issue on our election campaign. We will be putting a high emphasis on it. Mr. Speaker, currently, there is a committee struck from the day home operators and the daycare workers and daycare board that is going to be directing how this $230,000 of additional funding will be spent. The exercise is to get it to flow through to the workers in these facilities. Thatís the exercise weíre working on. Itís underway. Itís work in progress, and we hope to see results very, very quickly, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, itís all about choices. So far today, the government has clearly laid out its choices. Political staff get raises of $77 dollars a day, and daycare workers get a dollar. The minister says wage increases for daycare workers are a top priority, but not if it means having to pay back overdue business loans of almost $400,000. Itís time for the minister to make a choice. The government can choose personal business interests, or it can choose to keep an election promise it made to raise the wages of daycare workers. Will the minister make the right choice for the children of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, itís a shameful display when we use children who are in desperate need to somehow correlate issues that have been long-standing in this territory in terms of the delinquent loans that that member, when in government, did absolutely nothing about.
Secondly, to correlate them with wages that are dictated and designated by job classifications, classifications developed by an outside contractor, not by anybody in this government ó and thirdly, that member stands on the floor of this House after hundreds of thousands of dollars were distributed to Liberal candidates, hundreds of thousands more for political advice, and not one thin dime into the issue of children, daycare and day home operators.
Mr. Speaker, we have acted. We have, in the short term, increased the direct operating grant by $230,000. Over $5 million now is flowing to this initiative. That is something that the member opposite failed to do when in government. We are acting, we are addressing our commitments. It has nothing to do with delinquent loans or what job classifications dictate what wages will be paid. It has to do with a government acting on its commitments. Weíve done so ó $230,000 worth to date and more coming.
Question re: Parks creation
Mrs. Peter:The Minister of Environment has made some very interesting statements about the amount of Yukon land that is under protection. On March 4, he said that 12.517 percent of Yukonís land mass was under protection. Then, just last Wednesday, he claimed that the Yukon Territory is now in excess of 20 percent protected.
What has changed in the last seven weeks to justify the ministerís latest figures?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite is quite correct ó by our calculations 12.517 percent is under protection. As I said at the same time ó but the member opposite fails to read that part of Hansard ó the special management areas and initiatives of this type would raise it well over 20 percent. By our calculations, it is there. The member opposite asks that we include this data and then gets up and asks that we donít include this data ó but I will let the next question be read.
Mrs. Peter: Very interesting.
Last week the minister was also asked about a proposed new national park in the Wolf Lake area near Teslin. The minister talked about the federal government pushing this park down our throats. He talked about the federal government coming in and dropping the park on us. Yet, he also implied that if the people of Teslin were okay with the idea, he would be too.
I would like to know which side of this verbal tightrope represents the Yukon Partyís real position? Does the Yukon Party government support the proposal for a new national park in the Teslin area? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite asks a yes-or-no question to which there is neither a yes or a no. The Yukon Party government is very firmly in favour of consultation. Once again, before we do things like this, we would like to know what the people involved feel.
The park certainly has been suggested and pushed by the federal Liberal government. Again, as the member for the third party has mentioned, Teslin didnít seem to really want it, but here we go two years later with it on the table.
We are in favour of consultation. We are in favour, very firmly, of the people of Teslin and the Teslin Tlingit Council, who will make the ultimate decision, contrary to what the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, I think it is, who is sitting there chanting "yes or no".
Yes, definitely, we support the people of Teslin and the Teslin Tlingit Council.
Mrs. Peter: When this government put the YPAS process in limbo, part of the reasoning was that the protection of ecoregions could happen through the federal parks process and through the special management areas under First Nations final agreements. Yet this minister is having a hard time stating any kind of territorial government position on a possible new national park. What is this minister doing to guarantee that the consultations on a new national park meet the consultation requirements of the Umbrella Final Agreement and the YPAS process?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: This brings up some interesting points and one very interesting point of view. I have repeated in the House many times that itís our position to consult with local people on what they feel, yet the member opposite says that we have no position so, obviously, consultation is a position that the official opposition is not familiar with. We would prefer to talk to the people locally. An appropriate body in Teslin is the Teslin Renewable Resource Council, which consists of representatives of both government appointees and First Nation appointees. By the Umbrella Final Agreement, it is within their purview to consider any of these proposals, and itís them, I would assume, who would take a very strong lead, along with the Village of Teslin, to give us some direction on how we should proceed with that.
We are interested in consultation, however foreign that concept is to the opposition.
Question re: Whitehorse Copper residential development
Mr. Cardiff:My question today is for the Minister of Community Services.
During debate on the Community Services budget last Thursday, the Premier said, off the record, that there had been an environmental screening completed on the governmentís proposed Whitehorse Copper country residential development. Will the minister tell us exactly what kind of environmental screening was completed for this project?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, this is an initiative that has been handled by the city, and we are working with the City of Whitehorse on this particular project. We have triggered the process, effective April 2.
Mr. Cardiff: There is new environmental legislation that applies to Yukon development projects such as this proposed country residential development. Did this project undergo an environmental screening that meets the requirements of the Yukon Environmental Assessment Act, which is now the law?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Thatís exactly the process that we are under.
Mr. Cardiff: The government is the agent for this land. The development is a Yukon government project, and the minister has the final approval for the City of Whitehorse official community plan. On March 28, area residents met with the minister, and they asked him to support their request for a site-specific review of the official community plan. That was three weeks ago. To the best of my knowledge, the residents have not heard back from the minister. Does the minister intend to support the application to the city for a site-specific review of the Whitehorse official community plan?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have triggered the initial screening for this particular development, and until that is complete, we will make no decision.
Question re: Highway maintenance budget cuts
Mr. McRobb:The cuts to the territorial highways budget at the hands of the Yukon Party government are brutal. On the capital side, more than 100 private sector jobs will disappear as a result of the $10-million cut. On the maintenance side, the cuts are even more brutal. The worst cut to the highways maintenance budget is a 55 percent cut in the Faro region. It will be very interesting to see how Faroites react to that.
In the Kluane region, where there are four camps, the overall reduction is 31 percent, including a 47-percent cut to the highway maintenance camp in Haines Junction.
How can the Minister of Highways and Public Works possibly justify cuts of this magnitude?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are continuing to create jobs in the Yukon through our community work projects, in all the regions indicated by the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: Iím hoping the minister will at least get on the right briefing note, Mr. Speaker.
My examination of the highway maintenance camp budget has turned up something very interesting. In contrast to the severe cuts in most regions, the budget for the Klondike region has increased by 20 percent.
Mr. Speaker, who represented this department in the Yukon Partyís internal budget discussions ó the Member for Klondike?
We all know that the Member for Klondike has a shiny new truck and he likes road surfaces that accommodate his preferred rate of travel, but how can the minister possibly expect so many Yukoners to live with the trade-off of putting up with more potholes, more roadside vegetation, slippery and unplowed roads in the winter, et cetera, in their regions?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I thank the member opposite for his rendition of the process.
We are working diligently through our process to ensure that we distribute all of the work throughout all of the Yukon and, you know, on an as-needed basis and where the priorities are required.
Mr. McRobb: Again, that doesnít answer the question. Clearly, this is another broken promise. The Yukon Party promised to maintain highway spending. Instead, it has cut the highway maintenance budget by $1 million. Where is the fairness? The budget variances range from a plus-20 percent in Klondike, to a minus-31 percent in Kluane, and a minus-55 percent in Faro.
If the gravy is skimmed from Klondike, the total Yukon cut is 7.3 percent. That is shameful. This raises doubt about the practical decision-making and fairness. It also raises a serious question about safety for the travelling public. How can the minister possibly expect his department to maintain all Yukon highways to acceptable standards under this 7.3-percent territory-wide budget cut?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I can ensure the member opposite that we intend to do that. I have worked with the department and we will work on achieving that process.
Question re: Public service, opposition request for information
Mr. Hardy:I have a question for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. On January 17, I wrote to the minister asking for specific information on the composition of the government workforce. It took only 14 working days for the first half of the information to come back. I appreciate that. It would be wonderful if we got that kind of response on a regular basis to the many inquiries that we make. However, the other half of this information, which is no more complicated to compile, still hasnít come and, by my estimate, we are up to 67 days of waiting for this information.
Can the minister tell the House if the delay in providing this information is at the commission level or within his own political offices?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for the question. I would say that that information is still being obtained.
Mr. Hardy: January 17 to now is a long time. Iím sure half of the information that was supplied to me is connected to the same program, and they can probably get it if this minister would try to resolve that.
Weíve been hearing a lot of peopleís comments about how this governmentís ministers are failing to answer the questions, and Iíve noticed that there has been a debate on the floor today about how theyíre failing to provide information not just to ourselves but there also seems to be some conflicting messages ó information that they give to the media is often different from the information that they give in this House. We do know that people are getting very sick and tired of this kind of game playing, Mr. Speaker, and they want answers as much as we do on this side of the House. Many of the questions we asked are stimulated by people of the Yukon. The bottom line, the simple question, which requires a simple answer: why is the minister refusing to make this information available ó because it is available.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would say to the member opposite that this is a matter of maybe a difference of opinion. This information that was requested by the member opposite was something that was not common practice. I believe it is probably the first time this kind of information was requested, but what I could tell the member opposite is that it is lower.
Mr. Hardy: There really is no excuse for the delay. We believe the information should be on the public record. All weíre asking is how many people worked for this government as of December 31, 2002, and how many vacant positions existed. We know the information is there ó obviously; how could the government do their payroll without it?
We would like the minister to stop stonewalling, Mr. Speaker, and provide the very straightforward information. My question: what is preventing the minister from tabling a full response to the questions I asked on January 17 before the end of this dayís business?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I mentioned earlier that this is information that has never been requested by anyone, to the best of my knowledge. I think the member opposite should very well appreciate that there are 5,000-plus employees in the government. The vacancy rate has usually been floating around six percent, and that hasnít changed.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Taylor:I would just like to ask all members to join with me in extending a warm welcome to my father, Ivan Raketti, in town from Watson Lake.
Mrs. Peter: Iíd like to ask the House to please help me make welcome elder Pearl Keenan, whoís a very well-respected elder from the Teslin Tlingit Council.
Notice of opposition private membersí business
Ms. Duncan:Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, April 23, 2003. It is Motion No. 56.
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, April 23, 2003. They are Motion No. 60, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre, and Motion No. 54, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair:Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matters before the Committee today are Bill No. 28, Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act, and Bill No. 31, Act to Amend the Income Tax Act.
Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will stand in recess until 2:05 p.m.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I wish to clarify the record from when we left off. Let me just re-read the motion called. 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, April 23, 2003. They are Motion No. 80, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre, and Motion No. 54, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre. Mr. Chair, I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Bill No. 28 ó Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act
Chair:Weíll then continue on with Bill No. 28, Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act, in general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is a relatively straightforward bill that adds two activities to the list of activities entitled to the off-road fuel oil tax exemption. As stated in second reading, this bill will add the activity of operating and maintaining a sawmill to the class of commercial operations entitled to a fuel tax exemption. The bill also provides golf courses with a fuel tax exemption when fuel is consumed in equipment that is used for off-road purposes.
As the members know, the following industries are able to access this exemption currently. They are fishing, logging, hunting or outfitting, trapping, mining and mining exploration and development, farming and tourism. As well, operators of stationary generators of electricity are exempt from the fuel oil tax. It is expected that the savings to the golf course sector will be approximately $5,000 per year ó nominal, but obviously any saving is important ó while the savings to the operators of sawmills will be around $15,000. Therefore, the total cost to the Yukon will be roughly $20,000 per year. These savings will significantly benefit the operators in these two particular sectors.
I will be pleased to answer any questions of a general nature that members may have prior to our getting on into the clauses of this bill.
Mr. Hardy: Weíve already talked about this, and I see this moving forward very quickly. I just have a question. Have there been any more applications or lobbying to include more categories or persons to fall within this exemption other than just the golf courses or the sawmills?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No. At this point in time, there are no other activities out there that are lobbying government for fuel oil tax exemption. I think the member opposite is fully aware, though, that these particular items are the result of the tax round table, where all these discussions were taking place. I know, from experience, the discussion around sawmills in particular was an issue dealt with at the tax round table. We have just now followed through with what has been an ongoing issue for some time.
Mr. Hardy: Iíd like to acknowledge the good work that the tax round table has done over the last while.
I still have another question. Can the minister tell me how many existing businesses, which are operating right now as golf courses, would be able to apply for this? Also, how many sawmills operating at this present time are going to be able to access this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As far as the golf courses, I believe itís four that would be accruing ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes. The Member for Kluane is right up to speed on his golf euphemisms, but at any rate, itís four golf courses that would be accruing benefits from this particular tax exemption.
As far as sawmills, thatís a very hard one to get a handle on because of the inconsistency in operations. At this stage of the game, other than maybe some very small operators, there are no major sawmills operating but, of course, we are moving toward what hopefully will be an interim wood supply, and in other regions the small operators can now take a benefit out of this tax exemption.
Mr. Hardy: So the $15,000, which the minister has indicated, is based on assumption and not on actual sawmills that are actually operating at this moment?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Taking the best available information from fuel consumed in the past by sawmills ó which, again, is not an easy figure to get entirely correct because of the different operations. It has been used to develop a projection here, which, for this year, we see approximately an uptake of $15,000.
Mr. Hardy: If the minister doesnít mind, I would like to know the location of the four golf courses in the territory.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, there are 5 golf courses. I apologize, and I will correct the record. We have the Trevor Harding Golf Course in Faro ó a name we are all familiar with ó of course, Greenways Greens in Watson Lake, the Top of the World Golf Course in Dawson, and then the two clubs and courses here in Whitehorse ó both Mountain View and Meadow Lakes. So it is actually five ó totalling $5,100 of exemption.
Mr. Hardy: I was curious. Probably one of the longest standing golf courses in the territory is Annie Lake Golf Course. I am wondering why itís not on that list and could he give me the reasons behind that.
Is the minister aware of any more golf courses that may be developed in the Yukon over the next year that would come under this exemption?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: These also must be courses that are maintained and operated that would see them using fuel, such as off-road use of lawn mowers. At this point in time, we see no construction of new golf courses, so this should remain pretty consistent over the immediate future.
Mr. Hardy: Iíd like to thank the minister for his responses. Thatís it for my questions on this.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a few questions as well. The Finance minister mentioned the tax round table. I would ask the minister to provide information to the House ó either by letter or now, if he has it immediately available ó on the current membership of the tax round table. Weíve seen a number of Yukoners leave and some come to the Yukon as well ó so, the current membership of the tax round table and when they last met.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As the member well knows, it was an initiative struck by a past government in the mid-1990s. Today that table is not operational, so it would be very hard for me to provide that membership. But maybe for the member, in a moment of time when the official opposition and the third party could get together, the New Democratic caucus might be able to provide the information to the member. It was that government that struck the tax round table.
Ms. Duncan: Iím quite well aware of who struck which committee and which government initiated the tax round table, and Iím well aware of the different advice they have provided.
The minister credited the tax round table with this advice. Is it his intention to reinstitute the tax round table and, if so, what membership does he anticipate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Our focus right now is to implement tax initiatives that will see us put benefits into the pockets of Yukoners and, indeed, help us to some degree in addressing the difficult situation weíre in economically.
We have no process right now that has been commenced to reconvene, re-establish, reconstruct the tax round table. Weíre more focused on dealing with implementing some of the good recommendations that came from it. These were recommendations that came from Yukoners who spent a lot of their time poring over these issues, trying to come up with mechanisms in the taxation area that would assist our territory. Weíve continued on with some and, in this particular case, weíre implementing some new ones. Beyond that, we will continue to work on our economy, in turning it around, and we are very hopeful that these types of initiatives will help us, to some degree, do that.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, one of the issues with respect to the Fuel Oil Tax Act and these tax credits is that there are some Yukoners who, despite the best efforts of a number of different governments, are not aware of them. For example, trappers have an exemption, as do farmers, fishers, and of course, now sawmills and golf courses. Now, there has been a lot of discussion about this so itís in the public media. But thatís certainly a question, and it was a question I encountered most especially in Ross River during the lead-up to the election campaign ó I believe it was in September or October of last year ó a question as to a public relations campaign notifying people about the tax credit thatís available for them and how to access it. Is there a public relations campaign anticipated by the government to publicize this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The department is focused on what audience you want to contact with this, what groups you want to make sure are aware of this, but I can tell the member opposite that in this day and age there arenít that many people who donít realize that there are tax benefits out there, whether you be a trapper, whether you be a farmer or a logger or a miner. Itís something that is much sought after. There may be those out there who are unaware, but I would say, for the most part, these industries and these activities are very aware of the tax breaks they can achieve.
Ms. Duncan: Itís unfortunate that the minister did not accept that constructive suggestion in the spirit in which it was offered.
There are a number of ministers who have indicated their ownership in shares in golf courses or in other businesses, and the Premier has responsibility in this area. Did the Minister of Finance, the Premier, write to the Conflicts Commissioner asking specifically for advice on how these ministers and members should participate or not in discussions relating to amendments to the Fuel Oil Tax Act?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The proceedings and the processes that we conducted were directly related to the advice received from the Conflicts Commissioner.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would ask the Premier again: did he seek that advice directly from the Conflicts Commissioner, and did he do so in writing?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, thatís exactly what I have just stated on the floor. We are conducting these areas based on advice from the Conflicts Commissioner, and thatís why certain things must take place when it comes to what may be a perceived or real conflict. We have a situation here where a minister is involved in a golf course and has not participated in any way, shape or form during the discussions, during the debate, during the decision making, and thatís exactly following the advice of the Conflicts Commissioner.
Ms. Duncan: Will the Premier table that advice?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I just have.
Ms. Duncan: The record will reflect that I asked if he sought the opinion in writing. The Premier has indicated no; therefore, one can assume that is why he is unable to table the letter.
What the Premier has said is that amendments to the Fuel Oil Tax Act were discussed certainly at Cabinet Committee on Legislation, Cabinet meetings and caucus meetings. The Premier has confirmed that any ministers or members who were in conflict have absented themselves from these discussions. Has the Premier confirmed that? Is that what he is saying, that he is absolutely satisfied ó although he didnít seek the advice in writing ó that members and ministers who may be in conflict have absented themselves from all discussions on this bill?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We sought the advice. Itís not necessary that, in all cases, advice be put in writing. I sought advice and carried forward based on the recommendations of the Conflicts Commissioner. But more than that, so did each individual minister. The member knows that full well. I can confirm that we have conducted ourselves on this particular matter, when it comes to the Fuel Oil Tax Act and its amendments, in accordance with the advice given by the Conflicts Commissioner. So I confirm that, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, we will proceed with clauses and title.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 28, entitled Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act, be reported without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Fentie that Bill No. 28, entitled Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 31 ó Act to Amend the Income Tax Act
Chair:Weíll now proceed with Bill No. 31. Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The purpose of this bill is to extend the Yukon mineral exploration credit for one more year. I already mentioned, when introducing this bill on second reading, that the extension of the credit acknowledges the continuing downturn in exploration spending as well as difficulties faced by the smaller mining operators in raising money. Exploration is crucial to a turnaround for mining, and this credit facilitates this activity.
This credit helps prospectors, placer miners and companies involved in exploration to stretch their exploration budgets. As mentioned in second reading, it is difficult to estimate what the uptake will be on this measure. I believe, based on past experience, that it will be in the neighbourhood of $2 million for the fiscal year 2003-04.
We know that this credit is important to the mining industry in helping finance Yukon-based mining exploration. I look forward to the support of all members for this important bill. If there are any general questions, I will be pleased to address them now.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister tell me how long this mineral exploration expense has been in place?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It began April 1, 1999 through March 31, 2001, then continued April 1, 2001 to March 31, 2002, and April 1, 2002 to March 31, 2003, and now weíve extended it into the next fiscal year, ending, obviously, March 31, 2004.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister opposite tell me which party brought this in?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have no problem extending the accolades to where they are most deserving. That was the tax round table, which was an initiative commissioned by the former New Democratic government. Itís a good idea, and thatís why weíre carrying forward with it, as did the Liberal government carry forward with this initiative.
The tax round table was commissioned and struck by the former New Democratic government and we, as a government, have extended this particular area of recommendation by the tax round table.
Mr. Hardy: The minister indicated that thereís a continuing downturn in the exploration sector, which is a concern, and that this act is a benefit. Since this act has been brought in, has there been a continuing drop per year? Is there a measurable way to know how much impact this actually has?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, the measure is obviously in dollars expended. Unfortunately, since 1996, there has been a downturn in dollars expended ó in millions of dollars, by the way ó in the Yukon when it comes to exploration. But thereís one thing that remains consistent. We have to understand that when we see large drops or downturns in the expenditure in exploration, we have to factor in both the junior companies and the larger companies that get involved in these particular areas.
The importance of this mineral exploration tax credit is that it really helps the juniors to continue on here in the Yukon, and I think, in most instances, we are experiencing their efforts and their expenditure to explore in the Yukon. Ultimately, itís those junior companies, in conjunction with working with larger companies, that will see us experience a turnaround in mining. So we have to continue on if we are interested at all in seeing the mining sector rebound. We have to continue on with these types of initiatives to ensure that, in the very least, our junior mining companies are continuing to show interest in the Yukon, continuing to raise monies in the stock market and other areas to spend here in the Yukon in the mining sector, and weíre very pleased with the developments stemming from the Cordilleran Roundup this year. It was the biggest conference ever, the biggest roundup ever in terms of membership or registers. There was a lot of excitement in the air when it comes to the mining industry.
There is no question that the Yukon has the available resources, has tremendous potential, and this is one vehicle that we hope will bring home some dividends, and weíre starting to experience that now. We have a number of plays where monies are being spent and exploration will be conducted this summer. Thatís certainly showing signs that we may be experiencing some improvement in this particular area.
Mr. Hardy: So the minister feels that this is an important act to continue, even though we seem to be suffering from a continuous downturn year after year? He believes it is important that we continue to do this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, I do, Mr. Chair, because the alternative would see us with even more downturn because those junior companies I was just speaking of would probably have less of an opportunity to conduct business in the Yukon.
What weíre doing is providing an incentive, if you will, for people to look to the Yukon and raise capital and spend their money here in the territory. This is all about restoring investor confidence in our territory and, in this particular sector, itís very important, in turning our economy around, that we establish a much higher level of confidence with the investment community. We do have the potential; we have the resources; itís a matter now of laying the groundwork that will entice and invite the mining industry back to our territory. Thatís something that I think is important to all Yukoners. They have expressed it time and time again and thatís something we will continue to work on.
Mr. Hardy: Is there any way to measure the impact that this has had on the industry?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There was a survey conducted in 2000. The results in uptake of this particular program can be measured in millions of dollars. If we wanted to get into more detail of measuring it beyond dollars to what it means in the future, I would say at this stage of the game that it would be highly speculative as many exploration initiatives are in their initial stages.
What we try to do is focus in on the dollar value, projecting where we might be this year. Weíve stated it could be approximately $2 million in cost. We could translate that back to $7 million or $8 million in terms of expenditures in the Yukon, but weíll have to see. We know what has happened in past years, but we donít know, other than the projections, of what may happen this year.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to know if the minister could make that report available across the way. Iíd appreciate that ó the study that he did. Maybe it has some of the answers to a couple more questions I have.
Just finishing up, could the minister tell me the criteria for qualification for this, and does he have a number of how many have actually used it in the last couple of years ó or, say, in the last year?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, first off, I can just read into the record for the member opposite what we have available in figures. For the 1999 year, there was an exploration expenditure of $9.5 million; the uptake for this program was 1.3; in 2000, $8.8 million, uptake 1.9; in 2001, $7.2 million, the uptake was 1.9; and in 2003, weíre looking at approximately $2 million. Thatís what we have.
Again, there are probably other ways to do this, but a lot of this is a reflection of projections, and weíll have to see what this fiscal year-end brings so that we have a clear indication of what happened this year with the extension. Thereís not much we can do about the last years; theyíre over with. Itís important that we focus in on whatís happening this year.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister supply me with that survey or report that he just read from?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, I will.
Mr. Hardy: Just so we can move on, my last question is: does the minister anticipate us extending it at this time next year as well?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would submit to the member opposite that we want to look at this over the course of this fiscal year, make the determination on the best available data and information on what is happening here. Our purpose, though, is to find ways that we can, as I said, entice, engage and invite the investment community back to the Yukon. The mining sector is one of them, but there are many others, whether it be film, oil and gas, forestry, small business ó you name it. Weíve got to work on every sector of our economy to turn the situation we experience around.
Ms. Duncan: In the outline of the history of the mineral exploration tax credit, the minister noted that it was first introduced in 1999 but he hasnít provided the public record with the amount of the credit in each of the years. Can I have that information, please?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the first year, 1999-2000, it was 22 percent; in 2001-02 it was 25 percent; this fiscal year ending March 2003, it was 25 percent; and we are continuing on with 25 percent for the fiscal year 2003-04.
Ms. Duncan: So, in fact, the credit for the ó if you will ó the tax credit initiative goes to the introduction by the NDP in bringing forward the original amendments to the Income Tax Act, and the credit for increasing it goes to the Liberal government. That is now on the record. So it went from 22 percent to 25 percent under the Liberal government and this government is continuing it.
Was there any discussion of an increase to the mineral exploration tax credit?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No.
Ms. Duncan: Is there any discussion of a possible cap? Because, as Iíve said before, this amount can vary quite widely depending on what sort of an exploration season we have. Naturally, of course, we all hope for a stellar season, so to speak; however, the better the season, the more expensive and the less money in revenues.
I am very supportive of the tax credit. It also can, quite frankly, Mr. Chair, give the Finance minister some grey hair, depending on the season. I just wonder if there was a look or a discussion about how to deal with that sort of a roller-coaster ride?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís a nice thing to have ó grey hair over an increase in mining exploration in the Yukon and the need for government to consider capping this particular tax incentive. At this point in time, as I stated, all projections show where weíll be at, but weíre very hopeful that exploration will increase. And, yes, the former Liberal government did increase it to 25 percent, and we accept good initiatives from any other former government. But the former Liberal government also continued on with what chased ó or at least had a great impact on chasing the mining industry out of here, a very flawed protected areas strategy. So the member opposite, though we would love to give credit where creditís due, and we will, increasing three percent the mineral exploration tax credit vastly diminished its importance and its benefit by continuing on with a very flawed protected areas strategy, which was a serious impediment for investment being attracted to the Yukon.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, we will proceed with clauses and title.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 31, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be reported without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Fentie that Bill No. 31, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 4 ó First Appropriation Act, 2003-04 ó continued
Chair:We will now proceed with Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Department of Community Services ó continued
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I would like to request unanimous consent to clear all lines, unless the members have some other business to raise. This is the Department of Community Services, correct? I didnít hear you announce that, Mr. Chair, but our intentions are to clear the remainder of the lines, if thatís okay with the parties. That will dispense with this department rather quickly.
Unanimous consent re Vote 51, Department of Community Services, capital budget read and agreed to
Chair:Mr. McRobb has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all remaining lines in Vote 51, Department of Community Services, capital budget, cleared or carried as required.
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous consent.
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Community Services in the amount of $16,635,000 agreed to
Department of Community Services agreed to
Executive Council Office
Chair: Weíll continue on with Vote 02, Executive Council Office.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think most of the budget in this particular department is self-explanatory. The Executive Council Office, being the corporate body of government, has a number of duties, whether they be devolution, land claims implementation and, in addition, our governmentís focus on formalizing our relationship. With that, we can carry forward with general debate on the Executive Council Office, and weíll endeavour to answer the questions the members opposite may have in order to expedite the publicís business here in the Assembly.
Mr. Hardy: Iím going to try to be fairly brief in my questions, and hopefully weíll get answers that are direct, and we can move right along.
My voice might not hold up for five minutes, the way Iím going.
Iím going to start with a question Iíve asked, and I believe it applies here. A consultant was hired to assist with the Kaska court case ó as the minister has indicated ó and also with relations with other First Nations to assist in settlements, implementation and stuff like that. Is he paid through this department?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, he is, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister tell me who has been allocated to work with the consultant?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Iím not sure what the member is asking, Mr. Chair. The member knows that within the Executive Council Office, there are a number of agencies that worked in the First Nations area, whether it be land claims and their conclusion, the implementation, intergovernmental relations or First Nation relations. All these things are part and parcel of daily activities by the Executive Council Office. The contractor/negotiator works for the Premierís office. Itís through the Executive Council Office. Obviously, his job is very specific, based on his contract, and he carries out those duties based on that contract and reports directly to me. But that does not negate the fact that I, as a minister responsible for this department, work very closely on all fronts when it comes to the First Nation issues, relations and affairs. Itís something that has been ongoing for quite some time.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Iím just trying to get a picture of the working relationship that the consultant has, just for some clarification. I believe that at the time of the announcement of the hiring of a consultant, there was also a transfer of another person from another department. I believe he was with Yukon Housing. Where does he fit in? Where has he been transferred to? Has he been transferred to the land claims branch under Executive Council Office? Is he assisting in some of the work that the consultant has to do?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The gentleman in question is an employee of caucus and Cabinet, and it has been past practice that government will assist First Nations in areas of capacity, and this particular individual, though he is a caucus Cabinet employee, will also be directing his efforts in areas where he can assist First Nations in their capacity areas.
Mr. Hardy: So, is this person working out of the caucus offices?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, he is.
Mr. Hardy: Right at this moment, I would really like to thank the minister for the nice brief answers. We can move along really quickly.
How were his wages arrived at? Was it just a transfer of his wages over from what he was being paid formerly, and it has just moved right over?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The gentleman in question actually, under his own free will, terminated his employment with government and became a caucus and Cabinet employee.
Mr. Hardy: Then how were his wages arrived at? I am not sure if there was a model previous position that you could base it on. I just want to know how.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It was based on job classification ó something obviously we donít get involved in. Unfortunately, the members opposite have made much about an incorrect statement on the floor of this Legislature about raises. Nothing of the sort is taking place. Wages are dictated by job classification. Job classifications arenít something we develop. They are developed by a number of processes, including outside contract.
Mr. Hardy: I would appreciate it if the member opposite would, not necessarily identify, but recognize that I for one have not been talking about wages in caucus offices. I have just been seeking knowledge on this. It has become an issue with me at this time. Itís not all members on this side, and I would appreciate it if he would recognize that.
Who else would be working, I guess, closer with the consultant to assist in trying to resolve some of these outstanding issues that the consultant has been hired for? Are there people working more directly out of the land claims branch or is it, as the minister has indicated, more directly straight to the Premierís office, and he is not going through that area now?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The duties of the contracted negotiator are very specific. They are to go to work with all First Nations in the territory in formalizing a government-to-government relationship, working on a full economic partnership, and to work on averting litigation in the southeast Yukon, which is a commitment we made during the election. For the most part, the individual works with First Nations in reporting directly back to the Premierís office on the evolution or development of those negotiations.
There are many other areas that government works on with First Nations, and there are those agencies right now inside the Executive Council Office where these agencies continue to work on a number of initiatives that have been ongoing for years ó land claims, 30 years.
So, this approach is a little bit different. The contractor is working closely with First Nations on these very specific areas, as stipulated by his contract, and reports to the Premierís office.
Mr. Hardy: I guess Iím wondering where the contract is at, at the present time. Heís working full-time ó thatís my assumption ó as there are some immediate issues that the Premier has indicated, and one of the reasons he hired him ó a different approach. So Iím assuming heís working full-time on the direction of the Premier.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I wouldnít term it full-time. This is a contract that has a specific term and condition and timeline, and itís monitored on what results weíre getting. The individual was chosen because of a long experience and history in negotiating with First Nations, whether it be in the federal system ó and very extensive experience within the federal system ó and also on First Nation negotiations.
The knowledge base is very important. The individual has the credentials, the capacity, the talent and the experience to carry out these duties. We have taken a different approach, thereís no question about it. We want to expedite our relationship with First Nations and we want to move away from the 30 years of negotiation to a more product-based type of relationship, where we collectively collaborate on developing this product. Thatís the groundwork this negotiator-contractor is laying, as we speak.
Much of this would be on an as-required, as-needed basis, so I wouldnít term it full-time, and I do recognize that the member opposite has not been constantly providing the incorrect information on raises versus job classification.
Mr. Hardy: I believe the minister indicated previously, a few weeks ago, when he was talking about the consultantís area of work, that he was also going to be working with all First Nations on many of the outstanding issues, whether it be First Nations who have signed their agreements or the ones who are working on them right now. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Not quite, Mr. Chair. Itís not outstanding issues. Itís very specific ó formalizing our government-to-government relationship ó because there are governments in the territory outside the Yukon government with whom we have to formalize that relationship, and they are the First Nation governments. Full economic partnership ó thatís something that is quite different from simply consulting with First Nations. We are going to involve them in the decision making and the burdens of those decisions, including sharing in the benefits that those decisions will bring to Yukon.
So, itís not outstanding issues. Itís a different approach that we felt was required in dealing with our First Nation people in the territory because of the fact that they have achieved self-government and itís vital that we, as a Yukon government, clearly establish a formalized relationship at a government-to-government level and clearly establish a full economic partnership, because it is an important facet of helping to turn this territory around. The First Nations have a great deal to contribute in this area of how to proceed with addressing the difficult situation weíre in economically.
We recognize that and believe that, along with that contribution, they should also share in the benefits.
Mr. Hardy: So this consultant has been tasked with that quite onerous task ó because itís pretty massive. I am sure there are more people working on it, but he is heading it up. I recognize that itís pretty onerous for one person to handle. He has basically been tasked with leading that up?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, Mr. Chair, the member is quite correct; it is an onerous task. Itís a huge undertaking. It is one of the reasons why we chose this individual, given his experience and knowledge in this area. It is something that has to be done. Thatís why, in this particular instance, we have chosen the route that weíve taken.
The gentleman in question is carrying out his duties. They are very specific, though massive in scope and it is a difficult task. Thatís probably why we have spent years in trying to deal with this issue and grapple with this issue. Itís probably why we have come to this juncture and why we want to expedite this process. Itís in what we believe to be the public interest that we do so, not to mention the spirit and the intent of what the Umbrella Final Agreement and the final agreements actually spell out. Itís high time that we moved into a new era in relationships with First Nations. That is one of the main commitments that this government has made and that is why we have contracted this individual to carry out those very important duties on behalf of the government, First Nations and the Yukon public.
Mr. Hardy: Iím assuming he has been in contact with all the First Nation governments throughout the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, the work continues. Itís a work in progress. As the member pointed out, this is very onerous, so itís not just a simple matter of contact. Itís establishing how weíre going to put it together, what the framework is, exactly how we formalize this relationship ó much of this begins with building a relationship. We do that by first commencing with dialogue. The relationship must be built out of mutual respect and trust. Thatís something the contractor is very versed in delivering ó an opening, a desire, to build that relationship out of mutual respect and trust.
Mr. Hardy: In the spirit of collaboration, working together and trying to shape some of the answers to the problems existing, Iím just assuming that one of the first things this consultant would have done is get in contact with all the First Nations to lay out some of the views of the new government and the direction they want to go in and how theyíre going to work together. Iím just trying to find out if thatís the case.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, the way this works is that I, the Premier, was in contact with all First Nations to discuss with them our new approach and, from there, because of this contractor reporting directly to the Premierís office on a required basis, we direct the contractor in the confines of what his contract lays out specifically. This, again, is a work in progress ó itís ongoing. There are many discussions taking place, but itís led by me, in the Premierís office, with the First Nation leadership. Weíve had many meetings and discussions with the First Nations of this territory. Some First Nations have a different view of how theyíd like to see this relationship evolve and develop.
But weíve got to incorporate all those different views and the different levels of capacity that some First Nations have today. Weíve got some who, through self-governing, have evolved in a very efficient way and have started to develop a number of initiatives. We cannot lose sight of that. There are existing protocols in place with government that we cannot compromise or ignore. So this is a difficult, complex process that we have undertaken, but the results in these challenges can be very beneficial for Yukoners.
It would be difficult to say right now that there were specific times when a discussion took place, because of the ongoing nature. We commenced discussions in working with the First Nations shortly after the election of November 4, which was something that was simply required. We have to be able to first develop that relationship by entering into dialogue, and that is much of what has taken place in the initial phases. Then we went to work on product, such as the memorandum of understanding with Kwanlin Dun, which commits the government and the First Nation in a particular area of justice; working with the Kaska on a bilateral arrangement, which provides us not only the ability to avert litigation and at least try to get the federal government back to conclude the unfinished business in the southeast Yukon, but gives us an opportunity to work collectively with the Kaska Nation in the development of resources and other sectors in the southeast Yukon, their traditional territory, and also the establishment of new protocols with First Nations. These are just some of the things that are ongoing, but the work is in progress, and there is much to do, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hardy: It seems that the answers are getting longer and longer again, and my questions are getting shorter. I am trying to move this along, but it doesnít seem to be happening on the other side. It seems to be a lot of speech-making and repetition here.
The question I have is: has the minister directed the consultant to talk to all First Nation governments in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thatís what the contract spells out. That is one of the specifics ó formalizing our relationship with all First Nations. So obviously that is the case.
Mr. Hardy: Does the minister know if he has done it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís a work in progress. There is a lot to be done. There are 14 First Nations. We will continue this work. We know what the terms and conditions of the contract are; there is a specific timeline; and we will continue to proceed in this area and monitor its product and progress.
Mr. Hardy: However, from my viewpoint, I would think that one of the first things that you would want is initial contact with all First Nation governments. But I am going to move off that at this present time. I have a few other questions.
I will put something out to the minister. Where are they at with devolving responsibilities to First Nation governments? Has the Yukon Party moved anywhere down that line in devolving certain responsibilities throughout the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, Mr. Chair, I want to point out that the record will show that I did say to the member that it began with me, the Premier, making contact with all First Nations, as it should be. Any government-to-government relationship should be at that level, and we donít diminish the importance of the First Nation governments.
Second, the member speaks of what is normally called PSTAs. Obviously, PSTAs have been a slow, arduous process, and thatís one of the reasons why we must formalize our relationship as governments, because there is another government that has a fiduciary responsibility in this area ó that being the federal government ó and itís incumbent upon us to work closely with First Nations to ensure that that responsibility is not diminished in any way, shape or form in the First Nation governmentsí ability to take down programs and services based on their final agreement in delivering these types of programs and services to their citizenry.
Mr. Hardy: I totally agree with the minister opposite that the Premierís role is to ensure that there is ongoing dialogue with all levels of government, and that is one of his responsibilities. Iím not interested in returning to it. The simple question I asked was to ensure that the person hired ó recognizing the huge scope he was given to work with ó has contacted all First Nation governments and has started the process at a variety of levels, not just the Premierís office itself.
I support that, by the way.
Coming to devolving some of the responsibilities, as I said earlier, there are some major challenges in doing that, for example, if, say, the Ross River Dena desires a health centre and for the Health and Social Services in Ross River to be transferred to it. The territorial government has clients in this area as well, and there are obviously some negotiations that have to happen.
Could I get some indication of what approach the Premier would be looking at in how to resolve something like this to ensure that it moves forward?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the first place, it couldnít happen in Ross River; we donít have a land claim and there is no final agreement. That is what is of such concern here on the problem with the federal government and the former Liberal government not concluding the unfinished business with the Kaska Nation. It has created a great deal of uncertainty. It has certainly put in place some very difficult barriers across the spectrum in what we must deal with.
As far as this type of approach, ours is quite clear. We want to formalize the government-to-government relationship so that we can remove barriers between our governments and provide a more cost-effective form of governance in this territory, which must include the First Nation governments and the Yukon government working diligently, collectively in ensuring that the federal government lives up to its fiduciary responsibilities in all areas that are driven by the final agreements. That is the question and that is what we must accomplish. Our first step is to formalize that relationship to provide that environment where we, as governments, collaborate in areas so important as the ability of First Nations to take down powers.
I think the federal government has a duty and a major role that is, at this point in time, questionable on whether they are living up to it. We have to ensure that they do.
Mr. Hardy: I happen to agree with the Premier in regard to the federal government and trying to ensure that the federal government does live up to its responsibilities and the agreements that they signed, because there are a lot of problems that do exist with the federal government after they have signed the agreement with other First Nation governments. They seem to have been pulling back from honouring those agreements. To what extent, I do not know; I am not privy to those kinds of negotiations.
However, what it does do is raise a concern about any future agreements that they may enter into, and that is the honouring of those agreements. I hope that the Premier keeps that in mind when he is negotiating from the territorial side ó that what you may get from the federal government may often be not cast in stone, and it is a struggle even after you have signed those agreements. I am sure that the Kaska First Nation as well as the other First Nations that are in negotiations are very aware of this.
Iíve talked to other First Nation governments that have signed that, and thatís why there might be some reluctance to move forward fairly quickly. Iíve got a couple other questions. I donít want to take up too much time here. The bilateral accords that the government has mentioned, where are they at? And what Iím referring to is between Alaska and the Yukon and B.C. and Yukon; where are they at, and what timelines does the Premier anticipate with them?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Theyíre at various stages, obviously, but these accords are a long-term initiative. They commit governments to work collectively on a number of fronts. You know, weíve seen some results in the past that were very positive in governments working together ó the Shakwak funding, which saw the Yukon realize millions of dollars of United States federal government money that can be attributed to that working relationship between Yukon and Alaska. But there are other fronts, obviously, that we are committed to, things as simple ó or at least that would be perceived as simple ó as fishing licences and reciprocity in that area. So itís an ongoing situation where incoming governments certainly look into these areas, and most governments proceed with them. We did have a little bit of a dampening of a relationship between Yukon and N.W.T. in the last couple of years, but weíve rectified that by committing ourselves to the new accord with the N.W.T., and we look forward to this pan-northern arrangement. It was very successful in health care. It shows that when the three territories, representing one-third of Canadaís land mass, make a stand on the national stage, we will be heard. We intend to continue to work in that type of environment for the benefit of Yukon citizens and, indeed, all citizens north of 60.
Mr. Hardy: Again, Iíll try to keep my questions short and, hopefully, the answers will be more direct. After 30-some days, we can kind of anticipate what each sideís going to say when they stand up, so we donít need to hear it over and over again.
One of the concerns we have in the Legislature this period, and one I want to just mention, is the casework letters and responses from all the departments, and how difficult it has been to get some type of response in some departments. A specific one was mentioned earlier today in Question Period. I have here ó and this over a week old, but there seems to be a couple of departments that we are struggling to get answers from. Some of the timelines I have here range close to 70 days, 65 days, 52 days. I would say itís almost inexcusable to have to wait that long for a question to be answered. I was wondering if the Premier has any concerns about that and if anything can be done to ensure we get more prompt answers from other departments.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Of course weíre concerned with responses being provided in a timely manner, but letís reflect on the realities. Constantly, the opposition will portray the fact that the government side is not providing information, is not answering questions and, invariably, the government side is actually making efforts to provide information and to answer questions. Thatís why the pages of Hansard are full of questions and answers.
So, Mr. Chair, this is not a new argument, and this is not a new representation or presentation by the opposition benches.
Itís the age-old problem that the opposition does not like the answer received and, therefore, they translate that into no answer. That is frankly not the case, Mr. Chair. There are many issues that the opposition benches ask about in terms of detail that require extensive work by departments that have many other duties to carry out.
But when it comes to casework, we, the government side, recognize the importance of casework for every MLA in this Legislature. Itís our lifeline to our constituencies. If the member opposite ó any member opposite ó is having problems in dealing with casework, I can tell you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I will sit down with that particular member of the Assembly and address their concerns. But I need a lot more information than what Iíve just heard.
Casework is vital. It must be dealt with in an expeditious and timely manner, and if the members opposite are having problems in this area, I want to know what they are and we will go to work on them.
But as far as government information and the debate on the floor of this Legislature and the request for countless legislative returns, the member and I will not agree on that. When it comes to casework, the member and I can certainly sit down and get to the bottom of the problems they may have.
Mr. Hardy: Well, letís talk about casework letters. One department has 11 outstanding, most of them are 50 days old. Another department has three over 30 days. They add up and itís a concern. I think that if the Premier is very serious about that, I am quite willing to sit down and show him the number of inquiries we made on behalf of constituents in regard to casework and show him what departments we are having the difficulty with, what ministers we are having the difficulty with. If he is taken at his word and he is willing to address it, we would be very happy to have that addressed and then it will not be an issue any more, if it is done in some kind of timely fashion. If there is a reason why it has taken so long, well, an explanation does help at some point, instead of getting up to 70 days with no response ó that is a major concern to us.
As the Premier knows, the people who have phoned his constituency office will phone again after five or 10 days and wonder whatís happening and whether he is doing anything. It just kind of runs through the whole system.
So, Iím quite willing to sit down with him and show him the number of letters we have, responses weíre waiting for, and thatís just from us as the official opposition. Possibly the third party also has a list of casework inquiries that they havenít been getting responses to in a timely fashion.
Iíve noticed a fairly substantial increase in communications. Can the Premier tell me the reason for such an increase in communications in ECO?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Just to address that, if I do it now, then maybe we donít have to go line by line. Otherwise, if the minister wants us to do a line-by-line vote, thatís fine. Iíll hold it there, or else I can just ask a general question about certain areas. Itís his choice on this.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Certainly, Mr. Chair.
First off, to deal with casework, I think what we have to clarify is: are the members opposite sending letters directly into the department, or are they sending them through the minister responsible for the department? Itís an important question when it comes to responses in a timely manner.
As far as the increase, itís due to the hiring of an additional communications officer. These are not new funds. They have been reallocated from other areas in the department. The 34-percent increase is because there is now one more communications officer in the department.
Mr. Hardy: Seeing the 34-percent increase, I look above it, and I see a 33-percent drop in policy work. Can I have an explanation on that one?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is due to less contract services by the department; therefore, there are decreases in the personnel costs that were directly related to these contract services.
Mr. Hardy: Iím going to step aside on my questions for a bit here and allow the member for the third party to continue.
Thank you very much.
Ms. Duncan: Just with respect to that last point regarding casework, just for the record, it has been my understanding, and perhaps it was a result of working with my former colleague, the now Commissioner, that it is not my practice to write to anyone but the minister. I do not communicate directly with deputies or with staff. I have far too much respect for the public service. So any outstanding casework ó and I donít have a great deal of it. There are a few letters, but the ministers are well aware of them, and Iím expecting that once we get out of session that Iíll get a response to them. So I can understand the Premierís position on that.
I have some general questions in a number of areas that Executive Council Office is responsible for. First of all, with respect to ministerial travel, often ministersí travel would be in the departmentsí budgets as opposed to Executive Council Office when we first took over in government. We had a practice of ensuring all ministerial travel came under Executive Council Office budget. Has the Premier continued with that practice, and if so, could I have a legislative return with an update on all the travel costs?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The travel is housed in Executive Council Office, as before.
We will go to work on putting together the information to date on ministerial travel, although it has been a very short tenure so far ó December 2 to April 22. But we will give the member opposite an updated version by way of ó possibly we could do this by letter, in case the legislative return isnít completed in time for the rest of this sitting. So I put both options on the floor. It will include up to March 31, 2003.
Ms. Duncan: Either ó whichever is easiest for staff would be fine.
The Premier also has responsibility for intergovernmental relations outside of the First Nation relations and relations with the Northwest Territories. When is the Premier going to Alaska to meet the new governor?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are working on that as we speak. As the member knows, the governor has been dealing with some health issues ó fairly serious issues. We have certainly been in contact and will wait until the governor is prepared to receive me or even a delegation from the Yukon. I hope that itís soon, but we will have to see how he proceeds or progresses with his own personal matters.
Ms. Duncan: Is it the Premierís intention to renew the intergovernmental accord that was signed with Alaska in September 2000? Is it the Premierís intention to renew that agreement when he meets with Governor Murkowski?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, Mr. Chair, I have every intention of renewing but, given the fact that the governor is new, there may be a new approach when it comes to Alaska and how they see things evolving. We would like to have those discussions. Our recent delegation, I think, somewhat reflects that change in the government of Alaska
with the new leadership, so we have every intention of renewing it but there may be some changes to it, but thatís something we will work with Alaska on in the very near future.
Ms. Duncan: I look forward to the Premier keeping us updated when the Legislature is not in session, perhaps by a letter letting us know when heís meeting with Governor Murkowski.
Try as hard as we might, we couldnít quite convince Governor Knowles to deal with the fishing licence issue, but Governor Murkowski seems open to it, so I do hope that the Premier will continue with that particular issue on reciprocity.
Audit services are also part of the Executive Council Office. What is the audit plan? Theyíve had an increase in their budget. I believe thatís because of the staffing positions finally being filled. Whatís the audit plan, as the Premier chairs this committee?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have a full-time staff. However, at this point in time, the committee has not yet met to proceed with the plan itself.
Ms. Duncan: So, what are they working on?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: They continue to work on ongoing audits, as they always have. Thatís part and parcel of the business. Thatís why they are the government audit services.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, weíll cut the Premier some slack on that. They must be working on the audit plan that we left them with, because if he hasnít called a committee meeting or hasnít met with them yet, they have to still be working on some of the old projects.
I believe one of those was an audit of Government Services, so perhaps Iíll look forward to the Premier sharing that with me as soon as it has been passed through the audit committee and Management Board.
The stats branch is also part of ECO and there are two things: is the Premier following up ó I know the call has gone out. The Justice minister indicated, as chair of the Cabinet Committee on Legislation, that the call had gone out for legislative initiatives. Are there any plans from the stats branch for legislative initiatives? Also, does the Premier have, in working with the stats branch, a sense of when weíll have the outcome of the census?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: On the second part of the memberís question, itís normal that we get the outcome of the census in the fall.
Now, we have some preliminary figures, which trigger us going to work on the undercount and allowing that process to proceed. Obviously, weíre going to make best efforts to diminish the census in terms of population loss by dealing with this undercount, but it will be in the fall ó in all likelihood sometime in September ó when we will get the final analysis provided to us.
The first part of the question was ó maybe the member could just quickly repeat the first part?
Ms. Duncan: Is there any legislation being put forward from the stats branch for the Cabinet Committee on Legislation for the fall?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes. They are working on it, and we may see something in the fall sitting.
Ms. Duncan: If I could just then go to the census issue, weíve had some preliminary numbers and are anxiously looking at the undercounts. Would the Premier care to provide me, by letter perhaps, with the preliminary numbers?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll do it on the floor, Mr. Chair, because Iím not going to give exact numbers; obviously, we donít have them. But it shows an approximately 3,000 drop in population. What exactly that will equate to in terms of our transfer payment remains to be seen, because we need the hard numbers for that. Anything else would be pure speculation, and the member knows we have a $15-million census adjustment fund sitting at the ready. At this stage of the game, weíre dealing with an approximate drop of 3,000 people. What that may translate into will become more apparent when we get the final numbers in the fall.
Ms. Duncan: Can the Premier just confirm that traditionally the undercounts have been in the three- to five-percent range ó is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, that is correct. Thatís the range, and itís something that officials, I think, work on quite extensively. Obviously weíre very hopeful the undercount will show a little bit less than what the preliminary 3,000 shows.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to move on to another area.
The Premier has responsibility for the conflict of interest legislation. There is also a code of conduct that was put in place by former Premier McDonald and it hasnít been updated. It falls under this legislation. Does the Premier intend to update that code of conduct? Itís like a code of ethics.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have not discussed that particular area at this time. In the immediate future, there are no processes that would trigger that discussion in place right now.
As governments do, they have their priorities set out and focus a great deal on those priorities. But maybe the member opposite has something of interest in this particular area that she would like to share with the Legislative Assembly.
Ms. Duncan: I am interested in seeing our legislation updated and seeing the annual report from the Conflicts Commissioner.
There is quite a difference in the reporting on the disclosure forms. Is it the Premierís intention to put in place some kind of a standard in relation to the Code of Ethics, a standard to say that Cabinet ministers will disclose in this way? I mean, we have the disclosure forms. Different ministers are using them differently. Is it the Premierís intention to impose a standard for his Cabinet members?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, this is always an area of ó I shouldnít say difficulty, but it can get somewhat complex and complicated. Forms are fairly rigid and donít necessarily cover entirely what must be deal with. So there is always this issue around the form or what kind of form, or how many forms, and so on and so forth.
I think, for the most, we would take our guidance from what the new Conflicts Commissioner sees. He has just recently come on board. He is familiarizing himself with the situation here in the Yukon, and I think that itís in the best interest of the Assembly and government itself, and, indeed the members of this Assembly, that we allow the Conflicts Commissioner to do his work and see if he comes forward with any suggestions before we dive into the issue of trying to change forms or redesign or whatever else. I think his expertise far exceeds our expertise in this area.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, Iíll look forward to the report and recommendations.
The Youth Directorate is also under the Executive Council Office. There have been a substantial number of requests with respect to a youth centre in Whitehorse. The Youth Directorate, although its funding has been substantially reduced, is still in existence. What are the governmentís plans with respect to a youth centre and for the Youth Directorate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, itís a difficult situation that government finds itself in, given the extensive demands placed upon it. It was obvious that spending could not be sustained at the levels that spending was being implemented.
So, we have kept the Youth Directorate intact under the Executive Council Office. It is dealing with a number of broad-ranging issues with youth. It has worked with the youth centres that are in place today, and we want to ensure that what weíre doing is a fair and equitable approach.
Now, a new youth centre is certainly an issue, and we will work with the Youth Directorate in this area and, of course, in all areas important to dealing with our youth today. There are a number of interests out there. I think one of the things the Youth Directorate can do initially, which itís proceeding with, is seeing how we can collectively approach these different agencies, groups, centres, and so on and so forth, to be more efficient in our expenditure and get more return in areas that require attention.
This is not a simple issue. Itís a very difficult issue in dealing with our youth. I think itís important that we take the time to utilize what we have to date, in terms of getting the best possible return to the taxpayer as we look to areas where we can improve and enhance our ability to deal with the issues that the youth of this territory face today and into the future.
Ms. Duncan: That was quite a lengthy answer. Itís not a question of not liking the answer. I didnít hear a yes or a no in that discourse from the Premier.
When the Youth Directorate was established under the previous government, there was quite extensive work with youth, particularly in the Whitehorse area and elsewhere, as to what they wanted to see; what were the needs and what they wanted to see. There was some conflicting advice. Itís a difficult area; thereís no question.
Thereís also working the RCMP and the Lions clubs ó thereís quite a significant group of people who have been working on this issue for some time, and I would like to know, in terms of the public business, if the minister has given them a straight yes or no on whether the government will fund the youth centre.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would turn the memberís attention to the budget. This year, if we were funding a youth centre, it would be in the budget ó itís not ó therefore, this year, weíre not funding a youth centre, but weíre certainly willing to look at all the areas of issues that the youth of the Yukon today deal with, this being one of them. What will happen in the future, Iím not going to speculate today on the floor of the Legislature. Weíre dealing with this budget, which has no allocation of money for a youth centre in it.
Ms. Duncan: Could the Premier then tell us how the Youth Directorate money is being spent? The Blue Feather is still being funded under Health and Social Services, as opposed to the Youth Directorate. Could he confirm that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, there is a breakdown of the funding in detail. That includes salaries, office, phone, travel and a contribution to community youth activities, training, winter activities, BYTE, Whitehorse Youth Centre, Youth of Today Society, rent. All these things total up to the budget item of $488,000. Salaries include a manager for the Youth Directorate at $76,000; a summer student for $4,000; community youth activities, which range from crime prevention to youth leadership, and so on, of $25,000; $160,000 to the winter activities program; BYTE, $60,000; Whitehorse Youth Centre, $60,000; Youth of Today Society, $60,000; and the total of $26,000 in rent. Thatís how the $488,000 is split up. Itís a fair and equitable expenditure across the board, addressing every area we possibly could.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the Premier could just send over that breakdown.
My question was just where does the Blue Feather Society fit? Is it funded under that line item, or is it funded under Health and Social Services?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Blue Feather Youth Centre is funded under this expenditure, equal to the same amount as the Whitehorse Youth Centre.
Mr. Chair, I might request a short break, as I have to carry out a bodily function.
Chair: It has been requested that we stand in recess for 10 minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order.
Weíll continue on with general debate regarding Executive Council Office.
Ms. Duncan: I have a few other questions.
Weíre talking about the youth centre ó Iíd also talked about the Code of Ethics and conflict legislation, and we were going to await the report of the Conflicts Commissioner. He submits an annual report to the Legislature. There isnít a requirement right now for political staff to fill out a disclosure form. Is this something the Premier would be interested in if it was recommended by the Conflicts Commissioner?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If the Conflicts Commissioner recommended something, I would assume that government would get real interested in it, because the Conflicts Commissioner has a great deal to say about how we conduct ourselves.
If there were a recommendation from the Conflicts Commissioner that caucus and Cabinet staff must do certain things, then, yes, the government would get really interested.
Ms. Duncan: It would make sense to me that those who are in a position of providing advice would want to be free of any perceptions as well.
There has been a lot of discussion about the job classification decisions that have been done as a result of new staff being hired in the Premierís office. Could I have a copy of the job classification decisions?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: An outside contractor who has done work for the government in the past on numerous occasions and provided for government, based on government structure, job classifications for certain positions ó provided them in the context of a contract, which is not a very complicated one.
As far as the classifications themselves, I donít have those classifications here with us. Itís not a normal course of events that these things are dealt with. I am sure that the Public Service Commission doesnít bandy about all the job classifications that they have. There is a set parameter that must be dealt with. Thatís what job classifications are all about. Itís a personnel matter.
I think at this stage of the game what the member needs to know is that the job classification has dictated a certain wage range, which is consistent with the wage ranges that the Public Service Commission deals with. Everything was done in accordance with that act and the Caucus and Cabinet Employees Act.
So, frankly, the contract is available, and we can provide the member with a copy, if she doesnít already have one.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, the contract registry is a public document, so Iím well aware of the cost of the contract and who was awarded the contract. They fulfilled and wrote job descriptions. Thatís what the Premier has told us. So, can I have a copy of that report? Job descriptions and classifications are public. For example, the customer service representatives that were advertised for Service Yukon ó there was a job description and a classification, AR-whatever or CSR-whatever ó six, for example. That information is public.
All Iím asking is ó and it doesnít have to be this nanosecond. Iím quite content if the Premier wants to provide that information to me later this week. I would just like copies of the job descriptions and classifications, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is very ironic because, upon taking office, it was quite evident there wasnít a full complement of job classifications or descriptions by the former government. I wonder if that member would provide us all those job classifications and descriptions ó highly unlikely. Thatís probably why they werenít there and available when we took office.
So Iím not sure what the process was here between the contractor and the appropriate bodies, but it certainly is something that, frankly, I find irrelevant to the memberís debate. Job classifications and descriptions are a part of government, and if the member contends that these things are public, there shouldnít be a need to waste our time debating it here on the floor of the Legislature ó access them.
Ms. Duncan: It shouldnít be a problem for the information to come over. Iím not debating whether the classification was right or wrong. Iím just asking for information. And for the ministerís information, the job descriptions and classifications under our chief of staffís watch were done in full consultation with the Public Service Commission and the individual in charge of finance for the Executive Council Office. All the information was sent over to that individual via e-mail as we left office, so the job classifications and descriptions were available.
Thereís an argument as to where they are now. I know, from what the chief of staff has told me, that they were made available. So I donít know where they ended up. My understanding is that they were made available. Iím not debating whether the classification was right or wrong; Iím simply asking for the information, and I would appreciate it if the Premier would provide it. I can access-to-information it, except the Premier keeps standing on his feet, saying, "Weíre open and accountable, just ask." So Iím just asking.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Frankly, the member is arguing that all these job classifications and descriptions were left. Well, thatís not the case. None were ever found. Secondly, the contractor may be able to help the member out. The job descriptions and classifications were specific in terms of the contractor delivering what those classifications were, and then the wage was dictated by that classification. Whether it was done by the contractor through some sort of schematic, blueprint or verbally is unbeknownst to me. At the end of the day, the issue is pretty simple. The contract is there. The contract was specific to provide job classifications. That was done. Thatís what dictated the wage scale.
Ms. Duncan: Itís interesting that the Premier should be using the line "no records found". Thatís what the PSC said when we asked for the job reclassifications.
I can access-to-information that, if thatís the way the Premier wants it.
Cabinet offices ó theyíre in the operation and maintenance section of Executive Council Office ó presumably has all the staff except that we seem to be aware that a member of the political staff who transferred from elsewhere in government is not included in the Cabinet offices line, and the contract that has been much discussed is not included in this Cabinet offices staff line either. Where are the contract and the other staff member in the budget?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The issue the member speaks of is under First Nation relations; it is a line item in capital and, indeed, O&M.
Ms. Duncan: The First Nation relations capital ó is this the entire contract to Obsidian Consulting or are the expenses related to that contract in the O&M?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As it states in the line, this is First Nation economic accords and agreements, First Nation relations. The negotiating fee is capped at $200,000 for a 12-month term. As stated on the floor of this Legislature very early on in this sitting, when asked, of course there are going to be expenses involved here. Thatís the cost of doing business, but weíre just a few months into this. The contract commenced in January, and weíll have to see where weíre at. Itís something weíre monitoring, and we will base it and measure it on product and progress.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, letís deal with this, one step at a time. There is a $200,000 contract. Are the expenses associated with the $200,000 contract in the capital portion or the O&M portion? Is the First Nation relations line all inclusive of the $200,000 contract and the expenses?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, Mr. Chair, thatís exactly what the line item states. Itís for First Nations economic accords and agreements. The contract, again, is a negotiating fee capped at $200,000 for 12 months. What the expenses will be, weíll have to see. Weíll have to see what the total contract cost will be, but the fee cannot extend beyond $200,000. Thatís part of the contract. Of course, thereís the cost of doing business involved, and we reflect an expenditure in the budget that is in relation to this particular area of priority for government.
Ms. Duncan: How much has been expensed and billed under this contract to date?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have approximate numbers. Again, itís a 12-month contract. Weíre certainly going to monitor it and measure it by progress and product. I donít have in front of me the exact number, but itís approximately in total $50,000.
Ms. Duncan: Is the additional staff member who is assisting on First Nation relations covered under the First Nation relations capital portion of the budget as well?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, this person is actually listed in the Internet phone book as a member of the Premierís political staff. Would it not be more accountable to the Yukon public to have this individual in the Cabinet offices, in the operation and maintenance, as opposed to in the capital? Wouldnít that be a truer reflection of the cost of the Cabinet staff?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, there is no effect on the total. This particular situation arose in moving a public servant from one of the departments ó Yukon Housing, in fact ó into the caucus and Cabinet staff. At this point in time, the costs are reflected in this line item.
Whether it may be more appropriate in some other line or some other area ó of course. I would imagine that there are a lot of expenditures that we can consider changing to other areas or other lines, but this is how the budget has been set and this is where we are booking the expenditure in anything regarding First Nation relations on this particular initiative.
But there is operation and maintenance reflected in the budget on First Nation relations. I think itís some $1.2 million ó $1,234,000 to be exact.
Ms. Duncan: Is Obsidian Consulting working for any other First Nations, or are we their sole client?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Obsidian Consulting is a consulting firm here in the Yukon, and I have no idea if he is working for other First Nations or other people or not. You could ask Obsidian Consulting that. The phone number is in the book. In fact, we could probably provide the phone number for the member opposite if she so wishes to call.
Ms. Duncan: Did the Premier ask this question of the consultant?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We did everything necessary to ensure that the consultant could carry out the duties. Everything is appropriate, and we await the consultant to carry on with the work as we monitor the progress and the product. We have some time to go before the 12-month period is up, and we look forward to success in a number of areas.
Ms. Duncan: When one hires a lawyer or a contractor and goes in to see that individual, they will be quite frank and say, "No, we can or cannot represent you because we have a conflict, in that we represent the other side." We are dealing with a legal matter here. I understand weíre not hiring a lawyer; however, the Premier said the person is very well-qualified.
So, my question is: is Obsidian Consulting working for other First Nations that we might be in negotiations with, and has any potential conflict of interest been removed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is no conflict of interest. There was no conflict of interest in the last attempt this member put forth on the floor of this House, and there is no conflict in this particular instance. Frankly, the member opposite is trying to relay a situation that does not exist. Why are we debating something that does not exist?
We should, as the Member for Kluane said, clear this particular department and move on to the next one. Thatís what conducting the publicís business is all about.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Iíll agree with the Premier that this is the publicís business, and an individual hired to do the publicís business ó one would reasonably expect to assure oneself that that individual is not working for anyone else.
Iíve asked a very simple question. Did the Premier ask if the consultant was working for any other First Nation? Did the Premier ask that question?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, if you follow this memberís logic, that would mean that every consultant in the Yukon, if hired by government, cannot work for anybody else? Consultants in this territory work for many firms, companies, people and government. There is no conflict here. Thatís the obvious answer. What was asked, when it was asked, who asked it, how many times they asked it is irrelevant. Thereís no conflict.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I donít consider asking about the publicís business to be irrelevant.
The very real question is: did the Premier ask the consultant if he was working for any other First Nation ó not did he ask if heís working for a hydro company or if heís working for a construction company or whatever. This is a very specific contract. Did the Premier ask the question? Iím just going to ask it once more and provide the Premier with an opportunity to answer it. Did he ask the consultant the question: is he working for any other First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, we made sure there was no conflict. Thatís the important question here. Thatís exactly what has taken place. Weíve ensured that there is no conflict. Thatís the important issue.
So the member opposite may not like the answer, because there is no conflict, and Iím sure would love to see one but, in this particular case, we canít accommodate them ó there is no conflict.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, itís customary in the Executive Council Office debate for the Premier to provide an update on the current status of all the land claims negotiations. I understand we are not at the table for land claims negotiations with the Kaska. Can the Premier provide the update for White River, Carcross, Kwanlin Dun and Kluane, please?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Carcross-Tagish, Kwanlin Dun and Kluane are proceeding with ratification, albeit the federal government has agreed to an extension of timelines for that ratification. When it comes to White River, there are certainly issues there. There has been traffic between the federal government and the First Nation. We are using our good offices to try to facilitate a meeting of the minds, if you will, and weíre hopeful that we can come to some resolution with the White River First Nation.
As far as the Kaska Nation, there are no land claim negotiations. Theyíre over; finished. Furthermore, weíll never get any negotiations started unless litigation is put into abeyance. One of the reasons we want to avert litigation is to give us at least the option of working with the federal government to see if we can conclude unfinished business.
So the status is, for a recap: White River is an unknown; there is correspondence and traffic with the federal government. We donít know what will transpire there, but we are working with that issue. Carcross-Tagish, Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Kluane are proceeding with the ratification process. As far as the Kaska Nation, itís a work in progress with a bilateral negotiation.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iíd like to take these one at a time then.
The Carcross-Tagish First Nation ó what ratification date are they looking at? Does he have any idea? And when he says itís proceeding, I would assume thereís a workplan and legal drafting. Is the workplan proceeding on schedule? Are there some more delays? What are we looking at for ratification?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, they are proceeding with the ratification process, with an extension. We can provide the member with the exact end date of the extension.
Yes, the committee and all that goes with the ratification process are happening. In terms of any other detail, we will have to wait to see what that process will provide. There are some differences between First Nations in how they will conduct their ratification, Carcross-Tagish being one of them in what they require for a ratification vote.
I know thereís a lot of work to be done, and thatís probably why an extension was granted by the federal government ó because of the amount of work yet to be done.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím aware of the differences in ratification and so on and whatís required. What I was looking for is a sense of where we were at with the legal drafting and so on of Carcross-Tagish First Nation. Have we run into any snags, is it proceeding as it should, is it along the lines of the workplan? I understand itís a work in progress. Iíd just like a little greater sense of the detail of that.
The ratification committee, as I understand it, has a name supplied by Yukon, a name supplied by a First Nation and a name supplied by Canada. Now, itís quite logical, as these ratification dates get closer, that weíre going to need a number of individuals and there are only a few who are very well qualified in this particular area.
Has the Premier initiated a process within his caucus or with the land claims staff for discussing potential nominees to this ratification committee? Are we looking for people? Are we talking to people? Where is he in that process?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, this work is proceeding as it should on all fronts. As far as people who can be appointed to committees, a name should be coming forward shortly. That is also something that is ongoing right now.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the Premier would give some thought to the platform commitment of an all-party committee.
The Kwanlin Dun land claim and the legal drafting proceeding ó there was a workplan on this as well. Where are we at in the land transaction with the City of Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have an agreement in principle.
Ms. Duncan: Great. Good job ó thatís wonderful news. When is it expected to be finalized?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We would hope that can be finalized in the coming weeks, but we are dealing with another party ó the City of Whitehorse ó and I canít speak for them.
But our part, frankly ó we are at the conclusion stage. We have an agreement in principle and would hope that the iís can be dotted and the tís can be crossed in the very near future. I donít expect this to carry on much longer.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to publicly commend the officials who worked so hard on this particular project. It was a long time coming, and it was a very slow process.
The land claim staff worked very hard to achieve that agreement, and I compliment them. I look forward to, perhaps, the Premier being so open and accountable so as to provide a few details on that agreement in principle.
The Kluane claim is a lot further along with the General Assembly. We have paid tribute to it in the House. Have names been put forward for that ratification committee, and are we closer to having that one named?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, the detail on the property purchase, I think itís there ó I mean, the amount of the purchase. The member knows it because the member was involved with that amount. And the member full well knows that we have to transfer this property to the First Nation, obviously free and clear. Thatís part of the final agreement. So there are the details. And yes, names are ó in regard to Kluaneís ratification ó coming forward. We should have some recommendations shortly.
Ms. Duncan: As I said, perhaps the Premier will seek some input on the suggested names for the ratification from other parties in the Legislature.
White River ó the Premier said there has been some traffic back and forth, and weíre well aware that there has been discussion in the media between White River and the Government of Canada. There was also, of course, the major outstanding issue with Kluane and White River with respect to traditional territory and land. Kluane has agreed to a core area, as I understand it. Where is White River in these discussions? Have they also agreed to the core area, or precisely where? Could the Premier outline this traffic?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think part and parcel of the issue with the First Nation ó it relates to this particular area. I think the Kluane First Nation, for example, is proceeding with their land claim. There is no question about it. They are extremely excited about bringing this to a conclusion, but itís a different story for White River.
The Kluane First Nation is more than willing to work on a concept that will solve the overlap issue, but for the White River First Nation, with all due respect to them, there is other unfinished business that I think is impeding our ability to work with Kluane, First Nation to First Nation, when it comes to the land claim itself. And thatís where the federal government has to be involved.
The federal government has not concluded this particular process either. Both the Kaska Nation and the White River First Nation have unfinished business, and weíll see what transpires. The federal government, though I canít speak for it, has obviously been sent some very clear indication from White River First Nation on their feelings of ratification and proceeding, and the federal government must now respond on how they intend to handle this issue. Without them, we are limited in solving these problems, but we will again, as I said, use our good offices to try to facilitate some resolution to this issue because we donít want to impede other claims, like Kluaneís, that are proceeding but, by the same token, we want to achieve the conclusion of the unfinished business with First Nations in the territory that arenít proceeding with a completed land claim.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Kwanlin Dun agreement with the Government of Yukon with respect to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre indicates ó and I donít have the clause in front of me ó that itís a pre-implementation of the land claim agreement. Are there more pre-implementation measures planned by the government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Pre-implementation is something that the member opposite should know all about, because some of these areas were already pre-implemented before our government took office.
In regard to the MOU, I consider it not so much as pre-implementation, but as a government expressing clearly to a First Nation its willingness to proceed with the spirit and intent of a final agreement. We also believe that this particular project must involve not only the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, which has stipulated in its final agreement the requirement that the Yukon government must deal with it on government capital expenditures of $3 million and over ó which weíre doing, and thatís the spirit and the intent ó but when it comes to corrections and the issues surrounding corrections, whether it be the design and construction of a correctional facility and/or alternative sentencing and/or programming and/or dealing with the recidivism rate and dealing with the high percentage of First Nations being incarcerated ó asking the question why ó I think itís vital that we involve not only the Kwanlin Dun First Nation but every First Nation in this territory that chooses to participate in what is a serious issue.
We must address this issue in accordance with moving away from warehousing people to healing and rehabilitating people.
Ms. Duncan: Are there other pre-implementation measures planned with other First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, weíre going to work with First Nations as governments. Again, itís a stretch to call it pre-implementation. What it is, is living up to our commitments to formalize our relationship with the First Nation governments, make them full economic partners, collaboration versus conflict.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, itís not a stretch. Itís right off the document. It refers to it as a "pre-implementation". I was just asking if there were other measures planned, and the minister chose not to answer.
With respect to land claim negotiations, the format under the Umbrella Final Agreement and our style of government is that the mandate for negotiations comes from Cabinet. Thatís a process very clear to everyone, and itís very well-understood with respect to a mandate for land claim negotiations. The negotiation for the Kaska abeyance agreement is outside of the land claims format. My question: is there a mandate from Cabinet? Under what directions is the negotiator of this abeyance agreement proceeding, and whatís on the table?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, this is not a land claim negotiation. The mandate is clear: avert litigation. Thatís what the negotiations are about. If weíre ever to get to deal with a mandate for land claims, weíre going to have to deal with litigation, because there are going to be no more negotiations in this area, especially if thereís litigation in place, because the federal government will not participate. We cannot conclude unfinished business without the federal government. Therefore, the mandateís pretty simple: avert litigation.
Ms. Duncan: Whatís on the table?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Avert litigation.
Ms. Duncan: How? With what? What is the Premier offering? Avert litigation ó how? What are we putting on the table? In exchange for the Kaska ending or withdrawing their Supreme Court suit, which is against Canada, what is the Yukon government offering?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are offering our position of how we are going to deal with First Nations. Thatís the first step in this whole process.
As far as what weíre putting on the table, this is a bilateral negotiation that is principled. Itís not something where we buy and sell somebodyís decision to avert litigation.
This is, I would say, Mr. Chair, a situation that requires a good dialogue, good discussion and an establishment of positions that are clearly understood. One cannot find solution until one understands the issues. This is not a land claim negotiation where we put things on the table. This is intended to get us to a situation where we can avert the litigation and, in the absence of a land claim and all the uncertainty that that brings, we also will commit to work with the Kaska First Nation on economic development in the southeast Yukon, their traditional territory.
But without the federal government coming up with their plan on what to do in this situation, we are going to do what we feel is in the best interests of the public, as we committed to, and that is to make best efforts to stay out of court and go to work in the southeast Yukon on behalf of Yukoners because the benefits that are available there will be something that all Yukoners will enjoy and share in.
Ms. Duncan: Any negotiation is a give and take. The parties have something to give, they want to achieve something, there is some flex room. All I have been trying to ascertain from the Premier is this: what are we giving? What is on the table in this negotiation? I understand his desire to avert litigation. I understand; he has stated that many times. He has also said work on economic development in the southeast. So, what does that mean? Does that mean a land sale in southeast Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is not a question about giving; this is a question about collectively working on a situation that we have inherited: the uncertainty of the unfinished business in the southeast Yukon with the Kaska Nation. The Kaska Nation has a lot to offer here, and the government is proceeding. This is a work in progress and the government is proceeding with the First Nation to see if we can achieve an arrangement where we have averted litigation and are going to work, in the absence of a land claim, on development, in the best interest and benefit of all Yukoners. Thatís what this is about.
I would encourage the member opposite to recognize that this is not a land claim negotiation but something totally outside of that mindset and culture. It is intended to solve an immediate problem that has been handed to us because of the unfinished business in the southeast Yukon. The member opposite did not conclude this particular land claim when in government, and what weíre trying to do is deal with that uncertainty.
The court challenge is against the federal government, but it puts a tremendous amount of barriers in place when it comes to our ability to advance this territory, especially economically.
Ms. Duncan: The Premier said ó and Iíll have to look back in Hansard ó we are going to work on economic development in advance of a land claim. Iím well aware that this is not a land claim negotiation. Itís not in a format or legal framework that any of us are familiar with. The public has a right to know, then, what rules weíre operating under, what guidelines, and what the mandate is. Is it Cabinet? Is it the Premier alone? The Premier has said weíre going to work on economic development in advance of a land claim.
Let me ask this straightforward, direct question: does that mean a land sale in southeast Yukon in the immediate future?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It means that we are working to avert litigation. If we can conclude these negotiations, the public will certainly be made aware of the results.
As far as a land sale, it means that, if we can be successful in averting litigation, we certainly increase our options in areas such as resource development. Itís no secret out there that the oil and gas industry is very interested in the southeast corner of the Yukon for the simple fact that itís an immediate return on investment because the southeast Yukon is on the grid, it now has producing wells and it has access to the marketplace. The interest in that particular sector has been expressed time and time again. Probably under that memberís watch, the oil and gas industry was inquiring about what was happening in southeast Yukon.
But thereís much more to this, and itís about a relationship between governments ó First Nation and territorial ó and our ability to collaborate and work together. This is certainly an example of that, where both governments sit down and try to work a problem out, the problem being the unfinished land claim and the uncertainty that it brings.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the interest in the southeast was well known and is very well known to the industry. The Kaska leadership advised me, when I was in the member oppositeís shoes, not to proceed with a land sale until such time as a land claim had been reached. That was the advice of the leadership, given to me in this very building, in a meeting with them.
Now, the difficulty that I have and that others have is that thereís an understanding with land claim negotiations that thereís a Cabinet process involved with duly elected officials. Yes, itís understood that itís secret. Thereís a mandate received from Cabinet ó this abeyance agreement ó and this seems to be between the Premier and the contractor, and the Premier will not tell us whatís on the table. What he has just said is youíll know when the rest of the Yukon knows. How is this being decided upon? Is it going to Cabinet? It must. And I would encourage all of the Cabinet members to examine the precedents when this comes before them.
The last question with respect to this ó and members from the opposition touched on it briefly ó was the PSTA negotiations. Could I have an update via letter from the land claims office as to where we are with the PSTA negotiations with each of the Yukon First Nations? And could I also ask where weíre at with the intergovernmental forum?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve touched on where weíre at with the PSTA negotiations. Theyíre not proceeding very productively or constructively. We have another party at the table, who is an impediment ó no question about it. Again, thatís an area that has to be worked on and dealt with, and the federal government has a responsibility here ó period. And the federal government has to live up to that responsibility.
As far as Cabinet, obviously Cabinet is very involved in government. This is not a one-person show. This is all about the government structure, Cabinet and caucus. Our commitment was clear in averting litigation. Thatís the mandate. Thatís what weíre working on. We are now in the process of looking at the results to see what we have. We will make the decision according to the way due process unfolds. Thatís what Cabinet does, and that is exactly what, in this instance, Cabinet will do.
As far as the intergovernmental forum, we have now received contact from the federal government to participate in this, and we expect the next intergovernmental forum to be held mid-May in Dawson City.
Mr. McRobb: I have just one question, and itís a double question: what resources is this government prepared to offer to First Nations that are undergoing the ratification process, and has it been asked for any assistance from any of them yet? If so, which First Nations would those be?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As the ratification process is part of the land claim process, again the federal government has an involvement here. We stated that, if asked, we would assist in this area. To date, we havenít been asked.
Mrs. Peter: Iíd like to get a few issues on record and ask the Premier a couple of questions.
One of the program objectives under the First Nation relations, which is in the ECO department, is aboriginal languages services. The objective is to enable Yukon aboriginal communities to assume increased ownership of and responsibility for their aboriginal languages.
Dii ginjik enjit dii yenjit gwiinzoo. Dii ginjik enjit gwii tlo Kwitrit tígwa a enjit dii yenjit gwiinzii.
In my language, I said that, in my community, and Iím sure in other communities around the Yukon, weíre very concerned about our language and how we are going to hang on to our native language. It will be very beneficial for us to work with the government to hold on to that.
There is some information here that also says "to assist the Yukon aboriginal communities to meet their language needs". Iíd like to hear from the Premier how they expect to do that, what their long-term vision is for the Yukon and aboriginal languages ó I know they have a department at the Yukon College ó and also what they see for the communities in general.
Iíd just like to make a comment also in relation to that with the Youth Directorate.
I attended a youth conference that was held in Whitehorse at the end of January and the first few days in February. It was very well-attended by youth from across the territory, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the last day where they had discussion circles.
In the circle that I was a part of, the youth in that circle were very, very concerned about their future. Not only the First Nation youth but the non-First Nation youth in the territory expressed concern about the gap they feel with the older generation throughout the Yukon, whether it be with the elders in the community or within the City of Whitehorse. How are they going to learn about the history of the Yukon? How are they going to learn about their ancestors who helped to build this Yukon Territory? That message was most clear from the First Nation youth.
I believe that, through this department and other departments working together, you can address that issue. We can stand in this forum and any other forum and we are always saying that we are so concerned about our youth. They are our upcoming leaders; yet what kind of resources do we place in that very important area?
Most of them did not speak their own language. Most of them come into Whitehorse at a certain age to attend high school in Whitehorse. Most of them know very little about their history, except what they hear in high school, which is a complete switch from what they were learning in the communities, and they would like to see some of that information brought to Whitehorse and addressed at the high school level.
And the youth in our territory are going through a lot of change right now, especially in the area of alcohol and drugs. Thereís a very, very great concern out there about how alcohol and drugs are affecting and impacting the young people in this territory. Again, what kind of resources are we placing there? I just wanted to put those comments on record and also would like to hear from the Premier what his vision is for aboriginal languages.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, first let me begin by saying to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that thereís no question that the member is a staunch supporter of First Nation culture, heritage, language and the issues that First Nation youth, citizens and elders face in todayís Yukon. Thereís no question that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin is committed and dedicated to improving the lives of First Nation people and, indeed, all Yukoners by virtue of the fact that the member sits here in this Assembly.
When it comes to language, I agree wholeheartedly with the member. Language is the root of culture. Without it, we lose that culture, so itís vital that the First Nation languages in this territory survive and be passed on. Are we doing enough? No. I can openly admit that. We know weíre not. We know we struggle in this area. Again, we work diligently with the First Nations and with the federal government. What monies weíve achieved there are directed toward aboriginal languages, but thereís much more to it, and that is why, Mr. Chair, we are taking the approach of formalizing our relationship to remove barriers.
The questions have to be asked. How do we ensure that we can protect the aboriginal languages in this territory? Weíre certainly going to have to do a lot more work in this area, but it transcends a number of departments, not just the Executive Council Office. Itís in Education and in other areas where we must be conscious and vigilant of how we deal with the aboriginal language issue, given how important it is to the future, not only of the First Nation youth, but the territory itself, because it is part of the fabric of the Yukon ó its history, its culture and, indeed, its future.
We have a lot of work to do in this area. The member opposite has a great deal to offer, as do all the members opposite but, most importantly, we have to find ways to collaborate on this issue, whether it be in our education system, whether it be working on the federal government to live up to its responsibilities, whether it be us, the Yukon government and First Nation governments, coming up with initiatives that will ensure the continuance of this language and the protection of this culture.
I agree with the member that itís an issue. Itís a huge issue. We have a lot of work to do, and we want to start ó at least, from this governmentís perspective ó with the formalization of that relationship, so we can deal with the First Nations directly as governments and feel strongly that this type of approach will help us in addressing some of these deep-rooted issues.
As far as the youth, they are, of course, the most important element of our society today because they are our future. Again, these are deep-rooted problems in many areas. But we must give our youth something positive to look forward to. Thatís what governmentís responsibility is ó less rhetoric and more action and product is required. That is something we are very mindful of, and we will make best efforts to improve this situation.
One of the areas is ó and I mean this with all due respect ó that we have to turn the economic fortunes of this territory around to provide a much better, more positive outlook for our children and youth of today. With that, comes a different approach to many issues. With that comes an increase in population. With that we find ourselves in a situation with more options for what we can do when dealing with some of these issues.
In todayís Yukon, unfortunately, there have been limitations placed on us that we must address. That is something we are trying to work on now, as we progress through this mandate. The alcohol and drug abuse issue is a devastating issue for many people, not just here in the Yukon, but across this country, and we all struggle with it. However, one of the things we were convinced about is that more bureaucracy is not the answer.
They are real programs that we can implement, and education is the front-runner. We must educate our youth of the perils of substance abuse and what the results will be, should you go down this road. But we always have to be able to produce for our children and our youth a positive outlook on what is ahead of them to help steer them away from these pitfalls that many of them, unfortunately, find themselves in. We are mindful and very concerned and wish there was something we could do tomorrow morning to solve these problems, but we realize that there is much more to this than simply what the government can do. It is: what can we all do to deal with this terrible issue?
I think that the member opposite has put some very constructive comments on the record, and itís something that we all should reflect on ó each and every member of this House ó because there is a great deal of substance to what the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has just relayed to this Assembly.
I think that as we proceed through this mandate, we may be able to find more options and more initiatives that will assist us; however, at the end of the day, we are faced with a situation where these things are a part of what we deal with virtually on a daily basis. It is a very difficult situation, and itís not one that has political boundaries. Itís not one that has political initiatives that are better than someone elseís. Itís a problem that we all share. Itís a problem we all experience. They are issues that we all deal with, and itís incumbent upon all of us to pitch in and find ways to solve the problem.
I think Iíve covered most of what the member was speaking to, unless thereís something else ó well, the youth conference. Again, I applaud the member for attending. It speaks volumes to the memberís commitment and dedication. The youth conference is something that warrants, I think, a further look into how we proceed in this particular area, although there are many other things that can be brought to bear in dealing with our youth.
I thank the member opposite for what she has related to us in the House, and if the member has any other questions, I will attempt to answer them.
Mr. Fairclough: I have one question in regard to the contract that has been given out, the $200,000 contract. Itís a lot of money. At a time when government says they donít have a lot of money for social programs and so on, itís a lot of money. And for those who are on welfare, who are getting something like $10,000 a year, this is a lot of money. It adds up to something like $16,666 a month that this person gets. So far, he has been on the payroll for four months. Heís supposed to improve government-to-government relationships with First Nations. My First Nation, the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation hasnít even received a phone call yet. Thatís how important they rate at this point in time.
I guess the simple question is: when are other First Nations going to receive the services of this contractor to improve this government-to-government relationship?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the member opposite was here when I stated clearly that this begins with the Premierís office. Iíve had a number of discussions and meetings with that memberís First Nation. We will direct the contractor accordingly. Weíre not going to dictate to First Nations with whom they should meet or with whom they should talk. We will allow First Nations to provide us that input, to provide us direction and counsel. Unfortunately, the member opposite maybe misses that point.
So, we have had extensive discussions, as a government, with the First Nations in this territory, and we will continue to build on that relationship weíve begun. Without it, it wouldnít matter how many contractors we hired. The relationship between us as governments is vital and it begins with leadership. We, the leadership, both Yukon and First Nations, will collectively dictate how we proceed, and thatís how we deal with this particular contract.
Frankly, the member opposite should be well aware of the fact that his First Nation has their own unique and special interests that they want to deal with, and we are accommodating. We have put options and possibilities on the table. Not every First Nation has the same desires, and itís something we will work through but, at the end of the day, it begins right here with the leadership and the Premierís office, and thatís how we intend to continue in proceeding with our relationship with First Nations.
Mr. Fairclough: That First Nation doesnít deserve the attention that others do. Obviously the Premier has been meeting with the First Nations, and that should be an obvious follow-up with the contractor who is basically mandated to do exactly what the members opposite say.
Iíd just like to know about the expenses that this contractor has. What is included in it ó normal travel expenses, accommodations, and this type of thing? Does he also have an entertainment expense?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, thereís a cost of doing business with a contract. Obviously, the expenses will have to be provided. Entertainment expenses ó this is not entertainment. This is a very serious business. This is a situation the territory finds itself in because of past governmentsí inability to establish a constructive and working relationship with First Nations.
Now, the members may think this is funny but, frankly, this is no laughing matter. This situation with First Nations is critical. It took 30 years to get where we are today, and millions and millions of dollars, and frankly, Mr. Chair, itís high time we did formalize our relationship and move on and start developing this territory in a collaborative manner.
The member opposite says something untoward like his First Nation does not have the benefit of the contractor. Thatís not the case. The First Nation will, Iím sure, be requesting what theyíd like to see done when it comes to government-to-government relationships.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun smiles a lot at this issue, but the Member for Mayo-Tatchun was a Cabinet minister, was in a government that failed to proceed on the First Nation front across the board. So the member has no room to talk here. Frankly, the member opposite ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Chair:Order. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I think the Premier is going much too far. He doesnít identify that he was part of that same government that dealt with the land claims. Weíre hearing one side of the story. I suggest you ask the Premier if ó
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There is no point of order. Itís just a disruption of the debate in this Legislature. Itís a dispute between members, if you want to classify it.
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on the point of order.
Ms. Duncan: I believe the member has to be in their seat to be recognized, donít they?
Chair:During Committee of the Whole, members do not have to be in their seat to be recognized. The Chair finds that there is no point of order here. There is a dispute among members.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, I can inform the Member for Mayo-Tatchun that I am not angry at all. I am disappointed in that memberís approach to this highly important issue. It is of the highest priority. Every First Nation is treated with respect, fairness, equality, and to say otherwise is simply totally out of context of the realities of the day.
Mr. Chair, the contractor in question is being paid a lot of money because this is the highest priority of this government. The contractor in question is there because of the experience that the contractor brings to the issue. The testimony to that is throughout this territory.
The member can find fault with anything. Thatís not difficult. What is that memberís input into formalizing the relationship with First Nations in this territory?
Now, the Member for Kluane stood up and said that I was also part of that government. I wasnít in Cabinet, but that Member for Mayo-Tatchun was. Thatís where the decisions were made.
What is the memberís input into how to formalize a relationship and enhance and advance our ability to develop this territory and deal with issues like youth, like language, like education, like health care, like economic development, like justice? What is the memberís input, other than this ridiculous stickhandling for political points on the record?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I saw you frown, but I think "stickhandling" is in order, though ó given that itís the Stanley Cup playoffs, so weíll let that one go. Mr. Chair, we all need a little levity.
I just have a follow-up question with respect to the waterfront in the Whitehorse area. This has been an issue that successive premiers have dealt with under Executive Council Office. We have already dealt with the land issue with Kwanlin Dun. Can the Premier elaborate on his intentions and his discussions with the City of Whitehorse with respect to the waterfront and waterfront development?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Is this in relation to one specific piece of property? Is this in relation to the whole waterfront? The member should, and probably does, know that the city has somewhat of a plan. The government is obviously doing a number of things, whether it be the arrangement with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, or the trolley. There are other areas, such as the buildings the government has adjacent to the waterfront. We have actually had discussions with the city and Kwanlin Dun, and we will be proceeding with the Ta'an Kwach'an First Nation, to informally broach the idea of how we can proceed jointly to plan for the waterfront, given the fact that the Yukon government has some area here that is under its control and management, outside of what the city owns.
We feel it important that we engage the public, the city, the First Nations who are impacted because of their traditional territories and obviously others, because the waterfront is critical to the downtown core and the future of Whitehorse. Thatís something we would like to see evolve in a collective manner.
Ms. Duncan: Could I just ask the Premier to be a little more specific in that respect? What Iím referring to is the waterfront as a whole, not one specific parcel. We dealt with that earlier in debate. So for the waterfront as a whole, the Government of Yukon has funding assistance, I believe, in this budget for the trolley expansion. And the government owns a number of buildings adjacent to the waterfront, and the Premier mentioned informal discussions with the City, Kwanlin Dun First Nation, the Ta'an and the Government of Yukon with respect to the City of Whitehorse plan for waterfront development. I think Iíve captured what the Premier was saying.
Could he elaborate just a little more in terms of if there is a date for this group to meet, are there plans for the buildings that are adjacent to the waterfront, are they up for discussion? Just a little more elaboration, because as he has said, the development of the waterfront is critical to the future development of the City of Whitehorse, so Iíd like a little elaboration on our relationships in this respect ó and plans.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, in the Cityís portion of the waterfront, I think there has been a great deal of work done already, including maps that lay out the waterfront. I think itís conceptual at this stage, but we know a cultural centre is going in one area from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. We know the trolley is going to be extended. Thatís part of our commitment. We also recognize that there is some work being done in a building adjacent to the White Pass building through the community development fund ó or winter works project. And we have now started some very informal preliminary discussions with the City.
We will be engaging Ta'an as quickly as we can, and weíve also had discussions with Kwanlin Dun on the possibility of evolving in some sort of planning process for the waterfront as it relates to the governmentís particular area, but weíre not going to dictate to everybody else. There is private property also involved here along the waterfront, not just whatís owned by the City.
There are other areas that are privately owned. So, what we want to do is see if, at least in the downtown core that relates to the governmentís area of responsibility, we can come up with a planning process that engages the public and we can get the best we can out of development on the waterfront.
As far as details, what we have to date is the detail: trolley extension, CDF funds and the fire hall. We know what weíre doing with the Kwanlin Dun First Nationís particular property. Weíre in the final stages of that purchase and weíll be transferring that property as part of the land claim. The First Nation intends to build a cultural centre on that site ó again, part of waterfront development.
Ms. Duncan: Are the Government of Yukon-owned buildings up for sale?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, theyíre not.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Weíll then proceed line by line.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, pursuant to Standing Order 14.3, I request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 02, Executive Council Office, cleared or carried as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 02, Executive Council Office, read and agreed to
Chair:Mr. McRobb has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in the Vote 02, Executive Council Office, cleared or carried as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Executive Council Office in the amount of $15,148,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures for the Executive Council Office in the amount of $1,451,000 agreed to
Executive Council Office agreed to
Department of Education ó continued
Chair: Weíll now proceed with Vote 03.
Mr. Fairclough: Iím hoping that weíll get some clearer answers from this minister than we have from the Premier.
Mr. Chair, I just asked a question that was brought to me by my First Nation, and thatís what I got. I was quite surprised at the answer. Iíd like the minister to know that a lot of these questions that weíre asking come straight from the communities and the public and from First Nations. We donít need to have that type of lecture the Premier has given. He said he would improve the decorum in this House, but so far that hasnít happened. As the leader, he should be setting a better example than what just took place.
Certainly, First Nations have a huge role to play here in the Yukon, in education also. Iíve asked the minister many questions in this House about what his vision was, for example, and the minister had to turn to the officials and ask them what his vision was. I was quite surprised at that. I asked about the definition of "consultation". To my surprise, the minister said, "Itís working with stakeholders, talking to stakeholders." That surprised me too, and Iím hoping that the minister can go back and have a look at his definition of what "consultation" is and come forward with something a little more concrete that the general public can deal with.
When it comes to the Education Act, a promise was made by the minister, which was to consult with all stakeholders. That hasnít happened and neither is it a desire of this minister to go forward in that fashion.
Iíd like to ask a simple question to the minister about the First Nation Education Commission at Council of Yukon First Nations. Why didnít the minister support this commission and why arenít there any funds available in the department?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To start with, I think I would like to say to the member opposite that, in the line of questioning that has been going on, I donít know if I could ever satisfy the member opposite with an answer. Itís a matter of opinion, I would say, as to whether or not I am answering, because I feel that I have answered every question that the member opposite has asked.
I would like to, for the record, state what some of my vision is for education, as the member opposite seems to believe that no one else has a vision except him.
I would like to outline my vision of priorities for this Department of Education. My vision is that Yukoners will have the knowledge, skills and abilities to participate effectively in their work and their communities and be lifelong learners. I want our educational institutions to be the best that they can be, to provide learning opportunities for Yukoners to help them develop necessary skills.
I want to improve the strength of the linkages between government departments providing services to our children. Links of communication must be strong and those providing services must be positioned to make decisions. My personal role as minister is to listen to the public about the things that are working and the things that arenít, in order to guide the operations of the department and the government. Both the department and I are accessible and willing to address issues.
That means going to meetings of school councils, meeting with First Nation leaders, meeting with the board of Yukon College, and talking with parents and students. I have done this since taking office, as I mentioned yesterday, and will continue to do so. I consider this to be a critical part of my ability to provide leadership.
I want to make sure that all Yukoners have access to a wide range of learning opportunities, whether these are in the schools, post-secondary education or training, apprenticeship, adult literacy or on the job. I want to make sure that the linkages along the education service continuum are strong and that students can move from high schools to post-secondary training and education easily and with success.
This is, for me, a very important objective to improve the success of all students. As I mentioned before, this requires the commitment of the whole community ó teachers, students, parents, extended families and the community, which together will improve the likelihood that students will succeed.
In conclusion, as Iíve said before in this Legislature, the education of Yukoners is something I believe in strongly and am deeply committed to. Education has a fundamental role to play in economic development and success of the territory, and I will work with all of the key players to ensure that the best possible learning opportunities are available to help Yukoners, and the Yukon, succeed.
In response to the member oppositeís question, I would say that the simplest answer I have for that is that, upon taking office, there was no education strategy within CYFN.
Mr. Fairclough: It appears the minister didnít even talk with the CYFN on this matter. He talks about consultation, but obviously this one didnít take place.
Finally, the minister laid out his vision. I asked him before, and he didnít have it then. He probably didnít have it before the election but, somehow over the weekend ó I guess Easter was a good weekend ó because the minister now has a vision, and we will hold the minister to exactly what he said in the House here.
I have a lot of questions I would like to ask the minister but, before I get into them, Iím going to turn this over to my colleague from Mount Lorne and let him ask a few questions.
Mr. Cardiff: While weíre on the topic of vision, I have a couple of questions related to my constituency, which came up when I attended a school council meeting. Iím just wondering if the minister was aware of a program that was instituted at Golden Horn Elementary School where they did vision screening. The figures Iíve been provided with are, of 233 students screened, 17 students were nearsighted, nine showed farsighted. The bottom line is there were 28 students out of 233 who had visual problems identified. Thatís 12 percent of the school population at Golden Horn. This was something that was done through the school. They trained parent volunteers to do this, and I believe itís something the Department of Education and public health should ensure is done in all schools in the Yukon.
One of the things that was in the platform of the Yukon Party was to use measurable performance standards to determine the effectiveness of the Yukonís education system. If we have a problem with studentsí learning ó reading skills, writing skills and math skills ó if they canít read whatís on the page in front of them, if they canít read whatís on the blackboard, if there are that many students who have vision problems, then I think that that would go a long way to improving the statistics, the success of our young people who are attending schools.
If the minister hasnít seen this, Iíd be more than happy to send it over to him.
Iíd just like to know whether or not there is some room somewhere to assist all Yukon schools to provide vision screening.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíd like to start out by making a comment as a conclusion to the comments made by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun as he sat down and closed off his session.
All I have to say to that member is that he does have the right to speculate to whatever degree he chooses about the comments he made with regard to this minister not doing his job.
With regard to the member opposite and his school at Golden Horn, I am aware of some of the tests that were done. I thank him for those stats and would like him to just send me a copy of the stats that he has.
At the present time, the vision screening is done by the school councils.
Mr. Cardiff: I applaud the school councils for taking the initiative to do this. The minister spoke in this House as late as last week, actually, about developing partnership units and having discussions with Health and Social Services and with Justice about education and the Education Act.
What I see is that this is an area where I think the Department of Education can work with Health and Social Services to improve the success of students in our school system. Like I said, if you canít read whatís on the page in front of you and if you canít read whatís on the blackboard 15 or 20 feet away, youíre going to have a hard time learning. Your success is not going to be all that good. And school councils are working to identify those problems. I think that this is something that the department should be taking a role in, in ensuring itís done in every school in the Yukon. This is just vision screening. I remember when I was growing up that there was vision screening done in schools. There was hearing screening done in schools. If you canít hear what the teacherís saying, then you have a problem as well.
I think itís very important that if we want to ensure the success of the students in our public school system, the government needs to take a role in this and work with the Department of Health and Social Services and public health and establish that connection thatís going to ensure the success of students in the public school system.
If we catch this early, they will be all that much more successful. So I would encourage the minister to respond in a positive manner to the request for this, and I will possibly ó more than likely ó be raising this when we get back to Health and Social Services with the minister responsible there.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: First off, I would like to maybe correct the member opposite. When I talked about working in conjunction with the Health and Justice departments, it was not to do with the Education Act.
I want to thank the member opposite for bringing this issue to my attention. It could quite possibly be that it would be an issue that the Education department will discuss with Health and Social Services in the future.
Mr. Cardiff: We will look forward to that.
One other issue that is a constituency issue ó then I will move on to some other issues ó is soccer field improvements at Golden Horn Elementary School. My understanding is that there has been a request for soccer field improvements. I was just wondering if the minister could let me know whether or not anything would be forthcoming in the near future.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: For the member opposite, we understand that there are some issues in this area with regard to things like the soccer field. We are and will be looking into doing something with that.
Mr. Cardiff: One of the other commitments that was made in the Yukon Party platform was about the indexing of the student grant. Student debt is a very important issue right across this country. Itís largely a problem because governments have not provided adequate funding to post-secondary institutions, but I think the Yukon Party, at least, made it a promise to Yukon students to index the Yukon student grant. Iíve asked the minister this before and would like to know what his plans are to index the Yukon student grant and what he plans to index it to.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This is something that I have not had the opportunity to review yet, but itís something that we definitely are going to be looking at very closely over this term.
Mr. Cardiff: I look forward to that and Iím sure there are lots of post-secondary students attending Yukon College and colleges and universities across this country who reside here and who will be interested in that.
I think this is just one of many issues that the minister has the opportunity to address, and he has the opportunity to address this through the Council of Ministers of Education Canada, and I would encourage him, the next time he attends a meeting of that group, to discuss that with the other ministers, because Iím sure that they are well aware of it.
If the minister would like more information about student debt, he could visit the Association of Canadian Community Collegesí Web site. There is a report there that was commissioned by that organization about student debt, and itís full of all kinds of good information about loan programs and support for students that havenít worked.
The Canadian student loans program was developed in the 1960s, and it needs to be brought up to date. I think the minister could show some leadership at the Council of Ministers of Education by addressing this and bringing it to the forefront ó put it on the table.
I think itís one of the most important issues nationally around post-secondary education ó the fact that students have to mortgage their futures in order to get an education. They get an education and then they have to work for 15 years to pay off their debt. I think that itís not very productive.
I think we need to encourage students to get further education. These are the people who are going to be the drivers of the economy, if you want to call it that. They are going to be the leaders. By making it expensive and hard for them to receive the appropriate assistance, we are discouraging ó rather than encouraging ó them to take post-secondary education. So Iíd be interested in hearing the ministerís thoughts on student debt.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I guess I would like to start by saying that in comments to the member opposite, I have a bit of a problem with the statements he just made about one not feeling good about having to finance their own way. The way I was brought up, we were taught very young to be independent; never depend on anybody for anything. I guess things must have changed in life somewhere along the line. And mind you, itís only my opinion that you do feel a lot better when you do fend for yourself. I will also state that we did have some discussion with regard to this issue at the ministers meeting, and I believe itís going to quite possibly be one of the agenda items in the future.
Mr. Cardiff: I donít disagree that we should all take responsibility, but itís called a "public education system" for a reason. Traditionally that was one of the pillars in the founding of the country ó a public education system where everybody has an equal opportunity to receive an education. Weíre not just talking about a kindergarten-to-12 education. In order for people to thrive in this country, you need to have training.
Itís recognized by the Council of Ministers of Education. Iíll even read from one of their documents. "The importance of post-secondary education in Canadian society has never been greater. Knowledge, information and education are critical, and growing numbers of people of all ages are pursuing post-secondary education and training."
These are the public expectations of Canadians regarding post-secondary education. They want the highest quality; it needs to be affordable, and it needs to be accessible. If weíre throwing financial barriers up to students to attend colleges and universities, weíre reducing the accessibility, weíre reducing the affordability of it, so I think itís something that ó
I mean, the federal government has backed off on this considerably, and this is another place where, especially in the north, it costs more. This is an investment, and the ministers of Education have to realize that this is an investment in the future of our country. This is an investment in the future of our territory. These students are going to come back here and theyíre going to be citizens. Theyíre going to be the ones who are working out in our communities, delivering services, delivering education, delivering health services, and we need to support that.
Post-secondary education is one of the pillars of regional economic growth, and it can be that way here in the Yukon, as well.
The Yukon is small by population but large by area, and there are regions. There is economic growth that needs to happen in those regions, whether it is the southeast Yukon and its forestry and oil and gas ó we need training for that ó whether it is tourism, whether it is health services everywhere in the territory, whether it is teachers delivering services everywhere in the territory.
One of the most important things, I think, that needs to happen here in the territory as far as post-secondary education is to build capacity in communities to deal with the implementation of land claims. I know that there are other funding programs available for First Nations, but we need to encourage as much as possible young people at the earliest of ages to enter the education system and progress through it and to get an education and come back and be a part of their community.
I honestly believe that Yukon College can play a big role in that, and I believe that there are some students who are going to want to go Outside to obtain the education that they need to contribute to their community, but we need to make it as affordable as possible.
So, thatís my take on student debt and why we need to move to address these issues around student grants, student financial assistance. We need to find a way to make it more accessible, more equitable to all people in the Yukon and more universal and flexible at the same time.
There are people who seem to ó I know Iíve corresponded with the minister on a couple of these issues, as well, around the flexibility of the system, where people seem to get screened out because of whether or not they have spent 23 months outside the territory or 25 months outside the territory. So all Iím looking for is some commitment that weíre going to work to make this system better, both here in the territory and to work at the national level to try to improve it there as well.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to thank the member opposite for his comments. Theyíre pretty well on target, and it is true that a lot of individuals are now looking toward post-secondary education, and weíre aware of that. I do understand some of the difficult times that the individuals are experiencing right now, not only in the Yukon Territory but across Canada. I know work is scarce and times are tough. Itís a firm belief of mine that no one should be denied access to learning a trade. I can tell you today within the Yukon government that any eligible person who comes forward would receive funding. There again, itís unfortunate, but policies do exist and some people may not meet the eligibility for getting funding, and thatís unfortunate.
I would remind the member opposite that this government did put $1 million into the community training trust fund, which is directly linked to tradespeople being able to work in different trades.
The comment that the member opposite made with regard to funds being available for one to understand the land claims and be able to work in that area, again, I would suspect that anyone negotiating a land claim should have negotiated some kind of arrangement that the member opposite mentioned. I mean, if you know youíre going to have problems with resource people, I would just assume that anyone who is going to negotiate a deal will have a section in there to cover off that expense and, if they donít, then I would think that they really missed out on a very important part of the negotiating process.
Mr. Cardiff: I think Iíll just move on. The minister mentioned earlier in the House that he was going to be bringing forward, or was working toward ó March 5 Hansard, "Ö I have started consultation with the Department of Education, the deputy minister and the appropriate staff to direct them in developing a strategic plan for advanced education."
Iím just wondering if the minister could provide any details about where that strategic plan is at, when did or will it start, and who will be involved in developing that strategic plan.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe my comments were more directed at the overall education system within the Yukon. Advanced education would be a part of that.
Again, I want to remind the member opposite that I have also stated many times that these are very preliminary discussions at this point in time. Again, I have no problem sharing any kind of progress thatís going to be put on paper and something thatís going to become definite. The members opposite will receive copies of those.
Mr. Cardiff: I read this right out of Hansard, and it was a strategic plan for advanced education. There was also a strategic plan for First Nation education as well.
I think itís important that the public and stakeholders are involved in any kind of a plan to do with education in the territory. I would hope that when the minister and his department go forward and develop this strategic plan, there is a consultation process that involves all interested parties in post-secondary education, including students, teachers, educators, industry ó the recipient of the successful students in the education system ó and labour groups, which represent those workers.
I also have a question about the Yukon training strategy. The Yukon training strategy, I believe, was first developed in 1986 and reviewed in 1992, which was when I first really became aware of it. It was reviewed again in 1998, and I was wondering if there was any plan to review the Yukon training strategy to bring it up to date, to see if there were any changes and any new initiatives that needed to be undertaken to meet the needs of industry and communities in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Advanced education is part of the overall plan for education. I am a very firm believer that whenever something is developed for anybody, whether it be elders, youth or whomever ó any kind of a program that would be put together for any specific group or the citizens of the Yukon Territory ó I believe itís critical that those individuals are part of the process, mainly because then they can take ownership of whatever is developed.
I said before and Iíll say it again, Iím not a one-man band; I do not believe in developing something on my own and cramming it down somebodyís throat. They definitely will be a part of anything thatís developed under my direction.
With regard to the Yukonís training strategy, the government is currently using that strategy. Again, it will form part of the overall advanced education program.
Mr. Cardiff: I donít know if I missed it or not ó maybe I could just get a nod. Is there is a plan to review the training strategy, then, or not?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This Yukon training strategy will form part of the basis for the overall training plan within post-secondary education.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, Iím sure we can look forward to hearing more about that and the consultation process that will go with that.
This is something I brought up earlier in the House ó and I believe the minister was at the Council of Ministers of Education for Canada at the time and his colleague tried to answer this question. Itís about the support for in-house apprentices with the Yukon government. My understanding, looking at the budget, is that in 2001-02, the department was supporting 11 apprentices.
In 2002-03, it was eight apprentices, and theyíre looking at supporting two apprentices ó itís page 7-17, if youíre looking for it. Theyíre going to support two apprentices. Somehow this doesnít fit with the platform. The platform talks about giving priority to the expansion of apprenticeship training programs to assist Yukoners in acquiring new skills and improved employment opportunities. It seems to me that ó Iím all for expanding and promoting apprenticeship training programs, but it appears that the government isnít. And the government has all kinds of opportunities to support apprentices. The government hires tradespeople. The average age of a journeyman in Canada is more than 48 years. This means that in the next seven to 10 years, thereís going to be almost a 100-percent turnover of those skilled workers.
The government is not preparing to meet that need that theyíre going to need themselves. Theyíre going to need mechanics to work in the heavy equipment shop and service the vehicles in the fleet vehicle agency. They are going to need carpenters to do maintenance on government buildings. They are going to need electricians and plumbers. All of these fit into the property management area, facilities management or highways and public works. But the government is not supporting apprentices in-house.
To me, it conflicts with the platform promise to give priority to apprenticeship training programs. So, hopefully, the minister has some plans to improve this next year or bring in a supplementary to support more apprentices.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The first fact Iíd like to present with regard to this is that weíre all aware of where the economy is at. Itís no secret that there are no mines running, thereís no forestry going. There are a lot of things that contribute to what happens within the trades field. The fact is, Mr. Chair, that this government put $1 million back into the community training trust fund, and this fund has proven to be an efficient source of training dollars for Yukoners and the Yukon College.
I know this government does know that a skilled workforce is vital to a strong economy. Again, that is why we put $1 million back into that community training trust fund.
As I had mentioned, there is an increase in the training monies for the Yukon advanced education, and a slight reduction in training reflects a decrease in demand for the apprenticeship program. However, at this point in time, weíre going to ensure that there are always two positions filled. At this point in time, we have had a real decrease in the number of people who are looking for apprenticeship.
Mr. Cardiff: I think that the government needs to reassess its needs in areas of apprenticeship. Statistics show that thereís going to be a large turnover in tradespeople over the next 10 years. With the major shortages that are coming in these areas, the government is going to need to fill those positions, unless theyíre going to privatize the delivery of those services and let the private sector deliver that to the government.
Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress.
Chair: Mr. Cardiff has moved that the Committee report progress on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2002-03.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble:Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 28, Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act, and Bill No. 31, Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, and has directed me to report them without amendment.
Also, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Order please. The time being 6:00 p.m., the House now stands adjourned to 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.