Thursday, April 24, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker:I will now call this House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
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?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Duncan:Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Minister of Finance should be open and accountable to the Legislature and the taxpayer;
(2) the Minister of Finance receives weekly updates regarding the financial position of the Government of Yukon, including the surplus; and
(3) the Minister of Finance has repeatedly refused to provide this information to the public; and
THAT this House urges the Minister of Finance to publicly report the current surplus position of the Government of Yukon on a quarterly basis.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Atlin Lake subdivision development
Mr. Cardiff:I have a question for the Premier today. The Yukon Partyís election platform made a commitment to work cooperatively with First Nation governments to coordinate the management of settlement lands and public lands. Does the Premier believe that the principle of cooperation should also apply to lands in the traditional territories of First Nations that have not yet finalized their land claims and self-government agreements?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, our government does believe that it applies, and I can inform the member opposite that we are deeply concerned about how things have evolved over the past number of years in terms of dealing with the First Nations on a government-to-government basis. That is why we have chosen to take the route that we are taking to formalize our relationship at a government-to-government level. That is one of the first and most important steps to solving these problems that we have continually faced in this territory over many, many years in trying to deal in a respectful and a mutual-interest based process with our First Nations.
Mr. Cardiff: The government is currently developing plans for a subdivision on Atlin Lake involving 39 cottage lots and a 17-site campground. The land in question lies in an area where the traditional territories of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and the Taku River Tlingit overlap. Both First Nations wrote to the Premier objecting to this development and theyíre still waiting for a reply. In the meantime, they are upset about this governmentís approach to consultation. One spokesman termed the process basically meaningless and suggested that the government was just going through the motions to cover its backside.
Given his emphasis on respectful government-to-government relations and on partnerships with First Nations, why hasnít the Premier directed the Minister of Community Services to halt the work on this project until a proper consultation has taken place?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are very concerned about the developments on this particular issue. It goes much deeper than what we have just committed to First Nations as a government in developing and formalizing our relationship. It includes Canada, which agreed to even fund a land use planning commission in this traditional territory. So, we obviously have a serious problem here and we are taking steps to rectify that problem.
The plan is nothing more than conceptual and we are going to deal with the First Nations impacted on a respectful level, on a level that we committed to as governments, and we will solve this problem.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, it is a little bit more than conceptual. There has been activity taking place on the land this past winter. There are drills and Cats being walked across recreational trails, so it is a little bit more than conceptual. There is a nice coloured map and everything that goes along with this.
As the Premier well knows, this is not the only YTG land development project that has the people most directly affected up in arms. The difference this time is that this recreational development affects transboundary lands in an area where land claims have not been finalized and it puts it squarely in the Premierís court.
This government is not honouring its obligations to consult. It is not treating the First Nations involved with respect. It is not consulting with adjacent property owners, such as Bethany Tabernacle. This high-handed way of doing things is the direct opposite of what this government promised to do.
Speaker: Would the member ask his question, please?
Mr. Cardiff: Certainly. Will the Premier put the brakes on this project and send a qualified senior official from his land claims office to resolve this impasse, or is he prepared to see this government project head for the law courts?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I must point out that, to defend the argument the member is making, he must provide the necessary burden of proof that we are, indeed, proceeding with this development, which we are not. In fact, I have drafted a letter to the First Nations outlining the fact that we are not going to proceed, that the process is flawed, and we intend to fix it. I also want to reiterate that Canada has made a very significant commitment under the MOU to the Carcross-Tagish First Nation to the Dakh Ka Land Use Planning Commission. This particular process the government had embarked upon is also in conflict with that commitment. Thatís why we are taking the steps we are to ensure that this process does not proceed as it is laid out, and that we sit down, as governments, with the First Nation to make sure the land use planning process continues as was committed to them by the federal government and by the Yukon government, by signing on to the MOU with Carcross-Tagish First Nation.
So, we are taking the steps to rectify the situation, and that clearly lays out the burden of proof that we are honouring our commitment to deal with First Nations in a respectful way and on a government-to-government basis.
Question re: Double standard by government (business loans outstanding)
Mr. Hardy:After yesterdayís motion and questions, Iím following up from that. My question is for the Premier.
I think the Premier would agree that elected members of the Assembly should lead by example. I hope the Premier also agrees that MLAs and Cabinet ministers, in particular, should hold themselves to a high standard of ethical conduct in their public and private lives.
Why does the Premier continue to allow members of his Cabinet to avoid their responsibilities to repay money they have owed the Yukon government for many years, and why did he and his caucus colleagues vote yesterday to condone that practice?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, it is a stretch to say that yesterdayís vote on what was a flawed motion, given the fact that it was incorrect ó there was no new policy ó because itís questionable whether we can even garnishee wages, as a government, and furthermore, does that mean then, in a fair and equitable process, we garnishee wages of everybody who owes money to the government? I think not.
So weíre not condoning the practice whatsoever, Mr. Speaker. What we are doing is taking the steps necessary to find a solution to a long-standing problem. That means we want to proceed fairly and equitably with all those delinquent loans and those proponents who owe them money. We cannot fairly single out two individuals who happen to have committed and dedicated themselves to providing a service to the Yukon public.
But I agree with the member that we must set a higher standard, and that is what we are doing by going to work on this issue and finding a solution to bring it to closure.
Mr. Hardy: Well, since the debate yesterday, the discussions out on the street, the comments in calls Iíve received from my constituents, point to a totally different viewpoint than this Premier is casting on this issue.
As I said yesterday, I want to make it very clear ó because the Premier has said it previously ó that no one in this House wants to see anybody go into bankruptcy or be put out of business around this issue. We donít want to see community groups put in a position where they canít function. But what we are asking for this Premier and members of his Cabinet to demonstrate is ethical leadership.
The Premier talks about treating everyone equally. The fact is, Mr. Speaker, the Premier voted for a double standard yesterday. The majority of individuals and businesses that borrowed money from the government have either paid off their loans or are making best efforts to do so. Two of his Cabinet ministers, who can well afford to pay, are being allowed to thumb their nose at taxpayers by not meeting their obligations, Mr. Speaker. What kind of ethical leadership is that? When the Premier was ó
Speaker: Order please. Would you ask the question, please?
Mr. Hardy: I am, Mr. Speaker. Sorry.
When the Premier was choosing his Cabinet last fall, why did he not do the right thing and tell his MLAs that they cannot serve as Cabinet ministers until they deal with any outstanding government loans, which I believe theyíre capable of doing?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is not a double standard here. I pointed out in my first answer that it would be very difficult for the government to support a motion on which the government cannot deliver. Second, we have no interest in garnisheeing peopleís wages, especially those hard-working NGO volunteers, where the NGOs in some cases owe money to the government through these programs. Certainly the members opposite must understand that. We were more than willing, though, to accept input from the opposite benches on how to deal with this particular issue, but that didnít come.
On the question, Mr. Speaker, the decision is made on the basis that the bar has been set by those who have repaid their loans. Thatís where we are taking this issue ó to that standard, to that level. But we have to also ask the question: does this, in fact, compromise or jeopardize in any way the individualsí abilities to carry out their duties and responsibilities? It does not, and thatís why we proceeded as we have.
Mr. Hardy: By public opinion in the Yukon today, it does compromise this government by the very actions of the Premier in selecting these people as Cabinet ministers without dealing with this issue.
I also should remind the Premier that it was the Yukon Party government that hired a welfare cop to hound the very, very small percentage of social assistance recipients who were cheating the system. The Yukon government quite rightly pursued parents who were not honouring their child support obligations.
This government cut services to people because it claims to be short of money, yet the Premier allows members of this Cabinet to remain in default on almost half a million dollarsí worth of debt to this cash-strapped government. That is a double standard, Mr. Speaker.
What directions has the Premier given his Cabinet members about getting their debts in order while we wait for a plan of action from his department, which we asked the Premier to table on the first day of this sitting?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are going to continue on with developing a plan on how to bring closure to this issue. We are not going to single out people unfairly. We are going to proceed in the fashion that we have embarked on, on the course that we have charted. We are going to bring forward a plan. Itís a very complex issue. I think that the members opposite will understand that, given the fact that other governments did not want to go near this issue ó and for obvious reasons. There are great political ramifications to it. Itís a very complex issue in terms of conditions and structures of these loans. In fact, it was a process that probably was ill-advised when it was commenced.
That is the situation that we, as a government, have inherited and we, as a government, are dealing with it. When we have concluded our research and our work, we will be bringing forward a plan to bring closure to this issue.
I also take exception, Mr. Speaker, in the correlation that we are somehow shirking our duties to those in need in this territory when we are in this budget ó the third highest budget in the history of the Yukon ó pouring millions of dollars into the hands of those who need it.
Question re: Tax policies
Ms. Duncan:I have some questions for the Minister of Finance about tax policies of the government. Under the previous Yukon Party government, the territory saw plenty of tax increases. In February of 2000 from Hansard, the now Premier, the Member for Watson Lake, described a Yukon Party budget this way, and itís a quote, Mr. Speaker: "That had the most obscene tax increases ever witnessed in this territory: increase in income tax, Mr. Speaker, increase in general corporate rate, increase in small-business corporate rate, increase in fuel oil tax, tobacco ó increase across the board."
I agree with the Premier, the Yukon Party has a reputation for increasing taxes. The Liberal government cut taxes. Yesterday the Premier met with representatives of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. They asked the minister to cut taxes for small business.
During the recent election campaign, the Liberal Party proposed to reduce the small business tax rate from six to four percent ó it was in our platform.
Will the Premier follow up on this good idea and cut taxes for small business?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíd like to point out that, first, it was not the Liberal government that came up with the idea of the tax incentives that we experience today in the Yukon. It was hard-working Yukoners, through the tax round table, commissioned by the former New Democratic government. Second, itís the former Liberal government that cut taxes based on those recommendations but then, in turn, raised fees. Itís little wonder that the public was upset.
We have committed to look at all options in this area, understanding that tax incentives are one vehicle that will help us in enticing and attracting investment into the territory. Thatís why we continued on with the extension of the mineral tax credit, for example. Thatís why we have added sawmills and golf courses to fuel exemption taxation, and there are many other areas that we can look into. Today we have not cut taxes to small business, but it certainly is an option that bears some merit and, as I said, we are looking into all options that will help us turn the economy around.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the facts are that the Yukon Party has already adopted several good ideas from the Liberal Party, such as the access corridor study, the one-year relief from mining claims, and I would urge them to give full consideration and enact the part of our platform that reduced small business tax from six to four percent. Businesses in the Yukon are looking for tax relief from the government and, compared to our neighbours, we have high business taxes. I do hope the government gives full consideration to it.
Another concern from small business owners is property taxes. The government has promised it will not raise taxes. However, last week, I asked the Minister of Community Services to commit that there would be no property tax increases over the next four years. The minister said, "Iíll commit for this year." It sounds like Yukoners can look forward to property tax increases next year from the government.
Let me ask the Premier: will the Premier commit that there will be no property tax increases for the next four years ó yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, weíve certainly stated publicly that we intend to not proceed with any tax increases, but when it comes to property taxes, the member conveniently ignores the fact that thereís a process of assessments that are always ongoing. That does not necessarily dictate the tax increases will be in order. There are many other ways to deal with that, but we cannot stop what is required ó assessments take place. These assessments have taken place in the past and will continue to take place in the future. Itís up to us as a government to make best efforts when these things happen to diminish any impacts that may be experienced. But assessments are something that we must deal with. We as a government, though, will not, in direct fashion, raise taxes. We will do everything we can to ensure that taxes arenít raised and use every option available to us in taxation, as I said, to help attract and entice investment into this territory.
Ms. Duncan: That was not a clear and unambiguous answer from the Premier. The Yukon Party has set records for breaking promises. There was going to be a fall sitting of the Legislature. There were going to be immediate increases in the wages for childcare workers. They were going to cut fuel taxes; they were going to buy the game farm; they were going to have respectful relationships with First Nations. They were going to increase student grants. None of those things have happened. They also promised no tax increases whatsoever ó no tax increases.
Last week the Minister of Community Services refused to rule out property tax increases. Today the Premier has done the same thing. Listen very carefully to the Premierís answer. He has refused to rule out property tax increases. The advice from the Liberal caucus, the advice from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents 300 businesses in the Yukon ó will the Premier commit that there will be no property tax increases for the next four years? A clear commitment ó yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, Mr. Speaker, I must respond by saying the only record that has been set in this Assembly in this sitting is the amount of erroneous information being brought forward, especially by the member of the third party. That erroneous information is counterproductive.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker:The leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: The Premier cannot accuse members of misrepresentation in this House, or presenting erroneous information.
Speaker: The government House leader.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There is no point of order, Mr. Speaker. Itís an interpretation being placed on an issue by the leader of the third party that is incorrect.
Speaker:Iím ready for a ruling. Itís simply a dispute between members. Iíd ask the Premier to carry on.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So that is the record that has been set ó incorrect information does not lend constructively to the debate, and we urge the leader of the third party, the former Premier, to reflect on that and try to make best efforts to add constructively to the debate.
As far as the property taxation issue, we are committed not to raise taxes, but there are things such as property assessments that must take place. When those assessments are concluded in whatever region or area of the Yukon that they are happening in, thatís when we have to look at the issue to see what the outcomes will be.
Our commitment is to not raise taxes, but we have to deal with property assessments.
Question re: Highway spending cuts
Mr. McRobb:I wish to follow up with the Minister of Highways and Public Works on a highway issue.
It has already been established that this Yukon Party government has cut $10 million from the highway construction budget. That decision will cut more than 100 highway-worker jobs this year.
Yesterday we learned that the real cut to the territory-wide highway maintenance budget is more like 14 percent. We still donít know how many jobs will be lost as the result of that, Mr. Speaker.
Yesterday the government put out a news release on a contract west of Champagne. That release has caused confusion and misunderstanding about what little work is actually being done. The minister needs to clarify this matter.
For the record, does this governmentís budget provide for the reconstruction of the old six-kilometre section that is sandwiched between the recently opened Champagne bypass section and the section referred to in yesterdayís news release?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working on the section of the highway the member opposite mentioned this year, and there are approximately 12 kilometres in that particular area this year.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the minister is ashamed to say no.
This calls into question this governmentís priorities for highway projects. Why would it not complete this old, substandard section before trotting off to other, lower priority, projects?
Today the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations wrote to this minister and the Premier about this matter, and I will table this letter now for the benefit of every member in this House. The chief is very concerned with this governmentís decision to trot off to other projects. He says it makes no sense to stop work on this section. A year ago, Yukoners were told that this section would be reconstructed this year. The minister should be aware of the public interest in this matter.
Exactly what did he decide? Why did he decide to shift the priority away from this particular road section?
Hon. Mr. Hart: In short, we have priorities. Those and the availability of funding are the main aspects for determining where highway construction will take place.
At the present moment, we have four priorities for highway building in the Yukon besides the Shakwak projects. One is the structural and seismic strengthening of Johnsons Crossing bridge on the Teslin River. This is a critical project and has been in place for some time, and itís required to ensure the safety and integrity of our main bridge on that artery.
This project has been planned for quite some time, and it is an important aspect of maintaining our flow-through of traffic.
Mr. McRobb: The chief has warned that leaving a six-kilometre section of old, bad road between the two modern sections is a recipe for disaster. Many people are concerned with this governmentís decision to tie the new section into a bad dip followed immediately by a sharp corner. The chief fears that such a treacherous combination is sure to lead to accidents and, potentially, the loss of life.
The minister needs to consider other options for the safety of our citizens and our visitors. There are two obvious options: either he can do the right thing and pull his stop-work order on this old section, or he can extend the tie-in past the bad dip and sharp corner. What is this minister going to do to avoid this treacherous situation?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will assure the member opposite that we will take his concerns and the chiefís concerns into consideration, and we will take it up with our maintenance crew and we will look at that particular aspect.
Question re: Education budget cuts
Mr. Fairclough:I am sure that the Minister of Education isnít too happy when I recite the litany of budget cuts in his department, so I will just mention a few of them. School support is cut by three percent ó a small percentage but a huge impact. Public schools and administration are cut by 28 percent. Special programs are cut by four percent and the arts contribution by 39 percent, school councils by 34 percent, and on and on it goes. We also know that there could be as many as 30 fewer teachers in the system this coming year. In small schools, especially in rural Yukon, the loss of even one teacher poses a serious challenge to make sure that all subject areas are covered.
If the loss of one or more teachers in a small rural school means certain programs would be cut, is the minister prepared to go outside the student/teacher ratio to make sure that those programs can continue?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe Iíve mentioned on the floor of this House before that education is a priority to this government, and I can assure the member opposite that no school will be deprived of a teacher.
Mr. Fairclough: Education is a priority but we see many cuts in this department ó no school even built in Carmacks. This minister talks about core curriculum, the good old code for a back-to-the-basics approach to education ó reading, writing and arithmetic. All the rest is what this government considers frills ó music, arts in schools and so on. But we havenít had much luck in getting this minister to spell out exactly what he considers to be core curriculum and what he considers frills. When the reduction in the number of teachers means programs will be cut, what will the ministerís choices be? What programs will disappear first?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, I want to confirm to the member opposite that education is a priority to this government and always will be.
With regard to cuts, there are slight reductions and, again, it has to do with the financial situation that this government is in. It has nothing to do with my preference over which program I cut. It has to do with being able to survive as a government.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, thatís not very satisfactory to our students or the educators out there, Mr. Speaker. This government tries to portray itself as facing some sort of budget crisis, and we know that nothing is further from the truth, and Yukon people know it too.
That characterization that nothing is "further from the truth" is imputing that the government is lying, and I ask you to withdraw that.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Fairclough:Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw that.
At a time when we should be going "Build, build, build," this government is going "Cut, cut, cut." Of course, their attitude to consultation is, "This is what weíre going to do; how do you like us so far?"
Now that the minister has also cut funding for school councils, how is he going to ensure that parents have the input they are guaranteed under the Education Act when it comes to what programs are being offered in their schools and which ones will be discontinued?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member opposite wants to build, build, build, while people leave, leave, leave. The two donít add up. You need to have students to put into these schools the opposition wants to build. I donít believe itís in the best interests of any government to build a bunch of vacant buildings.
As far as trying to put words into oneís mouth about which programs would be honoured and which ones wouldnít, I think the Education department has already stated that the core curriculum will be maintained, first and foremost, and those core curriculum subjects are ones that will enable the individual to graduate.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 28: Third Reading
Clerk:Third reading, Bill No. 28, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I move that Bill No. 28, entitled Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 28, entitled Act to Amend the Fuel Oil Tax Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 28 agreed to
Deputy Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 28 has passed this House.
Bill No. 31: Third Reading
Clerk:Third reading, Bill No. 31, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 31, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 31, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 31 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 31 has passed this House.
Bill No. 29: Third Reading
Clerk:Third reading, Bill No. 29, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Taylor.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, I move Bill No. 29, entitled Act to Amend the Territorial Court Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 29, entitled Act to Amend the Territorial Court Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 29 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 29 has passed this House.
Bill No. 30: Third Reading
Clerk:Third reading, Bill No. 30, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Taylor.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I move that Bill No. 30, entitled Act to Amend the Supreme Court Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 30, entitled Act to Amend the Supreme Court Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 30 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 30 has passed this House.
Bill No. 34: Third Reading
Clerk:Third reading, Bill No. 34, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Hart.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I move that Bill No. 34, entitled Act to Amend the Municipal Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved the Minister of Community Services that Bill No. 34, entitled Act to Amend the Municipal Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 34 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 34 has passed this House.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and 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.
Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will stand in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Committee of the Whole Motion No. 1 re appearance of witnesses
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I move
THAT Craig Tuton, chair of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Tony Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, 2003, to discuss matters relating to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins
THAT Craig Tuton, chair of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Tony Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, 2003, to discuss matters relating to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Committee of the Whole Motion No. 1 agreed to
Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2 re appearance of witnesses
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:Mr. Chair, I move
THAT Lorne Austring, chair of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Duncan Sinclair, chief executive officer of the Yukon Development Corporation, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 28, 2003, to discuss matters related to the Yukon Development Corporation.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins
THAT Lorne Austring, chair of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Duncan Sinclair, chief executive officer of the Yukon Development Corporation, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 28, 2003, to discuss matters related to the Yukon Development Corporation.
Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2 agreed to
Chair: We will now proceed with the First Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Bill No. 4 ó First Appropriation Act, 2003-04 ó continued
Department of Education ó continued
Mr. Cardiff:Mr. Chair, Iíd like to read a little bit from a document called "Public Expectations on Post-Secondary Education". This is a document that was produced by the Council of Ministers of Education. Itís about public expectations for post-secondary education in Canada.
I think that itís very relevant. Canadians, and Iím sure people in the Yukon, look to post-secondary education to make a vital contribution to the social and cultural well-being of this country and to serve as pillars of regional economic growth and global competitiveness. Iím sure here, in the territory, that includes national competitiveness in the workplace.
The ministers recognize that post-secondary education is a long-term societal investment and I think we need to take that to heart. We do have to look at education as a whole and post-secondary education as an investment in our communityís future, the future of all communities here in the territory.
So what are the governmentís roles in providing post-secondary education? The governments have roles in areas of policy, in areas of legislation, in areas of funding, quality and accountability. The governments help to develop the goals and to clarify the public priorities.
In turn, they inform the operations and decisions of the institutions responsible for the program delivery. There is one institution here that is responsible for program delivery in the Yukon ó that is Yukon College.
Governments provide the regulatory framework for that through the legislation. Governments provide funding to post-secondary education, because itís in the public interest to do that. Examples of that funding include core funding and capital needs of the institutions, learner assistants and research support. Public funding reflects the sectoral and institutional mandates and the provincial and territorial expectations, needs and priorities. Governments maintain a funding regime that is objective and transparent and allows for medium- to long-term planning.
The College has gone on for many years with no increase to its base budget, and the minister can stand up and tell me, as his colleague did ó his colleague tried to tell us they had increased the budget by $1 million, and we know thatís not the case. The case is that they put $1 million into a training trust fund, which the minister thinks will solve the woes of all the apprentices in the Yukon.
The history behind the training trust fund is it delivers far more than apprenticeship training and skills training in communities. It delivers a wide variety of training in all communities, and I applaud the government for putting money into the training trust fund.
Where we run into a problem is the base funding for the College. Accessing training trust funds costs money. Somebody has to write the proposals. Itís either somebody at the College here in Whitehorse, somebody at the College in a community, or itís an NGO or a First Nation government, and all that takes resources.
The College has not had an increase in their base budget, save for increases due to collective bargaining, for many, many years. This is an investment that warrants an increase in funding. We have seen this past winter where the College has had to make some tough decisions around how it staffs the College. The fact of the matter is that I think they have done an excellent job in trying to maintain delivery of programs, but they have had to make cuts in some very important areas, such as making applications for training trust funds and going after third party activity. It would be very good for this government to make the right investment and to increase the base funding to the College.
Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe the member opposite must realize that the $1 million that was put into the community training trust fund by this government has the potential to triple, which brings that to approximately $4.5 million, and I donít think we can downplay just how important that is with regard to training.
By increasing this fund in the community training trust fund, it greatly increases the potential for the college to make some revenues off of that.
I want to say that ó
Power outage occurred
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, I will state for the record, a part of the vision of the Education department under this government is that we 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.
Having said that, I want to stress to the member opposite that this government dearly respects the importance of anyone being able to obtain post-secondary education. Itís my understanding that when one has the ability and the means to go forward in education, it does a lot for the individualís self-esteem. Itís a necessary part of being able to provide for a family. I think this government is well aware of the importance of being able to have available the process or the avenues for the individual to choose whichever career they may want to participate in. Whether it be in a professional field as a social worker or a school teacher or even in medicine, that avenue should be provided in the school system.
Once again, I canít stress enough how important it is for an individual who chooses a career path in post-secondary education, that all the means available are there to assist that individual. I believe this government is providing, and will continue to provide, support for any Yukoner who chooses to go into post-secondary education.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I also have some questions for the Minister of Education and this department. Iím hoping for some short answers from the minister, and maybe we can get through a number of questions. Some I have asked the minister before in regard to the First Nation Education Commission. Iíd like to have a little clearer answer, whether or not there is a desire of this minister to fund the First Nation Education Commission in the future. I understand there isnít any funding here, but is there a desire to fund the education commission?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In response to the member opposite, I would definitely say that if the money were available, I would surely be willing to put as much into any educational group, whether it be French, Catholic or First Nation. I think theyíre all important. All avenues of education are important, and this government still hasnít had that consultation with the First Nations to see even if this is a request of the First Nations. But this government does intend to have those discussions as soon as possible to determine what and how we could work together and come up with the best solutions to these areas.
Mr. Fairclough: I take it that answer is yes, if the money is there, and Iím sure it is. We can always find it in government. They have a surplus. So, Iíll pass that message on to those who have been asking me to ask this question in regard to the First Nation Education Commission.
I would like to know what the ministerís position is on First Nation-controlled schools.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This government is aware of the fact that the First Nations do have that right to draw down education through their self-government agreements and, to the best of my knowledge, what is being transmitted to this government today by First Nations is that there is more interest in working cooperatively with the Yukon government. However, when those discussions do come about, if they ever do, then and only then can this government really be able to answer that question fully. I canít and I donít think it would be good practice to speculate on such an important item as this.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that. Iíd like to explore that a bit more, but time is tight here. Iíd like to ask a question about the YNTEP program.
Is the department prepared to give first preference to First Nation graduates in hiring in the schools? Right now, we only have 50 percent of the graduates employed, at a cost of some $40,000 per student. Is the minister prepared to give first preference to those graduates?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I think one of the things the member opposite should be aware of is that this government is obligated through a collective bargaining process with teachers that has to be honoured. It is critically important, I think, that we do utilize as many First Nation YNTEP students who come out of the program. Again, it would be a little beyond my saying right now that I would give first preference. I think thereís an administration department in place that will do the hiring and, again, it would be quite important to match up the student with the correct facility.
Mr. Fairclough: Is there any desire of this minister and this government to open up the YNTEP program to the general public?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This program was developed some years ago for training of First Nation students. I believe, at this point in time, there would probably be an advantage to having non-First Nation people go through this course, just because they do work with our children, and it would be somewhat of a cross-cultural advantage for them. But I have not had these discussions with anyone, and I definitely wouldnít make any decision on this with regard to this issue until there was full consultation with the chiefs of the Yukon Territory.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, in the platform commitment, under excellence in education, this is what it says: "Working in conjunction with Yukon College to develop a teacher training program open to all Yukon graduates to obtain their education degree in the Yukon for work in the Yukon." So thatís why I asked the question about whether or not Yukon Party is following through with their commitments. I would think not at this point, because First Nations right now want to ensure that the program is working and theyíre getting a fair percentage of teachers in the schools. So, if there is any more to that, I would like the minister to send me, over by legislative return, what direction theyíre taking on this matter.
In regard to the Education Act, the member opposite said that they were doing some strategic plans ó First Nation education and advanced education. Does the minister feel that this will enhance the amendments to the Education Act review?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe with regard to the issue you mentioned in the platform about providing a teacher education degree program in the Yukon, itís something that hasnít really been discussed to any extent at this point in time, and itís something that this government is interested in pursuing.
With regard to ó I forgot what the other question was. Could you repeat your question, please?
Mr. Fairclough: I was asking about the YNTEP, the fact that there was a commitment there and the fact that First Nations want to have a percentage of teachers in the schools. So Iím hoping to get some written response from the member opposite.
I would like to know a little bit more about the strategic plans. Has the minister identified funding for these strategic plans: First Nation education and advanced education?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, I believe I have stated on the floor of this Legislature before that this strategic plan is in the preliminary stages and talks at this time. I assure the member opposite that whenever anything develops to a point where it can be put on paper, they will get a copy of it.
Mr. Fairclough: Thatís fine, Mr. Speaker. I am hoping that the member opposite can give us a schedule with that. Iíve asked for that before and I havenít received that information.
In regard to school councils, there are cutbacks. I would like to know ó the minister is talking about topping up. I would like to know what he really means by "topping up". There are cuts in the school councils. Basically, it is going toward the administration of school councils. The minister has cut that back and now he is talking about "topping up". I would just like a clear definition of what that means.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, with regard to this student council fund ó over the years a certain amount of surplus was gathered up. An example that I will give is that a school council may have been getting honoraria for 10 members maybe and, for a large part of the year, they might have only had seven, so they got paid for the extra three members throughout the year, which created a surplus for them.
What we are saying today is that we would like them to use up their surplus. Of course, according to the Education Act ó we will comply with that ó and that states that we are to provide monies for the honoraria and the secretary-treasurer.
Mr. Fairclough: Itís clear that this government is taking away from school councils. The school council liaison person in the department is retiring. Will he be replaced?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to correct what the member opposite stated, that this government was taking away from school councils, because I really donít believe we are. With regard to the position referred to, that is going to be moved into the partnership program. It will be continued.
Mr. Fairclough: Maybe the minister can clarify that. What partnership program is he talking about? Can he clarify that with us?
I understand there is some training for school councils. Because there is a large turnover with new school council members, is the training going to continue for them? Is it being provided for them in every community?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The partners and operations weíre talking about are with the Department of Education. It wishes to build a strong partnership and maintain functional relationships with First Nations, the francophone community, the Catholic education community, the Yukon Teachers Association, home educators and stakeholders. The partnership and operations unit will develop and implement partnership strategies, policies, goals and objectives, and initiatives required to maintain effective partnerships with stakeholders. The Department of Education is reorganizing to improve communication with partners to support involvement of First Nations in education and to provide support for school councils to demonstrate more accountability and to have more final decisions made at the local level. The training will continue for school councils.
Mr. Fairclough: Will the school councils be involved in the strategic planning that the minister has started? I would like to know how and when.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, I will state to the member opposite that the strategic planning thatís being referred to is in very preliminary stages and the member opposite will be notified of any planning that is done.
Mr. Fairclough: Thereís no real commitment there.
Iíd like to go to the innovators in schools program. There has been a decrease in this program by some 65 percent. I would like to know if the coordinatorís position will exist after June.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I want to state to the member opposite that this is, once again, a really good example of a program that was started by the federal government and then dropped. It was approximately three years ago when they quit funding it, so the College has basically picked up that program.
However, itís one that will not be renewed at this time. The experiential science and innovative programs continue to be an important part of the school curriculum, and this has shown results. I am pleased to say that the Yukon has been nationally recognized for innovative use of technology for learning. Out of 115 schools across Canada, the Yukon has four schools represented in the school network of innovative schools. That speaks for itself. We have excellence and innovative learning opportunities in Yukon schools.
Mr. Fairclough: I only have a couple more questions with regard to teachers. I would like to know the total number of teachers who are working in the department and the number of teaching assistants and educational assistants in YTG. If the member doesnít have the figures in front of him, he can send them by legislative return. I also would like to know: how many fewer teachers are we expecting in our school system next year?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In response to the first request, I believe that we can send the member opposite a letter with regard to the figures that were requested. There will be 12 fewer teachers next year.
Mr. Fairclough: Will the teacher/student ratio that now exists continue to be the case in the next school year?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The student/teacher ratio will increase slightly, but the Yukon will still have the lowest in Canada.
Mr. Fairclough: In regard to psychologists, since the elimination of the clinical psychologist position, who will do the counselling assessments in the schools?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At this time, the Education department has three full-time education psychologists. The department feels at this point in time that is adequate. If the need arises ó and there is more need ó there are provisions to contact consultants who are available.
Mr. Fairclough: Is the minister saying that they will pay for a private psychologist to travel to communities? If so, how often?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I will restate what I just mentioned. The department does have the resources to provide that service if necessary.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to begin with the discussion that was touched on briefly by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun: classroom size. The minister is quoted as saying he wanted to move toward the national average. We are, of course, much better than the national average, in large part because of the situation in rural Yukon where we have few students and the necessary resources that are there to serve those students, to educate students.
Is the minister going ahead with this move toward the national class size?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: We are aware of the situation thatís happening within the Yukon right now, and weíre just going to be monitoring it to see how it goes. As far as the national average, I donít believe thatís our target.
Ms. Duncan: Weíre not going to move toward the national average then, is what I heard the minister say.
Iím very concerned about this reduction of 12 teachers. The department has, with all due respect, been known to be wrong in their estimates on occasion for the number of students. We see this every year in September ó it goes up, goes down, students move around.
Is this anticipated loss of teachers, retirement of teachers, largely in the Whitehorse area? Iím concerned because Iím hearing concerns from teachers in schools about larger class sizes.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: For the record, I will state that over the years there has been a real fluctuation in the number of retirements and people leaving. For example, for 2002, there were 28; in 2001, there were 51; in 2000, there were 26; in 1999, there were 29. When we talk about the 12 FTEs, eight of those 12 were from the restructuring, who should not have been here over the last year but, due to some technicalities, they had to stay until the end of this school year. The other four weíre talking about are probably ones who will be retiring.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the minister telling me the number of people who have retired each year. Itís an interesting and worthwhile statistic, but itís not very useful if we donít know how many teachers have been hired and where the gaps are. Weíre anticipating 12 FTEs ó 12 teachers, as I understand it. And weíre not talking about departmental staff; weíre talking about teachers in the classroom. We are looking at 12 fewer. Where are those reductions? Is it in the Whitehorse area? Is it in rural schools? Where are the reductions?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: That is a process thatís ongoing with the schools and the administration.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís where I am hearing the concerns ó from teachers and from administrators who are looking at fewer resources when, every single day, we demand more of our teachers. We have given them and demanded of them an almost impossible task. We have far too high of an incidence of FASD. We have far too few educational assistants in our classrooms, and we have classroom issues that are difficult for teachers at every single grade level. I am concerned about this situation, and I am registering the concerns with the minister on this.
We could spend the entire 36 days on debate in Education but, in the interest of time, I am going to register my concerns with the minister and move on, and ask him for confirmation that the Yukon Party government, during his term in office, will ensure that there will be no closures of Yukon schools.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To the member opposite, this government is aware of the situations in the schools and of some of the conditions that exist within the classroom. That is why this minister has stated from day one that this is not just an education problem: this is a community problem. I believe that everyone has to take responsibility here. Regardless of the problems that exist in the school, the Yukon still has the best student/teacher ratio in Canada.
Ms. Duncan: Iím aware of that. We also have a number of other statistics we can refer to and can be very proud of. There are also some we are not proud of, that are community issues we have to deal with, and thatís why we see community volunteers doing the vision screening in our schools. Thatís why we see volunteers in our classrooms in the mornings helping children learning to read. These are important issues, and no one underestimates the value of the volunteers in our classrooms and the importance of the community in the school.
However, I also donít underestimate the importance of the governmentís resources behind this. What I asked the minister was to confirm that there would be no schools closing under this government.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I want to state to the member opposite that this government is committed to providing the best education possible for Yukon citizens.
Ms. Duncan: So there is no commitment, and the schools are up for closure.
The Yukon Party candidates committed very clearly, in black and white, there would be funding for educational assistants in our classrooms ó more EAs in the classrooms ó and they are needed. Why is the promised money for the EAs not in the budget?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I am pleased to say that this government has been able to provide the amount of funds that were available to the schools. Again, I will state that, due to the physical restraints, one canít really predict how many extra people could be hired, and I understand that EAs are a necessary aide to the classrooms.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, itís difficult for ministers to stand on their feet and argue fiscal restraints when the Finance minister wonít tell us what the surplus is, or tell the Yukon public. The fact is, the Yukon Party committed door-to-door in the election campaign, in black and white, in writing, that they would provide additional educational assistants in the classrooms. It hasnít happened.
There was also money to be spent for individualized education plans. Can the minister confirm that that hasnít happened either?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In answer to that question, this government and the Education department will produce those individual education plans as required.
I would also like to state that this government has maintained the same level of EAs as were present last year.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, that was an increase as a result of the Liberal governmentís work.
There were promises also for the student grants to have been indexed. When might we see that? That was a platform commitment. When is it going to happen? The students should be showing up on our doorsteps any day, coming home looking for their jobs, and this was certainly a verbal promise by the Yukon Party during the campaign because it came back to me several times.
When is it going to happen, or is it another broken promise?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I want to correct the member opposite. We havenít broken any promises.
The member opposite is correct that this was a campaign promise and this government intends to continue to look at that issue. Itís something that is in the works right now.
Ms. Duncan: If it is in the works, when might we see it delivered? Next budget?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: When it is finalized, it will be brought forward.
Ms. Duncan: Not much hope or help for the students who are coming back, Mr. Chair.
It has been some years since the Department of Education budget has been cut to the extent that we have seen this cut, so I would encourage the minister to go back in time and look at previous budgets.
One of the issues that I am very concerned about ó I have followed the progress of this particular program for some years ó is the reading recovery program, which has been very successful. Reading recovery is a funded program under the Department of Education as is literacy ó Yukon Learn and other literacy initiatives. Have these programs seen reductions in staff or contributions from the government?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would have to agree with the member opposite that the reading recovery program is excellent. I had the opportunity to go and observe one of the sessions and I was very impressed at the excellent work that the staff were doing and how great their accomplishments were. I was totally amazed at the progress that the young person was making. It was very encouraging for me to be able to witness that.
Literacy is very a very important building block. This government intends to continue with these things, especially the reading recovery program.
Ms. Duncan: Is the funding at the same level, and do we anticipate the same number of reading recovery teachers, or are we hiring additional staff, given that the minister believes in the program and has seen it work?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I donít have the exact numbers ó but will stay the same.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun raised the issue of the Yukon native teacher education program, and there was also a teacher education program. That program has been in existence for a number of years. Itís available and open to First Nations only. There are a number of Yukoners, a tremendous number of Yukoners, who have asked for years and years to have a Bachelor of Education after-degree program. That was a commitment of our government. We had looked into the cost, and it was able to be instituted.
The Yukon Party in the election campaign put something different forward, a four-year degree-type program, I believe it was. I donít have the platform in front of me.
Earlier this afternoon, I heard the minister say, well, there hasnít been that much talk of it and maybe it wonít happen. Well, the candidate who promised it didnít get elected, but thatís no excuse for abandoning that promise because I have constituents who phone me weekly about this sort of an issue. They want to see that program available here in the Yukon, either a Bachelor of Education after-degree or a four-year degree program that they, as non-First Nations, can access. When are they going to see it? The Yukon Party promised it.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would state to the member opposite that this is something that this government is interested in, and we certainly are going to continue exploring options to make it a reality.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the exploring of options to make it a reality has happened. There has been significant research work done. There are options with either UBC or the University of Regina, I believe. Itís a matter of cost and itís a matter of political will.
What Iím asking is: does the political will exist to get this program in place? Is it going to happen, or are we going to wait four years for the Yukon Party to realize that they didnít fulfill yet another campaign promise?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This initiative may have been explored but not by this government. This government intends to continue to keep this issue on the plate. Itís not something thatís going to be put by the wayside. Itís of importance to me, as minister, to ensure that we do our very best to meet the demands of citizens in the Yukon Territory, and weíll continue to do that.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I have a direct answer from the minister? What do I tell my constituents? They want to know. It takes some time to put your life on hold, to prepare to go back to school. When will this program be available, either the four-year or the Bachelor of Education after-degree program? When will it be available ó 2003, 2004, when?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I think the member opposite should be and is aware of the fact that I have been in this office for four months, five months, whatever. A large part of that time was spent in transition. A large part of it was spent developing the budget along with addressing issues of the day, and, quite frankly, this is an issue that this government intends to pursue. Once the House has finished sitting, we will have time to start looking at a lot of these issues, and itís something that we are going to continue to try to get into place.
Ms. Duncan: Iíll share that answer of "hurry up and wait" with my constituents. Mr. Chair, the Yukon Party promised more funding for home educators and home schooling. Has the minister met with any of the home educators, and where are the additional resources they were promised?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The answer to whether I have met with home educators is yes. I attended one of their meetings and had a very good discussion with them. In fact, I was there for a couple of hours, and they are pleased with the additional resources this government is providing to them. The government is extending the availability of the course work.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, for the record, I would like to remind the minister of the commitment he made in the media release during the election campaign, when he said, "Why doesnít the Yukon already have a teacher training program open to all Yukon graduates to obtain their education degree in Yukon for work in the Yukon?"
Why was the commitment made to go ahead with a teaching program if they hadnít planned out the new program, if all I can tell my constituents now is "hurry up and wait", that the government hasnít had time? Constituents have been asking for this program throughout the Yukon, and theyíre going to find the ministerís answer unacceptable.
Can the minister give a better answer with respect to where the funding for the Yukon Excellence Awards ó which is also in the platform ó might be instituted? And whereís the funding for the Yukon Achievement Awards, which is also a platform commitment?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member opposite keeps raising this issue about a teacher program when, in fact, their government had two and a half years to put something in place, but there was nothing in place. I think itís a little bit much to expect this minister or this government to do something in a matter of four months. As I stated before, itís something that is going to be of interest to this government, and we are going to continue to pursue it.
As for the student indexing, again, I want to stress that there is nothing in this budget ó thatís true ó but itís something that this government will continue to pursue.
Ms. Duncan: The minister was provided a line-by-line detailed breakdown in his briefing of the finances of the Department of Education. We could have him read it in the record here, or we could have it sent over by written record. Will the minister provide a written breakdown for us in order to expedite debate?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, what I am seeking from the minister is ó it is customary for the minister, when we are going through the lines of the budget, to give a line explanation of the expenditures in the department. For example, on 7-4 there is education support services at $11 million. The department writes out a briefing note that explains that. Will he provide that to us in writing so that we may then clear the lines rather than have him read that into the record? Is he prepared to do that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Weíre prepared to do that, if members so wish.
Mr. McRobb: Following up on that commitment, Mr. Chair, pursuant to Standing Order 14.3, I request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Iím sorry. Weíre supposed to clear general debate. Letís do that first.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. McRobb: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.3, I request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 03, Department of Education, cleared or carried as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 03, Department of Education, read and agreed to
Chair:Mr. McRobb has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 03, Department of Education, cleared or carried as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous consent. That completes the department.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Education in the amount of $91,791,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Education in the amount of $10,467,000 agreed to
Department of Education agreed to
Department of Economic Development
Chair: Weíll now proceed, then, with Vote 07, Economic Development.
Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, under the circumstances, we felt this was the best course to take, considering we wanted to go through a fairly comprehensive process engaging stakeholders and, of course, our employees in government in structuring the new Department of Economic Development. To do that, we had to give it validity. Thatís why itís in the budget at $1, and our process for choosing a deputy minister is well advanced, in the final stages. We should have from the committee, which includes stakeholder participation, some recommendations on whom the person may be to take on the duties of deputy minister for the new Department of Economic Development.
With that weíre willing to answer questions; however, under the existing structure of government, most individuals who were in the former department are dispersed throughout a number of other departments in government, and we are trying to find ways to ensure that we can direct their efforts toward economic development in a way that fits with the process that we have embarked on.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the minister for those comments. This department was being discussed here and there throughout the seven or eight weeks of this sitting. I was wondering if the minister could provide an overview and update exactly where things are at as far as the timeline and schedule for putting things into place, with some specifics like when will a deputy minister be announced, when will this department be functioning, how will it be resourced? Will it be resourced from a supplementary budget in the fall and so on ó just the basic mechanics of how this department is expected to function and get up and going?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, itís very difficult to give the member opposite exact dates. The first step is to get the deputy minister in place. Much of what the deputy minister will do initially is provide me, as minister responsible, and, of course, caucus and Cabinet, some ideas on how best to pull it together. As far as resources, for the most part these resources exist today within government. The structure is important here, because we are going to utilize those existing resources by moving components of what exists in government today into this new Department of Economic Development, but it has to begin with the deputy minister position being finalized, that person being put in place, and allowing that person to go to work so that we can get on with the structuring of the department and, of course, a supplementary budget in the fall will reflect that work.
Mr. McRobb: I was wondering if the minister would oblige us, in writing, with an overview of how the department will be set up and what type of consultation process he envisions, including who will be involved in that consultation process. Would he give us that? Itís probably in existence now. I donít think itís an unreasonable request.
Could he provide something like that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíd be delighted to provide that information, once the deputy minister has done that work and has provided it to us.
Mr. McRobb: How many applications did the government receive for the deputy minister position?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, in making best efforts to not be involved in the hiring process, Iím not aware of the exact number of applications. We can find out how many applications came in, but that will be done with the Public Service Commission and the committee, and weíll endeavour to get that information to the member. However, I sometimes question what validity this would have, because many of those applications may not even have met the threshold for proceeding into the next phases of what could become a possible hire.
Iím not sure what the information would provide the member. I think itís more important to focus on where we got to in terms of those deemed eligible to go into the final phase of this deputy minister process.
Mr. McRobb: Itís no surprise there might be a difference in value put on information between the opposition and government sides. Obviously, if we ask for information, we do place a value on it, and it shouldnít be up to the ministers to determine if the information is valuable. Instead, in a cooperative atmosphere, Mr. Chair, the minister should just oblige the request, if itís available and something that can be provided.
Moving on, the department had its Web site up and running, and I note that there were several categories on the Web site, including the services of the department. Under that section there were about 10 bullets, each describing a different area of service that would be provided by this department. Now, this raises a question: how can all of this have been developed if what the government is doing is waiting for the deputy minister?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, first off, I want to commend the employees who have experienced what I consider and they consider to be a difficult time through renewal and seeing their department completely dismantled. Much of these things exist and were existing under the former Department of Economic Development. Those officials and employees are out there, dispersed through government. This is a really good first cut at something, but we are not going to deviate from a process that we intend to follow, and that begins with the deputy minister being put in place and then consultation with our employees, with First Nations and other stakeholders to structure this department. However, some of these programs may very well become hard and fast programs in the new department. For instance, the film industry is quite excited about being deemed a possible economic engine and being associated with Economic Development. These are things that we will determine as we go through the process.
For the time being, though, there had to be something there, at least showing that there is a minister now in place and we are embarking on a process and here are some ideas. Beyond that, we will continue on with how we have decided to proceed with structuring this department and look forward to the input of First Nations, of our employees, of stakeholders ó many Yukoners who have a great deal to offer in terms of developing our economy and have a keen interest in how this department will be structured.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I detect the minister distancing himself from the information posted on the Web site. Is that the case?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, itís not the case. Although the member opposite may have an opinion on that, I can tell you that Iím not distancing myself or this government from economic development or our commitment to create a Department of Economic Development ó not at all. We will have our sleeves rolled up, be knuckled down and working diligently in this area. Thatís what we were elected to do.
Mr. McRobb: Iím sure the minister will be slaving away at getting the wheels of the economy rolling again, Mr. Chair. But my question pertained to the publicized services of the department, for which there were about 10 bullets, each identifying an area of service to be provided by this department, and the question centred around, basically: is the government standing behind these areas that were put out to the public as to services that would be provided by this department? Will the government stand behind that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The government stands behind its employees and their efforts. We applaud employees who take the initiative, see that as a very good thing, a very positive sign, and beyond that, the member shouldnít be reading too much into this. Thereís a lot of work to do, and this structure could see substantive changes over the weeks and months ahead.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, it sounds like this whole area is a bit foggy here, but we might pursue that further at a later date.
I want to follow up on some of the areas of service to be provided by the department from the information that was publicly available from the departmentís Web site. One area is providing information about government policies, programs, and regulatory requirements. How does the minister perceive all of that to happen in this department?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, much of this again is from employees who were involved in the Department of Economic Development. These were areas they were dealing with in the past, but again I point out to the member, contrary to the statement of being in a fog, itís very clear what weíre doing and we have said it over and over and over. The deputy minister will be appointed; the deputy minister will be charged with the duties of going to work on structuring the Department of Economic Development. This cut in terms of whatís on the net, I say, as before, I applaud the employees who are doing this. We had to put something on there versus a blank piece of paper with the ministerís name on it. These are good items of discussion. They are being discussed. The member opposite should probably, instead of trying to wrangle some cheap political points, be offering some ó
Chair:Order. The member is familiar with the Standing Order regarding imputing motive, and I ask that he retract that statement.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In this Legislature, political issues are certainly something that are a daily occurrence and, in this regard, I will say to the member opposite: what would the member see as a structure for Economic Development?
Mr. McRobb: Oh, boy, Mr. Chair. My, how times have changed since the last election.
It seems the government is refusing to take ownership of the messages that it broadcast to the public. Why is the minister qualifying his support for the outlying services of the Department of Economic Development that were broadcast on the government Web site? The only connection the minister has admitted to is that employees within the department put out this information.
Is the minister saying that neither he nor someone else in the Yukon Party government signed off on this information before it was broadcast on the Web site?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís obvious that the answers the member is looking for are just simply not answers the government can deliver, because they would be incorrect answers. All the member has to do is read all the information that has been put out to the public. "The Yukon government intends to consult with the Yukon business community and other stakeholders to define the role and organization of the new Department of Economic Development." Thereís no qualification of statement here. The facts are the facts.
The member opposite is looking for something, but I can assure the member he will not find it, but the member can certainly use his time constructively and provide us with some suggestions on a structure for Economic Development.
Chair:Order please. The Chair requested that a member retract a statement earlier, and no retraction was made. I would appreciate it if the member retracted the statement that was out of order.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie:My apologies. I thought I had done that, Mr. Chair, but I retract the statement and would point the Member for Kluane to the facts that are on the Web site, which clearly state what the governmentís intentions are in structuring the department.
Mr. McRobb: Itís very difficult to even get to square one when the minister wonít even own up to the information about his department thatís publicly broadcast on the Web site. My questions are related to the service areas of the department. Thereís nothing wrong with that. Mr. Chair, you look awfully perplexed. Are you about to rule against me on something I may have said?
Chair: Carry on, Mr. McRobb.
Mr. McRobb: Anyway, Mr. Chair, not to be distracted, my questions relate to the service areas broadcast to this department. The minister should be standing up and answering these questions. They are completely legitimate.
Now, he has refused to answer that one. What about another one, Mr. Chair? Letís see if we can get anywhere here. What about the proposed Yukon business immigrant nominee program, where the department says itís looking for business people to develop the Yukonís business potential?
It is seeking people with business background and experience that would enhance the production of marketing of goods, services, exports, and what have you, and it is looking for someone whose eligibility is restricted to a few items that are posted. One is sufficient, proven experience in operating a business to implement the proposed business plan. Another item is a minimum net worth of $250,000 Canadian. Another is someone who has visited the Yukon at least once within the past three years. Another one is reasonable communication skills in one of Canadaís official languages.
Well, Mr. Chair, obviously this program is aimed at attracting a certain clientele to the territory. I would like to ask the Premier: do the First Nations that he is governing hand-in-hand with fully support this program?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I have to correct the record, to begin with. The answers have been given to the member opposite. The member just does not like the answers. Second, the member should be very familiar with this program. It was created by the former NDP government; it is the immigrant investor fund.
These things that the member is speaking to exist in government today, dispersed throughout the government structure. They have put this on the Web site to provide public information. We have stated along with that that the Yukon government intends to consult with Yukon businesses, communities, stakeholders, and so on and so forth, on the role and the organization of the department. That is a clear statement on how this is going to proceed.
We have also stated to the member numerous times this afternoon that it begins with putting the deputy minister in the position to begin that work. However, what exists in government today just does not simply disappear. It is there, and itís a good thing that employees are out there working diligently trying to inform the public that these things are in place in government today, albeit dispersed in a manner that, certainly, reflected negatively on our ability to address the economic situation we are in. Thatís why we are doing what weíre doing. We are going to restructure the Department of Economic Development. We are going to do it through the process we have laid out ó nothing changes, Mr. Chair. The member can ask all afternoon long. The facts are stated clearly on the Web site.
Mr. McRobb: Well, thereís no reason for the minister to get mad at us, Mr. Chair. Weíre merely asking questions.
The minister also failed to answer the question, and we donít have all afternoon, Mr. Chair. There are 30 minutes before the scheduled break, and then we have the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board coming in. We actually hoped to clear the Womenís Directorate before that time, as well. So time is short, and I would appreciate short and to-the-point answers.
What is this ministerís position on returning the trade and investment fund? We know the previous government put it on the shelf. This Premier, when in opposition, went on at length about this fund. And there was a report eventually released that indicated that the fund was functioning very well, and it was an effective tool to help rebuild the territoryís economy. Is this something that we can expect the return of, and when might that be, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, itís true. The trade and investment program ó the fund and the mechanism ó was a good thing, and many Yukoners have stated that. It will be those stakeholders in the business community and First Nations and our employees that give us recommendations on what to do with trade and investment, and thatís part of the exciting news that we are going to restructure the Department of Economic Development. By now the member opposite, Iím sure, is aware of how weíre going to do it. So when it comes to the issue of trade and investment, we await the input of Yukoners and others in this matter, because they are who will be the first to be engaged in how we structure this department, as it is publicly noted on the Web site.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, this is going nowhere. This is like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling. So in the interests of time, we stand down.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I just have a few questions in general debate for the Minister of Economic Development.
The minister has spoken about the need for hiring a deputy minister, and I believe the ads were placed in the Globe and Mail and locally. The experience I have had with this is that deputy ministers are appointed by the Premier and, for the last two hirings that took place under our government, we had members of the private sector as part of a panel as well as senior deputy ministers as part of the panel. Has the Premier constructed a similar panel for this hiring, and who is on it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, Mr. Chair. First, the deputy minister position is very important, because without one, we ó the politicians, the ministers responsible ó have a very difficult time being able to direct flows of information through the chain of command. We donít normally go into offices among the government buildings and direct employees. The deputy minister does that through the chain of command. So we need that person in place, and yes, we have a similar process, which includes stakeholders and government officials and so on, but I do not sit on the committee.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I didnít sit on the last two committees either in my capacity as Premier, but thatís not the question I asked. I asked the Premier who is on the panel.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Does the member want the names or the structure? Itís very similar to the one the member oppositeís government had, but I donít have the names of the people who will be sitting on the committee.
Ms. Duncan: Fair enough. Is it two members of the private sector? What the Premier is indicating is it is two members of the private sector, presumably the Public Service Commissioner and the most senior deputy.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Yes. Thank you. Thatís all I asked.
When one is searching for a deputy minister, one of the issues is the supervisory experience of that individual. We would need to have some kind of idea of the size of the department. Is it 100 people they will be supervising ó 50 people? We must have some kind of an idea of the size ó ballpark. Does the minister have that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: More than one and less than 50 ó lean, mean and focused on developing the economy.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you. I appreciate the direct answer.
Just generally speaking, there was a lengthy process, and I donít want to get into a discussion about the member oppositeís views on renewal, but there was a very thoughtful process that went into the structuring of each department. There was substantial work done by employees and by individuals: for example, research work that indicated that financial functions, like the loans issue and like the production of the economic outlook, should more properly be in the Department of Finance or a treasury branch. Iím speaking of those two functions in particular.
If itís with Finance, the economic outlook can be perceived to be perhaps more independent. Iím just curious if the minister has an idea of whether those financial type of functions in particular ó the production of the economic outlook and collection of loans ó is it the ministerís intention they would be moved back to Economic Development or would they stay with Finance?
I realize we donít have the deputy, but do we have some idea in that regard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We know now where these particular areas of responsibility rest today within government. The two areas that the member speaks of are in the Department of Finance as we speak. But we havenít had ó as a Cabinet or caucus ó any real in-depth discussions on what to do about those particular areas because we are going to await the recommendations that the deputy minister brings forward once he has delved into these issues to give us the best available information on structure. At this stage of the game, we are not committed to move them out; however, there may be valid reasons brought forward for why they might be better placed somewhere else. We will allow the process to provide that information to us and make the decision then.
But for now they will stay in the Department of Finance and the duties will be carried out as normal, as they always have. For now we will just leave it at that.
Ms. Duncan: So, what I am hearing is that what the minister has asked for is vote authority to create the department. The stage we are at is that we are going to hire a deputy minister. He or she will come in and give advice to the government, and Cabinet and caucus. Presumably because itís an inclusive process, we are told, weíll have input as to how this department will be structured.
I have a question about the process: would the minister be interested in any of those background papers from renewal that sort of led to the advice? Will he allow the new deputy minister to look at that information that suggested, for example, that Finance should get the loans and the economic outlook? There is some background material that is available. Now, it may be buried in archives, and if that is the case, given that it is my signature that gives the permission, I would be happy to provide that if there was some interest in having a look at it. Is the minister interested in seeing that background work?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, we want to make decisions with the best information that we can put together, but I also want to say to the member, and this is with all due respect, that we are tending not to look backward as much as we are focusing on whatís ahead. I think there is sufficient enough information available within the departments where the original pieces of Economic Development have been dispersed to, to provide a deputy minister with information that is at an acceptable level. But if the deputy minister comes to me, the minister responsible, and says the best course here is for us to get into those archives and look at that information, then I will certainly be contacting the member opposite. But at this stage of the game, the member can stand down and weíll wait until the deputy minister determines whether the information he has gleaned from the departments in his first steps here on instructing the department is sufficient or not.
Ms. Duncan: I had forgotten about being told to stand down by that member opposite. Itís too bad that those who ó thereís an old expression about those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it. So itís too bad that the minister is not interested in the hard work of employees who provided very good advice.
I just have a couple of other questions. The immigrant investor fund was mentioned. Is it the ministerís broad-ranging view ó and I understand weíre waiting for a deputy, but is it the ministerís broad-ranging view that this department would be the investment arm, if you will, of government, or does he see that remaining with Finance?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I guess there are a couple of ways to look at this. When it comes to strictly managing finances and the fiscal situation of government, department by department, obviously the Department of Finance is the vehicle ó the agency that should do that ó within the corporate structure. But when it comes to investment in the private sector and how government can engage itself into attracting and enticing that investment into the Yukon or investing in things that may help lay the groundwork and create the environment for a positive investment climate, then we have to look seriously at a Department of Economic Development because thatís the specific initiative weíre trying to achieve.
So, I would say to the member that weíre certainly interested in that aspect and how the Department of Economic Development can be involved there, but itís something that bears a great deal of work to figure out how best should the Economic Development department become involved in investment and how best the department can be structured to accommodate that particular initiative.
Ms. Duncan: So, on the order-in-council, then ó and I guess I have to go look it up, but thereís an order-in-council that changes the appointments to ó itís the immigrant investor fund and thereís another fund that lists ó itís usually the Minister of Finance and then it involves deputy ministers, and itís the Deputy Minister of Finance who is there and itís the Minister of Economic Development. At one point in time, it was also the Deputy Minister of Economic Development.
So, what I hear the minister saying is that itís going back that road. Iíll have to go look up the numbered company ó itís a Yukon numbered company that controls the immigrant investor fund and controls the other one. There are orders-in-council passed that name the directors of those companies. Iím looking for that order-in-council. Iím sure we must have it, but maybe the staff could send me over a copy, just to see who is on it, because presumably thatís going to change when the new deputy minister is named. What I am looking for: is it the ministerís vision that it would be the deputy minister on that?
Sometimes it takes awhile to get those changed, so maybe they havenít been done yet.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, it does sometimes take awhile to get changes in government, and those are some of the challenges we face. I think the member is speaking specifically of the immigrant investor fund and, right now, itís in Finance. Itís something we are now paying back, so itís an initiative thatís being monitored on a fiscal basis versus an investment basis, and thatís the point I was trying to make to the member. It depends on what it is. Weíre certainly going to look closely at this but, for now, the Department of Finance is in charge. This particular area is housed in the Department of Finance, and we are now paying back that expenditure that took place in the Yukon.
Former governments got the credit for spending the money, and we are the government that gets the responsibility of paying that spent money back.
Ms. Duncan: That balloon payment sticks out like a sore thumb on the financial statements ó absolutely, I agree with the minister on that one ó a rare moment in the House.
The other point I was going to make is there was still some additional money to be invested out of that immigrant investor fund ó a very small sum. Who is dealing with that now? Is it the minister as Minister of Finance and Minister of Economic Development? I think it has been sitting for some time without the right idea.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As things exist today, itís in Finance. I am the minister responsible for Finance, so thatís where weíre dealing with it right now but, if there are some changes here, Iím also responsible for Economic Development, so at least we have one commonality here between departments, which is the minister. For now weíll leave it exactly where it is and see what we can accomplish with it.
Ms. Duncan: Does the Premier intend to appoint an eighth Cabinet minister once we have the deputy minister in place?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I am going to deliberate at great length over this issue because itís a very important issue and we have the luxury of numbers. But there are a number of scenarios that have to be looked at and it takes some time to go over those things. We want to make sure that what is done here is going to return the results that we seek, the results that Yukoners desire. Of course, the minister in charge ó whomever that may be for the long term ó is a very important selection.
I merely step into this role because of what we had to do under the circumstances in creating this in the budget. Somebody had to defend that. Somebody has to speak for now what is an actual department, although the validity is based on a one-dollar allocation, but it is now sitting in government structure and we are about to build it.
So, I merely take on the duties because that was the logical course to take. But I will, as I said, deliberate at great length on the position of minister for this department.
Ms. Duncan: I will encourage the minister to do that and cut the minister some slack and not repeat all the comments he made to me about not holding two portfolios and the Minister of Economic Development and so on. We wonít rag the puck on that one.
I would just encourage the minister to give careful consideration to the construction of the department and wish him luck in his search for a deputy.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I thank the member for her comments, but I also would add that my comments in the past were based on worry for the member opposite, not wanting to see the member overload herself with work. So my intentions were very honourable, Mr. Chair, I can assure you.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Weíll then proceed with line-by-line.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Economic Development in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Department of Economic Development agreed to
Chair: We will now proceed with Vote No. 11, Womenís Directorate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: While we await the director, the official for the Womenís Directorate, I will just briefly go over this particular directorate. We had committed to reinstate the Womenís Directorate. We have done that in our first budget. We are excited about the Womenís Directorate and its works within government and also externally, outside government and look forward to the directorate being very much involved not only in government policy but participating in and dealing with the issues and challenges that women in the territory face.
That is why we chose to reinstate it to a level that it deserves and requires, so that it can carry out its duties in a manner that I think the women of this territory seek, and they should be given that just due. So, with that, I will entertain any questions from the members opposite.
Mrs. Peter: I agree with the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate that we were happy that they reinstated this department. I just wanted to address a few issues. The Womenís Directorate was not reinstated to its original status. I believe this department previously had a deputy minister. I just wondered if that would be the case in the near future.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would like to point something out that I think is very important on this issue. We have actually taken one step further. The directorate now reports directly to a minister versus a manager and/or deputy minister. The directorate is now linked directly to the Premierís office, as the minister responsible.
Further to that, the Womenís Directorate now participates at the formal Deputy Ministers Policy Review Committee. So I think weíve enhanced, more than just reinstated, the Womenís Directorateís role and ability to carry out its duties on behalf of the women of this territory.
Mrs. Peter: I just heard the minister in another capacity earlier ó a few minutes ago ó state in the debate that a deputy minister, in a chain of command, plays a very important role. If I understand that correctly, Mr. Chair, does the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate play that key role? I understand that whoever has a direct contact with the minister responsible ó and the minister is also the Premier. And thatís, you know ó thatís fine.
Is there a missing link? I just need to understand that. Why is that chain of command different for this department?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There are a number of reasons, one of them being the Financial Administration Act. But in this case, the deputy minister would be the DM of the Executive Council Office. But, under the structure for the Womenís Directorate, the authorities of that position have been delegated to the director of the Womenís Directorate.
Again I point out that that is enhancing the role of the directorate. We have given the directorate and its personnel ó especially its leadership through its director ó the responsibilities of carrying out its duties in a matter than unfetters it. We felt it important that the directorate be given the role and the responsibilities due to it so that it can do its work within government ó especially on policy areas. But there are many issues that we face today in this territory when it comes to our women, and the challenges need to be met.
We felt that this was the best structure that we could put in place under the circumstances. This is not in any way diminishing our commitment to or the role of the Womenís Directorate. In fact, itís quite the contrary ó itís enhancing it.
My answer to the question is the DM of ECO, but in this instance the authority has been delegated to the director of the Womenís Directorate.
Mrs. Peter: I will just leave that question for now. There are a few issues that Iíd like to bring forward for this department.
One of the main objectives of this very important department is to consult and collaborate with Yukon women and also to advise on government policies to ensure gender-equitable outcomes and to offer and provide effective public education on womenís equality and violence prevention issues.
Mr. Chair, the women of the Yukon Territory face many challenges today, and I donít think I need to remind this House of what the statistics show in the area of violence. Also, addressing violence leads to dealing with legal issues, and then that leads to addressing medical issues. This department plays a very important role in that regard. Itís not only central to Whitehorse. These issues need to be addressed at community levels.
The resources in the communities are very limited, and the role of the resources in Whitehorse need to be stretched beyond Whitehorse limits. There are women in this territory who face challenges that we need to take leadership in. One of them is that the non-First Nation women in the territory are not covered by medical expenses when they come into Whitehorse when theyíre expecting a child. Thatís one of the key issues that we need to take a look at, provide some answers on and provide some leadership in that regard. The women, when theyíre in that condition, do not need more stress when they leave their homes, leave their families and have to stay in Whitehorse for three to four weeks at a time. And there are no shelters provided for them. If they donít have any relatives who live in Whitehorse where they can stay for that length of time, then it becomes a problem. Much of the time, they donít have the financial resources to stay in a hotel for three or four weeks. Iím sure the minister can appreciate what these women face when theyíre up against that.
There were statements made in the media by the vice-chair of the Assembly of First Nations two to three weeks ago, and itís very alarming that First Nation women in Canada still face a lot of discrimination in this nation and that, in this territory, we also face that. Those are the issues that, in the Womenís Directorate, we need to address and take a closer look at.
We no longer can pretend that itís not there, and we need a department like the Womenís Directorate to take a leadership role in those areas. I commend the people who work in this department who provide the public education out there so we can address those issues.
I realize weíre on a time limit now. How much time do we have before a break will be called?
Chair: We will reconvene at 4:00 p.m. to hear from witnesses.
Mrs. Peter: I believe there was a prearranged break scheduled for right now.
I move that we report progress on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Chair: It has been moved by Mrs. Peter that we report progress on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 1, the Committee will receive witnesses from the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. In order to allow the witnesses to take their place in the Chamber, the Committee will now recess briefly and reconvene at 4:00 p.m. sharp.
Deputy Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 1 passed today, April 24, Iíd like to welcome to this House Craig Tuton, the Chair of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Tony Armstrong, the president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. They are here today to appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole.
There will be some opening remarks from the president and, from there, they will entertain questions ó both Mr. Tuton and Mr. Armstrong ó directed through the Chair.
Mr. Armstrong: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I was taking the nod to be a recognition, but I thought I would wait and stand on formality.
Thank you for the opportunity. We are pleased to appear before the Legislature pursuant to section 93.1 of the Workers' Compensation Act and at the pleasure of the Members of the Legislative Assembly.
As members know, the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board is established by legislation, specifically the Workers' Compensation Act. The board is charged with responsibility for administering this act along with other pertinent pieces of legislation. Within this legislative framework, we strive to adhere to the Meredith Principles and establish appropriate guides for conducting our daily activities. Within this area, Mr. Chair, I am pleased to report that the members of the board have developed and adopted a comprehensive governance handbook for their use. This handbook deals with all manners of issues related to roles, duties and responsibilities of board members.
Further along this line is the boardís strategic plan, which sets out the future direction of the organization focusing our resources on those issues identified as critical to moving the compensation system forward in Yukon.
In 2001, the board approved changes to the strategic plan. Included in those changes was a three-year business plan covering the years 2002 to 2004. This three-year business plan brings focus and attention to the core strategies required to accomplish the strategic plan. In 2002, this business plan was updated to cover the years 2003 to 2005. A status report will be provided to the stakeholder advisory committees at their next meeting regarding implementation.
Mr. Chair, based on the boardís strategic plan and three-year business plan, a yearly operational plan is developed. It is this yearly operational plan that forms the foundation of the boardís budget.
Now, Mr. Chair, to update members on some issues.
The assessment premium review: extensive consultations were held around the territory regarding the phased removal of the assessment premium subsidies. These subsidies have been in place for a number of years. In 1998, the board consulted with stakeholders regarding the disposition of an identified one-time surplus and, as a result, established a rate transition reserve and a prevention and benefit enhancement reserve. The subsidies have been paid from the rate transition reserve, which requires that an operating deficit be run each year.
Mr. Chair, assessment premiums were held static for the years 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. During those years, the average assessment subsidy was 54 percent. This has been reduced to an average of 41 percent in 2003 and 32 percent in 2004.
This creates an average 2003 assessment rate in Yukon of $1.43, the lowest in Canada, compared to average assessment rates of: Newfoundland and Labrador, $3.24; New Brunswick, $2.07; Nova Scotia, $2.54; P.E.I., $2.39; Quebec, $1.93; Ontario, $2.19; Manitoba, $1.56; Saskatchewan, $1.91; Alberta, $1.89; B.C., $1.92; N.W.T. and Nunavut, $1.60.
It should be noted, Mr. Chair, that the government classification group does not receive any subsidization of its assessment rate but does receive a discount on administration costs of their claims due to economies of scale they offer as a large employer.
Achieving better customer service project: in 2002, the board approved the start of a major project to improve service. This project, or ABCS, as it has come to be known, was to respond to many of the issues and concerns raised by the 1996 public inquiry, the 1999 task force review of the Workersí Compensation Act, the stakeholder surveys conducted by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics in 2001, and the special examination done by the Auditor General of Canada in 2002.
The goals of the ABCS were: to change the way we work to serve the needs of injured workers and employers; to provide better and more useful information; to improve access to our information and services; to provide better data to employers and workers to help us all target prevention programs, reduce workplace injuries and bring down claims costs.
Given the need for the organization to upgrade some of the technological systems, Mr. Chair, and an identified need for technological support in areas where there is currently none, requiring a great deal of manual transactions, the question before us was: do you look at a new system that replicates current practices, or do you first review and change your business practices to reflect best business practices and service levels before you implement systems that support these?
It was strongly felt that there was no point in bringing in new systems that would enshrine current practices when there was an opportunity to review best practices and improve services. At this point, phase 1A has been completed, resulting in a possible blueprint for improving services, including systems support. Just before the end of phase 1A, it became apparent that the estimated cost for the overall project was going to be higher than originally anticipated. Based on this information, and based on the current economic climate, the board has been reviewing its options regarding the project and badly needed upgrades.
At this point, no final decision has been made. The project is continuing with follow-up work from phase 1A using internal staff.
Employer consultant: in 2002, the board entered into a two-year agreement with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce to provide the services of an employer consultant. This position is intended to provide educational services and supports to employers in the areas of assessments, occupational health and safety and general workersí compensation issues.
Special examination: a major initiative that came to fruition in 2002 was the release of the 18-month special examination of the Yukon workersí compensation system by the Auditor General of Canada. This special examination not only looked at the finances of the board but also at its operations, initiatives and accountability, including governance issues. The report, which was prepared with the counsel of well-respected and seasoned experts in workersí compensation across the country, found that, "The system is fundamentally sound and responsive to the needs of those injured in the workplace." Having said that, the report goes on to make a number of recommendations aimed at further improving the system. We are committed to fully considering and implementing where possible those recommendations for improvement in areas under our jurisdiction
To that end, Mr. Chair, most of the recommendations of the Auditor General were included in the updates to the boardís three-year business plan that I mentioned earlier, at least to the extent possible. We are reminded that some of the recommendations impact on resources and possibly increase costs. In these areas we will begin exploratory work to determine how best to proceed.
Governing legislation: in the spring of 2002 the previous Legislature passed two bills relating to workersí compensation. These bills were Bill 73, an Act to Amend the Workersí Compensation Act, which dealt with the maximum wage rate under old legislation, and Bill 64, the act that reinstated spousal benefits. Mr. Chair, both pieces of legislation have been fully implemented.
Policy CL-35: another activity that was concluded since our last appearance was adoption of revisions to the loss of earnings benefits policy, known as CL-35.
Occupational health and safety regulations: a three-year consultation process on revisions to the bulk of the occupational health and safety regulations was completed in 2002. This included consultations with many Yukon employers and workers, along with the Government of Yukon, and concluded with a public session in June of 2002.
Young worker safety: the board continues its emphasis on safety for young workers. We have expanded the young worker safety awareness sessions to include after-school programs while continuing to work with schools to provide appropriate materials and curriculum support.
The board initiated a young worker safety contest a few years ago to raise safety awareness. This contest has proven itself to be both useful and successful.
Mr. Chair, I would just like to take a moment or two to comment on the current state of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. The Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board is still one of the best funded boards in Canada. All jurisdictions have been experiencing a decline in investment revenues post-September 11, and the Yukon is no exception. We are still in a healthy financial state but, given the decline in investment revenues, there is no doubt the board will need to keep a watchful eye on our finances until this situation improves.
One thing to note is that, although we are running at an operating deficit, this is necessary in order to draw down the reserve set up to provide the subsidy for employersí assessment premiums. This was planned in full consultation with all stakeholders when the surplus was first identified in 1998-99.
The area of claims expenses or claims costs also warrants careful attention. Claims expenses in 1998 ó just using rounded figures ó were $9.1 million. In 1999 they were $13.8 million ó a 51-percent increase over the previous year. In 2000, they were $14.2 million ó a three-percent increase over the previous year. In 2001, they were $17.5 million ó a 23-percent increase over the prior year ó and in 2002, the projected and unaudited figures are $27 million ó approximately a 50-percent increase over the prior year. These figures are just the claims expenses and do not include administrative costs.
It is important to note that other jurisdictions in Canada are experiencing major increases in their claims costs as well. This is not strictly a Yukon phenomenon. These figures serve to illustrate that by far the cost drivers within the compensation system are costs of claims. These figures only represent the financial impact of disabilities arising from the workplace and do not speak to the human impact of these disabilities for workers and their families.
Over this same period of time ó 1999 to 2002 inclusive ó administration costs have also risen. In 1998, the combined costs of administration and occupational health and safety ó rounding figures ó were $5.5 million. In 1999, they were $5.6 million ó an increase of two percent. In the year 2000, they were $5.8 million ó an increase of three percent. In 2001, they were $6.4 million ó an increase of 10 percent over the prior year. In 2002, they were $6.3 million ó no increase over the prior year and, in fact, a very small decrease.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I think the members would be interested in knowing how the Yukon board compares in some key areas with other boards across the country, firstly with the smallest board.
Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, our average assessment rate this year is the lowest in the country at $1.43.
Thirdly, our maximum benefits are the highest in the country at $66,200, compared to: Newfoundland ó rounding figures ó $45,500; New Brunswick, $48,400; Nova Scotia, $41,800; P.E.I., $40,000; Quebec, $53,500; Ontario, $65,600; Manitoba, $55,600; Saskatchewan, $51,900; Alberta, $58,800; B.C., $60,100; Northwest Territories and Nunavut, $64,500.
Fourthly, our funded status ó as I mentioned earlier, we are one of the strongest funded boards in Canada, at approximately 116 percent, only exceeded by the Northwest Territories at approximately 120 percent, compared to approximate figures: Newfoundland and Labrador at 63 percent funded; New Brunswick, 98 percent funded; Nova Scotia, 70 percent funded; P.E.I., 68 percent funded; Quebec, 92 percent; Ontario, 65 percent; Manitoba, 100 percent; Saskatchewan, 100 percent; Alberta, 104 percent; and B.C., 100 percent.
We cannot say that these standings will always be the case, but it has been a consistent pattern over the last few years.
Thank you, and I look forward to questions.
Mr. Cardiff: First of all, Iíd like to thank the chair and the president for attending today and answering our questions. Iíd like to thank the people in the gallery who have attended today, and acknowledge the fact that time is short. Iíll try to be brief with my questions. If there is technical information that isnít readily available today, Iíd be more than willing to receive written answers at a later date.
Itís good to hear that Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board in the Yukon is one of the best in Canada, if not the best. I think we should be proud of that, and I think it shows that the board has done good work and that thereís a commitment and dedication by staff to provide good service to workers in the Yukon. I think that needs to be recognized.
Iíd like to ask the new board chair a question. The Insurance Bureau of Canada has stated in the past that the performance of the workersí compensation system could be improved by introducing changes that would allow private insurers to compete in this market. I was just wondering if you felt that was valid or not.
Mr. Tuton: Thanks for the question. As you know, Iíve served in the role of chair once before and I now, as I did then, still believe firmly that the workersí compensation system that was developed by Meredith is still the best in the country. Until ó or if ó itís proven otherwise, it must remain so.
Mr. Cardiff: Thatís good news. One of the other things that has been speculated about recently is the government pulling out of workersí compensation coverage. I was wondering if either of the witnesses could shed some light on what effect they think that may have on the operations of the board and on assessments for the other employers in the Yukon that use the workersí compensation system.
Mr. Armstrong: Itís somewhat difficult to answer that question with specifics, Mr. Chair, in that we as an organization havenít undertaken any significant work to be able to analyze what the impact would be. Having said that, it would depend on, if the Government of Yukon was to proceed along that path and look at pulling itself out of the compensation fund, how would we or how would that pulling out be defined. If the pulling out of the compensation fund was done in such a fashion as existed prior to January 1, 1993, when the current legislation came into force and effect ó at that time, the Government of Yukon was self-insured. What happened was that any claims that occurred with government workers, those claims were adjudicated by the Yukon board and the costs of those claims, as well as the administrative costs, were billed to the Government of Yukon on an annual basis or on a semi-annual basis.
So if that was the type of model that was pursued, just simply going self-insured and the services still being delivered by the Yukon board, the impact on assessments for the non-government sector I would anticipate being negligible. Now, if other options were explored, you know, my response would have to change depending on what those options were.
Mr. Cardiff: We have heard that there was a study done by the Public Service Commission that was started under the previous government, and the leader of the third party indicated that they had had representation about the effects of the government pulling out of the workersí compensation system. Is there any documentation available about that?
Mr. Armstrong: There may have been a study done by the Public Service Commission, Mr. Chair, but I have to say that Iím not privy to the information that would be in that study. So Iím not able to make any comment as to what the contents of that study may have indicated.
I think Iíll leave it at that.
Mr. Cardiff: One of the other recent developments that weíve seen at Workers' Compensation is that the current minister, when he was on this side of the House, was concerned about the size of the board and was concerned that there was a full complement of board members. The minister has recently exercised his option to reduce the size of the board. I was wondering if the new board chair could tell us if he sees any problem, if thereís going to be an increased pressure on the board to do its job, and whether or not that will affect the function of the board.
Mr. Tuton: In my last term as chair, the structure and size of the board were the same as today. The very nature of the board creates representation from two opposite-thinking stakeholders at times, but it should be remembered that the very structure of that board is that the representation is from two worker representatives, two employer representatives, a vice-chair who does not vote, a non-voting president and a neutral chair. Itís important to remember that the structure, whether itís four members or six, will be identical.
The pressures on the board will be there regardless of the size but, having said all of that, Iíve only been present at one meeting and, at the one meeting I was at, I didnít see any problems whatsoever.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to deal with some issues that are out in the public. Some of these things are speculation, but Iíd just like to clear the air and get the new chairís opinion on some of these ideas that are out there.
There was a statement made by a former board member in the media recently about the appeals tribunal, and there was concern about whether the appeals tribunal needed to be there. This particular person felt that the appeals tribunal didnít need to exist and that the board could deal with appeals itself. I was wondering what the new chair would think of that.
Mr. Tuton: I think itís very clear. The appeals tribunal is legislated, and thatís something the House will determine. As far as I can see, itís working the way the legislation intended it to be.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd definitely agree with that.
There was also some speculation that labour did not need to be represented on the board, because they were adequately represented by the government in, I believe, administration, but they were adequately represented by the government.
I was wondering if the new chair could comment on that.
Mr. Tuton: I donít think thereís really anything to comment on. There is equal representation on the board. There are two representatives who represent the workers and there are two representatives who represent the employers. And that, incidentally, is the nature of the structure of the board and it must not change. Thatís the way it has to be.
Mr. Cardiff: Another concern for injured workers out there is stress and chronic pain, which are now widely recognized as workplace injuries and are covered by workersí compensation. However, there doesnít seem to be any consensus on this. There are people who believe that people who suffer from work-related stress or work-related chronic pain shouldnít be compensated. I would like to know our witnessesí opinions on that, if they could shed any light on that.
Mr. Armstrong: Do I need to be corrected in referring to you as Mr. Chair? Should I be saying "Mr. Deputy Chair"?
Deputy Chair: I donít believe it matters.
Mr. Armstrong: Okay, thank you.
The question, as I understand it, is a question for a perspective on chronic stress and chronic pain in this jurisdiction. Just to set things, I guess, clear for us all and provide the backdrop, the legislation ó our Workers' Compensation Act ó spells out what is compensable and less so spells out what is non-compensable.
In our legislation it states specifically, for example, that post-traumatic stress is compensable. I donít need to spend any time defining what post-traumatic stress is for you. When we come into chronic stress, though, it becomes much more difficult in ó well, perhaps this is an example of post-traumatic stress, though, I donít know. But in looking at chronic stress, it is much more difficult to identify the underlying causes of it. Chronic stress can flow from many instances and many things in our lives ó the workplace being one of those issues, but home being another, the environment with our friends, our colleagues, all of those sorts of things can have an impact.
To say that chronic stress is recognized right across the country is certainly true. However, to take it the next step further and suggest that chronic stress is compensable across the country in the context of workersí compensation might not be a safe assumption to make. There are a number of jurisdictions in Canada that have actually taken the step of legislating chronic stress as being non-compensable due to the nature of the difficulty of a clear diagnosis for chronic stress.
In our jurisdiction, we have compensated for chronic stress and continue to do so. The requirement we have in place, though, is that we need a very firm medical diagnosis as to it being chronic stress and that it is work-related. So, without that medical diagnosis, itís much more difficult.
In the area of chronic pain, the difficulty in the diagnosis and the compensation for chronic pain is that chronic pain, by definition, is something that you canít pin down. By definition, there is no organic cause for chronic pain. It is a pain symptom that is there, but youíre not able to point to it and say, "Hereís the fracture in the arm," or "Hereís the pulled muscle thatís causing me debilitating pain." So, the whole area of chronic pain is another emerging issue and a very difficult thing for compensation boards to deal with.
Weíre wrestling with both those issues in this jurisdiction, and I expect we will for some time yet.
Mr. Cardiff: Thereís one more emerging issue for workers in many workplaces that we havenít heard a lot about here in the Yukon. Recently, courts have ruled that illnesses caused by second-hand smoke in the workplace should be covered by workersí compensation. In the Yukon, there are lots of workplaces that remain in which smoking is permitted, particularly in bars and restaurants. Iím wondering ó I guess there are two issues here. What do they think that workersí compensation should be doing to reduce workplace illnesses caused by second-hand smoke? The other thing would be that there is a potential liability there that probably isnít funded at this time. How would we cover that liability?
Mr. Armstrong: First, the question of illnesses as a result of second-hand smoke, to the best of my knowledge, at this point, we have never received a claim for any illness as a result of second-hand smoke. If we did receive a claim, though, I think that we would treat it as we do any other disability that is less than straightforward, again, drawing reference to the broken arm, which is quite straightforward and understandable. But we would treat it in the same way and adjudicate it in the same fashion. I think that we would probably require very clear medical evidence that the disability came out of and in the course of employment; i.e., it was a smoke-filled environment, that this person probably was a non-smoker, all the same sorts of criteria that British Columbia would put claimants through before accepting a claim for that particular issue. So we would accept someone filing a claim. We would adjudicate it as we do any other type of occupational illness.
On the question of potential liability, Iím going to answer that a little bit differently. As far as is there a potential financial liability to the benefit reserves for injured workers ó at this point, probably not. Itís probably not something that we need to be concerned about. We would, after we have received and accepted a claim, then have to be setting monies aside for the future costs of those claims, just like we do currently for any other disability. From that sense, there isnít liability. Is there a liability in the fashion, though, related to occupational health and safety and doing something in that regard? I believe that that may have been more the thrust of what you were looking at. Potentially there is a liability there, in that we have a couple of jurisdictions ó only a few, but we do have a couple of jurisdictions in Canada that have passed regulation in that area pursuant to occupational health and safety.
Weíre very mindful both of what those jurisdictions have done and what the success rate has been with those pieces of regulation. From a Yukon context, thereís no question that smoking in the workplace or smoking in general is a health question. It seems to me that there is ample medical evidence that smoking is not good for you, whether itís that you are smoking or that itís second-hand smoke, but what is the best approach for the Yukon to take in dealing with this issue ó Iím at a bit of a loss for that in that Iím not a policy maker. Iím just a policy implementer, as it were. But I would just wrap up by saying that smoking in the workplace is possibly part of a larger issue, related to smoking in general.
Mr. Cardiff: Just maybe a quick follow-up. Obviously, there are concerns about this, and Mr. Armstrong is right. He is in the administration end of it so it would be more of a policy matter, I guess, and Iím wondering if maybe the chair could tell me whether or not this is on the boardís agenda ó to deal with second-hand smoke in the workplace.
Mr. Armstrong: I recognize that the question was posed for the chair of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, but I also recognize he may be a little bit disadvantaged in being able to reply to that particular issue, given heís been there for one meeting. So if I could take just a moment and sort of brief the members on a bit of history on this issue.
We certainly, as a board, recognize this as an emerging issue and have had some discussions at the board table around what would be the best approaches to take in dealing with smoke in the workplace and, further, with safety for workers in those kinds of environments.
We had suggested some time ago meeting with various organizations in Yukon and seeing if there was an opportunity to have a broader, united sort of approach to that but, at this point, weíve not actually engaged any other groups in those dialogues, but we left it with the intent to do so.
Mr. Cardiff: Thereís a perception by the government that the government pays the highest premium of any provincial or territorial government in the country. Iíd be interested in knowing if that assumption is correct or not.
Mr. Armstrong: Iím just going to take a moment here and make sure I find the right page to be looking at.
For fear of misspeaking the figures, what I would like to do is undertake to get that information back to the members here. What I can say, without having ó I have pages and pages of figures, and I donít want to take everybodyís time up while I look at those pages and review them. But what I can say is that one needs to be quite careful in comparing, from one jurisdiction to the next, what the governmentís assessment rate may be, because classification structures in each jurisdiction vary widely. In our jurisdiction, we have 10 classification groups. There are upwards of 500 classification groups in large jurisdictions. In this jurisdiction, the government classification group is one distinct group and it contains First Nation governments and it contains the Government of Yukon, and thatís all.
In other jurisdictions, many of them break government out into the various types of industries that government would perform. Just by way of example, they would look at the highways department of a government and put that in a classification structure that may well reflect construction or road construction industry in that jurisdiction. So, my point behind saying that is that one needs to be somewhat cautious in making that comparison in that here the government rate is all-inclusive of all industries and all undertakings that government has, and that is not necessarily the case in other jurisdictions. In other jurisdictions it will divide out. But I will report back on that.
Mr. Cardiff: It sounds like itís the difference between grapefruits and apples or bananas or something. It sounds perfectly normal.
One of the other concerns that the government has expressed is that a flow of information, reporting to the government on the cost of each accident to its workers ó I was just wondering if there is a problem with the flow of information or whether the board has a problem finding all of the information that the government is requesting and if there are plans to improve on that.
Mr. Armstrong: If I can, I am going to answer that question first, and then I am going to save myself a little bit of work and bump back to the last question because I did manage to find the page that I was looking for on figures.
As far as information requested, we recognize at the board that the Government of Yukon as well as many other employers in the Yukon have keen interest in what is happening with their claims experience and the costs associated with workersí compensation in this jurisdiction.
To the best of our ability, we have responded to those requests for information quite extensively. I donít have the information in front of me that we have provided, but it seems to me that we have responded by way of a 100-and-some slide presentation to the Government of Yukon, representing various aspects of its claims experience. Weíve had a whole series of correspondence with the Government of Yukon around what those things mean. So there has been a great deal of information provided, Mr. Chair.
Thatís not to say that we have been able to answer each and every question that has been posed, because, quite frankly, we have not been able to do that. We understand that thereís keen interest in the Government of Yukon being able to focus its prevention activities and manage its claims as effectively as they can. In order to do that, thereís a fair bit of analysis thatís required. Thatís analysis that we do not have the capability of doing, not from a staff perspective, just by sheer numbers, and certainly not from a systems or a technological way. The systems that we currently have in place at the board ó our claims system, which would generate most of that information is antiquated; itís 13 years old. It rests on YTGís mainframe. It is not adaptable or adoptable to various changes in the legislation or policy. It requires a horrendous amount of workarounds and manual tinkering, really, that causes us some concern as to the integrity of the data without a lot of quality assurance afterward.
So the short answer is that weíve provided a great deal of information. We have offered to enter into partnership with the Government of Yukon in working on prevention activities and focusing in on specific departmental concerns if the Government of Yukon has a desire to do so. We have offered to open our database, our claims system, to analysis by Government of Yukon if they chose to do that. As of yet, they have not replied with interest in doing that; but at the same time, we recognize that there is a desire for us to be able to do more analysis. Itís a question of whether the responsibility for that analysis should rest with the board or rest with a particular employer, but we recognize the request and the desire.
Mr. Cardiff: Hence the need to upgrade the technology and the need for the achieving better customer service project.
Injured workers are covered by the act thatís in effect at the moment that theyíre injured. Basically, this means that different workers are covered by different acts. The entitlements under those acts differ, so there is a little inequity in terms of the entitlements of those injured workers.
The Member for Klondike, now the minister responsible, asked this question in November 2000 about retroactivity: how is the retroactivity going to be addressed? How are we dovetailing the two provisions of these acts so that injured workers who are on long-term disability are treated fairly?
The response from the president at the time was that he thought there was a way around this ó in dealing with it ó but it required an amendment to the legislation in the methodology to calculate the maximum wage rate for the prior legislation, and it would have to be linked to a process. He didnít know what that process would be, but it would have to be linked to the current piece of legislation.
Given that the act will be reviewed, maybe there is a possibility that this could be done. Iím wondering whether or not the board would support the changes to the legislation, making the maximum wage rate the same for all injured workers in the Yukon, and if they would be able to communicate that support to the minister at the board and the organizational levels.
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, a good part of the issue that we are discussing at this point really was resolved with Bill No. 73 in the narrow sense. Bill No. 73, as I mentioned in my opening comments, was an Act to Amend the Workersí Compensation Act, and what that did was to pull the workers who were currently receiving compensation under the previous act ó but just one previous act. It took those workers who were still receiving compensation, some 26 of them, and said ó and Iím probably taking poetic licence here ó "We recognize the inequity in the maximum wage rate for you 26 under the previous legislation and we will, by this amendment to the Workersí Compensation Act, make your maximum wage rate the same as those people injured under the current legislation." So for example, in this year of 2003, that maximum wage rate would be $66,200.
We have to recognize, though, Mr. Chair, that there isnít just one prior piece of legislation. There are several. I donít want to guess at the number, but it would be safe to say that there are probably better than seven or eight previous pieces of legislation. We still have at least one active claim from the 1950s.
So the issue, then, is how we apply equity and how we would define equity between the people injured under each one of those various pieces of legislation, and what the purpose was for those pieces of legislation at the time. Fundamentally, they had the same purpose as the current legislation ó to adhere to the Meredith Principles, to provide adequate benefits to those people when they were injured in the workplace, however those injuries were defined. Adequate benefits were defined during each of those time frames to be of a particular type of benefit, including the maximum wage rate for that time frame.
So, when the Legislature in Yukon looked at each one of these pieces of legislation over the intervening years, they have said that we can recognize that there is a requirement for this particular level of benefit, be that the loss of earnings, be that medical, be that rehabilitation, be that whatever those benefits are. We recognize that, and at the same time as we recognize that, we recognize that by creating entitlement to those benefits, we create a liability and that we set assessment rates based on what that liability for those benefits are.
We put those two things in place and that runs for the life of the piece of legislation. When a new piece of legislation comes down, you define the benefits differently, you define the liability differently and you put assessment rates in place as appropriate for those. The difficulty here, now, Mr. Chair, if the proposition is: how can we take someone from 1958 or 1956 and raise their maximum wage rate ó one aspect of all of the benefit package ó to be what it is for people injured in 2003, the difficulty we come into is the whole question of collective liability in an historical sense. Collective liability, in short, for the members, means that the employers of today are assessed for the injuries that occur today and the costs associated with those injuries into the future. We are not assessing employers today for injuries that occurred in 1956 or 1958 or 1960. The Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board is a forward-funding board and sets all of the money aside that is required to pay the current and all future costs for benefits for injured workers.
So, if we close the doors today and donít collect another penny in assessment revenue, we have enough money in the fund to pay those people until they are no longer on claim by whatever cause. We change that in a very dramatic way if we say that we want to reach back into the distance and pull those people up to the same maximum wage rate, because weíve compromised the idea around the collective liability in an historical sense. Perhaps ó I run the risk of maybe going too far ó perhaps we may cause concern in never being able to provide the employer community with certainty around what assessment rates are if we are going back in a historical sense to change those.
Those are some comments on the complexities around the issue.
As far as a comment of whether itís a supportable type of approach to take, we are really not in a position to make that kind of a comment.
We rely on the expertise of social policy development within these four walls and, once that policy is developed and the act is passed, then our duty is to implement that to the absolute best of our ability.
Mr. Chair, a couple of moments ago I said I wanted to back up to a question I had undertaken to come back to the members with some information on, but in turning through my pages, I found the information I was looking for. If you might indulge me for a moment, Iíll just read that into the record.
The 2003 assessment rates for governments in other jurisdictions and their ranges ó and I donít have all jurisdictions, but these are ranges ó for the Government of Alberta, it ranges from 18 cents per hundred to $1.43 per hundred; for Saskatchewan, itís $1.25 per hundred; for Ontario, itís $1.62 per hundred; for Yukon, itís $1.37 per hundred; for the Northwest Territories, itís up to 65 cents per hundred. Their benefit structure is somewhat different though.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank Mr. Armstrong for those figures.
I have a little bit more around the maximum wage rate. I know the minister thought this was an important issue and wanted to make sure that all injured workers would be treated fairly and was looking for a resolution to this issue a few years back.
Iím just wondering if there are any options. If there was some harmonization of the maximum wage rate to end the differential from prior years, would it be possible ó I realize that basically, if we legislate that here, weíre legislating a liability on the fund that the fund might not be able to support. So in my mind, there are only a couple of options. If we legislate a liability on to the fund, then it should be supported by monies ó taxpayersí dollars, I would suppose. Another option might be the use of reserve funds that were previously used to subsidize employersí assessment rates.
Is that a fair question?
Mr. Armstrong: In fairness, Mr. Chair, I suspect all things are possible. We have, up to this point, drawn the rate transition reserve down significantly. There is still some money there, but we have drawn it down significantly. Perhaps we need to look at what the magnitude of the issue is. In looking at what Bill No. 73 did, we basically took 26 injured workers, moved their maximum wage rate up to the current legislation and tagged it at that point. Those 26 workers represent ó I believe this is what the member was referring to ó that legislated liability. Those 26 workers represent a future liability somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4.5 million. And thatís only looking at one group under that one piece of legislation.
Now, it was a piece of legislation that existed for 10 years prior to the current one, so it reached back to 1983, but we would need to really have a look at how many people we are talking about prior to 1983 and what the financial impact would be of taking that kind of an approach with that. If we were so instructed to do that kind of an actuarial analysis, we could certainly come up with that, but itís not a quick or easy piece of work for us to do.
Mr. Cardiff: So Iím assuming that there hasnít been an in-depth analysis done on how many workers would be affected or what the impact would be on the fund of doing that.
Mr. Armstrong: No, thatís quite right. Weíve not conducted any in-depth analysis as to the specific number of workers pre-1983. Finding that figure is not difficult, but doing the analysis of what type of benefits those workers still receive, thatís a little bit more complicated. But in short, no, weíve not had any reason or need to do that kind of an analysis.
Mr. Cardiff: So I would assume that the administrative costs of going through all of those files would be pretty expensive. I was wondering if there were any other options, other than going through the files, so that payments to injured workers could be adjusted. Is there anything else possible that could be done?
Mr. Armstrong: There actually isnít a shortcut to do that that comes to my mind. If we were looking at adjusting any group of workersí benefits, the Legislature can do that in the broad sense by passing the appropriate amendment or piece of legislation. But when it comes right down to the implementation of that, it does require the going-through on a case-by-case basis to make sure that youíve captured the right individual or ó since weíre dealing with maximum wage rate ó that they are still on some form of loss of earnings versus other benefit packages they might be on, and that the appropriate adjustments are made to those.
So itís fairly straightforward in the broad sense, but the implementation is where it does come down to requiring a case-by-case analysis and implementation. Likewise, to analyze the impact of making that kind of adjustment prior to doing it still requires us going in and doing it on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Cardiff: Would the ABCS system improve your ability to deal with a problem like this, by any chance?
Mr. Armstrong: Itís a yes-and-no answer, Mr. Chair. In a historical sense, the achieving better customer service project would not help us in this particular regard because this is a historical issue and what it would mean is that, if we deemed it efficient and if we deemed it effective to go back and historically enter this information into a case management system or some other form of computer system, then, yes, historically you would be able to go back and do that. But I suspect that, if we were going forward with the case management system, we would be concerned with some history but we wouldnít necessarily be concerned with all history, meaning we may go back and capture claims data to the beginning of the current system and cleanse that data ó so back to 1993 or 1992 ó but we wouldnít in all probability go back to 1985 or 1980 because all of that information exists only in a paper sense. There is no electronic storage of that information, so the effectiveness and efficiency of putting that into the system would be somewhat questionable and we would have to really give that careful consideration.
But in a forward-looking sense, would the project help us deal with these things from 1993 or 2003 forward? Absolutely. The system would have that information in it and we would be very capable of then running reports that would tell us who these people are, what type of benefit package theyíre in, what the impact would be of any type of adjustment, be it a policy adjustment at the level of policy responsibility that the board has or a policy adjustment in the sense of legislation that this fine Legislature may pass.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to stay with injured worker claimants. The information that I have ó to the best of my ability, anyhow ó is that the 1987 act makes a provision that persons receiving benefits are entitled to a lump-sum payout. My understanding is that there are approximately 26 workers eligible for this payout. Only two of those have been paid out, and I was wondering if there are plans for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board to pay out the remaining workers who may wish to be paid out.
Mr. Armstrong: The previous act ó the 1987 act ó does have provision for lump-sum payments. Although I donít have the legislation in front of me, the comment that is made in the legislation is that the board "may" pay out a lump sum versus the board "shall" pay out a lump sum. There are a number of criteria that the adjudicative staff or the decision-making staff in the organization must go through prior to the approval of a lump-sum payment. We have historically had requests for lump-sum payments, and there has been reference made to two. In fact, we have paid more than just two lump-sum payments. The two that have been referenced are only the more recent lump-sum payments, but we have done them.
There are, and have been at other times, requests for lump-sum payments that the board has chosen not to make based on, as I say, criteria that the decision makers have to follow.
Currently the board will be looking at policy around process and criteria for lump-sum payments. We have that on our radar screen as something that the board wishes to deal with and, I suspect, wishes to deal with in a rather timely fashion, so they have instructed us to pull something together in that regard.
Mr. Cardiff: That sounds like good news that itís on the radar screen for sure, and Iím sure there are injured workers who will be watching and listening and be interested in the outcome of that.
WCB isnít covered by the access to information legislation. Iím just wondering if the board would give its support to entrench access to information in legislation of the WCB to basically ensure the confidentiality of documents.
Mr. Armstrong: As it has been stated, there was a ruling made by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Commissioner that ATIPP did not apply to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. As a result of that ruling by the commissioner, I have directed all staff of the organization to act in such a fashion as though ATIPP did in fact apply. We recognize that ATIPP may not have the weight of law over our organization, but they are to act as though it does have the weight of law over the organization. When there are requests for information, they are to conduct them as if ATIPP applied, and using ATIPP as a minimum standard, not the maximum.
So, when it comes to the access of information or the protection of records, we are still following what ATIPP outlines. Possibly the one area that presents itself as some difficulty would be if we had a disagreement about privacy or if we had a disagreement about access. There isnít the avenue for the aggrieved person to be able to go to the commissioner and ask the commissioner for some resolution in that area.
Recognizing that thatís a problem, Iím asking, as much as it is a shortcoming, Iím asking in the short term that those issues be brought to my attention for resolution.
We have also though, at the board level, had discussions around the board implementing a policy that would then have the force and effect of law, as other board policies do, and bind the organization, specifically the administration and all those associated, and would mirror ATIPP legislation.
In short, I donít think we take any exception to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, neither in its intent or application, and we conduct ourselves as though it were still in force and effect over us.
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Armstrong provided us with some information about the ABCS project ó the importance of it, the concept and what it set out to do. He also said that the board is reviewing that project. Iím just curious ó if this project didnít proceed ó there are a couple of things ó Iím just wondering what the outcome would be if the whole project didnít proceed. And the other thing would be whether or not the board would be able to comply with the recommendations and requirements of the Auditor General.
Mr. Armstrong: The first part of the question on what the outcomes would be if the project doesnít proceed ó itís a very broad issue. There is no doubt in my mind, and I think in many other minds as well, that we have a need for updating or upgrading systems support within the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. So, there is clearly an identified need there. There is also the recognition of our wanting to go somewhat beyond that and be able to not simply upgrade, but be able to enhance the type and quality of information that weíre able to provide.
Lastly ó and I should add that it should be "firstly" ó there is the desire before doing that to ensure that whatever we put in place represents best business practices across the country, whether those are best business practices reflected in workersí compensation or insurance businesses or in any other customer service area.
In the short term, Mr. Chair, if the project were to come to a full stop at this point, we wouldnít see any immediate impact on the organization. What we would probably see is a continued level of frustration, both within the organization and, Iím sure, from workers and from employers in their ability to access information and be able to focus their activities, either on an individual or an employer basis toward whatever type of prevention they may wish to undertake, or other types of activities they might undertake.
In the short term, I think what you would see is a continuing frustration and a continuing frustration on the organizationís part as well in not being able to answer questions sometimes that are posed.
In the longer term, I would believe that the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board system ó the technology thatís in place ó is no different in nature, Mr. Chair, from the systems that are in place anywhere else, be it private sector or be it in the Government of Yukon.
There comes a time when you need to fix things, and you need to update things. That time, whether itís here today or not, is a question that, at some point in the future, does arrive. Will we always be able to run the case management system that we currently have? Well, "always" is a long time. I suspect not. But are we able to run it in the short term? Yes.
Mr. Cardiff: Iím wondering if we could find out if itís correct that the maximum benefit amount is capped and, if so, if there are any provisions for increasing that cap, the maximum benefit amount.
Mr. Armstrong: Iím going to attempt to answer that, and I suspect I might not quite be on the mark, so I wonít be surprised, Mr. Chair, if thereís a follow-up question on that. If the maximum compensation rate that we were referring to is the maximum wage rate, then the maximum wage rate is set by process in the legislation on an annual basis. For the first five years of the life of the current legislation, it was a straightforward formula that was applied; for the last five years, it was incremental amounts to take us to the 90th percentile ó a rather complicated exercise ó in 2003.
It caused us to adopt a linear projection approach that brought us to $66,200 for this year. We wonít know what the 90th percentile is, in fact, for two more years, because we need figures from Statistics Canada in order to be able to do that. So the process for establishing the maximum wage rate is in the legislation. For the next five years, we go back to a formula-driven process to move the maximum wage rate up. It moves on an annual basis. The capping, however, may be in reference to the amount of benefits that a worker gets within the maximum wage rate, and thatís capped at 75 percent of the maximum wage rate. So, for example, if you were earning $66,200 or more, you would be capped at $66,200, and you would receive 75 percent of that amount because the compensation payments ó loss of earnings payments ó that you would receive are tax free, and that reflects the tax-free status of those. Iím not sure if I successfully answered the question, but I took a run.
Mr. Cardiff: Actually, I think that is what I was after.
WCB also pays interest on some appeals decided in workersí favour but not for others. I am just wondering if there is a rationale for that, or is it the fact that the appeals are under different acts?
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, there is actually a fairly straightforward rationale for paying interest on some issues and not paying interest on others. That is that the legislation that came in ó Bill No. 73 ó that amended the Workers' Compensation Act and established a number of things ó the worker advocate enshrined in legislation and the creation of the appeal tribunal ó but one other thing that it brought into play was the payment of interest, and Bill No. 73, in dealing with the interest question, brought force and effect to the payment of interest effective April 1, 2000. Any decision flowing from that implementation date of April 1, 2000 and after, interest is awardable, and for anything prior to that, it is not. It is simply a following of the legislation.
Mr. Cardiff: Okay, so maybe we could fix that in new legislation.
I would like to find out what provisions there are in the act for workersí compensation to pay out a workerís entitlement like an annuity for workers with 100-percent impairment or disability ó can they get a payout or an annuity?
Mr. Armstrong: The legislation speaks to the creation of annuities, in that there is a recognition that when an individual is on compensation, they are not necessarily contributing to the Canada Pension Plan. We recognize that, at the age of 65, that can have a detrimental effect on them.
So, what the legislation provides for is that, once an individual has been on compensation benefits for 24 months, 10 percent of the benefits paid to them are set aside in the form of an annuity. At the age of 65, that annuity is paid out to them and administered, depending on which piece of legislation itís paid out under, hopefully by a financial institution in their best interests. But at age 65, itís paid out and the worker draws on the annuity, just as we would on our pension, the purpose being to offset that loss in the Canada Pension Plan.
Mr. Cardiff: Iím wondering, if a worker dies before receiving their annuity, has it been cleared up who gets the annuity? Is somebody else entitled to that annuity, should the claimant pass away?
Mr. Armstrong: I think my preference in answering that would be to provide you with a written response. There is an interplay with various pieces of legislation there, so I donít want to confuse particular sections and acts by trying to do that verbally. So, I will undertake to respond to you in writing about that.
Mr. Cardiff: Another thing Iíd be interested in ó I think I only have maybe a couple more questions here. With regard to occupational health and safety regulations, I know the board and stakeholders have spent the last three years or more working to update the occupational health and safety regulations, and Iíd be interested in knowing if the new chair is in favour of getting these regulations passed. I know they were sent to the government last fall, I believe, and I think itís important that we have occupational health and safety regulations, so Iím just wondering whether the board is in support of pushing for the passage of those regulations.
Mr. Tuton: As I indicated earlier, I have only been at one meeting, but at that one meeting Iím sure I learned that the board has finished with the occupational health and safety review, and all that information is now in the hands of the minister.
Mr. Cardiff: Okay. We can hope that the minister does the right thing and that we donít have to go through another round of consultation on that one.
One other thing that has been brought to my attention is that, when employers are at fault and the Workersí Compensation Board needs to prosecute an employer for failing to comply with occupational health and safety rules, itís my understanding that, one, the government ó the Department of Justice ó conducts that prosecution in court and, strangely enough, the proceeds of those prosecutions go to YTG instead of the board.
There are a couple of things: Iím wondering how the board feels about that, and Iíd be interested in knowing if we know how much money those prosecutions generate.
Mr. Armstrong: I donít believe anybody in the Legislature would believe this comment, but possibly if anybody outside the building is listening to this, they may chuckle. I would have to comment, Mr. Chair, that I have no feelings. I administer the legislation and I simply am not in a position to have feelings about the Government of Yukon, Department of Justice, conducting the prosecutions. They do so.
Likewise, I donít have a feeling about the outcome of those prosecutions in the court, and I also donít have a feeling about the end product of that ó if the fine is upheld or awarded by the court. However, it is true to say that those fines, if upheld by the court, do end up in the Government of Yukon consolidated revenue fund.
Mr. Cardiff: I can sympathize with Mr. Armstrongís comments. Perhaps we could get a perspective from the board, seeing as how theyíre the ones who administer the fund. In my mind, the monies generated from prosecutions of employers who are failing to live up to the letter of the law should go in that direction, and it might be better if Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board conducted those prosecutions itself.
Mr. Tuton: Unlike the president, I am allowed to have feelings, and I do have feelings in this regard. As you know, occupational health and safety was transferred to Workersí Compensation. Itís obvious that somehow, through the cracks, the enforcement of that occupational health and safety fell, and I believe strongly, as Iím sure the board does, that any benefits that were to come to the board through judgements against employers for any reason should obviously come to the board and should be used in a useful way. As weíve listened this afternoon, it has been indicated to us all that claims are rising, not only in the Yukon but all across the country. There has to be a reason for that, and occupational health and safety is the one department that would be leaders in the charge to help us discover why these claims costs are rising. And you donít do that at no expense to the board, obviously. So having said all of that, I would say that any monies ó and I donít think itís a large amount, but any monies that are collected on behalf of the Occupational Health and Safety Board in judgements should be back into the hands of the board so that it can go toward educating the workforce so that we can reduce those claims costs.
Mr. Cardiff: I would totally agree with that. I think that it is pretty clear that the best way to reduce assessments and to decrease claim costs is to improve workplace safety.
I have one more question. Itís about whether or not workers can borrow against their benefits entitlement and who determines the repayment schedule.
Mr. Armstrong: There are provisions within, I believe, the previous legislation that allows a worker, not to borrow but to take an advance against their compensation benefits. It is a short-term solution possibly to a financial issue for that individual. Itís not intended to be a loan. The compensation fund was never established with the idea that we would be able to loan against future payments. But there is the ability to make an advance and we have done that. As far as who is involved in making that decision, that, along with any other entitlement decision, is made by an adjudicative decision-making group within the organization. So it would go to them and there would be some determination made.
They may well talk to other individuals and get input on that, but it would be an advance that we would be making as opposed to a loan.
Mr. Cardiff: I have one more question around this and it comes directly from one of my constituents and I need to ask this. It seems that it would be unusual for the board to require a repayment schedule that is equal to 100 percent of the monthly entitlement cheque, thereby basically leaving this particular person with no income. So they have the money ó the advance ó but then the conditions of the repayment of that advance mean that they are left with no money on an ongoing basis.
Mr. Armstrong: I just want to advise that it would feel, from my perspective, that weíre treading on somewhat uncomfortable grounds in that, from my perspective, the floor of the Legislature isnít a good spot to discuss a particular claimant, and itís sounding like this is a particular individual.
You know, I have answered in the general sense about advancements versus loans. We would try and include individuals in negotiating and setting up a repayment schedule. If this is a particular workerís file that there is some concern about, I would certainly undertake with pleasure sitting down with the member outside these walls, with the consent of that injured worker, because if weíre going to talk about a claim-specific issue, I need to know that I have that workerís permission to do so. But I would be happy, given that signed consent, to do that.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to thank the witnesses for appearing today. I appreciate your time and your dedication in answering questions.
I would like to address the bulk of my questions to Mr. Tuton, in his capacity as chair. I was pleased to hear Mr. Tuton indicate earlier that he did have views, specifically in relationship to the board. I would like to explore those views on governance. Generally speaking, how do you see the governance of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and its relationship to government?
Mr. Tuton has long experience with politics and has seen members answer questions and the difficulty of that relationship. So, if you would, Iíd like you to outline your views on that.
Mr. Tuton: On the question you raise, I view the role of the chair in particular in the areas of governance to be very specific. The structure of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board is such that it should only be concerned with two areas, and theyíre two definite areas. One, of course, is governance, and governance addresses issues such as policy. The other area is the fiduciary responsibility that the board has with the fund and the money that flows in and out of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. Those are the two main ones.
Now, having said that, there has to be a reporting process from the board to the minister responsible. In my past life as the chair, along with the president, the chair met on a regular basis with the minister responsible and shared information from both sides, and I see that process as continuing.
Ms. Duncan: The chair of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board has raised a very important point. The recommendation from the Auditor General is also for regular meetings with the minister. I recognize that you have just been appointed; however, have you met with the minister and has the president met with the minister?
Mr. Tuton: The answer to your question is yes. The president and I have met with the minister and, as a matter of fact, at our next board meeting on May 6, the first item on the agenda is a meeting of the minister with the entire board.
Ms. Duncan: I noticed in the discussions around governance that there was no mention of accountability. Of course, thereís the accountability in terms of the fund; however, there are also issues of governance. For example, the investment policy of the board is approved by the board and by the Cabinet of the day. So there are those sorts of items in legislation that outline the governance but could be improved, and the Auditor General has made a number of recommendations for legislative amendments.
Has the chair had an opportunity ó I recognize Iím supposed to direct my comments through the Deputy Chair. Has the chair of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board had an opportunity to review the Auditor Generalís report and review these suggested legislated amendments? Have they been discussed with the minister, and what is the chairís view on them?
Mr. Tuton: As you can appreciate, Iíve only been in the position for a very short time, and Mr. Armstrong was nice enough to present me with about five or six binders of information that has changed over the last six years since I was last there.
In response to the question regarding the Auditor Generalís report, yes, I have had an opportunity to review it, although briefly.
No, I have not had any discussions with either the president, the minister or the board regarding any of those recommendations, but I can assure you that those recommendations will be on the agenda in the near future and we will be discussing them at the board level.
Ms. Duncan: Over the summer months in the year before we see the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board witnesses again, could I ask that the chair provide members of the Legislature with a written response to how the board and the chair will respond to the Auditor Generalís report? Could I ask for that written response?
Mr. Tuton: Yes, and Iíd be more than happy to provide that at my earliest convenience.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much. I appreciate the Chairís comments. The Chair noted that it had been six years since he had last served as Chair and there have been significant changes ó five briefing bindersí worth, I think, was the mention. There are also significant changes in the number of claims ó times have changed ó and in the boardís operation. The boardís size, as I understand it, is currently four; and yet I understand there is a lot of committee work that goes on. Does the Chair see four as enough to deal with the current changed environment that the board is dealing with?
Mr. Tuton: As discussed earlier, there are very distinct roles that the board must play, and those are, as I said, in the areas of governance, developing policy and advising. The board is not in any way responsible, nor should it be seen to be responsible, to any areas of administration. I indicated earlier that when I was there approximately six years ago, the structure of the board was the same size as it is today. I would not be able to comment fairly on whether the board as a structure today would be able to, but judging from the one meeting that I had, I think it can do it quite adequately.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I believe weíre asking a lot of individuals that are appointed to all of these boards, but this board in particular, as the issues are complex and so on. What I have heard the new Chair say is that once, having had an opportunity to review the work of the board, he is not adverse, if it is necessary, to making a recommendation to go to six. Have I heard him correctly? Itís working fine now; however, heís not adverse to suggesting it be the full complement of six, if so required. Is that correct?
Mr. Tuton: The one thing I can happily say is that, of any of the committees or boards that I have taken the opportunity to chair or act on, I have never taken that responsibility lightly, and I have always had an open mind. If, in fact, the work of the board changes, for reasons that are not known to me today, then obviously I would be receptive to a change in any direction.
Ms. Duncan: As the Chair has noted, he has served as the chair of a number of boards and different committees. How does the Chair view this particular chairmanship? Itís a unique board. What is the Chairís sense of this particular chairmanship?
Mr. Tuton: Iím not sure that I understand the question, but I think if youíre asking from a philosophical point of view, I recognize that the workersí compensation system is a very complex system. But it is also a very important system, both to workers and employers. It was developed many, many years ago by Meredith, and those principles, amazingly enough, still stand the test of time today.
The role of the chair of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board is, again, a unique one because it has to be recognized and fully understood that that role is strictly one of governance. It maintains, as we are aware, a very large fiduciary responsibility to the fund. Itís a large fund.
Weíve heard that claims costs are rising, as are administrative costs, although the early figures appear not to be at any greater percentage than most of the provinces. But we have to operate our system within a means that is affordable. Some of the challenges that are facing us today are going to have a direct effect on that. I look forward to those challenges.
I think that with the board, we are going to attack every issue and see that itís dealt with in the proper way. So, I look forward to this job.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps I could be clearer in my question. Does the chair see the chairís role in this particular board as the decision maker?
Mr. Tuton: No, absolutely not. The decision maker, administratively, is the president. He has that job and responsibility and heís paid well for it.
From the board level, the decisions are made by the board.
If youíre referring to ó I guess I should state, and Iím hoping this is what youíre looking for ó the position of chair, the neutrality of that chair position is at the very heart of the structure of the system. It must be clearly stated that the chair, on issues of policy and those kinds of issues, must not have an opinion and, most certainly, when I look at the directions in the governance manual, they talk about the chair having the ability to vote. I can clearly say to you now that the way I would view my role as chair is that, if it ever came down to my position of chair taking a vote, it would be a vote followed by a resignation.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the chair for that very frank answer.
The chair mentioned administrative costs. The current minister is on very clear public record ó Hansard from 1998 and 2001 ó taking great issue with the administrative costs of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. Now, the president and the chair have met with the minister. Has this been given as an issue and instruction to be dealt with?
Mr. Tuton: No, the meeting that the president and I had with the minister, our first one, was just a very brief informal meeting and we havenít had any discussions on any issues.
Ms. Duncan: As I said, the administrative costs have been an issue, very clearly and publicly, with the minister. Do we have any idea of what the target might be for a reduction of those administrative costs?
Mr. Tuton: As I mentioned earlier, itís a very responsible role of the board to ensure that the board lives within its means, and thatís not to say that it isnít at this particular time, but in my other life I have the necessity on a daily basis to make sure that you donít spend any more than what you can afford and you try to get the best bang for your dollar. I would hope that I can take that into this position as well, although it has to be understood that itís not the position of chair that makes those moves. Itís the board as a whole.
Ms. Duncan: And, Mr. Deputy Chair, am I correct in that the board is currently in a deficit position? In the most recent document I read, I noted it was $24 million and $16 million in revenue. I think there was a difference in there. I think that was what I read most recently.
So, living within oneís means, then, one could assume that one would be looking for a balance between revenue coming and a reduction of administrative costs. Thatís what I heard the chair say.
Mr. Tuton: Well, unless there are ways other than revenue and reduction to achieve a balanced line, Iíd be happy to hear about them, but again I just want to make it clear that I have only been in the position for a short while. I havenít even looked at the financial statements. I have been told, though, that we did operate in a deficit but there are reasons for that and, in fairness, Iím going to have to take some time in the next ó well, I will be taking time in the next little while to be briefed on the financial matters of the board.
Ms. Duncan: With respect, there was a discussion earlier by my colleague from Mount Lorne about the Government of Yukon pulling out of the fund, and it was 1993. Pre-1993, we were self-insured, and it seems to me in the most recent ó not the budget before us in the House, but a previous budget, weíre still getting the odd claim coming through from when we were self-insured, the odd Management Board submission. We pay $2.66 million in premiums. There is also an offset revenue because we can do some administrative work for the Workersí Compensation Board. I heard the president say that if the Government of Yukon were to pull out of the fund that the impact on the private sector would be negligible. I fail to see how $2.66 million less in revenue would not have an impact somewhere on a financial statement, and that impact would be on employers paying premiums and on injured workers; would it not?
Mr. Armstrong: Iíll take a run at providing as much information as I can on the issue. Itís quite right that I said that if YTG pulled out of the compensation system, in the context of being an assessable employer, that the impact on the private sector, I suspect it would be negligible. The reason for my saying that is based on ó this is part of the information provided to the Government of Yukon recently ó between 1993 and 2001, the Government of Yukon would have paid $5.9 million in claims if they were self-insured and $5.9 million in claims plus administrative expenses.
They would have had to disclose a financial liability of $10.9 million. That would be based on the way liability is calculated that the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board uses. It would be possible for them to find a different actuarial number to apply, but it wouldnít be a significantly different actuarial number. What that zeros out at for us, or the bottom line for us, is that over that same period of time, the costs have been $16.8 million. The assessments paid by the Government of Yukon have been $14 million, because we put into the benefit liability reserve the cost in the current year, plus all future year costs.
So, right now, the compensation system has basically a $2.8 million greater liability than what the Government of Yukon has paid in in assessment revenue. So, there would be some question, certainly recognizing that there is the assessment revenue coming in from the Government of Yukon, but attached to that assessment revenue is that future liability. Often, when weíre talking about the cash flow perspective, we forget that the Yukon board is a forward-funding board and puts aside not just the costs in the current year, but the cost of all future years.
So it was in that context that I was suggesting that it would be a negligible impact. Weíre carrying $2.8 million greater in liability than we received in assessment revenue.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím going to leave that discussion ó not to say that I necessarily agree or disagree with the president. I think there can be fun with numbers with respect to how that proceeds.
I just have a very short period of time left, and I would like to ask the chairís views on the act review. As legislators, we have passed, in a number of pieces of legislation, this clause that says this act shall be reviewed, and then we donít give instructions as to how itís to be reviewed, who should do the review, or how open and transparent it should be. I would like the chairís view, knowing that we have a legislative review of the Workersí Compensation Act underway, perhaps. What is the chairís view on how that review should be conducted and the input of the board into it?
Mr. Tuton: Presently, the legislation states that the minister shall deal with the legislative review, and it doesnít really deal with whether or not the board should in fact have a role, but I think itís important to note that the board should be in an obvious position to have a very definite role in at least presenting to the review any possible changes that the board feels are necessary to provide the best system for compensation for workers and employers.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Deputy Chair, Iím specifically directing this to the chair because the Auditor Generalís report does address the issue of legislative amendments, and I understand the minister has a responsibility. I also believe that the board, which lives with the act, has a responsibility in this. My question is: what advice would the chair be giving the minister as to how that legislative review would be conducted? For example, would the chair be saying to the minister that the board should be involved, should hold the public consultation? What advice would the chair give the minister?
Mr. Tuton: I havenít given that any thought to this point, but I could further say that I think itís very important that the board has a role, not necessarily a limited role but a very definite role in that legislative review. I mean, itís obvious to me that when youíre reviewing legislation that one has to work with day in and day out, it would be important for the board, both the administrative arm and the governance arm, to have very definite input into that review.
Ms. Duncan: Just a couple of other brief points. I did want to put on record with respect to the computer system that has been much discussed, and I note the Auditor General recommended the improvement of claims management and control. The Government of Yukon, regardless of the political stripe of the members opposite, has had a colourful experience with the purchase of computer systems ó colourful and very expensive and not always successful. Although the Workersí Compensation Board is an armís-length corporation, I would encourage that we learn from the experience thatís very close at hand with the financial management information system and particularly the PeopleSoft HRIS system and the LIMS, land information management system. We have lived through the debate.
So, if I might make a strong recommendation to the chair of the board to review those experiences from the public servant perspective, I think it would be valuable information that would be worth sharing.
The other questions I had outlined ó as a member of the Legislature for six years, Iíd like to outline what a difference and positive impact the operations of the workersí advocate office has had. As a member of the Legislature, we deal with constituents on a regular basis and that has been a tremendous assistance to us.
The employersí representative is an innovation. There is also another jurisdiction that has been established: a WCB liaison in the ministerís office, so Iím wondering if the chair has any experience with that and what the chairís sense is of the impact of the workersí advocate and the work of the MLA, having seen the political arena, and how he sees the employersí representative position unfolding.
Mr. Tuton: It should be noted that the workersí advocate was a position that was brought forward when I was chair of the board last. I thought then, as I think today, that the workers sadly needed support in the areas of claims. That is not to say that every claim should go to that adversarial situation, because it doesnít. But for those workers who do not have the abilities to be represented in their appeals, the workersí advocate role has, I think, played a very important part. I think it will continue to do so as long as we have the system maintained at the present levels.
I donít think it would be fair for me to comment on the employersí consultant because I have not been there long enough to know and understand what the mandate of that position is, but I assume that I will get that flavour.
Ms. Duncan: I would appreciate that that will take some time. I just wanted to note ó we talked briefly a moment ago about affordability. The chair mentioned affordability for employers. A driving force also has to be coverage for injured workers ó thatís the philosophy and driving force behind the board ó so I would just like to provide the opportunity for the chair to reiterate the sense of balance that is required on the board as not only affordability for the private sector but also ensuring the coverage for the workers.
Mr. Tuton: The very reason that the workersí compensation system exists today is for the protection of injured workers. That is on the forefront. The protection that the employers get is obviously the protection of third party liability. Itís very clear that the number one concern for all of us at the board is the protection of the fund so that injured workers are going to be looked after until they can either be put back to work or put on long-term disability. So itís paramount.
Ms. Duncan: I have been through many debates in this Legislature on CL-35 and a number of other issues, and fairness is also paramount with respect to the workers. The chair is nodding in agreement.
I have no further questions for the witnesses at this time. I would just like to offer my thanks to both of them for coming and I look forward to the written response to the Auditor Generalís report.
Deputy Chair: Are there any other questions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the House, I would like to thank the witnesses for appearing before us here today, Mr. Tuton and Mr. Armstrong. I am sure the questions raised by the official opposition and the leader of the third party will bring forward some benefits and some better understanding of the roles that WCB plays today. With that, you may be excused, and we thank you.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy 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. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Committee of the Whole has also considered Committee of the Whole Motion No. 1 regarding witnesses from the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board appearing before the Committee of the Whole, and the motion was agreed to.
Committee of the Whole also considered Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2 regarding witnesses from the Yukon Development Corporation appearing before the Committee of the Whole, and this motion was agreed to.
Also, Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Tony Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appeared as witnesses before the Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 1 passed April 24, 2003.
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.
Withdrawal of motions
Speaker:Order please. Members will be aware that Motion No. 92 and Motion No. 93 on todayís Notice Paper relate to calling witnesses from the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Yukon Development Corporation to appear before the Committee of the Whole. The House has heard in todayís report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole that the Committee has dealt with the calling of the witnesses proposed in Motion No. 92 and Motion No. 93. The Chair therefore orders that Motion No. 92 and Motion No. 93 not be transferred from the Notice Paper to the Order Paper.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
The following Document was filed April 24, 2003:
Alaska Highway reconstruction near Champagne, stoppage of work: letter from Chief James Allen, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations to the Hon. Dennis Fentie, Premier and the Hon. Glenn Hart, Minister of Highways and Public Works (dated April 24, 2003) (McRobb)