Monday, April 28, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker:I will now call this House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Workersí Day of Mourning
Hon. Mr. Hart:Monday, April 28 is the annual Day of Mourning for workers who have been injured or killed on the job. As minister responsible for labour standards, I rise today to raise awareness. The purpose of this national day of remembrance is to make us all more aware of the tragic consequences of workplace accidents and to strengthen our resolve to prevent those accidents.
Last year in Canada, more than 800 workers died from workplace injuries or illness. Since 1992, 20 Yukon workers have lost their lives, while many more have suffered permanent impairment such as loss of hearing.
The annual Day of Mourning was established in 1984 by the Canadian Labour Congress. The importance of remembering those who have been killed or injured on the job is now widely recognized. The Day of Mourning is now observed in every Canadian province and territory and in more than 80 countries throughout the world.
Mr. Cardiff: I rise on behalf of the official opposition today. Today, April 28, is the annual Day of Mourning for workers who have been killed or injured on the job. The national day of remembrance was founded in 1984 by the Canadian Labour Congress. The aim of the day is to raise awareness of the tragic consequences of workplace accidents and to publicly renew commitments to fight for the living as well as to mourn the dead. It is a day to remember the families, friends and neighbours left to mourn a loved one.
Work-related disabilities and deaths exact a high emotional, social and economic cost. No one is immune to the dangers of an unsafe work environment. I am certain that most members of the Assembly have at some time witnessed the hardships that families and individuals have been subjected to as a result of a breadwinner being injured at work.
I feel that it is very, very important to remember workers who have been injured or killed on the job. It is good to have a constant reminder that they present to us that we do need to continue to work in areas of occupational health and safety, both territorial as well as across the nation as a whole.
It is sometimes easy to overlook health and safety, and unfortunately it strikes home when an accident or an injury occurs. It then becomes an after-the-fact matter, which can be very disturbing.
I have worked on construction and industrial sites for many years here in the Yukon. During that time, I have seen death and many instances of injury in the workplace.
It brings home the need, both morally and economically, to educate workers, the general public and employers about the merits of good occupational health and safety practices. We must never accept injury as a given.
I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my partyís commitment to workersí rights, in particular the right to refuse work they believe is unsafe. In situations where safety is a question of judgement, the benefit of the doubt should rest firmly with the workers.
This is a day to remember those who have lost their lives and have been injured in the line of duty.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus in recognition of the National Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.
The Yukon Federation of Labour and the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board facilitate our remembrance today with a ceremony. The Government of Yukon highway camps and office buildings all fly the Yukon and Canadian flags at half-mast today.
Twenty Yukon workers have lost their lives at work and over 11,000 have been injured in the workplace. These deaths and injuries do not fully relate the deep sense of loss and the suffering of Yukoners and their families.
On this day, as we remember these workers and their families, let us also strive, each of us, to make each and every Yukon workplace a safe place.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Hart: At this time, I would request your permission to allow the members gathered here to rise and remember workers and their families in a moment of silence.
Moment of silence observed
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Duncan:Iíd ask all members of the Legislature to join me in welcoming two special guests today, Joyce Young and Margaret Dunn. Joyce Young is a member of the ElderActive Recreation Association, the board of directors, and Margaret volunteers for many Yukon organizations, but I know sheís also a member of the host society for the Canada Senior Games in Whitehorse.
Please join me in welcoming them.
Speaker: And the Chair has rushed the Order Paper. Apparently thereís a tribute left to be done.
In recognition of National Volunteer Week
Hon. Mr. Hart:I rise today to pay tribute to all Yukon volunteers during National Volunteer Week, April 27 to May 3.
This year, National Volunteer Week celebrates the spirit and energy of Canadians volunteering with the theme, "The Value of One. The Power of Many."
This theme describes how one personís volunteer actions can make a significant difference. Multiplying this action by tens, hundreds and millions of volunteers changes the world in very real and important ways. National Volunteer Week began in 1943 as a volunteer recruitment effort to enlist women for wartime voluntary service.
Over the past 60 years, National Volunteer Week has grown from a targeted recruitment drive into a celebration of volunteers from coast to coast to coast. It is estimated that Canada currently benefits from the contributions of 6.5 million volunteers from more than 180,000 non-profit and charitable organizations. Many of those volunteers are hard at work right here in the Yukon.
A good many of those work on behalf of the 600 non-profit groups in the territory ó 600. Given our relatively small population, that number really says something about the Yukonís volunteer spirit of caring and giving back to our communities. The Yukon government recognizes and appreciates the contributions that volunteers make to the Yukon. Others are recognizing it also. Iím pleased to help share the good news that the Yukon Volunteer Bureau was recently named as the local host organization for the Yukon Network of Canada Volunteerism Initiative. While the 10 provinces work hard toward creating their volunteer networks, our local network is the only current one in the north. Through this initiative, the Yukon will lead the north in developing best practices, tools and resources for volunteer and community development. To help better support our volunteers and this important work, the Yukon government is enhancing the bureauís second year of operation by providing $70,000 this year. This is an increase of $20,000 over last yearís start-up funding.
Many Yukon organizations such as Copper Ridge Place, Hospice Yukon, Yukon Historical and Museums Association and the Yukon Quest are also busy recognizing their volunteers and honouring selective volunteers by hosting volunteer appreciation functions and by nominating one or more of their volunteers for special awards. One such award is the City of Whitehorseís Volunteer of the Year Award. I understand that this year 38 people were nominated for this award, which will be presented to the selected recipient at a special luncheon on April 30. People from all walks of life and of all ages are enriching our lives through their volunteer contributions. One such person is Ms. Emily Quarton, whom I wish to congratulate for her selection by Volunteer Canada to attend the recent 2003 Canadian Forum on Volunteerism as the Yukonís youth delegate.
The work of volunteers has an impact on virtually every aspect of our society, including health, safety, education, social services, youth, seniors, culture, sport, recreation, the arts, science and technology and the environment.
Volunteering can be a very rewarding experience, which I have personally experienced in my volunteer work with Yukon groups such as the Old Timers Hockey Association, Yukon Hockey Officials Association, Yukon Quest and the Copperbelt Railway Society.
As Yukoners, we benefit greatly from the work of our volunteers, who freely give of their time, energy, talent and experience. I ask all members to rise and join me in thanking all Yukon volunteers for the valuable and much-appreciated services that they provide.
Mr. Hardy: On behalf of the official opposition, I rise to pay tribute to the volunteers in this National Volunteer Week. This yearís theme is especially significant: "The Value of One. The Power of Many". One personís actions can make a great difference to the world. When that one person is multiplied by several, the effect is productive and lasting.
Most of us in some way or another have been a volunteer and have been assisted by volunteerism. In this time of economic hardship, volunteers are relied upon more and more for services that we have come to expect. All of our territorial non-government organizations rely on the volunteers to help run organizations and provide services. Yet, because of our stressed-out economy, the number of volunteers in Canada is becoming fewer and fewer. Volunteersí lives today are busier than ever. They look for innovative solutions to their busy lives. Shorter commitments, group-sharing of work and volunteerism that leads to employment or valuable training are a few ways that NGOs are responding to this need.
I am pleased to draw attention to the Yukon Volunteer Bureau, which began with the initiative of the United Way. It is one of the innovations that is responding to present day needs. Although this organization is just over a year old, it has already made a great difference to those organizations relying on volunteers. The bureau has a Web site and advertises a free calendar of events there and in the newspaper. It registers volunteers looking for appropriate work and refers volunteers to its member organizations.
It has a library of resources. It is also becoming involved in training volunteers and boards and in community volunteer recognition. It is responding exceptionally well to the needs of our busy volunteers.
To conclude, I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all Yukon volunteers who continue to make the Yukon a healthy, safe and productive place to live, including Ross Findlater, who was recognized for years of volunteer services on Saturday at the United Way fundraiser ó like many volunteers, a recognition well deserved.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus in recognition of National Volunteer Week.
My colleagues in the Legislature have mentioned the theme, "The Value of One. The Power of Many." Thereís a unique Yukon focus to this theme, Mr. Speaker, because the value of one ó Yukoners donít volunteer for just one organization. We volunteer for many. How many times have we met and re-met friends and acquaintances as we move from organization to organization in helping out?
Time is the most precious commodity that anyone can give, and I thank these volunteers for their time. They are the individuals who are the volunteers pushing the cart at the hospital, theyíre coat checking at the Arts Centre, theyíre in the Run for Mom, which is coming up shortly, they are spending their weekends on environmental cleanups and, of course, there are the sport and recreation groups that are also the fabric of our community.
Volunteers are a precious, precious group in our society and today and this week I would like to say to each and every volunteer, thank you for the gift of your time.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Are there any further introduction of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:Mr. Speaker, Iíd ask all members to join with me in welcoming back to the Yukon and to this House the longest serving deputy minister ever ó well, so far ó in the history of the Yukon government and responsible for the Public Service Commission, Jean Bessier.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I have for tabling the annual report for 2002 of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I have a legislative return for tabling on the information requested by the leader of the official opposition.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mrs. Peter:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) successful government-to-government relations between the Yukon territorial government and the Yukon First Nations governments require trust, understanding, patience and goodwill;
(2) in order to establish and maintain a climate of trust, it is essential that both parties honour the spirit and the letter of the contractual obligations they have made;
(3) Government of Yukon officials, and certain ministers of the Crown in particular, have failed to live up to the legal and moral requirements contained in First Nations final agreements, specifically in the area of consultation; and
THAT this House urges the Premier to direct all Cabinet ministers to undergo appropriate cross-cultural training without delay, including specific training in the areas of respectful relations and proper consultation with First Nations, so that they can provide the necessary guidance and direction to their senior department officials to avoid any further erosion of trust between the Government of Yukon and the Yukon First Nations governments.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a ministerial statement?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Business loans, outstanding
Mr. Hardy:Mr. Speaker, almost every day for the past few months, someone in the public has raised the issue of unpaid loans with me or my colleagues. People are upset, and people are very, very disgusted. They canít figure out why two Cabinet ministers are allowed to get away without paying back money they owe to the Yukon taxpayers. Before the Premier selected his Cabinet, did either of these ministers raise the issue of their outstanding loans as a problem or offer to correct the situation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, of course this issue was raised. As I pointed out last week on the floor of the Legislature, the decision was weighed based on the following question: does this particular issue reflect in a negative way on the individualís abilities to carry out their duties and responsibilities, first and foremost as a representative of their constituency and, secondly, in carrying out their duties as a minister heading up a department?
The decision was based on the fact that there are many delinquencies in this area, not just the two individuals in question, and that this does not reflect negatively on their ability to carry out these duties. Therefore, being well aware of the situation, the decision was made to move forward in putting in place ministers to take on the duties of running departments. We as a government are taking on this issue to come forward with solutions on how to bring this issue to closure. Itís important, because the delinquencies reflect badly based on the level that has been set by those that have repaid their loans. Thatís where we are heading. The solution is all about bringing these current.
Mr. Hardy: The question is of ethics within our political system. The Premier was aware that these two MLAs had outstanding loans. He must have known how it would look politically if he put them in his Cabinet while they still owed money to the government. The buck stops at the Premierís desk. He had the option of not appointing them until they took care of those debts.
For the sake of his governmentís credibility, why didnít the Premier insist that they deal with this potential embarrassment before he appointed them to Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the answer is simple. All individuals, all companies, should be treated fairly in this process. That is what we are embarking on ó a process that is fair and equitable.
Again, to make the case on a moral basis that these individuals should be precluded from undertaking these duties ó this very serious commitment and dedication to the public in serving the public ó I think is wrong.
We have to understand that throughout this issue, there are a number of delinquencies ó many of them that still owe money. We want to implement a fair and equitable process and not single people out because they chose to commit to the Yukon Territory and its public and build on its future.
This particular area is not something that we condone; however, we must move forward in bringing a solution to this matter that includes the two Cabinet ministers and indeed all those delinquencies that are out there today.
Mr. Hardy: The Premier avoided answering the question. Iíll try a third one.
Each of us in this House knew what an MLAís salary was when we ran in the election. We all ran as MLAs, not as ministers. After the election, the Premier offered these two MLAs Cabinet positions at a considerably higher salary. In other words, they received a wage increase from the Premier. People want these Cabinet ministers to set an example and honour their financial obligations. They expect the Premier to show some moral leadership on this question.
Why wonít the Premier do the right thing and insist that these two ministers use part of their Cabinet salary each month to start paying off their loans? Will they do that now, starting right now?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, weíre dealing with corporations here. Weíre dealing, of course, with wages that ministers and MLAs receive. To correlate this into a reasoning that, because they are ministers, they should put a portion of their salary toward the repayment of these loans is not a fair and equitable process because, if we do that, then all people out there who are connected to these delinquencies should be putting forward portions of their wages. Weíre not about to do that. Weíre going to deal with this in a manner thatís fair and equitable to all concerned ó most importantly, reflecting on how the bar has been set by those who have repaid their loans.
Thatís the process we are conducting, and when we have the solution on how to implement a solution to this problem, we will bring it forward to this House and to the public.
Question re: Tourism revitalization
Mr. McRobb:My question is for the Minister of Tourism and Culture. This past weekend, the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon held its annual conference in Watson Lake. The minister spoke at that conference.
It is traditional for a Yukon government minister to bring good and new news to a conference. We all know the challenges that the industry is facing at this time. Good news is desperately needed. The tourism operators, their employees, other Yukoners and businesses that depend on the tourism industry are looking for optimism and something to be confident about from this government.
What new announcements did the Tourism minister bring to the conference?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Indeed, there is a lot of room for concern out there. SARS, the war in Iraq, the instability among our airline industry ó just to name but a few ó as well as the anti-American sentiment against our country right now are all hurting our visitor industry, and we very much share those concerns.
My address to the industry over the past couple of days has been that of working closer with industry. I believe we are working as close as ever with industry in these times of uncertainty.
As the member is aware, we have had to actually reallocate our focus toward these uncertainties in the marketplace right now. In doing so, we just gave them an overall review as to what our departmentís marketing branch is doing specifically to address these overarching concerns, as well as our ongoing commitment toward things such as looking at alternate marketing models and product development as well as other marketing initiatives.
Mr. McRobb: Itís disappointing that the minister had nothing more than a review of what the department and the government were already doing for the industry. This industry is suffering at the present time. The bad news is that the expectations are as high as a 40-percent reduction in visitation this current summer. Thatís in relation to last year, which was also about a reduction of some 40 percent. Itís no wonder that people are worried.
The government needs to deliver some confidence and optimism to the industry. Back in the fall, the Premier mentioned the pan-northern economic development agreement to give some hope and confidence to the industry, but weíve heard nothing about it since. A year ago, the Yukon Partyís critic for Tourism was calling upon the Liberal government to introduce a contingency plan ó
Speaker: Order please. Would the member ask his question, please?
Mr. McRobb: Where is this governmentís contingency plan?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Thatís a very loaded question. The member raises a lot of very valid questions and Iím very happy to respond to each of them.
With respect to economic development agreements with respect to the tourism component, we raised this with the federal Minister of Industry in December. Unfortunately, we havenít been too successful as of yet.
With respect to our contingency plans, those contingency plans are well underway. It all started with the war in Iraq, and weíre working very closely, now more than ever, with industry and with the Canada Tourism Commission, on identifying ways within our existing budgets, I might add. The Canada Tourism Commission has found $5.5 million within their budget to take a look at initiatives for marketing the entire country ó U.S.-Canada led.
The federal government also announced $10 million to be directed to the Canada Tourism Commission ó we are encouraging the federal government to do so again ó to address a national, overarching strategy to encourage visitors to come to Canada this year.
Here in the Yukon, we are also reallocating funds within our existing marketing budget toward a re-contact campaign. Some 20,000 visitors are in the midst of being re-contacted. Iíd be happy to carry on, but my time is up.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, many tourism operators are concerned that what this government is doing is simply too little, too late. There are a number of areas that could be addressed by this government. This is the same government that gave high priority to the tourism industry in its throne speech not long ago, Mr. Speaker. It has also said that it puts the economy at number one. Well, this is about the only sector of the economy left in the territory. Something the government should be looking at is reintroducing the independent marketer for the Yukon Film Commission. Instead, the government is prepared to sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Itís not being proactive at all. What about providing funds to the First Nations Tourism Association? It needs attention right away. What about increasing the budget for the Yukon Convention Bureau or introducing a training trust fund to train tourism workers ó something else that is lacking, Mr. Speaker. Will this government look at any of these items to give aid to an industry in crisis?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, I would love to do all those things the member opposite has pointed out. Unfortunately, we are in a bit of a cash-strapped position. As the Premier announced last week for the very first time, weíre having to borrow ó the first time in Yukonís history. We are doing some very positive things, such as creating a stand-alone Department of Tourism and Culture. It has been very well-received by industry. Unfortunately, the member opposite wouldnít know, because he wasnít part of the annual general meeting of the Tourism Industry Association. Thatís very unfortunate, because he could have learned first-hand all of the positive things that we are doing. Simply throwing money at an issue is not going to necessarily make it go away. I happen to think that by working closer than ever with industry ó and he can ask any of his counterparts in the visitor industry ó we are able to identify our weaknesses, identify our strengths, and improve by listening to industry.
Question re: Canada Senior Games funding
Ms. Duncan:Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Community Services. He is also the minister responsible for the active living program, which encourages Yukoners in their physical fitness.
In September last year, the Canadian Senior Games Association approved the Yukon, Whitehorse specifically, to host the 2004 Canada Senior Games. The games take place in September and will bring a badly needed boost to our economy, including our tourism economy. Itís also a tremendous recognition of Yukonís senior community and the importance of active living.
I have raised this issue with the minister twice in this Legislature and his answers have been inconclusive. The Yukon Party platform promises that they will "provide financial assistance in support of sport and recreational events." Does the Yukon Party support the Whitehorse bid to host the Canada Senior Games in 2004?
Hon. Mr. Hart: To answer to the question, yes, we will.
Ms. Duncan: The Canada Senior Games are held every two years and the budget to host the games is slightly over half a million dollars. A contribution of just under $190,000 has been sought from the Government of Yukon. The budget line item of support for the Canada Winter Games in 2007 is clearly identified. There is no clear identification of any amount for the Senior Games.
I asked the minister in the supplementary debate and in the Yukon Party budget debate to make the amount of their commitment clear. I have not received an answer. Neither has the ElderActive Recreation Association. With the games only 16 months away, seniors need to know and the host society needs to know if this is a promise the Yukon Party intends to keep.
The minister said they support the games. Will he tell Yukoners, especially the seniors, including those present in the gallery today, how much, so that they can indicate we will indeed be prepared to host the games in 16 months?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with other departments related to the Senior Games, deriving their amounts that they will be able to put toward the games. We will be looking at trying to assist the seniors in getting a successful games underway.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the seniors, the ElderActive Recreation Association, have a definitive date of April 30, 2003. Either they have a written commitment from the Government of Yukon on a $190,000 contribution or Whitehorse doesnít host the Senior Games in 2004. The minister has not been clear in his commitment today and it sounds like the seniors are going to able to get their physical activity by throwing another log on the campfire of broken promises. That seems to be about all the Yukon Party platform is good for ó fire starter.
Letís give the minister one more chance. Will the minister commit, in writing, before April 30, to the ElderActive Recreation Association, that the Government of Yukon will provide the $190,000 required for Whitehorse to host the 2004 games?
Hon. Mr. Hart: At the moment, we havenít formally approved the budget for the Senior Games; however, we are working with that budget to work it over and see what areas we can work with within our departments, and I hope to have something for them by the time they need it.
Question re: Workersí Compensation Act review
Mr. Cardiff:My question is for the minister responsible for Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
The minister has assured this House on several occasions that the three-person committee he appointed to review the Workersí Compensation Act has been consulting with stakeholders. If so, it must only be the A list that has been consulted. Labour groups must be on the ministerís B list because none of them have been consulted.
When will the minister direct the review committee to meet with groups that represent workers in the Yukon, including the workers task force and the Yukon Federation of Labour?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the memberís information, the allegations he is suggesting here on the floor of this Legislature are totally incorrect. The minister has no A list and no B list. The committee reviewing the WCB act have carte blanche as to whom they want to talk to and when they want to schedule discussions with the various stakeholder groups. All that was set out by this minister for their consideration was that they must consult with all stakeholder groups. Thatís all that was stated. Itís a wide open mandate for this group, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, the facts are that labour hasnít been consulted. The minister talks about a report thatís there and that consultations have started. If labour is on the ministerís B list, then this side of the House has to be on the C list because, despite telling me repeatedly that he would provide information about the review committee, he hasnít done that. He has failed to reveal when the committee was appointed, what the terms of reference are, what the workplan is or what was included in the so-called initial report he mentioned to the media and to this House.
When can I expect the minister to provide the information Iíve been asking him for since December and which he promised to provide in due course? Due course has run its course; when will the minister provide the information?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite knows full well this information has been provided in part to the opposition. The act is very specific as to when the legislation must be reviewed, what sections of the legislation must be reviewed and the start date. The start date was January 1, 2003. The process is underway.
If the review committee hasnít sat down with the member opposite, let me apologize for the review committee, but I know, Mr. Speaker, that this review committee was given a very broad and wide open mandate. The only specification was that these specific areas of the act must be reviewed, and they are to consult with all stakeholder groups.
Question re: Tourism department, deputy minister recruitment
Mr. Hardy:Iíd like to ask the Premier for an update on his phantom Department of Economic Development. The last time I raised this question, the Premier suggested he didnít know who the stakeholders were who were helping screen potential candidates for the deputy ministerís job. Weíd be happy to provide the name for him, but Iím sure he must know by now. After all, selecting department heads is one of the most important responsibilities of the Premier. Is the Premier using the same process of involving stakeholders in the selection of a new Deputy Minister of Tourism, and can he tell us who those stakeholders are?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, obviously, the stakeholders for Economic Development are those who are impacted by Economic Development and the decision to create the new Department of Economic Development and, indeed, recruit a deputy minister. The process was set up to ensure that stakeholder participation was there. It also has to include, however, representation within government, because there are certain areas that must be met in terms of thresholds and qualifications and so on. Of course weíll do the same with Tourism. The tourism industry will be very much involved in this process. Thatís why weíve publicly advertised these positions, and thatís why weíre taking the time to ensure that input is there.
Mr. Hardy: Selecting a deputy minister in this department impacts all of Yukon, but the problem is perception. When these stakeholders are consulted, Iím sure that they donít meet in dark alleys somewhere after midnight. They donít wear bags over their heads to conceal their identity. Surely people who apply for the very top positions in this government have a right to know what the process is and who is influencing the Premierís decisions. For the sake of transparency and fairness, will the Premier provide the names of the stakeholders who have been asked to provide input on both these deputy minister positions and what groups they represent?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iím not sure what point the member was trying to make when he alluded to back alleys and bags over the head and so on.
This is a very open and accountable process. It certainly is not something that will influence government; itís all about making recommendations to government and, more importantly, itís a system and a process ensuring that there is not political interference in who is chosen. Thatís why we have embarked on the process. It reflects the need for those people who are involved in these areas to have input, and thatís what has been set out. Thatís why we begin with advertising the positions, and thatís why we are taking the time to ensure that that input is valid.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, Iím sure the stakeholders are quite happy to hear that itís not going to influence the government, though theyíre being consulted. I donít want to be crass, but Yukon people want to know who is pulling this governmentís strings. They want to know who is inside the tent and who is outside. In other words, whoís on the Yukon Partyís A list and whoís on the B list, and who should forget about having their voices heard at all? This semi-privatized process of hiring and firing senior public officials raises many serious concerns about fairness and impartiality.
What impact does this process have on the Public Service Commissionís role and what impact does the Premier expect it will have on existing public employees who apply for deputy minister positions?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: A fair and equitable impact, Mr. Speaker. Thatís why we have taken on this process. If the member wants to focus in on tourism, it will include First Nations, the Tourism Industry Association and representation from the arts and heritage communities.
These are processes that are very important in choosing these individuals who will take on these duties and these roles and responsibilities, and this is something where we, as a government, want to ensure that we have every possible option available to us to choose the right person. These two areas are vital to the Yukon today and into its future. Economic development and tourism are intertwined, and we must get people in place who can carry out their duties and responsibilities for these two departments that will produce a product for the Yukon ó something that has been sorely lacking to this point in time.
Now, this is not something that is going to impact negatively on existing public servants. Itís a process that also ensures their involvement.
I want to point out to the member opposite that this government, unlike other governments, did not come into office, axe in hand, and begin firing deputy ministers ó not one, unlike the former NDP government and the former Liberal government, which immediately moved to fire deputy ministers. We have not done that.
We accept the experience and the history and the corporate knowledge that our DMs hold, and that is why they are still working for us.
Question re: Roads to resources, First Nations relations
Mrs. Peter:My question today is for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
This Yukon Party government insists that they have a policy for government-to-government relations when dealing with First Nations. Can this minister outline the protocol that his department uses in government-to-government consultations with First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Lang: This government on this side of the House certainly has started a new government-to-government relationship. My department is certainly very involved with First Nations and we definitely work actively to participate government to government, and the protocol is just that. When we have issues that concern different First Nations, we contact and work with the First Nations that are going to be affected.
So, we are putting into action what we said during the campaign. We are working with the First Nations on every level of government to get input from them if it involves their traditional land. Weíve been actively doing it.
Mrs. Peter: On April 11, this minister made comments regarding the roads to resources. He endorsed the report even though he hadnít read it and, to quote, "put industry on notice that this Yukon Party government has a vision".
What protocol has the minister followed with First Nations since the controversy over this report erupted?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We certainly accepted the report as it was presented. Of course, we all know that that report was commissioned by the last government. Certainly there were some shortcomings with it. I have been in contact with First Nations, both on the phone and in writing, to make sure the First Nations understand it is a concept, it isnít roads to resources, and that all First Nations will be involved in any roads to resources or any aspect of that concept, so they will be the first ones we will be contacting, and they will be totally involved in any issues that involve their traditional land or any aspect of the First Nation life that will be affected by our decisions.
This department works 100 percent, government to government, with First Nations. As far as the concept of what the member opposite is talking about, it was just that: a concept. As far as First Nations are concerned, they will be part of any decision that this government makes on any road going anywhere in the Yukon that affects traditional land.
Question re: Whitehorse Correctional Centre rebuild, Kwanlin Dun contract
Mr. Hardy:I want to come back to the Premier on the question of negotiations he considers outside of the land claims box. Building on the last question I had to the Premier, he needs to recognize there is a growing concern in the public about some groups being treated with favouritism by this government.
Weíre not asking the Premier to negotiate in this House, but taxpayers do deserve answers about what kind of negotiations are taking place. One quiet negotiation this government undertook shortly after taking office led to an agreement with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation on the construction of a new correctional facility and possibly the management of that facility.
Will the Premier tell us who negotiated this agreement with Kwanlin Dun on behalf of the Yukon government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the issue in question on the memorandum of understanding with the Kwanlin Dun is a reflection of a government-to-government relationship and that developing relationship. It also speaks to a section of a final agreement that is now in the process of ratification.
Furthermore, it commits both Yukon government and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation to work with all other First Nations and the Yukon contracting community and Yukoners on this question of the construction of a correctional facility and, indeed, correctional reform in the Yukon. Weíve spoken of this many times in the House ó the need to address the recidivism rate, the need to address the fact that the largest percentage of those incarcerated in this territory are First Nation people ó and we have to ask ourselves why and do we want to continue to warehouse individuals versus actually rehabilitating them.
So this is a very important issue for Yukoners, and we are pleased that the government side took the initiative with our contractor, who is charged with building this formalized relationship took the initiative to deal with this particular First Nation, as we are with all First Nations on many fronts today.
Mr. Hardy: A few weeks ago, I asked the Premier some questions about a new development consortium involving several First Nations and various private interests. One of the partners in that consortium is the largest engineering company in Canada. One of that companyís specialties is building public infrastructure, including medical and corrections facilities.
I asked the Premier if he had any discussions with any principals of that consortium prior to his decision to put the jail replacement project on hold. Today, I have a related question. Did any member of the Premierís political staff or anyone on contract to the Executive Council Office have any discussions with any of the partners in the Epcom consortium, apart from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, before the memorandum of understanding on building and managing a new correctional facility was signed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the issue that the member brings to the floor has nothing to do with what we embarked on in terms of a memorandum of understanding with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation ó nothing whatsoever.
This government is not going to stand in the way of First Nations and other Yukon contractors forming partnerships. It has nothing to do with the jail or any other issue. Itís their own initiative and we applaud that initiative, because that is the way to improve the future of this territory ó by engaging the private sector, by forming partnerships with First Nations and collectively building this territory and its future. That is what itís about, so we applaud the move by the First Nations and Yukon contractors to come together to form a corporate entity ó one that, hopefully, will produce positive results in this territory, now and long into the future.
Mr. Hardy: I think it should go on record once again that the Premier has avoided answering a direct question. The Premier may object to this line of questioning, but I should remind him that he is not the CEO of a private corporation. He is the head of a public government in the territory. He is accountable to the Yukon people for what his government does. He is also responsible for how his government does what it does.
Will the Premier table all correspondence and other relevant information related to the memorandum of understanding with Kwanlin Dun on the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, including records of all meetings that took place prior to the memo being signed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite makes it sound like the memorandum of understanding is a contract with some outside company to build a jail. Thatís not what it is. Itís a commitment between two governments ó the Kwanlin Dun First Nation government and the Yukon government ó to proceed in a manner that commits us to deal with other First Nations, the Yukon contracting community and Yukoners on the question of the reconstruction of the jail ó nothing else.
To infer that this somehow reflects on links to this corporate partnership that First Nations and other Yukon contractors have entered into is nonsense. Thereís nothing here that relates to that.
The MOU was a very simple process spun from a section in the final agreement that commits the Yukon government to deal with the First Nation in question in all matters that are a capital investment by the Yukon government of $3 million and over. Weíre only honouring whatís in a final agreement ó nothing more, nothing less ó and thatís what government should do in this territory.
Again, I point out that it has no connection to what the First Nations and other Yukon contractors have been doing of their own volition. We applaud that. They are seizing the initiative. They, too, see the way to the future, and that is creating these collectives ó these corporate entities ó and they are successful. Letís look to our neighbours to the east and to Alaska to the west. There are many First Nation corporations doing quite well today, thanks to this partnership with the private sector.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair:Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2003-04, with the departments of Womenís Directorate and Health and Social Services. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll reconvene at 2:05 p.m.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order.
Bill No. 4 ó First Appropriation Act, 2003-04 ó continued
Womenís Directorate ó continued
Chair:We will continue on with debate on the Womenís Directorate.
Mrs. Peter: When we left this debate last week, I addressed some issues of concern in regard to the Womenís Directorate.
I was happy that the department was reinstated but still concerned that they do not have a deputy minister. One of the main objectives of this department is to consult and collaborate with Yukon women to ensure gender equality.
Women in the Yukon, Mr. Chair, face many challenges with very limited resources, especially out in the communities. I feel very concerned and alarmed about the statements that were made by the vice-chair of the Assembly of First Nations a few weeks ago that, in Canada, we have the highest rate of discrimination against First Nation women, and that includes the Yukon Territory.
Mr. Chair, we no longer can pretend that that issue is not here. I would encourage the Womenís Directorate to take a leadership role and make this a priority.
My questions to the minister: does he see this issue as a priority, and would they be willing to take a leadership role in that area?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I want to point out to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that her statements last week in relation to the Womenís Directorate and, indeed, those following up today are statements that I concur and agree with. I think that we all share in the duty of addressing this particular area.
To get to the memberís question, I think we begin to clearly show that we are taking a leadership role by reinstating the Womenís Directorate and establishing it as a force within government and, in doing so, providing it with the necessary latitude and flexibility to work on these issues.
When it comes to the recognition of gender equality and the need to address racism, the use of the gender-inclusive analysis that the Womenís Directorate incorporates is all about ensuring anti-racism and anti-discrimination. Thatís so that all policies, programs and legislation do not reinforce but mitigate discrimination in Yukon society. That has to begin within government, and thatís much of what the Womenís Directorate is charged with doing. Its responsibilities and duties are very much focused on this particular area.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Weíll then proceed to line-by-line.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Chair, pursuant to Standing Order 14.3, I request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 11, Womenís Directorate, cleared or carried as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 11, Womenís Directorate, read and agreed to
Chair:Mrs. Peter has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 11, Womenís Directorate, cleared or carried as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Womenís Directorate in the amount of $539,000 agreed to
Womenís Directorate agreed to
Department of Health and Social Services ó continued
Chair: Weíll now continue on with Vote 15, Health and Social Services.
Ms. Duncan: I understand I had concluded when we last discussed the Health and Social Services department. The largest expenditure of the Government of Yukon is in Health. Weíve raised a number of issues throughout this session.
When the minister next stands on his feet, I would like him to address a series of questions. One of the most pressing issues we have addressed in this session is the issue around family and childrenís services. I have brought a motion forward on the floor, which we discussed twice. My colleague from Mayo-Tatchun raised a number of questions in this specific area.
The key recommendation of the Anglin report was to deal with the children in care in the group homes, and weíve recently heard publicly from Mr. Anglin again. There was also a second report by the Child Welfare League of Canada, and the number one recommendation was increased support for the Child Welfare League of Canada, and additional social workers were to be hired.
The minister has had some time since the debates. He has had an opportunity to review this issue and time to take me up on my suggestion that he spend a day with a front-line member of the staff, an intake worker with family and childrenís services.
Iíd like the minister to advise, first of all, if he is prepared to do that? Is he going to spend a day on the front lines with an intake worker in family and childrenís services? And secondly, can he advise the House today if, given that they are awash in cash with new monies, some of that new money will be redirected to hire additional social workers that are desperately needed in family and childrenís services?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís interesting to note that, here we go again, the old Liberal scenario that this government is awash in cash.
Yes, Mr. Chair, through the auspices of the good work of the Premier of the Yukon and his colleagues, the Premier from N.W.T. and the Premier from Nunavut ó they had to get together and basically walk out on an undertaking with the Prime Minister of Canada in order for the Prime Minister of Canada to come back to the plate and provide $60 million of core funding because we all know that the initiative of per capita funding does not work north of 60.
That said, one only has to look at the three-quarters of a billion dollars that the federal Liberal government has put into children and daycare. What that translates to for the Yukon is some $26,000. We only have to look at the $150 million some that the federal Liberal government reduced from the budget envelope of the Yukon government. We would have been able to keep pace, as a government, with the $7-million to $10-million spending trajectory of the Department of Health and Social Services had that money not been taken away from the Yukon by the federal Liberals. So we are just managing to keep pace with the spending trajectory with this new funding.
Before the leader of the third party sits down with the radio stations and has a call-in show as to how to spend this money, let me assure everyone that this money has been committed. It has been committed to meet the ongoing spending trajectory of this government. This budget that we have before us and that we are debating is the third highest budget ever in the history of the Yukon.
We have tremendous demands on the Health and Social Services department to meet its commitments. We are endeavouring to do so in a variety of ways.
Now, the member opposite cites the Anglin report. This is a report that was commissioned by the previous administration to deal with the group homes. What has happened and what has come about as a consequence of that is that a quality-assurance program was looked at and the department has more rigorous monitoring of the various group homes.
Itís noted here in the briefing note I have, Mr. Chair, that when Mr. Anglin was contacted, he was unable to provide any details about his recommendations to help us obtain copies of the model he was recommending. Itís very interesting that this is an individual who has written a paper on children in care here and, when the department goes back to this individual for details on the areas he suggested we implement, they canít be provided. I donít know if thatís because he wants another study to provide those details he has suggested, or what the issue is, but we have some difficulty in accepting recommendations that, when we try to extrapolate those recommendations, we canít do it.
The other area is the type of group homes that are being suggested. Well, that would require considerable changes, first occurring in foster care services. The department has partially implemented the Pride foster care recruitment and training program to the extent we possibly can. This is the area where new staff will be deployed, Mr. Chair.
The department has added one residence supervisor to the complement and also separated children and teens by gender in each of the contracted and directly operated group homes. There has been a change in the way this government has directed the group homes to be operated vis-à-vis the way the Liberals had them set up.
That comes about as a consequence of some of the recommendations from this report being implemented. Itís an ongoing situation, and itís a very serious situation, but when you look at the total amount of money that the department spends on this initiative on a per capita basis, it is significant. Rather than keep throwing more and more money at this situation, Mr. Chair, what weíre doing is standing back, having a look at it, addressing the immediate needs, planning for the future, and seeking ways to deploy this money and utilize the money that we have to the best that we possibly can.
And there are ways of doing that, but if the only solution the member opposite is pointing out is to throw more money at the situation and hire more staff, we all know that that is not the solution. You have to have a game plan to go at this, and this game plan is being developed, Mr. Chair. One of the first steps is a new childrenís act here in the Yukon. That will probably be underway sometime this summer and should be headed up by a committee formed in the not-too-distant future.
Thatís one of the small steps, yet itís a big, big step. Both previous governments knew full well that the existing childrenís legislation was inadequate, yet they failed to address their responsibilities in this area ó just ignored it totally.
If we look at family and childrenís services, thereís an increase in social workers. Weíre increasing the numbers of workers, but it takes some time to work out the logistics.
Weíre doing that, as I indicated to the member from the official opposition. We will be hiring more social workers. That is on the radar screen. That is happening and will be addressed in the supplementary budget that will be coming at the end of this fiscal term.
There has been a lot underway in the short time that weíve been in office. A lot is happening and we are taking our responsibilities in this area extremely seriously.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to respond to these points one at a time and ask the minister to provide a straightforward response.
The minister has said that, in response to the Anglin report, there have been changes made to the group homes and the group home operation in Whitehorse. That is what I heard the minister say. Is that correct and could he just outline what those changes are?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, and they have been outlined.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, I will review the Blues. I thank the minister for the answer.
The second point is that the minister has been very political in the way he has addressed the questions with respect to hiring additional social workers in family and children's services. I am going to ask a very specific, pointed question: will there be, in the next few months, an increase in the number of social workers at work in family and children's services? Will there be an increased number? I am not wanting to know about temporaries and filling in. I want to know if there are going to be more bodies, because I want to know: will the caseloads be reduced? That is the fundamental crux of the issue. Will the caseloads be reduced over the summer?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís a double-barrelled question, Mr. Chair. If everything goes according to plan, we will have more social workers on staff. Whether thereís a reduction in the casework per staff member, I canít tell the member that. We donít know whatís going to happen. We donít know what the caseload will be two or three months from now. Based on the current caseloads and the staff weíre anticipating coming onstream, it would make sense that there will be a reduction in the number of cases per staff member, yes, but I canít commit to answering the member oppositeís question as to whether this will project into this summer and whether there will be a reduction over the long term. It all depends on what happens in our society, and that I cannot predict, nor can I control it. We react.
Ms. Duncan: Letís try this one barrel at a time. Will the additional social workers be hired in family and childrenís services? Letís work with a date. Will they be hired and in place by August 1? Will there be additional social workers in place by August 1? Provided we can find the bodies to hire ó and I believe we can ó will they be in family and childrenís services and will they be in place by August 1?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Iím advised we should have some more social workers in place by that time, but it all depends on our hiring process.
Ms. Duncan: Can the minister tell me if weíre looking at an increase of five? Does he have a number weíre looking at? How many more social workers are we looking at hiring in family and childrenís services?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Not at this time.
Ms. Duncan: So weíre going to do a general recruitment but we donít know how many positions weíre going to fill? Weíre just going to go out and hire ó how many are we hiring?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Management Board has to approve some of these additional changes above and beyond what we currently have in place.
Ms. Duncan: So is the minister saying that he has prejudged a Management Board decision? Because he said, yes, weíre going to hire more people by ó well, how many more? They must have approval. They must know how many theyíre going to hire. They must have some idea. Is there an initial hiring of three or four additional workers? There must be some sense of a number, or is the minister poaching from other branches in the department and temporarily assigning people to family and children's services? What is the real action plan here? Is it to hire additional social workers for family and children's services? If so, the minister must know how many.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Iím very uncomfortable with the term "poaching." Would the member opposite like to rephrase that?
Ms. Duncan: I donít know why he would be uncomfortable because a temporary assignment is a loan, a borrow. Is the minister taking staff from other branches in the department on temporary assignment or something else? Is there a reduction of social workers in some other branch to help out family and children's services, or does he in fact have the authority to live up to his commitment, or is he making the commitments in advance of a Management Board decision? Either the minister is hiring additional social workers for family and children's services or he isnít. And if heís hiring them ó "he" being the government, Mr. Chair ó how many?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The new social workers will come from three areas. Yes, there will be some reassignments. Yes, we will be hiring some with salary surpluses from across the department, and some will come from the initiatives for FASD, and this is via a Management Board submission that has yet to go forward, is yet to be approved, so until that occurs, Mr. Chair, I have to remain mute on it. But weíre looking at as many different areas as we can, weíre moving forward, and I can advise the members opposite that weíre making progress.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in looking at as many areas as they can, the minister is employing a typical initiative weíve seen from the government in muddying the waters and not directly addressing the specific recommendations of the Child Welfare League of Canada. Itís unfortunate that Yukon families are going to suffer and continue to suffer, as well as those who are providing Yukon with the very best of professional service and putting their hearts and souls into their jobs, making it extremely difficult for them to work.
The minister has said that there is an initiative on FASD. He also said that the Management Board submission has not gone forward yet. I would ask the minister, then, to provide an undertaking that, over the forthcoming time period, he will provide both opposition parties with a detailed breakdown of how much more money is being spent on programming for FASD ó a precise amount, please. Will the minister provide that amount once it has been confirmed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Once it has been confirmed, I will provide that information to the member opposite.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
When we last left debate, the minister had briefly spoken of the establishment of perhaps a social work office or a satellite office with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. He mentioned that in debate and compared it to the satellite office established by the RCMP.
Does he have any more details on that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: No.
Ms. Duncan: Is this an issue that is under discussion with Kwanlin Dun First Nation as part of a program service transfer agreement, or is it a one-of discussion with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís not under the PSTA.
Ms. Duncan: How many other First Nations are undertaking the same discussions with the minister?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: At the present time, two other First Nations, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Will he provide the names of those First Nations, please?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Not at this time, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: We are in the budget discussion. The minister is under discussions with three First Nations of the Yukon with respect to the establishment of satellite offices. Could he outline broadly what those satellite offices would offer? Are they strictly in social services? Is it family and children's services? Regarding what sort of a satellite office are we under discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís yet to be determined.
Ms. Duncan: Does he have a mandate for these negotiations or is he out on his own?
Does he have a mandate from Cabinet to approach these discussions, or are they simply within his portfolio?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member knows full well the mandate of this government, and the member knows full well the mandate that I have as minister responsible for Health and Social Services. The member opposite knows full well that our government is committed to a government-to-government relationship with First Nations, and weíre proceeding on that basis, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: This member of the House is also fully aware that the member opposite is dealing with public taxpayersí money. The Government of Canada has a fiduciary obligation for the health of Yukon First Nations people. The Government of Yukon, in his portfolio, has to be dealing with social services. Will the minister provide the information to the House as to what the broad parameters are of the negotiations with three First Nations with respect to the establishment of satellite offices? Will he provide the details? This is public money and should be public information.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I canít provide the details because the details havenít been worked out. When we have worked out some arrangement, Iíd be most happy ó in conjunction with the First Nations involved ó to make an announcement. Weíre working on a government-to-government basis with the First Nations on a number of initiatives. These are but one example and, when they come to fruition, I believe weíll jointly make an announcement in that regard.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, are there discussions with the Public Service Commission with respect to staffing these offices, or is the minister consulting on his own? Who would staff these satellite offices? Should staff who are listening to this be prepared to be reassigned to a satellite office? Is that what weíre talking about?
The minister has a responsibility ó this is public government; this is the publicís business ó to outline for the public precisely what heís talking about, including the public officials who work for us.
Would the minister advise whether or not he has undertaken discussions with the Public Service Commission about staffing such offices?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, to the best of my knowledge there isnít anything outside the bounds of our existing arrangements with our staff in the department that would have to be explored with the Public Service Commission and, should there be, we will do so.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the government can and the minister has the right to reassign staff and to tell them where their new office is located.
I would suggest that working with the staff and listening to them, even taking up a very constructive suggestion that he spend a day on the front lines working with his staff, would also be a good place to start. Itís unfortunate that that member persists in his "I know best" and will not accept constructive suggestions.
Would the minister outline what additional programming is in place for alcohol and drugs?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, before we leave this area of the leader of the third party asking me to spend some time on the front lines with the social workers, would the leader of the third party reflect back on her former ministers of Health, both of them, during her tenure ó one of whom quit on her or was fired, depending on which side of the equation you want to listen to, and another one served in the capacity of Minister of Health ó and on how much time these previous ministers of Health spent on the front lines with the social workers?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the focus is this minister; however, I would also be delighted to say that each and every minister in the government I led spent time in their departments and knew the staff, worked with the staff on a first-name, front-line basis and were more than prepared to do so and spend a good deal of time hearing from staff first-hand as well as from those outside of the Government of Yukon, the public. There was a great deal of time spent by both Health ministers in listening to what Yukoners had to say.
But the focus is this minister. Once again, I have not heard an answer, and weíre not leaving this area. Yukon families are in crisis. There have been suggestions outlined ó well-thought-out, well-received suggestions ó and no one is against additional programming in FASD, no one is against dealing with the Childrenís Act, but the first and foremost clear recommendation from the Child Welfare League of Canada was additional support for the social workers.
Now, what the minister has outlined is some kind of a plan where we will be borrowing from elsewhere in the department, either in funding or resources, so some other area is going to be suffering while we try to deal with the family and children's services. My concern is that the clear recommendation is not being followed, and that has been made clear. And the minister has no first-hand, front-line experience of what these individuals are going through and refuses to gain that information.
The minister also has said, just to back up to the Childrenís Act, that itís going to be reviewed this summer. It sounds like the Workersí Compensation Act where thereís some committee, yet to be named. We still donít have the terms of reference. Iím very concerned about this department, which is the largest expenditure of public money by the Government of Yukon.
I asked a specific question: is there more programming for alcohol and drug addictions? Is there more programming? Would the minister outline and answer that direct question?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the record, that information was provided to the leader of the third party once before, and for the record, I will provide it again.
Under the alcohol and drug services, currently, we have detox. Under the alcohol and drug secretariat that existed before, there was detox. Under the alcohol and drug services, we have outpatient counselling. Letís start at the beginning ó detox, outpatient counselling, in-patient counselling, community outreach and prevention and education. They are the same programs, the same service delivery model as the alcohol and drug secretariat.
We as a government have made a determination to do it a little bit differently. We have not set up another stovepipe of administration. I donít think the Premier is going to be firing any deputy ministers, like the previous Premier did. I donít believe any of the Cabinet ministers are going to get fired either, like the previous Premier did. We have taken seriously our responsibilities and are moving forward. We are looking at it from the peopleís standpoint, but it has to be a cost-effective service delivery model. We canít just go spending money for the sake of spending money. It has to be recognized that the money is going to produce results. We have embarked upon that, and we are making progress.
Ms. Duncan: The minister said the government was focusing on programs, not administration. What was the dollar increase in programming, then? The minister fired the director of alcohol and drug services ó the alcohol and drug secretariat ó because he wanted to end this stovepipe of administration. Whatís the increased dollar amount on programming, then?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Instead of paying someone to head up the alcohol and drug secretariat at the deputy minister pay range, that money has been directed to programs. It looks like weíre going to have about a $150,000 increase in programming as a consequence of redirecting this money, Mr. Chair, and itís primarily directed toward FASD initiatives.
Ms. Duncan: Where is the detox going to be located? There was some talk that it would be part of the Thomson Centre or Macaulay Lodge, and those plans have been declined gracefully in the court of public opinion. Where is detox going to be located?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Earlier this year, Iím sure the leader of the third party recalls all the problems that came about as a result of the ambulance constantly picking up the same individuals from downtown Whitehorse and taking them to the hospital, and the problems at the hospital with intoxicated people and the abuse that was coming out of that. As to where detox will be located, itís being looked at. The possibilities are quite wide open and far-ranging, and weíre hoping to come up with a program that will work cost-effectively.
I can assure the member opposite it wonít be in Copper Ridge though. Itís not going there, but weíre looking at a number of different models and a number of different ways of delivering medical detox.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member raised the issue with respect to the hospital. Why was there a cut to the Hospital Corporation equipment fund? It went from $400,000 to $300,000. Why was it cut by $100,000?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the member only has to reflect on the major capital undertaking that occurred last year and what the demands are on the system for this year, and she would see full well where the hospital is at. Under the new budget envelope of the $6-point-something million, approximately $2 million of that is earmarked to go to the Hospital Corporation overall. If the member opposite wants to single out the capital side of it and deal specifically with the capital side, the member opposite knows full well that the federal government has new initiatives for capital undertakings, specifically for equipment, and we have to dovetail our arrangements into the federal government programming so that we can take best advantage of what potentially could flow here to the Yukon for dollars for new equipment.
Ms. Duncan: The reduction was in order that they could spend the money elsewhere and use the federal money for the hospital.
Another major issue that has been raised at the hospital by a number of people ó and this issue was one that was raised with me ó is security. Of course, we have a very effective system in place, quite frankly, with respect to SARS in that individuals are screened when one is either working or going to visit at the hospital. One obtains a SARS card. There is a major issue with respect to not simply detox and intoxicated individuals but the extremely high intravenous drug use here in the Yukon and issues with respect to those individuals in emergency for nursing staff safety, doctor safety as well as safety for personnel in the hospital ó particularly, this has been raised with me by nurses.
Has the minister met with the Hospital Corporation Board and has this issue been discussed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the member oppositeís information, I have met on a couple of occasions with the Whitehorse hospital board of directors ó a full board meeting. The issue surrounding detox ó itís not just for those who are intoxicated; itís also for drug users. So it covers both, and the Hospital Corporation is a lead corporation in this area. To the best of my knowledge, they are addressing their responsibilities.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím raising this and will do so in a letter to the president of the Yukon Hospital Corporation, as well. Iím raising it on the floor publicly with the minister. Itís a very serious concern that has been raised with me by a number of nurses. The physicians have also publicly spoken about this, but itís particularly the nursing staff.
I understand the full nature of the responsibilities of detox. Their concern specifically is a high number of intravenous drug users and concerns for their personal safety while working at the hospital. Itís a major concern, and I hope the minister will address it when he receives my letter.
Mr. Chair, the issue with respect to medical staff in the territory ó are there any new initiatives planned for doctor and nurse recruiting over and above those initiatives put in place by the former government? Are there new initiatives planned under this government?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: With respect to the nurses and nurse practitioners, weíre into collective bargaining with these groups currently. This is part of the collective bargaining process. So, yes, it is being addressed. As to what the final outcome will be, Iím sure the announcement will be made by the bargaining unit at the same time as it is made by the government.
With respect to the doctors ó the YMA ó they are, of course, private practitioners. They are in a private business. They are more or less self-recruiting, with the exception of the rural communities, where government does play a role.
Ms. Duncan: Would the minister provide an update on the negotiations with the Dawson doctors?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I canít at this time, because there havenít been any negotiations.
Ms. Duncan: Have there been any negotiations or discussions since the new government took office?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There have been discussions. There have been no negotiations.
Ms. Duncan: Is there any significant movement as a result of the discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Not as yet.
Ms. Duncan: Just to be clear, I used the words "significant movement". Has there been any movement as a result of the discussions?
I know that the minister loves to answer questions fully and address those that were asked, so has there been any progress as a result of the discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I thank the member opposite for the question, and I confirm that there is always progress being made by this very capable government that was recently elected by the people of the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: When we turned the sod on the ground for the new Canadian Embassy in Germany, we were all presented with a shovel. Perhaps the minister would like to borrow it ó it would help him wade through the department, as this is quite an extensive one.
Can the minister advise if there are any health forums that are planned for the coming year or the coming discussion? There was a recent CFIB ó Canadian Federation of Independent Business ó survey released with respect to whether or not business people felt that they had enough input to health care and the health care discussions. I donít have the figures immediately in front of me, but does the Government of Yukon ó the minister in particular ó plan any discussions with the public in respect to health?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíll take the member up on her offer for a shovel to move the little bit around that I have to move, and in case it ever reoccurs for the member opposite and she is successful ó I donít think itís going to happen, but thereís a remote possibility ó I have a 966 loader that has about a four-yard bucket on it for her to move around what she has to move, Mr. Chair.
That said, letís deal with ó the primary health care transition fund will be doing consultation this year. The Whitehorse Hospital Corporation will probably be holding meetings outside of Whitehorse. I was at a meeting with them where the suggestion was made of going out to the rural communities for board meetings. This being the only acute care facility in the Yukon, it makes an abundant amount of sense to get some more profile and for the board members to have a full and complete understanding of what rural Yukon has to face with the provision of health care ó the acute side of it as well as the other areas ó and how we can best dovetail rural Yukoners in need of health care into the acute care system and the other programs here in Whitehorse, where the major centre is.
Mr. Chair, there are other initiatives that are being looked at. Weíre hopeful that weíll have something in place and going forward this summer. We are anticipating reviews of some other pieces of legislation that will necessitate public consultation and working with First Nations on a government-to-government basis for some of this legislation to go forward.
That said, as soon as decisions have been made, weíll provide the information to the members opposite.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, on Friday morning I had the opportunity of attending the Yukon Council on Ageing annual general meeting, and the minister was also there. The minister unfortunately didnít entertain any questions from the audience, and I have a couple that I would like to ask on their behalf.
First of all, the minister made an announcement that he received unsolicited proposals ó two of them and he believed a third one was coming forward ó with respect to construction of an independent-living type of facility here in Whitehorse. He made specific comment that units would be 640 square feet, in close proximity to facilities we all recognize, including grocery stores and recreational facilities, and there would be a common food service area. I was quite surprised at the level of detail. This was with respect to two unsolicited proposals, and the minister indicated a third would be on its way.
Would the minister tell us today whether or not he is prepared to put this proposal or this initiative out to public tender, or is he just going to accept these unsolicited proposals? He did indicate to the Yukon Council on Ageing that construction would be proceeding.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There would have to be a public tendering proposal that would have to go forward, as the member knows full well. In addition to that, consultation would have to take place if the government were going to entertain constructing a facility of this order of magnitude of cost. Also, land claim agreements require this government to enter into discussions with a number of First Nations in whose traditional territory this structure would be built.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, thatís certainly not the way it was portrayed at the Yukon Council on Ageing. It was very much that the government was interested in proceeding on this and that they had received two unsolicited proposals and a third was on its way.
The minister is committing publicly that this initiative would be tendered publicly, and heís nodding.
Can the minister advise when we might see this sort of a public tender? The audience was given to understand that this facility would be forthcoming and, as the minister pointed out, weíre all ageing, waiting for these "in due course" answers. Can the minister provide some kind of an idea when he anticipates a public tender? He must have given these people who have submitted unsolicited proposals some indication that it had to be publicly tendered. That being the case, when might they expect to see it publicly tendered?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the record, Iíll state that clear indication was given to the proponents who brought forward these proposals that there would have to be a government tendering procedure implemented. We could not sole-source something of this magnitude.
As to when this is going to be coming forward, stay tuned. Itís very much on the radar screen. If you will recall, Mr. Chair, Iíve stated time and time again that this is the number one priority for the seniors groups here in the capital city of Whitehorse ó that they have an apartment building constructed for them, assisted type of living facilities within an apartment of a respectable, decent size, not similar to the bedsits that the previous Liberal government was entertaining to reconstruct out of the Macaulay Lodge. These were totally unacceptable. In fact, I was inundated with requests from quite a number of seniors who were very much appalled that the government was going to proceed with renovating the Macaulay Lodge into bedsits. They didnít want to see that facility with the small rooms with a fold-up bed in them whatsoever. About the only part of Macaulay Lodge that they really saw as being beneficial was its location, because there was a great deal of concern about building a facility not centrally located with access to all of the facilities.
So those are two of the guidelines that our government has accepted. We will not be renovating Macaulay Lodge into bedsits. That is done. Macaulay Lodge will remain for the purpose it was reconstructed for, and it still has an effective envelope life, Iím told, of 10 years or so for level 1/level 2 care.
From there, our government will be proceeding in a manner that adheres to all of the rules and regulations to construct an apartment complex and have it available for the seniors here in Whitehorse. Those apartments will be of a respectable size.
The size was 600-plus square feet ó I believe that 640 or 660 square feet was the size of it. Further to that, our government is committed to examining a care facility in both Watson Lake and Dawson City. So, that is going to be taking place in the not-too-distant future. I am sure that the minister will be adhering to all of the proper procedures and all Management Board and Cabinet approval necessary on these initiatives.
Ms. Duncan: For the record, then, the minister has said that the government is working toward assisted-living accommodation in the Whitehorse area, for seniors, which we donít have at the moment. I donít need to dwell on or get into the issue of 640 versus 660 square feet. The minister seems to like to dwell on construction details.
Another question that was not asked, and there was no opportunity provided to individuals to ask, is: what progress has been made with respect to the good work that was done by the previous government on the guardianship legislation? Has that all been put on the shelf or is the minister anticipating moving forward on that work? Will we see guardianship legislation under this government?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The short answer is yes.
Ms. Duncan: There has been no communication, as I understand it, with the committee or the individuals who are working on this to date. Is the minister anticipating meeting with this group or reviewing the work that was done in the near future? Letís say, before the end of the year, will we see this legislation on the fall agenda?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the member oppositeís information, this has to go to Cabinet and has to be approved at that level.
Ms. Duncan: Iím quite well aware of that. I asked if we would see guardianship legislation, and the minister said, yes. So Cabinet hasnít given that approval yet, which is what he just said now. Pre-supposing it goes to CCL ó Cabinet Committee on Legislation ó this summer, is it possible we would see it on the fall agenda, or is it a year away, if the minister gets Cabinet approval?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Subject to the appropriate authority approving it in the various stages, it could very likely come forward for consideration by this House this fall.
Mr. Cardiff: I have a couple of questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services. I previously raised this issue with the Minister of Education and was looking for a commitment for public health to work in partnership with the Department of Education to ensure that vision screening in schools could take place. Iím sure if the Minister of Health and Social Services would like to see the figures I provided the Minister of Education, he could get those. If not, I can go back to my office and Iíll provide them. So, a commitment to work with the Department of Education on the issue of vision screening in public schools in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The vision screening is undertaken by the Department of Education, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister is right. The vision screening is done through the Department of Education. My understanding is that some of the training that is provided to the volunteer parents is done through public health, which is the ministerís responsibility.
All I am looking for is a commitment that the ministerís department will work in partnership with the Minister of Educationís department to ensure that vision screening can be done in all schools in the Yukon.
This is an important matter. They want to talk about reading, writing and arithmetic ó as I said earlier in the previous debate, if the students cannot read what is on the page in from of them, and if they canít read what is on the board, how do we expect students to be successful? This is a health issue.
So, all I am asking is for the minister to commit that he will instruct his department to work in cooperation and consultation ó these are the words that were used during the election ó with the other department. He is only sitting a matter of metres away; I am sure we can work something out.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, the training of these individuals who perform this screening is undertaken by the Whitehorse Health Centre. There is a great deal of cooperation between the Department of Health and the Department of Education. That has been a long-standing tradition and it will continue to be so, not just in sight, but in dental and quite a number of other areas.
There is a very good working relationship in place and I am sure that there are ways that we can build upon it and improve upon it. We will look carefully at these areas and examine them. If there are ways to improve them, we will be doing that, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cardiff: I hope the minister does that, and that students in all Yukon schools can look forward to vision screening. Iím sure the parents will be happy to know that so that their children can be successful in school as well.
This can come back as a legislative return.
Previously I raised an issue with the Minister of Community Services around the Physiotherapists Act and the regulations that go with it, and the answer I was given was that there was a health professionals act coming forward, an omnibus act the purpose of which, to my understanding, would be to cover all health care professionals under one piece of legislation. Iím not sure ó maybe the minister can provide some clarification and, if necessary, a legislative return.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, this is in the very preliminary stages with our government, and it would be an act that would cover all the health care providers who are not currently licensed or regulated in this jurisdiction, and there are quite a number of them. It is a concern. Itís something that, as we progress into ó well, as we leave the time in the Legislature and conclude this session, our officials will have more time to concentrate on the straight administration and these kinds of areas. But it is an area that has been looked at and will be looked at, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cardiff: I guess what I need is ó I mean, the reality here is there is a Physiotherapists Act in place, and there is a committee there, ready to go and do the work to develop the regulations that will set the standards for physiotherapists to do work in the territory.
If they have to wait for a year or two or three for some omnibus act that may or may not come through the Legislature, then theyíre operating with no regulations, and thatís not doing them a good service and itís not doing the public a good service. We canít have it both ways here. We need to get on with the Physiotherapists Act and regulations and, if the omnibus on health professionals comes later, then fine, but we need to move forward now so that physiotherapists have an act to work under and have regulations, and so that the people who are availing themselves of those services can be assured that the service provided is of a certain standard and a certain quality and that thereís some protection for those people.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I donít know what Iím doing debating this issue with the member opposite. I agree with the member opposite. This is a serious concern. But the previous Liberal government embarked on this government renewal process, and things like the doctors and their legislation, and things like the Physiotherapists Act and their legislation, which has been on the books for two years, went from Justice over to Community Services, and no one appeared to have the responsibility to undertake any of these reviews.
So itís like a lot of other areas that we as a government have inherited; weíre ending up having to fix it. I can assure the member opposite that it will be fixed, but this is under Community Services, and the member opposite should, in all fairness, be addressing these questions to the minister responsible for Community Services, whose jurisdiction has the responsibility in the area of the regulations and the legislation for these professions. Itís kind of weird, kind of different, but thatís the way the Liberals did it. Now weíve got to make it work.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, hopefully, the minister can make it work. Is it possible to get a legislative return about whatís going to be in the health professionals act, or at least some sort of an outline of what the legislation will consist of? With that, Iíd be done.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, Iíll commit to providing the member opposite with a letter listing all the health care professions that are now unregulated and that could be brought forward in an omnibus bill to provide overall control and regulation of this area. Iíll commit to a letter to that effect.
Mr. Fairclough: I have a few more questions in this department for the minister. Iíve asked a number of questions in Question Period. Many times I felt I didnít get satisfactory answers, but thatís nothing new, from one government to another, one party to another, from this side of the House. Weíve also started debating Health and Social Services awhile back now, and a number of questions that have been asked have not been answered.
I would like to start with this one and just clear it out of the way first, before I continue. Weíve had some complaints from the general public who live in and around the Copper Ridge facility about the noise thatís coming from the building. I believe itís a unit on top of the building thatís keeping them up at night.
Is the minister aware of this, and how can this be corrected?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is something that is brand new. I am not aware of it and I can assure the member opposite that people call me with all sorts of concerns, like the sirens on the ambulance tearing around town. I sometimes get calls in the wee hours of the morning from the outlying communities asking why the ambulance has to go out with the sirens blaring and itís the same thing with Whitehorse. But with respect to noise originating from the Copper Ridge facility, unless the member opposite was up there having one heck of a good party, I am not aware of any noise.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I wasnít up there having a good party. These are concerned citizens who live in and around this facility. All I am asking is for the minister to address it, and there are ways of doing it with equipment that does make noise and keeps people up.
Will the minister commit to looking into this matter and finding a way to reduce the noise that is coming from this piece of equipment? There are ways to do it with sound barriers and so on, and I donít think itís an expensive item. It certainly is one that will satisfy a lot of the residents nearby.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís interesting as to how many areas that we, as a government, are now being asked to fix.
Now, I take the member back to when the construction started on that facility. That was undertaken by an NDP administration. There was tremendous opposition to its location. In fact, there still is, and there are tremendous operational costs associated with its location that could have been avoided, had the previous NDP government put it in a location that was more central and more accessible. That would have avoided a lot of these problems.
But itís like the renewal of government under the Liberals and the location of these facilities and, Mr. Chair, itís about time that the NDP administration, which commenced a lot of these capital projects, looked in the mirror as to who is responsible for them going sideways.
We only have to look at the Thomson Centre. The Thomson Centre was commissioned by the NDP government and it was managed through the Yukon Housing Corporation. The building is just over 10 years old and weíre faced with structural deficiencies, mechanical problems and deficiencies that should have been totally avoided had due process been adhered to and followed ó and a building that was designed not just for its appearance but constructed from a practical standpoint.
Once again, we have the same thing with the Copper Ridge centre. It was conceived by an NDP government. Its location and its design are questionable from a practical standpoint. It has a lot of problems and, as a government, weíll make best efforts to see what we can do to resolve some of these problems, Mr. Chair, but itís something that has just been brought to my attention.
And Iíd encourage the member opposite to have a serious look at who designed the building and why it was put in the location that was chosen, because this was all done by the previous NDP government.
As to noise emanating from its mechanical system, thatís a design problem associated with a design that was commissioned by an NDP government and constructed, in part, by an NDP government.
So, right from the get-go, there are serious implications that a member of the official opposition is trying to hang on our government now, when these all originated with an NDP administration. It was seriously flawed but I guess the attitude was, "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead."
Itís a sad day for Yukon ó
Chair:Order please. Would the member please refrain from using vulgarities? The Chair is searching to say the word without actually saying the word.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This reflects back on the Chairís old navy days, Iím sure.
Chair: Yes, if the member could refrain from ó
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:If it pleases the House, Mr. Chair, I will withdraw my remarks and just make it abundantly clear that the NDP couldnít have done a worse job as far as the location of the Copper Ridge place. They might as well have put it out in Carmacks or Carcross or some other area, Mr. Chair.
The location is currently causing us no end of grief, currently. Itís in a residential area where mechanical noise originating probably from its heating and ventilation system is going to be a fact of life. Yes, if there is a serious problem there, Mr. Chair, weíll look at what steps we can take to mitigate that noise.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I asked a really simple question and got the minister all rattled. I hate to ask this next one, because I really donít want to hear the answers from the minister opposite, if itís going to work him up that much.
All Iím asking is for it to be dealt with. Thereís noise and itís coming forward. The general public is asking if this could possibly be fixed or avoided in some way. Itís done all the time, even with highways. Sound barriers are put up in many different places.
So, any building thatís built in a residential area, or any type of business, would have the same type of concern, and theyíre never ending. If the minister thinks that he can blame other governments all the time, thatís not going to happen, because a lot of decisions that come forward from this minister are his decisions alone.
The minister also failed to recognize the good things, and the extended care facility is a good thing. Location has been a concern for some people, but the building is there and the minister is in charge and it always needs improvements in some way. I would like to ask the minister if all of the renovations in the Copper Ridge facility are done and if itís complete. There was a wing that was left out, and the Liberal government went in and completed it ó or so they say, but Iím not sure. So Iím asking this question: is the building complete as to how it was designed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím advised that structurally itís complete.
Mr. Fairclough: I went over the finances with the member opposite, and the minister is still talking about this governmentís spending trajectory and how high itís going. We have additional $36 million plus coming into this department over the next three years, and this minister is not reducing the spending trajectory but is rather going to increase the spending in the department. That makes sense to me if the additional dollars are coming in. But why did the minister break the promise they had in their election campaign when they said that they would not reduce the present programming taking place in Education and Health and so on? We see cuts now. Is it just something that the minister overlooked, or did he not have his platform in front of him when he developed this budget? Whatís the reason? Are we going to see these different cuts in the department brought back up to the levels where they were before?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As far as programming is concerned, we have made best efforts to provide the same level of funding to NGOs as they were receiving previously. I can advise the member opposite that the uptake on quite a number of programs was not to the level that it had been previously, and some funds were lapsed. The budgeting process for this next fiscal was predicated on what we spent the last fiscal. We had a pretty good idea as to what the uptake on a lot of these initiatives was. We were just being fiscally prudent managers looking to control the spending trajectory while maintaining all the programs that were in place to the financial level that was required to maintain the programs to the level that they were originally designed for and being utilized for.
Mr. Fairclough: We will get into some of those again, as well as with the commitments that the Yukon Party gave to the general public during the election campaign. I would like a little clearer direction on some of these things before we get out of debate in Health and Social Services. Alcohol and drugs will be one of them. I know that there have been a lot of questions asked in that area, but I am still not satisfied with the type of answers we are getting.
The question was asked by the leader of the third party in regard to equipment and the reduction in the line item "equipment" to the hospital. Is that directly related to the new funding that the minister will be receiving from Ottawa for medical equipment ó thatís the $500,000 a year?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: All the member opposite has to look at is what the funding level has been historically for this initiative at the Whitehorse Hospital, and it has traditionally been $300,000, save and except for one year when the large piece of equipment was purchased. Under the Liberalsí watch, it was bumped up to $400,000, and we were aware that there was going to be new funding flowing from the feds for equipment purchased, so we saw an avenue to reallocate funds to other very needy initiatives and reduce the capital equipment acquisition, knowing full well that the feds would be coming to the plate with additional funding.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. The $500,000 over the next three years that this department will be receiving from the federal government ó what equipment is that for, or is that a decision the hospital makes?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís not just for the hospital, Mr. Chair; itís for all medical equipment across the Yukon. By and large, the determination is made by those in positions at the Whitehorse Hospital Corporation, in conjunction with the YMA. The YMA does make a lot of the decisions in this area for equipment at the Whitehorse Hospital. From there, the determination is made by the health care providers and the needs, and we look at what the cost-benefit analysis would be vis-à-vis people moving, or having to be flown out to Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary for specific treatments. The latest one that is being examined is a stress ECG piece of equipment and the training for the individuals who would operate it. Currently, stress ECGs are only performed in the major centres of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, so we have to move a lot of Yukoners back and forth for medical attention when they require this type of test. This is one type of program that is being examined as to whether it would fit into this envelope and whether it could be utilized, and whether there would be benefits accruing to Yukon for the acquisition of this type of equipment and the related training.
Mr. Fairclough: Maybe the minister can give us a little more detail of what kind of equipment weíre looking at. Are we looking at standardizing the equipment, for example, in the ambulances we have around the territory? I would also like ó well, answer that question first, and then Iíll ask the next one.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The memberís very correct. We are standardizing equipment. Defibrillators are being installed in the ambulances in smaller centres, and thatís taking place over the next little while. We have so much budgeted each year, and we can only purchase so many sets of defibrillators. They will be installed as we continue. That is one example, but the standardization of equipment across the board is an area that is being worked on, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Iíd like the minister to concentrate in that area. Itís a concern in rural Yukon. I was quite surprised in helping load a stretcher into an ambulance, which came from a different community, in the community of Carmacks, and theyíre switching the stretchers from one place to another, but it was incompatible to this particular vehicle so you couldnít lock it in. It is important to lock in the stretcher, so I would like the minister to give a little more detail as to exactly what weíre looking at with this money.
Also, thereís a lot of money coming to this department. I know the minister will say that itís earmarked for some specific areas, and I understand that. The $20 million, for example, was looking at transportation as one of the areas to be addressed. What other monies in this $36 million will be going toward improving the equipment that we have in the territory?
Just to repeat the question, Mr. Chair, what other monies in this $36 million, in addition to the $500,000, will be going to improving equipment throughout the territory?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The standard amount that is budgeted each year for the ambulance across the Yukon, the emergency measures services ó there is an amount in capital each year. There is usually the acquisition of one new ambulance each year, sometimes two. All of these are ongoing capital acquisitions and the lifecycle of an ambulance is such. So there is a constant upgrading of equipment across the Yukon.
There is constant training that is provided to the volunteers that is ongoing. In fact, I had occasion on Saturday to go and witness the competition for the emergency measures service people who were in Dawson for their training and their annual competition, and I participated in the final banquet.
I am sure the member opposite would be delighted to know who, for a second year in a row, was the winner of the competition. I am sure that when he gets on his feet he will be able to tell me because he is so involved and knowledgeable in this area.
Mr. Fairclough: Okay, Mr. Chair, maybe the minister can tell us, because I actually donít know, as, on Saturday, I attended a funeral service in the community of Carmacks for a very respected man in that community.
In regard to medical equipment, the Red Cross medical equipment loan service was certainly used by many people in Whitehorse and in the communities ó for example, wheelchairs, canes and walkers and so on. Now that has been closed down for several months because the ambulance service needed to use space. What is the government doing to ensure that the service will be available for patients needing medical equipment for the short-term use?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Deputy Chair, on the issue of the Red Cross, they were operating out of the basement of the ambulance facility over in Riverdale, adjacent to the hospital, and the determination that this wasnít an accessible location and didnít contain the appropriate facilities was made by the Red Cross. The Red Cross said they couldnít continue to operate out of there and they made the determination that they would like to have the government find them another area. What is being examined is the potential for the Red Cross to have access to a specific area in the Thomson Centre, but we all know what has happened with the Thomson Centre. This was another NDP initiative that has gone sideways, that weíre spending millions of dollars on to try and even get the roof to stop leaking, let alone address all the mechanical deficiencies contained therein.
So, we have a serious problem before we can get this building back up on-line, with costs of $1.4 million, and the clock is still ticking as to how much weíre going to end up spending.
Hopefully, for the Red Cross and their very capable services, their loaner services, the government will be able to contain them in the Thomson Centre when it is reopened. When, Mr. Deputy Chair? I cannot commit a date as to when this facility will be back on-line.
Mr. Fairclough: I thought the Yukon Party committed to improving decorum in this House. All I asked about was what government was doing to ensure this service is available to people, to patients. Is the government doing anything?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, we are undertaking to locate and provide additional space for the Red Cross that is acceptable to them in a location thatís readily accessible. The government has undertaken to store all their equipment at no charge for the Red Cross rather than have them ship it back to one of their central areas until they can find a new location here. It is very hopeful that the Department of Health and Social Services, either directly or through the Hospital Corporation, will be able to provide them with space in the not too distant future, hopefully when we get the Thomson Centre up and running.
There are other options being looked at, but they donít seem to be too suitable for this purpose, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Hopefully the minister can give us a better timeline than "the not too distant future". Weíve heard that being said time and time again ó or "in due course", whatever that means. It usually means itíll never happen, according to the Yukon Party.
If he can go back to his department, ask again and send that information over by legislative return, Iíll return that to those who have asked me to ask this question.
Iíd like to ask about hearing services and what services are available in communities. I know thereís a lot of interest, particularly with our seniors who arenít able to travel. Is there an increase in the number of patients who are being served in the communities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Just backing up to the previous question, Iíll provide the information to the member opposite in letter form, Mr. Chair, with respect to the Red Cross. If itís not in a manner thatís adequate in Hansard, if the member could let me know and Iíll commit to formalizing it in a letter for his constituents who raised the question with him.
With respects to the hearing issue, Mr. Chair, the hearing issue is ongoing. I can advise the member that there has been no change in how the department is providing this service. There have been price increases to recover the added costs of hearing devices. Itís price-sensitive. The marketís driving up the price, and these costs are being passed along. In addition to that, the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board has clinics that they hold throughout the Yukon. They contract those out to a firm. That is a private undertaking. Hearing Matters Incorporated has a travelling facility that goes out to the communities that is utilized by Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and other interested parties, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. That took care of my next question. Iíd just like to know how many times they make it out to the communities. Is it a couple of times a year, or are they seen more in communities than that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, this is a private firm. How frequently they travel ó we donít control their travel. Usually theyíre engaged by Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board to do hearing clinics and tests but, beyond that, Iíd encourage the member to contact this firm directly. It is a private undertaking, and that information could be obtained directly from them.
Mr. Fairclough: With regard to mental health services, patient admissions to the hospital are expected to rise around 20 percent. I am wondering if the minister can tell us why there is such a huge increase.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Could the member opposite provide the source of this information?
Mr. Fairclough: I believe it came right out of the stats in the budget. I know the member may not have the answers. If I could get them back by legislative return, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Could the member opposite be a little bit more helpful? Where in the budget book was this information contained? It is brand new information. I know that there is a new psychologist here in the Yukon. There might be a better diagnostic team approach, but other than that, I would like the member opposite to point out where this information comes from in the budget book.
Mr. Fairclough: I will attempt to find it for the member opposite. If he wonít put the energy and effort into that, I will do that and send it over to the member opposite. I do have a lot of questions in regard to that still.
One question in regard to mental health I would like to continue to ask before I get away from this: what mental health services are provided in the communities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department has a contract with Yukon Family Services Association and they have residents in Dawson City, Haines Junction and Watson Lake. They are contracted to serve the communities and to travel to the adjacent communities, with the exception of Faro and Ross River, which are served directly by the department, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Because of time restraints here ó thereís not much time to debate this department and there are so many areas Iíd like to go into ó Iíd like the minister to send over more information in regard to that.
I would like to know, though, if any special considerations are given to mental health issues with First Nation patients.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Iím not sure where the member opposite is going with this line of questioning and Iím very uncomfortable answering when we kind of just donít know where weíre heading. Itís not an area that the First Nations have pointed out to the department that theyíre requiring more assistance or help with. We work on a government-to-government basis with the First Nation member communities, which have the ability ó for those with settlements ó to draw down their powers under their final agreement.
So, in some cases, weíre there to assist; in some cases, weíre there to provide the services that are required, and in some cases, weíre working on joint initiatives, but Iíd very much like to know where the member is headed in his line of questioning. Whatís the overall crux of the questioning, Mr. Chair?
Mr. Fairclough: Iím just getting the information out of the member opposite. This certainly has been an area that this government has publicly announced ó about First Nations having a higher number in jail, there are problems with FASD, and itís all toward First Nations. I wanted to know whether or not this minister is putting additional attention toward this matter. Thatís all.
So Iíll move on. I would like to ask the minister ó maybe the minister would first like to comment on that.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, under the primary health care initiative, the conference in May, where the First Nations are going to be well-represented, Mr. Chair ó hopefully, if there are any initiatives like the member opposite has identified, these initiatives will come forward at that conference and will be addressed and weíll know full well what the department is being asked to do.
Mr. Fairclough: I would like to ask the minister whether or not he has a committee set up in the Department of Health and Social Services strictly to look at and do a red-tape review?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Not strictly to do a red-tape review, but weíre looking at efficiencies that can be obtained. Itís not a committee per se, Mr. Chair. Itís an across-the-department initiative. Probably, in all likelihood, it will end up being across government.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the minister explain ó he says not a committee but there is a commitment ó what it looks like? What can we tell people who would like to see red-tape reduction in this department? Whatís it going to look like, tell us the structure, timelines, perhaps, of reviewing these policies. The minister has in his department regulations and the legislation.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, as I indicated to the member opposite, the department is hosting a primary health care initiative and a conference will take place in May. All stakeholder groups have been invited to attend. There are probably in excess of 100 who will be in attendance at this conference. Now, this is an initiative ó and itís a very good initiative ó where we can jointly examine how we can better deliver health care here in the Yukon, whether it be health care for First Nations or health care for the general population.
I am hoping that the outcome of this will be a focus as to how to streamline some of the administration functions, how to best dovetail the programs together so that weíre not setting up these stovepipes of administration but are concentrating on the delivery of programs. Thatís where we have to go.
There is only so much money in the Health envelope and everyone in the opposition ranks tout these grandiose numbers of $36 million, yet, they havenít put beside this money for how many years these funds will flow.
Furthermore, they havenít identified what the federal government is requiring of our level of government on where this funding is to go and ends up doing. There are a whole series of undertakings here that the official opposition and the third party are touting these grandiose numbers. Yet, when it comes down to the day-to-day business of government, they are not dovetailing that level of funding into the annual amounts that we will receive, and they are not recognizing the spending trajectory that has occurred over the past seven fiscal cycles that Iíve been here ó which has been $7 million to $10 million a year. That is the minimum amount of money that this government will need just to keep its head above water. That goes to the Whitehorse Hospital for medevac services, for out-of-territory doctor and health care costs in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, and the drug formulary. When a new drug is approved, the impact can be tremendous on this government, cost-wise, Mr. Chair.
All of these have to be recognized and addressed in the budget envelope, and itís a task that weíre doing.
Getting back to the memberís last question about the primary health care initiative, the conference this May, at which approximately 100 stakeholders will be in attendance, is the first and probably the best opportunity for the member to even have some input into the process through the various stakeholder groups that I know heíll be talking to on this very worthwhile undertaking that our government has put together.
Mr. Fairclough: Before I move progress here, Iíd just like to say that the minister is inaccurate in what he just said. We even talked about medical equipment as part of the $36 million. We said it was over three years, and this is still a sore point with the member opposite because there is so much money that the minister doesnít know what to do with it and how to spend it properly and focus it.
Mr. Chair, given the time and the fact that weíre bringing witnesses forward, I move that you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Fairclough that the Committee report progress on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2, the Committee will now receive witnesses from the Yukon Development Corporation. In order to allow the witnesses to take their place in the Chamber, the Committee will now recess briefly and reconvene at 4 p.m.
Chair: I now call the Committee of the Whole to order. Pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2, passed April 24, 2003, the Committee welcomes Lorne Austring, chair of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Duncan Sinclair, chief executive officer of the Yukon Development Corporation, to discuss matters related to the Yukon Development Corporation.
Mr. Lang, I believe youíll introduce the witnesses.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2, passed April 24, 2003, Iíd like to welcome to this House Lorne Austring, chair of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Duncan Sinclair, CEO of Yukon Development Corporation. They are here today to appear as witnesses before the Committee of the Whole.
Yukon Development Corporation has made a significant advance in the past year, particularly in the area of energy efficiency. As my colleagues may or may not be aware, the Yukon received an A from the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance on its fourth national report card on energy efficiency. This grade improved from an A-minus last year.
The executive director, Peter Love, from the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance, is quoted in a press release as saying: "The Government of Yukon is to be commended for its unwavering commitment to energy efficiency and to developing alternative energy sources for a greener environment." As well, Mr. Love stated, "This jurisdiction is a role model for what governments across the country can achieve." This prize was a centrepiece of Time magazine. This is something that, as Yukoners, we can all be proud of.
The Aishihik water licence was renewed for a period of 17 years. This was a long process with a lot of effort by many, which should be recognized.
Mr. Chair, I am also pleased with the enthusiasm and the expertise that Mr. Austring has applied to this role as the chair of Yukon Development Corporation.
As the minister responsible for Yukon Development Corporation, I recognize that there are many challenges facing the organization, including items such as the timely completion of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line. We are actively working on a solution to these challenges, and I am optimistic that there will be a solution forthcoming.
I would hope that the House will be constructive with its questions and comments for the representatives from Yukon Development Corporation today. There will be some opening remarks from the chair of Yukon Development Corporation and, following those remarks, Mr. Austring and Mr. Sinclair will entertain questions directly through the Chair.
Mr. Austring: Iíd like to thank the Assembly today for inviting me here in my capacity as chair of the Yukon Development Corporation. Joining me today is Mr. Duncan Sinclair, the chief executive officer of the Yukon Development Corporation.
Before we open remarks, Iíd like to provide information to the Assembly on four basic topics ó first, how the corporation and its subsidiaries are structured and what we do at Yukon Development Corporation; second, why we matter; third, how weíre doing ó in other words, what is our corporate performance; and fourth, what are the challenges and opportunities that face us.
My first point on what we do and how weíre structured: our mission and our mandate are set out in our enabling legislation ó to provide a continuing and adequate supply of energy in the Yukon in a manner that is consistent with sustainable development. Our vision is to set the northern standard for sustainable and competitive energy supply in innovation. Giving effect to that mandate, the corporation serves the goals and priorities of its owner, the Yukon government.
Yukon Development Corporation is set up to be a self-financing entity and to operate with sound business practices. A board of directors oversees the management and operation of the corporation through its management team. As the chair, I report to the minister responsible. We are governed in accordance with relevant legislation and written protocols issued by the government.
Yukon Development Corporation is the sole shareholder of the Yukon Energy Corporation, which in turn is a regulated public utility that operates at armís length from government. Yukon Energy has its own board of directors, of which Iím also the chair, and we oversee the management and the operation of the utility. Yukon Energy is accountable to the Yukon Utilities Board for key aspects of its operations. Itís also accountable to its shareholder, the Yukon Development Corporation, which, as I explained earlier, is accountable to the minister and ultimately to the House.
Another wholly owned subsidiary, Energy Solutions Centre, is a vehicle used by the corporation as a program delivery vehicle.
We have four main business activities at Yukon Development Corporation.
First is the area of corporate leadership. This includes board governance, long-term rate stabilization, environmental stewardship in the energy industry, and First Nations relations.
Second, energy-sector development. This includes electricity and related energy infrastructure planning and development, small-scale renewable energy in green power supply projects, particularly hydro, wind and geothermal.
Third, enabling customers to reduce energy costs through conservation and renewable energy alternatives. This includes programs like new technologies including smart buildings and market development initiatives.
Finally, through the corporate vehicles of our wholly-owned subsidiaries, Yukon Energy and the Energy Solution Centre, we work to ensure a reliable, cost-effective and sustainable energy and electric supply.
The second major point I would like to address today ó and I think itís important that we do this to keep in mind the big picture ó is, why do we matter?
I think itís significant that the first command ever recorded ó indeed, the first words ever spoken ó were "Let there be light." All these years later, we, at the Yukon Development family of corporations, are still working to fulfill that mandate. Perversely, I almost wish for a power failure at this point in time ó that the lights would go off and the microphones would go dead ó because that single act would show us how important the work that we do is. It would be more important than 1,000 words from me describing the effects of a power outage.
In fairness, I will spare you the power failure and I will spare you the 1,000 words. Itís enough to say that, in a modern First World economy, the loss of electrical power is absolutely paralyzing.
The third major point is: how are we doing?
To guide how the corporation measures performance, the board has put a corporate plan in place. Consistent with a sustainable-development approach, we have also adapted an integrated performance system known by leading companies in the energy industry as the triple bottom line. It focuses on issues such as energy, the economy and the environment. The board has established quantifiable targets in the majority of cases for the period of 2002 to 2006. Each year, specific performance targets are set and progress in the prior year is reviewed to identify areas for improvement.
Important recent developments that the corporation has been involved in ó as already mentioned by the minister ó include the obtaining of a renewed water licence for the Aishihik Lake hydro plant for a 17-year term.
In addition, the Yukon Utilities Board granted our application for a rate reduction of 3.81 percent in reduction to Rider J. Next, the corporations have completed in one case, and are near to completion in another, comprehensive manuals to orientate new directors to the operations of the corporations. Other concrete initiatives that contribute to our results include some of the following: the community wind resource assessment program, the small hydro resource assessment program, the appliance exchange program, the wood energy appliance burning practices and installation training program, house calls energy efficiency program, and there are others including, as mentioned again by the minister, the Mayo-to-Dawson City transmission line project.
This project is the largest single capital project ever undertaken by the corporation. The economics of the project remain positive and will be good for the Yukon ratepayer, especially so with fluctuating diesel fuel prices. The project will be a major step forward in the development of the Yukonís electrical infrastructure. Other benefits from the project include business opportunities for First Nations and other local businesses and local hire and, last but not least, the project is good for the environment, as we replace diesel-generated electricity with surplus hydro power.
As members know, and as has already been alluded to, the project is not yet completed, but it is coming near completion. Technical problems have arisen, but theyíre not unsolvable; however, they have resulted in some delays. The board of directors, together with the boardís technical advisor, are monitoring the situation very closely and remain confident of a satisfactory outcome.
I expect questions later from the members here today concerning the project, and I will be as forthcoming as I possibly can be in answering them, within the legal and contractual context that Yukon Energy Corporation is operating under.
Those are just a few of the things that the corporation has done to advance its program.
Now, the corporationís efforts are not just recognized internally but, as mentioned again by the minister, there has been some external third party recognition for both the corporations and some of its individual members. I wonít list them all, because itís actually quite a long list, but Iíll just highlight a few of them.
In October of 2001, Mr. John Maissan, the senior engineer with Yukon Energy, was awarded the R.J. Templin Award from the Canadian Wind Energy Association for pioneering efforts to adapt, install and operate wind turbines in subarctic conditions. I might add that there is going to be a wind energy conference here in the Yukon in May. If anyone is interested in that, weíll certainly make materials available to you. But it goes to show the leading role the Yukon is taking in some of these things.
In 2002 and 2003, the Yukon Development Corporation earned gold medal status among only 100 or so companies in Canada for its greenhouse gas emission reduction action plan, which is filed with the national voluntary climate change registry.
The Yukon Conservation Society, Yukon Energy and Yukon Development Corporation were awarded the 2003 national energy efficiency awards for outreach for the community-based house call programs last month.
As I said, there is a long list of other awards, and I think itís important to give recognition to that and the good work thatís being done here. There is much good news.
These achievements have been built on a foundation of partnership with others, such as Yukon Housing Corporation, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, private businesses and non-profit organizations, and the federal government. Yukon Development Corporation has done an excellent job in leveraging financial and technical resources and developing homegrown solutions to become a recognized leader in northern energy efficiency and renewable energy alternatives.
The recognition that the corporation has received is also an acknowledgement of what a relatively small corporation can do with the political will and the help of others and the dedication.
Finally, Iíd like to address some of the challenges and the opportunities facing the corporations. These include the ongoing issue of closing the gap between electrical rates and consumer bills, using investments, infrastructure and innovation.
Iíve only started to review the files in this matter. I can see it has been before the governments in various forums for many, many years, and I donít purport to yet have a full understanding of the ins and outs of it, but itís enough to see the amount of money involved ó indeed many millions of dollars ó to know that itís an important issue and needs to be dealt with.
On the second point, in the last two years weíre all aware of the tremendous attention paid to issues of corporate governance because of many unfortunate corporate scandals and business failures. The legal standards relating to corporate governance and board management have gone up a tremendous amount in the last few years in the publicís expectations and lessen tolerance accordingly. Our small family of corporations is not immune from some of those trends, and nor should we be. As chair, I see it as one of my prime responsibilities to lead my fellow board members in ongoing development to deal with these issues.
A third challenge deals with planning energy infrastructure for a secure and self-sufficient energy supply to communities, businesses and industry in all regions of the territory.
Next, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power generation and energy consumption: designing and implementing energy-saving solutions appropriate to our northern climate for all sectors, thereby lowering the cost of living and doing business in the Yukon.
Finally, contributing to Yukonís future development through renewable resource assessment and environmental stewardship.
In closing, Mr. Chair, and on a personal note, Iíd like to say thanks to you for the opportunity to appear here today and for the opportunity to serve as chair of the corporations. Getting to know the business has been a very, very steep learning curve, but it has been very rewarding. I can report to this Committee that, from what Iíve seen thus far, you have a very good group of dedicated, hard-working people working in these corporations for the benefit of the people of the Yukon.
I look forward now to addressing your questions. If I donít have the answers to all of them, weíll certainly provide follow-up information to you.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Iíd also like to welcome the officials to the Yukon Legislature.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. McRobb:Iíd like to ask all members to join me in welcoming someone else with experience in the energy field in the territory, a well-known, long-time intervenor in energy rate hearings and so on, and someone who is recently retired after serving out their time and working for the Yukon government. Please join me in welcoming Peter Percival to the gallery.
Mr. McRobb: I would like to begin by noting the remarkable achievements earned by the corporation and its employees. The chair alluded to some of them and, as he mentioned, there are many more. It really is remarkable and impressive to see the good work being done by the Yukon Energy Corporation and its subsidiaries.
I wish them all the success in the upcoming Yukon international wind conference mentioned by the chair. This event will be held in Whitehorse from May 25 to 28. I look forward to receiving some of the materials the chair has offered.
Time permitting, I hope to return to this area of wind energy later on.
Since this is the first appearance in the Legislature for the corporation in about one and a half years, thereís no shortage of questions that need to be asked today. I expect to continue through to about 5:30 this afternoon, at which time the leader of the third party will take her turn.
Because time is short, we respectfully request the officials to maintain the established practice in this Legislature and keep their answers as succinct as possible to allow the expeditious passage of the proceedings.
In most cases, a written reply is perfectly acceptable, and I invite the officials to indicate whenever that is how they would prefer to respond.
My questions today are structured within 10 topic areas. I donít expect there will be enough time this afternoon to review each one of them. I would like to submit the unattended balance in writing. Would the officials undertake to respond to those in writing?
Mr. Austring: Yes, as indicated earlier, any questions that we canít answer today, we will undertake to respond to in writing after the fact.
Mr. McRobb: That is appreciated, Mr. Chair.
I wish to thank the officials for the material they did provide, as requested at our briefing on April 10. I have been able to review some of the material. Of most benefit was the special report on energy efficiency initiatives of the Yukon government, prepared by the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance. I think it was done by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, dated August 2002. Yukon Development Corporationís corporate plan 2002 to 2006, published in October 2002 was also helpful. Of course, the letter dated April 22, in response to our questions was helpful, especially in the area of their explanation of retained earnings.
However, there was some information requested that was not provided. First of all, we requested a copy of the prepared opening statement in advance, that the chair read earlier.
In the letter reply, the officials did indicate a reason for not providing it, but this was also a request made to the Yukon Party government.
In the spirit of this government living up to its commitment to promote consensus building, collaboration and compromise, rather than confrontation in government, it was disappointing to see the opening statement was still not provided, not even this afternoon before 4:00 p.m. The reason we did request it was to avoid duplication and to promote more efficient discussion.
The second item was the annual breakdown of power generation by plant, along with forecasted numbers for the next few years ó that was not provided. The third thing was an update on the flex-term note, specifically the repayment clause dependent upon the amount of power generated. I expected to receive some numbers and dollar figures, along with an explanation on that.
The fourth thing was the identification of rate drivers. I want to thank them for the explanation provided; however, I believe the request was for a simple list of things that currently are rate drivers, as opposed to things that can be rate drivers. Finally, the fifth item was on the Mayo-to-Dawson transmission line. Only a brief overview was provided. We requested information including the expected opening date, financial accounting, total cost, amount of the cost overruns, et cetera. The information provided was far less detailed than what was disclosed in a newspaper article from early February, and that was rather disappointing.
I guess Iíd like to round out this area by asking officials if they could provide a written response to those items for us.
Mr. Austring: Concerning the first issue of the failure to provide a copy of my written statement in advance, I wrote the statement myself and I only just completed it. I know we discussed it at our last meeting with Mr. McRobb and I apologize. I intended no discourtesy, Mr. Chair. Iíll try to move along faster in the future, subject to any existing protocols, and do a better job next time.
On some of the other matters you have raised, it may be that in the meeting we had with Mr. McRobb and others ó when we responded in the letter, we did ask if there was anything we had missed, and if they let us know we would provide follow up. Again, he has let us know at this date and now we have the benefit of better notes, including Hansard, and we will provide information on some of these matters as weíre able to.
The flex note ó I think that shouldnít be a problem. Identification of rate drivers ó that should not be a problem. The one that is of concern, and will perhaps be brought up many times yet today, is the Mayo-Dawson transmission line. There are some restrictions there in terms of where weíre at and what weíre doing. Itís part of a contract we have with a major contractor. With that contract, of course, and in contracts of this nature there are confidentiality clauses and such, and itís still a work in progress to some extent.
Iím not trying to be coy here but, before I provide the information that has been asked for, I will seek advice of the corporationís legal counsel to make sure that weíre on side in that regard. And that will be a restraining factor in any written reply that I do give.
Apart from that, Mr. Chair, the matters have been noted ,and we will look at the transcript of the discussion here today and provide as much information as we possibly can.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the officials for agreeing to that undertaking. That concludes the first of the 10 parts I have prepared. That was on the opening.
Iíd like to turn now to the second part on governance. Can the officials identify for us which entities are up for discussion this afternoon?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, Yukon Development Corporation is up for discussion this afternoon. Itís a close corporate family. I know theyíre working and have made major strides to keep Yukon Energy Corporation at armís length. Itís hard to talk about the one and not talk about the other, because there are overlaps in programs and such. So, yes, weíre talking about Yukon Development Corporation, and weíre talking about Yukon Energy to the extent necessary. Again, Iím trying to strike a balance here between providing useful and timely information on the one hand and on the other hand not breach any confidences of Yukon Energy Corporation. I may have to deal with that on a case-by-case basis, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, which of those entities reports to the minister?
Mr. Austring: Yukon Development Corporation reports to the minister. All my meetings with the minister are done in my capacity as chair of Yukon Development Corporation.
Mr. McRobb: Which statutes is this in accordance with?
Mr. Austring: The Yukon Development Corporation Act.
Mr. McRobb: So then the minister responsible for Yukon Development Corporation is responsible to the Legislature for the Yukon Development Corporation, which in turn houses the Yukon Energy Corporation and the other subsidiaries; would that be correct?
Mr. Austring: Yes, Yukon Development Corporation is the only shareholder of Yukon Energy Corporation and the Energy Solution Centre.
Mr. McRobb: Do representatives of those entities meet with the minister?
Mr. Austring: Generally, no. Iím trying to think of an example of the many meetings weíve had with the ministers. I canít think of an example. I stand to be corrected on that but, generally, no.
Mr. McRobb: How often do officials meet with the minister?
Mr. Austring: As we know, there has been a change in government, so I donít know if there is any set pattern for it. At least quarterly Iíve written to the ministers and provided them with quarterly reports and made an opportunity to follow up. With the current minister, I believe weíve met two or three times. In addition, he has been invited to one YDC board meeting to meet the other board members and such. Itís at least quarterly.
Mr. McRobb: Do officials from YEC meet with the minister?
Mr. Austring: I believe I answered that question earlier. Generally, no. I canít think of a case where that has happened.
Mr. McRobb: All right. How many meetings have occurred between officials from YDC and the new minister?
Mr. Austring: We could provide exact details of that, but there have been at least three.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Have there been other ways in which officials have discussed matters with the new minister, other than meeting with him?
Mr. Austring: Sorry, Mr. Chair, I will have to ask for that question to be repeated.
Regarding the previous question, we will provide confirmation of the number of meetings we have had with the minister. I am sorry.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís fine, Mr. Chair.
Have there been other ways in which officials from the corporation have discussed matters with the new minister, for instance, by the telephone, or whatever? Are there other ways?
Mr. Austring: All those other ways are available, but in my capacity as chair, I have met with the minister on two or three occasions.
I am not quite sure that I have answered the question.
Mr. McRobb: I am asking if there are other ways in which officials can discuss matters with the minister, other than meeting in person with the minister.
Mr. Austring: Well, correspondence is the most likely thing. If Iím not mistaken, Iíve written to the current or previous minister on at least one issue that he had raised with me, and I just responded in writing.
The short answer is yes, we can meet using any method we want. Thus far, it has almost all been in person.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Has there been any formal conveyance of direction via order-in-council?
Mr. Austring: No, there have been no new orders-in-council since I became chair.
Mr. McRobb: Has there been any reinforcement of direction or interpretation of direction from an established OIC by the minister?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, we have had one meeting at length with the minister where we, in a sense, were briefing him on Yukon Development Corporation and governance issues and such, and going over established protocols and that type of thing. It was just an information meeting, nothing more than that.
Mr. McRobb: From the chairís answer, it sounds like the meeting was a one-way type of meeting where information was passed to the minister. So would the answer to my question then be no? Once again, I asked if there had been any reinforcement of direction or interpretation of direction from an established OIC.
Mr. Austring: Not to my knowledge, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Has there been any formal conveyance? We already talked about the OIC, but have there been any situations in the context of these questions involving someone else in the current government other than the minister?
Mr. Austring: Not to my knowledge, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: All right. In October of 2002, YDC published its new five-year corporate plan. Is this plan supported by the current Yukon government?
Mr. Austring: My view is that itís supported until the government directs us to change it.
Mr. McRobb: And I assume from the answers to the previous questions that there has been no direction in that regard. Therefore, in the absence of direction, we can assume the present government supports the plan. Would that be correct?
Mr. Sinclair: If I may, just to add to the point made earlier by the chair of our board, the governmentís goals and priorities have been conveyed to the corporation in the context of priority setting, and the corporate plan, which was shared with members, under the date of October of 2002, is of course a living document, and it makes the point on page 15 that, with new priorities and direction, or refreshment of direction, given by government or conveyed in an appropriate manner, that is taken account of. So, as you heard earlier, the minister spoke to the importance of energy efficiency, and that is something weíre placing a lot of emphasis on. It is not an entirely new thing, in that sense, but renewed vigour is being applied.
Thatís an example of something where emphasis is placed. The corporation doesnít need order-in-council direction in order to take notice of its ultimate shareholdersí goals and objectives.
Another example of that would be energy infrastructure planning and development, which has been spoken about in this House in speeches from the throne and in speeches by ministers, including the minister responsible for Yukon Development Corporation. We obviously take notice of those things. We donít necessarily set out to reprint the document within minutes of that happening. Itís an annual planning process and, as indicated in the corporate plan, we take account of those interests.
Mr. McRobb: Moving right along to the third part, on accountability, to whom, besides the minister, are YDC and its subsidiaries accountable?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, the subsidiaries, Yukon Energy Corporation and Energy Solutions Centre, each have their own board of directors, and they are ultimately accountable to the shareholder, Yukon Development Corporation. Yukon Development Corporation, in turn, as alluded to in the opening comments, is responsible and reports to the minister and, ultimately, to this House. In addition, I should add that Yukon Energy Corporation has a special accountability role to the Yukon Utilities Board.
Mr. McRobb: If I may just add to that, of course the Yukon Territory Water Board for water licences.
The activities of the corporation used to be tracked by the Yukon government through the position of a utilities analyst, which was located within the energy branch of Energy, Mines and Resources. Can the officials indicate which position, if any, currently provides that service to YTG?
Mr. Austring: I understand there is a policy group within Energy, Mines and Resources, but if I understood the question correctly, Mr. Chair, the reporting, as I explained earlier, comes through the board and ultimately through me as the chair to the minister.
Mr. McRobb: Yes. I wish the officials to ensure their comments are on the record. What happens, Mr. Chair, is that they conclude their remarks, and then you introduce me and their microphones arenít able to pick up the last part of their answers. Maybe we could just attend to that matter.
My question pertained to how the corporation is tracked within the Yukon government by someone a little more independent than a representative of the corporation itself. There used to be a position in the energy branch that did that. It was called the utilities analyst and provided independent advice to governments. Sometimes the advice was contrary to what the corporation would provide. So in the chairís response, Mr. Chair, he indicated someone in the corporation provides that advice. I think the chair now realizes that my question was a bit different from that. Iíd like to return to my question. Is there anyone in the government who tracks the corporation and might provide that type of information to the Yukon government?
Mr. Sinclair: I could speak generally. The chair made reference to the energy policy group, which is located within the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. The specific job titles, so far as Iím aware currently, donít include the word "utilities" but their job, as I understand it, is to speak to the broad public interests that the Yukon government represents in the area of energy. That obviously includes some interest in electrical utilities, which is obviously not exclusive to Yukon Energy. One of our subsidiaries ó there is another utility in the Yukon. But the broad functions of policy and, if you will, independent challenge for things that the corporation is doing reside in the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Mr. McRobb: All right. My view is that the current position is, in effect, a watered down version of what existed before.
The officials mentioned that the entity to which Yukon Energy Corporation is accountable to for power rates is the Yukon Utilities Board, or YUB. Would the officials agree that certain processes under this regulator provide opportunities to customers and members of the public who are registered as intervenors, to examine in detail the operations and the policies of the Energy Corporation?
Mr. Austring: I am not sure that I would agree or disagree at this point. The act says what it says. I looked at it and it seemed to have fairly broad powers on the part of the board.
Mr. McRobb: Excuse me, Mr. Chair. How long did the chair of Yukon Development Corporation say he has been in his position?
Mr. Austring: I have been here for about a year now, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Thank you for that.
The name of the process that provides complete opportunity for such examination by registered intervenors is called a general rate application, or GRA. Would the officials agree to that?
Mr. Austring: That is my understanding. We havenít had, during the year that Iíve been chair, the occasion to go through a general rate application, so it hasnít been a priority for us to deal with that issue at this point in time.
Mr. McRobb: That certainly is correct, Mr. Chair.
Can the officials tell us how long ago was the last GRA?
Mr. Austring: I understand that it was seven years ago.
Mr. McRobb: That would be correct, Mr. Chair. March 1996 is when it was held.
It was standard practice to hold GRAs every two years.
When is the next GRA envisioned to occur?
Mr. Austring: The matter has come up in more recent discussion, Mr. Chair, but no decision has been made.
Mr. McRobb: I note that the budget for the Department of Justice, which houses the Yukon Utilities Board within the Yukon government, recently included funds for a GRA that never occurred. Do officials know why one was planned for but later decided against?
Mr. Austring: No, Mr. Chair, I donít know why the Department of Justice would have had that line in their budget.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Have there been any discussions on the topic of GRA timing with the current government?
Mr. Austring: Not to my knowledge. Thereís some internal discussion about GRAs, but thatís always in play to some extent, but not to my knowledge with the government.
Mr. McRobb: So, then, is it safe to assume that the current government has not given any indication that it would like to see a GRA in the near future? Is that correct?
Mr. Austring: Iíve not had any discussions with the minister about GRAs. Internally, itís a matter under review from time to time, but no decision has been made.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair. My question was a little broader than just discussions between the chair and the minister. If, in fact, there were instances of a broader nature, I invite the officials to indicate that.
The issue of whether to hold a GRA has been argued from both sides ó from the corporate utility side to the intervenor consumer side ó for several years. On the corporate side, the argument is something like: why should we have such an exhausting process for which the ratepayers must pay? On the other side, the argument is something like: usually the cost of the hearings is lower than the costs that are disallowed by the regulator; therefore, the hearings might even save money.
They also argue that these are important opportunities to scrutinize the operations and policies of the corporation, which could save even more money down the road. As a former intervenor, Mr. Chair, I certainly favour the latter argument.
One way to cut through the smokescreen, Mr. Chair, is to look at the figures that might show the costs of the GRAs and the costs that were disallowed. I would like to ask the officials if they could provide, in writing, a schedule that shows the revenue requirement applied for, versus the revenue requirement approved by the regulator for the past few GRAs. Would they do that?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, weíll look at whatever is publicly available and provide it.
Mr. McRobb: Iím sure the figures are publicly available, and I would hope the officials would glean them out and not send over a number of binders for me to sort through. Because, make no mistake about it, Mr. Chair, weíre talking dozens of binders in this case.
Weíre moving right along to the fourth part, on energy policy. I would like to put some information on the record and invite the officials, if they have any comments, to respond if they wish.
A major energy policy initiative was undertaken by the Yukon government about five years ago. The process for this initiative included extensive consultation with energy stakeholders and the development of several energy-related documents, ranging from supply options to energy efficiency and power rates.
Papers were also produced to report on what was said in the consultation workshops and public surveys.
I noted that the work of the Cabinet Commission on Energy has not been forgotten. In fact, it was referred to in the corporationís letter of April 22. Its final recommendation report, entitled "Towards a Comprehensive Energy Policy for the Yukon", September, 1998, contained 56 recommendations. By the way, Mr. Chair, this was the territoryís first comprehensive energy policy.
These recommendations were well-received by the public and by the opposition of the day, I might add, Mr. Chair. Even the current Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources recently endorsed it as still being the energy policy of the current government.
Shortly after the report was released, a companion document followed. The implementation report identified timelines and the responsibilities of associated government departments and entities toward implementing the report. Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation were identified as lead entities on several of those recommendations while they were also identified as contributing entities in the implementation of other recommendations.
Can the officials provide for us, in writing, an update on the status of all such undertakings that it was and still is involved with in the context of that implementation report?
Mr. Austring: Yes, we can do that.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís fine, Mr. Chair. I thank the officials for that.
One of the recommendations, no. 50, encouraged further streamlining of the regulatory process, including extending the periods between GRAs from two years to what I recall was five years. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Chair, weíre now at seven years and counting with no GRA in sight.
Can the officials indicate whether the Yukon government has provided any direction, either formal or otherwise, that might help explain why the period has been extended beyond the recommendations of the commission?
Mr. Austring: I think the fact that there hasnít been a GRA in this many years is a sign of the good, tight management the corporations have done. They are not undertaken lightly. As referred to by the member, theyíre extremely time consuming and very expensive. The matter comes up for consideration now and then and, when the corporation feels we need to go for a GRA, we will go for a GRA.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the chair for his point of view on why the corporation doesnít look favourably at GRAs. Mr. Chair, itís to be expected that it has traditionally been the corporate view. I can accept that. I have no problems understanding that.
Perhaps, as the chair experiences a general rate application, if one in fact does occur during his term as chair, being as fair minded as he is, he might also appreciate the arguments on the other side.
As a trade-off for conceding less frequent GRAs to the utilities, was the requirement for them to uphold greater accountability. One of these additional accountability measures was to provide opportunities to educate intervenors and the general public about the operations and regulation of the utilities, with the goal of creating better informed, effective and efficient watchdogs that could assist the Yukon Utilities Board.
Mr. McRobb: Can the officials indicate what has been accomplished in this area?
Mr. Austring: When we answer the earlier question in writing about how we are making out with the plan, we will, I believe, have to address this issue as part of that at that time.
Mr. McRobb: All right, I will look forward to that information.
Mr. Austring: Another trade-off was to improve access to information on the operations and finances of Yukon Energy Corporation in an easily accessible and understandable form, such as on a Web site that is updated regularly.
Can the officials indicate what has been accomplished in that area?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, I will have to deal with that in writing too. I do know that the Yukon Energy Corporation has a Web site, but whether it has that information on it ó I gather from the nature of the question that it does not.
Mr. McRobb: That would be correct. I visited the Yukon Energy Corporationís Web site several times in preparing for this on the weekend and there is virtually no information that might help those public watchdogs become more effective.
A stand-alone recommendation, no. 51, called for intervenor workshops to improve access to relevant information. This, like the other recommendations, was classified as a short-term undertaking. Can the officials indicate what has been accomplished in regard to holding intervenor workshops?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, we havenít had a rate application. Now that the matter has been brought to my attention, as we perhaps lead up to a GRA ó that certainly seems a more timely occasion to have such an education program. These undertakings that the member has referred to will have to be reviewed and, as indicated earlier, a written response provided as to how we stand in fulfilling those undertakings.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís fine, Mr. Chair. Iíd also suggest that one doesnít have to wait for a GRA to be filed before such workshops can take place. There are plenty of things to learn and review without getting into a detailed application. And, from talking to some of the people, they are rather anxious to get started without further delay.
Things arenít delayed this afternoon, Mr. Chair, because weíre on part 5, which deals with power rates. The request for the identification of current rate drivers was mentioned earlier. It seems there are a number of factors that exist now that would serve to drive rates down from the benchmark set at the last GRA. If I might speculate, these may include but certainly are not limited to the following items: (1) a better than expected insurance settlement resulting from the fire at YEC; (2) decreased diesel generation resulting from the end of the mid-1990s drought at Aishihik Lake; (3) accrued savings from direct management of YEC, which, Mr. Chair, is the takeover of management services from Yukon Electrical Company Limited; (4) recovery of the Faro bad debt from ratepayers; (5) decreased interest rates; (6) a decreased level of acceptable earnings or profits within the utility industry.
Could the officials agree to review these items and provide for us a more complete list of any such downward rate drivers, along with an overview and monetary quantification for each?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, I think we can provide some answer there. Iím concerned about the level of detail, that we donít end up with an informal rate hearing of the drivers down and the drivers up, but what information we can provide, we will provide.
Mr. McRobb: That would be appreciated. Believe me, such information would be a far cry from the information provided in a GRA filing.
Could the officials also undertake to provide the same information for any upward rate drivers that may exist?
Mr. Austring: Yes, on the same basis as I previously indicated.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís also appreciated, Mr. Chair.
The utilities were allowed a diesel generation contingency budget. The intent of that allocation was to cover the costs of unplanned diesel generation. This was separate and in addition to the allocation to cover forecasted diesel generation costs. The amount set by the Yukon Utilities Board, I last recall, was $500,000 per year. Is that amount still provided for within the current rate structure?
Mr. Austring: I do not know the answer to that question. We will provide that answer.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Would the officials also undertake to provide the actual cost in regard to that item for each year since and including 1996?
Mr. Sinclair: Iíd just indicate that weíll be pleased to make available the annual reports that are filed by the two utilities on the operations of the diesel contingency fund each year, and I think that should answer the memberís questions.
Mr. McRobb: No, it wonít, Mr. Chair, because the diesel contingency fund is a different account from the one to which I refer. Again, I would like to ask the officials if they would provide the information Iím requesting specific to this question. Would they do that?
Mr. Austring: I will undertake to look into the matter. Again, I donít want to be coy, but Iím always concerned about confidentiality aspects of the corporationís operations; but to the extent that we can, yes, we will provide that information.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the officials for that. Certainly I understand the complexity of these rate matters, and this, agreed, is rather a challenging area.
I have a couple of questions about the Yukon Energy Corporationís financial statement as of December 31, 2002. For the record, this document was recently obtained through the Yukon Utilities Board. I would like to ask about what appears to be a 17-percent increase in administration costs. It has jumped from about $5 million in 2001 to more than $6.1 million in 2002. Can the officials explain the reason for that jump?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, I canít explain the reasons at this time, but we will look into that. My recollection is an increase in insurance costs and other matters, but we will look into the matter.
Mr. McRobb: Let me try to jog the officialís memory, Mr. Chair. Is this 17-percent increase a result of self-management or direct management? That is the assumption of Yukon Electrical Company Limitedís contract. Is it a result of that?
Mr. Austring: My memory has not been jogged, but I will look into the matter and provide the answer.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair. Could the officials provide a comparison of costs incurred versus costs of the former management contract with Yukon Electrical?
Mr. Austring: I am reluctant to undertake to do that. I just have feelings of the complexity and work involved in doing that. I will take the question under advisement, if that is permissible, and see what information we can provide.
Mr. McRobb: Best efforts would be appreciated. I know that when we were on the government side, we were given specific numbers as to the benefit that would be realized in the scenario with Yukon Energy Corporation assuming direct management of its assets. Itís about time, Mr. Chair, that we have a look back ó it has been about five years ó to see what types of savings have materialized, if indeed there have been any savings at all.
Can I ask the officials when they return after their best efforts of producing this information ó can they ensure that the comparison includes capital acquisitions that were necessary, such as vehicles and other equipment, et cetera?
Mr. Austring: We will provide what information we are able to in answering this question on a best efforts basis.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís appreciated, Mr. Chair.
Can the officials indicate whatever happened to YECís performance indicators? I havenít heard much about them lately at all.
Mr. Sinclair: The Yukon Energy Corporation files annually a report with the Yukon Utilities Board, which speaks to key performance indicators that were established as part of the settlement process in the general rate application of 1996-97, and as each year goes by they make improvements here and there in that report. So itís traditionally filed about the middle of the year once the audited financial statements are completed.
We would be happy to make that available to the member as soon as itís completed.
Mr. McRobb: I look forward to receiving that report, Mr. Chair.
There has also been an increase of more than $1.5 million in revenue from sale of power. What is the reason for that increase?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, it just is part of the normal market and weather and customer sales and other matters. I donít think thereís any unusual event in there.
Mr. McRobb: Normally, if I recall, the corporation plans for annual growth of about two percent in the absence of major industrial customers. Would the growth between the years 2001 and 2002, which is what weíre talking about as identified in YECís annual report for 2002, still be about two percent or was it higher, do the officials know?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, I do not know the answer to that question now. I will provide the answer to it.
Mr. McRobb: Given the fixed costs of the corporation and such factors as economies of scale, itís conceivable, Mr. Chair, that such a windfall of revenue, in the order of $1.5 million, would also qualify as a downward rate driver. Would the officials agree with that?
Mr. Austring: Obviously it is a factor. Many factors go into establishing the rates, and sales and cash on hand and such are one factor.
Mr. McRobb: Perhaps it will make the list of the downward rate drivers the officials have agreed to return with.
On to part 6, which deals with the rate stabilization fund. This is another area in which we requested more information than has been provided and therefore wish to explore further at this opportunity. Letís begin with some history on the fund. Once again, I invite officials to comment on my version of history if they wish to do so. The predecessor to the rate stabilization fund was known as the rate relief program, and it began in the fall of 1993 as governmentís response to an unprecedented rate hike application in the magnitude of 50 percent. By 1996, the costs of the rate relief program had risen to about where it is today, approximately $3.5 million per year. There were indications at the time that the future of the program was in doubt, as it was called a temporary measure by the very government that created it; but public pressure and a pending election washed away any immediate plans to dismantle the program. The incoming government created the Cabinet Commission on Energy, which I referred to earlier, that included in its mandate a full review of the rate relief program. At the time, the utility was dealing with the closure of the Faro mine and a consequent rate increase.
The program was redesigned and introduced following extensive consultation as the rate stabilization fund, or RSF, in November 1998. It was pegged at a level that reflected a nine-percent increase to power rates. The new program included measures to encourage conservation and the smart use of electricity for all non-government and non-industrial customers.
Can the officials indicate what the differences in those two programs were?
Mr. Sinclair: Mr. Chair, if the member doesnít mind, Iíd appreciate knowing which programs weíre comparing ó if weíre dealing with programs from 1993-94 to the initial introduction of 1997-98 when the changes were made? Is that the analysis the member is seeking?
Mr. McRobb: Yes, Mr. Chair. Essentially where the former rate relief program left off ó I believe it was in the spring of 1998 ó and where the current rate stabilization fund began, which was November 1998 ó Iím essentially looking for the difference between those two programs. Thatís the information Iím looking for. Can they provide that?
Mr. Sinclair: I could make a couple of general comments at this point, but I would happily go back and make sure we donít overlook anything, because the timing of things matters as well because there was a period when the rate relief program was not operating during 1997. I just need to make sure I understand the date reference points.
The other matters were generally a function of design. Both were bill subsidy programs. They are not, in fact, rate stabilization measures; theyíre both bill subsidy programs. However, in the new measure, there were some energy efficiency incentives built in and there was an effort to benchmark it to a specific level or ceiling, up to a maximum of nine percent. So there were variations in the approach taken to provide some stability to electrical consumers.
I could perhaps add to that in writing but, off the top of my head, there were other events in the course there. When a GRA happened in 1996-97, general service customers had their effective bills drop dramatically during that period.
The conditions were quite different by the time we hit 1997-98.
Mr. McRobb: I do take up the offer from the officials for them to provide a more detailed response in writing, if that is all right.
I would like to know what the corporationís view is of such bill subsidy programs. Should they be continued?
Mr. Sinclair: I guess I would first state that the corporation plays a role in administering a variety of public programs, and the rate stabilization initiative is one of those. So, in that respect, the corporation does not need to have a view. Public policy has been determined and an order-in-council has been put in place. Itís our job to implement it in the most effective and efficient manner we can.
That aside, I think the corporation and its corporate plans reflect this look to investing in long-term solutions. It is well-understood in Canada in a lot of jurisdictions that once subsidies are in place, they are hard to grapple with because consumers become used to them. The whole purpose of things like the Mayo-Dawson transmission line project are to reduce the long-term, system-wide costs by investing in assets that will use surplus hydro and will save us all money long-term.
So, I think, in general, the view is that for a dollar spent investing in a solution ó particularly a permanent solution ó there will be a better return for all.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair. The official mentioned the corporate plan, which was referred to earlier. I note that on page 1, it says that the corporation has six significant activities to undertake during the coming five years. The first such significant activity is called "closing the gap". It says: "closing the gap between electrical bills and cost-based, stable, long-term electrical rates without government subsidies."
Mr. Chair, essentially, isnít that a statement that does not favour the continuation of bill subsidy programs?
Mr. Austring: It seems to me that there is a distortion in the market here and that there are better ways to do it and that we would be remiss without being forward-looking in these matters, as described by Mr. Sinclair, in trying to find long-term solutions.
Mr. McRobb: Iím not sure if that answered the question, Mr. Chair, because itís quite obvious that there is an inconsistency between the stated significant activity and a view toward favouring the continuation of a bill subsidy program.
Anyway, when the rate stabilization fund was launched back in November 1998, it was expected to continue until at least March of 2002 at an expected cost of $10 million. That cost was paid for entirely by the government of the day. Can the officials confirm that?
Mr. Sinclair: The answer is yes.
Mr. McRobb: And part of my objective today is to establish on record some of the history of the more important issues relating to the Energy Corporation and so on. So I thank the officials for obliging in that context.
As indicated by Yukon Development Corporationís letter of April 22, in response to question 12, the balance in the RSF, as at March 31, 2002, was about $1.2 million. Is that correct?
Mr. Sinclair: Itís in that ballpark. The exact numbers will be apparent with the completion of the audited financial statements, and we would provide, as is required by the order-in-council, the specific report on the rate stabilization fund in our upcoming annual report.
Mr. McRobb: Proceeding from that point in time, March 31, 2002, the previous government announced in the fall of 2001 that the program would be extended by three years.
What is the target date of that continuation? Would it be March of 2005?
Mr. Sinclair: The order-in-council putting in place the program puts an outside parameter of March 31, 2005. The order-in-council also places a ceiling on the expenditure during that roughly three-year period, so the original program was roughly a $10-million program, and the current rate stabilization fund has a cap of $12 million.
Mr. McRobb: As the official just indicated, the cost of the program was capped at $12 million. I would like to ask: how does that look now? Do the officials expect its cost to exceed that amount?
Mr. Sinclair: The short answer is that it appears to be sufficient; however, as the member is well aware, power sales across the Yukon are very much affected by new housing construction and by the weather, which is a fairly dramatic factor. We can have a whole range of fluctuations, international diesel fuel prices and so on, that have a bearing on the protection that the rate stabilization fund is providing.
Itís a very volatile market in which to project with absolute certainty, but going into the program, weíre under the belief that $12 million will be sufficient to run straight through to March 2005 with the existing conditions that were there at the time.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the officials for that and do concur that, when looking ahead at numbers such as these, it is virtually impossible to predict with any certainty. That is why the term "forecast" is used very frequently. It is commonly the acceptable way to term such information as the "forecasted amount".
What is the expected course of action if the cap limits the normal distribution of the bill subsidy? For instance, if the cost of the program exceeds $12 million ó Yukoners havenít heard what would happen in that situation.
Would the subsidy be decreased? Is that what the corporation is prepared to do?
Mr. Austring: The subsidy is a matter of the government having directed that it be done, so it wouldnít be a matter for the corporation to decrease it. It would be a matter for the government to deal with.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Letís revisit and summarize how the current RSF is funded. The $12-million program announced in the fall of 2001 was formulated as follows: the $1.2-million balance from the original appropriation, which is subject to audit, as we heard earlier. It also includes $7.8 million from Yukon Development Corporation and $3 million from the Yukon government. Would that be correct?
Mr. Austring: That is correct.
Mr. McRobb: So, by comparison, the previous government paid less than one-third of what was paid by the government previous to it ó the one that created the RSF and kick-started the fund with a $10-million infusion. Letís also consider the overbalance of $1.2 million, bringing that contribution to $11.2 million. Would that assumption be correct?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, Iím not sure I can answer that question without setting out the timeline of all the ins and outs of the various governments and the ins and outs of the various funds, but the facts should speak for themselves.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Actually, I stand corrected because, if the balance as at March 2002 is factored in, that ratio is actually closer to a quarter than it is to a third, and thatís fine. As the officials indicated, the facts do speak for themselves.
Letís skip ahead to this current government. It promised the electorate last fall that it would restore the previous Yukon Partyís rate relief program. Can the officials indicate what progress has been made in this area?
Mr. Austring: Iím not sure if I understand correctly. The government issued the OIC, and the program is continued to March 2005.
Mr. McRobb: When the official says "the government", is he talking about the previous government or this current government?
Mr. Sinclair: The order-in-council that is currently operating was issued by the previous administration ó that is correct.
Mr. McRobb: I thought so, Mr. Chair, so Iíd like to return to my question about the current government, which promised to restore the previous Yukon Partyís rate relief program, and ask once again, what progress has been made in achieving that?
Mr. Sinclair: I can perhaps give some general response to the member. Obviously the corporation is set up as a business corporation and is there to respect and work with governmentís energy policy direction.
With respect to the matter of rate relief changes, should the government wish to go there, that obviously would be a matter for the Yukon Cabinet. My understanding from the minister, and certainly what has been put on the public record, is that the current government has many priorities it wishes to address, and that may or not be one of them in the future. At the present time, the corporation as an implementing body is not planning changes to the program as established.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I would appreciate some certainty on this matter. Can the officials indicate what instructions, if any, have been received in regard to the restoration of the previous Yukon Partyís rate relief program?
Mr. Sinclair: Matters such as rate relief fall specifically within the legislative purview of the Government of Yukon. That has always been the case and remains the case. So, should the corporation be given a new order-in-council at some point, then we would be respecting and implementing that.
Mr. McRobb: Has the current government identified any funds that might be available toward the restoration of the previous program?
Mr. Austring: I think thatís part and parcel to the previous answer, which is that the government presumably would do its thing internally, and weíll see the end result by way of the order-in-council.
Mr. McRobb: I take it the answer is no, then, Mr. Chair. Can the officials indicate approximately how much of an additional financial benefit would be provided to the average residential consumer for the restoration of the previous program?
Mr. Sinclair: The answer to the question is essentially found in the response to question 12 from the opposition briefing, wherein we provide ranges of benefits obtained by customer class and by hydro zone ó urban setting, essentially, and rural communities. Beyond those generalities, weíre talking in a matter of relatively few dollars, not the full range of the benefit, because in the summertime, the consumption is generally down as most of us are benefiting from the warm weather and the light hours and not using our electricity as much.
Anyway, the answer is found in the response there. There is a range of consumption and, therefore, a range of benefits accrued.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I believe the information referred to pertains to the current program, which is not the previous rate relief program to which the question was geared. I would like to ask the officials if they would undertake to return with an answer to that question.
While Iím on my feet, Iíll ask another question, which is very similar and can be answered in the same way. I would like to know what increased benefit could the residential customer see from the restoration of the previous program in terms of a maximum amount in the summer months.
Could the officials undertake to return with answers to this and the previous question?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, Iíll take it under consideration. Iím somewhat reluctant to commit the corporation to running hypotheticals if those sorts of models arenít readily available, but weíll certainly consider the matter.
Mr. McRobb: I have one more question in this area, Mr. Chair, and then weíll pass the floor to the leader of the third party.
How much notice do the utilities require for the billing system to reflect changes to the rate relief program? Just to add a bit of further information, thereís always a time lag and some time required in order to allow the flow through of any changes to the relief program bill ó whatever it happens to be called, RSF or the previous program ó before those changes are reflected on customersí bills. So, the question is: how much notice is required in order for such changes to be implemented?
Mr. Austring: We will have to ask the party who does the billing how long it takes them to create those fields in their program and provide an answer later.
Mr. McRobb: All right. I would like to thank both officials for responding to my questions. I will look forward to the return of information and perhaps even another opportunity, time permitting, before 6:00 p.m.
Once again, thank you for answering my questions.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to begin my questions by thanking both Mr. Austring and Mr. Sinclair for their attendance this afternoon. I appreciate, very much, the opportunity to ask some questions.
I noted with interest that the chair, Mr. Austring, began his remarks by noting that the corporate governance, the legal standards, have been enhanced over recent years. I would concur with that assessment that, given events, corporate governance standards and the public standard of acceptability have been raised.
I would venture that same statements can be true of the public sense of accountability. The public wants to see performance measures put in place and a sense of accountability for the public dollars that have been spent on their behalf, and to see exactly what has been achieved.
I would just like to begin my questions by asking if there has been a similar discussion at the board level or if there is a similar agreement or sense at the board level that these corporate governance legal standards and the higher standard now set in the public ó is it also the boardís view that the public seeks these sorts of accountability measures for their tax dollars or their business dollars, as the case is this afternoon?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, yes, there has been discussion at the board about the changing environment in corporate governance and the need for accountability, and weíve already started to put some programs in place to raise the bar, as it were, within the board itself.
Ms. Duncan: Then I would take it that the board is looking at performance measures and accountability measures. Could the chair give us some idea of what those are?
Mr. Austring: There are numerous reports that the board receives from management and key performance indicators and such that we use in reviewing managementís performance. In addition, the board is looking inward and seeking how we can examine ourselves to make sure weíre doing an appropriate job. Some of those discussions are just in a very preliminary stage and, in some cases, weíve just gone out and done some things to get started on it.
In the case of us reviewing management, those key performance indicators are in place, the reviews do take place, and thereís certainly some detailed work going on with the audit committee. The board continues to look inward as to what it can do by way of its own internal development.
Ms. Duncan: A more direct question would be that a performance measure might be the level of satisfaction of customers, the number of customers served and that sort of information. What brings to light information such as that is, for example, it was quite a surprise to me to discover that, although Yukon Electrical Company Limited has a cold-weather policy, in that nobodyís power is turned off for non-payment of bills if itís minus 40 degrees in the Yukon ó that seems pretty logical to most people listening ó there arenít similar sorts of policies at the Energy Corporation. Performance measures outline that there is a need for policy, so I wonder if the chair could be a little more specific in some of the performance measures with management and generally in terms of the performance of the corporations.
Mr. Sinclair: If I may, since I get tasked with writing reports for the board, I get into this in a lot of detail. At the Yukon Energy Corporation and as well with the Energy Solutions Centre, there are specific key performance indicators that are defined each year by management and the board as the areas where attention is to be placed. In the case of the utility, some of these involve matters like safety, which are very high priorities. So things like vehicle accidents, all level of incidents, including the safety stations where band-aids are removed, all the stuff is monitored proactively because the objective is to have a very safe and healthy ó in an uncompromising way ó workplace. So there is a range ó I think there are six or eight categories. Customer service is one. There are special indices that are used by electrical industry to monitor service generally ó outages, how long theyíre on, what they were caused by, whether it was natural causes or equipment failure or a service problem.
So thereís a whole series of categories that are examined and reported on virtually every quarter to the board of directors. The same goes at the Energy Solutions Centre level. Their focus is a little different. Weíre looking at what weíre doing to promote energy cost savings, so we look at our activities in each of the sectors: household, commercial, institutional, public, government and so on, and monitor and report on our level of penetration, literally. We are tracking the number of households in how many communities consume diesel products or use electricity, and our job is to try to reduce the costs of living in that household or the cost of doing business. So weíre literally tracking our penetration levels from very much a market business sense. There are some areas that are softer, that are very qualitative. For example, weíve put a lot of effort into earth energy or geoexchange or geothermal. There are a lot of terms for it. We have an enormous potential to do some exciting things here, but not at the key performance indicator level, because we are developing the ability to take advantage, so we are prospecting for warm water and earth conditions that will support heating applications.
Members are, Iím sure, well aware of the discovery in Haines Junction of 17 to 18 degree water, which is just a phenomenal opportunity. Some of the things are at an earlier stage of development. We are saying we wonít introduce 3,000 heat pumps into Yukon households over the next year. Weíre not there on those kinds of things.
Nonetheless, there are key performance indicators that are tied to the objectives and the annual plans that are set.
The Yukon Development Corporation as a whole has what was referred to in the chairís remarks as a triple-E bottom line, which is energy industry jargon, so the corporation then looks not only at what itís doing in and of itself but those aspects that the subsidiary companies are doing. We report, under environment, for example, on issues of reducing or offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and what activities we are doing that contribute to those reductions. We go so far in that instance to produce an annual report specifically on greenhouse gas emissions because of the significance of climate change nationally and internationally. We literally measure every litre of fuel and what kind of fuel, in what season, in what plant, in what community, and produce tables that are part of a nationally verifiable system of reporting.
So we go to extreme lengths in areas like that.
Ms. Duncan: I thank Mr. Sinclair for that very thorough answer, and Iíll go through the annual reports in greater detail and formulate more specific questions for the board.
The chair has indicated that he has, on behalf of Yukon Development Corporation, had meetings with the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, who has responsibility in this area. I believe the chair mentioned two or three occasions.
Could I ask the chair to outline what general direction has been given to him as chair of the Yukon Development Corporation or were these strictly briefing sessions of the minister?
Mr. Austring: Mr. Chair, they were, in my view, essentially in the nature of briefing sessions where we were bringing the minister up to speed on corporate developments and significant activities and also, just a sort of for-the-record discussion about the corporate governance aspect, the governance protocols and the armís-length relationship of Yukon Energy Corporation.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to thank Mr. Austring for that answer.
Governance is a difficult issue in this very small jurisdiction and the concept of armís length is not always clear to the general public.
One of the commitments put on the public record was that directives to the Development Corporation shall be made public. That was a commitment that I made on the floor of the House, as minister responsible. Does that still stand? Is it the chairís understanding that any directive issued to the corporation must be made public and tabled in this Legislature?
Mr. Austring: That is correct.
Ms. Duncan: Well, then, how does the scrutiny of Yukon Energy Corporation come in? This is where the difficulty is for the public. Where does the Yukon Energy Corporation fit in and how are they publicly scrutinized? I am thinking of their balance sheets and financial statements. I understand itís the boardís responsibility. How does the public ask the questions?
Mr. Austring: Well, Mr. Chair, at the most obvious level, the public can just ask the questions of me and other members, and we will provide information to them as we can. There may not be a ready forum for that.
There is, of course, the powerful vehicle of the Yukon Utilities Board, to which we are accountable. We are in the practice, when people write to us with concerns that we donít feel we can address, of giving them the information. We say, "If you have a concern about how we are dealing with this matter, here is the section of the statute and go to the Utilities Board and they can call us to account." Certainly that level of accountability is a very important factor.
Ms. Duncan: I understand what Mr. Austring has outlined. I believe the public has some concern with that, in that thereís a sense that public officials ó duly elected individuals ó need to be responsible, but the difficulty then is how you deal with this armís-length corporation. In Yukon law, we have this middle person of the Development Corporation, and itís a difficult concept for people to understand and itís difficult for politicians who have to answer on the floor of the House for the actions of Yukon Energy Corporation ó that, no, they donít answer. Itís an awkward relationship and a governance aspect that I believe warrants some further discussion.
The rate relief program and the rate stabilization fund were mentioned by the Member for Kluane. It is extended to 2005. The Yukon Party platform commitment was that the clawback would be eliminated. Am I correct in that I heard Mr. Austring indicate there has been no direction given to the Development Corporation as of yet on the rate stabilization fund or the clawback?
Mr. Austring: Thatís correct.
Ms. Duncan: So there has been no direction or fulfillment of that platform commitment then.
The other platform commitment was that the Yukon Party government would work toward the development of a territory-wide electrical grid. Has there been any work done on this?
Mr. Austring: The ongoing project, the Mayo-Dawson line, is certainly a huge factor in that, and by way of preliminary work, the Yukon Development Corporation is also investigating a possible connection between Stewart Crossing and Carmacks, which will be another key factor in the grid. Generally, we sort of have our eyes up for other possible connections and in looking for things like legal right-of-ways and that type of stuff to make sure we get notice to parties who might be concerned that we may have an interest in the right-of-way or whatever. It is a matter that is being worked on.
Ms. Duncan: So, at what stage is it? Is it very preliminary background ó this is kind of an idea where the route would be, this is how much power is available? Just where is the work at? Is it very preliminary at this stage, and is it being done in-house or is it being contracted?
Mr. Sinclair: Perhaps I would elaborate on the technical details that the member is seeking.
With respect to the Stewart Crossing-Carmacks extension, groundwork has been done to assess the terrain, to assess routing. A desirable corridor has been identified and mapped. Preliminary feasibility work on the technical side, which deals with some matters that are way beyond my technical competence in the electrical area ó it has to do with voltages that you transmit at and which have major issues around system control and so on. Demand scenarios are being worked on in the corridor, and there is a related environmental impact assessment ó the front-end stuff. Our objective is to obtain secure access to the corridor, and the first step was a land notation application, which will be happening this year. We will also be holding discussions with the First Nation that has significant land interests in the corridor as well.
The technical side also deals with some supply options along the way, because one of the neat things about extending your network ó it is a bit like computers and the Internet ó is that you then can have distributed generation. So, a fall-out phase in that corridor will deal with updating the generation options.
The link between here and Watson Lake is also in our minds. Watson Lake is a lot like Dawson City ó itís a major diesel-generation plant. They are the most costly way to deliver power. They are very reliable and they have a lot of good things going for them. So we are exploring options.
The comment was made about future planning. We need to be in a situation ó as regional land use planning is proceeding in other such matters ó where we have identified the public interest in energy corridors and thought it through and looked at the implications so that they can be taken into account, but also bring it to the stage where projects can be green-lighted more quickly if there are new markets that emerge and we want to take advantage of them.
There also is a third area that is being looked at again. We had actually pursued this a few years ago, which is Atlin. Thatís an on-again, off-again discussion that occurs, because thatís a diesel community, as well; and B.C. Hydro and the community of Atlin are very interested in green alternatives. We may ultimately be in a position to be of assistance there.
Ms. Duncan: I thank both Mr. Austring and Mr. Sinclair for the answer.
I understand that itís a sensitive discussion, but perhaps we could have as much information as is publicly available with an update on the Mayo-to-Dawson grid. When are we looking at commissioning and turning the switch, so to speak, and could we have an assurance that the subcontractors, the small business people throughout the territory have indeed been paid for this work and that hopefully weíre not headed toward litigation, as there have been some comments made that thatís where it seems to be headed. Could we just have an update in this public forum of what information should be made publicly available?
Mr. Austring: The project is at an advanced stage of completion. There have been some difficulties that have come up, but theyíre going to be solved. I donít have completion date, and I donít want to give a date. I believe I indicated at the previous meeting with the members that it would be this summer ó is the date that I was using. We have a clear goal in mind, and thatís to get a product that weíve contracted for, and there are certain safety standards involved, and we wonít relent from that end target.
As to the matter of the subcontractors, there is some difficulty there because we donít have a contract with them; we contract with the head contractor. We do have, of course, under the Builders Lien Act and certain holdbacks weíre entitled to keep. This matter has come up a number of times.
I donít believe weíre going to litigation. Thereís an easier solution and weíre going to hold the course and get there.
As for the subcontractors, Iíve been a little surprised, just hearing it from a distance, that they donít seem to have exercised the legal remedies that they would presumably have available to them under the Builders Lien Act, and theyíre not paid to file a lien. But thatís up to them. I donít know. I havenít consulted with them. I wouldnít give them any advice, but it does strike me as a little curious that they havenít taken care of themselves that way.
The holdback money under the contract is held back and the contractor, as normal ó and I donít think Iím giving away any secrets here ó has to sign certain declarations and such before he gets paid and money has to flow down to the subcontractors.
So, between us and the head contractor, weíre working this thing out and weíre getting there. Between the contractor and subcontractor, again Iíve only heard of these incidents second-hand, and why they havenít seen fit to go ahead and secure their remedies, I donít know.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the frank answer from Mr. Austring, and I am particularly appreciative that the Liberal Party has frequently recommended that Yukoners employ alternative dispute resolution as opposed to litigation, and Iím pleased that every effort is being made to avoid a litigious environment.
There was work done by the previous administration on the gas distribution franchise. There was to be a Utilities Board hearing this spring. Is the chair, Mr. Austring, aware of this work and what is the current situation with respect to the potential for a gas distribution franchise?
Mr. Sinclair: The matters relating to the gas distribution franchise in the government are led through the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Unfortunately, if you donít mind, Iíd have to redirect your question to them.
Ms. Duncan: We have a few days left for Question Period, so I appreciate that. Thank you.
Just to conclude, I would like to ask Mr. Austring, generally, about the energy and utility situation in the Yukon. The relationship between Yukon Electrical Company Limited and Yukon Energy was a nasty divorce that Yukoners lived through. I referred to it this way the last time I was questioning the witnesses from this side of the House. Thereís a great deal of discussion in southern Canada about deregulation and how it has been very difficult in some provinces. It hasnít benefited the public purse; it has. Thereís the sell-off of Hydro One in Ontario, so there are some very interesting energy issues that are currently under discussion in southern Canada.
Iím curious as to where Mr. Austring sees those discussions being led in the Yukon. Is that strictly a government prerogative, or does the Development Corporation have a role to play? How does the chair of the Yukon Development Corporation see that public discussion happening? Is it the time for a discussion about whether we should have a public or a private utility and energy in the Yukon, and who should lead that? Should it be the Development Corporation? What about these issues around deregulation and the ownership of the assets?
Is the board having discussions and do they see a role for leading those discussions with Yukoners, or is that the governmentís responsibility?
Mr. Austring: It hasnít come up very forcefully in front of the board or at any great length. I suppose that we have had enough on our plate, certainly in the last year I have been chair, to deal with that we havenít had that much extra time to think about how we would like to rule the world.
I do think that many things in the Yukon are unique. One of them is that we have an incredibly thin population, an incredibly huge land area and itís amazing that we do as well as we do.
I can say this about our fellow utility, Northwestel ó I mean, we cover an area here in the Yukon that is three-quarters the size of Texas. With 30,000 people, you can fit into a corner of a ball stadium.
A lot of the considerations ó no matter what the merits are down south ó are going to be looked at differently down here. We donít have a grid to plug into. We are very small and I think we need to proceed with extra caution. I donít see any particular rush to hurry down that path. I also see that we will have time to examine the experience of our southern neighbours. They are not altogether pleasant. The California situation, Alberta ó I mean, you go on ó Ontario is in the headlines all the time. I would just recommend extreme caution no matter who picks up the ball to go forward with this discussion and realize that we are extremely, extremely thin here and we have to proceed very, very carefully.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I donít disagree with anything that Mr. Austring has said. My concern is that governments make decisions, and itís in the hands of government to make the decision about the divorce between Yukon Electrical Company Limited and Yukon Energy Corporation. It was a government decision with respect to the construction of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line. We have government with the Yukon Development Corporation, in some cases, making decisions, and the public discussion is held after the fact. This is a very dynamic field at the moment, and my question is: does the Yukon Development Corporation see a role in leading a public discussion about these energy issues, or does the Development Corporation see that as the publicly elected officialsí role to lead that discussion? I guess whoís on first is the question, who should lead this public discussion? Should it be the Development Corporation?
Mr. Austring: Well, Mr. Chair, I am not sure it matters so much who leads the discussion. At this point, Iím wondering whether or not the discussion needs to happen. Certainly itís not a matter of much priority in my view with Yukon Development Corporation or Yukon Energy Corporation. Obviously, if government is the senior body here and they want to talk about it, weíll talk about it. As chair, I donít see it being a very pressing issue. We have a lot of other issues to deal with and limited resources.
So, if it comes up in my capacity as chair of Yukon Development Corporation and, acting in the best interests of that corporation, if I thought it had to be initiated, I wouldnít hesitate to push the matter along ó of course, keeping the minister informed and getting his view of the matter. But I just donít see it being a priority at this time.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to again thank both the witnesses for their time and their patience and their answers this afternoon. It has been a very good discussion and I appreciate the opportunity.
Hon. Mr. Lang: As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, Iíd like to thank the members from Yukon Development Corporation for their presentation this afternoon. Thank you very much.
Chair: On behalf of the Legislature, Iíd like to thank Mr. Lorne Austring, chair of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Mr. Duncan Sinclair, chief executive officer of the Yukon Development Corporation, for appearing as witnesses before the Committee today. Thank you, gentlemen.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the 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.
Also, Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2, passed April 24, 2003, Lorne Austring, chair of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Duncan Sinclair, chief executive officer of the Yukon Development Corporation, appeared as witnesses before the Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. to discuss matters related to the Yukon Development Corporation.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Order please. The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 28, 2003:
Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board 2002 Annual Report (Jenkins)
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 28, 2003:
Government positions: vacancies and number of employees as of December 31, 2002 (Edzerza)
Oral, Hansard, p. 874