Wednesday, November 19, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Geographic Information System Day
Hon. Mr. Lang:As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, I would like to tribute GIS Day. The event today will involve a variety of displays and GIS professionals who are in the lobby of the Yukon territorial government building to provide information about their work. This computer software technology is used by people all over the world in business, education and government. This international event will promote a better understanding of the geography around the world.
Many students and other Yukoners will have the opportunity to visit the displays and learn how this technology can enhance their knowledge of worldwide geography.
I would like to thank all of the presenters, businesses that have displays and the many participants who have taken the time to visit this excellent display in the foyer of the Yukon territorial government building.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: The official opposition would also like to pay tribute to GIS Day; unfortunately, the government House leader did not inform us this tribute would be called today, and we have nothing prepared.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to ask my colleagues in the Legislature to join me in welcoming the grade 11 Social Studies class from Porter Creek Secondary School. Their teachers are Mr. Wes Sullivan and Mr. Mike Toews, who are in the gallery. Please join me in welcoming them to the Legislature today. Iíd also like to particularly welcome my nephew, Brandon Duncan, here.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would also like to welcome the grade 11 class to the Legislature today. Itís a pleasure to see them here. I hope they look at this as being something constructive and positive.
Speaker: Are there any further introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Cathers:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to move to full accrual accounting in order to ensure that the Taxpayer Protection Act will no longer be able to be circumvented.
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon governmentís outpatient travel subsidy for accommodation, meals and transportation is out of date and inadequate, and;
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to immediately increase outpatient subsidy for accommodation, meals and transportation to the standard government travel rates, to have the subsidy take effect from the first day of medical services and to provide advance funds to assist outpatients and their escorts where needed.
Mr. Hassard: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to work with First Nations, Parks Canada, communities and businesses along the Haines and north Alaska highways to improve access to Kluane National Park so as to lengthen visitorsí stay in the Yukon and thereby increase their spending in the Yukon.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a ministerial statement?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Energy Solutions Centre
Mr. McRobb:One of the bright lights of the Yukon in recent years has been the good work coming out of the Energy Solutions Centre. The centre encourages and assists Yukoners to implement projects that will produce energy cost-savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The assistance is provided to households, businesses, communities, industry and First Nations.
The Energy Solutions Centre has also contributed to the winning of several awards by our territory. For instance, in Canada, the Yukon is at the head of its class in the annual report card issued by the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance.
Letís start with a simple question to this energy minister who has now been briefed by the Premier. Does the minister agree that the centre does good work and must continue doing so?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The simple answer to that is yes.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís great, Mr. Speaker, finally a simple answer to a simple question.
The centre is wholly owned by the Yukon Development Corporation and is a joint initiative between Yukon Development Corporation and Natural Resources Canada. Itís a great way to bring federal dollars to the territory, which helps to build local energy knowledge and alternatives to our reliance on fossil fuels. In addition, it also encourages smart energy use through these various awards.
A senior aide within the Premierís office said recently that he is embarrassed by the Energy Solutions Centre. He further said that the balance sheet was a disgrace and something had to be done about it.
What is this ministerís view about how the centre conducts its financial affairs?
Hon. Mr. Lang: One thing this government doesnít do is run the thing on who said, I said, he said. The Energy Solutions Centre is an important part of Yukon Energy Corporation/Yukon Development Corporation. It will continue being support for those two corporations.
As far as somebody in-house saying something, I have no reason to believe that.
Mr. McRobb: Well, the senior aide was passing on the governmentís message. Itís a real question with Yukoners: whom do we believe? The credibility of this government seems to be continuously in doubt.
Those comments came from a senior aide within the Premierís office, and those comments related to privatization are not in isolation. The radar screen currently indicates several more incoming signals to the effect that the Yukon Party is moving to close down the centre.
What is this ministerís intention with respect to the centreís future operations?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Itís very important for us in this House to answer to the Yukon people. For us to stand up in this House and make insinuations about individuals who canít defend themselves in this House, and situations, does nothing but harm Yukoners.
Letís bring this to another level. The Yukon Energy Solutions Centre will stay. The Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Development Corporation are part and parcel of the Yukon fabric. For us to sit and listen to this name-calling when the individuals whom we are pointing fingers at have no position in this House to defend themselves is dead wrong.
All of us in this House should hang our heads for the representation we have shown in the last couple of days of pointing fingers at defenceless Yukoners who cannot stand up in this House and defend themselves. We do Yukoners a disfavour.
Question re: Mayo-Dawson transmission line, cost overrun
Mr. McRobb:Well, talk about an overreaction, Mr. Speaker. If the minister canít defend himself maybe he should take more on-camera lessons.
Last week the minister changed his story on why he sole sourced a one-year contract to his new $175,000 chair of the Yukon Development Corporation. On May 26 he appointed a full-time chair for purposes related to developing a corporate governance structure. Since then the minister has changed his story. He now says the full-time chair was appointed because of the Mayo-Dawson transmission cost overruns.
Last night I attended the annual general meeting of the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation and the Energy Solutions Centre. At the meeting the chair said that nobody was aware of the cost overruns until the story broke this fall.
The minister needs to clear the air. Why did he sole source his contract back in May, and when did he first become aware of the huge cost overruns?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, I became aware of the problems that were existing on the Mayo-to-Dawson line approximately six months before I was elected. Anybody north of Crestview understood there was a problem with the line between Mayo and Dawson.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the minister did not answer the question. He didnít indicate why he sole sourced the contract in May. He didnít indicate when he first became aware of the huge cost overrun. Now, last nightís meeting was chaired by none other than the $175,000 chair himself. At the end of the meeting, he concluded that these annual meetings were a good thing and he hoped we would all be back to see him again next year. But when the minister dished out this juicy one-year $175,000 sole-source contract for a full-time chair to develop a corporate governance structure, he said it would be for one year only. Mr. Speaker, the ministerís story seems to be changing again.
Could he tell this House: will the chairís contract be extended beyond one year?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, Mr. Speaker, I remind the people opposite that, when we acquired the challenges of government last December, we acquired the challenges of the line between Mayo and Dawson. Weíve addressed those challenges by working with a full-time chair and the contractors, and today, Mr. Speaker, there are lights on in Dawson.
Mr. McRobb: The lights might be on in Dawson, but theyíre not on with this minister. Heís stilló
Speaker:Order please. Thatís quite unparliamentary, and Iíd ask the member to retract that, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. McRobb:I retract that.
Speaker: Thank you.
Mr. McRobb: We need to brighten up the answers in this House. Under this governmentís watch, these cost overruns have tarnished the image of the Yukon Energy Corporation. At last nightís meeting there was a call to privatize the corporation.
Now, itís on record that privatization happens to be a prominent part of this $175,000-a-year chairís background. Itís an important part of his experience. He admitted that last night.
We all know this Yukon Party government is sliding down the privatization slope. Can the minister guarantee this House that there will be no privatization of public services within the corporation and its subsidiaries for which he is responsible?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I accept the apology from the member opposite, but I find the member from the opposite side is quite capable of maligning individuals in one way or the other.
Speaker:Sit down, please. Iíve been talking about unparliamentary language, and when one makes reference to a person "maligning," that is unparliamentary. I would ask you to retract that, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Lang:I will retract that.
Speaker: Carry on.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, I remind the members opposite that when we accepted the challenges of this government in December of last year, one of them was the problem with the Mayo-Dawson line. It was not an easy challenge. It took a lot of work to finalize and, to be honest with you, itís a work in progress. The job is not done on the line to Dawson. We might have power in Dawson, but there are a lot of issues still outstanding, which the very capable chair has to walk through.
Hopefully, in the near future, Iíll be able to stand up in the House and report a job well done. But at this point, it is still a work in progress.
Question re: Alaska Highway pipeline
Ms. Duncan:I also have some questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources on the Alaska Highway pipeline. It seems to be his day.
For the last year, the government has been a bystander as new energy legislation has worked its way through the U.S. Congress. The Premier wouldnít travel to Washington to lobby on behalf of Yukoners in order to ensure we got everything we needed in the legislation to see the pipeline go ahead. The minister has done the same amount of work as the Premier ó nothing.
Industry is now saying that the energy bill does not include enough incentives to move the project forward. In other words, the project may not go ahead because the minister has not been doing his job. Why has the minister been sitting on his hands for a year instead of lobbying to ensure the U.S. energy bill contained what was needed to see this project go ahead?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, itís my day in the sun.
I will remind the members opposite again that, when we were elected in December of last year, we were elected on a platform of fighting the battles we could win. We had issues in Yukon. For us to go to Washington, D.C., with hat in hand, to change the mind of a senator from Nebraska, would be ill-spent time.
Mr. Speaker, we are doing the job we have to do to get the Yukon ready, border to border, for the eventual pipeline. Yesterday I had a very successful meeting with TransCanada and Foothills and, by the way, the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, which this government set up to answer the questions aboriginals have on the line.
For that member opposite to insinuate that our Premier and myself have been sitting on our hands is folly. Sheís wrong.
Ms. Duncan: Well, there are many Yukoners and a few former Yukoners who are upset with this governmentís sit-by-and-hope attitude to this project. A former Yukon Minister of Economic Development has described the Yukonís performance this way: while Yukon was posing for photos with Kakfwi, Stephen was paying lobbyists in Washington, D.C. to help kill efforts for an Alaska Highway pipeline, duping the Yukon ó and it worked.
While the Yukon does not control anything like all of the pipeline decisions, it has a public economic responsibility to do everything it can to increase its probability of success, within reason, and at least enter into the political elements of the debate.
One of the first decisions that the government made ó the members opposite ó was to fire the lobbyists who were working on our behalf in Washington and in Ottawa. No wonder we lost.
Speaker: Order please. Would the member ask the question, please?
Ms. Duncan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker. Why did the government fail to stand up for Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Lang: As an elected government, we certainly approach things differently from the last government. If we learned anything from the last government it was how not to do things, least of all how to handle the pipeline issue.
We certainly went east and talked to the Northwest Territories. We certainly, yesterday at the very informative meeting I had with TransCanada PipeLines ó and Foothills, by the way, were very happy that the Northwest Territories and the Yukon were finally on the same track on these pipelines. We are not competing with Northwest Territories on a pipeline. We are going to open our borders so we can take advantage of both pipelines. Our businesses, our individuals ó this is a huge contract for northern Canada. The first thing our Premier did was go across that border and open up communication with Northwest Territories. Under that government there was no communication with Northwest Territories.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, Iím so glad the minister brought up the subject of the Northwest Territories. The Premier of the N.W.T. did what was good for the N.W.T. I only wish our minister had done the same. Instead, as the former Yukon Minister of Economic Development has said, the Yukon Party government was duped by the Northwest Territories. The Yukon Party is content to take the crumbs from the Mackenzie Valley project. It has bragged. It did so today about how well it gets along with the N.W.T., how weíre going to get hundreds of jobs in the Mackenzie Valley. So far, all weíve seen are photo opportunities. Can the minister tell this House how many jobs have been created because of these agreements that have been signed with the Northwest Territories? Iíll give him a hint ó zero.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, again, we go back and forth, back and forth. The Northwest Territories and the Yukon are both getting a pipeline. Mr. Speaker, are you surprised? Is the member opposite surprised? Did we fire the lobbyist that that government hired to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars to work the Washington cocktail circuit? Did our Premier go down and wear out the rugs in all the hotels in Calgary? No, we stayed home and did our job, and our job was to get the Yukon ready for a pipeline. Thatís what we did, and her party didnít do that. The first thing her party did when they got elected was jump in an airplane and move to Calgary. We live in Whitehorse. Our problems are in the Yukon; theyíre Yukon solved, and Iím not going to take a backseat to anybody in this House on how our Premier handled the negotiations with Northwest Territories on the pipeline issue. Weíve done a great job on the pipeline.
Question re: Privatization
Mr. Hardy:Iíd like to follow up with the Premier on a subject we touched upon yesterday. Some time between 1998 and now the Premier saw the light. Back then he had doubts about the private/public partnerships; now heís a convert. Letís have a surplus that defies description and letís put those millions and millions of dollars to work making life better for the private sector ó so says the Premier.
We need some definitions though, Mr. Speaker. Will the Premier spell out exactly whatís on the table and what Yukon government projects he is planning to turn into private/public partnership?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Contrary to the rhetoric coming from the other side that this government does not consult with Yukoners, I want to point out that when it comes to projects that benefit this territory and its citizens, that will help to stimulate the economy by private sector investment, that will lay the groundwork through infrastructure, for example, for long-term sustainable economic development, weíre going to do that. Weíre going to make those decisions with the Yukon public.
Thatís how this government does things.
Mr. Hardy: If youíre going to make the decisions with Yukon public, first you have to inform them of what youíre doing. Thatís what weíre not getting from the Premier.
I hope the Premier will forgive us for not sharing his own enthusiasm for privatization. Our reading of experiences in other Canadian jurisdictions around the world leaves us a little bit skeptical.
The big problem is that the private sector is motivated by profit, not public interest. The private sector seeks to cut costs and get the biggest return possible for their shareholders. That's understood. Even the Premier has conceded that the projects will come in much higher. What level of cost increase is the Premier willing to sustain by pursuing privatization? Three percent? Five percent? How much is too much before he says no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That remains to be seen. Obviously, being a sound fiscal government when it comes to the management of the finances of the territory, weíre going to do whatís best for the taxpayer. We all know how the New Democrats oppose any sort of private sector investment. The New Democratic position in this territory is to relegate Yukon citizens to being wards of the southern taxpayer. Thatís not this governmentís position. This governmentís position is to ensure that the private sector can invest and flourish in the Yukon so we reduce our dependence on the southern taxpayer and federal government and start building self-sufficiency in this territory with the enormous potential we have here in the Yukon to make the lives of our citizens better and become net contributors to Canada.
Mr. Hardy: I think we have to be very realistic about this. This governmentís plan is to mortgage the future of the Yukon Territory and mortgage the future for the upcoming students and people entering the workforce, the upcoming people who will one day want to work in here, be MLAs, and be able to give direction for the future of this territory. This Premier is planning to mortgage that future.
Now, our research shows that public/private partnerships add an average of 10 percent to the cost. Maybe the Premierís right about needing a new bookkeeping system that turns a mere $70 million into a $300-million surplus. The Premier is so committed to privatization that heís changing the Yukon law to allow it, but he wants us to believe no discussions are going on with private sector companies about potential partnerships on Yukon infrastructure.
If the governmentís new direction is public/private partnerships, whatís he waiting for? Why isnít he talking with potential partners right now?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The memberís position doesnít even make sense. The member somehow correlates public/private partnerships with selling the Yukon. Itís quite the contrary. Itís for private sector investment to come to this territory to build infrastructure that Yukoners will own. That has what this is about. Weíre not mortgaging the future. Thatís already been done by past governments, by mortgaging the Yukon to a position of being totally dependent upon the southern taxpayer. This government is going to build a Yukon future for our children, so they have something to look forward to.
Now, letís look at some facts in the matter. The New Democratic government believed that the Mayo-Dawson connection and the mess that has happened there was a good thing. Look at the massive cost overruns resulting from a decision made by that government in circumventing the Taxpayer Protection Act. Letís look at borrowing money from the immigrant investor fund, and then setting up numbered companies and dealing with other companies to spend that money in the Yukon.
Yukoners are now paying that back. This coming fiscal year, $9 million of budget must be allocated to pay back the immigrant investor fund. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, what is the better position: building a future for Yukoners with something that the private sector invests in and we own, or paying back long-term debts created by governments trying to circumvent the Taxpayer Protection Act?
Question re: Whitehorse Correctional Centre
Mrs. Peter: My question today is for the Minister of Justice.
In February this government signed the memorandum of understanding with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation regarding construction and programming of a new correctional facility. There is certainly good reason to replace the existing Whitehorse Correctional Centre, which is unsafe and outdated. In fact, itís so bad that the staff at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre have openly said that their safety is being compromised and the morale is through the floor over possible breakouts.
That MOU was signed nine months ago and weíve heard nothing since. Perhaps the minister can update the situation for us. How close are we now to having a new correctional facility?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I would like to thank the member opposite for this question as well. Itís a very important question. And Iím very proud to say that we have been making strides toward delivering a new correctional centre but, more important, working with Yukon First Nations and all Yukoners in the delivery of programming in the Correctional Centre as well as delivery of correctional programming in the rest of the territory. We have been working with the Council of Yukon First Nations. We have been working with Kwanlin Dun First Nation as well. We hope to be able to report progress very shortly.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, perhaps the minister could give us some written documentation on the progress that she says is being made on this major project.
Since the memorandum of understanding was signed, Kwanlin Dun First Nation has become a partner in a new conglomerate called Epcom Resources. One of the other partners is SNC-Lavalin, a huge multinational corporation that specializes in public/private partnerships. Another partner is Macmillan Mining Contractors, whose president is also the owner of Golden Hill Ventures.
To the ministerís knowledge, what discussions have taken place between this government and the Epcom group concerning the construction and operation of the new jail?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Again, it would look as though the members opposite are casting ó I donít want to actually say what theyíre cast upon, but weíre trying to tell the member opposite exactly what our government has been doing.
I think that weíve been very clear all along with respect to Whitehorse Correctional Centre. We are working with Yukon First Nations. I should add that we are the first government to do such a thing. We continue to work with them regarding the delivery of programming within the centre, as well as the delivery of programming in the rest of the territory.
I myself have not had any discussions with those entities that the member opposite just alluded to. What I have had, though, is the opportunity to have discussions with the Council of Yukon First Nations and Kwanlin Dun First Nation regarding next steps toward progress on this very important thing called Yukon corrections, the road forward.
Mrs. Peter: We are asking these questions on behalf of Yukon people. There is certainly confusion around that; thatís why we are asking.
Part of the memorandum of understanding gives the KDFN the right to identify business, training and employment opportunities for themselves. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, we are not objecting to that goal, but it is important to make sure that the taxpayersí money is used in the most fair and effective way possible.
If Kwanlin Dun takes on construction of the new jail, what conditions are in place to ensure that the tendering processes used are at least as fair and open as they would be if government did the project itself?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Upon being elected, I learned that the facility that was being proposed was a very ambitious project. We received input from Yukon First Nations that perhaps that wasnít the way to go, and that perhaps what we should be doing is looking at the delivery of corrections in the territory in all the communities and at what community-based programming we could do to reduce the recidivism rate in this territory, which happens to be one of the highest in the country. Also, the largest part of our clients within the Whitehorse Correctional Centre is of First Nation ancestry.
We have taken great strides in becoming involved with Yukon First Nations on a government-to-government basis. We are proceeding on that front, and I couldnít be more proud to be part of this initiative.
Question re: Privatization
Mr. Hardy:I have a follow-up question for the Premier on his plans to privatize government projects.
SNC-Lavalin, as was stated earlier, is a huge multi-service organization that operates around the world. It specializes in public infrastructure and it will do pretty much anything thatís needed ó design, construction, management, and even financing.
This huge organization already has partnerships with several First Nation governments in the Yukon and theyíve made it very clear theyíre looking for projects to do here. Has the Premier or any of his colleagues or officials had any discussions with SNC-Lavalin or any of its Yukon partners about potential projects in the Yukon ó yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We certainly had discussions with SNC-Lavalin and their partners in welcoming and encouraging this type of partnership. We believe investment in the Yukon, especially from outside the Yukon, is vital and critical to growing our economy.
As far as these so-called mythical projects the member is talking about and this nonsense statement about privatizing the Yukon, itís impossible to answer something like that. Itís pure conjecture. This is not whatís happening at all in this territory, Mr. Speaker. We are actively proceeding with changing the direction the territory has been going in for so long, because it was the wrong direction, and we are actively pursuing initiatives that will help us to rebuild this territory, create a better quality of life for our citizens and, above all, ensure that we apply good governance.
Thatís what weíre doing. The member opposite can continue down this road with this line of questioning, but thereís a serious credibility problem in that for the official opposition.
Mr. Hardy: The Premier is becoming quite a master at what you call doublespeak. The Premier is also making his best effort at presenting a moving target on this matter. Itís no wonder that so many people are feeling so mistrustful of this government. Thereís hidden agenda upon hidden agenda here and thatís what weíre trying to find out ó exactly whatís going on behind the scenes.
Letís take the discussion back to the policy level. Does the Premier believe there is a place for toll roads or toll bridges in the Yukonís future, and if so, should the revenue go to the private sector or to government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This government will do one thing always and that is deal with factual information: substantive issues, issues of policy, issues important to Yukon. This question is mere speculation. There is no toll bridge; there is no toll road. We are talking about increasing options for the Yukon government and the Yukon Territory to be able to solicit the private sector to invest in our territory ó partnering with us and building a brighter and better future. The nonsense that is being portrayed here certainly has nothing to do with that; but if the member opposite has a question of substance and of policy and of what Yukoners feel is very important to them, like our economy, weíd be more than willing to engage the official opposition.
Mr. Hardy: I guess the minister has just admitted that this whole discussion around private/public partnership isnít about the economy. This whole idea around the Taxpayer Protection Act and the changes to it to free up over $300 million dollars so they can go on a spending spree ó itís not about the economy. You really have to wonder what the heck this Premier is saying, or does he even know what he is saying?
I have another policy question for the Premier. Does the Premier believe that any facilities or infrastructure built through private/public partnership should remain in private hands, and under what conditions would he allow it? Letís see if we can actually get an answer out of the Premier instead of rhetoric and attacks.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would question where the attacks are actually coming from. This side of the House is very focused on dealing with issues that are important and vital to Yukon and its people.
As far as the continued speculative debate, we have no intention of entering into it. What weíre doing here is adding options to the territoryís ability to reduce our dependence on the southern taxpayer, to be able to grow our economy by having the private sector much more involved, as it should be.
Thatís something that is not abnormal; in fact, itís done across the country, except here in the Yukon. And it hasnít been happening here in the Yukon because past governments have chased the private sector out of here. We are going to exhaust all options to bring the private sector back, reduce our dependence on the federal government, increase our ability to grow our economy and become net contributors to Canada. Thatís what a better quality of life is all about, and thatís how you achieve it.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERSí BUSINESS
BILLS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT BILLS
Bill No. 101: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 101, standing in the name of Ms. Duncan.
Ms. Duncan: I move that Bill No. 101, entitled An Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the third party that Bill No. 101, entitled An Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, be now read a second time.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to rise today to speak to this private memberís bill. It doesnít happen very often in this Legislature that we deal with private membersí bills. Usually on Wednesdays weíre dealing with motions, such as were read into the record earlier today. Iím certain that the Clerk could advise us that the number of private membersí bills that have come before this Legislature would not even take up all the fingers on one hand.
The fact is that this bill ó a private memberís bill ó has been on the Order Paper for quite some time. I tabled it on March 3, 2003.
I would like to speak, in speaking to this bill, briefly about the history of the Taxpayer Protection Act as well as the history of the Yukonís finances. Through my second reading speech, I would like to attempt to convince the members opposite that the goodwill they have spoken about in the past in working with other members of the Legislature could and should be evidenced in support of this particular bill.
In 1985, just at the tail end of the Phelps government, the Yukon was able ó through the efforts in Ottawa of our then Member of Parliament, Erik Nielsen ó to obtain the formula finance funding arrangement. That formula finance funding arrangement ó Yukon got it first and it was extended to the Northwest Territories and then, of course, subsequently to Nunavut ó was groundbreaking at the time.
For our Member of Parliament ó who happened to be the Deputy Prime Minister at the time ó it was also a tough sell in Cabinet and with Treasury Board. It took a lot of work and a lot of political will to get the formula financing arrangement. He was successful and it was an incredible achievement.
So, since 1985, we have had this formula with Ottawa, which grants the Yukon monies to operate every year. It is a very complex formula. It is based on population, based on ó as the about-to-be former Premier of the Northwest Territories used to say ó how much money municipalities spend in southern Ontario, or the provincial ratio. So there are a number of complex factors in the formula, including the perversity factor.
The object of the formula was that the Yukon would stand on its own feet, would not be forever dependent upon the southern Ontario taxpayer, that we would grow, that our economy would develop, that we would become self-sufficient, and the formula would help us do that because, with the three-year formula, we didnít have to go every year, cap in hand, to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and say, "Please sir, may we have some more; may we have the money to operate for a year?"
What we had was our own self-sufficiency.
That formula has been incredibly well managed since 1985, and credit must be given to the successive deputy ministers of Finance, Mr. Fingland as well as Mr. Sanderson. I recognize that these are individuals outside of this House but, if the Speaker would grant me some latitude in paying some compliments, I appreciate the opportunity to name these individuals.
Mr. Fingland believed very strongly that taxpayersí money should not be spent needlessly, that we should treat each nickel of taxpayersí money like it was our own.
Iíd like to thank the students again for coming and wish them a good afternoon.
Mr. Sanderson ó Iím not sure all members are aware ó is not only a lawyer but also a very talented financial manager.
Perhaps it speaks volumes of Mr. Sandersonís work when, at his retirement function, all the former government leaders were present to wish him well. He is a consummate public servant who served every Yukon Minister of Finance extremely well, and he is sorely missed in the territory.
Certainly his former tasks have been taken on by a very capable individual, and I know he is also serving the territory extremely well. I would like to, in speaking of the history of the Yukonís finances, pay particular compliments to both of those individuals.
In 1996, the then Yukon Party government introduced the Taxpayer Protection Act. They introduced the act for very good reasons ó very good reasons ó and I will speak to those later on in my address this afternoon. The fact is the act has served Yukon people very, very well. It is also recognized as a piece of legislation as, if not the best in the country, one of the best. Finance ministers have told me in the past that certainly no act that theyíve encountered affords Yukon taxpayers the protection that is outlined in our act.
And the evidence is also in the territoryís finances. We donít have the debt that other jurisdictions are carrying. And every Yukon minister who has travelled out of the territory and every Yukoner who speaks about this issue with southern Canadians who listen to their finance ministers address the nation and say, "Well, weíre $5 billion in debt" ó we donít have to say that, and that is incredibly important. As a minister of the government travelling outside of this territory, being able to say, "No, we arenít carrying the debt that other provinces and territories are; we arenít" ó itís a very important point and Yukoners are very, very proud of the fact that we pay our way.
In looking at the history of the formula and the surplus and the straight finances of the territory since the formula began, itís interesting. But if one examines the accumulated surplus beginning in 1985, when we started with the formula, and adjusting for inflation, give or take a nominal sum, every government over time has achieved the same result.
The formula, combined with the Taxpayer Protection Act, has served us very well. The Taxpayer Protection Act imposes a discipline. It imposes a discipline upon finance ministers and upon Management Board. The Executive Council and each of the members and the Management Board are bound by the act. Itís not just the Finance minister. Every member of Management Board is bound by the act.
As I have said, Mr. Speaker, it has served us very, very well. Since weíve had the formula and since weíve had the Taxpayer Protection Act, those two combined are a strong discipline; they have served Yukoners well. We arenít a debt-ridden territory. We are a strong territory with strong individuals who are proud of paying their way.
So why on earth would I table an amendment that says that the Taxpayer Protection Act cannot be amended without the unanimous consent of the Yukon Legislature Assembly? Because, Mr. Speaker, the Taxpayer Protection Act is so fundamental to the financial health and well-being of the territory and so important to the territoryís future.
Iím not saying that the Taxpayer Protection Act could not ever be amended, and Iíd like to talk about some of the amendments that are possible. Thereís an old expression when it comes to money, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." There could be a change proposed to the Taxpayer Protection Act that would follow section 8. Section 8 talks about the new tax law or changes in tax law. It says that if you want to change the tax law, go to a referendum. You canít make significant changes in tax law without the support of Yukoners in a referendum.
So we could add a section 9 that government not loan money to business. I have heard every member of this House say that government shouldnít be in the business of loaning money to business. Government has done it before ó without success. For example, the Yukon Development Corporation and the loans of $18 million ó taxpayersí money gone.
The Yukon Party made changes to the Yukon Development Corporation governance and the act that said: no, money, dividends from taxpayers have to be spent on energy-related projects. So they got government out of the business of loaning money.
There has been a decrease of the outstanding loans on the books right now ó if one examines the consolidated accounts. Itís slight, but itís still in excess of $5 million.
And it has been agreed upon in this House many times that government shouldnít be in the loan business. Perhaps there could be an amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act, following section 8 ó put it in section 9 ó saying that government shouldnít be in the business of loaning money. The point of my amendment is that you would have to get everybody in the House to agree. If you want to make the changes, it has to be unanimous. You have to convince ó "you" being a government in this case. A government that wanted to bring forward a change to this fundamental piece of legislation has to convince every member of the House that itís the right thing to do. It could be done. It could be done.
We have heard ó in fact, Iíve seen it in print in newsletters ó talk of all-party cooperation in the Legislature.
According to some newsletters, there has been an unprecedented, unanimous passage of five government motions. If there is a true belief and discipline in cooperation, then let it be reflected in this act ó this act that is so important to Yukoners and served Yukoners so well. Letís see the goodwill. Letís make it a requirement that any changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act have to be unanimous; you ó the government ó proposing the change has to convince every member of the House that the change is important to the financial health of the territory.
It may be that some amendments would pass, and there has been discussion about the leave liability account. Like other accounting measures, peopleís eyes can glaze over when we start to talk about it, but I would like to address it for a few moments.
The leave liability account is a very unusual liability on our books ó itís very unusual. Since the implementation of the Taxpayer Protection Act, three different governments that Iím aware of have done what they called "capping" and "uncapping" it. That means, if every single member of the public service who has leave and so on on the books decided to leave in one day, according to current estimates, it would cost $42 million. Itís not going to happen. This is what I mean by an unusual liability.
So governments have said that itís reasonable to have $30 million in that account. Thatís what the Taxpayer Protection Act says. The minister responsible for the Public Service Commission shakes his head. Well, if one goes back and examines the financial statements, the most that has ever been paid out of that account in any one year is $3 million.
So do you say to Yukoners, "No, we canít provide vaccines and flu shots at no cost because we have to have this liability on the books." There comes a choice for management boards and governments. At what point does recording something on the books versus providing public services become an issue?
It has been an issue for three different governments: the Ostashek government, the McDonald government and my government ó both capped and uncapped. What difference does it make? It makes a difference in that the Auditor General has both qualified and unqualified statements. The only difference that makes to a government is if they need to go and borrow against those financial statements ó thatís where the difference comes in.
A government could ó realistically though ó bring forward, talk about that leave liability account so that everybody understands it, and make an amendment to the act that changes the amount that is listed for that account. An amendment could be passed with unanimous consent of the House ó it could be. If everybody understood what it was about and everybody accepted the explanation, that could happen. It has to be unanimous. We have to all agree.
My point is that the Taxpayer Protection Act is not unamendable; it can be done.
If the current changes elsewhere on our Order Paper are truly as benign as some view them, then convince every member of the House. Convince us all. Have it passed unanimously.
Unanimous consent imposes a discipline on the governing party ó hands across the Legislature. I could encourage the members to look at this as a test of the governmentís goodwill.
If the government is truly committed to all-party cooperation then letís pass something other than just government motions unanimously.
Letís pass something that the opposition has put forward, and letís pass something as important to Yukoners as unanimous agreement on their finances.
Money bills themselves are confidence bills. Thatís a long-held parliamentary tradition in our legislatures. If you canít get your budget through, then the government falls. The Taxpayer Protection Act is more of a modern day situation. It doesnít have years and years of parliamentary tradition behind it. I look at it certainly as a test of the governmentís goodwill. If you want to mess with the books, convince everybody in the House you should.
I would like to draw membersí attention to a recent commentary from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a commentary about governments and their budgets by Walter Robinson. And the title of the editorial is, "Donít Post a Fake Surplus, Go Directly to Jail." Itís important because he notes in there that truth in budgeting legislation is long overdue. He also said that politicians who deliberately mislead taxpayers about the state of public finances deserve the same fate as fraudsters behind Wall Street accounting scandals, like Enron ó steep fines and jail time. Mr. Robinson is pointing out in this article how fundamentally important it is that, in our modern day world, governments tell the Legislature and the public precisely what the surplus is and about the budgets more than once a year, about timing and budgets. He even references special warrants. Taxpayersí money. This is about how taxpayersí money is spent, and this legislation is about taxpayer protection. So if a government wants to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, make that amendment unanimous or donít make it at all.
I look at this as a notwithstanding clause, Mr. Speaker; itís that fundamentally important to the future of the Yukon. The Taxpayer Protection Act has imposed a discipline upon governments, a discipline to live within their means ó to neither a borrower, and shouldnít have been, a lender be, that we shouldnít borrow against our childrenís future. We should accept the words the Prime Minister elect recently said ó and has said, Iím certain, many times before ó that we shouldnít mortgage our children or our grandchildrenís future.
The act as it stands is a good one. Iím asking members to support an amendment that would require that any changes to it be unanimously passed by this House.
The members opposite could say, "Well, why didnít you do that when you were in government if you felt it was that important?" Mr. Speaker, because I did not for a moment believe that anybody would ever try and mess with the Taxpayer Protection Act. It just hasnít been done by previous governments. They didnít do that. And members opposite find that humorous. It was the discipline. Itís the act. Itís the law. You donít mess with it. That was the advice from officials, officials who served us very well. It served previous governments very well. They were still able to do strong economic initiatives; they were still able to work toward fundamental construction of much-needed infrastructure. Most important, we lived within our means.
Without discipline like the Taxpayer Protection Act, it leads to borrowing.
I have asked that the members opposite examine the amendment I have brought forward. I would ask that they examine it in good faith and with the goodwill they have expressed in their newsletters, and give fair and full consideration to it. If an amendment in the future is as necessary, then it should pass.
This isnít about partisan politics. This is about the taxpayers, and we were all elected to serve them.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I look forward to the debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think there is just cause to quickly move to a vote on this, so everybody can put on the record what their position is.
Now, I can understand, to a great degree, what the member opposite is trying to do here. However, when a member of this House brings forward bills such as this, the member must make the case ó make the case, outside of any doubt ó that this should be the course that the government takes. I must say that in this regard the member opposite has not made the case. I just want to spend a little time pointing that out.
First off, we have to get to the crux of the issue, what the real issue is.
The members opposite are making much of the fact that the Taxpayer Protection Act is being gutted. On that point, that is simply not the case. It is incorrect; it has nothing to do with the amendment; it even has nothing to do with the Taxpayer Protection Act as it exists, before or after the amendment. The Taxpayer Protection Act remains intact; it remains the same; and I will point that out.
When it comes to the very essence of this act, I will read the sections so there is no confusion and so there is clarity on the issue. Itís about no creation of, or increase in, accumulated deficit. The act itself spells out exactly how that must transpire, and this amendment does not change that one iota.
Section 3(1) states: "An accumulated deficit must not be created or increased." The amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act has not changed that, compromised it or diminished it in any way, shape or form. It remains intact. The Yukon cannot create or increase an accumulated deficit, before and after this amendment.
Section 3(2) states: "An appropriation that would create or increase an accumulated deficit must not be sought from the Legislative Assembly." Again, this remains intact. The amendment does not remove, diminish or compromise in any way, shape or form this clause of the act, and this is what the act is intended to do.
Section 3(3) states" "An appropriation does not authorize an expenditure in violation of this act." Well, I think thatís self-explanatory, and this amendment, again, does not remove, change or compromise in any way the intent of this clause. It remains the same.
Section 3(4), "A special warrant must not be made if it would create or increase an accumulated deficit." Again, Mr. Speaker, for clarityís sake, the amendment does not in any way, shape or form remove, compromise or diminish this clause, in keeping with the intent of the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Section 3(5) states: "There may be an annual deficit, but only if it does not create or increase the accumulated deficit." Again, the amendment does not remove, reduce or compromise in any way, shape or form this clause. In short, Mr. Speaker, the amendment does not change the act as it was intended. The amendment does not remove the safeguards for the Yukon taxpayer when it comes to the government going into an accumulated deficit. The amendment does not remove the elements of the act that ensure the government cannot raise taxes like income tax without a public referendum. None of that changes.
What changes, Mr. Speaker, is that we, in going to a full accrual accounting system as directed and recommended by the Auditor General, have seen the opportunity to go to a bookkeeping system that will provide us more options under the accumulated surplus deficit cap to partner with other governments and the private sector to get investment in this territory and stimulate the economy.
Now, next point: the members opposite continue on this tirade of debt, as if to say ó and they imply this, Mr. Speaker ó that this amendment would put the territory into debt. That, again, Mr. Speaker, is incorrect. Deficit and debt are two entirely different things. And I would urge the members opposite to brush up on those points, because itís vital to the debate. Itís important to the debate.
The Yukon Territory, when it comes to debt, is regulated in the level of debt it can incur, by order-in-council of the federal government ó period. We canít go above that. We cannot go into debt above that threshold that has been regulated by that order-in-council by the federal government.
So again, the arguments coming from the other side are incorrect and are not lending constructively to the debate.
The members opposite should be looking at why this amendment is a good thing and how they can contribute to that aspect of this benign and simple amendment.
Furthermore ó and this is where ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Member for Mount Lorne, on a point of order.
Mr. Cardiff: I am kind of confused here. I am just wondering which amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act the Premier is talking about. I was under the understanding that we were talking about Bill No. 101, and it doesnít sound to me like he is talking about this amendment. He is talking about a different amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If I may, Mr. Speaker ó I started out by saying that when a member brings forward a bill of this nature, they must make the case. That did not happen in this debate so far. I, on the other hand, in representing the government side on debating this amendment, am making the case. I am making the case for why there is no need for the bill brought forward by the private member, the third party, the party of one.
Speaker:The Chair is of the opinion that there is no point of order. We are talking about the bill being proposed. I seem to find a correlation; therefore, there is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Now, I want to get to my next point. Because the Taxpayer Protection Act ó as it has existed up until this point in time ó has been in place and the Yukon has been facing the situation that it has in our ever-diminishing private sector economy, governments have found some ingenious ways of getting around the intent of the Taxpayer Protection Act, and in some of those cases, even getting around the fact that debt was not the original intention.
The reason they were getting around it, Mr. Speaker, is because to try to stimulate and generate cash flow in our economy, government has to spend money. And in spending money ó obviously every time the government invests in a capital project, for example ó it would reduce the net or accumulated surplus that we have in the bank or in government.
Mr. Speaker, when you think about it, it gets to the crux of the argument that the other side is making. The problem here is government spending does not work in creating an economy. And we see that, and the evidence is clear. The increase of government spending can be associated distinctly with a decrease in the Yukonís economy, a decrease in private sector investment, a decrease in the population, and in that, a decrease in government revenues; therefore ó and the debate has happened in this House on many occasions ó the government side has stated clearly that the trajectory and levels of spending cannot be sustained.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Speaker:Government House leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I bring to the Speakerís attention that there does not appear to be a quorum present.
Speaker: According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during the sitting of the Assembly, the Speakerís attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes.
We have a quorum. Carry on please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I was saying, the correlation to government spending and the reduction of private sector spending was leading to where the Yukon was going to hit the wall when it comes to its problems in creating an economy here and stimulating spending power in the Yukon.
So this amendment has nothing to do with the amendment on the floor of the Legislature, the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act. It has absolutely nothing to do with creating debt, mortgaging the future, or any of these things. It is an option thatís made available to the Yukon to change the direction this territory is going in and to be able to engage with the private sector ó obviously ó and other orders of government to increase the levels of spending in the Yukon and not continue to increase the spending of the government itself, but to use small expenditures by government to leverage investment from the private sector, for example.
In doing so, we do something else thatís very important. With this amendment, we provide full disclosure to the Yukon public. Now, I want to make this point very clear again. Past governments have not provided full disclosure to the Yukon public. Past governments have not correctly reported the liability of the Yukon government, therefore not providing the correct surplus to the Yukon taxpayer in any given fiscal year. In short, past governments were cooking the books.
We have no intention of doing that. As sound fiscal managers, we are going to provide full financial disclosure to the Yukon public. We are correctly reporting the liabilities, and we are reporting the level of surplus. Surplus is created by revenues, assets, reduction of liabilities; it creates retained earnings and/or surplus deficit.
Speaker:The hon. Premier used the term "cooking the books" to refer to the previous administrations. The Chair feels that thatís argumentative and possibly unparliamentary, and Iíd ask the hon. Premier to withdraw that remark, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Pardon me, Mr. Speaker. I got lost in reality there for a moment. Let me rephrase that by saying that our past governments did not correctly report the finances of the Yukon government to its taxpayers.
Speaker: Iíd ask the Premier to withdraw those remarks, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I withdraw them.
Speaker: Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I said, I got lost in reality for a moment.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the fact is that this amendment is very benign. This amendment is a simple bookkeeping amendment, and this amendment allows us to not only provide full disclosure to the Yukon public, it allows us to provide one set of books. We maintain the integrity of the act, and we get the benefit of partnering with the private sector, for example, to increase the spending power in this territory ó not by government going on a spending spree, but by the private sector investing in the Yukon ó investing in the Yukon as it should because history shows us, at least over the last decade, that the lack of private sector investment has severely restricted our economy. We are going to change that. Thatís what we were elected to do, and we are carrying forward with that on many fronts, whether it be our relationship with First Nations, increasing the surplus, making the business case to remove the disincentives and the impediments in the formula, increasing our options under the surplus deficit cap to engage the private sector and have them invest in the Yukon, increasing mining exploration ó across the board, Mr. Speaker, we are doing those things.
And weíre not short on the social program either. In fact, in the supplementary budget alone, vast amounts of money ó millions ó are allocated to help those in need, more money for education and, of course, more money for health care.
This shows a very sound fiscal management of the territoryís finances by a progressive conservative government, and thatís what we believed all along was required in this territory to turn it around. Now, letís get to the bill.
The bill, Mr. Speaker, is one that the member opposite, if really intent on contributing to the debate ó the member opposite could simply vote on this amendment. If this amendment in any way, shape or form compromised the Taxpayer Protection Act, I could understand what the member is trying to do, but the amendment that we have brought forward does not. The bill that the member has brought forward is one where the member intends to continue the political rhetoric and, frankly, the simplest thing to have done here was to stand up and vote for or against the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Let us not forget that itís the same party ó the third party ó which, when in this House when the Taxpayer Protection Act was brought forward, opposed the Taxpayer Protection Act as it existed then and exists today. Nothing has changed. They opposed it. In fact, the member of the third party who tabled this bill ó I will quote what the memberís colleague stated. The member stated in debate in opposition to this Taxpayer Protection Act, the one we have before us today, the one that has not changed one iota when it comes to the intent of the amendment the Yukon government has tabled ó the colleague of the member opposite said: "In my view, a competent government is the best protection that a taxpayer can get. No amount of legislative draftsmanship will protect taxpayers from poor government." I have to agree with the memberís former colleague. Thatís what this government is all about.
Mr. Speaker, we have no intention of supporting this bill ó none whatsoever. We have every intention of continuing our work on achieving a better quality of life for our citizens, of implementing good governance for our citizens, of making a strong economy, and we are going to do it across all the fronts that we have begun working on in one short year of our mandate.
Have we changed things? Have we turned things around? I think the indicators show clearly that thatís happening. Mining has come back to the territory. There is interest in oil and gas. Our arts and culture community and tourism community are excited. They have a positive attitude today.
We have increased spending power in the Yukon. We are getting this territory moving. We are not happy about the unemployment rate, but I would suggest that the unemployment rate today reflects the reality ó unlike the past government, which reduced the unemployment rate by the exodus of the population. That exodus no longer continues.
Letís look at some other indicators that are very important, because one small aspect of any economy is the unemployment factor. The real issue is spending power ó the fuel that drives any economic engine. Retail sales are up 3.2 percent under this governmentís watch. Wholesale ó another indicator of spending power ó is up 12.7 percent. They are important numbers, Mr. Speaker.
Letís also look at another indicator. The value of real estate ó this, again, can be attributed to spending power. The increase is 20.5 percent in values. These are just some of the indicators that show that the territory is now starting to move in the right direction.
I would suggest the members opposite be more focused in a substantive way on these things versus playing political games.
We will not support this bill brought forward by the third party. There is no need to. The Taxpayer Protection Act has not been compromised. Nothing has been changed. What we have managed to do and what we have accomplished with the amendment is increase our ability to grow our economy, not by government expenditure and dependence upon the southern taxpayer, but by capital investment and investment in the Yukon by the private sector.
Mr. Cardiff: This afternoon we are talking about Bill No. 101, An Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act. Iím still confused as to which act the Premier spoke most about. He didnít really speak much about whether or not unanimous consent of the Yukon Legislative Assembly was a good idea to amend a piece of legislation like this.
Iíd like to point out to the Premier ó he mentioned that the opportunity was there for the two previous governments to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act in this way, to require unanimous consent, and it wasnít done. I might also point out that it probably was possible for both of the previous governments to ask to have this act repealed, in which case we wouldnít be here discussing either of the amendments to the act.
The Premier has another act to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act. If he did his job, heíd be able to get unanimous consent ó if he were to explain the intent of his amendment in a comprehensive manner that was understandable to everybody. He canít even seem to explain it to the public.
He talked about all kinds of things that in my mind werenít even related to this, and Iím going to go there as well. He did talk about increased spending power. He talked about the Taxpayer Protection Act and the amendments to it not affecting social programs and health care. Why do we have a campaign to raise money for a system thatís supposedly publicly funded health care, thatís supposed to reduce the O&M costs of the health care system?
The Premier also talked about the exodus from the Yukon and how great the economy was and the Yukon Party vision of the economy and how the Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act was going to increase the public sector economy and how that was going to stem the exodus of people from the Yukon and how that has stemmed the exodus of people from the Yukon. Well, I have to disagree with that.
The exodus from the Yukon continues. People are leaving for the Okanagan, as I said the other day. People are leaving for Fort McMurray. We have tradespeople in Russia. We have people who are talking about going to Iqaluit. So what good does that do the economy of the Yukon?
I donít see why the Premier is so upset about this act to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act. What it means is that the government has to work a little harder to convince us on this side of the House that their intentions are the right intentions and that the ideas that are presented are good. But they havenít even attempted to do that ó to explain it. In fact, in the briefing, there was no rationale provided for having to change the Taxpayer Protection Act at all.
And this doesnít change the intent of the Taxpayer Protection Act. All this does is require the unanimous consent of this Assembly to change it. And the government wants to ó every time we pass a motion in this House and achieve unanimous consent, the government House leader stands up and crows and says what a great day in the Yukon it is. But heís not willing to go the extra mile here and grant unanimous consent to what I see as a good change to the Taxpayer Protection Act. I support this, and I look forward to hearing what the government House leader has to say.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Ms. Duncan: I have tried this afternoon, and this bill has been on the Order Paper for some time, to convince members that any amendment brought forward to the Taxpayer Protection Act should be unanimous. I have tried without success. The Premier has made a case on other amendments ó or has tried to make his case on other amendments. He has made reference to this bill as political gamesmanship.
This private memberís bill was tabled on March 3, 2003, long before other amendments came forward. It expressed at the time, as it also expresses today, how strongly I feel ó and Yukoners feel ó about this legislation. The Taxpayer Protection Act is a strong act, a good act, and that for any changes, you have to convince everyone.
There are only a number of opportunities ó they are quite limited ó for me to bring forward items for debate, Mr. Speaker. I brought this forward in the belief that this all-party cooperation that the other side speaks of would extend to those other than themselves, that there would be cooperation with this side, that there would be an understanding that others may have a point to make and that, fundamentally, we were all here and all elected to serve our constituents, to serve the taxpayers.
The Taxpayer Protection Act, as it exists, protects the taxpayer. All the act proposed was that any changes be unanimous. Just as it requires unanimous consent to proceed along a number of other items of importance to Yukoners in the business of this House, I was asking that the business we do, on behalf of taxpayers in this piece of legislation, be unanimous ó that we all agree.
Itís unfortunate that what has been rejected is working together on behalf of Yukoners. It has also proven that the further amendments proposed are, in fact, anything but benign because we all could have been convinced. If the amendments are innocuous, as suggested in the Premierís address, then there shouldnít be a problem agreeing with them.
The government has failed to make their case. Theyíve tried to justify the further changes and have failed. They have also portrayed themselves as cooperative, and they have equally failed. Iím disappointed, not because this is an amendment I proposed ó Iím disappointed on behalf of all Yukoners. I thought working together, as weíre asked to, we really could have done a whole lot better.
And, Mr. Speaker, today we havenít.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker:Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Disagree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Disagree.
Mr. Arntzen: Disagree.
Mr. Rouble: Disagree.
Mr. Hassard: Disagree.
Mr. Cathers: Disagree.
Mr. Hardy: Disagree.
Excuse me. Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct my vote. I agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 10 nay, 5 yea, and one re-thought yea.
The final result is, therefore, 6 yea, 10 nay.
Speaker: The nays have it. I declare the motion defeated.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 101 negatived
Bill No. 102: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 102, standing in the name of Ms. Duncan.
Ms. Duncan: I move that Bill No. 102, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the third party that Bill No. 102, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate and would like to thank my colleagues in the Legislature for the opportunity to address this issue which is of tremendous importance to a number of my constituents. Itís an issue that I have brought up with ministers opposite and Iíve raised as a motion in this Legislature. If members would permit me, I would like to outline the background to this issue and the situation and the reasoning behind the bill.
The Employment Standards Act has in it section 105(2) ó basically it outlines that if an employer has a contract directly or indirectly with the Government of Yukon ó and itís very specific, it says "for building construction, heavy construction, or road, sewer and water main construction, the employer shall pay the employees engaged or employed in connection with the contract not less than the applicable rate set out in the Fair Wage Schedule."
What that means is that the government sets out a fair wage schedule, and contracts that are let by the Government of Yukon, say for road construction, must pay the employees at a specific rate. The road construction industry has been very supportive of this particular initiative ó the fair wage schedule ó as has other construction because it prevents is the underbidding of contracts on the backs of the employee.
What that means is that a company canít come in from outside of the territory and pay their employees less than what a Yukon contractor would pay. So, on government contracts, a fair wage applies.
Now, the issue with respect to the safe transportation of students ó because thatís what our school bus drivers do. They safely transport our students to school. Itís important to note that these are not simply individuals with a certain class of driverís licence. These are individuals who have care and control of a very large vehicle; they must have certain first aid training, specific driver training; and ultimately they have a great deal of responsibility for the passengers ó precious cargo ó as well as other road users. It is one of the largest vehicles on the road and itís carrying arguably the most precious cargo. The drivers have to be aware of their responsibilities.
And I would note, as well, that these individuals not only transport our students safely, but they also transport them safely with on-time service, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Cuts to school busing budgets, such as were evidenced in Ontario under the previous administration, threaten the safety and have implications far beyond a line in a budget.
School bus drivers, who are responsible for the safe transportation of our students, should arguably receive a fair wage for what they do. They are very skilled, have a high degree of responsibility, and they should be paid accordingly.
School bus drivers ó and the safe transportation of students ó is a Government of Yukon contract in this territory. The argument that the school bus drivers make is that they would like to see themselves identified, and their profession identified, in the fair wage schedule so that the Government of Yukon contract that is let for the safe transportation of students cannot be won or lost using their wages as the key bidding point.
They have come to me, as a member, and said, "We have this problem. How do we fix it within the existing legislation?" I brought forward a motion and asked the government to do this. I wrote the Minister of Justice, in her capacity as being responsible for the Cabinet Committee on Legislation, and asked, "Would the government examine this?" I know that other bus drivers have gone to the government, as well, and asked for this change.
I wrote on March 12 to ask for an amendment to the fair wage schedule to include school bus drivers. And I asked back in July, and I tabled my motion in the previous session because thereís a time factor here ó the school bus contract for the safe transportation of students is let in April for three years.
Itís let in April, and then the contract would start in September. So there is a contracting/tendering process coming up next spring. The professional school bus drivers donít want to see their wages used as the bidding point for the contract. It makes sense. How do we deal with this then? If theyíre included in the fair wage schedule, it wouldnít be.
Thatís all Iím asking ó for the government to do that. Thatís all I asked in March and in July and in August. Unfortunately, I was advised that, if the government were planning to bring it forward, theyíd let me know. That was the response I received in September. Thereís a short period of time in which to table legislation. It wasnít coming forward, so I brought forward the private membersí bill because I can hear the urgency. If this contract is to be done in the spring, itís unlikely we can make an amendment in the spring, have it in effect and have it in time for this contract.
Now, when a member is elected to this Legislature, theyíre asked all kinds of things by different constituents. Theyíre asked for help on a number of different issues and, as members, we all try to help them. Weíre all here with the same intention: weíre trying to help our constituents; weíre trying to do our job on their behalf.
These constituents have come to me and asked about this. It was partly an issue that didnít come forward ó it certainly didnít come to my attention to the same degree when we were in government. Iím certain that, were we in government now, there would be many arguments put forward by officials that this would increase the cost of government. Iíd like to address that.
The cost of school busing is in our budget documents. Yes, there was a decrease in cost when it was tendered. The contract is still going to be tendered.
The cost-savings should not be on the backs of employees. No one in this House wants that. Nobody wants that. We donít want to see an entry level position and entry level wages for someone whoís being asked to pilot one of the largest vehicles on the road, ensure that students arrive safely, ensure that they arrive on time and at the same time watch out for all the other drivers on the road.
I will just digress for a moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In speaking with these school bus drivers, I have been appalled at the number of instances theyíve shared with me about other drivers on the road going around the flashing red lights on the bus. These are students; these are individuals. Maybe itís humorous to some people who donít have children riding that bus. Itís not humorous to me, and itís not humorous to me when weíre talking about children being transported to our schools safely. And we should recognize the job, the task that these individuals perform, and they should be paid accordingly. And no company would want to win a contract on the backs of Yukoners and decrease the wages of those employees. All weíre asking for is a fair wage ó a fair wage. I have corresponded with the drivers and have said to them that ó to return to the point ó in the absence of the government bringing forward legislation, I brought forward a private memberís bill. I can understand the government has lots to do. The Cabinet Committee on Legislation has had lots of stuff to look at. I can understand how this would not be the top priority. There is urgency to it though. That contract is to be tendered this spring. This is the opportunity to pass legislation, so if I have to use my time, so be it.
The government can stand and say, "Well, itís not very well drafted." Iíll be the first to admit that I did the best I could, but Iím not a legislative draftsperson. And if the government has an amendment thatís more correctly legislatively drafted, letís have it. Letís hear it, letís deal with it in Committee, and I would be happy to work with them. But I would really like to deal with this issue on behalf of these individuals. Itís fair, itís the most appropriate way I can see, in reading legislation, to address their concern, address it in a timely manner, to get it done by the spring. Fundamentally, though, itís the right thing to do for these individuals.
I donít accept an argument that itís precedent-setting ó "Whatís next?" I mean, are we going to be adding who-knows-what to the fair wage schedule? No. The precedent has already been set. We do this for other industries, and itís only in contracts by the Government of Yukon. Thatís only where the fair wage schedule applies. And I specifically said "safe transportation of students" because thatís what weíre talking about.
Itís the right thing to do. Itís appropriate within the governmentís legislation, and I would ask for membersí support. If the government wishes to amend it, to have it more appropriately written, Iím more than happy to accept that. I would, quite simply, like to see it passed and would like to see the government implement this change on behalf of those individuals who perform a very necessary and important public service and, most importantly, they perform it very well.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I rise today to respond to Bill No. 102, presented by the third party leader, seeking to amend the Employment Standards Act to include bus drivers in the fair wage schedule.
The fair wage schedule was established to create a level playing field in the bidding process for construction projects tendered by the Yukon government. It guarantees that all employers, local or otherwise, pay a fair wage to their workers on these contracts. The purpose of the competitive bidding process is to ensure that taxpayersí money is used in the most efficient manner possible.
As the member is aware, the fair wage schedule applies ó as she indicated earlier ó only to Yukon government construction contracts.
Service contracts, such as school busing, do not come under the schedule. This is consistent with other jurisdictions in Canada having regulations governing minimum wage rates for construction projects, and it complies with the recommendation of the Employment Standards Board.
As part of the regular review process and in consultation with stakeholders, the Employment Standards Board, which is responsible for reviewing the fair wage schedule, has recommended that the schedule continue to apply only to government construction projects.
I agree with the member that school bus drivers are performing a valuable service, as she indicated, by safely transporting our students, and I recognize that these are qualified and trained professional drivers, as she indicated. I also agree that they deserve a reasonable wage for their hard work. However, this is covered under the Employment Standards Act. In addition, labour has a right to organize, and it is a traditional role of unions to negotiate compensation through the collective bargaining process. I must repeat, however, that the fair wage schedule itself applies to, as intended only to cover, government-tendered construction contracts and not government contracts in general.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is not the governmentís role to unfairly burden the market with excessive regulation or control, but rather to ensure minimum standards without unduly restricting the market economyís ability to function itself.
Is the member asking the government to regulate the wages for every single contract that we tender?
To apply the schedule to every service contract would lead to increased cost to taxpayers, not to mention the government tendering process could become onerous for some participants. Further, to enforce this expansion of regulatory controls would require a government to conduct wage audits on a significant portion of Yukon contractors at all levels. Is this what the member is asking, for increased interference in the labour market and even more government red tape?
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I quote from the Employment Standards Act, section 18(1) "The board may, from time to time,
(a) establish on the basis of time, the minimum wage to be paid by employers to employees; and
(b) establish the amount by which the wages of an employee may be reduced for any pay period below the minimum wage, either by deduction from wages or by payment from the employee to the employer, if board or lodging or both are furnished by or on behalf of an employer to an employee, if the arrangement is accepted by that employee."
"(2) If on the application of the director or an employer, employee, or trade union representing employees directly affected by the matter, the board considers it necessary, it may
"(a) require employers to pay employees who report for work at the call of the employer wages for any minimum number of hours as may be prescribed, whether or not the employee is called on to perform any work after so reporting for work;
"(b) also set a maximum price to be charged for the board, whether full or partial, supplied by or on behalf of an employer to an employee and a maximum deduction to be made in respect of the board from the wages of an employee by the employer;
"(c) set the maximum price to be charged for living quarters, either permanent or temporary, furnished by or on behalf of an employer to an employee, whether or not the quarters are self-contained, and whether or not the employee retains general possession and custody of them, or the maximum deduction to be made in respect of the quarters from the wages of the employee by the employer;
"(d) set the charges or deductions for furnishing uniforms or other articles of wearing apparel that an employer may require an employee to wear and require an employer in any specified circumstances to provide, maintain or launder uniforms or other articles of wearing apparel that the employer requires an employee to wear;
"(e) set the charges or deductions for furnishing any tools or equipment that an employer may require an employee to use and for the maintenance and repair of such tools or equipment;
"(f) specify the circumstances and the occupations in which persons under 17 years of age may be employed by an employer, set the conditions of that employment; and
"(g) exempt, on any terms and conditions and for any periods considered advisable, any employer from the application of section 17 in respect of any class of employees who are being trained on the job, if the training facilities provided and used by the employer are adequate to provide a training program that will increase the skill or proficiency of an employee.
"(3) On an application pursuant to subsection (2) the board may expand the scope of its inquiry into the matter to include all employers and employees or one or more classes of employers or employees.
"(4) If the wages of an employee are computed and paid on a basis other than time or on a combined basis of time and some other basis, the board may, by order
(a) set a standard basis of work to which a minimum wage on a basis other than time may be applied; and
(b) set a minimum rate of wage that in its opinion is the equivalent of the minimum rate set forth in paragraph (1)(a).
"(5) Subject to this Part, an employer shall pay to each employee who is paid on a basis other than time a wage at a rate not less than the minimum rate set by the order under subsection (4)."
Section 7 "Any order of the board made pursuant to this section shall not come into effect until it has been approved by the Commissioner in Executive Council."
"Officerís determination of unpaid wages, section 72(1): "If an employment standards officer finds that an employer has failed to pay an employee any wages due to the employee, the employment standards officer may determine the difference between the wages actually paid to the employee and the wages to which the employee is entitled,
"if the amount of the difference is agreed to in writing by the employer and the employee, the employer shall, within three days after the date of the agreement, pay that amount to the employee or, if the director so orders, to the director who shall pay it over to the employee immediately on receipt thereof by the director.
"(2) When an employer has made payment of the wages agreed to be due in accordance with subsection (1), no prosecution for failure to pay an employee the full wages to which they were entitled under this Act shall be commenced against the employer."
Under "Investigation of complaints", "75(1) On receiving a complaint within the time permitted under section 73, the director or an employment standards officer shall investigate the complaint.
"(2) Despite subsection (1), the director may
"(a) refuse to investigate a complaint if the director considers that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, trivial, or has not been initiated in good faith; and
"(b) cease investigating a complaint if, in the directorís opinion, there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the complaint.
"(3) The director may commence an investigation without receiving a complaint if the director considers it necessary to determine that the requirements of this Act are being complied with.
"(4) On an application to the director or on the directorís own motion, the director may reconsider a decision, order, authorization, or direction made by the director and may vary or revoke the decision, order, authorization, or direction.
"For the purposes of this Act, if the director has the protection, privileges and powers of a board appointed under the Public Inquiries Act."
Reference Board, section 76, "If the director is unable to resolve a complaint made under this Act the director may refer the matter to the board for a decision."
"Wage Rates for Public Works
"105(1) In this section,
"building construction" means the construction, remodelling and repair of buildings;
"Fair Wage Schedule" means the schedule of wage rates established by the board with the approval of the Commissioner in Executive Council;
"Government of the Yukon" includes
"(a) a corporation that is an agent of the Government of the Yukon, and
"(b) a corporation, all the members of the board of directors of which are appointed by an enactment or by the Commissioner in Executive Council and which for the discharge of their duties are, directly or indirectly, responsible to the Government of the Yukon;
"heavy construction" means such work as, but not limited to, site preparation, excavation, electric transmission lines, marine works, bridges, viaducts, tunnels, and dams;
"road, sewer, and water main construction" means clearing and preparing a right of way, excavation and subgrading, laying a granular base, grading and asphalt and concrete paving and includes
"(a) the operation of on-site plants to service the construction."
It also includes the installation of drainage, landscaping, the demolition of structures in or affected by the right-of-way and all other works involved in the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads, highways, streets, sidewalks, runways, airport taxi strips and airport parking aprons, and the installation, reinstallation and maintenance of sewers and water mains.
Under the Government of Yukon, if an employer has a contract, directly or indirectly with the Government of Yukon, for building construction, heavy construction or road, sewer and water main construction, the employer shall pay the employees engaged or employed in connection with the contract not less than the applicable rate set out in the fair wage schedule.
The fair wage schedule may contain rates payable to apprentices, by reference to the Apprentice Training Act, and regulations or otherwise. The board shall review the fair wage schedule at least once every three years and also whenever requested to by the minister. The purpose of the review is to consider what changes, if any, should be made to the fair wage schedule and to make them and recommend them to the Commissioner in the Executive Council.
Mr. Speaker, the leader of the third party has proposed the following amendment to the Employment Standards Act: "The Commissioner of the Yukon Territory, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly, enacts as follows:
"(1) This Act amends the Employment Standards Act.
"(2) The Act is amended by adding the following definition to section 105(1), "school bus driving" means professional drivers safely transporting students to school
"(3) The Act is amended by inserting the words Ďbus drivingí following the words Ďbuilding constructioní in section 105(2)
"(4) This Act comes into force on the date of assent."
Mr. Speaker, in 1984, the current Employment Standards Act replaced the Labour Standards Act of 1968. The Employment Standards Act was developed after considering existing legislation in other jurisdictions. Intervention by employers, workers, labour organizations, womenís groups and others, and the trends in the development of neighbouring jurisdictions across Canada were studied and reviewed.
The member opposite should understand the purpose of the Employment Standards Act and the purpose of the fair wages schedule. To assist toward that end, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take time to read into the record the words of a previous member of this Legislature, the hon. Mr. Tracey, when he spoke about the Employment Standards Act in 1984.
"The new Employment Standards Act will replace the current Labour Standards Act, which was enacted in 1968. Except for some minor amendments, the present legislation has not undergone significant change for the past 15 years.
"In assessing the needs for possible policy changes in the Yukon, this government reviewed its experience with existing legislation, considered in detail the intervention by employers, workers, labour organizations, womenís groups and others, and studied trends and developments in neighbouring jurisdictions across Canada. From this starting point, the policy objectives of government were defined and the principles of the new legislation set out.
"The result has been a fair and equal consideration of the employee and employer interests, in the context of Yukonís labour force environment. Particular attention has been given to the highly seasonable characteristics of much of Yukonís economy.
"A major change is the removal of the restrictions concerning the maximum hours of work that may be performed in a day and in a week. Former provisions placed restrictive controls on the workers and employers, whose livelihoods depend on the ability to maximize earnings through seasonal employment.
"These new provisions will be beneficial to both employee and employer and will be introduced in two stages. The first stage will be the removal of the maximum hours of work provision and the implementation of specific safeguards to prevent abuse. These safeguards include a requirement for a specific rest period of eight hours between shifts and the ability to regulate excessive hours where they are found to be detrimental to the workersí health and safety. An employee who works for more than eight hours in a day and 40 in a week will continue to receive one and one-half times his regular rate of pay.
"An amendment will be introduced, proposing that as a second stage of this change, and effective January 1, 1985, all hours worked in excess of 12 hours in a day and 60 hours in a week, will be compensated at double the regular rate of pay. The two-stage phase of this new provision is necessary, since many employers are already into their work season or contracts and require time to complete these works and make the necessary adjustments for 1985.
"The removal of the maximum hours of work requirement, together with these new provisions, will remove some of the costly limitations placed on employers, particularly those working in isolated areas of Yukon.
"Further, it will allow seasonal employees to maximize earnings during the short summer season. Participation of women in our workforce is exceptionally high. A major aspect of government objectives in this new legislation is to remove barriers to this participation where possible, and to ensure that women working under the jurisdiction of our legislation enjoy the same advantages that have been extended to women employed in federal works and undertakings in Yukon and all women employed in other jurisdictions within Canada, other than the Northwest Territories.
"This legislation extends the right to a female worker who has at least one yearís continuous service with an employer to leave her job because of pregnancy for a period of 17 weeks without pay and to resume her employment on the expiration of that period.
"To further ensure equality in the workplace, this legislation prohibits discrimination in pay between male and female workers or vice versa, for similar work in the same establishment. Any difference in pay must be based on a factor other than the sex of the employee.
"Recognizing that labour stability is important to economic recovery and development, the legislation introduces a requirement on the part of the employer and the employee to give advance notice of termination of employment to each other. Notice will not be required under certain circumstances such as when the employer fails to abide by the terms of the employment contract or where the employee is terminated for just cause.
"The construction industry and any other undertaking of a seasonal or intermittent nature operating less than six months of the year, together with those employers and employees working under a collective agreement, will be exempt from these provisions. One weekís pay may be either paid or forfeited in lieu of the required notice.
"Recent experience has clearly demonstrated the need for a government to have advance notice of major group termination and layoffs in order to provide lead time to undertake the necessary planning to mitigate the problem and ramifications resulting from such actions. The closure of a large scale business has significant impact on the government services and revenues by reason of size.
"This notice, which is to government only, will allow for the development of new programming to compensate for closures or temporary layoffs. The legislation sets out the requirement for advance notice of group termination or a layoff beginning with four weeksí notice on the termination of 25 employees, to 16 weeksí notice on the termination of 300 or more employees. Advance notice of four weeks will also be required" ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Hon. Premier, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I find it quite a concerning that we are debating a piece of legislation here and we donít have a quorum in this House. I donít think thatís the correct procedure that should be followed and I think the members opposite should be attentive to this, especially the third party, which brought the bill in.
Speaker: Member for Mayo-Tatchun, on the point of order.
Mr. Fairclough: I believe that government has a majority in this House and should be giving word out to the rest of their MLAs to be in the House when this is debated, and I urge the Premier to urge his own colleagues to do that.
Speaker:Firstly, there is no point of order because the hon. Premier was not in his chair when he raised the point of order, so therefore there is no point of order. Secondly, I would remind the Member for Mayo-Tatchun that itís not proper to mention that members are in or not in the House. Carry on please.
Hon. Mr. Hart: "Advance notice of 4 weeks will also be required when the temporary layoff of 50 or more employees is about to occur.
"As an additional move to workforce stability, the legislation introduces a degree of job protection in the event of illness or injury suffered by an employee and in the tragic event of death of an immediate family member.
"An employee will be entitled to accumulate a maximum of six days leave without pay at the rate of one day per month and will not be dismissed or laid off because of absence from work due to illness or injury if the absence does not exceed his or her accrued entitlement.
"Once the employee has used the accrued leave without pay, he or she is not eligible again until he or she has worked long enough to accrue additional benefits. In the event of the death of an immediate family member, employees will be entitled to a maximum of three daysí bereavement leave without pay.
"Moving to address the ever-changing workforce environment, the legislation recognizes the increasing number of part-time workers and extends general holiday and vacation pay benefits to this group. When part-time workers are entitled to general holiday pay, the entitlement will be established by calculating the average number of hours worked per day during the previous two weeks. The legislation reduces the number of days required for entitlement to vacation pay to 10 working days.
"Of major importance in employment standards legislation is the mechanism for the recovery of outstanding wages owed to employees. The amount of wages recovered each year in Yukon on a per capita basis is extremely high. During the past three years, approximately $259,000 in outstanding wages were recovered. During the same period, in excess of $112,000 could not be recovered. The present system of wage collection is time-consuming and inefficient. The new legislation establishes a certificate system of wage collection that is in common use in other jurisdictions. These new measures will remove wage collection procedures from the judiciary system to the greatest extent possible, thereby relieving the courts of an ever-increasing burden.
"The new provisions also provide for collection of wages under third party liability and for directors of corporations to be jointly liable for a limited extent for wages owed.
"Where a claim for wages cannot be resolved between the parties, the intervention of the director of employment standards and the evidence supported by a statutory declaration from the employee indicating that wages are owing, the director may issue a demand for wages. Then and only then, after further review, when this demand remains unresolved and the employer has been served with a copy of the employeeís statutory declaration and the employer refuses to answer yes or no to whether or not he owes the wages in question, the director may issue a wage certificate and file the certificate in the court. It then becomes a judgement of the court. Parties to the dispute may appeal the certificate initially to the employment standards board and lastly to the court. The certificate system of wage collection provides an opportunity to enter into the reciprocal agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions for the collection of wages outside Yukon.
"It then becomes a judgement of the court. Parties to the dispute may appeal the certificate initially to the Employment Standards Boards and, lastly, to the court. The certificate system of wage collection provides an opportunity to enter into reciprocal agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions for collection of wages outside of the Yukon. These measures are necessary to deal primarily with the small minority of employers who deliberately attempt to avoid payment of wages or whose insolvency renders payment of wages impossible without extraordinary measures.
"Further, in regard to wages, the legislation establishes a regular pay period of 16 consecutive days and a requirement to pay wages not later than seven days after each pay period. While recognizing this is the responsibility of government to establish employment standards that promote stability and productivity, it is the view of this government that the employer and the employee share the responsibility of maintaining good relationships in the workplace for ensuring the conditions of the workplace do not contravene legislation minimum standards.
"However, where redress is required, it is in the interest of both the employer and the employee to have access to quick and equitable solutions. Where problems in the workplace cannot be readily resolved by the employer and employee, the legislation provides for third-party intervention by the director of employment standards. In many areas of legislation, there is a provision for resolution of disputes by the director.
"This is an administrative necessity. However, in all instances where the director is given decision-making powers, there is a provision to appeal these decisions to the employment standards board. The legislation provides for establishment of that board, consisting of two representatives of employers and two representatives of labour, with an impartial chairman, to be the appeal board for decisions of orders of the director. The board will also be responsible for recommending minimum wages, from time to time.
"I have given here a brief outline of the major changes in the new legislation. There are other minor amendments and a large portion of the old act, which have been incorporated into this act, has undergone only administrative amendments.
"I will be introducing two other amendments to this bill. The first will be an amendment to section 67, to require that any document removed from the premises by an employment standards officer be returned within 72 hours. A further amendment will be proposed for section 105(1), to change the presumed date of service by certified mail to the seventh day, rather than the third.
"There will be a need to issue several regulations under this act, the principal regulations being those covered under the minimum wage and the fair wage schedule. Regulations now in effect under the old act that are not inconsistent with the new legalization will also be reissued. Examples of these are exemptions for the business of guiding and outfitting and the industries of exploration and security services."
"This government is aware that the majority of employers in Yukon provide their employees with standards equal or superior to those we are proposing. Unfortunately, however, there are employees who require the minimum protection by employment standards legislation.
"This new Employment Standards Act recognizes the important contribution of both the employee and the employer and encourages an atmosphere of responsible action and self-regulation in the relationship between these parties.
"I believe this act is a good act. Although it addresses some aspects of labour legislation that some would not want to see included and does not address other aspects that others would want to have included, I believe it is a bill that addresses all the major areas of labour legislation in a manner that will satisfy some of the unique problems of Yukon."
Over the years there have been amendments to the Employment Standards Act to continue to have it reflect the balance of needs and protections between employers and employees. Not long ago the act was amended to increase parental leave entitlements, and just recently this House considered and approved the amendments relating to compassionate care leave.
The fair wage schedule was created with the proclamation of the Employment Standards Act in 1985. The fair wage schedule applies to all government. It was intended to accomplish three goals: ensure that the workers employed on Yukon government construction projects received a fair wage for their labour; remove the incentive from contractors to bid on projects based on low wages; and to level the playing field between unionized and non-unionized contractors.
The fair wage schedule is divided into four categories. Category A contains occupations which are journeyman-level jobs, such as carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, et cetera. Category B contains occupations such as blasters, cement finishers, painters, et cetera. Category C contains occupations such as surveyors, surveyor helpers, truck helpers. Category D contains occupations such as labourers, roller operators, flag persons, et cetera.
The breakdown under the fair wage schedule provides a fairly detailed process. Under Category D, it breaks down into asphalt rakers, camp kitchen helpers, driller helpers, first aid attendants, pumper tender, motor person and security guards. These are just some of the examples that are included in that particular aspect.
The regulations have been amended over the years. In 1986, the fair wage regulation OIC 1986/044 clearly established the definition of "contractor" and the applicability of the fair wage schedule.
There are differences between construction jobs and the job of a bus driver. Construction in the Yukon is generally seasonal; school busing provides employment most of the year, except when the school session is out.
This is not a new issue. In 1998, the Teamsters Union, Local 31, wrote to the chair of the Employment Standards Board with respect to fair wage schedules, requesting that bus drivers be put on the fair wage schedule, because I understand the fair wage schedule was being revamped at that time.
I am aware that the NDP government considered adding bus drivers to the fair wage schedule and, Mr. Speaker, the prior NDP government chose not to do that. The bus drivers have never been included in the fair wage schedule. In fact, the fair wage schedule has always applied to building construction, heavy construction, road and sewer and water main construction.
In 1998, the Employment Standards Board recommendation was that the fair wage schedule continue to apply only to Yukon construction contracts.
Mr. Speaker, the government needs to balance the public interest when it intervenes with market controls. Governments across Canada are wrestling with the balance of interest in the effort to stimulate their respective economies.
With respect to the bill before us today, I agree with the member that school bus drivers are performing a valuable and much-needed service and do provide a very important role in ensuring the safe transportation of our students, and I recognize that these are qualified and trained professional drivers.
I also agree that they deserve a reasonable wage, as I previously indicated, for their hard work and they have been covered under the Employment Standards Act, of which I have gone through a few points here already. In addition, labour has the right to organize and I mentioned that also before.
Mr. Speaker, I think itís important that we understand that we have a lot of changes that need to be considered to ensure we have a balance ó the fair wage schedule is fairly explicit, has been focused on the construction industry and all aspects of that industry, which I have already previously indicated. And I think that itís important that we follow through on that.
With the contract issues, I would like to go over a few of those if I could: "The objectives of government contracting policy are to ensure that government contracting activities are carried out in a fair, fiscally responsible, accountable, open and competitive manner, and that they benefit Yukon residents and Yukon businesses where practicable.
"3. These regulations apply to all contracts except:
"(a) employment contracts;
"(b) contracts relating to projects funded by the Government of the Yukon and carried out by another party under a contribution agreement for its own use; and
"(c) contracts for the practice of law as defined in the Legal Professions Act."
"Application ó 4.(1) subject to the terms of any agreement between the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada, these regulations apply to projects carried out by the Government of Yukon on behalf of the Government of Canada.
"(2) These regulations apply to all departments which have deputy heads as defined under the Public Service Act.
"Access to policy documents and related materials ó 5. Reasonable access must be provided to government policy documents and related contracting materials upon request. Materials available for distribution are to be supplied in a non-discriminatory manner, and any fees charged for such distribution are to be reasonable.
"6. Prospective bidders and proponents must be registered on open source lists on request.
"7.(1) Subject to subsection (2), a prospective bidder or proponent must be given a copy of requests for bids or proposals upon request.
"(2) Where bids or proposals are invited solely for the Yukon businesses, copies of the request for bids or proposals may only be given to other Yukon businesses.
"8. Contracting authorities must encourage competition for contracts, but must respect the following:
"(a) there must be specific criteria for sole sourcing contracts and specific sourcing thresholds to determine the level of competition for price-driven contracts, value-driven contracts and goods contracts;
"(b) contracting activities must be carried out in full compliance with all applicable Yukon land claims agreements;
"(c) contracting authorities must make best efforts to contract for goods and services in the community in which they are used, to the extent that doing so reasonably conforms to the objectives of these regulations, and to the extent that their need can be met for community-based businesses.
"Contracting authorities must use standards, specifications, evaluation criteria, time limits to respond for requests for bids or proposals, standing offer agreements, contribution agreements, source lists and other means to limit unfair competition.
"Evaluation criteria and standards used to evaluate bids and proposals must be fully and clearly described in requests for bids or proposals and only those evaluation criteria and standards must be used to evaluate bid proposals received.
"Subject to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, bidders and proponents must on request be given access to information about their own bids or proposals and how they were evaluated within a reasonable time at the procurement of the competition.
"If there is a formal bid challenge mechanism, based on the following terms, it must be followed. Bidders and proponents must be given a reasonable opportunity to register complaints. Complainants must have the responsibility to make a reasonable attempt to settle their disputes with the applicable contracting authority. There must be an opportunity to redress, including compensation for costs of complaining and bid proposal preparation costs. A mechanism to change, where warranted, government contracting policies and procedures will be provided. This part applies only to contracts for a public work.
Claims made to unpaid subcontractors, a deputy head, Department of Department of Highways and Public Works or a delegate must receive a claim for unpaid labour, material, equipment or services filed by a subcontractor on the contract for public work who has not been paid by a contractor for labour, material, equipment, or services rendered to the contractor for that contract.
"(2) The Deputy Head, Department of Highways and Public Works, or delegate shall process a claim pursuant to subsection (1) provided the claim is made after the payment for the labour, material, equipment, or services under his or her contract with the contractor becomes due, but not later than 90 days following the performance of the labour or services or the provision of the material or equipment, as the case may be, by the subcontractor."
When processing a claim, "15. (1) The Deputy Head, Department of Highways and Public Works, or delegate must notify the contractor and contracting authority of the claim.
"(2) The contracting authority must retain from monies remaining to be paid to the contractor on the contract a sum equal to the amount of the claim.
"(3) If the subcontractor and contractor have not reached settlement within 30 days of the receipt of notice of the claim by the contracting authority, the contracting authority must transfer the amount retained to the Deputy Head, Justice, or delegate, for disposition."
On any discharge of obligation, "16. (1) Payment by the Government of the Yukon into a trust account or to the Supreme Court of Yukon is sufficient discharge by the government of any obligation it may have to pay the money to the contractor.
"(2) The Government of the Yukon has no liability to the contractor or to the subcontractor if payment pursuant to section 15 is in an amount greater or less than the amount lawfully payable by the contractor to the subcontractor."
"Award of contract or standing offer agreement ó Refers to the decision to award the contract or the standing offer agreement to the selected bidder or proponent.
"Bid - An offer, submitted in response to a request for bids, to supply goods or services or to purchase assets at a specific price or price formula, under stated terms and conditions."
"Bidder - A person, partnership or corporation who submits a bid.
"Bid security - Security given by a bidder or proponent to guarantee entry into a contract.
"Change order - A document issued by the contracting authority to change a contract.
"Closing time - The time and date on which bids or proposals must be received at the designated place.
"Contract - An agreement between a contracting authority and a contractor to provide a good, perform a service, construct a public work, or to lease real property, for consideration."
Under definition, contracting authority is "any government body or government employee having authority pursuant to the Financial Administration Act to enter into a contract on behalf of the Government of the Yukon."
A contractor is "any person, partnership or corporation which supplies goods or services or constructs a public work under a contract with the government."
Contract security is "a deposit of securities by the contractor which the contracting authority may convert to carry out the contractorís obligations under the contract."
A contribution agreement is "an agreement between a donor and a recipient of a contribution which describes the obligations of each party and the conditions of payment."
"Crown Corporation - Yukon Housing Corporation, Yukon Liquor Corporation, Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, Yukon Development Corporation, and Yukon Lotteries Commission."
A department is "a department as defined in the Financial Administration Act."
Estimated contract value is "the total estimated value of the contract or standing offer agreement prior to issuing the request for bids or proposals."
"Evaluation criteria - Criteria against which proposals are evaluated for purposes of determining:
"(a) which proposals qualify for consideration; and b) how to rank valid proposals.
"The selection of the successful proposal is based on factors which may include the effectiveness of the proposed solution, and the experience, qualifications, and financial capabilities of the proponents, rather than on price alone."
"Expression of interest - A publicly advertised invitation to respond with identification and qualifications, to a particular category of work or anticipated project, for the establishment of a specific source list category.
"Goods contract - A contract for the purchase of articles, commodities, equipment, goods, materials or supplies, which may include installation.
"Invitational tender - A request for bids or proposals on a contract or standing offer agreement given to a number of identified bidders or proponents.
"Open source list - A list of persons, partnerships and/or companies which have indicated their willingness to respond to requests for bids or proposals.
"Price-driven contract - A contract entered into as the result of a bid.
"Proposal - An offer, either unsolicited or in response to a request for proposals, to propose a solution to a problem, need or objective, under stated terms and conditions, or to establish a qualified source list.
"Proponent - A person, partnership or corporation who submits a proposal.
"Public tender - A request for bids or proposals made by public advertisement.
"Public work - A project involving the expenditure of public funds for building construction, heavy construction or road, sewer or water main construction as specifically defined in the request for bids or proposals for the project."
"Qualified source list - A list of bidders or proponents who meet the evaluation criteria specified for the award of a proposed contract.
"Real property lease - A lease or agreement whereby the Government of the Yukon acquires a leasehold interest in or a licence to occupy real property.
"Rejection of bid or proposal - The determination that a bid or proposal will not be evaluated on the basis that it does not meet the requirements specified in the request for bids or proposals.
"Request for bids - A document defining the requirements of the contract and the minimum standards to be met by bidders so as to permit the evaluation of bids on the basis of price.
"Request for proposals - A document inviting a supplier(s) to propose a solution to a problem, need or objective.
"Standing offer agreement - A method of supply used to provide direct access to sources of supply for goods and/or services, on an as-required basis, for specific periods of time, at prearranged prices and delivery conditions.
"Subcontractor - A corporation, partnership or individual who has been awarded a contract by a contractor of the government and under that contract supplies goods or services or performs work on a public work for which the contractor was engaged.
"Unit price - A method of pricing in which the total amount payable is calculated by multiplying the number of identical units of work or items delivered by a fixed price per unit or item.
"Utility - A corporation which provides electrical, water, telecommunications, municipal services, or transportation services to the public.
"Valid bid or proposal - A valid bid or proposal which has not been rejected for failing to meet the requirements set out in the request for bids or proposals.
"Value-driven contract - A contract entered into as a result of a proposal.
"Yukon business - A business that meets two or more of the following criteria: the business employs Yukon residents; the business owns, for purposes directly related to the operation of the business, real property in the Yukon; the business operates a permanently staffed office, year-round in the Yukon; the business is owned, or is a corporation that is owned, 50 percent or more by Yukon residents.
"Yukon resident - A person who has resided full time in the Yukon for a minimum of the immediately preceding three months. Except where otherwise provided in this directive, proof of residency for the required period will be a valid Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan card.
"Wages and benefits - Gross wages/salary paid as compensation to an employee or to a fund, insurer or other person for the employeeís benefit. Benefits include the employerís contribution to the supplementary health, life, and disability insurance and pension plans.
"2. This document, in conjunction with the Contract Regulations, expresses the policy of the Government of Yukon on the process by which the government will select contractors to supply goods and services. The objectives of this directive are to ensure that government contracting activities are carried out in a fair, fiscally responsible. accountable, open and competitive manner.
"3. This directive was reviewed and approved by Management Board on March 2, 1995 ó "
Speaker:Order please. The Chair is losing the train here in terms of your speaking about Bill No. 102. Would the minister just kind of pull himself back together there, please, and speak to the bill. The Chair is losing the relevance here.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I think the member opposite brought forth some major issues with regard to this, and Iíve already passed them on previously. I think itís important that we look at the role that bus drivers play. I think the Employment Standards Act is structured such that itíll take into consideration the construction industry and its base. I must repeat, however, that the fair wage schedule applies to and is intended only to cover government-tendered construction contracts and not government contracts in general.
As such, Mr. Speaker, I cannot support this particular bill in its present form.
An issue I was discussing earlier was showing the relevance of government contracts and dealing with these particular issues.
I would like to go back to contracting, if possible, and I would go back to the contracting information for the Yukon First Nations, for example. I believe it is based on "the obligations of the Government of the Yukon arising out of the Umbrella Final AgreementÖ
"(a) upon request, provide to Yukon First Nations and First Nations corporations information on:
"(i) how to compete for contracts and standing offer agreements; and
"(ii) how to register on open source lists and submit proposals for qualified source lists;
"(b) inform all Yukon First Nations of invitations to register on open source lists issued under section 27,
"(c) notify Yukon First Nations which have indicated the wish to be so advised of all publicly advertised requests for bids or proposals related to contracts, standing offer agreements, and prequalification of bidders or proponents,
"(d) inform Yukon First Nations on a regular basis of contracts awarded in excess of $50,000, or in the case of contracts for goods, in excess of $25,000, in the First Nationsí traditional territories for which requests for bids or proposals were not publicly advertised.
"Where a contracting authority invites bids or proposals from a limited number of prospective bidders or proponents pursuant to paragraphs 18(1) and 18(2) Ö(the) contracting authority will give notice of the invitation to all Yukon First Nations which have registered on open source lists maintained under this directive."
"All terms and conditions of the request for bids or proposals must be stated in the request for bids or proposals.
"Information in request for bids or proposals
"43. A request for bids or proposals will include the following information:
"(a) the essential terms of the contract(s) or standing offer agreement(s) to be awarded, including:
"(i) a full description of the goods or services to be delivered, including estimated quantities where applicable;
"(ii) the form, amount, and terms and conditions of any required performance security, or any performance penalty permitted by law, if any;
"(iii) the completion date or any other timing considerations which are to be terms of the contract(s) or standing offer agreement(s);
"(iv) other terms and conditions which would be relevant in setting a price for the goods or services; and
"(v) indication that the request for bids or proposals is for a qualified source list, or a standing offer agreement, if this is the case.
"(b) terms and conditions for the submission of bids or proposals, including:
"(i) the form in which bids or proposals are to be submitted;
"(ii) the information required to be provided in the bid or proposal;
"(iii) the place to which bids or proposals must be submitted; and
"(iv) the closing time.
"(c) a full description of the manner in which bids or proposals will be evaluated, including:
"(i) the method to be used to evaluate bids or proposals;
"(ii) the evaluation criteria, stated in such a manner as to clearly identify all the information to be provided by the bidder or proponent which will be used to evaluate the bid or proposal; and
"(iii) in the case of proposals, the weighting assigned to each evaluation criterion.
"(d) the tax-exempt status of the Government of the Yukon under the Goods and Services Tax (GST);
"(e) a provision that bids or proposals do not contain an amount for the GST;
"(f) the name and title of the designated contact person; and
"(g) in the case of publicly advertised requests for bids or proposals, the time and place of tender opening."
"44. For public works bids, the document on which bidders submit their bids shall include:
"(a) a section in which bidders must list the subcontractors they will use and/or indicate where they will use "own force" in carrying out the work;
"(b) a clear statement that the successful bidder will be required to obtain prior approval of the contracting authority in order to employ subcontractors other than those listed;
"(c) a clear statement that the bidder must make best efforts to invite Yukon businesses (or local businesses, where the work site is located in a rural community) to bid on subcontracts related to the work of the contract and, that the contracting authority may require the bidder to provide proof of the best efforts taken;
"(d) a section where the bidder declares that best efforts have been made to invite subcontract bids from Yukon and/or local businesses."
"45. When public notice of a request for bids or proposals is given, the public notice need not contain the full request for bids or proposals, but must state where prospective bidders or proponents may pick up the full request for bids or proposals."
When dealing with this, "46. (1) Evaluation criteria will take the form of one or both:
"(a) minimum standards to be met;
"(b) ranking criteria.
"(2) Where ranking criteria are used, they may include:
"(a) the experience of the bidder or proponent with similar contracts or standing offer agreements;
"(b) the value of a partnership between an outside firm and a Yukon business for the purpose of carrying out the work under a contract;
"(c) the dollar amount of the bid or proposal submitted;
"(d) the qualifications of the bidder or proponent for the contract or standing offer agreement;
"(e) the means proposed by the bidder or proponent to carry out the contract or standing offer agreement;
"(f) the schedule proposed by the bidder or proponent; or
"(g) any other criteria relevant to the particular request for proposals.
"(3) Where ranking criteria are used, they shall include:
"(a) the methods to be used by the proponent to maximize the full value of local community and Yukon content in carrying out the work, which may include local staff, office, knowledge, materials and culture.
"Use of specific product trade names
"47. Requests for bids or proposals may refer to specific product trade names/brands only to establish a standard of performance expected, except where the requirement for a specific product has been explicitly justified, in which case the request for bids or proposals will clearly stipulate the requirement for the product."
I think for opening for proposals: "The contracting authority will use its best effort to make requests for bids or proposals, or addenda to requests for bids or proposals, available to all bidders or proponents at the same time.
"Opening of bids or proposals
"49. Where the value of the contract or standing offer agreement is estimated at $50,000 or greater, or in the case of a goods contract is estimated at $25,000 or greater, or the request for bids or proposals was publicly advertised, then:
"(a) all bids or proposals will be opened at a designated time and place in the presence of at least one witness;
"(b) anyone who wishes to be present at the bid or proposal opening will be permitted to attend; and
"(c) upon opening each bid or proposal, the following will be recorded in a written log and announced to those present:
"(i) the name of the bidder or proponent;
"(ii) the amount and form of bid security provided with the bid or proposal, if applicable; and
"(iii) in the case of a bid, the amount of the bid, where practicable."
On late bids, "50. (1) The contracting authority will reject any bids or proposals received after the closing time.
"(2) Late bids or proposals will be returned to the bidder or proponent. In the case of sealed bids or proposals, they will be returned unopened.
"51. The contracting authority may reject a bid or proposal which has been received prior to the closing time only where:
"(a) it is not submitted in the required form;
"(b) there are significant omissions of required information;
"(c) a bid or proposal is not signed as required in the request for bids or proposals;
"(d) the required bid security in the required form is not provided;
"(e) the bid or proposal has conditions attached which are not authorized by the request for bids or proposals;
"(f) the bid or proposal fails to meet one or more standards specified in the request for bids or proposals; or
"(g) there is substantial evidence that, pursuant to the evaluation criteria contained in the request for bids or proposals, a bidder or proponent would be unable to carry out the contract as specified."
In the case of rejection, "52. (1) Where a contracting authority rejects a bid or proposal, the contracting authority will notify the bidder or proponent, by the quickest means available, that the bid or proposal was rejected. In the case of a written bid or proposal, this will be confirmed in writing.
"(2) The contracting authority will, upon request, provide to rejected bidders or proponents a full explanation why their bid or proposal has been rejected.
When evaluating proposals, contracting authorities will evaluate and score non-price factors before taking price into account.
On contracting authority to rank bids or proposals, it states: "The contracting authority will evaluate and rank bids or proposals not rejected pursuant to sections 50 or 51 solely on the basis of the evaluation criteria and requirements contained in the request for bids or proposals."
Section 55 (1): "Subject to subsection (3), when a single contract or standing offer agreement is awarded, it will be awarded to the bidder who submitted the lowest bid or to the proponent who submitted the highest ranking proposal.
"(2) Subject to subsection (3), where more than one contract or standing offer agreement is awarded pursuant to a request for bids or proposals, they will be awarded to:
"(a) bidders in the sequence in which their bids were received, from lowest price bid to highest, or
"(b) proponents in the sequence in which their proposals were ranked, from highest to lowest.
"(3) Only Management Board may authorize bypassing the lowest price bid or the highest ranking proposal."
"On placement on a qualified source list it states: "If the purpose of the request for proposals was to establish a qualified source list, the contracting authority will place all bidders or proponents who meet the qualifications on the qualified source list and notify them."
"On form of bid security, it states: "Where required by the contracting authority, bid security will be in the amount specified by the contracting authority and in the form of
"(a) a bid bond, or
"(b) cash, bank draft, certified cheque, Canadian postal money order, assignable redeemable term deposit, bearer or assignable bonds of the Government of Canada or of the government of a province, or irrevocable letter of guaranteed credit acceptable to the Government of the Yukon.
"Errors in contract value
"58. Where unit prices are requested and the bid or proposal contains an error in calculating the estimated contract value, the unit price will prevail."
"The contract itself, the "Contract security, where required, will be in the amount specified by the contracting authority and in the form of
"(a) a security bond acceptable to the Government of the Yukon, or
"(b) cash, bank draft, certified cheque, Canadian postal money order, assignable redeemable term deposit, bearer or assignable bonds of the Government of Canada or of the government of a province, or irrevocable letter of guaranteed credit acceptable to the Government of the Yukon.
"Change in contract security
"60. Where the amount payable under a contract is increased or decreased, the contracting authority may require a corresponding change in contract security.
"Replacement of contract security
"61. At any time during the contract period or warranty period for the contract, the contractor may replace the form of contract security provided to the contracting authority by another form of contract security listed in" this previous section."
"The form and amount of any insurance required will be defined in the request for bids or proposals."
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Order please. The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, weíve been listening to this minister talk for about an hour and a half now about really nothing, and itís clear that heís wasting time. Really, what they donít want to do is get to Motion No. 103, which is an inquiry into the computer investigation of government employees. This is a filibuster by the government. I submit itís a waste of time. Letís get to the vote on this bill and move on and make some progress this afternoon.
Mr. Cathers: There is no point of order. I would remind the member opposite that the Minister of Community Services does have unlimited time, as per the Rules of the House, and I would suggest that the Member for Kluane is out of order pursuant to section 19(g) of the Standing Orders in imputing false or unavowed motives to another member by suggesting that the minister is talking for a reason other than debate of the motion.
Speaker:There is no point of order; however, the Chair has been very patient in listening to the Minister of Community Services quote at length from a variety of documents. This includes quotations from legislation, Hansard and government directives. Standing Order 19(d) states that a member shall be called to order by the Speaker if the member is, in the opinion of the Speaker, referring at length to debates of the current session or reads unnecessarily from Hansard or from any other document.
Members are expected then to provide the House with the information in viewpoints in their own words. It is not expected, nor is it in order to read excessive portions of any documents into the record. The Chair must ask the Minister of Community Services to cease reading at length from documents. He still has the floor, however; and the Chair would ask him to provide the House with his views on Bill No. 102. I would ask that you do that now, please, sir.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would like to throw in a few words here and get back to what you have just indicated.
I believe that in this particular instance, as I have mentioned here on several occasions, the fair wage schedule is for the construction industry, construction trades and the tradespeople.
I donít want to undermine the importance of bus drivers, but I think this is definitely an issue whereby, as indicated in my previous submission ó the previous NDP did not take into consideration the possibility of making a change during their time in office. Itís probably for the same reason weíre looking at it here today ó because of the concept that the Employment Standards Act is to protect our local industry from unfair competition from outside cheap labour being brought on by contractors from the south. The aspect is to ensure we have some positive reinforcement for our local workers.
Itís mainly for short term, and, as indicated in previous information as well as information I read from the previous minister on this particular subject, the issue is that we have very seasonal operations in the Yukon and itís important that we try to protect that particular workforce and allow them to maximize the use of our long periods of light and ensure they can work during that period of time.
Many of these jobs are, as I said, seasonal and/or the duration is very short. The time period may be a year; it may be 18 months.
Bus contracts are between three to five years long and, in general, they usually look at people employed who are already here in the Yukon. They are not subject to the same influence as the construction trade industry is on that particular venue.
Iím very appreciative of the member oppositeís issue with regard to trying to look at ways and means of trying to assist the bus drivers. I think itís a worthwhile cause that she has put forth; however, as stated, I think they are covered under the other aspects of the act and that the fair wage schedule ought to be looked at on a later date depending on what the review committee comes out of their session with. I think, as I mentioned, it is strictly for the construction industry and the construction trade, and itís there for the protection of our local industry, and Iíd like to sit on that.
Mr. Cardiff: That was quite the performance. That was, once again, a waste of time here. It contributes to the view that thatís all we do here on Wednesdays, and itís pretty disrespectful to the seriousness of this bill.
What we heard was about two hours and 20 minutes of a long-winded, convoluted way of saying no ó that school bus drivers are not important. The minister just about read the whole Employment Standards Act.
He just about read the entire fair wage schedule.
The executive summary is that the fair wage schedule talks about between 50 to 60 classes of employment. Admittedly, they are in the construction sector. But whatís wrong with amending the Employment Standards Act to include school bus drivers? So if you go to the Employment Standards Act, you would almost think that the minister thought the Employment Standards Act only applied to construction workers.
Well Iíve got news: the Employment Standards Act applies to a lot of people. It applies to a lot of people who are only making minimum wage. Thatís what weíre talking about.
We are getting puzzled looks over there. We are talking about the Employment Standards Act today right here; itís not about being puzzled.
It will be interesting tomorrow to review the Blues.
The Premier stood up on a point of order earlier today, and my understanding is that he said this was an important issue and a very serious issue. Yet what weíre seeing from the members opposite is a two hour and 20 minute filibuster that said exactly nothing except making some excuse to the public and to the school bus drivers and to the students and to the parents of students, for not treating school bus drivers respectfully.
Earlier today, we heard another member of the Legislature talk about increasing spending power. Well, by not ensuring that bus drivers are protected and that they receive a fair living wage that actually recognizes the skills and the training and the responsibility that they have for our children is unconscionable. By protecting that wage and making it a fair living wage, youíd actually be ensuring that spending power is still there. There is nothing stopping any contractor from anywhere underbidding the current contractor or the former contractor and reducing the cost of this contract. And we know that the government wants to be fiscally responsible. Are they going to do it for safety? Maybe they wonít check the brakes. Well, we know that thatís not going to happen because the minister has that all in hand through the Motor Vehicles Act, and there are certain standards for maintaining vehicles. So where are they going to do it? Maybe theyíll get a better deal on paint. Maybe they can get a change order ó the minister was talking about change orders. Maybe theyíll get cheaper paint, I donít know. Where theyíre going to do it is on the backs of the workers.
Maybe theyíll get less-qualified people. Thatíll do a lot for the safety of the students. Iím sure theyíre impressed with the ministerís performance today. I donít know that any of them will read it, but itíll be interesting. Iíll certainly be showing it to my son. He rides the school bus. If thatís what this government thinks about the people who have the care and safety of my child, then itís terrible.
Weíre talking about a fair wage for these people. Iíd like to also point out that weíre only talking about wages, that thereís no provision in the fair wage schedule for any kind of benefits. Thereís no dental plan, thereís no extended health plan, thereís no pension plan. All it speaks to is wages.
The Employment Standards Act, section 105, thatís the part the minister read from ó and from just about every other part of the act. All the leader of the third party is trying to do is point out that we can add a definition in section 105(1).
And itís pretty straightforward. School bus driving ó those are the people who sit behind the wheel and look after our children and make sure that they get to and from school and travel safely on their field trips ó means professional drivers safely transporting students. Thatís pretty straightforward. And then the only other thing we want to do is allow bus driving to be part of those that would fall under the fair wage schedule.
It says, "If an employer has a contract, directly or indirectly, with the Government of the Yukon" ó and it lists building construction, heavy road construction, road or sewer work. The minister already covered that. All weíre asking is to ensure that bus drivers are treated in the same way. And the minister and this government donít want to do that. Thatís despicable and it worries me. It concerns me that this government and the minister arenít paying attention to the wishes of the public, theyíre not consulting. Who did they consult? Did they ask anybody about this?
The minister also wants to point out that nobody else has done it. Well, that seems to be a pretty standard thing for the members opposite. It has been a year; you can stop blaming previous governments.
How about doing the right thing? If we want to talk about shortcomings, how about we deal with this shortcoming? This is in the Employment Standards Act. Iíd just like to point out that the document the minister was quoting from is an attachment to the Employment Standards Act. Itís Employment Standards Board Order 1990/1, and itís entitled, "Fair Wage Schedule."
We just pulled this off the Internet today. These are the regulations of the Yukon. This is the fair wage schedule. So Iíd like point out that this order-in-council was dated at Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory, on the 24th day of February, 1999. So thatís the last time the government changed the fair wage schedule ó 1999.
The House leader had a problem with numbers earlier, so maybe weíll use our fingers ó 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003. February 2003 ó there are three years there. Weíre just about up to four years here, and the fair wage schedule hasnít been changed. So for four years the fair wage schedule has remained the same.
In response to the Member for Lake Laberge ó he did such a great job of coaching the minister today, the Laberge academy of public speaking. If you want to carry on like that, we can do that too. My point is ó and if you want to pay attention to that ó the fact that, in the fair wage schedule, right in section 105, just right down at the bottom, it says the board shall review the fair wage schedule at least once every three years and recommend changes.
Weíre just about to four years. Thereís no order-in-council. Maybe the minister would like, at some point, to tell us whether or not he intends to make any changes to this. He must have missed that part. I donít know.
We need to deal with the safety of our children and the fact that this government doesnít respect the work and responsibility that school bus drivers have every day they drive our children to and from school and on field trips, or any other time they have the care and control of our children. As the leader of the third party said, itís probably one of the biggest vehicles on the road. Itís definitely one of the fullest vehicles on the road at any given time ó it has the most people in it. About the only time we see anything larger or with more passengers is in the summertime when there are tour buses.
Weíre going to support this, and I would encourage the members opposite to reconsider the advice that they received and to disregard the long-winded, convoluted bafflegab that we heard for two hours and 20 minutes. I really donít see at this point in time the need to speak any more about this. To me, the case is made. It makes sense to respect these people and to ensure that theyíre paid a fair wage. Itís a pretty straightforward thing. The Premier doesnít agree with me.
Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the members opposite to listen to what the Premier said earlier, which was that he thought this was an important issue and that it was serious. I would encourage everyone in this House to support this amendment to the Employment Standards Act and thereby respect school bus drivers. Itís pretty straightforward. They deserve this protection; otherwise we can see a race to the bottom both in wages and in standards.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Rouble: I rise today to debate Bill No. 102, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act. It was presented by the third party leader seeking to amend the Employment Standards Act to include bus drivers in the fair wage schedule.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my seatmate, the Minister of Community Services, for shedding so much light on the subject earlier. His presentation of the contract administration and the legislation surrounding it gives us a much greater appreciation of the issue. Indeed, it is a complex issue.
Perhaps if the member opposite had provided more briefing information or presented the case beforehand rather than just the amendment here, we would have had a greater understanding prior to coming into the House to debate it.
When we campaigned, we campaigned on the promise that we can do better. I think itís important to return to what we campaigned on, as it sets the stage for our approach to pieces of legislation like this.
When we took office we committed to practising good government, achieving a balance between the economy and the environment, and achieving a better quality of life for Yukoners. Thatís what weíre working toward.
As for practising good government, we are committed to working with the people it affects, working with other orders of government, leveraging funds from other sources and creating lasting infrastructure that will benefit the whole community.
We have accomplished this so far by creating good relations with our neighbours, with the N.W.T. accord and with the Alaskan accord.
Weíve got good relations with First Nations. And, Mr. Speaker, weíre working on fairness in federal tax dollars. Weíve seen more dollars flowing from Ottawa.
As for achieving a balance between the economy and the environment, weíre certainly working on that. Weíre working at building this economy back. Itís not going to happen overnight, but it is happening and weíve got a plan to do that.
As for achieving a better quality of life, weíve increased dollars for health care, weíve increased dollars for education, weíve increased dollars for training, and weíve ensured that weíre going to have a heck of a party ó actually, more than one party up here ó when we celebrate the Canada Winter Games and the Canada Senior Games.
Now, Mr. Speaker, in our platform we also put forward our economic plan, a plan to get the economy back up and running, a plan to turn around the economy that has been going downhill for ó well, Iíve lost track of the years. Included in that plan, Mr. Speaker, is to work with First Nations to become full partners in economic development, to create supporting infrastructure, to diversify the economy, to minimize impediments to responsible business ó thatís an important one that Iíll come back to in a moment ó to maximize revenue potential without raising taxes, and to spend money ensuring value. Mr. Speaker, thatís our economic plan. Thatís what weíre doing, and thatís whatís working to turn our economy around.
Now, with practising good government, it is my belief that government shouldnít seek to control its citizens and mandate every citizenís every move. Mr. Speaker, government legislation should be enabling. It shouldnít be controlling. It shouldnít hamstring every movement of every responsible citizen out there.
And it shouldnít prevent responsible businesses from operating. Weíve got regulations. When we contract with people and businesses, we have contract conditions, and we have laws on our books that exist already. And right now, we need to let our economy get back to work. We certainly donít need a visible hand from government controlling and manipulating every aspect of our economy. As I said, we have to let our economy get back to work.
Now, Iíd like to take a moment here to talk about bus drivers because thatís what this act is specifically addressing. Iíd like to applaud the unsung heroes, the thankless bus drivers, because they often are ó thankless bus drivers. And Iíd like to thank them and put it right here on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, thanking them for all their effort, hard work and dedication. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, I had the pleasure during the campaign of going around door-to-door, community-to-community, with a former bus driver. It was great to see the reaction at the door when kids would run up, see their former bus driver, and it was, "Hello, sir. Hello, Mr. Bus Driver. How are you?" And the warmth and recognition they had for him. It was really touching to see the relationship between the bus driver and the student, and he still knew them by name ó and this is years afterwards. It was, "Hello. How are you? How are you doing in soccer? Are you still involved in that? Howís science going? You were having a problem with that a couple of years ago."
The relationship between the bus driver and the students was a great one. They do an awful lot more than deliver people back and forth.
They get involved. Mr. Speaker, their job is often cold, lonely, in the dark. Other times itís boisterous, exciting, full of childish exuberance, and always they have that weighty responsibility.
Mr. Speaker, Iím not trying to draw a whole lot of parallels between the life of a bus driver and the life of a Member of the Legislative Assembly, but the relationship there is striking, especially the part about it being a thankless profession sometimes.
Iíd also be curious to see how the fair wage schedule relates to the compensation for our elected officials, but thatís time for another debate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: The members opposite are asking me if Iíd bring a motion forward, but I would encourage them to do so and to follow the lead of the member of the third party in bringing legislation forward. I think itís a great thing that thereís legislation brought forward from all parties, and I applaud her for that.
As weíve heard from previous speakers, the fair wage schedule applies to Yukon government construction projects. Thatís what it was designed for. It was intended to create a level playing field in the bidding process to ensure that all employers ó local or out of territory ó pay at least the fair wage scale.
It prevents companies and individuals who donít share the expenses, as we do living in the north, from coming in, taking all the jobs, collecting the pay and leaving the territory.
Mr. Speaker, Iím sure that even the folks on the other side of the Assembly will admit that there are problems with the fair wage schedule, and that has been debated back and forth in the past. One of the problems that personally trouble me with the fair wage schedule is that is has a tendency to commodify everything, to say that if you are in this category, this is what you should be paid ó period ó regardless of your skill, regardless of your experience, regardless of additional duties. It doesnít necessarily allow people to be rewarded for those things. But it has a tendency for people to look at it and say this is what this profession or this occupation should be paid ó period ó and many folks look at that and say thatís what they should be paid and they treat it as thatís what it is.
Mr. Speaker, when we publish a wage and say thatís what it should be, people have a tendency to accept that. Iím not advocating that it should be limited to that, but thatís what it has a tendency to do in the public from what Iíve seen.
I think there are some other problems with the fair wage schedule. Weíll save that for another debate.
We also have a bidding process, and again, the Minister for Community Services talked about that and talked about how we have a process, how we evaluate things. The conveyance contract for bringing students to school is not a simple one. There are many variables in that that we need to consider.
There are things about vehicle safety, timeliness of delivery, quality of delivery, the accreditation of the drivers, their skill, their professional certifications, I believe the maintenance of the vehicles, as well as other things in the Motor Vehicles Act.
We have a bidding process that ensures that Yukon citizens get the greatest value for their taxes. The government sets standards; it sets criteria, it sets regulations and it sets laws and then we let the business community ó including all their employees ó provide the solution.
Business provides the solution to our problem ó to a problem that we collectively as a society have. In this case, the situation is that we need to get our kids to school. There are options for that, but one of the options we look at is school busing. So, we provide the contract and say, "Here, provide us with a solution," and our contractors do that for us.
Now, we put together a regulatory review committee that is examining all the Yukonís regulations and looking at how we can change these regulations to make it easier for a responsible business to conduct business.
I continue to stress responsible business. Thatís an important adjective to use and to keep in mind, because we need to ensure that people behave in a responsible manner. We do that, again, by our laws, our regulations and our contract stipulations. But we have a tendency in this territory ó and I would say in the whole country ó to want to create one more law, one more regulation after another. Our volumes on regulations donít get any smaller year after year. No, instead they keep growing, growing, growing, and growing. Again, more red tape hampering all of the citizens.
So, Mr. Speaker, weíve got a situation now where there is going to be more red tape created if we go ahead with the amendment.
Iíd like to switch gears here a little bit, and perhaps the member opposite can address this when she closes the debate. Iím curious as to why the amendment targets only one occupation. Now, Mr. Speaker, the fair wage scale addresses the construction industry, but this amendment takes us out of that realm, takes us out of the construction industry and into the much, much broader service industry. Weíre opening that door. Iím curious as to why weíre looking at opening this one door for just one occupation. Whatís the motivation behind this? Whatís the rationale for including this one specific occupation?
Now, Mr. Speaker, Iím not advocating opening it up to all service industries, but Iím curious as to why itís just the one, because there are many, many important services that the Yukon government contracts on a daily, monthly, yearly basis that Yukoners need, but what was the motivation behind promoting only this one occupation?
I did have one constituent who asked me to support this bill, and Iíd like to acknowledge their position. I think itís really important for constituents to be able to contact their MLA and express their views, and that has happened quite a bit in this last year in office. Numerous people have phoned me at home or sent me emails. In the six public meetings that have been held in the Southern Lakes riding, many views have been expressed. As well, itís the Yukon, Mr. Speaker, where people will stop you on Main Street, and sometimes it can take you up to an hour just to walk to the bank.
Iíd like to note that there was one person who did ask me to support this, but I must say that I have had many, many other constituents let me know that they want responsible business left alone to do business.
So, Mr. Speaker, in looking at this act to amend the Employment Standards Act, Iím finding that it provides needless overregulation, that it creates additional bureaucracy and red tape; it creates additional compliance costs. When I refer to compliance costs, Iím not talking about the rate of pay to the bus drivers, but the cost of complying with this regulation ó the additional bookkeeping, the additional forms to be filled out; one more thing for a business to be responsible for.
We already tax our businesses enough, but adding this additional burden to them is one more hoop that weíre asking responsible businesses to jump through.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker, I find this amendment to be outside the original expectations and the objectives of the fair wage schedule. We put forward the fair wage schedule to ensure that people in the Yukon had the greatest opportunity to get the work available up here. We already find that with this industry, with the school busing industry. We have long-established companies up here. They employ people on a school-year basis. They have made a commitment to be here in the territory, and they employ people on a long-term basis. Itís not like these people will blow into town, make the money, stuff it in the back of their truck and head for the hills or head down south come winter.
Now, Mr. Speaker, again, Iíd like to applaud the leader of the third party for bringing this legislation to the House. Itís an excellent lesson to all of us that legislation can be brought forward by everyone. But Iím afraid that I canít support it for all of the reasons that Iíve presented so far. In the future, I would welcome other pieces of legislation and look forward to debating them, as well.
Thank you very much for your time and attention, sir.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of this bill today.
The mechanics of the position of the official opposition were put on the record by the Member for Mount Lorne, so Iíll avoid repeating those arguments this afternoon and encourage all members to try to be brief in their comments, because there is other business scheduled for this afternoon.
Weíve seen a filibuster by the Yukon Party government this afternoon, clearly wasting the time of this Committee.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:The Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane is in violation of Standing Order 19(g) by imputing false or unavowed motives to another member in suggesting that members from this side of the floor were speaking for a reason other than debate on this amendment.
Speaker:There is no point of order. I would ask the member to carry on, please.
Mr. McRobb: Clearly this was another example of wasted time by the government side. This is no way to conduct the publicís business, and itís shameful when compared with what this party ran on in a campaign only a year ago ó absolutely shameful.
This Yukon Party campaigned on working better together with all MLAs in the Legislature, not wasting the publicís time by talking at length on minutia on a particular bill, in order to avoid getting to another motion, such as Motion 103, the NDP motion on the computer use investigation. Thatís shameful. This government wasted the time in order to avoid getting to that particular debate this afternoon. Now, itís still about five minutes to 5:00 p.m. There is still about an hour left today; however, the government side, as the record will show in Hansard, will put up as many speakers as it takes in order to wind out the clock on this bill to avoid us moving on to the next order of business.
Saying that, to be constructive on the matter of transportation for our schoolchildren to school, there is one other matter that I want to put on the record ó because I know that officials within the Department of Education are monitoring the debate this afternoon ó that there is one other area that I believe could be enhanced when it comes to funding. That is, the allotments that are provided to parents whose children live outside of the zones covered by school buses. This concern has been brought to me several times that the rate provided by the government is simply inadequate to cover the costs of transportation that must be delivered by those parents or on behalf of the parents in order to bring their children to and from school.
I believe that I have stated my case, and I donít believe in wasting time.
Mr. Arntzen: First of all, I would like to thank the minister responsible for a very elaborate and valuable information speech on insight with regard to why he cannot support this amendment to the Employment Standards Act. It was very informative.
I would like to speak to Bill No. 102, called An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, that was brought forward by the leader of the third party.
I remember about two years ago, I believe, when the issue of the school busing contract was a very hot and hotly debated issue in this House.
The debate even reached into the press. Imagine that. If I recall correctly, much was said about the role of, at that time, the governmentís speaker and the letting of that contract. The speaker had apparently been a former school bus driver. What exactly was the role of that former speaker? Maybe the leader of the third party could enlighten us in this House.
Maybe the member bringing forward this amendment has compensation for taking the contract away from the school bus drivers who were protected by a union at that time and earning union-scale wages. I donít know. Given that ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Order please. The leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Yes, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I would suggest that the member has stated that the leader of the third party, myself, brought this motion forward, and heís questioning the motives in bringing it forward. I would suggest that is casting aspersions, as per 19(g) in our Standing Orders, and I suggest he withdraw that line of argument.
Speaker: On the point of order, the government House leader.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thereís no point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thereís just a dispute between members. I guess the Member for Copperbelt has touched a nerve in the leader of the third party.
Speaker:On the point of order, I believe there is a point of order. I would ask the Member for Copperbelt not to make reference. I believe if he was not casting aspersions, he was getting very close to it. I ask him not to do that. Please continue.
Mr. Arntzen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It was merely a question.
The first part of the amendment proposed by the Member for Porter Creek South, or the leader of the third party, involves inserting a definition for "school bus drivers" into section 105(1) of the Employment Standards Act.
The definition would be inserted in there ó the definition of building construction and fair wage schedule ó therefore, the insertion of this definition here seems inconsistent, since there already is a definition for driver or operators in the Motor Vehicles Act. It seems more appropriate that school bus driving should be added to that act rather than the Employment Standards Act.
Mr. Speaker, we are all aware that the fair wage schedule applies only to Yukon government construction contracts. Thatís what it was for. Service contracts such as school busing do not come under this schedule. This is consistent with other jurisdictions in Canada having regulations governing minimum wage rates for construction projects, and it also complies with the recommendation of the Employment Standards Board.
I do agree with the member that school bus drivers are performing a valuable service by safely transporting our students. I recognize that, and I may also at this point tell you that I am a former school bus driver. I went through that training; I know it very well.
I recognize that you have to have, and there are, very well-qualified and trained professionals driving our buses.
The other point that I might make is that the governmentís role to unfairly burden the market with excessive regulations or controls ó itís not their role, but rather itís to ensure minimum standards without unduly restricting the market economy and ability to function.
Again, to apply the schedule to every service contract would lead to increased costs to taxpayers, not to mention that the government tendering process could become onerous for some participants. Furthermore, to enforce this expansion of regulatory control would require government to conduct wage audits on a significant portion of Yukon contractors at all levels.
As was mentioned earlier, there is a fair wage schedule review, and in 1998 the Employment Standards Board recommended to Yukon government that the fair wage schedule be reviewed every three years.
That is correct. The board completed the first of these mandatory reviews earlier this year and has provided recommendations to the Yukon government for consideration. The Yukon government is reviewing the boardís recommendations and will advise the stakeholders of the decisions in due course.
The fair wage schedule applies only to Yukon government construction contracts, as I mentioned earlier. Service contracts such as rural busing contracts do not come under this fair wage schedule.
The Yukon governmentís application of the fair wage schedule is consistent with all the jurisdictions in Canada having regulations governing minimum wage rather for construction projects. The fair wage schedule is intended to create a level playing field in the bidding process to ensure all employers, local or extra-territorial, pay a fair wage to employees on government-tendered construction projects. Thatís what itís for.
Maybe Iíll give a background on the fair wage schedule review, Mr. Speaker, if I could.
Prior to 1998, the fair wage schedule review was not reviewed on a regular basis.
In 1998, the board recommended that the fair wage schedule be reviewed every three years and that the fair wage schedule continue to apply to Yukon government construction contracts only. It was also recommended that an increase to all wage rates be implemented by April 1, 1999 and April 1, 2000.
As part of that scheduled review process, the board consulted with stakeholders on the fair wage schedule. Although consultation was to conclude December 9, 2002, the board continued to invite submissions right up until mid-April 2003. The board provided its recommendations to the government in August 2003.
The Yukon government is not bound by the recommendations of the board and may or may not implement the recommendations if it requires further information or consultation, or they can reject the recommendations altogether.
There is no set protocol for reviewing board recommendations or the complexity of issues in this process.
Section 105 of the Employment Standards Act governs the application of the fair wage schedule. The schedule does not apply to any other service contract. This became an issue in February of 1998, when the Department of Education removed the performance bond required from the rural busing tender two days before the tender closed. This was done to allow smaller companies that could not afford the performance bond to bid on these contracts.
In the act, if the act were amended to apply the fair wage schedule to service contracts, the Yukon government would have to regulate the wage for every contract tendered ó very costly, and I donít think that would be a very wise investment.
Mr. Speaker, Iím looking at the wage rate for public works, also under section 105(1). It says, "In this section, Ďbuilding constructioní means the construction, remodelling and repair of buildings;"
It says, "ĎFair Wage Scheduleí means the schedule of wage rates established by the board with the approval of the Commissioner in Executive Council;"
"Government of the Yukon" includes
"(a) a corporation that is an agent of the Government of the Yukon, and
"(b) a corporation, all the members of the board of directors of which are appointed by an enactment or by the Commissioner in Executive Council and which for the discharge of their duties are, directly or indirectly, responsible to the Government of the Yukon;
"heavy construction" means such work as, but not limited to, site preparation, excavation, electric transmission lines, marine works, bridges, viaducts, tunnels, and dams;
"road, sewer, and water main construction" means clearing and preparing a right of way, excavation and subgrading, laying a granular base, grading and asphalt and concrete paving and includes
"(a) the operation of on-site plants to service the construction,
"(b) the installation of drainage,
"(d) the demolition of structures in or affected by a right of way, and
"(e) all other work involved in
"(i) the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads, highways, streets, sidewalks, curbs, parking lots, driveways, airport runways, airport taxi strips and aircraft parking aprons, and
"(ii) the installation, reinstallation and maintenance of sewers and water mains.
It says further, that the Government of the Yukon, "an employer has a contract, directly or indirectly, with the Government of Yukon for building construction, heavy construction or road, sewer and water main construction, the employer shall pay the employees engaged or employed in connection with the contract not less than the applicable rate set out in the Fair Wage Schedule. The Fair Wage Schedule may contain rates payableÖ
Speaker: Is the member reading from section 105?
Mr. Arntzen: Thatís correct; Iím reading from section 105.
Speaker: It has been entered into the record previously.
Mr. Arntzen: Perhaps I am repeating something that has been stated before. I didnít mean to do that. Iíll go back to my notes and see where I went over into the wrong document. Mr. Speaker, I will have to go over to my other document so we donít repeat ourselves.
The second part of this amendment that was brought forward in Bill 102 would have the words "bus driving" inserted after the words "building construction."
In section 102(2) of the Employment Standards Act, I did read that. If I didnít, Iíll go over it and see.
"(2) If an employer has a contract, directly or indirectly, with the Government of the Yukon for building construction, heavy construction, or road, sewer and water main construction, the employer shall pay the employees engaged or employed in connection with the contract not less than the applicable rate set out in the Fair Wage Schedule."
Mr. Speaker, I may have ó
Speaker: One minute.
Mr. Arntzen: I may have repeated myself. Again, the words "bus driver" would probably be best inserted into the Motor Vehicles Act. I believe thatís where it belongs.
Also, as I understand it, the fair wage schedule was meant to ensure short-term employment. This is not the main source of employment for a lot of these bus drivers. Most have other jobs, and this job for them is a secondary job.
Speaker: The memberís time has expired.
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I really mean that. Iíll be very short in my comments to these amendments.
My colleagues on this side of the House have spoken in support of this. I also am in support of the amendments to the Employment Standards Act and I feel that members on the government side should also voice themselves clearly by voting for this amendment before the end of the day, which is not very far away, and give this good message and good news to the bus drivers who are so deserving of it and have asked us ó at least on this side of the House, and I know theyíve been calling their MLAs on that side of the House ó to make some changes and ensure that they are not left out and are recognized in the Employment Standards Act.
And thatís what weíll do here. If we ever went into Committee of the Whole, I would even recommend an amendment to this to recognize that bus drivers donít just go back and forth from schools, but they go to activities and events that are put on by schools and should be included in that.
But I believe that we wonít make it to Committee if the government is going to exercise its majority and talk out this bill ó not even defeat it, but talk it out. I think itís sad that we have come this far and are not recognizing our bus drivers in a simple amendment to the Employment Standards Act. We all feel and know that bus drivers, for example, are in a pretty responsible position, entrusted with the safety of our children getting to school and returning home. We put a lot of faith in their ability to do the job properly and ensure that our kids arrive home safely.
They do have the proper training. They do quite a bit of training, including having advanced driver training, first aid and so on. So, itís not as if theyíre hired with a class 5, or even less, licence to do this job ó class 7, for example. But a lot of responsibility is put on them, and I urge members on the government side of the House to look at this more carefully. Letís get some debate happening in Committee of the Whole on this and pass this bill.
The amendments coming forward didnít happen out of the blue. Itís because the bus drivers recognized this and want it to be included. So far, we have been stonewalled by members on the government side, and it looks like they will talk this out. Itís unfortunate because it shows their lack of support for the bus drivers ó and we will make sure they see this debate.
Again, I encourage the members on that side of the House to get up and support this amendment, and letís get a vote on it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cathers: Well, this has been a very interesting debate that we have had this afternoon. The comments by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun were very interesting here, suggesting something about bus drivers being hired ó itís not as if theyíre being hired with a class 5 or less driverís licence. And, of course, thatís accurate, but that statement is a little bit strange. Iím wondering if the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is aware that a class 7 licence is a learnerís permit, that upcoming drivers cannot drive with a class 7 licence unless they have someone with a class 5 licence or above that in the vehicle at that time. That seemed to be a very interesting departure on his part from the scope of this, and I think that it suggests a lack of clarity on the opposition side, in my personal opinion, on whatís being debated here.
There was condemnation from the members opposite for the fact that the Minister of Community Services took the time to fully outline his concerns with this amendment. The minister was making it very clear that he did not take this issue or this suggestion lightly, as none of us do on this side, but there are a number of ramifications to this. This is a very complicated issue, which is why, to the members opposite, his reply may have seemed complicated. But I would encourage the members opposite to pay attention to the comments that are made by members on our side of the floor rather than merely assuming that weíre proceeding for some hidden purpose, as they seemed to suggest earlier.
The intent of the Minister of Community Services was clearly to fully outline his concerns with this and make sure that this issue was dealt with the proper concern that is due to it. And if the members opposite would like to ó maybe they are going to suggest that the minister could have been more direct in his comments, but perhaps everyone should attend Toastmasters or some speaking class. The intent of the Minister of Community Services was very honourable in this matter and he was intending to give this issue the consideration that it deserves.
The suggestion that seems to be coming from the members opposite that anything other than inclusion in the fair wage schedule will deprive bus drivers of a decent wage is very ill-informed yet again, in my opinion. Bus drivers have the right, as Yukoners in many professions do, to form or join a union and to bargain collectively, to achieve the protection if they do not feel that they are receiving proper remuneration, job benefits, et cetera, et cetera. They have that full ability so there are other ways to achieve the same ends.
One thing that concerns me is how the opposition, how the member for the third party, came up with this amendment. Who did they consult? I heard it expressed by the member of the third party that this was a concern that had been brought to her by school bus drivers and Iím sure thatís true; but, in drafting legislation, as the member should remember from her time on this side of the floor, itís important to consult all affected people, particularly if one does not have a full grasp of the scope of the legislation that they are dealing with.
If they are not personally well-versed in that field, itís very important that they speak with those who are. Contractors who are involved, employees, parents ó this is a very important issue. Any matters related to education are very important to Yukoners. As members will no doubt recall from the debate around the Education Act review, as well as numerous other debates in this House, education issues, in all forms, tend to be rather contentious.
So the suggestion from the members opposite that this government is just throwing this concern out the door is ridiculous. As I previously stated, collective bargaining and other approaches are still in place. The fair wage schedule is dealt with by the Employment Standards Board. There is a regular review process. The Employment Standards Board is responsible for reviewing the fair wage schedule, and it recommended that that schedule continue to apply to government construction projects only.
So, to simply ignore that board, I would suggest, is disrespectful of the members opposite. Certainly, boards, governments and any group of people in our society can be mistaken at times. I wouldnít suggest that that should be the end of all debate, but to see something put forward on the floor of the House contrary to the recommendation of the Employment Standards Board, without a clear and detailed explanation of why the Employment Standards Board failed to consider all the factors or was erroneous in its decision, is an error, I believe. Iím not comfortable supporting this amendment to the Employment Standards Act, Bill No. 102, without a full review of this process.
Mr. Speaker, I find it very interesting that the member for the third party is championing this issue. Iím not criticizing her for doing that, but I am a little puzzled that we do seem to see things come up on the floor of this House that the member of the third party and the NDP caucus failed to do when they were in government and, in some cases, I have heard complaints from constituents that both previous governments neglected to even listen to them and now, suddenly, theyíre claiming to be the champions on this issue.
Itís a little bit disturbing. It leaves an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Mr. Speaker, this government has made very clear our commitment to education and our understanding of the importance of education to all Yukoners and issues surrounding it. That is why we, in the supplementary budget for 2003-04 ó which we will be debating in this Legislature ó have injected $2.5 million of new money into education.
In reference to my comment regarding people who didnít feel they had a fair hearing from previous governments and changing positions of the members opposite from both parties, as they switch seats from this side of the House to the opposition side, Iíd like to briefly reference the 29th Legislature, session 1, Wednesday March 11, 1998, and this is a quote from the hon. Ms. Moorcroft, who was the minister responsible of the day. The member of that day said, in answer to a question,
"The member's asking a completely inaccurate question in asking whether we will put the bus drivers back in the fair wage schedule. As the member should know, contracts for public works between the Government of Yukon and contractors are subject to the fair wage schedule, and the fair wage schedule applies to the following public works: building construction, heavy construction and road, sewer and water main construction. The fair wage schedule has never applied to school bus drivers, so it would not be a matter of putting them back into the fair wage schedule."
This goes on, Mr. Speaker ó comments, again, that the NDP minister of the day was in fact opposed to adding school bus drivers to the fair wage schedule. So itís interesting that we do see a real reversal in positions from the NDP and the Liberals, depending on which side of the floor they are sitting on.
A point was raised earlier by one of my colleagues about the number of regulations that the Yukon is already faced with and burdened with. Iím not arguing against more regulation; but more regulation, more restrictions on the activities of business and individuals and more paperwork that they are forced to deal with, does carry with it an additional cost to both the businesses and to the employees, because, if there are additional costs to an employer and their profit is lower, they may have to hire fewer people or reduce the amount that they can pay them.
The effects of this amendment I donít think have been fully thought out by the members opposite. If they have been, again I would raise a point that they have frequently mentioned in this Legislature ó they have suggested that we on the government side have not fully consulted with them, that we have not dealt with things in a collaborative manner.
I would like to point out that this bill was tabled, and it is nice to see that private members are taking part and tabling bills ó I think that is a very positive point democratically ó but I would suggest that the same burden rests on a private member as it does on the government in the requirements to consult and to speak to other members of the Legislature if they wish to see their legislation passed. At no point, other than in this House, has the member of the third party, or the members of the NDP caucus, who are supporting this, discussed this issue with me.
Iím making every effort to be open-minded. I certainly donít approach something like this with a closed mind because it came from the members opposite; but I never got a phone call, I never walked up the flight of stairs to my office ó they never caught me at the end of a legislative sitting and said, "Can we talk for a moment, go out for coffee, discuss this, Iíd like to explain why I think this is important, explain who I talked to, why itís necessary." And I would like to make clear to the members opposite that I would welcome that approach. I wonít promise to agree with every act or every motion that they put forward, but, Mr. Speaker, I do make an effort in this House to deal in a collaborative way and to try to respect good ideas wherever they come from. Iím not going to suggest to anyone that Iím a paragon of virtue or anything. Weíre all human but efforts are made by me, and I believe by other members on this side, to listen to good ideas wherever they come from, to accept them and to move forward with that. But this amendment, Bill No. 102, was tabled with no discussion with me, and Iím not aware of any discussion with any members of this side of the House. Perhaps it took place, but Iím certainly not aware of it.
The application of the fair wage schedule to construction contracts is consistent with other jurisdictions in Canada that have regulations governing minimum wage rates. As previously stated, it is in full compliance with the recommendation of the Employment Standards Board.
School bus drivers do indeed perform a very, very important role in our society, but collective bargaining and other avenues are indeed open to them. Certainly I personally am willing to consider any option on this to achieve the best result. But the issues do have to be fully considered, not simply supported, because the members opposite seem to be suggesting that, if the government side doesnít support this, weíre going to tell the school bus drivers that youíre against them.
Certainly that is not the position of any member on this side of the House. We respect the hard-working school bus drivers, we respect the important role they play in dealing with the safety of the children of Yukoners. But again, the gravity of the situation makes it all that more important why anything affecting that should not be dealt with in a willy-nilly fashion and without full discussion.
The intent of the legislation was, I believe, to allow smaller companies to bid on contracts as well. I wonder if this amendment would have the effect of driving small Yukon companies out of business and simply ensuring that large national companies with deep pockets are the only ones that can afford to deal with this.
Because, as members of this House who have run their own businesses are aware and members of the public who may be listening who have business experience, when you run a business, frequently you donít pay yourself what itís worth if itís necessary to balance the books at the end of the day. If youíre a little short of cash, well, a lot of Yukon businesspeople, as well as businesspeople everywhere, donít take that much out personally, and if they were then required to pay themselves a full wage ó this gets very convoluted. Of course, there are ways of investing your own money back into a company, but it gets complex with paperwork at times. It requires more tax advice. They may have to hire themselves an accountant or pay additional hours.
Mr. Speaker, again, the issue of this is how far it goes. One of the members suggested it would be outrageous for anyone to suggest the issue of precedent with this. I personally am not one who is in favour of ruling out the right course of action because you canít figure out a way to get around a precedent, but you do have to be careful if you are starting to move in a certain direction to set a certain standard. Are you being fair to people in comparable lines of work who you are not applying it to? And if you do apply it, what are the effects of that?
With government legislation, we tend to have reasonably detailed analyses of the reason for that legislation. Those of us who sit on the Cabinet Committee on Legislation, of course, are required to go through it line by line and look at it in great detail, and thatís a role that I take with great seriousness and have indeed stayed up a number of nights poring over very dry pieces of legislation to ensure that the legislation does meet its intent and that there were not even minor errors in it. Itís very important to have that dealt with fully.
The members opposite may not be aware of the full impact of the fair wage schedule. Itís my understanding that if the fair wage schedule is applied, wage audits have to be done. There are procedures for that. There is more red tape. There is more stuff for that poor businessman trying to run a business to make a living, perhaps on a very tight budget. Itís driving him out of business, or it could drive him out of business.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cathers: I hear a comment from the Member for Mount Lorne: "on the backs of the workers".
I would suggest that itís very important to be sure that things are not done on the backs of workers. That is why we have minimum wage legislation in place. However, there is also an effect if it becomes too cumbersome for anyone to do business that no one is working at all or that the jobs are cut. There have been issues raised previously in this House by the members opposite about vacancies in government. There can be problems with getting someone to fill a position when it is difficult to do. There can be ó if there are costs in the private sector, there may be no one who is willing to take the contract.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see that you are signalling that Iím short of time here, so I thank the members opposite for their attention, and I hope that they will carefully consider whether this legislation that has been put forward is indeed a sensible course of action with which to proceed.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I rise to speak to Bill No. 102, the amendments that are being proposed by the leader of the third party, the amendments to the Employment Standards Act, to include the school bus drivers under part 13 of the wage rate for public works.
Let us look at what has transpired. The fair wage schedule was established to create a level playing field in the bidding process, primarily for construction projects tendered by the Government of Yukon.
It guarantees that all employers, whether they be local or from outside of Yukon, pay a fair wage to their workers on those contracts they are awarded.
The purpose of the competitive bidding process is to ensure that the taxpayersí money is used in the most efficient manner possible. I can appreciate and recognize why the leader of the third party has brought this bill forward. Itís one of the areas that the Duncan government failed to address during its term of office, which she oversaw. The issue itself ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Deputy Speaker:Member for Mount Lorne, on a point of order.
Mr. Cardiff: I think itís inappropriate for the government House leader to refer to members of this House by name.
Deputy Speakerís ruling
Deputy Speaker:The Chair agrees. I would remind the member not to identify members by name, please.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thank you. Letís refer to the "Duncan government".
Deputy Speaker: Letís not.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Liberal government under the previous Premier?
Deputy Speaker: Thatís appropriate.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It might take us a long time to get to the proper words to spell out whom weíre not identifying here in this Legislature.
The issue before us is that we have a bill, Bill No. 102, the amendments to the Employment Standards Act, that deals with an issue where the previous Liberal administration had a tremendous amount of difficulty. In fact, it was one of the areas that disrupted the previous caucus and allowed the previous Premier to single-handedly steal defeat from the hands of success. Probably in the parliamentary system in North America, indeed in Canada, Iíve not seen a government go from such a majority to a minority position so fast. One of the contributing factors was the disagreement surrounding the Employment Standards Act and the amendments to it to include school bus drivers.
That in itself speaks mounds, because it even brought into question the neutrality of a previous speaker in this House during that time and it wasnít an area that brought any recognition to the government of the day for dealing in a fair and straightforward manner with this issue.
The purpose of this legislation initially, as I laid it out, was for construction projects tendered by the Yukon government, and it applies only to Yukon government construction projects. School busing simply does not come under this area. It just doesnít, Mr. Chair. This is very consistent with what transpires in other jurisdictions, and that should be recognized. Because really, when you look at legislation of any sort, you look at what is transpiring in other Canadian jurisdictions. You look across the broad spectrum, and rather than reinvent the wheel here in the Yukon ó in a lot of cases we do have made-in-Yukon solutions and we debated made-in-Yukon solutions just the other day. We have done that, but in this case let us look beyond; let us look to what is transpiring in other Canadian jurisdictions, and it would appear to be in the best interest of all Yukoners to maintain the status quo in this area.
One of the parts is the regular review process that is done on the employment standards, and itís done by the Employment Standards Board, which is responsible for reviewing the fair wage schedule. And that review has concluded, Mr. Speaker, that the fair wage schedule continue to apply only to government construction projects here in the Yukon.
No one can dispute the contribution made by school bus drivers. They are entrusted with our most valuable asset, our children ó our children and society. Now, it is most important that they receive a proper training, have a knowledge and understanding of what theyíre dealing with ó of course, that is determined by the proper class of driverís licence ó and a number of other areas. But it is by and large a second job for a number of people or a part-time job for some. Itís a very rewarding career but, again, itís a position that is usually a secondary responsibility.
Indeed, one of the main proponents in this area was the former speaker in this House, and his career path is taking him back into this field as he rightly can do, Mr. Speaker. Heís doing an excellent job in that area, but it was an area that did disrupt the previous Government of Yukon and was one of the areas that led to a splintered caucus.
When one is dealing with school bus drivers, no one can disagree that they deserve a reasonable wage for the dedicated work that they do, which requires a tremendous degree of responsibility. But that is currently covered under the Employment Standards Act.
What the mover of this bill, the leader of the third party, has failed to recognize is that the group of school bus drivers have a legal right to organize should they so wish ó organize into a bargaining unit. That isnít mentioned at all. Some positions are in a bargaining unit, some are not in a bargaining unit.
It would appear to be the position of the NDP that everyone should be in a bargaining unit. Well, there are a lot who want the liberty and the independence of not being in a bargaining unit.
People have a choice. Employees have a choice. Workers have a choice. Itís a free and democratic society and we hope that continues to be maintained.
The fair wage schedule itself applies to and is intended only to cover government-tendered construction contracts and not government contracts in general. That point is key, when we look at this Bill No. 102; it is key and it addresses, really, the understanding one should have as to why the fair wage schedule was brought in initially by the government of the day and why it has not been expanded to include a number of other areas by the board that has the responsibility for this area.
Mr. Speaker, we as a government should not regulate but rather we have to set ó you donít want to overregulate. You want to have regulations that are workable and you want to set standards. You want to set the bar. You donít want to move the bar so high that itís an impediment to the development of industry, or it functions in a very exclusive way and there are only so many people or so very few who can bid on a job or everyone else is pretty well out of the loop because of the tremendous amount of capital that is needed up front to address the wage and benefit package that has been identified.
What I hear the mover of Bill No. 102 suggesting is a request that the government regulate the wages for virtually every single contract that the government issues. And weíre talking about service contracts. Itís just not feasible, Mr. Speaker. Itís not reasonable, itís not feasible, and it wonít work. Itís reasonable to let the marketplace function. In fact, our government is embarking on looking at the regulations overall and seeing which areas we could reduce regulations and reduce the burden of paperwork on those in industry and in government here in the Yukon.
Itís very much amazing that the suggestion would be coming forward requesting the government to regulate the wages for every area that the government tenders a contract in. Weíd need a whole new department to enforce this expansion of regulatory controls, and the government responsibility to conduct wage audits on a significant portion, if not all, of Yukon contractors at all levels would be ongoing. Just how workable and reasonable is that, Mr. Speaker?
I hope the member is not suggesting that we increase government interference in the labour market and burden everyone with more government red tape. Itís not practical. The minimum wages that are established are constantly ratcheted up by successive levels of government but thatís just a bar to start. There was an amendment that went through that included all those at work, not have an age at which the employers could pay below the minimum wage.
There used to be a clause that the minimum wage was only required to be paid to someone over a specific age, but that age has been removed completely. So, anyone in the workforce here in the Yukon, no matter what their age, is entitled to the minimum wage. And this affects a great number of teenagers who are working and contributing to society while continuing their studies and continuing to be positive and contributing members of our society.
Those are some of the changes that have been agreed to by this Legislature. That amendment, as I recall, received the unanimous support of this Legislature to remove the age at which the minimum wage here in the Yukon applies. It applies to everyone. It was a very interesting change and a very positive one.
Mr. Speaker, we could go on and on and on about the benefits that accrue to maintaining things the way they are, and a case can sometimes be made for change. Our side is open to sensible, logical changes. Weíve said weíd be open to any suggestion, no matter from where it comes, but make sure it is logical, the process is thought through completely, and itís going to benefit all Yukoners.
Debate on second reading of Bill No. 102 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: 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.