Tuesday, November 25, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call this House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of the White Ribbon Campaign
Hon. Mr. Fentie:Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to pay tribute to the White Ribbon Campaign. It launches every year on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, until December 6, Canadaís National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
A handful of Canadian men started the White Ribbon Campaign in 1991. They were responding to the terrible events of December 6, 1989, at líÉcole Polytechnique in Montreal. Outraged by that specific act of hatred and violence and by societyís general willingness to turn a blind eye to violence against women, these men chose to act. They chose the white ribbon as a symbol of menís opposition to menís violence against women. The credo of the White Ribbon Campaign is very simple. It states, "I will not commit acts of violence against women, and I will not remain silent when hearing about acts of violence committed against women."
By wearing a white ribbon, men pledge to never commit, condone nor remain silent about violence against women. The White Ribbon Campaign addresses issues of public policy. It encourages men and boys to speak out in their workplaces and communities against violence done to women. They support womenís groups and distribute education and action kits to schools. There is a local chapter here in the Yukon.
As the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate and as a man I take great pride in wearing the white ribbon. It is important that we as government representatives encourage reflection and dialogue to break the silence on violence and, most importantly, that we commit our voices and actions to end violence against women. As men and boys together we send a clear message that it is unacceptable to use power toward physical or psychological violence. We must encourage and support all men to use their strength for healing, not hurting.
I am pleased to see so many in this House and committed to this important effort.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: I rise in tribute to those men across the world who are taking part in the White Ribbon Campaign. The White Ribbon Campaign began on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Each year in Canada, men and boys are urged to wear a ribbon for one or two weeks, ending on December 6, Canadaís National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
In North America, one in five women will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. A woman is sexually assaulted every three minutes. Fifty-five percent of women report having experienced sexual assault and/or physical assault in their full lifetime.
Ten women are killed by their batterers every single day. The White Ribbon Campaign, which started in Canada, is the largest effort in the world of men working to end menís violence against women. A completely volunteer organization, it depends upon support from individual donations.
Men who take part in the campaign believe they have a responsibility to urge other men to speak out against violence against women. We take a personal pledge never to commit, condone nor remain silent about violence against women or men or children. We are concerned about all forms of violence, and we encourage men to talk in schools, workplaces and places of worship about the problems of violence.
The result of menís violence is five times as likely to require medical attention. Women are four times as likely as men to fear for their lives and three and a half times as likely to be murdered by a male spouse as vice versa.
Unfortunately, this year the local campaign is being launched and implemented by only two men in this community: Scott Marsden and Bob Couchman. We give our heartfelt support to these two.
We have the highest rate of violence in Canada. There are, without doubt, many men and boys in the territory who could volunteer to take on the many tasks of the White Ribbon Campaign or who could donate to the cause.
To show our response to this very serious problem, we can make a donation to the campaign or simply wear a white ribbon. On Monday, December 1, a member of the campaign will be in front of the Elijah Smith Building in downtown Whitehorse with white ribbons. I hope to see many people in this room down there as well.
I urge every man and boy who hears this tribute to stop by, collect a ribbon and give a loonie or two for that privilege.
Ms. Duncan: I also rise to pay tribute and express appreciation for the White Ribbon Campaign.
The white ribbon was originally worn to commemorate the massacre at the Université de Montréal. It has become a symbol of menís opposition to menís violence against women.
Wearing a white ribbon is a personal pledge, as has been spoken about earlier in the tributes. The White Ribbon Campaign is the largest effort in the world of men working to end menís violence against women.
Near the end of 1991, a handful of men in Ontario and Quebec decided there was a need to urge men to speak out against violence against women. Since then, the White Ribbon Campaign has spread throughout the world.
The campaign encourages reflection and discussion that leads to personal and collective action among men. Men are urged to take responsibility, to work with women to end menís violence. Wearing a white ribbon is a pledge to not remain silent. It is a pledge to challenge the men around us to act to end violence. Wearing a ribbon provokes discussion, debate and soul searching amongst the men around us. The white ribbon is a catalyst for discussion; it is a catalyst for change.
The campaign urges everyone to work for gender equality, healthy relationships and an end to violence against women. Itís a time to demonstrate that by working for gender equality and an end to violence against women, men will benefit along with women by participating in healthy relationships, breaking free of gender stereotypes and living a life free from violence.
Mr. Speaker, as has been mentioned, the statistics are frightening. Studies tell us that in most countries, 50 to 100 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence. In Canada, 51 percent of women have been victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. In 2000, more than 27,000 sexual offences were reported in Canada and 86 percent of the victims were women.
Violence against women includes physical and sexual assault, sexual harassment, psychological abuse or emotional abuse. Not all violence leaves visible scars. Emotional violence includes regular subjection to demeaning jokes, domineering forms of behaviour and sexual harassment. Some forms of violence have a greater physical or emotional impact than others, but all forms of violence contribute to the very real fear and suffering that women in our society endure. The basic rights that most men enjoy: safety in their homes, ability to go out at night, a job free of harassment, are a source of fear for women in much of the world.
Most men love and care about women, and yet frightening numbers commit acts of violence against the women they say they love. It occurs throughout the world, among the rich, the poor and the middle class and among those of every nationality, religion and race. The word is spreading that this behaviour will not be tolerated in our society.
Two years ago, the White Ribbon Campaign formalized its ongoing support for the work of the Canadian Womenís Foundation by establishing the White Ribbon Campaign fund at the Canadian Womenís Foundation. Funds raised by the White Ribbon Campaign help to support violence against women programs throughout the country and are distributed by the Canadian Womenís Foundation.
There will be activities and opportunities in the Yukon during the official White Ribbon Campaign week that begins today and runs until December 6. I urge all Yukoners, Mr. Speaker, to take part and take note of this effort by men to stop menís violence against women.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: Members, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome to the House, a past Speaker of the Assembly, Mr. John Devries, accompanied by his wife, Henrietta. Iíd like you to join me in welcoming them.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, with the Houseís indulgence, I would ask that they join me in welcoming my partner, Lorraine, who is with us in the gallery today.
Speaker: Is there any further introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling today the public service group insurance benefit plan statement of accounts.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, I have two legislative returns to table.
Speaker: 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. Fairclough:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) in recent years the Yukon has experienced an annual turnover rate among physicians of approximately 10 percent;
(2) measures taken by this government to recruit and retain physicians in the territory have not reduced this turnover; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to keep its election promise to establish programs and incentives that will attract and retain health care professionals, and specifically to respond to the Yukon Medical Associationís recommendation that a retention bonus be offered to physicians practising in the Yukon.
Mr. Cathers: I rise to give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to work cooperatively with the governments of the N.W.T. and Nunavut to pressure the Government of Canada to negotiate a pan-northern economic development agreement in order to encourage small business trade and investment in the three territories.
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes that the 2002 Yukon Party election and campaign platform committed to strike an independent commission of citizens to hold public consultations on electoral reform in the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to act on its commitment by appointing said commission and that the commission be directed to include an examination of recall legislation such as is in place in British Columbia.
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) workplace smoking exposes workers to carcinogenic and other life-threatening substances even if they do not smoke themselves; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to immediately prepared regulations banning smoking in all Yukon workplaces and urges the Commissioner in Executive Council to approve such regulations without delay.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Taxpayer Protection Act amendment
Mr. Hardy:My question is for the Premier. Last week the Premier finally admitted that the Auditor Generalís recommendation about how accrual accounting does not require amending the Taxpayer Protection Act, yet his first announcement at that time was squishing the two things together like peanut butter and jelly.
Why did the Premier use the Auditor Generalís recommendation as an excuse to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act when there was obviously no need to do so?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There are certainly no excuses coming from this side of the House on why we do things. We are a government elected to carry out an agenda on behalf of the Yukon public. One of the most important elements of that is our economy. Spending power and cash flow are a huge and critical element of any economy. Our decision on the Taxpayer Protection Act was to create more options for the Yukon to stimulate the economy through increased spending power.
I, as Minister of Finance ó the minister responsible ó have never made the claim that the Auditor General directs us to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act. However, the Auditor General has recommended ó as all other jurisdictions are doing ó that we move to full accrual accounting versus cash-based accounting. Thatís what we are doing, but we are removing restrictions from the TPA to provide us more options to deal with our economic situation and improve it.
Mr. Hardy: All we have to do is read Hansard to know what this government said about the Taxpayer Protection Act and why they were changing it.
This governmentís credibility gap is getting as wide as the Grand Canyon. A year ago the Yukon Party promised to maintain the act. Last spring the Premier said he had no intention of changing it. A year ago the Yukon Party promised genuine public consultations on matters of importance to Yukoners with emphasis on proposed legislation. Those are the exact words, Mr. Speaker, but they are hollow words now and they donít stand up to scrutiny.
Why is the Premier now doing the direct opposite of what he told Yukon people one year ago during the election?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, that is not the case. In fact, we have maintained the Taxpayer Protection Act. Its intent, its integrity is still indelibly entrenched in this territory. We cannot go into an accumulated deficit nor can we raise taxes such as income tax without referendum. Weíve also made another commitment and that is to the Yukon public: that we address the economic situation and the future of this territoryís economy. We have done that with this very benign operational amendment. Our commitment to the public on the economy obviously is our most important one. It is our highest priority. This amendment is very, very benign and does nothing to compromise the act. I would point out, when it comes to credibility, Mr. Speaker, the New Democrats have never ever supported the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Mr. Hardy: Well, well, well, once again itís what the New Democrats did that decides what this group over here is planning to do. The public confidence in this government is plummeting, and there is no question about that. A year ago they promised to be open and accountable to the Yukon people. That was another one of their commitments. But in that time, six of the seven ministers on that side have been caught in one shadowy boondoggle after another. Now itís up to the people of this territory to guess which one isnít caught yet.
They continue to deny and stonewall and take positions that fall apart under scrutiny. In the interest of restoring his governmentís credibility, will the Premier set aside his so-called "benign" changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act until members of this House can hear from expert witnesses what impact this change could have on future generations of Yukon taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, in the context of being open and accountable, thatís exactly what the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act allows us to do. It allows us to provide full financial disclosure to the Yukon public. The full picture of the financial situation of the Yukon Territory can be provided now in one budget, not keeping more than one set of books.
Mr. Speaker, let us look at openness and accountability. Past governments have circumvented the Taxpayer Protection Act in a number of ingenious ways, by using the corporations to spend vast amounts of money that did not impact the act; by using the immigrant investment fund and borrowing money and then setting up numbered companies, which circumvented the act and put the territory into debt. And who can forget the one-stop shop, this high, high order of rent that the Yukon public has been committed to whereby we will not own that asset at the end of 10 years, but the cost to the public will be some $6 million ó another example of circumventing the act. Weíre not going to do that. Weíre going to provide, in the context of open and accountable government full ó full ó financial disclosure.
Speaker:Before the leader of the official opposition asks his next question, Iíd just like to tell the people in the gallery weíre delighted to have you here, but weíd ask you not to participate. Just leave it to the members of the House on the floor, please.
Question re: Business loans, outstanding
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I thought they were clapping for me, and I was feeling pretty good about that.
I have another question for the Premier. When did the Premier first become aware that one of his Cabinet ministers had tried to keep information about money he owes to the Yukon taxpayers a secret?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That is somewhat of a confusing question, considering all this information is very public. The matter of trying to keep it secret would simply be a ridiculous attempt.
As far as the government side is concerned, we will continue to disclose the full accounting of the delinquent loans. Thatís what has been done in the past, and we will not change that now or into the future.
Mr. Hardy: I only asked when he became aware that one of his ministers tried to block it.
The Premierís judgement is definitely in question here. He appointed two people to Cabinet who have long-standing debts to the Yukon taxpayer. The Premierís claim about open and accountable government ó which weíve heard a lot about today already ó doesnít really square very well with attempts by one of his colleagues to try to suppress what should be public information.
The public needs to know what is going on in this matter, Mr. Speaker, because it is their money. The Premier promised action one year ago; weíre still waiting.
Will the Premier table the directions he gave the Finance department about settling this matter and the options that he said a long time ago his department was preparing for them?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve committed all along that, this sitting, we will bring forward a solution. Weíve maintained all along that there is a policy in place. Weíre not here to change policy. Weíre here to bring forward a solution.
As far as the information in regard to all these delinquent loans, it is public. Thereís nothing being hidden by this government; nor has it been hidden by past governments. This information is very public and we are going to seek out a fair and equitable solution so that we can bring closure to this matter and move on in this territory to focus on items of priority to the Yukon public.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, the Premier didnít answer the question. I hope you review Hansard or the Blues and recognize that thatís not the question I asked. I didnít need more rhetoric along those lines. There is over $5.6 million owing to the Yukon government. The interest alone amounts to $1.2 million. That could pay for a lot of services for people or create a number of very badly needed jobs this winter, as we see the unemployment rates continue to climb. The Premier keeps promising that the solution is coming, like saying that the cheque is in the mail. People are suspicious, especially those who have been paying back their loans, that the Premier is simply going to write off the interest or forgive the loans outright. Itís time for the Premier to move out of the shadows on this matter, Mr. Speaker. Will he stop stalling and table his plans for collection of these debts right now?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We the government will table the solution as soon as it is complete; it will be this sitting. As far as the issue of jobs and the economy, of course the government is concerned about the unemployment rate, but a government that assesses all the data is a government that can come up with more options that we can implement to improve the economic situation. And there are a number of indicators that are important here, because they are showing signs of improvement, and a lot of that relates to spending power or cash flow. Thatís why this supplementary, for example, has millions more after we increased the surplus in this territory through the efforts of the statistics branch and the Department of Finance; we have increased the surplus so that we could further stimulate the economy in this fiscal year while we continue to lay the groundwork for a long-term, sustainable economic future.
Question re: Business loans, outstanding
Ms. Duncan:The MLA for Klondike owes the Yukon taxpayer more than $270,000 on a government loan. He has steadfastly refused to pay it back for a number of years. Now, most Yukoners have mortgages, credit cards or other loans that they dutifully pay back monthly. Every year, thousands of Yukoners pay income tax. Yukoners pay the Member for Klondikeís salary. How does he repay them? He refuses to pay back his loan.
That is bad enough, but it got worse. On Friday Yukoners learned that the MLA for Klondike tried to have the Privacy Commissioner prevent the public release of information about his loan. The MLA for Klondike tried to prevent the release of public information.
My question is for the Premier. Did he know about the Member for Klondikeís attempts?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would assume that the member is alluding to something from the past, when the Member for Klondike was an opposition member in this House. It certainly has no reflection on where we are at with this issue today. We are the first government that has actually taken this issue on. Itís obvious why other governments havenít. It has serious problems with it. The complexities of this issue, the ability to collect these loans, the security issues, the different commitments by governments up until this point in time, on whether payments are dependent upon levels of profitability ó and the list goes on.
Regardless of what the member opposite may be implying, the issue at hand is that we are going to bring forward a solution to these loans this sitting.
Ms. Duncan: In spite of the claims by the Finance minister that no other government did anything on the loans, the facts do not support that. The public accounts show loans outstanding of $5.4 million in 2000, and by 2002 they had dropped to $4.9 million. Half a million dollars was paid back during our term in government. We worked with debt holders to pay back their loans.
Mr. Speaker, the MLA for Klondike owes taxpayers $270,000 and, on Friday, we learned that he tried to stop the public from knowing about this. The Premier has spoken repeatedly today about an open and accountable government. The collection of outstanding loans is handled by the Department of Finance, his department. Each year, a report on who owes money is prepared by officials and then made public.
The MLA for Klondike appealed through the Privacy Commissioner to stop this information. Did the MLA for Klondike speak with any government officials in the Department of Finance in order to have this information about his loan kept secret?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The facts are, Mr. Speaker, that this particular issue happened under the Liberal government watch, certainly not under ours. I want to state again here, on the public record, that this governmentís position is to bring forward a solution that is fair to all. The government and I, as Minister of Finance, will not single out people in a way that we treat them unfairly. This must be done in a manner that all receive the same solution.
Mr. Speaker, what has happened in the past with these loans ó and leading us today ó is certainly no reflection on the Member for Klondikeís ability to carry out his duties. What we must address is all the questions around all the loans so the solution we bring forward brings closure to this matter on behalf of the Yukon public.
Ms. Duncan: As Iíve noted, the public accounts, in fact, demonstrate that there was $5.4 million outstanding in loans in 2000 and by 2002, under our governmentís watch, they had dropped to $4.9 million. Half a million dollars was paid back during our term in government alone. We worked with debt holders on this issue.
Iíve asked several questions; many in this House have asked questions about the governmentís loan policy. Itís a loan policy yet to be released. Iím concerned the Premier plans to wait until the last day of session to release the policy to Yukoners, because he plans to forgive the interest on the loans ó sort of an early Christmas present. Will the Premier answer a very simple yes-or-no question? Does the new loans policy he has pledged to bring forward allow ministers to skip out on interest payments? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is a policy in place, and this is not about policy or a new policy. This is about a solution. Frankly, the government should not be in the loans business. It never should have been in the loans business, and it should never get into the loans business. If the last 15 years have taught us anything, they have taught us that one simple fact. We are not interested in changing policy in a manner that will not reflect a solution. We are going to bring forward a solution to the whole matter so that it is finally brought to closure.
Question re: Teck Cominco, environmental problems
Mrs. Peter:Does the acting Environment minister agree with the Energy ministerís position that the Yukon government shouldnít concern itself with what happens in other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I believe that this governmentís position is that environment is an important part of government and that this government does have respect for the environment.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, Teck Cominco is one of the worldís largest zinc producer. It could soon be doing more exploration work in the Yukon. Teck Cominco is currently under investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States related to toxins in the Columbia River system. There is mounting evidence of other environmental concerns about this company in Alaska and elsewhere.
Mr. Speaker, there is a common belief that past performance is a fairly good indicator of future performance. Does the Acting Minister of Environment agree that a companyís environmental record elsewhere should be part of the due diligence process if that company wants to operate here?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, Iíll answer for the member. Teck Cominco is joint venturing in an exploration program with the Ross River Dena First Nation, quite an extensive exploration job in southeast Yukon. That is where itís at the moment. We in the Yukon, in our jurisdiction, certainly will hold Teck Cominco up to the highest standards, and weíre a long way from having a mine in southeast Yukon. Weíll address those problems when they arise.
Mrs. Peter: It looks like now the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is controlling the Department of Environment.
The Yukon Party platform referred to serious failings of the devolution transfer agreement in relation to environmental liability and reclamation. If Teck Cominco eventually begins a mining operation here, it could be one of the first to be approved under this government, yet the Energy minister doesnít want to discuss the companyís environmental record. Maybe thatís another secret that this government wants to keep from the Yukon people.
Will the acting Environment minister give this assurance that fixing the so-called failings of the devolution transfer agreement wonít result in environmental considerations playing second fiddle to economic considerations in any future resource developments?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We certainly will keep the standards of the environment in the forefront of any mine that opens in the Yukon. Teck Cominco and the Ross River Dena Corporation have joined in partnership on an exploration program in southeast Yukon. Through devolution, we certainly had some questions about Type II mines. We as a government are working with that to try to move ahead.
As far as Teck Cominco is concerned, they have a partnership with the Ross River Dena Corporation. They are going to create some work this coming winter ó probably 20 to 30 jobs in the Ross River area ó to do some exploration, cutting lines.
I donít want to answer for the First Nation, but I think probably the Ross River community is looking forward to the work that that partnership is going to develop.
As far as the mine opening, the mine will be an added corporate citizen to the Yukon. We look forward to that day. Certainly the environment will be taken into consideration at the time. But at the moment Teck Cominco is a corporation in good standing in the Yukon. They have joined a joint venture with the Ross River Dena to create some employment in the southeast Yukon. We look forward to dealing with both of them in the future.
Question re: Brewery Creek mine site reclamation
Mr. McRobb:Yukon taxpayers are concerned with how this Yukon Party government has put them at enormous risk by relaxing the requirements for the environmental reclamation account at the former Brewery Creek mine site. The security deposit was transferred from the federal government to YTG on April 1 of this year. At the time, it totalled some $8 million.
Since then, this government has released some $3 million to the owner, Viceroy Resources. As a result of this governmentís corporate charity, thereís only $5 million remaining in the account to cover the entire remaining cost of environmental reclamation on the property, which, by the way, includes huge toxic tailings next to a salmon river.
Will the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources tell us who would pick up the tab for reclamation expenses in excess of the security deposit? Would it be Yukon taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Viceroyís mine is a Type II site. We acquired it when we had devolution in April. At that point, the federal government ó DIAND ó was dealing with the Viceroy program. The program was transferred to us. The member opposite is right when he says there was $8 million in a letter of credit that was held by our government. They have been working diligently at reclaiming the mine since 1996. Itís a success story. Itís the first mine in the Yukon that actually has opened and closed and done what they said they were going to do.
Certainly we have $5 million on deposit now in a letter of credit. That money more than covers the program ahead of them, so Iím very optimistic for the Yukon people.
Mr. McRobb: The minister didnít answer the question. Furthermore he sounds like a great ambassador for the company but not for the Yukon taxpayer. The Yukon government kept secret the Brodie Consulting Limited report, which was done to estimate reclamation liability. The report cited problems with the work done so far and warned of future problems. In fact, it estimated the cost of cleanup at more than $10 million. According to news reports, this minister commissioned a second report, called the Hatch report to disprove findings of the Brodie report. But even the 10-page Hatch report questioned the companyís claims of work done at the site. It also confirmed concerns on whether the security deposit was sufficient to cover all financial liabilities.
The minister needs to table these reports. Will he do that and, while heís on his feet, can he share with us his reasons for commissioning the second study?
Speaker:Before the minister answers the question, Iíd like to remind the Member for Kluane that it is improper to intimate that a member is representing anybody other than his constituents, and Iíd ask you not to do that.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I am the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. My job is to work with the mining community. I would be remiss if I didnít. As far as the Brodie report, certainly itís one of the reports. Weíre in the middle of reclaiming a mine. As we progress through the reclamation, different reports from different expertise are commissioned. The Hatch report was one of them. Thereís also another one from SRK thatís arriving momentarily. We are moving ahead with the reclamation of the Brewery Creek mine ó very positive for the Yukon people. As minister responsible for mines, I am very proud of that mine, by the way.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, again the minister failed to answer my questions. He didnít indicate whether he would table the reports, for one.
Now, the Yukon Partyís election platform document said the serious failings of the devolution transfer agreement in relation to environmental liability and reclamation had yet to be addressed. There are serious concerns that YTG may have absolved the federal government of any future liability by ignoring Brodieís findings and by refunding the $3 million from the security deposit. On the radio the other day, the minister admitted there are some unknowns ó whether the balance of funds is sufficient.
Can the minister explain why he would refund the only financial security Yukoners had without being certain himself that the remaining deposit would be sufficient to pay for the cleanup?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I would like to clear something up with the member opposite. I donít make those decisions by myself. The decisions are made in conjunction with Environment and with Energy, Mines and Resources, with our expertise ó and taking into consideration all the advice we got from these independent groups that have analyzed the mine. The mine is in good standing. The mine has a letter of credit for $5 million. It is a Type II mine. The Type II mine is the responsibility of the federal government. We have not let them off the hook. We are moving to close Brewery Creek the way the mining company set out to do it. This is a good-news story not only for the mining community but for the community at large. This is a success story.
Question re: Brewery Creek mine site reclamation
Mr. McRobb:The minister is avoiding the question about tabling the reports in this House. I wonder why.
The focus of environmental concern is the mine tailings that are high in concentrations of selenium, ammonia and other contaminants. This is located at the headwaters of the Klondike River, an important salmon spawning river. It is also adjacent to Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in settlement lands.
Letís examine how this government has treated this First Nation partner, which has supported the mine in the past.
The minister recently said, "Weíve been certainly very conscious of the First Nation in Dawson to make sure that they are involved in this decision making." He also said that his government made the decision back in July and had discussed the decision with Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in.
Can the Mines minister tell this House, did the Yukon government make its decision before or after consulting Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We have been in contact with the local First Nation from day one. The corporation has been in contact with the First Nation and has been working with them, and we as a government have been involved on a daily basis on this question about Brewery Creek.
Iím not going to speak for the First Nation because that government can speak for itself. I am saying to the House today that this has been a very positive relationship, and we are moving ahead with closing the Brewery Creek mine.
Mr. McRobb: The minister did not answer the question. In an August 18 letter to this government, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in expressed serious concerns about the governmentís decision to refund part of the security deposit to Viceroy. It said that YTGís July 24 letter informed them that critical decisions were already made regarding the security release of more than $3 million from the deposit.
The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in called the Yukon governmentís unilateral action a serious violation of its government-to-government relationship with YTG. Furthermore, the First Nation referred to this Yukon Party brand of after-the-fact consultation as being pretentious.
Can the minister tell us why this government didnít first consult the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in before deciding to return funds from the security deposit to the mine owner?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the member oppositeís twist on the facts. The First Nation ó
Speaker:It is improper for you to intimate that another member is not expressing the truth, so Iíd ask you to retract that, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Lang:Iíll have to retract that.
The First Nationís members are working on a daily basis at the mine site. They are hands-on in the actual reclamation program, so for them not to be involved and informed of whatís going on is definitely not the way weíre going as a government.
As far as the Brodie report, itís public information. The Hatch report is public information. Iím sure when the SRK report comes, that will be public information.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is avoiding the questions. Heís refusing to table the reports in this House. What kind of an accountable government is this, Mr. Speaker?
Now, this minister has said he will continue to dole out the refunds to Viceroy. Obviously this government has no qualms about short-selling our future. This governmentís practice raises serious questions about the process it uses to determine whether security deposits should be returned. This minister needs to reassure Yukoners that his government has a handle on the costs and is not just playing politics with the security deposit. He also needs to ensure that the First Nation supports future refunds of the deposit.
Will the minister hold off refunding any more securities until he has tabled in this House a clear estimate of the remaining costs for reclamation along with written support for any such refunds from the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Our public Web site has both those reports on it, so if the member opposite wanted to do that, he could go to his computer and have access to them, as everybody in the Yukon can have access to those reports.
As far as the work and as far as the letters of credit, the letters of credit for over half of the money are still in place, and we are working with both the First Nation and the corporation, along with the Department of Environment, to make sure that this ends up being a success story not only for the mining community but also for ourselves as a government and also for every Yukoner.
So when I look across the aisle and answer these kinds of questions, I wonder, as minister responsible for mines ó I think we should roll up our sleeves in this House and create some work and some economy in the Yukon instead of being so negative on everything that happens in the Yukon.
This is good news for mining in the Yukon; itís good news for the prospectors in the Yukon; itís good news for the people who invest in the mining community. This will be a success story that we will use as a template for mines to come in the future.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of government private membersí business
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the government private members to be called on Wednesday, November 26, 2003. They are Motion No. 132, standing in the name of the Member for Lake Laberge, and Motion No. 113, standing in the name of the Member for Southern Lakes.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Taylor:I would just like to ask all members to join with me in welcoming my spouse, partner and husband, Troy Taylor, to the House today.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 6: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 6, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 6, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 2002-03, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 6, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 2002-03, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Obviously this is a housekeeping issue ó we are closing out the last fiscal year ó so I will be very brief in my comments.
I am pleased to be able to provide the Legislative Assembly with some introductory comments for the Supplementary Estimates No. 2, for 2002-03. This supplementary is the final supplementary for last fiscal year, and it requests an increase of $7,948,000 in the operation and maintenance budget of the government.
The funds are required in only two departments. The Office of the Ombudsman is seeking a small increase of $4,000 and the Public Service Commission is requesting an increased budgetary appropriation of $7,948,000.
The ombudsmanís small request is a result of the requirement to pay retroactive salary increases to staff. The Public Service Commission supplementary funding increase is required to record past employment benefit liabilities, according to the actuarial valuation of March 31, 2002.
As you may have already noted, when the 2002-03 financial statements were tabled earlier this session, my government has decided to uncap the past employment benefits liability imposed by previous governments, which were capped at $30 million under the Taxpayer Protection Act. Uncapping the liability ensures that we are in compliance with the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants and the public sector accounting guidelines in this regard. This change means that the Auditor General of Canada has now withdrawn her qualification of the Yukon governmentís financial statements.
This decision is to fully comply with the public sector accounting guidelines and principles, and also demonstrates my governmentís commitment to fiscal prudence by fully recording all government liabilities appropriately and in accordance with established national accounting guidelines.
In short, Mr. Speaker, full disclosure.
Mr. Hardy: I have very little to say about the supplementary budget. Itís very clear where the money is going and what itís for. As the Premier has said, itís to fall in line with the recommendations of the Auditor General, which it now does.
I donít have any debate about that. My only concern is, as with most supplementary budgets, there is a great opportunity to increase employment, to give more money out for small businesses in many of the sectors of this territory, to employ more people in the territory, especially when youíre coming into a winter season or at the beginning of another season in the springtime. Itís really important that the government has the flexibility to stimulate the economy.
Before the supplementary budget came down, we had recommended to the Yukon Party government to identify money in order to stimulate that economy. Unfortunately, it wasnít well-received, and from our perspective that was another lost opportunity for that area.
We all know that we seem to be struggling with a very stagnant economy in the territory. It started a few years ago, and the Yukon Party came in with promises. Job one was to stimulate the economy. Weíve had a lot of talk lately around the Taxpayer Protection Act and the reasons why itís being done; however, supplementary budgets, Mr. Speaker, give the opportunity for the government to recognize where they are falling short in their budgeting, recognize areas they can go into when the economy is struggling, recognize the fact that people are unemployed. They have the ability and the opportunity to stimulate the economy and then go for it and do it.
Instead, what we heard last year was the Yukon Party government crying poverty only to learn, of course, that there is a massive surplus. To me, Mr. Speaker, that points to a group of people elected who did not know how to read financial books, who had not paid attention year after year after year ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:The hon. Premier, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would normally sit by and listen to the memberís comments, but I think we have to point something out. The member is talking in terms of this fiscal year. This supplementary that has been tabled is to close out last fiscal year. It hardly has a reflection on what weíre doing today. Itís a bookkeeping measure to close out the last fiscal year. On that note, Mr. Speaker, the supplementary that the member is referring to this fiscal year that we have tabled this session has $95.5 million more in the budget.
Speaker: Opposition House leader, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, what we were subjected to was an on-camera speech by the Premier, who interrupted our leader. Our leader is definitely talking about this year, Mr. Speaker, and I submit there is no point of order. This is merely a rude interruption.
Speaker: Government House leader, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, what we have here is a display of the individuals who havenít knowledge of what theyíre speaking. This is the wrong supplementary theyíre speaking to. If they want to get into the supplementary for the next fiscal period, letís move forward and clear this supplementary and we can get back into that supplementary. Our government has created these jobs, gone on the record.
Speaker: There is no point of order. Iíd ask the leader of the official opposition to carry on, please.
Mr. Hardy: Itís interesting when the Premier across the way says he normally sits back and listens. Iíve never known him, in all the years Iíve known him, and it has been a while now, to be willing to sit back any time, so Iíd like to contradict that statement. Heís a very active person and likes to challenge people all the time.
Mr. Speaker, supplementary budgets have the ability to stimulate the economy if the government is willing to do it. I am talking about the supplementary budget of the past, but all supplementary budgets in a general term have the ability to help people in our communities. This government missed that opportunity. We gave many recommendations; when the opportunity is to bring in a supplementary budget that will stimulate the economy, those opportunities were there. They made a decision that they would rather continue to present the argument that the government is broke.
In doing so, they created poverty within this territory, and we see it today, because unemployment levels continue to rise under the Yukon Party government. They have the opportunity, they have the money, they dropped the ball, and they let the people of this territory down. That money should be put back into the economy when the opportunity is there.
Saying that, Mr. Speaker, those are my comments on the supplementary budget.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to address the Supplementary Estimates No. 2 for the 2002-03 year. The Finance minister has indicated that the government ó in part with this supplementary budget and with other actions ó has addressed the issue of capping and uncapping the leave liability account. This is something that every single government had done before the current Yukon Party government took office.
The previous Yukon Party government both capped and uncapped the leave liability account. The NDP government capped and uncapped it. Our government capped and uncapped the leave liability account. The problem with this, Mr. Speaker, is that the leave liability account is a very unusual liability on anybodyís books. What it supposes is that itís the amount of money required should every single government employee who is owed either leave or termination benefits decided to leave on any given day. So the amount that would be owing, if we accept the governmentís supplementary with this figure ó weíd have $42 million locked up in an account that is unlikely to ever have that amount drawn in a single fiscal period.
In fact, the most that has ever been taken out of that account, going back to the public accounts, is $3 million. So thatís why governments cap it and say we have enough in there, and then the Auditor General says no, or thereís an actuarial evaluation, and itís uncapped.
The logic can apply to both, because the question becomes: do you use that money to deliver essential public services? As I said, itís a very unusual liability.
So the government is not doing anything particularly unusual by uncapping the leave liability account. They are not doing anything unusual. Other governments have done that as well. I would suspect that over the next couple of years the Yukon Party expects to fulfill their mandate, then quite likely we will see a capping along the way as well.
That being said, the government has based the $7.944-million addition to the leave liability account on an actuarial evaluation. I have asked in the briefing for a copy of the latest actuarial evaluation. My understanding is that itís done every three years ó similar to the MLA pension. I would like a copy of that. I am particularly interested as it covers a back period of time.
The actuarial report may not recommend this but it quite likely was an option that came before Management Board.
Will the Finance minister share with the House options for putting this money into the leave liability account? Was the option presented to stagger the payments, as has been done in the past? Rather than put the lump sum of $7.9 million in, was the option suggested that we make contributions of a fixed amount over a period of time? Was that option considered?
I would appreciate it if the Finance minister would address that question in his closing remarks before Committee.
The other question thatís not included is post devolution. Does the leave liability account now include the federal government employees, or are we likely to see an actuarial evaluation that recommends another $7-million or $8-million contribution for leave liability? Iím also particularly interested in when the next leave liability actuarial evaluation is due.
Often in the supplementary budgets we also see the underexpenditures of government, and there has been an undercollection, if you will, in the recovery summary. Iím interested in the Finance minister outlining, either in Committee or in his second response, why we have undercollected or under-recovered in excess of $2 million in the Department of Health. Is that an outstanding bill that the federal government is not paying or is there some other reason for it? Perhaps he could outline that.
Weíve also underspent in our capital ó the capital that was voted on in the recovery ó by almost $6.6 million, so perhaps the Finance minister could explain that because, as the leader of the official opposition has pointed out ó and many of my predecessors in this Legislature and predecessors as Finance ministers have used capital expenditures by the government for significant job creation. For example, capital expenditures on our highways generate a significant amount of work in the territory. If weíre underexpending and under-recovering on our capital because we have not been able to do projects, that too deserves an explanation from the Finance minister and the government.
That being said, I just would like to, in the interest of returning to my argument and closing my argument with respect to the actuarial evaluation and the capping and uncapping of the leave liability account ó the member has to examine the public accounts for 2000-01 and will note that the leave liability account was uncapped by our government and then subsequently capped, as per the Auditor Generalís suggestions.
And the point has been made that thatís something a decision of Management Board has accepted. As Iíve said, previous governments have entered the same discussion. Does one put additional money into an account to be locked away, where it is unlikely that that significant amount would be used in every given year? That question versus the question of delivery of services ó the amount that has only ever been taken out in a given year per the public accounts is about $3 million, and we continue to add to it.
I do not dispute adding to the account. I fully recognize it. As a Finance minister, we have done that. And our Management Board did that. I also recognize itís based on an actuarial evaluation, and Iíve asked the Finance minister to provide that documentation and would hope that he would see fit to do so, either prior to entering into Committee of the Whole debate, or perhaps he will send it across to us at his earliest convenience, but I would appreciate having it prior to the line-by-line debate.
In short, I recognize the need for this supplementary budget, as it closes out the 2002-03 fiscal year. There are a number of questions, and I would appreciate the Finance minister addressing those either in his second reading speech or in Committee of the Whole debate.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll be very brief again, Mr. Speaker. Much of what the third party has put on the public record is for the Committee of the Whole debate, but let me point out some serious flaws in the member for the third partyís comments here today around liability.
First, letís point out the fact that you cannot have ó you cannot have by any accounting standard ó a partial or unusual liability.
If you could, Mr. Speaker, then the Auditor General would not be qualifying the Yukon Territoryís books. We have under-reported our liability. We have not fully shown the liabilities to the Yukon public, and that is a problem. That leads us to the reason why we made the benign amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
What the third party is saying is that they capped and uncapped liabilities of this government on behalf of the territoryís taxpayers to get around the Taxpayer Protection Act. Thatís what the member is saying. I find that a concern. A governmentís duty and responsibility to its public, to its taxpayers, is to provide full financial disclosure, and that is what weíre doing with the Taxpayer Protection Act amendment, and the liabilities will now be fully disclosed to the public, in terms of what the government owes, not hidden by capping and uncapping it.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think that itís clear that the member opposite, when a Minister of Finance, did actively do these things to try to deal with a very restrictive measure in the Taxpayer Protection Act and that did not allow the Yukon government to provide full financial disclosure. Weíve changed that; weíve improved it; and weíve added to our ability, through the benign amendment, to engage with the private sector and other governments to invest in this territory in a way that we can increase the spending power, grow our economy and create jobs and benefits for Yukoners. Thatís whatís at stake here. Thatís why weíve made the amendment, and we will move forward.
When it comes to the leader of the official opposition, again, I have to point out that we are debating a supplementary budget that closes out the fiscal year of 2002-03.
The member opposite obviously somewhat misunderstood what this budget was all about and did put on the record a number of comments in relation to this fiscal year. So with that in mind, let me just recap.
This fiscal supplementary that we have tabled to close out 2002-03, reflects the fact that we have now provided full financial disclosure to the Yukon public in closing out that fiscal year. That is a good thing.
Now letís fast forward to this fiscal year and address the memberís comments. The member provided one consistent theme, that a supplementary should be used in many areas to create jobs for Yukoners.
Just let me point out that, given the increase in our surplus since taking office last December 2, we have provided some options to the Yukon public that do exactly that. I think the key and critical facts here are that the supplementary tabled for this fiscal year ó not the last one because that year is gone ó is an increase of $95.5 million. That is millions more injected into stimulus for the Yukon economy, jobs and benefits for Yukoners.
We have also addressed the social needs in this territory in a big way. Whether it be in health care increases, whether it be in dealing with daycares, whether it be dealing with violence against women ó no matter what it may be, this government has reached out to help those in need.
I would say to the member opposite that everything put on the public record is certainly happening in this fiscal year. Unfortunately, the former government did not recognize that, and in closing out this fiscal year, the best we could do was put the financial affairs of the Yukon government into a position where we no longer have a qualified audit in this territory. We are now following standard and correct accounting procedures.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker:Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Arntzen: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Disagree.
Mr. McRobb: Disagree.
Mr. Fairclough: Disagree.
Ms. Duncan: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 10 yea, four nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 6 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair:Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matter before the Committee today is Bill No. 41, Health Professions Act. Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll stand in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 41, Health Professions Act. We will continue on in line-by-line debate.
Bill No. 41 ó Health Professions Act ó continued
On Clause 3 ócontinued
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, when we left general debate on this issue there were a number of discussions ensuing around clause 3, and there were a number of discussions ensuing around the designation in the group. And it was suggested by the leader of the third party that we adopt the B.C. model for a health professions commission. We did look at that model, and because of the size of our jurisdiction we abandoned that approach.
B.C. has also taken the same approach. Theyíve moved away from that model, and I can advise the House that the health professions commission in British Columbia was disbanded in December 2002. In the Yukon we have one registrar for all of the health profession groups, unlike British Columbia where they have a separate registrar for each one. We are a very small jurisdiction. We have a limited requirement and itís in the best interest of the Yukon to keep it as simplified as possible. We have endeavoured to do that and hopefully that is accurately reflected in this piece of legislation before us.
Ms. Duncan: In the interest of ensuring the accuracy of whatís being reflected, I would just like to restate for the member opposite that I have not in the previous debate recommended full adoption of the entire B.C. model, which is what the member continually suggests.
What I have recommended and what I ask, given that our legislation was largely based, weíre advised, on British Columbia ó what I had recommended to the minister during debate is that we have a health professions council. Now, the registrars heís referring to for each profession ó itís recognized we donít have that capability. Theyíre registrars of the college of psychologists or of a particular health profession. So of course we couldnít have that. We do have access to other jurisdictions.
What I have continually stated on the floor of the House, and what Iíve asked the member to respect, is that the health professions that I and others have spoken with donít agree with the governmentís registrar model. One super-registrar for all health professions is not acceptable to the majority of the health professions in the Yukon that might seek to be regulated under the act.
They donít like it. They donít want the registrar model.
Now, the minister has said that, "Well, weíve done consultations and we have support from other professions." Iíve asked the minister for letters of support for this act; he has not shown them to us.
The registrar model, as Iíve previously filed in this House, is very convoluted, very complicated. The super-registrar model, as outlined, is a cause for grave concern.
Our only recourse, knowing the government plans to pass this legislation in spite of amendments that may be brought forward and suggestions for change, is to recommend to the professions not to seek to be regulated under this. Thatís a terrible position in which to put an MLA.
This is not good legislation. Itís not the best we can do. The registrar model is not going to work and itís not going to meet the needs that the health professions have outlined.
Itís truly unfortunate that the minister wonít accept that criticism that comes from the very people the act is designed to regulate. The minister is adamant; he will not accept change to the model of registrar that has been proposed. I canít think of another way to put it, but is that the ministerís final answer? He will not accept any other model, other than the one proposed, or any amendments ó is that the ministerís final answer on this clause dealing with registrars?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, that the leader of the third party and I disagree on a specific point is not a highly unusual occurrence. That said, this model has been developed; it has been developed after extensive consultation. It would appear that we have about a 90-percent buy-in, and across the Yukon, Mr. Chair, that is a very, very high level of comfort with a specific piece of legislation. To get everyone agreeing 100 percent of the time before we move forward ó you know, itís just about an impossibility. I donít think there is any subject matter ó there might be a few, but in most subject matter there is always going to be a difference of opinion. But this model that was developed was developed after extensive consultation, and I am very pleased to hear that the member opposite has gone back and done some homework and has backed off from her previous, adamant position that the health council that was established under the Health Professions Act of British Columbia is not a good way to proceed.
Mr. Chair, itís a made-in-Yukon approach that we have before us today and itís a good way to proceed. If we look at British Columbia having one registrar for each discipline versus one registrar here in the Yukon for all of the health professions, itís a much better way to proceed. Weíve run out of people in the Yukon to appoint to boards and committees, and the cost of establishing a registrar for each professional field, each discipline, would be a very costly undertaking.
If we look at the health professions council established under the Health Professions Act of British Columbia, as I advised the House earlier, that was repealed on December 31, 2002. If you look at the main function of that council, it was to provide advice to the minister regarding the designation of a new or emerging health profession. What B.C. went through was a major government restructuring and unlike what the Yukon went through under the Liberal watch ó I guess if you want to call it moving the deck chairs on the economic platform that they presented, which was akin to moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. The ultimate understanding of where the economy was going under their watch was well known.
If you look at the way this is set up ó the health professions here in the Yukon seeking designation under the legislation must apply to the minister here in the Yukon ó thatís the same way that it is in British Columbia ó same way. In British Columbia the minister assumes the duties previously held by the council. So what weíre setting up is virtually the same type of situation that B.C. now has in place.
I see this as a good move. Weíve looked at the model in other jurisdictions and simplified it here for the Yukon and we have a buy-in for a lot of the health professions. Thereís always going to be someone ó Iím sure the member can go out and persuade someone to oppose anything.
But this is a good piece of legislation. It will benefit all Yukoners. Itís very simple: one registrar for all of the disciplines.
Ms. Duncan: Itís not a good piece of legislation. The member said he has had 90-percent buy-in by the professions or by groups wishing to be regulated. Can he substantiate that? Can the minister provide us with letters of support from those designations?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite knows full well that consultation on this area was well-documented and quite supported. And if we get into an exchange of paperwork on this, weíve done our homework. Weíve consulted, and weíve spent a considerable amount of time out there. Weíre not going to go there; thereís no need to, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Weíve seen minutes of consultation. Previously when other governments have brought forward changes dealing with health professions, they have brought forward letters of support from organizations such as the Yukon Medical Association.
Does the minister have any letters of support from any of the professions that may seek to be regulated under the Health Professions Act? Does he have any letters of support for the legislation as it has been presented to the House?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The short answer is yes. To go back and dig through them in the files weíve shared with the opposition members all of the minutes. Weíve finished that consultation process.
Ms. Duncan: Iím sure itís no difficulty for officials to simply send over a copy, and I would appreciate, in the interests of openness and accountability by the government, receiving a copy of those letters prior to this session closing.
There are professions that have indicated they are not supportive of this super-registry, and they have in turn also expressed concerns about the consultation process. The minister has said that you canít please all the people all the time and that the majority are pleased. He says he has letters of support. Itís not difficult for departmental officials who have received and seen those letters to provide the opposition with a copy. Iím certain they are public documents. The other point is ó letters of opposition as well.
Iím sure that the minister has heard from groups that donít appreciate the super-registry model.
In addition to providing the minutes ó which he has done, and I appreciate the hard work of officials in doing that, and making sure we receive them in a timely manner ó I would also appreciate receiving the letters of support and any letters of opposition from the organizations.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I have agreed to provide all of the minutes summarizing the events. We are not going to go back and dig through all of that information for their benefit.
I can confirm that we have no letters of opposition. I will confirm that.
As to getting into further debate on this area, itís a meaningless debate.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I almost, in some respects, think we are getting ahead of ourselves a little bit there.
Clause 3, which is the clause that we are still speaking about, is about the designation process for health professions and about making regulations for those health professions.
Now, the minister has said that they have done a consultation. We are not sure whether or not that is a big "c" consultation or a little "c" consultation or exactly what kind of a consultation took place.
Weíve got the minutes of some meetings that took place and there is some interesting information in there. But I would like to take the member back a week ó just cast your mind back there ó what the member said in the Blues was: "Ö I can think through a number of debates when I was in opposition when amendments were made to legislation as a consequence of suggestions I brought forward."
So the minister is aware that legislation can be amended when concerns are brought forward.
There were a couple of ideas put forward. We presented a motion. The leader of the third party had some ideas around how to amend clause 3. We even offered a suggestion toward the end of the debate last week about the minister enacting these regulations only on the direct advice and with the direct approval of the designated health professions to which those regulations would apply.
Now, the minister, in answering some other questions about complaints ó who would be handling complaints. The minister can make a verbal commitment that it would be the registrar in consultation with that health professionís committee. He also talked about investigations. So if they are eventually regulated, for the whole investigation and regulatory end of it and disciplinary end of it, we would probably have to use outside expertise. That is envisioned and provided for in the legislation. Well, itís not, Mr. Chair. Nowhere do I see ó it says that they can advise, but itís not required anywhere. What weíre supposed to rely on here is the ministerís word. Iím sure that the minister is going to live up to his word; and as long as heís the Health minister, health professionals can be assured that during the drafting of regulations that would apply to their specific health profession, this minister will live up to his word and he will ensure that there is consultation on the development of regulations.
Nowhere in this legislation does it hold any future Minister of Health to that. He also said that outside colleges could be ó it doesnít say they "will" be; it says they "could" be ó part of the investigation, the discipline and the consultation process. They could be used in many manners, but that primarily would be where their utilization would be envisioned ó page 1332, the Blues, last Tuesday.
The minister has said, when ideas and concerns are brought forward, that he has been successful in having legislation amended. Well this is a concern that has been brought forward. It has been brought forward to me; it has been brought forward to our critic for Health and Social Services, and it has been brought forward to the leader of the third party, and I find it unbelievable that the minister wonít move on this matter.
Now weíll see. I think thatís basically what Iíd like to put on the record, the fact that these concerns have been brought forward. The minister says he has consulted. Again, we donít know. Obviously he didnít listen to everybodyís concerns on this, and Iíd just like to give him one more opportunity to at least consider making some sort of a change. If we have to, we could stand this clause down; we could move on and he could come back with something that would be acceptable to health professionals and that would ensure their participation in the development of regulations around their specific health profession.
The minister has already said that colleges and professional bodies from other jurisdictions will be used in investigations and discipline procedures.
He wonít commit to that in the development of regulations. The minister stood up and said, "Oh, we have to have 30 registrars," and thatís not what this does. All this is about is consultation, and itís a matter of whether itís a big "C" consultation or a little "c" consultation. Are you going to do it because you want to, or are you going to do it because you have to? The minister doesnít want to do it unless he wants to and he doesnít want to commit anybody else to do unless they want to. Heís afraid to commit to doing that consultation, to putting it in the legislation and ensuring that that consultation will take place. That said, I await the ministerís response and weíll see where we go from there.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Question asked and answered, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: We asked the minister to go back and consider and talk with the department about the suggestions that have been made from this side of the House, the recommendations. There were only 10 minutes spent on the amendments to this section, and we did not get a clear reasoning of why the government side did not support it. Weíve had an extra day of not sitting in the House, which gave the department some extra time to review this. We talked about some other possible changes that could be made to this section to satisfy the health profession. One of them was to drop everything in clause 3 under (g) and make those amendments. We also ask the minister to go back and talk with the department and take the concerns that were raised by this side of the House and possibly come back with an amendment that the department has worked on that would satisfy the health professions who have come forward.
That hasnít happened. Was this considered? How much work was done over the last four days on the suggestions that we asked the minister to do?
I am shocked that the minister would not speak to this at all. In the debate that we had last week, the minister was quite interested in this section. We did ask that the department go back and work on this and come back with at least an explanation for why this couldnít or shouldnít happen. I believe that it would be in the best interest of the minister to do this. Why didnít this happen? Why didnít the minister go back and talk with the department and come back with at least an explanation to this House about the possible amendments and suggestions that we made. Why didnít that happen?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The question has been asked and answered. I would encourage the member opposite to go back and read the Blues.
Mr. Fairclough: No, Mr. Chair, it was not answered. We asked for some explanation on dropping more than half of that clause in clause 3 and we didnít get an answer back from the minister about what recommendations the department gave.
All we are asking ó we need this answer. We want to take it back to the health professions that have asked us to come forward to look at possibly making amendments to this section. We need an answer. We canít just go back blank.
The minister, Iím sure, took four days and had some discussion with the department on it, and we need some clear explanation about it. Will the minister provide it or is it something that is going to be provided in writing to us on this side of the House? We need something to take back. Where are we from here?
Let the record show, Mr. Chair, that the minister does not have an interest in this clause, hasnít had the time to work on it, and itís unfortunate that weíre at another low point in the House.
Chair: Is there any further debate on clause 3?
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Clause 4 agreed to
On Clause 5
Ms. Duncan: I would just ask the minister to restate for the record the order in which he anticipates health professions being designated. And also would he restate for the record the length of time he anticipates ó a year or 18 months was the last answer I heard.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, we have no idea as to the order that the various health professions will make application for inclusion under this piece of legislation.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, earlier in debate, I understood the minister to have indicated ó I just donít remember and donít have the Blues in front of me ó who was first. If the occupational therapists were interested in coming forward first ó does he have any idea who has an interest or which profession has an interest in being regulated and which might approach the government first? Does he have any idea?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We have had discussions with various health disciplines, but as to which one would come forward first with an application to be registered under this new piece of legislation, thatís at the beck and call of the various disciplines.
Clause 5 agreed to
On Clause 6
Clause 6 agreed to
On Clause 7
Clause 7 agreed to
On Clause 8
Ms. Duncan: I again would like to reflect on the record my dismay on behalf of constituents who have made their representation to me about the super-registrar model. Could the minister indicate how and when itís anticipated that a registrar will be appointed and which position currently held in the public service might be appointed as this registrar as well?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I advise the member that currently there is a registrar. As the various disciplines come forward and request inclusion under this piece of legislation, the powers of the registrar will be expanded to include that discipline.
Ms. Duncan: What is the cost of this expansion to government? There must be an anticipated cost, if itís anticipated that this individual is going to be doing more work ó although, in an earlier answer, we have no idea who might be coming forward to be regulated under this.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Unless there are 10 or 15 groups that come forward immediately, which is very unlikely, we probably can absorb these additional areas of responsibility for the registrar within the existing resources.
Ms. Duncan: The appeal process ó and the convoluted diagram that was filed in the Legislature. Is it anticipated there will be some public notification of this? Will there be a brochure put out? Will there be some kind of public education process? As health professions become regulated, are the registrarís powers and this complaint inspections and discipline process going to be put in some kind of a public document so that itís as readily understood as possible by the public, given its convoluted nature?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, if I once again disagree with the leader of the third party, I hope you donít find that highly unusual. The issue is the diagram. I guess I bear responsibility for the diagram with which the member opposite is having difficulties with. It actually includes seven different streams on it, so I guess we could take it and make seven different diagrams so the member opposite could grasp the various issues and various concerns as to what is carried out through the process. But in order to keep the process as simple as possible, weíve included all seven diagrams on one page.
Okay, Mr. Chair, that could have been simplified with seven different diagrams, but itís probably highly unlikely that it would have raised the level of debate that it currently has. That said, itís a straight flow chart, and I would encourage the member to take each area and follow it through. Itís very simple, Mr. Chair, but do it one at a time. Donít try to grasp all seven areas simultaneously.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister did not answer the question. I asked if there was a public education campaign anticipated with this particular process and with the registrarís enhanced responsibilities. Could the minister please answer the question?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The various health professions will be made aware of this new piece of legislation, and by and large it has been requested by a number of the disciplines, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, once again, the minister has failed to answer the question. This is a public process for complaints as well. Is there a public education campaign anticipated with the registrarís position? Itís a very straightforward question; Iíd appreciate the courtesy of an answer.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the public is engaged in this one area in the initial phase only in that the public would have to lay a complaint, and then it is taken internally and dealt with. The individual who lays the complaint is shown the process. So to go on a full campaign of explaining to everyone what is going to have to happen or what could happen or what may happen appears to be a needless exercise. The member is trying to make the case that this needs a whole brochure and, I guess, probably the hiring of three or four people to go around the Yukon and sketch out how to lay a complaint against a discipline that hasnít even yet been registered. Why are we going there, Mr. Chair?
Ms. Duncan: I believe that the question I asked was reasonable. The Ombudsman has a brochure that outlines for the public how to deal, if they have a particular issue, with government. This process is for individuals to lay a complaint. If they have a problem with the health profession thatís being regulated, that deals with the registrar, how do they lay a complaint? All Iím asking is if there is any kind of public education, as simple as a brochure. Does the government anticipate extending that courtesy to the public?
Thatís all Iím asking. I didnít propose that there be a large public education campaign. I asked if there was any anticipated. I didnít suggest there be a huge public tour to explain this. I just asked if the public was going to be able to find out how to make a complaint. Is there going to be any kind of public education, such as a brochure, available for individuals when they go in and are looking for a place to talk to someone about their issue with a health profession? Is there something anticipated, such as what the Ombudsman does now in providing the public with a brochure?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would envision that the concerns the public may have with a discipline that may be registered under this new piece of legislation would begin by that individual calling the main exchange number for Government of Yukon and being referred to the area that they so capably do. In rural Yukon the phone number is 1-800-661-0408 to reach the main telephone exchange for Yukon, and the operators there are eminently qualified to deal with the question that the leader of the third party has raised. That request would be referred to the proper department and thus that would begin the process.
After that, a process would be carried out by the registrar as to the laying of the complaint, should there actually be a complaint.
Mr. Cardiff: My understanding is that the registrar will be the same registrar that there is for the Yukon Medical Council now. Could the minister confirm that? Therefore it would be housed in the Yukon government consumer and safety services branch. Could he confirm that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I can confirm for the member opposite that the registrar would be the same registrar that is currently in place for the Yukon Medical Council, or it could be someone else in that office.
Mr. Cardiff: So that means it will be in consumer and safety services branch. There are some concerns about that, but I guess the minister didnít pick up on those concerns either.
I guess itís a matter of whether or not the public would feel that that would be a legitimate place for them to take concerns they have about the professional care that they receive.
I guess there is only one thing worse than having no place to go and complain about these problems, and that is going to someplace where you would feel uncomfortable about going to complain.
Given the renewal process, basically, this goes to the one-stop model of government.
So you can go and get an electrical permit or you can get a plumbing permit, or you can make a complaint about the health care that you have received. And once again, there is not really any mandated input from relevant health professionals in the registrarís office. It says it shall provide staff and facilities for the registry and other administrative services, but it doesnít talk about any mandated input from relevant health professionals in the office or committees that would do that. And the duties of the registrar are in the next section, and I would hope ó and Iím sure weíll get a commitment from the minister ó that everything will be just ducky and they will consult. Again, itís a matter of whether you have to consult or whether you want to consult. But there is a big difference between complaining about service or pricing at a restaurant and how your doctor handles your surgery or how a psychologist or a psychiatrist counselled your partner, who may have been having problems with spousal abuse or something of that nature. If people arenít comfortable with whom theyíre complaining to ó Iím sure the minister is taking this all in. I had this printed on the newspaper heís reading.
He probably has a good handle on where Iím going with this.
I donít know if he can answer my questions regarding the publicís level of comfort in reporting concerns they have about health care delivery, making complaints about the health care theyíve received. There are also issues around confidentiality of the information they would be giving to the registrar ó important health information and confidential information, as well. It would be interesting to hear what the minister has to say about that.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member oppositeís assumptions are incorrect, but I do share a concern with the member opposite on this issue with respect to the previous Liberal governmentís government renewal and the housing of all this area under Community Services. But for consumer and safety services in this area, confidentiality is implicit in it. Thereís a whole layout of the procedures currently in place.
The registrar currently administers all the other regulated health professions under the Medical Profession Act, the Dental Profession Act, and the Pharmacists Act. All of these are currently being done. The issue of confidentiality is implicit. Itís part of the mandate of the department to treat any of these in complete confidentiality.
So letís not go there. Currently thereís a process in place, itís working, and itís working quite well, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cardiff: There have been problems in the past, and weíre all well-aware of information that has gone awry or disappeared. The minister doesnít want to face up to that, and the public and health professionals are concerned about confidentiality and the way that government treats information. I donít want to belabour this, and the minister is obviously not willing to listen. As the minister said earlier, heís put forward some good ideas, and he has had some success. Iíve had some good ideas put to me by people in the health profession, bringing forward concerns that they have about this particular section of the act, so Iím going to propose an amendment that reflects the big "C" consultation that I had listening to what people had to say.
Mr. Cardiff: I move that bill No. 41, entitled Health Professions Act, be amended in clause 8 at page 7 by deleting clause 8 and substituting for it the following:
8(1) The minister shall appoint a registrar, and may appoint one or more deputy registrars, for designated health professions;
(2) The registrar, and any deputy registrars, shall not be employees of the Government of Yukon but shall operate at armís length from government through affiliation with an existing quasi-judicial board such as the Office of the Ombudsman or the Yukon Human Rights Commission;
(3) Staff and facilities for the registry and other administrative services for the administration of this act shall be provided through budgetary appropriation for that purpose to the quasi-judicial body to which the registry is affiliated.
Chair: An amendment to Bill No. 41 has been moved. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Chair: As members do not wish a recess, we will continue on.
Mr. Cardiff: The purpose of this amendment is to address the concerns that the public and health professions have around confidentiality. Itís pretty straightforward.
Quasi-judicial bodies such as the Office of the Ombudsman or the Yukon Human Rights Commission deal on a regular basis with issues and documents where confidentiality is of the utmost importance. Thatís what the public expects.
I put this forward in good faith. Hopefully the minister will respond and give it consideration. Itís a friendly amendment to the proposed legislation, and we can all agree that this is a good amendment and we can move on.
It allows for some comfort level for the public when they make a complaint about the health care service that they have received. If they have a problem with that, they are not standing in line in the same building or the same room where you would get a plumbing permit or an electrical permit.
Itís the same department where you would pick up those permits, so I put that forward in good faith and hope that the minister will take that under consideration.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iíd like to state for the record that I believe that the amendment is worthy of consideration, that there are a number of issues that have been brought forward, both by me and other members on this side of the House: concerns over the establishment of the registrar as proposed by the government. This amendment seeks to alleviate some of those concerns. Itís worthy of consideration by the government, and I find it truly unfortunate that the government seems immediately dismissive of the amendment that has been put forward. The lack of interest in having a short recess to give it consideration is unfortunate. The minister has said previously that there are good ideas on all sides of the House. This is a reasonable idea that has been brought forward. It reflects the fact that there are concerns with the model brought forward by the government; it seeks to alleviate them within the legislation by amending it slightly. I donít understand, as a member of this House, why the government would not even bother to give it full and fair consideration. Thatís not open and accountable, as they committed to being.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, for the record, the model thatís currently being used is established under previous administrations. The registrarís office currently exists. All thatís being proposed here is to expand the role of the registrar to take in new health professions. Currently the registrar, for example, administers the Medical Profession Act, the Dental Profession Act, the Pharmacists Act. There are three examples, though all weíre proposing is that the registrarís office be expanded to take in other health disciplines. Itís a very simple expansion of the role of the current registrar.
It wouldnít create another stovepipe of administration that the previous two administrations were so capable of doing. I agree with the official opposition in their analysis of the government renewal process. Yes, weíre still feeling the repercussions of the government renewal process under the Liberals. There were a lot of changes that were made there that one has to shake oneís head at, but the registrarís office previously existed and will continue to exist, and its role is just being expanded upon to encompass other health disciplines.
Iím uncomfortable with the member of the official opposition suggesting there have been disciplinary problems under this registrar. I would caution the member that they were downstream from the registrarís function and under a separate disciplinary council ó nothing to do with the registrar.
I know where the member is going, but Iíd caution him to go back and probably research this area more thoroughly and completely before he wanders down that path, Mr. Chair. This is the expansion of the role of a current registrar to encompass and take in new disciplines when those disciplines make application to be included ó not before. Itís not going to be the governmentís role to go out and tell these health disciplines that they have to be brought in under this piece of legislation.
Itís a completely open and transparent process and itís enabling legislation ó thatís what we have before us here today, Mr. Chair. The function of a registrar with respect to what is being proposed in this amendment, which would create a whole new bureaucracy ó armís length ó and at considerable cost to the taxpayers is totally unwarranted and unjustified, and not completely thought through by the official opposition.
I guess the buy-in by the third party just shows the level of analysis that has been conducted on this issue.
Mr. Fairclough: Weíve heard the comments from the member opposite. Weíve brought forward another amendment that we thought was friendly and took into consideration the views that were expressed to us by the health professions, and again this minister is not considering it ó not even taking the time to go back and look at it carefully. I believe that itís not healthy for this Legislature to go down that path again. This is the same government that said they wanted to improve decorum in the House. One of the things they wanted to do was be open and accountable. They wanted to hear from public employees and weíve seen what happened with that. They wanted to hear from people on this side of the House and now theyíre not even showing any respect for elected members and taking this amendment back and having a closer look at it. Itís too bad that weíre going down this road. I believe that this Yukon Party government will use their majority to vote down the amendments and ram this through and not take into consideration the good views that the health profession has put forward. This is one of them.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would encourage the members in the opposition ranks to go and look at what this amendment is suggesting. It is suggesting a whole new administration, a whole new office of the registrar, separate and distinct from what currently exists. There currently exists a registrar that looks after the disciplines. What is being proposed here by this legislation ó this enabling legislation ó is that the registrarís office be empowered to expand and encompass these other disciplines when those disciplines come forward and make application to be included under them.
Itís very, very basic and I would encourage the members to have a look at it. Itís very straightforward legislation. Itís enabling, and it utilizes an existing office and an existing registrar.
I was asked questions before as to what was the additional cost to the registrarís office to encompass these new disciplines. Under the proposed way we are proceeding, it could be absorbed in-house. What is being suggested by the official opposition is that the registrar and any deputy registrar shall not be employees of the Government of Yukon. This would require the setting up or the establishment of a completely armís-length registrar, and the staffing and the office place. We are probably looking at another half a million dollars, Mr. Chair, to set up something of this nature, and it would be ongoing.
Why not use something that is existing, something thatís working, something that we have had very little, if any, problems with ó that have been brought to my attention? I would encourage the members opposite to take a common-sense approach to this initiative.
Our government doesnít have a monopoly on good ideas, but this is not a good idea to establish another branch, another stovepipe of administration, another armís-length registrar when there currently exists one in the government ranks that grants licences. We canít support his amendment.
Ms. Duncan: What the member opposite, the minister, seems to be saying is that this amendment as proposed is not the ministerís idea and therefore itís not a good idea.
Thatís exactly what the minister opposite just said. The fact is, this amendment reflects the concerns of the health professions that the member is proposing to regulate with this act, the concerns they have with the registrar model, whether itís in place now or not. There are concerns with it. And it is not the recommendation, in spite of what the member opposite is suggesting and in previous discussions on the Health Professions Act. Itís not what the health professions the member is proposing to regulate want to see happen. They are the ones being regulated. They donít want to see this super-registrar, this expansion of the existing registrar. Thatís not the way they want to be regulated. The minister just refuses to accept that. Thereís an alternative; it still has a registrar, per the governmentís one model. All itís doing is taking it out of the confines of government and treating it the way it should be, as a quasi-judicial body. We have them throughout government. The Water Board is one example of a quasi-judicial body, and there are many others. It can be done. Itís just truly unfortunate that, with the ministerís intractability, it wonít be done. There are good ideas out there. Theyíve been brought forward. Theyíre worthy of consideration. Surely I shouldnít have to convince the minister of that. Itís truly unfortunate that he refuses to accept that there are other ideas out there and the way the government has proposed to do this is not generally accepted by the health professions.
Chair: Is there any further debate on the amendment?
Mr. Cardiff: Itís sad that the minister canít see the error of his ways. The minister talks about a half a million dollars to do this, and weíre not suggesting a large expenditure. Weíre even suggesting that he could house it in an existing quasi-judicial body, if need be.
The leader of the third party points out that this is what health professions have asked for. One of the other things is itís the public who will be going to the registrar and making these complaints. Iíve made this point earlier ó I made it last week. If you look at the minutes of the meetings, yes, they consulted. Thereís lots of consultation ó whether there was enough or not, we donít know; weíre not sure about that ó with health professions and the people who work in health professions.
This is a pretty important issue to the public, as well. Iím not aware that the public actually had a chance to speak up about the Health Professions Act. Maybe I missed it, but it seems like theyíve rushed this. Iím not aware of any consultation that took place.
As was pointed out earlier, this is a friendly amendment. This is something we feel, and the people who come and talk to us feel, is important, that the information thatís being dealt with is of a confidential nature. If people arenít comfortable coming to a government office to make a complaint about a health care service that they were unhappy with ó it could be their root canal; it could be anything.
Any one of those professions, if theyíre not happy or theyíre not comfortable coming to that government office ó maybe the Member for Lake Laberge is complaining about his root canal or his filling, weíre not sure, but the minister is getting advice ó chances are they wonít go there and they wonít file a complaint. Is that good? Is that in the interest of health care, quality health care delivered to the public? I donít think it is.
You want people to feel comfortable about laying a complaint. If they have a problem, they donít want to go where theyíre not going to be sure that their complaint is going to be taken seriously and handled with knowledge and ethics. The registrar needs to be independent and he or she needs to be able to get good advice from the relevant professions in handling a complaint.
Weíll give the minister one more chance on this one and weíll see what happens, I guess. Obviously he doesnít agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the member opposite currently has troubles with his root canals, he would go to the existing registrar who currently regulates the Dental Profession Act. Thatís where he would go.
What is being suggested is to set up a quasi-judicial body similar to the Water Board. What is on the floor for debate is an expansion of the role of the existing registrar to encompass other health disciplines.
For the members oppositeís information, I asked my colleague who is responsible for the Water Board: what is the operation and maintenance cost for the Water Board for a year? Itís $1 million ó $1 million, Mr. Chair. If the members opposite are asking me to add another $1 million to regulate health professions when these health professions ask to be regulated so that there is a level of comfort should someone have issue or take issue with a health discipline and want to lodge a complaint, I would encourage the members to go rethink what they are proposing. This is just not an appropriate way to conduct the business of government.
There currently exists the registrarís office. It currently regulates a number of health professions. The role of the registrar is just being expanded to include other disciplines when those disciplines request to be regulated. Thatís it ó itís very simple.
Now, letís keep the process that way. People have a better understanding. If we were to propose and undertake it the way that is being suggested here by this amendment from the official opposition ó we can spend $1 million on health care in better areas than providing for another quasi-judicial board for an office of the registrar. This is not a well-thought-out amendment.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, let the record show that without taking this back to the department, the minister quickly scratched down on a piece of paper the cost of this amendment, and thatís his reasoning for not supporting it.
Chair: Is there any further debate on the amendment?
It has been moved by Mr. Cardiff, the Member for Mount Lorne,
THAT Bill No. 41, entitled the Health Professions Act, be amended in clause 8 at page 7 by deleting clause 8 and substituting for it the following:
8(1) The minister shall appoint a registrar, and may appoint one or more deputy registrars, for designated health professions;
(2) The registrar, and any deputy registrars, shall not be employees of the Government of Yukon but shall operate at armís length from the government through affiliation with an existing quasi-judicial body such as the Office of the Ombudsman or the Yukon Human Rights Commission;
(3) Staff and facilities for the registry and other administrative services for the administration of this act shall be provided through budgetary appropriation for that purpose to the quasi-judicial body to which the registry is affiliated.
Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Chair:A count has been called.
Chair: The count has been called. All those in favour, please rise.
You may sit. All those opposed, please rise.
The results of the count are six yea and eight nay. The motion is negatived.
Amendment to Bill No. 41 negatived
Chair: Is there any further debate on clause 8?
Clause 8 agreed to
On Clause 9
Clause 9 agreed to
On Clause 10
Clause 10 agreed to
On Clause 11
Clause 11 agreed to
On Clause 12
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On Clause 19
Ms. Duncan: Clause 19 has to deal with the prohibition against obstructing inspection or search. My understanding of the briefing of this legislation is that, in this particular clause, there is a right of refusal of an inspection but then the inspector could get the appropriate court documents to do an inspection, but there was the right to refuse such an inspection and that would not be considered obstruction. Iíd just like that cleared up for the record.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the record, the individual can always refuse, and if the refusal is there then a court order is sought. We try to approach it in a conciliatory manner. Weíre here and weíd like your side of the equation, and if thatís not forthcoming then a court order is sought.
Chair: Is there any further debate on clause 19?
Clause 19 agreed to
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On Clause 47
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On Clause 48
Chair: Is there any debate on clause 48?
Ms. Duncan: Could the minister just advise the House if there have been any requests by professions currently regulated by others, such as those under clause 47, the Medical Professions Act, or the nurses, for example, under clause 48? They have their own acts now. They may come under this act if they wish, and the other acts would be repealed, is what the legislation says.
Have those professions given the minister any indication whether or not they wish to be regulated under this act or continue with their other legislation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím advised that the registered nurses are currently self-regulating. The medical association has looked at it, but they havenít finalized anything at this juncture.
Ms. Duncan: Was there any discussion at the YMA meetings this past weekend about this particular act and any sense of what the discussions are with the YMA?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department made a well-received presentation at the business session, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Does the minister have a date when he anticipates a response by the YMA? Does he have any sense ó theyíre just going to discuss it; thereís no sense of when they might advise the minister which legislation they wish to have apply to them?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, theyíre currently covered under existing legislation. There isnít any urgency to move one way or the other.
Chair: Is there any further debate on clause 48?
Clause 48 agreed to
On Clause 49
Clause 49 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I move that Bill No. 41, entitled Health Professions Act, be reported without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that Bill No. 41, entitled Health Professions Act, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 6, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2002-03.
Bill No. 6 ó Fourth Appropriation Act, 2002-03
We will go into general debate. I would like to remind members that, as we have only two votes that we will have specific debate on, if there are any questions regarding other departments, they should be asked during general debate.
We will proceed with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As pointed out in the second reading, this is the supplementary to close out the fiscal year of 2002-03. The main items in it relate to operation and maintenance budgetary items for the Public Service Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman. The Taxpayer Protection Act amendment is allowing us to uncap the liability and book fully the true liability of the government when it comes to the post-employment benefits. I think this supplementary budget is self-explanatory but I would be pleased to take any questions during general debate in Committee.
Ms. Duncan: When we go through the line-by-line we donít tend to get into the recoveries and we got less than we expected in certain areas, so if I could just ask the Finance minister to outline ó thereís a significant under-recovery. Iím not sure if thatís the right word, but there was an under-recovery in Health of just over $2 million. Iíd just like an explanation on that. And there were three significant under-recoveries in capital in Community Services, Infrastructure and Yukon Housing Corporation. Could I just have an explanation on those, please?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll deal first with the issue on the outstanding Health amount and the recovery. The department reduced the amount that was due from Canada. They set this up as an estimate at the beginning of the year and adjust to actual recoveries as they bill the Department of Indian Affairs for actual services used by First Nations. That is why there is that under-reporting of the recoveries ó it starts as an estimate then the actual during the year as billed.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, just to clarify what the minister said, then, itís not a case of Canada not having paid us what they owe, itís a case of us not having to bill them as much as we thought we would ó correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís based on the billing during the year, an estimate at the start of the year. Then the billing during the year sets up the actual recovery, and then there has also been some negotiated amounts that were settled on.
Ms. Duncan: So we donít have a huge outstanding bill with Canada right now. There has been significant work over the past three or four years to settle. Whatís the current state of our health billings with Canada? Are we up to date? Are they paying their bills like they should, or do we need to engage in another lobby effort?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, that question would be better served when we go into the next budget, because this is actually retroactive. Weíre looking backward here. Those amounts would come out in this fiscal year.
Ms. Duncan: So, the part of the supplementary the Finance minister wants to blame on me ó we were up to date with the Government of Canada then, just for the record.
Does the Finance minister have an explanation on the under-recovery, again in the capital, in those three departments I mentioned ó Infrastructure, Yukon Housing Corporation and Community Services? Because itís not in the capital expenditure, itís in the recovery ó Iím led to believe itís a recovery, like a project that we anticipated being paid for but didnít do, as opposed to simply a cancelled project. If itís for simply lapses, what projects didnít we do?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, Mr. Chair, these amounts in this supplementary reflect the closing of the fiscal year 2002-03. Anything that would be lapsed or advanced into the next fiscal year we can bring out in detail in the debate on the 2003-04 supplementary, because thatís where the numbers will be.
Obviously the amounts that were projected when we closed out the year in those departments ó Community Services, on a recovery of $1.6 million down; Infrastructure, $1.4 million; and Yukon Housing Corporation, $3.1 million. Those details can be debated in the next fiscal yearís supplementary, because thatís where everything has been advanced to.
So, closing out 2002-03 required that we reflect the actual figures, and those recoveries did not happen at the end of 2002-03, so theyíll be in the next fiscal year.
Ms. Duncan: The point is that these are projects that werenít proceeded with. Some of them may be revoted in the next year. I appreciate that thatís when we would debate them. But in order to prepare for that debate, I need to know what projects in last yearís budget didnít go ahead and why.
If the minister wants to provide me with the details in a legislative return rather than on the floor in general debate, thatís fine, although I would like that legislative return before we go into the next supplementary. In fairness, I would like to know either what we didnít get the money for that we anticipated, or what projects didnít proceed that we had anticipated somebody else paying for.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: You know, Mr. Chair, that detail could certainly be provided to the member opposite in writing. We can debate it again in the next supplementary when we get into Committee on 2003-04. There is not much we can do here because we came here prepared to debate a simple close-out of a fiscal year and then advance the debate into this fiscal year where we can deal with all these things.
The officials will certainly bring that detail forward, but they are not prepared at this point in time to provide that detail. These simply reflect the actual accounting that closes out a fiscal year, and we can bring it forward when we debate the 2003-04 supplementary.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate what the member is saying. I would just like a commitment that we can get that information. I mean, this is what we have in front of us. There was a Management Board decision to accept this document, and the under-recoveries were spelled out in that Management Board document. It said this, this, this and this wasnít proceeded with; this is where the recoveries came from. I am just asking for that detailed information.
Now, this debate is where it should take place. I am prepared to accept that the minister will provide me with the information. I would just like a commitment that I can get that before we go into the next supplementary ó if we could get it fairly shortly.
The anticipation from the government House leader wasnít that we would go into the next supplementary today, so if I could get it tomorrow, that would be fine. I would appreciate having that information, because it is the details of what is contained before us. This is an appropriate time to debate it, and I would just like the details.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, Mr. Chair. I think thatís the commitment that has been made. Weíll bring forward the information when we get into the debate on the next supplementary. We can provide it in writing, but I could certainly stand on the floor and answer the memberís questions once we have the information. So I donít see the point of debating this supplementary at great length when we can bring the detail forward in debate on the next supplementary.
Ms. Duncan: Iím not going to belabour this point, Mr. Chair. Itís just that these are the figures in front of us; these are the details that the member should have on hand because he chairs the Management Board that passed this. He doesnít have them on hand; Iíll get them tomorrow. Thatís not a big deal. Weíve passed this into Committee of the Whole, and Iím quite prepared to move on, but we donít debate these lines other than in general debate, so thatís why Iím asking for the information now. If the minister wants to provide that in writing tomorrow, thatís fine. Iím sure itís a straightforward explanation.
I also asked in my second reading speech if I could have a copy of the actuarial evaluation that recommended the $7.9-million commitment we see in front of us, and if the minister would tell the House whether there were options discussed at Management Board other than a lump-sum commitment such as staggering the payments. Was that option considered? It has been done in the past by the Government of Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have copies of the report from the consulting firm that did the actuarial, but the option is clear: qualified audited statement. We were not booking the correct liability of the Yukon government. You canít stagger a post-employment liability, and it was recommended and estimated by actuary, and itís in this report. The amount required to be recorded is the accrued present value at the valuation date of future benefits expected to be paid to current employees. Itís an error to think there are other options. Qualified audits clearly state that there arenít and that this is what we must do to fall in line with standard accounting procedures, as recommended and directed by the Auditor General. With that, Iíll table these reports.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate receiving the report; I thank the minister for it. Can I ask when the decision was discussed at Management Board? I have heard the minister say that there were no other options considered other than the lump sum contribution; there was no other option considered at Management Board and no other option presented. It has occurred in the past that there were contributions made over a period of time to bring up to actuarial evaluation. Could I just have the date on this decision by Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I must say to the member I think there is a bit of confusion between the post-employment benefit and the MLA pension fund and how those two operate. But anyway, we know that a fiscal year close-out, as far as the audited statements, comes in the fall. The decision to book this was made sometime late summer in accordance with the recommendation and direction of the Auditor General so that we no longer would have a qualified audit in this area when we present our financial picture to the Yukon people.
I must point out that this capping and uncapping ó a Yukon Party government has never done that. It has only been when the opposite bench has been in government that they did the capping and uncapping measures in trying to deal with the issue. We, on the other hand, have always maintained that ó this government at least ó that we present full disclosure to the public financially. When thereís an audited statement by the Auditor General thatís of concern because it relates to us not posting and booking the full and correct liability, which is our duty and responsibility.
I think we present a clearer, up-to-date and fully accounted-for set of books to the public.
Ms. Duncan: For the record for the member opposite, the public accounts 2000-01, signed by myself as Minister of Finance, has no qualification. Others do. There is a difference, and this is a very reasonable discussion that has to be held at Management Board. Itís a decision.
There have been differing opinions by governments, and there have been lengthy discussions by Finance ministers about dealing with this particular issue. Itís complex in some respects, and itís certainly not easily explained to the public. I donít believe that any previous Finance ministers ó and I donít believe our government or myself, as Finance minister and chair of Management Board ó did anything wrong. We were certainly within the act.
Iím not going to get into a lengthy debate with the Minister of Finance on this issue. What I would like to know is ó
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister has said that the decision with respect to the accounting for accrued sick leave, vacation leave and severance benefits was made in late summer. Was it before or after the information was made available with respect to the undercounts?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This decision was a decision by our government to book the actual liability of the Yukon government, to provide the public a correct accounting. The issue of capping and uncapping was a measure used to deal with the Taxpayer Protection Act. We are not going to do that. So we amended those two sections, which are entirely operational, benign amendments, as Iíve been saying all along. The member opposite, in government, chose to cap and uncap the liability. No, we are not. We are going to provide full disclosure at all times.
Ms. Duncan: We are not debating the issue of capping and uncapping at this point in time. Thatís a debate that we can conduct in the Taxpayer Protection Act. What we are debating is a $7,994,000 ó I believe it is ó contribution to what is in fact and has been referred to by many as an unusual liability.
I know the minister takes issue with that term, but it is a liability. I am asking for the time frame around which the decision was made. The minister has said late summer. Was it before or after information was received with respect to the undercounts?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The decision was something that was a work in progress because we wanted to ensure that we didnít get qualified audits. It happened late this summer.
The member, again, talks about unusual liabilities. There is no such thing.
So what are we talking about, Mr. Chair? Itís a needless debate. We are following the appropriate and correct accounting standards as directed by and recommended by the Auditor General ó the lead accountant in the country. Itís our duty and responsibility to ensure that we provide a set of books to the Yukon public that is correct and fully discloses the liabilities.
Saying that the post-employee benefit liabilities are unusual is not correct, because thereís no such liability in standard accounting practices.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite seems to want to focus on that particular term. I would ask him to respond to the question. Again, was the decision with respect to this contribution made after the Finance minister learned that the census money would be available or before? And while heís on his feet, perhaps the Finance minister could indicate whether or not he has any intention of making quarterly or, in the interests of full disclosure, semi-annual ó quarterly would be better ó statements as to the territoryís finances and the current state of the surplus?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would respond to this by following up on the member oppositeís own words about how the finances of government during the fiscal year are going up and going down, and there are all kinds of external pressures on those issues. Late summer was when the decision was made. There have been, I think, two very detailed conversations with representatives of the Auditor Generalís office. They were adamant that there is a problem here. We discussed this issue of incorrectly reporting the liability on post-employment benefits. And I think, Mr. Chair, the issue is the decision to correctly post these liabilities is made based on the fact that we have to, as is our responsibility and obligation, follow the correct standard accounting procedures as directed and recommended by the Auditor General.
I see no other way to respond to this. The decision was made based on those issues ó period.
Ms. Duncan: Would the Finance minister provide us with some more information? When did those conversations take place and was there a follow-up conversation with the Auditor Generalís staff? Will he provide that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Some time early after we took office and were sworn in, I received a call from the Auditor General. I had to go to the Elijah Smith Building; it was done by video-conference. I donít know the exact date ó what difference does it make?
The second time, the Auditor General came and made a presentation to the caucus and explained the situation again. Frankly, the Auditor General is very clear and succinct, laid it out in laymanís terms. Itís not an overly complex issue. Itís following standard accounting procedures. Thatís it.
Ms. Duncan: The minister said he spoke with the Auditor General in December on this, and then there was a presentation to caucus, presumably by the staff. Iím just asking for a time frame in terms of when the decision was made by Management Board on the Public Service Commission contribution, and also, in relation to that, was it before or after the information about the census money being available?
Itís just a straightforward question, and if he wants to provide a chronology by legislative return, thatís fine. I would just like the information for the public record.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The information is a work in progress. The Auditor General qualified the financial statement of the Yukon government because of this issue. We dealt with the Auditor General on two occasions, and we move forward. In constructing this supplementary budget and putting it all together, we reflected the recommendations and direction of the Auditor General in the supplementary, because it was retroactive. Thatís where the qualified audit would have been coming from ó this fiscal year.
By dealing with it appropriately, we booked the full liability ó thatís it. What date and time we had a discussion, quite frankly, is irrelevant to the debate. Whatís really relevant to the debate is that we followed the recommendations and direction of the Auditor General; there was a retroactive booking required; itís done in this fiscal yearís close-out final supplementary; now we should be going forward, because thatís the fiscal year weíre in ó the next one, not the last one.
Ms. Duncan: Itís not irrelevant to the debate. The Finance minister has had knowledge over the time period weíre discussing of additional monies available to him. Iím just asking for a chronology of events. Iím just asking when decisions were made. Itís not irrelevant to the debate. Itís a straightforward question. If the minister could just say, "We made the decision to book this after we learned about the census money." Fine. I would just like the information.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I guess Iíll put it this way. After representation by the representatives of the Auditor Generalís office, I clearly articulated to those representatives that we were going to make every effort to solve this problem. Certainly, that was something I felt necessary because, as a government, as a Minister of Finance, and in our responsibilities to the taxpayer, we want to make sure we are presenting a set of books that is not qualified from the Auditor General. Whatís that telling the Yukon public? That your accounting is incorrect. Thatís not something we should be doing. In fact, we should be doing quite the contrary. We should be doing exactly what is taking place in this supplementary.
The member opposite can go on and on and on in this debate about what date and what time, but I made the comment and stated our position to the representatives of the Auditor Generalís office that we were going to make every effort to solve this problem as quickly as possible. The problem was resting in this fiscal year, and we solved the problem.
Ms. Duncan: The point is that the Finance minister had the funding available to solve the problem, as well, and he knew that. And thatís what heís not being open and accountable with the Yukon public about. Thatís what Iím asking the Finance minister to do, but he wonít do it. He wants to make political speeches about the Auditor Generalís direction. In the interest of a full public discussion there are many pressures on government, as the Finance minister now well recognizes.
The point is he had the money available, he learned of that and booked the money accordingly. Thatís what heís not saying and what Iím asking him to say.
I donít understand why a government that promised and a politician who committed to decorum in the Legislature and committed to openness and accountability will not answer such a simple straightforward question. My understanding is that the actuarial evaluation, certainly for the MLA pension, is three years.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Finance minister just said, "Well, sheís not even talking about the same thing." If the Finance minister would let me finish the question ó is it the same with the actuarial evaluation for this particular fund as well? Is it a three-year? Again, Iím not certain of that and I would just like the minister to state, for the record, do we then expect the next report on this in January 2005? Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: When the member opposite implies that government should be open and accountable, thatís exactly what weíve done with the financial statements of the government. Being open and accountable dictates that we reflect the true liability, the exact and correct liability. Thatís what has happened.
As far as the issue around when, the discussion with the Auditor General began shortly after we were sworn in at the teleconference that I made mention of earlier. Frankly, the government also went to work on the finances of the Yukon Territory and, as weíve shown in the 2003-04 supplementary, weíve increased the surplus of this territory ó thanks to the hardworking officials in the stats branch and Finance ó by almost $50 million. That again, I think, is speaking volumes about this governmentís desire to present a financial picture to the Yukon public that reflects the realities of the day.
As far as when, this is a three-year segmented process. The next one would obviously be ó since the first one was, by the report the members got, in March 2001 ó in March 2004.
Ms. Duncan: It takes a year to do this, then, judging by the dates on this report. So one would anticipate that in 2003 the work has begun on the next actuarial evaluation. When would the actual work begin, at what date?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That is housed in the Public Service Commission. The member can bring it up when we get into line-by-line.
Ms. Duncan: I also asked about the federal government employees. So is the leave liability for the federal government employees who transferred over included in the $7.9 million? How much of that is pre-devolution and how much of it is post-devolution?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As Iíve stated earlier, this is retroactive. Devolution did not occur until April 1, 2003, so this is the year prior to that. They will be included in the 2003-04 supplementary.
Ms. Duncan: How much is the anticipated increase to the leave liability account?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís in the 2003-04 supplementary. In the best interest of moving things along, I think that the member should just hold that question until we get into the 2003-04 supplementary where the numbers are.
Ms. Duncan: I will do that, Mr. Chair, and perhaps the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission could make note of that. I would like the information when we get into 2003-04 as to when the work will start by, I assume, Aon Consulting. Theyíve done the last number of actuarial accounts ó when the work will begin on the next actuarial evaluation of the leave liability account and how much the anticipated increase will be to the overall total of that account, given that we have taken on 200-plus Government of Canada employees. So if I could have those on the record and be prepared for the 2003-04 debate, I would appreciate it. What is the total amount of the leave liability account with this $7.944-million contribution anticipated to be in our next public accounts ó or the next to be tabled, what is it anticipated to be?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: By projected figure, Mr. Chair, weíre looking at combining the actual actuarial numbers; and in the next budget, 2003-04, weíre looking at approximately $46 million ó somewhere in that neighbourhood. But I remind the members that these are projected figures. We as sound fiscal managers always will defer the actual numbers when the Auditor General brings them forward. Until that time, we are dealing with projections.
Ms. Duncan: So the leave liability account is projected to be $46 million the next time we see these public accounts. Thatís what the minister just said? I see him nodding.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Projected, anticipated ó well, thatís the best we can do, and thatís based on this information.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís important for the member and everybody to understand it was also financed through the agreement. As I understand it, the monies have come forward from the federal government for the employees we have transferred to the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: And weíll have the answers to exactly how it divided out, but the point is that thereís a $7.9-million contribution in this supplementary weíre debating. That was my question.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Yes.
If the minister could just kindly provide the information Iíve asked for ó the rest of the detailed information. Iím sure itís readily available, and if I could get that as soon as is practicable, Iíd appreciate it.
Thereís a lag in our revenues. For example, it takes several years for the tax revenue to be caught up, so thereís a decrease of $965,000 in corporate income tax. What year is that corporate income tax being paid for? How far back is it? Is it 2001, 2002?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Revenue Canada could go back two and three years. Weíve booked just what theyíve provided us. Beyond that, weíll have to wait until they provide us with more numbers.
Ms. Duncan: Iím not asking for a health speech on the wonderful benefits of the tobacco reduction strategy, but we have collected less tax. Is this a sheer size in volume decrease, or is the decrease attributed to some other reason?
Just for the benefit of the member and his able assistants, itís page 5-8. Itís a decrease of $702,000 in the tobacco tax revenue. Is it straight volume, or is there some other practical explanation that weíre unaware of?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It would be a straight volume decrease.
Ms. Duncan: Likewise, I think I saw an increase in liquor revenues. It would be volume again, I suspect.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: To the best of my knowledge, looking backward, I donít think there were any rate changes. So again it might be volume or fancy wine. In all seriousness, itís probably volume, because we donít believe there were any rate changes in this fiscal year by Yukon Liquor Corporation.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
We will then proceed line by line.
On Clause 1
On Schedule A
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Office of the Ombudsman
On Office of the Ombudsman
Hon. Mr. Staffen: I am relatively new at actually doing something here.
Chair: Before the member goes on, I would like to recognize the volume of work that the member actually does here.
Hon. Mr. Staffen: Why, thank you.
Chair: Please proceed.
Hon. Mr. Staffen: The Membersí Services Board is responsible for the budgets of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and its House officers. This includes the Ombudsman/Information and Privacy Commissioner who receives funding in Vote 23, Office of the Ombudsman.
It is, therefore, appropriate that the Chair of the Members' Services Board should provide information to the House on those appropriations.
These 2002-03 year-end supplementary estimates for Vote 23, Office of the Ombudsman, show an increase of $4,000 in operation and maintenance. This is due to a retroactive salary increase for the Ombudsman.
The Members' Services Board was informed at its meeting of January 12, 2001, that the salary of the chief territorial court judge was being reviewed by the Yukon Judicial Compensation Commission. The board was further informed that the decision of the commission would lead to an increase in the Ombudsmanís salary. This is due to the fact that the Ombudsmanís salary is set at 40 percent of the chief territorial court judgeís.
The minutes of the Members' Services Board state that the board understood the likely need for supplementary funding to cover the increase in the Ombudsmanís salary. Members will recall that $14,000 was then provided for this purpose in the Third Appropriation Act, 2002-03. This amount of additional funding, however, was not sufficient, as it did not take into full account the retroactive effect of the Judicial Compensation Commissionís decisions. The shortfall was not recognized in time to appropriate further funds to Vote 23 and the result was the overexpenditure of $4,000, which members are now being asked to approve in this supplementary.
Chair: Is there any further debate?
Office of the Ombudsman in the amount of $4,000 agreed to
Public Service Commission
On Public Service Commission
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Today I am introducing 2002-03 year-end supplementary budget for the Public Service Commission. The commission is requesting an additional $7,944,000. This is due to the removal of the limit on cap previously set for post-employment benefits. In response to the Auditor Generalís recommendations and generally accepted accounting principles of the Yukon government, weíll report the liability at a level determined by actual assessments.
Ms. Duncan: Iíve put several questions on the record for the minister, and they flow out of this expenditure, so if he has any of those answers now, Iíd be very interested in them. If he would rather wait and provide me with a written response, that would be fine. What Iím looking for is, again, the date when this decision was made. He would have been the sponsoring minister at Management Board, so I am looking for a date when this decision for this amount of this contribution was made. Iím looking for information as to the next actuarial evaluation. Assuming again it will be AON Consulting, has the work begun and when is the report anticipated? Could I have a written response regarding the federal government employees?
The Finance minister has said itís anticipated that our leave liability account will show at $46 million. How much of that would be federal government employees? We have received a transfer of money from the federal government for their leave liability, and I wonder if we also have the ability to go back retroactively if the actuarial valuation comes out at a different number.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, weíll take the requests under advisement. At present, we are working in-house collecting the data that is needed. We havenít issued a contract yet, but we will within the next couple of weeks.
Ms. Duncan: Is it tendered, or is it invitational?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The contract is invitational, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could the minister just advise on the time frame? He must have been briefed as the sponsoring minister on this particular amount due for the supplementary. When was the decision reached on the amount?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, whatís coming over for the severance liability is $1,946,000. Thatís with the devolved people. Thank you.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, just to be absolutely clear, the Finance minister has said the leave liability account ó projected to be, at the end of fiscal year 2003 ó is anticipated to be $46 million. Of that, only $1.9 million is federal employees? Sorry, it would be fiscal 2004. So at fiscal 2004, itís projected to be $46 million, of which $1.9 million has been contributed for the federal government employees. And the minister is nodding ó correct. When was the decision made to make a contribution in last fiscal year for $7.944 million? And that took the leave liability account from what figure to what figure?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that question should be answered by the Minister of Finance.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, he was the sponsoring minister at Management Board, so I would hope heíd be able to answer that question. I mean, he had to go to Management Board to ask for the money. Itís a Management Board submission. So when was the decision made?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It appears to me, as I was sitting and listening to the last debate, that this question has been asked for approximately a half hour or so. I believe it will continue to be answered in the same way. The Finance minister is responsible for answering that, and I will leave it to him.
Chair: Is there any further debate?
Ms. Duncan: This money is entirely leave liability money. There is nothing else. Itís entirely leave liability, and it took the leave liability account from what figure to what figure?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: On March 31, 2001, it was $32,522,000, and on March 31, 2003, it was $40,908,203. The amount required to bring the account balance to the actuarial estimate is $8,386,000. This was partially offset by an overall underexpenditure of $442,000 in the operation and maintenance vote for the commission. The majority of the underexpenditure was in the estimated costs of retirees and terminations.
Ms. Duncan: The cost of retirement and termination benefits previously had been borne by individual departments. That made it very awkward in the Legislature. So, the leave termination was moved into Public Service Commission. That way, employees couldnít be singled out and it made a lot of sense.
So this is less than the budgeted amount. The $442,000 savings ó it didnít get transferred back to departments, did it? It was just a saving in that amount ó an underexpenditure? The minister is nodding. I appreciate that explanation.
So, the leave and termination is still within the Public Service Commission? The minister is nodding. Thank you very much. I appreciate putting that on the record.
So, in fact, the total amount ó although this $7 million is totally for the leave liability, in fact, the government contributed more in the last year.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: That is correct.
Chair: Is there any further debate on Vote 10?
Public Service Commission in the amount of $7,944,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $7,948,000 agreed to
Schedule A agreed to
On Schedule B
Schedule B agreed to
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Chair, I move that Bill No. 6 be reported without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by hon. Ms. Taylor that Bill No. 6, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2002-03, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: The Chair seeks some direction as to where we will proceed next.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, may I suggest we recess for five minutes while we await the governmentís officials? My understanding is we are to move into Taxpayer Protection Act.
Chair: Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll recess for 5 minutes.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 36, entitled Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act. We will continue on with general debate.
Bill No. 36 ó Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act ó continued
Mr. Hardy:Where we left off once was not getting answers to the questions we were asking, but thatís fine. Weíll continue. Very quickly, at what point did the minister see the light and start working on the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve been working on the fiscal situation for the Yukon government and the Yukon Territory since taking office December 2. Many options have been looked at. There has been an in-depth overview and a lot of work done around budgeting. We all know the work that was done on increasing the surplus. We discussed at length what the direction and the recommendations of the Auditor General were going to be and changing our accounting system. We also looked closely at the punitive measures that would certainly diminish our options and our ability to really maximize benefits at a full accrual accounting. Second to that, obviously, was full disclosure to the Yukon public, and we talked a bit about that in the supplementary debate.
So it has been a work in progress. Itís not at what point ó itís a matter of how things have evolved.
Mr. Hardy: I beg to differ. It always matters at what point and what time things happen. Thatís what history is based upon, and thatís also how we on this side are able to assess the amount of work that has been done on something. Itís not something that has just popped up in the last week of this government before it came into the Legislature. We would like to know if there has been a substantial amount of analysis and work done in this direction so that we feel more comfortable that this government is doing their due diligence in this regard.
So Iíll ask the question again: at what time did they begin to look at the Taxpayer Protection Act with a view to making the changes to it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is important that we understand there is a work in progress thatís involved here. Direction is given, discussions take place, and we advance any issue in a way that really reflects a work in progress. The management in Cabinet provided direction in the current calendar year. There were many factors involved and many issues that were being dealt with by departments, like the Department of Finance. And we all know what the Auditor General is saying. Thatís also pretty clear. We are changing our accounting system and we, as a government, exercised a political decision to make a small operational amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
The members opposite have been somewhat confused about what that amendment really means, and we have been trying, on this side of the House, to clearly present to them what it means. Itís not a complicated amendment. It removes two sections from the act that, first off, ensure that we book fully the post-employment benefit liabilities ó done retroactively last year, removed any qualified audited statement from the territoryís finances and books. Second, we now have an option by ensuring that the government is applying the principles of full accrual accounting across the board so that we can be beneficiaries in this territory of being able to get, for instance, the private sector to partner with government and invest in the territory by simply amortizing a capital project over the fullness and usefulness of its life.
Mr. Hardy: The Premier seems to be very, very reluctant to give us any times, any dates. I know the member for the third party, in the supplementary budgets of 2002-03, was requesting some dates and he actually refused to give any type of indication. That doesnít lend itself to good debate ó if the Minister of Finance refuses to respond to the questions on this side, other than to criticize us for asking them.
But Iím very curious. I really want to know the chronological sequence of this revelation that happened in the mind of the Minister of Finance in the decision to change the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Now, we have already talked about the Auditor Generalís role in this, and the Minister of Finance has already indicated that, no, the Auditor General did not play a role in changing the Taxpayer Protection Act. That was not the reason why it is being changed, so I donít understand why he keeps bringing it up.
As a matter of fact, the changes have already been made for the accounting of last year, to meet those requirements, so there wasnít a qualified statement from the Auditor General.
So I donít understand why the minister continues to bring that one forward when obviously it has already even been proven that it is not necessary to change the Taxpayer Protection Act to go to the accounting that he wants. Frankly, thatís not ó I canít put words in the mouth of the Minister of Finance. I am sure that he is going to get up and repeat all over again and tell us how we donít understand anything on this side.
I would like to put it to him. He doesnít seem to be able to understand our questions, and thatís a shame. But, once again, I am going to ask the question because I can get very stubborn too.
Could the minister ó in his very polite and nice way ó give us the sequence from the time that they were elected to the point they realized that they wanted to change the Taxpayer Protection Act? I am not asking the reasons why ó but where they realized that they wanted to make the benign change, as he says, to the Taxpayer Protection Act. What point in the last year did this happen? Then we will get on to the next questions.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the first place, Mr. Chair, in dealing with the post-employment benefits, there was no requirement to amend the act for the fiscal year 2002-03; we simply put the money in. Thatís the bottom line. Thatís a punitive measure, though, in the act. So in the fiscal year 2002-03, we put the money in to ensure that the Auditor General did not qualify our books. Now weíre going forward because none of this would take effect until 2004 ó in fact, I believe itís April 1, 2004. So through the calendar year weíve been working on this issue, and the decisions around this are part of a work in progress and the evolution of the issue. Can it be done? What does it mean? How does it affect us? Much was gone through, and I think itís fair to say that the answer is clear. Weíve been working on it this calendar year and are proceeding with the amendment. Itís tabled here today. I believe the amendment was certainly done within a reasonable amount of time for this sitting. We had to table it within the first five days. It comes into force and effect April 1, and beyond that, I donít have the exact time on the clock that the decision was made, nor could I say that it was on an exact day. Directions were given to research the issue and provide recommendations and a response to Management Board, to Cabinet and to caucus.
Mr. Hardy: Well, itís really good to know that we can actually go ahead and make the adjustments or changes to the statements and not have to even touch the Taxpayer Protection Act. Thatís nice to get it out of the way ó because it has already been done, of course. So obviously, like we have said time and time again, the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act are for a different purpose. Itís very simple; theyíre for a different purpose. And what we would like to explore in the next while are those different purposes.
I would like to know if there was any lobbying other than ó no, I wonít even qualify it. Has there been any lobbying to change the Taxpayer Protection Act outside of this caucus?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is not a question of lobbying. I want to just make sure the record reflects what is actually going on here.
In the past, the Taxpayer Protection Act, as it existed, did create a situation where governments capped and uncapped the post-liability benefit ó period. That is not acceptable accounting procedure. The Yukon Party, as a government, has never done that.
So, yes, itís true that one of the amendments reflected that fact, and the amendment around this area in the act is now ensuring that we post, or book, the exact liability. The second item of it is we no longer do cash accounting on our capital assets. We go to a full accrual accounting. If we did not make this change, Mr. Chair, even with full accrual accounting, we would keep another set of books and still have to book each project in whatever given year it commences for its full value on the liability side ó or debit side ó and reflect a one-dollar booking on the side of the credit, or the asset.
That gives us two accounting systems at play. Weíre changing that to one accrual accounting system on the one budget, the one set of books thatís presented to the Yukon public, and thatís exactly whatís taking place here.
Frankly, Mr. Chair, I think the members are really overstating what this amendment is, because it doesnít do anything that would compromise the intent of the Taxpayer Protection Act ó nothing whatsoever ó but it certainly provides the Yukon Territory many more options in increasing spending power from the private sector, partnering with the private sector and other governments, and I believe, as our government does and many Yukoners do, considering what has taken place in the public since tabling this amendment, that we are on the right track in further stimulating the economy in the Yukon and turning this territory around.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, has the minister consulted with anybody other than his caucus about this change?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Could the member repeat that?
Mr. Hardy: Has the minister consulted with anybody other than his caucus and the Finance department ó with anybody other than the caucus and the Finance department?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, Iíve had many discussions with Yukoners on many issues and many options of what we can do in this territory. We as a government pursued this issue as we should have, and I think, just as I said earlier, by the reflection of what came back from the Yukon public, weíve obviously done our work. This is not about anybody lobbying the government; this is about the government doing its job.
Mr. Hardy: We disagree about the government being able to do its job. Thatís still out there.
Since the Minister of Finance has indicated that he has had many discussions with Yukoners about this, could he tell me if there have been any formal discussions set up with regard to the changes?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Formal as in what? Formal with other governments, or what are we talking about?
Mr. Hardy: Iím talking formal, in which a meeting is set up to discuss the changes ó letís broaden it slightly ó changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. Weíll start with that one. Have any formal discussions been entered into, whether with businesses, individual NGOs, First Nations or municipal governments ó have there been any of those kinds of discussions initiated in regard to changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, first, itís very much an operational amendment. Governments do operational things and make operational decisions on an ongoing basis. There have been many discussions. I think what the member opposite might want to focus on is how we proceed now in partnering with the private sector and other governments with this. Thatís something that we will be designing with the public, with stakeholders who want to get involved in this. There is much work to be done. Itís in force and effect in 2004. We are going to proceed in a manner where there is meaningful input and transparency in how this evolves, because it is certainly showing in other jurisdictions that it can bring great benefits. We also have the added advantage of looking at other jurisdictions on what areas that are maybe not good candidates for these kinds of partnerships. So there is much work to be done. Obviously the first step was this benign, operational amendment.
Mr. Hardy: I understand that the future visions of the Premier ó that he plans to talk to people after he makes a change, I guess, is what he is indicating. So he will make this benign change and then go out to the people and say, "This is what Iíve done. How do you like me so far? By the way, I want to consult you now."
Have there been any meetings or discussions about public/private partnerships with business to date?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think at this juncture that itís important that I put this on the record.
Strangely enough, upon coming into office and doing our work over the course of this year, it became clear that the past government had done a lot of work already on public/private partnerships. I think thatís an indication that a past government was certainly focusing on this. I wonder what formal discussions the past government had.
We, on the other hand, saw clearly that in the best interests of the Yukon public and ensuring that we were going to turn this territory around, one of the main issues in dealing with that is obviously cash flow. No economic engine can run without cash flow. If the cash flow is insufficient, you get into situations where your economy diminishes, dependence on government increases because that becomes the only source. We saw clearly a way to deal with that. We saw clearly a way to ensure that the Yukon Territory cannot go into debt or an accumulated deficit.
The debt issue is obvious. We can get into that debate and show evidence, bring evidence forward, of how the territory is in debt. Contrary to what the third party states publicly that the territory is not in debt, it is in debt. I think itís over $70 million in debt. That certainly didnít accrue this year. It happened many years ago and that debt is regulated by the federal government. As far as the accumulated deficit ó still canít do it. Thatís important. Thatís what the intent of the Taxpayer Protection Act is all about. However, we certainly can now advance increasing spending power in this territory through partnerships.
Itís not only with the private sector. With the advancing implementation of land claims, we have a golden opportunity to partner with other governments, possibly the federal government, in order to reduce our dependency on the southern taxpayer. I think those things are very important to this territoryís future. The sooner we can get the dependence on the southern taxpayer reduced and begin building self-sufficiency through investment in the Yukon Territory, the sooner our economy will begin to grow and create sustainable sectors within it that help to diversify it and lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth and development in the Yukon. Thatís what Yukoners want.
Mr. Hardy: Hereís a very easy question for the minister across the way. Is he telling me that public/private partnerships cannot be entered into until the Taxpayer Protection Act is changed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It would be absolutely useless to us because, under the existing system, youíd have to fully book the amount of that partnershipís project in the year that it commenced. I think thatís the problems all governments faced in the past and thatís why they did things like borrow from the immigrant investor fund, set up numbered companies, and work with the corporations to invest in capital projects. That worked outside of the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Weíre changing all that. Those things put the territory into debt. This rental arrangement, which weíre starting to see now that canít even be ó although the member opposite made the decision ó the third party, the party of one, made the decision ó that this rental agreement for 10 years could be spaced out over that time ó it clearly looks now, under that lease agreement, that we may have to book that full amount in the year that our agreement commenced.
There are huge problems with how things had to be done in the past. Iím not saying that governments had motivation here. Iím saying that governments did not have the political will to deal with the punitive measures in the Taxpayer Protection Act ó thatís number one ó so they took other routes that did not create this debate weíre having today. And they tried to inject monies into the economy, but it all resulted in virtually total dependence on government.
These amendments change that ó change it dramatically because we now will amortize a capital project over the usefulness of its life. Thatís how any business in this country operates. That is clearly what the Auditor General is directing and recommending we do by moving to full accrual accounting. It creates a clear and cleaner financial picture to the taxpaying public of any particular jurisdiction. The Yukon is one of the last jurisdictions to make this move, and we are making it. It comes into force and effect on April 1, 2004.
Mr. Hardy: The minister likes to talk about the history of the Yukon. There are so many issues he brings up. I like asking questions. So does he have a problem with numbered companies? Because he seems to use that title a lot. Of course, we know what heís referring to. Heís referring to an agreement that was entered into with Northwestel. But he always uses it as a numbered company. Well, if heís not careful, some of his colleagues might take offence to that because they themselves have numbered companies. So maybe he should be more clear about what heís talking about, instead of using slang or wording in a way that can create a negative impression.
As to why other governments have used different methods to try to create initiatives, deliver programs and services ó well, I donít find a lot of fault with previous governments. Do you know why? Itís because they have managed to keep the territory relatively debt-free. And thatís something that canít be said for just about any other jurisdiction ó any other province or territory ó in this country.
As a matter of fact ó now I know the Premier is yelling, "Weíre not debt free; weíre not debt free." Well, thanks to him, weíre probably not; and the way heís going, weíre not going to be debt free if this change goes through because heís planning to mortgage the future, and that is about debt. That is about owing money down the road.
So he canít have it both ways, Mr. Chair, but weíre the envy of Canada in the amount of money that we actually owe ó weíre the envy of Canada.
Now the Yukon Party government wants to change that. They want to move in another direction with the potential of risking something that previous governments have worked so hard to achieve, including a former Yukon Party government, which was the architect of this Taxpayer Protection Act.
So you look around the country, and you have input from many provinces and territories that look at the Yukon and wish they were in the situation that we were in. Last night, Mr. Chair, I was watching the election in the N.W.T., and they talked about the debt that theyíre carrying and the fact that they have to deal with that. Every single person who was elected, including some who were not running again, brought up the fact that they were ó memory could serve me wrong, but I think about $261 million, somewhere around there is the figure I heard from a couple of the MLAs who had just been elected ó $261 million in debt that they have to deal with, plus a phenomenal amount of pressure on them to deliver substantial programs that are going to assist their people, the people of the N.W.T., to deal with that, to deal with the social problems. And youíve heard time and time again about the social problems.
Now, the Yukon is the envy of the N.W.T. in that regard. They would love to switch places with us.
If the Premier so insists that we are this amount of money in debt ó $70 million, I think he said ó I think he should give the full picture around that actual debt. But I donít know of a single province or territory out there that would not want to switch places with us in regard to that. And, interestingly enough, the Premier finds that this situation is intolerable, that we must make the dramatic changes that we need in order to be able to mortgage the future of this territory and put us on an equal footing with the other provinces and territories so that we carry a massive debt, so that we can all sit at the same table and say, "Yeah, look at what we did; isnít it great" ó we also are in trouble.
I donít have a great deal of faith and trust in the direction that this Premier is taking us in in this regard, and thatís why weíll be asking the questions around the Taxpayer Protection Act.
I know all my colleagues have questions. I know the member for the third party has questions. And like most good questions, a good answer will allow you to move forward. I would like to know why the minister feels that it is so essential to make the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act now and not allow the public to enter into this debate. So what Iím asking the Premier is if he will step back from this, pull it off the table, bring it forward, maybe in the spring sitting ó perfectly fine. Weíre not in a financial crisis. There is a healthy surplus to stimulate the economy right now to bring forward many of the projects that have been mentioned around this. I believe that can be done as well. Bring it forward in the springtime, after a good, full debate in the public in regard to the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. Would he be willing to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, you know, this is going to be a difficult debate when we canít get onto the same plane here about what debt and deficit is and exactly what position the Yukon Territory is in.
So, let me try, Mr. Chair.
As of March 31, 2003, the total debt that the Yukon Territory has is $82,409,000 in general and, under CMHC, $4,563,000, for a total of $86,972,000. That is debt ó pure and simple debt.
Now, under the order-in-council from the federal government, it means that in general debt, which would be the government itself, Yukon Development Corporation and, of course, the immigrant investor fund, to which we owe $15 million ó debt incurred under past governments, not this one, when we speak about putting the territory into debt ó under "general" we have, under the order-in-council, only $32,591,000 million worth of room left, and under CMHC, $18,457,000. Our debt is completely controlled by the federal government ó period.
Now, letís look at where we are in terms of the position of surplus/deficit. As of the supplementary budget weíve tabled for the fiscal year 2003-04 ó this fiscal year that will end March 31, 2004; itís not in front of me, but off the top of my head ó I believe that weíve booked $61 million in surplus ó somewhere in there. We have no accumulated deficit.
However, on the other hand, we have an annual deficit. Now, why is that? Well, itís because we are so dependent on government spending. When we want to proceed with a project ó and under the systems we have ó we incur the cost in the year that the project begins. Full expenditure ó thatís it. So, you keep building an annual deficit. You diminish your options.
I see the member of the third party laughing. I would say to the member of the third party that you should be a lot more serious about this because there have been some terrible blunders made in this area by that member when that member was responsible for the finances of this territory. But I donít want to go backward. Iím trying to debate and engage with the official opposition on something here that is elementary to this whole issue.
What weíre saying is that, instead of that constant downward pressure each and every fiscal year on the surplus position of government, this simple amendment will reduce that pressure, not by putting the territoryís future into a mortgaged position ó no. Itís by building the future in a fiscally responsible manner.
Now, the guru of finances, the Member for Mount Lorne, is showing me a credit card. It doesnít work that way. In fact, Iíd point out that one of the issues around P3s is that, in partnering with the private sector, itís a well-known fact that if you choose the correct project, if your proposals and how you bring them forward are done in a manner that addresses what it is you want to achieve, you can provide better value for the money. And thatís important here because thatís the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to get the private sector more heavily involved in the Yukon.
This is not mortgaging ó not at all. This is how the business world runs. This is one of the reasons why the Auditor General is recommending, directing that governments go to full accrual accounting. To get the positive effects of full accrual accounting, this simple operational amendment had to be made. Thatís the long and the short of it. Itís not about mortgaging the future, and if anybody is advising that member that this is mortgaging the future, look, we can provide Finance officials and anybody in the department who can give the member opposite a very clear understanding of what this is.
Another past government was working on the public/private partnership issue. There has been, obviously, a lot of discussion by a past government around this. Weíre the government, though, that recognizes that there has to be a move made with the Taxpayer Protection Act so that we can accrue the benefits of full accrual accounting. Thatís number one; I think thatís paramount here and, of course, we added the fact that we will ensure that we fully record all the government liabilities.
The mortgage aspect, the debt aspect, has nothing to do with this. We are limited to what we can borrow; therefore, this is not a question of borrowing, itís a question of leveraging. Letís try to look at it on this basis: we want to be able to hold money in reserve, create options out there to stimulate our economy by having the private sector partner with us. We provide the incentive and we amortize a capital project over the usefulness of its life. It does a number of things.
It maintains a much healthier surplus position ó not a debt position, not a deficit position, but a surplus position. It puts Yukoners to work. It brings in investment dollars from the private sector, and thereís a fundamental reason why that has to happen here. Iíll just go back in the last decade.
The last decade shows, and the evidence is there: budget after budget, year after year, the dependency upon government has ever increased. The participation of the private sector in its investment and its expenditure in the Yukon has ever decreased. Letís look at what the results of that are.
The results are a diminishing economy, a diminishing population and diminishing options that are available to this territory to turn that trend around and to get us back to economic growth, not economic shrinkage.
So, Mr. Chair, when we look at all the issues at play here ó when I say "at play", I donít want the member opposite to take it wrong. He got into a bit of a debate there that weíre playing around. "At play" means in the context of "involved"; there are all these issues involved. We, as sound fiscal managers and being of conservative bent, arenít looking for debt and never would. Weíre not going to mortgage the future ó not at all.
We have no intention of doing that. We have every intention of building a future, a future that has the private sector much more involved in the Yukon Territory, a future that provides Yukoners more options, more benefits, and obviously improves their lives. There are so many things attached to the economic position weíre in, but that has to change.
Much of what our social ills are can be attributed to the lack of gainful employment. Thatís a serious situation in communities of the Yukon today, and that lack of gainful employment is manifesting itself in social areas.
Weíre hugely concerned about that. Thatís an issue that is certainly deeply rooted, but itís a major challenge. We need to ensure that we address all fronts here, but one of the main priorities is to focus on economic revival, economic improvement and increasing spending power.
I think itís important that we engage in a debate about what an economy really is. What makes up an economy? What sectors, for example, are important to the Yukon? Well, thatís why weíve created a Department of Economic Development, and within that department is a major component that is all about strategic economic development ó where are our focuses going to be? Thatís a part of an economy. Of course there are other areas, whether you factor in arts and culture, tourism, whether you factor in small business. And the member earlier on in this debate alluded to the fireweed fund. Well, we did go to work on the fireweed fund. Much was done, and we were faced with an issue where the federal government was not going to involve itself. There have been a number of failings in these types of funds, and weíre researching and did research on why that is. We directed officials. We have officials who sat down with another group ó of labour and others involved in the fireweed fund ó and we pressed forward with it. But how can the Yukon establish a workable fund if the federal government is not willing to invest the appropriate amount of dollars necessary to make the fund work?
One of the reasons for that is because there is a low percentage of success. There have been a lot of failures where money has been lent out and the repayment issue has become quite difficult. That is another example. We are not focusing on one thing. We are focusing on many things.
You have to take this amendment in the context of other things we are doing. The business case we are making in Ottawa is important to this factor because we are saying to Ottawa: look, we want to reduce our dependency on the southern taxpayer. In fact, the Federation of Small Business today is crossing this country, clearly articulating that there is an issue in the north ó the issue of dependency. But there is also great potential in the north. Why then does this dependency continue to grow and we are not starting to benefit from the potential and work on growing the economies north of 60. Thatís an important factor here.
So we are doing the work on a business case to Ottawa that reflects some very, very critical elements of the transfer. One of the main areas of that is that we deal with the disincentives in the formula.
Now, I will stand corrected. I will throw some numbers out here. There is a threshold, if we reach it, and we invest a dollar in the economy from the private sector and we gain revenue from that dollar from the private sector, we lose $1.30 on the transfer. Itís obviously a disincentive. This is not an appropriate way that this works.
There are many other external pressures, okay? But, in essence, the business case, in a broad-ranging way, is working on how we, the Yukon and federal government, can begin to find ways to reduce that dependency and start to generate growth in the territory. Responsible development ó period. We do not promote or condone anything but. But it has to take the involvement of the private sector.
Letís go to what weíre doing with the Taxpayer Protection Act. Thatís a step to involve the private sector and have the private sector invest in the territory. Coupled with the business case, it creates growth ó real growth.
Another thing weíre doing is trying to attract the mining industry back, for example. Why? Because we have great potential in the mineral sector. That potential has been left untouched for many years now. Nothing has been happening in the Yukon for many reasons, and I will put one on the floor of this House now that was a huge impediment, which we removed. With all of the elements for protection, such as final agreements, special management areas, the Wildlife Act, the Parks and Land Certainty Act, and a list of others that ensure protection of the environment, why there was this ongoing outside process that created such an impediment to investment in the resource sector is something that we recognized and dealt with early.
Thatís resulting in some positives. Thereís no question about it. I know that the third party, when in government, was approached on a number of fronts to deal with that impediment. No political will, Mr, Chair, and those are the things that happened. The mining industry didnít come back.
Dealing with it certainly sparked some interest ó not to where we want to be, but itís coming. Weíre starting to see, all the indicators show, along with what weíve done here by exercising political will, that weíre starting to head in the right direction. Examples: we have had one of the biggest, most successful geoscience forums in many years in this territory. Thereís an interest again and we want to nurture that interest and see it grow. That, too, will provide private sector investment.
The case that I am making is we are not focusing on one element. Letís go back to a couple of years ago when the only economic initiative that was being promoted by a government in this territory was the Alaska Highway pipeline ó an initiative that is totally out of the control of the territory and its government.
That obviously was an observation on this side of the House, when we were in opposition, that clearly showed that that was not the correct way to pursue the needs in the economy. I think weíre showing that on a number of fronts. There is no question.
So if I could make some other examples, just so we can put on the floor for debate all the things that link just to that one simple amendment so that people across the floor understand that this is the only thing weíre doing. Weíre not mortgaging the future; weíre building the future, and this is merely one component of those building blocks that weíre putting in place. We recognize that tourism is obviously vital to the Yukon economy, and we are taking steps through the good works and leadership of the minister of the department, firstly, by creating the stand-alone department. The stand-alone department was something that the public and the industry were calling for, and we did that. Now they are starting to proceed in a way that we are seeing results.
I think that the tourism industry in the Yukon has great potential. We also recognize that we had, obviously, something in the arts and cultural community that could be a strategic economic lever. We certainly have addressed that, for example, in how we approach the film industry. Obviously that is an industry that can bring great benefit and job creation to the Yukon.
The film incentive fund is similar to what we are doing to P3s, when we talk about this amendment. We have a fund where the Yukon can partner with an industry by providing seed money that brings in multiples of investment above that seed money. I say to the member: is that putting the Yukon in debt? Absolutely not. But what it does is create the incentive for the industry to come here. It allows our local industry to go out there and promote itself and market itself and engage with the industry, external from the Yukon, bring them here and have them invest in the Yukon ó similar to P3s. They will accomplish the same thing.
The P3s ó public/private partnerships. I would say that, at this juncture, some preliminary work on this sector, public/private partnerships, was even done under the New Democratic government. They looked into it. They were researching it. Why? For the reasons Iím putting on the floor here today. We must turn our economy around, and we must do that by first ensuring the private sector has a positive and certain investment climate in the Yukon.
Chair:Order please. Pursuant to Standing Order 42(3), no member shall speak for any more than 20 minutes at a time in Committee of the Whole. The member has reached 20 minutes.
Mr. Hardy: I move that we report progress on Bill No. 36, seeing as the time is 6:00 p.m.
Chair: Mr. Hardy has moved that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Fentie has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble:Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, and directed me to report progress on it.
Committee of the Whole has also considered Bill No. 41, Health Professions Act, and Bill No. 6, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2002-03, and has directed me to report them without amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:01 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 25, 2003:
Insured Benefit and ASO Financial Report (May 1, 2002 to April 30, 2003) for the Government of Yukon by Aon Consulting Inc. (Premier Fentie)
Accrued Sick Leave, Vacation Leave and Severance Benefits, Accounting for (as at March 31, 2001): Report prepared by Aon Consulting Inc. for the Government of Yukon (Premier Fentie)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled November 25, 2003:
Placer Mining Act, Quartz Mining Act, Coal Regulations and the Dredging Regulations: staff requirements for administration of (Lang)
Oral, Hansard p.279
Placer Mining Act: retribution process for unreasonable delay in issuing of a grant or a renewal of a claim (Lang)
Oral, Hansard p.281