Monday, December 1, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call this House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Fentie:Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure I rise today to introduce Governor Frank Murkowski, who is visiting today from Alaska for a very important signing ceremony.
This morning, Governor Murkowski and I signed an intergovernmental accord that puts in place a framework for us to work cooperatively on issues important to both our jurisdictions. This accord indicates that at the highest level there is the political will to cooperate and collaborate on specific issues, including tourism, transportation, trade and commerce and, of course, resource development. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Governor Murkowski to the gallery today, along with Senator Fred Dyson, Commissioner Edgar Blatchford, Commissioner Tom Irwin and Alaskan policy director Kris Knauss and also Mike Menge, special assistant on energy.
I look forward, Mr. Speaker, to a productive and longstanding working relationship with the governor and his officials, and I would ask the House to join me in a warm Yukon welcome for our very honoured and special guests.
Mr. Hardy: Iíd like to recognize a former Member of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Ken McKinnon.
Speaker: Is there any further introduction of visitors?
In recognition of World AIDS Day
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I rise today to encourage all my colleagues in this House to wear a red ribbon in support of World AIDS Day, which is today.
The red ribbon is an international symbol of AIDS awareness and is worn by some people all year around, and by many others on World AIDS Day, to show their care and concern about HIV and AIDS, those it has impacted and also as a reminder of the need of continuing support and commitment.
Mr. Speaker, worldwide, five people die of AIDS every minute of every day. HIV has hit every corner of the globe, infecting more than 42 million men, women and children ó five million of them last year alone. In the Yukon and our population of approximately 30,000, we have 40 individuals here who have been diagnosed with HIV since 1985.
According to United Nations AIDS estimates, there were 41.8 million people ó adults and children ó living with HIV at the end of 2002. Over the course of 12 months, an additional five million new people became infected with the virus. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25, and they die from AIDS before they are 35.
We are fortunate that with medical advances, individuals with HIV and AIDS are living longer, healthier lives, but the infection rates are not decreasing. If anything, Mr. Speaker, they are on the rise, and HIV still remains a threat to people of all ages and nationalities.
This yearís theme of World AIDS Day is "Stigma and Discrimination". In many parts of the world, discrimination prevents people who are known to have HIV from securing a job or caring for their families. Discrimination can cause isolation and marginalization of people with HIV and AIDS. According to the AIDS charitable organization based in the United Kingdom, stigma and discrimination are recognized as major factors contributing to the global HIV epidemic. Together they create fear and ignorance that manifests itself in a reluctance to confront the rising infection rates.
Starting in 1988, World AIDS Day is not just about raising money, but also about raising awareness, education and fighting prejudice. World AIDS Day is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done. We pay tribute today to the men and women who work with HIV/AIDS patients and to the patients themselves as they continue the battle. We also salute those with open minds and open hearts, who do not discriminate.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: I rise today as well to pay tribute to the World AIDS Day ó a time for us to remember people who have died from this disease, those who are afflicted by it, what each of us can do about it and to remember that AIDS isnít over.
Let me give some of these facts: the United Nations AIDS program reports approximately 40 million people living with HIV ó the AIDS virus in the world. Every minute, worldwide, five people die from AIDS and every minute, 10 new people are infected with the AIDS virus. Thatís 14,400 new infections every day and the numbers are increasing.
In 2003, the UN estimated that three million people died of HIV/AIDS-related causes, and an estimated five million people get the human immunodeficiency virus we know as HIV. In Canada, an estimated 14,000 people have died from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses, and about 50,000 Canadians are living with HIV. What is frightening to me is that up to one-third of these people are not aware that they even have it.
Just because HIV isnít in the headlines every day doesnít mean that it isnít in the workplace. According to a recent survey sponsored by the federal government, about four in 10 Canadians know or have known someone with HIV or AIDS. Today we need effective, up-to-date workplace policies that take into account not only the benefits and the discrimination but reasonable accommodation. More people with HIV are working, but HIV is still a life-threatening illness.
Canadian Stephen Lewis is the UN special envoy to the Secretary General on HIV/AIDS in Africa. He says that overcoming the stigma and discrimination against people living with AIDS is one of the chief ways of being able to respond adequately, because the stigma and discrimination are paralyzing. They prevent programs from taking place. They prevent issues from being discussed openly. They prevent open talk of sexuality.
One must remember that it was only a couple years ago now that a woman in South Africa who said publicly that she had AIDS was stoned to death. These horrendous things happen and people living with AIDS know. Unfortunately, issues of discrimination and stigma paralyze our response to AIDS in Canada and in the Yukon. Here there is much that can be done to prevent the spread of AIDS and to support people with the disease. We can all help by encouraging harm-reduction strategies like needle exchange programs and regular testing for those who risk exposure to HIV. We are fortunate to have Yukon Blood Ties Four Directions Centre. That organization provides education and prevention information to the public and targeted risk groups, trains other resource people to deliver programming and assists them in addressing the needs of people with HIV.
What Blood Ties Four Directions Centre needs is adequate, sustainable, multi-year funding and we in this House can help. In the Yukon we need to do all we can to prevent young people and others from being infected with the AIDS virus, continue our international efforts to make AIDS treatment drugs available at an affordable price and continue support for research into a vaccine.
We all have many opportunities to do these things today and every day. World AIDS Day is just one such opportunity to promote discussion and awareness of this terrible disease and to take action in the battle against it.
Ms. Duncan: I, too, would like to pay tribute to World AIDS Day.
A concert was recently held in Cape Town, South Africa, to mark today and to raise awareness about AIIDS. It brought together musicians from around the world and was hosted by former South African president and honorary Canadian citizen Nelson Mandela.
More than 30,000 people filled a stadium on Saturday for the show, which was part of Mandelaís 4664 campaign to fight AIDS. Itís named after his number when he was imprisoned for his fight against apartheid. Mandela addressed the crowd and said, "For the 18 years that I was in prison on Robin Island I was supposed to be reduced to that number. Millions infected with HIV/AIDS are in danger of being reduced to mere numbers if we donít act now. They are serving a prison sentence for life."
Between 34 million and 46 million people around the world are infected with HIV, including 5.3 million South Africans, more than in any other country. The pandemic killed more than three million people this year, according to the UN figures.
Comments made last week by Canadian Alliance MP Larry Spencer demonstrate thereís more work to be done in raising awareness about AIDS here in our own country. Mr. Spencer said, "Homosexuals, due to AIDS and other health problems, have a far lower life expectancy than straight men." He also said that homosexuality should be outlawed and cited a well-orchestrated conspiracy that began in the 1960s and led to recent successes in the gay rights movement. These comments have been widely condemned across this country and Mr. Spencer has since profusely apologized.
Unfortunately, it is also clearly reflective of the need for raising the awareness of all Canadians and the Canadian Alliance membership. I encourage all Yukoners to be mindful, to challenge comments like these and to raise our individual awareness. Let us step up the fight against AIDS.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hassard:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to work cooperatively and collaboratively with our neighbouring jurisdictions of Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to promote northern and regional economic development opportunities.
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the health of social workers in family and childrenís services continues to be threatened by burnout and stress;
(2) transferring social workers from the communities to assist in Whitehorse does not solve the heavy workloads and reduces badly needed support in rural Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to implement the recommendations on target caseloads in the Anglin report by providing proper resources to the family and childrenís services branch.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to fund a supported housing and outpatient after-care service for mental health patients in Whitehorse and the communities in order to reduce health care costs and keep Yukon people with mental health problems closer to family and other support systems wherever possible.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Psychological counselling for victim
Mr. Hardy: On October 29, I wrote to the minister concerning a constituent of mine who was brutally raped and terrorized at knifepoint over a three- to four-hour period by a former ward of his department. Iíd like to thank the minister for responding to that letter in a fairly timely manner and for the concern he expressed for the trauma my constituent has been enduring. In his letter the minister stated that where there is very severe trauma, the Department of Health and Social Services, in collaboration with the Department of Justice, can provide the victim with psychological counselling. Can the minister tell us if this has taken place?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the issues surrounding this very tragic occurrence have been dealt with by the courts, and the matter could still be before the courts in one form or other, Iím given to understand. It would be very inappropriate for me to comment. But I can assure the members opposite, and I can assure this House, that every effort was taken for fair play and to look after those individuals who were aggrieved during this tragic event.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, that wasnít the question I had asked. I had expected a different answer, one far more sympathetic in this matter.
In fact, the victim in this case waited for two years to get specific professional psychotherapy to deal with symptoms of severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The ministerís department and the Department of Justice each agreed to fund only four sessions with a professional psychologist ó eight sessions in total ó in spite of the fact that her psychologist wrote to the government, saying she expects my constituent will never completely recover from such a trauma and that she can use and benefit from episodes of psychotherapy for years to come.
Now, will the minister agree to pick up half the cost of the 20 additional sessions the psychologist has recommended? Weíre talking a very small amount, Mr. Speaker, approximately $1,000. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What I can advise the House and the members opposite was this tragic event occurred under the previous administrationís watch. When it was brought to my attention, the departments were coordinated as to the approach they were to take, and every effort was made to ensure that the aggrieved individual was well looked after, well-treated and well-respected. The member opposite, in the preamble to his question, did indicate when he wrote to me and when the response was received. It was a very short framework of time, which should give him a clear indication that I had some knowledge and some understanding of it.
As there is the potential for this matter to still be before the courts, Iím sorry, Mr. Speaker, I cannot deal with this matter on the floor of the House other than to assure the member opposite that this individual will be well looked after and that determination will be made by the medical professions. Iím not prepared to stand up on the floor in this House and say weíre going to provide treatment for three months, six months or a year. That determination is made by the medical profession.
Mr. Hardy: This minister can make that decision and can step in immediately to help this person. It doesnít have to be hidden behind the bureaucracy. Thatís what he was elected to do.
The former chief territorial judge wrote a very lengthy and highly unusual brief outlining the reasons for the sentence he handed down in this case. He went to great lengths to point out how the system and the community, including his own court, had failed the assailant during his own tormented lifetime. He referred to the assailant as a ticking, dangerous bomb and used the word "barbarism" to describe what he did to his victim on July 4, 2001.
It is now 21 months since the judge issued his reasons for sentence. Will the minister tell us what specific actions his department has taken to address the nine recommendations the Chief Judge made in his reasons for sentence?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What I can advise the member in this House is that every effort has been made by the department to ensure that the individual who was aggrieved is being looked after. That determination of the level of care that this individual needs is being determined by the medical profession. I do not have that expertise to get involved in making a determination as to what level of care someone who has been confronted with a situation ó this was a very tragic situation. It was dealt with by the courts. Since that time, the medical professional has been involved and every effort has been taken to ensure that this individual is well-integrated back into society and treated with the fairness and respect that our government has come to be recognized as treating individuals in a like condition as and by.
Question re: Psychological counselling for victim
Mr. Hardy: On the same day that I wrote to the Minister of Health and Social Services, I also wrote to the Minister of Justice. Unfortunately, she hasnít taken the time to respond to that letter. At the time of this brutal attack on my constituent, the assailant was in the first month of a four-month conditional sentence for a previous break and enter. Is the minister satisfied that this individual, whom the judge described as a ticking bomb, was being properly supervised at the time of the offence?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The preamble to the question ó the member opposite is trying to tie a whole bunch of questions together, with is very inappropriate. What we have to recognize is the issue of those who have been aggrieved by a member of society. Due process has been adhered to by the court system and the Department of Health and Social Services has been involved in fair treatment of the individual who was aggrieved. As there is a potential for this matter to be before the courts once again, itís a very, very inappropriate line of questioning coming from the opposite member.
Mr. Hardy: This is a very, very appropriate line of questioning. Maybe the minister on the other side, the Minister of Justice, should listen because the question is directed toward her. And not only did she not respond to the letter that was written to her, she wonít even stand up in the House and respond to the questions being asked.
This is a Justice question. Itís not a Health and Social Services question now.
The minister is surely aware that there was an internal investigation into how this young man was being supervised while he was on conditional sentence. She is surely aware that he had breached his sentence conditions several times. There is strong evidence in the investigation report that he had missed several appointments with his conditional sentence supervisor. In fact, on the same day he broke into my constituentís house and brutalized her at knifepoint, the RCMP picked him up twice while he was in breach of his sentence conditions but let him go free.
What compensation is the minister prepared to offer my constituent for the pain and anguish she has suffered as a result of what seems to be a clear neglect of duty within her department?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This individual has been in government care for quite a period of time. Itís very, very unfortunate what has come out of this situation and the resulting impact that this individual has had on another member of society. But, as I stated earlier, Mr. Speaker, the Department of Health and Social Services has taken every effort to ensure fair treatment has been dealt with and provided to the individual who was aggrieved in this situation and the courts have dealt with the individual who committed the offence. But there is a potential for this being back before the courts once again.
Once again, for the members opposite, itís not an appropriate line of questioning. We have to be very, very careful as to how we deal with the situation. We donít want to name individuals or bring the situations before this House in a public forum when they have been dealt with in a private and appropriate manner before the agencies of government, the court system and the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Hardy: Once again, this is a very appropriate question, and the line of reasoning that I am hearing from the minister opposite is that my constituent must suffer and wait. If it is going to be going before the courts ó and it is my understanding that it is not there right now ó it could take years to settle. In the meantime, my constituent is going to have to suffer and wait with no help. Is that what is being proposed? This is a question for the Justice minister.
There are some very serious legal issues at stake here, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure that the minister is aware of this. If she is not aware, I can assure the minister that I will continue to pursue this issue with her. For now, I would like to focus on the human dimensions. A womanís life has been profoundly damaged. She cannot work; she cannot enjoy normal social relations. She lives almost as a prisoner in her own home, and none of this is her own fault. A great deal of concern has been expressed about how the system failed the assailant. We need to pay the same amount of attention to how the system failed the victim, and how it continues to fail her. At the very least, will the minister agree ó
Mr. Hardy: I am asking the question.
Speaker: Please ask the question.
Mr. Hardy: Will the minister agree to pay for half of the additional counselling sessions the psychologist has recommended? Will she do that right now, so my constituentís treatment can continue?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, this was a very tragic occurrence; that is duly recognized. There is a collaborative effort between the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Justice to ensure that the individual that was aggrieved is treated fairly. I know my department has been involved in this situation for some time. I want to assure the members opposite and everyone here in the Yukon that when we came to power this was one of the issues on my plate. It has been dealt with, it continues to be dealt with, but there is the potential for this once again being before the courts, and I encouraged the members opposite to not go there in the line of questioning. Let the authorities deal with it and I am sure that, at the end of the period of time, the individual who was aggrieved will be looked after by society and the various departments, and the individual who has created this situation will also be looked after by the justice system.
Question re: Teacher education program
Ms. Duncan:I have some questions for the Minister of Education on this governmentís broken promises in education. Weíve already seen this government back away from many commitments they made to Yukoners. The government promised not to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, and itís going ahead with changes. They promised they would buy the game farm; they have not. They promised they would fund the Dawson Humane Society; they have not. This list goes on and on.
The Yukon Party promised they would introduce a four-year teaching program at Yukon College. They also promised that this program would be separate from the Yukon native teacher education program.
Would the Minister of Education explain to the House why no work has been done on meeting this commitment? Is it because the government has decided to break yet another commitment to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíd like to remind the member opposite that I guess itís a difference of opinion here. As a minister on this side, I donít believe any promises were broken, and I believe this government has done excellently in the one year it has been in government ó for example, an indexing of the student grant to the cost of living of $100,000.
So we are looking after the best interests of Yukoners in education.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the promises, such as not to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, were made in black and white in the party platform. That commitment has clearly been broken. The commitment made by the Yukon Party in Porter Creek South was for a four-year teaching program. The promise was for a new, separate program. Itís interesting to see the government back away from a commitment made by a candidate who wasnít elected.
Mr. Speaker, I have several constituents who are interested in becoming teachers. They want to get their degree here. The Yukon Party promised that would happen and, a year later, all we have is talk and no action.
When will the new, separate four-year teacher degree program be operating? When will students be enrolling in this program at Yukon College?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to correct the member opposite. I believe that the platform commitment with regard to the Taxpayer Protection Act simply stated that it would maintain that, and I believe that it did.
Again, I want to say to the members opposite that this government is interested in education, and it is one of the top priorities of this government. I think that this supplementary budget will reflect that. The teacher education program is still something that is in the works.
Ms. Duncan: "Maintain" is what you do to your vehicle and your home. You make sure that your vehicle is still running. The government has gutted the Taxpayer Protection Act, and taken the protection out of it. Yukoners want answers in the Legislature, in spite of comments from other ministers that we apparently shouldnít be getting them. They donít want stalling any more. The Yukon Party made a commitment to start a new, four-year teacher degree program at Yukon College. I asked the minister about this program when the Legislature sat this spring. He had no answer then, and he has no answer now.
Yukoners are wondering what this governmentís word is worth. It doesnít seem to mean anything. The government is sitting on a $61-million surplus. There is a demand for this program. Itís a well-known, well-articulated demand; what is lacking is direction from the government. When is the program going to begin?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to remind the member opposite that this government, in my opinion, has done more in one year than that government leader did in two and a half. Had they not chosen to call an election, they may have had this program in place by the end of their mandate.
Question re: Taxpayer Protection Act amendment
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Finance. The minister wants to change the Taxpayer Protection Act with what he calls a "benign amendment". So far, he seems to be the only one who can figure out why he needs to do this. Last week I urged the minister to hold off on this change until various experts could give this House their views on the proposed change. Why is the Premier resisting the opportunity to present MLAs and Yukon taxpayers with any viewpoints other than his own on the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, in the first place, it is nothing more than an operational amendment. And it appears that in this territory the only people who are having a problem with this benign amendment are the members opposite, who, in the first place, never supported the Taxpayer Protection Act when it was first tabled in this Legislature a number of years ago. As far as the experts, theyíve already provided comment for all Yukoners to read and hear, and I think itís important that we understand that full accrual accounting is a process for accounting that is taking place across the country. Itís an advanced accounting system. Itís important to note that we are moving away from a cash accounting system, which is virtually nothing more than a chequebook with cheque stubs.
Mr. Hardy: Itís interesting what he leaves out. Itís far more interesting, Mr. Speaker, what he leaves out than what he actually puts in as responses. The minister has hinted at the hidden agenda behind this change, referring to public/private partnerships on major government projects such as roads or a bridge in Dawson City. Since he sat on this side of the House, the minister has changed his mind on public/private partnerships, or P3s, as theyíre known, and he has seen the light. Well, Mr. Speaker, a lot of governments have seen the light after going into P3 arrangements with the private sector. Their experience has taught them that another way to define P3s is "picking public pockets". Instead of ramming this so-called benign change through the Legislature, will the minister agree to hold off until he has consulted Yukon people about his plans to change how public works in the Yukon are financed, built and operated?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We did consult Yukoners and it was in the election campaign, and we were elected to carry out an agenda, an agenda that states that government will use budgeting to ensure that we can advance and grow our economy.
Weíve changed direction, Mr. Speaker. I know the members opposite have a problem with that. They have a problem with engaging the private sector to invest in this territory. We hear it daily: theyíre anti-mining, anti-forestry, anti-oil and gas, anti-resource development, and theyíre anti-private sector. I can assure Yukoners that this government is not, and we are going to partner with the private sector to grow the Yukonís economy.
Mr. Hardy: Well, well, Mr. Speaker, here we go again. Crank it up and spit it out, the same old lines.
Itís also interesting that he said he consulted ó the Premier consulted ó with the public. Show me where, show me where today. Thatís what I ask, because I didnít hear it in the platform and I didnít hear it until the TPA came before this Legislature.
This whole scheme is looking more and more like another Yukon Party backroom deal scratched on the back of an envelope. On Friday an official of the Public Sector Accounting Board, which supports the change to full accrual accounting, said the old system of reporting accumulated surpluses and deficits will still remain in place.
Having to report it, she said, may act as a check on the government spending beyond its means. In other words, it would curb a governmentís appetite for going on a huge political spending spree and using P3s to pick the publicís pocket.
Once again, for all of us who just donít get it, why is the minister using the Taxpayer Protection Act to set the stage for turning public projects over to the private sector and mortgaging the Yukonís future as a result?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite is right on one thing: the members opposite donít get it. Weíre not mortgaging the future; weíre building the future. Weíre not turning over public infrastructure to the private sector; weíre partnering with the private sector to build public infrastructure. The whole point, Mr. Speaker, about amending this very small, benign operational amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act is to ensure two things: we maintain the integrity of the act so that we cannot go into an accumulated deficit; and, secondly, it opens up the options for us to engage the private sector through investment and provides a full and accountable financial picture to the Yukon public, something the members opposite when they were in government couldnít do.
Question re: Dawson City municipal funding
Mr. Cardiff: I have a question for the Minister of Community Services. The minister has indicated in the past that the previous supervisor of Dawson Cityís finances was removed because this government wanted to take a different direction. He hasnít spelled out this direction or said why he felt it was necessary.
Since the City of Dawson was apparently conforming to the long-term financial plan accepted by this government, will the minister tell us exactly what his concerns regarding the cityís financial management were?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíve been working very closely with the City of Dawson on their financial affairs and we continue to do so.
Mr. Cardiff: He didnít answer the question, Mr. Speaker, and I donít know who or what is driving the bus on this issue, but I certainly have my suspicions. Will the minister confirm that he has put the City of Dawson on maintenance funding, and that he has even indicated to the municipal government what bills they can and cannot pay?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with the City of Dawson, as I said earlier, and we are consulting with them on their financial information and the matters that are being dealt with. Weíre also working with the supervisor in this particular aspect until we find out exactly where weíre at.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, again the minister didnít answer the question. Thereís over $1 million that the City of Dawson should have access to; $930,000 is in the form of an approved debenture. And then there is money owed for landfill use, the sum the government has been holding back for business incentive plan payments, and the minister has effectively pushed Dawson to the wall, to the point that the elected council has very little room to exercise their lawful authority.
Will the minister confirm this, then: he is waiting for the arbitratorís ruling on the recreation centre dispute and he plans to dissolve the elected council and appoint a trustee to manage the townís affairs if the ruling goes against the City of Dawson?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, as I indicated earlier, we are working with the village of Dawson City. Weíre working on their financial situation. Yes, we are looking at the issue with the arbitration aspect. We are looking at a contingency for the village itself. The village is in a difficult situation; we are trying to address that situation for the member opposite.
Question re: Brewery Creek mine site reclamation
Mr. McRobb:Last week, I asked a few questions about this governmentís premature release of the Viceroy security deposit related to the reclamation of the former Brewery Creek mine site. The Mines minister answered the first couple of questions before being replaced on the file by the Environment minister. If the grounds for removal were not answering questions, then we canít help but wonder who theyíll put up next, Mr. Speaker.
There is a lot to take seriously about this situation. The Yukon Partyís premature decision could easily end up costing Yukon taxpayers millions of dollars. Can either minister tell this House who made the decisions to release securities? Was it just the ministers of Mines and the Environment, or was it all of Cabinet? Who can answer that question?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I can assure the member opposite that it was a Cabinet decision.
Mr. McRobb: This is the first Type II mine handled under the jurisdiction of the Yukon government. Fridayís Yukon News answered what these ministers wouldnít. The premature decision to release securities lets the federal government off the hook. This sets a bad precedent for all Type II mine sites to follow.
Letís return to the question of who made the decision. The minister indicated that it was all of Cabinet. Can he indicate if the Member for Klondike was part of that Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To correct a couple misconceptions of the member opposite, there are seven Type II mine sites within the Yukon; however, three of those still have owners in place, so these are radically different from the others that are on the list. Releasing the securities in a timely manner as the work is progressing does not let the feds off the hook. The company is there; they are in place. They have won awards for their degree of reclamation, and we have every degree of confidence that they will continue to do exactly what they have always done. It is an exemplary company.
Mr. McRobb: The minister failed once again to answer the question, so I canít help but wonder who is next.
We didnít ask for a promotional speech that favours the company. We asked if the Member for Klondike was part of the Cabinet decision.
Hansard shows that this member has long been an outspoken advocate for Viceroy and the Brewery Creek mine. Other legislative reports show that Viceroyís president donated $5,000 to the memberís campaign when he was first elected.
We need an answer: yes or no ó was the Member for Klondike part of any decisions to release the securities?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Certainly the last time, as the member opposite knows, that I checked the Web site, the Cabinet hadnít changed. However, I do have to point out that the heavy union donations to the New Democratic Party doesnít stop the NDP from commenting on union issues, and certainly it should not. This has nothing to do ó there is full public disclosure of all these activities, and Iím surprised the member opposite doesnít realize that.
Question re: Game farming
Mrs. Peter:My question is for the Minister of Environment. The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board is meeting this week in Whitehorse to discuss a range of issues, including the Church report on the assessment and administration of the Yukon game farming industry. The minister made much of his rejection of the Church report recommendations to allow canned hunts in the Yukon, but the Church report contains several controversial recommendations that support the expansion of game farming in the Yukon.
Will the Minister of Environment go to the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board meeting this week and announce that he will reject the Church report in its entirety?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The Fish and Wildlife Management Board members are holding their usual meetings this month. We have had some discussions with them and they have asked that I not be there, so Iím not going to be going.
However, in the House here, the Church report does cover a wide range of things. As has been said before, it comments on hunt farms, which are clearly illegal in the Yukon, and the producer of that report has been challenged for that.
At this point in time, I can assure the member opposite that there has been no movement on any of the other recommendations and that no changes are expected.
Mrs. Peter: We asked this minister previously to update us on the issues on the environment, and this minister was just not standing up for issues around the environment. He has refused previously to answer questions in this House and he has refused to answer questions from the media. Mr. Speaker, we have to have someone to answer that on behalf of the Yukon public.
Last week the Premier had to intervene and answer questions for this Environment minister. Will the Premier instruct his Environment minister to answer questions in this House and answer questions from the media so that the Yukon public can be informed on issues and questions concerning the environment?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Thatís certainly what Iíve been doing all along. Considering my phone number is in the phone directory, itís available to anyone who chooses to use it. I just have no response to that, Mr. Speaker, other than that this is exactly what we have been doing.
Mrs. Peter: The ministerís track record on consultation is poor, and the people are wondering just who, if anyone on that side, is standing up for the environment. If the ministerís refusing the advice we know he has been given, we have to ask: just what hidden agendas are at work? If the minister is not prepared to change the way he deals with people, including First Nations, the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, the renewable resource councils, will the Premier agree to replace him before the next sitting?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite does bring up some interesting points, but we certainly do support the Fish and Wildlife Management Board and renewable resource councils, and theyíre key partners in the whole thing. Theyíre mandated under the Umbrella Final Agreement and thatís why the First Nations do have a great deal to say about this.
But I do have some concerns about the consultation. When we go back to that initial consultation, Mr. Speaker, the Fish and Wildlife Management Board drew conclusions before they went out to do that consultation. Now, I know the Member for Mount Lorne has spoken eloquently in this House several times that a consultation has to consult. People attending that consultation have to have a reasonable understanding that theyíre going to be heard. That did not occur.
Given that, we do recognize a great deal of good work that comes out of that board, and while we did set some recommendations aside, we did not throw them out and we continue to work on them on a day-to-day basis.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 42: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 42, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Taylor.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I move that Bill No. 42, entitled Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 42, entitled Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that all provinces and territories must establish an independent judicial compensation commission to make recommendations on judicial remuneration. Yukonís first Territorial Court Judicial Compensation Commission, otherwise known as JCC, was established in 1998, and the second commission was established in 2001.
Now, the 2001 JCC rendered its report in 2002. It contained several recommendations for changes to the remuneration of the Territorial Court judiciary. Since that time, each of those recommendations has been systematically implemented, with only the pension changes remaining.
I rise today to speak to this new legislation that will bring the last of the 2001 JCC recommendations into effect.
Registered pension plans in Canada are bound by the Income Tax Act, which limits the salary amount to which contributions can be made. If a pension arrangement exceeds this, then a retirement compensation arrangement can be established that will allow member contributions over the Income Tax Act limits to remain tax deductible.
The Income Tax Act also places limits on registered pension plan benefit amounts at a two-percent accrual rate. Because the 1998 JCC recommendations resulted in pension arrangements that exceeded these federal limits, Territorial Court judicial pensions are currently funded through the following three ways. The first is the federal Public Service Superannuation Act, which is actually the registered plan. The second is the federal Special Retirement Arrangements Act, which is a retirement compensation arrangement. The third is the Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003, which is an unfunded top-up plan.
This current arrangement, however, is not especially the most cost-effective manner in which to fund the Territorial Court judicial pensions. This is for the following reasons: the first is because the Government of Canada is both the administrator of the federally registered as well as the retirement compensation plans. It determines an annual calculation of the cost per member that employers must make. This is done to ensure that the balance of the total pension fund is sufficient to meet any benefit payments.
However, because Canada takes into consideration the thousands of employees who participate and who will eventually receive pension benefits from its plans, the contribution cost to the Yukon government for its small Territorial Court judiciary is actually much higher than it needs to be. For example, the Yukon governmentís contributions into the federal retirement compensation arrangement are set by Canada at 15 times the contribution amount of the judiciary. The 2001 Judicial Compensation Committee acknowledged that the current arrangement is very costly to the Yukon government, and in doing so recommended that it look at alternative ways to fund the Territorial Court judicial pensions. Mr. Speaker, the bill will do just that. It will essentially repeal the existing Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act and remove the judiciary from the federal plans. This will result in judicial pensions being managed by the Yukon government rather than the federal government.
Bill No. 42, Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003, will fund judicial pensions through three components. Each is a schedule to the act. Schedule 1 is the judiciary registered pension plan. It will provide for Territorial Court judicial contributions in accordance with the Judicial Compensation Committee recommendations and for base benefits for the Territorial Court judiciary up to the income tax limits. The provisions in this new judiciary registered pension plan mirror the federal superannuation plan in many ways, except that it will provide for a seven-percent contribution rate for all earnings. This 2001 Judicial Compensation Committee recommendation cannot be accomplished through the superannuation plan.
Schedule 2 is the judiciary retirement compensation arrangement. Retirement compensation arrangements are very common in Canada, as they provide for contributions and pension benefits above the income tax limits.
As I stated earlier, the Income Tax Act restricts the salary level for which contributions can be made and also limits the pension benefit formula at a two-percent accrual. These limits are less than the rates recommended by the 2001 JCC.
This schedule will allow for member contributions in excess of those permitted under the registered plan set out in Schedule 1 to remain tax deductible. Rather than the high 15-to-one contribution rate Yukon must currently pay into the federal retirement compensation arrangement, this retirement compensation arrangement will allow the Yukon government to determine, based on actuarial calculations, the annual contributions it must make into it.
Schedule 3 is the supplementary judiciary pension plan. This schedule is the so-called top-up plan, which was first provided by the existing Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, as a result of the 1998 JCCís pension recommendations. The JCCís recommended benefits are paid from this plan, minus the benefits paid under the registered pension plan, as well as the registered compensation arrangement.
The Territorial Court judiciary does not contribute to this plan but the government does carry a liability for the top-up amount that is based on actuarial calculations. This is done to set aside the amount needed to meet eventual pension benefit payouts.
Removing the Territorial Court judiciary from the federal plans also has benefits. It will provide greater flexibility for the Government of Yukon to implement any future JCC pension recommendations. It will also allow the Yukon government to make recommendations or to make decisions as to how the funds will be invested in order to get the best rate of return.
Lastly, a separate pension arrangement for the Territorial Court judiciary is in keeping with the majority of other governments in Canada, which have also done so.
In conclusion, while this bill may appear overly lengthy, its complex language is common in the pension industry. The bill was also prepared in consultation with pension experts and actuaries who are satisfied that the Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003 will implement all the JCCís recommendations regarding judicial pensions in the most cost-effective and efficient manner available under current federal pension and income tax laws. In addition to this, the Territorial Court has also indicated their support of this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, we have heard from the minister about some of the details that are involved in this act and some of the changes that it is going to bring about for the pension coverage that is recommended by the Judicial Council. It outlines for us the benefits of the new act and the pension plan and the benefits that it is going to create. It will help internal efficiency, and it will also help to reinforce the principles of the judicial independence, which was recommended by the Judicial Council. The bill creates a new Yukon pension plan for the Territorial Court judges and the senior justice of the peace.
On this side of the House, we are concerned about the cost to implement this plan. The cost is high. My question to the minister is: are any of these costs recoverable from the federal government? If they are, then that will certainly benefit the Yukon territorial government.
The increased cost to administer the new pension plan is high, and weíre concerned about that; however, this act is coming about, and it mirrors the federal legislation. We have no other problem with it, and we do support it.
Ms. Duncan: I also rise to indicate to the House and to the Minister of Justice that I will be supporting Bill No. 42. I recognize that it is the completion of the JCC ó the Judicial Compensation Commission ó and itís the last of the recommendations and we need to get this done.
It is a large financial pill to swallow; however, it is fundamentally the right thing to do. I would also like to recognize that I note it covers both the Territorial Court judges and the Chief Justice of the Peace. We have a fairly important innovation here in Canada with having our senior justice of the peace sit on a regular basis, similar to a judge, and itís important, given the unique role, that that also be recognized, and Iím pleased to see itís in the bill ó if I can comment on the Chief JPís role in this House, as I believe I can.
The other point I would like to make is the next Judicial Compensation Commission, as I understand it, is in April of 2004. I wonder if the minister could confirm that and also outline, perhaps, what steps are being taken to set the JCC up and when a report is anticipated.
The other point thatís made in the ministerís remarks and in the briefing information on the bill is that we may top up future contributions to the actuarial evaluation. Actuarial evaluations take a very long time to do, it would seem, and I wonder when the next one is to take place and when we might be seeing the results from that.
Itís a related issue for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. There is significant work being done on bringing home the Yukonís public service superannuation plan, in combination with the Teachers Association. Perhaps the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, who I know is listening intently to this debate, could send me a note as to how weíre making out on the progress on that.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard? Minister of Justice.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I would especially like to thank the members opposite for their support for this bill. Again, this is one of the very last of the recommendations of the 2001 Judicial Compensation Commission recommendations, and this will complete this last study. The next one, as the leader of the third party just alluded to, will be gearing up for April 2004, so we look forward to completing this file and soon will be opening another file. I would be happy to address the following questions when we get into Committee of the Whole.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 42 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, 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 Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 42, Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll sit in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 42, Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003.
Bill No. 42 ó Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003
Chair:Prior to beginning general debate, the Chair has a brief statement.
Bill No. 42, Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003, has attached to it three schedules. Schedule 1 is the Judiciary Registered Pension Plan, Schedule 2 is the Judiciary Retirement Compensation Agreement, and Schedule 3 is the Supplementary Judiciary Pension Plan. These schedules will be dealt with as their establishment is mentioned in the bill.
The Committee will therefore proceed with the bill by going first to general debate and then dealing with clauses 1 through 11 in the normal fashion. When clause 12 is called, the Committee will proceed to Schedule 1, the Judiciary Registered Pension Plan. When Schedule 1 is carried, the Committee will complete consideration of clause 12 and then clause 13. When clause 14 is called, the Committee will proceed to Schedule 2, the Judiciary Retirement Compensation Agreement. When Schedule 2 is carried, the Committee will complete consideration of clause 14 and then clause 15. When clause 16 is called, Committee will proceed to Schedule 3, the Supplementary Judiciary Pension Plan. When Schedule 3 is carried the Committee will complete consideration of the remaining clauses and the title in the normal fashion. Please note that members may use the unanimous consent provisions in our Standing Orders to expedite this process.
We will begin general debate.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: When we just left before recess, a number of questions were raised. Iíll try my best to address as many as I can.
I believe the first one was a question raised by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin regarding recoverable monies from the federal government. The simple answer is no, not exactly. I should also add, however, though, that those members who wish to opt out of the federal pension plan can do so, at which time their contributions would be transferred over to the Yukon government to administer as such, as based under this new legislation.
With respect to the costs, as well ó the member opposite also raised the concern about costs, and as well as has been reiterated probably during the briefing that was scheduled for the members opposite ó the total cost was approximately $3.2 million over three years, and it included salary increases, retroactive pension adjustments and whatnot. I should add that this new money was in fact appropriated in the spring 2003 sitting of this Legislature.
Just to talk a little bit more about the cost incurred as a result of this legislation: there are a lot of costs incurred as a result of these recommendations. I should also add, however, that roughly half of the costs resulting from the 2001 Judicial Compensation Commission were due to the retroactive adjustments to the pensions, including adding the senior presiding justice of the peace into the pension arrangement.
I should also add that under the Territorial Court Act, it does state that the JCC recommendations are not binding on the Yukon government if in fact they exceed those received by the judiciary in any other western or northern jurisdiction. So there is a bit of a safeguard there as well.
Also, the recommendations have essentially resulted in the Yukonís judiciary being near the top end of this range, but they have not exceeded it, as such.
There was also a question regarding the actuarial study. According to the federal public service act, there is a three-year requirement to have an actuarial study done.
According to this bill, we do have that flexibility. It shall be no less than three years so, in fact, we do that the flexibility of performing an actuarial study on an annual basis, which is something we would consider doing.
Ms. Duncan: There are just a couple of questions that I would like to follow up on with the minister. The minister indicated that the financial pill we are swallowing is $3.2 million over three years. Was the full amount contained in the spring 2003 budget? I just canít recall off the top of my head. Or was there a portion anticipated in 2004 as well?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: It was the full amount.
Ms. Duncan: I am sorry that I donít have the 2003 budget in front of me.
The minister also indicated that in the Yukon judicial pension plan compensation there was an opt-out provision contained in one of these pieces of legislation with respect to ó we donít have to accept the recommendations of the Judicial Compensation Commission if they exceed other northern and western provinces. I believe that the minister said that we are near the top end but we arenít at the top. I would assume that itís probably the Northwest Territories that is still slightly ahead of us.
Is there a large difference in the range? Are they all fairly similar? Could the minister just give sort of a general outline in that respect?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: We donít have that information at our fingertips, but what I do know, though, is that we are near the top end of this range. We can certainly entertain to get that information to you though.
Ms. Duncan: That doesnít require a legislative return. Just by way of background information ó if the minister wants to send me a letter. I would just be interested in what the Northwest Territories, Alberta and B.C. comparisons are.
With respect to the actuarial evaluation, we could do it every year. Our contribution is going to be contingent upon this if we are required to top up. So, if we wait until every three years, it could be a substantial bill. If we do it every year, we could, sort of, spread any contribution out.
If the minister could just be a little clearer: what are the governmentís intentions in this respect? Is it the intention to do an actuarial evaluation each year? If so, when would we see the tender go out for the actuarial?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I believe that we will be entertaining on an annual basis here with our current actuarial.
Ms. Duncan: Given then that the appropriation was for the 2003-04 fiscal year ó we topped up ó I would anticipate that the first actuarial evaluation would be sometime after April 2004. I see the minister nodding, so Iím going to take that to be correct.
I have no further questions. I think that itís fairly clear. In my second reading speech Iíve indicated my support for the bill.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate very much your outlining of how we would proceed with the bill. I would also indicate that, at the conclusion of general debate, I certainly would be prepared to deem the bill read and carried, although I appreciate your instructions. But that would be at the close of general debate. I believe my colleague from Vuntut Gwitchin has some questions.
Mrs. Peter: I have only one question in closing for the Minister of Justice and itís in regard to the cost to implement and administer this pension plan. The cost I mentioned earlier is very high and the quote was $3.2 million. Can the minister please give me a breakdown of that cost ó what it would cost to implement the program itself and what other costs are entailed in that?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I believe that the cost of the actual pension increases is approximately $2,177,290 over three years, and this includes, as I understand, a one-time retroactive adjustment to the judicial pension plan of about $1.5 million.
The Member for Vuntut Gwitchin made reference to the administration costs regarding these plans. As I understand, it is expected to cost between $10,000 and $20,000 in start-up costs, and after that, annual administration costs of about $5,000 per year is what we are looking at. I hope that addresses the questions.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Unanimous consent re deeming clauses, schedules and title of Bill No. 42 read and agreed to
Ms. Duncan:Not in general debate, Mr. Chair. I was going to request unanimous consent that Bill No. 42 and the clauses contained therein be deemed read and be carried.
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all clauses, schedules, and the title of Bill No. 42, entitled Territorial Judiciary Court Pension Plan Act, 2003, be read and carried. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous consent. Therefore, I declare all clauses, schedules, and the title of Bill No. 42 to have been read and carried.
Clauses 1 through 21, Schedules 1, 2 and 3 and the Title deemed to have been read and agreed to
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I move that Bill No. 42, entitled Territorial Judiciary Court Pension Plan Act, 2003, be reported without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Taylor that Bill No. 42, entitled Territorial Judiciary Court Pension Plan Act, 2003, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in the absence of the government House leader, I ó
Chair:Order please. Itís inappropriate to identify whether a member is here or not.
The next matter before the Committee, then, will be Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Bill No. 36 ó Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act ó continued
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:There was a motion on the floor dealing with calling of witnesses. If we have concluded debate on that, we can bring that motion to a vote at this juncture, because our side really doesnít have anything to add. Weíve heard from all the parties. The full accrual accounting for Government of Yukon finances is an issue that is of long standing, Mr. Chair. Itís an issue that has been dealt with previously. We are moving in that direction. It is an issue that we are very cognizant of.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair:Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, my understanding is that we concluded Committee of the Whole debate on the Taxpayer Protection Act. There was indeed a motion on the floor. Itís not my understanding that Mr. Jenkins had the floor at the time. Another member had the floor, and would that member not resume the debate? Can I ask for your clarification on that?
Chair: Order please. The last member who spoke during debate on this is unable to continue debating at this moment; however, another member has taken his place or his turn, and it is appropriate for Mr. Jenkins to continue.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much for your ruling, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Hardy, on a point of order.
Mr. Hardy: Could you cite the ruling, the number, where your reference is from because Iím not familiar with where another member can just step in and pick up where another member finished off. I would appreciate that.
Chair: The member who previously spoke is obviously unavailable for comment; therefore, the Chair had to recognize someone. Mr. Jenkins was the first member to stand to speak; therefore, the Chair recognized him. According to past practices of this House ó
Chair: Ms. Duncan.
Ms. Duncan: Iím just trying to clarify this. My understanding was that the House leader had said weíd move into the Taxpayer Protection Act and then started speaking. My understanding was that the Chair would say: weíre moving into the Taxpayer Protection Act, the motion before the floor, and that Mr. Fentie was the last person to speak ó therefore, heís not in the House ó and give members an opportunity to stand. Iím not trying to ó Mr. Fentie, the speaker who last spoke not being available, that we would be given opportunity to rise. Instead we just launched right into the discussion. Normally, past practice has been, yes we are debating this, and an announcement by the Chair as to what weíre debating, and the motion before the floor and give members an opportunity to speak.
Chair:The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, and a motion put forward. The Chair has recognized Mr. Jenkins. He will have 20 minutes maximum to speak. All members will have an opportunity to speak.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The issue before ó Iím very uncomfortable with the challenge the Chair is receiving from the official opposition leader, but weíll leave that for another day.
Mr. Chair, the issue before this Committee of the Whole today is dealing with a motion to call for witnesses. The motion, while it may have some merit, has no substance to it, as all of the issues have been dealt with and itís very reasonable to expect that the official opposition and the third party have become more knowledgeable in this benign amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act. Itís a very benign amendment, Mr. Chair.
That said, weíd very much like to move forward on debate. We can spend the rest of the day debating the purpose of the motion to call witnesses and what it may or may not accomplish, but virtually all the individuals who have been duly noted in that motion ó we have heard from them in one manner or another. That, Mr. Chair, should be recognized and should be a point of consideration by the official opposition party and the third party.
This is an initiative that weíd like to move forward on, given that the whole basis for our party being elected ó one of the prime reasons ó was sound fiscal management, restoring investor confidence, rebuilding the Yukon economy and getting the economy rolling again, something the past two governments have been unable and very ineffective in attempting to accomplish.
We have to engage the private sector. We have to ensure that there is a good appearance ó not just an appearance, but there are good policies and practices being initiated by the government, and we are moving forward on those.
But what I do sense is that the opposition and the third party are probably awe-struck by the speed in which we as a government are moving forward on a number of our platform commitments, not just in the area of restoring investor confidence and rebuilding the Yukon economy, but also in our social agenda and our government-to-government relationship with First Nations.
I guess, when you combine all of these initiatives together, we are, for all intents and purposes, being recognized as a government that is committed to undertaking what we have said we are going to do. We are not going to be sidetracked by such an initiative as a motion that we are debating here today.
So, that said, I would encourage the members opposite to give some consideration to expediting the business of this House and moving forward on this benign amendment that is going to enhance the Yukonís opportunities for such initiatives as P3s.
Recognizing the heckling and the distorted faces on the opposition benches, it gives us a clear indication that they are pained by the success that we are going to be achieving in very, very short order.
There is no merit in calling before this Legislature, as witnesses, the individuals being recognized because they have all spoken. We all know what their positions are and what they have to say. Thatís a given.
Weíll probably end up spending today debating this motion ó for what purpose, it escapes me, Mr. Chair.
This is a benign amendment thatís being proposed to the Taxpayer Protection Act. Itís an amendment that, it appears, the official opposition and the third party feel they might be able to make some hay on, and theyíre going to hang their hat on it. Well, letís see what we can do because, as a government, we were elected on a platform. Weíre moving forward on that platform, and one of the main planks in that platform is sound fiscal management, restoring investor confidence, getting the economy going again and engaging the private sector to ensure that happens.
Itís about resource development, in part ó resource development in the oil and gas industry, the forestry, the mining. I guess today was probably a prime example of another initiative that our government is moving forward with, and thatís with the State of Alaska. The Governor was here today, as we witnessed. I recognize that there was no one from the NDP ranks at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon today. That gives credence to their understanding of the business community and their role here in the Yukon, Mr. Chair.
A lot was said and, in order to pay for the educational programs, in order to pay for the social programs that we are improving, as a government we need to move forward on restoring investor confidence, creating an economy and putting people to work. Governor Murkowski summed it up very succinctly. He said that the environmental movement should just look in its own backyard on the east coast of the United States and pay attention to whatís going on in that area because, up here in the north, weíre doing quite well, thank you very much.
We are moving forward, addressing the environmental agenda and doing a good job of it. He also said, and he concluded, Mr. Chair, that one of the best initiatives is a good job. We have to create an economy here where our children want to stay, want to remain here and that we can move forward.
As far as Iím concerned ó Iíve had occasion to work in all 13 areas of Canada and this is the best one ó this was the best one, and weíre going to restore it to being the best one. And weíre going to restore the economy here in the Yukon with or without your help. But it would be nice to see that there was some buy-in by the official opposition and the third party to doing what is right for Yukoners. And what is right for Yukoners is to get the economy going again, addressing the education and social agenda, and get the economy going again, recognizing the environmental concerns and environmental issues that are part of the whole equation here in the Yukon today.
Mr. Chair, this motion to call witnesses is a worthless waste of time for this Legislature, given that all of the individuals who are being named to be called have all spoken and are all duly recognized for their position on this very important issue.
And itís interesting to note, Mr. Chair, that in opposition the Liberals waxed eloquently in opposition to the Taxpayer Protection Act when it was proposed under a previous Yukon Party government, as did the NDP at the time. They went on ad infinitum that this was a poorly written piece of legislation.
What is being proposed here is one small, benign amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act that will go a long way to ensuring that the Yukon economy is restored to what all of us used to experience and have come to expect and we leave something for our children ó something other than a great, big pile of bills and a total reliance on the Government of Canada. That we cannot do, Mr. Chair.
That said, if we are going to end up debating this amendment to this motion all afternoon ó not amendment, but this motion to call witnesses all afternoon ó we might as well move forward and see what the official opposition and the third party have to say once again on it.
Mr. Hardy: Just a slight confusion. My colleague wants to say a few words but he was ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order ó and please cite the Standing Order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, pursuant to Standing Order 19(g), the member opposite is probably imputing unavowed motives on his colleague and his caucus that ó
Chair:Order please. There is no point of order.
Mr. Hardy: I was offering an explanation why the two of us got up.
Itís really around the clarification that we had to get on Thursday in regard to the fact that a motion brought forward in general debate on this act will have a debate going back and forth, and I donít close the debate. So that is clarified now.
I do have a few comments to make and then I look forward to other people making comments, because I do believe that this motion has merit.
First off, I would like to correct the member opposite. Itís not an amendment to a motion. I think he really has to understand what we are debating here. It actually is a motion to an act. Maybe if he would spend the time to read it, he might understand where it is coming from, instead of being totally incorrect in just about everything he said.
A couple of other things Iíd just like to reference, because you shouldnít really let these slights go by, and that is he indicated that I did not attend the Chamber of Commerce, or any members, and I had made it known to him two hours ago that I was not able to attend the Chamber of Commerce, so I consider that kind of a nasty little slide of his that I would like to see removed from this Legislature, but we canít seem to get it out.
Just for his own information, as Iíve already mentioned before, I was on Main Street, in the snow, handing out white ribbons for the White Ribbon Campaign. I felt that was as important as the Chamber of Commerce meeting, since I had already attended the accord signing. I and the Member for Mount Lorne were out there, and it was really interesting to talk to a lot of men on the streets about the White Ribbon Campaign and try to encourage men to become more active in the eradication of the violence against women.
Thereís obviously a difference of opinion in the House that the member opposite feels that this motion is worthless and a waste of time, but when you really look at the motion, what is it really about? What is the core issue here? Itís about consultation, and itís about acquiring more knowledge, more input from people who would bring very interesting perspectives, probably greater knowledge in many of the areas than what we have in this room, to allow us to make an informed and constructive decision that would be beneficial to the Yukon.
The Member for Klondike feels that that is worthless, that the motion is worthless, and thatís a shame, because what he is really saying is the Yukon Party governmentís whole attitude toward consultation; itís whole attitude toward inviting constructive, legitimate opinions to be expressed to help them develop the policies, to help them move forward in a lot of areas that they want to go for. If the Yukon Party really wants to make the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act, then you would think that they would want to bring the public along with them.
They should also want to have as many knowledgeable people as possible speak to this instead of the dribs and drabs we often get through the media or through people calling our offices. It would be much better if it were a transparent process, then the people of this territory could voice their opinion in regard to it. Then, if the people of the territory feel this is a very good change, the Yukon Party can go forward with the support and backing of the territory.
As it is now, the government is trying to move forward without the engagement of the people of this territory. It is not a benign change. You cannot have a benign change if youíre talking about a substantial amount of funds becoming available in order to leverage more funds. You cannot consider it a benign change if it guts the Taxpayer Protection Act. You cannot consider it a benign change if thereís a strong concern on this side of the House in regard to it. Just by us expressing our concerns with certain aspects of the change is an indication that itís not benign. From the other sideís perspective, possibly, but if they would listen to the opposition, maybe they would recognize we have some very legitimate concerns.
Itís a shame that this is not the only issue, Mr. Chair. There are organizations that feel theyíre told to offer input into acts that are being brought forward and changes that are being made, but it has also been indicated that the consultative processes with them will not be incorporated into any progressive changes in the act itself.
Itís a very big concern of ours that the behaviour of this government is to not consult the people ó definitely not in a manner that is constructive, nor in a manner that may allow some changes to the direction that this government is going in. We have already seen indications of it. We have seen indications in the fact that we brought forward amendments to bills. We have brought forward what we believe are constructive, good ideas. A lot of times they are reflective of what is being said by the groups that are being impacted by these bills, such as the Health Act. We brought forward some changes there, and they were rejected.
I know for a fact that those changes that we were talking about were also reflective of what the consultative group wanted, and they were rejected at that level too. What we can assume here is that this is a government that does not believe in constructive consultation. They mouth the words, but they donít actually follow through with them. If there is never a constructive response to any suggestions made ó other than to try to belittle or shoot down ó whether it is a motion or an amendment, any direction from the opposition or from people of the Yukon, then it is just a sham. All that we are witnessing is a sham in regard to consultation.
However, this is a good motion. There is absolutely nothing in this motion that points to the argument that the amendment being proposed to the Taxpayer Protection Act is wrong. All it says is, "Letís bring some people into the Legislature where we can question them on the floor in regard to it so that we can find a level of comfort in regard to the changes." Or the government itself can get some expert advice in this area so that they can make the changes that will better reflect the wishes of the Yukon people and incorporate some of the ideas that the opposition has.
So this is not a negative motion in any way, shape or form. Itís a request, if anything, to broaden the debate. And this is the position Iíve taken from day one on this: allow the people of this territory, allow the experts, allow a broader cross-section to become engaged in this proposed change to the Taxpayer Protection Act. And from day one weíve been stonewalled on this. I have a very difficult time understanding why. The government has only been elected for one year, and theyíve already fallen into this mode. Well, we know what happened to the Liberal Party when they did that. It didnít take very long at all before people outside the small circle that often forms around governments started saying, "They donít listen to us. Theyíre arrogant;" theyíre this; theyíre that ó all the kinds of things that seem to swirl around the public. And once that happens, itís extremely difficult for any government to recover from it, whether they change their course of action or not, whether they recognize they might have not been broad enough, they had not consulted enough, whether they havenít been in touch with the people enough. Once that sticks to a government, you canít shed it. Unfortunately, it is already becoming what people are saying in the general public about the new government.
Now, you would feel on this side, Mr. Chair, that what Iím doing is saying something that, if anything, is giving the Yukon Party government a warning about whatís happening and whatís being said out there. I do remember, and I know what happens when youíre upstairs with the people who surround you. And you know what, Mr. Chair? Theyíre your greatest supporters absolutely and theyíll tell you what you want to hear, and theyíll support you. But are they reflective of what is being said on the streets? Are they reflective of what is being said at the dinner parties, at the hockey rinks, in the soccer gymnasiums? Are they reflective of whatís being said at the Arts Centre and the Guild Hall? Are they reflective of what people are saying when they go out into the woods, when they go hunting? Are they reflecting all that? Are they reflecting what the public is saying? No, theyíre not.
Theyíre not, because Iíve watched government after government fall prey to this. So the members will go upstairs and their staff will come around, prop them up and say everything is fine, you can ride this out, everything is good, weíre doing great. When the Liberals were in government, I am sure they had that same kind of situation. I can attest to the fact that when the NDP was in government and you went back up to your office, it was upbeat and they lifted you up and told you everything was fine. Well, every once in awhile you need a splash of cold water on your face, because if you donít get it, youíll never know if youíre going wrong. Iím saying today on the floor that the Yukon Party government is wrong and theyíre going in the wrong direction. Theyíre going to be wearing exactly what was said about the Liberals in the previous period, and probably what was said about the NDP before that: this is a government that doesnít listen to the people; it doesnít consult; it doesnít reach out; it doesnít respond to the concerns and needs; they just go through the motions. It all looks good, itís all put out there and looks wonderful. Itís like the signing of the accord today, Mr. Chair. It looks wonderful ó shaking hands, handing presents back and forth, a wonderful relationship, a new era, new dawning. Iíve heard that for the last 25 years. Every time one of these things happen, you always hope for the best and you hope theyíre all done with good intentions, but frankly, they donít really result in a huge, major shift in any direction whatsoever.
Iím not saying you shouldnít necessarily have them. Iím just saying we have to be very realistic about them, and what they are, in most cases, is just a good PR exercise.
Well, Iím telling you right now that this is a bad PR exercise thatís being practised around the Taxpayer Protection Act.
The members opposite should recognize that this motion allows them to save face, it would allow them to bring people in here, and we could have a really, really good discussion. We could ask a lot of very important questions that other people can answer, and we could get a good insight into what the real impacts are. We could even broaden it and talk about the privatization of the Yukon that the Yukon Party government has taken this territory into, if we wish. There are a lot of areas that we need to talk about in regard to that as well.
But, there is not a person in this House who doesnít recognize that the government should try to work to full employment as best they can, that it has to engage other sectors. There is no question about that. Every single government has tried it, and I donít mean just the last two governments and now the Yukon Party ó a brand new government ó has the answer. I mean going back for as long as there have been governments of some independence in this territory. Everyone has tried to address the full employment and find a way to have a more equitable distribution of income. I think it canít be argued that if you try to spread as much of the income that you do have in the territory out to as many people, it is going to benefit more of the small businesses. The more people who have more money will allow that money to flow throughout the economies of the territory. There will be more people in the theatres; there will be more people participating in the sporting activities; there will be more people shopping in the stores. Having income distribution, of course, to a smaller group of people so some people get rich, a lot of people get poorer and the middle class keeps shrinking ó which has been happening in Canada for the last while ó itís not a direction that I believe any territory should go in ó that this territory definitely shouldnít go in.
We have issues around the eradication of poverty, economic equality between men and women. All of this ties into our finances and the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act that are being proposed.
The protection of the environment and strengthening social programs and public services: all that ties into this one benign change. That doesnít mean that this one benign change is instrumental in making huge impacts, but you cannot separate one part of the economy from another part of our life. You cannot say that economic development sits over here, weíre going to spend a tremendous amount of effort and time on it ó every government has ó and ignore many of the other aspects of our economy. You cannot take a look at economic development in a very narrow sense and narrow it even further by saying oil and gas and mining are the only salvations of this territory and ignore all the other sectors or our territory, all the economic engines, if you want to call them that, that contribute so much to the growth and development of this territory, because it is continuing to change and develop.
The other concern Iíve always had is that when you start to favour one side over another, when you start to favour one industry over another, when you start to favour economic development over the environment, when you start to really tilt things out of whack, you will create disharmony within the communities and you will create friction among people.
We have seen a rise of that. Thatís a huge concern of mine, when I see these mini wars being waged, whether itís through the newspapers or in gatherings, when you see people not even talking to each other. Thatís not the Yukon way ó not the way I grew up, up here. My understanding and what I remember very clearly is that we can have the differences, the different approaches, the different beliefs but, at the end of the day, we can also treat each other like human beings and we donít attack each other on an individual basis, and try to destroy or discredit people just because they have a different belief.
We try to rise above that. Now, weíre all human too, and we all make mistakes; however, when I speak in a broader context about the Yukon ó thatís something that Iíve always loved about this place, Mr. Chair: the ability to have very fundamental differences but also to be able to still be friends and be able to sit down and talk to each other, even though you know youíre going to disagree, knowing at the end of the day you can walk away. Youíre not walking away thinking that person should be destroyed, that person is evil, that person is bad because they donít agree with me.
However, what Iím seeing is a division of people once again in this territory. A lot of it can go back to the fact that if people are not involved or brought into a discussion or debate, they feel left out, and when they feel left out, they start to react or respond in a manner thatís not often constructive. If anything, it can be very destructive. Weíve seen that through history, whether itís revolutions, small ones or large ones, whether itís disenfranchisement of peopleís rights, poverty ó any time you see that, you will have some kind of conflict.
So I have very strong concerns in regard to that area, as well, and I think itís all tied together. I would hope that we recognize that these are not just individual changes. This is part of the big picture under which the Yukon functions and works.
My question in regard to the motion comes back to this: why will the government, the minister, not allow some form of public debate on this change? Itís a very simple question. Why will he not allow even a small forum, open it up, get it out of the Legislature and put it to the people? Why wonít he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Iím starting to see where the members opposite are going, and Iíd like to congratulate them on being true to their following.
What was suggested to me after the debate went on for quite some time was that there is a conspiracy theory here and that the official opposition didnít understand any of the legislation that was being debated, so what they felt they could do is take the simplest piece of legislation, with one benign amendment, and move an amendment to it to call witnesses and confuse the issue and focus their total attention of the political agenda on that initiative.
Let me share with you what our government is all about. Our government is all about economic development, but itís about a balance between that economic development and addressing the social agenda. Members opposite tout the unemployment rate here, and we are gravely concerned with the unemployment rate. Thatís why we have to provide sound fiscal management, restore investor confidence and move forward on developing the Yukon economy so there is opportunity here. And then, with those jobs created and the resulting tax component, we can enhance the social side of the agenda that the members opposite speak so eloquently about. I guess the biggest concern that was coming to their attention now is that our government is addressing the serious social issues facing the Yukon.
We are doing it at the same time that we are moving forward on redeveloping the Yukon economy. So, that said, this motion to call witnesses to give us an insight ó we are well-versed on our side of the House. If the members want to research this further on their own initiative, they have some caucus funds and they can go out and spend them any way they so please, and I would encourage them to do so, because I think that, at the end of the day, they would find that it might be a good expenditure of their caucus funds ó enlightening them as to the benefits that will accrue to the Yukon with this benign amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act. So, we are not going to speak to this motion any further on this side.
We can allow the official opposition and the third party to go on for the rest of the day. We would like to bring it to a vote. We know the position that virtually all of the suggested witnesses in this motion would bring to the table. Itís well-documented. Why we would need to go any further, I do not know. When you know where someone stands on an issue, let it be. The subject to debate could go on and on and on and accomplish nothing. It wouldnít accomplish anything, Mr. Chair.
Now, it is becoming more evident that the members opposite havenít done their research and havenít done their due diligence on the pieces of legislation that were before this House. The basics of economics are being seriously set aside by the official opposition and the third party which, incidentally, had the chance to create wealth here in the Yukon but failed miserably.
In a very short period of time ó and I donít know, in the British parliamentary system, of a government that went from that much of a majority to defeat in so quick a period of time. Itís a credit to the inability of the past Yukon government, Mr. Chair.
But letís not go there. Letís dwell on the motion that we have before us. Letís come to an understanding of why this motion is before us. It clearly becomes evident that all the positions of all the witnesses that are being suggested to be called before this Legislature are well-known and well-documented. That said, thereís no further need for debate on this motion. Letís call the question.
Ms. Duncan: It might come as a surprise to the Member for Klondike, but there are opinions in this Legislature other than his own.
Iíd just like to appeal to the other members of the Yukon Party caucus, take them back a period in time to early 1996. The former Member for Porter Creek North and I didnít always agree on a number of things, but one point we agreed on ó and quite clearly I remember the discussion was when they had just passed the bar of the House ó was the commitment and the conscience of the then NDP government, a member of the back bench, the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
I believe Mr. Ostashekís quote at the time was, "He is what he is," and I agree with that. The Member for Whitehorse Centre has appealed to our conscience as members of the Legislature in this motion. Thatís why Iím supporting it, because he has said, "Letís hear from folks directly."
Weíve all heard, door to door, during the election campaign ó the last one, the one before that and the one before that ó about how partisan politics hasnít necessarily helped the Yukon Territory. Certainly, I would sometimes question whether it has raised the level of debate in this Legislature. Every one of us got here the same way: we all knocked on the doors, we all visited with Yukoners, and we all continue to do that. The fact is that every member of this Legislature is here representing their constituents, has earned the right to be heard and has earned the right to ask the questions and to engage in debate ó full and constructive debate, not 12 days of what type of larvicide the government should buy, but whether or not we should change this fundamental cornerstone of our financial affairs.
Yukoners ask us over and over and over again to raise the level of debate, to ask these tough questions. What the motion proposes is that there be an opportunity to ask individuals clearly recognized as Canadian and Yukon authorities in the field of not only our finances, and not only the Financial Administration Act, but the act before us ó the Taxpayer Protection Act. These individuals are very well versed in this.
The Member for Klondike has said that the motion is without merit, itís a worthless motion, and whatís the point?
Number one, the government is proposing to fundamentally change a cornerstone of our financial affairs. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini says itís a benign change. I appreciate the fact that thatís the message the member is given constantly. There are other opinions out there. All the motion proposes is that there be an opportunity in a public forum to ask those questions. Before partisan politics, members of the long-serving public service, whom the Member for McIntyre-Takhini likes to defend, would come and answer questions in this Legislature. Theyíd appear before Committee. They would answer the questions. Itís not unheard of to have witnesses even in our partisan political environment. Thatís all that the Member for Whitehorse Centre has proposed in this debate. In this fundamental change to Yukonís financial cornerstone, all the proposed motion is is that there be an opportunity to ask directly the Auditor General ó who has not been asked, who, yes, has given a public interview. She was not asked the question, "Are the amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act necessary by this change?" No, they are not, according to the Premier. Give the Auditor General, or her staff, an opportunity to answer that question herself. Have her staff say, yes, theyíre benign. The Member for Kluane and I have both said on the floor of this House, having heard from witnesses, that, yes, the message proposed by the government that these changes are benign ó have the witnesses say that, and the government would receive support. All weíre asking for is the opportunity to hear directly from those individuals.
There is nothing wrong with that. Itís not precedent setting. Itís not going to delay passage of this bill. Members have agreed that they would sit an appropriate time to deal with this. All itís doing is giving a public forum and an opportunity for these individuals who have the expertise to be heard on the floor of this Legislature ó for all of us who were elected with a responsibility to respectfully ask the questions.
Itís not a difficult concept. Itís not an unheard-of concept. Itís entirely worthy of the support of the members opposite. If there is truly nothing for the government to be afraid of ó if these are benign changes ó then allow the witnesses to say that, because the message ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The request has been made many times to have questions answered and debate on the floor of this Legislature ó many times. A request was brought forward on Thursday ó and itís a request that I am echoing today in support of this motion ó that we raise the level of debate in this Legislature. We have an opportunity ó all members ó to ask these four witnesses ó and any others proposed ó questions about the amendment before us. They are that important.
Yukoners are discussing this issue. As we represent Yukoners, I believe their questions deserve a full and fair answer. I believe that they deserve the opportunity to ask these questions themselves.
Iím sure that the public would be interested in the debate. Certainly the Member for Klondike suggests that the opposition hasnít done their homework. Certainly this member of the opposition has done her homework on this bill.
I have done my homework on this bill. I would like the opportunity to ask these individuals the questions on the floor of this House. I would like to be convinced. However, the government, in refusing to support the motion, is, I feel, stifling the work of members. And it is truly unfortunate that they are ignoring ó "ignoring" isnít quite strong enough a word. But they are holding in complete and utter disregard not only the members of this Legislature, but the members of the public who deserve the answers to these questions.
It is a sad day. I would ask the government members to reconsider. We are not talking about extending debate by two weeks. We are not asking that we be sitting for Christmas dinner as has been proposed on many occasions in the past. All that members are asking for is the opportunity to hear witnesses as has been done in the Legislature before. If the amendment is as benign as the members purport, there is no difficulty with that. Two hours ó fine, it would be done. The other members and I may be convinced.
In answer to the Member for Lake Laberge, who asked if Iíve heard of a phone call, yes, I have. Iíve done my homework on this bill. Iím asking that these individuals be heard from, that there be an opportunity for the public to hear from them, for the public to ask the same questions that Iíve asked them. Do you believe that this is benign? Is it necessary for the change to full accrual accounting? Letís have the public have the opportunity to ask those questions, other than through the media, which apparently also held in disregard by the members opposite. Mr. Chair, I submit that this motion is worthy of support. And if members ó and again, I repeat: we all got here the same way. We all hear from Yukoners. Yukoners would like an opportunity to hear these questions asked by us, by them. Yukoners would like to be convinced. Itís unfortunate the government will not consider supporting the motion. I really, truly would urge them to reconsider and to look hard at it. There really is no reason not to, other than they are somehow reluctant to engage in full public scrutiny.
Chair:Before we continue on with general debate on this motion, the Chair would like to comment that the Chair has recognized that the amount of extraneous chatter has increased quite a bit and the Chair is quite disturbed by this. I would ask all members to respect the decorum in this House and to refrain from making extraneous comments and to keep other conversations to a minimum.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank you for those comments and I hope members abide by them.
Mr. Chair, I have a few words to say about this motion that has been brought forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Itís about consultation and itís about informing people, the general public, about where this government is going. We would like to ask questions in the Legislature, just like the Member for Klondike did when he was on this side of the House, calling witnesses forth from the corporations and so on. He wanted to ask questions of them at the time. According to the members opposite, this change to the Taxpayer Protection Act is small, insignificant. As a matter of fact, in bringing witnesses forth to this Legislature, the Member for Klondike called it worthless, doesnít even need to be debated and he doesnít even want to listen to the people who probably know this kind of stuff better than we do, better than the ministers do, and better than the backbenchers do.
Thatís what weíre asking for so that we, and the government side, even the backbenchers on the government side, can ask questions of the witnesses. Iím sure they want to because when we hear back from their constituents on this matter, they want information. As I go to my community and pass through Braeburn, for example, that is the discussion around the tables there ó the Member for Lake Labergeís riding ó this is what theyíre talking about, this and, of course, the loans. They want to see the ministers pay their loans back, with interest.
They ask questions: well, what does it mean? What does this amendment that the Yukon Party calls so small, what does it really mean? They donít know. The Yukon Party is not telling Yukoners about it, what it really means and where theyíre really going. This is the main drive and direction their party is going in and they refuse to tell Yukoners about it; letís pass this through the House by their majority and then weíll talk to Yukoners about what amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act really mean.
I think that the Yukon Party is afraid to bring people into this Legislature because we, on this side of the House, and the general public have been saying a few things, and I think that we are right, and you will hear that from the witnesses. The Yukon Party is afraid that this type of information will come forward and it may not look as attractive to Yukoners as they think it is. So I can understand why they would not even speak to this motion, Mr. Chair. That is sad, too, because arenít we all supposed to have some input into direction. Bringing witnesses into the Legislature is not a big thing. Everybody prepares some questions for them, and thatís what we want. It is about consultation.
The Member for Klondike calls it worthless. Many people have questions about it. For example, can any members on that side of the House answer this question: what effects will the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act have on First Nations or First Nation governments?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fairclough: The Member for Klondike says "opportunity". Well, they didnít tell them that. As a matter of fact, nothing has been said on the Taxpayer Protection Act ó nothing. This is how bad it gets and this is not good news for Yukoners who have elected their members and then they come to the floor of the Legislature and do exactly what they said they wouldnít do ó particularly the Premier, who said, a matter of months ago, that this will not happen. Now, here we are changing the goalposts and what we can do within this act.
We have seen ó the members opposite said they have done so much in a year. This is just one of them: not really telling the public that this is the direction that theyíre going in. Theyíre doing it in a roundabout way, but not really telling people exactly what direction ó what it really means.
So is it a bad thing to bring witnesses before this Legislature? No. Will it be useful for members on this side of the House and on the government side? Yes. Itís not going to take much time, a couple of hours, I believe ó there are a lot of questions that can be asked and answered by certain witnesses.
Instead, what ends up having to happen is questions are being asked; we donít get answers in the House; people are coming forward and saying well, as a matter of fact, it is not happening this way; this is how it is.
We have seen, for example, the Premier saying there will be one set of books that the government will have now. His officials and others are saying, no, as a matter of fact there will be two sets of books; weíll continue along that line. Does this make it simpler and easier to understand? No, not really. Itís actually a little more complicated. It doesnít change anything other than the fact that we have a surplus of over $60 million and weíre going to bump that up and borrow the money against it. This doesnít seem to be a problem with the members opposite, because I think this is an act of desperation, as far as Iím concerned.
The Yukon Party government has not made any great movements when it comes to the economy or economic development in the territory. We have slid backward when we look at the number and the percentage of the unemployed in the territory.
Anything that could attract investors into the territory has been put forward by previous governments, and some of them are just washed away a little bit because thereís some hard work that needs to be done, like the fireweed fund, for example. Members opposite donít want to go there, and this attracts investors to the territory.
When it comes to new ideas, nothing has come forward except this. Yes, we need mining in the territory and we have to do our homework and talk with people when it comes to oil and gas in the territory. Thatís nothing new. Mining is nothing new. We know the process and the changes that took place. The Yukon Party could blame themselves if they wanted to ó the previous Yukon Party or any other party they want for the downturn in the economy, and they do that. But they fail to recognize some of the things that knocked mining down across North America. I donít hear them saying that in public meetings or on the streets, but the mining community talks about that ó the price of gold, the price of precious metals and base metals. They talk about Bre-X and trying to recover from that. Weíre fortunate enough to have some discoveries that took place in the territory that could change mining.
For my riding, thatís a good thing. People want that type of job. Theyíre trying hard to maintain what they have when it comes to things like placer mining and so on.
Consultation just isnít in the books for this Yukon Party government.
They call it benign amendment and then they say they are the champions when it comes to consultation. Maybe itís because they signed some agreement with First Nations, eight of them. Ask the First Nations about the Taxpayer Protection Act. "Have you been consulted? Has your input been given on these amendments? Do you know what it means?"
"No," would be the answer. It hasnít been done. Itís because a decision was made so very quickly ó from the spring, during the summer, to here. Action needed to be taken quickly, and the Premier has brought forth what he feels is the ultimate direction that the Yukon should be going in to try to attract investors back to the territory. I could say that, without amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act, youíll see increase in mining. Even junior mining companies are coming back because they know they can make a profit. Youíll see a renewed interest in oil and gas; First Nations are working on this and have been working on it for years in their territory, and there is recognition of that.
There is all kinds of information out there that the public has had and have given governments in the past, and the Yukon Party government just doesnít seem to want to take up Yukoners on some of those offers. When it comes to trade and investment, whereís that? Did it die? Is the Yukon Party even interested in that any more? It takes a long time to get Yukoners focused and moved away from Yukonís dependency on resource extraction.
I think that there is a lot of interest in trade and investment, but we havenít heard much come out of the ministersí mouths on that whole issue. It is about consultation and bringing forward a motion like this. I would think that the member from Klondike would have jumped at that opportunity. Ask questions of the witnesses that he couldnít get answers to in his own cabinet and caucus ó maybe a different angle or different prospective from some Yukoners that are more familiar with this type of thing.
So the Yukon Party will come in and they will vote against this motion and we will get to debate the Taxpayer Protection Act and we will vote that through. They will tell Yukoners what a great job they have done in consultation. Then they will spend the next two and half years explaining this to the public. That seems to be something the Yukon Party does ó make a decision and tell us how good the decision was.
This is a prime example of what we have witnessed time and time again from different ministers ó the same thing. The Minister of Health has all kinds of examples that he can use on this. We have seen the Thomson Centre decision. What a classic that was. Letís make a decision and talk to the people later, instead of showing the respect that the people deserve. It is the whole thing to deal with Macaulay Lodge, the Thomson Centre, the extended care facility ó it is about the treatment of people and that is what I was getting to.
But the Member for Klondike, I believe, is speaking for all of government on that side of the House, because the rest of the members wonít get up ó the backbenchers wonít get up ó to speak to this motion. He called it a worthless motion, bringing a witness in and being informed on a decision, to make decisions. Isnít that how weíre supposed to be doing things, Mr. Chair? Find out information first and be informed before you make that decision? That hasnít happened here.
I believe members on that side of the House donít fully understand what could happen with what the Yukon Party called benign amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act, what could happen to Yukoners and the future of the Yukon.
So weíre stuck in this position here, and the Yukon Party knows it. Theyíll ram it through, vote against this motion. But maybe theyíll have a really good look at it and a good look at themselves and exactly what happened here and maybe weíll see a miracle, and maybe weíll see a change in the Yukon Party, and maybe they will vote for having witnesses come forward. That would be incredible, but that could happen. Iím not going to rule that out. I canít see it happening with the Member for Klondike, though, because this is exactly how he operates as a minister, and weíll have that reflected in the vote for this motion. That will be exactly how the Yukon Party does things.
Mr. Chair, those are my comments.
Mrs. Peter: Itís my pleasure to once again speak to this amendment. I have heard the comments from one of the members opposite and I find those comments pretty disturbing.
On behalf of the constituency that I represent, I actually donít find much of the information that we bring forward worthless and benign. We speak, in large part, on behalf of the Yukon public, and I take that very seriously. When the comments that we make and questions that we ask are on behalf of people out there, I really find it disturbing when they are called worthless, considering the fact that we were elected to our positions to take on that responsibility.
The member opposite commented on the painful and distorted looks on some of our faces on this side. I find that incredible language to use in this environment. I guess the distorted look that the member commented on ó from me, anyway ó is somewhat of a misunderstanding.
We are asking the Yukon Party government to step back and take another look at the Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act.
As I understand it, this act is going to bring forward some very serious changes for the Yukon Territory. Iíve mentioned it here before that such changes being brought forward need some very careful consideration, and that careful consideration thatís mentioned in this amendment for this side of the opposition is to make some good decisions on behalf of our constituency.
We are asking, Mr. Chair, in our motion that we put on the floor, to bring some witnesses before the Legislature, a few people who are expert in their field, so that they can share their knowledge with us and help us to make those kinds of fair decisions that we need to make on behalf of our constituencies. The witnesses we are asking to come before this House will help us to better understand what the Yukon Party government is proposing with this amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
I heard the member opposite earlier refer to restoring economy and in the same breath he uses the word "worthless".
And who, Mr. Chair, is going to share with this Legislature the concerns of the people in the Yukon public, especially the people who are living out in the rural communities who do not get a chance to come to Whitehorse and are able to have a meeting with the Premier or any of his colleagues to ask them face-to-face: what are the changes that youíre proposing and how will they affect us? We are that voice in here on behalf of the people out there. And if thatís going to be called "worthless", then any of the decisions that are made are going to be questionable. If that kind of language is going to be used on what I bring forward on behalf of people in my riding, then the decisions that are made by the Yukon Party government are going to be questionable, because the concerns that we bring forward are not being addressed. The member opposite actually made a comment that made a little bit of sense to me because I believe in it so strongly, and thatís to leave something for our children. Where I come from, Mr. Chair, that is our purpose ó to leave something for our children. We are here today as decision-makers in a very responsible position so that generations from now ó our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren ó can have and can share in the beauty that we have in this territory.
That is the bottom line ó decisions that we make in this environment, in conjunction and in consultation with people in the Yukon. There was a protocol signed not too long ago in regard to the very definition of "consultation". It was signed, I believe, by or on behalf of every chief in the territory.
How are the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act going to affect the First Nation governments out there?
How is it going to bring about a good partnership with the Yukon Party government? Is it going to build on that partnership? I havenít heard any answers to the questions that Iíve asked before. It was just pushed to the side. Now today my questions are worthless to the member opposite.
There was another article in the paper today about another intergovernmental accord that was signed between Alaska and the Yukon Party government. In one of the statements there it mentioned that the Gwitchin people are going to be sold short.
We hope never to see that day when we are ever going to be sold short. That is why we put out our efforts. We put everything into making sure that places in this world that are sacred to First Nation people are recognized and protected. The environment we live in, Mr. Chair, is very important to our people, so we can leave something for our children. Many of us in this environment here have children. What are we going to leave for our grandchildren?
Thereís an aggressive energy by the Yukon Party government for increased development in all areas. That, in consultation with the people of the Yukon, may see the light of day if they approach that cautiously. Thatís why we ask our questions in this House.
If this act is voted through and the changes come about, the decision is going to be made again and then after the fact the public will hear about it, will know about it. From what I understand, we can leave our next generation of young leaders, young people, with a deficit to pay. How are they going to go about doing that? How are the First Nation governments out there going to help the Yukon government address those kinds of issues? Where is it going to leave them within that partnership that they signed today or yesterday? Where is it going to leave our grandchildren 10, 15 or 20 years from now? We look forward to a boom-and-bust economy and development. Theyíre making great strides in signing these accords, and on the other hand there are people who are going to lose out. I wonder if that makes a difference. I wonder if thatís even on the minds of decision-makers here today, because definitely thatís exactly what I hear at all the meetings that are held in Old Crow.
That is the main concern. What kind of impact, what kind of effect will our decisions today have on our children tomorrow. That is the key. These changes that will come about to the Taxpayer Protection Act play a key role in all our lives, Mr. Chair, and I would ask and call on this Yukon Party government today to work with the opposition so we can have these witnesses come before this Legislature and answer some of the key questions that we have so we can make an informed decision on behalf of our constituency and on behalf of the Yukon public.
Thank you, Mr. Chair; those are my comments.
Mr. McRobb: I spoke on Thursday afternoon in support of this motion, Mr. Chair, and since that time Iíve experienced some events that have reinforced the way I felt about this motion and the act. I hope to relay that in what I have to say now.
The leader of the third party raised an interesting point about how the leader of the official opposition brought forward a heartfelt plea to everyone in this Legislature to put aside their politics and deal with this matter from their heart. Mr. Chair, Iíd like to follow up on that particular angle to start with, because I believe that what we need in this Legislature, from time to time, is some humility. We need to be humble and we need to face the facts, because we in this Legislature do not know everything, and we ought to admit that.
So, at times when we lock horns on issues, thereís a certain element of stubbornness that insinuates that one side, or perhaps both sides, in fact, know it all. Well, we on this side have confessed that we do not know it all, and that is why thereís a need to bring in some expert opinion to deal with this matter.
I would call on the members opposite to also face reality: they donít know it all either.
What we need to do is shed some light on this amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act because it strongly appears it will have long-term repercussions on the territory. Whatís wrong with a process that uncovers the truth of the matter? What is wrong with that type of a process? We say: nothing.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: When the member refers to "uncovering the truth of this matter", the member is implying that the government side has not presented a truthful argument, and I would argue that that imputes falsehoods, directly contravening the Standing Orders. Itís past practice in this House that this type of wording has not been accepted because of the inference that it implies. There has been nothing untruthful from the government side, unlike what the member is alluding to.
Chair:Order please. Pursuant to the Standing Order 19(h), it is inappropriate to charge another member with uttering a deliberate falsehood, in this instance no direct accusation was made; therefore, there is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, let this be a case in point, that not all members in this Legislature have all the answers. I think this example of the point of order not being a point of order drives that point home ó that even the Premier does not know it all. We on this side have laid it on the table; we donít know it all. Thatís why some experienced, professional, expert witnesses are required to get to the bottom of this matter.
Whatís wrong with shedding some light on this issue? People I talked to are in favour of this motion. We have pointed out that dealing with these expert witnesses will require no extra time during this sitting of the Legislature. It will still wrap up at 6:00 p.m. December 16.
Whatís wrong with bringing in these experts? Itís fair, itís open, itís honest and itís reasonable. Is the government side against those laudable goals? Well, I hope not, but it would appear so. Why should Yukoners be forced to believe the Yukon Party side of the story? Why should they be forced to believe the NDP side or the Liberal side for that matter?
I attended the Premierís budget meeting on Friday night in Haines Junction. The Premier argued in favour of the Taxpayer Protection Act in front of an audience of some 30 people. I had an opportunity to canvass people in the room later and what I heard were confessions of misunderstanding and confusion. There arenít too many people in the territory who completely understand the facts associated with this act, including us. Yet the Premier argued in favour of the Taxpayer Protection Act on Friday night.
One person did stand up and, if I can get to the point of that person, it was a call for an honest and clear picture of the repercussions in association with this amendment.
Thatís what we are asking for ó to bring in witnesses, to cut through the smoke and mirrors and get to the bottom of the matter. Letís get some expert advice.
Now, on the airwaves Friday afternoon ó the very afternoon of that eveningís meeting in Haines Junction ó we heard the Premier challenge the opposition to take it to the people. Now, thatís a laudable line, but is it appropriate in this case? I would say that itís off base in this case because what I have just related clearly indicates an example of what the publicís reaction is when you take it to the people.
Now, people do recognize the import of this amendment. People want independent expert advice without the spin. There is one way to get that, and that is to put the question to independent expert witnesses. That is what happens in a court of law or in a hearing, or even in a public forum that is provided with the resources where it can afford to do that.
Given the potential for huge, long-term costs to Yukon taxpayers, this is a small price to pay.
The Deputy Premier earlier this afternoon referred to this amendment as one small, benign amendment. Well, Mr. Chair, that reminds me of a very unfortunate incident, when a doctor told a good friend of mine that her cancer was benign. Within a year, that person had died of full-blown cancer.
The example Iíve cited, Iím sure, can be supported by the testimonials of others who have similar stories to tell. What is benign one day, Mr. Chair, can be very significant at some point in the future not too far away.
This so-called small, benign amendment is more likely to be the thin edge of the wedge, the first step down the slippery slope. Itís a door breaker. It lets the genie out of the bottle. It plunges headfirst into boom-and-bust economies.
Mr. Chair, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin spoke about the boom-and-bust economies. We all know that things are fine when itís a boom but, when itís a bust, it can be very bad.
Some of the ramifications of a bust economy are all remaining taxpayers being stuck paying for the high cost of infrastructure that was built during the boom years. That further punishes the people who decide to brave it out under such severe circumstances. Is that what Yukoners want? Well, for one thing, Yukoners havenít been asked the question because this amendment, this whole notion of putting a territory into debt, was not raised during the election campaign only a year ago. And that is why a former Premier has come out so adamantly against this act ó thatís at least one of the reasons. Itís not the right thing to do.
I spoke to a local accountant earlier this afternoon and this person, who is very experienced in his profession and is very reputable, raised the subject of the Taxpayer Protection Act with me. So I asked him what he thought. Well, this person compared it to the Enron example. He cited how it would allow government to pile up the debt and to keep piling up the debt and how that compared to what Enron did and his conclusion was that this was wrong.
Itís building a house out of cards, Mr. Chair; itís building a house on a hollow foundation. We get back to that boom-and-bust cycle analogy.
Now, I noticed the Premier is getting a little rambunctious. Maybe heíll get up and treat us to another little speech instead of remaining in his chair, calling for the question. That would be good, because that would be an indication that we were somewhat successful in drawing him into this debate instead of ducking out on the matter. He owes this to Yukoners; he owes this to the people who came out to see him on Friday night, people who left with the glazed-doughnut look because they were treated to more confusion at the hands of the Premier, not more clarity.
Now, what about the Deputy Premier, Mr. Chair? We heard today of an example of a $5,000 campaign donation and what type of payback it might provide. Well, what about if the government is allowed to go into debt to roll the dice with Yukonersí future? What type of investments will we see come forward at that time? Will they be in the public good? Will they be in the public trust? What if itís a desperate government in the last throes of a term and it knows itís going to slaughterhouse on election day? What are we likely to see then, Mr. Chair? What types of decisions are likely to be made then? Now, I remind you of the inaugural Yukon Party government, when it talked about the railroad to Carmacks or the coal plant at Braeburn. Now, perhaps the former government leader has a conscience. Perhaps he, too, has seen the light, as this Premier has. Perhaps he knows that with this amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act, had it been in force back in 1995-96 ó he knows the terrible state the Yukon would be in today.
Maybe that was a driving force in bringing him to speak publicly against this motion. But will we know without this man appearing before this Legislature? Without these other expert witnesses? Itís not certain that we will.
Maybe that in itself is the reason for the Yukon Party to be voting down this motion. They donít want to face this harsh reality that is likely to happen. I say, "Shame on this government." Shame on this government for not allowing due process for light to be shed on the important questions.
Had the railroad to Carmacks been built, it would have placed taxpayers in the Yukon in tremendous debt ó a debt that we wouldnít see cleared for decades yet to come. Similarly, on a huge coal plant, the electrical ratepayers would be placed into debt for decades to come. On previous occasions in this House, I have indicated that the rate impact would have been something in the magnitude of a quadrupling in power rates, had that coal plant been built at the time.
Currently, we have a glut of electricity on our system. What good would a coal plant be? It would only add to the wasted power available. These are the types of examples that drive home the fallacy of putting the territory into huge debt for what could be short-term gain at the cost of long-term pain.
Obviously this government is scared of what might happen if light can be shed. Itís scared of being exposed on this act. The Deputy Premier said this is something the NDP can hang its hat on. I agree on that point. We can hang our hat on this. Furthermore, if these witnesses exonerate this government, if they back up what this government has said on the act, I will eat my hat. Furthermore, I will eat my hat at a Yukon Party fundraising event; I will do it.
Chair: Itís past our normal time for recess. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Chair: Weíll sit in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, in listening to the debate, I must first put on the record what this is really all about coming from the opposition benches and itís called filibuster. Itís a tactic used by opposition members to try and stall the passage of a piece of legislation and/or an appropriation bill by the use of motions brought to the floor of the Assembly. I think once we establish that, then we can delve into the points that the members are trying to make and I think thatís a critical area that must be addressed, considering the amount of substance, or lack of substance, and the amount of rhetoric with lack of substance that has been put on the record.
I first want to address something that points directly to that issue of lack of substance and the fact that this is nothing more than a filibuster. First off, we on the government side do not take issue with bringing witnesses to the House on any given situation when it comes to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, when it comes to the corporations. That precedent has been set. But when it comes to this issue, I would point out to the members opposite: do not be too hasty to dismiss the skill sets and the knowledge and the expertise of our own financial officials. In fact, I would submit that the members opposite are, with motivation, ignoring that expertise that was provided them.
Now, the members opposite had a long and detailed briefing on this very simple amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act, and I think thatís something they should put on the record ó that that briefing obviously was something theyíve totally dismissed. They are ignoring the expertise and the skill sets of the finance officials, who, by the way, have a duty and an obligation to prepare the finances of government on behalf of the Yukon taxpayer in the correct and acceptable accounting procedures ó exactly what weíre doing with the amendment.
But let me first refer to some of the comments by the Member for Kluane. The Member for Kluane somehow, by some quirk, has suddenly connected the issue of Enron with what weíre doing in an amendment. I think itís important that we expose this because, again, it points directly to filibustering to stall a passage of a fairly simple piece of legislation. The member said that what weíre doing can be likened to Enron and debt. Well, let me tell you, Mr. Chair, the failure of Enron was their failure to correctly report their liabilities. They reported liabilities off the balance sheet ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair:Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I would point out that the Premier is putting words in my mouth. What I clearly said was that the accountant likened this matter to Enron. I would draw your attention to a ruling made on November 20, in this Legislature, by the Speaker, when he said that he would urge all members to not put expressions or words on the record that another member has allegedly said when obviously that member has not said them. I submit that this is a classic example of that ruling.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There is no point of order. Thereís just an ego that has been challenged; thatís all.
Chair:The Chair finds that there is no point of order here. Itís merely a dispute among members.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. As I was saying, the member alluded to some connection here with our simple amendment and the situation Enron found itself in. I made the point that Enronís problem was failing to correctly report their liabilities. They were reporting or keeping liabilities off balance sheets, and that leads me to what is very vital and one of the most important aspects of the amendment. Past governments here in the territory were actually doing the same thing.
So the member, in making that statement, must reflect back on how governments have been reporting off balance sheet liabilities. Need we go into the post-employment benefit issue? Thatís a serious issue and it resulted in qualified audits from the Auditor General of this country because the liabilities were not reported correctly.
And letís look into another matter. The member talks about debt. Well, I would reiterate that the debt issue is a non-issue and has no relevance to the amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act because weíre not dealing with debt here. Weíre dealing with deficit and/or surplus. But the member makes the point of debt. And letís talk about debt.
Letís talk about the immigrant investor fund, reporting liabilities and debt, the off balance sheet ó you show any Yukoner a budget document, and nowhere will they see that the Yukon taxpayer owes $15 million to the immigrant investor fund. That little trick was used to work outside of the Taxpayer Protection Act by borrowing money from the immigrant investor fund ó $15 million ó investing the money through a numbered company into an infrastructure project in the Yukon, which the Member for Kluane seems to have a problem with today ó an infrastructure project.
The point is, and the important issue is, it was done off balance sheet. It was not done on the budget. But that committed future Yukoners ó future budgets ó to have to pay that debt back ó $50 million in debt on that one project this year. Our payment is a balloon payment of $9 million. Thatís not reported in the membersí past budgets when in government. And thatís the issue here when we look at what the members opposite are really doing in opposition. Theyíre filibustering, merely to stall the passage of a bill.
But itís at their peril, Mr. Chair, because there is some $95.5 million of expenditure to be debated in this fall sitting ó millions into social programs, millions into job creation and benefit for Yukoners.
I also want to point something else out. The member opposite put on the record the issue of costs in power production, and I find that interesting.
Considering the fact that the Member for Kluane basically forced a government of the day to spend $4 million extra on ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair:Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I would say the Premier has stooped to the level of ridiculousness. There is no point of order, and I would caution the Member for Klondike to remain in his chair while a member is standing on a point of order.
There is a point of order. I was a backbencher at the same time the Member for Watson Lake was, and we cannot force a government to do anything, just as these backbenchers arenít driving the Yukon Party bus this time. So there is a point of order here; I misspoke myself by saying it wasnít. There is a point of order, and the Premier should not stoop to such levels, especially when heís not clear or clean in his past record either.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There is no point of order, Mr. Chair. There is just a dispute between members. Once again, the Member for Kluaneís ego is being challenged.
But on this issue of burning diesel, to placate the Member for Kluane, the last foot of the water licence at Aishihik Lake was not used ó which cost $4 million to the Yukon public, the Yukon ratepayer, in burning diesel. Thatís a serious situation, considering the member opposite also has property at Aishihik Lake. Now, I say that because the member opposite has also put on the floor ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I would caution you to exercise the powers that are enabled to you to prevent anyone in this Legislature, particularly the Premier, from casting aspersions and motives of profit against any other member in this House. Furthermore, the facts on which these allegations are based are completely wrong, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Once again, what we are seeing here is a dispute between members. There is no point of order, Mr. Chair. The Member for Kluaneís ego is being tarnished.
Chair:Order please. The Chair has no knowledge of the situation that the member referred to earlier. However, it appears that the member was imputing a conflict of interest. I would ask all members to be very conscious of this ó all members ó that imputing false or unavowed motives is improper in this Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, I made that point to show the contrast here of what is going on in relation to this debate, because itís the members opposite who put on the floor of this Legislature that somehow a campaign donation to a candidate running in an election had influenced a decision by government in regard to a mine site in the Member for Klondikeís riding.
I suggest to the members opposite that they would be well-served on behalf of the Yukon public to stick to items of substance in debate. We all know that campaign donations are fully disclosed, very public, and we all know that, given that full disclosure, any influence on government decision-making is simply not the case.
Letís move on. Back to the immigrant investor fund, the members opposite continually point to the fact that somehow this simple amendment is going to put the Yukon into debt when thatís already what has been happening in this territory to get around the punitive measures in the Taxpayer Protection Act. Letís look at what the third party accomplished, and I think the reference was boom-and-bust cycle. When it comes to the immigrant investmeor fund and that project, the boom was building the project; the bust is the taxpayers are now going to pay for that project.
The third party entered into a long-term rental agreement committing the Yukon taxpayer over a 10-year period to $6 million for rent on a building. That was one of the member oppositeís flagship economic development projects ó duly noted, for the public, that this was a major construction. In all likelihood, the building itself cost far less than the $6 million rent the Yukon taxpayer is going to pay. In fact, if the member would have had the benefit of the punitive measures removed from the Taxpayer Protection Act, the member could obviously have entered into a public/private partnership where a lot less cost to the taxpayer would have been incurred and, at the end of it, the Yukon taxpayer would have owned that facility, that piece of infrastructure.
But again, this was done in an attempt to reduce the pressures on the surplus/deficit position of government because of the Taxpayer Protection Actís punitive measures.
I want to go into some detail here, because I know the members opposite were provided a very informed briefing by expertise in the government within the Department of Finance. I want to read something as it relates to the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
What it says ó and maybe this will help the debate, so I offer it in that spirit and that intent ó "This amendment ensures that the accounting policies and procedures of the Government of Yukon used in the preparation of the non-consolidated public accounts that are used for the purposes of the Taxpayer Protection Act follow the recommendations of the Public Sector Accounting Board of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants."
This is important; the next statement: "The current act states that regardless of what the recommendations say, there are three exemptions." Regardless of what the recommendations say, there are three exemptions, and thatís where this amendment comes into play.
The first is that non-consolidated financial statements, as opposed to the consolidated financial statements, must be used. The second is that capital assets, except inventories and land held for sale, must be charged to expenditures and not capitalized. The critical element here, Mr. Chair, when we deal with this simple, operational bookkeeping amendment is this statement: the capital assets, except inventories and land held for sale, must be charged to expenditures and not capitalized ó critical to the debate.
Iím sure in their briefing that the members opposite were provided an in-depth look into what that means. The third ó and this is important, because in the Member for Kluaneís comments about Enron and somehow, some quirk out of his mind, comparing Enron to this amendment ó itís all about not reporting the liabilities correctly. And here it is, "The third exception is that the provision for employee leave and termination benefits must not exceed $30 million", even though they are in excess of $30 million. That is why Yukon governments in the past have been qualified in their audited statements; they have not correctly reported the liabilities of government. So the amendments are very operational. The amendments really put the Yukon back in line with standard accounting procedures, and the amendments allow us to benefit from capitalizing our assets through full accrual accounting.
So in a bit of a recap, we know that all jurisdictions in the country are going to a full accrual accounting system. When the members ask to bring in witnesses, we know that their opinion and their view and their positions are on the public record. And I say to you, Mr. Chair, what more needs to be said? Letís talk about it. This is the Auditor General. In talking about full accrual accounting, itís the standard and the basis of accounting thatís used by the private sector and has been used by the private sector for decades. And I quite frankly think if they can do it, governments can do it. I think the main advantage is that it gives a more complete picture, as I mentioned, of the governmentís financial situation, so people can clearly see the assets that it owns.
We are making the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act so we are the beneficiaries of this much more clear financial statement and providing the Yukon taxpayer with a firm understanding of the finances and the fiscal situation their territory is in.
The Auditor General also said, and this is important, "It doesnít change the underlying financial situation of government." In other words, it doesnít change the fact, as weíve stated all along, that the Taxpayer Protection Actís integrity is not compromised. We still cannot go into an accumulated deficit ó not at all. We still canít go into debt, as weíve pointed out time and time again. Thatís a federal direction and federal controls that deal with that.
The Auditor General says itís just a different way of reflecting it so it doesnít really change government situations, and I think that this is an important issue for all of us to understand.
The members opposite are filibustering, Mr. Chair. The members opposite, if they truly wanted to delve into a debate of substance on this issue, would start the debate around why so many governments in the past ó the past two, to be sure ó have done so much work on public/private partnerships. There has to be a reason, and now that weíre making these simple amendments, now that weíll be the beneficiary of those amendments by removing the punitive measures but maintaining the controls on behalf of the taxpayer in terms of accumulated deficit, why arenít we debating what we can do with these benefits that we now have?
Why are we debating what projects the members opposite think would be useful and important to the Yukon public? We will go out in a very public, transparent process in this area to ensure that the input of Yukoners, First Nation governments and other stakeholders are part of what weíre doing. Weíre talking about infrastructure that will not only help to lay the groundwork for long-term, responsible development, but will be a benefit and asset to the Yukon public.
Mr. Chair, many other issues have been brought forward in this debate in this context of filibustering, and I want to address some of the issues of the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, who I know ó I know ó is genuinely concerned about her people, their history, their culture, their future. And I can say that this accord ó the member brought up the intergovernmental accord with Alaska ó does not in any way, shape or form commit the Yukon government to change its position in support of the Vuntut Gwitchin people in their efforts to protect the Porcupine caribou herd. It does not in any way ó in fact, today publicly, at the signing, the Yukon government, represented by me, made the announcement clearly, with the Governor standing at our side, that the Yukon governmentís position has not changed because of this accord, nor will it.
I hope that that somewhat assists the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin because I, as does our government, share her concerns about the future of the Porcupine caribou herd.
But there is much more to be done in this sitting rather than filibustering and going in endless circular discourse. I think it would better serve the Yukon public to address it in that way ó letís be more substantive and get on with conducting the business of this House on behalf of the Yukon public.
The members opposite are so concerned about an act and an amendment to an act that they never supported in the first place. I would suggest that they go to work out there in the public and see what kind of response they would get.
We will proceed with the amendment.
Mr. Hardy: My granddaughter learned a new word the other day. Itís "dog", and so she repeats the word over and over and over in all kinds of different contexts and in listening to the Minister of Finance use the word "filibustering", it reminds me of my granddaughter, because it sounds like he just learned that word, and he wants to say it at least 20 or 30 times in every address that he gives to the House.
I would like to assure him in all good faith that we are not filibustering. We are doing our job on this side, and we are very concerned about the changes that are being made. Just like his argument that this is just a simple amendment, a simple change, we donít see it that way, and Iíd like to also assure him that we happen to have the right to take that opposing view, whether he likes it or not. Thank goodness heís not the leader of this party any more, because we donít have to listen to that kind of dictatorial type of address that he seems to so love to give to everybody. I can imagine what itís like in the Yukon Party caucus where everybody chatters away then all look toward the former member of the NDP to see if they got it right. And if they get a nod and a wink, then everything is good and if they donít, they had better behave.
Itís nothing new to hear the rhetoric from the member opposite. Itís unfortunate that he did not address the one issue that we have been bringing up on a regular basis, and thatís consultation with the people of the Yukon. He obviously has a very low regard for the people of the Yukon if he wonít even back off from this amendment and take it to the people. Instead he wants to do it. The Premier wants to get his hands on a substantial amount of money and then heíll go to the people after his pockets are filled.
Thereís no use going around and around and around the block on this one. Itís obvious that the Yukon Party does not believe in proper consultation, does not believe in working with the opposition, will not allow us to bring other perspectives into the House to question, and thatís only indicative of an attitude that exists among the people who were elected on that side of the House. And theyíre going to have to pay for it very, very soon.
There are a lot of issues that we need to debate. Iím not sure if we should be debating them in the motion, so Iím going to say some of them. The Premier mentioned a briefing. Now, Iím not sure if the room is bugged or something, but he seems to think that he knows exactly what happened in the briefing and maybe we have to check to make sure that the briefings that we receive are a personal and private briefing and theyíre not something that the Premier gets briefed on, on exactly what was said in those things. If they are, then thereís a serious betrayal of trust at that level. We canít have that. We have to be able to talk freely in these types of briefings and not feel that everything we say is reported back to the Premier. That would be a shame; that would be an attack upon democracy in this territory.
Now, my colleague from Kluane did reference Enron, and of course the Premier knows exactly why Enron failed. He seems to understand very well all the bankruptcies and collapses of these big multinationals, and all the power to him. Iíd like to correct him a little bit. I think Enron collapsed because of greed, very simply, pure and simple greed, which led to a very dishonest set of books, a dishonest accounting.
It was motivated by human greed, and thatís what drove it. I unfortunately have a feeling that some of these changes that are being proposed are also motivated by that.
The Premier initially, years ago, when I would consider he was with a more enlightened party, talked that he believed in paying as you go. It seems that that is not even part of his vocabulary any more. Paying as you go is no good any more. Letís run up massive debt. It doesnít take much to explain this. You go into a contractual agreement to purchase a house. The house is built for you. You borrow the money ó it could be the bank that builds your house through the construction company. You make payments over so many years to purchase the house back ó thatís pretty simple. In a very simple term, thatís not that far off from a public/private deal.
Yet the Premier seems to have a hard time understanding what debt is about. He also seems to have a hard time understanding what having to make payments over the next 20 or 30 years really means. For some reason, he loves to talk about how this is not debt; this is not deficit; this is not ó I donít know; maybe he needs to give us the magical words that he seems to accept on what it really is if you actually owe another entity money. What is it called? Maybe there is something out there that is brand new ó kind of like his love of the word "filibustering". Well, maybe he will have a new one that will come out and he can work that one to death as well.
He has mentioned the one-stop shop on many, many occasions. We know why that is being done. Itís to get a nice, quick, easy dig in at the previous Liberal government. I donít agree with the one-stop shop either. I put that on record. I think it was a crappy deal.
Itís a shame that we wonít own the building at the end of the day. Itís ridiculous. However, heís wrong in thinking that we have to enter into a public/private partnership in order to have had that building built for the Yukon government. The government had the funds to build a building of their own if they wished, and it wouldnít have put the government in debt. There is obviously a substantial amount of surplus. They could have gone out and bought their own land, built their own building and had a place for as long as they wanted it, similar to the building weíre standing in today. Maybe the government should be building a few of their own buildings so we donít have these huge, astronomical lease agreements continuing to grow.
At some point, the taxpayers wouldnít mind owning some of this stuff. So, if thatís what heís proposing, I donít have any problem with that. My concern ó and I think Iím going to save it for the debate after the motion, because I would like to see this brought to a vote now. The members on the other side have indicated exactly where theyíre at. Most of them, Mr. Chair, havenít spoken to the motion because I think they would get lost in the wording of it. Itís too hard to grasp that you would want consultation and you would want to bring expert advice in here.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Member for Whitehorse Centre is, pursuant to Standing Orders 19(g) ó this is unavowed motives heís imputing to the members of this side of the House. Thatís not fair; itís not reasonable and very unparliamentary.
Chair:The Chair finds that thereís no point of order here.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I donít believe there was a point of order either. I guess I could say what the Member for Klondike kept saying to my colleague from Kluane ó that it was just an ego being bruised ó or he called it a tarnished part of me, but I wonít say that, of course.
However, there is a tremendous amount of debate we need to enter into, and I agree on one thing with the Premier, and that is that we need to enter into a debate on privatization. Thatís what I really look forward to because at that point ó I will take him up on his word that heís going to make it a public issue to talk about privatization. I will expect that, otherwise it will be just another word, and we canít have that. People donít expect politicians to behave in that manner.
So, saying all that, I look forward to the members on the other side supporting this motion.
Chair: If members would allow the Chair to put forward the question first, please.
Is there any further debate on Committee of the Whole Motion No. 3?
Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Hardy, on a point of order.
Mr. Hardy: Iíd like some clarification, if you would. Do we call for division in Committee of the Whole on this, or do we call for a standing count?
Chair: In Committee we conduct a standing count.
Chair:Division has been called.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I request the unanimous consent of the Committee that we have a recorded vote on this matter.
Unanimous consent re recorded vote on Committee of the Whole Motion No. 3
Chair:Mr. McRobb has requested unanimous consent of the Committee to hold a recorded vote. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Chair: There is not unanimous consent.
Chair:It has been moved by the MLA for Whitehorse Centre
THAT prior to the Committee of the Whole reporting Bill No. 36, entitled Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, the following persons or their designates be requested to appear before Committee of the Whole to discuss matters relating to Bill No. 36:
(1) Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada;
(2) Walter Robinson, Canadian Taxpayersí Federation;
(3) Charles Sanderson, former Deputy Minister of Finance, Government of Yukon;
(4) John Ostashek, former Minister of Finance, Government of Yukon.
All those in favour please rise.
Chair: All those opposed please rise.
Chair: The results of the poll are five yea and 10 nay.
Committee of the Whole Motion No. 3 negatived
Chair: We will continue on with general debate on Bill No. 36.
Ms. Duncan: Before we digressed into the motion, I was engaged in general debate with the ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: As I said, Mr. Chair, before we digressed into a very worthwhile discussion on a positive motion that was unfortunately defeated by the government, the Premier, Finance minister, and I were engaged in a discussion and just walking through some of the arguments and some of the background for the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act. And I wonít go on at great length; Iíd just like to review a couple of points, and perhaps the Finance minister has some additional information.
The initial indication had been that there was a suggestion from the Auditor General that required changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. What weíve established is, in fact, that the Public Sector Accounting Board has recommended that governments go to full accrual accounting or the capitalization of assets, as has the Auditor General. The Government of Yukon is intending to do this. The Premier and I agreed that this work had been done for some time in accounting for Yukonís assets, and we had an approximation of $300 million for those assets. We donít have an approximation figure for accounting for the liabilities, including environmental liabilities. In the capitalization of assets, the work has not yet been completed on bridges, highways and airstrips.
The other point that we discussed at length was the way the budget will be shown, and I was asking the Premier to indicate ó the long-term financial forecast now thatís tabled with the budget shows how much money will be left in the surplus at the end of each year and the last long-term financial plan tabled by the Yukon Party government showed a substantial decrease in the surplus and then it started to rise again toward the end of their mandate.
The issue around this of course is that the Taxpayer Protection Act prevents governments from taking the territory into an accumulated deficit. That being the case, the difficulty with the amendment as proposed is that the Government of Yukon is moving the goalposts, moving the amount shown in the surplus. Thatís the problem in the act. The Finance minister and I disagree with the problem with the amendments, and thatís where the Finance minister and I disagree.
There are a couple of outstanding questions. The Finance minister was quite concerned and suggested at length when we were last in debate that in presenting these arguments I was ragging the puck. To avoid that charge by the Finance minister, I would like to ask the Finance minister a couple of straightforward yes-or-no questions that perhaps he would be inclined to answer.
Could he explain for the House ó since we wonít have the benefit of addressing a former Minister of Finance, Mr. Ostashek, directly ó could he explain, in the Finance ministerís view, why he feels that Mr. Ostashek is opposed to these changes, and does he believe he is wrong?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have stated all along that any citizen in this territory has a right to voice an opinion. In this case, the gentleman in question voiced an opinion. It is also the same gentleman who, when in government ó as the Government Leader/Premier ó brought forward the Taxpayer Protection Act under circumstances dramatically different from today.
However, it has been evident since that time that the punitive measures in the Taxpayer Protection Act resulted in a number of different methods of working off balance sheet to maintain a situation of accumulated surplus versus getting close to the line of accumulated deficit.
So any citizen is entitled to their opinion. I do not judge peopleís opinions on right-or-wrong measurements. We as a government are exercising political will to make a decision on behalf of the tax-paying public to do a number of things, not to mention correctly reporting our liabilities, showing a clearer financial picture, but also to open up options for us to increase the spending power in this territory by partnering with the private sector for instance.
Ms. Duncan: I would appreciate a more direct answer from the Finance minister. In the past, he has been very fond of asking me yes-or-no questions, and this is a very straightforward question. He said that everyone in the territory is entitled to their opinion. He clearly has a difference of opinion with the former leader of the Yukon Party. Why does he feel there is a difference? Why does he feel that the architect of this act has said these amendments are wrong? Where is the difference of opinion?
The voters ó constituents in the Yukon ó would like to know why the current and former leaders of the Yukon Party disagree. What is the point of disagreement?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, first, let me correct the record ó itís the third party that wants to know. And on this question, we have a different opinion ó period. I donít judge or prejudge any citizen of this territoryís opinion as being right or wrong. They are entitled to that opinion. We the government, though, have a duty and responsibility to deliver, on behalf of the Yukon public, an agenda that we were elected to do.
We clearly stated that we would maintain the Taxpayer Protection Act. Weíre doing that. We also clearly committed to use budgeting to help stimulate the economy and lay groundwork for what will be a long-term, responsible and sustainable development of our economy.
These are things that we committed to do, and weíre delivering on them.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has said that everyone has a right to their opinion and that the government promised they would maintain the Taxpayer Protection Act. The difference of opinion is that the government is not maintaining the Taxpayer Protection Act. Theyíre taking the protection out of the Taxpayer Protection Act. Thatís the problem. Thatís where the difference of opinion is between the two leaders of the Yukon Party.
The current Finance minister says that they were elected to deal with the economy and to use budgeting to stimulate the economy. Itís interesting that he has also stood on the floor of the House and said government spending isnít an economy. So he contradicts himself when he responds.
The problem is that the difference of opinion between the two leaders of the Yukon Party is whether or not the protection in the Taxpayer Protection Act is being maintained and whether or not the government, in their view of spending money, is in fact going on a spending spree, and that appears to be the intention.
Iíve asked the Finance minister before about what the new books will look like, and I asked before if he would keep two sets of books or if it would all be rolled into one, and his answer is that we donít need to keep two or three sets of books.
So will the Premier commit ó April 1, 2004 is when these changes will be made ó to presenting the Yukoners information that is directly comparable with the previous year? Will he agree to, in fact, keep the two sets of books that are required so that Yukoners can truly keep track of the finances of the territory?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think that I have to correct the record for the member opposite and the leader of the third party. We are not contradicting ourselves at all. In fact, itís quite simple: government must budget in a way that entices investment from the private sector. That is much about what we are doing. We have changed the direction of the territory, not only on policy matters, but also on where we target our expenditures. We did that by first coming into office, recognizing the situation that we were in fiscally, making a very limited amount of restraint the order of the day, and then went to work in building up the surplus to a level beyond what we were left with, to be sure ó almost $50 million has been added this year to the surplus. Now we are broadening our ability to stimulate the economy with private/sector investment.
As far as the books, everything will show in the non-consolidated statements now, outside of the Yukon Development Corporation. So, we are providing a much clearer picture of the Yukon finances to the public, through the budget.
The member opposite makes a lot of comment about what format. We are looking at a number of options of what the format would be. The issue of liabilities that the member brought up ó thatís a work in progress. Of course, with this system, we will be reporting the correct liabilities. I think, all in all, we are, in this territory, heading to a new era, not only economically, but certainly we are showing how sharp our social conscience is in the amount of expenditures and the amount of focus and attention paid to our social fabric, but also our economy. The future now is one of not being mortgaged, as it was in the past with such things as the one-stop shop and the immigrant investor fund. The future now is one where we will build it in partnership with the First Nations, other governments, and the private sector.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Finance minister said the government must budget in a way to entice the private sector. What has been agreed to in this House previously ó and publicly agreed ó and what the private sector will tell any government, no matter what the political stripe, over and over again, that whatís required to entice the private sector to the territory is certainty ó certainty thatís generated by knowledge that all government grant or loan programs will be administered fairly and the certainty of settled land claims ó settled within the framework of the law, the constitutionally recognized Umbrella Final Agreement.
Certainty came with devolution so we also have the ability to have the Premier sign the water licences. Thatís what certainty is. Certainty is what attracts the private sector, not governments that operate outside the rules, not governments that move the goalposts. Thatís the difference.
The Premier says that what will be presented to Yukoners is the non-consolidated financial statements ó the budget as we have always seen it. Will he also agree that, no matter which format they end up choosing, the surplus will actually reflect the capitalization of assets, and the surplus will reflect the fact that, as itís shown in the non-consolidated, the surplus figure will reflect what the government owns? Will he agree that that is what will be presented in the format, since he seems unwilling to give any more information about the format?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The format that will be chosen out of the number of options weíre looking at will conform to the capitalization policy.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you for confirming that the surplus will now reflect the fact that we have approximately $300 million in assets. So weíll be looking at a $361 million surplus; therefore, the deficit, whatever amount the government chooses to spend, will show over time far more than the $61 million surplus thatís actually present today. The Premier has not agreed to keep two sets of books so that Yukoners will be able to fully and fairly compare and to see when that tripwire finally does get activated and the Premier calls an election.
Iíd like to move on from this fact. The Premier has finally shared with the Legislature and the Yukon public that the set of books on April 1, 2004, will be different, will reflect a substantial surplus, and that as a result of that itís going to be some time before any deficit is accumulated to the point of where there would be the trigger of an election call. He has moved the goalposts with this amendment.
Weíve had a lengthy discussion previously and the Premier has spoken often of debt versus deficit and discussed the federal order-in-council that limits our borrowing. I have been witness many times to the Northwest Territories asking the federal government to increase their borrowing ability. Will the Premier of the Yukon and Finance minister today, on the floor of this House, commit that he will not ask the Finance minister, the Government of Canada, to increase our borrowing power in that OIC? Will he commit to that today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think whatís at issue here is that, firstly, we as a government have absolutely no problem with the federal government, via order-in-council, dictating and controlling the debt that can be incurred by the Yukon. Today, the $86-million debt that we have, we inherited. It came to us from past governments. Our focus is to work with the federal government through our business case ó that is a very comprehensive model of the financial situation and formula in the Yukon and where the disincentives are, and why we should be looking at how to solve and fix those disincentives, and the deficiencies in the transfer.
Itís all about ensuring that the federal government is fairly distributing the wealth of this country in a manner that allows jurisdictions like the Yukon to grow, prosper and build up self-sufficiency so that we diminish or reduce our dependence on the southern taxpayer and the federal government and become more and more of a contributor to this country.
We have the potential. Thereís no question about it. The tremendous opportunity in this territory and its potential is there. We have a wealth of talent among our citizens, who are prepared to go to work. We have a huge amount of interest of investment capital out there. We are embarking on a new era of partnership with our First Nation governments. We are embarking on a new era of cooperation and collaboration with our neighbours, both to the west and to the east. And we are working on this business case with Ottawa in a new era of cooperation with the federal government.
This government has already made significant changes. The members opposite talked about no new ideas. Iíve just listed a number of them.
What the results of this will be, Mr. Chair, is our ability to grow our economy and provide a better life for our citizens. Thatís what this is about, and we intend to do that. As far as the memberís issue about getting the federal government to change the order-in-council, that has not even been discussed with the federal government. Weíre much too busy increasing surplus by doing the undercount and presenting to them the business case on the removal of disincentives in the formula.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, that circular argument just presented by the Finance minister did not address the question. Iíd like to ask it in two parts. First of all, the information, the backgrounder, that was handed out by the Department of Finance with reference to deficit and debt shows that the Government of Yukon has a long-term debt in excess of $8 million. Now the Premier stands on his feet and says itís $86 million, and the public accounts show $31 million, including some Yukon Housing Corporation mortgages. So would he kindly outline for the House the precise nature of what heís terming this $86 million in debt?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíd be happy to, Mr. Chair. The value of debt that I have put on the floor of the House includes everything, including the Housing Corporation and the other corporations, the immigrant investor fund, the whole thing. It shows, when accounted for in full, that we are at approximately $86 million in debt. That includes Yukon government of some $3.77 million; Yukon Housing Corporation, $20,141,000; plus CMHC of $4,563,000.
We have YDC, a federal portion of $29,000,057; "other", itís called, is $14,434,000; and we have whatís called the YGFL, which is the immigrant investor fund, of $15 million. So if you go down the general, it totals to $82,409,000. If you take the CMHC portion of $4,563,000, add them together ó because thatís the total debt ó itís $86 million plus, almost $87 million.
Ms. Duncan: Of which a good portion of that $29 million is the federal portion of the YDC, and the Premier previously stated the non-consolidated financial statements will not show YDC.
Iíd like to just ask a question while the other ministers are in the House at the same time. The Premier has stood on his feet and said the government shouldnít be in the loan business and has talked at great length about this debt. The Yukon Housing Corporation has a significant public policy role to play in qualifying first-time mortgage buyers, and thatís a substantial amount of mortgage money they have out.
Is the Premier ó given his earlier remarks about concern over debt and this amount ó suggesting that weíre going to get out of the loans business through Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, Yukon Housing Corporation is exactly that: a corporation that was set up years and years ago. Weíre talking about apples and oranges here. Weíre talking about past governments that doled out money through loans to the public, that are in a situation weíre dealing with today ó 15-plus years of history here.
I see no correlation to the Yukon Housing Corporation whatsoever. Thatís a different issue altogether. All Iím doing is pointing out on the floor of the Legislature our total amount of debt. The member opposite stood on the floor and spoke eloquently about how the Yukon isnít in debt, doesnít have debt. Well, I beg to differ: it does have debt, and itís almost $87-million worth.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to thank the Finance minister for referring to my speeches as eloquent. I donít think he has done that before. Thank you.
The second part of that question was about going to the federal government to increase the borrowing power. As Iíve said, I have witnessed the Northwest Territories do this time and time again, at finance ministers meetings. It seems to me that their debt figure is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300 million. I havenít seen a recent public account statement, but thatís a very large figure.
Will the Finance minister tell us in this House today whether he intends to seek additional borrowing power from the federal government? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would submit that itís no, because I stated to the member opposite moments ago that our focus is on making the business case in Ottawa, not to go into debt beyond where we are at, but to remove disincentives in the formula so that all the other areas that we are working on to grow Yukonís economy are not impeded by disincentives in the transfer.
Growth is important in any economy. No growth, limited economy ó stagnant, in fact.
Our focus is the business case, economic development agreement. But we have no intention of focusing on the issue of changing the debt levels that are OICíd by Ottawa. But I would point out to the member opposite ó the member should well know this ó that there are corporations out there that have the latitude in terms of borrowing where controls are somewhat difficult. But, again, letís focus specifically on government and what we do. That is to say that we are not interested in forging ahead with debt. We are more interested in partnering in the private sector for investment so that we can build a future here. I think that this is much of what this is about, and we add to that the business case that we are making in Ottawa to do a couple of things: remove disincentives and create an economic development agreement with ourselves and the other two territories.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there are two reasons why Iím not convinced by the Finance minister. First and foremost it is because he ties in the formula and the perversity factor of the formula to this argument, and the perversity factor that he quoted was 1.3 the other day. My understanding is that it was 1.05 or less when we were in office. So, first of all, would he clarify exactly what the perversity factor is today? Secondly, the Finance ministerís use of the word "but" ó itís a giant eraser. It erases immediately what has gone before. He said, "We have no interest in going to the federal government, butÖ" I believe the Finance minister does have an interest in going to the federal government, and Iíd like him to tell the House how much he is going to seek. Or if he absolutely is not going to go to the federal government ó and Iím sorry, but there are a number of times when there have been commitments on the floor of this House in black and white that have been not held to. If he is in fact going and will tell us today how much more he is asking for, will he submit that to the public scrutiny of the Legislature? Will he ask us before he asks the new Finance minister, whomever it may be?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, let me just point out that today the factor is 1.3. Thatís what it is, or very close to it. Secondly, the business case is important because, as we proved in health care, a per capita formula, as part of the equation, is very problematic for small jurisdictions like the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Part of the agreement that we achieved with the Prime Minister of Canada was not only to establish for health care a special fund of $20 million, but also the commitment to delve into the disincentives and the inadequacies in the formula. Itís not a question about asking for more money. Itís an issue about dealing with Ottawa in a very business-like fashion to improve our ability to grow in this territory, especially economically.
Ms. Duncan: The disincentives in the formula, the perversity factor and the issue around the formula and the transfer payments for provinces was already on the table and was already dealt with and discussed at length so I would suggest that the Finance minister has a new Prime Minister to deal with, or will have in 11 days. Iím interested to know and Iím sure he will tell us if he has had any discussions with Mr. Martin on this discussion, who I would dare to suggest knows the formula and the transfer payment subject better than just about anybody.
It will be interesting to see how the argument develops over the coming months.
The Finance minister of the Yukon has not answered the question: how much are you going to ask for? How much is the Government of Yukon going to seek to increase our borrowing power under this federal OIC? He makes reference many times to a joint case. I know the Northwest Territories made the case many times. Is the government seeking a removal totally, a renegotiation? What exactly are they going for with respect to that order-in-council and will the Finance minister put it to the floor of this House before he seeks it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I must admit that the third party has me as confused as the member opposite is herself.
Weíre not talking about the OIC levels of debt. Weíre talking about the formula and the business case we are making in Ottawa as per committed by the Government of Canada. Theyíre very interested in dealing with this, because I think the Government of Canada is wanting to find ways to reduce our dependency and reduce their exposure.
So what we weíre dealing with is a sensible, logical, business-like approach with the federal government and the other two territories to have the federal government look at disincentives and creation of an economic development arrangement with the three territories north of 60. Other places in Canada, other regions, have that. We donít, and while the appetite is there to deal with that issue, we are going to press forward. But it has got nothing to do with the memberís point about the order-in-council that dictates our level of debt ó nothing whatsoever.
Ms. Duncan: For the benefit of the Finance minister, he brought up the issue of the formula. Iím simply seeking a clear, unequivocal answer from the Finance minister: is it his intention to seek an increase in our borrowing ability ó our ability to go into debt ó from the federal government in that order-in-council? Yes or no? Does he seek to increase our ability to borrow per the federal order-in-council? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Iíd be more than willing to buy the member opposite breakfast tomorrow morning and bring a copy of Hansard so she can read what Iíve already answered ó and I did say no. Thatís not what weíre doing. But I guess the member wants to continue asking the same questions. Thatís her prerogative, but as I pointed out all along, we are working on other matters of much more importance. We have no intention of going to the federal government to change the level of debt that can be incurred in the Yukon. Quite the contrary ó weíre here to build a future by partnership, and thatís what itís all about.
I donít know how else I can deal with this, other than beaming it through a laser. That might get somewhere, but ó itís no.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Finance minister will forgive me. Iíll decline breakfast. I have a date with my children in the morning, so I feed them breakfast ó as much as I would enjoy his company and a discussion of the finances of the territory, there are two other people who have priority ahead of the Premier.
Mr. Chair, the Premier will also forgive me, but he also stated on the floor of this House that, no, he wasnít going change the Taxpayer Protection Act, and lo and behold ó that was on April 8, 2003. I remember the date very well. The Premier also went further and said that theyíd reach a balanced budget by 2005-06. Does he stand by that commitment?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíre certainly working on it. I think thatís important too. I mean, we are sound fiscal managers. Thatís exactly how we came into office, as part of our priority: to be sound fiscal managers. Thatís the argument the member oppositeís colleague was making in opposing the Taxpayer Protection Act. The former colleague of the member, the MLA for Riverside, stated that, in his view, a competent government is the best protection that a taxpayer can get. No amount of legislative draftsmanship will protect taxpayers from poor government, and weíve witnessed that, even with the Taxpayer Protection Act as it was in place; weíve witnessed that poor government approach to the finances of the territory.
Mr. Chair, we maintained all along that nothing has changed with the Taxpayer Protection Act other than removal of the punitive measures that disallowed us from reporting our correct and full liability. Now that weíre going to full accrual accounting, why would we have full accrual accounting on one level, yet when we present a budget, weíre still presenting it through a cash accounting basis? Weíve removed the fact that the punitive measure in the act itself, which states that we donít capitalize assets, we book their full cost in the year that they commence as a liability, and then they show up as a dollar as an asset, which obviously detracts from what full accrual accounting is all about.
We are proceeding completely within context of what it is that we have committed to do and set out to do.
I would like to know from the members opposite ó both the opposition and the third party. I would really like to get an understanding on the government side of how it is that they came to change their position. I mean, the government side here has not, in any way, shape or form, compromised the Taxpayer Protection Act. We have maintained it, but the members opposite have done a 180-degree turnaround and are now the champions of the Taxpayer Protection Act, after they opposed, ridiculed and berated the former Yukon Party government for bringing in the act in the first place. Then, while in government, they set about a course in working around it.
I think that there is much to be explained by the members opposite. It is not we on this side of the House who have to explain. We have been very clear all along. The members opposite seem to have a problem with this. We have gone on at great length in this debate. We have heard issues or statements like, "This is about privatization." That is not even close to the facts. Nothing could be further from the case. This is not about privatizing public services whatsoever. We said that we would come forward with a very transparent process in regard to public/private partnerships. Thatís exactly what weíre going to do. We are going to proceed in that manner so that the Yukon public understands fully what that public/private partnership policy is all about and how that relates to the budget, clearly disseminating for Yukoners where their finances are, building a future with private sector investment. We have listed some examples that are, I think, logical, sensible, sound fiscal choices for what could be a public/private partnership.
Thereís no question that the infrastructure, a bridge in Dawson City, is an important one. Our new partner and friends and neighbours to the west, Alaska, put great value and merit in that. We are now discussing, given our protocol of intergovernmental accord, what we do with the Taylor Highway or the Top of the World Highway; are there ways we can partner on that to advance our ability to flow traffic, especially tourist traffic, through the loop, benefiting all our citizens of Yukon and Alaska.
The bridge itself is a logical project of infrastructure that helps to lay in place groundwork infrastructure that leads to long-term sustainable economic growth and development. Itís an addition. Today thereís a cost of a ferry in Dawson City of approximately $1 million a year. Itís not a stretch to consider reallocating that money toward a bridge. It makes more sense for the taxpayer, not to mention that we could ó well, we will have to replace the ferry once it becomes time expired, so thereís an additional capital cost. This is important to recognize that this is what the government is embarking on: logical, sensible infrastructure that will help build the future.
The members opposite have made many accusations of going on a spending spree. Conservative governments donít go on spending sprees. Thatís a case in fact, and this government will be ever more vigilant of its fiscal situation and its responsibility on behalf of the Yukon taxpayer, unlike other governments from other political stripes who do go on spending sprees because itís the only way, the only idea, the only mechanism, the only avenue they have to try to get something going. Thatís certainly not this government.
Letís do a little recap: what our government is doing upon coming into office is applying gentle restraint to the finances so that we can change the pattern and the target of spending to help turn this territory around.
As well, weíre changing policy and direction of government with such examples of discontinuing a very flawed process ó the Yukon protected areas strategy ó and putting on the table a very fair offer to our employees of some 10 percent over four years. Another example is our approach to First Nations in formalizing a government-to-government relationship. For 30 years weíve negotiated land claims, but weíve yet to come to any sort of framework on how these two governments, representing their respective citizens, are going to function and operate in one territory. Weíre working on advancing that. Full economic partnerships with First Nations is all about building in incentives, so that First Nations are not left out of economic development, but are a full partner and promoter of developing the Yukonís economy because there is a shared benefit.
Letís give some examples of working closely with other jurisdictions, Mr. Chair. For two and a half years, this territory sat in isolation in resource development and on such projects as pipelines because there was a needless, unnecessary debate of acrimony between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. It bothered the State of Alaska, and it bothered industry. It was an unnecessary debate because it did not reflect the realities of the day. There is no question that both pipelines needed to be built. We would have been further advanced had that debate not taken place.
If the member opposite, when in government, had immediately proceeded with an aboriginal pipeline group, in all likelihood we would have invested dollars today in doing the socio-economic impact studies that are a requirement of doing the regulatory review and legislative frameworks that relate to the ANGST agreement and the NPA, the northern pipeline agreement, and the corridor itself, ensuring that we understand clearly what benefits will accrue to the Yukon and its citizens.
And if we deem them not to be sufficient, going to work with the government and the producers on issues that will maximize those benefits where we can, looking toward industry and other governments like the federal government to help build capacity in this territory ó the member opposite failed to recognize that the expertise in the Yukon, when it comes to a project like the Alaska Highway pipeline, is not here. Itís not in government, and itís certainly not within the First Nations. So getting that expertise into the territory is critical. Thatís what weíre working on. But more than that, we no longer have the competition and the debate about an over-the-top route. Our ally to the east and our ally to the west, Alaska and the N.W.T., do not promote that. They promote both pipelines. And there are some more reasons for that rationale, Mr. Chair.
The Delta gas ó the Mackenzie Valley and the Delta gas is Canadian gas. It is going to flow to the greatest degree to a Canadian market. Most of the gas reserves in the Delta are needed in Fort McMurray to fire the massive processing plants that are there to extract crude oil from the tar sands.
The Prudhoe Bay reserves, on the other hand, are needed in the Lower 48, so we are well on track in a year with regard to a project like this, by partnering and working cooperatively with other jurisdictions, not in isolation.
Yukon stands to benefit much more by working cooperatively and collaborating. We have certainly done a great deal of work ó whether it be the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, the Minister of Environment, the Minister of Tourism ó in regard to promoting the Yukon. When it comes to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources promoting in a very, very productive and constructive way, the assets and the resources and the potential here in our territory, and when it comes to the Minister of Environment standing clearly in front of industry to promote the cause and state that the Department of Environment will do its job in ensuring that we can proceed with responsible development ó thatís a good thing. Itís a change in policy and approach by government, which is helping to change the direction of this territory.
The Minister of Tourism is coming up with new ideas for tourism, and there is an excitement in the air with todayís signing of our accord with Alaska. It speaks to a great degree about how we can improve and increase the benefits of tourism.
The State of Alaska is very willing to work closely with the Yukon in doing that, in sharing the massive amount of passenger traffic coming up by the cruise lines, in creating options and new packages to go inland in which the Yukon will certainly be a beneficiary. Talk about the railway, the Yukon-Alaska route out of Skagway ó there is a great deal of interest in that from the State of Alaska. But again, the Minister of Tourism is involved in these areas. And these are important things because we are changing the direction.
Now letís couple that with how weíve increased the surplus. The whole point of increasing the surplus was to give government some room and an ability to meet the needs of Yukoners. We have committed all along that when there is a demonstrated need as a government, we will act, and if and when we get to debate our supplementary budget for this fiscal year, we will show many examples of where that is taking place in todayís Yukon.
We will also amend the Taxpayer Protection Act to further advance and increase the number of options and our ability to grow the economy in the Yukon. Yes, itís true. We have maintained all along that government cannot spend its way out of the situation we are in. Thatís a proven fact. We have been there. Past governments have tried. It doesnít work. We are changing that. We are working on our business case with Ottawa so that there are less disincentives in the transfer so that we arenít wards of the federal government and dependants on the southern taxpayer but to change that dramatically so that we become contributors.
Now, this is not a negative statement toward Yukoners. Itís what we deal with as a government. We are changing that also. Itís a different direction ó new direction, new policy, new approach. Thatís critical. When you put all the elements together, there is no question that there is a change in direction for this territory ó a direction toward the positive, a direction toward building a brighter, more prosperous future, a direction that will increase our ability to reach out and help those in need, a direction that will advance the Yukonís position on the national stage.
I am going to Charlottetown, Mr. Chair, to sign with all the premiers of this country a whole new era and approach through the Council of Federation to work cooperatively not only among the provinces and territories but also with the federal government. Our new Prime Minister, who will be, as I understand it, taking office December 12, has been very clear and very public about his desire to work more cooperatively with the provinces and territories. Thatís another addition to whatís happening in todayís Yukon that is certainly an improvement.
Now, the members opposite say they want to debate things on the Taxpayer Protection Act, and I value that. I think we should debate things. Whether debating what the format will be in terms of the budget or what may be the approximate assets value or might be the approximate liabilities, thatís not something that I think we can say is constructive on behalf of the Yukon public. Thatís a work in progress, and I think itís our duty and responsibility to provide for the Yukon public the exact ó and thatís another reason why this bookkeeping amendment is being made, so that we present the full and correct financial picture to Yukoners in a format that they understand, that clearly lays out where the financial situation is in the Yukon in any given fiscal year.
All this, though, is based on why we were elected. We were elected on the highest priority ó to turn the economy around, and we are at work doing that today. The indicators show that things are happening. The spending power is very important to any economy, and weíre increasing that. Weíre attracting back industry ó
Chair: Order please. The time now being 6:00 p.m., we will report progress.
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. 42, Territorial Court Judiciary Pension Plan Act, 2003, and has directed me to report it without amendment.
Speaker: Youíve heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 6:00 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:02 p.m.