Thursday, April 1, 2004 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Cancer Awareness Month
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:Today I rise and I ask my colleagues in this House to join me in recognizing April as Canadian Cancer Awareness Month. Now, over the coming weeks, hard-working volunteers will be selling daffodils, soliciting donations door-to-door and asking for sponsorships for the Relay for Life, the Cancer Society's fundraising event coming up in early June.
Mr. Speaker, last week, our Premier showed this government's support by signing up a Cabinet and caucus team for the Yukon's first Relay for Life and by encouraging other government employees to take part and raise funds for a very good cause.
Events like these and other fundraising events those who shave their heads or who cycle miles show the public's face of cancer.
There are many other faces of cancer those are the victims of this disease, their families, their doctors, the support staff, friends and the many volunteers who provide help and support to people they have never met. These people listen to the heart-wrenching stories, drive patients around strange cities, hold their hands, literally and figuratively, as they undergo treatment. For many, they are the lifeline.
There are many kinds of cancer, just as there are many kinds of people, and we in the Yukon are not immune. Even though some of our rates are lower than the national average, cancer is probably one of the most frightening words in the English language. It can cut right to the heart of us. Every one of us today probably knows someone who has battled cancer. We are all at risk.
Today, Mr. Speaker, we salute first those who have fought the fight, then those who love and support them and, finally, the many volunteers who hold hands, sell the daffodils and raise money so research can continue to search for a cure.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: I rise on behalf of the official opposition to also pay tribute to Cancer Awareness Month. We all know people who have suffered with this terrible disease; many of them are in our own families or in the families of friends. Cancer is the leading cause of premature death and the most feared disease in Canada. One-third of Canadians will develop cancer during their lifetime. Our aging population and continuing tobacco use will increase the incidence of cancer by as much as 70 percent in the next 15 years. The only good news is that half of those diagnosed will become long-term survivors. Medical science takes a curative approach and substantial research has produced many effective treatments. It is important to realize that most cancers are preventable. Prevention and risk reduction can greatly enhance the chances of survival for victims of cancer, but this requires fundamental lifestyle changes. We must all make a commitment to healthy eating and routine exercise. If we still smoke, we should make efforts to quit today not tomorrow and to be conscious of the harm of second-hand smoke.
We should practise protecting ourselves from direct sunlight and support efforts to reduce chemicals in our environment. Timely screening can lead to early detection, a very important factor in the prevention of cancer.
Let me take the opportunity to thank thousands of volunteers, researchers and health professionals who ensure that Canadians with cancer have access to the highest quality treatment and care if they are stricken. As well, I would like to thank the charitable organizations and individual donors who assist in fundraising for the Canadian Cancer Society.
The first Cancer Society Relay for Life in the Yukon will be held for 12 hours on June 5 and 6 in Rotary Park. This is a community celebration where individuals and groups camp out, dance and take turns walking or running around a track, relay-style. At night, there is a ceremony to honour cancer survivors and their friends. Their goal is to raise $50,000 from the Yukon. Volunteers are needed, and everyone is encouraged to support this fun event.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I can't help but wonder why we have the technology and know-how to make smart bombs or drill rocks on Mars while we still haven't found a cure for this terrible disease.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to join my colleagues in tribute to Cancer Awareness Month and notably the Canadian Cancer Society. The Canadian Cancer Society has five core priorities: research, advocacy, prevention, information and support. These priorities are supported by funds raised through donations of individual Canadians, the purchase of daffodils during daffodil month April and such events as the Relay for Life as well as the Run for Mom. Underpinning all these efforts is the work of volunteers, and I would especially like to publicly thank and tribute our Yukon volunteers.
Carol Hiscock, president of the Canadian Cancer Society, said, "By harnessing the strength of a national network of volunteers, donors and researchers, we make a difference in the fight against cancer. By working together we will make cancer history."
Again, thank you, Yukon volunteers and donors who are part of this national network. On behalf of the Liberal caucus: merci beaucoup, thank you, mahsi' cho.
We truly appreciate your time and commitment to making cancer history.
In recognition of Biodiversity Awareness Month
Hon. Mr. Kenyon:It's the first of April and, on this beautiful day we have outside, crews are leaving the Beaver Creek area and going into the Yukon and Alaska border areas to start capturing the Chisana caribou for this year's recovery program. This international initiative involves 16 people from the Yukon and Alaska working together to save this herd from becoming extinct. It's all part of working to make sure we do what we can to maintain Yukon's biodiversity, which brings us again to April, which we in the Department of Environment have been promoting over the years as Biodiversity Awareness Month.
It is a moment to reflect and celebrate life in the Yukon: all plant life, including the 1,100-plus plant species, the 214 birds, 27 fish, 62 mammals and even four amphibia even the estimated 5,000 types of insects, which sometimes give us a hard time.
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is the term given to the variety of life on earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and increasingly by the influence of man. It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made earth a uniquely habitable place for our human population.
Biodiversity provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development, meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations, and one of the key ingredients and agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity.
This pact among the vast majority of the world's governments sets out commitments for maintaining the world's ecological underpinnings as we go about the business of economic development. The convention establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and, the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of the genetic resources.
Biological diversity will continue to be important for the health of people and for the survival of this planet. April 1 marks the first day in which the Yukon government also has taken over the management of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and we see a future for this facility if only for the learning component that will contribute to our understanding of the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of our genetic resources. It will be a learning centre that will also help all of our people understand the value of Yukon's biodiversity.
This Sunday, April 4, marks the start of National Wildlife Week in Canada and the theme for this year is "Gone to the Birds" simply put, give backyard birds something to sing about. The Canadian Wildlife Federation notes that the most watched and beloved of Canada's wildlife species are the birds we see in our own backyards. Our feathered friends face many dangers in their short lives. Predators, hunters, alien species, climate change, disease and toxic chemicals all take their toll.
Speaking of birds, one of our prime waterfowl habitats is M'Clintock Bay at Marsh Lake, and the migratory birds are coming back. This weekend will mark the start of this year's celebration of swans at Swan Haven. It is also Swan Haven's 10th anniversary and a special First Nations day is set for Saturday, April 17. There will be a re-blessing of the facility, a site traditionally important to the Tagish and Tlingit people. There are a number of other activities, and as we leave this month of April we can complete our journey through the biodiversity of the land by attending the public biodiversity forum planned for Saturday, April 24, at Yukon College.
I am especially proud of the staff of the Department of Environment and the many non-government organizations and agencies that all work together to bring you and me these many events so that we can enjoy the wonder of Yukon's biodiversity.
Mrs. Peter: Today I rise in tribute to Biodiversity Awareness Month. On behalf of the official opposition, we thank all the organizations in our territory that have events planned to celebrate and inform us about the importance of biodiversity. We also pay tribute to National Wildlife Week. Wildlife is a very important part of the Yukon's environment. April is a month to celebrate and show our deep appreciation for the Yukon's biodiversity.
First Nations have a deep respect for our environment. Our traditions teach us that land, water and animals are the foundation on which we live. It is therefore our responsibility to take care of what our ancestors left intact for us. Visitors from many countries come to the Yukon to experience its beauty. I'd like to draw the attention of the House to the biodiversity celebrations being held this month, including National Wildlife Week, which starts on April 4; the Celebration of the Swans, starting April 17; and Earth Day on April 22; and all the other events and activities in our communities dealing with the daily choices we make as consumers.
The Art Centre was filled to capacity last night, showcasing the Three Rivers Journey, documenting images, music and the voices of the people of Na Cho Nyäk Dun and Tetlit Gwich'in. The messages were very clear from the elders and youth that these lands are to be protected, to preserve biodiversity and ensure the survival of all our peoples. In celebration with this year's theme, "Give backyard birds something to sing to sing about," let us all have a broader vision, and let's keep our backyards clean and pristine.
Ms. Duncan: We often rise in tribute in this House to express our appreciation for unique northern individuals, organizations or occasions and their contributions to our society, our culture and our lives here in the Yukon.
Today, in celebration of Biodiversity Awareness Month, we have an opportunity to pay tribute to our environment the support for life itself here in the Yukon.
There are many unique celebrations planned throughout the Yukon in celebration of this month, and members have spoken of some of them and our print and electronic media have advertised them very well so Yukoners can participate. One of those events that is being held this month is particularly near and dear to my heart. It's the 10th anniversary, Mr. Speaker, and I would especially like to recognize the 10th anniversary of Swan Haven at Marsh Lake.
Swan Haven is a cooperative venture between the Girl Guides of Canada/Guides du Canada, Yukon Council, Ducks Unlimited, and the Government of Yukon then it was the Department of Renewable Resources.
As I said, Swan Haven was officially opened 10 years ago this month. This cooperative initiative has offered Yukoners and visitors a unique opportunity to share in the true heralding of spring here in the Yukon the arrival of the trumpeter and tundra swans. I encourage all Yukoners to celebrate the anniversary of Swan Haven, to welcome spring with the swans and to recognize our fragile and unique environment during Biodiversity Awareness Month.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fentie:Pursuant to subsections 3.1 and 3.2 of An Act Approving Yukon Land Claims Final Agreements and subsections 3.1 and 3.2 of the First Nations (Yukon) Self-Government Act, I have for tabling the Kluane First Nation final agreement, the Kluane First Nation self-government agreement and a copy of Order-in-Council 2004/07, dated January 13, 2004, which approves and gives effect to these agreements.
Congratulations to the Kluane First Nation.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hassard:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to build multi-level health care facilities in Yukon communities where sufficient need exists.
Speaker: Are there any other notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Whistle-blower legislation
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. The whistle-blower legislation the Yukon Party promised in its platform has become a quickly moving target. Two days ago, the minister used the federal government as its cover story to explain why he isn't bringing anything forward. Yesterday he and his colleagues used an elaborate ploy to put this important matter onto the very back burner.
Will the minister tell us exactly what he has done to honour this election commitment in the last 16 months since the election?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for the question. I really do thank him because it does give this government an opportunity to set the record straight.
First, I want to say that it is my opinion that what was presented yesterday in this House was an overnight attempt to grab the news headlines the following day. If one were to read the document, one would see where a lot of the references were referred to as "Premier" and, toward the end, it referred back to "government leader", which tells me that a quick attempt was made and things were drawn from different times in history.
Now, Mr. Speaker, this government is about making sound legislation. We are not building a silk purse here when we talk about whistle-blower legislation. It's a very critical item and it is again my opinion that, if this was such a simple task, then I would have to question why it isn't in every jurisdiction across Canada.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to point out the fact that this minister did not answer the question asked; instead he got on his soapbox and once again tried to attack the members of the opposition who brought forward this bill, a duty that he should have done after 16 months of being in office. He is using the same argument that he used in regard to the computer use investigation, which he initiated and he tried to blame the NDP for unbelievable.
The government strategy yesterday afternoon was very revealing. It revealed a lot about the relationship between this government and its employees. It revealed a lot about what their election promises mean, and it revealed a lot about why government workers and all Yukoners for that matter have reason to be sceptical about this government.
Has the minister, or his officials, held any discussions with government employee bargaining units about what should be in the whistle-blower legislation? It is a simple question.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Once again I must clarify the record. The member opposite continually raises the computer misuse investigation, and I believe that this government has done an excellent job of maintaining confidentiality in fact the highest confidentiality. Again, the member opposite is quite adamant that he is going to paint all the employees in YTG with the same brush; however, this government does not view it from that perspective. We have the utmost respect for all employees within the government. I have to say, once again, with regard to this whistle-blower legislation, collaboration is going to be used, and that is probably one of the primary reasons such a fast attempt at passing legislation should have been rejected yesterday and it was, sort of. It was put in a position where that collaboration will have the process and the vehicle in which it can be taken forward.
Mr. Hardy: Well, maybe the minister should figure out exactly what happened yesterday, because we cannot move forward on this legislation unless we on this side reintroduce it or we bring it forward for debate. There was an adjournment on debate, Mr. Speaker. It has to come from this side now. They stopped all discussion on this.
And as to confidentiality, bragging about confidentiality, yes, that's what they by confidentiality but no protection for the employees. Now, we're expected to believe that this government sincerely wants to work with us and that it's ready to consult with everybody involved, and at the end of yesterday's debate, the government House leader made it clear we shouldnt expect any kind of whistle-blower legislation for at least a year. Judging from the skimpy agenda for this sitting, and we've already seen it, it certainly isn't because the people who drafted legislation are being overworked.
Prior to yesterday, had the minister in fact given his officials any direction to prepare whistle-blower legislation, and if so, what time frame did he give them? This is the third time I'm asking a question very similar. I would like the minister to respond to the question.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would have to remind the member opposite that there is nothing skimpy about this government. We just produced the biggest budget ever in the history of the Yukon government, which is quite a significant milepost. And, again, it's all about investment in the Yukon's future, short-term and long-term. And, Mr. Speaker, I can't help but be confused somewhat about the approach that the leader of the official opposition has taken with regard to this legislation.
Now, this government has been repeatedly accused by that side of the House about not having collaboration. So when we do take them up on that offer, they find a problem with it. Well, Mr. Speaker, I think what happened yesterday just puts everything in perspective and it does for the other side of the House to prove their good faith. I know the good faith on this side of the House is genuine and we intend to keep it that way.
Question re: First Nation involvement in proposed pipeline
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Premier. Obviously I'm not going to get an answer from the other one.
The territorial government has provided funding for an aboriginal pipeline group that involves some of the First Nations along the proposed Alaska Highway pipeline route, but not all of them. The Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations has expressed grave concerns about what role the CYFN and its cash-strapped oil and gas secretariat can play.
The question is: what is the Premier doing to ensure that all First Nations along the proposed pipeline corridor have the resources they need to represent the interests of their people?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First I would point out that this is within the purview of the minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources, who is today in Ottawa with representatives of the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition doing exactly what the leader of the official opposition is implying in regard to resources. We are working with the federal government in this area. We are presenting the case that the federal government must ensure a level playing field. There was a huge investment by the Canadian taxpayer into the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, an investment that came long before all the First Nations along the Mackenzie Valley route were actually in agreement with this project, and we in the Yukon are making sure that our First Nations are going to get the required investment from the federal government so they can prepare not only socially, but also economically and for the regulatory aspects of the Alaska Highway pipeline.
So we are ensuring that not only are they resourced but there is definitely the ability for all First Nations in this territory to participate, and we will work very closely with CYFN in this regard as a government, as I'm sure the APC will.
Mr. Hardy: The Premier continually talks about partnerships and about respectable government-to-government relations with First Nations. This government has signed a stack of protocol agreements and memorandums of understanding with First Nations, but where is the implementation? Where is the follow-up? The agreement with the Kwanlin Dun on a replacement of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, for instance where is the follow-up? Where are the resources? We have not heard anything for a long time. What is the Premier doing to honour the agreements he has signed? What is the game plan? What are the rules? Or is it all about getting the deal on paper so it can be ignored?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Unfortunately the member opposite is really diminishing the efforts of Yukon First Nations when he speaks in this kind of tone and presents this kind of rhetoric in the Assembly. First and foremost, let's list some examples: the APC in Ottawa is working with the federal government to get resources for a very important and significant investment in the territory.
Let's talk about the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. One of our first acts was to ensure that we honoured a land claim agreement with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, but we made it very clear, not only in the memorandum of understanding but in subsequent meetings, that this government is not going to build another warehouse when it comes to incarcerating Yukon citizens absolutely not. We are going to proceed with a process that is correctional reform, ensuring that the program delivery that can be made available is going to deal with the recidivism rate to ensure that we are rehabilitating people not institutionalizing them.
The list goes on: Teck Cominco is on the ground in the Yukon today because of another agreement with a First Nation. We are working on a memorandum of understanding at this very point in time that ensures a formalized government-to-government relationship creating a political forum for this government and all self-governing First Nations. We are also proceeding with the Children's Act review in partnership with First Nations. Those are just a few examples.
Mr. Hardy: Once again, we did not get a clear answer to the question asked.
Now, it's the Yukon Party government that is using the First Nations for their own political goals and purposes. We've seen example after example of individual ministers saying one thing and the Premier having to come along later, whether it's in regard to the First Nation agreements or discussions with them, and have to rescue the situation. We can use examples: captive wildlife; YNTP; oil and gas development in northern Yukon.
This does not create certainty, Mr. Speaker just the opposite. It doesn't create respectful relationships either just the opposite. I certainly hope the Premier isn't deliberately pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy, which some people have suggested.
What is the Premier doing to address growing concerns that his government is treating some First Nations more favourably than others?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will say and put on the record here and now in this Assembly that the leader of the official opposition and the NDP will pay for the accusation that this government is using First Nations.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, the House rules clearly prohibit threats in this Legislature, and that's what the Premier just did; he threatened us.
Speaker:I appreciate that while you're waiting for a ruling on a point of order there is a certain amount of chit-chat that goes on across the floor, but I'd ask the members to be temperate. The opposition House leader has raised a point of order. The Chair is in a bit of a quandary, and I'd ask his indulgence to wait until Monday for a ruling.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, it was a serious accusation that the government was using First Nations to further some political cause, and I will state categorically that this government is not doing that and has never had any intention of doing that.
In fact, the evidence is clear. This government has taken major steps in improving the relationships between the Yukon government and First Nations in this territory, and we stand proud of that fact, because it has been a long time coming. Our work with First Nations is showing that not only are we advancing in areas of economic development together, we are also advancing in dealing with major issues that face First Nations and, indeed, all Yukoners in this territory, whether it be the Children's Act review, whether it be correctional reform, whether it be our education system, and the list goes on and on. This government is genuinely improving the relationship with First Nations in the Yukon. We go beyond simple consultation. We are committing to and delivering on collaboration with our First Nations.
Question re: Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Environment. As of today, the Government of Yukon owns the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. In October of last year, the Deputy Minister of the Environment signed off on a sole source $28,000 contract to do evaluation of the Wildlife Preserve. In other words, the government paid someone $28,000 to tell them how much the game farm was worth, and the government ended up, as we know, paying more than $2 million for the facility.
Mr. Speaker, Government of Yukon contract rules do not allow sole-source contracts to be any larger than $25,000. Why did the minister break the rules when he let this contract?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I guess the member opposite would have preferred that we simply guess at the valuation. It was necessary to find someone with great expertise in this field on a national level, on wildlife preserves and similar types of facilities a very narrow pool to choose from. In fact, it was so narrow that we went to the one that had the qualifications in that area.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has his contracts confused. The one I am referring to is the one let to BDO, not the contract to Peter Carsten. The fact is that the contract rules are very clear and the contract rules were broken. The minister broke the rules. He is over the limit. Why did the minister do this? Is this the normal practice under the Yukon Party? The minister needs to explain why this contract was not opened to competitive bids. Why was one company selected and no one else even given an opportunity? While he is on his feet, will he provide the House with a copy of the work that was done under this contract? What did the company tell the Government of Yukon that the Wildlife Preserve was worth? Will the minister release the work he paid for?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I am quite aware that BDO Dunwoody out of Edmonton was the contract she was speaking of. This is by far the most experienced company in the world for evaluating this sort of facility. We on this side prefer to work with good information. In terms of releasing it, it was an evaluation of the books of a third party, and I think it would be very inappropriate to release that information publicly.
Ms. Duncan: I would ask respectfully that the minister re-examine that answer and read the Blues. He broke the contract rules, paid $28,000 for a sole-source contract for evaluation of the game farm. The government subsequently paid $2 million for that game farm. What did the evaluation tell the government? That is public information. It is an expenditure of public taxpayers' money.
I would invite the minister to raise that question, if he is that concerned, with the Privacy Commissioner, but that should be public information. It was publicly paid for and it resulted in a public expenditure of money. He has yet to explain why he broke the rules.
Speaker:Order please. The leader of the third party can imply that the minister broke the rules, but you cannot say for sure that he has broken the rules. I ask for a change in terminology, please.
Ms. Duncan: The contract rules are very clear: no sole-source contracts over $25,000. The minister's department signed off on a contract over that amount.
Speaker: Your question is also done.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you. Will he provide the information?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I am glad it was done, Mr. Speaker. I thought I heard some feedback right after you had said that.
Speaker:Order please. I will do the rulings, you answer the questions. Carry on.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: That sounds reasonable, Mr. Speaker.
Once again, we went to the best person or the best company available to do that sort of evaluation. The material involves a great deal of third-party information, and certainly if the member opposite wants to discuss that within our $705-million budget the largest in the history of the Yukon with all of these various good things and wants to question why we would want to have the best independent information possible to keep it at arm's-length operation, she is more than welcome to do that. She can deal with her weapons-grade comments at that time.
Question re: Game farming
Mrs. Peter: My question is for the Minister of Environment. Yesterday, the minister stated that the government lawyers had taken the position that a goldfish would be considered captive wildlife under the wording of the Wildlife Act. With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, the minister must realize the First Nations' final agreements supersede the Wildlife Act. Is the minister aware of how the final agreements defined wildlife?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Members on the opposite side continue to go fishing and simply catch red herrings. We saw in this House yesterday that the members opposite simply can't come up with questions that mean something to Yukoners involving this budget, particularly questions that matter to Yukoners. And the same thing seems true today. What matters to Yukoners is the fact that this government is working hard for them. The government, after listening to Yukoners, has put together a $705-million budget. And the environment in this budget is being very well looked after, Mr. Speaker. The budget for the department, in fact, is larger than the budget for the Department of Economic Development, and I am very proud of the work being done in the department to manage and protect the environment.
Mrs. Peter: The final agreements specifically state that wildlife does not include fish. Mr. Speaker, this is not about goldfish. On this side of the House, we know the difference between goldfish and red herring. We know the difference between captive wildlife and game farm animals. We know the difference between consultation and information session. Why is the minister not paying attention to the strong objections that First Nations have about animals being kept in captivity or being bought and sold as private commodities?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Once again, this government is very proud of the fact that it continues to work on the recommendations of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. It has met most of them and hopefully in the near future it will meet all of them.
But I have to express concern. When the New Democratic Party sat on this side and had to deal with that same issue, on May 4, 1998, the then hon. minister said, and I quote: "We don't have any major problems with game farming. We continue to support game farming and we have supported bison farming." I am confused, because again we are flip-flopping back and forth.
Mrs. Peter: My question wasn't answered. It's obvious why the Premier has to keep rescuing this minister. There is a listening problem. Yesterday, for example, I asked the minister a question about game farm animals and apparently he didn't hear me correctly.
To use his own words, one could say that the minister was completely not paying attention. His answer was about the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, not private game farms.
I will rephrase the question for the minister's benefit. Apart from what is happening with the captive wildlife regulations, is the minister working on any regulations to ensure that animals raised on Yukon game farms cannot end up on hunt farms outside the territory?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I can understand the member opposite's interest, since their publicly stated position in 1998 was that they have no objection to this.
But one of the recommendations of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board was that we review those regulations. We have agreed to that request. In fact, we've met repeatedly over the last number of months February 16, February 20, February 24 it goes on and on March 4, March 10, March 11 with a variety of First Nations and a variety of renewable resource councils and explained that position. They will be reviewed, and they will be dealt with at that time and there will be full consultation at that time.
Question re: Dawson City financial position
Mr. Cardiff: The Dawson City rec centre went over budget, and the minister all but took over the town. The Whitehorse multiplex has gone over budget and the minister is taking out his cheque book. Why the double standard?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The Whitehorse multiplex project is a very valuable project to both the City of Whitehorse and also to us. I think this is an important aspect, and we have to take care of it. We have to create jobs within the community and get moving.
As we speak, they're out there with the survey crew, and they're working on that particular venue.
The City of Dawson has been in this precarious position since way back in 1999, so we're dealing with the City of Dawson through the supervisor.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister just threw more fuel on the fire that the supervisor started. He just inferred that the Dawson City rec complex isn't of value to the government.
As I said the other day, Dawson City residents are angry about their treatment by the government and by the supervisor, whom they consider nothing more than an overpaid supervisor who wants to turn their backyard into a waste management facility.
What's the Premier's role in this? When the Mayor of Whitehorse asked them for help, the Premier came through. A few stormy hours in the corner office and a $4-million deal was done. Is the Premier willing to invite the Mayor and Council of Dawson City to his office to get this impasse settled once and for all?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We've been working on this issue with the Dawson City mayor and council almost since 2001, trying to help them out of their financial difficulties, and we're continuing to do so. I don't believe that there's anything different we can do.
The issue was brought forward by the previous government in power. They thought it was necessary to appoint a supervisor, and we're following through on that particular issue. We're working on their situation with the town council and the mayor.
Mr. Cardiff: The Member for Klondike is getting his $30-million bridge. Surely the minister can persuade him to let the real mayor and council run Dawson City's affairs.
Before the minister goes into his song and dance how the hand-picked supervisor is just doing his job under the Municipal Act, let's repeat the question I asked him the other day: if Dawson council decides to refer this whole issue to the Ombudsman under section 11 of the Ombudsman Act, will the minister let them spend the money to do so?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned previously on several occasions, we are working with the City of Dawson and its mayor to try to alleviate their financial situation. They have many problems with their particular aspect. I don't think it's necessary for them to go about looking for other problems.
Question re: Dawson City bridge
Mr. McRobb: When does the Highways minister plan to table his business case for the Dawson bridge?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are in the process of developing our process for the Yukon bridge. As I mentioned yesterday, we have a request for proposals out for the design of the bridge, which will include consultation with the citizens of Dawson.
Mr. McRobb: He failed to answer the question; he did not say when he would table his business case for the bridge.
Will this minister halt spending any more taxpayer dollars on this expensive pet project until we've all had the opportunity to discuss his business case in this Legislature? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, the bridge has been a commitment of this party since the start of the last election, and that's where we're going to go. We have this in our process and we're going to deal with it.
Mr. McRobb: That's not what they promised Yukoners, Mr. Speaker, and we have reviewed that already in this Legislature. The minister is failing to provide what he expects all other Yukoners in all other municipalities to provide, and that is a business case for major projects.
Why did the minister insist on prioritizing this bridge above the needs of other communities, and especially the need for sewage treatment facilities in Dawson?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Both of these facilities are separate and distinct issues, and this government is taking and addressing both of those specific issues.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 10: Second Reading adjourned debate
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 10, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie; adjourned debate, the Hon. Mr. Edzerza.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Opposition House leader, on a point of order.
Unanimous consent re Member for Pelly-Nisutlin responding to Budget Address
Mr. McRobb:Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would request unanimous consent to allow the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin to speak to this budget.
Speaker: Do we have unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: We have unanimous consent. Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, you have 35 minutes.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Where I left off was basically stating that this budget is about investment in the future of the Yukon for both mid-term and long-term growth. And we recognize that education is the foundation on which to build a strong economy and stronger, healthier communities. We have made a commitment in this budget that will strengthen that foundation. One thing that came across, no matter whom we heard from, is that education is important to all Yukoners.
This budget clearly shows our commitment to education and lifelong learning. This government knows the importance of education and the numbers speak for it. This is the largest Education budget in the history of the Yukon Territory.
The 2004-05 operation and maintenance budget for Education comes in at $99.98 million, while the capital budget is $11.37 million.
Right off the top, I would like to mention something that is very important to me something that I have been working to deliver since the day I was elected. This government recognizes the important role that Yukon College plays in this territory. People from across the territory have said loud and clear that Yukon College is important to them. I have been listening and this government has been listening. This government has taken action to increase the funding to Yukon College by $1 million. The College has not received an increase to their base for more than 10 years. Our support for Yukon College shows that building a vibrant economic future for the Yukon continues to be a top priority. We recognize that post-secondary education and training are critical to economic development. We need a skilled and educated workforce to support and to take advantage of economic opportunities as they arise. People with education and skills also become innovative and entrepreneurs stimulate local economic development.
Yukon College programs provide important opportunities for Yukoners to become successful in the workforce and to get the skills they need to participate in economic opportunities. That is why this government has directed $500,000 of the training trust fund to be directed specifically toward supporting trades in this territory.
In addition to investing in post-secondary programs, we are also committed to supporting our post-secondary students. This government believes that investing in our students is investing in the social and economic future of this territory. We have increased support to our post-secondary students in two ways: by increasing the amount of our grant programs and by creating more summer employment opportunities.
Last year we announced we had indexed our student financial assistance programs, the Yukon grant and the student training allowance to reflect increases in the cost of living, for a total of $100,000. In this budget we are also increasing the number of summer jobs available to our students through the Yukon training and employment program, known as STEP. For this program we have committed $177,000, which will enable us to add 32 new jobs to this program.
This will bring the total number to over 110 student jobs in government and the private sector. By adding additional positions, we are giving more students the opportunity to earn summer income but, more importantly, to gain valuable career experience. This will help our students make the transition to the workforce after they graduate.
This government is making important investments in our students and investments that will help build healthy, thriving communities where Yukoners are busy working, contributing and improving.
Of course, Mr. Speaker, we realize that not all our students are getting the opportunity to access the Yukon's excellent post-secondary programs and support. We realize that there are a number of students who are not completing high school, closing doors to opportunities for future education, training and jobs. This budget includes a number of new initiatives that will help improve student success rates, including the government's commitment of $335,000 to an alternative school for school-aged dropouts in Whitehorse, opportunities for rural students to take Yukon College courses as part of their high school program, giving them a wider range of course options to complete their diploma. This government heard the request from rural communities to improve student success. This government has taken action on improving this situation by implementing a home tutors program. This government will support a homework tutor program targeted at rural and First Nation students for a total cost of $375,000.
First, I would like to talk about our plans for an alternative school. This is a new initiative that will help school-aged youth at risk to finish school and achieve their career goals. We will open an alternative school in downtown Whitehorse to help school-aged dropouts. It will be a welcoming, flexible environment to encourage them to continue working toward their high school diploma. We hope that these students will continue on to become lifelong learners and successful in the workforce and in their communities. This is another example of our commitment to improve student success. This will ensure that youth at risk get the best possible chance to finish school, to go on to post-secondary school opportunities and into the workforce to become lifelong learners.
The second initiative I mentioned is that we are going to strengthen our linkages between high schools and Yukon College programming, mainly in rural communities. Students trying to complete their high school education in their home communities don't get the same selection of courses as students in Whitehorse. They also have limited access to trades and technology programs.
When it is appropriate, we will pay the tuition for a high school student to take a course toward their high school diploma at the local College campus. For example, if a student needs Biology 11 and it isn't available in their school but their College campus is offering it, we'll pay for them to attend the College and they'll get the credit on their diploma. Similarly, if a student is interested in carpentry and their local campus is offering a pre-apprenticeship program, we'll pay for them to enrol at that campus. This is going to broaden the range of options for rural students, giving them more options to complete their high school diplomas in their home communities.
Finally, the third initiative is a new program that I am excited about. We are implementing a home tutor program that will help rural and First Nation students to do better in school, move on to post-secondary education or training, and ultimately to succeed in their workforce and in their communities. This initiative is based on a very successful program piloted in Old Crow last year.
This year, we will implement the program in 13 rural communities. We will also offer the program in Whitehorse for First Nation students and for out-of-town students attending Whitehorse schools who don't live in the Gadzoosdaa residence. Rural and urban students have very diverse needs, and I think that together these three programs show that we are responding to identify gaps in the education system. Ultimately, we want the same outcome for all of our students: success at school, leading to success in the workforce and the community.
These three initiatives are further examples of how we are working to build healthier, thriving communities where people are busy working, contributing and improving. This government also recognizes that First Nation students have specific needs. As a group, these students are not doing as well as non-First Nation students when it comes to graduation rates and test scores. We realize that a more culturally relevant program of studies will help improve First Nation student results. We know that First Nation communities are concerned about the future of their native languages and culture, and they want to do more to incorporate them into the education program. It gives me great pleasure to say that this budget includes a strong commitment toward improving First Nation students' success and increasing First Nation culture and language in the school system. This budget includes two very important components. First of all, this budget includes money to support four native language instructor trainees two that were hired at the end of last year and two more that will be hired this year.
At this time, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to bring to your attention the error in the printed budget book on page 38 of the Budget Address and page 1 of the budget highlights. This item should read $611,000 to hire new native language instructor trainees and to develop First Nation curriculum materials and resources.
Hiring trainees will ensure that we can continue to offer native languages in our schools and help preserve these languages. The 2004-05 Education budget also includes an additional $500,000 to support First Nation curriculum materials and resource development.
This new $500,000 for the First Nations curriculum material and resources will have two key priorities. The first will be to bring more First Nation history, culture and information on self-government and land claims into existing school programs. The second will be to use framework development with other jurisdictions to create more curriculum resources for First Nation language instruction.
I truly believe that all our students, both First Nation and non-First Nation, will benefit from more culturally relevant, locally developed curriculum materials and resources.
This is a clear commitment to an inclusive education system that reflects First Nation knowledge, culture and language. We are working toward a brighter future for all our students, ensuring that they have opportunities to live, work and contribute to healthy, thriving communities.
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, the capital budget for the Department of Education will be $11.37 million. As we announced earlier this year, we are going ahead with the planning process for a new school in Carmacks. This will be $700,000 for planning this year.
We have also budgeted for a number of important upgrades and repairs to schools across the Yukon. Two of the largest projects are a new roof at Vanier school for $700,000, and $500,000 for planning work toward renovations at Porter Creek school.
We are also developing innovative groundwater heating projects in Haines Junction and at Vanier school and, for the second year in a row, we have committed $1.5 million to the community training fund.
I am also very pleased to say that $500,000 of this amount will be specifically directed to pre-employment and trades training. We believe that the community training funds are the most effective way to support training in economic sectors and communities, training that will directly support and encourage economic development.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun made comments with regard to YNTEP on the floor of this Legislature, and I would like to correct the record. There was consultation with the stakeholders. As a matter of fact, there was a two-month window of opportunity for stakeholders to respond to this decision. The only response we received was positive. The decision was made to open up the Yukon native teacher education program by an additional six seats. This is about creating partnerships, bridging the gap. There are 15 seats available in this program, six of which this government has agreed to open up to the non-First Nation community.
I think it is important for this government to take down barriers to unity among the citizens of this territory. I would also like to mention that when I did my community tours, it was very evident to me that the policies in this program were creating divisions among families. For example, I had one lady who was non-native say to me, "My children are status and yet I cannot take this program. I want to teach in the school in my community." So what's wrong with this picture? The wrong is that this individual cannot be accommodated.
Mr. Speaker, by opening this program to non-native applicants, in my opinion, it could be a way to take down some of the barriers to unity and to bridge building and to developing a sense of belonging for people in this territory. I believe that by having this program open, Mr. Speaker, it is like having a four-year cross-cultural program for citizens who are interested in becoming educators.
Mr. Speaker, this is not to say that the non-native people in the territory are not sensitive to the culture or do not know it. It merely states that this will support the non-native people in the Yukon Territory to have more information about the First Nation people in this territory. I believe that by having separate programs for native and non-native people in this territory, it would not be to the best interest of this government or any government. This is an excellent opportunity to bridge the gap between the native and non-native people in the education system. This is merely a way that we would enhance the knowledge that most educators already have.
Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the general public that the content of this program will not change. It will remain the same.
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, this is the largest Education budget ever in the Yukon, and this demonstrates our commitment to education and lifelong learning, to student success, to a skilled and educated workforce and a strong partnership.
Mr. Speaker, the mid- to long-term economy is about growing our infrastructure and supports to meet the demands of our strategic industries. It's about stimulus and responsible spending strategically. This budget is about the reduction of the business tax rate, the creation of economic development funds like the enterprise trade funds and the regional development fund, the tourism marketing fund, the cultural heritage and museum support funds and film funds.
This is our mandate to rejuvenate the economy. Yukon's economy needs a new direction. We need to work on revitalizing it, and that is one of our top priorities. We are focusing on strategic industries and projects that give us new direction, projects that hold strategic importance, projects that provide economic stimulus and have potential for secondary benefits. We have several projects in this category, namely the Whitehorse waterfront development and the 2007 Canada Winter Games. Major project proposals include the Four Mountains Resort proposal by the Carcross-Tagish First Nations. Our government will encourage and support such projects to ensure that maximum economic benefits are realized.
We are working with First Nations to build partnerships on many fronts. We are working on corrections reform and the Children's Act review and education. We are in a new reality as many First Nations have settled their land claims and are now self-governing. This means they have jurisdiction in certain areas. Collaboration is needed to move forward. I can say today that this will be one of the challenges of this government and future governments on how land claim settlement agreements are implemented.
I want to speak to this House today about initiatives in the Public Service Commission that will also breathe life into our budget commitments. First of all, I am extremely pleased that the position of representative public service consultant has been made a permanent job within the public service. This position has been funded through land claim implementation funding since it was established in 1999.
With this stability offered by its permanent status, the representative public service consultant is well placed to carry on the work of increasing the representation of First Nation people employed by this government.
As we proceed with building positive government-to-government relationships with First Nations, we will move ahead with this initiative.
In addition, we have successfully negotiated a three-year collective agreement for the Yukon employees, a Yukon teachers agreement and an agreement with Yukon College.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased to speak about this last initiative and that is about the workplace diversity employment office, which I mentioned earlier. Besides a representative public service consultant, this new office will have a disability employment consultant who will also work toward making the public service representative of the people it serves.
Mr. Speaker, this initiative has been pursued by the Yukon Council on Disabilities since 1990. No other government has addressed this issue. Our government acted on this important initiative because it is our belief that all people have a role to play in our community. People with disabilities are important to our community. Everyone has something to offer. The disabilities community had some barriers and we are helping to break those barriers down so they can become active members of our community.
As a minister who enjoys meeting people who live in our communities, I want to say that it has been one of my greatest pleasures meeting with representatives of the Yukon Council on Disabilities. I am pleased that the government and the council have been able to map out a way to encourage the employment of persons with disabilities. The workplace diversity employment office is a positive step toward addressing equality issues.
Through the eyes of the Creator, everyone is equal and this action creates a sense of belonging for citizens with disabilities. I am pleased to announce that this government has committed $277,000 toward these two initiatives.
Next I want to speak about the workplace harassment prevention office. This office is another example of important work to serve employees throughout the government. The office is being supported by a funding level that will make it possible to staff, to provide more training to employees on what is expected of them in a respectful workplace. The workplace harassment prevention office is pursuing early intervention strategies to resolve workplace conflict through mediation or alternative dispute resolutions so that fewer conflicts will have to go through the full investigative process. This will ultimately be less stressful for all parties involved and hopefully result in quicker resolutions.
While we recognize that some issues must be investigated, I believe that early intervention is a positive direction, one that emphasizes the importance of working with each other rather than maintaining positions of conflict. Our government has committed $116,000 toward this important initiative.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun also put on the record comments with regard to the misuse of the computer investigation, and I would like to correct some of those comments.
The members opposite know this government or any other government would have been compelled to conduct the investigation according to evidence supplied. The Public Service Commission and the government did an excellent job in maintaining the highest level of confidentiality in securing action toward those employees involved.
However, in my opinion the opposition may have jeopardized confidentiality by politicizing this issue and that was unfortunate. It is saddening to one's soul that the opposition consistently attempts to paint all employees with the same brush, but we know this was not the case. A very small number of employees were involved, and my thoughts go out to all employees. This government does appreciate the good work they do. In my opinion, due process was followed completely and this issue should be laid to rest.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that the Yukon is rich in resources and people. We have competitive advantages to build a strong, sustainable economy. We have more opportunities through this budget to offer greater education opportunities to break down some of the barriers and to close some more gaps in the system. We must all work toward a positive way forward. This government is doing that, Mr. Speaker. I look forward to reviewing this budget with members of the Legislature: a budget that brings hope and a new vision and direction to this territory, a budget that will benefit all Yukoners, Mr. Speaker, and our government is a firm believer today that together we will do better. I encourage all members on the opposite side of the House to accept this budget and not vote against it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hassard: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to all members for their unanimous consent to allow me to speak today. It is indeed a pleasure to rise to respond to the 2004-05 budget. There is much ado about the dollar value of this budget, as one might expect. However, in my mind, it's more important to focus on the great dollar value that we get.
A fantastic amount of work has gone into ensuring all Yukon communities receive benefit for this budget. I know from the community meetings that were held in my riding that people from all walks of life have had an opportunity to express their opinions, and I am pleased to say that they have been heard.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to speak first to several capital projects in my riding. In Teslin, for what seems like the first time in a long time, a capital project is going ahead to address a community priority. During my time on village council prior to being here, the sewer force main was a priority. Again the council that is there now has identified that as a need. We see $2 million for that project. I don't know how to describe that project. It's not something that people might find exciting to talk about, but when you've been involved with it for several years, you get attached to it and look forward to seeing it completed.
By doing this project, we are taking care of a host of issues first of all, the environmental issue, which we are so greatly concerned about but also accused of not dealing with as a government. By doing this project, we get a truck that hauls sewer off a road and, moving into the 21st century, in my mind, by getting it into a pipe and sending it where it belongs.
I can hear the chuckles, and I have to agree.
Secondly, we also get rid of holding tanks, which are located next to Teslin Lake. Now, one would wonder why they would be there, but they are, so, in my mind, we're again getting away from the possibility of human error and getting into an automated system that will handle the job.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. McRobb:I would ask for your indulgence to allow me to invite all members to join me in welcoming Chief Angela Demit from the White River First Nation in the gallery.
Mr. Hassard: Finally, the third thing from this project is that the streets of Teslin are a safer place in the fact that we've reduced the amount of traffic on the streets.
In Ross River, we see over $1 million allocated to a multi-use facility that will again meet the needs of the community. Over the last year and a bit, I've heard repeatedly of the need for a place to hold events and meetings.
Mr. Speaker, my hope is that this facility will improve the lives of the people of Ross River by helping them create a better sense of community and a happier, healthier and safer community.
The other major community in my riding is Faro, and for those of you who have driven there during the summer months, you know first-hand how much gravel road there is on the way. One of the needs most talked about by Faroites is the need to improve the Campbell Highway.
There is $4.8 million identified for upgrading this highway. That means safer travel for the people of Faro and Ross River. It also means increased chances that tourists will be more likely to travel to these communities, which is good news for the small businesses in these communities.
There are many great things in this budget for my riding. To go into detail on all of them would take days, so in order to move the debate along I will only highlight some of the other good-news items.
There is $200,000 for increase in honoraria for volunteer ambulance services this was indeed a large issue in the community of Teslin, first of all, and in my riding in particular; an increase to the municipal grant for Teslin, Mayo, Haines Junction and Carmacks I know from, again, my previous time on council in Teslin that there was always a concern that communities like Faro and others seemed to get more money and we were always rather jealous of that, so it's a pleasure to be part of a government that is increasing the municipal grant for these communities, and I'm sure there are a lot of happy people as a result of that.
Also, there is a $10-an-hour increase for volunteer firefighters good news again; $700,000 for a domestic well-drilling program I know of several small subdivisions in my riding that are excited to see that; $100,000 for feasibility studies for Teslin and Haines Junction for multi-level health care facilities. The list goes on and on.
I thank all of the departments and their officials, as well as the Premier and the Cabinet ministers and their staff, for a job well done.
Before I close, I would like to make note of something that happened yesterday. I received a phone call from a constituent who is in hospital in Vancouver. He is a construction worker and he's recovering from ill health, and guess what? He has already heard the good news of the budget of the Yukon Territory. He is looking forward to coming back. His spirits are lifted, and I would bet that his recovery time is reduced based on this attitude just from hearing this good news.
On that note, Mr. Speaker, I will conclude.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I want to begin by extending to the members opposite our appreciation for the work that they've done in preparing to respond to this budget, considering the fact that it is the largest budget in the history of the Yukon, considering the fact that it poses many challenges for an opposition to be able to attack and criticize it that is by virtue of the fact of a tremendous amount of input that Yukoners had in constructing this budget. We certainly made every effort to engage communities, First Nations and citizens in this territory to put together a budget that was balanced, but also a budget that contributed as best we could in addressing the needs across this territory in every community. So I think, considering those challenges, the opposition has managed to pull together some responses.
I want to take a different tack. The government would like to take a different approach. Traditionally, rebuttal becomes the way we engage in debate in this House. That is something that the government side will move away from in this debate. We will accentuate the positives and we will present our case for the opposition's consumption. The opposition can then choose how they would like to deal with our presentation.
The budget is laid out in five important segments or themes. Of course, it begins with putting the Yukon's fiscal house in order. When you construct a budget of this nature, this is not about spending money; this is about investing money in the territory and strategic ways to do a number of things. It's to immediately provide stimulus in the Yukon, to increase cash flow and assist and benefit those here in the territory today who also have invested in this territory, and the immediate stimulus will go a long way to providing optimism for our Yukon citizens, but also to provide a much more positive outlook for the Yukon. We can present ourselves nationally and beyond, given that our fiscal house will now be in order. We will present a sound, strong, positive financial picture for anyone interested in coming to the Yukon and investing in our great territory.
We have to do a number of things to address this particular area. The opposition will probably at some point relent to the evidence that is in place, and there's no question that the work done by financial officials in the Yukon government, statisticians, representatives of our Ottawa office that effort and that commitment contributed greatly to turning our financial situation around and that is what has allowed us to make the investments that we have within this budget.
Moving on to the second area that is a major component of the budget, one has to understand that the investment of a budget in a jurisdiction such as the Yukon is an instrument that sets the direction in which the jurisdiction or, in this case, the Yukon Territory, will be going.
For many years the Yukon Territory has been travelling on a path in a direction that obviously was not the right course to take. We experienced the loss of population, the devastation of our economy; we've experienced conflict instead of collaboration; we've experienced many negatives. Obviously that evidence would lead anyone to believe that we were heading in the wrong direction, that we had charted the wrong course.
That's essentially what we as a government set out to do, first by putting our fiscal house in order and then by structuring a budget to invest in this territory to change entirely the direction it was going in. That new direction is about building a sustainable and competitive Yukon economy.
There's no doubt the primary objective that the Yukon electorate elected us to office to carry out was to deal with the Yukon economy.
So the new direction not only comes in many areas in the budget with that investment, be it in infrastructure, be it in marketing funds, be it in areas of culture and tourism, be it in the investment in creating the new Department of Economic Development. No matter what the case may be, the investment was all about this new direction and building a sustainable and competitive Yukon economy. One of the compatible mechanisms that have been created in conjunction with the budget and the investment that the budget is making is the development of the strategic process for the Department of Economic Development.
That's important, because a number of the areas in the third theme of our budget directly relates to the department and its work.
Developing an economic direction is critical. Without a direction or a vision and a plan on where you want to go, it's quite difficult to chart any course, and you will be in the doldrums that the Yukon has experienced for some time. The economic direction is fundamental because it's based on the free enterprise system. Dependence on government is what we want to move away from, and part of that economic direction is based fundamentally on the free enterprise system. It also includes the competitive advantage.
In other words, let us assess across this territory, in every region and community, at every juncture, what our competitive advantages are, and that is being done by the department. That is another important component of the economic direction. Then you include, as we have, strategic advantage. Strategic advantage is all about taking that competitive edge, that competitive advantage, marrying it or integrating it with the strategic advantage that sets up what strategic industries you would pursue, what areas of investment would be strategic and so on and so forth.
Put it all together and what you have created is the Yukon economic direction, the new direction. Now it's important to note that this direction is not the product of some internal think-tank within government, but more important is the product of a tremendous amount of work and effort by a broad cross-section of the Yukon public, especially its business community. It had tremendous input at the stakeholders' round table by the Association of Yukon Communities, the cultural industries representation, the Taking Action Committee, the Tourist Industry Association, the chambers of commerce both Whitehorse and Yukon, representing all chambers the Yukon Contractors Association, the Chamber of Mines, the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, the Yukon Federation of Labour, the Yukon Indian Development Corporation, the Yukon Information Technology Industry Society, and the Yukon Infrastructure Alliance. This is a representation of a stakeholder group that put together this economic direction and laid next steps in our strategic plan.
Now, let's go to the third area of the budget as it was structured, and that is focusing on strategic industries and projects. Here's where the compatibility and how the budget and the economic development strategy complement each other. We have determined through this effort of the stakeholders, others and government, through assessment, that the focusing on strategic industries and projects can be broken down in a number of areas. I will just briefly list some of those areas. Of course we focus on mining, tourism and culture, the cultural industries, forestry, oil and gas, energy, agriculture, transportation and construction, information and technology and, last but not least, retail and wholesale trade, which includes many of our small businesses.
This is a list of the strategic industries and projects that the budget is investing in. In Tourism and Culture we have a marketing fund to try to grow our tourism industry. We are very encouraged by the signs developing now in today's Yukon a recent announcement that the Klondike Inn, for a number of years now boarded up with plywood on the windows, will be back in business this summer. I think that is testimony to what is happening in Yukon's tourism industry. That's an indicator that is showing a positive sign of growth.
We have in this budget significant investment in the cultural industries, because that is an attraction for the Yukon to market and promote beyond our borders to attract investment and people to our beautiful territory. We have, obviously, an investment in mining. There are linkages from the immediate stimulus that this budget creates into mid- and long-term economic development. The mining industry is a key sector that would provide those linkages. Some of the positive signs there with things like mineral exploration tax credit and us addressing investments and regulatory review and all these types of things is key because we are experiencing a tremendous amount of increase in mining exploration, which leads us into mid-term. Mining exploration is a prerequisite to any long-term responsible development in this sector, so we are encouraged again as a government. We are experiencing optimism out there when in two years you go from approximately $5 million to $6 million in exploration investment to $30 million projected for this coming season.
Forestry is another strategic industry and there are investments there, whether in the southeast Yukon or in the southwest Yukon, working with Champagne-Aishihik and the community of Haines Junction, working with the Kaska in the southeast and the community of Watson Lake. We are advancing our ability to utilize a resource in a responsible, sustainable way to attract investment, create an industry, jobs and benefits for Yukoners, not only in the mid but in the long-term.
The investments that are in this budget are leading to that.
Oil and gas is another sector. For many years, the Yukon has received benefits from the Kotaneelee gas fields, and today we are experiencing projections of an increase in exploratory work in this area. That's in the immediate to mid term. And with the budget investments, we are very, very pleased and encouraged that with that type of development and activity, we will experience a longer term benefit for Yukoners, especially in the areas of royalty recovery not only the jobs and benefits created by doing the exploratory work, but in the long-term benefits that accrue because of royalties that are earned from successful exploratory initiatives.
Energy is another key factor, and we are seriously moving in an area in energy that will allow us to make sure that energy is a tool or a mechanism for responsible economic growth in the Yukon. We are actively engaged with Yukon First Nations through the Yukon Indian Development Corporation to look at a partnership in energy for the future of this territory so that we develop a solid economic cornerstone in partnership with First Nations on the energy front. We are pleased that those ongoing negotiations are positive, and we will be making every effort to see them produce positive and favourable results for the Yukon.
Through the leadership of people like the minister responsible for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, we are looking into agriculture as another strategic industry in the budget their investments there.
On transportation and construction, when we talk about how our economy requires a focus on the immediate for stimulus on the mid term to set up the long-term economic development, investment in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, secondary roads, roads to resources, buildings, facilities all these types of things are investments in infrastructure that provide a contribution to economic development.
This budget has a significant investment a tremendous investment in this area. It begins with the dramatic increase in highway construction that puts Yukoners to work. Of course we realize great benefit from that. That is just one example. There are many others. The bridge in Dawson City the opposition seems to completely misunderstand what it is, because in their constant demand for a business case, they are not using simple arithmetic. That is, do we continue to pay for the costs of the ferry on its operation and maintenance basis and also its replacement cost which are going to happen on a regular basis when any piece of machinery's time becomes expired do we pay for that cost in perpetuity, or do we invest in a piece of infrastructure that will, through the fullness of its life, diminish that cost? Simple arithmetic, Mr. Speaker. We have an investment in that area.
We also are ensuring an investment in information and technology another strategic industry. It's there and the government investment will realize jobs in this sector right here in the Yukon. We are very pleased that we have increased in this budget an investment in this sector. Of course, retail and wholesale trade is a huge component of our economy. It is the area whereby cash flow is measured. When you consider the largest budget ever in this history of the Yukon, I think we can all understand that in this particular strategic area, there is a tremendous amount of cash flow or spending power that will be taking place with this immediate stimulus.
Considering the fact that, of this budget, $102.6 million is capital investment, I think we can, just from that alone, visualize what kind of cash flow and spending power we will be contributing to the Yukon Territory, not to mention the tremendous spinoff benefits that O&M provide in those areas of expenditure.
So, again, another investment in this budget, given its size and where we are investing our taxpayers' dollars all to generate and increase our economic activity in the territory. I will close this area by saying again it relates to direction and how critical where you invest money versus past governments' approaches, spending money where you invest the money is key to changing the direction of the Yukon. We have done that with this budget.
Another important segment of the budget relates to formalizing a government-to-government relationship with First Nations and building partnerships.
Here is the one point that I will rebut: nowhere else in this budget, but this is the one point I am going to say, on behalf of this government, that we are very discouraged at the approach of the official opposition, which has totally diminished the tremendous achievements by First Nations in this territory through 30 long years of land claim negotiation and self-government agreement negotiations. To say what was said today on the floor of this House diminishes that tremendous accomplishment, and we in the government, on behalf of the official opposition, apologize to the First Nations, which have contributed so much to achieve those lofty goals and have now taken a step in this territory to
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I believe there is a need in this Legislature to tone down the rhetoric and to also check such outrageous statements as the one we've just heard. Just earlier today in Question Period, I recall you checking the leader of the third party in a conclusion she made about what a particular member's view on something was. We heard the same now from this Premier in his conclusion and characterization of what he thought the official opposition party did earlier in the day. We dispute his version of events and I would submit that it's the same type of example you ruled on earlier today. I would urge you to be consistent in your rulings and call the Premier to apologize for what he just said.
Speaker: Member for Klondike, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, for a member to be called to order during debate, the member must quote a section that is breached. There is no breach of any section. What has happened today is that the Premier has become quite eloquent in expressing his apologies on behalf of the official opposition to the First Nation members of our community, and that probably has irritated the official opposition, Mr. Speaker nothing else. No Standing Order has been breached.
Speaker: Leader of the opposition, on the point of order.
Mr. Hardy: On the point of order, I believe what the Premier is doing is he is insinuating false motives on questions that we did ask him in his role as the Premier, and I don't think that's appropriate in this House to be making those insinuations, especially when they're false.
Speaker: There is no point of order; it is a dispute between members. However, having said that, it is not appropriate for the Premier to apologize on behalf of the opposition. That is in their purview. I'd ask the Premier to carry on.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I was saying, the fourth area in this budget that is critical deals with formalizing a government-to-government relationship with First Nations and building partnerships in this territory.
Now, first off, let's touch on partnerships. Not only does it include economic partnerships with First Nations; it also includes partnerships with other jurisdictions. To that end, we have reached protocols, arrangements and agreements, not only with the State of Alaska, but also with the Northwest Territories and the Territory of Nunavut. This is important because when we look north of 60, at the sparse population, we can recognize how difficult it is for us to make the case on the national stage. But when we do it as a collective, we are much better able and much more successful in presenting our case and achieving success. We have proven it in health care and we will prove it in economic development and many other areas.
But it's also important to recognize that this partnership and intergovernmental or interjurisdictional cooperation includes First Nation people. Now, the Gwich'in people do not recognize the border between Yukon and Northwest Territories. The Acho Dene Koe and the Kaska do not recognize borders, not only between Yukon and B.C. but also the Yukon and Northwest Territories. So it's vital that we create cross-jurisdictional partnerships. We have done that. It's well-documented and it is proving to be quite a positive approach. We also must recognize that building full economic partnerships requires a tremendous amount of work, but there must be some economic initiative that we are working on.
Of course, there is an investment in the budget for First Nation people for communities like Old Crow, whereby we, in the past supplementary, begin the investment through a capital planning initiative for the Vuntut Gwitchin government. We are seeing the results of that unfold here in this budget. The investment in the supplementary has realized not only a winter road to haul equipment in to Old Crow, but it has seen us leverage a $2.9-million federal government investment in upgrades to the airport for the community of Old Crow.
This will provide a great deal of benefit and jobs for people in Old Crow, and I think we all agree that is not only a strategic investment, it is a wise choice to do so. That is an example of a partnership.
We have other partnerships that have been created on the economic front. The Kaska Nation and their partnership now with Teck Cominco that we, as a government worked very hard, led by the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, to facilitate has now seen a very positive result with a major mining company coming back into the Yukon Territory. We are working in partnerships in oil and gas. We will research and exhaust every economic option that would result in an economic partnership for the Yukon and its First Nation people. In forestry we will forge partnerships. We are with the Kaska. We are with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, as we speak. No matter what the case may be, I can assure this House, the Yukon public, most importantly Yukon First Nations, that the government's commitment to full economic partnerships is unequivocal. It means we are willing to share; we are willing to share the benefits that accrue from these partnerships, but we all have to recognize that we share in the burdens to create these partnerships. In this area, the budget certainly contributes to that concept and that initiative.
We are also in a new era a new era of implementing land claims and self-government agreements. We as a government have recognized that there are some areas of problem when it comes to implementation. That is why we are working again in partnership with First Nations and the federal government through the intergovernmental forum and in other venues to establish the need for the federal government to be much more focused on implementing the agreements they have signed on to. We are making headway in this area.
We are now in the nine-year review of our land claims implementation here in the territory. There is certainly an awakening on the part of the federal government. We have received some very positive signals from the new minister for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and we continue to work collaboratively with our First Nations and the federal government in the area of implementing these agreements. These agreements will contribute greatly to the Yukon Territory's future, and we as a government want to ensure that the spirit and the intent of these agreements are lived up to. That, again, is a solid commitment.
The fifth area is about building healthy communities and implementing a social agenda that takes a back seat to no government, past or future. First, healthy communities are vital to an optimistic citizenry. Healthy communities are vital to be able to produce, in the long term, citizens able to contribute in a positive way, who are assets to our society but, more importantly, who are contributing to building the future of the Yukon. There is a tremendous investment in this budget in building healthy communities and implementing our social agenda, and we, the government side, are very pleased and proud that we were able to bring forward such an aggressive agenda when it comes to the social side of our ledger.
Through the leadership of the Minister of Health and Social Services, we are experiencing progress in many areas. I will touch on some. Whether it be an investment in daycare, whether it be an investment in opening up more beds in Copper Ridge and Macaulay Lodge, whether it be an investment in increasing our ability to deliver health care at the hospital or in communities, the minister has led the charge and improved those fronts. Whether it be an investment in improving our ambulance services, whether it be an investment in our volunteers, whether it be an investment in multilevel care facilities for seniors, whether it be an investment in youth, across the board the minister has led the charge, improving our ability in health and social services, contributing greatly to building healthy communities and implementing our very ambitious and aggressive social agenda.
The investments in this area range from Community Services through the Youth Directorate, the Women's Directorate, the Department of Justice, the Public Service Commission, the Department of Education, the Department of Environment and, of course, the Department of Health and Social Services a tremendous investment in this area. It is the fifth most important theme within the budget, but it's certainly not by chronological order the least important. It is vital and very important to this government.
As I said, we stand on our social agenda and its deliverables and stack it up against any government, past or in the future, or even in the country. We are delivering very significantly on the social side of the ledger. We believe that that is what strikes the balance of this very important budget for the Yukon Territory. Not only are we investing in the development side of the ledger, we are also balancing the scales by investing in the social side of the ledger.
Let us not forget the environment, because there is, contrary to what others are saying, a tremendous focus on the Department of Environment. Led by the minister in charge of the Department of Environment, the Member for Porter Creek North, we are advancing our ability to protect and conserve our wild spaces and special places. We need not have flawed political processes. The minister, in his prudence, recognizes that there are a tremendous number of legislative mechanisms, regulatory regimes that ensure we do that. The minister is very focused on implementing those legislative and regulatory regimes.
We also must recognize that, contrary to statements made by the opposition, for example, there is a larger investment in the Department of Environment, dollar value, than there is in the Department of Economic Development.
And when you include that there are two regulatory bodies in this government, the Department of Environment and the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, each charged with the duty of ensuring the protection of the Yukon environment, ensuring that we proceed only with responsible development, there is a tremendous increase in that investment on the environmental side of the ledger versus the economic side of the ledger. What this all means, Mr. Speaker, is that the budget is balanced. It is equal across the spectrum, and that is an achievement that many governments in the past have failed to deliver on. This government has definitely delivered.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think I've touched on all the areas of what makes this budget a significant budget, a good budget, a budget for the Yukon to change the direction this territory has been going in. We started that a year ago by getting control of our financial situation, and now we are hitting our stride with the investments throughout this budget for the Yukon Territory. This is a can-do budget. This is a budget of optimism. This is a budget of fiscal prudence. This is a balanced budget. This is an investment in the future of the Yukon. It is a can-do budget for a can-do territory, and we the government side commend it to this Legislature and the Yukon public.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question? Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker:Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Arntzen: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Disagree.
Mr. McRobb: Disagree.
Mr. Cardiff: Disagree.
Mrs. Peter: Disagree.
Ms. Duncan: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 10 yea, five nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 10 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll sit in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: The Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
We will now begin with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am pleased to be able to provide the Committee with some introductory remarks on the 2004-05 operation and maintenance and capital budget, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Most of the key initiatives of this budget were outlined when I introduced the budget to this Legislature on March 25. While I do not intend to repeat that speech here, before we proceed to general debate I would like to touch on some of the budget highlights in order to refresh the memory of the members.
The budget seeks operation and maintenance expenditure authority of $543,104,000, capital expenditure authority of $162,654,000, and loan amortization and loan capital authority of $5,360,000. In total, the O&M and capital components of this budget total just under $706 million. This is an increase of $44.5 million over the 2003-04 forecasted budget of $661.2 million.
The largest increase on a percentage basis is in the area of capital, which has gone up by 18 percent from the 2003-04 forecast expenditure of $138.1 million. This is a $24.5-million increase. This increased level of capital expenditure will be an important stimulus for the Yukon's private sector construction and road-building activities. Some of the budgetary highlights on the capital side of the ledger are: $1 million for enterprise and trade funds; $1.5 million for strategic industries development; $500,000 for regional development programs; $100,000 for economic infrastructure development; $500,000 for tourism cooperative marketing fund; $100,000 increased funds for the gateway cities program; $675,000 invested in the film development and production area; $17 million for Alaska Highway work under the Shakwak agreement, $1.5 million to start planning work for the Dawson bridge, $2.95 million for upgrading the Teslin bridge; $2.75 million over two years for highway work south of Dawson City; $4.8 million will be invested to improve and upgrade strategically important highways.
There is $1.5 million for the Tagish Road and $1.5 million for the Whitehorse Airport security. There is $2.96 million over two years for airstrip reconstruction in Old Crow. Work will begin on construction of a new Old Crow terminal, at a total cost of $2.3 million.
There is $415,000 for a new weigh scale in Watson Lake; $5.8 million on information technology investments. There is $1.3 million for a multi-use facility in Ross River; $140,000 to begin the planning and design of the community centre at Marsh Lake. There is over $3 million total for sewage systems in Carmacks and Teslin. There is $3.5 million for the community development fund and $1.5 million for the FireSmart program. Another $1.5 million is for community training funds of course, $500,000 of that is to address specifically the area of trades training. There is $100,000 for feasibility studies for senior facility studies in Haines Junction and Teslin. There is $600,000 for planning work for multi-level care facilities for Dawson and Watson Lake.
Chair:Order please. The Chair has just heard what sounds to be some type of electronic device and I'd like to remind all members that those are not allowed in our Chambers that includes cellular telephones and anything similar in nature.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: How about pacemakers?
Chair: Pacemakers, as long as they're installed appropriately, are allowed and encouraged in our Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is $600,000 for planning work for multi-level care facilities for Dawson and Watson Lake, which in total will see an additional $10.6 million invested in construction in 2005-06; $215,000 additional funding is allocated for youth initiatives, including funding support of three youth groups; $700,000 to start the design of a new Tantalus school in Carmacks; $500,000 for the design and renovation of Porter Creek school, which in total will cost $2.8 million. These are just some of the capital expenditure highlights. I could go on, but I won't as we can discuss these budgetary commitments in much greater detail as we proceed department by department.
On the operation and maintenance, commonly referred to as the O&M side of the budget, I am pleased to be able to announce significant proposed expenditure increases in our departments of Health, Education and the Women's Directorate.
Each of these department's budgets have grown by about five percent over the 2003-04 forecast. More importantly, much of this growth is directly related to new initiatives announced by the government. These budgetary expenditure increases include: $3.1 million for increased funding for the Whitehorse General Hospital; $1.9 million to fund government pharmaceutical programs; $320,000 for an FASD action plan; approximately $1.8 million to open new beds in Copper Ridge, most of which will go to new caregiver positions; $1.9 million on primary care in addition to $375,000 in capital expenditures; $250,000 for an alternative school in Whitehorse opening January 2005; $116,000 to enhance the workplace harassment prevention office; $291,000 for a workplace diversity employment office in order to fund a disability employment consultant; $1 million in additional funding for the base grant of the Yukon College; increased honoraria to rural ambulance attendants totalling $200,000; $660,000 associated with the Children's Act review; $675,000 in enhanced funding for daycare; to name but a few. Again, I could go on but I won't.
These expenditures demonstrate my government's commitment to the social side of the expenditure equation. In addition to budgetary enhancements to the government's health, education and social programs, this government has also made targeted investments on programming for the departments of Economic Development and Energy, Mines and Resources two key departments that will assist with helping turn the Yukon economy around.
As noted in the budget speech, there are no tax increases in this budget; in fact, just the opposite. This session will see the introduction of tax legislation that will reduce the small business corporate tax income rate, and the new rate will drop from six percent to four percent beginning in 2005, and the small business deduction limit will increase from $300,000 to $400,000, beginning in 2007.
The cost of this initiative is around $750,000 it is just a total of $750,000 in total costs.
Mr. Chair, I could go on at some length again and speak further about this budget, but I will not do that at this time as we will be discussing the budget contents more fully as we debate it in the Committee of the Whole. I think it's important to note at this juncture that the debate can be much more productive if we get into department by department, because that's where the meat and the potatoes of this budget are, and every minister is prepared and willing to engage in constructive debate on the budget.
So, Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to answer any questions in general debate at this time that is, if the members have any.
Mr. Hardy: Well, I don't think we're going to go into department by department as early as the Premier may want. We do have a fair number of questions. I know my colleagues have a lot of questions in general debate, and they do look forward, of course, to the departmental debates, and so do I in the departments that I am a critic of. I also know that the member for the third party looks forward to asking questions of the Premier in all these departments.
However, we'll start off in a very, very general matter. I would like to know what the philosophical direction of this government is, what philosophy they are following. Because like many people in the Yukon, I'm a little confused over the mixed messaging that we have received in the last year and a half. Last year saw substantial cuts in areas that affected many businesses, many individuals throughout the territory. This year, there's a substantial increase in the spending in capital projects a complete about-face. Some people call it flip-flopping, whatever. Next year, there is an anticipated drop once again in the capital spending.
So if the Premier would be so kind as to share with us the philosophy that is driving this thinking and these types of changes within two budgets and then also again a change next year by their projections.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It's unfortunate that the leader of the official opposition is confused but he should not be, considering the tremendous amount of detail that has been disseminated not only in the public but here in the Legislature, beginning with the tabling of the budget and the delivery of the speech. That certainly lays out the philosophical approach of this government.
The confusion for the member seems to be around what happened last year, and I would point out to the member that we are already advancing the territory one year ahead and into a new direction. To say, Mr. Chair, that there were massive cuts in last year's budget would be incorrect. I repeat for the leader of the official opposition that to imply there were massive cuts is incorrect.
What there was was a prudent course of action to get a firm grip on the financial situation of the Yukon. That is because we had inherited a government and a financial position passed on to us by the former Liberal government that had seen some very misguided spending practices, which had reduced the territorial surplus to a dangerously low level. So we merely lowered the trajectory of spending. There were no cuts to programs or services. Then we went to work on improving the financial situation of the Yukon Territory.
I think all the evidence that has been brought to bear in this regard certainly refutes the opposition's contention that something else took place, because it did not. We increased the financial position of the Yukon significantly. Upon doing that, we brought in a fairly large supplementary budget in the fall, which helped set the stage for this fiscal year and this very positive and constructive investment contained in this budget for the future of the Yukon Territory.
The confusion seems to be with the member opposite in regard to not understanding what really took place and, all along, the government side has been trying to help the member opposite come to that understanding. Here I am doing that again.
Now, if the member wishes me to really delve into our philosophical approach, I could recite the budget speech in its entirety that certainly lays out a very clear philosophical approach by this government.
Mr. Hardy: If the minister so wishes to recite his budget speech, I'm quite willing to sit here and listen to the long-winded blowhard do it again.
Characterizing someone in this Assembly as a "blowhard" is entirely out of order. It's inappropriate, and I would ask the member to take back that comment.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Hardy:All right, Mr. Chair. It's a matter of opinion. I will take back that comment.
If the Premier is offering to recite his whole budget speech again since he is so eager to do it I am quite willing to listen to it in 40-minute segments. However, I don't think he really intended that.
Now, the reason I have met with some confusion is that I expected some leadership and some direction and I don't see it.
Now, earlier on I pointed out the conflicting messages that both budget speeches gave and I'm not going to go through the whole thing again. But there are some very, very conflicting messages. Last year it was about the fiscal restraint; it was about reducing the current level of government spending. If you are going to say in a budget speech that you are going to reduce the current level of government spending, I would assume that would apply longer than one year. So I'm curious and I believe many people in the Yukon are curious why it changed. What changed? It's not because of the great fiscal management of the Yukon Party government. Most people in the Yukon are not stupid; they've heard this rhetoric before.
I would like to know what has caused the philosophical change in the message that was initially given to the people of this territory by this government about reducing the fiscal spending. It comes down to a very simple question: is this budget sustainable? Is this type of spending sustainable? Can it go year after year, or is this a one-off deal?
Last year, of course, there were some substantial cuts. The government, obviously after a very active time during the spring, summer and fall, realized the error of their ways and brought in a supplementary budget of fairly massive proportions to try to make up for their ill-advised cuts. And now we see a substantial increase again the largest budget in the history of the Yukon, and I find it very surprising that a very right-wing government would be bragging about it, because I know members on the other side have often criticized former governments for their spending habits, and yet here we see spending that far exceeds any other government in the history of the Yukon by a party that has always criticized excessive spending.
The records are out there; it is well-documented that that has always been one of their biggest concerns the spending trajectory. Whether it is right or wrong, it doesn't matter; that's what they've always argued the points on in every single budget. It is also what they've always voted against. I have never known either of the two ministers, who were in opposition benches, to vote for a budget brought in this House yet, and almost always because they've disagreed with the spending priorities or the trajectory of spending and have always said that this kind of spending cannot be sustained and that we have to get our financial house in order.
That's a philosophical position that they were taking. It's not backed with fact, but it's backed from a certain belief. It's one that is carried around the country. Conservatives across the country will often argue this point. Reformers will argue this point. They are constantly attacking the government for what they consider excessive spending or spending, of course, in areas that they feel are inappropriate. Of course, when you find some of the scandals and rightly so they criticize the government there. That's their role.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: The member opposite, the Health and Social Services minister says, "That's the Liberals." Well, in this case, at this present time, it's the Liberals; 12 years ago, it was the conservatives in government federally, and they got chastised for their spending as well. Now, the scandals that the Liberals are facing are fairly significant. They're going to have to deal with that in due course if an election is called, and the people will make a judgement on that. However, philosophically, the conservatives, which this party is very proud to consider themselves some are from the old Reform Party, which doesn't exist any more, and some, of course, are from the philosophy of the conservatives and call themselves the Yukon Party believe in controlling the spending trajectories, having control of government spending. Okay, so I understand that. That's pretty clear.
That's the position that was taken last year. That was the message that was given. People, I believe, in many cases, expected that to be the message after an election that they were going to get the spending under control. And the Premier was very clear on that. As he says, reducing the current level of government spending in the territory, we must be wiser in how we spend our money. Okay, I accept that. That's not a problem. But fast-forward 12 to 14 months, and what do we have? We have a switch, and we have the largest budget in the history of the Yukon; we have the largest capital spending in the history of the Yukon. So my question, my concern is: what are we following here? What can we expect for the following year? Is the target moving again? Are we going to see a continual acceleration of this type of spending? If that's the case, it's something we can look forward to. We can plan a year down the road. Many businesses I've talked to have already said they like some aspects of this budget. I've said I like some aspects of this budget. But what about the year after and the year after? What's their plan for their training, for gearing up? They don't want to buy a bunch of new equipment, for instance, if it's only going to be for a year or a two-year tremendous amount of activity, only to find out they're still making payments on that equipment but there has been a cutback in the activities in the industry.
Can the minister give me some indication what type of forecast he has down the road, and is this type of budget one that he believes is sustainable for the future?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think this is going to be a difficult debate, because the leader of the official opposition either conveniently or just does not recognize what has really been articulated going back to day one of this government's mandate. We made the correct decision to get the fiscal house of the Yukon in order. The first step had to be lowering the trajectory of spending and the direction we were spending and change that to increasing our financial capacity and changing spending into investment, which immediately changed the course on which the Yukon was proceeding.
So that's what took place. To say there was a position taken that we are going to continue to reduce the spending in the territory would be incorrect. That's not what was happening. We were first increasing our financial capacity, showing fiscal prudence. We were not about to spend money we didn't have and, thanks to the mismanagement of the former Liberal government, we were in a position something that does not happen in the Yukon very often of being in an overdraft situation at the bank.
So not only were the trajectories going in the wrong direction, we were essentially cash poor. So of course Finance officials, being very concerned, laid out a clear picture of the financial position of the Yukon. We applaud them for that, but they also committed to going to work with us as government to change that financial position to the positive, and that's what took place over the past number of months.
It has enabled us to make these kinds of investments.
Now, let's go to the member's point: is this the same spending pattern we would experience in coming years? I wish I could get the member to change this concept of spending, because philosophically this side of the House believes in investment. We believe in investment to solicit and attract further investment from the private sector. The important factor there is we want to reduce our dependence on government and increase the involvement and the participation in the Yukon's growth, development and economic future from the private sector. That is why this budget is an investment in the immediate, the mid and long term. Of course, the member may not have turned the pages of the Budget Address and the highlighted information but, if the member had, the member would see a clear schematic of what is taking place. Before the member jumps to his feet and says, "Well, you're cutting again," I think it's important that the member recognizes that because this is not just simple spending, it's investment, a number of the investments in this budget carry forward into subsequent years so that the benefits that accrue and the jobs and the spinoffs and all that goes with it continue to flow from this year into the next year into the next year. That's why this is an investment.
If the member would look through the document, he could see where this financial picture is going, but I will provide a bit of a codicil here. We are also working today on a new territorial financial funding agreement with the federal government. All indicators show that we will be able to further improve the financial position of the Yukon Territory.
Philosophically, we believe in investing, not spending. We are investing on the social side of the ledger, on the environmental front and, of course, on the development front. We are investing in building relationships. We are investing in building partnerships. We are investing in the future of this territory. That's what the budget is. That's the philosophical approach.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that was a nice little lecture from the Premier who knows it all and everybody here on the other side really can't read a financial statement and doesn't have a clue what's going on. That's the kind of lecture we will get back from that side, I guess, through the whole course. Every single question we ask will be considered stupid and we really should just pick up the financial books, read them and realize the brilliance of the Premier.
Now, I did look at that page; that's why I asked the question. It's a very simple question: is this type of spending sustainable? All it takes is a yes or no. Is the spending at the present time $705 million sustainable? With the future projections, with already, as the minister has indicated the increased income that is being negotiated and will flow into the territory, will we continue to see another budget because it hasn't been crafted yet but are we going to continue to see budgets in the $700 million plus area?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, pardon me for smiling or laughing a bit here, but if you look at the long-term projections which are the projections for subsequent years, beyond 2004-05 there is a clear schematic of what is happening. It shows where we are at with net operation and maintenance expenditures in the year 2005-06, keeping in mind that these are projections. The member will see nominal growth. Well, there is always, on the operation and maintenance side, forced growth. We have things like the collective bargaining agreement. We have things like inflation. We have things like fuel costs. We have things like increased costs in other areas be it electricity, you name it. There is forced growth always.
So it shows the net increases in O&M. It shows the net capital expenditures. It shows that we are not bringing forward as big a budget in subsequent years. I explained to the member opposite we can do that because this budget is an investment, not only now to stimulate but it provides further jobs and benefits in subsequent years because of the targeted investments we've made.
So it's all there in the pages, but again they are projections. There are changes coming. We are negotiating a new territorial funding agreement with Ottawa. All the indicators show that we will be further increasing the financial position of the Yukon Territory.
That, I think, is significant, Mr. Chair, because it's allowing us to keep on a go-forward basis more options available for the Yukon, and we intend to invest prudently, wisely, and invest in a manner so we continue on this changed course for the Yukon Territory. We are building a future. There's no question about it, and if the member wants to engage in the indicators in that area, I'd be pleased to oblige.
Mr. Hardy: This is going to be a nice long session. It seems to be an area the Premier doesn't necessarily want to share that much information on. I could open this page too; I can wave it around, and guess what? Let's find it.
Here it is: government projections, right?
Okay, we have just use a comparison. Government projections I have two of them surprise, surprise. I have last year's and I have this year's, and you know what? They don't match. They're not even that accurate. In some cases I see tens of millions of dollars out.
Now, how am I supposed to place a great deal of value on these future projections? I have the one from last year surprise, surprise and I have the one from this year tens of millions of dollars out in many of the columns.
I have the amount of surplus and deficit that is different. I have the total net expenditures substantially different substantially different. I have a total net income substantially different. So now the Premier stands there and tells me, "If the member on the opposite side will look at this, he will understand everything. He will understand that the spending that will carry over this is the flagship budget, and a lot of this carries over into the next year." Well, I think we all understand that. That has been going on for tens of years.
I asked a simple question: is this type of spending in this budget sustainable? That's all. I didn't ask if the next year was going to be $705 million. And I don't necessarily believe that these projections next year are going to match the ones this year. So I wouldn't hold this up like a Bible and swear on it that it's going to be perfectly accurate. I dont think the deputy Finance minister would swear on a Bible, on his life, that it isn't going to be the same. So I don't necessarily place an overly great deal of stock in this type of example.
But we want to talk about spending; there are lots of things.
Now, the minister talked about the federal funding agreement, and he has indicated that all indicators show that we're going to receive more money. Could the Premier give an indication of what we're looking at there? There must be some type of indication.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, pardon me for not anticipating that the leader of the official opposition would not recognize that not only do projections change and that's why they're called projections. That's part of financial management ensuring that you lay out your projections and then follow through, and where changes occur, you act accordingly. It's called financial management.
But also pardon me for not anticipating that the member did not recognize that there is a dramatic change in the format, because last year's projections, as pointed out by the member opposite, were under a cash accounting system.
This year's projections on a go-forward basis are under a full accrual accounting system. Yes, you bet there are big changes. We are not showing capital tangible assets any more as $1; we are showing their exact value. We are showing the cost of depreciation or amortization. There is nothing sinister about the projections. The projections are there for the benefit of the members opposite and the Yukon public to show that we are creating a financial picture on a go-forward basis. It's even important to note that by the year 2007-08, considering things as they are in these projections not factoring in any increased financial position that may occur because of our new five-year funding agreement with the federal government we will show a surplus for the year a surplus of $4 million and change. That shows a balanced budget.
So I'm not sure where the member wants to go with this, but I want to point out some very important philosophical facts. Again I repeat: this budget is an investment in the immediate, mid and long term. The future projections are showing also that we intend to invest. I would also make sure the member understands that the numbers are net; they are minus recoveries. If the member wants to debate the fact that we could add in recoveries here, there would be changes again, in the millions of dollars. These are net projections, not gross. So we are very comfortable that we have got the Yukon's fiscal house in order and that we are heading in the right direction. The indicators out there, as I pointed out earlier which we would be obliged to debate show clearly that there is a new direction happening, and many of the indicators are going in a positive direction. Those are important, because they are measurements or barometers of what the government and the territory are experiencing through investment.
We will continue on this road. It is a new direction; it is a strategic direction; it is a direction to build a better and brighter future for the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: Okay, Mr. Chair, the Premier has indicated that I can't read the financial statements. I don't seem to recognize full-accrual accounting. Let's clear it up and maybe I will understand. They're very simple questions.
Does the full-accrual accounting affect the changes under territorial revenue the amounts from last year and this year?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Absolutely not.
Mr. Hardy: How about the transfers from Canada? Are they affected by the full-accrual accounting measures?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If you do your financial statement by full-accrual accounting, of course, but the overall changes in any revenue when it comes to transfers from Canada are cash exact.
I'm not sure where the member is going here, Mr. Chair, because there's no logic to this.
Mr. Hardy: I'm just pointing out the fact that there are different figures up in the front part where it's not even affected by the full-accrual accounting changes. So when I say the figures are substantially different, just based even on the revenue, that's not affected by full-accrual accounting. I can read where it is in the financial statements. Let's not mix it all up; it's very simple. I understand what projections are for. I'm just saying I don't necessarily think that they're overly accurate, because I have two in front of me that, just based on the income alone, are substantially different.
It's a little silly that the Premier would hang his hat on this, because I sure the heck wouldn't.
Let's look at the fact that, at the end of last year not the end of last year, but the end of 2002-03, how much once the statements are drawn up net financial resources were there?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I'm not sure what relevance that has to where we are today, because we've made dramatic changes in the financial position of the Yukon. We have clearly shown that there was a problem with the census we did the undercount.
You know, Mr. Chair, this is becoming quite ridiculous. The member opposite cannot, in the face of the evidence, take any other position, but given the fact that we had increased the financial position the member opposite is also conveniently ignoring changes in monies because of devolution, which came into force and effect midway through a fiscal year. We had the debate in this Legislature that we could not could not book a dollar value on what devolution would mean to our financial position because it had not been determined. Subsequently it came in through the form of a supplementary a dramatic change in the financial position because of devolution. And the list goes on and on and on.
But if the member opposite wants to go back to the year 2002-03 is that the period?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair:Order please. I would ask the members to channel their comments through the Chair. I would also ask other members to reduce the amount of extraneous chatter in our Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am asking, Mr. Chair, if that is the year that the member wants. He has the documentation. The government side is here to conduct itself in a constructive, expeditious manner. The member has the same documents that the government does. Here they are the documents have been provided for the members opposite. They have been in their hands for a long time. What is the point of this needless debate?
Mr. Hardy: Well, humour me, Mr. Premier; humour me. Why don't you tell me on the floor: at the end of 2002-03, March 31, what did the Auditor General come up with? How much money? What were the net financial resources at the beginning of the year? What was the figure? How many million dollars?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the member has that number. It has also been delivered to the member through the public accounts. So this is a needless debate, and this government will stick to its determination to conduct debate in this Legislature in an expeditious and constructive manner. This is not.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, if this were true, then I would get an answer, because that's all it would take to move on. Why does the Premier continue to refuse to recognize the fact that there was a substantial surplus through all that. It wasn't created all of a sudden by the election of Yukon Party government. Why doesn't he just admit that we have had surpluses, and they have been long-term surpluses, year after year by many, many governments. And where were we at the end of 2002-03, the actual?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the member can get the number on page S-2 in the document he has, but I'll point out something. The census undercount contributed to that number, collapsing the Yukon permanent fund contributed to that fund, collapsing ill-advised trust funds contributed to that number. So I'm not sure what the member wants to do beyond this point, but the member has the number. The member has the documents. This is a needless debate. The government is not going to engage in needless debate.
Mr. Hardy: Will the member tell me how much was in the bank account and the surplus at the end of 2002-03?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It's in documentation that's provided to the members. It was just over a million dollars in the bank. I also pointed out that this case does not happen very often, but the Yukon had to go into an overdraft position in the fiscal year 2002-03. The cash situation in 2003 was $1,072,000.
Mr. Hardy: What were the net financial resources at the beginning of the year 2002-03?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member has the documentation. He has the number.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, I ask you to direct the member to answer the question.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have provided, through the tremendous efforts of officials in the Department of Finance, also through the audited financial statements of the Yukon by the Auditor General of Canada, all the information to the member opposite. We will not engage in needless, useless debate.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that's an opinion of the Premier. On this side, we actually would like the Premier to mouth the words that there was a surplus. We really would like the Premier to come clean on this. I think it would serve the debate very well if he would tell me what the net financial resources were at the beginning of the year 2002-03.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite is implying that I have somehow not correctly reported the financial position of the Yukon. That would not be the case. Not only have we correctly reported it, we have also provided the members opposite and the public with the public accounts report, as done by the Auditor General. The member has all this information. We are here to debate the budget for the fiscal year 2004-05. That's what the government is here to do. We're not here to engage in needless debate. The opposition is mired in the negativity of trying to reconstruct the past. That's not what the government is doing. On behalf of its public and the public interest, we are here to build a better and brighter future for the territory. The 2004-05 budget invests significantly in a better and brighter future.
Mr. Hardy: Again, that's an opinion of the Premier. He doesn't seem to want to answer a single question from the opposition. This is a very simple question he can answer, and we can move forward. He wants to say that we're dwelling in the past. Unfortunately, whether he likes it or not, he was part of that past. This past does connect to this budget. All budgets are connected. If there's not substantial money to carry forward, we do have a problem. We would like to know where we were at the end of the budget year, moving into the next year. Where was the surplus at? I don't know why it's such a problem for the Premier to say how much of a surplus there was. I don't understand why he resists this with such a passion. It's a simple question: what were the net financial resources at the beginning of 2002-03? Then we'll move on.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is needless debate. The member has it right before him. The question is redundant and moot.
Mr. Hardy: Again, that's an opinion of the Premier, and on this side it's not that hard of an answer. I would be willing to walk over and point to it on the page if he can't seem to find it. I will ask one more time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: He yells over here that he rests his case. I don't know what case he's resting, because I've already made it very clear that we would like to hear it from his mouth. We would like to hear him say it in the Legislature. It's not that difficult. Having it on a piece of paper is fine, but we would also like to hear the Premier stand up and actually admit that there was a surplus at the beginning of the year after 2002-03, and the amount of that surplus.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It's not difficult at all, Mr. Chair, but recognizing what the leader of the official opposition is attempting to do, I am merely pointing out that this is needless debate. He has all the information. I guess the real issue here is not me or the government side answering a question, but reversing the situation and asking the member opposite: why even bother, when he has all this information laid out clearly on the pages of budget documents, including what the Auditor General has produced in the public accounts. This is not constructive in debate; it is, quite frankly, a waste of time.
Mr. Hardy: I would contend that the waste of time is happening on the other side, because we are quite willing to move on if he would just say the words. For some reason they choke in his throat and I don't understand why. Maybe it contradicts everything he said from the time he has been elected. Maybe it would be an affront to the position he put out when he talked about the trajectory of spending and the financial situation that the territorial government was in when the Yukon Party won the election. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe he would have to admit there was a slight mistake made in the calculations and I am being generous when I say a mistake, Mr. Chair, because some people believe there was an intent, but I am being very generous; I am saying there was a slight mistake.
Now, the Premier has an opportunity to clean it up very simply.
Mr. Chair, are you having difficulty with my questioning?
Chair:The Chair has a concern about the member's use of the phrase that there are others that may believe there was more than an intent. Again, I will remind members that they cannot do indirectly what they can't do directly. To imply that others believe that there was an infraction a statement that would be out of order. Yes, the Chair is becoming somewhat concerned. I would just ask the member again to temper his comments and to continue on with debate.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, I have heard the word "temperance" lately in this House, and I'm really starting to wonder if I'm in a church or I'm in the Legislature.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: No, I'm not debating; I'm talking about something.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Don't listen to the other side either. You're supposed to be listening
Chair:Order. The role of the Chair is to preserve order and decorum in our Assembly. In our brief time that we have been back in session now, the Chair has recognized an exuberance with considerable extraneous comments and back-and-forth chatter, discussion going on that isn't being moderated through the Chair. In order to encourage appropriate, vigorous debate in our esteemed Assembly, I would just kindly remind members to acknowledge and follow our Standing Orders, to treat each other with respect and dignity. We can conduct and again I will use the phrase "conduct ourselves in a manner in which Yukoners are expecting us to conduct ourselves and behave." The Chair doesn't take pleasure in interrupting debate and discussion; however, I'm becoming quite conscious and somewhat alarmed at the amount of extraneous comments going on. I'd like the debate to continue now, please.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will try to restrain myself in those matters. I also had sat in that chair that you're in and experienced at times moments of frustration with some of the debate that went on. So I will try to remember that, Mr. Chair.
Where did I leave off? I asked the question of the Premier, and I'll ask it one more time, just to see if he can rise to the occasion and answer the question. Will the Premier give me the net financial resources at the beginning of the year 2002-03?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The Premier did, and it's well-documented, and the member has it.
We're also, as a government, extremely proud of the fact and commend and applaud Finance officials in this government for contributing the lion's share of that surplus that is documented in the pages of the material the member opposite has.
I want to also point out that it is somewhat disturbing to the government side to witness this lack of recognition of the tremendous effort that Finance officials put forth to make this territory's financial position much more positive. The insinuations are very disturbing because they do not reflect on that fact; they ignore that fact.
So the member has all the numbers; the government side is very pleased we were able to contribute the biggest percentage of the surplus the member has on the pages of his documents; and now the government would like to move forward and debate with the official opposition and the third party the investment the government is making on behalf of the Yukon citizens in the future of the territory.
Mr. Hardy: That's exactly what the Premier would like and, therefore, Mr. Chair, that's exactly what we should do over here. However, we are not part of the Yukon Party and we do have a different approach and different viewpoint on this.
Could the minister confirm that the figure is $78,514,000 for 2002-03?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I can't confirm that, Mr. Chair, because that's not the amount. So I'm not sure where that's coming from.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister turn to page S-3, net financial resources, beginning of the year, move over under the column 2002-03, actual is that figure $78,514,000?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This side of the House doesn't even know what document the member is looking at. Frankly, we see no reason why we should be trying to figure out what document the member is alluding to. We know full well what the values are; so does the member. We are here to debate the 2004-05 budget. Frankly, in general debate, if we are spending a lot of our time on budgets from a year and two years ago, we are at the very limits of what is acceptable in this Assembly.
Mr. Hardy: That's once again an opinion of the Premier. I would like to hold up for the Premier, if you don't mind since it is called Main Estimates 2004-05, which happens to be the budget this year operation and maintenance and capital. Just so he knows, since he didn't know what documents he was looking at. I'm reading it out of the budget on page S-3 on the top under the title "Net Financial Resources" net financial resources, beginning of the year, under the column 2002-03. It is part of the budget. It is part of the figures in it; therefore, of course, we do have the right and obligation to ask questions out of it. It's just a simple figure with regard to surplus, and I'm just asking for confirmation if he can see it and will confirm it: $78,514,000.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: On page S-3, the mains 2004-05, the member opposite is looking at the net financial resources beginning of the year, actual for 2002-03, not projections actual. The member should well know that the contribution in the last few months to achieve that is very significant.
We've gone through this time and time again: the $23 million in undercount; the $15 million in contingency that was collapsed; the $10 million in the permanent fund that was collapsed; the collapsing of a couple of trust funds; it was created. Again, it's needless debate. These numbers have been well-established and documented for the public.
Mr. Hardy: I want to assure the minister I wasn't debating or asking how it came about or where it came from, because the Premier has, on numerous occasions, already spelled that out. That wasn't what I was asking about. I was just asking if that's the correct figure that we can base our debate around. It is part of the 2004-05 budget package, and it's a question that I think is easy to confirm with a "yes" or "no".
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Why would any government put a number that is incorrect, inappropriate, so on and so forth? Is this member questioning the integrity of the people in the Department of Finance? Is this member questioning the integrity of the Auditor General? If that number is booked as an actual for a fiscal year, I would submit that that's the number. This is needless debate.
Ms. Duncan: Good afternoon, Mr. Chair. I'm delighted to enter into this particular debate.
I've listened with a great deal of interest to the leader of the official opposition ask the Premier about the surplus. That is, in effect, what he has been asking about. They are now, in our new method of accounting, written as the "net financial resources beginning of the year".
The 2001-02 surplus, as listed by the Auditor General, was $78,849,000, exactly as the previous government had indicated it would be and as the Premier agreed with me last April April 8, 2003, as a matter of fact; I know the date well. That was a surplus of 2001-02 $78,849,000.
Now, repeatedly, on that date in Hansard, I asked the Premier to tell us what the surplus would be for 2002-03. Now, I asked that question because the Premier, Finance minister, had spent the previous number of months telling Yukoners ad infinitum that the government was broke and we had to lower the trajectory of spending and, my goodness, all the money had been spent. Lo and behold, the net financial resources, the surplus, at March 31, 2002-03, was $78,514,000. What's the difference?
Now, the Premier loves to go on and on and on and take credit for that surplus and to suggest that the credit really belongs with the hard-working Finance officials, which is exactly where it belongs to our Finance team. What I would like to ask the Premier is why he persists in a stubborn refusal to tell the members of this House what the surplus is on a daily basis. Why does he persist in that way, when, in fact, the figures are there and the figures are what they should be? The Premier will not tell members of this House what the surplus is. He'll provide the financial documents. We all know there are variance reports between now and then. Why won't he tell us?
Let's start at the very beginning: the 2001-02 surplus was exactly what it was predicted to be, confirmed by the Auditor General. The 2002-03 surplus is not much different $300,000. Why wouldn't he tell us on April 8, 2003 that that's what the figure would be? He knew it.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member is now mired in 2001-02. That's a pointless debate to take place in this Legislature. It's a waste of time. The member is saying that we the government refuse to provide information. The member is reading the information; how then can it be a situation where we haven't provided it? This is a ridiculous debate.
If the members want to stand up and fill the pages of Hansard and pontificate away, go for it. But we on the government side are going to stick to constructive debate, and that would be focusing on the investment for the Yukon Territory for the fiscal year 2004-05.
Ms. Duncan: It's amazing how when it's a question coming from this side of the House, it's needless and repetitive and somehow less than productive in the eyes of the Finance minister. The fact is when I asked for this 2002-03 projected figure last year in the House, the answer the Finance minister gave me was that, "Oh well, we are probably close to what was projected." I had tabled a sessional paper and passed it to him for information, which he chose to ignore. He went on to say that the former Liberal government had dramatically increased spending and that they had the difficult job of lowering the trajectory. His exact quote was: "Whatever the surplus or deficit was at any of those times, it's a dramatic increase in spending, and that's what we have established." In fact, that's not what has been established. The fact is that there was no huge crisis facing the government. There was no need to put all the capital projects on hold, no need to send our contracting community south, which is what the Premier did with last budget.
No, the surplus is only slightly less. However, I note that the estimated surplus this year under the old accounting is, in fact, dramatically reduced under his watch, to just under $60 million. It was $78 million in 2002-03. In 2003-04, the forecast is $70 million, and for 2004-05 it is just under $60 million.
So, from 2002-03 the surplus being what we would have expected, in spite of the gloom and doom of the trajectory this Premier has managed to lower that surplus by a forecasted $8 million. Does he stand by that? Is $70,683,000 under the old system that's what our surplus would be if we were looking at an older set of books. Does he stand by that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There have been a number of incorrect statements by the leader of the third party and there is absolutely no point in responding to those.
The government side stands by this: we have a lower unemployment rate in a year in office single digits. We have a number of other indicators, such as GDP, real estate, a dramatic increase in mining exploration. Now we have announcements of potential investment in oil and gas exploration. We have a film industry that is showing signs of growth. We have investment in the cultural industries that is showing signs of benefiting the Yukon. We are seeing projections for our travel industry on the upward swing. We have a hotel that has been closed for a couple of seasons and it is reopening. That's what the government stands by.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to ask the Premier exactly what he thinks is incorrect: the Auditor General's statement that the 2001-02 surplus under our watch was exactly what we had predicted it would be, or that he refused to tell this House what the surplus was at the time April 8, 2003? What is incorrect? Did he not tell Yukoners for six or eight months that he and his government had to lower the trajectory of spending? That statement of our surplus is not incorrect.
He did not state in this House what the surplus would be in answer to a direct question as to what the surplus was on that date: he didn't answer that question. So what's incorrect? Nothing that I have said in this House is incorrect. What the Finance minister has refused to do is tell us, if we had not amended the Taxpayer Protection Act, would the surplus be as of yesterday, March 31, 2004 $70,683,000? Does he stand behind that figure?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, again, needless debate a waste of time. The member is incorrect; the member's assertions are all over the map. Frankly, the member fails to recognize that, when asking in April of two years ago or whatever it was; a year ago why we didn't have a surplus number of exactly that number then, the answer is simple: the census undercount didn't come in until approximately six months later. We had to book, through supplementary, a number of things into past years. The list goes on and on, not to mention the variance reports.
We simply just don't understand where the member is coming from.
The other point is her assertions about the TPA have nothing to do with what public sector accounting guidelines are all about. Again, needless debate.
I think the member is still quite disturbed about what took place through the watch of the short-lived Liberal government, quite disturbed about how the public reacted to that and is very uneasy in debating in this House logical and factual information, and I think it's all trying to disguise this underlying feeling of negativity.
Chair: Order please. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Well take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05, and general debate.
Ms. Duncan: Now that we've had a short time to collect ourselves and calm down, perhaps the Premier would consent to answering a few questions with respect to the surplus.
The 2002-03 surplus actual, according to the financial documents we have in front of us, indicates that our surplus, the territory's financial resources at 2002-03 year-end a snapshot in time were $78,514,000. The Finance minister and the leader of the official opposition have engaged in vigorous discussion. That's the figure in front of us; we'll agree that that was the surplus at 2002-03, which is what we said it would be when we left office. In spite of the six months of the trajectory of spending, it was what we predicted.
Looking at S-3, we see that the net financial resources at the end of the 2004-05 year are predicted to be $17,834,000 a significant drawdown. Would the Premier tell us what he considers, as Finance minister, to be a prudent amount of surplus at any point in time?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I know the member is stuck in the past. There is nothing the government side can do about the problem that the leader of the third party is dealing with, but maybe we can try something constructive. Let's look at fiscal year 2004-05, because that's the budget that we are debating. Frankly, who really cares, outside of the third party circle, what the surplus was in 2001-02? It has been well-documented. It has gone through the Auditor General's scrutiny; it is out there in the public accounts. The records are very clear, concise and detailed. Anybody who wants to look at it can. But let's look at what the accumulated surplus will be for these are projected the fiscal year ending 2004-05, and we show an accumulated surplus of $371,960,000.
Ms. Duncan: I realize the Premier doesn't consider it significant to be answering questions from this side of the House; however, I would appreciate an answer to my question which, for his benefit, was: what is considered to be a prudent amount in the surplus at any given point in time? I'm going to be very specific: with "prudent amount of surplus" I'm referring to net financial resources at end of year. That figure in these documents is $17,834,000. What figure does he consider, as Finance minister, to be a prudent figure there at any given point in time during the year?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Sound fiscal management would dictate that the important area is the cash balance. That's an issue, always an issue. In this budget we are showing on a net-financial-position basis a very healthy financial position some $17,834,000 and we have stated on the floor of this House that we are in negotiations with the federal government now, which will see all indications point to an increase in the territorial formula financing.
We will see a continuation of the special health care fund, which was negotiated with this government, the other two territories and the federal government at the Prime Minister's Office, not the Department of Finance.
We are going to experience an investment in economic development monies for the Yukon, which will show a further increase although it may not show up in our particular financial statements, it will be cash flowing into the Yukon. And we are now given the commitment that the GDP ceiling or the cap on GDP is removed effective 2004-05. Effective 2004-05, which begins April 1, the cap on the GDP has been removed.
Then we have other factors. The PL factor, where the way other jurisdictions spend money will trigger changes in our financial position and the list goes on and on and on. So why don't we get to a constructive debate? Let's debate what this budget is doing, and this investment we are making for the Yukon. Let's spend our time debating the fact that we, through the efforts of Finance officials, our colleagues, with meaningful input with extensive input from the Yukon public and First Nations and communities have created $162 million in capital investment in the Yukon. Let's debate Community Services and its investments in infrastructure and its increase in the municipal grant for villages like Teslin, Haines Junction, Mayo and Carmacks. Let's debate the Department of Economic Development, its strategic direction, its regional focus, its strategic industry focus. Let's debate the Department of Education and all its investment, be it the increase for the College base grant or the increase for training specific to the trades area; the building of a school in Carmacks; the improvements in the member's riding at the Porter Creek School; the changes in curriculum with $500,000 invested for native language; alternative path schools; the student employment program; the increase in the Yukon excellence awards. Let's debate those things.
Let's debate the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources and its investments in the future of the Yukon. Let's debate the Department of Environment and its investments in protecting the environment of the Yukon Territory in mitigating responsible development.
Let's debate the Executive Council Office. Let's debate the Department of Finance and all the good works it's doing. Let's debate the Department of Health and Social Services and all the significant investment on the social side of the ledger reaching out to those in need, assisting Yukoners to improve their daily lives.
Let's debate the Department of Highways and Public Works and the significant increase in investment in that area, creating jobs and benefits for Yukoners. Let's debate correctional reform in this Legislature. This budget is investing in correctional reform for this territory.
Let's debate the Department of Tourism and Culture and all its investment in increasing our ability to benefit from the tourism industry and the cultural industries.
Let's debate the Women's Directorate and its investment in dealing with violence against women, for example, significantly in First Nation communities, where a much higher incidence of violence against women is experienced in the home.
Let's debate all the things that Yukoners want us to debate. Let's forget the past; it's done.
I would point out to the leader of the third party that she when in government brought forward a budget, and called an election. The Yukon public has spoken. The Yukon public elected this government to conduct its affairs, so let's debate those public interests.
Ms. Duncan: Oh, let's, shall we? Let's debate the money in the YTG budget. Let's debate the precise figures. It may come as news to the member opposite, but that's what we were elected to do and that's what people on this side including myself, who was returned to this Legislature were elected to do.
Let's debate the fact that there was $78,849,000 in the surplus, what we as a government said would be there. Let's debate, shall we, that there was $78,814,000 in the surplus, which is what we said it would be in October 31, but lo and behold, somewhere after November 4, there was a big, bad trajectory on its way to Mars and, oh my, we had to have the Yukon Party rush to save us.
And guess what? The surplus was exactly what we said it would be.
However, now we have an office and a Finance minister who will not come to this House and tell us, on a regular basis, what the surplus is.
It's very early in the new fiscal year so I'm not going to have the minister tell us and engage in that endless debate with him, because he refuses to answer that question he simply will not and we are just not doing our jobs by asking that question. Yukoners would like to know, but we're not doing our job, according to him, in any event.
I asked him, the Finance minister, very specifically what he considers to be a prudent amount in net financial resources at any given point in time. What figure does he consider prudent?
Now, with all due respect to the member opposite who spent the previous five minutes urging me to debate the budget, let's debate let's have an answer to that specific question.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, we are dealing with projections. We have shown what that position will be, by projection. We will have to go through the course of the fiscal year. I have already stood on my feet on numerous occasions this afternoon and articulated to the member opposite that there are going to be variances as we go forward, by virtue of the fact that in one area we are negotiating a new agreement.
So furthermore, the member goes on and on and on about past surpluses. Again, we have presented documents to the members opposite tabled in this House. How can the member imply that we do not bring the information to this House? The member has it. It has been tabled. It is all there for anybody in the public who wants to see.
But let's talk about constructive debate. Let's debate the $17 million of investment in the Shakwak project. Let's debate the $2.8 million for Klondike Highway upgrading near Dawson City. Let's discuss the $4.8 million of investment in the Campbell Highway upgrading initiative. Let's debate the $1.5 million for the Tagish Road upgrading. Let's debate the $2.95 million for the Teslin River bridge and its upgrading. Let's debate the $1.5 million for planning the Yukon River bridge at Dawson City. Let's debate the $1.4 million for the Whitehorse Airport security upgrade. Let's debate the $2.96 million for the Old Crow Airport. I'm sure the Member for Old Crow would love to stand up and engage with the government on exactly what this means, given the significant investment in the community of Old Crow. Let's debate the $415,000 for a new Old Crow Airport terminal. Let's debate the $425,000 for the Whitehorse waterfront trolley expansion. Let's debate the $5.8 million investment for information and technology. Let's debate the $500,000 for the tourism cooperative marketing fund. Let's debate the $300,000 for the Carcross-Tagish cultural centre. Let's debate the $220,000 for Yukon First Nation cultural centres in Pelly Crossing, Dawson City, Teslin and Carmacks and the list goes on and on and on.
Why aren't we debating these constructive measures, these investments in the Yukon? That's what Yukoners wanted; they told us so. We have stepped up to the plate and delivered the investments that Yukoners desire in every possible place that we could, and we continue to do so.
Ms. Duncan: Let's debate everybody's department but the Finance minister's because he doesn't want to answer the question. He still has not answered the question: what is considered a prudent amount of net financial resources at any given point in time in the year? Let's put it another way: what is the figure the bottom-line figure, if you will that the surplus the net financial resources should be drawn down to at any given point in the year? It's a very simple question. I do wish the Finance minister would deign to answer it.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Why don't we do it this way: what does the member opposite consider to be an appropriate financial position? The leader of the third party should tell us; she obviously is fixated on this issue. We on the government side intend to conduct ourselves prudently when it comes to the finances of this territory. Throughout the pages of all these documents is the clear evidence that we are doing so. My point is: what does the member consider to be an acceptable position?
Ms. Duncan: The deal in this House is that we ask the questions and you get to answer them you being the opposite side. It's a legitimate question. I have faced it. Why doesn't the Premier accept the advice of his able and trusted public professional servants and ask what the answer is and then deliver it in the House? It should be public information. Accept the advice of the professional public servants and provide us with the answer.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Just let me point out how unproductive this debate is.
Mr. Chair and I'll go through this slowly we have tabled a document here that the member opposite has. It lays out all the way to the year 2007-08 where the financial position of the Yukon government is. By virtue of the fact that we have presented that document, obviously in 2004-05 a financial position of $17,800,000 was acceptable. In 2005-06, a financial position of $8,900,000 is acceptable. In 2006-07, a financial position of $4,400,000 is acceptable, and in 2007-08, the new mandate of the Yukon Party government, $12,583,000 is acceptable. It's all there in the pages of the document.
I cannot do any better than that, Mr. Chair. This debate is needless. I say to the public, to whomever is listening, this is a waste of your time and your tax dollars to you, the Yukon citizen.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that's really something when the leader of the third party asks a very current question and a very financially important question the net financial resources at the end of the year and what the legitimate amount is that should be in there and historically what is usually kept there that the Finance minister and Premier absolutely refuses to engage, refuses to respond or answer in any way, shape or form.
I'm not sure if he understands he's not in opposition any more because he keeps wanting to flip back onto this side. I can assure him that, in a couple of years, he will be over here again. And then he can do it and, of course, when I'm on that side if I am so lucky to be I will answer these kinds of figures.
However, I will shift the questioning a little bit. You know, it's really actually a shame, Mr. Chair. I believe historically, at one time and I stand to be corrected but looking at these chairs over here, I believe at one time the Deputy Minister of Finance did come into the Legislature and answer questions directly. I don't have the date or how long ago that was, but there might be some merit in that thought, because I believe that the process that we just went through with the Public Accounts Committee in which we were allowed to question presidents and CEOs of corporations and deputy ministers of corporations and other entities, was very refreshing and we did get answers we weren't told that our questions were redundant or inappropriate or they just didn't feel like answering them. The officials did have to answer. And we all I think I can speak on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee we found it very refreshing. Interestingly enough, at one time, that was kind of the model that we had. Now, I'm not necessarily suggesting that we go back to it, but so far today it is tempting to consider it. We might get some answers.
However, I will shift a little bit here. I do have some questions around sole sourcing. I'm looking in the government contracting summary report by department, April 1, 2002 to March 31, 2003, Mr. Chair. It is an analysis by acquisition method. Now, in it we have 2,108 contracts that are awarded sole sourced, 309 contracts that are done by invitational tender and 738 contracts by public tender. Now, I find these figures quite drastic and quite surprising. I didn't realize that the method of sole sourcing was used to this extent. It is very substantial, Mr. Chair.
Could the Minister of Finance tell me if this is last year's the government has looked at these types of numbers and has any concerns about them?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That actually falls under the purview of another minister. All I can say at this juncture is that the government follows the policy within GAM, which is the general administration manual in the area that the member opposite is alluding to. But if he asks to get into the detail, he should reserve that until the minister responsible is up for the debate.
Mr. Hardy: I hope this is not what the whole general debate is going to be about that every time we ask a question the Minister of Finance, or the Premier in this case, can't answer it and just keeps redirecting us to the department, directing us to the department, directing us to another minister. He is the leader. If we ask a very general question around it the question very simply was, and I will put it this way: in reading these figures today in regard to the amounts of sole-source contracts in relation to contracts that are actually tendered, the substantial difference, 2,108 in the sole source of course, most people know what sole source is. You don't get invitational bids, you don't go out to tender, they are just given directly. There are all kinds of thresholds within our government to allow that. Now it expedites a lot of things. In many cases it is very legitimate for the government to operate that way, but when you look at the number of 2,108 sole-source 309 contracts by invitational tender only. Now invitational tender also expediates that process. The 738 only only 738 contracts are actually publicly tendered. Does the Premier have any concerns in hearing those figures?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I did answer the question and pointed out that the government follows the GAM, the government administrative manual, and that's where the policy lies. But I am not the minister responsible in this area and have no problem allowing the minister responsible to debate the issue. If the member wishes to stand down on this particular general debate and call a department for debate, the government side would not oppose such a move and would be more than willing to do so.
Mr. Hardy: I will be taking this up with the department itself, but my question is to the Premier because I'm really trying to flag an issue, trying to get a feel of where the leadership is actually looking at this and if they have any concerns.
We looked at this when we were in government from 1996 to 2000. At that time, of course, the leader of the Yukon Party was in that government, and that was one of the concerns that was expressed around our table, which he was part of and had shared in that concern.
Now, all I'm trying to find out and all I'm trying to point out is that this has been brought to my attention, once again, by many contractors who are trying to access some of the spending of the government. But if it's always sole sourced, they can't do it, they can't break in and they're cut out by it. It's the numbers I find that really leap out at us. From my perspective, I don't feel it is the way government should be operating with taxpayers' dollars: having this amount sole sourced.
Breaking it down into dollar value, we're looking at $43.1 million in the course of that last year. I looked back a little bit further and it's quite similar still going back to the year before, as well. There is $43.1 million that was sole sourced. There was only $5.5 million that was invitationally tendered, and then the publicly tendered was $174 million.
Often in the publicly tendered ones, of course, we're dealing with very large contracts road construction and larger buildings.
When we're sole sourcing, we're dealing with much smaller contracts, as per the regulations.
I am not familiar with invitational tenders, and I will have that debate with the minister in that department around those rules. And the minister whoever it is
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: The Member for Riverdale South I will ask him about these questions. Hopefully, he's listening to this debate, so this is a heads-up for him. This is not trying to criticize or anything. It's just to identify a concern that leapt out at us.
Will the Premier give us some reflection on this? Does he find these figures reasonable, or does he think this is something that needs to be looked at?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In my humble opinion, there has been no indication that the GAM has been contravened. Maybe if there are some significant variances that the member is looking at, it could have a relation to devolution and absorbing those areas post-devolution. But I think, in the best interest of the debate in this Legislature, we would be further ahead discussing this with the minister responsible, who would not only have the detail provided to him, but would have an official available to provide any further detail.
So, all I can say at this juncture is that as long as the policy has not been contravened, the government would obviously have its bar of concern at a low level.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that's one of the concerns we also have. It was brought up today in Question Period. There have also been concerns about ambulance purchasing they have been sole sourced and the proper procedure wasn't followed as it was in the past. I am sure there are other examples, and we will discuss this, of course, when we get into departments. If the Premier is saying that as long as it hasn't been broken in any way, shape or form, I would contest that possibly it has been, and we are probably going to need to have that debate as well.
I just find that, when you take a look at this $43.1 million that was sole sourced interestingly enough, this analysis does not include figures for purchase contracts, standing offers which make up a portion of the government spending or agreements or contracts entered into by the corporations. We dont even have in this figure the Yukon Development Corporation, Yukon Housing Corporation, Yukon Liquor Corporation, or even the Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board. This figure is very striking, and it raises a lot of alarm bells for me.
It goes on to say, "3,155 contracts awarded have a total value of $222.6 million, and can be broken out in the following way." Of course, that's what I am looking at right now how it is broken out but still it's not inclusive. So we need to explore this.
Interestingly enough, when I read that, one thing that jumped out at me was that it would have been nice if we would have had this when we were in the Public Accounts Committee, because some of these questions I am asking here do not include the corporations that we looked at and how they sole source and if they do invitational tender and what their whole process is because we did have some very legitimate questions in there.
I will move forward on that and take the advice, although I have full intention to continue questioning along those lines.
What I would like to ask the Premier now is with regard to the bridge, the proposed bridge in Dawson City. There is $1.5 million, I believe, that is allocated in that area. Just for the Chair, I am not asking about the $1.5 million, I'm just continuing the line of questioning to the Premier that the Member for Kluane had asked about. Has there been any business plan developed around the bridge for the future construction of it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The Department of Highways and Public Works again is the department that is the lead on this; therefore, the minister responsible for that department would obviously be the minister to debate with. But I think the important issue here is the investment of $1.5 million for planning I repeat, for planning the Yukon River bridge at Dawson City. That's a significant investment for planning. Obviously we intend to do our homework.
Mr. Hardy: How about this question: have there been any discussions with regard to P3s? I know the Premier has already indicated that the bridge is slated to be built under our P3 model. If that's the case, then there has obviously been some thought about that on the benefits, the pros and cons in that regard, and the type of financing around that. It's a finance question. Have there been any discussions with any firms that have delivered P3s in the past, around the world, in Canada and in North America, in regard to this specific project?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: At this point in time, there has been a P3 workshop that was hosted here in Whitehorse by the Department of Economic Development. The $1.5 million of investment in planning the bridge may very well look at the option of a public-private partnership for this type of infrastructure.
We're not at that juncture yet. We've had a workshop. We committed to conduct a process in developing how the Yukon would move forward with public/private partnerships, and we are advancing that agenda.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, my question is: has the Minister of Finance had any discussions whatsoever with any firms, with the First Nations, in regard to proposals for public/private partnerships?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We've had a workshop. Our commitment was to move forward with a process, public involvement. That is taking place.
Mr. Hardy: So am I supposed to assume that in all the talk around the P3s there has actually been no analysis of the impacts by any of the departments, financial or otherwise benefits, the pros and cons within the departments at all?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, there is a tremendous amount of information across the country when it comes to public/private partnerships. We've had one workshop. Of course, we are going to ensure that we look at that national database, if you will, on public/private partnerships. The first workshop we had brought expertise in to make presentations to industry and the public, anybody who wanted to get involved on this particular initiative, and that's just the first step. We have also said as a government that we will entertain public/private partnerships as an investment vehicle, and that's why we're proceeding in the manner that we are.
Mr. Hardy: Has anybody taken the Premier up on that offer that he put out there? Has he been approached by any firms in regard to the P3s since he put the offer out?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It would be customary to develop a plan for any proponent to approach the government about the potential of a public/private partnership. The investment in the budget is to do exactly that on the Yukon River bridge develop a plan. It is from that plan that we will be proceeding.
I think the member is asking if anybody has approached us with a plan to build a bridge as a public/private partnership. To the best of my knowledge, at this point in time no. I can't speak, though, for years in the past. This has been a project or initiative or concept that has been around for quite some time. I'm not sure if somewhere in government, in the past number of years, some other corporate entity did not come forward with a proposal, if you will, to build the Dawson bridge in something that might be a public/private partnership. I can't speak to that.
As far as our government is concerned, to the best of my knowledge, we have received no proposals. We have been very clear that we are proceeding with investing in the planning of the bridge.
Mr. Hardy: Well, it's not uncommon for these firms that specialize in public/private partnerships, or have the capability to do them, to approach governments and sell themselves, as well as the idea, to the governments.
I'm not necessarily asking about a specific bridge project. My question is: have any of these firms come forward and presented themselves as proponents of public/private partnerships with a historic track record? A fair amount have been done across Canada alone, and they have sold themselves. And they've sold themselves to the government as capable of doing these projects for this amount, and all that.
Have there been approaches to the government by these firms that specialize in public/private partnership projects?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We've had one workshop to date. The expertise was brought in.
Mr. Hardy: I'm assuming by the answer from the Premier that no one has approached the government yet in regard to P3s, no firm at all. Going back to a question, again a general question: has any department produced any papers on the P3s, say during your term so far?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I can provide the member with a copy of the workshop booklet, but I can also point out that in the past, in a past government, the corporate world or community did approach a past government with a P3 proposal. It happened to be the Robert Campbell Highway. That goes back a few years. It would have been in the 1990s. So it has happened in government in the past, and that's one example.
Mr. Hardy: I would take the Premier up on the offer of any papers that have been produced in regard to P3s, whether they're related to the workshop or not. Any of the past stuff as well would be appreciated.
Where are the bank contracts at now? When do they come due and what kind of negotiations do we expect around that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The existing contract is coming due in October 2004, so we will be preparing a new tender probably to come out midsummer or thereabouts.
Mr. Hardy: In regard to the bank contracts, we've talked about projections already. I've already heard in one of the briefings about the projections that there is going to be lower interest and lower income down the road. Has the government done any work on that, first off with the negotiations on the package that they're going to put out for tender, as well as some of the projections around the figures in regard to the drop in the interest income?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think we are all aware of the fact that interest rates have been lowered in this country. That would certainly affect earnings or revenues. That is something that the government will look at when it goes through the tendering process, to see if we can get a better deal, considering the volume of money that would flow through a bank here in the territory.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to follow up on the discussion around the banking contract. The new tender that is anticipated to be released in July I believe that is what the Finance minister said. Is there any change to the tender? For example, this tender has been used to ask that banks provide services in communities. Are there any changes?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: October is the termination of the existing contract. Midsummer is probably when we would proceed with a new tender. We have not developed it as of yet. Once there is a draft tender structured, it would come to Management Board first for further review. At this point in time, there is not much we can add to that, until we see a draft tender.
Ms. Duncan: No, I appreciate that the tender hasn't been drafted yet. However, the Finance minister could make a commitment recognizing that no one party in this House has the lock on good ideas and could recognize that there is room in redraft of a tender to add more communities. Is that an option and will he accept that as a potential and consider that?
Is there opportunity to do that, and will he consider it and make a commitment to do it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, first off, we are right now providing services in a number of communities, 10 to be exact. Now, we also have to recognize that, albeit and notwithstanding that this is a constructive suggestion, we would also have to look at the cost that may be involved here. So when we get to the point where we start looking at the tender itself, I can commit to the member opposite that we will discuss with Finance officials the merits of the communities and the contract with the bank and how that would flesh out. That's the commitment I can make today. And we will have that discussion, the member can be assured.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to ask the Finance minister to go further than that. I'd like him to discuss this with First Nation governments and representatives from communities about what their banking needs are. The banking industry has changed in that there are more on-line services; we have a connected Yukon. What hasn't changed is the fact that banks make a lot of money, and that's a proven fact they report significant earnings, I think would be a better way to put it with greater decorum.
The fact is, we're a customer and they'd like our business. We would like something from them, which is provision of services to our citizens throughout the territory. So I would just ask the Premier to have that as part of his discussions prior to Management Board, so it's not just that select group, but that he hear from other Yukoners. Particularly, there are a number of Yukon communities where the First Nations are moving toward self-government or have in place self-government agreements, which they didn't have before the last tender. Things have changed. The banking industry has changed. We're a good customer. Make sure that the bank provides the services that Yukoners whichever bank is ultimately selected provides the services our citizens are seeking. That's what I'm asking him to consider.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Obviously that would be the objective of the exercise, but we also have to look at the cost. There is a bit of a balance that must be employed here. The government reimburses the bank now for all costs incurred, and that's something we have to look at. We recognize that right now there are services being provided under this existing contract. Always the government our government at least will look to ways of improving that, to provide better services to our citizens. That's exactly what we committed to do to make the lives of our citizens better. In this particular case, I have committed to the member that we will have that discussion about the communities.
Ms. Duncan: I have one other question to follow up on the P3 questions. The Member for Whitehorse Centre started on this discussion. In the discussion around public-private partnerships P3s in previous statements in this House I don't have them immediately at hand, however I do believe I recall them correctly. The Finance minister's commitment at the time was to do the policy work on P3s first, that that would happen before the government entered into a P3 they would do the policy work. In the Premier's mind, I want to be clear, are the discussions held with the public policy work, or is there more work going on, such as a paper being presented to Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That's essentially why we had the workshop, as one step. The Department of Economic Development is working on this issue. Of course, there has to be a policy developed if the government is going to proceed with public/private partnerships. So we're doing our work now.
Ms. Duncan: Once the policy has been reviewed by Cabinet, will it come to the floor of the House?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The policy would, of course, be a public policy. We are now taking the steps to engage the public and will go beyond from workshop to further development of policy. Of course, we will engage everywhere we can to ensure that we are providing a way for the public to have meaningful input. But the Department of Economic Development is the department charged with looking into this matter. And if we are going to proceed because we have committed to entertain public/private partnerships as an investment mechanism for the Yukon from the private sector we have to develop a policy.
Ms. Duncan: Policy development will be work that will be undertaken just bear with me, Mr. Chair. I'd just like to be absolutely certain about what the Finance minister has said.
So, there are ongoing public discussions, and officials are developing a policy. The route for that policy, then, based upon this public input, would be to Cabinet. Cabinet would approve the public policy change it, tweak it, whatever. That's Cabinet's role.
My specific question is: will that policy, once it has been through Cabinet, come back to the floor of this House? Will it come to the floor of the Legislature for debate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are working on developing a policy right now infant stages. As a government, we have been elected to make decisions. We will table the policy once it's concluded, given the fact that we have done our work out there in the public and have allowed for that input. And if we feel that the public/private partnership mechanism is going to be one that will realize investment for the Yukon, then we will be proceeding, and the policy, as concluded, can be tabled in this Legislature.
However, the decision by government will go through due process; I think the member recognizes exactly what that is. And, of course, the policy will come from the department in a draft form to Cabinet. The decision-making body is this Cabinet.
Ms. Duncan: Will the policy be tabled before the government enters into a public/private partnership?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If we are going to develop a policy to be able to proceed in this matter, and Cabinet makes the decision that that is in fact the policy, we would need that in place to proceed with a public/private partnership.
So, having said that, we obviously have some work to do, and we're on it. The Department of Economic Development is in the lead and they have conducted the first workshop. They are reviewing that and we are going to go to the next steps.
Ms. Duncan: I didn't hear a direct answer to my question. Will we get a look at the policy we, being the public in this Legislature as approved by Cabinet before the government enters into a public/private partnership? What I am saying by this is that I would not, as a member of the public, want to see Cabinet approve a policy on a certain date in July and then the next week see the proposed public/private partnership come to Cabinet. I would like to see a time frame in there where there is an opportunity for the proposed direction and parameters around a public/private partnership. One of those parameters, for example, in my experience of public/private partnerships, is that it has to be publicly tendered. That's one parameter in the description.
As a member of this Legislature, I believe that we should see the policy before the government actually enters into a public/private partnership the policy on entering into it.
Now, I am asking the Premier to commit to that. If he's not prepared to do so, I would like him to say that as well.
Will he commit to providing the Legislature with the policy work which is a clear outline of the direction that has been chosen to go and the parameters around a P3 before he enters into one?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the policy will be a public document. Therefore, having said that, if we conclude a policy and the decision is made and we are at a timeline during the year when the Legislature is not in session, albeit this is a very public document, and we have an option and an opportunity for a public/private partnership, we may very well proceed with one, given the fact that we have done our work upfront in developing the policy. And in the very next available opportunity, if the members wish, we'll table the policy in the Legislature. But we're doing this in a way where we proceed methodically and thoughtfully because we want to flesh this out to ensure that the Yukon can be a beneficiary of public/private partnerships.
Mr. Hardy: Well, the debate around the P3s is quite interesting. It hasn't really happened in the Legislature very much for quite awhile. There was, I believe, a debate back when the NDP was in government in was it 2000? 2000. And I think it's essential that we do have a very open and frank debate around the pros and cons of P3s and the direction for instance, getting an idea publicly for the direction that the new government is going in. Now, the Premier has already indicated that the Dawson City bridge is going to be a P3 project. Is he pretty well set on that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, in a question on what projects we the government see as a possibility, I made mention of the fact that an infrastructure investment like the Dawson City bridge on the Yukon River can possibly be a candidate for a public/private partnership. But we've invested the money for planning in this budget, and that's yet to be determined.
Mr. Hardy: So in the money that has been put aside for the planning, does that include investigating the option of a P3?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: On the P3 front that's happening in the Department of Economic Development, they're investigating the development of a policy for public/private partnerships. Obviously, if we have developed the policy and there's a potential that the bridge could be a candidate for a 3P that's when we'll look it. So there's work yet to be done.
Mr. Hardy: Is the Premier indicating that the Economic Development department has been tasked with investigating P3s?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The Department of Economic Development is taking the lead on the policy assessment and development for P3s. Of course there are other departments, such as Finance, that must be heavily engaged, but the Department of Economic Development is the lead in developing policy.
Mr. Hardy: Could the Premier tell me how this policy is going to be developed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: By the department through a process. The first step has been taken with the workshop recently held in Whitehorse.
Mr. Hardy: Could the Premier tell me what the next step is?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The next step is already in motion. The department is now assessing fully the workshop, the content of what came out of the workshop, and from there we will determine where we go.
Mr. Hardy: At what point does the Premier anticipate presenting the outcome of that, the second stage, to the public?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As soon as possible.
Mr. Hardy: Give me some timelines.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Sometime in the future.
Mr. Hardy: Can the Premier be more accurate? If we are talking about a specific project that has already been mentioned in circles around this, there must be some timelines and deadlines when the Premier would like to see this activity concluded.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, you know, it's hard to say this is the exact timeline until the department comes forward with its assessment of what has taken place through the workshop and these first steps. They are looking at best practices, some of the literature there are a number of things that are being done. I think that once we get to the completion of that exercise, we will have a much better idea of what kind of timelines we can implement on a go-forward basis.
Mr. Hardy: I find that quite vague. I would be far more assured if the Premier could give me some indication that the Department of Economic Development has been tasked with this, and they've also been tasked with some deadlines to ensure that this moves forward in an expeditious manner to ensure that the public has proper opportunity to be engaged in debate.
The minister of this department must have some idea of when he would like to see this research and policy development work brought forward. Could the Premier give me some idea of that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As soon as possible. The department is working diligently on it.
Mr. Hardy: Has the Premier given any direction whatsoever to the department when he would like to see this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Based on best practices, all the information that we can compile and consolidate and deal with, and connecting that to what makes sense for the Yukon, as soon as possible.
Mr. Hardy: Are there any projects out there that are waiting, that have start dates that the Premier would like to have started, that are waiting for the outcome of the work of the Economic Development department in regard to public/private partnerships?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Considering how we've structured the budget and how we've invested in the immediate, mid and longer term, there's no need to be in too much of a hurry. I think the best and most prudent course is to be thoughtful and methodical here. This requires, I believe, a significant amount of research and that's what we're doing. We're certainly not exercising in any way, shape or form that we must develop a policy because there's something waiting out there. We have things well in hand, not only financially, and this territory is on the move again, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hardy: I have to question that last statement, Mr. Chair. If the territory's on the move, the Premier seems to be behind the times if he's going to be going this slow on this kind of policy development.
In the past, the Premier indicated that a lot of research and work had been done in this area. He had indicated that some government in the past I believe he indicated an NDP government had done some research and work on looking at public/private partnerships, the pros and cons and where they're applicable. I believe the former Yukon Party government had also done some work in this area.
He had indicated to us on numerous occasions that a tremendous amount of work had already been done. Is that material available and is that material current for today's economic situation and changes within the economy of today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I believe the most current information we have is what came out of the most recent workshop. This particular concept or mechanism has progressed considerably over the last number of years. I'm not sure if there has been any database created within the Yukon government on P3s, but we as a government have chosen to take this step by engaging the public and bringing in expertise. Now we're dealing with that. Then we'll look on the go-forward basis.
Mr. Hardy: If the Yukon Party government has decided to move in this direction, I'm trusting the fact that they will have done some research on their own. If this is a way of financing major projects, I'm trusting that it's based upon sound research and solid contemplation of the benefits to the taxpayers of the Yukon. If that's the case, I'm also expecting they are very comfortable in engaging the public in a debate around that. Is there any timeline set for the bridge in Dawson City, for instance?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think it's important to put all this in context. The government has said that we are going to look at public/private partnerships as a possible mechanism for investment in the Yukon. I think that is fairly succinct, and that's what we're doing right now. This timeline issue is something that will develop as we go forward with policy development. The budget has timelines all throughout it. We are showing clearly where the investment is going. So we certainly aren't exercised about timelines. In fact, the timing issue couldn't be better for the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: The budget does not necessarily show at what point the bridge in Dawson City will be built. Can the Premier tell me if he and his colleagues have had a discussion around where they foresee in their mandate, which goes up until the fall or early winter of 2006 in their projections, because he likes to talk about projections the actual construction of the Dawson City bridge?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Considering that we've invested $1.5 million for planning, I would suggest to the member opposite that that exercise will determine a number of things.
Mr. Hardy: I would suggest that to spend $1.5 million on planning but have absolutely no idea what you're going to do with it when you finish does not bode well to good financial planning or indicate to the people of this territory, businesses of this territory, contractors of this territory, apprentices, journey people of this territory, and the people of Dawson City, what they can look forward to in the future.
The Premier does not like to talk about the past we've already experienced that this afternoon so now we're projecting a bit in front and looking at the capital spending for the future, and I see a substantial drop. Then I can only assume that that would not be part of any type of bridge being built under that model, so I'm assuming as he's announced in the past that a P3 model would be what they would be looking at. That's one way to finance it without changing their projections. Could the Premier give us on this side some very rough guidelines when he anticipates the work of the Economic Development department to be completed in regard to P3 investigation, when he anticipates the public will have an opportunity to see what is being planned by the government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the member is confusing public/private partnerships with what we've committed to do in this budget on capital projects. We have committed to build a bridge in Dawson City, and we've committed to do a number of other capital projects, and we will proceed with them.
The issue of public/private partnerships is that we are looking at this as a possible financial investment mechanism for the Yukon. We said there was a possibility that the Yukon River bridge could be a candidate that's all. The rest is right here in the budget.
Mr. McRobb: I'm looking forward to an opportunity to discuss this budget with the Premier. I think I might even agree with him. It's a wonderful budget. I actually love it so much that I have a spare copy at home. I think the Premier deserves a lot of credit for tabling a budget with so many wonderful things in it.
But, you know, the budget could have been a lot better had he listened to anybody on this side of the House, or had he given us an opportunity to provide some input into the budget. Unfortunately, he didn't. He didn't open the door to the back room, and we certainly weren't invited. So this budget is entirely his own crafting, and the crafting of those who did receive that private invitation.
There are a number of issues to discuss in general debate on this budget. I would imagine that we will probably be well into next week before we clear this stage. What I would like to do is let the Premier know that prior to debate of the Department of Economic Development, I would like him to provide us with materials about the process used to develop the new direction document.
That's relevant to this stage because the Premier himself has substantiated the budget almost entirely on the need for economic development. He cites his economic development plan as being created out of this document that he calls the new direction, which was built with some stakeholders. What I would like to do is just identify for him the information that I'm looking forward to: first of all, to identify each and every stakeholder who had input to the process; also, to provide details on exactly what the process was.
If this was any kind of legitimate process, by any modern standards, there would be minutes of any meetings held. So I would appreciate it if the Premier could provide us with minutes of any of these stakeholder meetings.
As well, it is reasonable to expect that each of the stakeholders would have provided their positions in writing, so I want the Premier to provide us with all correspondence from this process. If this is such a great process and if the process was so transparent and open and if his government is so accountable, then I see no problem at all in him meeting our request.
We would like this information early next week, if possible.
Speaking of information, I had the opportunity to review something provided to us this afternoon to only one member of the official opposition a one-page summary of community spending in the budget. I just want to put on record: if the government has any perception that this one-page handout will satisfy our request for the community breakdown of budget spending, then obviously we won't be in agreement.
To refresh the government's memory about what a community breakdown involves, it includes several pages. Each community has its own page or pages, and it has all the government spending in each community broken down by department, with totals for each. That is what we expect. That is what we asked the Finance officials for a week ago during budget lock-up, and that's what we expect.
The government needs to provide us all with that document. I don't understand why it wasn't tabled here in this Legislature. That's the second request. If the government would oblige us by tabling that document in the Legislature, let's get it listed in Hansard as a tabled document.
Just so the Premier has no misunderstanding about the new direction process, we're requesting complete documentation from that process. We want to see what it was the stakeholders recommended in order to examine what the government actually approved out of that process, in order to gauge the budget on the very basis identified by this Premier.
So if this government is open and accountable, as this government wishes us all to believe, then I would expect I'll have lots to read early next week.
Another request and I'll identify this now, as we're in the waning moments of this week and won't resume until four days hence. I expect to have all the reports connected to the Dawson bridge tabled in this Legislature, as well as the government's business case. Included in the business case, we expect to have a full analysis of the ferry what it costs, what the projected costs were, the replacements, and what the options for replacement are, as well as the impact on the local economy. There are many other things to consider, as well, with the Dawson bridge.
That's a starting point. And so far we have received very little from this government to prove it even has a business case for the Dawson Bridge. In fact, many Yukoners really believe there is no business case; they believe it was just a political decision that this government is just trying to substantiate with a business case that doesn't exist.
So I believe this is an appropriate way to end our first week, to give the government something to do over the weekend, to compile all this information so we're all bright and fresh come Monday morning and we can continue on from here.
And on that note, Mr. Chair, I move you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. McRobb that we report progress on Bill No. 10.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble:Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 6:01 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 1, 2004:
Kluane First Nation Self-Government Agreement and Final Agreement (Fentie)
Order-in-Council 2004/07, An Act Approving Yukon Land Claims Final Agreements and First Nations (Yukon) Self-Government Act (Kluane First Nation) (dated January 13, 2004) (Fentie)