Monday, April 5, 2004 ó 1:15 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 remembrance of Terry Carlick
Hon. Mr. Edzerza:I rise on behalf of the House today, and I would like to ask the House to join me in paying tribute to Terry Carlick. I would also like to ask the House to welcome today his parents, William and Kim; his sister Melissa; his girlfriend Ashley; his grandmother Rose; his Aunt Teresa; and all the staff with whom he worked.
Mr. Speaker, I ask the House today to join me in paying tribute to Terry Carlick, who was also known to his parents as "Son-shine". As we all know in this House, Terry was a youth who was training to be a cameraperson. Being late starting makes me believe he is in control of the show today. He may not be here in body, but I believe he is here in spirit.
Terry was born in Whitehorse, Yukon on July 26, 1982. He spent the first several years of his life at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, where his parents were residing, and moved back to the Yukon in 1989 to be where they wanted to be, surrounded by family and friends.
He went to school at Jack Hulland Elementary and graduated from the Porter Creek Secondary high school. Terry lived his life to the fullest. He enjoyed sports such as speed skating, soccer, hockey, and he participated in the Indigenous Games. He also participated in the First Nation annual hockey tournament held in Whitehorse each year.
Terry enjoyed nice cars, nice trucks and cool clothes and, of course, his rockiní tunes. He was known by his peers and everyone across the land who turned into CHON-FM as the rockiní Terry Carlick.
Terry was employed by Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon and worked at CHON-FM in both radio broadcasting and television. Terry worked as a radio announcer and then went into training as a camera operator. Terry started out as a student placement and his accomplishments showed how committed he was to a job he loved. He earned his reputation as a go-getter and as a pleasant person to work with.
He had the personal goal of being a popular DJ, but he also developed an interest in mechanics. Terry, being the ambitious young man he was, decided that he wanted to work in the television department at Northern Native Broadcasting, NEDAA, as a camera operator. As part of his training, Terry began operating a camera for the Yukon Legislative Assembly Question Period. Another part of his duties included up-linking the Legislature so that its program could be watched throughout the north on APTN, also known as Aboriginal Peopleís Television Network. Again with his new duties as camera and master control operator, Terry gave both duties his all.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon for training our youth, youth such as Terry, who benefit greatly from these opportunities.
Terry was always looking for traditional training and he started to learn his language. Because he really was getting to learn the traditional ways, I will now practise the traditional ways and I will speak from the heart about some of the personal things I know about this very intelligent and ambitious young man.
Terry was a very proud person. He was proud to be First Nation and part of the Southern Tutchone. He wanted to learn his language and he was making regular trips to his grandparents to ask them to teach him.
I was proud of this young man, who was able to take that ambition and to put it into action. As we all know, many native languages are not spoken by as many First Nations as they should be. To have this young fellow just go right up and say "I am going to learn" was a blessing.
I also believe that Terry never really demanded respect from anyone. He earned it. He earned the respect that he got. It really showed how much work he had been doing in that area, if one only attended his funeral. I would say there were, roughly, 800 people plus there. Iíve only seen that many in attendance at funerals of very highly respected elders or political people.
So, in his short time, he really did earn respect from a lot of people. I know that Terry would go out of his way to attend a sweat ceremony. He thoroughly enjoyed them and he would always say to me ó in the Legislature he would come over and say, "When is Randy coming back to town? We need to have another sweat." And, lo and behold, Randy would show up.
I believe that Terry was a very blessed young man who had very special gifts. One of them that he really capitalized on was his pride. He was a very proud young man.
When he went to do a job, it had to be the best he could do. I remember discussions with him about when he first started radio announcing. He would come to me and ask, "How did I sound?" I would say, "As time goes on, youíre getting to sound like a real pro. Keep up the good work."
I would like to also state at this time that itís the Creatorís law. The Creator sent his spirit to this earth, and the Creator can call him home at any time. Itís not for us on this earth to determine that.
I also want to really thank the Creator today for the time we had with Terry. I know he will never be forgotten because he touched so many people.
I would also like to say today that I look forward to meeting Terryís new child, who is about to be born any day. He should have been by now, but I believe Ashley is waiting for this to happen, and now that it has happened, I think, Ashley, you can go and bring the baby into this world.
I do sincerely pray, and I know everyone in here wishes you good luck and really good health to the baby.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mrs. Peter: I would like to ask the House to please help me welcome in the gallery with us today Randall Tetlichi from Old Crow.
Speaker: Are there any further introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Cathers:I rise to give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to construct a bridge over the Yukon River at Dawson City to enhance trade, tourism and commerce.
Speaker:Prior to Question Period, the Speaker has a ruling that evolved out of last weekís proceedings. The official opposition House leader objected to the Premierís statement that, "the leader of the official opposition and the NDP will pay for the accusation that this government is using First Nations." The official opposition House leader interpreted this statement as a threat in contravention of the Standing Orders. Standing Order 19(i) says: "A member shall be called to order by the Speaker if that memberÖuses abusive or insulting language, including sexist or violent language, in a context likely to create disorder."
The interpretation of this Standing Order has been that members are not to make threats of bodily harm against one another or another person. Neither should members threaten retribution against anotherís constituents. The Chair interprets the hon. Premierís comments as meaning that he believed the official opposition statements on an issue would not be looked upon favourably by the voters come the next election. It was not a threat of bodily harm or retribution against constituents. The Chair therefore concludes there is no point of order.
The Chair would also like to clarify a statement he made last Thursday during Question Period. At that time, the leader of the third party asserted the Minister of Environment had broken the regulations regarding the issuance of a sole-source contract. The Chair intervened and said, "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." To be clear, it is not in order for a member of this Assembly to inject into the debate a charge that another member has broken regulations or the law. Such charges may only be made by way of a substantive motion for which notice is required.
I thank the members for their attention, and we will now proceed to Question Period.
Question re: Johneís disease
Mrs. Peter: I have a question for the Minister of Environment. When and how did the minister become aware that the former owner of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve had destroyed some Dall sheep on the property because they were suspected of having Johneís disease?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We first became aware of that when the owner notified the Department of Environment of that fact and made full disclosure of it.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, the Yukon government paid more than $2 million for this facility. According to the budget that was tabled last Thursday, the operating cost for this year will be over $580,000. Before buying the Wildlife Preserve, the ministerís department commissioned a national company to do an evaluation of the game farm. Did the minister advise his department or the consultant that some of the animals on the game farm might be afflicted by this chronic wasting disease?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: First of all, "chronic wasting disease" is not an appropriate term. But I certainly do compliment the member opposite for pronouncing the other disease correctly.
The national firm involved has an office in Whitehorse. It was locally contracted, and the contract was split between the owners of the game farm and the government, and full disclosure from both sides was made of all documents.
Mrs. Peter: This is a very serious matter, and pronouncing the name of the disease is beside the point. Chronic wasting disease on game farms is a major concern in many parts of Canada because of the potential impact on wild animals. As the Minister of Environment, the minister has an obligation to protect the territoryís wildlife. If the minister knew that a chronic wasting disease existed at this facility or in the wild population, surely he had a responsibility to bring that information forward. Why has the minister ignored requests from his department for information on what tests have been conducted for Johneís disease and what the results were?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Pronunciation is perhaps a moot point, but certainly chronic wasting disease is not what is under discussion here. That has never been diagnosed here and it is not the issue with the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. There was full discussion and disclosure on all these issues. The test results were given to us and, in the last round of testing, every single animal on the property was negative. This was known to the evaluator, and it was known to the department.
Question re: Business loans, outstanding
Mr. Hardy:I have a question for the Minister of Finance. On more than one occasion, the minister has said that one of the criteria for settling outstanding government loans was that Yukon businesses shouldnít be driven into bankruptcy. Is that still one of the ministerís goals?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, it is. Considering where the member is going with this issue, it would be appropriate for the member to ensure that the correct timelines are also being applied to the question.
Mr. Hardy: Weíve pointed out the flaws in the ministerís loan collection plan before, but apparently the minister isnít too receptive to our advice. Last year the government effectively forced the Whitehorse business of Northern Analytical Laboratories into bankruptcy. This company suffered a major fire in February 2002. The government was one of creditors listed on the insurance policy. Despite the verbal promises not to collect its share of the insurance money, thatís exactly what the government ended up doing. This put several local people out of work and left the territoryís mining industry without a local analytical lab.
Now, why did the Premier allow this to happen when two senior members of this transition team reportedly assured the labís owner that the government would not foreclose on this $111,000 debt?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is not a place for speculative debate. I think itís important to note that this issue transpired in October of 2002. This government was sworn into office on December 2, 2002. The member opposite might direct the question to the leader of the third party, who was at the time in the government.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Mr. Speaker, Iíd like to point out to the member opposite that he happens to be the Premier of the territory, the Minister of Finance, and he does have some responsibilities ó he canít just pass the buck, like heíd like to do here. And itís not speculative; itís facts that weíre dealing with.
This company owed the Yukon government $111,000. Thatís much less than the Premierís two Cabinet colleagues owe, and they arenít being forced into bankruptcy, as far as I can see. Once again with this government weíre seeing two standards at work. How many more Yukon companies is the Premier prepared to see go under before he comes up with a loan collection policy that is both effective and case-sensitive?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would point out that the leader of the official oppositionís assertions are incorrect. Nothing in the loan collection policy that we tabled some months ago had any effect on this particular issue. This issue was transpiring back in October 2002. I might add that, all through the process, the department acted within the terms of the loan agreement.
Further to that, upon taking office, this government tried to assist the proponent in various ways. Mr. Speaker, we even sat down with the proponent and offered assistance through the venture loan guarantee program, but we are not going to politically interfere with the terms and conditions of a loan agreement, as we havenít in any other. To correlate this with the loans policy tabled in the fall is simply incorrect and has absolutely nothing to do with this issue.
Question re: Health care coverage for adopted children
Ms. Duncan: I have a very straightforward question for the Minister of Health. Would the minister name for the House today the five principles of the Canada Health Act and tell the Yukon public whether or not the Yukon Party subscribes to those principles?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, yes, we subscribe to all five principles.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister didnít name them; however, two of those principles are especially important to todayís question. They are "portability", which means you are covered between provinces and territories, and "universality" ó everyone is covered regardless of their income or how they came to be Canadians. Landed immigrants are covered. People on work visas are covered on the dates of their work visa.
The Yukon Party, as part of their two-tier health care plan, has decided that children adopted from another country ó and there are more than a dozen of them in the Yukon ó will not receive health care coverage until they have been here for three months.
Mr. Speaker, we all know that a lot can happen ó a lot does happen ó in three months of a babyís life. These adopted children have their permanent residence status when they arrive home in the Yukon. Why is the minister denying Yukon health care coverage to these adopted children?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Our government recognizes the most important social fabric that we have. That is the family unit. Now, if a family chooses to adopt ó to bring into Canada from another country ó so be it. The individual is covered, not in the manner that the member opposite describes.
What we are talking about, Mr. Speaker, is a difference in health care systems in two countries ó Canada, and letís use, for instance, Haiti or China where the health standards are not identical to ours. What we want to ensure is that the family that is adopting and paying to the agency that they adopt from some $20,000 plus the cost of going over to China ó letís use that for instance. We want to ensure that that child that they choose to adopt is of the highest level of health care that we can possibly achieve ó that the health of that child is as high as it possibly can be.
Because there were changes in the Immigration Act by the Liberal government in Canada a number of years ago that specifically exempted the classification of a pre-existing health condition as grounds to not allow a child, or anyone, to become a Canadian citizen.
That said, Mr. Speaker, we have to work within the confines of federal legislation.
Ms. Duncan: These children are examined by a Canadian medical doctor before they get their landed immigrant status. In B.C. and Ontario, these children ó specifically these adopted children from another country ó are covered upon their arrival in B.C. and Ontario. B.C. and Ontario health care cards are valid in the Yukon. However, the Yukon Party government is violating the principle of universality in the Canada Health Act. The minister is denying these babies their Yukon health care coverage for three months.
Now, some of the adoptive parents have raised this with the minister. Some of them have had a private meeting; some have not. The minister has said that he would reimburse parents for health care costs during this three-month waiting period. Not everybody has been offered that ó no universality there.
No one has been able to provide any paperwork to explain to these parents why their babies are being denied Yukon health care coverage. Itís a classic example of private Yukon Party deals. Will the minister do the right thing and ensure that these adopted babies receive Yukon health care coverage immediately upon their arrival home?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I said earlier, we want to ensure that the health of these newly adopted Canadians is at the highest standard. There is a whole series of tests, and the member oppositeís assumption that they are examined by Canadian medical doctors offshore is just that: it is an assumption. When they arrive in the Yukon, or back in Canada, there is a whole series of tests they go through. After 90 days, they are fully covered by Yukon health care. Up to 90 days, they are covered by a contribution agreement. They are completely covered from the date of their arrival. The member oppositeís assumptions are totally incorrect. She is trying to make political mileage on the backs of people who are choosing to expand their family by way of adoption. That I find distasteful.
Question re: Johneís disease
Mrs. Peter:I would like to go back to the Minister of Environment about what he knew or did not know about Johneís disease at the game farm.
On Friday there was a news report based on information received through access to information. According to this information, the minister had sent an e-mail to officials in his department last June 23 suggested that Johneís disease had been in the Yukonís wildlife for some time. The minister is quoted as saying, "It has been clinically found in the Yukon on several occasions. We only cloud the issues with incorrectly referring to this one."
Will the minister confirm that he made this statement, and can he explain what he meant by it?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As I said earlier, the disease was diagnosed and full disclosure was made to the government at the time it was at the game farm. The appropriate action was taken by the game farm itself, and as I say the testing of late has shown all animals negative.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, he didnít answer my question. Itís hard to see how the public interest is served by having a minister responsible for wildlife who refuses to answer questions from his officials about communicable diseases in our wildlife population. People have a right to know about anything that could be affecting the health of animals, especially if it could also affect humans. The outbreak of bird flu in British Columbia and a BSE case in Alberta are examples of the need for people to be informed. Why has the minister ignored requests to provide more information about Johneís disease in the Yukon wildlife, which the director of the fish and wildlife branch asked him for last June.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, my recollection last June was that the disease was found on the game farm and that full disclosure was made ó appropriately, with animal numbers. The animals affected were destroyed. Retesting since has proven negative. The system worked perfectly.
Mrs. Peter: In the yellow pages of both Yukon telephone books, the ministerís name is still listed as a veterinarian. In the display ad for the Yukon Veterinary Services, the ministerís name is at the top of that list. According to the newspaper, Animal Health Act inspectors asked three veterinary clinics what species had been tested for Johneís and what the results were. The ministerís clinic wouldnít provide that information because of client confidentiality. If the minister was aware of Johneís disease on the game farm before the government began the process of buying it, did he report that to anyone? And if not, why not?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I remind the member opposite that itís difficult to get excited about confidentiality when it comes to computers, but itís very easy to forget about confidentiality when it concerns other professions. Whether they be medical professionals, dentists, chiropractors, lawyers or veterinarians, medical information is confidential.
In that individual case, again my information was that the testing was done in conjunction with a resident veterinarian who was on staff at the game farm and who was not affiliated with any of the three clinics. No one asked that particular veterinarian. That particular veterinarian reported the information to the owners of the game farm, who immediately notified the government. The system worked perfectly.
Question re: Ambulance services
Mr. Fairclough: My question is to the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission in regard to training. On December 4, 2003, the Paramedic Association of the Yukon surveyed training as a major issue. The same day the Minister of Health and Social Services said, in Hansard, and I quote: "We are committed to training. Continued and ongoing training commences as soon as we can schedule it, hopefully before Christmas."
The minister said that there will be a trainer in place. Now the ambulance crews are very uncomfortable about the liability of working while untrained and without required recertification. Can the minister advise the House when the public and the ambulance crew can look forward to fully trained volunteers and professionals in this service? Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite has raised a number of issues and intertwined them. Letís deal specifically with the rural volunteers. The rural volunteers have a number of trainers who are located in the rural communities. In addition, the department went out and recruited a trainer. Since that time, there have been a number of grievances raised by the bargaining unit ó that they wanted to provide the training from within the ambulance service here in Whitehorse, vis-à-vis an independent, separate trainer who had some flexibility, who worked on flex time. The ambulance service in Whitehorse wanted to provide it on overtime working conditions when they had to go out to rural Yukon, so we were at an impasse on that issue.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, the minister wasnít able to answer the question as to when we can look forward to the trained volunteers and professionals.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the trainer position was left vacant all during the time this minister was responsible for the department. Ten months after the position was advertised, interviews began ó 10 months, Mr. Speaker ó and there were as many as eight candidates who were selected and interviewed. Now, many of the candidates who have been training other ambulance staff for years in the field and at the College ó all candidates were turned down for the job because they lacked professional suitability. Does the minister believe that people who have been doing the training and working in the position for years are not qualified for the position?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, we have quite a number of well-qualified individuals in and around the Yukon Territory. But the way the job was advertised was for an individual to be hired on a flex-time basis so that that individual could work after 5:00 and on weekends to train rural volunteers. There have been a number of issues raised by the union, grievances that were filed as a consequence of that position going forward in the manner that I described. They saw the need to have the bargaining unit do it with their own members on an overtime basis. So the department is at an impasse on that situation, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fairclough: I urge the minister to get on with dealing with the grievances. Approximately 70 percent of the marks in an interview were rated for personal suitability, as the member said. This is a drastic change from past practice, where we have seen it weighted in as 50 percent. Is suitability being used in this case to keep certain qualified people out of the position?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I said earlier, we have quite a number of well-qualified people who can train. Theyíre here in the Yukon Territory. The issue is the training we have to provide, if you want to look at the rural ambulance and volunteers, is undertaken after 5:00 at night, usually on weekends, so it requires an individual to be hired on the basis of flex time and it requires the cooperation of the bargaining unit, the union. That wasnít forthcoming. There were a number of grievances filed so weíre at an impasse.
With respect to the full-time EMS people here, their positions require that they re-certify on a continuing basis. I hope the member opposite is suggesting that theyíre not properly certified and qualified, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Mrs. Peter: Last week, the Premier told local media that he wasnít concerned about offshore drilling near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because, "Number one is the caribou arenít swimming around in the Arctic Ocean."
Will the Premier tell us his scientific basis for this remark?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, the point was made that people should not overreact to an initiative that the State of Alaska may be proceeding with. Thereís a long ways to go from making an announcement publicly that there may be drilling offshore of ANWR in the Arctic Ocean to actually physically having drilling take place.
As far as the scientific issue, the point was that the critical habitat ó ANWR, the 1002 lands, the calving grounds for the caribou ó is a very important area that must be protected. We, the Yukon government, consistently have stated that we will support the Vuntut Gwitchin in their efforts to ensure that that indeed takes place. By their direction as a government, they have asked that they continue to be the lead and, when they require assistance, they will come to us and we will be there, as will the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Iíd like to close by saying that I highly doubt, scientifically, that the caribou are actually calving out in the Arctic Ocean.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, the Gwitchin people live with the caribou and share the same land. Any Gwitchin child can tell you that the caribou swim in the ocean. They are well-educated, and they understand the threats to the caribou, especially the threats that come with the oil and gas drilling. It is very disturbing to hear the Premier casually tell the media that he is not alarmed by the prospect of offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Will the Premier clarify his statement? Does he support Governor Murkowskiís plan to allow oil companies to drill diagonally under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling platforms off the coast of Alaskaís North Slope?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís important to note that the issue is not to overreact to something that may take place. Even the Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin pointed out that itís highly unlikely that this could be an economically viable venture. We are a long way away from an issue where there may be drilling in the Arctic Ocean off ANWR; therefore, I think we should focus our efforts consistently, as we have in the past, to ensure that the critical habitat ó the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd ó remain protected. Thatís our position, and it has been all along.
Mrs. Peter: People in the north have every reason to be concerned about offshore drilling with oil and gas exploration. We remember the Exxon Valdez all too clearly. The northern ecology can be very fragile. Hundreds of bird species and marine mammals make their home along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Will the Premier agree to re-examine his position and tell Alaskaís governor that Yukon people do not support offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean because of the potential for an environmental disaster in waters that we share with that state?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís important to note that the points that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin is making here today in the Legislative Assembly are testimony to why this is merely an announcement that has a long way to go to become reality. Our position is consistent and will remain consistent. The protection of the critical habitat, the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd ó we will support the Vuntut Gwitchin in its protection.
I want to assure the member opposite that because an announcement was made by the State of Alaska on something that is such a massive undertaking, we must be watchful and vigilant. But at this point in time, I would suggest that we do not have to overreact. Letís focus our efforts, as we have in the past, and continue to support the Vuntut Gwitchin. That is our commitment.
Question re: Social housing review
Mr. Cardiff: My question today is for the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation. Social housing units in many communities are 30 years old, or older, and many of them require extensive renovations and, in some cases, even replacement. Can the minister tell me if the review of social housing, which was promised for last month, is completed? If so, will he advise the House of its findings and table the report?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I thank the member opposite for that question. We are in the process of completing the report he referred to, and we will bring it forth when it is ready.
Mr. Cardiff: My understanding was that the report was promised for last month. That has come and gone, so weíre still waiting for the report.
Social housing rent is based on 25 percent of gross income for all household members. The rent paid is often higher than market value. It discourages people from working; it encourages people not to declare their earnings. In some cases, it splits families when one partner moves out so they can save some money, and it does not allow a tenant to save for a mortgage. The minister, on December 16 in Hansard, said, "Yukonís social housing program makes an important contribution in addressing the economic and social challenges that communities and individuals face in their efforts to address issues associated with poverty and homelessness." This policy makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Is the minister reviewing the Yukon Housing Corporation rental policy with the Yukon Housing Corporation Board?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iíd like to advise the member opposite that this program was assumed from the federal government, and those were the conditions that they placed on taking over the program.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, on April 30, 2003, the minister said in Hansard, "I have asked the board to review administrative policies that pertain to the provision of social housing. Specifically, I requested the board to review the pet policy for seniors housing, and I will also ask for a review of the rent assessment policy." That was last April. Pets are allowed in government employeesí units, but not in social housing. Yukon government employees enjoy a cap on Yukon Housing units, and the rent paid is much lower than many of the social housing rents being paid. Public housing that is available to government employees also competes with private sector housing.
Will the minister advise the board to scrap the discriminatory policies based on gross income and type of employment now?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Each jurisdiction has the right to invoke their pet policy in their particular area. That is a practice that has been there for some time, and theyíve indicated thatís the way they wish to carry on on that issue.
On the issue of pets within the YTG staff areas, we are looking into that situation right now, through the human rights aspect. That particular aspect is under review.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 8: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 8, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Opposition House leader, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I wish to draw to the attention of members of this House that what the government is doing is contrary to what was agreed to at this morningís House leadersí meeting. The order of business following Question Period was to continue general debate on the mains budget. It wasnít until the noon hour when the government House leader tried to change it. Neither House leader from the opposition parties agreed to the change.
I realize there is nothing in the House rules to accommodate this. Our only recourse is to bring this matter to the attention of the people, so they could see how dictatorial this government is in how it treats the opposition parties.
Speaker:Clearly there is no point of order. Itís outside the purview of the Speaker.
I would ask the hon. Premier to carry on.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 8, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 8, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís important to open by pointing out that there are some linkages with the supplementary to the mains and, contrary to the Member for Kluaneís assertions, the government certainly is not dictatorial, but is making every effort to provide as much information to the opposition as we possibly can. Thatís exactly what this exercise is all about.
Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, better known as Supplementary Estimates No. 2 for 2003-04, requests a gross budgetary expenditure increase of $15,735,000.
Of this total, operation and maintenance expenditures make up $8,775,000, and capital $6,960,000. These increased expenditures are partially offset by increased incomes of $8,969,000. The estimated unconsolidated accumulated surplus of the government for March 31, 2004, is forecast to be $58,197,000. This surplus is a demonstration of our governmentís sound fiscal management of the government resources and the fiscal situation of the Yukon Territory.
A large component of the supplementary budget is attributable to the settlement of the collective agreement with our employees. Approximately $6.3 million of increased expenditures is related to this personnel allotment. A further $1.2 million in this allotment is required to fund employee leave liabilities, which this government has recognized on an ongoing basis in accordance with the Public Sector Accounting Board guidelines.
Several other major expenditure increases are worth noting in these introductory remarks. Expenditures in the Department of Environment include $2.25 million for the acquisition of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Highways and Public Works capital expenditures have increased by $4.1 million. Of this total, $3.8 million of that expenditure relate to the need to capitalize the Quartz Road lease, which was incorrectly booked by the previous government.
On the operation and maintenance side of the ledger, in addition to the collective bargaining increases previously mentioned, the other most significant program expenditure increases are in the Department of Health and Social Services. Of their total expenditure increase of $3,247,000, $3.18 million is O&M and $61,000 is capital. Approximately $2.23 million relates to increased program expenditures in these areas: in social assistance, there is an increase of $1.4 million; the Childrenís Act review, $292,000; foster care, children in care and pharmaceutical programs are increased by $500,000.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you, and I look forward to debating the content of these supplementary estimates during general debate and our departmental line-by-line review.
Mr. Hardy: Once again, we are being asked to approve spending that has already taken place, and weíre witnessing this once again. Weíve watched this government continue to use special warrants when they do not want to come back to the Legislature to be accountable for the money that theyíre spending. If anything, this whole supplementary points to very poor planning on the governmentís part and inability and unwillingness to work with the opposition to ensure that proper debate happens. Now, the supplementary, of course, has already been spent and identified, and weíre going to be talking about it as we get into certain items around it. We look forward to that.
But weíre looking at $8.7 million in O&M and $6.9 million in capital. The Premier, of course, stood up and said this is another example of working with us and ensuring that we get the information that is necessary. I would contend that that is not true in this. We have not experienced that as of today. However, if this is the position that the Premier is taking, we look forward to having all our requests in regard to detail and breakdowns supplied to us when we debate the budgets in the foreseeable future, something that we havenít seen in the last year and a half of this territorial government, this new Yukon Party government. If this is his word, if this is what heís standing on, then I would expect that when we make that request, weíll get it.
Iíll give you an example, Mr. Speaker, as weíve asked for the community breakdown on the spending previously. What we got was a one-page list of how much went into each community, without any detail. Now, that is not what we consider being open and accountable and supplying proper information right at this moment.
Hopefully when the Premier stands up, he will stand up in good faith and say that that kind of material will be supplied and that detail of a community spending breakdown will be supplied for the budget of this year ó by every department, Mr. Speaker. Again, just to emphasize, if this is what he is saying, we would like to see the results on this side. So we have some concerns about being supplied with information that historically other governments have supplied. There has been a fundamental shift in the way the Legislature is operating and the way the government is operating regarding the flow of information so we can have proper and informed debate. We are not seeing that with the new Yukon Party government; in fact, weíre seeing the opposite.
Historically, governments supplied this type of information. We can look back on all those years and give examples. Now what we get is stonewalling and refusal to supply that information, and thatís very serious, because we need that information in order to ensure that the public spending is appropriate and the government is accountable. If weíre not getting it, all we can assume is that the government does not wish to share that information, and there is something they wish that the public not know about. So based on just that one comment by the Premier, I am assuming that all that information, all the requests weíve made of all the departments and ministers, including the Premier himself, will come forward. When we ask for a breakdown, we shall get it. I am assuming that based upon those statements. When we ask for details or we ask for tabling of written information, I am assuming that weíre going to get it in the spirit of sharing that information. And immediately we would like to see the detail in the community breakdown.
Now, in regard to ó and it was mentioned ó the game farm purchase. There is $2.229 million in Environment ó Iím assuming that thatís pretty much the cost for the purchase of the game farm. There have been questions asked already today in regard to some of the concerns around that and what information was known before the purchase was made, what studies are out there to justify that amount that was actually paid. Those are questions that we have and we would like some detail on that. I will put it out immediately. We are asking if there are any studies, what studies on the costs, on the value of the game farm. We would like to have that in order for us to debate this with the information when we get into the line-by-line in the department.
Unfortunately, this government brought the purchase in on the last day of the last sitting and we werenít able to have that informed debate in this Legislature. So now, of course, after the money is spent, we are now having to debate it. I can only assume that that was to avoid answering the questions. But we will ask them now.
People in this territory want to know if they are getting value for their money. Some examples to use are the Dawson bridge and the discussions around that ó the $1.3 million or $1.5 million we will be discussing ó and we are going to want to see if there were any done business cases in there. There are some other areas we are going to be asking questions around.
Immediately, in his address, I have a question around the Quartz Road lease ó and having the Premier stand up once again and explain what he means by "incorrectly booked". We would like to have that explained to us in more detail.
Now, there are some areas in this supplementary that we want to talk about. We understand the retroactive pay from last yearís collective agreement, but there are some operation and maintenance increases that we still do want detail on. The $875,000 in Community Services, $533,000, of course, going to community and safety services ó thatís one of the areas we will ask questions about.
Maybe the Premier can get up and give us some detail on that. $908,000 in Education; $259,000 for breaking down into educational support services; $219,000 for public schools; $440,000 for advanced education ó weíre very curious about that kind of spending. What is the justification for it, and are the taxpayers of this territory getting value for their dollar?
$326,000 in Finance for bad debts expense; of course weíre very curious about that. Again, I put this out hoping we will get detail or the Premier will table some documents on that to flesh it out a little bit more and give us a breakdown on that.
$3.2 million in Health and Social Services ó again, an area we want more detail on.
Of course, on the capital side, $2.2 million in Environment, which as Iíve already mentioned is the game farm purchase. Was the proper procedure followed? Was there an evaluation properly done on this and, if so, what was it? Are the taxpayers getting good value for their dollar on this?
$4.1 million in Highways and Public Works ó what specific projects does this cover? We would like more detail on that.
In Finance, why is there a $476,000 in bad debts expense in the O&M and $485,000 in capital for the same thing? On stuff like that, weíd just like more explanation.
Of course, what it comes down to is, did the government plan well, and what factors were taken into account and, of course, whatís the vision of this government? As I said earlier, we have on the one side, last year, a massive reduction in spending that caused tremendous hardship for many businesses and individuals and, this year, we have massive spending. My concern is: where are we going next year? There doesnít seem to be a vision or game plan that anyone in this territory can seem to understand coming from the leadership of the Yukon Party government and the ministers as well.
Those are the questions and concerns I have, and I look forward to more thorough debate on that.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to address the Supplementary Estimates No. 2, 2003-04.
I would like to note with respect to the debate in the Legislature that we have not yet had an edict, direction, from the government House leader as to Committee of the Whole. So whether we will be further debating this supplementary this afternoon or the general debate on the main budget ó that has not as yet been advised to the House leaders.
Now, I recognize that you have ruled with respect to the order of this. I would just like to recognize that in order to facilitate the publicís business, it is incumbent upon House leaders to reach agreement on these issues and to work together and to facilitate such an agreement. Facilitating such an agreement would be timely information, which addresses not only the order of debate in Committee of the Whole and in this House, it also addresses the flow of information. The leader of the official opposition made reference to that.
With respect to the flow of information on this financial document and on others, I note that the community breakdown, which we requested in the briefing on budget-release day ó which was Thursday, March 25 ó this community breakdown in its entirety is made available and run, if you will ó it is a computer program ó by the Department of Finance with the budget documents. We asked for it on the date of the release. It has always been provided in its entirety in the past, and I have examples from 1997 and 1998 and from 2001-02 ó the detailed documents. Those were not provided to us.
And that is information that is essential to debate not only of the supplementary but also of the other financial documents. The other requests ó there has been delay by the government. We have now been told, "Well, we might get you that information tomorrow" ó a full week or more into the budget debate. Thatís not conducive to strong public policy, public business debate in this Legislature, and I would ask the government that they reconsider their position with respect to providing information and that they be more forthcoming and provide full and complete information on all aspects of the territoryís finances and on decisions such as the purchase of the game farm that is contained in this supplementary.
All the money outlined in the supplementary has passed through the House through the use of special warrants, and the fact that there have been special warrants to pass this as opposed to going through it prior to March 31 demonstrates to me a lack of respect for the Legislature and an unwillingness to defend the spending and also an unwillingness to share information. Again, I encourage the government to be more forthcoming and forthright, particularly in this place, where we discuss the public business.
I note that the revenues from Canada are up, and this is in spite of a Yukon Party commitment made door to door that they were going to wean the territory off Ottawaís spending. The reverse has been indicated not only in the supplementary but also in the budget documents as well. I note once again there is also extra money for Cabinet offices ó again, spending more on themselves ó and that there is less in some areas. Certainly there is less health care coverage for some individuals.
One of the major expenditures in this supplementary is the purchase of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and unfortunately in Question Period last week and again in Question Period today, the minister has refused to tell us if the Yukon received fair value when we purchased the game farm. The minister is refusing to make public a valuation of the project that was done by an outside firm ó and this from a government that promised Yukoners openness, accountability and working with others in the Legislature. What happened to that? Itís certainly not reflected in either the supplementary or the budget documents.
The $2.225 million for the purchase of the game farm is higher than the announced purchase price, and the minister will certainly be explaining that in the supplementary Committee of the Whole debate, which I look forward to as Iím sure others do in this Legislature, as it will be an opportunity for us to go through in detail the money that has been spent and how it has been spent, and to search and try to seek from the government a full and thorough explanation as to why these expenditures have been made.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cathers: I rise today to highlight a few points in this supplementary budget before us, in particular with regard to the purchase of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Iím very pleased to see the identified amount of $2,225,000 in there. This is an issue that, as most of you know, is of great importance to many Yukoners ó the 700 members of the Friends of the Wildlife Preserve, the 500 people who came through the Yukon Wildlife Preserve on the last weekend that they officially continued operation under private ownership, and numerous constituents Iíve received phone calls and emails from, as well as constituents of my colleagues and probably other members of this House who felt this facility was well worth preserving.
This is an issue particularly for Yukoners in my riding where they have close and daily contact with the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and the previous owners of the facility, who operated it with a very community-centered approach. For many years they allowed a large number of school groups and did many other things that I believe represented very good community spirit. They certainly have done a very fine job in making this facility one of the finest of its type anywhere in the world.
It is disappointing personally, and, as the Member for Lake Laberge, to see constituents of mine attacked to some extent by the opposition, in particular the member of the third party, regarding this area. Certainly any expenditure of the publicís money, particularly when it starts to rise into the large figures, such as $2.225 million, is worthy of public scrutiny. But I do not believe that some of the debate and comments ó and I believe innuendo ó that are cast in this case is very fair and respectful of individuals who have no opportunity to defend themselves in this House and whom I have the honour of representing as their MLA. I would urge all members to remember that we who ran for political office certainly take the slings and arrows that come with politics as part of the job, but the individuals we represent ó private Yukoners ó should not be dragged into debate. Even if their names arenít directly mentioned in this House, some of the comments raised today in Question Period, and on other days, by members of the opposition do not, I believe, fully reflect the facts as shown by papers that I would suggest they could get from the Department of Environment and other locations about the scientific data weíre referring to. I would encourage them to be a little more careful in checking their facts before bringing claims into this House.
Moving on, Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to see this facility preserved for Yukoners. As I said, it was very important to hundreds of my constituents that we take that action to ensure that the Yukon Wildlife Preserve did not cease operation, that it did become a publicly operated facility for the good of all Yukoners, and Iím very pleased that weíve been able to do so. Iím also very pleased to see that this has been resolved for the former owners of the facility ó considering the actions that the previous government took, which brought them close to the point of bankruptcy ó that action has been taken to pull things back onto a fair playing field. The action the previous government took in denying them export permits was, in my view, not an appropriate action and not respectful of the rights of individuals to earn a living and to have only such regulation put in place as is necessary to ensure the public good.
Well, Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House do not play politics with peopleís lives and livelihoods, and I would urge members opposite that they not do that either.
Other elements in this supplementary deal with the retroactive settlement for the public employees of the Yukon government. I believe that the contract that was put in place with the public employees is one of the fairest in this country. When we see governments such as Newfoundland and the issues that theyíre facing regarding the public service contract, I think this reflects well on our government and the respect that we do have for our hardworking government employees. The settlement was dealt with as one of the most generous and respectful compensation packages for public employees in this country in place at the moment.
I think that itís important that that type of attitude be continued and that any problems of the past be put behind us and we move forward in a respectful manner toward each other.
In other departments, under the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, I am very pleased, again, to see the money identified from Agriculture Canada ó the industry transition program ó of $190,000. This is the amount that was just recently announced by the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources ó that through his good efforts and the efforts of his department officials, they have succeeded in getting that amount from the federal government increased from $190,000 to $270,000. Agriculture is, of course, a major industry within my riding, and I hope that the potential in the Yukon for becoming more sustainable and for fulfilling more of Yukonís needs is enhanced. We are moving forward on a number of initiatives right now to work with the agricultural industry and the Agricultural Association to put in place a key infrastructure that will enable Yukon farmers to get their products into retail and more into a mainstream market, instead of being confined to some extent, as they are now, in somewhat of a niche industry.
There is tremendous potential out there. I have outlined previously in the House that one example of this is that the Yukon imports approximately 5,000 head of beef per year for grocery stores. I believe there is tremendous opportunity in areas such as this for Yukoners to capitalize on some of these areas in a manner that will benefit us all, and we will see the money stay in the territory.
The money identified for the Yukon Placer Committee, as well, is a reflection, again, of the commitment of this government to move forward with industry to ensure that the environment is protected but that science is respected and that we do not simply, as a society or as a government or a culture, say, "Oh, we donít want to damage the environment so we will ensure that everything is frozen and nothing moves forward." We have to be very careful that the environment is not damaged or adversely hampered. I would suggest that probably for all members in this House and for most Yukoners, a very key factor of why we are here in the Yukon ó if not the reason ó is our love of its natural beauty and the freedom we have here.
I state unequivocally that devastating the environment is not acceptable. It is absolutely not acceptable to me or, I believe, to any of my colleagues on this side of the floor. I know itís not acceptable to any of my colleagues on this side of the floor. Devastation of the environment is absolutely unacceptable. However, we canít adopt a Chicken Little attitude and suggest that the sky is falling, as it seems to me that some members of certain conservation groups have at times. We have to respect the science and ensure that the scientific basis is applied to determining whether industry action does damage the environment or whether it does not. Itís critical that all members of this House, and I would suggest all members of society within the Yukon and Canada as a whole, be very careful when we start lobbying and taking action to limit the rights or opportunities of other members of society, that we be very careful to ensure that we have the facts, not a poorly researched one-sided argument that comes off a nice glossy brochure or poster.
Under the Department of Economic Development, the money identified for the business incentive policy, bringing it up to a total vote of $1,564,000, is again a demonstration of this governmentís commitment to moving forward with business to ensure that opportunities are as much as possible given to Yukoners rather than to outside contractors or to outside employees, that Yukon money stays within the Yukon.
Under the Department of Community Services, the additional money of $150,000 for rural electrification and telephone, bringing it up to a total of $838,000, is a demonstration of this governmentís commitment to improving the basic infrastructure that is in place for all Yukoners. This is something that ó for a number of people in my riding, theyíre still not able to access rural telephone or electricity. Actually, Mr. Speaker, my family and I at our place on the east side of Lake Laberge are probably the last people who will ever be connected to that grid within the Yukon. I would be very surprised if, at any point in the foreseeable future, we ever have access to such a thing, but this program does connect a number of people on the main side of the lake to improve their Internet connection speed. I have personal experience with how much of a crimp it can put on your business activities if youíre forced to surf the Internet at 4,800 bps. The importance of electricity does provide an infrastructure that I feel is important to reduce, as much as possible, the Yukonís dependence on generators and fossilized fuels. Putting this in place for many of my constituents to access this type of facility is, I believe, very important and very sustainable for the Yukon.
The monies through this program are recoverable and I believe this is an excellent program for the sustainable development of Yukon infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, Iíd also like to comment on a suggestion raised by the leader of the official opposition that Yukoners are unable to understand this governmentís vision and game plan.
I am a little bit puzzled by that statement. Perhaps the people the leader of the official opposition speaks to are unable to understand it, but in speaking to my constituents ó as you are aware, Mr. Speaker, I hold regular public meetings and talk to many more of my constituents over the telephone or in person or connect with them via e-mail on a daily basis ó Yukoners I have spoken to, my constituents, seem to by and large have a very clear understanding of where this government is going and felt it very prudent that this government, when it took over management, got a handle on the financial resources ó based on the budgetary limitations we were faced with at that time ó got the finances under control, got the spending under control and then ó through the good efforts primarily of the Finance department and the statistics branch and their hardworking employees ó we succeeded in receiving some $38 million from the federal government that we werenít expecting and increased the surplus through other areas so that, when additional money came into our hands, we did what they feel and what I feel was the prudent thing: we allocated a portion of it to spending and we kept a portion of it in the bank for future needs.
So, Mr. Speaker, speaking personally, I feel that this is yet one of a number of areas where, if it is explained clearly, it is very easy to understand. But it seems to me that the leader of the official opposition does not understand this and perhaps thatís why the people he explains this to do not understand it either.
Mr. Speaker, I could go on at length over a number of these things and the positive initiatives that this government has undertaken, but Iíd like to give other members the opportunity to speak in response to the Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and I thank you very much for your time, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Rouble: I rise today to support the supplementary budget. As the economic indicators have indicated, our economy is turning around. We have turned the corner, Mr. Speaker. Unemployment is down, confidence is up, and optimism is returning. There are more Yukoners back at work today.
We campaigned on a promise that we can do better and this budget is proof of that. After our brief time in power and a couple of budgets, and with some of the Yukon Partyís impacts on government spending, we have indeed seen changes in the economy and changes in the optimism of our community.
When we took office, we committed to practising good government, achieving a balance between the economy and the environment, and achieving a better quality of life for all Yukoners. Mr. Speaker, this supplementary budget delivers on these commitments. Weíre making tough decisions where we have to and weíre making investments wherever we can.
Additionally, as well as managing the budget in a fiscally responsible manner, weíve been fortunate that our revenues have increased. This is due to devolution, the excellent negotiations regarding the census and our transfer payment and, as well, itís in no small part due to the excellent negotiations our Premier and our Health minister had with regarding additional funds for health.
This increase in revenue means that we can make a significant investment in the Yukon. Weíre committed to practising good government; we have a responsibility to Yukon people to budget our funds wisely and weíre doing just that.
Mr. Speaker, this supplementary budget responds to the needs of Yukoners. It puts additional funds into the departments of Health and Social Services, Education, Justice, Highways and Public Works, and the Environment. It also makes budgetary cuts where theyíre appropriate. Yes, it does include additional spending but it also includes significant reductions where appropriate.
This budget responds to the successful contract negotiations that we had with our talented and capable public service. I believe the Premier used a figure of approximately $6.3 million. So $6.3 million of this supplementary, as I understand it, went to accommodate the increase in wages and benefits due to our public service.
This budget also includes the capitalization of the capital lease. This is particularly pointed out by the leader of the official opposition. When one incurs a capital lease under current accounting practices, one is obliged to record the total present value of that lease in the year that itís incurred. Itís to prevent people from doing jiggery-pokery with leases and trying to create books just for appearance sake.
We incurred an obligation when we took out a lease on that building, and that obligation extends over many years. It isnít just an obligation for this government to pay the rent for one month. No, it was an obligation for the government to pay the rent for, I believe, 120 months ó 10 years. There was a significant obligation made when that lease was taken out, and as such we had to report and record that obligation.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a very significant new budget tabled. I look forward to the debate on that. I look forward to the constructive criticism from the members opposite. I can see by their smiling faces and their overflowing exuberance that they are also indeed eager to contribute constructively to the budget. Again, as we have discussed, it isnít just a matter of saying, "This is wrong; this is wrong, this is wrong," or saying, "You spent too much money, but you havenít spent enough money on this, this and this." If weíre going to enter into constructive debate in our Assembly, options must be presented. So when members have a criticism of the budget, I also encourage them to come up with a recommendation. If you say weíve spent too much on this, give the government some direction. How much should it be decreased by?
If there was an obligation that the government should have lived up to ó again, how much should be budgeted, and then what should be cut to correspond to that increase in spending? I mean, Mr. Speaker, itís very easy to just say we need to spend more but, as we all know, we live within the confines of fixed finances. We only have so much money to go around that has to satisfy all of the needs of Yukoners. So, again, I will ask members opposite: when debating the budget, please provide some constructive comments. What would they cut? What would they put in its place? What additional funds would they spend?
As I said, we have a lot of work to do. Itís a very significant budget and there are additional pieces of legislation. Iíd like to get to it. So, in closing, Mr. Speaker, I would just like to add that, again, I am in support of this supplementary budget. It responsibly spends our taxpayersí money and ensures that Yukoners get value for the taxes that they pay.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Speaker:Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: Pursuant to articles 3(1) and 3(2) of our Standing Orders, there does not appear to be a quorum.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during the sitting of the Assembly, the Speakerís attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and then do a count.
Speaker: I have shut off the bells, and I will do a count. There are 17 members present; a quorum is present. We will now continue debate.
The House awaits your pleasure.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the second supplementary budget of 2003-04. This supplementary budget provides $8.775 million for O&M and $6.96 million for capital. A large component of this supplementary budget is attributed to the collective bargaining settlement, and a large component is attributed to the settlement of the collective agreement with our employees. Approximately $6.3 million of increased expenditures is related to this personnel allotment. A further $1.2 million in this allotment is required to fund employee leave liabilities, which this government has recognized on an ongoing basis.
I want to highlight a few points regarding education in this supplementary budget. As the budget indicates, there is an overall increase of $908,000 to the O&M budget of the Department of Education.
This increase is made up of the following elements: education support services show an increase of $249,000, made up of $186,000 for the negotiated salary increase for custodians in the schools, $63,000 for the negotiated salary increase for administration in the departments. The public schools line shows an increase of $209,000 for the negotiated salary increases for administration in the department and in schools. The advanced education line shows an increase of $440,000, made up of $402,000 for the negotiated collective agreement increase at Yukon College and $38,000 for the negotiated collective agreement increase for department-based staff. In the capital budget there is an increase of $17,000 for the department, and this is made up of negotiated collective agreement increases for capital staff. These staff are related to school facilities managed and information technology staff of $12,000, including those assigned for distance education.
Again I want all members to support this budget. It once again demonstrates the goodwill of this department to put the money where itís needed.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: I would like to get a few words in here. I have been following some parts of the debate, and I wish to address the point of government accountability first. Our leader pointed out how a lot of information that has been customarily provided by previous governments to previous opposition parties is not being provided by this Yukon Party government. Thereís another example to add to the list, and that is departmental handouts or materials.
I recall when the Premier used to sit on this side and the Member for Klondike ó together we all insisted that the previous government continue to provide such information. Such information is useful. It provides detail on the departments, along with their major spending plans and policies and so on. To suddenly stop the provision of such material ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker:Order please. Member for Klondike, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On a point of order, pursuant to section 19(g), the member opposite is imputing false or unavowed motives to this side of the House, and specifically to the Minister of Finance. There hasnít been any change in how briefings are carried out, nor has there been any change in the information provided to the official opposition. We are providing more information, allowing more time than ever before, Mr. Speaker. So the allegations that the member opposite is making are patently incorrect.
Speaker:Order please. There is no point of order. It is simply a dispute between members.
Member for Kluane, please carry on.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Obviously we struck a nerve on the other side. I would suggest that if the government House leader really wants to challenge this point I am making, then at least go back to the provisions allotted by previous governments in terms of information flow. We are not asking for any improvements out of this government, but at least continue to provide what previous governments have in terms of information.
What I am talking about is the handout booklets by each department, which are customary during departmental briefing when there is a budget. So every spring, in particular, this is business as usual ó the opposition would be provided with these materials, until the Yukon Party became the government.
So I think Iíve established whatís missing and what exactly it is. And, yes, we on the opposition side do place a value on that material. It helps to expedite the business of the House, it helps to make debate in here more constructive, it helps to provide for a better informed opposition, and in turn, Mr. Speaker, it provides for a better government. So if there is any compelling reason for the government to change its ways and to start to open up the lines of information, itís at least seen as an open, accountable and better government in the eyes of the people, and in order to do that, Mr. Speaker, we have to live by the same test as previous governments.
So that point having been made, Iíd like to also speak to the matter of the game farm, which comprises a large part of this supplementary budget. Mr. Speaker, I think overall the purchase was a good one. There were plenty of Yukoners in favour of such a purchase. But the way that the government did it, Mr. Speaker, left a lot to be desired.
First of all, we saw a press conference at about noon of the last sitting day of the fall Legislature. So the government planned the release at a very strategic time. At that point in time, it was too late for the opposition to restructure its questions that would be asked about an hour later in this Legislature, and it provided the government with a maximum period of time between the announcement and the commencement of the spring Legislature. So we saw, in effect, a three-month period in which the government could face no questions on the purchase in this Legislature.
Itís very crafty of a government to operate that way, but again itís not very open, and itís not very accountable. So weíre starting to get to the bottom of that particular issue now, and weíre beginning to see there are things wrong with the way the government handled the deal. Iím an advocate of a well-informed opposition and an advocate of good government, and good information flow is necessary in both cases.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I rise in support of this supplementary budget for 2003-04. Itís interesting when we talk with the opposition about the negativity that comes from across the floor that most of it is misinformation. As far as the wilderness game sanctuary was concerned, we certainly knew it was an issue out there. Not only were a lot of people interested in the future of the Wildlife Preserve, but people also worked with us as government to see if somehow we could address some of those issues. We certainly had it as part of the Yukon Party platform, that we would be working with the Wildlife Preserve and trying to enhance it in some fashion, whether it was going to be privately owned or we would go into some kind of an arrangement where the life of the farm was guaranteed. I think the timing was just that. The timing came about, because we entered into an agreement with the previous owners. It was the time of year that that happened. I think the minister did an excellent job of working with not only the previous owners but also the groups that were going to be involved in this, understanding that this was one of the bigger issues that we had on this side with the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board. Their recommendation was that it be privately owned, but it should be continued. I think the Minister of Environment, with his background in science and veterinary medicine, was the best man for the job at the moment.
As far as the insinuation that he went out of his way to hire an outside company to appraise the value of the game farm and involve BDO, which has been an active member of our community for 30 years ó
So as far as the stigma of an outside appraiser coming in, certainly they probably had to draw on outside expertise in order to put the value of that wilderness preserve into the context of what we were buying.
There wasnít a lot of expertise in the Yukon that could really give us a figure of what the Wilderness Preserve was valued at. BDO is part of our community, so I would like to make that very clear to everybody in this room, and they went with their expertise and hired the best people. I donít know who their people were, but their experts came up to put a value on it. Of course, the minister acted on those recommendations and today, of course, it has been purchased. The Department of Environment is running it at the moment. I donít think itís the plan of the Minister of Environment to have a lengthy operation. I think, with his expertise and his staff, heís looking at an NGO of some form to make sure we can run that very successfully. Of course, with education and science and all the other aspects of the Wilderness Preserve, it will be very beneficial for our community now and in the future.
I think the insinuation that the Minister of Environment did anything that wasnít up front is wrong. I think to say that the Minister of Environment, because of his knowledge in science and veterinary science, is a liability to the Department of Environment is wrong. I think he has done an excellent job of unfolding this Wilderness Preserve to the Yukon people.
Putting that aside, Iíd like to go back to the supplementary budget and understand that this supplementary budget was the second one. When we took over government last year, which is 14 or 16 months ago, we did our homework in the fact that we first of all had to put a budget together that was realistic, and we also had to address a lot of the issues that were out there and unknown to us as a novice government.
I think the Minister of Finance has done an excellent job in putting our financial house in order, which made it capable for us to first of all settle a very generous award with our employees in the sense that we are working with our employees to make sure theyíre happy with their workplace and the resources.
I think another thing is that our teachers have been addressed ó the employment leave has been addressed, which hadnít been for years. The Auditor General was after us for that.
So, as far as this supplementary budget ó and I can understand the concern from the members opposite because there is really not much to debate on this that isnít the proper fashion and how to run a government. Of course, the few people who are left in the House here today are going to stand up and harangue on ó
Speaker:Order please. Itís inappropriate to comment on whether a member is or is not in the House.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to go over my department, which is a regulatory department, which has a very tight budget and, of course, works within that budget to make a positive dent in the economics of the Yukon. We have done a lot in our department since devolution last year. We have only had devolution for 12 months.
But we have collected the responsibility of our resources, our land and our water. This is a great responsibility as government. When I went through this last 60 months ó when you talk to the governments like in the Northwest Territories and the stumbling blocks that we had in the past with DIAND ó these things have melted away. It has opened up many doors for us in the federal government, now that we are not completely controlled by DIAND. Weíve got Natural Resources Canada, which is willing to partner in certain issues in the Yukon. And certainly we are moving ahead on different fronts to make sure that the mining community, the forestry community and the placer and oil and gas communities are a positive experience for all Yukoners. We are working with the Minister of Environment and his department to make sure that weíre answering questions out there on the environmental front, and to co-manage the natural resources with Environment.
So again, in 14 months we have done a massive job to put the Yukon back on track in an economic way to make sure that all Yukoners will benefit.
One of the commitments we made was to work in a very positive way and a sincere way with all First Nations to share in the economic future of Yukon. I think, when we look in this room, I say to you, our leader, the Minister of Finance, who has led the charge on this co-management of our resources and of the economic future of the Yukon, this template will go forward with governments in the future because this is the way we are going to operate in the Yukon ó full partnership to benefit all Yukoners.
Now, as far as them and us ó that doesnít exist any more. We work as a unit. We work with all First Nations, government to government, and weíre growing into it. To give kudos to the First Nations, we have to build their trust up. They have not had the best dealings with governments in the past. We are building up that trust, and that trust comes with a day-to-day working on our relationships. We are becoming successful with the Champagne-Aishihik group with the forest management plan, the beetle kill. We worked with the Kaskas in southeast Yukon to release the timber down there. We worked with the Ross River Dena on the R-block. Those are all jobs well done, and those are how we are going to build up the trust and the capabilities of all Yukoners so that we can jointly manage and jointly benefit from anything the Yukon has to unfold to us.
I think this supplementary budget is just that. It talks to a few issues, like the Minister of Education was saying about wages in the departments. We are going to aggressively manage the Yukonís economy.
With or without the opposition, we have a commitment in our book to the Yukon people, in the commitments we went door to door on. Part of those things was that we were going to get our economic house in order by, first of all, involving First Nations in the economic future of the Yukon with a full partnership. When they say they go from First Nation to First Nation and ask me, "Are you going to give the same deal to that First Nation group," weíre entering into agreements with all the First Nations and, if it makes economic sense, we will enter into that deal as long as it benefits all Yukoners at the end of the day.
So, Mr. Speaker, this scaremongering we have from the members opposite about ó
Speaker:"Fearmongering" is an unparliamentary term. Iíd ask the member not to use it.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Iím sorry.
If weíre going to take a look at the economic future of the Yukon, we did that with our first budget by being very conservative and coming out with figures that were generating the economy of the Yukon in the proper way. We were getting our economic house in order. The supplementaries were just that: supplementaries to that first budget.
This last budget, which is our second budget, is looking at the economic fabric of the Yukon and where we can best generate the amount of work and infrastructure the Yukon needs to expand its economic future, and we have done that.
So Iím looking forward to line-by-line debate with the members opposite when we look at Energy, Mines and Resources, and they can look at this organization and ask the questions theyíll bring up. Iím certainly proud to be a signatory to this, and I think our governmentís on the right track. I look forward to going through this line by line.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
If the hon. Premier now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, there was a moment of confusion there.
I rise today to speak to the supplementary budget. I will be brief; we donít want to spend the 10 days that we did last spring talking about what was already spent by a previous government.
The Department of Environmentís objective is to ensure that the renewable resources and the environment of the Yukon are managed and used in accordance with government policy. We maintain and enhance the quality of Yukonís environment for the present and future generations through ecosystem-based management, conservation of resources and protection and maintenance of biodiversity.
Our biggest push here is to make those decisions based on scientific fact and not on speculation and picking things out of the air. We have to make science-based decisions. This will be something that we will be stressing throughout our mandate.
We must manage renewable resources in a manner that promotes integration with other sectors such as economic development so that optimum benefits can be derived by all Yukon people. Simply protecting everything is not our goal. Reasonable protection and reasonable economic development is what we have to look at.
There is an old saying, Mr. Speaker, "If you donít have the money, you arenít going to protect much." Consequently, we have to have that economy and all the things that go with that in order to give the environment the protection that it needs.
We also participate in national and international measures designed to enhance environmental quality and encourage sustainable use of renewable resources. Integration, implementation and managing additional authorities and responsibilities in water and resource management ó new, since devolution ó and environmental management is devolved from the Government of Canada and all that that entails.
This is consistent with the Government of Yukonís policy and constitutional objectives. We are undertaking resource management activities that meet the Government of Yukonís obligations in respect to the right of aboriginal people and relationships established through land claims and self-governing agreements.
In terms of the budget, the Department of Environment budget comes down really to two areas. One is meeting our commitments to our employees and agreeing and implementing the various agreements, which weíre very happy to do and, of course, it involves the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, which we are very proud to have been involved in and get the non-government, non-profit organization organized and get them in control of that.
To that point, when it became obvious that the game farm was going to close and come apart, Management Board ó and I would remind the members opposite that of course all ministers are part of Management Board ó issued a contract under the authority of the Management Board. That contract was issued on October 20. Now that looked at getting the game farm, as it was then known, to be completely evaluated. We had to not make a guess at what it was worth; we had to look at exactly what it was worth. Consequently, a local Whitehorse business, BDO Dunwoody, was the only one that could respond in a timely manner, and the contract was let on that to do a complete evaluation.
The approved budget for YTGís share of that cost was $20,000, and the total cost of the contract, including approved disbursements, was $38,265. One-half of that was paid by the owners of the Yukon game farm, as it was then known. So the final net cost to the Yukon government was $19,132.50, well within approved budget.
The listed contract amount was higher, because YTG administered it on behalf of both parties, and it was split when the deal closed. As I say, the firms that were looked at were from Whitehorse. One responded in a timely manner, and we went ahead with that.
In terms of the finances on that, as the opposition wants to know ó and rightly so ó the agreed purchase price was $2,060,000. It was allocated as $352,000 paid on December 22, 2003. I would love to take credit for the member opposite who thinks this was a grand scheme of things to make that announcement on December 16. Unfortunately, I have to admit that that was as fast as we could get it together, so it became a question of whether we announced it in the dying days of that sitting or made the announcement after. Iím suspicious that the opposition would be upset with either alternative.
That leaves $1,708,000 payable on closing for land improvement, buildings, machinery and equipment. Under the terms of the agreement, weíre responsible for pre-acquisition costs and transitional costs up to $165,000 between December 6 and April 1. We can get into these details more as the session goes on, and I look forward to debate on this.
The Yukon government and the Yukon people got a heck of a deal for what will be, and is even now ó and will be even more ó a world-class facility.
Speaker: If the hon. Premier now speaks he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, this is somewhat of a very relevant supplementary budget, considering the timing factor and the relationship to the mains for the fiscal year 2004-05. However, I must begin, and Iím compelled to begin, by pointing something out. We have just witnessed the opposition continually reference the fact that the government is withholding information.
Thatís a bit problematic because it is an accusation that is disguised, to some degree, that the government is actually committing wrongdoing, because that is not the democratic process of any duly elected democratic government to withhold information from anyone. So this government certainly is not in any way, shape or form withholding information.
So in thinking about this, it became clear to the government side that the problem for the opposition is to find a way to criticize these expenditures. I will point some of the rationale out for that conclusion being drawn.
When you consider the fact that in such a short period of time the government has increased the incomes by almost $9 million ó some $8,969,000 ó the opposition would have a very difficult time criticizing that. Why? Well, itís an increase in revenue that we have utilized to make allocations or expenditures in areas of demonstrated need. So the opposition reverts to trying to find a way to criticize the government in another manner, which is the constant regurgitation of the government withholding information. Again I stress that is not happening.
Letís go further: a large component of this supplementary is to pay for our employees vis-à-vis the collective bargaining agreement, because a portion of the agreement reached between the government, the employer, and its employees is retroactive. Therefore, we are obviously obligated to ensure that the $6.3 million of increased expenditure due to the collective bargaining agreement is in the pockets or the hands of our employees. That is, of course, the only course of action that a government can take.
The opposition would have a very difficult time criticizing that. Again, they revert to saying the government is withholding information.
It is also important to note that we have had qualified audits in this territory because of the leave liability issue. This supplementary budget also addresses that, ensuring that $1.2 million is to fund the employee leave liabilities. We are booking this amount in accordance with the Public Sector Accounting Board guidelines. In other words, we are following all the accounting guidelines that we are obligated to follow. Again, how does the opposition criticize a government that actually is accounting and doing its books in accordance with the Public Sector Accounting Board? Impossible ó therefore the opposition criticizes, again, and says that the government is withholding information.
Furthermore, how does the opposition criticize not only what was a recommendation by the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, but a large percentage of the Yukon population was very concerned about the future of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The government acted. Again, a demonstrated need; an area of expenditure that was required ó and we allocated the funds to that end. Itís very difficult for the opposition to criticize the government for making that expenditure, given all the facts. Therefore, the opposition stands on the floor of the Legislature and criticizes the government for withholding information ó which, again, is incorrect.
Now, Mr. Speaker, there are many other examples that I could go into, but I think we should focus in on some of the areas that are very, very important to the New Democrats, to those who espouse the principles of social democracy.
When we have an increased expenditure for social assistance of $1.4 million in this supplementary budget, how can the official opposition ó the NDP ó with any credibility, criticize the government for that increased expenditure? How can they criticize the government when we invest $292,000 in the Childrenís Act review so that we can get this territoryís issues around children back to a family-centred approach? Impossible. How can they criticize a $500,000 investment in foster care and children in care and in pharmaceutical programs helping those in need? Impossible.
So they come up with, "Letís criticize the government for withholding information." Now I want to get to a fundamental problem with the position the opposition is taking.
Given the fact that the government side is not withholding information, given the fact that the government side is here and ready, willing and able to debate each and every expenditure in our budgets, and the opposition is required to do so in a constructive manner, I would make the point that the opposition is having difficulty in representing its constituencies in constructive debate in the House. The suggestion is that the opposition should get out there in the public more often.
The opposition is well aware of this information and has been for a long time. The opposition has been given briefings; the opposition has been provided information at every request as quickly as we can. But I think we have to remember that, in many cases, requests for information are duplicating whatís already in the oppositionís hands.
So I think the problem is the opposition should get out of their offices and spend more time in the public talking to Yukoners, as the government side has done ó not only leading up to the sitting but far before the budget was constructed, really working hard in a meaningful way with the Yukon public to ensure that their input is throughout the expenditures of government.
I would suggest that the opposition is failing Yukoners in its approach. When the opposition cannot criticize the government because they are in fact fundamentally in agreement with what the government is spending money on, should they then revert to accusing the government in a manner that is incorrect and is not reflective of the facts that the government is withholding information? I think not. So I think the opposition could do a great service for the people of this territory by changing their tactics, and letís engage in debate on the detail, on the content and on the substance of what is taking place not only in this House, not only in government, but in the Yukon Territory as a whole. We would go a long way to improving this situation collectively.
I will close by saying that we need not continue to revert to these types of criticisms when they are empty and void of substance. We need to focus on criticizing with substance in a constructive way, and the governmentís side, I can assure you, will always be receptive to constructive criticism and we will act.
With that, it is quite simple why this supplementary budget had to be brought forward. Although there is a sizable amount of expenditure, I think itís very clear throughout the supplementary budget why the expenditures had to be made. They are good expenditures. They are in areas of demonstrated need and requirement by the government, obligation by the government, so we commend this to the House. It should require very little debate, so we can move on to debate what is the biggest budget in the history of the Yukon.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
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. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Arntzen: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Disagree.
Mr. McRobb: Disagree.
Mr. Fairclough: Disagree.
Mr. Cardiff: Disagree.
Mrs. Peter: Disagree.
Ms. Duncan: Disagree.
Clerk: The results are 11 yea, six nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 8 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:Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: Letís rise for a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Bill No. 8 ó Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04
Chair:We will now begin with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have just gone through second reading on Bill No. 8, Supplementary Estimates No. 2, 2003-04. I think the debate was detailed. The supplementary is seeking a total of $15.735 million. I would suggest that after outlining where the expenditures were going and the rationale for them, we should be able to conclude debate and move on into other business on behalf of the public here today.
With that, Iíll close my comments in general debate and turn it over to the leader of the official opposition.
Mr. Hardy: We are reading to go into departmental debate.
Ms. Duncan: I would concur with that assessment. I am ready to move into the departmental debate on the supplementary.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Yukon Legislative Assembly
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Ms. Duncan: My understanding is that with respect to the Legislative Assembly, which is the first debate, itís usually Mr. Speaker who, as a member, reads the line explanation for that, so should we give a minute for Mr. Speaker to arrive.
Chair: I think it would be appropriate. He has been summoned to the Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Staffen: The Membersí Services Board is responsible for the budgets of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and the Elections Office. It is therefore appropriate that the Chair of the Membersí Services Board should provide the information to the House on these appropriations.
The 2003-04 year-end supplementary estimate for Vote 01, Yukon Legislative Assembly, shows an increase of $14,000. For Vote 24, Elections Office, it shows an increase of $2,000 in operation and maintenance. Both of these increases are due to the collective agreement between YGEU and Government of Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: I have no questions on that. I thank the member for the explanation.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Yukon Legislative Assembly in the amount of $14,000 agreed to
Yukon Legislative Assembly agreed to
Chair: Is there any general debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Elections in the amount of $2,000 agreed to
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Elections Office in the amount of $2,000 agreed to
Elections Office agreed to
Office of the Ombudsman
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Staffen: The Membersí Services Board is responsible for the budgets of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and its House officers. This includes the Ombudsman ó Information and Privacy Commissioner, who receives funding in Vote 23, Office of the Ombudsman.
The board, at its meeting on January 22, 2004, received a communication from the Ombudsman explaining that he had identified a need for supplementary funding for 2003-04 in the period 8 variance report to Management Board.
The request from the Ombudsman, which is shown in this supplementary estimate, was for an increase of $7,000 in operation and maintenance. The funding was required to provide increase in pay to employees of the Office of the Ombudsman, mirroring those provided to the employees of the Government of Yukon in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. The Membersí Services Board registered no objection to the action taken by the Ombudsman in submitting this request for supplementary funding.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Office of the Ombudsman in the amount of $7,000 agreed to
Office of the Ombudsman agreed to
Department of Finance
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Given the fact that our Finance official is here right now, I would move that we move to the Department of Finance while the official from the Executive Council Office arrives.
Chair: We will continue on with Vote 12, Department of Finance, and general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would like to provide Committee with some introductory remarks concerning the Department of Finance supplementary budget request for the year 2003-04. For the 2003-04 supplementary estimates, the Department of Finance is requesting an additional $476,000 for operation and maintenance and $485,000 for capital. This is a significant increase from the main estimates. The increases are nondiscretionary expenditures, and the full amount of the increase cannot be absorbed from within the Department of Finance approved appropriation.
On the O&M side of the budget, the request is for $476,000, and is broken down as follows: the collective bargaining agreement and its impact for the Department of Finance is $110,000; Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board supplementary benefits is $93,000; bad debt expense is $326,000 and offset by lapsing personnel salary allotment is a reduction of $53,000.
The collective agreement covers the two-percent increase covering January 2003 to December 2003, and a 2.5-percent increase from January 2004 to March 2004.
The Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board supplementary benefit is a legislated program dating back to 1973. It requires Finance to transfer funds to WCHSB to cover costs of workers who were injured prior to the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board Act. Finance generally tries to absorb any excess amount over our base budget from within our overall departmental budget. Unfortunately, this year, the department is only able to absorb $53,000 of the $93,000 anticipated overexpenditure. The Department of Community Services has advised us that their calculation of the bad debt allowance for property taxes will require an increase of $352,000.
We have $26,000 already in our base, resulting in an additional request. The Department of Finance has identified that they will lapse $53,000 in salaries due to additional vacancies, so that offsets the increases requested.
The capital request of $485,000 in the Department of Finance is required to cover the cost of the forgiveness of the non-government organization loans approved by Management Board. The approval from Management Board provides forgiveness to the following: Mount Sima Ski Society, $395,000; Northern Lights School of Dance, $15,472; the Yukon Rodeo Association, $44,974; and the Yukon Quest, $29,400.
That concludes my introductory remarks. I anticipate a constructive debate.
Mr. Hardy: I just need a little bit more detail on the bad debts expense of $326,000 ó if the minister would give it to me, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, there are two quite large issues around property taxes that relate to the BYG mine, which is in receivership, and also the Faro, or Anvil Range, mine site, which is in receivership. Considering the circumstances, neither has paid their property taxes.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister give me a breakdown of the amounts of each?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Given the fact that some of these amounts were already an allowance for doubtfuls, and now we have some booked as bad debt expense, probably the best course of action is just for me to table this form where the accounting was done. It shows a complete breakdown of where the totals are at, including the allowance for doubtfuls and also the bad debt expense.
Pardon me, I think the member from the third party has a comment.
Ms. Duncan: Sorry, Mr. Chair, just a point of order. I believe the Finance minister wants to file that as opposed to tabling it.
If I might ask, in his so doing, whether tabling or filing, could we have a moment to look at it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, Mr. Chair, I can provide this information. If the members want to take a minute, we can quickly have a Table Officer photocopy it and give us one back, and give everybody their copy.
Mr. Hardy: The information that the minister is supplying, I appreciate. Looking down the road on these bad debts expenses, is the minister anticipating more bad debt expenses, particularly from the two who have been identified, I guess, since they are the ones who have been identified?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am unable to predict into the future if any new bad debts will crop up, but itís our understanding, given that the Department of Community Services is the lead agency on this, that they have basically written off in these areas, with Anvil Range and BYG, everything that was owed to government.
Mr. Hardy: That is current, right to now, but my understanding is that the properties would still be taxed, would they not? There is not going to be any more tax on them ó is that what youíre saying? So we canít anticipate being in this situation again?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, my understanding is that they are under assessment, but there is no operation there that could pay taxes; it is in receivership. We anticipate that those particular areas are probably ó given Community Services information provided for this supplementary, they have covered everything to date.
I donít think anything is going to go forward, but you never know. Maybe BYG will start up again and there will be taxation incurred again.
Mr. Hardy: So they are in receivership. Who would actually be the holder of the property then? Is that the federal government or the territorial government?
On a type II site, the federal government is the responsible party. We have an arrangement to do care and management, but itís still under all Type II sites, vis-à-vis the devolution agreement, the federal governmentís obligation and responsibility.
Mr. Hardy: So is there no way that we can collect from the feds on this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: My understanding is that the federal government would not pay taxes. They are responsible because the decision is made, but in this case they would not be an entity that would pay any taxes on these sites. Weíre more interested in getting them to invest the money to do the reclamation, especially for Faro.
Ms. Duncan: May I respectfully request that we take a few minutes, perhaps five minutes or so, for us to review this information just provided by the Premier.
Chair: Do you wish a formal recess or shall we just take five?
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Chair: Okay, weíll take a five-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will come to order. We will continue with general debate regarding Vote 12, Department of Finance.
Ms. Duncan: If I might, could I ask the Finance minister ó because this is a very technical document ó to repeat ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: No, the allowance for doubtful accounts is listed in the supplementary. If I could beg your indulgence for a moment to walk through these figures: the bad debt expense is $326,000, which is the additional amount requested by the department, but they were already able to cover some of it from within. So the total weíre looking for is a $398,000 figure from these two pages of this technical briefing.
Could I just ask the Finance minister, without a technical briefing on the floor of the House, to explain where that $398,000 figure is in these two pages?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is information that comes from Community Services. The information provided to Finance is a bad debt allowance for property taxes requiring an increase of $352,000. They are stating they already have $26,000 in the base, resulting in an additional request. If I add the two numbers together, I get $378,000, not $398,000, but Iím not so sure the number of $398,000 is reflective of just the one area of Community Services thatís in the Finance information.
So there may be further debate required with Community Services.
Ms. Duncan: In the interest of consensus and collaboration and doing the publicís business, perhaps we should have a formal technical briefing on this particular line item. In the interim, could I just clearly understand for the record then ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The Deputy Minister of Finance suggested the technical briefing, Mr. Chair, as this is a very technical document that has been presented.
Following up on the Minister of Financeís own words, as I understand it, this bad debt expense ó this additional $326,000, with $26,000 already in the Department of Finance, for a total of $352,000 ó is strictly an allowance for bad debts, and the bad debts we are writing off ó for lack of a better word ó are the property taxes on the Anvil Range and the BYG sites. So to establish two things ó one, the $326,000 is actually $352,000, and itís writing off the property taxes of two Yukon properties, BYG and Anvil Range. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If you go to the budget document, you will see in Supplementary No. 2 there is a bad debt expense booked of $326,000. Voted to date was $74,000. Therefore, the revised vote for 2003-04 is actually $400,000. So thereís obviously more than just Anvil Range in there.
Ms. Duncan: Would the Finance minister tell us, then: of the total $400,000, what bad debts are being written off?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: According to the budget document, bad debt expense booked is $400,000.
Ms. Duncan: The bad debt expense relates to ó the $400,000 has been booked for what? Which bad debts is it intended to relieve the government of?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is always a floating value, but if you take bad debt expense on the document just provided, under (b) you will see $272,623.14. If you go down to bad debt expense, (d), you will see $126,357.10. Total them up: $398,980.24. In the budget document it is just simply rounded off to $400,000.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the Finance minister for that explanation. My understanding, however, is that this is the allowance ó so this is the amount that we kind of anticipate having to write off over the course of the year. However, each one of these specific write-offs must come to Management Board. Is that correct?
So, specifically, if the Department of Finance, with this $400,000, says, "Okay, we have to write off $50,000 in property tax for Anvil Range because itís uncollectible", each one of those decisions has to go to Management Board ó is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Anything over $2,000 has to go to Management Board. These are being booked but they are still coming into Management Board in the individual write-offs.
Ms. Duncan: So the individual write-offs that use up this allowance come to Management Board? That was the question I asked and the Premier has answered in the affirmative.
Can we have a listing of the individual write-offs over $2,000 that have come to Management Board to date, and may we have an accounting for these write-offs as they are done by Management Board? I mean, this is what is anticipated being written off, or what the department is allowed. Can we know in some public way what Management Board has actually written off? In other words, how they have allowed for and spent this $400,000 allowance?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: What we have to do, Mr. Chair, is go into the Department of Community Services, get the listings, and weíll provide that to the opposition when that work is complete.
Ms. Duncan: It should be fairly easy to compile that. If they havenít used it all, if there are still some coming in, thatís understandable. Could we have a list of the bad debts written off to date, prior to getting into the Community Services debate, either in the mains or in the supplementary?
I believe the minister is going to tell me itís in the public accounts, but Iíll await that answer.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: To date, for the period ending March 31, 2003, it is in the public accounts document. I can read them out or the member could just ó Iím sure she has a copy of the public accounts document. Theyíre all listed right there. Those are the write-offs to date from last year.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís the difficulty, Mr. Chair, with all due respect to the Finance minister. What weíre discussing is the allowance for the write-offs up to March 31, 2004. We arenít going to get those public accounts until October of this year.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve already committed to provide the information once we go into the department and get it. Itís another department; itís Community Services, not Finance.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the point of my last question, though, was to ask if we might have this information before we either get into the mains or ó it shouldnít be that difficult. Is it possible, because weíre focused on the supplementary today, to get that information sooner rather than later and certainly before the end of this week? We should be able to get that. Is that possible? Iím just asking the Finance minister if he could undertake that.
I would just rather not wait until October to then try to go back and debate six- or eight-month old expenditures.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thereís nobody waiting until October. This is a $400,000 allowance for doubtful that is being booked in accordance with the Public Sector Accounting Board guidelines. But Community Services provides the detail, not the Department of Finance. So the Department of Finance will immediately go into Community Services, flesh out all the detail that equates to this total and provide it to the members opposite. To hold up debate here for $400,000 is not cost-effective whatsoever when we can provide that information in a couple of days.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to recommend that we stand this department aside until we go and get the detail out of Community Services. Then we can come back to this department. I would be very uncomfortable approving the spending without the detail that has been promised to us from Community Services. If we could do that, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve actually provided the members opposite the detail. That it might be a little too much in a journeymanís format is the issue, but the total values are all there in terms of allowance for doubtfuls and bad debt expense. So what we have here quite possibly is a failure to communicate because people donít understand what this financial document says.
The government side has offered to go back into the Department of Community Services, get in laymanís terms the listing of what the $400,000 equates to. Itís not in the budget document; they never are. But we certainly can provide that information. To stand down the department, frankly, is not the appropriate approach to take here, but rather to advance the department with the commitment that Community Services will provide that detailed information thatís normally not in a supplementary budget, considering the fact that the members opposite cannot figure out the document provided because it is quite complicated and itís for an accountantís view more so than for us here in this Legislature.
We stand by the commitment to provide that information in a couple of days.
According to the Orders of our Assembly, obtaining agreement to stand aside an issue would require unanimous consent. Mr. Hardy, would you care for me to put forward a motion asking the House if theyíll approve unanimous consent.
Mr. Hardy: Yes.
Unanimous consent re standing aside of Vote 12
Chair:Mr. Hardy has requested unanimous consent of this House to stand aside Vote 12.
Is there unanimous consent?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Chair: There does not appear to be unanimous consent. Weíll continue on with debate.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The other issue for the members opposite to consider is allowance for doubtfuls are estimates, not actuals. Theyíre set up in bookkeeping to provide a number.
Chair:Order please. Mr. Fentie, that does not appear to be a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, to reassure the Finance minister, Iím quite confident that all members on this side of the House fully understand that it is an estimate and it is an allowance for doubtful accounts, and, in spite of the Finance ministerís protestations to the opposite, we fully understand this document. It is a technical document; I understand and I am quite confident the leader of the official opposition understands what is being dealt with.
What weíre asking for on this side is ó thereís an allowance, and all these expenditures go through Management Board, and as the allowance is used up, Management Board approves it ó an accounting of how it has been spent to date, and apparently Community Services has the information because the majority of it is property taxes. So be it.
Can we have the information and can we have it forthwith? Thatís what weíre looking for.
My colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, was seeking to stand aside, if not the whole department, then just this line. Tell us how the $400,000 has been spent to date, prior to us voting on it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: So, the minister ó I understand that it is an estimate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Because Management Board approves expenditures under this. Has Management Board approved no expenditures?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Please, one member at a time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, I point out that this is a failure to communicate. The $400,000 is an allowance for doubtfuls. It isnít spent. Until the time that the exact write-off gets to Management Board and actually takes place, there is no detail. This is a formula that calculates what the amount to be booked on a go-forward basis will be.
I could start reading all this off ó the tax class 81, 91, tax digit 1, tax class 1. All these factors enter into a formula that produces an allowance for doubtfuls. Maybe the budget document has got bad terminology in it. Instead of "bad debt expense", it should say "allowance for doubtfuls". That might help the member.
Ms. Duncan: In the interest of consensus, collaboration and compromise, and all the things that the Yukon Party has espoused on the floor of this House, is the minister saying that no amount of the allowance has been used to date, to March 31, 2004? Have there been no write-offs by Management Board?
I donít believe he is saying that. The minister is saying that there have been some and, if I recall earlier ó if I could rewind the tape ó the minister said that they are still coming in. All we are looking for is an accounting to date. Could they send over the Management Board information of the write-offs done to date? Thatís all weíre asking for.
If that is going to come under Community Services, could we have it sooner rather than later?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: All write-offs for the period ending March 31, 2003, duly booked and accounted for as per Management Board decisions, are in the public accounts document. On the $400,000 allowance for doubtful/bad debt expense, that is not the case. What we have offered to do is go back into Community Services to see if there is any area specific to the formula, the one-year timeline, before they actually get written off in total and provide that information to the members. That has been the offer. So the confusion here, we take responsibility for. We should probably never have given the document that is very difficult to understand if they try to compare it to the numbers in the budget document. As you can see, the numbers are quite large but they are there to create the formula, and the result, which is the estimated allowance for doubtfuls ó which is a revised vote for 2003-04. We started with a vote of only $74,000. The department has come forward with an estimate that that will increase within that one-year timeline that is required before Management Board directive comes into effect and actually writes the amounts off. Within that timeline, the estimate is an increase of $326,000, totalling now a revised vote for fiscal year 2003-04 of $400,000.
But we still offered to go back into the department to flush out if there are any actual write-offs complete to date, which may not be happening at all until we get to the one-year timeline.
Ms. Duncan: All I would like from the Finance minister is a commitment that, yes, there is an offer to go out and get the information from Community Services. Can we have that sooner, for example, by the end of this week, rather than later?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister is saying that we will get it in a couple of days. Thank you, I appreciate that information.
I have other questions with respect to general debate on this Department of Finance. I will proceed on some of those. The personal income tax revenue, the additional revenue, tax takes some years to show in our books. For example, corporate income tax ó itís a couple of years old before we get the actual revenues and everything is settled out for tax years. Could I just have an indication from the Finance minister which years this increase relates to?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Is the member asking why there is an increase on personal income tax in the supplementary?
Ms. Duncan: Yes, and Iím asking what years this relates to. Is it a forecasted increase for which taxation year?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The first estimate for 2003 for individuals and for corporations within a year ending in calendar year 2003 was received in February, the second estimate in August 2003; the third estimate will be received in November 2003. This is how it is listed out, and the final determination for the 2001 tax year will be received in February 2004. So thatís the combination that creates the number.
Ms. Duncan: This is a combination of the 2001, 2002, and 2003 personal income tax years, then. And although there is an increased revenue, that actually reflects years in which there were tax cuts, if Iím not mistaken.
There is also an increase in the insurance premium tax. Would the minister elaborate on what that increase is and the reduction in the tobacco tax? Are we actually winning the war, in terms of reducing smoking and cigarette consumption? Is that the reason for the reduction?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, on the income tax, itís important to note that that information comes from Revenue Canada; on the insurance, itís an increase in assessment on premiums. I would hope that the decrease in tobacco tax is because there is a reduction in smoking, and the calculations show that there is a reduction in smoking ó fewer cigarettes bought. Letís hope that itís not coming from other ways.
Ms. Duncan: Could I just ask the Finance minister to elaborate on that insurance premium tax?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have a percentage application to the premium, so if thereís an increase, then that assessment increases this value, based on that percentage rate.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
We will then proceed with line-by-line debate.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Ms. Duncan: The earlier indication from the Finance minister was that $53,000 of this saving in the department was due to lapsed personnel and vacancies in the department. Have all those vacancies been filled?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There are always rotating vacancies. This amount, given those rotating vacancies, totals $53,000 in salaries that were not paid out.
Treasury in the amount of $57,000 agreed to
On Workersí Compensation Supplementary Benefits
Workersí Compensation Supplementary Benefits in the amount of $93,000 agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense
Bad Debts Expense in the amount of $326,000 agreed to
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $476,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions regarding revenue?
On Capital Expenditures
On Bad Debts Expense (Capital Loans)
Bad Debts Expense (Capital Loans) in the amount of $485,000 agreed to
Treasury in the amount of $485,000 agreed to
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $485,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Executive Council Office
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have no general debate. I defer to the members opposite.
Mr. Hardy: Could we have some detail and explanations in the operation and maintenance expenditures?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The change is made up of two components in O&M. The personnel allotment has been increased by $316,000 across the vote due to the collective bargaining increases for both the January 2003 and January 2004 effective dates. Most of the adjustments on page 4-3 relate to these changes. This is offset by a reduction in transfer payments of $741,000 in land claims implementation as several First Nations did not finalize agreements as forecasted. As such, implementation activities did not commence as anticipated. The result is a net decrease overall of $425,000 in O&M spending.
Mr. Hardy: Okay, so just for clarification, the minister is indicating that the Supplementary Estimates No. 2 increases under operation and maintenance, all the additions, are because of the collective agreement settlement.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, Mr. Chair. The increase is $316,000 and is directly attributed to the collective bargaining increases. The decrease is because of the implementation on the land claims side where there were not finalized agreements, as forecasted.
Ms. Duncan: Is the minister stating there are no changes in personnel or staffing positions, that positions havenít been transferred within the Executive Council Office? This is strictly individuals and the collective bargaining agreement increases.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is the collective bargaining increase and it is retroactive, so itís all the positions that are there.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister just very briefly give me a little more detail on the land claims implementation secretariat, the reduction and which First Nations are involved?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The $741,000 decrease results as the RRCs for the following First Nations have not been established as originally anticipated with the settlement of claims. That would be White River, Kwanlin Dun, Kaska Dena, Carcross-Tagish, Kluane and Taían Kwachían. Now we know that, subsequent to this time, Taían Kwachían First Nation has settled and so has Kluane First Nation, so we expect to see a change again in this area. Carcross-Tagish is in ratification, Kwanlin Dun is in ratification and I believe White River is moving to that ó but not on the Kaska front.
Mr. Hardy: Could I get some detail in the recoveries section of the land claims implementation secretariat ó the decrease of $2.36 million?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is a $741,000 decrease, that I just spoke about, for the First Nations, as listed, and there is another decrease of $1.295 million, which totals $2.36 million. That decrease of $1.295 million represents three agreements that were anticipated to be signed this fiscal year, but that did not occur, so the one-time funds did not flow.
Mr. Hardy: The minister indicated three agreements. Could he name the three that were anticipated?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I believe they were White River, Kwanlin Dun and Carcross, all First Nations that required extensions in ratification.
Ms. Duncan: For the benefit of the listeners, the minister gave explanation to the leader of the official opposition on the decrease in the operation and maintenance expenditures of the land claims implementation secretariat. The supplementary estimates show a decrease of $645,000. The minister made reference to $741,000. Could he just explain the difference?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The difference is an offset of $96,000 due to collective bargaining impacts of two percent, effective retroactive January 1, 2003, and 2.5 percent effective January 1, 2004. This is a part of the total of the $316,000 increase for Executive Council Office. So thatís where the difference is.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Ms. Duncan: Just an explanation from the minister on the increase in water licence fees. Is this an increase in the number of water licences signed, or was there a fee increase by the government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The increase is not due to fee increases; itís due to the volume increase of business being conducted ó a good sign.
Ms. Duncan: While weíre on the subject of the Water Board, have all the vacancies of the Water Board ó all the appointments ó been made. There are some federal vacancies that have dragged on for a long time. Are all the positions now filled? Who is the chair of the Water Board currently?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The Yukonís appointments are all complete. We are still awaiting federal appointments. An interim chair has been appointed; the chair has stepped down. I know weíre not supposed to say names in the Legislature, but there has been a member of the Water Board appointed as an interim chair from Mayo. Does that help?
Ms. Duncan: Is it the federal Minister of Health appointment that is vacant? Which federal seat is currently empty?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually itís all three federal seats that are vacant.
Ms. Duncan: All three being Environment, Health, and Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That is correct.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you.
Chair: Are there any other questions for general debate? We will continue on with line-by-line.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Cabinet and Management Support
Cabinet and Management Support in the amount of $25,000 agreed to
On Land Claims and Implementation Secretariat
Land Claims and Implementation Secretariat underexpenditure of $645,000 cleared
Devolution in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
Policy in the amount of $14,000 agreed to
Communications in the amount of $9,000 agreed to
On Intergovernmental Relations
Intergovernmental Relations in the amount of $35,000 agreed to
On First Nations Relations
First Nations Relations in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
On Government Audit Services
Government Audit Services in the amount of $10,000 agreed to
On Bureau of Statistics
Bureau of Statistics in the amount of $24,000 agreed to
On Office of the Commissioner
Office of the Commissioner in the amount of $2,000 agreed to
On Development Assessment Process (DAP)
Development Assessment Process (DAP) in the amount of $29,000 agreed to
On Cabinet Offices
Cabinet Offices in the amount of $51,000 agreed to
On Water Board Secretariat
Water Board Secretariat in the amount of $9,000 agreed to
On Youth Directorate
Youth Directorate in the amount of $2,000 agreed to
On Total of Other O&M Programs
Total of Other O&M Programs in the amount of nil cleared
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Executive Council Office underexpenditure of $425,000 cleared
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries? Are there any questions on revenue?
On Capital Expenditures
On First Nations Relations
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space underexpenditure of $14,000 cleared
Capital Expenditures for the Executive Council Office underexpenditure of $14,000 cleared
Chair: Is there any discussion regarding capital recoveries? That concludes Vote 2, Executive Council Office.
Executive Council Office agreed to
Chair: The Chair seeks some direction as to which department we are going to continue with.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Highways and Public Works. We will continue on with Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works.
For membersí benefit, itís page 12-2.
Department of Highways and Public Works
Hon. Mr. Hart: I am pleased to rise today to speak to the Supplementary Budget No. 2, 2003-04, on behalf of the Department of Highways and Public Works.
We are key partners in the enhancement of the Whitehorse waterfront. We are upgrading bridges and we are continuing our investments and record of building on a better Yukon.
My department oversees many community day-to-day systems and services and our citizensí needs and uses, including roads, connect to families, communities, workplaces and recreation, the information technology connections that link our schools, our homes, our communities, emergency personnel and communities, and government systems that process the driverís licence, court proceedings and social support payments.
The Department of Highways and Public Works looks after government key assets, including the very building the government uses to conduct its businesses, schools and where our children learn. These are valuable assets to our government and our culture, and we make the necessary investments to ensure there is strength and longevity.
My department prints the documents and materials that we use here in the House, materials that are used in the courthouse and throughout our education system. My department works to ensure citizens have access to materials in both Canadaís official languages. The Bureau of French Language Services provides French training for our staff and people like me. They also ensure the translation of materials into French for our French-speaking Yukoners.
The airports that connect us to the outside world, bring the world to us, are managed through my department. We want to ensure these facilities provide the appropriate security detections to ensure safe comings and goings, a pleasant welcoming environment for our travellers and a comfortable place for people to relax and wait prior to their departure.
We are awarding contracts on an almost weekly basis, putting Yukoners to work. Over the coming days, weeks and months, we will build on our investments from last year and make them grow into new opportunities and enhance services. We are investing money in the foundation of our territory so we can build and grow. The Highways and Public Works is placing a priority on enhancing security of our airports, investing in the key upgrades to help support resource development and augmenting our information technology systems.
In regard to the 2003-04 supplementary budget, it is my pleasure to enlighten this Assembly with a number of pertinent details as they relate to the Department of Highways and Public Works.
First, Mr. Chair, the net increase, effective 2003-04, of the second supplementary budget in the O&M portion of the Department of Highways is $820,000. This is comprised of an increase of $991,000 due to changes resulting from settlement of the collective agreement; an increase of $94,000 due to an agreement for maintenance on the Nahanni Range Road; a reduction of $233,000 due to capitalization of the Quartz Road building lease, and a reduction of $32,000 due to a decrease of a recoverable service agreement and information and communications technology area.
We are essentially doing less recoverable work on behalf of the corporations and the federal government. This is offset by reduced O&M recoveries.
Secondly, the net increase affected by the 2003-04 second supplementary budget, in the capital portion of the Department of Highways and Public Works, is $4,141,000. This is comprised of the following: an increase of $3.843 million due to the capitalization of the Quartz Road building lease; an increase of $158,000 due to changes resulting from settlement of the collective agreement; an increase of $90,000 for planning work related to changes in multi-departmental mobile radio system. This is fully recoverable from the joint emergency preparedness program commonly referred to as JEPP. An increase of $55,000 in recoverable projects managed by the department on behalf of corporations and the federal government ó this work is done by the property management agency. There is a $5,000 reduction due to delays in developing the Watson Lake airport land use plan.
This is the full and final summary of the Supplementary No. 2 for fiscal year 2003-04 as they relate to the Department of Highways and Public Works. I would now be pleased to answer any questions.
Mr. McRobb: On Thursday afternoon, I believe I heard the minister allude to continued Shakwak funding. Can he identify for us what agreement is in place and how much in the way of funding it will provide in the near future?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Although it doesnít refer to the supplementary, I will respond to the member opposite. We have an agreement with our friends in Alaska. We have a positive reaction to the $18.8 million that we previously had but weíre also looking ó we know they have in their plan $20 million over the next six years of the program, on which we have an agreement with them.
Our indications are weíre going to get a positive response on that particular dollar value.
Mr. McRobb: First of all, thereís nothing restricting our discussion to the supplementary budget. We are in general debate and it has been past practice of this House, Mr. Chair, to debate anything under the sun in the departments. This particular highway agreement is very important to the territory and we need to explore it a bit more.
Based on what the minister just said, it sounds like there is a difference between what he just said and what he said on Thursday. I want to splice out exactly what that difference is.
It seems that heís indicating thereís an agreement with Alaska over the next six years for $20 million to be spent. Can he describe that in further detail?
Iíd also like to point out that Shakwak funds in the past have come from the U.S. government, not from Alaska. If weíre depending on Alaska for funding to continue the Shakwak reconstruction project, we can probably assume there will be a lot less in the way of funds.
So I would really like the minister to provide us with an explanation about all of that.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The information we have with regard to the $20 million was information we just received on Friday. We received that from our Alaskan neighbours. I will concur with the member opposite that the funding for the Shakwak does come from the federal government, but the Alaskan government is seeking support on behalf of the Shakwak project through the federal government from the Department of Highways from that aspect of putting money into the Shakwak project. That is what we are conversing with our friends in Alaska on.
Mr. McRobb: That answers part of it. Perhaps the minister can provide us with a schedule of Shakwak-related revenues to the Yukon government over the next so many years, whatever term this agreement is good for. Can he provide us with a schedule of those payments and, as well, a copy of whatever agreement has been reached with Alaska? Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I wonít be able to provide the schedule that heís looking for until probably November at the earliest due to the election in the U.S. Our contacts in Alaska have advised us of that particular aspect also. Thatís the earliest weíre going to get anything from Alaska as far as the continuing schedule into the ensuing years goes.
Mr. McRobb: Well, this raises more questions than answers. The minister said that they didnít find out until Friday; however, this House didnít sit on Friday. I recall him saying something on Thursday, so thatís problem area number one. Can he straighten out when it was said? Number two, how much exactly per year is this agreement for, and how much will it provide this year? Is he saying that itís just maybe for this year and nothing definite for future years? Is that what he is saying?
Itís rather absurd to accept the ministerís word and then have to wait some seven months to see it written on paper. Can he also explain why we should wait seven months to get what heís prepared to announce to us today?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Right now, we have an interim agreement on a month-to-month basis on the Shakwak project, and itís not until November at the earliest that we have been advised that we will get any confirmation on our long-term agreement that we anticipate will come to the Yukon for the Shakwak project. But, as I indicated previously, all indications are that we are going to get full support from the Alaskan Legislature on the Shakwak project, and itís a matter of waiting for the process to get through the federal government agency on a bill that will provide them with that funding.
Mr. McRobb: Well, all right, Mr. Chair, we will have an opportunity to follow up on this in the weeks ahead. I know that there was a story the other day, I believe it was Senator Ted Stevensí bill that received support through Congress, and there was quite a bit of highway funding in it.
I did read the story from the Anchorage Daily News, with particular interest in any mention of the Yukon and the Shakwak highway agreement, but I didnít find any. Perhaps if the minister has some information in writing, he would send it over. Does he have anything in the way of an agreement or correspondence that he can provide us with?
Hon. Mr. Hart: This issue is proceeding through the House and the Senate in the U.S. as we speak. I have been advised by Commissioner Barton that the long-term answer will not be available to us until November.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, but the minister referred to an interim agreement. If there is nothing on paper, what was this agreement? Was it a nod and a wink or a handshake? What form did it take?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, I can release some correspondence on the interim aspect of the agreement.
Mr. McRobb: All right, weíll look forward to receiving that information, and hopefully this afternoon.
I would like to turn now to the issue of the Dawson bridge. On Thursday afternoon, I put the minister on notice that we would be looking for all kinds of information on this very, very expensive project. We asked for all studies that have been done on it and any other materials, and particularly for his business case. Can the minister provide us with those materials? Can he satisfy our request now?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Of course, I obviously donít have that information at my fingertips for the member opposite, but we will look at considering and digging up the information and trying to provide the member opposite with that information.
Mr. McRobb: I would like to get a little more of a commitment than that. Can the minister indicate at what point in time I might expect the delivery of this information?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will get it to him in the shortest time that I can.
Mr. McRobb: How long is a piece of string? I donít think the minister made any more of a commitment than that.
Weíre in a limited sitting and the ministerís department will be coming up in the mains budget, and thereís a briefing scheduled for the next couple of weeks as well. We need to receive this information. Weíve been asking for it for weeks already. The minister surely hasnít forgotten some Question Periods in which we asked for his business case.
On Thursday, we highlighted this as one of our priorities. The minister would like to just say heíll get it to us but leave it as an open-ended promise, but thereís a problem believing this government, because in the past when it has had open-ended promises, whatís likely to happen is the opposition receives the material when itís too late to follow up on it in a sitting. For instance, thereís a big delivery on the last day of the sitting or maybe the day the sitting ends. I know thatís not the fault of the departmental people, because we see this time and time again. For instance, on the community budget breakdown, we were promised in the budget lock-up, about a week and a half ago, it would be available on Monday morning. That was more than a week ago. We have yet to be provided with that information. Where is it? Thatís a good question.
The answer is that it has been sitting on somebodyís desk upstairs and thereís no will on their part to provide it to the opposition members at all. They see it as an advantage to withhold the information. So here we are again in a case where a minister has been asked for information, the opposition has indicated that itís a priority, and the minister is not willing to make a commitment.
Now I know the Member for Klondike is yawning away and he has heard this before. He has heard this song and dance from himself before because it wasnít too long ago that he sat on the opposition benches and he called on the previous government for certain information, and if ever they tried the same line this government is trying on him, well, the scrap would be on because thereís no way the Member for Klondike would ever accept this type of an open-ended response.
So I would ask him and anybody else just to be cognizant that we are trying to advance the way we do business in the Legislature, to respond more to each otherís requests and act in the public good. This type of gamesmanship ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Order please. Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On a point of order, pursuant to Standing Order 19(g), the Member for Kluane is imputing false or unavowed motives on myself in the allegations heís alleging.
Chair:Thereís no point of order here. Thereís a dispute among members. Please continue the debate ó Mr. McRobb.
Mr. McRobb: Again, another rude interruption. Obviously the Member for Klondike doesnít like to hear this type of rebuttal because it hits home and it exposes the Achilles heel of this government and its lack of willingness to cooperate with everybody in here for the public good.
So, I want to zero in on the minister again and ask him if he would provide this information to us before the end of this week.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite ó yes, I will do that.
Mr. McRobb: I would like to thank the minister for that ó finally, a shred of cooperation. Maybe thereís hope yet. Isnít that inspiration?
Can the minister indicate if that information will also include his business case for the bridge?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíll be presenting our information to the member opposite, outlining how we will be proceeding with the bridge.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I thought for a moment we were getting somewhere, until I saw the Member for Klondike get up and rein in the minister with a qualified response.
Now, the minister avoided saying "business case". He alluded instead to their response. Well, their response can mean anything. For instance, that rather laughable motion we heard read into the record today by the Member for Lake Laberge about the Dawson bridge could be called, maybe on Wednesday ó in two days, at which time we will all be treated to long-winded speeches from the government members about the virtues of the Dawson bridge. Iím sure the minister and his colleagues would all make a case that, in fact, those speeches justify the business case for the bridge, even though those speeches will be very one-sided and probably full of a lot of holes.
So, Mr. Chair, that would not, by anybodyís stretch of the imagination, constitute a business case. What we are looking for is a set of numbers, feasibilities, to make a business case for this huge project. The government would expect any applicant for a program to make a business case, but the government seems to want to relax standards for itself.
Now, what will the business case that the minister brings forward entail? Can he describe that for us?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I indicated previously to the member opposite, by Thursday I will provide him with our business case on the bridge.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair, I think we made another shred of progress there.
By Thursday, not only will we get the materials, we will also get the governmentís business case. What a treat. If that does happen, it will be a good Thursday.
Now, I would also ask the minister to identify what consultation has taken place.
Now, moving on, I would like to ask the minister about another matter ó cell phones in the territory. This is something I have raised on a number of times to both him and the previous government. So far, itís unfortunate that there has been very little in the way of progress.
Now, there has been an opportunity recently with the replacement of the MDMRS, and the minister alluded to that. But weíve heard no announcements of cell phone towers being started in the territory in a few of the outlying communities. We have heard no announcements of the government working with industry, like Northwestel or NMI. We have heard no announcements of the government working with other governments, such as First Nation governments, the Alaskan government or the American government ó or the B.C. government, for that matter ó in trying to strike a deal.
Itís my recollection that each tower probably costs in the neighbourhood of half a million dollars. Well, even on the million and a half dollars theyíre wasting on the Dawson bridge this year, that would be enough to install cell phone towers in communities such as Teslin, Carmacks and Haines Junction, which would greatly expand the local coverage area. Not only would this satisfy needs of Yukoners, it would make our highways a lot safer when it came to dealing with emergencies. For tourism the benefits are numerous. In a study done a few years ago for the stay-another-day program, I recall that three of the top 11 responses dealt with the need for cell phones in the territory. We also know through 9/11 studies that the profile of the American tourist is such that they need access to communications to stay in touch with their families, and that greatly affects the length of time theyíre prepared to spend in the Yukon, which basically is a no-cell zone other than just the immediate Whitehorse area.
Weíve heard responses before from the minister that he is working on it. For a record budget, in excess of $160 million, itís a real crying shame there wasnít some announcement in this budget that some type of a program had been started based on an agreement with other governments and industry to expand cellular infrastructure in the territory. I want to ask the minister what he has done about this, whatís in the budget and what he plans to do.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have been doing extensive studies ó and analysis has been on an ongoing basis for the past several months. We are looking at a number of options in concert with a great many parties, as the member alluded to, both in business and in government communities. Weíre speaking with Northwestel about the aspect of bundling cell into our existing lines and services and purchasing from Northwestel. Weíre also in conversation with Ma Bell on other issues of the same aspect.
Our main aspect is focusing with the local Northwestel facility in trying to look at improving our cell aspect to provide service in the communities, as the member opposite mentioned.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the minister for that response, but it didnít have much in it. Perhaps he was missing from the Cabinet table when the budget got down to the wire, or perhaps the Member for Klondike strong-armed the money away from him to use for the bridge instead. Thatís probably closer to reality.
Iíd like to just have the minister confirm: is there any money in this budget to expand cell phones in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, there is money in the upcoming budget for planning and engineering on the system.
Mr. McRobb: Iíd appreciate if the minister could expand on that and explain which system heís talking about. Is he talking about the MDMRS, or is he talking about public cellular system in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíre planning and engineering for a Yukon-wide cell system and communication system.
Mr. McRobb: All right, itís good that the minister is working on it. When might we expect to hear an announcement or some progress on it? Can he at least tell us that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíll discuss it when we get to the mains for the department, but right now we have money set aside for this in the main budget.
Mr. McRobb: Maybe we can hold off ó just barely ó until we get to the mains budget. Unfortunately, who knows when thatís going to be. It could be two months from now. If we go back to last fall, we know what the governmentís side did when it came to the highways budget. They brought it in about 3:00 on the last day of the sitting and left about an hour and three-quarters for debate of the entire department. Then the minister would get up and give very lengthy responses to questions, even though the response might not even be related to the question, but he was just following the lead of his colleagues, especially the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, who was called by you, Mr. Chair, for reading from the previous dayís Blues. What we hope to get in here is increased cooperation and higher productivity. Letís see if we can improve the information flow.
If the minister has anything more to offer, for instance how much money is in the budget and what in particular it will provide, we would appreciate that.
I want to turn now to the issue of Internet bandwidth and ask him whatís being done about that.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Internet bandwidth is handled by Economic Development.
Mr. McRobb: Well, thatís news, Mr. Chair. Obviously it got shuffled out of this department. We did have a briefing with the officials from Economic Development just the other day. We did discuss this, but we did not understand that Economic Development was the lead department when it came to issues such as Internet bandwidth.
So Iíll conclude then that his department has nothing more to do with the bandwidth and, if Iím mistaken, I would expect the minister to point that out. Along with the flyer he sent over, I see whole hams are on sale for $1.49 a pound, Mr. Chair.
Itís too bad this wasnít a bridge study or his business case, but at least heís quick on the draw to send over some material for us.
I would like to ask him about a more serious matter, which is highway O&M. We know last year the Member for Klondike strong-armed the highway maintenance budget away from all his colleagues, because the budget in the territory was greatly reduced across the board, while the Klondike regionís budget increased 20 percent ó go figure that.
All regions in the territory suffered while the Member for Klondike was able to have a more enjoyable ride back and forth from Dawson in his new truck.
Iíve heard a lot of people complain about this, because they donít have the luxury of having a new truck or driving on roads where all the potholes have been fixed, like the Member for Klondike does. In fact, when it came down to snowplowing and maintenance on the highways, a lot of areas do not receive the same level of services in previous years. Well, that could be explained by the jiggery-pokery that was done on the highway maintenance budget, Mr. Chair.
Now, I know there was an amount added in the fall. It was, if I recall, about $750,000. But I seem to also recall that the amount cut was far in excess of that. I also recall some questions to the minister about whether he would provide us with a complete breakdown of a couple highway camp budgets, in particular. And I donít think weíve received that information yet. So, what I would like him to do is provide us with that information that also takes into consideration the amount from the supplementary budget. We need to get a good read on a highway-camp basis throughout the territory ó a breakdown of what the total for the year was, not just in the mains and not just in the supplementary. So, can he provide us with a year-end breakdown by highway camp for maintenance? Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I remember him telling me at Christmastime that Santa had come and I had finally given him his information that he was going to ask for. I delivered on the information that he asked for. I will re-deliver that information that he asked for again, sir.
Mr. McRobb: Wow. Maybe not all of the information was delivered, especially the stuff from the supplementary budget because by that time they had no idea how it was going to be allocated through the highway camps. What I am looking for are actual figures, as well. And unless the minister is some kind of a fortune teller, there is no way he would have known that before Christmas. Maybe heís going back several years to a time when he used to open his Christmas presents ahead of time and then predict to everybody what he was going to get ó I donít know.
We would appreciate a breakdown by highway camp, as far as the O&M goes, for the budget year 2003-04.
Now, one final area I would like to ask him about at this time is the international railroad. Now, for unsuspecting people, if they had heard some of the announcements and photo opportunities coming from this government in the past year, they would be calling the ticket office and asking what it costs for a ticket by rail from here to South America or Russia or something because they would assume that even if the railroad is not here yet, it will be really soon.
So, Iím a little bewildered by this because itís my understanding there still isnít a proponent for the railroad, let alone any funds for it. In fact, weíre still looking for funds to join up with the Americans to do the study, and we canít even get that. Yet we have the Premier, and possibly the minister and others, flying to Alaska and having railroad conferences, and flying to B.C. and having more railroad conferences, and then back to Yukon and having more conferences.
These types of opportunities generate all kinds of media. There is all kinds of media interest and hype. Sure, there is lots of hype that goes along with it. There is also the notion that the Yukon Party is somehow developing the territory, and a notion that the Yukon Party can get the job done. And there is the notion that the Yukon Party will be the sole reason a railroad goes through the Yukon, if indeed it ever happens.
But letís sober up our thought a little and get back down to earth. Letís start with a simple question to the minister: is there a proponent for this railroad?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have a really fun time with this questioning. For the member opposite, the Department of Economic Development is working with DFAIT on this particular issue to try to encourage the Government of Canada to get involved in the feasibility of the railway, which he correctly stated is still under question. They are the ones taking the lead on the actual railway as far as getting into the feasibility stage. That is the stage weíre at right now. Weíre trying to convince the Government of Canada to ante up and get involved with the process. Weíve had some initial discussions with Mr. Martin. He has indicated some favourable response but no commitment as of yet as to where weíre going to go on that issue. So weíre following up on that through the Department of Economic Development and DFAIT.
Also, for the member opposite, Mayo 2002-03: actuals $1,153,429, forecast $1,137,481; Stewart: $1,397,854 actuals, forecast $1,724,722; Dawson ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Ms. Duncan on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: I believe itís customary in this House if the minister is going to read from a document that the document be provided to all members.
Chair:Order please. The Chair is not aware if this is a document or a briefing note, but it would seem that it would be appropriate that he would have that type of information in a briefing note.
Mr. McRobb: Iíd like to ask the minister if he would provide us with a copy of that breakdown of the highway budgets ó would he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would just like to reassure the member opposite that we do have the specific material he was talking about earlier and we did provide it to him specifically as he required.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Hart: No, this is to do with his camps.
Mr. McRobb: Obviously the minister did not answer my request. We would like to get on paper the breakdown that heís so willing to read into the record. It would be quite a lengthy script, Mr. Chair, by the time he goes through all the camps and all the numbers, not to mention the trouble to the Hansard staff. Obviously the minister doesnít know how to type; otherwise he would have sympathy for people who would have to transcribe all that information.
If the minister would provide a copy, we would appreciate it.
Back to the railroad ó Iím not going to be sloughed off to another department so quickly because we are dealing with last yearís supplementary, and last year the Department of Economic Development had zero dollars in it. All of this was under this ministerís responsibility.
So in that capacity, I would like him to respond in a bit more detail to my questions on the railroad. I didnít hear him respond to the question, which was: is there a proponent for this project?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Until the study is complete, how can there be a proponent?
Mr. McRobb: Well, easily, Mr. Chair ó easily. Quite often you have a proponent who drives studies done on any project. Itís not very often that governments do the studies and the legwork and wait for a proponent to show up ó and thatís not very good value for taxpayers because studies get stale-dated, and who knows what different options the proponent might pursue?
So, there are all kinds of questions. As a matter of fact, there are two main routes that this railroad could take if, indeed, itís ever built. We have heard the Premier indicate that he prefers the pipeline route, following the Alaska Highway. We have heard others in here express favour toward the 1942 route. For the information of those who arenít quite sure of what that entails, I will just briefly describe it. It comes up through Watson Lake, up by Faro, across just south of Dawson and out the Ladue Valley into Alaska. That route was selected in 1942 by the highway Corps of Engineers with the U.S. Army, who looked into preliminary design for the railroad.
So, already there are two major routes that have been identified for any such railroad to follow. So, there are all kinds of risks for a government to get way out in front of any proponents on a project, especially a project that will cost billions of dollars. Instead, what itís doing, Mr. Chair, is raising hype within the public. Maybe thatís what the Yukon Party wants. Maybe they want the people down at the coffee shop and in the communities to be talking about this big railroad coming to the Yukon at the hands of the Yukon Party, how its ministers are going to all these conferences and talking about the railroad.
But really, thereís nothing behind it. This is a huge smoke-and-mirrors display. Thereís nothing behind it. As a matter of fact, if this government thought there was anything behind it, it would have diverted that $1.5 million itís wasting on the Dawson bridge this year and put it into the railroad study so at least we could partner with Alaska and get the ball rolling and get some discussion happening in the territory about which route the railroad might take. The government could begin to suss out some of the main concerns. What about talking to First Nations about socio-economic concerns or considering environmental impacts or other concerns throughout the territory? Also with the railroad, how to best take advantage of economic opportunities ó what about future exports? How should the route be chosen in the context of our natural resources, and so on? There are all kinds of questions that need to be answered, but this Yukon Party government has done very little other than to hype this issue. There are no funds in this budget, either the supplementary budget or this biggest capital budget ever in Yukon history. Yet the Americans have millions of dollars on the table waiting to be matched with funds to get the study going, but this government did nothing.
I think weíve already answered the question of why it has done nothing and why itís likely to continue to do nothing, because itís reaping all it wants, and that is media reports that make the Yukon Party appear to be doing something. Itís all a mirage, and this government is quite content to go to the polls in the next election with a perception that it has done something, even though in reality it has done very little.
And this railroad exposé has shone some light through the smoke-and-mirrors display onto exactly how itís achieving that. If they get away with it, then I guess the public gets what it deserves. But I know a lot of people who donít fall for this kind of trickery and who are very interested in knowing the truth about whatís happening. In the days ahead, we hope to explore this in further detail.
On that note, Iíll reserve my further questions until later on. Iíll give the leader of the third party an opportunity.
Ms. Duncan: I have a question and follow-up. The minister made some opening comments on the expenditures in the supplementary budget. I believe he stated there is an additional $94,000 increase for maintenance on the Nahanni Range Road. Could he please explain that expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Hart: This money was set aside as a maintenance agreement we had worked out with the Kaska to maintain the road to the mine. But the mine closed before the agreement got signed, so subsequently this money has not been spent.
Ms. Duncan: The money has not been spent; however, weíre being asked to approve it in a supplementary budget. Is that correct? And would the minister table a copy of the agreement reached with the Kaska?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The agreement has not been signed to date, and thus these funds will just lapse.
Ms. Duncan: So we have an unsigned agreement with the Kaska for an additional $94,000 for maintenance of the Nahanni Range Road. The Tungsten mine closed, so the agreement was never taken into effect, and the money is not going to be spent but weíre being asked to approve it anyway in this supplementary budget. Forgive me, but that doesnít make a lot of sense. If the money isnít going to be spent, why are we being asked to vote on it ó an additional $94,000?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The supplementary was prepared before the agreement and the mine closed, and the agreement was never signed. Thatís why weíre in the position weíre in today and these funds will simply lapse.
Ms. Duncan: So the supplementary budget, which wasnít tabled until March 25, was done before the mine closed ó that is what the minister has just said ó and approved by Cabinet. Changes can be made up until the time the budget has actually gone to the printer, and itís not unheard of in Yukon history for it to be changed even at that point. So the minister is suggesting that this couldnít be changed, or was there some other anticipated expenditure of these additional funds?
I recognize that the agreement wasnít finally signed. Was it an agreement for maintenance of the highway? Precisely what was the agreement for and what was the dollar value anticipated in the agreement?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The agreement was for maintenance of the Nahanni Range Road on a portion of the mine to the pass.
Ms. Duncan: As I understood it, in the past that particular section of highway was maintained by the Yukon government in kind of a cost-sharing arrangement with the mine, and the last 10 kilometres or so were done by the mine ó this has been under various owners, and so on. But it has always been a Yukon government and a mine agreement. This agreement was with a First Nation government ó in effect, well outside the Government of Yukon, a different government entirely. Is this the governmentís first initial step of privatization of our highways?
Hon. Mr. Hart: No, this is just one of our initial steps in cooperating with the First Nation on working together on an economic basis and to provide some employment to the First Nation.
Ms. Duncan: Was the agreement negotiated with the Kaska First Nation government or a Kaska business organization?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The agreement was negotiated with all of the First Nations of the Kaska on this particular issue, as well as the mine in question.
Ms. Duncan: Who negotiated for the Government of Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Hart: An official from the Department of Highways and Public Works.
Ms. Duncan: Was any consultation undertaken with YGEU on this discussion ó or any representatives of YGEU?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The section of road in question was never maintained by us as a government, so we didnít consult with YGEU.
Ms. Duncan: Certainly, the mine was seeking the Government of Yukon to maintain that road, and the Government of Yukon has responsibility for the maintenance of roads in the Yukon. In this case, it crosses the border and the entry point is from the Yukon. This would be the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that the Government of Yukon has negotiated either with another government or the private sector for highway maintenance. Would the minister agree with that statement? Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, we have never maintained that facility road. Basically, the agreement was arranged to assist the Kaska with training and their employment needs.
Ms. Duncan: With all due respect to the minister, he didnít answer the question. Is this the first time, to the best of the ministerís knowledge ó and the minister has very able staff with him in the House today ó the Government of Yukon has negotiated maintenance of highways, either within or just around our borders? For example, there are portions of the Yukon highway that are in British Columbia. We have an agreement with British Columbia that we maintain those highways ó the Government of Yukon.
We have an agreement with Alaska on maintenance of the south Klondike Highway. The minister has pointed out reciprocity. Is this the first time weíve negotiated with others, if you will, for the maintenance of roads?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The best knowledge I have is that we did negotiate a maintenance contract with a local firm in Dawson for road construction. It was about seven or eight years ago but, other than that, I donít know of any other.
Ms. Duncan: I recognize that the agreement was not signed; however, it does call for a public expenditure and we are voting on it. Will the minister provide a copy of the agreement?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We could provide that, yes.
Ms. Duncan: I was looking for more along the lines of "We will provide it" and "Yes, you can receive it before the end of this particular sitting."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Thursday sounds like a very good date for the provision of documents.
There are some questions surrounding that; however, I will leave those until Iíve had a chance to review the Blues.
Iíd like to ask a couple of questions with respect to the expenditures on the MDMRS. There was originally $141,000 voted and an additional $90,000, which the minister has indicated is going to be cost-shared with the joint emergency preparedness program ó JEPP was the acronym used. Are the additional funds entirely JEPP or is this cost-shared? Could the minister, while heís on his feet, outline the current planning? I havenít seen an MDMRS newsletter update in some time. They used to be sent out fairly regularly. The last one I saw was in the early summer, I believe. If the minister could provide an update I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The $90,000 from JEPP is fully recoverable and itís all for planning.
Ms. Duncan: Earlier this afternoon the minister indicated that the planning is now considering bundling cell into the MDMR system, so are we looking in essence at two systems? As I understand it, the MDMR system is nearing the end of its useful life. Is the minister looking at replacing that with cell-only service, or is the minister planning on continuing with a radio system and a cell system? Whatís the current planning?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Well, we are exploring all our options with this MDMR system and some of them may include cells and some of them may include satellite.
Ms. Duncan: So we are still on the planning, then? There has been no decision reached as to precisely how MDMRS is going to be replaced?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, as I mentioned earlier, that is correct. We are still exploring our options and dealing with several of the major players and other governments in looking at what possibly we can do.
Ms. Duncan: To use the colloquial term, then, what is the time-expiry date on MDMRS? What is the shelf life? I donít have it at my fingertips ó if the minister could just tell us what year it is.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The expiry date for Northwestel maintaining the system is June 2007.
Ms. Duncan: As the minister said, we are looking at a number of options for replacement. Does the minister have any sort of construction ó once the selection is made, are we looking at two years of construction for an MDMRS? One year for cell? What are the construction options that are being examined and the time frames for the construction options?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Well, depending on what style and options are identified for us to replace the system, it will depend on what the scheduling is going to be. Some issues will take a little longer; others can be enacted fairly quickly.
Ms. Duncan: Whatís the time frame for making a decision? This has been examined for quite some time and, fortunately for the minister, the price keeps dropping. The original anticipated replacement was ó well, only slightly less expensive than the proposed Dawson bridge. And my understanding from the last briefing was that it has decreased significantly.
So, what time frame are we looking at for a decision by the government?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We were initially looking at a substantial cost for the system; however, after looking at our planning, the cost was again reduced, as you mentioned. But, again, it is still a very significant cost. So, we are still scouring and looking for options that will provide us with the service and will provide it at an economical base.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the minister agreeing with the premise of the question, but he didnít answer the question: what time frame are we looking at for decisions and selection of options?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned earlier, June of 2007 is our end date, and weíll push the button in sufficient time to reach that goal.
Ms. Duncan: There has to be a selection process. Thatís a time frame. There has to be a time frame allowed for construction, if you will, once an option has been chosen. And money has to be budgeted for and applied for, as much as the government does, to this House. There has to be vote authority for it. So, at what point ó could the minister be more definitive, please ó are the minister and the government looking at making a decision on which option to go for? When will the decision be made?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Again I reiterate what I have earlier: weíre exploring our options, and what options we go with will depend on when the scheduling takes place. I think the member opposite has to understand that we are in a negotiation stage, and for us to basically tip our hand before we get there doesnít put us in a very good position. We are still dealing with the major players that we have to go out with, and until such time as we get those options identified that weíre prepared to go with ó that will determine when the scheduling and timing takes place.
Ms. Duncan: Maybe what we have here is miscommunication about the communication system.
Iím not asking the government to reveal any state secrets. Iím just looking for: are we hopeful that the Cabinet will make a selection by 2006, 2005, in the spring of this year? It is spring apparently. How about the fall? Iím just looking for that kind of a time frame in response to a minister, or are we going to explore options until May 2007? Clearly we canít wait that long.
We know when the Timex date is of the system, when the shelf life of the system will expire. Iím not going to hold the minister to a specific date, and Iím not looking for specific costs because theyíre still exploring options ó just a rough timetable. When do they hope to make a decision about this particular project? As I said, itís not a state secret. Can the minister give me an approximate time frame?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Again, we have a drop-dead date of June 2007. Obviously we wonít be making our destination date May of that year. We are hopeful of looking at making a decision on our options in the very near future. I hope to make it in excess of one year prior to that date, for sure.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the minister attempting to answer the question.
As I said, we have, in the past, been offered ó as both opposition caucuses were offered ó a briefing on the MDMRS replacement project and there was, at one point in time, newsletters being sent out to advise members of the government and members of this Legislature about the status of that particular project. As I said, I havenít seen one for quite some time.
Now, I wonder if the minister would, once again, make available those officials and make available any updated newsletters to provide briefings to the opposition caucuses about this particular government project. I would appreciate that information being forthcoming.
If the minister would make that commitment, then I could perhaps move on to the last few questions in this particular department.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Once we have closed in on a decision or are close to an option, we will provide the member opposite with the information that she has requested.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís not as forthcoming as the government has been up until the fall of last year. So if there are other newsletters, perhaps I will get them after the decision has been made.
There has been a great deal of debate ó and I heard it but have not had an opportunity to review the Blues as of yet ó with respect to property management and capitalization of lease projects, and so on. There are a number of buildings leased by the government. Some of them are changed. Leasehold improvements are made by the owners of the buildings to accommodate the Government of Yukonís wishes. For example, Iím thinking of the building used by Renewable Resources on Burns Road. Itís a very specialized building in that it has walk-in freezers to accommodate the work of the Department of Environment. It has specialized lab space and so on. It has been done at the expense of the lessor, the owner of the building. We as a government renewed that particular lease for a substantial length of time at fair market value. There has been a great deal of discussion this afternoon about the lease project that was undertaken by the previous government, and thereís a capitalization in this particular budget. There is also, of course, the Lynn Building, which the government doesnít own but has leased for many years, and there have been changes made to that.
What I would like from the minister, prior to continuing in debate on this ó and itís readily available within the department ó is a listing of the buildings we lease, the amount of those leases and the terms of the leases.
Mr. Chair, in light of the time, may I suggest that we report progress on Bill No. 8?
Chair: Ms. Duncan has moved that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble:Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, 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.
Government House leaderís report on length of sitting
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I rise pursuant to the provisions of Standing Order 75(4) to inform the House that the House leaders have met for the purpose of achieving agreement on the maximum number of sitting days for the current sitting.
The opposition parties have agreed between themselves to 28 sitting days. The government side recognizes that the largest budget ever has been tabled and deserves the complete understanding by all members of this House and has recommended 32 or 36 sitting days.
Mr. Speaker, I respectfully request that we be granted until tomorrow to report to the House pursuant to another meeting between House leaders, to reach final agreement on this outstanding matter.
Mr. McRobb: On the point of order, I would submit that no further time is required. The position of the two opposition parties was based on consensus and cooperation, something we see very little of from this government House leader. Once again, heís not getting his own way and he wants to stall and avoid extending the same level of cooperation as others have in this House.
I would further submit, Mr. Speaker, that the government House leader, in making his arguments, should remove the political overtones, such as he failed to do with respect to how he referenced the budget. I would submit we can all complete the publicís business in good stead by merely improving the information flow in this Legislature.
Speaker: Leader of the third party, on the point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, if I might address the point of order, which relates to the announcement by the House leader with respect to our Standing Order 75. I would submit to you that the government House leader has not requested an additional meeting, that the consensus reached by the opposition parties was put forward to the House leader. He did not indicate a desire for an additional meeting; therefore, I would suggest that 75(3) applies, that when an agreement cannot be reached the sitting shall be a maximum of 30 days. The government House leader did not indicate a request for an additional meeting.
Speaker: Order please.
Standing Order 75(3) states when, pursuant to Standing Order 75(2), an agreement cannot be reached between the government House leader and at least one other House leader representing a majority of the members in the Assembly, each of the spring and fall sittings shall be a maximum of 30 sitting days. Accordingly I declare that the current sitting shall be a maximum of 30 sitting days, with the 30th sitting day being May 18, 2004.
The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:04 p.m.
The following document was filed April 5, 2004:
Bad Debts Expense (forecast as of March 24, 2004) and Provision of Loss Doubtful Accounts (as at February 29, 2004) (Fentie)