Tuesday, April 6, 2004 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Hardy:Iíd like the Legislature to help me welcome grade 3 and 4, a Whitehorse Elementary class with teacher Noah Chaikel.
Speaker: Any further introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I have for tabling today a document called the Yukon Game Farm and Wildlife Preserve Valuation Report.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Duncan:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House condemns the decision made unilaterally by the Minister of Health to deny health care benefits to adopted children and urges the Government of Yukon to rescind this decision, one that puts the Yukon on the road to two-tier health care.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Johneís disease
Mrs. Peter: I have a question for the Minister of Environment. Yesterday I raised a question with the Minister of Environment about Johneís disease on the Yukon Game Farm. I asked the minister if he had advised his department or the company doing an evaluation of the game farm that some of the animals might be afflicted by this chronic wasting disease. In his response, the minister said that "chronic wasting disease" was not an appropriate term. He stated later that "chronic wasting disease is not what is under discussion here." Would the minister like to clarify or correct that statement today?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: No.
Mrs. Peter: I have a document here that Iím tabling with the Clerk, which is the disease alert about Johneís disease issued by the assistant state veterinarian for the State of Utah. The first sentence reads as follows: "Johneís disease is a disease of domestic wild ruminants characterized by chronic wasting, diarrhoea and decreased production." It goes on to mention that the bacterium that causes it is a cousin of the organism that causes TB. It also says its relationship with Crohnís disease in humans remains uncertain.
Will the minister now acknowledge that Johneís disease is a chronic wasting disease and the wildlife officials in his department acted appropriately by asking the minister for more information regarding his claims about the prevalence of this disease in Yukon animals?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: First of all, for the member opposite, chronic wasting disease is a reportable disease in Canada, caused by a prion. Johneís disease is a bacterium called paramyco bacterium avian ó that, I believe, is the actual designation of it.
While it is a cousin, I would remind the member opposite that the most common bacteria in the mouth of a cat is Pasteurella multocida. Thatís a very close cousin to Pasteurella pestis ó black death or bubonic plague. We donít talk about cousins; we talk about that actual disease. We donít talk about the classification of bacteria ó so thatís a bit of a red herring, once again.
Mrs. Peter: I believe that all information about this disease is important.
In Utah, Johneís disease is reportable. That means the minister, in his private capacity, would be required to report it to the proper officials if he found it. Considering how important our wildlife is to the Yukonís way of life, I hope the minister will consider following Utahís example and make Johneís disease a reportable disease in the Yukon.
There is another assurance that I would like from this minister about officials in his department who are doing their jobs properly and conscientiously out of concern for the health and safety of Yukon animals and human populations.
Will the minister provide his assurance that there will not be any disciplinary actions, reprisals or retributions taken against any of the officials in his department whose names appeared in the media in connection with this story?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Absolutely not. No action would be taken against any member of our department. Any action taken in that regard is the member opposite referring to that in this House.
Iím interested in Utah. I donít know the status of any of these things in New Mexico or Florida or Georgia or Maine or the United Kingdom. In Canada, however, this is not a reportable disease. There are three classifications, Mr. Speaker: reportable, which requires a veterinarian to report something immediately to the federal government; number two, an immediately notifiable disease, which is a slight variant on that and usually involving laboratories; and a notifiable disease, which requires the laboratory to notify the federal government once annually. Johneís disease in Canada is a notifiable disease.
I remind the member opposite that on March 29 of this year the member opposite was quoted as saying citizens have every right to protection of their private affairs. I agree, Mr. Speaker, whether that be a physician, a veterinarian, a dentist, a lawyer, a chiropractor or any other professional ó it is confidential information and it may not be disclosed by professional standards.
Question re: Ambulance services
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Paramedics in Whitehorse have been photographed recently in the papers, and they were interviewed about their concerns with the service. An ambulance service shop steward wrote a letter to the editor. And in communities, some people who also work for government are voicing opinions on training for ambulance attendants and other matters. Has the minister given any direction to his department about this kind of activity?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Weíve done more than just give direction; we have provided a complete budget envelope to the department to address uniforms, to address training, to address the honoraria paid. The first time the honoraria have been paid for the volunteer ambulance attendants since the early 1970s ó the first time there has been any increase. Further to that, we have indicated in the capital budget funds for the acquisition of two brand new ambulances, so weíve covered the full gamut, and we paid specific attention to the area that the member is concerned with: the area of training.
But, as I indicated yesterday, there are some issues with the bargaining unit. Thatís where that has stalled, and whether itís resolved or not, the department hasnít given me an indication as yet.
Mr. Fairclough: Maybe the minister ought to listen to the professionals in the field. This minister has been quite willing to micromanage his department the same way he has micromanaged this House and the affairs of the municipal office of Dawson City. Just this morning we heard another example where adoptive parents were told to bring their bill for private health care coverage to the ministerís office instead of dealing with it with the department.
Now some of the ambulance employees and the volunteers have expressed fear that they might face some kind of reprisals or retribution for going public, and they could even lose their jobs. Will the minister give his assurance that these people, who acted out of concern for public safety, will not experience any kind of reprisals for speaking up?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: These individuals the member opposite refers to are part of the bargaining unit and as such they have a level of protection that is accorded them by way of the collective bargaining agreement and labour standards.
Iím not involved in the day-to-day operation. This is a department initiative, Mr. Speaker. We set policy; we look at the capital and we address the budgets. Thatís where our role as minister starts, and thatís where it ends. The actual operation is part of the Public Service Commission. The hiring and any disciplineó any involvement in that area ó is beyond my control, and the member knows full well that is the case.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister wouldnít give his assurance, and itís exactly what we suspected. In less than a week, Mr. Speaker, this minister orchestrated a government effort to take whistle-blower legislation off the public agenda ó and I say, "Shame" to the minister and the government on that side of the House.
Earlier we raised the fact that eight candidates for the position of ambulance trainer were all turned down because they lacked personal suitability. This sounds like another example of a top-down direction from this minister. How many applicants for that position were blacklisted because they had the courage to speak about problems in the ambulance service? And will the minister now direct that they be given reconsideration for that position?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member knows full well that the ministers play no role in the hiring or discipline. Such a thing as a blacklist doesnít even exist. The member knows that full well, and to make that suggestion on the floor of this House I find disgusting, Mr. Speaker.
All these positions are within the purview of the Public Service Commission. Thatís where they start; thatís where they end. Our role as minister is to make policy, legislation and budgets. Thatís where it starts; thatís where it ends. The department there is to implement the policy and the legislation within the existing budget envelope.
Question re: Health care coverage for adopted children
Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the Minister of Health about his plan to deny health care coverage to newly adopted babies in the Yukon. This Yukon Party government is now on the road to two-tier health care. As of January 1, there is coverage for babies born in the Yukon and no coverage for babies born elsewhere and adopted by Yukoners. After parents learned that the Yukon Party had denied these benefits, they arranged a meeting with the minister. At the meeting, the minister told them to get private insurance for their baby, and the government would cover the premiums. They were then told to give their receipts directly to the ministerís office.
It sounds like the minister was trying to cut a special deal with these parents. They donít want a special deal. They want health care coverage for these adopted babies. Can the minister confirm that the parents were told to bring their receipts directly to his office? Is that the way the Yukon Party government operates?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Now before the member makes any further allegations, I am going to send over a copy for her perusal of the Canada Health Act. What the member opposite is suggesting is that we are not covering newly arrived adopted babies. That is totally false. Incorrect. Our government is covering newly arrived adopted children.
Ms. Duncan: The minister did not answer the question, and the reason the minister is denying benefits to these newly adopted babies is "to cut costs". This is the reason that has been put forward by the ministerís own department. This is the same government that has been bragging about tabling the biggest budget in the history of the territory. There is $40 million for a new bridge in the ministerís riding; this is, of course, the ministerís legacy project. Yet thereís no money to cover the health care costs for newly adopted babies. These are the priorities of this Yukon Party government. Perhaps with the money the minister saves he could buy a bigger plaque for the new bridge. Will the minister, who is part of a government that is awash in cash, do the right thing and rescind this policy so that babies are covered as soon as they arrive? Could we spend a little less on the ministerís bridge and a little more on our children?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Children are covered when they arrive here in the Yukon ó children who are properly adopted.
Letís examine where weíre at and why we got to where weíre at. The federal government balanced the budget of Canada on the backs of health care. They clawed back a tremendous amount of money ó the federal Liberal government did ó from all across Canada. They now stand at less than 20 percent as a contributor to the total health care costs. It was only through the good work and efforts of our Premier, in conjunction with the premiers of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, that we were able to receive an additional amount of $20 million for health care over three years.
That went a long way toward addressing the ever-increasing health care needs here in the Yukon. But the member opposite is incorrect in suggesting that there is no coverage for newborns or newly arrived, adopted children. That is incorrect.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, parents who have gone in to register their children for Yukon health care coverage have been told they do not have that coverage. They have to wait three months.
First of all, will the minister table a copy of this policy or whatever heís referring to that changed as of January 1 that instituted this three-month waiting period for health care coverage? Itís apparently a policy he dreamed up all on his own because, in the Premierís budget speech, he said the social agenda of the government is, "ambitious, exciting and progressive."
Mr. Speaker, denying health care benefits to babies and then trying to make a backroom deal with parents isnít ambitious, and itís certainly not progressive, and any other words would be unparliamentary.
This is what the mother has asked for: "We want the government to amend its regulations to allow for coverage for these new children. We feel itís discrimination against them and we want the future families who are going through international adoption ó
Speaker: Order. Would the member please ask the question?
Ms. Duncan: ó to not have to worry about this."
Will the minister do the right thing thatís being asked of him by this mother, or will we get more "Father knows best"?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Once more for the record, this child and all other newly adopted children have coverage. Our government is covering their health care costs. That is the bottom line, so the suggestions that theyíre not being covered are patently false.
As for what we have accomplished and what we are doing, we have to dovetail into federal legislation, and there have been changes in the federal legislation that are proving to be an impediment in a number of areas for our government, but the main issue is the budget envelope that flows through to the Yukon. But we as a government are committed and are addressing the needs of health care for all Yukoners. Once again for the record, newly arriving newborns are covered.
Question re: Yukon Development Corporation/Yukon Energy Corporation, chair position
Mr. McRobb: It was nearly a year ago when the Energy minister appointed a full-time chair to the Yukon Energy Corporation. And oh, by the way, this one-year appointment came bundled with a cheque for $175,000. Soon afterwards, this Energy minister promoted the chair to investigate matters well beyond the job description. The full-time chair was not only examining governance models, he was investigating the huge cost overruns on the Mayo-Dawson transmission line. Maybe his next assignment will be to do the same for the Dawson bridge.
Will the minister now clear the air around this personís status? What positions does he hold within the corporations and their subsidiaries, and whatís his relationship with each?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To address the challenges that we met last year, of course, 12 months ago when we took over government and, of course, the Yukon Development Corporation/Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Energy Solutions Centre ó the challenges that were met because some of some misdirected dealings with the power line between Mayo and Dawson. We certainly had to get some control over what was happening at that point. We all know that the contractor had left the site. There was no contractor in place. The subcontractors were not paid and not being paid and, of course, there was no power between Mayo and Dawson.
And, of course, we had a problem with the economics ó the economics being that we didnít know what the overrun was. So, Mr. Speaker, we did the positive thing: we hired an individual who had the expertise to sort through the many problems or many challenges that that line had and the department had, and so we are moving ahead in the energy.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is avoiding the questions. He continues to point the finger at previous governments and does not accept the responsibility he is charged with. Now, his hand-picked, $175,000 chair seems to be enjoying life at the top rather well. Not only is he president of all of those entities, he is also chair and he is also a high-priced consultant. This type of totalitarian regime goes well beyond acceptable practice. Allowing this to take place is certainly not in the public interest.
Now, we know by this fly-by-the-seat-of-its-pants government how it develops policy on the spot, usually when speaking into a microphone either in here or from a reporterís hand, Mr. Speaker. We have heard from employees who are afraid to speak publiclyÖ
Speaker: Order please. Would the member ask the question, please?
Mr. McRobb: Ö for fear of reprisals. Will this minister now give those employees amnesty from retributions and reprisals to speak out in the public good? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We all understand the protection the employees have and the rights the employees have, and certainly this government doesnít have a blacklist on who can speak and who canít speak. As the minister responsible for Yukon Development Corporation, I am responsible at the political level. We are looking at new governance for a Yukon Development Corporation/Yukon Energy Corporation ó that will be in this fall, and, of course, we can debate it at that point.
We certainly understand where the member opposite is coming from. When you think about governance, we think about a Yukon power corporation that in the past has been used for political ends and not for utility ends. We are very concerned that we end up at the end of the day with a profitable utility corporation, not being run by the member opposite, who, at one point, through no consultation with science and no input from anybody else, decided that Aishihik Lake could not be drawn down. That cost ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:On a point of order, Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I would submit that this minister is misleading the House. At no time was I ever a member of Cabinet. This matter was referred to the Conflicts Commissioner and his report exonerated me.
What you just heard is a fabrication from this minister that implicates me and degrades my reputation, and he should apologize for what he just said.
Speaker:Iíve heard enough, thanks.
There is no point of order. Itís a dispute between members. I would ask the member to carry on.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The member is very sensitive about the $4.5 million that the ratepayers had to pay for that decision.
Mr. Speaker, we are committed on this side of the House to come out at the end of the day with a utility corporation that is run profitably and is transparent for the taxpayers and the shareholders of the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: This minister is full of this information, Mr. Speaker. He should get his facts straight. If ever thereís an example of the need for whistle-blower legislation, this has to be it. This full-time chair is running wild within the corporationís boardrooms, offices, hallways, you name it ó heís there.
The chair has imposed a number of measures that are preventing professionals from performing their job functions. He has stepped on everybodyís toes, yet he receives this ministerís blessings on a regular basis.
Now weíve learned that he wonít be appearing before this Legislature during this spring sitting, contrary to the normal practice of this Legislature. The minister is going the extra mile to protect his hand-picked chair.
Can the minister confirm that the chairís report has now been delayed until the fall, and will he indicate if the chairís one-year contract will be extended?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Going back to what is normal, normally the Crown corporations come and sit in the House in the fall, so we are going back to the norm. As far as what weíre doing with the utility corporation, certainly there are going to be some governance changes. The House will be able to debate that next fall, and certainly the chair will get his day in court here when he presents himself and the corporation next fall.
Question re: Computer use investigation
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. It relates to his infamous computer use/misuse investigation, which of course as weíre hearing today is still having some serious repercussions throughout the Yukonís public service. Now this is a money question, so I hope that the minister does not hide behind the answers he used last year, his usual mantra, which was it being a personnel issue. How much has the Yukon government paid out so far through the employee assistance program for counselling services to government employees and their families as a direct result of this investigation?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for the question. Again, for the public record, I want to say that this government does honour and respect all employees who work for YTG. Their well-being is important to this government. I will get back to the member with the figure for the costs of counselling.
Mr. Hardy: I have a related question to that. What is the actual dollar amount in travel costs and in lost time costs for government employees who were required to attend meetings with commission personnel during the investigation and disciplinary stages of this process? If the minister would be so kind as to stand up and indicate that he will pass those costs on as well, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that it would be very hard, in relation to the first question, to determine exactly what amount of counselling went to whom, as I think it would probably, in my opinion, be a breach of confidentiality to start discussing on the floor of this House which individuals had counselling for what, because not everything would pertain to the investigation. Also, Mr. Speaker, I would be quite hesitant to start naming the amount of money spent on individuals who may have come into this process from the communities. Again, being that the member opposite knows that the communities are not that large. Not everyone in the outlying communities works for the government, and so the potential for someone to be able to identify that individual would be a very high risk.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Mr. Speaker, that wasnít the answer I asked for. All we asked for on this side was a cost, not names. And the minister knows exactly what we asked for.
Now, during this lengthy investigation, our office was advised on more than one occasion when government employees were told not to attend public demonstrations or not speak publicly about the investigation. We are hearing of the department people today being muzzled on many issues that may have a profound effect on the health and safety of the public as well. This government has quickly earned a reputation for its heavy handed top-down style of management. The ministerís actions last week made it very clear that this Yukon Party government has no intention of honouring its commitment to protect its employees if they exercise their conscience and speak about things that they feel are wrong within government. Will the minister now acknowledge that whistle-blower legislation is not and never has been a genuine priority for this government?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: No disrespect to the member opposite, but I believe that a lot of the issues that are being led around by the nose might be from that side of the House.
Again I want to state for the record that whistle-blower legislation is something that would have to be developed with a lot of caution. I believe that if it was such an easy task, Mr. Speaker, I think it would be in every jurisdiction across Canada. I guess one would have to ask why it isnít.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I think it is because it is a very difficult task to carry out. Again, the government on this side of the House is very interested in pursuing this and we have put something forward ó an amendment to a proposal by the opposition ó that merely reinforces and strengthens what they put to this side of the House. I think it really does speak to collaboration and it speaks to having all stakeholders involved.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of government private membersí business
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the government private members to be called on Wednesday, April 7, 2004. They are Motion No. 225, standing in the name of the Member for Lake Laberge, and Motion No. 218, standing in the name of the Member for Copperbelt.
Speaker: Weíll proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 44: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 44, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Hart.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I move that Bill No. 44, entitled Act to Amend the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Community Services that Bill No. 44, entitled Act to Amend the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I rise today to announce our governmentís commitment to equalize the base grant portion of the comprehensive municipal grants in the Yukon. The municipalities of Teslin, Carmacks, Haines Junction and Mayo will receive an increase in base amounts over a two-year period. This yearís budget includes an additional $360,000 for the immediate benefit of the four communities. By the 2005-06 fiscal year, all Yukon towns including Watson Lake, Dawson, Faro, Teslin, Carmacks, Haines Junction and Mayo will receive a uniform base amount.
A portion of each municipalityís annual comprehensive municipal grant consists of a minimum base amount set out in the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act. The remainder of the gross fund amount is apportioned to the eight municipalities based on a formula contained within the act. The legislated total amount for the annual comprehensive municipal grant was $11.47 million and will increase in 1999-2000 ó sorry, in the gross amount, prior to the fiscal year-end was $11.816 million. Our governmentís action follows the Association of Yukon Communitiesí concept for equalization. As of April 11, 2003, the Association of Yukon Communities wanted the base amount increased for Mayo, Carmacks, Teslin and Haines Junction to equal the base grant of Faro, Dawson City and Watson Lake. This equalization will involve adding $370,872 to provide a gross fund of approximately $12.188 million for this fiscal year.
The base amounts established in the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act are mandated by this Legislature. An amendment to the act is necessary to change the amount. This initiative is important to Yukon communities. In fact, the Association of Yukon Communities has identified the equalization of the base grant funding as its highest priority.
At last yearís annual general meeting of the Association of Yukon Communities in Mayo, I announced that my department would carefully consider the Association of Yukon Communitiesí request to equalize the base grant funding for Teslin, Mayo, Carmacks and Haines Junction.
I am pleased to say that the Yukon government is committed to this investment in our communities. The government is working with these communities to help them become healthier. By increasing the base grants for these four communities, we give them more money to pursue projects of significance to them.
This money is in addition to the $1.2 million this government will set aside for the new community hall in Mayo. This money is also in addition to the $2 million for Teslin and the $1.1 for Carmacks that this government is investing in sewage treatment options. The Association of Yukon Communities has requested for several years that the communities of Haines Junction, Teslin, Mayo and Carmacks receive a level of funding on par with that received by Dawson City, Faro and Watson Lake.
Other parties have suggested that these increases come at the expense of other Yukon communities. Beginning this year, the Government of Yukon will phase in the base grant increases for those four communities that are currently sitting at the bottom of the scale. The communities of Haines Junction, Mayo and Teslin will see their base grants rise to $650,000 over the next two years. For Teslin and Carmacks, that is a $115,000 jump this year, while for Mayo and Haines Junction it will mean another $65,000 this year. Next year, each of the four communities will receive a further increase of $85,000 apiece. The Association of Yukon Communities requested that none of the other municipalities have their grants reduced, and I am pleased, on behalf of the government, to say that we have been able to accommodate their request.
Teslin, Haines Junction, Carmacks and Mayo will see their base grants climb to $565,000 and to $650,000 in 2005 and 2006. This year our government will transfer more than $12 million to our communities, $5.5 million of which is in the community base grant. By partnering with our communities, together we make life better for all Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, I ask the Members of the Legislative Assembly to support this important initiative by supporting the proposed amendments to the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act.
Mr. Cardiff: Iím pleased to rise today to speak to the Act to Amend the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act. This, Mr. Speaker, is likely one of the most important pieces of legislation weíre going to see in the Legislature. In fact, itís just about the only piece of legislation weíre going to see in the Legislature this year, as the legislative agenda seems to be pretty light.
But that said, I support this. I think it is long overdue. I recognize that it was done in consultation with the Association of Yukon Communities, and at their request, to level the grants to Yukon communities.
That being said, itís great that the communities are being treated equally financially in this respect. What is unfortunate, I think, is that theyíre not being treated equally in all respects. The City of Dawson is a prime example.
I would also like to at this time thank the minister for the briefing that we received this morning at 11:00. It was on short notice that we asked for a briefing, but it was also on short notice that we were advised that we would be debating this and speaking to it this afternoon. I look forward to the information that was requested before we move into Committee of the Whole.
So while I support the intent of this, I look forward to the information that we have requested. We will look forward to discussing this more with the minister later on.
Ms. Duncan: Iím pleased to rise to speak at second reading to Bill No. 44, Act to Amend the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act.
This government, as the minister noted in his own second reading speech with his reference to the fiscal year, is awash in cash. We have the bridge, the $30-million, $40-million, $50-million bridge ó the cost keeps going up as does the price of steel. The government has a great deal of money ó oh, to have such a problem as a Finance minister.
Well, how should some of that cash be spent? No question ó some of it should be transferred to the communities, our cash-strapped communities. They too are responsible for and build the necessary infrastructure throughout the territory. So absolutely there should be transfers to the communities, and this bill will assist four Yukon communities.
Now, with respect to those four Yukon communities, Mayo built their necessary water and sewer infrastructure and dealt with those issues, and theyíve been wrestling for some years with the desperate need for a new community hall and curling rink ó recreational facilities. They truly are in need in that community, as anyone who has curled in the Mayo community curling club can attest. Itís well past its best-before date.
Haines Junction has invested in their community and has a tremendous resource in that convention centre, which has been used by Yukoners. Weíve been able to utilize it as the proud hosts of a number of conferences. They need to be able to continue their investment in their community.
Carmacks, as we all know, is wrestling with sewage treatment issues, and all of us as members have been lobbied by a former Speaker of this Legislature with respect to the need for an ice plant in the community of Teslin. I hope, with the additional funding, theyíll be able to afford not only the ice plant but also the ability to deal with ongoing O&M.
This bill was brought forward with very short notice, and members opposite continue to hear that from members on this side of the House. They continue to hear about the short notice. They continue to hear, "Well, weíll need some more information before we can debate it". Perhaps members are beginning to recognize that there is an underlying theme and a common denominator to that particular issue. They have only to look to their very far right to recognize the problem.
The Act to Amend the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act ó we have received a briefing at short notice. Although it appears to be very simple and straightforward legislation, itís written in such a way as to make the simple more difficult. Thatís a regret I have with this particular legislation. That being said, I do appreciate that the minister will make every effort to get us the information before we proceed to Committee of the Whole debate. I do support increased funding for these communities. I wish that the government, which is awash in cash, had seen fit to give more and to provide more not only in financial support to all Yukon communities but also the moral support that is required in wrestling with some of the very difficult issues of the need for infrastructure and other municipal government issues in our territory. So I do support the bill. I look forward to its further debate in Committee of the Whole.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I rise in support of this piece of legislation to amend the municipal grants act. This, I believe, will provide to four specific communities the needed cash infusion to address some of the requirements that the taxpayers in their communities and the residents in their communities have of them.
The municipal government is the closest government to the people. It has the ability to assess the needs, to view a project, and to respond ó and to respond very quickly, Mr. Speaker. That is a good thing. Through the initiatives of our government ó specifically the leadership of the Minister of Finance and his officials ó we have a lot to be thankful for. The capable work of the officials is in not only the Department of Finance but in the statistics branch and in other areas that allowed the government to put together the accumulated surplus such as it is today. It took our government some time to wrestle with how to build that. Then, rolled into the equation were a number of funds that were set up by the previous Liberal government that were collapsed. We are not awash in cash. Through effective, prudent management, we have identified where the sources of money are and where they existed in prior time. The officials have gone to work and put together that pool of money.
Now itís time for us as a government to identify the priorities across the Yukon. One of the priorities that has been identified by Community Services is the need for an increase in the base funding to the communities, to bring them all up to a level. The initial formula that was brought forward to establish how the disbursement of funds was created was a long-standing issue going back to my time in municipal government. I am not totally comfortable with how it is divided, but it was something that no one was totally comfortable with. That usually indicates that there is a good mix and there is a good decision that has been reached.
So, that said, let us now look at how this money is going to go to work. All the communities have identified needs. If we look at Mayoís requirements, theyíve clearly identified a recreational complex to replace their existing structure. Thatís a good initiative, one we hope to see come to fruition in the near future, but itís going to take a few years to assemble the monies and to then go out and construct the new facility. Itís not something that comes into focus and occurs overnight.
One only has to look at the some $10 million that went into my community of Dawson. That initiative began with a contribution agreement over a period of years by the NDP government of the day. It was an initiative that I supported and agreed with. Some similar funding went into Watson Lake until the pot grew to a certain amount, and then the community had the funds to spend. In my case, it was to spend approximately $5 million on a recreational complex and some $4.5 million or $4.25 million on secondary sewage.
Mr. Speaker, that came about because of the municipal grants and because of the subsequent add-on grants the government of the day provided.
So all governments have been cognizant of the needs of municipal governments. Right here in the City of Whitehorse, funds were set aside, starting back during the Ostashek government, to create the pool of money necessary to construct the multiplex. That has come forward. Mr. Speaker, that is a tremendous initiative on the municipal level that has been supported by the territorial government and by the federal government, but the driving of the bus on the project is done at the municipal level ó the City of Whitehorse, in this case.
The Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act is a piece of legislation that clearly identifies the role of municipal governments, how they envision the project and what they can do. We all have dreams and aspirations, but it is those who have put their names forward in the communities and run for municipal office who have to sit there and try to think their way through a project as to how it can be financed, and then after it is financed and the project has come to fruition, where theyíre going to obtain the O&M money for it. That is also a large undertaking. And then all communities are faced with the ever-increasing escalating costs for utilities, for insurance, and the like.
But the basis of any society is the organized community with the family unit as to how they interact, and how we move ahead is predetermined by our education system, our recreation systems and the opportunities for economic development. Mr. Speaker, our government is concentrating on all of these areas. We are doing our level best to ensure that funds will flow to communities, flow to education, flow to economic development ó and weíre not forgetting health care. Thatís another tremendous initiative that our government has identified with, and the needs for health care in the respective communities, Mr. Speaker, as well as daycare and all the other parts in the equation. A number of the communities are using community-owned facilities for daycare centres and day homes.
Point of order
Speaker:The Member for Kluane on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to rein in the member opposite. Weíre discussing a piece of legislation and heís wandering off into areas of health and now daycare, and I think itís just merely for purposes of using camera time. We should really get on to the matters of public business here this afternoon and stay on topic.
Speaker:There is no point of order. The member was speaking about daycares in reference to community centres, which was part of the debate from my perspective. No point of order. Carry on please.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The point I was making is that a number of the recreational centres in our communities are used for day homes and daycare facilities as well, so I welcome and applaud the initiative in Mayo as to where theyíre heading with the community centre. It can be used for a multitude of reasons and it can be this focal point and a central point of the community. Thatís why our government has recognized the need. Thatís why our government has increased the base funding for the municipal grant to four Yukon communities. Carmacks is a little different initiative. Their priority in that community is a new school, which our government is committed to, and secondary sewage, which is a municipal initiative. Currently Carmacks has a mechanical sewage treatment plant. There is a need to upgrade that plant or replace it. This municipal block funding ó the increase in their base grant ó will go a long way in that area.
If we look at the community of Teslin, they have some very nice facilities there, but they are looking at artificial ice in their recreational complex. That in itself shows the initiative of the community. The mayor and council are leading the charge, and rightly so. They have assessed their priorities, and they have recognized what they would like to see, and they are moving forward. The municipal grant for Teslin will probably be put to a very good use in short order. It probably will take a couple of years to accumulate the necessary funds to go the full nine yards and install artificial ice in the arena. The total bill will probably be in excess of $1 million, but thatís the order of magnitude to install artificial ice in a full-sized hockey arena.
Look at Haines Junction. Haines Junction is located in one of the most pristine areas of the Yukon. Its convention centre and municipal offices are some of the nicest I have been into in rural Yukon. They have done a magnificent job in that community of putting together the funding, identifying the need and going ahead and constructing it without a lot of fanfare. They have addressed the community needs. They have assessed the community needs; they have addressed them; theyíve assembled the necessary funding and theyíve gone ahead and constructed what today is a central point in that community. The addition to their municipal block funding will go a long way to help that community develop in other areas. Thatís where we are at across the board in the Yukon, in the four smaller communities that will see an increase in their municipal block funding.
Itís a good, positive move on the part of our government, but it could only occur after our government got a handle on the finances of the Yukon Territory and clearly identified the surplus. We did that through the capable and hard work of our officials in the Department of Finance and in the statistics branch.
The big issue that was hanging over our head and looming over our head was the census and the census adjustment. Had that gone through as suggested, we wouldnít have been in a position to identify with or complete any of the commitments in the manner thatís demonstrated in this budget thatís before this House at this present time.
I take you back to this increase in this municipal grants act. I believe this will probably get unanimous support in this House. I look forward to it. Itís probably one of the few bills that we will have complete concurrence on.
I see some frowns being expressed by the Member for Kluane, but thatís not unusual, Mr. Speaker.
This is a good bill. I recommend it completely to this House. I would encourage the opposition to examine it in detail and probably concur with it.
Bear in mind, Mr. Speaker, that the money for this bill is contained in this budget, so we have two pieces of legislation: we have one that increases the municipal grants and we have this budget, including capital and O&M, that provides the funding to fulfill the roles of this bill.
Itís probably going to be a sad day when the opposition votes against this budget, seeing that it does such a lot of good all across the Yukon Territory, but thatís the nature of party politics. Iím hoping that some of the members in opposition will see their way clear to support this bill for the increase in municipal grants and, at the same time, support the supply bill that gives credence and allows us as a government to flow the money to this undertaking.
Thank you very much.
Mr. McRobb: Well, what a bunch of hogwash, Mr. Speaker. The member just recited what he thought ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker:Order please. The Speaker will take care of the order of the House. I donít need the opposition or the government benches reminding me. Iíll do this.
The term "hogwash", although not unparliamentary, could lead to discord. I know the term "temperance" is not a good one, but I would ask the member to be temperate.
Mr. McRobb: I guess Iíll have to start packing a thesaurus with me, because quite often the most appropriate word is one that is not allowed in here, and I guess we will all have to adjust to that.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike just got up and gave his version of history that credited his government with the fiscal knowhow to produce the surplus in funds that, according to him, they are now spending appropriately within the territory. However, the truth is quite different. The truth is this government did not fess up to its big surplus in the past year. We on this side knew the government was sitting on a big pile of cash, and we pointed to the Auditor Generalís report that we would expect at the end of October, which proved to be true. The Auditor General said this government had something in the neighbourhood of an $18-million surplus. Mr. Speaker, that came after this government pled poverty for months and months and months, and it came after we heard the terrible tales of the trajectory that needed to be reined in.
If you look back on the past year and see the bonuses received, youíll quickly understand that it had nothing to do with the fiscal performance of this government. A lot of it was based on luck and a lot of it was based on the performance of employees within the Department of Finance who made compelling cases to the federal government, which allowed the territory to receive a greater amount of funds.
As well, this government is overspending the budget this year by an incredible amount, and this government has already admitted that this pace of spending is not sustainable. Yet we hear the Member for Klondike give his version of events and we can see now, with some sober thought, that what actually transpired is quite a bit different than what weíve heard from that member.
I wanted to address this act by repeating something I said in my budget reply speech on March 30 regarding the extra funding for Haines Junction. It seems to have been ignored by the members opposite. I will paraphrase again from the March 10, 2004 minutes from the Village of Haines Junction, which said it will receive an increase to the base grant portion of a comprehensive municipal grant, but also noted that if the additional amount was calculated and the formula remains the same, the town will receive the lowest comprehensive municipal grant of any community in the territory ó the lowest amount. Mr. Speaker, those words seem to fall on deaf ears on the opposite side because at every opportunity they get up and ballyhoo this point about the Village of Haines Junction getting a greater amount. Well, I wish they would hear what the local government actually says about this increase.
I brought that message to this Chamber twice now, so I would expect the members opposite to be listening this time around. Letís put an end to the promotion we hear from the members opposite of how everything they touch turns to gold, Mr. Speaker, because we see that, in fact, things are quite different in some cases. I would be more interested in hearing from this minister later on about his explanation of this reference from the village minutes.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíd like to rise today in support of this bill to amend the municipal grants act. As I listened to the debate, I heard comments from the Member for Mount Lorne with respect to some criticism about how much legislation is being brought forward for debate. It is my opinion that might be a good thing, and it appears the opposition is having a bit of difficulty even getting through the supplementary budget debate.
We look forward to the debates.
I think whatís important to note here is that this government, once again, demonstrates quite clearly that there are no political boundaries when it comes to representing every citizen in the territory. The things that are being brought forward by this government clearly demonstrate and support that statement.
This government is prepared to work in every community and, again, bringing this bill forward demonstrates the political will to create equality throughout the territory and for the citizens.
Again, I want to say that this government will probably quite clearly continue on the same pattern throughout its mandate: that is, to recognize every citizen in the territory.
Again, I want to bring to the attention of the citizens at large that this government is bringing forward one of the biggest financial amounts of money that was ever brought forward in this territory ó in fact, over $700-million worth.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I fail to understand why the opposition doesnít appear to be too anxious to get into debating that amount of money. I truly hope that they will support this bill as it once again demonstrates good political will to treat everyone fairly in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís important to put on the record that this particular amendment to the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act is a culmination of a lot of work from representatives in the Association of Yukon Communities. This issue has been around for a long, long time, especially in the villages where their financial abilities are somewhat limited. As a government, we recognize that. In working closely with Association of Yukon Communities, it was something that we endeavoured to do. By taking the villages, looking into their financial situations, itís a demonstrated need. Again, the government has addressed a demonstrated need. This amendment is to allow us to phase in, over two years, an increase the base grants for Haines Junction, Mayo, Teslin and Carmacks, so that they will improve their financial ability to deliver services to the citizens of those villages.
I think this is a very positive piece of legislation that is required to follow through with recommendations coming out of the Association of Yukon Communities and, again I point out, a demonstrated need.
But I want to rebut a couple of points that have been made by the opposition. Iím finding it quite amusing that the opposition simply cannot bring themselves to conclude or admit that the work done today financially for the Yukon was decisions made by the government. It was not luck; it was not some quirk. There were actually decisions that had to be made.
And I ask the opposition how they can, in the face of the evidence, continue to ignore that fact. Weíre not saying that we did everything. But weíre saying that when you make a decision to collapse a $10-million permanent fund, sitting off in escrow somewhere doing absolutely nothing, that is a decision that added $10 million to the financial position of the Yukon Territory. Thereís no question about that. And for the Member for Kluane, who has asked for evidence, that is evidence ó a decision to collapse $10 million and put it into general revenue.
Now, I would also point out to the Member for Kluane, who finds this quite amusing ó I mean, itís interesting to note that the Member for Kluane thinks itís amusing to have to do things in order to straighten out the fiscal house of the Yukon government because of spending practices, not investment initiatives. And there is a big difference between how we as a government approached budgeting versus what we believe past governments did.
Past governments spent; this government is trying to invest, and thatís where there are some marked changes in where money is being invested. Weíre not just spending it for the sake of spending money; we are targeting the investments for the future of the territory.
I think itís important to put on the record that, again, when it comes to evidence, the members opposite, the MP and others did not walk out on the Prime Minister ó it was three northern premiers: a decision made collectively at the eleventh hour of a first ministers meeting with the Prime Minister, which was clearly showing that the northern territories were going to receive virtually nothing from a new health accord for Canada. Under the tremendous stress of what we were facing in delivering health care to our citizens, a collective decision was made. That decision resulted in two very important things that connect to the fiscal position of the Yukon and which allow us to amend acts like this one to provide further financial support to the villages.
The two points are the extra health care fund ó $20 million, as agreed to, not by the Department of Finance in Ottawa but by the PMO. The Prime Minister agreed to that. The second commitment was the commitment that we must address the inadequacies in per capita funding. The Prime Minister of the day admitted that per capita funding would not work in the north, so there were two clear commitments that were realized by the three northern premiers making a stand on behalf of our citizens in the three territories.
What has resulted by the second part of that commitment to address the inadequacies is seeing us now increasing our fiscal capacity in the Yukon. That is solid evidence. So the opposition need not continue down this road, because everybody knows what took place.
What I urge the opposition to do is take a bill like this and flesh it out. Are there ways that they could have improved what has taken place here? Is there some constructive input that theyíd like to put on the floor of the Legislature instead of what weíre hearing, which is empty criticism? It is not constructive and it does not add to the well-being of the territory, nor does it build in a positive way the future of the territory. This decision is helping four villages create a better and brighter future for the citizens in their respective communities. That is a good thing. That is an investment. Thatís what this government will continue to do as we go forward with budgeting for the territory, maintaining sound fiscal management, but more importantly ensuring that the Yukon Territory goes in the right direction. This is a decision that is testimony to the right direction.
Mr. Fairclough: I only have a few words to say. We on this side of the House do support legislation like this. We did not say that we didnít. Obviously these communities mentioned by members opposite will benefit. It is how government presents information to the public that weíre concerned about.
I would like to rebut some of the things the Premier said. He said they want to invest in the future. What about the investment in the environment, for example? Can you see clear evidence of that in this budget? The Minister of Environment didnít have much to say on the environment at all. They said thereís more money there than Economic Development. Well, why is that? Is it because of the Wildlife Preserve that was purchased by this government?
There are communities that fall through the cracks here. $705 million, and this government thought that perhaps $5,000 in capital funding could go to the community of Keno ó $5,000 out of $705 million.
Where was the consultation process there? Certainly, Keno plays an important part in the makeup of the Yukon. Tourists who enter Yukon like to go to that community, and yet this government doesnít see fit to invest very much into that small community.
Letís talk about another one that probably just goes right by the eyes of the members opposite, particularly the Member for Klondike. What about Stewart Crossing? There are children there; there are families there, and people who have considered that area their home for a long, long time. They need investment in their community. This government chose not to look at their priorities. Simple things like streetlights didnít make it into this governmentís agenda. Perhaps they overlooked that or chose not to put it into their budget at all. We are talking about communities here, and Iím speaking about the legislation that has been put forward before the House.
This government did not take over power with no money in the bank, like they told Yukoners. There was money in the bank, and there is lots of surplus. If we continue to hear that, then their own information that they presented to the House ó the Budget Address 2004-05ó is misleading or wrong, because clearly it states in there that there was lots of surplus that government could be using in how they put together a budget.
The truth of the matter is that this Yukon Party government did not do any consultation in their first budget that was presented in this House ó none. They said they did it in the election, but, in fact, people lost out. Some organizations could not get $5,000 out of this government, because the government was pleading poverty. They wanted to control the trajectory of government spending. Did they? They said they were going to put all kinds of effort into that, but in fact it went the other way. So itís totally different from what the government is saying.
So, in the minds of people on this side of the House and the general public, this is a government that cannot be trusted. And Iím sure they hear it over and over in their own constituency, and theyíll continue to hear it right until election day, Mr. Speaker. Where is the investment in the environment? Not there.
And the Premier says, "Well, letís make some positive changes to this legislation that we can all live with." Well, weíve tried to make changes, small ones, improvements to motions from this side of the House on government bills and so on, and theyíre chopped down by the Yukon Party government because they want their bills and legislation and motions moved forward through a majority and not have any input from the members on this side of the House. Thatís where it has gone over the last year and a half ó the very short time the Yukon Party has been in government.
So in fact, Mr. Speaker, that government does not want to be open and accountable. They donít want to listen to the people on this side of the House. So for the Premier to suggest changes to legislation like this, from us on this side of the House, really is not possible because they wonít let it happen. Thatís the simple way to put it.
Mr. Speaker, how much legislation has this government been working on? Where are they? Are they so focused on opening up the Yukon for business that they lost track of what Yukoners have been saying to them for the last year and a half? Well, I think so, and itís a shame to hear some of the comments from members on that side of the House, and they should look at this legislation more carefully and not wander into other parts of their budgets where we can come in and rebut them.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hassard: I thank the minister for bringing forward this piece of legislation at this time. This funding is very important to the rural communities, and I have first-hand experience being on the municipal council of Teslin prior to coming here.
One of the questions that was always asked at municipal council meetings, specifically in Teslin, was why a community such as Faro would receive more money than the community of Teslin. At an all-candidates meeting in Faro during the election, that question was raised to me: what would I do, if elected, to keep Faro from losing part of their funding. Itís obvious to people who have been to Faro that they have a tremendous amount of infrastructure in place, and it just doesnít make sense to reduce the funding they get. My answer to them was to work on getting additional funding for the other communities. So itís a pleasure to see it happening, and I hope I can perhaps take some of the credit for that somewhere along the way.
The other thing is that we have to look at what it does for the communities that are receiving the funding. Iím certainly not going to tell them what they should do with this money, but it certainly gives them more options. I hear criticism that there is nothing for the environment. Well, perhaps this money can do things such as improve the efficiency of buildings, the energy efficiency of the infrastructure that these communities have now, and I would think that would benefit the environment. So there are many ways to benefit the environment, short of dumping money at it. I see this as one.
For now, thatís all I have. Thank you.
Mr. Hardy: Itís always good to see municipalities get extra money. I know it has already been mentioned in the House today that the municipal governments are one of the closest governments to the people and often can best represent or reflect the desires within that community and thereby also hopefully having the ability to influence or direct some of the spending priorities for that community and apply that to the territorial government in their requests.
Now, itís a small amount of money for each of these communities when you look at the overall operations of them. However, every bit of money helps. For Haines Junction, Mayo, Teslin and Carmacks, I believe they will be thankful for that. But, as has already been mentioned, there are other communities out there that are struggling as well, and from our perspective we would probably have liked to have seen a broader base to reflect that, a broader amount of money spent to reflect all the communities, the desire of people to live in those communities, and to strengthen their future growth and their daily operations.
So on one side I see the positives of it and I applaud the minister for recognizing the needs of Haines Junction and Mayo, Teslin and Carmacks, but on the other side I see the shortcomings of it. The shortcomings can so easily be articulated by these other communities and also probably could be articulated by the amount of the base grants received for all communities in the territory.
Many of the communities are struggling. There has been a tremendous economic downturn, which has resulted in the increase in people needing assistance to get through the year, as well as people leaving the communities. We definitely have seen the trends in people leaving the smaller communities and migrating to the larger communities, in the hope of employment and opportunities ó many of them not by their choice, but by the fact that spending in those communities has dropped, projects have dropped, their ability to make a living or see a future has diminished. We have seen that across Canada in communities throughout the east coast and throughout the north, the west coast and the prairies, and we see it up here in the north. Itís nothing that should surprise anybody when we have economic downturns and when we have a government that makes a decision to make substantial cuts in a budget without the justification to do so.
I have heard my colleague from Mayo-Tatchun speak of the spending in the communities and the downturns, and those are concerns because he represents rural communities. The member from the Haines Junction-Kluane area, Beaver Creek ó the communities he represents ó Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing, Mendenhall, Champagne ó all those communities, of course, have their own unique needs. The member from Old Crow, of course, with her community up there, she is representing that. Even the Member for Mount Lorne and the more identifiable community out there, of course, of Mount Lorne.
Each of these people are in contact on a very regular basis and meet with many people in these communities and try to bring forward their viewpoints and their ideas and concerns and needs that they are hearing out there.
And in devising a budget and making a decision around a base grant increase, it is always appreciated on the opposition side ó it doesnít matter which government is in opposition or who is sitting in opposition ó it is always appreciated if the government takes the time and a small amount of effort to sit down with the representatives of these communities, talk to them and try to identify or find out what theyíre hearing and what their concerns are so that that can be reflected upon by the government of the day and possibly be reflected within the creation of a budget. I do not believe this happened, and itís questionable exactly how much consultation really did happen in the variety of communities throughout the territory. I have concerns about that.
I believe we have opportunities to devise a method of budget creation that is far more inclusive than what weíre seeing today, one that also allows the participation of all members representing various districts of the Yukon to have input. As it is now ó and this is a criticism, of course, of the current government because they are practising a model that I feel is inferior, but in saying that, itís also criticism of former governments, which have not attempted to do this. I would say that the model that is being used today continues in a manner that is not as reflective and is not as strong in devising a budget as it possibly could be, and not as inclusive. I believe there are other models out there, and I believe there are other ways that we can do this, and one of them is allowing the MLAs around the territory to have input in the development of a budget.
Iím not suggesting at this time that the opposition members have a veto or have a demand on that, but they should be welcomed to the table to discuss various aspects of the ridings they represent and the needs there, as one more voice to help create a budget that is stronger and more reflective of the needs of this territory.
As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, as the budgets are created now, that is not reflected and is not inclusive of the Legislature or of the members who are elected by the people of those regions.
Itís really funny that the Premier ó and when I say this, Iím saying it more generically, Iím not saying the current one ó goes out to the community, meets with a variety of people, sometimes itís an extremely small group of people ó it could be that two or three show up at a meeting, and other times it could be just a few business people or the First Nation government, possibly some municipal elected members, and sometimes you actually get a fairly good cross-section of representation of the community at these meetings. So the Premier goes out, maybe does a very quick tour around the territory, tries to get some reflection of whatís needed, comes back, sits down, works with the departments ó I suspect the list of desires and needs of the departments come forward ó talks to their own MLAs from their own region and, I would hope, listens very closely to the needs that are being identified, Mr. Speaker, and they try to reflect that into the final draft of the budget.
But in all of that thereís an element thatís missing, and that missing element is the other MLAs who just happen to not be within government, just happen not to be part of, in this case, the Yukon Party that is the sitting government ó or the sitting part of the time ó and who are actually cut out of that process.
Iím speaking pretty generally. As Iíve tried to say very clearly, Iím not necessarily criticizing any one government; Iím criticizing the process. I believe the process can be a lot better, a lot more reflective and a lot stronger in reaching out and formalizing a budget that is truly reflective of people who want to contribute or have something to contribute. But what has happened in the past and what continues to happen and has still not been changed is that the MLAs who are not from the particular party in power do not get the opportunity to have some type of input on a respect-to-respect relationship to bring forward their concerns, their reflections of their communities, their needs and have a bit of a voice at some level in the development. Thatís a failure of our system. Some people would say that thatís a failure of party politics, and thatís a failure of basically in many cases if you look at it the structure of this Legislature. We can start from many, many levels. We can look at the physical structure in here. It does not lend itself to working well together. We are in an adversarial type of position. We square off; we face across from each other and we go at it that way. Move beyond the whole physical structure, the Westminster system that we follow, and all that, we still have a problem in crossing over in certain areas like this amendment to the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act to be addressed, which at least allows input before it is drafted. It still doesnít happen.
Now saying that, itís before us now; we can have that debate, and possibly if thereís a desire to make changes to it, that could happen on the floor. Thatís a nice concept. Unfortunately, last week we tried that. We tried it with the whistle-blower legislation, and we witnessed what happens. Again, it comes down to possibly a fair amount of difficulties in the structure that we live under and the way we approach politics today.
It may be time, at some point in the very near future, that we have to make some substantial changes, because I believe that more and more people of this territory ó and also people across the country ó are asking for a different system. I am not proposing the N.W.T. or Nunavut model because, when you look closely at them, the problems leap out in bucketfuls about what is happening there. But each area has something to offer and there are ways to approach this.
I look at this Bill No. 44, and I think, like the budget, itís possibly a lost opportunity to work together before it even comes forward and one that has the stamp of all members of the Legislature, which would be wonderful. I canít think of many things in the recent past where all members of the Legislature have stood behind something without any claim to who brings what forward or who said what or what party has the best position on it, but something that is good for the people and goes beyond that.
Now, that may sound very idealistic ó and I have in my past been called far too idealistic, far too much along those lines, but frankly, I donít consider that insulting; I consider it a compliment. The people who are saying it have a problem themselves; itís not me. I do not believe that ideals are something that we should ever be ashamed of. Living by ideals and beliefs and always trying to improve your society and being willing to be open to change and experience isnít something thatís wrong.
I believe that at times maybe we need to step beyond the politics that we experience on a daily basis, step above it, and maybe try to make some changes in the way we structure ourselves.
The challenge in that case, though, Mr. Speaker, often lies with the government, because it is the government that has the ability to make change in here and elsewhere, in many ways, in how they conduct business. We have failed in the past. We have been successful in some things in the past. Where are we going to go in the future? Iím not sure. I put it out there now.
However, as I said, I believe this bill is a positive step, but I also believe it missed the mark, and I believe it could have been much better, of course, if more input from all the communities could have been reflected in this or reflective of what may be coming down in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate that the members opposite are concerned about how government runs and how our system works and how there are some holes in the system. But as Winston Churchill said, "Our government has some problems, but when you look at other governments, we donít have that many problems." So what we do on this side of the House is work with the cards weíre dealt, and certainly weíve gone out and worked with the communities to make sure that we address their issues. The issue was finance. They have huge obligations out in these communities to meet the expectations of their citizens. We found that the funding was not adequate, nor was it fair. We addressed those problems by this act. I certainly have to take my hat off to the minister. He worked very hard on this to make sure that it maximized the input from the communities concerned.
As far as the other smaller communities are concerned and what weíre doing, weíre working with them on a need basis. We certainly understand communities like Keno City and the weaknesses they have: lack of population, infrastructure problems, access problems, all those issues we have to address. And we as elected members here have a concern to make sure that all Yukoners have access to their property, have access to government services and other issues.
As far as the smaller communities are concerned, we are conscious theyíre there and weíre conscious they have problems, and weíre conscious that we have an obligation, as government, to address those problems as the needs arise.
So our government, whether itís on this or any other action we take, if a community showed a demonstrated need, is there to address that need and to see if we can be of some assistance.
Now, with this act, as the member from Teslin said ó and having his municipal background ó these resources will make the management of these communities easier. We give the resources to the community, and we give them to them to manage as they see fit. As far as micromanaging the communities, I donít think thatís our job as a territorial government.
So what we do with them is give them the resources to spend as their elected members see fit, because theyíre best equipped to answer the questions of their community. I think probably, at the end of the day, they will make the best decisions.
So what weíve done in this is to free up some resources from the territorial government and direct them to the communities. Weíve not penalized one over another. Weíre going to grow into this over the next 24 months so that, at the end of the day, Haines Junction, Faro, Mayo and these other communities have a fair and equitable share of the resources of this government, of Yukon, and so they should. Understanding what the Member for Faro said, penalizing Faro because of the structures they have there now that, if you look at the population, is overbuilt, but would it be fair for us to take from them and give to Teslin? Weíre not into that, Mr. Speaker.
We have to make these communities stronger; we have to make them so people want to live in the communities and can stay there. How do we do that? We do that by sharing the wealth.
We all understand in the House here and certainly in the outlying areas the responsibility that we have to these communities because, as the member opposite said, theyíve gone through hard times.
I lived in Watson Lake for 20 years. I understand communities that are having problems economically. Certainly you have a tax base, but if you canít collect those taxes where do the resources come from to run these communities? Certainly if the resources arenít there, who are you going to get to run for office to do this management? Without resources, why would anybody run for municipal politics in the Yukon? The resources come from the tax base and from the territorial government in transfers. So by giving them more flexibility on these transfer payments and giving them a bigger amount of the pie, weíre giving them an easier time of managing their communities and also opening the door to where itís not a tenuous job to be part of a municipal government. These municipal governments, whether itís Haines Junction, Watson Lake or Mayo ó when we talk about the community complex in Mayo ó the people on the town councils have huge obligations and responsibilities, and they do this for very little money. They do this, in most cases, because they feel for their community.
We as a government understand the situation in Mayo. We look around Mayo and see how well they do with their old complex. It is spotlessly clean and well maintained. We understand it is time expired, and we have said that if thereís one community in my mind that needs the resources to get on with a new complex, itís Mayo. And we as an elected government took a look at Mayo and said that they need the resources; the resources are there. We have made that commitment. Weíre working toward the one day when they will have a complex they can be proud of and work in.
As the Member for Klondike said, a lot of these community clubs are used for daycare centres and other uses in the community. And guess who makes those decisions? The elected members in the municipalities make those decisions. We donít make those decisions. We work with them. We are a conduit. We understand their concerns, and we have addressed those concerns with this bill.
So, hopefully the members opposite donít play politics with this and they understand the necessity of this bill for the outlying communities, and letís move ahead and letís vote on this and letís show the territory that this government ó whether itís opposition or the government ó has done the right thing. You canít vote against the right thing, Mr. Speaker.
So letís move on today. Weíve got lots of things to go through, and letís be positive about this bill. Letís get a unanimous decision here that the Government of Yukon ó all of us ó have done the right thing by boosting these resources into the communities, giving those kinds of resources to the elected members in the communities to work better in their communities.
Weíve done the right thing today. Letís vote on it and letís move ahead.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I rise as well to speak to the matter on the floor. There are a number of things that do concern me a great deal. There does seem to be a difficulty for the members opposite to understand how the money came about and that it is the incredibly good work of the Department of Finance officials and our statistics branch ó the exceptional work of our Premier in Ottawa and other places ó to get the money to be able to work with on this.
I still think very strongly that much of the problem that we are seeing today is the oppositionís inability to really debate what is an excellent, excellent budget.
I am concerned, too, when the official opposition and the leader of the third party try to argue for a shorter sitting time. Itís an exceptionally good budget and I think it deserves ó because of its size, if for no other reason ó a good public airing and to give it the time thatís necessary is essential to that.
I do have some concerns, though, in general. Iím concerned, for instance, that the Member for Kluane is critical and said earlier in debate that heís critical of our spending, that weíre spending it all ó we shouldnít be spending it. And yet the leader of his own party stands moments later and is critical of not spending enough. Again, Iím not getting a clear message on this at all.
One thing that I find of great concern, however, is the Member for Mayo-Tatchun who claims that nothing went into the environment. When I look at our general allotments, they are up five percent. The Southern Lakes Caribou Steering Committee is up 36 percent. When we simply look at the capital budget and some of the things in there ó parks and special management areas planning with a 113-percent increase, a 50-percent increase in Tombstone Territorial Park, and proceeding on the Tombstone Interpretive Centre, something that previous governments have dropped off the table for many, many years. Previous governments several past had even got quite a large number of logs for the construction of this centre. Theyíre sitting behind the offices in the Town of the City of Dawson. Weíd like to use them, but theyíve been sitting there for all of these years, Mr. Speaker, because previous governments have let that fall off the table. Capital works and campground facilities ó a 72-percent increase. Outdoor recreation and interpretation ó 50-percent increase. Putting money ó I wonít say 100 percent, because it didnít go there ó into the Yukon River, 30 Mile and the Bonnet Plume River ó I can go on and on, Mr. Speaker. There is just example after example.
But what bothers me is to make a comment like that gives me an indication that maybe people havenít really read the budget. The leader of the official opposition in the earlier debates referred to and criticized the government for only putting $15,000 into the collection and recycling of electronic waste. Mr. Speaker, that was a misprint, and itís actually $30,000. Itís in the actual budget documents as $30,000. Itís in the little three-page householder that went out as $15,000.
I do hope, ideally before the debate occurs, that the member does read the entire document so that we can review and discuss the proper thing.
I do share some of the comments earlier, however, from a number of different members about language and the ability to work together and even the structure ó as the leader of the official opposition said ó of this House, designed specifically to be two sword-lengths apart in the front rows. We havenít quite gotten that far, but it does become difficult when you deal with words that are basically weapons-grade, and then the final part is, "But weíd like to work together."
Mr. Speaker, I liken that somewhat to duck hunting with a howitzer. We would kind of like to tone the rhetoric down and have a good working relationship, but sometimes thatís very difficult.
Mr. Speaker, one word in particular that does bother me, however, and that comes up ó and all these words, of course, that Iím leading to. I think most people, and certainly most people of our vintage, are familiar with George Carlin and his seven famous words that you canít say on television, and these are sort of like the 400 words you canít say in the House. I do apologize that the Member for Kluane and I are probably pushing the bar a little bit at times.
But the one thing I do have to agree very much with the Member for Kluane on is the use of words. One word the leader of the third party used repetitively is "awash in cash" ó again showing no understanding of how the money came about. Itís the work of our officials; itís not luck; itís not by chance. It was an incredible job done by officials and the Premier, the Minister of Finance, and everyone else to bring that together.
But when we continually hear the word "awash" ó and I believe the member of the third party then said, "Do we see a pattern here?" Well, Mr. Speaker, the pattern I see is that maybe that person has watched the Pirates of the Caribbean a few too many times.
But the main thing that bothers me about that is I believe that phrase was first used in this House by the Member for Kluane, and I do hope seriously that heís getting royalties on its overuse. He deserves that much credit anyway.
I look forward to continued debate on this bill and on all the various things in this budget session. We have been criticized as well by the Member for Mount Lorne that thereís very little legislation in this. Itís a budget session; of course thereís very little legislation. So letís get our priorities together; letís tone things down and letís get talking about what we should be talking about: the Yukon, the support of Yukoners, the stimulation of the economy, the social agenda and everything else that is on the table today. I look forward to the debate.
Mrs. Peter: It gives me pleasure to speak to this bill this afternoon. We on this side are in support of this bill before us. Some of the comments Iíve heard in this Legislature this afternoon, the tone and the attitude that the speakers put forward is unbelievable to me. We talk about the conduct that we use in this House, and this Yukon Party government in their commitment in their platform spoke about collaboration and working together, and I sometimes donít understand all thatís put forward here by members; however, I know the reason Iím here.
All communities in the Yukon, I believe, are entitled to equal treatment in all areas. I believe that the municipal governments, in the six communities where municipal governments exist, know the needs of the people. They are the ones in the communities who have to live with the grassroots people in that community, and they know what the needs are.
In my riding of Old Crow, it is very unique. We donít have a municipal government yet. We have our First Nation government that is very similar to a municipal government. Some of the things that the First Nations have to deal with on a government-to-government basis ó they take on much of the responsibility that a municipal government has to address. As our communities grow ó maybe it will be 15 or 20 years in the future when we may have to form a municipal government.
The community of Old Crow is looking at other areas. We are looking at expansion of our community. I believe the Yukon Party government is very aware of those plans. They have a copy of a capital plan that we have.
That plan was given to the prior government, the Liberal government. Itís because the people in my community have a long-term vision. That there has been some comprehensive planning, comprehensive work done by many good people, and we have put these types of plans in the governmentís hands. Itís because we care about what happens to the people in the community that we have these types of comprehensive plans. We brought this information to government hoping that they would be partners with us, and I believe that every community in the Yukon Territory has those types of plans for their people and their community. Whether it is a First Nation government or a municipal government, they know the needs of their people.
With this bill before us, I believe there are four communities that are going to receive an increase in their base grant, and then the other communities will follow suit in a couple of years. How long have they been waiting for this kind of increase? The support and the resources that the communities donít have play a large role in how they operate at that level.
We have a good example in front of us, with the community of Dawson, of how interference from other governments can play a detrimental role in the democratic process. However, in my community, we operate with a bare minimum of resources, and yet our government is very effective. They build a relationship with whoever is in government, and they make sure that our needs are heard and hopefully met. And hopefully with the voice of the local leadership, with their MLA, those needs get addressed. Iím hoping that the same kind of treatment is given to all the communities in the Yukon. If you address the needs of a few communities over here and a few communities over there, then some issues are bound to come out of that. And we like to treat all people fairly. When we address issues and bills ó weíre speaking to a bill, and I heard more about the budget today than I did about the fairness of this bill thatís before us.
The balance that we have to find in dealing with the Yukon public is very important. Itís important to the people we serve, and thatís the bottom line.
With that, Iíll close and thank you for your time.
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, I stand today in support of Bill No. 44, Act to Amend the Municipal Finance and Community Grants Act. My heart is warmed to hear that all members are in support of this piece of worthwhile legislation.
This is a good piece of legislation and it reconfirms the Yukon Party and our entire governmentís commitment to Yukon communities. We are indeed working to make the territory a better place to live.
While the communities in the beautiful Southern Lakes arenít considered towns and, therefore, this act currently doesnít apply to them, they are certainly not forgotten by our government. Mr. Speaker, the minister responsible has worked very hard to ensure that the needs of the communities are being identified and the needs are met.
In the beautiful Southern Lakes, we have communities such as Carcross, Tagish and Marsh Lake and our government is working very hard with those communities to satisfy the communitiesí needs. In addition to providing financing and assistance for the local area councils, recreation associations and volunteer fire departments in those three communities, with our new budget weíre actively spending additional dollars. Weíre working toward a new community centre in Carcross, and there are funds allocated for that.
There are funds allocated toward the environment in Carcross. There are funds in the budget for the Department of Tourism to work with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation on the cultural centre. Thereís work on Yukon Housing projects in Carcross.
The community of Marsh Lake certainly isnít forgotten. There are dollars identified, significant dollars ó over $140,000, I believe ó for planning the Marsh Lake community centre. Marsh Lake, some would argue, is the fourth largest community in the territory but itís an area that has long been forgotten by many different governments. This government isnít forgetting about it and weíre recognizing them as a community.
There is money in the budget for local area planning and zoning in Marsh Lake. Again, this is typically a municipal necessity, but itís something our government is committed to doing ó providing funds to the local organizations and working with them to accomplish some of these objectives. Additionally, government is providing funds for water supply in M'Clintock. And, Mr. Speaker, the jewel of the Yukon, Tagish ó again, as well as working with the local advisory council, the recreation association, the volunteer fire department there, thereís money for the local area plan and money for roads in the Tagish area.
This piece of legislation speaks to assisting Yukon towns and it does an excellent job of doing that. Itís a good piece of legislation. We also need to remember, though, that in addition to towns and our beautiful City of Whitehorse, the Yukon hosts many other communities. We havenít forgotten about them. Theyíre important to us, and itís something that we all represent as well. Weíre working hard to accomplish some of their goals and objectives and to satisfy their needs.
I was a bit concerned to hear some of the comments earlier. I believe one member asked, "Why should we put forward good ideas? Look what happened last week."
Mr. Speaker, I think that last week is a good example to look back at. The opposition put forward an admittedly flawed piece of legislation and said, "Letís work on it." We said, "Youíre right; this is a good piece ofÖ" Well, Iím not going to say it was a good piece of legislation. Itís a good idea to look at it, but it certainly wasnít a good piece of legislation. They put it forward knowing that it was flawed and knowing that it would need amendments. It was a hodgepodge of other previous acts jumbled together. We came back, recognized the situation and said, "Youíre right; good idea; letís all work together on it."
So letís look at last week as a good example. The opposition brought forward a good idea, and we brought forward an idea to make it better.
We will take the oppositionís good ideas, and I hope that they please take us up on our offer to work with them. Itís a sincere offer. We are all here for the betterment of the Yukon and the Yukonís people. Letís work together to accomplish that.
Mr. Cathers: I would like to comment first in agreement with the remarks just made by my colleague, the Member for Southern Lakes, regarding the whistle-blower legislation debate of last week. We were faced with a bill that the opposition had tabled that appeared to us to have been tabled in such a hurry that there were still very obvious and very blatant typographical errors within that legislation. We felt, on our side of the House, that the prudent and fair thing to do would be to create an all-party committee to discuss it so that we werenít taking ownership of the issue or that they werenít doing that ó that we would deal with this in a collaborative manner, we would look at the legislation, do the review and consultation with stakeholders that should properly be done, and that we move forward from that.
Itís unfortunate that the opposition chose to paint that as something other than it was ó an attempt at being collaborative and moving toward a consensus that suits the needs of all Yukoners and protects our public servants and gives them the ability to report abuses of power, no matter by whom within the structure.
Mr. Speaker, this legislation, I believe, is yet another example of the balance of a social agenda and the economic agenda that we have put forward as a government. It is recognizing the needs of the municipalities. I actually have the distinction of having a riding that fit into the usual pattern. I have the largest number of citizens who are not represented by any municipality, and a lot of them have told me that the reason that they live out in that area, outside the boundaries of any municipality, is because they didnít want to live in town, they didnít want to live in a municipality.
This bill that we have put forward to adjust the municipal grant is about addressing the needs of people who do live within municipalities. Itís appropriate as a government to serve the needs of citizens in a manner that suits their needs, their interests and their points of view as best as possible.
So I believe it is very appropriate to increase the municipal grant to address the needs of those who do choose to live in a municipality, just as this government takes action for people such as my constituents in a direct fashion from the territorial government to their needs based on consensus in programs such as the rural well-drilling program, which suits the needs of many ridings. But a large number of my constituents came to me directly requesting such a program, and as a government weíve delivered on those requests and shown that we are flexible in working through municipalities, directly with citizens. Whatever manner suits the needs of Yukoners best, we will make all efforts to work with them as part of our commitment to all citizens of the Yukon.
The leader of the official opposition levelled criticism earlier about the inclusiveness of the budget preparation. This government took the step of the Premier going and doing budget tours in Yukon communities and included, for I believe the first time, a budget meeting in my riding of Lake Laberge, which was held at the Hootalinqua fire hall and was very well attended, giving the opportunity to all Yukoners as best as possible to comment on the budget, to give their input into what they would like to see, what needs they feel need to be addressed by Yukoners. There was certainly very lengthy discussion by all members of our caucus involved in preparing the budget. We did it with an eye to addressing the needs of all Yukoners, as is evidenced by examples like the amount of money that has been allocated to spending in Old Crow to address their needs and the construction of a school, the money which is allocated for planning the construction of the school in Carmacks, which is in the riding of the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, who sits on the opposition benches.
Itís the responsibility of this government ó a responsibility we take very seriously ó to serve the needs of all Yukoners without regard to whose riding they fall into and what color flag the member who represents them flies. We serve the needs of all Yukoners to be the best of our ability.
The suggestion by the leader of the official opposition seemed to be that the opposition be heavily involved ó deeply involved ó in the budget discussion and preparation. Thatís an interesting point of view, but I would like to point out to the members opposite that the evidence from this House shows, in my opinion ó and I know in the opinion of many of my constituents and I would urge any Yukoner to examine the records of Hansard ó the opposition seems to disagree with us for the sake of disagreeing. When the politically beneficial thing to do is to agree, they do occasionally, but generally itís, well, theyíre the opposition, they stand up and vote against this budget, including the large number of social programs, the number of capital projects in their ridings, which are in response to the requests and the needs of their constituents.
But they donít seem to even be giving this what I feel is fair and full consideration. It seems to be simply, "Well, theyíre sitting across the aisle so we ought to vote against it." Itís very difficult to work in a collaborative manner when youíre faced with that. We do continue to make efforts, as we did on the whistle-blower legislation that they tabled. Again, as in that case, even when this government makes efforts to work with the opposition, when we make efforts to be collaborative, to include them in the development of a process, to accept the valuable input theyíve put forward, but to say, "Look, we donít feel that reflects the needs of Yukoners as we understand them and we need to talk about this further." The reaction from the members opposite seems to be, "Well, you didnít agree with us so therefore youíre not collaborating."
I would urge them to consider their input on this, and I would urge any of them that if they have concerns, if they have questions and needs of constituents and views, Iíd urge them to feel free to approach me inside this House or outside the House regarding that ó instead of structuring everything in a partisan debate, to try to work collaboratively. They know, as well as we do, that if a matter is brought forward in this House and pounded on in Question Period, thatís not a collaborative fashion, that the way to achieve agreement is talking collegially.
So, Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, I believe this is an excellent piece of legislation responding to the demonstrated needs of Yukoners in the best fashion to suit their particular needs, whether theyíve chosen to be in a municipality in this case or outside a municipality, and I would urge the members opposite to support this and to seriously consider supporting the budget based on the many fine initiatives that are within it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the minister now speaks, he will close debate.
Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I am encouraged by most of the responses to this bill. I think that itís a very important bill for our municipalities. I would like to reiterate that, at last yearís AGM for the Association of Yukon Communities, there was a request by them and they have indicated to me that there was a request made of several governments of the past to address this issue. It was one of their highest priorities for them.
Part of their issue was that they felt that they would want to bring up the base grant of these four communities to the other three towns to ensure that there was an equal base on a base grant, but they didnít want it at the expense of the other communities, which included dealing with any portion of the formula. They made it quite clear about that particular aspect. I am very happy to say that we were able to accommodate that on their behalf.
I believe that this bill is a good sample of the cooperation between ourselves and these communities at reaching an objective that will make them happy and provide assistance to the residents of their particular communities. I am very happy to bring this forth.
If itís going to take two years, there is a little bit of a delay ó the difference in payment this year is to make it so that next year the payment is equal for all four. So, itís an equal process and the idea is to have it so that at the end of this year they will be receiving the same amount of base grant.
I am looking forward to the vote. I am looking forward to the support of all members for this particular legislation.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you 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: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 17 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 44 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair:Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 8, the Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04. Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matter before Committee is Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Bill No. 8 ó Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04 ó continued
Chair:We will continue with Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works, and general debate.
Department of Highways and Public Works ó continued
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the opportunity to resume general debate on the supplementary budget for the Department of Highways and Public Works.
I would hope that the minister has brought some additional information with him today, and I will look forward to receiving that. In the absence of receiving that information yet, I would like to explore one particular item in the supplementary budget. I was just reviewing Hansard. As I understand it, there is a reduction of $233,000 in the O&M of the department, and an increase ó this is due to the capitalization of the Quartz Road building lease ó and an increase of $3.843 million due to the capitalization of the Quartz Road building lease. I would just like to go through a bit of the background for the minister, and perhaps he can then more fully answer what the department means by "capitalization".
The Government of Yukon leases many, many buildings. These leases are handled through the ministerís department. Now, there are times when the owner of the building makes the improvements to that building because we are the tenant and we ask them to and they want us to continue to rent from them. Itís a good relationship that the Government of Yukon has with the private sector. I am specifically referring to here in Whitehorse.
When the decision was made to build the one-stop shop service centre, there are a couple of important points that seem to have been omitted from the debate around that. Number one, there was no reduction ó no reduction ó in the space that the government currently rented. We were still going to continue to use all the buildings in downtown Whitehorse. We needed the space. We werenít giving up any leases and the private sector had been assured of that. The other bit of misinformation that seems to be out in the public domain is that this is somehow a far more expensive lease than other government leases. That is not the case. This was the private sector bid, and this was the best bid at the time. In fact, a competing bid was only, I think, a 50-cents difference in some areas. But it was competitive retail space. It was the best the private sector had.
Now, within what was required, for class 1, I think itís called space, and in that particular area, which was stop sign to stop sign in downtown Whitehorse ó the four-way stop out to the stop sign near this building ó that was the best space. Now, the government changed. The government changed the use of that building, and weíre now seeing a supplementary budget that has significant costs in it, and weíre seeing the capitalization of a lease.
So how is this different from all the other leases we have? Weíre not capitalizing our lease on the Lynn Building, to the best of my knowledge, and theyíve leased that since I was ó for way longer than I want to think about, weíve been leasing that building. Weíre not capitalizing our lease on any of the other private sector buildings that we lease that I can think of. So what are we doing with this one? Weíre not capitalizing the lease on the Burns Road building. Why are we capitalizing this lease, and why is there an additional cost? Is it because the government changed the use of the building? Can the minister start with those questions?
Hon. Mr. Hart: This is because of the new accounting rules that came into effect, and thatís why this particular building is being capitalized. We also have been advised by the Auditor General that three other buildings are going to be looked at for possible capitalization, but weíll have to await that decision from her on that particular issue.
On the Lynn Building, we are under a short-term lease there and thus donít fall under the capitalization requirement.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to be more clear in his answer and to elaborate a little more? Why this building? What are the other three buildings? We may be currently on a short-term lease for the Lynn Building, but how many years have we rented that building? As I said, we have been in that building for a very long time.
Why this particular building? Is it because it was a long-term lease? Weíve had a long-term lease with the Lynn Building, but weíve been renewing that for many years. What are the different parameters?
I am concerned that weíre going back to treating every lease somewhat differently, and that leads to other problems. So if the minister could just elaborate: what are the other buildings and what were the parameters? Why was this building chosen to be capitalized at this point in time?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned previously, the Quartz building came on after the change in the rules. The other three buildings took place before that change in the rules, the standards of accounting. On the Lynn Building, there is a three-year lease and that amount does not exceed 90 percent of the buildingís value.
Ms. Duncan: Iím not clear on the ministerís answer. I just did a quick calculation. We must have been leasing the Lynn Building for more than 28 years. We must have paid for more than 90 percent of that capitalization, so why was this one singled out ó because itís a long-term lease? Well, weíve had long-term leases before. The Renewable Resources building weíve leased. Iím not picking on one particular building. Iím trying to compare apples to apples. Why was this building chosen? And precisely what is the recommendation of the Auditor General? Will he share that with the House?
Hon. Mr. Hart: From the point of view of government as a lessee, a capital lease transfers substantially all the benefits and risks incident to the ownership of the property to the government. In most cases, this occurs when the present value of the lease obligations exceeding the operation and maintenance costs is in excess of 90 percent of the replacement value of the building. The capital cost, being the present value of all future lease payments excluding the O&M portion, is recorded at the inception of the lease. The governmentís obligation under the Quartz Road lease is for 10 years of the lease payments. The present value of these payments represents $3,843,000 and change, which is considered more than 90 percent of its replacement value. The Quartz Road building was recorded on July 1, 2003, in the fiscal year 2003-04.
Almost all leases are considered operation and maintenance because the terms are for three years or less. Other long-term leases do exist; for example, the Education building, the building on Burns Road, and the Prospector Building. But these leases began in prior years.
The department is working with Finance and the Auditor General to determine the correct transition and compliance with the tangible capital asset policy.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, I am going to review the ministerís comments in greater detail.
The minister said we are examining the capitalization of three other buildings. Would he name those three other buildings, please?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I believe I did. They are the Education building, the Burns Road building, and the Prospector Building.
Ms. Duncan: The other three buildings ó the Education building and the Prospector Building have been in use by the government for a very long time and leased by the government for a very long time.
I am concerned and I want to register for the record that this particular building has been chosen for political reasons. I am concerned about that, because there are others that could have been looked at ó the minister said that. The cost of this building was driven up by the change of plans. It was escalated by the change in plans ó a decision made by the government. The plans for that building, as per the original tender, were significantly changed by the Yukon Party, and they must accept responsibility for it. It drove up the cost. It escalated the cost quite significantly, and those significant costs are reflected in the additional supplementary that we are being asked to vote on.
Iím going to leave that issue for the moment. I would like, though, for the minister to provide the information I requested when we last left debate, which is just a straightforward listing ó Iím sure the department has it ó of all of our leases ó Government of Yukon leases, the buildings. And the Minister of Education turned and shook his head at the minister, as in "Donít provide that information". It is important that we, in debating the publicís business, do have all that information. It is important that we know where public tax dollars are being spent, and I would like a listing of the current leases held by the Government of Yukon, the length of those leases and the dollar value. If the minister or his staff would provide that, I would greatly appreciate it. As is custom in the House, if it is provided to one opposition caucus, it is also provided to the other.
We did have a brief conversation yesterday about the multi-departmental mobile radio system replacement, and the minister had indicated that the option of how to replace the MDMRS and when a selection would be made ó I didnít receive a clear answer. The minister indicated that the shelf life, if you will, of our current system is June 2007, and there was a hope that a selection would be made by 2006. Have I recalled that conversation correctly? Is it by 2006 that the minister hopes to make a selection for the multi-departmental mobile radio system replacement?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I believe that is correct ó what I stated. But as I also mentioned, if I can get an earlier option or an earlier situation comes up, we will undertake to do that. And I will provide the member opposite a copy of that when it comes available.
Ms. Duncan: So we will receive a copy of technology selection that has been made, and the government hopes to make it by 2006.
Could the minister outline, as generally as he can ó and I appreciate these are negotiations and discussions ó what technologies are being looked at and what cost weíre looking at now. At one point in time, it was $30 million; at other points in time it was far less. As technology changes ó and I appreciate itís a moving target ó what approximate costs are we looking at and what sort of options are we looking at? I would appreciate just a general outline.
What Iím specifically looking for is how self-service throughout the Yukon might be included and at what price.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, weíre looking at all three strains of communication: cell, satellite and radio. The options range anywhere from $15 million to $20 million at the present time. As I mentioned, until such time as we make a choice what that is, I wonít be able to give her a finite answer.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I appreciate that work is ongoing, and I also appreciate the minister indicated that, if there were updates to the MDMRS research newsletter that was sent out by public servants, the minister indicated he would provide that as well. Is that correct? There was a newsletter going out to government some time ago, just an update on the MDMRS project. Is that still being done and, if so, can we get a copy?
Hon. Mr. Hart: With regard to the newsletter, we would have to reactivate somebody to print that particular aspect. Once I investigate that particular process, Iíll get back to the member opposite.
Ms. Duncan: Itís in this department that the minister has responsibility for Queenís Printer and fleet vehicle agency. We normally get those business plans; I think weíve seen one recently. Are there any plans underway for changes to either of those particular agencies?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have no plans on changing anything with regard to the Queenís Printer. As far as the fleet vehicle management, we are dealing with it under a review weíre doing with Deloitte & Touche, but in essence I donít foresee any real change in that particular venue either. We should be bringing a copy of those reports to the House.
Ms. Duncan: When does the minister anticipate the Deloitte & Touche review of the fleet vehicle agency to be complete? When might we expect that report?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are reviewing the report with Deloitte & Touche as we speak, and we expect to have a report for the House sometime in the near future.
Ms. Duncan: I would take it from the ministerís answer that once Cabinet or caucus have reviewed the Deloitte & Touche report, it will be tabled in the Legislature. Is that prior to any policy decisions on the fleet vehicle agency or in conjunction with them?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Itís going to be going to Management Board because itís a business issue and not a policy issue.
Ms. Duncan: Fair enough ó a Management Board decision then. I would expect the report will be tabled after the Management Board decision has been reached.
There is a reduction in recoveries in this department. Could I ask the minister to just explain that? Weíve seen a reduction in the recoveries from the information services and communications technology and the transportation division in weigh station fees. Is this increase in recoveries simply volume or is it something else?
Hon. Mr. Hart: This is as a result of less work being done for the corporations and the federal government by ICT.
Ms. Duncan: I am sorry ó by whom?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Our telecommunications branch.
Ms. Duncan: So the telecommunications branch is doing less work for the federal government. Thatís a reduction there.
The transportation division ó the weigh station fees ó is this volume?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, itís strictly due to the volume.
Mr. McRobb: I have a few questions to follow up with the minister.
Firstly, on the Shakwak rip-and-reshape project that took place last fiscal year ó weíve discussed this matter before, and I believe the minister is on record as saying that a few more years of that type of work were required in order to iron out the wrinkles in that north Alaska Highway section.
For the record, Mr. Chair, this is part of the Shakwak highway reconstruction project paid for by the U.S. government. By the time itís complete, there will be something in the order of half a billion dollars spent to upgrade this highway.
Part of the agreement, aside from allowing Americans complete access through this corridor, is for the Yukon government to cover the operation and maintenance cost on the highway. Last year the minister started a good thing, and that was to resurface some sections that were badly frost-heaved. The section he undertook to resurface was north of Beaver Creek to the Alaskan border. And the cost was approximately $2 million. There are a few other badly frost-heaved sections, mainly between Beaver Creek and the Donjek River. And this is a concern to anyone who travels that highway, including residents of the area. I know the minister is well aware of it. We donít know yet if this project is being continued in the new capital budget, and hopefully when we get to it we will find out. But I would like the minister to explain for us now what is happening on it. Will there be more work? Because we have to deal in the context of a supplementary budget, first of all Iíd like to ask him what was spent on it, does he consider it to be good work, and will it be continuing?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Once we have completed our spring inspection of the roads, we will be in a better position to look at what areas need to be taken care of, and we will probably be doing it at about half the level that we were last year.
Mr. McRobb: And a drop in that ó approximately $1 million will be spent in the coming year on similar work in that region. That is a good signal, Mr. Chair; maybe not quite as good as the past year but it is better than nothing. The minister didnít tell us how much was spent last year, so maybe when he gets up again he can respond to that question.
I want to turn now to the section of Alaska Highway that lies within the Ibex region, primarily between the City of Whitehorse and the Takhini River bridge.
Aside from the badly heaved sections of the Shakwak, itís probably the worst section of the highway in the territory. I know that some of it lies along an earthquake fault zone, Mr. Chair, and that complicates matters considerably, but it has been a number of years since that section has been reworked. What are the ministerís plans to improve that rough section of road?
Hon. Mr. Hart: To respond to the member oppositeís previous question, we spent $1.98 million on last yearís project. Secondly, with regard to the section of the highway he referred to, this is a very permafrost-rich area and, until we do our spring inspection, we wonít know what weíre going to do in that particular area.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, I guess weíll get to that a little later on; however, I would like to note that, regardless of what the spring inspection turns up, we do know thereís a lot of severe surface damage in that region. It would be quite unexpected for further frost damage to actually make things better. It tends to only make things worse.
We do know itís a section in need of repair, and thatís the bottom line.
I want to ask the minister about some building space. One project in particular was the previous governmentís proposed service centre. Iím continually asked questions from the public, as Iím sure all members are, about the economics around that building. What can the minister offer us in the way of some figures about what the lease would have cost, what the building would cost if government were to build it, and so on? What can he provide for us?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would like to thank the member opposite for asking that question. I would have to say in a gentle way that thereís no doubt that if we were to build that building, it would be a lot cheaper for us as a government to build it and own it and to get on that basis. I will say, though, that itís still valuable space down in that particular area. Thatís where weíve got to deal with it. There was a signed lease for a long term, of which we had no control over, and subsequently weíre stuck in the lease until itís over.
Mr. McRobb: Can the minister refresh our memories as to what it would cost at the end of the lease, what the period was, and maybe also give us a figure what it would have cost if the government had built the structure to begin with?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I donít have a specific number so Iíd like to use the word "approximate" in our estimate if that would satisfy the members opposite. To meet our obligation under the agreement, it would cost us in excess of $6 million for this particular building under our lease process. For us to build it, it would be approximately in the area of $4 million.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís quite astounding. And the lease period was 10 years? The minister is nodding. The only other major number in that equation is the O&M. Can the minister give us a ballpark idea of what that would be per year?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We expect that it would have cost us around $150,000 for operation and maintenance for the building, and we would save somewhere in the area of $100,000 in premium rates.
Mr. McRobb: I know the government wrestled with deciding which departments were to move into the building and eventually settled on the health centre from above Shoppers Plaza, and some other units. Iím sure the government developed this option: can the minister indicate what it would have cost had the lease been broken and had the government just gone about and built new space accordingly?
Hon. Mr. Hart: If we would have tried to get out of the lease ó we explored that option originally ó and we would have had to pay the full amount plus the legal costs.
Mr. McRobb: If I might interrupt, Mr. Chair ó I sense a level of disgust with such an agreement, and I wonder what we as legislators should do about it.
Has the minister given this any thought? Is there something we can maybe all deal with in this Legislature in terms of preventing this sort of thing from happening in the future, especially when it comes to a time at the end of a governmentís term in office? Thatís even worse, because itís a matter that then must be dealt with by successive governments. Does the minister have any ideas?
Hon. Mr. Hart: To that effect, we have requested of our department that no leases be signed longer than three years; any new lease will be on a three-year basis. I can tell the member opposite that I did receive a lot of negative feedback from local retailers on that particular issue, but I can also advise the members opposite that we have it working now and it seems to be doing very well. I believe thatís one way of keeping this in check until such time as we can explore the options of building and owning versus just leasing a very expensive property.
Mr. McRobb: I appreciate that, Mr. Chair, and I think itís a step in the right direction. Itís not the silver bullet to this issue, but at least itís an improvement.
Perhaps another step in the right direction would be to undertake to bring any matters of significant leases for debate in this Legislature before a government signs any private deal. Certainly, if itís possible, that would be welcomed by the opposition side, Iím sure, regardless of which parties make up the opposition.
Can the minister give us an idea how much empty office space the government is paying for now?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iíll advise the member opposite that we have very little space thatís not utilized right now. In fact, weíre in the process of looking for additional space.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, we could probably pursue that in depth at another time. I asked the minister yesterday about a number of matters, and he undertook to provide us with information. One of those matters was in relation to the Dawson bridge. The minister undertook to return with studies and reports and his business case on Thursday. Since then there has been a development, and that is the government side has called for debate tomorrow afternoon ó a motion supporting the Dawson bridge. Iím hoping to avoid a situation in which we must discuss a matter for which weíre waiting for information to arrive the following day. It would make sense to only have discussions where all members can be properly informed with information the government has agreed to provide. So I would ask the minister if it is possible to provide that information to us today so that we could be a bit prepared for the debate tomorrow afternoon.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I cannot have it for them today. The volume of information does not make it possible. I could endeavour to try to have it ready for, say, noon tomorrow.
Mr. McRobb: All right. That would be appreciated. I know itís probably not this minister who decided to call the motion for debate tomorrow afternoon. Itís doubtful whether weíll have an opportunity to look through that material before debate, given the tight schedule between noon and about 1:45 when the motion will be called, so it wonít be a very good opportunity to discuss this matter at all. It makes me wonder why it was called on a rather hurried basis with only the minimum amount of notice and with a complete void of a business case and other information that weíve been requesting for quite awhile.
And my request goes back to last Thursday, Mr. Chair, when I originally made the request for this very information. So here we are. Weíll be debating on Wednesday afternoon a motion on the Dawson bridge, and the opposition side is without the information because the government hasnít provided it. The government side may have reviewed the information ó thatís quite possible ó but not all members in here will have. So I just want to point that out ó that itís not a very good way to conduct our time, I believe, to have productive debate, to hear what each member has to say. To maximize our production we have to improve the information flow. This is an example. Iím not looking forward to tomorrow afternoon.
Mr. Fairclough: I do have a few questions for the minister on this supplementary budget. A lot has to do with highways and roads, of course. In regard to the unincorporated community of Pelly Crossing, there was some BST work done in the community across the bridge on the left-hand side, the northwest side. There is a section that was supposed to have BST. There were problems with it because of ownership and that type of thing. And that section wasnít done. But a different section of the road was worked on. I would like to know whether or not that section of road will be completed this year or whether there are plans because of the mistake that was made.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Maybe he could be a little more specific on the piece of road that he is asking about.
Mr. Fairclough: It is the section of road that leaves the highway as you cross the bridge going north from the other side of the Pelly Crossing bridge, and it goes approximately one kilometre to the section where it branches off to the Pelly Farm road. There is a loop. There was a new section of road built there and an old one that still exists, and there was a debate over whether or not YTG even owns that piece of road and the contractor who did the BST did the wrong section of the road. The community wants to know whether or not they will have improvements to that section of the road and why this whole mistake happened? I believe that largely it is a communication problem between the government and the First Nation.
Hon. Mr. Hart: If I am hearing the member opposite, we are talking about a section of the road which is a loop, which, I believe, belongs to the First Nation, and we donít maintain First Nation roads.
Mr. Fairclough: I believe this government has done BST work in that community in the past. They have done it in many other communities, including the community of Teslin, so it doesnít always fall on the hands of the community or the municipality. It is an unincorporated community. The First Nation understood that the road belongs to them, but there was a commitment made. Is the community not going to be having this road fixed up with BST in the upcoming year?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I donít believe there was any commitment made by the Department of Highways, but if heíll allow me, Iíll investigate it further and weíll get back to him.
Mr. Fairclough: I would appreciate that, Mr. Chair. Half the loop is already done. The Government of Yukon did do that section of the road. Half of the loop that was done was the section I described ó from the highway down to the junction of the Pelly Farm road.
So if he could bring that information back in writing to me, Iíd appreciate it.
There is another section of highway that had work done on it. Itís approximately two miles south of the community of Carmacks. It was a hill that was knocked down and redone. I think a contract went out and the work was done, but there needed to be more work so the contract was increased. I would like to know how much the contract was worth originally, how much the increase was, and whether or not further work needs to be done on that section.
Itís less than half a kilometre of road, but itís just a hill that was knocked down.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We obviously would have to do further investigation, but the BST is scheduled to be done this coming summer.
Mr. Fairclough: I realize there were guardrails put up and so on. I have been told that the work that was done was not satisfactory compared to what should have taken place, and actually more money should have been spent in the preparation before the BST went on. Thatís my concern. The community doesnít want to be facing this again another two years down the road.
There is a small, single-lane bridge in the community of Carmacks that belongs to the Government of Yukon and is maintained by the Government of Yukon. In the past there were some plans to put in a double-lane bridge with a walkway in that section. Of course there were plans to do a bypass but because of mining being down in that section of the Yukon, thereís no need for the bypass at this point. This single-lane bridge is becoming increasingly dangerous, and itís definitely a safety factor for the kids walking across the bridge and who are living in that section of town. The way the town is growing ó itís out in the area of the new subdivisions and so on ó thereís a lot more traffic going across that bridge. People have to, or course, stop and let a vehicle through going one way or the other. Thereís not really a good pull-off on either side for vehicles to safely pull over as another vehicle goes by.
Were there any plans in place to replace this bridge or do the necessary preparation work that needs to be done for a replacement of this bridge? Iím not just talking about the plans and so on. Iím talking about the archaeological work that needs to be done on both sides of the river in that area.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We maintain this bridge under our bridge program. We are looking at this on a regular basis, this particular bridge. The bridge is safe as far as it goes. It would be nice to have a two-lane bridge, but the traffic isnít high enough to warrant a change in that particular aspect. Also, weíll look at the need for a bridge in our bridge program when the priorities come up, but in the meantime we are looking at it on a regular basis, and we consider it to be safe.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, weight-wise and whether or not the bridge will fall down, yes, the bridge is safe; as far as kids walking across while there is traffic going across the bridge at the same time, well, thatís not safe. The minister knows that. There are no walkways at all for pedestrians. Are there any plans for this government to have a walkway put in? The municipality has talked about it in the past. Is this government working jointly with the municipality to ensure the safety of pedestrians across that bridge?
Hon. Mr. Hart: There are several caution signs, both in front of the bridge indicating this is a single-lane bridge. In most cases, many of the local community residents know whatís happening on this particular bridge. At the present time, we havenít got any specific plans to build a walkway for pedestrians.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, it is the responsibility of this government. That bridge does belong to the government, and should anything happen, it will fall in the hands of the government. This government feels that itís safe. They must feel that it meets the national safety standards and so on. I donít think this minister can describe to me how safe it is when two vehicles are passing in the opposite direction on that bridge with pedestrians walking. I donít believe this government can answer that.
Will this minister commit to sitting down and talking with the municipality to see what can be done to improve the safety of pedestrians on this bridge?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned before, the bridge meets all the standards for a single-lane bridge, as far as the national safety part goes, and itís not going to fall down. However, to address the member oppositeís concern, I will look into dealing with it with the community.
Mr. Fairclough: Maybe the minister can also commit to doing some of the work that is necessary to be done beforehand, like the archaeological studies that need to take place ó the digs, and so on. I think that needs to be done long before we even look at how a bridge can replace the old one.
I asked a question about signs along the highway in the past. I wrote a letter and really did not get a satisfactory answer from the minister, so I would like to ask him again. There are many places that ask for signs to slow down traffic around some dangerous spots ó one, in particular, is around Braeburn. They have asked to have signs put up so that traffic going through can at least slow down to the limit that has been posted by Highways.
Weíve seen some pretty major accidents that took place just from vehicles turning out of Braeburn Lodge and vehicles ó particularly big trucks ó going by quickly. Those are pretty serious and somebody is going to get hurt. Iím wondering ó this is not the only place that has been asking ó what is governmentís commitment to ensuring safety in places like Braeburn?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The signs weíre talking about for Braeburn ó as far as I know, weíre unaware of any recent accidents in that particular area, although he does indicate there were some near misses. For us to change the speed limit just by simply putting up a sign is not really going to alleviate that particular situation, because it really comes down to enforcing the process and, unfortunately, thatís not our particular job ó thatís the job of the RCMP. The big issue there is that we have posted speed limit signs on the highway through there and we expect our travelling public to obey those particular signs.
Mr. Fairclough: I understand that. The government canít do anything about it.
Letís try another one where thereís a safety issue, and I have brought this up to the minister in the past and itís in regard to Stewart Crossing. The community has asked to find ways to slow traffic down coming through that community, particularly coming from the south and going north down the hill. There are a number of things that have been tried. There was radar set up to show the public the speeds theyíre travelling as they go through this small community. The other thing, because of the darkness of winter and so on and the fact that people walk up and down the road and so do the kids who live there, is that they wanted to have street lights put in. Has this minister given any thought to that or is it an affordability question? Why is there no movement to please the members of Stewart Crossing?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are looking at the situation in Stewart Crossing; however, obviously traffic is a big question for us to deal with, and also the question of enforcement, as the member opposite has indicated. Itís very difficult to get people to slow down on the hill. If the lights were put in, would that reduce that other problem? I donít know. Iím not quite sure that it would. It comes down to a question of enforcement again. The people of that community are aware of what the speed limit is there, but I still say that I donít know what the solution is. If the member opposite had a particular suggestion, then maybe he could suggest that.
Mr. Fairclough: Thatís the suggestion thatís coming from the community. They have met and they have talked to me about it, and Iíve relayed it to the minister. That is lighting up the highway for traffic to see at least whatís there, whether there are people walking on the road or across the road, and there has been no take from this government. Well, I canít do much about that. The community wants to see this, and theyíre hoping government can spend a few dollars and put some street lights in. Thatís unfortunate that weíre not making any movements there. I donít believe that itís all on enforcement. Itís not about nabbing those who are speeding through. Some people do slow down and obey sign, so Iíd like the minister to think about that as he makes his decisions over the next budget, I guess, and whether or not the community of Stewart Crossing is going to see any work done to improve the safety on the highway.
I would like to ask the minister another question about the road up near Keno, the Signpost Road. Obviously, thereís not much maintenance that takes place on that road, but one that the community has suggested is to have some major snow clearing on that road at about this time of the year. That would reduce the amount of maintenance that the road needs over the spring and would get traffic up there sooner than they normally do. So I would like to ask whether or not there was any work done to remove the snow on the Signpost Road over the last little while or whether or not it has been left again until June or the end of May.
Hon. Mr. Hart: This particular road ó nobody owns this road. We donít maintain this road. It is extremely substandard and would cost a substantial amount of money to bring it up, and we clear it once a year as a community service for that particular area.
Chair: Order please. The time being a little bit past our customary time for our break, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue on with debate on Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, with Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works, in general debate.
Mr. Fairclough: I was not satisfied with the ministerís answer with respect to the Signpost Road. Itís only once a year that maintenance is done on it. I would like to ask whether or not the minister has received any requests from the community of Keno or the Department of Tourism to do more maintenance on this road, to increase tourist traffic in the Keno area.
The signposts and the Signpost Road are used by Tourism to attract tourists to the community of Keno.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are not aware of any recent request from the community of Keno or anywhere with regard to work on the Signpost Road.
Mr. Fairclough: Thatís strange, because this has been brought up every time Iíve been there and the community of Keno has brought it up with the Highways department. So the highways camp out of Mayo would certainly know about this issue.
The one thing they asked for is that if youíre going to do grading of the road and youíre coming up from Mayo to Elsa and Keno, and you can loop back around the Duncan Creek Road ó is if they can take the little bit of time to zip up to the Signpost Road and back down. That bit of maintenance would, I guess, greatly improve the quality of the road in the spring. In other words, there is not going to be the huge runoffs that take place, creating big gouges in the roads just from the water.
I would like to ask the minister if he can commit to speaking with the people who do maintenance on the Silver Trail Road to have at least one more maintenance on the Signpost Road for that improvement. Would he commit to that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: This road was actually built by the mine. I would like to reiterate that itís not our road and it doesnít meet the standard for highway vehicles other than four-wheel drives. There is the possibility of a significant liability in that particular area also. As I mentioned, we clear the road once a year as a community service to those residents.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, this is an unfriendly government to Yukon tourists, I would say, and to the community of Keno City, which has asked government to do this in the past. I understand that it is basically a rough road and that there is traffic to the signposts. I know the minister himself has made a trip or two up there and seen the beauty that exists when you are up high.
Government has done some laying of crushed gravel on the road between Mayo and Elsa, and they did a number of kilometres. Iím not sure exactly if there was BST laid ó Iím not sure. But are there any plans in the future to do more work, improvements to the quality of the road, between Mayo and Elsa or Keno?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have committed to improved maintenance on that section of road, but no additional BST or service is anticipated.
Mr. Fairclough: I brought up a safety issue that was brought to me in front of the minister also when we were in Mayo last year at the Silver Trail Inn, and thatís the section that runs past their place. It is a corner or two that has very soft shoulders and the base is not built up very well. Has the department looked at making improvements on that corner? It is also a corner where tourists decide to turn around and not go any further because of the poor quality of the road.
I also brought up the issue of a culvert that goes into the lake there, which was put in higher than the natural lake level which means that it prevents any runoff that normally runs through into that small creek and lowers the water level of the lake. Are there improvements with this culvert? The owner of the Silver Trail Inn has been experiencing high water levels, which means water in his basement. That didnít occur with the previous culvert that was taken out.
Hon. Mr. Hart: With regard to the soft shoulder on the Silver Trail, weíll look at it this spring when we do our inspection of that particular area. Secondly, with regard to the Twin Lakes culvert, that culvert has been there for several years, but I guess Iím proud to say that this year we have taken the steps necessary and we will be pulling that culvert out and putting it at the appropriate level.
Mr. Fairclough: I guess meeting face to face with the people does work after all.
There is another section that I personally do not feel is a safety issue but it has been brought up to me many times and people want to see either a guardrail put in or some indication of danger. It is at a little pothole lake on the south side of Twin Lakes. I believe itís a manmade pothole lake. Thereís a steep drop to it. Locals call it Coffin Lake because of an accident that took place with a hearse and a coffin that ended up floating around in that lake. Many people know the story and have approached me to ask if there can be some type of warning sign or reflectors or a guardrail put on that very short section. Would the minister look into that and get back to me in writing?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, we will look into the situation for him.
Mr. Cardiff: While I am on my feet, I would like to lend my voice to the improved maintenance schedule for the Signpost Road as well. When I was there last spring after being in Mayo for the special sitting, I had the good fortune to spend a few days in Keno and travel that road quite a few times. I am sure that the Minister of Tourism would appreciate it if all the tourists who are struggling their way up that road had a bit easier go of it.
Itís one of the most beautiful sights, or views, I guess, from up there, and I have to say that it was a struggle at that time of the year to get up there because of the runoff conditions and the rutting that was caused by that. There were a lot of tourists who had to leave their vehicles and walk.
Iíd like to ask the minister a couple of questions about something that Iíve raised before. Once again, they can look out the windows and the weather is beautiful out there and the kids are getting their bicycles out and thinking about riding them to school. I would like to ask the minister if he has investigated the concerns that I brought forward last year around the Cowley Creek subdivision and the speed limit and the signage around where students are crossing the highway. The speed limit is 90 kilometres an hour. Vehicles are coming down the hill and there have been a couple of close calls. We are back at this point when the bicycles are coming out and itís becoming an issue.
When I was driving home the other night, there were lots of bicycles on the road. The bicycle club is back out on the highway, and hopefully theyíll obey the law. Iíve communicated to the minister on that matter as well, but my concern is for the students at Golden Horn School, who are crossing the highway. Has the minister looked into reducing the speed limit or using some form of signage, asking drivers to slow down and watch for kids on bikes?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are considering paving an overlay in this particular area, and weíll investigate the speed issue at that time. Weíll also look at additional signage for schools. We may also consider putting a rumble strip in that particular area.
Mr. Cardiff: I didnít quite catch the last part. Could the minister repeat that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Could I ask the member to repeat that again, please?
Mr. Cardiff: The minister mentioned the paving, the overlay, looking at signage ó and there was something else, but I didnít quite catch it, so I was asking him to repeat it.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíll be looking at investigating the speed limit in that particular area. In addition, weíre also considering the possibility of putting in a rumble strip.
Mr. Cardiff: I appreciate the ministerís attention in that matter, and I look forward to seeing that work being done this year, hopefully.
I have a couple of other questions. Some of these questions, I have to admit, are kind of a hold-over from last fall, when we didnít have an opportunity to fully debate the supplementary budget then.
It is my understanding that the government had a sign regulation and that the sign regulations were rescinded or put on hold. Could the minister tell us what the status of the sign regulations are?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, we are working diligently with the tourism industry in an effort to try to come up with a successful solution to the sign issue.
Mr. Cardiff: There were a lot of concerns expressed around, I think, in a lot of communities ó I know in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne there were concerns about, basically, the ticky-tacky signs or whatever you want to call them, but theyíre all the same signs that were being proposed, so everybody would have the same sign, and it goes back to the song: Everybody lived in ticky-tacky houses and they all looked just the same. But the concern in Mount Lorne was that signs for local businesses lend to the flavour and they let people know what the community is about. I donít know exactly how to phrase it.
Well, theyíre interpretive signs. They interpret what the community is about and the way the community has grown.
So I guess what Iím looking for is some commitment from the minister to consult with communities as well as the tourism industry to try to get out and consult with the people with their little businesses on the side of the road who want to have their own signs, but they donít necessarily want to have a sign that looks like everybody elseís sign. Would he ensure that there is some sort of consultation undertaken with those small businesses along the side of the road?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I indicated, weíre looking at this situation diligently and weíre trying to come up with a solution thatís at least reasonable for a majority of those who require a sign.
Mr. Cardiff: Will there be any advertised meetings or a way for the public to have some input into this?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíll be going out for a specific audience on consultation to address, as I said, the major users of signs within the Yukon.
Mr. Cardiff: I just hope the minister will include small roadside businesses, especially seasonal businesses. That was another concern. Some of these businesses are only open for six to eight weeks a year, yet they have to pay for a sign to be there for the whole year, which doesnít seem totally fair when they only derive six to eight weeks of income from that business. That was another concern. I would urge the minister to try to do his best to consult with those small businesses.
Iíd like to ask the minister a question about property management. I was wondering if there were any costs in this budget ó and we didnít, or I didnít, get to ask questions on the previous supplementary budget ó associated with renovations to the Quartz Road property.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, we have the number and we can get it for him.
Mr. Cardiff: So heís going to provide a list of that? When would he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We can provide that to the member opposite and the member of the third party, seeing as it will be equal information, early next week.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Ms. Duncan: I would like to follow up on two areas. I listened with interest to the discussion about signs, and I wrote the minister early this winter. There were issues around the signage on the north highway ó essentially north of Haines Junction toward Beaver Creek, issues between Destruction Bay and Kluane Wilderness Village further up the highway. There were concerns raised publicly and concerns raised to me. I wrote the minister and essentially the answer, as I recall it, was that the department would be taking a look at it in light of the concerns raised. Has that happened, or is it on the project list for this summer?
The highway speeding zones in particular ó itís not the signage for the businesses that is of concern in this instance; itís the speed zones and the amount of time that people are given to adjust. It is fine if you drive the highway on a regular basis and you know itís there, but there are many people who donít and you really need to allow, given that it is highway driving, time for people to slow down ó particularly in Destruction Bay as we have a school in the area. So my question is: is there a plan to have a concerted look at this issue? If so, when is it going to be done?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We will be collecting speed data this summer and it will be reviewed. In addition, we are working with the RCMP on this issue because they are the ones who have to enforce the speed limit. They have also recognized that there is a delay process in getting the people to slow down, considering itís a straight thoroughfare through Destruction Bay in this one particular area. But, in essence, we are working closely with them to try to alleviate this problem for the local residents.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that attention to this particular concern.
Thatís one concern in one particular area, and I didnít hear the minister give a time frame. So, perhaps when he responds, he could.
This isnít just this area; there are other parts of the highway where people have also raised concerns about speed limits: I am thinking, most recently, last evening at the Porter Creek Community Association and I had seen the correspondence regarding the Rabbitís Foot Canyon. Is there also a plan to analyze that data this summer? Could we have a time frame on that, please?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I did say that we would be doing the analysis this summer and we will be working with the RCMP to review that data, and we will be making our adjustments probably as soon as we have that information available. Secondly, on Rabbitís Foot Canyon, we have the data in hand and we plan to implement it early this summer.
Ms. Duncan: Whatís going to be implemented early this summer? Are we going to see a change in the speed zone there ó and is it just that area? One of the recommendations that the public has stated is that they would like to see ó given that the Alaska Highway travels through the City of Whitehorse ó the speed limit, city limit to city limit, reduced ó not just Rabbitís Foot Canyon. Thatís one suggestion from the public.
The minister says he has the data, they are going to look at it and it will be implemented soon. What is going to be implemented soon and what are the parameters?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The data we have collected is being reviewed by the department, and the speed limit is one of the options that we are looking at for that particular area, but itís not the only option. We are considering other aspects, but we anticipate we will be bringing that forth early in the summer.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we have two situations, then. Those are two that have been immediately brought to our attention, where there has been data collected and analysis, and the departmentís working with the RCMP, and then there will be some recommendation. Iím sure these arenít the only two examples in the territory. Is there more territory-wide work being done that Yukoners should be aware of? And Iíd also like to ask if the department is communicating with the Department of Tourism so that this information is in all our tourism information. Our rubber-tire traffic, as we refer to it, is very important to us, and those individuals need to know the rules of the road in the Yukon. We do a fine job telling everybody to do up their seatbelts. We donít necessarily do as good a job and we arenít as clear as what the speed limit is, where it is, on what highways and so on. I have outlined that there is a problem on the north highway. There are concerns within the City of Whitehorse.
So on this overall issue of the speed limits on our highways, which the minister has responsibility for, could I have a clear indication of what is the overall work being done? Is there a major look at this? Are we going to be debating a reduction or increase? Is there communication with the Department of Tourism?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We review speed limits throughout the Yukon as a normal course of action within our department. We do converse with the Department of Tourism. As far as alerting people to the speed limit on the highways, we provide that through signage. We do not provide a brochure on the speed limit, per se. I would say that anyone with a driverís licence is going to be aware of what a speed limit and speed sign mean. In essence, I believe that we provide appropriate signage for safe driving on all our Yukon roads.
Ms. Duncan: That was precisely the problem I raised with the minister. It just really isnít constructive to suggest that, "Well, weíre not going to do another brochure." Well, the fact is, there is very good information that has been put out in the past by the Department of Tourism in conjunction with Highways. I mean, they do the road report, they do this sort of information. Maybe itís not a brochure; maybe itís a daily bulletin. All Iím asking is that we be sure to work with the Department of Tourism on these issues. Good work has been done in the past.
The signage is a concern to people. Thatís what I wrote the minister about. Even the engineering standards, which I enclosed in my letter to the minister ó there are differing opinions on those engineering standards. They need some work.
I would just like a clear commitment from the minister that ó yes, anybody with a driverís licence knows how to read a speed limit and will hopefully obey the law. But it doesnít hurt for government to do a better job at posting those speed signs. And thatís all Iíve asked for on behalf of constituents ó and to know that this work was being done.
We can raise the bar not only on the debate but in how well we do these jobs. The posting of the speed zones is an issue and I would like to see it addressed in a comprehensive manner. I look forward to the ministerís work on that area and review of it over the summer, and the department is working with the RCMP. I hope there will be a report on that work, or the answers to some of the questions as to what work was done, when we next convene in the fall, if not sooner.
The minister indicated earlier in debate this afternoon that the Government of Yukon Management Board had commissioned Deloitte & Touche to do a review of the fleet vehicle agency and that that review would be going to Management Board. The last fleet vehicle agency report that I happened to have, which is the 2001-02 ó I may have the 2002-03 ó indicates that there is an excess of revenues over expenditures in 2002 of just over a million dollars ó pardon me, thousands of dollars. And in the fleet vehicle revolving fund, there is ó according to the Financial Administration Act, the fund limit is $8 million and it currently, as of March 31, 2002, was $3.429 million. Will the minister make a commitment, in this review done by Deloitte & Touche, that that money will not be used for some other purpose other than the fleet vehicle agency?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Itís just way too early for us to make any commitment as to what weíre going to do with the money until we review the Deloitte & Touche report.
Ms. Duncan: What was the Deloitte & Touche report commissioned for then? Why are Deloitte & Touche looking at the fleet vehicle management agency?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The Deloitte & Touche review is basically looking at the RF and fleet vehicle management association, and weíre looking to ensure that everything is being accounted for and we have the right mix of equipment.
Ms. Duncan: Was the Deloitte & Touche report commissioned as part of the governmentís internal audit function or was it an initiative separate from that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Itís direction from Management Board.
Mr. Cardiff: I have one more question while weíre still in general debate. The leader of the third party went back to speed limits and Iíd like to make one more trip back there. I know the Member for Klondike was lobbying for an autobahn but in that same area where the speed limit is a concern at Cowley Creek, farther out the speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour coming into the Carcross Cutoff. There is Gentian Lane, Venus Road and Empress Road entering on to the highway where itís 100 kilometres per hour, as well as other driveways and tourist businesses situated in a 100 kilometres per hour speed zone. That poses a problem for safety and it also poses a problem for tourists who, in their urgency to get to Wal-Mart to find a place to park, go right by a perfectly good RV park.
If we could slow people down, not only would it help our tourism industry and the tourism businesses in Mount Lorne, but it would also increase the safety of people trying to pull off the highway into these subdivisions and driveways and increase the safety of pedestrian traffic in that area.
The minister ó while theyíre out there looking at whatís going on in the Cowley Creek section, if they would just drive a little bit farther and have a look at speed limits just a little farther out past the Carcross Cut-off.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Well, many of these areas we are dealing with are small rural roads that provide access to subdivisions in that area, as you mentioned. But in all cases the access is to the highway. The sight distances are adequate for that particular speed limit that is posted on the highway. However, if the member wishes, we will consider looking into that particular aspect, as you requested.
Mr. Cardiff: This has been a request from several residents in that area who live in the subdivision and are concerned for the safety of people driving vehicles, pulling in and out. There have been some close calls in that area ó but as well, the safety and convenience of motor homes trying to enter the tourist business there. So this is a request, something Iíve heard from my constituents. I thank the minister for offering to look into it.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, we then continue on with line-by-line.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Corporate Services
Corporate Services in the amount of $71,000 agreed to
On Information and Communications Technology
Information and Communications Technology in the amount of $74,000 agreed to
On Transportation Division
Transportation Division in the amount of $718,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Supply Services in the amount of $80,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Property Management underexpenditure of $123,000 cleared
On Total of Other O&M Programs
Total of Other O&M Programs in the amount of nil cleared
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Highways and Public Works in the amount of $820,000 agreed to
Chair: Is there any discussion on operation and maintenance recoveries?
Is there any discussion on revenue?
On Capital Expenditures
On Information and Communications Technology
On Corporate Computer Equipment and Systems
Corporate Computer Equipment and Systems in the amount of $9,000 agreed to
On Multi-Departmental Mobile Radio System
Multi-Departmental Mobile Radio System in the amount of $90,000 agreed to
On Transportation Division
On Transportation Facilities
On Transportation Facilities and Equipment
Transportation Facilities and Equipment in the amount of $85,000 agreed to
On Transportation Planning and Engineering
Transportation Planning and Engineering underexpenditure of $99,000 cleared
On Highway Construction
On Non-YTG Funded
On Alaska Highway
Shakwak in the amount of $33,000 agreed to
On Canadian Strategic Infrastructure Fund
Canadian Strategic Infrastructure Fund in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On YTG Funded
On Alaska Highway
Alaska Highway in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On Campbell Highway
Campbell Highway in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On Dempster Highway
Dempster Highway in the amount of $10,000 agreed to
On Bridges ó Numbered Highways
Bridges ó Numbered Highways in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On Aviation/Yukon Airports
Airports in the amount of $56,000 agreed to
On Property Management
On Capital Construction and Maintenance
Capital Construction and Maintenance in the amount of $3,843,000 agreed to
On Building Development Overhead
Building Development Overhead in the amount of $59,000 agreed to
On Project Management Services
Project Management Services in the amount of $55,000 agreed to
On Total of Other Capital Expenditures
Total of Other Capital Expenditures in the amount of nil cleared
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Highways and Public Works in the amount of $4,141,000 agreed to
Chair: Is there any discussion about capital recoveries?
Department of Highways and Public Works agreed to
Chair: Itís the Chairís understanding that weíre going to continue with Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services. For membersí reference, the page is 11-2.
Department of Health and Social Services
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I am pleased to present the supplementary for the last fiscal period for the Department of Health and Social Services. The total O&M expenditures show an increase of $3.186 million and total O&M recoveries are $585,000. On the capital side, we have increased it by $61,000. I would be pleased to entertain any questions or any requests for information in line-by-line or general debate.
Mr. Fairclough: This supplementary budget has been put together by a Yukon Party government knowing that there would be an increase in dollars flowing from the federal government and it also is supposedly following their budgetary process, which is trying to reduce government spending. I understand from year to year that there are increases in the cost of health care. This department has had a huge injection of cash, monies coming from the federal government over the next few years, and we should be seeing a lot of improvements in this department.
What I was surprised about was where this minister was going in a number of different areas: a change in policy to save money, for example. That happened ó we brought that out in Question Period in the last couple of days, where this minister decided that this is an area where they were going to save money and so they made changes in the policy in not allowing health care to children who have been adopted into Canada, into Yukon, for a three-month period.
That is unfortunate, Mr. Chair, that we have had to go to that area. Certainly, I think, the minister would not say that we couldnít do it because of the cost when there is lots of money in this department. We certainly have not heard that government was going to do a change in policy. Iím wondering if it was such a big issue at the time government made this policy to save money that it would have been reflected in this supplementary budget as a decrease in spending.
Will we on this side of the House, will the public, know exactly the numbers that this minister is talking about? Weíre going to ask the question. I understand the minister is backing away from his well-thought-out policy change that he made in this regard. Certainly we welcome the change back to where it was before. We were wondering what else this minister is changing in the department.
It appears that the public doesnít really have a say, or this minister doesnít want to hear what the public has to say, in regard to which way this government is moving or wants to move or wants to sell off areas of health care.
This minister wanted to move residents out of Macaulay Lodge up to the extended care facility. His words were, "so they can be contained". That was what was expressed to members of Macaulay Lodge in a public meeting by the minister. He wanted to contain them. That was the way the minister approached health care to our seniors. It took an outcry from the seniors and the public to get the minister to change his mind again. Yet again this was a first major decision that the minister decided was a good one.
And in behind-closed-doors deals, we find out that the minister had plans for the Thomson Centre. No discussion took place with professionals or those who would be affected the most. Instead, what weíve heard is the continued cries from the minister about the cost of repairs to the Thomson Centre and, at that time, certainly a cry of poverty of the government. When this budget was put together before the supplementary, thatís exactly what they were telling the general public. Thatís exactly what they were saying. They felt so strongly about it that they had to put it in the budget speech of the Premier. Every one of the replies that came back from the members opposite, including the Health minister, were all about that: about decreasing government spending.
What we did find out was that this minister decided to do away with a few positions ó family and childrenís services, for example. Again, it took the public coming out to fight for their jobs and to ensure that these positions were not just done away with.
I think this government decided that they were going to not backfill certain positions, therefore saving money and, I would say, in the end misleading the public. There are reasons why I say that, and one of them is that this government decided to do that, to do the cutbacks and curb governmentís spending because they said that government was broke and there was very little money in the surplus. As it turned out, there was quite a bit of money in the surplus and governments could have done more last year. They freed up some dollars that, they say, were hidden away and not doing anything ó a lot more money than they thought they had. Then came the federal government realizing mistakes from the financing, and weíve got some increased money in health care and the base amount of money that is coming to the Yukon. During that time, this government still pleaded poverty, even though we on the opposition side pointed out to them the Auditor Generalís report. We went on and on about the finances of government, and still to the communities, to the NGOs and to businesses, this was still a message that was sent by government. Well, what they said was that itís going to take time, and it will take a whole lot of effort to turn government spending around. Itís like turning a supertanker around ó is what the Premier used. Well, a year has gone by. Thatís not a lot of time in many cases to try to curb the spending. The first budget that came out was a large one.
Now we have seen one that is even bigger, and there is no justification in some cases for the massive amount of spending, other than the fact that we have additional dollars that are coming from health care and additional dollars coming from formula financing. What they could not give the general public comfort in is governmentís ability to maintain this type of spending in years to come.
As a matter of fact, in the long-term plans that government has, next year and the year after there will be very little room for even addressing any type of emergencies ó whether itís an outbreak of disease or whatnot. Next year, according to government, there is going to be over $8 million in the bank; the year after, $4 million. That doesnít give comfort to any Yukoner in knowing how government is continuing to spend. I believe the year after is when they are going to ó in my view ó buckle down and not have the kind of dollars that should be going to communities and organizations and to Yukon taxpayers in general. And we are, again, going to have to bite the bullet and not spend as much as we should be if we did proper planning.
The other route that is available to this government is to go to privatize certain areas in government ó it could be highways, it could be health care. I am sure that this minister was right down that road of privatizing health care and now is saying that they are not.
Itís hard to believe the minister any more because weíve asked questions in the House, and the next day we have a totally different direction the government is going in. The general public canít believe government any more. We, on this side of the House, find it very difficult to see where this government is going with respect to spending on health care.
Some of the numbers just havenít matched up to what has been said by the ministers to members on this side of the House.
Now, we have an increase in the O&M of over $3 million. This government decided that they were going to do special warrants, and I understand a lot of it is going to the collective agreements and so on. But they decided, again, to go ahead with spending like this without any debate in this House, with the hopes of maybe ó I would say ó hiding things in the budget. I know the Health minister likes to do that, until we bring it out ó the direction the government is taking and so on.
This is not the first of the budgets ó you can even call them budgets now, I suppose ó that has been brought out by the Yukon Party government using special warrants and it probably wonít be the last one. As a matter of fact, weíre talking about a supplementary budget, but the minister is bringing forward a Health budget that weíll be debating soon. Already we have heard that government is spending over and above a budget that has been presented to this House.
Well, what kind of planning is that, if in a matter of days after tabling a budget government could already be faced with additional costs and have it reflected in another supplementary budget that would come forward in the fall or by special warrants, which the Premier seems to like to use, which is not what they said they would do and is not ó when both the minister and the Premier were on this side of the House ó what they were in favour of. They were not in favour of that. It was only under special conditions that special warrants were to be used.
Now, we are wondering where this government is going when it comes to health care. Which model is government going to be using? Which direction are we going in? Following other provinces? Are we going to be addressing issues that Yukoners face? We have a huge increase in money in this department and a commitment by this minister to tackle the tough issues like alcohol and drug abuse and FASD issues in the territory, and some organizations have been calling for support of this minister and have not gotten it ó did not get the support. I refer to Tatlmain Lake, for example, and Iíve brought this up in the past, and the minister says, yes, weíve thrown $100,000 or whatever it was in regard to providing personnel and support and so on. Well, one of these times the minister ought to take a trip up when there is a session taking place in Tatlmain Lake, maybe even take the time to go fishing and experience something that he hasnít done for awhile and look at the true cost of what the program is running per session.
Perhaps he would get a better understanding of how much this means to people and how well the program works and whether or not his department would even be able to use places like Tatlmain Lake or others across the territory.
When it comes to the welfare and health of our children, we are so lucky to have additional dollars flowing from the federal government. I donít think anybody on this side of the House would say that they are not pleased with that at all; itís how it is being used and spent and the approach this minister is taking to have an increase in our health care in the territory. Whether itís social services ó I have not heard the minister say much about how there is improvement in this area. Maybe he can tell the House, when he gets up to speak, and also about whether there is increased programming available to communities.
We have asked the minister to pay close attention when it came to the recruitment of nurses and doctors in the territory. The minister said heís working on it. Meanwhile, we have the general public saying that they cannot get in to see a family doctor, they cannot ó
Chair: Order please. The member has two minutes.
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
They cannot find a doctor, other than going through emergency or the walk-in clinics. So, the simple question to the minister is: what can he show us in the supplementary budget, or in the main budget, that will show improvements to the recruitment of doctors and nurses in this territory? And how well are we competing with, say, B.C., Alberta and our neighbour, the Northwest Territories?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me initially correct the record on a number of points raised by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
Number one, we do not throw money at initiatives. We invest in the future of Yukoners, we invest in health care, we invest in the future direction of health care here in the Yukon.
A supplementary budget consists primarily of two major components in the Department of Health and Social Services. Number one is the increase as a consequence of the new collective bargaining agreement and the retroactivity contained in that collective bargaining agreement with PSAC. In addition, due to a change, we had a number of changes that took place with social assistance and the payments, primarily in British Columbia, which saw quite a number of people coming into the Yukon last summer. Our costs for social assistance increased last summer by just over $1 million.
The department and I are under a lot of pressure to review social assistance rates. But in the category where about 70 percent of the costs are incurred ó single, employable males, 40 years of age or younger ó we spend approximately 70 percent of the total SA budget. That area increased last summer by just over a million dollars. Thatís the reason that we have this major cost driver here in the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Chair, we have one of the best safety nets in Canada and we want to have one of the best health care programs in Canada. We have some of the best services ó drug programs, homes for our seniors. It is provided at some of the lowest costs, if not the lowest cost, in Canada.
When we add this all together, in order to sustain these costs, it requires a continual investment in health care of between $7 million and $9 million or $10 million, depending on which year you look at.
And, yes, the Premier of the Yukon was successful along with his colleagues from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the three premiers negotiated with the Prime Minister a $60-million agreement over three years, which translates to $6.666 million per year for the Yukon.
Knowing that that money would be forthcoming, we knew where the pressures were on the health system, and that money was directed toward those pressure points. Itís not an issue of being swimming in money, as it is termed, but of carefully examining ways where we can maintain the existing programs, enhance the programs where we can and continue to provide the best possible level of care through the various programs and initiatives that we have here in the Yukon.
Now, I draw the member oppositeís attention to an article in the Globe and Mail on April 5. Itís on the front page, and it says "Ottawa Ponders Health Surtax." It says the federal government is studying a new tax on Canadians to fund the rising cost of health care, although officials say it would be a last resort and proposed only if the provinces and public demand more cash than Ottawa can find.
When we look back, what we see is a tremendous reduction in Health transfers to the provinces and to the territories under a Liberal regime. That same Liberal regime is rushing back to the plate and providing additional funding but it hasnít yet increased to the level it was when they started stripping away Health dollars. Thatís a major issue.
Mr. Chair, seeing the time I move that you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins 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.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 6, 2004:
Yukon Game Farm and Wildlife Preserve Valuation Report (dated November 20, 2003) by BDO Valuation Inc. (Kenyon)
The following document was filed April 6, 2004:
Johneís Disease: information pertaining to (L. Earl Rogers, D.V.M., Utah Assistant State Veterinarian) (Peter)