Thursday, April 8, 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.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have for tabling the Fleet Vehicle Agency 2004-05 Business Plan.
I also have for tabling the Property Management Agency 2004-05 Business Plan and the Queenís Printer Agency 2004-05 Business Plan.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to help avoid unnecessary burdens upon our health care system by encouraging the Premier to abandon his practice of provoking physical confrontations with members of the fourth estate.
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) Yukon government appointments to public boards and committees should reflect the demographic diversity of the territoryís population;
(2) appointments made by the current Yukon Party government have demonstrated a pronounced bias in favour of the governing partyís members or supporters; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to end its practice of using appointments to public boards and committees as a form of political patronage and to adopt an appointment policy that guarantees that public boards and committees truly reflect the diverse makeup of the Yukonís population.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) select committees of this Assembly can be a valuable tool for examining issues of concern to Yukon people;
(2) in order to serve the public good most effectively, such committees should function in a neutral, open manner as far from narrow partisanship as possible; and
THAT this House supports the principle that select committees of the Legislative Assembly should be comprised of an equal number of representatives from each of the parties in the Assembly who shall be entitled to vote, and a neutral chair, who shall not be entitled vote; and
THAT this House further supports the principle that minority reports from dissenting members of select committees will form part of the official record arising from the deliberations of any select committee.
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to introduce a teacher school supply tax credit in recognition of the fact that teachers purchase materials to enhance learning in our Yukon classrooms.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to immediately recognize that detailed construction plans and consultation exist with respect to the redevelopment of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and that to further delay this redevelopment is a denial of safety and security for both inmates and employees; and
THAT this House urges the government to begin the redevelopment of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre immediately and that the necessary funds for this redevelopment be brought forward in a supplementary budget in the next sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the former Liberal Party government began a process of privatizing certain health care services;
(2) the current Yukon Party government is showing signs of favouring privatization of seniors care and the ambulance service; and
THAT this House stands totally opposed to any efforts by the Yukon government to privatize any part of the Yukonís health care system.
Mr. Cardiff:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government to abandon the lucrative personal sponsorship program under which the former Liberal Cabinet minister continues to draw his annual salary of $350,000 without having to perform his duties as the patronage appointee responsible for the Canada Post Corporation.
Speaker:Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Medevac flights, Dawson Airport
Mr. Fairclough:In February, an American taking part in the Over the Top snowmobile race suffered a broken leg. Apparently the medevac plane from Fairbanks refused to land in Dawson because of lack of lights. Instead, he was medevacíd to Whitehorse by our service and then transferred to Fairbanks.
Is the Minister of Health aware of this problem, and what has been done to correct it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím very much aware of this problem. For the member oppositeís information, Dawson is strictly a VFR airport ó visual flight rules.
Mr. Fairclough: Obviously there has been a problem in the past. Last night there was another serious medical situation in Dawson, and apparently the lights at the Dawson airport are still a problem.
Last night two seriously ill patients from Dawson had to be medevacíd to Whitehorse. Normally, with even one patient being transferred, the policy is that they are accompanied by a nurse, an ambulance attendant and even a doctor if necessary. Can the minister explain why there was no staff available in Whitehorse last night for this medevac flight?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: No, I cannot explain that. I understand there was a medevac that was to take place out of Dawson last night, but once again Iím not familiar with the details.
Mr. Fairclough: I was hoping that this minister would have more contact with his department and not be so deep into micromanaging his department.
This morning, Mr. Speaker, the medevac plane was finally able to land in Dawson. There was no nurse on board. There was no doctor, even though there were two seriously ill patients. Instead, the flight was staffed by a supervisor of the ambulance service and one other ambulance attendant. What is the minister doing to ensure that medevac flights can land in Dawson after dark and, secondly, to ensure that medevac crews are available whenever they are needed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the only aircraft that can land in Dawson City after legal dark or before legal light is a medevac or the RCMP or the military. The only other way that general aviation can undertake a landing there is to declare an emergency. The runway lights are there for emergency purposes only, and someone has to attend at the airport and turn the lights on. Itís up to the pilot of the aircraft whether they land or not.
As for the medevac aircraft, their crews are completely trained and fully knowledgeable in all of these procedures, Mr. Speaker, and I have the utmost confidence in their abilities.
As for the staffing levels, the department has the responsibility to ensure that staffing is in place, and it must be noted that there was staff that accompanied the medevac aircraft. Mr. Speaker, if the member opposite ó if I were to go on his assumptions, heíd have me driving the ambulance and flying the airplane and micromanaging everything else. Thatís not the case. We have capable staff in all of these areas to undertake these responsibilities.
Question re: Whitehorse Correctional Centre rebuild
Mrs. Peter:I have a question for the Minister of Justice. In January there was a riot at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Fires were set, the plumbing was ripped out, a hole was smashed in the wall between the menís and womenís sections. Damage was in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Will the minister table the report of the internal investigation into that riot?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I would just like to put on the record, again, as I have repeatedly in this Legislature, that the health and safety of both our inmate population as well as the staff, our employees, correctional workers and all employees within the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are of paramount importance to myself as Minister of Justice, as well as to the Government of Yukon.
I should also put on the record that on an ongoing basis it is not only important but it is our very obligation to review and take measures to improve the overall safety and emergency response capability at the Correctional Centre. Whether it may be investments in training, investments in equipment or refining our policies and procedures, we, certainly as a department, as a government, strive to improve the emergency preparedness and incident management preparedness, as well as the safety and security of our clients within all of our facilities.
Now, for reasons of security and safety, I am not able to discuss all of the specifics coming from the recommendations resulting from the investigation into the disturbance. I am pleased to report, however, that the department has received those recommendations and is currently working to implement each of those proposed initiatives.
Mrs. Peter: Once again, Mr. Speaker, information asked for from this side of the House is not forthcoming from that side. The director of corrections has blamed younger, more violent inmates for that situation. There was also a suggestion that drugs may have been part of that cause.
The solution announced yesterday was for the jail to buy protective gear for its staff, like helmets, shields and protective body armour.
This kind of reactive approach does not address the real problems. What concrete measures is the minister putting into place to protect the safety of staff, inmates and the public?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Again, the health and safety of our inmate population, as well as each of the employees within the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, is of paramount importance to me, as Minister of Justice, as well as to this government.
As was reported this morning on the news, I believe, our department is currently proceeding with many of those recommendations following that disturbance, including the purchase of new security equipment for our correctional workers, including additional training and a full training plan as well.
Regarding the facility itself, weíre also proceeding, as members are fully aware, with the recommendations as per the fire marshalís report, and we will be proceeding with those recommendations very soon, including improvements to the fire alarm system to the central control room to ensure the safe exit of inmates in the case of a fire, and to the ventilation system that will stop the spread of smoke in the event of a fire.
We are adhering to those recommendations of the fire marshal; we are adhering to the recommendations following the disturbance; and we are adhering to the recommendations coming out of a risk-threat assessment that was taken out on the facility earlier.
So we are doing our utmost to maintain the security and safety of our inmate population, as well as the employees.
Mrs. Peter: I donít know how many times it has to be said: if the jail were secure, the riot would not have happened; drugs would not be available to inmates.
This facility is not secure. It is outdated and it is unsafe. The walls are falling down. The roof is falling in. Inmates are escaping. This government thinks nothing about planning for a $50-million bridge in Dawson City but it is ignoring the real need for a secure environment for inmates and staff.
Will the Minister of Justice have a serious talk with the Minister of Finance about the need to put up the money now for a new jail that is secure?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Again, as I have put on the record in this Legislature over the last year, we are very much committed to the replacement of the correctional facility. We are very much committed, as well, to ensuring that the facility to go up reflects the very needs of the population of the Yukon.
We are very committed to the correctional reform consultation on the direction of corrections here in the territory. We are very much committed to involving Yukon First Nations, the Council of Yukon First Nations and all Yukoners in the design, delivery and evaluation of correctional services in the territory. We are committed to that process.
We would much rather have program delivery rather than facility led. That is indeed what we are trying to achieve with this very important initiative. It is number one on my plate and I am very much committed to replacing the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
But again, we want to take some time. We want to find out why we have the highest recidivism rate in the territory, why there happen to be ó that most numbers in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are of First Nation ancestry. We want to work and involve Yukon First Nation governments in this very important initiative.
Question re: Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, lump sum payment to injured workers
Ms. Duncan:I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. A new policy denies benefits to injured workers who want to receive their payouts in a lump sum. One of the new requirements of this policy is that people prove they manage their money properly. Itís a Yukon Party double standard that these people have to meet these strict requirements when hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding loans are owed by ministers. It shows how those ministers manage their finances.
My question for the minister responsible is very simple. Does he support this new policy, one that denies monies owed to these injured workers? Does he support the new policy? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As the member knows full well, the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board makes the policies. That is where that responsibility clearly lies. Itís well-defined in legislation. If the member opposite canít understand it, she only has to ask and Iíll be happy to get the department to provide her with a briefing on the roles and responsibilities of the minister and the board within Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Ms. Duncan: I would be happy to receive an answer from the minister. Does he support the policy? Yes or no?
Many of the individuals affected by the ministerís decision have been trying to reach a settlement with the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board for years and years, and they are tired of fighting and they just want the money owed to them in a lump sum payment. Basically, this government ó that has ministers who have hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding loans ó is saying to these workers, "You prove that you wonít waste the money that you are owed". I donít think that this condescending attitude toward Yukon workers is right. The policy should be rescinded, and workers should receive the money they are duly owed. Will the minister ensure that this policy is changed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is quite correct. This has been a long-standing issue, and if it were going to be addressed, the question arises as to why didnít the member opposite address it when she was in office.
Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, the role of the minister with respect to the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board is very specific; itís well-defined. The role of the board and its responsibilities are defined and set out in legislation. I canít and will not interfere with the board and the procedures it follows, which are in complete conformity with the legislation. If the board steps outside the legislation, thereís an opportunity for the minister to become involved. But the board has not stepped outside the legislation. It has performed admirably as a board ó done its job, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, weíre addressing a new policy of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. It is the board the minister is responsible for. The minister must answer the questions in the House. He has failed to answer: does he support the policy? Yes or no. He hasnít answered that question. The fact is that this is a payment that the injured workers are owed. They have been fighting for years. They want to receive that lump sum payment. What has happened is that the board is saying that it is going to pass judgement on these people, make them prove that they wonít waste the money that is rightfully owed them. This policy is not right. It should be rescinded. Workers should receive this money. Itís their money. Weíve seen the government back down on some wrong-headed policies this week. Will the minister ensure that this policy is rescinded, as well?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Once more for the record, the role of the minister with respect to the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board is spelled out in legislation. The board has the complete responsibility within that envelope. It sets the policies; it makes the policies. If the board deviates from the legislation, the minister can become involved, but the board, to date, has done an admirable job of addressing the responsibilities that they have before them. It is a tough road that theyíre on, Mr. Speaker, but the member oppositeís suggestion that the minister should jump in immediately and become involved, and change this and change that ó Iím accused of micromanaging by the opposition, on a steady basis. That is simply not the case. The ministerís role is well-defined. The boardís role is defined. Everybody is doing their job, and theyíre doing it very well.
Question re: Dawson City bridge, business case for
Mr. McRobb:Speaking of cases, it was really disappointing yesterday to find this governmentís business case for the Dawson bridge consists only of a stack of old studies. Obviously the decision to proceed with this expensive pet project is based only on political reasons, not financial feasibility. The closed nature of this governmentís handling of the Dawson bridge was accentuated yesterday when it forced all MLAs to debate a motion on the bridge without first providing an opportunity for us to review its business case, which is still missing. Furthermore, the government couldnít even muster the decency to give us time to review that stack of old studies.
The minister promised heíd table his business case today. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I provided the information for the member opposite yesterday, a day ahead of time, at his request. We are building the bridge for Dawson. This was in our platform in one particular aspect. Weíre scheduled to replace the George Black ferry in the very near future, and we are also looking at the potential the bridge provides us.
Mr. McRobb: There was mention of the bridge in the platform, Mr. Speaker, but it was double qualified. This Yukon Party has no mandate to do what itís doing.
Weíve now had the opportunity to gloss over the stack of old studies, and itís evident they are based upon information thatís now stale-dated. Whatís worse, not all the information from the studies was provided to us. It appears that several pages containing financial analysis are missing from the reports.
Why did the minister choose to withhold information from those reports?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Again, we must replace the ferry within the next six or seven years. The cost of the project will be financed over many years and, as the member opposite indicated, once weíve finished with the design and planning for the bridge, weíll be in a better position to determine the cost.
Mr. McRobb: This minister is not being a straight-shooter with this project. Heís avoiding the questions. Whatís he afraid of? Whatís this government hiding? It seems this government is prepared to run off with information thatís inadequate or outdated in cases that are favourable to its political agenda.
The governmentís business case needs to emerge from the darkness of the backroom and see the light of day. Yukoners deserve to know more about what theyíll be forced to pay for many years to come on this costly project. The public should have a voice in the decision on whether it should be built.
Is the minister prepared to ask those questions of people across the territory and, further, is he prepared to listen to what they have to say?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The operational cost of the ferry alone is over $1 million a year. I would like to say that this government is committed to building the Yukonís economy. The bridge over the Yukon River is one of the many designated to bring mid- and long-term benefits to the Yukon, as mentioned yesterday in our debate.
One of our governmentís key roles is building the economy with the maintenance and construction and supporting of infrastructure of our highways. This is a key element: making the connection of our highways throughout all of the Yukon. I believe that this is a very important effort and a good concept to improving our infrastructure base.
Question re: Workersí Compensation Act review
Mr. Cardiff: I have a question for the chair of the Workersí Compensation Act review panel. Itís a simple question: whatís the holdup?
Speaker: I donít think thatís permissible.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. The questions are to be addressed to ministers only, please.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, Mr. Speaker, members on the other side of the House have been given some important tasks, such as reducing red tape, reviewing the Workersí Compensation Act, and even keeping track of how many elections promises have been broken. The Education Act, the Liquor Act, the Wildlife Act, the Workersí Compensation Act ó this government is becoming famous for the disappearing reviews.
Will the minister now then ó if he wonít let the chair speak, will the minister tell us why the Workersí Compensation Act review has stalled, and when can we see the product?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would encourage the member opposite to become familiar with the Standing Orders. The only individuals who are allowed to answer questions are Cabinet ministers or commissioners.
With respect to the question posed to the Member for Southern Lakes, the answer is very simple: itís work in progress.
Mr. Cardiff: The time frame on the Web site isnít being met. Currently there is a whole bunch of work ó there have been no ads in the paper, no public consultation, no meetings. Itís right on the Web site.
While I have the ministerís attention, I have a related question that I havenít had a chance to ask him yet. I suspect that Iím going to be asking this question as well several times this sitting, and maybe for the next two or three sittings. The Occupational Health and Safety Act is not the same as the Workersí Compensation Act. The minister has been sitting on the new health and safety regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act while weíre waiting for this review to finish. Why is the minister still refusing to adopt regulations that would save workersí lives and reduce workersí compensation costs? Why is he doing that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The minister is doing nothing of the sort. In fact, just today I met with the chair and the president of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and the oil and gas regulations will be going ahead. The issue was how do we enforce them and by whom. Do we hire another six or eight inspectors for industries that do not exist? The areas weíre concentrating on are those areas that are currently not covered in the OH&S regulations. We will be going forward in due course with a presentation to Cabinet for approval of the regulations governing the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíll look forward to reviewing the ministerís answer a little more closely.
But I would like to go back to the original question about what the holdup is. On the Web site, what it says is that the time frames are from November 2003 to January 2004. It says that the draft recommendations will be presented to the minister responsible for the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, consulted stakeholders and any other interested Yukoners. It says to watch the local newspapers about community meetings. The deadline for comments is early 2004. Whatís the holdup? Like, come on ó whereís the product?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís quite the question, all over the wall. But the issue is a very, very important one. We have undertaken to review the Workersí Compensation Act. Thatís not a process that is going to be done in a matter of days. Itís a process that is going to probably take years, Mr. Speaker.
Letís make it abundantly clear. We have to consult with all of the stakeholders on the full level. We have to understand what the issues are first, and they have been identified by the review panel. The next step that we are examining is how to hire a facilitator and move forward to the next stage of the process. It is still work in progress. You wonít see a final product, Mr. Speaker, for some time. But we are working on it, and there is a capable group in this review panel, and it is underway. Iím sure the member opposite will have an opportunity to have input into this review panel.
Question re: Old Crow, dental and optometry services
Mrs. Peter: I have a riding question for the Minister of Health and Social Services. What is the Yukon governmentís policy and standards of care for dental and optometric treatment for communities outside of Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Dental and optic are covered to a certain level. There are two different sets of rules in place, as the member opposite knows. First Nations people are covered separately through their own programs funded by Canada and administered through the department, but there is a dental program for children, some limited for adults, as well as optic for all ages.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, recommendations from the dental hygienist are that two appointments a year are needed for prevention of dental disease. Optometrist services are seriously needed on a regular basis for eye care in Old Crow ó at the least, once a year.
In Old Crow, many people are going without dental and optometrist services for well over a year. Can the minister tell the people of Old Crow why the government services do not meet the minimal requirements?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are a number of issues surrounding the area the member is describing. There are issues with the dental program; there are issues with the optical program; and they surround the issue of Indian Affairs not paying promptly and not paying at all in some cases, or not wanting to pay.
I accept the member oppositeís constructive input, but there are issues that, probably together, with a joint approach to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs ó which provides health care on behalf of the First Nations, or which pays for it ó we can move it forward.
Mrs. Peter: We are aware of the responsibility of the federal government. Iím asking the minister responsible for territorial health and social services about their responsibility for these services. We have been told that the dental hygienists travelling to Old Crow receive 13 percent less pay than they would in Whitehorse and that they are allowed to travel to my home community only once a year. Will the minister confirm this policy and explain why this is so?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This 13 percent less pay, Iím not aware of that whatsoever. I am aware that the dental hygienists who travel to the rural communities work on flex time and work extended hours over weekends. They book their time off, and they take time off primarily in the summer months. Thatís how they account for their time, but as to them receiving 13 percent less salary during their time in Old Crow, I am not aware of any policy of that nature.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Speaker:Before we proceed, the Chair would like to make a statement regarding a disturbing trend that has emerged in this House over the past two weeks. This trend is the making of allegations of, or allusions to, conflicts of interest by members.
On April 7, 2004, during debate on Motion No. 225 the Member for Kluane suggested a potential conflict of interest on the part of the Member for Klondike. This potential conflict had to do with benefits the Member for Klondike might receive from a project the government has indicated its intention to proceed with, the construction of a bridge across the Yukon River at Dawson City. The Member for Kluane suggested this potential personal benefit was the reason the Member for Klondike supported the building of the bridge and that he attempted to influence the views of his Cabinet and caucus colleagues for the same reason.
However, the Member for Kluane is not the only member to make such allusions recently. On March 31 during debate on Motion No. 217 the Premier alluded to a previous investigation by the Conflicts Commissioner and said the leader of the third party had "made an attempt to attack one individual." Members should note, for the record, that the Conflicts Commissioner found no real or apparent conflict of interest on the part of the leader of the third party.
Then, during Question Period on April 6, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources alluded to decisions taken by a previous government and the influence the Member for Kluane may have had on those decisions. Though the minister did not mention any personal gain the Member for Kluane might have received, government ministers have made such allegations in the past. As such the inference of conflict exists. The Member for Kluane said during the discussion on the point of order he raised that the Conflicts Commissioner investigated issues regarding the memberís interests at Aishihik Lake. The Conflicts Commissioner found no conflict of interest on the part of the Member for Kluane.
During debate on Motion No. 225 the Member for Kluane said of the issues surrounding the holdings of the Member for Klondike, "maybe it should be a matter for the Conflicts Commissioner."
The Member for Kluane has correctly pointed out one direction he and any other member could follow in this regard. That is through laying a complaint with the Conflicts Commissioner pursuant to paragraph 17(d) of the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act.
When the Assembly passed this legislation in 1995, it did uphold, in section 29 of the act, the Assembly's right to "control, discipline or punish its Members." However, the method by which a member can raise a question of conflict of interest in the House is restricted.
The main point found in previous rulings is that, if a member feels it is necessary to place allegations before the House about another memberís actions, it is essential that this be done in the form of a motion containing the charge being made and a proposal for dealing with it. It must be understood that to raise allegations in any other proceeding than debate on such a motion will be in violation of the rules found in Standing Order 19 and that the member should, consequently, be ruled out of order.
A final point to be made is that members should respect the decisions of the Conflicts Commissioner. To question those conclusions during debate is disrespectful to the conflicts process established by law and, to an extent, defeats the purpose of having such legislation.
The Chair thanks members for their attention.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, beginning with the Department of Health and Social Services.
Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will come to order.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04. We will continue on with general debate on Vote 15, the Department of Health and Social Services.
Bill No. 8 ó Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04 ó continued
Department of Health and Social Services ó continued
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: When we left general debate on the supplementary, we were dealing with a number of issues surrounding the Department of Health and Social Services. The topic of late has been the issue of emergency medical services ó basically the ambulance and the medevac services. There have been a number of questions that have been posed to the government with respect to the operations. For the record, I want to make it abundantly clear that what is transpiring here is that the Yukon Hospital Corporation, the board of directors of that body, is going to be taking over management of emergency medical services around the Yukon.
To that end, Mr. Chair, itís the management. Government isnít selling anything, isnít giving anything away, isnít privatizing anything ó management is going to be directly assigned to the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
Weíve also had a number of questions about the increased volume of requests. Let me share with you some of the interests that have come to my attention. They surround the number of medevacs. Statistics show that medevacs are around 700 a year. I look at these statistics, and I know how many air ambulance calls are made, and itís approximately 350 a year, sometimes as high as just under 400 in past years. But the way the statistics are kept, if itís one patient medevacíd from Whitehorse to Vancouver, that counts as one medevac. Letís say there are two patients on that aircraft. That counts as two medevacs.
Now, letís go the full distance, and weíre achieving efficiencies and economies by repatriating patients from, say, Vancouver. So if that medevac flight originating out of Whitehorse were to have two patients on board, discharge those in Vancouver and repatriate a patient to the Yukon, that counts as three medevacs under the way the statistics are kept. They are somewhat confusing until you get a handle on how the statistics are maintained.
Furthermore, Mr. Chair, if there is an ambulance call from Haines Junction, Carmacks, Teslin, Carcross, where they drive the patient into Whitehorse, that also counts as a medevac. If there is one patient in the ambulance, itís one medevac. If there are two patients, itís two medevacs. When you add all the statistics together, they tell a big tale, but until you see the breakdown of statistics, you donít really grasp what is going on.
I thought that would be very useful information to share with the opposition, because I know the case that the opposition is making is that, well, look at the volume increase in medevacs and ambulance calls. There are also some other policies. With a motor vehicle accident here in Whitehorse, itís usually the case that two ambulances are dispatched to the scene.
I guess we can assume that thereís a need for two ambulances, but again this is done through emergency medical services; itís not done at the ministerís level. So the statistics will appear to be very much higher than the actual number of, letís say, flights for medevac reasons or ambulance movements for specific attention to patients.
Yesterday in Question Period, there was the issue of a call from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. For the record, the caller specified that it was not an emergency; the patient was being attended at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre by a nurse and a doctor and was being referred to the hospital for tests. The issue raised was that the department was slow in responding to this request for an ambulance at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. What emergency medical dispatch has is an EMD card system. It prioritizes the calls, and that decision is made at dispatch. What this points out is the system worked precisely as it is required and as it is designed to work.
Calls are prioritized at dispatch, and if thereís someone with a heart attack or if itís the most severe code, thatís the first attention, and so on down the line. But we have some of the shortest waits for ambulance. We have some of the shortest wait times for emergency, save and except those times when we have a lot happening at the same time. But there is no way to predict and thereís no way to staff for the totally unexpected.
One can ramp up when one is aware a situation is occurring but, until such time as it occurs, thereís a level of staffing thatís maintained, thereís a procedure and it prioritizes calls and it prioritizes attention to specific issues. Mr. Chair, the system worked. It worked as itís designed to work.
Today I have other questions with respect to emergency medical services and landing at the Dawson City Airport. Well, for the Houseís information, the airport at Dawson City is strictly a daylight VFR airport ó visual flight rules. For a plane to land after legal dark or before legal light, an emergency has to be declared, save and except for a medevac or the RCMP or the Canadian military.
When youíre looking at a medevac originating out of the United States, specifically Alaska, and coming into Dawson after hours, theyíd have to declare an emergency. The other condition that might exist is if the medevac aircraft is a pure jet ó usually in all cases the insurance carrier on that aircraft will preclude it from landing on a strip such as Dawson has; itís gravel.
They are only allowed, by and large, to land on properly maintained runways, maintained to the highest classification of airports. We have two in the Yukon: one in Whitehorse and one in Watson Lake. The balance of the airports around the Yukon ó some are day/night use, but a lot of them are strictly day use. Because of the topography and the terrain in and around Dawson City and the airport there, itís impossible to bring the airport in my community up to the standard that the member opposite suggests it should be to allow for full day-and-night use by the general aviation industry and by all parties.
An emergency can be declared by the general aviation industry, and they can land there, but the paperwork could be horrendous after that occurs, and itís not something you do unless itís an absolute emergency.
Going on with respect to the ambulance and emergency medical services, our government has committed in this budget approximately a half a million dollars in additional costs. That cost will go toward uniforms and coats for all the volunteers. It will also go toward training and enhanced training for all of the rural volunteers. It will also go to increase honoraria for our volunteers. Honoraria for our volunteers in rural Yukon have not increased since the 1970s. There will be three classifications of the honoraria. This is a positive initiative ó a very positive initiative that is moving forward.
Two new ambulances are being purchased, and contrary to some of the press and some of the reports, they are not six feet longer than the existing ambulances. They are 23 feet long.
Some of the other initiatives that were looked at were altering the current chassis and adapting them with aftermarket kits to four-wheel drive. What happens there, Mr. Chair, is that the ambulance height is higher than the four-wheel-drive type 1 ambulance, and they wonít fit in the garage in Ross River, Mr. Chair. They wonít at all. A number of officials went to a lot of effort to determine that the ambulances would fit in the appropriate bays. Yes, the type 1 ambulance is a larger ambulance than the existing, but it also has more room. It also is a four-wheel-drive configuration, and its delivery time will see it here sometime during this forthcoming summer. Both of these ambulances are expected to arrive this summer.
So our government has made some positive moves forward in this area of emergency measures services. We see the hand-in-glove arrangement between the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the department to manage the affairs of the emergency medical services as being a step forward. The exercise is to provide the highest level of service that we possibly can, and I believe sincerely by enhancing the honoraria, the clothing, the equipment and the training, we will be able to accomplish that.
Iíd ask and encourage the members in opposition to look at the positive side of this initiative. All theyíre looking for is the negative, and thatís very sad.
A lot of the other initiatives we are moving forward on are again very positive moves. Multi-level care facilities during this budget cycle were examined in Dawson City and Watson Lake. Weíre moving forward with the engineering and architectural design of these structures for both of these two communities.
In the next budget envelope, what we are doing is we are starting the examination of multi-level care facilities in both Haines Junction and Teslin. Weíre down the road in a number of very positive initiatives that ó for the time we spend debating, I would encourage the members in opposition to look at the positive initiatives and positive steps we are taking. This department is the largest department in the government. It encompasses a great many areas. As a government, we deal with the legislation, the regulations and the budget envelope.
Chair: Order please. The memberís time has expired.
Mr. Fairclough: After listening to the Premier, our listening audience and those who are viewing this debate would think that everything is rosy in the Department of Health and Social Services, when in fact it isnít and the member knows that. Otherwise you wouldnít have issues coming out in the paper, questions being asked in this House, and no straightforward answers from this minister.
I asked the minister, when we left off yesterday, about the recruitment of nurses and doctors to the territory, and I havenít even got an answer to that yet. It is how this government does things that we have been questioning in this House. For example, take the emergency measures services. Did the general public talk about this? Was this move over to the Hospital Corporation urged by the communities and so on? No, it was not.
The public wasnít consulted. The minister decided not to consult the public on this. He decided not to consult the professionals on this move. He decided not to consult the union, and that was made public.
So what we have is a minister, I believe, trying to micromanage a department. We said this before; he says itís a good thing; we say that there needs to be improvements to this system before another organization should even look at trying to manage it. How can he manage a service like this when it desperately needs a lot of attention?
The member said that they had some 700 calls and medevacs. Well, the callouts for the ambulance services have gone up from a number of years ago from about 800 to just over 3,000 a year. The number of permanent employees that they have ó ambulance attendants ó is 12, and that hasnít changed. But what the minister wants to do is continue to hire auxiliary ambulance attendants, therefore, not giving them the benefits that other government employees get.
What he effectively is doing, because this minister is feeling the heat from the public and the professionals, and what he wants to do is to wash his hands of that responsibility ó itís going over to the Hospital Corporation, without consultation.
People recognize it needs to be talked about and much improvement needs to happen just to improve the services. Itís about the health and safety of our citizens here in the territory, and this minister did not want to address that. We talked about things like getting a trainer to do the basic training thatís necessary for ambulance attendants. The minister gave us assurance, time and time again in this House that, yes, theyíll hire a trainer soon, before Christmas. Well, we havenít seen one yet. What happened was there were eight candidates interviewed and they were all turned down. They didnít suit the job of this minister. They are people who have done training of other ambulance attendants in the past, but they werenít suitable for the job. What is going on there, Mr. Chair?
Communities are asking for additional training. The community of Pelly Crossing is saying they need recertification and itís done by the trainer. This minister chose not to fill the position. Now another fiscal year is gone and this minister is penny-pinching in places he believes he can hide from the public, but weíre bringing it out, Mr. Chair. By saving a few dollars here, it doesnít help the communities and it doesnít help the safety of Yukon people.
Hereís the other thing he wanted to do: cut back on the number of ambulances that are available for calls during the winter hours. It is all about saving money ó saving $90,000. One of his officials said it was worth the risk.
The minister did not deny that. I believe that maybe those are the direct words that are coming out from the minister. But it was worth the risk. If thereís a lawsuit, then I believe this minister believes that the payout would be less than what the savings is of $90,000 a year.
Itís unfortunate that we have gone to that stage in getting any clear answers from the members opposite. So we have to keep the pressure on. It is referred to as a sell-off by some of the ambulance attendants. What does the structure look like once it goes over to the Hospital Corporation? What happens to the assets? What about liability? What about insurance? These are all questions that have been unanswered by the minister. I believe that to this day they donít even have the green light from the Hospital Corporation board. I asked a question about that yesterday and we did not get an answer.
Why was the union not consulted? I would think that would be a normal process in any movement like this that involves employees. Why werenít they consulted? What happens now to the volunteer ambulance attendants in the communities once the Hospital Corporation takes over? Are they employees of the Hospital Corporation? Is the minister still responsible for rural volunteers? None of this has been told to us on this side of the House, to the public or even the ambulance attendants, about how this whole thing is going to be handled. I believe that what the minister is doing is just trying to work things out on the go. This was a decision that he thought was best; it is just another decision about this minister knows best.
If anything, talk to the professionals to see what their views are on this whole matter and see where we can make improvements. We support the fact that there are monies there for clothing for the ambulance attendants. We support that. That it wasnít there in the past really bugs me. We support the fact that there is an increase in honoraria, but it should be looked at carefully also with the wages of permanent staff here in Whitehorse.
We have ambulance attendants who are overworked. We have auxiliary ambulance attendants who are putting more hours in than the permanent staff. Four of them are putting more hours in than the permanent staff. That says a lot. And the minister hasnít addressed that.
And I would like some solid answers from the member opposite. Iíve brought up a couple of things. I would like to ask the minister this, then: one of his staffers said that it was worth the risk to cut back one ambulance during the winter hours. What does he base that statement on?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the record, Mr. Chair, let me share with the member opposite where the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board of Directors are with respect to the transfer of the management to their corporation. By board resolution, theyíve requested the transfer of emergency medical services to the Yukon Hospital Corporation. This resolution was done last year.
Mr. Chair, with respect to the ownership of the assets, they remain exactly where they are today. With respect to the liability, as the member opposite knows, the Government of Yukon is self-insured for vehicles. Thatís not an issue; that will remain exactly where it is.
The Hospital Corporation carries liability insurance, and I would be of the opinion that the Yukon Hospital Corporation will add, as an additional named insured, to their policy the emergency medical services when they take over the management of it.
The Yukon Hospital Corporation will add emergency medical services to their liability insurance policy as an additional named insured. Thatís commonly done.
The medevac carrier lists the Government of Yukon as an additional named insured on their insurance policy. Thatís how liability insurance covers and flows.
So thereís not an issue of liability; thereís not an issue of ownership; thereís not an issue of privatizing anything here, Mr. Chair. What there is, is an issue of providing the highest possible level of service that we possibly can and integrate it into the management of the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
There have been other individuals and organizations that have requested such a move ó Yukon Medical Association.
We have a responsibility as a government to provide these services, Mr. Chair. What the member opposite appears to be listening to is not the reality of the situation. With respect to the issue of bravo car, if that is where the member is headed ó which I believe it is ó the issue is that itís not needed 12 months of the year. One can only follow the statistics as to when the demands are highest for ambulance service and when they are lowest. There are trends that have been established over the years. One follows through on those trends and staffs accordingly.
With the program that is in place, the decision to prioritize calls is made at dispatch, which is based on an emergency medical dispatch. It is called the EMD card system. This is the same system that is applied throughout North America. It prioritizes calls and itís used to route ambulances to the calls where there is the highest need.
I donít know how much more information I can provide to the member opposite to allay his fears with respect to the rural volunteers. There has been extensive consultation by conference calls with the ambulance supervisors, save and except one community where the ambulance supervisor was absent for most of the calls.
But they were on the last call, and that is Teslin. We have, by and large, the support of the rural volunteers. With the change in honoraria, there is an issue with the highest level of honorarium being paid to our volunteers and the salary that an EMS receives here in Whitehorse. Theyíre just about comparable, but what is not in the equation is that the staff here in Whitehorse is full-time staff and they have a benefit package associated with their hourly wage, whereas the honoraria have just the time that they spent. Theyíre exactly that. Theyíre honoraria, honoraria paid to a capable group of volunteers across the Yukon, honoraria that havenít been increased by the past two previous governments. In fact, itís being addressed by this government in recognition of the tremendous job these volunteers do and the devotion that they have to the service they provide.
There are a lot of issues there, and our government has addressed those issues. We have a good program. We are implementing this program, which provides for clothing, increase in honoraria, training and new ambulances. In future years, weíll be replacing more ambulances.
They will remain titled to the Government of Yukon. They will be insured by the Government of Yukon, but they will be managed by the Yukon Hospital Corporation. No one is privatizing anything; no one is instituting a fee for service, save and except if that individual carried in an ambulance is from a foreign jurisdiction. Then there is a charge.
Mr. Chair, this is a very positive initiative, very forward-thinking, and we are very determined, as a government, to provide the service that Yukon has come to rely on ó come to rely on it only when in need, but itís there all the time, and itís maintained to the highest possible level we can maintain it to.
Mr. Fairclough: It wouldnít surprise the member opposite if we disagree on this side of the House. I asked the member about a trainer position. It was advertised and, 10 months later, interviews started ó 10 months. Does the minister feel thatís an appropriate time or does the minister think a lot less than 10 monthsí time is required?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, as I indicated earlier, as an elected official and as the minister responsible for the department, I have responsibility for legislation, regulation and the budget envelope. The internal workings of the department are exactly that. We have a capable deputy minister, two assistant deputy ministers and seven directors who report.
Theyíre responsible for the day-to-day operations. If there are some difficulties that theyíre encountering, there are always going to be difficulties encountered. And Iím sure theyíre making best efforts to overcome staffing problems.
Weíre on a constant search for new individuals. In fact, currently, Mr. Chair, weíre looking for about 30 new employees in the department to staff the opening of the 12 additional beds in Copper Ridge Place and seven additional beds in Macaulay. Those are just the current requirements. When you start dealing in an international area such as nurses and doctors and health care professionals, weíre competing in that international marketplace. And weíre competing successfully because of the wage and benefit package, because of the lifestyle that we have here in Yukon. When you add it all up, Mr. Chair, we are making best efforts to provide for the health care needs of Yukoners.
So I would encourage the member to ask questions about the legislation, the regulation or the budget envelope. The line of questioning that I hear coming across, Mr. Chair, is: why donít you know about this and what are you doing about this and this? Then the next question is: youíre micromanaging the department. Well, no one is micromanaging the department; the department has capable leadership and people staffing the various positions ó very dedicated individuals, Mr. Chair.
My responsibilities, as I said earlier, are for legislation, regulation and the budget envelope. Iíd encourage the member opposite to deal with the issue that is before this House. We are talking about the supplementary here today. We are talking about a budget envelope.
Mr. Fairclough: We asked the minister this question in the fall and as late as the very end of the sitting ó about the hiring of a trainer. The minister gives his word. When the minister gives his word, is it only words in this Legislature? Or does the minister actually relate what he would like done down to the deputy minister? Does he do that? We asked about a trainer position and he said that it will be filled as soon as it possibly could be. It didnít get filled; it didnít get filled. We asked about it again. He said before Christmas ó this was the minister saying it ó I would think he would have taken that down and said, "Letís fill the position; get the position filled." Because itís an issue. It is the responsibility of this minister to ensure his department is run right. If itís not, I would think the minister would give some direction down. It didnít happen.
At this point in time, the minister appears to not have any say. We may as well not even have a minister if thatís the case, because the member opposite is not giving good direction. He said the position will be filled. Guess what ó maybe this is a direction by the minister not to fill the position and save all kinds of money ó squirreling away little pots of money, as the Premier would say, here, there and everywhere. I wouldnít be surprised if in the next fiscal year, the minister would come out and say that the government is broke again, all of a sudden, and we forgot to read the financial statements properly.
I wouldnít be surprised because we heard that all through the year until they presented a budget and discovered that $80 million does mean $80 million in the bank. Because the minister did not pay attention to the department, even though it was raised in the public, we had communities come out ó they had to come out ó and voice that there is a problem here. They told that right to the minister, "Thereís a problem here. We need training." The community of Teslin came out quite loudly, and the minister heard it in the news. Other communities have voiced this. Dawson City, the community of Pelly Crossing ó they are concerned about it. Theyíre overworked. As a matter of fact, it came to the point where they had to take time off, stress leave, from being volunteers, because they couldnít recruit enough volunteers in the community.
What was the solution by government? The member said he didnít have anything to do with it, but he got up in this House and said, "Well, weíre going to have the highways crew drive the ambulance." Yes, theyíre going to do it, because they have standard first aid. That was his solution. He didnít even talk to the highways crews. He didnít talk to anybody, but those were their duties. When you talk to any one of them, theyíre saying, "No way; we donít want to do this." They are not trained to be ambulance attendants. They can drive an ambulance, but to the member opposite that was the solution ó his big solution. Weíve got highways crews in most communities, and weíre going to use them. It came right back on the minister. You call that micromanaging, or what?
Why didnít the minister talk with the professionals? Why didnít he act on their request? We could have saved a whole lot of problems in that department, especially if they had whistle-blower legislation because I think this would have been resolved more quickly. Now we have people putting their names out, taking a risk, and this government refuses to bring forward whistle-blower legislation.
So I ask the minister this, then: now that he has broken his promise several times about the trainer being hired and so on, when can we see a trainer hired and starting to train ambulance attendants in communities and get them recertified ó the permanent staff here in Whitehorse and so on? When can we see that? Are we going to say that we advertised and weíre looking at a certain person now? How much better would this trainer be than what weíve had in the past?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím advised the department will be going out to competition.
Mr. Fairclough: Holy man ó another 10 months down the road? Another year to go by? Does the minister have lapsed funding so thereíll be a revote for this position, hidden away for another whole year? The minister said there were some concerns with these eight candidates. One of them was flex hours. Can the minister confirm that this was already worked out with the union?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Iím advised that it took approximately 10 months to work out the arrangement with the union on this area.
Mr. Fairclough: I asked the question in the House of the minister about the eight candidates and them not qualifying for the job, even though theyíve done it in the past. The minister said that flex hours was the issue. So he said in the House ó look in Hansard. So was the flex hours issue already resolved before the interviews with these candidates?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: To set the record straight, flex hours was the delay for 10 months, and thatís what the member was questioning me on.
Mr. Fairclough: No, Mr. Chair. I asked the minister about the candidates who were refused; they didnít qualify for the job. The flex hours issue was worked out by the union already with the government before their interview. Iím asking that question. The minister said it was about flex hours. They didnít qualify, and he believed that this was after-hours-type work, but this was already worked out. So would the minister like to correct the record, then, and come forward and say that the flex hours issue has been worked out before they interviewed those candidates?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Iím not aware of the exact details as to why the candidates were not selected. That is part of the Public Service Commissionís responsibility. All I can confirm for the member opposite is that it took approximately 10 months to work out the hours of work for the candidate for this position. Now, the timing of everything ó thatís something thatís done internally, and it is within the purview of the Public Service Commission. I am not involved at that level, as the member opposite knows full well, nor will I be, nor can I be.
The Public Service Commission does the classification and does the hiring. The minister provides legislative framework, the regulations and the budget envelope.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, the minister seems to want to answer all the questions. I asked the Public Service Commission minister this question, and the Minister of Health popped up to answer the question. So the minister knows. He knew then and he doesnít know now. In other words, heís backing away and, hopefully, we know out there what the difference is between the ministerís answer and what the professionals are saying and what the union is saying.
The minister must have some input into this. Why is there such a drastic change in how the candidates qualify for the position? In the past, it was maybe 50 percent weighted to personal suitability, and it has gone right up to 70 percent, and only 20 percent of that is qualifications ó how well theyíre trained and so on. Why is it so small?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím advised the recruitment board sets the standard of qualification and makes the determination in this area. This is not an area the minister is involved in. Itís the recruitment board that oversees this area, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: I just asked why. Iím sure the minister knows. He must know why, or he must be questioning why. We could have had a trainer in place ó one of the eight candidates ó and because of the change here, I would think the minister would, in the course of his duties, question why. So I would like to ask why and, if the minister doesnít know, he can give me the reasons why in writing.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I am not prepared to provide anything in writing over which I have no control within the department. But I can advise the member opposite that the recruitment board makes that determination and defines the criteria for hiring and determines whether they will hire or not hire. Itís not something that is in my area whatsoever.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, the minister accepted a change and didnít make a squawk about it. Can the minister find that information? He doesnít even need to look at it, but can he pass it over to us on this side of the House?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I just did, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister did not, and he refuses to. Itís easy enough to ask the department to dig up this information. Itís easy enough ó itís probably available within minutes to come down to the minister if he only asked. But, for the record, the minister refuses to give the reasons why the changes have been made from 50 percent to 70 percent, and 20 percent on their ability to do the job.
I will leave that for another time.
I see that the minister is getting briefed by his officials, so I will sit down and wait for an answer.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is very much a personnel issue. How that is determined is done by the recruitment board. The recruitment board makes the determination as to what weight they give to the expertise. I am advised that all eight of the individuals have the necessary educational background to qualify for an interview, but from there, the weighting of the recruitment board was such that no candidate was selected.
Now, the internal workings and the weightings, I am not familiar with. That is the responsibility of this recruitment board. They are charged with that responsibility and they are carrying out that responsibility, Mr. Chair.
The member opposite is asking me to interfere in the hiring process. Iím not permitted to do that, nor will I do that.
Mr. Fairclough: Iím asking for information. When I asked the question in this House with regard to personal suitability, the minister said it was about flex time. So weíre hearing a different story, and I think perhaps the minister had a little more briefing from the department about this matter. I will leave that for now. That issue is not going to go away. I would like to ask the minister about staffing ó nurses and doctors. The minister well knows we compete with our neighbours. There was a commitment to find ways to better attract nurses and doctors to the territory. We still seem to have problems in having them in our communities, and so on. I would like to ask the minister what has been done. What is the department doing to ensure that we will not be facing a shortage and having a tough time to get nurses and doctors attracted to the territory?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: With respect to doctors, we are on the plus side. Right now we have the highest number of doctors ever in the Yukon Territory. Weíve attracted three new doctors to emergency, and two new doctors are going to be opening a clinic in Whitehorse. At the same time, weíve had three doctors leave.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the minister tell us more about the nurses ó the same issue?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The conditions in this area, Mr. Chair, have improved since last year. Last year, there were 15 positions vacant. At the same time this year, there are 11 positions vacant. So weíre making some headway. There are quite a number of auxiliaries who like to come in on a part-time or seasonal basis that we call upon. So weíre making advances in this area, also; but there is still a lot of work to be done. There is still a constant recruitment program. It is a cooperative effort between the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the department and between the departments and our nursing staff. So there is constant attendance at these trade initiatives around Canada. And we appear to be more on the positive side this year than we have ever been, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Iím glad to see that there is an improvement with both nurses and doctors in the territory. I know there are still some concerns in the communities. The minister did say that there is a lot of work to be done.
Is there anything new that this department is doing to go out and attract nurses and doctors to the territory? What initiative is being done that is different from the past? And has the minister sweetened the pot in some way to attract nurses and doctors so that weíre not faced with these shortages in the future?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The new collective agreement has a lot of attractiveness to it for the nurses in the bargaining unit. In addition to that, with respect to doctors, weíre currently in negotiations with the Yukon Medical Association for a new agreement with that organization.
Mr. Fairclough: Iíll be asking more questions in this regard when we go into the main budget, so Iím hoping the minister will be prepared at that time also.
In regard to the primary health care planning forum, there have been a number of recommendations put forward ó approximately eight of them. How has this department addressed that and has every one of these recommendations been addressed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíd like to correct the record. I indicated earlier that we had gone from 15 vacancies down to 11. That goes back a time. Weíve gone from 15 to 11, and currently there are seven vacant nursing positions in community nursing. So the trend has been down considerably in that area.
Mr. Fairclough: Itís too bad there wasnít one available for the medevac last night, Mr. Chair.
I asked the minister about the primary health care planning forum and the eight recommendations. I would like to know what the government has done on those recommendations and where weíre at with them.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím advised that the department is working on all the recommendations that came out of that forum.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the minister tell us what stage theyíre at? If there is some information that can be given to us on this side of the House, can the minister provide that to us?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: That is a great deal of detail requested. Could the member opposite be specific as to what area he wants to examine?
Mr. Fairclough: All the eight recommendations that have been put forward, I have them here. I have it briefly laid out here in front of me, but Iím sure the department has been working on each and every one of them, like the member has said. I would like a brief update as to where weíre at with them and the kind of direction in which government is moving to address each of the recommendations.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I will send the member over a letter on that initiative, and weíll also send it to the third party.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the minister repeat that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I committed to sending over a letter containing that material, and I will also send a copy of that letter to the third party.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that. Iím very much interested to see what progress has been made.
I would like to ask an outpatient subsidy question, but first of all in regard to funding that has come in from the federal government to the Yukon and Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the Premier of the Northwest Territories is making threats about giving back the money coming from the federal government until a fairer cost-sharing arrangement is made by the federal government. What is this department doing to address this issue brought forward by the Northwest Territories? What are they doing with our counterparts in the north and in some of the provinces that want to see this happen?
I understand where the premiers have been coming from, but I have not heard any progress on this issue at all, in making it fair.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What the member opposite is referring to is the non-insured health benefit program for First Nation members.
The Yukon is different from N.W.T. and Nunavut in that Nunavut and N.W.T. deliver these programs on behalf of Indian Affairs. The Yukon is different in that it is delivered directly by the federal government, not through the Government of Yukon.
What has transpired in the other two territories is that the feds have not kept pace with the demands and they have basically not sent over the amount of money that is needed to address the non-insured health benefit package for First Nations in their respective jurisdictions. It is of major concern and it is a major issue that has been discussed at the national level with the federal Minister of Health, and itís also right up at the premiers level, at the Council of the Federation. Itís a discussion item that both premiers of N.W.T. and Nunavut are dealing with.
Here there is not a move afoot for the Yukon to take over delivery of the non-insured health benefits. Given the problems that the other two jurisdictions have faced, I donít believe there would be an appetite to do so.
When you stand back and look at it, it appears that the federal government is wanting to back out or reduce the costs they are incurring for the non-insured health benefit program for First Nation members north of 60 and itís an issue which we are aligned with the Grand Chief here in the Yukon and the chiefsí health council on. Itís an issue we are all moving forward with, but it is a much more severe and acute issue in N.W.T. and Nunavut, given that their respective governments deliver and pay for these programs and then seek to recover the amounts from the federal government and the federal government is not paying.
Mr. Fairclough: I understand that. I know that there is a campaign by the ministers across Canada to try to get more money out of the feds for health care in general, and the minister has indicated what the difference was a number of years ago from what it is today. I donít know if it means anything to the Yukon at all, or if it affects us at all if the Northwest Territories ends up pulling out and trying to negotiate something different ó something better, I guess ó for them, with the $20 million thatís coming to the Yukon. Thatís what I was trying to get at, and I know they are two separate things, but sometimes these types of movements do have a ripple effect into other jurisdictions like the Yukon.
In regard to the outpatient subsidy, the minister said in this House that he would look at this area in the next budget, which has been presented to this House. Are we looking forward to some increases in the outpatient subsidy?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We donít anticipate any changes at this time, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the minister give us his rationale and reasons why?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The federal government clawed back a tremendous amount of money from the Yukon, and weíre just slowly recovering, Mr. Chair. And until such time as we receive more funds from Ottawa, our budget envelope is very, very tight.
The constant increase in demands on the health care system is between $7 million and $10 million a year. Those demands are ongoing and continuing. I would encourage the member to go back a decade ago and see what the total budget for health care was when the population was higher than it currently is and see where the pressure points are. The pressure points are in the chronic drug program. A number of other areas where there are big pressure points are the cost of medical attention that is provided to Yukoners in other jurisdictions where there are specialists, such as Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
We have to access a lot of specialty services in those jurisdictions and those costs have gone up significantly, as well as our own costs here in the Yukon, like the fee-for-service with our medical fraternity ó the YMA ó as well as the cost of labour across the board. The member is quite well aware of the collective bargaining agreement. In fact, the majority of the money that we have budgeted here today in this supplementary is for the collective bargaining agreement increases after the last agreement was signed. The retroactivity amount is included in this supplementary, as well as an additional amount of just in excess of $1 million for increased pressures on the social assistance area.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister did say he was going to look at it. If the outpatient subsidy was given to the patients immediately ó the very first day and so on ó and if it was double, for example, what kind of money are we talking about ó millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands of dollars?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Just to go the first day, coverage at the existing rate of $30 per day, Iím given to understand it would be somewhere between a half a million and a million dollars. If we were to double it overall, I havenít done the extrapolation of those costs, but weíre over a million ó millions of dollars.
Mr. Fairclough: So itís a money decision that the minister made his decision on; itís about money. Iím sure this was examined by the department. We are very interested, because weíve been asked to bring this forward and hopefully to have it addressed by the minister. What information does the minister have available to us on the decision making about not going ahead with the increases to the outpatient subsidy? Iím sure there are numbers that have been crunched by the department. He gave an example of what it really means the first day. We would like to see those numbers so that we can make decisions, with knowledge behind them, about the real cost of what it means to increase the outpatient subsidy. First day, second day, third day, and even doubling that amount. We would like to see those numbers if the minister can provide them to us on this side of the House.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Certainly. The numbers we are incurring are in the main estimates, but weíre in the supplementary budget here.
Mr. Fairclough: I understand that. Weíre in general debate too. The minister did not make a decision to increase ó he said that. We are leading from the main budget, and we already had another one that was put forward, and now weíre dealing with the second. So decisions have been made all along to increase spending in several different areas ó or not to spend.
I wasnít quite sure what the minister meant about the next budget. Was it the one that we are in now? It certainly is giving government spending authority.
Itís just information that we are asking for. The minister made the decision on costs, and if itís going to cost us millions of dollars, then I think the general public would like to know that so they can realize the real cost of an increase to outpatient subsidies. So, Iíd like to ask the minister again ó if we waited until a few days from now when we debate the budget, the question will be there. So the minister could either wait until then when we ask the question or go ahead and give the department some direction to have that information provided. Thatís what we would like.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíve already indicated the order of magnitude of the costs for these areas, and the amounts that are budgeted are contained in the main estimates. I would encourage the member opposite to concentrate on the supplementary budget thatís before us here today.
Mr. Fairclough: Itís general debate, Mr. Chair.
The member said that the first day would cost between a half a million and a million dollars. I would take it that a second day would be the same cost, and the third day. So we are looking at $3 million. Thatís a $3-million decision for the first three days ó that the minister has said is the reason why he didnít go ahead with this?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: To provide this subsidy from day one to when it currently kicks in would be between a half a million and a million dollars. As to the doubling of it, when we get into the main estimates, the minister can easily see how much weíve allocated for this area and itís contained in the budget envelope for the next fiscal year.
We have the supplementary budget before us here today. The supplementary budget specifically deals with two areas: itís primarily the increase in costs attributable to the new collective bargaining agreement and, also, the cost associated with an increase of over $1 million in social assistance payments.
Mr. Fairclough: Those numbers in the budget will not give us a reading of what we want, because the numbers arenít included. If there was subsidy provided the first day and we can see it in the budget, then we canít say that, by just doubling it, thatís what the cost would be to government.
I donít know if even that is what the department has looked at. Iím sure they have tried to address this situation. $30 a day is pretty low. If they were to kick it up to what other government employees get, thatís an even bigger percentage, or maybe they were looking at $45 a day. Obviously very little work has been done in this respect.
So Iíll save the question for the main budget. Again, if the minister could be prepared and have his department prepare all that information, because I will go into detailed questioning of the outpatient subsidy.
Why hasnít there been a clinical psychologist hired in mental health? That was a commitment made by the minister during the last sitting and still no clinical psychologist has been hired.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member oppositeís information is incorrect. We do have a clinical psychologist.
Mr. Fairclough: That is in mental health; is that what the member is saying?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We have a clinical psychiatrist in mental health, yes.
Mr. Fairclough: Clinical psychologist?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Psychiatrist.
Mr. Fairclough: Clinical psychologist is what I asked the member about.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We have a clinical psychiatrist. Psychologists we hire under contract. We have done so in the past and continue to do so, but we have a clinical psychiatrist on staff.
Mr. Fairclough: Is there a clinical psychologist on contract in mental health?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Theyíre contracted on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Fairclough: I didnít hear a yes, so I take it that is a no. Iíll leave it at that. Questions will be asked on that, so be prepared.
FASD action plan ó five steps that this minister has committed to. Where are we with that, and are we on the second or third step? How far have we moved in this department to take action on all those five steps?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Our government outlined a comprehensive action plan in 2003. Weíve made substantial progress in meeting our platform commitments.
This is what weíve accomplished to date. We have developed an interdisciplinary team and hired a coordinator for the early diagnostic identification of children affected by FASD, and that individual is on staff at the Child Development Centre. We have priority access to addictions treatment for at-risk women and we have a comprehensive primary prevention initiative that includes public service ads, targeted individuals and families in the community. We use radio spot ads to complement ads in the print media. We have updated the FASD prevention brochure and weíre updating the K-to-12 FASD curriculum in schools. Thatís done in partnership with the Department of Education.
We have a comprehensive secondary prevention initiative that includes a series of workshops targeting allied professionals who work with at-risk populations; thereís the delivery of two workshops aimed at increasing effective support to pregnant, substance-abusing women; thereís consultation with stakeholders regarding alternative strategies for reaching high-risk parents; and presentations at nursesí conferences and to the Yukon Medical Association regarding alcohol and drug services programs and support for high-risk women; the development and distribution of a training needs assessment survey for communities in order to aid in the building of capacity.
In addition to that, Mr. Chair, the Department of Health will continue to support summer programs for children with FASD and we fund residential services for persons with FASD who require a high level of supervision.
Mr. Fairclough: The department has been doing these types of things doing for awhile. Workshops that have been put on, have been going on for years ó some in the Department of Education, and so on. The five-step action plan ó is the minister satisfied that all of these steps have been met?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: In addition to that, we have funding to FASSY that was provided for an outreach worker and five child workers in the department, in family and children's services. So, we are moving along significantly in this area. We have a platform commitment and weíve probably accomplished more in the last year than has been accomplished for quite some time, Mr. Chair.
That said, itís an ongoing initiative. Itís an ongoing initiative that is going to take tremendous effort on behalf of all those involved in this field. It crosses departments ó itís not only in the Department of Health and Social Services, but there is also a coordinated effort with the Department of Education and Department of Justice.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister said that action has been taken on their action plan ó the five steps. He did not clearly lay out what action was taken on each of the five steps. I know they are moving on a couple of them and he has laid out some of the things that the government is doing. I asked if the minister was satisfied with what has taken place to date about the action plan and every step that it laid out ó the five steps.
We have been given information about workshops and that type of thing, but I would like to ask the minister if he is satisfied with that work or would he like to see it stepped up? Is all the initial work being done now and we are going to see some true results, say, six months down the road? I havenít heard any of that. Maybe the minister could update the House on those issues.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As the member opposite knows, FASD is not something thatís curable. Itís not a curable disease. Itís a very serious affliction affecting newborns because of the lifestyle of the parent.
I donít know if weíll ever win the day in this area. But our government is committed to a five-step FASD action plan. Weíve made strides. We still have a way to go, but as to defining success, thatís very hard to establish. Weíre gaining.
But thereís an educational program required for at-risk parents and parents-to-be, and thatís where it starts. But for those who are born with FASD, we can only provide help and services as required. We are doing just that by early diagnosis of this dreaded affliction, by programs in our educational systems and for assistance to the people so afflicted.
There are a lot of NGOs also involved in this area that our government is supporting and has increased funding to. So itís not just an effort from the Department of Health and Social Services; it crosses a lot of other NGOs, and it crosses departments.
Yes, weíre making gains, but as to ever winning completely, itís going to be very hard to accomplish, given the lifestyle choices people make today.
Mr. Fairclough: Just for the member opposite, this is not a disease. Itís apparent the minister does not know where the department is on a number of these steps, and Iíll just leave it at that. Heíll probably get briefed, and so on, because Iím going to ask the question again when we come to the main budget.
Ms. Duncan: Iíve listened with interest to the general debate around the supplementary budget. There are a couple of points Iíd like the minister to put on the record. Just in discussion of the emergency medical services, the ambulance attendants and the transfer to the Yukon Hospital Corporation, the minister said that this was a request of the Yukon Hospital Corporation and of the YMA made last year, and that the board had dealt with it.
Could he provide the House or both opposition parties with copies of the board minutes and the correspondence from the YMA making this request?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíll contact the hospital board and ask if theyíd be in a position to provide a copy of the resolution on this initiative. I donít see that as a problem. With respect to the YMA, the YMA and the deputy minister meet on a regular basis at a joint management meeting, and the issue of the emergency medical services was raised with the DM at one of these management meetings.
Ms. Duncan: So the initiative then was driven by this resolution of the hospital board and by the ongoing communication between the department and the Medical Association ó the initiative to start a transfer of EMS. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís part of it, part of the equation, but the department is also constantly looking at ways of improving service delivery and making the system more efficient. The management of emergency medical services with the Yukon Hospital Corporation is a hand-in-glove arrangement. It used to be that the volunteers in rural Yukon were under Community Services. Then it was moved over to Health, but most of the time theyíre dealing with either nurse practitioners, doctors or the acute care facility either in Watson Lake or Whitehorse ó primarily Whitehorse. Itís a hand-in-glove arrangement that would ultimately produce efficiencies and better service delivery.
Ms. Duncan: Iím trying to track this process in this public forum. So my understanding is that it came about as a discussion of how do we improve services, a general overall look at the department. That being said, there is an awful lot of details to be dealt with. Itís perhaps not as large as devolution, but there are still a great many details to be negotiated, to be resolved. Most especially, just like with devolution, a major concern is employees.
Now I would like the minister to outline, if he would, for the House what the process is for those negotiations. Are we starting them? Are there offers being made? What is the sort of time frame weíre looking at? What is the status of the negotiations of the transfer and what time frame are we looking at for completion?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The first stage was an agreement in principle. Itís currently being worked on between the department and the Hospital Corporation. After that is put in place, the transfer agreement would get involved in the details. It is a transfer agreement dealing with the management of emergency medical services. The ownership of vehicles, the ownership of ambulance bays and things ó everything would remain as is. What we are looking at is taking the management for the Yukon Hospital Corporation and allowing them a hand-in-glove arrangement to manage emergency medical services.
I think that the member opposite will agree that this is a very positive move.
Ms. Duncan: I am not arguing the merits; I want information ó as do all Yukoners ó on how this is proceeding. We can argue the merits at another point in time. What Iíd like to discuss is the process.
So, there is work toward an agreement in principle between the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board and the Government of Yukon. Who is speaking for the employees?
On that agreement in principle to do this transfer ó where are the employees in those discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: In the course of developing the AIP, the CEO of the hospital and the deputy minister have been meeting regularly with the EMS full-time people in Whitehorse and taking their questions and answering them in a forthright manner. We are moving forward and progress is being made.
Ms. Duncan: Iím concerned that, while an agreement in principle is being worked out, there isnít representation by the union representatives or others around this agreement between two parties. Provided these two can reach an agreement, which is the CEO of the hospital and the Department of Health, thatís an agreement in principle ó of the parameters, weíll say. So would he outline what the principles are, or the parameters around that agreement in principle? It is just transfer of employees and management; itís no transfer of assets. We will continue to own the assets is what the minister is telling us.
What time frame are we looking at? Are we giving this a year? Are we talking about six or eight months? What sort of time frame are we looking at for this agreement in principle to be reached?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Weíre proceeding one step at a time. We have to get everybody on board with it. Obviously there are a lot of concerns expressed by some of the staff. Itís on the front page of the newspapers. Weíre engaging everyone as well as we can, but I encourage the member to think back to devolution. Itís a management body to a management body; weíre not going in, though, like under devolution and reclassifying everyone. Thatís not part of the exercise.
What is existing will remain existing. What weíre looking at is a change in management from the department to the Yukon Hospital Corporation. Weíre also addressing the issue of the replacement of equipment, enhanced training, clothing and honoraria for the volunteers.
Ms. Duncan: I donít want to hear the speech again, with all due respect to the minister, about the wonderful things being done. Everyone in this House appreciates that.
Iím focused here on, and gravely concerned about, these employees. No government can all of a sudden say youíre transferred without having lengthy negotiations about pension benefits, about holiday pay, about all kinds of other benefits. Who is talking and dealing with these employee issues? If itís just the CEO of the hospital and the Department of Health, whereís the Public Service Commission or the union representative?
There was lengthy, lengthy work through three administrations on the transfer of employees regarding devolution. There are employees who are putting personal decisions on hold. Where is their voice in these discussions? Thatís my concern. Itís well and good for the CEO of the hospital and for the Deputy Minister of Health to be talking about the management and trying to reach an agreement in principle; weíre talking about employeesí lives. Whereís the Public Service Commission and/or the union representative for these people? Weíre talking about transferring. Where is their voice at this table?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Public Service Commission is at the table also.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Iím concerned about this concept. The minister is saying itís management only for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, but YTG, the Government of Yukon, will maintain ownership. Why are we trying to have the emergency medical services in effect with two masters?
The minister is shaking his head. Well, how is this any different than ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: He says itís management only, but YTG will maintain the ownership so that would be akin to the Government of Yukon saying, "We own the CT scan unit, but here you manage it, you run it." Why are we approaching it in that manner? Either the Yukon Hospital Corporation is a stand-alone corporation or they arenít.
If they are stand-alone, then they should be recording the assets and they should be dealing with them.
While the minister is trying to explain that to the public, could I also have the financial parameters around this agreement in principle? We are transferring management. Are we offering additional monies for this management, and is there a written guarantee that that level of funding will be maintained?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Government of Yukon owns the Yukon Hospital Corporation. I donít know where the member is headed with her line of questioning. The Hospital Corporation is owned by the Government of Yukon. It is funded by the Government of Yukon. This is a line of questioning that doesnít bear any reason, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: The role of the Yukon Hospital Corporation is set out in the act.
Now, there is confusion about this, and itís not solely on the part of the opposition. The minister is not being clear as to how this will work in the future.
So letís suppose that the transfer takes place, that the concerns of employees are addressed and that there is management in the future by the Yukon Hospital Corporation of the emergency medical services throughout the Yukon; however, the Yukon government continues to own all of the assets. What guarantee do Yukoners have that there will not be ambulance fees instituted in the future to pay for the management of these services? What guarantee do we have? Is that part of the agreement in principle ó that there will be no ambulance fees instituted as a result of the cost of managing the service?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím sure if the member opposite dug deeper into the agreement and the operation of the Yukon Hospital Corporation, she would find the budget for the Hospital Corporation has to be approved by the minister. Weíre not going to be implementing any fees whatsoever; I can assure the member of that. This line of questioning is totally unreasonable, Mr. Chair. The only doubt is in the minds and makeup of the opposition, and the only alarm bells going off appear to stem from a few individuals, but this is a very positive move. Itís coupled with a lot of attention to detail. The agreement in principle is being worked out at the officials level, and weíre moving forward.
This is a positive move to improve service delivery and improve the way weíre operating and make a hand-in-glove arrangement between the emergency medical services and the Whitehorse Hospital Corporation.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I find it disturbing that the minister refers to questions from the opposition benches as "unreasonable". Speaking out and asking questions on behalf of employees is in no way unreasonable, particularly when they are affected by negotiations being undertaken by the government.
Now, the minister has said the hospital is funded by the Government of Yukon in a line item in the main budget. That budget is taken to Management Board by the Minister of Health. That being said, itís the Hospital Corporation that negotiates with their unions; itís the Hospital Corporation that receives funding from the government; itís the Hospital Corporation that could find itself short of money to manage the emergency medical services.
As the Member for Mayo-Tatchun says, the last thing we want is people having ó they used to have to have bake sales to raise money to maintain our highways. Having instituted ambulance fees is the same terrible spectre that Yukoners are looking at. What Iím looking for from the minister is an unequivocal statement that there will be, in the agreement in principle, a line that states: there will be X amount of money required and increased as required to maintain ambulance services from the Hospital Corporation without charge to Yukoners. If itís never going to happen, the minister will have no difficulty standing on the floor and making that unequivocal commitment and making sure that itís in writing for the Hospital Corporation. If theyíre going to manage it, we have to give them the money to do it. That money, the minister has just said, is subject to the Minister of Health. Make sure in the agreement that it canít be decreased at the whim of the Minister of Health.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite has my assurance, as does the Yukon Hospital Corporation, that their budget envelope will not be decreased. In fact, itís ever increasing, unlike previous administrations.
I can also assure the member that the agreement in principle will contain language to the effect that there are to be no user fees implemented for Yukon residents. Weíre not going there. Our party platform is very specific ó no tax increases. Iím sure, if we raise user fees anywhere, the member opposite would be the first one on her feet, jumping or leaping to the conclusion that these are tax increases. We have no intention of increasing or imposing any fees whatsoever. What is in place now remains in place now.
There are fees for the use of the ambulance when itís someone from a foreign jurisdiction, as the member knows full well. They will be indexed on a regular basis as the cost of the service increases, but for Yukoners there is no increase. The members of the collective bargaining unit are covered by agreements now that have recently been signed for four years. This clearly spells out and defines the pay for the classification of the emergency medical service component of the department.
What is going to take place is a transfer of management to the Yukon Hospital Corporation ó management; the day-to-day management of this unit. Let me repeat it once again for the member opposite: management of emergency medical services will be undertaken and done by the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
I donít know how many times that Iíve repeated that, but the echo coming back certainly doesnít mirror the message that was sent over. I donít know if there is some difficulty in hearing. I would encourage the member opposite to read Hansard. Itís management that is being transferred.
Ms. Duncan: I still have not heard a time frame that we are looking at. Does the minister have a date when he expects to reach an agreement in principle with the Hospital Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Not at this time. Weíre working on it; itís work in progress. Weíre proceeding as quickly as we can.
Ms. Duncan: So whatís the message being given to employees who are in limbo-land at this point in time?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, there are no employees in limbo-land. Stop trying to put a message out that is totally incorrect. There are no employees in limbo-land.
Ms. Duncan: My, that was a defensive answer on the part of the minister. There are concerned employees who are talking to me, who are talking to the media, who are talking to members of the official opposition. They are not making life decisions or financial decisions, because they are uncertain of their jobs.
Now, if the minister isnít getting his message out, if the government is not working with these employees, then itís on the ministerís head. Itís not on this side. Weíre asking the questions employees are asking.
So the minister can, I would suggest, rethink and try to lower his blood pressure. Iím sure it would be good for his health if he did that. Perhaps he could calmly indicate the message being given to employees who are concerned about their future jobs. I would encourage him to take a stroll, say hello to the employees in the department. Other ministers have found it very worthwhile to get to know the people who are working for the Government of Yukon; perhaps this minister could as well.
I would like to ask the minister what the current status of the negotiations is with the doctors and the nurses.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It appears we have a new Florence Nightingale in our midst, with the offering of medical advice. But I take the information under advisement.
The issue of where we are at with the negotiations with YMA and the nursing unit ó they are currently underway. As to how far along they are, I am not aware at this time. The negotiators have a negotiating mandate and they are proceeding.
Ms. Duncan: Would the minister just refresh the Houseís memory? What is the expiry date, if you will, of the contract with the doctors and of the nurses as well?
Now, I am not talking about the hospital negotiations; I am talking about the nurses that the Government of Yukon deals with ó largely the community nurses, as I understand.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: They are covered in the current collective agreement that was signed last fall ó a four-year agreement. In fact they are, by all reports, very, very happy with the enhanced package that they currently receive ó thus gives cause to where we are at in the recruitment. It has gone from 15 vacancies, to 11 vacancies, to currently seven vacancies in this field. So we are making progress.
With respect to the nurses at the hospital, thatís a separate negotiation with the Yukon Hospital Corporation. As to the status, I do not know.
Ms. Duncan: I also asked what the expiry date of the contract with the doctors was.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member knows full well that itís March 31, but it continues until a new agreement is in place.
Ms. Duncan: So we donít currently technically have a contract, but weíre continuing under the old one and negotiations are underway.
Nationally there was some discussion at some of the conferences with respect to our health care providers. I would just like to ask the minister what the current state of discussions is. What Iím referring to is that there was talk of opening more spaces at colleges and universities for training of medical professionals. There is also talk in terms of staffing. We have various levels, if you will, of nursing from the bachelor of science nursing degree, licensed practical nurses and nurse practitioners, as well as individuals providing a level of basic care. There has been some discussion nationally about whatís required where. Like do we really need bachelor of science nursing degree-holders doing basic level 1 care, if you will, of patients. What is the current status of those negotiations? Thatís the first part of my question. Perhaps he can just elaborate on where we are with respect to that.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Currently the Yukon is involved in all of these discussions, but weíre a small player on the national table in this regard.
The member opposite is referring to the potential changes under primary health care reform. The discussions are continuing on the national level.
The member is quite correct as to just where theyíre at. Theyíre moving forward. What changes are envisioned, none have been determined yet. Itís work in progress.
Ms. Duncan: The minister will not be surprised that I disagree with him that weíre just a small player. Yukon has had an important voice in these national discussions. Our presentation to the Romanow commission, for example, was highly regarded throughout the country. So we do have a role to play and I encourage the minister to participate in those discussions.
Related to that, how is the ministerís department working with the Department of Education, particularly Yukon College? Iím raising a constituency issue in that there are individuals who are working as home care workers or are not quite able to get their licence for practical nurse. What level of nursing are we offering out of the College? How is the minister speaking with the College in terms of this is what the need is in our health care system currently, and what are you then offering to help Yukoners meet that need?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Currently the College provides licensed practical nurse training. Weíre in discussions with the Yukon Registered Nurses Association but there doesnít appear to be the critical mass to get into a full-blown RN program here in the Yukon. We just donít have the capacity as of yet.
We do have very good programs at the hospital for practicums and weíre moving ahead, given that we really have one acute care facility here in the Yukon but our demands are far spread and wide.
Ms. Duncan: My concern is that if nationally we go to this trend of being able to have LPNs provide level 1 care, if you will, for some of our ó by level 1 I mean to dispense meds, and not acute care but level 1. Do we have a need in this area and are we able to train more Yukoners who might be going into this area?
If I could just raise with the minister a concern and ask that he pass it on to Yukon College with respect to the LPNs, there are individuals working in the health care field who would like to be able to take that, but thereís ability on a part-time basis in terms of flexibility with schedules and so on to enable an individual to continue to work and take the training and further advance themselves.
I wonder if the minister would address the issue of the need for more LPNs and how we can encourage more people to take the course at the College.
I would also just indicate that we have nursing students able to do their practicums at Whitehorse General Hospital. Do we have reciprocal agreements with all of the colleges and universities ó so you could go anywhere from Halifax to Victoria and be able to do your nursing practicum ó or is it just some schools?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We work with the students directly. Theyíre usually returning Yukoners who have had some training in various institutions. We donít have any formal arrangement with any of the southern centres currently. There have been discussions, but it is strictly in the discussion stage with the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George.
But what the member opposite is referring to is the issue of the use of nurse practitioners. As far as that area is concerned, weíre probably in the lead, or one of the leaders in the country, with respect to the use of nurse practitioners. The issue of health care reform will identify further some of the issues that can be addressed by nurse practitioners.
Yes, there is a move to expand the range of services that can be provided by LPNs, but again, nothing has been finalized in a number of these areas. There are a lot of discussions. Going back to the students themselves, we work directly with returning Yukoners and try to get them access into our facilities.
Ms. Duncan: Could I just also ask on the record for the Minister of Health to work with the Minister of Education? There are home care workers and individuals that donít quite have the qualifications yet who would like to take the LPN course at the College, but there is a need for flexibility in that program in allowing people to take it part-time. So could I ask the minister to raise that and get back to me on it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I will ask my officials to take that up with Education and with Yukon College.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, on behalf of my constituents. I appreciate that.
The minister has mentioned that the department is hiring 30 new employees. Are any of these employees being hired as a result of the recommendations of either the Anglin or the Child Welfare League of Canada reports?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We have already hired childcare workers and 10 addition family support workers and social workers ó 10 combined. That stems from recommendations from a number of reports, not just the Anglin report. But the 30 new staff being hired ó 30 new FTEs ó are for the opening of 12 more beds at Copper Ridge Place and the seven beds at Macaulay.
Ms. Duncan: This question has two parts. First, would the minister send over information ó I am sure the department has compiled the recommendations from the Anglin report and the recommendations from the Child Welfare League report ó the recommendations and the current status of the response. Could I have that information sent over before we get into the mains and the Health briefing?
The second: these new employees for Copper Ridge and Macaulay Lodge, are we hiring LPNs or is it a variety ó nurse practitioners? What are we looking at trying to recruit?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís a mix of nursing home attendants, LPNs and nurses for Macaulay and Copper Ridge, depending on the classification of the facility ó level 1 and level 2. There are specific qualifications ó level 2, 3 and 4.
The member opposite is fully aware of the recommendations of the Anglin report and the other Child Welfare League of Canada report as to how they dovetail in. Weíve examined certain areas. Weíve implemented certain areas. Weíll leave the report with the previous administration.
Ms. Duncan: So some of the recommendations of those two reports are going to be ignored. Iím glad the minister put that on the record.
I would like to discuss with the minister the situation regarding level 1 care in the Whitehorse area for our seniors. Level 1 care ó and Iím going to call it the assisted living, the basic care. Macaulay Lodge offers more than level 1, more than just assisted living. Copper Ridge is not an assisted living environment. Itís level 3 or 4 care.
We have a growing seniors population, particularly in the Whitehorse area, that does not have access to an assisted living environment. By that I mean their own space, perhaps common meals and someone to ask if theyíve taken their meds today or to be there to check in on people. Itís less than the care offered by Macaulay Lodge and itís certainly not the extended care offered by Copper Ridge, but there is no environment like that which Iíve just described in the Whitehorse area for our growing population of seniors.
We know about the plans for Dawson; we know about the plans for Watson Lake; we know about the study for Haines Junction; but what about that need in Whitehorse? Thereís a very specific assisted living need in Whitehorse that is not being met.
What are the ministerís plans?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite is absolutely correct in her evaluation of this area, and itís our intention to move forward. Itís not in this budget envelope.
Ms. Duncan: So hurry up and wait is in essence the message the minister just gave. Could he perhaps give an outline or indicate when members of the public might provide their impact and what weíre supposed to say to the seniors in our ridings who are asking, "What are we going to do?" Is there work being done at all? Itís not in this budget envelope, but is there work being undertaken by the department in this area to listen to what the public has to say on it? Consultations.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, home care workers do that on a continuing basis.
Ms. Duncan: So where does the home care information go? Do home care workers write a report and say we have this crying need in Whitehorse and they pass it to the deputy and the deputy sends it to the minister and he says, "Well, Iím not going to argue for it in this budget" or "Weíve only got this big a budget envelope ó not now"? The problem is that weíre all ageing, as we are here, and there are eight million Canadians in the role of caregivers in this country. There was a very good recent insert about this situation. And there has been legislation that has adapted to this need. What I hear from the minister is that the government hears the problem, they agree with my assessment, but not yet.
Hereís a question then: will the minister look at legislation in this area? For example, itís not our legislation but the City of Whitehorse could adapt their bylaws to deal with granny flats. Is the minister talking with his counterparts in municipalities about the need for level 1 care for seniors in this municipality? Weíll talk about the other municipalities in a moment, but in this area is he talking with his colleagues about that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Within this mandate, we will be addressing the area that the member opposite refers to. As to the methodology and how far along we are, we would like to bring that information out. Presently there are discussions underway. There is a planned structure. As to just where itís at and how itís proceeding, I would encourage the member not to try and ATIPP anything, because there wonít be anything available. We are committed to providing for the housing needs of seniors in Whitehorse. It has been identified and, unlike the previous administration that wanted to gut Macaulay Lodge and spend $5 million odd putting it into bedsits, that was an initiative that wasnít proceeded with, as the member well knows. Macaulay Lodge is being used for the current purposes intended, and we are opening more beds in that facility.
We recognize a need for a seniors apartment in Whitehorse and with assisted living. The member raises a very good point. We have identified with it, and Iím probably going to be very pleased during this term in office to make that announcement.
Ms. Duncan: I hope so. Just for the record, the need for assisted living was identified and was being addressed by previous governments. He didnít like the way that that was being done. Well, it might not come as a surprise for the minister to recognize that maybe not everybody is going to agree with his options either.
The fact is that they are desperately needed, and itís very important that the government move on this. For years and year and years, all government policies have been geared toward keeping seniors in their own homes, and now we find that there is a gap between the time when they are no longer able to live in their own homes but they are not ready for Macaulay Lodge; they are not at that level of care and need.
Weíve got a major gap that has occurred in the Whitehorse area, and I look forward to it being addressed.
I just have a couple of other questions, specifically with respect to the supplementary. There is an identification of some recoveries. Weíve had many debates in this House about the outstanding receivables from the Government of Canada. Could I have a current status report on where weíre at with the receivables with Canada?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Through the tremendous efforts of my deputy minister and officials in Indian Affairs here in Whitehorse, tremendous progress has been made. Weíve had to write off some of the receivables. Thatíll be in the budget envelope that has been tabled. I just donít have those numbers. Weíre in the supplementary right now ó but things are pretty well current, to the best of my knowledge. Iíll have that information in the mains.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, just to be clear then, we have a major recovery here. Iím very pleased to see that in this supplementary. Congratulations to the deputy and the department on bringing them to current.
These receivables specifically deal with the health and social area. Any other receivables are in a different department. Could the minister just go through which receivables these ones are?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are some write-offs associated with social assistance; there are a lot of recoveries but there are some write-offs dealing with the womenís shelters ó the Dawson shelter, the Help and Hope, and Kausheeís Place for services provided to First Nation members of the Yukon community. Weíve recovered a tremendous amount in other areas, so weíre pretty well current.
Again, thatís in the mains, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that itís in the mains, but we also in the supplementary have $899,000 in recoveries. Thatís why Iím asking about these ones. I notice that there has been a write-off of a number of the receivables with respect to the transition homes. Have we fixed the problem in terms of the billing rate so that weíre not ending up in dispute any more having to write this off, and have we reached agreement on all these areas?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, the member opposite is absolutely correct. It was the billing rate for the days, and that has been established and agreed to between the parties, and weíre moving forward. The recoveries were for youth services in the supplementary.
Ms. Duncan: In terms of the medical travel and the hospital care, are billings pretty much still evenly divided for hospital between B.C. and Alberta, and is our medevac travel pretty much divided between the two carriers? I believe that was the report I was given last. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís still not evenly divided between Alberta and B.C. More goes to B.C. than Alberta currently, but it all depends where we can access beds for specific services. We endeavour to get beds at the earliest possible time. Given that the doctors here in the Yukon have a working relationship primarily with Vancouver ó the Lower Mainland ó thatís where most of the people tend to go. It is an issue. Weíre working on it, but itís access to the facilities that weíre trying to maintain and develop. We are basically standing in line waiting. Yukon does pay its bills very quickly to these facilities, but we can only provide so many acute care services here in the Yukon. We have to rely on specialties provided in other areas.
Thatís the current status, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cardiff: I just have a couple of questions for the minister and hopefully he will have the answers ready.
I am just wondering what the status of the Yukon public drinking water consultation is? Where are we at with that right now?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We are doing that in a number of steps. The first step with all the municipalities and organized communities has been completed and that is currently being reviewed by our government. I believe we will see that in place probably sometime this summer. The next stage is underway ó itís the private/public water supplies ó and we will be moving forward on that initiative over the course of this year.
Mr. Cardiff: Have there been any amendments to this consultation project that address the affordability of water? Are those issues being addressed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, there have been a number of initiatives that have come forward. Affordability is one of the main criteria in the review. Potability and affordability ó we treat them as: number one is potability and number two is affordability. There have been some changes proposed, and subject to the concurrence of the review, they will be accepted. I will give you one example: the need for stainless steel tanks on water trucks. Itís acceptable to use, say, a plastic tank or a fibreglass tank appropriately lined. But, again, the monitoring will have to be more stringent than with a stainless steel tank.
So thatís one example. As for the use of food-safe pumping equipment and hoses, there are acceptable methods of disinfecting various qualities of hoses and pumps on a regular basis that would meet the test to ensure no contamination. All weíre really concerned with is that the water is potable at all times ó as safe as we can possibly make it.
Mr. Cardiff: Are there going to be any consultations with the general public around water?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, last year there was a tremendous amount of advertisements out seeking input from the general public in this area.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister is right. I asked another minister about this, and the minister replied that I failed to read the pamphlet that was sent out during the spring. He assured me that the word "affordable" was in the documents, and the documents are a flyer called "Yukonís public drinking water," the bulk delivery of water guidelines for regulation and the public drinking water systems guidelines for regulation, and the word "affordable" is not mentioned in there, in any of those.
He did provide me with a copy of a sample letter, but the sample letter didnít go to all Yukon residents. So Iím just wondering, if itís not in the three documents he provided to me and which were available on the governmentís Health and Social Services Web site, itís undertaking this public consultation on public drinking water and bulk water delivery, where is the affordable component if itís not in these three documents?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Weíve endeavoured to do a full consultation across the Yukon. The letters I sent out certainly contained the word "affordability". I can assure the member that that was very much the case. Whether all of the brochures contained it or not, Iím not sure, but the exercise is, number one, to ensure potability and safety of our water supply and, number two, affordability. Thatís the priority. Number one, it has to be safe.
Mr. Cardiff: I donít disagree with the minister on that. I agree that safety is the number one issue. We want to have safe drinking water. What I was trying to point out was that nowhere in the documents the minister provided me with, except the sample copy of his letter that went to some people but not to all Yukon residents, was there any mention of affordability. It was only in that sample letter that went to a select few ó it didnít go to every member of the public. Maybe the minister could tell me briefly, or provide in writing, the outcomes, the results of the consultation thus far.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the record, the letter I wrote went to all municipal governments, all suppliers of water, all First Nations. The member is absolutely correct: I didnít write a personal letter to every Yukoner, but all people involved in the supply of potable water, all organized communities, unorganized communities all received a letter from me in this regard, spelling out potability and affordability.
I donít know the total count of the letters that were sent out. As a result of the consultations that have taken place, there have been changes that are in for review. I spelled out the one change for the member opposite earlier on, and thatís water delivery tanks ó initially it was envisioned that they must be stainless steel. We will accept plastic; we will accept other satisfactory tanks that meet the test of containing safe, potable water. Thatís just one example.
I can assure the member that this has gone through a full consultation. The brochures were sent out all across the Yukon. The input and feedback has been analyzed and assessed. There have been many, many meetings that have taken place. Please donít ask me the exact number because I donít have that on the tip of my tongue. But the department has undertaken a complete review of this matter. The exercise is to provide safe, potable, affordable water. Thatís the exercise ó potable, affordable water.
To that end, the Minister of Community Services also has a bill before this House. That bill is an amendment to the Assessment and Taxation Act, which will allow homeowners, where the Yukon is the taxing authority, to borrow money to put in the supply of potable water to their dwelling unit. Now, that is another darn good initiative by this Yukon Party government. We are moving forward on that. The bill is only a one-paragraph amendment and, like the telephone and power amendment, it will provide the mechanism. That amendment is also a one-paragraph amendment to the Assessment and Taxation Act.
But there is going to have to be a tremendous amount of consultation to develop the regulations as to how to implement and address this initiative for the supply of potable water to residential units where the owner is owner-occupied and where the dwelling is under the taxation authority of the Yukon government.
So that shows you another good initiative weíve moved forward on at the suggestion of our caucus. That came from this whole initiative of potable water and what we can do to maintain its affordability.
So there are a couple of very good examples, Mr. Chair, for the member opposite.
Mrs. Peter: I have a few questions for the minister. I would like the minister to tell this House: at what stage is the Childrenís Act review, and are there any timelines or a deadline for when this review will come to an end?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thereís a whole entire package that has been sent out to every First Nation as to the consultation process. Iíll be happy to send the member over a copy of such package. Thereís a Web site up and running on this initiative that the member might also check. The consultation process is beginning; this initiative is well-defined by the co-chairs.
As to the timelines we envision, weíre probably into about a two-year initiative before we can bring forward legislation on a new Childrenís Act.
But, Mr. Chair, this is an initiative that is moving forward with the concurrence of the Grand Chief and the chiefs council on health, and we meet on a regular basis ó the minister and I, as minister, and the Grand Chief, as well as the chiefs council on health issues.
So weíre looking toward moving forward on the consultation process. There are a lot of other initiatives. Theyíre well-defined as to how weíre proceeding, and weíll send over a package of the information to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin as well as the third party.
Mrs. Peter: I thank the minister for forwarding that information. As the minister is well aware, issues surrounding the Childrenís Act are many, especially in our communities. I am sure that the committee that has taken information in this regard will listen very intently and come back to the minister with that type of information.
Moving on, I would just like to put on the record for the ministerís information that there has been a lot of discussion in this House regarding care for seniors and elders in Whitehorse and some of the bigger communities throughout the Yukon. In the community of Old Crow, we have those same kinds of issues. Again for the ministerís information, in a small isolated community such as Old Crow, the families are responsible for the care of our grandparents or our mothers, and our resources are very slim. The amount of money going into the health services department is great. We keep suggesting to the government to consult with people and to hear what the Yukon peopleís needs are. In the community of Old Crow, we started our dialogue around this area about 10 years ago. There was a report written.
More and more, our elder population in our community is growing, and the services that we need are getting greater. For a family to have some respite from taking care of an elder in their home, the elder has to be sent from the community. We have the use of the facility in Dawson, and on a number of occasions they were sent to the facility in Whitehorse. This causes a lot of stress for the family and for the individual who has to spend a certain amount of time in these facilities for a number of reasons, one of them being to have access to their own traditional food, to have to make adjustments to a different kind of surroundings that they are not used to, and the list goes on and on.
I would like to hear from the minister today if there are any plans to help us address these issues at the community level, such as the community of Old Crow.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, I certainly agree with the member opposite that our population is ageing, and the community of Old Crow is not alone. There are certainly levels of service that we are able to provide in the smaller communities. There are certain levels of care that we are able to provide in the medium-sized communities, but the higher level of care we are currently only able to provide in Whitehorse ó in the largest centre here in the Yukon.
Itís unfortunate that when the highest level of care is required, people have to be moved to Whitehorse. Given the size of our population, this facility, Copper Ridge Place, is providing an excellent service.
What Iíll ask the department to do is to talk with the First Nation, the Vuntut Gwitchin officials, their people associated with health care, and see what we can do with respect to some home care in the community. This initiative has been put in place by other First Nations and has worked very well. Theyíve undertaken this initiative on their own, the self-governing First Nations, and it might be an area that the member might want to explore with chief and council.
If we can be of assistance, in the department, weíd be happy to talk to the First Nation in Old Crow. I will ask my officials to do so. But I would encourage the member to speak with the chief and council and see what initiatives can be undertaken through their own entity, their own self-governing body. If our government can provide further assistance, we will do what we can.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a couple of other questions to put on the record. There is additional money in the supplementary budget for the Thomson Centre in capital. Do we have a current date on the reopening of the Thomson Centre?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I wish I did, Mr. Chair. The mains ó this additional money was for additional engineering reports on the building and weíre moving forward in the next budget envelope. We hope to be in a position to understand the total scope of the work thatís necessary in the building, but it was well-known to the previous administration as to the total scope of the work on the roof replacement, which was $1.3 million but it was shelled out in smaller amounts. The other issues are insulation, fire code violations, windows, doors, siding ó Mr. Chair, there is a multitude of problems: sprinkler system code violations, seismic violations, fire alarms not up to current codes.
Mr. Chair, there was never an occupancy permit granted for this facility, and I hope to be able to share with the members of this Legislature before this sitting rises the full extent and full scope of the work that is necessary, but it looks like about another $2.6 million is going to be needed to be spent on this facility to bring it back on line.
Ms. Duncan: And I understand from comments made earlier in this particular session ó although Iíve asked repeatedly the Minister of Justice to give me a list of the outstanding legal cases involving the Government of Yukon, I havenít received that. I understand from comments the minister has made that there is no hope of legal recourse with regard to the difficulties with this building ó absolutely none.
The minister is nodding.
Could we have a public commitment that when the building is reopened there will be some form of consultation as to the future use of the building ó some ability for the public to have an input? Other than through the hospital board and some of these other organizations, is there some way for the public, once the building is to be reopened, to have some input to what goes in there?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The only suggestion that would probably bear fruit is that we rename it "Penikettís Palace" and put in a workout gym. That said, we have incurred a tremendous cost to date on that facility, and there are some uses that are coming into focus. The Hospital Corporation has identified further needs for expanding the services that we currently provide to Yukoners. Medical detox, as well as mental health ó there is a demand for an enhancement or improvement in the services in those areas. The medical detox in no way interferes with the current services being provided by alcohol and drug services in the government.
There is an ongoing dialogue at this time, but I wouldnít expect the facility would be ready to be reopened for quite some time. As to recourse to the contractor, the contractor has passed on. This is a 12- or 13-year old building currently, and there is no potential for recourse to the engineers. There was no sign-off on the structure as to whether it conformed to the existing blueprints.
There were no checks put in place during the course of construction of the level that is normally required, and no occupancy granted to the facility by the authority having jurisdiction. This is a prime example of a project gone completely sideways and subsequent governments are having to incur a large cost to even reuse the facility, let alone bring it back on-line. I find it very, very disgusting that the government would invest that amount of money into a facility and not take the necessary steps and precautions to ensure that the building was built according to the design and brought on-line and the proper tests and certifications and approvals granted at the various stages.
This is going to be an albatross around our necks. This is just another problem that weíre going to have to fix and repair, and Iím just awfully disappointed in the whole way this initiative has gone.
Chair: Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue on with Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, in general debate on Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services.
Ms. Duncan: I have just one final question in the area of general debate. The minister has mentioned before that there are a number of studies with regard to the provision of care for seniors throughout the territory. In the mains, weíre proposing new health care centres in a couple of communities and studying other ones.
Could I have copies of the studies that currently exist in the department with respect to the provision of care for seniors, please?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I believe there are three: one for Watson Lake, one for Dawson and another one. So weíll provide copies to both the third party and the official opposition, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: If there is any work at all that has been done, if it has been done under previous governments even, with respect to level 1 care in Whitehorse, or assisted living in Whitehorse, Iíd like those reports as well.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: My officials advise that weíre not aware of any, but weíll check and let the member opposite know.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, we will proceed to line-by-line.
Mr. Fairclough: I talked it over with the leader of the third party. We would like the lines deemed read and carried.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 15, Health and Social Services, cleared or carried
Chair:Mr. Fairclough has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, cleared or carried as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agree.
Chair: There is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Health and Social Services in the amount of $3,186,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Health and Social Services in the amount of $61,000 agreed to
Department of Health and Social Services agreed to
Chair: Weíll take a five-minute recess to allow officials to come in.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Department of Economic Development
Chair: We will continue with Vote 7, Department of Economic Development, in general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The Department of Economic Development, being newly recreated, does not have a great deal of fiscal history related to the supplementary budget. There are some minor changes, which relate to wage adjustments borne from the collective bargaining agreement. The collective agreement covers the two-percent increase, covering January 2003 to December 2003, and a 2.5-percent increase from January 2004 to March 2004.
On the O&M side, a total of $58,000 is requested again for wage adjustments, and on the capital side an $8,000 adjustment is requested.
The supplementary budget dealing with the Department of Economic Development that was brought in was a necessity, as we went forward in recreating this department, staffing it, and giving it the necessary resources to get up and running as a functioning department within government.
I think that the supplementary budget on Economic Development requires very little debate because there is not much in it. I think there is a lot more focus that should be brought to bear on the mains for the fiscal year 2004-05.
With that, I will defer to the members opposite for any other general debate.
Mr. McRobb: Well, thank you to the minister for his suggestions. We will take it into consideration as we proceed both through this supplementary and into the mains when we do reach that point.
Since this is a new department and weíve had some discussion on what activities are housed in the department, can the minister indicate what the priorities are of the department ó what he sees as the top priorities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Obviously, the top priority for the department is the economy of the Yukon Territory. Some weeks ó close to two months ago ó the member opposite was a participant in a public announcement of the department ó a new direction. Building a sustainable and competitive Yukon economy was the theme. It was the announcement from Economic Development on their strategic plan and dealing with strategic industries and economic development for the territory, dealing with our competitive advantages and looking into the areas of economic development that make the most sense for this territory. A lot of information has already been provided, not only to the members opposite but to the public. So, again, I would repeat for the member opposite ó the Member for Kluane ó that the priority is the Yukon economy. That is why we recreated the Department of Economic Development.
Mr. McRobb: I was looking for a bit more detail than just the economy, Mr. Chair. One can almost assume that the Department of Economic Development would place the economy at the top of the priority list. I guess the Finance minister is a big-picture sort of guy and prefers to keep the discussion at the top level, but we would like to get into some detail.
On that note, during the briefing with the department, we did request some information. It included the full documentation for the new direction and so on. To my knowledge, we havenít received the information requested during the briefing yet. Could the minister indicate when we might expect that material?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, the member opposite has the information, and itís this booklet the member picked up when we rolled out the new economic strategy for the territory. Itís a very detailed accounting of what took place, who was involved with the department in developing the strategic process, what we were told, and what we heard. There was a great deal of effort put in by a very diverse group of Yukoners, who committed a lot of their time to working with the department in developing this strategy and the content of the new economic direction for the territory.
So the member has a tremendous amount of information to be able to conduct a constructive debate on the floor of the Legislature, and Iím not sure exactly what else we could provide the member, other than trying to answer some of his questions, if he has any.
Mr. McRobb: I have questions, and I would urge the minister to get on the same wavelength. The material I requested was referenced to the request made by the opposition in the briefing that took place recently with the deputy and his officials. The material requested was far broader than his thin economic direction report that he likes to hold up. So I provide this further description so the minister is aware exactly of the information weíre requesting.
Once again, when might we expect to receive that information?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I can start providing some of the information. I know the member has this booklet, but thereís a section in the pamphlet that provides the information the member is seeking. Itís all about what we heard. I can read some of the passages if heíd like. It describes advantages and disadvantages. It describes advantages and disadvantages in infrastructure, in markets, in the business climate. It goes on to investment, capacity and economic direction. It provides a clear schematic of how that is laid out, and I think the member opposite would be well-served if he picked up this document, this very detailed document providing a great deal of information, and then we can get on the same wavelength.
Mr. McRobb: Obviously the ministerís new direction has him lost in the woods again because Iím not talking about his report. Once again, for the third time, Iím talking about the information requested during the briefing with his officials.
I can see heís going to force me to recite all the requests we made. I donít have the list with me from that briefing, but I can get it. I do recall asking the officials about information on what has transpired in the way of developments on the ports at Skagway, Haines and Beaufort. There was a request about the railroad and Internet bandwidth and alternative trunk lines.
There were other requests too. To be clear, Mr. Chair, that information is not contained in that thin booklet that the minister continues to hold up. It is other information we are talking about here.
Once again, when might we expect to receive that information?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have a question for the Member for Kluane. What exactly would ports and railroads and Internet bandwidth have to do with this supplementary budget, which is requesting some adjustments due to the collective bargaining agreement and the wages we pay to our employees?
The budget ó the mains ó I would suggest is the place for that debate. We are dealing with a very simple supplementary budget to give resources to the department to ensure it is functioning and that it can honour its commitments to its employees because of retroactivity in the collective bargaining agreement.
As far as the ports, we all know what happened with the ports. The former Liberal government bungled that badly, and we lost a tremendous opportunity to own infrastructure that provided us tidewater access. The railroad is, again, a well-known public fact. The Yukon governmentís position is in lobbying and urging the federal government to join with Washington on doing a feasibility study on the railroad.
On the Internet bandwidth, that member was a member of the government that launched the Connect Yukon project, which is providing high-speed Internet services to many Yukon communities.
How that relates to the supplementary budget is certainly beyond the government side of the House. I would urge the member to get focused on the supplementary so we can move that along. Then we can get into the debate of the main budget for 2004-05 and really get into a discussion on the government sideís view of the economy and where we are taking the territory, and, of course, the official oppositionís view of the economy and where they would like to take the territory.
Mr. McRobb: Well, the minister is awfully testy today, and I wish he would just tone down a little bit and try to cooperate a little more, instead of challenging every step of the way. Obviously, heís looking for a rematch after his quick loss yesterday to a member of the fourth estate, and I would suggest this is not the appropriate opportunity to try to avenge his loss.
The minister made a comment that this is not an appropriate opportunity to debate issues that arenít specifically a line item in the supplementary budget. I donít know where the minister gets that notion. There have been lots of previous rulings in here that definitely support asking questions of policy, direction and activities that pertain to the department, especially at this stage of debate ó and it is general debate. We are not debating any line item.
The member himself gained a reputation while in opposition for questioning on such matters, and Iím sure he is principled enough to be prepared to live by the same rules that he forced his predecessors to live by. So I put this to the minister in a friendly way to jog his memory ó asking about any policy, action or anything that pertains to the department is fair game at this stage of the debate.
There is very little in the way of line items in the supplementary budget. And if we were restricted to line items, well, this debate would have been over shortly after it started. The minister tries to refer us to the mains budget as the appropriate opportunity, but that decision rests with the opposition parties, not with the government.
Thatís the end of the story. Itís up to us to hold the government accountable within the general time frames and guidelines acceptable. Itís not up to the government to re-draw those guidelines and readjust those time frames to suit its own needs and interests.
So, Mr. Chair, hopefully it wonít be necessary to give this type of reminder at every opportunity. Hopefully it will sink in that the government should really be answering our questions and just leave the overall scheduling to us, because itís something we as the official opposition must work out with the third party, and divide the time available accordingly, at least the time that we are afforded and the time the government leaves us.
But under no circumstances will we as members of the opposition take direction from this or any other government on how to spend our time and where to spend it. Such a notion is purely anti-democratic, Mr. Chair. Just yesterday I spoke of totalitarianism. We should all be aware that we do not live in such a state and that, to be true to the principles of accountability, itís incumbent upon the government side to respond to the questions from the opposition, not to divert or decoy them to another place or time.
The minister went on to respond to one of the matters I had raised, which was the development of an alternative route for an Internet trunk line, as something that was decided years ago under a previous government ó not the previous one, but the one before that.
I would like to enlighten the minister. The example he cites is totally unrelated to the question ó totally. Itís not related at all. My question is about developing an alternative trunk line for Internet use to the territory. It has got nothing to do with the Connect Yukon agreement with Northwestel ó nothing at all. This matter has been raised several times and it seems to be accentuated every time there is a stoppage in Internet service to the territory. Such stoppages seem to be becoming more frequent. Already this year there have been two of them, I believe. Under such breaks in Internet service, machines that rely on data flow are halted, such as banking machines, and so on. Internet service is also disconnected. Part of the problem is having only a single conduction to the territory that comes up basically along the path of the Alaska Highway. I believe itís a microwave connection to Fort Nelson.
I understand that responsibility for this type of communication now rests with the ministerís Department of Economic Development. If it doesnít, then I would invite the minister to indicate otherwise. Formerly this responsibility rested within the Department of Highways and Public Works, the communications branch.
This issue is an important one to the territory. I have asked questions previously about the governmentís efforts to try to develop an alternate connection. One of the suggestions was the possibility of linking into the Alaskan cables that are just a couple hundred kilometres to the west. The Minister of Highways previously indicated that itís something they are looking at.
This is an issue that we in the opposition are interested in tracking. Itís an issue I asked the departmental official for some information on during the briefing. We also asked about a number of other matters. Thatís the very information that Iím requesting today.
Once again, I would respectfully ask the minister when we might expect to receive that information.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I think itís important to point a few things out for the Member for Kluane. In the first place, in the supplementary budget, there is obviously nothing in there that relates to fibre optics or Internet or those types of things in the context of which the member has put it; however, I can say that the Department of Economic Development works closely with the appropriate department within government when it comes to the fibre optic infrastructure issues.
Now letís take the member back to what he has been saying. The government side has no problem in responding and answering questions of substance that are constructive and are lending to the debate in a positive manner on behalf of the Yukon public.
But empty demands and questions of little substance that have no relation to the material weíre dealing with today are something that the government side, when recognizing that very fact, is ensuring that we bring the opposition back to a more constructive approach to what it is they are doing. Nobody is disputing the fact that the opposition will ask its questions and set its timelines, but the government side has a responsibility to ensure that what the opposition is doing is also being accountable to the Yukon public. This works both ways.
The member was, earlier on in this debate, also demanding information on a number of things that are definitely within his control today. He has the information. I would point out to him that he wants some sort of information on what people said at meetings. Well, itís in this booklet: A New Direction for Building a Sustainable and Competitive Yukon Economy. Let me provide some examples of that, and maybe it will refresh the memberís memory.
Through numerous meetings, the private sector, which Iím assuming the member opposite is alluding to on what it is they said or what their input was, said these things to the government: focus on the big picture; get our regulatory house in order; attract outside investment; get beyond protectionist and risk-adverse attitudes; and assist our people to compete in world markets; orient government activities toward instead of away from development; aggressively market our product, services, industries, businesses and, of course, the Yukon; position the Department of Economic Development to be an effective proponent for economic development within and outside government.
These are very profound statements by the private sector. We have listened, and itís part of the economic strategy.
I want to make a point here that this is not really relevant to the supplementary budget as this is giving an appropriation to the department so it has resources to address certain requirements that relate to wages, for example, but if the member wants to engage now in a debate on the economy, I think the member should revert back to what the private sector ó the public ó has done in the tremendous efforts they put forward to create this new direction. I think the member has to recognize that that input is very much a part of what the Department of Economic Development is doing.
The member began by asking what the plan was. What is the strategic direction? Where are we going? Itís all here.
So I will provide again for the member some information that he already has, in the spirit of cooperation. The private sector and the government concurred there were a number of strategic industries we must focus on, and I will list some of those industries. Itís mining, oil and gas, construction, retail and wholesale trade, tourism and also government, the forest sector, agriculture, the cultural industries, the information and technology sectors, which we have briefly discussed here when it comes to the Internet issue.
It is important to note, Mr. Chair, that the government has incorporated, in this strategic plan and direction, those strategic industries and weíre working on them.
Let me cite some examples of how we are progressing. We know today, for a case in point, that the mining sector is going to have a significant increase in mining exploration this coming season.
Two years ago, we were in the range of $5 million to $6 million of exploration ó far too low to expect this strategic industry to be providing the impacts that it should be in our territory, given our potential. This coming season, the projections are for some $30 million. Now, weíre getting to a level that is much more conducive to creating this strategic industry in the Yukon, to the point where development and production can take place. Thatís significant because that shows tangible improvement and movement toward economic growth and an improvement in the economy of the Yukon through this strategic industry ó mining.
We know for a fact that there is a projection of some millions of dollars to be invested in the oil and gas industry. Thatís significant because this oil and gas sector is a strategic industry. Itís part of what the public decided, along with government and other stakeholders ó that this strategic industry is very important and that we need to get that industry, the oil and gas sector, moving.
We have some positive, tangible signs, with the projected investment in exploration in the oil and gas sector. We know from the construction area that much is happening, and I think the stats around that bear that out. The evidence is clear. We have a positive trend in the construction sector. The retail and wholesale trade areas are showing good signs of heading in the right direction.
Tourism, another very important strategic industry ó thatís critical in terms of our economic plan because tourism is one of our bright lights and our mainstays. It is showing a significant increase in the travelling public by projection for this year. One of the areas of importance here, and testimony to that fact, is that the Klondike Inn, for the first time in a couple of seasons, will be opening up to receive visitors.
When you couple all of this together, you see that the trend is very positive and heading in the right direction, and it shows that the Department of Economic Development, in its work with the stakeholders, has put together a strategy that actually is relevant to the Yukonís economy of today and where it is going.
Now, also, as a government, it is no secret that we have done something here in the budgeting process that changed where government invested money. I think we should go over that a bit for the member opposite. The member is asking for information, so we will try to provide as much as we can.
When you look at what we have done with budgeting, including this supplementary, I think itís important to recognize that our commitment to short-term stimulus is certainly there. Evidence is there that the short-term stimulus is happening; you can tell by the amount of expenditure. Itís not so much the amount, but where itís being invested. Letís look at some of the signs that have evolved from that investment.
Today, by the statistics that have been compiled, it shows clearly that the Yukon is really heading in the right direction. We have an unemployment rate of six percent. That is the third lowest unemployment rate in the country.
Before the member jumps up and goes on and on about the Wal-Mart economy and all the rest of it, I think itís important that we put some facts on the table. We have to recognize ó no matter what the opposition may think ó that there is an evolution happening in the territory when it comes to the government and the private sector now starting to be more compatible.
Thatís how these kinds of statistics are created. When you look at a 6-percent unemployment factor, itís significant because not only is the unemployment rate dropping, the number of people in the workforce is increasing and we know by previous statistics a month ago that the population is also increasing. So the trend is heading in the right direction.
Now the government does not take 100 percent of the credit for what is happening in our economy. I want to take this opportunity to applaud the private sectorís investment in and contribution to what is happening, but something that may have triggered increased mining exploration, tourism, oil and gas, retail and wholesale and construction areas, the fact that we now are looking very seriously at the forest sector ó in all of these things there is an element of optimism that comes out of how government manages the finances of any jurisdiction. In this case, itís a well-known fact that the government side has shown that it followed through with what it said it would do a year ago. It said it would get a firm grip on the fiscal situation of the territory. Having done that, we then set about ensuring that we improved the fiscal situation of the territory, and weíve done that.
I think we should delve into that area a little bit because the member of the third party has mistakenly made some comments on how all this took place. At the risk of being repetitive, I must put on the record again the facts.
The facts are that when it came to the increased investment in health care, which was a result of three territories in a pan-northern concept coming together and having the federal government sit down with us and work out some problems when it comes to the per capita issue on formula financing and funding for the territories.
We accomplished that because we worked as a collective and we received $20 million more for health care. The second part of the commitment from the Prime Minister, not the MP, was that we would have the opportunity to make a business case and bring it forward to have the federal government live up to its second obligation under the commitment of addressing the inadequacies in the formula. That has also been done.
Frankly, that has us at a juncture now where we will realize increases in the financial situation of the territory, not only in the territorial funding formula. There will also be the removal of the GDP cap, which is important because that gives us an opportunity to realize positive impacts from what other jurisdictions are doing. The Government of Canada removed the ceiling on equalization for Atlantic Canada and the have-not provinces; therefore it was only fair that they remove the GDP cap for the territories.
That being said, we also have a number of other areas that are important: a commitment to further extend the health care fund. Thatís critical because that helps us in ensuring we have resources available to meet the health needs as best we can with those resources, the health needs of the Yukon public.
It also includes a commitment for an economic development fund for the north ó all three territories. Now, all these things came out of our business case, our presentation ó the Yukon, the N.W.T. and Nunavutís presentation ó to the federal government.
So, over the last 16 months or so, Mr. Chair, the government has been busy in dealing with this fiscal area of the Yukon to ensure we can use the finances in a manner that will help increase our ability and ensure we have the ability to improve the economy.
So, with that said, we fast-forward to where we are today with the budget before us ó not the supplementary, because thatís looking into the past. We as a government like to look forward; we like to build a future. Unlike the official opposition, which continues to try to reconstruct the past, the government side is focused on building a future for the Yukon.
When we see what is going on in the private sector, like mining, oil and gas, construction, retail, tourism, forestry, agriculture, a list of strategic industries, film and cultural industries ó all those areas ó we can see that the fiscal situation created by government is complementing what the private sector is doing. You put them both together and you create things like optimism, increased cash flow, more jobs and benefits for Yukoners. We are starting to attract people ó tradespeople and others ó back into the territory.
So there are things starting to happen now that are setting or charting a course on which the Yukon will be going in the future. I think that the debate we should be getting from the opposition side is how they view these facts. We donít need to have speculative debate. Thatís counterproductive; there is no substance to it, and there is not much that can be gained from it on behalf of the Yukon public. What we should be engaged in is a factual debate on how the New Democrats in this territory and in this Legislature would have dealt with the same situation.
Letís delve into an example or two there. The mining industry and the resource sectors ó which are with the input of the stakeholders of the Yukon, and that included the Yukon Indian Development Corporation ó are strategic industries. Letís delve into the issue of mining in the resource sector and how the New Democrats would have handled it.
First and foremost, one of the reasons there has been a positive increase in these areas is that we stopped a very flawed process in this territory called the protected areas strategy. It is a strategy politically driven, a misguided policy that created a tremendous amount of conflict in this territory among Yukoners, and it was not needed. We have a multitude of legislative and regulatory mechanisms that allow us to ensure the protection of our environment as we proceed with responsible development.
So, having said that, we know in comparison ó this is important because now we can create a contrast for the Yukon public ó that the Yukon Democrats would never have stopped the Yukon protected areas strategy. In fact, they have stated on a few occasions that they would continue with it regardless of how it was damaging our ability to compete in terms of our strategic industries ó another example of the difference between the government side and the official opposition.
Itís clear that they are having difficulty with this positive indication of where our economy is going; therefore, I submit, given the debate today so far on the supplementary budget, they are merely making demands to fill time. I would suggest we get on with debating the facts. Letís find out how the official opposition, which portrays itself as the champion of the working person ó "working person" would be more politically correct ó would view that, considering that we have, as a government, contributed to some degree to improvement in the economy, creating more jobs and the third lowest unemployment rate in the country. How does the official opposition view that?
Mr. McRobb: Well, what a speech that was. You know, the minister can save a lot of time in this Legislature if he would maybe just direct us to his last speech at the Chamber of Commerce, which is posted on the Web site, and he wouldnít have to put everybody through that lengthy speech again. That would contribute to a more constructive debate.
Now, there are a number of issues the minister raised that deserve comment. First of all, he was all over the map when my question was a focused one: when might we expect the information we requested in the briefing and agreed to by the officials? That was the question. Instead, we heard a big, lengthy speech, and the minister probably has a sore elbow from patting himself on the back quite a bit, taking all the credit for what he sees as a reconstructed economy.
But we donít hear anything about the upswing in metal prices, or the Super Store blip ó you know, also helped out by Staples and some other retailers ó or a number of other factors well beyond the governmentís control. We hear no mention of those factors. Obviously he wants to take all the credit himself. We know the minister is very good at doing that.
The minister also challenges us to a philosophical debate. Well, respectfully, we donít really have time to engage in a philosophical debate. Sometimes we do in motion debate on Wednesday afternoons ó that is, when debate is allowed to continue and the government side doesnít hijack the motion. Then we do sometimes have a constructive debate.
But the point for today is to ensure we have the information requested and to test the governmentís case. And certainly that is not strictly a philosophical debate.
The Premier also declares that he wants factual debate. Well, sadly, there is no provision for such a thing in this Legislature.
Yes, we have the ministerís attention now, Mr. Chair. Yes, what a brilliant revelation this is. I donít know ó Iím not sure if these words have been spoken before but I would be surprised if they had.
There is no provision for a factual debate in this Legislature ó Iíll say it again. One of the reasons is that any member on the government side can stand up and say whatever he or she chooses, whether itís true or false. There is no tool to ensure members speak only the truth. Even if we question what members say as the truth, weíre called to order.
So the rules of this Chamber are such that we really canít go there in the first place. Thereís sometimes very little trust between the sides anyway, and thatís why we ask for information. We would rather see it on paper than just simply believe somebody standing up and declaring their view of the world as gospel.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Order please. Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I must point out that there are sections in our Standing Orders that relate to imputing falsehoods or unavowed motives, and I think I want to put on the record here, and must put on the record ó Iím compelled to put on the record that the member is implying that they would rather have written documentation because they do not believe anything we say on the floor of the Legislature. Thatís the insinuation here.
I have to take exception to that. We as the government do not in any way, shape or form provide the members opposite through the debate in this House any sort of information that could be deemed false, unworthy or anything else.
So the memberís point is somewhat problematic. Given the time of day and the season upon us being Easter, Good Friday tomorrow, I will give the member the benefit of the doubt but would point out that he is very close to breaking the rules of the House.
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on this point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I think the minister just laid an Easter egg because really I was not pointing a finger at this government in particular; I was referring to any government, whether itís Yukon Party, NDP or Liberal.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Oh, here we go, another frivolous point of order. Iíll sit down.
Chair: Mr. McRobb, you have the floor.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Itís about time you started ignoring that far corner.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Thatís fine, thatís not against the rules. You just show me where it is. Anyway, I do have the floor. I know itís a little anxious ó is this on the point of order?
Chair: On the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I thought it was done.
Chair: No, youíre speaking to the point of order. I would assume that, by speaking to the point of order, youíre now agreeing that there is indeed a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: No, Iím challenging the point of order. Letís be clear. My counterpoint was that the minister is too sensitive. I was referring to any government in general. I made that point: it wasnít specific to this government. Certainly we do require written information from time to time, and I will not back down from that statement.
Chair:The Chair finds that there is no point of order being made. There is a dispute among members on this. The Chair would like members, though, to reflect on the fact that in this Assembly all members are expected to act honourably and to, again, act in the best interests of all constituents, following the rules of our Assembly.
Indeed, Standing Order 19(g) states that it is against the rules in our Assembly to impute false or unavowed motives to another member, and (h) indicates that if one charges another member with uttering a deliberate falsehood, that member is out of order. However, if a member does feel that another member has uttered a falsehood, a member is able to put forward a substantive motion stating that, to make a deliberate charge.
The Chair has enjoyed the debate this afternoon and encourages all members to participate thoroughly and to get back to the matter of debate, which is the Department of Economic Development.
If the member wishes to go home early, he may make a motion to that effect.
Mr. McRobb: I hope that the minister will stay long enough to answer our questions.
Once again, my question was: when might we expect the information requested during the briefing?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have been providing information. I am trying to explain to the member that the information is here now; we can certainly debate it. Requesting information is one thing, but is the information relevant to the debate? Is the information already available? These are things that are important. I think that itís necessary to state: why would we have the machinery of government spinning its wheels on demands of little substance when there is already that information in the hands of the member opposite?
They have a tremendous responsibility and a workload that is quite high, in terms of what they must do ó the scope of work theyíre dealing with ó when it comes to the Yukon economy. So I would much rather have the department focused on those areas, on behalf of the Yukon public, and would urge the member to look at the information he has. Itís all available to him.
I take him back again to what it is weíre debating ó a simple supplementary budget that reflects the need to deal with wage adjustments borne from the collective bargaining agreement with respect to the two-percent increase covering January to December 2003 and the 2.5-percent increase covering January 2004 to March 2004. Itís also including O&M and capital in this regard, and itís a pretty simple budget overall.
I donít think it requires a great deal of debate. The important debate is ahead of us, and that would be the mains. But Iím starting to get the idea that the official opposition, especially, has no appetite to debate the main budget. They are having difficulty debating the main budget because there is a situation for them that is quite problematic. How do they criticize the investments being made on the economic front, whether they be in Community Services, Economic Development and even Education, Highways and Public Works, Energy, Mines and Resources, Tourism and Culture?
There is a tremendous amount of investment throughout the budget that reflects demonstrated needs in the Yukon, the desires of Yukoners, investments not only in an immediate stimulus for the territory by increasing its cash flow. The evidence is starting to show that. The supplementary budget was the beginning. We talked yesterday about the linkages between the supplementary budget from the fall and where we have gone with the mains for 2004-05.
Some of the statistics are bearing that out, but the New Democrats in this House ó the official opposition ó are going to have a difficult time criticizing it. How do they criticize in areas of importance to them, areas that they espouse that they are the champions of? How do they criticize the collective bargaining agreement and the increase that came from it? Thatís a difficult situation, especially since we as a government were significantly higher in our offer to the employees of this territory when you compare it to what a former New Democrat government put on the table for its employees. Itís a difficult situation. I understand it. But that doesnít mean that the official opposition cannot provide constructive input or constructive criticism.
I think Iíll take us back again to a debate a couple of days ago. Thereís no need or purpose in criticism just for the sake of criticism. There is an obligation and responsibility for the opposition to ensure that their criticism is constructive.
The member opposite has to recognize that. I understand what the member opposite is trying to do. The demands for the material wanted to debate the supplementary budget ó I see little reflection in the supplementary budget in relation to those demands. Iíve pointed out that thereís a tremendous amount of information that is totally related to what the member wants, the information heís asking for. Itís there for him.
The other thing the member can do is go and talk to the stakeholders and all those involved. That would be a good exercise for the member opposite.
I understand that the New Democrats have a great deal of difficulty in involving themselves with the private sector. There seems to be an aversion to private sector, to profit and to development. Maybe thatís something in their makeup ó I donít know ó but the member could go and talk to the Association of Yukon Communities. It is a responsibility for any elected person to deal with its public.
The member could go and talk to representatives of the cultural industries; the member could go and talk to the Taking Action Committee; the member could talk to the Tourism Association, to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, to the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, to the Yukon Chamber of Mines, to the Yukon Contractors Association, to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, to the Yukon Federation of Labour ó that should be an easy contact for the member to make ó to the Yukon Indian Development Corporation ó another contact and discussion that could take place by the member in doing his good works as should be done by an elected member of this House. Talk to the Yukon Information Technology Industry Society and see what it is they have to say. Of course, talk to the Yukon Infrastructure Alliance. All these things can be done by the member opposite.
Making demands on the department to get what these groups have been saying is simply not the route to go. They are there and available for the members opposite to call, sit down with and have a discussion, go over these issues and draw their own conclusions.
We need not try and articulate through documentation to the member opposite what these groups have been saying. For what purpose would we do that, Mr. Chair? Weíre here to advance the territory; weíre here to debate a supplementary budget that needs very little discussion. Itís quite self-evident in the pages of the budget. Weíre here to move on to debate the mains, the biggest budget in the history of the Yukon.
Weíre here to have that constructive debate with the members opposite. We are continually offering that constructive debate. We are waiting for reciprocity from the other side.
So, I have to disagree with the member opposite that the demands being made are a requirement for this debate because the information is available and the member has other sources and other alternatives to appease what may be a misunderstanding or maybe he wants to get a second opinion, if you will, Mr. Chair, on what is before him. I think the member should be aware of the fact that that may be the best course to take with respect to being a constructive opposition. There is nothing better than getting out there and contacting the public and listening to what the public has to say, as we have, on the government side.
So, if the member is willing to do that, Iíd be willing to go with him and sit down with these groups and help the member come to an understanding of why the private sector is a good thing for this territory and why profit is a good thing for this territory and why responsible development is a good thing for this territory and why we need not try and reconstruct the past ó thatís done ó and why we should all be focused on building a better and brighter future for the Yukon. We could do that; that would be a constructive approach.
We also have to recognize the fact that the members opposite take a great deal of time in this Legislature in trying to deal with debates on this constant insinuation that the government is not supplying information and not answering questions. We hear that continually.
I would point out that the government side is not obligated to answer speculative questions with speculative answers. Thereís no point to it. This is not a place for conjecture; this is a place for fact, conjecture being merely someoneís opinion. That is not something weíre here to debate. Weíre here to debate the facts of whatís going on in the territory, whatís important to Yukoners and what it is we are doing as a government. We accept fully constructive criticism from the opposition, but I certainly want to move away from what we have experienced in the past, and that is needless debate, asking for things already available, asking for information that can be gleaned from other sources besides this constant demand for written documentation.
I canít understand, other than the fact that the member might not understand what we are saying ó or it could be worse, the motivation, but I hope not ó why we canít have the debate on the floor and deal with it as we should in this Assembly. Where there is a necessity to provide information in writing, weíve done that and weíre showing that. Almost on a daily basis, information comes forward. Correspondence goes to the members opposite.
I think itís important that we get back to a realistic, constructive debate. If we donít, I donít hold out much hope for the members opposite. They are going to miss something here.
There are good things happening in this territory. They need not be mired in the negativity that they have been in the past. They could focus in a more positive way on whatís happening in this territory.
They have a role to play ó an important one ó and I wish they would start to play that role and recognize that they too can have input into whatís going on in the Yukon, and they too can add constructively and positively to whatís happening in the Yukon. They need not try to dismantle the good things. We can all focus on problem areas and come up with solutions. Thatís why weíre here. But asking needlessly for information that is already on the table, that the member already has, is simply not the route to take.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Chair:Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I would like to invite all members to join me in wishing the leader of the third party a happy birthday.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the lightness of the moment, I thank the Member for Kluane for pointing that out to us. The government side extends to the leader of the third party best wishes, enjoy your Easter.
With that, I move that we report progress, and all of us go have a good Easter and get back here Tuesday to do the good works on behalf of the public.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Fentie that we report progress and have a good Easter.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers 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 from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Cathers: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, 2004. Happy Easter.
The House adjourned at 6:02 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 8, 2004:
Fleet Vehicle Agency 2004/2005 Business Plan (Hart)
Property Management Agency 2004/2005 Business Plan (Hart)
Queenís Printer Agency 2004/2005 Business Plan (Hart)