Monday, April 19, 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.
In remembrance of Vern von Finster
Mr. McRobb:Iím honoured to rise today in tribute of long-time Yukoner Vern von Finster. Vern passed away on December 18, 2003, in his 91st year. He was born in Okahandja, Namibia, in 1912 and immigrated to Canada in 1930, where he first settled in Alberta.
Born Werner August von Finster, his name was changed by his sergeant to Vern Finster when he joined the Canadian Army in 1939 on the day Canada declared war. He was among the first troops sent to Britain and served with the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and listened to Elijah Smith speak of the Yukon. Within a year of the warís end, Vern was living in Whitehorse.
Vernís bride, Muriel, came to Canada from England in 1948. They raised three sons while living in Fort Nelson, Mayo, Haines Junction and Whitehorse. During that time, Vern worked for the Canadian Army, the Northern Canada Power Commission and Yukon Electrical Company Limited.
In the days when diesel generators were the primary source of power throughout the territory, Vern was responsible for them all. He would travel great distances in bad weather and endure miserable road conditions to ensure the lights stayed on in rural Yukon. Vern took pride in bringing and maintaining light and power to small communities such as Old Crow and Destruction Bay.
After retiring from Yukon Electrical in 1970, he started a new career as a guard with the RCMP, eventually retiring full-time to his quiet Riverdale home. After failing health brought Vern to Copper Ridge Place, the wonderful staff there eased his final days.
I had the pleasure of knowing Vern, as I know you did, Mr. Speaker, and was always impressed with his stories about the Yukon. Vern Von Finster will be remembered for his many contributions to the Yukon. Our condolences to the family.
I would like to invite all members to join me in welcoming today his wife, Muriel, and son Alan.
In recognition of National Organ and Tissue Awareness Week
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I rise today on behalf of the House to say thank you to the 4,281 Yukoners who have signed organ and tissue donation cards. That is an increase of approximately 100 individuals from last year. This week is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, so this is a fitting time to again say thank you to those who have already done so and to encourage those who have not yet registered as donors to consider doing so.
Making the decision to become an organ and tissue donor is a very personal one that takes a lot of thought and discussions with family members. We have individuals here in the Yukon who are still alive, because someone somewhere signed a donor card, and our fellow Yukoners were the lucky recipients. They and their families are extremely grateful for the thoughtfulness of donors who have made the decision to give that most precious gift.
Sadly, we have other families who mourn the loss of a loved one, but who can rejoice in the fact that their family memberís passing helped others. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable situation for some, but we need this discomfort to prod us to make a decision. Remember, 4,281 Yukoners have already made that decision.
In recognition of Girl Guides of Canada
Ms. Duncan:I rise on behalf of the Liberal Party caucus to pay tribute to the hundreds of girls and women throughout the Yukon involved in the Girl Guide organization. Guiding is the largest single organization for girls led by women in the Yukon and in Canada. Their principles of environmental stewardship and awareness are well known to the House.
In particular, the involvement in Swan Haven as a partnership opportunity in the community has brought much to Yukon for all Yukoners.
Guiding began in the Yukon in Dawson City in 1914, so 2004 marks the 90th anniversary of the contributions offered by this volunteer organization in the territory. We are active throughout the Yukon with about 320 girl and adult members in Dawson City, Haines Junction, Beaver Creek, Teslin, Watson Lake and throughout Whitehorse. Atlin, B.C. is also included in our Yukon membership.
At this time of year, both parents and guiders support the major fundraising activity with the sale of Girl Guide cookies, and Iím sure when youíve had a chance to taste the cookies this year, youíll agree with me that theyíre better than ever, but we canít taste them in the Legislature, Mr. Speaker, because that would be out of order. So the box for each of my colleagues in the Legislature, in the media gallery and in Hansard will be delivered later this afternoon. Each $4 box supports girls throughout the Yukon. All the money stays here and supports our unit activities.
As Yukoners greet the Sparks, Brownies and Guides at their doors this month, selling fun fuel for girl power, I would encourage all Yukoners to imagine the power of a cookie. Take a moment and ask the girls what they like most about the guiding program. Youíll be amazed at the self-confidence that has developed in these young women as they challenge themselves through a modern, active and exciting program.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, I encourage all Yukoners to greet these Sparks, Brownies and Guides and their adult volunteers with a smile, and I encourage the sale of Girl Guide cookies, because itís all about the girls.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart:I have for tabling the Town of the City of Dawsonís financial plan for 2004-07, report and addendum of the Government of Yukon recommendations.
I also have for tabling a response to the questions from the opposition regarding Shakwak funding.
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
Mrs. Peter:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House endorses the statement of principles known as the Earth Charter and urges the Government of Yukon to make best efforts to adopt and implement these principles in all areas of policy and practice that lie within its jurisdiction. I have a copy of the Earth Charter for tabling also.
Mr. Arntzen: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to continue to take a balanced approach to environmental protection and responsible economic development.
Mr. Rouble: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to direct the Department of Community Services to work collaboratively with the Carcross area advisory and planning committee and the Carcross-Tagish First Nation to enhance public safety in Carcross by creating and implementing a pilot dog-control project.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Withdrawal of motions
Speaker:Before we conclude notices of motion, the Chair wishes to inform the House of a change that has been made to the Order Paper. Motion No. 236, standing in the name of the leader of the third party, has been removed from the Order Paper as it is now outdated.
Is there a statement by a minister?
That brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Family violence, Energy, Mines and Resources ministerís comment
Mr. Hardy: Sometimes we have to ask very difficult questions in the Legislature, and sometimes we ask questions that allow members to clarify statements made that may have caused great concern for the general public. I think people will understand where itís coming from and why weíre asking this question.
Will the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources explain what circumstances, if any, justify the use of violence in any family unit?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate that question. In the discussions or the issues about the jail that we had the other day ó last Wednesday ó I associated society with a family unit and probably would have regretted doing that, involving my own family. We certainly donít condone violence in any aspect of our society, least of all in our own family, so I have to apologize to the House that I brought that simile in. It should not have been brought to the level of my own personal family, and I certainly will be wiser for it in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I think itís very important that we hear those words being spoken, especially when we, as members ó in the position we are in as MLAs, elected members ó may misspeak ourselves, but there are still some issues around it.
Members of the House were shocked ó many of us were shocked ó last week when the minister made these unacceptable comments about using physical or verbal abuse within the family unit. The minister did try to clear up these statements with the media later but, unfortunately, seemed only to make the matter worse.
The ministerís own words in Fridayís newspapers were, "Maybe I was lucky my family unit didnít need any violence; maybe others do."
What is the Premier doing to make his ministers aware that violence of any kind is not acceptable in any family unit?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I would like to take that question from the member opposite. I feel the question has been asked and Iíve addressed the question. So letís go on with the business of the day and move forward.
Mr. Hardy: No matter how much we would like to move forward on it, Mr. Speaker, itís really not the member oppositeís choice. The member opposite was the one who started it and, unfortunately, the member opposite added to it by his comments on Friday and I think we need to deal with that so it doesnít happen again.
This kind of careless comment by a community leader gives entirely the wrong message to people who may be looking for excuses to justify their own violent behaviour.
Earlier this sitting, the MLA for Old Crow asked the Premier and the Minister of Justice to make it crystal clear that this government does not condone domestic violence in any form ó physical, verbal or emotional. I was very disappointed with the lack of response I heard from both ministers when the member from Old Crow asked these questions.
So my question now is: will the Premier make a commitment that any member of his Cabinet or caucus who makes a statement condoning violence within Yukon families will be disciplined and dismissed, if necessary?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, letís put this into context. There has been nobody on the government side of the House who has made a statement condoning violence in any shape or form in our society. Letís get that straight.
Second, Mr. Speaker, this government has never been silent when it comes to this terrible scourge in our society. We speak with our actions, and this government has taken on a number of initiatives to try to address this very deeply rooted problem. Led by the Womenís Directorate, for example, this government is trying to address ó nationally, in partnership with the federal government, all provinces and territories ówhat is a terrible situation in our aboriginal communities, where aboriginal women experience up to three times the incidence of violence in the home.
Our Department of Health and Social Services continues to invest in programs and the delivery of those programs to all individuals in Yukon society today to try to address this deeply rooted problem. The challenges are many, but this government will do its best to meet those challenges daily.
Question re: Dawson City sewage disposal
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, according to todayís court information, the company that had the waste management contract in Dawson City has now filed a lawsuit for more than $500,000. Iím sure this doesnít come as a surprise to the Minister of Community Services. Why did the minister, through his hand-picked supervisor, direct the mayor and council of Dawson City to take an action that made this lawsuit virtually inevitable?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As the member opposite indicated this is under court litigation, and I canít make any further comment.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I can understand why the minister doesnít want to comment about it. His fingerprints are all over the situation here. The ongoing saga of how the minister set about to remove Dawsonís duly elected mayor is far from over.
Last fall, the minister appointed a supervisor that has cost the taxpayers more than $50,000 to date and the clock is still ticking on that one, and the bill is yet to be finalized. Now the taxpayers could be on the hook for another half a million dollars as a result of the supervisorís insistence that the mayor and council rip up a contract that they had just signed. If the legal action is successful, will the government be paying the bill, or is this going to be another burden on Dawson Cityís finances?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I think the member opposite will concur, this is just another reason that the trustee has been appointed in Dawson City.
Mr. Cardiff: Perhaps the minister can get more advice from the Member for Klondike to answer this question. The minister may be more willing to discuss his apparent about-face on the question of a public inquiry in Dawson City. Last week he appeared willing to initiate an inquiry and then he apparently had a change of heart and said that he would only launch an inquiry if the new trustee requested it. I canít see anything in the Municipal Act that allows the trustee to request an inquiry, but the minister can and should do that. Thatís the only way to end all of the speculation and the misunderstanding and the half-truths.
Will the minister do the right thing and use his authority under the Municipal Act to order an independent inquiry into Dawson Cityís financial situation, how it developed, as well as the circumstances leading to the ministerís dismissal of the mayor and council?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have received a request from the trustee to perform a forensic audit on the situation in Dawson City, and we are progressing along that line. Thatís the first stage, and thatís to assist the trustee in determining the financial situation in Dawson City, to help him just to recreate what has happened in the town and provide some factual information that the member opposite, Iím sure, would like to see. If in fact I get a recommendation from the trustee that they want to take a further step, we will act on that step.
Question re: Business loans, outstanding
Ms. Duncan:Under a new policy announced last December by the Premier, the government intends to sell all outstanding loans to a collection agency. Included in this group of loans are more than $400,000 in unpaid bills belonging to the MLA for Klondike and the MLA for Porter Creek Centre.
The tender package is now being developed for anybody interested in purchasing these loans. Will the Premier today guarantee taxpayers that any settlements that are reached with the collection agency will be made public?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have committed to a process in regard to this long-standing unresolved issue for the Yukon government. That process is now well on its way to completion. There was a six-month timeline for all proponents to come forward, except for the two members of this government who do not have the luxury of renegotiating terms and conditions. Once completed and the tenders are out and weíve reviewed those proponents who come forward with their bids on the tender package, we will make that decision. But there are still a couple of months left in the six-month period that we provided on this issue before we get to that stage.
Ms. Duncan: The Premier gave a lengthy answer but he didnít commit to the public that the settlement terms would be made public, that they would know what happened. Ever since the government took office, the benefits to having a Yukon Party card have been obvious. Top advisors have had pay raises, former candidates have received contracts and the main criterion for being appointed to a board has been having a Yukon Party membership card.
Now, both Cabinet ministers entered office with hundreds of thousands of dollars ó $400,000 ó in unpaid loans. Thanks to the announcement in December, they will leave office owing nothing and we donít know what will be paid back.
At least one individual has publicly come forward and told the government that they do not intend to pay back their loan because they believe the statute of limitations has expired.
Will the Premier commit that this type of special arrangement, the statute of limitations, will not be provided to either Cabinet minister?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, letís put this question into context, and as usual the third party is standing on the floor of this Legislature presenting an opinion. That opinion is not necessarily correct or even relevant to the facts. The facts are that weíve brought forward a process to bring closure to a long-standing issue. Itís not a couple of hundred thousand dollars weíre dealing with here; itís millions of dollars of outstanding loans to the Yukon government, some of that also to the federal government. We the government side are bringing closure to it. We the government side have brought forward a solution. We the government side will stick to that process and see it through to its end.
Ms. Duncan: Thousands of Yukoners consider this issue relevant and bringing closure to it will include making public the facts. Itís a well-known fact that two MLAs owe Yukon taxpayers more than $400,000 in unpaid loans. I wrote to one of those MLAs, the MLA for Klondike, on January 29 and asked him to make a public commitment that he would pay back all the money he owes. I urged him not to duck out of that responsibility and I urged him not to invoke the statute of limitations. The letter was never answered.
My question is for the Minister of Health: will he commit to paying taxpayers the full amount of the money, the $270,000?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think we have to address this in this manner. The member opposite obviously has zeroed in and is fixated on two members of this government whose companies that they are affiliated with, and somehow involved with, owe money to the government, along with many others, totalling millions of dollars. I would also put on the floor of the Legislature that these same two members are making a contribution to todayís Yukon that is measured in invaluable terms. This is not an easy job. They are committed to it. They are delivering, unlike the member opposite who had an opportunity when in government to deal with this issue. What did we get? Nothing. Suddenly the third party is the champion of the unpaid loans? I think not.
Question re: Dawson City, appointment of trustee
Mr. Cardiff:I have another question for the Minister of Community Services. Section 336 of the Municipal Act sets out five conditions under which the minister may appoint a municipal trustee and remove the elected council. My question is pretty straightforward. Which of the five conditions, if any, was the minister acting on last Tuesday when he appointed a trustee to conduct the municipal affairs of Dawson City?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Dawson City is broke.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, thatís not in the Municipal Act. I donít know where he got that one. Thatís not in the Municipal Act. The majority of Dawsonís council did not request a trustee. That would be condition 336.1(e). We know that council didnít lose its quorum, even after one of the councillors resigned in protest. That was 336.1(d). So we could try something else. Maybe council failed to carry out an order or a direction from the minister ó 336.1(c); or maybe council failed to carry out a duty or function under the act ó thatís 336.1(b). Did the former mayor and council fail to meet one of those conditions and, if so, would the minister please elaborate?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The City of Dawson is considered insolvent. Thatís "broke".
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, the ministerís answer isnít good, and itís not helping anything. The minister has to follow the Municipal Act. The act is very clear about the five conditions that will allow the minister to sack an elected council, but the minister isnít being clear about why he did that or the conditions that warranted that action.
Maybe the minister can answer this question: is the minister confident that his action in appointing a trustee would stand up to a court challenge, and on what does he base that confidence?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have been working with the City of Dawson for some time now, since 2001, on their situation. Their situation is getting much more difficult and itís getting to the point where the City of Dawson was actually financially broke.
Question re: Electrical cogeneration
Mr. McRobb: My question today is for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. Can he tell the House what plans this government has to develop an electrical cogeneration plant in Watson Lake?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Certainly we are working with every part of the Yukon to improve the economic future for all parts of the Yukon, and certainly cogeneration in Watson Lake is something that has been brought up ó a great potential for southeast Yukon looking at the forest industry and the potential of that. So we donít shut the door on any economic future for any area of the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís not much of an answer. Perhaps the Premier hasnít brought this minister into his loop. At a recent public meeting in Watson Lake, the MLA Premier declared that he would soon bring a cogeneration plant to town and build it around a sawmill. Now, a main concern with this idea is the risk associated with tying a cogeneration plant to the presence of the coexisting source of heat or fuel.
In this case, the risk is clear: sinking millions of dollars into a facility that would be dependent on the continuous operation of one or more sawmills in the Watson Lake area. Since the minister has been brought into the Premierís loop, letís have him answer this question: what evidence can the minister provide that would remove this high risk?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, Iíd like to remind the House that on this side of the House we are looking very positively at economic development, and certainly there are challenges out there. Unlike the party across from us, the people in opposition, we have a commitment to the Yukon to get the economics up and going. Part of that master plan in southeast Yukon is the forest and how the management of that forest is going to go. As you see, Mr. Speaker, weíre moving toward that in a very productive way. So answering the question for the member opposite, certainly cogeneration has some potential in southeast Yukon. Forestry has some potential in southeast Yukon. We on this side of the House are looking at all aspects of economic development for all of Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister to indicate what evidence he has that removes the risk of building this plant. He failed to respond to that point. Now, gambling a huge amount of public funds on the continuous operation of Watson Lake sawmills is about as shaky a proposition as playing high-stakes poker in Vegas while blindfolded.
Now, letís go back to the public meeting. The Premier told Watson Lakers heís making changes at the Yukon Energy Corporation to pave the way for the cogeneration plant. Can the minister enlighten this House: specifically what changes have been made or are being made to accommodate this commitment?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, we certainly are not going to follow the path of the past NDP government, which spent $26 million on a non-existing sawmill in Watson Lake, which the ratepayers today are still paying off. We certainly are not going to use that as a template for how this government will do business anywhere in the Yukon.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Taylor:I would just like to invite all members of the Legislature to provide a warm welcome to my mother and also councillor of the Town of Watson Lake, Dianna Raketti.
Question re: Ambulance services
Mr. Fairclough:My question is for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
The definition of auxiliary employees in the Public Service Act is, in part ó and I quote ó "has one work assignment on a seasonal basis of more than three but less than 10 consecutive months on an hourly, daily or other periodic basis".
The second ambulance in the Whitehorse station, known as the Bravo car, has been in use for seven days a week for 365 days a year for three years. It has been staffed largely by auxiliary employees. This is not periodic use of auxiliaries.
What is the governmentís policy on determining if a position should be considered permanent or auxiliary?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The memberís information with respect to the staffing at the Whitehorse ambulance station is incorrect.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, the minister didnít hear the question, as usual. We are getting that from the government side time and time again. There was no answer to the question.
So I can ask the minister again: why is the Minister of Health standing up to answer questions for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission? He wants to control everything on that side of the House.
So I will ask the minister again in a simple question ó it appears that we have to do that, Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House: what is the governmentís policy on determining if a position should be considered permanent or auxiliary? That is to the Public Service Commission and I ask the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission to answer that question.
Speaker:Before any member rises on the government side, it is a collegial responsibility of the Cabinet that they will stand up and answer questions at any given time. Any member of the Cabinet can do so, and we all know that. So please carry on.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: While all that conversation was going on, I sort of lost track of the question here. I would like the member opposite to repeat it.
Speaker: Iíll give you another supplementary.
Mr. Fairclough: My goodness, this is going from bad to worse. Iím asking about the definition of auxiliaries and what this governmentís policy is all about. I said that for seven days a week, 365 days a year, the Bravo car has been in use and is largely staffed by auxiliary employees. I will ask the first supplementary: what is the governmentís policy on determining if the position should be considered permanent or auxiliary?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I will get that information to the member opposite by legislative return.
Mr. Fairclough: Iíve been asking this question of the minister almost every day of this sitting, and Iím surprised that ministers are not following up on it. Let me ask the minister this then: in May 2000, the Public Service Commission hired four auxiliaries for ambulance service. In 2003 they hired one more, and they just hired two more auxiliary ambulance attendants. The number of auxiliaries on call in the ambulance service is now greater than the number of the permanent staff, and some of these auxiliaries are earning more than the permanent staff.
In the past year, more than 70,000 hours have been clocked by auxiliaries, enough money to pay for 32 full-time employees. Why is the Public Service Commission not hiring permanent employees for the ambulance service? This is a straightforward question.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, Mr. Speaker, these positions are staffed by the Public Service Commission. I believe that due process is followed in any given position within government and I fail to understand what the real concern of the member opposite is. I mean, if the positions arenít required to be full-time, they will not be full-time.
Question re: Emergency firefighters
Mr. Cardiff:I have a question for the Minister of Community Services. Last November I asked the minister about his new policy on emergency forest firefighters, and I see in the newspaper that theyíre actually advertising to train emergency forest firefighters and offer them jobs.
My concern at the time was that several categories of workers were being asked to put their lives on the line for substandard wages and no benefits. Has the minister done anything to change this situation and give emergency fire personnel the respect they deserve?
Hon. Mr. Hart: At the present time we are paying those particular firefighters comparable wages to the other jurisdictions in Canada.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, thatís not good enough.
Letís look at the details. The policy, 3.58 in the general administration manual, lays out how much they get paid, so letís look at it. A kitchen aide who works for the Yukon government at a seniors facility, for example, makes $16.96 an hour, plus benefits; a kitchen aide on the fire line, $8.65 an hour ó imagine that ó and no benefits. That comes down to less than half what a kitchen aide at a seniors facility would make.
Under this new policy, a camp crew boss, who has to be a certified firefighter, who has the responsibilities of running a fire crew in risky situations, makes a pitiful $14 an hour.
Will the minister now make a commitment to take another look at this penny-pinching policy before the yearís fire season starts? Weíre getting awfully close here.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, these rates were provided under the devolution process from the federal government.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, thatís too bad. The minister doesnít seem to understand that heís the minister responsible for forest fire management now. Itís not the federal government. Ottawa doesnít set the pay scale any more. Itís the minister who is going to set the pay scale. So the argument ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Please allow the member to ask his question. Carry on.
Mr. Cardiff: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The argument that Ottawa sets the pay scale carries about as much water as an empty hose. This government has made a big deal about doubling the honoraria for volunteer firefighters, and I congratulate them on that. Thatís a good move, but the question is: why does the largest budget in Yukon history, which paves the way for a $50-million bridge to nowhere, not recognize the value of emergency forest fire personnel? Will the minister now change his policy and increase the rates in all four categories under policy 3.58 of the general administration manual to bring their wages more into line with other workers doing similar work?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with our fire crews, and we are standing ready for this season. Weíve had a season under our belt. I expect very much that weíll be prepared for this upcoming season, and weíll look forward to it.
Question re: Yukon Wildlife Preserve, Holland America agreement
Ms. Duncan:Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Environment has shown that heís good at spending money on the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and unfortunately he has also shown heís not very good at bringing money in. In past years, the preserve has received a good deal of its revenues from Holland America, one of our major tourism partners. In a recent interview, one of his officials admitted that weíve been approached by Holland America, but we havenít been able to get together to talk about it. In fact, Mr. Speaker, there is no deal in place this summer with Holland America, and there isnít going to be one. The government is spending $580,000 to run the facility but didnít have time to talk to its largest source of revenue. Will the minister confirm that there is no agreement in place with Holland America, a customer who traditionally spends $250,000 at the facility and is one of our major Yukon tourism partners?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the Wildlife Preserve once again. This will be a world-class facility and certainly worthy of the tourism, but we remind the member opposite, who should be aware, that tour companies plan their tours, plan their operations, years in advance. This was one of the problems in terms of the facility closing, and without that assurance that it would continue, which caused the problems.
It will take several years for them to see how this develops and to put that back into their brochures. They have to get it on their Web sites, communicate it to their tour operators, set the standards. We have had talks with them so far, and that will be starting. We do have to make arrangements certainly in the interim to get the facility up and running, but thatís certainly in our game plans and we certainly have had discussions with them.
Ms. Duncan: I would hope that the game plans for the Wildlife Preserve would include full and fair consideration to one of Yukonís major tourism partners, including having the time to talk about it.
One suggestion thatís making the rounds is that the Department of Environment is looking to generate revenue at the recently purchased game preserve by having Yukon schoolchildren visit it. The admission would be paid by the Department of Education. In other words, one department is going to subsidize the other department. Will the minister guarantee that our schoolchildren can continue to visit the facility without having to pay?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, the Wildlife Preserve will be ó I believe the date is June 12 that is the official opening, and we certainly do welcome everyone to come out. One of the difficulties, of course, that has happened in the past is that that agreement with Holland America was in fact an exclusive contract, which left us with a situation of many Yukoners not really realizing what the benefits were and what the place had to offer. To my knowledge, I donít believe there is any arrangement where weíre going to be charging any kind of revenue or gate receipts or anything like that to the Department of Education, nor will we on the first public day to invite people in. I invite the members opposite. We wonít charge them either if theyíd like to come out and actually see what theyíre complaining about.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has demonstrated that he can spend money. He has demonstrated that he is not very good at bringing money in. He is not content to stop there.
In a March 26 radio interview, the minister was making noises about buying animals from other game facilities in the Yukon, including one in Carcross.
How much money has been set aside for that purchase, and what does the minister plan to do with the animals?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I appreciate the compliments from the member opposite of knowing how to spend money. When a government can spend $12.1 million the day of calling an election, I take that as something coming from an expert.
Again, the game farm will be a world-class facility. One of the ways that we can ensure that animals do not go into the hunt farm stream is by certification with the Canadian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria. We have already purchased and are in the process of setting up ISIS ó the international species identification system. It allows the animals to be microchipped and traced, so that if they do go to another facility, we know exactly where they are and what they are used for.
Also, the revenue streams and benefits that will come from other directions do not involve the sale of large numbers of animals or large numbers of offspring ó something that is necessary for any farmer of any sort. Without that necessity, the animals arenít produced. They are only produced when necessary. They are produced for good purposes, to other licensed and fully accredited facilities.
Again, I thank the member opposite for the chance to say that this is the way to prevent animals from going to hunt farms. This is the way to do it, and it is the only way to do it. This government has done it.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 43: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 43, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 43, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 43, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iím pleased to introduce this bill to the House. The bill extends the Yukon mineral exploration tax credit for another three years. Instead of expiring on March 31, 2004, the bill allows the credit to continue through to March 31, 2007. I think itís a given that this mineral exploration tax credit has provided the Yukon with a bit of a competitive advantage in seeking mineral exploration investment for the Yukon, and itís also an incentive for the industry that has been well-received.
Itís also important to note that it provides a degree of certainty for the industry in planning future yearsí exploration programs, which are a very important part of raising investment to any jurisdiction from the industry itself.
The mining industry has told us many times that this credit is very important to leveraging funds from the investment community and weíre hopeful that those funds, as much as we can solicit, will be invested in the Yukon, and weíre pleased that the projections for this summer are showing approximately $30 million of mining exploration for the Yukon. Considering that two short years ago we were realizing a mere $5 million to $6 million, I think we can all agree that weíre heading in the right direction.
Mr. Speaker, this credit is money well invested. Itís money that brings much more to the territory. Mining exploration is a prerequisite to get to the position where any mine may move into development and a production phase.
But it also serves another purpose, which is a minor issue. It corrects an incorrect ratio used in the current Income Tax Act. This ratio, which has been uncovered by our hard-working Finance officials, should have been changed when the mineral exploration tax credit was brought in and changed from a rate of 22 percent to 25 percent on April 1, 2001.
With that, I commend the amendment to the Income Tax Act to the House and look forward to the member oppositeís comments.
Mr. McRobb: We in the official opposition at this point rise in favour of this amendment to the bill. After all, it was a previous NDP government that introduced the bill and the concept of a Yukon exploration mining tax credit. Itís somewhat reassuring to know that the former NDP member, the now MLA for Watson Lake and Premier, hasnít lost all of his NDP roots and still will stand behind something, at least something, that a previous government brought into this House.
Just earlier today I had the pleasure of going back and looking through Hansard, doing research for my question in Question Period, about the cogeneration plant in Watson Lake. I had the pleasure of reviewing some of the speeches made by the Member for Watson Lake at that time.
It was rather interesting to read what he had to say about the Yukon protected areas strategy. He married the YPAS to exploration, but we see something quite different now that heís Premier and a member of the Yukon Party. Obviously that relation has been divorced because YPAS has been axed and pushed off the stovetop altogether; itís not even on the backburner any more, despite being very prominent in the Yukon Party election platform.
Iíll just remind you that the Yukon Party promised to bring all the parties together and resolve the issues regarding the Yukon protected areas strategy. Well, it didnít take the government too long to resolve the strategy all right, Mr. Speaker. The strategy was basically axed in the backroom without any public consultation. It was another example of the government fulfilling an agenda and not being very open about it to the voters at the time. So we donít have a lot to say on the tax credit amendment at this time. Weíre looking forward to some debate in Committee on it, and we do have a few questions at that time.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill No. 43, Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, which extends the mineral exploration tax credit. The Yukon mineral exploration tax credit was introduced at the time as a short-term measure to help the mining industry generate jobs and spending during what was then a downturn in exploration and in metal prices.
The NDP introduced the program in 1999. At that time, it was at 22 percent. The Liberal government not only increased the mineral exploration tax credit to 25 percent, but we also extended it significantly.
Itís a very important program for mineral exploration in the Yukon Territory. This particular tax credit, Mr. Speaker, has a high potential for positive economic benefits, and Iíd like to commend the fact that the Income Tax Act has been used in this particular program of assistance to the mining industry, because it applies to everybody equally. Itís not to the best grant writer or to any one particular industry over another. Itís for the mining industry, and it is available to everyone.
Itís very important because the mining exploration companies spend their money locally. They buy their groceries, they rent their vehicles, they charter the local helicopter companies, they hire locals to do the expediting, and they spend money throughout the territory. They spend this money by hiring the services throughout the Yukon.
There is a cost to the Yukon taxpayer in terms of foregone revenue. In 1999, which was when it was first introduced, the estimated revenue ó or cost of the program ó was about $1.3 million. Now, exploration figures for that year were very low, as were the metal prices. The Premier has not indicated what the foregone revenue might be in a high exploration year, such as is anticipated this year, and I would appreciate that information either in Committee of the Whole debate or in his second reading speech.
I support the mineral exploration tax credit. I believe very strongly in it. It was our government that increased it to 25 percent, and I applaud its continuation.
I would like Yukoners to have the full information. For example, at the time of its increase, it was indicated that BDO Dunwoody has indicated the expenditures made by the mining industry ó about 81 percent of them ó were spent locally, in support of my comments earlier. So if the Premier has additional information, perhaps he could share it with the House.
Fundamentally, in the interests of full and fair information, we should also be aware of what the anticipated future cost of the program is as well.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With that I would again indicate my support for Bill No. 43 and look forward to its rapid process through Committee of the Whole.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker:Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, in looking through the Standing Orders of the Assembly for the particular clause that indicates that it is against the House rules to have props in this Legislature, I would draw your attention to the desk in front of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. It appears he has a statue of a squirrel over there. I donít quite know what it is about, Mr. Speaker ó whether there is maybe lots of food for the squirrel or what, but I would remind you that it is against the rules.
There is a point of order. We are not allowed to use props in this House. I would ask the member to place the prop ó whatever the heck it is ó under his desk, please.
If the Premier now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is truly a simple amendment extending what was already an initiative in place, but I feel compelled to respond to some of the comments from the opposite benches.
First let me deal with the third party. Yes, itís true that the third party took on an inherited initiative of tax credit for the mining industry and increased it from 22 to 25 percent. That is a fact.
However, the third party, when in government, totally diminished and diluted the benefits that would accrue from such an increase for this incentive-driven initiative by stumbling and fumbling around with the Yukon protected areas strategy; therefore, not inviting the industry into the Yukon. In fact, by creating the uncertainty that that very flawed process had brought to our territory, it drove the industry out of the territory.
I think itís important that thatís put on the record because it speaks volumes to what took place during a time when we were under the leadership of the now third party, then the Liberal government. This government, on the other hand, had the political will to deal with a flawed process and the rest is now history. Not only are we extending the time period for this mineral exploration tax credit, we are doing many other things to provide certainty for the mining industry in this territory. Not only is it through an incentive process, like tax credit, but itís also important to note our efforts to encourage partnerships with First Nations. A shining example of that, much to the chagrin of the opposition benches, is the partnership with the Kaska Nation and a major mining firm known as Teck Cominco. We now are experiencing today their involvement again in the mining sector in the Yukon, and I think it shows clear testimony that this governmentís approach not only with tax incentives but with partnering with First Nations is paying dividends.
I can understand that the member opposite ó the members ó have a problem with that. Let me just point out the contrast. We the Yukon Party government promote and commit to partnering with First Nations so that they will realize a benefit from economic development. The members opposite are against that: a clear contrast in this House, and all First Nations should be aware of the position of not only the New Democrats but the third party in this Legislature. For days now weíve watched and witnessed the members opposite try to pit First Nation against First Nation. Not this government: we are firmly committed to ensuring that economic partnerships provide benefits for all Yukoners, including First Nation people.
When it comes to the official opposition and their response to this, itís always interesting to listen to the Member for Kluane promoting and supporting tax credits on one hand because itís the thing to do ó there is no real other choice ó but on the other hand he makes many statements and takes many positions that are anti-development for this territory. The Yukon protected areas strategy initiative is a shining example of what not to do when you want to attract resource investment into the Yukon Territory.
I also want to put on the record that, considering the constant connection with the NDP through my former position with that party, I want to thank the NDP for allowing me that time to practice, because thatís what it was.
To compare myself, the MLA for Watson Lake, or to label me as a social democrat is extremely incorrect. I never was a social democrat. I never will be. I am, without a doubt, a proponent of capital democracy for this territory, and we are implementing many initiatives that speak volumes to that.
Secondly, the NDP recruited me. They obviously needed someone like me to show up their right flank, and for a time I did that. But I have moved on because I have seen the light, Mr. Speaker. Itís also important to note that we, the Yukon Party government, do not ignore good initiatives that will benefit people and citizens of the Yukon ó not at all. Yes, we have incorporated the mineral exploration tax credit and improved on it, but I think the Member for Kluane would be better served to stand up and ó instead of announcing to the territory through this House that it was the NDP that created this tax incentive ó point out that it was Yukoners sitting at the tax round table for many hours, working hard on bringing forward recommendations to the government of the day on how to better improve the economic situation in the Yukon. It was not government; it was Yukoners who brought forward this initiative. We commend them for it, and we are going to continue to incorporate it.
Not only have we adopted this incentive ó the mineral exploration tax credit ó but we also adopted the community development fund, weíve also adopted FireSmart, weíve also adopted the rural roads program. Why? Because this government will not ignore good initiatives that benefit Yukoners, and we will continue to work to improve all the initiatives that we have before us to make the lives of our citizens improved and better.
We, Mr. Speaker, as a government will never shirk our duty to go forward and continue to attract the private sector into this territory, which the NDP simply have an aversion to do.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 43 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair:Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. I believe the matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
We will continue with Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, with general debate on Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker:Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, I understand that weíre now dealing with Bill 8, the supplementary budget. That is not the business identified by the government House leader at the House leadersí meeting this morning. We were advised that weíd be dealing with Bill No. 43, Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, in second reading. Now that order has been switched up without any explanation.
Chair:Order please. Thank you for bringing that to the Chairís attention. Unfortunately the Chair has no control over the business that is called.
Bill No. 8 ó Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04 ó continued
Yukon Housing Corporationó continued
Chair: The matter before the Assembly today is Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mr. Cardiff: Weíll talk about Bill No. 43 another day, Iím sure.
So, where we left off the other day, I was asking the minister about the pet policy for Yukon Housing. The minister didnít seem to want to commit at that time to reviewing the pet policy on an overall basis for Yukon Housing.
I think that he has already raised the point that there is a double standard and that it is discriminatory, based on age, that people should be allowed to have pets. Itís also a double standard and itís discriminatory, based on income, when government employees staying in Yukon Housing units can have pets and people on social assistance are denied the right to have pets.
There are a lot of reasons why people should have pets. There are a lot of good reasons, and even the Member for Klondike and the Minister of Health and Social Services should realize that.
So Iím going to point out a couple of good reasons why it would be good if people in Yukon Housing units were allowed to have pets. Seniors who own pets cope better with stressful life events without entering the health care system. Iím sure the Member for Klondike would applaud something like that. People with borderline hypertension had lowered blood pressure on days they took their dogs to work. And we know that both the Member for Klondike and the Premier love to take their dogs for walks in the parking lot and relieve their hypertension and lower their blood pressure as well, Mr. Chair.
There are lots of examples. Animal-assisted therapy can effectively reduce the loneliness of residents in long-term care facilities. They have fewer minor health problems. Pet owners also have better psychological well-being, and contact with pets develops nurturing behaviour in children, who may grow to be more nurturing adults.
Children exposed to humane education programs display enhanced empathy for humans compared with children not exposed to such programs. Positive self-esteem of children is enhanced by owning a pet; childrenís cognitive development can be enhanced by owning a pet; and 70 percent of families surveyed in 1985 reported an increase in family happiness and fun subsequent to pet acquisition. Children exposed to pets during the first year of life also have a lower frequency of allergies and asthma. In many instances, pets fulfill many of the same support functions as humans for adults and children.
So there are lots of good benefits for why seniors and families should have the right to have a pet live in their home with them. The minister needs to look at some of those positive examples before they slam the door on people who live in Yukon Housing social housing and tell them they canít have pets.
The International Association for Human-Animal Interaction Organizations, which is a partner of the World Health Organization, passed a resolution in 1995 to acknowledge the universal, non-discriminatory right to pet ownership in all places and reasonable circumstances if the pet is properly cared for and does not contravene the rights of non-pet owners.
Now, "all places" would include the home, and I think that it would also be a reasonable circumstance to expect that people could have pets where they live.
So Iím hoping that the minister will have another look at this and ask the Yukon Housing Corporation and the board to take another look at this. I look forward to hearing what the ministerís response is.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I wonít dispute any of the comments he made with regard to the positive aspects about pets. I have a pet myself. The issue in most of these cases is that as many ways that you can look on the positive side, there are negative sides. There are people with allergies. There are people who canít be near cats and/or dogs, so the issues ó thereís the issue of seniors, for example. In detached facilities, thatís fine, but in apartment-type dwelling places, there is the case of noise, again a case of allergies, and thereís also ó as far as the Housing Corporation goes ó the aspect of after-care when the unit is switched over and it has to be cleaned out and taken care of.
But I will say that the decision to allow pets or not allow pets is up to the social housing unit; it is done at the community housing board level. Some allow pets, some donít. As I mentioned before, the Yukon Housing Corporation respects each local levelís authority in this matter. Iíd like to re-emphasize that particular aspect.
The staff housing policy is a Public Service Commission policy. Yukon Housing administers the policy on behalf of the Public Service Commission. The decision to allow pets in staff housing is related to the recruiting and retaining of employees in the communities.
It is often very difficult for the government to fill key positions in rural communities, and part of the equation in getting professionals to go to these communities usually involves a pet facility.
As I mentioned previously on the pet policy, we are awaiting the Human Rights Commissionís ruling due sometime in late May before looking at our policy again, depending on what that ruling comes out with.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister basically did it again. There is a policy in place. The government has a policy in place around recruitment that allows people to have pets, but if you are on social assistance or theyíre in social housing, they are not allowed to have pets.
I donít disagree with the fact that there are extenuating circumstances, especially in apartment buildings. I mentioned the resolution that was passed, and it says, "Öas long as it does not contravene the rights of non-pet owners."
I am sure that if the Housing Corporation looked at it, there would be the possibility of allowing people to have pets as long as there were certain rules in place. I am sure that the government knows all about rules, and they can draft a set of rules ó or somebody can draft a set of rules ó that tenants would have to live up to in order to have a pet ó whether it was about how many times a week they had to vacuum, or whatever it was, or maybe they would have to take their pet outside for certain functions. I mean, that is just a natural, commonsense thing. If they canít live up to it, then I guess they donít get to have a pet. What I am saying is that at least there should be a policy in place that allows for pets as long as they can obey the rules.
And I would appreciate it if the minister could look into that.
There was one other issue I raised with the minister in the last week or so, and that was the fact that social housing rent is based on 25 percent of the gross income of all household members. The problem is that the rent that is paid, a lot of the times, is higher than what the market value would be, and then it discourages people from working. In some cases, it splits the family up, where one member of the family who is working moves out so that they donít lose the house that theyíre living in and their kids can stay there and have a roof over their head. It doesnít encourage tenants in social housing to save for mortgages.
The minister did commit to looking into this about a year ago actually. When I asked him about this, he said that he would ask the board to look into the pet policy for seniors and he said he would also ask for a review of the rent assessment policy. So that was last April, April 30, and Iím just wondering ó his excuse on April 5 of this year was that they had assumed this from the federal government. I would just like to know if he has something different to say on the 25 percent and whether or not he would be willing to cap that rate at some point.
Hon. Mr. Hart: To respond to the member opposite, the issue we were dealing with last year was we did look at the child income rent assessment for the ó sorry, the alimony income for them, and that was done. We did bring in a reduction to not include that in the 25-percent income level for their rent, and that was done.
With regard to social housing, one of the key aspects of social housing, of course, is itís available for people who require it. We have in several areas a demand for that type of housing. Itís difficult to address all of the issues in some rural communities. On the other issue, we do provide, through Yukon Housing, a first ownership program that does allow for individuals to get into the mortgage program, for example, if one or both the individuals are working but donít have enough money to get the deposit. But we are working on that particular, so there is some assistance in that particular area. But the key aspect is, as the member mentioned, for social assistance for those who are having difficulty getting by on what they earn. Thatís one of the criteria for the 25 percent.
As the member mentioned, in some cases itís more than market rent, but also in that case, if it is at that level, there is the private sector to go out there and that would free up the spot for those who do need the housing for social assistance and/or they can take advantage of our other program for mortgaging.
Mr. Cardiff: Itís another case of a double standard. I donít disagree; I mean, I think people need to get out of social housing when they have the opportunity, but the problem is that this doesnít allow them to, in a lot of ways.
Look at the facts: for a government employee in Yukon Housing staff housing, in a lot of cases their rent is capped at about $600 a month. The minister said there are programs to help people with their first-time home ownership, but if 25 percent of their gross income is going toward the rent, plus they have to feed the family and all the other things ó pay the electrical bill and whatever other bills they have ó it doesnít allow them to save for a mortgage.
So Iíd like to ask the minister if he would at least have his officials look at some of the situations people are in around this, and he can get back to me on it.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are anticipating the social housing evaluation report to be completed in the next short period of time, and we will look at all the recommendations from that report and report back.
Mr. Cardiff: I have one more question.
I look forward to seeing that report as well. I understand that it is due in a couple of weeks.
Could the minister maybe tell us what is happening on the affordable housing initiative that I have asked him about on several occasions? The federal government has made available a lot of money and I would like to know if we are planning on buying in to that program.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Currently, Yukon Housing is negotiating with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to allow changes to the agreement that will give Yukon Housing a little more flexibility as to the type of projects that they can use for the funding. For the north, it is substantially different than for the southern jurisdictions, and our friends from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are experiencing the same difficulty with CMHC. However, we are going to seek some direction on program perimeters and we will be ready to go with an expression of interest hopefully this summer, and we will take it from there.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a couple of questions for the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation. I understand that this money is strictly wage and collective agreement increases. There isnít anything beyond that in the supplementary amount?
Hon. Mr. Hart: That is correct.
Ms. Duncan: There are just a couple of questions that have come up that I would just ask the minister to provide me an answer on. I have had several questions from constituents about the rental policy, in particular with regard to Closeleigh and Greenwood, leading into a discussion, of course, also about seniors and what housing we provide.
So, if the minister could just perhaps send me more detail by a legislative return or a letter, but briefly, on the rental policy for those particular places ó Closeleigh and Greenwood ó is it as he outlined, the 25 percent, et cetera, et cetera?
Hon. Mr. Hart: It is exactly the same.
Ms. Duncan: So there are no different rules or extenuating circumstances considered with ó perhaps someone may be admitted or may have a place in Closeleigh and be living on a pension, and 25 percent of that pension would go to pay for their rent. What happens then if that individual gets a part-time job? So does their income then have to go entirely ó they canít put anything by to supplement that pension?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned, the same rules apply in that particular case. If they had additional income, if itís on a temporary basis, then it would be included in their rental. The idea of a seniors housing assistance is for those individuals who just have a pension, and itís relative to their income, just as a pension. Those who do have more income pay a little higher rate to stay in that facility.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the ministerís answer, and Iíll follow up with more details with the constituent then.
Just with respect to the seniors, there are some very clear, emerging, well-studied needs of seniors, particularly in the Whitehorse area, in that there is no assisted-living environment. Closeleigh is not an assisted-living environment. You can install Line of Life, but you donít have, other than home care, someone checking on a tenant in apartment A to say, you know, "Did you take your meds today?" Thereís no assisted living.
There is a senior housing management fund, though, that is being put aside in the Yukon Housing Corporation. Is there any thought that perhaps that might be used to develop an assisted living, to work with the Department of Health. The Department of Health is committed in other communities. In Whitehorse the need is bordering on the desperate for many. There is no assisted living. So what is the Housing Corporation going to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Thereís been no specific direction for the housing fund for the seniors. We will be looking for some direction with regard to the issue the member opposite inquired about.
Ms. Duncan: So is the direction going to come in terms of the protocol with the minister to the board? Itís going to be, "This is an issue that has been raised. Look at using the seniors housing management fund for development of assisted living in Whitehorse." How is the direction going to come? Is it going to be Cabinet, Management Board to the housing board? Is it going to be a result of the work on the floor of this Legislature, senior citizens, the Golden Age Society? How is that direction going to be arrived at for the seniors housing management fund?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíre in the process of bringing it forth from the board to Cabinet, and weíll be seeking a direction from them and going from there.
Ms. Duncan: Whatís the route for the concerns of seniors? Directly to the minister and his Cabinet colleagues then?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would say the route for the seniors right now is to come to Yukon Housing through the normal channels, and it will get to us.
Ms. Duncan: Just a suggestion to the minister: I think the seniors would like to talk to him directly and say that and his accountability for having heard from the seniors and then expending these funds would increase substantially. This is a very serious issue, and I understand that the Housing Corporation does have programs to enable seniors, or others who suffer some kind of debilitating illness, to modify their homes. What is the uptake on the program currently? Is it well-utilized? Does the program need modification? Is it being assessed for its effectiveness?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, Iíve met with the seniors at Greenwood as well as the seniors in Closeleigh Manor to discuss their issues directly and I have received some feedback from them on just whatís required. Itís a little different in each spot.
On the issue of the uptake of the program, it has been reasonably average, as it has been over the previous years.
Ms. Duncan: I would just ask the minister, perhaps when we move into the mains he could give an idea of the effectiveness of that program. Is it working and has it been successfully utilized, or are there some areas we could recommend for policy improvement?
With that, Mr. Chair, I have no further questions.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, weíll proceed to line-by-line.
Ms. Duncan: I request that all lines in Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation, be deemed to be read, cleared and carried as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation, cleared or carried
Chair:Ms. Duncan has requested that all lines in Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation, be deemed cleared or carried as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Yukon Housing Corporation in the amount of $115,000 agreed to
Yukon Housing Corporation agreed to
Chair: That concludes the departments.
On Schedule A
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Subtotal Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $9,200,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Subtotal Capital Expenditures in the amount of $6,989,000 agreed to
On Schedule B
Schedule B agreed to
On Schedule C
Schedule C agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, be reported without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Duncan: It is my understanding that we are moving from the supplementary estimates, Bill No. 8, into the mains. May I request a five-minute recess to allow time for the minister and those who close debate to make themselves prepared for the debate?
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested a recess. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a five-minute break.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Bill No. 10 ó First Appropriation Act, 2004-05 ó continued
Chair:Weíll continue on with general debate.
Mr. Hardy: Now, we do have a few more days in here, although itís looking quite beautiful outside.
Letís start with some basic stats and figures. Maybe we can get some of those. Has this Premier set any targets for employment? I know a lot of governments around the country will try to set targets to achieve, and of course a lot of it is based on the spending, where theyíre going to direct the funding and what kind of impact it will have. Has this government set any targets? And you can break it down in specific areas and impacts they have and what youíre trying to achieve.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, there are a number of targets that all governments should focus on in budgeting, because the money spent has to be investment in building the future. So as far as targeting statistics, thatís a little bit of a difficult issue because theyíre always a moving target. But in that regard, the areas that produce or are a part of creating the statistics become then what our government believes to be a more important target. Therefore, things like increasing population, more people in the workforce, more spending power, focus on mid- and long-term as we in the immediate increase stimulus are targets that we have employed to change the statistical situation we are in when it comes to the employment factor. But there is much more to the building of an economy than simply the unemployment factor.
Mr. Hardy: I have to agree with the Premier on that. Thereís a lot more to building an economy than just the unemployment factor; however, we have to have some way to measure it, and thatís what is exceptionally important. We have to be able to try to measure the endeavours and direction youíre going in. Maybe the Premier can tell me how they are going about measuring their successes. Especially with a budget of this size with the intention of stimulating the economy, how do they plan to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As far as how we measure, again there are many ways: the GDP factor; Yukon is experiencing growth; spending power. There are many measurements that can be used to address that. Weíve always maintained that itís the cash flow that is one of the most important facets of any economy. It is the fuel that drives any economic engine. Weíre seeing a population increase. We know thereís an increase in the workforce. We know thereís a reduction in the unemployment rate. We know other indicators are showing signs of positive trends, whether it be in real estate or those types of things. So that is what weíre doing, but at this stage the members opposite remember how the government has continually said in our plan that we first would get the fiscal house in order for the Yukon government.
Once we established a firm footing for our financial situation, then we set out to deal with the next step of our plan, which was to provide an increased stimulus with a focus in a number of the areas of investment ó like infrastructure ó to provide benefits for Yukoners in subsequent years. We are, with our economic plan, also linking that to our investments through budgeting by ensuring that we focus on our competitive advantages using mechanisms like tax incentives, removing regulatory problems where we can, and also ensuring that our focus on strategic industries continues. Examples of that in this budget: marketing fund for tourism, a marketing fund for economic development, a regional development focus and the list goes on.
But to try to stand here on the floor of the House and say that we want to specifically focus on the GDP factor as our economic measurement ó that would not be a prudent course to take for any government. Government has to focus on all the factors. Those factors will be variables at any given time during any given period when we relate to our economy. I think that experiences in the past also become relevant on what we shouldnít do in the future.
So we are very aware of the Yukonís economy, what makes it up and the direction that the territory should go to help improve the economic situation.
Mr. Hardy: Was there any analysis done to generate how many jobs would be created by the spending of this budget?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I imagine there is some formula that would be, in many cases, a very generic mechanism that could say that if government invested $1 million, it would create X number of jobs. But, because of the variables, as I stated earlier, those formulas donít hold true in many cases. The variables are things like highway construction versus the service sector, versus government job creation, versus mining, versus tourism, versus small business, versus cottage industry, home-based industry. All things are interrelated. The governmentís job is to create the environment for all those things to flourish. Thatís what we are trying to do. Thatís why this budget has come forward the way it has. It is very much focused on immediate stimulus with sound linkages to the mid- and long-term economic situation of our territory.
Mr. Hardy: The economists cut their teeth on figures like this, and projections and analyses. This is what they base a lot of their work on. I would hope the Premier would understand that there is such a thing as being able to calculate how many man hours, woman hours or person hours ó if you want to put it that way ó there are in any type of spending and where you direct your spending. If you didnít do that, you wouldnít be doing your work. You would just be going willy-nilly in every which direction, hoping one of them hits and has a good benefit.
A simple question is, when you tender a contract for road construction on a section of road, I would assume the government has an idea how many people it will employ, what kind of impact it will hopefully have in the community that it is being built by, and how many possible jobs will be created. Does the government have those figures?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, in many cases, the private sector does the hiring. Theyíre the ones creating the jobs, but I think if you look at person hours as another form of measurement, we can then relate millions of dollars to what it creates in terms of person hours of work. An example would be the community development fund. We know that approximately 14,000 hours were created by the projects that CDF invested in to some $3.5 million in total. If you extrapolate that, you may get some sort of figure on how many person hours of work are being created in this territory by this budget, but what we have to recognize is, not only is this budget creating person hours of work within government, itís laying some of the foundation to create many more person hours of work out of the private sector. The whole purpose of this exercise ó the objective ó is to ensure that we experience growth in private sector investment in this territory so the private sector is creating those person hours of work, along with government spending, which is then complementary to each other.
Mr. Hardy: The Premier talks like itís the first budget ever in the history of the Yukon Territory and itís the first one thatís ever going to come along and possibly create a job, but we have to take into account how itís going to stimulate growth, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Itís a pretty simple question.
The spending priorities are often developed based upon how much work, how many people can be employed immediately in that neighbourhood, in that community, in that sector, in that trade, in that occupation. This is not brand new. These questions are not brand new. This is pretty simple stuff.
It would be nice to know if the Premier would assure members on this side that he will give us a breakdown on the estimate of some of the spending, say in the capital works ó weíll make it pretty simple ó which is probably the easiest way to predict immediate job benefits in a community. If thereís going to be $3 million spent in a community on sewage, then without a doubt when the government sits down and figures out what the cost is so they can budget for it, how theyíre doing that is based upon the materials, itís based upon the hours that are estimated it will take to build the project. Otherwise you cannot do an estimate. You canít do it. Thatís what estimators are for. From my experience and from the years in my trades, thatís what we hire estimators for ó to give us a proper figure so that we can put in a price, so we can win the job. I would assume that the government also has estimators to estimate what the cost of the project is going to be based upon reasonable expectations for employment.
So would the Premier be willing to give us a breakdown ó and community by community would be quite easy I suspect ó of what kind of impact this is going to have for jobs in these communities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have given the opposition benches a detailed breakdown of the capital expenditures, community by community. I think the member opposite has pointed out a very important word here ó "estimate". We are not here to say to the communities, "You must create this many jobs out of this investment." Again, there are very many variables that will come into play here. There are issues of expertise, tradespeople ó you name it; the list is a long one.
What I think the member opposite should recognize is that the territory has changed direction post-November 2002. It has changed direction on this basis: first, the fiscal situation of the Yukon Territory has been improved. It has been improved because we have a firm grip on the finances of the Yukon. Second, we are now seeing indicators that bear that out, that the situation has improved. We are seeing a number of areas with growth that we are encouraged about. We know there are many challenges ahead.
The issue for the members opposite is to reflect on the facts that are presented. They are available to the members opposite. They show clearly that there are more people in the Yukon today than there were under past governments. There are more people in the workforce today than there were under past governments, and there is a low unemployment rate ó third in the country. Those are indicators that are showing positive trends.
But weíve also said clearly that the government does not take all the credit for that. What the government has been trying to do is complement what the private sector does with where we invest our money. So itís not a question of how much you invest and what you intend to create out of it as much as it is where you invest and how that is compatible with what the private sector is doing.
No economy can be built by government. If the last decade has shown us anything in the Yukon Territory, itís exactly that, because thatís all there was: the government. Today thatís different. We are seeing a change in the Yukon in terms of the direction this territory is going in, and the government has a role to play in that regard.
Mr. Hardy: I just want to make sure itís on record that the Premier is completely wrong. This is not the first budget in the world that has ever been created that takes into account the private sector and the stimulus a territorial government budget and spending has on the private sector. Itís absolutely impossible in the territory to even conceive of that kind of position the Premier is proposing here.
Every single premier, every single Finance minister before this one, also recognized what you have to do to stimulate the economy and recognized the partnerships that have to be built ó every single one of them. It doesnít matter if itís Liberals, Yukon Party before, or NDP. Itís no good trying to rewrite history to suit your own ó Mr. Chair, the Premierís trying to rewrite history to suit his own particular outlook on past governments that have built this territory and brought us today to this state. Many good things have happened and to all of a sudden to say that only the brilliance of the Premier now is being applied ó
Itís sad to say that the Premier wants to take that position because the public hasnít bought it. Itís ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, and itís a shame because I thought we were going to get a different kind of debate in this House. I think thatís what was promised, Mr. Chair. Instead weíve gone back to the same old lines when a person has come from opposition into government to all of a sudden rewrite history.
However, I believe the figures are available. I do know they have been made available in the past in regard to opposition questions in regard to job creation. I also know that departments do come up with figures on spending and what kind of stimulus they will have in the communities and the jobs that are created from them. If youíre planning to build a liquor store in Watson Lake, for instance ó I think a lot of people remember that project. Iím using one of the Yukon Party projects historically. There of course was an estimate on how many person hours would be created.
That has a huge impact. Thatís all they want to talk about. Thatís all they want to focus on. They donít want all the pie-in-the-sky rhetoric weíre hearing today. They want to know that if youíre going to spend, for instance ó oh, letís pick a community here. Well, we wonít pick Keno City because itís only getting $5,000. I donít think thatís going to create too much activity up in that area. So possibly weíll look at ó well, we wonít talk about Destruction Bay because I only see $60,000 being spent there, and it doesnít look like thereís going to be much in new employment being created there. So maybe I will try to find something that has a little ó Braeburn, $5,000. Iím not sure if thatís going to create any employment there. So Iíll keep looking to see where thereís some money that has been spent realistically here.
So, letís say the community hall in Ross River. Thereís an estimate of $1.3 million thatís planning to be spent. I am sure that when they came up to that figure for the community hall in Ross River, in order to come to that amount of money being spent, they broke it down into the costs of the materials and the amount of hours based upon probably the fair wage schedule, and how many hours of employment it would possibly create.
What weíre asking, very simply, is what those figures are and would the Premier be willing to give us a breakdown on some of these capital work projects and of how much employment itís going to put into the communities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, I think itís important that the official opposition does a little work on its own. They have the budget before them. They have the community capital breakdown. Apply their own formula. The government is confident that we are going to increase jobs available and benefits for Yukoners with this budget.
The government can say with the greatest of confidence that we have changed the spending pattern of government, the focus on investing in other areas. Thereís no problem relaying that. We can say with the greatest confidence that the trends show that the territory is now starting to head in the right direction, many challenges ahead. And there is no doubt that this kind of budget and the size that it is ó contrary to the member opposite continually alluding that we on this side of the House are saying that itís the first budget ever created. Thatís not what weíre saying, but we can say with the greatest of confidence that itís the biggest budget ever created, and Iím sure it will create hundreds of jobs for Yukoners.
But hereís where the official opposition, the NDP, really fall down on what an economy is. Itís the spending power that is critical. Itís the multiplication factor on every dollar earned and every dollar spent. Itís cash flow that creates the measurement, so the members opposite can apply whatever formula they want. I hope they donít use the same formula as they apply for the cost of a bridge in Dawson City. How quickly the NDP picked up the Mackenzie River bridge and extrapolated that into a $50-million bridge to cross the Yukon River in Dawson ó and how convenient. They omitted the fact that the bridge on the Mackenzie is over twice as long as the bridge over the Yukon River in Dawson. If we were to use the NDP formula, weíre going to create way more jobs than would be realistic, so Iíll allow the member opposite to apply whatever formula the member would like.
Mr. Hardy: Isnít the Premier a wise man? He is assuming that the NDP doesnít recognize the spending power and all that rhetoric that he just spilled out.
Of course, if we use the same logic that he just applied there, that means that because the bridge in Dawson City is only half the size of the Mackenzie, it will only cost half. What utter nonsense. What absolute and utter nonsense. It doesnít work that way.
Obviously, he has never been in construction. He has never built a bridge in his life. It doesnít work that way, I hate to tell him that. But if that is the formula and that is the way he has developed his budget, then we can understand why itís the biggest in the territory. We can also understand why it probably isnít going to generate as many jobs as it possibly could, because the spending wasnít done in the proper way.
He has raised the cost of the bridge. Well, why doesnít he stand up right now and tell us, since he is all-knowing ó why do we not hear the Premier tell us what the cost of this bridge is? You know why? He hasnít got a clue. He hasnít got an utter clue what this bridge is going to cost, but they are already starting to spend money on it. They have already made the promises around it. This government has already told us what type of financing and what kind of deal is going to be cut with businesses ó but he hasnít got a darn clue what itís going to cost.
So, it may cost $25 million; it may cost $30 million; it may cost $50 million. This Premier doesnít know. One of the problems we have in here is that we can talk about it but he hasnít got a clue what he is talking about. That is the kind of nonsense that we have to listen to on this side.
Now, he mentioned that we should do our work; we should figure out how many jobs will be created on some of these projects. Well, we are doing our work. I would like to point out the fact that we have asked the Premier for the numbers that the department has come up with that this spending creates in regard to employment in these communities. We are not asking how this will stimulate the private sector at this present time. We are very aware about access to capital. We have talked about it for years and years and years. We applied that same principle when the NDP was in government to try to create other avenues, access to capital, to stimulate the economy, to bring in more money and more activity into the territory, to have training, and to have higher education, which often generates a higher level of pay.
It has all been done before and it will continue to be done. Iím sure itís being done with this government. Iím sure it was done with the previous Liberal government. It was done with the NDP government, and it will be done with the new NDP government when these ones move out. Thatís pretty basic budget design.
Weíre doing our work here. Our work is to ask the question to see if the Premier will give us some information that other governments have given opposition in the past. This is nothing new.
How many jobs will be created by the direct spending, such as building a community centre? Whatís the estimate of person-hours for that project? Thatís all. Itís not too hard. Iím sure the estimates are there.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Obviously the member is trying to extend debate by needlessly going down these roads of: what is the exact number of jobs that will be created on a certain investment? Well, I can tell you that this budget is going to create hundreds of jobs, just by the O&M alone.
Letís see. We have probably 3,500 employees in government, so along with the hundreds in the private sector, add 3,500 ó hundreds more. The member opposite can apply whatever formula he wants. Letís ask the member opposite what he thinks about $17 million in the Shakwak. How many jobs will that create around the clock? How many people in the culvert crew? How many people in the back slopes? How many people in push Cats? How many people running scrapers? How many people running loaders? How many people running excavators? How many foremen driving around? How many flag people are there? How many cooks in the camp? How many camp attendants? The list goes on and on and on.
Frankly, this debate is needless. We know that this investment will create hundreds of jobs for Yukon, but more importantly itís going to create not only immediate benefits for Yukoners, it has linkages to the mid and long term to continue those benefits accruing for the Yukon public.
Then I say to the member, simply look at the stats today, the measurements, the measurements that the member brought up. What do they show? They show the trends are heading in the right direction.
Under the former Liberal government, we had an unemployment rate dropping, but that was in conjunction with the population decreasing and the workforce decreasing. Today we see a trend that is much different. We see an increase in population; we see an increase in the number of people in the job market and we see a decrease in unemployment. Those are trends that are very important. Weíre going to monitor those trends to ensure the direction the territory goes continues on an upward swing. We want to make sure the private sector becomes much more involved here, and thatís the key.
It begins with our budgeting. It is totally compatible with partnerships with our First Nations, partnerships the members opposite do not agree with. In fact, they would sooner pit First Nation against First Nation.
As I stated earlier in this Legislature today, when it comes to economic partnerships, there will be benefits accruing to First Nation people out of development. Resource development is critical to the Yukon economy. The New Democrats are anti-resource development. They would have this territory stop all resource access and development until their very conceptual plan of protected areas is dealt with, a plan that was so negative to this territoryís future that it had to be disregarded and thrown out. It did not work; it was a faulty, flawed political decision. Thatís not the route this government is going to take.
Now, we can stand here for the next 15 days if the member so chooses, but I say to him the stats are available; they show where weíre going. This budget will further increase the positive trends in the territory and this budget will create hundreds of jobs in the private sector and invest in over 3,500 jobs in government. Thatís a good thing.
Mr. Hardy: Isnít that lovely, to listen to those words? The NDP is anti-development. What nonsense. Ninety percent of the initiatives in this budget were all created by the NDP ó all the economic development initiatives. I would like the Premier to stand up and show me their great new initiatives and point out when he does so how many that are just copied from the NDP.
Itís interesting. He brought up the Yukon protected areas strategy. Why did he vote for it? Why did he vote for it when it was brought in? This is the Premier who voted for it; this is the Premier who was quite willing to stand up in this House and defend it. All of a sudden heís against it. Flip-flop. Mr. Chair, which side of the words can we place any value in, because they seem to flip around.
Right here, in regard to the NDP budget of 2000, he said, "Thereís a great balance in the budget between our environment and our economy." There, he actually mentioned the environment, which is so contrary to what he does today. And he goes on to say, "And we do that, Mr. Speaker, because the two are married. Without a sustainable environment, itís virtually impossible to develop a sustainable, viable economy, and thatís why we budget in the manner we do." This was in praise of an NDP budget. He loved what we were doing there; he loved the balance that we were finding. He loved our investments to stimulate the economy.
Now he stands up and criticizes everything the NDP stood for, criticizes everything that he was part of. How can the Premier flip so fast and rewrite history so easily and still expect to be credible in the eyes of the public? Thatís the question. Thatís the question that we hear out there all the time. It doesnít do him any good. Weíre asking for simple numbers that other governments have given out. Itís not a big deal. We wonder why he refuses to do it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Hundreds. Now the Premier yells across, "I just gave them to you ó hundreds". He expects us to be satisfied with such a pie-in-the-sky response like that. We wouldnít be doing our job if we accepted stuff like that.
The Premier should not be so flippant when it comes to peopleís lives, employment in the communities. Itís not good enough. How do the businesses in the communities plan for their activities during the summer ó construction companies? How do the small ones plan to be able to hire people if they do not know whatís coming, if they do not have some estimate of whatís being spent? Weíre saying, "Give us the figures." The Premier has these figures. He has these numbers. He can table them later. He can give us a breakdown, send it over in the next while. Iím not too worried about that. He doesnít have to stand up in the House if he doesnít have them at the forefront of his mind, which Iím sure he doesnít. But he can supply those. All he has to do is promise, "Sure, weíll give you a breakdown of what estimates we had, community by community, for jobs that will be created."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Now, the Member for Kluane just mentioned, and itís very true, that Burwash got none. So Burwash is cut right out, but guess what? With the reasoning of the Premier, weíre going to see this huge influx of private investment in Burwash that will create a lot of jobs because this is a budget thatís designed to do that.
So all weíre asking for, very simply, is: give us some numbers we can work with, give us some numbers so that when my colleagues go back to their communities, they can say, "Guess what, the spending thatís happening here is very good. Itís going to create 10 jobs for three months. Excellent. Letís go forward. Plan to bid on it and hopefully weíll get it," and those people in the communities will be employed. Whatís so wrong about giving that kind of information out? Iíll give the Premier another chance to tell the communities what he has planned for them.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It indeed is a great pleasure to stand on the floor of the Legislature and repeat again what we have planned for the communities. For example, in Carmacks, we have a capital investment in this budget of some $3.2 million, which includes water and sewer, which includes Tantalus School. In Dawson City, we have some $6.4 million, which includes the planning of a multi-level care facility, which includes the planning for a bridge over the Yukon River, and many other things. Faro, $1.9 million. Mayo, $2.6 million, which includes a new community centre for Mayo. Old Crow, $3.4 million. This is an investment in a community where we, with a First Nation, have partnered in their capital planning for that community, creating many jobs and benefits for the citizens of Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin people. Ross River, $3.1 million. Letís go on. Territory-wide, where some of the highway work that is in the proximity of communities is captured ó $104 million. Teslin, $5 million.
Contrary to the members opposite saying that we only focus on Dawson City and Watson Lake, Watson Lake is only getting $3.9 million, but itís going to create jobs and benefits for the citizens of Watson Lake. We are also ó much to the chagrin of the members opposite ó promoting a forest industry in Watson Lake.
Now letís talk a little bit about the private sector. Upon coming into office, Mr. Chair, we faced a situation in the southeast Yukon ó a region in this territory that had the most demand on it by the industry and investment community ó with no land claim. We created a bilateral agreement with the Kaska. That has achieved something. That is achieving jobs and benefits for Yukoners.
Look at Teck Cominco ó back in the Yukon. Look at the application in for drilling in the Kotaneelee. Look at all the results of what we have been doing when it comes to the increase in mining exploration, because we have provided certainty, and a great deal of that is taking place in the southeast Yukon. And the members opposite say this is not good because the Kaska are getting something and nobody else. Frankly, Mr. Chair, the Kaska Nation is giving up something. The Kaska Nation has no land claim. They are committed to getting back to the table, thanks to the bilateral agreement, and theyíre giving up something. Theyíre allowing access to their traditional lands for the extraction of resources for the benefit of all Yukoners ó again, a very important step in creating jobs and growing our economy.
Now, the member opposite goes on and on and on about so-called job numbers. Frankly, the answer has been given. There are thousands of jobs in government being created ó over 3,500. There are hundreds of jobs in the private sector and there are soon to be more because this government has got the territory heading in the right direction. But we must be focused on the challenges ahead. We as a government are prepared to meet those challenges, and we begin with this budget laying the groundwork to better enable this territory to meet the challenges ahead. And I think the member opposite recognizes that, and unfortunately the member opposite neglects to recognize that the investment in this budget is providing jobs and benefits for everybody. There are no political boundaries in whom we hire and who goes to work and who bids on a job, none whatsoever. There is in that memberís mind.
Mr. Hardy: A very simple question: will the Premier give us the figures that the departments came up with on the amount of jobs on the capital works individually? If weíre talking about building a community centre somewhere this year, Iím sure they have the figures. Will he do it or not?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís all estimates. Itís in the hundreds.
Mr. Hardy: Will he give us the figures that have been estimated by the departments?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís in the hundreds.
Mr. Hardy: For the record, the Premier refuses to give us any numbers at all. "In the hundreds" doesnít count. I would actually like to correct him, too. If I ask for a specific project, would I get the same answer of "itís in the hundreds"? If I say the community centre, say in Mayo or Ross River, or whatever, am I going to get "itís in the hundreds"? Well, I can assure you that those communities would be ecstatic if this Premier said he was going to create jobs in the hundreds in these communities. However, obviously all we get is the same rhetoric.
I am going to ask one more time and then I will move on. Rest assured, Iím sure Iím going to get the same answer. Will he or will he not give us a breakdown on the estimates that departments made on the capital works, the spending in capital works, that will be spent this year on projects, whether it is money being invested in a road or money being invested in renovations, money being invested in new buildings, et cetera?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As this is general debate on the budget and weíre dealing with estimates, in general terms, this budget will create hundreds of jobs.
Mr. Hardy: Well, thatís interesting. $162 million being spent on capital works and all we get is hundreds of jobs. I would hope there would be a few more than a hundred. I think the poor Premier doesnít know his own figures and thatís why he wonít give them. He doesnít seem to be that interested in ensuring that the people of this territory know what kind of jobs they can expect in their communities. He feels obviously that itís none of their business and heís not going to give it out. Itís something that the Premier feels that only he has the right to know. Thatís a shame because I thought this was going to be an open, accountable government, and obviously once again I guess thereís going to be another mail-out proving it isnít.
Now the Premier has talked about unemployment figures going down, and that is always good to see. Can the Premier give us an idea of what the numbers are in social services, in the welfare?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is general debate on the budget. That is a departmental question. I can tell the member this though: in this fiscal year that just ended, our increase in SA was $1.4 million.
Mr. Hardy: So Iím assuming that if there was an increase in SA, that means there are more people on SA?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would caution the member not to assume anything until the Department of Health and Social Services ó the department where social assistance resides ó is up for debate.
Mr. Hardy: I donít really need a caution. I can make some assumptions, and if the Premier wants to correct me and he is correct in it, I am willing to accept it. But if the Premier is willing to talk about unemployment figures, does he also agree that those unemployment figures are often very misleading and donít necessarily reflect the true unemployment numbers in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Unless I missed something here, the member opposite just stated that, in this case, while they are in opposition, the statistics are very misleading and should not be used. However, itís a well-known fact that when the NDP were in government ó and here, again, is an example of my involvement there in knowing this ó they were very, very much focused on the statistics. I have to say that I think the member should seriously consider this line of questioning.
The statistics are produced by a number of variables, components, mechanisms and formulas. They are presented to the public. The stats show today that this is the position we are in approximately. I say "approximately" because there are always changes and variables that donít show up at any given time when the stats are done.
There will be seasonal adjustments. We know from experience on population that doing the undercount showed that the statistics that were produced had some discrepancies. At the end of the day, though, Mr. Chair, in general terms, it provides an insight into where weíre going. Itís not the number; itís the trend. What the member fails to recognize is that itís in the trends that government has the most important role to play in changing how those trends are going. Past governments in this territory, over the last decade ó nobody has to dispute this fact. The trends were heading downward; today theyíre heading upward. That is a distinct difference. Weíre not saying itís a lead-pipe cinch that this is whatís happening in terms of the numbers; weíre saying that, with all the available data, all the formulas and variables we must use, we are showing a positive trend in this territory. Thatís why weíre going to continue to work in the direction we are working, to continue to invest the way weíre investing, and to continue to ensure that the private sector becomes much more involved in this territory, and to ensure that the First Nations in this territory become full partners in the economic development of the Yukon.
We are showing many examples of that. The Kaska Nation is an example. As we build a forest industry, if its potential is truly there for the Teslin Tlingit traditional territory, they too will share in resource revenues. So will the Champagne and Aishihik share in resource revenue from a resource. Thatís why we are negotiating an economic partnership framework agreement with the Vuntut Gwitchin, the Tríondëk Hwëchíin and the Na Cho Nyäk Dun in north Yukon. Thatís why thereís an investment in waterfront development for Kwanlin Dun; that is why we have invested in the capital planning for the community of Old Crow. Itís about partnerships; itís about building this territory; itís about the future of this territory.
Thatís what the government is focused on. The member opposite continues to drag up the past. Obviously the official opposition is focused on reconstructing the past. Thatís not what Yukoners want. They want a future.
Mr. Hardy: Isnít that funny. It was the Premier who got up and talked about the past; it wasnít me. I asked a very simple question. Obviously he didnít listen to the question. Maybe he doesnít understand the question. That could be the problem as well. A government and a Premier can get so wrapped up in its own particular lines and rhetoric that itís impossible for them to hear other opinions and other reflections, other viewpoints. Thatís a shame because thatís not the way a person should be governing.
Hereís an open-end question for the Premier. He has talked about access to capital in the past, he has talked about stimulating the private sector ó all good. What concrete initiatives and money have been put directly to create more access to capital?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I feel that itís time to point out the nature of this debate.
Earlier the member opposite has stated on the floor of the Legislature that this budget, the 2004-05 budget, is 90-percent New Democratic initiatives. Now the member states that the government side doesnít hear anything, weíre not listening. Well, how can the two even actually be related? The member is saying one thing in a question when itís convenient and saying another when itís convenient with regard to this budget. I think the point here is that the member is ragging the puck. This is not constructive debate. Itís senseless, and thatís not what Yukoners want. They want to hear from the members opposite what they would do with the Yukon economy. Does the Yukon public want to take the NDPís position of one job at a time or take the position this government takes that we can create hundreds? Thereís a distinct difference.
Does the Yukon public want to follow the official oppositionís anti-First Nation economic partnership position, or do they want to follow what the government side is doing in building those partnerships to provide certainty in this territory, which leads greatly to access to capital. If you have a certain investment climate, capital will come. If you have a government with a solid financial position that invests its money in the right areas, capital will come. Those are areas that are important to any financial institution, to any private sector industry, and to any investment community to come and invest in a specific jurisdiction. We are doing those things today, but there are many challenges ahead.
We must ensure that we continue on in this direction of growth and meeting those challenges to present that investment climate of certainty, to present optimism to the private sector, and to present a Yukon that people will be very interested in coming and investing and living and working in. Thatís the task at hand; that is what we are doing.
Now, the member opposite can go on and on and on but, at the end of the day, weíre debating a budget thatís the biggest in the history of the Yukon. Weíre debating a budget with some $162 million of capital investment. Thereís no doubt that itís going to create jobs and benefit and stimulus in this territory. Itís a fact. There is no arguing that. Now, the members opposite can either accept the fact that thereís 3,500-plus government employees in this budget, hundreds of private sector jobs that will be created ó or not. At the end of the day, thatís the answer.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, what utter nonsense. I asked a very simple question: what initiatives for access to capital ó a very simple question. What Yukon Party initiatives are going to allow businesses greater access to capital and individuals greater access to capital? Itís a simple question. What did we get? We got told on this side that we were senseless. A question like that, and we get told weíre senseless.
We get, once again, a rewriting of history. We get told that we are anti-First Nation initiatives. I put it to the Premier opposite that he should be very careful about what he says when he says something like that, because we will stand by our record. We will stand by our record. The First Nation members on this side find it offensive that the Premier is making comments like that, because it is directed at them as well. We will stand by our record as NDPers on our past, quite happily.
It was a very simple question, and we get this kind of response. Does that mean that the Premier has no initiatives whatsoever? Just all rhetoric? Just all words? I am sure there are a couple. I would really like the Premier to stand up and tell us from his perspective, his view of the world and his work, what the Yukon Party has come up with to create greater access to capital for the businesses of this territory? I know theyíve done some. I am giving him a wide open opportunity to talk about what they have done, not about us.
If the Premier can rise up high enough to get out of the political rhetoric and talk about what their budget stands for, what access to capital, I would appreciate it ó not about attacking the opposition for even asking a question.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are creating certainty.
Mr. Hardy: Whoa, isnít that deep? Letís see, we have, for the first time in history, First Nations refusing to ratify a land claim ó that creates certainty. This Premier creates certainty by going outside the box on everything. This Premier creates certainty by cancelling projects. This Premier creates certainty by starving the Yukon one year and creating an infusion of cash the next year. Thatís supposed to create certainty and long-term planning.
This is what this Premier considers "certainty". There are big questions about certainty out there.
How about tax initiatives? Thereís another wide open question. The Premier refuses to talk about what he has done for access to capital, for small businesses, so why not tax initiatives? Now I canít make it more open for the Premier to get up and speak very positively about the initiatives they have created in their budget. Letís see if he can answer that one.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I know the official opposition is quite sensitive about many of these things, because they champion and position themselves as the righteous protectors of many peopleís issues in this territory, but that remains in question. I think the element of certainty is an important element for access to capital, and we have no problem with looking at other initiatives, but the point is that if I put on the floor the fact that we believe public-private partnerships are a good access to capital, Iím sure the member would oppose that. So in trying to expedite the debate, we will try to engage with the member constructively by saying "creating certainty". Thatís what weíre doing.
Secondly, when it comes to tax initiatives, we followed through with some good measures that were brought in in the past and kept them going and extended them. Weíre not going to stop a good initiative because there is some partisan connection. Thatís not what this government is all about. When it comes to other tax initiatives, what about the corporate tax rate, dropping it from 6 to 4 percent. Thereís another initiative. On balance, we brought forward what weíre going to do in the very near future to help those in need by bringing in a child benefit tax credit. So weíre using the taxation system here in many ways and weíre also sharing tax room with First Nations. That in itself is another attempt to put more stimuli into the territory by ensuring we are helping to build capacity and creating a revenue stream for First Nation people in the Yukon.
We are doing many things, Mr. Chair, but we are a humble government. We do not stand on the floor of the Legislature constantly trumpeting our accomplishments. We are very clear that we do not take all the credit. We have been very clear that there is a tremendous amount of challenges ahead of us, and we are being very clear that, to the very best of our mental and physical capacity, we will endeavour to meet those challenges in partnership with First Nations, with labour, with industry, with Yukoners. What else can I say?
Ms. Duncan: Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.
The Premier just made a statement, and to lead off in some general debate on the budget, I would ask the Premier to explain in greater detail. He just stood on the floor and said the Government of Yukon is sharing tax room with First Nations. Would he fully explain to the House precisely what that means?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, we are continuing with the same policy that has been in place. That is, on the PIT level, share that room. Thatís what we are doing. Itís a policy; we have not changed that. It was an example of what we are doing. We will continue to look at other ways that provide incentives in this territory to promote partnership and economic growth.
Ms. Duncan: I regret to inform the Premier and Finance minister that I am not satisfied with that explanation, and I donít think the average listener ó and there are many who listen to this particular debate in the afternoon ó will be fully satisfied with the answer.
By "PIT", I believe the Premier is referring to personal income tax. Precisely what is the proposal and the policy that he says has not changed? The Government of Canada collects the taxes and should be fulfilling their fiduciary obligations to First Nations in paying the financial obligations for certain services.
The provinces, through transfers ó including the transfer of personal income taxes ó get their formula, their equalization payments ó itís dealing with the taxation. The minister has not explained what he meant by the statement, "We are sharing tax room with First Nation governments." What does he mean by that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member was a Premier and a Minister of Finance and should know this. It has not changed. The Government of Yukon has agreed to share 95 percent of its personal income tax with First Nations based on residency on First Nation land. Canada has also agreed to share personal income tax. Itís not a new thing. Discussions are currently underway with regard to corporate income tax, property tax and commodity tax sharing. Thatís a fact of life, and itís not a new policy. It has been around for quite some time, and the member knows that ó unless maybe it was missed while the member was Minister of Finance.
Ms. Duncan: No, it wasnít missed. The minister will not be surprised that Iím still less than satisfied with that explanation. I am fully familiar with PSTA negotiations, and I would like an update. I can have that in the Executive Council Office when we deal more with land claims issues. What negotiations and discussions are taking place currently around this sharing of tax room? Was there a tax table between the federal government and the Government of Yukon and First Nation governments? Does this just apply to settled First Nations, those with self-governing agreements, or is the Premier extending it outside the box, as heís fond of doing?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The same policy, the same table. It has been going on for quite some time. Nothing has changed. The member knows that.
Ms. Duncan: Same answer; same question. Are these discussions only occurring with self-governing First Nations? The Premier is very fond of working outside of the box. Has he undertaken sharing of tax room discussions with other First Nations without self-governing agreements? Yes or no, Mr. Premier.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís the same policy, Mr. Chair, as under that memberís government. In fact, that memberís government re-ratified this process. Itís not new. Itís the same policy.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Premier and Finance minister is very fond of deals and arrangements outside of the box. Has he deviated from the policy and undertaken negotiations outside of the box with non-self-governing First Nations? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I would submit that, stating on the floor of the Legislature, we, the government of the day, is applying the very same policy as was applied and re-ratified by that memberís government ó is exactly that, unless that member was working outside the box.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, what the Premier and Finance minister is saying is that the government re-ratified existing policies. The government and the Finance minister have stood on their feet many, many times on the floor of this House and indicated that they are a new and improved ó well, thatís subject to debate ó a new Yukon Party and they are fond of working outside of the box. Did they ratify the existing policy or has it changed at all? Letís try a different way of getting an answer from the Premier.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: At the risk of being repetitive, I will respond again. Same policy that has been employed in the past, same policy as re-ratified by the third party when in government ó same policy, no different, exact same thing.
Ms. Duncan: I realize that the Finance minister finds this repetitive. However, the Finance minister has also stood on the floor many times and talked about recreating public policy, doing public policy differently, and has shown in many respects in negotiations outside of the box disregard for previous public policy. Has that happened in this case ó this specific case being the discussion of tax room? Has the Premier worked outside the box on this one?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Maybe we need to change the environment because there might be a block here on getting this message across. Same policy, same process, same one that was ratified by the member opposite when in government ó weíre following through with it.
I must point out to the member opposite that it is governmentís responsibility to change policy where it can to improve the lives of its citizens. That being said, maybe the question should be for the member: how does the member feel about changing policy to improve the lives of their citizens?
Ms. Duncan: Speaking of ragging the puck, the Premier doesnít want to recognize publicly on this occasion that theyíre very fond of working outside of existing public policy, outside of broad, encompassing existing policy when they so choose. I would take it from the Premierís answer that in fact they have been working outside this existing policy in negotiating tax room.
The Finance minister and I have had many, many discussions ó and there are lots of pages of Hansard of me asking the Premier what the surplus is today, and the Finance minister refusing to answer. So I wonít belabour that particular question. Because itís early in the fiscal year, April 19, I donít expect the Premier is going to answer that question, so Iíll ask him this way: whereís the economic forecast that was due this spring?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I have to correct the record. The member just put on the floor of the Legislature, as usual, an incorrect statement. This government is not, when it comes to the sharing of tax room with First Nations, working on any different policy whatsoever. I have repeatedly answered that question with this answer. Same answer, existing policy ó weíre working with it. The existing policy was re-ratified by the member opposite. If there were any changes at that point, it was under the member oppositeís watch. But we are not doing anything different from what the third party was doing when they were in government, except for the fact that weíre actually advancing things, which was not happening under the Liberal watch.
Furthermore, when it comes to the economic forecast or outlook for the Yukon, it will be tabled in due course.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, letís talk about advancing, shall we? Letís talk about the fact that the Taían Kwachían ratified and we presented this Legislature with a signed land claim agreement under our watch, and that we reached four other agreements that were to go to ratification. Letís talk about progress achieved. Thatís an accurate statement, Mr. Chair.
I would also suggest that the Finance minister finds it quite difficult to deal with the accurate statements from this side of the House. The fact is that the Finance minister refused to answer the question.
Silence in most minutes of meetings indicates acquiescence. The fact is that the Finance minister appeared to indicate they are working outside the box with respect to tax room as the government has proven to be so fond of doing. Resource revenue sharing agreements such as have been negotiated are working outside the box.
I have asked the Premier about the surplus. That has not been answered. The Premier has said that the economic forecast will be tabled in due course. Itís due and is generally tabled in April. Will we receive it before House rises?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Here we go again. The member is standing on her feet asking questions about the surplus. The document presented weeks ago to all members of this House and to the public show in the long-term projections where it is at, so we need not continue to ask that question. The question is answered in the pages of the budget document, if the member chose to look at it, but I donít think the member is interested in looking at the actual figures. The member is trying, as usual, to put incorrect information on the floor.
As far as the economic outlook, it will be tabled in due course.
Ms. Duncan: The economic outlooks were tabled in February 2000, March 2001, April 2002 and February 2003. Where is it for 2004? Will we see it before the House rises?
The Chair is very concerned about a statement that was made just a moment ago that the member was trying "to put incorrect information on the floor". The accusation of trying to put inaccurate information out there would imply that the member was aware that the information was inaccurate before putting it forward, which is against our House rules.
The members often do have very different opinions about the facts of the matter, but putting forward that another member is uttering a deliberate falsehood is outside the Standing Orders of our Assembly.
I would ask the member to retract that statement, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I apologize, Mr. Chair, to the member opposite. I didnít mean "trying". I meant "is" putting incorrect information on the floor, as per usual. The member is always putting incorrect information on the floor. Itís a standard practice by the third party.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Chair:Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: While I generally try to appreciate the Finance ministerís humour, I find it somewhat lacking this afternoon in challenging your ruling. I would appreciate the apology and the retraction.
Chair:The Chair concurs.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I did apologize. The point of order interrupted my retraction.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Iím delighted to refocus the Finance ministerís responses.
Would the Finance minister please indicate when we will receive the economic outlook? Normally theyíre tabled in February or March. It was in tabled in February 2000, March 2001, April 2002, February 2003. Whereís the 2004? Will we see it before the House rises?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I think I hear it coming, in due course.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, we could spend all afternoon asking that and going on and on and on; however, Iím sure that most listeners would rather be waiting for the hockey game than listening to the Finance minister rag the puck. Could we talk about the formula, please, and could we have more precise answers from the Finance minister? Where are the negotiations currently over our formula, and whatís the timeline for their conclusion?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, we do have a bit of a different situation, given the commitment by the Prime Minister a year ago or so to look at the inadequacies of the per capita formula financing for the territories. We are in discussions now. We know the commitment is there to increase the TFF. We know the commitment is there to remove the GDP ceiling. We know the commitmentís there to create a northern economic development fund for all three territories, and we know the commitmentís there to extend the special health fund. So the discussions are going well. At the end of the day, the result, obviously, from the objectives that the Yukon government is presenting to Ottawa, is to improve and further the fiscal situation of the Yukon.
I would note that the member is expediting the debate because the hockey game is on tonight.
Ms. Duncan: Thereís going to be one on every night for quite awhile, probably until June.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: No, weíre not going to pass a unanimous motion to close down for the hockey game. The Yukon Quest, yes; the hockey game, no.
The formula is a contract, if you will, and it has a shelf life, so weíre in negotiations now about the formula. Weíve got a number of commitments from the Government of Canada. Just for the benefit of the listening audience, the acronyms roll off the Finance ministerís tongue quite repeatedly, and it would be helpful if he explained those because itís not just us in this Legislature to whom the Finance minister is speaking. Again, itís the listening public. So the territorial formula financing, the TFF, and the gross domestic product, northern economic development fund, special health fund ó that all of those are theoretically being rolled into the formula discussions is what I understand the Finance minister to say. So whatís our timeline? It seems to me the last formula expired March 31, 2003, so we need a new one. What are the timelines for concluding these discussions?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The federal Minister of Finance and the territories early on reached an arrangement where status quo would continue into what would be a new deal, and once we reach the final agreement thereís going to be some retroactivity involved, so weíre not exercised about it. The federal government has been pretty clear on what itís bringing to the table, and we are in discussions and working with them. We should in the very near future have another meeting with federal Finance. I think itís fair to say that there are a number of things going on in Ottawa that have the federal government quite busy.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that the Finance minister doesnít want to answer questions in Question Period, but this is general debate. What general time frame are we looking at? Are we hopeful the background work will be concluded by September? Are we looking at a year? Where are we in terms of these negotiations? The preliminary stages?
I know the federal government is not going to say, "No, you canít have any transfers" and that there would be some retroactivity. Iím just looking for a time frame. Are we making such progress that weíll be concluded by September, or will we still be doing the background work?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Keeping in the context of general debate, the time frame would certainly be between now and before March 31, 2009.
Ms. Duncan: Iím searching for a parliamentary word to describe that answer and I canít find one. Would the Premier please answer the question? Where are we in negotiations? Weíre not going to spend five years negotiating another transfer agreement.
We succeeded in getting the one in 1985 with about a yearís worth of work, or less. How long does the Finance minister anticipate itís going to take to conclude this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This government will leave no stone unturned to improve the fiscal situation of the Yukon Territory. We know thereís a vertical fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the territories. Weíre working on all those things.
I know the member is confident that the new agreement will be concluded in the very near future, and I can say that, frankly, what date that is hardly has a big bearing on this debate because we have an arrangement already that the status quo will be maintained and, once weíve concluded, there will be a component of retroactivity.
Ms. Duncan: We all know the buzzwords. The Premier is not impressing anybody by throwing around terms. I was just asking, quite legitimately, where we were in the formula discussions.
What is the perversity factor in the old formula, and what discussions are taking place around that in the current negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: While we are digging out the actual number ó the perversity factor, a.k.a. "catch-up factor". Itís the same thing. The correct terminology is "catch-up factor", but anyway, to deal with the issue, we have a commitment from the federal Minister of Finance to maintain the existing catch-up factor, a.k.a. "perversity factor" for the next year. There is a reason for that.
Again, when it comes to the formula for the territories, the catch-up factor could be, in some instances, a bit of a problem. All we are ensuring is that what we do improves the fiscal situation for the Yukon Territory. The number is approximately 1.28298.
Ms. Duncan: While we are negotiating the new formula, and hopefully improved, with the work of the federal government, this perversity factor will remain in place for a year, so there will be no retroactivity with that. Is my understanding of what the Premier said correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The federal Department of Finance has agreed not to ó how do I put this ó implement the catch-up factor, keep-up factor aspects or changes in the formula for another year in this particular situation. I think thatís important because there could be some negative impacts, given the difference between the readjustment by the catch-up factor and the rebasing by the keep-up factor.
Ms. Duncan: There are some other significant factors in our formula: PDL, and thereís a whole host of them that come to mind. Are there any significant changes in any of those being discussed at the formula table right now?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the most significant aspect is the removal of the GDP ceiling for the territories.
Ms. Duncan: That was a big issue for the provinces, particularly Prince Edward Island and the Maritime provinces, so my next question would be: when is the Finance ministerís next meeting, Finance minister to Finance minister? The Maritime provinces, with removal of the GDP ceiling ó that was one of the issues at the premiersí table and particularly around health. The premiers are to meet with the Prime Minister this summer with regard to health, and also finance and this removal of the GDP ceiling. So what position is our Finance minister or the northern Finance ministers going to be taking at that meeting? Weíve negotiated a better formula from what theyíve got in the provinces, and thatís done in large part over a series of years by the government. So my question is: where are we going to be by July when the Finance minister goes to meet with his counterparts and the other premiers?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We remain confident as a government that by the premiers conference, which will be held in, I believe, Ontario this year ó Ontario will be the host province. So itís not a first ministers meeting; itís the annual premiers meeting. Iím confident and the government is confident that by then we should have our new agreement in place.
Ms. Duncan: Itís the Yukon government officials who usually lead the three territories in the formula discussions. We have the most experience and the most years working with the formula, and our public servants are more senior to the other two territories in terms of the formula and the finance. Are we still the lead for the other two territories in the formula negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, there are differences between the three territories when it comes to the formula and what we receive from Ottawa.
Having said that, we are working in a pan-northern arrangement. The Yukon, because of its expertise at the officials level ó and weíre very fortunate to have that, not only here in the Yukon but also in our Ottawa office. We have that expertise and from time to time we provide some input for the other territories, but we are very much in lockstep on how we proceed here. It all comes from what we achieved a year ago to get a commitment not out for the Department of Finance but out of the Prime Ministerís office, and thatís important.
Iím glad to see the member stand in the Legislature and point out that the Yukon was taking the lead. It wasnít that long ago that the member stated in this Legislature that the MP had done all this.
So Iím glad that the member has come around and recognized that thereís a tremendous amount of effort being put forward by officials in the Yukon government and, of course, in the N.W.T. and Nunavut governments, to make sure that Ottawa lives up to its commitment made by the Prime Minister of Canada when it comes to his recognition that the per capita formula simply does not make sense for the north. And thatís why weíre in the negotiations weíre in and things are going along positively.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, it would be a dispute between members for me to go on with the Premier about his style of negotiations and dealing with the Government of Canada. The fact is that our Member of Parliament has lobbied for significant funding that is contained in the budget, and the fact is that we do have a great deal of expertise in the public officials level both in Ottawa and in the Yukon and that expertise has survived many governments and weíre lucky to have it and we all appreciate it. That extends throughout the public service.
There are a number of budget measures that have long-term implications. For example, the mineral exploration tax credit has long-term implications. The tax credit for the 2000-01 tax year is felt several years down the road ó so foregone revenue. The mineral exploration tax credit has been extended for three years in legislation introduced today; therefore, itís foregone revenue from work of previous governments in this budget.
So I would like the Premier to address in a general way when we return from the break the long-term implications of such measures as the mineral exploration tax credit. For example, will it cost us $2.1 million, $3 million, $5 million down the road?
There are long-term implications in terms of funding that has been introduced for cultural centres in the Tourism budget. Are those funding programs intended to live on and just to continue? What are the long-term implications? Related to that, there was a policy of the government to sign long-term contracts with non-government organizations ó three- and five-year funding arrangements. So, there are long-term implications of those. Those are largely in Health but there are some in Environment and some in Energy, Mines and Resources.
So, I would like, in general terms, what sort of numbers we are looking at long term, down the road, for some of these commitments that are not for one year in this budget ó they will live on past this budget. What are the financial implications of those long-term arrangements such as the mineral exploration tax credit, and the initiative to fund cultural centres ó there are three being funded but there are 14 Yukon First Nations?
I am sure that the Finance minister will have those projections if he takes a few moments to review them. I would appreciate a more detailed response after the break.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, we have in the long-term projections factored in a projection. For instance, the mineral exploration tax credit is very much based on uptake. Thatís a starter. So we have looked into that and made sure that we have accommodated that.
But when it comes to areas like NGOs that are in Health and cultural centres that are in Tourism and Culture, I would suggest that in order to conduct the publicís business as we should, we should get into those departments to get that kind of detail. We need not repeat, because the questions will probably come up when those departments are up for debate in the very same way. So needless repetition is something that we should strive to move away from.
Chair: Order please.
Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05. Weíll continue on with general debate.
Ms. Duncan: Before we left for the break we were discussing the formula, and the Finance minister didnít want to give any kind of time frame and we didnít get a time frame with respect to the economic outlook, not even a commitment that we might get it before the session ends.
Perhaps with the break, the Premier has had a change of heart. Thereís always hope and, apparently, it springs eternal.
Would the Finance minister tell us if weíll get the economic outlook before the end of the session?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Most certainly; you bet; ditto; yes, it will happen.
Ms. Duncan: Hallelujah.
Letís try with a question that was asked earlier this afternoon. Itís tradition for Finance ministers to stand on their feet and say that this budget will create ó the last budget speech I gave said this budget will create 700 jobs because thatís what the departments do. When they submit their estimates, they know how many jobs it will create. Itís an approximation, but the figure was 700.
We know that the scriptwriters who wrote the budget speech got a 20-percent increase. We know that figure precisely. Could we have the precise figure ó which we recognize is an approximation ó of how many jobs might be created as a result of this largest ever Yukon budget?
Itís a question that was asked earlier this afternoon but we didnít get an answer. I thought, given the Premierís change of heart, we might get one after the break.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Unfortunately, more incorrect information ó but, no problem. There are hundreds of jobs on the capital side. Of course, there are interlinkages with government. But hundreds of jobs will be created by this budget and, in addition, there are over 3,500 public service jobs in this budget. So I think itís fair to say that a great number of jobs will be created.
Ms. Duncan: I must ask to be enlightened by the Finance minister. He said that my statements were not factually correct. What wasnít factually correct? My last budget speech said 700 jobs and the Premierís scriptwriters got a 20-percent raise. So what was wrong? There was nothing wrong with that answer. Those facts are there. Theyíre on the public record, in the last budget and in the previous budget speech. But the Premier doesnít want to answer the question.
I donít think he enjoys these questions much, which is really too bad, because weíve got lots. I know I do, and Iím quite certain the leader of the official opposition does as well.
One of the platform commitments ó the Premier has responsibility because heís the Premier and Finance minister. The red-tape review ó Iíve written the Member for Copperbelt some time ago but havenít had an answer yet. This was a platform commitment of the Yukon Party ó that they would do a red-tape review. They have even named a committee, but nothing has happened, unless, of course, the Premier can enlighten us. The Member for Copperbelt hasnít answered his letter, so perhaps the Premier could share that with us.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: You know, the member opposite should exercise a little patience. Thereís a lot of work involved in looking into the regulatory regimes of government. However, having said that, given the fact that the government has committed to do that, we have already shown the political will to stand down on flawed policy when it comes to the Yukon protected areas strategy. Weíll stand down flawed regulation where we can. The purpose is to create what the economic plan shows. The Yukon has a competitive advantage, and we want to make sure that we keep that competitive advantage to grow our economy. Patience is a virtue, Mr. Chair, and when thereís hard work, it takes time.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the rest of the saying about "patience is a virtue," is "possess it if you can, seldom seen in women, but never found in men." Thatís the rest of the saying; thatís the rest of the quote. And the Yukon population is about 50:50, so ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, he brought it up. I finished the sentence. The fact is that I have been quite patient in waiting for a response to my letter. I just asked if there had been any work done on this Yukon Party commitment for red-tape review. Could we have an update? Has there been any work? Has there been a meeting called?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There has been a lot of work done by this government, and I think the evidence is out there throughout the territory.
Ms. Duncan: The other expression is, "Iím from Missouri ó show me." Show me the evidence. Where is the evidence? I asked quite legitimately. I patiently wrote the Member for Copperbelt, as heís the chair of the committee. The Premier has responsibility for it, because itís his committee, his party, his platform commitment.
Letís start at the very beginning. Will I get a response to my letter? Has there been a meeting of the committee called?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The committee has been struck; they have met; they will continue to meet. Thereís a lot of work in this area. Itís a major challenge, and weíre working our way through it. However, when it comes to "show me", I think we have to reflect on the facts and the realities of the day in the Yukon, and the trends are showing positive signs. Nobody can dispute that. The third party canít dispute it; the official opposition canít dispute it; therefore, I think there is evidence that the efforts put forward by many people ó not just government, but by others ó are bearing fruit. We must continue to move the territory in the direction it has now started to go.
Ms. Duncan: The committee was struck and announced October 29, 2003. This is April 19. This is a regulatory review, so itís the equivalent of a red-tape review, a regulation task force. The committee has met once, twice. Let me borrow a phrase from the former Member for Riverside: when might we see some product from this committee?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, there is product ó product by standing down on a very flawed Yukon protected areas strategy, something that member was lobbied heavily to do but wouldnít do it. The political will was missing. So I can say to the member opposite that when it comes to regulatory review by this government, the political will is not missing.
Ms. Duncan: I see that the Finance minister is getting an update from the Member for Copperbelt, so perhaps he would like to rephrase that answer.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Same answer. Itís a lot of work. The committee meets. They are forging ahead. There are positive signs out there. Examples are things like White Pass. Itís there; itís fact; it is evidenced.
Ms. Duncan: Well, if they are forging ahead and theyíve done a great deal of work and met and done their reduction and elimination of regulatory roadblocks, what regulations have been suggested for repeal by the government? If they have done a great deal of work and they are forging ahead, what have they done so far?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, we could have had the MLAs just sit in the office and stare out the window, but we chose to put them to work. They are doing their work. Itís a lot of work; itís a huge responsibility; itís a massive undertaking. They are forging ahead and they will continue to do their work and, in due course, will bring forward changes. We have already started with YPAS and we will continue. We have the political will to do that.
Ms. Duncan: All things in due course, including an election. The government has publicly committed ó the Finance minister has publicly committed ó that there would be policy work done on public/private partnerships before the government proceeded. What is the status of that policy work and when might we be expected to debate it in the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve had our first workshop on public/private partnerships, one step now out of the way for consolidating that particular work, and we are building what will be a policy. Weíll do a lot of that with the public and with our partners for economic progress. Thereís a lot to make sure that we design a process that makes sense for Yukon, and thatís what weíre doing. Public/private partnerships are a mechanism weíre going to research thoroughly to see if we can entice private sector investment into the territory.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The leader of the official opposition is asking when. What difference would it make to the New Democrats? They oppose it. They do not support public/private partnerships, period. What can I say, Mr. Chair?
The issue is public/private partnerships and the development of public policy. The Finance minister says that it will be developed with the public, a Yukon version of a P3. Does that mean that, as elected members of the public, weíre going to debate that policy or weíre going to get a look at that policy in this Legislature? Or is it strictly going to be between the public and the Cabinet?
Will that policy be debated on the floor of the House and will it happen before we enter into a P3 to build the bridge to nowhere?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We do our work in the public. This House is another opportunity for the members opposite to present a representation of their constituencies. The government will be working with all constituencies, and the members opposite can certainly engage in that public forum. Thereís a lot of work to do on this policy also, but of course government policy is important, and we know that if thereís legislation and amendments required, those come forward to the Legislature. There are a number of other areas of government policy, and if they change, we have mechanisms to deal with that in the Legislature, but so too do we as governments work with the public and make changes in that forum. Itís not an unusual process. Weíll continue maintaining a very strong involvement with the Yukon public on all issues, as we have in the past.
Ms. Duncan: Out of that dissertation by the Finance minister, this place ó this Legislature ó is also the place of conducting public business. Now weíve seen amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act, presumably to allow the government to enter into P3s. Weíve seen and heard the Finance minister announce that he was going to consult with the public on development of public policy around public/private partnerships. We are also representatives of the public. Is he prepared to bring that policy, once the development work has been done, to this floor for a discussion, be it through a government motion ó not necessarily through changes to legislation because we unfortunately have seen how the government deals with those, but in terms of a discussion of the public policy? For example, letís suppose the public said that in entering into any public/private partnerships, it has to be a tenet of that public/private partnership that it be publicly tendered, that there has to be a public process associated with the public/private partnership?
My key question is: is that policy going to be debated on the floor of this Legislature, or is it just going to be presented as any legislative changes that might be required?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Where required, the government will always bring legislative amendments, new legislation and government policy ó as I stated earlier ó to this House. But we also have a public forum that this government is very focused on and does a great deal of work in. The budget is an example of that. The tremendous input from Yukoners is throughout the pages of this budget.
The members opposite can get involved in that public process. I did not see the members opposite at the public/private partnership rollout, but maybe as we move forward they will find some time to involve themselves with the process out there in the public. They may hear some very important things that they can bring back, in terms of representing their constituents.
So, where required, we always bring legislation, amendments and policy to the Legislature.
Ms. Duncan: It might surprise the Finance minister, but there is a difference between it being required to be here and bringing it to this Legislature as a matter of public interest. There has been no commitment ó the Finance minister, in the past, has committed to development of a policy before entering into a P3. He has not committed to a public discussion in the Legislature of that policy.
Now, the public/private partnership model has been suggested for the bridge in Dawson City. Will the bridge be a public/private partnership?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Contrary to the memberís constant positioning around the bridge in Dawson, thatís why the government has taken the responsible course of action and invested planning money. The planning money investment will determine ó to go forward. No matter what, we will be building a bridge in Dawson because itís an investment in infrastructure that provides benefit for the future of the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: The planning money, the $1.5 million proposed to be spent in the budget, then, includes monies to investigate the tendering of a public/private partnership for bridge construction and operation ó correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís money to plan, and planning includes all kinds of things.
Ms. Duncan: Itís really unfortunate that the Premier has forgotten his New Yearís resolution to be constructive in the Legislature and open and accountable. That was not an accountable answer to the public. Thereís $1.5 million budgeted for planning. Does the planning include an investigation of a public/private partnership model for the bridge construction? Thatís a straightforward yes or no. I know the Premier likes those questions.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the investment for planning includes developing the plan on how to go forward to build the bridge, and it may include many, many options that we will be looking at, and then we will choose what makes the most sense for Yukon and what makes most sense for building a bridge in that particular area, crossing that particular river, given the depth of the river, the banks and their stability. And the list goes on and on and on. So thatís why weíve invested the planning money, to determine all those things the member is asking, and more.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, itís unfortunate that part of that planning money and investigation of those options isnít investigating if maybe a bridge isnít the best thing for Yukoners right now. Maybe there are other ways that we should be spending anywhere from $25 million to $50 million in Yukon infrastructure and if there are other, more pressing, infrastructure needs.
The Premier has met frequently with Governor Murkowski in Alaska. Has he any guarantee ó and Iím speaking of anything on paper, on the back of a napkin ó that says that Alaska will commit to opening the Taylor Highway year-round? Is there anything?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have a protocol ó an agreement ó with the State of Alaska that speaks to our commitment, as two jurisdictions, to work on trade and commerce between our two jurisdictions. Thatís on paper.
Ms. Duncan: That protocol, incidentally, has not been tabled; perhaps the Premier could file it with the Clerk tomorrow when the House resumes. That document does not specifically state that Alaska will commit to opening the Taylor Highway year-round. That was the question I asked. Is there anything on paper? A letter from Governor Murkowski ó anything that commits Alaska to keeping the Taylor Highway open year-round?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The protocol is a public document. It had a public signing. It was disseminated into the public. It speaks to a number of things: our commitment to work on trade and commerce, our commitment to look into tourism and enhance that. There are many elements in that protocol.
But does the member opposite think that everything must happen in a moment? We just talked about the virtue of being patient. I think the member opposite should recognize that investment today that has benefit and impact on the future is what this is all about.
Now letís really look at this issue. Itís simple arithmetic. Just the cost of the ferry ó without replacing it ó year-in and year-out ranges from $800,000 to $1 million annually. If we extrapolate that into the fact that, in the most minimum case, the life of a bridge is 75 years, I think we can see how quickly the arithmetic shows that the business case is there. This is going to be not only an improvement of infrastructure, it will be, over the long-term, a saving for the Yukon taxpayer. This is simple arithmetic.
Ms. Duncan: Iím looking forward to discussions with the Department of Education about the math program. That doesnít answer the question, and it didnít answer the question. There is no commitment with Alaska to open the Taylor Highway year-round. There is no commitment that a public/private partnership policy will be discussed on the floor of the House. There is no commitment that the bridge will or will not be a P3, just the Premierís word.
The Premier also has responsibilities in terms of working with Alaska and working with the Government of Canada on a number of national and international fronts. The Yukon Party committed to funding a Crown in right court case. Has there been any funding allocated for it in the budget? We didnít see any last year. When will that court case proceed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As always, this government takes the thoughtful approach. Weíre looking into that issue. The question of a Crown in right has the possibility of being answered in the courts and thatís what weíre looking at. We also recognize that there are issues that we have entered into in devolution, for example ó when it comes to our offshore situation where the federal government has committed to working jointly with the Yukon to develop an offshore management plan off Yukonís shore.
There are a number of things in the mix here, but weíre certainly looking seriously at the Crown in right question.
Ms. Duncan: If the government is looking seriously at it, how much funding is allocated?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thereís always an amount of money within the budgeting that addresses legal issues. To say weíre not going to proceed with this initiative because itís not a line item in the budget is ridiculous. The issue of having a legal question answered ó for example, we have a number of legal people on the payroll. There are so many other areas where we are already expending money to deal with legal issues.
The member is trying to make the point that itís not a line item in the budget, therefore itís a commitment weíre not delivering on. Again, the member has presented incorrect information. Weíre very serious about the Crown in right question; it has huge ramifications on the Yukon, depending on how the question is answered, and the fact itís not a line item in the budget is not an indication at all of where weíre going with it. We are going to deal with it.
Ms. Duncan: The fact is the Yukon Party put the commitment in their platform. The fact is that constitutional lawyers are required, and the fact is the Yukon Party is not putting any money toward it. As far as the legal opinions and the good work being done by the Department of Justice and the lawyers who are on staff, Iíve asked the Justice minister no less than three times for a list of outstanding court cases ó as my former colleague was wont to do ó and I have yet to receive an answer on that either. There has been no Justice lawyer assigned to prepare an opinion or a budget document on that, and there are no resources dedicated to it.
The offshore committee with Canada was under the Oil and Gas Act. Is there any progress on that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thatís specific to the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Ms. Duncan: Actually Executive Council Office has a role to play in that as well; however, perhaps the Energy, Mines and Resources minister will give us an update when we get to that department.
Another Yukon Party commitment is to ports in Skagway, Haines and the Beaufort. We thought the King port discussion had died and was long gone; however, the Yukon Party committed to it. When are those ports going to be opened under the Yukon Party?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The actual commitment is access to tidewater. The member opposite cancelled a golden opportunity for the Yukon to own access to tidewater. But in our first days in office we sat down with White Pass Yukon and entered into a memorandum of understanding that includes their commitment to providing us access to tidewater. Thatís one example. But I know, given our very constructive relationship with the State of Alaska, that other options are available. Unfortunately, we lost what was a tremendous opportunity when the member opposite for some unknown reason cancelled the options on tidewater for Yukon and its ownership.
Ms. Duncan: Weíre not buying Alaska back one piece at a time. It might come as a surprise to the Finance minister, but very good advice was provided to our government and to others as well. The Premier didnít address the question. The Yukon Party is committed to access to tidewater and is re-examining an old, old, old issue of a King port in the Beaufort. What work has been done on these issues, what feasibility studies? And did the Premier, in his belief that owning pieces of Alaska one port at a time was such a great idea, reinvestigate it and re-exercise options? What was done? And also, when the Premier gets on his feet, could we have a copy of that memorandum of understanding with White Pass?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, again, the memorandum of understanding with White Pass was a public signing. Itís a public document, and Iím sure the memberís well aware of that. And as always, when it comes to our platform and its commitments, itís fair to say ó and weíre very proud of this fact ó that we have delivered on many of them. There are a number of the commitments in our budget for this coming fiscal year that is, again, delivering even more commitments to Yukoners, and the others are works ongoing.
Ms. Duncan: So there is no information in that answer from the Premier. Have there been any feasibility studies? Was there any documentation prepared? Have they unearthed the Beaufort port feasibility studies? What has been done? Has he assigned this task off to another minister? If thatís the case, then Iíd be happy to ask that minister these same questions.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Their work is ongoing. We have a very ambitious platform that we presented to the Yukon public. A great number of the commitments have already been delivered on, more are in this budget, and obviously there is more work coming in many areas. Itís an ongoing process. Again, I think the member should exercise a little patience.
Ms. Duncan: Well, I think Yukoners have been remarkably patient to date with the government. The Yukon Party committed to open ports in Skagway, Haines and in the Beaufort. Itís in their platform. I asked the Finance minister what theyíve done on it. Itís their commitment. What has been done? Have there been any feasibility studies? Have any of the old documents been unearthed? Have they initiated discussions?
His response was, "Well, we signed a memorandum of understanding with White Pass." Well, it may have been a public signing, and it may be a public document, but I would ask that he have the courtesy to provide it to the members of the House.
Another commitment of the Yukon Party government was to explore the feasibility of B.C. Rail providing rail service to the Yukon. What has been done on that, and how much money is allocated to that feasibility study?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member knows the steps that are being taken right now are on the proposed Alaska rail link. There is an issue that the federal government must respond to: the request by Washington to jointly form a committee ó if you want to call it that ó to do a feasibility study on that rail link. Obviously, that rail link will connect into B.C.
Also, the government believes the appropriate approach to take is to have the federal government respond in the affirmative to Washington, and letís proceed with the feasibility study. It makes sense to do it that way, and the federal government has an obligation in this area, when it comes to infrastructure, to look into these matters. And more importantly, there has been a request from our American neighbours to the south to do exactly that.
In discussions I had with the Prime Minister not too long ago, he certainly put this on the federal governmentís radar screen. So, we await the response to Washington.
Ms. Duncan: Well, itís my understanding that the public discussion has been that the Prime Minister will be in Washington at the end of the month. The issue of a railway through the Yukon to Alaska is a separate issue, in part, from this issue of exploring the feasibility of B.C. Rail providing service to the Yukon. The rail line was put in place to Dease Lake and then stopped. This was the Yukon Partyís commitment, the extension of B.C. Rail.
I am asking what the Yukon Party government has done on a Yukon Party election commitment. I am not asking how long we are going to sit back and wait for the feds to come to the table on this proposed rail link with Alaska. I am asking specifically about this Yukon Party commitment.
Now, if the Yukon Party has abandoned that commitment in favour of waiting for an answer from the Canadian government then, by all means, stand up and say, "Look, weíve taken a different tack." I am just asking for an answer from the Premier. Itís a Yukon Party commitment.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís a good thing the member opposite isnít in charge.
Firstly, why do two feasibility studies? We have an opportunity to do one.
Secondly, itís not a rail line to Dease Lake, itís a rail bed. There has never been a line built to Dease Lake. Itís simply a pile of dirt.
Ms. Duncan: I do apologize for misusing the term "link" as opposed to a rail bed. The fact is that it was the Yukon Party that committed to the feasibility study. So, if they are now saying "Why do two? We will just go on one and we will let the feds and other people pay for it," then have the courage to stand up and say so.
It was the Yukon Party commitment. I just asked what the government was doing about it. I am sorry the Premier is so sensitive on this. It was their commitment, after all.
There are a number of other commitments that I would like to ask the Premier about, and hopefully we will get an answer. I appreciate his sensitivity.
The Yukon Party also committed to an office for Yukon hire. When is that going to open?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As Iíve stated already, itís a very aggressive agenda we presented to the Yukon public. Weíve lived up to and delivered on many commitments already in 16 short months, and many others are a work ongoing. The member opposite also makes the point that we are breaking a commitment to do a feasibility study on a rail link to B.C. No, weíre not. We feel that the federal government has a role to play here because of the nature of the infrastructure. There has been a request from Washington to do a feasibility study, to do exactly that. Why do two of them? The Yukon government is taking a prudent course to lobby the federal government, along with our Alaska neighbours, Alberta and British Columbia, to do that feasibility study. Why? Because it has net benefit to Canada, not just the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: The Premier needs to relax a little and not be quite so sensitive. The fact is the offer from the U.S. about the feasibility study was there before the election was called. The Yukon Party put the commitment in their platform anyway, knowing full well the commitment was there, that they were going to do their own feasibility study. If this now is their version of it, then all Iím asking is some accountability to the public for that. Itís really a straightforward question.
Iím glad weíve returned to the discussion of Alaska though. Where are we in terms of resolution of the boundary dispute with Alaska? Has he made any representation to the Prime Minister in his recent discussions on that, or has he had any discussions with Governor Murkowski on it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The issue of the boundary is an obvious one. It has been a long-standing issue. Canada is the lead on it. We are looking at questions like the Crown in right issue and how that relates to our offshore boundary. It really boggles the mind why, in closing out the devolution agreement, the member opposite didnít reflect on that very fact and establish in the devolution agreement the actual boundaries. That didnít take place, so now we have a negotiation process to develop a joint management plan. We will push very hard on ensuring thereís recognition of Yukonís offshore boundary.
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister may want to just revisit the discussions with respect to devolution. The fact is, the deal is done and it was done well and it was the best deal we could get at the time. It was a good deal, and suggesting it was anything less and shouldnít have been done does a disservice not just to previous politicians ó and there are a number of them, including Yukon Party ones who worked on this ó but also to all the officials who did their very best on behalf of the Yukon. They did a good job.
The boundary dispute is a Canadian issue. It is a national issue and Canada has the lead role. However, Yukon has a role to play in terms of reminding the Prime Minister of it and reminding the ministers of international affairs. Also, itís particularly important with respect to Alaskaís initiatives and concerns Yukoners have raised with respect to offshore drilling initiatives and so on.
So I would just encourage the Finance minister to place that on his agenda for his next discussions with the Prime Minister. Iíd like to return to some of the other issues; however, Iíd also like to turn it over to my colleagues for a moment.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I do have a few questions for the Premier about the development of this budget and about the direction in which this government is going.
Now, Iíd love to ask many questions in regard to finances. I just find it absolutely amazing that a year ago this government was crying poverty to the general public, and now theyíre saying that is not the case, even though this government had known full well that what they were left with was very much a healthy surplus.
In regard to consultation, this government said they will consult with communities; they will consult with First Nations. And time and time again in this House, we have discovered that some of the ministers have not taken the advice of the Premier or their party. It has gone to the point where the Premier felt it necessary to sign agreements with some First Nations on consultation. But I would like to know what the real reasons were behind signing these MOUs in regard to consultation. Why did the Premier choose that route instead of others that were available to him with First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the member is alluding to agreements. There is one consultation protocol, which was signed off under this governmentís watch, and it speaks to when and on what we consult with First Nations. Itís a framework.
But the government is going beyond that. We are promoting and building on partnerships with First Nations. Are those some of the agreements the member is alluding to?
Mr. Fairclough: No, Iím just asking why the government signed these protocol agreements. Why did it choose that route instead of others? Thatís what Iím asking the Premier.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: What others? The protocol is a framework that outlines on what and when and why we consult with First Nations. Is the member saying the First Nations didnít agree with that? The First Nations signed on it too. Itís all about building a relationship and partnership. Itís one area, one element, one component of that partnership, and there are many others.
Mr. Fairclough: Obviously the minister knows about the First Nation final agreements. How do these consultation agreement protocols improve what is in the final agreements?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would challenge the member to ask the First Nations. The self-governing First Nations agreed to this protocol. Weíre very receptive to it. Weíre supportive of it. Obviously they felt it had a positive impact on advancing their relationship between governments and the territory. We proceeded accordingly. But the member opposite may be going down the road here, which is a slippery slope, and that is to try to pit First Nation against First Nation, Yukoner against First Nation, Yukoner against Yukoner, and the member opposite will meet stiff resistance from this government if he tries to do that.
Mr. Fairclough: I asked the Premier a simple question. Why canít the Premier answer the question? Itís a simple one. How does the Premier feel that his signing on to these agreements improves the consultation process or consultation with the First Nations over the final agreements? How does he see it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It establishes a framework on how and what we consult. It lays it out clearly. Itís not overly complicated. It addresses the many areas reflective of the Umbrella Final Agreement. Itís all there on the pages of the protocol.
Mr. Fairclough: Did the Premier not feel confident that the consultation process laid out in the final agreements was good enough? I mean, why did we go to this stage? Did he not feel they were good enough?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This was jointly agreed to by the Yukon government and First Nations to further enhance the government-to-government relationship.
Mr. Fairclough: I believe this Premier did not have confidence in his party to consult properly. He wanted to give some direction to the ministers to follow a certain protocol agreement, but it didnít happen. So, what measures has this Premier taken to ensure that his ministers follow this protocol agreement or the Umbrella Final Agreement when it comes to consultation? Are there any checks and balances he has given to the minister to follow? So far, that hasnít taken place.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, this member is incorrect. This is nothing but some attempt to engage in debate on something the member opposite has little understanding about. The member opposite was a minister in government. The same issues were faced by that government, but there was no action. Nothing was done.
This government has advanced that relationship with our First Nation people. This government is building a partnership with First Nations in this territory. Thatís a long distance from where that member was when in government.
Now, if the member wants to make an accusation, make it. Make the accusation. Provide the burden of proof. Otherwise, letís get on with debating the publicís business and stop this nonsense, because thatís all it is ó complete, utter nonsense.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, it is nonsense to the members opposite but it certainly isnít nonsense to the public out there, and the Premier knows it. You can obviously tell, Mr. Chair, by the way the Premier is responding to my question that he is irritated by it, and for good reasons.
I asked him where the checks and balances were to his ministers. He couldnít answer the question. Why? Maybe a little guilt factor, Mr. Chair. I think maybe the public sees that and they know that this Premier signed protocol agreements and then didnít even abide by them. He didnít abide by the Umbrella Final Agreement; he didnít abide by the agreements.
So this is the route I would say the Premier is taking his ministers down, and we are seeing it time and time again. There is no respect for agreements signed ó First Nation final agreements are one of them, and their own protocol agreements. It was to the point ó and the Premier knows this ó where the chiefs wanted to tear up the agreements because they meant nothing. If it meant something, then the Premier would have enforced it and had his ministers abide by that protocol agreement. We have none.
A prime example is with the captive wildlife regulations and how this government thought that by not bringing it out to the public they could ram it down Yukonersí throats. Well, it didnít happen. Guess what? First Nations wanted to be consulted; they wanted these ministers to read the final agreements, to know what is in the final agreements. To our amazements, some of the ministers on the government side just chose not to.
As a matter of fact, they go to the point of having their own definition of words, like "wildlife", and saying that lawyers have worked on it and this is what it means: it means a goldfish is wildlife. The Premier backed the minister up. He backed him up ó I couldnít believe it myself but it happened. What happened? The First Nations started asking what the heck these protocol agreements really mean. Well, nothing, really, because the Premier is not abiding by them.
I would like to know from the Premier how he sees these protocol agreements in conjunction with consultation when it comes to things like legislation. Does he see these protocol agreements working and involving First Nations when it comes to amendments or a creation of legislation in this House?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, all the member has to do is pick up the protocol and read it. It spells it out clearly, and itís signed on not only by the Yukon government but also by the self-governing First Nations.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, Iím asking the Premier to tell us how he sees that, how he reads it. How are they committed to consultation with First Nations? Is the legislation part of that? And thatís what Iíve asked the minister. And if it is, why hasnít he directed his ministers to abide by this protocol agreement?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, Mr. Chair, the member is making a serious, incorrect statement. That is not happening. The protocol, I point out again, spells out clearly on what and when we consult, and the government has gone beyond that in promoting and forging partnerships with First Nations across this territory. Thatís not a secret. We consult on matters that we must consult on. There are many areas where that may be the case. But the member stating in this House that this government doesnít do that is incorrect. And maybe the member should recognize that statements require some substance of fact, require evidence that that is happening.
The members can spin this any way they want. The realities are out there, outside of these walls, out there in the public, and the government is building a better relationship with First Nations and will not stand down on that commitment in any way, shape or form.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, maybe in the Premierís mind, but certainly not out there with the First Nations. I think the Premier knows it but is trying to skirt around the issue and hide behind a good relationship with First Nations. If there was such a good relationship, Mr. Chair, why didnít the minister take captive wildlife regulations and work with First Nations on that matter? There are First Nations who are opposed to those regulations, yet the Premier backs up the Environment minister and asks him to forge ahead. Forge ahead. It does not matter what the First Nation is saying, weíre moving ahead. Thatís the kind of working relationship there is with First Nations?
When the Minister of Environment says we are consulting with the renewable resource councils on this matter, well thatís contrary to the facts. This is what the Premierís consultation process is and he must have it reflected down into the ministers too. For example, letís take EMS being transferred ó what they said was over to the hospital at the time. It was a transfer. They kept changing their minds. It must frustrate the heck out of the public and yourself just to know how the changes are going. There was no consultation with the professionals. There was no consultation with the union. When it came to the captive wildlife regulations, there was none.
Still the Premier wants to move ahead and is backing up the ministers; thatís what I canít believe. Something that so dearly affects First Nation people ó it was probably the basis of land claims agreements that started. I can remember a lot of those discussions that took place during the early 1970s, and now just a change, just like that, a snap of the fingers and the Premier is in agreement with his ministers.
Take for example another one, the YNTEP program.
The minister said he consulted with First Nations about opening it up to the general public. Well, guess what happened? There was no consultation.
So, in the future, can the Premier lay out his new plans on how he will better consult the municipalities, First Nations and all of the interest groups out there?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would hope that the member opposite reads the pages of Hansard because if I were the member opposite, Iíd be ashamed of how I represented the official opposition in this House with those incorrect statements. The accusations are clear. The consultation issue is an ongoing issue in this territory and has been for a long, long time. Now, letís go over some of what the member is saying the government did not do when, in fact, the government did do it.
When it comes to the captive wildlife issue, the minister responsible has been consulting with First Nations. The regulations were ongoing in government before this government took office. Weíre the government that had the commitment and political will to take those regulations out there, into the public, for consultation. And thatís exactly what happened.
I have heard this member, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, stand on the floor of this Legislature, time in and time out, and say that the government has not consulted. Is that all there is in the memberís repertoire? I would hope not. There is much more to representing a constituency than constantly repeating the same rhetoric.
There has been much consultation by this government and there is going to be much more. But letís delve into some of the memberís positioning and what it really means. The member is doing things, when it comes to debate, to try to create a situation between not only First Nations, but between the government and First Nations.
Chair:I will remind members of Standing Order 19(g), which speaks against imputing false or unavowed motives to another. I donít believe that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun made a comment saying that was the reason why he was putting forward the points he was putting forward, and I would ask the member not to put forward such unavowed motives and to withdraw that statement.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie:Consider it withdrawn, Mr. Chair. However, the incorrectness of the statements being brought forward by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun are consistent and they continue day in and day out in this House. One can only wonder why that is.
Now, we have done a lot of things with the First Nations in this territory that we committed to do. And it starts with the platform, the commitment to the Yukon public. That was 30 days of consultation with Yukoners.
Now, letís reflect on the results. The results are that, after those 30 days of consultation, a Yukon Party government was elected to office. That in itself speaks volumes about the governmentís commitment to consultation. Then letís move on. We committed to ensure that this territory did not find itself in litigation when it comes to devolution. That consultation took place right here in this document. We proceeded with that commitment to ensure that that in fact did not happen.
The preferred option was to stay out of court on devolution. We accomplished that. We entered into a bilateral agreement with the Kaska Nation that solicited their commitment to stand down on the legal challenge to devolution so that we as a government, as a territory, could move forward and move forward in partnership.
Now, letís reflect on another issue. When it comes to the southeast Yukon, there was no land claim and no mandate to negotiate one. So we went further. Given the interest, given the potential and the opportunity for net benefit to Yukon, we entered into agreement with the Kaska Nation that speaks volumes about what this government is prepared to do when it comes to partnerships with our First Nation people, and it has allowed us to get the commitment from the Kaska Nation to stand down on all their litigation. And to that end, they are actively in discussions with the federal government to conclude an abeyance agreement so that we can get back to the land claim table and conclude the land claim in the southeast Yukon.
That has always been the priority of the government and the Kaska Nation. But at the same time, we are realizing benefits from access in Kaska traditional territory to ensure that benefits can accrue to Yukon from such things as the mining industry, the forest industry and the oil and gas industry, because the southeast Yukon as a region has that potential, and that is where the investment community wanted to go.
Now, Mr. Chair, this is not, as the members pointed out time and time again, an issue of preferential treatment to any First Nation. And letís show the evidence on why that is. We have an investment in Kwanlin Dun, Mr. Chair, of over $1 million in waterfront development right here in Whitehorse. Mr. Chair, thatís a significant investment and it speaks volumes of this governmentís commitment to honour those agreements.
To that end, we advanced monies to the Kwanlin Dun First Nation for design work. This is a significant project, not only for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, its cultural connections for them, but for the City of Whitehorse itself on the waterfront development side. Thatís an example of why preferential treatment, as stated by the members opposite, the official opposition and the third party, is incorrect.
Letís look at our investment in the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. Now, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has brought forward a capital plan to government, a capital plan to try to achieve stimulus in their community and create jobs and benefit and well-being for their citizens, and this government has invested in that capital plan. The first phase of that commitment and that partnership was in the supplementary budget of this last fiscal year.
The official opposition voted against that expenditure. That was the investment in the winter road into the community of Old Crow. The official opposition voted against that expenditure, and they have the audacity to stand in this House and say we do not consult and we do not live up to our agreements. In the supplementary budget, $400,000 of commitment was put on the pages of that budget, and today, when it comes to the Vuntut Gwitchin, $3-point-some million of investment commitment to that community and its people ó the members opposite oppose that. They vote against it. I challenge the members opposite to explain that to the Vuntut Gwitchin people.
Letís go on. Thereís much more. Today we are negotiating and concluding an economic framework partnership agreement with three other First Nations: not only the Vuntut Gwitchin, but the Na Cho Nyäk Dun and the Tríondëk Hwëchíin.
This is a framework agreement on how we, as governments, will proceed with economic development in north Yukon.
I want to be clear about something. When it comes to an economic partnership that this government has promoted and presented to the Yukon public, it includes resource revenue sharing for First Nations. The Kaska Nation will be getting a piece of the action when it comes to the development of a forest industry in the southeast Yukon. The Teslin Tlingit will receive a revenue share from the development of a forest industry in their traditional territory. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations will receive a share of royalties, of revenue sharing, from resource development in their traditional territory. And so, too, will every First Nation in this territory receive revenue streams from resource development in their traditional territories. Thatís a commitment ó one weíre living up to and itís in the agreements we have entered into.
Now, the members opposite can continue to go on with this needless, ridiculous debate about their positioning and statements that this government is not living up to something. The evidence is contrary to that, and itís a fact. We have lived up to many commitments, but there is much more to do.
But I would challenge the members opposite, who are obviously against revenue sharing with the First Nation people of this territory, because they continually point out that the Umbrella Final Agreement is this structure and that we are working outside that structure. I challenge them to read those pages in the Umbrella Final Agreement, the chapters that relate to development and partnership with First Nations. They will see that what we are doing is consistent with the Umbrella Final Agreement.
We are saying that there is more here. There is more because we must develop a partnership in this territory that is meaningful, that is built on trust, mutual respect and actually delivers something for the Yukon, as it should.
That was the intent of the Umbrella Final Agreement. That was the intent of the final agreements and self-government agreements. This government, through its commitments and efforts, is delivering on that by breathing life into ó life into, Mr. Chair ó those agreements, by supporting the First Nations for revenue streams, by ensuring that the First Nations are given a fair shake by the federal government when it comes to capacity and health and education.
And weíve gone further ó weíve sat down with First Nations and said, "Your issues around children are important to us; therefore, we commit to amending the Childrenís Act." The Childrenís Act review is being done in partnership with First Nations, contrary to what the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is saying. Itís another piece of evidence that what we are doing is solid and deserves ó deserves ó a much better approach for debate from that member than he is providing to this House.
We have gone on. We have said to the First Nations that we are committed to educational reform, to creating a system in this territory that will result in education that meets the needs of First Nation people. We have started that to date. The Minister of Education has invested money in curriculum change. The minister is advancing reform in the system to ensure that it recognizes and reflects the culture and the needs of First Nation people in the Yukon. We are negotiating today an element of a final agreement with the Tríondëk Hwëchíin ó 17.7. Itís a very important element because itís about education for First Nation people, for that First Nation, and may very well trigger a favoured nation clause. And the list goes on.
And the list goes on, Mr. Chair. We are living up to our commitments, not only in consultation but partnership.
Mr. Chair, at the end of the day, the official opposition is going to have to come up with a lot more than what they have to date to make this, on their part, a constructive sitting. But, frankly, to date it has been nothing of the sort. It has been a constant barrage of incorrect statements. It has been a constant stick-handling exercise in trying to extend debate needlessly in many areas that have no need to be discussed in this House. The information is presented to them.
These members have had ample briefings, ample material provided to them daily. For them to say that we are not doing that is, again, another incorrect statement, Mr. Chair. Mr. Chair, this member knows full well that the First Nation people in this territory have a long ways to go. The federal governmentís neglect on the implementation side of those land claims is certainly something that we have recognized as a government, and we are addressing. We will continue to address that issue as long as we are in government.
I challenge the Member for Mayo-Tatchun to come forward with some substantive questions, questions that reflect the facts, questions that are a reality for this territory. To date, the member has done nothing of the sort. Itís customary to allow who has the floor to be able to speak unfettered. Iíve just spent 10 minutes listening to the Member for Mayo-Tatchun provide remarks of an unparliamentary nature, and I would urge you, Mr. Chair, to maybe instruct the Member for Mayo-Tatchun that this is a House that is espousing the democratic process and his conduct is not becoming of a member who has been elected by a riding as important as Mayo-Tatchun. So the memberís argument about what weíre doing simply doesnít wash considering the memberís conduct in this House. So who is kidding whom here?
The government will continue on its course. The government will not be deflected from its partnerships regardless of how the members try to portray the government.
Their incorrect statements will not deflect us. Their statements, in fact, are causing more problem for them than they are for the government side. Their statements are reducing their stature in the public eye. Their statements are reducing their ability to make inroads in their respective constituencies. Mr. Chair, the New Democrats maintain that they are the champions of the environment. Where is that representation? Where is that on the floor of this House? They maintain they are the champions of the social agenda. I challenge them to vote against the major investments in the social side of the ledger in this budget. Go ahead, New Democrats. Vote against the millions of dollars invested in helping those in need in this budget. It would be an interesting vote, to be sure.
Now, Mr. Chair, life goes on no matter what, and I must say to the member opposite to go home tonight and think about this. This debate is an important one. Itís the biggest budget in the history of the Yukon, and this afternoon we have spent a number of hours going around in a circle with the members opposite, with no substance being produced on behalf of the public, continually answering the same question over and over and over again.
In fact, the memberís kibitzing makes more sense than the memberís questions do.
Now, that is telling you something, Mr. Chair, and I would suggest that the member opposite not stand up in debate but just sit there and kibitz, because he makes more sense and may make more of a position for himself and the NDP in this territory.
With that tirade, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Chair: Mr. Fentie has moved that we report progress on Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble:Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Also, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 8, Third Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and has directed me to report it without amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:01 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 19, 2004:
Dawson City: The Town of the City of Dawson Financial Plan 2004-07 Report (dated February 3, 2004) by André Carrel, appointed Supervisor (Hart)
Dawson City: The Town of the City of Dawson Financial Plan 2004-07 Report Addendum with Government of Yukon Recommendations (dated February 3, 2004) by André Carrel, appointed Supervisor (Hart)
The following document was filed April 19, 2004:
Shakwak Funding: letter (dated April 8, 2004) to Gary McRobb, MLA, with responses to questions asked on April 6, 2004 (Hart)
Earth Charter, The (Peter)