Wednesday, April 28, 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 recognition of Workersí Day of Mourning
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I rise today to pay special tribute to Yukon workers who have passed away or who have been injured at work. Today, April 28, is the annual Day of Mourning, a national day of remembrance that is observed in every Canadian territory and province and in more than 80 countries around the world.
The purpose of the Day of Mourning is to make us all more aware of the terrible consequences of workplace accidents and illnesses and to strengthen our efforts and resolve to prevent them.
In 2003, more than 900 workers died from workplace injuries or occupational disease in Canada. Mr. Speaker, one of those was a Yukon worker. Since 1992, twenty-one people have died with work-related issues here in the Yukon. On this Day of Mourning, people are invited to make special personal gestures to show their support for the safety of their loved ones at work. They can do such things as leave their porch lights on all night or display lights or candles in their windows.
I encourage all Yukoners to pay tribute in a way that feels appropriate for them.
I understand, Mr. Speaker, that after these tributes from all sides of the House, you will be asking us to rise for a moment of silence.
Mr. Cardiff: I rise on behalf of the official opposition in recognition of the 20th annual Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. We join the government, the Canadian Labour Congress, Yukon Federation of Labour, and the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to remember those who have been injured or killed on the job and the suffering of their loved ones.
In 1984, the Canadian Labour Congress declared an annual day of remembrance and asked us each year to publicly renew our commitment to mourn the dead and to remember their families, friends and neighbours and to publicly renew our commitment to fight for the living by establishing safe working conditions.
Job-related injuries and death have a high social and economic impact, causing great hardships for families and friends of those injured or lost on the job.
Some of those at greatest risk in the workplace are youth. Current information shows that over 50 percent of young workers in Canada receive little or no health and safety training at work. More young people die of injuries than all other causes combined. Young workers face the greatest risk of workplace injury during their first six months on the job, and they experience six times as many injuries in their first month of employment than at any other time.
Iíd like to take this opportunity to commend the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board for its efforts in addressing these disturbing facts. Theyíre doing that by working with youth groups, educators, unions and employers to provide training and information to young workers and, where possible, young people before they enter the workforce. They do this by showing a workplace awareness video, which we had the opportunity to see over at the ceremony this afternoon. Itís called Lost Youth, and itís being shown in Yukon schools, and it helps educate youth before they enter the workforce about workplace safety and their rights in the workplace.
Another initiative is the passport to safety initiative thatís supported by the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and itís intended to help eliminate needless injuries and preventable deaths of young Canadians, aged 24 and under. Passport to safety supports the vision that our children enter and then return home from safe workplaces every day.
Iíd also like to applaud the efforts of employers in the Yukon Territory who are providing occupational health and safety practices and workplace training to their employees and congratulate those employers who have signed on to the passport to safety initiative and encourage those who havenít to do so.
Since 1991, 23 workers in the territory have lost their lives and over 15,000 Yukoners have experienced some sort of work-related injury or illness. Last year, Canadians saw more than 900 workers die from workplace injuries and illness, and here in the Yukon a helicopter pilot lost his life on the job.
Workers continue to face high-risk situations where their lives are in danger. The need remains to educate workers and the general public and employers about the benefits of high standards for occupational health and safety practices.
As legislators, we have a responsibility to step up to the plate now and enact modern legislation and occupational health and safety regulations that promote safer workplaces and prevent injuries and loss of life.
On behalf of the official opposition, Iíd like to make a public commitment to support workersí rights to a safe working environment and support the rights of workers to refuse work that they believe to be unsafe.
Ms. Duncan: Today we mark the annual Day of Mourning for workers who have been killed, injured or diseased on the job. This national day of remembrance was founded in 1984 by the Canadian Labour Congress, and the aim of the day is to raise awareness of the tragic consequences of workplace accidents and to publicly renew our commitment to fight for the living as well as mourn for the dead.
This Day of Mourning is about a commitment to safer workplaces, as well as remembering those who were killed, injured or diseased on the job. The annual observance of this day should strengthen our resolve to establish safe working conditions, and I would especially like in my tribute to recognize the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and their commitment to the passport to safety program that was mentioned just moments ago. This program especially highlights the need to reduce the rate of serious injury and death among young Canadian workers. Often our young workers feel that they are somewhat invincible and that it canít happen to them.
There was a video mentioned by the Member for Mount Lorne that was done in British Columbia, our neighbour and very close to home. That video was shown at the Yukon Chamber of Commerce meeting last fall in Haines and I had the opportunity to view it then. I would strongly encourage ó nay, Mr. Speaker, make it mandatory that all young workers view the video, the parents as well, and employers, and I will commend to the young Yukoners I know personally the passport to safety program and their employers. I encourage in the strongest possible terms all members of this Legislature to encourage young Yukoners to view the video and to examine the passport to safety program.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: I ask all members of the House, in honour of the Day of Mourning, to please rise for a moment of silence.
Moment of silence observed
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I have for tabling information regarding the Childrenís Act review, a contact list for the Childrenís Act review project team, a consultation plan, the First Nation governance background paper and discussion guides.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I have for tabling a legislative return responding to a question asked by the Member for Porter Creek South.
I also have for tabling today the Yukon government Highways and Public Works contract summary report from 2003-04.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I also have for tabling a letter to the Member for Mount Lorne with respect to grants paid annually to municipalities for the period 2000-04.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have for tabling today, by request of the leader of the official opposition and the leader of the third party, detailed information in regard to the Department of Finance.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hassard:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to continue the Yukon film incentive program, which has successfully attracted a number of film productions and to continue working with the industry to enhance Yukon competitiveness.
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) Yukon workers deserve to be protected from the risk of injury in the workplace;
(2) new workplace safety regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act have been developed as a result of an extensive four-year consultation process;
(3) the minister responsible for the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board has not taken the necessary steps to bring these new occupational health and safety regulations into effect;
(4) the minister has incorrectly associated these regulations with the review of the Workersí Compensation Act, which is itself running behind the ministerís deadline; and
THAT this House urges the minister responsible for the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to do what is necessary to bring the new safety regulations into effect without further delay in order to provide a safer work environment for Yukon workers.
Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I rise to give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to implement a cooperative education program to assist Yukon post-secondary education students in gaining work skills and work experience by giving them hiring priority for job placements within the Yukon government and Yukon College.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza:I rise today as both Minister of Education and as minister responsible for the Public Service Commission to inform the House of a new cooperative education program for Yukon post-secondary students.
The program stems from two important platform commitments: the first is to provide Yukon students with the skills they need to be prepared for the realities of life after school, and the second is to make sure that Yukon post-secondary students are given hiring priorities for Yukon government jobs.
Gaining access to job opportunities is often a catch-22 situation for young people. They canít qualify for many jobs without a post-secondary education but graduation doesnít give them a guarantee of employment. Many college and university graduates have a hard time getting their foot in the door because, while they have the knowledge base, they often lack the practical work experience employers are seeking.
Co-op programs bridge this gap, Mr. Speaker. They give students an opportunity to gain valuable work experience related to their field of study and to earn academic credit for the work they do. Employers know that co-op programs are an important recruiting tool, particularly in hard-to-recruit professions such as engineering and health.
The demographics of the Canadian workforce are changing dramatically. As more workers reach retirement age there are fewer qualified young people ready to take their places.
In the Yukon government, the same trend is emerging ó 63 percent of all Yukon government employees are between the ages of 40 and 59. The new co-op education program makes it possible for government departments and Yukon College to set up co-op placements to fit their individual programs and recruitment needs.
While departments have already identified several positions that they are considering over the next six months, the actual number of cooperative jobs over the coming year will depend on further department needs. In fact, the cooperative program is different from other job experience programs, in that it offers year-round job experience opportunities and not just summer jobs.
The terms guiding the co-op education program are contained in the new job experience programs policy, which amalgamates all existing employment programs. The other employment programs covered by the policy include Head Start, Yukon youth conservation corps, conservation action team, student training employment program, computer camp program, and youth exploring trades.
All these are managed by individual departments. Yukon students can access some of these programs as high school students, and others as post-secondary students, and they can gain experience.
Our long-term hope is that the co-op program will contribute to encouraging more young people to return home to the Yukon to start their careers.
Speaker: Thank you, Mr. Minister; your time is up.
Mr. Hardy: This may be a good move ó providing opportunity to Yukon youth in the government but, like most things, the devilís in the details and, at the end of the day, weíll measure it by its successes. To be frank, I do have some concerns about an announcement like this, because there are so many outstanding issues that still have to be dealt with. We get a ministerial statement in the House in regard to this and yet, today, weíre talking about OH&S. Weíve already heard the Member for Mount Lorne bring up a motion on OH&S ó four years in the making. This is to protect the workers coming into the workplace, and we cannot even get a ministerial statement on the floor in regard to that, which may prevent injury to young people entering the workplace ó but we get a cooperative announcement. I find that a little disturbing.
We have to question why thatís being held back. Also, Mr. Speaker, there have been cuts in territorial job placements in the trades. This government has made cuts to the previous historic numbers in which tradespeople were brought in to work with the government and train through that and serve their apprenticeships.
As well, there has been a lowering of the training funds that are so necessary to train the young people of today and retrain other people. They are not at the historic highs that they like to indicate; theyíre nowhere near it; theyíve fallen behind. We have lots of concerns around that.
If you really look at the numbers in the government workplace today, what are we looking at? Weíre looking at 3,824 active employees in the Yukon Territory. As an aside, Mr. Speaker, I can assure that minister across the way ó the minister responsible for Public Service Commission ó that every one of those employees knows about this minister and the actions that were taken by him last year.
But letís look at those numbers. This year, a breakdown of the appointments under the Public Service Act: permanent was 669 jobs. Good. But then letís take a closer look: terms, 123 jobs. Now, these are not permanent. Letís look at casual: 410 jobs. Auxiliary: 307. Compare those numbers, auxiliary and casual, 717 hires. Permanent term: 792 hires.
Is there a future in the territory for people who work for this government, knowing they get good benefits and long-term jobs? Thatís questionable. Is there a future in the government, knowing that they may be subject to an investigation that infringes upon their privacy? Thatís questionable.
We have a lot of concerns about this and we would like to see more detail and not an announcement that doesnít have the substance that is so necessary. Weíre not sure if it guarantees Yukon people getting jobs, as the minister across the way said.
I donít see how ó as the minister had indicated ó this announcement is going to make sure that Yukon post-secondary students are given hiring priority for Yukon government jobs. I would like to see the details around that and whatís going to guarantee it, because as far as I can see this is not Yukon hire; if anything, itís an attempt to get some good-news stories out of a government that has been stumbling out of the blocks and continues to stumble.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to respond to the ministerial statement on cooperative education. The idea and the notion to provide Yukon students with the skills they need to be prepared for the realities of life after school and the idea that Yukon post-secondary students are given hiring priority for Yukon government jobs is music to many peopleís ears ó many young people and individuals throughout the government and parents of those young individuals.
However, itís music to the ears that reminded me of a rock band in the 1970s, and many people in this Legislature are of a vintage to remember that rock band called "Cheap Trick". That was the name of the band. This music had a very good beat; however, this ministerial statement, which also had some good messages, should also be looked at as a bit of a political ploy, and Iíd like to set the stage for that music.
This government has shown a complete aversion to ministerial statements ó a complete aversion to them. They have not delivered a great many. They have, however, today. When we can spend our time this afternoon discussing a motion about education brought forward by others, and others who would have an opportunity to deliver their message to the public, weíre spending time talking about the government and what they are doing, but it is not a new initiative.
Another part of this message is the lack of the details. The lack of details is what makes this ministerial statement difficult to support. The music may have a good beat, Mr. Speaker, but what are the words saying? Sometimes, some of the lyrics are offensive to some people once they have heard them.
The difficulty with this ministerial statement, as has been noted, is first of all in the timing. The Premier promised a constructive, working-with-the-opposition type of legislature. When the opposition is bringing forward reasonable, constructive suggestions, give them an opportunity to be heard by the Yukon public. Letís not repackage old ideas and chew up House time without providing the details that are necessary to encourage the support for what is a good idea ó a good idea that has been practised by other governments.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Quite frankly, I didnít expect much more of a response. However, I can tell you today, as minister, that Iím very pleased. Iím so happy I could almost do a jig on the floor of the House, because we are committed to the students and to the education of the Yukon Territory. This is no ploy, and this is not showing any disrespect for the trades.
Mr. Speaker, this government has put $1 million into the base grant of the Yukon College. Thatís something neither party across the floor had the ambition to do. This government has also put forward one of the biggest Education budgets ever in the history of the Yukon Territory, which I am very pleased to announce, once again stating the commitment of this government toward the citizens of the Yukon Territory.
Mr. Speaker, this government does not live in a negative world. I heard negative comments from across the way. This government is about improving the situation of today, and if we can do that, as a government, we definitely are going to do that. I tell you today that regardless of what members across the way are saying about newspapers, if thatís their bible, then let them believe in it.
I say today that we have some very important things happening in society today that havenít been mentioned. For example, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, working with advanced education, has over the winter provided three training programs for the inmates. So we do care. We care about every citizen in this territory ó not only the ones who are achieving high academic standards in the high schools and universities, but we also care about the ones that are having problems on their life path today. Every one is important to this government, and our actions prove it. Itís not just a word of mouth. Anyone can look in the Yukon College paper that is available and read what this government is doing for people in the Yukon Territory.
The other thing thatís important about this Whitehorse Correctional Centre initiative is that this government instructed the advanced education and Whitehorse Correctional Centre to have the inmates strike an education committee and let them decide what they need in their programming.
This government complied with their request. So, Mr. Speaker, regardless of what is said across the floor or whatís written in the newspapers, I am one proud camper today to be able to stand on the floor of this Legislature and say that this government is doing one good job, as far as Iím concerned.
Speaker:Prior to Question Period, the Chair will deliver a ruling on a point of order raised yesterday.
During Question Period the leader of the official opposition said, "There seems to be no limit to what members of this government will do to discredit people they donít like." He also referred to the government as "intolerant and vindictive."
The government House leader raised a point of order under Standing Order 19(g), the attribution of a false or unavowed motive to another member. It is not clear to the Chair that the issue is one of motive. However, it is clear that the language used by the leader of the official opposition was unparliamentary. Standing Order 19(i) says the Speaker shall call a member to order if that member uses abusive or insulting language in a context likely to create disorder. Likewise, Guideline 8 of our Guidelines for Oral Question Period says a question must not contain inferences, impute motives or casting aspersions upon persons within the House or out of it.
The Chair will also remind members of the statement given by the Chair of Committee of the Whole on Monday of this week. At that time, the Chair of Committee of the Whole said he appreciated that members have strongly held views that they wish to express. At the same time, the Chair reiterated that the presiding officers have a duty ó bestowed upon them by this House ó to maintain order and decorum.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Am I interrupting you?
As the Chair noted, members have expressed a desire to elevate the level of decorum in this Chamber.
Strong language, like that used yesterday by the leader of the official opposition, has a tendency to incite a similar response. This leads to disorder where members begin making derogatory comments about one another rather than discussing the issues before them.
Members know that this House is not the only avenue in which they can express their opinions; however, when they are in this House, they must adhere to the proprieties of the House. The Chair does not believe that any member ó on either side of the House ó would want to be described in the manner employed by the leader of the official opposition.
Similarly, the Chair would like to make a statement about the question raised by the leader of the third party yesterday. At that time, the member asked if changes to the Liquor Act were not forthcoming "because of opposition from MLAs who have a financial interest in seeing that neighbourhood pubs stay banned?"
Members will recall that on April 8 the Chair gave a lengthy statement regarding allegations of conflict of interest. That statement set out the proper procedure to be followed when members wish to address conflict of interest issues. One of those procedures is to lay a complaint with the Conflicts Commissioner pursuant to paragraph 17(d) of the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act.
The procedure to be followed when a member feels it is necessary to place allegations about another memberís actions before the House is to bring forward a motion containing the charge being made and a proposal for dealing with it. It is not in order to merely interject such an allegation into any other proceeding than debate on such a motion.
The leader of the third party assured the Chair that she did not intend to suggest a conflict of interest. However, if members consult the Blues they can see how such an allegation could be inferred. The Chair suggests, therefore, that members exercise caution in the language they use when dealing with matters raised in this House.
We will now proceed with Question Period.
Question re: Social assistance policies
Mr. Hardy: I am sure this is going to be no surprise to the Minister of Health and Social Services that I am asking a question about last night. Last night I had the opportunity to hear the minister address the annual general meeting of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. In his remarks, the minister indicated he has some changes in store for the territoryís social assistance program.
I was pleased to hear the ministerís plan to increase social assistance rates for single moms and families and for people with disabilities ó very good news. But some of the ministerís other ideas warrant a question or two. Who did the minister consult with before deciding to pursue some of the same social assistance policies mentioned last night ó British Columbia and Alberta, two of Canadaís most reactionary jurisdictions when it comes to working people and people in need.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As the member knows, weíre still in the consultation program on this, but what I indicated last night at the Anti-Poverty Coalitionís annual general meeting was that our government was examining the issue of raising social assistance rates for a number of categories. Those categories are: persons with disabilities, single parents and couples with children. Thatís where weíre at, but it must be mentioned that our rates are the highest, or some of the highest, in Canada.
Weíre examining where we can place more money for the good of Yukoners who have to fall back on our social safety net. Weíre doing the work that is required of us, and the member is trying to take exception with certain parts of it. Let due process be followed. Let us go out and do the consultation process. Letís examine this. I welcome the member opposite to join the consultation program.
Mr. Hardy: I will take him up on that offer because, frankly, last night people were very surprised that there was a consultation process actually happening.
Now, this minister has indicated that itís already ongoing. Well, I would like to know where the meetings have been happening, whom the minister has been consulting.
Now, the minister told the Anti-Poverty Coalition last night that he would consult on SA changes. Thatís a first. No doubt it would be the same as the way he consulted on Macaulay Lodge or on the future of the Thomson Centre. Decide first, consult later. Thatís what I heard last night. It was already described what was going to happen.
On March 31, the minister suggested in this House that 70 percent of the Yukonís SA payments went to single, employable males, 40 years of age or younger, mostly from British Columbia. But according to figures his own deputy gave out at a departmental budget briefing, only 47 percent of SA recipients last year were single, and he confirmed that at the meeting last night. Different stories. Not all were male, not all were from B.C., and not all would be considered employable.
Why is the minister basing social assistance policy decisions on a politically inspired example that doesnít hold water statistically?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I didnít think the member was as good at taking numbers and misrepresenting them, Mr. Speaker, as he is.
The issue is ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Take your seat, please.
Speaker:Did I just not read a statement talking about adverbs, verbs, descriptions of members to all members of the House? Would the minister please carry on.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the statement.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has taken the statistics over the entire year. The 77 percent was the statistic for last summer, where the department paid out over $1 million in increased social assistance payments. That went primarily to newly arriving Yukoners, males 40 years of age or under with employable skills. Thatís the bottom line.
Mr. Hardy: The minister is looking to B.C. and Alberta for models, as has been mentioned time and time again. In B.C. there is a welfare time limit. People without kids are limited to two years of social assistance during any five-year period. A similar approach in the United States was a failure. It actually resulted in higher social program costs. In B.C., 40,000 people could be cut off welfare this year when other support programs are being slashed, and there are no plans to increase support systems such as job training, which is so essential. There are many reasons why a single male might not fit this ministerís definition of "employable", but the minister is targeting this one demographic group. Once again, the Yukon Party is pitting people against each other ó the poor against the poor.
What is the ministerís estimate of the additional cost to combat increased crime, substance abuse and other social programs that will likely result from a single-minded pursuit of ways to cut the social welfare?
Mr. Speaker, weíre not looking at cutting the social welfare budget; weíre looking at increasing it. Let me make that abundantly clear to the member opposite.
And if the member opposite would have remained at the meeting for its entire duration instead of rushing out toward the end, he would have had the opportunity to hear some of the questions and answers, Mr. Speaker.
The issue is that single, employable rates here in the Yukon are $12,145 per annum. In British Columbia, theyíre $6,251 per annum. In Alberta, theyíre $4,824 per annum. We have an inward migration of single, employable males who come here, who put a balloon in our system of over $1 million last summer. Those are the facts.
Question re: Occupational health and safety regulations
Mr. Cardiff:Iíve got a multiple choice quiz for the minister responsible for occupational health and safety, so I want him to pay attention, to listen carefully.
Which of the following three pieces of equipment donít require a licence or certification to operate in the Yukon? a) a 50 cc motorcycle capable of 45 kilometres an hour, b) a power-actuated tool commonly referred to as a Hilti gun; or c) an 80-metre-high tower crane with a lifting capacity of 18 tons in a jib that swings out over city streets?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Those details are not something that are dealt with at the ministerial level. Could the member opposite pose a question that deals with policy, legislation or the financial envelope surrounding these issues?
Mr. Cardiff: It shows what the minister knows about the occupational health and safety rules. We know that the Workersí Compensation Act review is stalled, and the minister is trying to ignore the occupational health and safety regulations that he doesnít seem to know anything about because they have been gathering dust under his desk for 18 months.
But the minister just spoke about the need to reduce injury and death in the workplace in the tribute today, on this Day of Mourning. Now, the minister is ignoring four years of consultation, consensus-building by stakeholders to develop occupational health and safety regulations that reflect a modern workplace.
Will the minister now implement the occupational health and safety regulations without further delay to make workplaces safe and to save lives?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: With respect to the legislation, the act that is being reviewed, we are going further than has been done in a long time by any government. We are fully committed to a review of the Workersí Compensation Act.
With respect to the occupational health and safety regulations, which is another piece of legislation that governs this area, we are moving forward, and various aspects of these regulations will be dealt with by Cabinet this next month.
Now, that said, I want to make it abundantly clear that the current existing occupational health and safety regulations are in place. They are well-founded and they are protecting the workers in the workforce currently to a great degree. They are currently in place and they will remain in place until changes are brought forward.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister should know that the current OH&S regulations are very old. Theyíre almost 20 years old. Both the City of Whitehorse and Dawson have shown leadership in workplace safety by banning smoking in the workplace. The minister should show the same kind of leadership by passing a regulation banning smoking in all workplaces as provided for in section 102 of the act. By doing so, he could reduce workplace illness and future liabilities for WCB for future claims and the liabilities theyíll be under for those claims for second-hand smoke in the workplace and the injuries and illnesses that those people would suffer from. But also, he should be concerned as the Minister of Health and Social Services about saving medicare costs and lives. Why will the minister not save lives and money and pass an effective regulation eliminating this hazard from the workplace territory-wide?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite knows full well that all government buildings are smoke-free. He must know it because he used to have to go outside for a cigarette on a regular basis. So that said, the issue is being dealt with at the municipal level. He knows full well what is occurring within the City of Whitehorse and within the community of Dawson. These are issues being dealt with at the municipal level and all government buildings are smoke-free currently and will remain that way. No one is envisioning any changes in the area of how the government treats its buildings.
Question re: Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board conference expenses
Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. Last summer, the ministerial-selected chair of the board went on a trip to Vancouver on board business. The chairís appointment was the subject of controversy in the House, and now this journey on board business and on the public dollar has also become controversial. Iíve written several letters to the minister asking him to provide a list of expenses for the chairís Vancouver trip. The minister has refused to provide this information. Why is this open and accountable government refusing to make this information ó about the expenditure of taxpayersí dollars, public funds ó public?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What the member opposite is trying to suggest is that there is a misspending of funds by the chair of the board, and what the member opposite is ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker:The leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Is the member suggesting that I implied motive in the question? That is not what I did, and I would respectfully request that the member abide by the ruling delivered earlier today. I did not suggest there had been a misspending of funds, as stated by the minister opposite. I asked for an accounting of funds.
Speaker:The member has a point of order. Iíd ask the minister not to make that reference.
Carry on, please.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, what the member opposite is referring to is a meeting that was attended by all members of the board and their officials in Vancouver. Itís an annual meeting and itís held in various jurisdictions across Canada. This year, all of the various workersí compensation boards across Canada will be meeting right here in the Yukon, and what the member opposite is referring to is a purchase order that was raised for some $17,000. That was for the costs of rooms for all the staff and all the board members for ó I believe it was just over a week, when they were attending this conference. It was at conference rates in Vancouver; it was budgeted and approved within the appropriate system, and Ö
Speaker: Thank you, minister.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Ö they adhered to policies.
Ms. Duncan: What I asked the minister for and what I wrote the minister and asked for was a public accounting of this trip to Vancouver by the chair of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and the minister has just said by others.
Now, in February of this year, the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board issued a new policy. They are now subject to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Will the minister provide the expenses ó all of them ó related to this trip, or do we have to file under the ATIPP act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, or are we to be simply satisfied with his statement in the House? Will he provide all of the accounting and let members of the opposition and the public decide for themselves?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The information has just been provided to the member opposite, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, as we began this new year, the Premier was interviewed in one of the local papers, and he talked about how he regretted that the government had not been as cooperative as it could be during the last session of the Legislature. He vowed as a New Yearís resolution he would try to work more cooperatively with the opposition. What we just saw, unfortunately, was that the minister responsible for the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board wasnít listening to the Premierís comments; he wasnít listening to his boss. The minister is only listening to himself.
I wrote respectfully and asked the minister responsible for the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board for complete, detailed accounting of the travel expenses incurred by the chair and members of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board on this business trip ó this public expenditure of funds to Vancouver. He has refused to provide the information. He has refused to answer whether or not I have to apply under the access to information to get a complete accounting. He says his answer in the House is good enough.
Speaker: Order please. Would the member ask a question.
Ms. Duncan: Certainly. Will the Deputy Premier, the minister responsible for the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, supply the complete information regarding that trip to the opposition?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, I just have. What the member opposite is referring to is a trip to Vancouver, and this annual general meeting of all of the workersí compensation boards across Canada is held annually in a different jurisdiction. It was in Vancouver this last year. The member is referring to a $17,000 purchase order that was issued to a hotel in Vancouver for all the members of the board, the chair of the board included, and all the officials from the department to attend this annual general meeting. The expenses adhered to the complete policy of the government with respect to per diems and everything else. Iíve provided the member opposite with my assurance and the assurance of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board in that regard. What the member opposite is referring to is that the chair of the board was accompanied by his spouse. Any incremental costs for the accompaniment of the spouse were picked up and paid for by the chair of the board.
Question re: Labour, Yukon hire
Mr. Hardy:The Premier likes to boast about all the economic stimulus his record-sized capital budget is providing, so Iíd like to ask him a simple question: what is the Premier doing to ensure that Yukon workers and Yukon employers will benefit the most from this public spending instead of workers and companies from Outside?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First I want to put something on the record that I think is important in regard to the leader of the official oppositionís question. This member and this government do not boast. In fact, weíre quite humbled by the challenges ahead of us in dealing with the issues of this territory, specifically around the economy. Now having said that, I think itís clear in our budget that where weíre investing our money is ensuring that we maximize the benefits that are retained for Yukoners. I will go on to say that our approach to partnering with First Nations in the economic development of this territory will even enhance our ability to retain maximum benefits on behalf of the Yukon citizens.
Mr. Hardy: I donít think the member opposite answered the question I asked. As a matter of fact, I think he avoided it. I wonder why.
Now, I donít what to pussyfoot around this. We get calls on a regular basis from Yukoners who are wondering who is on the Yukon Party governmentís favoured list and who isnít. Weíre also getting calls from people who are wondering if this government has any kind of Yukon hire or any kind of Yukon purchase hire policy left. Can the Premier tell us the current status of Yukon hire and Yukon purchase policies under this government ó are they alive, dead, or are they on life support?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís interesting to see the official opposition make light ó in fact, try to be humorous ó about the very difficult situation the Yukon found itself in upon this government taking office in 2002. Having said that, we have proceeded with implementing our plan and vision for the territory and its economy. Weíve already seen positive indicators that show that the trends are heading in the right direction and, of course, already maximizing benefits and ensuring that locally we get the most out of what we invest in ó itís happening today, Mr. Speaker.
Letís look at a tangible example. When there was an issue at the multiplex in regard to the business incentive policy, this government acted and made sure that policy was implemented. That ensures that in one of the biggest capital projects ever undertaken in the City of Whitehorse, we are ensuring that local hire is taking place and maximizing benefits for Yukoners. Thatís our commitment; thatís what weíre delivering on.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to remind the Premier across the way that it was Yukon contractors, labour groups and members of the official opposition on this side who fought to have that category D put in on the multiplex and forced this government to acknowledge that and finally come out, after weeks of dilly-dallying, to do it.
Previous Yukon governments have been prepared to defend local preference policies, Mr. Speaker, in the event they were challenged by other jurisdictions. Previous governments have sought out northern exemptions from national agreements on internal trade. Our neighbouring jurisdiction, the Northwest Territories, has had preferential hiring policies in place for some time, and Nunavut has been developing local hire policies and theyíre so committed to that theyíve hired people from this territory to do that ó people who worked on the Yukon hire.
Now we have heard the Yukon government has abandoned its earlier position with respect to the agreement on internal trade. Can the Premier confirm this, and can he tell us how the Yukonís position on preferential hire and purchase compares to the other two northern territories?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Our position is the same. Itís of the highest priority. Every province and territory has agreed to the process, when it comes to internal trade, for many reasons. Furthermore, even today, because of the commitment to that priority of local hire and ensuring Yukoners will benefit from what takes place north of 60, we have today people benefiting from oil and gas development in the Northwest Territories. Thatís a clear example of how weíve managed to break down the barriers and ensure that our people, our citizens, are benefiting from investment in the north.
Question re: Renewable resource council funding
Mr. McRobb: Iíd like to follow up with the acting Environment minister on a matter raised on Monday. As heís aware, the first four renewable resource councils donít have an operating budget because the 10-year funding agreement with the federal government ran out a month ago. Many of the council offices are forced to cope with severe budget limitations, causing them to reduce their operations or even close their doors.
The inaction from this government to secure continued funding is indefensible. This was an incoming issue that was blipping on the radar screen for years, yet this government was unable to intercept it in time. Can the acting minister tell us how he intends to resolve this funding problem?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As this is a matter now being dealt with by the Executive Council Office, itís important to note that the member is incorrect in the assertion that it hasnít been dealt with. In the first place, this is a responsibility. The obligation is with the federal government. There is no question about that. The Yukon government is merely the agency through which the federal government flows funds to the renewable resource councils.
The Yukon government, in realizing that the federal government was not living up to that obligation, has negotiated an extension of the existing agreement until we can resolve the longer term issues. Therefore, resource councils can now go forward to seek funding contribution agreements with Canada to ensure that resource councils will continue to operate in the next year while we work with First Nations to ensure Canada lives up to its obligations.
Question re: Yukon native teacher education program
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Minister of Education. The Yukon Party government decided to open up the Yukon native teacher education program to the general public before doing any new evaluation of that program. The Minister of Education chose not to consult with First Nations, even though the YNTEP was fought for by First Nations chiefs and you would think they should be the first to be consulted.
Now, this program was to bring Yukon First Nation teachers into the school system to match the percentage of First Nations in the population.
Letís look at some numbers. For the past 10 years, there were 71 graduates and only 28 are working in the Yukon system today. Thatís misleading for those entering the program who think they will get a job with the Yukon government. So why is the Yukon Party government opening up this program if they are hiring only such a small portion and percentage of the graduates?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíd like to start out by addressing this issue and saying that this is about unity. This is about bridge-building in the territory, about working together with the First Nations and the non-First Nations of the territory.
I will state that through the eyes of the Creator everyone is equal. To have this division is very unfortunate and has been unfortunate.
Through my tours of the communities, it was brought to my attention by several families that it was creating division within the families of the Yukon Territory. I say that because a lot of the First Nations are married to non-First Nation people, both male and female. Iíve had comments like: "My children are status but I canít take this course." In the other sense, I heard from families saying, "My husband, just because heís non-First Nation, canít provide for me because he canít take a course at the College thatís right here in the territory. He has to leave, or we have to pack up and move, for him to go to get the same education thatís offered to others in the Yukon." That, I think, is more about unity.
Mr. Fairclough: Thatís an incredible answer, Mr. Speaker, and Iím hoping the minister would go back and look at that and really research why YNTEP was put together, its mandate and so on, and perhaps heíll get a totally different picture when he talks to the First Nations around the territory.
Letís continue; letís talk about division and so on. Itís tough for YNTEP grads to get employment from this Yukon Party government. Letís look at the last couple of years, for example. In 2002, there were seven graduates. And how many were hired? None. Is that unity, or is that division, or what?
In 2003, there were four graduates. How many were hired? Only one, Mr. Speaker. Now, I would say that the Yukon Party gets an F for that report card. With that type of bad track record, why doesnít the minister improve the hiring process before he dilutes the pool of Yukon First Nation teachers even further?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, Mr. Speaker, I am shocked by that response. Iíd like to put on record that as of 2003, there have been 75 grads, 34 are employed in teaching in the Yukon Territory ó 23 teaching in Whitehorse, 11 teaching in the communities ó and 23 are employed in other occupations. So, Mr. Speaker, the comments made by the member opposite donít add up. Itís quite obvious that First Nations are being employed.
I want to state, Mr. Speaker, that just because one is not employed as a teacher, it does not mean that four years of college was a waste of time. I have to say theyíre all valuable, because they now are able to go into other areas within First Nations in particular in director positions and in other high profile positions within First Nation governments. There are some working at the College and other areas within government, so Iím quite proud of the program and of all the First Nation people who have successfully completed it.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, the whole idea of having the program was to put First Nation teachers in the schools so they can bring forward their background, their culture, their traditions as part of the teachings, and this government chose not to hire any of them. One out of 11 ó thatís a bad record. Why isnít the minister addressing that whole issue? He is straying further away from the intention of what the program was all about, and itís all about hiring Yukon people, too, Mr. Speaker.
There are 408 teachers in the system and 28 are YNTEP grads. Thatís 6.9 percent of our teachers ó a far cry from 30 percent plus, where we should be at by population.
Hereís a chance for the minister to support our programs that we have put in place for the YNTEP teachers and so on. There are 11 graduates this year ó thatís a high number. Will the minister ensure that all 11 graduates in this year get a job in the school system?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would have to say to the member opposite that it would be unrealistic for any government to guarantee that everyone who went to the College was going to go to work for the government, so why would the member opposite expect this minister to make a commitment on any one particular program? It canít be done, and I would say today that the background that the member opposite talks about is valuable and this program is very credible.
Mr. Speaker, just recently over the radio, you heard of one individual again who has obtained a masterís degree from going through this program, so it is very credible and I would like to put on record that I believe itís of benefit for any citizen to take this program.
With all the First Nation culture thatís involved in it, it would be an asset for First Nation and non-First Nation people alike to take this program. Iím quite aware of it. Being a First Nation person myself who is well over 50 years of age, I know that a lot of our First Nation people donít even know their own culture.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed, and weíll proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERSí BUSINESS
Speaker: Opposition private membersí business. Motions other than government motions.
Motion No. 231
Clerk:Motion 231, standing in the name of Ms. Duncan.
Speaker: It is moved by the leader of the third party
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to introduce a teacher school supply tax credit in recognition of the fact that teachers purchase materials to enhance learning in the classroom.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza:I would like to have the House join me in welcoming Ian Oostindie, who is president of the Yukon Teachers Association and is in the gallery.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the Minister of Education introducing Mr. Oostindie, who is here on behalf of the Yukon Teachers Association and with whom Iíve had several conversations regarding this teacher school supply tax credit.
Iím very pleased to rise today and to have introduced this motion and to seek the support of my colleagues in recommending this action to the Government of Yukon. Seeking a tax credit for the supplies purchased by our teachers is especially timely today. Yukoners engaged in their very busy lives are glancing at the clock and realizing that April 30 is the deadline for filing our taxes, and itís just a few short days away.
Iíd like to speak for a moment if I might personally and relate to each one of us in this Legislature. Each one of us as a member of the Legislature is paid a salary. A portion of our salary, called an indemnity, is tax free, and thatís the same for all legislators across the country. Itís not something unique to the Yukon. Itís part of federal tax law that we receive this, in effect, tax benefit. It recognizes that for each of us there are costs of doing our job, essentially, and there are costs in being a member engaged in service to the public. As members, we all support organizations in our riding and throughout our territory. We buy tickets; we purchase whole tables at events ó thanks to your lead, Mr. Speaker ó and we do what is expected of us as citizens in the territory.
We donít get a separate expense allowance for these purchases. We do it because itís the right thing to do and they are also considered expenses under our tax-free portion of our money, our salary. In business it would be called the cost of doing business.
As I said, this tax-free part of our salary is part of the federal tax law and itís not unique to the Yukon. Itís the same for all of us as legislators throughout Canada. The point is that we, as legislators, get a tax break for the cost of doing our jobs, our business, and itís very similar to what Iím proposing the Yukon government adopt for teachers.
Iíd just like to speak for a moment about the Yukon tax structure, if you will. Under our term in government, we introduced a piece of legislation at the request of the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency, the body that collects our taxes and deals with taxes, that changed the way income tax was dealt with in the territory. The change made us go to a tax on income, as opposed to a tax on tax, and what that change did was bring us in line with all the other provinces. Previously the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency administered two tax systems: one for the north of 60 and one for the provinces. This legislation we worked with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, as a government, to bring in made our tax structure more in harmony with the others.
The other by-product, though, of that work is it enabled the Yukon government a greater flexibility. The Yukon government has the ability, thanks to that work, to introduce innovative tax measures like the teacher school supply tax credit more easily than they could in the past. We moved forward, as a territory, and we have a greater ability than we had before.
Some of those tax measures we deal with all the time in the Legislature are things like, in terms of the revenue side, raising taxes on cigarettes.
All 13 premiers agreed in January 2002 to raise taxes on cigarettes to reduce the incidence of people smoking. And, as all smokers appreciate, itís prohibitively expensive. Thatís the sort of thing we were able to do more easily as a result of that tax measure, and itís something where the tax system is used to make a policy statement ó to shape public opinion, to work with government and the public as one, working to, in this case, try to prevent people from starting smoking. Thatís on the revenue side.
On the foregone revenue side, governments have the ability to introduce tax measures that give credit for work done by individuals. For example, in the Yukon, we have tax credits for research and development for businesses and individuals, we have tax credits for contributions to political parties, and we have tax credits for the mineral exploration industry. Weíve debated that, and successive governments have brought in the legislation, extended it and so on.
We also, in the Yukon, provide relief from fuel oil taxes for tourism initiatives, for mining, for farming, for trapping, and ó brought in by the current government ó for golf courses. So, there is a relief provided for golf courses and the use of their fuel.
Governments provide tax breaks. They collect tax revenues and shape public policy. They provide tax breaks and recognize contribution by industry, by individuals, by business. What Iím asking in the motion today is that we extend this and recognize the work of Yukonís teachers.
Why the tax system? Well, Mr. Speaker, what I, especially as a member of the Legislature and a Yukoner, respect and appreciate about using the tax system to recognize industries and recognize professions is that itís fair to everyone. It doesnít reward the best grant writer, and it doesnít single out one business over another. Itís fairly applied across the board to those who choose to apply for it. So itís fair to everyone. And, Mr. Speaker, in the case of the school supply tax credit, it is especially fair to everyone because a teacher is very clearly defined in our Education Act, and a teacher can subsequently qualify for this tax credit.
So the question becomes, well, do we really need it? Is there a need to do this? I say, yes, there is. And I say that based on clear evidence. I would like to remind legislators and the listening public of an article that appeared in early January in the Yukon News. The article is about a survey done by the Yukon Teachers Association, a survey of their some 700 members, Mr. Speaker. What the Teachers Association did is they followed up on a poll that was done by the Canadian Teachers Federation to find out how much money teachers as individuals, as professionals, are spending each year on enhancing the learning opportunities for our children. What was revealed through this survey was that individual Yukon teachers spend an average of $500 of their own money on their classroom materials, on working with students, on enhancing the learning opportunities for children.
And Yukon teachers are very generous. We are only slightly below the national average of expenditure by teachers of $593 per year. Thatís the national average. We are about sixth in the country in terms of the amount of money spent by our teachers.
It should also be noted, Mr. Speaker, that nearly 95 percent of Canadaís teachers contribute some of their own money to enhancing the learning opportunities for children in their classroom and school-related activities.
I know, in addressing this motion this afternoon, that every member of this House will be able to share examples of some of what teachers spend on students, and Iíd like to share some of that. Iíd like to start and use this opportunity to recognize our local businesses throughout the territory. Businesses such as Food Fair and Super A are very supportive of our classrooms, our schools and our community. I understand there are many other businesses that offer a discount when teachers go in and indicate that the materials theyíre purchasing are to be used on behalf of the school.
I should also say that there are resources provided by the Department of Education and by the Government of Yukon. There are resources provided and they are significant. Our Education budget is significant, and it depends on each individual school and the principal or administrator how those are spent. So teachers are already provided with some resources, depending on how they are administered in the school. An example would be for camera film ó many teachers take the opportunity to provide students with a photographic record of their year in school and of the special events that their class has participated in.
So, the film and developing for those pictures can be part of what the school provides. It can also be part of what the teacher spends money on.
Some of the other examples of how teachers contribute personally financially to their classrooms ó and there are many, many examples ó but just a couple of them: puzzles and tangrams, or what teachers refer to as manipulatives, enhance the learning opportunities and the ability of children to learn math concepts. Another example of learning math concepts is, at the elementary level, children learn about money and the value of a nickel and a quarter and a dime and a loonie. Often teachers, in my experience, have set up small stores in their classroom so that a student can learn how to make use of money and what it will purchase. There are small consumable items like stickers and small balls and other small consumer items. The student is learning about money. The teacher has paid for all of that out of his or her own pocket, and teachers ó I havenít encountered any who donít buy additional books for their classroom. I could spend all afternoon speaking about some of the wonderful books that are available for children ó and weíre not allowed props in the Legislature, much as I would like to share some of the interesting ones that I have encountered. These books, anything from Magic Tree House made available in the elementary grades to many others, encourage literacy in our children, encourage our children to pick up books and develop a love of books. The teachers have purchased these additional books, over and above the library resources provided by the Department of Education, out of their own pockets and made them available to children in the classroom.
Itís not only at the elementary level. At the high school level, I note teachers subscribe to particular magazines that enhance the learning opportunities for children and for young high school students. Another example, again at the elementary level, are things like recognition of childrenís birthdays throughout the year, momentous occasions like the Tooth Fairy and a Tooth Fairy log. Pencils, erasers ó often children who have reached a particular level, an achievement, in terms of learning math concepts or reading a certain amount, receive a small reward such as a pencil or an eraser.
Those all serve to enhance learning opportunities that teachers buy out of their own pocket and contribute.
Iíd like to just speak briefly about one particular unit, to emphasize this point, that is done in a grade 1 class Iím familiar with. This class spends three or four weeks or so on a unit about pirates. Now, how are pirates enhancing the learning opportunities? Well, there is language, and the poetry and the art of drawing pictures of pirates, of learning and memorizing the poems. There is money ó learning measurement. There is a difference in values. There is what was recognized as important in the days of the pirates and considered valuable and what is considered valuable today.
Itís history, itís comparison and contrast. Itís animals. Itís learning about which animals were kept as pets, then and now. Itís also food storage. Look how far weíve come in what we eat. Itís mapping. Itís physics. And the teacher teaching that particular unit has, out of her own pocket, purchased some of the items for the store in money measurements, has materials to enhance the learning about parrots and monkeys and the animals and has purchased, as part of the celebration and learning and the food storage, food opportunities, always bearing in mind that we have to be ever mindful of the potential for allergies.
In teaching this particular unit, one year the teacher brought in different samples of fish for students to try.
All things that enhance the learning opportunities for children, and all expenditures out of that teacherís own pocket, that made that classroom not only an exciting, interesting place for the children, but made them want to come back to school the next day. That is an incredible gift. That is just one example of one particular unit where teachers spend out of their own pockets, enhancing the learning opportunities and making our classrooms an incredibly rich learning environment and an enticing learning environment for children.
In approaching legislation, we as elected members of the public have to ask ourselves a series of questions. One of them that we have to ask when we look at public policy is: is it fair to everyone? In the case of the teacher school supply tax credit, absolutely itís fair to everyone. Itís fair in terms of overall public policy. Certified teachers would all be eligible. Do we do it for others? Absolutely. We recognize the contribution of the tourism industry in a break on their fuel oil tax. We recognize the contribution of golf courses and their fuel oil tax. They get a tax break. We recognize the mineral exploration industry. We recognize small business. Business has a tax credit. Iím asking the House today and the Yukon government to bring forward this teacher supply tax credit. I didnít put a time frame on it in the motion. Iím really asking the House to support this idea.
Can it be done, is the next question. Absolutely, it can be done. The example I have provided in the past to the Premier is that Prince Edward Island has the teacher school supply tax credit. In preparing for this motion ó doing my homework, so to speak ó I took the opportunity to speak with the individuals in Prince Edward Island and to take a look at the tax form. How hard is it to fill out? Is it cumbersome? How hard is it to administer? Is it difficult? Well, itís very straightforward, and I would invite all members to have a look at Prince Edward Islandís teacher school supply tax credit guidelines. The purpose of it, Mr. Speaker, if you would permit me to just share this with my colleagues in the Legislature, is to recognize the fact that teachers do purchase materials to enhance learning in the classroom, or the learning environment itself. The eligibility is teachers as defined in the P.E.I. School Act. So how do you claim the credit? Itís a one-page form.
Itís a record of expenses.
Now, whatís eligible? Well, in Prince Edward Island, bulletin board decorative items, so borders and illustrations ó we see those in our local stores ó construction paper and bristol board, posters with instruction ó we have all seen those, as well ó perishable items for science experiments ó seeds are a good example of that, so that would include potting soil, stir sticks, straw, spaghetti for building structure, and we have all seen at the annual bridge-building competition the sticks that students use in that bridge-building competition, and those would be an eligible expense ó specialized art supplies, games and puzzles, supplementary books, stickers or motivational items. Support software is also included in the P.E.I. tax credit, as well as containers or banker boxes. Teachers who have spent a lot of time in their profession accumulate a great deal of these materials and itís important to be able to store them appropriately. And the form itself is, interestingly enough, signed off by the principal, as well. So there are checks and balances, if one wishes to term it that, in terms of the teacher tax credit.
So a question becomes: is it affordable for the Yukon government to do this? Absolutely, itís affordable. Tax credits ó
Sorry, Mr. Speaker. Before I move on from the Prince Edward Island tax credit, I should say that I have been advised by the Canadian Teachers Federation that to date it is only Prince Edward Island that has this. That is the reason this is the only model that I have chosen to speak about today. Other jurisdictions have talked about putting this into a collective bargaining type of arrangement with their teachers. However, I strongly recommend the tax credit system, because then itís fair. Itís not on the table year after year at a collective bargaining situation. Itís something that is recognized across the board.
So I do feel very strongly that the tax credit system is the way to go. Is it affordable? Yes, it is. And how so? Even if this Yukon Party government did not have the largest budget and a significant amount of resources, I would still feel that itís very affordable, and the reason being that I used an example for a Yukon benefit to an individual teacher and tried to put together some preliminary costs, and there are tax experts in our own Department of Finance who could do this far quicker and far better than I am able to, but I do estimate it to be absolutely affordable. Iíll give you an example of what the benefit would be to an individual teacher in implementing the teacher school supply tax credit using the Prince Edward Island example.
So using a Yukon personal income tax rate of, say, 11 percent ó and assuming that a teacher claimed the full expenses, and itís $500 that is the deductible amount in Prince Edward Island and that Iím suggesting, as well ó the credit would be $55 less in taxes paid by the teacher. Itís not a large tax break; itís therefore not a large amount of foregone revenue ó not in terms of a $705-million budget. It does, however, recognize symbolically the important personal financial contribution by teachers to their classrooms. I feel very strongly that this is an important measure to take. Iím asking all members of the House to support this particular initiative.
I would like to address for a moment, if I might, before concluding, how I came to bring this motion forward. Some members opposite may say, "Well, if itís so important, why didnít you do it when you were in government?" We worked on the tax system, brought forward the CCRA changes. We were not in office at a time when this idea came out and when it was suggested and when I did the homework on it.
It simply hadnít occurred to us yet as a good idea, and had it, I certainly would have supported it. So thatís why it wasnít brought forward during our term in office. We had the ability for a short time. We did some other tax work. We didnít do this one; it hadnít come forward to us yet. It did come forward as part of the research highlighting the survey by the Yukon Teachers Association, and I suggested it to the government, did the homework and wrote a letter to the Finance minister. The Finance minister has thanked me for the letter and said that, while theyíre aware of the credit and it would be given consideration, and he appreciates the suggestion, thereís no clear indication when it might come forward.
Why Iím bringing forward the motion today is to highlight the suggestion Iíve made and to ask members to support it and to ask members, during the coming days and the next budget preparation, to join me in lobbying their colleague, our colleague as a member of this Legislature, to introduce this very good initiative for teachers. It is fair in terms of overall public policy. It can be done within the Yukon tax structure, and we have a very good model from Prince Edward Island to follow. It is affordable, and it recognizes the contribution made by teachers.
We have the supporting evidence, if you will, that Yukon teachers do spend an average of $500 of their own money on students, on the learning environment. We know and have seen the evidence of the strong support for our students not only in government public expenditures but by the private sector as well. We see the business support. I would like to recognize the contribution of our professionals to our children, to our Yukon learning environment. Iíve outlined briefly some of the expenditures by teachers and my own experience with how some of the teachers spend their own money in enriching the learning environment.
I apologize that I have dwelt more on the elementary side of the equation, but thatís where my current familiarity is, and I see these expenditures by these teachers every single day and appreciate that they have made them, and I would like to ask other Yukoners to recognize that as well by supporting this motion this afternoon.
I thank the House very much for the time; I thank Mr. Oostindie for attending today, and look forward to my colleaguesí remarks in the Legislature.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, itís my honour and my pleasure to rise today to discuss and debate this motion, and Iíd also like to welcome Mr. Oostindie. Itís always a pleasure to have members of the public join us in our Assembly.
Iíd like to personally thank the leader of the third party for bringing forward this motion and bringing our attention to the issue. Itís an important issue. Teachers are incredibly important to our society, to our system, to our culture, to our way of life, and personally I donít think we can do enough to thank them.
This is a really interesting motion: that the House urges the government to introduce a teacher school supply tax credit in recognition of the fact that teachers purchase materials to enhance the learning in a classroom.
Mr. Speaker, Iíd like to share a little bit of my personal background with the members opposite. I was ó am ó a coach, a teacher, an educator. I have been a substitute teacher. I have had the pleasure of teaching kindergarten, grade 2, grades 7 and 8. Notice I didnít include the preface "had the pleasure" of teaching grades 7 and 8 ó the "challenge" of teaching grades 7 and 8 ó and high school.
I have co-taught a course at Yukon College. I have an interesting side note about teaching up there when I taught the Business 132 course, the marketing management course. I co-taught the course with another instructor, and the College initially only wanted to provide us with one text book for the two teachers, so they thanked me for coming out to teach the course and offered to sell me the text book for $47.50.
I have spent three and a half years at Dana Naye Ventures, teaching business planning courses, marketing courses, sales courses, computer courses and the like, and I personally know what itís like to spend money out of my own pocket on course materials and supplies. Iíve probably got the receipts at home to prove it.
My background also includes national coaching certification program accreditation. I used to coach Special Olympics and went through the NCCP program to receive accreditation. For those of you who havenít tried it ó although I know just about every member in our Assembly has volunteered for some organization or another ó coaching Special Olympics is one of the most rewarding experiences of oneís life. The joy of working with those athletes and seeing their accomplishments and helping them accomplish their goals ó those are some of the images I will treasure forever.
One in particular ó I worked with a young lady who had vision problems. She couldnít see, as well as having developmental disabilities. I taught her how to play basketball. By the end of it, she could make about 50 percent of her free throws, which was a tremendous accomplishment for me, let alone for her. Itís a wonderful experience coaching and working with our youth.
Additionally, I possess a B.C. provincial instructorís diploma. Iíve taken all of the courses and done all of the certification necessary to receive that accreditation, so thatís one of the requirements that is necessary to teach community college. Itís the learn-how-to-become-a-teacher course. Additionally, I have my masterís degree in business administration. Itís not just an ordinary MBA; my masterís degree is in executive management, but it was for a specific niche group. Itís for educational administrators. Iíve ended up with a diploma about this long, but itís a masterís in business administration in executive management for educational administrators. So Iíve done an awful lot of work with educators and educational administrators. I know what itís like to spend my own money on courses and training.
Additionally, Iíd like to share a little bit of my family history. I come from a family of teachers. My aunt was a college professor, my uncle was a high school principal, and my mother was a teacher, a primary school teacher. Her specialty was primary special education. When I was about 11 years old, unfortunately my parents got divorced, so all of a sudden we found ourselves in a single-parent home, three kids, times were tight and there wasnít a whole lot of money for anything but rent and food. My mother went back to work, so she went back to work being a teacher. That was her profession before; thatís what she knew how to do. She didnít have her university degree right away. She became a teacher grandfathered in because she had attended teachers college, and it wasnít a requirement to have a degree when she first started. So she took evening courses, weekend courses, summer courses, intersession courses, to put herself through university to get her degree. I have the utmost pride and respect for my mother to work that hard.
Now, my mother took a lot of pride and satisfaction in being a teacher. She loved it. She put her heart and soul into it. Momís classroom was one of those special classrooms that the member opposite discussed earlier. It had all the neat stuff on the walls. It had all of the special pictures. It had all of our old games, all of our old Hardy Boys books and encyclopedia brown books, and the like.
It had some other neat stuff. It had a big, old easy chair in the back corner.
I would put forward that it would be hard to legitimize the purchase of a big, old La-Z-Boy chair as a necessary classroom expenditure. In fact, I would expect that if we had that in the budget, there would be some significant and vociferous debate about that. But it certainly helped out in momís classroom. It set the stage. It made it a positive learning environment, one that the kids wanted to come to, one where they felt comfortable, and one that had my motherís stamp on it. It was her classroom, and she took a lot of pride in it and paid a lot of attention to it.
You know, a lot of the stuff was homemade. Lots of times, all the kids would go in August to help mom decorate her classroom. That meant cutting out letters to put on bulletin boards, cutting out borders, hanging pictures on the walls. She got the stuff wherever she could to decorate her classroom. There was a lot of scrounging.
I remember at the grocery store, after they had had a display with big plastic fruit hanging there or a big, plastic apple or something, sheíd often go in and talk to the grocery store manager afterwards and say, "You know, that would look great in my classroom. Do you mind if I go through your dumpster and get it?" There was usually a wink then, and theyíd know to put it aside for her, and sheíd go in a week or two later to pick it up.
I remember a time when I was 14 or 15, selling Dickie Dee ice cream, riding around on one of those ice cream bikes. We used to give out stickers. At the end of the season, I would collect all of the leftover rolls and rolls of stickers and take them to the school. Thatís what the teachers would use to give out. You got a fudgsicle if you did well, and if you did really well you got a phantom or a spacesicle sticker.
Mom took an awful lot of pride, care and attention and we, as a family, did make sacrifices because of that. She would take money out of her own pocket and buy stuff for her classroom.
Itís not fair for a 12-year-old to look at that and say, "Mom, how come youíre buying that when you canít buy me this." I didnít understand that when I was a kid. But it was a care and a conviction of my mother. She wanted the classroom to be the best that it could be. She took a tremendous amount of personal pride in it. And I think teachers take a great deal of pride in their profession.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for teachers and think theyíre due all of the credit they deserve. It is certainly not an easy profession, but it is a very rewarding one: while having a student come up to you on the street a couple of years after youíve taught them in a course and say, "Hi, teacher, how are you? That was a great course. I remember the stuff that you did and it really made an impact on me. Thanks very much." While that stuff doesnít make a dent in your pocketbook, it does warm your soul.
I remember an article I read about one teacher who used to say, "Hang on, this stuff is important, and one day youíll thank me. And if that day comes and you use this stuff and you make a million dollars, tell you what: you can go out and buy me a Porsche to say thank you." So Iíd often use that with my students, as "Hang on, every once in awhile, Iíll toss out some gem thatís actually going to come in handy" and just get them to pause and think, "Okay, this could come in handy and it could help to make me a million dollars." Well, Mr. Speaker, at the end of the course on our graduation day, my class presented me with ó yes, you guessed it ó a little matchbox Porsche as a way of thanking me. "Yes, the stuff that youíve taught us has come in handy. It is good stuff. Weíll use it. Hereís your Porsche. Donít complain any more."
Now, I strongly remember that bit of recognition. I have no idea what my tax return was like that year.
Part of the issue before us is a tax credit. Iíve gone back and done my homework, like all members have on this issue, and I started looking at what the purpose of a tax credit is. Itís typically used when the government wants to encourage a particular behaviour, when it wants to make it more economical for citizens to accomplish something ó things usually of very broad social importance. Iím thinking of things like attending college, university or taking care of dependants.
Additionally, tax credits are used to reduce the tax burden on those in need. Tax credits provide tax relief by reducing or eliminating the total tax payable and assist residents with low to moderate income. Those are typically the reasons for a tax credit.
This certainly isnít a simple subject. I donít think thereís too much about our tax system that is simple and straightforward. We can discuss that for days. Letís take a look at some of our Yukon tax credits.
Our tax credits include the basic personal amount. Every person employed in Yukon and every pensioner residing in the Yukon can claim this amount. There is an age amount. If you are over 65 and your income is below $55,000 or so ó Iíll round it down ó you can receive a tax credit.
There is a pension income tax amount. If you receive regular pension payments from a pension plan or fund, excluding the Canada or Quebec pension plan, Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplements, you get a tax credit. Tuition and education amounts are used as tax credits. These are things like tuition fees. There are some important things to consider in these tuition and education amounts that arenít tax credits, and those are things like books. Students donít receive a tax credit for the amount they spend on books or their student fees or purchasing a computer, which some would call a necessity for attending college or university these days. There are a lot of other student costs that those tax credits donít cover.
Additionally there is a tax credit for those people with disabilities. There is a spouse or common-law partner amount if you support your spouse or common-law partner. Thereís a tax credit for eligible dependants, so if youíre responsible for taking care of a dependant or taking care of someone with a disability or who is infirm, if youíre a caregiver thereís a tax credit for that. Additionally, in the Yukon we have the Yukon low income family tax credit, and this credit reduces Yukon tax by up to $300 for low income individuals and families who were residents in the Yukon at the end of the year.
One can claim this credit if oneís net income is less than $25,000.
Thereís the Yukon political contribution tax credit. You can deduct part of the contribution ó excuse me, one can deduct part of the contribution, or I guess you could, too, Mr. Speaker ó if you have made a contribution to a registered Yukon political party or to a candidate seeking election to the Legislative Assembly.
Additionally, we have the Yukon small business investment tax credit. One can claim this credit if, at the end of the year, one is a resident of the Yukon, 19 years of age or older. The credit is equal to 25 percent of the value of eligible shares and subordinated debt that you invest in an eligible Yukon business in 2003. So we do give a tax credit for those people who make investments in eligible Yukon businesses. We have probably seen some of those ads in the paper: invest in this business and you will receive a tax credit. Itís one of those attempts by a government to encourage people to invest more money in local businesses, to increase the amount or the access to capital, and we discussed this a bit yesterday in general debate on how do you increase the access to capital in our community. This tax credit is a tangible way that the territorial government can influence the amount of capital available in the marketplace.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker, we have the labour-sponsored venture capital corporation tax credit where one can claim a credit equal to 25 percent of eligible investments one makes in the fireweed fund corporation in 2003.
Well, this might be on the books, Mr. Speaker, but I think we have some homework to do on this one. We have also discussed the mineral exploration tax credit, where one can claim this credit if one is a resident of the Yukon at the end of the year and has incurred qualified mineral exploration expenses. The expenses must have been incurred during the year to determine the existence, location, extent or quality of mineral resources in the Yukon. And, Mr. Speaker, we also have the research and development tax credit. This is to provide a credit to those Yukoners who have made eligible expenditures for scientific research and experimental development in the Yukon. Now, those are the Yukon tax credits, and thatís what the Yukon territorial government has done to encourage the economy and to accomplish a lot of the goals that we have as a collective.
These tax credits are by no means a simple issue. There is a considerable amount of interplay and interrelationship between our tax credits and the federal system. You know, I think we can make an argument that education is a territorial issue. We could also make an argument that a tax credit of this nature is much broader and has federal or national implications, in which case we would need to take a look at our federal tax credits and perhaps make an addition to the federal tax credits. The federal tax credits include, again, a basic personal credit, where taxpayers are entitled to claim the basic personal credit. We have a spousal tax credit for individuals supporting a spouse whose net income is less than a specific amount. Those people supporting a spouse can claim a tax credit.
That also applies in cases where itís equivalent to a spouse, those people who, at any time during the year, were single, divorced or separated and supported a qualified relative who lived with and was dependent upon them. The federal system also includes an age credit where individuals age 65 years or older, in that year, are entitled to a credit. The federal system also has a pension credit thatís similar to the Yukon one. Additionally, the feds have a disability tax credit.
Hereís one thatís a bit different, though, Mr. Speaker, and thatís the medical expense credit. This is a federal tax credit, not a territorial one. With the federal tax return, an individual may claim a credit for any non-reimbursed medical expenses. The credit is 17 percent of the expenses in excess of the lesser of $1,637 or three percent of the individualís net income for the year. Such expenses may be incurred on the taxpayerís own behalf or that of their spouse. Medical expenses may also be claimed for dependants other than a spouse but, in those instances, the total expenses claimed must be reduced by four times the dependantís income in excess of $7,231.
As you can see, Mr. Speaker, thereís nothing thatís really too straightforward or simple about these tax credits.
We also have a caregiver tax credit. This reduces federal tax for individuals who are responsible for the in-home care of an infirm, dependant relative or parent or grandparent.
The next one is a charitable donation tax credit. This is quite interesting, because we as a collective in our government have said that itís a good thing to make contributions and donations to charity. That alleviates some of the burden, some of the responsibility, on the government. The government would like to encourage all taxpayers ó all Canadians ó to make donations to charitable organizations. Now there are some pretty strict criteria, though, as to what is or isnít a charitable organization, and care and attention has to be made when going through that application process in proving to the federal government that, yes, you are indeed a charity and are deserving of the ability to give a charitable donation tax receipt.
Also the federal government gives a tuition fee, an education tax credit, and thatís for students ó not only full-time students but also part-time students. Those students who are engaged in part-time studies, defined as a minimum of 10 hours of course work in each week in a program lasting at least three consecutive weeks at a designated education institution in Canada, can deduct $60 a month toward eligibility for the 17-percent federal tax credit. Again, thereís nothing simple or straightforward about this.
The student loan interest tax credit is another credit the federal government provides where a 17-percent federal tax credit is available on the repayment of interest on federally or provincially approved student loans.
I wish this had been around the first time I paid back my student loans. It would have made a difference to me. Encouraging past students to pay back their student loans and recognizing the value of their investment is of national importance. Education is of national importance, and thatís why the federal government has provided a lot of these tax credits.
Now, this whole issue of tax credits is a very interesting and complex matter. In fact, I think everyone out there would like to see their tax burden decreased in some manner. I donít think there is an industry or organization out there that hasnít lobbied the government, at some time or another, for a tax credit for their profession.
There are many other professions, trades or employment situations where employees purchase work-related equipment or supplies as a matter of course. Some examples I could toss out would be mechanics buying tools to use at work. If they are self-employed and running their own small business, they can either depreciate their tools if theyíre of a large enough value or, if itís an inexpensive tool, consider it as an expense in the year they were acquired and immediately write that off. However, if you are an employee working for a garage and are expected to provide your own tools as a matter of course, you have to use your own after-tax dollars to acquire those tools. And if you were to lose one, you donít receive any tax break or benefit. You would again have to use your after-tax dollars to acquire the tool again.
Purchasing safety equipment ó a lot of industries, professions and careers require the wearing of personal safety equipment. You have to wear steel-toed boots to do the job, or if you wear eye glasses, you might personally invest in safety lenses in your glasses rather than just dealing with regular glass lenses. These have been proposed as possible tax credits as well.
I have also heard it proposed that the purchase of a computer be considered as an allowable tax credit. The rationale behind that is that it is now becoming part of our way of life that having access to a computer is almost a required necessity and that the government should give us a break on purchasing a computer.
Additionally, it has been put forward that apprentice training receives tax credits.
Mr. Speaker, there is no shortage of worthwhile causes that require tax credits. We could make a case for all of these. We could probably make a case for all of us in finding a way to reduce all of our tax burden.
The member opposite did bring forward the P.E.I. legislation and I, too, in doing my homework ó and I guess that doesnít even stop after you get out of school, does it? ó took a look at this legislation and made some inquiries about it. It does allow for a tax credit for school-related purchases if an employee ó and thatís any person receiving remuneration who reports for work in an establishment of the employer in Prince Edward Island, so I believe that means a teacher but it could probably include some additional support staff as well ó goes out and purchases stuff that is in accordance with the guidelines put forward, that fits the descriptions and conditions of allowable supplies ó they go out, they purchase this off an approved list, compile the receipt and then have it signed off by the principal. And the school principal, by signature on an approved, completed approval form, gives credit that, yes, this is an allowable expense.
I think we do have to have to have some kind of checks and balances in this system. It would be interesting to find out if my motherís easy chair would be an allowable expense under this type of thing. It wasnít a significant purchase, I think she probably found it at a garage sale, but it made a huge impact on her school. And I put forward that she would probably have purchased that ó well, she didnít get compensated for it, so I know she would have done it out of her own pocket. She wanted to make her classroom an inviting, warm, receptive place. She believed strongly enough in that that she was willing to contribute her own money. Again, no one asked her. She did this out of her commitment to the profession which, again, I will commend and admire.
But back to the P.E.I. act, they have entrenched this in legislation by amending their income tax regulations. So the teacher buys the item, ensures that itís on the appropriate list, keeps the receipt, has the form signed off by the principal and then goes about preparing their taxes, whether they do that on their own or with a tax preparer. And Iím aware that some tax preparers, if you have additional forms or additional tax credit, theyíll add on a fee per form. So it might be, actually, more charges that they would have to pay their tax preparer to handle this one more piece of paper, this additional bit of bureaucratic paperwork, if you will.
While every little bit helps, even if the teacher spent the maximum, the $500, on the expenditure, the impact of that would be about $50 on their tax return. So there is a bit of a point of diminishing returns ó how much time are you going to put into collecting all that paperwork and the receipts and sign-off in order to save $50 on your taxes? Yes, I agree that every little bit helps. $50 would have made quite a difference to my mother and to our family in our situation.
With the P.E.I. situation, I understand theyíre now strongly considering ó if they havenít already ó expanding the program. The program is now being opened up for kindergartens, which I understand are privately run in P.E.I., and daycares. So if a daycare employee were to go out and purchase some equipment or supplies, they would be eligible for this tax credit as well. That is where I see a significant danger with increasing the opportunities for an additional tax credit and opening the door to more tax credits.
A tax credit does encourage a particular behaviour and it makes it more economical for citizens to accomplish something thatís of significant national importance, but it does open a slippery slope as to when do you say, yes, this is a good contribution for the common good, or no, this is a contribution that youíre personally responsible for.
Now, tax credits are part of our broader, overall federal and territorial tax legislation. This is by no means a simple and straightforward system. Earlier, I read out some of the criteria for some of the tax credits. Not only is there the eligibility criteria to figure out, but which portion and what percent. These are complicated issues. I think an awful lot of people leave it up to a tax preparer to deal with.
We could debate all of the changes to our tax system for weeks, if not months, in this Legislature. The tax system is a very complex and convoluted process. One thing Iíve always advocated is that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes. Well, the problem with that is that everyone has their own definition of what "fair share" means. Does a fair share mean that we all pay the same amount? Does fair share mean that we all pay the same basic amount and then compensate for our additional demands on the system by paying user fees? Does fair share mean that we all pay the same percentage of our income? And then the big kicker ó should there be some kind of reduction in our taxes if we contribute to the common good? Weíve seen this with tax credits for charitable donations. So, if we do something good for a charity and reduce a need in our collective system, should the government give us credit for that?
Now, thatís very challenging when creating a very specific tax credit. What about if someone volunteers their time for a worthwhile cause? Should that person be given a credit? Letís look at the idea of going out and volunteering three or four hours a week for an organization. I think all of us in this Assembly have done that on many, many occasions. Some of us consider it our duty, our responsibility, to our society to go out and work with others, to help accomplish some of our community goals. But could we sit down and say, "Well, letís see. I volunteered for four hours at this organization, my time being worth, letís see, $25 an hour, so thatís $100 worth of time I gave to that organization. I think the government should give me a tax credit equivalent to $5,200". Now if I had gone out and given $5,200 to an organization, I would expect to receive, for some organizations anyway, a charitable donation receipt, but if I give my time I donít necessarily expect that. That isnít how our system is set up to work. So there is, I think, a deeper underlying problem with our tax system. Again, thatís something we could debate in this Assembly for weeks if not months.
I would like to focus on another part of this motion now. The question I want to toss out and hopefully get some more feedback on in debate today is: is this motion solving a problem or is it covering a symptom?
Are we just trying to find an easy way to cover one of the problems with the system, but does it really address the deeper underlying problem, the root problem? And, Mr. Speaker, I put forward that the root problem to this situation that we have found ourselves in is a lack of school funding.
Do we have enough school funding out there to enhance learning in the classroom? Do we have the funding available for all teachers to do their job appropriately, or are we forcing the requirement on teachers to invest in our governmentís responsibility?
I would put forward, Mr. Speaker, that the solution to this situation is a greater allocation of resources to the Education department.
Letís take a look at some of the other options. In order to put more funds into our schools, what can we do? What about the idea of making a school a charitable organization so that when one makes a contribution to a school, one gets a charitable donation receipt? That might be an opportunity, then, if the system could be addressed so that teachers could contribute the goods that they have purchased and receive a charitable donation receipt in kind for that. I toss that out and Iíd like to hear other membersí thoughts on that.
Or a rebate system for teachers ó so, if a teacher went out and incurred an expense that was on an allowable list and then took that receipt in and had it accepted by the principal, they would receive a full reimbursement of that expenditure, not merely 10 percent of their expenditure, as would happen with this type of tax credit, but compensating the person for 100 percent of the expenditure. Iíd like to make it very clear to all members that this type of credit doesnít compensate individuals dollar for dollar for their expenditure.
In fact, in most cases ó and I think the member from the third party brought this up in her presentation today ó if the teacher spent the full amount, the full $500, their tax credit would be $55, if my memory serves me correctly from her presentation. So the teacher is still out of pocket $445. So it doesnít go to addressing the whole problem here.
Another solution is: could we encourage the school councils to become more responsible in these areas, to use some of the school councilsí funding to provide some of these, in many cases, necessary in-class expenditures. We also heard from the member opposite that other jurisdictions have put this type of compensation in their collective agreement. So itís now an employee/employer relationship, as I think is done in some organizations where employees might get a bonus from their employer for buying safety boots, for example. I have heard of that situation happening, where the employer every six months says, "Hereís $100 toward your safety boots." Now, Iím not saying that every employer does that. Iíve worked for employers where I was just expected to show up on the job site with my steel-toed boots. But I think that is something that I think we could look at in the collective agreement. That would take it out of this realm of changing the whole tax code and increasing the amount of tax credits.
Then, Mr. Speaker, there is the option of increasing the amount of discretionary spending for teachers. Thatís an option that we havenít really looked at, but maybe as part of the employment situation, there could be a dollar value ó and I think there already is some form of allowable classroom spending where, at the beginning of the year, the teacher can order supplies up to a certain amount. That has happened in other jurisdictions. I donít know if that happens here in the Yukon. I look forward to hearing the Minister of Education speak, and hopefully he can address that point ó giving the teachers increased discretion over spending for their classrooms.
Again, it would, of course, have to include some checks and balances and an allowable list. I go back to my motherís chair, and I doubt that that item would be on that list.
Now, I think we also need to accept that the government has a significant responsibility in this issue. Itís the governmentís responsibility. Itís one of our collective responsibilities for the education of our young people and the costs incurred in that. So I would put forward the idea that itís the governmentís responsibility to cover off all of these costs. In fact, we, as a collective, as a caucus, have discussed that quite a bit and thatís reflected in our budget. Educating our young people and ensuring that they are learning in an appropriate environment is vital to our territory. And that was part of the argument put forward by the Education minister when he was putting forward the idea and concept of the community needs assessment, where he went out and visited all of the Yukon schools. He got in there on the ground and said, "What do you need? What do you need in your school?"
I had the pleasure of going with the Minister of Education when he went to the Carcross Community School. We sat down with the principal and members of the school council and said, "What do you need?" For a moment, they were a bit taken aback: "Well, what do you mean when youíre asking us what we need?" The minister further explained, "What do you need to make your school a more pleasant place, a place where one can learn better, a place where students want to come to school, a place where people want to come to work." He put forward some criteria and said, "Send me back some ideas. What does your school need?"
They set forward some criteria, and the department has approved some projects. These projects are intended to provide positive impacts on school attendance, retention and achievement of students. Theyíre intended to enhance the cultural relevancy of current programs and/or facilities in the school. Theyíre intended to upgrade existing programs and/or recreational facilities provided that this investment created no long-term or ongoing funding obligations, that they created a partnership between the school and the community and that they will have a measurable benefit in the community, and that these proposals will enhance the opportunity in the community for lifelong learning opportunities involving the school, also that these proposals enhance the opportunity for high school apprenticeship programs.
I just want to highlight that one, because that was an area raised I think during the response to the ministerial statement we heard earlier today ó what is this government doing to encourage more apprenticeship. Well, thereís another concrete, tangible example of where we have started to create programs to enhance the opportunity for high school apprenticeships. I think these are an awful lot of those things that teachers would have gone out and spent money on themselves for decorating their classroom or their school, or that they would have gone out and worked with the school council to accomplish.
This program has had some tremendous results. In Beaver Creek there was money received for reading materials, for moose hide for cultural projects and educational software where $5,300 was spent in that community.
In Carcross, in the beautiful Southern Lakes riding, the projects that were approved included acquiring digital movie-making equipment. Thatís a neat one. The member opposite earlier talked about one of the expenses that was often incurred by teachers: buying and developing film. Hereís an example of where weíve recognized that, yes, teachers have gone out and taken money out of their own pocket to buy film and develop it. Can we find a way for the school to take that over? With digital movie-making equipment, we now have the ability for the school to take those pictures and capture those images.
Additionally in Carcross, stage curtains with First Nation designs have been ordered, and funds for First Nation cultural activities are being provided. This totals an expenditure of about $18,700.
In the school in Old Crow, a new thickness planer for the shop is going to be acquired, as well as additional sound, computer and sports equipment, totalling $20,000. At Christ the King Elementary School, projects include literacy materials for each classroom ó we all need more books in the classroom ó as well as various learning materials for math, art, music and physical education.
Again, Mr. Speaker, we have the situation where this program has gone out and acquired additional learning materials. I put forward that those are probably some of the things that teachers were paying for before out of their own pockets. That tallies up to $33,000.
In the school in Faro, in the riding of Pelly-Nisutlin, I know the member there worked quite a bit with the Minister of Education to ensure that additional equipment for the gym, the shop and home economics were acquired and that there was more money for computers and furniture.
Well, there we go, Mr. Speaker; thereís the furniture. Maybe they did get an easy chair for the classroom. I donít know for sure, but it made a difference in my motherís classroom, and that total is $20,000.
At líÉcole Émilie Tremblay, the gymnasium partition worth $25,000 is coming in. At the Elijah Smith Elementary School, there are funds for First Nation cultural activities, literacy and numeracy resources and for AV equipment, and this totals $26,000. At the Eliza Van Bibber School in Pelly Crossing, there are funds for shop materials and tools, materials for home economics, physical education and reading materials ó $18,700.
You know, Mr. Speaker, I am really noticing a trend in going through these lists where, when the minister went out and did his needs assessment tour, he was finding out we need a lot of new materials, education materials, sports materials, home economics materials, and the Yukon Party government is coming through with these funds to satisfy those needs ó those needs that exist in the community and those needs that have gone unfulfilled by previous governments.
At the F.H. Collins Secondary School and the Wood Street Annex and the Gadzoosdaa residence, there was $145,000 provided for tools and shop equipment, for music equipment, video equipment for MAD ó music, arts and drama and dance. There was money for the outdoor equipment for the ACES program and money for lab and outdoor equipment for experiential sciences and upgraded recreational facilities at the residence ó $145,000 there, Mr. Speaker.
In Golden Horn, thereís money for math resources, for art tables and supplies, for computers and for a hockey rink upgrade, totalling over $26,000. Iím sure that the Member for Mount Lorne, when heís talking to the school council and the parents, will hear about how these things are benefiting the school. I would encourage him to find out whether or not theyíre necessary things in the school. Do they add to the quality of life there? Are they important? Would the people in that community have wanted to see the government make that expenditure or not?
At Grey Mountain there were additional funds for reading materials and First Nation cultural materials, totalling over $9,000.
In Hidden Valley, there were First Nation cultural materials acquired, various classroom materials and equipment, and theyíre going to paint the mascot on the gym floor. That will total over $25,000, I believe.
At the Holy Family school, theyíre putting in low-glare lights for the computer lab, putting classroom computers and connectivity equipment in, and bringing in a colour laser printer. This is an expenditure of over $37,000. Again, itís equipment thatís necessary for the school life, for appropriate education, to engage the learner, to make an experiential activity, to bring spirit and energy to the school, to make it a fun place to live and a fun place to work.
In Mayo theyíre putting in a cold-storage shed and gym storage. Thatís valued at $30,000.
Jack Hulland is getting computers and literacy materials, totalling $39,000. For the Johnston Elementary School in Watson Lake, there are funds being provided for reading materials, classroom furniture and a photocopier ó $25,000. And in Kluane Lake, there is funding for an elder-in-the-school program ó that sounds rather interesting ó outdoor and sports equipment, a large wall map and a CD player, totalling over $11,000. Porter Creek ó excuse me. I missed one in Kluane Lake. Theyíre also getting a safety buzzer and an intercom system. There is more and more coming for the Member for Kluane. In Porter Creek, there is $83,000 to be used for computers, chairs and music equipment. The Robert Service School is getting an injection of $37,500 for literacy materials, a sound system, a sports shop and classroom equipment. In Ross River, there are funds for a Kaska studies program of $10,000.
Iím sorry, Mr. Speaker, it is taking such a long time to go over this list, but it is a very long and extensive list. This government is doing an awful lot to increase the amount of materials and supplies in the schools. We have recognized a need and weíre making a conscientious, concerted effort to satisfy that. At the St. Elias Community School, there is money for playground equipment and computer equipment. In the Selkirk Elementary School, there is money to clear and thin brush in the playground and put a tetherball in and a basketball court.
At Takhini, there is floor covering replacement valued at $50,000. At the Tantalus School in Carmacks, there is going to be more literacy and numeracy materials acquired, additional science equipment, and a cultural activities fund. I believe the total there is about $25,000. In Teslin, there is money for wood for shop and First Nation cultural programs, for a colour printer, for furniture and classroom equipment.
You know, Mr. Speaker, you look through this list and there is some discrepancy. Some schools are getting quite a bit and others arenít getting quite as much. I think that reflects the reality that a lot of schools had stuff, and when the minister went into the school and said, "What do you need to make it a better place?" they came out with their list, met the criteria, and now theyíre being funded.
At Vanier Catholic Secondary School, there is going to be a shop door installed, more shop equipment purchased, and more music equipment brought in.
In Watson Lake, they are going to acquire a band saw, classroom furniture, woodworking and mechanics tools, and a soundboard and lighting for the theatre.
In Whitehorse Elementary School, they are going to acquire First Nation library resources, English, French and First Nations novels for the classrooms, audiovisual equipment, microscopes, and theyíre going to replace the see-saws.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: There seems to be some discrepancy over whether itís a teeter-totter or a see-saw. Maybe the members opposite would want to put that forward for a future debate to see which side of the equation we can balance things out on.
This government is doing an awful lot to satisfy a lot of the needs of the students and the teachers in our schools. Itís quite an exhaustive list that Iíve just gone through. I think those items are a lot of the things that teachers traditionally would have dipped into their own pockets to spend money on.
Now there are some other questions that I have about this motion. Overall would it increase or decrease school-related expenditures? Would there be more supplies coming into the school? Would it make a significant difference to the teachers? Again, I want to go back and give credit to the teachers because credit is deservedly due to them, but letís remember that if this tax credit is maxed out, it would make a difference of $50 to them.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: I stand corrected. I was off by 10 percent ó $55. Yes, every little bit does help. I think we need to acknowledge their commitment and their dedication. I think this government did that in part in its recent negotiations on the collective agreement where we came to the table and offered a good deal and negotiated in good faith. I think weíve shown our respect and our gratitude in that matter.
I think all the members here have attended school council meetings and have met with their schools and have personally said thank you.
Some of the other questions Iíd like to see answered are: what would this cost the government and what would the total teacher expenditures be? Some of the other ones are: what impacts would this have if we, the Yukon Territory, changed our legislation? Would that then cause other jurisdictions to look at changing theirs? Are we leading a trend in this? Are there impacts on the federal tax legislation that need to be considered? What about our transfer payment? Is there a problem ó if we reduce the income we collect through our taxes, does that have an impact on our transfer payment? What overall effects would this have on our taxation system?
Mr. Speaker, I also have a very significant concern and that is the trend in the tax credit system. If we give a tax credit for this ó and yes, Iíll be the first to say this is a worthwhile expenditure to recognize, but Iím very concerned about addressing this problem because Iíve put forward some other solutions as to how it could be addressed, but Iím very concerned about addressing this problem by way of tax credit. I think it starts to open the door to the potential for other tax credits.
Weíve seen that happen in P.E.I. where we have a tax credit now that started off with teachers and now itís going to kindergartens and daycares.
As a past coach, I know that I spent money on sports equipment, on taking the team out for pizza afterward. Arenít those expenditures worthy of a tax credit? Mr. Speaker, I think we might be going down a pretty slippery slope if we start putting out additional tax credits to resolve these situations.
Now, Mr. Speaker, what effect would this have on the gross and net tax amounts required to fund our current obligations? If weíre going to find a way to reduce everybodyís taxes, wouldnít it be simpler just to reduce the tax rate? I donít think itís a valuable exercise for us to go through and find every possible tax credit opportunity and to create individual legislation for that if the overall effect is to reduce peopleís taxes by $55 or $60. I think we can find broader ways to do that.
And, yes, that might mean tax reform. Tax reform is a complex issue, and itís not one that we had a mandate to do in this current sitting, but I expect that that would probably be an issue that a Yukon Party government would look at in great detail in future governments.
And also, on the idea of tax credits, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite brought forward the fact that we as members of this Assembly receive a tax-free expense allowance.
So, thereís a portion of our remuneration, our compensation, that we, as members of this Assembly, donít have to pay taxes on. If I were sitting down making that decision today, I donít think Iíd support it. Itís nice to have, but it treats one group differently. Iíd put forward that perhaps the compensation package should be looked at and perhaps that condition done away with. That might mean looking at the overall compensation of MLAs but I donít think that we should be treated differently from other government employees.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker:The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, this particular speaker has gone on about an hour and a half now. He has drifted off the topic. Thatís against the House rules and, if he wants to complain about his pay, he can do so on another day or maybe to the Clerk or whoever, but I really think we should get on to the whistle-blower legislation. The other side amended our bill and said they were prepared to accept it. Letís get on to that and not delay things this afternoon.
Speaker: The Member for Klondike, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, there was no Standing Order cited. We are fully prepared to debate the motion before the House here, to point out all of the good initiatives that we have in our budget that we have here that affect this issue and the education. The motion is moved by the leader of the third party. It deserves the attention it should have. What the official opposition House leader is advocating is that we get out of the third partyís motion and move into their motion.
Mr. Speaker, every motion deserves the attention that this House should direct toward it.
Speaker:There is no point of order, of course. It is simply a dispute between members. Iíd ask the Member for Southern Lakes to carry on, please.
Mr. Rouble: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. What I was attempting to do before the interruption occurred was to go back to one of the leader of the third partyís comments in her opening debate and to relate it to my position.
We, as Members of the Legislative Assembly, are treated differently. Our remuneration and compensation is taxed differently. Personally I donít agree with that. I donít think we should be treated in a different manner from other members of the government, but letís get back to the motion at hand here.
Iíd like to also address this issue of tax credits. Iím more a proponent of overall tax reform, looking at the broader implications of our tax system, rather than a very specific industry and a very specific expenditure and providing a tax credit for that. I think we can do bigger and broader changes. Again, we donít currently have the mandate to do that. I look forward to doing that in future Yukon Party governments.
Mr. Speaker, I have another question Iíd like to put out and that is: what is the governmentís responsibility in all of this? I ask members: is it the teachersí responsibility to spend their money on school stuff? When the members opposite get up to address this, maybe they can contribute to that one, because I donít think it is. I donít believe it is the teachersí responsibility to spend their after-tax dollars on school supplies. Should it be? No. I donít think we should put the expectation on our teachers and, to a certain extent, in creating this legislation we are creating a significant expectation that they will go out and spend their after-tax dollars on what could be considered government responsibilities.
We have very high expectations of teachers. Some of these expectations are quantifiable and governed by the collective agreement, and some of them are very hard to quantify. Itís very difficult to say, "This is what you have to do to be an effective teacher."
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker:The Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: Pursuant to Standing Order 3(2), there does not appear to be a quorum present.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if at any time during the sitting of the Assembly the Speakerís attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and do a count.
Speaker: Iíll stop the bells and weíll do a count. There are 12 members present. A quorum is present. We will now continue debate.
Mr. Rouble: As I was saying, I donít think itís the teachersí responsibility to go out and spend their own money on school-related expenditures. But many teachers do it. They often do it out of a sense of duty, a sense of responsibility, a sense of pride and to take ownership of their own surroundings. I applaud and thank all teachers for making that investment in the learning environment that they want to work in.
We have a very high expectation of teachers. Some are quantifiable expectations: we expect a certain degree of education, a certain degree of accreditation, certain certification, certain skills; but some of the characteristics we expect of our teachers are really very hard to quantify. Itís very difficult to say that this is what you have to do to be an effective teacher.
The short answer, I think, might be that you have to put your mind, heart and soul into it, to commit to the profession, and again I applaud all of those who have committed to the profession. Yes, many teachers voluntarily put their money into it too. To them, Iíll say thank you.
If we accept this amendment, I think that weíre starting to formalize an expectation for teachers to make these purchases. I question whether or not this government wants to formally off-load that responsibility to them.
If we put forward this tax credit and say to them, "Well, here it is; hereís this tax credit. Youíre now expected to do this" ó I have a problem with that. I think it does put an increased expectation on our teachers, and not all of them have the ability to make that investment. I think the government has a responsibility to provide the funds necessary to provide effective education.
Mr. Speaker, teachers are extremely important to our society and to our community. They, as well as our parents, relatives, coaches, volunteers and other professionals, help develop our children and our communities. They make an invaluable contribution to our society, and we canít thank them enough. And I know that we all have a particular teacher or coach in mind, that one who made a special impact on our lives. Iím sure that we all have a "Mr. Lackey" or "Mrs. Scrim" who opened our eyes and taught us something that wasnít in the curriculum. And, Mr. Speaker, Iíd encourage all members to reflect on that teacher and think about what that teacher did for them and think about what that teacher did for them, how that teacher helped them or helped them through a tough time or turned them around or got them excited about something, and track them down. Itís pretty easy these days on the Internet.
If you do a search for your old school, or search for a teacherís name, you can usually find them. Give them a phone call or send them an e-mail and personally thank them. Iíve done that. I found Mr. Lackey and said, "Thank you." It has been over 20 years since I had the pleasure of being in his class, and Iíve reflected on some of the things he taught me, and it was time for me to say thank you ó to give credit where credit is due. So, pick up the phone, give them a call. Youíll find itís a very rewarding experience, not just for you, the past student, but for the teacher as well. I would encourage all members to say thank you.
So, while I want to offer teachers all the support I can, I really have difficulties doing it with this motion and going down this tax credit avenue. Iím concerned that this motion doesnít address the root problem and while itís a nice gesture ó Iíll give it that; it is a nice gesture, and it is a nice way of saying thank you ó the impact on the teacher is very small and doesnít address the root situation. I think we, as a government, can demonstrate our respect by paying them appropriately, and I think weíve seen that in the recent contract negotiations, where there has been a significant increase in wages over the next couple of years.
This motion would also take the government down a path of many, many more tax credits.
I donít see that as being a positive step. I think the system needs more meaningful tax reform and, as I said earlier, that isnít something for this current governmentís agenda but I can see the Yukon Party government looking at doing that in future mandates.
Mr. Speaker, I just canít agree, because this does open the door for other potential good, worthwhile tax credit positions and, as I have just stated, I really eye that very, very cautiously. I want to find a way to accomplish what we all want to accomplish and that is having the effective supplies and tools in our schools and a way of saying thank you to our teachers. I donít think this is the way to go about it.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I think we can all agree that the purpose of this motion is, in fact, to ensure that teachers have access to materials that enhance learning in the classroom. I think we can all agree to that in this Assembly ó that that is the root of what weíre discussing.
Mr. Rouble: To that end, I respectfully move the following amendment:
THAT Motion No. 231 be amended by: (1) deleting the words "to introduce a teacher school supply tax credit", and; (2) adding, after the word "classroom", the following: "to continue to meet the resource requirements of Yukon schools through the Department of Educationís budget and programs such as the community needs assessment, and to provide schools with discretionary spending to reduce the need for teachers to expend their own money on supplies."
Speaker: It has been moved by the MLA for Southern Lakes
THAT Motion No. 231 be amended by: (1) deleting the words "to introduce a teacher school supply tax credit", and; (2) adding, after the word "classroom", the following: "to continue to meet the resource requirements of Yukon schools through the Department of Educationís budget and programs, such as the community needs assessment, and to provide schools with discretionary spending to reduce the need for teachers to expend their own money on supplies".
The Member for Southern Lakes, you have 20 minutes.
Mr. Rouble: This has indeed been an interesting debate today.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: Itís a matter of significant importance to all members of our society because educating the youth in our society certainly is no laughing matter.
On this amendment, where the key clause is to continue to meet the resource requirements of Yukon schools through the Department of Educationís budget and programs, such as the community needs assessment, and to provide schools with discretionary spending to reduce the need for teachers to expend their own money on supplies, I think this accomplishes the key root and ensures that we have the adequate supplies and materials necessary in our classrooms. It does that to ó without the danger of some of the potential problems that I have discussed earlier. Mr. Speaker, this amendment ensures that the responsibility for the purchase of materials and supplies stays on the government and that the government is the one that has the responsibility to provide these supplies and materials. It does not take us down the slippery slope of providing every worthwhile expenditure with its own tax credit. And, Mr. Speaker, once again Iíd just like to state that there are many worthwhile opportunities for tax credits out there. I discussed some of them at length earlier. But I donít think that addressing each one of them with its own specific tax credit is going to do the system any benefit. All it will do is to make it much more complicated, to make more forms to fill out and more loopholes for people to look into. I think the system that we have is more in need of overall tax reform.
Yes, these are worthwhile expenditures that these teachers are making. Theyíre taking their own after-tax dollars and using that to pay for what should be a government expense. I donít think they should have to do that. Do I commend them and thank them for doing it? Certainly I do, Mr. Speaker. Itís a wonderful thing that they are doing, hopefully of their own accord.
They are making a decision because of their belief and their passion and their commitment to the profession, which I think for most people runs much deeper than an employee/employer agreement ó I think teachers, and Iím speaking from my own personal experience, have a genuine love and dedication to the profession. Theyíre there because they want to be there, because they have a passion for teaching, a passion for sharing the knowledge and a passion for working with the students. And, yes, that sometimes does mean that you make some sacrifices of your own to do your job better, to have more fun in the system, to accomplish what you want to accomplish in an easier way. I donít think that teachers should be responsible for acquiring the majority of the supplies that they produce in their school.
Now, Mr. Speaker, this motion ensures that there are no new increased expectations on our teachers. In discussing this motion with my colleagues earlier, we discussed some of the maybe unintended consequences of this, and because this tax credit exists, would it not be kind of expected that the principal might sit down at the beginning of the year and say, well, this opportunity exists for all of you to receive a tax credit and I would encourage you all to avail yourselves of it ó to put that expectation on the teachers. Thereís a tax program that is here; you should take advantage of it. It might not be an explicit expectation for the teachers to spend their own money but I would argue that it might be implicit in the nature of having this here, and I donít want to see that happen. Teachers shouldnít be expected to spend their own after-tax dollars on school supplies that are needed in our classrooms.
It also ensures that teachers make these expenditures and that they do things because they want to, rather than because they have to. There are a lot of instances, I know, where teachers want to make an expenditure on a class, whether that means buying a pizza to say, "Way to go," or to have a particular poster laminated or framed, just as people in other occupations do things to celebrate with their co-workers, like bringing in a box of doughnuts or Girl Guide cookies to share with everyone.
Additionally, this amendment doesnít make our tax system more complex and more cumbersome than it already is. Itís already very complex and cumbersome. I read out many of the tax credits available now, and I would challenge many members of this Assembly to follow along with those ó to figure them out without sitting down with a CPA next to them or a tax accountant. And it doesnít make the system more bureaucratic.
I think we already have a system where teachers can go to their principals to acquire some needed supplies, but the original motion was calling for a new system, one that would involve tracking receipts and signing them off by the principal, working with your tax preparer, and then increased work on the Revenue Canada side and increased work on the compliance side. It is a fact that when people do put in their tax returns, some portion of them are audited, which means that the auditor has to come out and look after one more issue. Again, it might not be the most significant issue, but it does add to the whole complexity of the system.
I think it was a nice gesture, but itís a small gesture. I think it works out to, at the maximum, a dollar a week. I think there are other ways we can say thank you to our teachers and praise them for their work; for example, increasing wages by six and a half percent over three years.
Letís look at that in comparison. We could put forward a tax credit that would have the effect that if teachers invested $445 of their own money, we would give them a $55 tax break. Thatís one option. On the other hand, you could do as the Yukon Party government did and that is agree to a contract that increased wages by 6.5 percent over three years. The net result of our commitment ó our new commitment, the new agreement with Yukon teachers ó works out to, I believe, something in order of $3,385,000. That is the commitment that the Yukon Party government has made to our teachers. Weíve increased wages by over $3 million. We believe in our teachers. We believe in the work they do, and we want to recognize it. Recognizing it by giving a tax credit that would have the result of giving them a dollar a week, at the most, compared to the increase in salary ó well, Iíll ask the teachers to be the judge.
We put forward an argument about how this tax credit isnít a good idea. Itís not a good idea in my perspective to go down some of these tax credit slopes. Have governments done that in the past? Yes, they have. Are we stuck with them? Yes, to a certain extent we are. Were some brought forward by previous governments? Yes. Have we extended them? Yes, we have. They are a fact of our political environment, and itís one of the concessions that we, as legislators, have to make sometimes.
We believe in our teachers. We want to say thank you. Weíve increased their wages. I cannot support the original motion because of the effect, as weíve discussed, which means a dollar a week.
In closing, I would again like to reiterate the respect we all have for teachers. We recognize the value they have in our society, in our community, and the importance that they play in developing our youth and continuing on with our culture.
We need to ensure that teachers have the right stuff in the classroom, but, again, I donít think that a tax credit is the best way to ensure that happens. The best way to ensure that happens, Mr. Speaker, is to continue on with programs such as the community needs assessment and the other portions that Iíve outlined in the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I mean no disrespect in amending the leader of the third partyís motion. As I stated earlier, Iíve been a teacher and an educator. I know the situation that she is discussing. Iíve lived it first-hand. But I canít agree with the solution that she proposed. I think we have fine-tuned it and offered a more acceptable, a more palatable solution, one that will serve the territory better in the long run.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fairclough: On the amendment, Mr. Speaker, Iíll be very short in my reply. The mover of the amendment took a couple hours to explain how he liked the motion that was brought forward by the leader of the third party and then proceeded to make the amendment, which I find not a way of progressing in this House, but actually stalling.
We on this side of the House would like to debate the motion that was put forward by the member of the third party, and we would like to move on. We donít believe that it requires a lengthy debate at all. It is pretty well straightforward. The Member for Southern Lakes said that he didnít believe in tax credits yet they had no problem in introducing tax credits for golf courses.
The member opposite wants to try to find a way to meet these needs through existing processes, like through the Department of Education budget and so on or through the community needs assessment, which, Mr. Speaker, we found is $1 million. If they took a look at the tax credit, what it would really mean to the bottom line of the budget, it would be something like $20,000. That is nothing big at all if youíre looking at the numbers provided by the Education department as to how many teachers there are in the system, which is 408; thatís our latest number, so itís not a big deal. We on this side of the House would like to see the issue dealt with. Thatís what we want to see. The teachers are coming forward and are wanting this to be addressed. It has been in the media now, and it canít be just pushed aside by saying that weíll continue to meet the resource requirements of schools. Weíre talking about the monies that are coming out of teachersí pockets here for things like food and so on.
I think what the motion really identified was a problem with our system here, and that needs to be addressed. If the Yukon Party is true to their words and to their amendments, then we would see improvements made in this area, whether itís ensuring that for students who go to school without lunches they are provided to them and itís not coming out of the teachersí pockets or whatnot, then we would like to see that addressed. Will we ever see that addressed? I donít know. The needs assessment certainly didnít do that. The members opposite know that, Mr. Speaker.
So I feel that this amendment changes the motion a lot from what it was, and I believe, if it were out of order, Mr. Speaker, you would have said that the amendment was out of order.
Thatís all you have to say, that it is in order, and we on this side of the House were very supportive of the motion moved by the leader of the third party, and now that it has changed after two hours of debate ó and the member opposite found it an interesting debate even though he was the only speaker other than the mover ó I would like to see where itís going to go from here with the members on that side of the House. We at this point do not have a huge problem with this amendment, but what does it mean? We will hold the government accountable to their words. We would like to finish this motion and get on with the business of the House and move into the next motion, which is a bill. Iím sure the members opposite would be more than happy to debate it because it is the whistle-blower motion.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I remind the members opposite that these motions are important to the people who put them on the floor and, of course, for all members to speak to them, so I have to remind them that everybody in the House here has a right to speak to the motions, and as far as short-circuiting the system, hopefully thatís not done here in the House.
In talking about the amendment to the motion and the issue we have at hand today, we as a government, on this side of the House, have to work for the good of all Yukoners ó thatís very important ó and also to give some semblance of organization and to weigh the pros and cons of a lot of decisions we make.
At the end of the day, people in government have to make decisions. With the member from the third party, if I may remind the House, in her short term in office, we saw the only teachersí strike in the Yukonís history. So, with the image of working as the third party member for the betterment of the academic end of our community, it was a humble day for me when I saw the teachers of the Yukon picketing this building and other schools because, in fact, it wasnít necessary.
So, when we took over government ó when we were elected a year and a half ago ó and once we had our Minister of Education in place, we understood the needs were out there in our schools, on the academic level and also in our shops, and there were all sorts of shortcomings in the department itself. But understanding this amendment talks to funding classroom and school issues, which are over and above what is expected, I guess, from the department.
Now, our Minister of Education went out and we decided to put $1 million out there as a resource for the schools so that he could go around with his department and ask, "What are the needs of today? What do our schools need today?" Now, we were quite amazed by their needs.
And again, if we go to this motion of the third party and put this $500 issue out there for teachers ó in other words, again putting another burden on the teachers ó first of all, the perception in the general public is that theyíre getting a tax break for $500. Who is putting the money into the classroom? Who isnít? And the next issue is: how do you go about getting your tax claim? How do you get this $55 credit back ó this $5 a month?
It is a dollar a week. Itís a lot of work for a dollar a week, and Iím not quite sure with the busy life that teachers live that they would like to go through that process. I think what every teacher in the Yukon wants is the tools to do the job. And the tools to do the job ó itís the government, the Department of Educationís job to address them. Now, I understand the needs of communities are different, and thatís why we had the needs assessment, and thatís why our Minister of Education went out to every one of our communities to address the specific needs of each community.
Now, there was ó because of the lack of ó I guess, in previous governments or just the last government, that the needs were quite large. There were things in school where woodworking, per se ó the budget was 37 cents per person, per student, for equipment, for wood so that they could process this item they were building. Mr. Speaker, we were building a woodworking class with an instructor and not giving them the equipment to do the task at hand. Those had to be addressed. Those are needs in the classroom.
Is it the teacherís job to bring in wood? Now, I will say to you in the school that I was in, the teacher in that school went out and solicited wood ó either reclaiming it from job sites or doing whatever, so he would have the tools to run an efficient course in his industrial art program, Mr. Speaker.
Now, this teacher was being paid to be a teacher ó certainly, heís being paid to be a teacher. But was that fair to him, to put him in a position where his spare time ó which, by the way, we all understand what spare time is: itís time that we spend with our families, whether we have recreation, all these other issues ó and that teacher, through dedication, Mr. Speaker, did the side job of getting the supplies to his classroom so he could teach the IA course with a realistic amount of supplies so that, at the end of the course, everybody had a bit of an instructional thing on the IA department.
Going back to the amendment, this amendment says to us as politicians ó as government ó that we have an obligation. We have an obligation to supply the needs of the student in the classroom. Thatís our job; itís not the teacherís job. Itís our job. If our job is to do that, what is the job of the teacher? The job of the teacher is to instruct the class. Certainly there are expenses. They add personality to the classroom, and thatís what itís all about. The member was speaking about what his mother did. Well, certainly she enhanced the class by adding personality. And of course teachers all have different personalities and of course their classrooms have a different feel to them, a different personality, and I guess thatís part of growing up. We all understand, as students, what teachers did in the classroom. Teachers taught you. Teachers disciplined the class. Teachers led by example. Teachers added personality to the class. Is there a bill for that? Well, Iím not quite sure, but I am sure of the obligation of the government. Our government, on the day we took over, understood the obligation of our government as a Yukon government that we prioritized education.
Education is very important to all Yukoners and specifically very important to this government. So our Minister of Education went out and visited the student councils, talked to the teachers, did their homework and came back and said, "These are the needs of the community. There are a million dollarsí worth of needs out there." Now the needs, as you were saying, are different. Weíve got Holy Family Elementary School in Porter Creek, with low-glare lights, classroom computers and connections, colour laser printer. Now thatís not the need that Old Crow had, but we addressed all those needs. Now are we going to do this every year? Iím not quite sure we are going to do this every year.
Maybe the needs wonít be there next year, but in turn, we took this thing and addressed the needs of individual schools, showed that we had a sincere interest in these needs and the academia of the schools. We went out there with the teachers, negotiated a three-year contract with them. I think, probably, if you were to talk to the teachers, it was a fair settlement. It was certainly done without a strike and, at the end of the day, over the next three years weíre going to put $3,385,000 into the back pockets of the teachers.
As the member opposite said, there are 400-some teachers in the Yukon. That money will go back into the communities; that money will be spent in the Yukon; that money is spent on our educators.
In turn, with all the other things we have done in the school system for academics ó we settled a three-year contract with the teachers, we went out for a needs thing ó we also went out and took a look at the buildings. What was happening with the structures out there? We found out that the Carmacks school needed to be replaced.
Being a government, weíre responsible for all Yukoners so we went to the member oppositeís riding and said, "Your school has to be replaced." The Minister of Education did that, and what happened? We are in the motions of replacing that school for the sake of the students in Carmacks.
The member opposite, because of the nature of how this House works, will be forced to stand up and vote against that.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt in my mind that the member opposite will be at the opening and he will be there when the ribbon is cut. And, of course, being the gracious people we are, the gracious person that the Minister of Education is, there will be no mention of the vote in the House when he votes that thing down.
Now, we can go into a third party. Porter Creek Secondary School went from a school of 400 kids to 700 kids ó not under our watch, Mr. Speaker, not under our watch. And so the leader of the third party, in her riding ó what did our government do? Address that need by making that school safer and more user-friendly, and so weíre going to expand the cafeteria, weíre going to put some classrooms on it and the industrial art department is going to be looked at. Thereís some capital money. Are we doing our job as educators in the Yukon? Are we being responsive to the needs of the communities? I think so. The Whitehorse Elementary School ó $200,000 to clean up the air to make it more user-friendly.
These are some of the issues that are out there, Mr. Speaker, and of course what we have to do as government, as members on this side, is to balance where the money goes and how the money is spent and prioritize those expenditures ó also, not complicate peopleís lives with fluff. If I went out and told a teacher that I was going to give them a dollar a week, that I was going to put them through three dollars a week worth of work to tabulate all this wonderful fluff I was giving them ó well, letís get serious here. We got serious with the wages to start with. We got serious with the construction of new buildings. We got serious with the assessment: what do our schools need?
They needed to bring them up to a standard thatís acceptable to all Yukoners, which cost us $1 million. After the neglect of the last government, we had to come to the mark and build up those resources, so those schools could do the job we sent them out to do. Thatís not fluff. Thatís not a debate about a dollar a week credit. Weíre serious about government here. To prioritize how our money is spent, Iím sure the school teachers would rather look at the $3.38 million we put in their hip pockets over a three-year period ó a six and a half percent increase, and worth every cent of it.
I know myself ó I have been a substitute teacher. Everybody in this room should be a substitute teacher for a grade 6 class for two weeks. It should be mandatory. And then when you come out the back door, you would understand what that teacher goes through. The man should be knighted. He will sit at the right hand of God when he dies. I have never spent two weeks of my life like that, but now when I talk to a teacher, I have a lot more respect for the work they do over a period of time. It is not an easy task to be an educator, and I appreciate that. I appreciate the fact that they are out there working in our communities which, again, is not only Whitehorse. Youíve got people in Old Crow, Watson Lake, and people in between. All of those communities have different mosaics, different builds and everything else. They also have different wants and different problems.
This amendment to the motion puts us as a government ó it says right here, "To continue to meet the resource requirements of Yukon schools through the Department of Education budget." In other words, donít divorce yourself from the obligation of supplying the supplies to the classroom.
Donít say, "Oh, a $500 credit, so now weíre going to have an extra $500 a year per teacher in the school." Weíre going to say to the Department of Education, "Weíre going to bring the funds in there so you can do an exceptional job with our students."
Now, Mr. Speaker, we do, and we do bring the money to the mark. What we are, per student ó to put this into the money thatís spent per student in the Yukon, youíre looking at roughly $13,000 a year, $13,000 per student. You understand, in the world of education, that that is a very high dollar for the rest of Canada. Now, understanding what a very small size of ó so we have all sorts of other issues. The teacher/student ratio is very comfortable. Some are worse than others, but if you average it out, we do a pretty good job. I think in Canada we have one of the better student/teacher ratios.
So this amendment to the motion puts us as responsible government ó this government is concerned that our requirement is to supply the funds and the resources to fund the schools at all levels.
Now, Mr. Speaker, have we done that? Well, you only have to look at what we have done for education and in a very short period of time. I am very impressed with what the Minister of Education has done. Iím impressed with his dedication, and Iím impressed with his work ethic to go out there and do the job he did in a very short period of time. Sixteen months is not a long time in government, Mr. Speaker.
And what have we done? What has this government done after taking over from the last government? We settled with the teachers. We gave them a 6.5-percent increase over three years. Nobody had to go on strike. We were very adamant that they had to be resourced so that they could live in our communities and contribute to our communities.
So we did that. Then the minister went out and said, "If Iím going to do an assessment on these communities, what money are you people prepared to put on the line so when there is an assessment out there, I can answer their questions?" So we as a government, under his direction, asked, "How much money do you need? What would be comfortable for you?" Being the astute man he is, said, "I need a million dollars." Well, a million dollars is a lot of money. But he said, "You will get many, many dollars back for that investment." So we as a caucus said to the Minister of Education, "Go and do your job. We canít hamstring you by short-changing you on the amount of money. Weíre not going to haggle about the money." Now, he went out there and addressed their issues. He came in with a figure for that of $956,000.
$956,000 is pretty close to a million. Now that man who requested a million dollars went out and addressed 95 percent of their needs in that million dollars, and guess what we have today? We have a very solid education plan ahead of us. Weíve resourced it properly, and I say to you that the amendment to that motion puts us on the mark: we will fund what is needed to educate our children. Weíre not into fluff. Weíre not into giving somebody a dollar a week. Weíre into being practical and making tough decisions. At the end of the day we will have schools; weíll fund them. We certainly appreciate all the educators, all the administrative staff who make that possible. I would like to recommend the amendment to the motion.
Ms. Duncan: I was truly saddened to not only see the amendment but to hear the Member for Porter Creek Centre refer to the original motion and to refer to the intent of the tax credit as "fluff". Funny ó it wasnít fluff when this government, just like that, brought in a tax credit for golf courses, but thatís a slippery slope, isnít it, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Iím very saddened because this Yukon Party government was given a gift this afternoon ó a golden opportunity to do the right thing, to recognize educators as they were able to do for golf courses, miners, trappers, tourism operators and many others, an opportunity to recognize the commitment and dedication and personal contribution made by our educators. They were given this golden opportunity to debate the motion, to support the motion on the eve of the annual general meeting of the Yukon Teachers Association, when we also recognize all the teachers and their contribution to the community, and we recognize outstanding teachers. We honour the retirees who have made significant contributions over the years.
I was heartened when the Member for Southern Lakes took the opportunity to share personal experiences with us. I thought, "Great. The government will recognize and will support this initiative." After all, they were able, immediately upon taking office in all their infinite wisdom as the new government and their minister-knows-best, to recognize golf courses, but they canít recognize teachers.
Interesting that they ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Does the Member for Klondike wish to speak, or do I have the floor, Mr. Speaker?
Deputy Speaker: Order please.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you.
Continuing to meet the resource requirements of Yukon schools through the Department of Education community needs assessment was referred to as "the Santa Claus tour" in this Legislature until the Minister of Education corrected us and said he didnít believe in Santa Claus ó although we have had lengthy discussions about reindeer.
Thereís absolutely no question that the needs are there and the needs exist in the schools, and every government has done its best, with the resources they had, to recognize them.
The Member for Porter Creek Centre is so proud of the structural tour that Iíd like to offer to buy him a bucket of bleach to go and clean out the mould in Grey Mountain Primary because this government canít recognize that structural issue, but they can send 80 children to school every day in that building ó every day ó without one ounce of commitment. When we ask in the budget debate ó which the government is so proud of ó about how many capital dollars are being spent on Grey Mountain, officials canít identify dollar one, not dollar one on Grey Mountain by that government thatís so proud of their expenditures.
It is shameful, absolutely shameful.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker:Order please. The leader of the third party has the floor and Iíd ask all members of the Legislature to respect that, please.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The structure of our schools throughout the territory is one issue. Itís a key issue; it has to be dealt with; dollars have to be expended. The fact that Porter Creek high school was in dire need of repairs was well-recognized and was budgeted in the capital budget that was left for the government when they took office. It was there, and the Member for Porter Creek Centre doesnít seem to recognize that. The fact that it became a high school was without consultation with the entire Yukon and educators and was a decision made by the Yukon Party government and it put them in that position in the first place. However, that seems to have been forgotten too.
Thereís no question there are education needs there; thereís no question there are structural needs; thereís no question there are needs in our classroom ó absolutely. And there is no question that government, with public tax dollars, has a responsibility to meet those needs, and I encourage every single government and every member to debate and look long and hard at the Education budget to make sure weíre meeting those needs.
What this motion was about, Mr. Speaker, was recognizing the contributions of teachers ó willingly, out of their own pocket, at their own expense, to contribute to their classrooms.
They will do that because they believe ó they want to make the choice in what they buy, they want to enrich the learning environment. They bring far more than personality to the classroom. They bring resources and they make personal contributions. There was an ideal opportunity for the Yukon Party government to recognize that personal contribution. They chose not to do so. They chose to refer to such recognition as symbolic tax credit as a slippery slope, although they had already done it for one particular business. They chose instead to say, "Oh, no, we and our minister know best ó weíll decide. After weíve listened to you, weíll decide what resources youíll buy."
That resource assessment doesnít talk about additional enriched learning materials. These were basic supplies ó basic requirements that the government, in its largesse, was able to supply. The fact is that they have the ability, with a great deal more money than any previous government has had the opportunity to enjoy ó any previous government. The largest ever budget ó absolutely the needs in our schools should be addressed.
Weíre talking about a contribution by a professional group in our society that is otherwise unrecognized in our tax system. We recognize other contributions. We recognize that doctors and other professionals in their business are able to subscribe to magazines. They are able to have that as an expense. All I was proposing in this tax credit was that those teachers who enrich their classrooms by subscribing, for example, to Chickadee and Owl magazines, to allow their students more enriched learning opportunities and more resources, be given credit for that, the same way other professionals are recognized. What was so difficult about supporting that?
Instead, the government chose to bring forward an amendment, an amendment that says, "No, weíll decide. Weíre not going to recognize the professional aspect of the teachers or the contribution of teachers through their own personal resources. Weíre not going to recognize that. No, weíre going to decide what resources go in a classroom." Thatís what the government has said to the teachers. And the government has referred to a tax credit as "fluff". The proposal, yes, using Prince Edward Island, involved one form, similar to the child tax credit, Mr. Speaker. Who would argue against the child tax credit? Who argues against the donations and gifts tax credit or the mineral exploration tax credit or the small business tax credit?
I fail to see why the government could not accept the gift that was offered to them in an opportunity to support our professional educators, an ideal opportunity on the eve of income tax, on the eve of the teachersí annual general meeting, to recognize the contribution they make to an enriched learning environment, a contribution they make willingly out of their own pocket.
The fact that the government recognizes it in a tax credit is not an onerous form to fill out. Itís not fluff and it doesnít have to be a dollar a week. It is $500 in Prince Edward Island. It would amount, using general figures in the Yukon for Yukon teachers, if we use the same model, to $55 less in income tax that they would pay. Thatís not a huge amount. Recognizing itís not a huge amount, it still makes a difference, and if teacher after teacher who has phoned me and talked to me about this and has spoken with me in the hallways say itís the principle, itís the fact that it has been recognized. And, yes, it could go further.
Nothing is stopping the government from going further ó not a thing except a lack of political will. And the cost to government? Less than one of the community development fund grants theyíre so proud to hand out would recognize 800 teachers in this territory. The cost would probably be about $40,000. $40,000 in a $705-million budget, and the government canít see their way clear to doing it. I didnít ask that it be done today. I just asked for support for the idea. Quite frankly, the arguments for not doing it, that itís fluff, that itís a slippery slope ó itís not fluff. It means something to the teachers, and itís very real recognition to them. Itís a slippery slope? Then why could the government do it for golf courses, one of their first acts? But they canít do it for teachers.
The other arguments against doing it were that it puts an onus on teachers to spend this money. No, it recognizes what already goes on. It is different, but the government also recognizes, for example, charitable donations that Yukoners make to the United Way. Thatís recognized as a tax credit on our tax forms: contributions made willingly ó we want to, we support, we support everything that organization does, and there are many others.
Those donations and gifts that we as citizens give are recognized through a tax credit. Why not recognize this profession? There has not been one solid piece of evidence or reasoning presented by the government to delete the teacher supply tax credit. There has been no solid clear reason to delete that.
They have said, "No, we know best in this amendment. Weíll decide. Weíll meet the resource requirements. Weíll decide that every grade 1 classroom needs pencils and stickers. Weíll squash the innovation in the teachers who say, ĎYou know what, Iíd really like my classroom to be like this. Iíd like to buy this kind of bulletin board enhancement. Iíd like to have Magic Tree House books in my classroom instead of something else.í"
The government, by saying they will meet the resource requirements instead of allowing the teachers and recognizing what teachers already do, has continued with a we-know-best and we-will-decide attitude that is unfortunate and fails to recognize a real innovation in terms of a teacher school supply tax credit ó a real innovation that would be supported and welcomed not only by the teachers and professional educators, but by their parents.
And Iím sure the students who study our public government would also recognize that public government has done something that recognizes the contribution of the teachers.
It will come as no surprise to the members opposite that I donít support this amendment and that, as I said, Iím truly saddened that they were given an ideal opportunity as a government to implement a very good idea, and it is unfortunate they have chosen not to accept it and itís unfortunate that they have chosen not to recognize the contribution of wonderful educators throughout the Yukon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cathers: On the amendment, first of all Iíd like to make it clear in response to the comments of the member of the third party that this government did see fit to recognize the contribution of teachers. That was through an increase to the collective bargaining agreement that is 6.5 percent over three years. That is a total of approximately $3,385,000. Iím not talking $55; weíre talking $3,385,000.
I agree with the member of the third party on one point: it is very important that we recognize the efforts of teachers, the worthy work they do and the fact that going above and beyond the call of duty tends to be the norm rather than the exception. I have a number of members of my family, both in the Yukon and outside the Yukon, who are teachers or who have been teachers and are now retired. As well, I have a number of friends and constituents who are teachers. So I have a strong appreciation for how hard teachers work and for the additional efforts they put in and for which theyíre not paid.
Iím glad to see that the member of the third party is asking us to recognize the contribution of teachers and Iím glad to see that she seems to finally be realizing the importance of teachers, because it was her government, Mr. Speaker, that brought the Yukon to its first and only teachersí strike.
And I feel that a good part of why they came to that stage was an approach that I would characterize as being uncaring and a little bit callous.
Iím sorry, Mr. Speaker ó from the look on your face, I retract that characterization.
Speaker: The Chair is also having trouble relating that train of thought to the amendment. Carry on, please.
Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
On the amendment, the point I was trying to direct the train of thought on, and the members who hopefully are following the train as passengers, is that although it is important to recognize the work of teachers, there are other ways of doing this. The tax credit method, as has been pointed out by my colleague, the Member for Southern Lakes, is a method that is rather paperwork intensive. It is also a method where the numbers we seem to be talking about here for the value of the tax credit to teachers is a total of $55 a year on their income tax return. And, Mr. Speaker, I consider that little more than a gesture, and I would characterize that gesture as being empty when weíre talking about an amount that works out to a little more than a dollar a week.
Now, I give the member of the third party the benefit of the doubt that she may think that this is the best way to go about it, and we have differences of opinion on this. But as Iíve pointed out, the approach that this government took to meet the resource requirements of Yukon schools was through the Department of Educationís budget, the increase to the collective bargaining agreement, and the needs assessment, which the Minister of Education led off last year and a number of us as MLAs had the opportunity of sitting down with the school councils in schools within our riding to discuss what items they identified as needs. And in some cases, Mr. Speaker, perhaps the most striking thing for a number of us was items that school councils felt were a large need and which they had been asking for, for a long time, and which had not been addressed ó and that was really small in dollar value.
So we took the step to create a framework and an assessment whereby those needs were addressed. Itís also necessary to provide schools with discretionary spending, as is done to reduce the need for teachers to spend their own money on supplies, because we should not be off-loading this responsibility on to teachers. It is the responsibility of the government to address the needs of schoolchildren. It is the governmentís responsibility to address their needs, to provide sufficient budgetary dollars, to fulfill those needs and to provide the resources, and it is not something that should be off-loaded to the teachers.
A tax credit, as was stated by my colleague from Southern Lakes, is typically used when the government wants to encourage a certain behaviour. When weíre talking about something like the mineral exploration tax credit, or programs like the film incentive fund, which takes a slightly different approach, that is something that can make a real difference in the economics of the viability for businesses to come and create gainful employment for Yukoners and to create economic growth, which is what weíre trying to encourage them to do. But weíre talking about significant amounts in those cases, and weíre talking about reductions in the tax charged based on the realization that, without that tax reduction, that company might not be in the Yukon providing those jobs, providing any taxes, and providing jobs for Yukon citizens who then, in turn, pay their own taxes.
A tax credit for school supplies to be given to teachers that amounts to a $55 reduction in the amount of income tax paid by them in a year I personally feel, Mr. Speaker, is little better than an empty gesture. There are many ways in which teachers go above and beyond the call of duty, and purchasing school supplies is but one.
A tax credit recognizes the contribution given by teachers in purchasing school supplies, but it does not recognize other ways they go above and beyond the call of duty, such as long hours working to prepare a lesson plan ó perhaps an innovative lesson plan that theyíre hoping will spark the interest in the children they are teaching. It does not recognize the long hours that many of them spend late at night in many cases, marking papers. Teachers, many of them, work extremely hard, Mr. Speaker. As I said, going above and beyond the call of duty seems to be the norm rather than the exception for teachers.
A tax credit does not recognize the teachers who spend hours helping a student after class, providing an ear or a shoulder to cry on, helping their students face the confusing world that young people are faced with and trying to help them understand how they can make sense of it and how they can shape a path that works to address their interests and their needs.
The fact is that there are many, many ways that teachers go beyond the call of duty and, Mr. Speaker, it is my belief that it is more appropriate to ensure that teachers are adequately paid ó or are well paid ó and are respected for their actions and for their many contributions rather than simply giving them a tax credit of $500 that really benefits them to the tune of approximately $55, in exchange for which, under this proposal, they would also have to deal with more paperwork.
Itís not simply the teachers who would deal with more paperwork. The principal would have to deal with the paperwork in approving or declining the teacherís receipts presented; the Department of Finance officials, both in the Yukon and federally, have to do more paperwork for every little bit of line item, every receipt thatís presented. It does increase the workload. This strikes me as a fairly empty gift to teachers ó giving them a gift thatís worth about $55 in a year in exchange for which you increase their workload and make them do a lot of paperwork in order to receive that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cathers: I heard one of the members opposite say something about reducing red tape. I think thatís actually a fairly good point. We are better to recognize this through a simpler approach, and this government did recognize this through the budget of the Department of Education by increasing the collective bargaining agreement with teachers, which will increase by 6.5 percent over three years. That is a far more meaningful contribution to teachers, a far more meaningful recognition than giving them a $55 tax credit while increasing their workload.
The member of the third party referred to this being well-timed because of being on the eve of the Yukon Teachers Association meeting and because income taxes are due.
I hope that wasnít the sole reason in bringing it forward, because, Mr. Speaker, this may seem like a nice gesture to Yukoners, and it may have indeed been intended to be a nice gesture to teachers, but it is a very, very empty gesture to provide a tax credit that gives them $55 ó only $55.
The offer, which our government made to the teachers, was an offer that we believed was fair and that we believed recognized the valuable contribution that they make to Yukon society. And from the fact that they approved that offer in a very short time, I would think that they agreed and appreciated that. I wonít presume to speak for them, but the feedback that I have received from teachers within my riding has been very positive ó that the government didnít drag them to the bargaining table for weeks and wear them down bit by bit over a few dollars but instead came to the table with a fair offer and said, "We recognize the value that you provide to society." And the resulting agreement was a 6.5-percent increase to wages over a period of three years.
My colleague, the Member for Southern Lakes, also referenced, in his many fine arguments about the problems with this proposal, the fact that there would have to be an allowable list under this proposal for a tax credit ó allowable list of what expenditures were appropriate and what were not appropriate. And referencing the workload and the paper burden provided to people ó to teachers, principals and finance officials in two levels of government ó Iíd like to note that while I donít think there has been a detailed analysis of the costs of paperwork over various levels of government, there have been many, but they were done at different times and have been conflicting in some cases.
But a program that Iíve been engaging in discussions with the members of the Yukon Agricultural Association about recently was the old federal program, which is expiring, referred to as the CARD program, which was a program under which the federal government provided funding to the Yukon Agricultural Association to be used for a number of projects. The reporting requirements to prove to the government that they were being accountable used up around 40 percent of the dollars they received. Thatís just an illustration of how large an impact paperwork can have on this. I think that this proposal by the member of the third party to create a school supply tax credit would give the teachers very little in exchange for a tremendous increase in the amount of paperwork they would be required to do. Itís also something that I see as an off-loading of responsibility from the government.
Now weíve seen the federal government do this in the last number of years. As part of their process of balancing their budget, they off-loaded responsibility to other governments, health care being one of the most marked increases of costs to the provinces and one of the most marked decreases in the amount of the federal contribution. Weíve seen the federal contribution fall to approximately 16 percent of the total expenditure on health care, which is down from its traditional level of 50 percent.
The report done by Mr. Romanow on health care has recommended that the federal government increase its contribution to health care to no less than 25 percent of the total program dollars that are being spent in Canada. To this point, they have taken some steps but are still far short of the mark.
The $20 million in increased health spending that the Yukon will be receiving as the result of our Premier and the premiers of the other two territories walking away from the federal table on health care and taking the stand that per capita funding does not address the needs in northern territories ó that deal, which the federal government agreed to, and that recognition of the inadequacy of per capita funding for regions such as ours is certainly an important step but it has still not replaced the dollars that the federal government cut to our health care funding to balance their budget on the backs of the provinces and the territories.
So perhaps the member of the third party, the Liberal Party, considers off-loading responsibility a reasonable approach, but we on this side of the House believe that government must fulfill its responsibility rather than passing the responsibility, the cost and the blame to someone else.
As I have said, in closing I would like to say I feel a tax credit to be an empty gesture. For us to stand here and approve something that would create more paperwork and give very little to the teachers ó an empty gesture ó would not be responsible. Regardless of it being income tax season and the eve of the teachersí annual general meeting, it would not be an appropriate step.
This government took the step of agreeing to increase teachersí wages by 6.5 percent over a three-year term, which amounts to a total of approximately $3.385 million. We have stated very clearly and state again that all members on this side of the House have strong respect for Yukon teachers for the hard work that they do. We believe we have recognized that contribution, and we will continue to take steps to recognize that contribution as it is appropriate. This government has always said, from day one, that we are committed to addressing a demonstrated need, where it has been shown to exist, to the best of our ability.
I support this amendment. I believe it makes this motion far more sensible as a motion, and a far better approach to be taken.
I thank all members of this House for their attention. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hassard: I, too, rise to speak in support of this motion as amended. Having attended several schools in the Yukon to obtain my grade 12 diploma, I have what I would call first-hand knowledge of the Yukon school system. The one thing I can say about the Yukon from my experience is that I had nothing but great teachers. I also think the facilities we have are first-class. I know that in some communities, we want to improve upon those but, going to school in Teslin, Teslin was always regarded as one of the cleaner, nicer and better schools when you went around to Polar Games or to other schools to attend sports functions. You got home and really appreciated what you had. But I certainly never went anywhere I didnít feel safe. It was always a comfortable feeling.
There has been much talk today about respect and showing our appreciation for teachers. Itís obvious that each and every one of us wants to do that. How we go about it ó weíre all going to do it differently and thatís our own prerogative. But I think itís important to note that these teachers prepare us, as students ó and Iíll speak as being a student ó for, in my case, moving from a rural community to Whitehorse for high school. They had to make sure I was prepared to step into the curriculum when I got here and that I didnít fall behind and have to re-do things, and I think they did a fantastic job of that.
My inability to do math probably didnít allow me to complete all of my courses; but that was my fault, Iím sure, not the teachersí. So I have nothing but respect for the teachers that I had.
Now, saying that, I want to make sure that that same opportunity is provided to any student today. I have a niece right now who is attending grade 12 at Vanier, so the tradition of going to school here and in the communities is going to go on and on. I have two boys I hope get to go to school in the Yukon.
Now, one of the interesting aspects of being from rural Yukon is that Teslin specifically doesnít have a high school. So we had to come to Whitehorse for grades 11 and 12 ó some people, grade 10; myself, 11 and 12. We obviously couldnít drive back and forth every day, so you had to find a place to live. In some cases you found friends or family to stay with, but quite often you ended up in the dormitory. For grade 12, I stayed in the St. Elias dorm, and it was, without a doubt, an interesting experience and one Iíll never forget. It was the St. Elias dorm, to be exact.
When we talk about what the government does for teachers and students and the general public, something that came to my mind today during the debate was when we were talking about things that are continuing. Well, 20 years ago, when I lived in the dorm, the cost to my parents was a flat rate of ó I believe it was $110 per month. The Member for Southern Lakes wants to know if that included food; and, yes, it did include food.
Now, like our schools, that again was a great facility, and I have nothing but the highest regard for the staff who worked there. When you consider it was a co-ed facility, full of 15- to 17-year-old boys and girls, I really have to tip my hat to the staff there because they kept us all out of trouble, and I donít recall any major catastrophes, unless you count the odd fire extinguisher that went off.
There were other facilities in Whitehorse at that time as well. I remember my older brother stayed at what was known as the boysí dorm a few years earlier. Again, there were generally positive comments from him about what it was like to stay there. Too bad for him it was the boysí dorm. A year or two after that, my younger brother stayed at the St. Elias dorm, and I can tell you that it was, again, nothing but good stories to tell from staying there.
Now, to get to what the governmentís role was, and to get back to the $110 a month ó as my colleague, the Member for Southern Lakes, was saying, we would eat more than that worth of food in a month, Iím sure. And Iím sure we did. The government obviously had to pay the rest of the cost of us staying there, so that was certainly appreciated, and it helped to ensure that students from rural Yukon could get the education they needed.
And today, as we speak, there is a new dorm, known as Gadzoosdaa residence, and that is where my niece is staying. I think itís her second year there, and she says that it is indeed a great facility to stay at. She certainly enjoys being there and feels safe. I know some of the staff there, and itís certainly encouraging to go there, see who they are and know that they are qualified and take care of our young people to a great degree.
Again, the times have changed but the government is still providing that service of giving a place for young people to live. I actually phoned my brother to find out what it costs for his daughter to stay there and itís still the same. Itís $110, so, after 20 years, weíre maintaining that facility, so itís encouraging to see that as well.
Interestingly enough, when I looked at the needs survey that the minister did, I see on the list of projects that were funded that Gadzoosdaa residence was given funding to upgrade recreation facilities. That pleased me greatly because I know, having been there, what itís like. Youíre away from home and anything that you can do recreation-wise certainly helps the time to go by in the evenings and it keeps you out of trouble as well. Other than fire extinguishers in the dorm I stayed in, we didnít have a lot of recreation facilities, so I might have to go back and ask ó I believe it was Bea Firth who was the minister at the time and maybe I can hit her up for some.
So I thank the minister for his part in getting that funding to those people, and I thank the staff for whatever role they played in getting it.
And these staff, Mr. Speaker, theyíre more than just chaperones or supervisors. I believe they are teachers. They may not have teaching degrees. Some of them Iím sure do but they all may not, but under the circumstances they are obviously teachers. They teach our young people at a time when itís important for them to be given direction in their life. I guess to show the appreciation and to explain, in regard to the motion, our amendment showing that we want the community needs assessment to help these people out ó supervisors working at a dorm could not be expected to take money out of their own pockets to improve these recreational facilities.
So, again, I thank the minister for what he has done.
Over the years I had many teachers and I believe that every day we continue to learn, but specifically through school. Iím sure that some of those teachers took money out of their pocket to do something extra or do something special for myself or other students in our classroom. I believe that in most cases that was done because they felt it was a worthwhile cause, it was something they wanted to do, and I donít think they were making a conscious decision to do it or not to do it based on receiving a tax break or a tax credit. Itís in our nature. Itís human nature for people to want to help if they can. I really donít see where the $55 a month ó it probably would be appreciated but is it the end-all and be-all to allow that to carry on? I donít think so. I really truly believe that people make those decisions based on what they believe to be the right decision.
So I believe that if the government can meet the resource requirements of Yukon schools, then the teachers will not have to reach into their pockets. So that has to help. In my riding there are three schools. Unfortunately I did not have the good fortune to go with the minister when he was talking to each of those schools over the course of the winter in regard to his needs assessment, but I have talked to many of the staff and the school council members and I know they were appreciative of what went on. I speak specifically to Ross River. Prior to any talk of a needs assessment, it was brought to my attention that they had a program in their school called Kaska Studies.
It was a program that wasnít funded by the department, and they didnít know how, and they were asking me to help them try to find funding for this program. And the principal went onto explain a bit of it to me, and he said itís a program where the students can get out on to the land, and they can practise many of their traditional and cultural ways. But they needed funding. The principal told me of going out to a cabin on the Ketza River mine road and how they would like to do that, but they didnít have money for gas. I mean, they were learning things like how to make a brush camp, how to build a fire. They talked about the benefits of learning trapping techniques from the elders and learning about the land and the animals from a practical standpoint and then bringing it back to the classroom.
Now, those might not be greatly important to kids in downtown Whitehorse, but if you live in Ross River, those are things that you need to know. So I was pleased to see that the funding for that program was made available through the needs assessment, so I thank the minister for, again, doing what the people wanted.
And as I said, it prevents the teachers from having to reach into their pockets to get money for the gas for the van, a van that, it was brought to my attention, they got from a previous Yukon Party government, so they asked me to pass that along, as well.
Mr. Speaker, I can see that the Member for Kluane wants to get up and speak to this motion, so maybe Iíll wrap up by just reiterating my great appreciation for all of the educators in the Yukon, and why, Iím sure that if I ever hint otherwise, my mother-in-law, who recently retired from a career in teaching, will remind me. So thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: I just want to put on the record our support for education in the territory and also point out that we neednít have wasted the entire afternoon debating this motion. It could have been brought to a vote hours ago.
The Member for Southern Lakes went on for a good two hours, thereby depriving other members of time to speak and also running out the clock so this Chamber couldnít deal with the second item of business today.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker:The hon. Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: In suggesting that a member was talking for a reason other than debating the motion, it seems that the Member for Kluane is in contravention of Standing Order 19(g) by imputing false or unavowed motives to another member.
Speaker:There is no point of order. The Member for Kluane, please carry on.
Mr. McRobb: That rude interruption obviously ó
Speaker: Order please. A point of order ó any member can stand up and make a point of order at any given time in this Assembly, and itís not considered a rude interruption. Iíd ask the Member for Kluane to carry on.
Mr. McRobb: It was my understanding that it was not unparliamentary to refer to an interruption as being a rude interruption. Maybe I should revisit your past rulings, if indeed it is the case.
Speaker: Is the Member for Kluane challenging the Chair?
Mr. McRobb: No, I am not.
Speaker: Well, I would suggest you carry on. Be very careful though.
Mr. McRobb: Maybe I should revisit some of the past rulings, Mr. Speaker, and brush up on this. I wasnít aware it was against the rules. What has happened ó
Speaker: Order please. The member, as opposition House leader, knows full well that it is context, not specific words. Iíd ask the member to carry on, with that in mind.
Mr. McRobb: The point of my point is that we could have easily concluded this business and gone on to the other business. The government side delayed progress and consequently we wonít get an opportunity to deal with the second item of business today, the whistle-blower bill.
I canít help but wonder why, especially when this government amended our bill and put on record its support for the amended bill. So itís really curious why the Member for Southern Lakes would go on for two hours, talking about selling ice cream and complaining about wages for two hours, when we could have done the business of the House and gone on to the second item and perhaps even the third item of business of the day. Thatís the point I wanted to make.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I rise today to speak to this amendment. I will start by saying that our governmentís first priority upon getting elected was to ensure stability and security in the workplace.
The teachersí collective agreement had expired and it was our job to negotiate a new one, and this government has successfully done that. That was probably of the utmost importance and the most important thing on the educatorsí minds.
It is indeed a pleasure to take the opportunity to speak on behalf of our teachers and the excellence in education provided by all of our teachers across the Yukon. I do want to take this opportunity to thank each and every teacher and school principal for the commitment and dedication they bring to the classroom every day. Teachers make a tremendous difference in the lives of the children, and that is what education is all about ó making a difference for the children. Itís about children.
We have a small population scattered across a large area. Many of our communities are struggling with social and economic problems. Sadly, many of our children come from troubled backgrounds.
The impact of mission schools continues in our schools today. Some of our childrenís parents were themselves victims of abuse or neglect. For this reason and others, you will find that some students present special challenges in the classroom. Teachers are very important people in these studentsí lives. These children deserve every chance to succeed and when these teachers have patience with them the children respond very well to that patience and we are all rewarded in our communities. Teachers hold a very special place in our communities. Teachers are fundamental to education. Teachers are the people on the front lines, the ones who see our students every day. They have an enormous role to play in the classroom and hold powerful influence with the students. Teachers also hold a very important role outside the classroom. They have an influence in the community as well.
Our communities have very high expectations for our school system. People look to teachers as a key to building healthy and sustainable communities and as a key that opens doors to personal success in the workforce and in society.
We have self-governing First Nations who want to take an active role in education to ensure bright futures for their people. We want to engage communities in education at all levels, through local First Nation governments, through school councils and through one-to-one relationships with parents, and teachers are key in all of this.
My first point to the teacher is to say thank you.
I wish also to say that we know that the purchase of materials to support learning can make a difference in the classroom. School councils know what their schools need. School councils can use any surplus funding to purchase materials that they see as important to their school and to their individual learning environment.
We know it too. That is why I went around speaking to many schools, many First Nations and many school councils last fall to find out what the needs were in the classroom. I wanted to find out right from the teachers and principals themselves what they thought their schools needed. I heard many interesting things during that needs assessment tour and, in response to those needs, our government set aside $1 million to pay for all the supplies and items that school councils, First Nations and school principals and teachers identified as being needed by their school.
$1 million is a lot of money, Mr. Speaker, and it was put to very good use. More importantly, it was the communities themselves who told us how to spend that money and what was needed. I believe that when the community becomes involved, and when we look at education not only in the schools but throughout our entire lives, we find ways to ensure that everyone in the Yukon has the best possible opportunities.
Mr. Speaker, since I have taken office, I want to put on record that I have not received one request from a teacher for this tax credit incentive; therefore, I am convinced this is not a pressing issue, as the leader of the third party would have the public believe.
I believe that this does not mean that 100 percent of the teachers out there are not interested. Itís just that I have not had any requests of this nature. I would like to also state that, contrary to some of the comments made just previous by the opposition House leader, members of this House have opinions on issues. I believe that this government and both opposition patties should be respected for the decisions they make. The government does take every partyís motion seriously. It has nothing to do with us if members on the opposition side donít.
Now I would like to talk a little bit about some of the traditional values that could speak to this amendment. First, when we talk about traditional knowledge, values and beliefs, it encompasses a lot of different areas. One of them I want to touch on is about the spirit of giving. When you give from the heart, you do not expect to get anything in return, and if you do, then youíre giving for the wrong reason. If you expect a favour for doing a favour, itís not giving. And I believe that a lot of the things that may be given by a teacher are things that they want to do themselves. There are no obligations here. No one is saying you have to give anything, but I can assure you that, as an individual and as a person myself, I truly do get satisfaction out of being able to give to somebody. And whether they need it or not, just the thought behind it is what counts.
I think that a lot of the teachers fit right into that category. They donít expect to be repaid, and thatís why it has never been brought up at the bargaining table that I know of. It has never been brought up to me as the minister.
I think there are other ways of covering student needs, and Iíve already mentioned them, with regard to surpluses for school councils as an example.
The other point I would like to touch on just a bit is that I believe that an incentive such as this could really spiral out of control right across the whole government. I think that if you were to talk to a lot of the social workers who work in the communities and in Whitehorse, you would find that they also are very giving people and caring people who at some point in time or another went and bought a hamburger for one of the youth they work with, which is good. Itís part of human nature to be considerate of other people. I could see where eventually it would be across the whole government that, "Well, I bought a hamburger for this child so I want to have a tax credit incentive." Well, we need to keep the spirit of giving alive within human nature. I think itís just something that a person would do regardless of a tax credit incentive.
The last part I want to touch on is the fact that the member of the third party made comments about other tax incentives that the government provides, but the ones that I heard comments about were ones that could quite possibly promote economic development in the territory, which is a good thing, because it is then for the collective whole. Itís to benefit every citizen in the territory and not only one particular person. Again, I think that for us to ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: If the leader of the opposition would like to talk, Iíll sit down.
Speaker: You have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I find it difficult when that member is talking out loud.
Anyhow I have sort of lost the train of thought; maybe that was the intent behind it. I still think itís critical when we talk about tax incentives that itís not targeted to one specific group or one person per se. I think the tax incentives that governments usually give, in my opinion, are ones that could benefit the whole territory as opposed to maybe one person.
I also have some concern, some reserved thoughts, about how one would monitor this ó which teacher would get it, what would be the process to claim the $500 tax incentive? I could see where it would be very difficult to be able to ensure that fairness was given right across the Yukon Territory. I believe the government would have a very difficult time even being able to go and ask the teachers to provide receipts. I think that would be very time-consuming. What would the process be if there were no receipts to back up claims from teachers? So it could become something that would be very, very complicated to be able to manage, if it were at all possible. I think it could quite possibly create more conflict than it would do to serve the purpose it was intended to serve.
Again, I canít help but say to the teachers across the territory ó I canít thank them enough for being the people they are, and to say that they are prepared to give and to not expect returns in exchange is just a bonus. Itís a real bonus to anyoneís boost of morale or whatever.
It goes to show that a lot of the educators across the territory are very humanistic and are prepared to do something on their own for the benefit of children. I touched earlier on some of the difficulties that children may have with respect to the mission school. I believe that is one issue that is not understood as well in society as it should be. I believe that it has been sort of hidden underneath the rug for many, many years and it is just starting to surface.
So, when we start talking about needs a child might have at school, there could be lots of needs. It could be ones that are very expensive or ones that are not. But when we talk about all of the childrenís needs, how would we define that? I think it would be very difficult. Are we talking about someone buying shoes for children who come to school with no shoes, or are we talking about a box of gold stars to put on someoneís paper for good work? So, the scope could be very broad.
When we talk about the mission schools, for example, I believe that because of the nature of the beast created by the mission school in society, I think there could be a list of needs that no one would ever meet.
Again, I really want to commend the teachers and the principals and all of those across the territory who put the childrenís needs first, before their own, because, again, that definitely tells one a lot about the character of the individual who is looking after oneís child.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I think we have to all be aware of the fact that a lot of teachers have our children at the prime years of their life. Itís a traditional belief that the first, maybe, eight years of oneís life are going to be the most important learning curve you will ever endure in your lifetime. To know that our children are placed in the hands of people who care enough to take something out of their own pockets to ensure that the children are being well cared for and are being respected, I think, will give a lot of comfort to everyone across the territory that their children are in good hands when theyíre at school.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I think this would even apply to the daycare centres. I certainly would want to believe that everyone who has to deal with children has this caring and giving nature. So, Mr. Speaker, again, I know about the tremendous amount of pressures that teachers have in the schools and I know that all of the children would be hard done by if the teachers drew the line in the sand and said, "Itís not up to me to do anything extra for a child, and I will not do that."
So I think when we look at the big picture, this government was very concerned about the teachersí well-being. When the negotiations took place, it was clearly demonstrated that their best interests were in the mind of the government. I canít help but say how much this government does appreciate the work and the good work of all the principals and school teachers, clear across this territory.
We will continue to support those teachers in the territory. Again, we are confident that all of the children will be genuinely looked after.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím pleased to rise today to speak to this motion as our side has amended it. The amendment as presented puts this whole issue into the proper forum and focus it should be contained within.
Mr. Speaker, in our society the most important unit is the family unit and itís often said, and I agree, that our children are our most important part of the family unit. Their education is a major, major issue. Currently, the Yukon has some of the best educators, very good if not extremely good facilities, and we spend here in the Yukon the highest per capita amount of dollars per student of any jurisdiction in Canada. Itís in excess of $13,000.
Given the recent budget that is before the House, if we just look at the budget highlights, our government is going to be spending an additional $700,000 for planning a school in Carmacks, $500,000 for improvements to Porter Creek Secondary School, a $1-million increase in the base grant to Yukon College, for a total of $14.5 million; half a million dollars for native language curriculum; $335,000 for an alternative path school; $177,000 for a student summer employment program; $1.5 million for the community training fund, $500,000 of that for trades training, and weíre also going to be increasing the Yukon excellence award.
Now, I can understand the leader of the third party bringing forward the motion, given that it was her government that provoked the first teachersí strike in the history of Yukon. There is a lot of ó
Speaker:The term "provoked" is argumentative, if not unparliamentary, and Iíd ask the member not to use that. Carry on, please.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The first teachersí strike ever in the history of the Yukon occurred under the Liberal Party watch. It is our position that we should treat all members of the bargaining unit fairly and reasonably and offer a fair wage and benefit package. We were successful as a government in addressing the teachers. I can understand the member opposite being extremely sensitive and seeing the requirement in the Yukon public to mend some of the fences and overcome some of the obstacles.
That is very laudable.
It is our governmentís position that the best approach is to fund the initiatives directly. And I laud the Minister of Education when he went around and did the community needs assessment. And he gathered input for the immediate needs of the various schools all around the Yukon. He identified the short-term educational needs in our schools and those initiatives that would improve student retention, their attendance and also whatever achievements. They were all considered for funding. Our governmentís position was that this needs assessment would overcome some of the obstacles that we identified when we assumed power.
The Minister of Education has gone out, gone around to all the schools, identified the issues, and our government has funded these initiatives. Our position remains unchanged. I guess itís the position of the official opposition and the third party, but I guess itís challenged the first year. The first budget cycle after we took office was to get a handle on the finances and, through the hardworking efforts of officials in the Department of Finance and the stats branch, we were able to identify funding.
There were changes necessary to ensure that when we went forward, we wouldnít be impeded by any legislation. It was a subject of great debate in this House, some of the amendments we proposed and some of the changes we made. These were all positive changes, and the outcome will be rather startling to the members in opposition, but they will be well accepted by the general population of the Yukon because it will restore investor confidence, it will show a go-forward in the Yukon, it will create employment. At the same time, we will be able to address the social needs, we will be able to address the education needs, and we will be able to put additional funding into all of these initiatives.
But you have to have the economy, Mr. Speaker, in order to generate the dollars so we can spend them on the education system, spend them on the social programs, spend them on the go-forward initiatives that we have all grown ó and accept. Itís basically our right in this day and age to have all of these programs.
Speaker: Order please. The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Debate on Motion No. 231 and the proposed amendment accordingly adjourned
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 28, 2004:
Childrenís Act Revision Project: contact list for the project team; consultation plan; First Nation governance background paper; discussion guides (Jenkins)
Government Contracting Summary Report by department (April 1, 2003 Ė February 29, 2004) (Lang)
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 28, 2004:
Land Lease Fee: explanation of (Lang)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2115
The following documents were filed on April 28, 2004:
Municipal grants for the period 2000 to 2004 (Taylor)
Outstanding Economic Development loans as of March 5, 2004 (Fentie)