Monday, May 3, 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 Sexual Assault Prevention Month
Hon. Mr. Fentie:Mr. Speaker, May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month, and I rise today to pay tribute to the dedicated people who work year in and year out to eliminate sexual assaults against women. Sexual assault, like domestic violence, must be eliminated.
Every year in this House, members from each party state their support for Sexual Assault Prevention Month and for the people who work so hard to educate others toward the goal of making the Yukon a safer place. Every year, we talk about grim statistics and frightening numbers. We know that it is primarily women and children who suffer from the experience of sexual assault. We also know that many men have also suffered from this kind of violence and that such violence has a ripple effect on families and communities. But there is hope.
We are encouraged by the excellent work of community organizations and governments to initiate opportunities such as the Northern Community Conference on Sexual Abuse last October. This revealed the dedication and determination of individuals from across the territory and beyond to address sexual violence more effectively.
This determination continues this month as we acknowledge those who are working to eliminate sexual assault.
Our goal is that there will no longer be a need for a sexual assault prevention month and that no one will again experience the horrors of sexual assault and its legacy of hurt, anger and, in some cases, perpetuation of abuse to others. The ideal is to eliminate the use of strength for hurting, especially by men.
As we work toward a better future for all Yukoners, our government continues to support womenís shelters and womenís centres. We continue to work through the victim services and family violence prevention unit, alongside community advocates and the RCMP to address the needs of both victims and offenders. We also collaborate with our federal, provincial and territorial colleagues to address violence against women, most recently in our work with aboriginal women to address violence in their communities. It will never be enough until every child, every man and every woman understands to the core of their being that violence is not an option, ever. Each one of us is our brotherís and our sisterís keeper.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Peter: I rise today on behalf of the official opposition to pay tribute to Sexual Assault Prevention Month. Sexual assault is legally defined in Canada as any form of sexual contact without voluntary consent. Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a very dark and uncomfortable subject.
A woman is sexually assaulted in Canada every six minutes. In the Yukon, the rate of sexual assault has been consistently three or four times the national rate. We can only imagine what the true numbers of sexual assault in the Yukon are. As few as six percent of assaults are actually reported.
There are many myths and rationalizations about sexual assault. We must all be aware of these misconceptions and educate others about them. Some people believe that many complaints are vindictive and not true. We are aware of some high-profile cases of late where sexual assault convictions were given minimal sentencing.
Education of the courts about violence against women should be a high priority of government and womenís organizations. Assaults involving weapons, threats, wounding or endangerment of life should carry sentences of up to life imprisonment.
Women, too, must be educated. We must look upon ourselves as potential victims of sexual assault at any time. There are prevention tactics that can be learned. An observant and assertive approach can save a womanís life. The phrase, "No means no," cannot be repeated often enough.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Sexual Assault Prevention Month. As has been stated, May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month in the Yukon. As civilized men and women, we cannot accept the prevalence of sexual assault in our society, nor can we condone it with silence. As elected representatives of the people, itís our duty, our responsibility, to do everything in our power to eliminate all forms of abuse. Preventing sexual assault is everyoneís business, and informing ourselves about this issue is a major part of prevention.
I encourage all Yukoners to raise their awareness level during Sexual Assault Prevention Month.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
In recognition of Emergency Preparedness Week
Hon. Mr. Hart:May 2 to 8 is Emergency Preparedness Week in Canada. It gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today and pay tribute.
Emergency Preparedness Week is a time for all Canadians to discover how to become better prepared for emergencies on an individual basis, as part of the community, and as a member of this Legislative Assembly. It is time for us to think about ways to prepare for emergencies at home, such as considering fire-smarting our property, preparing emergency kits for our homes and for our cars, drawing up emergency plans for our families and practising it, ensuring that every family member knows how to get out.
Emergency preparedness also involves the community. As healthy communities, we come together and help each other prepare and respond to emergencies. We are fortunate to live in Canada where we know that all levels of government work together and will be there to assist in the event of a large-scale emergency.
Creating safe and healthy Yukon communities is an essential priority of this government. Some people may have noticed that last week we had a small earthquake in the Yukon near Beaver Creek. It measured low on the small Richter scale, and it turned out to be no big deal; however, this may not always be the case. We do live in an earthquake zone, and we could very well face a big earthquake at some point that creates considerable damage to property and interrupts many of our basic services ó services that we take for granted, such as food at our grocery store, our roads, our schools, the electricity and so on.
As we have seen over the weekend and in past years, we find ourselves in a flood situation south of Dawson City. Emergency response to this situation is a coordinated effort involving EMO, local EMO coordinators, YTG departments, like Highways and Health and Social Services, as well as the efforts of local residents and responders.
We also live with the threat of forest fire, or more preferably referred to as wild land fire. The wild land fires in British Columbia last year serve as a big reminder of how real this threat is. Although we cannot completely remove the threat of wild land fire, we can individually and collectively significantly reduce the threat.
We can reduce the threat of emergency situations from fire, from earthquakes or any other situation with preparedness, by understanding the threat, by reducing the threat, by being careful, by having an escape plan, by being able to respond and maybe fight it, and through recovery. Whether it is the police, emergency measures organizations, search and rescue, YTG departments like Health and Social Services, or Highways and Public Works, wild land fire management, First Nation contract fire crews, municipal and volunteer fire departments, ambulance services, RCMP, the EMO coordinators in the community or other emergency response agencies, professional people with good equipment are at a station and ready to come to our aid. Iím assured by the fact that we are continuing to improve on our abilities to respond to emergencies.
As you know, last year the wild land fire management program was devolved from Canada to the Yukon. This new responsibility was a huge opportunity for us. It was an opportunity for us to take what the Yukon was already doing and combine it with these new responsibilities and new resources. We combined the wild land fire management program with the volunteer fire departments, the fire marshalís office, the emergency measures under one branch called protective services. The protective services branch has also allowed us to work more closely with municipalities and community volunteer fire departments. It has also meant that the Emergency Measures Organization is working more collaboratively in managing emergencies, especially the threat of wild land fire in and around our communities.
Over the past year the wild land fire management program has provided the volunteer fire departments with training on how to fight wild land fire. We have been teaching new systems of command and both wild land fire and volunteer fire departments have been training together.
And more training is planned for this spring. The volunteer fire departments are also receiving better equipment. Hootalinqua Volunteer Fire Department has just received a new fire truck. Radios are being upgraded so that volunteer firefighters can communicate with other wild land firefighters and other emergency responding agencies.
We are building a firehall in the Mendenhall community this year. The community has established a fire society and has recruited volunteers. The community will be able to respond to fires and emergencies in the area and help make the community a safer place.
We have undertaken our initiatives as well because it can take up to an hour for our wild land fire crews to respond to a high risk area south of Whitehorse. Volunteer fire departments and communities of Tagish, Marsh Lake, Mount Lorne and Carcross will be at their firehalls when we have extreme forest fire risk. We have also increased the honorarium for volunteer firefighters.
Iím very pleased with the dedication and the ability of our emergency response personnel in the Yukon. With their dedication and the important role that individual households play in increasing emergency preparedness in the territory, we will contribute to having safe and healthy communities in the Yukon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cardiff: I rise on behalf of the official opposition to pay tribute to Emergency Preparedness Week, May 2-8, and as well to pay tribute to the people of the Yukon who work to make our community safer, especially during times of emergency.
We canít eliminate all disasters from occurring but by thinking ahead and being prepared, through knowledge and practice, we can minimize the impacts of natural or man-made disasters. We have to ask everyone to learn from our experiences, whether it is SARS, whether itís the forest fires in B.C. last year, or the flooding of roads and communities. We need to prepare ourselves at home, at school, in our communities during this Emergency Preparedness Week and throughout the year.
Leonardo da Vinci said, "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do." We would like to take this opportunity to honour those who do: the paid, the underpaid, and the paid emergency workers who take on leadership roles or put themselves at risk so our communities can be safer.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to the many men and women throughout the Yukon who play a role in delivering our emergency response services. My former colleague, the former Member for Riverdale South, believed very strongly that each year it would be worthwhile to have the Emergency Measures Organization present annually to this Legislature, just as the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Yukon Development Corporation do. And I would strongly recommend this idea to my colleagues.
Yukonís emergency response community is very strong. They are very well prepared. Theyíve had real life experience, and they do annual mock disasters to ensure that their skills are finely tuned. Hearing annually from these individuals first-hand as public representatives would enhance our recognition, our own preparedness and our tribute to these individuals.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Rouble:Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all members of our Assembly join me in welcoming Mrs. Pam Blackburn and members of her family to our Assembly here today. Pam is a constituent of the beautiful Southern Lakes, a member of the Marsh Lake Local Advisory Council, and is a strong contributor to the community.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling returns and documents, I have for tabling a report of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly on travel expenses of members of the Assembly during the 2003-04 fiscal year.
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?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Social assistance policies
Mr. Hardy:I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services. I hope heís willing to share some of his mathematical insights with us again today. He has done it in the past.
Last week, the minister said his department paid out more than $1 million in increased social assistance payments last summer. Can the minister tell us how long a time period that covered? Is he talking about the first of May to the end of September, or what?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member is absolutely correct; it was over the summer season that the bubble burst, and over a million dollars was paid out. This was covered off by the supplementary budget that was just dealt with earlier this session. The member opposite is adamant that we should be doing more and this member voted against the million dollars more for the SA budget.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, from mid-May to mid-September is four months. Thatís what most of us would consider a summer, and thatís being fairly generous at times in the Yukon.
The minister has said his social assistance bill went up by a million dollars last summer. He also claimed that 77 percent of that was due to single, employable males 40 years of age or under. Using the ministerís figures of $1,000 per month, that comes to 192 individuals, if they were all on social assistance for the full four months.
Is the minister asking us to believe that nearly 200 employable single males sat around in a Vancouver tavern one night and said, "Letís go to the Yukon for the summer and live the high life on social assistance"? Is that what heís asking us to believe?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like the member opposite is ridiculing those in need. What it points out clearly is that a social safety net in the Yukon was used to the extent that required an additional million dollars worth of supplementary budget money to come forward. That has been dealt with. We still have this forthcoming summer season. But the memberís extrapolation of numbers is very accurate, save and except these people sitting around in some tavern ó that I take exception to. The department paid out that money. It paid it out during the peak summer season.
Mr. Hardy: We get the impression from the other side that father knows best in this matter, and itís this government and this minister that are targeting those in need, not us.
The ministerís math may be convenient for making a political point about welfare recipients, but itís not good for much else. Now letís take another look at those 192 or so people the minister says came here last summer to live the good life on SA. Letís suppose that all of them have been on welfare full-time for the past 10 years. If the minister gave every single one of them a two-percent increase every year, what would that increase cost taxpayers? Well, believe it or not, it would cost less than the $283,509.20 the minister owes taxpayers on his outstanding business loans ó $29,920.20 less to be precise.
Now let me ask the Premier: who should we be clamping down on here? Those mythical hordes of welfare people from B.C., or the Member for Klondike?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me share with the member opposite what the department is doing with respect to SA payments. We are going to be increasing it for those who are handicapped. We are going to be increasing it for single parents. We are going to be increasing it for two-parent families. We are going to be examining ways to treat fairly and reasonably those who move up here during the summer season. We are going to be looking at why the bubble caused an additional $1 million worth of cost to the department.
The member opposite is going on considerably about us not being fair in our treatment of those who need, but the opposite is actually the reality. What is also a reality is that this member voted against that additional million-dollar expenditure for SA payments this last fiscal period.
Question re: Social assistance rates
Mr. Hardy:I would like to remind the member opposite that I voted against the Yukon Party ó pure and simple.
Iíd like to follow up with the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: The leader of the official opposition has the floor. Please carry on.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to follow up with the Minister of Health and Social Services about his plans for single people on social assistance. Last week the minister compared the Yukonís single rate of just over $12,000 a year to British Columbiaís rate of $6,251 per year and Albertaís rate of $4,824.
Let me ask the minister a very blunt question about that: does the minister realistically believe that anyone could live adequately in any urban part of the Yukon for $4,800 or $6,200, for that matter?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís not even the question before us. The Yukon pays the highest social assistance rate in Canada for single, employable individuals. That has been in place for a number of years, Mr. Speaker.
What I mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, is that our government is going to be increasing social assistance for those on SA who have a disability. We are also going to be increasing the SA payments for single parents, which currently is $16,664 a year ó the highest in Canada, save and except Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, where the cost of living is considerably higher than in Yukon.
We are also going to be increasing SA payments for couples with two or more children. It is currently $22,246 ó currently the highest in Canada, save and except Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, where the cost of living is considerably higher.
We are addressing demonstrated needs where demonstrated needs occur, and this member is voting against those budgets.
Mr. Hardy: Oh, Iím voting against it. Iím voting against this government and the way they are operating, Mr. Speaker. Iím voting against the way theyíre pitting the poor against the poor and targeting people in this territory.
The problem is that the minister is looking down the wrong end of the telescope on this one. Instead of cutting social assistance rates here to discourage those awful transients from B.C. and Alberta that he likes to characterize, he should be shaking Ralph Klein and Gordon Campbell by the lapels and saying, "Raise your rates so people who need your help can live in some kind of dignity." But heís not doing that. Heís praising them.
Last week at the Anti-Poverty Coalition AGM, the minister made it clear that he favours what those two provinces are doing. Maybe he also believes health care workers should have their wages rolled back retroactively by 15 percent or so. Is one of the measure the ministerís considering the flat-rate approach used in B.C. that pays social assistance recipients a flat monthly rate and expects them to meet all their expenses from that? Is that what heís also considering?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What the member opposite is attempting to do is speculate on where weíre heading, and that is not what is happening. We are not speculating. We are out, and we are consulting with all concerned, Mr. Speaker, to see where weíre going to end up. I will confirm once again for this House that the SA rate for single people with disabilities will be increased; the SA rate for single parents will be increased; the SA rate for couples will be increased.
Mr. Hardy: And there will be decreases. We can guarantee it from this group across the way. Now we know what this minister thinks about single, male, social assistance recipients under 40, whom he considers able to work. That is still a debate there on why they are not able to work. They wonít get any breaks from this government, and weíre seeing that, but up until now we thought the minister had some sympathy for his colleagues in the hotel business. Now maybe weíre wrong. This morning we heard from one hotel manager who relies on what he makes every month from social assistance clients.
Has the minister calculated the number of hotels, apartment buildings and other rental premises that may go under if he lowers the single person rate for social assistance to the current B.C. rates? Has he been talking to his colleagues?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the hotel that the member opposite is referring to remained locked into an agreement with the department for the utilization. We have a year-round undertaking with three different hotels in the Whitehorse area, if thatís what the member opposite was referring to. Itís a working system. We sent officials down to the Roadhouse at the end of the month, and they had a number of people whom they spoke to. There was really one person for whom we ended up finding alternative accommodations.
So the issue here that the member is trying to portray is that the department is not doing anything, weíre going to cut SA rates, hotels are going to be going bankrupt, apartment blocks are going to be bankrupt. We are one of the few jurisdictions, Mr. Speaker, that pays the first and last monthís rent to those on SA. We are doing a darn good job, and weíre going to address the need where the need exists, and weíre going to be increasing SA payments to single people with disabilities, to single parents and to two-parent families with children that need assistance. That is the position that our government is taking, and weíre going to be doing that, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Fishing regulations
Ms. Duncan:I have a question for the Acting Minister of Environment and it concerns fishing regulations.
A change that has been instituted for this year is that maximum size limits now apply to all conservation and special management waters ó some Yukon waters. What this means to Yukoners and visiting fishers is that if youíre lucky enough to catch a large lake trout, more than 26 inches, you must practise catch-and-release. You have to put the big fish back in certain Yukon waters this year.
Would the acting minister confirm that this change will be in effect everywhere in the Yukon by 2006? In other words, as of 2006, no one ó Yukoner or visiting fisher ó will be allowed to keep a large fish if theyíre lucky enough to catch one.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I really havenít been totally briefed on this topic and Iíll take the question under advisement.
Ms. Duncan: I very much appreciate that answer from the acting minister. The problem is that Yukoners are expressing their concern to me about this. Yukoners take their ability to go fishing and hope to catch a large fish very seriously. Itís near and dear to peopleís hearts.
The Minister of Environment said in a letter in January that the no-big-fish rule would be in effect by 2006. He also said this would allow for further consultation with fishing camp and guiding operations. In light of the information Iíve shared with him today and in light of the public concern about this rule change, Iíd like the acting minister to go even further. Will the Yukon Party government commit to public information and discussion sessions on this issue so that Yukoners can talk about their concerns on this rule change?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe in my heart that everybody dreams about catching that big fish. A lot of people want to keep that big fish and, Mr. Speaker, a lot of people want to fish, period. A lot of people fish for food; some fish for pleasure. Again, all I can say to the member opposite is I can go into an awful lot of detail on what First Nations feel about fishing; however, Iíll take this question under advisement and thank you for the question.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, there are 11,000 people every year who get a Yukon fishing licence, and these people are concerned. Tourism businesses are concerned.
The Yukon Party government has changed the rules: no big fish anywhere in 2006 ó not just the special and the conservation waters, no big fish anywhere in the Yukon as of 2006. The "why" behind this rule change has to be explained. The Yukon Party government needs to work with fishing lodge operators, business people and Yukoners as to how these rule changes will affect them and their businesses. Iím asking on behalf of these Yukoners for the government to spend some time listening to these concerns about the rule change, to hear the views of Yukoners on this.
Maybe theyíll change their mind. Will the Acting Minister of Environment commit to hearing from the Yukon public on behalf of the Yukon Party about this rule change?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, I have to admit today that the Yukon Party always listens to the public at large and that we do take all issues very seriously. Iím sure that the member opposite will understand, being that the minister is not here today, that I will take this question under advisement and Iím sure it will be discussed.
Question re: Dawson City bridge
Mr. McRobb: I have a question for the Minister of Highways and Public Works. Surely by now he knows about the soaring cost of steel. In most cases it has doubled in the past two years and thereís no end in sight. Itís so bad that local steel suppliers donít even want to quote prices. This pressure on world steel prices is caused mainly by Chinaís developing economy, which shows no signs of slowing down. Experts warn that waiting to buy steel will only end up costing more. What impact on the cost of the $50-million Dawson bridge does this minister expect?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have not identified the actual issue with regard to the bridge. Once we have a design and a scope for it, weíll take care of it at that time.
Mr. McRobb: It sounds like the government is aware of very little information about what this bridge will actually cost.
Now, in addition to Chinaís demand, the north has plans that require huge amounts of steel. These include two proposed pipelines and several bridges in Alaska and the Northwest Territories. In the Yukon there are other bridge projects, such as the reconstruction of the Yukon River bridge at Johnsons Crossing, cost-shared by the federal government, four bridges on the Shakwak on the north Alaska Highway, paid for by the American government. Across the world, because of the soaring price of steel, projects are being scaled back in their size and other materials are being used to avoid paying the high cost. What cost-saving measures does this minister plan for the Dawson bridge?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, as he so eloquently designed for the House here ó the cost of steel is rising, and it is rising on a regular basis. That cost would also increase the cost of buying a new ferry that will be necessary to run across the river at Dawson.
Mr. McRobb: Again, Mr. Speaker, itís not much of an answer. Now, I didnít hear him identify the statue for the Member for Klondike as a cost-saving measure. Maybe it will be made of tar and feathers, who knows?
Now, this government has not revealed who will get stuck with the tab for this bridge. There has been talk about farming it out to a private owner, using a P3 arrangement ó public/private partnership. Under such a scheme, tolls are usually part of the deal. There has been no announcement of federal funds, only speculation. Even if there were, other projects would lose out. So, it would be like robbing Paul to pay Peter.
Will the minister now clear the air and tell us who will be paying for this bridge?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As the member opposite indicated previously, we are looking at making many bridge repairs in the Yukon over the next three years. We have them in the line for what we plan to do. For the bridge at Johnsons Crossing, which he is talking about, we are looking at a deck replacement. The issue with regard to the fabrication work on that bridge was already completed last year and they are just doing the bearing structure this year. We plan to carry on the process of building our bridges as we go through the process under CSIF, Canada strategic infrastructure fund.
Question re: Dawson City interim chief administrative officer
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Minister of Community Services. Last week, my colleague from Mount Lorne asked the acting minister about the living arrangements of the government-appointed chief administrative officer of Dawson City.
As I am sure the minister is aware, the town owns the house that the former town manager lived in. But the interim CAO has been staying at the hotel owned by the Member for Klondike. I would like to ask the minister the same question my colleague asked: why is it appropriate for the interim chief administrative officer to stay at the hotel owned by the Member for Klondike when the minister said, five months ago, that it was not appropriate for the former financial supervisor to do so?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are in the process of renovating the facility for the current chief administrative officer to go into. We are in the process of working with property management to address that situation. We anticipate that that will be remedied shortly and the chief administrative officer will be able to move into that facility.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís interesting. Perhaps the minister should take a few minutes to re-read the editorial in Fridayís Whitehorse Star.
I have another question for the minister about Dawsonís financial position. According to the Premierís letter to the Yukon River Intertribal Council, the former mayor and council drove Dawson City into insolvency. Now we learned that the city is a party to a new court action over the ill-fated recreation centre, which could cost Dawson taxpayers another substantial amount.
If the town is insolvent, why is it being allowed to pursue this lawsuit? And if it isnít insolvent, why is the Premier telling people far and wide that it is?
Hon. Mr. Hart: That particular situation is under legal consideration, and I canít comment on it.
Mr. Hardy: Somebody is going to have to comment at some point here, Mr. Speaker. Somebody has to be accountable in this Legislature.
My final question relates to some of the directions the former finance supervisor gave Dawsonís mayor and council before they were fired. Among the directions he gave was for the two to rescind the $500-per-year waste management fee that would have applied to restaurants and grocery stores. Is the mayor aware of any correspondence on this matter from restaurant owners in Dawson City to the former finance supervisor or the former city council, and would he table that correspondence?
Speaker: Order please. Iím sure that the leader of the official opposition did not intend to call the Minister of Community Services the mayor.
Carry on, please.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As Iíve mentioned many times in this House before on this issue, we have appointed a trustee to assume that the financial responsibilities for Dawson City. He is currently undertaking to do that, and I anticipate that he will do a very good job.
Question re: Legislative reviews
Mr. Cardiff:The minister responsible for the occupational health and safety regulations is ignoring four years of consultation that resulted in modern OH&S regulations that will provide for safer work environments in the Yukon. Worker groups and employer groups are in favour of these new regulations and are wondering what the holdup is.
Contrary to what was in the paper on Friday, the minister has stated that he has heard concerns, but the employersí consultant doesnít seem to have heard those concerns. So it would appear that the minister is only listening to himself.
Why is the minister ignoring his responsibilities to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The minister certainly is not ignoring his responsibilities to Yukoners.
Mr. Cardiff: While weíre on the topic of ignoring legislative reviews, the Education Act is past its due date. The Yukon Party platform promised to seek consensus from all stakeholders about the Education Act review. Why is the Minister of Education ignoring his responsibilities to Yukoners?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Government House leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Standing Orders are very specific. The supplementary questions have to refer to the main question and this is a completely new question. If itís a new question, fine, we can move forward.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Mr. Cardiff: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, the question is about ignoring legislative reviews that are mandated. Thatís what the question is about.
Speaker:I can see the continuity, Minister of Education. Itís up to you whether you want to answer the question or not. Would you like it repeated?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to the Education Act review, it is and has been a very lengthy and complicated review. To date I can say to the member opposite that there was a three-party agreement before the Education Act review would be brought forward. One party did not sign that review; therefore, it is an incomplete report at this point in time.
Mr. Cardiff: They need to do some work to get it complete. One year ago today the Minister of Justice committed to reporting back to the Legislature regarding the recommendations of the Liquor Act review consultation and told us what recommendations would be enacted. The minister appears to have lost this file. The same minister also promised last summer to bring forward changes to the Motor Vehicles Act to relax rules about vehicle impoundment. My question is to the acting Minister of Justice, or the Premier ó whoever wants to answer the question. What consultations has the minister had in regard to the Motor Vehicles Act changes? When do they anticipate bringing forward the promised changes to the Motor Vehicles Act, or is this file collecting dust with other Yukon Party promises and legislative reviews?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It seems the member opposite was kind of lost there for a minute. In response to the question, I would have to say that in contrast to the opposition, our government position is very clear, and it always has been. Changing the act is not a high priority. Since before the election, our position on this matter has been clear as stated in our platform. Our government is concerned about issues around abuse, especially those related to alcohol and drugs. Again, this was stated previously on several occasions. This was not a priority.
Question re: Social assistance rates appeal
Mr. McRobb:I have a riding question for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
A constituent of mine who, under advisement from his doctor to engage in a special diet following a heart attack, appealed to the Department of Health and Social Services to supplement his social assistance rates to provide for the special diet. He won the appeal from the Social Assistance Appeal Committee on January 7. At the end of this week, it will be four months since he won his appeal but he still has not received the additional assistance ordered by the appeal committee or notice of an appeal board hearing.
The SA regulations are clear: an appeal of the SA Appeal Committee ruling to the SA Appeal Board must be made within 30 days and heard within 30 days of that appeal. That was clearly not done.
Why were the social assistance regulations ignored?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is a file that the Member for Kluane corresponded with me on, and itís spelled out clearly in the response I sent over to the Member for Kluane that this individual was paid $125 a month supplementary.
Mr. McRobb: Thereís no more information in that letter than what the minister gave on the floor of this Legislature, which did not answer the question.
Weíre not arguing for this constituentís case for supplementary support. Thatís for the appeal process, where the minister can make his own arguments against this penny-pinching decision. For almost two months, both the appeal committee and the appeal board were without a quorum and could not act. In fact, there was no appeal board chair available to accept the departmentís appeal. The government didnít fulfill its obligation to ensure that all boards and committees have quorum in a timely manner.
A manís health is at stake here, Mr. Speaker. Will the minister now drop this petty appeal and give this person the allowance he needs, according to doctorís orders?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, this individual has received a supplement of $125 a month, and that goes back for quite a long way previous to the Member for Kluane bringing this matter to my attention.
Mr. McRobb: Again, Mr. Speaker, the ministerís answer is inadequate. Now, for his information, this case is now being investigated by the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can only deal with the one case before him, and he is doing that. The Ombudsman said there is due cause to investigate this matter. So the minister, again, is not telling the whole story.
Now, weíre not only concerned about this specific case. Other cases are also in regulatory limbo because of this ministerís failure to act and his attitude of stereotyping social assistance clients in need of help. Can the minister tell us what he will do to assure this House this kind of action will not recur?
Speaker:Before the minister answers, the Chair is not entirely comfortable when the Member for Kluane intimates that the minister is not telling the whole story. Iíd ask the Member for Kluane just to not use that phrase again. Minister, please answer.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, my responsibilities are legislative regulation and the budget envelope. Mr. Speaker, all of the boards and the appeal process boards are completely staffed. They have a full complement of members. The member opposite mentioned that my answer was inadequate. The member opposite didnít say that it was incorrect.
Mr. Speaker, this individual was accorded a supplement of $125 additional per month, extending back to just shortly after he had cause to go on the SA ranks. And the social safety net here in the Yukon ó it works, Mr. Speaker, and this is clear evidence of that fact. We have one of the best in Canada, and we hope that we can maintain it at that level, but Iíd encourage the members opposite to at least vote for the money that weíre going to be spending on social assistance instead of voting against it all the time, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair:Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05. I believe the Department of Education is the matter weíll be discussing first. Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05. We will continue with general debate on Vote 3, Department of Education.
Bill No. 10 ó First Appropriation Act, 2004-05 ó continued
Department of Education ó continued
Hon. Mr. Edzerza:I believe where we left off in discussions with the Member for Mayo-Tatchun had to do with the alternative pathways to education. I want to state today for the record that the two programs mentioned were the PASS and the experiential program. In my opinion, those two programs tried in the past basically only existed for one year; each one only existed for a year.
This government, by approaching alternative pathways to education, is now making a very positive attempt at putting something permanent in place to help deal with the students who have dropped out of high school.
Mr. Chair, this program is going to be designed to target those individuals who have great difficulty in functioning in the average high school setting. When I say this, I mean that structure ó I believe structure has an awful lot to do with an individual staying in school or leaving it. As an example, having a flexible time for an individual to go and continue on any of their high school courses would be an advantage.
Mr. Chair, I believe the Member for Mayo-Tatchun made some comments earlier about the school in Carmacks. Today I want to touch on that issue, just briefly. I think itís important that the history of the Carmacks school be reviewed just a little bit here.
Several years ago, when the NDP was in government, the school council and the administration of the school in Carmacks had discussions and it was agreed with the government of the day, which was the NDP government, that it was of the best interest for the community of Carmacks to purchase the Sunset Motel/Lounge area. Upon discussion with some of the citizens of Carmacks, it was brought to my attention that they had difficulties with having such a place as a lounge next door to the school property.
So it was good common sense, and it was a good idea, in my opinion, for the government of the day to purchase that land, which they did for approximately $350,000. It was for any possible future expansion to the Carmacks school.
I had a meeting with the chief and council last fall, since the announcement of the school by this government. I met with the chief and council, and it was determined at that meeting that they would appoint a chair of the advisory building committee for the school.
Mr. Chair, that meeting took place in October, I believe, and I had no response about a chair until into the new year, possibly the end of January or into February somewhere. We lost several months of being able to be productive in getting the process rolling to build a new school in Carmacks.
So after waiting for several months, it was my responsibility as the Minister of Education to ensure that this project was proceeding.
I had the department organize a meeting with all three political affiliations in Carmacks. One was the Chief and Council of Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, the Mayor and Council of Carmacks, and me as Minister of Education.
Thereís one issue Iíd like to point out at this time, and that is that all three at that meeting had something in common. That is, we were all elected by the citizens in the Yukon Territory: I was elected in the Riding of McIntyre-Takhini by the citizens in my riding; the Little Salmon-Carmacks chief and council were duly elected by the citizens of their First Nation; and the Mayor and Council of Carmacks were also elected by the citizens of Carmacks. So I believe we all have responsibility and authority to speak on behalf of the citizens we represent. I bring this to your attention because it was a very important meeting. At that meeting, it was determined that to speed up the process of building the school in Carmacks, the present site location would be where the school would be built.
Today I want to thank the leaders, the Chief and Council of Little Salmon-Carmacks, and I want to thank the Mayor and Council of Carmacks for putting the needs of the children first because that is what we are talking about today.
When we talk about building a school in Carmacks, itís not for the adults, per se. It is focused mainly on the youth, the children. I believe it is very important for progress in education, such as an elementary school, to have a nice environment.
Upon touring the school at Carmacks, I say that there are a lot of complications that exist in the school as it stands, one of them being that itís not wheelchair-friendly. An individual confined to a wheelchair cannot roam that facility freely because there is a set of steps maybe three feet high in one of the hallways that supports an addition to that facility of many years ago.
Itís a very, very important decision and I respect that decision and I believe it will speed up the process of being able to comply with the commitments that this government made about building a new school. I believe the time it took to find a chair for the building committee really cut into a time frame that this government had planned for building that school.
Along with that, Mr. Chair, I believe itís important that the citizens of Carmacks are notified and do understand that there is a process in government that must be followed, and that is to notify the Community Services department about big projects that are going to be administered by this government in its mandate.
Thereís a duly called time frame that this government has to complete projects, and so we must, as best we can, put aside political differences, if there are any, and move on to building that new school in Carmacks.
Mr. Chair, I would also like to ó because this was also mentioned by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun ó talk just briefly about YNTEP, the Yukon native teacher education program. Now, YNTEP is a very, very important program in the Yukon College. This program was started in 1989, approximately 15 years ago. The purpose of that program was to ensure that First Nations had the avenue and the vehicle to be able to become educators and work in the education ó
Chair: Order please. The member has one minute.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that the YNTEP is about unity; itís about bridge-building. Itís about working in unity and partnerships. In my opinion, Mr. Chair, society at large will benefit greatly from having this program open to all citizens in the Yukon Territory, and I certainly look forward to having both native and non-native people sitting in the same classroom in the College that this government sponsors financially for the benefit of all Yukoners.
Mr. Cardiff: Itís great to be here and to be able to discuss the Education budget with the minister on the floor of the Legislature. I would like to take the opportunity today, my first time speaking on the Education budget, to recognize the achievements and the hard work of the Golden Horn Elementary School Council and to recognize the principal as well. There was a news item on the radio this morning, and it has been in the school newsletter that the principal, Nancy Browne, is going to be retiring. I would like to wish her well and wish the school council all the best. I know theyíll get a new principal who will continue with the same enthusiasm that Nancy had for education and for the community spirit at Golden Horn.
One of the specific things Iíd like to recognize Golden Horn Elementaryís leadership in is the vision screening program and how successful that was at Golden Horn. Through their persistence, with the Minister of Education and the minister responsible for Health and Social Services, I understand that this year the vision screening program hopefully will be expanded to include all schools in the Yukon. The minister can confirm that at some point if he would like.
There are some other concerns at Golden Horn Elementary School that the minister could maybe help me out with, and let me know what the status at Golden Horn School is on a couple of things.
Last year I raised the concern about access to the roof at Golden Horn School. There was a problem with children and teenagers being able to access the roof, and there was damage being done to the roof. Not only that, it poses a safety problem for those people who were on the roof, should they fall off.
So Iíd like to know if the minister has found a way of addressing that problem.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Chair:Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There does not appear to be a quorum present.
Chair: The Chairís attention has been brought to the lack of a quorum. Iíll instruct the Clerk to ring the bells for four minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. I believe we have a quorum present. We will continue on with debate.
Mr. Cardiff: Thank you, Mr. Chair. As I was saying, I raised the question last year about access to the roof at Golden Horn School, and it presented safety concerns as well as it was causing damage to the roof.
I got a commitment from the minister last year to look at that problem and to try to address it, and Iím just wondering if there is anything in this yearís budget that is going to look after addressing the access to the roof concern.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for those concerns, because I believe it is to the best interest of everyone that safety for the children is paramount. Mr. Chair, monies have been identified for addressing that issue, and property management will be taking care of that.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to go back to Question Period. As I said during Question Period, the Yukon Party election promise was to seek a consensus from all stakeholders about the Education Act review.
Now, the minister in his response said that there was one group that didnít sign-off on that. But the election platform promise was to seek consensus from all stakeholders and, I understood, to try to work toward completing the Education Act review and bringing forward changes to the Education Act. It is mandated in the act to have it reviewed every 10 years, I believe. As I said, the review is past due.
So maybe the minister could tell us what he has done in the past year on the Education Act review file and what he has done as far as seeking consensus from all stakeholders.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to the Education Act review, the process sort of went sideways just a little bit when the First Nation component did not write a written response at the end of the review. So that part still has to be forthcoming.
Something that was very obvious with the department was that an awful lot of the questions around the Education Act and the responses did not directly relate to the Education Act.
All of the input that came to the government with regard to the different concerns are all things this government will be reviewing very carefully. At the present time, this government is trying to get that response from the First Nations.
Mr. Cardiff: In response to the third part of my question during Question Period, the minister talked about the Liquor Act not being a priority for the government and so they werenít doing much on it. It would appear that the minister is not doing much on the Education Act review file either, just like weíre not doing much on occupational health and safety regulations or the Motor Vehicles Act amendments that the government said they want to bring forward.
Itís mandated in the act to do the review and to bring forward changes to the act. They promised to seek consensus from all stakeholders. The minister says theyíre seeking the First Nation response, presumably so they can move forward to the next stage.
Iíd like to know if the minister has any idea of the timelines for when changes to the Education Act would be brought forward. It would appear that this isnít a priority for the government, but I believe that changes to the Education Act are a priority for many Yukoners. There was a consultation started under the previous government and discussions that were started under the government previous to that on legislative change for the Education Act.
What Iíd like to know from the minister is: what progress has been made on the file and what are the timelines for bringing forward legislative changes here in the Legislature to the Education Act?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member opposite has alluded to the fact that this government is not doing much. I would like to correct the record for the member opposite. When the member opposite stated that the Education Act must be reviewed and changes must be made ó well, Mr. Chair, the first part may be true, that there was a mandate to review the Education Act after 10 years. However, to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing that states that the government of the day has to implement a bunch of changes. So now, when the member said that this government isnít doing much, I would like to correct that record also.
For example, in the Department of Education, when you talk about operation and maintenance, this government has put $840,000 into the collective agreement for teachers. This government has put $667,000 into the Yukon College collective agreement. This government has put $1,704,000 into the Yukon Teachers Association collective agreement. This government has put $261,000 into the FASD initiative. This government has put $119,000 into the Association of Yukon School Councils, Boards and Committees. This government has put $100,000 into the student grant indexing. This government has put monies aside to the tune of $500,000 plus for six trainee positions in the aboriginal languages. This government has put $500,000 into First Nation language and curriculum material development.
This government has put $335,000 into alternative paths for education. This government recognizes that there appears to be a problem for students in the territory who fall behind a little in their achievement tests, so this government again has put $375,000 into a home-tutoring program, which, in my opinion, will be very beneficial to the youth. This government has put $1 million into the base grant of the College. This government has put $177,000 into student training and employment, known as STEP. This adds 32 new jobs for students. This government has put $100,000 into improving literacy initiatives. This government has put $74,000 into Yukon government apprenticeship programs. The member opposite keeps making comments that this government hasnít done much. I would like to state for the record that there is millions of dollarsí worth of what this government is doing for education.
Then we talk about this O&M in Education, and then we go and look at the capital side of things. $700,000 has been set aside for the Tantalus School in Carmacks, for planning this year. $500,000 has been set aside for Porter Creek Secondary School improvements ó for planning again. $200,000 has been set aside for the Whitehorse Elementary school upgrade. This government is putting $156,000 into soccer field replacements and upgrades.
This government has committed $100,000 for ground source heat pumps at the Vanier Catholic Secondary School. This government has committed another $100,000 for energy management projects, along with $50,000 for the Johnson Elementary School old-wing upgrade; thereís another $50,000 for the St. Elias Community School heating system. And when we talk about the $700,000 for the Carmacks school, thatís just for the planning. This government has booked millions for the replacement of that infrastructure.
And, Mr. Chair, then we go over and start talking about advanced education, and as I have stated many times in this House, Iím very proud of the 2004-05 budget for the Department of Education. This budget represents a strong commitment that our government has toward education. We recognize that education is the foundation on which to build a strong economy and stronger, healthier communities. We have made a commitment in this budget that will strengthen that foundation.
I would like to talk a bit more about the role of the education in our communities. We know how important it is to young people, especially in the rural communities, to have access to training opportunities that will give them the skills to become productive members of society and to lead happy, productive lives. We know that for the Yukon to benefit from all of the economic opportunities that sit right on our doorstep and right around our corner, we need to make sure that Yukoners are well-trained.
When I listen to the commitments that are in our capital budgets from all the departments in this government, I am reminded again how important it is for us to ensure that people in all the Yukon communities have the chance to become skilled and certified in all those trades that are going to be needed to make those capital projects a reality.
Let me give you a few more details about the kinds of initiatives that are in this budget for advanced education. We are providing a total funding package to Yukon College of $14,345,000 in O&M. This includes the $1-million increase previously announced.
In addition, we provide another $750,000 for Yukon College capital projects. To show our continued commitment and support for post-secondary students, trades and training, we have also identified for the 2004-05 budget items such as community training fund, $1,500,000; indexing of the student grant and training allowances, $100,000; expanded Yukon excellence awards, $40,000; and an additional funding for the student training and employment program of $177,000; for a total of $366,000; new funding for the program of trades and technology, $35,000; literacy initiatives, $100,000; all of this totals $1,952,000.
Mr. Chair, that hardly supports the statements made by the member opposite that this government is doing nothing for education. FASD in Yukon College, another $129,000 ó why? Because this government is concerned with every citizen in the Yukon Territory. FASD and FAE are man-made. They create a lot of difficulties for students in the system, and this government recognizes they need extra help, along with Social Services, which also recognizes that and is interested in addressing that issue.
In the public schools we have another $132,000 to deal with this issue. In special programming alone, this government has committed $1,332,000. So, Mr. Chair, when the member opposite wants to state that this government is not doing anything for education, then I would advise the member opposite to go back and take another look at the budget.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, the minister didnít answer the question. I would like to say that I wasnít suggesting that it was a legislative requirement to bring forward changes every 10 years to the Education Act. The requirement is to do the review and to complete the review.
Now, the minister has admitted that the review is not complete. That was my question. My question was around the timelines. The minister stood up and re-read his opening remarks and half of the Premierís budget speech ó well, it couldnít have been a half because we only had 20 minutes to listen to it, so it couldnít have been half of the budget speech, but a good portion of the education part of the Premierís budget speech.
All I asked was a simple question: what are the ministerís timelines for the completion of the Education Act review?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member opposite knows well that the information that I provided was of the utmost and most beneficial thing that they could ever ask for. With regard to the Education Act, again I will say that to the best of my knowledge it was a requirement to review the act. There was no specific requirement to rewrite it or to make multiple changes to it. This government and the previous government basically had a mandate of a legal requirement to identify the process for a review.
Mr. Cardiff: So is the minister telling me that the Education Act review is on the shelf and that thereís going to be no further work done on the Education Act review? Is that what heís saying?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Of course thatís not what Iím saying. Iím not saying that itís shelved. I stated quite plainly that the process is still ongoing. Weíre giving the First Nations the opportunity to respond.
Mr. Cardiff: Okay, weíve established that itís still a moving, living, breathing process. Now that weíve established that, we can go back to the first question I asked, which was about timelines.
This is a public thing that requires consultation with the public, with First Nations, with educators, with parents, with students. All of those people have had an opportunity to participate in the process under the previous government. You can get the information from the Member for Klondike. He knows it as well as I do, and heíd be more than happy to sit down behind you and tell you the whole story, Iím sure.
But the reality is that it was a public process. All of those people have a stake in the Education Act review process and the work that has been done to date. Theyíre all out there wondering whatís next. They havenít heard anything about the Education Act review for 18 months. It hasnít been something that the government has been talking a lot about, and they would like to know what direction itís going in, what the timelines are and when they can expect to either hear the results of the review or be invited to participate further in the Education Act review.
So itís a simple question; itís about timelines. The minister must have some plans for the next six months, the next 12 months, the next 18 months. Is it going to be in this mandate? I just want to know what the timelines are for moving forward on the review.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, Mr. Chair, this process was started before this government came to be, and at this point in time, Mr. Chair, I am not prepared to make a commitment to any time frame. The process will continue, and the time needed is the time that it will be given.
Mr. Cardiff: At the risk of getting another lecture about all the good things that the government is doing, it seems that the government doesnít like processes that were started by other governments. They donít seem to want to move forward with the consultation that was done on the Liquor Act review, and now they donít seem to have any direction or any will to move forward on the Education Act review.
The minister said that heís waiting for a response from First Nations, because they didnít respond in writing at the end of the process under the previous government. I will remind the minister of the promise in the Yukon Party platform, and that platform was tabled in this Legislature, and under "achieving a better quality of life, education and training", it says, "Seeking a consensus from all stakeholders about the Education Act review." That would lead one to believe that the Minister of Education was going to go out and do some work, talk to stakeholders about the Education Act review, and breathe some life into it or put it on the shelf. He has confirmed that heís not putting it on the shelf, so I would like to know what stage itís at, and when the public can expect to hear more about the Education Act review process that the minister is going to breathe life into. People of the Yukon want to know.
Itís about being open and accountable. That was another promise of the Yukon Party. Are they going to do this review in the ministerís office behind closed doors, or are they going to do it in public?
The minister must have some idea of ó maybe we can get this answer out of him: is he going to address it and tell the public whatís happening with the Education Act review in this current mandate of the government?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe there may be just a difference of opinion forming on the floor here. Iím quite positive I did answer the questions for the member opposite. I believe in the quote he read, the important word there was "consensus". Yes, this government did make a commitment to get consensus. Well, we donít have consensus, Mr. Chair, and thatís probably what the holdup is.
The previous government ó under the Liberal government ó spent thousands of dollars on the Education Act review, collecting information. We do honour work from previous governments. Again, thereís a difference of opinion between the member opposite and this side of the House. Forming opinions is somewhat of a right, I guess, and theyíre entitled to fabricate or believe whatever they might want to.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Getting close? Iíll retract that. Iíll say they have the obligation to believe whatever they want.
However, Mr. Chair, the real fact is that on this side of the House we are always receptive to ideas from others. All the information that was collected by the stakeholders with regard to the Education Act is important, and it is valuable data. Even if it didnít specifically relate to the Education Act, it is still very valuable information, and it would be unwise for any government not to consider that information as valuable.
As I stated earlier, there was a report handed in from two of the stakeholders, but there was not one from the First Nations. So the First Nationsí response is missing from the Education Act review. According to the process that was set up, they must all be involved in the final report.
Mr. Cardiff: Maybe the minister could tell me this, then: when does he expect a response from the First Nations? Maybe he could tell us what impediments there are to First Nations responding. Is it funding? Why is it that they are not responding? Is it because they havenít been asked, or is it because they donít have the adequate resources to formulate the response?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At this point in time, I am not prepared to go into detail with regard to any dealings I have with First Nations as there is nothing written in stone at this time, and things may change. It would be unrealistic and unwise to start stating on the floor of the Legislature details about discussions that this government is having with other governments.
Mr. Cardiff: I donít believe that is an adequate answer. I think that it is incumbent on the minister to let the public and the members on this side of the House know what discussions are happening about the Education Act review. One of the questions I asked was also about funding for responses to the Education Act review. Maybe the minister can answer this question: is there any money in this budget for the First Nations Education Commission?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: First Iíd like to start out by saying that First Nations are an identified level of government and it would be very unprofessional and unethical for the Yukon government to presume or answer any questions that they should be speaking to themselves. I show them that respect today. To the best of my knowledge, there is no First Nation commission on education.
When we talk about funding, I could share with the member opposite some information I have on First Nation funding that this government has taken on, which there was probably a lack of in previous governments.
And as you know, First Nations benefit from all the programming offered by the department to start with. At the same time, there are some specific funding initiatives for First Nation programming such as the aboriginal language teachers for $2,280,000. We have the YNTEP that is funded by this government for $540,000 a year. We have First Nation curriculum materials. There is $500,000 put in there by this government for curriculum materials and resources. The Native Language Centre ó again, this government provides $352,000 a year. There is department staff who work directly on First Nation curriculum and programming for $200,000. And we have the aboriginal language teacher trainees, $111,000. By the end of this program, the government is going to be spending $500,000 plus to train these individuals.
Then the government has curriculum development for individual First Nations for $100,000. The government also provides First Nation elders in the schools with $30,000. For First Nation languages, there is $20,000. For the stay-in-school initiatives, for school counselling and support, there is $10,000.
Mr. Chair, this comes to a total of $4,143,000 of funding that is provided for First Nation initiatives in education. I would like to add that a full 38 percent of all the students at Yukon College are First Nation, and, as well, 25 percent of apprentices are First Nation.
So, Mr. Chair, this government is serious about working with First Nations in education, and some of these dollar figures support that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister doesnít want to talk about the Education Act review or the First Nations Education Commission. Iím sure my colleague, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, will be following up with the minister on the Education Act review when he has an opportunity to do that.
Iíd like to touch on something the minister said in one of his earlier answers when he was telling us about all the good things heís doing for education. He cited 32 new jobs in the STEP, the student training and employment program ó and the statistics in the budget show that, but they also show a reduction of 27 jobs in the Canada-Yukon summer program, summer career placement. Could the minister explain the rationale for that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In response to a comment the member opposite made about the Education Act and questions being followed up on by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, Iíd like to remind the member opposite that the answers on this side of the House do not change just because a different member of the opposition asks the question. The answers will remain the same.
When we talk about the STEP, my only response would be that sometimes the jobs do not get filled.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, if you look at the numbers, in 2002-03 there were 97 actual positions in the Canada-Yukon summer career placement. Now those are being cut back to 70 positions. There is an increase in the student training and employment program: 32 new jobs that the minister is citing as good news ó itís a 36-percent increase. I am not saying that thatís not significant but what Iím asking for is the rationale for the decrease over the 2002-03 actuals, why there is less activity in the other program, in the summer career placement program. Why is there less activity there?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that the member oppositeís question is not about the STEP. But the one that the member opposite, I believe, is referring to is the summer career program. That is a program that is cost-shared with the feds.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister is getting close now. I was drawing the comparison between the two. Now he is telling us that it is cost-shared with the federal government. Can he tell us why there is less activity in this program? That is what Iím asking.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Deputy Chair, weíre actually putting more money into the program, and we havenít changed the rate.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, if the minister would look in his budget book, on page 716, in the actuals two years ago, there were 97 positions created ó 97 employment positions created, unless I have a different book from the minister. And then they forecast 70 positions for 2003-04, and theyíre estimating 70. What Iím asking is this: what led to the reduction from 97 to 70?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I find this somewhat confusing. Is the member opposite going into line-by-line debate? And if so, maybe we should advance to that.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, for the ministerís information, I donít believe we debate the statistics portion of the budget line by line, at least Iíve never had the opportunity to do that, so I donít consider this as line-by-line debate. I tried to make it as general as I could, but unless I take my book over there and show him the actual page, I donít know how I can make it much clearer.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It appears here that where weíre getting confused is that there are just different levels of pay for different jobs. The municipal jobs differ from those that are in the private sector.
Mr. Cardiff: Weíre not talking about rates of pay. In the statistics portion of the budget, on page 7-16, it says, "Canada-Yukon summer program, summer career placement". Under 2004-05 estimate, it says, "70 employment positions created". Under the 2003-04 forecast, it says, "70 positions created". If you look on the far right of the page, the 2002-03 actuals were 97 positions. If you want to get budgets from previous governments and look back in time, there were traditionally anywhere between ó if my memory serves me correctly ó 96 to 97 or 98 ó somewhere in that area ó employment positions created under that program. Now there are 17 fewer positions. It is not about how much people are getting paid; itís about how many jobs there are. Itís a statistical question. What Iím asking is: what are the reasons for the reduction in those employment positions being created? Why is that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: When the government funds the NGO positions, they cost more. They cost enough that it would fund fewer positions.
Mr. Cardiff: So is the minister saying the reason thereís a reduction is because it was costing too much?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe what I stated was that the NGO positions cost more and the budget is such that it would fund fewer positions.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that answer and look forward to reviewing it and maybe talking with him further about it later.
While weíre on statistics, the other statistic ó I noticed today the government is encouraging young people to move into trades training. I view this as a positive step, something I certainly support, but I have another statistical question for the minister.
In the budget, on the page directly across from the one I was just referencing previously, for the government apprenticeship program and the number of apprentices who are supported, the minister can stand up and shout the praise that thereís a 100-percent increase this year and Iím sure people would applaud that, but I would say that weíre just moving ahead incrementally. If you look at the far side of the right page, again, the government used to support eight apprentices.
Now, if the government wants to encourage youth to get into trades, they need to show youth that there are jobs out there for tradespeople, and we all know that there are jobs out there for tradespeople. There is no doubt. The national statistics and surveys that have been done show that there is going to be a shortage of skilled tradespeople not just in the Yukon but nationally and across North America and probably globally. There are a lot of Yukoners who have had to travel to other jurisdictions and even out of the country to obtain work during the downturn and with the lack of work that has been here previously. So when I look at this, itís nice that there is a 100-percent increase, but we can also say that there is a 100-percent decrease from the 2002-03. Iím just wondering if the Minister of Education has any plans of increasing the support for apprentices in the Yukon government jobs?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, last year this government only allotted $98,000 for this apprenticeship training. This year it has been brought up to $172,000. So I can anticipate that if funds are available, it would probably increase again next year.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I just find that itís very convenient that last year they managed to cut it by 300 percent and this year it is going up 100 percent, or something in that neighbourhood. Now he is on the bandwagon and going to support apprentices who work for the Yukon government. It just seems to me that they would have been better off to have supported apprentices right the way through instead of crying poverty when there was no need to. There was no demonstrated need to cry poverty and to reduce the number of apprentices that the government supported.
Iíd like to ask the minister another question that comes out of the Education debate from last spring. He told us that he would be putting together a strategic plan for advanced education. I am wondering if the minister could tell us about his progress on the strategic plan for advanced education, who has been consulted and when we can expect to see the outcome of the strategic plan.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, one only has to listen to the radio. It was announced today that part of the strategic plan for advanced education is to develop the handbooks for information purposes for students and for parents and for the counsellors at the school. Again, Mr. Chair, this government had increased the community training fund from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
$500,000 of that money is now designated specifically toward the trades. Alternative pathways in education is also another program that this government is initiating to bring the youth up to speed with some of the mandatory courses needed to go into trades field or to go on to university. So this government is very concerned about advanced education. I stated previously a number of initiatives that are directly linked to advanced education. In case the member opposite has forgotten them, maybe Iíll read them into the record one more time.
We are providing a total funding package to Yukon College of $14,345,000 in O&M. Now, that is a very healthy budget. This includes the $1-million increase previously announced. Again, Mr. Chair, this government took the initiative to increase that million-dollar fund to the College, which theyíve been asking for for several years. In addition, this government provides another $750,000 for Yukon College capital projects. Again, thatís a substantial amount of money. To show our continued commitment and support for post-secondary students, trades and training, we have also identified for this yearís budget items such as community training fund, $1.5 million.
The indexing of the student grant and training allowance of $100,000 is, again, looking after the students ó the best interests of the students. We expanded the Yukon excellence award by $40,000. Thereís additional funding for student training and employment programs ó again, $177,000 this year, for a total of $366,000. Thereís new funding for the program of trades and technology of $35,000 and literacy initiatives. This is all very fundamental to the progress of individuals who may want to go into trades. You need to know how to read; you need to be able to understand what you read.
All of this, Mr. Chair, comes to $1,952,000; and the member opposite wonders what weíre doing for advanced education.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister sounds like an eight-track tape gone back, Mr. Chair. He just repeated himself. You know how it comes around, no matter whether you want to hear that song again or not; it comes around on the eight-track tape anyhow. Weíve heard that song before, but the minister keeps skipping back to it.
I asked not about what the government is doing for advanced education. I can read that in the budget documents in front of me. The minister committed to developing a strategic plan for advanced education. What Iím asking is, to date, what progress has been made, or are they going to roll it out a piece at a time? Maybe theyíre not going to share the overall strategic plan with the public, or maybe theyíre just going to dream up initiatives they want to roll out and are not going to share their vision in the strategic plan.
It would seem to me that the development of a strategic plan would require consultation over time with a variety of stakeholders, educators, parents, students, people interested in training, and employers, as well, who would be hiring the students who would be graduating from the College and other post-secondary education programs.
So the minister committed to developing a strategic plan, and he is more than willing to stand up and talk about the press release today. Iím surprised he didnít read it verbatim, but Iím sure that, given the opportunity, heíll do that.
So my question is about the strategic plan: with whom has he consulted, and when can we expect to see a product that all Yukoners can read and see what direction this government has in mind for advanced education?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe the member opposite must be concerned about talking about ancient things like eight-tracks. It could tell oneís age, or thereabouts. It might have even been before my time. I donít know.
However, there is a Yukon training strategy that has been developed for some time. We can provide the member opposite with a copy of that.
There also has been a literacy strategy developed, so the member opposite can also be provided with that.
Mr. Cardiff: So, what the minister is saying is that they are not doing any work on the strategic plan for advanced education. I would be interested in getting a copy of the literacy strategy. I may have received a copy of that but I donít recall receiving it. So I would be interested in receiving a copy of that. For the ministerís information, I am familiar with the Yukon training strategy and I do have a copy of that.
The minister led right in to the next question perfectly. The Yukon training strategy is a document that has been reviewed many times over the last couple of decades, actually. Iím not sure if it originated in 1986 or whether it was reviewed in 1986, but I know that it was reviewed again in 1992 and again in 1998.
So it looks like the training strategy is a document that changes with time as well. As employersí needs change and as industry changes here in the Yukon, so do the training needs of Yukoners. As the College can respond differently, so, too, does the strategy sometimes need to change.
So this is something else that needs to be looked at on a regular basis, just like strategic plans and the Education Act. I would like to know if the minister has any plans for reviewing the Yukon training strategy.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I have to relay to the member opposite that any strategic plan or strategy used to improve education would be constantly reviewed, and this government will continue to work very closely with Yukon College to ensure that trades and education are keeping up to date.
Mr. Cardiff: My question was about the Yukon training strategy and whether or not the minister was going to consider a formal review. The needs of post-secondary students and the training needs in every community change with time. There was a time when there was lots of training going on in various sectors of the economy. There was training going on in forestry in certain communities and mining in other communities, but those things change over time, and the needs of each individual community need to be responded to. That requires a strategy. It requires going out and talking to those communities and developing a document that will guide the department, the College and the people involved in the delivery of post-secondary education and training programs. It would appear that in the next year or two it would be time to look at this again and to review what the strategy is for training in the Yukon.
So thatís what Iím asking the minister, whether or not he plans to formally review that and produce a document that can be shared with all Yukoners, or will he do that one in his office as well?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member opposite appears to have a lot of the things figured out in one direction, and itís a direction that, in my opinion, is kind of opposite from what this government is doing.
Iíd like to state to the member opposite that this government understands what the community training trust fund is all about, and how it benefits the communities is of great importance to all people in the Yukon Territory.
I will share with the member opposite and anyone listening some of what the community-based training funds really do. For example, the Association of Yukon Communities training funds and the trust society is to enable Yukon communities to train employees and council members; it was $200,000 for 1992 and $200,000 for 1995. These training courses are ongoing. When we look at Carmacks, for example, the employment training society trust fund is to provide Carmacks area residents with individual training and skill development. It was $150,000 in 1998; $75,000 in 2003-04; $75,000 in 2004-05, pending budget approval.
The training initiatives undertaken and projected were gas and oil seismic, pre-employment training, early childhood development, standard first aid, pre-trades qualifier modules, agricultural greenhouse, computer tech immersion, global positioning satellite, GPS, and computer training.
So, Mr. Chair, you see this community training trust fund has a direct benefit to the communities. When we talk about another one like Champagne-Aishihik Haines Junction area training trust fund agreement, that is to enhance the employment and training opportunities of the Haines Junction area. We have the sum of $150,000 for them. It was $75,000 for 1998-99 and $75,000 for 1999-2000.
Again, it shows that the community training trust fund does benefit communities. In Haines Junction they had snow machine maintenance and repair, chainsaw safety, global positioning satellite, again ó the GPS ó because that is used quite extensively with First Nation governments, food safe, culinary arts training, traffic control ó flagging ó computer training, Yukon employment training, and tourism and careers for youth. So, again, Mr. Chair, it demonstrates the importance of the community training trust fund.
In Faro, the training fund in Faro was to enhance, again, the employment and training opportunities of the Faro area. There was $225,000 for 2001-02. Oil and gas seismic ó we know that thatís an important project in that area.
We have small engine repairs and maintenance, food industry production, small business skills, early childcare workers, glass industry productions, and the list goes on. Again, theyíre all very important. Take for example the Klondike region for training trust agreements. Again, it is to develop and implement a training plan for residents of the Klondike region. A $300,000 agreement was signed in 1999; $100,000 for 1999-2000; $100,000 for 2000-01; $100,000 for 2001-02. Renewed $75,000 for 2003-04, and $75,000 for 2004-05. Again, these training initiatives included arts for employment, fisheries field training, accounting clerk training, computer technician, GPS training, film and video, childhood education and Microsoft training. Again, it demonstrates and falls right into line with the question from the member opposite about community trust training. Maybe the opposition hasnít had an opportunity to review this important information.
Then we look at the Watson Lake training society. Again, it is to provide training for persons in the Watson Lake area for economic purposes. For 1997-98, there was $200,000. Again, monies and applications that will be coming forward to support things like mill operator training, computer technician training, early childhood development, log building ó which is another big project in the Watson Lake area ó health care professionals, GPS, air brake and food safe.
Again, it demonstrates all the initiatives that are being undertaken in the area of Watson Lake. We can go on to a lot of different areas, Mr. Chair. We look even at the White River First Nation and Beaver Creek training fund. The fund is to assist in training and skill development for all residents of Beaver Creek ó $60,000 for small business development, hotel industry, on-the-job training, computer training, training for youth and training for women in trades.
We look at Kwanlin Dun and the House of Learning: $34,000. Again, this is two levels of training offered. Level 2 is intermediate language and math skills; level 3 helps students acquire academic skills needed to enter courses requiring grade 10 equivalency.
All the training trust funds will benefit people right across the territory. I hope that information helps the member opposite understand a little bit of where community training trust funds go.
Mr. Cardiff: Let the record show that the minister didnít answer the question on the Yukon training strategy review. Thatís what the question was about; it wasnít about the community training trust funds.
I thank the minister for the information he provided on the training trust funds. I know I requested it last spring, so itís great to finally receive that.
Seeing as how weíre not getting very far with questioning about the training strategy or support for in-house apprenticeship programs or Education Act reviews, things like that, Iím going to ask the Minister of Education a question that the Premier didnít want to answer, and that was about the ministerís and the governmentís vision for Yukon College. There are a couple of questions that I asked the Premier during general debate on the budget, and he didnít seem willing to answer them. He continually fell back to rereading the budget speech that he gave, that weíve heard time and time and time again, over and over and over.
I know since my time being elected and being in the Legislature, Iíve asked the government to increase training trust funds and increase the base budget of the College, and theyíve come through on that. Iíd like to thank them for listening to Yukoners, for listening to the College Board and communities and to me ó people who brought those concerns forward, and Iíd like to thank them for addressing that.
One area of concern for me and Yukon College is the way the College got into the situation where they required a huge injection ó $1 million into the base budget ó and I know the minister is committed to continuing with the $1 million in the base and that itís going to be a permanent fixture in the base budget of the College ó and I think that that lends some stability to the College. But the way that the College got into the fix with funding was basically increased pressures, increased demands that were placed on the College ó I guess you could call it "forced growth", increased demands by people here in Whitehorse and in the communities, but also just the cost of doing business, the increased cost of supplies, whether it was textbooks, photocopying, paper, supplies, pens, pencils or computers. All those things contributed to the financial needs of the College.
I donít expect that that is going to change. I expect that those pressures are going to be there from now on into the future, so what I would like to ask the minister is: does he have any plans ó is there a formula in place that heís looking at thatís going to address the future needs of Yukon College on an ongoing basis so that we donít get into the position again where they need a huge injection of money to rescue them from the abyss?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: First off, Iíd like to correct the record from the member opposite. I donít believe that this government acted because the opposition raised a point. I believe that this commitment was there from me right from the campaign days. I heard the people. As a matter of fact, I was at the all-candidates forum at the College when questions were asked about the base funding. I believe then my commitment was that if I ever got elected, I would certainly look at that request very seriously.
For the record, I want to state that this is the first government in 10 years to take a serious look at the Yukon College budget and where it was lacking. This government acted on it. There has been no base increase for approximately 10 years. So, again, we do take things seriously. Of course, the whole well-being of the College is greatly appreciated and respected by this government. This government understands very clearly the link between good economic development strategies and the ability to be able to train and produce individuals who will fit in and work with the economic development strategy.
Itís very obvious that if one is going to go into mining, for example, and where there is potential for mining, the College would be kept in tune with the demands that would be coming.
I believe that, in the same breath, trades are not the only trade that is important to this government. Itís equally important to produce and be able to provide the process for an individual to become a teacher or study criminology or to be a social worker or a nurse ó all of these kinds of professional professions are of great importance to the Yukon Territory. I believe that the College is doing a very good job of being able to keep up with the times. Of course, I also believe that in the future there is going to be a large demand for tradespeople and it would be a dream come true for me to see every trades training area in the College filled to capacity.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, again, the minister didnít enlighten us as to what his plans are to address the needs of the College in the future. At least I didnít hear it.
Iíd like to just clarify a couple of things. He said that this government is the first government that has ever done anything for the College. Iíd like to point out that the agreement that ties increases to the College budget to the collective bargaining process was put in place under an NDP government.
It was continued under the previous Liberal administration, and I am confident the minister sitting across the way will continue with that too, because itís just one of the many forced-growth issues the College has to deal with.
Iím glad to see heís continuing along that line. My question was more about how to deal with the other forced-growth issues outside the collective bargaining process the College is going to be facing and how to address those issues.
The minister also stated that he committed to addressing the needs of Yukon College during the forum on October 22, 2002, at the College. Iíll just refresh the ministerís mind on exactly what he committed to. He committed to establishing an all-party standing committee and to moving very quickly to address all concerns related to the College and its financial situation. That was on October 22, 2002.
I donít recall an all-party standing committee being developed to work on the financial problems of the College. The other commitment was to move quickly. Well, it has been 18 months and, if thatís quick ó well, I donít think a lot of people would consider it to be very quick.
Iíd just like to give the minister one more shot at this one and, if he canít answer it, weíll move on to something else. My question is: what is he going to do? Is there a formula in place or some sort of plan to address forced-growth issues at Yukon College?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that again weíre going down the trail of differences of opinion. I believe that there was no need really to develop a standing committee. Instead this government just gave them what they asked for. They got what they asked for. What more would you want to do?
I believe that this government will review, maybe on an annual basis, how the College is doing. Iím quite sure that they will be letting the government of the day know if there are any anticipated problems in the future.
Again, I want to state for the record that this government is the first government in a long time to increase the base grant of the College. It was done for one reason: because this government listens to the citizens at large.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to thank the minister for his version of history of the last 18 months.
I have some other questions related to Yukon College and post-secondary education. The minister may be familiar with a document that was produced last fall. Itís an economic impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis that was done on post-secondary education and Yukon Collegeís contribution to the economy here in the territory.
And one of the telling things in the economic analysis was that governments and taxpayers get more ó this is a highlight, actually ó that governments and taxpayers get more than their money back from spending on Yukon College. Future tax revenues and reductions in social program costs result in a rate of return to taxpayers of 4.8 percent per year during the working life of Yukon College students.
It also compared the College to being a player in the economy, equivalent to that of utilities like phone companies and electrical companies. So Iím just wondering whether or not the Minister of Education is entertaining ó there has been some talk in the public recently by students and people involved in post-secondary education about the expanded role for Yukon College and the move toward a granting of more degrees. Currently the College ó I know the minister knows this ó offers degree programs in social work and education and has partnered with other universities to offer degrees when the demand was there. But the cost-benefit analysis and economic impact assessment made a case for possibly increasing the role of the College and moving toward the creation of a university college or even a University of Yukon.
Iím just wondering whether the minister and the government have given any thought to that and whether they are studying the idea of the College moving toward a university college or an institution that would grant more than the number of degrees that they grant now.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that itís quite safe to say that I wonít see the College turning into a university in my mandate; however, it is the feeling of this government that the College is doing an excellent job of providing adult education and training to Yukon residents.
The College is continuing to explore opportunities to expand its program and service delivery to Yukon residents, ensuring that Yukoners have the education and skill they need to be productive. The member opposite is right in saying that I am familiar with degree granting and doing partnerships with other colleges. At this point in time, that appears to be working quite well.
But the College Board of Governors has discussed the concept of degree-granting status with successive ministers. I have taken their requests under advisement and will review the situation.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister started out saying he didnít think the College would be a degree-granting university in his mandate, and that would be pretty ambitious, I think. Thatís a pretty ambitious project to take on, so I agree with the minister that itís not likely to happen. Iím not by any stretch saying the College isnít doing a good job. I know the College is doing a fine job in every community in the Yukon, delivering programs on an as-needed basis, meeting the demands and wishes of those communities. The minister read off lots of activity under the community training trust, and I know the College is working in partnership to deliver a lot of that programming.
My question was whether or not the minister was open to looking at that and listening to what people in the public are saying about increasing the responsibilities of the College. Maybe the minister could tell me this: has the minister had any discussions with the College Board in relation to moving toward the creation of a university or a university college here in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At this point in time, the main direction and advice given have been cost-share programs with other universities, because it is more cost effective. But the College has been raising, probably for a number of years, the issue of degree-granting status. Successive governments have taken the request under advisement. Governments have reinforced the idea that Yukon College is a community college and must maintain that as its central focus. There are many needs in the communities that require a focus on adult basic education, literacy, employment training programs and so on. There is a concern that the pursuit of university status might result in diminished attention to the basic needs of Yukon residents. Having said this, there is growing pressure on the College and the government to expand the university offerings at Yukon College in addition to the bachelor of social work and YNTEP. Many Yukon residents are wishing to pursue higher level courses offered here in the Yukon rather than having to travel out of the Yukon, because the cost of university programming outside the territory is significant and many residents would prefer to be able to access those programs and courses here through Yukon College. The expansion to university degree-granting status would require further and significant financial investments that would need to be analyzed prior to any decision being made.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I agree with the minister. All of those concerns are concerns that I have heard, as well. We donít want to diminish the Collegeís ability to deliver the programs that people have come to rely on over the Collegeís time. The needs that have been demonstrated in communities are obviously needed there, and the College needs to continue to deliver that programming in communities because there is a need. And we donít want to diminish that, and obviously weíre not going to ask the College to deliver more degree programs without providing it with more resources. That would not be something that I would want to ask them to do.
Thatís why Iím asking the Minister of Education now if there are any studies going on as to looking at the costs of it and the benefits to Yukoners as well as the pitfalls and trying to identify funds in future budgets to assist the College to not only do the job that they do very well right now, but also try to meet some of those needs that the minister identified, some of the demands that are on the College where people are asking for more degree courses in the Yukon so that they donít have to travel Outside. And I think that if the minister worked with the College and with communities to identify them, we could gradually move toward a university college and grant more degrees. And, of course, it requires more funding. Thatís why I think itís important to do the work now, to do the studies, to work with the College, to work with community campus committees, the board of governors to identify what the next steps are now so that the minister can look ahead, talk to his colleagues and say, "Okay, you know, in a couple of years this is something that we should be considering. We are going to need to identify some funding for the College to do this."
So thatís what I am asking the minister: is there any work going on in the department in that regard, because we had the economic impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis, and weíve had some discussion in the community about it. I would like to know if the minister is going to task somebody with handling that file.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe this government is and always has been very concerned with the existence of the College and what it can provide. One has to appreciate that the economy in the Yukon Territory has not been all that great in recent years. There being no economy in the Yukon does have an impact on facilities such as the Yukon College.
I believe that this government is committed to improving the economy of this territory and, along with that, the well-being of the College will be looked after. It has already been demonstrated with a $1-million increase to the base budget.
Clearly, this demonstrates that this government is concerned about the Yukon College, its existence and what itís able to produce. The focus of this government to date has been more along the lines of seeing that the College is able to work at its capacity and be able to produce more tradespeople and, at the same time, make necessary changes to ensure that all Yukoners can benefit from programs at the Yukon College.
This is where it was of great importance to open up the YNTEP, for example. There was a great demand in the community to make that program available to everyone. Again, this government believes in creating unity and working in partnerships, so it was very important that the government have the opportunity to review and look at the opening of YNTEP to everyone.
We know the mandate of YNTEP was to get First Nation teachers in the classrooms and, to date, there are approximately 75 in the classroom and quite a number of them are working in Yukon schools throughout the territory.
One important factor in this whole decision to open YNTEP was, when I went on my needs assessment tour and talked to different school councils and First Nations throughout the territory, I discovered that this policy of not allowing the non-First Nations to go into the program was actually creating division among some families. Again, thatís a very important factor in understanding why YNTEP was even opened up to citizens throughout the territory. I believe that a good government will try to remove barriers to education rather than support barriers that are preventing one from obtaining education.
Again, as I went through the riding of McIntyre-Takhini, I heard comments from the non-native people that they could see the College from their front window, yet their son or daughter has to go outside the territory to obtain a teacherís degree. There are a lot of concerns with that, and rightfully so. I think a program that is 100-percent funded by the Yukon government should be available to every citizen in the territory.
On that note, I believe that when we talk about degree-granting courses at the College, the two that were designed for First Nations to start with are now open to everybody.
I can quite honestly say that it hasnít been a real high priority to turn the Yukon College into a university at this point in time. It doesnít mean that there is absolutely no interest whatsoever in the territory. I believe that one of the major factors that would have to be considered is the cost.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I urge the minister to get a copy of the cost-benefit analysis and read through it. It is an interesting document and it points out a number of significant things about the benefits that an increased investment by this government ó and the other thing I think the minister should be aware of is that there is money at the federal level that would be of assistance to Yukon College should it become a degree-granting university.
I think that it is something that the public is interested in. Iíve had numerous people approach me about it since discussions of it last fall through the economic impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis that the College commissioned. And as well, since there has been some discussion of it in the media and on the streets, I would urge the minister to get a copy of the economic impact assessment and review it and look at the benefits that would accrue to the Yukon socially, culturally, and financially if it was considered feasible to move in that direction.
I am sure that the minister will be hearing more from Yukoners on this issue.
One of the other platform commitments that the Yukon Party made in the area of education was expanding education and training programs in areas of particular relevance to the north, such as tourism, resource management, construction north of 60, health care professionals, care providers and teachers.
Now, we know they have opened up YNTEP. We know that there is a focus on trades training and that trades training will be done here in the north. So, one would assume that it would be of relevance to the north.
I am just wondering if there are any new initiatives that the government is pursuing with regard to tourism or health care professionals ó health care providers ó in areas of particular relevance to the north and where they are expanding education and training programs in those areas.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At the present time, the department is having ongoing discussions with Yukon College to review different programs that would be relevant to the north and the demands that are being placed on the north for providing some of the programs.
Mr. Chair, at this point in time I donít have the information on my desk that identifies each and every issue that will be reviewed for northern programming.
Mr. Cardiff: This was a platform commitment the Yukon Party made during the election: to expand education and training programs in areas of particular relevance to the north. We have a lot of excellence here in the north in lots of these areas ó in tourism, in managing resources ó thereís the renewable resource management program at the College ó and in construction. Thereís a lot of good work that has been done and a lot of innovation and good ideas that relate to construction here in the north. Some of those ideas and technology and developments that have been created here in the Yukon have been shared not just across the north of Canada but also across the circumpolar north in other countries and jurisdictions.
This was a commitment. The minister says he doesnít have it in front of him. Maybe he could commit to sending over a note, a letter or a legislative return to let me know what areas are being worked on and what progress is being made on the platform commitment.
Iíd like to also ask the minister if there has been any consideration given by the government and the ministerís department to provide specific funding for the University of the Arctic and for the Northern Research Institute.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At this point in time, the Yukon government is not providing funding for the University of the Arctic, as the federal government has provided a significant amount of money for their involvement.
Mr. Cardiff: I donít think that, because the federal government is providing funding, that necessarily lets the territorial government off the hook. There are a lot of benefits to the University of the Arctic initiative. The College plays a lead role in it. It puts us on the stage throughout the circumpolar world. We hosted a Circumpolar Universities Association conference here last fall.
The Yukon Collegeís activity in the University of the Arctic project is very beneficial to Yukoners here and itís providing educational opportunities for Yukoners in a variety of fields. The possibilities are going to be endless, and the sharing of knowledge around the circumpolar north and what that can do for the Yukon socially and economically here is incredible. So I donít think that necessarily lets the minister off the hook for providing some extra dedicated funding to the University of the Arctic initiative.
The other part of my question was whether or not there was any money specifically focused or being planned to be focused with respect to the Northern Research Institute. I believe the Northern Research Institute is run by the College and overseen by the College. But there was a large gathering of researchers here within the last month or so, and my understanding is that the federal government may be willing to come to the table with money with regard to research here in the north, and Iím just wondering whether the minister is going to come to the table with money in that regard, as well?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, to the best of my knowledge, the government is not, at this point in time, financing the Northern Research Institute. However, the College has submitted a proposal to the government that is going to be reviewed.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister said, I believe, that the College has put forward a proposal with regard to the Northern Research Institute that he is going to be reviewing ó is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, the Yukon College has been talking with the government about the expanded role in the Northern Research Institute.
Mr. Cardiff: I am just wondering what role communities would play in that research capacity. Is there a role for communities in those discussions?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This whole process is very new and is in the very early stages of discussion. Therefore, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no discussion on what role communities would play at this point in time.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I look forward to hopefully the minister coming back and being able to tell us more about the Northern Research Institute and what the plans are for it and what kind of a commitment this government is going to make to northern research. There is a lot of interest in that area and the federal government is committing to providing funding and increased resources and expanding the role of the College, as I understand it, to possibly do northern research. So I would encourage the minister to work with the College and to go forward with them on those initiatives.
I just have a couple of questions in closing. Iíd like to go to what I missed with regard to trades training. Iím just wondering what kind of support the government offers to Skills Canada Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This government has been able to assist quite extensively in this area. For example, the federal government was going to cut the funding of about $400,000, and the government, upon the discussions with them, convinced them not to do that. This government also provides about $25,000 a year to support this initiative. They also use government facilities for their demonstrations each year, plus a lot of the teachers are actively involved with this initiative.
Chair: Order please. As weíve reached our customary time for a recess, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
We will continue on with Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05, Vote 3, Education. We are in general debate.
Mr. Cardiff: I just have one or two more questions in the area of capital. Iím just wondering ó when you look at capital, there used to be an area where the public could look to see what was planned for the future as far as construction of schools. I see that theyíre planning to do some maintenance, and are doing some planning on the Carmacks school replacement. There used to be like a five-year school replacement. There is a school facilities plan somewhere, I would assume.
Does the government have any plans that they could share about which communities will be next in line ó which schools are in line for more work or replacement?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe there was a five-year capital plan for the replacement of schools; however, things change. For example, the Old Crow school burning took the school from Carmacks in that particular time frame. But all the government budgets for is the current year of whatever is going to be taking place.
Mr. Cardiff: Maybe we wonít get through this question quite as fast as I had hoped. I know that in previous administrations the minister worked with school councils and with the school council chairs to prioritize school replacement. That is a fact; that happened.
Out of that, somewhere thereís a list. Weíve gone along and we have checked off ó we know Old Crow burned down, so we checked that one off; Ross River needed replacement, so we checked that one off; we needed a school in Mayo so we started that one and the Liberals finished it.
Now, we had an addition to the Pelly school, weíve had a commitment to do planning for a school in Carmacks, but there should still be some things on that list. If there arenít any things on that list, then the minister needs to go out and talk with the school councils and the school council chairs, and Iím sure there is going to be an opportunity to do that in the near future.
So that is what Iím asking: whatís left on the list? And if he can provide us with that information ó or if thereís nothing on the list, what is he going to do to identify which schools are in line for replacement or upgrading? We know that F.H. Collins is old and has been identified as needing a lot of work and, in fact, it has been suggested that it be replaced as well. But it is up to the school councils and the school council chairs to work with the minister to identify what the priorities are. So that is what Iím asking ó if the minister could tell us whatís on that front.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Apparently the five-year capital plan on school replacement was done some time ago, and I believe it was maybe the NDP that did that. To date a lot of it is completed, but it is being updated. I think the member could well be aware that it doesnít matter which government is in at the time of day, one school being budgeted takes up a substantial amount of money. To be quite honest, I would be very pleased if we could accomplish building the Carmacks school in my mandate, let alone starting to construct two or three more besides that.
Mr. Cardiff: Maybe the minister needs to review history to see how many schools the Yukon Party has built in its previous mandates. My recollection is that it built one and it was largely funded by the federal government. They might have completed some schools that were underway but the only one Iím aware of is one that was largely funded by the federal government.
So the way the minister gave us the answer is: the five-year plan is basically completed. Well, if the five-year plan is basically completed, that means we need a new five-year plan and the minister needs to sit down with school councils, school council chairs and school administrators and his staff and identify what the priorities are so they can plan for school replacement on an as-needed basis and develop a list of priorities of where the capital spending in the Education budget should be.
There are some needs there that have been identified. At the very least, you need to do the planning now and identify it so that you can actually do the planning on what the work that is going to take place is going to be.
What we need is a new five-year plan. Is the minister going to go out with his officials and talk to the school councils, school council chairs and school administrators and find out what those needs are and communicate them back to the Legislature in a five-year plan?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, the member opposite seems to be alluding ó to put something on the floor here ó that this government doesnít build many schools. However, I believe if the Yukon Party is guilty of anything, they are guilty of being conservative and putting lots of money in the bank for the schools to be built in the first place. I donít believe that, when other governments come in, if it wasnít for the prudent fiscal management of the Yukon Party, they wouldnít have that money to build a school when they come in. They can thank the Yukon Party for being good money managers. So, in the event that there is a change, the party coming in always has lots of money to spend.
I want to say that, with regard to the member oppositeís question, this government is constantly upgrading the needs of the school structure. As a matter of fact, I attended a school council meeting at F.H. Collins, for example, and there was discussion at that meeting about the need for a new high school. So, when we go to the Whitehorse Elementary School ó I have been to the Whitehorse Elementary School and there has been discussion around the need to replace the Whitehorse Elementary School.
So the government is aware of the needs of different schools. The thing that this government, or probably any other government of the day, cannot do is commit to building a new school in every jurisdiction.
Mr. Cardiff: Iím not asking the minister or the government to build a new school in every community or replace every school. Thatís not what Iím asking. Iím asking him to do the planning.
It doesnít matter which school council meeting he goes to, heís going to hear about the needs. What Iím asking the minister to do is to identify the needs and to prioritize them, as to which needs are the most pressing. Iím encouraging him to participate in a discussion, or to have the school council chairs and school councils have that discussion, and tell the government what the priorities are. Thatís all Iím doing.
It doesnít seem to be a priority for the minister to have that planning in place. Instead, it will be on an ad hoc basis: "Well, you know, I went to the school council meeting, and thatís the last one I was at. They said they needed a new school, so thatís the one weíll promise in the next election." Well, thatís not the way it should work. It requires some forethought and planning, and thatís all Iím asking him to do. He can either say "yes" or "no" or give us another speech.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, Mr. Chair, this government does listen to the people, and the people being, in this case, the school councils, for example. We do hear what their concerns are and the different initiatives that they feel are important and the most pressing. This government will be taking into account what every one of these school councils are saying. The prioritization will take place in consultation with the different school councils.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to address some of the issues in our classrooms with the minister in the Department of Education general debate discussions. Iíd like to start with the issue that has been brought up to me repeatedly, and that is the math curriculum. I can recall when I was first a member about seven or eight years ago, there was a change made to our math curriculum. It was an issue among teachers; it was an issue among parents. For residents in Porter Creek, parents of high school students are angered and frustrated that there seems to be a tremendous need for tutoring in math at the high school level. Iíve had parents phone me at the elementary school level who are expressing concerns as well.
Iíve had teachers express concerns about not enough materials and blending of curricula or methods of teaching math and whether or not the math curriculum, as we teach it at the high school level, is what is required for everyday living as well as for those students who wish to go on and be architects or nuclear physicists.
Iíd like to formally request from the minister a briefing with officials or the opportunity to sit down with the math specialists in the department, and Iíd also like to put on the record these concerns the parents have addressed.
I know the department has a math specialist, and that has been of tremendous assistance over the past number of years. I think Iíve also seen that position advertised recently.
So if I could accomplish two things before the minister addresses this issue: one, a formal request for a meeting with departmental officials in order that I can voice the concerns my constituents have raised and, secondly, to publicly put on the record the concerns of parents about the math curriculum, if you will, at both the high school level and the elementary school level.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I donít believe, as a minister, I have any concerns with the member opposite talking to the officials about the math issue. The department is also aware of complications that are happening within curriculum changes. This is one area where we believe the home tutoring program will be of great assistance, and that is to assist some of the parents and students with some of the math.
Iíll give you a good example of what happened at the Golden Horn Elementary School. Over last summer, some of the teachers were sent out to be brought up to speed on the curriculum changes. When they came back to the community, they offered the knowledge they had picked up to the residents of the Golden Horn area. I believe there was an excellent turnout of parents who came, and the teachers shared the changes they were made aware of in curriculum.
So those kinds of initiatives are always something that I feel can benefit the whole community ó just by sharing that. Again, I think the home tutors program is going to be of great benefit to be able to help the parents along with some of the curriculum and math. I know today I look at the math curriculum for grade 6 ó very different from when I went to school in grade 6. So weíre hoping that weíre going to be able to address some of that issue.
Ms. Duncan: The difficulty is ó and I share this with the minister. It is a very different math curriculum from when he was in school or I was in school. It reads more like an English exam than a math exam. The old-fashioned learning by memorization of timetables and addition and subtraction ó those basic concepts are taught in a different way.
The Yukon, which follows the B.C. curriculum, changed their curriculum a number of years ago, about seven or eight years ago, and the math curriculum has been evolving. Parents are incredibly frustrated with this and angry. Itís very difficult. Itís difficult for their students. They donít understand why they have to hire tutors. They donít understand why theyíre having to teach their child math at home. The issue for the parents is: why does he or she go to school all day and why are we continually ó Iím trying think of a parliamentary way to put this ó fooling around with the math curriculum? Itís a frustration for them.
I would just like to ask the minister to try to address this question again. How does he deal, door to door, with the angry parent who asks, "Why do you keep changing this math curriculum? Why canít we focus on having people who can teach our children the basics in math and having them able to progress to high school knowing their math concepts and in high school not having to pay out of pocket for a tutor to get through math and/or able to succeed in life with the basic concepts of math?"
Iíd like the minister to take another stab at trying to answer the constituents. And thatís what theyíre saying to me. So, how does the minister answer them? I applaud the home tutor program at Golden Horn, but there is a basic group of parents out there ó and I know it happens in other schools ó who are frustrated that we have to do this in the first place.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, I guess the simplest answer I can give to that specific question is that the Yukon follows the B.C. curriculum and, quite frankly, I havenít had a whole bunch of people complaining to me about math. Itís one of the core subjects at school, itís being taught to the children, and today the government has a math specialist who is developing resource material and training for teachers. So the government is doing what it can to meet the needs of the students.
Ms. Duncan: Iím not going to give all those angry parents the ministerís phone number, and Iím not going to belabour this point. The minister does attend the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education. Iím well aware of the fact we follow the B.C. curriculum. There are concerns about the math curriculum. They are significant concerns. I would like to hear that the minister will bring them up with his counterpart in British Columbia, because I know my riding isnít the only one where I hear this issue door to door with parents.
I would like to move on. I have registered the concerns with the minister, and I will meet with departmental officials in an attempt to try to resolve these issues.
I would like to ask the minister: the school report that was brought forward in the House indicates that 61 percent of Yukon students are in the kindergarten to grade 7 bracket. There have been a number of changes at the kindergarten level, in that we have introduced all-day programming in a number of schools. We have also added four-year-old programming. These changes are at the early stages. What method do we plan to use, and do we intend to evaluate this change, and how do we intend to do it?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to say that when the department does develop any kind of changes or programs, there always is an evaluation process that takes place, and itís over time. So there will be an evaluation done on this specific issue.
I want to state with regard to comments made by the third party on the math issue that I canít recall this ever being brought forward as a concern at a ministers meeting. There were numerous other issues that were discussed, like FASD, First Nation involvement in the education system and literacy. I would have to say that math was not one that was brought forward.
Ms. Duncan: The concern has been outlined, and perhaps it was couched under the terms of numeracy as opposed to literacy. The issue is there; it has been there. It is raised continually every time I go door to door in my riding and in many others, particularly where there are a number of high school students.
I appreciate that there will be an evaluation some years down the road of this expansion of the kindergarten programming. My concern is ensuring the options are still open for parents. All-day kindergarten isnít the answer for every child. This department has their set of rules ó an attendance area, where a student has to attend a school in a particular area unless the superintendent signs off that, no. Now, some schools are offering the all-day kindergarten; some arenít. Is the department prepared to relax the attendance area rules if there are parents who are saying that all-day kindergarten is not right for their child and isnít something thatís working for them? Are they prepared to meet that individual parentís and that individual learnerís needs?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, to the best of my knowledge, that issue has not been discussed yet.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, maybe it hasnít reached the ministerial and the departmental level, but let me give the minister an anecdotal situation and just ask that he keep it in mind. You have a child living in Granger, Logan, Copper Ridge. The attendance area is Elijah Smith. Elijah Smith offers an all-day kindergarten. Itís not working for that child. Rather than blaming the child or saying, you know, theyíre not quite ready to cope, I would like the department to be able to work in partnership in education, the department, the parents, the school, to be able to say, letís try the half-day program at Takhini or a half-day program at Jack Hulland instead so that childís introduction to school through kindergarten isnít the confrontational one of "youíre not fitting in the system" but is one of "how do we help this child become a productive learner."
Thatís the sort of example Iím hearing from parents. As a parent myself, I know itís an issue ó where does my child go to school. The all-day kindergarten program might be offered at that school in their attendance area, but it might not be right for their child. Iíd like parents to know they have the flexibility of a half-day program at another school in the Whitehorse area. I would just like to register that with the minister and ask that he give it consideration.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This sounds more like an administrative issue to me, but I can tell the member opposite that, at this point in time, this issue has not been brought to my attention. It has never been brought to my attention by any of the school councils either, so if that is an issue I will take it under advisement and surely ask some questions about it because I tend to believe that if a child is having difficulty attending full-time kindergarten, then there must be avenues to look at to accommodate the child.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís the answer I was looking for and I thank the minister for it. It is an administrative issue and he wouldnít hear it from school councils. The only way heíd hear it is if he happened to be speaking with parents who are in that situation. Itís very much a top-down type of administration of the school and of education in many respects. Like thereís this administrative school attendance policy that ó you know, rule upon rule. Parents donít necessarily feel empowered to deal with these issues.
They just try to get through it as best they can. I would like the minister to be aware of that and to work with the school councils and with the parents on that first introduction. It is 61 percent of Yukon students, according to the departmentís own figures.
Another issue of concern that came out of the report is the active-living component. The report notes that only four out of 29 or 30 Yukon schools have been designated as active-living schools ó or quality daily P.E. used to be the term that was used. In light of the issues ó obesity, increased levels of diabetes, et cetera, four out of 29 schools is not that great a ratio.
What plans does the department have to increase the number of active-living Yukon schools?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to the previous summarization from the third party, I can assure the parents and the citizens of the territory that this government does and will continue to take the best interest of the child as being a very high priority and importance.
With regard to the other issue, I believe most of the discussions will take place with the school councils, and thatís where the department gets a lot of direction from regarding any programming initiatives that take place in the school.
Ms. Duncan: What I was looking for with respect to the active-living component was a philosophical commitment by the government to increasing the number of active-living schools in the territory. We are seeing increasing trends throughout Canada of decreased levels of fitness among our children, obesity and an increase of diabetes. Yet, only four out of 29 Yukon schools are designated as active-living schools ó they have a quality, daily physical education program.
So, what specific support is the department giving to school administrators, school councils and teachers to encourage schools to be active-living schools ó to increase the amount of quality, daily physical education in our schools?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would have to comment by saying, of course, that I do support active living. I support healthy lifestyles. However, one canít really dictate to anyone what theyíre allowed to eat, for example, or what theyíre allowed to drink. I think when it comes to the high schools, it would probably be a good idea to, for example, remove every pop machine in the school. But thatís probably something that would cause a lot of friction because a parent would be able to say that any youth would be able to make that choice for themselves.
I do support having healthy environments ó physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Ms. Duncan: Let me try this question another way. The report that was tabled in this House ó the Yukon Department of Education public schools branch annual report for the 2002-03 school year. It was tabled in this House and there were errors and whatever ó the report got tabled. On page 11, under "active-living schools", it says that the taskforce on active living presented its report to the government in May 2000. The department responded that all Yukon schools now have staff who have been trained in the active living P.E. curriculum. The criteria for active living schools were adopted from national standards. New curriculum guides were distributed to the schools in conjunction with Sport Yukon; the Department of Education transferred $25,000 to the active-living coordinator position at Sport Yukon. Four schools ó four out of 29 ó are now designated as "active living."
So, my question is: what has the department done since then? What direction has the minister given since then, or the Yukon Party government, to say that we support this philosophy, we are going to add more resources to it ó and, if so, what resources? What have they done with this information? They are proud of their achievements today in this report, and itís a start. Four out of 29 schools: itís not far enough. Now, what else has the department done?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, the department has added approximately $9 million plus to the O&M budget. Now, to be picking at something like this is, in my opinion, a more administrative than a ministerial issue.
However, I will undertake this initiative with the department and get more information on this very issue.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it may be administrative. It is administrative. The minister is responsible for the administration of $9 million. We are in the process of discussing that. What portion of that is dedicated to this program that they were proud of in this report? Itís a straightforward question. Saying itís within a certain budget envelope or itís administrative and somehow beneath the minister ó itís not. Itís part of the ministerís responsibility to be able to answer questions like this.
I appreciate that he has said heís not aware of the answer on this particular issue and will get back to me on it. I would hope that, if itís at all possible, I can get that answer back before the end of session. It is an important issue, particularly, as I said, in light of overall national trends.
Regarding home-schooling, there was a commitment made by the previous Liberal government to enhance the resources available to home-schoolers. Has there been a significant increase in the number of students being home-schooled in the 2003-04 school year ó a significant increase, half a dozen, or is it about the same number?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíll take the first question under advisement.
The second one: the department does not have the exact figures of how many are home-schooling here, but we can get that number.
Ms. Duncan: I was just looking to see if there had been a significant increase. I donít have to have the exact number. If there has been an increase of half a dozen or so, I was just interested in that.
In this report that was presented to the House ó and it was somewhat publicly discussed ó there was a decrease in participation in the tests administered to grades 3, 6 and 9 ó mathematics and language arts. The Yukon achievement test, I believe is the correct reference. They used to be called the Canadian test of basic skills. This is the new and improved version, if you will.
There was a decrease of participation by Yukoners and by Yukon students. What accounts for that decrease in participation?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to the first question, Iím not aware of any increase of home-schooling, but weíll check that out for the member opposite.
As far as the exams go, the department is not making it mandatory for a student to write that achievement test if they donít feel theyíre prepared for it or are able to write it.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, was that a change in policy? Does that account for the decreased participation? Did the department change its policy to where it was mandatory for every student in grades 3, 6 and 9 to write these, itís no longer mandatory and thatís what accounts for the decreased participation? Is that the difference?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Apparently it is not a standard requirement in other jurisdictions to have to write an exam. The reason, to the best of my knowledge, is that it has to do with students feeling as though theyíre a failure and not being able to get a high score on an achievement test. So apparently itís not mandatory in other jurisdictions either.
Ms. Duncan: I have to explore this a little further with the minister because the student doesnít know the test results. The ones in grade 3, who wrote the test last year, werenít given their test results. It was shared with the parents if they requested it in an interview, but the student wasnít sent home with their test results. Itís available to parents upon request. The decreased participation and the reason the minister stood on his feet saying that we donít want students to feel like failures ó well, students werenít told their test results. So with all due respect to the minister, that argument doesnít hold water. When did the policy change not to make it mandatory occur?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Apparently it took place approximately a year ago at the last writing of the exams. Again I will take this a little further, like the member of the third party. When we have a community that has three or four students ó which there are ó it is possible to identify from that jurisdiction who did well and who didnít. So I do support the fact that itís not a mandatory requirement at this time.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the policy. I understand the issues around confidentiality. My point, though, is that there was a significant decrease in the number of students who wrote the exams, the Yukon achievement tests. If weíre going to say weíre zero to eight percent higher or lower than the Alberta standards but only 80 percent of our students write the tests, then ó to go back to our math discussion ó how valid are the results? That has to be asked. I would just express that concern with the information that has been presented to the Legislature and to parents.
Before we leave this, are there any other changes planned for the Yukon achievement tests, any other policy changes as a result of the results of the tests? For example, I note that in mathematics, grades 3, 6 and 9 have improved ó the 80 percent who wrote the test ó between two and seven percent over the last four years, and language arts has also shown improvement. But again, this improvement is below that of Alberta students.
Parents always ask, "How do we compare?" How does the Yukon education compare with one O
utside? Many of us, I think, if not just about all of us, are products of the Yukon school system and are very supportive of it and believe our education is second to none in Canada. But if weíre going to use these test results, theyíre subject to interpretation. So are there other policy changes planned for the Yukon achievement test results?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The answer is no, not at this time. I want to state for the record that the 2003 youth achievement test results show that First Nation students increased their test scores and reduced their failure rates in grades 3 and 6 mathematics and language arts, compared to the 2002 results.
The results of the 2003 Yukon achievement tests also show that rural students increased their test scores and reduced their failure rates in grades 3 and 6 mathematics and language arts, compared to the 2002 results. Exemption rates for Yukon students were up in some schools in the territory over the 2003 Yukon achievement tests.
Again, I think a lot of this could maybe be attributed to special needs of a student. There could be a number of factors that would make one decide that one wasnít going to write the exam.
Ms. Duncan: The minister, in his remarks, also has to note that a change in policy from the exams being mandatory to the exams not being mandatory also changes the information he has presented. Thatís the issue.
Personally, I donít have an issue with Yukon results or the Yukon school education system in terms of how we stack up overall with the rest of the country. Iím not certain that these test results ó they might perhaps provide a comfort to those who ask the question: where do we stack with Alberta and British Columbia?
Itís interesting that we compare with Alberta in this document, but yet we follow the British Columbia curriculum. I would just encourage the minister and parents who are looking at this information to probe a little deeper in what has been presented.
There has been some discussion about a late French immersion program being offered here in the Whitehorse area.
Is that under consideration by the department, and how far along are the plans for offering a late French immersion?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Going back to the previous question with regard to the testing ó I think itís important to put on record that the ministers of education right across Canada are reviewing the whole testing programs in Canada right now. So it has been discussed, and other jurisdictions are really questioning this whole testing program.
The government is in discussions right at this point in time with regard to the late French immersion. They are exploring the options of offering the late French immersion program, which would see students begin immersion in their intermediate years from grades 6 to 8. We have received a completed feasibility report, and there is a strong support from parents and from the francophone community for this initiative. I will be in a better position to comment on this option once weíve discussed some financing options with the federal government.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I have a copy of the feasibility study, and what school are we looking at ó what physical facility is the department looking at?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíve been advised that itís a normal process to make that study public if one requests it, but the location being discussed and being requested right now is in the Whitehorse Elementary School for the late French immersion.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has in his hand a feasibility study, which I appreciate that he indicated he would share if requested, and I would like a copy of that. Iím sure the official opposition would like a copy as well, understanding that itís only public upon request.
The minister said that he was approaching the federal government for cost sharing or some funding arrangements. Has he made those approaches? Are we looking at a 2004-05 school start, or perhaps 2005-06?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Yes, the department has been having discussions with the federal government, and it looks positive.
Ms. Duncan: Letís go a little deeper. How positive? How much money are we asking for from the federal government, and how far along are we in the discussions, and is the minister looking at possibly a start in the 2004-05 school year or the 2005-06 school year?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To date, the department does provide in-kind funding and the discussions with the federal government are going to continue right on into the summer. The target is for 2004-05 in September.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to thank the minister. I appreciate receiving that information.
Just before we leave some of the classroom issues and some of the issues that parents have raised, I would like to just briefly discuss with the minister the issues around bullying. It was quite highlighted a number of years ago in our school system around the unfortunate situation in Taber, Alberta. Barbara Colorosso has long been recognized as one of the leading educators, if you will, in the field of dealing with bullying and bullying issues. There are issues at the high schools and every playground and every school in the territory. Are there any initiatives ó for example, is the department intending to bring up Ms. Colaroso for discussions with parents? Are there any current initiatives underway by the department to deal with bullying?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Every school, I believe, has a safety policy, and the department has had individuals go in and give talks on bullying. Certainly, to the best of my knowledge, most principals are aware of the issues and definitely that is one thing that will not be tolerated in the schools. I have all the confidence in the administration that if such a thing as bullying is taking place in the school, it would be addressed very quickly.
Ms. Duncan: I share the ministerís confidence in the administration of our schools and in teachers and our playgrounds ó absolutely. In my encounters with teachers, there has been a great deal of vigilance to end bullying and to deal with bullying behaviours. My question was: how is the department giving these teachers and administrators ó us as a community ó more support in this area in terms of education and in terms of guest speakers? For example, MAD ó the music, arts and drama program ó has done significant public education around partying, drinking and driving issues. They did a play that brought significant awareness to this issue. In November to December of 2002, there were also guest speakers brought up who did a significant workshop at Yukon College on the issues around bullying and violence. As we learned earlier in the House today, this is also Sexual Assault Prevention Month.
How is the Department of Education supporting the community, either by bringing in guest speakers or supporting programs that ensure that we, as a community, can be vigilant around issues of bullying and violence?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Our department ensures that all the schools have this initiative built right into their school plans. I remember attending one of these workshops myself, and it was open to the public. The Education department had one of their professional staff, the director of school counselling, who was in attendance and gave a lecture on bullying. What Iím aware of is that this same individual has gone throughout the territory to different schools and has been providing workshops on bullying.
The department also had an in-service for teachers around bullying to make them aware of how to deal with those issues.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate and am very supportive of the work the department has done. I understand they have also worked with Justice and the RCMP in significant programs as well. I was looking to hear of any new initiatives from the Department of Education to enhance our vigilance as a community. I didnít hear any new initiatives, so perhaps I could make the suggestion to the minister that, as one suggestion, Barbara Colorosso has been to the territory before and provided workshops on these sorts of initiatives, and perhaps itís time she came back.
She was brought up, in part, with the Yukon Teachers Association, I believe. Of course, itís absolutely important that any program that is brought up or introduced is made available throughout the territory to help us as a community.
Just before we leave the issues around the classroom, the Yukon Teachers Association annual general meeting was this past weekend. Whatís the current demographic situation of our teaching population? Are we looking at a significant number of retirees this year? Are we then going to also have positions available for the enhanced number of YNTEP graduates? I understand there is a tremendous interest in that program.
Opening up the YNTEP is one option. Another option that has been examined is offering a bachelor of education after-degree program. Is that still on the radar screen, or is the minister simply going to leave it at opening up the YNTEP to enhance the number of available teachers in our community?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I want to go back to the bullying question just for one second here. In my opinion, I believe that what the department is doing at present seems to be working quite adequately as I have never ó since Iíve taken this job ó had any issue come across my desk where there was a major concern with this happening. So Iím anticipating that what the department is doing is productive.
When we talk about the retirees, I believe there are approximately 25 who are retiring this year. Due process is being followed to replace all of those vacancies where needed. Iím made aware that there is very high interest from other jurisdictions outside the territory who are interested in coming to the Yukon. So we have the 25 retirees, and usually there are a number of teachers who choose to move out of the territory or do something else, so at this point in time, to the best of my knowledge, the department is quite confident that the teachers are available.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, there are a couple of issues. With regard to the issues around bullying, my suggestion was not that what is currently in place isnít working, but my request was to enhance the existing initiatives and to do more. The reason I ask for that is because I do very strongly believe we have a responsibility to be vigilant about this particular issue to ensure that this particular issue is not just assumed to be being dealt with and itís assumed the programs are working, but to ensure our programs are working and to enhance them and to keep working with parents, with the community at large and with their children. So I hope the minister will take my suggestion seriously.
With regard to the teachersí demographics and our teaching population, our teaching professionals, there are two issues. One is: is the YNTEP and opening up the YNTEP meeting the need out there? Is it enough? Of course there is the issue that has been raised by others: will those individuals be able to then find teaching positions within our community or outside of the territory? Thatís one issue. The other issue is that these 25 teachers who are retiring ó many of them, it is my understanding ó will choose to stay in the territory, and they are a tremendous resource to our community, and the previous government introduced and set aside funding for a teacher mentoring program and an endowment fund. The contribution agreement was finally signed by the current government.
How is the fund working? What programs have been instituted? How will we be able to ensure that the expertise of the 25 retirees ó many of whom I suspect will choose to stay here ó is not lost to new teachers. It was originally envisioned that this program would be used particularly to support teachers in communities outside of Whitehorse. How is the program working with respect to that, and how are we able to work with our retiring teachers?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to bullying, I want to put on record that this is a very serious concern and will always be a very serious concern. In my opinion, one can never be so overconfident that everything is under control. I believe that education on this issue should be ongoing and open to new initiatives.
Again, this is a very important area for the Education department to always be up to speed on. As I stated earlier, I have been to a workshop, and I have heard the director of counselling give a lecture on bullying and all the negative impacts it has and how it can lead to something thatís probably intended at first not to be a really big issue but turns into such things as what happened in the United States and other places where guns and whatnot have come into the schools. So it will always be considered a very serious issue with respect to the safety of everyone in the school.
When we talk about the YNTEP, I believe that opening YNTEP would be adequate at this point in time for being able to have a degree course for teachers in the Yukon Territory.
Again, to date, it appears the interest is there. As of April, there were already five applications by First Nations and three from non-First Nations. The closing date for applications is the first of June, so there is ample time yet.
A meeting was held a few months ago where there was as many as 40 in attendance, I believe, asking and inquiring about the program.
So the interest is there, and I believe that this course is going to be very beneficial to everyone who takes it. As I stated earlier, I had some discussions with a number of people in the communities, and there is that need for the non-First Nations to be involved.
Seeing the time, Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Edzerza that we report progress on Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Chair:Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:01 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled May 3, 2004:
Travel Expenses of Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly 2003-04 (dated April 2004) (Speaker Staffen)