Monday, May 10, 2004 ó 1:00 p.m.
Clerk:It is my duty, pursuant to the provisions of section 24 of the Legislative Assembly Act, to inform the Legislative Assembly of the absence of the Speaker.
Deputy Speaker takes the Chair
Deputy Speaker: I will now call this House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers. I would ask all members to bow their heads in a moment of silent reflection.
Deputy Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Police Week
Hon. Ms. Taylor:I rise today to pay tribute to Police Week. This week, May 9 to 15, is Police Week in Canada. Police Week has focused community attention on a variety of social and crime-related issues since its very inception over 30 years ago. Over the last several years, the main purpose of Police Week has been to forge stronger partnerships between policing services and the communities they serve.
The RCMP is extremely active in the communities throughout out territory, and I would certainly like to take this opportunity to commend them, each and every one of them, throughout the territory for all the work that they do every day on the job and in their plain clothes, as well.
I would also like to commend our auxiliary police, who provide countless hours of volunteer time to their communities to assist the RCMP in their policing duties.
The RCMP are planning activities throughout the week to recognize the very significance of this week. Some activities include a street fest, truck pushing competition, pie-in-the-face competition, bubble gum bubble-blowing competition, child safety gear installation clinic, cops-for-a-day contest, as well as BBQs and bike rodeos. I certainly encourage all members to participate in these activities.
Partnerships such as these are built through interaction of police services, individuals, organizations and institutions that all share a responsibility for the well-being of the community. Working together benefits everyone. We are particularly pleased that Yukon is cooperating with the RCMP in Canada in efforts to promote recruitment of more aboriginal members to the RCMP.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, Iím very pleased to bring Police Week to the attention of this House and encourage the public, all Yukoners and all members to take part in Police Week activities in the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to National Police Week. The police force in the Yukon is the RCMP, who are recognized throughout the world as not only a police force but also as a symbol of our country.
In the Yukon, the RCMP, including auxiliaries and special constables, are so much more than a police force. They have been our tourism ambassadors in Skagway and Juneau. They are our hockey coaches. Constables are on a first-name basis with our students in our classes. Members working with service clubs put on bike rodeos. They are part of our community. Members and their families were our classmates in school; they are our neighbours and they are our friends.
The RCMP are a vital part of our present-day life, and they are part of Yukonís rich history. The MacBride Museum has embarked on a unique project with the RCMP veterans that will celebrate this rich history. The museumís project and this week in May provide us an opportunity to recognize the role the RCMP play in our Yukon community and also to express our thanks to them. We appreciate and honour their contribution to Yukon life, past and present.
Merci beaucoup. Mahsií cho. Thank you.
In recognition of National Nursing Week
Hon. Mr. Jenkins:I rise today to join my counterparts elsewhere across the country in recognizing the important contributions made by the men and women who are on the front lines providing health care to Canadians. I am speaking, of course, of our nurses throughout the Yukon. This is National Nursing Week and the theme chosen to celebrate this yearís event is "Nursing: Knowledge and Commitment at Work".
Things have changed in the nursing world since Florence Nightingale first started to train women to care for wounded men on the battlefield and, later, in early hospital structures. Nurses today mix together knowledge and technology as they work in an increasingly complex health care system. Patient needs continue to evolve and change, medical technology expands, and yet our nurses continue to demonstrate their flexibility, their teamwork and their willingness to learn. They meet these challenges daily.
One of the many ways that nurses in the Yukon are accessing the technology weíre making available to them is through tele-health. There are regular educational sessions on a wide variety of topics that nurses can participate in without leaving their own community. They are able to access this technology for consultation about patient care and for mental health or physiotherapy demonstrations for particular patients.
They demonstrate their commitment to their patients and their communities by increasing their knowledge and skills.
It has been said that nurses are critical partners in the delivery of health care and that is very true, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Nurses provide care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round ó across the entire health care system, from new nurses to experienced, those in hospitals, in continuing care facilities and in community nursing stations. They all play a dynamic and strong role to keep our health care system strong. They deserve our thanks.
On behalf of Yukon, we say "Thank you", Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Fairclough: On behalf of the official opposition, I rise in tribute to National Nurses Week and International Nurses Day, May 12.
This celebration began in 1985 to coincide with Florence Nightingaleís birthday, and it is recognized internationally. Although many of the core values and traditions of nursing continue from the days of Florence Nightingale, registered nurses now face additional challenges. Health care is a complex and rapidly changing system. Nurses must blend educational knowledge, research skills and technical expertise with practical experience.
Ethical decision making and critical thinking are also needed to provide high standards of patient care. Nurses are involved in every facet of the health care delivery system. There are approximately 260 actively practising registered nurses in the Yukon who are closely involved with all aspects of community health. They are the frontline workers providing 24-hour care, seven days a week, with competence and compassion. Nurses are employed in acute care facilities, continuing care, home care, and extended care, public health and clinics in the Yukon.
This year the Yukon Registered Nurses Association is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a regulating body.
This year the theme for national Nurses Week is "Nursing: Knowledge and Commitment at Work". Nurses in the Yukon personify knowledge and commitment under sometimes very difficult circumstances, especially in our rural nursing stations.
In the Yukon, nurses work in isolated communities without the degree of technical and personnel support that is expected in urban settings. Recruiting and retaining nurses in the Yukon is still a serious problem and needs to be addressed. There are many difficulties to be faced by government and nursing staff. Nurses are working long hours every day, on call, and assisting with emergency and ambulance calls. They are still expected to be an essential element of our community life, providing care, promoting health and preventing illness. We cannot thank those men and women enough for their commitment and devotion to their calling.
Ms. Duncan: National Nursing Week is May 10 to 16 and I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Yukonís nurses.
National Nursing Week began in Canada in recognition of the dedication and the achievements of the nursing profession. The idea of the week is to increase awareness among the public, policy makers and governments of the contributions of nursing to the well-being of Canadians. Itís also important to provide information about public health and the role of our nurses in our public health system.
Yukoners are very well aware of the vital role nurses play throughout our community life. Scarcely a birth announcement or a celebration of life notice in our local papers appears without a special thanks to the nurses who provide professional care throughout our lives. The unfailing kindness and discipline of the nursing profession inspires those who come into contact with nurses and young Yukoners to follow in their footsteps. Appreciating and understanding the role of nurses in Canadaís public health will only serve to maintain our health care as one of the worldís finest.
Thank you, members of Yukonís nursing profession.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any other tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government to live up to its fiduciary responsibility to provide health care to aboriginal Canadians resident both on reserve and off reserves, as recommended by the Auditor General and requested by all three territories and all 10 provinces.
Mr. Hassard: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Canada to provide adequate funding to preserve and maintain Canadaís historic sites and parks, as was recommended by the Auditor General of Canada.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to work with the governments of Northwest Territories, Nunavut and First Nations to organize a northern leadership cooperation meeting among the three territorial premiers and the leaders of aboriginal governments from all three territories, as agreed to by the three premiers at their Northern Cooperation Accord meeting on May 8, 2004.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to ensure that the Yukonís key wetlands, as identified by the Yukon Wetland Technical Committee and Ducks Unlimited Canada, received the most appropriate form of protection for their ongoing viability and that immediate action be given to protecting the wetlands currently considered to be at highest risk, specifically, the Peel Plateau wetland complex, the Whitefish Lake/Bluefish Basin wetland complex and the wetlands of the Southern Lakes and Liard Basin areas.
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to make public the 2004 Yukon economic outlook before the end of the legislative sitting.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to ensure that its new policy of making employees divulge pardons for criminal offences is applied fairly and includes substitute teachers and Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Cathers: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes the significant role that parks and heritage sites play in enhancing the economic, social and cultural well-being of the Yukon and its citizens.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that funding of health care on a per capita basis does not adequately meet the needs of the three northern territories, and the additional funding of $20 million per territory over three years, which was negotiated in summer 2003 as a result of the cooperative stand taken by the premiers of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut does not sufficiently address our additional costs.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government to comply with the recommendation of the Romanow report to increase federal contribution to health care from the current level of approximately 17 percent to at least 25 percent of total health care expenditures.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that failure by the federal government to increase health care funding from the level it was reduced to under the direction of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and former Finance minister Paul Martin would result in a nation-wide collapse of the health care system.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Fuel tax
Mr. McRobb:I would like to follow up with the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources on a topical issue and one I raised with him last year. In February 2003, I called upon him to join a call for a national energy price commission, led by federal NDP energy critic Pat Martin, but he declined. I also called upon him to live up to what his party preached from the opposition benches and eliminate the territorial tax on gas, but the minister didnít do that either.
To jog his memory, Iíll table with the Clerk a gaggle of Yukon Party caucus news releases to that effect.
There have been two Yukon Party budgets since I raised this matter, both completely void of a reduction in the fuel tax. Can the minister explain how such inaction has benefited Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Iíd like to remind the member opposite that, of course, I wasnít part of the government of the day when some of these issues were brought forward.
As far as the gas prices are concerned, certainly the federal government is putting some work in toward looking at it. We as a small jurisdiction are certainly concerned about the price of fuel that all Yukoners pay and, in turn, that all visitors pay, so it is an issue we are concerned about and weíre keeping our eye on it and working forward on it.
Mr. McRobb: Well, itís interesting how the minister cut loose the Member for Klondike on this.
Now, except for a tax break for owners of golf courses, this government has done nothing. In Fridayís edition of the Whitehorse Star, the Premier said that he is ready to meet with other territories and provinces to talk about how they can work with the federal government on a pricing policy for gasoline, but this is too little, too late.
Had the minister done something a year ago, perhaps consumers would not be gouged as badly at the pumps now. Even though Saskatchewan has invited the territory to lobby the federal government on gasoline pricing, this government is still dragging its heels.
Is the minister willing to honour the position taken by his party and eliminate the territorial fuel tax or will he continue to support high prices at the pumps?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have to put this issue in context. What the Member for Kluane is inferring is that the price of fuel at the pump, because of the Yukon governmentís tax regime, is contributing to gouging the consumer at the pump when they fill up their vehicles.
Letís point out the facts. The Yukon has one of the lowest tax rates for gasoline in the country ó some 6.2 cents a litre. The federal government, by the way, has an excise tax on gasoline of 10 cents a litre. Then you can add the seven percent for GST. That certainly is the smallest portion of the overall price of gas.
The Saskatchewan government has requested a gathering of all ministers responsible for consumer affairs. The Yukon agrees with that gathering, providing the federal government takes the lead and we look into the price of fuel from oil well to refinery gate to the pump and the consumer. Thatís the Yukonís position.
Mr. McRobb: Whereís the honour from the members across the way, Mr. Deputy Speaker? This government is obviously long past its best-before date. The government should be taking this matter seriously. Consumers are facing the highest gas prices in 13 years. The price of regular gasoline has topped a dollar a litre in many Yukon communities, and the worst is yet to come. The same article quoted an energy resources analyst working for the Yukon government who warned of big increases that have yet to reach the territory. The minister needs to consider the positive side of an announcement and how it would help attract tourists and benefit Yukon consumers ó a good-news story for a change.
Will he agree to take this matter up with his colleagues for possible immediate action so they can live up to what they preached?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, letís look at the attempt at humour, which was not really something that should really be involved in this particular question. This is a national issue. The cost of gasoline and diesel fuel in this country is far too high, but letís look at what the Yukonís position is. The member opposite states that in some communities it is as high as a dollar a litre. The only portion of that that the Yukon government has in taxation is 6.2 cents a litre.
I say thereís a much broader problem on this issue. Thatís why the Yukon governmentís position is that the federal government must take a lead. We must research the cost of the fuel from the oil well to the consumer at the gas pump. Thatís the only way to find a solution.
Question re: Nurse recruitment
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. On April 20 of this year, the Minister of Health and Social Services said in reply to our question to the Public Service Commission about hiring auxiliary on-call nurses, "We have a rotation for the nurses so they can spend a short timeÖwe donít know how long before some of these people burn out..." He implied that hiring nurses as auxiliary on-call or float staff was a favour to them. Auxiliary positions do not appeal to nurse practitioners who are looking for work in the Yukon. The Public Service Commission advertised a month ago for two float positions for community nursing.
This is a question for the Public Service Commission: has the commission been successful in recruiting these two positions, and where will they be placed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The issue of float nurse practitioners is one that is paramount to making this system work here in the Yukon. What we have is a burnout rate in some of the smaller communities of nurse practitioners. The member knows full well and can identify with this difficulty. In order to alleviate the burnout that these nurse practitioners experience in some of our smaller communities, there are float nurse practitioners. That position has been created and these individuals rotate around. Recruitment is continuously underway, because thereís always a demand for this highly skilled category of health care provider.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister did not answer the question. I directed it to the Public Service Commission, and Iím hoping perhaps he can answer some of these questions.
We have said many times that a major change in recruitment policy is needed. There are still inadequate numbers of nurses for several nursing stations. Nurses are not staying in the Yukon. The turnover, as the minister has said time and time again, is unacceptable. Applications for nursing positions have not even been acknowledged in some cases. Complaints from nurses have gone to the administration about the lack of a recruitment policy that works. And, Mr. Deputy Speaker, only minutes ago we heard tributes in this House to National Nursing Week. But something is clearly wrong with the management of this important service here in the Yukon. What is the ministerís long-term plan for staffing nursing stations?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What Iíve outlined in this House previously is a plan, and we are sticking with the plan. We have difficulty recruiting nurse practitioners on a full-time basis to some of the smaller communities. In order to alleviate their high burnout, we have float nurse practitioners who rotate around when nurses in some of the smaller communities want relief in their own communities. Thatís the only way we can find that the system will work, save and except some of the communities where theyíve had long-standing nurse practitioners, some of whom return on a seasonal basis, as the member knows full well.
Mr. Fairclough: Nurses in Dawson City have had their leave cancelled to help fill in for the busy summer months. Dawson City normally needs four to five nurses over the summer months to deal with the influx of population. Cancelling leave, which is badly needed after a long winter of work, is simply unacceptable, and this could also be a very dangerous situation.
The Minister of Health and Social Services said that the fact that Dawson has four doctors somehow alleviates the nursing situation. For his information, Mr. Deputy Speaker, three of the doctorsí nurses are part-time, and we shouldnít have to remind him that doctors are not nurses; they have a totally different job altogether.
What is the government doing to assure Dawson residents that their community will be properly staffed with an adequate number of nurses this summer?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite appears to have a confusion between nurses and nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners are what we have in all the outlying communities, save and except Watson Lake. This is a very highly skilled health care provider and, as a government, weíre constantly recruiting individuals in this category.
With respect to Dawson City, I can advise the member opposite that there have been two nurse practitioners off on maternity leave. There are also four doctors in Dawson City, as the member pointed out, and they provide a great deal of medical attention. The nurse practitioners more or less parallel some of the health care provisions in the community of Dawson.
So the member might want to get his head around the difference between a nurse and a nurse practitioner, because there is a big, big difference in the service they provide.
Question re: Public Health minister, Yukon visit
Ms. Duncan:After the SARS outbreak last year, Dr. David Naylor, Dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, was asked to chair a special committee on SARS and public health. Dr. Naylor recommended the federal government adopt a new approach to public health, based on a public health agency, a chief public health officer for Canada, and a pan-Canadian public health network.
Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of State (Public Health), has been meeting throughout the country to discuss these recommendations and to learn more about best practices throughout Canada. On Friday, she conducted a round table with Yukon professionals.
The Yukonís Minister of Health snubbed the Minister of State for Public Health. He couldnít find the time this past weekend to meet with Dr. Bennett and provide the Yukon government input to this new initiative. The Minister of Health has been honoured with the public responsibility to share with his provincial and federal counterparts Yukonís successes and Yukonís challenges in the delivery of public health care. Will the Minister of Health apologize to Yukoners for his failure to represent them on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: No one on this side of the House snubbed any federal minister. That appears to be a Liberal position being advanced by the member opposite. The issue of a public meeting that was put forward ó our department sent officials. The major issue that we have to have the federal government address is the issue of funding. We fully concur with the need for a Centre for Disease Control in Canada similar to the U.S. and similar set-up that the U.S. has for public health.
One only has to look at what happened to the Province of Ontario with the SARS outbreak and the tremendous cost that was incurred in that political jurisdiction, primarily because of the federal government not addressing their responsibilities.
Ms. Duncan: In other provinces and territories, the minister has met with many public health officials, including nurses, vets and pharmacists. Our own Minister of Health was too busy to meet with his federal counterpart on her visit here. No one else in Cabinet could be bothered to meet with the Secretary of State for Public Health. And one of the many backbenchers wasnít even asked to represent Yukoners. When Dr. Bennett suggested sheíd like to tour the hospital and see some of our best practices, the First Nations health centre, which is federally funded, she was told "No, the hospital is a territorial responsibility." She wasnít invited to visit our hospital. I apologized to the Minister of State for Public Health on her rude treatment by the government. Will the Minister of Health now apologize for not even bothering to ask a visiting colleague to see our fine Yukon Hospital Corporation and show it to her? Will he apologize for that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department sent a number of officials, as did other political jurisdictions, to these similar meetings that have been held across Canada.
And the member opposite might want to contact the Northwest Territories and Nunavut to see what transpired with their meeting with this federal minister. No one is snubbing this minister. The issue is that we agree with the need for a central agency in this respect. We look forward to moving forward on this initiative, but the issue was the funding of same and the continual funding of our health care programs, including public health by the federal government, which seems to be strangely lacking.
Ms. Duncan: The rude behaviour by the Minister of Health and the Yukon Party knows no bounds. It continues. The Minister of State for Public Health met with local health professionals to discuss these key issues. Issues include: a public health officer for Canada, a public health agency, a pan-Canadian public health network, how we as Canadians deal with outbreaks of infectious diseases, and other public health matters.
The Yukonís Minister of Health, unlike his colleagues across the country, not only doesnít meet with Dr. Bennett and show her common courtesy or Yukon hospitality, he doesnít even ask one of his colleagues to give her a tour of our hospital on his behalf.
The minister did allow senior department representatives to attend the meeting; however, they were instructed not to provide input or to speak. Will the Minister of Health apologize for gagging civil servants and denying Yukoners the opportunity to highlight our best practices and provide input to the challenges of Canadian public health? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Now, whatís wrong with this picture? We have a federal Minister of Public Health attending in the Yukon; we have our Member of Parliament invited to the same meeting; we have our Yukon Liberal senator attending at the same public meeting; we have the Liberal Party attending the same public meeting, along with all the Health officials from the department who were asked not to speak on financial matters. Thatís the crux of the situation.
What we are looking for is a forum to address the issue of public health. Coupled with that has to be the financial wherewithal to do so, which means the federal Liberal government has to come to the plate with more money for health in Canada.
Question re: Corrections programming, First Nation consultation
Mrs. Peter:I have a question for the Minister of Justice. Last week the minister unveiled her draft plan for consulting with Yukon First Nations on correctional programming and services in the territory. The draft plan calls for a consultation that would last for at least 15 months.
Why did the minister take more than one year since the Premier signed the memorandum of understanding with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation to put this draft consultation plan together?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I always welcome the opportunity to discuss our governmentís initiative surrounding the new Whitehorse Correctional Centre to go up as well as the consultation on corrections. Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the memorandum of understanding that the Government of Yukon signed with Kwanlin Dun First Nation in 2003, a commitment was made to consult with all Yukon First Nations on the design, delivery and evaluation of the correctional services in the territory. A critical aspect of that particular initiative also was to ensure that First Nations were involved in the programming and the planning of correctional programming within the facility and outside the facility as well. That is exactly what we were doing. It has taken some time to develop a consultative process that we all feel comfortable with. Last week, I was able to, in conjunction with the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, roll out the draft consultation plan that was approved in principle a couple months ago by the leadership of Council of Yukon First Nations. So we are certainly moving ahead, and we are very excited about this very important initiative.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Deputy Speaker, even if the consultation plan takes place on schedule, it will be at least until August 2005 before the consultation phase of correctional reform takes place. More than a year of problems at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre continues. More than a year while inmates and staff continue to work and live in an outdated, unsafe building. Even if there is an agreement on replacing the existing facility as a result of this consultation, it could take more than months to get a building designed and a site prepared for construction.
Does the minister agree that the chances of a new correctional facility being built in this governmentís term are next to nothing?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: The safety and security of both inmate population as well as our staff at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre is of utmost, paramount importance to me as Minister of Justice, as well as to this government.
As I have stated on a number of occasions in this Legislature ó and Iím very pleased to relay again to the members opposite ó our government is very much ó fully 100 percent ó committed to the replacement of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Our government also, as I have stated on a number of occasions, wants to ensure the project replacing the Whitehorse Correctional Centre properly reflects the needs of the community it serves. First Nation governments, employees at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and community stakeholders all have a very important role in the discussions on the future delivery of corrections in the territory. We are very much committed to this very important initiative. We are proceeding.
The Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations and I rolled out the draft consultative process. The 15 months is a draft timeline, as are the terms of reference. We are working on this initiative. We are committed to it. We are proceeding. We happen to think itís very important to take the time to speak with all the community stakeholders seeing that we have one of the highest recidivism rates of inmate population in the country.
Mrs. Peter: There is no need to wait for another year and a half or so before we get the process started. While the minister waits for consultation to be completed, what is she doing to improve programming at the existing Whitehorse Correctional Centre?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Our government is working with First Nations toward this very important initiative, toward the replacement of the correctional facility and toward the programming to be delivered within the facility, as well as within the communities.
What I heard around the table last week was the opportunity to be innovative, according to the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations; the opportunity to take ownership, the opportunity to be creative in coming up with ways of delivering programs inside and outside the territory; a need to involve Education, Health and Social Services and other agencies within the territory to address this very important problem we have.
We have one of the highest recidivism rates in the country, and the highest population in our facility is of First Nation ancestry. For those reasons alone, sentencing patterns have changed. The administration of justice, arrangements and negotiations evolving from First Nation final agreements are all very good reasons to take a little bit of extra time to discuss these very important issues with community stakeholders and to proceed accordingly.
Question re: Dawson City supervisor report
Mr. Cardiff:I have a question for the Minister of Community Services. On Thursday, the minister tabled the final report of the former supervisor of Dawson Cityís financial affairs. Does the minister agree with the former supervisorís findings, and will he be implementing all the recommendations in the report?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Dawsonís finances are historic in nature and have been since 1999. The supervisorís final report has indicated the bells should have gone off back in 1999. Both the NDP and the Liberal Party have had a chance to deal with this situation and to make recommendations for the City of Dawson.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I think the minister needs to read the report a little more closely. The former supervisor was quite blunt in assigning blame for Dawsonís current financial situation at both the municipal and the territorial government levels. He was particularly critical of the past town manager as well as senior officials in the ministerís own department. Does the minister share the former supervisorís opinions about where the responsibility for Dawsonís financial situation should lie?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The fact is that Dawson City is in debt, and Iíve mentioned this several times. Dawson City canít pay for its current facilities. This government is the first government to take a substantial step forward to correct the action and the situation. The facts are getting out there. The supervisor report is not, by his own admission, a forensic search. That is why this government, upon the request of the trustee, has initiated a forensic audit. This type of audit, along with the trusteeís review of the situation, will turn over every stone to ensure the accountability for all taxpayers in the City of Dawsonís affairs.
Mr. Cardiff: In my previous question, I used the word "opinions" deliberately. Iím sure that more than one conclusion can be drawn from the information that the former supervisor had available. A few months ago, when the former supervisor tabled his financial plan for Dawson City 2004-07, he included 10 recommendations. One of those recommendations was to hold a full public inquiry into the three projects under the capital funding agreement, 97-0727. At the moment, itís our understanding that there is a petition circulating Dawson City right now, calling for a public inquiry into how the townís financial affairs reached their current state.
Will the minister agree now to use his authority under the Municipal Act and commission a full public inquiry into Dawson Cityís financial situation and the events leading to the ministerís move to replace the elected mayor and council with an appointed trustee?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The supervisorís report includes serious allegations with regard to Dawsonís financial situation. Dawsonís problems have been around since 1999, as I mentioned earlier. Successive governments have had a chance to address these problems. It took this government to take action.
Again, for the record, we provided the initial supervisor with full authority under the Municipal Act to enact on the situation that he was dealing with. We changed that supervisor when we werenít getting what we thought was the appropriate information. We also appointed a trustee after that fact.
At the request of the trustee, we have initiated a forensic audit. This forensic audit is investigative in nature. Once the forensic audit is completed, this government will act accordingly. Once we have had a chance for the trustee to get his feet on the ground in Dawson City ó which he is doing right now. He has currently been negotiating with the First Nation and the staff, and I understand that a public meeting of some sort will be held later on this month, and we hope to get moving on that front.
The trustee continues to run the City of Dawson and the implementation for its financial plan. Better times are ahead for the City of Dawson, and thatís this governmentís commitment.
Deputy Speaker: The time for Question Period has elapsed.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Cathers: I would like to ask all members of this House to join me in welcoming a constituent of mine to the visitors gallery, Marcia Thompson.
Deputy Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 45: Second Reading
Clerk:Second reading, Bill No. 45, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Hart.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I move that Bill No. 45, entitled Act to Amend the Assessment and Taxation Act, be now read a second time.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Community Services that Bill No. 45, entitled Act to Amend the Assessment and Taxation Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I am pleased to stand before the Legislature today to speak to these amendments to the Assessment and Taxation Act.
These amendments will enable this government to develop a program aimed at providing rural Yukoners with reliable, domestic, potable water service.
All Canadians have seen the issue of water come to the fore in recent years, none more so than rural residents. Located outside major centres, many of these people are simply unable to connect to any water infrastructure. Those of us living within a municipality are assured of potable water by connection to the water main, and we have the added confidence that comes from relying on expensive treatment plants.
For those of us outside the boundary, truck-delivered water is often the only source of reliable, potable, safe water. And while safe, having no options to private delivery for something as basic as water is unacceptable.
For many rural Yukoners, running out of water in the course of daily life or having to haul water, gallon by gallon, is an everyday reality.
In a territory so rich in natural resources of water, our government will assist in providing cost-effective and innovative ways to meet this basic need. We all know that Yukoners take pride in our independent spirit, and rightly so. But living in rural areas should not preclude these Yukoners from having something as basic as reliable, on-site, clean drinking water.
Simply not having the funds on hand to drill a well or construct some other system shouldnít mean these people are forced to do without.
For a period of time governments have skirted this issue and ignored the calls to help rural residents with this basic service. Our government is determined to right that wrong and to give those Yukoners looking for an option to water delivery the help they deserve. With that goal in mind, Iím introducing these amendments and announcing plans to develop regulations in the coming months.
Letís be clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is not a handout program. This program was designed to give Yukoners access to a full spectrum of options for developing their own property. Like the rural electrification and the telecommunications program, it is a 100-percent recoverable program that will provide a service to rural Yukoners.
We are allocating $700,000 toward this program this year. This is money that will go directly to providing the basic service of reliable, potable water for homeowners across rural Yukon. That money will be recovered through a local improvement charge on property taxes paid to the Government of Yukon, so those Yukoners who use this program will be able to cover the cost of this new service through manageable, regular payments.
Itís a program that recognizes Yukonersí desire to have a government that helps them assist themselves. We recognize this is not a catch-all program. It is a program specifically aimed at rural Yukoners living outside a municipality. For these Yukoners, it will provide an answer to a long-lingering question: when is government going to step up and give us a chance to tap into the natural resources that are around us?
Our governmentís response to the question is simple: you can count on the government doing whatís best for Yukoners, and we are showing that in this budget. Having this program in place will do more than provide water to rural Yukoners. It will generate economic activity in well drilling and ancillary industries.
In the coming months, officials within my department will consult with Yukoners across this territory, looking for their input into how this program should be developed.
We anticipate that it will provide rural Yukoners with the ability to develop a water system that suits their needs.
The next step is to go forward with local knowledge to find out how we will meet those needs. Working with other departments and branches like Environment and environmental health, my department will develop the necessary regulations as quickly as possible.
Government is often about large-scale expenditures and complicated agreements. But just as often, itís about providing leadership and vision in areas that most people donít see, for citizens that many governments forget. This program is one small way our government is assisting rural Yukoners in finding ways for government to help improve their quality of life. It is a program that recognizes Yukonersí desire to pay their own way, a desire that sits at the core of our independent values. As a government, we are eager to foster that can-do attitude and to do everything we can to help Yukoners who take the attitude to heart.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to these amendments. I look forward to hearing from the opposition on this bill and addressing any of their concerns. I urge all members of this House to support these amendments so that we as legislators can do the best for rural Yukoners.
Mr. Cardiff: It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak to Bill No. 45, Act to Amend the Assessment and Taxation Act. This is a good program. I would like to correct the record. The minister seems to think that this is the first time that a program like this has ever been in place, and Iíd like to remind the minister that there was a well program in place in the late 1980s, early 1990s that the former Yukon Party government did away with.
It was an NDP program and they didnít like it.
So, in general, we support this. We believe that it may be able to be made better, as well. But there are still some questions around this program. The minister said that this is an attempt to address the issue of the availability of water and to address the issue that has been raised in this Legislature previously about the high cost of water delivery.
Well, there are some problems with this, because my understanding of the proposed legislation is that this is going to be a program that applies where the Government of Yukon is the taxation authority. I would like to remind the minister that there are people who live within municipalities where the Government of Yukon is not the taxation authority, who rely on water delivery and will not qualify for this program. So that is one problem that I think needs to be addressed.
The other problem is that, just because there is a program in place to drill a well, it doesnít necessarily mean that water is going to be available to people, especially potable water.
There are several areas in the Yukon where you can go and drill a well ó I have mentioned this before ó but not necessarily be successful. There are lots of people out there who have attempted to drill wells and have either come up with no water or very minimal amounts of water that wonít provide a source that is usable for their purposes, for the domestic purposes of their households and their families.
So we could be encouraging people to make investments that may not be realistic. Drilling a well is a pretty risky proposition at the best of times. Anyone who has done that knows thereís always a chance that the water may not be potable, may contain lots of minerals, may not be suitable for drinking and may cause problems. So weíre encouraging people to go out and drill wells and make a large investment for which theyíre going to have to pay over time and they may not even be able to use it.
This is a loan to people, essentially, so itís like going out and buying a car thatís not usable but you still have to make the loan payments. If you canít drive the car, do you want to make the loan payments? The minister is saying itís 100-percent recoverable, but are people going to be willing to pay for something they never really had the opportunity to use?
In my mind, the government has done almost nothing to address the needs of people who are on water delivery. They put into force the regulations around axle loads, which has caused the price of delivered water in the territory ó in the greater Whitehorse area anyway ó to double in a lot of cases and, in some cases, to even rise further than that.
Those people arenít all necessarily going to be able to take advantage of this program, because a lot of them actually live within the city limits of Whitehorse, and in the city limits of Whitehorse the taxation authority is the City of Whitehorse. Itís not the Yukon government, so those people who live either in the area south of the City of Whitehorse but still within the city limits ó in Mount Lorne, it would be Wolf Creek, Mary Lake, Spruce Hill, Cowley Creek; in Copperbelt, it would be Pineridge and areas around MacRae and Canyon Crescent. To the north of town, it would be areas like McPherson and Hidden Valley. These areas are within the city limits. A lot of those people rely on water delivery and have seen their costs rise and the cost of water rise for them to the point where itís creating a hardship on families, on single parents and on senior citizens who rely on delivery of water.
I would argue that this does not address the situation at all, because this program, as good as it is, wonít be available to those people. You can make the same arguments in other communities where there are people who live within the city limits but arenít serviced by the connection to the water main, as the minister put it. There are lots of communities where the water main doesnít extend to all areas of the municipality, Whitehorse being the prime example.
My understanding, as well, is that over the summer the minister and the department intend to go out and consult. Itís also my understanding that the consultation will be limited somewhat and during the summer when there are lots of people away is not always the best time to do consultation. But I would encourage him to ensure that rural property owners outside the City of Whitehorse, as well as inside the City of Whitehorse, are consulted about whatís best going to suit the needs. There are lots of issues around drilling wells, not the least of which is going to be the amount of money thatís going to be available. If itís based similar to the RETP, rural electrical and telephone program, there will be a cap on how much money is available. So, again, we have the problem of a well being a risky proposition for people.
You can go in and make your application. Youíll know in advance that youíve got so much money to drill a well, but youíre probably not necessarily going to have an indication of where that water is or what level the water is at. So you may call the well-drilling company, and they may start to drill the well and you could use up the money in the program, but you may not get water.
I realize that those are decisions that people are going to have to make for themselves. But, again, itís a question of: if youíve borrowed the money to do this and you donít get a product out of it, is it going to be collectible?
Generally, I support the idea of a well-drilling program. I think that the government has a lot of work to do yet to address the issues concerning the affordability of water and the availability of good, clean drinking water, and they need to make it fair for all communities. There is not any fairness where water is available in some communities for a rate of less than $20 a month for unlimited water, yet, in the greater Whitehorse area, to have water delivered, it could cost you in the neighbourhood of $150 to $200 a month, depending on the size of your family.
I find that a hardship for many of my constituents and constituents north of town, as well, in the Laberge region. While this is a start to addressing that concern ó and it will alleviate some of the problems ó itís not the be-all and end-all. I know that my colleague from Kluane wants to say a few words about this later and I look forward to talking further with the minister when we get it into Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: The bill before us, Bill No. 45, needs some very frank discussion on the floor of this Legislature. The bill itself, as I understand the intent and as expressed by the minister, is basically to provide the backdrop, to provide the legislative framework for the government to be able to embark on a program similar to the rural electrification and telecommunications program. I understand we need to have the legislative backdrop in place. However, what weíre talking about here today is public policy, and it is very important that legislation, policies, regulations ó whatever comes to the floor of this House ó has to be just, it has to be clear ó itís important that we have well-written legislation ó and it has to be fair to all concerned. It has to be fair to all Yukoners.
When we try to deal with one particular issue, no matter what it is, itís also important that we recognize it has impacts elsewhere. An example for just a moment, if youíll permit me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the construction project of the jail, as proposed by the previous government. Knowing that that construction project had to happen, we also had construction projects such as the infrastructure required for the Canada Winter Games. We canít do it all at once in the trades community or in the financial budgeting, and thatís why it was staged over a series of years.
You have to be conscious as a government and as legislators that decisions we make in one area have impacts elsewhere.
A perfect example of this is what has come before us. The Yukon has determined that they would comply with transportation safety regulations. The Member for Mount Lorne pointed out the axle loading.
That decision to comply with those safety regulations had a huge impact elsewhere in society ó a huge impact on the garbage pickup and on water delivery. Thatís the reason why the imposition of these weight restrictions and the necessity to make several loads had a tremendous impact on the water delivery businesses. Rural Yukoners and Yukoners within our city limits who have water delivery have seen an increase in costs. Business people have seen an increase in costs. Theyíre trying to run a business, and water delivery is expensive. It is a fair price for an individual trying to make a living and live within the government rules.
So how do we deal with this? How does a government deal with this issue? We have a key, fundamental public policy issue in the access to safe, potable drinking water for use by all Yukoners. We have the issue of the safety standards and individuals trying to run a business and provide this water delivery service where itís required. So how does government deal with it? Well, the Yukon Party has come back and said, "Well, hereís an idea. Letís do a program like the rural electrification and telecommunications program".
There are a lot of problems with this idea. First of all, will it in fact provide access to safe public drinking water? Will it address that fundamental issue? Not everybody is going to have water accessible on their property. Will it apply to everyone? Not everybody is in a situation where YTG is the taxing authority.
If we provide the assistance as the minister suggested under this well-drilling program, whatís the impact on those businesses? Whatís the impact on the water delivery company ó individuals who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, their lifetime, building a business, operating a business, and it is their retirement and their livelihood.
They have complied with rigorous standards for ensuring that drinking water is safe and complied with the safety regulations, and the government is, in essence with this program, putting them out of business by offering to help drill the wells. There has been no consultation ó certainly the minister didnít mention any today ó with those business people.
This is where Iím deeply concerned: that our public policy, our programs have to address the issues, but also have to be fair to all concerned. This bill isnít the answer to the issues of ensuring access to safe drinking water. Itís not the answer to dealing with the extraordinary costs imposed on the water delivery companies, which in turn has imposed a cost upon rural Yukoners, or those who rely on water delivery. Itís not what business people, or Yukoners, expected from a government that pledged to reduce red tape.
Thatís not to say this wasnít a good try. There are some good things about this particular bill. The rural electrification and telecommunications program was successful. It has been successful. And the government said they were going to do more consultation. I applaud them for that. The problem with it is that it hasnít dealt in a fair manner with all Yukoners, and it doesnít entirely address, as governments should be able to, the issues of public access to safe, potable drinking water.
Itís not going to cover everybody and itís going to put people out of business. I am concerned about both of those situations.
I have a suggestion for the minister. Iím not simply putting forward the flaws and highlighting what I believe are the good points. I have a suggestion for the minister. This bill is on the Order Paper. It has received second reading. Letís leave it on the Order Paper, not deal with it in Committee, and come back and deal with it in the fall after the consultation has been done when he has fixed the bill so that we can deal with this in a manner that will not jeopardize businesses and will provide for Yukoners the accessibility to safe, potable drinking water.
Letís deal with these issues and be fair to all Yukoners before we proceed with legislation that doesnít recognize that it does have some flaws. There is nothing wrong with bringing forward this for discussion purposes, having Yukoners take a look at it, and having Yukoners who have very good ideas coming up with a better way to deal with this issue. I would be happy to work with the minister on that.
This legislative backdrop that we are being asked to pass this session and move into Committee has some very serious flaws. Itís not fair to all Yukoners and I have a problem with that, as all legislators would have a problem with something that doesnít recognize that there are people under the legislation who will suffer as a result of our actions.
So I would suggest that we leave this on the Order Paper and come back to it in the fall when it has been improved and recognize some of the other issues inherent in the legislation.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: I have an interest in the amendment to this bill, Bill No. 45, because of the subject of the amendment, but also because I would like to see the bill amended to expand the program into another area of import to Yukoners.
Iíll be looking for some help from members on the government side to make this possible. Best efforts have gone into drafting this amendment. Perhaps together we can find it within ourselves to support the amendment I will be tabling, or even improve it so it goes further.
It deals with expanding the program to provide for small business operators and operators of highway lodges who need to upgrade their septic facilities in compliance with Government of Yukon regulations. This was a matter I raised last Thursday in Question Period and, as mentioned at the time, Iím bringing in the amendment at the appropriate time.
This amendment will allow Yukon operators of highway lodges and small businesses to, at some future point when programming is available, upgrade their septic systems to meet the stringent government regulations.
We have the opportunity at this time to amend the tax act to pave the way for such future programming. It seems like a sensible thing to do, to expand the program ó such as the rural electrification program ó to also include sewage. The government is introducing a drinking water proposal that will operate in the same way as the RETP. The RETP allowed for the amortization over several years and repayment on property taxes for such utility upgrades as telephone and electrical service.
What we essentially have here is a provision to upgrade drinking water for Yukon residents. What Iím proposing is an upgrade for purposes of upgrading septic systems for small businesses across the territory.
As mentioned last week, there are several small business operators across the territory who are facing hardship, possibly closure, at the hands of this governmentís red tape. We need to do something about it, we can do something about it and we should do something about it. These people are not asking for a handout. Theyíre merely looking for some assistance from the government for which they will completely repay, as does anybody else taking advantage of a program like the RETP. The benefit to the operators is obvious. It would make it affordable to upgrade their septic systems by amortizing the capital costs over several years. As mentioned, this is a recoverable expense for the Yukon government.
There are several other programs sponsored by the Yukon government that work in a similar way. Purchasing land is one such vehicle. When a Yukoner, or anybody else for that matter, wants to purchase government land ó in cases where it goes through Yukon Housing Corporation at least ó theyíre afforded a time period in which they repay a portion annually until the entire cost is met. What Iím suggesting today is that all members in this Legislature recognize the importance of this need to Yukon operators of small businesses and, in particular, operators of highway lodges.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, itís not very often we in this House do anything for operators of highway lodges except to maybe patronize their services now and then. But by and large, they are a group of business people in the territory who are facing increasing pressures due to increasing government regulations. A program, if introduced in the future, to take advantage of what we can provide for in this legislation would be very well received across the territory.
All members should also realize that if this amendment does not get the support it needs to pass that all members need to be clear of the ramifications of voting down this amendment. For some business operators, it will mean increased hardship. For others, it will mean closure. They will be forced out of business.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this world of unpredictable tourist seasons, very high gas prices and a lot of other challenges facing this demographic, we in this House need to do what we can to provide some timely assistance. These people need financial help in paying for the cost outlay of upgrading the septic systems.
Last week, the Health minister suggested his officials were working to resolve the problem.
That doesnít even begin to address the problem. On the weekend I spoke to a few operators of highway lodges, and I asked them myself. They responded by saying that what the minister was suggesting is of very little help. What they need is financial help. Theyíre not requesting a handout. Like everybody else who has applied for the rural electrification program, they will fully repay the loan. Weíre guaranteed, because the RETP has a cap based on equity in property, so the risk to the Yukon is virtually nothing. So we have an opportunity today to help these people and we should all be aware of the consequences one way or the other.
Mr. Cathers: Iíd like to thank the Member for Mount Lorne for his support of this and the Member for Kluane for what I understand to be support of this. He proposed an interesting suggestion that may require more thought, but itís certainly a very valuable injection into the debate and I commend him for that.
This suggestion, this program, may be new to the member of the third party, but some of us have been working on this for months. Iíve had a program like this asked for by a great many of my constituents. Iíve discussed this with several dozen constituents and raised this at several of my public meetings.
Obviously issues regarding regulations do need to be worked out. Actually, Mr. Deputy Speaker, those of my constituents whom I have spoken to about this unanimously support this concept of a program.
In response to the Member for Mount Lorneís concerns about "what happens if the well that is drilled ends up being dry, and who pays for that?" The concept that I had discussed with my constituents was always based on the concept that the risk was that of the person who was having the well drilled, not that of the taxpayers. I can tell him and all members of this House that a number of my constituents actually raised this as a great concern. They wanted to be sure that there would not be the possibility of someone using taxpayersí money to sink a half dozen holes in search of a well, because certainly on some properties, they are not able to get water, or in some cases, the water they get is down around 500 feet. Iíve even heard of someone going down over 700 feet and receiving nothing for water.
As much as my constituents donít like the idea of themselves being on the hook for it, they all agreed that that was the proper course of action, that someone has to take the risk in this, and rather than it being taxpayers collectively, it should be the individual who is having the well drilled on their property. The risk should be borne by that person. They have to go into that with their eyes open. This is not a magic wand. There is risk in this, but it is a mechanism that will assist people in providing them with potable water and will provide them with running water.
Iím disappointed to hear the indication from the member of the third party that it seems that she will be opposing this. I would urge her to reconsider that.
Her questions raised about whether or not this is fair to water-truck businesses is indeed a valid point for consideration, but Iíd like to point out that, in some communities, the government already delivers water with water trucks, I believe, for somewhere around $12 to $20 a month. Although there is the issue of fairness to existing businesses, if the cost that is being charged ó whether that cost is a choice made by the water-truck company or whether they are forced to charge those rates ó is not affordable to the people who are buying the water, then I believe itís incumbent on the government to take steps to assist them in access to water.
A number of my constituents are raising the point to me that this is becoming a strain on them, particularly those with limited budgets. Some of those with farming operations have depended on water delivery due to the cost of drilling a well or because, in some areas, their neighbours have had poor luck drilling a well and so they have chosen not to take that risk themselves of going down 500 or 700 feet and very likely coming up with nothing.
But this cost does become an increasing strain on both private individuals and on people who are running farms.
The Member for Mount Lorne, I believe it was, raised the point that there had been a previous program under an NDP government but it was the opinion of ourselves and of a great many of my constituents I spoke to on this that that program was badly flawed. My constituents I have spoken to, by and large, if not exclusively on this, do not want a grant. They do not want to be given money to supply them with water and they donít feel that would be an appropriate use of taxpayersí dollars.
However, this program, based in concept on the rural electrification and telephone program, was that the government would assist them by providing the upfront money but that they would be required to pay that money back through their taxes over a number of years. Certainly, as the Member for Mount Lorne raised, there is an issue that constituents of his and constituents of mine in areas such as Hidden Valley, McPherson and Forest View, do not have this same ability under the current structure because the taxing authority for those areas is the City of Whitehorse. Itís my understanding that there is the possibility that this can be extended to municipalities if municipalities come to the table and work out an arrangement with the Government of Yukon regarding that, but it is something that I understand has been dealt with, or is in the process of being dealt with, regarding telephone ó I believe it is ó and that this has been ongoing for awhile. I would encourage both municipalities and the minister responsible and his department to sit down and work on this as quickly as can be done. I encourage them to work out an arrangement that enables this program to be provided within city limits.
I would urge all members of this House to support this legislation. Certainly the rise in water rates last year was a problem for a large number of people, and of course that debate swirled around for quite a few months. It resulted of course from the restrictions that were coming out of the National Safety Code, which a previous government had signed on to and committed the Yukon government to, and there was some reduction in what the water trucks were able to carry. But based on the information given by the department, it does seem that the prices were raised in excess of what the cost increase to the water delivery companies was.
Whether that be the case or not, as I pointed out earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, no matter what the cause of the rate increase is, if individual Yukoners are being forced to take a rate hike that is unreasonable and is putting an unreasonable burden on their lives, I believe it is incumbent on the Yukon government to assist as best we can. I think this is an excellent concept. I would urge all members of this House to support this, and I would encourage the minister and his department as well as all my colleagues on this side of the House to work on the development of the regulations and the implementation of those regulations as quickly as possible so that this program can come into play as soon as possible to assist my constituents. As I pointed out, this has been requested by several dozen constituents of mine and supported by many others whom I have spoken to both at public meetings and in phone conversations that they, themselves, already have a well in place but feel that this a valuable program, an excellent initiative to assist those who do not. And key to the support of both those who have wells and those who would like wells is the fact that this program is designed to be 100-percent cost-recoverable. It is not a grant; it is not a handout. It is simply a mechanism put in place by the Yukon government to assist Yukoners in purchasing infrastructure that they themselves may not be able to purchase at this point.
So in closing, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would urge all members of this House to support this program and urge its rapid implementation.
Deputy Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have heard the conversations from the members opposite as well as my own side. I believe, as I mentioned in my opening address, this bill is not for everyone along the process, but it does allow us to act on areas where the government is the tax provider.
I think this is a good issue for us to do.
As mentioned earlier also in my address, we have lots of consultation to do to deal with the issues and criteria and the regulations required to make this work and to address some of the issues the Member for Mount Lorne indicated earlier, as well as the member of the third party.
We will go out there and do an extensive consultation with the general public as well as the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Environment. We plan to do that to ensure we have a good program, similar to the RETP.
That is the objective of what we want to do. As I indicated, it doesnít address the issues within the municipalities and that is something weíll have to work on with the municipalities that are in place. But for the rural areas of the Yukon, I believe this is an important initiative. I believe itís an option that many people in rural areas can choose. If, for example, the neighbour on one side or the other is having difficulty getting water, then the chances of hitting water through a well may be fairly difficult. On the other hand, if people are getting wells all around you, thereís probably a good chance youíll hit water.
Again, thereís no guarantee, but in essence I think part of developing our regulations and criteria is to go out there and address some of these issues so we can provide a program that minimizes that risk to the maximum possible on behalf of the taxpayer as well as this government.
Deputy Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Deputy Speaker:Division has been called.
Deputy Speaker: The bells have been turned off.
Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Deputy Speaker, the results are 15 yea, nil nay.
Deputy Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Second reading of Bill No. 45 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Deputy Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05. We will continue with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: Weíll stand in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Before the Committee is Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05. We will continue with general debate on Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Bill No. 10 ó First Appropriation Act, 2004-05 ó continued
Department of Energy, Mines and Resources ó continued
Hon. Mr. Lang:In my opening remarks, when we left off last Thursday, we were talking about Energy, Mines and Resources. I guess, have to clear up a few of the concepts of what our department did, what certain parts of it did, how the department worked and how we had, over the last 16 months, welded this organization into the tight little organization it is. So I would appreciate more questions from the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: I will oblige the minister by asking a few more questions. Before I commence, I would like to congratulate him on the level of cooperation he did afford me on Thursday in trying to sluice down those lengthy responses to more of a nugget form. That certainly was appreciated.
As all members know and appreciate, Iím sure, we only have about five and a half days remaining in this spring sitting. All members are looking forward to asking as many questions as possible within that limited period of time.
I asked the minister a very simple question on Thursday afternoon about the Watson Lake cogenerator scheme theyíre working on. Instead of getting a simple, brief answer as requested, we heard an 18-and-a-half-minute long response that went from one corner of the department to the other corner.
Thatís not the type of response weíre looking for because, firstly, he didnít provide the information requested and, secondly, it wasted a lot of time.
The request was simple, and Iíll repeat it now as my start-off question: can the minister provide some material that provides an overview of this potential project, along with some responses to the questions I asked on Thursday. A simple material request is all Iím looking for. It doesnít have to come today, next week, not even next month ó just be reasonable. This information exists and letís work together to expedite our time and increase our productivity in this House.
Would the minister kindly provide us with that information?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. Understanding that the answer being lengthy is ó also the question should be short and to the point itself. What I would like to say to the member opposite is that we appreciate the questions he asked last week during Question Period on Energy, Mines and Resources and we are looking at all aspects of the forest industry in southeast Yukon. Cogeneration is, I guess, part of that but, as far as putting together proposals, weíre not doing that at this moment. All weíre doing is working with industry, the First Nation and the community of Watson Lake to try to be a conduit so that eventually we can open the forest industry in southeast Yukon in an economical way that benefits the community and the First Nations in the area.
As far as the cogeneration, thatís just part of a bigger picture, and we certainly are interested in every aspect of the forest industry in southeast Yukon, but as far as some documentation, we donít have that at the moment here as the government. The Town of Watson Lake and the First Nation in the Watson Lake area is very interested; but again, I remind the member opposite, we are going to be a conduit. Weíre not going to be an investor in the forest industry in southeast Yukon. We want to work with the companies, the residents, to make sure that when this thing unfolds at such a time, itís successful and it benefits all of the Yukoners who live in the southeast Yukon area.
Mr. McRobb: Well, those are nice words, Mr. Chair, sort of a motherhood and apple pie type of words, but what the minister is asking us to do is just give him carte blanche approval that in whichever direction he proceeds it will be the right path.
Now, if this governmentís track record were a good one, perhaps our fears would be alleviated, but the contrary is true, Mr. Chair. As well, whatís all the secrecy about? Why is the Yukon Party government not being straight up with the information and providing answers to our questions?
Whatís the big secret?
We know they are looking at a proposal. They are looking at different models. It is that type of information I am looking for. But if they are not willing to provide it, let the record show that and weíll move on, because we will be as productive as possible.
I want to revisit the issue of the Brewery Creek mine momentarily. The minister did promise to make a statement today. I donít believe that has happened. I donít know when or where or what type of statement he was referring to, but certainly we are not aware of him making any statement on this mine.
I want to ask him about the potential for acid mine drainage at the site because itís my understanding that a site-wide acid mine drainage, or AMD, assessment has been called for. This AMD assessment has been called for by the very professional engineer hired by this ministerís colleagueís department, the Department of Environment.
Now, on a matter like this, we know that the departments arenít in their own silos. They are working together closely because itís a mining issue and itís also a regulation issue. The minister has indicated that. As a matter of fact, in previous government press releases announcing premature release of securities both ministers have been quoted. So there is a case in point.
I notice that he is in discussions with departmental officials, so I am looking forward to a good answer to the question about whether his government believes it is necessary to do a site-wide AMD assessment, and will the government help fund it?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Iíd like to go back and correct a statement about the cogeneration in Watson Lake for the member opposite. The statement about secretive documentation, or whatever, is false. We donít work like that in this government. Our job is Energy, Mines and Resources, and of course forestry is part of that portfolio. Our job is resource management and thatís what weíre proceeding with in southeast Yukon. We have a working cooperation with the Kaska First Nation, but as far as any secret documentation on cogeneration, sawmills, kilns or whatever ó itís not a fact. The fact is that our Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is working very aggressively in the southeast Yukon in the forestry industry for resource management and is moving ahead with that.
As far as any innuendo out there about statements made on cogeneration and sawmills, those are all corporate decisions and are things that will hopefully happen in the future. Along with our resource management, we can make that possible. We can be a conduit but, as far as being an investor in a cogeneration unit in Watson Lake, as far as Energy, Mines and Resources is concerned, it isnít going to happen. I would just like to have the member opposite corrected on that.
As far as Brewery Creek is concerned, a lot of the questions he asked are for Environment and I donít pretend to answer questions for Environment. There are issues at Brewery Creek that have to be addressed on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. Energy, Mines and Resources works with Environment. At the end of the day, we both have to be comfortable with the closure ó Energy, Mines and Resources, and Environment and the corporation itself.
Brewery Creek is in the process of closure. They have a workplan ahead of them and are working aggressively with that workplan. Iím certain that when the Minister of Environment stands up and debates his department, there will be questions about Brewery Creek. But as far as Energy, Mines and Resources is concerned, weíre very positive on the Brewery Creek mine site. I think all Yukoners should be very interested in the closing of the mine because itís the first mine north of 60 that has actually done what it said it would do on the closure basis. So it started, it opened up and now itís in the process of closing. Theyíre working at it aggressively to get it done as quickly as possible.
Of course, there are studies that have been done ó commissioned independent engineering and environmental studies ó to make sure that the closure plan is on target. Iím very confident that these independent engineers are qualified people working very positively to the final end.
The final end of the project is to have a closed, environmentally friendly ex-mine site that the people in Dawson City and in the area donít have to worry about in the future.
So I think that weíre moving very productively toward that closing date. As we go year by year and put our business plans and our closure plans together, we get closer to the finale, which one day will be that the mine will be closed permanently.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I think we on this side of the House donít agree with the minister on several fronts, and we know it would be an impossible task to get the minister to change his outlook on these matters. So weíre content to just let the differences stand on the record and go from there. But I want to revisit briefly the issue of the Watson Lake cogenerator and respond to the ministerís qualifying words that the Yukon government was not investing in the facility and therefore was somewhat exempt from the proposal.
Mr. Chair, I would have thought this particular minister would have learned from his time on the board of directors for the Yukon Development Corporation about electrical generation models that are rate based. It doesnít really matter who owns the investment. If such investment is rate based, then all Yukon ratepayers are on the hook for paying the investment, along with a profit margin on that investment. In addition, quite often, there are O&M costs on the investment as well. In the case of a potential cogeneration plant in Watson Lake, Mr. Chair, there are also other issues, such as fuel supply, and the government has responsibilities in that jurisdiction. There are all kinds of other issues, including economic development and the need to satisfy First Nationsí rights, et cetera.
So the minister can try to skate away from this one, but he can only skate so far around the rink before he comes back to where he started from. This is a matter for us to deal with at some future point.
On the issue of Brewery Creek, I also want to state that I spelled out how the two ministers are working in conjunction, yet the minister stands up, ignores what I said and goes on to describe how theyíre not working together. This is somewhat of concern to realize that the two ministers are working in their own silos unconnected from one another on matters of such import. It also makes Yukoners wonder how this minister can stand up and boast about the good job this particular mining operator is doing if heís not fully cognizant of all the activities and liabilities and potential repercussions from the operatorís activities at this mine site. Itís beyond comprehension how somebody can claim to be an expert when they donít have all the information needed to become an expert. How can this mine be the best thing since sliced bread in the mind of the minister if he separates issues like acid mine drainage from the equation? It doesnít add up. This government has a responsibility and this minister has a responsibility to think comprehensively about operations, such as the reclamation at Brewery Creek, before making bold declarations about the performance of the operator.
Now, that said, I do want to advance the discussion, but before we do I have a couple more questions on this particular mine site.
I believe it would be best for this government to actually calculate the financial surety for this mine site and other mine sites under his jurisdiction. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, present calculations are done by the mining company itself.
Now, a few moments ago we heard the minister stand up and announce that he was completely satisfied with that approach. But, Mr. Chair, there is an inherent conflict of interest in that it is in the financial interest of any company to minimize the amount of the surety. This leads companies to make assumptions in their calculations that lessen costs to the company and correspondingly increase risk for the government and, consequently, the taxpayer.
Secondly, if each company calculates its own financial surety, there will be a great deal of inconsistency between calculations and hence inconsistency in the relative amount of financial surety required by the government for each company.
We believe that in order to make the process and hence the amount of financial surety required equitable, the government should actually perform the calculations regarding reclamation and surety itself. This also would give the government much more assurance that the amount required will match the level of risk presented at each site.
Now, the minister also indicates that the local First Nations working in unison with a corporation, et cetera ó however, Mr. Chair, itís my understanding that the Tríondëk Hwëchíin has asked the government to be more cautious and restrictive on several issues, including water quality standards, topsoil placement during reclamation and the amount of the financial surety. We keep coming back to that, because Yukon taxpayers are concerned that this government might be selling them out for a good-news announcement.
Other people, including First Nations, are concerned that, if there is a shortfall, the work wonít get done and any damage to the environment or outstanding reclamation wonít get done. Weíve seen too many sites in the territory that have turned out that way.
In such instances, the government has adopted the recommendations of the company. In particular, in regard to Brewery Creek, the water in Laura Creek will be allowed to degrade to the point where it will only meet water quality standards at the point it joins the south Klondike River. While Laura Creek probably canít be described as high-value aquatic habitat, its aquatic values are being sacrificed for mining when the technology and the means to avoid this impact are available. Iím sure this comes at some cost to the company, but that should be the bottom-line cost of doing business in the Yukon.
The minister also referenced buildings, and so on, remaining on the mine site as equity. Heís in the minority when he believes that any improvements on the property left behind are an asset. Most people want the locations returned to their natural state and any buildings, or what-have-you, removed from the site. If youíre looking at the economic value of buildings that are left that can potentially be moved, well, any value is really questionable because of the cost involved in moving those buildings.
So I realize Iíve made some statements on the record. The questions that come out of it are pretty plain and simple, I think.
The first one is: will this government undertake to develop its own calculations on financial surety or is it satisfied to accept those made by mining companies?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, for the member oppositeís information, we are the government on this side of the House and have an obligation to deal with realities, not hearsay. Our Brewery Creek mine was in the closing process when this government took over devolution. So there was a process set out.
The insinuations or the comments of the member opposite that the corporation independently sets the paydown on reclamation is dead wrong. We have the Department of Environment, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources and corporations. We have a responsibility to all Yukoners to make sure that this reclamation works in a very businesslike fashion and, of course, the environment is protected. We have that obligation to the Yukon people.
No government in Yukon or in Canada would let a corporation ó independent, without government input ó do what the member insinuates weíre doing. This is a very important issue that this government is going through at the moment with that corporation. Thatís why there are independent engineering studies. Thatís why the questions are independently brought forward, and Energy, Mines and Resources and Environment are part of the solution.
So when the member opposite says that this company somehow has got hold of its own purse strings, he is factually incorrect. We are working very positively with this corporation. Weíre doing what was set out ó the workplan. We are working with them to address their security, because, Mr. Chair, the Government of Canada and, in turn, ourselves made a commitment to that corporation on the steps they would have to take to get their resources back. We are just honouring what we said we would do.
Mr. Chair, on the other comments in the mining fraternity, thatís how we, as the government on this side of the House, perceive mining should be done in the Yukon in the future.
We as a department, whether itís Environment or Energy, Mines and Resources, are working with our eyes wide open with Brewery Creek because this is an example of how we will be handling mine closures in the future. So itís very timely for us to have this issue on our plate at the moment.
As far as the member opposite, with the insinuations of this bad corporation running around with the purse strings and dictating to a government what the process is going to be, we on this side of the House donít work like that. We work in partnership with the corporation. We work in partnership with the local First Nation. The local First Nation is kept informed on a monthly basis, daily basis. A lot of the employees on-site are First Nation. The First Nations, to be very truthful, are probably more abreast of this than I am on whatís happening on the ground. So as far as the corporation in any way doing anything that is not common knowledge to both levels of government, whether itís the First Nation or our government, is wrong as far as the insinuation that Energy, Mines and Resources and Environment are working independent of each other. Itís wrong. This government does not work like this. This government works in partnership with each other to make sure that the decisions made reflect well on both departments, that Yukoners get the best bang for the buck at the end of the day, and that, at the end of the road, the mining company can walk away, getting its resources back, and move on to other exploration commitments they have in other places.
Last year, the money that was released was spent in the Yukon with their exploration budget, so we are not only returning money because the company did what it said it was going to do in that phase; they also took the money and, with that kind of optimism, invested it back in Yukon. So, in turn, weíve got a double bang for the buck that was spent.
So as far as Brewery Creek is concerned, the buildings are a liability. The First Nation was not interested in the buildings. There was no interest in Dawson or the area in the buildings. It is part of that reclamation that the buildings are taken down and theyíre either sold or theyíre done away with in a fashion that it will be the next step in the reclamation of the mine site.
I think that where weíre at here is that we depend on science, engineering and information from our department to make these kinds of corporate decisions. When the member opposite insinuates that we as a department ó either Environment or Energy, Mines and Resources ó are doing things that arenít in cohesion with the industry or with the First Nation, I hope that what Iíve said is a comfort to him because we certainly do not do this as a government. Iím sure any government would work the same as this government is doing on this reclamation because, at the end of the day, we all have to live with that reclamation. Whatever government is here, at the end of the day, when Brewery Creek, Viceroy, is all over, our community has to live with the repercussions of that reclamation. The reclamation has to be done in a scientific way and in an engineering process that minimizes any exposure to an environmental problem in that area.
So, certainly Brewery Creek is part of our management of type II sites. Itís progressing and getting closer to closure. As a department, we have been working with Environment, and they are of course the lead on many of these issues.
When the minister is up, youíll be able to talk to him about his department, but we do work in harness with them to make sure that, at the end of the day, Yukoners will have a mine thatís closed and it will be a minimal environmental problem for that area.
As far as the worry of Brewery Creek, thereís always a concern until it is closed, but Iím very confident as the minister ó and you can talk to the Minister of Environment ó that the corporation has done their due diligence, the work is proceeding, they have made work commitments and met those work commitments in a very timely fashion. Some of the resources have been released under expert advice independent of the mining company, per se. We have $5.2 million on deposit in a letter of credit. That money is still sitting there. Thereís a process whereby eventually that money, as this thing unravels and moves forward, will be credited to them and, at the end of the day, weíll have a mine thatís closed permanently.
Will the minister table the report, Mr. Chair? I will identify the author of the report if I am allowed to mention the name: Perry Mehling, P.Eng, dated March 2004. Can the minister table that report for us?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I canít really answer that because it wasnít a report that my department commissioned.
Mr. McRobb: Here we go again, Mr. Chair.
These ministers are playing musical chairs. Itís a shell game with this government. They are hiding reports in other departments, and it makes it very difficult just to track these things from an oppositionís perspective through the maze to be able to get to the end.
Maybe these members should be aware that the biggest maze this government has to deal with is this term in office, because when it gets to the end of the rope, they will be in for a rude awakening at the hands of the Yukon voters. Itís examples like this that these members will be regretting when they are on the end of that unemployment line in a couple of years.
The minister again made some bold statements. One of them is in regard to the site-wide assessment for acid mine drainage. Just for the record, any existing studies that have been done to date regarding AMD potential were strictly confined to the heap and blue waste rock.
A more comprehensive assessment is needed. For example, there are mined-out pits and other waste dumps on the site that need to be assessed. I want to revisit this question with the minister: will he agree to perform a site-wide assessment for acid mine drainage?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again to the member opposite, we certainly work in conjunction with the Department of Environment. Certainly, if there was some necessity for something like that and we saw something on our radar screen that wasnít appropriate, we would certainly be working with Environment, but I would say to the member opposite that would be led by Environment and Environment would do the job and at the end of the day they would share the information with Energy, Mines and Resources and all Yukoners.
Mr. McRobb: There we go. This governmentís passing the buck again. Again I will remind it: the buck stops at the ministerís desk and each one of these ministersí desks, because at the end of the line, Mr. Chair, they will be judged on their record. And the more they try to maintain the secrecy around this information, the more theyíll regret it after the next final judgement.
Now I want to turn to another area because I think itís not very productive to pursue this particular area with the minister. Heís locked into protecting this operator. Heís refusing to provide any information. So Iím going to move on.
I want to ask the minister now about a subject that I know heís near and dear to, and thatís coal mining in the territory. I asked him this question back in December and he indicated that certainly he was in favour of it, but can he tell us now: will this government agree to first undertake consultations with all Yukoners with respect to developing coal mines in the territory before indeed that industry is further developed? Would he agree to do that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I would like to correct the member opposite on some of the statements he made in the last statement about communicating and hiding and working with some kind of smoke-and-mirror thing in the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. I want to remind the member opposite that we are responsible to Yukon people. As the member opposite, at the end of the day weíre all voted in, but we canít run our whole lives around getting voted in again. We were voted in once and we were voted in to do a job, and the job of Energy, Mines and Resources is to manage the resources of the Yukon. I take that very seriously.
I think the working relationship between Energy, Mines and Resources and Environment is a very positive relationship. I think that at the end of the day, when youíre managing issues, I think you get more with sugar than you do with salt, and I think that our relationship with the First Nation in Dawson and of course Environment and Energy, Mines and Resources and the industry has certainly boded well for our relationship: first of all, with our working relationship, our partnerships with First Nations; second of all, with industry; and third, within our departments, understanding that we took over devolution a year ago.
It has been a learning experience, but weíre not in the habit of hiding information from Yukoners, and we certainly are not hiding information from either one of our departments. So as far as the member opposite is concerned, I canít give him facts that arenít there, because thatís my job. My job is to be factual, and if I have issues, and if I can help the member opposite, itís my duty to do that. But as far as not being able to answer the question, if I donít have an answer because itís not an issue that is in front of me and then the member opposite insinuates that weíre hiding something, weíre not hiding. We have a responsibility to not only the members of the opposition but also to Yukoners to answer questions in this House in an honest and forthright way so that they can go out and inform their constituents on whatís happening.
We cannot, in a small jurisdiction like the Yukon, have a them-and-us routine, because that doesnít work. That divides and rules, and that is not a productive way to do business in the Yukon. Part of our governmentís platform was bringing in openness in government and also bringing in partnerships, and we have done both those things. As far as the issue about Brewery Creek, Brewery Creek is in the process of closing. We inherited that through devolution. There was a process in place. Weíve extended that process. Weíve done what we said we were going to do. We also honoured what the federal government said they were going to do. We have a working relationship with the mine site and the First Nation and, inter-department wise, thatís going to close the mine at Brewery Creek, and that is our first issue. Our issue is to close the mine at Brewery Creek for all Yukoners so that at the end of the day we have an environmentally friendly area for people in Dawson so we donít have to worry about the environment.
If you were to go to Faro or Mount Nansen and look at those mine sites, and then go to Brewery Creek, Brewery Creek is a success story for Yukon. Itís a success because weíre going through the steps of closure and those steps of closure are steps to the end that will be an environmentally friendly area that, at one time, was a productive gold mine.
As far as our departments are concerned, weíre working in unison. As far as our partnership with the corporation, we work in unison with them and in partnership with the First Nation. All four of us are working toward a common goal, and that common goal is to close the mine.
As far as looking down the road and when the finale is, I would say the mine site should be closed in probably three to four years. Then there are questions about how we carry any liability forward. All those questions will be answered, but theyíre all being answered in a businesslike way. The buildings will be gone this year. There will not be a building left on-site, hopefully, by the end of the summer. Part of the reclamation is to get rid of the buildings.
And all those other issues ó as far as the Klondike River is concerned, itís a salmon-bearing river. Itís very important that we keep that river in a productive fashion, so we are very concerned about any water going into it that would pollute that resource.
We and Environment are working in unison with the corporation to make sure that doesnít happen.
What we have to get out of the House here is factual information for the general public, for their constituents and our constituents, to make sure that weíre acting in a responsible way. To insinuate anything else is unfair to Yukoners and to the government of the day.
I think Brewery Creek will be successful and, within the next three or four years, it should be closed.
Chair:Before debate continues, the Chair is somewhat uneasy and uncomfortable with one of the comments that was just raised. To insinuate that other members are not being factual could lead to some people understanding or drawing the conclusion that that member was intentionally misleading, which Iím sure was not the memberís intention.
In our debate, Iím probably being overly cautious in this matter, but I would just like to again bring it to the attention of members that to charge members with deliberately uttering a falsehood is strictly against our Standing Orders.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think all members need to be mindful of your rulings in that regard.
The minister was too wrapped up in his own world to respond to the question, which ó I will remind him ó was about coal mining in the territory and whether he would allow for consultation first. So could he respond to that question?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Certainly any mining proposal that comes before us, a big part of that is public consultation, so as far as a coal mine, zinc mine, or whatever, there is a process we go through and the public is part of that process.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís not quite it. The minister is talking about a specific application should one be presented to the regulator, and of course thereís a requirement for public consultation depending on the level of concerns in relation to the application. Thatís not what I asked.
What I asked was basic government policy with respect to the coal mining industry. What Iím asking is: would this minister undertake to have a round of public consultation about further developing this industry before it happens? I believe Yukoners need to be asked whether we want an expanded coal mining industry in the territory. I believe itís incumbent upon this government to produce information such as: what are the potential impacts to global warming, climate change, and the Kyoto agreement? Thatís the question for the minister.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Certainly there is a process for public information and public contribution to any of the mining policies, and coal is one of them. I mean, the expanded coal mining industry in the Yukon ó there is no coal mining industry in the Yukon. To expand it would mean that we would have to get a coal mine, I guess, and there would be public consultation on how it would open, where it would be. All of those issues would have to be addressed. Weíve got the general public, weíve got First Nations, weíve got a process in place where we address all the issues.
Certainly, Mr. Chair, at the end of the day, if there were a proposal somewhere for a coal mine, there would be a process for public consultation, and we have an obligation to listen to that consultation.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, the minister just doesnít get it. Iím not talking about consultation with respect to a specific application; itís about government policy with respect to developing the industry. Now, I was looking for a sensible answer, but I didnít get one. I guess you canít get blood from a stone, Mr. Chair, so Iím just going to ask the minister if he supports coal mining in the territory.
Hon. Mr. Lang: As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, I have a responsibility. Itís not whether I personally support coal mining in the Yukon. I have a responsibility as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources to addresses issues that are brought forward to us as a responsible department.
Coal mining is part of the mineral wealth of the Yukon, Mr. Chair. At the end of the day, if there is a need out there, I imagine somebody will bring something in front of Energy, Mines and Resources. We will have a process in place. We will have policies in place and the public will contribute input on a mine site. Certainly, at the end of the day, we certainly will be working with the affected First Nation that that traditional territory is on or near, and those kinds of issues have to be addressed. So anything that comes to Energy, Mines and Resources ó coal mining or coal per se, zinc, gold, lead, tungsten ó all those issues have to be addressed in a very responsible way. That is why we had the department set up, Mr. Chair. Itís set up for that exact reason. Itís not a personal thing; do you like coal mining? Do you like zinc mining? Do you like uranium mining? You know, thatís not the issue. My job as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is to represent the Yukon in the department.
If some corporation or individual brings these things forward, we have an obligation not only to them but to the Yukon public to make sure it is handled in an appropriate fashion, and we will do that. Thatís why we were elected; thatís why the Yukon gave their vote of confidence to us ó that we would take this forward, handle it in an appropriate fashion and, at the end of the day, have a Department of Energy, Mines and Resources that works. Working means that coal mining, zinc, forestry, and all those things that are under Energy, Mines and Resources, are run in a very businesslike way and a very Yukon-friendly way.
As far as coal mining is concerned, itís another mineral ore out there we will have policy in place for and handle accordingly.
Mr. McRobb: Why the Yukon Party secrecy? This is going too far. People in the territory deserve to know where their politicians stand on important policy issues like coal mining. This minister canít hide behind applications down the road and adjust his opinion as he sees fit and blow with the wind. People are tired of those types of politicians. This minister needs to be clear.
I want to ask him about coal-bed methane. Does he or does he not support this industry?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Kenyon on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I draw the Chairís attention to the Assemblyís Guidelines for Oral Question Period, which I would submit would include in here that a question that seeks an opinion about government policy is out of order. The member is certainly able, we hope, to ask questions about fact, but asking for ministerís opinions is not relevant.
Chair:There is no point of order. As always, the minister may choose to answer the question or not.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the Minister of Environment bringing a few things forward.
When we got the oil and gas in 1998, at that point coal-bed methane wasnít transferred to us. It came through devolution.
It certainly is out there. Itís an issue that involves coal mining, per se. There is no policy in place on how weíre going to handle it in the future. It certainly is an issue that we have to address. Itís an issue that has a lot of strings attached to it in respect to how do you separate coal methane from coal, or vice versa? Is it a gas? Is it a mineral? In Canada there is only one producing coal methane well. Thatís in southeast Alberta. I think there are more coming on line. I would say that weíre a long way from coal methane gas in this jurisdiction because of our remoteness, and access to market would be very expensive. So we have time to grow into it. It is an issue out there that we have to address as a department, and the department is addressing it. Certainly anything we do will be brought forward to the Yukon people so that they have an overview of how this thing will work, but itís not something weíre planning on doing in the near future. Itís a responsibility of ours to do it in the long haul, but at the moment itís out there. We have no policies in place. We will be working on it in the future, and of course itís all part of managing, and itís all part of managing Energy, Mines and Resources, and thatís what weíre elected to do.
Mr. McRobb: Again, why the Yukon Party secrecy? Now thereís a company by the name of Promithian that has a Web site that is advertising development of coal-bed methane in the territory, so itís a lot closer than what this minister is telling us in this House. Now I want to ask him: when will he develop the regulations necessary for this industry?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Weíre still working on the issue. Iím not privy to the information he has, but we certainly understand that there is coal methane in that area and that there is a huge coal field in that area.
And certainly, where there is a coal field, there is a coal methane gas field ó in most coal fields. So as far as what a company has done, Iím not privy to that. We donít have anything in place at the moment, but we will be working on it, and down the road it will be brought to the Yukon people and we will prove it and see where weíre going to move in what direction.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, people are afraid this is another example of where the minister is frittering away an opportunity, just like he did to join the energy price commission a year ago to try to reduce the cost of gas at the pumps. I refer you to Question Period today. He had the opportunity more than a year ago. He declined, and weíre seeing the highest prices ever in the Yukon now and theyíre going to get a lot higher because this minister has done nothing. Now, if he continues to do nothing on other important files, Mr. Chair, itís likely these other files will lead to similar disasters.
Now, we need to regulate the regulations before this industry gets a foothold in the territory. The minister canít shirk his responsibilities. He needs to express where heís at with respect to coal-bed methane and make it clear on the record. Whatís he afraid of? Does he stand for this industry, or doesnít he?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Chair, the member opposite ó weíre debating Energy, Mines and Resources. The gas issue is a consumer affairs issue. Itís not in Energy, Mines and Resources, just if the member opposite would stand corrected on that issue. We certainly have an issue with coal-bed methane gas, and when devolution arrived and we acquired the responsibility for coal-bed methane gas, there was a void.
There was a void in that period.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: The issues we have are daily issues weíre working on in a very productive way. Through devolution we acquired the coal methane gas issue and that was an issue we got a year ago. There was a void because the federal government didnít have anything in place pertaining to coal methane gas ó guess why, Mr. Chair? The issue wasnít out there because of the remoteness of the coal methane gas. There wasnít a demand at that point; there wasnít an issue, so the federal government did not have policy in place for coal methane gas.
As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, what I did once this coal methane gas came forward was to say we need some policies in place; we need to get some regulations and we need to work on this. Iím committing to the member opposite that we are doing that. Weíre working away at this. We have a lot of issues in our department that we have to get done so that, at the end of the day, the mining and forestry issues can get out there. We are working on coal methane gas. We are going to work on the policy and the regulations to make sure we can manage it in a proper fashion, but as far as promising the member opposite itíll be done next week, thatís impossible; that isnít going to happen.
This government takes its responsibilities very seriously. This was handed to us a year ago through devolution. The federal government did not have anything on it. We couldnít piggyback on them so we had to start the policy and start working on coal methane gas. Weíre doing that; the department is doing that, but we have other issues in the oil and gas department. We have southeast Yukon with Devon. Theyíre going to spend $10 million this year on the fields in southeast Yukon. We have dispositions in north Yukon. We have the potential of Devon doing some work up there. Weíre not sitting on our hands in the oil and gas branch of Energy, Mines and Resources.
We are moving very, very aggressively into the oil and gas business in Canada. So we canít do everything overnight. We are working very hard in our department to get this thing done in a timely fashion. Once we get the policy in place and once we move ahead with this thing, certainly the government will know, it will be common knowledge, Yukoners will know ó and how we in the future visualize handling the coal methane gas in the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Again, why the Yukon Party secrecy on this?
Now, I asked when this government would be developing the regulations. The minister went for another skate around the rink without answering the question. I didnít ask him if he would produce them next week. Again this is a figment of his own imagination. I am looking for some timelines. Can the minister undertake to provide us with the timelines for his departmentís development of regulations for coal-bed methane? Can he provide us with that on paper?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again I remind the member opposite that through devolution we acquired the coal methane gas issue. It wasnít an issue with the federal government ó DIAND at the time ó because of our remoteness and the science behind coal methane gas. We are working as hard as our department can do, prioritizing our priorities to get the Yukonís oil and gas division up and running in the Yukon. We certainly have coal methane gas on our radar screen. For the member opposite to think otherwise is folly. We would be irresponsible if we did not take coal methane gas seriously.
We are doing that as we sit here today.
But I will be honest with you, Mr. Chair. We have our priorities set. Weíre going in a direction, and at the end of the day we will have a policy in place for coal methane gas. Thatís one of the issues.
But, Mr. Chair, itís not the only issue we have in oil and gas. We have other issues out there. We have the southeast Yukon; we have north Yukon; we have the pipeline issue; we have the Mackenzie pipeline issue. We have all those issues that we have to address on a daily basis because the demand is there on a daily basis and we donít have a huge excess of people to put to work on these files. We have a very tight organization, and they have a huge job to do in front of them ó the Alaska Highway pipeline.
Letís go through them. Youíve got the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. Youíve got issues with access to the pipeline. Youíve got north gas dispositions that are going out now. Youíve got the potential of some work being done in north Yukon on a drilling program. Youíve got southeast Yukon with a maintenance program and a drilling program that is going to happen in the near future.
All of those issues are being addressed in a very productive way. Coal methane is one of the many issues that we will have policies for in place. But for me to tell the member opposite that we have steps and these are the dates and this is how itís going to work ó that isnít in the cards at the moment. But we will keep him informed as we move along and get this coal methane gas addressed, because we as a government, we as Energy, Mines and Resources ó somebody has to address the coal methane gas issue. Itís not going to go away, Mr. Chair. Itís going to be there, and as we walk in through devolution and walk through the years ahead of us, I imagine coal methane gas will become a bigger issue as it opens up, as the markets open up, access opens up, all of those issues would be addressed in time. What we want to do in Energy, Mines and Resources ó and Iíd like to remind the member opposite ó is we want to fight the battles we can win, very importantly.
We want to work on this on a daily basis, and we want to manage our department in a very businesslike fashion and at the end of the day get some product. At the moment, weíre working on coal methane gas. Itís not the biggest thing on our radar screen at the moment, but as it unfolds Yukoners will know at the end of the day ó because they will be participating ó how we visualize using coal methane gas and how we proceed with management of that coal methane gas in the future.
Mr. McRobb: Again, whatís the big secret to this Yukon Party government? Itís clearly trying to escape accountability, and Iíll explain why. This minister has a duty to inform Yukoners about his agenda, about his views and about what opportunities there will be for process in the territory, developing policy with respect to issues like the coal-bed methane industry. He is ignoring all of that and, instead, adopting the father-knows-best attitude.
On more than one occasion, this minister has told us on this side, "Donít bother asking me questions, because my personnel are better serving Yukoners working on my agenda rather than working to answer your questions." Well, where was that during the last election campaign from this minister? He didnít tell Yukoners that he intended to avoid answering questions by the opposition, because he felt personnel would be more productive working on his agenda. Instead this government campaigned on being more open and accountable. I recall this particular ministerís own personal pledge to Yukoners to have a can-do attitude. Well, what weíre hearing now is that he canít do. He canít do this for the opposition; he canít do that for the opposition. He can only do what he wants to do, and thatís wrong.
The least this minister can do is cough up some timelines for developing regulations for this industry. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Chair, I appreciate the member oppositeís excitement, because we on this side of the House have a responsibility to Yukon people to manage our departments in a proper fashion and to work with the department, as a team, to address the questions that are asked of our department.
As far as the timeline for coal methane gas, the question was asked and it was answered. We could go on and on until whenever on this issue. He asked the question; I answered the question. I answered it as honestly as I could as a minister of the Crown, to make sure the member opposite is very clear on the issue. Coal methane gas is an issue and I appreciate his comments, but all I can do is answer the questions asked.
As far as the question about whether or not weíre covering up coal methane gas, are we doing something illegal or doing something Yukon people should be wary of? As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources I feel quite comfortable addressing the issue to all Yukoners about coal methane gas. Itís an issue that came over with devolution. Itís an issue that DIAND did not address, because there was no need to address the issue because the issue was not an issue.
As a progressive, look-forward government, we have taken the responsibility and said to the member opposite that weíre serious about coal methane gas, and we will have policy put together and we are working toward that. For me to comment on time frames, we have a huge task ahead of us in this department. This department has a huge obligation to Yukon people.
We made a promise to put Yukoners back to work and that was in partnership with industry. I understand the member opposite questioning about industry and the threat of industry coming to the Yukon, but we made a commitment to Yukoners that we would work in partnership with First Nations and industry to get the economy of the Yukon revitalized.
Mr. Chair, we doubled the exploration money that was spent the year previous to our tenure in office. It went from $6.5 million to just under $15 million ó over double ó and we are looking forward to an even better picture this year, probably closer to $20 million.
Education ó Energy, Mines and Resources. We talk about educating Yukoners. We put out an exploration technology program for all Yukoners so they can get a better feel for the mining industry so we can hire people who are Yukoners. We had an overwhelming number of Yukoners come forward ó 60 to 80 people went into the training program to come out at the other end to work with industry so the industry would have people. Those are the kinds of things weíre doing, Mr. Chair. This department is working very hard to make sure all Yukoners are aware of whatís available out there and is working in conjunction with companies and with the First Nations to make sure weíre all prepared to answer the call when industry comes.
Industry is here. Iíd like to thank Dawson City, in the classrooms alone, on this education package for mining. We had Dawson City, Whitehorse, Ross River and Haines Junction. Haines Junction, one of the towns in his riding, took advantage of this training program. As well, the Klondike Placer Miners Association is committed to taking eight to 10 of these graduates.
And also, Tagish Gold opened up their camp, got it so that we could do a working program underground. Is that a department sitting on its hands? I donít think so. Is that a department hiding behind smoke and mirrors? I donít think so. This government has a responsibility to answer the questions that the member opposite fields, and I certainly appreciate that. But my thing as the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources ó Iím responsible to answer the questions of members opposite. I understand that, too, but also I have to answer the questions of Yukoners. We made a commitment in our platform that we were going to work diligently at putting the Yukon back to work. The list of things that this government has done in 16 months to put the foundation together so that the Yukon can move forward in a very productive way to become a net benefit to Canadian tax dollars, eventually get back on our feet so we have a balance between industry and government and progress to be a very balanced economy. Now coal methane gas is part of that, but we have a lot to do in our department.
I commit to the member opposite that we will keep the House informed on how the policy moves forward. We are committed to doing that and, in turn, committed to the Yukon people to do the same thing, but we on this side of the House, in Energy, Mines and Resources, are working to put Yukoners first, put Yukoners back to work and move forward in the resource industries available to us in the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Iím afraid the level of cooperation in this Legislature has reversed some 10 years or more under this government. I couldnít help but see the difference between the way this government operates as compared to the last couple of governments anyway. About half an hour ago when the Minister of Environment stood up on a point of order, I thought he was going to table the report I was requesting. That would have been the cooperative thing to do. That would have been the right thing to do. Personally, I have witnessed that type of cooperation on several occasions in this Legislature, even from the last government, the Liberal government.
Now, this Yukon Party government operates quite differently. It doesnít provide any information very easily. Itís like pulling henís teeth, Mr. Chair. Each little bit of information requires a lot of effort, and thatís if you want to track the shell game through the departments to chase it down. Itís like going on a rabbit hunt, and thatís not right. This government is not accountable. It wants a complete free hand to govern the territory. It wants to govern without constraint. Itís not willing to provide timelines for developing regulations in this coal-bed methane industry. Itís not willing to provide anything. Instead, itís got a father-knows-best attitude. "Just wait. When there is a need for you to be informed, I shall speak," says the minister. Well, thatís not right; thatís wrong. Now, it wonít be long before these people across the way find that out.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the last speaker, the member of the Opposition, I would like to make it very clear to everybody in the House that we do have an obligation to get regulations together on all sorts of issues in our department, and weíre working forward to the day we have everything done. But like everything else in this world, I think in the way government works, how do you get everything done in a day? Things donít happen in a day. And I think for him to insinuate that this is kind of a master plan of control is again wrong on his part.
We have been very open in this House. We have been here for 24 days. They have asked questions; weíve answered questions. Hopefully we answered the questions correctly and honestly, because that is an obligation we took on as ministers in the House. We swore an oath we would be honest with Yukoners. The reason we have opposition, the reason opposition is there is for checks and balances. We listen to the opposition. Weíre all Yukoners. At the end of the day, we all have a common goal, which is to make a better world for all Yukoners to live in.
My family, your family, and all these issues are out there, and we have an obligation and a love for the country and, at the end of the day, we hope we have a better Yukon than when we started.
Many years ago when the steps of self-government came into the Yukon, those were steps, and the big step was in April of last year when we took over devolution. That was the biggest step of all, because we took over obligations. Remember, the obligations came with a price, and the price was that we have to manage the issues that are put in front of us; we cannot point our fingers at Ottawa any more and use them as a target of issues.
So when the member opposite insinuates weíre not going fast enough on some of these regulations, I think he should reflect on that and think that, at the end of the day, we want regulations that will work for all Yukoners and that we donít have to change. We have a huge country out there that we can work with in the sense that we have Canada. Weíre not the first jurisdiction with coal methane gas, and weíre not the first jurisdiction with other issues.
We can plagiarize a lot of the stuff that goes on in different areas of Canada and come up with very solid, workable regulations that could work for industry and for Yukoners. So, as far as rushing into things and doing things because we have the power to do that, that is not the way to go. I think the Yukoners in the last election chose a more constructive way to do it, and I think at the end of the day we have to be very conscious that the decisions we make on regulations and all policy and on government are issues that we all have to live with for a long time.
These will reflect on how we move forward with the economy and the environment and the other issues that all Yukoners are concerned about. So as far as the member opposite saying that we are a closed government or we misinform or we do whatever with the opposition, thatís very unfair of the opposition ó of him ó because thatís not where we see us going. Weíre going in the direction of a very planned process so that at the end of the day we have regulations in place at work. There is no point in putting regulations into place that donít work. There is no point in reinventing the wheel, because the wheel has been invented before.
So as we move forward with Energy, Mines and Resources, Iím very confident in my department that they will look at the regulations, they will go through them, they will come up with a regulation on how they and the Yukoners perceive managing that resource and that hopefully it certainly will involve Yukoners because we have an obligation to involve Yukoners and, at the end of the day, we come up with regulations that work.
As far as being secretive, we certainly arenít secretive. At the end of the day, weíre a very small jurisdiction. At the end of the day, it doesnít work, being secretive. In this House, at any time, when they ask questions, if we donít have an answer to a question or they ask a question that isnít something that is in the department, and a person stands up and says youíre asking the wrong guy and then, all of a sudden, itís under the coverage of hiding the facts, well, thatís not good management of our time.
Our time is better managed in this House understanding that we have an over $700-million budget here. Energy, Mines and Resources is the smaller part of that budget ó not that itís not important, but it is one of the smaller departments.
We have been discussing Energy, Mines and Resources for three days. Three days. Letís take a look at our productivity at the end of the day. The member opposite talks about accountability and all this stuff, but he has some accountability to talk about too. At the end of the day, heís accountable to somebody too. That happens to be Yukoners, and is our best time spent debating coal methane gas where we donít even have regulations in place, or should we be debating the budget so we can move on into these other departments that involve millions and millions of dollars, affect a huge part of our population? The people in the Yukon, all of us ó and the opposition mostly ó have to come back with questions and question those departments, because there are huge resources being spent. Are they being wisely spent? But we have spent three days on Energy, Mines and Resources. We havenít even talked about the economics of Energy, Mines and Resources. We havenít got to the lines. Weíve been debating things that I feel ó and I understand they have their choice, Mr. Chair, on what to talk about. But I want to remind everybody in the House that we want to maximize our time in this House so that Yukoners get the best bang for the buck, and Yukoners are interested in how weíre going to spend this $700 million this year. For us to end up next Tuesday and have all of this fall off the end of the table and not debate it ó is that doing work for Yukoners? I donít think so.
Is it all good news or bad news? Is the reason we donít debate it because people donít want to debate it because it might reflect badly on them or vice versa? Thatís not what weíre here to do either. Weíre here to debate the budget of the territorial government. We are in fact a board of directors of a big corporation ó $700 million. We have an obligation to the shareholders, who happen to be the Yukon taxpayers, to debate the budget thatís going to unfold this year for Yukoners.
As an individual in the House, I am disappointed at the time it takes to get to debating the budget. I appreciate the third party and Iím looking forward to her questions, but, again, we are here to debate the budget. Thereís a huge budget out there. Itís a good-news budget for Yukoners. Letís get the word out; letís get it there; letís put people back to work; thatís our job. Our job here is not only to talk about coal methane gas or all these other little issues. Weíre here to debate the economics of the Yukon, line by line. Thatís what we were hired to do; thatís what we should do in this House.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate tremendously the ministerís frustration in the way that debate proceeds in the House on the budget on occasion. I appreciate it and have appreciated it for some time, more than just the previous three daysí worth of this particular department. Perhaps the minister recognizes why there has been such effort to try to focus debate and try to deal with the Rules of the House. Some weíve dealt with successfully; others we havenít.
I have a number of questions. Theyíre very focused. In taking the minister at his word, which I am doing, I would suggest that perhaps we could skip over the political speeches and just deal with the questions.
I will endeavour to keep my questions very focused and the political rhetoric to a minimum.
The minister had a very interesting discussion ó
I also appreciate that we are changing gears here and that the minister has a new questioner, so to speak, and I wonder if we want to take a briefer recess ó say five or 10 minutes ó to allow the minister to change gears now, ahead of our 4:30 break. Then we could get into the conclusion. Would that be amenable to the minister?
Chair: Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: A 10-minute recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with general debate on Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to follow up with a question around the cogeneneration discussion that the minister had with the Member for Kluane. When the Liberal Party came to government, there was an issue before us of a business interested in a piped propane franchise in the Whitehorse area. The problem we had as a government was that we had no way to regulate and deal with the proposal ó there was no door for the business to go in, so to speak. So my question is: how does a cogeneration proposal fit within the Public Utilities Act and the ability of the Public Utilities Act to hear an application for a cogeneration proposal from a business?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thatís a very good question. Iíll have to get back to you on that, but Iíll commit to get back to you on that issue because that would be enlightening for all of us, I think.
Ms. Duncan: A shorter version of the question is: do we have to come back and change the Public Utilities Act to hear that application? These are my concerns about it, so the minister in his letter response, or however he responds: do we have to change the act? Now, the way weíve dealt with this before is that the Yukon Development Corporation has to give the Department of Justice the money for the Yukon Utilities Board to hear an application. I think thereís line item money in the Department of Justice, so will we have to do that to hear a cogeneration application?
Will the minister commit that if there is going to be receipt of these proposals, it will be publicly tendered, we wonít sole-source it to any particular group?
Hon. Mr. Lang: That would be our preference. Certainly it would be open and accountable, and thatís how it would be open and accountable.
Ms. Duncan: There was quite a discussion about the pipeline, and Iíd just like to ask a couple of questions for the record. Does the department have a position with respect to the validity of the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Act, the treaty between Canada and the United States? Does the minister believe in the validity of that treaty, believe it to still be valid, and has he communicated that in writing anywhere?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We as a government certainly believe that. And certainly, off the top of my head, I would say we did communicate that. But I would have to reconfirm that issue.
Ms. Duncan: Prime Minister Paul Martin recently met with President George Bush. Did the Premier or did the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources ask the Prime Minister or any of his officials to raise the issue of the ANGTA treaty with the U.S.? Was it in the formal briefing notes?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The briefing that the Premier had with the Prime Minister before that meeting ó I wasnít privy to the conversation at that time, but I would imagine the Premier did discuss it with the Prime Minister. Whether or not the Prime Minister took that and went to Washington and spoke to the President, I couldnít tell you that.
Ms. Duncan: Recognizing that none of us have control over other peopleís actions, would the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources confirm that thatís a key point the Premier repeatedly makes, every time he has a conversation with Paul Martin?
Related to that, Prime Minister Martin has announced an enhanced embassy in Washington, in terms of the input from the provinces and territories. The Government of Canada has also announced and is opening a trade office in Anchorage. Has the Government of Yukon ó and specifically the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources with relation to this treaty and the energy, and itís all pipeline related ó hired a lobbyist? Do we have representation, or have we sent in papers or letters saying that we want to ensure that we have representation here? Have we done our lobbying with respect to having positions in place in Washington and Anchorage?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To answer the question, we certainly have been lobbying the federal government on many issues, and one of those issues is, of course, as we grow into the expectation of the Alaska Highway pipeline, we are certainly going to have to be more astute and work more closely with the different jurisdictions. I could perceive that eventually to have representation in Anchorage would be very beneficial to us as a jurisdiction.
And certainly the opportunity to work with the Canadian government in Washington would be another avenue for how we could get input from that jurisdiction. Understanding that we are a small jurisdiction, at the end of the day I guess economics will dictate a lot of it, but with the Canadian government we certainly would look at both of those venues. Of course we work on a daily basis with our office in Ottawa and certainly keep abreast of whatís happening there through that office.
So what we have been doing in Washington is working with the Alaska government, of course working with the producers and the pipeline groups, and certainly keeping abreast of whatís happening in Washington through those individuals and those jurisdictions. Ottawa has been very helpful to us. Certainly working with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition they have been very positive, and of course the Alaska government is certainly keeping us informed on whatís happening in their jurisdiction.
So in answering the question, certainly I perceive that as we go down this road of the Alaska Highway pipeline, weíre going to have to have more representation. I guess the judgement calls will be made at that point on where we best spend our resources to get, again, the best bang for our buck at that point. So that will be just a management tool that weíll use. Trades Canada, the one that puts on the Canadian weekend in Anchorage, is very positive about Anchorage. Theyíre putting in the embassy ó itís not an embassy, itís a trade mission. So we will certainly be working with them.
Ms. Duncan: I would encourage the minister and the department to look at their resources and look at engaging someone full-time on this file. Be it a public servant we asked to be in Washington or in Anchorage or full-time representation, this is a tremendous economic opportunity.
There are two key issues on the ANGTA treaty: one is it spells out, to some more clearly than others, Yukonersí access to the gas. The other issue in the ANGTA treaty is it really doesnít give the Yukon any financial windfall. There are key points weíre going to have to be mindful of. What Iím asking the minister is if I could have copies of any representation he has made. I understand he canít photocopy a phone call, but if there has been any exchange of correspondence about the ANGTA treaty or about our representation in these offices, if weíve contracted any individuals to fulfill those positions, could I have that information please?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We will make that available to anybody in the House, and we will have it in your possession as soon as we can.
Ms. Duncan: Thanks very much.
I was going to ask the minister about the current status of the U.S. energy bill, but Iíll rely on the public media for that information, understanding that any representations that have been made, the minister is going to send over.
Is there anything in writing to the Government of Canada with respect to the establishment of the Northern Pipeline Agency?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Since Dr. Skinner brought the act back to life ó and of course he accepted a job in England ó weíve been working at trying to get somebody else appointed to that position and have not been successful, but weíre constantly on it. Itís important that we have an individual in place there, but the federal government hasnít seen to move ahead on it, so weíre at the mercy of the federal government at the moment.
Ms. Duncan: Well, letís continue to lobby in that regard. Now, another one of the factors in the pipeline issue, understanding that there are a number of pieces to the puzzle, for the lack of a better term. The State of Alaska is not just the regulator; they are also one of the four owners of the gas in Alaska. There is Exxon, BP, Phillips and the State of Alaska with some ownership in the gas. What is the current State of Alaskaís initiatives with regard to tax provisions for the pipeline builders and/or the producers of the gas?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering that question, I guess thatís all part and parcel of the negotiations that are going on with the stranded gas in Alaska. Those are issues that are being addressed with the applications as they move forward.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the reason I asked about that work going on in Alaska and tax provisions is I mentioned the ANGTA treaty as revenue issues for the Government of Yukon. Is the department preparing any papers on that ó on the revenue and tax for the department ó or is it being delegated to Finance to deal with that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Energy, Mines and Resources is doing their strategy, and then it will go to Finance for their blessing. So we are doing our homework, and weíre moving it over when itís finished.
Ms. Duncan: The Department of Financeís blessing ó good luck with that.
Some of the players involved in this whole issue around potential pipeline construction ó we have the U.S. government, we have the Canadian government, we have the four producers, the owners of the gas, and then we have the pipeliners.
Then we have the Foothills/TransCanada project, for which the pre-built has been built, and the environmental approvals are done, and then we have the potential of the greenfield project. So there are a lot of different variables in this particular equation.
I have two questions for the minister. Any initiatives, even including an outline of what representations or meetings he has had with Exxon, BP or Phillips? And does the department intend to do an update of the economic effects of the Alaska Highway pipeline report that was done in March 2002? I would appreciate that information.
Hon. Mr. Lang: We certainly meet with the producers on a regular basis, whether itís the producers in Alaska, or the TransCanada pipeline, or Enridge. So weíre certainly keeping abreast of what theyíre doing. Of course, there is a bit of a competition between TransCanada and the Enridge group. Again, we are neutral on that. We work with both components, to make sure that we maximize Yukonís benefit.
As far as updating the book you were talking about ó not in the near future. Weíre looking at other things weíre doing in our department to move it forward.
Ms. Duncan: The study I was referring to was the Alaska Highway Pipeline Project: Economic Effects on Yukon and Canada. Itís the McCracken of Informetrica report.
The minister has said theyíre not going to update this report. There is a change, though, in economics around pipe, price of steel and the current Canadian situation. Has the department prepared a briefing note just on that one economic factor alone, and theyíre watching it closely? If they have prepared it, may I have a copy?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the question. We certainly are going to update it, per se, I mean with other issues like this, and certainly as we do it, it will be public information and you will get whatever we do in that process.
Ms. Duncan: Can I just flag for the minister, then, that one of the issues is that there is a potential, depending on the size of pipe, for tremendous benefit to Saskatchewan. Lorne Calvert, as Premier of Saskatchewan, is well aware of this, although it never hurts to remind him. We have a new Premier in Ontario who may not be aware of the potential benefit to Hamilton. So I would just ask that the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources ensure that the Premier has a briefing note on the economic benefits to the other provinces before he attends either western Premiers or the national federation meetings, whatever theyíve retitled the annual premiers conference ó if the minister would ensure that the premier is aware of the economic benefits to other provinces. This is not about one pipeline versus the other. This is about providing information and ensuring that all Canadians are aware of the benefits of an Alaska Highway pipeline to Canada. Would he do that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We certainly will commit to do that. Itís only good government to do that. I appreciate the question, and we will commit to do that.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I have a status on the aboriginal pipeline group? What Iím interested in is, I understand there are meetings going on. The Yukon has provided funding through Council of Yukon First Nations for some work by Council of Yukon First Nations on an aboriginal energy group. There was an aboriginal pipeline liaison under previous governments. Is the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources solely funding an aboriginal pipeline group and, if so, are we in partnership with Ottawa on it? What are we looking at in terms of dollar figures?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is a group that was put together and is the nine First Nations that will be affected because of the pipeline going through their traditional territory. There are nine First Nations, and six have signed on and three are observers and are growing into this. The funding that we put forward was the money to start up the coalition, to get it up and running so that the partnership between the coalition and the federal government can proceed forward. The coalition has to involve, of course, the nine First Nations, and then the independent work with all the other First Nations to get to see at the end of the day how all First Nations will benefit from the Alaska Highway pipeline. So are we in partnership with the federal government? We certainly have gone to Ottawa. Weíve addressed the financial issues that the aboriginal pipeline group has. We have put a budget in front of the Minister of Northern Affairs. At the moment, he is sitting on that. With whatís happening in Ottawa at the moment, I donít see that anything will happen with that issue until after the election.
So the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition has spent some of their money hiring a coordinator. That individual will work to tie in the other three members who are just observers and then work with CYFN and the other First Nations on what the balance will be among the nine First Nations and the other First Nations in the Yukon to maximize the aboriginal input into the Alaska Highway pipeline.
Ms. Duncan: Was the funding to CYFN designated for the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, or was it a direct contribution agreement to the coalition, and how much was it for?
Hon. Mr. Lang: It went directly to the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps while the minister is examining the budget amount that Yukon provided, perhaps he could outline what amount was requested from the federal minister.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The Yukon government committed $130,000 for the 2004-05 year. As far as the business plan that the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition presented to DIAND, I think over three years ó again, these are not firm figures ó itís in the $3-million ballpark so itís roughly a million-something a year for three years. It was a three-year commitment.
Ms. Duncan: 2004-05 wasnít the first year the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition was funded. There was funding in the 2003-04 fiscal year. How much was that amount?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In 2003-04, there was $120,000, and it was a contribution agreement.
Ms. Duncan: Does the contribution agreement ask that a report or accountability measure be delivered to the Government of Yukon, and if so, is that report available?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The $120,000 was for a workplan so that they could work toward putting the plan together and the group together so that they could put the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition together. So the first $120,000 was a workplan. The other $130,000 is a resource so they could run the office and the coordinator to move the next step until the federal government sees fit to fund it. I imagine those funds will be negotiated, and hopefully by July of this year there will be resources in place so that they can be up and running as a very productive part of the pipeline planning group.
Ms. Duncan: One of the arguments around the pipeline is also that it makes our own oil and gas reserves that much more attractive as well, because then they can market those ó aside from the Kotaneelee reserves. Whatís the current estimate of Yukonís oil and gas reserves? It went up after we left government, and I would like to have that figure at my fingertips. The Energy, Mines and Resources nationally revised their figures, so whatís the current estimate? Is it 13 tcf?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Iíll put that together for you. I canít tell you off the top of my head, but we do have those figures in the department.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate those and would appreciate receiving them from the minister. It doesnít all have to be put together. Just even a short letter that states the information would be useful. And whatever is sent to me is also out of courtesy sent to the official opposition.
The Devon permits of 1999 expire next year. Have they met their expenditure commitment with respect to those permits, and if not, where are they at currently? Are they looking for an extension? What is the current status of the Devon permits?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Weíre expecting a workplan from Devon within the next month, and thatís how theyíre going to address their investments in north Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: So that will outline for the minister whether or not theyíve met their expenditure commitments and intend to meet them? Yes.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: And how theyíre going to do that. I appreciate that. I would take it that once it has been filed by the minister that it would be available publicly, or is that considered proprietary information?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Chair, we could check into that. I wouldnít want to release anything pertaining to the corporation that we werenít allowed to, so ó
Ms. Duncan: And I wouldnít want to ask for anything that isnít public information. But I would like to receive it once the minister does, if itís available publicly.
Premier Fentie in Calgary on March 8 said, "We anticipate that a number of wells will be drilled within the next two years in the southeast Yukon and in the Eagle Plains area." Now, I realize the minister doesnít always have responsibility for what the Premier said. However, I would like to know when and where the next land disposition is in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The next disposition will be in north Yukon, which is already laid out and in process. We all understand that, because southeast Yukon is the Kaska traditional territory and doesnít have settlement, YOGA states very clearly that we have to get the authorization from the affected First Nation. Weíre working with the First Nations in southeast Yukon but, again, itís work in progress. The next disposition will be north Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: It was a lengthy debate with the Member for Kluane. Is the next disposition in north Yukon the closing date of May 11? Did I hear that correctly?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The call for nominations closes tomorrow on the 11th.
Ms. Duncan: Is there any progress in the land disposition in the traditional territory that includes the Taían Kwachían, Little Salmon-Carmacks and Mayo, the Na Cho Nyäk Dun traditional territories? Are we proceeding with a land disposition in mid-Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Lang: That is one of the areas that is very interesting to us as a government and to Energy, Mines and Resources. We have First Nation issues in the area that we have to solve and weíre working toward them, so the disposition in the Whitehorse Trough is not proceeding at the moment, but itís something weíre very interested in for the future.
Ms. Duncan: If Iíve heard the minister correctly, weíre interested in a land disposition in the Whitehorse Trough and we have issues to resolve with First Nation governments. Those are settled First Nations. Itís traditional territory of those with a signed First Nation land claim. We donít have a signed land claim in southeast Yukon, we also have First Nation issues to resolve, weíre working on that as well ó is what the minister has said. Which is going to come first, southeast Yukon or the Whitehorse Trough, and how close are we?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I guess itís a guessing game what will come first, understanding that southeast Yukon is sort of high on our radar screen because of access to market and a proven resource. The Whitehorse Trough is another issue not only that the resource is there ó and weíre very sure of that ó but of course itís a long way from a market. So who is going to come first? I guess itís a process weíre going through. Both of them ó of course one being an unsettled land claim, which has issues attached to it, and of course weíre talking, like the member said, with First Nations that do have a settlement, and we have obligations to both, which we are going to meet as a government. So as far as whoís going to be first, I would say that thatís a balance in a perfect world.
Certainly southeast Yukon is very interesting to us as a government because of its interest to industry and also to its access to pipelines, which is not available in the central Yukon. So both of them are very important to us as Energy, Mines and Resources and the oil and gas sector of our department. Weíre working on both of them.
At one point, the Whitehorse Trough was part of a disposition and it was taken out because of some issues. Weíre working on those issues. The department is working very conscientiously to answer the questions.
As far as whoís going to be first, in answering the question, I donít know, but weíre working toward trying to resolve the questions we have in both of those jurisdictions and will hopefully move forward with the dispositions as they fall into place.
Ms. Duncan: So weíre working on both areas concurrently ó and with the First Nations at the same time.
The issue is yes, there may be access at the moment for southeast resources, but imagine what a significant discovery in the Whitehorse Trough would do for Alaska Highway pipeline arguments? So I want confirmation from the minister that weíre working on both concurrently and working hard toward maintaining an annual disposition, other than the north Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Lang: To answer that question, we certainly understand the fact that getting access to the Alaska Highway pipeline would certainly change the dynamics of a lot of these areas. So weíre certainly working on it and we committed to do that ó the Whitehorse Trough situation and also in southeast Yukon.
So, as a government, weíre working very progressively to enhance our oil and gas portfolio, per se. North Yukon has been a priority, understanding that the resources are there. Weíve expanded on that, and now weíre looking at southeast Yukon and the Whitehorse Trough as potential areas we could open up for oil and gas exploration.
Ms. Duncan: I understand itís the Yukon Chamber of Mines, not the department that releases a best guess around mineral exploration numbers for the summer. Are those out yet? Does the minister have them?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The member is right about that, and we havenít received the figures yet.
Ms. Duncan: Does the minister have any idea when we might get them?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The timing is sort of out of our hands. We would like them sooner than later, like everybody in this room would like. But understanding the load that the Chamber is under, hopefully we will get it within, probably, the next month or six weeks.
Ms. Duncan: One of the issues around all of these resources ó be it forestry, mining or oil and gas ó is royalties. Thatís how we get our revenues as a territorial government, and royalties are a key issue.
The minister did address ó and I would like him to repeat for the record: what is the current status of the oil and gas royalty regulations?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To go over it again, we have the legislation ó the Oil and Gas Act ó completed, regulation transfer completed, disposition completed, licence administration being finalized, geoscience exploration being finalized, drilling and production being finalized, royalties in progress, pipeline in progress, gas processing not started. Of the nine issues, thereís one we havenít started ó the gas processing.
Ms. Duncan: Whatís the problem with the royalty regulations? Theyíve been in progress for an awfully long time. Whatís the background and why donít we have them done yet?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Understanding that weíre working with First Nations on these issues and all these issues have to be addressed as part of our YOGA arrangement with First Nations, we have this ad valorem regime question that has some explaining to do with our partners and weíre working toward that to get this thing underway again.
So itís not that weíre not doing our job as a department; itís just that the capacity and the explanation is that weíre working on it because, at the end of the day, we want these regulations done.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I wasnít in any way questioning the departmentís willingness to do hard work. I understand that the ad valorem regulations take a lot of understanding on everybodyís part, so it takes time to have good legislation, and thatís what we want at the end of the day.
Now, Iíd like to go through with the minister these issues and the issues around resource royalty revenue sharing and our relationship with First Nations.
The Umbrella Final Agreement says very clearly Kotaneelee oil and gas resource revenue is shared, and it outlines how much between what First Nations. Itís crystal clear that all Yukon First Nations benefit from that resource in southeast Yukon. Itís crystal clear in the Umbrella Final Agreement. Itís also clear, although itís clearer to some than others, about when those royalties are paid out. There are those who believe that that amount is paid out upon the effective date of a signed land claim. For example, under the way the Umbrella Final Agreement was spelled out, the Taían Kwachían got their cheque from the Kotaneelee fund on the effective date of their land claim. I had the great privilege of delivering that. Now, there are other governments that have released the funds early. Has this government released any of the Kotaneelee funds to unsettled, unsigned land claim First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Our government hasnít. We havenít made that kind of decision. And those kinds of decisions are a government decision, when they do release those funds, and it can be done at any time. I guess, at the end of the day, itís obviously a political decision to do these things. We havenít done that at this point.
Ms. Duncan: I disagree with the minister that itís a political decision and it can be done at any time. There are differing opinions as to when itís released ó legal opinions and financial opinions. Itís interpretation of the Oil and Gas Act in the Umbrella Final Agreement. There are differing opinions. So I donít want the record to say, "Oh, itís a political decision and governments can do it whenever they want." They are bound by the Oil and Gas Act, theyíre bound by the Umbrella Final Agreement. It is a Management Board decision, but itís not a political decision.
Thatís a model in the Umbrella Final Agreement, and a model and a concept is a sharing ó resources may be in one particular area, but theyíre shared among all Yukon First Nations, all Yukoners, because it also spells out how much the Yukon government receives. Now, the current Yukon Party government changed that relationship with their resource revenue sharing and royalty-sharing agreement with the Kaska. They changed that concept.
Now what has happened is that the Kaska First Nation is made up of the two Yukon First Nations, Liard and Ross River, and three B.C. First Nations, so with the royalty-sharing agreement that the minister and the Premier have entered into, we are now in effect sharing Yukon resources not among all Yukoners, per se ó including Yukon government and First Nation governments ó weíre sharing them with B.C. First Nations as well. What resource revenues are on the table in the discussions with the Acho Dene Koe, another transboundary First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Lang: As far as me, as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, the ADK thing would be handled through ECO, and at this point I donít know of any dealings that are going that share wealth with ADK in southeast Yukon. I do know that they have an overlapping claim.
Ms. Duncan: We recognize they are a transboundary claimant. The minister has responsibility for resource royalties, and there has been a change in Yukonís resource royalty revenue-sharing arrangements with the deal that the government has entered into with the Kaska. There has been a fundamental shift away from this sharing concept among all Yukoners ó the Yukon government and 14 Yukon First Nations.
The minister has responsibility for resource revenues and has said he doesnít know of any on the table for the Acho Dene Koe. What progress has been made in negotiating the resource royalties? Itís spelled out in the agreement with the Kaska that the Yukon government will negotiate other resource royalty revenues. Mining is listed; placer mining is listed. What progress has been made in those discussions?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I think what we have to remind the members in the House is that, when we were elected, we committed to first of all working in full partnership with the First Nations in their traditional territory, understanding that when we as elected members formed the government, the previous government had signed an MOU with the Kaska First Nation in southeast Yukon on how we would jointly manage the forest in southeast Yukon. Part of that agreement was a three-year commitment by us, the federal government and the Kaska First Nation that the Kaska would be involved in the planning and would benefit from the resource of the forest industry.
That commitment was signed by the last government. The federal government committed resources to it, and we honoured the MOU that was signed.
As far as sharing in the resources, we can probably enlighten the House by saying that what weíre prepared to do as a government is to work with all 14 First Nations in their traditional territory, understanding that every area has a different aspect to it and different resources.
We are committed to work in full partnership with all First Nations. So, when we talk about resource sharing in southeast Yukon, weíre talking partnership. Weíre not talking about 100 percent of the resource; weíre not talking about 50 percent of the resource. Weíre talking about southeast Yukon and a partnership between ourselves and the Kaska.
The member is correct when she says there are the Ross River Dena and the Liard First Nation, which are in the Yukon, and then there are Fort Ware, Lower Post and Good Hope, which are all part of the Kaska First Nation. The opportunity for us to enter into a forest partnership with the Kaska, which forestry and the Kaska are working on at the moment, that memorandum of understanding ó the federal government, through the Tough report, which was all part of this, has resourced the Kaska to build capacity for the industry, which they have honoured. We, in turn, through our partnership and commitment on the memorandum of understanding, are sharing in the resource so that the First Nation can build the capacity to work with us as full partners.
So itís a partnership; itís how we, as a government, perceive the Yukon going forward in the resource industries to partner with First Nations to benefit all Yukoners. As far as the forestry deal in the Champagne-Aishihik traditional territory, we were very aggressive in getting that signed on a commitment on the spruce beetle kill. Weíre working forward on that in full partnership with the Champagne-Aishihik group.
So, as far as "them" and "us", that doesnít exist in our government. We work in partnerships, and weíre moving forward in the southeast Yukon to hopefully have a forestry industry there, timber out on the market, so that everybody in southeast Yukon can benefit from that resource.
So, I think the insinuation, or the conversation around "them" and "us," or who has royalty and who doesnít ó in the southeast Yukon, I think itís very clear in YOGA that we cannot have a disposition in the Kaska traditional territory without them being involved. In other words, they have a veto in southeast Yukon on oil and gas.
We will not be in the oil and gas business in southeast Yukon without the blessings of the Kaska First Nation. That is very clear in YOGA; that is not a settled land claim and, in turn, we and itís their traditional territory.
As far as the producing wells in southeast Yukon, thatís a third party interest. Thatís protected by the land claim but, in turn, industry and ourselves have a responsibility to the Kaska First Nation to work with them on all issues pertaining to their traditional territory. They have been very proactive in working with us and Devon to get the mechanism to work in the disposition to make sure those wells are producing wells in the future. Devon has committed the resources not to expand, per se, the wells but to open up the wells, eliminate the water problem and get the wells back into a level of production where all Yukoners will benefit from that resource.
That has been done with the hard work of the Kaska First Nation. As far as the forestry component of our partnership, we have certainly taken a look at the forestry end. Where could we get the resources out of the forestry to benefit the capacity building the Kaska needed. In our partnership, understanding the MOU and the agreement we had to share in the resources, we made a commitment in the forestry between ourselves and our partner that they would get the stumpage, that they would get part and parcel of the resource so they could build the capacity up so that, at the end of the day, they could be full partners and work with us to expand the industry in southeast Yukon.
As far as the perception about stumpage, stumpage is only part and parcel of the resource of the forestry. We have engineering, we have reforestation, we have silviculture, we have other aspects where the resources come in to the territorial government. We also have a commitment from the Kaska First Nation that we manage all our energy, mines and resources ó forestry manages the forest in southeast Yukon.
We manage 100 percent of the forest, so they brought 100 percent of their forest into the partnership. We in turn manage that in partnership with the Kaska First Nation. They benefit. They have a benefit agreement where theyíll get 100 percent of the stumpage ó one-fifth of part of the resource ó to build their capacity up. In turn, they will have job opportunities out in the field. They will have access to wood if they were to start an operation on the same basis as everybody else, so in other words we have a very open partnership, a business partnership, on how we perceive that the southeast Yukon forest industry will be managed.
There is no mandate for a land settlement in the southeast Yukon. It doesnít exist. It would be to our folly not to participate with the local Kaska First Nation and think of a way that we could partner with them to get access to the resource where we would all benefit. I think itís a very positive partnership.
Now itís not that weíre going to ignore the situation in southeast Yukon, because the Kaska would be better off with a final land claim. I mean, who wouldnít be better off with a final land claim? The certainty alone would be beneficial to the First Nation. They, in turn ó to give them credit where credit is due ó have been very conscious of trying to move the land claim ahead and get some kind of resolution with the federal government so that they can move ahead.
We certainly support them in trying to move the land claim ahead. We certainly are very interested in this partnership to release this interim wood, which is progressing as we speak here, and we certainly look forward to working with the Kaska on many issues. The Ross River Dena came to us as a government and said, "We have an R15 block and Teck Cominco would be very interested in joint venturing with us to explore or to expand their Finlayson Lake project to see the potential of that area." It was an R block. It had been tied up since the 1980s. It was there. Of course it was an unsettled land claim and of course we had to work with the federal government to get the release of that into the hands of the Ross River Dena. Was it beneficial to them? Certainly it was of benefit to them. They now have a joint partnership: the Kaska Mineral Corporation, which is Teck Cominco, and the Kaska and the Ross River Dena. They have people working there today.
Now, that, in argument, saying, "Well, should we have worked so positively to release that R block?" ó well, at the end of the day, they would get it anyway down the road. Second of all, is it beneficial to the Ross River Dena to have a settled land claim when, in fact, if this R block turns out to be as rich as they say itís going to be, they would own 100 percent of that resource? I say to you, our partnerships are very positive. I think to bring Teck Cominco back into the Yukon ó Teck, which has Red Dog, which has worked very positively with the First Nations in Alaska and comes here with that kind of expertise and that background ó we can only learn from those kinds of partnerships.
So I think that what we as a government have decided to do and as we were elected to do in this full partnership with First Nations, weíre going to implement the land claims that were signed. Weíre going to go forward into the future with all Yukoners benefiting from the resources of the Yukon, and thatís what I think at the end of the day is what the final land claim was to do. That was the map that was laid out in front of us. Weíve had 30 years of negotiation. Weíre done negotiating. Now weíre implementing what these agreements said. Weíre going to keep the federal governmentís feet to the fire so that they bring the resources in and meet their obligations to the First Nations, and weíre going to move forward with our partnerships to benefit all Yukoners.
So as far as royalties are concerned, as far as who owns what in the Yukon, weíre looking at partnerships, weíre looking at 100 percent of the Yukon, and weíre going to move forward in that respect. I think our government, at the end of the day, will be very successful to bring this kind of issue forward so that every Yukoner can benefit from all aspects of the Yukon, and the First Nations will go along with us as equal partners in the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: That was a very lengthy response by the minister. Itís a repeat of the lines ó I donít want to be disrespectful and call them "spin", but itís a repeat of the lines weíve heard from the government. There is another point of view, and I would like to outline it for the minister and encourage him to read Hansard tomorrow and give a good read and thought to the points Iím trying to make and other Yukoners are making that are the flaws in the argument the minister is presenting and why there are such concerns over this.
Iím not trying to rag the puck or make a political speech. Iím trying to impress upon the minister that there is another point of view with regard to the resource royalty revenue-sharing arrangements he and the Government of Yukon have entered into and why they are of grave concern to Yukoners.
I take this issue very seriously. We are here on behalf of all Yukoners. Iím trying, in the politest way I know, to ask the minister to listen to what other Yukoners have to say on this. Itís not just about the politics here. There is a far bigger issue that Yukoners have to address.
Letís go through the ministerís arguments for this resource royalty revenue-sharing arrangement. First he said the government committed to a full economic partnership: "We said that in the campaign so thatís what weíre going to do." I would remind the minister that the Yukon Party also committed to not change the Taxpayer Protection Act. No one understood that this full economic partnership would lead to what has been dubbed in the public media as a sellout of unprecedented proportions.
The forestry memorandum of understanding the government was left with did not ó did not ó commit 100 percent of the resource royalty revenue-sharing arrangements that the minister has entered into. It did not. The forestry memorandum of understanding committed to the Kaska stewardship council ó committed the federal government to come through on a number of resources, which they apparently have finally done.
But it did not commit this stumpage, and it was not a minister of the previous government or the government previous to that, that was out saying anybody owned 100 percent of the trees. This "them" and "us" is an issue of a difference between them, the Yukon Party, and us, the previous governmentís position. Itís not Yukoner to Yukoner, and no one is suggesting that kind of division. There is a key, fundamental difference between the Yukon Party position on resource royalty revenue-sharing and that of previous governments. There is a fundamental difference.
Now, the minister said, "Well, we did this R15 block because the First Nation will, after a final land claim, have owned 100 percent of the resources anyway." The way I read the Umbrella Final Agreement, and the way others have read it, and the way itís printed in black and white, it outlines very, very clearly ó especially in minerals ó how resource royalties are shared, not just with the Yukon government and Yukoners, but among all First Nations.
So, if there is a diamond mine in one First Nationís traditional territory, the resources from that diamond mine ó the royalties are shared, not only with the Yukon government, but all Yukon First Nations. Itís not 100 percent to one First Nation.
Thatís not the way the Umbrella Final Agreement reads and particularly with respect to mineral resources. Forestry is not as clearly spelled out. It wasnít anticipated over the life of the negotiation that weíd see tremendous forestry resources that we would have to have this argument about. The ministerís argument is that theyíre outside the box in giving a First Nation what they were going to get anyway, and itís just advancing the land claim. No. Thereís a fundamental difference. The Umbrella Final Agreement talks about sharing among all Yukoners. The minister said on public radio, "100 percent of the resource royalty belongs to the First Nation." One hundred percent of the resource belongs to the First Nation. Thatís what he said. Thatís the difference. Itís a sharing among all Yukoners, which is spelled out in the Umbrella Final Agreement, and making a complete side deal outside of the Umbrella Final Agreement ó a complete side deal because they donít have a settled land claim ó and going on this resource royalty the way the minister has is a cause for concern.
Now if the minister has an argument or if Iíve erred in fact somewhere, I would be interested, but the facts are that he has stated on the public record "100-percent ownership". He has said that 100 percent belongs to a particular First Nation, and he has also talked about the Umbrella Final Agreement. The Umbrella Final Agreement says quite clearly "all First Nations and Yukoners".
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: I see that we have others who wish to enter into this argument, and Mr. Chair ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The "them" and "us" is a difference between them ó the current government ó and us ó the previous governments that have gone on before, that have preceded the current government, both Liberal and NDP. Thereís a difference in the position. Thatís what Iím arguing. There is a difference between the positions taken.
Thatís of concern because it does have a reflection on the Umbrella Final Agreement. Now, the minister raised the issue of funding ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The Premier has in the backchat suggested, well, there is no land claim. Right. There is no land claim, no current negotiation. But the minister has provided and said publicly, "Hereís the resource, which you are going to own," according to the minister, "and hereís 100 percent of it." If there was settled land claim, 100 percent of it would be shared among all Yukoners. Thatís the difference. That is a key, fundamental difference, and thatís where I have difficulty with the current governmentís position.
The Kaska have entered into a number of funding arrangements with the Government of Yukon. There is $150,000 for resource management planning. There is also the forestry, which calls for federal government funding, the Tough report funding, to flow. Would the minister outline the contribution agreements under Energy, Mines and Resources where funding is flowing to the Kaska First Nation, how much that funding is, and what accountability measures have been put into those contribution agreements?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Iíd like to correct the member opposite on the concept of the Kaska forest resources. Certainly they have 100 percent of their selected lands, and they brought 100 percent of their wood into this arrangement, and their selected land is selected. Itís R-blocked. That land is there. Certainly, in southeast Yukon we donít have a land claim. It would be to our folly as Yukoners not to come to some arrangement with the Kaska First Nation so that all Yukoners could share in the resource in southeast Yukon.
They have selected land there, of course, and itís very rich in timber. They brought 100 percent of that to the table. It is hard for the member opposite to get off "them" and "us" and the technicalities of the Kaska First Nation, the difference between settled land and the Umbrella Final Agreement and all these issues. Weíre more progressive than that. As a government, we looked at the resource in southeast Yukon. We negotiated with the Kaska on how we could share in the resource in southeast Yukon. It was very clear in the MOU that was signed by the previous government that they had to be part of any forestry management plan in southeast Yukon and they had to share in the wealth of the forest. That was very clear. That was an MOU that was signed by the previous government.
We worked on that and came up with the AIP, which was another step forward in the management of the forest in southeast Yukon. We didnít sign that MOU ó I, as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. We honoured the MOU signed by the previous government.
As far as their selected land, they have selected land. They have R blocks there that had resources on them and they came to the table with 100 percent of those resources. We are managing those resources in partnership with the Kaska. They gave us access to resources from northern B.C. that is again selected land by the Kaska. This is a good deal for all Yukoners.
Does this upset the Umbrella Final Agreement? I donít think so. Does this mean the Kaska will never sign their land claim? I donít think so. I think itís beneficial for the Kaska to move forward, resolve their problems with the federal government, get a final land claim in southeast Yukon and move forward, benefiting their community.
As far as this government is concerned, weíre talking about partnerships. In southeast Yukon, weíre talking about managing 100 percent of the forest for the benefit of all people in the Yukon and that the Kaska will be an equal partner in that. I donít think thatís unreasonable.
They have a traditional use area there. The population of southeast Yukon would probably be ó you know, a large number of them are Kaska First Nation people. Should we deny them the right to build up capacity to be equal partners? I donít think that would be a good partnership. A partnership has to benefit both sides.
As far as YOGA is concerned, that is certainly very clear on how all First Nations will deal with the oil and gas in Yukon. They will all benefit. They have been for years from the southeast Yukon ó from, by the way, Kaska traditional territory. Those producing wells are the most successful wells, I think, in North America. Certainly all settled First Nations have been benefiting from that resource ó and all Yukoners have ó out of Kaska traditional territory.
So I think that the them-and-us attitude is a thing of the past. I think weíre moving ahead on these issues. Nobody on this side of the House is selling anything, anybody or any group down the river. What weíre trying to do is jumpstart the economy. Weíre trying to work within our borders, with all Yukoners, to realize the wealth and potential we have there.
The attitude that we canít do anything because, at the end of the day, itís hard to visualize where you start and where you end, I think we had to start, and we had to start working with the First Nations as equal partners in managing the resources of the Yukon. Weíve done that, and if thatís thinking outside the box, so be it. We certainly have checks and balances in our government to make sure that everything is done above board and in a businesslike fashion.
The Kaska have certainly come to the table with 100 percent of their resources and said, "We will work with you to manage those resources, but the Government of Yukon will be the manager, under advisement from the Kaska."
Thatís a good partnership. How will they benefit from that resource? That was a decision we had to make. What part of the resource would they share in? At the end of the day, we made a corporate decision in Energy, Mines and Resources. We said, "We will give you, for access to 100 percent of your timber, for the management ability of southeast Yukon forest industry ó you will share in the stumpage" and this is only part of the resource from that industry. Itís a small part of a big picture, but itís going to give them the capacity to work with us in a partnership to manage the forest. So whether we gave the money ó whether it was stumpage. As we sell the wood, they will collect the money. They will work toward building the capacity. All of this is forest management in southeast Yukon, so I think that what weíre doing here is novel because itís the first time a government has really done that ó moved out and actually seriously said that we are going to honour the Umbrella Final Agreement, weíre going to work with all First Nations as equal partners in the management of the resources in the Yukon, and weíre actually going to do it.
Now, if we were to stand in this House or out there, we could debate the pros and cons of the management team or how we were going to manage the resources or, or, or ó but at the end of the day weíre always pointing fingers at each other, and weíre done pointing fingers at each other. Weíre going to move ahead with our partnership, and at the end of the day the resources in the Yukon are going to be shared by all Yukoners. That starts at the B.C. border right to the Arctic coast. So we are not going to put any Yukoner in jeopardy of losing their rights. Weíre going to honour the Umbrella Final Agreement. Weíre going to work with the non-settled First Nations as if they had settled their land claim, because at the end of the day we have to deal with all Yukoners because weíre a Yukon government. So I think itís progressive. Certainly managing the forest is very important to the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
And, of course, weíre talking about traditional territory. So at the end of the day, whether itís a settled land claim or a non-settled land claim, we have to go in partnership with the local First Nation whose traditional territory it encompasses. So weíre not doing anything in southeast Yukon that we wouldnít do with the Champagne and Aishihik group, we wouldnít do with north Yukon. Weíre putting forestry plans together in all parts of the Yukon, and we are going to go out and work with the First Nations in their traditional territories to see how they perceive it being managed so that it benefits them and, in the long run, all Yukoners.
Ms. Duncan: Iíll get to what I asked for. The minister didnít address what I asked for. Iím just going to focus back on this point. The minister said that they will treat everyone as if they were settled. I would suggest to the minister opposite that truly honouring the Umbrella Final Agreement and believing in the Umbrella Final Agreement is working within it. So I appreciate that, yes, it has been 30 years of negotiations. We had made significant progress. In my time, we had one signed agreement, four memoranda of understanding and four agreements in principle, based on that framework. We had made significant progress, and to say, "Well, weíre just going to treat you all as if youíre settled," does a disservice to those who have worked hard to settle. It does a disservice. And the minister and I are going to disagree on that, and perhaps we should agree to disagree.
In my view, the government rolled the die. Iím not a fan of that style of governing. I am deeply concerned about it. The minister said, "We made a corporate decision to access 100 percent of your timber." Letís focus on the forestry resource.
I understand traditional territory and forestry resource is different from the resource royalty that is spelled out in other parts of the Umbrella Final Agreement. So letís focus.
Is the minister saying the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and White River own 100 percent of the forest in their traditional territory? Thatís what he said about the Kaska. Is he saying the same thing to the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and White River? And is he entering into similar arrangements?
Hon. Mr. Lang: They havenít asserted a territorial right on the resource. Itís an unsettled land claim, so the clearest way to put that is that they have an asserted right; it isnít settled and I guess itís a question for negotiators to settle at the table.
As far as us as a government, we respect R block selected land, we respect the First Nations that are settled because thatís very important to us, and we have to work with all Yukoners. At the end of the day, we are working in partnership with all First Nations and weíre going to work very aggressively at starting the economy in the Yukon.
The alternative is to sit around and debate the part about ownership, who owns what, "them" and "us", and sit here on our hands for another 30 years, or do we want to get the economy going to benefit all Yukoners at the end of the day?
When you ask the question ó are we going to treat all First Nations the same way? ó we certainly are, as far as this government is concerned. Weíre moving very aggressively into resource management and weíre also working very aggressively with all First Nations to realize that, at the end of the day, all the benefits will be reaped by all Yukoners. We are very conscious that, at the end of the day, we would like to see all 14 First Nations settled.
The issues out there are not for me or this government to decide. We can be a conduit. We can work with them so that, at the end of the day, they make a resolution with the federal government but, in turn, we canít ignore the fact that the daily life of running the Yukon goes on.
Part of that is economic development, and part of that is partnering with the First Nations to make sure that all Yukoners benefit from those economic developments.
So, I appreciate the member for the third party saying she doesnít appreciate the way this government operates. I appreciate that. But the people of the Yukon made a decision, and they voted this government in with the platform we presented to them. At the end of the day, I guess, our day in court will come in the next election.
But, certainly, we did make a commitment on full partnership with First Nations. We have only been in government for a year and a half. We have really opened the door to partnerships. We see that, in Energy, Mines and Resources, we have Kaska First Nation in partnership with forestry and oil and gas. We have the Champagne-Aishihik in forestry ó the northern First Nations.
So we are very aggressively looking at cooperation, partnership and benefit to all Yukoners. So as far as ó are we going to ignore the fact that unsettled land claims are out there? Are we going to argue the point about who owns what? Iíve lived here my whole life. Iíve witnessed 30 years of negotiation. Iím looking forward to implementing the land claims, and Iím very proud to be part of the implementation crew that has made a commitment to move forward and not ignore the fact that there are communities out there that havenít settled ó nor the communities that have settled.
But we are certainly looking forward to the day when everything is settled. But again, we, as a government, have to work with the cards we were dealt. There are issues out there with First Nations that have to be resolved with the federal government. We arenít part of those negotiations at the moment.
We, again, wish everybody in the negotiations, like the Kaska First Nation, could get back on track, but again all we can do is encourage and support and, at the end of the day, we as a government are committed to the forest industry and the oil and gas industry in southeast Yukon. The opportunity we have is to joint-venture it with the full partnership of the Kaska. At the end of the day, hopefully the resources that will be shared between the Kaska and ourselves and the whole of the Yukon will benefit and move the land claim forward.
A lot of the issues, like Kwanlin Dun and of course the Tagish-Carcross group, are intergovernmental issues that have to be addressed by the First Nation and their constituents. So those are all outside of our jurisdiction. We canít speak for the First Nations. We can only work with them when we can help them, but as far as industry is concerned, we certainly have YOGA. YOGA covers the oil and gas process. Itís very clear on how the resource is shared. Certainly forestry is another industry thatís out there, and of course mining. R blocks, thereís A and B land, and there are all these other issues that the Umbrella Final Agreement has ownership to them. A land has subsurface rights and surface rights. B land has surface rights, so there are all of those issues out there.
But again, we are going to deal in the Yukon in full partnership with the First Nation, and thatís what weíre proceeding to do. Itís a novel concept on how the Yukonís going to go forward in the future, but I think in the long run, when we look back, I think itís probably the only way the Yukon can work. We have to move forward, and we have to move forward in full partnership with all residents of the Yukon, so all Yukon will benefit from the land claims.
So, Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Lang that we report progress on Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Deputy Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Deputy Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker resumes the Chair
Deputy Speaker: I will now call this House to order.
May the House have a report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Deputy Chairís report
Mr. Hassard:Mr. Deputy Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 2004-05, and directed me to report progress on it.
Deputy Speaker: You have heard the report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:56 p.m.