††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Wednesday, November 3, 2004 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: † We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In remembrance of Herman Peterson
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask the Legislative Assembly to join me in saying good-bye to a man, a husband, and a friend who has been an inspiration to all of us with whom he shared his life ó an inspiration as a pilot, an aircraft engineer, and a craftsman, but most of all, as a wonderful human being ó Herman Peterson, the last of the early-day bush pilots, and one who had certainly seen his share of bad flying weather, has taken off to a place where there are eternal blue skies and tailwinds.
I would like to ask the Assembly to please join me in welcoming Mrs. Doris Peterson and Mrs. Vera Kirkwood.
Mr. Rouble: †Herman was born on December 29, 1913, in Latuque, Quebec. At the age of 10 he persuaded his father to take him to see a floatplane that had landed nearby. He climbed into the cockpit, moved the controls back and forth, and knew then and there that he would be an aviator. Before he had his first flying lesson, Herman bought a rare and slightly damaged open-cockpit bi-plane, with the fitting registration for a fledgling aviator, of CF-ABC, and he eagerly began the task of rebuilding. A local pilot, Joe Fecteau, who would become Hermanís lifelong mentor, recognized the young manís enthusiasm, and agreed to teach him to fly.
By the end of 1941, Herman had earned his commercial pilotís licence, his aircraft engineerís licence, and the hand in marriage of his loving partner-for-life, Doris. In 1942 the young couple moved to Carcross where Herman honed his skills as a bush pilot and aircraft maintenance engineer. One of his first assignments was a fitting introduction to his life of adventure in the north† ó that of flying as co-pilot and swamper on a Fokker Super Universal on skis, hauling out the engines, radios, bombsites, and armaments of the three B-26 bombers that crashed in Million Dollar Valley. It was considered to be a classified military job, and so Herman was not allowed to photograph his first great adventure.
In the years that followed, Herman flew thousands of hours on the wartime Canol and Alcan projects, as well as Northern Airwaysí regular charter and scheduled mail routes.
In 1950, Herman and Doris moved to Atlin and started Petersonís Flying Service, with a small three-place Aeronca Sedan. It was that year, in the month of February, that their young friend Moe Grant went missing between Atlin and Carcross in his Tiger Moth. After the official search was called off, Herman doggedly continued to scour the country, until he found Moe alive ó but barely. No one is more acutely aware than Moe that Hermanís unselfish dedication saved his life.
Seventeen years later when the company sold, the fleet had grown to include a Super Cub, a Cessna 180, two Beavers, an Otter, and a Bell 47G-4 helicopter, with a brand new JetRanger on order. During those 25 years of flying in the north, Herman built a solid reputation as a professional pilot, a reliable charter operator, and a superb maintenance engineer. In fact, in almost a quarter of a century of hauling the mail between Carcross, Atlin and Telegraph Creek, he never lost a single letter, or failed to get the mail through.
During his 17,000 hours of flying, Herman never injured a passenger.
In 1965, Herman was honoured by the B.C. Aviation Council for his contribution to northern aviation, including a daring rescue he carried out on the treacherous Iskut River. Some 25 years later, the new Atlin Airport was dedicated to Herman, and officially named Peterson Field.
In 2003, Herman was inducted into the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame, and last January Herman and Doris celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.
Clearly, we can all rejoice at having had Herman Peterson in our lives, and joyfully celebrate the full, rich, generous life that he crammed into his 90 years.
Mr. Hardy: Itís lovely to see you again, Mrs. Peterson. Paying a tribute to a man like Herman Peterson is difficult when you measure your own life compared to someone of his stature. His contributions to the north are legendary. His concern for his friends, for his family, for his wife, are well known, and his passion for flying, which was a lifelong passion, is something that we often donít see in people today ó passion for life, passion for occupation, passion for friends and family.
The Member for Southern Lakes has recited the life activities and awards and dedications and recognition that Herman Peterson had acquired, and I donít want to repeat that even though much of the information we have says the same thing. But I do want to say, from my perspective, that I never met Herman Peterson in person.
I met Herman Peterson through one of his passions, and that was the building of violins and fiddles. There are many people throughout the north and elsewhere who are playing those fiddles. He built 18 of them, just as he built airplanes, with passion, with skill and with love. And when you hear those fiddles played by the players ó Joe Loutchan, Bill Matiation, Rusty Reid ó when you hear the fiddles played, you know that Herman Petersonís voice is speaking to you, just as when you see a plane fly above, a hand-crafted plane, a prop plane, you know that there is a part of Herman Peterson in those planes.
My understanding is that he will be recognized. One of his planes is going to be mounted at the Transportation Museum in Whitehorse, and thatís a wonderful tribute, as are many of the other tributes that have already been mentioned.
I was driving in today from Carmacks and I put a CD in the CD player ó itís my daughterís CD; I didnít know what was on it; who knows what you might find with a 22 year old. The first song that came on, which reminded me of Herman Peterson and where he is today, was a song called Iíll Fly Away. Itís a beautiful, beautiful piece with a lot of violins and fiddles in it. Itís a bluegrass piece sung by Alison Krauss and itís a wonderful piece. It made me think very deeply about this man and his contributions to the north, to his friends and the impact he has had on peopleís lives.
I have been very fortunate. Mrs. Peterson sold me Hermanís equipment and many pieces of the violins he was working on. I go into my shop now and sit there and look at them, and I think of this man and of what he has given to so many people, and Iím thankful for that.
I hope everybody takes a moment to think about the contributions this man has made and the contributions we can make in following in his stead.
In recognition of Kerry Huff
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I rise today to inform the members of this House of a significant recognition bestowed upon Principal Kerry Huff of Porter Creek Secondary School. I ask the members to join me in welcoming Kerry Huff, who is present in the gallery.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Macleanís magazineís The Grade School Project names Porter Creek Secondary School as one of Canadaís best high schools. Kerry Huff was nominated for his leadership as a principal. Many of you may be familiar with Kerry Huffís wonderfully unusual leadership style. In the true spirit of leadership, he works to engage everyone at his school to do their best and respect one another.
I would like to extend my thanks to Kerry Huff for making the school experience so very special for so many of our students.
I would also like to extend my thanks to the students and staff at Porter Creek Secondary School and the parents involved with the school for supporting Kerry Huff. It is through your support and hard work that you make Porter Creek Secondary School a great school.
Finally, I would like to thank all Yukon school administrators, teachers, support staff, students, school councillors, parents and Department of Education staff for making our schools what they are today: positive environments that stimulate our youth and provide them with the best learning opportunities possible.
Ms. Duncan: ďOne hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, what sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.Ē
That anonymous quote hangs on Kerry Huffís office wall for a reason. This principal, former president of the Yukon Teachers Association, colleague, parent, constituent, concerned citizen does more than glance at that quote when he starts his day. He walks the talk and he lives it. It is truly an honour, as the Member for Porter Creek South, to pay tribute to a constituent such Kerry Huff.
There are many stories to be told that would exemplify and tell in a far wittier fashion that I can what a difference Kerry Huff has made and continues to make in the lives of Yukoners. In recognizing Mr. Huff as an educator, there is a story in Macleanís that a photo of Kerry Huff in a tutu also hangs on his office wall. The quote attached to that article says that he ďmakes students feel good about being hereĒ. †
Kerry Huff is one of those unique individuals who sees something good in everyone and can produce, no matter what your daily circumstances, a smile or a pun to share. Kerry, thank you for being there for your students, your colleagues and for all of us. We truly appreciate not only what you do but how you do it. Thank you, Mr. Huff.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: Iím going to say just a very few words. Once again, the work that Kerry Huff has done as the leader of the school has already been described. He has inspired the students to excel. He has definitely brought forward a sense of humour, which is so essential in education. As a matter of fact, itís essential in the Legislature at times, and we can learn from that kind of action. Kerry, congratulations on the award you have received. Itís well-deserved. From the NDP, we definitely appreciate the work that youíre doing up there.
One of the greatest compliments a teacher can ever get ó and I know this because I did go to a teacher years later and say it to him ó is to go up and say, ďThank you. You helped me.Ē I said that to a teacher, and they told me that was one of the greatest compliments theyíd ever received. And I bet there are many students who will be saying that to Kerry Huff over the years.
Thank you very much.
In recognition of Project Red Ribbon ó Tie One On for Safety
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: On behalf of my colleague, the Minister of Highways and Public Works, and as minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation, I rise today to pay tribute to the 2004 Project Red Ribbon, the Tie One On for Safety campaign.
The campaign runs now through January 3. Mr. Speaker, each year Mothers Against Drunk Driving launches a public awareness and education campaign to remind the public that impaired driving causes needless death and injury. Boxes of red ribbons are being placed in our liquor stores around the Yukon and at the motor vehicles branch.
We invite patrons to pick one up and, if able, to make a donation and support this important cause. By placing a red ribbon on their lapel or on the antenna of their vehicle, program supporters will show their respect for those who have lost their lives or suffered injuries as a result of alcohol-related offences.
Supporting this campaign also sends a strong reminder that we all need to be sober when we get behind the wheel of a vehicle and take to Yukon roads ó and even off-road.
Impaired driving poses a risk to all Yukoners. An impaired driver is a risk to him- or herself, a risk to every other motorist on the road and certainly a risk to innocent bystanders.
We have seen the tragedy that drinking and driving causes, and we know the devastation this crime can inflict.
Mr. Speaker, we are reaching that time of year when we all enjoy the chance to socialize with others and celebrate the warmth and the joys of the holiday season. Through the Tie One On for Safety campaign that is now underway, Mothers Against Drunk Driving are offering a strong reminder not to drink and drive. By displaying a red ribbon from the Tie One On for Safety campaign, you add your voice of support to this very important campaign.
Over the coming days, the Yukon chapter of MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, will be saying more about this initiative, but at this time and on behalf of the Yukon government, I salute MADD and encourage the public to support Project Red Ribbon† ó Tie One On for Safety. Please display your red ribbon and show that you, too, support sober driving.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the official opposition to pay tribute to MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and their annual Project Red Ribbon. This year, we celebrate the second year of the chapter of MADD in the Yukon. From the first week in November until after Christmas and New Year, MADD distributes red ribbons to tie on to our vehicles. The ribbon recognizes all the persons who have been killed or injured in accidents due to impaired driving.
They are there to remind us all about drinking and driving during the holiday season and to allow us to commit ourselves not to drink and drive.
MADDís mission is not only to remind us once a year of the grief and dislocation caused by drunk driving; it also presses for legislative changes, educates the public about the extent of drunk driving and offers community solutions to the problem.
MADD reviews legislation about impaired driving and produces a report card on each jurisdiction. Yukon does not fare well in these assessments. The Yukon rate of alcohol consumption remains the highest in Canada. Recently the Yukon Bureau of Statistics revealed that sales of alcoholic beverages increased by 3.5 percent in Yukon.
We have a long way to go to make our highways safer, and we extend our full support to the local chapter of MADD.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
†Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I would ask the indulgence of the House to turn our attention to the gallery to welcome some very, very special guests, Ron and Marg Pachal from Kenora, Ontario. Ron was once the principal of the St. Anneís School in Watson Lake during the period of 1965 to 1967. We thank you, Ron, for trying to teach us young Watson Lakers back in those days.
Ron is also seated with Janet Couture, the wife of our Sergeant-at-Arms, Rudy.
Please make welcome the Pachals from Kenora, Ontario.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd ask the gallery to join me in welcoming Val Birss, who is a member of the support staff at Porter Creek Secondary School. She has joined Kerry Huff for the tribute today. Welcome, Val.
Speaker: Are there any other introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I have for tabling the annual report of the Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues, April 1, 2003, to March 31, 2004.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I have for tabling the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board audited financial statements for 2003, and the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board annual report for 2003.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Petition No. 4 ó response
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I rise today to respond to Petition No. 4, tabled on October 21, 2004, by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. Now, this petition concerns the reindeer located at the Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm and requests that the Yukon government relocate this herd to the government-owned Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
I have the greatest respect for those who put their names to this petition as they were surely guided by the utmost concern for the well-being of these reindeer. Their very honourable intentions are somewhat misplaced, however, when seeking to move these animals to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The Yukon Wildlife Preserve was created to become an internationally recognized public showcase for Yukon Arctic and boreal wildlife serving educational, research, conservation and wildlife appreciation. This was in accordance with a recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board made to the Yukon government.
As we know, reindeer have been used for domestic purposes in northern Europe and Russia for thousands of years. Many reindeer herds in North America today can be traced back to animals imported from Russia to Alaska between 1890 and 1902, and were subsequently brought to the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories.
In the late 1980s the Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm was set up as a private enterprise and purchased 45 reindeer from a Tuktoyaktuk breeder with the assistance of approximately $170,000 in economic development assistance grant monies. These animals of long-domesticated stock are not what the Yukon Wildlife Preserve was created to exhibit and preserve. While some many find it desirable to maintain a viewing facility for these reindeer, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve is simply not that place.
As a government, we recognize that conditions have been extremely difficult for reindeer and game farmers in recent years, due in part to the diminishing market for these animals. We realize that a lack of clarity was created when the new Yukon Act failed to provide for the regulation of reindeer as had previously been done under section 47 of the old Yukon Act.
Our government is working to develop the necessary changes to rectify this oversight. In the meantime, we have reassured reindeer farmers that they can continue to carry out their business as they have previously done by ensuring that permits will be available for the export or sale of their stock. Further, with regard to the health and well-being of these animals, they will continue to be carefully monitored in conformity with the Animal Protection Act and the Animal Health Act.
Speaker: Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the federal government to continue funding the Canadian Council of Archives financial assistance programs and Archives Canada programs, which are essential to the development of both large and small communities and First Nations archival institutions in the Yukon.
Mr. Hassard: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government, in consultation with the Yukon and First Nation governments, to live up to its campaign commitment and move forward to establish a joint commission with the United States, Alaska and the Yukon, to evaluate options for establishing a rail link connecting the Yukon and Alaska to the southern rail system.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† Tantalus School, Yukon College campus at
Mr. Hardy: For the record Iíd like to correct some information that was put on the floor of the House yesterday by the Minister of Education. First, as my colleague from Mayo-Tatchun pointed out, the Department of Education did release a letter that was sent to the school building advisory committee last May in response to a media request through ATIPP. The minister said the government had not released this letter.
Second, the minister stated yesterday that the chair of the advisory committee had quit. This is not, in fact, the case. The minister was wrong on both counts.
Will the minister now please correct the record?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to thank the member opposite for the question.
First, I wish to correct the record. I have learned that the letter in question was, in fact, released by my department. This was an operational decision ó purely and simply operational.
This letter was produced at a public meeting, I might add, and who knows? The letter would have surfaced sooner or later, Mr. Speaker, and this government is and will continue to be open and accountable. As I said, this was delivered at a public meeting. There was nothing secret about this.
Mr. Hardy: Also for the record, the minister didnít answer the second part of the question, in which he stated that the chair of the advisory committee had quit. I wonder why he omitted that. Plus, the letter was not released at a public meeting and it was by the decision of that committee ó where it was discussed and introduced ó to be suppressed because of the nature of that letter.
Yesterday one of the local radio stations carried an interview with the minister about this letter and the effect it had on people in Carmacks.
The report included a statement that the letter in question helped the minister make his decision about building a Yukon College campus and a new Tantalus School on the same site.
What specific steps did the minister take to find out if the claims made in the letter about the condition of the existing campus were accurate before making his decision to move the College to the new school site?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to state for the record at this time that this minister does have feelings for everyone. Surely to goodness, I will never, ever stoop to the level of embarrassing anyone. Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, everyone who has an opinion and wants to present it, whether itís verbal or written, has that option. I will not by any means or fashion discredit anyone who has put forward an opinion. I have maintained the high road all the way through this process, and I will continue to do so.
Mr. Hardy: † Mr. Speaker, again the minister did not answer the question, and I wonder why. Now, I ask the minister to listen closely. We have to get the truth out.
The minister stated in this House yesterday that it was the advisory committeeís responsibility to deal with the concerns raised in the letter. That is wrong, Mr. Speaker. Thatís not the advisory committeeís role. In fact, the president and the acting president of the Yukon College have both made it very clear that the allegations in the letter do not reflect the Collegeís position at all. If the minister or the Cabinet used this letter as the basis of their decision to relocate the school, it would be completely irresponsible to do so without checking the facts.
Why did the minister fail to verify the accuracy of this letter before making a decision that ignored his own advisory committee, the Yukon College campus committee, the school council, and the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation? Why?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to start by correcting the member opposite. This letter was not a sole decision maker, and I believe I stated that also. Iím not in control of what any acting president may present as their point of view on any issue, and Iím certainly not going to question the acting presidentís comments on the floor of this House.
Mr. Speaker, I will maintain that this process was a process that was started by the opposition parties by attaching colleges to public schools, and I applaud them for that decision because itís very economical. I think itís time that the citizens in the Yukon Territory realize that it is a luxury to have a college campus in the community where there is a population of 200 people. This is probably unheard of right across Canada ó having the opportunity for community members to attend a college. It is really a luxury and I believe that itís one we should all appreciate. Again, the Yukon has the highest dollars per capita per student ó one of the highest, or second in Canada.
Question re: Tantalus School, Yukon College campus at
†Mr. Hardy: Well, you know the past governments, especially the NDP, gave the communities the choice on what they would or would not have. Thatís the difference.
Now Iíd like to follow up with the Minister of Education. Unlike the minister, I thought it was important to check the facts as they were being presented, so I drove to Carmacks this morning and had a thorough tour of the Yukon College campus. I will tell you right now, itís a very fine facility. I didnít see any signs of the negative conditions the letter writer had referred to.
For the ministerís benefit, Iím going to table another letter from Yukon College that carries yesterdayís date.
In this letter, the acting president says, ďWe have occupied the current space for the past 11 years. During this time, Yukon College has enjoyed and valued a long-standing partnership with the campus landlord, Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation.Ē Now, why did the minister and his colleagues decide all on their own to fix something that wasnít broken?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: †Mr. Speaker, I also travel to Carmacks many times. This is not the opinion of everyone in Carmacks. This College campus, again I say, added to the elementary school is nothing but a positive. It enables the College campus to utilize all of the new school ó the industrial arts room, the computer rooms ó Mr. Speaker, itís just nothing but a real added bonus to have the two connected. For example, when itís 50 below, people donít have to go out and start their cars and travel two miles to go and use the public school. You can walk over there in your T-shirt. Whatís wrong with that? The opposition, I feel, are just beginning to use the First Nations to their advantage.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The hon. Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, what I just heard contradicts the Standing Orders of this Assembly. The Minister of Education just cast motives upon the leader of the official opposition and I ask you to remind him of the rules.
Speaker: Actually, I think that probably every member knows the rules, and Iíd ask the Minister of Education not to make that reference. Carry on, please.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The community knows the minister has been to Carmacks; the Premier has been to Carmacks very recently, yet they didnít bother to take a look at the existing campus before deciding to make a change.
In fact, the Minister of Education has never even met with his own building advisory committee. This is plain irresponsible. The Premier and the minister owe both the College and the First Nations an apology for acting on information that they had not even bothered to verify.
Now letís get right down to it. Let me ask the Premier this question: who persuaded the minister and the Premier to relocate the campus to the new school site? Who had the Yukon Party governmentís ear?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In my opinion, the member opposite is chasing a red herring here. It is this governmentís responsibility to provide public infrastructure. Again, we are doing our job. Thatís our job. I think that at some point in time I certainly hope that things havenít diminished to the point where the Yukon territorial government no longer has the authority to make a decision.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to remind that minister that heís here at the blessing of the Yukon people. Itís not the other way around.
Now the Premier is playing a very dangerous game here. This government has alienated another First Nation by not consulting, and the list is growing. Yesterday, the Chief of Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation went so far as to say he would follow the Premier to oil and gas conferences and tell the industry people that, contrary to what the Premier is saying, there is no certainty in the Yukon under this government. The wheels are falling off the Premierís wagon, and he needs to do something very quickly to restore confidence in his government. Will the Premier back away from the brink on this matter and revisit the decision on the Carmacks campus in full and meaningful consultation with all the players involved?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We cannot back away from a brink if we are not at it. When you look at the evidence and the facts in this territory, there is a tremendous amount of work, tremendous number of initiatives and a lot of relationship building that has taken place with First Nations. This specific issue is not a decision made by influence, by letters or anything of the sort. This is the decision of a public government in addressing the public education system and in spending money from the public purse. Our position as a government is that the best investment for the community of Carmacks is to build a learning institution in that community for all its citizens. This is not alienation. This is bringing people together in an educational hub in a community that needs it.
When it comes to oil and gas development, I can tell you this much: in todayís Yukon, self-governing First Nations receive a share of the benefits of all oil and gas royalties. Thatís the type of partnership this government has produced. We are not alienating First Nations; we are involving them in the future of this territory ó socially, educationally, environmentally and economically. Thatís our commitment; thatís what weíve done.
Question re: Liquor Act changes
†Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. The Yukon Party has demonstrated over two years that it is unprepared to do the hard work of government. We have another example with this fall legislative-light agenda. Yukoners are beginning to wonder if this government is allergic to hard work. The minister, who is also responsible for business and economic development, recently gave a speech where he complained about red tape holding back business. He talked about several silly Liquor Act rules, like how high licences had to be displayed on the wall and that a table cloth was required before liquor could be served in some bars.
When this government came to office two years ago, a new Liquor Act was drafted and ready to go. It was business friendly and it reduced red tape. It had undergone thorough community consultation. Instead of just talking about it, why doesnít his government just change the Liquor Act?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to respond to that. First of all, Mr. Speaker, the Liquor Act has been clearly identified by this government as not the highest of priorities, because thereís a great deal of work that can be done within the existing Liquor Act. We have carefully reviewed all of the recommendations of the Liquor Act and Regulations Review and, out of that, I can say that 17 of the recommendations have been addressed and some operational changes have already been made or are underway in other areas that will mitigate some of the concerns. So we feel that within the existing act we can accomplish a great deal and reduce a lot of the red tape; and it is the position of our government that we are not going to create legislation for the fun of it. Weíre going to create legislation or amendments that solve individual problems. The fact that itís legislation-light ó Mr. Speaker, that comment I donít agree with, but I do take it as a compliment.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister recently gave a speech to the business community and talked about the Liquor Act, the legislation and the changes to the act that needed to be made, but thatís all he did was talk. Thereís no action to back any of it up. The Liquor Act is one of the Yukonís oldest pieces of legislation. It needs to be updated. There have to be changes made to the act. And as the minister himself recently pointed out, it contains a number of outdated rules that are not business-friendly. The only thing standing in the way of the new Liquor Act is a government that wonít do the hard work.
Mr. Speaker, the new Liquor Act, the one that was done and ready to go when they took office, is the result of extensive community consultation conducted over a two-year time period. Itís a huge improvement over what is currently in place. When will the government and the minister responsible for the Liquor Act do the hard work and bring a new Liquor Act to the floor of this House? When will that happen?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I appreciate the comments of the member opposite, and there has been a great deal of work done by this government and by previous governments on the Liquor Act and various problems.
We would prefer to look at this whole legislative agenda as ďlegislation right,Ē not ďlegislation lightĒ ó do the right thing at the right time. We do not believe that there are significant problems in this act to deal with the problems.
The previous administration wanted to make liquor more readily available. I donít agree with that; this government doesnít agree with it. They also wanted to build a new jail. Maybe there was a tie-in with, I donít know, but our idea is to deal with the problems of alcohol while making it reasonably available to people for reasonable use.
Weíve looked at recommendations; weíve maintained the legal age at 19 years for buying and consuming liquor in the Yukon.
Recommendation 8: Do not license you-brews nor tax you-brew products. We have agreed to that.
Recommendation 39: Develop standards and processes and guidelines regarding barring patrons for consistent Yukon-wide application. Weíve done that.
Recommendation 46: Yukon Liquor Corporation should continue to determine the off-sale markup rate. Weíve done that.
Ms. Duncan: The minister seems to have the same problem as some of his colleagues. The Minister of Education dropped the ball on the Education Act review. Itís stalled.
The minister responsible for the Workersí Compensation Act has dropped the ball. The act review is now a year behind schedule.
The Minister of Community Services has reneged on a commitment to update the animal protection legislation ó a commitment made in this Legislature.
A committee was struck to cut red tape, led by the MLA for Copperbelt, announced a year ago. Nothing has happened ó not even a meeting.
This government has to do more than talk about cutting red tape. It has to do more than talk. They have to do the hard work of government, and theyíre not doing it. They can start by actually updating the Liquor Act, as recommended after two years of extensive community consultation ó all-party community consultation.
When is the minister going to bring that legislation forward and actually do the work of government? When is that going to happen?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I point out to the member opposite, of course, that that work over two years was abruptly ended by an election, which requested certainty. I suggest that the member opposite received that certainty with great emphasis.
I go back to a number of the different recommendations here that have been implemented. Recommendation 6: develop a policy manual for use by the Liquor Board ó weíve done that. Off-sale hours reduced ó weíve done that. The general public should be informed of a licensee suspension, including the reasons for the suspension, Recommendation 43 ó weíve done that. Recommendation 19, readily accessible for the BARS, our Be a Responsible Server program ó weíve done that. Comprehensive, quality BARS programs with frequent review ó weíve done that.
We can work within the existing act on all of these things. There is no need to continually produce legislation that is not needed, and that is the difference with this government.
Question re: Health care services, privatization of
Mr. McRobb: This Yukon Party government has broken the public trust on so many fronts, including relations with First Nation governments, that weíre left wondering whatís next. Now we know that, when it comes to important decisions, this government prefers to hobnob within its inner circle. Consequently, thereís good reason to suspect its intentions with respect to public health care, given its close relations with privateers like Klein and Campbell.
Yukon people expect and deserve a secure and comprehensive health care system. Now, instead of wandering off in the barnyard, as he did yesterday, today we expect a responsible, straightforward answer. Can the Minister of Health and Social Services put on record his position with respect to the privatization of health care services?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: † Our government is committed to following the principles of the Canada Health Act.
Mr. McRobb: Although the Canada Health Act allows quite a bit of flexibility with respect to privatization of health care services, as weíre seeing in the provinces to our south, the minister didnít really put his position on the record at all.
In B.C., the Campbell Liberal government is shutting down three operating rooms and contracting out 980 day surgeries to private clinics due to a shortage of operating room nurses. Of course, the minister is aware that many Yukon patients in need of surgery are sent to St. Paulís Hospital in Vancouver. In fact, the Yukon government is one of their biggest customers. The B.C. nurses union is critical of the move, saying it will only further erode the public health care system because thereís only one body of nurses in the province and theyíre either operating in the private or the public facilities.
Is the Yukon Minister of Health prepared to hitch his wagon to Gordon Campbellís private health care scheme or will he take measures to protect the public health care system for Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I donít know where this member is coming from. Our government has committed the largest budget ever to health care. Itís approximately $170 million on the O&M side this year, another $10 million in capital and, in addition to that, this supplementary is for just over $8 million. I believe that bodes well for the health care services that Yukoners are provided with and receive. Theyíre universal and theyíre publicly funded. We canít go further wrong than following the five principles of the Canada Health Act, and we will adhere to them.
So, Mr. Speaker, the budget and the supplementary have been before the floor, and this member and his party vote against it. That bodes well as to where they sit as to the funding of health care.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, why did the member avoid answering the question of whether heís prepared to hitch his wagon to Campbellís privatization scheme? Why did he refuse?
Perhaps he can provide some information to this House thatís worthwhile, including informing us on the number of Yukoners who are affected by Campbellís scheme.
The minister has had the luxury of being the lucky recipient of millions of extra health care dollars thanks to a flush federal coffer. The territory is now in a position to ensure Yukoners receive the highest possible level of care. The minister should be all the more protective of our public system. What is he prepared to do to ensure that Yukon health care dollars are spent in public not-for-profit facilities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Letís just track what has transpired in the health care field with respect to more money for Yukon.† It was through the leadership of our Premier that Ottawa was dealt with to the point where the three premiers from northern Canada walked out on a meeting with the former Prime Minister of Canada. That resulted in $60 million flowing to northern Canada. We can thank our Premier and his colleagues from Nunavut and Northwest Territories.
To that end, the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is the budget that has been tabled, which clearly identified where this money is being directed. It has clearly identified that we are in full conformity with the Canada Health Act. I donít know where this member is coming from when he votes against this tremendous increase of funding and how it is spent here in the Yukon on health care.
Is this member opposed to health care for Yukoners?
Question re: Violence against women, prevention of
†Mrs. Peter: My question today is for the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate.
In this month when we pay special attention to family violence and, in particular, violence against women, will the minister tell us how this government is responding adequately to the needs of Yukoners in violence situations?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †It is indeed my honour to be able to respond to the member oppositeís question. Violence against women is something that we do not condone on this side of the House, as well as among all members of this House. Instead, it is a priority of this government and we have done a number of initiatives to address this very dire problem that is well and alive in our communities. In fact, in the supplementary budget we have designated an additional, I believe, almost $250,000 toward violence prevention initiatives for aboriginal women as well as non-aboriginal women.
So I believe that our words are coming alive through our actions, and we are very committed to working and supporting both aboriginal and non-aboriginal womenís organizations through a number of initiatives.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, in July, the minister announced that the Yukon Party government had kept their election promise and established a Yukon-wide crisis line. They have an agreement with B.C. to extend their VictimLINK telephone helpline to the Yukon ó a 24-hour toll-free service. The helpline was announced as a support to victims of family and sexual violence, including sexual assault, violence in relationships, elder abuse and adult survivors of physical and sexual abuse. Very little advertising about this line has been done beyond the original press release. Promotional materials available from the B.C. line are not available, even in transition homes. Can the minister tell us how this department is assisting people to access this helpline in violent situations?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to this line, Mr. Speaker, it is something that has been very newly put into place. I believe that it is going to be a real asset to the people in the Yukon Territory. This line will provide 24-hours-a-day counselling by a professional, so there is nothing but good and real advantage for all Yukoners through this line.
Mrs. Peter: VictimLINK gives out telephone numbers of government and of some NGO services.
Most of these services are available only during office hours. Violence occurs mostly not during office hours. This help line offers no counselling. This help line offers no assistance to people looking for immediate help in frightening and even dangerous situations. A real crisis line intervenes in these situations. It does not simply give out telephone numbers. This is not a crisis line. Will the minister commit to living up to the Yukon Partyís election promise and fund a valid Yukon-wide crisis line with trained personnel who know the issues of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To the best of my knowledge, this crisis line does just that. It provides 24-hours-a-day service to anyone in a crisis. To the best of my knowledge, itís being done by professional people, not volunteers, so I believe that this crisis line is going to be a real asset to the Yukon people. I fully support that crisis line.
Question re: Dawson City bridge
†Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Premier. In the last election, the Yukon Party promised to build a bridge across the Yukon River in Dawson City when it was economically feasible. The Premier made it clear that this bridge is a good candidate for public-private partnership of the kind that has created so many problems for other governments. The Premier now has more money than he knows what to do with, so is the government planning to build this bridge as a public project or is he still favouring the public-private partnership model that will cost taxpayers even more money?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are still looking at the Yukon River bridge as a good candidate for a P3 policy, and we think itís economically viable to do so.
Mr. Fairclough: At what cost to the taxpayer? This bridge is another classic example of the Yukon Party deciding what its plans are, and then tacking on a bit of consultation after the fact.
On Friday, the Minister of Highways and Public Works held a public meeting in Dawson City. Even the Member for Klondike was there. The problem is that it wasnít consultation. It was an information session. The people werenít asked what the government should be doing; they were told what the government is doing.
There was no evidence that the minister or the Premier have heard any of the concerns people have with the location of the proposed bridge. Is the minister or the Premier ó whoever is going to answer this question ó determined to put a multi-million dollar bridge at the proposed downtown location, even if that jeopardizes Dawson Cityís attempt to gain designation as a world heritage site?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have had several consultations in Dawson City with respect to the bridge since May of this year. During that meeting on Friday, we had a lively discussion with respect to the bridge. There was a lot of discussion on both sides of the issue.
And yes, there have been issues with regard to the bridge. As mentioned at that meeting, weíll be looking forward, at construction of the bridge, to accommodate and looking at ways of mitigating so it does or does not affect their aspect of dealing with a world heritage facility for the town of Dawson City.
Mr. Fairclough: Moving ahead whether or not the community is expressing concerns about it or not ó that sounds like what weíve been asking over the past couple of weeks. It is this Yukon Party and the Premier and ministers who seem to know best.
The Premier wonít lift a finger to collect the outstanding debt from the Member for Klondike, yet heís perfectly willing to award him with a multi-million dollar bridge and a post as Deputy Premier. Surely the Premier must realize that not everyone in Dawson City supports this bridge project, not to mention the people around the territory who have questioned the Premierís financial priorities. In fact, one of the partners in a major mining engineering company said, a few days ago, ďI can show you 25 places in the Yukon that I would rather see a bridge than across the river at Dawson.Ē
So instead of pushing ó
Speaker: Order. Would the member please ask the question?
Mr. Fairclough: I have the question, Mr. Speaker.
Instead of pushing ahead with his private agenda on the bridge, will the Premier now give a clear assurance that the residents of Dawson City will have a say in where and how the bridge is built?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First letís deal with the preamble in somehow connecting a loan to the bridge. The Member for Klondike was elected with this very much being public knowledge in 1996. The Member for Klondike was elected again in 2000, and the Member for Klondike was elected again in 2002. The government has produced progress on this file. We are now at the stage ó and itís well known ó where we have some remaining delinquencies. We are looking at an option of collection. If we collect, or go down the road of collection, it would include the Member for Klondike.
The issue of the bridge has been discussed in Dawson City since the late 1960s. There have been environmental screenings done. To say that the community hasnít been involved is simply ignoring the facts, Mr. Speaker.
We know the NDP, when it comes to public-private partnerships, is adverse to that, because they oppose the private sector. They are anti-profit, and this bridge project is a good candidate for a public-private partnership. It is simple arithmetic. It costs $1 million a year for a ferry; we have $1 million a year to debt-service a bridge. I think itís a good thing. The majority of the people of Dawson want it, and we are going to proceed with an infrastructure that will benefit all Yukoners, including the City of Dawson and its residents.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Some Hon. Member: Point of privilege, Mr. Speaker.
Question of privilege
Speaker: Point of privilege, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
†Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege.† Mr. Speaker, I have advised you that I would be rising on the question of privilege, and I have laid out my reasons why.
Mr. Speaker, I had a chance to review the Blues from yesterday. We all heard what was said by the Minister of Education, and I wanted to read it to make sure that I did hear it properly, and this is the first opportunity that I do have to respond to this. Mr. Speaker, I and members of my family have felt that the comments made by the Minister of Education were inappropriate and inaccurate, and I would like to read that out clearly for all to know, Mr. Speaker. It was in response to a question I had asked during Question Period, and a response to me, and Iíll read it. This is a quote from the Minister of Education: ďI stated on the floor of this House before that the member opposite needs only to look in the mirror to understand where some of the dissension is coming from, and I stand by that commentÖĒ
Again, ďThe member is entitled to his own opinions and thatís all it is ó his own opinion. This government has gone far beyond trying to work in consultation with everyone in Carmacks. One of the options that the member opposite probably gave notice to his First Nation was that they can build a school anywhere they want in the country. Such a request came, one to be built about three to four kilometres out in the bush where we would have to build a road and a bridge, and you name it.Ē I could go on to read the rest of that, but it doesnít apply to the reasons I rise on a point of privilege.
This information is inaccurate and inappropriate. It certainly constitutes a breach of my privilege as a member, and I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Minister of Education to withdraw those remarks and apologize for them.
Speaker: I hope that the House will allow me to review this, and I will return with a ruling in the future.
We now will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERSí BUSINESS
†Speaker: Opposition private membersí business, bills other than government bills.
Bill No. 107: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 107, standing in the name of Mr. Hardy.
Mr. Hardy: I move that Bill No. 107, entitled Democratic Reform Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the official opposition that Bill No. 107, entitled Democratic Reform Act, be now read a second time.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís with great pleasure that Iíd like to introduce the Mayor of Faro, who is in our gallery here today. Please welcome the hon. Mayor of the Town of Faro, Phyllis Forbes.
Speaker: Leader of the official opposition, I await your pleasure.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to open with a quote. ďIn this new democracy, in this Canada of ours, there must be room in the party to which I belong for independent spirit and independent thought. I must be permitted to exercise the intelligence that providence gave me.Ē
These very defiant words from a future Prime Minister of Canada come from Hansard. Itís not Jean Chrťtien or Paul Martin that Iím quoting. The words and ideas come down to us from a backbencher MP addressing the House of Commons before World War I, and that future Prime Minister was Sir Robert Laird Borden.
I would like to make it very clear up front that this is not a partisan bill. If anything, itís not about who is in government or who is in opposition, but what it truly is about is democracy. Itís about the democratic right of people to have a say in how they elect their MLAs and itís also about giving Yukon people a say in how their MLAs conduct public business on their behalf. Itís about us, as elected MLAs; itís about the belief that the Legislative Assembly should be formed or created or changed and what we believe the weaknesses and the strengths are.
Let me put it in a different way. The values that make us believe that there has to be a better way for society to be do not allow us to sit back and do nothing to effect the change. Itís the willingness and the eagerness to embrace change, especially when the rest of the world has moved forward.
We still operate or function in a system that hasnít.
Now, we have witnessed a lot of pressure from the public to enact change around the world. We just witnessed an election in the United States of America, which has an abundance of issues to face in their own democratic structure, in their own government structures, and in how they also elect people. Four years ago, they went through a tremendously difficult period. This time around, there are still issues. Most of all ó I would say, looking from outside down to the United States ó one of the biggest issues is choice, something that United Statesí politics and the structure they have and work within do not allow. Most of the time, itís between two parties, and I do not think that is democracy in its completeness.
Other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world are also looking at these kinds of questions. Within Canada alone, weíre witnessing, I believe, five to six provinces that are presently engaged in a debate to, predominantly right now, find a different way of electing that is more representative of the wishes of the people.
Now, the democratic reform bill I brought forward is definitely one part of it, but there is also another part, and that is legislative reform. If we want a strong democracy, if we want people to believe in the work that we do here, and it has value and meaning, we must listen to the tides of change ó the people of this country.
As I said earlier, there are five to six provinces right now engaged in this. The Yukon Party government has hired a consultant to monitor one of those processes, called the Citizensí Assembly on Electoral Reform, which has come to a conclusion around what recommendations they will bring forward in their final report to the government.
There are other provinces that are looking at different models. They have a different approach. What this bill provides is an opportunity for the dialogue to happen within the territory. It provides a very rare opportunity for Yukon people to take ownership of the process they have asked for. We must never forget that we are here by the grace of the people who elect us, but also the people whom we are empowered to represent. This is not our House; this is not our Legislature. If the peopleís wishes are to see change, then itís incumbent upon us to embrace that and to find a method and a way that will allow that change to happen and one that is reflective of the wishes of the people. But itís also incumbent upon us to lead once we know the direction that itís necessary to go in. Thatís what this bill is intending to do: offer an avenue to go forward from this position to the next.
The people have asked for change generally by commenting on what they donít like about the Legislature, what they donít like about our debate, what they donít like about the structure of government and opposition, what they donít like about the ability to access and come before committees. That doesnít exist.
There are many examples, and I will go through them briefly.
I would also like to point out that I am not going to talk for a long, long time, so I really am looking forward to an exchange of ideas. I want to hear what the elected members, everybody in here, say about this, and I will embrace change within this act we have brought forward.
I am not welded to it; I am not going to defend it when I can see that a suggestion definitely improves it.
There are concerns about the elections, for instance. That is expressed often by the low turnouts. Now, it is recognized in the Yukon that we have a higher turnout than in other areas ó not the highest, but we have a higher turnout ó but it is not totally acceptable where itís at, and there has been erosion in the voting numbers. On a federal level, of course, we see it. Every time there is an election, it seems to drop down ó how many people participate in electing a government ó and I donít want to see that happen here, and itís starting to happen here on a territorial level. It definitely happens on a municipal level.
Another comment I have heard, of course, is that politics are irrelevant in their lives, and that is the farthest thing from the truth. It is a shame, because when people feel that politics do not affect their lives or do not have an impact, they are disenfranchised from the work that we do. We know from being in here how important it is, how much of an effect we have upon the communities and the people of this territory by the decisions that we make, whether theyíre budgetary decisions, whether theyíre positions that even opposition takes to try to get the government to go in a certain direction. We know daily what impact that has.
Unfortunately, so many people are disenfranchised, and they do not have that feeling. Thatís a real shame. I would go so far as to say that itís incumbent upon us to restore the confidence of the public, by Yukoners, in their own Legislative Assembly. There are ways to do it, and I think we all have suggestions in here. But I also would suggest that we may have to question the very justification of our Legislature in order to realize one that measures up to our expectations. If we donít ask the questions, we will not improve and we will not make change.
We will not find out whatís wrong before itís too late.
Iím going to look at the structure of the bill that has been brought forward. This bill that we brought forward is in two parts: our election system that we presently have; and the second part is how MLAs and ministers function both in the House and in their constituencies. It also addresses a few minor housekeeping issues and I will just touch on those very briefly.
On the two main topics, the bill provides similar but slightly different approaches. Briefly in part 1 on electoral reform, itís suggested ó Iíll read it:
ď1. (1) Within three months of this bill receiving asset, the Commissioner in Executive Council shall establish an Electoral Reform Commission consisting of five Yukon electors for the purpose of conducting a public review of the method to be used to elect Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.Ē
That is similar to the commission established on changes to the Yukon Act. Members were appointed by order-in-council after consultation with the three party leaders on how that came about, so itís not breaking any new ground. We have used it and I think it was used successfully.
The commission would pick its own chair, it would have three months to prepare for public hearings and it would report back publicly, within a year of the act getting assent. It could recommend options for Yukoners to vote on by plebiscite. The plebiscite could be at the next general election or within two years after the commission makes its report. There is a fair amount of time there, depending on how the consultation goes. Structurally, basically what weíre saying is support and budget would be provided through ECO, one of the departments; a secretariat would be established to gather research information, help arrange the public meetings, provide discussion papers, create a Web site, et cetera.
Like I said just previously, itís not reinventing the wheel. A lot of this information already exists on this subject. New Brunswick, the federal government, and British Columbia all have very well-developed information on this.
As well as Web sites, several other countries with democratic systems have looked into this, and there are numerous studies and pages available to the commission. There are very few countries actually left that elect the way we do ó ďfirst past the postĒ is generally what itís called. I think there are only three countries with populations over eight million that are left doing it: Canada, England and the United States basically. You have to wonder why all the other countries have shifted to a different model, use a different model. Even countries that have looked at and made changes to their existing one have not adopted this model. Theyíve looked at it. New Zealand would be an example ó recent changes ó but almost universally this model was never accepted, the one we use here. It does have some pros and cons. Thatís something that needs to be debated. Now we do know, of course, that the Yukon Party is on record in favour of an electoral reform commission. I believe that this bill provides a model that is appropriate in scale and scope to the Yukon situation. Like I say, this is not a big-ticket item. Weíre talking about five people on a commission, but it would be a democratic and effective mechanism for getting input from Yukoners about the electoral system that they may want, if they want change or not. If they want change, what kind of change? Would it work? Rural would be different from the Whitehorse area. Are there different ways of finding a way to elect a person who represents a larger voting number?
Saying that, Yukoners may want to stay with first past the post. They may want to adopt some form of proportional representation or a preferential ballot system. Or they may want a mixture of the two systems, which has been done as well, but the important thing is that Yukoners deserve the right to make that choice. It doesnít have to always stall in here. Itís appropriate now to move in that direction. I hope all members will set aside the partisan considerations that, of course, are part and parcel of a party system and adopt what I consider a very practical measure for the sake of all Yukon people and the strength of our democratic process.
Now, the second part of the bill deals with legislative reform and we believe that this is a positive innovation that blazes a new trail in terms of accountability. Very few governments are looking at it, yet the people are asking for it. They want change. They want a difference. All of us can remember the last election. It was only two years ago. Every one of us heard on the doorstep criticisms of this legislative structure that we work under, of the conduct of the previous government and opposition members. We all heard it. I heard it a lot. I know all MLAs heard it, because it was said universally, it was in the newspapers, and it was stated by the leader of the party that there would be changes made.
Now, the principle behind it is clear. A lot of people have said that they feel itís a private club that belongs to MLAs. Once youíre elected and youíre in here, basically these walls go up and we conduct our business just the way it was before, just the way itís going to be today, and just the way itís going to be 20 or 30 years from now. But we have to remember that we conduct public business in trust on behalf of all Yukon people.
Itís traditional that elected members set their own rules of procedure and nothing in this bill takes away from that, Mr. Speaker, but it allows Yukon people ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Introduction of visitors
Speaker: The hon. Member for Southern Lakes, on a point of order.
Mr. Rouble: My apologies to the member opposite for interrupting, but I rise today to ask the House to join me in welcoming the former Commissioner, Ken McKinnon.
Mr. Hardy: I also welcome Mr. Ken McKinnon.
I would just like to go back ó since Mr. McKinnonís in the gallery at this present time, Iíd like to go back to one point on the electoral reform portion of this bill. Itís something that Iíve said to the press but I have not said in here yet. I was going to say it later, possibly during debate.
The way it is set up, it can dovetail very nicely with the work Mr. McKinnon is doing on behalf of Yukon. The timelines were considered with respect to the final report. The information Mr. McKinnon has gathered can be incorporated once this committee is up and running. And I would suggest that one of his own recommendations might possibly be around something like this. As I said, the committee for electoral reform is based upon not just what we brought forward, but based upon what the Yukon Party presented in their platform and also what many other people have talked about. Itís nothing new. So I believe that this portion of the bill on electoral reform dovetails very nicely with Mr. McKinnonís work and his timelines, which I believe is February for the final report.
I want to go back to the second part. People comment about how we operate in here. Almost invariably, they are not positive comments. All we want to do with this is allow Yukon people to give their input on how they would like us to conduct public business on their behalf. Instead of hearing it at the election, letís be proactive and move forward on this. Letís go to the people, and then maybe we can bring change that they will embrace.
This bill calls for a four-member special committee of MLAs to conduct public consultations on a number of related issues. The committee chair would be the Speaker, Mr. Speaker. All parties would be equally represented. The Clerk of the Assembly would provide support to the committee, and the budget would come under the Legislative Assembly budget.
I did see an eyebrow raised there, but it is within our ability to make that happen. Again, this would not be an expensive exercise ó just to calm everyone down ó but it is a positive and meaningful way to hold ourselves accountable to the people who elect us.
The committee would ask Yukoners to take a look at the existing Legislative Assembly Act and make suggestions on a variety of topics: should we have a code of conduct for MLAs and ministers? Other Canadian jurisdictions, such as Saskatchewan, have done it.
Letís put it out there; letís find out. Should we have a separate executive council act to spell out the roles, duties and qualifications of Cabinet ministers and premiers? Should we take the section of the Legislative Assembly Act that deals with MLAsí salaries and put that into a separate act, remove it from there? Now, as MLAs, should we look at changing how committees work and how the public can give more guidance to our deliberations? I think thatís empowerment. I think that would be well-received.
Are there ways to make the roles of government private members and opposition members more productive? Now, we hear that one all the time within our own chambers. I was a backbencher on the government side and Iím an opposition member now. I know the role, and as to the quote I said at the beginning, I believe very firmly in that quote, that all people in this Legislature should have a meaningful role and full contribution for the governance of the territory and the direction itís going in.
Should we look at new rules for debate in this House to improve our accountability to the people, both as MLAs and as ministers? Should we look at free votes, for example, so MLAs have more opportunities to vote according to their conscience or according to their constituentsí wishes? Thatís a very hot topic and has been for a long time. No one has addressed it. Are there ways to improve how we communicate with the public and make people more aware of how their democratic legislative processes work?
Now, these are very legitimate questions to ask Yukon people. And these questions should be asked from time to time. This is another consideration. Should we only do this once? Should this be something every 10 years? These are considerations we need to incorporate.
Now, this bill calls for public consultation on these general topics at 10-year intervals. Itís in the bill. Go back to the people, have that debate. Obviously, the specific questions would not be the same in future reviews but the principle would stand, and thatís the most important part: that there is a connection on how this Legislature operates.
Yukon people do deserve a say in how we, as their elected representatives, make decisions on their behalf. Again, I encourage all MLAs to keep the public interest first and foremost as they consider this important bill. A lot of work has gone into preparing this private membersí bill. Adopting this democratic reform may be one of the most positive and constructive decisions we make in this House this year or for a long time down the road.
The official opposition is not looking at this bill in a partisan or confrontational way. As sponsor, I assure all members that their input of course is welcome. Our side will give a fair consideration to any amendments that make a positive contribution to this act. I look forward to this debate very much, and I look forward to the unanimous support of this House for this important initiative on behalf of Yukon people.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to address ó
Speaker: Order please. Iíve got the rotation wrong. I have to go to this side.
Ms. Duncan: It is not spelled out. In our Standing Orders, itís whoever stands up, as I understand it. There was no speaking order agreed to at House leadersí meeting` this morning and no speaking order presented.
Speaker: According to past practices, the Chair recognizes the Member for Lake Laberge.
Mr. Cathers: I would like to thank the leader of the opposition for bringing forward this bill. I think itís a very valuable contribution to our public debate around democratic reform.
I see the looks of surprise ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cathers: I have a request to repeat myself from the leader of the opposition so Iíll say it again. ďI think itís a valuable contribution to our debate around democratic reform.Ē
Sorry, Mr. Speaker, I just got distracted there. Yes, anyway, as I said, I thank the leader of the opposition, and I thank the members opposite for the looks of appreciation on their faces.
Reform of our electoral and legislative processes has long been an area that I have been very personally interested in discussing and in looking into. I think there are many ways in which we could possibly improve the system that we currently operate under. This has to be done very cautiously. We should be aware of the ramifications of any moves. This is not a game; this is government. Itís a very serious business, but that should not discourage us from actually looking at these areas. The seriousness of any potential changes we make should not discourage us from looking at it. It should not cause fear in our hearts that there could be impacts and therefore we shouldnít look at it. It must be discussed carefully; it must be done with due and thorough consideration, but I do believe that the discussion should take place.
There are many different ways in which this can be done. Not all of them are necessarily through changes to the electoral process. There are also a number of ways in which the process could be improved and has been reformed and modified both with benefits and with detriments in other jurisdictions. Changes to the way that the House of Assembly operates, changes to the committee structure ó a number of these areas do have tremendous potential and potential impact. We should be very clear in any discussions around problems or concerns that our constituents or other members of the public have with the way our process is currently functioning. I think we need to clearly establish the line of where any problem that is perceived to exist originates from.
We should not be tackling the wrong problems ó essentially coming up with either a solution to a problem that doesnít exist, or the wrong solution to the wrong problem or a non-existent problem.
This bill presents many valuable ideas that are worthy of debate and I would like to state that I do agree with many of them. I do not concur with all of them and a number of these are key. I do feel they are valuable for discussion and I appreciate the leader of the official opposition and his party sharing their vision with us and with Yukon citizens. I do not share their vision but it is still worthy of debate.
Some areas of the process that they have proposed in this bill are dramatically different from how I believe this process, these discussions, should be done and should be constructed from the start.
Of particular concern to me is what has not been addressed in this bill. In my opinion, there are many areas in which this bill needs to be fleshed out a little more because I see critical gaps, areas that I think are not adequately addressed, like setting up an effective structure before beginning the process.
I would like to begin by talking about part 1 of this bill, entitled electoral reform. My concerns with this part of the bill include the composition of the proposed electoral reform commission, the numbers of this proposed commission, which is proposed at five ó and I have to note that that is dramatically different and dramatically fewer members than what the B.C. process has established. Iím not saying that the B.C. process is necessarily the way to go or the be-all and end-all. I have some concerns with the way that they have structured it and I would not necessarily want to follow that road or advocate following that road myself, but it is a very significant difference and I have not seen the rationale behind why that would be done. I did hear from the leader of the third party ó sorry, the leader of the official opposition, I apologize ó the leader of the official opposition said in his introductory remarks that he felt that modelling this after previous commissions that the Yukon has undertaken, such as the Electoral District Boundaries Commission, would be a structure that has a precedent within the Yukon system.
However, this exercise being discussed is different from any that have ever been undertaken in Yukon history. In fact, the structure in British Columbia and some of the other jurisdictions that are being looking at ó or different structures that they are looking at that vary from British Columbiaís ó are a very different procedure for changing the electoral system, for changing political accountability and political process, from what we have seen in our country, in our history. The initial roots of our country, from being both a British and a French colony and then coming together over a large number of years in the early formation of our nation at Confederation in 1867, were based on the British model. It was done through the British North America Act of 1867, and largely, the key difference in all these structures from what British Columbia has undertaken is that the construction of any changes has normally been done in our past at an elite level ó for lack of a better term ó elected officials, an insular executive level that does not involve the grassroots.
British Columbia chose to address that through formation of a citizensí assembly that was actually specifically screened to remove anyone who might be tainted with the stain of politics or might have been a member of the Legislature in the past, to try to ensure that it truly did reflect a grassroots process. That is certainly a very valuable approach that they have taken ó or let me correct that ó a very valuable intent. I do have some concerns with that, because I do personally see problems when you have a group of inexperienced people put together in any sort of board or commission or citizensí assembly. If they are being required to deal with an area that they have no personal experience ó or little personal experience ó there is a danger in having whoever is controlling the flow of information into those people having a profound influence on the outcome by controlling the input. Of course, input determines output, to a large extent.
And if they are presented in any way with a biased form of information, there is a danger of that reflecting the bias of whatever individual oversaw that process. Iím not saying thatís the case in B.C. Iím not fully versed with all the intricacies of their process and how it has been established and conducted. I donít have the time for that. Thatís why the Yukon chose to hire Mr. Ken McKinnon to work with the B.C. commission, or as an observer on our behalf and to report back to us on the progress. Of course, weíve seen his interim report, which members of the opposition have criticized for not being as full as they feel it ought to be. However, as has been noted before by the Premier and others, this is an interim report. Certainly I did not expect the interim report to go into great detail of everything that had ever been discussed at these meetings and, at this point, personally Iíll reserve my judgement on it until I see the final report. I have confidence that Mr. McKinnon will do a good job. He has a very fine record of service to the Yukon, and I think he will present us with a good report in the long run. I will reserve my final decision until I actually see that report. I expect that it will be much fuller and give us much more information to work on, on how B.C. has handled their process, because the handling of the process, the establishment of the process and the management of the process are very critical to the outcome.
So, as I said, I do have some concerns with the whole concept of restricting anybody to attempt to ensure that people who are on it have little experience in the area that theyíre dealing with, but I do see also the need to ensure that any committee or group purporting to represent the grassroots is composed of the grassroots, not of a bunch of people who have a very keenly vested opinion and agenda that has been honed by years of involvement in circles here.
So there are issues regarding whether thatís even the appropriate step; however, I do have concerns that this model being proposed by the leader of the NDP appears to be taking a step backward ó that instead of going to a process that is driven by grassroots citizens, itís a process thatís driven by an appointed commission. Again, itís somewhat of an elite group ó five members. Within the framework of this bill that has been presented to us, there is very little which has defined the terms of reference, what they are required to report, and how theyíre required to conduct their procedures. One concern that Iíve heard on numerous occasions from my constituents and other Yukoners is how consultation is conducted ó that itís not enough to consult.
Every government claims to consult, every department claims to consult, every board thatís out there with a mandate to consult claims to consult. With all of the consultation thatís going on, there are a number of Yukoners who complain that they donít always feel like their opinions were reflected in the report on the meeting or the consultation. Iím sure all members of this House have heard complaints from constituents and other Yukoners that after being at a meeting, whether a meeting held by a government department or by a board or by a municipality or by whomever ó Iím not meaning to point fingers at anyone.† I have heard complaints about meetings from constituents, on numerous occasions, because they donít feel the minutes reflected what they thought went on at the meeting. This is a real issue with all levels of government and all boards set up by government. Those complaints are out there.
Now, Iím not one ó or, at least, I like to think Iím not one ó to jump to rash conclusions. I was not at most of the meetings that Iíve heard complaints about, so Iím hearing one personís version of events versus the official version of events, and I donít have any personal knowledge about which is correct. But it does concern me that Iíve heard these complaints on numerous occasions, with numerous different groups or bodies that were doing consultation.
I believe that the process by which any consultation and discussions by a commission regarding electoral and legislative reform is conducted, the level of involvement, the depth of involvement that ordinary Yukoners have in that is absolutely critical to what the outcome would be. I see it as being absolutely necessary to define how this is going to be done before we head down this process.
The bill presented to us does not do a lot to define how the commission would act. We have here, I believe itís five clauses, approximately two pages, not quite two pagesí worth of clauses defining this commission: its set-up, provisions regarding when the committee will be formed, what they are supposed to analyze, and final report requirements.
It has in it, clause 3, commission procedures. ďThe commission shall determine its own procedures for achieving the general mandateÖĒ It doesnít spell out the process and, in my opinion, the process is the single most critical part of any democratic reform exercise.
Going back to the composition of the commission, there is a failure to identify how these members will be chosen. I heard comments from the leader of the opposition in his introduction to this bill, but I note that it is not spelled out in the bill. His thought is that this commission would probably be appointed with members nominated by the parties, if I understand it correctly.
However, it does not spell that out in the bill, and there would be many ways that this could be turned into something else afterwards, through intent or through accident. Mr. Speaker, I missed his commentary on how he saw the other two members being chosen. Iím not sure if that was stated or not, but composition of the committee ó whether itís chosen by each party or by government or by some random process ó is a very important facet of this. It is very important in determining the hope for this procedure of really reflecting what Yukoners want.
As I stated previously, in B.C., they took steps to eliminate politicians from the Citizensí Assembly, including former MLAs and I believe also party activists. It was with the clear intent that members were supposed to be grassroots citizens. They had their qualifications clearly stipulated for being a member. They had their way of becoming a member of that Citizensí Assembly clearly outlined, that it would be done through a random process. They had it outlined who would be conducting that random process, and they went through that. We do not seem to have a clear plan in this bill for what the qualifications would be required to be on this proposed commission or who ultimately would make the decision of whether they would be there. It seems to be going down the road of creation of an expert panel, and although we do not have a stipulation of what qualifications the leader of the NDP envisions members of the proposed commission having or meeting, one would assume ó or at least I would assume ó that going down the road of creating an expert panel would probably mean that the commission would be composed of former MLAs from each party or other party supporters, and they would be chosen by the parties.
Now, perhaps it was the leader of the NDPís intent that no, the commission would still be grassroots people; it would just be grassroots people chosen by each of the parties. Again, we get into the issue of how you define the qualifications. Is the proposal now suddenly that, if youíre trying to ensure that theyíre grassroots Yukoners, then how do you determine that they arenít and havenít been involved politically. Each party takes efforts to protect the privacy of its members. We do not distribute membership lists. Itís related to the same issue as why we have a secret ballot in our society. There are issues of intimidation, there are issues of people feeling, rightly or wrongly, that if theyíre known to be a member of a certain party, another party being in government will regard them less favourably and that is, as I said, a concern that, whether right or wrong, is out there among Yukoners.
So there is no real way of determining whether somebodyís really a grassroots Yukoner or whether theyíre really a closet NDP or a Liberal or a Yukon Party member, as far as I can see, Mr. Speaker.
Again, going back to the model of an expert panel, with former MLAs or party supporters chosen, I see that weíre taking a step back in political evolution, in political processes, from what is currently occurring in British Columbia and what other jurisdictions are looking at. Weíre taking a step back to construction and determination by an elite group.
Introduction of visitors
Mr. Cathers: Iíd like to ask, at this point, all members of the House to join me in welcoming a former member, the former Member for Klondike, Mr. Dave Millar.
Mr. Cathers: Sorry, Mr. Speaker, Iím just regaining my train of thought here.
As I believe I just said, my concern is that forming an elite or expert panel is essentially an elitist process. We saw the reaction of Canadians to the Meech Lake Accord ó constitutional discussions that, at that time, most Canadians felt were necessary. Most Canadians at that time did feel it necessary to engage in constitutional discussions to revise our Constitution. However, the manner in which it was conducted by an elite group ó a much larger elite group than five people, but an elite group ó created a result that Canadians felt did not reflect their values nor their needs. They felt it was an arrogant process. There was a fair bit of antipathy created as a result of this toward the Prime Minister of the day, Brian Mulroney, and we can only hold the benefit of the doubt for that group and for that Prime Minister that there probably was intent to create a good end result in that process when they started out and set it up, but they did not take enough steps to adequately ensure that the views of grassroots Canadians were respected.
Then the same thing happened with the Charlottetown Accord. In attempts to learn from the Meech Lake experience and unsuccessful experiment, the Charlottetown Accord had a vote in the referendum at the end of it. This resulted in Canadians voting to reject the process, which again had been conducted and constructed behind closed doors. Even though ó and I give credit to the government for doing that ó they did allow a final vote by all Canadians at the end of it.
The process in constructing the end result, obviously, again, was not successful in representing the needs of Canadians. Of course, as we all know, there are other issues related to this. The fact is that Canada is a very large country; the second largest in the world. We have sparse populations in many areas; we have areas such as our own, which at a little over 30,000 people would not be enough to fill a major sports stadium in southern centres. Yet, we have an area of land, 480,000 square kilometres, which is larger than every country in Europe except for France and Spain; yet any one of those countries in Europe has apartment buildings with more people living in them than the Yukonís population.
But our interests are often lost and forgotten in southern Canada. We are an afterthought. There has been good work done by the Premier and by the premiers of the other two territories in their collaborative approach in dealing with the federal government, particularly on the issue of health care, and it has gained us more recognition and profile at the national level than the Yukon has probably ever had before.
I know that when my parents and sister and I moved up here, I was quite young at the time, but I do recall that for years afterwards some relatives from back east in Ontario would write letters with addresses on them such as ďto Whitehorse, Yukon, Northwest TerritoriesĒ or ďWhitehorse, Yellowknife, Northwest TerritoriesĒ. There is a tremendous amount of ignorance among many people in southern Canada toward even the existence of our territory, and even whether we are part of Canada or not.
I think there is a lot more awareness ó it seems to me, in going back to visit ó than there was certainly a number of years ago, but still our interests and our needs will never be reflected in a country where decisions are made entirely on a one person, one vote decision.
That is why our House of Commons has been constructed the way it has, with the intent to balance representation of regions and representation by population through a system where some ridings have fewer people in them if they are a more sparsely populated area. Some jurisdictions, such as the provinces ó if memory serves ó B.C. and Saskatchewan have both gone through processes to determine at what point the disparity between the number of people in a riding exceeds what is reasonable, and I believe that the guideline is 25 percent more or 25 percent less than the average population. I canít recall the exact figures the Yukon uses, but I believe that we used something similar as a guideline in our last electoral boundaries report and probably some prior to that, as well, because we do have an issue.
I think most people would agree that ó Iím sure that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin would agree that she would not want all decisions in the Yukon to be based on where the biggest population is, that there is some need for more representation. I donít want to put words in her mouth, but I would assume that she would agree that there is a need for Old Crow to continue to have a member of the Legislature and to not have to share that member of the Legislature with other areas of the Yukon ó have it spread out to include Dawson or to include Ross River or to include wherever. To have it spread out, they would not have the attention of one MLA but would have to split the attention of an MLA shared with many other people and many other areas of the Yukon over vast distances, and that would make it very difficult for that MLA to even be aware of their needs through the shortage of time and the difficulties of travelling to remote areas of the Yukon.
So I would think that most, if not all, members of this House would probably concur that there is a need to have some balance, and a need for a more sparsely populated region to have a little more representation per capita than would be the norm. I would also assume that, looking at the national level with a population of 33 million Canadians, I believe, and 308 seats in Parliament, I donít think there would be very many people who would like to see us divvy up what our share as a territory would be and how many other regions and areas weíd have to be lumped in with to share a Member of Parliament.
That, of course, is one of the issues that has to be balanced in any one of these processes. Thereís also a different approach to this whole issue, which is adopted by the United States, as we witnessed in their election yesterday. It is also used by Australia, where they have two Houses of Parliament, much like Canada does, but they have one House that is designed to represent the population ó representation by population ó and the other House is constructed to provide representation by region. In the United States, of course, they split this up on the lines of states, where you have two senators per state, and the House of Congress provides the representation by population.
I cannot recall off the top of my head the exact numbers that Australia uses in their Senate and those they use in their lower House, their House of Commons, but they do follow a similar concept ó that of having one House for each purpose, the idea being that in a model such as that, the regions canít ram any proposal or initiative down the throats of the vast population, but the larger population in an area such as Toronto, with four million people plus, canít ram an initiative down the throats of the more sparsely populated regions that, in some cases, you have a few provinces that do not add up to the same number of voters.
That would be a concept. The Yukon could consider something like that as well. Now Iím not saying that I would advocate that. We already have a fair number of elected officials on a basis of how many people we represent compared to other regions, and we do have to be conscious always of the cost-benefit relationship. Providing more members of the Legislature, or the creation of a second House and having a senate-type of affair in the Yukon would also result in an increased cost. It would also result in one more step to proceed through, which would take us longer to do things. There are both benefits and downsides to that. Of course, a number of the provinces in Canada initially started out with having both upper and lower Houses, and all of them have abolished their provincial senate at this point, so we would probably want to think very carefully about why they abandoned that and whether we really would be well-advised to go down the road that a number of provinces felt was not an effective direction and created problems for them. We should be learning from the experiences of other jurisdictions, not trying to make all the mistakes ourselves and figure it out later. As the saying goes, youíd better learn from other peopleís mistakes, because you donít have enough time to make them all yourself.
Another concern I have is that a commission ó or, for that matter, a citizensí assembly, but particularly a commission, and one of this small size ó would have correspondingly larger drains on its time, if an attempt is made to specifically exclude ex-politicians and party activists. Thereís the question of how do you exclude these people, excluding everyone who has been involved in politics, without excluding most of the people who care enough about the process to have thought about it or who want to even take the time from their busy lives to start thinking about it.
B.C.ís model, of course, the Citizensí Assembly, began by choosing a chair. The Legislative Assembly chose the chair and then they selected a further 160 members through a two-stage random process. As I said before, I do have concerns about how you ensure that that selection is truly random. The oversight provisions ó the person who runs that, does have an ability to perhaps create a problem through that, through intention or even through error. In our system here, in most political processes and elections, we do have scrutineers, and that is for the purpose of having oversight of the process, not that we donít ó itís not done to say to election officials that we mistrust them; itís simply to provide checks and balances, and checks and balances are an important thing in any system, I believe, to ensure that weíre not saying to just trust someone ó thereís actually a safeguard in place.
So in a random selection process for a citizensí assembly or commission, how would you ensure that there is some oversight? Do you use scrutineers? If so, looking at voters lists for random selection, would this create issues regarding protection of personal privacy ó having these individuals looking at the voters lists? Would our election laws even permit voters lists to be used for such a purpose?
As all MLAs and former candidates and anyone who is really familiar with our election process will remember, during elections in the Yukon and at the federal level, when weíre given voters lists itís done with the strict admonition that those lists can only be used for the purposes of the election.
So it begs the question: can we actually implement a random process making use of the voters list without amending legislation? If so, would the legislation that had to be amended ó which acts would it encompass? Would it be the Elections Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, both acts, or perhaps other acts? I have not personally had the time to find out what the answers to those questions would be. We have not had much time since this bill was presented and weíve had other duties related to the House so that I have not had the time to do the research that, frankly, Iíd be very interested in doing and finding out these answers. I do have other duties, as do all members of this House, both related to the session in process and to serving our constituents. As I say, I have not had the time to find out the answer to those questions, and Iím wondering if the members opposite, and the leader of the NDP, have even considered that possibility of what effects, what ramifications, any proposals here might have upon other legislation.
††††††† Now, of course, this would only apply if the five-member committee, or some part of it, is intended to be randomly selected, because obviously a politically chosen expert panel would neither be random nor infringing on personal privacy nor contravening laws pertaining to voters list security. But it would go back, in my view, to where weíve come from in this nation, or where Iíd like to think that weíve progressed from. It would be going back to an elitist process, an elitist process that, as I stated, in both the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord, was rejected by Canadians for that very reason. There were other reasons but I think, by and large, if you ask Canadians, thatís probably the most galling thing about the process. Itís not what the result was but how it was constructed and that whatever problems they perceived to exist with the end result, they did not feel that those problems needed to be in there. They felt that there was a solution to that but they were never asked for their solution.
It was done behind closed doors, at an elite level, overlooking beautiful Meech Lake, or wherever else they had their discussions. Mr. Speaker, this bill that weíre presented, the Democratic Reform Act, Bill No. 107, does not even address it itself ó the only way that the composition and the membership of the committee and how they would be chosen were addressed was in comments by the leader of the official opposition. Another question that looms, no matter how you select the members of the commission, is who are they there to represent: themselves, their area of the Yukon, a political party, grassroots Yukoners or something else entirely? And what would that be?
Mr. Speaker, I do have to wonder at the rationale for the NDP proposing a process so radically different from B.C.ís. Again, as I stated, I am not advocating that we follow B.C.ís process. I think that they have ways that ó I think there are things from it that we can learn and things that we probably should follow, but I donít think we should necessarily follow every part of it. We might wish to choose a process that is dramatically different in some ways from what B.C. has chosen because of some of the flaws I have pointed out before with constructing such a system as they did.
But the rationale for choosing such a radically different system has not been laid out by the mover of this bill, the leader of the NDP. There has not been a full rationale behind why the structure in this bill ó or the proposed structure ó was chosen to be this way; simply that, well, weíve done this before with other areas that, in my view, are very dramatically different. They are not the same. Establishing electoral boundaries has more to do with being familiar with established standards and procedures regarding the variance between many voters an area can have above or below what the average is. There are many technical things that have been decided ó in some cases, I believe, even through court cases ó about what a reasonable level of voter parity is.
So there are guidelines for that, and establishing electoral boundaries ó in many ways in the main part of it ó is a fairly technical area and a fairly technical discussion, and the exception from that can be determined through public meetings and discussions without too much difficulty ó such as the riding that was proposed to be created. My memory is failing me on what the name of it was, but it involved Watson Lake and Ross River, if memory serves. I canít recall the exact boundaries that were proposed.
I thank members opposite for their comments on this. I canít recall the exact name. Was it Tu Cho? Tu Cho was the name of the riding that was proposed. Certainly there was a very negative reaction from Yukoners in those areas, and they made that change to the proposed maps. That can be done fairly easily and fairly successfully through that type of process when youíre defining electoral boundaries. Personally I consider the way that the Yukon sets up electoral boundaries and commissions to be a fairly successful process. I donít think thereís a lot of problem with that. Iím not saying itís a perfect process, but coming to the issue of how you improve on it, I think itís probably fairly successful and doesnít seem to create a lot of glaring problems. Certainly I have never personally heard complaints from constituents that they feel there is a real problem with the riding boundaries of my riding or any other riding. Perhaps those concerns are out there in other ridings, but they do not seem to be present in mine or, if they are, my constituents have not felt that it warranted picking up the phone and giving me a call.
However, setting up a similar model for doing a vastly different exercise is not, in my opinion, a wise manoeuvre. I think that, as I stated before, any reform of our legislative system or our electoral system should represent the interests of the grassroots Yukoners ó their concerns, their interests, their desires. It should look at the problems they see with the process and where those problems come from ó whether it comes from the electoral system, from the legislative system or something else entirely. It should not just be a festival of complaining. It should actually focus on finding out what the problem is and coming up with a solution to it. In my opinion, it has to be done by grassroots Yukoners and not be a process thatís driven by political parties.
Itís well known, as least nationally ó and I believe the local NDP feel the same way ó that there is a great deal of support among the NDP for a proportional representation system. In fact, I have heard the leader of the official opposition say that he thinks we should move to that type of system. And Iím not saying that is wrong, nor am I criticizing that. There are merits to that. There is also the argument against that, that in areas such as Italy it resulted in what was referred to ó somewhat unkindly perhaps ó as a ďpizza parliament,Ē with so many divisions and the inability to move forward. But that is the NDP position.
There are other areas that different parties perhaps see, and different members see, that warrant their attention ó that they have a specific agenda on that. Personally, I have some real concerns with any proportional representation system. It has the potential, in my opinion, of providing too much power to the political party. There are other ways around this through the list system of candidates. There are downsides to those systems as well.
I do feel that ultimately there is a real ability, even through ranking of a list, for the political party to exercise more control over the political process, and I do not see that as a beneficial step. That is one of the concerns I have with a proportional representation system.
There are also problems in a proportional representation system. There is a tendency for legislatures, for parliaments, for any House to become a situation where no party has a majority. There are arguments in favour and against that. The argument in favour of it is that, while without the ability to have a majority, no party can ram something down the throats of the minority; but it also can and has created in some jurisdictions a case where the tail wags the dog and the few members of the small party, who make the difference in the balance of power, can exercise a great deal of control over the agenda of the majority party and can end up taking something down the road where it is not always what the majority wishes. The party lines are fairly hard drawn, and their supporters are hard enough drawn that it does result in problems.
I know that from talking to people from Germany, where they have their system of a lot of parties within their parliament, Iíve heard complaints from some of them that they feel that the smaller party does engage in the tail wagging the dog and that, of the two main political parties, you know which smaller one either one is going to group with, and they donít really have a lot of control over the outcome. You may get a few changes in each side, but really you end up with the same result and still the small party exercises a lot more control than they feel it should.
Thatís one concern with moving to a proportional system: the denial of a majority. There may be other ways ó I believe there are other ways to address concerns regarding party discipline and regarding a majority ramming things down the throats of the opposition. These can be done through changes to the committee structure. They can be done through changes around free votes. They can also be done through simply members of the legislature, instead of demanding that someone empower them, actually realizing the power that they do hold in their hands, the responsibility that they hold in their hands. I would refer back to the history in the British system where, in the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, they have what is referred to as the 1922 Committee, which is the committee of the private members that has in the past ousted their leader.
They were the source, I believe, of Margaret Thatcherís ó ousting isnít quite the right word ó but of Margaret Thatcher being removed as leader and prime minister, being the end of her term in office. The origin of that revolt came from that group of backbenchers.
The solutions to that can be both legislative and through common courtesy and respect. On this side of the House we have a very good working relationship. We have never had a situation where party discipline has been invoked. We do not sit in caucus and have anyone dictating to us that this is how you will vote. We have a full and fair discussion and we respect each otherís opinion. We discuss things democratically and, at the end of the day, we go together out of respect for our colleagues and the team rather than out of fear of the leader who, I would submit to all members of this House and to Yukoners, is probably the most collegial and democratic premier or government leader that the Yukon has had in its history.
The system that we have works very well. Now, it has not made changes to the legislative structure. It has not put in place statutes or regulations that govern that, and it does not and will not prevent at some point down the road a situation happening such as the previous government where, for whatever reason ó there are two sides to that story and I was not involved in it so I donít know which one is accurate ó the previous government lost three members of the party, whether through them walking away or through the premier of the dayís choice is a debated issue and I donít know which is accurate. But problems such as that could perhaps be addressed with changes to our system.
Perhaps, perhaps not; perhaps weíll create a worse problem. There are many ways that this can be looked at, but my point is that the situation such as that faced by the last government would probably not have been addressed by changes to the electoral system. The system of selecting members would not likely have any effect on that. That might have changed the composition of who was in the House at that time, but in arriving at situations such as the one they faced, it probably would not have made any difference whatsoever in how that transpired.
So we do have to look at any changes to our process on whether weíre actually fixing whatever problems are out there or whether weíre simply coming up with a solution in the wrong area. If youíve got a leaky pipe, you need to patch the hole in the pipe, not slap a beautiful patch on it a foot away where it will accomplish absolutely nothing. We have to plug the holes where they exist, not slap a patch on just for the sake of slapping a patch on.
I am not convinced that our electoral system needs to be changed. I am also not convinced that it doesnít need to be changed. I personally ó this is my personal opinion; itís not necessarily shared by anyone else on this side of the floor or in this House, even. I personally think that there is merit to considering moving to a majoritarian type system, whereby a candidate has to receive a majority of votes to get elected. I would suggest that if that be done, it should be done through whatís referred to as either a preferential ballot or a single transferable ballot, which basically results in the voter ranking the candidates 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, et cetera. The candidate who receives the least votes, their ballots are taken. The second choice of that voter is looked at, and a ballot is put in that pile, and that keeps moving through all the other candidates until you have somebody who has the majority of the ballots in their pile.
One real benefit to a system like that is that it would hopefully present a situation ó I look back in history. In German history, I believe, Adolf Hitler was elected with 34 percent of the vote. You have the potential in a ďfirst past the postĒ system of having the candidate who wins being the last choice of the people who voted for absolutely every other candidate and somebody theyíre fundamentally opposed to, but due to the votes against them being divided, you end up with a radical minority candidate. Now, this is not so likely with the number of parties that we have in our structure. In fact, itís quite unlikely, but it does, on a smaller scale, potentially create the same problem in a ďfirst past the postĒ system.†
But there are downsides to moving to a system such as that as well. That is something that we have to consider very carefully in any change that we contemplate. There is no magic system out there. They all have their benefits and they all have their downsides. I think that determination ó that very key determination ó about whether we are going to change the basic structure under which our system operates, needs to be decided by the voters.
As I said before, the process of engaging the public ó involving them in that discussion ó the process of involving grassroots Yukoners in these discussions and decisions is absolutely key. We have to ensure that with so many voting options out there, if weíre looking at changes to the electoral system, those who are involved in making the decision have the opportunity to review the different possibilities ó the ups, the downs, everything. This is why in the British Columbia system, when they went down this road of electoral reform, they set up a specific group of people who would then have the responsibility of actually reviewing all of these systems.
There is a concern that if itís just going out to the general public in a shotgun approach, of whether those people actually take the time to review the system; however, ultimately, that decision should be vested in individual Yukoners, at the grassroots level.
B.C. chose to address that problem by selecting a random group of grassroots residents and then having a final step being a referendum where individual citizens of British Columbia could decide whether what this randomly selected group of people came up with reflects their interests and their values and their needs, ultimately vesting that final authority in their hands.
It reminds me of Winston Churchill speaking ó I forget the exact words, my apologies to him if I misquote him ó about the ultimate power in a democratic system coming down to a little man in a little box with a little pencil making his mark. Of course, these days we would revise that to include women as well. I wonít criticize Mr. Churchill for being sexist; it was common practice at the time. The contribution that he made to protecting the freedom of our democratic system is certainly something that we all need to be grateful for, and I wonít get into criticizing perceived possible flaws in the man. He was certainly a great leader and a very great citizen of the world.
Now stepping back to the issues regarding process, as I stated, the process is not defined in this bill, and in my opinion the process is absolutely the single most critical element in achieving a successful and fair result that represents the people in any democratic reform exercise. As I also stated, I believe that they are going down the wrong road entirely. The only indications of what process would be conducted lead toward an elitist system that I do not believe would reflect the will of the people in the long run. I donít think itís the right way to go about it.
Instead of laying out a plan for the process, the NDP bill says that the commission shall determine its own procedures for achieving the general mandate. To me that looks like a blank cheque. Weíre talking about a potentially significant amount of money involved in this. B.C. spent, I believe, $6 million on their process. A process such as the one proposed here would not cost quite that much money. I donít know the exact figure, but it would still be a significant amount of money. We are talking about taxpayersí dollars. We shouldnít be going off and doing this on a lark without clearly knowing what weíre doing, how weíre doing it, and ensuring that what we achieve actually represents what it should be representing, which is the will of the people. This bill has no guidelines, no terms of reference, and no clearly defined process. How do we expect a commission to do its job when the job hasnít even been defined?
An issue with proportional representation also is that it creates less representation for the rural areas, or it tends to have that effect. We have to look at the voter parity issues in other ridings, assuming there are other ridings. There are many different ways that this can be conducted. The system of doing a mixed member system ó I believe that B.C.ís recommendation was a single transferable vote mixed member system, and I think, if I understand correctly, many of the people who have been discussing proportional representation have been referring to a system that would involve some representation by ridings and some by proportional representation.
There are many different ways that this can be done. There is the straight proportional representation where it is based on dividing into a number of areas and those areas can be even. There can be one jurisdiction for the entire Yukon in which youíd divide up the votes and divide up the seats to create the number of members for each party.
But there are, as I said, issues around this. Some people think that all votes should count equally, and there is a good argument for that, but it does lead to the regions and their unique concerns, and communities such as Old Crow being ignored. It also creates a situation ó Iíd like to specifically refer to my riding of Lake Laberge where we have a situation where a lot of my constituents feel that the Yukon government departments have a tendency to ignore them, to consider them as just sort of a few hillbillies living in some shacks partway between Whitehorse and the next community. It is a very large group of people. There were 1,050 people on the voters list. Many of them have children; many of them are business leaders or people actually involved, in some cases, in government departments. I donít think they tend to think the same about people in the riding of Lake Laberge as some others do, but many people feel that they tend to be ignored by Whitehorse; they tend to be forgotten, that thereís money given to communities, even communities with far, far fewer people than in the riding of Lake Laberge, but they are forgotten. ďWell, you guys are just kind of on the outskirts of Whitehorse.Ē Itís forgotten that itís a very different area. Thereís a lot of agriculture; itís far more spread out. My riding is the largest population of Yukoners living outside a municipality.
I donít mean to ignore my constituents who are just within the boundaries of Whitehorse in Hidden Valley, MacPherson, and Forestview, but many of them feel that they are ignored by Whitehorse, that Whitehorse is focused on the downtown core, on Porter Creek, on Granger, Copper Ridge, Riverdale ó Crestview ó I hear from the Member for Porter Creek North, who doesnít want them to be forgotten. But they are forgotten once you get out beyond the old Yukon-Alaska trucking yard ó ďWell, youíre out on the road and youíre out into the area with all those back-country hillbillies living in their shacks.Ē
This is something that is a great concern to many people: how they are paid attention to. So certainly moving to a straight proportional system where all votes were based on party lines, and where it was the large numbers of votes from either a huge geographic area or from the Yukon as a whole that were tabulated, would not serve my constituents well. I think there are many areas of the Yukon that it would not serve well. I would suggest that the only area it would serve well is Whitehorse. That is a problem with engaging in any exercise such as this, even if it is not a straight proportional system that is being proposed. If it is a mixed member system, such as they use in New Zealand, where you have the ridings such as we have, based on areas, and they have a certain number of seats that are based on percentage of the popular vote that are set aside for parties, based on a system that I wonít go through all the details of it at this point, but itís based on percentage of votes versus percentage of the popular vote seats available.
Even for a system such as that, we have to look at its effect on the Yukon. Do you remain with the current 18 ridings and add more seats on top of that? That would create increased costs. Maybe it would be beneficial, maybe it wouldnít. If you reduce the number of seats, youíre making the ridings broader. Again, you get into the issues of what communities you include with what other communities. Do you include people in my riding as sort of a tag-on to some other, larger area or a large part of Whitehorse, where they get overlooked again? These are all things that have to be carefully considered. There also has to be full consideration in any process that we undergo regarding electoral reform of the interests of the regions ó not just the interests of Whitehorse, not just straight numbers of who shows up at the meetings ó which actually brings me to another point.
In any process we develop, I think we have to be very careful, as Iíve said before, to gear it at the grassroots and to ensure that we donít get into a system ó which this has real potential of being ó that is simply a case of parties with a specific agenda of what they would like to see for electoral change stacking the meetings with their supporters. We know the NDP has a specific agenda, and Iím not criticizing them for having that agenda. Theyíre presenting their agenda for changing the electoral system clearly to the public. Theyíve made that clear. Fine. Thatís reasonable for them to do so, but if a system is open to the meetings being stacked with NDP supporters, then if the Yukon Party or the Liberal Party supporters decided they really donít agree with that system, then do we suddenly have a whole raft of the NDP, seeing how many people they can get out to stack a meeting and the Liberals do the same thing and maybe the Yukon Party does that too? And somewhere in between, the two grassroots people who are in the room who havenít left because they saw what they would regard as political hacks in the room, the two people who have no association with any party and who are not heavily politically involved decide, well, theyíre never going to get heard anyway, so they just leave. If weíre going to have a slugfest between political parties and political agendas for changing a process, we might as well do it in this House because weíre not accomplishing anything by just getting into doing the same thing at public meetings.
So we do have to be very conscious of how this process is structured so that itís for the people; not just for the parties, but that itís for the grassroots people, and the grassroots members of political parties who themselves have chosen a party but are not themselves normally heavily party activists and who are not involved in day-to-day party operations. We have to ensure that they are not overlooked, that it is based on Yukoners, not based on parties.
A poorly constructed process could create any of the several scenarios Iíve outlined and probably a lot more. The process is absolutely critical. The process is the biggest hole in this bill in front of us.
So while itís useful for debate and discussion, it is not a good enough bill to pass and put in place because it doesnít outline the process well enough.
Mr. Speaker, we hear consistent complaints ó weíve heard a theme from the members opposite in the last few weeks of criticism of our government for doing what they call ďlegislative light,Ē not tabling enough new laws this sitting. Well, as I stated before in this House, I have not heard a lot of complaints ó I have not heard any complaints from my constituents that weíre not passing enough new laws. The feedback Iíve received is that weíve already got enough laws; if we need to make changes to make them better, or maybe even get rid of a few that donít make a lot of sense, then, sure, go ahead and do it. They donít see the business of the Legislature they elect ó they donít want us to decide, ďWell, weíve got 30 calendar days for this fall sitting, so we had better have enough legislation to fill all the pages of Hansard with rousing debate on numerous issues and numerous bills.Ē This doesnít seem to be a problem.
As I said, we have to be very conscious of what weíre doing. This bill that has been put forward by the leader of the official opposition has some excellent elements in it, but they have not fully constructed it. We have taken the position on this side of the House that itís not enough to have legislation ó legislation for the point of legislation is not something to be proud of. We have stated we will make changes to legislation where we believe itís warranted. We will work hard to make sure that the legislation we put forward is good legislation ó not just legislation for the sake thereof.
This bill is not good proposed legislation. It has some very valuable points, but they have not done the hard work necessary to flesh it out.
It is not sufficient to begin this process. With the timing of it, I wonder if this is something that the NDP either cobbled together after receiving the interim report from ó I forgot the official title ó Mr. McKinnon, who was doing the report for us on the B.C. electoral reform process ó or whether it was cobbled together after receiving that based on some fuzzy ideas they had. Perhaps they had been working on it for longer, intending to table it maybe six months or a year down the road, because it isnít complete. If they donít see that itís incomplete, then we do have a problem here.
As I said, this Democratic Reform Act, as presented by the leader of the official opposition, has some excellent topics for discussion. Itís a great starting point. In fact, Iíd urge members of the public who are listening today to pick up a copy of it. Itís got points worthy of discussion. I do not feel that it has addressed the key element ó that being the process by which these discussions take place ó so it is not sufficient.
I will not be voting in favour of this bill. Itís not because I disagree with everything behind it. Itís not because I disagree with everything in it. I think that there are very valuable motives behind it. There are some very valuable items for discussion and perhaps even implementation at some point, but itís not ready yet. The reason that the Yukon hired Mr. McKinnon to do the report on the B.C. electoral review process and their Citizensí Assembly was so that we could learn from their experience, learn from the very significant groundwork that theyíve undertaken on this.
As Iíve mentioned, there are many, many different systems in different countries ó permutations. We should not just be looking at implementing basic systems based on sort of a fuzzy theoretical outline of the systems. In my view it makes sense to do some review in these jurisdictions and find out how the system is working.
Was it just a great theory that didnít turn out well? Did it work well? Did it work better? Did it work worse? Did they do like Italy did and get rid of the proportional representation in their system? What was the effect of the wonderful theory?
That needs to be considered, and to look into all these aspects, to look into many of the things that B.C. has looked into and has considered, would be a very expensive exercise. It would not, in my opinion, make sense for the Yukon to ignore the fact that B.C. is spending much of the money in developing this process and that they are willing to share their groundwork, their reports, their evaluations, and their discussions with us for our benefit. It would not make sense for us to ignore what they have done and go through the whole exercise by ourselves, spend all the money right from the start on doing the same work again, reinventing the wheel, laying the groundwork again, and doing exactly what they did. They have spent $6 million on this process.
This government is trying to engage in this process. Weíve made it clear ó we have a platform commitment. We believe there should be public discussions on electoral reform. We have not backed away from our commitment in any way or form. However, we are being fiscally responsible by taking the opportunity to have someone be a special observer of what the B.C. process is doing and to report to us on that so that we can take that work and give it to the Yukonís own commission, however that is structured and in whatever process it follows, so that they can use that information as their starting point and save a heck of a lot of time and money.
The opposition has criticized us for the total cost of the contract for the special observer being $120,000, which has not all been spent, but it is the total cost approved. I would point out to them that that is a tiny drop in the bucket to what it would cost us to duplicate all the research and process and groundwork that B.C. has done and is willing to hand to us for free as a courtesy to their fellow citizens of Canada. So we are engaging in fiscal responsibility. We are also being prudent in seeing what mistakes B.C. makes in their process so that we can learn from them rather than starting into a new process ourselves without any benefit of seeing the potential pitfalls that lie down that road.
As I referred to earlier, there are many other areas in which the problems that people feel exist with our current system can perhaps be addressed. They may not be due to the electoral system. They may be due to the legislative system, the legislative process. We have to note there are other areas that have more opportunity for committees of the Legislative Assembly to have more direct interaction with the public, for submissions to be made on public opinion on proposed legislation. I believe that Saskatchewan has gone down that road as well. Saskatchewan and our neighbours over in Alaska follow that process where there is a lot more opportunity for people to apply to testify before a committee. The Canadian Senate actually allows that to some extent, though the sheer volume of the people who want to do that does limit the effectiveness of that system, but there are many other ways that we can look at ensuring effective interaction by the public, by our constituents, by Yukoners, with us, with the Legislative Assembly as a whole and in the democratic process.
We shouldnít regard any of them as a magic wand, but we should, in my opinion, start talking about some of these things ó eyes wide open ó but look at it.
Thereís also an issue regarding when, any time you get into a public review, if you start going through a consultation process, one method thatís done is asking various questions. Well, the structuring of the question is absolutely key to what results you get in that regard.
There is a lot of ability ó if you have a bad question, you can end up with the input not really representing what people wish.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had some notes connected to that which I appear to have misplaced here, but Iíll address that issue later.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I want to note the Member for Lake Laberge has been talking now for an hour and a half and his points are starting to revolve. Weíre hearing nothing new. There are many members in here who want an opportunity to speak and, Mr. Speaker, I know according to the rules he has unlimited time but this is a case in point on why the public wants us to review these very rules, because itís an abuse of this Legislature.
Deputy Speakerís ruling
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member for his comments. There is no point of order. The Member for Lake Laberge.
Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
To regain where I was in this, I appreciate the Member for Kluaneís zeal to get to discussing this and I will attempt to ensure that he has the opportunity to discuss it. I do think, in fairness though, that this is something ó the attitude which I believe is coming from the Member for Kluane ó that we have to deal with this right now, deal with the issue, letís vote on it, letís get it done ó is not the right way to be dealing with something of this significance and magnitude.
This does deserve full discussion by all members of this House.
I certainly will conclude my points regarding this area when I feel that they have been exhausted, but I donít feel that this is an area where we should be truncating our remarks, concerns and suggestions in the interest of , ďLetís get this done right now, this second.Ē
Another issue in establishing any electoral reform commission is how broad or narrow the scope of the review is supposed to be. Are they simply looking ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Deputy Speakerís statement
Deputy Speaker: Please give the member the opportunity to be heard in the Assembly.
Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I find it interesting that one of the proposals in this bill was a reference to a code of conduct for Members of the Legislative Assembly that the presenters of this bill seem perhaps to be trying to make their case. As I was saying, one issue with this that has to be looked at is how broad or narrow the scope of any committee to look at electoral reform is. Are they looking simply at changes within our existing legislative structure? Are they coming from the assumption that we will continue to have one House of the Assembly and that we will continue to have the system running as it does now, where, by practice, the leader of the party elected with the largest number of seats becomes the Premier and is given the opportunity to form government to gain support of the House? Are they acting on that assumption? Or are we perhaps broadening this scope? Are we looking at the possibility of changing the basic structure of our system ó the establishment of an upper house, such as is done by the federal government with establishing a Senate? Are we looking at perhaps going to a system such as they have in the United States, or perhaps the French system?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: The hon. Minister of Economic Development, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: And Member of beautiful Porter Creek North.
I just warn, Mr. Speaker, that it is becoming very difficult on this side of the House to listen to the debate with the chatter opposite. I would like to wonder, also, if the rules had been changed to allow having lunch in the House. If that applies to both sides, Iíd love to order Chinese, as well.
Deputy Speakerís ruling
†Deputy Speaker: †Order please. The Chair is recognizing that the level of decorum in the Assembly has been diminishing in recent minutes. I would encourage all members to refrain from making extraneous comments and chatter, to put all comments through the Chair, and I would also like to take this opportunity to remind members of the practice of our Assembly of refraining from eating food in here and the practice of not drinking things other than water.
Member for Lake Laberge.
Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To regain where I left off, the other options that do exist are that we could look at a fundamental change of the system. The American system, for example, our neighbour on all sides in Canada, has set up a system where they have the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial arms of the government, where you have a governor or a president who is elected ó perhaps elected on the same day as the vote, perhaps later, depending on the outcome of the election ó but the basic structure does not depend, of course, on the electoral college system. The basic structure being the separation between the legislative arm, the executive arm and the judicial arm and a system where a governor or a president is elected and they choose the Cabinet, whereas the legislative arm is kept remote. The Legislative Assembly or the House of Commons or House of Representatives is kept separate and the two donít intermingle. You cannot have a member of the American Senate or House of Representatives appointed to Cabinet.
The same holds true of course in the states, with Alaska and other jurisdictions, where the governor cannot appoint a member of the State House of Representatives or the State Senate. They also have in some states even a situation where they elect their judges, both with success and with concerns about corruption in that process. The Canadian system has much less of a separation of powers. We have a system where the Cabinet is chosen from elected members. There are certainly some very strong merits, I would argue, to that process.† We ensure that anyone exercising that type of power does have to undergo an election and receive votes from people within a riding, within an area, and they do have to undergo public review in that manner. That would be a strength of the Canadian system that I see as a downside of the American system.
However, their system is set up to provide more checks and balances on the power of the leader who is elected, and weíve certainly seen at the federal level where, not so much the current Prime Minister due to his problems with a minority government and a fractured party, but the previous Prime Minister, Jean Chrťtien, was certainly well known for exercising party discipline, for booting members of the party out of caucus, such as John Nunziata, if they voted against what he decreed, and thus the power was exercised and is exercised on members of Parliament by the Prime Minister.
In the American system, because elected representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate have no hope of being given more power by the President or having power taken away by the President, they have no reason to represent the President rather than represent their constituents. In fact, everything is structured to make the opposite true, where they have every reason to represent their constituents rather than the President, who acts in effect as the leader of their party, though the system is dramatically different.
Now Iím certainly not arguing for that type of system, because I do see a number of pitfalls with that type of system that do not exist in our structure, but itís simply a point for discussion. If youíre talking about changing the electoral and legislative system, how broad are you making your scope? Are you determining at the start of these discussions that youíre not willing to consider a second House of the Assembly? Are you making it clear that youíre not willing to consider a system such as the American system? Are you making it clear that youíre not willing to consider other models, the French system, the Australian system, which is, in many ways, similar to ours but does have some differences to it? Whatís your direction? What is the scope being provided? You could leave it wide open. Thereís merit to that, but if you want a process to succeed, you have to be clear with what is being included in that process. This bill does not include a process. Itís missing the most important thing for them to stick in here. Itís completely lacking.
The democratic reform in our system dates back to the beginning of responsible government. It had its evolution from the Magna Carta, which was established back in the year of 1215. In 1215, King John of England agreed to the demands of his barons and authorized that handwritten copies of the Magna Carta be prepared.
Winston Churchill, whom I have a deep abiding respect for, refers to the Magna Carta as, ďHere is a law which is above the king and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta, and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.Ē
When the United States broke with the English government and formed their own country due to the concerns that they had and the feeling that they were not being respected and that the king was exercising unreasonable power, they still took the legal system that they knew and admired ó the English system of common law as it evolved from the Magna Carta. It includes references to this that are strongly based on the Magna Carta, such as ďthat no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of lawĒ. The Magna Carta stated that, ďNo freeman shall be taken, imprisoned or in any other way destroyed except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. To none will we sell, to none will we deny or delay right or justice.Ē By our standards, the language in the Magna Carta was very archaic, but it is the initial establishment of property rights within our system ó the system that we have inherited in large part from Britain, or the British Commonwealth.
It began right off the start, after the preamble, with, ďIn the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate. We have granted also and given to all the freemen of the realm, for us and our heirs forever, these liberties underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.Ē So it was the first case in our system where the power of the king was limited.
Also, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it goes further to where, in section 8 of the Magna Carta, it begins, ďWe or our bailiff shall not seize any land or rent for debt as long as the present goods and chattels of the debtor do sufficeÖĒ It goes on and on.
And I wonít quote all of it, but I think youíve got the gist of that section. Iím trying to outline some of the origins of property rights in our system. It goes down to number 19, ďthat no constable or his bailiff shall take corn or other chattels of any man if the man beÖĒ ó anyway, this goes on. Again, I wonít quote that section verbatim, but I would be happy to provide that to anyone who is interested. But this is something we should be aware of, where weíve come from. This was done certainly not through the type of democratic exercise we see today. It was a situation where the King, at one point, exercised absolute power and chose who he wanted to listen to.
It goes down to number 32 in here: ďNo freemen from henceforth shall give or sell more of his land but so that of the residue of the lands, the Lords of the fief may have the service due to him which belongeth to that fief.Ē Again, a reference to property taxes, but otherwise they shall have their land. It is interesting that it seems that the British system resolved the land issue a long time ago and weíre still arguing over that in the House today. But I digress from that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
However, this is also in reference to the importance of a democratic system ó the rights are fundamental. We cannot vote every day on whether you own your house or I own my truck or whether we own the clothes on our back. This is also in reference to the topic that I raised yesterday in the House regarding the issue my constituents face around ownership of animals that they purchased ó elk and reindeer and, just outside my riding, the owners of the bison. They purchased property and have faced by previous governments the suggestion that they do not own the animals that they legally purchased when their rights to own property and to not be deprived of it without due process of law date back under our system to 1215.
Itís very important that weíre talking about democratic reform and democratic changes here. I believe thatís absolutely appropriate to be discussing it, but we cannot forget fundamental pillars of our system; and suggestions raised by previous governments and by members of this House from the opposite side that these people may not own the animals that they legally purchased is not, in my view, in any way appropriate; and to go down the road where you can be deprived of your property unfairly would rip away a fundamental pillar of our system.
In our system today, of course, we have the Constitution Act put in place in the 1980s, which was based on the Canadian Bill of Rights put in place by John Diefenbaker in 1960. However, it did unfortunately exclude ó not by accident ó an important clause from that. The Bill of Rights began, part 1 ó section 1, part A. Sorry, I need to read subsection one first, so you understand part A.
It began: ďIt is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed, and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely (a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of person, and the enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.Ē
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Trudeau did not wish to see property rights included in the Constitution and prevailed. However, the Constitution itself is very clear that it is does not abrogate or derogate from any previously existing rights.
Again, rights are fundamental in any democratic system; whether electoral change is contemplated or any other changes to the structure, existing rights must be recognized.
Again, I refer to my constituents, the owners of the elk and the reindeer and to those just outside my constituency, the owners of the bison, that for their ownership to be taken away is contrary to rights dating back in our system to 1215. Not 12:15 p.m. ó the year 1215.
When the Constitution that Canada is currently under was put in place by Prime Minister Trudeau and by the nine provinces that signed, it excluded property rights. There were a number of legislatures that passed a motion urging the federal government to put property rights in there. I cannot recall off the top of my head the exact wording of that motion and I do not have it in front of me, but it is in Hansard for any members who wish to review that. They will also see on their review that the Yukon was denied a unanimous motion in favour of putting property rights in the Constitution by the leader of the NDP of that day. I would urge all members to review Hansard from that time. He spoke against inclusion of property rights in the Constitution. I still find that unbelievable, and that denied us the unanimous motion in favour of that.
Deputy Speakerís statement
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The Chair has given the Member for Lake Laberge a significant amount of latitude in this discussion and debate today; however, the Chair is failing to make the connection between property rights and democratic reform. I would urge the member to speak to the bill and to continue debate, please.
Mr. Cathers: I apologize if that was not clear. As I see it, the connection is very strong. The fundamental rights and freedoms of our system are absolutely necessary to be recognised ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Deputy Speaker:††††††††† Point of order, the Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: I certainly hope what I heard wasnít what I heard, but I believe the member is challenging a ruling of the Speaker, and we know that is against House rules.
Deputy Speakerís ruling
Deputy Speaker:††††††††† Thank you for bringing that forward. The Chair did not interpret that as a challenge. The Chair recognized that the member was drawing the conclusion or drawing the connection between the matter he was discussing and the bill.
Mr. Cathers: Thatís exactly what I was attempting to do: draw the connection to illustrate it for you and to tie what you were perceiving as two issues together. I do see the issue of fundamental rights and freedoms being strongly tied to the issue of democratic reform, to the issue of electoral reform and to any changes of that system.
As Iíve said before, the reason I was raising that issue is because it is of fundamental importance to my constituents, whose rights are affected. I apologize if the connection was in any way unclear to you, Mr. Speaker, but it is of fundamental importance to my constituents and to the right to own their property.
I apologize; Iíve misplaced my spot in my notes here.
I would like to just recap a few things on the different systems. Electoral reform does come, in many cases, from the desire for votes to be counted equally, from the desire of some people, who feel that, since the candidate they voted for did not get elected, since the party they voted for did not win that seat, that their vote was wasted. That is, in large part, as I understand it, what the desire by many people for changes to our electoral system is based on.
There have been attempts at usage of other systems by different governments. B.C. at one point used an alternative vote system back in ó I donít have the year in front of me right here. It has been used in other areas with varying success. They got rid of that system.
I apologize; I have so many notes on this issue.
There is a desire obviously. Members of the opposition feel that on straight proportional representation, the system, with the current number of seats, would have resulted that instead of the Yukon Party, ourselves, the government, having 12 seats, we would have had eight seats, and the Liberal Party would have had five seats instead of one. The NDP actually would have still had five seats according to this model. Maybe there are other ways of conducting it, but of course the NDPís commitment nationally to a proportional representation system is well known and that is something, as I say, that Iím not criticizing them for. Itís simply something that is their personal agenda.
Quoting from the National Post, June 29, 2004, Jack Layton ó of course, the federal leader of the NDP ó Jack Layton has made it clear that he will be pushing his ďproportional representation referendum within a year ideaĒ as a non-negotiable price for NDP cooperation with the new government.
So, Mr. Speaker, we do have a number of ways of looking at this. There are many varying systems and issues regarding the number of members per district if you set up multiple districts. There are issues regarding whether you go to majoritarian systems, such as I was discussing before, or through a preferential ballot or alternative vote, a single transferable ballot, whatever you choose to call it, where people select their first and second and third and fourth and fifth choices for candidates. Thereís also the method used in some areas of the run-off election. I believe the Russian republic has moved to that system, and I think that a number of the former Soviet republics are using a system such as that.
One of the downsides with that is that the second ballot tends to have a lower voter turnout than the first ballot.
In fact, there are other suggestions going to the opposite end of the spectrum, where in Australia itís actually mandatory to vote. I personally donít agree with that. I think that voting should be a right. It should not be something that you have to do, on penalty of being charged under the law. Everyone should have the right and the ability to vote. If you choose not to vote, for whatever reason, whether you feel that itís not relevant to you, whether you feel that you donít want to vote for any of the candidates, whatever the reason is, you should have that right to do so. I believe that the freedom to either vote or not to vote is something that should be a fundamental choice of any individual. I think that, as a government, it is the job of the system and of all members elected to the Legislature to try to expand opportunities for people to vote, to ensure that no one is deprived of the right to vote, but not to require them to vote. Personally, I think thatís ridiculous and unreasonable.
I could go on about these issues for quite awhile. This is, as I said, an area that Iím very interested in. There is a lot of material related to this issue ó whether itís majority systems, plurality systems, mixed member systems, single member systems, list systems, party systems. There is a huge, wide range of systems we can choose from. We have to be aware of the implications of any system we choose. In my opinion both the benefits and the detriments of any proposed system should be made clearly available to the members of the public before we get into looking at doing that ó before any vote is held. We should be doing this fully informed, with full discussion of this.
Iíve heard some kibitzing and complaints from members opposite who apparently feel that I have spent too much time discussing this issue. But, as I said, I am very interested in this. I recall that back on July 14, 2003, at the Canadian Parliamentary Association conference ó which I believe you attended, Mr. Speaker ó there was a significant amount of discussion regarding this issue. It went on for over three hours on electoral reform ó just the B.C. process ó and then it went on for another hour and a half that afternoon about the emerging role of the private member in B.C.† Most people did not get much opportunity to add to that discourse ó most didnít get any opportunity. I certainly found that time too short to discuss this system. I found it very interesting, and I continued discussing this over the next days of that conference with other members from other areas.
One of the issues was presented in one of the notes handed out at that time by Nick Loenen, who was one of the presenters at the one session. He referred to where the systems work well for proportional representation and where it works well for first past the post. The principle of proportional representation is that seat share equals vote share, but first past the post is designed more for representation of the region. It works comparatively well in areas where you have only a couple of parties, where itís fairly homogeneous such as in the United States or Alberta, which has other political parties, of course, but there is significant dominance by one due to the success of that government in improving the economy. No matter what other failings they may have, Alberta is certainly doing very well economically.
Other issues that were presented in this is that, in the 2000 election, the Canadian Alliance had more votes cast for it in Quebec than in Saskatchewan. It of course failed to elect any members east of Ontario. The Liberals were elected to majority governments while they were rejected by about 60 percent of the population, which did not vote for them. There are a number of issues like this. These are certainly the divisions I think that weíve had as a country, by region, by party lines, in the past couple of governments that have probably contributed to this whole public debate and are probably the source of it. I think thereís real merit to considering a system like that, but we should not think itís the magic wand. It will present its own problems, its own pitfalls, and we shouldnít, in my opinion, rush blindly from our system to any other system just for the sake of changing, to find out that what weíre moving to is perhaps worse than what weíre currently under.
Another thing that came out of discussions on the emerging role of the private member ó in B.C. there was discussion by an MLA from Saskatchewan by the name of Ben Heppner who referred to some of the changes Saskatchewan has made and was proposing to make in their structure, that at the time the proposal ó which I believe has now been implemented ó would have 44 out of 58 MLAs in their legislature on committees. It was expanding dramatically the power of committees in the legislative process and structure and all motions put forward by private members would have to go to at least second reading. They would not have ó as we have in common practice here ó a large number of motions that are tabled but never called by all three parties in this House due to our limited number of days. They were going to put in place a requirement ó I think they have done so, although I could stand to be corrected on this ó that the motions do have to go to at least second reading.
Their process would still maintain a government majority on all committees in Saskatchewan. One of the committees that they were, at that time, proposing to create was a committee that would send ó sorry, I correct myself; they actually had that at that time ó a committee that can send regulations back if they feel that they contradict legislation; a committee that, after the regulations are put in place by Cabinet, does review the regulations and, if they find them to be contradictory to the legislation, they can punt them back. B.C., I understand, also has a committee. Iím not familiar with the exact structures of these committees but that is one way that can be looked at to perhaps correct some of the problems. It can be done through changes to the Legislative Assembly, not necessarily electoral reform.
In B.C., through their practices under the current government, proposed changes to legislation policy go before caucus committees, which is something that, of course, we as a government have adopted ó a similar procedure whereby we review legislation before it is put forward.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cathers: I thank the Member for Kluane for his wonderful interjection, I am sure.
Mr. Speaker, I will wrap up here fairly shortly to give other members an opportunity. I do think this is something that bears far more than one day of debate.
Part 2 of the bill put forward by the leader of the NDP is legislative renewal ó well, itís an interesting structure, the suggestion of creating a committee with the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and a member appointed by each party leader to go out and do public consultations on a whole range of issues, a pretty big range of issues. I have to wonder why theyíre all thrown in here. I notice that some of them, 7(g) with all its sub-subclauses, seem to be basically geared toward replacing the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges and bypassing it. There is a Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. We have not, of course, met since the leader of the official opposition chose to walk away from it, and the government certainly did make efforts in that regard. To recap that issue, since both myself and the leader of the official opposition have raised this incident in the past number of days ó for members of this House Iíll recap it and for members of the public. The issue on the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges was that there was a disagreement occurring on the structure of the proposed standing government committee on appointments to major government boards.
At that point the leader of the opposition felt that he had had enough discussions apparently with the government House leader and expressed the point of view that he didnít feel the government House leader was willing to come to an agreement. It is a committee that has a government majority by one member. I made a commitment that, while I was not willing to vote on a final structure at that meeting because I wished to discuss it with my caucus colleagues, I would not let it go past one more meeting without voting on the structure, and I would not extend this process, which the leader of the opposition claimed had been going on for months between him and the government House leader. I donít know if what he claimed occurred is accurate or not, but I did make a commitment to him. I gave him my word that I would vote one way or another at the next meeting, Unfortunately, not only did he not take me at my word, but he did not even give me the chance to prove whether or not I would keep that, and he chose instead to walk away. So the committee has not been in operation since then.
I do feel that this attempt to bypass SCREP, as itís referred to, is not really the best mechanism to conduct it. One of the things that is being referred to is that a public review might be beneficial. Some of them are so highly technical that it really doesnít seem to be something that most people would even care about, such as 7(g)(iv) suggesting rules for tributes, ministerial statements and private membersí statements. Mr. Speaker, as you are well aware, not even all members of this House ó now, or in the past ó have probably been fully aware and able to quote what the rules were; and to expect members of the public to have an active interest in the time limits for a tribute or a ministerial statement ó I would suspect there would be very few who would really be interested in that. I am certainly not averse to hearing opinions if they have them on that but, it seems to me, most people would regard some of these things as a waste of time at a meeting.
Even issues that are referred to ó I just lost my place in there.
Some of them, as I said, talk about ways to increase public involvement in legislative decision-making. Thatís actually a good proposal that itself, I think, should in some manner go out for public discussion. It even refers to something that I mentioned earlier, allowing witnesses to appear before standing, special or select committees. As I stated previously, I think there is real merit to consideration of adopting a process such as Saskatchewan or Alaska have ó and other Canadian jurisdictions, Iím sure, but I am not familiar with all their rules ó but adopting a process whereby people can apply to testify before a committee considering legislation and have some opportunity to do that; because when itís in this Chamber, of course, they have very little opportunity at that point to actually be involved in the consultation under our current structure. It is usually done, the bulk of it, by department officials who, in most cases, do a very good job, but it is still not the direct conduit between the voters and ourselves, as members of the Legislative Assembly. There is always the problem that the more people you pass things through who have to distill things out of their report, there are always things that are lost, and it might be the crucial suggestion.
Like I have referred to earlier, the rural well program, which was recently implemented, and which I am very proud of ó is something that came to me from constituents. If I had sent someone else out to talk to my constituents and never talked to them myself, maybe that idea would have come through, maybe it wouldnít. But there is a lot more wisdom out there among the general populace than there will ever be in any government offices, whether political or government employees. There is a lot of wisdom out there, a lot of great ideas, that are not held simply within these offices or held simply within Whitehorse.
Iím not meaning any disrespect to members of this House or to our government employees who, the vast majority, do a very fine job and work hard and have to deal with the difficulties of working in a jurisdiction where, in the last few years, the last number of years, the government has changed every term and thereís a fair bit of instability in direction between years and between the next term, and things change. It has to be very difficult for them to face. But there is a lot of wisdom and a lot of great ideas out there beyond any circle here in Whitehorse.
I will wrap up here, but I would like to make the final point that in any consultation process, any discussion with the public, the question is absolutely key. The question has to be clear and it has to be the right question. The process has to be the right process.
I would remind everybody of the Quebec referendum. We all know about the problems of clarity of the question. Twenty-three percent of the people who voted yes in that referendum, according to polls done afterward, thought that Quebec would remain a part of Canada and was simply gaining more power within the system through confusion around the word ďsovereignĒ. The question posed on the ballot, to recap for members ó and see if you can make sense of this ó was: ďDo you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?Ē Yes or no.
I think that most would agree that that is fairly confusing, especially since I would suggest that probably no one in this House is aware of the contents of the bill respecting the future of Quebec or of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995. I doubt anyone could quote from that or even quote the highlights with the exception, of course, of the over-arcing one that we know they were talking about ó pulling out of Canada.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think that wraps up my major points. I could go on for quite awhile on this. I look forward to discussing this issue in the future. As I stated, this is an issue I believe should come back on future days for further discussion.
I do appreciate what the members opposite have brought forward. I meant no disrespect in the criticism that was levied, but I do believe there are great flaws in this proposed act. I expect I will probably hear criticism from members of the opposition as they fired off comments across the floor, because they feel Iíve talked too long on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, no one in this House can talk long enough on this issue. This is a very, very significant issue. I would urge members to bring forward their discussion on this. I would urge them to bring this up for discussion in future days in the House. And, as I stated, I feel this bill is very much incomplete. It should be regarded as being in its draft stage. I would urge members in this House to take this as a starting point, not as a finishing point. It needs a lot more work, and I believe that discussions in this Legislature and outside this Legislature around democratic reform, both electoral and legislative, and anything else in our system, are merited. We should be addressing peopleís concerns. If theyíre concerned about this, we should be discussing it.
I thank the members for their attention, and I look forward to hearing comments from members on both sides of this House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: As I said earlier, I rise to address the Democratic Reform Act at second reading. As I have done when I generally address other bills, I would like to express my thanks to the public servants who provided the briefing. I understand there are committed members of the citizenry ó volunteers who care about the process ó who have provided their input on this draft bill. I would like to thank them for their public service and their advice.
The leader of the official opposition has reminded us all that this is a public House ó that this is the publicís place. I would like to note also that we are legislators. As members elected to the Legislative Assembly, we are legislators.
It is incumbent upon us to ensure that we have good laws; that we have sound public financial management. There is a story that I read recently of ó itís an American story ó the former Speaker, Tip OíNeil, talking in the American House with, and Iím not going to get the pronunciation right, but the Premier of China, whom he has met on a number of occasions, who said, ďYou mean the president has to go to you every time he wants to spend any money?Ē Speaker Tip OíNeil responded, ďYes, and he had better not forget it.Ē
I am reminded of that story because the government, whoever sits on the benches, has to remember that while they may wish to pass special warrants, they still have to come before this House. Itís incumbent upon us to make sure that that money is subject to debate and spent appropriately.
The government also doesnít have a lock on legislation. They are not the only members of this Legislature who can bring forward amendments to bills or acts. There have been instances where an opposition member ó it was the former Member for Riverdale South ó has brought forward private memberís legislation and has had it passed and accepted by the government. Itís not unheard of. There isnít anyone in this House who can say, ďIím the only one with the good ideas.Ē There are good ideas everywhere in this Legislature and it is incumbent upon us to debate them fully and fairly and to ensure they receive thorough consideration and that they are good laws for all Yukoners.
I note that the caucus that brought forward the bill has said they are open to debate and they are open to amendments and I would encourage all members: letís roll up our sleeves, figuratively and literally, and do our work as legislators in this democratic institution.
Iíd just like to speak briefly about the idea of democracy and about the bill. Iíd like to quote from a person that the Member for Lake Laberge seems to hold in very high esteem, a political figure I think all of us have come to regard. The Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, in 1947, made this remark in the House of Commons, and I quote, ďNo one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise; indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.Ē
Mr. Speaker, does that mean democracy ó we shouldnít ever change it? No. In fact, the democratic model has changed, and it has changed within the lifetime of members in this House. August 1960 ó that was the date First Nations who lived on reserve were first granted the right to vote in a federal election. It wasnít until 1975 that our fellow Canadian citizens in Newfoundland first elected a woman to their House. Women, in fact, were allowed to vote and granted the franchise in 1921 in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, all of us will recall very well our legislative sitting in Mayo, where the first woman elected to the Yukon Legislative Assembly ó although it was then a council ó Jean Gordon, addressed us. I cannot imagine the spirited individual who came before us, urging us not to change. Quite the direct opposite: I think were she here today, she would urge us to embrace and welcome change and to not be afraid of it.
The bill before us is discussing with Yukoners change. In the first part, change to our electoral system, it talks about how to discuss that change. Constitution building and electoral reform is of very keen interest to politicians. Weíve seen that evidenced earlier in an extensive address. Itís of interest to a number of public servants. Itís of interest to a number of political scientists. The average voter ó Iím not quite as convinced that the issue of electoral reform is keeping them up at night.
Quite frankly, in my travels outside this Legislature, at the pool, at the arena, in the grocery store, at Tim Hortonís and other locations I may be fortunate enough to be in where I have an opportunity to speak with the general public, and door-to-door in my riding, I donít hear, ďYouíve got to change the electoral system.Ē It doesnít come out that way. Post the last election, although the Liberal Party enjoyed a significant portion of the popular vote, we didnít enjoy the seats. I didnít hear whining about that. I didnít hear the cry, ďWeíve got to change the systemĒ at that point.
I note Mr. McKinnonís report has even indicated, with the change of system, that four members that are over there might be over here, or four seats, or four of our candidates might be joining me. I certainly would welcome that opportunity; however, as I said, I donít hear a hue and cry from the public about changing the electoral system.
That being said, I absolutely believe and respect that the public should have the right ó and I respect the desire of many Yukoners ó to discuss that there are other methods out there, and maybe those methods are better than ours. Maybe they would work to Yukonersí advantage. Absolutely, there should be a discussion of them.
I would like to recognize, as this is one of the few opportunities we have to do it, the voter efficacy in the Yukon. We have an incredibly high turnout of voters, and we should be very proud of that. We have witnessed other governments, including our own federal government, make changes to encourage people to vote. Iíve been quite surprised. There was a substantial effort in the United States to increase their voter turnout. I was surprised prior to the election yesterday at how low their voter turnout is. I think we should be very proud of our fellow Yukoners for their efforts, because it is a democratic right we hold dearly. Yukoners exercise it, and if they would like to have a discussion and itís proposed that we have a discussion about doing things differently, letís do that.
I have had several people ó although they may not necessarily talk about electoral reform, they have talked about issues like recall legislation in British Columbia. The British Columbia legislators have talked about it, and they will tell you it doesnít work. There is no harm, no foul; letís talk it. Letís learn about it. Letís learn about these other systems. Maybe they are doing it better in other countries. Although we have a high turnout, maybe we should learn from Australiaís model of requiring people to vote. Thereís nothing wrong with talking about it. Thereís nothing wrong with learning about it. Letís listen to what Yukoners have to say about it.
This discussion is very timely. We all as Canadians have listened with great interest and struggled to understand this electoral college system in the United States. It seems as odd to us as our system must seem to them on occasion. Our neighbours next door in Alaska have raised this discussion. Americans are discussing, ďShould we have some kind of reform?Ē British Columbia is having a discussion about electoral reform. Weíve learned about that on other occasions. Itís very timely that there be a discussion of electoral reform. The timing is right, and the timing is now, because if not now, when will we do it? When will it get done? We can put things off for all kinds of reasons. I believe we have the time ó two years in front of an election, or less ó to do the homework and to talk about it, to listen to what Yukoners have to say.
Given that I do have limited time, I would like to address the second part of the bill, which is legislative renewal.
Mr. Speaker, I note that we open each day in this Legislature with a prayer. I often call to mind another prayer that requests that the Great Spirit ó God ó grant us the knowledge to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
We can make change.† We have tried; I have tried as a member of this Legislature while in opposition and while in government. We did make some changes. Not all members in this Legislature will remember coming back after dinner for evening sittings, from 7:00 to 9:00. The evening sittings were in place for the public, who never ever, ever showed up. They just werenít here, so why were we doing that? We changed that. Now we sit from 1:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon. Just this morning I had a citizen say to me, ďWhy donít you sit in the morning?Ē Well, we used to, but we donít any more. How do you explain these rules to the general public, or why we do them? We added fixed sitting dates, and I will continue to encourage members opposite to adopt that model. Not only is it respectful of the people who work in Hansard and for the public service; itís respectful of every member in here.
We also instituted the all-party committee. Unfortunately, the Member for Klondike declined to participate, and we were unable to act upon the committee. Thatís a discussion that the average citizen just sees as an argument between members. ďWould you just get it done.Ē
The average voter looks at this Assembly as a bit of an oddity, quite frankly.† They donít understand the rules or why we do things the way we do, and that extends through all ages. Iím reminded of when I was first elected and my children were much younger and listening to it on the radio, and finally one night, one of them asked me, ďWhy do you keep talking to Mr. Chair, and who is he?Ē Thatís not unheard of for the general public. We explain to classes many times on what the mace is and why itís ďMr. SpeakerĒ. I hear, whenever I travel to Yukon communities, whenever itís my privilege to go, I hear from elders in particular, and in particular in Old Crow, who watch the legislative sitting regularly. They always call me if I am addressing the audience or the camera as opposed to Mr. Speaker. I get called upon, and I hear about it.
Yukoners do watch the Legislature. They do come here on occasion as classes, and they are mindful of what we do. They are paying attention. But that being said, they also do not have the knowledge of all the rules we do or that we learn, and we canít always explain to them why we do something the way we do, just because itís tradition. So that being said, how do you change? We donít change in SCREP. The scrap at SCREP, as it has been referred to endlessly, is just that: itís in the back rooms.
This needs to be a public discussion about legislative renewal. The public needs an opportunity to talk to us, to say, ďWe donít like your behaviour, we donít like the way things get done, we are tired of hearing of the scrap between House leaders about what happens and why, and we would like to make some recommendations for improvement.Ē
The Member for Lake Laberge made a comment about tributes and that the average member of the public doesnít care about tributes or knowledge of the rules. Well, the fact is that the public does care about that. They do watch us on TV, and they do look at what we do. They donít necessarily know why the rules are there, and theyíd like to make suggestions for improvement. Iíd like to see that discussion in here, among us, line by line in this bill, in Committee of the Whole, rolling up our sleeves and doing the work ó not saying, ďWell, the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges will solve it.Ē They wonít. Weíve had eight years of my lifetime in this House to make some of these changes. Weíve made a few of them, but there is still a great deal of work that has to be done, and it can only be done by us. Itís an opportunity to make a difference.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate your advice that I have just a few short minutes.
I would welcome a public discussion about legislative renewal. I welcome a public discussion about electoral reform. The bill as presented, according to the Member for Lake Laberge, is not perfect. The sponsor of the bill has said theyíre open to amendments. I would encourage all members ó literally, figuratively ó there are no hidden agendas here. If we stand and discuss this debate publicly, we could get it done, and we have an opportunity to make a real difference in the way this public House operates. We have a chance to do it better. I would encourage all members to engage in the discussion, to debate on the bill, and to let an improvement to the Legislature be the product of the 31st Legislative Assembly.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Rouble: Itís my pleasure and my honour to again address our Assembly today. I use the word ďourĒ not as a Yukon Party member, not as a government member, not as a legislator, but as a Yukoner. This is indeed the Yukonís House.
It belongs to all Yukoners, and theyíre always welcome here. They send their representatives here to discuss and make decisions about issues of importance to Yukoners. It is indeed our House.
Mr. Speaker, this has been a very interesting debate. Itís always a challenge to speak after my colleague from Lake Laberge who typically introduces many different characteristics, points, points of interest, and perspectives into debate, and Iíd like to thank him for his detailed presentation today.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the opposition for bringing forward this bill. While I donít always agree with the oppositionís point of view on different matters, I do appreciate the effort and the attempt that they put into it. I would also like to thank Ken Bolton for the detailed and extensive briefing that he provided the other day and the extensive background information that was provided. I appreciate the efforts from the opposition.
I think Churchill will be getting an awful lot of play today, because indeed in looking at this I was reminded of several of his quotes, but I would like to again revisit the quote that the leader of the third party brought forward: ďDemocracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.Ē The members opposite say that thatís a negative way of looking at it, but I think it builds upon the growth, development and evolution of democracy. Why would you change unless there was a darn good reason to change? Typically, growth happens in positive directions, not in regressive directions, but it does get to the point too that democracy will evolve, change and grow. Weíve heard from the leader of the third party about changes in democracy that have happened in the last hundred years here in Canada.
Earlier in our history, women were not included in democracy. People of First Nation ancestry werenít included in democracy. Indeed, democracy has grown, changed and evolved.
Mr. Speaker, I think itís also important to look at how the will of the people will be manifested into the decisions and the actions of government. How will we evolve in that direction? How will we go from responding to a vocal minority to actively acting in the best interests of all people? Itís a pretty high standard to bear. The best you can do is satisfy most of the people most of the time. Itís an incredible challenge to satisfy all people all the time. In fact, Iíd suggest that, if you set yourself up to satisfy everyone all of the time, youíre doomed for failure.
But how will the will of the people manifest itself in government? How can we look at representation and ensure that people are accurately represented?
Representation is always an interesting debate and discussion. Currently in our system, our representation is based on our geographic constituency. We each have a riding to which weíre responsible, and that riding includes many people. The one thing they have in common is that they live close to each other. Thatís an interesting way of looking at it. The only thing that these people have in common is that they live close to each other. Itís a very efficient way, an economical way, an easy way. It makes for easy lines on a map. It makes it easy when you do a mail-out or walk around your neighbourhood. You know which streets to walk on and which doors to knock on, but there are certainly other ways that we can look at defining a constituency.
We could look at demographic characteristics, characteristics such as age, sex, income ó practically any characteristic can be used to segment a group of people into a constituency. We can look at breaking people into ideological groups. We do this all the time, calling some people left wing or right wing or centrist or higher. Other cultures look at other ways of ensuring representation ó for example, a clan system. And indeed, in governance, we often see many different structures. For example, if we look at the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, its governance structure is made up of representatives from its two stakeholders: workers and employers, with equal representation from both sides.
One First Nation that Iím familiar with has representation on their council from the specific clans, but they also include specific provisions to include representatives of the youth and to include specific representation from the elders. It would be an interesting way, if we looked at our system, Mr. Speaker, and ensured that one seat in here was held by someone under the age of 18 and we had ensured representation from someone over the age of 65. It would be interesting to see how the decisions were made. It would also be a challenge to see how these people report to their constituents, or how they are responsible to them.
Mr. Speaker, itís also interesting in an election process ó when the electorate is looking to vote for someone or to choose a representative ó at the criteria that they select.
Iím sure that all members in here are familiar with this as weíve all gone through the process. Weíve all knocked on peopleís doors and said, ďIíd like you to choose me as your representative.Ē And then itís up to them to make a decision. There are many different factors and criteria that they include in that decision. Some people will vote for a personality or perhaps the capabilities of a candidate. Some people vote for the position on a particular issue and some people vote for people because of a particular affiliation with a political party. During the last campaign, I knocked on one door and the people there said, ďHi, Pat, how are you? Yes, we really want to have our candidate be a member of the sitting government, and on the other hand we really want to vote for somebody we support, so weíre going to vote for you.Ē Well, that was great. I had a vote. I didnít know the rationale behind it. Many different people have different reasons for choosing a candidate. In our system we have a party system, which Iím particularly fond of. People have the opportunity to elect a platform. They can see a wide mandate. They donít just see specific regional considerations. Additionally, theyíre voting for a philosophy or a way of thinking, because there is a typical way of thinking. Thereís a particular philosophy behind the Yukon Party or the NDP or the Liberal Party, so they know more of what theyíre getting. They can see the personality, but theyíre also voting for the platform and the philosophy behind it.
Now when the Yukon Party ran, we put forward a platform and committed to achieving a balance between the economy and the environment, formalizing relations with First Nations and achieving a better quality of life for all Yukoners.
And now, Mr. Speaker, Iím proud to report that the Yukon government is building a revitalized, diversified economy that is putting people and communities to work. The Yukon government is tackling a wide range of social and economic issues, ensuring that Yukoners can live and work in healthy, thriving communities. And the Yukon government is creating meaningful and effective partnerships with First Nations and other governments to the benefit of everyone in the Yukon.
Another one of the commitments that we made during the 2002 territorial election campaign was that upon formation of government, we would strike an independent commission of citizens to hold public consultation on electoral reform in the Yukon. After winning a majority government ó the largest majority government ever ó in November 2002, the Premier announced at a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce meeting that we would follow through on this governmentís election platform promise.
Again, in the Speech from the Throne, delivered on February 27, 2003, the Premier reiterated this promise of the establishment of a commission to examine electoral reform. The Premier went on to say, ďWe are committed to establishing our own commission to examine electoral reform in the Yukon to ensure that the way we elect MLAs provides for fair, equitable and effective representation.Ē Mr. McKinnon was appointed the senior advisor on electoral reform, and his appointment would be a first step toward this process.
We made a commitment in the platform, and weíre taking action on it. Additionally, there were commitments and priorities in the platform, and Iím sure everyone here will agree that in order to accomplish your objectives, you must first establish your list of priorities. You must first plan your work, and then work your plan.
If you try to do everything all at once, again, youíre guaranteed to fail. And Mr. Speaker, there are many challenges currently facing the Yukon. The opposition, the media and our constituents remind us of these challenges on a daily basis. There are constantly issues around the economy, the environment, relationships with other governments, infrastructure and the other challenges around doing what the government is responsible for doing. There are challenges that we face every day, and Iím proud to say that the Yukon Party government is capable of living up to those challenges and is currently addressing them.
Mr. Speaker, we also live in a changing time. Weíve all heard it said before that the only constant is change, and we have recently been faced with many different changes. Some of these include devolution, and the additional responsibilities it brings with it, such as the responsibility for land, water and resources. A significant change is the implementation of land claims and self-government agreements, and working with other governments, other orders of governments, to accomplish our common objectives, to communicate to the general public what these agreements mean and how theyíll be implemented and how the environment has changed because of them.
Government is working hard to react to the changing environment and is working hard to implement the platform and its key priorities.
Now, Mr. Speaker, in doing some of my homework around electoral reform, I looked at some of the other jurisdictions and started to consider what the motivating factor behind electoral reform was, why the change was needed, what the frustration with the current system was, and what was the motivating force behind wanting to change it and do something different? The key reasons I found were that there was poor voter participation, there was lack of involvement of young people and there was some discussion or concern about the reflection of the popular vote.
I donít think weíre necessarily affected by those same issues in the territory.
As previous speakers have discussed, we typically have a very high voter turnout. I believe one member said that, while it wasnít the best in Canada, it was certainly one of the top turnouts in Canada. Also, we have a strong involvement of young people in the political process, and this was reflected in the last election. And, Mr. Speaker, I donít think any Yukoner would suggest that the Yukon voter doesnít have any power. Letís just look at the last elections, where Yukoners have raised their voice and, for the most part, voted out governments. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon voter has a considerable amount of power.
Also, Mr. Speaker, in our small jurisdiction, a Yukon voter has many opportunities to voice an opinion. Iím sure weíve all had it happen to us. The leader of the third party discussed it in her presentation, where we meet people in the grocery store, we meet people on Main Street, and we meet people at dinner parties. Mr. Speaker, there is no shortage of opportunities for our constituents to give their opinion. In addition to our formal things like public meetings, there are constituents who walk about or make telephone calls to constituents, as I have incorporated in my area.
Now, Mr. Speaker, in preparing for this debate, I was again reminded of our first Wednesday debate on March 12, 2003, when we were debating the Yukon foreign policy.
Back then I was surprised that the NDP wanted to discuss foreign policy rather than our own pressing issues. Today I must conclude that, if the NDP thinks that electoral reform is the most pressing matter before the Yukon Territory, then the Yukon Party must be doing a heck of a great job.
Again, it might be a first, but I agree with the leader of the third party. A hushed silence comes over the room. Electoral reform is not keeping Yukoners awake at night. I know, and Yukoners know, there are more pressing issues that are more in need of attention and resources.
I believe in some of the concepts put forward in this bill and, for the most part, there is some merit to it, but we canít get deflected from dealing with the issues of importance to Yukoners. One of the sayings in industry is that, before you add items to the menu, make sure your floor is clean. Well, we have work to do and weíre actively doing it, but we canít get diverted on other issues. We need to focus on what is important to the Yukon.
Weíve already heard that the government has made a commitment around the issue and has taken steps to address it. I would urge the opposition to have some patience with this, to let the process work and not to personally attack the esteemed gentleman who has worked on this and done a significant amount of work. Weíve only seen the interim report and Iím sure there is more good work to come.
Now Iím glad to hear that the member who put forward the bill isnít attached to it and not welded to it.
While I agree with the principles and many of the ideas behind it, I canít support it at this time, in this manner. Remember, Mr. Speaker, Rome wasnít built in a day, and we need to focus our energies on urgent and important issues. Give the process a chance, give SCREP a chance.
Weíre heading in the right direction, and weíre going forward. Letís build on the momentum.
Mr. McRobb: There is lots to talk about on this bill and in reaction to the comments made by the members opposite. Unfortunately there are only 20 minutes available in which to do so, so my time is quite limited, unlike the Member for Lake Laberge, who took more than two hours ó two hours, talking much about nothing, from property rights to the Magna Carta. Unfortunately, itís rather clear that anybody who is having difficulty getting to sleep at night might want to review Hansard for what he said. Itís clear that he doesnít understand the bill thatís before this Legislature.
I also heard several arguments from the member that weíre self-contradicting. Anyway, I do want to focus on a couple of areas and not be side-tracked completely by what the members have said. I want to talk about opportunity, and I want to talk about responsibility.
On the first front, opportunity ó we have an opportunity before us, in this fall sitting of 2004, to finally address the area of electoral and legislative reform.
Mr. Speaker, as you know, Iíve been a member of the Legislative Assembly for eight years now, as have four other members who presently sit in here, and collectively along with our leader, who has served about five and a half years, we have approximately 72 sittings under our belt ó 72 sittings, collectively. And based on the comments from the two Yukon Party backbenchers, who came across as seeming to know it all, I added up how many sittings they have as experience, and the number is only six. So there are 12 times ó 12 times ó the experience on this side of the House compared to the two speakers we have heard from representing the Yukon Party.
Yet, Mr. Speaker, I hear a lot of loud comments from the backbenchers, the MLA for Klondike, and it is difficult to progress. I would ask you to call them to order when it does get too loud ó
†Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Please allow the member to speak. Member for Kluane, you have the floor. Carry on, please.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We have the opportunity to reflect back on our experience and to make changes to the system in the public interest. Now, Mr. Speaker, I was hoping that the two backbenchers we have heard from so far from the government side would have been a little more humble and open-minded to the process to which they are so new.
But instead we heard a know-it-all attitude, and thatís rather puzzling because, personally, after some eight years plus, there are still several areas, Mr. Speaker, that I do not feel completely familiar with. The House rules and the whole legislative process is something that isnít very easy to learn. Yet, after two years, the members opposite are experts on it.
There are a lot of holes in the arguments I heard from the members opposite. Unfortunately, there is not time enough in my time remaining to address those deficiencies, and I do want to speak about the opportunity before us. Because not only do we have an opportunity to use the collective experience of the members who have served eight years in this Legislative Assembly, and there are five of them, two on the government side, but we also have an opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to use the experience of some of the staff of the Yukon Legislative Assembly office who may not be with us in a few years because theyíre scheduled to retire. I know the Clerk of the Assembly, just earlier this week, celebrated his 27th anniversary in that position. So we need to be mindful as MLAs that the experience in brain trust of the Assembly could not be with us much longer, and we need to do the right thing for future elected representatives by making necessary changes to the system so that elected representatives can better govern on behalf of the people and so that the people can better elect their representatives.
That is the essence of this bill. Itís electoral and legislative reform. Thatís the substance. The members opposite, on the one hand say itís needed, but on the other hand they say that itís not a priority.
Well, Mr. Speaker, it is a priority. Hereís one of the reasons that it is a priority. As House leader for the official opposition I want to spell it out. This fall sitting is scheduled to be 30 days in length. The business before the House from the government side is expected to run out prior to the 30 days. This presents a new dilemma in Yukon Legislative Assembly history in that the governmentís business has never run out before the sitting was anticipated or scheduled to conclude. The reason is that basically the only government business is a supplementary budget and a few pieces of housekeeping legislation. What we in the official opposition have done is put three bills of substance on the table. The one weíre speaking to today is one of those bills. There will be time in this sitting to debate this bill if the members opposite believe it should be debated.
As a matter of fact, letís look at the flip side. If the members opposite donít believe this bill is worthy of debating in this Legislature, what business will it bring forward instead?
Thatís a good question, Mr. Speaker. Well, I think itís obvious; the evidence is before us already. The government has been introducing what is called government motions. Whatís a government motion? Well, Mr. Speaker, the Orders of the Day before Question Period is an opportunity for tabling of motions, as you know. And when a government Cabinet member stands up and reads a motion, that is called a government motion.
Usually motions are read by private members, and when a private member reads the motion, it could be called on private membersí day, which is every Wednesday. We in the official opposition and the government get to call motions every second Wednesday. So whatís the difference with a government motion? Itís pretty easy. The government can call a government motion on any day of the week. Wow. Whatís the relevance there, Mr. Speaker?† Here it is: the government knows its thin-soup agenda is going to run out before the end of the sitting, and it is going to read government motions day after day after day until the 30 days are out. Itís going to use that as a lever to try to get the opposition parties to agree to shut the House down sooner. Otherwise, weíll have to debate these government motions, which are of little or no relevance to the public interest or agenda.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: The government House leader asks, ďWhat has this got to do with the motion?Ē It has everything to do with the motion. Iím speaking to the opportunity before us in this Legislature to debate the bill at hand. One would expect the government House leader to be fully aware of that, but instead he is playing games with the public interest by having his ministers table government motions. Already on the Order Paper there are at least four of them. If I had more time, Iíd read what some of them are and listeners or readers of Hansard can judge for themselves whether those motions are a public priority, as the Member for Southern Lakes questioned with regard to the bill weíre debating this afternoon.
What we need the government side to do is to act in the public interest, acknowledge that we on this side have some important legislation that needs to be debated and agree to debate that legislation once the government business runs out, rather than having to spend our time in here dealing with a bunch of useless government motions. Thatís the crux of the matter. Thatís what it will come down to.
So why arenít we dealing with it today? Well, the government sideís intent is clear now. The lead speaker was the Member for Lake Laberge. He said heís voting against it. He spoke for more than two hours. He filibustered the time. Itís impossible to bring this bill to a vote this afternoon. Possibly two weeks from now is the earliest opportunity for us in the official opposition to resume this particular bill, to bid on it.
And the government will probably try to stall at that opportunity and basically bump it out of the schedule this fall sitting. Thatís the strategy. Make no mistake about it. This government doesnít want to deal with this bill, and it wants to take the easy way out by bumping it off the agenda, playing our opportunities to debate this bill against the end date of the sitting. Well, I say, ďShame on this government for that.Ē This government needs to stand up to the plate and be responsible like a government should, recognize the merit in this bill and be prepared to debate it in the public trust.
Is it doing that? I refer you to Hansard, Mr. Speaker, when the Member for Lake Laberge was the first speaker in what promises to be a parade of 10 speakers on that side, all following suit saying theyíre going to vote against this bill and talking for the maximum period allowable to push this bill out of the fall sitting agenda.
If not, I challenge the government side to shorten debate. Letís get into Committee on this bill. Letís hear what the government side has to contribute to improve this bill, because, Mr. Speaker, as you heard our leader say, we are fully open to suggestions on how to improve this bill. Unlike some members in here, we do not purport to know everything. We want to hear what all members have to say to improve the bill. The opportunity for that is during Committee debate, and the process is by introducing an amendment to the bill. Committee debate allows all members to have an interactive discussion with the mover of the bill, followed by a vote on an amendment.
Thatís the democratic process. This government obviously doesnít want that to happen. Itís not prepared to let it happen. Well, Mr. Speaker, I mentioned earlier I wanted to talk about opportunity and responsibility. And I say we have the opportunity in this sitting to debate, amend and improve this act for the betterment of government in the Yukon Territory. We owe it to the citizens of the territory who elected us here. We owe it to all of our successors to use our experience to improve the system we work in. We owe it to the public to go to the public to hear about their concerns and suggestions. And not everybody out there is as naive as the Member for Laberge wants us to believe. There are people who work in this building and other government offices who monitor these proceedings on a regular basis.
Speaker: Order please. I believe that that characterization is unparliamentary, for the Member for Kluane to refer to another member as naive. Each and every member in this House is fully expected to express their opinions to the best of their abilities, and I believe that that characterization is unparliamentary, and I ask you not to use it.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wasnít aware of that rule. Mr. Speaker, we owe it to Yukoners ó
Speaker: You werenít aware of that rule ó as the member well knows after eight years in this House, itís contextual. I take these very seriously, and theyíre not up for debate. So Iíd ask the member to carry on.
Mr. McRobb: Sure, Mr. Speaker.
As the members know, we have the responsibility to do whatís best in the public interest, to improve our working environment for future successors who are elected by the people to do the jobs in here. If not, weíre failing the system. Our predecessors did their best to improve the system. Otherwise, it would be worse than what it is today, one could imagine. Well, we owe it to our successors to do the same.
We have an opportunity in this sitting to do that. Will the opportunity be there in the spring? The answer is no. In the spring, we will have a full, busy agenda dealing with the mains budget, several pieces of legislation, supplementary budgets and so on. The spring is absolutely out. Will we have an opportunity next fall? Maybe not. Thereís a chance it could be a 20-day sitting in the fall, or there may not be any sitting, if this government wants to spring an early election on Yukoners.
So we have the opportunity now to deal with this matter. There is a further opportunity because the business of the House is light.
It will boil down to debating this bill or a bunch of useless government motions. Thatís what it will boil down to.
The public has a lot of questions about our working environment in here. They have a lot of good suggestions. The members spoke about the B.C. electoral reform process. I remember participating in a forum in that province about a year and a half ago, speaking to Professor Norman Ruff, the UBC doctor who is quite linked to the whole process. He has basically studied the electoral process in Canada and B.C. for several years. Professor Ruff indicated he had problems with what the Government of B.C. was doing, yet this Yukon Party government wholeheartedly adopted the process down there without even asking Yukoners if thatís the model that we want to have here. This bill allows a commission to go to the people, to ask the people what type of model they want in the Yukon. It doesnít try to shove something down their throats, as this government has done by not asking people and hiring a consultant to go check on a model that will basically commit us to follow because of the expense ó and thatís not right.
The members have to understand that they, themselves ó
Speaker: Order please. The memberís time has expired. Thank you.
Mr. Hassard: Itís certainly a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill No. 107, and itís always a pleasure to speak after the Member for Kluane.
I would first like to thank the members opposite for bringing this bill forward. Interestingly enough, I certainly donít consider myself to be an expert in this field, so Iíll let the members opposite know that right away.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that Canada prides itself on being a healthy and vibrant democracy; however, like many aspects of our lives, democracy requires constant tending. As society changes, the practices of our democratic institutions must change as well.
A question that Iíve heard quite often is questioning our electoral system. Does our voting system continue to respond to our needs and our values? As time goes on, these things change. It has been suggested that our current system of voting is problematic, because a party can win a majority of the seats in the Legislature with only a minority of the popular vote. It has also been suggested that the current system is structured in a way that it fails to represent the broad range of perspectives that characterize our territory.
For example, it does not always include opportunities for First Nation people or itís not balanced between genders. Iím sure that all members of this Legislature have heard similar concerns from their constituents. I think, as a result of that, we on this side of the House have in our party platform a statement that reads that we would like to strike an independent commission of citizens to hold public consultations on electoral reform. So I think that ó even though it differs from the bill before us ó does indicate that we all want to go in a similar direction on this issue.
So what have we done? To date, currently, we have Mr. Ken McKinnon monitoring or observing whatís happening in British Columbia. We know that theyíre looking at the same sort of issues. Now, the leader of the official opposition has complained that waiting for Mr. McKinnon to do his work is delaying consultation on reviewing the Yukon system. Well, Mr. Speaker, Iím not sure that I can agree with that, for the simple fact that what Mr. McKinnon is doing may very well save us from some unforeseen pitfalls that could save us some time. So weíre looking at saving time and perhaps saving money.
That is a responsibility of all of us. I think we have enough time ahead of us to do what we set out to do as a government and to rush into signing off on this bill is premature. I think there are many relevant issues listed under the mandate of the electoral reform commission on page 2 of the document, Bill 107.
But I do wonder, however, if things like electoral boundaries, and the number of MLAs actually required to govern a jurisdiction the size of the Yukon, are in there. Perhaps this would be covered under section 1(d). Iím not sure. Iím not sure what the writer had in mind. But I have had many discussions over the years about these particular issues. One of the complaints Iíve heard is that the Legislature has 18 MLAs to govern roughly 30,000 people. An example thatís used is that the City of Vernon, in British Columbia, has a mayor and a number of councillors to govern a city of ó Iím not even sure how many people, but Iím assuming a similar number or perhaps more people.
Now, I realize that governing a territory is probably more substantial than governing the City of Vernon, but I can still see where the general public would come up with that question. I think where theyíre really headed is the question of cost ó what does it cost to govern the territory?
Now we have 18 MLAs. If I just grab a number out of the air and say that it costs $50,000 to have an MLA here, and Iím sure thatís a low estimate, we come up with $900,000, so Iím sure that could grow quite easily to $1 million, and thatís a lot of money to govern 30,000 people. It has been suggested to me on several occasions that perhaps the number of MLAs should be reduced, perhaps even half. Iím not sure that this is an answer to all our problems, but itís certainly an interesting concept. It has the potential to reduce the cost for sure. Then perhaps some of the money thatís saved could go toward things that we see identified in this bill, such as measures to improve public awareness of proceedings of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and the legislative process and to encourage public participation in the decision-making process.
Perhaps that is what the voters of the Yukon Territory would like. Another option listed in the bill is for increasing resources and support for membersí constituency responsibilities.
Now, Mr. Speaker, at the risk of being captured by family members and rushed off to different parts of the world, Iíll speak a little bit about an issue that Iíve heard many times from members in this House, from all parties, and thatís the response that I get when I tell people what we, as MLAs, are paid. I donít want to give the wrong impression. I knew reasonably close to what we got paid when I went door to door and basically asked people to put me in this position.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hassard: I hear the comment ďbegged peopleĒ ó I donít think I begged people. Who knows?
Regardless, itís the issue of money. Personally, I donít think that the majority of the people in this Legislature ran for the money. I believe they ran to get elected to try to either change things that they didnít like in government or to get elected to continue doing the things that they did like, so I certainly donít want anyone to think that I am personally looking for a raise, because Iím not sure that itís deserved.
But I do know for a fact that before I was elected I used to say that the politicians were overpaid. My wife reminds me that I used to say that, so obviously I said it more than once. Today, I would probably reword that, but I still might say that we spend more money governing the territory than we should. And that brings us back to the question of reducing the number of MLAs.
Maybe that gives room to increase the pay to MLAs. If we reduce the number from 18 to nine, then maybe the general public would be more comfortable seeing an increase in the pay. It might change the attitudes of Yukoners sitting out there who choose not to run as an MLA based on the fact that they donít feel they can have a quality of life theyíre used to having based on pay. As I said before, itís something Iíve heard from members of all parties in the Legislature.
The other item that I mentioned earlier was the issue of electoral boundaries, and anyone who has looked at the maps for the ridings in the Yukon would see right away that there are some very interesting features, I guess you might call them. If you look at my riding, for example, you have to ask the question: what do Ross River, Faro and Teslin have in common and why would they be lumped together?
Now, those of us in this House probably all understand that it was basically done through ó I donít know if Iíd call it a numbers game, but balancing the numbers, so that each riding would have a relatively equal number of voters. But Iím not sure that that really makes sense. I think it would have been interesting to sit in on all the discussions, but I certainly didnít have time to do that.
Now, I thoroughly enjoy being the MLA for this area, and I havenít found anything thatís kept me from doing the job, but it certainly could be better. Interestingly enough, itís a topic that comes up when I travel to Faro, Ross River or Teslin. Still, even after two years, people wonder how we got the makeup of the riding that we did.
One of the other riding issues that comes up is that of the riding of Vuntut Gwitchin. I havenít done any research to see why a small number of people have their own member in this House, but I think itís obvious that, given the remoteness of Old Crow, there are reasons it is the way it is. I havenít done any research to find out exactly why.
But again, I can see why people would ask the question, because itís a small number of people getting to elect an MLA, whereas ridings in Whitehorse, having far more people, only have that same opportunity to vote for one MLA.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I just have to repeat that I really donít see the need to rush into passing this bill this fall. I think we need to give the process that we have started a chance, and I donít think that we have been given that opportunity. If it was such a panic, I would have to question why the previous NDP government, seeing how it is their bill, didnít do it when they were in power as the government of the day.
I donít think itís really incumbent on us to run out and do it just because they didnít get it done. Weíre working on it, but letís not jump to conclusions and letís work this out.
Maybe I can speak just for a minute about some of the reasons why I donít think there is a real rush. We look around the territory, and I donít see how any one riding is being left out in the cold. I think all ridings are looked after, are well-served. For example, the Member for Kluane does not sit on the government side of the House, yet we see capital projects happening all the time in his riding ó improvements to the Alaska Highway, bridges being built, bridges being built before a bridge is built in the riding of Klondike ó so Iím not sure how rushing into this bill would get any riding preferential treatment, because there is no riding that is suffering.
And there are other ridings that are not held by MLAs that sit on this side of the House that are receiving improvements as a result of work of this government.
Whether itís the Village of Haines Junction or the Village of Mayo or the Village of Carmacks, all which have seen their comprehensive municipal grants increased, as has the Village of Teslin, which is in my riding, itís certainly something that shows that the system does work because in the territory every riding is receiving similar answers to their requests, I guess you call it.
So I donít feel that there is a real need for us to rush into this. I would really like to spend more time. I appreciate the briefing we had yesterday. I appreciate the bill coming forward, as I think thereís a lot of stuff in there that we all see as things we want to talk about. We all hear about them day to day. I just donít feel that the timing is right for this.
So, with that, I will allow other members the time to get their words on the record.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, itís indeed a pleasure to respond to this act that has been put forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. Iíve listened to concerns and issues expressed by the members opposite, and Iím quite surprised that the last speaker believes the timing is not right to bring a bill such as this forward. I would have to say that we obviously disagree, because we have brought it forward.
As a matter of fact, this is a good time to do it, simply because the government hasnít done much work during the summer to bring any legislation forward, so we do have plenty of time to debate this bill. I would like to see this bill go into Committee of the Whole where it can be debated a little closer. We have lots of time to do that, and members opposite can take the bill, scrutinize it, and have staffers and support staff look at how they can make changes and improvements to it, and present it to this Legislature, and letís talk about it.
We, on this side of the House, donít have a lot of staff available to work on this bill.
We did work for months ó five, six months ó to put this together, and I think that weíve done a lot of work on this bill, and with the level of staff that we had working on it, they really need to be commended for their hard work. And it is difficult, because the government side has lawyers working on bills when the legislation is presented to this House and so on. We donít. As a matter of fact, weíd say weíre open for amendments. It could be looked at a little closer by government. Thatís a good thing, I think. And itís an opportunity for this Yukon Party government to say and do what they said they were going to do. They wanted constructive debate in this House; they wanted to make improvements. Hereís an opportunity. Weíre bringing something forward, and we want the government side to take it seriously and look at it carefully.
The Member for Pelly-Nisutlin said that the timing is not right to bring this bill forward. We disagree. As a matter of fact, go back to the election that we had two years ago. There was much public debate about this. There were many people talking about the Northwest Territories model because of frustration that people had with everything from consultation to representation from the MLAs, and so on. We made a commitment to do something about it. From what I see across the way, the government even hired someone, for good money, to monitor what is going on in British Columbia. What weíre doing, and what we want to do is present this bill to the House. Basically what it does is form committees so we can take it back out to the general public for their input. It has some guidelines within the bill that we think should be discussed in a public consultation forum.
Thatís why it was brought forward ó to take it to the people, not to the people who are elected here on the floor of the Legislature. Take it out to the general public. Iím sure that the members opposite would agree that this bill is not going to benefit the New Democrats, itís not going to benefit the Liberals and itís not going to benefit the Yukon Party. Itís non-partisan. Itís a non-partisan bill and Iím sure that they, on that side of the House, would agree with that, Mr. Speaker.
If we can focus on that, perhaps we can move forward because thereís a lot here to debate, and thereís a lot to really think about throughout the bill.
Weíve heard it time and time again. Weíve seen articles in the paper about our elected members. We hear jokes about it and so on. The Yukon Party said they would commit to making improvements. They wanted to improve decorum in this House. All that kind of stuff can be talked about in a public forum. I think it was laid out quite clearly by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. Letís form a committee. Iíve heard members opposite talk about the number of committee members and so on. Thatís an issue. Letís bring it forward. Letís look at the numbers that are being presented by the members opposite and the rationale behind it.
Speaker: The time being 6 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1 p.m. tomorrow.
Debate on second reading of Bill No. 107 accordingly adjourned
The House adjourned at 6:00 †p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 3, 2004:
Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues 2003-04 Annual Report† (Taylor)
Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board 2003 Audited Financial Statements† (Jenkins)
Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board 2003 Annual Report† (Jenkins)
The following document was filed November 3, 2004:
Carmacks Building Advisory Committee, Yukon College news release (dated November 2, 2004) ďCollege Clarifies Operational Issues at Carmacks CampusĒ† (Hardy)