††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Monday, November 15, 2004 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: † We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of National Addictions Awareness Week
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I ask this House to join me in recognizing November 14 to 20 as National Addictions Awareness Week, an event celebrated throughout the country every year. The purpose of this week is to raise the public awareness of the hazards of substance abuse and at the same time to encourage healthy lifestyles that do not include alcohol or other drugs.
This week also serves as a celebration of those in recovery from addictions and those who have won the battle but still continue to fight the war.
Mr. Speaker, we have a grassroots organization of dedicated individuals and representatives of groups and agencies who work together throughout the year to plan the celebration, to create joint community-based initiatives that all work toward preventing alcohol and drug abuse and create a greater awareness of problems faced by individuals affected by addictions and those who are impacted by their lifestyle choices.
In 1988, National Addictions Awareness Week organizers adopted ďKeep the Circle StrongĒ. This came from Coppermine, the small community in the Northwest Territories. Sixteen years later, this slogan continues to exemplify the strength of those who have chosen an addiction-free life and the forward movement of the circle of life for all people.
Recent meetings in downtown Whitehorse have added new voices to those of the individuals already working in the area of alcohol and drug addiction and abuse and serves as a reminder that we must all work together to keep that circle strong. It is an important reminder for all of us.
Mr. McRobb: I rise on the behalf of the official opposition in recognition of National Addictions Awareness Week, November 14 to 20.
The initiative to recognize this cause originated from the aboriginal people at the Nechi Institute in Alberta. It was a good idea and it caught on quickly across Canada and the Yukon. Recent reports confirm that Yukoners continue to consume much more alcohol per capita than the average Canadian. The harm to our health and economy is obvious. Statistics show that visits to hospital emergency rooms and admissions are often related to injuries and illnesses associated with alcohol use. The numbers of people affected by the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are also significant. Crimes involving victims, particularly related to family violence, often involve the use of alcohol.
There is not only a problem with alcohol in our territory. Reports indicate that cocaine is four times the national average and marijuana is double that average. The use of prescription drugs has increased 25 percent, while Tylenol 3 prescriptions have increased 70 percent. Cigarette smoking is gradually decreasing but not fast enough.
Substance abuse is not the only addiction that must be addressed by the Yukon government. Gambling is addictive and can lead to devastating impacts on families and communities. Education is one of the most powerful preventive tools in reaching the objective of becoming addictions free. This awareness week is an important objective and part of that education. The continuing theme of this weekís celebration, ďKeep the Circle StrongĒ points to the joy of being addictions free, reinforcing a healthy attitude and lifestyle that will assist family, friends and the community as a whole.
We salute all professionals and volunteers who work so diligently in assisting Yukoners to become addictions free.
Ms. Duncan: I rise today on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to National Addictions Awareness Week. Itís the third week of November each year.
National Addictions Awareness Week started at a grassroots community level to respond to a growing need for addictions information throughout the country. Itís an opportunity for communities at large, and more specifically for individuals working in the addictions field, to bring basic addictions awareness information to a variety of age groups within the community in an informative manner.
The national logo, ďKeep the Circle StrongĒ, represents the growing circle of individuals, families, communities and nations who have chosen and supported an addictions-free lifestyle.
National Addictions Awareness Week takes a very positive and proactive approach to fighting addiction. This week is a time to celebrate the joy of an addictions-free lifestyle, a time to recognize the hard work of those individuals who have battled addictions and won, a time to celebrate the hard work of counsellors, social workers and family members who are supportive in this battle against addiction.
Itís a time to help and encourage those who are still struggling toward freedom from addictions. The 2004 theme chosen by the Whitehorse National Awareness Addictions Week Committee is ďTake Time to Live, Make Healthy ChoicesĒ.
Thank you for your time this afternoon, Mr. Speaker. I encourage all members to be aware of National Addictions Awareness Week.
In recognition of Restorative Justice Week
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in recognition of Restorative Justice Week, which runs from November 14 to 21, 2004, across Canada. ďEngaging Us All in the DialogueĒ is the national theme of Restorative Justice Week 2004. It speaks to the importance of communication in resolving conflict. It is through communicating with one another that we are able to learn why conflicts arise and how we can repair the harm that has been caused by them.
Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that crime is a violation of the law, but crime is also an offence against human relationships.
Restorative justice recognizes this and is a sympathetic response to wrongdoing and emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders and communities caused or revealed by criminal behaviour.
Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by identifying and taking steps to repair harm, involving all stakeholders and transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.
I would like to now recognize and celebrate the nine community justice projects that follow restorative justice practices in the Yukon. The Haines Junction Community Justice Committee was one of the first community-based justice projects established. It works closely with the community justice system representatives and the judiciary to provide pre- and post-charge diversions, healing circles, circle sentencing, circle court advice to sentencing, mediation, conferences and justice of the peace court. The Haines Junction Community Justice Committee provides services to both adults and youth of Haines Junction.
Dena Keh justice in Watson Lake is an initiative that promotes community-based justice through facilitating diversion processes based on the family group conferencing model. It submits sentencing recommendations to the Territorial Court and helps to reintegrate offenders back into the community after incarceration.
Dena Keh justice uses the family group conferencing models throughout their project and works with adults, young offenders and youth under the age of 12 who are associated with the Kaska Nation. The Kwanlin Dun community justice project provides various supports to offenders and victims who are in the mainstream justice system using circle processes and other culturally appropriate forums. It works toward maintaining partnerships with the mainstream justice system and toward providing culturally appropriate and effective community justice processes. Kwanlin Dun First Nation justice consults with the community with respect to prioritizing justice issues and promoting awareness of their work. They continue to foster a positive relationship with the RCMP and have increased their work in the child welfare area. Kwanlin Dun First Nation justice provides services to Kwanlin Dun First Nation members and works with both adult and youth offenders.
The Southern Lakes Justice Committee was formed in 1992 and is registered as a non-profit society. The Carcross-Tagish First Nation supports the work of the Southern Lakes Justice Committee. The Southern Lakes Justice Committee offers pre- and post-charge diversion, circle sentencing, supervision to ensure conditions are met, mediation, sentence advisory, community work and probation supervision assistance. It also provides advice to the circuit court with respect to sentencing and pre-release conditions.
The Peacemakers diversion project in Teslin provides traditional alternatives to the mainstream justice system, holding Teslin Tlingit council members accountable to their respective clan and to their community. Peacemakers offer pre- and post-charge diversion and the clan leaders participate in the territorial circuit court process as an advisory panel. Yukon Justice, Justice Canada, RCMP and Teslin Tlingit Council have also signed a pre- and post-charge diversion protocol. This protocol outlines the process for diverting individuals from the mainstream justice system to the Peacemakers diversion project with the role of each party clearly defined.
The Old Crow Justice Committee deals mainly with liquor prohibition matters referred by the RCMP, Crown or courtworkers. The RCMP, Crown and the judiciary have worked well with the justice coordinator enabling the committee and community members to take responsibility for matters locally.
The Ross River Justice Committee has received funding since 1998. The Ross River Justice Committee provides community-based justice support and at times offers alternatives to the mainstream justice system with diversion processes for both youth and adults and advice to court sentences. It facilitates local justice learning opportunities and provides local support to both offenders and victim clients.
The Dawson Community Group Conferencing Society is a community-based volunteer organization with approximately 35 community members representing a varied and diverse cross-section. It has a part-time coordinator who arranges conferences, acts as liaison with referral agencies, ensures follow-up with victims and offenders on agreements and covers the administration related to the project. It uses a community group conferencing model for diversion, accepting referrals from the RCMP, the Crown, and the school as part of the school disciplinary system, and from the community.
In Whitehorse there are three community justice initiatives: the Kwanlin Dun community social justice project, which I described earlier; the Tšn Sakwšthšn First Nation youth diversion project; and the Health and Social Services Community Diversion Committee. The Department of Health and Social Services is a partner in the Whitehorse community justice projects.
The Tšn Sakwšthšn First Nation youth diversion project is a partnership project between the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre and the Council of Yukon First Nations and is funded by the federal Aboriginal Justice Directorate and the Yukonís Department of Health and Social Services. The Tšn Sakwšthšn provides services to First Nation youth between 12 and 17 years old who are in conflict with the law. The Tšn Sakwšthšn requires both youth and parent participation, and it has three components to its main program: traditional law and values, traditional parenting and family communications. It also uses the family group conferencing model for diversion.
The Health and Social Services Community Diversion Committee is coordinated through the Department of Health and Social Services. It is a volunteer-based community diversion committee through its youth probation unit. The committee deals with post-charge diversion matters referred to them from the Crown and youth court. During the 2004-05 fiscal year, this government will provide funding in the amount of $435,412 to these nine important projects that are helping our community heal. It is also anticipated that the aboriginal justice strategy will cost share over $400,000 to eight of these projects for an approximate value of $839,000 going to Yukon communities.
Mr. Speaker, the employees and volunteers of these important projects help create healthier communities by identifying and developing local solutions to resolve conflicts in ways that promote healing, reconciliation and respect. They do so using restorative justice principles. The Yukon government is committed to maintaining partnerships with communities to support the ongoing work of these projects. We believe that by supporting community justice projects, it is helping Yukon communities develop local solutions that may be more effective at resolving conflict.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cardiff: I rise today in tribute to Restorative Justice Week on behalf of the official opposition. Restorative Justice Weekís theme this year is ďEngaging Us All in the DialogueĒ. Dialogue is the basis of restorative justice. Dialogue promotes healing and understanding, and that is the ultimate objective of restorative justice.
This is a week to celebrate in the Yukon. We should all be proud that the movement for restorative justice in Canada had many of its roots here in the Yukon. It is a concept that is based in aboriginal healing traditions and the fact that our First Nations population is overrepresented in our justice systems has spurred the judiciary and legal systems to embrace this participatory process.
Several years ago, some of the first victim/offender mediation efforts began here. This is a process that gives victims and offenders the opportunity to meet in a safe, structured setting with the assistance of a trained mediator. Victims have the opportunity to tell the offender about the crimeís impact on their lives and their families and to participate directly in developing healing options. Another type of restorative justice that has been very successful here is community conferencing, which directly involves the offenderís family in responsibility toward the offender and the crime.
Restorative justice is justice seen and heard by our communities and is practised in all our Yukon communities. It has many mutually beneficial solutions to complex problems. When everyone involved is present, conflicts are resolved, solutions are committed to and stand a much better chance of success in changing the individual.
Communities live together in a safer, healthier environment thanks to restorative justice. We offer our sincere congratulations to all those professionals and volunteers involved in restorative justice in the Yukon and thank them for sustaining this productive and progressive movement.
Ms. Duncan: I rise today on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Restorative Justice Week. In the Yukon weíre working to create a restorative system that responds to the needs of people in the communities ó a community-based justice delivery system that is restorative, not punishment oriented.
Community justice works to repair any harm done by a criminal act to the victim and the community and involves community members in repairing the damage caused by criminal acts.
Community justice committees and programs try to reduce the involvement of the criminal justice system in the lives of individuals and communities, instead increasing community involvement in finding solutions for crime.
Programs such as circle sentencing, family group conferencing, community service and mediation with the victim and the accused are just some examples of community justice at work.
Links, a community justice newsletter, illustrates the activities of community justice committees and other community-based programs in the Yukon and what community organizations, working together, can do to bring justice to people.
I would encourage all Yukoners to review Links and examine the individual community initiatives. I would also like to express thanks to all the dedicated people involved who work hard every day in each and every community to make restorative justice in the Yukon a reality.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Canada to renew the Tomorrow Starts Today initiative and the historic places initiative, which have provided worthy resources to strengthen cultural infrastructure, conserve heritage, increase organizational capacity, support creation and improve access to the arts throughout Canada, and to continue the programs for at least five years at the current or increased level of investment.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† ††Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
†Mrs. Peter: My question is for the Premier. On Wednesday the Premier was asked to sign a letter addressed to U.S. President George Bush to prohibit oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to protect the Porcupine caribou herd. This letter was signed by both the leader of the official opposition and the leader of the third party. With a new administration in the U.S. and the Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin in Washington, it is vitally important that we now demonstrate that all parties are against drilling in the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge.
The Premier told the media that he needed time to read the letter. He has had a few days now to read it and think about it. Will the Premier sign the letter and send it over to me today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First Iíd like to congratulate the official opposition and indeed the third party for supporting what has been a consistent government position when it comes to the Porcupine caribou herd. As far as the letter in question, I think thatís something the opposition can send off at their choice to the President of the United States. The government will continue to follow its course of action as it committed to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation government. Not only are we representing that clear and consistent position that has been the Yukonís position all along, we are helping to resource the Vuntut Gwitchin people to lobby and be present and continue to press the Senate and others in Washington in regard to the issue of the Porcupine caribou herd.
At this stage of the game weíre very pleased that the opposition and the third party have seen their way clear to support the governmentís position.
Mrs. Peter: The Vuntut Gwitchin people believe that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be off limits to oil and gas development. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge houses the core calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The Vuntut Gwitchin and Yukoners recognize that the caribou is an essential part of our lifestyle. Even people from southern Yukon travel up the Dempster every fall to harvest.
As MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, I can assure the Premier that the Vuntut Gwitchin people want him to take a clear stand with them against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Signing this letter would demonstrate that.
I ask again: will the Premier commit to the Vuntut Gwitchin vision of protecting the Porcupine caribou herd and demonstrate this commitment by signing the letter?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are demonstrating our commitment to the Vuntut Gwitchin people by following the course of action they as a government have laid out. We are following that course of action.
Secondly, we are investing in this very important initiative in terms of protection of the critical habitat of the Porcupine caribou herd. The opposition can send any correspondence that they wish to the President of the United States and others. We, though, through our actions are demonstrating clearly our commitment and our position to the Vuntut Gwitchin people when it comes to the Porcupine caribou herd.
Question re: Railroad to Carcross
Mr. Hardy: Two weeks ago the Premier announced the plan to give the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad $440,000 to upgrade its rail line into Carcross. In exchange, the government will become the new owner of a passenger train called the Red Line.
We certainly encourage the government to think outside the box when it comes to stimulating the tourist sector. At the same time, though, there are aspects of this deal that warrant some explanation. Now, how does this purchase fit the policy on public/private partnerships, which this government still hasnít developed?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The decision to purchase the specialized self-propelled rail car or rail bus, as it is often referred to ó itís not a full-blown train, per se, itís a 22-seat self-propelled car ó springs out of agreements this government earlier concluded with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and the White Pass & Yukon Route. This government committed to working with the parties to develop and enhance tourism infrastructure facilities along the Skagway, Carcross and Whitehorse rail corridor. Weíre confident that this agreement, details of which will be announced soon, goes quite a way to achieve this response. This is not a public/private partnership. We bought a train.
Mr. Hardy: It would be helpful if the Premier or the Minister of Highways and Public Works, or the Minister of Economic Development, or whoever is going to take responsibility for this, would spell out exactly what the deal is and what is really behind it. Without any of the deals made public, it sounds a lot like a P3 through the back door: public money being used to improve the bottom line of a private company. Perhaps this is the Premierís way of getting out of the loan business, since we all know his position in regard to loans and how he has handled that issue. Perhaps heís also considering similar arrangements with mining companies in this regard as well, in which you agree to perform a certain amount of mining activity, and the government, under this Yukon Party leadership, will buy some of the equipment. Now will the Premier explain how this deal came about, who initiated the discussions and what programs or policies cover a purchase of this kind?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: All the players ó the Yukon government, the First Nation, White Pass, tourism ó all have recognized for years ó or at least most people, it would appear ó the need to enhance tourism in Carcross. Hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers cram the dock at Skagway every summer ó and I encourage the opposition to go down and see this ó but only a small percentage of them make it past the White Pass summit and into Carcross. Our purchase of the equipment ó and White Pass plans to finish the upgrade of the rail into Carcross ó will see charter rail service into Carcross this summer. Thatís wonderful news. And the good news doesnít end there. Regularly scheduled trains are to be begin in 2006 under the banner ďDestination CarcrossĒ.
Mr. Hardy: As usual, Mr. Speaker, something smells about this deal when the Yukon Party has been involved. I am sure the Premier is aware of Fridayís newspaper article, which raises a number of interesting questions about this deal. Certainly the people who approached me about it this weekend had a lot of concerns, including the perception that this government is not very open or up front about how it does its business. There is a perception that friends of the government might be in line for favours that arenít available to other Yukoners. Does it remind you of something weíve been talking about for the last couple weeks? In other words, theyíre concerned about who is on the inside track with this government and who is on the outside.
Now, I hope the Premier appreciates how such perceptions undermine his governmentís credibility. How does the Premier intend to respond to the questions that are being raised and what is he telling his ministers about the need to do things by the book, in a way that will pass the most vigorous scrutiny?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, I think the one thing there certainly is that speculation we donít respond to.
I should point out, Mr. Speaker, that the initiative, at a cost of about $440,000, has the potential to spark a lot of desperately needed economic activity in the Carcross area. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that this purchase will not preclude the Yukon government from entering into other possible agreements in the future to assist economic development in communities such as this. The only smell I would mention to the member opposite is that of progress. Somehow doing work behind closed doors is difficult when we include it in the budget, we include it in the Premierís opening budget speech, and we will include it, I hope, in the budget debate.
To the member opposite, I suggest that his view of the Yukon, to paraphrase a former Prime Minister ó if this entire Cabinet could walk on water, Mr. Speaker, he would conclude that we couldnít swim.
Question re: Carcross hotel for sale
†Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
On November 1, the Government of Yukon quietly announced it was contributing $440,000 to White Pass to upgrade its rail line into Carcross in exchange for acquiring the ownership of the Red Line passenger train. The purpose of the investment was, to quote the Premier, ďto bring a significant amount of traffic from Skagway, Alaska, as far as the community of Carcross.Ē It has recently come to light that around the same time this information was made public, the minister was making a phone call to the owner of the Caribou Hotel in Carcross. The minister was calling to find out whether or not the hotel was for sale, because he has some friends who are interested in it. Will the minister tell the House and the Yukon public when he made the phone call ó what was the date of the phone call?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, we come back to the discussion of the train, which I submit is exceptional news. I have been assured by my colleague from Porter Creek Centre that his interest in the Caribou Hotel actually goes back to the late 1960s when he operated it for a year. He was asked by someone to place a call to the current owner, to inquire about the future plans for the facility at the request of a Yukon couple who had contacted him. I should say that the hon. member himself has no interest in purchasing the hotel, and in fact he was rather graphic in expressing that view privately.
Any suggestion that he acted improperly by making a simple inquiry, I submit, Mr. Speaker, is building mountains out of a molehill.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister for his response and had it been the question I asked, it might have been a good answer. I asked a very specific question and the public needs to know this information.
The ministerís phone call trying to arrange the purchase of a hotel in Carcross raises serious questions in the minds of the Yukon public. It appears from the ministerís answer that the minister in question was trying to help some friends to buy a hotel. He was doing so knowing full well that the government he is part of is about to announce a major investment in Carcross.
This is information that a member of the public would not have known until it was announced in this Legislature. Will the minister, who is answering on behalf of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources tell us, and tell the Yukon public ó itís a very key, specific question: when was the phone call made?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, I can only reiterate the sequence of events. Someone asked if the hotel was for sale. A simple phone call was made. It was for sale and that was communicated to the other people. The member opposite using the phrase ďarranged the purchaseĒ I suggest implies false motives, and I ask the member to challenge that if she chooses. There is a mechanism within the rules of this House.
Ms. Duncan: I am asking a very specific question of date. I would ask the minister to answer that question, since he is answering on behalf of his colleague.
The timing of this phone call is the issue ó the minister making a phone call about a business opportunity, when the government is ready to announce a major investment in that same community. The Premier, when he announced this deal, said it would bring a significant amount of traffic from Skagway, Alaska, as far as the community of Carcross. That means dollars in the pockets of people who own businesses in Carcross. Thatís a good thing.
The key question here ó and Iím asking the minister to address it specifically ó is this: when did the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources make the phone call? When did it happen?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The leader of the third party is on a fishing expedition. She has cast her hook into the water and has come up with a red herring.
It makes no difference when the caller ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
†Speaker: Order please.
Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: I would respectfully suggest that the Premier suggesting that another member is on a fishing expedition is imputing false or unavowed motives.
Speaker: On the point of order, Minister of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that the comment is not even in the league with the member opposite referring to ďarrange the purchaseĒ as an avowed motive of a phone call.
I suggest that this is a dispute between members.
Speaker: There is no point of order; however, I would ask members on all sides of the House to show a bit of temperance here.
The hon. Premier has the floor.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you.
As I was pointing out, Mr. Speaker, the leader of the third party has caught a red herring. It makes no difference when the phone call was made. This government, in partnership with White Pass & Yukon Route, signed a protocol and announced the very fact that we intended to enhance tourism along the route into Carcross and beyond, back in November 2002. What difference would it make if any member of this side of the House or that side of the House contacted somebody in Carcross to determine whether there was any issue or interest in a certain business?
We are not buying it. The minister is not buying it. All he did was relay a message from other Yukoners. The memberís suggestion and implication could be better brought up with the Conflicts Commissioner. Write the Conflicts Commissioner and have him look into it. That is her option. Otherwise, we would like to attend to constructive business in this House, like growing tourism in the Yukon, which weíve done.
Question re: Tantalus School, Yukon College campus at
†Mr. Fairclough: My question is to the Minister of Education. The Carmacks school needs replacing, and nobody in this House, I believe, disagrees with that. The minister struck a committee that involves the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, the Village of Carmacks, Yukon government and the public. One task assigned to them was to decide what should or should not be included in the design of the school. The committee made a decision but the minister decided to ignore that decision. Things are not well in Carmacks because of this ministerís take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Is the minister aware that some of the committee members are refusing to continue and have resigned, and what is he going to do about that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, the members opposite are fully entitled to their opinions, and thatís all that is: itís the member oppositeís opinion again about Carmacks. I think anyone has the liberty to resign from any board or committee, and if they so choose, thatís their choice.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister has no answers, no way of making suggestions to help out the community, and will just sit and do nothing. They are assigned to do a job in the Yukon Territory. He, as the minister, is responsible.
There is no longer any representation from Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation on the committee. People in Carmacks are angry and they want to be heard, and whatís wrong with that? This minister thinks he knows best. He refuses to meet with the planning committee. He doesnít know how well the College campus is doing in the community. He doesnít bother to ask them for their opinion. He refuses to hear what the community has to say and wouldnít even meet them when they protested here at the Legislature. Why is the minister still insisting on having things his way when thatís not what the community wants?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite again for his own opinion on all the issues in Carmacks. I wonít recite what I said last week but he still remembers very well what I said. I still maintain that.
I believe that this whole Carmacks school issue has been a very difficult trail. I agree with the member on that point. Mr. Speaker, for something so positive, I fail to recognize why it is such a difficult task. In my opinion, Mr. Speaker, it appears the official opposition party is attempting to jump on a bandwagon thatís going by.
Mr. Fairclough: If thatís an insult to First Nations, itís coming from the minister himself and he has done this over and over again in this House and in the public. Shame on the government.
I hope the minister had time to read the letter that was sent to him last Friday. Right now thereís a petition being circulated asking for a referendum on this matter, so the matter wonít go away, whether the minister would like to see it or not.
If it succeeds, the village council would have to hold an open meeting to reconsider the decision it made in secret at the ministerís insistence. If the village council changes its position, will Carmacks still get a new school without a college campus attached, or is the minister planning to scrap the whole project if he doesnít get his own way?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again I think itís very important in this whole process to again set out for the public at large, who want to know things about Carmacks, the difference between the three levels of government.
Mr. Speaker, the First Nation government is responsible for their beneficiary members. The municipal government is responsible for every citizen in Carmacks. The Yukon government is the only government thatís responsible for building schools. This government is going to continue to do its best to work at building public infrastructure. At some point in time, the First Nation governments also have authority to build the infrastructure that they see fit to build.
Again, Mr. Speaker, this government has gone far beyond what other governments have attempted at consultation to get a school built, and we will continue to seek to address the best interests of every citizen in Carmacks. Thatís something the member opposite failed to do.
Some of the people and non-native people had to come all the way to Whitehorse to get someone to listen to them and their concerns.
Question re: Residential school syndrome
Mr. McRobb: On Wednesday, there was an informative debate in this House on the motion in support of funding for the local Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools, or CAIRS. Of particular interest were the revelations on the devastating effects of residential school syndrome. The impact of the abuse suffered by First Nation people extends beyond those who were placed in residential and mission schools. Widespread effects are still being felt today by the children and grandchildren of former students. This is sometimes referred to as a legacy of tragedy. Can the Minister of Health and Social Services tell us what he is doing to assist these Yukoners in need?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As the member opposite knows full well, this was a federal government initiative. The funding was time-lapsed, and the money has lapsed. The program has faltered. We have been working with the organization. In fact, the department contributed $140,000 to this initiative. As well as that, we are lobbying. And I would encourage the official opposition and the third party to get on board and lobby the federal government with us to come back to the table and restore funding to this initiative.
Mr. McRobb: Well, obviously the minister is doing nothing. He continues to point the finger at the federal government, and he ignores the fact that all parties supported the motion on Wednesday, and that in effect sets out the position of the opposition parties.
We were glad to support that motion, and it was one of those rare but happy moments in this House when each and every member supported it and the amendment we put forward. Funding is needed for CAIRS and other Yukon projects related to the effects of residential schools. CAIRS funding is expected to run out in January. We need to avert this tragedy as best we can.
Thanks to the generosity of the federal government, territorial coffers are flush with cash. Will the minister agree to provide interim funding to allow CAIRS to continue?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The date that this funding lapses is well known. Between now and that date we have an opportunity to go forward collectively and encourage the federal government to return and reinstitute funding. Our government has committed a substantial sum of money to this initiative. As well as that, we have a lot of the fallout problems that we are having to address on the acute care side. The costs there are tremendous. In fact, the supplementary budget for the Department of Health and Social Services that is before the House is some $8 million odd ó an $8 million supplementary for this fiscal period alone. That speaks well of the amount of effort and enthusiasm and initiatives that this government on this side is moving forward on and funding.
Question re:††† Occupational health and safety regulations
Mr. Cardiff: The draft occupational health and safety regulations were supported by all stakeholders and passed unanimously by the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board over two years ago. Last spring the minister said that the regulations, which have been sitting on his desk for two years now, would be reviewed, after the Workersí Compensation Act review was completed. Itís a different act. Itís the Occupational Health and Safety Act, not the Workersí Compensation Act.
The Workersí Compensation Act review is so far behind schedule there is no end in sight. In light of this and the ministerís previous commitment, when will the occupational health and safety regulations be signed into law?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Our government is taking the initiative and has put in place OH&S regulations where they are necessary. We recently implemented the oil and gas occupational health and safety regulations. They are in full force and effect as I speak, because there are initiatives in those areas. Iíd encourage the member opposite to go over the draft copy that he has of what is being proposed and let me suggest some of that initiatives are totally unworkable and unacceptable, like that you can only take or haul in the back of your vehicle two litres of gas ó in the back of a pickup. That is one of the new regulations that are coming into place. It would preclude a whole lot of businesses from operating; it would preclude a whole lot of us from even packing gas for our snow machines or our four-wheelers on occasion.
Mr. Cardiff: Let the record show that the minister didnít answer the question and heís not telling us the whole story. Iíd like the minister to know that business, labour and workers have all asked for the regulations to be passed, and theyíve expressed a deep concern over the time that it is taking. The chair of the Workersí Compensation Board has said he raises the issue of the occupational health and safety regulations in every conversation he has with the minister. And the ministerís excuse is that concerns about the new regulations have been raised by the business community.
I would encourage the minister to read the minutes of the annual information meeting held on September 28, because both the Yukon Construction Safety Association and the Chamber of Commerce were unaware of the nature of the ministerís concerns. So maybe the minister could tell us: what concerns regarding the regulations have been raised and who exactly has raised these concerns?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What has been raised are a number of concerns in the general application area. I gave the member opposite an example in my first answer. That is that youíre not allowed to take any more than two litres ó not two gallons ó of gas in a container in the back of a vehicle. They donít even make a container that packs gasoline of that small size. That is just one small example.
What is being proposed is a whole series of regulations that in some parts are unworkable. We are legislation right and theyíve got to be workable; theyíve got to be demonstrated to have a cause and effect on the whole issue of occupational health and safety.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, the minister can only come up with one example and I would encourage him to open up the process. Everybody else seems to be working in the dark and itís the minister who has turned out the light. Business, labour and workers want in on this process. The minister has never publicly stated the nature of the concerns raised. The only thing he can come up with is one example, and he wonít make the rest of them public.
At the annual information meeting, the chair stated that the minister had provided the board with his concerns regarding the regulations and the board has responded.
So, in the interest of opening up this process to the public and letting the public see what is going on ó and maybe even letting them comment on some of these problems that the minister has in his mind, anyhow ó would the minister at least table the questions that he gave to the board and the responses that he received so that everybody can have a chance to look at it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I will. But bear in mind that the questions that I have asked are only dealing with a certain sector of the regulations.
The OH&S regulations with respect to the oil and gas industry were vetted through individuals remote from the Yukon ó and knowledgeable in this area ó as are a lot of the OH&S regulations to date. But the initiatives across Canada are that OH&S regulations are being streamlined and they are being made more user-friendly. There has been a tremendous reduction in OH&S regulations in our neighbouring jurisdictions, like British Columbia where they have taken 30,000 regulations in this area and reduced them to 20,000 regulations. They reduced them by 10,000.
Before we start making more and more regulations, letís make sure that the regulations we make are useful and they are effective, Mr. Speaker. Thatís what this side of the House is saying; that is what is taking place and they are being dealt with.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 11: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 11, standing in the name of Hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: † I move that Bill No. 11, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 11, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll be brief. This is a supplementary to close out fiscal year 2003-04. This year-end supplementary budget seeks a total increase in operation and maintenance of $819,000. The increase, as detailed in the bill, is for two departments: the Public Service Commission in the amount of $403,000; and Health and Social Services in the amount of $416,000.
The funding for Health and Social Services relates to expenditure requirements that are due to higher-than-anticipated cost for children in care and out-of-territory doctor and hospital claims. These are expenditures that increased the quality of life for Yukoners, expenditures that the members opposite have been voting against.
The Public Service Commission is requesting an increase to cover the employer portion of retireesí extended health care, recruitment, workersí compensation premiums and the actuarial adjustment to employee leave and determination benefits. Again, these are initiatives to ensure open and accountable financial disclosure to the Yukon public, and these are areas that were required for the fiscal year 2003-04. We have done that, and I look forward to the response from the members opposite.
Mr. Hardy: Once again weíre voting on a supplementary and, as the Premier has indicated, itís $819,000 that is being spent. There are some questions. Not much detail was given, and we on this side would appreciate more detail, more of a breakdown on where the money is being spent, why itís being spent, what itís trying to cover. Of course weíre going to have to try to get that out of this government.
We have to also remember that every chance the Premier gets, he tries to indicate to the general public that the opposition votes against all these initiatives. I find it offensive when the Premier continually tries to twist the situation around.
The reality, of course ó
Speaker: Order please. The leader of the official opposition is implying, with the term ďtwistingĒ, that itís a falsehood, and I would ask the leader of the official opposition not to do that, please. Carry on; you have the floor.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I apologize for using the word ďtwisting.Ē However, we on this side do not vote against good initiatives. We do not vote against money being spent by every single government on health and social services for children in care or for outpatients or for sending people out for extensive care that is not available in the territory. We do not vote against monies being allocated to cover employee benefits. Of course we donít vote against that. But I can explain very clearly, Mr. Speaker, what we do vote against. We vote against this method and this operation of this government across the way ó how they spend the money, how they approach it, how they consult with the people of this territory, how they keep them involved, what is happening out there with taxpayersí money and allocations and their priorities.
Now, every budget brought into this House to date pretty well has been voted for, of course, by the government, and the opposition side votes with their conscience based on what they see as priorities for where the money is being spent. That Premier himself never voted for a budget when he was in opposition. Why? Nor has his Deputy Premier. Those are questions that are not explained by the Premier when he raises this topic.
But weíre talking about a supplementary and weíre talking about quite a few issues, really, that maybe need to be addressed, and there are a substantial number of issues that possibly should have been included in a larger supplementary or a better allocation of the money.
We can go down a long list. We can look at the fact that social assistance rates have not been raised in 12 years. Has this government made any move at all to address those concerns? Meanwhile the cost of living has continued to increase and people are struggling, families are struggling to put food on the table, to get their children clothed, to find jobs. Homeless youth ó has there been any money put forward into that? Many of the homeless youth are former children in care. What initiatives has this government made in that case? Of course weíre concerned about that. Those are the issues that we would bring forward.
What about that period when a youth is 18 and 19? Thereís a period there where thereís no assistance, or very little assistance, available for them. Thereís a year gap where a struggling youth may need assistance. Has this government addressed that? Of course they havenít. Of course those are the concerns we raise. Of course thatís why we may argue and debate vigorously the supplementary budget and vote against it. What about FASD and diagnosis for only up to the age of five? Thatís not good enough. From our perspective, that is not good enough. What about all the people who need diagnosis out there right now who are not under the age of five? Why is that being missed? Why is the government not addressing that? Why isnít that a concern with this government? Of course weíre concerned about that. Thatís why we will argue this budget.
What about youth services for addictions? I walk through my riding daily, and I see a lot of people on the streets. I see addiction there daily. I do not see activities initiated by the Yukon Party government that are addressing the street scene, on the streets helping youth, helping those with addictions. There are good programs out there. They definitely were not initiated by this government. Nothing has been done in this area. I have concerns about that. What about training community workers in addictions to deal with families in communities with addictions? What about that? Why do people come to us and ask us to bring these issues forward, try to get this government to listen to them? These are very serious concerns. Thatís why we will argue, thatís why we will debate a supplementary budget that doesnít meet or address any of these concerns.
The list goes on. What about the outpatient subsidy? Has this government made adjustments to it? Maybe they have, and we donít know about it. As far as I know, they havenít. Right now itís $30 per day when the patient is Outside. The first four days they donít get anything. Thatís a concern. The list is long. I can assure you that my colleague, the critic of Health and Social Services, from Kluane will be raising all these issues and will be debating these vigorously.
What about dental services? Has this government done anything in that area, or are they going to repeat what they tried to do back from 1992 to 1996, in which they tried to get rid of it? Is this a direction that we are going in right now? Are they going to privatize that? I wouldnít doubt it; they tried it before.
There are a lot of issues out there; the list goes on and on and on; injuries ó A government brings a supplementary budget in, and weíre supposed to think that they covered all the bases; they give this impression that they have. They havenít even touched the problems that are facing so many people in this territory who need help. Those are the things that we will argue; those are the things that we will question. We will speak on behalf of the communities that are not getting the proper representation. We will speak on behalf of many of the ridings that are not going to their MLAs right now. When they come to see us and they raise these issues, we will bring those issues into this Legislature, and we will ask about it and find out where the spending is.
Theyíre coming from all over. I am not ashamed to raise the concerns of the people of this territory in this Legislature. Itís not about voting with this government on their budgets. Itís about being a voice for the people. The opposition on this side is quite proud to do that because they are sure finding a hard time trying to get their voice heard on the other side.
There are a lot of questions. Soup kitchens continue to grow with no increases in the SA rates to help. About this time every year we see greater and greater needs. This is a very stressful time for many families. Christmas is coming ó the increased costs due to the expectations of the children. They may not have much.
We have seen an increase in jobs but many of those jobs are not very well-paying jobs. What we have is another classification of workers; itís called the working poor. Thatís growing. They are not collecting EI so they donít show up on our stats that show that the employment rate has dropped; but I can assure you that they are visiting the soup kitchens; they are visiting Mary House, and they are trying to get help. And theyíre not getting paid very much; theyíre struggling. Thatís the type of economy I am seeing growing more and more ó that area. Itís called the working poor.
I havenít heard this government address that yet, Mr. Speaker. I am very concerned about that. Why isnít it being addressed?
There are so many issues ó so many issues, Mr. Speaker ó and the best that this government can do is a little housekeeping.
They talk about the legislative agenda and that theyíre going to get legislation right ó I donít know who over there coined that phrase. Thatís going to be their new mantra, Iím sure, that we hear from them from now on. But actually you can change legislation to be better and you can bring in new legislation to improve old. You can have initiative. But their excuse for not doing their work is not good enough for the people of this territory, and itís definitely not good enough for us on this side.
So we are disappointed ó absolutely, Mr. Speaker ó and we think that a lot more can be done. We mustnít forget the trajectory talk of the end of 2002, into 2003. The great trajectory outline that was presented to us by the Premier and their sheet showing the balance and the debt and the four-year plan when theyíre going to turn everything around is completely nonsense. It was proven within months that it was a fabrication that definitely wasnít based on the work done within the departments.
Sorry, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the word ďfabricationĒ.
It was done with imagination but not necessarily with the facts presented often by the departments.
Now, here we are ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: Hon. Premier, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I, and this side of the House, will absorb much from the opposite side of the House, but when they start to point the finger at officials in departments like the Department of Finance for not providing correct information or for us ignoring the information that has been provided, I would submit to the member opposite that we are bound by the law ó the Financial Administration Act ó and anything that is involved in the budgeting process must follow that legislation.
So we can only conclude that the implication made here, Mr. Speaker, is that the members opposite are suggesting that we broke the law.
Speaker: On the point of order, leader of the official opposition.
Mr. Hardy: On a point of order, of course I would suggest that the Premier read the Blues and maybe he would understand what I said. His interpretation is completely off the mark and I think itís to serve political ends. Thereís no point of order here, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: There actually is no point of order. However, if the Premier had stood up on the accusation of fabrication, there would have been a point of order. So Iíd ask the hon. member to carry on.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Hardy: As I said, I withdraw the word ďfabricationĒ.
Iíll wrap up so other people can talk before I maybe say another word that you, Mr. Speaker, may find unparliamentary, and I donít want to do that.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to address the supplementary budget, Bill No. 11, and my intention is to be very brief.
Supplementary budgets are housekeeping. They wrap up, they close out the year, and weíre closing out the 2003-04 fiscal year.
There are some points in this supplementary budget that the Premier, in addressing the House, did not outline and which I believe are useful to discuss. Although Schedule A is the one thatís discussed most frequently because thatís the additional money for two departments, Schedule B also moves money between departments. What it exactly says is that they are not appropriations ó so weíre not voting on additional money. Theyíve been used for grants rather than the purpose for which they were originally discussed.
I think itís really important that we pay attention to this fact. The Public Accounts Committee has discussed it at length. Itís all about accountability. If a department is going to be moving money or using money for a purpose other than what it was originally voted for, it has to come before this House and itís important that we not only talk about Schedule A of the supplementary but Schedule B as well.
Schedule A, the health costs ó these costs are by and large legislated. In other words, we have legislation that covers them. The minister, having to go in and ask his colleagues for more money, has no choice in the matter.
The legislative costs ó it has to be asked for. They have to be paid, and well they should be paid. Yukon has the finest health care system, bar none, in this country and we must continue to defend it.
With respect to the Public Service Commission, there are some questions arising that were not addressed in the Premierís remarks. The portion of the retireesí extended health care ó I will be interested to know in line-by-line debate if this money is a result of a ruling from our extended health care provider or is it numbers that have driven that particular cost. Again, the workersí compensation premiums ó there is little control over that particular issue. Itís legislated; we have to pay it. And the same with actuarial adjustments to the employee leave. This is advice of the actuary and it is understandable that it is paid in this particular supplementary. I am interested if the number of recruitments has caused this volume increase from the Public Service Commissioner, and Iím sure that she will come prepared to advise the House when we get into line-by-line debate.
There was an exchange with regard to voting for or against the supplementary and whether or not that was a huge issue, and I mean no offence by this term, Mr. Speaker, but there is political spin that is attached to those votes by all sides. The issue in the supplementary and the issue for the taxpayer is accountability and accountability for their tax dollars, and accountability is an issue with this government. Yukoners will not forget that one of the very first acts of the Yukon Party was to repeal the Government Accountability Act for Yukoners. It was the very first act, I am advised by the Member for Kluane.
The other issue is lack of accountability in members when they are addressing the House and answering questions. There has been a distinct lack of an answer to a very straightforward question asked repeatedly of the Premier each session as to what the surplus is today. Members will recall hours in this debate. However, Mr. Speaker, there is always room for hope in this Legislature and I certainly hope that the Finance minister and the ministers opposite will do a little better in their accountability on this particular supplementary budget, and I look forward to its debate in Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I must rise to speak to this supplementary budget. Yes, it closes out the fiscal year. Yes, about the half of the amount requested is for the Department of Health and Social Services. And, yes, it is all about accountability ó
Some Hon. Member: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, you reminded this House last week several times that you would appreciate if members would not engage in conversations when a member has the floor ó youíve reminded both sides of this House. Would you please remind the members opposite of that ruling? This is the third time weíve had the Premier stand up and engage in a private conversation when another member was speaking.
Speaker: Actually, to the point of order, that ruling was specifically for members heckling each side of the House. It had nothing to do with restricting members from moving along on their own sides. All I would ask is that when members talk to their colleagues on their own sides that they maintain a quiet dignity, if that is possible.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Before I was so rudely interrupted by the leader of the third party ó
Speaker: Order. Sit down. The hon. member knows full well that he cannot use that terminology and I would ask him to retract that and carry on, please.
Withdrawal of comment
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I retract that, but in the spur of the moment it just goes on and on here.
We as a government are doing our level best to address the issues across the Yukon, to restore investor confidence in the Yukon economy, to get the economy rolling, and weíre doing one heck of a fine job, if I do say so myself.
This supplementary budget ó about half of it ó is for the Department of Health and Social Services, and itís for much-needed expenses that are being incurred. If you look at the mains last year in the Department of Health and Social Services and look at the supplementaries that weíre coming forward with ó in this session alone weíre looking for an additional $8 million odd. That bodes well about where the costs to deliver health care have gone these past several years and traditionally it has been about a $7-million to $10-million increase per year over the mains. Nothing has changed other than the base number has increased significantly.
Part of this money is for out-of-territory surgery, over which we have no control. The third party made much ado about privatizing health care, because the radio reported a little while ago that St. Paulís and St. Josephís had a backlog of day surgery. They were farming it out to private facilities to reduce this backlog. The question that should have been asked was what happened to day surgeries here in the Yukon. Virtually all the day surgeries are done at the Whitehorse General Hospital. Last fiscal period we had 148 surgeries that were performed outside of the Yukon, and the costs for those much-needed surgeries that could not be performed here in the Yukon have gone up significantly.
Just to give the members opposite an order of magnitude of understanding of the number of day surgeries that are performed at St. Paulís, itís 18,500 annually. That says something. Thatís just day surgeries. Outside ó and thatís at all facilities outside of the Yukon ó there were 148 surgeries last year. There are significant costs associated with those 148 surgeries, but no one is disputing them. They are needed; they are authorized by the medical fraternity ó and the members opposite are questioning the costs.
The other big ticket item in the Department of Health and Social Services is for children in care. That itself should indicate where we are at in this area; we are having to increase our budget allocation. There are currently over 300 children in care in the Yukon. With our population at 31,000 or 30,000, a pretty high proportion of our children are in care. Some of the costs for the care of these children are sole-sourced to facilities outside of the Yukon. About the smallest amount of any one of these sole-sourced contracts is just over $40,000 annually ó up to a quarter of a million dollars per child annually.
That should give the members opposite in this House an understanding of the total cost that is being incurred for some of these children in care. It is significant, and it doesnít really ever go down. A lot of the children in care are there because of the lifestyle habits of their parents ó FASD.
Members opposite voted against this budget the last time, which provided millions of dollars for children in care. Now a good part of this supplementary is also for children in care, and itís also for surgeries outside of the Yukon. They are ever-increasing costs that are being incurred.
Mr. Speaker, there is a resolve on this side of the House to meet these challenges and to meet the demands and provide the highest consistent level of health care services that we can possibly provide for Yukoners. We are committed to that undertaking and will do our level best to ensure that takes place. Every time we have a question thrown at us with respect to health care, itís ďWhy arenít you funding this? Why arenít you funding that?Ē
Well, Mr. Speaker, start looking at the reporting situation as to who is responsible for what. Yukon has a lot of responsibilities; the federal government has a lot of fiduciary responsibilities to First Nations for health care here in the Yukon. We have to ensure, as legislators here in Yukon, that that fiduciary responsibility continues to be met, because it is not.
Every time you turn around, the federal Liberal government is abdicating and wanting out of more and more of their responsibilities. Itís hard enough to get them to pay for what theyíve committed to, let alone getting them to continue funding what they should be paying for.†
This brings added pressure to bear on our government. And, yes, Mr. Speaker, the Legislature is all about accountability. The Financial Administration Act spells out and stipulates what we can do and how we can move money. That is the most overriding and binding piece of legislation we have in place. From there flows the rules associated with how we conduct business.
Mr. Speaker, we have been the first government in a long time to come up with an audit that wasnít qualified by the Auditor General. That should bode well for our attention to detail, our attention to the Financial Administration Act, and the attention to proper accounting procedures and accountability also. Mr. Speaker, I could go on until the end of today, telling all about the wonderful work that is being undertaken by the Department of Health and Social Services and about the need for more money in so many areas that it would come up and hit you in the head like a two-by-four would. But there are many areas that we have to balance, and we have to acknowledge that we only have so much money and we have to meet those statutory requirements and obligations across the board. We have no other option.
From there, Mr. Speaker, we do have some amounts of flexibility to move funds, and we have done our level best to meet the ever-growing demands of health care here in the Yukon as well as the full social agenda from our seniors home owners grant, the seniors pioneer utility grant, our tax credits for parents, for our subsidies for daycare, the direct operating grant, our four-year plan that has been worked out with the childcare community. And yet we look and we hear about billions of dollars flowing from Ottawa into daycare. Well, no one would like to know better the details of how this is going to flow to the Yukon than I.
Because we are being questioned as to how weíre going to be spending this money thatís going to be coming our way. Itís still Liberal pie in the sky in most respects. Itís a big announcement. Itís billions of dollars, but we have to find out and the devil is in the detail. We havenít got to the detail yet, so I would encourage all members here in the Legislature to work with us, to lobby the federal Liberal government to meet their fiduciary responsibilities for aboriginal health care and to also make sure that this fundingís initiatives, when theyíre announced on the federal scale, do flow in an appropriate manner. That should be base amount plus per capita, not just per capita funding for here in the Yukon.
I am going to be supporting this supplementary budget. The part that Iím well versed in is the Department of Health and Social Servicesí amount in the supplementary, and that $416,000 has been spent in a very appropriate manner on well-justified and well-meaning causes.
Speaker: If the member now speaks he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think first let me begin by trying to put in context for the members opposite what this really is. We heard at great length the leader of the official opposition delve into many areas of service and program delivery here in the territory, but this supplementary is to close out the fiscal year thatís a year prior. It is a budget that the members opposite did not support in any way, shape or form. No matter what they may say, thatís a fact. They did not support the expenditure and the investment in all the areas in the budget, which this supplementary is closing out. Those were programs and services being delivered to Yukoners, in many of the areas that the leader of the official opposition stood on his feet and talked about, clearly trying to make the case that the government has done nothing. Well, the facts and the evidence bear out this: that the government has done a great deal with little support from the members opposite.
The third party made some points that I think have to be responded to. In the first place, accountability and the Government Accountability Act. Frankly, Mr. Speaker, the accountability act, as envisioned by the third party when in government, committed tremendous amounts of department resources and personnel to navel-gazing, and thatís not what we, as a government, wanted to do. Our job is to make the lives of Yukoners better by ensuring that every department is delivering programs and services to Yukoners in a very positive and expeditious manner.
So the Government Accountability Act, quite frankly, was another case of legislation being created just for the sake of creating legislation versus making sure a government was proceeding with legislation that was right, that impacted Yukonersí lives positively.
The member also pointed out that, in Schedule B of the bill, there is some money being moved within departments ó yes, all within the confines of the Financial Administration Act. The member should have pointed out that, to change that, regardless of the Public Accounts Committee or anything else, would require amendments to the Financial Administration Act, and we as a government see no reason to amend that legislation. It works quite well; it ensures that government follows the course laid out in the legislation; it ensures that government adheres to the accounting principles as we are directed to adhere to by the Auditor Generalís office.
The member also pointed out that, regardless of the increase in out-of-territory doctor and hospital claims, it had something to do with legislation; it was a legislative requirement; it matters not.
Mr. Speaker, I ask you: when did we start legislating heart surgery? When did we start drafting legislation to ensure that Yukoners who needed an operation in a health centre outside of this territory could only get that operation if we had it in legislation? Thatís not what this is about.
These two items in this supplementary budget lay out areas of increased cost during the course of a fiscal year, and this supplementary budget does the housekeeping necessary to ensure that we are within the confines of the Financial Administration Act, to ensure that we are open and accountable and to ensure that departments that have demonstrated need ó as these are ó are given the necessary resources to implement those programs and services to Yukoners.
Letís talk a little bit about accountability. This is important because this is a place, an institution, where accountability is paramount. That goes for both sides of the House. Letís look at some of the facts.
The biggest budget in the history of the Yukon Territory ó this fiscal year, 2005-06 ó we experienced the accountability level of the members opposite when they debated the budget. We passed in mere moments, at the end of the spring sitting, literally multi-millions of dollars with no discussion and no debate. No matter how the government side tried to engage the members opposite in a debate that was accountable and open and constructive, department by department, line by line, the members would not go there.
I can tell you why they wouldnít go there. Itís very difficult for the opposition to criticize and oppose investments such as the government side is making on behalf of Yukon citizens. That is their quandary. Therefore they find other ways to reflect some unknown position in the pages of Hansard. Frankly, they would have served Yukoners in a much better way if they had engaged with the government in debate on a budget of that size, line by line, department by department.
A lot of the unnecessary discussion is coming from the fact that the members are finding it very difficult ó the members opposite in opposition ó are finding it very difficult to create areas of criticism and opposition to what the government is doing. I know the New Democrats pride themselves in having a very sharp social conscience, but I can tell you that this government also has a very heightened and sharp social conscience. The difference, between the governmentís side and that side of the House is that we are investing in that social conscience in terms of programs and services to Yukoners. The members opposite oppose that. You have to ask the question: where is their social conscience?
Now, Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day, this should be a very limited discussion. It is housekeeping. The mains for 2003-04 have long since been debated, have long since passed this House, have long since been invested into Yukonersí hands. But it is also important when we reflect on that fact in this housekeeping supplementary that we point out that the members opposite have great difficulty in clearly articulating what has transpired financially in this territory.
It is factual that upon taking office this government had very limited financial resources. It was this government that dissolved some $11 million of funds set up by the former Liberal government that were not delivering programs and services to Yukoners, that dissolved those funds, put them back into general revenue, and started to invest them into the public to make the quality of life for Yukoners better. It is this government, through its Department of Finance and statistics branch that clearly pointed out to the federal government that something was amiss in the census and the pension adjustment. It is this government that got a firm grip on the financial situation of the Yukon and then allowed mechanisms within the territorial funding formula to help us increase our financial position over the course of the fiscal year 2003-04, and it is this government that negotiated a health accord, the Northern Health Accord, with the federal government, providing more investment into this territory, further strengthening the financial position of the Yukon. It is this government that has negotiated further to that the territorial health access fund, which over five years will see $150 million more brought into the north to be distributed among the three territories for health care and the delivery of those programs and services in the health care area. It is this government that has recently realized and negotiated an agreement with the federal government that is seeing millions more brought into the Yukon this fiscal year ó some $47 million more ó and next year, the year 2005-06, another $54-million increase.
Mr. Speaker, these are initiatives that are hard negotiations. They are difficult negotiations, but as a government ó and ensuring that our officials in such departments as Finance were given the necessary direction. We work closely with the officials in departments like Finance. It is these things, these factual areas and initiatives, which have resulted in the strengthened financial position for the Yukon.
It certainly has nothing to do with this supplementary budget other than the fact that the members opposite mistakenly have tried to point out that there has been something amiss, and quite frankly, quite the contrary: there has been a great deal of effort put forward into the financial position of the Yukon, and that effort is being reflected in the much improved situation we find ourselves in today.
The leader of the official opposition made the point that they want some detail on this $819,000. I relayed the detail in my opening remarks. For Health and Social Services, the expenditures are required due to higher costs for children in care and out-of-territory doctor and hospital claims. In the Public Service Commissionís situation, it is increased costs to cover the employer portion of retireesí extended health care, recruitment, workersí compensation premiums, and the actuarial adjustment to employee leave and termination benefits. So we did provide the members opposite the areas where these expenditures are needed.
The best thing to do now is to move into department-by-department debate and enter into line-by-line debate if thereís further detail the members opposite would like to achieve. If we do that throughout the course of this sitting on the bills and the supplementary budgets, we will find a much more constructive House. We will find the opposition providing and adding to the debate in this Legislature in a manner that will result in benefit for Yukoners. I think itís time we moved in that direction. The government is more than prepared to do that, and we only hope that the members opposite would see their way clear to debate in this House the facts, the realities, what Yukoners want, but above all contributing to make the lives of Yukoners better here in this institution.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Disagree.
Mr. Arntzen: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 15 yea, one nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 11 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Unprecedented, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.
I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
†Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04. Before we begin, do members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 11 ó Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04. We will begin with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I will be very brief. Much of the comment required for this supplementary bill, closing out fiscal year 2003-04, was made in second reading debate. As I stated, this is a bill that will provide the increased spending necessary for Health and Social Services and the Public Service Commission. If there is detail that the members opposite would like in those areas for those two departments, then moving into department debate and line-by-line debate would be the appropriate course of action.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: As we indicated, we do have some questions about this Fourth Appropriation Act, and they not only fall in the area of Health and Social Services, which is the major beneficiary of the supplementary monies, but we also have concerns with the lapsed funds that show for a number of departments. We canít help but wonder why there were so many lapsed funds in these departments when it was clear that the priorities of Yukoners called for a greater expenditure.
So obviously the Yukon Party government had the money and it was crying poverty. The results clearly indicate there was money available, even within the departmental budgets, to cover the requests that Yukoners made in the last fiscal year.
I point to a few examples. If we look at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, thereís almost $2 million lapsed in the last fiscal year. Why was that necessary when it was clear the government could have provided public process before allowing subdivisions ó such as the one proposed at Fish Lake? The money was there for some public process and for some land use planning, but this government let that money lapse.
Mr. Chair, that doesnít say much for this governmentís ability to do proper planning in terms of providing for public access before it develops land in the territory. We know there are all kinds of examples in the subject area of land use planning in addition to the Fish Lake lots.
There are other controversies out there. Take for instance the proposed oil and gas exploration in the Peel River Plateau, specifically the Turner wetlands.
It doesnít take much research to turn up some serious concerns expressed by First Nation governments and others about what this government plans to do. There was $2 million available that could have been used to balance the agenda of this government. Instead, the government believed that it was necessary not to spend that money and to lapse the funds instead. I remember back a few years ago when the Premier sat on this side of the House and he was part of the official opposition and when the Deputy Premier was in the same situation, how they and the rest of us in opposition called upon the Liberal government at the time to demonstrate balance between development and conservation in the territory.
I recall at the time the former Environment minister, the former Member for Riverdale North ó he was always careful to ensure that the amount appropriate for public process and study in terms of identifying land use planning objectives carefully matched those appropriated for development items. It was part of what that government believed to be a balanced agenda. That was nothing new, because the previous government also took a lot of care in trying to balance its actions. So that money wasnít appropriated so heavily toward one side of the development ledger.
Now, we have seen many examples of how this government really strikes out when it comes to providing the funds necessary on the environmental side of the development ledger. We see hardly any process at all for any debate and meaningful consultation among Yukoners for a lot of major issues. One such issue has been raised in the last couple Question Periods by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, and that is: what is the Yukon government doing to stop the George Bush administration from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR?
We see the Premier get up and the Deputy Premier get up, and they go on and on about how their position hasnít changed one iota, and so on and so forth. But, Mr. Chair, what theyíre not telling you is that the Yukon Partyís position only relates to part of the caribou habitat ó only the crucial part ó which in terms of geography is only a small percentage in the minds of the Yukon Party. There is even a qualifier on that small area in terms of timing. In other words, it would only apply for a certain portion of the year, such as in the critical habitat for the calving grounds during the time the calves are born.
So, back to this supplementary budget. There are questions that are quite severe in the minds of not only Yukoners but Canadians and Americans and people worldwide who escape the radar screen of this Yukon Party government.
It may not be entirely accidental, Mr. Chair, because I believe this government does not have a balanced agenda.
Now, before the Premier gets up and labels me as being anti-development and so on, and calls us names ó we wouldnít want that, heaven forbid. There is nothing wrong with the government proceeding with development, provided itís of a sustainable nature, et cetera, provided the other side of the ledger is accompanied with matching funds, matching initiatives and so on.
If the government truly believed in balance, then we would have seen some process involving the public on these major issues, and certainly ANWR is one of them.
Another issue that was the topic of debate in a recent Question Period was whether Yukoners really want to introduce a new industry to the territory, one that carries a lot of impacts to the land, water, people, wildlife and air. That is the coal-bed methane industry, Mr. Chair. And when I asked the question to the Premier last Wednesday, he stood up in typical fashion and promoted all the wonderful things this government is doing and kicked it back to the environmental screening process and declared that any development would be properly screened and there would be proper process and so on and so forth. But there is a big crack in that platform, and the weakness in that argument is simply that any process before any board on any specific application hears concerns related to the development plans of that application. Such process has no time to consider the bigger question: for instance, whether Yukoners want the industry here to begin with.
I would submit that if anybody appeared before such a board to make such a submission, then that person would be ruled out of order by the board or simply instructed that their concerns will be taken under advisement, but itís not within the jurisdiction of the board to consider those concerns.
One can see that the process the Premier is pointing people to is simply inadequate to deal with these issues. What is there in terms of process to deal with the larger questions? Thatís a good question. This supplementary budget that has lapsed $2 million from the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources could have provided for some process. After all, this department and this government should have known what was coming in terms of this particular example Iím using, coal-bed methane. Certainly Cash Minerals Limited, when it applied in August for the exploration permit at Division Mountain near Braeburn to explore for coal resources and coal-bed methane resources ó certainly this government would have heard well in advance about this, given its friends in the mining industry. Surely it would have. Well, then why do we see such a large lapse from this department?
Itís really baffling, Mr. Chair, unless of course one subscribes to the conspiracy theory, which might go to the point this government doesnít want public process on such matters, but we know better than that.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: In suggesting that thereís a conspiracy or implying thereís a conspiracy, I believe the Member for Kluane is in contravention of Standing Order 19(g) and imputing false or unavowed motives.
Chair: Iím prepared to rule on this. There is no point of order here. There was not a direct accusation or a direct impugnment of motive.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you for that ruling, Mr. Chair. Iím certainly not accusing the government of being involved in any conspiracy, nor the Member for Lake Laberge, although members of this House have been treated to his own thoughts about what really happens out at Lake Laberge on occasion, but we donít want to go there today.
So, Mr. Chair, the lapsed funds in this department really indicate a lack of balance from this government toward protecting anything in the territory. We of course saw it snuff out ó pardon me, thatís probably violent language. Iíll replace that with ó let me see ó ďextinguishĒ, as in a fire. This government extinguished the whole issue of Yukon protected areas early in its mandate, despite promising something else to Yukoners. That was a strong signal to those of us out there who observed this government closely of where this government ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: At this juncture, it would be appropriate, considering there isnít a gong, just to relay ďgongĒ to the House.
Chair: There is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I would remind members opposite: one more strike and theyíre out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Premier, for that encouragement.
Where were we? Oh, the protected areas strategy, yes. Of course, it didnít take long in the mandate of this Yukon Party to demonstrate where it stood on protecting the environment. We saw it promise one thing during the election campaign and then, of course, do something completely different after it was elected. There are plenty of examples to substantiate what is becoming a theme ó not just an incident with this government, but an overall theme ó that is, putting its own interpretation on the promises made at election time and subsequently in order to better achieve the real agenda, which we know is begging to be exposed to some light. Thatís what weíre trying to do. Thatís part of our job in here: to shed some light on what is really happening upstairs in the corner office.
The governmentís own material before us this afternoon, with all these lapsed funds, clearly indicates and sheds some light on what is becoming another theme and that is the governmentís unblinking support of only the development side of the ledger.
And I canít help but notice the Department of Environment is another department that has lapsed funds, and we see there was almost $400,000 lapsed in that department last year. Weíve got to ask why that can possibly happen. Mr. Chair, were there no initiatives the Department of Environment could have carried a little further or perhaps taken from the back burner and put on the front burner? Why was it necessary to lapse so much in terms of the mains budget of the Department of Environment?
And we can go on again about process on some of the major issues and more important issues we see happening today as I have already identified; for instance, the coal-bed methane or protecting areas and so on and so forth. But surely there was a role for the Department of Environment in such a process. So the funds were there, but the will wasnít. We have already outlined some of the reasons explaining why the will wasnít there. And it probably never will be there with this government, because it is not concerned at all with balancing the ledger.
And Mr. Chair, I would remind the government members to take this matter seriously, because weíre really at a crossroads in terms of developing the territory. The high oil and gas prices and development just south of our border, and the attitude of the government with it pulling out all the stops, inviting industry to the territory and bending over backward to accommodate that industry, then weíre likely to see a sudden jolt in terms of oil and gas development. And what about the Alaska Highway pipeline?
I asked a question last week to this government, or maybe it was the week before, and the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, responsible for the pipeline, was unaware of recent developments that indicate the pipeline is not far away. He was completely in the dark in terms of any timelines. How drastically things have changed in the last couple years. Such answers would have been denounced loudly by the Premier and Deputy Premier when they were in opposition, yet this government seems to get away with it.
So I want to ask the Premier why he felt it necessary that these types of funds were lapsed in those two departments.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I think there is only one way to approach this and thatís first to point out that we are going to enter into another needless debate with the Member for Kluane because the Member for Kluane just simply refuses to reflect on the fact that there are accounting practices that we must adhere to.
If money in a fiscal period is not expended during that fiscal period, it doesnít just disappear; something has to be done with it. Historically, the levels of lapsed funds in departments have remained consistent, as it is in this particular fiscal year, 2003-04, and the lapses reflected in the last supplementary to close out that fiscal year reflect that historical average.
Now, letís point a few things out. The member is trying to correlate lapsed funds to a lack of process in environmental screening, planning and those types of things, in areas of land or resource development.
Frankly, Mr. Chair, that would be an incorrect assessment of what is taking place in this supplementary budget. There are a tremendous number of legislative frameworks and regulatory regimes that we, as a government, are required to implement when any kind of development should be coming forward.
I point out that the Yukon has the highest of environmental standards. We as a government on balance, however, are going to implement those standards in a consistent and fair manner so that we can advance responsible development for this territory and at the same time conserve and protect our wonderful environment, which is exactly what the government is doing on balance. The question of balance, however, going back into previous governmentsí mandates, was glaringly obvious that there wasnít a balance. Letís look at the statistics that bear that out. Our population was decreasing. Any development resource sector ó decreasing. Any investment from the private sector ó virtually nonexistent. Dependence on government, ever increasing. Thatís important because that has turned around now because of balance, not because we have done anything untoward in this territory. Itís because of balance. We have taken the balanced approach.
Letís deal with the protected areas strategy. The cessation of that strategy was a decision made by the government based on the fact that it wasnít needed. We are following the land claims, which obviously the official opposition seems to have great difficulty with. We have special management areas. We have habitat protection areas. We have land use. For instance, the member brought up Turner wetlands, the Peel Plateau. We have struck a land use planning council and commission for land use planning in the Peel region.
Furthermore, in regard to the balance and the investment by the government in assessments and other processes to ensure balance in resource development, the Turner wetlands, in regard to the latest land disposition, were virtually removed from the disposition because of balance and process ó again, another major, major hole shot in the Member for Kluaneís argument.
If we keep going there will be a tremendous number of holes in the official oppositionís argument because their debate has nothing to do with the supplementary budget before us, closing out fiscal year 2003-04.
The member goes on to say that the lapses are a reflection of us standing down on any areas of process ó absurd, totally absurd. Thatís not taking place in the Yukon whatsoever. In fact, there are processes being implemented in this territory that go beyond where we were at upon taking office. Letís talk about the Childrenís Act review. Thatís a major process being invested in by this government. Correctional reform, educational reform, the development of the aforementioned land use planning councils, the issues of special management areas, the establishment of Fishing Branch as a park ó and, contrary to the comments made from the Member for Kluane, not only did we establish the park, we implemented the management plan in partnership with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation ó the establishment of Tombstone ó by order-in-council, the OICs completely reflecting the final agreement and our obligations as a government in establishing that park ó and the list goes on and on and on.
Itís very hard to debate in any constructive way this type of process and reaction from the official opposition on a supplementary budget, which in total is $819,000 of request for increased expenditures in two departments: Health and Social Services and the Public Service Commission.
Anything else is virtually standard process of a nature that is ongoing in government and is simply the accounting practices that we must follow.
The member should maybe delve into the areas in Health and Social Services that are reflected in this supplementary budget and the increases there, because they included surgeries and daycare. We could have a good and constructive discussion around the fact that we have increased that expenditure in this fiscal year of 2003-04, and the members opposite could put on the record what they would have done, considering itís not something they had supported in this fiscal year at all. Now they seem to take exception to the fact that weíve even increased areas like health care and taking care of our employees, where weíre obligated to take care of our employees, such as pensions and in other areas.
Mr. Chair, we can skate around this forever because I can see where the Member for Kluane is going. Itís up to the Member for Kluane. Itís the pages of Hansard he will be filling up with twaddle, not this side of the House.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I think I heard something that was strictly unparliamentary from the Premier and I would call upon you to demand he retract that. While heís on his feet, he should apologize to all Yukoners for the use of such language.
Chair: Mr. Fentie, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: On the point of order, itís an adjective used to reflect debate that is nonsensical in nature. Isnít it?
Chair: It has just been commented to the Chair that one would never find that word in the dictionary, and I would encourage members to enter into debate words that we are all familiar with, that can be found in the dictionary and not to use words that would have an implied derogatory meaning and that are beneath the dignity of this Assembly.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I canít wait to get home to Google with that word and see what we come up with.
Now, Mr. Chair, the Premier obviously is quite willing to enter into a debate in a number of areas, and I want to respond to some of the comments made by the Premier because, since he is at the helm of the good ship Yukon Party that is steering its way down the river ó it is more than halfway to that waterfall, I might add, Mr. Chair ó he should be aware of some of the obstacles and currents along the way before he gets to the big one. I know that if he understands it, then there is a good chance that the government may take note.
I want to go back to what he alludes to as the environmental screening process, and I donít need to provide another example because I think that is quite evident in my original submission.
The Premier doesnít quite get it, and I just want to reiterate the point, which is a big-picture question ó such as, do Yukoners want the coal-bed methane industry established in the Yukon? ó simply is out of order for the processes he is pointing to. The only process that could deal with such big-picture questions would be a process instigated by the Yukon government.
There may be other possibilities, Mr. Chair. Letís not rule them out. But letís put it this way: the Yukon government has the largest responsibility to ensure that any emerging industry in the territory, particularly one with as many impacts as the coal-bed methane industry ó government has the responsibility to ensure that it meets with the support of Yukoners.
It is quite within the jurisdiction of the Yukon government to ban any such industry if indeed that is what people want. The government is not asking the question, though, and the industry has got the door open and their foot is on the way in, and we are going down the slippery slope of coal-bed methane in the territory. This government needs to step up to the plate and not strike out, as we see it doing so many times, but rather get a base hit and get on base with Yukoners in terms of figuring out what they want. It could make its way to second base if this government actually tries to do something about what Yukoners want. It could get to third base by bringing into this Legislature for debate a piece of legislation to address the concerns of Yukoners. It would make it all the way around to home plate if it was something that passed this House and was something that all members could vote on. Then you could call that a home run.
Rather than step up to the plate and hit a home run, the Yukon Party is reminiscent of Casey at the Bat. It doesnít want to get a base-hit. It is madly swinging into the air at that elusive ball, and it is strike one, two and three, et cetera.
Well, why is that? ďWhy is that?Ē people ask. Again, I guess we go back to the real agenda and that is quite a different agenda from one of achieving balance. Now we see the government do whatever it can in terms of trying to attract this industry to the territory but very little in trying to represent Yukoners or at least finding out from Yukoners what they want. So thereís a large issue there. I just want to move on, but before I do I want to reiterate and remind you, Mr. Chair, to listen carefully to what the Premier says. And Iím sure, using sound judgement, youíll discover that really heís pointing to a process that cannot deal with the big-picture questions. And it is that misgiving that I am trying to amplify in this House and to make the point clear.
So thereís that issue and there are a few other ones. He talks about what the government is doing and how it protected the Turner wetlands. Well, you know a good checkpoint for that issue is the response from the First Nation whose traditional area this activity falls within. Iím speaking about the Na Cho Nyšk Dun First Nation, and I know Chief Steven Buyck has put on the public record his concerns with what is happening and with what is being permitted by this government in terms of development in the Turner wetlands. Obviously this government didnít go fast enough to satisfy its First Nation partners. We know the government likes to play favourites when it comes to certain parts of the territory. I would like to remind you, Mr. Chair, that itís not possible for everybody to move to Watson Lake or Dawson City, especially when weíre talking about an area like the Turner wetlands. We canít simply move it. Itís where it is. The government therefore needs to be flexible in terms of how it thinks about and treats these areas outside its priority areas, such as Watson Lake and Dawson City.
Iíd like to put it out there as a question: has the government ever consulted the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun whose area this development falls within?
I can tell by the blank expression that the government has not done that. It hasnít. Just like today we heard from the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin how government ignores her positions as a member of that First Nation and MLA, when it comes to the ANWR issue. This supplementary budget had funds that lapsed that could have gone a long way to filling these cracks. What Iím speaking of now is not something new. Itís something that was recognized by the Premier at the time of the last election, because if one went back to review the Yukon Party election platform and took a good look at it for what it is and what it was, that person would discover that one of the promises that was quite pronounced was the need for all MLAs to work together in this Legislature. What has this government done? Thatís a good question. I know from being House leader for the official opposition that there are a lot of examples in terms of advising the opposition on business of the day and so on and so forth that could be improved substantially ó underline that word ďsubstantially.Ē If I describe in greater detail Iím afraid, like the Premier, I may use some words that are unparliamentary or not even in the dictionary for that matter.
We saw all these glorious promises, and it had the effect of wooing Yukoners into supporting the Yukon Party because people in the territory, I think, over the 20 years or so of party politics, have really come to see the political divides as something that doesnít really meet their true interests. They do want all of us to work better together.† Examples, like the two I just gave, raise a question: why didnít the government involve the MLAs from the opposition side in how it dealt with these major issues?
Why not? So in terms of the supplementary budget, we see lots of lapsed funds in these departments. We also see lapsed funds in the Yukon Legislative Assembly. Mr. Chair, how did that ever happen? $89,000 not spent. Mr. Chair, this is mind-boggling because that money could have gone to pay for many, many, many SCREP meetings and we all know the value that could have been produced from those. There are other meetings that could have been held, like Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, which I believe has not met in 24 years. Shame on them. They could have brought that committee together, but the Premier chose not to. These are only two examples of many that could have been done with the funds that were lapsed.
I could go down the list ó as a matter of fact, Iíll mention one more. Highways and Public Works lapsed $380,000. Why didnít the minister increase roadside vegetation clearing along some of our highways, or maybe use that money as seed money to establish a program for that purpose to reduce roadside vegetation in the territory? Why wasnít that done?
The Premier stood up and said it all goes into the same pot, but what he doesnít mention is the lost time and lost opportunity and lost improvement to peopleís lives in the territory that could have been brought if the government had a better handle on the financial position of these departments instead of just lapsing the funds.
I know the Premier is going to get up and he has an answer for everything, Mr. Chair. When he doesnít, Iím sure heíll invent words that seem to cover things off.
These matters are quite serious. What about the Department of Justice, which lapsed $908,000?
Mr. Chair, what about funding community justice committees? Now, we heard earlier today in a great monologue that lasted about 12 minutes ó it was disguised as a tribute ó from the Minister of Justice, who went on and on and on, which I think violated every rule on the length of tributes in this House ó but he went on and on and on in great detail about community justice committees. But what he did not say was that this government has ignored requests from the opposition side to increase funding to those very committees. He did not say that, even though he had about 12 minutes of opportunity to at least allude to it. Obviously it escaped his attention.
So another issue that could have materialized instead of the government lapsing funds from the Department of Justice, is a Utilities Board hearing to examine the operations and budgets of the electrical utilities in the territory. Now, we have not seen a fully scrutiny of the books and plans of the Yukon Energy Corporation for what will be, next spring, nine years ó nine years next spring. Mr. Chair, thatís unheard of. As a matter of fact, it was an important issue to the executive of the Yukon Party. I recall a year and a half ago, which would have made it the spring of 2003, the Yukon Party executive passed a resolution that a Utilities Board hearing must be held within one year hence. Well, that one year expired half a year ago. We have heard nothing from this government.
Now, before the Premier gets up and misinterprets what Iím using as an example for a process in scrutiny of the budget as something that would allow a rate hike, letís make something perfectly clear. Such scrutiny could very well result in a rate decrease, so I just want to ensure that is put on the record.
We know the government hasnít been too accountable in terms of its handling of the Yukon Energy Corporation. Witnesses are supposed to appear every fall in the Assembly, but we remember how the government opted to not have a fall sitting in 2002. It cited the recent election at the time as the reason it would not have a fall sitting and consequently weíve actually lost a full year in terms of the corporations appearing Committee. So thereís another area. I canít help but notice that Yukon Development Corporation is identified in here. I believe we will have some questions for the minister responsibility for the Yukon Development Corporation when we proceed to line 22 in the O&M votes of Schedule A. So I would just like to put him on notice now to come prepared to answer some of our questions.
I will accept the Premierís suggestion about health care, and we will delve into that, but not at this time because weíre in general debate and I donít believe the Premier has the information needed to really satisfy our information needs. So weíll wait until the Health minister is perhaps available to give some information. I do note that he did put some information on record in second reading debate, and I would invite the Health minister to provide us in the opposition with some written material that spells out the number of surgeries at St. Paulís Hospital, the number of surgeries from Yukoners, and so on and so forth, along with any other pertinent information that would be helpful to us in the opposition.
I do note on that issue that I did ask him a few weeks back in Question Period about that type of information. I note that it did inspire him to do his homework and come up with some numbers. But we would like them by way of writing so we can examine them and perhaps follow up, if necessary, in line-by-line discussion.
Those are my comments, Mr. Deputy Chair. I donít really have a question at this time and am prepared to hand it over to the leader of the third party.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the first place, the Member for Kluane has not, in any way, shape or form, engaged in debate on the supplementary budget. I think Iíve come to an understanding of what the problem is: the Member for Kluane somehow has come to the conclusion that budgeting and budgets are like baseball. First base would be your revenues ó if you donít get to first base, you have no revenues. Second base would be your liabilities ó if you donít get to second base, you canít budget your liabilities. Third base would be your tangible assets, and if you donít get to third base, you donít have any tangible assets. Home plate would actually be a concluded budget but, under the member oppositeís view of budgeting as it relates to a baseball game, you could never create a budget. There are tremendous differences between baseball and a budgeting process.
Furthermore, the member opposite has delved into a great number of complaints about what the government is or isnít doing, should or should not be doing, and I would submit, Mr. Chair, that itís time to give the Member for Kluane an upgrade certificate from ďMember for KluaneĒ to the ďAyatollah Complaini of KluaneĒ because this debate has nothing to do with the supplementary budget and the Ayatollah Complaini can keep complaining but, at the end of the day ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I realize, Mr. Deputy Chair, youíre not the full-time Chair and therefore we do not expect you to be as sharp and quick on the draw as the regular Chair, but I will remind you that what youíre hearing from the Premier is strictly unparliamentary.
Aside from that and aside from the need for you to rein him in on his language again, I want to put on record that I really donít find it that offensive; I think it really offers us an insight into the character of the Premier and the government, which further establishes the need to be concerned about where this government is leading the territory.
Deputy Chairís statement
Deputy Chair:†††† I would ask the Premier to refrain from some of his comments that we earlier heard.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Chair. I will make best efforts to ensure that I refrain from comments, but it is very difficult to engage with the Member for Kluane, considering the content that the member has brought forward here in relation to a supplementary budget closing out fiscal year 2003-04.
Itís absolutely pointless to go any further here. The government side has set out a plan based on a vision that we brought to the Yukon public. That is unfolding; there are results. We are going to continue down that road, and we will allow the public to judge us come the next election.
At this juncture, I would submit to you, Mr. Chair, that any further debate with the Member for Kluane would not be conducive to good parliamentary practices; therefore, I move that we conclude the debate on supplementary Bill No. 11, for 2003-04, because I am sure the leader of the third party has listened to it all and there is not much more the member could add.
Ms. Duncan: Contrary to what the Premier has suggested, I do appreciate the opportunity to enter into general debate this afternoon.
I just have a couple of questions. Schedule A and each department will be debated at length in the departmental debate. We wonít get into Schedule B, because these are simply transfers of money and there wonít be extensive debate on them, as there will in the departments.
Itís usually, ďDoes Schedule B clear?Ē, and itís usually simply cleared.
So I would ask the Premier to provide some information for the record. The argument I made about Schedule B is that we are asked, ďDoes Schedule B clear?Ē We also donít debate, line by line, the unexpended funds, and there are significant lapses in funding. This is history ó itís 2003-04 ó and most of this, I suspect, is going to be revoted or has been dealt with in some manner by Cabinet.
Could I ask the Premier to outline: of the $27 million plus of unexpended funds, does the Finance minister have any sense of how much of this ballpark figure is to be revoted and how much is the result of unforeseen circumstances ó perhaps an agreement not concluded with Ottawa or some other unforeseen circumstances?
First of all, is there any sense, of the $27 million plus, how much of that is subject to revote? There is a line-by-line explanation that goes through Management Board, so if the Premier wants to provide me with something similar, that would be fine, or a prťcis of it ó that would be helpful.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There are a number of areas and departments where there are lapsed funds. Those are sums of money that have not been expended in that particular fiscal year. Fast forward now to the fiscal year weíre in, which is fiscal year 2004-05, and you will see that each department has a spending authority that was given by this Legislative Assembly. It reflects all the programs and service delivery in O&M and all the capital investment that each department would be making in the course of the fiscal year. So the lapses arenít out of the ordinary. In fact, historically they are very close in the O&M side, and when it comes to capital lapses in many cases they are revoted because there are projects that are ongoing and these projects would continue on into a new fiscal year; therefore, you have to revote them.
Another possibility is they are budgeted items where the total amount expended did not get to the level of the spending authority for any number of reasons, including good, sound fiscal management and effective operations by departments. We applaud that.
Furthermore, there are some areas that are directly recoverable that we have to book as lapsed, but the monies would still be coming from other areas such as the federal government.
Itís not customary to get into debates on lapsed funds and, frankly, I see little purpose in it. Iím not sure what the members opposite are trying to achieve. The Member for Kluane tried to make the point ó and not very effectively, by the way ó that we had stood down on processes, programs and service delivery to Yukoners. In the face of the evidence, thatís not the case at all. Weíve increased investments in process and programs and services to Yukoners and weíve articulated and relayed to the House and to the public many areas where weíve done so.
This particular supplementary ó and this is the important part of the supplementary ó has an increased expenditure for the Public Service Commission and an increased expenditure for the Department of Health and Social Services. Thatís the accountability that the public seeks. Why is that increase there? What is it for? In general debate weíve relayed to the members opposite specific areas. Now if they want more detail, letís go into department-by-department debate, line by line, and the ministers responsible will provide that detail.
As far as getting into a lengthy exercise with officials in departments across this government and using up the time of this House to find finite detail, micro detail, when it comes to lapsed funds for a fiscal year a year past, I can assure you that weíll sit here until doomsday, and it ainít going to happen.
Ms. Duncan: It is truly unfortunate that in this place that is the publicís business that the Finance minister finds it so incredibly tiresome to answer questions from the opposition and incredibly tiresome with respect to lapsed funds. I note that just last evening on the news, there is a significant issue for the Ontario government with unexpended funds with regard to providing programming for autistic children. Money wasnít spent where it was supposed to be spent. It is perfectly within the oppositionís role, within every memberís role in this House, to ask questions about unexpended funds. Whether it was a year ago or last week, it relates to decisions made by the government. I asked a very straightforward question. The information already exists, and that was acknowledged. It goes to Cabinet; it exists. I was asking simply for a percentage, and a ballpark figure was fine. It is unfortunate that the Finance minister finds such questions tiresome as they are his area of responsibility.
I would like the Premier to answer with respect to some unexpended funds. There has been significant under-expenditure. I shouldnít necessarily say ďsignificantĒ. There have been sums that have been changed in the department. Examples: $11,000 in additional sums for grants-in-lieu of property taxes; an additional $65,000 in home owners grant; an additional $183,000 in post secondary student grants ó Iím looking at Schedule B, Mr. Chair, and this is the appropriate place to debate it in general debate ó an additional $105,000. The government is not coming back to this House looking for these additional monies; theyíve been moved within the departments. Where did they come from?
All Iím asking is: was there some other program that was underfunded? For example, the $183,000 for post-secondary student grants, the additional funding required ó absolutely I support the additional money being put there. My question is: at what expense? The Finance minister isnít looking for additional money in this respect. The department had moved money around. He can answer this question in general: has there been a significant program cut in other areas to finance the moving around of these expenditures?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the member opposite should well know that there havenít been significant program cuts at all in this area. Reading the schedule, it clearly presents what is happening here.
Now, this does not in any way put us outside of all the legislative and regulatory regimes and accounting practices we must follow. These types of accountings are done by departments all the time. They have the authority to do that, and that is exactly in this case what they are doing. And the member knows that, being a former Minister of Finance.
This is not an issue of reducing programs, services, process, at all. This is accounting that is done in departments to show clearly to Yukoners where that exact amount was spent, and it says so ó where it was spent, in Schedule B. Maybe the member has fault with it. Iím not sure. But it points out in Schedule B, childcare subsidies, a sum of $105,000, increasing the total voted to date of $2.9 million from $2.8 million. Itís showing the public what took place. The department within its spending authority has allocated another $105,000 for childcare subsidies ó what a noble decision made by the department, helping children and parents who need that assistance.
There are other areas. Take post-secondary student grants. The Department of Education had, within its spending authority, the necessary means to assist post-secondary students with grants ó an increase of $183,000. Whatís wrong with that? I think thatís a good thing, and the department within its management and control of what it must do with the spending authority it has received from this Legislative Assembly has gone ahead and dealt with the issue.
Iím not sure where else the member wants to go with this, but it has nothing to do with the supplementary budget within the spirit and intent of why weíre here dealing with the closing out supplementary budget for the fiscal year 2003-04. This is the type of debate the members opposite are famous for. What happens? It results in this: the members opposite allow multi-millions of dollars to pass this House without one sentence of discussion.
I say to the members opposite: if they were so interested now in this amount of money, where were they, department by department, line by line, during the mains and the debate on the main budget? Iíll tell you where they were: doing the same thing as theyíre doing now ó filling the pages of Hansard.
The government side is not here to do that. Weíre here to deliver programs and services to Yukoners; weíre here to make the quality of life better for Yukoners; weíre here to rebuild a shattered economy thatís the result of the governance of the members opposite; weíre here to prudently manage the finances of the territory. Weíre showing that, budget after budget, since taking office. Weíre here to do what good governments do.
Hopefully at some point during this legislative sitting the members opposite will do what good opposition members should do on behalf of the public, and this is not an example of carrying out that responsibility and obligation to the Yukon public.
The supplementary budget has a requirement ó a necessity ó that we give spending authority to an increased amount of money for the Department of Health and Social Services and the Public Service Commission. Thatís why weíre here to debate the supplementary budget for 2003-04; thatís what the government will do. The rest of this is nonsense.
†Ms. Duncan: I would remind the Finance minister that, as much as he appreciates and enjoys the opportunity to stand for 20 minutes and sit in judgement of everybody elseís questions and their points of view, the fact is that it is the Yukon public who will judge us. Our role as elected members is to come here and ask questions on their behalf and to debate the supplementary budget, to debate all the bills. Our job is to ask the questions as to why governments have moved money and what other departmental program has been affected.
Itís really, really unfortunate that the Finance minister finds it so tiresome to have to answer these questions. We can ó if that is his wish ó ask them for days on end, as we have witnessed his Deputy Premier do. However, it is a very simple question. I am asking the Finance minister for some information as to what other programs were impacted in the department when these monies were moved. The Public Accounts Committee learned earlier this year that Yukon College ó due to a shortage of funds and their own creative accounting practices ó was moving money between operation and maintenance and capital, which is something that has to come back to this Legislature in one form or another. It has to go to Cabinet.
This supplementary and the authority that the Finance minister spoke of ó that authority by departments comes from here; it comes from the Legislature. Every one of us 18 members got here the same way, because we were chosen by Yukon people to be elected, to be here to ask questions on their behalf. Thatís what weíre doing.
If youíre sitting on that side, you have the job to answer them. On this side, it is our role to ask them, whether or not the Finance minister deems it appropriate or terms it ďnonsenseĒ or chooses some other word.
I have asked a very simple, straightforward question, and I will ask him one more time to please provide an answer. Would he please indicate what programs elsewhere in these departments were affected? That is a significant sum of money in some instances. What programs were affected?
He can stand up if he wishes and indicate that he will provide for me a legislative return. I am quite prepared to accept that. It is not an onerous task to provide a legislative return. I am not asking for specific line-by-line, although that is available ó if he could provide it, I would certainly appreciate it.
What other programs were affected by these additional expenditures in these departments?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, same answer. These areas in Schedule B did not impact other programs and services ó not whatsoever. The departments had received spending authority for fiscal year 2003-04. Within their requirements, under the Financial Administration Act, under all the accounting principles that guide us, they expended money accordingly. The two things that require debate and spending authority in this Legislature for this supplementary budget are the overexpenditure, beyond spending authority given to the Department of Health and Social Services and to the Public Service Commission. That is why we are here.
To the memberís question ó and itís a needless point to make, requiring a legislative return on something that we would have to fabricate. It didnít impact any other programs and services. Thatís what we keep saying and weíll keep saying it.
I donít find it tiresome at all. I find it amusing how the members opposite are trying to avert a genuine, constructive debate on where the government is investing taxpayersí money in this territory. They go to great ends to avert that discussion, to avert that debate.
I can tell you why. It is a dangerous place for them to go because shortly, once that debate has begun, shortly into that debate, they will have to come to the realization that they might as well support the government. Thatís a fact. I think, Mr. Chair, that the exercise we are going through right now is to avert that eventuality, should we actually get into a factual discussion and debate on where the government is spending money, or investing money.
Ms. Duncan: The record will reflect that the Premier refused to provide an explanation on that particular moving around of the money by the departments.
The Finance minister said that theyíd have to fabricate the information. Thatís what he said. Thatís not correct. The department is not expending money in one area and expending it in another. They have a very straightforward explanation for it. For example, weíre not going to paint as many schools; weíre going to use the additional money in this particular area. The departments have those explanations; they prepare them and give them to Cabinet. Iíve asked for accountability from Management Board. Iíve asked the Finance minister to provide a similar accountability to the floor of the House. He has refused.
† The Minister of Health and Social Services made some abhorrent comments this summer with respect to social assistance payments and individuals collecting social assistance, and yet the social assistance payments in Whitehorse, according to Schedule B, are down by $154,000. That sort of explanation and discussion is accountable to the Yukon taxpayer and is information theyíd appreciate knowing for the 2003-04 fiscal year. Granted this is past history; I understand that. Thereís no lesser reason for an explanation to be provided on the floor of this House.
Nothing is lost by common courtesy. Iíve asked the Finance minister twice to provide the information. He hasnít done so. Would he be willing to provide any information with respect to the underexpenditures? For example, the childcare operating grants are underexpended by $64,000. Is this a volume situation? There are some very grievous difficulties right now. If itís a volume situation, thatís all Iím looking for. Iím also hearing a tremendous number of complaints from childcare homes and operating societies with respect to the way that spaces and grants are administered, and issues. Is this a result of volume or is there some problem with the granting process?
A simple yes or no would be fine. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, why do we continue going around and around this particular issue about ďthe minister has not responded or answered the memberís questionĒ? I have, and I answered clearly that the areas in Schedule B that departments are accounting for have not impacted other programs and service delivery ó none whatsoever.
Furthermore, Mr. Chair, the public accounts document shows exactly what has transpired during fiscal year 2003-04, and it is the Auditor General who provided that information or at least critiqued it and gave her findings on the financial situation 2003-04. None of the things the member opposite is alluding to surfaced in that audit. My point is: when I say putting resources and personnel and departments to work on something that we have to try and invent because the member is asking for what areas were impacted by Schedule B accountings ó there arenít any areas impacted. So how are we possibly going to respond to the member, other than inventing something for the member? Well, weíre not going to do that. We follow the accounting principles and guidelines that we must. We follow the Financial Administration Act. Weíre here to debate for that very reason ó the obligation we have to follow those legislative frameworks and accounting principles. We are here to debate overexpenditures in two areas: the Department of Health and Social Services and the Public Service Commission. Thatís what weíre obligated to do. Thatís why we have tabled a supplementary budget for the fiscal year 2003-04. There is nothing else to this, Mr. Chair.
So why donít the members opposite engage with the Health department and the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission? There is great detail there that can be provided to them on what is required here, spending authority for those amounts the departments overexpended on from their main budget.
Thatís the best way I can sum this up. Everything else is not something that we can factually deal with.
Ms. Duncan: Itís unfortunate that the Finance minister has taken that position. Information can and should be provided to the House. Itís unfortunate that the minister does not accept that question.
Mr. McRobb: I thought I was done but it occurs to me that thereís a need for a specific request and it may not be in order once we get into the detail of the lines. I would like to request a travel breakdown, by department, for the Executive Office members for last year. So would the Premier indulge us in that request?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As a government, and consistent with last government practices, we provide an accounting of ministerial and MLA travel. Thatís publicly presented on a regular basis, and we all know that one of the highest costs of travel to the taxpayers is the Member for Kluane, and we know that because itís made public.
Thatís another area where Iím not sure why the question is being asked. Itís something we already do for MLA and ministerial travel in and outside of the territory. Itís a document thatís produced and tabled publicly.
Mr. McRobb: If the material is available, as the Premier indicates, then why didnít he just agree to provide it? Obviously thereís more to this than one could assume.
He also said something that was incorrect on the record pertaining to my travel. The Premier is wrong on that front and I invite him to check the annual report. Even if he was right, Mr. Chair, I want to put into context the issue Iím requesting information on.
MLA travel within the MLAís riding is capped at certain levels. Indeed the ridings are different and the circumstances for each member are different. Thereís really not too much wrong with how those budgets are expensed. Itís something we all support and understand as completely legitimate.
I know when the Deputy Premier, the MLA for Klondike, had the highest expenses a few years ago ó and I say ďexpensesĒ without qualifying them as travel expenses, because there are a number of different categories that fall within that heading.
Itís not just travel.† I know the Member for Klondikeís response to the media was, ďThat shows Iím doing my job.Ē Ditto, Mr. Chair. Why does the Premier choose to now make an issue out of it when in the past, I believe his name was at the top of that list. This is a meaningless issue, the one of MLA expenses. If there is any inappropriateness there at all then there are mechanisms in place to deal with it.
What Iím asking for is an expense breakdown for travel by Cabinet members, including staff, for the past fiscal year. This is something that is routinely requested and provided. I am uncertain if it was provided for the last fiscal year, and I would like that information. If the government indeed desires to flow the debate and to make greater progress, then I would suggest it should simply provide that material requested, and we can move on.
Iím not going to move on unless we can get that information from this government, so Iím going to ask again: will the Premier undertake to provide us with the information I have described?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The Member for Kluane openly put on the public record that itís an annual report that is issued. We as a government will not deviate from that very process. We will provide an accounting of ministerial/MLA travel inside the territory and outside the territory.
If the members opposite had back when we debated the mains for 2003-04 and the mains for 2004-05, department by department they could have asked any minister responsible in these areas what those expenditures would be ó projected, mind you, because thatís what budgets are. They project the values. That is why the government is saying to requests like this, ďNo, you had, as members of the opposition, all the time required in this House to debate and flush out that information in accordance with how we must conduct ourselves ó not after the fact.Ē
Again, the members opposite are the ones who have short shrifted themselves in getting information by not conducting and managing their time in debate in the appropriate manner. If they had done so, these kinds of questions could have been brought forward to the ministers responsible with officials right there. They did not do that. Iím sorry, Mr. Chair, but this supplementary budget has two requirements: the overexpenditure in the Department of Health and Social Services and the overexpenditure in the Public Service Commission. That is what the supplementary budget is about. That is what the government is here to debate. Anything else can come forward the next time we table the mains and of course we will provide the member opposite, as we always do in government, the accounting for MLA and ministerial travel in the Yukon and outside the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: I have just a couple of things. First of all, the Premier actually misrepresented what I had said. When I referred to the annual report, itís not the annual report of the expenses for members upstairs, the ministers and staff and so on. The report I was referring to is the one put out by the Yukon Legislative Assembly Office that contains all 18 MLAsí riding travel and Whitehorse expenses. That is completely different. It does raise the question: well, why doesnít the Yukon government provide the same type of annual report for the information Iím seeking now?
Thatís a very good question, Mr. Chair, because it seems itís asked annually anyway: why doesnít the Yukon government undertake a commitment right now to put out an annual report for its travel and table it in this House? Will the Premier undertake to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I will undertake to do this: why donít the members opposite in debating a budget ask that question of the department? What is that departmentís projected travel cost for the preceding fiscal year? Mr. Chair, letís get serious.
This supplementary budget has nothing to do with what the member opposite is talking about. This has two things to deal with, and I have relayed them over and over and over. That is what weíre here to debate. Now the members opposite, when we table the budget for 2005-06, may be well served with this very friendly advice being passed on to them: manage your time accordingly, bring forward the necessary questions in budget debate that will reflect what they claim is the publicís demand and the requirement that the public wants this information.
And, Mr. Chair, there is no need to go beyond where weíre at today in tabling public reports and the Auditor Generalís final accountings and the budget documents, and the list goes on and on. Weíre tabling documents in this House continually, disseminating information for the Yukon public. So the members opposite have a choice to make: conduct themselves accordingly, as opposition members in debating budgets and legislative bills, or continue on this track. But this does not produce a thing, because the government is ahead of them on these matters. We already produce that kind of information, and I think it is reflective of where weíre at today in this debate on how the opposition conducts itself, and it is unfortunate because there is a better way. And the government will stick to that better way. We will not succumb to this kind of debate. We will continue to press home the point that there are all kinds of avenues for the members opposite to solicit that information in the appropriate manner.
Chair: Order please.
We have reached our customary time for a break. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and weíll continue on with general debate.
Mr. McRobb: During the break, I had the opportunity to go outside for a bit of fresh air and that was a good experience, considering what we were going through in here prior to the break. It also gave me the opportunity to reflect on matters. After coming back inside, I saw the sign on our office that said ďOffice of the Official OppositionĒ and I took things back to the starting point.
Now I realize, more than ever, that we do indeed have a mandate from Yukoners and a purpose. The mandate and the purpose lead to the objective of trying to hold this government accountable. As part of that purpose and objective, we are granted full flexibility within parliamentary rules to proceed as we best see fit.
Mr. Chair, that means that if we want to ask questions on a certain matter, then we are afforded that right. If we want to take a little more time in some areas rather than others, then we are afforded that right.
†Mr. Chair, when it comes to deciding the length of sitting days, that is spelled out in the House rules, as per the agreement, and we are afforded that right.
Reflecting on the words of the Premier, I have come to the judgement that he does not believe in the rights afforded to the opposition parties. That is why he was so critical of the approach taken by the opposition parties and spoke with a tone that clearly demonstrated his dislike for being held accountable.
Is that allowed in here? Well, yes, it is. Unfortunately there is nothing in the House rules to prevent the government of the day and the Premier from adopting an approach that is quite critical of the rights of the opposition members.
Perhaps in some future assembly those rules will be improved to disallow such practice and to focus instead on a more productive assembly ó one that recognizes the rights of everyone and one that focuses more on achieving product.
Mr. Chair, the questions we asked pertained to the delivery of product, and the answer was a clear ďnoĒ. The Premier chose to refuse our requests. Despite his rhetoric that he delivers, there is no delivery in the case of the material requested by the opposition.
Once again we hear the rhetoric about how good the government is and how it delivers yet, in practice, we see something quite different. It returns my memory to last week when the question was put to the Premier and his colleagues about the words they use in promoting themselves versus the action taken by the government to achieve the meaning of those words.
And we see another example that demonstrates the examples given before, and that raises the question: why is the government withholding information of a simple variety from the opposition? Is there something there the government doesnít want us to see? Well, what is it? That could be the obvious conclusion. Why doesnít the government provide information on its travel, for instance? Instead, the Premier gets up, and he is quite critical of our rights and takes the discussion through the hoops and hurdles, but at the end of the day, the answer is no. So I donít think itís something that Yukoners appreciate nor support, and that is refusal of their government to provide very simple, straightforward information that is of importance to the opposition and its role of holding the government to account for the public.
So, Mr. Chair, why do they do it? Why do they do it if the public doesnít support it? Well, I guess, if there were an election on it, the government could be on the short end of the stick ó if there were election just on that issue. But our system does not work in that way. Our elections come every three-and-a-half or four years or, in the case of the past Liberal government, two-and-a-half years, and there are many, many issues the voters consider before casting their ballots. Certainly the level of accountability and the achievement of government on how it meets the test of accountability is one of them, but itís not the only one. I wish it would be higher. I wish it would mean more than it does. As a former public advocate on issues, Iíve spent a lot of time thinking of the importance of accountability.
I think the government needs to take it more seriously. I think the public recognizes that accountability is important and, given the chance for greater awareness, would probably demonstrate that it indeed is worthy of higher priority.
Obviously it is important. It was important to the architects of the Yukon Party election campaign material, whomever or whatever they may be. The Yukon Party made a big splash over the need to be accountable. I recall that. They talked about good governance and so on. I know the past history of the two members of the Yukon Party who served in opposition quite well, and I recall how they went on at length on issues related to the accountability of the previous government, and before that, the Member for Klondike on how he and his colleagues went on at length on the previous NDP government.
And accountability was always an important tenet of democracy, and I believe it still is. If the Premier doesnít think so, I invite him to stand up and say so clearly on the record. Letís put it out there. Letís find out what his position is. Letís remove all of the hype and hysteria that could be contained in words that surround his answer. Letís just get to the bottom of it. Does he not support it, or does he?
While heís at it, Mr. Chair, he can think about dispensing with his criticism of the opposition and how it best sees its job in this Legislature, because I think the opposition is doing one heck of a good job in this sitting. For instance, when it comes to Question Period, I know there is zero chance that weíre going to run dry on questions in this sitting ó absolutely zero chance of that happening.
As a matter of fact, thereís a lot of competition for questions and this pertains back to accountability and the supplementary budget before us ó and we are in general debate. I just want to reconnect with the subject matter at hand to ease your tensions and re-establish the relevancy of my discussion.
Accountability is indeed important to Yukoners and this Premier ought to realize that. He was elected in part because of the tough stand the Yukon Party took on accountability. Why is the Premier now suddenly such an opponent of accountability? Why does he get up and argue and criticize and try to diminish the importance of the opposition instead of saying something simple like, ďSure, I can provide thatĒ or ďSure, I can give you that informationĒ or ďI donít have that right now, but weíll provide a legislative return next week. Let me know how that works out. Is that satisfactory?Ē
We havenít heard answers like that for years in this Legislature. As a matter of fact, if there was a tally done on the number of legislative returns from this government, I am positive it would be the lowest number ever in any Yukon government ó the lowest number ever. You can ask yourself why that is, and the answer ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: The Minister of Education says itís because we answer everything. Excuse me, well, maybe itís time to go outside again for a laugh this time, Mr. Chair.
This government does the opposite. It answers no questions. As a matter of fact, Iíll give it full marks for evading the questions, but letís not glorify that achievement too much because, again, we have to sometimes reground with the interests of Yukoners. Yes, itís too easy to get a little carried away in here and get involved in the gamesmanship and try to politically do up one on somebody else. Letís admit that; it does happen from time to time.
But, Mr. Chair, we have to reconnect with reality and the people who put us here and the reason why we are here. If the government doesnít want to be held accountable then maybe it should introduce a bill to, who knows, maybe rubberstamp the legislative process. Thatís what itís coming to, Mr. Chair ó thatís what itís coming to.
The Premier went on to say that we could have had more time in the spring sitting. Well, sure, we could have had an extra 10 days. But, you know what, it wouldnít have achieved anything because this government was in the mode of just shutting down any information requests, not answering questions and belabouring issues at length. They would talk for 20 minutes about everything under the sun not pertinent to the question. We wouldnít have gone anywhere in 10 more days.
Besides, this government said it would have a full legislative line-up for the fall sitting. Well, weíre here, Mr. Chair; what does it have? Well, itís embarrassing because the table is empty. This government has very little in the way of legislation on the table. Here we are having to really string things out; otherwise, this place could shut down before its halfway mark.
This government has time to answer questions now but they are still not doing it. Instead, they are in attack mode. Well, isnít that interesting. Isnít that interesting ó attack mode.
Here we are at the two-year mark. You would figure this government would have accepted its role of governing in the territory and its role and responsibility to be part of an accountable government ó and that means handing over information requests that are of a reasonable nature. Thatís what that means. Instead, we have the captain at the wheel of the good ship Yukon Party, and he is refusing a request of a very simple nature, such as making an annual report for Cabinet travel expenses an automatic report. It is common information that is routinely provided upon request. Well, my question was: would the government provide it automatically in an annual report?
Well, it had the money here in this budget to do it. We see right here that the Executive Council Office lapsed nearly $1.7 million last year. Thatís probably where these funds could have come from.
And how much would it cost? Mr. Chair, I can see it as costing maybe $1,000 or $2,000 to put out something like this. Itís not expensive. And indeed itís not in the public interest. You know, you see lots of other things in the papers. In almost every issue, there are big pictures of Cabinet ministers announcing something or other that is borderline political advertising. That is paid for by the Yukon taxpayer, Mr. Chair, and those ads donít come cheaply. Theyíre probably $500 a shot for one of those ads, and theyíre in both newspapers, and they usually run three or four issues ó right there for one ad, we could have such an annual report on Cabinet travel expenses paid for. So I donít think the government is being reasonable by rejecting very reasonable requests such as this. And again, it demonstrates the dark side of this Yukon Party government. It wants to remain in the dark and it wants to keep people in the dark because it is not willing to allow us to shed some light on material we request, that we believe is in the public interest and we believe helps to uphold the principle of public accountability.
Now, Mr. Chair, Iíve already laid out how the government is contradicting its own pledge to the people, which took place in October 2002, about how it would be accountable, about how it would work with all members in this Assembly and blah, blah, blah, Mr. Chair. Iíd probably read from the platform, but really that would be wasting the time of this Assembly and I certainly wouldnít want to do that.
But I do have the Premierís attention and I have responded to a few of his comments that he has put on the record, and I would invite him to do a little less criticizing and be a little more productive. Once again, I am going to ask if he would undertake to formalize and establish an annual report of Cabinet expenses that includes staff, ministers, maybe backbenchers if they go to events such as PNWER ó thatís Pacific Northwest Economic Region.
That would include all those numbers rolled up into an annual report. Letís leave it at that. Would the Premier undertake to fund that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If I may deal with the matter of adminisĖtrivia for the moment, thanks to word.net we have determined that the verb ďtwaddleĒ means to speak about unimportant matters. The point being, Mr. Chair, that weíve spent the better part of Committee of the Whole, which was supposed to be a debate on a supplementary budget that had increases for the Department of Health and Social Services and for the Public Service Commission for the fiscal year 2003-04, and we have not had any discussion in that regard.
The member talks about accountability. We as the government are holding the opposition benches accountable for how theyíve conducted themselves in debate, especially around budgets. We donít have to go down that road again. Itís in the pages of Hansard for anyone in the public to view and make their own determination or draw their own conclusion.
The Member for Kluane talks about the legislative agenda being embarrassing. Letís begin with the list of legislation thatís on the docket here. Is the member saying that Act to Amend the Yukon Oil and Gas Act is embarrassing when it reconciles YOGA with the new Yukon Act? Thatís embarrassing to the official opposition. To the government side, itís a requirement and an obligation and thatís why the bill is here. It also makes YOGA more consistent with some oil and gas regulatory provisions ó a little slip-up by past governments. The amendments here today are reflecting exactly the needs and the obligations and requirements that any government must be accountable for ó thatís accountability ó and reflects more appropriately current administrative practices under the legislation.
Again, the amendment to this legislation that is brought forward is being accountable to the things that we must do. There we have Bill No. 46; to the official opposition this is an embarrassing thing ó amending the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, to improve it to reflect the changes in the Yukon Act to be accountable to the Yukon public.
The government side is very accountable. We presented legislation and budgets that reflect that. The opposition, however ó their level of accountability is questionable considering the debate they bring forward.
Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act ó this is an interesting one because the official opposition finds this embarrassing. It is legislation to establish two revolving funds. One of the funds is the wildland fire suppression revolving fund. Isnít that interesting that the official opposition would find the establishment of a wildland fire suppression fund ongoing into out years as an embarrassment. This government is being accountable to the Yukon public when it comes to wildfire. Weíve established a piece of legislation that creates a fund that allows us to fight wildfire accordingly. Thatís being accountable. The members opposite, in their view of accountability to the public, call it an embarrassment. Thatís Bill No. 47.
Letís look into Bill No. 48, Act to Amend the Elections Act. The main changes ó and the members opposite may find this interesting, maybe not so embarrassing, but itís certainly being accountable. The purpose of the bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, which were contained in a report tabled in the Legislative Assembly in November 2003 ó another one of these reports that we table in this House for the oppositionís critique and review and indeed the publicís. But the member opposite, the Member for Kluane, representing the official opposition, finds it embarrassing. I hope the Chief Electoral Officer will reflect on that when he looks at the position that the New Democrats take in this House.
The main changes to this piece of legislation give all prisoners the right to vote. Do the members opposite find fault with that? Is that an embarrassment to the official opposition ó to allow proxy voting for electors who do not have road access to polling stations or regular postal service? The Member for Kluane finds this embarrassing. I ask you, Mr. Chair, what gives when it comes to accountability?
This side of the House has brought forward a piece of legislation to be accountable to the Yukon public. The members opposite say itís an embarrassment to this House. Who is accountable in this matter? Permitting all electors to vote by special ballot is an embarrassment to the official opposition. The government side, by tabling these amendments, is being accountable to the Yukon public.
Ensure better understanding and compliance with the election financing provisions in part 6 of the act ó another area that the Member for Kluane finds embarrassing. However, we are being accountable to the Yukon public with these amendments.
Improve miscellaneous administrative procedures ó another area of accountability by amending the Elections Act.
Correct provisions of the Legislative Assembly Act and the Education Act, which relate to the Elections Act ó more accountability, by virtue of the fact that we have brought forward legislation to certainly address areas that we are accountable for when it comes to the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer. The government side brings forward legislation to deal with the issues; the official opposition finds these recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer an embarrassment. Maybe they find the Chief Electoral Officer an embarrassment to the territory.
Mr. Chair, letís go on to Bill No. 49, Act to Amend the Legal Profession Act. Iím sure the members opposite would find this embarrassing, but the bill provides a modern definition of the practice of law. Interestingly enough, we here are legislators. We create or pass laws in this House. The official opposition finds that embarrassing. The government side doesnít. We find it being accountable to the Yukon public.
It goes on to make a number of amendments that improve the operations of the Law Society and protects the public interest. Wow, imagine that: the public interest, Mr. Chair. This is something very special: a government being accountable to the public interest.
Well, the members of the official opposition find this an embarrassment. Being accountable to the public interest is an embarrassment in the eyes of the official opposition.
By reinforcing the societyís commitment to the public interest and by providing an enhanced special fund ó this is accountability to the public. The members opposite, in their view of being accountable, are embarrassed by this type of legislation that reflects the public interest.
Letís go on to the next bill: Bill No. 50, Act to Amend the Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust Act. Now, Iím sure that the member did not mean he was embarrassed by this one, but the bill strengthens the crime prevention and victim services trust and improves the trustís operation. This is a piece of legislation, Mr. Chair, that, in being accountable to the Yukon public, is enhancing the governmentís ability to address the issues of victims.
The members opposite say this is an embarrassment. The NDP in this territory call the needs of victims and the legislation that is governing the needs of victims ó they find that an embarrassment. Not the government side: we find it being accountable to the Yukon public, especially in areas of those in need. In this case, the legislation deals with victims ó accountability from the government side; an embarrassment from the opposition side.
Letís go on with Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. Again, this is an embarrassment to the members opposite. This is being accountable to the public ó the government being accountable to the public. Let me point out as a reminder that the Member for Kluane stood on his feet for 20 long minutes here explaining ó explaining ó to the public through this Legislative Assembly that the government was not accountable. Well, Mr. Chair, these are the facts and this is the evidence. We have brought forward legislation that is being accountable to the public. The opposition finds it an embarrassment. They do not like amending legislation because itís embarrassing. They donít like being accountable to the Yukon public because itís embarrassing.
The amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act ó the act deals with the impoundment of vehicles and the release of impounded vehicles and waiting periods for driving a vehicle with an ignition interlock device. My goodness, the members opposite find that embarrassing.
Well, we find that being accountable to the Yukon public, and we do listen to the Yukon public. Securing loads on vehicles ó what a noble thought. How can that not be accountable to the Yukon public? We as a government donít want things falling off vehicles; we want them secured. We donít want people hurt. We donít want accidents created because something falls off a vehicle. Weíre being accountable for the safety of the Yukon public. The opposition, the NDP, is embarrassed by being accountable in this area. Operating electric bicycles, imposing a penalty for driving to elude the police ó my goodness, Mr. Chair, eluding the police carries a penalty now under this legislation. That is an embarrassment to the official opposition. To us, the government side, it is being accountable to our public. And the list goes on.
Another piece of legislation on the dock in this sitting that the members opposite find embarrassing is Act to Amend the Insurance Act. Letís talk about this particular piece of legislation. This is to amend the Insurance Act, which will enable the registration of reciprocal exchange agreements created in the Yukon by Yukon municipalities and approved by the superintendent of insurance. This amendment will provide municipalities with insurance options they do not currently have available to them. Mr. Chair, imagine that ó providing more options to municipalities so that they can get insurance. Government being accountable to its municipalities, official opposition led by the Member for Kluane embarrassed by that accountability ó my goodness, Mr. Chair, talk about twaddle.
Mr. Chair, Act to Amend the Income Tax Act ó this is another one. This act will decrease the small business corporate income tax rate from six percent to four percent, effective January 1, and increase the small business deduction limit from $300,000 to $400,000. Now, Mr. Chair, the Member for Kluane calls this an embarrassment. This is something that the government has brought forward, a piece of legislation to assist small business in this territory with a tax break. They find fault with that; they find it embarrassing. We find it being accountable to the small business operators of this territory.
Now if the Member for Kluane wants to continue speaking about what we call by definition unimportant matters, he may do so. In regard to the memberís question, we provide an annual report on ministerial and MLA travel always. Consistently, that has been done by government. Secondly, when it comes to accountability, the members opposite would have been a lot more accountable during the debate of any budget in this House by asking the questions of the appropriate minister instead of wasting the time of this House in general debate. The point has been made far too often. Thereís the difference. I have laid out accountability by the governmentís side. The opposition has laid out their position. Theyíre embarrassed by accountability. What a shame.
Chair: Before debate continues, the Chair would just like to take a moment to remind members that, according to Standing Order 42(2), speeches in Committee of the Whole shall be strictly relevant to the item or clause under consideration. The matter before the Committee today is Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and I would encourage members to focus their debate on the matter at hand. The Chair has given a significant amount of latitude to members today; however, I am becoming quite concerned about the lack of decorum in the Assembly this afternoon. Please continue.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Iím concerned, too, because the tone of the Premierís rant is very disturbing. I believe itís creating an unhealthy atmosphere in this Legislature and to anybody who may be listening to it. Certainly we can improve the debate in this Legislature. I want an opportunity to respond to the issues raised by the Premier because, as we all know, he would never discuss anything thatís outside the parameters of appropriate discussion. So, going by his template, I wish an opportunity to respond to some of the matters.
He went on at length to defend his housekeeping bills that are on the table in this sitting. I donít wish to review those housekeeping bills in such detail. I wish to respond to the overall accusation that he put on the floor. What he accused me of saying and doing was criticizing each of the bills on the Order Paper as being embarrassing. Is that in fact accurate? I want to be clear: that is not an accurate representation by any means.
I did use the term ďembarrassingĒ but it was not to describe any particular bill. It was to describe the workload of this governmentís agenda it has tabled in this fall sitting. There is a huge difference; yet the Premier chose to take the low road and go down and give a rant that ó
Chair: † The Chair is duty bound to remind members of the Standing Order and to remind members that the matter under discussion now is Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04. We are in general debate on this and I would ask members to discuss the bill before the Assembly.
Mr. McRobb: I am responding to comments made by the Premier and I believe it is my right to do so.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: I am disturbed by the comments from the Member for Kluane. I believe I just heard him challenge the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Fairclough, on the point of order.
Mr. Fairclough: I donít believe there is a challenge at all. The member was just explaining that the Premier did have an opportunity to answer a question asked by the Member for Kluane. He didnít do that. Instead he went on a different road and I think in past practice we were always able to rebut what has been said by the other side. Weíre not varying outside of past practices. There is no point of order.
Chair: The Chair takes notice of a comment that a member made in discussing this point of order, and that was ďveered off the road.Ē The Chair is duty bound to ensure that members get back on track. Again, I would like to remind members that the matter before the Committee now is Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
A considerable amount of latitude has been given to members on both sides in discussing this, and I am encouraging members to get back on track and to stay on track.
I find there is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb, you have the floor.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, there are a few things the Premier put on record that I want to rebut. Recognizing your ruling, Iíll try to do the best I can. But I also recognize the right to freedom of speech in this Yukon Assembly, and I know that you also uphold such rights. We are given latitude in this Assembly to express ourselves within the parameters of the rules and established practice.
We are in a general debate of the supplementary budget, and itís my understanding that there is very little in the way of constraint when it comes to general debate on a bill that encompasses virtually every department and agency within the Yukon governmentís control.
This can involve questions about government policy, questions about government travel, information requests, or questions about the approach taken by government in practically anything it does. There is virtually open sky when it comes to debating issues in this bill. Thatís my understanding.
I am going to proceed as I understand it. Hopefully our understandings will not conflict, and the government can simply be very productive in its response by agreeing to provide the simple information we request.
The discussion we are having right now seems to pertain to the word ďembarrassingĒ, which the Premier took out of context, and it all stemmed from a material request I made about the travel expenses of this government, which he refused. He rejected my request. From there, I went on to talk about accountability, responsibility, and the need for us all to work cooperatively. Of course, to substantiate that discussion, I brought in the promises made by this government at election time and bolstered that up with a few examples of what it promised the people to get elected and what it is doing now, which breaks those same promises.
This is a case where we are granted more time than we usually have to debate these matters, and we had better get used to it in this fall sitting because this governmentís workload is embarrassingly small in terms of usual workloads for any sitting. Thatís all part of the mix when it comes to the work of government: looking at a bill like this.
The Premier just put on record a few minutes ago ó he levied more criticism at the official opposition, and he said that weíre entitled to ask the appropriate ministers the questions. Well, that theoretically may be true, but in practice it isnít. The reason is that the only time we are permitted to ask questions of ministers about any subject is during Question Period.
Essentially we are provided no other opportunity to ask any questions about everything. And I see here a line item I have already identified, line 22, Yukon Development Corporation, as being such a line.
Now, I can ask the minister a question related to Yukon Development Corporation in Question Period, but Iím guaranteed nothing productive in response. We have come to know this government after two years ó two long years, as many Yukoners would describe it ó and we acknowledge its behaviour defaults commonly to a very nature where it does not provide an answer to the question asked. Mr. Chair, here is one example: a question about the appointment of a certain person as a chair of Yukon Energy Corporation that I asked. And the substitute minister got up and read a briefing note on the virtues of appointing that person. But my questions were not answered. That is the very example this Premier is holding up ó how the opposition has all these opportunities. Well, this, Mr. Chair, is the only opportunity we have to ask questions of Yukon Development Corporation in this whole sitting, right now.
Now, I want to take you back to the last sitting last spring. Was there an opportunity there? No, because this government dragged its feet in responding to our questions to avoid getting through the budget. Yes, itís true ó not the entire budget was scrutinized because the official opposition does not have complete control over the timetable and schedule in this Legislature.
It takes two to get there or, in this case, three if we include the third party. The government dragged its feet. The time ran out. We had to pass it and vote on the whole bill to whatever point it reached in its evaluation by the opposition.
So that raises the priority at this opportunity to ask questions in certain departments because it has been a long time since that opportunity has been available to anybody in this Legislature. In terms of the Yukon Development Corporation, it has been more than a year to ask the questions to the minister.
Letís also put something else on record about how this sitting differs from previous sittings. We have time now to re-ask questions that are unanswered. So, I want to go back to a familiar question to the minister and ask for about the third or fourth time about the travel, once Iím finished here. And we may even have to continue tomorrow or Thursday or next week with the same question, but you know, Mr. Chair, weíre not pressured this sitting into getting to the bottom of these types of questions. I want to put all the ministers over there on notice that, when we get to your department, we now have time to ask questions and if you want to filibuster answers or twaddle on and on, okay, we will re-ask the question. There will be time in this sitting. So we want to serve notice right now. This sitting is a much different opportunity.
Now, of course, the government could try to be more cooperative and maybe deal with Bill No. 107, Democratic Reform Act, toward the end of the sitting, but thatís another matter. Now, on this bill, the minister went on and on and on defending these housekeeping bills and what have you, and talking about the lapses as if weíre not allowed to ask questions on lapses. But we are allowed to ask questions on lapses and itís a very important part of this bill before us.
Itís not just about the extra spending in health ó and we do have questions about that. A lot of this has to do with what the government didnít spend money on because thatís just as telling as what it does spend money on. We have the right to ask questions about it. And we will. The Premier, if he would just humble himself a bit down to the level where he can just agree to provide information, then we can move on.
We all had a good break over the summer. Judging by the number of vehicles out in the parking lot, I know the ministers must have had a good summer off. But now is the time when they should start earning their paycheque and start to produce, and satisfy the questions and requests made to it.
I want to relate one little experience from last summer that I enjoyed. I was walking on the Dezadeash Trail, which is within the community of Haines Junction. Itís a beautiful little trail; it takes about half an hour, an hour to walk ó maybe longer if there is something of interest. Out of nowhere jumped this mother grouse on the pathway in front of us.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: I believe you ruled that under Standing Order 42(2), speeches in Committee of the Whole should be strictly relevant to the item or clause under consideration. Weíve been listening to several minutes of the Member for Kluane going on about other pieces of legislation, past sessions of the House, and now heís talking about a grouse springing up in front of him. I would suggest that he is rambling and ask you to rule accordingly.
Chair: The Chair is prepared to rule. There is no point of order. However, the Chair anxiously awaits the member linking the story to Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Mr. McRobb: Now, I know that talking about wildlife is not of much concern to the Member for Lake Laberge, who prefers UFOs under the lake and F-17s, but I want to bring him back to nature.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane is in contravention of Standing Order 19(g) by imputing false or unavowed motives to me in suggesting that I have a preference for unidentified flying objects and is also in contravention of Standing Order 19(i) in using insulting language.
Chair: There is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb: You know, I would invite that member to maybe get back to nature and go for a walk himself from time to time.
Anyway, this mother grouse came out on the pathway in front of us. It was making all kinds of noises, and it had its chest puffed out and its feathers were ó it made it look like a turkey, actually. It was that big. We realized instantly what it was trying to do.
The Premierís performance this afternoon reminded me of that experience.
Chair: The member is being insulting and I would ask the member to remember the decorum of our Assembly and not to equate any member with a ruffled grouse.
Mr. McRobb: Obviously we have a lot to grouse about in this Assembly, and we do have a lot of requests to make of this government. Itís time for the Premier to deliver, so once again I would like to ask him if he would deliver on our request for an annual report on Cabinet travel.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I canít even count the number of times we have responded to that question. I think itís reflective of how the opposition intends to conduct itself in debate.
We do table a report that is made very public on the travel for Cabinet and ministers, and on the travel for MLAs. Itís not an unusual circumstance whatsoever.
The debate here should be centred around a supplementary budget for the fiscal year 2003-04. We have answered every question on an ongoing basis ó whether it be travel, whether it be lapsed funds ó clearly providing the members opposite the issue around lapsed funds, how historically on the O&M front these are no different from past governments; lapsing expenditures, projected numbers and figures in the mains that did not get fully expended, so we report them as being lapsed. Thatís being accountable to the public, showing that. Of course, the New Democrats would probably have found a way to spend that money and probably not always in accordance with the Financial Administration Act.
Thatís why weíve had qualified audits in the past.
Chair: The Chair is very uncomfortable with the member insinuating that an opposition party would behave in a manner that contravenes the Financial Administration Act.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, letís put it this way: past governments have received qualified audits in this territory. Itís a well-known fact. It has been present through public accounts, and the Auditor General has been very clear about that.
This supplementary budget obviously follows accounting principles and the guidelines that we must follow. We have presented it. We are here to debate it. The ministers are ready to debate their respective areas of authority and responsibility, and weíre awaiting the opposition to get there.
Unfortunately, this afternoon we spent a great deal of time stick-handling around any real substance and have gotten into a discussion that reflects some unknown qualities in terms of what it is weíre supposed to be doing here. So, at the end of the day, I think what we have to do is get back to basics. The basics are that we have responded already to the same questions that the members opposite have asked. The answers have been forthcoming. The answers are something that members opposite obviously have not been receptive to. Now letís just recap: when it comes to travel, we have responded consistently and continually that the report that the member seeks is a report that is already provided.
Cabinet travel and ministerial travel is provided publicly. In fact, it will wind up in the pages of the newspaper, clearly laying out to the public beyond this Legislative Assembly and the debate and the pages of Hansard that are created ó the amounts and the cost of the travel. Weíve talked about the lapsed funds; clearly responded to the questions; questions, for example, about what programs got reduced, or what programs didnít get delivered. None of these things took place. We explained that.
The lapsed funds, historically, are consistent at these levels. Budgets are the projected amount of money required and there are times during a fiscal year when we get to the end of it and do the final accounting when certain expenditures were not required in full, considering the amount that was projected to be expended. That is standard. What weíve done is presented them in a supplementary budget.
It is being accountable to the public by showing that, showing the public that we have lapsed these monies.
Secondly, on Schedule B, the members have asked consistently what programs were not delivered by money being expended elsewhere, and we explained, firstly, that the departments had spending authority for X amount of dollars. There were requirements within the department based on demonstrated need to expend money in other areas, but within the guidelines of the Financial Administration Act, within accounting principles and the requirements that we must follow. No other program was diminished.
Again, itís the same answer. No other program was diminished. No program was ceased. No program or service delivery to Yukoners suffered ó quite the contrary. There have been increases in areas for program service and delivery.
I point out again: are the members interested in the fact that post-secondary student grants were increased?
I think they should be interested in that fact. That possibly means that more students have taken up post-secondary education out of the territory. I find that to be a very good thing. Thatís all about the accountability: a government has to invest in the education of its young.
Mr. Chair, the opposition somehow thinks that that expenditure for post-secondary student grants came at a cost to another program. No, it didnít. It did not come at a cost to another program whatsoever. And the same holds true for other areas, like childcare subsidies.
So the long and the short of it is that we are here to debate what is an increased amount of spending in two departments that need spending authority, and that is what the supplementary budget is all about. Weíve articulated to the members opposite where those areas are. The members can choose to debate the Minister of Health and Social Services or not.
But if they donít get to department-by-department debate, that may never happen.
General debate is something that, if we really think about it, requires a bit of discipline from the opposition ó to recognize that the Dezadeash Trail and ruffled grouse donít have a lot to do with the needs of people needing surgery in outside hospitals. Thatís in the supplementary budget. The ruffled grouse analogy has nothing to do with employees for whom, in this fiscal year 2003-04, we are required to book more money on their behalf. These are areas that debate should take place on, and thatís simply not happening here with the members opposite. I would ask, ďWhy?Ē Why would the members opposite not be interested in debating those? Why would the members opposite be fixated on things that we responded to, but theyíre not happy and not receptive to the fact that there have been no program cuts, there has been no loss of service delivery because of lapsed funds. There is a report tabled annually. In fact, I think itís more than annually. But as I said, it will show up in the paper.
We should be getting on with talking about children in care and out-of-territory doctor and hospital claims. That is within the context of this supplementary budget, not ruffled grouse and not all the other areas that the Member for Kluane deviated into. Itís about the budget.
Itís important to recognize that through the fiscal year of 2003-04, even in the face of what is the second-largest budget in the history of the Yukon, that fiscal year, the Minister of Health and Social Services found it necessary to request spending authority of an increased amount for the department of $416,000 to cover costs for children in care and to cover out-of-territory doctor and hospital claims.
That is what is in the supplementary budget. Thatís the very essence of the supplementary budget. Thatís what the debate should be centred on.
Yes, the members opposite can ask questions, and we have answered their questions. The issue here, Mr. Chair, is theyíve only asked a question over and over and over again. They havenít delved into detail on Health and Social Services or the Public Service Commission. Theyíve asked the same question over and over. The government side has responded with the same answer over and over.
Now, the second area that is relevant to the budget debate ó the supplementary budget closing out fiscal year 2003-04 ó is the Public Service Commission, and it is asking this House to provide an increased spending authority to the Public Service Commission of some $403,000. And where is it going? Well, I will repeat myself at the risk of being repetitive to the members opposite that the cost for the employer portion of retirees is reflected here. Extended health care is reflected here. Recruitment is reflected here. Workersí compensation health and safety premiums are reflected here, and the actuarial adjustments to employee leave and termination benefits are reflected here ó increases to spending authority.
The debate should centre around these areas of increases. I would find it somewhat disturbing if the members opposite had no interest in why those increases had to come forward, instead of their fixation on areas of little interest to the public, because the public is quite capable of picking up a budget document and reflecting on that.
I think itís important also that we understand that, when it comes to O&M lapses and capital lapses, there is a distinct difference. Capital lapses can very much be involved with projects that are ongoing into a subsequent fiscal year. That only stands to reason. When you start building a building in fiscal year 2003-04, it may very well come to pass that that building will not be finished until 2004-05.
That is why we have lapsed funds. But if the members opposite care to debate in a constructive way, in a way that they are accountable to debate, they would have picked that up in debating the mains in 2004-05. But we didnít get to debate the mains in any great detail because the members opposite spent all their time on general debate talking about ruffled grouse.
The point Iím making, Mr. Chair, is ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, I donít want to ruffle the Premierís feathers but there is no such thing as a ruffled grouse. Itís a ruffed grouse. I would also point out that it wasnít even a ruffed grouse that popped out in front of us ó it was a spruce grouse. So I think the record needs to be corrected.
Chair: There is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The attempt at a point of order reflects exactly the kind of debate that the members opposite, the official opposition, intends to conduct.
I was merely making points that it is time to move on. Bill No. 11 is a very short bill. It has two areas of importance, and those are the increased expenditures required for two departments.†
The ministers are ready to debate that in the greatest of detail. I am sure that the members opposite would wish to move there.
Considering the time, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Fentie that we report progress on Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation act, 2003-04.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 11, Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.