††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Monday, November 22, 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.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Petition No. 5 ó received
†Clerk: Mr. Speaker, and hon. Members of the Assembly, I have had the honour to review a petition, being Petition No. 5 of the First Session of the 31st Legislative Assembly, as presented by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin on November 18, 2004.
It was found when this petition was sent to the Table that two versions of it had been provided. The first is that read to the House by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. The second varies from the first in a manner that is significant but not sufficient to affect the validity of the petition.
Petition No. 5 therefore meets the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
The Executive Council response made pursuant to Standing Order 67 should be to the version of the petition read to the House by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin.
Speaker: Petition No. 5 is accordingly deemed to be read and received.
Are there any petitions to be presented?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† †Prescription drug abuse
†Mr. McRobb: According to information from Health Canada, there has been a 50-percent jump in paid drug prescriptions in some Yukon communities. For example, in Watson Lake there has been a 70-percent jump in Tylenol 3 prescriptions and a 250-percent jump in prescriptions for Ativan, a muscle relaxant. This abuse of our health care system is expensive. Health Canada reports a 25-percent increase in drug payments in our territory.
A month ago I introduced a motion in this House urging the Yukon government to demonstrate leadership by addressing the need for an effective, territory-wide computer system for tracking prescriptions. The president of the Yukon Medical Association has called upon this government to introduce a program, such as B.C.ís PharmaNet, before the end of this year.
Will the minister now undertake to satisfy this very reasonable request?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This type of initiative is currently underway.
Mr. McRobb: Maybe we can agree on something: we know this is a serious drug problem. Prescription drugs are being resold on the streets of Watson Lake, Whitehorse and other communities. Prescription abuse is an urgent problem contributing to our territoryís drug problem causing deaths, injuries and other hardships. This situation has gotten out of control. Double doctoring, faked loss prescriptions, stolen prescriptions from elders and others are all contributing to the problem. It is time to get a handle on it.
This government has the ability to curtail this abuse by setting up a computer system to track prescriptions. When asked about this matter recently the minister said he couldnít remember what his department had found out about a tracking system and then he said a tracking system was not in the works. We might be hearing something different today. When might we expect this minister to announce a new computer prescription tracking system for the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I indicated to the member opposite, this type of tracking system is being examined in a more advanced format than the current system, which tracks some of the restricted drugs by way of triple-form prescriptions. No matter how involved the government gets, no matter how sophisticated the computer system becomes, it will not address the issues of resale, abuse, double doctoring to the degree the member opposite is suggesting or theft of prescriptions.
Mr. McRobb: I suppose a complete 100-percent solution could be unattainable, but we know B.C.ís PharmaNet program is successful. It has been underway for five years now, and the Yukon Medical Association is calling for the same thing in the Yukon.
Now, in a radio news report this morning, the doctor in Watson Lake not only supported PharmaNet, he wanted more to address the problem. He would like to see more than just a patientís drug information available on-line. He would like to see broader information available on patients, including the results of lab tests. What is this minister going to do about that suggestion?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, all these areas that the member opposite is probably bringing to the forefront are not new initiatives. There are currently a number of these areas being examined, but there is the issue of privacy. There is the issue of using a facility in a neighbouring jurisdiction, and the other day, Mr. Speaker, the issue was about confidentiality of personal information. This is one of the areas that has to be examined and has to be addressed.
But Tylenol, if the member opposite wants to use that ó this is one of the most widely prescribed pain-relieving drugs and its use has been increasing substantially, not just here in the Yukon but across all of North America. This company has done an excellent job and it serves the purpose for which it is intended.
But if the member opposite wants to get into a number of drugs, the use of which is increasing tremendously, Viagra, for instance ó
Question re: Veterinary college, University of Saskatchewan
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Minister of Education. Will the minister confirm that a Yukon resident is currently studying at the University of Saskatchewanís veterinary college with financial assistance from the Yukon government?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Yes.
Mr. Fairclough: We have to note this day. This is the first time the minister has answered a yes-or-no question in this House.
Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that the Yukon has not had a student at the veterinary college in recent years and I am curious to know how this change came about. So did the minister take part in any discussions regarding government funding for this position, or did he help in any way to make it possible for this student to attend the veterinary college?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: No.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. Again, itís my understanding that the previous government stopped funding a Yukon seat at the college, because the territory wasnít seeing the benefit. If that has changed Iím sure the minister would be happy to inform me of that. What role did the Minister of Economic Development play in having this student accepted by the vet college in Saskatchewan or in providing government support for her to occupy a Yukon seat?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would advise the member opposite to go and get that information directly from the Minister of Economic Development.
Question re: Veterinary college, University of Saskatchewan
†Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the Minister of Education. For a number of years the Government of Yukon bought a seat for a Yukoner at the University of Saskatchewanís veterinary of medicine program. The practice ended a few years back, because there was a lack of uptake from students, and because we are not facing an imminent shortage of veterinarians in the Yukon.
The funding has been revived under the Yukon Party government. Would the minister tell the public how much funding has been given out to date by the Yukon Party for this program, and can the minister tell the House if there was any public notification of the money being made available?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This position was eliminated, I guess you might say, by the Yukon Party when we first got elected, due to the lack of interest. The money was reinstated in the following year. This was not advertised; it was a person who came forward with interest in this program.†
Ms. Duncan: What the minister said is that the funding was done away with. It was actually, as I understood it, a few years ago, but the minister is saying that it was also done away with by the Yukon Party and it has been revived by the Yukon Party and there was no public notification of this funding being available. Thatís similar to what happened with the Fish Lake Road lots. There was no public notification.
Weíre talking about a substantial amount of money to cover expenses for a student to attend the veterinary college in Saskatoon, and the minister has confirmed that thereís a student attending. The majority of the tuition costs are covered by the Government of Yukon. Itís a great deal for this person. Itís a tremendous opportunity.
The minister has said that there was no public notification. I repeat for the public: there was no public notification of this funding now being made available by the Yukon Party. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that there has to be some correction here for the member opposite. This position has been in place for a number of years ó I believe since about 1983. This position is in the budget so there was nothing hidden, if thatís the suggestion that the member opposite is making. This individual merely came forward and was accepted at the veterinary college.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has confirmed that a Yukon student is attending vet college in Saskatoon. He has confirmed that the government had this funding in place for some time, it was discontinued and he has confirmed publicly that it was reinstated by the Yukon Party government. He has confirmed that the public was not notified that this funding was made available. How was the individual selected? How were they chosen to attend and to avail themselves of this publicly funded opportunity? Can the minister tell what screening process was used? How was this person selected? There was no public notification that the opportunity was available. How was the person selected?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This individual went through the general application process and was accepted.
Question re: ATIPP act review
Mr. Hardy: It never ceases to amaze me the things that MLAs can learn from this government outside the House just by reading the papers or listening to the radio. That has become quite a common thing with this government. For instance, on Friday I was fascinated to read that the Minister of Highways and Public Works has already embarked on a review of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Apparently the minister has already decided what parts of the act need revising and what parts are okay.
Will the minister tell us what prompted this review and how he determined the 23 issues that will be reviewed?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíve been undergoing a review of the ATIPP process at the request of the Ombudsman, as well as from within our own staff. We are currently going over those guidelines, and we plan to go into a full-scale consultation on proposed changes to the act.
Mr. Hardy: Once again it sounds like another Yukon Party consultation process or exercise: you basically decide what youíre going to do and then go to the people and ask them what they think.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act has a huge impact on Yukon people, but apparently the minister hasnít even bothered to ask the people who use the act how they think itís working, and he has just outlined exactly whatís happening, which supports that position.
Let me remind the minister itís not his departmentís act, and itís not the Privacy Commissionerís act either. Will the minister make a firm commitment now that Yukon people will be properly consulted on this act? I know what he just said, but we need to know for a fact that they will be consulted and that the review will not be restricted to the 23 items the minister referred to in his media interview last week and that it will be inclusive.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, Iíll repeat again: we are going out to consultation ó full consultation. I repeat ó full consultation. We have identified 23 items that we are going to address under ATIPP that we have issued. Whether more items come out of that process, either from the Ombudsman or from elsewhere, that will be brought up through the consultation process. We will take it from there.
Mr. Hardy: Well, in this media interview, the minister said the confidentiality issue we raised last week isnít one of the questions being considered. Perhaps the minister doesnít appreciate the seriousness of what happened last week, when one of his colleagues blurted out the fact that he knew the opposition had filed ATIPP requests about the Yukon Liquor Corporation. Access to information requests are supposed to be treated confidentially. Under previous governments, ministers might be informed that a request had been filed, but they would not be told who filed the request, and apparently thatís not the case with this government. There has obviously been a change.
Will the minister tell us exactly what his plans are for reviewing the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and will he give us assurance that the question of confidentiality will be part of the review? Itís not good enough for the minister to say that theyíre going to look at 23, then go to the public and broaden it. Will he take a look at that section specifically, as well?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Well, the member opposite asked this question in the House previously on this particular issue, and I believe it was answered appropriately. We as ministers are not in the habit of knowing, as the member indicated, who is asking for the information. We are made aware that the request for information is being asked for, and that is the process that is being followed by this government on this side. When we go through our consultation on the ATIPP process, we have identified 23 issues that we think need to be addressed. There may be more, and we will take those into consideration. We anticipate having a very extensive consultation on this issue, and I look forward to the debate, which we anticipate will be in 2006.
Question re: State of the environment report
†Mrs. Peter: The Environment Act mandates that a comprehensive Yukon state of the environment report be submitted to the Legislative Assembly every three years with interim reports presented yearly. The state of the environment report, to quote the act, ďprovides early warning and analysis of potential problems for the environmentĒ. Information in this report is used by many organizations to set their agendas. The last interim report for 2001 was tabled over a year and a half ago in March 2003. Will the Minister of Environment commit to tabling the overdue 2002 state of the environment report during this sitting?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member is absolutely correct with the exception that the report is overdue. It will be tabled this session.
Mrs. Peter: This is a typical answer from the Yukon Party government. Weíre always waiting for information. The previous Minister of Environment promised the full report would be out by the end of 2003. The departmental Web site still lists the 2002 report as available in the spring of 2004. We know the report was presented to the previous Minister of Environment for approval.
This minister has a habit of keeping information he doesnít like under wraps. Why is there such a delay in presenting this vital report to Yukoners? They are waiting for it.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There is no delay. As confirmed earlier, the report will be tabled this session.
Question re: Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm
Mr. Hardy: Iíd like to take the Minister of Environment back to the beginning of this sitting and the so-called solution he proposed regarding the operators of the Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm. The minister went on about how he wanted to see these people succeed, and he said his department would issue permits for them to sell their animals if they wished.
What kind of permit did the minister have in mind, considering that the current laws make it illegal for the operators of the reindeer farm to own or sell these animals?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There has been no request for a permit of any sort from Northern Splendor to date.
Mr. Hardy: The fact is that any permit the minister issues wonít be worth the paper itís printed on, but the minister made a promise that they would be coming forward with a permit. It wasnít necessarily indicated that the people of the Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm would have to do that.
These people have been prevented from doing business because of a gap in the regulations. Everybody recognizes that; everybody knows that. The animals they have been looking after for the past 17 years are considered wildlife, and there is no market for them outside the Yukon. This government shut down any potential market inside the Yukon.
Why wonít this minister take some responsibility for the situation? Why are he and the Premier refusing to enter into any mediation with the operators of the reindeer farm? Weíve talked about this before. Whatís happening with the mediation? Why wonít they enter into it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Our government has taken the necessary steps for this private industry to have these reindeer. There are some glitches in the legislation accepted by the previous Liberal administration. Weíre working through the situation and will be changing regulations, and there will be amendments to the Wildlife Act coming forward in a number of areas, hopefully during the spring session if we can get it through in time. In the interim, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is feeding the reindeer to assist the owners.
Mr. Hardy: I donít need to remind people of this territory again how that came about. It took a lot of lobbying and a lot of questions in this Legislature to get this government to even come forward with that feed, but they still have not come forward to address the very serious issue, and the fact is that the people cannot make a living off the animals because of actions by a government.
Now, this government is willing to do business with some other wildlife operators, but not these. We already know that. They have purchased, or bought out, two other operators. This is the last one. Even when it has a moral and legal obligation to the act, it does nothing in the area. The minister has said that heís going to rewrite the law to classify reindeer as some kind of special agricultural species. Iím curious to see if he plans to ignore the Fish and Wildlife Management Board in that process or his own governmentís moratorium on game farm activity. Perhaps the minister thinks the law is written on water like the Yukon Party promise. Itís a very serious problem here.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Yes, Iíll ask a question, Mr. Speaker.
Even if the minister can get public approval to change the law ó which is far from certain ó what will he do in the meantime to compensate the operators for preventing them from selling any animals for the past year?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Reindeer are one of the oldest domesticated animals. It is a commodity. It goes up and down with demand and supply. It is just like any other commodity ó like beef, like anything of that nature.
Now, our government has identified what the problem is. Our government is dealing with that problem and there is a problem in regulations. Weíre looking at the Wildlife Act and, as I indicated to the House, weíll be coming forward with amendments to the Wildlife Act next session. Further to that, our government has identified that the owners of these reindeer are having tough economic times and the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources has been feeding the reindeer in the interim.
Question re: Veterinary college, University of Saskatchewan
†Mr. Hardy: Well, weíve already had two questions in regard to the Saskatchewan veterinary college and the seat thatís down there. I think I would like to ask the Minister of Economic Development directly: did he have anything to do with this position being purchased?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To the best of my knowledge, a person who applied for disposition through due process was a good candidate and was accepted.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, this raises a lot of serious concerns. Firstly, the Minister of Economic Development didnít even get up and answer the question that was directed to him. Secondly, the Minister of Education indicates that this was a good candidate. I am sure that this was a good candidate for this position, but I am also sure, because I have heard it from many other people, that this is a position that other people would have liked to have applied for.
Now, what has happened in that regard? This was obviously not made public. There was obviously a change in the policy in purchasing a seat. We would like to know when that happened, how that happened, and I would really like to know if the Minister of Economic Development had anything to do with this decision.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, to correct the record, Mr. Speaker, there was no change in policy. Due process was followed. A person was accepted, and I believe the animals deserve to have a doctor, just as well as anybody else, and I fully support having a person from the north go to the school.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Yukon Development Corporation, audit, chair and protocols
†Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions to the minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation on this governmentís secrecy regarding that Crown corporation. The Auditor Generalís audit of the Yukon Development Corporation and its subsidiaries was supposed to be available in June of this year. It is now several months later, and the Yukon Party is pointing the finger at the Auditor General of Canada for this delay.
I would like the minister to tell us whether he had seen a draft copy of the audit or has he been privy to its contents?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To correct the member opposite, the Auditor General is in the process of doing a report. I have not been privy to a copy and I will get the final draft when it arrives. I think the process is ó with the audits that are coming, I think the Minister of Finance in this government will be getting the audits. The Auditor General works for the Minister of Finance; I think those audits will come. I was hoping that they would come earlier than this but the Auditor General works at its own speed. So hopefully it will come in January, I think.
Mr. McRobb: We donít know if this government has received a draft copy of the audit and if it had the opportunity to provide input. I guess Iíll have to ask the Minister of Finance that question sometime.
I want to ask the minister about the secrecy regarding the appointment of the new chair to the Yukon Development Corporation. This appointment was done unilaterally by the Yukon Party in the backroom upstairs; it is completely void of any public consultation. This particular individual has a history that is not one of cooperation with every party. Why did the minister appoint this individual without a public process?
Hon. Mr. Lang: He was the most qualified person in the Yukon for the job.
Mr. McRobb: I guess the minister has an opinion on everything.
I want to ask about the secrecy about the ministerís governance policy for the corporation and especially on the protocol for performance evaluations. The chair told the Public Accounts Committee only on Friday that the minister has signed off on the protocol document but he doesnít know when the document will be tabled. When will the minister make this document public?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Certainly, we have to sign off on the protocol thing on a yearly basis and I have done it.
Question re: Veterinary college, University of Saskatchewan
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to return to some questions asked of the Minister of Education. Weíve established throughout Question Period today that, for a number of years, the Government of Yukon bought a seat for a Yukoner at the University of Saskatchewanís veterinary medicine program. Weíve also confirmed that the practice ended a few years back because of a lack of uptake from students and also because weíre not facing an imminent shortage of veterinarians in the Yukon. The funding was discontinued and revived by the Yukon Party government.
The minister has not yet told the House how much money weíre talking about. How much funding has been given out to date by the Yukon Party? What is the extent of the governmentís commitment for this seat for a Yukoner at the University of Saskatchewanís veterinary medicine program? How much does it cost?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I have already stated for the record that the cost for this year is $25,000. Itís a four-year program.
Ms. Duncan: That is the first time the minister has stated the amount for the record. I would like him to confirm that it is $25,000 per year and that it doesnít go up exponentially.
The other issue is that there was no public notification that this opportunity was available. Yukoners were not aware that their tuition costs could be covered by the Government of Yukon to attend the University of Saskatchewanís veterinary college. It is a tremendous opportunity for Yukoners. It was not publicly advertised. How was the successful applicant screened and selected for this opportunity? How did that happen? How did the person get screened and selected to receive this opportunity? Could the Minister of Education explain that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíd like to correct the record again for the member opposite. This government did not pay anyoneís tuition, Mr. Speaker. The applicants are screened by the college.
Ms. Duncan: The Minister of Education has not yet answered the question. If the public is not aware that the Government of Yukon is making a $25,000 seat available at the University of Saskatchewan veterinary college ó the public is not aware of this ó how was the ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it would ó
Speaker: Order, please. The leader of the third party has the floor. Please carry on.
Ms. Duncan: It seems thereís a great deal of desire to answer this question. I will direct it to the Minister of Education and perhaps he would like to advise the public: how did this individual know to apply, know the seat was available ó it had been discontinued by the Yukon Party ó and how was that person selected? How was the screening done for the Yukon, by the Yukon, to know that this Yukon student was going to go? How was that done?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To the best of my knowledge, this individual filled out the application, went through due process, was screened by the college and was accepted by the college.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. The Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act.
†Before we begin, 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.
Bill No. 51 ó Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act ó continued
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. Weíll continue on with line-by-line debate.
On Clause 8 ó† continued
Hon. Mr. Hart: Over the past few weeks, we have had a thorough and excellent exchange on the Motor Vehicles Act. I would like to again thank the members opposite for raising thoughtful points and carefully reviewing the issues.
As I said at the outset, Mr. Chair, this is complex and detailed legislation.
As times change governments need to bring forward legislation like the Motor Vehicles Act to ensure we respond to the new safety strategies and public expectations.
Members opposite raised a number of additional concerns during the debate last week, and Iíd like to take a few minutes to respond to some of those issues. Let me also say, again, how much I appreciate the extensive exploration of the bill, and let me assure members opposite that their concerns are being noted for future deliberations.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun has put forward a number of concerns with respect to ATVs and enforcement. I would like to follow up by saying the RCMP use their discretion to enforce the laws in these cases in the most appropriate way. I have no reason to believe the RCMP are not doing what they need to do and should do to enforce the Motor Vehicles Act, and I applaud them for the work that they have done.
What is most important, though, is that the Motor Vehicles Act provides the RCMP with the legal authority to enforce the rules of the road; moreover, the RCMP have discretion as to how they enforce the law. This is a common practice with motor vehicle laws and many other laws.
Discretion allows the police to deal with the driver in the most appropriate way. Sometimes that means educating the driver by making the driver aware that their driving behaviour is unsafe and why itís unsafe. Sometimes it means issuing a verbal or written warning to the driver and sometimes it means issuing a ticket for the offence. If thereís no discretion built into the law, the police must deal with the driver in the manner specified in the law; that is, when you do X it is an offence and you will receive a ticket.
The law is written to give the RCMP the authority they need to enforce the rules of the road when the need arises. If the RCMP observe unsafe driving on the road or trail or near a road as defined under the Highways Act as motor vehicle, the police have the authority to intervene and stop the behaviour and, when warranted, issue a warning or a ticket to the driver of the vehicle.
The RCMP discretion has been built into the Motor Vehicles Act since it was originally written. The public appreciate how the RCMP use their discretion because it often means that a ticket, which would be recorded on their driverís abstract, is avoided while the motorist is given a chance to improve their poor driving behaviour and learn why the behaviour is unsafe.
The public benefits from this approach and drivers often change their behaviour and attitude.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite also posed questions about local enforcement, such as enforcement through municipalities. The Motor Vehicles Act has regulations making authority that would allow municipalities to create bylaws that are consistent with the Motor Vehicles Act and would apply to snowmobiles and/or ATVs within the municipal boundaries. The municipality must then determine which people would be given the authority to be peace officers to enforce that bylaw.
This is an issue thatís well beyond the scope of the amendments before us, but it could form the basis of future discussion. Questions have arisen over insurance matters with respect to ATV operators and passengers, particularly if an ATV that is carrying a passenger has an accident.
If the owner of an ATV has properly registered and insured the vehicle, the insurance policy would cover the injuries to the passengers.
If the owner did not have insurance coverage, then the passenger would be able to take civil action against the driver or injuries sustained in a collision. If the vehicle is being operated on a road by an underage, unlicensed driver, then the ownerís insurance policy would not cover the injury claim of the passenger. An injured passenger could, however, seek compensation through civil action.
Mr. Chair, questions were also posed about the RCMP detecting drivers impaired by means other than alcohol. I would like to assure members opposite that there are currently 23 RCMP officers across the Yukon who have been trained to use physical coordination tests called the ďstandard field sobriety testĒ to detect drivers who are impaired by a substance other than alcohol. In addition, a drug recognition expert is also available in the Yukon to add additional expertise to their evaluation.
Clearly, we want all unsafe and impaired drivers off the road, and the more tools the police have to do that, the safer we will all be.
The safety of our children is always paramount. The member opposite asked for additional information regarding passenger safety on school buses. To that end, steps are being taken elsewhere in Canada to enhance rider safety on school buses.
The member opposite spoke on the Ontario situation and I would just like to provide an update on that provinceís activities with respect to school buses. The Ontario government recently announced that the Ministry of Transportation would begin consultation with stakeholders on how to introduce child safety restraints for younger children on school buses. This step is being taken as a result of a coronerís investigation into the death of a four-year-old girl on a school bus. Transport Canada regulates the manufacture of all new vehicles in Canada, including school buses. Transport Canada has recently conducted tests to evaluate the safety implications associated with preschool-aged children being transported in increasing numbers on school buses.
These tests concluded that a child who weighs less than 18 kilograms and is up to approximately four and a half years of age travelling in a bus would be better protected and properly restrained in an appropriate child restraint. The restraint would have to be correctly attached, preferably using a new lower anchorage attachment, and correctly tethered.
A new regulation is being considered to require all new seats on school buses to have at least one lower anchorage attachment and associated tether anchorages installed at the time of the manufacture. In addition, the Ontario government recently introduced legislation to adopt a series of new safety features on school buses built after January 2005. These include a safety crossing arm so children do not walk into the bus driverís blind spot, more emergency exit windows and improved side mirrors.
Most other Canadian jurisdictions, including the Yukon, have adapted these measures, which are endorsed by the Canadian Standards Association. Give the number of Yukon children who rely on school bus transportation, we will be keeping a close eye on the safety developments elsewhere in Canada.
The very heavy dump of snow this weekend brings us to the member oppositeís mention of noise around the city when vehicles do the snow removal. While I can appreciate the concerns he raises over the beeping associated with truck movements, vehicles are operated by the city and concerns should be addressed directly with city officials, as we discussed the previous date. If we ever do get my street cleaned, Iíll let the member opposite know so that he can inform the city that his is next.
Finally, the leader of the third party shared a concern about the sidewalk across the Alaska Highway in the Porter Creek region. While the creation of crosswalks is not handled under the Motor Vehicles Act, I will review the matter with the department. In addition, I understand discussions on this topic are underway through other channels.
As I said at the outset, this has been a very thorough and thoughtful examination of the bill before us and I thank the members opposite for their attention they have given to the issues at hand.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and I appreciate the ministerís thorough response to some of the concerns that I have raised and that others from this side of the House have raised with respect to the Motor Vehicles Act, and we are in the amendments as proposed by the government, and weíre in clause 8 at the moment in line debate.
Given that the opportunity has been provided, the minister has just reviewed some of the issues around the Motor Vehicles Act, and I would just like to review the issues around clause 8, which we are currently in at this particular part of the debate.
Clause 8 changes the Motor Vehicles Act to say, ďExcept as provided in section 9, no person under the age of 16 shall operate a motor cycle or a snowmobile on a highway unless they hold a learnerís licence authorizing them to do so.Ē
Now, the problem I have raised with the amendment proposed by the government is only a change to the definition and the reference to motor cycle and snowmobile, as I understand the ministerís comments earlier. The problem is the way the act was drafted initially, and now even the amendment is not dealing with the problem we have in that there are snow machines that are designed for younger children and it would be careless driving if a 16-year-old were to drive it. We have these snow machines, and they are driving on what constitutes a highway, because earlier in the Motor Vehicles Act, ďhighwayĒ is very, very broadly defined and includes most every type of a roadway or trail. So the problem we have with clause 8 is that there are a number of young Yukoners under the age of 15 safely operating a snow machine-like vehicle and even some ATVs, and they are using or crossing highways, and the definition of ďhighwayĒ covers most everything.
Now, I raised this issue at length with the minister. Itís a very real issue. Snowmobiles are, as the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has pointed out, a mode of transportation, or a mode for young people to be of assistance to the elders in her community, for example.
I know a number of young people who safely operate the smaller snow machines that are designed for their age category, and they are snowmobiling with their grandparents, for example.
The minister has said he recognized the point ó and we had quite a lengthy debate saying that a person should be able to safely operate a snow machine and they should be 15 or 16, as the act has provided. The fact is that younger children are operating these machines, they are operating them safely, they are operating them on the highways.
The minister said not to worry, that the RCMP have the discretion and we need to provide them with the tools so that, where there is an unsafe situation, they can enforce it, and that the RCMP are very cognizant of the reality of the Yukon. I donít disagree with the minister on that. The RCMP officers are very cognizant of the rules of the Yukon and they do use their discretion and are very aware of the reality of the community in which they live.
However, what the minister has not recognized is that we have a responsibility in this place, before itís even put on the RCMP to recognize their discretion, to make sure that our laws are right, that the legislation weíve passed is good legislation, that it does provide the tools where theyíre needed and that it doesnít have unnecessary regulation where itís not required. We have that responsibility before it even gets to the RCMP and we need to do that job.
Thatís the problem with the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, clause 8, and the other amendments that have been brought before this Legislature. Itís not the Yukon Partyís best work and itís not dealing with some of the very real and very substantive issues in the Motor Vehicles Act that should be dealt with.
For example, it was raised in this Legislature by the Member for Klondike the last time we discussed amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act when he was in opposition ó why isnít the government dealing with the issue of safety on school buses? And now the Yukon Party is in government and theyíre still not dealing with the issue. The minister has said, ďWell, weíll take it under advisementĒ and has provided a response. There is the other very real issue in this act, which was brought up when the NDP were in power and passed the original act, and that is in people travelling in the back of pickup trucks. That has not been dealt with in these amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act.
Itís unfortunate because thatís what Yukoners elect us to do ó to be in here, to debate legislation, to bring forward to the House legislation that is going to meet the needs, is going to do what it should, and to repeal legislation where itís not working. And itís well and good for the minister to say, ďThe RCMP have the discretionĒ. Everyone appreciates that. We have the discretion and the responsibility to pass, to debate and to make sure the legislation is right in the first place, and the Yukon Party hasnít done that. Thatís the problem weíre having with the legislation, clause 8, and the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act as proposed by the government on the whole. They were done to deal with one specific issue, the ďcover your actĒ, clause 10, the release of vehicles that have been impounded. Weíll get to clause 10 in the line-by-line debate. The problem is in clause 8 and in all the clauses. Itís not the Yukon Partyís best work. They havenít brought forward amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act that deal with the issues that Yukoners want us to deal with ó repealing the bad legislation and making sure our legislation is the best it can be.
The minister has stated and has recognized that we have brought concerns, that I have raised concerns outside of the Motor Vehicles Act and concerns with the Motor Vehicles Act. I have raised these issues with the minister. The minister, after some lengthy debate, has recognized that these concerns are unique to the Yukon context. Maybe it works in northern Ontario to say no, no one without a valid learnerís permit should be operating a snowmobile. The Yukon reality is that young people do operate them here and we need to have a Motor Vehicles Act that is right for Yukoners and in the Yukon context. We should be using our discretion and our debate and our authority and not demanding that others do the job for us.
The minister, as I said, has said that he will take these issues under advisement, that in our lengthy debate he said ó and I trust Iím quoting the minister correctly ó that he would come back to the House, he believes the whole act needs a good solid look, and there are other issues that need to be dealt with. However, the minister hasnít given a time frame, to the best of my knowledge.
We know that this issue, clause 8, and snowmobiles is an issue, that clause 10, which we will be debating, is an issue, that the people in the back of pickup trucks is an issue, that school bus safety is an issue, and that there are other issues in the Motor Vehicles Act as a whole. The minister has said the whole act needs to be looked at, top to bottom. Does the minister have a time frame when that might occur and does he have any kind of an idea of how the act might be examined?
The way these changes came to us is an issue as well, in that it was solely a result of a small sampling, a survey. It was not the lengthy consultation that we had, for example, with the graduated licensing.
Does the minister have a time frame and can he indicate to Yukoners when we might next have an opportunity to debate this legislation, which requires substantial work?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I thank the member opposite for her comments and look forward to getting on to other clauses, to try to respond to some of her queries. I would state to her that as I indicated previously and as she has admitted, we asked our advisory committee to provide us with questions for consultation. This is very, very specific to the amendments, and I believe that we had provided sufficient information for these amendments. But as the member opposite indicated, there are several issues that were not covered in our consultation process and remain outstanding. I recognize that, and I acknowledge that for the member opposite.
I also stated that we were looking at the possibility of taking the entire act through the process, but as the member opposite knows, itís a fairly thick act. It would probably take us six months to get through the guidelines, discuss it with the stakeholders, and it would probably take years to get through the consultation and to finally get to the legislation where we cover a substantial number of the issues that are out there. But that doesnít mean that, as I mentioned to the member opposite previously, we would look at amendments to the act that come through the federal course, and as they need to, for operational services.
We will do that, but in the meantime we will be undertaking to look at what it is going to take us to revamp the entire act. I would not anticipate we will be bringing anything during this session, and I would suspect to start from scratch weíre looking at a couple of years for sure, my officers tell me, and in addition, the consultation period right now is unknown. The member opposite indicated that consultation is a very difficult process. We were putting through just a small number of amendments, and we have gone through a number of consultations. The previous parties have done the same thing, and their consultation was for a similar number of amendments, and for us to go through the entire act, obviously it is going to require a substantial consultation process. But saying that, Iím not indicating that weíre going to run away and hide, but we will definitely look at sitting down and devising something on that. But in the meantime, in order to assist with the operation in the Yukon, if we have to bring forth amendments, Iím sure that they will be brought forth to expedite the matters on behalf of the Yukon.
Weíll do what we can to assist and, where required by changes in Ottawa, weíll do so.
Mr. Fairclough: I do have some concerns with this clause. We in the official opposition have had many questions in this regard. I know my colleague from Vuntut Gwitchin asked many questions. We are concerned with this clause.
The whole amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act was not based on clause 8; it was because of a ministerís decision on a tow truck, and thatís why we ended up debating the Motor Vehicles Act.
On this particular clause, though, the member said that, while the whole act needs to be looked at in some detail ó and we want assurances from the member opposite that this particular clause will also be looked at. It doesnít make sense: weíre making amendments to clause 8, which says that if youíre under the age of 15 ó 15 is when you can get a learnerís licence ó you cannot operate a snowmobile or motorcycle or ATV on the highways. Part of the problem is with the definition of highways.
We all know ó for those who are living out of town, on the outskirts of Whitehorse or in any of the small communities ó they use the highway ditches for transportation routes, and those are part of the highway. So, according to the minister, RCMP can walk up to them and fine them, over and over again. Itís not just the highway; itís trails. I was really surprised that under the definition of highways, we have trails, parking lots, private property ó all these things. What the minister said is that the RCMP will use their discretion with this particular clause. In other words, what the minister is saying is that this particular section of the act ó referred to in clause 8 ó will not be enforced. This section of the act will not be enforced. They will not push for enforcement of this section of the act.
Itís a political choice, I believe. Take the Liquor Act: there are certain sections of that act that were not enforced in the past and then were enforced, and you saw the results of that with temporary closures of establishments here in Whitehorse and around the territory.
But it is the politicians who can make the act work if itís written to accommodate Yukoners properly. So we do have that problem with clause 8, and Iím hoping that the minister would take the concerns back to his department ó I know the officials are here today ó and if there were ever to be an extensive revision of this act, then maybe this could be looked at a little more carefully. I understand that the municipalities have bylaws that deal with this. I know in several cases in my own community of Carmacks that this became a huge issue, because a child was hurt from falling off an ATV. The community had to deal with that. I did ask the minister whether this was thrown in there for those types of safety issues where municipalities can fall back on this section of the Motor Vehicles Act and develop their own bylaws with it. All Iím asking is that clause 8 of the Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act ó the minister said that it could be two years before all the details came back from the public consultation on this matter ó be taken out and talked about extensively with communities, with operators of snowmobiles and ATVs, and so on, and have a good consultation on this clause.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As Iíve stated previously on this, section 212 requires a change to correct a mistake in the law that states that no person under the age of 16 may operate a motorcycle on the highway. The issue is because you can get a learnerís licence at 15. However, to address the member oppositeís question in a direct process, I have indicated on several occasions ó including today ó that we will take the issues that theyíve brought forward under advisement and definitely look at bringing them forward for future consideration ó including this particular act.
For example, the local Klondike Snowmobile Association issued a statement recently also stating that in some cases children under 14 can operate a snowmobile. Thatís an issue that they can deal with. But in essence, as I indicated previously, weíll definitely look at the issues that the members opposite have brought forth in any future considerations of amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act.
Mr. Fairclough: † I thank the minister for his answers, and I do hope that it does go out for a good consultation. The minister brought up one issue; I think it might be of concern to the public out there. For example, I know that schools take snowmobile trips, and they follow trails and roads and so on. Once this clause is in the act, they will be knowingly breaking the law when jumping on a snowmobile. They could be on the Trans Canada Trail, for example, or the Old Dawson Trail. This rule applies.
I know there are student exchanges that go back and forth, for example, between Carmacks and Haines Junction, and they follow the old Aishihik road down the Mount Nansen Road into the community of Carmacks. This clause ó what do we do, tell them just to ignore that? There are operators under the age of 14 who operate snowmobiles and are part of that program. What do we do? Just ignore it? Iím wondering, what clear answers can we give to those students, organizations, particularly with our schools, because itís happening through the Department of Education. I know there are trips up in Vuntut Gwitchin following trails and so on, so Iím just wondering what kind of answers we give them.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I have previously stated, both members have brought up this issue and it is something that I have committed that we will undertake to review and will deal with the situation.
In the future consultation, I think the issue for that is out there. Right now and until now, snowmobiles and ATVs off-road are being considered as off-road use.
As I have mentioned earlier also, the RCMP have been using their discretion when it is necessary ó i.e., individuals are using their vehicles in an unsafe or reckless manner. That is what the act is there to do and it allows them to enforce that particular process. But as the member indicated, it is something that will have to be definitely addressed in the future.
Mr. Fairclough: † Can the minister tell us if there is any way that students can operate snowmobiles if they do not have a valid driverís licence, if they do not have a learnerís licence? Is there, through this act, anywhere they can be given permission to do that?
I say this, knowing that this might have been ó this has been in the past and I donít know if this is wrong. But those who have lost their driverís licence, for example, through whatever means ó impaired driving or whatnot ó were still able to operate heavy equipment but not on the highway. I donít know how they were able to do that, yet we have a clause in here that doesnít allow kids under the age of 15 to operate a snowmobile. So I was wondering if somehow through the department they could be given special permission to operate snowmobiles for things like school trips and so on.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Legally thereís no way to drive on the highway if youíre under the age of 15; however, if youíre off-road or adjacent to the Aishihik road, for example ó if you build your own trail beside that thatís the width of your skidoo, thatís one option of dealing with that particular situation.
Clause 8 agreed to
On Clause 9
Clause 9 agreed to
On Clause 10
Mr. Fairclough: Weíve had a lot of debate on this clause, and we were not satisfied with the ministerís responses to our questions. There doesnít seem to be a willingness to look at this in the bigger sense when it comes to commercial vehicles and responsibilities of the owners. So I would like to propose an amendment.
Mr. Fairclough: I move
THAT Bill No. 51, entitled Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be amended at clause 10(1) at page 8 by adding the following as subsection 237(6.5): ďNotwithstanding (6.1) and (6.2), a review officer will not revoke an impoundment if satisfied there is a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the owner in knowingly allowing, authorizing or instructing the driver to use the vehicle.Ē
Chair: Would members care for a brief recess while the amendment is being copied and distributed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, and Clause 10.
It has been moved by Mr. Fairclough
THAT Bill No. 51, entitled Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be amended at clause 10(1) at page 8 by adding the following as subsection 237(6.5): ďNotwithstanding (6.1) and (6.2), a review officer will not revoke an impoundment if satisfied there is a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the owner in knowingly allowing, authorizing or instructing the driver to use the vehicle.Ē
Mr. Fairclough, on the amendment you proposed.
Mr. Fairclough: Like I said earlier, there has been much debate on this section. I know that the minister has heard the concerns that we on this side of the House have voiced. It is also the concern of many of the people who have come forward and brought their issues in regard to amending the Motor Vehicles Act. So Iím hoping that members on that side of the House take this seriously.
I will briefly explain the amendments that have been put forward by me. If an owner, I guess, messed up in any major way ó for instance, if it is apparent that the driver was drunk before starting the job, the owner, commercial or otherwise, needs to face some consequences. As the amendment stands, there are no consequences. The vehicle can still be released by a judge and the impoundment costs refunded.
I would like to hear what the ministerís response is to this amendment and I hope that members on that side of the House, who have had the number of weeks weíve been in this House debating this bill, go over this clause carefully. I believe that they knew an amendment was coming forward; therefore, I ask that they do support the amendment.
Chair: Is there any futher debate on the amendment as moved?
Some Hon. Members: Question.
Chair: Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Chair: I believe the nays have it. The amendment is defeated.
Clause 10 agreed to
On Clause 11
Clause 11 agreed to
On Clause 12
Clause 12 agreed to
On Clause 13
Clause 13 agreed to
On Clause 14
Mr. Fairclough: This clause has also had much debate in the Legislature, and I know where the member opposite is going to go with the amendment too, but it needs to be said.
Obviously, if there was any interest in the members opposite they would at least talk about how they felt the amendment was not in order or whatnot. We havenít heard from them; instead they are using their majority to disregard the amendment.
Mr. Fairclough: I would like to make an amendment.
I move THAT Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be amended at clause 14 at page 9 by deleting the added subsection 243(1) and (2) and renumbering the subsequent sections accordingly.
Mr. Chair, as the amendment is being circulated, I can go over this briefly for the reason of bringing this amendment forward for members opposite to consider.
A peace officer already has the discretion needed to decide whether or not a vehicle should be impounded and uses it. The original amendment 243(1) would allow any peace officer to release an impounded vehicle. After it is impounded, it should be up to the review officer or the courts to determine the appropriateness of the impoundment. The amendment subsection 243.1(1) allows the Territorial Court to examine the issue. The review officer and the judge can refund the cost.
Chair: Copies are being made. I would ask the Assemblyís indulgence for a moment while they are being photocopied and distributed.
It has been moved by Mr. Fairclough
THAT Bill No. 51, entitled Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be further amended at clause 14 at page 9 by deleting the added subsection 243(1) and (2) and renumbering the subsequent subsections accordingly.
Is there any debate on the amendment?
Ms. Duncan: It would appear to the casual observer and certainly anyone reviewing the debate that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has brought forward an amendment and proposed an amendment in the spirit of constructive debate, and I would ask the minister to address the substance of the amendment and to state for the record why there is such an objection to removing those particular clauses as the amendment suggests.
Hon. Mr. Hart: This portion of the amendment was put in place to allow for the fact that if the RCMP impound a vehicle based on the data they collect and if they find out the next day that that data provided to them was incorrect, it allows them to make a correction on the change of their wrongful impoundment. It allows them to make that adjustment. I see that as an integral part of the process. Thatís part of their recommendation to us.
Chair: Is there any further debate on the amendment? Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
†Chair: I believe the nays have it and the motion is defeated.
Chair: Is there any further debate on clause 14?
Mr. Fairclough: I just want to state for the record that I thank the minister for his reasoning. We on this side of the House believe that the peace officers already had that discretion and I was quite surprised that members didnít go into any detail. None of the government side had any interest in this.
We brought forward two amendments to move things along. It is quite clear to us on this side of the House the direction in which this government wants to go. Itís really of no use to bring in amendments. Why did the government side ask us to bring amendments to the floor of this Legislature that are constructive and then turn them down without any debate on them at all?
We just got the pieces of paper two minutes ago and Iím sure the members opposite should have had the time to absorb it. Thatís my concern. I donít know if itís of any use to even bring any amendments to the floor of this Legislature. They are just going to get shot down.
Itís unfortunate that the Yukon Party campaigned on improvements on the floor of this Legislature, improving decorum, and ask us on this side of the House for input into how government should do things, and part of the way we do it is through amendments, through debate on bills that have been presented to this House. Is there any use in that?
Itís unfortunate, Mr. Chair. We have no further debate on this clause.
Clause 14 agreed to
On Clause 15
Clause 15 agreed to
On Clause 16
Clause 16 agreed to
On Clause 17
Clause 17 agreed to
Title agreed to
Chair: That concludes the bill.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I move that Bill No. 51 be reported without amendment.
Chair: Mr. Hart has moved that Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: The Chair understands that the next order of business is Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05. It has been requested that we briefly recess to allow members a chance to prepare. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a brief five-minute recess.
††††††† Chair: Order please. The Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 12 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05 ó continued
††††††† Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Mr. Hardy: I am going to pick up where I left off around the same areas, because I still donít necessarily feel that I have a clear picture of the ministerís position on this. I do know that there is probably other information he could share with us in regard to the tangible capital assets and the capitalization thresholds and the estimated useful life. Weíve talked about how they come to these figures; how you get a figure of an estimated useful life of a building, for instance. From what I can see, they have 40 to 50 years for buildings and then you have the capitalization of that. But there are a lot of different figures; there is computer hardware, five years; computer software, seven years.
We ask where this was derived from, how it came about, and if there was any consideration in regard to taking into account the effect of a northern climate, for instance, or northern conditions ó if that has been done in the past, or is it something that is currently done or is it only done on certain types of assets? Is it considered with roads and not with buildings or whatever? So I will actually allow the minister to speak to that, if he doesnít mind.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, we are following the policies and procedures used by the Public Sector Accounting Board to set these types of levels for accounting for tangible assets. Itís also important to note that, considering we live in the north, in all likelihood the initial cost of any tangible asset vis-ŗ-vis a structure, a building, would be higher to meet the standards that we incorporate here in the north. Thatís very relative because it will then designate what the amount of that tangible capital asset is.
The opposition also talked about us having buildings that are being depreciated up to 50 years, and that is only two buildings because of their structure. The remaining buildings are being amortized at 40 years ó again, in all likelihood, because of structure. That would be their general life. So I hope that clears that up.
Mr. Hardy: Itís my understanding that the government is in the process of accumulating a degree of information on all its tangible capital assets. What is the status of that right now? Has that been completed or are there still outstanding assets about which the information hasnít been gathered yet?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I just got a note here that I have a minister on the phone, but I will answer this question. In the first place, we have been reporting this information since March 31, 2002, via the public accounts reporting ó so itís not new here in 2004. The only thing that is new is highways and bridges, and thatís the final area that we are working on. But the rest has been reported as far back as 2002.
Mr. Hardy: If the minister needs to make a phone call ó
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I can advise the House that the Department of Finance has been tracking tangible assets and they have been reported since the 2002 fiscal year-end. They will appear on the public accounts, the financial position at March 31, 2005. Every year the Government of Yukon has reported its tangible capital assets in the public accounts. As part of their audit, the Auditor General has audited the numbers disclosed and reviews the policies and procedures employed.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister inform me what is still left to be done in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For this year, Iím advised that bridges and roads are the last areas that will be finalized and included. I can also report that the Auditor General, in her Report on Other Matters for the years 2000-03, formally stated that they are encouraged by the governmentís efforts in this area and look forward to reporting further progress.
That report, Mr. Chair, was tabled in this Assembly in the spring of this year.
Mr. Hardy: I was still looking for something a little bit more tangible in regard to what is left outstanding.
The minister indicated that there were two buildings that had 40 or 50 years of estimated useful life, and they would be amortized over that period. Could the minister indicate to me what those buildings are and where they are in their lifespan?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As every member knows, all the assets are amortized over a specific period of time. As the Premier stated, there are two buildings in Whitehorse that are being amortized as a consequence of an engineering report over a 50-year lifespan. Both of these structures are constructed out of concrete. They are the Whitehorse Elementary School and the Wood Street annex.
Mr. Hardy: So, what would be the useful life left in these buildings?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite could just go back and find out when they were constructed. I believe they were constructed in the 1960s, so the member was probably here when Whitehorse Elementary opened. I could just backtrack to then. I am advised that there is hopefully about 10 years or more life left in each of these buildings. There are 16 years of remaining life for Whitehorse Elementary, Mr. Chair, and 21 years is the remaining life for the Wood Street annex, which was built in 1955, so weíre talking about the construction of these schools being in the 1950s.
Mr. Hardy: That raises some interesting questions in regard to the building and the contracting of buildings. Now, it is my assumption that when these buildings are designed, the government requests design proposals. When they put a proposal in for the buildings, do they put a proposal in or a request, a call for design work, in which they are asking for a building that will have a useful life expectancy of 40 years, or are they asking for 30, or do they move that around? Is it a moving figure?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, it depends on the class of asset. Weíre using 40 years, except for two buildings that are 50 because of their structure, and if they are fully amortized before the use of the structureís life, it all would come off, for example, at disposal time ó if we were to dispose of the building. So it all works out. Thatís the beauty of accounting, and thatís why they incorporate these types of procedures and principles. Itís because they work.
Mr. Hardy: Well, I can assure you, Mr. Chair, that the shareholders of Enron might have a different viewpoint of whether it all works out. We know of a lot of examples where it doesnít all work, and there is a term that has been used very freely by many people: itís called creative accounting. Iím not accusing anybody of doing that, and Iím definitely not accusing the government of doing that, but blanket statements such as what the minister just made show a degree of faith in accounting practices and assumptions ó that any type of accounting practices will guarantee accurate and fair results that can always stand the test of time. Anybody who was involved in Enron knows for a fact that there was some serious, serious accounting mismanagement there. There have also been governments in the past in which some of the figures arrived at do not necessarily reflect truly the situation.
For instance, we see this on a regular basis ó I think since 1997 or 1998, when the federal government consistently estimated on a regular basis, leading right up until the release of the budget, very small surpluses indicating how tight they were, knowing full well they have the figures, I would suspect, and they werenít just given on the last day, only to find massive surpluses. We also saw with HRDC lots of discrepancies and concerns about practices.
So a blanket statement like that doesnít give me a great deal of confidence in the minister, if thatís what he thinks ó that everything always works out ó because I can give him many examples where it doesnít. Iím thinking about the buildings here and Iím thinking about amortizing over 40 or 50 years. Are there different figures? Obviously there are some for concrete buildings. Are there different ones for steel buildings and are there different ones for wood buildings? Are those different categories so that, at the end of the day, there are different numbers with these buildings?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will certainly let the Auditor Generalís office know that the leader of the official opposition has grave concerns about their accounting practices, their procedures and their policies, which we are following when it comes to tangible assets. Comparing our booking of tangible assets to a situation like Enron is like comparing day and night ó there is no comparison.
The standard is 40 years for buildings, as Iíve pointed out. That is something we are applying because we are following the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants guidelines. Those are their guidelines ó except for two buildings that, by virtue of their structure, have a 50-year lifespan because of the structure. Weíve also pointed out that we do address northern climes because of where we live, and that would come into the specifications of any building. But when it comes down to booking the tangible asset, its amount, and thereby calculating on a go-forward basis the amortization of that tangible capital asset year by year, itís all based on CICA guidelines.
If there is a question about that, then there is only one conclusion: the official opposition is questioning the Auditor Generalís office. Weíre not, as a government. Weíre very comfortable that the guidelines they have set in place work here and we are doing nothing different from what began or commenced since the public accounts of March 31, 2002. The same information has been reported to the public. The policies and procedures employed with respect to tangible capital assets by the government 2002 are the same as those that are in place now in 2004. Nothing has changed whatsoever.
Now we are being required to provide more than note disclosure in the public accounts. We are now required to actually show the amounts on the financial statements, which is further disclosure to the Yukon public on the financial situation that their territory is in.
Mr. Hardy: That was an interesting position that the minister took. He basically said that I questioned the Auditor General. Well, you know what? I have no problem questioning the Auditor General. They have invited questions; they invite that kind of challenge. That is their profession. They are exceptionally good at it but they also recognize that good accounting is based upon accountability.
Iíve had the pleasure of working with the staff of the Auditor General and I find them refreshing and engaging and very open and willing to accept challenges. They are not afraid of it; I donít know what the minister is going on about. I donít know why he is so afraid of the idea that the Auditor General staff may have to field some questions. Iíve seen them to be very open about that.
However, what I had indicated was to point out to the minister, since he doesnít seem to understand, the fact that not all accounting is above-board and we have many, many examples.
Thatís why we have the Auditor General; thatís why we have that degree of accountability; thatís why we have re-activated the Public Accounts Committee ó thatís exactly why it has been re-activated ó and that is what weíre doing in the Legislature. It is good business to have that questioned.
I could think of businesses; I could think of Conrad Blackís predicament ó
Itís all right to say that ó the predicament that he seems to be facing with his shareholders. There have been questions about the financial statements and where money has gone. Good on the shareholders. Theyíre asking the questions; theyíre legitimate.
That kind of scrutiny and questioning ensures we do have good procedures and process and accountability. If we didnít have it, of course, there is a greater degree of misappropriation of funds and accounting practices that may not be full disclosure.
I have already said that Iím not accusing the government of that at all. Itís good to see thereís not a qualified statement this year. I applaud the government for that as well, but thereís nothing that says we canít ask questions, and we have lots of interest. Thereís a tremendous amount of interest on how you arrive at these figures, how you amortize over so many years, what kind of method of amortization ó Iíll actually ask that question right now.
I was just looking at this. If the minister would be so kind, I would like him to explain the term in here of ďstraight line methodĒ. Could that be explained to me? Iíd appreciate that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, first off in responding, I would point out that any implication that there may be some way, through following the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountantsí policies and guidelines on booking tangible capital assets, to somehow skew the books like what happened in Enron is simply impossible because the Auditor General would audit the governmentís financial statements based on those guidelines. So we would have to report tangible capital assets accordingly.
I want to just make sure the member understands that his worry is a needless worry in this case. This is a very straightforward accounting procedure as laid out by the Auditor Generalís office. The member is correct that we donít have a qualified audited statement as past governments have because we are reporting, in this case, all the liabilities that werenít reported before. That was something that the Auditor General had continually brought forward to past governments. That has changed now.
As far as straight line, I would just use this example: if a building is worth $40 million and its lifespan is 40 years, then you would amortize it a $1 million a year, so it becomes accounting in that manner: itís divided up by the length of useful life versus the initial investment or value of the asset.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for that very clear explanation.
My question around that, though, was ó I mean, if thatís the answer and itís clear. But if you donít mind me deviating a little bit ó because this is an area that Iím not overly familiar with ó what other methods are actually used, or have they been used in the past? Has this always been the method used? Because it seems to indicate that there are different methods used for amortization, and Iím kind of curious if there are and why they would be used. And are they applicable for any type of amortization up here? Is this always the one that fits for all the buildings and computers and roads and bridges and whatnot?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There are, for example, other mechanisms such as declining balance, which would be a percentage amortized each year on the value of an asset. In our case, in the governmentís case, we are using straight line because that is the recommendation of the guidelines that have been brought forward by the Auditor Generalís office in conjunction with the CICA public sector accounting policies and guidelines for this particular type of accounting. So we are using straight line. Itís consistent with other governments using the same policies and procedures.
Mr. Hardy: Do all our corporations also use straight line for their assets? Yukon Development Corporation would be an example.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, thatís exactly what will take place because weíre going to consolidate all the assets on the same basis, so the corporations would be doing the same thing, and that move is now ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the past, theyíve been ó this is the first year that they would be doing this type of accounting.
Ms. Duncan: Previously, before we got back to Bill No. 12 today, the Finance minister and I and the leader of the official opposition had quite a discussion about these amortization rates and the 40-to-50-year lifespan for buildings, and so on. The Finance minister repeatedly said that this 40-to-50-year lifespan is a CICA guideline ó Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants; it comes from their handbook ó and the Public Sector Accounting Board regulations.
Weíre in all likelihood not the first people to have this discussion. I would suspect that thereís probably an academic piece about the choice of these amortization rates, and I would just ask if the Premier would be so kind as to ask officials ó they would be far more familiar than I if such an academic piece exists discussing these amortization rates ó if there is such an article and other provinces are using it. We arenít the first legislators to have this discussion. Is there an article that the Finance folks are aware of and would they be so kind as to provide me with the name so that I might examine that particular piece of information?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Before I respond, in terms of the question, Iím compelled to ask another question. Considering that since March 2002 public accounts have been doing the exact same thing as we are doing here in 2004, when the member opposite asking the question was then Minister of Finance, why that wasnít a question then? That is something that I will put on the record.
As far as the technical information, is there a document or something that is produced, like a text of the public sector accounting guidelines in this area ó we will do some research for the member, and if there is such a document, we will certainly make it available to the member, the leader of the third party, forthwith.
Ms. Duncan: I am endeavouring to be constructive. Iím surprised that the Premier is so offended by the question. I was asking for some information. The fact is that discussion of the capitalization of assets certainly was undertaken and there was significant work done when I was the Finance minister.
The amortization rates have an impact on our financial statements. I am asking about those particular rates. Were I still in the memberís shoes, I would be asking the same questions of officials. I am simply asking now: Public Sector Accounting Board, the CICA guidelines ó we arenít the first people to say that the 50-year amortization rate for buildings seems quite lengthy, particularly in a northern context. Is there a policy paper such as ó
If the minister is unwilling, I am quite prepared to go and do the research myself; however, Iím also believing in the ability of our Finance officials. I suspect that they probably have at their fingertips an article discussing this same issue and if the minister would be so kind, I would appreciate the opportunity to review it. Thatís all Iím asking for.
With respect to the capitalization of assets, that is one particular issue that has been dealt with by the government. The other issue is the recording of our environmental liabilities. How much progress has been made in that respect?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, just to point out a couple of inconsistencies, we are not booking ó other than when it comes to structures ó buildings ó other than two of them ó the amortization period at 50 years. But because of the structure of two buildings that we have in our asset base, those two buildings are amortized out at 50 years. The rest are at 40 years, consistent with the guidelines from the public sector accounting policies and procedures, and theyíre like a concrete bunker. So I think there is another 17 years left in their lifespan, and theyíre already 50 years old. So theyíre fully depreciated. Just so the member understands it, 40 years is the threshold, except for those two anomalies.
As far as the environmental booking, in terms of what our liability is, in discussions shortly ago with the Auditor Generalís office, they are working on concluding a set of policies and guidelines for this particular area, and both the Department of Finance and the Department of Environment are diligently working on what our environmental liabilities would be. At this point, it would be important to note that some of the major liabilities of an environmental nature in the Yukon Territory that exist today are still the responsibility and the direct liability of the federal government, not the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím going to back up and just ask a couple more questions with respect to the amortization of the buildings. The minister has said that two buildings are fully depreciated, and as I understand it, those two buildings are Whitehorse Elementary School and the Wood Street annex. Formerly it was known as Christ the King Elementary School. It is those two buildings that the minister is referring to ó is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thatís correct. The two buildings that are the anomalies outside the 40-year threshold are the Whitehorse Elementary School and the Wood Street annex, and thatís because of structure. The structure is such that a 50-year lifespan was acceptable for that type of structure.
Ms. Duncan: Right. Just to refresh the Finance ministerís memory, when we had the discussion about this amortization schedule and years before, the Finance minister said that thereís letís say $40 million put into a building, amortized over 40 years. Now if something untoward occurs, like we had a fire at Whitehorse Elementary School when I was in elementary school, a very long time ago, that amount of money in repairs is then added on as well to the life of the building. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is somewhat of a speculative response because we wouldnít know, just based on a fire, whether the repairs necessary would have sufficient changes to the structure that would increase its lifespan. For example, there could be a fire in a building whereby the repairs do not increase the overall structureís lifespan but merely replace the aesthetics or the finishing of any building. So it would be determined on what type of renovation, retrofit, or changes were made to the structure. If the changes were sufficient enough structurally that that could be deemed or defined as increasing the lifespan of the building, then that would be added to the overall process or formula.
Ms. Duncan: In other words then ó letís deal in a very concrete perspective, as opposed to just speculative ó the $750,000, or thereabouts, that has been spent trying desperately to bring the jail ó the correctional institute ó up to code, that presumably would have added value to the life of that building. So are we now amortizing that $750,000 over 40 years, or how much life does the government have on their books for that building?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The response to this is that we are building a new correctional centre; but we will build a new correctional centre upon completion of correctional reform in the territory. It must be said at this point that one of the things that is vital to the structure of the jail is not so much its lifespan, what it means as a tangible capital asset, or its amortization period; itís what is going on inside of that structure. The overall process for correctional reform is to determine far beyond the physical structure itself what it is we are doing with our correctional system.
We are embarking on a number of areas that are issues that reflect the need to change our corrections system, and I think itís in the best interests of the public and all concerned that, before we simply launch into building another tangible capital asset ó in this case, a jail that would be another warehouse for human beings ó that we recognize there is a better way to deal with this issue. That is why we are conducting a process of correctional reform before a decision is made on a building, its design and what is in it.
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister has available to him, at his fingertips, the value of the capital assets in the territory. What is the value and life left in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: While we look up the exact timeline, I would also point out the investment being made today is to deal with code and safety issues and, in all likelihood, would not be deemed as an investment increasing the overall life of the structure itself.
It began at 40 years. According to the books, it still has a useful life remaining of three more years. In this case, correctional reform should not take that long, and we expect to be well on our way, God willing and the creeks donít rise.
Ms. Duncan: It must be Monday.
That value is after the substantial contribution over the last various budgets and supplementaries the government has presented. Is there any value placed on the work that was done in terms of plans and consultation work, earth being turned? Is there any value assigned to that work in that particular valuation of the assets? How much is it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Because of the circumstances, the planning work that has been done to date had to be fully accounted for in the 2004-05 main estimates. Itís fully accounted for there. Itís written down.
Ms. Duncan: I would respectfully ask the Finance minister: ďwritten downĒ or ďwritten offĒ? Millions of dollars of planning is not included as part of the value of the correctional institute. It has been fully written off and expensed. It has been counted as expended and gone, and thereís no useful life attached to it for the taxpayers as a result of a decision by that government and that minister.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, Mr. Chair, itís not a debt, so itís not written off. Itís an amortized value and itís written down, and it was fully written down in this 2004-05 budget.
I guess one would have to ask the question whether there was any value in it to begin with, considering another warehouse was being built. Correctional reform did not take place. I think itís fair to say that there is a great desire among many of the agencies, the public and others with regard to correctional reform. Thatís why we as a government have the political will to embark on that process before we determine what kind of a facility is going to be built in the territory in regard to corrections.
There are many variables that have to be addressed across the spectrum ó on remand, on classifications of prisoners and how those things are to be dealt with, on the gamut of sentencing and programming and other areas of rehabilitation. So there is much work to be done that is of great value to the public.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. If we continue on with the recidivism rate in excess of 80 to 90 percent, that is not good value for the Yukon taxpayer. If we can do things that reduce the recidivism rate by building facilities with the appropriate programming and reforms in place, then there is value to the taxpaying public by the reduction of the recidivism rate.
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister has stated for the public record that the millions of dollars in extensive consultation ó particularly with the First Nations elders council and individuals outside of government and within government ó on reconstruction of the correctional institute was of no value. I find that kind of comment unfortunate in this particular Legislature.
I would like to return to the issue of the environmental liabilities.
The minister has not yet stated the current value of the correctional centre. Given the $700,000 ó close to $1 million ó in repairs that the government has spent trying desperately to bring the building up to code, what the current value is of the centre on the books ó the minister said it has three years left in useful life. Iíd like to know what value it has on the books. If he could provide that information, then I would like to turn to the issue of the environmental liabilities.
Now, the minister has said weíre waiting for guidelines from the Auditor General and we donít yet have these ó there has been some work, but it is in progress. That answer has been given probably for the last eight years by the Finance minister of every political stripe: weíre working on the environmental liabilities; we donít have guidelines as to how to record them, and thatís an issue.
So we started work on the capitalization of assets long before they were put into the books in this format. What precisely has been the work done in recent months on environmental liabilities? Given that the capitalization of assets is largely complete, except for highways and bridges, what work has been done on environmental liabilities beyond the ďweíre waiting for guidelines,Ē because that has been stated before?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, just so the record reflects exactly what processes are going on, the government will never discount work done to date, and we certainly havenít at this juncture. But itís also important to note that the First Nations have joined with us on correctional reform in establishing a joint committee with appointed members. So we are taking work that has already been done to date, and we are going to build on that work by instituting a process that will result not just in a consultation on building a jail, but it will result in a process designed to bring forward reforms to our correctional system. Not only have the First Nations joined with us in appointing members to a committee ó and they will also be architects of those reforms ó the federal government has expressed great interest in this initiative because of its connections to the justice system. So weíre not discounting or disregarding any work done to date; we are building on it.
As far as the value of the good old Correctional Centre, to date, net book value, as of March 31, 2005 ó so thatís ahead of us ó year ending, the projected value is $550,607 ó projected. That might change. The roof might fall in and weíll have to put a new roof on. Iím just being somewhat facetious.
Then thereís an addition of $219,000 to the steam plant storage building. So the total in facilities under the umbrella of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre would be approximately $770,000.
Ms. Duncan: And would the Finance minister care to address the issues around environmental liability?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, well, we are working on that. In fact itís advancing now. Iím not sure about the comments the member made about past governments and Finance ministers. Itís my understanding that this is something now that is very much in process and in the past wasnít the case. Not only is the Yukon government obligated to book environmental liability, so is the federal government now. That has been pointed out by the Auditor Generalís office ó that the federal government has environmental liabilities theyíre not booking and theyíve been directed to do so.
So we are obviously awaiting some guidelines from the Auditor Generalís office because they have a role to play here, which is important, on what would be defined as our environmental liability. Thatís one example. So the board itself is determining some definitions in this area, but the Department of Finance and the Department of Environment are diligently working on what our specific liability is. I pointed out that in the Yukon the overall process of determining what our liability is has to be done in conjunction with what liabilities remain with the federal government, because we certainly want to take the time to ensure that we donít adopt some of the liabilities that would be federal government liabilities as of this time.
The devolution transfer agreement speaks to that, to some degree, but we want to do the necessary research assessment to ensure that what rests with the federal government remains with the federal government.
Ms. Duncan: This is a very important point and there are key issues that need to be put on the record and drawn to the Finance ministerís attention. First of all, there has been a sea change in the Government of Yukon books in the capitalization of assets. That is one side of the ledger page. The environmental liabilities have not been booked as yet. They have not yet been booked for a couple of reasons: one, the Public Sector Accounting Board; secondly, the current Finance minister is saying, well, we have to wait for the Auditor General guidelines and Public Sector Accounting Board guidelines and for the feds to move. There are a couple of points with that. The environmental liabilities issue was raised in a Report on Other Matters to this Legislature some years ago. I donít have the precise reference; it has already been raised by the Auditor General to us, as well.
Secondly, the federal government liabilities under the devolution transfer agreement are recognized. We still have some work to do. I understand that Finance and Department of Environment officials are working on this. My question was how much work has been done. Weíve been working on it for some time. I understand we have restrictions of waiting for some definitive guidelines. There is still work that has been done in the past and, it sounds like from the Finance minister, work that is ongoing. How much has been done? More specifically, does the Finance minister have an estimated date when we might see the environmental liabilities recorded to a greater degree in the financial documents that are presented to the Legislature? Does he have an estimated date?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Sometime in the future.
Ms. Duncan: That kind of facetious answer does no one a service, and it does a disservice. Itís a reasonable question.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It was not a reasonable answer, as the member is kibitzing from across the way. ďSometime in the futureĒ? Then I could only reasonably conclude that the government is very happy to record the sea change on the assets but is refusing to recognize, as rightly they should, the environmental liabilities ó the other side of the ledger. They will wait until the next election when they arenít around to see it recorded. Thatís obviously what the Finance minister is suggesting.
Has the Finance minister also dismantled the internal audit function of government, or what is their current audit plan?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, I tried to respond to the member in the best way possible. Until we are directed by the appropriate authorities, until we determine what liabilities are Yukonís and how much they are ó which requires a lot of that work to be done by the Public Sector Accounting Board ó it can only be ďsometime in the futureĒ. We donít have a date. Once we are directed in the final analysis on booking these types of liabilities, it will be done. Thatís a given.
The public accounts as tabled for 2003-04 make reference to environmental liabilities. Thereís a note to the financial statement on page 67, item 27, which lays out a number of things that are quite detailed in nature.
So, itís not a question of us shirking our duties here. We are very, very focused on booking these liabilities, but only when we know what they are and what it is we are supposed to do.
Thatís being done to date. No, we havenít dismantled the internal audit service. If anything, under this governmentís watch, it has been enhanced.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís very interesting news. Iím sure the people of the Yukon will be quite pleased to hear that. Will the minister then provide the House with an audit plan as to what the internal audit function is working on? They are still reporting under the Executive Council Office ó where are they currently located, and what is the current audit plan? Is the minister prepared to provide that information?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Theyíre housed in the Executive Council Office, Mr. Chair, and theyíve worked in a number of areas, obviously, and in many cases by request of the department. Thatís their function. Thatís what they do. The government audit services ó we have about a 15-percent increase in the forecast, showing clearly that under this governmentís watch we are enhancing that service.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iíll delve further into that particular issue when we get in the Executive Council Office budget department in the supplementary, and perhaps the Finance minister can review the audit plan before he comes. Iím sure he will be able to indicate that the additional audit position that was requested for some time has finally been able to be fulfilled.
Just a few last questions ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the context of constructive debate, I think the member opposite should be informed that I, the Minister of Finance, am no longer chair of the audit committee. It is now the Deputy Minister of the ó
Chair: Order please. There is no point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. In the interests of concluding this particular debate ó and the minister responsible for the Executive Council Office will, Iím sure, be delighted to answer questions about his particular budget when we get to that line in the supplementary. The government did, as one of their first acts, repeal the Government Accountability Act, which, had it been allowed to remain and followed through, would have included performance measures by departments and would have included greater accountability to Yukoners and a listing of these performance measures. The performance measures were not followed up by the current government. They repealed the Government Accountability Act.
Has there been any work done since the repeal of the Government Accountability Act on performance measures for departments, or has that been allowed to go as well?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will repeat for the memberís benefit that the Minister of Finance is no longer chair of the Internal Audit Committee. Itís now in the hands of the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council Office, and it is an internal function.
As far as the accountability plan, the government took the view immediately upon taking office that the machinery of government, its resources and personnel, would be much better utilized by delivering programs and services to Yukoners. Each department has a mandate, as laid out on every front page of every budget document. Our measurement is whatís going on in the public. Letís take for example the governance issues and partnerships with First Nations. Letís look at the measurables, and there are many that we have concluded. The governance memorandum of understanding that we are advancing; consultation protocol, which has been signed and is quite extensive ó it lays out the many areas that require us to consult with First Nations, self-governing, and/or the Council of Yukon First Nations, whether it be legislation, land, heritage, boards, fish and wildlife, forestry, development, assessment, process, roads, bridges, hydro, utilities, quarries, wilderness adventure, other ó it lays it all out. Another area, another measurable. That list goes on and on, including Childrenís Act review, corrections reform and education reform.
Letís look at the economy. Letís look at the measurables: 5.3 percent unemployment rate; more jobs for Yukoners; more stimuli in the Yukon economy; the population is growing. Letís look at Health and Social Services. Letís look at the measurables: because of Northern Health Accord and territorial health access funds we are increasing our investment in health care, in the hospital, daycare, autism, in terms of a Crossroads-type facility for drug and alcohol treatment, and the list goes on and on. We are dealing with seniors ó multi-level care facilities. Thereís another measurable.
More beds in Copper Ridge ó another measurable.
Letís look at education: thereís more investment, the department is working on its mandate and weíve increased investment in education, conducting educational reform, curriculum investments, more money for the Yukon College and its base grant, more training dollars ó over $2 million now ó training Yukoners in many areas and fields that will produce a benefit to Yukon. Thatís the measurable in whatís going on in the public. We need not look internally and have the machinery of government, its personnel and its resources spending all its time and effort gazing into a mirror. We need the machinery of government delivering those programs and services, making the quality of life better for Yukoners, and we as a government measure it by whatís happening in the public and in todayís Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: There has been a great deal of public comment and credit taken and discussion and news reports with respect to the degree of additional territorial revenue and transfers from Canada. Some of the money is contained in the supplementary before us, in the financial summary pages, S-1 and S-2. Some of it may not be there because it has not yet been booked. I would just like the Finance minister to review the additional funds that are contained in the financial summary and what additional funds might be anticipated. Then I would like to delve into the issue of a long-term plan. But if he would start with the additional revenues: what is contained, what are we still waiting to be booked from Ottawa?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, some of the increased revenues are booked here in terms of transfer, but not all. So the best way to do this is to go over some of the amounts as we know them today. They are projected figures. For 2004-05, based on the main estimates, the territorial formula financing grant, as published, was at $434,339,000. As we know it today, in 2004-05, the TFF grant forecast is at $479,409,000, which sees an increase in the TFF grant level of $45,070,000. But further to that is an additional increase in the Canada health and social transfer, CHST, of $2,072,000, for a grand total of additional new funds available in 2004-05 of $47,142,000.
Moving on to 2005-06, factoring in increases in the TFF, CHST and the new northern health access fund, we will see an increase as projected for 2005-06 of $51,147,000 of additional new funds. Moving on to 2006-07, following through the same format, we would see an increase, as projected, of $52,707,000. Is that sufficient in terms of the values?
Ms. Duncan: Thatís a good start.
Iím looking on page S-2 of the supplementary. What I have on S-2 in front of me is ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Iím hearing that I should be using S-1.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: S-4, okay. Changing over to S-4, on the transfers from Canada, am I to understand the total transfers of Canada ó the line on page S-4 has $488,787,000. Are we to add, as per the Finance ministerís comment, $47 million on top of this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The problem is that these amounts of increase have been coming forward at different times during the fiscal year. Some of what I relayed to the member opposite in this document ó and a small amount of it is already captured here. So that would be, for instance, the CHST that comes under a per capita transfer. That was already captured in this supplementary. Given the fact that this is only period 8 ó so we still have a way to go in this fiscal year, which could see more changes. The good news is that the finances of the territory are in a lot better shape now than they were two years ago, obviously, and we can go back through budget documents and show clearly the evidence of that in terms of our increased revenues.
And itís not just the transfer. Weíre experiencing increases in other revenues, too, and I think thatís important because it includes our own source levels of revenue that are experiencing an upward trend.
So, all in all, if we were to do quick math, the $47,142,000 for 2004-05 would be minus $2,072,000, and that would put us at about a $44-million increase, rounded out mains to mains. So thatís another $17 million, which is already booked in the supplementary. So it gives you a new projection of $452 million, but when we add in the overall total of increases, weíre already at $479 million, and thatís minus the CHST.
Is the member confused yet? Iím not confused, because, Mr. Chair, the accounting is clear. We know where weíre at as of period 8, and we know where weíll be at as projected not only at fiscal year-end 2004-05 but also in 2005-06 and 2006-07, as I related to the member opposite already.
Ms. Duncan: † Iím looking forward to rereading the Blues. I just want to walk through this for everybodyís benefit. Page S-4, transfers from Canada, note (3), which excludes recoveries ó so to be clear, recoveries from Canada, like billings for health care or ó what about Canada infrastructure money? Is that considered billings from Canada? No, itís just, say, health care ó money weíve billed for monies they owe us that is not included in this. But what we have here are the transfers. Weíve got our territorial formula financing, so our grant from Canada, $452 million.† Weíve got the Canada health transfer of $17 million in the supplementary. Weíve got the additional Canada social transfer. Weíve got the Canada health and social transfer supplement at $1.9 million, the health reform transfer at $1.4 ó closer to $1.5 million, Northern Health Accord at $6.6 million.
The bottom line, according to the supplementary, is we have an increase from $468,780,000 in a transfer from Canada, we are anticipating or have booked ó weíve booked with this supplementary ó $488,787,000 from Canada. Next year at this time when weíre closing out 2004-05, what does the minister anticipate that figure will be?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Going on the memberís assumption, we would be looking at considering whatís in the supplementary estimate before us, which shows clearly at the end of the totals $488,787,000, which shows a $20,007,000 increase. That would be subtracted from the total I gave the member on the projected amount of increased revenues and a grand forecast of additional new funds of $47,142,000. As I pointed out, we could not capture all the increased revenues in this supplemental document because they came in after the fact.
Once we determined it, we did a projection now that shows that, at the year-end for 2004-05, the total increase in new funds coming to the Yukon from Canada would be $47,142,000. Going back to where we were at period 8, before the projections for year-end, we would have to subtract the $20,007,000 from that total. That means we would have approximately $27 million more money by projection for the year-end 2004-05. But thatís not going to remain consistent, as the member well knows. There will be other pressures on the overall formula and its mechanisms before we reach year-end.
Ms. Duncan:††††† Fiscally, conservatively speaking, knowing the formula has its own roller-coaster ride, we are looking at an additional ó give or take ó $27 million from Ottawa, on top of the $488 million plus. Thatís what the Premier just said.†
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Itís not what is in the book. Contrary to what was kibitzed across the floor, that is not what is reflected because they canít book it yet because they donít have it all yet. I was simply asking what the anticipated amount would be.
The note excludes recoveries from Canada. As I understand it, that is our billings to Canada. Where are the strategic infrastructure programs? There are different programs ó largely they come under Community Services, so I can wait and ask the questions then. But some of them were not applied for, money may not have been received. Some of the projects havenít happened and they will come up for a revote. Those funds are not in here if they havenít been realized yet or not expended yet. Where do they sit in this envelope of money from Ottawa?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: On some of those funds there has been no flow of monies yet from the federal government. They are booked as recoveries. The debate with the departments involved here ó I believe Community Services and the Department of Highways and Public Works are where the member could ask these questions in detail. Until the money flows from the federal government we donít have cash in hand. We certainly have the commitment as loudly proclaimed by the federal government and our MP that this money was flowing to the Yukon ó millions and millions of dollars.
The member opposite can ask the minister responsible exactly how that was set up, given the process we had to follow with the federal government.
Itís in this budget as recoverables, in the 2004-05 mains. Also, the member opposite has to compare apples to apples in looking at the grant from Canada. If we wanted to change the exact number for the member ó and I refer to S-4 ó so everything is consistent outside of the projections for year-end, we would see that number of $452,246,000 ó considering the unbooked amounts in our supplementary budget ó change to $479,409,000.
So the difference for the member, if theyíre using mains to mains voted to date and revised vote, would show a difference of $17,907,000 plus the balance to get to $479,409,000. I would suggest the member take $45,070,000, subtract $17,907,000, and you should come to the amount thatís booked here ó the total.
If the member would like, I could do it for her.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, I get to study my regrouping, as itís called now, usually most evenings when I help with the grade 3 math, so Iím quite familiar with doing that, thank you. If the Finance minister wishes to avail himself of the opportunity to also partake in the regrouping lessons ó
Itís not uncommon for budgets under previous administrations to include a long-term financial plan at the back. This is a supplementary. Itís also a supplementary that reflects significant additional spending. Does the Finance minister have a long-term financial projection based upon these new figures? Would he be willing to commit to ensuring such a long-term page is included in the budget that will be presented this spring?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We would remain consistent with projections for out years, as we have in the mains for 2004-05; weíll do the same in the next budget year. I have provided the members some projections into following years in terms of the transfer from Canada, in totals, but again the member must also understand that all these numbers are projections made by the best available information that we have to date.
Mr. Fairclough: I do have some questions for the Premier. I tried to follow along what has been said, the questions being asked and answers coming to this side of the House. Iíve looked at the projections from the main budget that the Premier had, and it does show that there are increases in the transfer from Canada, but it doesnít reflect it until 2005-06. I think the question the member from the third party asked is quite legitimate. There is no increase in that long-term projection; itís not in there. Iím looking at 2005-06, when we see the increases.
Iím mistaken. Thereís about $500,000 difference, but itís certainly not reflective of the millions that the member just said. As a matter of fact, this year is still at $468,780,000.
Iím wondering if the Premier can give us more of an update as to what we can look at two or three years down the road. Also, can he tell us whether the increase is largely due to devolution or is that already taken into consideration from last yearís budget?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I just pointed out to the member of the third party, we would remain consistent so that when we table our next mains it will show the updated projections for out years.
The issue of devolution was long since incorporated; it has nothing to do with these increases that we are showing in the supplementary, nor does it have anything to do with the numbers that I already relayed to this Legislature in ongoing years. The memberís assertion that there is no new money until 2005-06 would be incorrect. There is an increase for 2004-05.
I did relay to the House that in 2005-06 a grand total of funds that is new ó new money, not old money ó is $51,147,000. That is already in Hansard.
I said, for 2006-07, the additional new money is $52,707,000. This merely reflects the grand total of additional funds from the federal government, which includes the territorial funding formula grant, Canada health and social transfers, and the northern health access fund, which we just negotiated at the First Ministers Conference. So we did relay those figures. They are projected figures, and I am sure they will change before the new mains are tabled for the fiscal year 2005-06.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I did say there was an increase by looking at the numbers, but it is nothing compared to what numbers are being presented by the minister now. So the information that was provided just five or six months ago is outdated ó largely outdated, is what the Premier is saying, because most people pick up the budget and they read it.
This is what it is for the year. All we are asking is whether or not we are going to get some new numbers that have been projected. I guess not, because the federal government is experiencing a good pot of money and has been generous to the Yukon, and we have seen that increase in health care and other sectors. I am glad to see more monies coming in. Obviously it should mean more monies going down to the communities in the Yukon Territory.
I think the Premier did get away from their big speech and their very first budget that they brought forward about controlling the trajectory of spending. That was the big thing. Every one of the ministers talked about it ó we cannot afford it, we cannot be spending the way we are and we have to move away from that.
Well, was there any thought of whether or not we would have an increase in grants from the federal government to do this at the time? Why did the Premier feel that nothing could be done in this area?
Now, if you look at the perception that people have out there, this government cried poverty at the beginning of their mandate, cried poverty while negotiating with the teachers, for example ó there was no money. Now weíre seeing a huge increase to the point where I believe this government has a bit of a problem in spending money in communities where they say itís their priority, and so on. I think itís important to be clear to Yukoners about what is exactly in this budget. I guess a simple question then to the Premier is ó I have to find it here in the book. Iím using the supplementary budget that weíre currently in, and thatís the latest information that the member opposite is providing us ó Supplementary Estimates No. 1.
The Premier said we have more people coming to the territory. He said there are more people working. Weíre down to a 5.5-percent unemployment rate. Why would that not be reflected in increases to personal income tax?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, letís deal with the facts. Upon taking office the financial situation of the territory was dramatically different. The member said something that is astounding, considering the evidence. We concluded ó the provinces and territories ó a negotiation with the federal government that resulted in the large portion of these increases three weeks ago.
The member, for some reason, thinks it should have been reflected in the supplementary budget. That was an impossibility. There has been a lot of effort put in since 2002 to increase the financial position of the Yukon government. The trajectory of spending at that time, considering the revenues coming in, was not sustainable. Weíve done a lot of work in changing that, Mr. Chair.
With respect to the collective bargaining agreement, even before the increase in the financial position of the territorial government, we negotiated one of the most substantial collective bargaining agreements in this territory: a 10-percent increase over four years. The teachers also agreed, before these increases came in, to a collective bargaining agreement. So did the doctors. The doctors agreed, before these significant increases came forward, to another agreement, so the memberís assertions do not fit the facts.
As far as revenues increasing for the territory, they are increasing. Investments are increasing. The stats show that in mining exploration, for example, weíve gone from $6 million to $7 million two-and-a-half years ago to between $20 million and $25 million this year.
And those trajectories and trends are showing increases. Weíve got other increases, in terms of revenues, that are important to the Yukon Territory. At the end of the day, I think that if you look at the estimate for 2004-05 in personal income tax, considering where we actually were in 2002-03, youíre going to see an increase from $32,144,000 to $34,382,000. By anybodyís estimation, thatís increased revenues and personal income tax because of more jobs.
Weíve gone from $4,104,000 in corporate income tax to $5,501,000. These are Revenue Canada estimates that will be updated in the next couple of months.
We are seeing other areas, like tourism, with increased numbers in terms of visitation ó again, pointing to the trends that are happening in the territory. We are seeing, for example, financial institutions in the Yukon ó one in particular and I wonít mention names. But since July it has lent out over $3 million to the private sector in loans.
I donít know where the member is coming from, and itís virtually impossible to try to respond to those kinds of questions when they donít connect to the realities of what is happening.
Just to sum up, the dramatic increases in our financial position are of recent determinations, recent work that was accomplished. The Department of Finance and its officials have worked diligently on the business case for the Yukon, which was requested by the federal government to deal with the adequacy gap.
Weíve covered a great distance in that area and I think itís important that the members opposite give recognition to the changes of where we were financially two years ago to where we are today.
Another area, when you consider the northern economic development money committed by the federal government to be split three way ó is a total of $90 million ó $30 million more in economic development investment monies is coming to this territory. That didnít happen two years ago; that just happened in the recent federal budget. Itís booked in there. All of these things are evidence of the fact that the member is pointing to things that are not reflecting whatís happening in todayís Yukon. That could be the problem with the official oppositionís position in the Yukon public: not reflecting whatís going on in todayís Yukon.
The member has clearly shown and demonstrated this propensity to reconstruct the past. We are building the future.
Chair: Order please. The Chair is very conscious and concerned about terms such as ďreconstruct the pastĒ and what is implied by it. Iíd like to review the Blues and examine it in the context it was used, but the Chair is certainly not comfortable with members stating that other members are trying to reconstruct history or revise it in any other way than to accurately reflect the facts.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Changing what has already taken place in this territory cannot happen today. We have actually progressed a great deal from where the member is in terms of the position of the official opposition ó dramatic changes in this territory that the official opposition seem not to have kept up with.
Thatís up to the official opposition. The point being is that the financial position for the Yukon government is strengthened, strengthened from where it was when this government took office, and that was one of our commitments: to get our fiscal house in order. I think, through the good works of the Department of Finance and its officials and others and the cooperative approach weíve taken with other jurisdictions and the federal government, that we have realized a great deal of success in that area. We are looking into the future now in determining how best to invest the Yukonís resources so that we ensure that we are experiencing economic growth, so that we ensure that we are sustaining our environment, so that we ensure that our education system is one that reflects the needs of Yukoners, and so we ensure that our social fabric is as strong as it can be.
All these things are happening in todayís Yukon. The Member for Mayo-Tatchun may not realize it, but the member should.
Chair: Order. It has reached our normal time for recess. 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. We will continue on with Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05, in general debate.
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier didnít answer my question. I asked about income tax and personal income tax and why there was a decrease, simply because the Premier said there are more people working and more people in the territory. But there is a decrease in personal income tax from last year to this year. I would like to know why that is happening. Is it because weíre seeing more lower-end jobs? Maybe the Premier can elaborate on that a bit.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The numbers that reflect the level of income tax revenues are done by Revenue Canada. We wonít have the new numbers reflecting this period the member is talking about until February. Itís a given that our unemployment rate for October is 5.3 percent. Itís a given that there are more jobs in the Yukon. Those are statistically areas that can be shown clearly by evidence to be factual. Itís a given that there is more population in the territory ó guaranteed. The member has to wait until the final analysis comes in from Revenue Canada reflecting these recent trends in the territory, which are all very positive trends.†
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier says itís positive, but if itís going down it should be raising some red flags for the minister. Both personal income tax and corporate income tax are projected to be lower this year than they were last year. Thatís using Revenue Canadaís numbers, or is the Premier writing his own? Itís not down by much. Itís down by half a million dollars in personal income tax and close to the same for corporate income tax. Iím wondering why.
The Premier says weíre going to see the change increase by the end of this fiscal year, but why was it projected to be lower? I guess the question that should be asked is: why was it projected to be lower this year than it was last year?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Because the estimates are based on Revenue Canadaís estimates, and thatís what we use. And in February, Revenue Canada will change those estimates to actuals and, in all likelihood, theyíll show an increase.
Mr. Fairclough: The numbers that I read off were not in the supplementary budget. They were in last yearís budget, in the long-term plan ó not in the long-term plan, but the financial information portion of that budget. So that doesnít seem to match up with what the Premier just said although, when it comes to other revenues, it is recorded in here as increase or decrease. For example, liquor profits have decreased $40,000, but there is a huge increase in oil and gas revenues. And we can see that directly reflecting the price of oil internationally with the two wells we have in southeast Yukon.
That is more than a third of an increase over what was tabled five months ago. Is that a number that was looked at again specifically because thereís an increase to oil internationally? Iím seeing a $2,025,000 increase in that, and thatís huge and doesnít reflect the same increase we have in the price of oil.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member has to come to the understanding that, in areas the federal government provides the estimates on, we have to wait until they do their work, so we only reflect information weíve had in the past. I pointed out to the Member for Mayo-Tatchun a number of times that, by February, the new estimates will be coming in from the federal government on income tax.
In other areas we are responsible for, we are booking and reflecting them based on the changes ó tax revenue and other revenue showing clearly in the supplementary budget increases.
As far as the issue of oil and gas, the Kotaneelee does not produce crude oil; it produces natural gas. The projections for the supplementary are coming from Energy, Mines and Resources and the member could debate with the minister when that line item comes up.
But in all likelihood, it is to do with the potential increased production in the Kotaneelee, given the activity that is going on in the southeast Yukon right now.
Mr. Fairclough: So the Premier is saying that we are going back ó we are not looking at what we are bringing in in the future. We are looking back from this day backward and that is why we are seeing the increase in $2 million reflected here in increased revenues.
This is for oil and gas resource revenue. Is the Premier saying it is directly related to an increase in production in southeast Yukon for the two wells that we have, or is it the increase in the price of fuel going up internationally?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I pointed out to the member opposite, this is an Energy, Mines and Resources line item. The minister responsible will give him in great detail what the projection is. As I said, itís to do with the increased activity in the Kotaneelee. Itís not crude oil; itís natural gas. The wells in the Kotaneelee produce natural gas ó they have for some time ó and the department is projecting increased revenues in this area because of a third well coming on stream.
Mr. Fairclough: Itís interesting what the member just said: we are looking at projections now for the end of the year. When we looked at income tax, itís all about from this day backward and it doesnít make sense. The Premierís answers donít make sense either. We are using his own numbers.
I will move off of that right now. That seems to be a dramatic increase in oil and gas revenue for that line item. The minister said it was until the end of the year, which is an increase of over 30 percent, and if it was from this date backward, we could look at doubling that.
I wanted to ask about questions of building values and how we are adding government assets into our surpluses or recognizing that this is what we have and this is what theyíre worth.
One new building that we have, the Old Crow school ó what is the value there and are we seeing a depreciation of this in a different way than we are seeing for other buildings? For example, just because of the simple age of the building and the fact that it is going to disappear out of government hands in about 21 years.†
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is going to be a difficult exercise because the Member for Mayo-Tatchun doesnít even understand income tax. The reason there are estimates from the federal government, and they are to do with prior years, is because our calendar year ends December 31. At that period, those individuals in the Yukon will have to file their income tax for the prior year. So the estimates coming from the federal government, until they get the new filings for income tax in 2004, which wonít be until February, use estimates from the prior year.
Surely the member understands that, unless the member doesnít pay income tax. The estimates, as we pointed out to the member for umpteen times ó† weíre using federal government estimates on income tax and thatís the reason why.
The other items are areas under our purview and control. I pointed out that the oil and gas increase revenues will be dealt with in great detail by the minister responsible, if the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has any desire to get to the department-to-department and line-by-line debate.
As far as the Old Crow school, Iím not sure what the member is talking about in 21 years, but the value of the Old Crow school, net book value, was $8.9 million at the end of 2004. Thatís the book value.
That is the book value and itís 40 years, as laid out by the CICA and the Public Sector Accounting Boardís guidelines, and the remaining life is 36 years. So Iím not sure where the member is coming from with 21 years. Thatís the remaining lifespan; and that book value, as of this year, is $8.9 million.
Mr. Fairclough: I think maybe the Premier must be back in the 1930s or something: to think that we on this side of the House arenít paying income tax just goes to show where the Premier is at.
In 21 years, this government will not own the building, the school in Old Crow. Thatís what Iím getting at. Is there a different way the government is looking at this, or is he still looking at 40 years for what the building is worth? They wonít own it in 21 years, so I would think thatís a legitimate question about the value of the building and the fact that ó maybe itís only 20 years now, or 22 years; I might be a year off on that; I donít know what the final date for it to be signed over is on this building. But how is it then valued in our books? The same as always, like the Premier said ó 40 years? Is that what weíre seeing or are we seeing something different because weíre not going to own that building? An example could be the jail in Teslin. Thatís no longer in government hands now. And this building, the school, is the very same thing, so what are we to see this as? I know it may not be a big deal, but weíre putting dollars on paper for the public to look at. If theyíre not really what we see it to be, then this should be reflected or even noted.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have already explained a number of times what would happen at the time of the disposal of assets, so let me go through this.
If the school in Old Crow is disposed of at any time during this amortization period, the year of its disposal, it would be written down to zero ó no remaining value on the Yukon governmentís books. Weíve gone through that process with a number of the members opposite. But whatís really of concern to the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is the fact that, in the glossary for the supplementary budget, the area of disposals is clearly explained. It says ďDisposals of tangible capital assets may occur by sale, destruction, loss or abandonment. Upon disposal, the net book value of the asset is removed from the accounts.Ē Itís already in the supplementary document.
Now, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has made some comments here that donít reflect the situation. The issue is in understanding whatís going on with income tax. The government side finally had to make the point that they are estimated figures based on the information that Revenue Canada has from the last tax filing. Until there is a new tax filing, there canít be any new estimates. Itís pretty simple stuff, and so is this area of a disposed asset. Itís clearly laid out in the supplementary document. Weíve relayed this information to members opposite continually during the debate of this particular supplementary, and now the Member for Mayo-Tatchun seems to have missed all that. But I think weíve answered that question a number of times.
So before the member stands up and says the minister didnít answer the question, let me repeat: it is in the document ó the definition of disposals and what happens. I wonít read it again, but the simple summation is that, if we dispose of an asset, during the year of its disposal there would be a full write-down of the value of that asset. It would be taken off the governmentís accounts.
Mr. Fairclough: It took a long time to get there. Why didnít the minister say that in the first place, Mr. Chair?
In regard to income tax, I was using the ministerís own numbers, and it is other people who are disagreeing with the minister: Revenue Canada, for one. So Iíll just leave it at that.
Well, itís true. Look at the numbers. The Premier laughs at it, but the numbers are on the papers that he gives to us on this side of the House. So we can only go with that information, and that is how we ask questions on this side of the House: on what is being provided by the Premier.
In regard to the jail, much work has been done on the jail up the hill. The Liberals did a lot of work, and the Premier decided that they wanted to go another route. Corrections reform seems to be a big one that the Premier is basing the new design of the jail on. What happens with the work that has been done already? Does that just get thrown out, or was that just a waste of money, in the view of the Premier? Was that work that would be used? The general public doesnít know that and it hasnít been clearly told to them.
Also, in regard to the bridge in Dawson City, it has been said over and over that this is a pilot project for P3s. It was a pilot project for P3s. and I know that the Yukon Party likes P3s ó public/private partnerships ó and the bridge is just one that needs a lot of questions to be asked. Is this government looking at having the correctional facility ó the jail ó as another P3 project?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In responding to the leader of the third party, these very same questions were answered. This is general debate on the budget. There is a Minister of Justice responsible for this department and, when we get into department-by-department, line-by-line debate, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun can repeat the same question if he chooses. But the answer is quite simple. The government is proceeding with correctional reform before we build a jail ó full stop.
Mr. Fairclough: I donít believe the question was asked about P3s ó whether or not this was a project that the Yukon Party is interested in seeing as a P3. The bridge is one of them. This is a political decision. We understand where the government is going with corrections reform ó we understand that.
What we donít understand is why the government is not moving on replacing the jail. It has been two years now; theyíve invested $1 million, which really didnít ó I have a question on that too.†
The minister just says to wait until we get into the department. This is an overall Yukon Party direction that they are going in, not a departmental pushing for a P3 ó I donít believe, anyway. The Premier just wants to leave this and let the Minister of Justice answer this question because they are more informed on that matter. I just canít believe it. This is about P3s. The bridge in Dawson City was a decision clearly made politically by the Yukon Party and it was a pilot project. In the meantime, policies will be developed as this project is being built. That is what was said.
As it is being built, the policy could be put in place, I believe, in a short period of time. Other projects are coming around.
Well, let me ask this question, I guess, in regard to P3s: what other projects is the Yukon Party looking at for P3s? The jail was one example. The Premier must have a whole list because, after all, the bridge is just a pilot project so they are basically saying that there are other projects out there. Can he give us a list of which projects they feel could possibly go to P3s?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: † Again, we have a minister responsible for this area. There is only one project that is being looked at in terms of being a pilot project for a P3: that is the bridge in Dawson City and, at this time, there are absolutely no other projects being looked at as a P3 ó again, full stop.
Mr. Fairclough: Weíve heard that one before; the Premier would announce a project without letting the general public even know in which direction this government is going. The bridge was one of them: no consultation took place in regard to P3s, or even any details about how the general public will be paying this expensive project off. There are many questions in regard to that and we will ask when we get into departmental debate.
One of the things the Yukon Party government said was that they wanted to look at infrastructure around the territory. The electrical grid was one of them. Weíve seen the pipeline, the railroad and so on. The other one was to tie in the electrical grid in the territory. Can the Premier tell us when we will see that work being done from, letís say, Stewart Crossing to Carmacks, and if there are other works that are being done in the southern part of the territory: microhydro projects and that type of thing?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is a minister responsible for energy matters in this government, and when we get into department-by-department and line-by-line debate, the member can ask detailed questions and Iím sure the minister will respond in great detail.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, the Premier might be sure of that, but we certainly arenít. We have asked questions in this House where the minister refuses to answer, so how can the minister say that he believes that questions are being answered in great detail? This is about overall government direction. So, has the government done any work in the south of the Yukon in regard to microhydro and are they looking actively at tying in our electrical grid to the south? Isnít that a question the Premier can answer?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have a minister responsible for energy matters in the territory, the Minister for Energy, Mines and Resources, of course, and the minister will respond to the memberís question in great detail, Iím sure.
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier is trying to get out of doing his job ó thatís what heís doing right here. Itís clear from this side of the House. This is general debate. We can ask any question in any department in general debate, so we will ask those questions.
I would take by the Premierís answers that he doesnít know; he doesnít know where the department is going. He doesnít know where his government is going in regard to tying in the grid. I mean, weíve read through the throne speech the Premier gave, and weíre holding them to that. We know what their election promise was and weíre holding them to that. We know that this government likes to do things in secrecy.
And I think it is in the public interest to know which way this government is going, because projects like these are millions of dollars.
I will ask those questions to the minister, and hopefully the minister responsible has some answers in regard to grid and microhydro projects. I guess this, if anything, gives the minister a little bit of time to do some homework because the Premier hasnít.
Hereís the direction that came out of Cabinet. It upset a lot of people out there. It upset Yukon Party faithful, and it seemed to be washed away. I know the Premier and the Yukon Party donít want to talk about it any more. It was a big expense to the taxpayer, and I believe in the end it didnít have the results the Yukon Party thought it would. It is in regard to the computer use investigation, or pornography, that, I guess, the Yukon Party said the employees were doing too much of. And there was no final tally of this project, really. When you look at it, the Yukon Party spent millions of dollars on pornography. Thatís basically what it is. It was a personal investigation on the parts of many people, and I think two people ó and millions of dollars ó got letters from the government. That was it. The Premier felt that they were in hot water and gave the direction to get out of it as soon as they could.
Is this investigation over? Thereís no more? What did we get out of it? What direction did the government go in on this matter? Do they feel they cracked down hard enough on the employees? Can the Premier also tell us what happens with the information that was gathered? Is that available to the public ó that type of thing? What happens to the information gathered?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: † Well, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is true to form and is certainly costing the taxpayer a great deal of money.
Now, the Premier does not micromanage his departments. In fact, this government is very confident in its ministers and its team and has no reason to micromanage departments in any way, shape or form. Iím glad the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has clearly shown in the public domain that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun would condone the utilization of government computers for the downloading of pornography. Thatís something that can certainly be concluded by the tenor of the memberís questions.
The member knows full well that that was a personnel matter and was not dealt with in any way, shape or form by the government Cabinet or government offices at all. It was dealt with through due process ó due process between the duly authorized agency or body, in this case the Public Service Commission representing the employer and the employees.
The memberís assertions here are so far from reality that it brings to mind a question on what exactly the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is doing.
Nothing he has put on the public record to date really makes any sense at all, including his income tax position, which may be because the member doesnít pay income tax ó I donít know. Anybody who has ever paid income tax would recognize that they are going to have to file by the time they get their T4 slips in February. In February when those estimates come forward, numbers will change. In the meantime, the member somehow is coming to this misguided conclusion that because past estimates from Revenue Canada show a certain number that the statistics that are being produced here in the Yukon Territory are not factual. Well, the member opposite can go on believing that. There is no point in this side of the House trying to change the memberís mind, nor are we going to waste any time trying to do it.
At the end of the day, the unemployment rate is factual; the increase in population is factual; there are more jobs for Yukoners ó that is factual. The financial situation of the territory has increased ó thatís factual. There is more investment in our social fabric ó that is factual. There is more investment in infrastructure like highways ó that is factual. There is more mining exploration ó that is factual. There is an increase in exploration in oil and gas activity ó that is factual. There is more tourism ó that is factual. We have an arts, cultural and film community and sound community that is busy creating another strategic sector of the Yukon economy ó that is factual. We have optimism in the Yukon Territory ó that is factual. We have real estate going up ó thatís factual. The number of building permits has gone up ó thatís factual. This list goes on and on and on.
What isnít factual are the assumptions of the Member for Mayo-Tatchun in trying to assess what is in a budget document. That is unfortunate, because the member has a duty and responsibility to represent a constituency. If that is the level of representation that the memberís constituency is receiving, then maybe we should consider privatizing the opposition, because we might get somewhere.
Unfortunately, this debate is going absolutely nowhere, and if the member has any questions that make any sense, the minister responsible will duly respond.
Mr. Fairclough: Obviously the Premier likes to hear himself talk, because thatís exactly what he has been doing over and over, trying to convince himself that the territory is in such great shape and the people out there love the Yukon Party for how they interact with them, but all along the Premier forgot the question. Isnít this the usual thing that happens with the Yukon Party? He forgot the question; he forgot what it was, and went on a bit of a rant about increases in highways and so on.
Letís have a look at the Yukon Party and what theyíve done, if the minister wants to do it in that fashion. First of all, when they started in government they pleaded poverty. I know the minister doesnít like it, because thatís exactly what they did. Go look in Hansard. Itís all in there, and the minister knows that. They needed to look closer at the numbers that were given them, and to say that we on this side of the House were giving misinformation to the public and our constituents is wrong, and I think the Chair should have called the Premier to order on that.
The public knows how to read the books provided by the ministers. They share their views with us, and they point out line items in the supplementary, like the educational reform position that has been put forward and the numbers attached to them. Does the Premier honestly think that nobody calls our office to talk about this matter, or any other matter thatís in any other department when we raise it? How does the Premier think that we on this side of the House are bringing forward the community issues?
When the Premier went to Carmacks, did he believe his Education minister, that the questions that I raised about the Carmacks school were only my opinion? Did he believe that? Did he honestly believe that, and did he believe his minister after he left that community? Now, did he believe that?
I think the Premier needs to think a lot about what heís saying about the kinds of issues that weíre bringing forward. Does he think that the investigation on personnel within his government is such a little thing that he doesnít even need to answer the question in this House? Those are real issues, and those are issues that hurt people, and itís because of this governmentís direction and this government wanting to investigate peopleís private information.
I asked the minister this question. It was a simple one, and he went on about what he felt was a good job that he was doing. It was in regard to information gathered on the computer use investigation ó information. What happens with that information, I asked the minister, and he couldnít answer the question ó or chose not to answer the question.
Thatís not right, Mr. Chair. Itís a very important question and I wanted to get into some details about it, because I didnít ask the question just to know where the information was. I want to know whatís happening with it and who can access it. This is an issue that Yukoners will not let go, and they have been raising it with us on this side of the House, so Iím asking the question. I think itís very important for the Premier not to skate away from that, not to try to hide it in the department, or say theyíre going to be answering the question. We know and the Premier knows from past experience that doesnít necessarily happen in this House, and he knows that even from being on the opposition side.
I think the Premier owes it to the public to be open about information that they have. After all, isnít this something that they campaigned on ó being open and accountable, being transparent? How many times have we heard those words coming from the Yukon Party? Why isnít the information coming forward? Why canít the minister answer the question?
This isnít Question Period, where the Premier chooses not to answer questions. Itís not Question Period. I believe that the public should have these questions answered and they should have details from the member opposite.
The member could go on and on about income tax questions that weíre asking. It was a very simple one: why was it forecast to be decreased? He can try to belittle us on this side of the House about our knowledge of it, but the question still goes unanswered. Iíve asked questions on this matter and it wasnít until some time later in the debate that the Premier would point out another part of the budget where the answer could be found. Thatís the proper thing to do, but the Premier didnít know that either. He didnít know that until further into the debate and I think, if anything, weíre probably educating the Premier on his own budget. We have to do this over and over again.
I think it needs to be clear and I think the Premier need not back away from the questions being asked. Itís obvious that heís already tired of general debate. This is general debate. It doesnít mean that. Because questions get tough, or maybe the Premier just simply wants the minister of the department responsible to answer the question, he could just say that, not just defer it right to the department automatically.
I think the Premier knows full well how much the opposition goes through supplementary budgets. I donít believe the Premier forgot that in two short years, because he has done that himself. He has gone through the supplementary estimates, the budgets and so on, and has asked questions in great detail ó using his own words ó about the supplementary budgets and demanded that questions be answered.
So what has changed in two years? The minister feels that, all of a sudden, the opposition doesnít deserve answers? The general public doesnít deserve answers? I remember the Premier himself asking questions about riding issues of government, their spending priorities and so on.
We on this side of the House feel, of course, that thatís the right thing to do ó bring up those issues ó and we do. The Premier did when he was on this side of the House, and now chooses to defer issues to the departments. Well, it wonít go away just because the Premier does that. If anything, perhaps now the departments could be coming forward in some detail on the questions weíre going to ask.
I probably wonít get very far with this Premier. He wants to shut down and is in bunker mode, so Iím just going to pass it over to my colleague.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to ask the Premier something. He talked a lot about this earlier this summer. We all know the situation that the territory was faced with this year with respect to forest fires. I think shortly after the election this was an issue for the Premier. He spoke out quite a bit and at great length about the devolution transfer agreement and the lack of funding for forest fire suppression.
The Premier made a lot about the fact that he was going to go to Ottawa and he was going to renegotiate that agreement so that there would be adequate funds for things like forest fire suppression. So Iíd like to ask the Premier where weíre at on that file and if he has been successful.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The issue of fire suppression post-devolution is extremely important for the Yukon. What the Yukon Party and this government pointed out is there was a flaw in the devolution transfer agreement when it came to the fire suppression fund and the reduction of federal exposure in the costs of fighting wildfire in the Yukon over a period of time.
And that concern came true this past season because it showed exactly why that flaw is in the agreement, so what we have done is ask the federal government to trigger the review clause in the devolution transfer agreement when it comes to fire suppression, and thatís the request that has been made. So not only did we point out the flaw, but the facts bore that out with the fire season that we had. Weíve asked for the federal government to review the fire suppression, and weíve also set up the fire suppression fund, and thatís the debate that took place in the House.
So we are doing something. Our intention is to put in a threshold of $30 million for fire suppression. Thatís not a number picked out of the air; itís a number based on the highest cost for wildfire in the Yukon. So we have done what we need to do and itís now up to the federal government to react positively. We will then proceed with the review on the five-year term for fire suppression money.
I think itís incumbent upon everybody ó opposition, the government, Yukoners, MP, senator ó to all clearly make representation to the federal government that this arrangement in the devolution transfer agreement is going to put the Yukon at great risk in the future because we cannot ó I repeat, we cannot ó sustain the kind of costs we incurred this year under the transfer agreement that exists today.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I realize we supported the change in the Financial Administration Act to create the fire suppression revolving fund and also the liability.
So has the Premier basically asked the federal government to trigger the review clause at an earlier date? And the Premier is nodding. So when could we expect to see some results from this? Has the Premier talked with his colleague in Ottawa about this, and when might there be a change in the devolution transfer agreement around fire suppression funding?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That has been a direct request of the new minister, Minister Scott, responsible for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He and I met in Whitehorse some weeks ago.
Under the devolution transfer agreement, we have a clause that allows, with six months left in the five-year term, that a review take place. The request of the minister is that we conduct the review now, regardless of where weíre at in the five-year term, based on the evidence that was presented to him in terms of the cost for firefighting.
So we are, as I pointed out, waiting for the response from the federal government on conducting the review. Theyíre going to have to do it sooner or later. All weíre saying is, letís do it now because itís in the best interests of the federal government. Should we have a situation where wildfire is such that there is going to a catastrophe in the Yukon, then the federal government exposure is quite extensive. The logical step to take is to determine what we can do about wildfire suppression so that we in the long term are diminishing what could be a very exorbitant cost to the Canadian taxpayer, and that would be, for example, the result of us having to declare a disaster area, similar to what took place in B.C.
†That cost to the federal government comes out of a 90/10 percentage rate: 90 percent federal, 10 percent provincial. Even with the costs incurred by the British Columbia government in that very terrible season, there was still a tremendous cost to the federal government because of the damage that took place. This is the same thing that we want to avoid in the Yukon.
Mr. Cardiff: Just some clarification: the Premier mentioned that it could be triggered at five years. Iím not totally familiar with the whole thing but what Iíd like the Premier to answer is: when is the five years up? When would that be up?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve just concluded our second year, so next year, heading into the 2005-06 season ó one fiscal year ó would be the third year. That means 2007-08 would be our fifth year and, with six months left in 2007-08, we have the right to trigger the review. Our request is to do it now.
Mr. Cardiff: What specifically ó if the federal minister comes back in the positive and says, ďYeah, OK, letís do this, letís trigger it now; letís look at it and open it upĒ ó can the Premier tell the House what specifically heís going to be asking for in terms of dollars or what his plans are around that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, first off, one of the problems that has happened is that there was an intention under the five-year arrangement where the federal governmentís exposure was reduced each year as we go forward, and the Yukon picked up that percentage of responsibility. There was an intention to build up the fund at a $6.5-million-a-year clip. So what was happening is that they expected to see that $6.5 million being transferred each year to the Yukon in hopes that we wouldnít be using it all up. That fund would build up over time and their exposure would be reduced.
Because of the fire season we experienced this season, we not only spent the surplus from the first year of the $6.5-million transfer, which was $4.5 million; we also expended $6.5 million transferred this year, for a total of $11 million, plus we had to inject another $10 million into the cost of firefighting, for an approximate total of $21 million.
What weíll look at with the federal government is things like stopping their reduction in the percentage of responsibility. For example, next year ó the third year ó their exposure will be 60/40. One of the requests weíll make is to leave it at, for example, 90/10, 70/30 ó weíll try to negotiate an arrangement where their overall contribution to fire suppression is going to be an increase over the $6.5 million thatís transferred.
Now if we get into a situation where our fire season is not as dramatic or as expensive, then itís in the federal interests because it would not cost them the extra money. So thatís one area of negotiation. Another area of negotiation is increasing the transfer, for example. Another area of negotiation would be to extend the federal participation beyond the five-year term and make it much longer, but those are yet to be determined. The overall issue, though, is that the Yukon government cannot take on 40 percent next year and then 50 percent the year following of these costs if we continue to have the type of wildfire season we experienced this year, because itís just simply not financially possible for us to do that. So I think the federal government understands that and we will work with them on a solution.
I want to point out something: we are not simply saying ďGive us more money.Ē Our approach to the federal government was that we are willing to put our end in too. We are willing to work with you and make our contribution. Itís not a question of you, the federal government, taking on all the responsibility. That would not reflect the fact that this territory has signed off on an agreement. So we are not going to renege on our responsibility. We are clearly saying, though, that given the evidence and what has happened this year, we do have a problem, and I think they agree. So now we will work together with the federal government on a solution that will not expose Yukoners over time in this area. Thatís the fair way to approach it.
Mr. Cardiff: I need the Premier to clear something up here. I think what he said is that we went about $10 million over on the fire suppression budget this year ó somewhere in that neighbourhood. We used up $4.4 million from the surplus last year, $6.5 million this year, and then we had to put in some extra money ó about $10 million I believe it was.
Now, in B.C., the federal government split the costs of the overage in B.C. for fire suppression, 90/10, and what the Premier was saying was that weíre losing ground in what the federal government would actually pony up, if you will, in a situation like that. He said next year it would be 60/40. I wasnít clear what it would be this year. But if itís a 90-percent/10-percent split when you have these extraordinary circumstances, why would it be 60/40 in the Yukon?
Are we talking about two different things?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíre actually talking about two different things here. The 90/10 formula is when a disaster area is declared. That requires the federal government then to be involved at a 90-percent cost ratio, 10-percent provincial. In B.C., thatís exactly what happened with the many number of homes being burnt. Communities even lost major sawmills, for example, so there was a tremendous cost over and above the $500 million plus it cost to fight the fires. The Yukon received some of that $500 million because, lucky enough that year, the Yukonís fire season was minimal so our crews were in B.C. assisting them so we received revenue there, too, which probably showed up in the books somewhere because we were paid to fight fires in British Columbia. So the 90/10 issue only comes to bear when a disaster area is declared, and there are certain criteria that would require that declaration.
The British Columbia government, along with the federal government, did declare that a disaster area.†
Getting back to us: this year, in this fire season, the overage above $6.5 million that is in the fire suppression fund that is transferred each year to us by the feds ó we were 30 percent responsible. The feds were 70 percent responsible. Next year, the Yukon will be 40 percent responsible on the overage, and the feds 60 percent. That is because that is the five-year arrangement that was agreed to under the devolution transfer agreement. And that is the area of flaw that we tried to point out prior to the signing of the devolution agreement ó that this is very risky. And there is some rationale for that.
Firstly, anyone who has been in the Yukon for any length of time will recognize that we have had some massive spikes in fire seasons in the past, and the costs were quite exorbitant back then. I pointed out that the $30-million threshold is based on historical information, albeit this season is one of the worst ever on record due to the number of fires and the area that was burned ó some 1.8 million plus hectares.
That does not always constitute or translate into a cost because of the policies that we adopted from the federal government on observation zones versus attack zones. The only time you incur a cost, overall, is in attack zone where you are actually fighting a fire ó another part of the flaw.
Getting back to the point of why this flaw is in place: first, it was evident that the transfer was too low ó $6.5 million ó it should have been higher; and, second, it is a well-known fact that every year we in the Yukon, living in the boreal forest, are experiencing an increased risk of wild fire simply because the forests are one year older. And each year they get older, they are more susceptible to wildfire. Third, we have a massive beetle infestation in the southwest Yukon, which has elevated the risk far beyond any historical data and information that could be used. That was a mistake again, because a recognition of that infestation, should it catch fire, should have been part of the formula in determining our fire suppression budget because of the costs that would be incurred should that wildfire occur, given the north highway and those communities and indeed even Haines Junction. Fourth, it was a mistake to reduce the federal government exposure in a five-year period, because, again, the risk of wildfire was increasing each year, but the federal involvement was decreasing. So, when you put the whole thing together, it created a situation where the agreement itself in regard to fire suppression was dramatically flawed.
Unfortunately ó and this is actually too bad ó in the second year after signing devolution, we experienced exactly what that flaw is all about.
It took a $6.5-million budget transfer and expended millions more to fight wildfires and, I must point out, in a reduced manner because we will not get paid the overages from the federal government unless we follow their policies. Their policies could, in some instances ó because of observation zones versus attack ó contribute to bigger, more massive fires occurring that can eventually threaten communities, dwellings and life. Once a fire gets going, it not only can make its own weather, but it can start to travel at a very heightened level of speed. Thatís when things get out of control.†
Dawson City, the Klondike this year, was a clear example of how a number of fires in observation zones can join up to be one big fire that needs to be fought. Of course, there come increased costs because youíre now fighting a much larger fire than you would normally have fought in a much smaller observation zone. So I would urge the members opposite to join us in lobbying the federal government to sit down and address this flaw in the devolution agreement. We should not be held responsible in the Yukon for what could be a terrible situation in the future with wildfire.
I think itís important that we all join forces in this regard and have the federal government work with us on a longer term solution so that we can better manage wildfire in the Yukon and thatís to our long-term benefit. I think we can all agree to that.
With that, and considering the time, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Fentie that we report progress on Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004Ė05, and has directed me to report progress on it. Also, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, and has directed me to report it without amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.