††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Tuesday, November 23, 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.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
†Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to introduce to the House a visiting delegation from Orient Mining Ltd. of Beijing and Anshan, China, consisting of Mr. Chunming Zhang, Mr. Yi Tao, Mr. Yutong Ding, Ms. Xiahohong Di, Mr. Fred Chao, who is with the group, and Danny Cheng and Ivy Chan, who are acting as our translators. I believe I mentioned Mr. Yi Tao. I donít want to forget Mr. Yi Tao, who is in charge of the railway operations for Anshan. Also, Mrs. Claire Derome, who is our senior business analyst, and of course Eugene Lysy, our deputy minister.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
†Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House calls upon the Government of Yukon to work in conjunction with all other levels of government in the Yukon to convene a territory-wide summit to develop a comprehensive action plan to combat substance abuse, which is a destructive and growing force in both urban and rural areas of the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon Party government should immediately begin practising the intent of the Motion No. 83, read in this House on April 8, 2003, which remains on the Order Paper and reads as follows:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Yukon Legislative Assembly has a role in ensuring that the CrownĖowned Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board are seen to be acting in the best interests of the Yukon public;
(2) the parties in the House have agreed that senior representatives of these two bodies will appear annually before the Legislative Assembly and be questioned directly by MLAs;
(3) to ensure that such appearances are as productive as possible, the government House leader must make best efforts to arrange briefings by representatives of the two bodies at least one week prior to their appearance;
(4) the ministers responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Workerís Compensation Health and Safety Board should also arrange to have officials provide written copies of their opening statements to opposition members at least one week in advance;
(5) during their annual appearances, officials should make best efforts to be efficient in their opening statements and in responses to questions, with priority for questioning being given to opposition members; and
THAT this House urges the government to adopt the preceding process to achieve a higher standard of accountability to the people of our territory.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† Veterinary college, University of Saskatchewan
†Mr. Fairclough: Yesterday I asked the Minister of Education a number of questions about the government-sponsored seat at the veterinary college in Saskatoon. The Minister of Education advised me, in his words, ďGo and get the information directly from the Minister of Economic Development,Ē so Iíd like to take the ministerís advice. My question today is directed to the Minister of Economic Development.
Was the minister present at any Cabinet discussions concerning the Yukon government securing a seat at the veterinary college?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe the question the member opposite is asking is: why are we trying to assist students to get better education? Persons wishing to attend a veterinary college must do so by region. This means that Yukoners cannot attend a college in Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, space is limited by provincial and territorial jurisdictions, and Yukon is allowed one seat at the Saskatchewan facility. The cost for the seat is $25,000 per year. This payment is comparable to providing base funding at Yukon College. This government has agreed to fund this seat where there has been a request ó in other words, a successful candidate.
The college pre-screens the applicant and decides whether an applicant is qualified to be accepted. Mr. Speaker, any student wishing to attend veterinary college must apply to the college in the same way that one would apply to a university for acceptance. Individuals will become aware of the program in the same way that one might become aware, for example, of medical school.
Mr. Fairclough: It is interesting that the Minister of Economic Development chooses not to answer the question. The Minister of Education left the impression in the newspapers yesterday that he was the one who brought the matter to the Management Board. Well, technically, Mr. Speaker, that is probably accurate. However, one has to wonder why he brought it forward, since the Yukon Party had cancelled this program earlier. Are we on this side of the House to believe that the minister just woke up one morning and said, ďLetís have a Yukon seat at the veterinary collegeĒ?
So, again, for the Minister of Economic Development: that minister knew that one of his employees was interested, so did he ever have any communications with the college on behalf of the government or the student?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, for the record I want to state that another Yukon student is bettering their education. This is a good-news story. This is not a new initiative. This program has been around since 1976. A total of three students have graduated from this program, and I understand it is extremely difficult to get accepted into any veterinary college. When this government took office, it made the decision to stop paying a sum of money to the vet school. It had been a number of years since any qualified applicant had been accepted into this veterinary program. This was done with the understanding that if a Yukon student were accepted in the future, the arrangements would be reinstated. It is important that we all understand that we are not talking about tuition fees. Any student attending the vet college must pay their own tuition. The $25,000 charged by the vet college for the Yukon seat is for the veterinary college operational funding. All jurisdictions pay this fee.
This government is proud of the academic accomplishments ó
Speaker: Your time has expired.
Mr. Fairclough: The Minister of Economic Development again chooses not to answer the question, but I will give him a final opportunity here. My question is directly to the Minister of Economic Development: did the minister at any time advise the Minister of Education or his other Cabinet colleagues that an employee of his clinic was applying to attend the veterinary college in Saskatoon? If so, when did this take place? Can the Minister of Economic Development answer that question?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The decision to go forward with this program was made by the Management Board. In early summer the government learned that a qualified Yukoner had been accepted into the highly competitive veterinary program. As the government had agreed, the sum of money was negotiated with the University of Saskatchewan and it appeared in the supplementary budget, which was tabled in the House some time ago. The student went through the normal admission procedures and was accepted into the program under full merits.
It is my understanding that all normal admission procedures were followed by the college. The Yukon government had nothing to do with this process, and again I want to plant firmly in the minds of the opposition that this government will continue to assist students in the Yukon.
Question re: Veterinary college, University of Saskatchewan
Mr. Hardy: I know of many, many students in the territory who have been accepted to many, many programs that cost a substantial amount of money. Do they get a ticket paid for them ó a $100,000 ticket paid for them? No, they do it on their own in most cases, or else they canít do it. Something happened here, Mr. Speaker.
I have a straightforward question for the Premier: did the Minister of Economic Development take part in any Cabinet decisions about the Yukon government securing a seat at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I want to correct the member opposite in his statements about being able to get accepted anywhere in universities. This particular profession is only offered in universities that are regional.
Mr. Hardy: The question was directed to the Premier. He should stand up and answer these questions. This government has had a policy. It was no longer paying for a seat at the college, yet all of a sudden that policy changed. It didnít have it; now it does. A newspaper account yesterday said the Minister of Education took the decision to Management Board and skipped past the entire Cabinet. What are the facts, and what is this government trying to hide, because thereís something happening here? Why did the Premier allow one of his ministers to take part in a Cabinet discussion that involved his profession and even an employee of his own private business? Why did the Premier allow that to happen?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, I must correct the record for the member opposite and state for the record that the Cabinet minister in question did not have any discussion on this Cabinet submission. It was decided by Cabinet that this individual be supported, because this individual went through due process, went through all the requirements to be accepted into this veterinary college, and this government merely held good to its word.
Mr. Hardy: Where do we start? The Premier wonít stand up; the minister responsible for this mess wonít stand up. Where has the Premier set the ethical bar with this government? Or is there even an ethical bar at all? Thatís what Iíve heard from my constituents out there: they donít believe there is one now.
Cabinet ministers can thumb their noses at long outstanding debts to the Yukon people. Cabinet ministers can make phone calls about commercial properties that could be affected by government investment. Cabinet ministers can apparently take part in Cabinet discussions that could affect employees of their own private business.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: I havenít even gotten to it yet.
Old friends and cronies of the governing party can get lucrative contracts without any public tendering process. The style of government is dictated by the leadership. Eventually the Premier has to set some kind of ethical standard for this government, Mr. Speaker. People are waiting to see it.
When will this happen?
My question: the people are waiting to see some ethical standards being set, so when is the Premier going to set them?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, now that weíre talking about ethics, letís delve into that very concept. The members opposite are hiding here in the immunity of the Legislative Assembly, making inferences again of wrongdoing, and they have just listed off the areas of inferences. We on this side of the House have set the highest of ethical standards for any government, and the evidence is clear across the board.
What the problem is for the official opposition and the third party is they do not have the political will or the fortitude to step outside of this Legislative Assembly and make their accusation. Make the accusation in the public so those who are being accused have the right to avail themselves of due process. The accusation requires the burden of proof. Make the accusation.
Question re: Veterinary college, University of Saskatchewan
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions about the Yukon Partyís decision to reinstate funding for the veterinary college in Saskatchewan ó fact-based questions that I would appreciate an answer to.
Yesterday the minister said, on the record, that taxpayers are on the hook for $100,000 to buy the space at the vet college in Saskatchewan. We have also established that the person attending the college was a former employee of the Minister of Economic Development in his veterinary clinic.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday in this House, the Minister of Education said also that there was no public notification that Cabinet had reinstated the funding. There was no public notice so that all of those Yukoners who believe in life-long learning and returning to learning could be aware that this seat was once again being purchased.
Why did the Yukon Party government exclude the general public from this information and from this offer of funding? Why was the general public not notified? The minister has said that they werenít. Why were they not notified? Itís a very clear question.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I donít mind giving the same response 25 times in this Legislature, because at the end of the day all this government did was assist a student who qualified to enter vet school. Persons wishing to attend a veterinary college must do so by region. Thatís the important part of this whole discussion ó by region. This means that Yukoners cannot attend a college in Ontario. I donít know how much plainer I can make that. Again, this is all about coming through and doing what the governmentís responsibility was, and thatís to help someone further their education.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that the minister doesnít mind giving the same answer; however, Iíd appreciate an answer to the question. Why was this funding only made available to one person? Why was the funding not made public? We know that the person who used to work for the Minister of Economic Development received this seat and was the successful applicant. The question has not been clearly addressed as to who participated in this decision making. The minister has said on the floor of the House that it was both Management Board and it was Cabinet. Was it both, or was it just one? He has given us different answers, so who made the decision ó Management Board, Cabinet, or both, and when was the decision made? Two very specific questions: who made the decision and when did they make it?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe Iíve already stated twice on the floor of this Legislature that it was a Management Board submission that approved this expenditure of funds. I guess I might have to probably say it another 50 times; however, itís not going to change. It was a Management Board decision. Again, it was in support of a Yukon student who went through a due process, who went through all the criteria necessary to be accepted into this college, and I congratulate that person for going through the whole process and being accepted.
Ms. Duncan: The issue is not about the person involved; the issue is about the Government of Yukon and its actions and the actions of the Cabinet and Management Board.
The minister has said that it was Management Board that made the decision. Outside of the House the Premier has said that it was Cabinet. I am going to ask the minister again: was it Cabinet or Management Board or both? When was the decision made ó because that has not been answered ó and was the Minister of Economic Development ó or, as he was then, the Minister of Environment ó in attendance at Management Board and Cabinet when the decision was made and when was it made?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I did sign a Management Board submission to deal with this issue. The member opposite already heard me state on the floor of this House that the minister in question was not in the discussion.
I will state again for the record that the student went through the normal admissions process and was accepted into the program on that personís own full merits. It was that person who was able to qualify, Mr. Speaker, and I must state for the record again that it is important that Yukoners who get to become a professional in this field get that opportunity. This was merely a case of honouring a request of someone who went out and did their homework into getting into this program.
Question re: Liquor licence infractions
†Mr. Cardiff: My question is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. Thanks to this minister itís now an open secret that the opposition has been searching for statistics on the Liquor Act. Perhaps the minister could speed things up a little and give us some answers to the questions that we have about enforcement.
We understand from his officials that a report is written up every time a licensed premises check or a ďwalk-throughĒ is conducted by a liquor inspector. Has there been any change in the frequency of walk-throughs by the Liquor Corporation inspectors in the last two years?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As the member opposite mentioned, it was brought to the attention of this House by the leader of the official opposition that it was the NDP that was looking for that, and that wasnít knowledge we had.
To my knowledge, there has been no change in the walk-throughs. I can certainly send the member opposite a letter to that effect, but there has been no conscious effort to change walk-through patterns.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd appreciate a legislative return or a letter, if the minister could do that.
The Yukon Liquor Corporation licensee information bulletin from August 2002 has an item about infraction incidences. It says there was an increase in liquor infractions during the preceding several months. It seems there was some alarm about this trend, and the Liquor Corporation published a guide to infraction prevention.
The Liquor Corporationís annual report of the same year, 2002-03, shows there were seven liquor licence suspensions and 45 letters of warning issued. Can the minister tell us if the trend to increasing liquor infractions has continued since then, and what types of infractions are occurring most often?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I can provide that information for the member opposite. I donít have it at my fingertips at this point. I know there has been some concern about over serving in some establishments, but in terms of statistics Iíd be much happier to provide a letter to that effect.
Mr. Cardiff: This is way faster than ATIPP.
The recent statistics from the corporationís licensee information bulletin show that there have only been two suspensions served in 2003-04. Apparently there havenít been any suspensions since March of this year. This is in spite of the fact that most of the suspensions in the year prior were in the early spring and summer. The whole summer of 2004 has gone by, the fall has gone by, and there havenít been any infractions; there seems to be a downward trajectory here and that may or may not be a good thing. I donít want to suggest the minister is under any kind of influence, but is the decline in suspensions due to better compliance by the licensees or weaker enforcement of the rules under this hotel-friendly government?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I do hope that the member opposite isnít implying that he would prefer that there be more infractions, and he is quite correct that it is way faster than ATIPP. I wish that he would do that more frequently.
The implication in terms of friendly toward any establishments or that our liquor inspectors are in any way biased, I take as very insulting. They are very dedicated people. They do their job well. They make every attempt to make sure that the Liquor Act is enforced and that responsible drinking occurs. I have had no difficulties or concerns with any of the inspectors on that. The fact that the infractions are down, I think, is a good thing and I would certainly not want to encourage people to break those infractions. Itís called compliance, and some of the things that might be involved are some of the changes that we have made with the Liquor Act review and the regulations review ó that the BARS, or the Be a Responsible Server course, be made more available and be available into the communities, and we have done that, Mr. Speaker. So it sounds like weíre doing a good job.
Question re: Tantalus School, Yukon College campus at
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Minister of Education about the new school in Carmacks. The minister formed an advisory committee to get the community involved in this important project and, Mr. Speaker, that was a good thing to do. Then the minister completely ignored the committeeís advice, and this has led to the committeeís collapse. The minister is now saying that advisory committees sometimes get too involved. Can the minister tell us how the school planning advisory committee in Carmacks was too involved and what kind of involvement does he think they should have?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, right from day one, there have been an awful lot of difficulties with this whole process, and the member opposite chooses to table letters for the First Nation. I had a letter sent to my office that there was a request to the member opposite to be tabled, and I would advise maybe that he should think about that.
This whole issue is starting to become somewhat of a play ó a blaming game. The opposition chooses to want to blame the school principals, blame all the staff, blame the educators: blame, blame, blame. Iíve not heard of one suggestion for a solution.
This government has gone beyond ó far beyond even ó the consultation process of trying to get people involved for this very positive project. I think if everyone in the territory saw the draft of this, they would be the envy of every community ó the school that is being proposed. I certainly hope that the citizens in Carmacks will just get on with the job.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister is wrong in his response to my question. He said right from the day one that there was difficulty with this project, and that is not the case. It actually went really, really well until the decision the minister made about the College. The chair of the advisory committee resigned, along with three other First Nation members. The chair said that the ministerís unilateral decision rendered the advisory committee impotent. The minister, I believe, got himself into a jam, and it must be embarrassing for him and for his department, let alone the Yukon Party.
Is the minister hoping that he could build a new school without this advisory committee?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I really do not have the ability to force anybody to do anything that they choose not to do.
I believe what is really important here to get out into the public, and to every citizen in Carmacks, is that one needs to be able to differentiate between social problems and education. Social problems could destroy the education system. We cannot have social problems dictating how education will run in any given situation in the territory. Social problems are an issue that one has to attend by oneself. No government or anyone can force anyone to go and deal with social issues. This is an education infrastructure.
Thatís what it is; itís for education. Mr. Speaker, as a minister, I will continue, to the best of my ability, to ensure that educators are not blamed for everything thatís happening in a community. I do respect everyone in Carmacks.
Mr. Fairclough: I can tell you the Yukon Party has a weird way of showing respect to the community of Carmacks by ignoring their own advisory committees, by breaching agreements they sign off with First Nations, by ignoring their partners in education, as defined in the Education Act. Thatís the respect theyíre showing.
The minister doesnít want to listen to the whole community. The Education Act says the First Nations are partners in education. First Nations are talking about their own education, taking down their own education system because of this minister. They are thinking twice about the so-called partnership. Over and over again, those members said itís all about partnership; obviously it isnít.
Is it the ministerís strategy to do away with the Education Act or the Umbrella Final Agreement or any other legal impediment to his views, so he can make all the decisions for Yukon students, or is that just an opinion?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I find it very interesting to listen to the member opposite criticize this minister and this side of the House for not listening to everyone in the community. Mr. Speaker, Iíve had the non-native people in Carmacks drive all the way to Whitehorse to talk to me in the office here, because the member opposite would not talk to them when he was in Carmacks.
I just find it unacceptable to be accused of such a thing.
This government will continue to work toward building infrastructures that are the responsibility of this government. I canít help but say that this whole thing can come to an end, and there can be a beautiful infrastructure in Carmacks that will serve everyoneís best interest in education for many years to come.
I would like to challenge the member opposite to take this to the children, and ask them how they would like the new school.
Question re: State of the environment report
†Mrs. Peter: My question today is for the Minister of Environment. Last Friday the government took out a full-page ad in both Yukon papers titled ďOur YukonĒ, which directed Yukoners to a Web site. This site listed pages of economic statistics but failed to mention the environment a single time. Yet a key piece of the environmental framework for this territory, the Yukon conservation strategy, is unavailable and is not mentioned once on the government Web site.
The legislatively mandated review of the strategy by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment has stalled. Why has this government completely shelved the Yukon conservation strategy and ignored the protection of the environment?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Just look at the accomplishments under our government. Weíve got habitat-protected areas. Weíve got land use planning in the Peel. Weíve got a whole series of areas that are under examination to include as a special protected area. The list goes on and on as to the involvement of our government in this area.
This goes back to the question yesterday about a report, and I committed to tabling a copy of that report and I will be doing so.
Mrs. Peter: Iím glad the minister referred to the report that I asked for yesterday, and he did say that he was going to table that report this session, so Iím that the minister misspoke himself and he will table the report by the end of this sitting because itís long past due.
Environmental organizations and ordinary Yukoners have been looking forward to this report for more than a year. They need up-to-date information and canít get it because this government doesnít care about the environment.
Will the minister commit to tabling the report before the end of this sitting, and furthermore ensure that future state of the environment reports are produced in a more timely manner?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, this government has spent more time and more efforts on the issue of environmental concerns than any previous government. Mr. Speaker, our commitment as a government is to restore investor confidence and to move forward in the development of the Yukon in an environmentally sensitive and friendly manner, and that is underway. That is accomplishing. What Iím hearing from the side opposite is kind of an attempt to erode the major accomplishments that this government has made in this area.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, this government has certainly shown it has time for its friends. They say, ďJump,Ē and the government asks, ďHow high?Ē But this government discounts the value of protecting the environment. Groups like the Yukon Conservation Society have major concerns over a wide range of issues such as greenhouse gases, resource planning and management and the enforcement of regulations, to name just a few. Can the minister tell us how one becomes a friend of the government and gets action on these issues that are vital to protecting the environment?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, we consider all Yukoners as friends.
Mr. Speaker, on the issue of the environment, letís look at the habitat-protected areas. Letís look at the land use planning in the Peel. Letís look at the establishment of the Fishing Branch and its management plan. Letís look at the establishment of Tombstone Territorial Park, and the issue of the management plan will be in place, Iím hoping, very, very quickly, Mr. Speaker. There are many, many initiatives across the board that our government has underway, and we have moved forward.
I guess there is just a concern on the side opposite that they werenít able to accomplish this many things when they were in government, and I can understand the resentment, Mr. Speaker. But that said, we are a friend of all people in the Yukon, and we are moving forward together.
Thank you very much.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now expired.
Notice of government private membersí business
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Under Standing Order 14.2(7), Iíd like to identify the item standing in the name of the government private members to be called on Wednesday, November 24, 2004. They are Motion No. 322, standing in the name of the Member for Lake Laberge, and Motion No. 137, standing in the name of the Member for Southern Lakes.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Unanimous consent re debate on Motion No. 366
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the House leaders I am requesting the unanimous consent for Motion No. 366, which the leader of the official opposition gave notice of today, to be called at this time.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent that the Motion No. 366 be called at this time?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: There is unanimous consent.
It is moved by the leader of the official opposition
THAT this House call upon the Government of Yukon to work in conjunction with all other levels of government in the Yukon to convene a territory-wide summit to develop a comprehensive action plan to combat substance abuse, which is a destructive and growing force in both urban and rural areas of the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: This motion is a call for action. It is an urgent appeal for all levels of government, non-government agencies, law enforcement agencies, our criminal justice system and health care professionals to come together with the citizens and develop and implement a coordinated, comprehensive plan that will take on substance abuse in our society.
This is an issue that has long, long been in the making. There are very serious problems facing all communities of the territory, and the reason Iím standing here today ó the downtown core, Whitehorse centre, very much so as well.
This issue came about for me from a phone call from a constituent last year in which they raised the situation of a drug house opening up across the street from them. They outlined some of the situations they were witnessing. At 3:00 in the morning they would hear traffic coming to the house; they witnessed the exchange of drugs; they witnessed young children coming to the house during all periods of the day and night. They witnessed young girls being delivered to that house and escorted away in a manner that looked extremely suspicious. They witnessed traffic flow in that area and lost hope and opportunity. They witnessed rising crime and violence in the streets, and they gave me a call.
What that one person had indicated to me and told me about is a story that can be repeated by many people in our territory. It can be repeated by many people in the communities and other areas of the downtown core and other parts of Whitehorse. Every day I walk through my riding, whether itís in the morning or the evening, and every day I encounter some form of substance abuse. This motion indicates substance abuse, but I started talking about drugs, and very specifically, because the level of drug activity in this territory has continued to grow. The availability of drugs has continued to expand. The types of drugs that are out there today are far more damaging and deadly than what were out there 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, and we continue to see the proliferation of drugs in our community.
Iíll talk about drugs for just a short period here.
We have witnessed uses of various drugs that have caused deaths in our communities, whether they are prescription drugs or illegal drugs. Both have led to death; both have led to disruptions in the family unit, to lost hope of people, to violence on our streets and in our homes, and of course to rising crime. Many criminal activities can be directly related to drug use. There is no question about it.
This is a problem that does not just affect people of the Yukon Territory; itís a problem worldwide. Itís a problem within Canada and so many communities, provinces and the federal government have tried to take on. Itís a problem in the States where they tried their own method of non-tolerance on any types of drugs. From my perspective and from the perspective of many people, that has not been a successful answer to the problem.
I will talk in a minute about some of the solutions that some of the communities have come up with. But there are many tragic stories out there, and we only have to turn the radio on and listen to the struggles at Watson Lake, the home community of the Premier, and what theyíre going through and the challenges theyíre facing. I applaud the people of Watson Lake for embracing this issue and taking it on, but we hear still the growing problems down there. And we have heard of death that can be attributed to legal drugs. I have heard many stories ó I have had phone calls from Watson Lake ó from people who are so concerned about their children and the activities that are happening down there with the illegal drug usage. I have had calls from Carmacks; Iíve had calls from Dawson City; Iíve had calls from the other communities. Iíve had people come to my office and talk to me about this.
This is not a Whitehorse-based problem, although Whitehorse has a concentration of many of the problems; thereís no question about that. Many of the people from the communities come into Whitehorse and are exposed to these drugs. Often they go back out again. But the problem is across Yukon. That is one reason that this motion is so appropriate. It is not just one riding that weíre talking about.
Now still speaking about drugs specifically, I had two public meetings. At the first public meeting, the room was packed and people were standing outside the door. Many people came, but couldnít get in and left. It was around the drug issue in the downtown core, and it was very much a meeting in which the feelings, the emotions, were extremely high.
People were angry, people were confused, and people were very, very upset. Now, I invited a Member of Parliament, Libby Davies, up here to speak at that meeting, and the reason I did that is because of her involvement and work as a city councillor in Vancouver for over 10 years. She then continued as a Member of Parliament to continue to work on the major drug issues facing the downtown east side. She brought a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, and she brought what they did, what they have implemented to try to deal with some of those very serious issues. It became called the four-pillar approach, and I will talk very briefly about that as well.
But at this meeting, it became obvious that the initial feelings were about enforcement. People wanted action, and they wanted concrete action; they wanted demonstrable action in which the RCMP would enforce the law and shut down the drug houses that they were living by and get rid of the needles that were being left on the streets ó it was very much an enforcement focus. People were angry, and rightly so. The RCMP were there, many health care professionals were there, some NGOs were there and the Outreach van people were there. It was wonderful representation. People did come.
The interesting thing was that the discussion went from enforcement, from the anger, and we did allow people to have that opportunity to voice their feelings. Then I turned the floor over to Libby Davies, and she talked about that and she talked about what they did ó and the total for her was almost 20 years of work ó and the successes and the failures and what they finally started to do and recognize ó that itís not an enforcement issue, itís a health issue. Enforcement is one part of it, but you have to treat it in a holistic manner. Itís not just the answer. If it were just the answer, it would be resolved because we would just put a bunch of money toward enforcement and the problem would go away.
It has become very obvious around the world that that is not the solution, because it hasnít worked. But it was amazing to watch the transformation of people in that room when they recognized that this was a bigger problem than they imagined, and it had to be people coming together to make it work.
I had a second meeting following that one, right downtown, right across the street from two known drug houses. Over 80-some people attended, including one MLA from the government, as well as people from his department. Again people talked about how we could solve this problem, and it was expanded. There were people from all over Whitehorse; there were people who had called in from the communities, who wanted to come to see what we were doing. Again it became very clear that it wasnít just an enforcement issue, and it wasnít just one level of governmentís problem, and there wasnít going to be an easy solution to a social ill.
Where do we go from there? From that meeting, from what I heard from the people, the citizens, I asked the leaders of the levels of government ó or representatives from the four levels of government ó to attend a meeting, to talk to each other about this, to express their concerns. These were representatives from the four levels of government ó leaders, if you want to call them that. That was held last Friday.
It was a great meeting from my perspective. I heard comments from the Grand Chief that were spoken with a tremendous degree of compassion and concern and anger ó anger for what is happening and what has been allowed to happen and what could happen to his people. I heard comments from the Minister of Justice, who talked about his experiences and the problems he has seen. I heard comments from the president of the Association of Yukon Communities and how, in talking with all the communities as he has been travelling throughout the Yukon, this is a major issue facing them, and how they want to be part of the solution, how they want to contribute as much as they possibly can, recognizing how important this is for the future of this territory.
I heard comments from the Premier in which he identified the need to work together; in which he identified the importance of having a summit. I was heartened by that because, if you have people in the positions that can make a difference and who have some resources saying that, then maybe together we can have an impact.
The Member of Parliament wasnít able to attend but I was able to talk to him the following day. He expressed his support for this initiative and indicated he will do whatever is possible to try to get the federal government to be part of any initiative that is driven by the Yukon people and by the various levels of government. I believe, as a formation of a coalition that would probably be broader, that the federal government is a key partner in this.
The motion brought forward today regards substance abuse. That expands the whole concept of where I originally started with this, but it doesnít change the fact that we have serious problems in the territory in regard to substance abuse: alcohol consumption, of course; legal drug consumption and the abuse of that; and of course illegal drugs. Itís all part of a problem within our society. Statistics demonstrate that the Yukon is one of the highest in Canada in alcohol consumption and in many of the other social ills that can be directly related to substance abuse.
It is very important as we go forward and we have this territory-wide summit that we recognize that there are short-, medium- and long-term goals that we have to achieve. There are also very clear individual areas that we have to address, such as illegal drugs. Thatís a very clear area. How do we do that? Alcohol consumption, legal drugs ó how do we do that? I think that will come out of the summit that is formed.
But the impact it has is devastating in this society, absolutely devastating. We have organized drug distribution in this territory. There is no question about it. We have to be organized to deal with that, and we canít flinch from that, we canít look away. We have to take it head-on. And I can assure you that the threat is out there, and shining light on this area is not something that anybody takes and moves forward with a light heart. The dangers are out there, but that is our role and that is what we must do. The organized drug distribution does exist.
We have serious alcohol consumption. That starts at a young age and infiltrates through our society, through our families, broken families. It creates violence.
Alcohol and drugs are connected to crime. They are connected to dysfunctional societies, communities. We lose our youth and we lose many other people as well. It is a tremendous cost. No matter how you look at it, it is a cost to our programs, to justice, to health, to social services. We have to look at the whole package.
Just as we have to come together to deal with this, we also have to not leave anything out. We have to look at our justice system. We have to look at the delivery of our programs and what programs are working and what may not be and may not be reaching the people, and how theyíre being delivered. We have to look at how we can work together to pool the resources. We have to look at enforcement. We have to look at education. We have to look at treatment. We have to. We have to help the people who are addicted. We have to look at harm reduction for those who are already very addicted, and we may have to accept the fact that they are not going to be able to deal with that addiction. How do we reduce the harm then? We have to show that compassion as well.
Now what Iíve just done in some ways ó as I said Iíd touch on ó and that is one method that has been used in Vancouver. A coalition was formed and then they had a similar summit, but with a little bit different name. They brought in people. They brought in experts from around the world and they brought in people from the streets. They included the people from the streets. They included the health professionals. They included the justice system. They included the enforcement agencies. They included the politicians. And they came up with a framework for action. It was called a four-pillar approach to drug problems in Vancouver. They realized that itís a whole approach. Itís prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction. That is something we can build on to see if it works for us up here. But like them, we have to look elsewhere as well, whether itís within our own communities and the people who are there, our own spiritual beliefs that exist in this territory, with the First Nationsí total involvement, and others, and find out what will work and go with what works and discard what doesnít.
They used Germany, Sweden, a few other Scandinavian countries, and, I believe, Australia ó some models that were used there that were successful ó and they incorporate them into their plans for their area. We also need to do that. We have an opportunity ó Vancouver is not far from us ó to tap into some of their resources. Weíll pass over a name to the Premier ó as I indicated on Friday, that I would get a name to him ó of a person who led the policy work. This man now travels around the world, advising communities, municipalities and governments on the work they did, the results, the successes and failures theyíve had on what they could do for themselves. I think we can tap into some of those resources.
But who needs to be involved? All levels of government ó absolutely ó NGOs, law enforcement, the justice and health care professionals, and the citizens ó the citizens must be involved, the grassroots have to be there. Iím heartened by this and I think we can move forward if there is a complete coordinated commitment to this. I think we can roll up our sleeves and have an impact because the people are asking for it.
Iím encouraged that the Liberal leader is behind this initiative and her contribution is to be valued. Iím encouraged that the Premier and his government are behind this initiative. They are what I would consider the lead in this. They have the potential and the ability to be that. Weíll be looking to them.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my constituents. I would like to thank the constituents who were courageous enough to come forward and speak openly, and still do.
I would like to thank the media because, without the media in this matter, without the light that they have shone on the problem, we might not be here today. They are an integral part of making this a success and exposing what has been happening in our society.
I would like to thank all of those who have been working for years and years in this area: the health care workers, the NGOs, the volunteers, because they have tried to stem the tide, and they have done a wonderful job ó but I see in many cases it has grown too big in some areas ó and all the people who attended the meetings that we have had so far. I will be having another one, as well, hopefully a follow-up of what has been said today and the action that is coming out of that.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will begin by expressing to this Legislative Assembly the fact that the government will be supporting this motion wholeheartedly and, that being said, the government is certainly going to implement the necessary resources to convene the summit and to create the territory-wide initiative to take action on the issue of substance abuse in the Yukon.
Now, I want to go over a number of areas here, so I would ask the Houseís indulgence as I proceed. But it has to be said at the outset that we all should recognize and acknowledge the Member for Whitehorse Centreís involvement, especially the initial phases of this issue as it pertained to his riding. That is a clear example of an MLA carrying out his duties and obligations on behalf of his constituency, but also recognizing that there is a much broader issue that we are facing and a much bigger challenge that we are facing outside of his specific or particular riding.
An acknowledgement to the Member for Whitehorse Centre is in order in this regard. Letís not lose sight of this very important fact. We all, as citizens, have a responsibility in meeting this challenge. It is the duty of all of us. It is not what governments can do; itís not what the police can do; itís what we can do in addressing this terrible scourge on society.
I think itís fair to say that the evidence that has been provided to any government or any agency or any front-line worker or anybody involved in the area of substance abuse and addictions will quickly recognize that community-based solutions are the types of solutions that bring the greatest success because thatís the overall environment where the citizenry becomes involved at the grassroots level. In other words, the citizens of any particular jurisdiction stand up and decide that itís time that we deal with this issue.
That is exactly what is happening here. I think the government can express some experience in this regard considering what we accomplished in Watson Lake, as a community. There again was the example of the citizens stepping forward and saying, ďWe are going to do something about this.Ē We engaged with the citizens of the community in Watson Lake on a number of fronts. The first thing we did was to organize a task force within government, go into the community and sit down with the citizens of the community. What became evident quickly was the disconnect between those in the communities, government agencies, the RCMP, the federal government, front-line workers ó the disconnect of the many areas of programs and services that are indeed available. The first thing that has to happen through this organized process is to make sure that that disconnect is not happening anywhere in the Yukon, but in fact it is well-orchestrated and it is well-linked in every facet of government departments, government agencies, the RCMP, the federal government, front-line workers and others. Thatís the only way that we will ever address this type of societal ill.
Thereís a reason that substance abuse is the overall strategy, because itís not just drugs; it includes other forms of addiction, which are the abuses of substances. So we have to target the broad spectrum because they are basically hand in glove when it comes to the addictions and the abuse of any substance, so the overall strategy must focus on the various areas of abuse and what we can do about that in terms of an overall strategy for the territory.
It must be said that this is a challenge faced by every jurisdiction and every community in this country. This is not unique to the Yukon or its communities. In fact, this is something that all governments, all communities, all agencies, all front-line workers, all citizens grapple with across the country, and itís probably an indication ó in fact, Iíll go further: it is an indication of deeper rooted problems in our society because the abuse or the addictions in drugs and alcohol and addictions in other forms are the symptom, if you will, of that deeper rooted problem. Thatís the focus that we must bring to bear because itís much more than simple enforcement. It has to have prevention, it has to have education, as far as the strategy is concerned, it has to have the programs for addressing treatment, it has to have after-care, it has to have outreach ó there are so many facets of this that are critical to any success that itís going to take a focused, well-coordinated effort from us all.
I think at this juncture itís important that we relay and put on the public record the many areas that are available today in this area and we must ensure that these areas are, as we go forward, a part of the overall strategy itself. I begin by saying that the departments from the government that will be involved in this process include not only Health and Social Services, but include Justice, Education, the Youth Directorate, the Womenís Directorate and indeed the Public Service Commission, because the Public Service Commission itself has an employee assistance program within government.
These are all the departments of government that will be involved. But we must include also the federal government. We must include also the RCMP. We must include front-line workers and youth centres and youth societies and organizations, and we must include the community at large. That is indeed why this motion is going to be given effect unanimously here in this Legislative Assembly, because it is directing that we, the legislators in this Assembly, take the initiative and coordinate that overall community process.
As we reflect on the pillars for our drug strategy, which include treatment, prevention, enforcement and harm reduction, within the Department of Health and Social Services there are a number of areas, and itís a wide range of programs when we deal with detoxification, treatment, education, prevention, outreach and youth programs. Those are all programs and mechanisms in place today in the Yukon, and what we have to do in our strategy as we go forward is ensure that the broader community is well aware of these programs, knows how to access them, and that we are delivering these programs to the furthest extent we possibly can to try and achieve the success that we desire.
On the prevention front, there is no question that this is a key element of any strategy in dealing with substance abuse because it includes the education of our young people, but it also includes healthy living, healthy choices, and ultimately, no matter what we do as government, no matter what initiative we develop, no matter what process we try and proceed with, the decision of each and every individual who is afflicted with addictions and is abusing substances rests with the individual. It is the individual who must take that initial step to make positive changes in his/her life so that these areas of help can actually achieve the desired results.
In treatment, detoxification services are available in this territory, including the reestablishment of a Crossroads-type facility. We have live-in treatment services in the territory. We have outpatient counselling, and we have youth services available. These are important things, because these are downstream areas, such as treatment and live-in treatment and outpatient counselling and youth services for those who need help; those areas are available for them and we want to make sure, through this process, that they can access these areas and these programs.
In Justice ó this is important because enforcement is included here, but also the prevention side and the treatment side along with enforcement.
Here I want to relay the fact that consultation on correctional reform in the Yukon is a critical part of the overall strategy as we go into the future. I say that, because we have to do something in the enforcement side and the sentencing side that reflects the fact that in many cases the impetus for the situation weíre facing in the justice system, individual by individual, is the abuse of substance. Our correctional reform process will include the fact that alcohol and drugs are closely linked to crime and the recidivism rate, and thatís something that we want to address. That also will go a long way to meeting this challenge that we face in todayís Yukon and indeed everywhere in the country.
On the prevention side again, Justice has supports in place in the communities through the crime prevention and victim services trust fund, through the youth investment fund and, of course, in partnership with the federal community mobilization program, we have SASSY, the Substance Abuse Strategy and Solutions for Yukon. The RCMP works closely with schools and other agencies to enhance awareness of drug and alcohol issues and promote prevention ó again areas that we must ensure there is no disconnect.
In treatment, also in the justice system, a majority of programs are delivered, albeit through Health and Social Services. Specific to justice, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre offers substance abuse management programs, SAM, to all inmates who choose to take it. There is the violence prevention program, and the commitment to change program. Alcohol and Drug Services in the Department of Health and Social Services has assigned a full-time addictions counsellor to work with the Department of Justice mainly on referrals from probation officers.
Again, there are more areas of programs and service delivery that we must ensure are not lost through this process but are up front and centre ó in short, Mr. Speaker, not reinventing the wheel but building and improving on whatís already in place today.
On the enforcement side, the RCMP have that primary responsibility. Iím sure they are very aware of the situation we face.
On the education front, prevention, treatment and enforcement are again involved here, and itís critical because there are many areas in our education system where we are working with agencies such as the RCMP to help keep drugs out of schools and in-school prevention programs to reduce substance abuse and help students make smart, healthy choices. Thatís through the education system and itís critical because this is the upstream end. This is the area where, if we can get to individuals before they make that fatal mistake in choice ó I say ďfatalĒ because in many cases, this is a long road to demise ó we are going to be more successful in the long term and overall by focusing on education and prevention.
Just some of the areas that the education system promotes: substance abuse and prevention is as part of the Yukon curriculum right from kindergarten through to grade 12, so our education system is actively involved. The primary resource for substance abuse prevention is the school STEP program, another program that teaches critical thinking and uses problem solving to avoid getting involved in negative situations ó educating our youth in this area.
Each school has a grade-appropriate drug and alcohol kit containing up-to-date videos and print resources for teachers, so weíre even working with our teachers in this area. SASSY again is involved. The RCMP is involved. Council of Yukon First Nations is involved. The materials for parents ó for example, Keeping Youth Drug Free brochures ó are helping to pass on this information into our homes, so the list is a long one again in this area of education.
Treatment ó the school counsellors and alcohol and drug services and other organizations. Enforcement ó again, the department works closely with school councils to maintain drug policy and, of course, working with the RCMP when required to maintain a safe environment for our students.
The Youth Directorate, again, is another area where we target front-line agencies, like the Blue Feather/Youth of Today Society, Bringing Youth Toward Equality and the Whitehorse Youth Centre. We have relevant committees that the Youth Directorate sits on ó for example, planning group of homelessness, safer cities committee, network of Whitehorse youth services providers, skills link youth project, and the summer leadership program delivered by the Department of Justice. These are areas that we want to make sure, through this strategy and summit and process, are made well known and available to the Yukon public and to those in need, and the circumpolar seminar on youth substance abuse also connects us to the broader issue not only in Canada but in the circumpolar regions.
The issue can be delved into at great length on what is available, but we must ensure that we do whatís necessary to try to encourage individuals to avail themselves of these many areas that would help them in dealing with their problems.
I think overall we have to recognize something else: never to be dissuaded or discouraged. This is not going to be an easy challenge to meet, and even if we, on a one-individual-at-a-time basis, are successful in either turning young people away from making the wrong choices, or assisting those who already have made the wrong choices and are now seeking out treatment and assistance, even if we turn one individual at a time away from a life of addiction and substance abuse, we must measure it by terms of success.
One at a time is success, no matter what. Itís a never-ending struggle. It will be a never-ending process. It is a challenge that all society faces, and we as a Legislature, as Members of this Assembly and this institution are going to go forward to do our part, along with many others in the Yukon Territory to ensure that we give it our best, that we ensure that those in need know where to go, know what to do, to ensure that in areas where we can we are taking action, to ensure that there is no disconnect between the many areas and departments within government, to ensure that we are working closely with our enforcement agencies like the RCMP, to ensure that the federal government does not diminish its role, especially when it comes to our aboriginal people in this territory, because many of the deep-rooted problems that we face in substance abuse have linkages to past decisions made by federal governments, and we are still dealing with such things. And I will give you an example: the residential school issue, which has contributed greatly when it comes to many of the people who had gone through that particular federal process. It has contributed greatly to the problems they face today in life.
So, Mr. Speaker, this is a great opportunity for our Assembly to set aside partisan politics, to step away from the confrontational approaches we so often have when it comes to politics in general, to recognize that in this area there are no political boundaries. In fact, there are no boundaries whatsoever. There are those who should be educated to make the right decisions. There are those who are in need of help, who need treatment, who need aftercare, and there are certainly areas where the community can stand up and say, ďWe will accept this no longer.Ē It is the community-based solutions that will reduce, I think, to the greatest degree, Mr. Speaker, this problem, whether it be trafficking in illicit drugs or whether it be substance abuse of any kind. If the community is reaching out to address this scourge on society, then we will realize much more in terms of success.
I want to agree with something else that the leader of the official opposition put on the record and thatís in terms of the media. Although the media does from time to time, certainly, reflect or articulate in the public domain stories of these problems, itís unfortunate that the media does not, on a regular basis, advertise and promote across this territory ó because itís a very powerful medium ó all the areas of assistance that are available to people: who to go see; who to contact; what to do. If I were to encourage and offer any suggestion to the media itself, it would to be much more efficient in disseminating throughout the public all that is available today.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I think itís essential that we advance quickly. The government will put together an internal task force connecting and coordinating all the departments and agencies within government on this process. We will establish a lead for this process. We will work closely with the official opposition and the third party and the RCMP and the Council of Yukon First Nations and all other agencies to construct the summit. We will ensure that expertise is brought forward to provide for us insights on some of the things that we can do. We will make every effort to engage with the grassroots public because itís the communities and citizenry of this territory that we want involved in dealing with this issue.
As I pointed out at the outset, the government will support this motion and we will be doing a number of things to advance the Member for Whitehorse Centreís initiative.
I thank the House for this indulgence and Iím sure you will see that thereís a resounding level of support for this motion and initiative, and for reaching out to try to address what is a terrible scourge on our society.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to address Motion No. 366, as brought forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. At the outset, I would like to say that I fully support this motion. If I were to offer any words of advice at the outset, I would suggest to my colleagues in the House that this motion could have even come forward as a matter of urgent and pressing necessity. This is an extreme issue in our community and it is of tremendous importance to all Yukoners.
Itís a privilege for me to be here on behalf of the residents of Porter Creek South and on behalf of all Yukoners and as leader of the Liberal Party. I would like to say that this issue is not a new one. Iíve had parents in my riding come to me specifically about the drug issues and specifically about the presence of drugs in our high schools and socially among that particular age group of individuals.
In response to their concerns, Iíve had several conversations with the principal of the school, and in response to my question of ďWhat can I do? How can I help?Ē he said, ďSupport us in what weíre trying to do at the school. Support us in the programming, in offering alternative choices and in working with the enforcement agencies.Ē
Parents have asked, ďHow do I cope with my child and these drugs?Ē which, as others have pointed out in the House, are far worse than what we experienced in high school, so to speak. Ecstasy, to name one, and crystal meth were not as prevalent 20 years ago as they are today; problems have gotten far worse.
Iíve had several discussions with members of the enforcement agency and the legal community, and perhaps the biggest change that is required, as they have pointed out to me, is societal. It is unacceptable to any one of us to see a young child in a vehicle not in a safety seat. You donít leave the hospital without your child being in a safety seat. You do not drink and drive or, in of the words of one young person, ďYouíll end up in a wheelchair.Ē Societyís attitudes have changed. You donít see smoking in buildings any more. Our societyís attitude has changed about these issues. Now we need to change the attitude about drugs and substance abuse in our society. It is not acceptable.
We as a community have to say this. Another issue that was brought to me ó and this is just recently, Mr. Speaker, and it is an issue that Yukoners are very familiar with ó is the bush parties. Itís a tremendous issue in my riding, because it has been a problem for many years in the Yukon. It was a particular safety concern in my riding in light of our fire season. I approached that particular issue by bringing together the constituents who had expressed the concern to me, the principal of the school, the enforcement agencies. And out of that, some solutions came forward. The Department of Education has spent tremendous resources over the course of this summer to enhance their security measures. It has reduced the vandalism. The security patrols by Government Services have also helped in communicating the information they have to members of the RCMP and City of Whitehorse Bylaw. Having those three agencies talk to one another made a difference. The constituents being able to say, fact-based, ďHere are the issues; there are parties at such and such and such and such a time, and Iím worried about the fire concerns; I worry about the fact that when I go out and walk my dog in the back areas of Porter Creek, Iím finding bags of drugs.Ē Having that information brought to the attention of enforcement agencies, bringing together people, made a difference.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre has approached the issue differently, and I applaud his efforts and endorse what is a call for action. I see the Member for Whitehorse Centreís approach as taking a growing chorus of the community and what each of us has done, and ó to use the chorus analogy ó giving our community a united voice in saying, ďEnough. This is our community and weíre going to take it back.Ē
The Member for Mount Lorne shared with me that CBC had done a documentary about the community of Drayton Valley, Alberta. In that documentary a parent expressed concerns about the prevalence of crystal meth, took it to the mayor and lobbied and was one voice that became a chorus. That community stood up as one under the leadership of the elected politicians and said: ďNo, not in our community. We are going to deal with this issue.Ē
That is what the Member for Whitehorse Centre has asked us to do: to stand up as a community, as leaders in the community and say, ďNo more. We are going to deal not only with the drugs but the substance abuse in our community.Ē Rather than one member in one riding, this is about all of us coming together in a summit. I would like to see that summit include the three leaders in this Legislature and most importantly, to have that summit have a product.
We not only have to talk the talk and convene all the bodies and have the discussion, we have to have the action and the product ó as the former Member for Riverside used to say. We have to have the product out of the summit. We have to lead the community voices, we have to have a chorus that says, ďThis is our community and weíre taking it back.Ē In this community, weíre going to deal with substance abuse. Weíre going to ensure that there are all the resources required, that there is a coordinated effort and, most importantly, weíre going to act.
In closing, I again would like to express my support and thanks to the Member for Whitehorse Centre, the leader of the NDP, who has brought forward this motion. I appreciate the Government of Yukon also supporting the motion and, whatís more, putting the resources behind it. I express my commitment on behalf of my constituents and Yukoners to do what I can to be of assistance and to support the efforts in ensuring that we do combat substance abuse in the Yukon and that we in essence do what I believe we should do and take back our community and say, ďNo more.Ē
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the leader of the official opposition now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Mr. Hardy: I would like to thank the leader of the Yukon Party for his comments and support, and I would like to thank the leader of the Liberal Party, as well, for her very thoughtful comments and support and some anecdotes of what she has been doing in her own riding and the issues that she has been facing. Both leaders have talked about their own ridings and indicated the work that they have done and some of the successes. That is extremely important.
Using the analogy of the chorus that the leader of the Liberal Party had indicated, she is correct. Mr. Speaker, I have always wanted to sing in a chorus but my voice is not that good. Maybe this is the only one I can use.
However, there are some issues that were brought up and I agree with them. I would like to put this out very simply: this motion is not about me and itís not about a political party and itís not about a riding. This motion is about what is facing the Yukon Territory: substance abuse, a massive problem that has, I suspect, touched everybodyís life whether directly or indirectly. Itís not my motion; itís our motion.
I invite each and every member in here, each and every MLA, to embrace it, make it their motion. It doesnít have to be credited to anybody. The work that has been done leading up to this motion doesnít have to be credited to anybody. Itís the results, as the leader of the Liberal Party indicated. Thatís what this was; thatís how I started it. Itís a call for action.
If the summit is one step to achieve action, then that is what we have to do, but the summit is to get the voices together, to get the people together, to get the resources together, and to get all levels of government working together and not individually.
I read a book in the last couple of weeks. Itís called Road to Hell and itís about the rise of the Hellís Angels in Canada and the drug scenes and the violence and the organized crime, and one message from that book ó I recommend everybody read it, itís a phenomenal book. I have forwarded one upstairs to the government and I will definitely make one available to the Liberal leader as well. I recommend you read it because if thereís one thing that jumped out at me in reading that book, itís the fact that many of the activities of organized crime and drug distribution and violence and prostitution were all able to develop as long as the agencies were not working with each other.
As long as the RCMP and the city police and the different levels of government did not come together, they flourished. When they finally pooled some resources and developed a very focused approach to dealing with the problem, thatís only when they were able to deal with some of the problems that were being brought about by organized crime. Read the book. Itís a wonderfully written book, very current. Iím not endorsing any publication; Iím endorsing the thoughts and ideas and the truth that that book portrays, and it would help us a lot.
I have a lot of hope and I have a lot of belief that this community we call the Yukon can stop this or can deal as much as possible with this growing problem. Iíve indicated in the past that this problem will only grow greater as we have what I call ďboom projectsĒ. Iíve seen it before; Iíve lived through it; other places have lived through it. We have to be prepared for that as well. This action that weíre taking now will help us be prepared for the downside of any positive outcome of a boom project. Thereís always a trailing negative. We can be prepared for that. If we have a pipeline, of course we can be prepared. This may help us.
There are two things: the formal formation of a coalition needs to be established to put together the summit. I believe all leaders of all parties, all levels of government, representative levels of government, need to be in on that as well as representatives from the RCMP, the policing agencies and the health care professionals to create this summit with a real focus of what weíre going to do, to allow that public discussion to happen and to come out of that running, not come out of that thinking about what weíre going to do from there.
So I thank everybody in the House. Embrace it; itís your motion. I know everybodyís constituents want to see you embrace this. I believe theyíre being encouraged by your leadership, if you do.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
†Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Clerk: The results are 16 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 366 agreed to
Motion No. 323
Clerk: Motion No. 323, standing in the name of the Hon. Ms. Taylor.
Speaker: It is moved by the minister responsible for the Women's Directorate
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to implement a long-term educational public awareness campaign focusing on zero tolerance of violence against women and children and raising awareness of the resources available to assist those leaving violent and abusive relationships.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: It is indeed my honour and privilege to be able to present this motion today and to say some words behind the rationale for presenting this motion and also to urge all members of the Legislature to join with me and my government colleagues on this side of the House to support this particular motion. This motion urges the Yukon government to implement a long-term educational public awareness campaign, focusing on zero tolerance of violence against women and children and raising awareness of the resources available to assist those leaving violent and abusive relationships.
Just over the last hour, I very much enjoyed listening to leaders of all three parties in the Legislature speaking to a very important and dire social problem that has plagued every single community in our territory, not to mention our country ó that being substance abuse.
†When we talk about substance abuse, we talk about a whole host of other factors that follow from the abuse, whether it be alcohol or drugs. I refer to crime. I refer to vandalism. I refer to bullying. I also refer to violence in our communities as a result.
In the Yukon, and particularly here in the north among all three jurisdictions in Canada, violence against women is particularly a very large problem that continues to haunt each of our communities and takes a toll on all parts of our society, as I have mentioned just before. I think that itís really important that we take some time as legislators here in the House to raise awareness of this particular problem in our communities. As members are aware, very much so, the month of November marks Women Abuse Prevention Month. It is a time when we have the opportunity to enhance education and raise awareness about violence in our relationships, among young women and men. And I should add that young women do experience the highest rates of sexual assault in Canada, for example.
So each November we pay tribute to those women and men in each of our communities taking the initiative to raise awareness about violence in our communities, and to take the initiative to say ďnoĒ, and to present zero tolerance, to present a stand of zero tolerance of violence against women and children in our communities. This year we have been working together with our partners, one of which is the Victoria Faulkner Womenís Centre, for example, which coordinates community activities and events throughout the whole month of November, again, raising the awareness of this very issue.
This year, the Womenís Directorate commissioned Raw Element, a young musical hip-hop band based here in Whitehorse, to produce a song raising awareness about the importance of respect in relationships. This song youíll hear advertised on all our radio stations with a tag line attached to the song raising the awareness about respect and the need to respect each other and one another and ourselves, particularly in our relationships. They have the opportunity of actually kicking off that event at the Young Women Exploring Trades conference that was held just last week, in which a whole host ó I believe there were 120 ó of grade 8 girls were participating at Yukon College in the annual conference, taking part in a whole number of different trades-related events. It was a real privilege to be able to say a few words about this month and about the need to respect each other and to respect, most of all, ourselves and how we present ourselves within each of our relationships.
There is also the opportunity to be able to present Raw Element. One of the members was there and actually kicked off the event by singing a couple of the choruses of that particular song.
Again, this is just one other venue for reaching out to another target audience, that being our younger generation, the youth in our communities, which is where it all very much begins, whether that be in our schools at a very early age ó because violence knows no boundaries and it certainly knows no age. It touches all of us ó as members of the Legislature and as members of our society.
I just wanted to again raise the need for all of us to come together to raise the very awareness and importance of the issue. Looking over the course of my last two years as minister responsible for Justice, as well as more recently the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate, our government has taken a number of steps at both the territorial and federal level. We recognize the excellent work that has been achieved in the area of victim and offender support and treatment, as well as public education about the prevalence and severity of violence against women and children in each of our communities.
The Yukon government, in our platform commitment during the last election, emphasized a priority to increase education activities focusing on zero tolerance of violence, and this motion speaks to that very commitment. While I believe we have accomplished a tremendous amount of collaboration in this area with many of our partners in the area of public education and in violence prevention, I believe thereís a lot more we can do.
I just take for example the recent initiative that was sponsored by the Department of Justice as well as Women's Directorate, and that was the coaster campaign, known as ďProtect Your DrinkĒ, the dating violence pamphlet for young girls, as well, Love Doesnít Leave a Mark. Again, as I mentioned before, there is the recent release of the hip-hop song for youth, which speaks to the importance of respect in our relationships, the established crisis line, VictimLINK, the Yukon family violence resource directory that has been around for the last seven years, as well as looking at a whole host of other initiatives through our family violence prevention unit and victim services, which support and provide professional help to the victims of abuse and crime as well as treatment programs such as the spousal abuse program and the sexual offender risk management program. This particular unit provides a number of great services throughout all the communities, and we are very, very pleased to be able to support these initiatives. Another initiative is the domestic violence treatment option, which, for example, we have been working on with the community of Watson Lake, for example, and we would like to see that very much expanded to other communities that are ready, willing and prepared to take on that particular service.
I am sure that members opposite are fully aware of this particular initiative, otherwise known as the DVTO. It really does encourage more disclosure of domestic violence, provides early intervention, and it really does hold our offenders much more accountable. Thanks to this initiative that has been in the works for the last few years, it has been able to reduce the high collapse rate of court cases. In fact, as I understand it, the collapse rate of domestic assault charges, for example, has gone from 75 percent in March 2000 to approximately 10 percent, which it is currently.
So these initiatives are very innovative, theyíre creative, theyíre made in the Yukon by community stakeholders. It certainly goes a long way in helping us to further reduce the amount of violence in our communities.
I also wanted to take the opportunity to note the excellent work at our community level, including the Victoria Faulkner Womenís Centre undertaking education and promotion on violence prevention for women, Women Abuse Prevention Month, and I should add December 6, which is coming up, and the White Ribbon Campaign, the Sexual Assault Prevention Month, and Take Back the Night, an annual march that is held right here in the City of Whitehorse and one I have been able to take part in each and every year.
Other work that has been accomplished in the last year was referenced by our Premier with respect to family violence forums held in communities such as Watson Lake and the creation of a community wellness working group. I think itís really important to recognize that public education at the community level is very necessary for increasing awareness in strategies in reducing violence against women, children and men.
We certainly know that from the recent research undertaken by the Yukon Status of Women Council, outlined in their report, Strong Womenís Voices: Rural Choices Report, violence continues to be normalized to the extent that it is not commented upon. I think that is a very sad fact, the very fact that, I believe, in their report in 1999 it was reported that women report less than 10 percent of the assaults that actually occurred. It does show that violence against women continues to be silenced.
I believe that the more opportunities that we take as leaders in our communities to raise awareness about these issues, to raise awareness of the services available, to assist those fleeing abusive relationships, to assist those who are seeking services, the more likely it is for those individuals to feel more comfortable to report, to believe that they feel supported and to have those services available made to them.
And by speaking out on these very issues ó we as legislators, the Grand Chief or the Council of Yukon First Nations chiefs, mayors ó each and every one of us can show that violence is not the answer ó it is unacceptable and we will not tolerate it ó we will be able to achieve much more success than ever before. Our government has certainly recognized that we must pool our collective resources and focus on developing a long-term public education campaign focusing on zero tolerance of violence. Through the work of each of our government departments and other key stakeholders, I believe we can help achieve this goal.
Certainly this is an issue that should not be politicized. Itís an issue that has been evident and imminent and present in each of our communities since time began, and itís certainly not an issue that is going to go away overnight. But by pooling our resources, by taking it upon ourselves, as was referred to in the substance abuse approach, by saying no as a community, I believe that we will be able to effect much greater positive change than by working in a stovepipe mentality.
Again, we have been able to provide some resources to our Womenís Directorate to support community organizations in addressing violence against women in their own communities. These are community-based solutions ó that being $100,000, for example, set aside to address aboriginal women and violence. More recently we also announced an additional $150,000 to the Womenís Directorate in this fiscal year to also focus on violence prevention initiatives.
†Again, we will continue at the Womenís Directorate to work with departments, agencies or community partners and with citizens at large. I believe we will much better serve our communities by enhancing participation of everyone and developing materials and approaches that are more effective in reducing the prevalence and severity of abusive actions that are all far too common in our communities today.
I believe that there are other members on the side opposite who should be given the opportunity to say a few words about this very important issue. I would certainly urge members opposite to provide support to this particular motion.
Again, I think this motion does complement the previous one that was just given unanimous support. I think that by working hand in hand on a whole host of other issues such as substance abuse, crime, vandalism, violence against women, children and men, for that matter, we will be able to effect much more change.
So, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to comments from the side opposite.
Mrs. Peter: I stand before this House today to speak to Motion No. 323. The motion itself is urging the Yukon Party government to implement a long-term educational public awareness campaign focusing on zero tolerance of violence against women and children and raising awareness of resources available to assist those leaving violent and abusive relationships.
Mr. Speaker, I am in support of this initiative; however, I urge the Yukon government to take it a step further than that. We heard the leaders of the three parties in this House speak to the alcohol and drug motion that was put on the floor of the House by my colleague earlier. It does complement this motion.
The Yukon has one of the highest rates of violence in Canada, and that speaks volumes. Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the minister and the Yukon Party government to take action rather than talk about this issue.
Thereís financial assistance that has been placed within the Womenís Directorate to do exactly this, to have educational campaigns on violence. I donít disagree with that. Violence is always a result of alcohol and drug abuse. They go hand in hand.
We can try to make the public aware of violence and the kinds of resources that may be available to them out there. They come in many forms. They come in posters; they come in little pamphlets; they come in your mail boxes; you see them posted around the city. However, how much effect does that have? We spend thousands of dollars on paper so we can post them. How many people who are in need of assistance, who are in need of safety, see these posted papers all over town?
Some of them are housebound. Theyíre afraid to leave their homes. Some of them have very young children.
Mr. Speaker, the money that is being spent in this department ó the minister made note of it: $100,000 last year, another $150,000 this year. Iím sure thatís appreciated. But what Iím encouraging the minister and her government to do is to put this money where itís needed. This money needs to address the very problem that weíre facing today in this territory. It has been in the media all year, and within the last few days we have heard horrible stories about it affecting elders in our community, affecting young people, young parents in our communities. That money needs to go to people who are suffering as a result of violence in our communities, not producing more paper so that it can sit around in offices or places where it wonít have any effect or impact, especially in the communities.
Mr. Speaker, violence impacts every one of us, especially children. In our communities that is a very, very serious concern. The communities have very few resources to tap into. Our social departments in our communities are overloaded with work in trying to address alcohol and drugs and trying to address violence and trying to address every other issue out there, and they do the very best that they can.
Where thereís violence thereís alcohol and drug abuse happening. In the communities we need extra dollars in order to help the families looking for assistance, to cover, for example, if thereís a young family or a young mother with children who would like to attend alcohol and drug programs in Whitehorse. They donít want to leave their children at home when the program is offered down here. Thereís no other alternative for the mother but to end up staying at home, because sheís more concerned right now about her kids and their education. Whoís going to take care of them while sheís away? Thatís a very real concern out there. The extra dollars that this government could provide would help these young people to address their own issues, and the extra dollars can be used in Whitehorse to help them with the care of their children while theyíre attending the treatment programs, with daycare services that are needed. Then we talk about after-care when they get back home. These are all ongoing. We have one social worker to cover our community of at least 250. This person does their best to provide support to families that are struggling in this area. We need extra funding to cover the cost of a family support worker. I donít believe itís only in my community that this service is needed; Iím sure that all communities face the same kind of challenges.
Weíre talking about violence. I have a copy of a document here called Stolen Sisters. It addresses the discrimination and violence against indigenous women in Canada and it was put out by Amnesty International. Iíd like to send this copy to the minister responsible for the Women's Directorate. This report addresses violence all across our nation, including the Yukon. Women of our country face discrimination; they face so many other challenges within their lives. It becomes overwhelming. Some of them stem back to when they were children; they had to be taken to residential schools. Those become challenges in their adult life. Iím not going to point a finger at anybody. It is a reality of todayís society that we are living in.
How, as a government, are we going to address these kinds of concerns? We canít throw money at them; we canít offer band-aid solutions; we have to have a long-term vision for this very serious problem.
In the Yukon Territory we have a pilot project that is taking place ó Iíve mentioned it last year ó and itís a safe-home pilot project for older women. That pilot project is going to close down in the very near future because of lack of funding. Yes, right now itís a federal initiative but we have a government in place here that constantly talks about taking a leadership role, having a political will. I would like to see some political will in this area.
The older womenís pilot project, Mr. Speaker, addresses violence against older women. The women who use and need this program, they have done their job. Theyíve raised their children. Theyíre now looking after and taking care to raise and guide their grandchildren, and yet they have to run from their own homes sometimes to a strange place in the middle of the night or sometime in the morning to get away from a dangerous situation.
Mr. Speaker, the women who use this service deserve better than that. They have blazed the trail for us who are standing here today. They have taken care of their families. They have contributed to their communities. They have contributed to society in the best way they know how. I am ashamed that we even have to have such a program. I am happy there is such a program out there for older women. But that, again, Mr. Speaker, speaks volumes of where our society is today. Maybe some of us are just in denial. Some of us donít want to face that there is that exact problem within our own city. They donít want to even think about it, but it is there.
It is there, Mr. Speaker. Are we going to allow this program to run out of money and just disappear into thin air because the federal government has no more money to address this issue? We have $150,000 in this yearís budget that can maybe help out. Or are we going to make some more posters and pamphlets so they can sit around and gather dust?
Mr. Speaker, the youth of our territory have faced many challenges in the last couple of years. I have brought this issue to this House many times. I think today they face more of a challenge because many of them are homeless. They face high-risk situations, living off the streets. They have no food, they have no home, and they have very little experience and therefore they canít get a job, so they wander around the streets of our city, facing violent situations, especially for the young women. Are we going to turn a blind eye to that, too, or will we have the political will to address this situation?
There are many areas where we can support our communities, because violence doesnít only cover one particular area. It leads into our justice system. We know only too well what the statistics say about the correctional centres that we have in our countries and who occupy those places.
Mr. Speaker, sometimes the justice system is more of a challenge and a violent situation than a service to the victim. For example a woman from a small community reports a violent situation, and then it has to come before the courts. You have your victim. You might have your witnesses. You have your court party coming into town. By the time you address the situation it is at least one year later. All these people have to live together in a small community, yet you have this issue hanging over your head. As a person, as a victim, as a woman walking down that street of your community, youíre trying to be strong and trying to stand up for what you believe in. Then there is the person who is charged, living down the street also.
You try to live in a good way in your community until this issue is addressed, and at the end of the day that charge that youíve laid thatís supposed to come before the court doesnít pan out and doesnít get addressed. Itís a year later and what do you do? Life goes on, but in a small community you make do with what you have, what you have to work with, the issues that you have to address. You become more afraid. What are people saying about me? What are people thinking? Because the issue that has been reported on doesnít get dealt with, so another concern is just swept under the rug and hopefully it goes away until it happens again the next time.
There is a time for talking and thereís also a time for action. I believe the time for action is now. There is money available. I would encourage this government to spend it in the right places and where itís needed ó at the grassroots level.
I have also addressed the need for a crisis line in the Yukon. We have a line that has information called VictimLINK. We need a Yukon crisis line in this territory; we need experienced counsellors who would be able to answer the telephone calls 24 hours a day so that if somebody from a small community is in need of help, they can call, they can talk to someone who is aware of Yukon issues, who is aware of what happens and what it can be like in a small community or in Whitehorse, and be able to help the individual at that very moment ó not refer this person to another government office, which is closed after 5 oíclock.
This is a real need and those are some of the places where this money could be spent. And those are some of the ideas that I would encourage the minister responsible for the Women's Directorate and her government to take into consideration. Those are my comments on this motion.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to address Motion No. 323, as brought forward by the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate.
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier in discussions today, I believe very strongly that governments have to walk the talk, that itís about far more than bringing forward motions. Itís about far more than our words in here; itís about our actions. Weíre all familiar with the expression, ďActions speak louder than wordsĒ, and not just on one day but every day.
Mr. Speaker, Iím reminded that on March 25 this year, the then Minister of Justice and I had a vigorous discussion about a very high-profile spousal assault case. Yukoners were very, very upset about the sentence that was given to the individual. The individual was sentenced to two yearsí probation for a particularly violent assault against his estranged wife. In the Yukon community, more than 1,600 people signed a petition, displayed in 25 Yukon businesses. Many others lobbied and wrote. Their concern and outrage were expressed to the Attorney General of British Columbia, because the sentence and the issue were dealt with in British Columbia. It was a court case in British Columbia, although it involved a very high-profile individual. It was a very, very, very difficult time in the Yukon. I raise this issue because it was an issue, as this motion addresses, an issue of violence ó violence against women, and the core values led Yukoners to stand up and say, ďNo, the sentence of two yearsí probation for this offence was wrong.Ē It offended the core values of Yukoners.
I wrote, and I know many individuals wrote. Unfortunately, the Yukon Party government did not take action. They said they couldnít comment; it was another jurisdiction ó that was the response. Comment could absolutely have been made. The case was not before the Yukon; the case was before the Attorney General.
That response was disheartening, because it was an issue that affects all Yukoners. It was an issue of urgent importance to be brought forward to the House ó an issue of violence. Whether the case was heard in British Columbia or not, whether it was currently before the courts or not, the Yukon Party was able to speak and they didnít. Yukoners demand more from their elected politicians. They demand more than words, and they demand more than motions. They demand action; they demand budget appropriations, that government spend taxpayersí dollars wisely and spend them where theyíre needed.
Violence against women and children, violence in our society, bullying in school ó bullying that we see and allow to continue is wrong. This kind of violence is wrong, and it needs far more than an educational awareness campaign ó far more. It needs leadership; it needs action, and it needs resources dedicated where they should be.
The Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has said, more eloquently than I can, that the front-line individuals and staff and volunteers ó people in the community ó can tell government best where resources should be directed. The government needs to listen.
When I had the opportunity and privilege to sit on the other side of the House, I had the opportunity to work with and spend some time with the volunteers and staff at Help and Hope in Watson Lake. As long as I live, I will never forget the heartbreak that was expressed by those individuals and the passion with which they spoke about ending the cycle of violence that passes from generation to generation.
How do we end it? They can tell us best. They can tell us what resources they need. Government has to listen and government has to walk the talk. Government has to act.
Now, the minister and the government have brought forward this motion that suggests that we all unanimously support a long-term educational public awareness campaign. Iím not going to vote against the motion. I am going to express that itís my belief that the government needs to do more than this. The government needs to act and not just mouth the words. The government needs to put resources where they are needed and where those who are in a position to know best direct those resources and seek where those resources should go.
Government needs to, in short, walk the talk and take action not just on this day but every single day. I would encourage them to do so.
I appreciate the opportunity to address the motion. As I said, I certainly will support it. I am not going to amend it and, as weíve said, rag the puck. I would encourage the government, however, to pay attention to what the front-line folks are telling them, to what community members say. How can we help you? How do we work with you? We need to end the cycle of violence, not just talk about it. We need to do something about it. I would encourage the government to take action, as opposed to simply a public awareness campaign.
Mr. McRobb: I will be brief because we do want to wrap up this motion and bring it to a vote in time for a break and to allow Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to proceed at 4:00 p.m.
I want to thank the MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin for expressing the position of the official opposition on the record, and also the other previous speakers. I think generally we are all speaking from the same page on this issue.
I believe the motion, however, could have been substantially strengthened had it included more of an action item than simply raising awareness. We do know there are a number of action items that would have been possible to include in the motion, and Iíll just recite some of them. We could have tried to amend the motion this afternoon, but that would have led nowhere other than to lots of further debate for which there isnít time this afternoon because of Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board commencing at 4:00 p.m. So rather than really debate the motion fully, weíre prepared to stand down and vote on the motion. Although the motion is quite void of action items, we see it as something we have no problem supporting, so I believe Iíll be voting in favour of the motion.
Now, that said, I want to put on record some action items for future consideration by this government or its successors. That would be, first of all, that we have to do more to support victims of family violence and violence against women and children, any kind of violence for that matter. Specifically we need to provide more funding for hiring staff, and this would apply to staff at transition homes and victim services and include family violence counsellors. We also need more funding for NGOs out there that help to ease these matters for victims and provide services for the territory. There are a few institutions. In Watson Lake we have the Liard Aboriginal Womenís Society, in Ross River itís the Margaret Thomson Centre, and thereís the Yukon Aboriginal Womenís Council. All of those institutions need more financial support from this government.
In addition to funding the existing institutions, we really do need to find more funds to help train staff. In addition, there is a need for a new institution in the territory that would be a rape crisis centre complete with trained personnel.
The MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, who is our Justice critic, also indicated that funding is due to expire soon for the safe home pilot project for older women. Where is this governmentís commitment toward that program? Obviously it needs continued support, and it is something the Yukon government could do.
You know, Mr. Speaker, this reminds me a bit of last Wednesdayís motion about assistance for the CAIRS, the Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools, and the government pointed the finger at the federal government urging it to make a commitment. During the discussion on the CAIRS issue, it was pointed out that the Yukon government also has a responsibility, but it is not taking any action. I see similarities between that motion and the one today, because as indicated already, the motion as is worded is really lacking in identifiable action items that could help the situation across the Yukon. Certainly there are a number of action items that could have been included. Iíve identified some of them already.
Now, we know the Yukon Party in the past has gone on about how money set aside for operations and maintenance is bad. I recall the expression ďcapital good, O&M bad.Ē Iíve heard that phrase several times. I recall the MLA for Klondike constantly criticizing money spent by previous governments in areas such as this for social programming and services to help victims across the territory.
The other day I heard that same member say, ďThis is the new Yukon PartyĒ, and I referred back to the Blues so I would make no mistake in referencing it in the future and here we are today doing that exact thing. The member said, ďThis is a new Yukon Party. Itís the Yukon Party with a social conscience.Ē Well, letís find out if that really is the case.
Now, this motion today sounds good, and it is quite touchy-feely in its language, but its logic is a little fuzzy because there is nothing in it that substantially improves the situation. We already have lots of awareness campaigns in the territory. Some of them arenít used as well as they should be, but there is lots of awareness, there are lots of studies and reports gathering dust on the shelf. What we need is some action.
So this House is dealing with a substantial supplementary budget in this sitting. I will put the Minister of Health and Social Services on notice right now. We will be exploring this particular area in some detail when we get to that item in the supplementary budget. In addition, we will also be on guard for the coming mains budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year, which we will be dealing with in a few months, to see if this Yukon Party government does indeed have a social conscience.
Motion to adjourn debate
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this motion. It is a motion that this side is very desirous of continuing debate on, but given that we have another commitment very shortly I would move that debate be now adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved that debate be now adjourned.
Motion to adjourn debate on Motion No. 323 negatived
Speaker: If the hon. member now speaks she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I would like to thank members opposite, as well, for putting forth their support for this particular motion. I certainly take credence in what they have said regarding actions speaking louder than words. I have to say that our government has very much taken many actions on this particular front. I just have to point out some of the initiatives that I reiterated earlier.
When we look at resources for personnel, as the Member for Kluane had mentioned earlier, I just look at the 2004-05 budget that we debated earlier this spring and how we had designated additional resources to personnel in the family violence prevention unit ó resources for additional community training to build capacity in our communities, additional monies for clinical supervision to assist the victim services unit in the Department of Justice.
I will refer to our commitments, and interestingly enough I heard comments coming from the leader of the Liberal Party, the third party. Our commitment is there; we didnít do away with the Womenís Directorate. Rather, we reinstated the Womenís Directorate, because we happen to think itís a very important directorate; it has a very important role, and through our actions we are able to better focus on issues pertaining to women ó concerns that continue to face women on a day-to-day basis. We are committed.
I will look at funding within our own Womenís Directorate. There is $100,000 for an aboriginal-women-in-violence project. These are funds that were brand new. These are funds that were never there before. Our government took the initiative to provide these additional funds; our government collaborated with aboriginal womenís organizations and aboriginal women in the territory and found consensus and has basically designated this $100,000 to various aboriginal womenís organizations throughout the entire territory, I should add.
Again, this is the first time funding has ever been made available and these are community-based projects, not projects that were driven by the Government of Yukon but were driven by aboriginal womenís organizations, initiatives that help build capacity in the communities and help prevent violence in our communities, something that I and all members of this House adamantly support.
When we look at $150,000 in extra funding for violence prevention initiatives, I donít think money for safety kits for women fleeing abusive relationships is a waste of money. In fact, this is something that has been requested by womenís organizations time and time again. We are acting upon those responses.
Again, we are working with aboriginal womenís organizations, as well, in aboriginal-women-in-governance leadership initiatives. These are all initiatives that have been requested specifically by organizations and women at large in the territory, something that I and my colleagues wholeheartedly support.
VictimLINK is a great tool that will assist people, victims of violence and abuse in our communities. Itís a 1-800 toll-free number that is available to every citizen in the territory, 24/7, and it does provide bona fide counsellors on the other end. It does provide assistance.
Can we go further? Of course we can always go further. There is always room for improvement, but I think this assistance is a great start and in turn, we are also providing victim services to the communities of Atlin as well as Lower Post ó communities that are right next door to our territory, and we are able to assist because healthy communities in British Columbia, right next door, a couple of miles outside the Yukon, also means healthy communities for Yukon as well.
We have increased the Yukon child benefit. We are supporting our transition homes throughout the territory. I look at the womenís advocacy program, which is administered by the Victoria Faulkner Womenís programs, education awareness programs, initiatives that we are supporting through womenís organizations in the territory. These are all initiatives that we support.
I am very pleased with the members opposite and their comments regarding the motion before us, and I very much appreciate their support. I think that more initiatives have to be completed in all our respective jurisdictions. I also think that money has to be made available; resources have to be made available for prevention, education and awareness. Thatís where it begins ó not after the fact. I very much am a great supporter of prevention initiatives before the harm has been done.
So I thank all members opposite for their support, and I would also like to just comment that if it werenít for the lack of time that is made available here because of another Crown corporation coming before us, all my colleagues would be saying a few words to this motion and are very supportive.
†So thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, will you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 15 yea, nil nay.
Motion No. 323 agreed to
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. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Motion re appearance of witnesses
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move
THAT Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Sheila Lilles, acting president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, appear as witnesses in Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 23, 2004, to discuss matters relating to the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Pursuant to the Committee of the Whole Motion No. 5, the Committee will receive witnesses from the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. In order to allow the witnesses to take their place in the Chamber, the Committee will now recess briefly and reconvene at 4:00 p.m. sharp.
Deputy Chair: Order please. Pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 5, Committee of the Whole will now hear from witnesses from the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. The Chair understands that there will be some opening remarks from the acting president, and from there the witnesses will entertain questions.
I would advise members and witnesses that questions and answers are to be directed through the Chair. I would also ask members and witnesses to wait until they are recognized by the Chair before asking questions or providing answers. I would ask the minister responsible for the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to introduce the witnesses.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would like to welcome to the House Mr. Craig Tuton, the chair of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Ms. Sheila Lilles, the acting president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. They are here today to appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole.
†Ms. Lilles:†† †Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly for this opportunity to update you on the activities of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Many of you know that the first law governing compensation for injured workers in the Yukon was passed in April of 1917. This was only a few years after the progressive report of Mr. Justice William Meredith in Ontario. The Meredith principles continue to be the cornerstones of workersí compensation throughout Canada today. Workersí compensation is a no-fault system funded by employers on the basis of collective liability. Workers receive guaranteed benefits in exchange for giving up their right to sue employers. The board has exclusive jurisdiction to decide claims and administration of the system is independent of government.
The Yukon board is the smallest in Canada. Our subsidized rates are some of the lowest assessment premium rates for employers in the country. Our compensation rates for workers are some of the highest. Unlike many boards across Canada, the Yukon board is fully funded. What this means is that, if the doors of the Workersí Compensation Board were to suddenly shut, all of the obligations to injured workers in the system at this time would be covered.
Today the board is fundamentally sound, and this was confirmed by the Auditor General of Canada in her special examination of the board in 2002. Two conditions must be met in order for the compensation system to remain fully funded and fundamentally sound. First, it must remain fully funded; and second, it must be affordable.
In terms of funding, the boardís financial health means having enough money set aside in the benefits liability to cover the future costs of all current and prior-year claims. It also means having additional money set aside in reserves to cover unanticipated costs, such as catastrophic claims. This is particularly important in a small jurisdiction where a workplace incident with many fatalities could devastate the fund.
An actuarial review of the boardís liabilities in 1998 revealed that a surplus had accumulated in the compensation fund. Employers had been charged higher premiums than was necessary to cover the costs of claims. The board of directors consulted with stakeholders at the time and decided to subsidize premiums in order to draw down the surplus.
It was understood by all parties that this subsidization of premiums could only be maintained while the surplus remained. The subsidization of assessment rates continues today and will continue into 2005 although, since 2002, the subsidies have been gradually reduced.
In the meantime, other factors have had a significant impact on the boardís finances. Claims costs have risen dramatically, and although they are down from a historic high in 2002, they have settled out at a higher level than expected. At the same time, it wonít be news to anyone here that investment returns have fallen.
Put simply, the board is spending more money than it is bringing in and, left unaddressed, this will erode the boardís funded position. To address this, the board is presently consulting with employer and labour groups about a new reserve structure. We want to ensure the reserves target our high-risk areas and permit us to maintain stable assessment rates.
The board expects to make a decision about the reserve structure in February and, once this decision is made, the board will consult with stakeholders about how the remaining assessment rate subsidies will be removed.
This brings me to the second condition for a sound compensation system in the Yukon, which is affordability. How do we ensure a system that provides excellent benefits for injured workers and stable affordable rates for employers? We believe the answer is to work together to prevent injuries in the workplace and, when we fail to prevent injuries, we need to work together to help injured workers overcome their injuries and return to the workforce as soon as it is safe for them to do so.
Let me deal with prevention first. The board feels very strongly that the best way to ensure the affordability of the workersí compensation system is through prevention. What is needed is a fundamental change in attitude about work-related injury. We must get beyond the kind of thinking that accepts work injuries as an inevitable, if unfortunate, side effect of economic activity ó collateral damage, if you like. We need to adopt the attitude that these injuries and illnesses are just not acceptable ó not ever.
Fundamental shifts in thinking like this often begin with the young. The Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board is doing much to reach this group, who are also the most vulnerable to injury on the job. The passport to safety program launched earlier this year trains youth about their risks, responsibilities and rights at work. Itís a computer-based program that helps to prepare young people to work safely. Many Yukon employers, including the City of Whitehorse, the Village of Mayo, the Gold Rush Inn and Duncanís Limited have joined this effort to protect young workers from harm.
We are also providing safety education in schools. A three-hour introduction to workplace safety is provided to students in grades 10, 11 and 12. Six seminars have been held at F.H. Collins Secondary School since September, three have been held at the Watson Lake school and more are scheduled for Porter Creek Secondary School beginning in January. In 2003, we piloted the first student training and employment program ó the STEP program ó in several schools. This program targets children in grades 8 and 9.
We are anxious to increase the amount of safety education provided in the schools and we welcome requests from teachers for our workshops.
One other prevention initiative that I would like to mention is our partnership with the Yukon Contractors Association to provide funding for the Yukon Construction Safety Association. There is a lot of construction activity taking place in the Yukon, and most of it is associated with a high level of risk of injury. The Construction Safety Association works with contractors in the construction industry and with other employers to promote safe worksites.
Since its inception, the Yukon Construction Safety Association has pioneered the concept of the certificate of recognition, or COR, in the Yukon. This program is available to all Yukon employers. There is an educational requirement and an audit component. Certification is granted to employers who have implemented a health and safety management system that is shown to meet established standards through an external audit. COR has been introduced in a number of other jurisdictions, where it has proven to be very successful in terms of reducing the costs of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Two local employers have let their contractors know that they will require COR in the near future and we know that, when oil and gas and pipeline activities take place in the Yukon, these projects will also require all contractors to have COR. Experience shows that employers who have effective health and safety management systems will have fewer work-related incidents. We will continue to support this program as an industry-driven method of preventing injury.
While prevention is our preferred approach to ensuring the affordability of workersí compensation, when that fails, workersí compensation must manage the care of workers who have been injured in an effective way and get them back to work as soon as possible. All research indicates that the sooner an injured worker returns to the job, the sooner they will fully recover; and that, of course, is our goal. This year we have implemented a triage system to help us identity workers who require additional support during their rehabilitation. This allows us to focus on those workers right from the opening of their claim. We have reorganized our claim unit to provide better services to workers and weíve completed a new rehabilitation policy that focuses on working together as a team with physicians and employers to support injured workers in their recovery and return to work.
I mentioned earlier that our attitudes need to change with respect to work-related injury. One further change we still need to work on is attitudes about reintegrating injured workers into the workplace. We need to convince employers that working collaboratively with us to reintegrate injured workers makes good economic sense. It makes economic sense in terms of their bottom line because it reduces the cost of hiring and training replacement workers. It also makes economic sense because it helps to ensure the affordability of assessment premiums.
Before closing, I wish to just note a number of policy initiatives that were undertaken in 2004: the board established a policy on lump sum payments for workers injured in prior years; the merits and justice of the case policy was established to provide guidance to those who make decisions on claims for compensation; and a corporate policy on access to information was also defined.
Finally, one other recent event deserves mention in this House. In August, the Workersí Compensation Board hosted the Association of Workersí Compensation Boards of Canada Congress. This was a large national conference attended by more than 200 board members, chief executive officers and senior executives from across Canada. It was a valuable learning environment for all attendees and local businesses benefited by providing accommodation, transportation, food and entertainment.
Thank you for this opportunity to highlight the activities of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. I look forward to your questions, and if there are any I am unable to answer today, I will be happy to provide a written response.
Mr. Cardiff: First of all, Iíd like to thank the minister and the chair and the acting president for the opportunity today to ask our questions and for their opening comments. I realize that our time is short, and if there are questions that require more technical answers, I would be happy to get written responses later on. Iíd like to thank them for attending. I will try to keep my questions brief and hopefully we can get through this.
The first question, I guess, is more a question of curiosity on my part and probably on the part of other Members of the Legislative Assembly. Iíd be interested in knowing when you were made aware that you would be appearing here today at 4 oíclock. Thatís my first question.
Mr. Tuton: We were made aware quite some time ago. We certainly had adequate time to prepare for today.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, that is interesting to note. I am glad you were provided an opportunity well in advance to prepare, so I can look forward to answers that have been prepared. I trust that you are knowledgeable in providing those answers.
I would like to go back to the last appearance in the Legislature. Traditionally, the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board appears once a year. I guess, just due to circumstances, we are at the point now where it has been a year and a half, so Iíd like to revisit some of the things that we talked about a year and a half ago.
At that time, my recollection is that claims costs were rising rather dramatically and it was cause for concern. I believe the Auditor General expressed a concern about that. I know that the president expressed that in his opening remarks as well. I am just wondering if either of you could tell me if that experience is getting better now as far as claims costs?
Mr. Tuton: As you recall, when we appeared before the Assembly last time, I think the bottom line at the end of the year was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $24.5 million in deficit. Subsequent to that, our year-end bottom line for the year following was in the neighbourhood of $12 million, so obviously there has been a reduction. We have to remember that a portion of that roughly $25 million was legislated and we didnít have any control of that. But we are seeing a reduction in that area.
Our projections ó although they are not complete for this upcoming year ó we are projecting again to be, if not in line with last year, a little bit less.
Mr. Cardiff: One of the other things that was mentioned at that time was the administrative costs that the board had to deal with. The minister in his previous job in opposition as the MLA for Klondike ó I know he expressed a lot of concern about the administrative costs that the board had to bear. Iím curious about a couple of things. I know a year and a half ago Mr. Tuton was new to the job, and he hadnít had an opportunity to meet with the minister. Iím just wondering whether there has been any direction coming from the minister with regard to administrative costs and getting them under control, trying to reduce administrative costs and what efforts the board has made to reduce those costs.
Mr. Tuton: Thank you for the question. It is a good and valid question, and although I was new to the board last year, I did have the privilege of serving on the board a number of years before that, so I was fairly familiar with the system.
†The question surrounding administrative costs is an interesting one, because over the years and certainly over the last five years in particular, the way that the Workersí Compensation Board does business has drastically changed. Those drastic changes that have affected the board have certainly affected the administrative costs. Let me just draw some parallels to that. First of all, our stakeholders determine that we have to have the WCAT, which is the appeals tribunal, that we have the worker advocate and that we did have, up until recently, the employer consultant.
All of those costs, some of which are quite significant, are reflected in the administrative costs. As well, the stakeholders are consistently asking for more data that surrounds the claims and the cost of those claims. So all of those things drive the administration costs to a certain extent, but it is certainly in the interests of the board without direction to review those administrative costs and increases where they appear, if they appear, and keep them in control and, in doing that, to benefit all of the areas. So, yes, we consistently look at administrative costs and ways that we can curtail them, but as I said some are out of our control.
Mr. Cardiff: Iím wondering if there is an actual figure for how much claims costs have been reduced from one year to the next. Iíll just roll the next question into that as well. Are there plans to try to reduce administrative costs in the next coming fiscal year?
Mr. Tuton: If you want the claims expenses, the claims expense for the year 2002 was $29,500,000. For 2003, the actual claims expense was $15,700,000 ó so a significant reduction in claims. The administration in 2002 was $5.66 million and in 2003 it was $5.69 million, so it was a very insignificant increase.
Mr. Cardiff: So it appears to be that weíre kind of holding our own, or keeping control. Itís kind of a status quo situation.
One of the things that was brought up a year and a half ago and was mentioned in the acting presidentís opening statements was the fact that we are still a fully funded board here in the Yukon. I believe a year and a half ago the president stated that we were probably the strongest funded board ó funded to the tune of 116 percent. Iím just wondering: is there a current figure for how well funded we are?
Mr. Tuton:††† †††† I think what he would have said was that we were among the best funded boards in the country, and that is certainly a privilege. That statement certainly would hold true today, but in actual fact it would be reduced and the exact number I know I have off the top of my head, but I think itís 111 ó itís in that area ó so it has been reduced, but we do have that. Well, the percentage we donít have, but it would be roughly in that area.
Incidently, if I may expand on the question, one of the reasons that weíre going through the process of reserve consultations and coming into the new year with assessment consultations is to address that very fact. We want to ensure that the board is in a very positive position to make sure that any illnesses or injuries that are incurred by workers in the workplace, that there are sufficient dollars to cover those today and into the future. We have been concentrating our efforts over the last short period to ensure that that happens.
Mr. Cardiff: One of the other things the acting president mentioned is that the assessments are still some of the lowest in Canada. We still have some of the highest benefits, if not the highest benefits. The acting president also mentioned that the level of subsidy was still going to be reduced. The figures I have from a year and a half ago are that during the years 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, the average assessment subsidy was about 54 percent. That was reduced to an average of 41 percent in 2003, and they were looking at 32 percent for 2004. Iím just wondering if a figure has been arrived at for the coming year 2005, or if that is still to be negotiated.
Mr. Tuton: Thatís a good question. The board is in a position within a week, I think, to announce what the 2005 rates will be. The reason that I say that quickly is that it was the boardís intention to start a consultative process on the assessment rates prior to year-end. But we felt that, because the way the subsidy was coming down so rapidly, we had to give an adequate amount of time to all the stakeholders to properly give the consideration that is going to be due that question.
So in 2002 the board actively did an assessment rate consultation. Out of that active consultation, they determined from stakeholders what the best process was to reduce the subsidy in the most proper way or painless way to the employers. There was a formula determined. That formula actually carried on through 2005. So the decision of the board in effect would be to consider following that recommendation. We have been very vocal over the last few months, every opportunity that Iíve had, to indicate that we would be possibly looking at an increase of no greater than 20 percent following the recommendations from stakeholders out of that 2002 review.
Mr. Cardiff: I am not quite sure I totally understood that. So we would be looking at about a 20-percent level of subsidy in 2005?
Mr. Tuton: No, we would be reducing the amount of subsidy that was received in 2004 so that the actual assessment would be higher because of the reduction in the subsidy.
Really, if I may, the amount, the dollars ó we at one time had a reserve that was a rate subsidy reserve and thatís depleted, so there is no more subsidy. Thatís what the acting president spoke to in her opening comments.
Mr. Cardiff: Thatís my next question. If you look at the financials, the audited 2003 financials, the rate transition reserve ó or at least the way I read it anyhow ó shows thereís zero, zip. My question would be: what is being used to subsidize the assessment rates if thereís no rate transition reserve at the year-end?
Mr. Tuton: The first part of my comments was that weíre in a process right now of consulting on the reserve structures. So I guess in answer to your question of whatís being used, one could say higher assessment rates. We do have reserves, as the acting president stated. We still have reserves, but those reserves where they were once at a high level have now been depleted to ó and that goes without saying. When youíre running into a deficit every year, you have to get the money somewhere, and the reserve is actually like a savings account or money in waiting and weíve been using that. A certain amount of those reserves must be held in abeyance for things like catastrophic and occupational diseases and those types of things. Did you have anything you wanted to add? Perhaps Sheila could just add to that if she has anything.
But the actual fact is that youíre pretty close to being right.
Mr. Cardiff: I have to apologize for not being at the annual information meeting this past year. I was out of town. But I did read the minutes, however, several times actually, and it was an interesting meeting. Out of that I requested some information that was provided at that meeting about the reserve structure, so weíre moving now into that.
One of the conclusions ó I believe itís part of a Power Point ó is that strongly funded boards have reserves. Boards that are not strongly funded do not have significant reserves. So I have a few questions.
The sheets that were supplied basically show the present reserve structure and a proposed reserve structure. So I have some questions basically around the reserves. The reserves that were in place from 1998 to 2003 and I believe are still in place, if they havenít been changed ó one was the prevention and benefit enhancement reserve. That was my understanding of some of the things in the audited financial statement. Basically it funded the 26 workers who came over with Bill C-73. It funded some spousal benefits that were required to be paid, and it also was used to help fund the passport to safety program, and given its name, prevention and benefit enhancement reserve, I would argue that it is basically directed toward workers. Would I be correct in that assessment?
Mr. Tuton: As I said, we have just started into the consultative process to talk about the reserve structure. There was a structure, or there is a structure currently, that is called benefit enhancements and it is correct that the spousal benefits were drawn down from that reserve, as were the recipients of Bill C-73. Iím not so sure that the passport to safety program has actually been drawn out of there, but there has definitely been discussion with labour and with the employers side about doing that. If it hasnít been done, I think the intention is to do that ó to take it out of there. But I think it would be a little unfair at this point to try to guess what that consultative process is going to bring about with that benefit enhancement reserve, and I think itís also safe to say that, although some would call that a proposal, I would call that a suggested option that we had prepared by the actuaries because, as you know, itís pretty difficult to determine from the reserves what is needed over the long-term liability without an actuarial assumption.
Mr. Cardiff: I guess my point is that that particular ó and I understand it was prepared by actuaries. I guess I got ďproposalĒ from the fact there is a proposed new structure for the reserves. Iím glad the board is consulting with all the stakeholders ó labour and the employer groups.
If it doesnít go to the proposed structure, Iíd like to argue, as was stated in the opening remarks, that thereís a lot to be said about prevention. When you look at the proposed structure, there isnít a prevention and benefit enhancement reserve. I donít know how itís going to break out. Youíre going to be the ones who do the consultation. Iíd just like to argue that we need to direct more money toward prevention, whether that be through the passport to safety program or some of the other things that were mentioned ó workplace safety in schools, which my son has done, or the first STEP program.
The potential for the Construction Safety Association to deliver to workers and employers both education programs and practical workshops about how to prevent injuries is probably understated. Thereís probably a lot more that they could do.
Iíd like to go back to the reserves. The way I view the reserves is that we had the rate transition reserve, which was basically to subsidize employersí assessment rates and which I would argue basically benefits employers, the target reserve, whether itís for catastrophic claims, adverse claims or occupational disease ó I guess thereís a benefit to the injured workers, but I would also argue that theyíre more targeted toward employers as well.
So when you look at the proposed structure, Iím just wondering ó we would be going back if they were to accept this. Most of the reserves would be targeted at employers as opposed to employees or workers.
Mr. Tuton: †Mr. Chair, through you I would thank Mr. Cardiff for touching a button that I like being touched these days. If I may be permitted, Iíll answer your question in an expanded manner.
First of all, we must remember that the board really has two statements to make. One is that we must ensure that we have adequate dollars to fund, both today and in the future, all of the liabilities for those who become ill or injured in the workplace. We also must ensure that we do whatever we can to ensure that the employers are not becoming overburdened with the large assessment rates in ensuring that those objectives are met.
We like to look to the problem and like to say ó one of your questions in the past was about the rising claims costs. We recognize and we recognized it some time ago ó and I guess the easy way to look at those rising claims costs is that thereís a quick fix and a sure fix. The quick fix, obviously, is to look to the employers and say, ďWe need you to pay more money.Ē We can justify that by saying, on the other hand, ďYouíre getting more accidents so we need you to pay for it.Ē
But the board has taken a very, very strong initiative over the past year, in that we want to focus our attentions on prevention and safety. We have constructed a separate subcommittee of the board that consists of members of labour, First Nations, employers, youth, and various other members of the community who sit on what we call the Prevention and Safety Committee.
We think that the future of workersí compensation is in prevention and safety ó reduce injury to whatever extent and to whatever we can do.
The board has made it clear at every opportunity that Iíve had to speak to our stakeholders and to the public that thatís where we want to focus our attention. We want to focus our attention and resolve, not just for the youth. You have heard us being very proactive in our advertising over recent weeks about our passport to safety youth program. We are very excited about that. We are going to make waves to the government about including that passport to safety as part of a requirement for youth workers in the government ó it is coming.
You have heard us in the public talk about our COR program, which is our certificate of recognition. We think that is heading us in the right direction. Youíve heard us say that we have the buy-in of some of the major corporations and employers in the community of Yukon. We are talking to the government. We intend to pursue the government to be one of those customers, but those kinds of things take time.
Recognizing what you are saying, I think we all say the same thing. Perhaps rather than naming all those reserves, we keep what we have in reserve for reducing the burdens on compensation. We have to change the focus. I think I heard it said by some of the members on our safety committee that some people would say that you need eye protection; but then there is eye protection and thereís eye protection. If you mean eye protection to mean a $1 pair of safety goggles or if they cost $15, which is going to be safer? I mean, it doesnít really take much, but we have to change that at all levels ó at the worker level and the employer level ó to understand that safety has a meaning much further than what we know it today. Thatís our mission, and itís a tough task, but the board is committed to trying to move along there and as quickly as we can.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank Mr. Tuton for his comments. I agree to a large degree. I think that ó I mean, the major driver of claims costs is injuries. The only way to bring claims costs down is to reduce injuries and you do that through education and prevention. I applaud the board for their initiatives in that regard.
Having come from the construction industry ó some 25 years in the construction industry ó Iíve seen lots of injuries. Iíve been injured myself. A lot of it can be prevented and, contrary to popular belief, it is the younger generation that is probably more at risk because they havenít seen it. They donít have the knowledge or the experience to recognize when they are in danger. That doesnít mean that old dogs donít need to learn new tricks because I would argue that older workers are habituated into unsafe practices.
I applaud them for their work and I would encourage them to actually expand it.
Iíd like to ask a specific question about one of the initiatives that was mentioned and that is the certificate of recognition. Recently there was an advertisement in the paper ó the City of Whitehorse has taken this on; theyíre going to require this in their tender documents; contractors have obtained that. Iím curious: has the board had any discussion with the Yukon government about requiring the Yukon government and the ministers who are responsible for doing contracting ó because they do a lot of contracting, whether itís building construction or highway construction; there is a lot of maintenance work that gets contracted out. Iím just wondering: are you talking to them about buying into this and requiring that as well?
Mr. Tuton: The advertisement that you speak of actually is an advertisement from the Yukon Construction Safety Association. If I could, Iíll just take a moment. We signed an agreement with the Yukon Construction Safety Association a year ago. Part of the wishes of the board was that that role be expanded to include other employers outside of the Contractors Association and in fact that is happening quicker than the board had thought. The initiative is one of the Construction Safety Association. They have provided ó and I donít know the exact number ó a number of courses to Government of Yukon in the area of safety. Yes, we are talking with government at various levels about COR, the certificate of recognition, and about prevention and safety in general.
Mr. Cardiff: Thatís good news to hear, and thank you for clarifying that it was a Construction Safety Association initiative. Itís just another example of the good work theyíre doing. Iím sure that they could be expanding ó as has already happened ó what it is that theyíre doing.
While weíre with the Construction Safety Association, Iím assuming that thatís an agreement that the board is supportive of and they intend to continue with for some time.
Ms. Lilles: Thatís a contribution agreement that the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board has with the Yukon Contractors Association. We provided $169,000 for the first year, and we will provide $177,000 for each of two subsequent years. The agreement requires an annual review to ensure the association is living up to its workplan and improving safety for workers and employers.
Mr. Cardiff: Does the Contractors Association actually supply funds to the Construction Safety Association as well?
Mr. Tuton: The contractors? Was that the question? The program as it sits today is funded by the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and as I said in my last statement, the hope of the board is to have that association expanded to include all employers. It is our hope that it will become a living entity in and of itself.
Mr. Cardiff: While we are on the topic of contribution agreements, I know the board also has funding agreements with the worker advocate, I believe, and they did have a contribution agreement with the Chamber of Commerce for the employer consultant. I believe the worker advocate is still out there. Iím wondering what the boardís intentions are with regard to the employer consultant. I have been reading the annual reports that have been provided by the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, the Appeals Tribunal, the annual information meeting minutes, and the worker advocate writes an annual report. The activities and some of the results are contained in those reports. Iím wondering two things: what are the boardís intentions around continuing with the employer consultant, and are there any reports that would indicate the outcomes, the results or the achievements or whatever of the employer consultant?
Mr. Tuton: The board had a pilot project agreement with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce for the position of the employer consultant. The pilot project expired in August. Subsequent to that, because of the value of that contract ó I believe the value was some $450,000 ó the board felt we had to get a handle on whether the position was value for the dollar. So to that extent, the board has just released an RFP for an evaluation of that. Weíve had discussions with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce about their involvement and we expect that process to be completed by February 28.
So the board has not made any decisions as to what would happen with that position, other than that the contract has expired and hasnít been renewed.
Mr. Cardiff: I imagine that the results will be made public. I donít know if the evaluation will. Will the evaluation of that position be made public?
Ms. Lilles: To be honest, I have to say Iím not sure if the full evaluation will be public. I would expect there would be at least an executive summary that would be released. My hesitation has to do with the fact that the contractor will be asked to gather data from a variety of employers and we would want to ensure the confidentiality of that information. So I suspect what may be made public is a summary report or an executive summary.
Mr. Cardiff: I understand the sensitivity about confidentiality and respect that. Either way we will find out. I am sure the board will either continue with the agreement or they wonít, or they will modify it or they will direct the funds toward something like the Construction Safety Association to deal with prevention and assist employers in their workersí compensation and occupational health and safety issues.
One thing I gleaned from the annual information meeting minutes was the statement by the board chair about the occupational health and safety regulations. About a year and a half ago, the president made this statement: there was a three-year consultation process on revisions to the bulk of the occupational health and safety regulations and it was completed in 2002, including consultations with many Yukon employers and workers along with the Government of Yukon, and it was concluded in June 2002 with a public session.
According to the annual information meeting minutes, the board chair stated that he raises this issue every time he meets with the minister. I think that, I, myself, am somewhat frustrated. I know there are employers and workers out there who seem to be frustrated with the time that it is taking for this to come to fruition, I guess. There are a lot of questions out there about occupational health and safety regulations.
Iíd like to know from the boardís chair ó he raises it in every meeting with the minister. Could he share some of the reasons why he does that? Is it because of concerns from workers and employers that they would like to see this come forward?
Mr. Tuton: †I think the reason that itís raised is that we would like to draw a conclusion to the occupational health and safety regulations. Obviously there are people who have concerns with them being sort of held up from being passed, or slowed down from being passed. But I donít think that restricts our abilities in the occupational health and safety area to continue to inspect sites and ensure that the workplaces are safe.
Mr. Cardiff: I know that the minister has some concerns. So, when I asked him this question about the occupational health and safety regulations only a few days ago, one of the things was that he had communicated to the board concerns he had ó issues he had raised with the board. Itís my understanding that the board had responded to that. What I asked was if he would table the questions he gave to the board and the responses he received so that I could have a look at them, so that the leader of the third party could have a look at them, and so that other people who keep asking me about the occupational health and safety regulations could also have a look at those concerns and the responses the board has provided.
The minister committed to doing that. I know that the minister is busy and he has a hard time finding stuff on his desk sometimes and keeping some of those commitments. Iím just wondering if the board could maybe speed that process up for us here in the Legislature and provide the questions and the responses. Would that be possible?
Mr. Tuton:††† †††† If we are requested by the minister to provide that information, absolutely, we would be.
Mr. Cardiff: I will endeavour to take that up with the minister at my first opportunity.
One of the issues that the minister raised is that in the new regulations there is ó basically he said that some of the initiatives are totally unworkable and unacceptable, like that you can only take or haul in the back of your vehicle two litres of gas in the back of a pickup. Thatís included in the new regulations. I know itís a thick binder. Iíve thumbed through it a few times and Iíve looked for that. The only reference that I can find to restrictions to fuel being hauled in vehicles is if they were in an enclosed vehicle that was actually carrying workers. The minister seemed to think that it would preclude people from putting gas in the back of our pickups when we were going snowmobiling. I think that, unless we were going to work, that argument doesnít fly.
The minister seems to have found this. I canít find it. There are two things Iím wondering: 1) do you know where it is in the proposed occupational health and safety regulations; and 2) has the minister asked you to actually redraft that regulation?
Mr. Tuton: †† †††††To the best of my knowledge the minister hasnít asked us to redraft any of the regulations.
I would point out, though, for your interest that obviously the minister has his opinions and has his view of things, but in actual fact, the proper area to look is under the section that is transportation of gasoline and itís in section 2 and 1.51 of that section.
Mr. Cardiff: Thank you. Iíll look at that when I get the opportunity. I think that transporting fuel in an enclosed cab with employees is probably not a good idea, if there was an accident.
Going back to a year and a half ago, I would like to do a quick follow-up. One of the concerns that I expressed a year and a half ago was whether or not it was on the boardís agenda to deal with the issue of second-hand smoke in the workplace. The president said that it was on the boardís agenda, that they had been looking at that and were meeting with various organizations in the Yukon to see if there was a way to have some sort of a united approach. They hadnít actually engaged those groups in some sort of a discussion, but they had left the meeting where they decided to do that, with the intent to do that. Iím just wondering if there is an initiative at the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to deal with second-hand smoke in the workplace throughout the Yukon.
Mr. Tuton: As I think I stated ó I guess it was a year and a half ago. At that time, I had what some might consider to be a potential conflict in dealing with that particular issue, but that conflict has long since left us because the City of Whitehorse, of course, has introduced a bylaw that will be coming into effect on January 1, 2005, albeit that only deals with one issue. The board certainly still has that issue on its agenda. I think it would be safe to say ó and I donít mean to prioritize in any way some of these issues, but weíre concentrating our efforts now on the reserves, the assessments and the prevention and claims side. But it is an opportune time to ask the question, because tomorrow or the next day I am heading out to a chairs meeting with chairs across the country, and one of the topics that is on my list to speak to each of the jurisdictions about is air quality.
We want to look at the picture, not smoke in the workplace but air quality. Some of you may be aware that there are jurisdictions ó and when I say ďjurisdictionsĒ I mean workersí compensation jurisdictions ó that have dealt with this using differing methods across the country. The federal government has also made issues about dealing with this issue on a national scale. So itís my intention to bring it up at our chairs meeting, discuss it with each of the jurisdictions to find out what they were doing about it and what they intended to do about it. Itís not leaving our radar screen. Itís an important issue.
Mr. Cardiff: I think itís an important issue. I think that expanding it to include air quality is a very valid thing. In some workplaces it is for sure. The other day, the aquatic centre up the hill was evacuated because of air quality, and that wasnít caused by second-hand smoke. But Iíve worked in lots of situations where the air quality was terrible and you had to wear respirators. I think it is an important workplace issue ó both air quality and second-hand smoke ó and I would encourage the board to do more work in that area.
Iím trying not to go all over the map here. I want to pick up on a couple more issues from a year and a half ago. One of the concerns ó and I believe it was mentioned earlier in some of the comments either by the chair or by the acting president ó was about the need to provide information to employers about their claims experience. In particular, the government had expressed this concern some time ago. I asked a question around that and the president said that all employers have an interest in what drives their claims costs and what their claims experience is, but with respect particularly to the Government of Yukon, there had been this offer to open up the database and the claim system and have the government be able to do some analysis if they chose to do that.
Now, the government hadnít responded a year and a half ago. I am just wondering if anything has happened there. Is the flow of information and the claims experience ó is the government more satisfied today?
Ms. Lilles: There has been some considerable progress made in this regard. We have a working committee ó an employer information working committee ó that has been working with the Yukon government now for about 18 months. In that period of time what weíve been able to do is agree with government officials about how they would like to have their claims costs subdivided, if you like. Prior to that, we used to have a single employer number for all the government claims, so it was very difficult for us to be able to provide information to the government about claims on a department or a unit basis. What weíve been able to accomplish is weíve agreed on an organizational structure that has provided that for each department and, indeed, for units and sometimes even for subunits within branches, we have individual employer numbers now. Weíve been able to go back in the database and look at all the claims in 2002, 2003 and 2004. They are now all assigned to individual departments.
Weíve also developed a series of reports that are now being deposited on the public serviceís server on a monthly basis that provides them with an update about not only all the new claims but also all the claims that are currently active. We are now working on a report that will provide them with the cost of those claims broken down into a variety of categories. So I would say that there has been some significant progress made in this regard.
Mr. Cardiff: I have a few more questions here, and Iíll try to be brief. Itís hard, given the time, to decide exactly which questions to ask. There seem to be so many.
It has recently come to my attention ó in the last little while, I guess ó that claims seem to be taking longer to process. It seems that in the past, in talking to people who have dealt with Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, that injured workers ó it doesnít matter what level of injury, I guess, but especially if it is a time loss injury, where I guess it would be important ó that previously decisions were made in a timely manner ó in the neighbourhood of two to three weeks ó and an injured worker could expect to have a decision made on their claim and they would be able to get on with their lives.
Recently, Iíve had some injured workers expressing concern that itís hard to get a hearing and that theyíre waiting as long as 30 to 60 days, in some instances, in order to have their claims dealt with and a decision made. I think we have to take into consideration the workerís best interest. They need to get on with their lives, they need to know what is happening in their lives and their familyís lives.
So Iím just wondering if there is anything actively being done to try to address this concern, and whether or not there is anything in the ABCS, the achieving better customer service project. Is there anything in there that is going to address this problem?
Ms. Lilles:††† †† There have been a number of recommendations that came out of the ABCS project and several of those recommendations have been implemented. We have streamlined the claim management process. In particular there is now a triage process that happens at the outset of a claim, which permits us to be able to asses what special needs an injured worker may have, and to assign that worker to the appropriate staff within Workersí Compensation to deal with those needs. So we are trying at the outset to understand better those individuals who need services quickly.
Our standard in terms of attempting to adjudicate a claim is 30 days; thatís what we attempt to do. What sometimes happens is that in order to have the information that we need to complete that adjudication, we rely on employers to send us their employerís report of injury or illness. We also rely on physicians to send their reports. In our recent balanced score card you may have noticed that we sometimes have difficulty getting the information that we need. That is an area that we need to work on. We will be working with employers as well as with physicians to try to get the information that we need on a more timely basis.
We certainly understand the importance of making that initial entitlement decision as rapidly as possible. What we know for sure is that the sooner we can make that decision and move on then to managing that claim actively, the better likelihood there is that weíll be able to get the worker on the road to recovery and have that individual return to work as soon as it is safe to do so.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the acting president for that answer. I guess the question that comes to mind is: has the model of dealing with this changed then? It used to be dealt with in a different way. I donít need this information now, but it might be useful if there is some sort of an organization chart of how that process works, and if that could be provided at some time in the future.
I think the question that injured workers are asking, because I think they talk to each other, is that previously claims and decisions around claims were being made in a more timely manner than they are now. So the acting president has cited a couple of things: the flow of information from employers and physicians. Iím just wondering: is there a reason why theyíre having a problem? Is it the forms? Because it just seems strange that we would have moved to a model that would actually take longer. So I would be interested in comments about that.
Ms. Lilles: I think what I would say is that, although we have moved to a model that we hope will be more efficient in the long run, itís important to understand also that the nature of the claims that weíre trying to adjudicate today has changed fairly significantly over the last number of years.
Certainly, when I joined the board 10 or 12 years ago, the vast majority of claims were fairly straightforward, the result of a traumatic injury of some kind or other. What we see today is that there are many more claims that are multi-causal in nature and many more claims that involve, for instance, repetitive strain injury or exposure to a variety of things in the workplace that can lead to occupational illness. Those kinds of claims by their very nature are much more difficult to adjudicate.
So thatís one of the things that may perhaps have slowed the system down.
The other thing I would say is that certainly in the last five years the bar has risen significantly in terms of the type of decisions that we are required to provide. As a result of modifications, amendments to the legislation, weíre required to provide written reasons for all our decisions. We have in place new standards for those written decisions, which place a lot of responsibility on our employees to pay careful attention to how they weigh the evidence and how they record those decisions. I suspect that one of the factors, in addition to the type of claim, is the nature of the decisions that are being written.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd also like to recognize the fact that the board hosted the association of ó I donít know if I have it right or not, but the congress this summer. Again, unfortunately, I was out of town; however, I did read with interest a lot of the media around the congress, and it sounded like there was a lot of good exchange of information.
There were a couple of things. I donít know if this is across the country, but there seem to be issues ó I know there are issues here locally. I believe it was the worker advocate speaking to the Federation of Labour, and I believe that these comments actually were also echoed at the congress by some other members from other jurisdictions as well.
It seems like the acting president alluded to the fact that a lot of the injuries are more complicated and they are more difficult to adjudicate and the decisions are harder to write. But it appears there are issues out there that are hard to deal with, and it appears to me that they go to the Appeal Tribunal and there are a lot of them that are actually being referred to the courts. That has to be a costly endeavour for the board to have these claims appealed to a court and to involve lawyers. I am sure that itís cheaper. Not to belittle the work that they do, but I would think that it would be more cost-effective for the board to hire adjudicators than it is to hire lawyers and have them represent the board in court.
I am just wondering if there is some method ó I realize that the Appeal Tribunal is kind of the last resort, and then from there it ends up in the courts. I am just wondering if there are any attempts that the board has made to try to resolve some of these issues outside of that legal system, because I think it would actually reduce the costs to the board.
Ms. Lilles: The member is correct that there are a number of legislated mechanisms that permit injured workers to resolve their issues with the board. Certainly among those, we have an internal appeal mechanism through the hearing officer, we have the external Workersí Compensation Appeal Tribunal. Of course the legislation also provides for a worker advocate whose mandate is to assist workers to deal with the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board with any issues that may arise.
I understand that there may be a perception that there is an increase in the number of issues that are referred to the courts. However, in reality, I think what I would point out is that we have, at any point in time, hundreds of claims that are active. For every single one of those claims, a multitude of decisions are made. It is, in fact, a very rare circumstance for an issue to be referred to court.
We are certainly open to other forms of dispute resolution, but where an individual wishes to take an issue to court, we certainly respect their right to do that.
Mr. Cardiff: Itís not that I donít have more questions, but Iíd like to give my colleague from Porter Creek South an opportunity to ask some questions. And if there is time at the end, Iíll continue.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the Member for Mount Lorne allowing me to ask some questions on the record as well. We have a limited amount of time.
Just to set the scene for the witnesses early this evening, the members were advised, and they stated earlier that they were told some time ago that they were to appear. Unfortunately, we were only advised at 9:45 this morning. So forgive me if my questions arenít as pointed or as well-researched as they would have been, had I been given the same notice that you had.
Iíd like to follow up on some specific administrative issues, if I might. Perhaps I could begin where the Member for Mount Lorne left off.
Iím fortunate enough to have been in this Legislature before we had the worker advocate, since weíve had the worker advocate , and for reviewing things like the ombudsman legislation. The worker advocate office does all of us, as members and the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, a tremendous service. There is a very real need, and the role is being fulfilled.
However, there are occasions ó and the acting president has referred to them ó when situations canít be resolved, or they havenít been able to be resolved through the worker advocate office and through the various decision making.
I appreciate the point that has been made about an initial claim and the triage, and I followed that answer quite closely. Iíve been faced with a very specific issue and I have hand-delivered a letter to both the chair and the minister responsible because, quite frankly, I recognize that we have legislative limits. I donít know where else to go and I would like you to explain, if you would, administratively, where do we go with these. The individual has been through the worker advocate office; they donít want to go to court, they want to resolve this issue and there is an administrative glitch. These are old cases; these arenít new. What do we do, as members of the Legislature? How do we help our constituents in that regard?
Ms. Lilles:††† †† †That is a difficult question for me to answer. There are, as you have pointed out, there are a certain number of legislated opportunities for resolution of issues. I think that there is always an opportunity for an injured worker to come with their advocate and sit down and attempt to resolve issues. It certainly has been my experience that very often the issue is elevated within the organization before the people at the front lines, if you like, have really properly had an opportunity to understand the issue and attempt to deal with it. Apart from that, I think that many of these issues can be resolved internally. If they are not being resolved at the front lines, then I think there is an opportunity to direct the question to supervisors, to managers, to me as the acting president.
Ms. Duncan: In spite all of our best efforts in here and at the board, there are legislative glitches, and I think itís incumbent upon all of us to try to resolve them. So I would hope that the chair ó I donít want to get into the details of the case ó that the chair would pass on the letter to the president, given that it has come in his absence, and we could perhaps get this one resolved.
Another administrative issue came up on the floor of the House. Itís an issue that I brought to the ministerís attention last spring, I believe. Information was incorrectly handled at the administrative level, and now I understand that particular instance was dealt with immediately. What I would like to know from a follow-up question is: have some procedures been undertaken to ensure that this sort of unfortunate circumstance does not happen again?
Ms. Lilles: The incident that you referred to was a release of third-party information. An injured worker had requested disclosure of his file and, unfortunately, when that file disclosure was delivered to him, there was third-party information about three or four other injured workers contained on that file. It wasnít private medical information, but it certainly was financial information and nonetheless should not have been disclosed.
We acted very quickly to contact the people whose information was disclosed and to apologize to them. Since then, we have put in place a series of checks around our disclosures so that every time a file is copied there are a couple of quality assurance checks made of that file so that people are looking through it to ensure that there is no third-party information going out at all ó not ever. We fully understand the importance of this.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that the board took steps to act upon it.
In the opening remarks, the acting president commented that there were a number of policies that the board has now adopted. One of those is the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. As a matter of routine, we ask for reporting of expenses in the Legislature, and Iíve asked for the information with respect to some of the board expenses. Would that be made available now?
Ms. Lilles: Iím sorry, Iím not sure I understand the question. Weíre looking for information with respect to the costs of release of information? Sorry, try again.
Ms. Duncan: Let me be more specific. In the Legislature, I asked the minister responsible questions about the board travel. I asked the minister, who gave me some information; however, he refused to provide the documentation. The board does now subscribe to the access to information. This information is routinely provided in the House and Iím asking if that information could be provided now.
Ms. Lilles: I think I understand the question. If there is a request for that information, then certainly we can look at the request.
Ms. Duncan: I will forward my letter to the board again.
The employer consultant position ó the Member for Mount Lorne delved into this discussion. I understand that there are basically the three contracts, if you will. Thereís the worker advocate, thereís the Construction Safety Association, and then thereís the employer consultant. I understand that this $450,000 contract was with the Chamber of Commerce and that there has been a request for proposals to evaluate that particular contract and that that report is expected February 28.
Where, then, do those employers or individuals in the Yukon who have had opportunity to make use of the employer consultant services direct their comments? Will it be through a public announcement as to who is awarded the RFP or how will that consultation process work?
Mr. Tuton: First of all, just to correct the record, the worker advocate is not a contract; it is legislation. But we are responsible for the budget of the worker advocate.
If your question was if employers, in the absence of an employer consultant, have questions or concerns, where do they direct these questions or concerns, it is to do with the RFP.
Ms. Lilles: Let me make sure I understand the question correctly: where do employers who have information with respect to their experience with the employer consultant ó What I would say is that at the current time, because we have not awarded a contract ó we are just in the process of reviewing the request for proposals ó if employers wanted to contact the board, they could leave their name and number with the individual who is going to be overseeing that contract, which is our director of planning, evaluation and policy.
Ms. Duncan: As I understand it ó and the Member for Mount Lorne has mentioned this ó the worker advocate provides a report annually and the Construction Safety Association has provided a similar report. My first question is: is that correct? What sort of reports does the board have on the employer consultant contract?
Ms. Lilles: The employer consultant was required to provide interim reports along the way over the course of that particular contract. We do have some of those interim reports.
At the current time, the final report from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce is outstanding, but we have requested that and we expect to have that shortly.
In terms of the Construction Safety Association, that particular funding was dependent upon the Construction Safety Association coming back before the board at the end of the first year to indicate what progress they had made on their workplan. They are scheduled to come before the board on December 7 with that report to the board.
So we havenít seen a written report from the Construction Safety Association as yet. We have had interim reports on the employer consultant and we do expect to have further reports.
Ms. Duncan: Could I just ask the acting president to repeat: when does the Construction Safety Association contract end? The employer consultant had a finite date. Does the Construction Safety Association?
Ms. Lilles: Yes, the Construction Safety Association contract is a three-year contract. Itís a three-year pilot project, which was signed on June 4, 2003. So it is in its second year and will end in 2006.
Ms. Duncan: Itís early yet to be evaluating their coming before the board, as you have indicated.
I have a last administrative question. In your comments, you indicated that there was a slight ó I donít want to call it insignificant. There is still an increase in administrative costs. What is that attributed to? Is it simply inflation factors, or is it the implementation of any of the ABCS advice?
Ms. Lilles: I think that the increase in administration costs is really so small that itís almost nothing more than inflation, really. In terms of the implementation of ABCS, we have had some implementation with respect to the finance and assessment systems, but that would have been a capital cost and not an O&M cost.
Ms. Duncan: Are there any specific recommendations that are being examined now for implementation coming out of either the ABCS or any of the other board work? Iím thinking of the discussion we just had about shortening times and triage and these sorts of initiatives by the board to reduce the time workers must wait or, given the claims are increasing in complexity, are there specific initiatives to improve the boardís administration that are being worked on?
Ms. Lilles: There are a number of initiatives that are always underway, particularly arising out of the ABCS project. In addition to reorganizing the flow of claims through the claimant services area and introducing the triage approach, there are other initiatives underway. One of them is a peer support structure, which would be a group of people who would be available to adjudicators and to disability managers when they found that they had difficult issues to deal with and wanted to have an opportunity to seek advice from their peers about any circumstances they had that had been similar.
So we have internal arrangements that we hope will provide our adjudicators with more support. We are working on developing a training program for adjudicators in particular. We find it very difficult in this environment to attract trained individuals to bring into our ranks when we have vacancies. Part of the difficulty is the same difficulty that other government departments would have in terms of attracting people to the north but also our salaries are not competitive here with salaries in other jurisdictions. So we have found that we need to actually train our own people internally. That takes extra resources. It takes extra time. But weíre beginning to appreciate that, like other boards, itís not a unique situation to us. We are going to have to grow our own expertise internal to the organization. So thatís one of the things that we hope to accomplish in 2005: to put together a comprehensive training program internally for adjudicators.
We have lost some significant amount of expertise in the area in recent years due to people moving on to other opportunities and so, you know, we are basically having to rebuild that area of the organization.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you; I appreciate that information and your candour in your answers.
I would like to move on to a couple of policy issues: the lump sum policy that was a source of much controversy. My specific question is, February 23, 2003, I believe was when that the lump sum policy was introduced. Have there been any sums paid out under this new policy and is it still in place? Has there been money paid out under this policy?
Mr. Tuton: †† ††††I think the best way to respond to the lump sum policy is, as you know, the board is charged in one of its duties to determine policy that better deals with the issues of compensation. The board recognized the need to develop policy in the area of lump sum payments. The board did tremendous due diligence over a period of time and developed that policy. I think itís safe to say that the policy has been questioned by some and, in fact, that policy is at the courts. It would be unfair for us to discuss that policy any further until we determine what the outcome of the courts is, but my recollection is no, there has not been any lump sums paid out of that policy.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you; weíll await the decisions from the courts.
The Workersí Compensation Act review ó first of all, Iíd like to just follow up on the regulations question.
Iíve listened with great interest to the debate in the Legislature. Are there concerns at the board level with the occupational health and safety regulations?
Mr. Tuton: The board has a number of concerns, some of them that are more of a priority than others. That obviously is a concern and it has been addressed to the minister although, as I said earlier, the lack of passing those regulations does not hinder the boardís operation in the areas of inspection and compliance within the existing regulations, and the board has made our thoughts clear.
Ms. Duncan: The board members have made their thoughts clear that there has been substantial work done and they should be passed. Do you have any suggestions how we get them unstuck, because apparently theyíre stuck?
Mr. Tuton: I think it would be safe to say that the board would be willing to pursue any options or avenues that are suggested to the board from all parties because the concern, if anything, is the amount of time. I guess, if you look at it realistically, some of the regulation changes may even be outdated today because of the period of time, but thatís another issue. As I said, weíd be willing to look at all the options that would be made available to us. When I say ďprioritizeĒ, we have to prioritize what issues we have to deal with. Thatís certainly one of the ones weíd like to deal with.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that.
The Workersí Compensation Act review ó apparently it is stalled, and Iím curious as to why and Iím curious as to when, in your view, we might see legislation come before the House. This is a very complex act and it needs some time and it needs substantial work. Where are we in that work?
Mr. Tuton: I am sorry but I am not able to shed any light on that question.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, we will save it for another forum. I will certainly be asking that particular question.
Those are the key questions I wanted to address today. Again, for the record, I would just like to express my concern that we are still encountering issues that are administrative in nature. People come to their MLA as their last hope.†
Itís because of some administrative glitch in the way a decision is made or that because of the legislation ó and it is our responsibility to make sure itís right ó it doesnít recognize that there should be another avenue after an appeal board or that an appeal board has to hear evidence. I understand we have to train new people and that cases are getting more complex. Iím concerned that we have the worker advocate office. They do a terrific job and they are clearly much needed. We have seen a decrease because of them in cases coming before members, but we still have some cases that come to members of the Legislature, and I just want to go on the record to say that I want to ensure, as a member, that the legislation and the regulations are right and ensure that we have a working relationship within the legislation so that we can resolve some of these issues. I understand there are two sides to every story and that itís a very difficult position that adjudicators are put in. At the same time, fundamentally, the Workersí Compensation Board is there to help people who have been injured.
And that hasnít been mentioned in the comments often enough, in my view. I absolutely applaud the passport to safety program, and I donít want to sit down without saying how much I value and appreciate that program. I think it should be mandatory in our high schools ó absolutely mandatory. Itís a very good program.
And congratulations on hosting the conference this summer. Itís very important to see and itís very helpful to our tourism industry and to all Yukoners when we are able to show off the Yukon and what we do here.
I would again like to thank the witnesses. I appreciate your coming before the House and hearing my dissertation and appeal to help us help the workers and to help the board help these individuals. The injuries are complex and we need to make sure that we have the right steps administratively and due process has been followed and weíre able to help people who need it.
Thank you very much for your time.
Mr. Tuton: † Just a couple of quick comments, if I might, to address some of the concerns. I have always stated for the record ó and I would intend to do so again ó that should there be issues that either constituents or members have that concern workersí compensation and are not case-specific or do not deal with the administrative side of workersí compensation, my office is always open and Iím more than happy to listen to those requests and to see if anything can be done about them. Unfortunately, the issue that youíre mentioning today Iím not aware of. We were in a board meeting today and I havenít been around. I want to take the opportunity ó you brought it up and I know that our administrative side tends to be a little quieter in their words when they try to praise ó to offer a couple of comments surrounding the congress.
The comments that I received from my counterparts across the territory have been nothing short of spectacular. Some of them I can give you, such as that a board the size of the Yukon board was able to put on a congress for 200 delegates plus and was put on with the expertise and the professionalism that was shown with the level of speakers and with the organization ó that is not only to be commended but held in the highest regard.
I think our staff with limited resources ó because we are not a board like in B.C., which has thousands of employees and hosted the last one. I think itís a real hats off to them that they performed what some would consider an impossible task and they turned that not only into a possible task but into a very credible task that is recognized Canada-wide. We are being asked to provide assistance and suggestions for other boards.
Mr. Cardiff: I see we have a couple of more minutes and I just have a couple of more questions that I would like to get in. One is something that came up during the Member for Porter Creek Southís questions. You mentioned that you were having a hard time, that youíve suffered a loss of staff people who can adjudicate claims. Are we currently operating with a full staff complement?
Ms. Lilles: †† ††Yes, I believe that we are pretty much fully staffed at the current time.†
As would be the case in most government departments we are, however, an ageing group and, looking around, we have lost one or two to retirements recently and certainly in the next few years we will lose a larger number yet. So what weíre trying to do in terms of our planning is to position ourselves for replacing those individuals and to make sure that we have a succession plan in place.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to just close ó I know weíre short of time ó there was one thing that came up about judgements, that the Department of Justice handles occupational health and safety judgements against employers who are at fault in the workplace.
My question last time was ó the fines that accrue from that go to Government of Yukon general revenue. The chair commented that he didnít think it was a large amount of money, but he felt that those were monies that would be well used in the occupational heath and safety branch, whether in the area of claims costs, prevention or anything like that.
This is my final question. Iíd like to thank the witnesses for coming today, thank them for the work they do, and I just wonder if any progress has been made as far as having those monies that would be more appropriate in occupational health and safety come over.
Mr. Tuton: I think it would be pretty safe and very happy for us to say that there hasnít been much money in the area of fines and levies, and thatís a good sign. That means that the workers are working in safer environments. You know, itís our intention actually to put that part of the business out of business, to make sure that there is no need for that, but itís going to take time and thatís where weíre headed.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the House, Iíd like to thank the witnesses, Mr. Tuton and Ms. Lilles, for appearing before us today. The questioning and the line of thought shows a progressive organization and our hats are off to you, Mr. Tuton, as chair, for steering an organization that just a few short years ago was some $24 million in the red to where itís at today. That can only be accomplished through dedicated devotion on the part of the chair and the board members, as well as a consistent application of rules of fair play and addressing the responsibility by the staff.
On behalf of all of us here in the Yukon, thank you very much and we look forward to further progress in meeting the needs. We appreciate your efforts of going into the preventative side and we encourage and urge you to explore more fully the preventive side of the equation with respect to occupational health and safety. Once again, thank you both.
Deputy Chair: The witnesses are now excused.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Hassard: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Committee of the Whole Motion No. 5 regarding witnesses from the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board appearing before the Committee of the Whole, and the motion was agreed to. Pursuant to that motion, Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Sheila Lilles, acting president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, appeared as witnesses before the Committee of the Whole from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.