Thursday, November 25, 2004 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
†Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of White Ribbon Campaign
†Hon. Mr. Fentie: I rise in the House today to pay tribute to the White Ribbon Campaign. This campaign launches every year on November 25, which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The White Ribbon Campaign is the largest effort in the world of men working to end menís violence against women. It relies on volunteer support and financial contributions from individuals and organizations. In 1991, a handful of men in Canada decided that they have a responsibility to urge men to speak out on violence against women. They were responding to the terrible events of December 6, 1989 at lí…cole Polytechnique in Montreal.
Outraged by that specific act of hatred and violence and by societyís general willingness to turn a blind eye to violence against women, these men chose to act. They chose the white ribbon as a symbol of menís opposition to menís violence against women.
Wearing a white ribbon is a personal pledge never to commit, condone nor remain silent about violence against women. Each year we urge men and boys to wear a white ribbon starting on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, until December 6, Canadaís National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
By wearing a white ribbon, men pledge to never commit violence again or remain silent about this terrible issue. The White Ribbon Campaign addresses issues of public policy; it encourages men and boys to speak out in their workplaces and communities against violence done to women.
†As the Premier and as a man I take pride in wearing the white ribbon. I feel it is my responsibility to be a role model in working against violence toward women. I predominantly do this by acknowledging that women have the right to live free from physical, sexual or psychological violence personally and in the workplace.
I want to express my heartfelt thank you to Scott Marsden, Dave Roddick, Paul Gowdie and Grand Chief Ed Schultz for working on the menís White Ribbon Campaign here in the Yukon. It is important that we as government representatives encourage reflection and dialogue to break the silence on violence by committing our voices and actions to end violence against women. Men and boys are united by the White Ribbon Campaign and send a clear message that it is unacceptable to use power toward physical or psychological violence.
The White Ribbon Campaign encourages and supports all men to use their strength for healing, not hurting. I am pleased to see so many in this House and in our territory committed to this important effort.
Mr. Hardy: I rise on behalf of both opposition parties to pay tribute, as well, to the White Ribbon Campaign. It has been mentioned already that this is the largest effort in the world on menís violence against women. It was started in 1991, and many of us know the people who started it and where that motivation to stand up came from ó unfortunately, it was the tragedy of violence.
Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely serious problem. From reading the statistics, I can assure that we have not seen a decline in the violence against women. The work that is being done by the people who work on this campaign is essential to raise the profile to keep the awareness there. In many, many ways I link it to the same kind of campaign, the same kind of awareness that Remembrance Day is about in war and peace. It is a war; it is a pacifist war against violence. People who step forward and wear the ribbon deserve that acknowledgement.
Now, violence comes in many forms, Mr. Speaker ó physical and verbal are two examples ó and violence is within many parts of our society. There is no excuse ó absolutely no excuse ó for violence, for violence against women. Mr. Speaker, what are we concerned about? We are concerned about violence against children, men against men, whether itís in the bar, in the playground, in a sports arena, because of someone whose skin colour happens to be different, because of sexual orientation, because of their culture, or simply because they looked the wrong way or asked the wrong question. Itís not acceptable. We canít just wear the ribbon. We must speak up. We must not turn a blind eye. We must not tolerate it.
We are the problem, and we are the solution, by our very actions ó or by our very inaction.
So, Mr. Speaker, Iíd like to thank the men of the Yukon who step up and keep this movement alive, keep this in the forefront, who go on the streets to hand out the ribbons, who speak to other people and men. Iíd like to thank them; theyíre the ones doing the work. I ask everybody in this Legislature, as I asked last year, to please get involved. Please go out and hand out the ribbons; please go out on the streets and talk about it; please assist those who are out there right now; please do it. Otherwise, weíll be here next year, and there will be no change again.
Mrs. Peter: I rise on behalf of the official opposition to pay tribute to this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25. This day was the inspiration for the White Ribbon Campaign, which begins the same day. Each day, women continue to be physically assaulted and murdered in this country; 55 percent of women have been sexually or physically assaulted in their lifetime; 10 women are killed by their batterers every single day. The degree of physical and sexual assault is even higher for aboriginal women in Canada, as outlined in the Amnesty International report Stolen Sisters. Gender-based violence is being recognized as a major public health concern and a human rights violation.
But today we want to focus on a type of violence against women that does not have sensational headlines. It is psychological abuse ó in a word, bullying. Bullying or harassment is particularly offensive. In schools, young girls are teased and taunted as they grow sexually. Many women, especially those in the least powerful business or government positions, face sexual harassment and yelling at work every day. Other women in the helping professions, such as nurses, are too often verbally as well as physically abused when they attempt to do their jobs. Psychological abuse humiliates and demeans us all as human beings. Over-loud accusations, unwarranted criticisms, malicious rumours and a constant under-valuing of girlsí and womenís contributions are destructive and violent actions. They result in severe anxiety, disrupted sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stress-related health and safety issues are involved. Student absences and employee turnover due to bullying are costly. Legislation and policies to prevent this kind of violence should be a part of every institution. Government must take the lead in this action.
We recognize with gratitude the professionals and volunteers throughout the Yukon who are working with violence against women in transition homes, as counsellors and as friends who provide the emotional support that is so important to girls and women who are in a situation of violence.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †It gives me great pleasure to be able to welcome Scott Marsden and Paul Gowdie, who are here representing the White Ribbon Campaign. Iíd like to thank them on behalf of all members of the Legislature for their integral work toward this campaign.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. Hardy: I have for tabling a letter addressed to the Minister of Economic Development.
Speaker: Is there a report of a committee?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to be more considerate of the implications resulting from excessive ministerial travel during a legislative sitting to help avoid situations where ministers themselves arenít able to respond to questions and moreover, when their absence is disruptive to the business of the House.
Ms. Duncan: I have several notices of motion.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House supports the 2004 Close to Our Hearts Campaign in its efforts to raise money to replace cardiac monitoring equipment at the Whitehorse General Hospital and urges the Government of Yukon to make a financial contribution toward the 2004 campaign.
Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes that representatives of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Yukon Development Corporation appear annually as witnesses before this Legislature and urges the Government of Yukon to request representatives of the Yukon Hospital Corporation to appear annually as witnesses before this Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Premier to apologize to all Yukoners and particularly to a CBC reporter for his completely inappropriate behaviour and remarks made in a recent interview.
Mr. Cathers: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to work with Yukon First Nation education and literacy groups and with Yukon Learn to continue improving the literacy skills of all Yukoners.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to immediately honour its election platform to enhance anti-violence training initiatives and to ensure those who are responsible for violence receive treatment by assisting financially the grassroots programs directly involved in the elimination of violence against women in all Yukon communities.
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. Hardy: All week we have been trying to get to the bottom of a very important question: what role did the Minister of Economic Development play in the governmentís decision to fund this seat at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine? We have heard from the Premier; we have heard from the Minister of Education; we have heard from an acting Minister of Education; we have heard different stories on the floor of this House; we have heard and read conflicting stories outside this House.
My question is for the Minister of Economic Development, and itís time for him to answer for himself. Did the minister take part in any discussions ó please note, I said, ďdiscussionsĒ; not decisions ó at the Cabinet or Management Board level about this issue?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I will rise to this issue as the Acting Minister of Education since this is an education-related matter. As Acting Minister of Education, I am very proud of this governmentís contribution to education in our territory. As I stated yesterday, education is a key priority of our government and is demonstrated through a number of initiatives, a number of new investments that we have made over the last two years towards the betterment of our education system here in the territory ó investments such as the $1-million increase to the base funding of Yukon College. Weíve also increased support to our post-secondary students by increasing the Yukon grant, as well as the student training allowance and by increasing the number of summer student jobs available through the student training education program.
Our government is very supportive of all Yukoners and their right to full education ó quality education at that. Unfortunately, the opposition does not appear to be as supportive of our students as this whole line of questioning that has been occurring day in and day out speaks to penalizing a Yukon student who wishes to advance her education, has worked hard in school and has worked hard to earn admission to the Western Veterinary College of Medicine.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís a shame; thatís a shame because the opposition on this side has made it very, very clear that itís not about the student.
What a card to play. The minister never answered the question.
Now, this Minister of Economic Development wrote a letter to the media that did nothing to address the questions that have been raised in this House. It was more smoke and mirrors from the government that loves to hide behind a wall of secrecy.
Letís listen closely to the minister or the acting minister when they stand.
Now, Iím going to challenge the minister beside her to stand and break this silence because there are far too many questions out there, and they could be put to rest. Did the minister at any time give any directions, suggestions or advice to the Department of Education about this matter? If so, in what capacity was he acting? Letís see if the government can answer a question.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †Any opportunity I have as Acting Minister of Education ó as the Premier has also alluded to as well as the Minister of Education, we have been speaking to this issue and the whole process surrounding the very issue of an individual, a Yukon student, who is applying to a school of veterinary medicine. She actually applied, did her job, has earned her credits and was admitted under due process, a process that the Yukon government had nothing to do with.
This is not a new initiative; itís an initiative that has been in place since 1976, of which a total of three students have graduated. Again, anyone wishing to attend a veterinary college in Canada must do so by applying for a seat, a seat that is allocated for the region they live in. In the case of Yukon, our jurisdiction is allocated one seat at the Saskatchewan veterinary college, the facility that covers the western region. The cost of the seat allocation is $25,000. This money is not toward tuition, itís not toward a scholarship; itís rather to allocate a seat at this particular institution.
Mr. Hardy: Once again the acting minister never answered the question nor paid any attention to the question being asked by this side.
As the Minister of Economic Development knows, I have delivered a letter to his office dated today, strongly encouraging him to write to the Conflicts Commissioner to seek advice on three specific questions. As I note in my letter, the minister has referred previous issues to the Conflicts Commissioner, as most people in the Yukon know, and I sincerely hope he will do so again.
Will the minister put these questions to the Conflicts Commissioner and, if not, will the Premier insist that he do it?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †As I have stated on a number of occasions here over the last couple of years, this is not a new initiative. Due process was followed. The student who applied for a seat at the western veterinary college, which covers the western region, did her homework and applied under due process. There was no interference by the Government of Yukon in the admission process. We simply carried forward with an initiative that has been in place since 1976 and has been fully endorsed by previous governments ó Liberal and NDP governments.
Our Yukon Party government is carrying forward with this initiative and we support the student and we support this program.
Question re: CBC interview of Premier
Mrs. Peter: I have a question for the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate. As we have just heard, today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Yesterday Yukoners were shocked and disgusted to hear the Premier of our territory subject a female radio reporter to a torrent of rude and abusive comments.
As a woman and as a Member of this Legislative Assembly, I was ashamed of the Premierís unprofessional behaviour. Has the minister spoken to the Premier about the negative message his public outburst is sending to the women of the territory and elsewhere?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †As the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate, it is our utmost goal to advocate on womenís behalf for the legal, social and economic equality of all women in this territory and in our country of Canada.
We value the comments coming from the members opposite when it comes to violence prevention initiatives that our government is actively involved in. Our government is actually putting money where our mouth is with respect to $100,000 for aboriginal women and violence initiatives, with respect to $150,000 as is reflected in this yearís fall supplementary budget to address violence initiatives or violent actions here in the territory. We are doing our part. We are adding more money toward personnel resources, toward family violence training with respect to clinical supervision, and we will continue to support women and womenís organizations throughout the territory. I will certainly do my part in that regard as well.
Mrs. Peter: The Premier has also served as a minister of the Womenís Directorate before. This is not something that can be taken lightly. The Premierís behaviour was inexcusable. Our office has been flooded with phone calls and emails expressing outrage.
One e-mail from Dawson entitled ďPremierís abusive behaviourĒ, summed it up very well. The writer said ó and I quote ó ďI do not want to be represented by a leader who is no more than a schoolyard bully.Ē
Let me ask the Premier directly: will the Premier now stand and apologize to the Yukon people for his behaviour and will he write a letter of apology to the CBC reporter for the abusive way he treated her on the air?
Speaker: Order please. Before the government side answers that question, I would like to remind the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that you cannot quote from sources that bring into the House words and phrases that are unparliamentary, and I would ask the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin not to do that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am very pleased that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has brought this question forward. In the first place, I will never ever apologize for defending my community or for defending whatís right. The only abuse that has been perpetrated on this matter is the abuse inflicted on the community of Watson Lake and the misrepresentation of that community by a certain reporter.
We have had a number of concerned citizens call very upset about the approach made by the reporter in trying to solicit comments from them that they did not want to make, nor that they believed in; furthermore, the reporter was connecting a doctor in the community, implying that the doctor was involved in wrongdoing and contributing to the problem in the community, and I take extreme exception to that type of journalism. This has nothing to do with being man or woman; this has to do with the responsibility of journalists to report the facts and not misrepresent them. In this case, the community has been grossly misrepresented.
Mrs. Peter: Once again this Premier has given the Yukon a black eye across Canada. It doesnít matter what the issue was or how strongly he felt on the subject ó abuse is abuse. This cannot be condoned against men or women. Once again, will the Premier apologize to all Yukon people for his behaviour and especially to the woman who was doing her job in a professional manner and whom he abused publicly?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: You know, itís a given fact that we as a government and everyone in this government will not condone violence against women. This is not a case in that regard at all. And with respect to the reporter and what has been ongoing for months now in relation to the community of Watson Lake, this reporter ó and Iíll say it again publicly ó has grossly misrepresented that community and its people. I will go further by pointing out that this reporter has preyed on victims who have succumbed to the demons of addictions. What is that ó
Speaker: Order please. The Chair understands that there are conflicting views and opinions on this issue; however, I would urge all members to restrain yourselves. This is the Legislative Assembly. Iíd ask you to carry on. Next question please.
Question re: Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, injured workers
†Ms. Duncan: I have a very serious matter that I wish to raise with the minister responsible for the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and the minister responsible for the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
Broadly stated, the situation is this: a worker employed by the hospital gets injured. The Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board either pays the hospital, which pays the injured worker, or pays the injured worker directly. Itís one of two options. A problem occurs and the worker gets shortchanged. They donít receive the full amount; thereís a difference between the amount the WCB is paying the hospital and the amount the hospital is paying the employee.
We have a situation that is very serious. This matter was brought to the attention of the acting president of the WCB, the chair, members of the board and the Auditor General. Is the minister who has the responsibility for both the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Hospital Corporation aware of this situation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is an ongoing occurrence given that there are a number of people in the Yukon who have very, very high salaries and there is a maximum amount that is paid out under workerís compensation when an employee is injured or has a claim. That is the highest in Canada. Once you reach that level, there is no facility in place to go beyond that up to the level that that employee who is injured may have been working at. There is a maximum payout and the laws are in place to control this and govern this area and they are very explicit and they have not changed under our watch, under the previous watch; they have been in place for quite some time. We in the Yukon pay out the highest rates in Canada.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate what the minister has said but it was nowhere close to the question I asked.
We have a very serious matter. There is a difference between the amount that the injured worker is receiving and the amount that is being paid on the injured workerís behalf by Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and the amount they are receiving. There is a difference. This is a very serious matter; itís a very serious issue.
It has been brought to the attention of the chair, of the Auditor General, of members of the board, and of the acting president. I asked if the minister was aware of it; he didnít answer the question.
I will ask him again: is he aware of it? Then I would like to propose to him that he invoke a remedy that is available to him, per section 115 of the act.
My time is short. Is the minister aware of this problem ó this very serious matter ó and is he prepared to invoke section 115 of the Workersí Compensation Act?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite knows full well that the minister doesnít get involved in the determination or the adjudication of any claims whatsoever.
The member is also very much aware that, as minister, there is an armís-length relationship between the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and the minister responsible. That is a given. That has not changed under any watch, Mr. Speaker.
To that end, there is still the highest payout under any jurisdiction here in the Yukon for an injured worker. But there are occasions when that injured worker may be at a salary range higher or beyond the maximum payout here in the Yukon.
The other area that one has to look at is that the payout is net. The amount paid to the employee has no deductions from it, unless there are other arrangements that have been agreed to with the employer for continuation of other programs that that employee might be in.
Ms. Duncan: Quite clearly, by his answers, the minister has not had this issue brought to his attention. Iím not talking about solely a specific case; Iím talking about a broad policy that exists. I specifically asked: section 115 of the act says, ďThe minister may by written order require the board to investigate any matter under its jurisdiction in the manner requested by the minister.Ē Section 115 says the minister has that authority. This is a very serious issue. Itís serious enough that it was brought to the attention not only of the chair, not only of the acting president, but of the Auditor General. The minister has the ability to act and to act immediately. He has that authority. Will the minister cause an independent investigation into this issue under section 115 of the act, and will he do so immediately and advise me of that by the end of the week? Will he do that? This is a very serious situation.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite knows full well the function of the minister and his relationship with the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. I will repeat for the member opposite: there are occasionally injured workers who receive the maximum benefit. The money is flowed to the employer and part of that is used to offset some of the funding that is required for the additional programs and additional initiatives through the collective bargaining agreement provided by way of benefits. So thereís an employer/employee relationship that enters into the equation that the member is not addressing.
The monies that flow to the injured worker are usually the full amount of what is available, and we in the Yukon are very fortunate that we have one of the best and most well-funded boards in Canada, and we flow the highest amount of money to an injured worker that exists in any jurisdiction in Canada.
Question re: Health records, confidentiality
Mr. McRobb: Last week I asked the Health minister some pointed questions about the security of Yukon medical information. The Government of British Columbia has contracted an American company for $324 million to keep track of their medical records. This American company is subject to American laws, including the far-reaching and completely restrictive USA PATRIOT Act.
Since November 5, our personal records can be accessed by the FBI, the CIA and others within the American security enclave. Most Yukon patients needing to go Outside for diagnosis or treatment end up in B.C. The question needs to be asked again: can the minister assure us that Yukonersí medical records from treatment in B.C. will be kept completely confidential?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is an issue weíre very cognizant of. There may be the possibility, if a Yukoner seeks medical attention in a neighbouring jurisdiction, that their medical records for that part may be available through this initiative under the terms and conditions of the USA PATRIOT Act but, for the records that are kept here in the Yukon, that is not the case.
All of the records here in the Yukon are protected.
Mr. McRobb: Last week the minister labelled these concerns as fear-mongering. This minister also said, ďThe medical records are forwarded to this jurisdiction as soon as the patient has been dealt with or whatever procedure has been performed outside the Yukon.Ē
He also said that information contained within the medical fraternity is well secured. Obviously his position hasnít changed. However, yesterdayís article in the Yukon News confirmed that our medical records will be in the hands of the U.S. contractor MAXIMUS.
Will the minister now correct the record and acknowledge that medical records of procedures, treatments and tests given to Yukon patients in British Columbia will be held in the hands of MAXIMUS?
Speaker: Before the minister answers the question, I would just like to remind the Member for Kluane that the chair ruled the term ďfear-mongeringĒ out of order when it was used by the government and Iíd prefer the member not use that term.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thank you Mr. Speaker and Iíll respect your ruling with respect to ďfear-mongeringĒ.
The issue that we have here is that the records here in the Yukon are well-protected and well-guarded from any terms and conditions under the USA PATRIOT Act. The medical records for those sent to a neighbouring jurisdiction are brought back to the Yukon. What may occur ó and there is a chance ó is that an individual will seek medical attention in B.C. and a new file will be opened for that individual. Those records may be viewed under the USA PATRIOT Act and I say ďmayĒ; there is a remote chance of that occurring.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís not good enough. There is a lot of concern expressed in B.C. about this important privacy issue to the point where the U.S. company fears it will lose money. There is also a big concern among some patient groups such as HIV/AIDS patients regarding denied access to the United States if their records are on file in that country.
This minister expects Yukoners to simply trust and believe in his word; but his credit has run out. May I remind him of the immortal words of Robert Service: a promise made is a debt unpaid. Yukoners need some collateral this time around. This minister needs to give his absolute assurance there will be no breach of security of Yukon medical records in the United States. For the record: should a breach occur, will he resign? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I have no control over Yukonersí travel. If Yukoners travelling in B.C. on their own accord go in and visit a doctor in that neighbouring jurisdiction, or for that matter, in the U.S., their medical records are available through the USA PATRIOT Act in that respective jurisdiction, and they are peculiar to British Columbia and any of the U.S. states.
That said, the records here in the Yukon and contained here in the Yukon are secure. MAXIMUS, the U.S.-based company that is providing a database for the Province of British Columbia, has set up a Canadian entity and it is looking for ways to secure this information.
But there is a chance, Mr. Speaker, that, should a Yukoner be travelling in British Columbia and seek medical attention, that their records may be accessed. Likewise, if that same Yukoner is travelling in the United States, the same conditions apply.
Question re: †Family Violence Prevention Act review
Mr. Cardiff: The Family Violence Prevention Act has been in force for five years, and it provides protective court orders for someone in danger. In most cases, itís the case of a woman being beaten by a male. A review of the act in 2002 showed many problems with the act and gave some practical recommendations to rectify the problems with the act. So, instead of spending money on awareness campaigns, the minister can support people working against violence on this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Will the minister be acting on any of the recommendations in the review?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †As the minister responsible for the Department of Justice, I am very pleased to respond to the member oppositeís question.
With respect to the Family Violence Prevention Act, the member opposite is correct in that a review was undertaken, I believe two or three years ago. Our government has actually identified this piece of legislation as a priority that our government will be addressing over the next few months. There is an active stakeholder committee that has identified a number of items for discussion, as has been identified in the review itself, and we will continue to work with the stakeholders as well as First Nation governments on this particularly important initiative.
As well, we are also providing more resources toward domestic violence treatment options, more resources toward the family violence prevention unit training personnel, clinical supervision, as well as all the initiatives that we continue to undertake in the Women's Directorate.
Mr. Cardiff: Will the minister commit to evaluating programs under the act and changing them so that battered women can have some legal process to turn to when nothing else is working?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †As I mentioned, we have undertaken a review of the Family Violence Prevention Act and those recommendations will be incorporated within a piece of legislation, an amendment to the Family Violence Prevention Act. We hope to be able to present that particular bill within the next year.
We will be working closely with the stakeholder committee that is comprised of the RCMP, various womenís organizations, First Nation governments, and so forth, in identifying any other concerns that may be relayed at that time. In the meantime, weíll continue to do our very best in addressing violence in our communities on all levels with all governments. I just pointed out a few of the initiatives: aboriginal women and violence initiative, $100,000 that we identified last fall; an additional $150,000 in this yearís fall supplementary budget for the Womenís Directorate to address a number of initiatives to look at violence against women.
So we are doing our part, in the Department of Justice as well, by increasing resources to our victim services unit, training in the communities, as well as looking at expanding the domestic violence treatment option.
Question re: Election commitments
†Mr. Hardy: Now, once again we have seen a week of shameful performance by this government that promised so much in the last campaign: a government that promised to be open and accountable, shrouding itself in secrecy; a government that promised cooperation and consensus, practising the politics of division instead; a government that promised respectful relations with other governments, showing disrespect and disregard for First Nation leaders; a government that promised respect to its employees, muzzling and intimidating them instead. When will the Premier start living up to the promises he made in 2002 and when will he instruct his ministers to do likewise?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, there is no need for me to instruct the ministers of this government to do anything of the sort because that is exactly what they are doing. They are carrying out their duties in the manner that reflects clearly our commitments to the Yukon public.
When we talk about our employees, we negotiated a four-year contract accepted by the employees. When we talk about First Nations, we have advanced on many fronts in partnership with First Nations, including the Childrenís Act review, including correctional reform, including education reform. Those again are examples. They are examples of economic development, whereby benefits are shared mutually ó another example of a commitment made and a commitment delivered on.
Mr. Speaker, letís look at our jurisdictional cooperative approaches and what has been accomplished. We have moved away from the politics of confrontation and division by joining forces with our sister territories. We have more health care money, we have more in our fiscal arrangement with Ottawa because of that cooperative approach.
We are also cooperating with the State of Alaska. The Shakwak investment that weíve been experiencing for years is all about cooperation. When we got into office, there was no work done on it. This is the government that advanced the Shakwak project.
Mr. Hardy: Well, last week we saw a full-page political ad by this government patting itself of the back for recent economic statistics. Many of those were not initiatives of this government.
Those ads referred to a Web site called Yukonfacts.ca.
Now, letís look at some of the facts that werenít included: Cabinet ministers skating on their loans ó we are still dealing with that; lawsuits over broken agreements with First Nations ó that is out there right now; contracts and privileges handed out to government favourites; advisory boards and committees shunned or ignored.
What is the Premier going to do about those facts?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Absolutely nothing because theyíre not factual at all. In fact, the whole point of informing the public is an obligation of government. Weíre not going to be able to inform the public through debate with the opposition; the opposition is mired in negativity, painting a picture of the Yukon that simply does not reflect the realities of todayís Yukon. Furthermore, the member well knows, on the loans file ó a long-standing delinquent file ó this government has made tremendous progress, including $2 million plus of recommitment. We have stated publicly that the minister in question, should the choice be to go to collections for the remaining delinquencies, would be included in that collection action.
Letís talk about the fact that the opposition seems to oppose an increase in our economy and an increase in our population, an increase in our economic development growth because of the job creation that has developed in this territory under this governmentís watch. Theyíre saying that itís not happening. Well, it is, and a lot of it is stemming from the biggest budget ever invested in Yukoners and Yukonís future.
Mr. Hardy: I hate to remind the poor Premier across the way that itís taxpayersí money that heís spending.
Now good government is about ethics and trust, and this government has broken that with the Yukon people.
Fact: this Premier and this government have brought this House and this territory into disrepute.
Fact: this Premier and this government have created a climate of fear and mistrust in this territory.
Fact: this Premier and his government have picked shameful fights with members of the media and dismissed the very principle of freedom of speech through intimidation. In the remaining months of his term, will the Premier make it his top priority to restore public confidence in this government by honouring the commitments made in the 2002 election campaign?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Restoring confidence in government is not something that weíll have to spend any time on because, given the optimism in todayís territory, there is a great deal of confidence in what this government is doing. As far as the media is concerned, this government ó whenever the media misrepresents the facts, or misrepresents a situation like the one in Watson Lake, my community, they are going to get challenged. There is a ó
Speaker: Order please. I realize that nobody is looking at me here but Iíd ask the members of the opposition to keep in mind Standing Order 6(6): when a member is speaking, no member shall interrupt, except to raise a point of order or a question of privilege.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Iíd like all members to join me, however, in welcoming former Speaker and MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, Mr. Robert Bruce. Itís a pleasure to see you here, Mr. Bruce.
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.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05. Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 12 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05 ó continued
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05, in general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Where we left off with the member opposite on Tuesday of this week, we were discussing the issue of the fire suppression fund, the situation the Yukon finds itself in with respect to what has transpired through the devolution transfer agreement, the area within the agreement that allows for a review of the fire suppression fund and the fact that we had requested the minister responsible for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to move that review ahead and conduct it now.
We are awaiting a response from the minister responsible. These discussions have been ongoing. I think we all understand the situation we are in here. Should we have successive years of wildfire like we had this season, the Yukon would be in a desperate, desperate financial situation. We also pointed to the fact that there are circumstances that could develop whereby the Yukon may have to declare a disaster area should some community become affected by wildfire.
We pointed to the merits of doing the review now because of the exposure that would bring to bear for the federal government itself because when that occurrence takes place, the federal government is largely, to the greatest degree, responsible to cover the liabilities that would result from declaring the disaster area.
Further to that, we are very conscious of situations like we face in the southwest Yukon with the very extensive beetle kill. I am sure that the member is well aware that there have been monetary allocations toward that issue by this government ó albeit the opposition did not support that. But work is still ongoing in trying to address the situation in a manner that would result in reduction of fuel and also, if there are possibilities, some economic benefit that may accrue from that reduction of fuel in the southwest Yukon.
The member must also be aware that in the southeast Yukon we have advanced the forestry agreement with the Kaska Nation. We actually have timber permits out today in the southeast Yukon. One of the areas when it comes to forest management and the harvesting of timber that is important to addressing wildfire is that the overall planning can reflect the fuel reduction that makes communities safer in how the harvest plan would proceed over time.
Thatís important because in some cases there may be change of vegetation. Deciduous vegetation, to a large degree, can be deemed as somewhat of a firebreak because itís less readily ignited. In terms of a forest fire, the fires usually are consistent with the boreal forest as far as coniferous growth. Beyond that, there is a great purpose for the opposition to lend their collective voice to the fact that the federal government must recognize the flaw that is in the arrangement and devolution as we have pointed out consistently for a number of years on this side of the House. That collective voice of course would provide benefit to the Yukon by expressing to the federal government that we all are very concerned about the situation at hand and that the federal government should do the right thing and act appropriately and quickly for us to sit down and address the issue.
I also pointed out the other day that we are not going to the federal government with our hand out. We are not saying simply, ďYou must give us more money.Ē We are saying that we are willing to sit down and work out an arrangement that results in the Yukonís ability to better face the challenges of what could be successive fire seasons, but also in the long term, through that initiative, to reduce the federal exposure in the Yukon in this area.
But itís important that we reflect on the fact that that exposure under the agreement is happening today, when in fact our risk is increasing in regard to that exposure being reduced on the part of the federal government. Therein lies one of our major financial challenges for fire suppression.
I think we should reiterate the point that there was intent in the agreement itself by setting up the five-year sliding scale to be able to allow the Yukon to build up its fire suppression fund. That did not happen. As the member is probably aware, not only did we expend the budget allocated for this fiscal year of $6.5 million, we also had to expend the lapsed monies from the year previous that were not spent. The fund is depleted and the only money that will be invested in it is the transfer of $6.5 million for the coming fiscal year. That said, the member knows that we have advanced legislative amendments to allow for the setting up of the fire suppression fund. We have pointed to a ceiling of some $30 million; thatís a threshold that we want to achieve. We will, of course, be talking to the federal government about that very fact, because that is another indication that the Yukon is willing to participate in addressing this challenge and this situation.
I think overall, Mr. Chair, that the supplementary budget that we are dealing with to date has many other items in it also. This is actually an area whereby department debate and line-by-line debate is much more conducive to delving into detail of great nature ó not so much overall general debate on the budget.
There are ministers responsible in these areas that are not me, and they are the ministers who are best able to respond to the members opposite in detail when it comes to their purview and their responsibilities. Iíll always point to the fact that general debate in this manner is, in many cases, not conducive to getting to that detailed debate.
The members want to consistently point out that they donít get any answers. Well, Mr. Chair, I would point out that itís pretty hard to provide answers when we donít get to the detailed questions, and general debate is not a really good forum or mechanism to do that. Thatís why a ministerís exchange with the members opposite, when it comes to their responsibilities and their particular department, is the way to go.
Furthermore, we have gone over amortization in great detail and have gone over how that works in great detail and our responsibility under the CICA and the Public Sector Accounting Board. These things are all part of what we must do in our budgeting process. We are following those guidelines.
The extended debate around how that reflects in different structure needs in the north is, frankly, clearly addressed in how those guidelines are implemented and how they work.
Weíve gone over that at great length with a number of the members opposite and again I would point out that advancing into departments would be the logical approach to take. Although I am certainly here to answer some questions of a general nature, the ultimate purpose for debate of any budget is to get into the line-by-line debate and deal with the detail the members opposite feel is necessary to understand where the allocation of funds is going and why those allocations are being made.
Overall, Mr. Chair, this supplementary budget contributes to ó increases ó what is already the largest budget in the Yukonís history. This supplementary budget reflects to a great degree the issue the member and I have been discussing ó† fire suppression ó in covering the special warrant that we have to implement to cashflow our firefighting costs this summer. But there are some other things in there, like preplanning with the Department of Highways and Public Works that may, I think, solicit some interest from the members opposite. Itís a new initiative. Itís an investment to provide those in parts of our contracting community a clear insight on where the government is going in its capital investments ó for example, highway infrastructure.
There are also some other things in Energy, Mines and Resources that are important. There is an increase ó and this all came out in the second reading speech ó in health care investment of some $8 million in the supplementary budget to cover a number of areas of costs, showing clearly again our increased investment in the social fabric and framework of the Yukon Territory.
But all in all, Mr. Chair, we should be moving into those departments so that Yukoners can, through the debate with the opposition, get a clear understanding of what it is the money is being spent on, where the money is being invested, and why those investments are being made. And the opposition should probably, in all likelihood, in the context of being accountable to their constituency and Yukoners, express to Yukoners why it is that they would not support the budget or areas that they may support, but they should clearly articulate that so Yukoners understand what their position is.
And with that, Mr. Chair, Iíll turn it back to the members opposite.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to start by correcting the Premier on the first thing he said, which was that we left off on Tuesday. We actually left off on Monday, November 22, just to refresh his memory of when we left off.
Iíd like to thank the Premier for reviewing a lot of what was said on Monday, but he left out a few things. I still have a few more questions. Itís interesting that the Premier wants to duck out of this debate and get into the departments and have us ask questions directly of the ministers. There appears to be a change in attitude from Monday. When I left off on Monday afternoon, I was having a good conversation with the Premier. I was asking questions about something that is the direct responsibility of the Premier ó the devolution transfer agreement and how it relates to wildfire management and the crisis we faced this summer and the crisis we could face in years to come in funding wildfire suppression. That is the Premierís responsibility. Heís the one who met with the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and talked about this, so I donít think my questions are better posed to any other minister of the government but the Premier.
Iíd like to thank the Premier for that conversation that we had on Monday because, quite frankly, I thought it was a good conversation. I was asking questions about things that I didnít know; I was asking questions about things that concerned Yukoners. If anybody who thinks that what happened this past summer and what may happen in future fire seasons doesnít concern Yukoners, I think that it does concern Yukoners. It definitely concerns me, and I have some other questions about that.
The Premier actually got into some details that probably rightfully belong in his ministersí portfolios. He started talking about forest management in his remarks this afternoon.
I have a few more questions on the devolution transfer agreement ó just some things to clear up and clarify from Monday. The Premier said he had made this direct request of the new minister responsible for Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development a couple weeks ago to trigger the reopening clause on the five-year agreement.
The minister talked a lot about the devolution transfer agreement and where we needed to go. What the Premier didnít say was what the federal ministerís response was. Was the response favourable to this? Is he willing to do that? What timelines did the federal minister indicate that this may be able to happen in?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I alluded to earlier, we are at this time working with the federal government on the issue. We are awaiting a response from the federal government on how they want to proceed. So, until that response comes forward, it would be pretty hard to give the member finite timelines and what the federal governmentís response is.
The minister was clear, however, in recognizing the situation, the challenge, and what could be a very difficult financial issue to manage here in the Yukon Territory if the wrong conditions prevail and we have successive fire seasons. That is something that was clearly recognized immediately.
So now we await the response, which is normal in these matters, but we as a government are continuing to press the issue with our federal counterparts. I will also be dealing with this when I get the opportunity with the Prime Minister because we are in discussions with the Privy Council Office on a northern strategy. So we have a number of opportunities to be able to address this.
Thirdly, the minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources will be bringing the issue forward to Minister Efford, responsible for the Natural Resources Canada department, because there is a role that they may play on issues like the beetle-kill area in the southwest Yukon. NRCan may have some mechanisms within its mandate that will help us better address and manage that issue, which is of the greatest risk in terms of communities on the north highway and also the community of Haines Junction, should a wildfire occur in that beetle-kill area.
Beyond that, there is not much more that I can pass on to the member until we hear from the federal government on how they want to proceed.
Mr. Cardiff: What I asked was: what was the ministerís response? The Premier said that the minister recognized that we face a difficult situation and that something had to be done. What I wanted to know was whether the ministerís response was favourable, was it encouraging to the Premier that this may happen in the near future?
The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has got a ton of stuff on his plate. All you have to do is read the latest Auditor Generalís report and there are some issues there for him to deal with on that front, not to mention there is a whole bunch of other issues that that minister has on his plate.
The Premier said he met with the minister. I assume they were in the same room and that the Premier could see the expression on the ministerís face, if nothing else, and that there would have been some indication where this fit on the priority list of the federal minister.
I recognize thereís a lot on this ministerís plate. Iím wondering how important the federal minister viewed this. Is this something heís going to run back to Ottawa and try to get done in the next two weeks? Is this something he may not deal with for the next six months? If itís the next six months, Iím sure the Premier wants to deal with it sooner. It has been an issue for the Premier for a long time.
Thatís why Iím asking about time frames. The Premier must have some idea what level of importance the federal minister would put on this, with all the other things he has to do. Thatís what I was looking for. Itís great that Yukoners can be reassured that the federal minister recognizes we have difficulties and problems around wildfire management and how we fund it in the future. What Iím asking for is: how soon does the Premier expect the federal minister to actually act on this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís fair to say that, considering weíve invoiced the federal government ó or at least given notice that they owe $10 million for their portion of this yearís fire season ó itís very much on the ministerís radar screen. $10 million is not a small chunk of change.
In discussions with the minister, as I pointed out, he clearly understood and recognized the issue. That tells me that, although he did not respond in any way about timelines, the minister has this issue at the appropriate level.
What we have to do in this regard, as far as the Yukon governmentís participation in this, is continue to press the issue not only at the officialsí level but at every opportunity. And I pointed out not only with the minister responsible for DIAND but at the Privy Council Office and at the Department of Natural Resources Canada. So we are working very diligently with the federal government on this, recognizing, of course, that the federal government must respond to us at some point on how they intend to proceed. That response is exactly what we are waiting for now, and I would suggest, Mr. Chair, that it will not be that long in coming, because I think this is an issue that is very much a part of what the minister responsible for DIAND is working on today.
Mr. Cardiff: I appreciate that answer, and I know that we on this side of the House supported the changes that were made to create the fire suppression fund. I think I said that on Monday, as well, so I wonít dwell on that. There is definitely a difficulty facing Yukon when it comes to wildfire management, as we saw this summer. The Premier, in his opening remarks today, talked about the problems with the spruce beetle kill in southwest Yukon. Basically, if you look across the Yukon at the boreal forest and the age of it ó well, you just have to walk through it, and when itís really dry, a lot of the Yukon is at risk of wildfire. I know that itís a major concern for the constituents in my riding. I believe itís a major concern for the City of Whitehorse and other municipalities in the Yukon. And I would like to speak a little bit about that with respect to my riding, because there is a lot of potential for wildfires in the Carcross valley.
Thereís a lot of human activity. There are residences scattered across the riding and thereís a lot of human activity in that area and in remote areas of the riding. So it wonít take much, whether itís a natural-caused fire or a human-caused fire, for something to happen in that area. Listening to the residents recently, after the windstorm and the concerns about the trees that have gone down and the increased fuel load, the residents who live within the City of Whitehorse have great concerns about that. Iím hopeful that the work that the government has done around FireSmart and the program in that area is going to address some of those concerns, those immediate concerns around those subdivisions in my riding and in the neighbouring ridings as well.
As well, down in the Carcross valley, it wasnít that many years ago ó I guess it would probably be five or six years ago ó that there were actually evacuations of residents on the Annie Lake Road because of wildfires happening there. I attended a meeting in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne at the community centre ó I believe it was last year ó and I believe it was called fire in the valley, and officials came out and showed some models of what may happen should a major wildfire happen in the Carcross valley and, if there was a wind and depending on the direction and the speed of the wind, where that fire would go and how fast it would spread. It was a pretty scary situation for the residents who live in the valley and the residents who live on the south end of Whitehorse. It would be scary for the City of Whitehorse as well.
I wasnít going to talk about this, but the Premier raised this issue about timber harvest. Itís my understanding that the minister is responsible ó and the Premier is responsible as well ó for the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, YESAA, which is supposed to come into force, as I understand it, April or May 1 of 2005.
One of the things I am wondering about is, when they do these timber harvest projects, whether or not they are going to be required to go through that process to evaluate the environmental and social impacts of those timber harvests.
There is a whole range of issues, as the Premier pointed out. There are the environmental impacts, there are social impacts; and we are trying to create economic opportunities, we are trying to reduce fuel loads, and weíre trying to make our community safer. I am just wondering how YESAA fits into doing that.
Obviously, if we are making our community safer, reducing the risk of wildfire, creating economic opportunities, there is a social side to that. What are the other environmental things? There are environmental things that need to be taken into that as well.
My understanding is that there are some adjustments being made to YESAA. I am wondering how that is going to affect programs like timber harvest in these situations?
On Monday, the Premier provided good answers to a lot of questions and I think that he is the one responsible through one of his departments for this program. The board is housed in ECO, and I would like to hear what he has to say and get the explanation from him at this time so that if I have some other questions down the road, I will be able to ask some intelligent questions about it.
I look forward to what he has to say, and Iíll make notes.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iím very pleased to hear that the member is going to make notes. I think thatís a good thing.† But as far as the YESAA legislation and its regulatory regime, I think weíre all aware of whatís happening. YESAA, as a piece of legislation, comes into force and effect in terms of it being passed through Parliament. Thatís it. But we will not be applying it, because there is a period between that date of November 14 and April 2005 when we will be essentially implementing YESAA as the mechanism for screening projects and other things.
At this time it will have no bearing on what we may be doing with forest management plans, but on a go-forward basis, there are thresholds within YESAA and its regulatory regime that will dictate what gets screened and to what level. There are so many variables involved in that, that it would be difficult to have a very extensive debate on this, because a lot of this is predicated on the project itself that comes forward to be screened ó point one. Point two, in some cases, if this is clearly a need to reduce the risk of fire around the community, there may be some different approaches in that regard, because essentially we are doing something where we donít want the forest to grow back. There is a reason for that. We are creating firebreaks to a degree that allow firefighters much better opportunities to address wildfire at a greater distance from a community than too close to it, so that remains to be seen.
Thereís also another area of control that will be put into place vis-ŗ-vis forest management plans. Forest management plans will, to a great degree, dictate activity in the forest, especially in the area of harvesting the forest. The plans are being negotiated right now. Theyíre in the southwest and weíre working on the planning exercise in the southeast. We have accomplished a number of things that were steps in place under previous agreements in the southeast. Weíre now at an interim stage for wood supply and weíre working on the broader, longer term issues.
Thereís much that has yet to be done. All these areas that the member spoke of in terms of the social or environmental impacts will be addressed. They have to be: itís the law.
Again I say itís the project that will dictate, to a large degree, what happens, what threshold it enters in, and so on and so forth. In the meantime, we still utilize the Yukon Environmental Assessment Act in the territory, which is an offshoot of CEAA, or however you want to put it, but thereís still environmental screening that takes place on projects out on the land base.
For the issue around the memberís riding and Carcross and Whitehorse, what we have to understand is that by policy inherited from the federal government, which is part of the agreement ó I pointed that out Monday, that we must adhere to certain policy procedures or we will not be eligible for monies due or owed to us ó there are the creation of attack zones and observation zones. One will clearly understand that when you look in the Whitehorse vicinity and periphery and the Carcross area, given the extensive population and building in these areas, they would be predominantly attack zones, which means they would receive immediate action in case of fire. Weíve had examples of that happening on Haeckel Hill, I think out by Mendenhall, where immediate action was taken on the fire.
The difference, of course, in observation zones, is that we tend to monitor for a much longer period an observation zone fire. In many cases, they burn themselves out or Mother Nature takes care of business by raining on the fire for great, extended periods of time. But in some cases, observation zones and fires in that area can become a bit of a challenge, depending on the direction that the fire or fires are moving, the possibility of a number of fires joining up and creating one big, massive fire, which is always a concern of our firefighters and those monitoring observation zone fires. There can be a situation where a forest fire may, depending on its size, start to create its own weather and wind and travel at rapid rates of speed. That is when a fire is deemed to be totally out of control, and the difficulties that firefighters face in that type of fire are quite extensive and not always very successful, because there is not a whole lot they can do with the rapid spread of the fire and sometimes the number of directions that it will travel. So I think, all in all, that should sum up at least for the member where itís all at. Nothing is going to be left in a manner that it would not follow existing screening requirements and future screening requirements, because it is the law.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, that did clarify a lot of stuff, and I will endeavour to get some questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and the Minister of Community Services when we get to those departments about both these issues, because I think theyíre important. It would appear to me in regard to programs like FireSmart or any fuel reduction strategies, whether itís forest management, that attack zones would be the logical place to start. That would be something that would concern the residents of my riding, for sure, and I think that there needs to be a discussion with my constituents about how that happens.
The Premier also mentioned ó and Iíll take this up with the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and the Minister of Community Services ó the creation of firebreaks and timber management strategies in the Mount Lorne area, because there is a high concern about these issues and how we can do something that is going to be environmentally sound, make the community safer. So I thank the Premier for that.
I have one further thing that I would like to explore with the Premier and then Iíll be done. I have attempted to ask this question on several occasions in the Legislature with regard to the YEAA process and the process that was used in the project that took place in my riding. I sent the Premier a copy of the letter that he sent to me on April 8 this year, and I have highlighted the portion that I would like him to respond to.
This is a letter that the Premier wrote to me regarding the Whitehorse Copper development project and concerns that my constituents had raised. The Premier responded by assuring me that the Yukon government is committed to a complete and careful evaluation of the Whitehorse Copper development project. In addition to the environmental assessment, the concerns that have been raised by area residents will be fully considered before any final determination is made as to the future of this project.
Now, there are still many concerns being expressed about this project on an ongoing basis.
The Premier sent me the letter and I took it as an assurance that there wouldnít be a final determination as to the future of the project. I took that to mean that the Yukon government would not make a final determination. There is no final determination yet. The city hasnít made that final determination. But the government on that side has made a final determination that this is going to go ahead no matter what. They have applied for the zoning changes and the subdivision.†
The Premier signed the letter. I think the Premier should answer the question and he shouldnít be pawning this off on the Minister of Community Services. You can be guaranteed that I will have lots of questions for the Minister of Community Services when we get there.
The Premierís signature is on the letter. This is a commitment that he made. I would like to know what his response is as to why the government made a final determination with so many outstanding issues. I wonít detail them. I am sure that the Premier has been fully briefed by the Minister of Community Services about all the concerns and he has probably heard them on the radio. He has probably read about them in the newspaper. I wouldnít even be surprised if he has been lobbied by some of my constituents face to face or on the phone.
So all Iím asking the Premier to do is to explain why he made this commitment, and it doesnít appear to have been followed through on.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: † The commitment made has been followed through on; in fact, it is the government that triggered the environmental assessment. Thatís important in this matter, and thatís exactly what we did. This is not a final determination for us to make, and the member knows full well that this is a City of Whitehorse property development. The member must also understand that it is not the Yukon applying for zoning changes; itís the city applying for zoning changes. Itís not the Yukon; itís the city thatís dealing with the zoning changes. They are the ones that want the zoning changed. This is their property development, not the Yukon governmentís. We are simply, physically, the developers in conjunction and working with the city. Itís their decision to make; this is their subdivision, not the Yukon governmentís subdivision.
I would say to the member opposite his request in terms of environmental assessment has been done. There have been many occasions when concerns of residents in the area have been brought forward. There is no final determination made as yet, in the matter of the future of the project, and weíre awaiting the City of Whitehorse to decide on what it is they are going to do. Thatís basically the whole purpose of this exercise that the government goes through with the city on property development that the city wants developed.
Mr. Cardiff: I would just like to clarify for the Premier, because the Premier is wrong. The way that it worked was ó itís a long story and Iíll try to do it briefly ó there was an area development scheme that was done for that area. There were all kinds of different plans ó lot plans involving various types of developments. The city identified that area in the official community plan as an area that could potentially be developed.
The city worked with the Department of Community Services land development, and they came up with a plan. Iíll sit down for a minute, and Iíll let the Minister of Community Services brief the Premier, and then Iíll ó
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think what we have to understand is that the city is the government, the level of government, that is proceeding with this project. The work done is being done in conjunction with what the city wants in their plan. This is the City of Whitehorseís overall plan for land development, subdivision development, whatever you want to call it.
The Yukon government in many areas is doing the actual work. Thatís it. The decision here is of the cityís making. That is the only place where the member should be focusing this type of question. The government side is simply doing the work as requested by the city on its property development, not the governmentís property development.
Mr. Cardiff: This project has been taken forward by the Department of Community Services land development branch. The Premier himself said that we are simply acting as the developer. Now, itís not the City of Whitehorseís project. The City of Whitehorse is not going to develop the plan. The City of Whitehorse is not going to build the roads. The City of Whitehorse is not going to put in the infrastructure. The City of Whitehorse is not going to put in the culverts. The City of Whitehorse is not going to build a school or a park out there. Itís the Government of Yukonís Community Services land development branch that is going to develop the property, put it on the market and sell it to Yukoners. What Iím trying to say is that this went through this process, Yukon Environmental Assessment Act.
I raised many concerns with the Premier, and the Premier provided me assurances at that time that, you know, we can do this, donít worry, life will be beautiful, and your residents, your constituents, wonít have to worry. All of their concerns are going to be addressed. He repeated that here. My constituents still have lots of concerns.
One of the concerns they have is with the developer ó the branch of government that will draw up the plan, develop the land and sell the land ó doing the environmental assessment. Thereís no objectivity in that. Thatís like the Atomic Energy Commission should do an environmental assessment on putting a nuclear power plant on the waterfront. What are they going to say? Are they going to say, ďNo, we shouldnít do itĒ? Or maybe we should build an open-pit mine in the centre of Watson Lake. Are they going to say there are no environmental impacts?
If you let the developer do the environmental assessment, there needs to be somebody whoís independent to review all that. My constituents donít feel itís right that a developer does that.
The Premier is responsible for the Yukon Environmental Assessment Act in one of his portfolios. What Iím trying to get through to the Premier ó I expressed these concerns when we were passing the mirror legislation almost two years ago. Iíve continued to express the concern that this process doesnít meet the needs of constituents, and there appears to be a conflict here.
Will the Premier at least recognize that there is some sort of appearance of conflict when a developer does their own environmental assessment, and thereís no independent agency or review of a project? Thatís why, today, you still hear concerns about traffic safety and water quality. Why are there lots being built in swamps, or built where thereís bedrock underlying the entire property, four to six feet down? You canít have basements; you canít put in septic tanks. We hear, ďWell, you can put in pump-outs.Ē Thereís a certain expectation when you buy a piece of property.
I would remind the Premier again that the people who are buying this property arenít going to be buying it from the City of Whitehorse. Theyíre going to be buying it from the Minister of Community Services.
Iím not going to ask this question on behalf of my constituents. Iím going to ask this question on behalf of potential customers for this development. What assurances is the Premier prepared to make to potential customers who are going to go out, look at this development and select a lot on which they will be able to build their house with the reasonable expectation of having wells, septic tanks, basements, that they wonít have to build their houses in a swamp and that there wonít be flooding and glaciation? These are all issues that should have been addressed in the environmental assessment and that, to this day, people are still raising concerns about. Weíre not even talking about the potential for hazardous waste and toxic sites. It only came to light in the newspaper recently, but it was raised. I would argue it was raised, because I heard it raised at meetings and it was ignored.
What assurances can the Premier provide for the potential customers of this land development that theyíre going to get value for dollar?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This really has little to do with the supplementary budget as, to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in the supplementary budget that relates to this particular project. This is a development thatís part of the official City of Whitehorse plan.
The memberís assertions on the environmental screening are quite interesting. The member is suggesting that the developer ó in this case, as the member terms it, the government ó is breaking the law.
Thatís not the case, Mr. Chair. The Department of Environment did the environmental screening. Many concerns, as the letter pointed out, have been brought forward, and we ó the government and the City of Whitehorse ó are listening to those concerns.
There are also many concerns being brought forward about the shortage of land availability in Whitehorse. Those are other concerns that the government is also listening to. No matter what, though, the lot development is based on the specifications, and part of that is the official city plan. Due process has taken place in terms of the work necessary to determine a number of the factors required for lot development. That set of specifications, in many cases, is quite consistent with lot and property development.
The best thing for the member to do, if he is really wanting to represent this issue on behalf of his constituency, is talk to the appropriate ministers in detailed department debate. Thatís why I say that this is the best course for the member, and I will tell you why, Mr. Chair. This provides the member answers from the minister responsible who will have officials with them who can delve into the detail in a great context that may satisfy the member opposite.
The Premier ó I, in this case ó certainly cannot do that. I do not, in most cases, even discuss the matter with department officials responsible for this development. That is a fact. I did not, in most cases, address what was going on with the environmental screening, because it was done by the Department of Environment. The Department of Environment sent their people out ó at least that is my understanding. The Premierís office didnít do the environmental screening. The department charged with the responsibility of doing departmental screenings went out and did them.
I think that the best course for the member is to talk to the minister responsible for the Department of Environment, but do so when that department comes up or when that minister is on his feet.
We are debating a supplementary budget, Mr. Chair. We are not debating property development in this particular context; we are supposed to be debating the supplementary budget for 2004-05. Thatís why Iím here in terms of general debate. It should be at least somewhat remotely connected to the budget itself. This particular issue is not. There are not areas in this supplementary that are dealing with the memberís issue, to the best of my knowledge. Thereís not much more that the minister ó me ó can say in this regard, other than closing by saying that Iím sure the member must understand this is part of the official City of Whitehorse plan, not the Yukon governmentís plan. Thatís a distinct point that must be made ó official City of Whitehorse plan.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to let the Premier know that the Department of Environment, to the best of my knowledge, didnít have a lot of input into the environmental assessment and that it was mostly the ó
Iíll wait for the briefing to transpire.
One of the reasons Iím asking this is because the Premier is involved. The Premierís signature is on the letter; the officials that briefed my constituents about the environmental assessment process were from one of the Premierís departments, ECO. Thatís where the YESAA board is going to be housed ó thatís my understanding ó and there is a line item about land development in the supplementary budget.
†Thereís a line item about community planning, so ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: Youíre right, and I donít want to talk about the line item. I want to talk about this in a general sense, and weíre entitled to do that, to get information now, in preparation, so we can ask other questions about this.
The Premier doesnít want to answer the questions about this, and I can understand that heís uncomfortable with this. I wouldnít want to be responsible for this myself, to tell you the truth, because I think that this could turn into a real quagmire for the Premier and his minister.
I have one more question for the Premier. The application was made to the City of Whitehorse by Community Services land development for zoning and subdivision. My constituents met with the city in a public, open meeting. The Premierís minister responded to me in this Legislature that the meeting that followed the night before had been planned for a long time. Well, the Premierís minister is right; it probably was planned. It was probably planned right after my constituents set the date for their open meeting with city council. So the following day, government officials met with the City of Whitehorse in a closed meeting to address the concerns that my constituents had raised in an open meeting. So there are a couple of questions there. Why did it have to be a closed meeting to address those issues? My constituents were prepared to address them in an open meeting, and the government couldnít address them in an open meeting.
And the other concern I have is that the following day there were reports from people who attended that meeting that the government took a threatening tone and actually threatened the city council with actions that they may not want to deal with about land development.
Now, I just have a simple question. Why does the Premier condone the meeting being closed and not being held in an open forum, as my constituents had to? Why does he condone the minister and his officials threatening another level of government with actions if they donít do what this government wants to see happen, which is see that land development pushed through?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, my involvement in terms of corresponding with the member opposite in regard to the commitment to environmental assessment has been completed. The environmental assessment has been done, as committed in corresponding with the member opposite.
Iím sure we all know that.
The memberís insinuations here about closed-door meetings and threats are, quite frankly, something Iím not sure how anybody could respond to. That is not how levels of government or orders of government discuss things. Thatís something, considering the member and I were not at the meeting, that would be nothing more than speculation. Unless the member was at the meeting ó the member points out that he wasnít, nor was I. As far as I understood the member saying, it was a meeting between the City of Whitehorse officials and Yukon government officials. Not being there, the member opposite is then ó and one can only conclude, Mr. Chair ó assuming that something took place at the meeting but, not being there, could not verify that something having taken place.
I would suggest to the member opposite that this is not a debate that reflects the supplementary budget. The member opposite is correct in stating that there is a line item in Community Services that shows a reduction. I believe a reduction in property development ó land development, residential, shows a reduction of $2.1 million. The best thing to do, although there is also general debate in a department ó the member could certainly ask a question of the minister when we get to that line. Thatís the procedure here, Mr. Chair.
And thatís why itís there and thatís what itís all about. I can tell that the member is quite anxious about finding out what that means, that line item, and whatís happening, so it only makes sense logically that we proceed with debate so that the member can diminish that anxious state, which I think is probably a little difficult to handle, but I want to give the member full marks for representing his constituency. Thatís the good thing, but the member must understand that in doing so, the constituency will be much better served by moving into detailed debate instead of skating around in general debate with me, who, as a minister, is simply not responsible for a number of line departments. Thatís why we have ministers in Cabinet who are responsible for line departments. They are here to alleviate the memberís concerns and respond to the memberís questions. Thatís one of the reasons that huge amounts of money and spending authority are passed through this Legislature with no discussion from the members opposite, because we spend a lot of time repeating and repeating and repeating in general debate the same thing.
So, to wrap up and summarize, the member I think is concerned ó at least as I understand it ó about the correspondence and the environmental assessment.
The environmental assessment was done. It was done by Lorimer & Associates main environmental assessment branch. The Department of Environment did wildlife. Gartner Lee did hydrology and water. Every department was consulted on the project so there was also outside interest, professionals, who are tasked with the duty of doing some of the assessments. There is a professional responsibility to provide an assessment, in this case, in all these areas that were requested.
So that is what has taken place. Itís clear that the environmental assessment was done. As committed to the member opposite, I think it was done in great detail, considering the number of areas involved including wildlife assessment, hydrology and water assessments. That is quite detailed stuff, Mr. Chair, and that is why professionals are brought in in these cases. But Iím sure the Minister of Community Services could add much more to that, and it would be very beneficial for the memberís constituents to hear that. Iím sure the member opposite will bring up that question some more when we get into the debate of Community Services.
I think we have to keep hammering home the point, though, that this is a land development based on the official City of Whitehorse plan. Thatís the important factor here. This is not the Yukon governmentís plan; this is the City of Whitehorseís official plan.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to thank the Premier for his answer. Given his limited knowledge of the project, I appreciate what he has said. I thank him for the answers and I look forward to pursuing it further with the minister.
Mrs. Peter: I have a few questions of the Premier in general debate on behalf of the constituents in my riding.
Using the Premierís own earlier words, he referred to a sum of money as ďa small chunk of changeĒ. I noticed in the information that I have before me the transfers that we get from Canada ó the Canada health transfers ó I know that the Premier was involved, along with the two other premiers from the north, in getting a sum of money from Canada to address some of our health concerns in the north and the northern issues that never go away in regard to services and programs that are delivered in our communities and the high cost that it entails.
I brought this issue on behalf of my riding to the floor of this House before, and itís in regard to dental services. I know that Iíve asked this question of the minister; however, I would like to hear from the Premier if, in his negotiation with the Prime Minister or with the federal Minister of Health, if this issue has been addressed on our behalf ó in the Yukon, more specifically, the dental programs.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, we have to make the distinction between dentistry and health care. The transfer dollars that we are receiving from the federal government are the Canada health transfer dedicated to the delivery of health care and the Canada Health Act. Thatís the area that the money is focused in.
As far as First Nations and their dental care, that is the responsibility and the purview of Health Canada, which is responsible for making sure that all aboriginal Canadians are receiving dental care.
There are some areas that I think even the Yukon government puts into our schools in every community from time to time ó a dental hygienist and dental therapist. We do go into schools to perform some procedures, but when it comes to the First Nation people of the Yukon, there has to be that system in place where the Canada Health people are involved because there is, I think, a criteria that is required by Health Canada in this area when it comes to dentistry.
So, if the member is asking if any of the health transfer dollars are dedicated to the area of dental care, no, they are not. The health transfer dollars are dedicated to the delivery of health care as envisioned under the Canada Health Act.
Mrs. Peter: That information is something that we are all well aware of. I guess I didnít phrase my question in a way that the Premier understands.
Has the Premier made a pitch to the Minister of Health in Ottawa on behalf of First Nation people in the Yukon in regard to dental services in the north?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the Yukon, along with its sister territories, have made a number of passionate pleas for the federal government to address their responsibility for the health care of aboriginal Canadians. That said, there are others in the country who are pointing directly to this issue, one of them being the Auditor General, for example. Recently, Canada came up with a $700-million fund, although it probably is not dedicated to dental care to any great degree for aboriginal Canadians. There is the situation where, at the meeting of first ministers recently in Ottawa, we had a dedicated time to sit down with many of the First Nation leaders in the country to discuss this issue of health care. The Yukon has been consistent in maintaining that the state of health for aboriginal Canadians is deplorable, and Canada must act, and that would include all areas of health care ó dentistry included. Itís also important to note that we in the Yukon deliver a great deal of services to our First Nation people based on an arrangement of recovery from the federal government, in this case, Health Canada or INAC, and today this is delinquent. Itís a delinquent file. The federal department owes the territory in excess of $25 million. So one must state clearly that the Yukon is certainly delivering every possible program in the health area that it can, even in the face of this huge debt we are carrying on behalf of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development when it comes to those programs in the social basket being delivered to our First Nation people.
So, Mr. Chair, we have made progress in the health care area by getting Canada to recognize that per capita funding does not work for the territories. Thatís a given; that resulted in the Northern Health Accord. We recently negotiated a territorial health access fund, which will have more dedicated funds outside the per capita funding toward health care for northerners. We will also be receiving our share of the Canada health transfer under its formula and mechanisms.
All these monies are dedicated to the health and quality of life of Yukoners, and I think we have progressed a great deal on this matter from where we were a couple of years ago.
The issue of what is owed to the Yukon in relation to the First Nations receiving programs and services from the territorial government is a big problem. Itís very difficult for a government and jurisdiction of our size to carry a debt of $25 million plus. We are consistently pressing the department to pay up, because that money would go a long way toward dealing with the health care of our citizens, especially for First Nations, because thatís where the money is dedicated. Thatís where the programs and services were delivered. This has been an ongoing issue with the federal government and this department for some time. I think it speaks volumes of the situation aboriginal Canadians are in when it comes to the attention being paid to the health of our aboriginal Canadians by the federal government.
Itís up to all of us to challenge the federal government, which is the government primarily responsible for the health of our First Nation people, not only in the Yukon, but in the whole country, that they better manage their responsibility and live up to their obligation, as they should, so First Nation people are receiving a standard and level of health care that all Canadians should receive under the Canada Health Act.
There are other determinants that are important here too. The federal government has made commitments in that area that would lead to healthy living for First Nation people. One of those commitments is to provide clean water and adequate housing for aboriginal Canadians by 2008. We all here in the Yukon, as members of this Assembly, should be very interested in how the federal government intends to carry out that commitment here in the Yukon Territory because that is a very significant commitment. There are certainly housing needs and water issues for First Nation communities here in the Yukon.
Outside of that fact, we in the government, through Yukon Housing, are to some degree assisting First Nation communities on housing issues. So, overall, Mr. Chair, the issue of health care for aboriginal Canadians, including dentistry, rests with the federal government. It is their responsibility. Outside of that, we do deliver programs and services within the social basket and we are owed over $25 million.
Mrs. Peter: Furthermore for the Premier, within the last couple of weeks weíve been addressing the different concerns of the Yukon people in regard to alcohol and drugs, in regard to family violence and in regard to how our communities throughout the Yukon would like to address these issues in their communities. In my riding, we have a plan, a long-term plan, in regard to healthy living and providing a healthy environment for families in our communities.
I am sure that the Premier is aware of that plan. I am sure he heard about it when he went to visit Old Crow a couple months ago.
Some of the needs that I brought before this House I will mention again. He did allude to those needs as either a federal responsibility or a territorial responsibility. It seems that we are owed a lot of money from the federal government, and when we do get that money and maybe some of the extra money that the Premier was fortunate to get from Ottawa, maybe it would be spent in these areas.
In regard to alcohol and drugs, the members of my community are striving toward a healthier way of living, and addressing alcohol and drugs is one of the concerns that they have. One of the needs that they have is with regard to a family support worker ó an extra position that is needed in the community to help families address their needs.
Also, I believe that in the territory, when one would like to address their alcohol and drug problem, they come to Whitehorse to attend the treatment program. However, if they do have children, then sometimes they are not able to leave their community for that purpose. What is suggested is that they have their extra costs for families with children addressed when they come to Whitehorse ó in regard to childcare and daycare costs.
That need is a direct request from the community of Old Crow. Also, there is a huge need for a family treatment centre in the territory. Weíve heard people talking about wanting to address their issues, and itís not only one community in the Yukon. Alcohol and drugs are a major concern throughout all communities. We recognize that and how, in our long-term plans, we are going to address those needs. Itís not something that needs to be played with in the political arena. Itís very, very serious. People are dying out there.
I would like to hear from the Premier what long-term plans they have in these areas. How are we going to spend those extra monies when they come in? In this budget before us, the Department of Health and Social Services is one of the biggest departments we have, so Iíd like to hear the Premierís comments on that, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, let me begin by saying that during the visit to the community of Old Crow we talked not only with the citizens in an open forum, but with the leadership about social issues. That is a discussion that will be ongoing in every community, because itís a critical area that we as a society are challenged with and faced with in terms of addressing some of the social ills, the societal ills that we as Canadians ó not just Yukoners ó are grappling with. Of course, in addressing the issue of substance abuse, one of these areas of social ills, it is usually the symptom of a much more deeply rooted problem, and it manifests itself through addiction and other means.
Also something that we have to really stress is the understanding of what addiction is, and that it is also an ongoing process. We must reflect on the fact that there are many areas of investment required and attention being paid to those areas that are critical for the long term. One of the best investments we can make in dealing with this area of addiction ó but indeed also health care ó is education and prevention, because we are especially targeting an area of prevention in education ó young people ó and trying to give them every possible tool and means to make the right choices in their lives.
There is also the area in-between when it comes to substance abuse that requires the justice system, and there is also the downstream end that requires treatment and aftercare. These areas are receiving clearly increased investment under this governmentís watch. This is a good debate to have and a good discussion to have, because the member also put on the record the fact that this is not something that we should be playing politics with, and that is one of the most important statements that can be made by anyone. There are no political boundaries in this area, none whatsoever.
Unfortunately, there are those who will play politics with this, and weíre dealing with that issue right now, today, and this gives me another opportunity to point out that we all have a responsibility and a duty to step up and meet the challenge of our societyís ills, not sensationalize them and not use them for political purpose or to discredit.
In this case ó and Iím going to speak of my community. I have lived in this community for many, many years. The social ills of the community of Watson Lake are no different from any community in the country. In fact, the social fabric of the community of Watson Lake is very, very strong in terms of the community itself dealing with these issues. Not only through the communityís efforts did we advance in many areas by, first off, providing clear disclosure to the community of all the programs and services that were available and making sure that there was no disconnect and no gaps, and that people understood where to go and who to talk to, but the community itself is the area where the challenge was met, because the community decided they were going to do something about it.
That same principle holds true for every community in the Yukon and in the country. Whether it be Old Crow, Dawson City, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Pelly Crossing, Mayo, and so on, we all, each and every citizen, have a responsibility to address this area. But itís also important to note that if individuals choose not to take that step to make the decision for positive changes in their life, all the areas of prevention and education, all the areas of treatment and after-care are not going to be that successful because ultimately that kind of individual commitment is required to truly address this situation.
It is counterproductive, unacceptable, to witness what we are witnessing in terms of the community of Watson Lake and the portrayal by the CBC. That is unacceptable journalism. It is portraying the community in a light that is not reflective of the realities. It is taking journalism to a depth where they are using people who are totally succumbed to the demons of addiction. They are implying, by nibbling around the edges in this so-called exposť, that there are those in the community who are contributing to the problem. This discussion will never end as long as I am the MLA for that community because the damage thatís being done here is going to be challenged. Any time the media plays politics with an issue like this and misrepresents the facts and stoops to this type of journalism, theyíre going to be challenged.
Furthermore, the damage being done to an individual who has dedicated 27 years of his life to healing people in the community of Watson Lake, to helping those addicted, including the fact that this doctor, in many cases, takes the initiative to put people in the hospital for detoxification ó this doctor goes far beyond the call of duty, and this doctor deserves a lot better than heís getting from the reporter from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Itís also important to note that this same person who has dedicated these 27 years to the community of Watson Lake and its health needs was vilified during the election by another news outlet, the Yukon News, in a story written about a doctor of his stature, dedication and commitment, providing wine and Ativan to First Nation people.
This is the point Iím making of whatís wrong with the approach being taken by the news media ó or at least some of them ó in regard to this social ill. This is not something to sensationalize. In fact, the news media has a responsibility to express to communities across the territory, on a regular basis, in a manner that clearly shows all the programs and services that are available, all the areas of help available ó that would be something very constructive that could be helping the situation.
Now, letís get to the issue in regard to the members opposite and their approach to this. Their approach to this is something they should sit back and reflect on, because there is a responsibility here by the members opposite also. The leader of the official opposition knows full well the commitment by this government in the area of addictions in his riding, the riding of Whitehorse Centre. He knows full well that the government does not condone the activities the member is concerned about. Unfortunately, that has somehow been lost in their zeal to continue on in this political vein, but that will not deter the government from doing everything it possibly can to assist people who are suffering this terrible social ill, and we will do so.
Now I see the leader of the official opposition smiling. I can tell you that, in his heart, the leader of the official opposition knows exactly what I am talking about. He knows full well the damage that has been done here. I, as an MLA ó I, as a citizen ó am going to ensure that my community is defended and represented in the appropriate manner. Any who choose to inflict damage on my community and its citizens will be challenged. There is no question about it.
The member talked about new money. Number one, the money owed by DIAND to us for the delivery of social programs and health programs to First Nation people in the territory is not new money; itís money already spent. So we have a debt, a liability. Number two, some of the funds that we are getting that are new money will be targeted and dedicated to certain areas of reform; for instance, that we are required to invest this money on. A lot of it will go to ensuring that our citizens receive the standard level of health care that every other Canadian enjoys. They should not be precluded because of where they live; they should not be precluded from receiving that standard level of health care.
I think there is a tremendous amount of discussion and debate that can take place with the minister responsible for the Department of Health and Social Services. For example, this binder is full of programs and services available to each and every Yukoner who wants to access them. These are services and programs that are housed within Health and Social Services, Justice, Education, the Youth Directorate and the Women's Directorate. There are many areas for discussion that the members opposite can take up with the Minister of Health in great detail.†
There is a large investment in this supplementary budget dedicated to the Department of Health and Social Services: I think itís over $8 million ó $8.2 million here in about period 8 of a fiscal year. Thatís an increase in what we, as a government, are investing into the health care system. Those are areas that require in-depth discussion so the members opposite get a clear understanding of the tremendous amount of effort put forward to dedicate our resources available toward our health care system, toward our social fabric and to reaching out to those in need. A social conscience is not something that only a few have. A social conscience is something that we all share and we all must make sure we apply in the responsible and appropriate manner.
I donít think the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin is really paying attention, but I will continue on by pointing out that the Yukon Territory does suffer to a great degree because of the issue of substance abuse. I would hope that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin is well briefed on what it is that we, as a Legislature, are proceeding with and have agreed to do. We have done something here that I think is a noble enterprise because we have jointly, each and every one of us, committed to working on this issue. We have given it force and effect through this institution. Thatís a significant commitment by all of us.
Unfortunately, a day later, the opposition benches decided that the Canada Winter Games needed no discussion ó and the fact that this is one of the biggest events ever for the Yukon ó wanted no discussion on further economic growth through public/private partnerships. Although the government side has cooperated greatly in terms of agreeing with the members opposite, in some cases itís not reciprocal.
And I will close out by saying that Iím sure the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has a lot to ask the Minister of Health and Social Services in regard to her community, but let us not forget that, in many areas, there is a responsible government here, the federal government, and there are monies that flow from the federal government to First Nation communities to deal with a number of these areas of program and service delivery. So Iím sure the discussion will be a good one.
Mrs. Peter: I appreciate the comments from the Premier. However, it is unfortunate he had to use the question about my riding to make a great, long statement about some of the issues that have been affecting him these days.
Mr. Chair, when we talk about alcohol and drugs throughout our territory, it affects all our communities. I believe every one of us in this House realizes that. If we donít have the problem ourselves, we know someone who does, whether it be a family member, a friend, or a relative in our communities.
The Premier suggested that the media and other sources of resources out there that bring us this information openly are not very effective, but I beg to differ with the Premier. When we have media sources out there that help us to bring this issue to the forefront, then I believe that itís a good thing. And however we choose to take that information, I guess, is up to the individual because this can be a very sensitive topic for some people. I believe, and the community that I come from believes, that when we address these issues openly and honestly, then we make progress. However, if weíre in denial, then we wonít move forward.
Moving on, there has been a report out by the Auditor General in regard to aboriginal education. I will just read from how it starts: ďThe single greatest threat to Canadaís long-term peace and prosperity will be the emergence in the next generation of a large, impoverished and angry aboriginal underclass.Ē Auditor General Sheila Fraserís annual report released yesterday provides fresh evidence that this grim hypothesis is coming true.
Another issue that concerns people in the territory: the education of our young people. In the community of Old Crow, we have successfully, within our means and within our resources, tried to address this issue, and we have had some assistance from the government.
If we are experiencing this problem in Old Crow, then Iím sure that other communities are having similar problems. That is with regard to special needs.
Again, we go back to the alcohol and drug problem that we face. In regard to the FAS issues that we have to address, our community has a very difficult time finding resources within the school to address this problem.
Again, I know the Premier is going to say that itís a departmental matter and I can ask the minister. Yes, I am going to ask the minister; however, I would like to again hear from the Premier what their long-term vision is for this area.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I hope the Member for Kluane isnít laughing at the Member for Vuntut Gwitchinís comments. He seems to be quite amused today.
Let me begin by saying to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that ó you know, Mr. Chair, itís pretty hard to have an intelligent discussion with the member opposite, considering what is going on in the opposition benches. Frankly, I would urge the two members ó the Member for Kluane and the leader of the official opposition ó to recognize where they are. This happens to be the Legislative Assembly, but if they want to entertain themselves, this would not be the appropriate venue, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think the Premier is wandering off for another walk in the woods. Heís talking about decorum in the Legislature and the rules, but he doesnít cite a rule in the House rules and ó
Chair: Order please. There is no point of order. I would encourage all members to remember and respect the decorum of our Assembly and for debate to continue.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I want to engage again with the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin on her comments in relation to the media, and that was the point exactly: the media balancing what they are reporting so that everybody understands not only that there is a problem ó and we all know that, and the government has been working on it and past governments have been working on it. The reporter in question should also point out the tremendous work being done by the communities like Watson Lake in addressing their social issues.
It is irresponsible, Mr. Chair, when one from the news media ó and these are concerns that have been brought forward by a number of people in the community of Watson Lake ó attempts to get them to say things that they donít want to say, statements that they donít want to make and statements that they donít believe to be correct. That is a problem. That is inappropriate journalism and I, as the MLA for Watson Lake and a citizen of that community, will challenge the media in that regard.
Furthermore, there is an onus on the media to report the facts, not to make insinuations that can damage people. Iím sure the CBC is reflecting on this, considering what has happened to another doctor in the Yukon Territory who has had his career destroyed and his life destroyed but is now receiving some measure of restitution through the courts. There is no doubt that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is well aware of the level of that restitution.
So at the end of the day, Mr. Chair, the point weíre making is that not only do we as legislators, not only do people themselves, the citizens of the territory in each and every community, but so too does the media community have a responsibility to do the right thing in this area, because this is an ill that all society faces, not just one community, and itís not something that should be handled in the manner that it has been handled, and that is why the challenge is out there.
Now, Mr. Chair, the Auditor General report, I think, to the best of my knowledge, is predominantly focused on southern Canada, and we agree. The education of First Nation people is something that the Auditor General is pointing out is a problem. We know that, and in the Yukon there are some things weíre already doing in that regard. Aboriginal languages, for example, are receiving attention and investment. We are investing more in our curriculum that is specific to First Nationsí culture and those needs. We are in a position today to look into the possibility of educational reform, which we have offered to First Nations, so that we change the public system to better reflect First Nationsí needs here in the Yukon.
Also through the land claim process the First Nations have achieved the authority to take down education on behalf of their respective citizens, and that is something that the land claim process has achieved. We also have First Nation education in Yukon College, and that is the YNTEP for First Nation native teacher training.
We know the challenges in this area. We know that there is much work to be done here, and that is why we have made the offer on education reform. The minister responsible in this area can certainly provide the members opposite, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, with much detail. The education reform process is intended to change the public system to better reflect the First Nationsí needs in the territory. That is curriculum, language and other areas of involvement in the education system.
Our purpose in doing so is to clearly lay out the point that it may not be in the best interests of children and their education to see 15 education systems in the territory. It is logically a better route to take to develop one education system that is basically reflecting the needs of todayís Yukon and all its citizens.
We also will recognize that in the budgeting process, there is a tremendous amount of investment in our education system ó no question about it. Itís something we strive for. Our young people are our most valuable resource. Their education is a basic requirement for a positive future. We must provide our young people every possible tool that we can make available to them so that they will be contributors in a very positive manner to not only the future of this territory but the future of the country. Education is one of the most important areas and departments in any government, and the same holds true for this government.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Fentie: With that, I would like to turn our attention to the gallery and introduce a constituent from Watson Lake, Ms. Mary Pye. Welcome, Mary.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In closing out, we are partners in education ó First Nations, the Yukon government and Yukon citizens. It is a public system. The public system is something that we all will continue to work on. The work never stops. Itís always important for us to find ways to improve how we can educate children and even adults who choose to go back to school. Our post-education system, I think, to a large degree is another tremendous accomplishment here in the Yukon, so we have a great deal. Itís to the credit of past governments, this government and Iím sure future governments.
Mrs. Peter: Once again, I would like to thank the Premier for his comments. I think we both accomplished something here today. The Premier has used my time and my questions with him to address a lot of the issues that he needed to for his riding and didnít answer many of the questions that I had in regard to my concerns. But I think we both have a mail-out.
Anyhow, my last question to the Premier is: how will this government deal with the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol when it comes into force February 16, 2005?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, at this stage of the game, we are really interested in what the federal governmentís plan is to implement Kyoto. Thatís a request we are making continually, and Iím sure many other jurisdictions in the country want to know that. Until we know what the federal governmentís implementation plan is, it will be difficult to discuss in great detail what will happen.
Mr. McRobb: I have a question or two in general debate. We have heard some idea of where this government may want to go regarding energy policy in the territory but we havenít got much in the way of answers or information.
Last spring I asked about the possibility of the coal plant idea that was talked about for Watson Lake. Apparently there was a second-hand thermal generator that this government was looking at purchasing from the east coast. Can the Premier shed some light on this? Where is that at now?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iím not sure what the member is talking about when it comes to coal plant. There have been discussions. Actually, there has been work done in this area as far back as when the Member for Kluane was in government in terms of biomass and cogeneration ó not coal plant ó cogeneration: very efficient in utilizing wood waste or the residual from the manufacturing of lumber and other things in the forest sector to produce energy. Thatís a well-known technology. Itís a technology that is being applied across the country and there is potential for that technology to work here in the Yukon, producing a form of energy that is quite efficient and environmentally friendly.
As far as coal plant, I have no idea what the Member for Kluane is alluding to because I have never had any discussions, especially in my community, about a coal plant. Itís a cogeneration plant.
Mr. McRobb: It definitely was coal Ė as in c-o-a-l; and a coal-fired plant. It may have been cogeneration too; itís quite possible that coal may have been the primary or secondary fuel to produce a thermal energy to drive the electrical turbines. Iím not quite sure. The story was that the government was looking at purchasing a second-hand thermal plant from the east coast. I would presume the Premier, who is also the MLA for the town, would be aware of this matter.
Now that weíve just clarified it a bit more, I would like to ask him about what he is aware of and where it is at now.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the operative word that the Member for Kluane has brought forward is ďstoryĒ and not all stories are factual. Some stories are fiction. In this case, the operative word being ďstoryĒ, I would point to the possibility of fiction. Now, are we going to look at cogeneration and the utilization of the residual of primary or secondary manufacturing in the forest sector? Yes, we are. That is going to happen. In fact, the member opposite, when in government, will probably recall an investment of $250,000 by the then NDP government to do a study on a cogeneration plant in the community of Watson Lake.
Thatís about all I can provide to the member opposite. We do have some holders of coal claims or leases in this area of the Yukon, although Iíve never heard of them discussing the possibility of developing a coal plant in Watson Lake. Considering one of the major deposits is in north Yukon, it would be highly unlikely that it would be feasible to truck or transport coal ore all the way to the community of Watson Lake to fire a coal plant that doesnít exist.
As the story goes, weíll have to hear the Member for Kluane out. Iím not sure what chapter weíre in, but let us continue.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is expecting some kind of book full of chapters. I hate to disappoint him, Mr. Chair. My question was asked, and it was answered. Weíre prepared to proceed to another area that is quite similar.
He mentioned a cogeneration plant. Can he elaborate a bit more on that? We know about the study. Whatís being investigated in terms of a cogeneration plant in Watson Lake? Obviously such a plant would use by-product or scrap from a manufacturing facility. Can he shed some light on how such a project would be put together?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: To a great degree, it would be put together by hand. It would take construction workers. Nobody is putting together a project right now. There has been some work done on it; there has been some discussion.
Again, Iím not sure what chapter weíre on, but as the story goes, Iím sure weíre going to hear about it from the Member for Kluane.
At this stage of the game in southeast Yukon, there is only available an interim wood supply. The volume with respect to the interim wood supply is, frankly, entirely not sufficient to fuel such a plant, because you are using the residual of any volume of wood extracted.
So weíre not at the level, even, of harvesting volumes that would be required to give any serious consideration at this time to a cogeneration plant in the community of Watson Lake. We are working very closely with the Kaska Nation in regard to forestry to ensure that best practices are being brought to bear, that when we move beyond the interim wood supply and move into what would be defined as long-term tenure, should that take place, that we have the mechanisms and the forest management plan in place that meets our needs, ensuring the environmental impacts are mitigated. Thatís our discussion thatís ongoing right now with the First Nation, but weíre also in discussions with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in the southwest Yukon in regard to forest management planning, and that includes, of course, the resource council. These are areas of work that have long been neglected and are now finally moving ahead, and I think some of that can be attributed to devolution because we are now the managers of lands, waters and resources, and I think it is assisting us in advancing the processes because we have removed an order of government ó in this case the federal government ó from a great deal of this process.
Furthermore, there is potential, Mr. Chair, to give very detailed consideration of cogeneration ó or biomass, the use of biomass fuel ó in the Yukon in some regions, and that is something we will continue to look into. But at this point in time, there isnít any construction of a plant, there arenít blueprints, there isnít even, in terms of what kind of plant, how many megawatts, what we need to make sure that this would be long term and sustainable ó none of these things have been addressed. So itís very hard to have this discussion because weíre again dealing with that story and there are many chapters yet to be written, never mind discussed.
Mr. McRobb: I hate to break the news to the Premier, but there is no conspiracy or anything to be paranoid about here. Weíre asking very reasonable questions and we expect the same in return.
I would like to ask him about the electrical supply for Watson Lake. Whatís being contemplated for future supply for the town? I know heís going to get up and repeat what he just put on the record, but this question is a couple of levels higher. Is the government actively looking at replacing the electrical generator in Watson Lake, which currently is a diesel generator? If so, what other options are being considered?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As the member well knows, Yukon Electrical produces and provides electricity to the community of Watson Lake. It is by diesel generation. Iíve already touched on all the points and the possibilities in regard to cogeneration. Although I donít rule out the fact that there may be people in the private sector and others talking about options and possibilities, the government today is still working on areas like forest management planning, long-term tenure, the merits of cogeneration using the residual from the harvesting and the manufacture of a wood product in the forest sector. Iím not sure how we can continue this debate because everything is status quo today in Watson Lake as far as the production of electricity, although it would be nice at some point in the future, given the environmental impact of burning fossil fuel to produce electricity, to find a more environmentally friendly source of electricity for the community. Thatís why cogeneration is something thatís on the table.
The Kaska Nation has a great role to play in this regard because they too could realize, should there be a development of alternative energy sources in their traditional territory, a tremendous benefit, not only in own-source revenue should the development occur, but in providing a cleaner source of energy production for the southeast Yukon and that would be in their traditional territory.
Maybe the member wants to engage in detail on what cogeneration is all about. In this regard, we also have a minister responsible who has a lot of that detail because the minister will have an official with him who has probably looked into some areas of cogeneration.
I have a Department of Finance official with me, who, unless the official knows anything about cogeneration, cannot provide much advice to me in this area. All I can do for the Member for Kluane is express to him my own experiences in this area, which are limited to some degree. But I have an understanding of how it works, what the residual from the production of a wood product is. What does that mean in terms of a plant being constructed? I pointed out that we need a lot of the gaps filled in in long-term tenure and what that volume is. How many megawatts are we dealing with? Is this going to be an isolated source of energy simply for a mill, or can it produce enough energy to also provide electricity to the community itself? We have the aspect of district heating that goes with this type of energy. I think itís important at this juncture to point out that even with the diesel production today, we are using waste heat from the exhaust of the diesel production in the community of Watson Lake to heat the high school and a large recreation complex ó very efficiently, by the way, Mr. Chair.
There is an example of an alternative source that is being utilized in the community of Watson Lake.
By the way, Mr. Chair, that whole initiative was something that the community took the lead in, which I think is another example of the strength and the will of the community of Watson Lake and its citizens.
The Member for Kluane seems quite bored so maybe itís because I have this lack of detail for the member. So weíll get the minister up when the member wishes to move along in general debate and weíll take it from there.
Mr. McRobb: I would invite the Premier to listen up a little harder to the questions being asked, and then we would be able to perhaps move along a little more efficiently in this discussion. I didnít ask him for a bunch of detail regarding cogeneration plants or much of the other rhetoric he decided to stand up and give. Basically, the response I was looking for was contained in the first half minute of his 10-minute speech.
My next question is just as simple: whatís being investigated in terms of a transmission line connecting Watson Lake to the main Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro grid, or is he looking at other alternatives such as connecting it to the south, or whatever?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thatís a question that should be directed to the minister responsible for energy in the Yukon Territory.
Mr. McRobb: That would be fine if that opportunity presented itself, but there wonít be any such opportunity. Thatís why Iím asking the Premier.
This is general debate. Obviously, the Premier doesnít want to reveal the inner workings of his government regarding transmission lines. Letís go to something he did talk about just a couple minutes ago. He mentioned the governments in discussion with Champagne and Aishihik First Nations regarding forest management planning and perhaps cogeneration in the beetle-kill area. This is something the chief of that First Nation mentioned in the media as a possibility about two months ago. Can the minister give us an update on where this is at? Does this supplementary budget contain any funds for a study of a cogeneration plant as indicated by the chief? Is there anything in the supplementary budget at all in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, frankly, the Member for Kluane, in expressing his opinion about not listening to questions ó you know, itís unfortunate, because this side of the House is trying to provide as much detail as possible in general debate. The problem with general debate is that in many cases there is not a lot of detail that can be provided. I gave one example. I have an official from Finance here, not from the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. I guess that is a distinction the member missed.
As far as the comments that weíre hiding something about a transmission line and hooking it into the grid, I have no idea how the Member for Kluane is coming up with that. Maybe itís part of that story weíre talking about and the chapter has yet to be written.
Furthermore, the discussion and planning with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations began some time ago. The member knows full well that he opposed the $250,000 investment to do the study in the beetle-kill area that the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources brought forward. Initially the Member for Kluane has been opposed to it. Now Iím sensing from the interest heís expressing that he may be changing his mind because he recognizes the merits and value of doing such work in his community, considering the tremendous risk the community faces.
But the member will have to go a long way to convince his constituents that he has a concern of the risk theyíre in, considering that he has opposed all work to date in regard to finding ways to reduce that risk and, indeed, along with reducing the risk, finding some economic benefit from what it is we do.
We are at a stage with the forest management planning exercise that would be defined as nearing its end and we will then, once completed, have the plan ready to be disseminated in the public and indeed implemented. But I think, again, it shows clearly the contradiction with the members opposite. On the one hand, the members stand on the floor of the Legislature proclaiming constantly that the government doesnít work with First Nations, but now the Member for Kluane has this deep interest in an area where we are working with the First Nation.
That brings to mind a question for the member opposite: is the member opposite concerned or wanting to engage with the government on forest management planning in the southwest Yukon? If the member is, then the best thing to do is engage with the minister responsible, and it doesnít necessarily have to be in the Legislative Assembly. The member can, on behalf of his constituents, write to the minister and ask questions about this issue.
I point that out because the minister responsible has been doing a tremendous amount of work in this area on behalf of the community that the Member for Kluane represents ó I should say, on behalf of the riding. The minister has been a leader in addressing this issue; yet the opposition has chosen to basically turn their backs on that work and not support it.
We can make sure through the ministerís office that the detail that may be required could be provided to the member opposite. As I said, it doesnít have to be in the Legislative Assembly. The member is very capable of corresponding and I would urge him to do so because there are good things happening in his riding. I think he is missing them and thatís too bad, because itís for the benefit of his constituents.
We recognize the needs here and the government is working on it, and I think now the Member for Kluane is beginning to get the picture and is also beginning to recognize that there are issues and that what the government is doing is the most logical course to take and indeed the correct course to take.
I think I can say that the government is quite encouraged now by the member showing signs of being interested in what is happening in his riding and asking a question of this nature. I think the member should continue on and should contact the minister or the ministerís office by whatever option he may choose: correspondence or even phone.†
He could then ask the minister about all the good things that the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is doing in regard to this forest management planning exercise.
Chair: Order please. We have reached our normal time for recess.
Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
We will continue on with Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05, in general debate.
Mr. McRobb: Well, itís unfortunate that the Premier wonít be able to hear my response, because in typical fashion he unloaded a wagon full of political rhetoric and then obviously found something better to do.
The first thing I wanted to point out to him, if he can hear me, is he is reading far too much into the question. There is a paranoia factor at play here, and itís not only evident this afternoon, itís evident in recent radio reports and interviews and in a number of other places.
I wish him all the best and a speedy recovery, Mr. Chair. Otherwise, maybe people listening to him in Houston, Texas, will be subject to the same type of display. We wouldnít want to give the Yukon a bad name internationally, as this Yukon Party has already done on a national basis.
Now, Mr. Chair, he went on to some political analysis about me and the riding I represent and so on and so forth in response to a very simple question about a particular project. I would submit that that type of behaviour is inappropriate and uncalled for. I havenít heard anybody in here doing it to him. Obviously he is very testy and ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, pursuant to Standing Order 19(g), the member opposite is imputing false or unavowed motives to another member. This is not related to the supplementary budget debate whatsoever. This is a member expressing his own opinions totally unrelated to what weíre here to debate today.
Chair: There is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb: You know, it really is something to see this type of performance out of this government where the Premier unloads, goes way over the line, unloads a bunch of rhetoric and then puts up his second in command to respond. Whereís the courage from this government? Itís like a hit-and-run government. They donít ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane is in contravention of Standing Order 19(i) by using abusive or insulting language. Using the term of a very serious crime, like a hit and run, to refer to this government is not appropriate and I would ask you to call him on that.
Chair: There is no point of order here. I would ask all members to remember the decorum of the Assembly, to follow our Standing Orders and to follow our practices, which also include not drawing attention to the fact that certain members are not in the Assembly.
Mr. McRobb: Right on, Mr. Chair.
We should observe the rules of decorum in this Assembly. We count on the Premier for being a role model. Unfortunately itís not a very good model and not everybody would want to follow it.
We know he had more urgent things to do, like bid on his Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich, but I want to bring this back to ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Point of order. There are two sections of Standing Order 19 being breached here. They have been contravened here. One is that he has identified a member being absent from the Legislature and, two, heís imputing false or unavowed motives to another member.
Chair: Order please. I would like to take this moment to remind members that the matter before Committee currently is Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05. While we are in general debate, and there is generally a significant amount of latitude given to that debate, I would encourage all members to direct their comments toward the bill before us. There is no point of order. Please continue debate on the bill.
Mr. McRobb: I think we spent enough time trying to respond to what the Premier said. There were a number of other things he said, but weíll deal with them perhaps in another way. Also, maybe we can avoid these frivolous interruptions from the side opposite. I asked ó
Chair: As the member is well aware, itís well within membersí rights and responsibilities to raise points of order in this Assembly, and I would ask members not to characterize them as frivolous. We must respect the honour and integrity of all members and recognize, I would expect, that a member would not be acting in such a manner in this Assembly.
Could we please continue debate on the Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05?
Mr. McRobb: So, Mr. Chair, is the Acting Premier prepared to respond to the question I asked, which was: does this supplementary budget contain any funds designated toward a cogeneration plant for the beetle-kill wood in the Haines Junction area? The Premier did not answer that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Obviously the government is not prepared to answer any type of question. Weíre having to deal with the Acting Premier, the Deputy Premier, who is also House leader, and trying to ó and I will be mindful of the House rules. Itís a very difficult constraint for me to have to deal with yet describe what weíre going through trying to get answers. Maybe itís best left unsaid. It doesnít need to be said anyway. Right on.
Well, itís probably pointless trying to get information from the member opposite in general debate. I guess we have no alternative but to proceed to the next stage.
Chair: Is there any other general debate?
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Deputy Premier. What status are we at on the loans collections?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: We have a Deputy Premier in the room here. He is obviously here to speak on Finance. He supposedly is known for his willingness to answer any questions that we propose in the Legislature, so then I also would expect that he would be quite willing to tell us what the status is of collecting the loans that are outstanding that weíve been discussing for the last two years.
I have waited with bated breath for quite a long time to hear the Deputy Premier speak on this, so I will give him another opportunity to.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Letís look at some of the wonderful initiatives under the health care funding in 2004, specifically for the territories. The $6.67 million per year provided to the Yukon under the northern health supplementary funding agreement will be extended for another three years starting in 2006-07. The federal budget announced the intention to make this annual funding supplement ongoing but this will be subject to future federal budget approvals.
The territorial expenditure basis through the three territorial formula financing agreements will be increased through the provision of $150 million over five years to allow each territory to target its priorities, which may be in the area of health or other initiatives.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, on a point of order, if we are adjourning the general debate on ó my understanding from House leadersí this morning is that we would conclude the general debate on Bill No. 12 and move into line-by-line in the departments. It would appear that the minister is responding in the supplementary debate on the Health department.
I am certainly prepared to move into line-by-line debate in the departments. If we are moving into Health, letís do that. But reading what the health expenditures are is not general debate.
Chair: There is no point of order. Is there any further general debate? We will then proceed with line-by-line. The Chair seeks some direction as to which vote we will look at first.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: At this juncture, given the appetite of the official opposition and the third party to move forward, we will have to line up our officials and I would respectfully request a few minutes, a brief adjournment, to line up the appropriate speaking notes and officials for the line-by-line. At this late time in the day, we will have to advise you as to what department weíll be heading into. But we can start with Health.
Chair: Do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a brief recess.
Chair: Order please. Weíll continue on with Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05. Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, is the matter for general debate.
Department of Health and Social Services †
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Department of Health and Social Services is requesting a supplementary amount of $8,424,000 on the O&M side. Iím sure, at the end of the day, the opposition parties will be voting against this very worthwhile expenditure. A significant amount of this is volume and price increases. There is an increase in hospital claims costs and there have also been increases in the new agreement with our doctors that weíre very proud of, and weíre pleased that we could come to an arrangement with the medical institution here in the Yukon.
Some of the costs, some of this $8.4 million, are due to the increases in those areas.
The other major increase is in the area of increase in social assistance costs. There has also been an increase in home care, increase in the volume of children in care, as well as an increase in the complexity of care in specific cases. Costs to operate the residential childrenís homes have also increased, and there is also a series of small increases, which will be covered off when we get into the specifics in the line-by-line.
We have had some recoveries. The increases have been offset by recoveries and most of those recoverables are from DIAND and the alcohol and drug survey. That cost is $150,000. That is recoverable. There is also a $147,000 tobacco control program that is fully recoverable from Health Canada.
The capital increases are some $826,000, and that is recoverable from Infoway and from the diagnostic medical equipment fund. The majority of increases are a result of revotes. New items include capital costs to open seven new beds at Macaulay Lodge and 12 new beds at Copper Ridge.
It has taken us time on the recruitment side to fully staff these lodges, and the timelines that we originally envisioned were exceeded because of the difficulty in staffing, but Iím pleased to advise that both these facilities ó the seven beds at Macaulay Lodge and the 12 new beds at Copper Ridge ó are now available. Many of them were filled.
There have also been decreases as a result of delayed construction of a new group home in 2005-06.
There was an increase in childrenís residential services. There was an overall 9.2-percent increase in the volume of children in care over the previous years. That equates to almost 6,000 bed days. The results are more positions and an increase in auxiliary staff and overtime during periods of staff shortages. There was also an additional cost and increase to daycare, respite, clothing and foster care payments, which resulted from the additional children in residential services.
We have also seen an increase in reciprocal hospital costs due to both an increase in the number of days and in higher patient per diem. We have seen an increase in the fees levied from our neighbouring jurisdiction to the south where, when medical procedures canít be performed here in Yukon, patients are transferred to British Columbia or Alberta, and costs for the related services in those respective jurisdictions have increased. I believe the numbers last fiscal year were 184 operations that could not be performed here in the Yukon and were done outside of Yukon. Thatís just one facet, but the costs for everything and all the services for health care provided to Yukoners have gone up across the board.
This is keeping in line with the $7 million to $10 million that has been a traditional trajectory of increased spending. But what is allowing us to expand a number of our programs into areas has been the additional funding ó due to the hard work of our Premier, he was able to obtain commitments from the federal government in a number of areas for additional funding for health care. That is translated into our government being able to provide better services in a number of areas and meet some of our targets.
Some of the very positive initiatives that we have moved forward on have been in the area of daycare. There has been a tremendous effort put forward by the working group. Representatives all of the day homes and daycares across the Yukon came together and assembled a four-year plan. That four-year plan has been implemented and the initial phase was to pay the direct operating grant, the DOG, based on set-up spaces, not on occupied spaces. This has provided a higher level of certainty to the financial operations of these group homes. After we get into dealing with a number of these initiatives and moving forward, weíre very, very hopeful that the recent federal announcement of new money for daycare from the hon. minister, Mr. Dryden, will translate itself into us here in the Yukon being able to determine with the Childcare Association, the daycare association and the day home operators, a way of flowing that money into daycare here in the Yukon to benefit all.
We are looking forward to further meetings in this area as soon as we determine with the federal government how much money we have in this envelope. As usual, the federal Liberal government has made a big announcement ó itís in the billions ó but if it translates on a per capita basis to what it is historically translated into, weíre kind of concerned. So what we have been lobbying for as a government in this area is money on a base plus per capita, not just on a per capita, arrangement.
On a per capital arrangement, the last time we saw millions flowing into this area, the first-year funding for the Yukon translated into $23,000, and $23,000 doesnít go very far in any of our department initiatives, especially in daycare, given the wonderful work that the workers in this field do.
Mr. Chair, we are cognizant of our role at the FPT meetings with the federal ministers on these areas. We have to do a good job, and our compliments go to the Premier for the wonderful role he has played in bringing more funding and some certainty surrounding funding to the Yukon, which has translated into more dollars for health care and an improvement and enhancement of many of the systems.
Where weíre hoping to concentrate more initiatives is on the healthy living side of the equation. We have a number of initiatives currently underway contained within this budget envelope that we hope will accomplish something in this area. Itís a tough, uphill slide when the demands on the acute care side are always increasing and ever-looming and ever-growing to single out funding and get money into the issue of healthy living.
With that said, Mr. Chair, we can stand proud of some of the areas that we have been able to address, and I would be happy to outline them for the member oppositeís careful consideration, given his tremendous knowledge and understanding of the issues surrounding healthy living and proper diet and proper exercise and a whole series of initiatives in this area. This is one area that needs a great deal more attention and a great deal more dedication from the department and from all of us. I know that we all look favourably on the moving of some funds into this area, and Iím sure at the end of the day the Member for Kluane will support this supplementary budget, given its tremendous emphasis on healthy living and augmenting funding for a number of very worthwhile areas, Mr. Chair ó those worthwhile areas that the member opposite has identified and I know supports fully. We will look forward, at the conclusion of line-by-line of this supplementary, to the support of the members opposite, especially the critic for Health and Social Services, the Member for Kluane.
Mr. Chair, some of the Yukon initiatives assist in addressing one of the other areas: child poverty. Our government is proud to outline the healthy families initiative, which is a 1.062 program. We also have earmarked and targeted funding for the kids recreation fund ó some $60,000; the childrenís drug and optical program, which is designed to assist low-income families with the cost of prescription drugs and eye care for children up to 18 years of age. There is another $20,000 earmarked in that area.
Also, another program that weíre very proud of, and it is having benefits in virtually all the schools, is our food for learning. This program provides funds to assist schools in providing nutritional programs such as breakfast, lunch or snacks for students who sometimes come to school hungry through no fault of their own, but it does provide a base of nutritional food programs in the school.
Then one of the initiatives of this government was enhancing the Yukon child benefit. In 2002-03, that amounted to some $218,000. Thatís contained in the main and that is a budget that the official opposition and the third party voted against. In this supplementary that we have before us here, weíre probably going to earmark additional funds for a number of these areas through some of the initiatives we have before us. But the Yukon child benefit is an initiative designed to ensure that Yukon families on SA and working families with low incomes receive financial support to help with the cost of raising children. Yukon families in receipt of the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement are automatically considered for the Yukon child benefit.
One of the other initiatives that our government is proud of is the initiative with respect to social housing and the change that was made under our watch to not include for income purposes the funding for children that is provided from one spouse to the other or from one guardian to another for child support. That is no longer included in the calculation of the rent while in social housing. That is another initiative that weíre hopeful will see benefits for a large number of Yukon families.
Now, given that the member opposite, I am sure, wants to get into debate and into the substance of this Health and Social Services budget, I would be very pleased to entertain questions in line-by-line on any of this area.
Mr. McRobb: The member is right in one aspect: we do have questions. Hopefully the member will be prepared to respond with some answers this time around.
Weíve heard a couple of speeches from this Health minister lately and he doesnít seem to acknowledge all the extra funds that this government has been blessed with, thanks to the generosity of the federal government. Instead, this minister tries to take credit for the extra funds himself. Just the other day he said that extra funds that have allowed for some additional funding in some areas were due to departmental efficiencies. I want him to explain; letís hear some detail. What are those departmental efficiencies that he referred to?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me qualify for the member opposite, and the question he should have asked is: how was this money recovered or received from Canada? It was because of the hard work of the officials in the Department of Finance, the statistics branch and the careful and capable negotiation of the Premier, the current Premier of the Yukon, who made the case in Ottawa under the previous Prime Minister of Canada and under the now Prime Minister of Canada.
Itís an ongoing series of negotiations, but the first step that we as a government took was to put the financial house of Yukon in order. A number of steps were taken and a number of funds were collapsed to get a handle on where we were. We went to full accrual accounting and a number of other steps were taken by us as a government to ensure that we had a handle on the finances of the Yukon.
We were then able to move forward and target the areas that needed targeting and provide additional funds in those areas. Thatís exactly what happened and Iím happy to have qualified that for the member opposite and answered his question in the manner it should have been asked.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is off to a rather poor start because he failed to answer the question. The question was pretty simple and straightforward. Why didnít he answer it? I donít know. Maybe there is no answer, but we all heard how the minister reconstructed the question to meet his own level of satisfaction and then answered his question, not mine.
I want to ask him again the very simple question: can the minister identify the areas where the efficiencies were gained?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Once more for the record, Mr. Chair, the member opposite should have asked the question: what and how did this government accomplish what it accomplished? It was through the efforts and hard work of officials in the Department of Finance and in the stats branch and the capable negotiations of our Premier in dealing with the previous Prime Minister of Canada and the current Prime Minister as well as collapsing a number of funds in the Yukon and getting a handle on our fiscal position.
But we are committed to providing the highest possible level of service we can provide for the citizens of our territory. But in order to do that, we had to have a firm handle on the fiscal affairs of Yukon and we have achieved that.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, for some reason this minister isnít prepared to answer our questions. Maybe he wants to develop his own list of questions and answer them. That way he can stay within his own message box, or whatever.
In order for this minister to be accountable in the Legislature, he must answer our questions.
The minister alluded to the efforts and hard work of officials. We can agree on that. There is a lot of good effort and hard work by officials in order to extract from the federal government the additional monies. We know that, and we in the official opposition appreciate those efforts and that hard work from the officials. But we have to draw the line right about there. The Premier doesnít deserve much credit. After all, going to a Grey Cup game with the now Prime Minister ó how fruitful can that be? And thatís all he did.
So letís be reasonable and dispense with the political rhetoric and the back-patting type of answers and the reconstructing question approach and simply respond to the question.
Iím going to repeat it again. The minister made a big deal out of the efficiencies that he deserves credit for in his department. We in the official opposition would like him to identify for us what those efficiencies are, and we ask him again. Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, let me correct the record. This minister did not allude to the hard work of the officials and the Department of Finance and the stats branch. He stated categorically it was through the hard work and efforts of the officials in the Department of Finance and the stats branch along with the capable negotiating strategy of the Premier of the Yukon with the previous Prime Minister of Canada and the current Prime Minister of Canada that we are in part in the financial position that we are in. But there were a lot of initiatives in-house that were undertaken and overseen. Full accrual accounting and understanding of the issue so we donít have to keep two sets of records ó we only keep one now. And the Auditor General has duly recognized the appropriateness of our current record keeping. The audit for the last fiscal period is not a qualified audit like it has been for a great number of years under the Liberals and under the previous NDP governments.
That is the way it is today. There is an audit that is unqualified. This is the way the Auditor General currently looks on the Yukon under our watch.
Mr. McRobb: This is rather hard to believe. The minister stands up and says that the efficiencies that he was so proud of last week really only amount to a change in the method of accounting, for which the Finance department has taken to full accrual accounting. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. This is rather embarrassing. If thatís the only substance behind all the credit the minister was taking last week in his self-appraisal, then itís rather hollow.
I want to follow up a bit on the efficiency because I think there might be a bit more to it. There must be. Can the minister indicate if he has streamlined the department at all to discover any savings in operation and maintenance costs? Has he done anything at all to gain efficiency in the departmentís operating costs?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Weíre constantly striving for efficiencies in those areas. Itís an ongoing, in-house way of looking, but when youíre looking at the lease arrangements on specific buildings ó which is X amount per square foot, triple net, some of the highest rates paid anywhere in the Yukon ó the drivers are hard to identify to effect any cost savings. Thatís just with respect to office space.
Some of the other areas that weíre involved in where we see an ever-escalating cost is in the area of our wage and benefit package across the board. We have a new four-year collective agreement that will provide labour certainty, and people wonít have to worry about the next round of negotiations with respect to their wage and benefit package. We have some labour certainty also. We know the cost every year of the increases.
Across the board, we have increased costs, by and large. If you want to look at the area of our Copper Ridge Place, we have opened 12 additional beds. The majority of the costs associated with opening those 12 additional beds are associated with labour costs. If you want to look at Macaulay Lodge, the opening up of the seven additional beds in that area are mostly attributable to labour costs, additional staffing required to meet the needs of those in the lodge.
There is a standard of care that we conform to here in the Yukon that is determined as to the level of staffing components per resident in these facilities. That is always being monitored with an eye to providing, as I said earlier, the highest possible level of care in these facilities.
We are the same as any other jurisdiction when we get into health care professionals. Health care professionals are a very, very specialized field, and we have an ongoing recruitment of health care professionals across the board.
Under our watch there is optimism in the Yukon. The economy is growing; investor confidence is being restored; people are choosing to move to the Yukon because of the very good standard of living that exists here. Thereís a very high standard of living we enjoy in the Yukon and one only has to compare the government programs in neighbouring jurisdictions to what we have here in the Yukon to understand that there are many benefits that we enjoy here that others in Canada do not enjoy to the same level. Thatís because of good government, good leadership, and excellent staffing across the board.
Mr. Chair, I could go on at great length and outline for the member opposite the areas in which our government has enhanced programs. I dealt with one earlier, and that was in the area of daycare and day homes. As soon as more federal money is available to us, that will be flowing through to that area under the overall guidance of the working group.
Mr. Chair, it goes on and on.
Our government has been able to negotiate with the health authorities in our neighbouring jurisdictions for access to health services. That comes from an understanding of the systems in our neighbouring jurisdictions. We donít really jump the queue, but we have timely access to the health care needs that cannot be provided in what is probably one of Canadaís best small hospitals ó the Whitehorse General Hospital.
It is run by Yukon Hospital Corporation Board, which in itself is a very capable entity, and it bodes well for the quality of the health care professionals that the Yukon has attracted and retained here because of a number of things: the standard of living, enjoyment here in the Yukon. Itís not just about the money, but money has to be a major component in the equation, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite went on at great length about how the only area we brought forward was full accrual accounting, and I donít really want to get into that because the member would next be requesting a briefing so that he can understand the basis of full accrual accounting.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As the member opposite is chirping across the floor, that has been rejected by this side.
I commit to obtaining the calendar of programs from Yukon College and would encourage the member opposite and his colleagues to take one of the basic accounting courses so that he can gain an insight and an understanding of the principles of general accounting practice and the basis for full accrual accounting. It will bode well in this Legislature ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Point of order. I believe itís against the House rules to use such language thatís likely to instigate an argument and, if the member keeps going on, itís likely to go much further than that. Besides, weíre not all as fortunate as him. We all know where he got his higher education, aka a pilotís licence, and we donít want to go there.
Chair: Mr. Hart, please.
Hon. Mr. Hart: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, there is no point of order. Itís merely a dispute among members.
Chair: I concur. Itís a dispute among members. If an argument was out of order in this Assembly, we might as well all go home.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím not here to provoke argument. I am here to offer a sensible logical overview of the finances of the Department of Health and Social Services, as contained in this supplementary budget. But there has to be an attitude that is conducive to understanding this area by the official opposition and the third party. Now I know the third party has a background in the accounting field and probably understands a balance sheet.
But we still do have some problems with the official opposition and their need to partake in some of the courses at Yukon College to grow their skills so that they can understand the basis and the fundamentals of general accounting principles, Mr. Chair.
Let me get into another area in the Health and Social Services operation and maintenance expenditures in this $8,424,000 supplementary. I donít know why weíre going to spend as much time debating it as we are, but given that the official opposition and probably the third party will be voting against it, once again ó all the good positive initiatives that are coming forward out of the Department of Health and Social Services ó it seems like an exercise that is sometimes not worthwhile.
I guess itís hard and I guess the expression goes that itís hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I havenít had that problem with my Schipperkes and sheís getting up in years. Sheís 15 now and sheís still full of vigour. It must be the prescription medicine sheís on. She still is able to glean new tricks.
Some of the other initiatives that this supplementary budget will cover off: weíre looking at extending vaccinations to students in their senior years of high school. The program is going to be expanded and the department is undertaking putting together a brochure that will outline for those who are going on to post-secondary education outside of the Yukon what the health care system will and can provide to them.
†This is meaningful for some of our pages who are with us today and will be going on to post-secondary education in probably another Canadian jurisdictions or maybe Yukon College. But if itís outside the Yukon, there is a need and that need is going to be met by the Department of Health and Social Services to assemble a brochure. I am sure it will be in place for the next calendar year, which starts ó the member opposite has his hand up. He must want to leave the room. Mr. Chair, I think we can get concurrence on that.
Mr. Chair, this brochure will be extremely meaningful, in that it will allow the parents and the students to assess what is available here in the Yukon, what vaccinations may be available to them ó free of charge, I might add, and some at charge ó and what additional insurance may be undertaken or required in Canadian jurisdictions.
There are students who will be studying in foreign countries. There is the potential for that, and thatís what I was referring to when I said there are some vaccinations and medications that are required for travel in foreign countries. So across the board, our Department of Health and Social Services is looking after the needs of all on the acute care side. We are enhancing, as funds become available, the other areas. Weíre going to have a very concentrated look at healthy living and healthy families and diets.
Seeing the time, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Committee now report progress on Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: 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 we have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 12, Second Appropriation Act, 2004-05, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:56 p.m.
The following document was filed November 25, 2004:
Western College of Veterinary Medicine, letter (dated November 25, 2004) from Todd Hardy, Leader of the Official Opposition, to Hon. Jim Kenyon re securing a seat for student† (Hardy)