Wednesday, April 6, 2005 — 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling today a detailed, comprehensive breakdown of all capital investment in this year’s budget to assist the opposition in debating the budget.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling a letter that sets out the preference of the official opposition to limit the sitting days to 32 days.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have a document for tabling, a letter to the Hon. Ted Staffen, Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, regarding section 75 of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly governing the length of each sitting, indicating the preference is for 32 days.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Minister of Finance to honour his responsibility to Yukon taxpayers and his sworn oath to faithfully discharge the responsibilities of his office to the best of his ability by being personally present in the Assembly at all times when general debate on this budget is taking place and by providing forthright and helpful answers that will assist opposition members in their legitimate role of scrutinizing government expenditures on behalf of all Yukon people.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House
THAT this House must uphold proper standards of decorum and work to reduce the growing trend among members of the government side of the Legislative Assembly in the early days of the spring 2005 sitting to employ insensitive figures of speech that cause offence to identifiable groups of people, such as the terms “beating his drum on First Nations relationships”, “jobs for the last survivors of the holocaust” and “rule of thumb”; and
THAT this House urges all members to cease and desist from using language that causes discomfort to Yukon people and brings the Yukon Legislative Assembly into disrepute.
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to rescind policy 3.58 of the General Administration Manual (Emergency Firefighters terms and conditions), which is discriminatory and does not recognize the fundamental principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
Speaker: Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Land claims, outstanding
Mr. Hardy: I’d like to pursue a matter I raised yesterday with the Premier. The settlement of land claims and self-government agreements has been a priority for Yukon governments of all stripes for many, many years. The Yukon has been well ahead of other Canadian jurisdictions when it comes to negotiating agreements with First Nations. Now the federal government has said that there won’t be any more land claims negotiations with the Yukon’s First Nations; time has run out.
What steps did the Premier take to try to convince the Government of Canada to extend its negotiating mandate for Yukon First Nation land claims?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I pointed out yesterday, the decision by the federal government to end the mandate for negotiating land claims in the Yukon — and I may have misspoke myself as it was actually back in 2002. I believe the end date, with an extension provided to the Kaska, was June. Since then the federal government has had no mandate to negotiate further the land claims in the Yukon.
Our position has always been to conclude all claims, but the federal government also needs to make the decision on how they wish to go forward. At this point in time, the decision is clear. In the Kaska case, the federal government also has a policy not to negotiate while there’s litigation in place. So far, there has been no resolution to the issue of litigation between the Kaska Nation and Canada.
Mr. Hardy: This is starting to have a very familiar ring to it. It sounds very much like the Premier’s passive stance on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge issue. The Premier will go to almost any lengths, anywhere, and do almost anything to court the oil and gas industry. But when it comes to something that is critical to the Yukon’s future, such as settling outstanding land claims, he doesn’t demonstrate anything like the same vigour. In fact, it could be argued that the Premier makes things worse by signing bilateral agreements that snub the federal government, and may well have delayed the land claims process even further.
Will the Premier table any correspondence he had with the Prime Minister or the Minister of Indian Affairs, or even a list of meetings in which he urged the federal government not to abandon its negotiating mandate until agreements were reached with the two Kaska First Nations and the White River First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It’s a strange position that the official opposition is taking. With respect to agreements we have signed, we have signed many agreements with First Nations, not only a bilateral agreement with the Kaska but a consultation protocol, an economic development agreement in north Yukon, a protocol with the Vuntut Gwitchin — and the list goes on.
Under this government’s watch, even with all these agreements that we’ve entered into with First Nations building a better relationship between governments, we have witnessed the conclusion and signing of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation land claim and we have witnessed the Carcross-Tagish First Nation proceed toward a second ratification vote. I think that speaks volumes about how important the land claim issue is to this government. It’s the highest priority and our efforts and the evidence before us is testimony to how much importance we place on it.
Mr. Hardy: Well, if I listened to the Premier any longer, I’m going to get the impression that he believes that all these bilateral agreements, all these MOUs that he has signed, are a better substitute for land claims, because that seems to be what he is indicating, which is a very interesting position for any premier to be taking.
What I’m concerned about is that he doesn’t seem to realize that the train has left the station on this matter. The federal government isn’t willing to negotiate Yukon First Nation land claims any more. That means they’ll be shifting their focus to settling land claims in other parts of Canada. They’ve made that very clear. The Premier might have been able to prevent this, Mr. Speaker. Previous premiers have done exactly that by stepping up and persuading the federal government, or the federal minister, to extend the negotiating deadlines.
Now, will the Premier make a commitment right now to pick up the phone and call the Prime Minister to tell him how important it is for Yukon’s future to get the remaining land claims settled and ask him to extend the minister’s negotiating mandate until that happens? Will the Premier do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the member opposite, the leader of the official opposition, is missing something here. The land claims negotiations for Yukon ended in 2002. All the claims have been negotiated, including White River and the Kaska Nation. The issue now is decisions being made by respective First Nations on whether they’re going to go forward with the claims that have been negotiated.
In this case, under our watch, the Kluane First Nation, based on their MOU in 2002, has finalized and ratified. The Kwanlin Dun First Nation has finalized and ratified. We’re experiencing now Carcross-Tagish First Nation’s second ratification process to finalize their claim. As far as the Kaska Nation, they did not sign an MOU; the claim as negotiated sits on the table. The federal government, however, will not enter into any discussions while there’s litigation against them in place.
So this government has done its job. Now our focus is implementing the land claims so that we can realize the very spirit and intent of the land claims themselves for the benefit of all Yukoners. We are certainly addressing those areas, and I can tell you there is much evidence that shows that we are getting results.
Question re: Education reform
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, yesterday in the House, we were presented with a vague concept called “education reform,” with a hefty price tag. Neither the Minister of Education nor the Premier can tell us what the education reform process is. So how does the Premier see education reform being adapted to meet the needs of First Nation education?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I believe the government has stated previously that the education reform process is somewhat modeled after the Children’s Act review. Again, Mr. Speaker, this is a process wherein all stakeholders in the territory, especially First Nations, will have the opportunity to have involvement in how best to look at the education system in the Yukon Territory and how to best meet the needs of all Yukoners.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I’m responding to the Premier’s words on the bottom of page 27 in his budget speech. On March 10 of this year, the Chief of Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation sent a letter to the Premier discussing the proposed construction of the Tantalus School in Carmacks. The letter emphasized that the First Nation has decided to pursue its right to draw down education. The chief clearly says in his letter, “We would not want to take over the new school in its proposed location.” It is a warning that proceeding with construction might mean two schools in Carmacks. The Premier insisted yesterday that he is going ahead with plans to build a school and that education reform is supposed to be the solution to the problems of First Nation education.
Why is the Premier ignoring the chief’s direct advice and giving this vague plan for education reform priority over the implementation of Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation’s self-government agreement?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It’s important that I assist the Member for Mayo-Tatchun to understand exactly what’s going on. We have an obligation as a government, should a First Nation give us formal notice as a government that they wish to negotiate a program and services transfer agreement, or PSTA — in this case, with the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, it is around education. We have an obligation to negotiate that; so does the federal government. So at the earliest possible opportunity, the Yukon government, the federal government and the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation government will enter into negotiations on education and the PSTA therein.
However, as a government, we also have a responsibility to the public education system. There is a demonstrated need in the community of Carmacks for a new school. We are going to build a new school.
Lastly, educational reform is an initiative to improve the education system for all Yukoners, and it’s a commitment to Yukon First Nations to make our education system more reflective and recognize more First Nation culture and language. There are a number of initiatives already at work to address that, whether it be curriculum change, First Voices, or other language investments.
Mr. Speaker, we are living up to all our obligations and commitments through whatever initiative we implement.
Mr. Fairclough: It’s clear that the Premier is also ignoring the First Nations’ direct advice on the matter of drawing down education.
This government can certainly provide education to all its citizens, but we are facing new challenges in implementing land claims and self-government agreements. We don’t see this government meeting those challenges. Instead, they are hiding behind yet another so-called consultation. The Premier is undermining the self-government agreements and stalling on implementation.
Is it the Premier’s position that building the school in Carmacks will predetermine the outcome of negotiations for a drawdown of education and set a precedent for other implementation negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The only important point in the member’s question is whether this government is carrying through with its obligations for implementing land claims. Let’s start listing where those commitments are actually being delivered: the establishment of the boundaries of Fishing Branch and the implementation of the management plan, done by this government — living up to our obligation; the establishment of Tombstone Park by order-in-council — living up to our obligation under the land claim; the signing of the consultation protocol — living up to our obligation under the land claim; entering into a capital arrangement and protocol with the Government of the Vuntut Gwitchin — another example of us, the Government of Yukon, living up to our obligation; committing directly, through a capital project in the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, in a litany of areas, to their direct participation in the building of the bridge in Dawson City, which is something that is unique in procurement processes to the Yukon government — again living up to our obligation in implementing a land claim; negotiations of 17.7, education reform, Children’s Act review, correctional reform — all examples of living up to our obligations as a government under the land claims of this territory.
The difference is: we’re doing it, they’re talking about it.
Question re: Thomson Centre, future use
Ms. Duncan: The Yukon Party government is becoming known for an abysmal record on consultation. Just this week, the Minister of Education informed the House that consultation on extending kindergarten to full days took place in a bank lineup.
Mr. Speaker, last year I asked the Minister of Health and Social Services about the government’s plans for the Thomson Centre. The minister answered, and I quote: “We have no intention of placing seniors with mental health patients.”
The minister went on to say that a medical detox and a mental health wing for the Thomson Centre were being examined. Aside from the minister telling me at the time that he would accept my input, we’ve not seen any request by the minister or the Government of Yukon to solicit public input on the future of the Thomson Centre.
I’d like to ask this: when does the Minister of Health intend to consult with Yukoners about the future services to be provided by the Thomson Centre?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The government has an obligation to deliver a number of programs in a multitude of areas under the Health and Social Services umbrella. Currently underway is a mental health/medical detox unit that will be established in the existing Thomson Centre. Also contained in there will be a palliative care unit, the Red Cross and additional office spaces for visiting physicians, along with the current rehab unit.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the information from the minister opposite; however, what he has not outlined is: where is the public input into those services to be provided? Last year there was $500,000 located in the budget for continuing care. There were repairs and renovations to Macaulay Lodge, McDonald Lodge and Copper Ridge Place, and there was $2.7 million set aside for the Thomson Centre. There’s nothing more outlined in the budget for the Thomson Centre repairs. The budget also shows that Macaulay Lodge and Copper Ridge Place are full to capacity this year and that both have waiting lists. We’ve been told — the minister has outlined — that there is a physiotherapy clinic accessed by the elderly. Presumably that will continue in the Thomson Centre. Just who exactly is going to be located in the Thomson Centre medical detox/mental health facilities? Is the minister intending that we have high-level care, elderly patients, in the same facility as mental patients and medical detox?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let’s just back up a little here. When our government transitioned into power, the initiatives underway were to basically gut Macaulay Lodge and create a bed-sit environment for our seniors. The seniors approached our government and said, “We do not want coffin rooms over there.” That was an exact quote.
This took place under their watch, and there was supposed to be an expenditure of some $5 million on renovating Macaulay Lodge. That was under the Liberal watch. I took quite a bit of heat on that, Mr. Speaker. We shut down that process, and that lodge is being used for the purpose for which it was intended. It has been improved and enhanced, and there is still capacity present, as there is still capacity present in the Copper Ridge Place.
Let’s not try to rewrite history here, Mr. Speaker. Our government is addressing the issues head-on. The various lodges that are being used will continue to be used. There is still a 30-year life expectancy at Macaulay Lodge. It is an excellent structure, serving the purpose for which it was originally intended, in a manner for which it was intended.
Ms. Duncan: Let’s start by addressing the issues at hand. There is a desperate need for semi-assisted independent living for seniors, which was what the previous government was working toward with Macaulay Lodge, in consultation with seniors — something with respect to Macaulay Lodge that the minister has absolutely failed abysmally and backtracked as recently as his last answer.
His attitude toward seniors is evident, very clearly. The issue I am asking the minister about today, very specifically is: where is the public consultation on the future use of the Thomson Centre? Is it the minister’s intention to house palliative care or long-term care residents in the same facility as physiotherapy is offered to elderly as well as other Yukoners, as well as medical detox, as well as mental health? Are they all going to be housed in the Thomson Centre? When is the minister going to ask the public for their opinion?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, we are proud of the record that we have in addressing the issues of our seniors. We are proud of those facilities that we have in place and are expanding and improving on a constant basis. We have Copper Ridge Place and Macaulay Lodge that have been improved and enhanced. The staff complement has been increased. More pods have been opened. There is still capacity, Mr. Speaker.
Let us look at our record for our seniors. The pioneer utility grant increased by 25 percent and is indexed for inflation. Further to that, in this next cycle, in this heating season that is underway now, there is another 15-percent increase. Look at the multi-level care facilities that our government is committed to providing in the communities of Watson Lake and Dawson City. Mr. Speaker, we have nothing to be ashamed of here in this Legislature. We have an excellent record. The member opposite is just picking on straws, and there are none there left to be picked. We have addressed the issues across the full range, Mr. Speaker, and we will continue to do so.
Question re: Firefighter positions, pay and working conditions
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the acting minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. Yesterday, I asked the Minister of Community Services to do the right thing and ask Management Board to rescind the government-instituted policy that denies emergency firefighters the same rights as all other casual government employees.
The Minister of Community Services denied any responsibility for the situation and, once again, he blamed devolution. It is completely unacceptable for this government to hide behind the actions of the federal government on an issue of blatant discrimination. My question: does the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission recognize that policy 3.58 of the General Administration Manual is discriminatory and creates separate and unequal classes of casual employees?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated yesterday, emergency firefighters are engaged as casual personnel pursuant to the Public Service Act, and their terms and conditions are set out — as the member indicated — in policy 3.58.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, we’ve had a shuffle of acting ministers again. Mr. Speaker, the question was for the acting minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. He’s got some history of being responsible for the Public Service Commission, and he can’t even stand up and answer the question.
The right to equal pay for work of equal value is vital to our society, and the government policy on emergency firefighters discriminates by denying workers the right to overtime, the right to vacation pay, and the right to benefits — just like every other worker. They are the only class of worker — who’s next? What other class of employees are they going to create out there?
When I asked the Minister of Community Services the same question, he ignored it. Will the acting minister responsible for the Public Service Commission ensure that policy 3.58 is rescinded so that emergency firefighters are treated the same way as all other Yukon government casual employees?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I’ll just reiterate what I said earlier. We are following the outline and process as identified in policy 3.58. I will also state that we are paying the emergency firefighters one of the highest rates in Canada and the U.S., and we are very competitive on that rate. That is what we are looking at in that particular field. That rate is also higher than what was provided under devolution with the federal government.
Mr. Cardiff: It’s a violation of human rights to treat people this way. You have people working side by side, shoulder to shoulder in a dangerous situation — one person is making $8 or $10 an hour and the other one is making $18 or $20 an hour. They’re doing the same work and they should be paid the same wage.
The Minister of Community Services, after two years of denial, said he’s going to do something, that they’re going to review this. That would be heartening if we didn’t know the snail’s pace at which the Yukon Party government manages its reviews. Look at the Workers’ Compensation Act review; look at the Education Act review.
If the minister for the Public Service Commission refuses to deal with the discrimination that his government has created, will he at least assure the House that this year, before the firefighters go back to work — which isn’t going to be in the too distant future — the issue of compensation for emergency firefighters will be dealt with before the fire season starts?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I’ve stated earlier, we are reviewing the situation with Public Service Commission as far as compensation goes for emergency firefighters and we will continue to do so. We are also in the midst of waiting for our fire review from last season and, once we have that in our possession, we’ll look from there also.
Question re: Carmacks Copper, project champion
Mr. McRobb: I want to follow up on a question asked Monday to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, who is also responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation. He let two sole-source contracts last year to the same individual. One is for more than $24,000 to provide consulting and advisory services to the minister. The other is for $20,000 as project champion for the Carmacks Copper project.
Mr. Speaker, we were unable to get any information from this minister about these contracts when I questioned him previously. It raises questions about a conflict because this individual also happens to be Chair of the Yukon Development Corporation.
Can the minister advise this House whether he perceives these contracts to be in conflict with the person’s role as Chair of the Yukon Development Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Lang: A simple answer is no.
Mr. McRobb: One of the major issues with the Yukon public about this Yukon Party government is ethics, so because the minister doesn’t see a problem with a potential conflict, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. We would like to investigate and find out ourselves. The other day he denied us the terms of reference for either contract. I would like to ask him about the first contract. Would he provide this House with the terms of reference for that contract?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Any contract we give is public documentation and certainly he can have that information.
Mr. McRobb: Finally we’re getting something. Would the minister maybe indicate when we might receive it? When previously they have finally acknowledged they would provide information, we don’t get it until after the sitting is over. I would like to ask him if he can indicate when we will get that and also ask if he would provide the terms of reference for the other contract?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Everything takes time. I’d like to remind the member opposite that at no point is that individual negotiating with him on any pertinent things that he’s working on. He’s very highly qualified, a fourth-generation Yukoner working for the benefit of all Yukoners. We have nothing to hide. He’s a very credible individual. We are lucky as a community to have that kind of expertise among us, and also the individual has the time to do the jobs that he has been assigned to. So there’s no conflict. Nobody’s dealing with each other. It’s very positive.
Question re: Whitehorse Housing Cooperative
Mr. Cardiff: I have a question for the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
For the past 15 months or two years, Yukon Housing Corporation has been the receiver for the Whitehorse Housing Cooperative. A consultant has been employed to help get the co-op back to a functioning entity. The Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada and the federal cooperative housing stabilization fund are both closely involved in this process, and there is funding available to help clear up some of the co-op’s debts and get them back on their feet.
For several weeks, the local co-op association has been trying to work constructively with Yukon Housing Corporation but has run into inexcusable delays and unreasonable demands. I understand that the minister finally agreed yesterday to meet with the association, and I thank him for that.
Will the minister give his assurance that he and his officials will be working immediately toward a positive solution to the current situation?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: There has certainly been an issue with this corporation. I would point out to the member opposite, however, that the delays have been because we’ve requested a detailed business plan to show where this corporation is going. To date, we do not have receipt of that plan. Until that plan is in our hands, we are in a difficult position.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, the minister is in a difficult position. There is a business plan, and it was provided for by the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada. They helped the co-op do that.
In the past, the way that the housing co-op got into this situation was because there were some serious financial difficulties. At the time that the association went into receivership, the association took their concerns to the RCMP.
When Yukon Housing Corporation took the co-op into receivership, it promised to do an internal investigation. Consequently, what happened was the RCMP investigation did not proceed. Now, 15 months later, there appears to have been no action taken with regard to — it looks like there could be about $130,000 that has gone missing. There should be an RCMP investigation into that.
Has the corporation concluded the internal investigation, and will the co-op association’s concerns about possible financial irregularities be turned over to the RCMP?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: If indeed the RCMP is involved in this, this is something that I can’t comment on. We have no control of that and no ability to comment one way or another.
I am, however, very pleased to hear that the member opposite says that there is a business plan, and I invite him to provide that to me or to present it in this House.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister has access to all the information; he has better access to it than I do. He is going to be meeting with them and I’m sure that they’ll be willing to provide that. Co-op members have been working in good faith, putting in more than their share of work involved in managing their housing since about 1989 or 1990. It is not fair to penalize these committed members of the co-op and make them wait for a decision that should have been made long ago.
We’d like some assurance by this minister that the corporation’s attitude toward the current problems is just not an excuse to discourage the concept of cooperative housing. Cooperative housing enjoys a long tradition of success in other parts of Canada. Does the minister believe that cooperatives have a role in Yukon Housing’s mandate, and will he instruct his officials to work positively and directly with the association to get the Whitehorse Housing Co-op fully functioning again without any further delays?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The direction, certainly, to our officials is that this does not cost the taxpayers any undue funds. If the matter is in fact in RCMP hands, then I invite the member to have the discussion with them, because that has nothing to do with us.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Now, the member from across the way here says, “Wake up.” We have. We are looking at the issue. We have asked for a business plan. I am informed by the member opposite that he knows concretely that there is one presented by that cooperative. We do not have it. I invite him to table that document in the House now, and if the meeting tomorrow, or whenever it occurs — I don’t know off the top of my head — does have a business plan, we will look at it at that time.
Mr. Speaker, we pray regularly in this Assembly for temperance, understanding and reason. I see no temperance, very little understanding and absolutely no reason.
Speaker: No, no, I’m not going to let this slide. I’m going to refer the minister to the Speaker’s comment of March 29. “The Chair has been reluctant to intercede in debate and call members to order. I understand you hold strong views, but it is the duty of members to express their views and represent their constituents. The public interest is best served when members focus their comments on the issues before the House, not on impugning the character of other members.” I’d ask the minister not to do that, please.
The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Government House leader’s report on length of sitting
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I rise pursuant to the provisions of Standing Order 75(4) to inform the House that the House leaders have met for the purpose of achieving agreement on the maximum number of sitting days for the current sitting. The House leaders have not reached an agreement on the maximum number of sitting days for this sitting.
Speaker: Standing Order 75(3) states: “When, pursuant to Standing Order 75(2), an agreement cannot be reached between the government House leader and at least one other House leader representing the majority of the members of the Assembly, each of the spring and fall sittings shall be a maximum of 30 sitting days.”
Accordingly, I declare the current sitting shall be a maximum of 30 sitting days, with the 30th sitting day being May 17, 2005.
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 411
Clerk: Motion No. 411, standing in the name of Mr. Hassard.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin
THAT this House urges the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities for First Nations health care and seek a resolution to ensure that nine-year-old Mackenzie Olsen, who is a Na Cho Nyäk Dun citizen suffering from a rare medical condition, MPS 1, continues to be provided with the medication he needs.
Mr. Hassard: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to an issue that I feel may be as pressing as any we have discussed in my two years plus in this Assembly. At the centre of this issue is a Yukon family, and more specifically a nine-year-old boy from Mayo. Mackenzie Olsen has a rare, inherited genetic disorder producing an enzyme deficiency in a disease called Hurler/Scheie syndrome. He at this time requires nearly $17,000 per week in enzyme replacement therapy just to keep him alive.
For the past three years, he has received subsidized treatments as part of an international drug trial. The clinical trial is now over, and my understanding is that donations from First Nation organizations, governments and concerned citizens is expected to dry up soon.
Mr. Speaker, as I was leaving the building last night, I bumped into some of the opposition members and had a bit of a discussion on what I was doing with the motion or what would happen with the motion. I think the motion is very clear as to what I would like to see done and what I hope all members would like to see done. I believe that is to raise the awareness of the issue to all who can be reached through this forum and hopefully at the end of the day have unanimous support from this House to send a letter to the federal government to hopefully find a resolution to the problem before us.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I have small children, and most members of the Assembly have children of their own or perhaps grandchildren, and I think it’s fair to say that we all know some of the difficulties of dealing with our medical system. Recently I have been dealing with my own son and trying to solve a bit of a problem with him.
Not to take anything away from our medical professionals, but it is a challenge to sometimes get through the bureaucracy or the normal processes, I guess, and sometimes a person doesn’t feel that they’re being heard and you feel that you need to go back over it over and over. I can’t imagine what this family is going through. I can’t imagine having a treatment for your son and not being able to get this treatment because of a policy or a misunderstanding or, again, bureaucracy. It’s unfair is what it is. It’s really and truly unfair. So I would hope that soon — sooner than later — we can get a letter off to the federal minister explaining our feelings on this.
A bit of background, I guess, on this is that this child was recruited by the drug company, which is developing a drug intended to help people with this disease, to participate in the company’s clinical trial of the drug. This clinical trial ended the week of February 28, 2005, and the drug company will no longer provide the drug to the clinical trial participants for free. The child’s parents are now asking governments to pay for the drug for their child, and I think that’s reasonable. I mean, somebody in this great country of Canada that we live in, where we seem to have such great medicare — I spoke before of going through the process of having a child born at the hospital across the river and how it seems to be a good system, not without some problems, as I mentioned earlier, but overall a good system. This drug would cost about $860,000 per year. This child will need it, probably for the rest of his life. Now, unless his family wins the 6/49 or Super 7 or comes into some huge amount of money pretty quickly — I doubt if any one family could afford to pay for a drug that costs that much.
Now, to my way of thinking, when a drug company recruits participants to take part in a clinical trial for a drug, the drug company would have some ethical obligation to continue to provide that drug to those participants, free of charge, once the trial is over and if the drug is brought to market. Now, to me, that would seem fairly sensible.
I don’t see it as being ethical to use someone to experiment on and then leave them once the experiment is over. Again, that doesn’t seem fair. In this case, the drug company encouraged people with Hurler/Scheie syndrome to participate in the clinical trial, knowing full well that those people would not be able to afford the drug once the trial was over. I believe that this drug company has an ethical duty to respect the people who took part in their trial.
This drug was sent on February 3, 2005, to the common drug review process. The CDR will assist in determining whether the evidence from the drug trials supports this drug as a scientifically-proven effective treatment.
Now, reading the newspaper article from two days ago, the family of this young boy made it very clear that this drug worked for them. So, I’m assuming that it would pass.
The recommendations from the common drug review are expected in the fall of 2005.
Now I guess, to get back to my motion and what the federal government’s responsibility is, maybe we should look at some of the reasons why the federal government has a clear role to play.
In September 2004, the First Ministers agreed to develop a national pharmaceutical strategy. One of the priority topics to address within this strategy is dealing with the issue of expensive drugs for rare diseases, also called “orphan drugs”.
The drugs for rare diseases are challenging to test, because there are so few people who have the disease, and thus such a small sample with which to generate evidence.
Canada’s common drug review process is designed to advise governments about what the evidence says about how effective a drug is. In the case of orphan drugs, the amount and kind of evidence available does not match what is generally considered to be adequate and acceptable evidence about a drug. Often the testing that has been done does not match the testing quality usually required in order to be considered good science.
Because of this, the federal, provincial and territorial governments need to examine whether some other specially designed process needs to be put in place to assess and provide advice about drugs for these very rare diseases. That is what an orphan drug strategy would deal with.
There’s a bit of a problem with the way the federal government currently regulates these drugs. The current regulatory process in Canada allows companies to provide to patients when there is a lack of evidence that demonstrates the efficacy of the drug, particularly for expensive drugs for rare diseases.
Through this process, patients are given access to these drugs prior to any rigorous assessment of evidence of their relevant clinical efficiency.
Patients who perceive that they have had limited treatment options in the past can become convinced of the merit of these drugs and thus become dependent on them. Pharmaceutical companies are taking advantage of this regulatory regime. They are providing these unproven drugs to patients for free for a period of time, and then they stop providing the drug. This creates strong public pressure on governments to pick up and pay for the drug, regardless of what the scientific evidence shows about the effectiveness of the drug. This is a problem that is created by the federal government, which puts all governments in a tight spot, and needs to be remedied.
In the meantime, something needs to be done to address those patients across the country who are, or have been, receiving these kinds of drugs in order to bridge the gap between where things are now and how they will end up once an orphan drug strategy is in place. As a starting point, the federal government ought to demonstrate leadership by requiring the drug companies to continue to provide drug treatment to those patients across the country who have been receiving it. As a minimum, drug companies ought to be providing drug coverage until a drug has been reviewed and approved.
Now, the Yukon and other provinces and territories provide, and will continue to provide, many effective care options to treat patients with these enzyme-deficiency genetic diseases, including pain management and health care specific to the effects of the disease. We are calling on the federal government to do its part, both in the immediate interim and over the long term.
I’m not sure that I need to go on at length about this. I think most people have been made aware, through media and other ways, of the situation that we have, but I certainly would like to ask them to consider giving this unanimous support. Before I do close, though, I would like to make mention of a letter written to the federal health minister that has been signed by all provincial and territorial health ministers in regard to this very issue.
Perhaps I could just table that rather than read it out. So with that, Mr. Speaker, I would look forward to hearing other members’ comments on this issue.
Mr. Fairclough: I’ll be brief in my comments to this motion. We, the official opposition, are in support of Motion No. 411, Mr. Speaker. It’s straightforward, like the mover of the motion said. It’s basically saying that this urges the federal government, Indian and Northern Affairs, to fulfill their obligations to First Nation health care and First Nation people and for them to find a resolution to the problem so that the nine-year-old, Mackenzie Olsen, of Na Cho Nyäk Dun, can continue with his medication and continue to be provided with all the medication that he needs to live.
In hearing about this situation, it is obviously a life-or-death situation. This is a serious matter, and if this House can find a way to influence the federal government to continue to provide medication for this child, then we’re doing our jobs. I believe, though, that the Yukon Party, the Government of the Yukon, could have gone ahead, obviously, and has with the other provinces in signing this letter, to try to find a way to resolve this matter with the federal government.
When we look at the amount of money that is involved, it’s just absolutely incredible. It just floors me to realize that there are companies out there that the federal government and we, the government, are allowing to charge these crazy amounts of money for these drugs.
Why is that happening? I think perhaps the citizens of Canada need to be asking that question a lot more. Why are companies charging such large amounts of money for these drugs? Even though we realize this illness, MPS 1, is fairly rare, and there won’t be a whole lot of patients who are accessing this type of drug, it still doesn’t bode well for those who are faced with it. I don’t think any families in the territory or anywhere can afford the drugs — over $17,000 a week. Even well-off families would find it very difficult to find the money for the drugs to keep their children alive.
That’s so incredible. I just find it very difficult. There are people in the territory here, who are relatives of Mackenzie Olsen, who have been lobbying First Nations, trying to make people aware of this situation and the fact that this is going on. I believe Na Cho Nyäk Dun has responded and provided some funding this month, but I don’t believe that’s sustainable. I think the solution falls in the hands of the federal government. They’re the ones who need to respond to this.
I’m hoping a lot of emphasis can be put on this. If this is presented, perhaps by the Premier, if he takes it straight to the Prime Minister and puts some emphasis on this —
We are not faced with this type of thing in the Yukon all that often, but it would be a sad moment to watch, as we’ve seen on the TV over the last month ago. There have been some pretty alarming events in regard to watching someone die, and this would be the same type of thing.
We cannot do that; we have the ability to not let that happen.
I think the federal government has to play the role, step up to the plate and provide the necessary medication for this child to continue living.
With that, in short, we support this motion and we urge the government to take it forward to the federal government as soon as they can.
Ms. Duncan: I’m pleased to rise on behalf of the people of Porter Creek South to address Motion No. 411 from the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin.
I agree with the motion and have no difficulty in supporting it. I would, however, like to make a few comments for the record.
I appreciate the fact that the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, in his remarks — I wish I had more of an opportunity to review them because I’ve only heard them. We’re not that instantaneous in the House that we can see the Blues right away. A lot of detail was provided and I’d like to have had a greater opportunity to review the facts of the matter.
As I understand it, the issue here is, in part, that we have a drug company, which has done what we always criticize governments for doing. The company has almost started a boutique program in that they’ve provided a drug and then withdrawn it. They have said, “Here, try this and see if it works,” and then they charge the family an enormous amount to continue with the drug.
We criticize it when the federal government starts a program and then says, “Okay, province or territory, you have to fund it.” It’s a similar situation, in that a program has been started, it has been proven to work in this instance, and now the issue is how to continue it and how to pay for it, so I do have a criticism of the drug company in that respect.
I understand from the perspective of having been in government that there are processes in place, and you have to be sure that they’re followed. In this instance, the drug has to go through the drug formulary. With all that being said, we have a situation here that isn’t in the ordinary. It is an extraordinary situation, and all of us feel tremendously that this treatment for Mackenzie Olsen has to be continued. It’s clear that it works. The Member for Pelly-Nisutlin has indicated that’s a fact of the matter. It’s clear that there is a fiduciary responsibility on the part of the federal government to pay for this. We have to leap through the processes in this case to ensure that this issue is dealt with in a timely manner. That’s why the member has brought it forward. Let’s get through the processes in place and ensure that this drug is paid for by the government that should pay for it, and it should be provided.
That’s our job. We’ve seen this sort of situation in this Legislature before where governments have said that the process is in place and that we have to follow the processes, and we’ve had members stand and say, “Yes, we understand those processes are in place. We’ve got to get through them and deal with this issue in a timely manner,” and sometimes we have to make exceptions to public policy for very good — and in this case, life-saving — reasons.
While I’m a very strong believer in government policy and in governments administering policies that are fair, that apply equally and that we ensure processes are followed, I also recognize that there are times we have to go around, through and over these processes in order to ensure that exceptional cases are dealt with quickly and expeditiously.
I would also support the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, who has pointed out, quite rightly, that it doesn’t take a motion in this Legislature for the Minister of Health and Social Services in the Yukon to pick up the phone, call the Minister of Health for Canada — the former Premier Dosanjh understands very clearly these issues — to get this to the top of his radar screen. My understanding in dealing with Mr. Dosanjh is that he is a very thoughtful individual, and the ministers of health and social services have brought this matter to his attention and I would encourage the Minister of Health and Social Services to act quickly, and I will be certain to ensure a letter is written from me and I would pick up the phone to call Mr. Dosanjh, as well. I believe that by bringing the motion forward, what the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin has done is say, “Let’s add more weight to the government’s action.” It doesn’t take a motion in this Legislature for the government to take action. I’m pleased to add my support to it. I would encourage the national Minister of Health and the Yukon Minister of Health and Social Services to act and encourage all ministers to ensure that, as the motion suggests, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Department of Health nationally ensure that the Government of Canada live up to fiduciary responsibilities and ensure that Mackenzie Olsen receives the medical treatment and medication that he requires.
That being said, I will, as a member, add my support to the motion and add my voice in this lobby, as well.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your time.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I, too, rise to support this motion and to perhaps give everyone in the House a bit more of an insight into what exactly the problem is in this particular case, and then I would like to speak to the much broader issue, because it is certainly a broader issue.
We all know that this is an extremely rare disease, but I think it would benefit everyone to have a better understanding of exactly what the disease is and why it is so rare and, again, what the problems are with this. Hurler/Scheie syndrome is one of a group of mucopolysaccharide types of diseases. There are a number of other diseases within this class, which actually begins to include some more common diseases like cystic fibrosis. It is an error in genetic coding. It’s caused basically by mutation in a particular gene, and I won’t terrify Hansard by rattling off some of the names on this, but it is a deficiency in a particular enzyme that causes the buildup of certain products within the brain and within other parts of the body. Hurler syndrome is one distinct syndrome; Scheie syndrome is a distinct syndrome; and the cases that fall between that have characteristics of both are referred to as Hurler/Scheie. They include everything from short stature, corneal clouding, joint stiffening, umbilical hernias, bone problems, enlarged spleen and, interestingly, often no intellectual problems or dysfunction. These are often very normal people intellectually.
The onset of symptoms is usually between the ages of three and eight and survival to adulthood is typical, but of course there is a wide range of that.
What the treatment involves is effectively replacing the enzyme that is lacking in these patients. There are a number of different syndromes involved in this: Hurler/Scheie syndrome, Hurler syndrome, Sanfilippo syndrome, Hunter syndrome, Morquio syndrome — there’s a huge number of these and all of them are substantially different. They are caused by similar reasons but they are in general different and would be treated for the most part in different ways.
This causes huge numbers of problems. There have been studies after studies done on these, but the reality is that the studies have been very incomplete and scattered, because we don’t have a lot of patients. This is a whole class of diseases that is referred to in the medical literature as “orphan diseases.” In other words, it’s not like cancer, where we can go out and have a huge drive to defeat cancer — and cancer in itself is over 200 different diseases, but they are closely related. They have similar risk factors and similar treatment modalities. So, you can sort of go into that, but kidney disease and heart disease — this is a wide range of diseases that fortunately affect very few people, and unfortunately no one wants to put a lot of money into it because so few people are affected and clamouring at the doors to try to get fundraising. And when we talk fundraising, of course, we’re talking major funding for anything to do with drugs.
The whole class of the syndrome, again, is just a major problem. To draw a similar analogy in my own profession, trying to explain to people that the amount of research into the diseases of cattle is huge because of the agricultural implications. The research into the diseases of horses is huge, because of the influence of jockey clubs. Ironically, the money, time and effort into diseases of mice is huge because of their use in research programs. I don’t say that lightly; it’s just very much a reality. It’s a big field. It’s my former field.
But when it comes down to researching diseases of cats, for instance, cat shows don’t tend to generate a lot of money; they aren’t an agricultural animal; we don’t race them — I’m not being flippant. These are all things that affect the reality that very little money is put into it. It also becomes almost an orphan species, as these are orphan diseases.
There are a number of problems that this entails. For instance, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun basically questions the cost of drugs — why is this happening? I can explain to him and to others in the House, and to all Yukoners, why that’s happening. As research proceeds, if you can get any kind of money to do research — it’s a competitive job, like anything else — you are more likely to go into fields that are funded for that type of research. There is very little funding for the orphan diseases, and this has been a major problem for certainly the 30 years that I’ve been involved in biomedical research, in one way or another.
What happens is a group or a company will get a small amount of funding, which really often doesn’t accomplish an awful lot, although sometimes you strike the motherlode. For the most part, though, it’s a real slog to try to come up with some answers on these things.
So what you end up with is a drug company that, for one reason or another, can be seeing an opening or it can be seeing a potential profit margin that’s acceptable. It can be something simple like someone within that company or within control of that company has the wherewithal to do something about something that affects a friend or their family or a relative. There’s a wide range of things.
But by the time you look at that and do the research, and you really plod through that research, you’re talking millions and millions of dollars. How are you even going to get your research back? Let’s not even go to a profit margin. How do you get any of that back, unless it’s publicly funded? While this disease, the Hurler/Scheie syndrome, is topical in the Yukon, I’m suspicious that if someone knocked on most doors in the Yukon, collecting money for Hunter syndrome, for instance, most people wouldn’t have the slightest idea what it is, and very few would contribute anything to it.
So there’s the nature of the problem. You have a company that has to produce research in order to come up with an answer in order to have any hope that will eventually show not even a return, but at least pay the bills at the end of the day. Unfortunately, you have to look at what it’s going to cost at the end.
I think medical science and technology in general has proven that we can do a wide range of things. We can do a number of different things. We can put a man on the moon, and we can put a machine that is going to circle Saturn, or whatever. We can do anything if we throw enough money at it, but unfortunately we live in an environment, in a world, where the only people who are going to try to throw something at the orphan diseases and create, in effect, an orphan drug — because this is a drug that doesn’t have much use or may not have much use for other things — I can’t say for a fact, of course, that it has no other uses.
Mr. Sanford Flemming found the mould on his sandwich in his lab in 1938 a real irritation. Who would know that penicillin and all our modern day antibiotics would come from a slightly mouldy sandwich on somebody’s lab bench.
But in general it’s not likely that a lot of this research will go into other areas, so you have a company that can produce a treatment, and they have a right to expect to at least pay the bills at the end of the day. The only alternative would be for government to fund it — and trust me, Mr. Speaker, if you start listing these orphan diseases, you will have something that will look like a Los Angeles telephone book. There are huge numbers, often with only one, two, five or 10 patients in North America affected.
So that is the nature of the beast. This is why research is so expensive. You have to have statistical numbers. You can’t just do three and come to a conclusion. You have to do a wide range of them. In this case, you’re dealing with a disease that’s an error of genetics. This is a recessive gene that has to come from both parents and may have been hiding in the population for the last 400 years, and just ironically the right combination hit and we have an affected patient.
No one, potentially over that 400 years, would have the slightest idea that this might be an outcome. Some of these affect certain ethnic groups, for instance. We know that there are a number of very rare diseases that affect only Jews living in a certain part of Europe or another part of the world. They are very rare outside of these ethnic groups. Does that mean they don’t occur? No, they can, and, of course, with more world travel and a wider society these days, we’re likely going to see those diseases coming to the forefront and we’re going to run into more problems in terms of what’s happening with that.
To me, the problems are beyond this, however. That explains the situation. When a company gets so far as to do a clinical trial, the chances are pretty good that they have done that with a low statistical probability, low statistical numbers. We only have 50 or 60 of these patients in North America. It’s not like we have a lot of people to work with. So when it goes into a human trial, they often go in with lower criteria and may have to extend trials longer or do them in different ways to try to get the data and to try to get these drugs licensed.
At the same time, they are often dealing with federal regulations in whatever federal jurisdiction — be it Canada, the United States or Lithuania. They all have basic criteria for determining that the drug is safe. They have a degree of ethics and scientific requirements to know that that drug is going to work or has a high probability of working and contributing. Therefore, you have to do these trials, to a degree.
Interestingly enough, I don’t know the background on these trials. I didn’t draw any of the data from the databases, but I’m sure that to get a number to have anything that is at all significant, it must have involved a fair number of the patients that are available in that pool. So now you have a problem: here’s a company that is going to do the trials, knows that, at the end of the day, that data has to be presented to the federal body — Food and Drug Administration, Bureau of Dangerous Drugs or whatever federal body will review that — and this all takes time. This all takes a great deal of time.
Having brought these patients in demonstrated that there is a need and that it works, to whatever degree. Where do we stand when this company suddenly decides, “We’re going to go to federal approval. That’s going to take a year, two years, five years or 10 years — whatever the timeline has to be. But we’re going to end the trial, stop the treatment, and that’s the end of the day. Sorry.”
That’s not acceptable at all, so I personally have a great deal of problems with that. I see the need to develop a drug if we have it available. I know it will be expensive, but a company making a decision that that drug should be made available and test it, I think, has an ethical obligation to keep the existing patients on that drug — or at least have a game plan. Negotiate what you’re going to negotiate, come to whatever agreements you’re going to come to, but at least don’t abandon those patients in the middle of the trial.
It’s important to remember that this drug treats a disease; it does not cure it. It’s an enzyme that allows these products to break down and be metabolized and to be utilized in certain ways. Once that enzyme is removed, you revert.
There are similar situations in human and in veterinary medicine. If I prescribe, or your physician prescribes, an antibiotic to treat a lung infection, it will treat the infection and cure the infection, and you go back to normal. The analogy, however, that I draw the House’s attention to is epilepsy. Epilepsy is an abnormal focus of electrical activity in the brain. You treat with drugs as simple as Phenobarbital or as complex as some of the more modern and some of the horribly expensive but useful drugs, and you wall that electrical activity off; you allow the patient to survive normally and to function normally without that electrical activity taking off. In other words, no seizures. All the patient has to do is sleep in on a Sunday morning, let that drug level drop, and that patient may seizure. Patients have to understand that. Owners of animals have to understand that, and that’s part of the treatment.
So by taking any patient off this drug, the buildup of the toxins begins again. You have not cleared anything; you are simply maintaining and treading water. To take these patients off, I think, is questionable, at best. It’s certainly worthy of very heated debate, I would think.
Should the federal government come to the table on that? I think they should be part of the matrix, yes, and I certainly support this motion. They should be part of that.
But I think the overall thing that all Yukoners, all citizens of the world, have to understand is that we can do a huge number of things with drugs, with surgery; we can do a lot more than I think we even understand today, but the reality is that they are very expensive and we have to come to grips with that cost and to make that determination. Is this something we can afford?
There are drugs on the market that will cure almost anything, but the reality is, again, that cost becomes a factor.
With that kind of a background, Mr. Speaker, I certainly support the motion 110 percent. At this point, I think the federal government has to come to the table, perhaps now with funding to tide this over and, more importantly, the decision has to occur with this drug company, as well as all drug companies: if you’re going to set up a clinical trial, don’t abandon the patient in the middle of it. It’s not right.
Mr. McRobb: I’m also pleased to speak in favour of this motion today. It’s one of those motions that, on the rare occasion, we can probably all agree with. It requests the federal government to continue to provide the medication needed. That’s something that is the basic point of today’s motion.
From what I understand, the federal health minister has been approached on this matter but refused to provide the medication and allow the continuing medication for this person.
There are a couple of points that need to be made for the record, Mr. Speaker. If we go back a number of years to the Mulroney Conservative government in Canada, we could probably recall how he changed the patent laws for the generic drug producers to extend the period of protection. This had some profound effects that we see impacting this case, as well as a number of other cases across the country. The result is that cheaper drugs aren’t being made available because of patent protection. That’s not good for Canada as a whole, and it was a controversial decision made at the time by that government. So I would urge the members opposite to contact their counterparts in the Conservative Party of Canada and also let them know what they did wrong back then and try to correct that mistake.
Mr. Speaker, we know the Conservative Party merged with the Alliance Party, and formed the new Canadian Alliance Party of Canada. Some of the members across the way may still be members in that federal party, but certainly they do have friends and contacts. So maybe they should get the message out that perhaps in Parliament this issue should be raised with the government, and they should try to reverse the mistake made by the Mulroney government.
There are a couple of other issues I want to get on the record. For instance, I understand that the Health minister will be speaking next. Well, I’ve got a question for him. It’s my understanding that if the drug were put on the Yukon drug list, it would then become possible to recover the cost of this drug from the Canadian government. So I would like to hear the Health minister speak to that point. I’m not sure if it’s valid; it’s just something I’ve heard. But if indeed it is valid, that if all it takes for the Yukon government to accommodate this person’s medical needs is to put it on the drug list and then re-collect from the federal government, then perhaps we need to amend the motion with a friendly amendment to accommodate that. So I would certainly invite the next speaker, the Health minister, to respond to that comment.
As well, the cost of the drugs is certainly a considerable amount and it raises questions about other patients in the Yukon and across the country who have similar financial challenges in paying for the drugs they need. Perhaps what we should also be doing is sending a broader message to the federal government to do whatever is necessary to accommodate the health concerns of those other Canadians.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I note in the April 4 article in the Whitehorse Star, which I read with interest about this patient, that the early diagnosis that was so important in this case was due to the good work of the nurse-practitioner in charge of the Mayo nursing station. I think this person deserves to be recognized for the good work she did in this case, Mr. Speaker, and we should all acknowledge that.
As somebody who is familiar with several nurse-practitioners in the communities, I can attest to the high calibre of professional training demonstrated by these practitioners in our communities, and certainly Mayo is no exception. So because of the diligence of this nurse-practitioner from Mayo, this disease was diagnosed early in the person’s life, and that is what set up treatment in the first place.
So, Mr. Speaker, I don’t plan to talk any more to this motion. I am more interested in hearing the response from the Health minister.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the motion before the House today is not a motion to deal with political parties or political parties’ positions; it’s a motion to address the health and well-being of Canadians.
In this case, there is a motion to address the health and well-being of an individual born and raised here in the Yukon. It is a motion to deal with the drug formulary and expedite passage and approval of a new type of treatment.
Mr. Speaker, Yukon is fortunate to have a group of health care providers who are exceptional in their ability to diagnose illnesses. They need the tools and, in some cases, those tools are drugs — drugs currently in place and drugs still under design.
By way of a bit of background, what we have is a nine-year-old First Nation child who used to live in Mayo. He’s now living in Alberta. He has Hurler/Scheie syndrome, which occurs as a result of a rare genetic disorder. The child was part of a drug company’s clinical tests and was receiving the drug free during that trial. The drug company, Genzyme, completed its clinical trial at the end of February 2005 and will no longer provide the drug free of charge to the clinical trial participants.
I do have difficulty accepting that because, when a drug company recruits participants to take part in a clinical trial for a drug, that drug company, in my opinion, has an ethical obligation to continue to provide that drug to those participants, free of charge, once that trial is over, if that drug is brought to market. I don’t believe it’s ethical for a drug company to use someone to experiment on, and then leave them high and dry once that experiment is over.
Now what we have is a case where the drug company encouraged people with this syndrome to participate in the clinical trial, and I’m sure they knew full well that these people would not be able to afford the drug once that clinical trial was over. That drug company is ending its clinical trial and it said it will cut off providing the drug to the clinical trial participants. I believe that that’s unethical conduct on the part of the drug company and they should have a responsibility and a duty to respect the people who took part in their clinical trial by continuing to provide the drug to those people as a form of compensation for them having agreed to participate in that clinical trial.
What we’re speaking of here is a drug company, Genzyme, that received Health Canada’s licensing approval for Aldurazyme in June 2004. Genzyme made an application for the review of Aldurazyme to the common drug review on February 3, 2005. The results of that review by the CDR are expected in the fall of this year. The evidence examined to date by the common drug review for the two drugs that were developed to treat Fabry’s disease, which is another rare genetic disease, does not show that the drugs are effective in producing clinically meaningful outcomes in randomly controlled trials or observation trials. In 2004, the common drug review recommended that the Fabry’s disease drugs, Fibrozyme and Repligal, not be listed by governments on their drug formularies based on the evidence review to date.
New evidence for these drugs has been submitted to the CDR for review and a recommendation based on that new evidence is expected later this month, or probably in May of 2005.
It’s a small number of people who are affected, and it’s very difficult to develop acceptable clinical trial evidence to test out drugs for very rare diseases. There’s a small number of people with the disease and thus small numbers to test it on. There are particular scientific and ethical challenges in collecting evidence on clinical and cost-effectiveness of drug treatments for rare diseases. Several other countries have developed national orphan drug programs in response to this challenge.
What has transpired is that the provincial and territorial ministers have identified the development of a framework for expensive drugs for rare diseases as a top priority for the national pharmaceutical strategy, with a target date for this September. This is where the federal government does have a clear role to play.
To date, there have been letters written to the Hon. Andy Scott, Minister of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, with respect to this individual from Mayo, now residing in Alberta. I wrote to Minister Scott on February 17 of this year, asking the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to provide support to Mary Ann Olsen and Raymond Amato, whose son Mackenzie Olsen is in need of expensive treatment for a very rare disorder.
As this is a First Nation family, this request falls within the federal government’s fiduciary responsibility for First Nations.
I haven’t heard back from Mr. Scott to date. This child is now living in Alberta and, on March 23, the Hon. Iris Evans, the Alberta Minister responsible for Health and Wellness, wrote to the Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh, following up on her letter to him of December 2. The issue was drugs for orphan diseases, and Minister Evans goes on to say, “Minister, I know you are the first to acknowledge that Canada is one of the most compassionate countries on Earth, and from time to time Canada’s special access program has allowed drugs to enter the circle of care before they are accessed through the common drug review or even approved by Health Canada.”
It goes on to say that “if there ever was a time for the federal government to step up and do the right thing on a compassionate basis by providing a bridge to an orphan drug program, the time is now. I am confident that every one of my provincial territorial colleagues will support you in taking this decisive leadership on behalf of Canadians. Minister, I am asking you to reach out to these Canadians in need and use the unique position of your office to provide them with the drugs they need, irrespective of where they live, until we can have this new framework in place.”
The common drug review is the review agency that lists all new drugs, and last Friday, Mr. Speaker, I was in a teleconference with all 13 political jurisdictions in Canada. As a consequence of that, it was determined to write a letter to Minister Dosanjh, the contents of which are as follows:
“We are writing to you regarding the pressing issue of expensive drugs for rare diseases. Most recently, interjurisdictional discussions on Fabry’s disease have demonstrated the need to move forward quickly on developing a national orphan drug policy. We want to work collaboratively with you to address this as an immediate priority.
“Jurisdictions are committed to the common drug review, the CDR; however, in light of the current Fabry’s disease issue, it has become apparent that the current regulatory regime may not be working in a manner that most effectively meets the health care needs of Canadians on new therapeutic regimes for rare diseases.
“It has also become apparent that pharmaceutical companies are taking advantage of this regulatory regime, placing all of us, including the federal government, at a distinct disadvantage. The current federal regulatory process for drugs in Canada allows companies to provide drugs to patients where there is a lack of evidence that demonstrates efficiency, particularly for expensive drugs for rare diseases. By providing patients with access to drugs prior to any rigorous assessment of evidence of relevant clinical efficiency, vulnerable patients who perceive that they have limited treatment options in the past can become convinced of the merit of these drugs and, as such, dependent on them.
“The development of a national orphan drug strategy must be the first priority of the national pharmaceutical strategy, and the federal government must play a leading role on this issue on behalf of all Canadians.
“We believe that this important work can and should be completed within the next six months so that we are in a position to make an appropriate public announcement at the September 2005 annual conference of health ministers.
“Of the immediate issue of Fabry’s disease treatment, we encourage you to further demonstrate leadership by requiring drug companies, Genzyme Canada and Transkaryotic Therapies Inc., to continue to provide treatment to those patients across the country currently receiving it, as we work in partnership over the coming months to develop an orphan drug policy framework.
“The wilful actions of these companies have created a circumstance where patients have come to rely on these treatments. While the Fabry’s disease issue is current and pressing, this situation is not unique as there are many other expensive drugs for rare diseases that could soon be coming before all governments for reimbursement discussions. An example is Aldurazyme. This further underscores the need to work collaboratively on the development of an orphan drug strategy in an expeditious manner. We look forward to discussions of this important issue with you at the upcoming health ministers meetings in Toronto on February 15-17, 2005. This meeting will also focus on a number of other important priorities: the aboriginal blueprint, the national pharmaceutical strategy. We believe that these complex health issues warrant a face-to-face dialogue by all federal-provincial-territorial health ministers. We look forward to your participation at this meeting and hope to hear from you soon regarding your availability.”
The common drug review is where this has stalled. The federal government and the provincial governments have no authority to fund it. That’s why we are encouraging the development of an orphan drug policy and procedure by the federal government, which we can all subscribe to. There is an urgency that an orphan drug policy be developed quickly, as the producers of the drug to treat this disease have insisted on eliminating the provision of this drug for free. It’s about $860,000 per year per person, and that needs to be continued for the rest of the person’s life.
It’s a significant sum of money, Mr. Speaker, and yet what value do we place on lives? It’s important that we as a government are cognizant of our responsibilities and do our level best to ensure that where there’s a new treatment for any type of disease in any manner that it be examined prudently and go through the proper procedures and it be either accepted or rejected on merit — no other reason. The drug companies have chosen this manner of dealing with the population, and I am extremely uncomfortable with the methods they are employing.
Mr. Speaker, I encourage all to support this motion. It’s a very worthwhile motion. It shows that we are cognizant of the health and well-being of our fellow Yukoners and our fellow Canadians.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would just like to add my input into this issue, because I do sincerely feel for those who have contracted this disease. First, though, my prayers go out to the little boy, that he receives the help he needs and to the parents who also need prayers for help and moral support. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for parents to know that their little child has this disease.
I will start by saying that this actually should be a real eye-opener for all Yukoners to really take seriously. We must acknowledge that Canada is a very large country in land mass, and for the Yukon and its sparse population to have a citizen with this rare disease — I can’t even imagine what the ratio is where there is one in the Yukon who has this disease.
I guess the first lesson we will learn from this is that the Yukon does not escape from and is vulnerable to rare diseases. We should think about this for a moment, because it’s quite alarming that we can have a citizen with this rare disease. For me, it really makes me very aware that we are vulnerable to things in the Yukon that we would normally just take for granted wouldn’t affect us. I think we need to remember that.
I heard a couple of comments from some of the members opposite who felt this motion was not necessary. However, Mr. Speaker, I certainly believe it is necessary because it demonstrates that the members of this Legislature can collectively support and come together in unity when needed.
It demonstrates that members on the floor of this Legislature can show empathy for someone in need and they can remove political boundaries to come together and support someone who needs help.
I sincerely hope and pray that there will be a good solution to all of the approximately 50 individuals who have this rare disease. From events that took place throughout history, it’s clearly evident that there needs to be a cure for this disease and that the world in general must unite in order to have some control over this disease.
Mr. Cardiff: As we have stated already on this side of the House, we support this motion. I’d just like to correct the words of the previous speaker who said that we suggested that this motion wasn’t necessary. What the Member for Kluane suggested, I believe, was that there may be another avenue, and he laid out the case where the Yukon government may have an avenue to do something about this. It may be in the short term; it may be in the long term. The Member for Kluane asked the Minister of Health and Social Services to respond to that. Basically what was suggested was that maybe — possibly, we don’t know — the Minister of Health could look into this and put the drug that’s necessary for this young fellow, Mackenzie Olsen, on the government drug list and recover the cost from the Government of Canada.
That was what was suggested. We never said we didn’t think the motion was necessary. So I would just like to put that on record. We do support this. We do feel for this young individual, and we wish him all the best.
I agree that many of the comments made today are very valid, and there are a lot of issues here, from orphan drugs to the profits of large drug corporations, to who should actually be doing the research into these drugs and who should be producing them.
So I’d just like to reiterate that we do support the motion, and we wish Mackenzie all the best and Godspeed with his situation.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support this motion. Colleagues on my side and colleagues on the other side of the House have all provided good reasons why support should be provided to this young child.
I think what we have to do is look at the aspect of what this does for a nation. There is a small number of people across Canada who have this rare disease — across Canada, not just for the one gentleman that we’re trying to look at providing support for here today. I think it’s from that perspective, then, that we look at trying to ensure the Government of Canada fulfills its fiduciary responsibilities in providing assistance to this young man to keep him alive by providing the drug or at least covering the expenses for that drug.
As mentioned earlier, I think it’s highly unethical that the drug company encouraged these people to come down for an experiment, for the lack of a better word — be a guinea pig. I think it’s just not right in my mind that somebody could do this, turn around, put them on for free and then, after they get hooked on the medicine and it proves that it works, cut them off. I think it’s only fair, as the Minister of Health and Social Services indicated, that until such time as this drug has gone through its orphan drug policy through the Canadian process, and it is expedited, as the third party member indicated — if we can just push this through — then hopefully we will address this issue on behalf of all Canadians and not just for the young lad here.
I think what we have to do is look at that particular aspect. I think that it’s important that somebody provides some assistance. We’ve been told that it’s going to cost in excess of $800,000 per annum to stay on this drug for just one year, and this child is only nine years old — nine years old. Even if he won the lottery, they’d be broke in two years — it wouldn’t take long — and who’s to say that the cost of this drug isn’t going to increase over that period of time?
So I think it’s important that we push the federal government into getting a decision on this orphan drug policy, so that we can get out there and assist this young man, and others like him across Canada, so that we can get something toward this rare disease.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the time in the House and look forward to supporting this motion.
Speaker: If the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin now speaks, he will close debate. Is there any other member who wishes to speak?
Mr. Hassard: I thank all members for their support, comments and insight on this important matter. I certainly look forward to hearing some positive feedback from our federal government sooner than later on this issue.
I would just like to add to some of the comments we’ve heard. With respect to the nurse-practitioner in charge in Mayo, I think the Member for Kluane was right on the mark in thanking her for her part in the early diagnosis. Earlier the better, I guess, one would always say in things like this, as much as we hate it. At the same time, the earlier it’s diagnosed, the earlier it can be treated. Having lived in rural Yukon, I certainly understand how much we rely on the nurses in the communities and how fortunate we are to have such qualified people in those positions.
Again, Mr. Speaker, as I close, my thoughts and wishes are with Mackenzie Olsen and his family. Actually, before I finish, I will table the signed copy of the letter that I mentioned earlier in the day.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to all members for their support.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are thirteen yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 411 agreed to
Motion No. 419
Clerk: Motion No. 419, standing in the name of Mr. Cathers.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Lake Laberge:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the actions by the present Yukon government to enhance wildlife viewing opportunities through purchasing the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, finalizing two new territorial parks, Tombstone and Fishing Branch, and advancing the Tombstone interpretive program, are benefiting public understanding and appreciation of wildlife and contributing to the Yukon’s economic growth.
Mr. Cathers: It gives me pleasure to rise today in the House and to ask all members of this House to give their support to this motion. I think that probably all members would agree on the fact that Yukon’s natural beauty is one of our strongest assets. Most of us are here solely or in large part for our enjoyment of the natural beauty. Some people have moved up here for economic activities of various sorts, but certainly for many of us the main reason we’ve chosen to make the Yukon our home is the peace and the freedom.
Contrary to the comment from the Member for Whitehorse Centre, I actually wasn’t born here. I was born in southern Ontario. I moved up here at the age of two with my parents. I just don’t brag about being born in southern Ontario very often. The Yukon is certainly my home, and I consider myself as having no ties to any other region of the country beyond my love of our whole nation. The Yukon is certainly home for me, as it is for many other people in the Yukon.
People came here, some were born here, some have chosen to make it their home, but certainly all of us have the opportunity to leave, and we have chosen not to for a very good reason. For many of us, that is based on our enjoyment of the natural beauty and the freedom that we have in the Yukon, in our largely unspoiled wilderness.
Now, Mr. Speaker, another reason that many people come to the Yukon is the enjoyment of the wildlife that we have running around here, largely without the influence of humans. With the exception of some hunting, we certainly do not have the large impact on habitat seen in other parts of Canada. Tourists to the Yukon come largely for those reasons: the enjoyment of natural beauty, the opportunity to see our wildlife, which they have not had the opportunity to see in most cases in their place of origin, whether that be from other parts in Canada, that being to some extent the only exception, because some of them do have some experience with seeing wild populations of animals in their areas. But many of our visitors are from the southern United States or from areas of Europe or Japan — Japanese traffic is increasing — and other parts of Asia where they do not have that experience. Urbanized populations might see a raccoon downtown or perhaps a fox and maybe some pigeons, but they do not have the same opportunity that we do to see animals literally in our backyard.
So tourism, of course, at the moment is a large sector of the Yukon’s economy. Since the decline in the resource sector, presided over by the two previous governments, it has been the largest sector of the Yukon economy. Tourists to the Yukon come for natural beauty, wildlife, also an appreciation of our heritage, including the gold rush; a number come up here because of their involvement in serving here at the time of the building of the Alaska Highway or having relatives who did serve on that construction. They have heard about the Yukon and want to see it.
In the United States, there are also a number of people for whom a journey to Alaska is somewhat of a pilgrimage, for lack of a better term. It’s one of their touchstones, something that many of them feel, before they die, they have to see the Statue of Liberty, go to Washington D.C. and go to Alaska. It’s a national icon, for lack of a better term, and that visitation certainly benefits the Yukon, since a major portion of our tourist traffic is the rubber-tire traffic, largely composed of Americans driving up the Alaska Highway.
We’re also seeing increased visitation from tourists who are wishing to arrive to learn about First Nation culture. There’s a growing interest around the world in indigenous peoples, and the opportunity to come here and take part in community events, and learn about cultural practices of the First Nation people is something that is of large interest, especially in areas of Europe. It seems there’s a growing interest there.
With regard to the overall heritage of the Yukon and other components, the gold rush, of course, attracts a lot of the German visitation, which is based on having read books by Jack London. A number of Canadians and Americans are attracted through the poems of Robert Service. Previously, The Cremation of Sam McGee was taught for many years in a number of schools within both our system and the American system. That is something of course that is a source of a bit of — I can’t think of the word for it. Pride is not quite the correct term, but certainly I appreciate the recognition that has given our area, and it is with pleasure that I serve the riding of Lake Laberge. In Lake Laberge, of course, we’re very proud of our area and proud that it is one of our more famous natural features in the territory, largely due to the impact of that poem.
Certainly Mr. Pierre Berton has also contributed a tremendous amount through his writing of books, not only about the Yukon but about many areas of Canada, and has benefited Canadians’ appreciation and understanding of our history. He has also written books about the building of the railroad and a number of books regarding the Yukon that have preserved stories that may have been lost otherwise and have advanced that understanding in the popular literature market so that people throughout the world can have a better appreciation for our heritage and our history and an increased desire to come and visit us, which certainly benefits the Yukon economy.
Also representing and recognizing our gold rush heritage is the Sourdough Rendezvous festival held annually in Whitehorse in February. Although it is a Whitehorse festival, I think many people throughout the Yukon regard it as a Yukon festival, not simply one specific to Whitehorse.
There has been a growing interest among visitors coming to attend this festival. It has been one of the things marketed by both Tourism Yukon and by members of the tourism industry. My understanding of the last statistics is that it is estimated that approximately two-thirds of Yukoners involve themselves, to some extent, in Rendezvous festivities, and it does result in a large amount of traffic through Whitehorse.
I was talking to one of the recruiters for the Department of Defence who was up here, and he was referring to the fact that they come here annually and set up a recruiting office only during Sourdough Rendezvous, due to our small numbers, but also due to the fact that they have become recognized as being part of that and that statistics show that they can catch most of the Yukon population at that time. That interest is also piqued by the display of the planes at the air show, which has become an annual part of Rendezvous, and is something I know the organizers put a lot of effort into and many Yukoners appreciate tremendously.
That is usually around the same time as the Yukon Quest which is, of course, another source of interest for tourists — the use of dog teams as part of our heritage.
Mr. Speaker, this motion today is primarily to focus on recognizing the benefit of enhancing wildlife viewing opportunities. As I previously mentioned, the wildlife is a very important component and what tourists come here to witness. It is an important factor to many of us living here. The ability to hunt and fish is important to many Yukoners, and it’s certainly a very central element of First Nation culture and of great importance, in some cases, to the subsistence of First Nation people.
We have debated in past days the issue of the Porcupine caribou herd. We’ve had a motion, which I tabled, regarding the importance of protecting the critical habitat of that caribou herd. All Yukoners can share in the importance of ensuring that our wildlife populations are not devastated by the impact of man and that they are not unduly impacted by other activities within the economy.
Balancing the economy and the environment was a very important principle in the campaign platform that my colleagues and I were elected on in November 2002. Under the previous two governments, under the NDP and the Liberals, we saw a dramatic decline in the resource sector, which was not due solely to mineral prices, as we keep hearing from members opposite. In contrasting it to the neighbouring jurisdictions of Alaska and the Northwest Territories, both were seeing far more promising mineral exploration and far steadier, and in some cases even increasing, mineral exploration, while we were seeing a dramatic decline.
The mineral prices are certainly a component when a company chooses to invest, but they are not the sole component. The regulatory regime is a very important issue. It has been noted in industry reviews and the review by the Fraser Institute, and by others, the effect of uncertain or cumbersome regulatory regimes on investment. Many of us who have been in business can appreciate the fact that, if it takes you an extra two or four or six weeks to get through a regulatory process, sometimes that can make the difference between whether the business endeavour is viable or whether it is simply too complex and involves too high an expenditure of time and perhaps of service charges on the loans, if you’ve used financing to invest in a project.
Balancing the economy and the environment is important, because no one would suggest — no reasonable person would ever suggest — that we should open the doors wide and have no regulatory regime, and just let any company that wished to go in and develop somewhere without any restrictions. That would be absolutely ludicrous. It would be very hard to find anyone, if there is indeed anyone, in the Yukon who would suggest we should have no regulatory restrictions whatsoever.
There have been problems in the past with mines approved decades ago that have left environmental issues that require cleanup. Those are things that are being dealt with now by our government. The type II mine sites remain a federal responsibility, but the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and his department have been working very hard in involving the federal government and getting them to fulfill their responsibility to clean up those sites. That is a work in progress; however, it is something that is very important. If a mess has been left, it must be cleaned up. The importance of the wildlife and of the environment to all Yukoners is something that has to be recognized and has to be protected.
We would have very little reason to be here if we had no environment, no natural beauty and no wild populations. No one wants to see overdevelopment or unreasonable development. We want it dealt with within a sensible regulatory regime, and we want to ensure that companies are not taking action that will devastate the environment.
Members of the opposition have suggested in the past that the Yukon Party members on our side have no environmental conscience, have no recognition of this need, and that is simply inaccurate, as is evidenced by a number of the initiatives that we’ve undertaken and have continued.
The 1992 statement of commitment by the Canadian Parks Ministers Council was signed by the Yukon Party government. Reflecting on the investments, there is an investment in the current budget for a sewage lagoon near Burwash Landing to replace the one at Destruction Bay. I was reflecting on the fact that it’s interesting, with the commitment espoused by other parties to the environment, that the Whitehorse sewage lagoon was put in by a Yukon Party government, the replacement at Burwash Landing is being dealt with by us, and that previous governments engaged in a lot of rhetoric about the Dawson City sewage problem but had not taken action to deal with that. We are currently in the process of solving that issue and taking action to correct that problem once and for all.
We are very supportive of protecting the environment, but we’re also supportive of ensuring that the environmental rules are clear and understandable and that the process is not any less stringent than it needs to be, but that it is as quick as possible, that it does involve public input, and it does involve environmental concerns and is dealt with in a sensible and fair manner. It needs to be dealt with through a balance.
We recognize the importance of protecting critical habitat and protecting fragile ecosystems. The Tombstone Park and the Fishing Branch — I believe it’s officially the Fishing Branch Wilderness Preserve. It is a type of park. There are many different nuances in park types. Both of those initiatives were finalized by this government.
Previous governments had failed to finalize them. The previous government failed to resolve those issues. They were stalled by third party interests. We took the action to resolve those interests and to finalize those parks.
Acting Speaker’s statement
Acting Speaker: I would ask that all members refrain from speaking while another member has the floor, until such time as they have stood and been recognized. Then they will have the floor. Carry on.
Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Acting Speaker.
I can see that the leader of the official opposition, the NDP, is certainly interested in debating this. I look forward to hearing his comments on this. I suspect that the member and I will respectfully disagree, and I doubt I will agree with the comments that he brings forward as his opinion on this, but I look forward to hearing his unique view.
Most jurisdictions in Canada and elsewhere are interested in the status of protected areas systems. In fact, there are international agreements to encourage countries to provide protected areas status reports. Referring to the different types of wildlife areas, some protection areas can be as simple as protecting wildlife from hunting within a game sanctuary. They can be to the point of being a full park and restricting both surface and subsurface development. The Yukon at this time has approximately 10.4 percent of our total land mass under full protection.
060 – 061a
In addition to this protection, at least 13.3 percent of the Yukon is under significant protection at this time. Mr. Speaker, the Tombstone and Fishing Branch parks, as I said, were finalized by this government. They were not resolved by previous governments, and we certainly do not claim that the land claims agreements were drafted under this government, but drafting it and having a defined principle and actually implementing it are different things. Those initiatives were stalled, and we’re pleased that we have been able to move them forward to the implementation stage.
Now, for enhancing wildlife viewing opportunities, it is important that both within parks and outside of them that there be the creation of improved access to view that wildlife while protecting it. And that can be a bit of a balancing act. If you improve the access for people to get into an area where wild populations of animals are making their homes, how do you prevent that influence of humans from having an undue impact on that wild population? That has been a juggling act in the development of the plans for many of these parks and special management areas, and part of that solution can be through things such as the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. That provides an opportunity for Yukoners to see a number of species of animals in something that is basically their natural habitat; however, it prevents interaction with the animals; it prevents an undue influence, and it prevents damage to a larger ecosystem.
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve has recently been purchased by the Yukon government and is being run by the operating society. It was purchased due to public desire for that facility to be maintained within the Yukon.
There are over 700 members of the Friends of the Wildlife Preserve. I personally, as MLA for the area, received numerous phone calls, e-mails, and numerous people stopped me in the street or at the grocery store, and a number of people at public meetings expressed their support for maintaining that facility in Yukon hands.
The previous owners, who had operated it for about 34 or 35 years, Danny and Uli Nowlan, were selling the facility due to their desire to retire. I believe Danny was facing problems with a bad back, and he was about the age of 74 and recognizing that he wasn’t getting any younger. At the time the government stepped in and purchased the facility, the Nowlans were on the verge of selling off the animals. They had a buyer for those animals, and following the sale of the animals, they intended to sell the property. A number of Yukoners felt we would be losing a very valuable facility.
For a number of years, there was a contract between the Yukon Wildlife Preserve owners and Holland America that largely allowed exclusive sale of visitation rights to the Holland America bus passengers. There were still a number of school groups and a number of people privately who were allowed in; however, the Nowlans did not charge for that. They had a contract with Holland America for that.
It was a thing that many people thought was unfortunate. A number of the residents of the Hot Springs Road area and other people within Whitehorse as well were visiting that area within the time there, but a large number of the Yukon people were not aware at that time that they actually could go out and visit the area. There was a perception that it was closed when it was not actually quite the case. There was tremendous support for the purchase of this facility within the area. From the feedback I received from constituents, there was about a 20:1 ratio of my constituents in favour of us purchasing the Wildlife Preserve. It is not something that had unanimous support. This has been a hotly debated issue within the public at various times; however, from the feedback I received from my constituents — and certainly efforts were made to solicit this, including at very well-attended public meetings of mine — the support was overwhelmingly in favour of us doing so.
That facility was purchased at its appraised value based on an independent appraisal. I believe it was BDO Dunwoody that did the appraisal. The animals were purchased at their appraised value and the land was purchased at its appraised value. There was no money included for business potential or goodwill or any of the normal things included in the purchase of a business. It was not purchased as a business. The assets were purchased and were then to be set up in the interests of all Yukoners. Other elements in favour of the purchase were the fact that, in what was supposed to be the closing weekend for the facility, they allowed people to come and visit at no charge. More than 500 Yukoners went through the gates of the facility to view it.
The operating society took it over during the course of last summer. The official grand opening was in September of last year. I attended at that time. The number of people who were there was absolutely overwhelming. The parking lot at the Wildlife Preserve was full to capacity. In addition, there were vehicles parked for a significant way down the road, and a shuttle bus was running people from the Takhini Hot Springs property to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
I forget the exact distance in there. There’s probably about a mile between the two, or a little over a mile. It’s a little longer than people want to walk. I understand the hot springs parking lot was also quite full. I was not down there. There was enough traffic on the road that I chose to avoid that, but it was a capacity crowd. They were running tourists to the facility every 20 minutes or half an hour, and there was an overwhelming amount of support and desire to see this facility.
Many Yukoners, including the members who have volunteered their time for the society, feel there’s tremendous potential in this being an icon tourism destination. It was never marketed on a large scale to the world beyond Holland America. It is a facility that has a rare mix of animals and some populations that are not common within captivity. The society is currently in the process of marketing it to the world. There has been an initial increase in visitation. It is something that has tremendous potential. It has been used in the past for gaining a better understanding of the animals. There’s tremendous research potential through this facility and there’s a tremendous benefit to society in the ability to observe animals in what is essentially their natural habitat, but it is an environment where there is some control over it. You know what influences are getting in, you know what influences are being involved, and there’s the ability to monitor the effect of this and to understand what the animals are being fed and what is needed in their diet.
School groups have been visiting the facility throughout its history of approximately 35 years. I believe Yukon College either is, or is in the process of, taking students to the Wildlife Preserve as part of their program.
I mentioned the tourism aspect as well. For many visitors to the Yukon and in fact for some Yukoners living in Whitehorse perhaps, it may be the only opportunity to observe these animals. Not everyone spends their time out on foot or on snow machines, skis or dog team and running into areas where they may observe animals in the wild. I believe it’s very important for people to have some understanding and appreciation of a species, because if people don’t know about something, they tend not to care.
I’d like to keep the debate generally positive here; however, with the Wildlife Preserve, I should touch on the fact that the facility actually could have been sold to a private buyer. Indeed, there were several very serious private buyers who were prevented from buying it by the fact that the previous Liberal government amended the Wildlife Act and included a section that says that wildlife is any vertebrate animal that is wild by nature, and that all rights, title and ownership to wildlife are vested in the Crown. Now that is contrary to nearly 800 years of common law within our system, which we inherited from the British system — the Magna Carta, signed in 1215, the very origin of democracy within our system, the very first limitation of the power of the king, and protection of the power of a group of elected representatives. That very document included protection of property rights. It has since been protected more explicitly, but it is a fundamental principle that dates back to the very origins of democracy within our system. It has been in numerous court cases throughout all those hundreds of years. There has been tremendous case law respecting the fact that someone has the right to purchase property and to not be deprived of that property except through due process of law.
It was most explicitly protected within Canadian law by the Diefenbaker bill of rights passed — my memory is failing me on the year it was passed, but it specifically protected the right of Canadians to own property and not to be deprived of that property, except through due process of law.
It is my opinion that the Wildlife Act, that amendment, is contrary to a fundamental principle of democracy, a fundamental principle of a free society. If you do not have the right to own anything, if there are no limitations on the power of the state to take your property on a whim, then you have no freedom. This government is committed — the Minister of Environment has committed — that amendments will be brought in to remove that portion of the Wildlife Act that is contrary to property rights and that it will be clarified that the people currently caught in that situation — the owners of the elk, reindeer and bison — will have it made clear that, if they owned and purchased the animals legally, they do own those animals and the animals will not be confiscated by the state. No matter what the Liberal government may have wished to do, to remove a fundamental pillar of democracy is simply contrary to our basic rights and, I would argue, contrary to human rights.
Due to the time and the process involved in changing that amendment to restore clear title, there was not the opportunity for the previous owners of the Wildlife Preserve, the Nowlans, to sell it to the private buyers. The buyers read the Wildlife Act and were not comforted by the argument that case law said they really did own those animals and they really would be purchasing something. They looked at an act that said they wouldn’t be purchasing what they were considering buying and they wouldn’t own it, and they walked away at that time.
When that fell through, that’s when Yukoners stepped in and came forward and told this government that they wanted us to preserve this facility. As I said, there were over 700 members of this Friends of the Wildlife Preserve Society and a large number of other people, in addition to that, who expressed their support for us doing so.
I believe there is tremendous potential for economic benefit. The 2004 visitor exit survey statistics taken last summer showed 251,704 visitors to the Yukon, which is an increase of eight percent, or 18,938 compared to the results from the 1999 visitor exit survey — an eight-percent increase. Now, I would point out to you that I believe that is remarkable and that tremendous credit is due to the Minister of Tourism, the Department of Tourism, and members of the tourism industry involved in marketing for that increase.
Between 1999 and 2004, we had the impacts of September 11, 2001 and the tremendous drop in visitation after that time. We have now seen that changed to an increase of eight percent over that five-year period. During that period, total visitor spending increased by 12 percent, from $67.6 million in 1999 to $75.8 million in 2004, and those figures are adjusted for inflation.
Now, the Yukon has tremendous potential in many areas. There is tremendous potential in the resource sector. With barely scratching the surface of the natural resources we have out there, we can create significant economic benefit for Yukoners while preserving our natural environment.
There is tremendous potential in tourism and for having visitors to the Yukon and allowing them to see the natural environment.
There is potential in the housing market. In fact, in the last year, the value of residential housing permits in the Yukon between January to February 2005, in comparison to January to February 2004, increased by $1,800,000, which is 62.3 percent.
If you talk to any real estate agent, they will tell you that houses that go on the market now, especially in desirable rural residential locations, such as my riding and that of the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin and the Member for Southern Lakes — those areas that have a very rural setting — are often very popular. Particularly in areas such as my riding, which is very close to Whitehorse and within commuting distance, there is tremendous demand for property.
I’ve been told by realtors that some of the lots going up for sale in my riding are being snapped up within a period of a couple of days or, in some cases, literally the same day that the house is placed on the market they have received several offers for purchase.
Advancing land development has been addressed in the budget. It is something the government is working on. It’s something of great interest to my constituents. There is potential in that area.
I believe there is tremendous potential in the agricultural industry, as I referred to in my response to the budget. I believe this has been an undervalued industry in the Yukon. The purchase of a mobile slaughter facility, which is expected this year, will provide access to market for red-meat producers. The activities by the Yukon Grain Farm, Steve MacKenzie-Grieve, in the past couple of years with his potato production, have been somewhat innovative for the Yukon. Those potatoes are available in Super Store and perhaps in other grocery stores — I’m not certain exactly where they’ve been marketed. The size of the storage facility he has created is quite impressive. It is very gratifying to see this type of increase. In my opinion, it is also very important to see the Yukon taking over more control of our own food supply. The money flows within the economy, it provides us security in these somewhat uncertain times with the potential of terrorism, including bioterrorism, occurring. I believe it’s important to protect this and to have as much of our production local as possible.
The Yukon has potential right across the board. We have seen an increase in Yukon. We have seen the unemployment rate fall. It was in the double digits when this government took office. The unemployment rate for the Yukon is now 5.3 percent. We are one of the lowest in the country. We have seen an increase of 1,500 people in the labour force in the past year alone, between February 2004 and February 2005, which is a 10.3-percent increase in the labour force in just one year. I believe that is an excellent sign. I think we can all be pleased with seeing that.
In November 2002, the labour force in the Yukon was only 14,700 people. The number of people employed was only 13,300. Now the labour force in the Yukon is 17,000 people and there are 16,100 people employed. That’s an increase of 2,800 more people in the Yukon workforce since this government took office.
The signs are very positive across the spectrum. I have spoken largely today on the issue of wildlife viewing and the potential from that. I would ask all members to support this motion. I look forward to hearing comments from the other side. I look forward to going out to my public meeting this evening, talking to my constituents, many of whom are very encouraged by the fact that there has been significant progress under this government. There are certainly many obstacles and challenges ahead of us. There are many more things that we wish to do and they will be tackled, but the signs of improvement are strong. The sun is shining brightly outside and I urge all members to support this motion.
Mrs. Peter: I rise today to debate this motion brought forward by the Member for Lake Laberge. It is a pretty interesting motion, Mr. Speaker, and it addresses a few issues that are very important to Yukoners. There has been a lot of debate in regard to the wildlife and both parks that the Yukon Party government is trying to take credit for in all their speeches.
I listened closely to the comments from the Member for Lake Laberge. I agree with some of the comments that he made. People do come to the Yukon to view the Yukon wildlife. Tourists come from all over the world to enjoy the beauty and the wild in the Yukon, and, yes, we do have a lot of heritage. It’s not only with the gold rush that happened in the late 1800s, but there is a lot of First Nation heritage out there that people are interested in.
The previous speaker mentioned a bit about our Alaskan neighbours, and we’ve been talking about our Alaskan neighbours in regard to oil and gas and their interest in the Yukon within the last week or so. The motion touches on the opportunities of wildlife viewing through the purchase of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
I’m sure the preserve is very educational for students within our schools and the colleges. I’m sure it offers much in the area of research. Before the purchase of this Wildlife Preserve became final, there was much controversy and much debate in the public on how that came about. It brought out the debate about ownership of wildlife. There was a lot of input from the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board at that time in discussion with the previous Minister of Environment, and there was a lot of frustration. However, the debate was out in the public. It needed to be addressed. It was addressed, and there were a lot of strong feelings, especially in the area of the Umbrella Final Agreement and what it laid out in regard to wildlife and how that was approached by the Yukon Party government. It had to be spelled out very clearly for the Yukon Party government that wildlife cannot be owned by anyone in our society, because wildlife, as we see it from the First Nation perspective, belongs in the wild.
The Friends of the Wildlife Preserve had offered in the very beginning to purchase the Wildlife Preserve and weren’t successful in their venture. At the end of the day, it was the government who had to pay $2.06 million for this preserve. That was after two years of flat-out rejection of the purchase proposal by both the present Yukon Party government and the former Liberal government. The assets of the place were in question. But when the purchase was made public, in addition to the land, buildings and equipment, the assets include 112 animals: 14 elk, four moose, 13 caribou, 18 Dall sheep, 11 Stone sheep, 11 bighorn sheep, eight goats, 12 muskox, six bison and 12 mule deer. These animals are in this preserve, which is owned by the government today. People in the public have access to this preserve. I guess it’s beneficial for educational purposes when students from our schools have an opportunity to go out to this preserve and view these animals and use it in their daily studies to gather information.
I believe there were at least 20,000 tourists who went through the preserve last year. You know, that brought in some revenue for the government. But during the negotiations that were taking place, or the dialogue that was happening before the decision was made by the government to purchase this preserve — because the purchase agreement was negotiated at what was described as “the speed of light”, there wasn’t time to involve the Kwanlin Dun or Ta’an Kwach’an’ First Nations in the negotiations for this area. So they were left out of any dialogue that took place to address this issue.
And I believe the preserve is within their traditional territory and that begs the question: why weren’t they consulted? I believe I asked that question of the Minister of Environment at the time, who couldn’t answer. So, you know, that brings the question of this government always saying that their relationship with First Nations is very important and of the highest priority.
But at the time that such a huge decision was being made about the Wildlife Preserve, because it had to be made very quickly, there were two major First Nation communities that weren’t consulted. However, the decision was made and now the Yukon owns the Wildlife Preserve.
Some reindeer also moved there recently, so I assume they will be available for viewing.
Is this Wildlife Preserve cost-effective for Yukoners? There were questions of disease control within the areas where the animals live. The cost to Yukoners of maintaining this preserve is huge.
You know, I’ve heard from people throughout the Yukon that the question is: are we getting our money’s worth? We’re paying a huge cost for operation and maintenance, and the taxpayers are wondering if they’re getting their money’s worth for that place.
So the previous speaker is proud that this preserve is in his riding, and he was part of the dialogue that took place before the final decision was made. There are still other concerns out there about it, which I’m sure he’ll hear about if there is an election called and he starts knocking on doors.
The Yukon Party government also is patting itself on the back these days about the Ni’iinlii’Njik Park, which is at Fishing Branch, and this is near the Bear Cave Mountain south of Old Crow. Mr. Speaker, this park came about because of a lot of work on the part of a lot of people in my community. A lot of negotiations had to take place with government officials.
Lots of promises were made to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation regarding Fishing Branch. It took a long time for government to step up to the plate and acknowledge that this area was a very important area to preserve. It took a lot of hours, knocking on doors and lobbying governments, department officials and deputy ministers.
This year will be five years, because negotiations for Fishing Branch started in the year 2000. This area that we’re talking about, within the Vuntut Gwitchin traditional territory, is very important to our people, both culturally and historically. This area is the headwaters for some of our rivers, and it’s a key area for the grizzly bear population. And the grizzly bear favour this area because of the salmon spawning beds, where they feed more during the fall.
This area is rich in history and also rich for other resource reasons. The Fishing Branch area is a key area for archaeological reasons.
The elders in our community have asked that this area be one of the areas that we preserve for future generations for some of the reasons I pointed out.
Some of the stories that our elders share with us go back to when our people faced hard times with regard to food. This place, they said, was like a bank where they would go because there was always food available there, and they went for the salmon and the fish in that area. Our people were nomadic. Sometimes when they followed the caribou and weren’t successful in their harvest, then they would have to use alternatives or go to a different place where they knew they would get food for their families.
If you look back in the history of the Vuntut Gwitchin, there were times when our people were near starvation and they had to seek out these places. It was very important for them to make sure that they knew of these places where they could go if those hard times came up, that sometimes the caribou might not migrate in a certain place, or it might be a low season for fish and they would have to know that there were these key places where they could go and help people to survive over another season.
So these places are not picked off — to say that maybe we’ll try to protect this place for whatever reason. There’s always a purpose; there’s always a history for the people to protect a certain traditional area. That’s what Fishing Branch meant to our people.
I remember attending some of the meetings they held in regard to Fishing Branch and why they wanted to protect it. The elders in the community spoke so very strongly about that and what it meant to them and what it would mean for us today and for future generations. Yet it took a series of governments; it took a lot of commitment from leadership in Old Crow to not give up. They showed leadership; they did their homework; they made sure they had all the information they needed to come to the Cabinet ministers’ door and say, “This is the reason we need this place preserved, and this is what we have for you.” They had their homework done.
This area, because it’s the grizzly bears’ home, is the perfect place for bear viewing opportunities. Some Vuntut Gwitchin people can benefit from having people come to view these animals in their natural place.
However, that has to be done in a good way to make sure that we don’t cause too much disruption. It is a good economic development opportunity, not only for government but also for our people, and they can share with the rest of the world this history of Fishing Branch and what it means to our people and what we had to go through in order to get to where we are today.
There are ways of going about that. But the point that I would like to make here is, yes, Fishing Branch today is protected for our people because our people would never give up. They wanted to have the Fishing Branch area preserved for all time.
You know, with this Yukon Party government constantly saying that they are the ones who finalized this park area, Mr. Speaker, I’m here to say that, yes, they did sign on the dotted line, but they did not do the legwork that needed to be done. The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation leadership had all the work done and all the Yukon Party government had to do was step up to the plate and agree and sign on the dotted line. They are taking credit for something that they didn’t do, and that’s wrong.
We need to give credit where credit is due. That is only fair. Our people did the work and they brought it to your door. That’s how that was.
We are grateful that this area is protected. There are further opportunities in that area and we are looking forward to those opportunities, because that area could develop into a world-class wildlife viewing site. We need to show some of our wild places. That’s why tourists are attracted to the Yukon — because we have so much to offer. North Yukon especially has some very beautiful country to showcase, along with our history.
Some of the issues that came out while addressing the Fishing Branch preserve were in regard to oil and gas in north Yukon. The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is very much aware of that. One of the issues that had to come to the table was: are we going to be able to preserve this area? The minister, at one point, was so very sure of that and made those comments. The leadership of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation had to say, “No, that’s not what we said.” They had to step back and listen, because you just cannot march into someone’s traditional territory and say this is what is going to happen without first addressing and consulting with the people, because that’s not right and that’s not fair.
I’m just looking at a story that was published in one of the local papers. I’m not aware of the date, but it specifically quotes the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources saying that they have been working with the First Nation, meaning the Vuntut Gwitchin. “When I say we do have this consent, we certainly have consent at this point.” Further down it says that Chief Linklater says they do not have consent to address oil and gas leases in north Yukon. There were concerns about the wetlands area, and there were concerns about the Fishing Branch area. They had to go back to the table and talk to our people about how they were going to have a positive outcome with this issue, because they were told by a government they had consent when it wasn’t given.
Mr. Speaker, in this day and age, governments have to be totally aware of that. You cannot go into a traditional territory and say you have consent when you don’t. There are issues out there in regard to land use planning and other areas that First Nations would like to have protected, and if you do not consult, have government-to-government consultation, then you find yourself in trouble.
And it takes a lot longer to resolve these issues once it has come to that point.
So today we’re grateful that Fishing Branch had a positive outcome, and they’re looking forward to the outcome of a feasibility study on the grizzly bear viewing. Hopefully, it can be a positive economic venture for our people, especially showcasing that area.
The latter part of this motion is about Tombstone Park. Again, the Yukon Party government is patting themselves on the back. They say this is one of their successes. There has been so much controversy around Tombstone Park that dates back to when this government was first elected. I’ve heard the Premier stand on his feet in this House and say how wonderful a relationship he has with First Nation people and governments. He constantly talks about Vuntut Gwitchin and how he has a memorandum of understanding with north Yukon.
I’m a little puzzled about that because I’ve also heard the Premier state that land claims was his priority. We spoke about that in Question Period in the last two days. We heard how much commitment he has and how much First Nation relations are a priority with the Yukon Party government. And yet, when we talk about the Tombstone Park that he’s patting himself on the back for, I fail to see how that can be.
Tombstone Park is not a success. There has been an order-in-council issued by the Yukon Party government, but that order-in-council established a park that wasn’t consistent with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation’s final agreement, and it was not done in consultation with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. They did not come to an agreement on any of the outstanding issues that the government had with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in regard to their final agreement. And you can’t tell me, Mr. Speaker, that’s right. That does not live up to the intent and the spirit of the final agreement with the First Nation, and that’s not fair.
The Premier stands on his feet day after day and says, “Yes, we’ve accomplished a park, the Tombstone Park, with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.” And if that’s the case, why is it in court? Why is this issue before the court, if it was so positive, and everybody was in agreement?
Mr. Speaker, we look back to some of the history that took place for the Tr’ondëk people. Some of their key issues were that the establishment of the park was inconsistent with their final agreement.
And you look at what the government was offering — that area they’re talking about is rich in minerals. Natural resources, such as water, would be the highest priority. The Tr’ondëk are not pleased with what the order-in-council has deemed is fair for them.
So the Yukon government issues with the proposed management plan are inconsistent again with the final agreement of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in; therefore, they can’t take credit for finalizing the park.
What should happen if the Yukon Party is serious about the relationship with First Nation governments, and especially pertaining to this case, is they should go back to the people of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and talk about Tombstone Park and hear what is important for them. I’m sure that the Yukon Party government can sit at the table and listen to the concerns and come to a positive solution. They have the power to do so. They have, and they can do, what it takes to make a difference for the people of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in regard to Tombstone Park.
How the order-in-council came about was not fair to them. It does not address what the intent of their final agreement was supposed to be. You call that a good government-to-government relationship? I don’t think so.
When we talk about land claims and bringing all the land claims into finalization and talking about implementation, Mr. Speaker, I have heard the Premier mention on many occasions that land claims is their top priority and they will bring certainty to the Yukon Territory. Yet, in the case of Tombstone Park, there is so much uncertainty. It caused so much uncertainty for the people of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. It is a great loss for them because the area that they are talking about specifically is important to them. It is a very important area for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people. There is history there. I believe that their biggest loss is that area was part of their land claim agreement in the very beginning, and then they were told and the commitment was made by government to say that we will work with you and we will make this place an area where it will be protected through identifying it as a park.
Then what the Yukon Party government did was to come along and they identified it as a park all right, but they left out some very key areas that needed to be addressed with the First Nation, and that did not take place. Under the terms of the Umbrella Final Agreement, where does that stand with this government? If they honour the agreements that they were part of — they were at the negotiating table — why would such a decision like this take place?
Pretty strong words were used by the Chief of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in describing what they had to go through. There were words used like they were high-handed and oppressive, and I don’t see why it had to come to that. When there were already agreements in place, this government didn’t live up to those. They were dragging their feet on making any kind of decision in this area without any consultation, and they had to end up in court as a last resort because this government would not be flexible with them. They didn’t even have the courtesy to go and speak with the chief and council or consult with the rest of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people in Dawson.
And they have in their MLAs a Cabinet minister — what kind of a respect is that shown to another level of government? I fail to see how fair that is not only for them but for other governments that are witnessing this kind of treatment from this government.
And the management plan it hasn’t been put into place. It has been signed off, I believe, but it still hasn’t been put into place — what is it, 28 months after it has been signed? The park was supposed to become a park under a natural environment park, under the Parks Act, and that means an area of sufficient size that contains a variety of natural features, such as lakes, streams, mountains and forest, with a potential to provide a wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities. Of the four natural features cited — the lakes, streams, mountains and forests — only one part is the park as presently established under the order-in-council. What about the minerals within the park? All this is important to the Tr’ondëk people. They needed to have a say in how this came about, and that didn’t take place.
So are we advancing in the relationship that the Yukon Party had with other levels of government in the Yukon? You just have to look at that decision that took place with regard to the Tombstone Park. They are patting themselves on the back and saying, “Yes, we did it.” But that came about in a way that was not fair.
Some other information that is out there in the Yukon public is in regard to other protected areas throughout the Yukon. There are a number of key areas that have been designated or nominated for protection.
The other day, I heard the Premier say in this House that, of all the other governments in the past, they are the government that designated the most parks. I don’t think that’s true, because the number of parks or other protected areas that were initiated by this government is at zero.
We talk about other wetlands. There are areas around Mayo that the Na Cho Nyäk Dun have been talking with government about for years. Those issues still have to be addressed. There are no wetlands that are being formally protected by this government.
The word “protection” for this government seemed to be the key. They’ll protect the rights of oil and gas resource people coming into the Yukon, but when it comes to protecting our lands and animals — the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, who’s the only First Nation person within government, is clapping his hands and saying, “Yay.” Good for him, but I wonder how some of his constituents feel about the comment he’s making.
As First Nation people, Mr. Speaker, the priority for us is protection of lands and animals within our traditional territory. Yes, there can be resource development, but in a responsible manner. It has to be balanced. The people who are affected have to be consulted. There are too many cases before us that need to be addressed, but this government is not taking the step to do so.
The one area that comes to mind is the Porcupine caribou issue. People in here, especially the members across the way, might get tired of hearing me speak about the Porcupine caribou issue, but it is the number one priority right now for people in my riding.
You know, our lives are at stake. They can be a loud voice for resource development in the Yukon Territory, but they will not be a loud voice for our people — to save our culture, to save our livelihood. Of course, there are people across the borders who need to hear from our Premier — from this government — to hear exactly where they stand on this issue, especially in Washington. Yes, it is in another country. I have heard that argument from across the way. I’ve heard the Premier say, “Well, I can’t tell another government how to run their day-to-day business in another country.”
Shouldn’t he take an example from the Gwich’in people? We’ve been doing that for 20 years. We managed to win a vote in Washington, D.C. for the last 20 years, and here we have someone who won’t even take the risk. That’s the kind of empty promises that we hear, not only from our own government of today, but in Alaska and Washington. Yet, we will never give up.
When I’m in Washington and speaking on behalf of the Gwich’in people, what drives me while I’m there is how very important this issue is today for the young people.
Sometimes we forget about that population all too easily. They are our future generation. When our people make decisions today, it’s not for people my age, middle-aged people, because right now we are the leaders of our community. We are preparing for the next generations. The decisions that we make today are not solely for today. It would be good if governments can pay attention to that, because we’re here today making decisions, and our children and our grandchildren have to live with those decisions. What kind of legacy are we going to leave them?
We look at how much we had to fight with governments just to protect Fishing Branch, and look what Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is going through, just to try to get their issues met with Tombstone Park. They have every right to address those issues on behalf of their people today, because they want to protect that area for generations to come. When you think back of the land claims process, it took 30 years, Mr. Speaker. I remember the negotiations that took place in my community. The elders of that day who are not with us today made it very clear that the decisions they’re making on behalf of their people of that day are not for me — I was a teenager at that time — but they were already thinking about my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.
That’s how it goes. When I hear a government leader stand up in this House and pat himself on the back and say, “Yes, we’ve brought this issue, we did the work and today it’s in place.” When we’re talking about Fishing Branch, I know the work that was done by leadership and a lot of people who helped us to get there. It sure wasn’t the government of the day. People had to knock on their doors day after day. It took five years — some of the concerns were about the boundaries, about how much land there was in that area that we needed to have protected, and what the resource industry was going to think about that. All that took time, energy and commitment, and yet our leadership stood by it.
That’s exactly what’s happening with Tombstone Park. There are people, the leadership, who believe very strongly in what they’re asking this government for. It’s fairness, to be treated in the right way, to protect their traditional territory because there’s history of their people in that area.
They need to protect that area for their own future generations and to be able to have rights to the water and to the minerals in that area. These areas in our traditional territory are rich.
I will share a story with you about when I was on one of my visits to Washington. I had an opportunity — the first and the last time — to meet Senator Murkowski. He had a group of constituents at his office, and I was listening to their conversation. One of his young constituents said to him, “We are here today to ask for your support in our efforts to protect the Porcupine caribou herd within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” One of the comments that he made to these young constituents of his from Alaska was that the majority of the First Nation people in Alaska — mostly the Inupiat — were in agreement with him, that he should drill in this area. He said that some of the Gwich’in people in Alaska were in agreement with him. At that point, I interrupted and said, “Mr. Murkowski, I believe that the statement that you just made is not true, because I come from the Gwich’in Nation. We are 7,000 strong, and we stand united in the decision for no drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”
He suggested to me that I might go to Barrow, Alaska, to see the benefits of what oil and gas drilling can do for a people and how rich it could make them. I was surprised, because from the information that we have, and speaking to some of the people who live in some of those coastal communities, they are still living in poverty while living close to the development that’s going on up there.
I said to him, “I don’t think I need to go to Barrow, Alaska, to see what’s going on in that area. Some people may measure richness by the material things they have. Where I come from, in my community, we measure our richness by how we live off the land and how we’re so proud to have our land intact the way it is, without having oil and gas development in our own backyard.”
I said that we measure our richness by living a very simple life and knowing that we will leave some of what we have today for our future generations. I don’t need to travel anywhere else in the world to know how rich I am.
That’s how it goes, Mr. Speaker. To measure how rich we are as a people today is to ask: can I speak my own language? Would I be able to speak and converse with my elders in my community? Would I be able to visit and sit and have tea with my grandmother or my auntie and be able to bring her some traditional food? Would I be able to go out for the afternoon, pick some blueberries nearby, bring them home and share them with someone who is not able to go out and pick blueberries for themselves any more?
Last fall, when I was at home, one of my aunties came to me, and she said, “I’m not able to go out and pick blueberries any more. I have this very special spot that I’d like to share with you.” And she said in our language, “This spot was passed on to me by my grandmother, and maybe this fall” — she meant this year, 2005 — “I’m going to try to go back out again, and if I can’t make it, I want you to know I’m passing that berry patch on to you.” Mr. Speaker, that in itself is an honour.
I’m sharing these personal stories to try to help my colleagues to understand where I’m coming from.
When we talk so freely about protection in our traditional areas and how much it means to our people, we don’t talk only about what happens today. It’s that sharing and caring among our people that makes a difference, that passing on of the berry patch. Someone out there who is listening might think, you know, it’s a simple story. It is a simple story with a lot of meaning. When an elder shares that part of themselves with you, it’s an honour to accept that.
When we talk about our natural resources and protection of our lands, whether it be through parks or habitat protection, and we’re dealing with governments that help to make the final decision at the end of the day, it’s so very important for all to be heard.
We talk about stakeholders. The number one stakeholder in the Yukon Territory, throughout the territory, is the First Nation people. We make up the majority of the population here. Yes, land claims — there have been how many land claims settlements finalized to date? There are a few outstanding. Those agreements took 30 years to negotiate, yet today we still deal with a government that is not going to live up to the spirit and intent of those agreements.
They are part of the law of this land. When you have to go to court to reach some kind of agreement to have your rights acknowledged and addressed, is that fair? Is that what you would call good government-to-government relations? I think not. I think it would take a very humble person to say, “Well, maybe we didn’t do this right. Let’s go back to the drawing table and see if we can come to an agreement that addresses the needs of all stakeholders.”
I wonder if there would ever be a government in place that would take that step or that risk and say, “Oh, yeah, we did make a mistake. Maybe we will go back.” That would be an honourable thing for a government to do — admit that a mistake was made and go back to the table with other governments that are involved and say, “What are our options? What choices to do we have?” We don’t need to go to courts to settle this, especially when it was part of the First Nation’s final agreement already.
I wonder if we’ll ever see the day that that will happen.
So this motion, again, has a lot of nice words. These parks were finalized, but on the part of other people who did all the hard work. You know, we have a Yukon Wildlife Preserve that people are benefiting from here. Hopefully, the message is clear that other people were involved in making these decisions and we have to give credit where credit is due, especially if it’s part of a land claims package and the promises and commitments weren’t lived up to. It’s unfortunate that those things happen; however, they do happen and hopefully they can be changed. But there has to be a willingness on the part of government to do so.
I’m not in support of this motion, and I have an amendment to Motion No. 419.
Mrs. Peter: I move
THAT Motion No. 419 be amended by deleting the word “finalizing” and adding in its place the following phrase: “continuing the work of previous governments to establish”.
Speaker: The amendment is in order, and therefore it has been moved by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that Motion No. 419 be amended by deleting the word “finalizing” and adding in its place the following phrase: “continuing the work of previous governments to establish”.
Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, you have 20 minutes to speak to the amendment.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, the motion as amended with the changing of the words “continuing the work of previous governments to establish two new territorial parks” — as I mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, there were many people who were involved, especially in the Fishing Branch wildlife preserve and also the Tombstone Park. Mr. Speaker, there were people in my community who had been involved with this issue for the last five years. It is hopefully finally becoming finalized and moving on to other initiatives and opportunities where we can benefit from this preserve within our traditional territory.
I just wanted to make sure that the people who did all the hard work to make this possible were acknowledged, because I know for a fact that the leadership of Vuntut Gwitchin was coming to the doors of this government and the past government, the Liberal government, and putting pressure on them so that they would make some progress toward making Fishing Branch a reality.
I also let the House know earlier how important this area is to the Vuntut Gwitchin because of the history. It has a lot of archaeological potential. The area is also very important for the grizzly bears and it is also very important for the salmon. That’s where the salmon end their run every fall, so it’s easy for the grizzly bears in that area to get food before they go into the mountains for the winter.
As for the Tombstone Park area, I have talked about some of the history of what happened for the people of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in with respect to Tombstone Park. The debate is still taking place out in the public domain. Unfortunately it had to end up in the courts because the government did not have the respect for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government to do proper consultation with the people there before they went ahead and made a final decision on the park. That definitely didn’t live up to the intent and spirit of the final agreement for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. This issue is ongoing and hopefully the Yukon Party government will see fit and have the willingness to address those issues in consultation with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I will give my colleagues a chance to address this motion. I thank you for your time.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to speak to this amendment, because I feel that there were a lot of things put on the record that led up to this amendment that I take issue with. To start with, I have to say that one of the traditional values of great importance to all First Nation people was to be thankful for what one receives. After listening to the member opposite, it appears that that’s missing. I would like to put on the record that I do know a lot of citizens from the community of Old Crow, and I have heard on numerous occasions how thankful they are for the progress of the community since this government took office.
The truth of the matter is that this government did finalize the Fishing Branch area. I say to the members opposite that if it was such an easy task, why didn’t the NDP government do it when they were in government? Why didn’t the Liberals endorse everything the NDP did and finalize it?
I stand here today and say that I am a firm believer that they couldn’t find the cooperation among their group, and that they didn’t have the political will to do it, or else it would have been done. Now, to have the opposition member stand on the floor and blatantly say that this government does nothing, concerns me.
I can testify that, as a First Nation person, I have witnessed a lot of good things this government has done with respect to the environment —
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: We are, and always will be concerned about the environment. I have to say today that I believe that citizens in the north have to really sit back and take a good look at what they are suggesting their values are. For one thing, why do we in the north tend to believe that it’s our right to be able to just go to the gas pumps and fill our vehicles? Why do we think that we in the north have the right to expect everybody from the south to drill and develop their lands while we sit on ours? Why is that?
I would love to see what the citizens from Watson Lake to Old Crow would do if there was no diesel tomorrow. Everybody is opposing development. I would like to know what we would do with no diesel tomorrow.
All or half of the communities would have no power. They would have no heat. They would be in the dark.
Now, I say to the people in the north that responsible development is there for the taking, and I would also say that as a First Nation person I know that Mother Earth is a provider — a provider, always has been. Mother Earth has provided the trees for all of the shelters that are built. It has provided food and everything that is necessary for the citizens of this territory to be able to experience a good living.
Now, I believe that it’s really quite selfish that we people in the north seem to think that we don’t have to contribute anything to this world, and everybody else has to look after us. I find that just unacceptable. I think that we have to start thinking more along the lines of what have we got in the north to contribute? What do we have? Certainly I think we have a lot of resources in the north, and there we have the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin talking about the caribou. Well, Mr. Speaker, I really do value the caribou. But I do have a problem when we have people slaughtering caribou along the Dempster Highway. What is wrong with that picture? As a First Nation person, it does offend me.
I think that we have to respect the caribou from one end of the migratory path to the other, not only in selected areas where we can say, “Oh, well, it’s okay to do this here, but let’s not have this done over here.” No, I say that if the caribou are to be protected, I would like to see no more hunting on the Dempster Highway by anybody — native or non-native. Let’s see that respected.
I have problems when I hear from truckers saying that there are gut piles all over the place. That bothers me, because I value the caribou wholeheartedly, not only where they calve but right through to the other end of the migratory path. As citizens, I think we have to look at all of that, because that does give the Americans a foot in the door to say, “Well, why don’t you guys clean up your own backyard before you start telling us what to do in ours.” There might be some merit to that kind of thought. Because I am a First Nation person, I am embarrassed that that happens.
I think there is a lot of merit to saying that, yes, the Porcupine caribou herd is valuable. But, Mr. Speaker, I can also say that oil is necessary in the north. We can’t get away from it. We have to provide diesel to the northern communities. It just so happens, like I said, that much of the essential necessities are run on gas and oil.
So I think we would be very hypocritical to say that we don’t need it, we don’t want anybody touching our land in the north, we don’t want any development and we will continue to rely on the southern states, but we will clobber them every time they mention some development in our backyard. I don’t think that is the traditional way of respecting other people.
I believe that a lot of the comments made by the Premier to date are all very accurate, and I think that the Premier does have the utmost respect for all citizens in the territory and what happens to each community and each First Nation. I heard comments from the opposition criticizing this government’s relationships with First Nations. I will be the first one to stand on the floor and say that it goes both ways. We do have 10 self-governing First Nations in the Yukon Territory, and the respect flows in both directions. Self-government doesn’t mean that you now have the right to bash the Yukon government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. The Minister of Justice has the floor. I’m expecting the courtesy of the House to flow both ways. When a member is speaking, I would expect that same courtesy be shown as the member speaking previously had received. Minister of Justice, you have the floor.
Mr. McRobb: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Kluane on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Actually, Mr. Speaker I thought you might be calling the member to order. I think “bashing the government” could be construed as violent language.
Speaker: In the context it was used, I don’t see that as a point of order. Minister of Justice, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Before I was interrupted, I was saying that there were a lot of comments from the opposition that this government does not honour First Nations and their governments and working in partnership with the First Nations. I have to say that I don’t believe that. I think this government is going in a very positive direction in establishing those relationships. I have been involved with First Nation politics for many years, and I’ll state for the record again that I’ve never witnessed as much progress by any government over the last 15 years as what this government has done in two years.
I do thank this government for being the trailblazers here, because I’ll also be the first to say that I had great difficulty in making any headway with the last two governments. I was on the First Nation government, right in the City of Whitehorse, so I know that.
Again, the members would like to make it appear as though it is just very, very simple to agree to everything that comes across the plate of the territorial government. Well, I would beg to differ with that, because it is not that simple.
When there are 10 self-governing First Nations that have their direction and their own opinions, I think it would be somewhat a stretch of imagination that, yes, tomorrow we’ll have everybody speaking from the same page. I can testify from experience that this is going to be a very difficult, very complex situation to be able to work with so many governments in such a small area.
This Northern Accord under the Premier’s direction, which was developed, is probably the only path I could see that’s going to be beneficial at the end of the day. I believe that there were numerous comments by the past Grand Chief and some of the chiefs about how thankful they were to make such advancement in this area. All the comments made to discredit or minimize what this government has been able to accomplish are understandable, because in my opinion the only way to combat really positive progress is to try to create or find as much negativity as you can find about the direction someone is going.
I think this government has shown very positive leadership with regard to going forward with getting OICs in place to establish some of the areas the First Nations wanted protected.
I have to say that it was stated repeatedly that this government is taking credit for everything that has happened in the Yukon. I don’t believe that’s so, but I do believe, from previous experience, that this government has demonstrated a lot more political will to finalize some of the outstanding initiatives that First Nations wanted done. The proof is in the pudding.
The member opposite did say that, yes, the Yukon Party signed on the dotted line. Well, a lot of different governments left that line empty. They didn’t sign on it. For whatever reason they had, it was their choice not to sign on the dotted line, and that is what this government was faced with when we were elected.
We had to start signing on some of the dotted lines that everybody else refused to. I’m proud to say that this government had the political will to do that.
I’m going to close off by saying that I believe this government deserves to have some credit for the accomplishments that have been made within First Nation relationships. I believe this government has a lot of credit coming for what it has been able to accomplish with regard to economic development.
I think this government has to be commended for all the work opportunities for the citizens throughout this territory over the last two years. I think it is worth putting on record also that this government has spent millions of dollars in the community of Old Crow — millions. And that should be recognized.
Like I said earlier, I have a lot of friends from there who did say they really appreciate it. And I thank them for saying that and acknowledging it, because it appears like the MLA has some difficulty with that. I’d like the record to also state that all the millions that this government wanted to spend in the Vuntut Gwitchin riding were all opposed by the MLA from there. So it’s a good thing that we don’t just follow the advice of the opposition and that we do continue to spend where we see a demonstrated need.
I commend this government for all the work that they have done in the last two years, and I do not support this amendment.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: On the amendment, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, normally in debate it goes back and forth. We had a member who was up, waiting to be recognized, and you recognized the Yukon Party member instead. I would ask you to reconsider the situation.
Speaker: There is no point of order. However, the practice in this House has been government side, opposition side, government side, opposition side. I would like to take a moment to apologize to the opposition side. My eyes happened to be facing the side where the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources stood up. If he will acquiesce, I will go over to the Member for Mount Lorne.
Will you acquiesce?
Hon. Mr. Lang: No. I was recognized by the House, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: You have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to talk to the amendment to this motion that was put forward by the opposition. I listened to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin talking about her riding, talking about some of the concerns she has in her riding, talking about the concern that we as a government were not doing our job when we finalized Fishing Branch and that we were, in fact, just continuing the work of other governments. I think our government has always been prepared to recognize the hard work of other governments. But the fact is that our government signed off on the management plan for the Fishing Branch. Whatever the opposition wants to do, that’s the fact. We signed on the dotted line as the Minister of Justice talked about.
I find it interesting that the member opposite was talking about her constituency. I spent a lot of time in her constituency, so I know quite a bit about her constituency because I spent a few years in and out of there on a very regular basis. So I do have a lot of great relationships up there and great memories of when I spent a period of my business career up there.
The money that is spent by this government in the Old Crow riding is quite substantial, considering that when I talk to the people in Old Crow, this government is putting $300,000 together to stabilize the bank. The member opposite from Old Crow is going to vote against that. The environment — we’re going to work on the fishing and wildlife management planning, $15,000. That’s it. That’s money going into Old Crow, which the member opposite is going to vote against. Fishing Branch, ecological reserve — we do nothing for Fishing Branch according to the member opposite. There is $95,000, which the member opposite is going to vote against, that goes right to the park she has been talking about. Isn’t that interesting? We’re working with the community nursing. We’re doing some work on the residence. This government is going to replace the terminal building, $2,245,000. The member opposite is going to vote against it.
So, going on with —
Speaker: Order please. The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is intimating or saying that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin is going to vote against the budget. The member has no knowledge whether in fact she is going to or not going to, so I would ask the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources not to preclude the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin’s ability to vote whichever way she chooses.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I was under the understanding that she voted against it on the second reading. Maybe I’m incorrect, but I guess we’d have to read Hansard to see if she did vote against it. She did vote against it, so the facts are —
Speaker: We’re not debating this. The member has the opportunity to vote one more time on this budget, so I would ask the member not to use that term.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I stand corrected. She has voted against it in the past; she has an opportunity to correct and vote for it in the final vote.
So, anyway, it was just an overview of representation of a riding and the insinuation that somehow this government is not giving Old Crow a fair shake in the whole picture of the Yukon. I think we, as a government, are doing very well by Old Crow.
On the environmental end of things, of course, I think there are always concerns out there. I know, for me, living many, many years in Watson Lake, all these concepts of environmental protected areas come from concerns of residents. I know that in Watson Lake we had the Coal River warm springs that have always been a part of Watson Lake. We had concerns, and that’s growing into a conceptual idea of how we can protect that area for the citizens of Watson Lake.
I’m sure Fishing Branch started the same way. It started as a conversation, it started as a concern, and grew from there. Of course, as more and more people got concerned, it moved ahead. We, in fact, took it in the last two years to the point where we could sign off on it and make sure that it was protected and worked with the local residents to make sure that they had participation in it and could benefit from a great gift. Fishing Branch is a great gift for north Yukon.
And I agree with the member opposite when she talks about opportunities. There are opportunities there from the Gwich’in point of view of access. And, of course, there are all sorts of questions about access. I mean, do you have access or don’t you have access? How do we judge those decisions?
Certainly, Tombstone was another area in the Yukon that started out as a concern, not only of the First Nation, but of residents in the Klondike area.
And now we’re moving down the trail to where we can work and get this thing up and recognized and signed off and get the management tool together to make sure, again, that another area of Yukon is protected for future generations. So when we talk about the environment, we talk about different areas of the Yukon. I find the statistics where we work with parks and special management areas, which we’re working on on a daily basis with First Nations to get, again, our commitment, Yukon’s commitment to First Nations to address these things in a businesslike way and fast-track a lot of these things so we can have them done, so we can do other things as a government, as our government relationship works.
So as the Minister of Justice was saying, with the First Nation government and the territorial government, right now we have 10 First Nations with self-government agreements. As he says, it’s a learning experience on both sides of the table and we are working very positively with them to get a working relationship together so we can move forward. The part that the member opposite was talking about, in north Yukon and how oil and gas and consent and all that — I’d like to remind the member opposite that all settled First Nations, and in north Yukon, too, have in fact signed on to YOGA. YOGA is how we put dispositions out there. There is a process. There are steps and those steps are taken, and they’re written into legislation. That’s how it works. So the idea that we go up like a bunch of cowboys, or the territorial government arrives and dictates what’s going to happen, is factually not correct.
The government goes up. We have YOGA. All the settled First Nations — the north Yukon First Nations included — have signed on to YOGA. They were part and parcel that put YOGA together, Mr. Speaker.
So the process is there. We have utilized the processes in our dispositions and the local First Nation certainly had input into YOGA. That’s how YOGA was put together, certainly with consultation. There is a process for consultation in YOGA. The nature of YOGA is that we can get local input to these dispositions so that we can be aware of local concerns.
In the last disposition, we took a look at the Turner wetlands and said that there is some concern there. We will take a big part of that out. We will readdress what is still left here — in other words, put another environmental shield over it. The Peel River is a concern; we took that out, Mr. Speaker. That’s what YOGA is all about. We work with the locals to make sure that people can maximize their comfort with whatever disposition is put out there. That, Mr. Speaker, is a correction for the member opposite. Insinuating that, at the end of the day, oil and gas dispositions are put out in any other way is not correct.
As we go through the Yukon, we have parks and protected areas. We are certainly working with the Mayo RRC on the Stewart River habitat protection area. That has been a big concern for many, many years in that area. We as a government are concerned because of their concern. We are concerned because of the fact that the argument of protecting that area is not a hard argument to make.
Let’s listen to it. We are working with the First Nation and working with the RRC to make sure that, at the end of the day, that area is protected. We’re doing that. We’re doing that as a government of the day. As far as other areas, the Kusawa park, that’s all being put together. That’s an SMA that’s attached to the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. That is a protected area that has great potential, a wonderful part of the Yukon, fabulous, right next to, of course, the biggest park, which is Kluane — again, another thing that we’re working on.
We’re trying to get these things so that it doesn’t take five governments to get it done. We’re trying to be inclusive. We’re trying to get everybody on the same sheet of paper so that we can come out at the end of the day with an agreement that will work with everybody, and I think we’re doing that. I think the Stewart River thing is very positive, and we are working very positively with that group, addressing the issues on, first of all, where it is going to be and what it’s going to encompass. The territorial government has an obligation to do an overview of it. Any kind of internal expertise that the community needs, we have it or we can hire it. We can help in those decision-making processes.
And Tombstone — again a beautiful park, as I mentioned before, and of course part of a First Nation land claim. It has been dragging on and on, and we’re hopefully going to get that up; you know, sign off on it, work with the First Nation and go forward with that park. We certainly have funded it. I mean, the First Nation is putting up an interpretive centre. Those are all things that we committed to do. The Government of Yukon committed to do it and this government is doing it.
We are involving the First Nation in the actual construction of the site. All I think we’ve done as a government was that we requested so many square feet and the concept and everything else, and the First Nation is going to build it. They will build it and they’ll do a fine job, and it will be done in their traditional territory and I think at the end of the day we’re going to have a great interpretive centre for the Tombstone Park.
I think the Tatshenshini River route system is another example of a park. It’s a Canadian heritage river. I think if anybody in this room has gone down that river and had the experience of spending a day on it, it’s a fabulous asset for the Yukon. Now, understand that there is a part of it in the Yukon, a big part of it in B.C., and, of course, the watershed goes out through Alaska. So we have a three-jurisdiction overview of the river, but in fact we have worked in the past, as other governments have done, to make sure that it has been protected and moved ahead with the plan. I think it has been received very positively by not only Yukoners but also the world itself, and it means that a number of people from all around the world come and utilize the river for a tourist destination. I have never gone on the 12-day one, where you go right from Dalton Post to Alaska. I’ve never had the time. I wish I did have the time. I’ve heard great reports on it so hopefully one day I’ll take advantage of that. But again, it’s a park. It’s a park that the Yukon government worked with and got done and is moving forward on it.
I think we have a lot of the things, things that are coming out now that we have the Kwanlin Dun preparing to sign on with their final claim — like the Lewes marsh, which is a very important habitat protected area that hopefully is going to be fast-tracked, moved forward, and we’ll get that thing in place so we have that protected.
I think our government is committed to doing that, and I can’t see, again, what the argument would be against the Lewes marsh habitat protected area. I don’t think there’s an argument against that. I live on the river system and I see first-hand the ducks and swans and all the things we cherish in this country every morning. In turn, the Lewes marsh habitat protected area is a very valuable asset for Yukon, and I appreciate the fact that the Kwanlin Dun have brought it forward and it will benefit all Yukoners — so, again, another partnership at the end of the day to make sure that all Yukoners benefit from access to these different areas that we as a community protect and we as a community highlighted because we lived in the area, like we did the Coal River Springs in southeast Yukon. We did that because of the nature of that beautiful part of Yukon that we as a community cherished and wanted to protect. All these things are brought to government’s attention by those kinds of people: people who are concerned, who live in the area and point things out.
It’s not a biologist or a fish biologist; it’s invariably somebody — Joe Blow or some citizen of the community — highlighting and saying, “You know, what a fabulous thing.” And then it takes seed, and people move forward with it. So at the end of the day, we’ll have the Lewes marsh habitat protected area, and it will benefit all of us.
So as far as the concept by members opposite that we didn’t finalize it, the content of the motion is not a fair overview. It’s not all other governments; we finalized it. The fact is that we as a government signed the dotted line. We made the final commitment to go forward with all of the stuff, as the Minister of Justice just spoke about. I think it’s probably from the members opposite — it’s not the fact that we signed it; it’s who signed it.
That’s the debate. The debate was that we signed it. The Yukon Party government did the right thing and we signed it, so for them to insinuate in the House here that somebody else signed it, it’s not true. We finalized the documentation for the management plan. We did it, not the NDP government, not the Liberal government — they all had access to it, and plenty of time to do it. I’m not going to second-guess why the NDP didn’t do that. They were in for two terms. Maybe the Liberal Party wasn’t in long enough to make those kinds of decisions. Again, I’m not going to second-guess the government of the day.
We put priorities on issues like this under our environmental overview. We saw the importance of them, and we moved forward to get many of these things as housecleaning. We didn’t use them as politics; we used them as housekeeping. We want to get these things up and running and in place as soon as possible, so they cannot only benefit the First Nations but all Yukoners. We’re doing this for all Yukoners. All these protected areas will benefit all of us, whether it’s economically, community-wise or tourism-wise. There are all sorts of benefits out there, and those are the next steps we’re going to take.
As the member opposite was saying, are we going to have financial benefits from these parks? Well, for some of these parks, it’s probably critical that we don’t get hundreds of people in them. Those are decisions we have to make in management. How are we going to manage these areas? What is the priority of our parks?
Those are issues I think we can move forward with, but first of all we have to sign on the dotted line, and this government signed on the dotted line. We’re not going to deny it; we’re not going to be embarrassed about it; we finalized the documentation and that’s a fact.
Mr. Cardiff: I appreciate the 40-minute commercial for the Yukon Party, but we want to talk about the motion and the amendment to the motion and the recognition of the work that has gone before.
The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources went on and he figures that all you have to do is sign the agreement and that’s it and there is nothing that goes ahead before that. So, the minister is basically — and the Premier has done a good job of it too. We can read what the Premier said the other day — in fact, it was just two days ago — that the government had established the boundaries for Fishing Branch and the government implemented the management plan and past governments would not do that.
Past governments would not do that? Well, who did the work? Maybe the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources can tell me that? It was the previous NDP government and it was the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation that did the work. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of work done during the Liberal regime. I don’t know all of the details of that, but I do know there was a lot of work done previously.
The intent of the amendment is to recognize the work that previous governments and the First Nations did. They put lots of long, hard hours and sweat and tears into it, like my colleague, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin.
Then, the Premier went on to say that the government also established Tombstone. Well, the Tombstone Park was actually established by a final agreement.
Maybe the government signed it off and maybe they’re working on the management plan, but they can’t take all the credit. The wording of the motion, unamended, basically gives all the credit to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and the Member for Klondike. It makes them the champions of the environment, and that’s from the minister who hires champions for mining projects, hires his friends to be champions —
Speaker: Order. The member knows full well that that kind of intimation is out of order, and I’d ask him not to use that.
Mr. Cardiff: Okay, I’ll withdraw that. He hired certain people to be champions of mining projects.
I guess the question is: who is going to be the champion for the environment? How much money are they going to invest in that? Why don’t we look at the budget and see just what the commitment of this government is to the environment and whether or not they are committed. Look at the budget. How much money is there for Energy, Mines and Resources? $43 million, that’s total — operation and maintenance and capital. There’s $5.8 million for Economic Development. The one thing, I suppose, in spending that $5.8 million is that they did bring a lot of people from other jurisdictions to view the wildlife, which is spoken about in the motion, and I’m sure they appreciate that.
Hopefully they’ll get an understanding of that. What do we see for the Department of Environment? $23 million. There’s $42 million for Energy, Mines and Resources, and $23 million for Environment. Some of the initiatives in the Environment department are related to economic development and tourism initiatives.
The Member for Klondike basically did the same thing the Premier did — wanted to take credit for Fishing Branch and Tombstone. We eagerly await the details of the work the government is doing on the Kusawa park that they were talking about.
The Premier also talked about protecting the Bonnet Plume and the Snake River valleys. The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources upped the ante. I know they all flow into the Peel, but they’re going to protect that valley too, and they talked about the Turner wetlands. We hope that’s not going to change the traditional Yukon Party and Premier’s policy of “log it, drill it, mine it, pave it and protect it” to “log it, drain it, drill it, mine it, pave it and protect it”. We hope they really mean they’re going to protect it. All he said was that they alienated it. Where is the protection? Are they creating a park? Let us know. Talk to the people about what their plans are. Share them with the Yukon public.
The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and the other speakers today wanted to take credit for the work that had gone on for many years before a Yukon Party government.
The Minister of Justice said some interesting things in his comments as well. He said we should be thankful. He said he blazed some trails through Tombstone Park, I believe, and he also said that oil was necessary and that he’s not going to stop anybody from exploiting the resources we have here. Well, there are a lot of other resources we have here besides oil and gas. The Minister of Justice needs to be a little bit more creative than “we just need more oil and gas”. That’s what we need. We need diesel fuel and we need gasoline. Otherwise we’re not going to survive.
I didn’t hear the Minister of Justice, or any of the speakers today — but I didn’t hear all the Member for Lake Laberge’s comments — talk about conservation of energy. I’m not saying that we don’t need oil and gas or diesel fuel. We do, but there’s nothing wrong with working toward conserving and reducing how much we use so that those resources are left in the ground for our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren.
If the members on the opposite side didn’t get the drift the other day, there is an end in sight. The climate is changing, resources are dwindling, and the resource that needs to be preserved, which we’re talking about here, is our environment. It’s the habitat for wildlife. It’s also something that will support the economy. It’s spoken about in the motion.
In my riding of Mount Lorne, there are people from all backgrounds who are in all kinds of different occupations. I’ve got miners in my riding, and I’ve got loggers and I’ve got environmentalists, and I’ve got home-based businesses among my constituents.
What is needed is a balance between development and progress and the preservation of the environment. The President of the Yukon Chamber of Mines said that the other day on the radio during the phone-in show that the Minister of Environment was on. He said that what is needed is a balanced approach and a fair approach to development. I don’t disagree with that.
There are rules in place and there is a process that now includes a project champion. But what I question is, in that approach there now with the project champion, who is going to be the champion for the environment in that process?
The other thing in my riding, I guess, is that I have people — and there are lots of people here in Whitehorse and around the Yukon who work in the wilderness tourism industry. That’s another one of the reasons why we need to take it slow and preserve, and have a conservation strategy on how we are going to protect areas here in the Yukon and, at the same time, develop in a responsible manner.
The creation of areas like Tombstone and Fishing Branch, the purchase of the Wildlife Preserve, the creation of other parks and protected areas down the road, the creation of habitat protection areas and special management areas are all things that are going to contribute to the wilderness tourism industry and the economy.
What’s in the motion is talking about what has been done. What we need to ask is: what are we going to do in the future?
The wilderness tourism industry contributes a lot, with very little impact on the environment out there. They have a policy, a practice, a code of ethics — call it what you will — I think it’s called “Leave No Trace.” When they send people down the river or into the wilderness, or when they guide people in the wilderness, they do their best not to leave any trace. They pack their garbage up, they bring everything out. If only some of the development that’s taking place in the territory could leave no trace, then there would be that pristine wilderness that would attract people to the Yukon.
The people who come to participate in those types of activities are typically the people who spend the most money. It’s not like the National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” where Chevy Chase and his family walk up to the Grand Canyon, take a look, and get back in the station wagon and leave. The only thing they left on the ground was their footprints and the nickel that fell out of a pocket. These people come and spend some serious money.
They’re the people, the tourists — they come for the wilderness experience, to see beauty and the pristine wilderness, and we need to preserve that, because that is part of what our economy is based on and it is what is sustainable. That can be sustained. We need to take a view that we shouldn’t be trying to develop — it sounded like the Member for McIntyre-Takhini wanted to develop everything as fast as he possibly could. He’s not going to stand in the way. He’s the champion.
But we don’t need to develop everything today, tomorrow, next month, next year, next decade. We want to be around. We need to think of our future, our children’s future and the grandchildren who come after that, and leave some oil and gas in the ground for them, leave some minerals in the ground for them, leave some trees standing so that they too can build houses. Be a little creative about the things that we do here in the Yukon. We don’t have to do everything like they do in the south. We don’t have to do everything like they do in Alaska.
There are a lot of other options out there, and we need to be cognisant of those.
Let’s look at some of the other things that need to be done. There was an ad in the paper recently about some of the things that need to be done and the top three reasons why tourists come to the Yukon. I just touched on all of them — natural attractions, cultural heritage features, outdoor wilderness activities. Nobody is coming to the Yukon to look at the mining activity, except the people who want to extract the resources.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: I always love it. Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike is in his chair now and I know he is going to make me talk until 6:00 p.m. He just loves hearing the sound of my voice. I always look forward to closing the day out.
Let’s look at some of the other things and the things that haven’t been done. The government wants to take credit for finalizing these two parks. How many parks have they initiated? We heard that they’ve initiated one, but they haven’t come out with any details on it. So they have a great big goose egg — zero parks initiated, unless they’re going to start talking to the public and sharing some of the things that they’re doing. Talk to the people, communicate. The total number of wetlands that has been nominated for protection in the Yukon is 54. The number of key wetlands that have been formally protected or designated since 1994 is eight, and that’s eight in 11 years. The number of key wetlands formally protected by the current government — another big zero, unfortunately. It sounds like they’re working on some of that, but they’re obviously not doing a very effective job of communicating it.
The intent of the amendment is to recognize the hard work that has been put in by many people who have gone before this motion. A lot of credit is being taken by this government, and they’ve shown no shame in advertising it this afternoon — to take credit for these initiatives.
The intent of the amendment to the motion is to recognize the hard work of those people in this Legislature, in the public, the First Nation governments, the members of those First Nations who participated in those processes to arrive at the establishment of those parks and those protected areas.
Speaker: The time being 6:00 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Debate on the amendment to Motion No. 419 accordingly adjourned
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 6, 2005:
Capital Budget (2005-06) detailed summary by community (Fentie)
The following documents were filed April 6, 2005:
Spring Sitting 2005 sitting length letter re: (dated April 6, 2005) to Hon. Ted Staffen, Speaker from Gary McRobb, MLA, Official Opposition House Leader (McRobb)
Spring Sitting 2005 sitting length letter re: (dated April 6, 2005) to Hon. Ted Staffen, Speaker from Pat Duncan, MLA, Leader, Yukon Liberal Party (Duncan)
National Orphan Drug Policy, letter re: (dated April 6, 2005) from Provincial-Territorial Health Ministers to Ujjal Dosanjh, Minister of Health, Government of Canada (Hassard)