††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Tuesday, April 12, 2005 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: † We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Yukonís information technology sector
Hon. Mr. Lang: I rise today to pay tribute to Yukonís information technology sector. We are pleased to see such a vibrant group participating in our economy. Mr. Speaker, our world and our economy are changing. In Yukon, the use of natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, has contributed to our growth and development. Now, in addition to the exchange of goods and services, we add the exchange of information. This is an economic sector that is not limited by geography or climate. It is an area where bright, creative minds can create solutions that may be applied to problems the world over. This is an area where new innovations occur with exciting regularity. Just think of how rapidly technology has changed in the last 20 years. As information technology plays an increasingly important role in government, commerce and industry and also in our personal lives, a strong information technology industry is essential.
We are pleased that we have so many Yukon companies engaged in this sector. The local information technology industry has partnered with us in developing a plan that helps them achieve greater success. We are stabilizing governmentís IT budget at around $5.8 million per year to ensure more certainty for this sector. A stable budget clears the path for more Yukoners to excel in this field, but by providing stable funding the IT industry can staff positions for more than a year, which will help them retain more bright young Yukoners.
This government is also modifying our intellectual property guidelines and ownership agreements. By changing our intellectual property policy, we are giving them the ability to share their creative solutions with the world. This change lets them reuse parts of applications they have developed within Yukon government contracts on other projects for other clients. This is a win-win move.
We are pleased to help the Yukon Information Technology Industry Society find a way to help Yukoners grow their industry. We believe that they have a great future and we are pleased to partner with them to help them achieve these goals.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Returns or documents for tabling.
Reports of committees.
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to conduct public consultations on the outdated Landlord and Tenant Act and bring forward amendments by the spring sitting of 2006 to make the legislation more understandable, more accessible and more responsive to the needs of both landlords and tenants.
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to recognize the heritage value of the Northern Splendor reindeer herd; and
THAT the government recognizes that 18 years ago these reindeer from Tuktoyaktuk were tundra-fed reindeer; and
THAT the historic value of this herd requires the government to ensure that the health of the herd be maintained until such time as the disputing parties have come to a resolution.
Speaker: Is there a statement by minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Business loans, outstanding
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Premier in his capacity as Minister of Finance. The Yukon government recently struck a deal with Dana Naye Ventures to collect on over $2 million worth of bad debts. Since the Premierís office refused our request for a briefing on this deal, the Premier will have to indulge me on some pointed questions in the House.
Why did the Premier enter into an agreement with Dana Naye Ventures that could mean that taxpayers could get far less than they would have under the offer he rejected last year from the same agency?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: For the member opposite to stand on the floor and make a representation that the government would receive far less than the offer that was received on the option to sell this portfolio simply is not supported by the facts. Our purpose here is to collect the delinquent amount. Over and above that, as part of this arrangement with Dana Naye Ventures, we have addressed a long-standing issue and challenge in this territory by creating a loan capital fund to allow small business to access much-needed risk capital. I think that shows great progress on this file.
Mr. Hardy: Isnít it interesting that this is a Premier that promised there would be no more loans done by the government last year. Now heís saying heís actually creating one.
The Premier should do the math or at least read the fine print of the deal. The fact is that Dana Naye would get $350,000 from Yukon taxpayers even if they never wrote a single letter, never made a single phone call or never collected one red cent of the outstanding amount. Iím going to put that aside for a moment and look at some other aspects of this deal.
When the Premier first started giving himself credit for taking on this long-standing issue, he made a big fuss about being fair to everyone and not doing anything that would put Yukon people out of business. Can the Premier tell us what safeguards are in place to ensure that Yukon-owned businesses that are making an honest effort to meet their responsibilities wonít be forced into bankruptcy or have to cut badly needed jobs, especially in rural Yukon communities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite just doesnít get it. First, the member makes the assertion that the government is in the loans business with this arrangement with Dana Naye Ventures. Well, the member is wrong. Not only is the government not in the loans business, the risk capital, or loan capital, fund is under the auspices, management and control of a financial institution where this whole loans portfolio file should have been in the first place.
Second, the member doesnít get the issue of delinquency versus those making an attempt to pay their loan. We allowed time in a fair, objective manner for all individuals to come forward to bring their loans into good standing, save and except the two members on this governmentís side. Those that havenít come forward remain in delinquency, and thatís the point. Weíve gone to collection because theyíre not paying their loan.
Mr. Hardy: Well, we on this side are so used to the personal attacks by the Premier if we ask a question he doesnít like. However, one step Dana Naye plans to take is reporting these delinquent loans to central credit bureaus. The Premier hasnít explained why his department didnít do that a long time ago. The department did put out a list from time to time on who owed what, and I hope the new arrangements wonít prevent that from continuing, because this is not a private debt. Itís money owed to the Yukon people.
Yukon taxpayers are disgusted by this whole affair, especially when it involves members of the Premierís own Cabinet, and Iím sure he has heard this. They smell the same kind of stench that we smell from the federal scene. Canadians are being subject to this on the national scene and itís now coming home to roost. The Premierís failure to take decisive action is making people very cynical about this government and about politics in general, and it touches all of us.
So I have to ask the Premier exactly what people on the streets are asking every single day ó at least theyíre asking me. With or without this deal with Dana Naye Ventures, will the Premier take the necessary steps to make his delinquent Cabinet ministers, especially the Deputy Premier, repay what they owe Yukon taxpayers in full, or will he remove them from Cabinet if they refuse to do so?
Speaker: Before the Hon. Premier answers, the Chair is not entirely comfortable with the adjectives being used on both sides of the floor. Both the questioner and the answerer are articulate individuals. I would ask that you just tone your rhetoric down a little. Hon. Premier, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The only way I can begin my response is by pointing out that the member, with all due respect, is wrong in his assertions of what is happening here. Let us go over the facts.
In the first instance, this delinquent file has been delinquent for 12 to 15 years. Upon commencing the process to deal with this file, the government first initiated a process that allowed people to come forward and bring their loans into good standing, save and except the two members on this side.
We forgave NGOs hundreds of thousands of dollars. We repatriated over $600,000 to the federal government, where it belonged, and in that process a recommitment of over $2 million was made. Now, there is a remaining delinquency. All through this process weíve treated all individuals fairly. The remaining delinquencies are now under collection.
I might add that, considering the timeline that these delinquencies have been on the books and never collected, this is the obvious choice ó going to a financial institution that has the means, wherewithal, and the mechanisms in place to collect these remaining amounts.
This is the government that has actually progressed on this file, and I think itís fair to say that somebody has finally taken this file on to deal with it.
Question re: Adverse drug reactions
†Mr. McRobb: An in-depth series by the CBC this week is uncovering some rather startling findings about widespread adverse drug reactions among seniors. It found that as many as 3,300 Canadian seniors die each year due to adverse drug reactions. That estimate has been verified by experts who also warn that the number may be even higher.
According to a report submitted to the Adverse Drug Reaction Database, CBC found that among all prescription drug users, seniors are three and half times more likely to die than people in lower age brackets. What is our Health minister doing to safeguard Yukon seniors from this peril?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite has raised a very good issue, and itís an issue the department is cognizant of and is following up on through the appropriate channels. When the doctors prescribe, they clearly indicate the adverse effects and, at the same time, thereís another check done by the prescribing pharmacy. Thereís a follow-up there. If there appears to be any irregularity, the pharmacy will contact the prescribing physician and clearly indicate that there may be a problem here.
So there are checks and balances in place, and they are working, but that does not alleviate the problems that are occurring worldwide with drugs having gone through due process and being put on the drug formulary and, after a period of one, two or three years, there has been a reaction to that drug with very adverse effects and that drug subsequently has had to be taken off the market.
So the member is on a very good topic, and it is one that we have recognized. The medical profession is very cognizant of this and is following up accordingly.
Mr. McRobb: It would be reassuring if we heard some measures the minister is taking to protect our seniors. The risk to seniors of adverse drug reactions is more serious than anyone knows. At best, Health Canada receives reports for only 10 percent of all adverse events, but some people put that figure at only one percent. The reporting rates for seniors are even lower.
The effects are not always obvious, because itís more accepted that seniors are expected to experience declining health. Some of the adverse drug reactions might be as subtle as a person becoming more confused, sedated and not eating or drinking properly.
Iíd be interested to know if this minister can provide any statistics of how this issue affects Yukon seniors to indicate how widespread the problem is here.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Given the small numbers in the population base, we do not enter a lot of the data into the statistical base for Canada. That said, I can assure the member opposite that there is a very stern follow-up by the pharmacy back to the prescribing physician in the event that there may appear to be any irregularity in the drugs that are prescribed, especially for our seniors.
Mr. McRobb: One reason the minister needs to take this issue very seriously is that the Yukon population is ageing steadily. As the so-called baby-boomers reach retirement age, the problem could get even worse, so the minister needs to get a good handle on whatís happening.
Last fall I asked him about uncontrolled prescription drug use in our territory. This was, and probably still is, a serious problem on the streets of Watson Lake, Whitehorse and other communities. I asked him whether he would institute a system similar to the PharmaNet program used in B.C. to monitor and track prescription drug use. He indicated he would investigate it. Can the minister now give us a progress report on what is happening to bring PharmaNet, or a similar prescription tracking system, to the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There currently is in place a control mechanism on controlled drugs, and itís a three-part prescription with one part going into a tracking organization based in Alberta that reports back any irregular or excessive use. So that is in place and it is working, but it doesnít preclude the theft of prescription drugs from seniors or elders. It doesnít preclude those who are double doctoring and get a number of prescriptions. It doesnít preclude a lot of irregular and, in fact, downright illegal activity on the part of people that would circumvent the procedures that are in place.
Question re: Thomson Centre, future use
†Ms. Duncan: For the past two Question Periods, I have asked the Minister of Health and Social Services about the future of the Thomson Centre and what services will be provided in this repaired facility for Yukoners. Unfortunately I have received contradictory non-answers.
Yesterday he revealed that although the government has paid millions and millions of dollars in repairs to bring the Thomson Centre up to code, it was learned that the Thomson Centre is in fact owned by the Yukon Hospital Corporation. This relates back to the transfer agreement going back to 1993 and was clarified by the government and the Yukon Hospital Corporation over the last year.
The Yukon Hospital Corporation is armís length. The board consists of very capable Yukoners, chaired by a very capable Yukoner, and has the assistance of a CEO. The minister has a working relationship with this armís-length corporation. Presumably he has had discussions about what services will be provided to Yukoners in the repaired and renovated Thomson Centre. Is he prepared to share that information with the Legislature today?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I already have, Mr. Speaker. The Hospital Corporation came to the Government of Yukon with a proposal to commence a program of medical detox and expand the mental health program that they have. Our government has agreed to it. There is a demonstrated need and our government has agreed to it. We have agreed to fund this program.
Ms. Duncan: In his answer today, the minister didnít elaborate on the palliative care aspect of the Thomson Centre. This is the whole problem ó the ministerís incomplete answers.
The Yukon Hospital Corporation, an armís-length corporation, receives in excess of $25 million a year in transfer payments from the taxpayers through a vote in this Assembly. The Hospital Corporation is managing this money, making requests about programs, determining how the money is being spent, what the plans are, how they will continue to serve Yukoners. It has taken questions of the minister and we still donít get full answers. Itís a substantial sum of money.
Iíd like to ask, in the interest of accountability to the taxpayers, in the interest of public discussion on matters of importance to Yukoners, like the Yukon Party promised: will the Health and Social Services minister in his capacity as Health and Social Services minister and House leader, ensure that the Yukon Hospital Corporation chair and CEO appear before the Assembly to answer questions in this sitting, just like the Yukon Development Corporation and Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board do?
We would like full and complete answers on $25 million of taxpayersí money.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Letís look at the previous Liberal administration and letís look at whatís happening now. Letís look at the arrangement between the Yukon Party government and the previous Liberal Party government and the Hospital Corporation. We have the issue of capital equipment purchases under the Liberals, where they wouldnít fund the CAT scan that was agreed to. They had to raise their own money. They had to raise their own initiative. The Yukon Hospital Corporation, through a lot of fundraising initiatives, has capital available.
The Yukon Party government has gone to work, put our financial house in order and is funding a lot of capital initiatives in consultation with the Hospital Corporation. Thereís a very good working relationship, but the professional people in the medical field are the ones who come forward with the ideas as to what services we can enhance and what programs are needed, based on demand. Our government has reacted and reacted very well, without hesitation or reservation, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Iím not going to thank the minister for that non-answer or for his version of history. The facts of the matter are these: the Yukon Hospital Corporation is an armís-length corporation from the government. They receive in excess of $25 million of funding to run the hospital, which most Yukoners find themselves in contact with daily. This is the place where we ask questions about how that money is being spent and we ask questions about services being provided to Yukoners. We have had that opportunity with such armís-length corporations as the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Yukon Development Corporation. Now, the Yukon Party, the members opposite, promised consensus, they promised collaboration, and they promised to listen to the opposition, to accept their good ideas.
Iím asking a very simple request: to have the Yukon Hospital Corporation, chaired by a very able Yukoner who has extensive experience in the Yukon, to please appear before the Legislature and answer some questions. She can do so at the request of the government. Would the government make the request?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I think what we have to recognize and be thankful for is that the Whitehorse Hospital is the only acute care centre in the Yukon, and it is probably the best small hospital existing in Canada. We have a lot to be thankful for. The development of programs comes from the Yukon Hospital Corporation itself, and they come to the government with expanded programs based on demonstrated need for capital equipment and everything. And we do so.
With respect to the request of the member opposite to appear before the House, the Yukon Hospital Corporation recently appeared before the Public Accounts Committee. Whatís the issue? I canít see anything. Public Accounts Committee has full disclosure, and the member opposite is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: U.S. border crossing requirements
†Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Tourism and Culture. By 2008, all U.S. and Canadian citizens will have to present secure passports in order to cross the border in either direction. This measure to increase security will inevitably impact the pace of border crossings and perhaps even the amount of traffic. The Yukonís tourism trade depends heavily on such travel. What has the Tourism department done to communicate Yukonís concerns to the federal government and to the Yukon MP?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, the Department of Tourism and Culture is certainly well aware of this issue and has been dealing with it for some time. It does remain, however, a federal issue. So we have brought it to the attention of those who we can, but it is certainly not something that we control.
Mrs. Peter: As a member of the Canadian Tourism Commission, the Yukon has a voice on the national scene, and the Yukon is not the only place in Canada with concerns over any delays in crossing the border. Has the department asked the commission to make presentation to the federal government on behalf of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: This is an ongoing discussion, and if the member opposite wishes any details on that, I would be happy to have the department respond to that in a bit more detail than I have at my fingertips at the moment.
Mrs. Peter: This issue is of serious concern to industry and to the people of the Yukon. The minister has the responsibility of answering those questions and answering to the Yukon people. Any slowdown of cross-border traffic will adversely affect the Yukonís economy in more areas than just tourism. It affects the supply of goods and services; it affects people in Skagway and Haines who wish to travel to the Yukon to shop. Trans-border trade is vital to the Yukonís economy.
The Premier has repeatedly referred to his close relationship with the Governor of Alaska. What discussions is the Premier having with Governor Murkowski about this issue that affects so many Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, itís a federal issue, and Iíd be happy to provide what the Department of Tourism has. The member is quite correct that this affects trade. Itís something thatís dealt with on the federal scene with federal, provincial and territorial ministers of international trade. Weíve had meetings with the federal minister on that. Weíve had discussions at the federal, provincial and territorial level. We are very much aware of that. The discussions are ongoing; they have been done in detail in Winnipeg a month or two ago. Committees are working on that under the good leadership of Nova Scotia, among others.
Weíre very much aware of that, but it is a federal issue. I agree with the member opposite that it is a very serious one, but it is a federal issue.
Question re: ATIPP public consultation
†Mr. Fairclough: I have a question for the Acting Minister of Highways and Public Works. On December 6, the minister told the House that he expected consultation on changes to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to begin in the first half of this year. Weíre now into the fourth month, and we havenít heard anything further on this matter. Will the acting minister tell us when these public consultations will begin and how they will be conducted?
Hon. Mr. Lang: What Iíll commit to do is give you something in writing on the plan and how itís going to unfold. Iíll do that as soon as I can.
Mr. Fairclough: This is obviously a very important issue. It was raised in the public, and Iím surprised that the acting minister doesnít have the information in front of him. There is no question that this act needs a major overhaul. There are many, many concerns out there about it, everything from ministers breaking confidentiality on the floor of this House to the perception that some departments may be using the cost of providing records as a way to discourage people from asking for information they have a right to see.
The minister said that 23 issues were being reviewed, but he didnít seem very interested in giving people who use the act on a regular basis the opportunity to provide input into what needs to be reviewed. Has the acting minister added any of the concerns that have been raised in this House or in the public to the list of issues for review, or does he still insist that the review is all thatís needed?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Iíd like to correct the member opposite. The government has to follow the act, and we have been following the act. The minister responsible is going to address the issues. I committed to get something to the member opposite in writing on how thatís going to unfold, and I will live up to that commitment.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, information should very much be flowing across the floor of this House. Thatís why weíre asking the question. It sounds to me, Mr. Speaker, like the acting minister hasnít paid much attention to the Privacy Commissionerís last report, which set off alarm bells about the culture of secrecy within the government. It also sounds as if he is conveniently ignoring the concerns raised in the media about the exorbitant cost of getting information, including one media request that reportedly would have cost over $20,000. The minister tried to justify the high cost by suggesting government records are sometimes difficult to track. If there is a problem with records management and retrieval, people applying for information shouldnít have to bear the burden for that.
My question: can the minister tell us what is being done to streamline the information retrieval process so that people applying for access to government records donít face unreasonable costs to get the information they need?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, Iíd like to remind the member opposite that we follow the act. The costs of the request by the person, individual or corporation ó theyíre all outlined in the act. So weíre just following the act.
Question re: Bullying in school
†Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education. This week, the minister has proclaimed Yukon Education Week and is telling us all about the wonderful things that are being done by the department. One of the things that our children learn in our schools is behaviour toward other children, and it follows them for the rest of their lives. A serious problem in many of our schools is a learned behaviour that is intolerable: itís bullying. We have heard many complaints about the terrible issue that leads to stress, depression and even suicide. We understand that the Steps to Respect program is available on request to schools. Will the minister commit to making the Steps to Respect program compulsory in all schools?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I donít believe it would be a secret to anybody in the Yukon Territory that this government does value and put a very high priority on the youth and the children who attend school. Itís a very obvious thing to this government and to the Education government that bullying is just not acceptable, period.
Mr. Fairclough: If thereís high interest in this matter by the government, why didnít the minister answer the question and make it compulsory in all schools? Fours years ago there was a weekend conference to look at the problem of bullying. Many good recommendations came out of the conference and we presume that the officials from the Department of Education attended this informative conference. What step has the minister taken to follow recommendations by professionals such as those attending that conference about bullying in schools?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The bullying issue has always been a major concern to educators. Thereís just no doubt about it that this issue is one that will always be taken seriously by educators and that it is also of great importance to every citizen in the community.
One of the traditional beliefs and values we have is that it takes a whole community to raise a child. Again, Mr. Speaker, I think this issue goes far beyond the school. Itís part of the home structure. Itís all part of society being aware of issues around them.
Mr. Fairclough: Again the minister didnít answer the question. I asked him what steps the minister has taken to follow the recommendations. There are many creative anti-bullying programs available elsewhere designed to counteract bullying by building self-esteem, a sense of responsibility and accountability in students through innovations like peer counselling and involving parents.
Today the Alaska Legislature is considering a bill requiring schools to take measures against bullies. The bill would require schools to have guidelines and identify harassing behaviour and procedures to deal with those problems. They have taken the responsibility for all Alaskans and are rejecting the idea of local options where this serious issue is concerned.
Will the minister promote healthy and safe educational environments for our students by bringing legislation to this House similar to that in Alaska?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I canít stress enough to the members opposite that safety of children is paramount to this government. A good demonstration of that has to do with all the steps that this government is taking ó for example, with the school in Carmacks. We know that the school is unsafe. This government is concerned about the children. This government is acting and it is just another commitment made and another commitment completed.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private membersí business
Ms. Duncan: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), Iíd like to identify the item standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, April 13, 2005: Motion No. 426, standing in the name of the Member for Porter Creek South.
Mr. McRobb: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify Motion No. 427, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre, to be called Wednesday, April 13.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06. Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Bill No. 15 ó First Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yesterday we were going over some issues regarding information that the opposition was seeking in order to expedite debate. We are still in general debate, by the way. I think it had something to do with the Mintz report through the Hull Institute on Taxation and how we came to some of the information. Here are just some examples of the information that we went over. We talked about the fact ó and this goes back to some time ago. These are in Hansard from last year. The member was asking the same questions ó the exact same questions. The exact same answers came forward again.
So letís go back to where we were at in December of last year, and the member asking about these types of things to do with corporate versus personal taxes.
I know the Member for Mayo-Tatchun finds this amusing, but itís the point the government continually makes. Let us move on to constructive debate on the budget. There are 784 million reasons why the opposition benches should get on with that type of debate, and this is an example of that ó the exact same questions, on the exact same issue, with the exact same information available to the members opposite and the government side, in trying to accommodate, providing the exact same answers.
The issue of personal taxes comes out of these reports. If you reduce personal taxes, you get a net increase and economic output of 56 cents. If you decrease corporate taxes, you get a net economic increase and output of $1.55. This information is available to anybody who chooses to seek it out on the Web and avail themselves of this information.
The Mintz report, for example, states that economic growth and job creation are influenced greatly by the business ó I repeat, business ó tax structure even more so than by changes in the personal tax system. These are one of the rationales on which the government makes the decision to reduce corporate tax limits.
The document does currently exist in the public domain. Theyíre asking for more information, the same information they asked for last year. As I would respond, Mr. Chair, we pointed them to all the areas where this information is being made available. We even responded with answers and information. Itís a very public document. The point is, the continuance of this kind of general debate is counterproductive to the democratic system. The members opposite are very famous for coming up with democratic reform responses and approaches on virtually everything. Mr. Chair, in this case, here is an example of the democratic process being somewhat compromised in our ability to expedite debate, to have a constructive debate, to have the members from the opposition ask questions of the government on the expenditure of taxpayersí money versus asking questions of the government on issues that theyíve asked previously in previous sittings and having all kinds of information available in the public domain.
This is an issue, and itís something that I would hope the members opposite attempt to improve upon as we go forward in the sitting.
Mr. Chair, with that said, there are many areas in the Department of Finance and line-by-line department debate where we can engage with the members, so if the members are willing to recognize the fact that the discussion in this House should be constructive, productive and in the best interests of the taxpaying public, then I think we can quickly move along.
The leader of the third party was talking in regard to the tax round table issues on propane. I have, for the member oppositeís information, a breakdown of provinces and territories when it comes to the issue of taxation on propane for highway use.
The member will find that we donít tax propane in the Yukon. I will provide this information and send it over to the member opposite via the page, and I would hope that will resolve the memberís question.
I would add that this is a question from the third party that wasnít something asked last sitting. This is a question regarding taxation specific to the Department of Finance and, I think, a question that required a response in this detail, and the member is receiving that response.
We need to do something about how the official opposition conducts general debate because, in many cases, itís debate that is not related to the budget itself; it is not related to the issues important to Yukoners. It is all about watching the clock and the time involved. We only have a 30-day sitting here and if you divided whatís left, I believe 20-some days now, into $784 million, we need to start focusing on the detail of this budget. It is a large one with investments ranging across the spectrum.
The government wants to engage with the members opposite on what this budget means not only to the future of the territory but to the Yukon social fabric, to its education system, to its health care system, to jobs and opportunities, to infrastructure ó and the list goes on and on.
Weíve also had occasion where weíve had to go over elements in the budget document through endless questioning, especially by the official opposition. I would certainly point out that the leader of the third party tends to be much more focused on the budget document in asking her questions.
The official opposition, for whatever reason, is asking questions about information that is already in the pages of the document they have versus asking questions about something that they may not understand. I point to an example of what we went through at great length yesterday: pages S-2 and S-3 in the main estimates for 2005-06. The leader of the official opposition wanted to know how we arrived at a figure of $42,675,000, which represents the effective change in tangible capital assets.
On the preceding page, S-2 ó this is why the government is pointing this out today ó there is a complete breakdown ó a reconciliation, if you will ó of that very value on page S-3, and it has the bold heading ďEffect of change in tangible capital assets.Ē It lists it all ó what we add in, what we subtract, and it also shows a comparison to the forecast for 2004-05 and to the actual effect of change for tangible capital assets for the fiscal year 2003-04. Thatís important because that is what gives you the overall picture of where that change is in comparison to previous years to show whatís happening with the tangible capital assets.
Furthermore, we pointed to the fact that the areas of reconciliation are clearly defined in the glossary, yet we went into great debate and a great length of discussion around this one area, and all this information is clearly laid out in the budget document, not only in the reconciliation of the amount for tangible capital assets but in the definitions of each and every component of that reconciliation ó laying it out to the exact amount, right there before the membersí very eyes.
The point again, Mr. Chair, is that we are not conducting ourselves in debate in this House in Committee of the Whole as we should be. The government side keeps pointing out that we should expedite debate, we should focus on department-by-department and hopefully get to line-by-line sooner rather than later.
If anyone looks back historically through the pages of Hansard when it comes to general debate in Committee of the Whole over the last number of sittings, they will see that we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing virtually nothing. Itís like Seinfeld, a show about nothing. The discussion and debate in this House was about nothing, and what it resulted in is hundreds of millions of dollars passing this Assembly without one sentence of discussion. That is not why we are here. That is not the purpose of this Assembly. We are here to debate such things as the budget and legislation. We are here to engage in discussions and debate on behalf of the Yukon public, not on how we can extend the time limits for members opposite to try to establish some foothold in a position on what they would do.
I think itís high time that we started to show in this House that we are all here with a vision, with a plan for this territory. First, let me point out that the official opposition obviously have a view of the territory that is based on negativity, and promote this territory by labelling it a place of madness and misery. Unfortunately, thatís not what the Yukon is.
The leader of the third party has already shown in government that the finances of this territory were not of the highest priority for the Yukon Liberal Party. This side of the House has promoted the Yukon positively, marketed the Yukon, increased our investments, improved our financial position. Upon coming into office, we addressed many of the problem areas that faced the Yukon public. The government is delivering. The government isnít talking about nothing; the government is working on the issues of the day.
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Hardy: Well, isnít that interesting, Mr. Chair. We just listened to the Premier condemn the opposition once again. As a matter of fact, he spent 14 minutes condemning the opposition instead of supplying information to the opposition. He blames the opposition because we donít ask questions that he likes. We talk about loans. He doesnít like that; therefore, he doesnít answer. Instead he attacks us for daring to ask a question about loans or the collection of loans, or the fact that he has failed the people of the Yukon and allowed his ministers to walk away from a debt and not pay it. Yet, he condemns us for asking that question.
Everywhere we go out there, people ask us, ďWhen are these ministers going to fully pay up what is owed?Ē Guess what the Premier does? He attacks us for asking that question, because ó guess what? ó he doesnít like that. It makes him uncomfortable. It makes him accountable.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
†Hon. Mr. Fentie: † Iíd like to turn our attention to the gallery and introduce to the House and welcome the Chief of the Liard First Nation, Liard MacMillan, and Deputy Chief of the Kaska Nation, Mr. Walter Carlick. Please welcome them.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I also would like to welcome them. Itís wonderful to see them here.
Now, going back to the loans, why does the Premier not like us asking the question? Why does the Premier not like the opposition holding this government accountable for their spending, holding them accountable for the lack of effort that they have made in ensuring that their Cabinet ministers are accountable for what they owe? Why does the Premier dislike that?
Now, the Premier can come back and say, ďI solved it, where all other governments have failed. I solved it; no one else did anything.Ē Well, itís a fact; there were 1,500 loans, and 80 percent of them were paid. Obviously collection was happening, but this Premier wonít recognize that, because it doesnít suit his own purpose.
We ask questions about sustainability and spending. The Premier gets upset. He has to actually take some responsibility. He even admits that the two budgets he has brought in are not sustainable. Theyíre not. So whatís going to happen down the road if we keep following this Premier? Where is he taking us? There have been questions asked about putting money aside to insure against any slowdown in the tremendous amount of money coming from the federal government. He wonít do that.
The leader of the third party talked about that. The Premier gets upset over that. We asked about the bilateral agreement that was signed and is running out within the next month. What work has been done in that area? The Premier doesnít like that question, doesnít want to answer it; instead he attacks the opposition for asking that question. Well, Iím sorry, thatís a question that people of this territory would like to know about. They would like to know whatís happening there. The Premier wonít answer. We asked questions about land claims and his involvement in work on land claims and the fact that the federal government has walked away. Every other Premier and government leader in this territory has made that a number one issue and worked very hard to ensure that First Nation people have land claims, worked with them to give them opportunity. This Premier allowed this to happen and said nothing ó nothing publicly, not a word publicly. We donít know what he does behind the scenes because he gets very secretive around that. So he gets upset when we bring that up.
We asked yesterday about the tax round table. Contrary to what the Premier just said ó that it was the leader of the third party ó it was us who asked about the tax round table. He canít even remember what was said yesterday. We asked about the tax round table to see if this government has used the public to look at other taxes. Read Hansard. I tell the Premier to read Hansard. He canít. Heís over there rocking like mad, pointing fingers. Thatís fine. I think the public knows what is being said. Have they used businesses, have they used individuals in a tax round table? Have they used the First Nations in looking at the taxes? They havenít done it. They havenít done it.
We talk about the working poor. We ask questions along those lines. We ask questions about the distribution of wealth into the communities. The Premier doesnít like that. He wants to lump everything together. We ask about unemployment levels in the communities. Has the bureau looked at unemployment levels, not just as a lump figure, but to help identify where money should be spent to stimulate the communities? He wonít answer that question. Why not?
I can go to the soup kitchens ó and I do go by there ó and I see a different group of people at the soup kitchens now. They are the working poor ó the single mothers with children or both parents working but who canít make ends meet because theyíre being paid such a low rate. This government has an opportunity. If they brag about how much money there is and how great the economy is doing, they have an opportunity to make a change to the minimum wage to help the working poor. They donít do it. We ask those questions. The Premier gets upset if we dare speak on behalf of the working poor.
We ask questions about the environment and the fact that this government has made a conscious effort to ignore the environment and environmental concerns. It is known by all the environmental groups and by anybody out there ó no matter what this Premier says or what any of the Yukon Party members say ó that itís very clear this government has targeted the environmental agenda and targeted it in a way that is negative. The Premier wonít answer those questions. He doesnít like those questions.
We ask about energy conservation. The Premier doesnít like those questions. We ask about coal-bed methane. They skate all over, avoiding answers about that, yet we know itís happening. We know there is activity out there. This government wonít respond to that.
We talk about the P3s, about a method of delivering projects. This government puts out a paper that does nothing to look at it in a large view. They donít look at the pros and cons; they donít look at why other governments in Canada have frantically moved away from P3s. Instead they try to promote it, and that is not a balanced approach for people who want to understand where this government is going. The Premier avoids talking about it.
We talk about ATIPP, access to information. The government avoids talking about that. We ask questions about sole-source contracts to Yukon Party friends and we want to see the reports that have supposedly come out of those sole-source contracts. We donít even get the reports in here. Although they are promised, we donít. The Premier avoids answering those questions.
Yes, we talk about the budget. All of what I just said is about this budget. The Premier doesnít like the way we ask questions so he attacks us.
Now, he used an example yesterday of a question I asked, basically an item, effect of change in tangible capital assets. He points me to S-2 where the breakdown is. My question is: why the increase of 70 percent? Did we purchase more buildings? What are tangible capital assets?
Yes, it is in the budget ó the major categories of land, buildings, heavy equipment, operating equipment, vehicles, computer hardware and software, transportation infrastructure including highways, bridges and airstrips. Thereís a 70-percent increase. What did we accumulate if thereís an increase? How did that come about?
What does the Premier do? He just goes to line items and numbers and wonít explain that. He condemns us for asking that question and tries to put us down. It gets very tiring on this side asking questions of that Premier, because he spends 90 percent of his time trying to insult us on this side, and yet when he was over here, he asked the same questions. We spent hours trying to get this Premier to give us a detailed breakdown on community spending. He refused to do it. Every other Premier, every other government leader, used to hand that over ó no problem. This Premier refuses to do it and plays all kinds of games. The next day he finally gives it to us. It could have been done in 10 minutes. He even used the excuse that it would take a lot of time for the department to do it, and yet ó poof ó when he decided to give it to us, it was there the next day. Why? Itís an attitude. Itís an attitude with this Premier. Iíd like to remind this Premier that itís not his democracy, and itís not his money that he is spending. It belongs to the Yukon people ó all Yukon people ó and he should behave in that light. He should be accountable and be willing to answer questions. Thatís all I have to say in general debate. Iím ready to move forward into departmental debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Considering the memberís approach, Iím compelled to respond in a number of areas. The point the government side was making all along is exactly about the issue of holding government accountable. Weíre not going to be able to hold governments accountable if weíre dealing with questions that have been answered in previous sittings, where information is available to the public through various means, and weíre taking up time of this Legislature by rehashing and re-plowing plowed ground.
I think itís important that the member opposite, when talking about issues like taxes, reflect back on what the responses were to the member opposite. We went over that clearly, alluding to the fact that the tax round table had brought forward a number of recommendations and the government, through due diligence, has advanced the tax initiatives in this territory.
The member knows full well that when it comes to First Nations, we are sharing, on personal tax in the Yukon, 95 percent of the tax room with First Nations in this territory. That response was given to the member opposite, yet on camera, the member tries to make the case that none of these questions have been answered. I think the evidence speaks for itself.
I think that when you look at the budget, you see the increases in investment for our social fabric, health care and education. You see the increases in capital and the creation of jobs and opportunities for Yukoners.
The member spoke of the Kaska bilateral. I can recall endless discourse from the official opposition about the bilateral, how emphatically they opposed the bilateral agreement with the Kaska Nation, and how they condemned this government and the Kaska Nation for entering into this type of relationship. Yet in the face of all that has transpired, now the members opposite suddenly have a keen interest in the bilateral. That would pose a question, Mr. Chair. Has the NDP suddenly seen the error of their ways and recognized that in 2002 the federal government, under Minister Nault, announced the cessation of a land claim mandate in the territory, leaving not only the Kaska Nation, but the Yukon, holding the bag.
So weíve demonstrated our willingness to be innovative, to be fair, to sit down with other orders of government, especially First Nation governments, and discuss, negotiate and work on relationships built on trust and respect, understanding that partnerships require reciprocal contribution to result in mutual benefit. These are all the things we are doing and weíll continue to do that. The fact of the matter is we will be discussing in great detail and at great length with the Kaska Nation where we go from here, considering that the bilateral agreement that exists and is in place today is coming to term in the next little while. But we also want to point out ó to the credit of the Kaska Nation and their willingness to move forward and advance initiatives and set out common goals and pursue that with common objective and purpose ó that a great deal has been accomplished. I think itís important that we recognize that the only way this territory advances, the only way that we accomplish in the best interests of all citizens the goals that we set out is to work as a collective, no longer working in isolation.
Iím glad to hear that the leader of the official opposition is prepared to move forward. Thatís exactly what the government intends to do.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? There being no further general debate, we will now proceed with examination of each department. I understand that Vote 12, the Department of Finance, is the first department to be examined.
Department of Finance
Chair: Weíll begin general debate on the Department of Finance.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would like to take this opportunity to provide the Committee with a few introductory remarks on the Department of Finance 2005-06 budget. The 2005-06 estimates for the department total $5.73 million. This total consists of $5.2 million for operation and maintenance and $53,000 net for capital.
The operation and maintenance budget is spread among four department areas, and they are as follows: the largest program and the program to which all departmental FTEs are assigned is the treasury program at $4.745 million. Salary costs account for approximately 86.1 percent, or $4.086 million of the treasury budget. Banking services, supplies, telephone, travel, contracts, et cetera, at $448,000 account for 9.3 percent of the program budget. The public utilities income tax transfer accounts for the remaining program budget of $212,000, which breaks down into 4.48 percent. This last item requires, however, further explanation.
The federal government used to refund to provinces and territories 95 percent of the income tax they collected from private utility companies. This program was terminated by the federal government effective April 1, 1995, in the 1995-96 federal budget. Provinces and territories were free to do as they wished with this money, but the idea behind the refund was to permit the provinces and territories to, in turn, refund the money to private utilities to reduce power rates and thereby put their customers on the same basis as tax-exempt public utilities, whose customers do not have corporate income tax that is built into their electrical rates.
The Yukon government also refunded all territorial income tax received and continues to do so, despite the termination of the federal portion of the program. We continue to transfer this money to the Yukon Development Corporation, even though there is no legislation or requirement to do so. The amount we currently transfer to the Yukon Development Corporation is calculated on the amount that was in our base in 1995-96, less subsequent adjustment made by subsequent Management Board to departmental targets.
The Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board ó the supplementary benefits program of $426,000 is legislated under an act of similar name. It provides supplements to benefits paid to workers who were insured by private insurers prior to the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board coming into existence. These supplements bring the benefits these workers receive up to the sums that would be paid had they been covered by the territorial board.
The allowance for bad debts program of $48,000 covers the annual provision that is expected to be required of uncollectible accounts receivable for taxes, third party services, student loans, et cetera. The actual amount that is charged to this account each year is the result of a formula calculation that takes into account, among other things, the age of our accounts receivable.
The prior period adjustments program is carried at $1 to provide line-item vote authority to make such adjustments. This item is to cover corrections of previous yearsí accounting errors, should any be discovered. The capital budget for the Department of Finance is comprised of the following: for computer workstations, there is nil investment; printers, licences and replacement monitors, replacement laptops, $21,000; photocopiers, $22,000; office furniture, $10,000; loan guarantee contingency, $250,000; for a total of $303,000.
The loan guarantee contingency is voted every year to allow the Department of Finance to reimburse a financial institution in the event they should call a guarantee under the venture loans program. If there is no such guarantee called, there is no expenditure, and the vote is allowed to lapse. Hypothetically, if the guarantee is called, our payment to the financial institution would trigger a recovery from the borrower. This accounts for the loan guarantee contingency recovery that also shows in our main estimates.
The department budgets two small recovery items: $6,000 for the supply of payroll services to the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and $10,000 paid by Diners/EnRoute for using their central billing system for charging airfares for employee travel. This amount is based on a percentage once a threshold of $3 million worth of billings has been reached.
These are some of the budget highlights of the Department of Finance budget. I certainly welcome any questions with respect to the Department of Finance. I would also point out that, in large part, the financial situation the Yukon finds itself in is to the credit of a very talented group of individuals who are working for the Yukon governmentís Department of Finance, which would also include representatives in our Ottawa office, who are very knowledgeable when it comes to the territorial funding formula. They have, on many occasions, pointed out areas where the federal government was not treating the Yukon ó and indeed the territories ó fairly, so we also want to take a moment to thank those individuals.
With that, Iíll turn it over to the members opposite.
Mr. Hardy: I also would like to offer my thanks in recognition of the tremendous work done by the Finance department. I will just pick up on the last comment he made about the Ottawa office, which has been down there for quite a long time and people do change. How many people are actually down there right at the moment working for Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In our Ottawa office, which is situated in the Delta in Ottawa, we have three individuals working. Two individuals work for the Executive Council Office and one individual works for the Department of Finance.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for responding. They are definitely doing some good work down there and that needs to be recognized occasionally.
Could the minister give me an update on the bank contract, where we are at right now, the length of it, whether we are tendering it now, and the amount and status of it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: While we are digging out some more details, I will say that we did tender out this contract last fall. The successful proponent was again the Toronto Dominion Bank. We have signed a new five-year banking agreement with the Toronto Dominion Bank for the period of November 1, 2004, to October 31, 2009. The terms of the new contract are in all material respects the same as the previous contract with the TD Bank.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for that response.
Recently the government made arrangements with Dana Naye Ventures with regard to the collection of outstanding loans, delinquent loans. Can we have an update on the action that has been taken so far with that agreement and any action that Dana Naye Ventures has embarked on?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First let me begin by pointing out that this has been a long-standing issue for successive governments ó well over 12 to 15 years. A number of the files remained delinquent through that period. First, the government, in consideration of the overall process that we have embarked on, allowed a period of time for all proponents who were delinquent to come forward and bring their loans into good standing. The result of that process of resolving this issue was that we reached an objective of over $2 million being recommitted on this file; so essentially there was a great step forward with a significant amount of recommitment in values on loans files. Secondly, we forgave non-government organizations an amount of money that was outstanding, and I think itís fair to say by very definition non-government organizations are non-profit and thereby have little ability to repay loans. One would only wonder why loans were given to the NGOs and not just straight-out grants. Thirdly, we have repatriated more than $600,000 to the federal government where, frankly, it should have been in the first place, which allows them to conduct whatever processes they deem fit.
Through that period, some individuals, some proponents, remained delinquent. Now that we are at that position where we are going to address the remaining delinquencies, weíve entered into a relationship with Dana Naye Ventures for collection.
In conjunction with that, we have established from the proceeds of the collections a capital or a loans fund with Dana Naye Ventures.† Now, I would point out that this is not government getting back into the loans business. This is a financial institution in the loans business, as it should be.
We have other examples out there, such as the microloan, where government does not loan any money, but government backstops what a financial institution would deem as a qualified, eligible, acceptable loan proposal. We also have the venture loan guarantee program, whereby the government backs 65 percent of a liability with a number of financial institutions and a proponent would be liable or must have security of 35 percent of total. I believe itís up to $200,000. That is why we have the loan contingency fund in the budget ó to cover the eventuality of amounts through the venture loan guarantee program that may become due to the Yukon government.
At the end of the day, in 15 years ó no progress on the loans file. In a few months since this government took charge of the loan file and went to work on coming up with solutions, we are now at a point where the remaining delinquencies, which are the lesser of all the files that are now in good standing, plus the repatriation to the federal government, plus the forgiveness to NGOs ó where the smaller percentage is now under collection. That commenced April 1. All files that are delinquent are active. I think we all heard through the news media from Dana Naye Ventures that a number of imminent responses were coming, and I believe the financial institution has endeavoured to make contact with all the remaining delinquencies.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to correct the minister opposite. He said that, in 15 years, nothing had happened, yet for some reason, over 80 percent of the loans were paid back. Thatís kind of a real slight against those people who do honour their debts, who entered into a loan agreement with the government and made their payments.
This Premier indicates that didnít happen, as far as heís concerned, and nothing was done. Frankly, itís a shame, because I view those people as very honourable ó the people who pay back their debts, recognizing itís a debt they owe the taxpayers of this territory, and the department that worked with them did good work.
The Finance minister seems to indicate that the department did not do a single thing in 15 years. Thatís a shame, because sometimes you have to wonder which words the minister speaks are true. One moment he praises the department and, in the next breath, he seems to condemn them for not doing anything in 15 years. Weíll leave that for a second.
The Premier had indicated, when he announced this new initiative on the delinquencies and where it went, that the public would be kept informed of action thatís taken and the status of the loans. Can I get assurances that that is going to happen, and have any delinquent loans been paid to date since it has been turned over to Dana Naye Ventures?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am again going to have to correct the member opposite. The member keeps inferring that delinquencies pertain to the whole loan portfolio, and that is not the case. The only delinquencies weíre dealing with are the ones that are not paying back their debt. All those who are in good standing continue to be in good standing and continue to make their payments.
We are focused on the delinquent files. So if the member could find it in himself to separate the two, then the member would understand, when the member looks at the files that are delinquent, how many of these have been delinquent through almost the full period ó the fullness of time ó since the loans were provided.
So weíre not dealing with anything but those that are not in good standing. Any one that is in good standing remains within government and is making their payments, save and except the repatriation to the federal government, which was an amount of over $600,000, and the forgiveness to the NGOs.
We have merely engaged with the Dana Naye Ventures financial institution to have them, as an agent, collect the remaining delinquencies in the loan portfolio. That said, that would mean that we would require a regular work-in-progress update so that we know where the files are at, and of course, as all information on this file has been made public, so too would that portion of the information that is put into the public domain be made public.
Mr. Hardy: The delinquencies have been fluid, I believe. Over the course of the last few years, some of the people who have loans that have been classified as a delinquent have come in and got themselves out of the delinquency and are now paying their loans, and of course those loans were not transferred over. Is that correct? They were not transferred over to Dana Naye Ventures.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, as part of this whole process, we provided a timeline for any delinquent proponent to come forward and bring their loan into good standing. As I pointed out moments ago, that time period resulted in a little over $2 million being recommitted, which is not part of the collection files. They are files that are still remaining with government in good standing.
Mr. Hardy: How many of the businesses or individuals owing the money brought their file up, removed it from the delinquent file, before it was turned over?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll go off the top of my head. I believe 17 proponents came forward. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2.109 million in total was recommitted.
Mr. Hardy: So just for clarification for my sake ó to understand that ó I thank the minister for giving some of that information. I asked how many that were delinquent came forward and ensured that they were no longer delinquent so they were not transferred to Dana Naye Ventures. The minister has indicated that there were 17 of them.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Off the top of my head.
Mr. Hardy: Okay. And how many were still current and in good standing at that time?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the member is referring to those who were in good standing and didnít have to come forward. That would have been the balance of the overall portfolio, and we will dig up that number. I donít have that off the top of my head. We have no reason to focus on those in good standing. We focused on the delinquent portion of the portfolio. In this case, 16 to 17 came forward in the timeline.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We will get information ó
Chair: Order please.
In order to ensure that all comments are recorded in Hansard, I would again ask all members to refrain from the chatter and discussion across the table.
Mr. Hardy: The minister mentioned the venture loan and the loan guarantee contingency. There is a trigger ó if a guarantee is called, the government makes a payment to the financial institution. The financial institution would trigger recovery from the borrower. There is a figure of $250,000. Does the minister anticipate that request to the loan guarantee contingency to happen or has it already happened? If so, who are they, what has triggered it, and what is the amount?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the value for the loan guarantee contingency fund is based on historical data, so itís merely a threshold, or a ceiling, if you will, because we have not gone beyond that. So as I pointed out in my opening remarks, if there is no need for that amount, it would lapse, and then in all likelihood, unless something dramatically changes in the next fiscal year, we would come forward with another $250,000 allocation.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for that response. I understand that. I understand about the lapse and then bringing it forward again as a threshold. My question is, as it says in the information I have here, if the guarantee is called, a payment to the financial institution would happen under this, the loan guarantee. Has there been a call?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, two loans have previously been called, but theyíre the same borrower: $100,000. Four additional loans to be called ó and this, again, is one borrower ó for approximately $53,400. That is the governmentís portion of liability because, under the venture loan, we only guarantee 65 percent of the total. The financial institution would commit to 35 percent of security, however they get that.
Mr. Hardy: Okay, so I understand that the guarantee has been called and the figures that have been said ó $100,000 and $50,000. Is that up from previous years?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: † No, itís neither up nor down. The two loans are from previous years and there will be four additional loans to be called, which are under one borrower, for $53,400. So weíre still within the range of the contingency of $250,000.
Mr. Hardy: What action will be taken in regard to this collection?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Under this program, the financial institution does all the collections. If they can demonstrate that on any particular loan they have done everything possible within the law to collect the liability and have not been successful, then under the agreement we have ó I think itís with five banks ó we would have to honour the 65-percent portion of the debt.
Mr. Hardy: Iím going to shift a little bit. Thatís interesting information.
Maybe Iíll just finish up my train of thought here. In this case, if we have to honour the 65 percent of that debt, what actions are available for the government from that? Do we just pay it out and thatís it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, under the program, if we get to that situation, the debt is not collectible. In other words, in all likelihood, itís a bankruptcy. We are not the lender; we are the guarantor. So, if the member opposite guaranteed a loan for number one son to buy a brand new Camaro, and number one son does not pay for brand new Camaro, number one dad or mom pays for brand new Camaro. So, itís similar ó weíre not the lender; weíre the guarantor.
Mr. Hardy: I understand that. I donít think they make Camaros any more, though.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Do they? Okay, I stand corrected. I had read somewhere a couple of years ago that they had stopped the Camaro line. So, if theyíve reintroduced it, maybe itís another investment for my number one son. I hope not, though, and I donít know if Iíd guarantee the loan for him. I shouldnít say that. Iím sure heís a good investment; I just donít think cars are a good investment in this day and age.
Now, if we use that scenario, I would assume that I would have some avenue to try to collect from number one son. And my question, of course, was: does the government have some avenue to collect? So, basically itís just a write-off. The minister is nodding his head that, in this situation, it would be a write-off. I guess papa or mama should write off their loan, if they do that as well. I donít want to go down that road.
I want some clarification on the workersí compensation supplementary benefit. Itís $426,000. From my understanding ó maybe I donít understand it right ó I get the impression that at some point this would be a figure that would be dropping, that we would have less and less uptake on this amount. Am I correct or not?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, thatís the theory. The amount will change as we go forward, but the theory is for it to drop.
Mr. Hardy: Okay. I guess if thatís the theory, then could the minister explain to me why it did increase 12 percent this time around?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I understand it, the amounts have been increased by Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board for injured workers, so thatís where the increase comes in.
Mr. Hardy: I have a question on the allowance for the bad debt, mostly in regard to student loans. Iím curious about that and how that fits in there.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is an area where, in the case of student grants where a student may leave the territory without repaying, then we are in a situation of booking an allowance for doubtful; however, we do make every effort to collect, including using mechanisms like a collection agency. So thatís what thatís about.
Mr. Hardy: Going to a question that we asked yesterday and it popped up again today, very simply ó and I just need a quick answer on this. Has the government considered re-establishing the tax round table?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, at this time, Mr. Chair, we are busy working on some of the areas of taxation that were a result of a lot of the discussion at the tax round table. So we have not reconvened the tax round table. I have not entertained any discussions in the immediate future of reconvening the tax round table.
Mr. Hardy: Budget tours have happened with former Finance ministers. When asked, they have supplied the minutes and notes from these tours. Will this Finance minister provide these for us?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I think this is an area where we will agree to disagree, because the members opposite could do their own community tours and talk to the citizens of the Yukon, like the government side is doing. In many cases, individuals come to us with their issues. We donít necessarily want to make a display of someoneís issue because it may be specific to a personal issue. So the tours are a means for the government to further engage its public. Opposition says we donít consult. Government says, well, hereís an example, and the opposition must place full value in that consultation process if they want us to hand over that information. But my response is that weíre too busy working on issues that have been brought forward to us from Yukoners, and the opposition benches have every opportunity to discuss issues with Yukoners and get their views.
Mr. Hardy: We do exactly what he says, but we are the opposition in this matter. Weíre not the ones who drew up this budget, supposedly based upon the input the Finance minister received on his budget tour, which is very specific. Thereís no question about that. Itís talking about the budget.
Weíre asking for general information. I donít want to have to try to do this through ATIPP. Unfortunately, this government seems to keep pushing us in that direction, but what I canít understand ó and this goes back again to an attitude ó is why former government leaders or Finance ministers were willing to give out that general information. It is not specific, and itís about the budget. Itís around the budget tours, and this one is not.
I would like to know why the Finance minister is not willing to do what former Finance ministers were willing to do.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Because this government doesnít conduct a budget tour. We conduct community tours that include a broad range of issues for Yukoners. Thereís good reason for that; we want a much clearer understanding of the issues, not just the fiscal ó all issues. So itís not a budget tour; itís a community tour.
Mr. Hardy: So will the Finance minister give us the general information with regard to the community tour?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Is there something specific in relation to the Department of Finance that would relate to elements of a community tour that I can answer, if the member has a specific question?
Mr. Hardy: Yes, Mr. Chair, I would like to know what the communities asked the Finance minister for.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll give the member some examples: multi-level care facilities, a bridge in Dawson, more highway construction, more investment for the College ó let me see ó curriculum changes, a new school in Carmacks, CDF, FireSmart; in Porter Creek South, renovations to the high school.
Teslin ice plant ó artificial ice for the good citizens of the community of Teslin. Thereís the gymnasium for the Teslin School ó what else can I say? ó a pump house in Watson Lake, which is needed for the water system, and a number of water-sewer projects. But let us remember that some of those capital projects included the Association of Yukon Communities, the federal government and others in terms of infrastructure. So, contrary to the attempts of the members opposite to make the case that the government does not consult, the government consults at great length and itís obvious the members agree with that because they now want the information, or the apparent information that we have. The members opposite could glean a lot of information if they were to get out into the public and discuss with Yukon citizens the issues of the day.
I donít see why discussions we may have on a community tour are something government should provide the members opposite. These are discussions that representatives of the government have with citizens of the territory, and so they should be. But I see a reason for the opposite benches to go out and have discussions with citizens of the territory, and they may find some interesting points of view on whatís going on in the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: I would like it put on record that the minister refuses to give us any minutes or notes in regard to the community tours, that he refuses to work with the opposition in direct contrast to other Finance ministers, other premiers or government leaders, who have always made that information available to the opposition. It wasnít something to be kept secret. It was something that all governments were quite proud of. A lot of times it indicated how they formed their budget and what issues they addressed. I am sure that every single request was not dealt with in this budget; however, this is a premier who is quite adamant that he will not work with the opposition as former premiers and governments have in the past. That should be on the record. So he says no and heís going to keep it secret and hold it close to his chest.
Has the government kept track of employment levels in communities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member, in making the assumption that we donít cooperate, is factually incorrect. We cooperate on every level ó providing information to the members opposite in various forms.
Let us look at budget lock-up; budget briefings, department by department; handing out information in the Assembly through debate. I asked the member if he had any specific questions about the community tours that are related to the Department of Finance, and I donít think we really got a specific question.
However, it must be understood that the Premier isnít holding on to these comments. These are issues that have been put into each relative department, depending on what the issue is and whatever community the issue came from. So, all this information has been turned into departments to go to work on issues.
I sense that the member takes the position and holds the belief that, without this information, the opposition just simply cannot debate the budget. Is that the case?
Mr. Hardy: As I said, the Premier, as the finance minister, is acting contrary to past Finance ministers, premiers, and government leaders, as they were called. Thatís something that the Premier will have to explain ó why he behaves in this manner, where other ones were so willing to give him the information when he sat in opposition.
Thatís on record. It doesnít matter what he says. Itís on record. Weíve asked for exactly what has been asked for and been given in the past. Itís on record that the Premier refuses to do it. So, no matter how he spins it, he is accountable for his own actions in this case.
Now, the special warrants ó this government, of course, has taken special warrants to a new level. I understand the Finance ministerís suspicious nature. Maybe this ties into why he wonít also work with us on the community tours, as other Finance ministers have. Maybe itís just his very secretive, suspicious nature that weíre witnessing here. But the Finance minister says itís a prudent way of ensuring the government has spending authority after April 1. What is surprising is why, again, we have a Finance minister who thinks this when all other Finance ministers and leaders felt that they didnít have to bring in a special warrant, that they would be able to phone up or talk to the opposition and get assurances that the interim supply bill would be passed before April 1. Can I give the opportunity to the Finance minister to explain that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, the argument the member is making is very suspect. In the first place, I think itís important that the member recognizes that the special warrant he speaks of was not used. It wasnít needed. The memberís point is a moot point because the members opposite passed the interim supply bill. So the special warrant doesnít exist; itís gone and spending authority took place April 1. However, the special warrant to deal with the overvotes in departments because of such things as fire suppression is exactly why we utilized the special warrant in that case ó because of the overvote ó and we must follow the Financial Administration Act and all other statutes that we are obligated to follow when it comes to managing the finances of the territory.
So the member is asking a question on a point thatís moot. There is no special warrant for interim supply. The members opposite passed the interim supply bill ó no special warrant.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, itís my understanding the Commissioner signed a special warrant. Maybe the minister over there doesnít understand that part of it.
The Finance minister asks for a special warrant for a certain sum. As I said already, his argument was that itís a prudent way of ensuring government has spending authority.
I just want it on record that this is indicative of the way the Yukon Party government acts ó with a very suspicious nature, which does not trust or work with the opposition. Itís so contrary to all other governments that have come before. Frankly, I think itís a shame this is where we have gotten to. I guess I can anticipate that in the next budget the government brings forward, there will be another special warrant, just in case the interim supply bill doesnít go forward.
Can I assume that? This has now been done twice; this is the way the government is going to operate with the opposition. Can I assume that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It has nothing to do with how the government operates with the opposition. In fact, I would point out that this government has been successful in nine or 10 instances with motions that have received unanimous support in this House on issues very important to Yukoners. I think thatís a testimony to working cooperatively with the opposition. There have been many attempts on boards and committees, on budgeting, on all kinds of things to work with the opposition. We even went so far on the celebrations of the Dempster Highway to honour a motion from the members opposite. So we have shown in many cases that we are very cooperative.
Weíre not suspicious at all; weíre prudent fiscal managers; weíre a government that believes in engaging with its public, even outside of this Assembly; and we have shown that this government will take the course of announcing projects and investments to the public ó investments that are coming from the Yukon public.
The member of the third party went into a great display that that approach would be contempt of this Legislative Assembly ó that has proven to be not the case. The member made arguments in comparing what we do to the Government of Ontario. Well, let me point out the differences: the Government of Ontario tabled the entire budget in the public domain and called an election. This government has no reason to call an election by announcing things in our budget. In fact, quite the contrary; we may never call another election, things are going so good ó but Iím only kidding. I think at the end of the day the members opposite take exception to how we do things and get engaged with the public to have the public talk about whatís really going on in this territory versus, in some cases, what comes from the members opposite.
We opened todayís debate by showing, substantiating with hard evidence, exactly what the Yukon public has concerns about and why we are going to continue to announce what the government is doing. Now the memberís question was if that would result in another special warrant to coincide with another interim supply. Thatís possible, very possible because, in all likelihood, thereís going to be another budget under this governmentís mandate in the coming fiscal year for 2006-07.
The member has to understand what the special warrant does and is and what the timelines are when it comes to the special warrant. The special warrant is null and void, whether the Commissioner signed it or not, because it was not validated for April 1. It was not needed because the members opposite did pass the interim supply bill.
So, the first point: is the government side cooperative? Yes. It not only cooperates with the opposition, it cooperates with the public in the Yukon; it cooperates with other jurisdictions. Letís look at the examples. There has been cooperation with Alaska which has us now working on tourism initiatives, reciprocal fishing licences, tidewater access, jointly promoting resource development in the oil and gas sector and megaprojects like the Alaska Highway pipeline and the Alaska-Yukon rail link.
Cooperation with B.C. and Alberta allows us access to a health care system. Cooperation with the N.W.T. and Nunavut has seen us increase our investment in health care and increased grants to our territorial funding formula. So the government has shown and demonstrated, along with evidence, the facts. We have displayed on all fronts a government that has focused on collaboration and cooperation as its mode of operation versus conflict, confrontation and negativity from the members opposite.
Mr. Chair, there is not much else I can say in this regard. We do cooperate; weíll continue to cooperate. We do do things differently. We will continue to do things differently, and that may mean another special warrant to cover an interim supply bill.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that was very sweet, Mr. Chair. I am always quite happy to listen to the Premier ramble on as he tries to justify everything he has done in the light that he sees it. I would just like to remind the Premier that we have a former Premier on this side who, I know, has some big and very strong issues around the special warrant. They did it differently. Actually they did it in a way similar to former Yukon Party governments and NDP governments. It is just fascinating to see this Premier try to justify his actions when publicly itís not acceptable.
So with that, I am going to allow the former Premier to engage in this debate.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the leader of the official opposition, the leader of the NDP, for his kind introduction to this debate.
I would like to follow up on the discussion about the budget tour documents. Now, in his response to the request for the budget tour documents, I fully concur that that request was made previously. I know I requested them of the NDP government, and I know I provided them as the Liberal government. The Yukon Partyís response from the Finance minister is that itís not a budget tour, but a community tour.
Now, be that as it may, the Premier and Finance minister has participated in every single one of those meetings, to the best of my knowledge. I havenít seen anything different. In fact, I believe the advertisements had a dollar sign about consultations at one point in time.
This information that weíre asking for has been provided before; itís not something new. And itís not the specific constituent concern, where someone meets with the Premier or the Finance minister or the MLA afterwards and says theyíd like this specific issue dealt with. What weíre looking for are the community requests and how theyíve been responded to by the government.
A perfect example, Mr. Chair, is when I conducted a budget meeting in your beautiful Southern Lakes riding. At that time, the community association was quite interested in tennis courts, and Tagish wanted a golf course, jokingly, but the request was made, and Tagish also wanted to work with the government on a project on street names for fire and safety reasons.
So those sorts of requests were, in a general way, forwarded as information from the Premier/Finance ministerís budget/community tour. Thatís the information weíre looking for, so that we can have that information and follow requests. If the Finance minister deigned to provide us with that information, we would have been able, for example, to follow Mayoís request for a community hall or for a new recreation centre.
The request has been on the books for a long time. The Finance minister said, ďOh, well, theyíre applying under one of the myriad of federal government programs,Ē and that thatís where theyíve been directed, so that community request has been answered. We would know that and be able to more adequately focus our questions if the Premier would be more forthcoming with information. Having put it in that light, will the Finance minister reconsider and provide just a Coles Notes version, for lack of a better term, of the community tour and the financial requests of communities? Would he provide that to the opposition parties?
†Hon. Mr. Fentie: First let me say that in consideration of the previous governmentís ability to understand what the Yukon public was bringing forward to its government and the results of what happened to the former government, Iím not sure that the member really was listening or understood what Yukoners were trying to say to the memberís government. However, I think the member well knows that this government is so cooperative that if we could weíd do handsprings over the moon for the member opposite to provide information if we had to.
Issues range from every department, whether it be Health and Social Services, Education, Public Service Commission, Highways and Public Works, Community Services. The list goes on and on. All of this information has been put into the departments. The only question we never get asked out there in the public is, ďWhat do the Clerks in the Legislative Assembly do?Ē They have no regard for that, nor are they too worried about it. I guess they consider that the individuals do a good job.
So what Iím prepared to do is that we will now ask every department to start digging in to that vast amount of data and paperwork and information they have, and we will compile a report for the members opposite that represents the community tours. Iím not saying that that may happen in the next day or two days, but we will go to work on it. Once it is concluded in its entirety, comments and issues from each and every community and each and every individual ó we will consolidate it, put it together, and provide the members opposite the information. Howís that?
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, once we got past the ó Iím searching for a parliamentary word, Mr. Chair. It is difficult to describe the Finance ministerís discussion at the beginning in reference to others in the Legislature. What have been asked for are the quick notes, the brief description. Mayo community tour request ó community rec centre still at the top of the list. The Premier committed that this would be handled through the MRIF or whichever fund ó Iíd have to go back and look at Hansard at what he said. Itís not about a huge request in putting departments to all this work as the Premier is suggesting. Staff travelled with the Premier. There are brief notes. Iím sure someone kept a record of the Premierís commitments. I know the communities certainly have. All weíre asking for is that information. It is not the labour-intensive exercise that the Premier is making it out to be. It is very easily done. It is just a matter of political will and cooperation, and that is all that weíre asking for. I appreciate that the Finance minister has said he will provide it.
I see that he finds this incredibly humorous, and I know how much he loves to participate in the discussion in the House. More seriously, I would like to ask the Finance minister ó thereís another question he doesnít particularly enjoy answering, which I ask every single time we get into debate in Finance ó whatís the surplus last presented to Management Board? Whatís the surplus today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First and foremost, I have made a commitment to compile all that information into a legible form ó a document ó and give it to the members opposite. Iíve committed to giving them that information. Weíre going to dig it all out of the departments, because thatís where it went, every bit of it. Thatís why weíre successful in creating projects and initiatives that reflect what Yukoners want. We put the information into the departments. We donít keep it in our office, waiting for the members opposite to ask for it. We put it into the departments, because they are issues that Yukoners find important.
Once this legible document has been created, weíll provide that to the members opposite. I said it wonít be today or tomorrow, but itís coming, so the members will be on pins and needles until it arrives.
The member asked what the surplus is. On the page representing financial information in the Budget Address, which is the summary of the budget, the member will see the surplus ó net financial resources at the end of the year, which is the former accumulated surplus ó of $64,379,000.
Given the fact that we have gone to full accrual accounting and are also booking our liabilities, providing full disclosure to Yukoners ó something the member oppositeís government never did ó we show an accumulated surplus of $465,503,000 for the fiscal year ending 2005-06.
We even provide more information. We go on from 2005-06 to 2006-07, from 2006-07 to 2007-08, from 2007-08 to 2008-09. Itís all there on the pages of the budget document summary. If the member wants to ask for the surplus number again, Iíll give it to her. Itís $64,379,000.
Ms. Duncan: Well, we go through this every single time. You would think that the Finance minister, given that he didnít hesitate when he was on this side to ask that question, would provide an answer. Itís truly unfortunate because he was provided with an answer at the time he asked.
So that weíre both on the same page in this discussion, letís work from page S-3 of the larger budget documents as opposed to the Budget Address. In that, it says: ďWith the adoption of full accrual accounting effective April 1, 2004,Ē ó and Iíll resist the temptation to respond to the personal attack ó ďthe Government now reports Net Financial Resources (financial assets less liabilities) requiring restatement from April 1, 2003...Ē
The bottom line is the net financial resources, or the surplus, March 31, 2004, which, according to S-3, is $80,670,000. So if we were looking at the books the old way ó page 2-3, note 2 ó the surplus would be just over $80 million. My understanding is that thatís correct. Letís start from there: am I reading that document correctly?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The amount is shown in the 2003-04 actual. Of course the member is reading it correctly. How could the member not? Itís printed on the pages.
And there has been no personal attack.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, the member has shown some sensitivity to the financial management of the former Liberal government, so letís go over that. First, we begin with the fact that when this government took office, the financial position of the Yukon was in such shape that we were debt-servicing ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, in a short time I will be standing on my feet suggesting that the facts are different from what the member is suggesting, which will be a dispute between members. Could we ask the Finance minister to focus on the debate at hand? The question was about the surplus. Now the precise Standing Order ó 19(g), try that one.
Chair: There is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am getting to that, but this is about financial management and the understanding of the finances of the territory. As I pointed out to the member opposite, her comment about a number, a value, as written on the pages of the document, page S-3 to be precise, is $80,670,000, which shows net financial resources, beginning of the year. This is pretty standard practice in booking oneís finances.
But I want to talk about financial management because thatís important as we go forward in the debate.
Upon this governmentís taking office, the Yukon was financially in a position where we had to debt-service our cash flow requirements to deliver programs and services to Yukoners. We were not fully booking our liability ó such things as leave liability for employees, leases of assets that have to be booked as capital assets. These were fully expensed. There were situations where the City of Dawson was allowed, under the Municipal Act, to overextend its debt limit by ministerial decision; proceeding with infrastructure projects like the Mayo-Dawson inter-tie without going through due process like the Yukon Utilities Boardís review of said project, resulting in us coming into office and inheriting a serious problem, an audit having to be done. And the list goes on. Itís about financial management, Mr. Chair. So the member is asking a question about a surplus that is duly noted on the pages of the budget. Why would I not respond in the affirmative, yes, the number is correct. As it shows, it is the net financial resources at the beginning of the fiscal year, and it shows a value of $80,670,000.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister has an interesting way of trying to move forward on debate with his version of revisionist history, his version of past events, which he knows full well have more information than what he has just shared. If he takes the time to actually read the Auditor Generalís report on the Mayo-Dawson transmission line, heíll see quite clearly that Yukon Utilities Board approval was not required before construction of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line, which was a suggestion of the NDP government he was a part of.
I would thank him to stick to the subject, because if he wants to argue about our record in government versus his, wait until the next election, or have the courage to call one.
The fact that I asked the Finance minister for is on page S-3; it is stated here that the net financial resources are $80,670,000. Without the full accrual accounting, the financial assets list, the liabilities, the new method of accounting ó were we reading this under the old method ó the surplus would be $80 million as of March 31, 2004, as I understand these books.
The Finance minister is saying, ďNo, thatís not correct.Ē What Iím asking is what a member of the public would ask. If we were looking at the books the old way, what would the surplus be?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite asked if these numbers were correct. No, theyíre not; we put them there just to get the member to ask if they were correct; so theyíre not correct.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the debate is degenerating somewhat. I believe Iím asking a reasonable question. Without this method of accounting ó so, less the counting, less the amortization of the financial assets ó what would our surplus be? People are interested. This government changed the method of accounting. Per the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountantsí recommendation, the method was changed. So our surplus position is presented in a different way. Our assets, our money, taxpayersí money ó because letís never forget this isnít your money, itís not my money, itís not the Finance ministerís. This is the money that belongs to the taxpayers of the Yukon, and this is the place where we account for how itís spent and we ask the questions about it.
They are used to seeing, under the old method, a surplus of anywhere from $84 million to $69 million to even lower and even higher. It seems to me the question was: you have a $64-million surplus so what are you doing with it? That was one of the questions. Iím asking where the average Yukoner, who is used to seeing the money in the bank, the surplus, in one way ó thereís a new method of presenting it. Now when I looked at these, I understood that this is roughly similar ó the $80 million. Now the Finance minister is saying no and is going to the public accounts book. Would the Finance minister care to share with the Legislature and the Yukon public ó weíre used to knowing what that surplus figure is, net of the assets ó what it is today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Why donít we just move to 2005-06, and then we can deal with the memberís question. If we were to roll back the clock and go back to piggyback accounting, cheque-book accounting† ó which is essentially what we were doing ó the accumulated surplus would have been $64,379,000, which is an estimate, as the member can see, because things will change financially through the course of a fiscal year. So how can a Yukoner look to the financial statement and glean the number that Yukoners are used to? Itís the line called ďnet financial resources, end of the year (A).Ē
Then you go down the column and put in the new elements of our full accrual accounting system, which is now booking our assets and all that goes with it ó deferred amortization expense and so on and so forth ó you get to an accumulated surplus, with is (A) plus (B). So (B) is ďnet non-financial resources, end of the yearĒ assets. (A) plus (B) results in accumulated surplus.
So, for 2005-06, the net financial resources, end of the year ó formerly accumulated surplus ó is $64,379,000. Our new accumulated surplus under full accrual accounting is $465,503,000. These are the estimates for 2005-06 fiscal year, year-end. These will change, as they always do, throughout the course of a fiscal year and for many various reasons.
Any business conducting business throughout the course of a fiscal year would start with a budget beginning with net financial resources at beginning of the year. Then they would go through all the elements that create this financial summary. They always change.
In this case, under the members opposite, as the leader for the former Liberal governmentís financial management, the numbers got less. Under this governmentís financial management, the numbers are getting bigger, more. Thatís the point Iím making.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Ottawa, for the bigger numbers ó† that is the only point the member opposite missed. But I did find something that the Finance minister and I agree on: things will change. Absolutely, they do.
††††††† This House has seen before, tabled in the Legislature, a Management Board document ó and Management Board receives them every single time they meet ó that states what the surplus is as of that date. Now, the minister said that things have changed. Has that figure that is presented to Management Board changed? If the Finance minister could just listen for a moment ó itís not the document that the member opposite is looking at, in that itís not his budget speech. Management Board gets a page. An example of them has been tabled in the Legislature before. It was tabled by the Hon. Member for Faro when we were first elected to government. I remember it well. And that Management Board document they receive every single time says, hereís your surplus today. Bear in mind that there is the grader fund, the fleet vehicle and some other key points to be aware of, but Management Board gets that document every time they meet and it says what the surplus is. Now, I can talk about it because it was tabled in the Legislature, so it then became a public document.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Right. The member is saying that by the time it was tabled, it was redundant. It was and it wasnít; the fact is, it was a Management Board document and shouldnít have been in here in the first place.
My question of the Finance minister: has the document that goes to Management Board changed significantly from the type that I was talking about? He was in the Legislature so he remembers it.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We donít do that any more because it was useless information. Before the document even was tabled, the numbers changed. Imagine a rotary drum with numbers on it, ticking over every day; thatís whatís happening. So weíve come to a much more efficient form of presenting the finances to the Yukon. Not only are we presenting net financial position, weíre presenting accumulated surplus in addition to the assets and weíre booking all liabilities. Thatís a great step forward in financial management for this territory.
So, no, we donít even do that document any more because it was a useless document. It didnít provide any information pertinent to the point in time. Once it was printed on the paper, it was already redundant.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, it wonít come as any surprise to the Finance minister that I beg to differ.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Amazing.
Mr. Chair, itís not uncommon for the federal Finance minister and for finance ministers in provinces across the country to state what the surplus is, or net financial resources, as the minister chooses to do. Yes, itís stated in the budget book the forecast for 2005-06. Weíve concluded, although not all the accounting is in for 2004-05 and the forecast at that point was $77,918,000, that the Finance minister ought to have a very good idea of how close we are to that $77,918,000 forecast.
What are the net financial resouces at the end of the last variance period that the minister is familiar with, if heís familiar with them?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Given the memberís interest in redundant numbers on a mechanism that was not very productive, now we have an understanding at least on this side of the House why we were debt-servicing our cash flow requirements. The member opposite, when in charge of the finances, was using redundant numbers. Thatís what was wrong. Now we get it.
It shows what our net financial position is at the end of period 12, which would be $77 million for last year and $64 million for the end of this year ó period 12. It shows it already. Those are the numbers as forecasted for 2004-05, as estimated for 2005-06. So this is the current data. But for year-ends, itís the Auditor General who finalizes all the calculations and the finances of the territory. But, for us, these are the numbers vis-ŗ-vis those periods.
So, anyway, we now understand why the financial position of the Yukon was in such a state because the formal Liberal government was using redundant numbers to try to calculate where they were financially.
Ms. Duncan: It never ceases to amaze me that the Finance minister will stand on his feet and make comments such as those. He does a complete disservice not only to this Legislature, to all members in it, but to all the people who work now, past and present ó and past in particular ó for the Government of Yukon. Those public servants served all Finance ministers very ably and very well and to suggest that they did anything else is reprehensible.
I would strongly suggest that the Finance minister might wish to focus his comments. It is unfortunate that we can have such a difficult time obtaining any information out of a government that promised Yukoners that they would consult with them on matters of importance. We have learned that consultation means standing at a bank lineup ó and I mean no disrespect to banks. The Yukon Party government promised they would take constructive suggestions from the opposition, but when it comes time to accepting a constructive suggestion that we discuss $25 million of Government of Yukon expenditure, the government steadfastly refuses. Why? Oh, gee, because the suggestion came from somebody else. Thatís why they refused.
The Finance minister looks confused. Hearken back to Question Period today ó in excess of $25 million is being transferred, for example, to the Hospital Corporation, and the Health and Social Services minister, the House leader, will not allow the Yukon Hospital Corporation to come here and answer questions about it. He muzzled them, just like they do.
The Finance minister wonít provide information to members opposite ó not the community tour information, not a simple question such as whatís the surplus. He chooses instead to use the opportunity to belittle others in the Legislature and belittle the public servants who have worked in the past and who currently work for the Government of Yukon. I find that very disturbing and truly unfortunate.
Perhaps the Finance minister has provided information on provincial tax comparisons on propane ó and, as indicated, of course, we donít tax any form of heating fuel. I note in this information that many of the provinces do tax propane as fuel, and I wondered if the Finance minister, in providing additional information, could indicate ó itís registered, when we register our motor vehicles, as to what sort they are, if theyíre diesel or gasoline. There are a number of vehicles that use propane. Do we have any sense of how many there are, or could he direct that the minister responsible could perhaps provide that information?
The reason Iím seeking it ó it wonít be Finance that has it. It will be Community Services that has it. It will be listed on the registrations of the vehicles so we should be able to have an idea of how many are propane ó if we could have that information.
Are there any considerations by the Finance minister in this whole issue of fuel taxation? We touched on it briefly yesterday. There had been a suggestion to do away with the fuel tax. The Finance minister said yesterday there isnít. There are issues around Kyoto, around reducing fuel emissions; there are all kinds of policy debate and issues around this particular subject. Is the Finance minister contemplating any discussions around fuel tax or changing the fuel tax regime?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, just so we get things straight, nobody is belittling anybody. In fact, in discussions with Finance officials, the sooner we got rid of that document and that report ó because it was not a useful mechanism for financial purposes ó the better they liked it. We got rid of it because it doesnít work. The numbers change too often, so they go through all that for nothing, because by the time theyíre put on paper, theyíre redundant. They donít even reflect the financial position of the Yukon at that point in time.
So weíve come up with a better system. I didnít come up with it; people who are involved in accounting in-depth and in mechanisms for accounting came up with it. We accept that, because it works. Not only can we fully disclose the financial situation, but we are now operating the government finances in a professional, constructive, acceptable manner.
Whatís wrong with that? I donít think anything is wrong with that. Thatís to the credit of Finance officials; itís not something against them. Itís to their credit that they did what they did.
So there is an issue here because the finances of the territory were not in good shape ó not in good shape. In fact, the financial legacy left by the former Liberal government was a situation where we had to spend a great deal of time working out initiatives to address the financial problems of the territory, and the results are before us, in the largest budget in the history of the Yukon.
We have one of the lowest tax rates in the whole country when it comes to fuel taxes. We also have mechanisms where there is tax-exempt fuel purchasing going on in the Yukon. At the end of the day, these monies, small in nature, are put to good use in the territory. If we are going to pursue an initiative that relates to the cost of fuel for the consumer at the pump, this is not the way to do it, and we talked about it yesterday.
There has to be a process implemented by the federal government to review fuel pricing from wellhead to consumer, and all in-between. So there is an understanding of why the cost of fuel at a pump in Whitehorse, and the cost of fuel at a pump in Vancouver, and the cost of fuel at a pump in Nova Scotia and so on, are so dramatically different.
No, Mr. Chair, the government is not at this time entertaining reducing or cancelling the fuel tax. Itís the lowest in the country, and we are investing it in areas that put the money to good use.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the Finance minister could take a moment when debate is over with today and, rather than read Hansard, listen to the tape. The remarks I find offensive are remarks like ďwe are now operating the territory, the financial resourcesĒ suggesting motive or bad behaviour on the part of the others. The Finance minister isnít the first person to make change, and he wonít be the last, in the way government does business. He wonít be the first government ó he certainly wasnít the first government ó to walk into office and cry ďpoorĒ. Weíve all heard that story before. The issue isnít the previous governmentís financial management, which I have said before that I will defend as long as he wants to spend on this debate. Thatís not the issue before us. Iím not agreeing with the Finance minister. Iím just suggesting that itís more than the previous government that the Finance minister is slagging with those remarks. I donít want to use an unparliamentary term, but itís speaking disparagingly ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Pardon me, then I will withdraw ďslaggingĒ, Mr. Chair. The Finance minister continues to speak disparagingly of the previous government. Well, thatís not new in this Legislature. What is new is that the way heís doing it includes the officials in that, and I find that offensive.
I find his comments about previous government offensive ó and we can argue that, and we do argue that in the public, and we will. Thatís where weíre supposed to argue it. But donít include the officials in it. Thatís not fair to them, and itís not fair to anybody. And I would thank the Finance minister to stick to the discussion at hand. Thatís what weíre here to do. He keeps saying the opposition doesnít focus on debate; the opposition doesnít ask constructive questions; the opposition this, the opposition that. Well, I asked a constructive question. I asked what the Finance minister was going to do with the fuel tax, and he answered it, eventually.
Iíd like to ask the Finance minister, in terms of the Department of Finance, as I understood the introduction and as I understood the briefing note, the money identified for the workersí compensation supplementary benefits is the payments that have to be made because there are certain bodies that werenít covered by the current Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board model. And my question is, when does that particular process end? I donít mean to be macabre about this, but is it with the passing of these individuals? Is that when weíll see the supplementary benefits end, or when will that particular budget line item end?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, a lot has been said by the member opposite. And I want to point out once again that what we have done here is based on the recommendation of Finance officials when it comes to the reporting of the Yukonís finances. What is really problematic is the member oppositeís failure to recognize the dire straits the Yukon was in, in having to debt-service our cash flow requirements. In other words, we were in an overdraft. An overdraft to deliver programs and services to Yukoners ó thatís not sound financial management, and neither is allowing Dawson City to overextend its debt limit by millions of dollars ó millions of dollars. Thatís taxpayersí money.
The member talks about managing the finances on behalf of taxpayers ó what about those issues? What about debt-servicing cash flow requirements? What about allowing the City of Dawson to overextend its debt limit by millions and millions of dollars? Why did the member make the decision to allow that to happen? Now the taxpayer has to make good on those debts ó thatís a problem.
Mr. Chair, the member seems to be quite angst-ridden about this issue, and we are sticking to the subject. This is a debate on the Department of Finance, the management of the finances of this territory and we are pointing out a number of things, including what the estimates are, clearly booked on the pages of the budget documents.
Furthermore, the member should not try to deflect decisions made by the memberís government when in charge of the finances of this territory to others. Those are decisions made by the Minister of Finance.
Now, the question is: how long will this WCB amount continue? The answer would be: as long as we must remit pensionable benefits to individuals. Thatís how long it would continue, based on eligible claims.
Ms. Duncan: These claims are ones that, as I understand it, are outside of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board process because they were before the act came in. Is that correct ó yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member is correct about it being before the act; however, Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board could be assessing claims that are prior to the act. So, more could be coming on.
Ms. Duncan: We have a certain number of claims that have been assessed pre-1973. Presumably there must be a time at which we would be finished and everybodyís comes under the act. I donít mean to be macabre about this, but is this going to end at some point in time? At some point in time, are we going to say, ďOkay, everybody is now covered under the act but weíre not likely to see any more of these claimsĒ?
Presumably, death benefits would be paid out at the end of a workersí compensation claim. So that would see an end, then, to these sorts of claims. Is there a cut-off? Is there some point ó either with the passing of all the people covered under this or with a limitation on at what point someone can claim ó where we can say, ďNo, you fall under this or you fall under that ó you come under the Workersí Compensation Act.Ē When will this end? Is it with the passing of the people who are currently collecting?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, ultimately the end would come when those eligible who are receiving benefits ó a claimant or their beneficiary ó pass on. When they pass on is the end point, so unfortunately that would be the point in time.
Ms. Duncan: That was the question I asked: at that point we wonít see this line item then. It will just be the WCB benefits under the Public Service Commission. The bad debts expense ó and there was quite a discussion between the leader of the official opposition and the Finance minister about this ó was $374,000 for the 2003-04 actual. We have forecast $48,000 for 2004-05 and weíre forecasting $48,000 for 2005-06. As I followed the debate and listened to it, this is the bad debts expense. There was a discussion about a Camaro and number one son during this line item debate. This bad debts expense is where we are the guarantor.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Itís not. Okay, perhaps the Finance minister can explain then. The walnuts are moving fairly quickly. What does this $48,000 cover? Which bad debts?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It would be a liability to the government in that the accounting system has not been reimbursed and has been booked as a bad debts expense. It could be a student loan or grant, property tax and that kind of stuff. Itís not anything to do with us being a guarantor on a venture loan.
Ms. Duncan: Okay. That is covered elsewhere in the Department of Finance debate ó the guarantor amount.
These particular bad debts go to Management Board before theyíre written off. They are written off by Management Board ó like property taxes. Sometimes it seems to me that there have been some situations, such as with the air ambulance, and they are unable to collect from a non-Canadian who has been flown for medical services ó that sort of thing.
My point and my question is that this is quite a difference ó $374,000 to $48,000. I realize $48,000 is just an estimate. Did we get an accounting of what constituted the 2003-04 $374,000? Which bad debts were written off? Is this old information? If it was provided, I apologize; if not, could we have it?
The 2004-05 forecast is $48,000. How close are we to that and which bad debts have been written off this year by Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, first of all, with regard to the decision-making process, if it is under $1,000, the deputy minister has the license to write it off. Up to $2,000, yours truly ó the minister ó has the license to write it off. Anything over and above $2,000 must go to Management Board.
The amount the member is talking about ó the $374,000 ó for the most part were things like Cyprus Anvil. There was a $374,000 bad debts expense, which is property tax. I believe I tabled that last year. It had to do with mine property taxes.
Ms. Duncan: We have the information. First of all, just to back up, under $1,000 the Deputy Minister of Finance has the ability to write off; up to $2,000 the Finance minister can do it, and over $2,000 it goes to Management Board. Is that a change in policy from what previously was in existence?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, no change. Itís in the familiarization manual.
Ms. Duncan: The $48,000 for 2004-05 ó we must be fairly close to knowing if we were going to actually use the $48,000. What loans have been written off? Or what has been written off to date under bad debts expense by the government ó by the deputy minister, the Finance minister and Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: To date, there is nothing that has been written off, but there is a submission coming in ó obviously, it would be over the $2,000 amount ó that would be coming forward to Management Board. It is highly unlikely weíll be utilizing the whole $48,000.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you for that information. That would be coming forward, and would the Finance minister be able to report on that before session ends?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The amounts are in the public accounts every year.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we donít get the Public Accounts, though, until October, and this submission is coming forward to Management Board. Is there any chance we could have it sooner than the public accounts? Could he make the information available in the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, because there may be some smaller items that have been written off by me or the deputy minister through the course of the fiscal year, as soon as we have it concluded with the Management Board submission going through due process, weíll table the information.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to wrap up with a couple of questions. Could I ask the Finance minister to just go through the public utilities income tax transfer again for the public record and indicate whether thereís any intention by the government or any work being done with regard to declaring a dividend from YDC or any discussions to look at their finances?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: At this point thereís no direction to change that. Weíll continue that process.
Ms. Duncan: Iím not sure what question the minister was answering. First of all, letís start at the beginning with the public utilities income tax transfer. Could he just go through again for the public record exactly how that works?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll start right at the beginning. The public utilities income tax transfer accounts for the remaining program budget of $212,000 or 4.8 percent. This does require explanation, as I pointed out. The federal government used to refund to provinces and territories 95 percent of the income tax they collected from private utility companies.
This program was terminated by the federal government effective April 1, 1995, so in the 1995-96 federal budget, provinces and territories were free to do what they wished with the money, but the idea behind the refund was to permit the province or territory to, in turn, refund the money to private utilities to reduce power rates and thereby put the customers on the same basis as tax-exempt public utilities whose customers do not have corporate income tax built into their electrical rates.
Ms. Duncan: So weíre with this money giving back to Yukon Development Corporation/Yukon Energy Corporation, $213,000. Is that understanding correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, it shows up in the customerís bill.
Ms. Duncan: † Right, it shows up in the customerís bill. Exactly where on the customerís bill?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís a line item in the bill. I must confess that I look at the total amount I owe because Iím ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, I pay it in full every time so I donít forget about it and lose my power or have it cut off, which would not be a good thing. Anyway, itís a line item on the bill among all the other things listed in the body of the bill itself. Iím not sure what the wording is, but it will relate to this tax issue.
Ms. Duncan: Itís a tax transfer. Itís money between a Crown corporation and the ratepayers and the government. The government also has the ability to go to Yukon Development Corporation and say ďYouíre making X amount of moneyĒ. Government can go to them and, say, declare a dividend back to the Government of Yukon. You have that ability as Finance minister.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Iíll save that question for the Energy, Mines and Resources minister. The Yukon Development Corporation has the responsibility to determine whether or not thereís ó although, as I understand it, it would come in through Finance.
That, in general debate, concludes the specific questions I have for the minister on this particular subject. I did find the debate about the loan program to be quite interesting and I would like to just ask ó there hasnít been a lot of discussion, save for the very beginning of this debate about loans, about the number of loans that were going back to the federal government. Some were under a federal government program. What happened with those? What was the amount that went back to the feds? Under this arrangement by the Finance minister, X amount went to Dana Naye Ventures, and some were forgiven to the non-profits and some were to go back to Ottawa. What happened with those?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíve made all this information public. I believe itís $600,000 repatriated to the feds. I believe itís $400,000-some of forgiveness to NGOs, which includes Mount Sima, the Rodeo Association ó I canít remember all of them.
That information has been made public. Iím not sure of the exact number of individual files that would make up the $600,000 repatriation to the federal government, but weíll pull that out.
Ms. Duncan: The broad numbers were made public, but the detail, as I understand it, wasnít necessarily provided. There was discussion about it ó it was going back to the feds. What happened?
With respect to that, how does it transfer off of our books? Does the federal government give us the money, or do we simply have a $600,000 line item thatís ó poof ó itís gone. Where did it go?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Originally, the federal government provided or financed these amounts. The repatriation means that we have transferred the collection to the federal government, which did the financing. The amounts will not come off Yukon books until the federal government deals with its collection and the results of it.
Ms. Duncan: Do we know what theyíre doing? Because this affects the Yukon books. Where do they go back to, Canadian Tourism Commission?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíd follow up on that, Mr. Chair. I believe itís Industry Canada. There has been contact back and forth, so we can update the member on where itís at. Once they conclude their business, whatever itís going to be ó collection or just write it off ó then we can do the necessary change to our books.
Mr. McRobb:†† †I have a question about the fuel tax rebate. I got a call from a constituent, and the constituent asked if there has been any adjustment to the rebate. Can the Premier indicate what the rebate is? And I believe itís geared to a volume. Can he give us some numbers and indicate if the rebate has changed at all due to the rising price of fuel?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Is the member talking about tax-exempt fuel rebate?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Fuel tax rebate? Well, thatís tax-exempt fuel purchase.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, Iím not familiar with all the various programs in the ministerís department. I just got a call from a constituent. He told me it was a fuel tax rebate. Can the minister enlighten us about what this might be? Apparently itís an amount that is attached to a volume of fuel, and itís rebated. It could be on a commercial basis, for instance. This is a commercial operator who called.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The only thing we have, Mr. Chair, is tax-exempt fuel, which means that, to be eligible, the fuel would have to be consumed on an off-highway basis. Examples would be farming, production of electricity, trapping, and I think forestry is involved. So, how it works is: instead of dyeing our fuel for tax-exempt purposes, like other jurisdictions, the Yukon government provides eligibility, which is in the form of a number. When the purchaser goes forward with purchasing fuel they would, at year-end, tabulate all the volume for the fuel that was bought and used in these categories that are for off-highway purposes, times the value of the tax. If itís diesel, I believe itís 7.2 cents per litre. So, the volume issue is on a litre basis, times the amount of tax. Whoever is eligible would receive a rebate for that said volume that relates to the amount of fuel utilized for off-road purposes.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I believe the Premier is talking about the same program as the one for which I got a call, because the constituent mentioned 6.2 cents per litre for diesel. So, itís probably the same thing.
I am not sure if he qualifies as a fuel distributor or not. Heís a small commercial operator and may buy fuel on a commercial basis and be eligible for this rebate. Iím not sure.
The point of the phone call was: why hasnít the subsidy amount increased with the price of fuel?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If we follow the memberís logic, we would increase the tax rates on fuel. This is not a subsidy; itís the road tax amount or value, and anyone who is eligible who utilizes fuel for off-road purposes receives a return of the amount of money they spent in buying that fuel that relates to the per-litre charge of the tax rate. To go the memberís way, we would have to increase the tax rate. Itís not the price of fuel; itís the tax rate.
Mr. McRobb: All right, so I think we have this straight. The tax rate is set; itís not pro-rated to the price of fuel; therefore, the tax rebate is geared to that. I think I have the information the constituent requested, and that will be fine.
Chair: As we have reached our normal time for a recess, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: There has been a request to look at the lines.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Administration in the amount of $608,000 agreed to
On Financial Operations and Revenue Services
Financial Operations and Revenue Services in the amount of $2,408,000 agreed to
On Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat
Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat in the amount of $1,466,000 agreed to
On Banking Services
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we went through the banking services contract, and I donít recall the Finance minister noting that this would be quite a substantial increase, from $10,000 to $50,000. Whatís the difference? What happened?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I believe I read it into the record, but itís booked as a $50,000 amount, and then as we go through the course of the fiscal year, if there are charges, it would be taken out of the $50,000 amount.
Banking Services in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer
Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer in the amount of $213,000 agreed to
Total Treasury in the amount of $4,745,000 agreed to
On Workersí Compensation Supplementary Benefits
On Supplementary Pensions
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we donít go through the statistics page. Itís just accepted. Could I just ask on the record to have the recycling fund accounting that has formerly been presented in the House sent over? Iím not sure if it has been tabled in the past by the Environment minister through the recycling fund, but it is kept in the Department of Finance, so if we could just have the financial information please sent over. Thank you.
Supplementary Pensions in the amount of $426,000 agreed to
Total Workersí Compensation Supplementary Benefits in the amount of $426,000 agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense
On Allowance for Bad Debts
Allowance for Bad Debts in the amount of $48,000 agreed to
Total Bad Debts Expense in the amount of $48,000 agreed to
On Prior Period Adjustments
Prior Period Adjustments in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On Recoveries and Revenue
Mr. Hardy: Yes, just an explanation on, again, banking and investment under other revenues ó a 300-percent increase.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That increase is due to the healthy cash position that we have in place in the bank, so our investment is earning more because we have more money earning interest.
Mr. Cardiff: Could the Finance minister tell us what the charge card incentive is?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The cards are used for travel over a certain amount of money. I read it into the record. If I can find it, I will repeat it to the member opposite. In large part, itís due to travel for employees, and itís a Diners Club card ó ďDonít leave home without it.Ē
Okay, the department budgets two small recovery items. They are $6,000 for supply of payroll services to Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and $10,000 paid by Diners/EnRoute for using their central billing system for charging airfares for employee travel.
Mr. Cardiff: I have just one more question. Thereís a large increase in insurance premium tax. I was wondering if the Premier could explain why that is.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís due to the fact that insurance premiums go up, due to the percentage we charge, so we must reflect that in our books. So, itís a 12-percent increase, but itís due to the increase in premiums themselves.
Recoveries and Revenue cleared
On Transfer Payments
Transfer Payments cleared
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $5,219,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $53,000 agreed to
On Loan Guarantee Contingency
Loan Guarantee Contingency in the amount of $250,000 agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense (Capital Loans)
Bad Debts Expense (Capital Loans) in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Total Treasury in the amount of $303,000 agreed to
On Transfer Payments
Transfer Payments cleared
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $303,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Chair: Do members wish to recess now? Is it the Houseís desire to not take a break and continue on with Vote 20?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Chair: We will continue on with Vote 20.
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, this is with regard to loan capital and loan amortization.
This is our standard provision for authority to make loans to municipalities, should they wish to borrow from us during the year. The traditional amount set aside is $5 million and is seldom totally required. As an example, $730,000 was borrowed last year in 2004-05. This line has no impact on our surplus since loans are carried as an asset on our balance sheet.
The loan amortization expenditure line is simply the payments being made on all loans YTG took out many years ago to re-loan to municipalities. The recovery line represents payments made by municipalities to YTG for loans outstanding.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a couple of questions. I didnít bring the old Finance books with me. Have we seen some loans to municipalities go off the books? It seems to me that Faro used to be on there. I believe that some of them have been paid and are now off the books.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the public accounts for fiscal year 2003-04, there is a reconciliation on that. It shows what has been retired, and so on and so forth ó schedule 11, page 165 on the public accounts document.
Ms. Duncan: I will look that up and just have a look at it. Is the balance of the loans in good standing ó there are several listed there ó and/or has there been an application made to have any of these loans forgiven?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: My understanding is that they are all in good standing, and there has been no application for forgiveness as of today.
Ms. Duncan: Are there any applications for additional loans made by any municipality that are currently under review?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, there are not, Mr. Chair. There are none.
Chair: We will proceed with line-by-line.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I request unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 20, Loan Capital and Amortization, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 20, Loan Capital and Loan Amortization, cleared or carried
Chair: It has been requested by Ms. Duncan that the Committee deem all lines in Vote 20, Loan Capital and Loan Amortization, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization agreed to
Chair: Would members now like a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue on with Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06. We will continue with Vote 1, the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Yukon Legislative Assembly
Mr. Staffen: The Membersí Services Board is responsible for the budgets of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and its House officers. This includes: (1) the Yukon Legislative Assembly Office; (2) the Elections Office; and (3) the Ombudsman/Information and Privacy Commissioner. Funding for the Conflicts Commissioner is included as a program in the budget of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
The Membersí Services Board reviewed the Vote 1 estimates for the Yukon Legislative Assembly now before the House at its meeting of December 8, 2004. The board agreed to these estimates and further agreed that they be forwarded to the Minister of Finance for inclusion in the main estimates. The estimates found in Vote 1 are identical to those that received the approval of the Membersí Services Board.
The operation and maintenance budget proposed for the Yukon Legislative Assembly for 2005-06 totals $4,053,000, which is an increase of $126,000, or three percent, over the 2004-05 main estimates and forecast. The capital budget proposed for the Yukon Legislative Assembly for 2005-06 totals $40,000, which represents no change from the 2004-05 main estimates and forecast. There are five programs in this vote.
Legislative services ó in the legislative services program there is an increase of $45,000. On an activity level, this breaks down as follows:
Activity: Legislative Assembly ó there are increases totalling $26,000 in the Legislative Assembly activity. This is due to a $25,000 increase in MLA indemnities and expense allowances resulting from the indexing required by the Legislative Assembly Act, and an additional $1,000 in MLA travel.
Activity: caucus support services ó caucus funding has been increased by $12,000. This increase is in accordance with the practice of the Membersí Services Board to have caucus funding track changes in the collective agreement between the Yukon Government Employees Union and the Government of Yukon.
Activity: legislative committees ó there is no change in the legislative committees activity from the 2004-05 forecast through to the 2005-06 main estimates. The amount being provided for that activity is $22,000.
Activity: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association ó there is an increase totalling $7,000 in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association activity. This is due to an increase in travel costs primarily resulting from the Canadian regional conference taking place in Newfoundland this year.
Activity: Speakerís Office ó there is no change in the $8,000 being provided to the Speakerís Office activity from the 2004-05 main estimates and forecast to the 2005-06 main estimates. The central focus of the funding in this activity during the current fiscal year will be the continued development of the outreach program, which involves events such as the Speaker and the Deputy Clerk meeting students from Yukon schools and the reinstatement of a Yukon youth parliament.
Legislative Assembly Office ó there is a decrease totalling $14,000 in the Legislative Assembly Office program. This decrease is mainly due to a reduction in personnel costs.
Retirement allowances and death benefits ó there is an increase of $85,000 in the retirement allowances and death benefits program. This 12-percent increase is largely due to a $70,000 increase in contract services ó $20,000 to cover the cost of the tri-annual actuarial valuation of the MLA pension plan and $50,000 to pay for consulting and legal services related to a comprehensive review of the Legislative Assembly Retirement Allowances Act. The remaining $15,000 is needed to cover the liabilities of the plan, resulting from the increase in the indemnities and expenses allowance paid to the members of the Legislative Assembly.
††††††† †Hansard ó there is an increase in $10,000 in the Hansard program, due to a possible increase in hourly rates associated with the re-tendering of the Hansard transcription services contract in 2005.
††††††† Conflicts Commission ó the Conflicts Commission program, upon recommendation of the Conflicts Commissioner, remains unchanged at $40,000.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the Speaker for the thorough description of the monies. Just to confirm, the Membersí Services Board does look at this, and I believe it was on December 8 when we actually went through the budget, and because it is represented by all parties it had been basically approved at that level. So I had just a couple of minor questions. One is the Hansard contract, which was just mentioned. Historically, what have been the terms around that contract, such as the length of the contract and how the payment is broken down into the length?
Hon. Mr. Staffen: Mr. Chair, itís a three-year contract, starting September 1, 2005. Hansard is paid monthly.
Mr. Hardy: So we have entered into a new contract already? Are we in negotiations or are we going into negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Staffen: The tender is expected to go out in the next month or two.
Mr. Hardy: How about the broadcasting contract? Can I get some details on that, please?
Hon. Mr. Staffen: Mr. Chair, the broadcasting contract will be tendered this fall, and I will inform the leader of the official opposition of the exact date of that contract. I donít have that information with me right now.
Mr. Hardy: Could I have a breakdown of what was spent under the Speakerís Office ó the amounts and what they were for? Itís just a small figure, but I would like to see what activities were done for the $8,000.
Hon. Mr. Staffen: The breakdown for that is as follows: travel, $5,000; contracts, $1,000; supplies and printing, $2,000, for a total of $8,000. If the leader of the official opposition would like a more comprehensive breakdown, weíd be glad just to do it via letter.
Mr. Hardy: That would be perfectly adequate. I believe the leader of the third party also would like a copy of that, please.
I think I have just one more question at this present time. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is being held where? I know you mentioned it, but it just went right through my head. What is the date?
Hon. Mr. Staffen: Presumably the leader of the official opposition is talking about the Canadian one, which is being held in Newfoundland in mid-July of 2005.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, we will proceed with line-by-line.
Ms. Duncan: As the leader of the official opposition noted, this budget and the specific lines have been dealt with by Membersí Services Board, the Membersí Services Board being comprised of all three parties represented in the Legislature.
†May I respectfully request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 1, Yukon Legislative Assembly, cleared or carried, as required?
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 1, Yukon Legislative Assembly, cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 1, Yukon Legislative Assembly, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of the Yukon Legislative Assembly in the amount of $4,053,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $40,000 agreed to
Yukon Legislative Assembly agreed to
Mr. Staffen: Iím speaking to the House on behalf of the Membersí Services Board, which reviewed the estimates of the Elections Office at a meeting of December 8, 2004.
The operation and maintenance budget proposed for the Elections Office for 2005-06 totals $210,000, which is a decrease of $4,000, or two percent, over the 2004-05 forecast.
The capital budget proposed for the Elections Office for 2005-06 totals $5,000, which represents no change from the 2004-05 forecast.
Elections ó the operation and maintenance estimates for the elections program are being decreased by $4,000. On an activity level, this breaks down as follows.
Activity: Chief Electoral Officer ó there is an increase of $51,000 in the Chief Electoral Office activity. The most significant increase in this activity is $26,000 for the Canadian Elections Officials 2005 conference being held in Whitehorse and an increase of $25,000 in travel and honoraria costs for returning officersí workshops and training.
Activity: elections administration ó the elections administration activity remains at $1.
Activity: elections: Education Act ó there is a decrease of $55,000 in the elections: Education Act activity. This decrease reflects the amount required to run the general election of the school councils and of the francophone school board in the 2004-05 fiscal year.
Activity: electoral district boundaries ó activity remains at nil.
Mr. Hardy: Again, as was noted, the Membersí Services Board has already looked at this and approved it, because it represents all parties. We are just getting some things on record and have one or two questions on things that may have come up since then.
Is this amount adequate for the by-election that is going to be happening later on this year plus the general election close to December?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. Would the member please wait until he has been recognized before speaking? The member must stand up before he can be recognized.
Hon. Mr. Staffen: My apologies for that breach of protocol. My understanding is that I am not allowed to speculate, so I have no answer for the member opposite.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Well, I am assuming that when you come up with this figure, youíre taking into account all contingencies of what may happen, for instance. From our perspective, we think it would be really good if there was an election this year. So, Iím hoping that money is there to cover it when we do go into that election.
Chair: That is verging on the Chair calling Standing Order 19(k).
Is there any further general debate?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would like to request †the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 24, Elections Office, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 24, Elections Office, cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan, are you requesting that for both the operation and maintenance and capital budgets?
Ms. Duncan: I am, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 24, Elections Office, cleared or carried, as required, for both the O&M and capital budgets. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
†Chair: I believe there is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Elections Office in the amount of $210,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures for Elections Office in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
Elections Office agreed to
Chair: That concludes Vote 24, Department of Elections Office. I would like to thank the Speaker for his presentation.
We will continue on with Office of the Ombudsman, which is Vote 23.†
Office of the Ombudsman
Hon. Mr. Staffen: I am speaking to the House on behalf of the Membersí Services Board, which, pursuant to section 9 of the Ombudsman Act, reviewed the estimates for the Office of the Ombudsman at its meeting of December 8, 2004. Upon completion of its review, the board makes recommendations to the Minister of Finance respecting the funding to be provided to the Ombudsman/Information and Privacy Commissioner.
The Membersí Services Board fulfilled its responsibilities by reviewing the 2005-06 budget submission for the Office of the Ombudsman at its meeting of December 8, 2004. The boardís decisions were then communicated to the Minister of Finance for inclusion in the main estimates. The estimates found in Vote 23 are identical to those that received the approval of the Membersí Services Board.
The operation and maintenance budget proposed for the Office of the Ombudsman for 2005-06 totals $417,000, which is an increase of $8,000, or two percent, over the 2004-05 forecast. The capital budget proposed for the Office of the Ombudsman for 2005-06 totals $14,000, which represents an increase of $8,000 over the 2004-05 forecast. This increase reflects the amount required to cover the costs associated with replacing the computer server for the Office of the Ombudsman.
Mr. Hardy: I am just going to make a comment in regard to something that has been brought up fairly recently in regard to access to information and protection of privacy ó comments that were in a report tabled. Specifically, the default position of government should be disclosure, not secrecy. Though I recognize that the Membersí Services Board has approved of the budget and everything, I just want to put it on record that I am very, very concerned about the comments that were in that report. I feel that they point very clearly to a problem within government, as well as the difficulty that the ATIPP office is having in dealing with a government that hasnít been forthcoming with the information.
I also think they raise concerns about the costs associated with access to information for private citizens and anybody else or an organization that tries to access information through the government.
I know there are 23 recommendations, supposedly, that the government is looking at; however, I believe that there are concerns that go beyond those 23 recommendations. I believe very strongly that this government needs to take a very close look at the report and the concerns that have been raised by that report and make some adjustments in order to instil confidence in the public eye as well as in Members of the Legislative Assembly that government is open and accountable. At this present time, I think thatís in question.
With those comments, thatís pretty well all I have to say about this area.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to express a concern, and it follows in part what the leader of the official opposition said. The Ombudsmanís report to the Legislature ó and Iím not referring to the ATIPP comments in his role as Privacy Commissioner. Iím thinking of the comments that are made about specific departments. For example, the Ombudsman will report a finding and will issue a report. The question of the public is: what happens then? Where does it go from there? How does this Legislature view that? Is it then the responsibility of the Legislature to hold the government recommendation about a specific department?
As MLAs, we have individuals who come to see us who have a problem with the department. As an option ó and sometimes itís a last resort ó we can send them to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman issues a finding. Whose responsibility is it then? The Ombudsman reports to the Legislature; the report is tabled in the Legislature.
Iím seeking the advice of members in response to this discussion. Perhaps the Speaker may choose to respond or not, but I want it on record. In the view of the public, what happens to those Ombudsman recommendations? Theyíre in an annual report tabled here, but what is the follow-up for the constituent after the Ombudsmanís findings?
Hon. Mr. Staffen: After discussion with the Clerk with regard to the question posed by the leader of the third party, there is a bit of a grey area so, with her indulgence, I would like to get back to her in a written form.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, we will proceed to line-by-line.
Mr. Hardy: Seeing that Membersí Services Board has already reviewed all the expenditures and approved them, I would request that the Committee give unanimous consent to deem all lines in Vote 23, Office of the Ombudsman, cleared or carried, as required.
Chair: Mr. Hardy, just for clarification, is that for the O&M and the capital budgets?
Mr. Hardy: Yes, it is.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 23, Office of the Ombudsman, cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. Hardy has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 23, Office of the Ombudsman, for the operations and maintenance and capital budgets, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
†Chair: I believe there is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Office of the Ombudsman in the amount of $417,000 agreed to
Office of the Ombudsman agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Can we just have a brief recess while the officials come in for the Department of Health and Social Services?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, I would just like to note for the record that although this was discussed three times this morning, I have not as yet been advised what the next item to be called for debate is ó although this has been asked repeatedly ó and I find it truly unfortunate that, with less than five minutesí notice ó not even five minutesí notice ó a major department is being called for debate, without any notice whatsoever to members.
We are asked continually to come into this House prepared for debate, and we have been given no notification of what department was next. Mr. Chair, I want to be on record. I recognize it is not within your jurisdiction to rule per se; however, I do want that note on the record.
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: † On the point of order, Mr. Chair, I would corroborate what the leader of the third party said. We repeatedly asked the government House leader this morning to be advised on which department would follow the Ombudsman, and he told us that we would find out Thursday. We informed him that we expected to clear the Ombudsmanís department before 6:00 p.m. this afternoon, and he only laughed at us, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Order please. Is there a specific point of order?
Mr. McRobb: Well, there probably isnít in these House rules, but ó
Chair: Thank you. There is no point of order. There has been a request for a brief recess.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Chair: It appears we do not have unanimous consent for a recess.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I have a suggestion. Clearly, the government House leader is trying to catch the opposition parties by surprise. We are not prepared for this department. What I suggest we do is make the best use of the remaining time today. The minister can get up and read his introductory speech, and we can go from there.
Chair: As members have not agreed to a recess, we will then continue on with Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services.
Department of Health and Social Services
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I am very pleased this afternoon to introduce the Department of Health and Social Services. On behalf of the Yukon government, I want to give 100-percent support for every employee who works in the department so diligently, despite the complete lack of effort from the ministerís office, Mr. Chair.
And I might want to talk about the minister for awhile, because he is a complete disgrace.
Chair: Would the member please refrain from making personal comments that are disparaging and disrespectful to others?
Mr. McRobb: Thanks for that, Mr. Chair. I should be warned that sometimes we canít go there in this Chamber. But obviously the minister has tried not to give the opposition parties notice of the department. Itís recognized protocol in the government House leader meetings each morning to advise the opposition parties what business to expect in the afternoon. Iíll spell that out so that all members ó even those across the way ó can understand what the process is.
Such notice is required as a matter of legislative courtesy. By not providing notice, the strategy of the government House leader is clear: to try to catch the opposition parties off-guard and unprepared to debate. In doing so, the government is again hiding from accountability.
The government House leader knows it takes time for the opposition to prepare for debate on a department early in a legislative sitting. If it was later on in the sitting, it wouldnít make a whole lot of difference, although there is still a requirement for legislative courtesy, which weíre not getting from this government House leader.
Now there is also a parody here. The government House leader is also the Minister of Health, the very department they ambushed us with today.†
So, Mr. Chair, we see the government House leader is using his role in that capacity to benefit himself in his role of Health minister to try to catch the opposition parties off guard, evade scrutiny and avoid accountability to the Yukon people.
Chair: Order please. I would remind the member not to impute false or unavowed motives to another member.
Mr. McRobb: Sorry, Mr. Chair, but I really donít believe that anything I have said is false.
Maybe the motives are unavowed, but regardless, we have a situation. Who is being served by this type of tactic? Letís ask this of ourselves. Who is being served? Is it the people of the Yukon? The answer to that is simple. Itís a clear no. The people of the Yukon expect the government, no matter who it is, to be held accountable. Just because itís the Yukon Party, it canít forego that requirement by the government side.
Can you imagine what it would have been like if the NDP government had tried to do something like this? Well, the opposition would be hollering from the rooftops, Mr. Chair. We would be able to hear them all the way down to Carcross. Believe it.
Yet, the Yukon Party, when in government, expects us to fold up our tent and go with the ride. Well, thatís not the way itís going to work, because we will stand up for what we believe in too. This type of trickery is, I donít believe, tolerated by anyone out there, especially the people I talk to. They expect us to do the best job we can, and expect simple protocols such as the one the government House leader was expected to do this morning, but failed to do.
That is disgraceful, Mr. Chair. Excuse my tone and excuse my language, but we just canít tolerate this type of heavy-handedness from the government much longer.
Here we are early in the sitting, and weíve been subjected to this type of treatment since about day one. The people ought to know. Thatís why I am putting it on record right now, so that the people of the territory know what this government is like, because itís a far cry from what they campaigned on ó the four Cs of cooperation, and so on. You call this cooperation, Mr. Chair? This is anything but cooperation.
Now, if we look at the budget and go alphabetically, this department is probably fifth or sixth down the line. In terms of a legislative schedule, we might expect that about three weeks from now. So the government House leader is, again, trying to pull a fast one, trying to catch us off guard with no notice at all for a very important department that a lot of people in the territory depend on ó the Department of Health and Social Services. It is the biggest spending department in the whole government and yet this government is running from accountability.
Well, Iíve said lots of times before, Mr. Chair, that we on this side can only do our jobs if we have the information at hand. We are still waiting for information from this minister in relation to the budget, yet he calls the department prematurely. Well, this is an outrage. I know the leader of the third party feels the same way.
What does the minister do? He doesnít even get up and introduce the department. He now has slighted every employee working in the Health and Social Services department from Whitehorse to Watson Lake ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
†Hon. Mr. Jenkins: † You know, Mr. Chair, the member opposite can impute false or unavowed motives, but this is not a reasonable approach, and he is contravening Standing Order 19(g).
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on the point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have to speak to that point of order. A reasonable approach would have been to provide information to House leaders, as the member opposite is charged with doing by his caucus. The Member for Kluane indicated that the memberís inability to provide adequate notice to us, and inability to provide adequate notice to his officials, has slighted them. I donít think thatís imputing false or unavowed motives, itís noting that a lack of common courtesy has been extended not only to us but to the officials who work in the Department of Health and Social Services, as well.
Chair: There is no point of order. Debate can continue, please.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Well, itís interesting to see how sensitive the Health minister is now, Mr. Chair. He can dish it out but he canít take it. Let that stand on the record. And again, people who work hard for this department across the territory now have to suffer with the public knowledge that the minister isnít willing to be held accountable for this department. Is it because of what the minister has done and not done? Well, there have been lots in that file, right from sole-source ambulances to seniors facilities in his own riding while ignoring other ridings, and all the way down the line. The record is rather abysmal. I suppose the easy way out would be to avoid accountability and try to catch the opposition off guard by calling the department early without notice.
Even the minister wasnít prepared. He didnít have a speech. Or maybe he does. Maybe heís got a speech but he doesnít want to read it this afternoon; he wants to read it on camera on Thursday afternoon.
Chair: Weíve already discussed imputing false or unavowed motives. It has already been discussed in this Assembly that imputing that someone is doing something in order to get television time is out of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, once again it amazes me that thereís a rule that draws a fine line, such as the one you cited, yet thereís no rule for common courtesy for the government House leader to provide adequate notice to the opposition parties and what departments are being called for the afternoon or the day. That really is strange. It lacks reason.
Now what are we going to do for the rest of the day? Well, weíre going to clearly see about half an hour down the drain because of this display of lack of cooperation. Had the minister done it the right way and advised us, then clearly he could have read his speech on the record and we could have followed and been right into the Health and Social Services debate. Instead I predict weíre going to get nowhere today except by riling both sides of this Legislature over what was clearly an attempt to avoid accountability.
Letís hear what the Health and Social Services minister has to say.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: † I listened to the member opposite, the Member for Kluane, and I agree with him on one point, that point being that this is a very important department, the Department of Health and Social Services.
Iíll be brief, Mr. Chair.
I am pleased to introduce the Department of Health and Social Services 2005-06 budget. The total operation and maintenance expenditures for the next fiscal year is $170.346 million.
The total capital is $15.804 million.
The demands on the health care budget envelope have grown significantly this last while, the main drivers being the cost of health care providers, the cost of the drugs ó the drug formulary ó and the cost of providing the overall services in many areas in the Department of Health and Social Services.
To that end, Iíd like to thank the Premier, the officials in the Department of Finance, the officials in the stats branch, along with the officials in the Department of Health and Social Services who were successful in negotiating new fiscal arrangements with Canada, which saw a significant amount of dollars flowing in to Yukon. Some dollars are also expected as a result of commitments made by the federal Liberal government. We donít know if there will be deliverables, given the tenuous position that the federal Liberals have found themselves in with respect to controlling the vote in the federal House of Parliament.
Mr. Chair, our government is committed to meeting the demands where the demands exist. To that end, we have been successful in increasing, at a minimum, the funding flowing to non-government organizations by three percent this fiscal year. In addition to that, where there have been some pressures on a number of NGOs, new fiscal arrangements have been reached with those NGOs that required additional funding to meet the demands.
Mr. Chair, weíre also very cognizant of our election campaign to put in place an FASD diagnostic team and to resource it to the level necessary so we can move forward on this dreaded affliction. This is one of the most easily preventable diseases known to exist here in the Yukon. The diagnostic team is in place at the Child Development Centre. It has been resourced to the level that has been requested. The team is working diligently at the tasks assigned.
At the same time, we have increased funding to an NGO that is mostly focused on those afflicted with FASD and other impediments to health. That organization is FASSY. FASSY is now on track for diagnosing some of those so afflicted or potentially afflicted in their senior years, or after they have achieved the age of majority.
Further to that, weíve improved and enhanced the drug and alcohol service that we have in place. We now have a residential program, which was restored. It was eliminated by the previous NDP government. Why? Perhaps they had a difficulty with the management of this facility and it appeared that the ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, the minister just ascribed motives, and you just called us to order on that same point.
Chair: There is a line between speculating on a policy choice and imputing false or unavowed motives. In this case, I donít believe that the member has imputed motives, but instead he has speculated on a decision.
There is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I was saying earlier, the residential treatment program provided by drug and alcohol services, the live-in residential treatment that was eliminated by the previous NDP government, has been reinstated by our government. Its need is very evident.
We have moved forward on substance abuse initiatives and the Premier is convening a major initiative in this area in the very near future.
We recognize the problems associated with substance abuse as they appear to be at the root of a lot of our social problems, and a lot of the costs that are being incurred by the department are as a direct result of substance abuse. As well, a lot of the interventions into family units and children in care and apprehensions of children that are undertaken by the department are as a result of substance abuse. It is not peculiar just to one specific area of the Yukon. This scourge is across the Yukon. Itís an area that we as a government are very cognizant of and are moving forward on.
Mr. Chair, many of the other areas that we have enhanced and improved upon are very self-evident in family and children's services, and under that area and under that umbrella, we are moving forward on the development of a new piece of legislation in conjunction with our First Nation partners. This process that was set up by the Council of Yukon First Nations and Government of Yukon is an approach where the initiative is co-chaired, with the co-chairs sharing equal importance and responsibilities in the direction of the work that is undertaken and the direction of the initiative.
There are ongoing meetings in this area, and the product that is coming out of this working group will help to provide guidance on a new piece of legislation, which Iím sure will address the entire child adoption situation and children-in-care issues.
I have a tremendous amount of good news that I would like to share, but Iíd like to get a feeling from the critic from the official opposition as to what areas he would like me to enhance and dwell on. So I look forward to further line-by-line debate and further dialogue on the overall Health budget during the course of the next few days, and probably into next week.
Mr. McRobb: Weíre still in general debate. Weíre not into line-by-line debate, as the minister suggested. Obviously, heís partway through his introductory speech for the department that he was unwilling to give before, so I would merely like him to put on record the rest of his speech.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: When we start looking at our initiatives in the child care and daycare fields, we have a lot to be proud of. It was this government that put together a working group comprised of all the family day home operators and the daycare operators. This working group came up with a program, because it was recognized by our government that there were many issues that had to be addressed.
This four-year plan was developed; weíre working on it and itís being implemented. We now have come to the point where we have approximately 1,300 spaces in the daycare community, set up spaces and licensed. Our total budget in this area is about $5.5 million. This is the second best funded daycare in Canada, the first being Quebec. Quebec has a considerable waiting list, and theyíre having difficulties setting up additional spaces. We have capacity in a number of our daycare centres and day homes here in the Yukon, but we have provided a measure of certainty, and weíre looking forward to sitting down with this working group once again, as soon as the child care funding that was recently negotiated with Canada comes to fruition.
This is dependent on the passing of the federal budget currently before the House. Negotiations are still underway with respect to the amount of this new funding, but weíre given to understand for the fiscal year just expired that weíre going to receive some $200,000-odd and for the next fiscal some $500,000 dollars. We have yet to be successful in negotiating arrangements with the federal government whereby they recognize base funding plus per capita in this area.
We have been successful in a number of other areas, but not with respect to child care funding. There have been a number of meetings with the federal minister responsible ó my provincial and territorial counterparts having recently met with the Hon. Ken Dryden. My friend firmly believed that this federal minister is determined to effect change in this area and determined to carry weight at the Cabinet table to come clean of the impediments to ensuring that this money flows.
The commitment from the federal Liberal government was for $5 million over five years and how that is being translated is with an initial amount of $700 million in the first year with $100 million going to First Nations. How that is going to flow to First Nations has yet to be determined ó whether itís on-reserve or off-reserve. Thereís another new term that has been coined ó ďFirst Nations communityĒ. So how thatís going to apply north of 60 has yet to be determined.
At the same time, Mr. Chair, there is another $100 million being earmarked for accountability. Accountability is a major issue for the federal government, as to how this new funding will flow. But as it currently stands, as I said earlier, child care here in the Yukon, through our family day homes and daycare centres, is extremely well resourced. Weíre very pleased that there are programs for training individuals, and kudos must go to the Department of Education for the initiatives underway at Yukon College for training in not just this area but a number of areas. These ongoing programs are being resourced by the Department of Education, and in the last fiscal cycle our government provided $1 million more to Yukon College. There are new initiatives abounding in this fiscal cycle, and resources are being deployed where the demands exist, Mr. Chair.
If we look at the Yukon population from the time of birth to age 11, it totals some 4,500 Yukoners.
This is a considerable number, given that there are 1,300 set up spaces for those who require, or wish to use, daycare centres or family day homes.
The other thing that is very interesting is that when you look at the statistical review just recently provided, it shows that the employable number of females of working age in our population are virtually all working. I looked at that and questioned it, and it was quite interesting, given that when the numbers drop below about 200, in order not to skew the stats or identify anyone, it zeroes out. But that one clearly indicated that a higher percentage of the employed workforce in the Yukon are women. A lot of them are working mothers, and a lot of them are working because they want to improve the lifestyle of their families, and a lot of them are working because they are single parents.
Our government is committed to doing our level best to ensure that we make daycare as affordable as possible for these individuals.
Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It would appear that we could pass the entire budget this afternoon, but given the time of the day, I move that the House be now adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.