††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Thursday, April 14, 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.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
†Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to welcome to the House and to the Yukon Ms. Laura Jones, vice-president, and Jared Kuehl, senior policy analyst of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Speaker: Are there any further introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
†Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I have a document for tabling. It has over 426 signatures, I believe, and it is in regard to the injustices being done to the business of Swift River Lodge and the travelling public by its closure. Itís basically a bunch of signatures supporting the reopening or coming to some kind of solution to resolve the outstanding issues at the Swift River Lodge.
Speaker: Are there any other returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
introduction of bills
Bill No. 108: Introduction and First Reading
Mr. Hardy: I move that Bill No. 108, entitled Legislative Renewal Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the official opposition that Bill No. 108, entitled Legislative Renewal Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 108 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills for introduction?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Cathers: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Canada to direct Parks Canada to live up to its responsibility for its existing parks and national historic sites within the Yukon by focusing its efforts on restoring funding and reinstating its operations within the Yukon.
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) not all Yukon schools are responding to the issue of childrenís bullying;
(2) the health and safety of our children is not assured while they are attending school; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to commit to alleviating the serious problem of childrenís bullying in the schools by instituting the Steps to Respect program as compulsory in all schools and by investigating and implementing other innovative and progressive programs such as peer counselling and parental involvement to combat bullying.
Mr. Rouble: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges begin a process of legislative renewal for the Yukon Legislative Assembly by making recommendations to the House on a code of conduct and decorum that promotes consensus building, collaboration and compromise.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to consult the Yukon people on the best way to meet the territoryís Kyoto Protocol commitments.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† Dawson City trustee contract
Mr. Cardiff: Now that the investigation and the forensic audit into Dawson Cityís finances is complete and the trusteeís contract is about to expire any day now, the residents of Dawson City would like to move on. But the Minister of Community Services has stated that there is still much work to do.
Iíd like to know if the minister has extended the contract for the Dawson trustee or has he been replaced, and for what time frame has it been extended?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The contract has been extended to the end of the year.
Mr. Cardiff: One would think that since the investigation and the audit of Dawsonís finances have been completed, the terms of reference and the workplan would need to be updated. Has the trusteeís existing mandate been continued or will he be receiving a new mandate in terms of reference, and would the minister make those available to the public, please?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to all of the issues in Dawson City at this time, itís all a work in progress.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister didnít answer the question about what the contract looks like or what the terms of reference are or whether or not theyíre even available. Itís a work in progress. The public deserves to know. The residents of Dawson City have been looking forward to the restoration of democracy in Dawson for a year now, a year today. The trustee was appointed on April 13, and itís April 14, so it has been a year. The minister said earlier in this session that municipal elections may be held this fall, so will the minister now tell the House how much longer Dawson City citizens are going to have to wait to exercise their democratic right to vote? In other words, when will there be a municipal election in Dawson City?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This government fully understands the complications that went on in Dawson City. The elections will be determined by the trustee.
Question re:††† Dawson City trustee contract
Mr. Hardy: Iíd like to follow up on a line of inquiry that my colleague has been pursuing, but my question is going to be for the Premier, not the acting minister.
Is the Premier familiar with section 336 of the Municipal Act, and can he explain why this government is failing to comply with the requirement of that section?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I will take that question under advisement. Thank you.
Mr. Hardy: Well, it was put on record that the Premier refused to answer the question, and the acting minister refused to assure us that he is going to get back to us on it. It seems reasonable to expect that a government that went to such extraordinary lengths as to dismiss an elected municipal government and appoint a trustee would at least make sure that it was following the act. For the Premierís benefit, I will read the relevant parts of the act ó obviously he doesnít know it.
Section 336(14): ďThe trustee must make suitable provisions for an election of a new council to be held within one year of the trusteeís appointment.Ē
It doesnít say ďmayĒ, Mr. Speaker; it says ďmustĒ. The trusteeís appointment was made April 13, 2004 ó a year ago yesterday, as my colleague mentioned. Subsection (17) sets out the suitable provisions that must be made, including appointing a returning officer and establishing places for nominations and voting. Can the Premier tell us if these conditions were met during the time set out in the act, and if not, why not?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, the government feels that the commitments were met, Mr. Speaker. They were extended by an OIC.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís very interesting, Mr. Speaker. We consider this a very serious matter. It was brought to our attention by some citizens of Dawson, who are very, very concerned about democracy. These are people who wouldnít be caught dead wearing a hat bragging that the good ole boys are back, or putting up posters showing a former town official behind bars. The Member for Klondike knows what Iím referring to.
The Municipal Act does include a provision for extending the time for an election beyond the one year that is stipulated. Section 336(16) says, ďThe Commissioner in Executive Council may extend the time for an election required by subsections (14) and (15).Ē
The minister canít do it; the trustee canít do it; only Cabinet can do it. Now this acting minister has just said that it was done by an OIC. I would like to see the OIC. I donít understand why it hasnít been posted, so can that minister get back to us, or the Premier stand up on his feet and tell us where it is and when it was done?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This government already addressed† the issue with an OIC.
Question re: Attorney General office, devolution of
†Ms. Duncan: I would like to follow up on questions I asked the Minister of Justice yesterday, about the devolution of the Attorney General function. The minister went on to talk about the sex offender information registration that exists in the Yukon. That doesnít remotely answer the question.
Section 810 of the Criminal Code allows the courts to impose curfews and other methods where there are reasonable grounds to fear that a person will reoffend. The Attorney General in Ontario can and has asked for this section to be imposed. They have done this recently in the high-profile Homolka case.
The Yukon doesnít have an Attorney General. This government isnít working on devolution, so how are Yukoners to be assured that this section of the Criminal Code can be applied here in the Yukon? We have a Yukoner convicted of rape who is reported to be at high risk to reoffend. Can the minister reassure Yukoners today that, as the Minister of Justice, he knows about the Criminal Code section 810, this public safety safeguard, and how the Yukon applies for it to be in place?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I can assure the member opposite that this government will take precautionary steps and I can assure Yukoners that, as Minister of Justice, I could and would, in appropriate cases dealing with serious offenders in the Yukon, work cooperatively with the Attorney General of Canada to apply to the court for an order under section 810.
Ms. Duncan: Well, letís be absolutely crystal clear for the public. Section 810, if applied for and agreed to by the courts, places some restrictions and allows for the monitoring of individuals who are deemed to be at a high risk to reoffend. In the provinces, the Attorney General can make the application.
Yukoners, because we havenít devolved these powers, have to ask the Attorney General of Canada. There is a very clear, established process for this type of request. Clearly we have such individuals. Many, many Yukoners wrote to the National Parole Board recently about a high profile case. The Minister of Justice could have, and should have, reassured all Yukoners that the provision exists in the Criminal Code, that he is aware of it and how it is exercised in the Yukon, instead of leaving Yukoners wondering yet again who is speaking for them.
The job of government is about more than ó
Speaker: Order please. Would the member ask the question?
Ms. Duncan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker. The job of government is about more than cashing Ottawaís cheques.
Will the minister commit to Yukoners that he will look into the application of section 810 before this scheduled release date?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To set the record straight, itís not uncommon that the federal government does have control over a lot of issues in the Yukon Territory. While the Crown Attorney function in the Yukon Territory rests with the federal government, this will not affect the Yukon governmentís ability to deal with this type of situation, should it arise in the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís not very reassuring for Yukoners. Letís look at Yukon Party history in the Department of Justice. First they cancelled a badly needed construction project that the fire marshal condemned more than 10 years ago; then the Justice minister goes against the judiciary and releases a tow truck; then they tell us in the Legislature how much better weíd be if the territory administered justice, and does nothing on the devolution file. Collectively, the entire Cabinet sat on its hands while every other Yukoner wrote to the B.C. Attorney General requesting the appeal of a sentence. Most recently, in yet another high profile violent offence, the Justice minister, had he been aware of his portfolio, could have and should have advised the concerned Yukon public what could be done under the Criminal Code. Instead, Mr. Speaker, weíve seen the Justice minister do absolutely nothing.
When is the Justice minister going to start doing his job?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I find it rather amusing that the leader of the third party would even go close to the building of the WCC, which she started. After all, they had a four-year mandate. It was their choice to only do two. They had plenty of time to build this infrastructure.
Question re: Electoral reform
†Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, after that non-answer, I really donít know if I should ask any more questions.
Speaker: The member knows perfectly well it is not in order to comment about a previous question. You have the floor. Itís your question, please.
Mr. Hardy: Yes. I will retract my comments about the previous non-answer.
In the last election, the Premier promised to set up an independent commission of citizens to look into the question of electoral reform. Instead of doing that, the Premier sole sourced a $120,000 contract to an individual to look at what B.C. was doing about this matter and to report back to the Premier. Yesterday, we finally had an opportunity to read this report. Frankly, it didnít take long because there wasnít really much in it.
Does the Premier consider the taxpayers got their moneyís worth from a report that clocked in at a price tag of more than $5,000 a page?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, Iím not going to respond to the New Democratsí assessment of costs on anything, Mr. Speaker. The member just stood on the floor of this House and diminished the severity of the problem in Dawson City in failing to recognize that the city is broke, millions of dollars in debt, and needs a trustee to manage its affairs at this point in time.
As far as electoral reform ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, you have ruled several times that a member cannot comment on a previous question. Thatís what the Premier is doing. The Dawson City question is not the one being asked now. It was a previous question.
Speaker: Member for Klondike, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, there are no Standing Orders being cited by the member opposite, Mr. Speaker. This is just a dispute between members. It is an interpretation that the official opposition is putting on a response because they donít accept it or like it.
Speaker: Leader of the third party, on the point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, from this corner of the House, what I heard you say moments ago was that the leader of the official opposition was out of order for commenting on a question that had been just asked. The Premier is doing exactly the same thing, and I believe, from what Iíve heard ó and perhaps you may wish to consult the Blues ó the situation seems to be one and the same. If the leader of the official opposition was out of order, so is the Premier.
Speaker: Hon. Premier, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: On the point of order, I am compelled to answer this debate, Mr. Speaker. The point is the assessment of how the New Democrats deem costs. There was no reflection to a previous question. It was the point being made that their assessment of what true costs or real costs are is at times somewhat suspect ó nothing more, nothing less, no contravention of our orders, merely a fine statement.
Speaker: I will ask the Houseís indulgence. I would like to review the Blues, and I will give you a ruling on Monday.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, I will conclude my answer. As far as electoral reform, I would like to first extend to a long-time Yukoner, a very knowledgeable Yukoner in the evolution of responsible government for this territory and the position of our electoral situation, our appreciation on behalf of all Yukoners for his efforts and his fine work. It clearly points out that the Yukonís electoral situation is in good shape ó if itís not broke, donít fix it ó but it does raise an important issue: legislative renewal. Thatís exactly what this government has tabled here today. We intend to proceed with an all-party process for legislative renewal.
Mr. Hardy: Just very much like ďour way or the highwayĒ is what the Premier is saying, and weíve listened to that enough. Admittedly, the person who brought in this report admits that heís one of the old boys and thatís one of the reasons he probably got the contract. Now, one of the weaknesses ó
Speaker: Order please. That comment was out of order. I would ask the honourable member to retract that comment. It was a personal slur upon an individual who is not here to defend himself, and I would ask you to retract that, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Hardy: I retract it.
Speaker: Thank you.
Mr. Hardy: Now one of the weaknesses of this report is that itís highly subjective with very little supporting documentation provided. Thereís no evidence the author did any extensive research beyond observing the B.C. Citizensí Assembly and reading a rather dated political science text. It would have been good to have seen some objective analysis and documentation on what other jurisdictions are doing. That was not in the report. But the most disappointing part of this exercise is that there was no opportunity for Yukon people to make any kind of presentation to the senior advisor. Does the Premier intend to conduct any kind of consultation with Yukon people about our voting system, or is this it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite has just implied that the report has no objectivity to it and no content, yet the member has just stood on the floor of this Legislature today and tabled a bill entitled Legislative Renewal Act. Well, that came right out of this so-called non-objective report. The members canít have it both ways.
The difference between this side of the House and the official opposition is that we are going to go ahead on an all-party process, consulting Yukoners on legislative renewal. The members opposite have already drafted their bill, and who have they talked to? Just themselves, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: He did not answer the question. We went ahead and brought a bill into this House that talks about consultation. Obviously the Premier hasnít read it.
Now, certainly no one on this side of the House is suggesting that another dog-and-pony show as big as the B.C. Citizensí Assembly should happen up here. By all accounts, that was a very successful exercise in democratic consultation, but the scale was so obviously big that itís not suitable for small jurisdictions such as the Yukon. I think we could come up with something better.
At the same time, I think Yukoners deserve more for the $120,000 than just a slim volume that basically says, ďDonít bother looking at a single transferable ballot system.Ē There are many systems out there.
What role does the Premier see this document playing in the long run in terms of the Yukonís democratic development? Letís try to get an answer out of him, instead of him attacking us.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: My, my, Mr. Speaker, considering the memberís questioning and the tone, one would think the official opposition has dropped like a rock in the polls.
Mr. Speaker, the report is clear. We need not fix something that isnít broken. In fact, I will go further. The electoral system in the Yukon is fair and balanced. It works. The evolution of responsible government in this territory has been very progressive and positive. Now, we are going to take it a step further, and that is legislative renewal, to improve even further responsible government in this territory. The distinct difference between this side of the House and the official opposition is that we are going to do it collectively. The members opposite are doing it in isolation. That will not work. This side of the House will approach it so we actually produce legislative renewal.†
Question re: Electoral reform
†Mr. Hardy: Well, obviously the Premier hasnít read it, because if he had read it, he would recognize that it was a collective effort that would be brought about by all members of the party with a chair as a speaker who would go out to the people of this territory. He hasnít read it and he is interpreting it the way he wants. If anything, the Yukon Party and this Premier blocked it. They do not want to see it. Two-and-a-half years have gone by, and the promise is still broken.
Iíd like to follow up on what the Premier said on the report we received yesterday. Interestingly enough, the author recommends not pursuing electoral reform in the Yukon at this time because there doesnít seem to be a public appetite for it. Does the Premier agree with that recommendation? Letís get it on record. Does he or does he not believe that electoral reform has a role to play in the future of this territory?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, the government side and the members say that at some point in the future, electoral reform may not be necessary or may be necessary. Thatís dependent upon the demographics, the dynamics, the population ó the overall situation the Yukon may find itself in at that given time. But today in the Yukon electoral reform is not the priority approach. It is not needed. We have a fair and balanced system that ensures that the riding of Old Crow can be represented in this House. I wonder how the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin views her leaderís position on electoral reform, which may very well exclude Old Crow from having a riding.
We are going to proceed with legislative renewal. We have started, as we should, by bringing to this House a motion for debate, for discussion. The members opposite didnít even pick up the phone to talk about a bill for legislative renewal. They just tabled it.
And no, I havenít read it because they just brought it into the House, Mr. Speaker.
The difference is that we consult, we collaborate and we work with Yukoners. The official opposition doesnít because it canít.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís very interesting. We tabled a bill and it was in the hands of the Yukon Party and that Premier for days. He couldnít even take the time to read it yet heís already saying what it contains ó unbelievable.
I hope the Premier isnít suggesting that this is another commitment that has been made and kept by his side, because we look at it as a commitment that has been abandoned. It was a promise made. There has been no independent commission of citizens, as was the promise put out there. There was only one individual. Still, weíre not quarrelling with that gentlemanís observation that there may not be an urgent need to change our voting system at this time. The senior advisor did note, however, that Yukon people ó at least the ones he bumped into, and thatís up for question too ó want changes in how we do things in this House.
Does the Premier agree with that conclusion, and can he explain why he has done nothing so far to live up to this promise of a more constructive and cooperative way of conducting the publicís business until just a few minutes ago?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I would hope that we can get the bills the leader of the official opposition is talking about correct. The Democratic Reform Act was previously tabled; the minister has just tabled what it is weíre talking about today ó a bill regarding legislative renewal or reform. I rest my case on that point.
On the other point, Mr. Speaker, this government has continually demonstrated its willingness to work with the members opposite. This government has a record of having motions unanimously passed in this House because we bring forward motions in a constructive, cooperative manner. Just yesterday we spent some time trying to help the leader of the third party with the motion regarding a land base in Porter Creek. The member torpedoed her own initiative. The third party now does not support protecting that land base through a consultative process.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
††††††† Speaker: Sit down, please, Hon. Premier. Youíre done. Leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Point of order
Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for recognizing me. My point was that the Premier, in contravention of Standing Order 19(g), is suggesting false or unavowed motives on the part of another member in the Legislature and, as we all know, that is completely out of order.
Speaker: I have in fact, Hon. Premier, a ruling I would remind you of, of March 29, and Iím fond of reading this over and over again, you may have noticed. The public interest is not served when members express themselves in a way that impugns the character of other members. I ask the Hon. Premier to retract that, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie: † Certainly, Mr. Speaker, Iíll retract it. I meant no reference to character, merely that an initiative that was on the floor of this Legislature was strengthened through our cooperative approach.
Now, as far as the decorum in this House ó and if I may be so bold ó I would say it has been improved simply, Mr. Speaker, by the fact that you are controlling debate in this House, as youíve just demonstrated.
Furthermore, the government side will continue to strive to improve this Assembly; thatís why we tabled the motion.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and let me help the Premier across the way, since he obviously didnít read the democratic reform bill.
Last fall, we introduced this private membersí bill called the Democratic Reform Act that included well-thought-out proposals for getting public input on how we can make things work better in the Legislature. The Premierís senior advisor, who isnít known to be a supporter of the people on this side of the House, mentioned that initiative in quite positive terms. Unfortunately, the government private members who spoke against that bill hadnít bothered to read it before shooting it down last fall.
A few minutes ago, I tabled another private membersí bill, entitled Legislative Renewal Act. It has many similarities to parts of the democratic reform bill. I hope the Premier will read that. It is a practical, inexpensive way to give Yukon people a voice on how we conduct public business on their behalf. It is also a good way to get on with what the senior advisor recommends and what the Yukon Party platform promised.
Will the Premier agree to set partisan sentiments aside and work with us to give this bill the unanimous support it deserves when we call it for debate?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, first, let me point out that we are conducting a process that may be very similar to that of the members opposite, except our process will be much more inclusive. We want to make sure that we engage with the members opposite, Yukoners and all concerned to effect legislative renewal.
Now, letís look at commitments made and commitments kept. We have kept our commitment to improve this House. We have kept our commitment to the economy, Mr. Speaker, in the face of the opposition voting against the improvement in the economy. We have kept our commitment to improve education in the face of the members opposite being uncooperative and voting against improving our education. We have kept our commitment to strengthen the social fabric in the face of the members opposite being uncooperative and opposing strengthening our social fabric.
Mr. Speaker, this side of the House, the government side, is doing everything it can to work with the members opposite. We will continue to do that. We look to the members opposite to reciprocate.
Question re: Medical travel allowance
Mr. McRobb: Yesterday the Health minister refused to back down on his statement that the Inuvik Hospital is closed. His statement tried to justify why he doesnít treat Yukon medical travel outpatients as well as his counterpart in the N.W.T. Once again, the minister is wrong. Weíve talked to personnel at the hospital, people in the N.W.T. government, and today we received an e-mail from the CEO of the Inuvik Regional Hospital.
Mr. Uswak said, ďThe hospital has not been closed,Ē and he rejected any suggestion that the hospital resembles a glorified health centre. In fact, his hospital received a three-year accreditation rating from the Canadian Council on Health Services in 2003. His facility includes 17 acute care beds, 25 long-term care beds, birthing rooms and day surgery rooms. There are nine physicians providing 24/7 emergency, acute, surgical, anaesthesia and obstetrical services. Will the minister now correct the record and apologize to Yukoners and our neighbours in the N.W.T. for misrepresenting the Inuvik Hospital?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The delivery of health care north of 60 is a very difficult task, and there are differing ways of providing that service. You cannot compare the facility in place in Inuvik with the Whitehorse General Hospital; itís just not a comparison.
Now the other issue is that there are various differences in how health care is provided and how itís delivered. The N.W.T. has a different model from the Yukon. Overall, theyíre doing a good job, but theyíre doing it somewhat differently from the Yukon. What the member opposite must do is compare the total package for health care delivery in the Northwest Territories vis-ŗ-vis the Yukon. The Yukon does compensate our individuals when they travel. The member opposite has cherry-picked one little facet of the delivery system in the Northwest Territories and compared it to the Yukon, but when you compare it overall and when you factor in the $250 deductible or co-payment, that brings things into more equal balance.
Mr. McRobb: Well, what kind of an apology was that? This minister also claimed that Yukon outpatients are better off than those in the N.W.T. because that territory applies a $250 deductible to its travel allowances. But he failed to tell us that that deductible applies only to outpatients who earn more than $80,000 per year. Doesnít the minister know that only very few Yukon outpatients would fall into that elite category? Even so, the N.W.T.ís travel allowances for three days could easily exceed that deductible, so even high-income outpatients would still fare better under the N.W.T. system because this minister provides nothing for the first three days.
Is the minister prepared to give Yukon outpatients a choice of which system they would prefer, or does he insist the Yukon one is better?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Yukon one is better. What the member opposite has cherry-picked out of that is that itís an $80,000 threshold for income. What he has failed to identify is that itís household income ó household income. Itís the total household income that determines the threshold, not the individualís wage. The Northwest Territories has the highest wages in Canada.
Mr. McRobb: So what, Mr. Speaker? He is unwilling to give people the choice of which system they want.
The N.W.T. medical travel allowance provides for all cab fares, $50 per day for accommodation and $18 per day for meals from the get-go. It also provides the same for escorts for some patients who are unable to travel without assistance.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Well, the Member for Lake Laberge is amused. He thinks this is some kind of escort service question. He is wrong, Mr. Speaker.
Now, people who have contacted me prefer the N.W.T. system over what this minister provides, which is a paltry $30 per day starting on day four. Letís face it: the government is rolling in cash, thanks to a federal government that is replenishing the health care cuts it imposed in the mid-1990s. Will the minister now agree to share some of that $75-million windfall with Yukon outpatients?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I indicated earlier in this House, the Department of Health and Social Services has enhanced virtually all our program and service delivery here in the Yukon. We have further expanded a number of programs and services here and the Yukon Hospital Corporation via the Whitehorse Hospital has expanded a number of the services they offer there. There is less and less of a requirement to travel outside of the Yukon for health care needs, although it still occurs on a regular basis.
I encourage the member opposite to do a complete comparison based on the normal turnaround time of someone who has to seek medical attention outside the Yukon, factor in the $250 deductible, or co-payment ó the threshold ó and recognize fully that there is a separate program: the uninsured health benefit plan that INAC has in place for our First Nation population. Everything is covered for our First Nation population when they travel, but itís paid by a different vehicle than it is in the Northwest Territories. The comparison doesnít substantiate what the member opposite is making reference to.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. Weíll 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. I understand weíre going to continue on in the Department of Health and Social Services. Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 15 ó First Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
Chair: † The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06. We will continue on with Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services.
Department of Health and Social Services ó continued
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, when we left Health and Social Services in general debate on Tuesday, I was elaborating on the funding sources for the department and the new funding. There has been a wide array of funding arrangements and sources, and it is somewhat confusing, so I am just going to summarize the highlights of health care funding commitments that have been made in the last little while.
If we go back to 2003, a northern health supplement was negotiated as a result of the northern premiers and the Prime Minister of Canada. This was $10 million over three years to each of the three territories.
In the first year, $6.7 million flowed to the Yukon; $6.666 million flowed in subsequent years. This money was focused on paying the higher cost of health care in the north. Unfortunately, 2005-06 is the final year for us to receive this funding.
When we move forward to the First Ministers meeting in 2004, a northern health fund was negotiated, and this is some $150 million over five years for all three of the territories. There are three components to this fund: medical travel fund, health access fund and territorial working group fund.
The medical travel fund is to assist with managing the high medical travel costs. Itís $75 million over five years for the three territories. The Yukon receives $1.6 million per year. Nunavut is the recipient of the largest portion because of their greater need for medical travel and the costs they incur. In fact, speaking with my colleague from Nunavut at one of our FPT meetings, the indication was that some of their medevac costs, when an outbreak occurs in some of their northern communities, can run to excess of $1 million per occurrence.
During Question Period earlier today, there was an attempt to compare the systems in the north, and one has to really spend a lot of time analyzing the costs and where theyíre incurred and not just cherry-pick specific items and try to compare them.
But there is a higher cost associated with the movement of people for medical reasons in the Northwest Territories, especially in Nunavut. As a result, the cost of the health travel fund component primarily goes to Nunavut. They were incurring tremendous losses, but hopefully they can catch up and deliver health care on an equal footing, because it is equal access to health care by all of us here in the north.
The next step is the health access fund. This is aimed at reducing reliance over time on our health system, strengthening local access to services and building self-reliant capacity to provide services here in the territory. This is some $65 million over five years to all three territories. In the first year, itís $4.3 million per year to Yukon.
What we are doing is just that: we are building capacity here in the Yukon, we are enhancing the various programs and implementing new programs. Some of them are being developed by the Whitehorse Hospital by the Yukon hospital board. The Yukon Hospital Corporation Board has representatives from all over the Yukon. It examines programming and, in conjunction with the YMA and other bodies, it brings forward new initiatives.
The Department of Health and Social Services is the funding arm and resource arm of these new initiatives. Itís a very good working relationship, and we are expanding health care and the provision of health care right here in the Yukon. I guess a lot has to do with the lifestyle here ó the choice of living in the Yukon ó and, north of 60, I couldnít think of a better place to live than the Yukon Territory.
The next amount of funding thatís coming is the territorial working group fund. This is aimed at addressing the pan-northern issues that impact all three territories, and this is some $10 million over five years. We havenít really allocated that money yet, but itís a working group, itís work in progress.
In addition to these territory-specific health funding arrangements, additional Canada-wide health funding is provided through various arrangements. The diagnostic medical equipment fund ó unfortunately, 2005-06 is the last year, and itís approximately $1 million that flows into that fund.
Thereís the health reform fund and the priorities here are primary health care, catastrophic drug, home care, and thereís approximately $4 million in 2005-06. We have expanded in all of these areas.
The next one is the wait-time reduction fund. This addresses and reduces wait-time pressures. Priorities being looked at include enhancing access to family practice physicians, more local access to specialist services, funding amounts in place in trust by the federal government ó and they are to be drawn down when ready and as needed, according to criteria. So the funding amounts, the dollars ó the federal government has placed it in a trust account, and that is the way theyíre working lately, given that there may be a toppling of the existing government. There might be a federal election on the horizon. But if the money has been approved, it flows into a trust account that can be drawn down under specific terms and conditions. The federal government is using this funding vehicle to provide certainty, and we thank them, Mr. Chair.
There has been a general increase in the CHST, or Canada health and social transfer. The base has increased approximately $2 million. Then there are some specific items in the federal budget: the immunization fund for vaccine purchase and participation in national vaccination programs. Thereís about $140,000 in that program. The primary health care transition fund: weíre currently in the last year of this fund, and $2.6 million is budgeted in Yukon for 2005-06. Now this includes initiatives related to healthy living, health information ó such as the health guide being distributed to all Yukon homes. That health guide addresses health issues such as ambulatory care, palliative care, alcohol and drug ó thereís a whole series of areas that it covers off.
The other health-specific budget highlights include $660,000 to the Whitehorse General Hospital for equipment purchase and replacement, $225,000 for the purchase of two new ambulances ó and Iím sure the member opposite will be questioning me on it. Theyíre type III ambulances, for the record. I donít know if theyíre sole sources yet; I havenít seen any paperwork cross my desk, but they might very well be unless the member opposite is going to be setting up a manufacturing plant in the Yukon.
These new ambulances are slated for Whitehorse. The configuration of these type III ambulances is like a van chassis with the box on the back and itís larger than the existing van ambulances, unlike the type I ambulance thatís on a pickup chassis, but thatís the chassis that you can get in a four-wheel drive configuration.
It is application-specific, and that is the direction we are heading. There is also another $540,000 for repairs and upkeep to the community nursing stations, including equipment purchase and replacement.
That is more or less an overview and the highlights of the 2005-06 capital and operation and maintenance budgets for Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: Itís a pleasure to respond to the ministerís speech. Itís a bit surprising to see him on his feet today. After all, on Tuesday, he opted to remain in his chair and not introduce the department. It was left up to me as opposition Health critic to do the honours. Of course, there was probably a lot of confusion on Tuesday due to the lack of notice he provided the opposition parties in calling the department for debate. We got about three minutesí notice, which is hardly adequate.
There is a lot of money being spent in this department. It appears there is about $186 million ó $170 million in operation and maintenance and about another $16 million in capital. There are also a number of pots of money from the federal government that have yet to be allocated. Apparently, those amounts range from $8 million to $16 million. Those funds have not been allocated within this Health and Social Services budget. It will be interesting when we get around to discussing where that money is going to go, Mr. Chair.
So thereís lots of money being spent in this department. Itís our job as members of the opposition to scrutinize how this government plans to spend all that money.
But let me say that our role is quite limited. After all, we cannot reallocate the spending of any money in the budget. As opposition members, we do not have the ability to do that. The most we can possibly do is delete an item from the budget, and that would require a vote of the Assembly. Any time in the past weíve tried to delete a line item from the budget, the Yukon Party government has used its majority to defeat a vote.
So, really, our role is to provide a brief review of the budget, but we donít have the ability ó either by the rules or in practice ó to do much in the way of changes.
The government didnít consult us on how any of the money was being spent, so the constituents in our ridings were left out of this budget. I hope to get to that a little later with some examples.
Even if we devote two whole days to reviewing this departmental budget, letís examine the rate of clearance. Two whole days would provide about eight hours of debate for about $200 million in spending; thatís about $25 million being cleared each hour.
We did want a longer sitting, but the government put the kibosh on that. It forced a ruling that resorted the entire sitting to the default number of 30 days.
We certainly could have spent more time debating this department, but the government simply wouldnít allow us to do that. So those are the basic parameters we have to work with as the opposition in this sitting. The job before us is quite immense.
Not too much information was provided in the way of briefing. I believe the briefing handout was quite skimpy ó two pages were provided. Past governments would provide quite a bit more to the opposition at the briefings, in terms of information. I recall getting handouts that were several dozen pages thick, but under this Yukon Party government, the information flow to the opposition parties has been severely restricted.
So weíre a little suspicious about why that is. The government obviously doesnít want to be held accountable for its spending. It doesnít want too much in terms of details or information known to those in this Legislature whose job it is to hold the government accountable. That seems to be the way it is.
Under our system in this Assembly, there arenít too many alternatives for us to change that, other than better results in an election. We do look forward to the next election, with some hope that the situation here will be changed for the better.
Now, aside from dealing with the budget, this opportunity provides us with a chance to deal with a number of other issues either included or excluded from the budget, and perhaps other issues we feel the government is dealing with inadequately.
For the past several days in Question Period, the minister and I have discussed health-related issues. The issue of medical travel is one of them, Mr. Chair. It is now known that the N.W.T. has a better system than what the Yukon provides.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Pursuant to Standing Order 19(g) and (h), the member opposite is providing inaccurate information.
Chair: Order please. There is no point of order. This is a dispute between members.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. We have to remember to try to maintain the dignity of this Assembly at all times.
Now, Mr. Chair, a lot of information has come to light about the N.W.T. system and how it is superior to our system here, and this is despite the largesse of the federal government in providing a lot of money to the territories for purposes such as this. In fact, we have one allocation of $75 million over the next five years for the three territories for such purposes. Yet the minister refuses to provide anything in terms of medical allowance for Yukon outpatients who are forced to travel Outside for treatment or diagnosis.
I gave an example yesterday of a particular person whose trips are always fewer than three days and this person makes several trips a year. So over the course of the year, under this ministerís rules, that person is out thousands of dollars of her own money just to be able to access the health care system.
If that person resided in the N.W.T., all those costs would be reimbursed. So why isnít the government using some of that $75 million to help people like that? Thatís a very good question. Iíve asked it several times and have yet to get a direct answer responding to the question.
There are also other perks provided by the N.W.T. government. Adults who escort patients under some circumstances to Outside facilities are also eligible for allowances for travel. In the Yukon thereís no such provision.
As MLA for the Kluane region, I can say that Iíve been asked several times over the years about this issue, and nothing has been done about it. Every time I raise it, the answer is that the government doesnít have enough money. Well, the situation is different this time around. The government can no longer plead poverty. Itís swimming in cash from the federal government. This is a result of the federal government replenishing funds that it cut in the mid-1990s. I recall as a member of a previous NDP government from 1996 to 2000 how tough it was to contend with those cuts. Those cuts to health care affected all departments clear across the board, because you canít cut services to Yukon patients who need services, so those bills have to be paid. Those monies have to be spent, but what happens is that other projects ó usually capital projects in other departments ó are sacrificed to meet the spending requirements under health care.
So this Yukon Party is benefiting from the suffering experienced by previous governments. Yet it is not coming to the assistance of low-income Yukoners who really canít afford to travel Outside for their medical treatment. This is an issue. There is no doubt about it; this is an issue.
If we had the ability to amend the budget, I think my colleagues would have no problem supporting changing this rule that the minister insists on keeping.
There are a number of other issues to deal with as well, and we hope to get into them in the course of the next couple of days, or whenever the minister sees fit to resume debate for this department. Obviously we wonít be concluded this afternoon. Debate will carry over to some future day, or perhaps even days. There are a number of issues we need to deal with. Some of them are very serious and affect a lot of people.
Some of the issues I would like to deal with in general debate are issues of seniors facilities, alcohol and drugs, medical staff recruitment and retention, as well as how the federal funding will be spent. What I propose to do is for us to get right into the questioning. Weíve laid out the opening statements. Iíd like to ask the minister whether he has given any thought to putting in place a bill of rights for seniors who reside in government facilities.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Letís start at the beginning and, for the memberís benefit and education, let me once again provide him with a breakdown of some of these funding initiatives.
In 2004, the northern health fund was negotiated. Itís $150 million over five years for all three territories with three components: medical travel fund, health access fund and territorial working group fund. The first and major component is $75 million over five years for all three territories, so $1.6 million per year out of that comes to the Yukon.
The member can take $1.6 million, multiply it by three to find out how much of the $75 million comes to the Yukon Territory. As I indicated earlier, the majority of it goes to Nunavut, and the second largest sum goes to the Northwest Territories.
The delivery model for health care in all three territories is different ó very different. Overall, in my opinion ó and, I think, in the opinion of many ó of all three territories, we have one of the widest arrays of programs and services provided right here in the Yukon.
Further to that, the overall costs to those requiring medical attention is probably the lowest in the north, save and except our aboriginal population, which has access to the uninsured health program. And there are considerable problems with that program. The member opposite has only to speak with a fellow member of his caucus from Vuntut Gwitchin. That area of dental health is a major concern.
There are a lot of different ways that programs are delivered. The member opposite has chosen to cherry-pick one small area and identify it as being much, much better than Yukon. I would encourage the member opposite to complete a full analysis, and take into consideration the co-payment, or deductible, of $250 per trip, per person, on every type of medical travel. It doesnít really come to the same benefit package as what is being provided here in the Yukon.
If the member opposite felt that there was a need to enhance this area of the health care program, why wasnít it done under the NDP watch? They had four years to address it, and they never addressed it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: A member might have rhetorically asked another member a question, but that member should then wait until the member is recognized by the Chair in order to answer it. It is important that we have a good and open debate in this Assembly, and itís equally important that members are recorded in Hansard.
Once again, Iíll just ask members to refrain from making extraneous comments during debate and to wait until they are recognized before they respond.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, itís an area where weíre going to have to agree to disagree. But if the opportunity was present for the member when he was a member of a previous administration, that administration failed to attend to any of this area.
Further to that, Mr. Chair, it has been our governmentís position that where there is a demand or an extenuating circumstance that requires resources, we will meet the challenge and resource an initiative if there is a demonstrated need.
Mr. Chair, given the number of specialists that we are now able to attract to the Yukon because of our facilities and because of our excellent working conditions and because of our location, we have managed to enhance a great deal of our programs here. We are very proud of our accomplishments in these areas, and I outlined for the member opposite where the additional federal money is earmarked and where it is targeted. We are moving forward.
Some of the other areas that we are increasing ó and if we want to look at another area, it is our pioneer utility grant for our seniors. Last year, we indexed it by 25 percent and indexed it against inflation. Now, I just asked my officials to send me down what next yearís figure will be, but the base amount is being increased by a further 10 percent for this yearís heating season and that is in recognition of the overall increase across the territory for heating. The cost of fossil fuels has gone up an alarming amount this last year.
Weíve identified with the issue. We recognized that a lot of our seniors are on a fixed income, and we want to assist where we can. Unlike what the previous Liberal administration was going to be doing with the pioneer utility grant, itís not indexed to the proponentís income and itís not means tested. But that was an initiative that was being worked on, and it was very much opposed by me in opposition. Fortunately, it was never given the green light.
Overall, I believe our government has paid attention to the issues. Weíve recognized the needs where the needs exist and weíve made a commitment to resource those initiatives to the level of funding that weíve managed to secure from our federal government and by structuring the finances and getting a handle on the finances of the Yukon government.
There are a couple of initiatives, though, that are new funding. Iím speaking specifically of some of the initiatives that are contained in the current federal budget that may or may not pass Parliament, but if those funds do not flow, we may have to lower our expectations in some areas. But weíre very hopeful that some of these areas will come to fruition.
The money for daycare and early learning is such an amount, and the Hon. Mr. Dryden is committed to seeing those funds flow. They are going to flow them through into a trust account. After that, they will flow out of that trust account to the various provinces and territories. There are many, many others, but a lot of this funding is contingent on the federal government approval.
We donít know what is happening with the federal Liberal government, but they appear to be in somewhat of a difficult position with respect to their right to govern. There may be an election in the not-too-distant future, which may result in us having to lower the bar in a few areas where we expect to receive additional funding.
Mr. McRobb: I thought the opening comments were done with, but the minister insists on continuing with lengthy speeches while avoiding the question that was asked. In terms of the rate of progress during this budget debate, Iíve already outlined what the benchmark is ó about $25 million an hour. In those terms, the ministerís speech about nothing cost Yukon taxpayers $5 million. We are going to have to make up that time and money somehow. So I would urge the minister to dispense with his speeches about other topics and issues and try to focus on the question that was asked.
He put on record a number of comments that I canít let sit as they are because I believe theyíre inaccurate and need to be responded to. To begin with, on the issue of the outpatient medical travel, the minister mentioned the deductible of $250 in the N.W.T. Earlier this afternoon in Question Period, we discussed how the income threshold is $80,000 in order for that deduction to be applied. How many patients have that type of income, even when assessed on a household basis?
I know this minister is above the threshold, but so what? He shouldnít be forcing lower income Yukoners to suffer paying all their costs of accommodation, transportation and meals while their counterparts in the N.W.T. have that provided for them. He entirely misses the point on that.
The whole discussion about the N.W.T. health care system and comparing it to the Yukon was predicated on his belief that the Inuvik Hospital was closed. Well, Mr. Chair, we dealt with that issue. I donít understand why the minister continues to argue against that. It has been proven. The CEO of the Inuvik Regional Hospital has contacted us, assuring us the ministerís statement is wrong. Yesterday I know the Health minister received an e-mail from someone in Inuvik, as I did, also indicating the minister was wrong. Prior to that, we contacted officials in the government and at the hospital who said the same thing, yet hereís the Health and Social Services minister wasting valuable time trying to fight his way out of a wet paper bag, and he canít quite do it.
Then he went on to attack the previous NDP government for not trying to achieve what it is Iím asking him to do. Well, letís think about that for a minute because I donít know of anybody who would be so gullible as to accept that argument at face value. Letís analyze that for a moment, shall we?
First of all, this issue has come to light fairly recently. To know this issue some seven or eight years ago, one would have had to have a crystal ball. Itís a hypothetical situation, and itís simply out to lunch. Itís not credible or logical.
Secondly, the previous NDP government, as I had stated prior to the minister standing up and saying this, had to suffer through the federal cuts to the health care system. I recall one cut ó I believe it was a $20-million cut in one year to the health care budget of this territory. Thatís a huge amount.
Whatís happening now is a complete reversal of the cuts from some 10 years ago. Thatís why weíre getting all of this money from the federal government, and thatís why weíre asking this minister to do something with the money to help these people who canít afford to travel outside the territory.
As I explained yesterday, the cost impediment from the travel, accommodation and meals is preventing some people from even seeing their doctor. Itís definitely preventing other people from travelling Outside.
There are long-term costs associated with this, and the chickens will come home to roost some day in terms of extra dollars in our health care system because people arenít being treated at the early stages of their symptoms, diseases and ailments. Theyíre being postponed because they canít afford to access the health care system because this minister provides nothing in terms of their travel expenses for a three-day period and only a paltry $30 for each day thereafter.
The N.W.T. does far better ó $50 a day for accommodation, even if staying at a friendís or a relativeís house, plus $18 a day for meals. This is right from the get-go. The N.W.T. government pays all cab fares and any other travel associated with an outpatientís trip. It even provides for adults who escort patients Outside who are in need of assistance under some conditions. Mr. Chair, there is nothing in this ministerís $200-million budget to provide for that, at all.
So letís look down the road. At the end of this sitting, we are going to be asked to vote on this budget. Well, for that reason alone, I would vote against this budget. How does the minister and his Yukon Party colleagues spin this matter to the media, to the public, when we vote against a budget? Hereís what they do. They cherry-pick items from within the budget and then try to cast us in a bad light as voting against those items. Well, that doesnít add up. That doesnít make sense. That argument is a red herring. The fact is, in any governmentís budget, there are good things. There are bound to be good things.
The opposition parties, as that member did when he sat on this side of the House, have to look at the budget in its entirety, and if there are misgivings or failures such as this one, then, certainly, the opposition has the option to vote against the budget. Itís that clear.
What are the repercussions about voting against the budget? Will the budget fail? The answer is, no, the government has a majority and will use the majority to pass the budget. Will the government fail? Will it somehow bring down the House, as Yukoners are hearing about Parliament in Ottawa these days? The answer is no, Mr. Chair. The Yukon Party was given a solid majority. The Yukon Party can outvote the opposition side even if it has three or four members away on travel, as we have seen on previous votes. So there really are no consequences. It is predictable that on May 17, the government will pass the budget despite the objections and votes cast by members of the opposition party. The government will get its complete way, as it did in drafting the budget. So any type of media messaging provided by the government in terms of the voting is simply that ó itís media messaging. Itís as hollow as an empty keg.
I think itís worthwhile once in awhile to review this situation, especially because the government House leader, who is the Health and Social Services minister, keeps returning to that argument about how the opposition party will vote against the budget. It really doesnít mean anything to us. Thatís a very meaningless claim, but for any listeners or readers of Hansard who might be interested in knowing what it means, then I feel Iíve explained it fairly well.
Now we do have to make some progress. Hopefully the minister will take my invitation and, the next time he stands on his feet, will address the questions and we can make some progress. Because after all, the rate of clearance given the short sitting provided by the government must be maintained at quite a remarkable rate, in excess of $25 million an hour, even for this department. Here we are only on day 12 of a 30-day sitting, yet already the pressure is on. It could have been a longer sitting but the government wouldnít agree with either opposition party. Itís another signal of just how cooperative it really is in dealing with all members of this Legislative Assembly. Anyway, letís put those grievances aside for the time being and try to deal with some of the issues that Iíve identified in this department that weíd like some answers to.
Unfortunately, I have to re-ask the first question because it was avoided. So Iíll ask the minister again: has he given any thought to introducing a bill of rights for seniors who reside in government facilities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Could the member opposite be specific?
Mr. McRobb: I can inform the minister that recently Iíve reviewed a bill of rights for seniors who reside in government facilities that was produced by the Province of Manitoba.
Itís quite an interesting bill. It occurs to me ó and to others I know who have been privy to it ó that it is certainly something the Yukon government should be considering.
So my question to the minister: has he given any thought to introducing such a bill?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Could the member opposite be specific?
Mr. McRobb: I donít know what the minister is getting at. What does he mean, specific? Does he want me to download a copy of the bill and read it to him? We donít have time for that, Mr. Chair. Does he want me to give some kind of summary of the document? We donít have time for that either.
Look ó I described what the bill does; I even gave him the reference source I have. This is far more information than he ever gives us on this side of the House, yet he demands more.
Letís all try to work with the same standards, shall we? Itís a simple question. I asked him if he has given any thought to introducing a bill of rights for seniors who reside in government facilities in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are various types of facilities operated by the Government of Yukon, and there are various types of facilities operated by the Government of Yukon at armís length through the Yukon Housing Corporation. There are various areas we can look at. Iíd be interested in having the member opposite table a copy of this bill of rights so we can have a look at it, but itís not an initiative that has been brought to our government by any of the societies or organizations that represent seniors in the Yukon.
Mr. Chair, this is a well-organized structure of our seniors, very capable in analyzing their requests of our government, and all the requests that have come to us to date ó for example, for seniors games or the like ó have been resourced to the level requested.
So thereís a very good likelihood that, if this request came from the seniors, through any of their organizations, we would have a serious look at it.
I am somewhat loathe to make a commitment to the critic from the official opposition on the floor of this House that we would examine it in the same light, coming from him, as we would were it coming from one of the seniors organizations. But that said, weíre open and we will look at it. But overall, it sounds like the member opposite is looking for a new plank to stand on and to raise his profile.
Chair: Order please. The Speaker numerous times in the last day and in previous days has made comments about members imputing false or unavowed motives to other members. I would ask all members to take that into careful consideration when making comments and to not do it.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, this may or may not be a good initiative, but until we have had a chance to examine it, we wouldnít know. So there are various ways it could be applied, various theories that it could be applied to. But why all of a sudden weíre getting into this area, I do not know. I do have the numbers with me now, Mr. Chair, as to the pioneer utility grant and what it is for this yearís heating season. With the 10-percent addition, it rises to $839 per household or per individual who qualifies under the pioneer utility grant. That is in recognition of the increased cost of fuel over the last year.
When we look back on our commitment, we committed to increasing the pioneer utility grant to seniors with the rising costs of all classifications of heating and then we committed to indexing the cost of the pioneer utility grant to the rate of inflation. That will ensure that the grant stays current with the overall rate of inflation. So, when we look at what weíve accomplished overall, we have filled a tremendous void in the system.
I guess the other area that weíve stood down on ó itís a universal program, and every senior who qualifies is eligible. There is no income testing or means testing that is being applied. Weíd like to thank the member opposite for his support of this increased funding for this program. I guess weíll look forward to his support and his partyís support of this budget that we have before the House.
Mr. McRobb: I would remind the Health and Social Services minister to dispense with the extraneous comments and discussion of issues that arenít put in question form to him during this debate, otherwise how can we possibly proceed in any semblance of a reasonable manner from this point forward, given the shortage of time ó the 30-day limit to this sitting?
Did I ask a question about the pioneer utility grant? The answer is no. Yet the minister cannot avoid talking for several minutes, on two or three occasions now, about that item. Then he laughs about it. This might be funny to the members opposite, but we on this side take our responsibilities seriously.
I want to go back to the issue that was asked, because the Health and Social Services minister seems prepared to accept suggestions from anybody except from us in the opposition benches. Well, whenever I hear that, I think back to the Premierís introduction letter in the Yukon Party campaign platform from October 2002, which promised Yukoners to cooperate with all members in the Assembly. There were actually four C words there, Mr. Chair, that enforced the whole notion of cooperating, collaborating with all members. Well, this is another example of how this government says one thing and does another.†
If it makes the minister feel any better, I can provide for him the Manitoba bill for his consideration. He is welcome to use it in his discussions with seniors groups and perhaps have departmental officials distribute it, because only the minister has those types of resources at his disposal.
Iíd be interested in knowing if this bill meets with the acceptance of the seniors communities throughout the Yukon and, if it does, whether the minister would be prepared to move ahead. So Iíd like to ask him that question.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me share with the member opposite some of the increased funding that we are providing to NGOs here in the Yukon: Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, $31,000, has had an increase; the Child Development Centre has a $132,000 increase, $1.538 million; Kausheeís Place was at $657,000 and thereís an increase there of $113,000 for this next year on top of the $657,000; Help and Hope for Families Society goes from $195,000 to $201,800; Dawson Shelter goes from $192.3 million to $198.3 million ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: † On a point of order, under the House rules, Standing Order 19(b)(1), it states that a member shall be called to order by the Speaker if that member speaks to any matter other than the question under discussion. The question under discussion was about the bill of rights for seniors from Manitoba, not about these extraneous issues the minister continues to waste time talking about.
I would ask you for a ruling and I would also ask the minister for his indulgence in at least a meagre measure of cooperation so we can try to make some progress on this very important department.
Chair: Member for Porter Creek North, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: † I believe the House rules and common practice have led general debate into a wide range, and weíre frankly enjoying the member opposite showing his expertise on extraneous matters.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole is currently in general debate of Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services. I will draw the membersí attention to Standing Order 42(2), which states, ďSpeeches in Committee of the Whole shall be strictly relevant to the item or clause under consideration.Ē
The item under consideration currently is general debate of the department; therefore, all discussions regarding the Department of Health and Social Services would appear to be in order. There is no point of order in this situation.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Let me also share what the Department of Health and Social Services has done with a number of our other NGOs and how weíre resourced them. As I was indicating earlier, the Dawson womenís shelter went from $192,000 to $198,300; the Hospice Yukon Society approached the Yukon with a demonstrated need. They were at $145,000; theyíve been increased by $50,700, and their total budget now for this next fiscal year is $195,700.
Yukon Council on Aging went from $40,000 to $41,200; Yukon Association for Community Living went from $42,000 to $60,200.
Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon went from $50,000 to $51,500. Challenge went from $428,000, with a $74,800 increase, to a total of $502,800. This is an organization, along with all the other NGOs that we resource, that is duly recognized for their tremendous contribution to those less fortunate. Line of Life was at $20,000 and is going up to $20,600.† Signpost Seniors, $40,000, gets an increase of $1,200 to $41,200. TeegathaíOh Zheh was at $308,000 and has a $75,200 increase to $383,200. Blood Ties Four Directions went from $161,600, with a $5,400 increase, to $167,000. Second Opinion Society went from $90,000 to $93,000. Yukon Family Services Association received $854,000. Theyíve been increased by $24,878 under this budget. Yukon Council on Disabilities had $15,000, gets a $10,000 increase ó there are new services that they are providing ó and has been increased to $25,000 overall. CNIB ó $20,000. This is a new initiative in our base, Mr. Chair. FASSY ó this is under the health accord ó $70,000. That is FASSY assessments. This is a new initiative, project-specific. That has gone from $40,000 to $70,000, so the total amount of funding flowing into FASSY is $140,000 for this fiscal cycle.
Balsam Residence was $736,000 with a $22,000 increase, which is $758,000 for this fiscal cycle. TeegathaíOh Zheh ó $432,000 with a $13,000 increase means $445,000 is flowing to this NGO. Aspen House ó $277,000 with an $8,000 increase, which makes it $285,000.
We are very, very pleased that we as a government had the ability to get our financial house in order and are able to resource these very capable NGOs that are providing a tremendous level of services to Yukoners, some of them less fortunate, some of them in need. But overall, all of these NGOs are well-respected and are doing a tremendous job for us here in the Yukon. We are pleased that we are able to resource them to the level that we have.
With that said, Iím sure the member opposite is going to stand up, oppose this, and eventually vote against these tremendous increases.
Mr. McRobb: Once again, I am very concerned about a number of things: first of all, where this debate in the Health and Social Services department is going, but most of all, where this Legislature has gone. I want to talk about that for a minute.
What we just heard was the minister get up and talk about something completely different from the question put to him, even though I appealed for his cooperation, so that we might make some semblance of progress.
He got up and completely defied any invitation to be cooperative and read some old press releases on matters that I am not interested in hearing at this time. Those matters were not under question. We were talking about a bill of rights and I offered to provide the minister, in the best way possible, with the bill and asked whether he would seek some consultation through his departmental officials with seniors in the territory and undertake to introduce it if the bill has merit. Instead the minister got up and wasted another 10 minutes. Well, a few more sorties such as that, and weíll be out of time. So what kind of a democracy do we have when the government side stifles the debate, stifles any progress and discussion by merely getting up and completely ignoring the question, and then spends several minutes talking about something it wants to talk about to make itself appear good to whomever?
At times I wonder, as my colleagues on this side of the House do, whether our attendance here really makes any difference. That doubt is really driven home in situations like this, because itís my opinion that under these circumstances, as Iíve described, this debate is completely useless.
There is no progress being made here, so why are we even here? The price of Hansard and support staff to the government, people in the government who are tuned into this, is in the order of thousands of dollars an hour. Some of them must be appalled at what they hear from this Chamber. Itís no wonder why people like the former MLA and former Commissioner Ken McKinnon are advising us to raise the bar of decorum in this Assembly.
Itís no wonder why departing reporters such as Jason Small, formerly of the Whitehorse Star, are saying the same thing in their last interviews. Because they watch and they listen and they know, and they know that what they see is wrong. They speak out in the public interest. They donít have to, but they speak out. There are also other Yukoners speaking out, and this government darned well knows it. Thatís why it promised what it did to Yukoners ó to improve the decorum in this Assembly by cooperating with all members. Thatís a far cry from what we see today from this government.
Iím appalled. I feel like walking out of here because this debate is going nowhere. This is a complete waste of time. Iím not in here to listen to some old press release statements from this minister. I want my questions answered, Mr. Chair, and this minister over there laughs about it.
Well, this is not democracy; this is some other form, some deviant form of government that shouldnít be allowed.
Thatís one reason we introduced the Legislative Renewal Act today, to try to prevent this wastage of time from recurring.
You know, the member mentions SCREP. Thatís the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Iím a member of SCREP. Let me talk about SCREP for a minute because itís important to know what SCREP is about. Listeners of CBC Radio heard the former commissioner mention SCREP this morning.
Well, there are a few things that listeners didnít hear. The government side has the majority membership on that committee. No matter what item comes before the committee as an agenda item, the government has complete authority to do whatever it wants with that item. In the meetings weíve had under this Yukon Party government, every decision has been totally to the advantage of the Yukon Party government. No decision has gone the oppositionís way at all. We canít even call a meeting; only the government side can call a meeting. We have no input into the agenda; only the government side has input into the agenda. We have called on the government side to equalize membership on that committee so we all can contribute to the future rules of this Assembly, to make decorum in here better, to improve the productivity. The government side has refused our efforts. Theyíve refused our invitations to equalize the membership on that committee. Why is that? Because the government side enjoys its majority.
Now, there is another factor that must be mentioned. Both the government House leader ó the Member for Klondike ó and the Premier ó the Member for Watson Lake ó are on record from SCREP meeting minutes prior to the last election as calling for equalized membership on that committee. I raised this in an earlier committee meeting under this government. I raised this and I asked the question, ďWhy was it good enough for them before but not now?Ē ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, we are in general debate in the Department of Health and Social Services. We appear to be quite off topic. Iím here to debate that budget. How we have gotten off into SCREP and these other areas, I do not know.
Chair: As the Chair commented on earlier, we are currently in general debate on Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services. The topic of discussion is therefore the general state of health and social services and how this budget applies.
Iíll refer members to Standing Order 42(2), which states: ďSpeeches in Committee of the Whole shall be strictly relevant to the item or clause under consideration.Ē Iíve given the member some latitude in this regard but the member also brought this same issue to my attention earlier in the debate.
Iíll ask all members to focus on the matter of hand, which is general debate on the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: I certainly appreciate the parameters that guide you in your rulings as I have before sat in your chair. What Iím speaking to are the parameters that are quite loose in this Assembly. They affect us all and prevent us from making progress in the Department of Health and Social Services and are therefore related.
I just want to conclude the story I was relating about the SCREP meeting, if I can have your indulgence. I know, Mr. Chair, you feel uneasy. Youíre a member of SCREP too ó so is the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, so is the Member for Copperbelt, so is the Member for Lake Laberge.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: † Mr. Chair, I believe I just heard the Member for Kluane appearing to cast aspersions on the Chair while sitting in a neutral role. I donít believe that comment is appropriate.
Chair: The Chair finds that there is no point of order, but I would ask the honourable member not to involve the neutral Chair in the debate.
Mr. McRobb, on general debate on Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair, youíre probably right. I shouldnít have mentioned you specifically. I should have referred to you by riding, but I was merely identifying the members of SCREP because thatís integral to the debate this afternoon and how the government side has a majority. Thatís the first thing that should be changed in order to provide for measures that can make some progress in debate in this Legislature.
Letís get back to the same question, for the third or fourth time, to this minister. Will he accept my invitation to provide him with a bill? Will he ask his departmental officials to liaise with the seniors population throughout the territory to see if the bill has merit? If so, will he undertake to bring it back to this Legislature so we can deal with it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I indicated to the member earlier, I asked him to send over a copy so we could examine it. If thereís merit, we can do something with it.
But, Mr. Chair, let me share with the member opposite another Yukon Party initiative that has come to fruition under our watch.
That is the area of FASD in our diagnostic team, and we have resourced the Child Development Centre, as I indicated earlier, to a level that was requested and which allows them to work with and put in place a diagnostic team to identify this dreaded affliction in the youth they have attending their facility.
Our party platform commitment was very specific in this area, and we have, through a number of entities, achieved a level of success here in the Yukon, thanks to these NGOs and various ó two NGOs and the Yukon Medical Association. The Yukon Medical Association has put in place a meconium testing program, a pilot project that is in conjunction with the University of Calgary. That pilot project is being resourced by this government, Mr. Chair. That meconium testing is of newborns, and it determines if there has been a consumption of alcohol during the pregnancy. It is nominal testing that ensures no one is identified.
Now, further to that, the Child Development Centre has hired expertise and engaged expertise in putting together their diagnostic team, and they have completed their first assessments, and they are moving forward. In addition to the Child Development Centre, an NGO ó FASSY ó has requested and received funding for diagnosis, procedures and testing. Weíre very, very pleased with that initiative also.
But itís through the efforts of two very keen and conscientious NGOs and their respective board of directors that we were able to move forward, but first of all, the government had to put the financial house in order and attain sources of funding. That obviously eluded the past two administrations, but weíre very thankful that we were able to resource these initiatives and move forward. So thatís just another program that we committed to and another deliverable that we have acted on and delivered on.
Mr. McRobb: Once again the minister gave a half answer, which is about halfway better than his previous score. I will get the minister a copy of the Manitoba bill next week. The other half of the ministerís answer was again more old press release announcements. You know, Iím surprised the Yukon Party wasnít satisfied with the attention it got from all its pre-budget announcements; now it has to use up useful time to read old press releases and so on ó maybe press releases that didnít quite make it to that stage ó when it should be answering questions.
Never before have Health ministers deployed such antics in this Legislature. I recall the previous Liberal government. When we asked ministers questions, at least they would try to answer. I think the leader of the third party would give that much credit to the previous NDP government as well, but this Yukon Party government defies the opposition. When they get up, they like to take 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and not answer the question at all.
They know that, because of the fixed sitting dates of the sessions nowadays, itís to their benefit to deploy a strategy to rag the puck, to not give the puck to the opposition parties, to let them skate around and try to get the puck while they use their majority to pass it back and forth, so no progress is made and, at the end of the day, the budget passes, including the Department of Health and Social Services.
One merely has to look at the numbers in this House. We have a team of six players; the government side has at least 10 players, sometimes 11, including the Speaker is 12. Weíre outnumbered, so if they want to play rag the puck, they can do it simply by using their majority. It has nothing to do with skill or rights or anything else.
Letís see if we can make some progress. I will appeal to the Health and Social Services minister again. I would like to know what national standards he uses when dealing with a staff-to-patient ratio in seniors facilities.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department currently operates three facilities, with one more under construction this year in Watson Lake. Currently, thereís Macaulay Lodge and Copper Ridge Place. Copper Ridge Place is not just for seniors; it also accommodates those who have a level of disability that requires them to be in care. Copper Ridge is levels 3, 4 and 5; Macaulay and McDonald Lodge in Dawson are levels 1 and 2.
The standards adopted by the department are Canadian standards. They are in place and they are followed, to the best of my knowledge.
Let us look at what the department has done. Weíve opened more beds at Macaulay, and there are more that can be opened. Weíve resourced Macaulay and, contrary to what was said by the leader of the third party, there is about a two-and-a-half month wait to get into Macaulay, and there are, I believe, eight beds open at Copper Ridge currently. So there isnít a capacity problem here in the Yukon. And there is capacity still at McDonald Lodge. Last year, the members opposite will recall that we opened another pod at Copper Ridge Place, and we have met the demands for the services that are provided in all three of these facilities.
Iíd encourage the members opposite ó if they want to get hold of either me or my executive assistant, weíd be happy to arrange for a tour of any of these facilities. We just insist that you get yourself there and get yourself back home.
Weíve resourced a lot of upgrades at Macaulay Lodge, and maintenance is done on an ongoing basis.
With respect to Copper Ridge Place, we do have some structural problems with the building ó some roof problems that carry over from the previous administration under whose watch it was completed and probably not overseen to the level it should have been.
We have ice damming on the roof, and we have some problems with pipes freezing in the wall and insulation values and vapour barrier problems that are becoming more evident. But that said, we are having a look at a number of recourses. The final chapter has not been written there, either, but as it stands, there is still additional capacity at all the facilities here and additional pods that can be opened.
Mr. Chair, what there exists a need for in the Whitehorse area is assisted living ó an apartment-type complex ó where services are provided such as meals and the like. That area is being examined currently. I guess the next request will be, ďWhere is all the consultation, and where are all the initiatives in this area and why isnít there consultation or why is there too much consultation?Ē These things are evolving in the system.
So we are actually very pleased with what we have accomplished in this area, but it is only through the additional efforts and capable management of the department, along with additional resources.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Well, the minister just doesnít get it. Again, he stood up and talked about other matters, other than answering the question asked ó another complete waste of time. Why does the Health minister continue to make a mockery of this Assembly and defy any progress by continuing his antics?
Itís beyond me, Mr. Chair. I would have thought he would be a little more sensitive to this, given some recent wake-up calls about decorum in this Assembly.
The information he gave is basically useless. Itís not what I asked for at all. So I want to ask him again: what national standards does he use in dealing with the ratio of staff to patients in our seniors facilities in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, that question has been asked and answered.
But while Iím on my feet, let me share with the House some additional information with respect to our initiatives in the childcare field and early learning. We now have, thanks to the tremendous efforts of the department along with the childcare and day home operators, developed with them a four-year plan. We are in the implementation stages of that four-year plan and we have resourced that plan currently to the level of approximately $5.2 million. Given the 1,300-odd set-up spaces here in the Yukon, this is the second-best resourced childcare system in Canada, the first being Quebec.
Unlike Quebec, we do not have a waiting list. We still have additional capacity. Hopefully, if the federal Liberal government survives and the Hon. Ken Drydenís childcare initiative of $5 billion over five years comes to fruition, we will see additional money flowing into the Yukon for this initiative and we will also see an opportunity to reconvene the childcare working group here in the Yukon and identify where we can move those funds that we receive from Ottawa to further enhance our childcare system.
So we are working. It is work in progress, but I must reiterate for the members opposite that we now have the second-best funded childcare system in Canada, and we are attracting workers who are qualified to this field because of this increase in the level of funding.
We will be moving forward on the new initiatives upon receipt of additional funding from the federal government.
Mr. McRobb: Here we go again. The minister still doesnít learn. I canít believe how defiant he is of this Legislature and the calls from the public and others to uphold higher standards in this Assembly. I just canít believe how he can continue on in this way. I just canít believe it. What the minister said was anything other than addressing the question asked. Iím still waiting for an answer to the question, but maybe the minister wants me to give up. Okay, Iíll give up on that question. Iím sorry. Iíll apologize to members of the public who expected us, as opposition, to get an answer to that question. I tried to ask it several times, but thereís no requirement in the House rules or in anything else for the minister to respond, so I will move on.
What changes in senior housing can be expected in the next year?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: With respect to seniors housing, that is a question best directed to the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation.
As I outlined earlier for the members opposite, the pioneer utility grant is an area where we are assisting seniors to remain in their own homes. The pioneer utility grant has been further enhanced this budget cycle by 10 percent, and I provided the members opposite with the total grant, less the indexing for this year that will be provided to seniors who qualify for this grant.
Let me share with the members opposite another government initiative that weíve expanded and worked on. Thatís our home care, primarily for seniors, across the Yukon. If we go back to the 2004-05 mains, we spent $3.1 million on this initiative, and the supplementary showed a further increase to $3.5 million, an increase of $416,000. If we look at the increase now in our mains, weíre increasing it to $457,000 overall. So if you want to look at an initiative that affects a great number of our seniors and elders across the Yukon, our home care budget is one that we can point to and that has been resourced to a greater degree than ever before.
Further to that, it has been expanded to some of the areas where there was a demonstrated need. The Premier and a number of the other MLAs conduct community tours, and through these community tours we identify and learn about the needs of Yukoners. At the same time, we also learn of the needs of our fellow Yukoners from our MLAs and indeed from the Member for Kluane.
A full assessment is usually undertaken before funding is provided, but once the demonstrated need is established, our government has moved to the task and has resourced that need. So if we look at the home care budget, this is but another example that is identified by our seniors as an area where we have enhanced service delivery and provided a greater range of service delivery, across the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Again the minister failed to answer the question and instead provided an unsolicited advertisement for something else within the department. That is another waste of time. So I guess he wonít answer that question either.
Letís move on to the issue of home care. At least we know he has some notes close at hand. That should greatly enhance the chances of getting an answer that at least pertains to the question.
Itís a question about the home care numbers across the territory. Itís also a question I asked in the briefing to departmental officials, to which they undertook to get back some information. Here we are, well into debate on the department. Have we received the information? No. Did the minister think about that before calling the department? Well, probably, but he ignored it. He called the department for debate anyway ó the first up, even though he told us the departments would be called alphabetically during this sitting. He called Health and Social Services, even though there were outstanding information requests coming out of the budget briefing session and not delivered to the opposition.
So letís ask him now ó he must have these numbers at his disposal. What are the home care numbers across the territory, and what numbers did he use to justify his early announcement last year to provide increased home care in a certain area of the territory?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What certain area of the Yukon is the member referring to?
Mr. McRobb: The Marsh Lake area, I believe, was one specifically identified in the press release I saw that would be receiving additional home care out of the departmentís budget. If he can, I would like the minister to provide us with some statistical information that justifies why that particular area would be first before any other area in the territory.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department provides home care across the Yukon as and when needed and to the best of the ability of those present. A demonstrated need was determined by the community tour to be in Tagish, and that has been provided to that area.
Mr. McRobb: All right. So the minister is saying it was a political decision. Iím asking if he has any statistics to back up that political decision. Can he provide us with the numbers? I want to be able to compare across the territory.
I know there are quite a few seniors in the Marsh Lake-Tagish area, and no doubt that warrants increased home care. Mr. Chair, as Health critic for the entire Yukon, I want to ensure that all areas in need are being addressed in a similar way.
Iím asking the Health minister, as the only one in this Assembly who has those statistics, to provide them to us on the opposition benches. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The need for home care is not predicated solely on age. The need for home care is predicated on a number of factors. When it is determined that there is an established or demonstrated need, it is not a political decision, as the member opposite suggests. Itís a service delivery thatís provided by the department to the best of our resources, and thatís exactly what happened in this case.
It has been identified, it has been assessed and it has been determined that there was a demonstrated need in specific areas. That demonstrated need was met.
Now, we should get into some of the other areas in general debate on the budget, and probably one of the largest areas that I would encourage the members to look at is our family and childrenís services and what is transpiring in that branch, because we have a lot underway and it is an area that caused a lot of concern to previous governments. But it certainly is an area where we have a determined staff providing the services and assistance that is necessary. We can go on the statistical model and debate that ad infinitum, Mr. Chair, but I donít know what the member opposite hopes to accomplish with the line of questioning he is coming forward with in the Legislature here today.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, perhaps we will be provided with an opportunity to advance to other areas. But that is pretty well dependent on whether the Health and Social Services minister will oblige the oppositionís questions by actually answering the questions instead of giving lengthy speeches about other matters, as we have just seen again.
Now, I didnít raise the age issue as the only criterion upon which home care should be allocated. It was the minister who raised the age issue. I invite anybody to check Hansard to prove that out.
Now, I know there are a number of factors that go into the decision-making process. What I am asking the minister to do is provide evidence to us in the opposition so we can see what those factors were, so we can compare them in the context of other areas in the territory. After all, weíre here to help the government in its fair distribution of the wealth. We donít see the minister out in our ridings very often. Iíve asked my rural colleagues how often they see him in Old Crow or Pelly Crossing or Mayo or Keno City. I know he is hardly ever present in communities in my riding. He has been invited to a meeting in Haines Junction. Weíve heard no word from him about that.
We are in contact with our own communities. We know the makeup. We basically know every person in our ridings. I can attest that I know virtually every person in my riding by their name, first and last. In a lot of cases, I know the names of their cats and dogs, too, if that helps any.
What Iím asking the minister to do is provide us with some statistical evidence that supported his decision on where to allocate the extra home care dollars. What I would like to do is look at that information and think of other areas in the territory Iím familiar with, other areas my colleagues are familiar with and weíve heard about, and just see if we donít have a better suggestion on how the money could be spent.
Now, the minister can get up and refuse to provide us with the information requested, and he probably will. He has refused us already once. But it all boils down to accountability, what the government promised the people at election time and what it is actually doing now. As we get closer to the next election, this is going to become a bigger issue and on the minds of a greater number of Yukoners. So the next time they cast their ballot, the numbers for the Yukon Party could change significantly. Thereís only one way they can ever change significantly and thatís if theyíre reduced greatly. Based on the performance Iíve seen, this particular government doesnít deserve to re-elect any of its members ó not one. Thatís because theyíre being led by this government House leader who tutors the other members to behave in the same manner he is, to not answer the questions like the ones Iíve asked in the House ó
Chair: The Chair will reflect on the Blues on this, but the Chair would like some clarification from the member. Did he use the word ďtutorsĒ? ďTutorsĒ is an acceptable word. What the Chair obviously misunderstood, then, is a word that wouldnít be acceptable. As long as the member has used the word ďtutors,Ē then thatís fine. My apologies for the interruption.
Mr. McRobb: Your apology is accepted. I clearly said ďtutors.Ē I have no idea what other word you might have in mind.
The minister has counselled every other member to not answer questions and to behave in a similar manner. Thatís why he calls the Department of Health and Social Services first.
I believe in the past three budgets he has wanted to set the pace for all other members on how to behave with respect to the opposition: how to stifle their questioning, how to waste time, how to rag the puck, how to clear their department and get out without answering questions or being accountable to the opposition and Yukoners.
Thatís a terrible example. I think itís a disgrace. Will the minister provide the evidence ó the statistical information I requested ó to support his decisions on home care funding in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me share with the member opposite some of the initiatives that our government has undertaken with respect to drug and alcohol services ó probably one of the best initiatives that has been sadly lacking here in the Yukon. Weíve had three different approaches by three different governments to the issue of the substance abuse here in the Yukon.
Under the previous Liberals, the approach was to build a new stovepipe of administration. Donít concentrate on the programming; rewrite the Liquor Act to make liquor more readily available, and build a bigger and newer jail with more capacity.
Under the previous NDP government, one of the programs was the in-house live-in residential alcohol program that was closed under their watch. Our alcohol and drug services branch has resourced the live-in residential program ó the alcohol and drug treatment program. Itís $411,000 this fiscal cycle and itís contained within an existing structure. It took some capital dollars to reconfigure the one floor so we could accommodate this need but, overall, this program is back in place, up and running and working.
This is but one comparison of the approaches by three different types of government. I believe the most widely accepted approach has been the one our government is taking to re-establish the live-in residential alcohol and drug treatment program and resource it.
Mr. McRobb: Once again, the minister avoided the question and gave us a recital of some old press releases or something. I donít know what it was, but it was certainly not relevant to the question asked, and that again shows the need to revise the rules of this Assembly to require more pertinent answers to questions.
I would beg other ministers who follow this one in the budget debate to not behave in the same manner. I would appeal to their conscience. I would appeal to their sense of what is right and what is wrong and try to actually answer questions and do their jobs in a responsible way.
I guess an old adage comes to mind, Mr. Chair: a rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel.
Letís move now; I will give up on this one. It is another question that will remain unanswered, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Acting Chair: † Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite is contravening Standing Order 19(g). He is imputing false or unavowed motives to another member. The implication of a rotten apple spoiling the barrel is a direct reflection on how he views this side, Mr. Chair.
Acting Chair: Mr. McRobb, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On the point of order, I have no qualms in admitting that I think the government House leader is correct.
Acting Chair: There is a point of order. It is not Standing Order 19(g), but Standing Order 19(i), engaging in language that is insulting to another member. I would ask the Member for Kluane to retract that remark, please.
Withdrawal of remark
†Mr. McRobb: I will retract the comment that a rotten apple spoils the whole barrel in terms of the Yukon Party and the performance of the minister.
Now, where were we? I will have to give up on the question asked, because once again the minister has refused to answer. He refuses to provide statistical evidence to back up his political decision to enhance home care in one area over other areas in the territory ó an area, I might add, that is held by one of his backbenchers. Again, this smacks of political favouritism. The minister should be willing to back it up with statistics and he is not willing to do that. He has backed down from the challenge.
Well, letís move on. Now, he says the money the government doles out is based on need. I want to ask him about the seniors facilities, because if one examines the number of seniors in different areas in the territory, it is clear to anybody that there are three areas in dire need of facilities, aside from Whitehorse ó Iím speaking about the communities. They are Watson Lake, Dawson City and the Kluane region. Yet only two of those three are being provided seniors facilities: Dawson City, which is represented by the Health minister, and Watson Lake, represented by the Premier. The Kluane region, represented by me, a lowly member of the opposition, has got basically nothing.
Last year in the budget there was $50,000 allocated for a study, which is essentially a delay tactic. There was no such delay for Watson Lake or Dawson City. The actual cost of the study was closer to $10,000. So what happened to the other $40,000? I donít know. The minister indicated in a letter to the seniors in Haines Junction that construction could start in this fiscal year, yet there is nothing in the budget to accommodate construction in this fiscal year. Instead, whatís mysteriously reappearing is another $50,000 for another study. Well, whatís that for? Is it really $50,000, or is it closer to $10,000? Nobody knows. We havenít heard a peep out of this minister. He is holding all the cards. He has left the seniors in my riding in limbo on this issue. Theyíve had to resort to sending him a letter asking him to attend a public meeting to discuss this matter and to indicate whether there are any funds for construction within the budget, to indicate why he hasnít released the study done last year for the Kluane regionís facilities and to answer some other questions.
One of the questions, Mr. Chair, is based on need. If one looks at the last statistical review provided by the Yukon government statistics branch, you can see the number of seniors in the Kluane region exceeds the numbers in Dawson City and Watson Lake.
So are the ministerís decisions truly based on need or based on politics? You donít have to be a rocket scientist to know the real answer is the latter option; they are based on politics. If they were based on need, there would be announcements of three communities receiving facilities, not just the ones in Yukon Party ridings.
In addition to this, the seniors facility in the Kluane riding was basically the one and only priority communicated to the government, above anything else. Is that the same in Dawson and in Watson Lake? No way. Dawson City has a very expensive bridge project; they have all kinds of other projects. The money being poured into Dawson City is unbelievable. Watson Lake is the same story; there are all kinds of projects flowing into that community.
On top of it, Dawson City already had a seniors facility. So the minister was unable to provide evidence to support his home care decision; can he now provide evidence to support his seniors facility decision?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the member oppositeís information and for the information of the House, the studies that have been undertaken in Dawson, Watson Lake, Teslin and Haines Junction have been done by the same firm. The study on Dawson was done under the Liberal watch. The study for Watson Lake began right close to the end of their watch and extended over into our watch. The studies in Haines Junction and Teslin have been done by this same firm under our watch. The conclusions are set out in these reports, and a copy of the studies on Dawson and Watson Lake has been provided to the members opposite. That led to the decision, which was the need for expanded service delivery based on a demonstrated need, not based on the age of the population ó based on those that require care, wanted care, needed care of a level 1 and 2.
That said, Iím committed to and I will be scheduling a trip to the memberís riding and sharing with those the contents of the study that was concluded at the member oppositeís request, and the conclusions contained therein. We are just scheduling a trip to the Yukon for the individual, the firm, who undertook this study so that she may accompany us and share with the member oppositeís riding and all those concerned the contents and the conclusions reached by this very capable individual and firm.
Mr. McRobb: Will the minister provide us with the report that was done?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Certainly I will. Iíll be sharing it with those that attended the meeting ó all the groups, the First Nation governments, the municipal government and the various organizations in Haines Junction. Weíll be providing it to those individuals at the time of my visit.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís not quite good enough. The minister wants to have the meeting before anybody has had a chance to review the study. Thatís not fair. Thatís disrespectful to our seniors and everybody else associated with this matter.
The minister has this report. He was supposed to release it months ago. He is clearly delaying this study from seeing the light of day. Whatís he scared of? Can he table this afternoon a copy for us on the opposition side of this Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím sure the member opposite is more than welcome to attend this meeting, and weíll be happy to share with him at that time a copy of the report.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís a rather disgraceful display of accountability. The minister refuses to provide the study in this Legislature, even though he promised he would. Now heís going to release it publicly first, so he has already contradicted his own statements in the Legislature. He doesnít want anybody to see it prior to the meeting.
You know, this seems to be a template for the Yukon Party conduct. It reminds me of what happened on the last day and a half of the fall sitting, when binders for the Yukon Energy Corporationís application to the Yukon Utilities Board were delivered about five minutes before the officials showed up for debate.
Yeah, well, the Member for Klondike is laughing.
Sure. I guess I hit the nail on the head. We know what theyíre up to. Itís like a lot of other antics from the government about when it releases information in the context of accountability. It always releases information when it is too late to review that information and formulate questionings to ask the government. Itís like the game farm issue, Mr. Chair. When was that announcement made? Oh, let me guess. Yes, it was. It was made at noon on the last sitting day. I believe it was December 16, 2003, at noon. Well, the government is able to say it tabled it during a sitting, but in reality the government also evades any questioning on it. That is three examples now, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Acting Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is imputing false or unavowed motives pursuant to Standing Order 19(g).
Acting Chair: Mr. McRobb, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Point of order, Mr. Chair. If I imputed any motives, they certainly arenít false. I laid it all out. Any sensible person can see how they are truthful. I think we should be able to relate to truthful matters in this Legislature.
Acting Chairís ruling
Acting Chair: ††††††††††††† There is no point of order. However, the Chair is not entirely comfortable with the comments by the Member for Kluane in response to the point of order. The veracity of information presented does not affect whether a member is attributing motives to another member which that member has not avowed. I would urge all members to be cautious in their use of terminology. The Chair is also not comfortable with a remark made by a member: the use of the term ďdisgracefulĒ is not very appropriate in use toward other members. I would ask all members to exercise caution.
Mr. McRobb: I think the gig is up for the Yukon Party. Thereís clearly a track record when it comes to avoiding accountability. Weíre seeing it again from this Health and Social Services minister, who wonít table a simple study that was done for a facility for a region in the territory.
What date is this meeting the minister refers to, or is that a big secret too?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The date of the meeting in the member oppositeís riding in Haines Junction on the issue of a multi-level care facility for his riding has yet to be determined. As soon as it is determined, Iíll be happy to provide the member opposite with that information and extend to him an invitation to attend.
Mr. McRobb: I would extend to the minister to append a copy of the study to that invitation, as long as the invitation isnít received on the same day as the meeting or after the meeting. Common protocol would be to send the letter a couple of weeks ahead of time ó that would be sufficient.
I must elaborate: sending and receiving are two different things, because we in the opposition have received letters from ministers upstairs that have taken three weeks to go down a flight of stairs. So if the minister sends this letter two weeks prior, we might receive it a week after the meeting ó three weeks later.
I would ask him to indulge himself and try to ensure we actually receive the letter and the study a couple of weeks before the meeting. If he does so, Mr. Chair, I will do my best to get on record later in the sitting that he has actually done that. I would appreciate that.
So, Mr. Chair, the whole issue of how the government spends money both on home care and seniors facilities in the territory is really in question. The minister doesnít want to provide evidence on how those decisions were made. Those decisions were announced prior to the delivery of the studies from Dawson City and Watson Lake, which, if I recall correctly, were delivered last summer in the months of June and July respectively, yet the announcement for the facilities was made months ahead of then. Whatís up, Mr. Chair? Why is the minister jumping the gun on those studies? Why was he so eager to spend the money?
Well, I think the answer is obvious for anybody who has been following this conversation. The answer is obvious. Those facilities arenít based on need. They are based on political decisions only ó case closed.
Let us turn now to the topic of alcohol and drugs. The objectives of the department in working with the addictions are spelled out in the budget binder. How the department, under the guidance ó if I can use that term ó of this minister, actually performs in meeting those objectives is another matter entirely. Iíd like to ask the minister: what performance measures does it use to rate the performance in meeting the departmental objectives?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me go back to the multi-level care facilities, and let me correct the record. The accuracy of the information that the member opposite has conveyed to the House is wrong; it is incorrect information. As I indicated earlier, it was the same firm that was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Services to undertake the study on Dawson City, on Watson Lake, Teslin and Haines Junction. From memory, the report on Dawson City was provided to the department, and itís either dated 2000 or 2001. The only two studies that were started under our watch are on Teslin and Haines Junction. The criteria, and the blueprint under which the consultant operated was the same for all these four rural areas. The recommendations are contained in these documents. I believe I previously provided members opposite ó the official opposition and the third party ó with a copy of the study on Watson Lake and on Dawson City. I would encourage them to go back and look at the dates on those studies and look at the conclusions that have been reached in those studies. It is not a political decision to draw the conclusions that were drawn by the consultant. The consultant examined this area and the consultant ó Iím given to understand ó is extremely knowledgeable in this area and drew the conclusions contained within the report.
†The initial request from the memberís community of Haines Junction came from a number of First Nations and from the town itself. Given that thatís where the initial requests arose, and the member opposite fortified the request with questions in the Legislature, the only way I could see this unfolding is for me, responsible for this area, to attend a public meeting in the memberís riding and to convey the contents of this report to organizations and First Nation governments and the Town of Haines Junction. I conveyed it to these groups.
My department is in the stages of requesting the consultant to return to the Yukon, who will accompany us to the community and assist in interpreting and offering and accepting feedback on the report.
That said, I committed to the member opposite that I will advise him as to when the date of this undertaking will occur and heís free to attend, if he so wishes. That said, a lot of the information and suggestions and innuendo arising from the memberís comments on this, Mr. Chair, are exactly that.
Mr. McRobb: Did you notice that the minister didnít answer the question about alcohol and drugs in the territory? Instead, he went back to rehash some of the previous issues. Well, letís go back there for a minute then. If the minister insists on that, Iíll oblige him.
Now, he expects us to believe information in the reports, but he wonít provide the reports. Whatís wrong with that equation? You know, the equation is that he has a number times zero, and he expects it to equal some number at the end of the equation. Well, Iíll remind him: when you multiply by zero, you end up with zero. The minister wonít provide us the report. We canít go to step 2 in his path of logic. Thatís ďpath of logicĒ, Mr. Chair, not ďpathologicĒ.
So he wonít provide the report. He expects us to take his word for whatís in the report. Well, Iím sorry, but Iím not prepared to do that. I donít think Iíll ever be prepared to do that. Sorry.
Now, he also said the only way to proceed was his way. Again, it seems itís his way or the highway. Heís not prepared to be flexible and consider other options. I think sending the study ahead of time, along with a letter of invitation, is the respectful approach to the seniors. The seniors need time to review the study. The seniors know the drafters of the study, the consultants. I know them too; I met them as well. I attended two meetings with them. I know the people who wrote the study were quite sincerely interested in doing what they could for the people in the region, and the weak link in the chain was the ministerís desk, because thatís where the study has been for several months now.
Now, I know he ordered the consultants to revisit some of the numbers in the study. He said that back in December. Can the minister tell us exactly what it was that he ordered them to do?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I requested that the numbers be quantified because they didnít appear to be reasonable and they didnít appear to dovetail with my understanding of the situation in the member oppositeís riding. Iím sure, when he sees the study, heíll understand what Iím saying. When we attend this meeting together in Haines Junction, Iím sure heíll have an opportunity to review the document. The consultant is coming up and bringing the completed document with her. Weíll be heading out shortly thereafter to a meeting, as long as we can schedule it ahead of time.
Mr. McRobb: Well, what numbers did the minister have a problem with? Did the numbers indicate there were too many seniors in need of the facility for his understanding of the area, or did the numbers indicate there were too few people who needed a facility? Can he at least tell us which one it was ó too few or too many?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: To zero in on the specifics at this time, without the member having an opportunity to peruse the total document, is an unreasonable request. As soon as we have the finalized document, Iíll be providing it to the member oppositeís constituents in his riding and also, at the same time, hosting a public meeting there.
Mr. McRobb: I donít believe the answer would be found in the study as to why the minister ordered it to be redone in some capacity, shape or form. I know that he knows the answer. It would be completely unbelievable for anybody to expect that he would have forgotten the answer. He knows the answer. Why canít he tell us? Was the number too few or was it too many for his understanding of the demographics of the region pertaining to seniors? Which was it: too few or too many?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: In the context of the report, the minister didnít order anything changed in the report. Nothing changed.
Mr. McRobb: Well, the minister didnít answer the question again. Let me ask him: what did he ask the consultants to do?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I pointed out earlier and indicated to the member opposite: to quantify the numbers and confirm the numbers contained in the report. There was a whole class of numbers across a number of areas.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, the minister had problems with the numbers. Why did he have a problem with the numbers?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I said earlier, they didnít appear to be reasonable. That is all I can say on the topic. Nothing has changed in the report. No numbers have been altered or changed from the first draft to the second draft to when I received the final report, which will be delivered when we go out to the memberís riding and present it to the community at large.
Mr. McRobb: Through this experience, I am gaining some insight into the frustration that must be felt by the cross-examiners at the Gomery inquiry. What does the minister mean when he says ďunreasonableĒ? Can he fill us in on what it was that didnít jibe with his understanding of the region?
We are almost there, but not quite. We need this little bit of information and we appeal to the ministerís sense of generosity and ask him again.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Just as I said previously, the statistical base appeared to be unreasonable.
Mr. McRobb: Well, that doesnít make sense. Iím sorry. This is an easy matter for the minister to resolve just by simply telling us what it is. Obviously he doesnít want us to know.
The official handed him a paper. Perhaps his recollection will be refreshed and he will be able to tell us what it was that triggered him to send the consultant back out.
I want to ask: how much money did it cost to send the consultant back out?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I donít have that information as to how much it cost to send the consultant back out or what the return costs were, Mr. Chair. I can obtain that information. I will provide it to the member opposite in due course.
Let me share with the member opposite in the House some of the other wonderful programs and initiatives that we have enhanced and further resourced. Letís look at our drug programs. Letís look at the $732,000 increase to our drug programs ó that being pharmacare, the chronic disease program and childrenís drug and optical programs.
This in itself is a significant increase. There is also a $22,000 increase for internal medicine specialists. In addition to that, there is a $1,115,000 increase for the Whitehorse General Hospital, supporting their increased wages and operating costs. So when we put all this out, the total health care envelope budget has increased significantly under our watch and has been resourced to the level that is being requested by the various organizations and programs that we are funding.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, here we go again. The minister skates away from accountability to a corner of the rink while ragging the puck, and he wants to read yesterdayís press releases about something completely unconnected to the question. Well, this is really turning into a fruitful exercise, isnít it, Mr. Chair? About the only fruitful thing about it is when the minister stands up and starts talking about apples and turnips and oranges. Thatís about it.
Let me return to the seniors facilities. Does the minister have an end cost for the Dawson facility, and if not, at what point does he expect to have one?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Weíll have an end cost after the facility is built.
Mr. McRobb: Well, isnít that something. You know, under that type of approach ó if the Mayo-Dawson transmission line, for example, had been built entirely under this government ó some of it was ó can you imagine people asking, ďWhat will the cost of this be?Ē and the minister of the day would stand up and say, ďWell, weíll tell you after all the bills are in.Ē What happened to accountability? What happened to the publicís right to scrutinize an expenditure for other values like common sense and practicality and fairness, and so on? Thatís what forecasting the estimates is all about. I canít believe this. Iím going to let the former Premier perhaps re-till this ground when she gets up, because her experience with finance is greater than mine, and perhaps sheíll be able to get to the bottom of some of this, being familiar with some of the financial mechanisms, because this is almost unbelievable.
Now I asked about the performance standards. How does the department measure its performance in achieving its departmental objectives? Can the minister try to answer the question this time around?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It depends what area the member is referring to. The department has many facets to it, many different operations and many different ways of measuring the performance. With that said, I donít know what the member opposite is referring to, what specific area and in what context. I will agree with the memberís statement that the Mayo-Dawson transmission line is a boondoggle and the final cheque has yet to be written. There are still ongoing costs being incurred there. This is a sad state of affairs, but letís firmly show that this project was commenced under the NDP government, and it was moved ahead by the Liberal government along with the Energy Solutions Centre. When we add it all together, probably millions and millions and millions of dollars have been pointed out by the Auditor Generalís Office with respect to these two initiatives alone, let alone the millions of dollars that the Liberal government provided to my community in order that they could get into the level of debt that they currently hold.
When we look at the number of problems that our government was faced with and had to address when we came to power, they would probably task anyone. It was a very determined effort by us as a government to address them, one by one. We have taken this responsibility very, very seriously.
We have moved forward, initially putting our financial house in order and, after our financial house was in order, we had to approach the federal government to resource other initiatives in a number of areas where we as a government believe we have been shortchanged by the Liberal government in Ottawa.
After we accomplish that, we are able to resource a lot of the initiatives in the Department of Health and Social Services. But the resourcing of these various areas is not done without due diligence. There has to be a demonstrated need or a very good program in place and, as I pointed out earlier, we have increased the amount of funding to a number of NGOs as a consequence of their demonstrated need and the very excellent service they are providing, in many ways, to Yukoners.
Further to that, we have identified a number of other initiatives that have been brought to the forefront by the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board with respect to the Whitehorse General Hospital. New programs, new initiatives, and new services to meet the health care needs of Yukoners have been resourced by this government and they have been put into place. The member opposite is attempting to critique them in a manner that is not conducive to constructive debate in this House.
We move forward into some of the other areas. Our drug and alcohol programs, under the previous Liberal government ó weíre concentrating on reorganization of the whole government. I donít know why, but that is the choice that they made ó to reorganize government and put in place a couple of pieces of legislation, and you would have a whole litany of what tasks were assigned to whom and how. The object of government is to provide the highest consistent level of service to the people whom we represent, Mr. Chair. The Department of Health and Social Services is doing the best we can. It has been resourced to the level that is currently required, but there is always room to enhance and improve.
Let us look at drug and alcohol services. The Liberals went ahead and set up a secretariat. More money was going to flow into the administration side of it ó which was a duplication of what existed ó than program delivery. What are we going to accomplish setting up more administration? The exercise is to look after the people who are afflicted with substance abuse.
Our government reinstituted the live-in treatment that was eliminated by the NDP and not restored by the Liberals. We put it back into place. We have put in place drug and alcohol counsellors. We have a telephone line to assist Yukoners who are in need of assistance and weíve made more Yukoners aware of the programs ó and we do have a lot of programs ó and the facilities that we have, and what care we can provide across the board here in the Yukon.
Mr. Chair, look back to the previous Liberal administration; their approach was to write a new Yukon Liquor Act, make liquor more widely available across the Yukon and build a new and bigger jail. The end doesnít justify the expenditure. Letís start looking at what we can do on the programming side. What we have started is correctional reform and a review in that area, along with the Childrenís Act review, along with the Education Act review. All three initiatives are underway and are underway in a manner that allows all Yukoners to participate, and theyíre co-chaired with our First Nation partners. Weíve moving forward.
Thatís not to say that the system we brought into place is perfect, but itís a large step ahead of where the previous governments were on this issue before. Weíre very comfortable with where weíre at and what weíve resourced and how weíve resourced it and why weíve resourced it.
Weíre looking forward to meeting the needs of Yukoners. I said meeting the needs of Yukoners; I didnít say meeting the expectations of the Member for Kluane. We have difficulty in accepting verbatim what has been requested. There is a due diligence that has to be undertaken and completed. There is a review process that has been put in place with respect to these initiatives. I will be sharing the information on the initiative in the memberís riding with him at the meeting that we will be hosting in Haines Junction ó the memberís riding ó in the very near future, Mr. Chair.
Seeing the time, I would move that we take our designated break.
Chair: We have reached our normal break time. Do members wish to have a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Chair: We donít have unanimous support for a recess, so we will continue on.
Mr. McRobb: It would seem logical that, before taking a break, we would clarify for the minister the question that was raised that he was again unable to answer. Instead, he wandered off on a lengthy speech irrelevant to the question.
I observe, Mr. Chair, how he was quite mired in the past for most of that speech. It contradicts the challenge made by the Premier for members to move ahead, to forge ahead. Sure, Mr. Chair, we know what that is; it is mere talk and window-dressing. This government is all about being mired in the past. With every opportunity they get to become mired in the past, that is exactly where it goes.
The performance standards that I was asking for are related to addictions. I am quite surprised that the minister wasnít able to relate some general information about performance standards across the department. How many different types does the minister have in the department? If there is more than one type, Mr. Chair, I would ask him in advance to table for us a list of all the various performance standards so that we can see what they apply to and how they work.
Meanwhile, the question pertained to addictions. So can the minister tell us how the department measures his performance in meeting its objectives in relation to addictions?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, let the record show that the minister refuses to answer the question. He asked me for clarification on what aspect in the department the performance measures would apply. I responded by saying, in relation to addictions.
How does the department assess its performance in dealing with its objectives pertaining to addictions? This is an important part of what this department does. This is a fair question. Iíll give the minister another chance to respond. Will he tell us how the department assesses performance in relation to addictions?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Itís almost unbelievable, although Iíve been around the block enough to realize that itís something you should expect from the Yukon Party government and this minister in particular. Itís a complete evasion of accountability in the Legislature. Itís a simple question ó no answer. The minister remained seated in his chair, just as he did on Tuesday afternoon, when the department should have been introduced. It was embarrassing for me to be on this side and watch the department officials wonder if their department was going to receive an introduction. I had to get up myself after quite a long lag and do the honours.
Now, the minister remains in his chair, as he did two days ago, without responding to the question. I suggest we take a break, Mr. Chair, let the minister think about the answer, and hopefully he can come back in 10 minutes and provide it for the record.
Chair: It has been suggested that we take a recess. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Chair: There seems to be a discussion about the time. There has been a request for a recess. The Chair would suggest that we take a twelve-and-a-half-minute recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with Bill No.15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06, Vote 15, the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, let the record show that, even after the break, the minister refuses to answer a totally legitimate question.
I donít know where to take this. Itís almost useless to be in here and try to fulfill our jobs when we get these types of responses. So Iím going to hand it over to the third party for awhile and wish the Member for Porter Creek South all the luck in the world.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the Member for Kluaneís kindness and Iíd like to enter into general debate with the Minister of Health and Social Services. I listened with a great deal of interest to the discussion about care for seniors in the territory. I, too, would be very interested in the additional home care information. I understand there are additional home care services being provided at Tagish, which is very important, of course, to our Chairís riding, and all Yukoners. To what other rural areas outside of Whitehorse are we anticipating being able to extend home care services and at what level? I understand itís demand-driven, so what are we looking at for forecast of uptake?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This program is demand-driven, and where the demand exists the department does everything it possibly can to meet that demand. This program, home care, is provided virtually throughout the Yukon. A lot of the home care is provided by self-governing First Nations, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím quite familiar with the home care program and it is an excellent service. I applaud the individuals who provide this particular service. It can be very, very demanding, as many of the health care professions can be.
The question Iím concerned about is ó I fully understand, as I said in the preamble to my question, that this program is demand-driven. Where is the department anticipating the demand throughout the Yukon ó they forecast this in order to forecast their resources. The department has a very good handle on where our seniors are currently living or where those who might need home care are living. Where do they anticipate, outside of the Whitehorse area, being called upon to provide home care services in the 2005-06 forecast year?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The home care program has been expanded as the need develops. We will continue to work in that same manner. Sometimes the need goes up and sometimes the need goes down, because itís not a case of providing home care solely to seniors; others are infirm, for one reason or another, and require home care. So it changes, itís fluid and the department is tasked with meeting the demand.
Itís like forecasting our intake for drug and alcohol services. We know weíve got a problem. We meet the demand as the demand develops.
Ms. Duncan: Itís my understanding that home care, by and large, is free of charge and that Yukon provides the service to non-First Nations, and self-governing First Nations deal with home care requirements within each First Nation.
Are there any discussions with First Nations about where there is a demand in a community? For example, Dawson City, the memberís own riding ó are there any attempts, efforts or initiatives by the government to consolidate home care delivery and work with First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are two delivery systems and a number of the First Nations ó specifically the Teslin Tlingit Council ó have actually enhanced and expanded on their home care program much more than what the department provides in that community, which is their right, but the department is then being asked to provide services to the same level as the First Nations. There are similar service delivery models in place in all the other communities. Thereís a First Nation service delivery model and a Department of Health and Social Services service delivery model. The First Nations are wanting to look after their elders and their infirm people, as theyíre rightly entitled to do.
Ms. Duncan: I quite understand what the minister has just said; however, it doesnít answer the question. Is there any discussion by the Department of Health and Social Services? He made note of the Teslin Tlingit Council providing a level of care to First Nations. Is there any discussion by the Department of Health and Social Services, who are providing home care to non-First Nations, of consolidating their efforts, of working together with the First Nation in providing, in this instance, as the minister advises us, enhanced home care? Is there any discussion at all with the self-governing First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: From memory, most of the systems were set up by the First Nations after they became self-governing. In some cases, it was delivered by the Department of Health and Social Services and it was billed back to the uninsured health benefit program but, as it stands now, the self-governing First Nations have taken it upon themselves. There is constant back-and-forth dialogue between the home care workers and department officials, but the First Nations have chosen to take on the responsibility themselves and deliver this program, and they are doing an excellent job of it.
Ms. Duncan: The minister seems to be interpreting my question as some kind of criticism of First Nations delivering home care to members of their First Nation. That is not at all what Iím asking. I know that there are X amount of dollars available in the Health envelope. Whether thatís delivered by Canada in recognition of their fiduciary responsibility to First Nations or whether itís delivered by Yukon, itís care provided to seniors, and itís being provided free of charge to them, as it should be. Itís an excellent service.
I am looking into the future, as our population ó we ó are all ageing, and asking: is there any kind of dialogue to see where we might combine our efforts? I am not disrespecting the self-governing aspect of First Nations, nor am I attempting to be disrespectful of those providing the home care service. Seniors or those who find themselves infirm are in need of a particular service provided by one government or the other.
Is there an effort at all, at greater than the officials level, who are talking about the individual seniors in their communities and ensuring they are provided with care ó has there been any effort made by the Health minister in discussions with the chiefs about provision of this service to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: If the member opposite is requesting that we integrate our services with the First Nationsí services, the First Nations have not requested that that be undertaken.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, with all due respect to the member opposite, I am starting to share the Member for Kluaneís frustration. I am simply asking if there is an attempt made to work together. Unfortunately the minister is hearing my question in a different way.
The statistics pages have been the subject of some dispute in this Legislature in the past ó a dispute between members, Mr. Chair. I have noted from the Health and Social Services statistics that have been provided to us in the budget briefing that the estimated average number of people on a waiting list for Macaulay Lodge this year is 10 and the average length of time on the waiting list is estimated to be seven months. In Copper Ridge Place, the statistics pages tell us that, although there is an average occupancy rate at Copper Ridge Place of 97 percent, there is an average of five people on the waiting list for an average of four months.
These facilities ó and I thank the minister for offering a tour to both the Member for Kluane and me, but I visit Copper Ridge Place on a fairly regular basis and have been to Macaulay Lodge on a fairly regular basis, as well, in the past. I am certainly well-acquainted with both the staff and residents in both those facilities.
There is still a need that exists. These facilities are operating, but there are still time periods spent on the waiting list. Is it the ministerís intention that this waiting list will be reduced somewhat by the opening of the facility in Watson Lake and the one in Dawson? In an answer to an earlier question, the minister seems to feel that I have misinterpreted these statistics.
They are what the government has presented to us, and they have certainly been my experience ó that there is a time period before an individual is able to be admitted to Copper Ridge Place or Macaulay Lodge, and certainly there is quite a time period to wait for respite care. Clearly the demand still exists. Is the demand going to be lessened with the opening of these other two facilities, or does the minister have some other intentions that he would care to share with the House in order to lessen this time on the waiting list for those who currently find themselves on the waiting list?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Currently, there is no waiting list for Copper Ridge Place, and I believe it is just over two months for Macaulay Lodge, and there is no waiting list for McDonald Lodge in Dawson City.
Ms. Duncan: There is no waiting list currently, at this instant. That can change very quickly, and the ministerís own statistics forecast that there will be five people on the waiting list for Copper Ridge Place who will wait an average of four months. The minister has provided that information to us in the House. Now he stands on his feet and says that currently there is no waiting list. That situation can change very quickly.
Let me ask the question another way. There is excellent care provided to individuals in Macaulay Lodge and in Copper Ridge Place ó excellent care. There is still a gap in our community. There is not assisted living. There is not an assisted-living environment in Whitehorse. Although we have hundreds of government policies that make every effort to keep individuals and seniors in their own homes ó we have the home and yard care maintenance program, an initiative started by the Liberal government, since the minister seems so fond of talking about us. There is the pioneer utility grant, the homeownerís grant and the very excellent home care program that weíve just discussed. There are all these initiatives that keep seniors and those who are infirm at one point in time or another in their own homes.
There is a gap between the time an individual can continue to live in their own home and the time they need to be in a facility like Macaulay or Copper Ridge. Thereís a gap. If you examine Canadian health care information and Canadian statistics, itís called the continuum of care. Thereís a gap in the continuum of care. How does the minister feel that that gap in assisted living is addressed in this 2005-06 budget in the Department of Health and Social Services?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite is very correct. There is an issue. Assisted living is the area that we are concentrating on next, and there are initiatives within the Yukon Housing Corporation to address this need. There are also other initiatives underway in the private sector that may come to fruition, and hopefully we can provide for Yukoners that assisted-living environment. But the member is absolutely correct. This is the one area that wasnít commenced under her watch, wasnít commenced under the previous watch, but it will probably be commenced under our watch.
Ms. Duncan: Actually, the minister is incorrect. There were initiatives underway under our government in the assisted-living area because itís a particular concern of the former Member for Riverdale South and me and others who were in our caucus.
My concern is that while this waiting goes on and while Yukoners eagerly await these government initiatives, what happens in the meantime? What options, solutions, do we have for individuals who find themselves in this situation? What option is there? The minister says thereís no waiting list at Copper Ridge Place now, but the statistics indicate there will be and we know that that sort of situation can change. There is a waiting list at Macaulay. There is a crying need for respite care. There is no assisted living. So while the public and Yukoners wait for the government to have some of these initiatives happen, people out there, people outside this Chamber, people in the Yukon, are suffering.
Thereís a tremendous drain on caregivers, and Iím fond of saying, who nurtures the nurturer? Home care can only do so much, so what answer do we give these individuals?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I indicated earlier, we have some of the best systems in place of assisted care in our three lodges here in the Yukon ó thatís a given. Weíve increased the capacity. Copper Ridge Place opened another pod last year and staffed it. The total cost bumps it a couple of million dollars, the staffing component being the largest component. To find the qualified care providers is also an issue, but we have managed to recruit and attract the health care providers that are needed.
The other two lodges have capacity. McDonald Lodge in Dawson has capacity and, in addition to that, we have home care. We have home care thatís filling a need and thatís quite extensive and elaborate and encompasses the entire Yukon Territory, delivered by a number of First Nation governments and also delivered by the Department of Health and Social Services.
We do recognize as a government that there is a need for assisted apartment-style living with probably a food service and someone in attendance who can provide assistance if and when itís required, and thatís an initiative weíre working on. If we announce it before the next budget cycle, Iím sure the member will be the first one to chastise this government for a preannouncement. But hopefully there will be something moving forward in the not-too-distant future.
Ms. Duncan: In the Whitehorse area, there are a couple of locations where there is also a significant seniors population ó Greenwood Place is one of them, and there is another apartment building that Iíve forgotten the precise name of.
What is the relationship between the care for seniors and those two locations? Greenwood Place is a good example. Closeleigh Manor is the other one. A number of seniors live in Closeleigh. They are not Health and Social Services facilities per se. One of them, Closeleigh Manor, is owned by the Government of Yukon, but there are a number of seniors resident there.
So, what is the relationship? The department doesnít have any responsibility for those two locations? Is it strictly a property management agency issue? Or is the Department of Health and Social Services examining Closeleigh Manor or Greenwood as possible assisted-living types of locations in the Whitehorse area?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: These facilities, to the best of my knowledge, were built under a federal program. They are operated by Yukon Housing Corporation. There are guidelines as to what your status has to be in order to access this apartment complex. Yes, a number of seniors are residing there. And yes, home care is provided to two individuals occupying apartments there, as required.
Ms. Duncan: What I was looking for the minister to do was to outline some lines of communication. Home care, for example, may recommend that grab bars be installed in showers so people donít fall or that a particular person start using a particular type of walker, and if home care makes that suggestion for persons living in their own home, then they can go ahead and deal with it ó make the repairs and get the costs covered or whatever.
But if they are living in Closeleigh or Greenwood, they are caught in this bureaucracy of the Yukon Housing Corporation ó who makes repairs and how do we deal with them. I was looking for the minister to say that there is some concern about this issue and that we are going to ensure that the lines of communication are open, given that seniors and seniors facilities come under this responsibility.
There are seniors who live in those facilities who have expressed concerns to me ó not about the home care that they have received, but about the ability to have repairs made, working with home care, to the facilities in which they reside.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís a question that would best be posed to the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Itís unfortunate that the minister didnít recognize that these were seniors who were expressing concerns and that there could be some facilitation by the department that deals most often with those seniors.
I would like to discuss with the minister the operation of Copper Ridge Place and particularly its relationship with the hospital. Copper Ridge Place is where it is and I donít want to rehash that debate or argue the merits or detriments of its current location. There is a difficulty in transportation of individuals who are in Copper Ridge to the hospital, doctor appointments or other appointments. Is the minister aware of this particular issue and have there been any steps taken to deal with it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Both the lodges in Whitehorse and indeed the lodge in Dawson have a Handy Bus to accommodate these needs. Itís a matter of scheduling in that vehicle as and when itís required.
Ms. Duncan: The minister appears to be unaware that there are a number of situations where individuals had to be transported by other methods to the hospital; namely, the ambulance service. It is some distance away from the hospital. One of the issues in opening Copper Ridge Place was, although the previous government had budgeted for the construction of the facility, there was no money in the O&M, so there was no money forecast in the budget to open the facility. What is the anticipated operation and maintenance figure for the new facility at Watson Lake? Has that been forecast at all in any of the discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The final design and takeoffs havenít been completed, and that is part of that equation.
Ms. Duncan: So the $5.2-million figure in the budget and bandied about is construction only? Thereís absolutely no sense of, in the future, are we looking at a 20-bed facility with a staff of approximately however many? Is there any kind of an idea of what it might cost to run either of these facilities? Given that the $5.2-million figure is used in both, I am going to assume that they are to be of similar design.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would encourage the member opposite not to leap to conclusions as to the similarity of design. One is constructed on permafrost; one is constructed on the soils that will support a conventional foundation. One is an add-on to an existing hospital that is having some changes completed internally; and the other is an add-on to a building and an enhancement of a service. Yes, we have an idea of a cost, but until those costs are finalized on the operation and maintenance side ó rule of thumb, O&M is usually 10 percent of the capital per annum. That is the rule of thumb that is used consistently throughout the industry, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Off microphone, I just asked if you, Mr. Chair, would like to discuss the expression ďrule of thumbĒ or if you would prefer that I do it.
Chair: The Chair has heard the memberís aversion to the term ďrule of thumbĒ in the past. The Chair has also done some research into this and finds that there may be an urban legend surrounding its often-heard interpretation.
Our Standing Orders suggest that I call a member to order when they use abusive or insulting language, including sexist or violent language in a context likely to create disorder. ďRule of thumbĒ may be interpreted by some to be insulting. The Chair finds, though, that it is a common colloquial phrase and that there is some significant question over the validity of the interpretation that has been discussed about the origins of the phrase ďrule of thumb.Ē
The Chair finds, though, that a member has taken offence to the term and would encourage members not to use terms that other members find offensive. As such, knowing that the member finds this term offensive, I would encourage members not to use it.
Ms. Duncan: I have heard you mention that before, in reference to the sense that this is an urban legend. I understood it to be fact-based, so we have a different view of it; so be it. I thank you for reminding members of the Standing Orders and the ruling in that regard.
The concern I have is with respect to the facility in Watson Lake and with respect to the additions and changes to the facility currently in existence in Dawson: that government, no matter what their political stripe, ensure that, in planning these facilities and in forecasting a health care budget in the long-term plans that are tabled in this House, there is an inclusion and a sense of what it will cost in operation and maintenance. That was what I was trying to determine with the minister: has this been done? My understanding is it is anticipated that the facility in Watson Lake will come on stream in 2006-07, that fiscal year. Is that the ministerís understanding? And could he give dates for these two facilities to come on stream.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Weíre not firm yet, but weíre hoping that they come on stream in those timelines, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: So both facilities would be available in the 2006-07 fiscal year. Do we have a sense of ó September of 2006? Do we have any kind of a firmer date than that? We have expenditures, and we have reports that were somewhat dated, although I do recollect receiving them. Do we have more information than that, other than the commitment for expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What the member is asking is that I come up with a specific date as to when this is going to be on-line, have all my cash flow and O&M projections done; itís simply not the case. Thatís part of the exercise that we are engaged in. We have an order of magnitude estimate, but it has not been finalized.
With respect to Dawson, there will probably be the same type of O&M overall thatís currently being expended in that community. There may even be a slight reduction. I doubt it. But instead of two, two-and-a-half and three facilities being operated, it will be one facility. In the case of Watson Lake, weíre talking about one facility to address the multi-level health care needs of that community. There will be costs on the O&M side for both facilities.
Ms. Duncan: Iím not asking for any more detailed information than what the minister has. Thereís a commitment to expend money in this budget that weíre being asked to vote upon. There has to be more detail than what the minister is providing on the floor of the House. Certainly there was conceptual design bandied about in the newspaper in the last session for the facility at Dawson, and there must be some idea ó given the amount of money ó when we would be looking at renovation and construction for these facilities. Iím not asking the minister to give me a precise date, such as September 15, 2007; Iím asking the minister to say, ďWell, we might get started on construction not this summer but next,Ē ďThere are renovations currently underway at McDonald Lodge,Ē that ďWeíll be moving toward this,Ē ďWeíll be expending this money.Ē Iím looking for some more information. I wonder if the minister could provide it.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: If I had it, I would, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Well, what does the minister have, other than a $5.2-million commitment? What is the money going to be spent on? How is the money thatís in this budget year going to be spent on these facilities? Whatís the vision of care? Are these palliative care rooms? Are people still going to have to come into Whitehorse? What exactly is envisioned in these facilities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Level 1 and level 2 care.
Ms. Duncan: How far along are renovation/construction plans for McDonald Lodge in Dawson, other than the line item commitment? How far along are they? What plans do we have? There was a conceptual drawing. I have an outstanding request for information. Is there any other information that can be provided?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We have a conceptual drawing.
Ms. Duncan: And that conceptual drawing is for level 1 and level 2 care. How many beds?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: In the seniors component, there would be 10 rooms.
Ms. Duncan: Are there rooms for other patients, such as those that are provided for children at Copper Ridge Place?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Watson Lake and Dawson facility are both virtually the same. There are 10 rooms in each multi-level care facility. They are for level 1 and 2 care for our seniors ó yes.
Ms. Duncan: So the extended care that the Yukon currently provides for children at Copper Ridge ó that is the only place that is provided?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Level 3, 4 and 5 care will only continue to be provided at Copper Ridge Place.
Ms. Duncan: Just back to Copper Ridge Place for a moment: what is the current staffing? Are there any vacancies or is it currently fully staffed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I donít have the current staffing level. I know we increased the FTEs last year. There is always a turnover in staffing, but the current vacancy rate for staffing ó I do not have that information. That is a detail I donít get into, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we have had discussions about staffing and staff training and so on in this House before. One of the suggestions I have made and that I believe is also in existence is the use of Yukon College ó recognizing that there will be the need for more staffing in the future ó offering programming that enables individuals to train, ensuring that they can gain work at Copper Ridge Place, McDonald Lodge in Dawson or in Watson Lake.
How many staff would be required on average, then, for a 10-room facility?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It would be the same as what is currently in place in Dawson in McDonald Lodge. I donít have those numbers with me, Mr. Chair. That is a 10-bed facility. Itís a new 10-bed facility, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps when we return for debate on Monday ó we will still be in general debate on Health ó the minister could come back with an idea of what the staffing levels are at McDonald Lodge and, in turn, what would be required at the new 10-bed facility and what would be required in Watson Lake.
Some of the issues with Copper Ridge Place are, in the construction, we are also ensuring that the rooms and the facilities there meet the need, and that need can vary. For example, there were some particularly specific needs that were identified when Copper Ridge Place was still under construction that werenít necessarily required ó specialized equipment. So, the construction costs are very preliminary, as I understand the minister to have said.
Just before we close for the day, Iíd like to discuss with the minister the transfers from Canada and the funding that is made available in this particular Health and Social Services budget in 2005-06. I am particularly interested in the transfers from Canada. This department has a tremendous number of them. There are a number of envelopes of funding, each with different requirements attached to them. For example, from the health accord, there is $137,000 in the immunization transfer and $610,000 for the wait-time reduction.
Now, what we were told in the information that was provided by the Finance minister is that the precise terms and conditions of expending this money are in accordance with the health accord. Perhaps the Health minister could elaborate on this.
What I am looking to hear from the minister is ó there is $137,000 transferred under the health accord from the Government of Canada for immunization. What exactly does that mean and what is the accountability for spending that funding?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We want to look at the immunization fund, Mr. Chair. The immunization fund is actually contained in a trust fund, and the department has to indicate to Health Canada what the funds will be expended on, what drugs will be purchased under the immunization program, and as soon as they accept it, we draw down the money and it is expended on that and we have to substantiate the expenditures as we incur them. The trust fund is drawn down as required when we indicate under the immunization program which drugs weíre going to use.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, just so Iím clear on this ó for example, a number of years ago the Department of Health and Social Services initiated a program where younger children were vaccinated against hepatitis B as an additional vaccine ó I think I have that right. It was an immunization, in any event, that was additional. It was provided. Parents were advised to get this additional vaccination. Yukon provided it. Yukon provides vaccinations, by and large, at no charge to people. Another example would be the immunization program against meningitis. We reminded all the travelling university students to ensure that their vaccination was up to date before they went out a couple of years ago. The amount that is identified this year is $137,000. My question is: how does that get identified? Is it just that the department says, okay, this year weíre going to need this number of vaccinations, or weíre going to initiate this new program, gets it approved by Canada, and then they go ahead and spend the money?† Or perhaps the minister could just outline precisely how it would work in terms of our overall immunization program.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I outlined previously, the methods are very similar.
Ms. Duncan: Letís try this another way. The minister made reference, when I first asked this question, to drugs. This is the immunization program. Are there any new initiatives, such as enhancing the hepatitis A or B vaccination, any new initiatives such as a program to encourage university students to get their meningitis vaccination? Does the $137,000 cover off the flu vaccine? How does the department intend to spend the money this year, and are there any new initiatives in it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, there are some new initiatives. The department has been asked to put together a brochure that we can get to the students graduating from high school who are going on to postsecondary education so that they can access all of the various immunization programs that Yukon has available. Further to that, the existing immunization programs remain in place.
I had an indication from the Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh that they were looking at the surplus they had in the tainted blood fund for hepatitis C. Now I canít recall how he suggested that money was going to flow, but they were going to widen the guidelines surrounding who could benefit from that program. I donít recall the details or how it was going to be implemented, but that is about the only initiative I recall.
Ms. Duncan: As the member remembers his discussions with Minister Dosanjh, Iíd appreciate receiving any additional information available about the hepatitis C and the money that was transferred to Yukon under that and how itís going to be spent.
I have just one last question about immunizations. We noticed on the nightly news quite an uptake of the American population going to British Columbia to obtain the flu vaccine. Was there a large uptake by our neighbours, the Alaskans, for the flu vaccine that was offered to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Some, but not significant ó we still have a surplus of the vaccine available here in the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: Just for the record, I got my flu shot, and Iím sure the minister did as well.
Another one of the funds is the $610,000 wait-time reduction. I would glean from the information that has been presented that this is a trust fund type of arrangement with Ottawa and transfer as well. How does the minister intend to reduce wait times for Yukoners? Not that they are extensive in emergency or in terms of hip or knee replacements or eye surgery ó I think Yukoners are very, very well served. So how is this $610,000 going to be spent, and how did we arrive at this kind of an estimate? Iím interested in an answer as to how this money is transferred from Ottawa because itís different in all these different circumstances.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What weíve done, Mr. Chair, is engage a specialist in hip replacement, who brings his team to the Yukon and undertakes the operations here. It is on an as-needed basis ó we build up a number of people and this is one of the other services we have enhanced. Weíve purchased extra capacity and access to health care service deliveries that are required in Alberta and British Columbia. There appears to currently be more capacity in Alberta than in British Columbia. If itís a case of requiring immediate access, we usually confine ourselves to the capacity in Alberta. Thereís a preference by the doctors here in the Yukon to refer people to the Lower Mainland, but that is changing.
There are a number of people in the equation. We have managed to reduce the waiting times for quite a number of procedures. About the longest wait time that weíre currently incurring is for hip replacements. We are still working on that program, seeing what we can do to speed it up. There is a capacity problem in western Canada. Itís apparently not a procedure that can simply be done here in the Yukon, although we are examining that, too.
Ms. Duncan: So as I understand it, is this $610,000, just to go back to the beginning of the question, a trust fund in accordance with the health accord, like the immunization?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, Mr. Chair. Itís a trust fund thatís drawn down. It would appear that the reason that the federal government is using these trust funds is because of the uncertainty surrounding their term of office, and what theyíve done is theyíve moved a lot of funds, after they are approved in a budget cycle, into a trust fund so that they can be drawn down as and when needed, subject to conditions that exist and are agreed to when this trust fund is set up.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím interested in the information surrounding ó the minister used the phrase ďsubject to the conditionsĒ when the trust fund is set up. Thatís what Iím interested in knowing. What are those conditions? Are they that the territory submits a specific proposal or that the territory submits a list of, yes, this is where weíve spent the money and bills weíve paid? How are they working, and are these trust funds three yearsí worth of funding, two years, or does that vary as well?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The trust fund was set up as a result of a First Ministers 2004 northern health fund, which was negotiated. Itís $150 million over five years for all three territories. It breaks down differently for the various territories. If you want to look at the first $75 million over five years for three territories, the Yukon only receives $1.6 million per year for the three years, and thatís for medical travel costs. Nunavut was the territory that indicated their total expenditures, and for the life of me, it was unbelievable as to what costs they were incurring. Virtually everyone goes to Ottawa or the southern areas for virtually every medical procedure, even for the dentist, Mr. Chair.
The uninsured health benefits or the programs are paid for through this fund to augment what they are currently paying. There is a capacity problem in Nunavut that thankfully we do not have to contend with. Their population is slightly less than the Yukonís. There are just slightly less than 30,000 individuals who reside there, and I suspect that their health care needs are at least equal to ours, Mr. Chair. But given the spread out vastness of the areas, especially when some sort of outbreak occurs in a community, they virtually end up medevacing the whole community out to a major centre. It is a very, very costly undertaking.
If you look at that medical travel fund, the health access fund is $65 million over five years to the three territories.
They must be coming to pick up the Member for Kluane, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Order please. I will ask the member to refrain from making insulting comments, and ask him to retract that statement.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I can retract that statement, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I am just concerned with the health of the Member for Kluane, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Your concern is duly noted. The matter before us now is the Department of Health and Social Services, and I will ask you and encourage you to restrict your comments to the subject at hand.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As Minister of Health and Social Services, I do have a responsibility to ensure that health programs are properly administered, and if there is a safety issue, we do have to address that also, Mr. Chair.
But I thank you and I will abide by your ruling, Mr. Chair.
When we look at the other component, there is the $65 million over five years to all three territories. Again, the Yukon receives $4.3 million per year for the five years, so that is the capacity issue. Itís aimed at a number of areas: reducing reliance over time on the health system, strengthening local access to the services and building capacity to provide services right here in the Yukon. So, as I indicated earlier, weíre using it for a multitude of initiatives: buying capacity, building capacity and overall reducing wait time, and it is drawn down from the trust fund, as we demonstrate the program and as we show the federal government how itís going to be spent. Iím not sure of all the terms and conditions around the initiatives, but theyíre pretty straightforward, pretty easy to understand, and itís working. Weíre reducing wait times here in the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to come back to the reduced wait times in a moment. Iím very interested in how the money flows in these funds. The reason Iím asking these questions is that weíve had debates in this House when particularly Ottawa has not paid their health care bills and there has been forgiveness of some things because itís ďWell, we thought you should pay this; we didnít think you shouldĒ. Sometimes the federal government, no matter their political stripe, sets up these boutique programs that weíre then left stuck as a territorial government trying to fund.
On other occasions, they put broad terms for funds out and weíre busy taking the programs that we want as a territorial government and rewriting the proposal so it fits with the funding thatís available. At other times ó it may not be that those are the areas of priority ó itís proposal-driven. Sometimes we pay the bills and get reimbursed. There is a variety of envelopes of money and a variety of conditions attached to them.
I appreciate the minister outlining them and I will be interested in reading the Blues and sorting it out in the notes we got from the Finance minister already. I am very interested in the specific details about these funds.
Is the minister clear on the question that Iím asking? It is: how do we get the money? I would like to start with the $610,000 and the wait-time reduction. The minister pointed to hip replacement as a key area and said that there are quite a number of surgeries and procedures. I have two questions: how did we arrive at the $610,000? How do we get that money? Is there a specific proposal, for example, that says we are going to reduce hip surgeries? How did that get chosen?
Specifically, a last question related to this is one a constituent has asked me: how does a constituent or a patient provide feedback on a specialist that comes in? For example, for years and years and years, we have had a specific specialist who comes in to do eye surgery for glaucoma and cataracts. I note that we have at least three, I think, oncologists who come to the territory. What route does a patient have? If thatís the visiting specialist that comes in and that is the specialist he or she has waited to see, and the person is unhappy with that, but that is the visiting specialist that the Yukon has contracted with, what is the avenue for the patient?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite raises some very specific questions with respect to if a specialist is brought into the Yukon Territory to provide a medical procedure or some form of medical practice, and the individual in question, the patient, believes that theyíve erred. Their recourse is to the Yukon Medical Association. There is an appeal procedure there, or a complaint arrangement that can be followed.
That said, there are many occasions where an individual in for treatment doesnít agree with the prescribing physician or the health care provider and, in some cases, seeks a second opinion. Itís very difficult, in many cases, especially when youíre on a referral basis to a specialist, to get that second opinion, given the wait times.
I guess we currently donít have the luxury of a second opinion for many of the specialties. We end up having to take what we are given, more or less. Itís a publicly funded health system. The health care providers, the doctors, are, by and large, paid on a fee-for-service basis with additional arrangements made in the case where they come up to the Yukon to provide the services requested.
Thatís an area I havenít had a question in before, as to what does one do when one is not satisfied with the services provided to the patient by the specialists?
Iíll ask that question of the department to see if there is a procedure that can be followed and if there is anything outlined. If we go back to the funding, thereís a wide array of funding, as the member opposite pointed out. There are agreements, and sources of this funding are somewhat difficult to follow. A lot of it ó as the member opposite pointed out ó is boutique funding. The boutique funding came about as a result of the efforts of the premiers of the three northern territories meeting with Prime Minister Chrťtien in 2003, and that resulted in a $20 million health supplement being agreed to and flowing to the three northern territories. That can be interpreted as boutique funding because it is not in base and it expires at the end of the three-year term.
In addition to that, as a result of the First Ministers meeting in 2004, a northern health fund was negotiated. This results in $150 million over five years for the three territories. As I indicated earlier, there are three components to this northern health fund: medical travel fund, health access fund and the territorial working group fund.
The medical travel fund is to assist with managing the high medical travel costs, and the largest recipient of these funds will be Nunavut, Mr. Chair. Given the distances that they have to travel, I believe currently there are maybe nine or 11 ó I canít recall the number of doctors in Nunavut. Itís not a very high number, given their population.
The challenges that they face in Nunavut are quite large and extremely expensive. They do not have in place a lot of facilities. They do not have the health care providers and the numbers that are probably needed, and they rely heavily on medical evacuation to southern points for a multitude of treatments. A lot of them are reasonably basic treatments. But it would appear that any time there is an outbreak of any kind of influenza or any type of illness that runs through the smaller communities, it affects a great number of people to the point where they end up medevacing a significant number of the community members to a centre where they can be treated for their ailments.
Speaking with their minister of health, we have had medevac costs for one community in excess of $1 million per occurrence. So weíre not talking nickels and dimes here, Mr. Chair.
If we look at the health access fund, as we discussed earlier, itís aimed at reducing reliance on wait times in our health system, strengthening local access to services and building capacity. Thatís something that the Yukon has grabbed and is working on. We are enhancing capacity here as fast as we can move forward.
The suggestions come from the YMA, the Yukon Hospital Corporation and others. They are examined and, if we can justify it, we move forward.
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: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May we have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, 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.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
The following document was filed April 14, 2005:
Swift River Lodge: non-conforming petition (undated) re† (Hardy)