Monday, December 5, 2005 — 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of International Volunteer Day
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to volunteers who contribute so much to building healthy families and communities here in the Yukon and around the world. The United Nations officially recognizes December 5 as a date to recognize and celebrate volunteers for their contributions and dedication to their communities around the world.
In Canada, this year’s goal for International Volunteer Day is to collect stories about inspiring and exceptional volunteers. To assist in their national initiative, the Yukon Volunteer Bureau is inviting Yukoners to share stories about outstanding Yukon volunteers. Stories sent to the Yukon Volunteer Bureau by December 12 will be posted on the Volunteer Canada Web site for all to appreciate and entered into a draw for one of three subscriptions to Up Here magazine. Yukon government is proud to support the Yukon Volunteer Bureau with the annual funding because volunteers who give the gift of their time deserve recognition and support from the community around them — everything from training, resources and education to saying a simple thank you for a job well done.
We are aware that the Volunteer Bureau is offering Yukoners many opportunities to volunteer the gift of time during this holiday season, to be a northern light by bringing a little light to someone else’s life — now and throughout the year.
Yukon’s biggest volunteer story has yet to be told. I am referring to, of course, the tremendous volunteers’ story building at the heart of the 2007 Canada Winter Games that will take place in the Yukon just over a year from now. The games are volunteer-driven by the board of directors, host society managers, 13 division chairs and a whole raft of communities in each division. Volunteers hold the key decision-making positions and direct the work to be done. Right now, 350 planning volunteers are hard at work on Canada Winter Games in the Yukon. Some of these volunteers have been fully engaged for one, two and three years already.
This government sincerely thanks them for their work. The host society is currently looking for another 100 planning volunteers to develop detailed plans for how each individual venue will operate, from the Grey Mountain biathlon site to the Canada Games Centre.
By the end of February — one year away from welcoming visitors from across Canada — the host society will start recruiting game time volunteers by inviting Yukoners to make their contributions to the games. The target is 5,000 of these volunteers.
Mr. Speaker, this is a need, not a wish list. The host society is looking for timekeepers, ticket takers, greeters, medical staff, cafeteria servers, baggage handlers — 50 different job descriptions in all. The government can help fund the games and lend expertise, but the 2007 Canada Winter Games will only happen if Yukoners — lots of Yukoners — step up to the plate.
Are we worried, as we take time on this International Volunteer Day, to consider the massive volunteer effort Yukon has ahead in the next year? No, Mr. Speaker, we’re not. The Canada Winter Games is building on the Yukon’s strong volunteer tradition.
I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all the Yukoners who have volunteered in so many ways over the years. These volunteers have built up our communities in ways that give us great confidence that our small jurisdiction can successfully take on a really big volunteer project. That project, Canada Winter Games, will in turn bring with it an enormous opportunity to build a legacy for all future volunteers, a legacy of skilled, engaged citizens who will share what they have learned through their experience with the games in all their future volunteer activities. Yukon has an especially strong tradition for volunteer sport organizations that has seen us host national and regional events like Arctic Winter Games and the Canada Senior Games — events that have been resounding successes. Yukon proudly features an outstanding community of dedicated volunteers.
I invite all members of this House to join me in celebrating our past and current volunteers on this International Volunteer Day. As for the games, we’ll be telling and sharing those volunteer stories for years to come.
At this time I’d like to ask colleagues of mine to recognize Tracy Erman and Krista Mroz from the Yukon Volunteer Bureau.
Mr. Cardiff: I rise on behalf of the opposition parties on this side of the House to pay tribute to the many volunteers in the Yukon on this International Volunteer Day. The Yukon would be a very different place without our volunteers of all ages. Nearly every event we attend and every service we take advantage of has volunteer energy and commitment behind it. We see volunteers assisting in sports, the arts, in churches, in schools, in all governments through boards and committees and in causes such as health issues, Third World development and supporting women and children, only to name a few of the areas.
Volunteerism has impacted all our lives positively through organizations and institutions we deal with. Volunteers are needed more and more in a world where cutbacks in services seem to be the norm. We want to bring special attention to the many non-government organizations that have volunteer boards and dedicated employees. Many NGO boards in the Yukon find themselves struggling to respond to the need in their particular areas of expertise. Employees of these boards carry out much needed coordination, education and management of programs in the daily chores of running the services without being paid what they would receive in government programs. Because of this, the volunteer boards find recruitment of competent employees an ongoing problem. The turnover is great and the report on the Canada volunteerism initiative has stated that the total number in Canada’s volunteer force is eroding.
Reliance on a shrinking number of people is neither wise nor sustainable. Volunteer recruitment, retention, support and recognition must be enhanced. It’s interesting to note that only one to two percent of the territorial budget is dedicated to assisting NGOs. We must remember that having NGOs and volunteers is a good deal for the government. Many of the services that would otherwise be provided by government are being mounted by less-costly organizations. Volunteers are recognized by governments with nominations and awards, but we should stress that real support for non-government organizations and their volunteers comes with a dollar sign.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to all Yukon volunteers, boards, committees and their employees for staying there through the difficulties. As mentioned by the minister, International Volunteer Day is being recognized by the Yukon Volunteer Bureau, taking up on a Canadian volunteer initiative project. They’re encouraging Yukoners to be a northern light by sharing stories about volunteerism. So if people have stories about volunteers who have excelled in their volunteerism, they would like to hear that. They want to recognize those people and post the stories on the Web site. There will be a draw and some prizes distributed as well.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I invite all members of the Assembly to join me in welcoming four honourable people from the people of Haines Junction to the gallery. They are, in order of seating from our left to right, Ms. Fran Graham and two members from the St. Elias Seniors Society, Joann Graham and Marion Wakefield. Also, the executive director of the society, Patty Moore.
Speaker: Are there any other introductions of visitors?
Are there returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the HERC evaluation report.
I also have for tabling the Fleet Vehicle Agency 2004-05 annual report.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there returns of committees?
Petition No. 11 — received
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, and honourable members of the Assembly, I have had the honour to review a petition, being Petition No. 11 of the First Session of the 31st Legislative Assembly, as presented by the acting government House leader on December 1, 2005. This petition meets the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Speaker: Petition No. 11 is accordingly deemed to be read and received.
Are there any petitions to be presented?
Petition No. 12
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I’m pleased to present a petition signed by 368 people in support of a seniors facility for the Kluane region. I’d like to start by recognizing the good work done by the members of the St. Elias Seniors Society, based in Haines Junction, for organizing this petition.
The petition reads as follows:
“To the Yukon Legislative Assembly:
“This petition of the undersigned shows that the following residents of the Kluane region, particularly seniors and elders, support the urgent need for a regional seniors care facility in Haines Junction. The facility’s design must meet the needs of Kluane seniors as derived from public consultation with them and others in the region.
THEREFORE, the undersigned ask the Yukon Legislative Assembly to urge the territorial government to appropriate without delay the resources necessary to accommodate the consultations followed by funding within the next territorial mains budget (2006-07) sufficient to construct the facility within that fiscal year.”
Mr. Speaker, all members in this Assembly are familiar with this issue. It has been discussed in each sitting since the last election and on some previous occasions. The need for this facility was identified as the top priority for the Kluane region during the last election campaign and it was recognized as such by all candidates for each of the parties. The former Minister of Health and Social Services is very familiar with this issue and will recall a public meeting held in Haines Junction on May 25 of this year when scores of seniors, elders and others turned out at two meetings he held that day. People delivered a common message: there is a clear need for a seniors facility to serve the north Alaska Highway region.
The Premier is also very familiar with this issue. Not only did I bring it to his personal attention within a few days of the last election, it has been raised at every meeting he has held in Haines Junction and other communities along the north highway since that time.
This issue dominated the rescheduled October 24 Cabinet tour meeting held in Haines Junction. There was a general sense of some positive developments at that meeting. One of them was how the Premier was prepared to go further than his Minister of Health and Social Services, who believed there wasn’t a justified need for such a facility and would only commit to re-examine the need in three years’ time. The Premier committed to get back to the seniors group right away and consult with them about the facility. The members of the St. Elias Seniors Society are eager to work with the Yukon government to advance this project and are still waiting to hear directly from anyone. They would very much appreciate the designation of someone to talk directly to them. Not hearing directly from a designate has led to concern and speculation. There is talk that the facility will be designed after Dawson’s proposed new 10-bed multi-level care facility and more talk that it will be reduced to a six-unit assisted-living complex.
As promised at the meeting and as stated in the petition, the government must involve the seniors in the consultations with respect to the design of a new facility and the needs it would service. People are wondering with whom the government has decided to consult. Perhaps when the Minister of Health responds to this petition, he will address these matters. Governments across the land need to meet the needs of the most rapidly growing part of Canada’s population. Fuelled by the aging baby boomers, the seniors demographic is growing at twice the rate of our general population. The need for infrastructure programs and services in the Yukon is much greater than what is currently provided. The Yukon government must place a higher priority on meeting the growing needs of our seniors across this territory of ours.
Speaker: Are there any further petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Notices of motion.
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to protect the integrity of public services in the territory by adopting a clear policy against privatization within the Yukon health care system, and by abandoning its ill-advised consideration of public/private partnerships for the construction, ownership or management of public infrastructures such as schools, hospitals, jails, office buildings, roads and bridges.
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Commissioner in Executive Council to cause an inquiry to be made under the authority of the Public Inquiries Act into all matters connected with and relating to the conduct of the public’s business of the Yukon by the Government of the Yukon, its officials and agents in the matter of the recreational complex in the Town of the City of Dawson.
THAT the board of inquiry be instructed to take note of the followig:
(1) The Report of Forensic Audit and Financial Review [Forensic Report] of the Town of the City of Dawson [Dawson] published on March 9, 2005, prepared by Doddington Advisors Inc. under the authority of the Yukon Legislative Assembly makes several references to a recreational complex [facility] in the municipality, financed through capital funding agreement #99-0727;
(2) the forsensic report contains repeated references to deficiencies in the facility’s project management practices generally, and to deficiencies in due diligence owning to a project of this magnitude specifically
(3) the Government of Yukon did appoint and engage a project management team whose express purpose and duty it was to ensure that
(a) the residents of Dawson receive a fully operational facility, and
(b) the taxpayers of Yukon receive value for money for their contribution to this facility; and
(4) the structure constructed in Dawson under the direction of the government’s project management team is, as of this date, not functional to the standards to which it was designed, and all efforts made to this date to correct the facility’s many deficiencies have failed, with the results being that
(a) the residents of Dawson are left with a facility that is not fully operational and
(b) the taxpayers of Yukon have not received value for the money they have contributed to this facility;
THAT the board of inquiry be instructed to submit an interim report of its findings to the Commissioner in Executive Council not later than March 31, 2006;
THAT the Commissioner in Executive Council cause the interim report of the board of inquiry to be tabled in the Legislative Assembly on the next sitting day following its receipt by the Commissioner in Executive Council; and
THAT if the Legislative Assembly is not sitting at such time as the Commissioner in Executive Council receives the interim report, the Commissioner in Executive Council cause the interim report to be forwarded to all Members of the Legislative Assembly, thereafter make the interim report public, and subsequently present the report to the Legislative Assembly at the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to include an assessment of the natural capital of any area being considered for large-scale development and use the principle of natural capital as an integral part of the comprehensive land use planning in the territory.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Health care in remote communities
Mr. McRobb: Earlier this year when a minister of the government publicly attacked employees of the Department of Education, the Premier demanded an apology from that minister. Recently the Premier himself has attacked community health care workers. At the annual meeting of the Yukon Medical Association, the Premier said the state of health care in our remote communities is deplorable.
The Premier has had nearly two weeks to apologize or at least to explain his remarks and hasn’t done so. Why does the Acting Minister of Health and Social Services seem to endorse the Premier’s attack on these hard-working, dedicated professionals?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Unfortunately, what the Member for Kluane did not point out was that the Premier did express concern for the state of First Nation health in Canada and the north. This, however, was not a criticism of Yukon’s public service; it was not a criticism of Yukon’s health care professionals — to the contrary.
Mr. Speaker, to that end, this government acknowledges and appreciates and values the contributions made by each of our doctors, nurses and all the health care professionals in the territory.
Mr. McRobb: The minister responsible for the Public Service Commission just stood up and basically read a briefing note and did not answer the question. Perhaps she has noticed an open letter from the Yukon Employees Union expressing outrage from health care professionals across the Yukon at the remarks made by the Premier.
The union is demanding an immediate apology. Why won’t the minister stand up to the Premier and insist that he withdraw his derogatory remarks directed at these dedicated community health care workers?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, the Premier did acknowledge concern and express concern for the state of health care in Canada, particularly First Nation health in Canada and the north. Just for the record, this in no way, shape or form, was a criticism of health care professionals delivering services. Our health care professionals in the north do a very good job day in and day out on behalf of citizens of the Yukon.
The Premier in his address to the Medical Association did discuss many of the determinants of poor health in First Nation communities. As examples, as members opposite are fully aware, there are the issues of inadequate First Nation housing, inadequate potable water systems in many First Nation communities across the country. Mr. Speaker, this is a national problem, and the Premier has acknowledged that. This was by no means any indication of inadequate delivery of services by our health care professionals. We very much appreciate the job that they do on a day in and day out basis; it is very much valued.
Mr. McRobb: It sounds like she is endorsing the attack by the Premier. Now, the Premier told the YMA about factors other than the doctor shortage contributing to the poor state of First Nation health care. The implication left with professionals in the field, with the union and with the public is the existence of substandard care in our rural communities. The Premier apparently thinks First Nations receive different treatment from everyone else. Mr. Speaker, nurses and other health care professionals in rural health centres work on call 24 hours a day, seven days per week, on behalf of everyone in the communities. They deserve praise, not insults. This minister now has the opportunity to repair some of the damage the Premier has done. Will she now apologize on his behalf for the degrading and inflammatory statements directed at our front-line health care workers?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To further expand on the Deputy Premier’s comments — the discussion of the First Ministers meeting has recognized some very alarming First Nation health statistics. The member opposite is correct that the staff deserves high praise for what they do, but when we look at First Nation infant mortality rates, they are almost 20 percent higher than other Canadians. We look at the fact that First Nation Canadians are three times more likely to have type 2 diabetes, and we look at a First Nation suicide rate that can be anywhere from three to 11 times higher than that of other Canadians.
As political leaders in Canada, it is our collective responsibility to address these very serious issues and statistics. For the member opposite to not discuss them is simply not an option.
Question re: Public Service Commission personnel policy
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. It is a policy question not a personnel question, so I hope the minister will not resort to a tired old answer about staying out of personnel matters.
The question is about what she considers her responsibility as minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. Does the minister believe she has any responsibility to ensure that the policies and practices of the Public Service Commission are fair to government employees?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: As minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, I certainly take great pride in my job. I certainly have great respect for the services that the Public Service Commission provides on behalf of the citizens of the Yukon. They do work hard. We value the contribution of each of our employees and I certainly pay them much respect.
Mr. Hardy: I’d like to go on record that, once again, the minister did not answer the question that was directed at her.
Last week I drew the minister’s attention to the situation of a qualified worker being denied employment because of an unrelated legal issue. The Public Service Commission even enlisted the services of the Justice department to convey that decision.
The minister has refused to answer any questions about what seems to be a policy, or at least a practice, of muzzling and intimidating employees who dare to stand up for their basic rights. My question is: what, if anything, has the minister done to look into this situation since I raised it last week, or has she passed her ministerial responsibility on to someone else?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: The member opposite knows full well — the leader of the official opposition should know full well — that I, as the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission and each of our members — the elected, political, executive arm of government — do not get involved in personnel matters, nor do we discuss personnel matters on the floor of the Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, as minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, as I stated last week in response to the member opposite’s questions, we did confirm there is no policy linking hiring to pursuing a lawsuit against the Government of Yukon. We undertook to do that and that was confirmed.
If there are grievances or disputes about the actions of the Public Service Commission or any department under delegated hire, there are a number of avenues individuals can pursue.
Mr. Hardy: We really have to question if this minister is even engaged in doing her job, because she was put in a position to do something, especially when there’s an injustice shown. This minister is very quick to insist she doesn’t interfere. This is the very same minister who didn’t think twice about interfering in a vehicle impoundment a few years back. Of course, that was a private citizen: maybe it’s a different story with this minister.
Last week the Premier promised an immediate response if there was a policy that denied employees their legal rights, but all we’ve heard since that promise has been the sound of stonewalling. It’s time for this minister to demonstrate her responsibility. Will the minister review all the facts of this situation and report back to the Legislature what she is doing to ensure that fair policy and fair practice are being followed? Will she at least make that commitment?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I, as minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, and we as elected members on this side of the House — the executive and the political arm of government — do not get involved with personnel matters. That is exactly why we have a Public Service Commission. We did undertake research in response to the member opposite’s questions, and it has been confirmed that there is no policy linking hiring to pursuing a lawsuit against the government. Furthermore, if there are disputes about the actions of our Public Service Commission, the agency who is responsible for overseeing hiring decisions within the Government of the Yukon, or by a department under delegated hire, there are a number of avenues for individuals to pursue. There are grievance procedures under the collective agreement that was negotiated between the unions and the government. There are complaint procedures for managerial and confidential exclusions, for people outside the Public Service Commission, who feel aggrieved by an alleged decision. There are provisions under the Ombudsman Act to lay a complaint. There is also the opportunity for legal action. Again, the government upholds the right of the individual to access the courts that can uphold remedies.
Question re: Dawson City council elections
Mr. Mitchell: I have some questions for the Minister of Community Services on the fact that Dawson City has had no democratically elected mayor and council for the past 18 months. The Yukon Party government, under the direction of the MLA for Klondike, fired the previous mayor and council. Since then, the residents have been without local government. Now that the MLA for Klondike is no longer pulling the strings, there is really no excuse for the government not to hold an election. On top of that, the order-in-council for the Dawson supervisor runs out at the end of the year. In fact, that orders says a new council has to be in place no later than December 31 of this year. It is clear that the government is not going to meet that target.
When is the stalling going to end and an election of a new council going to happen?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with the trustee in Dawson City, and we’re reviewing their financial situation. We have a very serious situation in that particular town, as the member opposite well knows. We are working with the trustee to develop a financial plan that will assist the town in getting toward being self-sufficient, and we anticipate that this may take place early in the new year. We are awaiting the review from the accountants on the financial books of the Town of Dawson City after December 31. Once we are in possession of those, we’ll be able to move forward.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, that’s just not good enough. The residents of Dawson waited for 18 months while the Yukon Party and the former Deputy Premier fought over how the city should be run. That fight is now over. It is time for the government to move ahead with elections.
On October of this year, the Premier told Dawson residents that the government was looking at five options for restoring a council in Dawson. All the options include more money for the city. Typical of this open and accountable government, the Premier refused to make those options public. I’m asking the minister to do that today. There are five options on the table. Will the minister make these secret options public today? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I was not at that public meeting, but in any event, we are working with the trustee on options available to assist the City of Dawson on getting out of their financial predicament. As I stated previously, until such time as we get a financial report from their accounting firm, we won’t be in a position to go out there and determine just exactly what’s required for them to get on their feet. But I can assure the member opposite that we are very anxious to move forward on this particular project. I am looking forward to the day when the keys can be handed back to the new mayor and council of Dawson City.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, no more so I would think than the residents of Dawson. They must be looking forward to it, too, and wondering when that could happen.
We can have elections in Afghanistan and in Iraq, but the Yukon Party cannot bother to hold elections in Dawson City. It’s an embarrassment to all Yukoners and particularly to this government. For the last 18 months, this government allowed a power struggle in the Cabinet between a former Deputy Premier and his colleagues to take precedence over the democratic rights of voters in Dawson. It’s a blatant abuse of authority. When is the minister going to provide a date — a date — for the Dawson election?
Speaker: Before the honourable member answers the question, the phrase “blatant abuse of authority” is getting awfully close to being unparliamentary. I’m loathe to interrupt the member. In the future, please just consider that.
Minister of Community Services, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would like to ask the member opposite to maybe do some research on the City of Dawson’s finances. They commenced their difficulties some time ago, well before this government came into power. The situation was enhanced by the member opposite’s party also during that process. I would have to say that most of the difficulties arose during that period of time.
As we came into power, we provided a supervisor to take over the operation of the City of Dawson’s finances. We provided him with the full authority of the act. We made a change later on to determine just exactly what was really going on in Dawson. A new supervisor was appointed and we found out that the finances of the City of Dawson were in terrible shape and beyond the point of trying to get it off. So, a position was taken and we looked at trying to assist the existing council at that time but it became very apparent once we received the financial information that they were broke. Thus, we had to take the action that we took. In the meantime, we are working very hard to get on to that process, to assist them.
Question re: Carmacks water
Mr. Fairclough: Reports from the community of Carmacks say the water supply is unsafe. There are health risks to the people drinking water. Over a period of years, one-third of the wells have been infected with bacteria, at one time or another, in the First Nation community. The expert who tested the water for some years says that some of the wells, “… are not a safe source of water …”
Will the Acting Minister of Health and Social Services tell the House what this government is doing about this health hazard?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: There are several levels to examine this question on, and one is the medical officer of health, which is arguably one of the most powerful positions in any government — who has the right to make very sweeping rulings and such on that. To date, that member has not reported that as a real problem.
For the record, the member opposite does raise some interesting points. Again, this goes back to the guarantee of our federal government to provide potable water for First Nations in rural communities. To date, of course, other than several announcements of that, we’ve seen no money flowing to that end.
That’s another very good question to ask federal candidates of all stripes when they appear at your doorway.
Mr. Fairclough: In other words, the minister is not doing anything about this health hazard.
The First Nation has done its best to follow the recommendations in its community water supply evaluation reports. It has purchased new equipment, and it’s doing the chlorination, as required. There are still problems and, of course, that demands immediate attention.
The First Nation has applied to the municipal rural infrastructure fund to clear up this problem once and for all with the low-pressure water system. That application was rejected.
Can the Minister of Community Services tell us why his representative on the committee — the MRIF management committee — did not support this application?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, we form a portion on that committee, on the approval process, along with the Government of Canada on this particular committee, and all applications are reviewed and their priority is based on the application process itself.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, the application was rejected and I hope that the reason for the rejection isn’t because the First Nation and the Village of Carmacks aren’t getting along very well.
Now, Carmacks is very concerned about this problem. The Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation sees this situation as very serious and is holding a meeting on this issue this coming Wednesday. The Minister of Community Services has been invited. Will the minister be bringing some good news to the community on Wednesday? Will he be telling them that their MRIF application has now been accepted so that this health hazard can be cleared up once and for all? Will he be bringing that good news?
Hon. Mr. Hart: First of all, Mr. Speaker, I don’t have authority to make changes with regard to the MRIF process that has been designated by that committee. They make those choices and selection of projects under the MRIF program, and therefore I would have no variance on that particular project.
And for the member opposite, I have not received an invitation to the Wednesday meeting.
Question re: Obesity in children
Mr. Fairclough: A year ago I asked a question in the House about what this minister was doing to alleviate obesity among our children — our schoolchildren. Now, childhood obesity in Canada has tripled since 1981 and up to about 32 percent of Canadian children are overweight. In Yukon, obesity is rising faster than the national rate. Perhaps the minister can update us today on his actions about this serious problem. Will the Minister of Education tell the House what he has done in the past year to fight the growing problem of obesity in children in the Yukon schools?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The parents of every family have as much responsibility to deal with this issue as any school teacher does. I believe that a lot of the health within a family starts at home and for the parents to send healthy lunches to school. I know that there are plenty of exercise periods in the school system, in which children do get the opportunity to get their daily exercise. Mr. Speaker, I think the solution is to send healthy lunches to school. Thank you.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, when we asked the minister about this problem about a year ago, the minister blamed the parents, as he is doing again here today. He said at the time it only makes good common sense that it was the parents’ fault, and he said the education system was not to blame. But physical education is not a priority in our schools. Some schools are still doing promotions by offering junk food and pop as rewards. The Canada Games Centre has at least stopped trying to induce people to buy chips and chocolate bars. So will the minister follow the recommendations of the Yukon Medical Association and other experts? Will he ban junk food and make physical education mandatory in our schools?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, Mr. Speaker, I would be the first to encourage any public infrastructure not to be promoting junk food. I believe that it would be very appropriate for the school council to come forward with recommendations with regard to healthy foods.
Mr. Fairclough: He is the Education minister — he can give some directions. If this is truly a priority of his, then that direction can come from the minister.
Now, Mr. Speaker, trans fats are a public health issue. Diabetes levels are increasing. Last year the former Minister of Health and Social Services stated that the government was examining school models in other jurisdictions. He led us to believe that something was being done.
Now, a report a year ago on physical education programs offered in Yukon schools says that physical education needs attention, especially in rural communities and for special-needs children. It recommends that there should be training for generalist teachers and that activity time each and every day be allocated. Is the Minister of Education following the recommendations of this report and monitoring the situation, as recommended?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Speaker, there are adequate exercise periods in the school system.
Again, I believe that the cafeterias are aware that junk foods are not totally acceptable by all members of society. I have all the confidence that the schools are doing their best to ensure that the obesity issue is considered very seriously.
Question re: Occupational health and safety regulations
Mr. Cardiff: During a recent appearance of Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board officials in the Legislature, we found out about changes that have been made to the proposed occupational health and safety regulations. These are the regulations that languished on the former minister’s desk for three years. These new changes were done by a B.C. consultant at the request of the former minister. The employers and workers stakeholder groups were not consulted about these changes. The Federation of Labour and the Injured Workers Alliance were not consulted. These groups were consulted in the original drafting of the occupational health and safety regulations. Why were they not consulted about the changes?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To be honest — of course, I’ve only had this portfolio for the last week — the recommendations are going through Cabinet and, when they’re done going through Cabinet, they will be a public document. I think all the stakeholders have been involved in this and it’s moving forward into Cabinet.
Mr. Cardiff: That’s the point of my question: they’re going to Cabinet; they’re going to become law. The people who are concerned about them and were consulted in the original consultation haven’t been consulted.
What we found out from the board’s chair about the changes is that some of the regulations have been scrapped in favour of codes of practice. A code of practice doesn’t have anything in law to back them up.
Is the acting minister planning to pursue his predecessor’s policy of watering down the regulations by turning them into nothing more than guidelines?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To answer the member opposite, we’re certainly not prepared to do that. We’re moving forward through Cabinet, and once they’re out of Cabinet, they will be public documents.
Mr. Cardiff: The occupational health and safety regulations are there to set the workplace rules for employees and employers in law. At the 2004 annual information meeting, the board chair recognized the importance of and need for these regulations in providing safe workplaces, and that they should be in law. At the very same meeting, a representative of the Construction Safety Association asked to be involved in the re-drafting of any changes.
All of these changes have been made; they’re going to Cabinet; they’re going to become law. Why is the minister taking his marching orders from his micromanaging predecessor and proceeding without the participation and input of all stakeholder groups?
Hon. Mr. Lang: All stakeholders have been involved, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, I have the floor.
All stakeholders have been involved in this. This has been a long process. It is going to Cabinet. Once it is through Cabinet, it will be a public document.
Question re: Dawson City bridge costs
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Economic Development. Under this minister’s leadership, the Yukon Party was set to use a public/private partnership to build a bridge across the Yukon River at Dawson. It was another legacy project of the MLA for Klondike. The Liberal caucus took the position that the bridge was too expensive and it should not go ahead. We were wrong, according to the government. This is what the minister said on November 8, 2004: “There are a number of ways to develop this bridge. One could be the Liberal concept of a $50-million bridge — or a public/private partnership that will save this government millions and be in the range of $25 million to $30 million.”
A year later, the Yukon Party’s plan to build this bridge is in tatters. Will the minister confirm that the bids on the bridge under the Yukon Party plan came in at approximately $50 million, just like we said it would?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: For the member opposite, in a rare moment of pointing something out, I suppose, the bridge was on the table long before the Member for Klondike was elected to office. It was heavily commented on by his predecessor, the leader of the Liberal Party. I draw the member — if he continues his reading as he learns his job — to look at Hansard in its entirety. One of the things that has been happening on the opposite side of the House is continually throwing out different dollar values. Every dollar value from $1.29 to $100 million is probably in there at some point. So the member can always go back and say that he was accurate at some point or another. That’s not a reasonable way to do that.
We also looked at developing a policy for public/private partnerships, and we looked at a variety of ways of doing it. The decision was made that the P3 model was not going to fit at this point in time and, therefore, I can confirm that that is off the table. Will we look at that in the future? Yes, Mr. Speaker, we will, in all of its various forms.
Mr. Mitchell: Yes, experience is an interesting thing. When answering questions, the newly acting ministers like to talk about how little experience they have in those portfolios and then point out the experience of others.
But, Mr. Speaker, the former Deputy Premier confirmed on the floor of this House last Tuesday that in fact the tenders for the bridge did come in at close to $50 million, just like we have been saying. This project was bungled right from the start. Halfway through the process, the government decided they wanted to build the bridge as a P3, or public/private partnership. They then managed to disqualify the company that had the most participation from Yukon First Nations and one of the largest engineering companies in the world. They also hired a company from British Columbia, Partnerships BC, to help them through the process. It’s my understanding, from reading Hansard, that that company was paid $500,000 for their help. There have been other costs, of course: staffing costs, participation in the Water Board hearing — it all adds up. Three years into this mess, I believe, we’ve spent $1.4 million and we still have no bridge — so much for the good fiscal management of the Yukon Party —
Speaker: Order please. Can the member ask the question?
Mr. Mitchell: Can the Minister of Economic Development confirm that $1.4 million has been spent to date on this fiasco?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It’s difficult to pick out a dollar value with accuracy, although, as I mentioned before, we can certainly go back and look at everything from probably $1.29 to, I think, $80 million that the opposite side had claimed at one point.
We have to look back at the totality of that bridge and take it back a good 10 or 15 years and, as I mentioned before, the member opposite’s predecessor, the leader of the Liberal Party at one point had it, I believe, as a $20-million bridge and speculated on tolls. When you start looking at the totality of that, I have to admit that I have never gone back and worked out what we have invested in looking at that bridge over 10 or 15 years. I believe there is a very good report, however, on the Mayo Dawson transmission line, a product of the Liberal government and how far that went sideways, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Mitchell: I think the members opposite should have gone with that $1.29 model. Perhaps that was the two-T — the Tinkertoy model — as opposed to the P3.
It’s bad enough that $1.4 million has been spent to date on this Yukon Party boondoggle. It gets worse. Even after a decision was made to cancel the project this summer, the government has continued to spend money on the project. As I mentioned, the government participated in a recent Water Board hearing into this project. That costs money. There are also continuing engineering and environmental work. That costs money. The government has already cancelled the project, but they continue to spend the money.
As I said earlier, the Yukon Party has already spent, or wasted, $1.4 million on this project, from my reading of Hansard. The time has come to end the money being thrown at this disaster. Will the minister commit today that no more money will be wasted on the bridge to nowhere?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The bridge from nowhere on the highway to nowhere, which was going to replace the ferry to nowhere — here we go with the rhetoric again. We have cancelled the continuation of looking at it as a P3 partnership. We have not cancelled looking at the bridge and its completion of a highway system and the infrastructure that’s necessary for this territory. We still have to look at it in terms of the replacement of the ferry, the annual operation of the ferry, which is close to $1.4 million — maybe that’s the part of Hansard the member was reading.
Mr. Speaker, I do feel sort of badly about pointing out — if the member opposite wants to talk about boondoggles — the Mayo-Dawson transmission line. I think if he goes back and reads Hansard and all the things said there about how it could not possibly go wrong — for the member opposite, the major difference between a thing that might go wrong and things that cannot possibly go wrong, is when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong, goes wrong, it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.
We continue to look at the bridge. We have shown that the P3 policy does not meet the standards of this particular project. That does not mean that we won’t continue to look at the bridge, which has been looked at now for many, many years.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has elapsed. We’ll proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, 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 acting government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. The department under debate is the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We’ll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 17 — Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06 — continued
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. We’ll continue with general debate of Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Department of Energy, Mines and Resources — continued
Hon. Mr. Lang: In going back to last Thursday on the debate on Energy, Mines and Resources, I’d like to remind the members in the House here today that we’re requesting $1.858 million for the 2005-06 supplementary. Of this total, $634,000 is for operation and maintenance, and of course $1.224 million is for capital.
We are working on the resource end of the Yukon government, and of course we cover a very large jurisdiction. In forest resources, an interim wood supply development plan was created in partnership with the Kaska Forest Resources Stewardship Council. This council has recommended this three-year plan, which will identify $290,000 cubic metres of harvest opportunity.
In agriculture, we are introducing a number of new programs for industry under the Canada Yukon agricultural policy framework — APF. Through the APF, we are able to support an application by the Organic Growers and Yukon Agricultural Association to set up the new and very successful Fireweed Farmers Market in downtown Whitehorse.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I believe the House rules prevent unnecessary repetition. The paragraphs just read by the minister are verbatim from Thursday afternoon. He is now talking about agriculture and farmers markets. The question pertained to the pipeline. He’s not responding to the question. He is using this as a speech opportunity to the camera, or whatever, Mr. Chair, and that’s not within the rules.
Chair: Order please. Neither is it within the rules to impute false or unavowed motives identifying a possible rationale for why someone is doing something, which is against the Standing Orders as well.
Mr. Lang, continue on, keeping in mind the comments that were just raised.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I was just addressing some of the points that were brought up last Thursday to enhance the debate we have here in the House. We were talking about the pipeline and I would have gotten to the pipeline, if the member opposite had let me carry on.
At the end of Thursday, we were talking about the status of the Alaska Highway pipeline. The member opposite was very concerned about the date when actual construction would end. I reminded the member opposite that it would be driven by the producers. The producers tell us in government and they tell everybody who will listen that they’re looking at a 2012-14 completion date. That is a producers’ figure. It has nothing to do with the territorial government. That will certainly be a very tight fit because, as we all know in this House, there has not been a starting date triggered at this point. There are many challenges that have to be met by the producers.
The producers have options on where this pipeline would go. There’s the all-American route, which would be liquefied natural gas and it would go down the west coast to market — that’s an option that’s being pushed — and there’s an option, of course, of the Alaska Highway pipeline.
Those decisions have to be made, Mr. Chair. In saying that, the Yukon territorial government has gone to work to ensure that if that decision by the producers is triggered and tighter timelines are defined, we can move forward and address the larger issues that we in Yukon will face that day.
I remind the member opposite that when and if a pipeline is announced, there will be a window of opportunity from the time the announcement is triggered to when the pipeline will start. Yukon will use that time very well to make sure we can address the issues in front of us. Some of the issues, Mr. Chair, are large. We’ve got challenges in the socio-economic end of our constituency; we’ve got the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition; we’ve got a conceptual plan for an overall umbrella corporation that would involve public government — the territorial government. It would involve a partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations; it would involve the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, and of course NRCan, so that if and when we go out with our communication package, when we go out with all the studies that we are prepared to do to minimize the impact and maximize the benefits of this pipeline, we will not be duplicating things.
What is the job that the NRCan will do? What is the job that the public government will do? What will the Council of Yukon First Nations do? What will the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition do? We all have issues with this pipeline.
As we go out into the Yukon to do our specific assignments, we don’t want to find out at the end of the day that we have four or five different groups doing the same task. So what we’re doing is responsible, and what we’re doing is timely.
In answering the member opposite on what’s going to happen on the Northern Pipeline Act, what are the questions on the greenfield route — all those questions will be answered by the federal government, in partnership with the American government and also with the producers. Those are all things that have to be addressed. We have to have some regulatory certainty in Canada. The producers will demand that. We have also to learn from our neighbours, on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. They’re going through challenges. We are looking at that from the eyes of how we can learn from them on their project. Also, we’re very actively working with the NEB to make sure that the hearings on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline will include Yukon’s concerns. We have a huge resource in north Yukon that has to be taken into consideration. As I reminded the member opposite, we are part of Canada and part of the argument the Canadian government had when they talked about the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and, of course, the comparison of the Alaska Highway pipeline — at the end of the day, Canadian gas could not be stranded. It is very important that Yukon is taken into consideration in the mosaic of that decision.
At the end of the day, we have been very active as a participant in those hearings to make sure our voice is heard. We want to have access to the pipeline at a reasonable rate. Also, we want to have some of the public hearings held here in Whitehorse and we have a commitment to do that, so Yukoners can actually go to these meetings and address the Mackenzie Valley pipeline issue.
When we look at what we as a government have done, when you compare what the last government did, the Liberal government of the day spent a fair amount of time trying to address this pipeline issue in a very aggressive way and, at the end of the day, we’re to find out the producers will make a lot of these decisions.
We don’t sell ourselves short on contributing to that decision and that decision should benefit Yukoners. I’m sure the producers, whoever they are — whether it’s BP, ConocoPhillips or Exxon — are not going to minimize our input either. So, as we move along with this proposal and these challenges put in front of us, we’re going about it in a very rational way: we’re addressing the issues we can; we’re fighting the battles we can win; where it’s appropriate, we’re putting pressure on the decision-making bodies to try to move those decisions forward.
The Alaska decision on the stranded gas development act is something out of our control. The Alaskans have made an agreement with ConocoPhillips. That’s very positive, but that’s only one of three. There’s British Petroleum and Exxon Mobile, which are big players. They’re in the process of finalizing that. Whether it’ll be done this year — it doesn’t look likely as there’s only another month in this year — or probably in the new year, these decisions will be made. At that point, there will be a lot of decisions being made on the pipeline route.
Once the Alaska stranded gas development act is done and the State of Alaska makes some decisions, then the federal American government can get involved.
Certainly, I don’t understand most of the process that goes on in America, but I do understand jurisdictional issues, and Alaska has to address all its jurisdictional issues with the producers before the American government — the energy board — gets on board on this decision and moves forward.
We have a lot of work to do. The producers have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do as the Mackenzie Valley pipeline moves forward. We as a government are concerned that our interests are met, whether it’s in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline route and access to the pipeline for our resources. We certainly want to guarantee access for jobs, access for our companies to make sure they get full representation if and when this Mackenzie Valley pipeline comes down. Of course, understand that when the Alaska Highway pipeline is triggered, the Northwest Territories will be involved on the same level in terms of jobs and opportunities for companies.
Our government is working on a daily basis on the pipelines, making sure that whatever questions citizens have, we as government can answer them. We certainly understand the monster size of this project. I don’t think anybody in the Yukon will understand what will happen when that pipeline comes through. That’s a massive, massive job. I think that it’s going to take a lot more work on our side of the House to minimize the impacts of the pipeline and maximize the benefits. It’s a job that we have to do as government. I commend my department for the job they’ve done in the past, and I look forward to working with them on this project in the future.
Mr. McRobb: You know, my question — I’m looking at the Blues from Thursday — was: if the Mackenzie gas pipeline comes first, then what is the updated period of construction for this pipeline? It took the minister 20 minutes to respond, and we didn’t get a full answer even then. If he will live up to what he just said — they’re looking forward to providing answers to Yukoners — then perhaps he would put more effort into answering the questions directed at him during this opportunity.
Now, one might wonder why it’s so relevant to nail down the construction dates, and I want to speak to that for a moment, Mr. Chair. Here’s why: if the Mackenzie gas pipeline is actually constructed between 2009 and 2011, as the recent industry expert said, then about the earliest the Yukon pipeline could be constructed is starting in 2012. We know it would take at least two years, 2012 to 2014. Well, guess what? The agreement Foothills has for the easement expires before that period is over — I believe the date is September 20, 2012, if I recall. I don’t have the date in front of me. Mr. Chair, there has been a lot of anxiety about the expiry of that agreement in recent years. When the pipeline became an issue again about five years ago, some of the rationale for it proceeding was to actually construct the project before that agreement expired.
Nobody really questioned whether or not that can be done until recently, Mr. Chair, and this is very recent information we are dealing with here. The industry expert only spoke out a week and a half ago. I’ve seen the detailed proposal from Foothills in terms of a timeline that sets out the construction dates. I’ve asked the minister to give us dates because both can’t be constructed simultaneously — we know that. The minister has not responded to the question other than to say the completion date of the Yukon pipeline is expected to be 2012-14. What does he mean by that, and what information is he basing that on? We are not going to get that answer, because I have asked him two or three times already, so I’m going to answer for the minister. Those dates are based on outdated information, Mr. Chair. Those dates are the old dates that are included in TransCanada’s proposal to the Alaskan government in June of 2004. That timeline was pegged before the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline scheduling was tripped up recently. A lot of noteworthy events have occurred in the past year and a half since the timeline, from which the minister is still operating, was developed, and that’s where I am coming from. I am using the updated forecast. The minister is still back in 2004. If in fact the Yukon pipeline won’t be until 2011 and extended at least two years, to 2013-14, it raises the issue about the whole Northern Pipeline Agency, the whole easement rights and everything that TransCanada PipeLines or Foothills Pipe Lines hold.
The minister might say, “Oh, well, those agreements can be easily renewed.” Well, that is but one version of events, Mr. Chair. It may very well be. There is a lobby force to Ottawa that promotes another option — perhaps a greenfield option. Perhaps a greenfield option might hold more beneficial things for the Yukon and others in the territory. We don’t know because we haven’t had that discussion yet. This minister and this government are locked into promoting Foothills. This is a relatively recent development. Until last June, it would only say that it doesn’t make the decision; the federal government does; it is aware of two or three proposals, and so on.
Then suddenly in June, after Governor Murkowski yanked the chain of this government, it hopped to attention and said, “We support only the Foothills option.” There was no public discussion. Well, there are some big questions around that. Why did the government do that? What is it getting in return from Foothills or TransCanada for excluding the other options? I would like to know and I think other Yukoners would like to know. Why is it doing it in the face of opposition from the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition?
Mr. Chair, if you’re not aware, the APC has written all the heads of the big oil companies, plus the federal government, to contest what the Yukon government is saying. YTG is saying that we in the Yukon are unified behind the NPA, or Foothills proposal. Well, the APC disagrees.
I think there are some big questions around that, and the minister is staying mum on this. He won’t answer why. Maybe there should be an inquiry into it. Maybe an independent inquiry would produce some answers that need to be put on the public record, because something doesn’t smell good about this whole deal.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: The minister is taunting us now by calling out question — what about an answer from time to time? That would be nice.
He says their actions on the pipeline have been responsible and timely. Those are his exact words. I think a very credible case could be made completely to the contrary.
He gave his version of history and I agree with part of it. I would agree that the previous government did have a single focus on the pipeline, and too much so. As a matter of fact, Mr. Chair, efforts to diversify the economy were abandoned, all in favour of promoting the pipeline. It caused some concern. I recall expressing some concern that has been taken out of context by this minister. The concern was directed at — if we’re focusing only on one megaproject, what happens if it doesn’t happen? What are we left with?
The Yukon Party, on the other hand, took a completely opposite approach. It took a hands-off approach for the first three years. Then, suddenly, it changed its mind. It saw the writing on the wall; it saw how serious the proposal was; the Mackenzie line began to suffer delays; the producers were banging on the door of this government, requesting action; and, at the 11th hour, the Yukon Party was kicked into gear on this.
And the minister now believes that they’ve done a heck of a good job. Well, there has still been no discussion with Yukoners about this project. The government has a responsibility to protect Yukoners from the ravages of a project of this size. And I use the word “ravages”, Mr. Chair, because that is precisely what it could be in terms of impact on our local economy, our job market, culture, environment, fish and wildlife, and a number of other factors, including our infrastructure. The way these pipeline heads and others are talking in the south, the degree of traffic on our roads would basically ruin all our highways. So there needs to be a good discussion about what the impacts are and how the government can best mitigate those impacts. There has been no discussion. Now this government is in its final months, and it is too late, pretty well, to initiate a discussion now. That discussion should have already taken place.
So, Mr. Chair, the questions I have raised in this House about these types of impacts in government action are still very valid. The government has progressed very little in these areas. Instead, it’s focusing on certain actions with a high profile that it hopes will smooth over all these bumps along the way on the pipeline trail, such as — a couple of weeks ago, the government took the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations to Ottawa. Apparently the agenda included discussions with NRCan and officials about the pipeline.
Mr. Chair, I’m wondering why the government doesn’t get it. A month ago I tabled in this House several letters from the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition that expressed deep concern about being left out of discussions with the federal government. In particular, there was one letter that referred to a situation that included the Yukon government bringing the representative from CYFN into these discussions without the APC. Why did the government do it again? Does this government just not get it, or is it completely willing to insult the members of the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition by just ignoring its concerns, by ignoring its request to be part of the consultation with the federal government? Which is it? Let’s ask the minister this — he is chomping at the bit to answer a question. Let’s ask him this one. Why did the government repeat that mistake? Is it because it doesn’t know any better, or it doesn’t care about the concerns from the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition? Which is it?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I’d like to correct the member opposite. As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, if you want to talk about the APC, I’ve been on two trips to Ottawa with the membership. I’ve met with NRCan, Industry Canada, on both trips. That was over two years. We have funded the aboriginal pipeline group to the tune of over $300,000 to date. When the member talks about the greenfield and the NPA — in fact the only thing we have in front of us is the Northern Pipeline Act. There is no greenfield. There is no plan.
So when the member opposite goes off on a tangent about the greenfield, in fact he’s not reading the whole text. The fact is this government is working with what we have in front of us. The greenfield is a conversation between the producers.
As far as the act itself, it has a date of 2012 but, if you read the next chapter in it, it can be extended — as all these kinds of things are done on an international level. It can go from 2012 if they have to extend that.
So, we have to read everything before we can stand up in this House and debate. I find it interesting, when I listen to the member opposite talking about the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition and insinuating that this government doesn’t work with the APC. This government has funded them; this government has gone to Ottawa with them; this government supports them 150 percent.
So whatever the member opposite says about the APC, we’re funding it to the tune of over $300,000; we have taken them to Ottawa on many trips. The member opposite mentions the Premier’s trip to Ottawa, which was on a different issue, but they had an opportunity to meet with NRCan. They took the opportunity to represent Yukon — the Grand Chief and our Premier. It wasn’t specifically to go to Ottawa to talk about the pipeline. I’ve already done that twice with the APC.
If we get into the pipeline and the options and whatever happens, and dates, as the member opposite insinuates, certainly these dates will fluctuate. Again, the producer will make those statements. We have no pipeline. The industry has looked at it and said, “Let’s have a greenfield.” The Northern Pipeline Act, which is an international act between two countries — TransCanada has that. The route is defined through our jurisdiction. It has been protected from land claims. It’s third party interest.
With that came some obligations that TransCanada inherited from Foothills so that we can, as a territory, take a look at that act and see whether we can work within that act. In fact, according to NRCan, they had an overview of it. They say we can modernize it; we say that we have to go to work and see what we can get out of the NPA and work with NRCan to see how we can modernize that document and move forward.
But I tell the member opposite, we as a government have other issues out there too. We have mining that has gone up, Mr. Chair, by 212 percent on the production end and 175 percent on exploration. We have an oil and gas industry. We drilled two wells this year — two wells, Mr. Chair, that have been very beneficial to Yukoners. On the Kotaneelee, the member opposite talked about this money that Devon spent. The money that Devon spent goes through our whole community, Mr. Chair, and I remind the member opposite that by drilling that well and spending the $30 million — which is, by the way, the first that has been drilled in our jurisdiction in almost 30 years. At the end of the day, did it benefit us? Well, the public government made just under $3 million last year. The Champagne-Aishihik group — where he’s from — $116,000 —
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, the minister is drifting far away from the question, into an area that he has already got on the record about three times. He’s doing a speech about dollar dazzle again — I wish he would save it for his own time. Let’s get back to the discussion.
Chair: There is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Talking about drifting, the member opposite — we’re talking about our supplementary budget, that I’m presenting here in the House and the member opposite has taken to drifting.
What I want to remind the member opposite — and to get him off this closing date for this pipeline, on these very flexible dates we have. My question is: is there going to be a pipeline? That’s my question. It hasn’t been triggered. There are options out there. We’re going to work with whatever option that happens. But we can’t base our whole focus on the pipeline.
Now, I argue the point that he says we’ve got to be ready for whatever pipeline comes down, and I give him that. And we are working on that. But I want to remind the member opposite that there is more to our department, Energy, Mines and Resources, than the pipeline. Again I remind the member opposite that what we do is we fight the battles we can win. For us to get bogged down on the dates that the last pipe will be laid going into northern Alberta is a waste of my time in this House, because, in fact, those dates will be decided by the producers, Mr. Chair.
So what I’d like to do is get the member opposite focused on concrete things, move forward with our supplementary budget here, and let’s move on with the other budgets, large budgets that this government is putting in these supplementaries, and let’s be productive here today.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, we’d be a lot more productive if the minister would remember what the question was, and it had to do with this government’s mistreatment of the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition with respect to its lobby efforts to Ottawa. The minister didn’t even answer the question.
Now, he made a number of comments, and I’m going to dispute a few of them. He mentioned he had two trips with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition to the federal government, and that somehow countered the concern that I’ve identified. Well, those trips he referenced preceded the concern that was identified within the letters that I tabled.
The trips that he made, I believe, were in March and April of this year. The letters are dated June of this year. That’s when the APC stated its disagreement with this government’s approach. For the minister to go back in time and use examples to argue against this concern now just doesn’t add up.
The minister also said that his government has funded the coalition with more than $300,000 to date, and he keeps repeating that as if he believes that if the government throws enough money at this group, then it doesn’t deserve to express its concerns. I’ve got a problem with that, Mr. Chair — a big problem. I think the APC might have something to say about that as well. The minister also said there is no other project but for the NPA option by Foothills Pipe Lines/TransCanada PipeLines. Well, Mr. Chair, he is forgetting about all the instances when the Yukon Party government made reference to all the proposals. I know there is a news release from February this year that included a backgrounder that specifically identified the other proposals. I don’t have it in front of me at this time; otherwise I would read it. The government’s own actions contradicted what the minister just said.
The minister also said the agreement date can be extended, but he didn’t say how that can be done.
Basically it takes a decision of the federal government to change that, and that goes back to the point I made in the question. What if there’s a lobby effort made to the federal government against extending this agreement? What if the government agrees? How do we know this isn’t already happening? Maybe that’s why the minister doesn’t want to take the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition with him to Ottawa. Maybe that’s it.
Finally, the minister said he didn’t know the Premier was meeting with NRCan in advance of the trip, and that’s why they didn’t invite the APC along. I knew there was something wrong with that statement as I was hearing it, and I started to think back. I recall it was a Thursday afternoon when we were still in general debate, about two and a half weeks ago, when the Premier hadn’t yet left for the trip. This minister put on the record that the trip would include lobby efforts for the pipeline; the trip would include lobby efforts to fund APC for the pipeline — right in the record before the Premier left on that trip.
What does the minister have to say about that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The member opposite is going off on tangents here. We have worked with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition; we had trips in 2004 and 2005; we worked at funding them. We tried to get working with Canada. I know the member opposite doesn’t understand the intricate parts of the federal government. You don’t just arrive in Ottawa and meet with the minister responsible for NRCan. You don’t just arrive in Ottawa and demand a visit with the Prime Minister — that doesn’t happen.
These meetings are set up long in advance.
At the end of the day, we feel, as Yukoners, that the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, the group, should get funding from Ottawa. I remind the member opposite that the federal government came to the table when it came to the aboriginal group in the Mackenzie Valley and put $500 million on the table. We went down requesting a budget of $3.3 million over five years, and the federal government came up with $90,000 — $90,000 is a far cry from $500 million. But doesn’t mean that we’re not still in communication with the federal government, and we’re holding their feet to the fire to maximize the resources the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition can utilize.
Mr. Chair, we have a lot of work to do on this pipeline. The challenges are there.
As far as the NPA being extended, that will be for another government. That’s 2012, and again, for us to fight that battle in 2005 would be a waste of time. According to the schedule that the member opposite has worked out — that the pipeline would be finished in 2012-14. The member has mentioned those dates. Now, the dates have changed, and they change every week as he gets more input on the construction of this pipeline. There is a codicil in this agreement that it can be extended. If somebody comes out of the woodwork on the federal government level or the territorial government level or the provincial level or the American level that says that they don’t want to extend this act, I imagine that act will not be extended. But I will guarantee the member opposite that I will not be sitting here in 2012 when that discussion goes on. That is another day, for another government to address. Right now, the NPA is an act that is current. The date is 2012. That act was negotiated between two sovereign nations of Canada and America, and that is an act. That act included Foothills’ pipeline, which was the successful component in those negotiations.
If anybody in this House thinks that there wasn’t some kind of a negotiated bidding process to become the winner to get that NPA for Foothills, then they are living on another planet. That was negotiated years ago, Mr. Chair. The successful component was Foothills Pipe Lines. That is the only actual agreement in place now that defines the route. The route has been agreed to by all First Nations. It has been part of the land claim negotiations. It has been protected by third party. The route goes through our jurisdiction. Foothills — or TransCanada who now owns Foothills — has been paying taxes on that easement. That recognizes the fact that they have it. At the end of the day, the producers will decide whether the pipeline will go through our jurisdiction or if they have another avenue to extract the gas from Alaska. Being a betting person, I would say that the Alaska Highway pipeline right now is doable. If you were talking to corporations, they would say it is the most financially feasible course of action for moving the gas from Alaska to the southern states at the moment.
Have we got a challenge? Yes, we’ve got a challenge. Have we been working with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition? We have. To say that we haven’t is not factual, Mr. Chair. We have been working very actively with them. Do we involve them in meetings in Ottawa? Yes, we do. We do on a regular basis.
Does our Premier, when he goes to Ottawa and talks to that level of government, push the Alaska Highway pipeline? Certainly, he does. When he’s with the Grand Chief in Ottawa on other issues, they talk about as many issues as they can in the short time that they have with these ministers.
We all work very hard to promote the Yukon when we’re in Ottawa. To insinuate that we can, at the snap of our fingers, have meetings with these very important ministers in Ottawa, is folly. For us to ignore the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition — they’re a very active part and they’re doing a good job. They need to be resourced.
We have come to the mark; we’ve put our money up. Maybe, again, it’s time to talk to whoever comes to your door in this federal election. Ask where the resources are for our aboriginal group to be funded so they can move ahead and address the issues they have to address.
We put a budget together for $3.3 million. Everybody in Ottawa agreed that it was a great concept. When we got home, they chiselled it down, or brought it down to $90,000. Now, was that a productive meeting? No.
When you need $3.3 million for a five-year program and you get $90,000, that doesn’t even keep the doors open. We have a lot of work to do, so we as a government have funded the APC to do just that — to keep their doors open and go out and do some work — and we’ll work with them to get funding from Ottawa.
Now that we’re in the middle of an election, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline has been funded. We can go to work with them and get some creative financing from Ottawa that will fund our group. We’re not asking for $500 million. Maybe at the end of the day we might need $500 million.
What we asked for was a five-year proposal — a business plan put together by the APC on the work they were going to do and the parameters of what they were going to do — they were going to need $3.3 million. We saw the minister responsible for NRCan and industry. We talked to our MP; we had very constructive meetings; we were received very well by Ottawa. The DMs of these departments were very positive that this funding was not unrealistic; the business plan was there; and they sent us back.
They sent us back to the Yukon, and when it came to communications, they sent back a $90,000 commitment. Now, $3.3 million — a shortfall, a bit of a shortfall. So, we said, as Yukoners, that it is too important a thing to let fall off the table. We’ve done a lot of work. We’ve invested, I think, $200,000, so let’s put a budget together that will keep the door open, get them working toward getting the federal government to come to the mark.
Now, again the member opposite talked about what we are doing with the APC and questioning whether we are sincere about it. We’re sincere about it and I guess the meetings — again, we have to organize these meetings so first of all we can get the group together to go to Ottawa; second of all, who are we going to meet when we’re in Ottawa and how productive will the meetings be in Ottawa? Those are important. We certainly work with the federal government and remind them of the shortfall between $90,000 and $3.3 million — a big gap there — and we remind them of the $500 million that they invested in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and, at the end of the day, we are very sincere that they should be funded. We have stepped up to the plate. We as a small jurisdiction certainly can’t come up with all the money, nor could we come up with all the money. The federal government has an obligation; they’ve voiced that obligation. Now, all we want them to do is write the cheque and we will work with that group until that cheque is written.
Now, as far as a greenfield is concerned, a greenfield is a conceptional plan put forward by the producers so that at the end of the day there are some options — they feel the options in a greenfield are that the NPA is old and can’t be modernized.
According to NRCan and their expertise — they did a very thorough review of the NPA — they say that it can be modernized, that this idea that the producers have with the greenfield is not factual, that the thing can be modernized and it can be brought up to today’s standards. The NPA could be a productive act in our jurisdiction, and we could move forward.
The federal government, the producers, will have to make their mind up on regulatory certainty. They have to work with NEB, they have to work with the NPA — all those issues are going to be addressed by the federal government and the producers.
So, when the member opposite said we fell on one side or the other, there was no other side. There is no greenfield. The greenfield is a conceptual plan put together by the producers that says, here is a line and here is where the pipeline is going to go. For us to fall on that side would be folly.
We have no facts in truth on what it has to offer Yukoners. The NPA is an old act that was put together by the federal governments of America and Canada. It has a route that is defined through the Yukon. It has obligations in the act that the Yukoners will benefit from. Certainly, those benefits were for the time they were written, but everything can be modernized. It can be brought up to date. When the member opposite insinuates that we aren’t doing our work with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, that we’re not going to Ottawa enough to emphasize our concerns about the pipeline, again, I remind the member opposite that there is a time to go to Ottawa and a time when we should do our homework at home.
When we go to Ottawa, we just don’t go to Ottawa to say hello to people. We go to Ottawa to meet with ministers, put proposals in front of them, and work with them to see if we can work out these issues. We have done it twice. We did it in 2004-05, and we certainly are looking forward to the next meeting in the new year — understanding, Mr. Chair, that there is going to be a new government in place. Whoever it is, there will be new ministers, and we’ll be addressing our concerns to a new Cabinet. Everything takes time. I know that the member opposite would like to push this pipeline forward. It is in his riding — the trucks and all that action is going to be coming through, Mr. Chair. I understand that he hopes that he lives long enough to see this. I sometimes wonder if anybody will live long enough to see this pipeline. We’ve been talking about this pipeline since 1978. A lot of people have grown very grey talking about this pipeline. There is no pipeline. The pipeline has not been triggered. All sorts of decisions have to be made in the State of Alaska, which has the gas. There has to be some regulatory certainty from Canada. It seems, in the last six months, the federal government has been very concerned about the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, and I’m sure if we phoned up today we would not be able to get anybody’s ear on our concerns regarding the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. I understand that. There are a lot of issues with the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. The federal government has made its stand very clear. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline has to be a reality so that Canadian gas is not stranded. The Alaska Highway pipeline was on the horizon, and there are a lot of challenges there.
When I speak to the member opposite and we get bogged down on these dates, I feel that we’re not being productive here in the House, and that is very important, and that we’re just wasting the House’s time on issues that we have nothing really to comment on.
For us to get bogged down on what’s going to happen with the NPA after 2012, I say to the member opposite that I’m going to leave that for the government of the day. I’m very optimistic that by 2012 there will be a pipeline in the process, going down the Alaska Highway and that the NPA can be modernized to meet the needs of Yukoners and, at the end of the day, 2012 will be irrelevant. The pipeline will either be finished in 2014 or maybe 2016, but at that point, the trigger will have been pulled on the decision to build that pipeline and hopefully we can do the homework in our jurisdiction to minimize the impact.
The member opposite is worried about that. I don’t think there’s a Yukoner who is not worried about that. At the end of the day, we have to have that trigger pulled; we have to get resources from Ottawa for the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. We have to be very conscious of what benefits we’ll get from the Mackenzie Valley pipeline; they’re very important to north Yukon.
What resources will we put into the Dempster Highway? If the Mackenzie Valley pipeline goes forward, we’re going to end up with a situation where the Dempster Highway will be a transportation corridor to bring pipe and material into the Mackenzie Valley and the delta area. It is being used today for that. If anybody has gone up the Dempster Highway in the last couple of years, they’ll understand the shortcomings of that route.
Again, we need federal money to bring that highway up to a certain standard where it can be used by our tourist groups and also if the Mackenzie Valley pipeline goes forward. When that is triggered and they move forward on it, there will be a huge development happening in the Mackenzie Delta, because they have to fill this pipeline with product. So, at the end of the day, the Dempster Highway has to be upgraded.
So we have a lot of issues in this government. We have the social challenge and the economics of the community, the workforce will be a challenge in the training and money we need for the aboriginal groups that will be participating in this.
Certainly, we as the public government have to be aware of the public demands: where are we going to get the workforce? How are we going to keep workers where they are working today? As the member opposite says, “You go to a place like northern Alberta, and where do you get the people to work in your service end of things?” Where do the Wal-Mart people, the McDonalds people — all these jobs are being left empty because of the demand of the industry that pays more — and doesn’t only pay more, but it offers training and opportunities for these people.
There are lots of challenges out there. I think we should talk about the challenges and forget about the last piece of pipe in 2012 or 2014. Leave that for another government, and at the end of the day, come up with some constructive conversation and debate in the House on relevant things that we as a government today can solve. I don’t think it’s relevant to talk about 2012 or 2014 when this pipeline will be finalized, because this government has very little to do with that. This government is here to protect the territory from the impact from such a pipeline and certainly is looking forward to the date when it is announced. When it is announced and when it starts, we certainly look forward to it ending, but we are not going to set the date for that end here in this House today.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I listened to the minister skate all over the rink on these issues, but he didn’t address the questions directed at him. It really raises the question: is it productive to even try to ask this minister a question and expect an answer? He mentioned that he wanted to be productive and was against wasting time, yet he stands up and gives a 20-minute response to just about anything except for the question.
The minister was caught in the contradiction and that was the basis for my question. He avoided it.
The minister also confused the issue by saying my dates have changed. Well, that’s not true. My dates have not changed. I merely repeated the dates he used and compared those dates with recent information. That’s all.
The minister also questions the relevance of the dates to a pipeline that is only theoretical. Well, Mr. Chair, maybe it has been awhile since he read the department’s Web site. But on the Web site it talks about this project now being on the front burner again. It talks about some of the preparedness measures to be undertaken by government. Mr. Chair, I will accentuate that point because, in essence, that’s exactly what I am talking about — that the Yukon Government must ensure it is prepared to meet this massive project.
He talks about how he won’t even be here in the year 2012 and so on. Well, so what? I know who will be here: it will be future historians looking back at what might have been the turning point to avoid big problems that hopefully won’t arise. They might discover the Hansard discussion between the minister and me and pinpoint that as the precise moment in time in which the Yukon government could have done something. But the minister refuses to acknowledge the concerns I am raising. The government refuses to involve Yukoners in the discussion. Instead the minister says that window of opportunity will be open after the producers announce their decision to proceed. Well, think about that, Mr. Chair. Is that realistic?
The answer is no. Look at what’s happening in the Northwest Territories. The line propagated by the oil companies is that time is of the essence, we must move forward quickly, the past decades were the time for discussion, let’s move ahead quick.
Will we see the same rhetoric here? You want to believe it, because once those oil companies announce they want to proceed with the project, the time clock will have been started and it will cost them a lot of money for each day that passes before the pipeline is actually delivering its product to market.
The time for discussion with Yukoners will be cut short; the time for government response to those concerns will be cut short. The time to do all this preparatory work is now. That’s the point.
Earlier I described what the previous government did and what the current government has not done. The appropriate approach lies in-between. What the government should be doing is consulting Yukoners to prepare them in order to best meet this huge proposal, if and when it materializes. If we wait for a decision, it’s too late; there won’t be sufficient time.
The minister also queried the rationale for this discussion and I’ll again summate it for the minister’s benefit.
If the NPA is to expire before the pipeline is constructed, and if it takes a political decision in Ottawa to renew it, then there is a likelihood that won’t happen. If that won’t happen, then the project may not be built by Foothills or TransCanada PipeLines. It could be a greenfield option. We need to know now, and the reason we need to know now is because this government is only promoting the Foothills or NPA option. Since June, it has closed the door to any other option. It is ignoring what the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is saying. It’s trying to run with this agreement past the goal line. It’s treating it like it’s a game.
Mr. Chair, I believe that’s wrong. The government should not be taking a position that favours one company over another. The government should not be taking a position that favours a southern company over Yukon First Nation members of the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. The government should not be favouring the corporate approach over the concerns of Yukoners, but it is doing all those things. And if we don’t care today, then somebody will care tomorrow, because they’ll look back, and they’ll be asking, “Where could we have righted the wrongs that occurred?” They will see where the wrongs could have been righted, and it is right now. This minister has blinders on. These excuses he has concocted simply don’t add up. He has contradicted himself several times. He won’t explain the contradiction. It’s like we’re talking oranges, but he’s wandering around the grocery store — he’s in the bakery section, he’s in the produce section, he’s in the meat section. He’s all over the grocery store. We know he likes to read the produce ads in the papers every day. Instead of reading the produce section, maybe he should be reading up on some of these agreements, because a lot depends on what this minister does today as to how this megaproject will turn out tomorrow.
That is the reason why I have placed a priority on this particular project when debating this department, because it is well deserving of that priority. The minister doesn’t want to discuss it. He figures it doesn’t deserve the priority. Well, in the absence of pretty well any discussion in the territory about this project and its repercussions, some of us in here do feel that such a discussion is warranted and the minister shouldn’t be so quick to try to extinguish this discussion. We will talk about any issue we feel is worthy of raising from the opposition benches, and if the minister doesn’t want to talk about it, he’s entitled to put his feelings on the record, which he has done. But there are a lot of aspects about this proposal that are very serious. Here is one of them, Mr. Chair — I urge the minister to listen, because this is the content of my next question.
In the Northwest Territories the other day, Premier Handley got himself into some hot water because he gave the oil company a letter of assurance that royalties in the Northwest Territories won’t exceed levels charged by southern jurisdictions. There were some allegations levied toward him that he was selling out the territory’s position, that he caved in without some proper negotiations. This letter of comfort he sent will supersede the next election over there. It has bound the government to that position for decades.
So there’s a real question in the Yukon. What’s this government doing to bind Yukoners’ position for decades? Is it going to take a similar approach?
Here’s a question to ponder: what was the October meeting with Premier Klein and Premier Campbell and so on all about, where our Premier signed on to a memorandum of understanding? It was related to this very same topic area. It’s about the same thing that Premier Handley is taking criticism over now.
I want to ask the minister: is he aware of any agreement, indication or message from the Yukon government toward giving a sweet deal to the producer, all in the hope of trying to get a decision sooner the better, and selling out the fortunes of future Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I find the member opposite amazing. He goes on about the Premier of the N.W.T. Again, it’s sort of an educational phase. At the moment, the Northwest Territories does not have devolution, so the Premier can say a lot of things in the Northwest Territories. DIAND is responsible for the Northwest Territories until they resolve their transfers.
We on this side of the House in the territory — I’m not worried about what the Premier of the Northwest Territories commits the Northwest Territories to. Again, we’re getting off track here because we’re talking about the Yukon. As a government, we’re certainly concerned about royalties. The NPA is also concerned about that, and that is addressed in the NPA. The greenfield has no royalty concept in it because, again, it’s a conceptual plan; it’s not an act, like the NPA.
As the member opposite says about the meetings that the premiers had — the premiers of these four jurisdictions got together to talk about common issues. It’s not a matter of giving anybody a sweet deal; it’s a matter of communicating so that we’re all reading off roughly the same page. Western Canada and western United States will benefit from this pipeline. No doubt they will. When the member opposite goes on to this date that the NPA has until 2012, I am sure that that will be addressed in the regulatory certainty of the federal government when it gets to the point where the production of the pipeline is triggered.
Now, the Alaskans and the Americans have to address other issues. Liquefied natural gas is an option. I read more and more about it every day — the all-American route. The pipeline will not be built through our jurisdiction without regulatory certainty and it won’t be built through our jurisdiction without input from the producers, Mr. Deputy Chair. The producers are very important in this, and right at the moment the Alaska Highway pipeline is in the process of getting that certainty from Alaska — the stranded gas act and how Alaska is going to answer to those questions. Is Alaska going to be involved in the pipeline financially? Those questions have to be answered. The producers certainly want to get the best deal for themselves on this pipeline. Those are all issues outside of my responsibilities. My responsibilities as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources are to answer the internal questions that will be asked of us as government as this pipeline moves forward, and for the Member for Kluane to insinuate that we are doing anything else — the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources — is folly, Mr. Deputy Chair.
We’re working on this issue as it moves forward. As this pipeline moves forward, we certainly will involve more and more individuals on the file. The Member for Kluane goes on about participation and information to Yukoners. In one minute, the pipeline commission is not recommended by the Member for Kluane, but that would be a tool on how the public government, the CYFN, the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition and the federal government could get out and work with communities. Certainly we are looking forward to his positive response when it is fleshed out and we can put it forward, and his vote of confidence, Mr. Chair. He hasn’t voted for any of our budgets that we put forward, whether they were positive or negative, as his mind is. I’m sure that this supplementary with all the requests in it will be turned down again by the member opposite, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t keep moving forward. We move forward as a government. We have a responsibility. We represent all the public in the Yukon, not just special interest groups. We have to represent the entirety of the community.
The Member for Kluane represents special interest groups and brings their concerns to the House. I appreciate that and I appreciate the conversation that brings them up, but at the end of the day, we as a public government have to come out with decisions for the whole of the community not just special interest groups. As we go through this budget, as we’ve been on this one issue for the last, what is it? Two or three hours —
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Deputy Chair, do I have the floor?
Deputy Chair: Yes.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Chair.
The member opposite talks for 20 minutes asking questions, and then he feels that I should be able to answer all his 20 minutes of questions in four minutes.
That is not the way this government works. We’re going to address the issues that he asked. I just wish that it would be more relevant to what we’re doing as a department, but we are in debate on the department and I appreciate the fact that he can ask any question that comes to his mind. But I would encourage the member opposite to move forward, get off the mark. I am sure there are other members on the opposition side who would like to ask questions. We only have so many days left. We could discuss this pipe size, pipe length, pipe welding, pipe dates — we could get right into the meat of this pipeline, this non-existent pipeline, and we could talk about it for 19 more days. But is that doing Yukon business? Is that actually what we’re here to do?
We’re here to do the things that we can do, fight the battles we can win. The issue about the size of the pipe, the issue about the length of the pipe, the wells, the transportation of the pipe — are they going to start it in Alaska or are they going to start it in northern B.C, what are they going to do in Skagway? All those issues are out of my department’s hands. We have to get our territory, the Yukon Territory — let’s leave Northwest Territories out of this as far as what the Premier in Northwest Territories promised. The NPA does flesh out royalties and how we would be paid as the Yukon taxes — all those things are part and parcel of the NPA.
We’ve been told by the federal government, by a very capable guy in the federal government, that the NPA can be modernized. It’s an act that could be utilized again. It’s a decision for the producers and, of course, the federal government to work on. As far as: have we picked the NPA over the greenfield? Well, there is no greenfield. All it is, is a conceptual plan put out there by the producers. All we have factually in front of us — we have the NPA, which is an international treaty, we have the commitment by the federal government of Canada that it is workable, it can be modernized, and in that act it has a lot of the questions that the member is addressing. Royalties, taxes, all these benefits that would come to the Yukon are all part and parcel of that act.
For the member opposite to insinuate that we pick one over the other, when one didn’t exist — I remind people in the House that the only thing out there today is the NPA. We don’t have anything else to work from. Until the greenfield is an actual proposal, the only thing we as a public government had was the NPA.
What should we do with the NPA? Well, we should take a look at the NPA. We should make sure it fits into today’s Yukon. We should make sure the benefits will flow to Yukoners. We should make sure that we have access to the pipeline. We should make sure that all these bases are covered and work within that.
If in fact the producers and the federal government say the act is not workable, that the member they hired to do this overview was wrong, then we’re going to have to address the greenfield. At the end of the day, we’re going to work on factual things. The NPA is the only act we see in front of us — the Northern Pipeline Act. That’s the only one we have. Nobody in this House should go off on a tangent about the Greenfield; it doesn’t exist; it’s a waste of time.
As we go through the NPA and flesh it out and see how we as a government, or Yukoners, can modernize it, if it is modernized, we can ask questions; we can work with the producers; we can work with TransCanada PipeLines to address some of the internal issues of the NPA, and we’re going to work on that.
The conceptual plan of the commission, which the member opposite was dead against, was exactly that: the commission was going to be set up to incorporate the four governments that will be involved in this pipeline.
At the end of the day, what we want to see as a public government — not as a special interest group — is the benefits flow to the public. How can we get out into the communities and do productive work and how do we corral that work at the end of the day so we’re not duplicating the work? The Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition has responsibility because there are seven First Nations that will be directly affected — their traditional territories will be directly affected by a pipeline going through it. That’s where the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition comes from.
How do the rest of the First Nations get involved? Well, there’s the CYFN, their Grand Chief and their councils. Does the federal government have a responsibility? They have a responsibility. So, where do they get involved, and where does the public government get involved?
In a perfect world, it would be called a commission. In a perfect world, the four governments would get together so that we could all pull in the same direction. For the member opposite to insinuate that the way to run a public government is to divide and rule, that is not the way this public government works.
We are going to go forward; we’re going to represent the public; we are going to take under consideration the member opposite’s voice of special interest groups; we’re going to be able to have a tool there so that we can maximize the input of Yukoners into the question the member opposite addresses. We certainly are not going to live and die on what the Premier of Northwest Territories says about his pipeline. He has a responsibility. I’m not going to say if it’s irresponsible or the wrong decision. I’m not privy to any of that information. The man makes a decision on merit.
All I say about the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is that, at the end of the day, we have to have access to that resource or that pipeline for our own resources — Canadian gas going to Canadian market.
We have to participate in building that; we have to have opportunities for our contractors and for Yukoners to work, so they can benefit from the work on the pipeline. We’ve made those commitments. The last government was at loggerheads with the Northwest Territories on the decision of whether they would have the Mackenzie pipeline going first and/or the Alaska Highway pipeline — again, fighting a battle they can’t win.
Why would we waste any time in butting heads with the Northwest Territories on the decision of the pipeline? For the last government, it was to their folly that they made those kinds of decisions. Our Premier has gone forward on the pipeline issue — a very important issue — and even further. He has joined a partnership with all three northern premiers, so when we go to Ottawa and talk about north of 60, we’re not butting heads. We go there in unity so the federal government doesn’t divide and rule, like the member opposite recommends. We go with the three jurisdictions, with a common cause or issue, and we address the issue with the appropriate minister and, at the end of the day, those decisions are easy for that minister to make, because he has a unified group talking about concerns north of 60.
We saw the benefit in our medical transfers, and we’ll see more of that as we get that kind of communication going in the north.
As far as micromanaging the Northwest Territories on the decision of the pipeline, I say, as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources — and my learned friend would agree — that I wish them all the luck in the world on the construction of the pipeline. By them going first, I think we’ll learn quite a bit about the impacts of a pipeline. I look forward to the day when both pipelines are on track.
Our communities are working, and our government is going to work to minimize the impacts that will happen in these communities. For us to say in this House that we can solve all the problems, again is folly. It is not going to work. At the end of the day there are going to be issues. The commission, the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, public government, the federal government, the Council of Yukon First Nations — we’ve all got a stake in this pipeline. Let’s go to work and work with our partners, move forward on this pipeline concept, work with Ottawa to get regulatory certainty, work with industry or producers to make sure that they do their job. I can see that the producers are getting closer to a decision. ConocoPhillips has agreed in Alaska. British Petroleum and ExxonMobil Corporation are still dealing. They were optimistic that those decisions would be made this fall. It certainly doesn’t look like it to me at the moment. The Member for Kluane has to be concerned about that decision, because that will lengthen his closing date on the pipeline. 2012-14 could stretch — my learned friend is putting things to pen here to figure out what that would mean to the closing date of the pipeline — it could be 2016, Mr. Deputy Chair.
Let’s get back on track here in the House; let’s move forward on the budget. Let some other members here ask pertinent questions and let’s get on to the other departments.
Mr. McRobb: I think I understand why the minister is so hurried to escape out of this department — and that is because he doesn’t really have anything tangible to say in this discussion. He has repeated himself ad nauseum on some points. I’ve heard the tired old lines about maximizing the benefits and minimizing the impacts at least a dozen times. The minister has a very limited message box on this matter, and it really shows.
Even though the official sitting next to him, whom he refers to as his learned friend — and for readers of Hansard or listeners to the radio, that is not me he’s talking about. It’s the official from the department.
Mr. Chair, it seems to me the minister has a resource at his disposal and some excellent information could be put on the record this afternoon and the debate could progress as never before. But that hasn’t happened because, instead of the minister passing on pertinent information and trying to advance the discussion, he spun out on the first hill and I think his vehicle is starting to slide backwards in the snow and it’s halfway over the bank and just forget about it. He’ll need a tow truck before he gets back on the road again.
So I take issue with nearly everything the minister says. It is not just because I’m a member of the official opposition. It’s because what he says simply doesn’t add up. But I do want to change the direction of the debate to other issues, because I think it’s rather unproductive to stay in this one. We are just not getting anywhere with this minister. He had the opportunity to try to advance the discussion but obviously has chosen against it. He’s putting words in my mouth about the construction dates and completion dates that are not accurate. He’s accusing my questions of not being relevant, when, in fact, it’s the answers that are not relevant to the questions. He accuses me of not understanding the NPA, but he ignores the point that I’ve made about how the NPA may not be renewed, how lobby efforts can change the rules of the game. That question is why this government is trying to run down the field with the NPA football when, in fact, it won’t cross the goal line before the game finishes.
There are all kinds of questions. The minister referred to the all-American route. He’s talking about the LNG option from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. Obviously he is not following the Alaska news very well, otherwise he would have seen a recent article that pretty well kills that project. That LNG option is no longer on the table. One has to wonder — just like the over-the-top option, which is no longer a valid option — whether those options are really viable and are competing options or whether they are red herrings intended to squeeze the Yukon into a better deal for the producers or builders of the pipeline, and try to make us think we might not get this pipeline. It’s going to be LNG to Valdez or it will be over the top to the Northwest Territories. We might not get it. Well, we had better play ball with the big oil companies. We had better conform to property taxes that are charged in Alberta and not charge a penny more, as Premier Handley in the N.W.T. has done. Or perhaps, any changes in the NPA that require regulatory review for environmental standards — maybe that’s why the minister has been promising the oil companies that the review will take place under yesterday’s legislation and not the current Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Act. Maybe that’s why, Mr. Chair.
If you look at that old agreement and you see the benefits to Yukon, you’ve got to really wonder. This gas for the communities is a red herring. That will never happen, Mr. Chair. All it is is a T-valve. No community except for Whitehorse can possibly afford to tap into the gas in that pipeline, and the minister knows it. Yet, it’s one of the things he says frequently: this pipeline will offer cheap gas to all Yukoners in the communities. That’s a load of you-know-what, Mr. Chair, and the minister knows it.
A lot of these so-called benefits from that 25-year-old agreement don’t add up. Even the land taxes the minister speaks of — you know, in the agreement it says up to a maximum of $30 million in 1983 dollars. Well, a lot of people assume that, oh, boy, that must take into account inflation and that must be about $75 million in today’s money. Well, you know what? We checked into that. It’s not anywhere close to the maximum amount. It’s only about $5 million in today’s dollars. Isn’t that shocking, Mr. Chair? Now, you know what? Our tax rate is lower than southern jurisdictions currently. It’s about a quarter, from what I understand. So if you bring our tax rate up to standard, then the land tax royalties will be about $20 million. Well, that’s still a far cry from the $75 million a lot of people think it’s going to be. But even if this government did that — it signed an agreement with the producers or pipeline builders, as Premier Handley has done — that would strap any future government from charging anything more than Alberta does for pipelines across its land or B.C. does. And we all know what they’re doing down there. They’re bending over backwards. They’re giving it away.
Well, I don’t think I’m the only Yukoner who feels the Yukon shouldn’t give it away. What’s wrong with charging a northern premium? Everybody else does. Mr. Chair, look at even the rate of return the producers will expect off the pipeline, which will probably be in the area of about a 15-percent return on equity. You figure that out. If the pipeline itself is going to cost about $12 billion, and if that’s all rate based and there is a 15-percent return on equity, what they’re making in profit is in the neighbourhood of $2 billion per year.
$2 billion per year. I heard a rumour the other day that the Chinese are interested in investing in this pipeline, but the minister has said nothing about that. He talks about butting heads; maybe he’s button-lipped on a few things that he shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s about time the minister started to open up the flow of information so people in this territory — by the way, some of them put him where he is, but he seems to have forgotten that now. People of this territory deserve to be informed.
When you look at what information has been divulged, you’ll discover that most of it has come from the opposition side. We’re the ones who brought to the public attention the letters of the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition; we’re the ones who brought to the public attention how this minister and this government are prepared to throw out today’s environmental standards and slip the project through the back door of yesterday’s environmental standards. We’re the ones who raised the possibility —
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane very clearly stated that this government is intending to throw environmental standards out the window and slip projects through a back door. I believe that is imputing false and unavowed motives, as per Standing Order 19(g), and I would ask you to have him withdraw that.
Chair: There is no point of order. There is a dispute between members.
Mr. McRobb: Look, obviously the government side isn’t very comforted by what I have to say, and for good reason: they know it’s the truth. They know future historians will look back and they’ll see this discussion in Hansard and it’ll be the Yukon Party who is fingered as the culprit for not doing the right thing for Yukoners.
With that, I’m prepared to move on the discussion. We have a lot on the record this afternoon and from Thursday afternoon about this project. We know where this government stands.
Just one more thing I want to add, Mr. Chair: the minister talks about a sub — he says, “this sub”. He says the Member for Kluane doesn’t vote for our “sub” or budgets. Well, with language like that, it’s no wonder. I would be embarrassed to vote for a budget this minister has anything to do with. He doesn’t even know the name of it. It’s called a supp, which is an abbreviation for “supplementary”, as in supplementary budget; it’s not “sub”.
Furthermore, he talks about a “conceptional” plan. Mr. Chair, the term is “conceptual” plan, yet the minister stands up and says these things that don’t exist; he chastises the opposition, accuses them of wasting time, of asking irrelevant questions and everything else. Well, I think there’s enough on the record from this afternoon and the other day where Yukoners can see the reality of the situation.
I want to turn now to an issue I’ve asked him about very recently — last Thursday, as a matter of fact — because, again, there is an inconsistency in what the minister said in this House and other public information that attributes a quote to this same minister.
On Thursday I asked him about the current lack of regulations with respect to the coal-bed methane industry and whether the lack of regulations would prevent activity related to exploration or development. He did not answer the question, even though I repeated it. He would go on and on and on in his message box or briefing note and say that there are no regulations in the Yukon, and there are not even any forms, and they don’t know anything about it.
What has really happened, Mr. Chair? What has really happened is the minister himself has promoted the coal-bed methane industry to the oil companies and other audiences — in fact, to anybody who will listen. The department’s Web site has invited oil companies to come up and explore for coal-bed methane. Well, I asked him the question of whether the absence of regulations constitutes a de facto moratorium. He evaded the question. He would not answer it. So I was somewhat surprised to see in Friday’s Yukon News that the minister said the absence of regulations means there is a moratorium — a direct contradiction, Mr. Chair.
So, I want to ask the minister: who is right — him on Thursday or him in the paper on Friday? Or is there another reason? He has been handed a note from his learned friend, so my hopes have been raised that the minister will give a pertinent answer. Let’s hear it.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I’ll answer that question in a timely fashion. I would like to remind the member opposite that we can’t run on rumours, as far as insinuating that the Chinese are going to invest in a non-existent pipeline. That is not factual. The figures he mentions, again, need some homework done on them. Those are just figures that the member opposite puts on the floor here with very little background. The idea of the member opposite pertaining to this pipeline, insinuating that the Chinese are going to build the pipeline or invest in the pipeline, is factually not correct. The figures that he put out on the floor have no foundation at all. I want Yukoners to understand, we as the public government are moving forward with factual things on the pipeline. It’s all very easy for the Member for Kluane to pull these figures and talk about these figures, partnerships and pipelines and the lack of participation by different groups. I say to the member opposite that, again, the figures that he has put on the floor are not correct. Who is going to invest in the pipeline and the insinuation that the Chinese are going to invest in this pipeline factually are not correct. To leave this conversation with those kinds of insinuations is incorrect. As far as the member opposite is concerned, those are the facts. The public government is doing their work. Energy, Mines and Resources is doing the work. To insinuate we’re doing anything else is wrong. We are working very positively with our partners in this pipeline, and certainly looking at the tax base to maximize the benefit for Yukoners, the NPA does have the option of modernizing it.
The member opposite is insinuating that there is no codicil in the agreement on the NPA, that it could be extended. I certainly feel that, again, he is wrong on that issue. That is an act that was agreed to by both governments — both the American and Canadian government — on how this pipeline would be managed. It has been agreed to. The successful proponent is Foothills Pipe Lines. Of course, that is owned solely by TransCanada PipeLines at the moment. As far as moving forward on the questions about how the commission will work, how we are going to get our information out to the jurisdictions, we certainly are working on that. We feel that the sooner we do it, the better, but if we are going to bring information out, it has to be correct information.
I will leave the pipeline issue now, and we will talk about natural gas and coal. Again, the member opposite has to remember that we as a public government have to represent the public. The member opposite from Kluane represents special interest groups.
Chair: Order. It’s entirely inappropriate to state that a member represents someone other than his constituents. I would ask the member to retract that comment.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Lang: I retract that comment, Mr. Chair.
As far as natural gas and coal is concerned, we have no regulations in place; whether or not there is a moratorium on it, that is not the question. The question is: can a corporation or an individual have an exploration permit for natural gas from coal? The answer is no.
A far as the members opposite’s concern that individuals or corporations can somehow get around the fact that we have no regulations in place, again, Mr. Chair, is folly.
Until we get regulations in place, until we get policies in place, there will be no exploration for natural gas from coal in the Yukon Territory. So it’s a red herring, it has nothing to do with fact. The fact is there are no regulations in place for natural gas from coal, there are no policies in place. We have to do our homework. Now, for the member opposite to insinuate that somehow, by not putting regulations in place, by not working with the fact that we have natural gas from coal in the territory, it will go away is not factual either, Mr. Chair. But to put these regulations in place is a very long process. We will go to work on it because we’ve been elected as the public government to do just that.
Now, at the end of the day, if the government of the day decides to put a moratorium on it, then we will have the regulations in place. We will have the processes in place so that we can manage the resource. But today there is no need to put a moratorium on natural gas from coal because there are no regulations out there to manage the product. But again, I remind everybody in the House and Yukoners that a government has to go to work and put some regulations in place that recognize the fact that there is natural gas from coal out there and that we have to have regulations in place to manage that product.
Anywhere, Mr. Chair, you have coal in the ground, there is the potential for natural gas from coal. Now, if you’ve got a lot of natural gas from coal — if you look at Nova Scotia’s situation, where they have underground explosions and all sorts of things happen with this gas — that is in fact what we are talking about. We don’t have any active coal mines in the territory as of today.
There is no tool for the ones that have coal leases to drill and expand on natural gas from the coal, because who would invest money in an exploration on natural gas from coal when there’s no way to get the product to market? They would have to pack it out in their pockets. That’s not feasible.
We as a government will move forward on the regulations for natural gas from coal. We want to address it, because that’s the responsible thing to do. It’s responsible because it’s there; it’s a resource that’s owned by all of the Yukon; it’s a resource that eventually might become a resource that could be sold outside of the territory. Today there is no mechanism to get the gas from the ground to the market. There are no regulations in place to explore for it or drill for it, so it’s a red herring.
Again, we’re bringing up things in the House that have no basis in fact, and there are no regulations; there are no pipelines; there’s no mechanism for them to move the product; we have no policies in place; we as a responsible government will look at it. We will involve the public. There is a process to do this work. It can’t happen overnight, and it will not happen overnight.
It will not happen in the life of this government. It’s the kind of thing that will take time.
If there are regulations in place and there is exploration going on, it will happen under a different government from the one here today.
Mr. McRobb: I listened hard for the answer to the question, which was who was right: the minister on Thursday or the newspaper on Friday that quoted him? It seems that both are wrong. We have another dimension to deal with regarding this minister.
You know what? I’m tired of chasing these rabbits with the minister, because you don’t get the answer. It’s like trying to nail Jell-O to the ceiling. You can’t pin this minister down. When you think you have him pinned down, he’s talking about something else; he’s talking “big picture” when you have “little picture”. When you have “little picture”, he’s talking “big picture”.
Obviously, he has been trained very well by those who trained the Yukon Party ministers in the beginning, about three years ago.
I recall a newspaper story identified it, but the minister should remember that it’s the public who is the judge, and there are people listening to this discussion, there will be people reading the transcript from this discussion, and they’re looking for serious answers to these questions and they’re just not getting them. So hopefully there will be a day of reckoning when the minister will know that his lack of action and his lack of substantial answers did result in how he was seen as the minister. I’m referring to the next election polls.
Now, I want to ask the minister about another area where he is not consulting the public. It’s about the recent regulation changes to the mining land use regulations. Why did he choose to do this without involving all the public stakeholders?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In a short answer, we were obliged to do it so that our regulations would mesh with YESAA. If we hadn’t done it, YESAA would not be implemented as quickly as it was. So if the member opposite is insinuating that we should extend the YESAA process, we were working very positively with YESAA. This was a managerial thing internally. We certainly haven’t minimized any of the mining act. We worked with YESAA to make sure that there was a meshing of both so that we could work with the components that work with YESAA and also our department, understanding that, at the end of the day, the YESAA branch has to be working together to make YESAA work for all Yukoners.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Yukoners heard concerns that the changes made went well beyond the requirements of YESAA. We also know there is nothing preventing the government from consulting the interested stakeholders about changes to the regulations. That’s what the Yukon Party did, because that’s the way the Yukon Party is. They don’t want to have open, public discussion about anything.
Now, I want to ask the minister about another area that is very similar. That is the oil and gas disposition process. The minister made changes to this process — quite drastic changes — not required by YESAA or anything else. It was the industry pulling the strings. Why did the minister exclude certain stakeholders from the consultation process?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the question about YESAA and about how we work with our regulatory agencies, we were working with YESAA. We did not lower our standards at all. If the member opposite wants to comment or insinuate that we did, he, again, is dead wrong on that. We had to mesh some of the things internally so that it would address YESAA’s questions. We worked with YESAA and the department to make sure it was done and we did it, as requested, to make YESAA work for all Yukoners. It didn’t mean the standards were lowered. The member opposite is dead wrong on that.
Now, as far as the oil and gas is concerned, we didn’t change anything. All we changed was the lineup of how we would put a disposition out.
Why would the member opposite — of course we understand his negativity on industry. We understand that and I appreciate that. But to put a disposition out, we have to have corporate involvement. Now, from where does that corporate involvement come? Does it come in the front end or the back end? Why would we as a government put a disposition process together where we go through a whole stage of request to find out at the end of the day that industry is not interested? So, what we did is, if we are putting a disposition out, we say we would like to look positively if you were to put a disposition in that area. That is just good business, Mr. Chair.
Now, like the member opposite, we could eliminate industry completely. Why would you have industry involved with a disposition? I mean, that again is what the member is insinuating — that industry is bad, that industry should not be involved in a disposition. Then let’s not put out any disposition because industry is a big part of the disposition process. Without industry you don’t have a disposition, Mr. Chair.
So, nothing is changed. We have YOGA, we have a regulatory certainty of YOGA, we have a process on how things work and how we would change anything in YOGA. There’s a process and that process works. Now, we led by example. We had a disposition in north Yukon last year where there was no industry involvement. There wasn’t — nobody was interested. Industry wasn’t interested. So we went to all that work to put a disposition out but we eliminated the most important component of a disposition: industry. And at the end of the day, without industry, dispositions will not go forward.
We have checks and balances in YOGA to make sure we protect our environment and our constituency. At the end of the day, why would any government put out a disposition knowing there’s no industrial interest in a disposition?
In answering the member opposite, nothing has changed. We have YOGA, which is a law. In that law, it tells us the process we have to go through if we change YOGA, which we’re not going to do. We’ll work within YOGA to answer those questions.
The member opposite is again dead wrong. Nothing has changed. All we’ve done is put a lead on industry to point out where they would prefer dispositions. We can tell them whether the disposition is acceptable through our process. We have a process to address those groups and, at the end of the day, we hope we get a take on our disposition, but for us not to do it this way is very expensive. It’s folly, because we did not have the positive response we thought we would have. We say industry has no part in a disposition — they don’t have any say in a disposition and don’t have any say on where they’re going to go; we just marshal them up and march them up to whatever disposition we put out there — but we expect them to spend all this money and create employment on a disposition they’re not interested in. That is not living in the real world, because the real world is where a disposition has to have some interest. The individuals interested are usually oil and gas companies that have a great background in dispositions. This is not the only country that has gas and oil potential.
These corporations we deal with are world corporations. We will work with them. We will work with YOGA, which is an act that addresses all the issues that the member opposite is saying that we’re not. I remind the member opposite, the Yukon Oil and Gas Act is an act that is a partnership with us, the public government and all First Nations. There is a process internally on how these questions are addressed. We certainly would like to promote our resources, and promoting gas and oil is one of the things that we do as the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. We don’t break any laws. We work within the act that was drawn up by the member opposite — I think his government put YOGA in place. They have checks and balances in it. All we’re doing is involving industry in that process up front instead of at the back end. The world is not going to come to an end. You understand, we are very new in the oil and gas business in the Yukon. We’re maturing as we move along. Certainly, these things have to be addressed, and we’re learning from the process, Mr. Chair. That’s what life’s all about. We learn as we move forward. YOGA is flexible enough to do that. We have partners in it; we have First Nation governments and of course the public government, and at the end of the day we will move ahead in the oil and gas industry and be successful. But we cannot eliminate industry from the process. The member opposite is asking us to eliminate industry — industry has no place in a disposition. I feel that that’s folly, because at the end of the day, if industry isn’t interested in a disposition, why would we go to all the work of putting a disposition out there?
There is an extensive amount of work through YOGA that goes into a disposition. It’s not something that happens overnight. There are checks and balances. We certainly don’t want to waste industry’s time. If industry comes into the scenario and says they want to go there, and we have some environmental questions, we say that’s not practical, that’s not feasible. We don’t waste their time and, in turn, they don’t waste our department’s time. So, industry is part of the disposition system. We haven’t changed anything internally. We are modernizing as we move along with our partners in the YOGA, in the act. It is flexible. We are going to see, with industry working with us, that the consultation process and all the things that go internally in YOGA are still there. We have a consultation process that we work at very diligently. Most of all, we can have some product at the end of the day.
If we don’t have industry — the member opposite doesn’t want industry involved — I feel that the whole disposition system will fail because, at the end of the day, the disposition was based on somebody acquiring the disposition — ownership — and that is where industry comes in. So I think the member opposite is off track. I don’t think he understands that act. I think he is, again, running on rumours, and I don’t think that is productive. So, I, as the minister, tell the member opposite that the act is in place, it is being protected, consultation is still a process internally in that act, and at the end of the day, corporations or individuals who are interested in areas will be involved so we don’t waste our time on these dispositions.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, we were treated to another one of the minister’s fascinating speeches. All the while, I couldn’t help but wonder what the oil company executives think when they hear the minister give this speech in Calgary or Houston or wherever. I’ve got a lot of reservations about the image they concoct of the Yukon as a result. It’s no wonder they didn’t show up for the last disposition process, because after listening to the minister talk circles around himself and these issues, they probably decided the Yukon’s the last place they want to go.
They pulled the minister’s strings; they got him to change the whole process, and now he has opened up the whole Yukon to exploration, because somebody told him that was a good thing to do. He characterizes my view as being “wanting to eliminate industry from the process.” Mr. Chair, I’ll simply dispute that allegation, say it’s entirely incorrect, and leave it at that.
The minister constantly brings YOGA into the discussion, but the issues we’re discussing are not found within YOGA; they’re found within the regulations. It is the regulations that are the subject of our discussion, not the act. How many times have we heard the minister say, “It’s all in YOGA, Mr. Chair.”
Chair: Order please. Frankly, the Chair wishes that we had the schoolchildren who were here entertaining members in the government building today. The Chair has found that when children are present, members’ attitudes and behaviours are different. For example, members don’t have a tendency to try to imitate others. They have a tendency to act as responsible people and in a manner that is expected of a member of this Assembly.
I would ask the member to continue with debate and to do so without tossing out insults or mimicking other members of this Assembly.
Mr. McRobb: That’s a very sobering ruling, but it was a timely time for such a ruling, I might add.
Chair: I don’t think the member has taken my comments to heart. I just draw to his attention that we’re here to conduct the people’s business and to do so in a manner that Yukoners expect us to conduct ourselves in and behave in.
Let’s continue with debate.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The minister made a number of false allegations and he misconstrued comments I made —
Chair: Order please. The term “misconstrued” denotes that he intentionally misled this Assembly. The term “he misconstrued” implied a deliberate misunderstanding.
Mr. McRobb: My comments were obviously confused by somebody somewhere, because what was said back to me was not what I said. I hope that meets with your approval, Mr. Chair.
There are a number of issues I want to discuss but, given the sobering message in your ruling, Mr. Chair, I’m really wondering how productive it would be to ask this minister any of these questions. So I’m going to let it rest and give an opportunity to the leader from the third party to question the minister. I wish him all the luck in the world.
Mr. Mitchell: I have some questions for the minister. I will start with one about a non-existent pipeline, because we don’t have any existing pipelines that are active within our borders. I am wondering if the minister could enlighten me on what he has been doing to try and get his colleagues, including the Premier of the Northwest Territories, on board for the Alaska Highway pipeline. I know that the current approach is to talk about two pipelines and industry will decide when and if they proceed. That’s certainly a valid approach to take, and it has certainly been one that our territory has taken regarding the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. But there has continued to be criticism about our proposed project and concerns raised in terms of, if ours was to move ahead, it would prevent another project from moving ahead and potentially stranding Mackenzie gas. I’m wondering if the minister could address those concerns.
Hon. Mr. Lang: As the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources in the Yukon, I don’t have any control over what the Government of Northwest Territories would comment on or the questions about the Alaska Highway pipeline or the certainty or the politics in those statements. What we’ve been doing with the Northwest Territories is working in partnership with them to make sure we could maximize our benefits from the workforce point of view and business, to make sure we are involved in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline construction. Also, we are very concerned about our northern gas being stranded, like they are concerned about their delta gas being stranded.
The politics of the pipeline, and which pipeline would go first, are strictly politics. I think that the Canadian government always had a commitment that they did not want to strand the Mackenzie Delta gas, which is an issue or a tool that they can use as a government to make sure that the Mackenzie pipeline would go first. I don’t think that ever was an issue in the sense of the Canadian jurisdiction.
The Canadian jurisdiction has that gas in the Mackenzie Delta. It has been stranded for many, many years. The resources are there. It is a concern to Canada. Now, certainly the politics of which gas, and politicians in Northwest Territories commenting on the fact that the Alaska Highway pipeline seems to be moving ahead faster or slower — I think that is being addressed in the essence of the urgency of the Northwest Territories, the federal government and the aboriginal groups getting together and making these timely decisions. I think the concern was that the Mackenzie pipeline would be stalled because of internal issues. I think by addressing these issues as using the Alaska Highway pipeline as an issue, what would happen? Now, that’s a question. What would happen if the Alaska Highway pipeline was triggered before the Mackenzie Valley pipeline? If I were in the Mackenzie Valley, I would be concerned, not only because of the resource, but the manpower required to do both jobs is massive. So I’m not quite sure if, in fact, the Alaska Highway pipeline, for some reason — whether it was pushed ahead because of national defence, the urgency of the Americans, whatever — would certainly hamstring the possibility of the delta.
I think today that has been corrected. I think the federal government has done their job. I think the federal government had left their part of the job a lot longer than they should have. By moving in and addressing some of these internal issues — which should have been addressed a long time ago — I feel that, from my position as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and through talking to my counterpart in Yellowknife, the federal government has certainly done a good job of coming to the mark and addressing those issues that the corporation, the producers, feel are federal issues and not producer issues. I guess it’s a question about the division between corporate responsibilities and federal government responsibilities. I think we need to educate the people on what a corporation does in a community and what the government does in a community. I think the realization in the Mackenzie was that the corporations were going to do everything, and that’s not a fact. There are things that a good corporate citizen has to do, but there are things that have to be done internally by the federal government, and I think they are being addressed. The socio-economic money has been put out there to address these socio-economic issues.
Again going back to the Member for Kluane, we are very adamant that we are treated exactly the same as the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. We are Canadian. We are going to have internal issues with the Alaska Highway pipeline concept. We have to get our citizens of the Yukon ready for the impact of a pipeline.
We’re doing our job. Are we working with the Mackenzie group to get them ready? We are working with them to encourage the government to solve these issues. These are internal issues. The Canadian government is going to have to come to the mark with a lot more resources. To be fair to the corporations, they had to put some kind of guidelines around their responsibilities. By digging in their heels, they did just that. They got the attention of the federal government. The federal government came to the mark, and I think it was just good business on their part. I’m very optimistic the Mackenzie Valley pipeline will go ahead and meet the timelines they’ve put forward. They’re not finished their challenges, but they’re a lot further ahead than they were 12 months ago.
Once the Mackenzie Valley pipeline gets through the review process, I think you’ll see a lot more positive things come out of the Alaska Highway pipeline concept. You’ll see the federal government get more involved. As soon as the stranded gas act is addressed in Alaska, with the producers on side, you’ll see a lot more input from both the American government and the Canadian government to get the regulatory certainty we demand and producers demand to make sure we address these issues internally.
I’m optimistic that one day there will be two pipelines. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline is now a lot closer to being triggered than it was 12 months ago. Again, I would remind everybody in the House that there are lots of challenges over there. There are First Nation issues; there are infrastructure issues; there are volume-of-gas issues. There are all sorts of issues, but I don’t think they’re insurmountable.
I think everybody has been given their marching orders. The federal government is very involved now in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. They’re taking their part of the responsibility. Industry seems a lot more comfortable now than it was two months ago on that. The challenges will be met but they’re many, and hopefully they can resolve those challenges and move forward.
Optimistically, we’re looking at the dates they laid out. The gas is very necessary. The Alaska Highway pipeline — if the gas were to flow by 2012-14, it’s only going to meet the American demand by some 17 percent of the increased volume, so it’s not the answer to the American or Canadian issue.
There’s a lot of demand out there for natural gas. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline has to fill the volume, so there are a lot of challenges there in the Mackenzie. We are certainly monitoring the Mackenzie Valley pipeline because it does have ramifications on us and our jurisdiction. We’re looking forward to working with the Northwest Territories to maximize that.
Chair: Order please. We’ve reached our normal time for mid-afternoon recess. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We’ll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. We’ll continue in general debate on Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Mr. Mitchell: I don’t want to use the word “misconstrued” so I think I will say I need to clarify. Perhaps my question was not as clearly presented as it might have been, although the answer was quite fascinating and covered a lot of points. I’m not sure if any of them covered the point I was asking for.
I’ll try again. Recognizing that the minister is not responsible for what ministers of other territories or provinces say, my question was more along the lines of: would the pan-northern partnerships we’ve heard so much about in working together — and I know the minister meets and talks on a fairly regular basis with his colleagues elsewhere. If we could just expect to see some of the rhetoric toned down as a result of the good efforts the minister could make with his colleague — because when some of these comments come out in the media indicating that if the timing of one project doesn’t work out quite right, everything is in jeopardy, I don’t think it’s helpful. I would agree with the minister that both projects need to go ahead and hopefully will go ahead.
So I think I’ll move on to another area rather than asking the minister to respond to that one, because I’m concerned that I may get a lengthy answer again about the Mackenzie pipeline, which is not the question.
Could the minister tell us how things are proceeding with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition? They were certainly expressing some discomfort earlier this fall about their role versus the newly-talked about pipeline commission. I’m wondering if the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition has been reassured that their role will not be usurped, and if the minister could talk about that.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering your question pertaining to our pan-northern agreement with Northwest Territories, I don’t want to get into a long dissertation about our pan-northern agreement. I think some of the comments that are made are not helpful, but some of the comments we get through the media and they can be misread through the media. We have a very positive working relationship with Northwest Territories.
If they make inappropriate statements, I guess maybe it’s the nature of the business, and we certainly don’t find them to be positive. But again sometimes, as you know, in the Yukon statements are made and, of course, statements are sometimes taken out of context and they come out differently from when they were delivered by the minister.
So, my relationship with my counterparts in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut is very, very positive. I don’t feel that we’re being jeopardized at all by how they’re managing their issues. We’re kept abreast of any concerns they have, and we certainly work with them on any issue that comes forward that would affect our three jurisdictions.
As far as the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, I want to make it very clear that we, at no point — and again, this was misconstrued. The funding was always there. There is a process in government for how funding goes forward. It has to be presented, workplans have to be drawn out — all these questions have to be addressed and then we go to Management Board to ask for the money. All of that has been done. We don’t minimize what the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition has to offer Yukoners.
We all understand the issue about the seven First Nations whose traditional territory will be crossed by this pipeline, and we as a government are working with them on a federal level to get more resources so they can do more. I think the overall umbrella of the commission is how we address other issues and make sure we manage our resources in a proper fashion. We don’t want to duplicate things out there. I think there’s a lot of work we can all do — all Yukoners — and I don’t want to minimize what responsibilities we have as a public government with the general public. The general public has a stake in this pipeline, they will be affected and they have to have a mechanism where they can be involved in this pipeline.
So the commission is one thing; the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is a very important component, whether the commission gets up and running at all. This is a conceptual plan and I think the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is up and running today. It has been resourced up to $350,000 by the public government. We are bringing their concerns to the federal government. We have gone on a yearly basis and met with the ministers. As the Member for Kluane commented, there was a communication between the Grand Chief and the Premier and, of course, the Minister of NRCan.
That, again, was very positive. I remind people in the House that all our meetings have been positive. We’ve been received very well by Ottawa, whether it was on the DM level or on the minister level. We just don’t have any commitment from them on the pipeline.
The argument that has been used — the question has always been brought up after the fact — there is no pipeline. Until this pipeline is triggered, the federal government feels that the resources could be better spent somewhere else. I say to the member opposite and to the House, I think that is folly. I think we have a lot of work to do. I really encourage the federal government to come onside, resource the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, move ahead, get the workplan working, and do it in a timely fashion.
Unless we get a buy-in on this pipeline from Yukoners, it’s going to be a very difficult task. The sooner we get to answering the questions that Yukoners have pertaining to this pipeline, the more prepared we will be at the end of the day to answer those questions.
So, I agree with the member opposite that the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is an important component. I don’t think it’s minimized by starting a commission. I don’t think we are competing with the coalition; I think we’re adding to it. What we’re adding to it is the CYFN, which encompasses the rest of the First Nations in the Yukon — the ones that aren’t on the route.
We’re also involving the federal government so that they can have a seat on the commission, because they will have some responsibilities for a large part of the commission and resources in the pipeline — and, of course, the general public, and that’s the territorial government. We don’t want to duplicate what we do. We just want to maximize the benefit we get from the resources we put into it.
So I think, as the commission grows in the conceptual plan and as we move forward, it certainly doesn’t minimize anybody’s stake in the pipeline. I think it just maximizes Yukon’s voice so that we can answer the questions that all Yukoners have: first of all, is there going to be a pipeline; second of all, how will the general public be involved; thirdly, how will the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition have to address their issues in their communities and Council of Yukon First Nations and how will they benefit and how will the federal government be part of this decision-making tool?
I think the commission is a good idea. It’s not a done deal. We’re looking at the concept. We’re working at the DM level in Ottawa. Again, Ottawa is very receptive but again, being receptive and getting the job done are two different things in Ottawa, understanding at the moment the government is non-existent. In other words, we have an election on our hands. It doesn’t matter who gets in next month. In January, there will be a change of people at the table, so there will be an education gap as we bring the new ministers up to the mark.
But I see it as a positive move when we’re working on the DM level, because that brings the department along in a consistent way that a new minister can fit into and move forward with that decision-making tool.
Mr. Mitchell: I certainly don’t want to get into an existential debate or discussion with the minister about non-existent pipelines or non-existent governments, because we had one today about a non-existent bridge and I just don’t want to go down that route.
But, again, the issue of the APC was one that they raised, and it was a two-part issue. The minister has addressed one — that the money is flowing — because they were concerned about the funding. I think the other part of it was that they were expressing concern because their hopes were certainly elevated. You know, a year ago or more, when this group was first discussed and funded, and now they thought that they were perhaps going to be treated as a sub-group or component of a larger umbrella organization — I think that was the concern they were expressing. So, I’m still not certain if the minister is indicating if they’re going to be on their own with their role to play or if they’re going to be part of a larger entity. I wouldn’t mind the minister clarifying that.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Those decisions will be made as we move along, but they will certainly be made in conjunction with the consultation with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition.
I think, by resourcing them, they build capacity, and as they build capacity, they’ll understand their responsibilities as we move forward with this conceptual plan of the pipeline. They certainly are a very important component to the pipeline. We are very concerned that they be involved and we have resourced them so that they can move forward.
And, hopefully, the federal Liberal government, or whatever government is in Ottawa in the new year, will see that they are an important component and that the funds will flow so that they can do their jobs and address the issues they have internally on the pipeline. Whether it’s a greenfield or an NPA is a question that the regulatory people and the producers will make.
In a perfect world, the concept would be that the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition could have the capacity to work with their groups, and certainly work with the public government of the day to make sure that these issues are addressed. I think to think that the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition lacks capacity — to be honest with you, we all lack capacity when it comes to the Alaska Highway pipeline. It’s going to be the largest construction job in the history of the world. For us to think that we have internally the capacity to answer these questions is wrong. We all have some capacity issues to address when we move forward.
I think by funding the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, it made a statement that we are concerned about that aspect of the pipeline, that we do have a commitment to the First Nations that are on the route, and that we are funding them so that they can carry on with their business, understanding that it’s way underfunded. There is no way that they could do what they need to do without the commitment from the federal government, but the money that they have in their possession now will keep the doors open and we will work with them to build the capacity, to work with the federal government, to trigger some resources so they can go out into the community and do the socio-economic overview, so they can do the work that needs to be done.
Again, I remind the member opposite that it’s not going to be done with a bunch of local people. We are going to need some expertise in the Yukon. We need the resources to do that. We, as a public government, understand that. We need a tool — a commission, or whatever you want to call it — so we can all get together and address these capacity issues and where our resources are going to come from to address these capacity issues so, at the end of the day, we can come out with the proper decisions that are going to be demanded of us if and when this pipeline goes forward.
Mr. Mitchell: I thank the minister for his answers.
I’ve got some questions since we’ll stick with the theme of oil and gas and try to do things in a bit of a themed approach. The minister recently announced in Calgary a changed process to the rights dispositions going forward with oil and gas. Now, I’m just looking at speeches the minister gave that are on the government Web site.
The minister said, “We are currently preparing to proceed with our fifth oil and gas rights disposition this fall. It will be under an improved process, one that is more responsive to industry’s interests. Upon completion of discussions with First Nations and others on revisions to the disposition process, the minister will set a deadline later this fall for industry to submit their posting requests. Before posting requests for bid the government will consult with First Nations and conduct a public review.”
I’m wondering if the minister could tell us what, if any, consultation was done on this new approach to the oil and gas regulations prior to the announcement in Calgary to industry. Which First Nations did the minister meet with and what was the nature of those discussions or consultations?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We didn’t change any regulations under YOGA. The regulations are the same as they were a year ago. What we did do was work internally — that the industry would be involved up front instead of at the end so that any work we did on dispositions would have an interest before we started the disposition. That’s only good business, I think. But as far as consultation, as far as the general public input, that doesn’t affect them at all. Those issues will still be addressed in the consultation process within YOGA, which is a government act; it’s the law on how things are done. All we did was modernize it to try to be more compatible with the industry in Canada.
It’s nothing unusual to do it in this process. We have a very extended process in YOGA on how these consultations take place. YOGA was a partnership between the public government and First Nations, so there are obligations for both the public government and the First Nations to make this process work. To remind the member opposite, in southeast Yukon, the potential for gas is the largest in Yukon and we also have one well there, the Kotaneelee; we also have a gathering plant there and a pipeline. So we do have a small portion of a pipeline in the territory.
But at the end of the day, unless we get consent from the Kaska, there cannot be any dispositions in the southeast Yukon. So without a land claim in southeast Yukon — it’s written in YOGA — without consent there is no disposition in southeast Yukon.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, I guess what I would ask is that, under this new and improved disposition process, in the past, my understanding is that the government, together with First Nations — using the government’s expertise as well as the First Nations’ — would take a look at areas and decide which area would be the next area that would come up as potentially available for bids for disposition.
Now, that process could take a fair bit of time and could be very thorough. Under this reverse order process, where industry says we’d like to look at a particular area, there is then a very narrowed window of time, I believe, for that consultation to take place. The concern would be that First Nations, other stakeholder groups, environmental groups, and other citizens of Yukon would have a much narrower window to get their work done.
Is that correct, that there will be a very finite time now?
Hon. Mr. Lang: No, that’s not correct. The process still goes forward. All we’re doing is getting a show of interest in a specific area. We address the issue about that specific area up front. So, in other words, the concept that we opened up all of the Yukon to this disposition process — that everything’s open — in fact, there isn’t gas and oil throughout the Yukon. There are bases of gas and oil. It’s well-defined in the Yukon.
Of course, in previous years, we have put dispositions out in north Yukon. We have the Whitehorse Trough, which is a conceptual plan of some potential. And, of course, our biggest resource is southeast Yukon, which is not open, unless, of course, the First Nations give consent.
So, no, the process is still very lengthy. There is consultation at every level. First Nations certainly consult on it and have a say in what’s happening. All we’re saying is, why would we go to all the work of putting out a disposition if, in fact, industry has no interest in that area? I mean, it’s only good business that we get industry in the door saying, “Why would you put a disposition in north Yukon again when there was no take on the last one?”
We have a lot more to do in our department that would be more productive if, in fact, we knew beforehand whether there was any interest or not. So, I think it’s a red herring to say that we’ve changed the disposition process. We haven’t changed it at all. There have been no regulation changes. The consultation is still there. All we’re doing is moving the industry up front in respect of: where would they like to go from a business point of view?
The Member for Kluane’s question was: why would industry be involved at any level?
Without industry being involved, and without that interest, why would we go to work and put a disposition out that nobody is interested in? We are not just doing it for practice. Our department knows how to do it. We just want to have a productive disposition, not something that goes all the way down the line — you know, doing months and months of work to find out at the end of the day that nobody is interested. What we are doing is productive. It is being used in other areas. It’s not turning the Yukon into a gas and oil field. It has nothing to do with that. It’s just one little thing saying, “Instead of being at the back of the train, we want to consult you at the front of the train.” It’s good business and it would certainly be productive for any government if we are looking at budgets and time. Those are the things we are trying to do internally. We are not trying to minimize the consultation process with anybody in the Yukon, whether it’s environmental groups, First Nations or Joe Blow public. We are still doing that. All we’re saying is, if we’re going to go out and do all this work with First Nations and environmental groups — why would we put something out there that, in fact, might not come through? Why would we put these organizations through all that work? Whereas, if we have the corporations — the oil companies — up front saying that they’re interested in such-and-such an area, we take a look at it. If it’s the Turner Wetlands or somewhere like that where there are huge issues, we might tell them that that’s not possible, so you will have to look somewhere else. They might say, “Well, then we’re not interested.” Then, that’s fine. I mean, that’s a decision the corporation has to make. We just have to manage the department. We have an act in place called YOGA — Yukon Oil and Gas Act. We have the act in place to do just that — to manage our oil and gas. We have obligations in that act on how we manage the act and how we manage the general public but, at the end of the day, the potential in the Yukon for gas development is based on getting it to market.
Most of the gas outside of southeast Yukon that we’re managing today is stranded. North Yukon is a frontier. Devon did some exploration and drilled a well in north Yukon — but again, stranded gas, frontier gas — and until we address the issues we have in the Mackenzie Valley on access, which is a huge challenge — price, access, guaranteed access, those kinds of questions have to be addressed — as far as working and putting the department to work somewhere, where we don’t know if anybody is interested, is folly.
Mr. Mitchell: I would remind the minister that last I checked I was the Member for Copperbelt, not the Member for Kluane, so we should concentrate on answering the questions I’ve asked as opposed to continuing to answer questions that have already been asked and either answered or not answered.
As far as the suggestion that we would be randomly picking areas of Yukon that might contain no oil and gas and that that would be a poor approach, I would always presume that in any dispositions based on the expertise of our oil and gas branch and the good work that would be done by the departments, that would not be the case that, under the former or existing system, we would generally be investigating areas that we would think would be of high interest to industry. Certainly, we would want industry’s input but, last I checked, the resources of this territory belonged to all Yukoners, and it is our job as legislators to look after those resources and make sure that we protect them and make the best use of them and all of our lands, not just say that industry knows best so we’ll just let industry decide.
Since the minister mentioned the Kaska two or three times in his previous responses, perhaps I’ll move on to that, since he said there can be no use made of our best reserves, potentially, in southeast Yukon until we reach some agreements with the Kaska. I think the minister also mentioned that we don’t have a land claim agreement with them.
We did have the bilateral agreement, which was signed earlier in this government’s mandate, with a fair bit of fanfare as to how important this would be. I believe that that agreement is now largely expired. Are there any more deals pending with the Kaska that the minister could tell us about that might indicate the potential to explore that area?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We have two issues in southeast Yukon. There’s an overlapping claim with Deh Cho, which hasn’t been settled. So, that issue has to be addressed, and also the Kaska.
We certainly work very positive with both of the First Nations to see if there is an opportunity for Yukon to be involved. I guess, when you say it belongs to all Yukoners, that’s true. And we certainly work with the First Nations to see if there’s any potential in southeast Yukon for that kind of exploration.
As far as the bilateral is concerned, the bilateral was time-expired in August. We have YOGA in place. That’s very firm. We have to get consent from the affected First Nations before any exploration is done in their traditional territory. So, as far as southeast Yukon is concerned, we certainly are working with the affected First Nations to see if there’s some movement. But we do have an obligation with YOGA to do just that, and without their consent there will be no exploration for gas in the southeast Yukon.
Going back to the process in YOGA, there is a process in how we would look at the dispositions and it does involve First Nations and, of course, the key stakeholders, and there are discussions — and certainly the corporations, you know, to facilitate this kind of posting system. So when the insinuation is that there haven’t been any discussions — it is under discussion as we speak. So it’s not a done deal until we move through with the discussion process. We are optimistic that these discussions will be positive. So we as a government, through YOGA and through consultation, have moved forward with our consultation to make sure that we have as many people involved as we can, people whom these decisions would affect, whether it is First Nation or a stakeholder or whatever, to make sure that we maximize the comfort of Yukoners to make sure that YOGA is handled in such a way that it benefits all Yukoners. Again, as the member said, we are managing the resource for all Yukoners.
At the end of the day, I guess government has to make decisions. But we are more comfortable with the decision that’s made through consultation than we are making a decision that could, without consultation, cause issues. But we are committed to work with the stakeholders, First Nations and the companies to make sure we can modernize our process or disposition process and move ahead with managing those resources for all of Yukon. Because again, Yukoners benefit. Yukoners benefit in the fact that we, through YOGA, have an agreement.
The member opposite was talking about the resources. One well in the Kotaneelee, which was watered in a year ago — Devon — and which would have meant the resources from that well would have dried up this year, approximately. With that expenditure from Devon, expanding that resource — they were very successful, which was very beneficial not only to the company but to us as Yukon — we as the public government brought in over $2 million, close to $3 million out of that one well.
When you go down the line on the resource, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations received $116,000 last year from Kotaneelee. I remind the members opposite that the only people who don’t benefit from this, because they have no land claim, is the Kaska. If you go down to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, they received $92,000; the Kluane First Nation received $42,000; Little Salmon-Carmacks received $65,000; Na Cho Nyäk Dun received $61,000; Selkirk First Nation received $70,000, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council received just under $60,000; Teslin Tlingit Council received $78,000; Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation received $80,000. That’s the partnership we have with our First Nations. That’s one well in the far corner of the southeast Yukon. The only First Nations that can benefit from this are signed, settled First Nations. So those resources are coming out of Kaska territory and are being shared by all Yukon — the public government and the First Nation governments. So they are substantial and we’re moving ahead with that industry.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, the minister just did a very fine job of listing off quite a number of First Nations, so maybe I’ll ask a short question and just try to get a short answer. In the consultations on this new oil and gas disposition process, which First Nations has the minister met with to date?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I remind the member opposite that I don’t meet with them personally. It’s an internal thing with the government. We certainly would maximize any consultation. I don’t have the list but I could get the list of individuals we consulted with — First Nations — hopefully to him in a timely fashion.
Mr. Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I look forward to seeing that list as to who the department has met with.
We’ll move into another area, and I hope we don’t get into another existential discussion. Has the minister given Cash Resources the rights to coal-bed methane production as part of their Division Mountain project? Now, we have a letter that we received via ATIPP, and there is a missing link in this letter, which is all the meat in the letter. We only know that the minister appreciated meeting with the CEO of Cash Minerals to discuss coal-bed methane and their subsequent correspondence. We also know that this letter was copied to three other companies, so it was something that the minister was willing to share with other companies. Can he share the rest of the letter with Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I remind the member opposite that there is a privacy thing when you’re dealing with private companies, and I recommend that the member opposite contact Division Mountain and see if they would be agreeable to letting that information go. Our conversations with Division Mountain are just that. They asked about natural gas from coal. There are no regulations in place. There is no process for the regulations. As far as their ownership of the resource, it would be a question that would have to be answered when the regulations are in place.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, I just thought that since the private correspondence the minister was sharing with that company he was willing to copy to three other companies, that we should be able to do a little better than a blank response to an ATIPP request, since the minister was quite willing to copy it to other members of the private sector. I just would like to know how we’re going to discuss this if the minister is going to get into these circular arguments of “We don’t have anything to discuss because there’s no regulations and there can’t be any regulations because there’s nothing to discuss” — then we don’t seem to make much progress.
Perhaps I’ll move to another area for awhile.
Timber permits — there was quite a lot of interest in timber permits. I’m wondering if the minister can tell us if any wood has actually been cut.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The timber permits — we’ve had successful timber permits in the Watson Lake area and in Haines Junction. We are putting wood out. We are managing the wood in a very positive way. I don’t have the statistics on what was cut, so that would have to come from the department.
I’d like to go back to the member opposite’s statements about natural gas and coal. I want to make it very clear that, when we send letters out, there is a privacy thing. If Division Mountain were to give access to their correspondence to the member opposite, we certainly wouldn’t hold back. As far as copying three other corporations, I imagine the reason we copied them was that the issue also pertained to them. I really don’t know who was copied on that.
I think the member is right in his comments about “we’re going in circles on natural gas from coal,” because there are no regulations. There are no regulations because, through devolution, nothing was in place to manage the resource. I can answer all the questions for as many days as you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are no regulations in place for natural gas from coal.
So, there’s no bogeyman here. There’s no place in our regulations for somebody to find the resource, or explore for the resource. I understand coal leases have questions about natural gas from coal. They will have to be addressed when we have regulations in place.
The government of the day, whenever this is done, will do exactly that. There is a very clear privacy thing about letters that we communicate to corporations or other governments, and our ATIPP system respects that. If the member opposite would want to correspond with Division Mountain and get their copy of the letter, I would give his blessing to our letter.
It is a very important thing that people can communicate with governments when sometimes they have a privacy question. You have to take into consideration the independence of the corporations. They can make that call. They can make that call on their behalf. That’s what we, as a government, have put together through the ATIPP system. That is called privacy. If they don’t want their correspondence to be made public, then they don’t have to. It has nothing to do with me as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources; it has nothing to do with the Premier; it is the system and the system says that if in fact you’re going to make correspondence public, you have to get the blessing of the other party.
To me, that sounds like good reasoning. If we were to override that because of the heat of the moment, we would lose a bit of credibility in the eyes of the corporation. The corporation was very clear with us that that correspondence was theirs and it was going to be held private. We can’t change that in this House.
Mr. Mitchell: With all due respect, I understand the importance of confidentiality and the privacy of communication, but when the minister says he has no idea what other companies were copied on the letter — he signed the letter. This isn’t correspondence from the company to the minister; it’s correspondence the minister sent out.
I’m reading the minister’s signature as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources; it’s right above the line that names three other companies. When he looked to sign the letter, he probably would have noticed these three companies on the letter.
It’s very hard to narrow the vision much more than that. I, too, am perturbed that we are in a line of circular discussion. This is a question of important public policy. If the minister doesn’t want to provide the actual letter where he stated what he thinks respecting coal-bed methane rights, then perhaps knowing that we don’t have the policy — I understand we don’t have a policy on coal-bed methane — does the minister believe that when a company has coal-mining rights, that they also inherently have the right to own the coal-bed methane that might be found in those deposits? That’s the question that Yukoners are asking.
I don’t think it should be incumbent upon me as a member of this Legislative Assembly to beg permission from a private corporation to get the answer to a question of public policy. It’s not up to them to make the decision as to whether we can find out what this government is presenting as the policy of the Government of Yukon. It’s up to us to ask that of the ministers and it’s up to the ministers to respond.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I understand my job. But for me to stand up and tell the member opposite — with the amount of letters that I sign in a day — that I would know where that letter was copied to, it’s not factual, Mr. Chair. The member opposite knows exactly what I’m talking about. We have no regulations in place. Since devolution —
Chair: Order please. Members can clearly have a different opinion on the facts, but to say that a member should know something other than the facts that he has presented as the facts is out of order.
Hon. Mr. Lang: What I am trying to say to the member opposite is that, since devolution, we have been very clear in our process of managing natural gas from coal. As we talk in circles about natural gas from coal, there are no regulations in place, and there’s no policy in place. Since devolution we’ve been very clear — until we get those regulations in place there will be no exploration for natural gas from coal and no disposition process to do that. We can sit in this House for 10 years until we get the regulations and policy in place so that at the end of the day there is a management tool for that product. But to insinuate, Mr. Chair, that there is no natural gas from coal is folly. There is natural gas from coal. If you look across North America — whether it’s in America or Canada — natural gas from coal has become a very important component in North America’s energy needs. I can’t be more clear for the member opposite. We don’t have any regulations in place. We don’t have any policies in place, and by the way, we have no pipeline. So between those three things, I’m pretty sure that there will be no exploration for natural gas from coal. We’re not going to pack it out in our pockets. We’ve got a lot of work to do before we get the regulations in place. There will be consultation. There will be a process so we will all be able to have some input in exactly that.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, that was a very illuminating response, Mr. Chair, because in one sentence the minister said there is no natural gas from coal, we don’t have regulations, we don’t have a process, there is no natural gas from coal. Two sentences later, I believe I heard him say, “We all know there’s natural gas from coal.” And he said, “I can’t be more clear.” I would hate to hear him being less clear.
Okay, I guess we’ll try another approach. The minister stated that there can be no exploration for natural gas from coal or coal-bed methane because we don’t have regulations and we don’t have a process. As we all know from the history of mining and exploration in Yukon and elsewhere, many times we’re looking for one thing and, lo and behold, we find another. I think that may have been the history of how the emeralds were found awhile back in Yukon.
It’s not unlikely that when someone is exploring and developing a coal body, they will discover that they also have natural gas present. Now, that would be a case where somebody didn’t ask for permission to explore for natural gas from coal, but nevertheless, they would become aware that there is natural gas present.
Does the minister have any plans on how he would deal with being apprised by a developer of a coal body that there is also natural gas present?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Since post-devolution, any coal lease has a very clear message that they don’t have access to natural gas from coal. How much clearer can I be? With leases that have been issued by this government, we’ve made it very clear on the natural gas from coal. So, without regulations in place, I don’t care if they find it by accident, or they find it with intention. There is no regulation in place to manage that resource.
The government is going to go to work. The government is going to put together the regulations so that if, in fact, they find natural gas from coal, then they can manage it or whatever.
But there are no regulations in place at the moment. If, in fact, this company finds natural gas in the coal seam, there will be nothing in place so we can manage that seam. So as far as the member opposite insinuating that, if they find the resource we have to give it to them, that’s not true. If they drill deep enough and find oil on their coal lease or their zinc lease, the oil doesn’t belong to them. That’s just a mistake they made.
But as far as regulations are concerned, the government of the day and governments down the road will have to find a way to manage this resource. As far as somebody finding it by mistake, that’s another issue. We don’t have anything in place to handle it.
Mr. Mitchell: I would note that I really would enjoy seeing that image of the minister packing the natural gas out in his pockets, floating above the land. It would be an interesting image. Perhaps we’ll move on to another area.
There was an announcement made about a week ago from North American Tungsten Corporation regarding an agreement with Kaska Minerals Corporation to invest approximately $3 million in their company under a deal concluded in Whitehorse. I’m just wondering if the minister might be able to let us know if the Government of Yukon has any plans to fund the Kaska participation in that activity.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The territorial government is not involved in that. That’s a First Nation and corporate partnership. The Yukon government is not part of that. We understand that North American Tungsten is situated in the Northwest Territories. We applaud the Kaska and the corporation for getting together and forming this partnership.
But as far as us investing in the partnership, the answer is no.
Mr. Mitchell: I am wondering if the minister is able to provide us with any information — with this new process of consulting with industry as to where they would like to see oil and gas dispositions — on where the next oil and gas land sale might be.
Hon. Mr. Lang: At the moment, I can’t answer that question. The process is working its way through. When we answer all the questions, we will know where the disposition will go.
You understand that southeast Yukon, without a consent agreement with the Kaska and Deh Cho with their overlapping claims, would be out of the question. So, the other areas of interest would be the other resources, which would be somewhere in north Yukon. We’ve got the Whitehorse Trough, which has some interest. The answer to that is: I don’t know. We are working on it and moving forward.
Mr. Mitchell: I do notice on the upcoming dispositions section of the Energy, Mines and Resources Web site that it mentions that planning for the fifth disposition is currently underway and to be sure to check back for updates — but it’s blank. So, we don’t know where, and I’m wondering if we have some idea of when, since it says planning is underway. In order to plan for something you must know what it is you are planning for. Can you tell us when it might next be announced?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In addressing the issue, in the process with this YOGA with the disposition process and with the consultation that is going forward, I don’t see it happening in the near future. We have some homework to do. As far as knowing where the disposition would actually take place that is just speculation at the moment.
Mr. Mitchell: Those are my questions that I have at this time.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, we’ll proceed with line-by-line examination.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, we would like a breakdown on each of the items, if the minister would oblige — maybe after you identify them — by rising and giving a breakdown. It would expedite the proceedings.
On Sustainable Resources
Hon. Mr. Lang: Land and legal surveys, 100-percent recoverable, $6,000; agricultural industry transition program, agreement signed with Agriculture Canada to flow funds to the Yukon Agricultural Association and farmers, 100-percent recoverable from Agriculture Canada, $90,000; national water supply expansion program, NWSEP, new program to Yukon from federal government to flow funds to the agricultural sector to improve access to, and development of, suitable and secure rural water supplies. This program will assist in funding for on-farm water-related infrastructure, both as individual and multi-use projects — 100-percent recoverable from Agriculture Canada, $100,000. That totals $196,000.
Chair: Are there any further questions?
Mr. McRobb: I’m wondering about the land and legal surveys. Can the minister indicate where that work was done?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I remind the member opposite the work hasn’t been done. We’re just revoting it for this year.
Sustainable Resources in the amount of $196,000 agreed to
On Energy and Corporate Policy
Hon. Mr. Lang: Energy and corporate policy — this has been approved for a resource management agreement with the Kaska Tribal Council, $150,000.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I have a question on the energy policy, the one the minister has been working on, apparently. Nobody has seen it; nobody has even heard about it. There is no discussion paper, no nothing. It’s another one of these big Yukon Party secrets. Can he give us an update on this and what he expects in the way of public consultation, and when will it be ready?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I thought we were going to go line by line here on this issue. As far as the question he asked, there are some internal things going on and we’re working with the board.
I have more information for the member opposite.
We are cooperating with other key departments and Crown corporations. We’re in the early stages of developing a comprehensive energy strategy for Yukon. As part of developing the strategy, public and stakeholder consultation will occur as a means of ensuring Yukon government energy programs are responsive to the needs of the Yukon.
The purpose of the strategy is to identify priorities for government action and to provide efficient and coordinated delivery of government energy programs.
Mr. McRobb: Well, there are all kinds of questions about this. We don’t have the opportunity to get into a discussion about this. The minister didn’t indicate when the policy would be ready and when the public might expect to see a discussion paper on it. Or is it something the minister just plans to leave on the shelf for the next government to do, like the coal-bed methane regulations, or is it something he is going to surprise the public on, like the oil and gas disposition process? Which model is the minister going to use for this?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We are talking about consultation. We talked about a process and we are following that process. If we can get the process done in a timely fashion, we will move forward with it. The member opposite comments on no consultation and, when we read a process out with consultation, he’s a hard member to please. There are steps to be done. We are starting with those steps and we are moving forward. Hopefully we can get this done later in 2006 but, again, I am not going to predict the consultation process and how successful it will be.
Energy and Corporate Policy in the amount of $150,000 agreed to
On Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources
Hon. Mr. Lang: We have a major mine management revote of $201,000, additional funding of $82,000 and a revote for the Yukon placer authorization of $5,000. That makes a total of $288,000, which is correct.
Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources in the amount of $288,000 agreed to
On Total of Other O&M Programs
Total of Other O&M Programs in the amount of nil cleared
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources in the amount of $634,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Sustainable Resources
On Forest Engineering
Hon. Mr. Lang: The engineering work in southeast Yukon for interim wood supply — these dollars will fund a completion of engineering work in southeast Yukon for interim wood supply as per the Kaska MOU. This year’s money will be used in southwest Yukon to engineer beetlewood harvesting to develop a 2004 wildfire salvage area for sale and provide small volume pre-engineer permits at various locations around the Yukon. That’s $225,000. There is also additional funding of $72,000, which makes a total of $297,000.
Forest Engineering in the amount of $297,000 agreed to
On Agricultural Land Development
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agricultural land development is a revote approved for topographical mapping that the contractor was unable to finish by March 31, 2005. This is 100-percent recoverable.
Mr. McRobb: We had some discussion in the mains budget debate with respect to identification of rural parcels that were being considered for development. I believe we had an undertaking from the minister to provide some maps to the opposition parties. I have not been privy to any maps, so I am wondering if the minister could recommit to providing maps of any agricultural areas the government is currently working on developing.
Hon. Mr. Lang: As far as maps are concerned, that’s an issue that I would have to address, but I certainly will commit to the member opposite that I would give him the information we have on the parcels of land that we’re dealing with at the moment.
Agricultural Land Development in the amount of $25,000 agreed to
On Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources
On Minerals Development
On Resource Assessments - Minerals
Hon. Mr. Lang: It’s approved, subject to an agreement with DIAND for the strategic investment in northern development program funding for three regional geophysical and geochemical survey projects. This is 100-percent recoverable.
Resource Assessments - Minerals in the amount of $902,000 agreed to
On Total of Other Capital Projects
Total of Other Capital Projects in the amount of nil cleared
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources in the amount of $1,224,000 agreed to
Chair: That concludes Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
We’ll now continue with Vote 54, Department of Tourism and Culture.
Department of Tourism and Culture
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I am pleased to introduce the supplementary estimate for the Department of Tourism and Culture. The department is requesting an increase of $1,067,000 to its operation and maintenance budget, and an increase of $781,000 for capital expenditures.
$1 million in new funding will be dedicated to a national marketing campaign for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. This planned $10-million campaign is being undertaken in partnership with the governments of Nunavut, N.W.T. and Canada. The federal government and our co-hosts in the north recognize the games as a tremendous opportunity for community-building, economic development and tourism. The department will work closely with the host society to maximize the tourism and economic opportunities the games will bring to the Yukon.
$30,000 of the additional operations and maintenance funding will be used for publication of a German-language Yukon lure brochure. This publication will complement other efforts our government is making in attracting more visitors from Germany and the rest of Europe, including media familiarization tours and expanded operations at our visitor information centres.
$20,000 will be used to expand Tour Yukon’s Web presence in Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia. This effort will enhance package tour product in these growing marketplaces. $17,000 will be used to finance our participation in the national historic site certification program for work in Victoria and at one other yet-to-be determined Canadian location. We are very fortunate to have people with this expertise working for government in Yukon and recognize that their knowledge is needed in other parts of our country.
The federal government’s Canadian heritage properties incentive fund allows this expense to be 100-percent fully recoverable.
Capital expenditures included in the supplementary budget include $391,000 for the historic places initiative. This ongoing national initiative strengthens our capacity to conserve and maintain the historical integrity of our treasured Yukon historic sites and preserve the links to our past. This year, funds will be expended for the documentation of historic sites, development of the Yukon registry of historic places, and the promotion of heritage conservation practices in the Yukon. These funds are 100-percent fully recoverable from the federal government. The department requests also that the following projects be revoted due to a number of factors that prevented the projects from moving forward.
Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 17.
Chair: Ms. Taylor has moved that we report progress on Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Cathers: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House is now adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:56 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 5, 2005:
Highway Equipment Rental Contracts Evaluation Report, Department of Highways and Public Works, dated Dec. 1, 2005 (Hart)
Fleet Vehicle Agency 2004-05 annual report (Hart)