Wednesday, December 14, 2005 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
In remembrance of Frances Vivian Hakonson
Mr. Jenkins: I rise today on behalf of the House to pay tribute to Frances Vivian Hakonson. Fran, to all those who knew her, was born just outside of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on November 25, 1924. Fran grew up in Vancouver with her mother and sister, but the call of the north saw the family move to Whitehorse during the latter part of the Second World War.
Fran had met Bill Hakonson, who was then driving truck for the U.S. Army, and when Bill moved to Dawson, Fran followed in the spring of 1946 to drive taxi for him.
Fran was a very active community member and was involved in the very beginning of the predecessor organization of the Klondike Visitors Association. There are many photos of Fran and other Dawson greeters in period costume entertaining the visitors arriving by sternwheeler in Dawson.
Fran and Bill raised their family in Dawson, and all the while Fran assisted Bill in their many family businesses, from placer mining and doing the gold cleanups to selling groceries at their store, Dawson City Wholesaling, to renting rooms at the Eldorado Hotel. Fran was always amplifying the positive about Dawson City and the Klondike and was one of Yukonís best ambassadors.
Franís arthritis became more disabling in later years, but that didnít stop her from writing a monthly column for the Klondike Sun. Franís computer skills were honed during this time and she spent many hours surfing the net and e-mailing her many friends.
Fran passed away in McDonald Lodge in Dawson City, and the family are extremely appreciative of the care provided to Fran by the doctors in Dawson and the lodge staff.
Fran will be sadly missed by her husband Bill, her daughters, Ferone, Lenore and Wendy, and her son Greg, along with her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and extended family. Our condolences go out to them all.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any other tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: † Iíd like the House to help me welcome Rick Goodfellow and Ms. MacFadgen from the Yukon Human Rights Commission to the House.
Mr. Mitchell: †Iíd like this House to welcome my constituents, Dominic and Gayle Alford, to this House.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have for tabling a letter of management from the auditors in Dawson City.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I have for tabling the annual report for the Yukon Arts Centre, 2004-05.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon, in accordance with the resolution passed by the Yukon Party at its annual general meeting in the spring of 2003, to cause the Yukon Energy Corporation to file a general rate application with the Yukon Utilities Board by June 30, 2006; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon:
(a) not to establish, by order-in-council, any conditions on the scope of that general rate application; and
(b) to rescind the order-in-council controlling the rate of return of the Yukon Energy Corporation, thereby leaving the Yukon Utilities Board open to considering:
††††††† (i) the major capital investments made by the Yukon Development Corporation in the Yukon Energy Corporation;
††††††† (ii) the significant reduction in the debt load of the Yukon Development Corporation;
††††††† (iii) the fact that the debt-load reduction of the Yukon Development Corporation has not flowed through to the Yukon Energy Corporation;
††††††† (iv) the rate of return established for the Yukon Energy Corporation is artificially high; and
††††††† (v) the interest rates on inter-company loans from Yukon Development Corporation to the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† ††Economic outlook
Mr. Hardy: As we heard again yesterday, the Premier seems to take great pride in the fact that Yukoners no longer consider the economy the number one issue. Iíd like to caution the Premier not to get too smug about that, because there are already clear signs that the recent economic bubble is starting to weaken. The overheated housing market is starting to slow down; the stats prove that. The U.S. economy is starting to slow down; that was on the news the other day. The big construction projects the Premier has been hanging his hat on are all winding down.
So what is the Premierís economic vision for the territory, once the Canada Winter Games have come and gone and the Shakwak funding is finished?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Iím certainly very pleased to remind the member opposite of the diversity of the economy of the Yukon. We are rapidly becoming the film capital of the north, and perhaps Canada, and giving Vancouver and Toronto a good run for their money. Funding programs we have put in there have brought back a return on investment of nearly $9 for every $1 invested.
Despite the fact that the member opposite keeps talking about mineral prices ó they are worldwide prices and, across the board, the Yukon has moved significantly to the top of the list of all jurisdictions in Canada that enjoy the same mineral prices, I might add.
Weíre very pleased with the way things are developing with that and we look forward to continuing to develop them.
Mr. Hardy: † Every time we ask the Premier and his ministers about their economic vision, we get the song and dance about the economic nirvana that theyíve personally created, and we all know where a lot of those initiatives came from. They came from an NDP government. We also get a little riff about how previous governments have chased investors away, and thatís usually from the Premier himself. But the facts donít support the ministerís claim on either side of the ledger. One fact that canít be disputed is that the Premier has been on a spending spree that cannot be sustained. He admitted it himself in the past. He canít keep going back to the same old well and expect the federal government to automatically keep pouring more money into this territory. He either has to stop spending taxpayersí grocery money so recklessly, or he has to start making good on his promise to build the economy.
Since the Premier canít come up with anything of substance that he has actually done to create the current economic bubble, will he finally answer the question and tell Yukoners his vision for creating a diversified, sustainable economy for the future? Itís very simple.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite has brought up the issue of substance with respect to the financial situation and the investments the government is making. I know the member has openly admitted that he is dumbfounded by the budget, but I would take the member back to the budget documents before him and point out that, through a five-year fiscal framework, we can see clearly that the financial position of the Yukon is very positive and that itís the result of the Yukon going to work with its sister territories on getting our fair share of the distribution of the national wealth.
Why should the territories be treated any differently than equalization-receiving provinces? We shouldnít be. Thatís the case we made before the federal government; thatís the case we won; thatís why we have a much better financial position today than in the past under previous governments such as the NDP.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, he didnít answer the question; he didnít share the future vision. Why? Because he doesnít have one. Thatís what Iím dumbfounded about ó how a Premier can act the way he does and spend money the way he does, without having a vision and knowing where heís going.
What counts are deeds, not words. I would remind the Premier of an old saying: if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Trade missions to China without any deals being signed are called vacations. Telling a national audience the Yukon is frozen wasteland when itís not overrun by mosquitoes is not exactly a winning strategy for attracting investors. Those are his words.
Weíve put forward several positive ideas for the Premier that have one thing in common: the need to listen to Yukon people, which the Premier isnít very good at doing. If the Premier isnít willing to consult all Yukoners about what kind of economic future they want, will he at least follow up on the proposal I put forward yesterday and set up a round table on small business to hear what independent Yukon business owners have to say?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First and foremost, there is a vision, and thatís why there has been substantial economic turnaround in this territory. It begins with good governance; it begins with sound fiscal management; it begins with increasing the stimulus in this territory, as we said we would do; and we are focusing on strategic industries, building the private sector in these areas of strategic industries.
To say there has been no investment in this territory flies in the face of the evidence. I ask the member opposite: what does the member think of a $30-million investment in the oil and gas sector? What does the member think of the dramatic increase in investment in the mining sector? What does the member think of the dramatic increase in the film and sound sector from the private industries? What does the member think of the significant investment in the tourism sector from the private industries? What does the member think about the economy itself?
I can tell you how the NDP look at it: they are anti-mining, anti-private sector, anti-profit, and they think government should be everything ó not this government.
Question re: Alaska Highway pipeline project
Mr. Hardy: Itís too bad we canít respond, isnít it, Mr. Speaker?
Yesterday the Premier of the Northwest Territories wrote to ask the three federal party leaders their position on a $500-million fund to help mitigate the social economic impacts of a Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline. That Premier, in the Northwest Territories, does his homework. He knows what kind of impact the pipeline project will have on his territory and the people who live there. He knows federal governments come and go and that federal promises canít always be taken to the bank.
What effort has this Premier made to get a commitment from Ottawa to deal with the potential impact of an Alaska Highway gas pipeline?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I agree with the premier from Northwest Territories on the funding commitment from the federal government. Weíve been working very actively with the federal government to do just that and will continue working with our partners, the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, to get the proper funding so we can do our work on the oil and gas situation here in the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: In other words, do nothing.
Now, Premier Handley also wants a commitment from the three national party leaders to the principle that northerners should get most economic benefit from resource developments in their territories. Once again, that Premier does his homework. This Premier, on the other hand, seems to take an awful lot on faith. He takes it on faith that two pipelines will go ahead. He takes it on faith that a 30-year-old treaty will still be applicable. He takes it on faith that Ottawa will step up to the plate here, the way it has in the N.W.T. He takes it on faith that weíll be ready if and when a pipeline from Alaska to southern Canada actually happens.
Can the Premier ó and I wouldnít mind the Premier standing up, instead of passing it off like he did the other question ó produce any correspondence he has written, asking for similar commitments from the national leaders regarding a pipeline through our territory?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, Mr. Speaker, we are talking about two very different jurisdictions. The member opposite doesnít understand that weíve had devolution. We have control over our resources. Weíve had it for 24 months. Northwest Territories doesnít have that tool to work with.
Mr. Hardy: They donít have that tool to work with, yet they are $500 million richer. So, who is the one who is actually doing the work? The proof is in the pudding there.
Just to bring attention to the audience here, the Premier continues to answer the question. The Premier and his ministers love to travel and they love the photo ops, but the fact is they are spinning their wheels on the pipeline file. This was supposed to be the Premierís economic trophy but obviously he isnít getting the Yukonís message across. The Liberal Prime Minister has listened to Premier Handley but he is not paying any attention to this Premier. Our Liberal MP and our Liberal senator havenít gotten the Prime Minister to pay attention to our needs around this issue either.
I have a suggestion for the Premier. Will the Premier right now, before the end of the day, make contact with the other national party leaders and make a clear, convincing case for federal support for the proposed Alaska Highway pipeline? Now, he will stand up, right?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I think the member opposite is a day late and a dollar short when it comes to the pipeline project. I remind the member that this issue was dealt with in 1979. There are certificates of public certainty and necessity. There is an established right-of-way. There is a federal statute, the Northern Pipeline Act, that is relevant to this project. All through the land claims process, the right-of-way has remained absolute, as negotiated in protecting a third-party interest. Furthermore, the federal government knows full well what this means, but they also understand, as we do, that the industry, the private sector, will make that decision and, unlike the NDP, the federal government, along with the Yukon, is more than comfortable to let the industry make the decision. The federal government, as we know, also knows that there are $20 billion plus in revenues that will flow to federal coffers from the Alaska Highway pipeline, and some 375,000 person years of work during the life of this project.
Of course the federal government is keenly interested in the project: thatís why they have the Northern Pipeline Act.
Question re: Public Service Commission personnel policy
Mr. Mitchell: ††I have some questions for the Minister of Justice. Last week, the minister stood in this House and gave a tribute celebrating International Human Rights Day. He spoke glowingly about the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 23 of that declaration says, ďEveryone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.Ē
Just three weeks before the minister stood up, a lawyer in his department was busy writing a letter to one of my constituents telling him that, because he might cause public embarrassment to the government, he was going to lose his job. How does the minister ó the Justice minister ó reconcile these contradictory positions? In one, there is the fundamental right to work, and in the next, theyíre firing someone because they might embarrass the government.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would encourage the member opposite to direct questions with regard to PSC to the appropriate minister.
Mr. Mitchell: †Well, Mr. Speaker, this is not a personnel issue. This is an issue of principle, of human rights. The government stands up one day and says, ďWe support human rights. Everyone has the right to work. Itís very important.Ē Behind the scenes, things are different. They are denying an individual the right to work. He has been let go because, according to the ministerís department, he might cause embarrassment to the government. So much for standing up for human rights.
On December 5, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said this individual was free to take legal action. That is what got him in trouble with this government in the first place. That is what this government finds embarrassing.
Will the minister allow this individual to go to work and stop denying him his legal right to take court action?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †As Iíve stated on the floor of this Legislature on a number of occasions ó and Iíll reiterate it again for the membersí opposite information ó there is no policy linking hiring to pursuing a lawsuit against the government. Rather, the government upholds the right of individuals to access the courts.
The actual matter the member refers to is a personnel matter and the member opposite should know very well that I, as the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, as well as the political arm of government, including all my colleagues on the opposite side of the bench, do not involve themselves with individual employment decisions or recruitment decisions.
Mr. Mitchell: This is not a personnel issue and there is no lawsuit. Thereís an application for judicial review, but the point is that this government is preventing this person from their right to work. I wrote to the minister on December 5, urging him to refer this matter to a third party, to investigate the Yukon Party governmentís decision not to renew this individualís employment. I have yet to receive an answer.
Instead of pretending thereís nothing he can do about this, the minister can respond to my letter and follow my suggestion. Will the Justice minister refer this to a third party and bring a conclusion to this mess?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †Again, if there are disputes about the actions of the Public Service Commission, the arm of government responsible for recruitment decisions, for hiring decisions in the Government of Yukon, if there are disputes about the actions of the Public Service Commission or a particular department, there are a number of avenues that can be used ó grievance procedures that are negotiated under the collective agreement; we also have the Ombudsmanís Office to lay complaints; thereís the opportunity for legal action. Again, the government upholds the individualís right to access the courts.
Question re: Televised House proceedings
Mr. McRobb: †††††††††††††† People across the north have had televised access to the proceedings of this Assembly for several years through evening broadcasts on the Aboriginal Peopleís Television Network, or APTN.
Believe it or not, Mr. Speaker, this program is quite popular with Yukoners, especially those in rural communities. Each member of this Assembly has no doubt heard from people who rely on the program to keep informed of the proceedings of this Legislature.
Two months ago, APTN notified the Legislative Assembly Office of its intent to drastically change how it televises the proceedings of the three northern assemblies, including this one.
What progress has the Premier made to avoid the cancellation of this program?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, for the Member for Kluane to suggest that this is an area that the Premierís office should be involved in is, quite frankly, ridiculous. We have a Membersí Services Board. We have the agencies and the necessary framework to operate the proceedings in this Assembly. If the Membersí Services Board wants to come forward with a recommendation with respect to the contract for televising the proceedings in this House, I urge them to do so. That is where progress can be made, and the onus is on the Membersí Services Board.
Mr. McRobb: MSB or the agency simply do not have the budget to deal with this. APTNís take-it-or-leave-it contract was generally felt to be excessive and out of sync with most viewersí schedules. It wanted to more than triple the cost of broadcasting our proceedings and push back the televised time slot to midnight, Yukon time.
The other territories were faced with similar demands, and Nunavut has since decided it will drop the broadcasts. This matter is of great concern to many Yukoners. Apparently discussions with APTN have broken down, and the broadcast will not extend beyond the end of this month. Will the Premier at least agree to discuss this matter with the leaders of the opposition parties and try to arrive at a workable solution that would allow all Yukoners to continue watching future proceedings of their Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Fentie:† ††In my capacity as Premier, of course I would talk to the leaders of the party opposite. But I remind the Member for Kluane that his own leader sits on the Membersí Services Board. Convene a meeting of the Membersí Services Board. Bring forward a recommendation. Work with the Clerk of the Assembly. This is not an insurmountable issue.
I wonder here, Mr. Speaker, who really is worried about whether or not the proceedings are televised. I think in this case the Member for Kluane has angst about not being on television.
Mr. McRobb: Once again the Yukon Party tries to personalize what are clearly public issues.
The Yukon Legislative Assembly Office wants to resolve this matter and so would the Parliamentary Broadcasting Society but, without proper funding, thereís no solution in sight and the Premier must realize that. Resolving this problem will require some action from the Premier. Iím aware of one possible solution and thatís the establishment of a Yukon-wide community television channel. Iíve already met with someone who has been trying to advance this project for some time ó unsuccessfully with this Premier.
With the integration of radio broadcast quite possible ó something else the government is considering ó the saving would reduce its cost to less than 10 percent of the cost of todayís announcement of cellular service. Will the Premier at least ask his telecommunications people to scope out and develop this option for the consideration of all three party leaders in time to avoid an interruption in the broadcast service of our proceedings?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I urge the member opposite to take this up with the NDPís representative on the Membersí Services Board. Go and do their work, and bring forward a recommendation.
You know, I find it interesting, Mr. Speaker, the priority that the Member for Kluane places on this issue, when as recently as yesterday the member voted against improvements in the dealing with the violence and prevention ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
†Speaker: The Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Premier is putting his dark spin on it, and he wonít allow me to respond to that. What he is saying is totally incorrect, and it is misleading this Legislature.
Hon.† Mr. Cathers: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: †Government House leader, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, there is no point of order. It is merely a dispute among members. The Premier was simply referring to the Member for Kluaneís voting record from yesterday as recorded in Hansard.
†Speaker: †From the Chairís perspective itís a dispute among members, and I would ask the members to carry on, please. Hon. Premier, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíll be brief in concluding my comments. I was merely trying to make the contrast of priorities here. I will close by saying that the Membersí Services Board is tasked with these types of duties and responsibilities. I would urge them to convene immediately, bring forward a recommendation, and the government will deal with the recommendation as we should and as we always have. Itís a simple process; there is no need to get into this kind of debate in the Assembly. The members opposite should actually go do their work.
Question re: †Homeless youth
Mrs. Peter: It was heartening to attend a feast last night put on by the youth for homeless people in Whitehorse. In 2001, there was a major report on homeless youth from the Northern Research Institute. A few weeks ago, the Whitehorse Planning Group on Homelessness released its own report. We have asked questions and read motions about homeless youth for months. Now the government has finally got around to asking community groups that work with homeless youth for their input. This government is finally getting around to a problem they have been alerted about for years, but it expects these community groups to come up with something by the end of January ó no doubt so the Premier can put something in his pre-election budget.
Why has it taken the Premier so long to pay attention to the reality facing youth in the territory who need simple housing?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will not debate this in a partisan manner. There are no political boundaries when addressing the issues that Yukonís youth face today.
What I will say, though, is that this government immediately moved, unlike other past governments, to deal with NGOs and organizations that are out there on the front lines working on behalf of this territory in addressing issues for our young people. It is this government that has dramatically increased the resources available to these front-line workers and we intend to do more. But the purpose of that is to ensure that our youth have access to programs and service delivery. Itís a big challenge, not only in the Yukon, but across this country. Our focus is very much based on the priority that our youth are our future; thatís why we are doing the work that we are.
Mrs. Peter: The horror stories about young Yukoners without safe housing are legendary. Young men and women are trading sex for places to sleep. They are stealing to keep alive. Volunteers who work with youth have tried for years to get the ear of this government. They have solutions that can be acted on now, when it is cold and with Christmas right around the corner. What is the Premier doing about this crisis between now and the end of January, when he will get another report that he may or may not act on?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The government has already acted, but thatís not to say that there are not more challenges ahead. I would point out, though, to all Yukoners that the members opposite, the NDP, have voted against that increased enhancement of resources for our NGOs and our youth groups. We are continuing to work with NGOs and other organizations in dealing with issues that relate to our youth.
One of the most important areas was under the leadership of the Minister of Education, who developed the Individual Learning Centre, where weíve brought youth off the street, back into the school system, and they are now gaining an education. That is yet another example of what the government has already done. The members opposite voted against that; they opposed that. Thatís the point here.
Mrs. Peter: The Premier has voted against budgets in the past and he hasnít talked about that either. We know there are homeless youth in Whitehorse. Some of these people have drifted in from the outlying communities, escaping violent and addictive situations. Thereís very little housing for them back home. Some of the little there is, is deteriorating fast with black mould or undrinkable water.
What does the Premier plan to do about housing for youth in rural Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would concur in most cases with the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin with respect to violence in the home, but I would urge the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin to talk to her colleague from Kluane on why, when we strengthened penalties and more clearly defined this issue, and ensured we are doing more to address this issue in the home, did the Member for Kluane vote against it? Another example of a voting record.
The member knows that recently, in Kelowna at the First Ministers meeting, we crossed a major threshold by getting the federal government to move off of a very flawed policy of on-reserve/off-reserve applicability. That has changed. We now have the ability for the federal government, the Yukon government and First Nation governments to work on dealing with the housing needs, not just for youth but for all Yukon First Nations. That is the step weíve taken; that is what will address the issue for the long term. Thatís the important step that we must have taken.
Question re: Medical staff shortage
Mr. McRobb: I tried yesterday to find out from the third Health and Social Services minister in as many weeks what his vision is for his portfolio, but it was already too late. He had graduated from the Yukon Party school of learning how not to answer questions. He said my question was too general to answer, so letís narrow it down so he can manage to formulate a reply for taxpayers who are waiting to find out what they can expect.
After three years of his governmentís inaction on the problem, there is still a shortage of physicians and other medical professions in the Yukon. We know the minister is familiar with this issue because he has already said it was a priority. What does he plan to do about the shortage of medical staff in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Iíd like to make it clear to the Member for Kluane that our government does recognize and appreciate the difficulties faced by Yukoners who arenít able to access a family doctor. There has been discussion on the floor of the House of possible initiatives, and I would point out to the member opposite that one of the things weíre waiting for right now ó one of the key components ó is for the federal government to flow the money they have committed to us under the health access fund, which is a $150-million pot of money for the three territories over a period of five years. I urge the members opposite to recognize that we have actually booked money for these purposes; we are planning on utilizing this money, once it flows, for enhancing the physicians in Yukon through recruitment measures, as per our discussions with the Yukon Medical Association.
Mr. McRobb: Waiting for the federal government ó thatís another reason the Premier should have written to the leaders of all parties in this election.
Recently weíve received even more letters from patients looking for a family physician. One man has resorted to advertising in the local paper in hopes of finding a doctor. Months ago, the Yukon Registered Nurses Association suggested a solution: a collaborative clinic. When the YRNA held its national meeting here, the president of the Canadian Medical Association came up with some innovative ideas about attracting and retaining medical staff.
What solutions does this new minister plan to put into effect immediately, or at least in time for the spring budget?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: As the Member for Kluane will appreciate, we are in the middle of a budgetary cycle. Those matters are being considered right now. Iím sure heíll recognize that it was only Monday of this week that I took over this portfolio. I am still in the process of engaging in discussions with officials and weíll certainly be looking at enhancements.
With regard to the money ó the Member for Kluane just bats aside the issue of waiting for federal money ó we have a very firm commitment from the federal government for these funds. The Member for Kluane is failing to recognize the shortage of health care funding. We have a problem from coast to coast in this country with rising costs and a shortage of personnel. We are working to address that.
The Yukon had its health care money cut by the Liberal government under the tenure of the current Prime Minister when he was Finance minister, and we are still coming back from that and seeking a restoration of funds. When our Premier and the premiers of Nunavut and Northwest Territories walked out on the former Prime Minister, Mr. Chrťtien, on national TV and got the first recognition in Canadian history that per capita funding is inadequate to address our northern needs with our sparsely populated jurisdiction and large land mass, that was because there was a shortage of funds.
Mr. McRobb: Well, after three years, itís really embarrassing to realize that time has run out on this government after it has done nothing on this issue, even though it has been the fortunate recipient of millions of dollars in health care funding. Itís no wonder that most Yukoners donít trust this government any more and three-quarters of them donít support the Yukon Party.
We know itís a national issue. Itís a worldwide issue. Developed countries are luring medics away from the Third World. That doesnít mean we canít be creative though. I will give an example. In London, Ontario, theyíve developed a scheme called ďadopt-a-docĒ, which pays doctors $20,000 to come to their city. Private businesses and churches donate to that. It turns out that one of our doctors recently left the Yukon to move to London. Can the minister at least tell us what creative ideas he is exploring? Or is he content to just wait until all his wheels fall off?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †The member opposite, again, is failing to recognize the history and the realities of the situation here. I would like to give him an example of some of what our government has done with funding, contrary to his claims that we have done nothing in three years: $10 million to assist with increased costs at the Whitehorse General Hospital; $6 million for Pharmacare and chronic disease programs; $1.1 million for specialized medical services; $400,000 to support children with development disorders and assist with a five-step fetal alcohol spectrum disorder plan; $300,000 to provide outreach support to families with FASD children; $600,000 to support families with autistic children; $900,000 for additional family support workers. We have also invested in affordable childcare services in the amount of $5.5 million. We have increased the Yukon child tax credit from $25 to $37.50 per month. We increased the seniors pioneer utility grant by 35 percent, funding for home care services and support for affordable housing projects.
Multi-level care facilities ó construction is underway in Watson Lake and planning is underway in Dawson. We reinstated the Womenís Directorate with ongoing work to address violence prevention.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †It would be far easier to explain some of the investments to the members opposite if they would actually listen, rather than kibitzing.
We also increased the territorial supplementary allowance for the disabled.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
Motion No. 562
††††††† Clerk: Motion No. 562, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Edzerza.
††††††† Speaker: It is moved by the Minister of Justice
††††††† THAT the Yukon Legislative Assembly, pursuant to section 17(1) of the Human Rights Act, appoint Rick Goodfellow as a member of the Yukon Human Rights Commission.†
††††††† Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This motion will appoint Mr. Goodfellow to fill a vacancy on the Human Rights Commission. Mr. Goodfellow is the executive director of Challenge Community Vocational Alternatives. He is also vice-chair of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres and the Canadian NGO sector delegate to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
††††††† Locally, he is on the Literacy Action Committee, the 2007 Canada Winter Games Universal Access Committee and the Yukon Wheelchair Basketball Association.
††††††† We are proud to appoint Mr. Goodfellow as a member of the Human Rights Commission. I believe Mr. Goodfellow will be a valuable asset to the commission and a sound representative for individuals seeking the assistance of the commission. I have brought Mr. Goodfellowís name forward for the concurrence of the House.
††††††† Thank you.
††††††† Motion No. 562 agreed to
Motion No. 561
††††††† Clerk: Motion No. 561, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie.
††††††† Speaker: It is moved by the Hon. Premier
††††††† THAT the following Address be presented to the Commissioner of Yukon:
MAY IT PLEASE THE COMMISSIONER:
WHEREAS section 35 of the Ombudsman Act states:
††††††† 35(1) Subject to subsection (2), this act shall continue in force for a period of five years from the day on which it came into force, and no longer.
††††††† (2) If at any time while this act is in force, an address is presented to the Commissioner by the Legislative Assembly praying that this act should be continued in force for a further period, not in any case exceeding five years, from the time at which it would otherwise expire and the Commissioner in Executive Council so orders, this act shall continue in force for that further period;
††††††† AND WHEREAS the Ombudsman Act came into force on July 1, 1996 and, pursuant to Order-in-Council 2001/04, was continued in force from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2006;
††††††† AND WHEREAS the Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly believe it to be in the public interest to take action in a timely way respecting the continuance of the Ombudsman Act;
††††††† NOW THEREFORE this Legislative Assembly prays that the Ombudsman Act should be continued in force for a further period, being from July 1, 2006† to June 30, 2011.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As pointed out, the purpose of this motion is to extend the life of the Ombudsman Act for a further five years, from July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2011.
Iím not going to take up too much time, and Iím sure we can unanimously pass this in the House; however, a brief overview is necessary, I think.
The Ombudsman Act was passed by the Legislative Assembly in May of 1995. It came into force on July 1, 1996, and there was a sunset clause built into section 35 of the act. That section states that the act shall not continue in force without action being taken by the Legislative Assembly and the Commissioner in Executive Council.
When the act came into force in 1996, subsection 35(1) stipulated that the Ombudsman Act would continue in force for five years. That meant it would cease to exist as of July 1, 2001, if action was not taken.
Subsection 35(2) of the act sets out the procedure for renewing the act. It states that the procedure for renewal is for the Legislative Assembly to present to the Commissioner an address requesting that the act continue in force and the Commissioner in Executive Council to then order that the act continue in force. The maximum period of time that the act can be ordered to remain in force is five years.
On December 6, 2000, the Legislative Assembly adopted such an address requesting that the act continue in force from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2006. On January 12, 2001, the Commissioner of Yukon, on recommendation of the Executive Council, signed an order-in-council that gave effect to the address of the Assembly.
The motion currently before the House provides the Legislative Assembly with the opportunity to renew the Ombudsman Act for a further term. At its meeting on November 15, 2005, the Membersí Services Board agreed to recommend to the Legislative Assembly that action be taken causing the Ombudsman Act to remain in force from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2011. The motion before the House asks that the Assembly convey to the Commissioner its wish that the act continue in force for that period of time.
As Iíve already noted, the last time the Assembly dealt with this issue, it did so by way of a motion in the fall sitting preceding the actís renewal the following July. The same timing is being followed in this case with the motion now before the House being meant to apply to the renewal of the act in July of 2006. The advantage of this approach is that it gives the Ombudsman and his staff, the Government of Yukon public service, and the general public plenty of notice about the future of the Ombudsman Act.
As there was all-party agreement on this matter in the Membersí Services Board, I am sure I speak for all board members in urging the Assembly to agree to this motion. I commend it to the House.
Motion No. 561 agreed to
Motion No. 566
Clerk: Motion No. 566, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Cathers.
Speaker: It is moved by the government House leader
THAT the membership of the Membersí Services Board, as established by Motion No. 22 of the First Session of the 31st Legislative Assembly, be amended by:
(1) rescinding the appointments of Pat Duncan and Peter Jenkins; and
(2) appointing Arthur Mitchell and Hon. Brad Cathers to the board.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: As I believe all members of this Assembly are aware, this motion is a housekeeping matter by standard and by parliamentary precedence. The Membersí Services Board is composed of the leaders of the three parties in the Assembly and the government House leader and Speaker as a neutral chair. This motion is simply to make changes reflecting the change in the leader of the Liberal Party and in the government House leader.
Motion No. 566 agreed to
Motion No. 572
Clerk: Motion No. 572, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Cathers.
Speaker: It is moved by the government House leader
THAT the membership of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, as established by Motion No. 19 of the First Session of the 31st Legislative Assembly, be amended by:
(1) rescinding the appointment of Peter Jenkins; and
(2) appointing Hon. Glenn Hart and Patrick Rouble to the committee.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †Again, this motion is a housekeeping matter dealing with change in membership to the committee.
Motion No. 572 agreed to
Motion No. 573
Clerk: Motion No. 573, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Cathers.
Speaker: It is moved by the government House leader THAT the membership of the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, as established by Motion No. 20 of the First Session of the 31st Legislative Assembly, be amended by:
(1) rescinding the appointment of Peter Jenkins; and
(2) appointing Dean Hassard to the committee.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †Again, this is a housekeeping matter.
Motion No. 573 agreed to
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I would like to ask the House to join me in welcoming a good friend, Mr. Rick Tone, another of the thousands of people who have come to the Yukon to enjoy our wonderful and growing way of life.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 17 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
Department of Justice
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. Weíll continue with Vote 8, Department of Justice.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I am pleased to speak to the 2005-06 supplementary budget for the Department of Justice. I would like to acknowledge all the hard work that the Premier and my fellow Cabinet ministers put into this budget. Our supplementary budget reflects this governmentís continued commitment to make improvements in the justice system and, at the same time, make sure that our present system is safe, healthy and dynamic.
In this budget the government reaffirms its commitment to ensuring the safety of Yukoners by modernizing the justice system for present and future generations. In the past year, the government has engaged in three consultative processes with Yukoners, aimed at enhancing existing justice services and creating new services that will be beneficial to all Yukoners.
These processes ó the consultation on corrections, the policing review and the substance abuse action plan ó are the first steps toward enhancing programs and services that help and protect all Yukoners.
Our government is committed to ensuring that Yukoners have a justice system that reflects the values and diversity of Yukon society. That is why we are investing in open and accessible consultation processes.
I would like now to talk in greater detail about these specific initiatives that this government has undertaken to improve the safety of Yukon communities. The consultation on corrections will provide the framework for the future of corrections in the territory. That is why we are taking the time to fully consult Yukoners.
Mr. Chair, I would like to state at this time that when we talk about a new corrections facility, that may not be a total solution. We know that getting to know your spirit and getting to know who you are and making individual changes in oneís life is a solution. The corrections consultation was allocated an additional $267,000 in the supplementary budget, which will allow the consultation team to complete the community-specific consultations.
This additional funding was allotted in order to ensure that the concerns of all Yukoners are heard before a draft action plan is prepared and a corrections summit is held.
Some common themes that have arisen in consultations that have occurred to date are access to addictions treatment programs, residential school, FASD and access to community land-based healing programs. We will use what we learn from this consultation and also use what we have learned from previous consultations, including the very important work of the elders to design a new correctional centre.
Most importantly, the consultation will help our government create a correctional system that is more than just a revolving door and is more responsive to the needs of victims and offenders in all our communities. That is why I am requesting a substantial number of dollars in the 2005-06 budget, to continue on from where the consultation left off and start the process of constructing a new correctional facility.
Does all this activity surrounding the corrections consultation mean that we should sit still? No, of course not, Mr. Chair. That is why, in the past year, we have introduced significant improvements to inmate programming and staff training at Whitehorse Correctional Centre and have engaged in renovating the existing jail facilities.
In keeping with our commitment to improving the conditions for both our staff and inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and for inmates who are serving their time in a community, we would like to remind the Chair that over the past year we have increased the budget by $174,000 for mental health services. This allocation has resulted in more counselling services and treatment for inmates and training in the area of mental health for staff. These new resources are in addition to money previously allocated for renovating the medical dormitory to house mental health patients at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
Mr. Chair, I have stated it previously and I will state it again: our government recognizes that the mental health of our prisoner population is a serious issue and we are committed to doing something about it. We are also very aware that the majority of our inmates within our Correctional Centre are of First Nation ancestry. The total portion of First Nation people at the jail can be as high as 90 percent at times. It is important to recognize this as an ongoing issue and to try to address this in ways that will be meaningful to all of our offenders.
That is why in the past year we have also allocated $120,000 for First Nation programming at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. To date, this allocation has allowed a First Nation counsellor to be brought to Whitehorse Correctional Centre to help our female prison population work through issues of grief, residential school abuse, and other issues that are affecting their lives. This counsellor has also worked with the female inmates to strengthen their community and family ties. This money has also allowed the elders to provide traditional healing services to the entire prison population.
Elders can have a great impact on helping inmates make decisions in their lives and give them the knowledge and tools they need to change their behaviour. The elders can also guide inmates back to the wisdom found in cultural traditions and help them find a more meaningful existence that doesnít involve ending up back in prison.
Our investment in First Nation programming will continue to bring a state of healthy First Nation elders into the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, to provide First Nation cultural training and teaching of traditional crafts and to develop other programs to serve First Nation offenders. The goal of this program is to provide an opportunity for First Nation inmates to reconnect with their culture and receive culturally appropriate programming.
Funding will be used to develop sweats and other culturally relevant programs, as well as for supplies, tent rentals and facilitators and elders.
Mr. Chair, further to expanding our ability to deal with the mental health issues of our prison population and creating culturally relevant programming, our government has also offered a number of courses in the past year that have given WCC inmates real world skills that would help them gain meaningful employment when they are released. I am pleased to say that the following seven programs will be delivered in 2005 by Yukon College at the WCC campus: introduction to log building; initial attack fire suppression training; introduction to small engine repair; introduction to welding; occupational first aid, level 3; PITS training, or petroleum industry training service, a prerequisite for anyone who wishes to work in the oil patch; and introduction to wrangling and packing.
As this House will also remember from the past budget discussions, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre also offers enhanced programming, including group counselling programs for substance abuse, small engine repair courses, and other courses offered from Yukon College. Our government feels that offering a strong combination of programming that deals with the problems that offenders have when they enter our justice system, as well as giving them the tools they need to be successful when they have served their time, will eventually lead to a lower recidivism rate and safer Yukon communities.
This government also recognizes that the men and women at work at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre do so under stressful conditions. The work they do each day directly contributes to the safety of Yukon communities.
Mr. Chair, we are committed to having a professional workforce in our Correctional Centre, with strong professional development and a work environment that is healthy and safe. This spring budget allotted $87,000 for staff training, which is being used on an ongoing basis to improve the health, safety and skills of our Whitehorse Correctional Centre staff.
Besides working with inmates and staff to improve their overall skills, health and safety, we have also allocated $318,000 toward renovating the Whitehorse Correctional Centre building. This money will be used to improve on existing security measures and to improve the air quality in the administrative trailer for Whitehorse Correctional Centreís administrative staff. As these ongoing renovations are integral to the safety and security of staff and inmates, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has worked so diligently to ensure that these renovations are completed. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the staff. As anyone who has lived in a house that is being renovated knows, it is a messy and stressful time for everyone who has to be around the construction.
The staff at Whitehorse Correctional Centre not only had to work in this environment, they had to manage offenders who were also stressed by the construction.
I would like to turn your attention now to another consultative process currently underway in the Yukon, and that is the policing review. This budget was allocated $100,000 to consult with all Yukoners about existing police services in the territory. The review has already visited every community in the Yukon and has held a total of over 110 meetings. In these meetings, Yukon citizens have been asked what they think about the RCMP policing services that are being delivered in their community. They have also been asked to identify their policing needs and the top three priorities for policing services within the community.
Some common concerns that have arisen in the review so far are that communities would like to see increased RCMP presence in their communities, and they would like the battle against known community drug dealers to be stepped up.
A draft report from this very important consultation is expected in the winter of 2006. Further to this, a pan-northern report, including information gathered here in the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories will also be prepared. These reports will assist the territorial government and the federal government in improving policing services throughout the north.
The third significant initiative that our government is currently engaged in is the creation of a substance abuse action plan. Through the cooperation of the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Services, and the Womenís Directorate, this budget has been able to commit $130,000 to its very important undertaking. This past June, our government hosted a very successful substance abuse summit in Whitehorse. Almost 200 delegates representing community organizations, NGOs, First Nations, and various levels of government attended the summit at the convention centre.
Also, a number of members of the general public attended an evening session to hear national speakers and provide input to the issues surrounding substance abuse. As a result of this summit, our government has released a draft substance abuse action plan which has four priorities: harm reduction, prevention and education, treatment and enforcement.
In these four areas, the action plan speaks to 30 programs and services, 13 of which are completely new and 17 being expansions of programs and services that are already addressing the harms that stem from substance abuse.
Some of the new initiatives that are being contemplated to complement the many programs and services that our government already offers are: a community harm-reduction fund; a public education campaign; Aboriginal Shield; health styles, lifestyles and work experience projects; a resource directory for Yukon communities; a problem-solving court; safer communities legislation; and access to a 24-hour substance abuse crisis line.
This is only a small list of the many initiatives listed in the action plan that will guide our government in instituting programs and services in the area of substance abuse over the next three to five years.
Mr. Chair, at this time I would like to, again, impress upon you the importance of this initiative to the health and safety of all Yukoners. As you may know, some of the following grave statistics are sadly part of a daily reality for some Yukoners: in 2004-05, there were 1,200 admissions to the detox centre in Whitehorse; Yukon has the third highest rate of interpersonal violence offences in the country; of the eight deaths between 2003-04 that resulted in murder charges, almost all involved the use of drugs and alcohol; Yukoners use cannabis at rates higher than the10 Canadian provinces; if you ask the people of our territory, they will tell you that it is very easy to find hard drugs such as crack cocaine and methamphetamines in Whitehorse and in the outlying communities.
These statistics should be of great concern to all Yukoners, and the substance abuse action plan is a significant step toward addressing these concerns.
In closing this section of the Budget Address, I would like to assure you, Mr. Chair, that these three initiatives ó the corrections consultation, the policing review and the substance abuse action plan ó are only going to enhance the quality of service our government is able to offer to Yukon residents.
Yukon residents have been actively engaged in these processes and have let us know, loud and clear, what their concerns are and how they should be addressed. We are committed to working toward improving our justice system so it reflects the needs and wants of the people we serve. The corrections consultation, the policing review and the substance abuse action plan are examples of how we are going to do just that.
Mr. Chair, I have so far highlighted only three of the Justice supplementary expenditures that have been made to improve our justice system. I would like to take a moment now to discuss a number of other expenditures that have been provided in this budget.
Two very worthwhile expenditures have been made in the court services branch; the first is the maintenance enforcement programís new interactive voice response system. This new system will allow clients routine access to information on their files, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. New clients will be able to find out information such as if their child support payments have been sent or received and what their account balance is, whenever it is convenient for them and not only between the hours of 8:00 and 5:00.
I could talk for probably the rest of this afternoon on important initiatives within the Department of Justice that the government is considering, but I will close now to hear from the members opposite.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, Iíd like to thank the minister for his opening comments, and Iíd like to thank the officials for their attendance here today. I recognize that the minister would like to talk all afternoon about important initiatives, so I am going to ask him a question about something that is an important initiative. He can give me a short answer, hopefully, with regard to this initiative.
On November 10, I introduced a motion in the Legislature in response to some of the recommendations from the substance abuse action plan. One of the recommendations was to look into a drug court or a problem-solving court. The motion that I introduced on November 10 was urging the minister to take action on the substance abuse action plan by looking into the costs, the design and the implementation and evaluation of Canadian drug court and problem-solving courts and report back to the House on the results of the research before the beginning of the next sitting.
The minister was talking about there being lots of new money in this supplementary budget for justice initiatives. Iím just wondering if this is an initiative that the minister would undertake, because I think itís something that could improve the way we deal with offenders, and especially people who have addictions problems.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, I would say to the member opposite that this is a work in progress and we definitely do support developing a problem-solving court.
Mr. Cardiff: Everything with this government is a work-in-progress. Everything with every government is a work-in-progress, I think. Hopefully weíre not going backward.
I asked if the research will be undertaken and if there is any possibility of a report before the next sitting.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: A work-in-progress means we are working on it as we speak.
Mr. Cardiff: He says itís a work-in-progress. Iíd like him to report on the progress and tell me when he thinks it will be complete. I asked him a specific question about whether or not we could expect a report on the research thatís ongoing. He has admitted it is happening. When can we expect a report? Can we expect it before the next sitting? Can we expect it before the next election?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: As I stated earlier, I donít know how much plainer I could make it to the member opposite that a work-in-progress means the officials are working on this very initiative at the present time and, through their efforts, will be able to establish what kind of cost would be involved in such a thing as a problem-solving court. Itís a work thatís ongoing right at this time.
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Chair, I donít know how much plainer I can make the question. I understand the work is ongoing as we speak, right now. What Iím asking is: when does the minister expect that work to be completed and when can we get a report?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would again state that the department has to have something to offer to the government before we can report it to anyone. When something is brought to Cabinet and approved, then the members opposite will be notified of it.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, weíre not going to get anywhere with the minister. I donít know how much of a priority this is for the minister. There is obviously no deadline. Hopefully, weíll see something before the next election, because he doesnít seem to want to answer the question. I donít doubt that the work is going on and that the officials are looking into it. All Iím asking the minister is when he expects a report, and he doesnít seem to know that.
The minister also talked about programs and counselling at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. I recognize that there will never be a new correctional facility built in the mandate of this government. It has been clearly evident almost from day one that they had no intention of doing that. But there are lots of improvements that could be made, and there have been some improvements made. I note that there is money, again, for yet more renovations to this facility and that weíre also putting more money into the correctional reform process.
I would like to thank the minister, as well, for delivering a copy of the interim report on the corrections consultation to me ó by hand, actually. When I went up and asked for it, it was nice that he responded so fast and brought me a copy of the report. But there are a lot of good suggestions in that report, in the corrections consultation report. I think it would be worth noting that there was a lot of work done by the people involved, the chairs of the corrections consultation and the people who went out and did all that work. I attended one of the meetings, and some of our staff attended meetings as well. By all reports it is a good consultation and there are a lot of good recommendations.
Noting there wonít be a new facility in the mandate of this government, there are some things that could be done now to improve the delivery of corrections programming in the Yukon, whether itís out of the current facility or in communities. One of the things that the report points out is the need for more information in the public about how the courts work, and there are ways and means of doing that. We need to publish more information that people can understand about the court system, sentencing, court procedures, probation orders, community justice issues and the family violence legislation.
We need to be able to assist communities and families in dealing with people who have been through the correctional system when they return to their communities, whether it be Whitehorse or one of the smaller communities. I am just wondering if there is money in this supplementary budget to expand some of the education services.
Actually just having dealt with this recently ó I needed some information regarding the legal system a little while ago myself. Itís interesting to note that the Yukon Public Legal Education Association ó YPLEA ó is situated at Yukon College. I canít remember what the hours were, but itís not available on a full-time basis. This is the place where people can go to get information. It is handy for students who are studying criminal justice at the college but itís not handy for the public ó the people on Main Street.
I am just wondering if the minister would consider increasing the core funding to this organization and providing them with sufficient funds to maybe establish an office that could be opened downtown. Iím not saying we shouldnít have an office at the college, because I think itís a benefit to students at the college, possibly, but for the general public it would be handier if it were downtown. Would the minister consider looking at increasing the funding and maybe helping them establish an office downtown?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To the best of my knowledge, the funding has been sufficient to date for their needs.
Mr. Cardiff: I have to apologize, Mr. Chair. I was distracted when the minister gave his answer and Iím just wondering if he could repeat that, please.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I just made the statement that, to the best of my knowledge, the funds are sufficient for the needs of the particular program the member opposite is talking about.
Mr. Cardiff: In the interest of time, Iím not going to go around and around the horn on this question, but I would just like to put on record that one of the things the report points out is the need for more education. This is the group that would do that and it just makes sense it would be more accessible to people if it were downtown.
One of the other sections of the report deals with the recommendation of training. Itís identified in issue 15 in the report. The minister talked about some new training going on at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. I feel thereís also a need to train people in communities when offenders ó people who have been through the corrections system ó are returning to the community. They need support. We can see examples of that as recently as the past couple of weeks. There was a fairly high-profile case of an offender returning to the community, and if you look at the reasons why that person reoffended, it was because there wasnít support in the community where he needed it. There was support for awhile, but then it kind of disappeared. What I would like to see is more training in communities to assist ó basically to monitor things like community service. We donít have probation officers in every community, and they seem to get there on a regular basis but they are not there enough to provide the services that are needed to monitor offenders.
††††††† We also need training for paraprofessionals in communities to assist assaulted women with the legal process. We just passed amendments to the Family Violence Prevention Act and it would be good to have people in communities, other than the RCMP, who are trained to assist these people and to assist the victims.
The other thing that I think we need training for, Mr. Chair, in communities as well ó not that we donít also need it in Whitehorse, probably, but it would be helpful in communities for assisting with offenders returning to their communities, people who have been through the justice system ó is to do addictions counselling in communities. There is some work done in communities but we need more support mechanisms in communities. Part of the restorative justice program, I believe, is to provide those supports so that these people can come back into their community, feel like they are being supported, feel like they are part of the community.
The minister talked about training in his opening remarks, with regard to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. What I would like to know: is the minister prepared to put money into training people in communities, providing assistance to communities so that there are trained people in communities to assist with some of these programs?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, the member opposite really went pretty well all over the map with that one. I donít know if there ever ended up being a specific question. However, I would like to state to the member opposite that some of the things that are in place for training in communities are the training that has been provided for front-line staff in government, for example, and other organizations and communities on the prevention, intervention and management of family violence and the Family Violence Prevention Act.
The member mentioned the changes to the Family Violence Prevention Act ó having amendments voted on in the House just recently. However, itís unfortunate that not all members agreed to those changes and they voted against it. However, it did pass because there was a number large enough to have it pass.
We also have formal training sessions that have been provided in a variety of communities to shelter workers, justices of the peace and the RCMP on such topics as how to use the Family Violence Prevention Act, sexual abuse prevention, how to work with victims of domestic violence and coping with vicarious trauma. The victim services/family violence prevention unit has also provided peer support training to individuals who are working with FASD victims, With a Little Help from My Friends project, operated by FASSY and funded by the national crime prevention strategy. So there are a number of initiatives that are going on within the communities to work with those in need in the communities.
With regard to training, I could state to the member opposite that, at the recent justice ministers meeting, there was support to look at the over-representation of First Nations in the justice system, and also the under-representation of First Nations in the justice system with regard to training and those working within the justice system. Something the Yukon is proposing is that there be a northern institute of justice established in the Yukon Territory, and the discussions went so far as to recommend that it be pan-northern. Upon brief premature discussions with the federal minister, the federal minister thought that would be something he would surely look at and possibly support.
I believe that the government is at the present time heading in the right direction with regard to training people in the north to work within the justice system. I would dearly appreciate the day when training for people who work in the justice system can be taken right here in the Yukon Territory ó or whether itís in Yellowknife or wherever.
Also, in response to concerns the member opposite raised about people coming back to the territory after theyíve spent time in a penitentiary, I can provide a little more detail about how the Department of Justice is involved in the supervision of each of these types of offenders.
I will deal first with offenders who return to the Yukon after serving a federal sentence and who have a parole requirement. The Yukon Department of Justice has entered into an exchange of service agreement with Correctional Service Canada. Under this agreement, Yukon probation officers act as parole supervisors for offenders who receive federal parole. Offenders who are released into the community on federal parole are subject to strict provisions they must follow. For example, they may be required to refrain from using drugs and alcohol and submit to urine testing, reside in a specific place, such as the Adult Resource Centre ó ARC ó and attend counselling.
Individuals who are on parole are monitored by an assigned parole officer who directs the parolee to attend at the parole office for interviews, visits them at their residence, does random residence checks, does random drug or alcohol tests, sends them to counselling, interviews family and friends on a regular basis and generally monitors their behaviour in their residence in the community.
If they do not abide by these orders, then they can be suspended and returned to custody. Offenders who are released into the community will often stay at the Adult Resource Centre, or ARC, and are supervised there by staff under contract to both YTG and Correctional Service Canada.
If the Department of Justice feels that an offender who is returning to the Yukon after serving a sentence in the south is a higher risk for reoffending ó for example, if the offender is a sex offender or a violent offender ó additional measures are put in place. The department uses risk management teams to develop supervision and treatment plans for those offenders. Risk management teams are normally composed of the parole supervisor and representatives from the sex offender risk management program, the spousal assault program, the RCMP and the ARC staff.
So there is quite an extensive amount of security measures put in place for anyone who is considered to be a potentially high risk for reoffending.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister went on about a whole array of things. One of the things he mentioned was risk management teams. So, how many risk management teams are currently in place? Heís talking about them. How many are currently in place, and how many of them are in each individual community? Tell me that.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, Mr. Chair, the risk management teams are put together on an as-needed basis.
Mr. Cardiff: I think the minister needs a risk management team, maybe.
There is only so much time today and the minister wants to go on at length here. I want to try to shorten some of my questions here. I will just make this a couple of short questions, and the Member for Copperbelt, I believe, has a couple of questions that he would like to ask, and I will stand down.
Can the minister tell me what assessments are done at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre when people are brought into the centre?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: When someone is brought into Whitehorse Correctional Centre, I believe there is a risk/needs assessment that is done. The level of needs is determined, and programs will be provided accordingly.
Mr. Cardiff: If the Member for Copperbelt is ready, I would be willing to give him an opportunity to ask his questions.
Mr. Mitchell: I would like to ask some questions, again, going back to a theme that I raised in Question Period today. Perhaps we can get into this in a little more detail. I recognize that the minister may choose to view this as a personnel issue, but I think this is something far more fundamentally important than a personnel issue.
My questions would be regarding the policy of this government and this minister regarding what I would call the fundamental right of any individual to pursue their full legal rights on any particular issue, including issues that might affect the government, and, at the same time, not have that impact on their ability to be gainfully employed by the government if they are qualified to be employed in that manner.
Now, today I raised the issue by discussing the International Declaration on Human Rights, which has been endorsed through the United Nations by over 100 countries. I will just read article 23 again into the record: ďEveryone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.Ē
I want the minister, when he answers, to answer, for the record, whether he agrees, supports and subscribes to those fundamental principles.
The concern I have is when things are linked that should not be, and when the government chooses to hide behind the response of ďpersonnel issuesĒ. Some things are legitimately personnel issues, but this goes to a principle that can affect an awful lot of people.
About a third of all Yukoners work for government. We all come into this situation on a regular basis.
The concern I have is about when the government, on government letterhead belonging to this ministerís portfolio, writes to an individual and references a court case as the reason for the correspondence, and then, in the body of the letter, go further to say that because of a particular court case ó which is unrelated to that particular individualís current employment ó they will not continue to employ that person.
Does the minister think that this is ó not, ďDoes the minister thinkĒ ó is this the policy of government?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I will state, for the record, that I will not make any comments with regard to any personnel issue, Mr. Chair, and I would state to the member opposite that, if the member opposite has any specific allegations to make against the government for breach of policy or any other serious issue to which he tends to be focusing toward, then I would recommend that he do so outside of this Legislature.
Mr. Mitchell: †† Well, we can agree on one thing, that itís a serious issue of policy. Again, I donít want to get into a personnel case; Iím asking a question of policy. So, perhaps Iíll rephrase it.
My wife is employed by the Government of Yukon in the Department of Education. This is not uncommon in this territory. If the government feels that I might cause embarrassment to the government, would that jeopardize my wifeís employment? Is that the policy of government? Now, we are not talking about any existing personnel issue, Iím just asking a question of policy.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I wonít comment on hypothetical questions.
Mr. Mitchell: †† Iím disappointed because I know this minister and I do believe that this minister has a very strong belief in the principles of justice. I know that from past statements this minister has given in and out of this House. I know this minister feels strongly about these issues, as do I.†
So again, perhaps Iíll ask a very specific question. Since he stood up and paid a tribute last week to International Human Rights Day ó and this is not a personnel issue ó does this minister support the words in article 23 stating that everyone has the right to work, free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment? Thatís not a personnel issue. Itís a question of whether it is the policy of this government to support this declaration.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíll state for the record again that the political arm of the government does not in any way, shape or form get involved with personnel issues and policies, and thatís what the administrationís work is. It is to work with those issues. Itís not the political arm.
Mr. Mitchell: †Well, then Iíll state for the record that three members gave tributes last week on International Human Rights Day, and I am now convinced that I know where two of the members stand on the issues, but I am unclear where the third member stands on this issue, because the member wonít respond to the question.
Perhaps Iíll just see if I can take another tack. Again, I want to be very clear about something, because I am quite cognizant of the fact that personnel issues are in the purview of the Public Service Commission and that we donít discuss personnel issues. The concern I have is that a personnel issue would be the case if we were concerned about a legal action and whether that action might be successful or not and if the legal action was at the heart of the personnel issue. The issue Iím trying to raise is, is it this governmentís policy to tie issues that may be considered personnel issues to issues that are unrelated?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: If the member opposite sincerely believes in what he has stated on the floor today, then he would not bring personnel issues to the floor of this Legislature.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Mitchell, on a point of order.
Mr. Mitchell: The member opposite is imputing motives for my line of questioning and suggesting Iím not sincere in my beliefs, and I donít believe he has the right to do that.
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In my opinion, there is no point of order. The Minister of Justice was expressing his opinion on the comments the leader of the Liberal Party was making. He did not make it as a statement of fact or as an accusation; itís merely a dispute among members.
Chair: On the point of order, the Chair finds there is no point of order. We must expect that when members put forward statements, that they are doing so in all honesty. Thatís one of the fundamental principles of members being in this Assembly, and that they are all considered honourable members.
I donít find that motive was imputed or that the minister said there was a deliberate intention to mislead members of this Assembly. Weíll continue with debate.
Mr. Mitchell: I donít believe the minister has answered my question, so Iíll try one last time. Is it the policy of this territorial government to link Yukon residentsí ability for employment to whether or not they might have any other disagreement with the Government of Yukon?
I have no further questions of this minister since he is not going to answer any of the questions that I raised. Itís clear that this government canít elucidate what their policy is on this matter and there should be some embarrassment over that.
Chair: Is there any further debate?
Mr. Cardiff: That was an interesting exchange. Itís interesting to note that the political arm of the government isnít responsible for policy. I canít believe that they could even operate like that.
Before the Member for Copperbelt asked his questions, I was asking about assessments that are done at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. I believe the minister responded saying there were needs assessments done, but what other work has been done? Is there work with regard to the management of each individual case when they arrive at the centre to put in place a plan for the offender? Is there work done looking toward the release of the prisoner, to put plans in place for when they are eventually released into the community?
I asked about what kind of assessments are done and what kind of work is done, and the minister simply said ďa needs assessmentĒ. I think there should be more work done than that.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Yes to all.
Mr. Cardiff: Itís unfortunate I had to help the minister with the answer to his question.
Can the minister tell me this, then? What kinds of assessments are done after the offender leaves the facility? Is there an assessment done after they are released into the community? On a similar topic, is there an exit interview, to ask offenders ó I mean, theyíve been in there for whatever period of time, anything up to two years less a day. They probably have some valuable insights into how a facility runs and would be able to offer the minister some good advice on what programming would be helpful. Is there an exit survey, and are there assessments done after the offender leaves?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I think Iíd like to make something perfectly clear to the member opposite. Once an offender is released from incarceration, if there are no probation orders that they must follow, they are free to go. They donít have to answer questions from anybody. Theyíve done their time; they are released.
Mr. Cardiff: I wasnít suggesting that the minister put them in handcuffs as theyíre leaving and demand that they answer a survey. There are all kinds of exit surveys done. We donít do that to tourists when theyíre leaving the territory ó haul them over on the side of the road and say, ďWeíve got this exit survey and youíre going to fill it out or weíre not going to let you leave.Ē Itís a voluntary thing. All I was suggesting to the minister is that, through an instrument like that, he could probably glean some valuable information about the operation of the facility, the programs in the facility, the needs of offenders who have been in there.
That was one question ó a survey. I didnít say that it was a mandatory survey. I was asking if a survey was done. When I referred to ďassessmentĒ, I was talking about an assessment of the progress of the offender after he leaves, if there is a probation order.
If the offender reoffends and comes back, obviously something didnít work. You could assess that something went wrong, that the system isnít working. But where there are probation orders or some sort of supervision order, there could be an assessment done of the needs of that person and how to best respond. Reducing recidivism was a mantra of the government and the Premier. Iím trying to get to the bottom of some of the issues here and ask the minister some questions and make some suggestions.
There were two questions there. One was about a kind of an exit survey, where we donít put you in handcuffs until you fill it out ó itís just a voluntary thing. The other thing is an assessment of offenders that are under supervision or probation orders after they leave the correctional facility.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The exit survey is something that was recently raised with the corrections consultations process that has been happening. Itís a recommendation, I imagine, that some of the offenders might have. It is something that will be taken into consideration when the final draft is completed. As far as monitoring offenders when they leave the facility ó of course, if there is a probation requirement the probation officers will certainly monitor the offender. I believe most high-risk offenders who are at risk of reoffending usually do have some type of probation attached to their release, and rightfully so.
Mr. Cardiff: If there is an assessment done, it is done by the probation officers, or is it done by some external body?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The plan would be put together by the case management team, which includes the probation officer, and theyíll determine what requirements the offender has to follow when released.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to ask some staffing questions ó Iím emphasizing ďstaffingĒ, not ďpersonnelĒ. Can the minister provide ó it doesnít need to be on the floor; it can be by legislative return ó what level of staffing there currently is at both the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and the young offenders facility? Iíd like to know how many people are full-time, and Iíd like a breakdown of the different categories: full-time, auxiliary on-call and casual. Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The department can provide some of this information with regard to Whitehorse Correctional Centre; however, the young offenders facility falls under the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Cardiff: I will get my colleague from Kluane to ask the new Minister of Health and Social Services for that information.
The minister talked a lot about different training programs that are going to be taking place at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. It seems to me there were eight of them. I think itís important that inmates have an opportunity, when theyíre released, to get out and gain some work experience. I am just wondering if any of these training programs are tied to any kind of work experience programs upon the release of the offenders who are participating in them.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: All these programs that are offered at WCC, which include introduction to welding, introduction to small engine repairs, initial attack firefighting, H2S Alive, occupational first aid, level 3, introduction to wrangling and horse-packing, GPS and map reading ó all these courses do provide the individual the opportunity, upon release, to seek out employment with regard to these areas. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no direct link from the inmate to a company or otherwise that is made with regard to these courses.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, it kind of occurred to me ó and the minister should know this. The minister knows. He has been through the apprenticeship program. I have been through the apprenticeship program. I believe the Speaker likes to use the example that there are a lot of tradespeople here in this Legislature right now, more tradespeople than have ever sat in the Legislature at any one time. So we have a lot of people who have been through apprenticeship programs. We all know that part of an apprenticeship program is that you go to school and you do the training and you get a little bit of hands-on experience, but part of an apprenticeship program is also the work experience. It just makes sense to me that if weíre going to give these people a good chance in life for success, it would be worthwhile exploring something like that.
I see the minister is making a note. So I hope he is taking note of this. Maybe if nothing is being done, maybe something can be done.
Will the minister commit to at least maybe having corrections officials look at partnering with industry to find ó not everybody is suited to any given trade. But if there is somebody who shows specific talent in a given area, I think it would almost be criminal not to give them the opportunity and to promote them out in the industry. If they have a talent for welding or if they have a talent for the outfitting business ó if they have a talent to go work on the pipeline, whether it be the pipeline that may come through here or may come through the Mackenzie Valley or the ones that theyíre building in B.C. ó those are opportunities that could be life-changing for these individuals. I think it is a worthwhile thing to explore.
If anything will help reduce recidivism, itís going to be being employed and feeling like your work is valued. I would ask the minister if he would consider having his officials look into that.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I do appreciate the member oppositeís insight and ability to recognize how valuable we tradespeople are.
The member opposite also knows very well that anyone can take a course in any given trade, but one must also continue on to find the ambition to search for work. I believe anyone in the Yukon Territory who isnít working ó itís because they need to look a little harder. I believe the work is there.
I can quite honestly say I donít know any employer who would refuse one of these individuals a job if they were looking for one. The businesses in Whitehorse are very responsive to anyone who is trying to promote their knowledge in any given trade or in any workforce, as far as that goes.
Mr. Cardiff: I thought I had one more question with regard to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Maybe Iíll come back to that.
The minister also talked about the policing review and Iím wondering when he expects there to be a report and when he expects it to be available, and Iím looking for a commitment from the minister that ó when it is available and lands on his desk, so to speak, after he has a chance to read it ó heíll make it available to the public.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíd like to state for the record that most of the line of questioning from the member opposite today just reinforces how important it was to do the corrections consultation process. A lot of what the member opposite has pointed out are things that have been identified in the consultation process that has taken place to date. Some of the recommendations are well within line of the questions from the member opposite.
With regard to the policing review, we expect there will be a report sometime in January or February, and it can be made public once it is released.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for his comments. The minister talked about being able to go on talking all day about the good things the Department of Justice is doing, and I donít want to go on about the corrections consultation because, quite frankly, I could go on about the corrections consultation all day too, but we donít have time for that. Weíve got a short period of time. We could go through the corrections consultation issue by issue, but we donít have that time.
All I am trying to point out with my questioning of the minister is the fact that there is a lot of good information in here. We recognize that the minister is not going to build a facility, but someone said something to me the other day. This report is seven eighths of an inch thick. We can create lots of those reports, but they donít help people.
In this report, there are a lot of things that we could do today. We donít have to wait to build a new jail. Some of this stuff we could have started last week. Some of it we can start in January. All Iím trying to do is point out to the minister that there are lots of good ideas that were brought forward during this process. There were lots of good ideas ó some of the same ideas that were brought forward in the previous process ó four or five years ago, I guess ó that we could be acting on. We could be making not only the lives of offenders better in their experience with the corrections system, but we could be benefiting the general public as well.
So for me, what can we do today to make a positive change in the corrections system? I think that we can pull some things out of that. I have a whole list of them, but we donít have time today to deal with all of them.
Several months ago ó or in fact, it might have even been a couple years ago ó the minister talked about a review of the Corrections Act. Now, weíve done a corrections consultation that looks at whatís going on in the corrections system. The Corrections Act ó I was surprised. I think it goes back to 1973, if Iím not mistaken. I do recall the jail regulations do go back to 1973. It just seems to me that it might be a good thing to have the department look at that and see whether or not, with the changes in the way we deal with corrections, maybe it would be good to review the act and have a look at those regulations, because there are practices in the regulations that we donít even tolerate in our society any more.
I donít believe we need to have regulations in place to deal with offenders who are sitting on death row, and thatís in the regulations. I was surprised to see that.
Would the minister offer his opinion on whether or not theyíre looking at reviewing the Corrections Act and the regulations?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The government at the present time is doing a number of things to address offender needs. For example, weíre actively pursuing FASD housing for offenders, intensive bail supervision, reviewing programs for women, addressing staffing issues, Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court, and there are also some new programs for offenders.
Iíll also state for the record that, with respect to the corrections consultation, the government will be putting more funding into the upcoming spring budget to continue complying with the corrections consultation and some of the recommendations.
With regard to the Corrections Act, the corrections consultation will be making recommendations on changes that need to take place within that act.
Mr. Cardiff: My time is somewhat limited here and Iíd like to get a few more quick questions in.
Can the minister tell me what percentage of perpetrators of violent crimes go to restorative justice programs, the restorative justice system? Are violent crimes ó no? The minister is shaking his head ó okay.
Can the minister tell me whether or not there is an evaluation plan for how the restorative justice and community justice system are working? The minister knows what Iím talking about. Iím talking about restorative justice, community justice, where people come together in a community setting and deal with the victim and the offender.
There are benefits to that system, but what Iím wondering is if there is any evaluation of how well thatís working in meeting the needs of victims, offenders and communities.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At the present time, there is no specific evaluation program that is in place to evaluate any restorative justice type of initiatives. But the crime prevention workers do work very closely with the communities and there is also training provided for people who work in the communities.
Mr. Cardiff: I guess my concern is that we have been doing this for a number of years now ó this system has been in place to deal with offenders and communities. It includes the community, but do we have a real measure of how well that is working and if it is meeting the needs of the people who are involved, including the community. Thatís the purpose behind it. The minister might want to consider having the program evaluated on how well it works.
Itís important the community be involved in it, and it is important that there are people trained to be involved in it. There is a shortage of people. People get burned out with all their volunteer activities. We talked about training a little earlier. I think the minister could do an evaluation or maybe have an independent evaluation done, maybe similar to the evaluation that was done for the Family Violence Prevention Act. Some of it is contained in the corrections consultation, but I think that it might warrant its own review.
I am going to ask one more quick question. I have pages and pages of questions, but Iím wondering if the minister can provide statistics of how may inmates ó I believe I asked for this before, and I donít recall getting it ó are housed at the ARC. These are people, I believe, who are out on release. I would like to know what kind of cost-savings are involved, as well. If there is a cost-saving to the Department of Justice by using that facility. I would like to know the success rate ó basically the recidivism rate. I know that the Premier likes to keep an eye on individuals who are housed at the ARC or have stayed there. Is there is any evaluation of that facility being done, or is there one being planned?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The comment the member opposite made about having pages and pages of questions ó I think Iíve got pages and pages of answers to match up with those. But when we talk about training in the communities, something the department is doing is consolidating the training so that a large number of communities can get more specific training at once.
With regard to the ARC, the government does have a contract for 10 bids per day with the ARC. They are usually filled to capacity but on some days they may not be. But the government is also planning a review of the ARC in connection with Corrections Service Canada, which also uses the ARC. The review will be specifically geared at the programming and services that are offered by the ARC.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to address a key issue with the minister this afternoon. There has been a great deal of discussion about the corrections consultation. The corrections consultation by this government has been a bait and switch and thereís really no other way to put it. What is desperately, desperately required ó and the minister well knows it ó is a new facility and that has been required for a very long time.†
We can discuss programming needs. We can talk about the recidivism rate, as the Member for Mount Lorne has pointed out the Premier is fond of doing. No one is denying that those services are required. However, it is also abundantly clear, or ought to be to the minister by now, that a new facility was required. There is a fundamental point that there is concern not only about those who are incarcerated but also for the individuals who are required to work there, in a facility that doesnít meet the current fire safety standards. The Yukon Party government put the brakes on any construction ó dirt was already turned ó and this not only sent the construction industry into a great deal of difficulty, but it continued the situation where the fire marshal had very, very clearly given instruction that that building was to be redone. We needed a new building, or it would be shut down.
I really would appreciate it if somewhere, at some point in time, the current Minister of Justice would recognize what a fundamental error the Yukon Party made in halting construction on that jail. Let it be on the conscience and minds of the members opposite, because every member of Cabinet has a responsibility for saying no to that reconstruction ó a responsibility to the workers, to the incarcerated inmates and to the construction industry, who are now looking quite sorrowfully at the Yukon Party government, which hasnít managed to build anything, save for the arena in Ross River, during their term in office.
The minister says he has pages and pages of answers before him. Would the minister please state for the record: when is the fire marshalís next visit to the jail?
Chair: Before debate continues, when the member first started her remarks, she used the term ďbait and switchĒ. This has previously been ruled out of order as it implies a deliberate intent to mislead. It implies deception. That is against our Standing Orders.
Withdrawal of remark
Ms. Duncan: I will gladly withdraw that, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to start out by reminding the member opposite that, as Premier, she had ample options to construct that facility. I would also like to say something that is quite important to be stated for the record: as a minister, I am not opposed to having a new facility built. In fact, I am in favour of it. I would also say that, in the Yukon, we have schools that are older than the correctional facility, by many years, and we are not tearing them down and rebuilding them. They are still being used and they are actually quite a nice attraction and are functioning quite well in the city.
I would also like to remind the member opposite that neither this government nor I would dispute that the staff at WCC would benefit from a new structure. I think it would build morale and it would also do justice to the Yukon Territory.
I would also like to state for the record that the corrections consultation is a very important process, in my opinion, because it will determine what kind of facility should have been constructed ó something I believe the previous government was a little slack on determining. Rather than just running out and building a humongous facility that can hold more people, this government has taken it a step further and is exploring different options rather than just creating a bigger institute with revolving doors that can handle more people coming in and out.
To date, the corrections consultation has identified a number of options that would differ from just building another big new facility.
At the end of the day, I believe itís an exercise that was well worth the time and effort. I believe the member opposite will see that what is being recommended by this consultations committee is not something that was designed by the previous government.
Ms. Duncan: For the record, the minister did not answer the question. Perhaps as Education minister, the minister might consider doing a little more homework. I was quite interested for him to stand on his feet and say that, in my former capacity as Premier, perhaps I should have built the jail. I would remind the minister that, not only was the dirt turned at the jail, but millions of dollars were spent in working toward the jail. Construction was started, and there was significant consultation with First Nation elders, which the Minister of Justice just termed as ďtoo slackĒ.
Personally, if I were an elder in this Yukon community, I would be offended by those remarks made by the current Minister of Justice. The former ministers of Justice, prior to the Yukon Party, worked at great length and significantly with First Nation elders to determine what would be required in a new facility. The issue is not criticism of the consultation on corrections. The issue is criticism of the Yukon Party decision not to proceed with construction of a new facility. I am fully aware that there are schools that are aging and aged in our community. We donít have cement blocks falling on those individuals.
We have had terrible conditions at that facility ó terrible conditions. It was built to house 30-some-odd incarcerated inmates. It regularly houses upwards of 60. Weíve had the NDP Justice minister stand on the floor and answer about significant safety concerns at that jail. We have the Barr Ryder report. Consultation and work was done with First Nation elders. We have significant designs ó millions of dollars of work. The minister would be well-advised to go and look at it. Unfortunately, itís too late now. The Yukon Party mandate is over. It will be on their heads that they didnít build a new jail and didnít proceed with that facility. Unfortunately, the next government is going to have to deal with the issue.
Would the minister explain how he responds to the public comment by the chief of the largest Yukon First Nation, with regard to the corrections consultation and construction of the new facility after passing the Co-operation in Governance Act? The Chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation said publicly, ďWe donít know what to think of that. We signed an agreement with the government. At that time they did not disclose to us that they were going to have a hearing process, a consultation process. We at that time ó the information to us was the consultation process was undertaken by a previous government ó a two-year process involving the communities, the elders, and they had before them a project. We signed in good faith, and now after we signed, we find out, no, itís not going to happen.Ē
How does the minister reconcile statements like that in regard to the consultation on corrections and the lack of initiative by the Yukon Party government in construction of a new facility with the Co-operation in Governance Act that we passed the other day?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, I believe the reaction would be very simple. The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is a self-governing First Nation and they are entitled to their own opinions.
Ms. Duncan: We havenít heard from the minister a date when we would see construction. Itís not going to be in the Yukon Party mandate. He hasnít answered when the fire marshal is going to next visit the jail.
Would the minister explain the contract awarded this past August, on Discovery Day, for $221,900 to TSL for design/build services for design and construction of staff facilities, the modular building at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre? Another $221,000 ó closer to $222,000 ó spent and no new facility. What did we get for that contract?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In answer to the member opposite with regard to the fire marshal, I have been advised that the fire marshal has regular visits to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and they are working in consultation with the facility.
The modular that the member opposite is referring to was a staff trailer that has been put in place so that the staff have a nice area for their own use outside of being locked up inside the facility.
Ms. Duncan: I have one final question for the minister that I would like some clarification on. There was a contract issued ó it was a sole-source contract for $80,000. Given that it came from Justice, Iím guessing that it is for legal services for the Dawson City bridge project. There are a number of questions regarding this contract. Number one, what was it for, precisely?
What was the contract for? What work has been produced as a result of this contract? Would the minister table the work? Before the minister says that itís a legal opinion and he canít table it, legal opinions have been tabled in the House before. There is precedence in the Legislature for doing that.
It was sole sourced at $80,000, which is above the sole-sourcing limit normally, so why was there an exception granted in this case? Itís $80,000; the contracting authority is the Assistant Deputy Minister of Justice; I wonít name the contractor, because weíre not supposed to do that in the Legislature; and itís a general consulting contract regarding the Dawson City bridge project. Why is the Department of Justice sole sourcing a contract above the sole-source limit on the Dawson City bridge? What was it for? Whatís the work? Can we see it? Will the minister table the results?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: For the information of the member opposite, legal contracts do not follow the tendering process; they are exempt from it.
Ms. Duncan: Is the minister prepared to provide the information relating to this tender to members of both opposition parties? Iíd like to know what we got for the $80,000 and why the Department of Justice is sending out a contract on the Dawson City bridge. Does this have anything to do with the way the Dawson City bridge contracting was dealt with?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Iíll take the member oppositeís request under advisement.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, weíll proceed with line-by-line examination.
Ms. Duncan: I would request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 8, Department of Justice, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 8, Department of Justice, cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 8, Department of Justice, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Justice in the amount of $1,342,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Justice in the amount of $779,000 agreed to
Department of Justice agreed to
Chair: We will now move on to the Department of Economic Development.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, is it the wish of Committee that, rather than our recess at 4:30 p.m., we take our customary recess now?
Chair: Do members wish to take a recess now?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Department of Economic Development
Chair: We will continue with Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06, with Vote 7, Department of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I am very pleased to introduce the supplementary budget for the Department of Economic Development. It has certainly been a very fascinating experience and very pleasurable to serve as minister responsible for the newly reconstituted Yukon Economic Development department.
Our prime goal three years ago was to get the economy back up to speed to recover from the major loss of population and major loss of economy. I am very pleased to report that the numbers are in, the work is going very well, the population is returning and the economy is rebounding and booming.
We have seen a boom in mineral exploration and development activity in the territory. That has been a very good sign. Exploration spending has shot upward in the past three years. It was about $6 million when we took office. In 2003, it was $13 million; in 2004, it was $22 million. We expect approximately $50 million in 2005, so we are very pleased to see that come along.
Unemployment has plummeted. It is projected to average probably lower than six percent for the year, and only two years ago the figure was well over 10 percent ó nearly double what it is today. So weíve been very pleased with seeing some of the lowest unemployment figures in recent history. In terms of population rebounding, that certainly has been very encouraging. In 2003, the official territorial population was 29,967. As of June of this year, the official population statistic was up around 31,222, although I am suspicious that it may actually be a little bit higher than that. But that is an increase of 1,200 people in two years.
Retail spending is expected to continue to rise by approximately 1.4 percent to $431 million in the Yukon this year. That is always good news. Building construction, of course, has taken on a life of its own and should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of about $75 million.
A variety of new federal programs will further boost the Yukon economy. We have been fortunate in trying to get our fair share of that. There have been some difficulties with some of the programs, but for the most part we have been very pleased with that. Depending on what happens with the federal election, we will be even more pleased when we actually get a cheque for some of them.
So weíre very pleased overall for that economic turnaround. Some would say the global economic conditions have helped, and they certainly have, but, along with the hard work of Yukoners in the private and public sectors, this is really paying off in terms of jobs, opportunities and tax revenues.
We have a lot of exciting opportunities underway and on the horizon, and I hope to get a chance to speak to those at greater length as we get into the department.
First, we certainly have the building and activities surrounding the 2007 Canada Winter Games. Weíve reacted to a number of challenges around those games and utilized those challenges to produce very good economic programs that have stimulated the economy, not the least of which is leveraging $830,000 into $23-million worth of construction in that one project alone.
In addition to the construction jobs, the economic spinoffs from the games, Economic Development is doing some strategic planning on how to maximize the long-term benefit of this event in general for our business community. In this regard, weíre working with the Canada Winter Games Host Society and the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce on a sports business opportunities development initiative. This initiative will help Yukon put its best foot forward and ensure that Yukon businesses can achieve maximum benefit from the games.
In addition to the Canada Winter Games, there are other factors driving the surging Yukon economy. Itís true, of course, that the active world economy is causing a resurgence in the western Canadian economy, which tends to be resource based. The Yukon is certainly reaping some of the benefits of those world economic conditions, but Yukon is surging ahead of most other Canadian jurisdictions that benefit from exactly the same world economy.
The rise in base metal and energy prices is driving increases in mineral exploration and making the oil and gas developments more attractive to investors. But again, Yukon has surged ahead of most other jurisdictions that enjoy the exact same worldwide oil, gas and mineral prices.
I think most people would agree that there is a feeling of optimism about the Yukon economy that was lacking not that many years ago. Really, there is neither magic nor mystery in why the Yukonís economy is improving. Yukon has achieved greater investment certainty in recent economic progress for a large number of reasons. There is a settlement of land claims with a majority of First Nations. We have further to go, but we are very happy with the progress. Secondly, there is successful devolution of responsibility from the federal government of management of our own land and resources. We still have challenges with that, of course. When we talk about sea to sea to sea, unfortunately, the third sea the Yukon does not have. When you hit the tidewater mark of the water at the north end of the Yukon before you get to Herschel Island, you are actually in the Northwest Territories. I have friends who, when they take tourists up to Herschel Island, must take out workersí compensation protection for the Northwest Territories whenever they are on the water up there. Hopefully, that will resolve as the Northwest Territories goes through its own devolution.
Weíre making decisions for ourselves now, and those decisions reflect our agenda and not Ottawaís. While it is still possible to compare the Yukon to the other two territories, in many respects it is becoming more difficult to do that because we really do have quite a different situation. Also, capital expenditures of this government have stimulated economic activity and growth in the territory and we are not afraid to invest money to make things happen. The words ďpublicĒ and ďinvestmentĒ certainly go well together. Weíve done this by keeping a good fiscal accounting of the books, and weíve done that by staying on the proper side of the ledger, being one of the very few jurisdictions in Canada that have managed to do that while we invest in our own infrastructure and our own economy.
Weíve also ratcheted up our marketing and investment attraction initiatives to ensure Yukon can compete for the investment dollars that will sustain our strong economy with private sector activity and tax revenues well into the future. Business investors are encouraged by this governmentís decision to study rail and port infrastructure, and I would certainly be happy to get into that later, if members opposite choose. These have the potential to be important catalysts to Yukonís economic growth.
The Department of Economic Development has also created three new business development funds, with senior business advisors who are working with industry and business people to facilitate business projects and economic development initiatives. I know members on the opposite side have had questions in the past about working with the private sector and I would be happy to get into those projects that have been very, very successful.
These funds have supported 136 projects in the last year and a half, with approximately $1.7 million committed or spent. In addition, weíve created new film incentive funds and a recent sound recording studio that has been very successful.
As a result of the hard work and ingenuity of Yukoners, the Yukonís stronger economic conditions are seeing a return of people, as I mentioned, and the resurgence of investment in sectors such as mineral exploration and others has been very encouraging. Capital investment in the retail and the oil and gas sectors is also up. Tourism, one of Yukonís key economic sectors, continues to grow, despite what some would say. It has actually seen a good upswing.
In the summer of 2005, the Yukonís tourism season showed continued growth, with 245,895 visitors crossing our border. Thatís an increase of 3.6 percent over the figures of 2004. As an example, the number of U.S. citizens entering the Yukon this year increased 3.5 percent and, when you get out of the United States and look at Europe and Asia, weíre actually up well over 10 percent ó this in light of increased fuel prices and energy prices and a lot of concern at the beginning of the tourism season. Weíve done well.
We thank the folks over at Tourism and Culture and in the tourism industry for their tireless efforts to bring visitors to see this wonderful territory.
We continue to work toward the goal of a diversified Yukon economy, and the Yukon Film and Sound Commission, which I mentioned, is helping to encourage the development of local film and sound businesses and to attract movie projects from around the world. Northern Town, a series written and co-produced by a Yukon artist, shot six episodes last winter in the Yukon, putting some 250 Yukoners to work. Five productions from England shot this past spring put another 40 Yukon people to work in front of and behind the cameras, and behind the scenes.
The Film and Sound Commission also recently completed work with the local music community on the new sound recording program, which rounds out the successful initiatives we already have in place for the film industry.
I should mention another example of the growing vibrancy and diversity of the territoryís economy, and that is referring to innovation and technology. The Department of Economic Development is funding a feasibility study on cold climate technology. The study will determine the viability of establishing a research and development centre on cold-climate technologies here in the Yukon.
I would remind people that while we are trying to keep the cold out, southern climes are trying to keep the cool in. The technology really has worldwide significance. It is very adaptable to the north.
Statistics gathered by organizations independent of the Yukon government back up that optimism, of course, about various sectors of the economy. On November 8 of this year, Statistics Canada released its figures on the economic performance. Statistics Canada shows that Yukon significantly outperformed the Canadian average for the measure of gross domestic product. The Yukonís gross domestic product increased by 3.5 percent in 2004, compared to a national average of 2.9 percent. The accumulated growth in domestic product since 2001 has actually gone up 3.9 percent.
In addition, business investment in the Yukon has increased by an average of 13 percent over the past four years. These statistics are not even accounting for two other massive infrastructure projects that could be coming down the pipe, of course ó those being the Alaska Highway pipeline and the proposed Alaska-Canada railway project.† To that end, we are investing $1.7 million this year to fund, along with the State of Alaska, the study on the Alaska-Canada railway proposal. We are also at work with our Alaskan neighbours on a port access study that looks at how we ensure the best access for our northern goods to ports that will link us with the west coast and booming markets such as the Asia-Pacific region.
The rail and port study are elements of what we describe as a bigger picture, of course. It is the big-picture view of the Yukon. That places us in a resource-rich economy close to continental United States and Asia-Pacific markets. In spite of our strategic position, we canít afford to be complacent and let the world come to us. Governments around the world are promoting and competing to attract investment to their jurisdictions, and thatís the reason for our active promotion of trade and investment in the regional, national and international marketplaces, particularly with Asian countries and, more specifically, China and Korea.
Recently, I was very pleased to receive an invitation to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Community business dialogue, or APEC, where I was asked to give a presentation on the Yukonís economy and resources. This resulted from an earlier meeting at the Cordilleran conference in Vancouver in January of 2005, with representatives of the Korea Resource Corporation.
Further to our promotion activity while in Korea, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Korea Resource Corporation, which is a Korean Crown corporation whose primary function is to assist and enable companies within Korea to keep its supply of raw materials going. There was some humour to the signing in the press conference, when we had to clear many of the people out of the room to allow the large number of journalists, including a national television film crew, to come in and witness the signing. Of course, it was very poorly reported in the Canadian press and the Yukon press.
The memorandum of understanding outlines Korea and Yukon cooperating to pursue resource development in Yukon, specifically to supply Korean industry. Korea has an incredible economy, growing very, very rapidly, and requires well over 90 percent or 97 percent of its resources to come in from other countries. So this is a very important thing to them.
The Korea Resources Corporation, or KORES, mandate is to pursue resource development opportunities that will ensure the supply of resource materials for South Koreaís booming industrial economy. Of course, that is led by large-scale ship, automobile and steel production and very large cellphone production. The life of an average cellphone in Korea is approximately seven months before itís replaced. So they are very much on the cutting edge of that technology.
As many Yukoners know, Korean companies were the main purchasers of the ore produced at the Faro mine. I am optimistic that the memorandum of understanding signed with Korea Resource Corporation is the first step in rekindling investment from South Korea in our resource sector. I am pleased to report that that is moving along actually quite nicely.
The Yukon operates in a competitive environment, both within Canada and globally, in its trade and investment activities. We know that marketing our resources to the world and attracting investment will ensure sustainable and long-term growth for the benefit of Yukoners.
The reality is that the Yukon economy is heavily dependent on exporting its resources to the industrial world. As well as seeking investment into the Yukon, weíre working to expand marketing outward. As of October 2005, Economic Developmentís enterprise trade fund provided approximately $500,000 in funding to support market expansion and promotion for 89 Yukon business enterprises.
One of these companies, as an example, is Aroma Borealis of Whitehorse. Aroma Borealis won an Alive award of excellence for aromatherapy recently in Toronto at the Canadian Health Food Association trade show for its Green Aid Ointment.
The enterprise trade fund provided Aroma Borealis with financial support to travel to, and to set up a booth at, the Canadian Health Food Association trade show to display its Yukon products.
Aroma Borealisí Green Aid Ointment was one of the top six products, in terms of having the highest number of total votes. And itís the first Yukon company to win such a prestigious award.
Our feeling is that to not actively pursue investment and trade opportunities internationally, and especially with the Asia Pacific region in the current global economic climate, would be the real risk.
We recognize how crucial it is to form strategic partnerships with our First Nations as well. Just recently, the Government of Yukon has collaborated with Yukon First Nation governments to come up with a common position on how to best allocate the federal governmentís northern economic development fund. This fund, to be spent over the next three to four years in Yukon, is worth approximately $27 million.
And weíre doing more than just talking with First Nations, of course. Weíre working hard to support First Nations with capacity development and economic planning to encourage their economic growth and community development.
Economic Development has made more than $1.8 million in contributions to Yukon First Nations to bolster their economies through community development and training, feasibility studies, and investment attraction to business enterprises.
I would also refer to the north Yukon economic partnership agreement with three First Nations in the northern part of the Yukon ó that is with the Vuntut Gwitchin, the TríondŽk HwŽchíin and Na Cho Nyšk Dun.
We see this partnership as an example of the progressive steps that are helping us work together on common economic development interests, and building such relationships is crucial in the wake of devolution and in the settlement of land claims and self-government agreements.
Economic Development staff has also been working diligently with local governments and individuals in communities around the Yukon to encourage regional economic development. We have recently funded a study for an economic assessment on the potential of the southeast Yukon forest industry. This study provides a solid piece of information to guide community leaders and potential investors who wish to develop forestry around Watson Lake and neighbouring communities. We have also been working with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, private sector interests and other representatives from the Southern Lakes district on Destination: Carcross.
There is much more that we have been able to do within the Department of Economic Development, but with that overview of the department and our accomplishments, I will respond to individual questions as the members opposite see fit.
Mr. Hardy: I wonít give a 20-minute prepared speech, as the minister did, nor will I get too deeply into challenging the minister on what he considers all his accomplishments and the departmentís accomplishments. Standing on this side, I recognize much of the work being done has been done by previous governments and it is just an ongoing process. Actually, I would probably have to say that we would have to skip the Liberal government because they did cancel the Economic Development ministry, so we donít know what happened during that two-and-a-half years.
But many of the initiatives are all just built on previous governments. The NDP government initiated many of the areas that the minister has mentioned.
I am on record as thanking this government for re-establishing the Department of Economic Development and putting money back into the community development fund and many things like that. I felt they were great initiatives by the NDP and itís nice to see that this is a government that can recognize a good initiative when they see it and correct some of the wrongs that had been done in the Liberal period.
But they are not all accomplishments of a department. The speech by the minister was very broad and did recognize some of the impacts that are totally out of any governmentís control. There have been very significant impacts in the last few years, and western Canada has benefited from them, not just the Yukon.
Iíve got a multitude of questions and Iím going to move fairly quickly on them. Iíll start with some of the outstanding issues that weíd like to be brought up-to-date on.
Letís start with P3s ó that wasnít mentioned. Where are we at with the agreement with Partnerships B.C. and the work around P3s? Iím not asking about the failed project bridge ó as far as Iím concerned, thatís a project that really did go nowhere and a lot of money was spent on it. But I am more interested in the philosophy of P3s and what work this government is doing. The reason I state this, of course, is that the minister is on record as saying there was a policy that was going to be developed around this. I would like to know where we are at with that.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Iím so glad that the member opposite corrected himself ó that the work of the previous government was, of course, to do away with the department. And while I still scratch my head on how destroying and scattering the Department of Economic Development was a way to enhance the economy ó Iím not sure what was there, but I wasnít here at the time so maybe there was some logic to that.
Most of what we have done and worked on here I find difficult as much of it was not in existence at the time in terms of the railway project although, in one form or another, that has been considered since 1942. I donít remember any previous NDP government really looking at that. In terms of the P3, we are developing a policy. The idea of developing the policy while we looked at the Dawson bridge was a very good way to do that, in my opinion. It came out at the time due to rising steel costs, shortages of labour and increasing fuel prices. We all know about those sorts of things. I give as an example the Falcon Ridge project in Copper Ridge right now where, during construction, drywall prices have gone up 45 percent.
We dealt with much of the same thing on that bridge. So, at this point in time, a P3 model for that bridge does not seem to be the economical way to go. It doesnít mean that the project is dead. To directly answer the member oppositeís question, it also doesnít mean that the policy is not continuing to develop. We will continue developing it. It will be available in the new year.
The bridge, specifically, was evaluated based on value for money over the life cycle of the product. Because of a rapid escalation in all those prices, it ran into trouble. It does, as an example, raise other issues. For instance, we still have to provide for a crossing of it. We still have to put that against the cost of replacement of the ferry, refitting of engines, insurance issues, staffing issues, not to mention the changing technology where we may well find ourselves, in a number of years, with a nice new ferry that is more complex than can be run by people in the Yukon, and we would have to bring our operators up from down south. To me, that would not be acceptable.
There are a lot of factors involved in that particular project, but certainly in terms of the development of the policy, we will continue to work on it and will hopefully have good progress on that in the new year.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to just give a little hint to the minister opposite. If you have evolving technology in regard to ferries and stuff like that, there is such a thing as training people. You donít just have to ship them up from down south. We have people in the Yukon who are intelligent, are willing and would quite easily be able to learn any technology for operating a ferry. So I donít know why the minister would immediately go to assuming that we bring people from down south and ignore the local people and their skills and give them an opportunity to learn.
P3 ó a simple question. The government supports P3 projects yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To comment on the memberís first comments there, of course, in evolving technology, there are training programs. We are very well aware of that. That is a no-brainer, to put it mildly. But the training may involve a longer period of time. I donít want to have a ferry there that would only have deck hands and not have any of the skilled trades here for some time or that would draw people out of the territory for long periods of time to get the training. Absolutely, we have a lot of intelligent people in this territory, and Iím sure some sit on both sides of the House, but we will look at that when the time comes and weíll deal with it. But itís another part of the process.
Do we believe in P3 projects? Absolutely, if theyíre economically viable. That is what we have to look at. The member opposite and his colleagues have continually spoken against the process. If the process is viable, it makes perfect sense; if it is not viable, then it doesnít make sense ó and we have said that since the day that we took office and took over the bridge debate from previous governments, including statements by the previous leader of the Liberal Party, who wanted to charge tolls on it. We had to look at the viability of that project and if it was the best way to proceed. If it were the best way to proceed, we would be happy to do that. If it were not, we would not proceed. That has been our position from day one, despite all of the attempts to say otherwise.
Mr. Hardy: I would recommend that the minister read Hansard before he makes statements that can be questioned about what position people on this side have taken. I am not going to stand here and defend the former leader of the third party but I do remember the comments made and I donít appreciate them being misrepresented on the floor here.
Developing policy ó can the minister inform me ó
Chair: Order please. I believe the member just said he didnít appreciate hearing comments misrepresented on the floor of the House. While there wasnít a direct accusation or he didnít make the comments specifically about another member, I just want to caution members.
Mr. Hardy: Well, I appreciate cautionary warnings. I donít know what they do, but I appreciate them.
When is the policy going to be here? What is the deadline to have the policy drafted up for P3s?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As I said a moment ago, the policy will be developed early in the new year ó we hope for first quarter. It will be developed as it goes and it will be presented when itís ready. Now that the bridge is not part of that matrix, I tend to think that we would prefer to go with accuracy rather than speed.
Mr. Hardy: I think the department is capable of doing both. I donít know ó maybe the minister doesnít think they can. There is a lot of information already out there on P3s. I donít know why he keeps saying stuff like that.
Okay, P3s ó what is the standing of the agreement with Partnerships B.C.? Is it over with or continuing, being extended?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Itís certainly interesting that the member opposite says thereís a great deal of information out there. And heís right. There is. I would prefer to deal with information as it relates to the Yukonís situation and not take a lot of general information. We have to look at our situation here.
The relationship with Partnerships B.C., while no longer, in a real formal way ó they are available to act as advisors and we do call on their advice, when needed. But the development of the bridge project is no longer in force.
Mr. Hardy: It was my understanding that Partnerships B.C. was to help with the P3 policy work in that area, not just specifically the bridge. I stand to be corrected, but my understanding was that the contract with Partnerships B.C. wasnít specifically bridge-related.
Also, the minister kind of contradicted himself in that statement. At one point he was saying he would like to use the Yukon experience to develop this and, on the other hand, he hires Partnerships B.C. to do the work. So, what is it? Again, it seems to be kind of confusing over there.
My understanding is that thereís an ongoing commitment to work with Partnerships B.C. Is there a contract existing at this present time? Is it just an on-call contract at a set rate? Maybe the minister could try to clarify it for us so that we know what exists with Partnerships B.C. at this present time. And what exactly would they be working on, if the bridge is long gone?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We do not have a contract with Partnerships B.C. at the present time, but we seek their advice in terms of all jurisdictions to try to put everything in context and develop a Yukon model.†
I do agree with the member opposite that it would be nice to utilize local talent to develop something like this. He is critical of having to go to British Columbia, where that sort of expertise over a long period of time can be found and people can talk about best practices in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec and try to adapt that to the Yukon model. It would have been nice to stay local. It would be nice to have a heart surgeon in Whitehorse, as well, but we donít have one. Perhaps it would be wise to get someone who knows what theyíre doing.
We do have a nice health care book that was sent to all Yukon homes. I will let the member opposite know if the surgical type of that manual comes out. We have to go to the people with the expertise. In this case, the best in North America happen to be in British Columbia.
Mr. Hardy: Well, well, the minister feels that all our economists, analysts and departments do not have the expertise to take a look at information regarding public-private partnerships and are not capable of doing it. The comparison is a heart surgeon.
Well, of course we donít have a heart surgeon in the Yukon. We understand why, but we do have people who have the expertise. Contrary to what the minister is saying, I have great confidence in the Yukon people and their skills. Many of them have PhDs, many have masters or degrees. Many of them have years and years of experience in this field and can analyze and write policy. Obviously the minister doesnít have confidence in those people either. Perhaps the minister should move to another province where he feels comfortable with people.
The $1.7 million that this government is throwing away for a rail feasibility study ó this minister is on record as stating that Transport Canada voiced its support for this. Can he produce the letter that states that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite continues to completely miss the point on this. There are a number of very talented people in the Yukon. I donít disagree with that. Of course there are. We have, from my understanding, at least at one point before our population started going back up again, the highest per capita number of PhDs in Canada. We had some of the highest educational standards and educated people in Canada. We had a higher number of CDs and music output per capita in Canada. We have all those people. We donít, however, have expertise in P3 partnerships. I know the member opposite did not mean this. I donít mean it that way, and I donít want to lift him out of his chair, but we do have the economists. We do have the analysts. We do have those people. Many ó and probably most ó work for the Department of Economic Development. I know the member opposite isnít meaning to slam their capabilities. They do, however, need assistance in certain areas. To keep his analogy going, we have very competent surgeons up here, but not in that particular field. It is necessary to go out and work with people who do have that expertise. I hope the member opposite isnít saying that we shouldnít consult in areas that the expertise is lacking in the Yukon. We are not totally self-sufficient with our population base.
Mr. Hardy: Well, thatís good. Iím glad the ministerís on record as ensuring that no contracts are going to be in the P3 area of policy development and no work in this area will go to any local firms, because theyíre just not capable or they donít have the expertise. Iím glad he said that.
But my question was about rail. My question was very simple. It was about the railway study. Now, we know a lot of contracts have gone Outside, but there have been contracts awarded locally. Does the same analogy that the minister is using around heart surgeons apply to this as well? Or all of a sudden we now have expertise in this area as well?
But I think we have a different opinion about Yukon people and Yukon skills and how we would approach ensuring that a Yukon view would be incorporated in any of this kind of policy development or work or analysis.
Iím not that interested in continuing to listen to the minister in this area. Iím more concerned about the $1.7 million that this minister is spending for another feasibility study and the comments that he made. Does the minister have anything to substantiate the comments regarding Transport Canadaís support for this?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, the member opposite is not doing well with these concepts, so Iíll try it again. We do have many skills in the Yukon. We have more than average, I think, in Canada for our population base, but we donít have skills in every single area. It is necessary to fill in those areas and to get that information. Frankly the only person Iíve ever met in the Yukon who seems to know everything is the member opposite. Heís got all the skills and all the knowledge. I am happy to listen to him on that and put that into the matrix, but I tend to think I would prefer ó
†Chair: Itís the Chairís responsibility to preserve order and decorum in this Assembly and to remind members when their conduct is becoming insulting toward others. I would just ask the members to elevate their level of debate and to ensure that we are debating the matter at hand, which is the Department of Economic Development and to keep comments to that topic rather than of a more personal nature.
Letís continue with debate, please.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: In terms of the railway study, to which the member opposite is referring, we do have in some areas a great deal of expertise in the Yukon. Thatís why these people are here and thatís why they do what they do, and they are very good at it, but there are other areas where we do need to consult the experts.
I encourage the member opposite to go through some of the history on this. The rail project has been on the table since 1942. Itís not a new project. Itís not a new concept. It was ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Maybe the member opposite would like the floor.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I know that member would. But heíll get his chance soon enough.
It is well known that the study was first done in 1942 by the U.S. Army, in conjunction with some Canadian agencies. It was abandoned in favour of the Alaska Highway, of course, because of the shortage of steel. Thatís sort of where it started on that.
A number of different studies have looked at that ó some very flawed. Some looked only at resource extraction from the Yukon and decided that that wouldnít make it a viable project. I tend to think that was probably a study that was self-fulfilling when it was commissioned, because it would be pretty obvious that that would be very thin.
Other studies ó for instance, the Charles River Associates study was done in a much wider and broader way to look at resource extraction from Alaska, resource extraction from the Yukon, resource extraction from northern British Columbia, tourism and an overall increase in the movement of goods and putting that into the matrix, in terms of construction of the Alaska gas pipeline ó to put it in terms of taking pressure off the Alaska Highway, to put it in terms of container traffic from Asia, as an example. The port of Anchorage is five sailing days closer to Shanghai, for instance, than most of Asia is from Seattle, Vancouver or Los Angeles. All those are incredibly congested at this point in time. It is very difficult to get space in there. Ships coming into those ports will come into the port and often sit there waiting for their space. Even the smallest of these ships sit there at an average of $30,000 a day per ship. For the larger ones, it costs significantly more than that.
If those ships can come in to a more northern port and get their containers onto a rail transport system, those containers can be at their destination long before the ship itself could ever have gotten into Seattle or Vancouver or any of the more southern ports.
Weíre not talking about a railway thatís going to go to Prince George or Anchorage. Weíre talking about a railway thatís going to go to Halifax. Weíre talking about one thatís going to go to New York, Chicago and Toronto. It goes into a much wider transportation system. Thatís part of what the whole rail link study was to look at. The Charles River study showed quite clearly that it was worthwhile continuing that study. The U.S. government, in 2001 I think it was, passed the Rails to Resources Act, which put $6 million of U.S. funds into the matrix in order to get this project looked at and get the feasibility study done. This was based on Canada coming to the table.
In meetings with our Premier and Governor Murkowski, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport have all agreed and given us assurances that that money will be forthcoming. Of course, weíre now in an election, so weíll see where that goes if we are dealing with new people on that front. As that starts coming in, we will continue the study.
The University of Alaska received about $2 million to start their end of the study. The project manager has been hired and has been on-site since last July. He has moved to Whitehorse. He is living in Whitehorse and running the office in downtown Whitehorse. He has awarded over $1 million Canadian in contracts since September, with approximately half that money being awarded to northern contractors that responded to a public call. Actually, I think itís about 48 percent.
So the contracting process is complete for two of the four stages. Stage 3 expressions of interest closed recently. We have that information starting to come. We are on track. Things are moving ahead as they should, and we have now started a port access study to complement this in working out of the same office.
There is some confusion, of course, before the member opposite gets up and makes that confusion accidentally. Iím sure that the $600-million contribution that was made to the so-called western gateway initiative ó none of that came to our study or had anything to do with our study. That is in support of British Columbiaís gateway initiative. We are not ready for that federal development funding, because all we are simply doing is a feasibility study at this point to determine if there is a case for spending the money on the development. So it would be completely inappropriate for any of those funds to come in.
We are taking a thorough businesslike approach. We will not spend development money until there is a clear case and a clear target for it. And the member opposite, who continues to struggle to get the floor and kibitz over there ó like the bridge, if it is feasible, we will continue with it. If it is not feasible, we wonít. Now, Iíll save him the trouble of getting up and coming out with numerous financial projections so that in the future, if still in this House, he can stand and give the one example that hit the closest target ó if you shoot in one direction long enough, eventually youíre bound to hit something. If itís feasible, it will go. If it is not feasible, it will not go. That is very, very straightforward. We canít predict the outcome of that feasibility study at this time. We will continue working with Canada to identify a source of federal funds for the feasibility study. We are very pleased to acknowledge right now that we have Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia at the table, and we do, in fact, have Transport Canada at the table talking. Weíre very pleased to have their participation in the study.
Mr. Hardy: Will the minister table the letters and correspondence with the other provinces, state and federal governments around discussions of this nature?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I believe the makeup of the rail management working group and the steering committee are on the Web site. They have reacted by action and the names and everything else are on the Web site. Heís more than welcome to look at that.
Mr. Hardy: I asked him if the correspondence with the provinces, the state that he mentioned ó not the working group.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The working group consists of the members from various jurisdictions. Again, that is all on the Web site. I invite him to look at it.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to remind the minister that he is in the Legislative Assembly now, and he is responsible for answering the questions and not directing us to Web sites. Will the minister tell us who is on the working group?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Iím glad the member opposite clarified that. I always wondered what this place was that Iíve sat in every afternoon. It is on the Web site, it is public information. It is publicly available. Heís more than welcome to look at that without wasting time here.
Mr. Hardy: The Legislative Assembly is not a waste of time. The question I asked is: will the minister give us the names of the people in the working group on the floor of the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Of course, anything that happens in here is not a waste of time until members continually push the envelope. I would be happy to print off the relevant pages and provide them to the member opposite.
Mr. Hardy: Are the names on the Web page then?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: My understanding is that they are. If they arenít there, Iím sure that the project manager would be happy to provide that publicly available information.
Mr. Hardy: My understanding is that all the names are not on there. Can the minister assure us that all the positions ó I think there are 12 people who make up the working group, but I could be wrong ó and names of the people are public information?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, I will go to the people the member opposite can also go to, get that information and provide it. I believe that he is correct in that there are 12 people in each of the two groups. Again, my information is that the information is there. If there is anything missing, I will certainly arrange to have the project manager provide them. The member can also go himself.
I am very pleased to confirm, as well, that this is moving along very quickly. We are very happy with the progress that is being made. The contracts are coming in a reasonable manner. We can certainly go through those if he wishes, as well, but they are all publicly available and I believe they are all on the Web site. He can push the button or I can.
Mr. Hardy: I donít have time to get into that. Fill your boots on that one.
I am glad the minister has agreed to supply that information. I did ask for a bunch of information in the spring that I havenít received yet. I would like to ask if the minister can direct his department to look back in Hansard regarding information that was promised, so that he can make sure itís all brought up to date. I would appreciate that. If some has been given and I am wrong, I definitely offer my apologies, but I know that there are a couple of pieces that the minister promised that did not get over to my office. It could be an oversight. I am not overly concerned about it, but it is information we need in order to ask questions.
The minister has mentioned port access. Thatís a concern. I know that the minister has made a big deal out of it. We would like to know the status of those negotiations. The Premier has talked about it a lot as being a big part of the economic picture for the future. We would like to know what the status is on that ó the cost estimates and what kind of arrangements or deals are being made.
I would like an update on the regional economic strategy. How many officers work there? Are there any in the various regions of the Yukon?† Iíd like to know more about that.
In the past, the minister has actually mentioned a megaproject that would have benefit to the Yukon ó the Juneau access road. Has this government taken a position on that road and conveyed it to the State of Alaska or not? I know the minister has mentioned that in the past and seems to think that would be an obvious benefit. If so, what action has been taken? Have there been discussions with the governor? That would be something that weíd be interested in as well.
†Iím very interested in community development fund. We have been watching some of the applications to the community development fund, and we have had some small concern with some of the applications that have been turned down and others that have been accepted. Does the department do periodic evaluations of the applications to see if theyíre consistent and fair and are meeting the goals as were originally drafted by an NDP government when they brought in the community development fund, or have those goals been changed? We would appreciate an update on that ó not just numbers of how much money is given out, but there is a multitude of applications that may be slipping through the cracks for one reason or another, and if the minister can indicate whether that is being done or not, I would appreciate it.
There are a lot of other questions. There are a lot of stats out there that are going to be discussed. I know my colleague, the leader of the third party, is going to be asking some questions. I want to make sure that he has an opportunity to before the end of the day. I have a lot more questions.
This department is, I think, a very significant department for the future of the Yukon. I was very pleased when it was reinstated. I commend the good work that the department has done in some areas, but I do have some very serious concerns about feasibility studies that the minister has directed the department to go in, such as the rail study and the amount of money that is being spent there and the lack of assurances.
Thatís a lot of money, and I think it can go to a lot of other areas. But this is the direction the government has gone in, and Iím glad to see this department up and running. With that, Iím going to turn the debate over to the leader of the third party.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Iím at a little bit at a loss here. The member opposite has rattled off, by my count, 12 different questions and then sat down, not asking for any of the answers to them. I think some of them deserve answers, and we should get into that.
He asks where and when and such on the port access study. The port access study is moving. We have a project manager in place. Thatís something that will facilitate the orderly development of port facilities and services and related supply chain infrastructure and services over the short, medium and long term. It will allow Yukon to exploit its full natural resources development potential. It will ensure the long-term viability of developing industries and infrastructure, obviously. It will be economically and environmentally acceptable ó that, of course, goes without saying ó and it must benefit Yukoners and the Alaskan port communities that serve them.
This is very important because of the growing industrial economies in Asia and their renewed interest in Yukonís natural resources. One of the challenges in the north has always been the high cost of transportation to world markets. The dynamics are now certainly changing. The mining companies and other shippers are seriously looking at the supply chain system to determine ways of economically shipping products to Asian markets. A key issue is the ability to get bulk products to tidewater as quickly as possible. In the short to medium term, there are three ports, of course ó Skagway, Haines and Stewart/Hyder that could serve the needs of Yukon companies.
The study itself will include five key areas: inventory and capacity, forecasting demand, socio-economic analysis, public interest analysis, and implementation analysis, or business plan.
The five areas are broken down into 11 tasks, as defined in the terms of reference approved by the task advisory committee. The basic plan will include sections on inventory, capacity, forecast, identification requirements, business case ó of course ó stakeholder consultation ó of course ó implementation strategy and then the final report.
In terms of regional economic development ó again, this is all on the Web site and very easy to look at ó I believe we are currently recruiting for director, and others are in place. Iím very pleased to report that weíre doing very well in regional economic development. Because the member has sat down and doesnít seem to want an answer on that, Iíll not go into those details.
In terms of the Juneau road, Juneau is the capital of the State of Alaska. Itís not in the Yukon ó close, but not quite. So thatís a State of Alaska initiative and is one that does not directly affect us. Could it? Yes, absolutely it could. I went to a cross-country ski race last year, and they noted there were 26 skiers who had come up from Alaska. With easy road access to Juneau, that could easily have been 126 or 226, so we could benefit from that road quite dramatically, I would think, but itís not ours to build.
In terms of CDF, or the community development fund, there is a full staff of people who evaluate every project: tier 1, up to $20,000; tier 2, $20,000 to $70,000, I believe it is; and tier 3, $70,000 and up. They are completely evaluated; proponents are contacted; they must meet the goals ó which, for the member opposite, are not only on the Web site but there are copies of the applications in the main lobby of this building. Heís more than welcome to pick one up and, if he canít find them, Iím more than happy to deliver one to his office.
The goals are consistent. Thatís one of the things we constantly look at in that evaluation. We go through and look at all potential things that are there and make sure theyíre consistently applied and evaluated.
Again, the goals are on that application. Itís part of the evaluation by some very capable people who have been doing it for some time.
To put the member oppositeís 10th, 11th and 12th questions together; the feasibility studies are exactly that. A large part of the money that has gone into, for instance, the Alaska-Canada rail link feasibility study, is going to northern ó and actually Yukon ó consulting firms and consultants. Again, this is money that is going directly into the economy. If that proves feasible and the project continues, it will bring an incredible piece of infrastructure into the north. If it is not, well, thatís part of the information we have to have.
The biggest risk, to my mind, is not doing those feasibility studies for two reasons: first, we would always wonder if it was feasible and if it was an opportunity missed and, two, if we went ahead and proceeded with anything related to it and later it turned out not to be feasible to do it that way ó the Dawson-Mayo transmission line comes to mind ó we would of course be very sad if we had not done the proper study or adequate review of the situation.
I hope I have at least glossed over and picked off the 12 favourite questions of the member opposite. With that, I am certain that there will be other questions.
Mr. Mitchell: †Well, I do have a few questions for this minister. Weíll see if we can move through them expeditiously.
First, I would like to start with a little exercise that I call ďfun with numbersĒ. The minister and the Premier often like to quote from statistics, which I tend to think is a little like looking in the rear view mirror. It tells us where weíve been but not necessarily how we get there. The minister does like to quote from them, although when the minister finds the statistics less than satisfying, he tells folksy aphorisms about hunting and missing to the left and missing to the right. Then he suggests that the third hunter says, ďI got himĒ. I would suggest that the third hunter probably misses too.
I just brought in a few of the most recent Bureau of Statistics reports that come out. Just while the minister was answering the question from a colleague from Whitehorse Centre, I took a look at them, and theyíre interesting. The Yukon real estate survey, third quarter 2005 ó the value of real estate transactions in the Yukon for the third quarter of 2005 decreased by 19.5 percent, compared with the third quarter of 2004. In Whitehorse, the value of transactions decreased 18.1 percent, comparing the third quarter of 2005 with the third quarter of 2004. In the rest of the Yukon, the value of transactions decreased by 27.1 percent. The minister likes to refer to my former occupation, and I will beat him to the punch by saying that we could sort of see this coming this summer, when suddenly the top end of the market flattened right out.
Yukon employment, October 2005 ó Yukonís labour force decreased 400 from October 2004, 16,200, to October 2005, 15,800. Consumer price index, all items, October 2005 ó well, here we have an increase that the minister must be proud of. In October 2005, the annual rate of inflation in Whitehorse was 3.1 percent ó 0.5 percent higher than the annual rate of inflation in Canada of 2.6 percent. Employment, the number of people employed in the Yukon ó this is from the Yukon monthly statistical review, October 2005. The number of people employed in the Yukon as of October 2005 was 15,000, seasonally adjusted. This is a decrease of 400, or 2.6 percent from the October 2004 figure of 15,400.
So the only thing that is really constant about the economic cycle, I would suggest to the minister, is that there is one. If you spend too much time quoting statistics to tell you how good things are, youíll eventually get to quote statistics to tell you how things are not so good after all.
I just thought that was an interesting exercise.
Now, we all know the largest reason for the supposed upturn that weíve seen in the Yukon economy ó basically, huge increases in the federal transfers. Now, the Premier likes to say that itís due to great negotiations on his part ó for instance, additional health care money. I would suggest that the federal Liberal government, as weíre fond of calling it here, is transferring a lot more money to Yukon than they used to. Basically, dad has given us a bigger allowance.
The biggest accomplishment of this government has been to get more money from Ottawa. Weíre just slightly more dependent on Ottawa, on a percentage basis, than we were when this government took office. Weíre on the dole, Mr. Chair. The Government of Yukon is addicted to money from Ottawa. I just thought that would be an interesting thing to go over.
Now, in the Speech from the Throne on February 27, 2003, the Yukon Party government admitted that it was high mineral prices. It said: ďSimilarly, in January 2003 at the Cordilleran Roundup, a major mining event in Vancouver, mining companies were expressing a renewed interest in exploration in the Yukon. Obviously, high gold prices and the recent emerald discovery are sparking this interest.Ē
I guess I would have to ask ó and I know that the minister finds it amusing to take notes, but I suspect that his officials will take notes for him ó what has changed in the past 18 months? We have high mineral prices. The price of gold was, a few days ago, up to $520 per ounce, literally double where it was when this government came into office. I think it has fallen back to just over $500 over the last couple of days ó just a little profit-taking. But I would suggest that the high price of gold has contributed to an interest in exploration.
The high price of base metals has contributed to an interest in exploration. That price is high, as this minister is fond of saying, all over the world; itís not just local. Our sister territories certainly have seen a real upturn in mineral exploration and, in fact, in mines opening, as has the State of Alaska. I donít believe weíve actually opened a mine over the past three years in Yukon. Weíve had one open nearby in the N.W.T. at Cantung, and we certainly will benefit from that. We as Yukoners appreciate that it has opened.
Now, again, if weíre going to take credit for statistics that are seen as positive, I would suggest that the upturn in housing prices that weíve seen here over the past two or three years is due to two main events. First, there is the large increase in federal transfer payments that weíve seen. We have more money coming into the territory. We have more government employees in the territory. Devolution has added to that, and those people can afford to buy houses. They have good jobs. The second thing has been that for the past six years or so weíve seen, up until very recently, consistently lower interest rates. I know, again, from my previous occupation, what a big difference it makes when people are paying four percent or, on floating loans, as little as three and a half percent on their mortgage interest payments, compared to when they were paying nine or 10 percent or 11 percent just a few years ago. So that is what has made the difference ó that and cheap credit. It used to be you needed 10 percent down to buy a new home and five percent for first-time buyers. It became five percent for anyone, but with a cap of $175,000 on that purchase. Then the cap was removed. Now we have zero-down mortgages. Come in, demonstrate that you can sign your name, that you can service the debt, based on the annual income that the family earns. So this past year, Iíve seen, when I was in my previous occupation, 23-year-olds buying ďstarter homesĒ for a quarter of a million dollars, based on the fact that they both had government jobs.
Thatís why the prices of homes went up. I would suggest that if we continue to see the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve raising interest rates and, in effect, tightening the credit markets, weíll see those prices flatten as we already have. Eventually, the prices inevitably go the other way. Otherwise, those $170,000 affordable homes that the minister refers to in one of his other portfolios would be at the rate that housing went up over the last few years ó they would be $750,000 or million-dollar homes in a decade or so. We know that canít be. We know that that canít happen.
Again, there has been an economic cycle. I would suggest that the minister might want to think about timing for the next election, because as the folk singer says ó Iím sure the minister will remember this, as weíre probably from the same generation ó the times they are a-changing. They certainly are.
I do have some questions for this minister aside from the overall questions about what has been done aside from the quoting of statistics based on financial inflow from the Government of Canada. I would like to start with the Dawson bridge. On that one I think that there was major bungling by this minister. For months we told this minister that the bridge was too expensive. The official opposition told the minister that the bridge was too expensive. What did it cost to finally find out that the bridge was too expensive? By some of what Iíve read in Hansard, I think it adds up to about $1.4 million. In a related question ó I will try to put two or three together, as I know the minister likes to stand up and answer as much as he can and as expeditiously as possible ó what was the total amount paid out to Partnerships B.C. for their work? How much did that cost? What did we get for it? Do we have a policy now that tells us when a P3 partnership would make sense and for which types of projects?
Looking at this particular budget, there is $1.7 million in new money for economic infrastructure development. What is this for?
There is the strategic industries development fund, $138,000 ó whatís it being spent on? The minister can feel free to take notes any time, even though, as he has mentioned, Hansard will have all this for him very soon.
How many employees are there in the Department of Economic Development these days? The ministerís recent trip to South Korea: what was its purpose? Can the minister provide a list of expenses? Why was there no advance announcement of this trip to the public?
Again, thereís another area of the world, no doubt, that the minister will know is the real reason behind high mineral prices, and thatís the Pacific Rim. Thereís certainly a high population and high birth rate in China ó 1.2 billion people and they do need resources. Although the minister likes to travel there, Iím certain heís not going to take credit for the birth rate in China.
Iíll let the minister answer a number of those questions, and then weíll see what else we can get to.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Iím glad on two fronts: Iím certainly glad the member opposite listens to the odd joke in the House and perhaps learns from them. Itís interesting, too, that he has learned the marvellous technique of asking 20 or 30 questions and then, of course, that always leaves the opportunity to get up and say that the minister didnít answer the particular one.
Iíd like to talk to some of his general remarks, and then perhaps heíll do me the favour of picking out a couple of favourites from that list and doing it that way.
The member opposite is correct in the occasional thing there. Yes, the mineral prices are up; yes, all those things are true; but the last time I checked, mineral prices were the same in every jurisdiction. Oil is up in every jurisdiction; gas is up in every jurisdiction; copper is up in every jurisdiction. Why is the Yukon moving so quickly ahead of other jurisdictions in Canada, outside of the proportion?
Weíve increased to close to $50 million in exploration in this territory from $6 million when we took over. Strong residential and non-residential construction increased, to a degree, by that and a strong tourism season. Despite what you hear from the members opposite, all the tourism figures have been up this year and have led to a continued strength. The year-to-date value of building permits issued in the territory in 2005 is down by 22 percent, compared to the same period in 2004. That is largely attributable, of course, to the $25 million permitting of the Canada Winter Games last May and tying up an awful lot of people with that. But we have an incredible facility out of it.
Residential construction during that same time period increased $5.8 million to $39.7 million. We can begin to cherry-pick statistics like this, and the member opposite has done a good job of cherry-picking a few. But when you look at the overall trends, when you look at the ability to see where those things are going, they are all consistently up and they are all consistently ahead of most other jurisdictions in Canada.
We certainly recognize some of the statistics, and, yes, I certainly recognize the member oppositeís ó he keeps saying ďformer occupationĒ. I would suggest that the word ďformerĒ isnít applicable. I would say that as a veterinarian, when I first took political office, I was referred to in the media as the ďformer veterinarianĒ. I am still a veterinarian, and I think the member opposite is still a real estate professional, and a very skilled one. So he certainly understands, then, that the drop in some of the real estate statistics and the drop in the sales statistics might have something to do with the fact that there is not a lot out there for sale ó something that I constantly am told by real estate agents.
They would be happy to sell whatever they can get their hands on, but there isnít a lot to sell, because of the influx of population and because of a lot of different factors. Definitely the influx of population is a big part of it. He says that the consumer price index and inflation is up. Maybe he hasnít had to fill his car lately. Fuel is a big part of that. Heating fuel is a big part of it. Fuel certainly influences the cost of transportation, so food tends to go up. All those things are influenced by fuel prices. Iím sure he would agree that no government has control over that.
He refers to ďdadĒ giving out a bigger allowance. I think the member opposite would tend to agree with me that any business has two sides to their ledger sheet. Income is part of it and expenses are part of it. One has to look at the overall structure and the overall money coming in. We have to look at Yukon finally getting its fair share.
It was this government that joined the other two territories and walked away from the Prime Minister to gain access to better health care dollars. It is this government that has negotiated consistently with the federal government in order to gain the things we have. Of course, they havenít written the cheques on a lot of these, so weíre still wondering if we will ever see the money, but on paper it sounds good. Some of the things that have come in are very good, but itís the hard work of any business owner to look at the income side of the ledger as well as the expenses side. I would suggest that anyone in business would have to look at that.
When one looks at the trends, we have dropped from double-digit unemployment to some of the lowest in history. That has been a huge thing here. If we look at an individual statistic in there, itís constantly going up and down. Itís always possible to come up with a statistic that shows that, in an individual period, it has dropped. If we look at the overall trend, itís a much more accurate statistic, and that is what has to be evaluated.
When you look at some of the other things ó if you look at the talent and expertise and everything else we have within this territory. For instance, there was a report awhile ago that talked about the poor economic activity between Yukon and Alaska. Letís take a look at that.
Teck Cominco, Agrium, Alaska Commercial Company ó †all Canadian companies but theyíre familiar as major players in the Alaskan economy. Why are they working in Alaska? Why havenít they historically been working in the Yukon for the last few years? These are the companies weíre bringing back.
Canada is Alaskaís third largest international trade partner, since 1990. The economic ties to Alaska are many and we have to play on those things. We have to play on those things within Asia and look at some of those studies.
Last yearís two-way trade reached $531 million and Canadian companies paid $134 million to 2,600 employees in Alaska. Weíd rather have them paying the wages to Canadians, and weíd rather have them paying a significant portion of that in the Yukon.
Mining accounts for the bulk of that trade, of course, and employed 900 workers with an average pay of $70,000. Again, why are so many Canadians and so many Yukoners working over there?
The member opposite asks for product of some of the things weíve been doing. Itís interesting to know that when we went to the geoscience meetings in Beijing, people from Energy, Mines and Resources went out on a field trip and one of the first groups they ran into was a Yukon drilling company, drilling in China. Weíd rather have them drilling here. Weíd rather have them working here, and this is what weíre trying to bring back.
Teck Cominco runs the Red Dog mine, the worldís largest zinc mine near Kotzebue, on property leased from NANA Regional Corporation, the Kotzebue-based native regional corporation, and that mine has 480 employees. We have several mines on the edge of opening in the Yukon. These are not things you can turn on and turn off. They take years to develop and they are starting to develop. They certainly werenít starting to develop three years ago, but theyíre starting to develop now and that is a huge difference.
Toronto-based Kinross Gold Corporation owns Fort Knox gold mine outside of Fairbanks and employs 410 people. Why is the company working there and not in the Yukon? It could have something to do with ó although the member opposite is yelling out suggestions, and I hope he brings those suggestions to the floor when he has the chance but, for the moment, if he would listen, why are these companies working in Alaska? Why didnít we have the regime and the confidence for those mines and those businesses to work within the Yukon?
Itís interesting that three-quarters of the money ó three-quarters, Mr. Chair ó invested in Alaska mining exploration and development from 1981 to 2004 ó $2.3 billion U.S. ó came from Canada. Why are Canadian companies investing outside of Canada, but why are they investing outside of the Yukon?
These are the things that we have to ask ourselves, and we have to look at why that is such a good jurisdiction and why other jurisdictions in the world are so good, and why Canada ó and Yukon, specifically ó is so far down the list.
Alaska Commercial Company ó itís actually owned by a Winnipeg-based retailer. People might be surprised to know that. It has 27 stores in rural Alaska, paying $16.5 million a year to 750 employees. Why arenít they here? Weíd like to entice these groups to come back and to work with us.
The member is right ó you can have a lot of fun with statistics, and you can do a lot of things with it, but you have to look at overall trends. You canít look and cherry-pick individual statistics and think that youíre going to get anything meaningful from that. This just doesnít make any sense.
When you start looking comparatively ó okay, what is the Yukon doing, in terms of other jurisdictions? Are we competitive with other groups? First of all, when you look at per capita spending for cultural activities and recreational activities, Yukon leads the way ó best in Canada. This government has been very, very pleased to be able to continue trends from the past, perhaps, and to gain that kind of a jump, so weíre not doing it at the denigration of cultural and recreational activities. Weíre actually supporting them.
Our capital stock was an estimated $5.26 billion in net capital infrastructure in 1997, after depreciation, and that has gone up very, very significantly ó close to twice the Canadian average, I might add. We are very pleased with having that sort of thing. We have done this in competition, to a degree, with other jurisdictions, with the same mineral prices. Gosh, gold is the same in other areas. Zinc is the same in other areas. Gas costs ó well, gasoline, maybe we canít go there. Thatís a whole different debate. I am told thatís why haircuts are so expensive in the Yukon ó itís the freight, so Iíll give the member opposite another one for that. Disposable income in the Yukon is the second highest in Canada, and growing at three percent per year. Family incomes are among the highest in Canada, increasing overall in the last couple of years. Distribution of income is more equal in the Yukon than the Canadian average. In other words, we donít have the extremes of high and extremes of low. It tends to be a bit flatter, but weíre working very hard on that.
The gender equity ratio, if you look at male versus female, we are the highest in Canada. Weíre the best in Canada on that. Does that mean that weíre going to give up on it? No. There are still lots of things that can be done on that, but the reality is weíre the best in Canada on gender equity ration. Thatís another reason. Why are we doing this in competition with other jurisdictions that enjoy the same things that the member opposite would claim is responsible? The growth and the rebound has really been dramatic ó employment and unemployment, 4.8 percent, at one point, if you want to cherry-pick. It does go up. I think weíre around six or something now. Frankly, I havenít looked recently, but the overall trend from double digits to some of the lowest in history ó Iíll stand on that one. Again, we can cherry-pick for a long, long time and try to come up with different ways to prove our point, but the trends are there.
Labour force participation ó at one point, we had the highest rate of labour force participation in Canada ó the highest. The member opposite may have the current statistics, which have dropped a bit ó thatís true ó but when we look at the trend over time, itís the highest in Canada.
Government dependency ratio ó yes, of course. I have always had my own theories. I was very pleased to go to a series of lectures where a very excellent economist pointed out that he felt the same way; that is, one of our biggest industries in the Yukon is sovereignty. We are here for other reasons, I suppose. Will we be economically independent? No, probably not in our lifetime ó and certainly not in the member oppositeís and my lifetime, since weíre of the same generation.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I am not sure if I am insulted or complimented there. Anyway, the member opposite is probably right.
We have to look at some degree of dependence on the south, but when we look at what weíve accomplished here within our own jurisdiction ó as an example, a friendís daughter recently went through a serious medical problem. While the physicians and medical community in the Yukon never managed to actually put a name to the syndrome, when it was worked out in a major hospital in Vancouver, exactly what the physicians here said was going on actually was going on. We have some incredibly well-trained people here. We donít have a heart surgeon. We do have to seek outside expertise from time to time, but the people we have in other areas are quite amazingly good. Weíll work on that. Weíll talk to our new Health and Social Services minister and see if we can come up with something.
Look at the cultural industries and such, which are hugely strong up here. Entertainment and recreation is 5.6 percent of Yukonís gross domestic product, the highest ratio in Canada. Thatís quite amazing. Weíre the highest across the board when you start breaking down individual things on that ó Yukon is right at the top.
How are we doing on that when you look at the overall plan? Are we doing that at the expense of our environment? Of Yukonís total land base of 483,450 square kilometres, about 43,600 square kilometres, or nine percent, have been protected through national and territorial parks. Another 41,000 square kilometres, or 8.5 percent, have some form of interim protection through special management areas under land claims or through interim protection status. That adds up to 17.5 percent.
How do we compare? Actually, if you look at Canada as a whole, the average is 10.5 percent, so weíre not quite double, but weíre getting close. When you put us against some of the other jurisdictions individually that are down in the three or three-and-a-half-percent range, weíre doing very well. Again, does that mean weíre going to give up on it, or not do things in those areas? We certainly have to continue working on that.
Since these statistics came out, we have gone further, so Iím actually low on that statistic.
We have to look at everything being balanced. We have to basically cut it down the middle. We need resource development in order to allow our population to grow.
Thereís an old saying ó since the member opposite likes to go back to, I wonít say ďformer professions,Ē but to our professions. We have a saying: ďNo money, no medicine.Ē And I would suggest that that could be translated into this ó that we have no money, we have no environment. We need to have the economic capability of allowing proper maintenance, proper monitoring. We need to know what diseases are out there. We need to know whatís under the ground and whatís worthwhile to protect. We need to know where the wildlife are hanging out, and we need to consult with First Nations on that to find out.
A very well-known study ó Iíll finish up and give another one to the member opposite ó was a study that was done in Asia, where scientists went in and checked for the presence of fish in this one area and declared that they hadnít caught a single one ó that there were no fish in that area. And after they left, they had a pretty good laugh because the fish were down several hundred feet. They werenít even close to where the fisheries people were looking. And if anybody had bothered to ask any of the local people, they would have told them exactly where the fish were. But nobody asked.
When we first looked at a campground ó and I probably shouldnít even mention the name because that will trigger another debate ó and the development of that campground, it was an elder, a First Nations elder, who said, ďYou know, I can see why people put that campground there, because thatís where all the animals come through. But wouldnít it be an idea to maybe put the campground down the road and not harass the animals?Ē
Nobody ever asked any of the First Nations elders where the animals hung out. They were right in the middle of the campground.
We have to look at that whole thing in terms of environment. We have to look at it in terms of mineral resources and economic development. We have to look at statistics and keep them in perspective. We have to look at those trends. We are very proud of those trends, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Mitchell: †That was certainly interesting and folksy. There were three or four specific questions that actually didnít get answered, such as the $1.7 million in new money for the economic infrastructure development, but I think perhaps the minister will get back to me on that in his next answer.
I would just say to the minister that I think he helped to make my point. I appreciate that he agrees with me that mineral prices are the same worldwide and the minister asks why Canadian companies are working in Alaska and China and not here. Thatís the very question we are asking. Why are they? The minister has had three years to try to work that out and he hasnít managed it yet. They are still working in Alaska and China and not here. Iím glad that the minister agrees with me that thatís a concern. Hopefully, in what little time is left in his mandate, he will consider addressing it.
Iíll ask the minister some questions regarding railroads. We spent some $3 million to do a railroad study to see if it makes economic sense to build a railroad to connect between Alaska and British Columbia. So I have some questions regarding railroads. Can the minister or his officials ó whoever would know the answers ó tell me how many railroads in North America are currently making money, in the black, not being subsidized by government but actually turning a profit? What would be the average length of those railroads? When was the last major railroad constructed in North America?
Iím curious if the minister can see that itís very difficult, even with the high fuel prices we have that cause us a lot of expense in the trucking industry, to turn a profit with railroads. Yet weíre spending the money to find out if we should actually hope for somebody else. I know the minister will agree with me that it wonít be Yukon that builds the railroad; not even with a P3 project will we pull that one off.
We basically need the private sector. We need CP and CN and somebody else to decide thereís money to be made in building a railroad through Yukon, or we need it to be in the overriding national interest of the Government of Canada or the Government of the United States, since the minister referred a little earlier to the building of the Alaska Highway. That was certainly not done to make a profit but because it was in the national interest.
So Iím wondering if the minister can answer that. I am going to read off a few other questions.
Again, I did ask, I believe, what the total paid out to Partnerships B.C. for their work was, how much it cost and what we have to show for it. Also, Iíd like to know whether Whitehorse would be eligible for the regional economic development program that is in the budget or whether itís only for communities. Iím not being judgemental. I just want an answer to the question. And what has been funded or is being funded by this program?
You know, I think with that, Iíll give the minister a chance to respond. I know that it is late in the day.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I am glad to see that round had only eight different questions. So weíll pick a couple favourite ones from that. The $1.7 million refers to the amount that is put into the Alaska rail study. So that is where that comes from. Thatís pretty straightforward.
The one thing that does concern me on that ó the member opposite refers to the fact that all these companies and all these resources are going to Alaska or China or anywhere else. Well, heís very knowledgeable in his profession, and I like to think Iím very knowledgeable in mine, but Iíve had to change my focus a little bit, obviously, toward mines and mine developments. If the member opposite seriously thinks that mines appear suddenly and appear in less than three to five years, then maybe I do have a bridge to sell him, Mr. Chair.
There are certainly railways that are making profits, such as the Alaska railway. It does well, Iím told, and so does CN. Both are at the table for these discussions. Again, we are dealing with all these people and getting the best possible information.
Maybe I can go back and read Hansard and find all the rest of the questions, or if the member opposite can communicate to me some of his favourites, I can deal with them as we go along.
With that, Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Kenyon that we report progress on Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Cathers 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. The time being 6:00 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled December 14, 2005:
Yukon Arts Centre 2004-05 Annual Report (Taylor)
The following document was filed December 14, 2005:
Dawson City, Town of the City of Dawson Yukon: correspondence regarding audit for year ended December 31, 2004 (Hart)