Monday, April 3, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Yukon Biodiversity Awareness Month and National Wildlife Week
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is a pleasure today to rise and bring everyone's attention to the importance of Yukon's biodiversity and to encourage everyone to be mindful of biodiversity's importance to all living things. This is an opportunity to reflect on the many species that share the land and the water. The Department of Environment is working on a new project that will bring together important information vital to land use planners, wildlife managers and the many agencies required to make resource management decisions. The success of implementing this project will have long-term benefits for the territory's biodiversity interests.
Climate change is predicted to have profound impacts on our biodiversity, and the department recently recruited a climate change coordinator to help guide our responses to climate change impacts and adaptations. Those impacts can range from new diseases that could move into the territory because of warmer conditions or what are known as "invasive species". We are all familiar with the impact of the spruce bark beetle in the southwest Yukon and how that may have been helped along by climate change.
We cannot underexpress the importance of the hard work being carried out to implement special management areas and habitat protection areas throughout the territory. These activities will result in long-term support for protecting and maintaining important biodiversity areas.
The crews are out again this year on the Yukon-Alaska border working hard on the very important international project to help the Chisana caribou herd. The knowledge and the expertise gained in this unique project is now being used in Alberta to help that province with its efforts to reverse declines in its caribou herds so that it can maintain the biodiversity of its wildlife populations.
To give you some idea of what biodiversity means for this part of the world, you should mark your calendar to attend the many events scheduled for this month. The Yukon Fish and Game Association is offering family fishing days at Pine Lake near Haines Junction and at Lake Laberge.
There is the biodiversity forum this Saturday at Yukon College here in Whitehorse, which can give a sense of what biodiversity is all about. Presentations cover everything from radio tracking to the Porcupine River Coho salmon to bird banding at Alberta Creek to discovering Yukon bats.
Let's not forget National Wildlife Week, also, Mr. Speaker, from April 9 to 15. The theme for National Wildlife Week this year is "Watersheds… more than just water… explore yours!" There is a presentation on the Peel River watershed, which is scheduled for April 12 at Hellaby Hall. Be sure to take in the Celebration of Swans events this month and the Swan Haven events that will be held on the Easter weekend and the following weekend.
Other activities planned for the week of April 17 are outlined in the Celebration of Swans calendar, winging its way to your mailbox this very week.
Mr. Speaker, I encourage everyone to seek out the special events being offered during the month of April to get to know the Yukon's fascinating biodiversity of 1,200 plant species, the more than 5,000 insects, the birds, fish and mammals and the four amphibians that call Yukon home.
Mr. Hardy: I rise on behalf of the official opposition to pay tribute to the Yukon 's own biodiversity month. I will take the Minister of Environment, who just spoke, up on his offer to attend some of these events that are happening. I really look forward to seeing him at all the ones I attend. I'm sure he'll be at many of them.
Biodiversity is found in and among living organisms. The term is most often used to refer to the number of species of plants, animals and micro-organisms present in any given area, but it also describes genetic variation within a species and ecosystem diversity. We rely on biodiversity to provide us with a number of essential ecological goods and services, including food, waste management, climate regulation, clean air and water - in other words, if we don't look after it, we're not going to make it.
We also benefit economically from biodiversity, whether it's through the fisheries, forestry or wildlife-related recreation, which are integrated parts of our economy here in the Yukon .
Despite our dependence on biological resources, human activities are altering natural areas and naturally decreasing levels of biodiversity. Species extinction is now occurring 100 times faster than the historical rate. Every 15 seconds, for example, an acre of natural habitat in Canada is destroyed. At this rate, we can expect more wild species to end an evolutionary journey that has taken millions of years. They will disappear, Mr. Speaker, and they are disappearing.
In Canada there are currently 543 species at risk, and 12 have already become extinct. We must do more to reverse this trend, especially here in the north where the web of biodiversity has fewer strands. A northern web can be more severely damaged by the loss of one species than a web in the tropics with its far greater number of strands.
Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation caused by human activity are the main causes of specie endangerment and declining biodiversity, both nationally and here in the Yukon . Protecting habitat is one of the surest ways we have of ensuring biodiversity. Our health and quality of life depend on our natural systems and, in turn, our natural systems depend on biodiversity.
Mr. McRobb: I'm pleased to rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus, also in recognition of Biodiversity Awareness Month. In celebration of Biodiversity Awareness Month, we have an opportunity to pay tribute to our environment - the support of life itself here in the Yukon . Many Yukoners recognize the importance of our ecosystems and are working hard to ensure habitats are suitable for a wide variety of species. There are many unique celebrations planned throughout the Yukon in celebration of this month. One of those events being held that I would like to recognize is the 12th anniversary at Swan Haven at Marsh Lake , which opened for the season this past Saturday, April 1.
Swan Haven is a cooperative venture between the Girl Guides of Canada, Yukon Council, Duck Unlimited, and the Government of Yukon. Swan Haven has offered Yukoners and visitors alike a unique opportunity to share in the true heralding of spring here in the Yukon : the arrival of trumpeter and tundra swans. The swans are here and continue to arrive daily. I encourage all Yukoners to visit Swan Haven and bring your family and friends. There's also, on April 8, a public biodiversity forum being held from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Yukon College , where the public can learn about research on Yukon plants and animals.
As MLA for the beautiful Kluane region, Mr. Speaker, I would like to invite everybody to attend a few events. Starting Saturday, April 8, is family fishing day at Pine Lake , as the Premier mentioned, which is just this side of Haines Junction. This event is organized by the Yukon Fish and Game Association and takes place between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
Secondly, on April 15 and 16, at Tachäl Dhäl, which is Sheep Mountain, the visitor reception centre will be open in Kluane National Park and Reserve to view wildlife and to enjoy the first signs of spring, just to name a few events.
Also, on May 13, there's "Bird watching: Swans of Kluane" - an event at Burwash Landing. There's more information on these and other events across the territory at the taiga.net Web site.
As we welcome spring in the Yukon , take a moment to recognize our fragile and unique environment during Biodiversity Awareness Month.
Merci beaucoup. Thank you. Mahsi' cho.
In recognition of Education Week
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I rise in the House today to recognize Education Week in the Yukon , which runs from April 3 to 7. The theme of Education Week is "Opening doors to lifelong learning." The purpose of Education Week is to celebrate the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in education and to create awareness of education opportunities available to Yukoners.
During this week, many organizations and places of learning will be hosting open houses and special activities for the public so they can find out more about education opportunities available to them. Schools, First Nations, Yukon College campuses and non-profit organizations that provide education services and programs to Yukoners will take part in celebrating Education Week.
Whether it involves attending an open house or participating in a public event put on by one of these education providers, I urge Yukoners to seek out what interests them, to find out more and to open the doors to lifelong learning.
It is with great respect and thanks that I wish to acknowledge each and every one of our public school teachers, vice principals and principals for the commitment they bring to their work and the energy they bring to the classroom.
I would also like to take this time to commend all the family members, tutors, workshop leaders and volunteers involved in making lifelong learning possibilities in our schools. While school-based staff members are the public face of education, administrative staff at the Department of Education play a key role in supporting and facilitating the delivery of our education system in the Yukon .
The role that Yukon First Nations play in education is a very important one. I commend the many Yukon First Nation people involved in education, including the elders, native language instructors, liaison and support workers, representatives on school councils and other education-related bodies, and First Nation leadership.
School councillors bring a passion for education and a commitment to learning to their school councils. School councils function as an invaluable leadership component in our education system. I commend the instructors and staff at Yukon College for their work, both in Whitehorse and in the communities. This government appreciates the excellence in post-secondary education that they provide.
Also, I would like to thank the staff and volunteers of non-profit organizations throughout the Yukon that support a variety of education opportunities for Yukoners. The pursuit of literacy and healthy lifestyles, among other things, are well-supported through such organizations.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, I would like to thank everyone who engages in lifelong learning. That's because when we all walk down the path of lifelong learning, our communities are healthier and more vibrant places to live. Education helps us to get involved and participate more effectively in our family, our communities and our workplace. Mr. Speaker, so many Yukoners, whether they are learning basic reading skills, learning to use computers for the first time, researching and assembling complex science projects, finding out about healthy living or acquiring new skills to rejoin the workforce, are embracing the idea of lifelong learning. I would like to commend all Yukoners who actively seek out opportunities to educate themselves, because education is important in one's life.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to pay tribute to Yukoners for their dedication to lifelong learning, and I am pleased to recognize this week as Education Week in the Yukon .
Mahsi' cho. Thank you.
Mrs. Peter: I am pleased to rise on behalf of the official opposition on this Education Week to pay tribute to the many people in our territory involved in education. On this special day we extend our gratitude to public school teachers and their assistants, college instructors, public servants, early childhood educators, and non-government organizations involved in education. Their commitment to lifelong education and training has a lasting effect on the future of our children and our grandchildren. These professionals don't stand alone. The contribution of volunteers who sit on school councils and boards, assist teachers in public schools and with extra curricular activities and who work with children and adults with special needs through various non-government organizations, is remarkable. We recognize that contribution today and extend our heartfelt thanks to those many volunteers.
It was not always the case that universal free education was a standard in our world. It is a priority for society now because of the struggles of many people in our past who have believed in a betterment of all by empowerment through education.
At any age, education plays so great a part in all our lives that we sometimes take its principles for granted. For many of us, it is unchanging and we believe that stability is a good thing.
Our education system is not questioned but we are at a crossroads in the Yukon in education. Education has always been a priority for First Nations since children were taught traditionally how to thrive in one of the harshest climates in the north long before schools were even thought of.
First Nations are taking a careful look at what has happened through an education system that was not part of their culture. They are preparing to change it. Courageous First Nation leadership, parents, elders and youth have made it clear that they are not satisfied with the status quo in education. When we expect permanence in anything, problems begin. True progress means change. It is our hope that government is eager to take on the Yukon 's challenges in education. We anticipate that it will facilitate changes with material help, professional support, compassion and, most of all, understanding.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to join with my colleagues in the Legislature on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Education Week. Education Week is celebrated this year from April 3 to 7, with a theme, "Opening doors to lifelong learning". My colleagues have mentioned that there are many activities and events creating awareness of education opportunities in each and every Yukon community. I encourage all Yukoners to participate in these events and to avail themselves of the tremendous number of learning opportunities that are available to them throughout the year.
Partnership in education is important. Partnering with students, parents, professional educators, First Nations - all levels of government. Meaningful partnerships, including parental and public participation, result in the highest quality of education in the Yukon .
Education is far more than learning to read and write. Education is developing the whole person, including the intellectual, physical, social, emotional and cultural potential of everyone. Education is a commitment to lifelong learning by everyone.
During Education Week, our tributes belong to those who make it happen - students, teachers, parents, volunteers, citizens throughout the Yukon who contribute to education by their leadership and by their example of lifelong learning. On behalf of the Liberal caucus, merci beaucoup, thank you, mahsi' cho.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling of returns and documents, the Chair has for tabling a report from the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly on the absence of members from sittings of the Legislative Assembly and its committees.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling today the annual report dated June 23, 2003 to March 31, 2005 of the community development fund.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 71: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Hart: I move that Bill No. 71, entitled Dawson Municipal Election Act (2006) , be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Community Services that Bill No. 71, entitled Dawson Municipal Election Act (2006), be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 71 agreed to
Bill No. 68: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Hart: I move that Bill No. 68, entitled Act to Repeal the Physiotherapists Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Community Services that Bill No. 68, entitled Act to Repeal the Physiotherapists Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 68 agreed to
Speaker: Are there further bills for introduction?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Rouble: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to increase the output of its AM transmitter in Watson Lake in order to better serve the people in the surrounding area, in both Yukon and British Columbia, in relation to communication of broadcast news, weather forecasts, road conditions and other information of importance to local residents and the travelling public; and
THAT CBC consider a similar upgrade of its AM transmitter in Dawson City .
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Canada to re-establish funding to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon, FASSY, before the interim funding established by the Yukon government is concluded.
Mr. Hassard: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Canada to comply with the unanimous request of the western premiers to recognize the spruce bark beetle and pine beetle infestations in southern Yukon and in central and northern British Columbia as natural disasters and provide adequate funding to address this rapidly growing situation in partnership with the Yukon, British Columbia and First Nation governments before the situation becomes much worse.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) field trips and other curriculum-related activities are an integral part of a well-rounded educational experience;
(2) no Yukon child should be prevented by financial hardship from participating fully in such activities or other beneficial school-based recreational, social or cultural programs; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to take steps to eliminate fees in elementary and secondary schools that create a financial barrier that prevents students from participating equally in programs that are recognized as important components of the territory's public education system.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) experiential education integrates hands-on experience into the learning process;
(2) programs such as ACES - the achievement, challenge, environment and service program - MAD - the music, art and drama program - Vision Quest, experiential science and PASE programs have all proven to be very beneficial for students in our schools;
(3) the experiential programs are not available to rural students in their home communities; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to expand the experiential learning programs currently available in Whitehorse into other Yukon communities, wherever possible and wherever a perceived need exists.
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to make regional land use planning a priority by allocating financial and human resources to all departments for the gathering of information critical to successful land use planning, as laid out in chapter 11 of the Umbrella Final Agreement, so that this essential prerequisite to rational development can proceed in a timely fashion.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to develop a policy that mandates the Premier to attend the Association of Yukon Communities' annual general meeting.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Budget estimates and spending
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Minister of Finance. At what point did the minister decide that his $793‑million budget was just a guideline, not a real estimate of what this government plans to spend during this fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, Mr. Speaker, the budget as tabled is much about the work that the government has done in the public domain, along with all the departments and officials involved. It is the collaboration of many exercises that we undertake during the course of a fiscal year as we go through a budget cycle. The outcome of that was once again the largest budget in the history of the Yukon when comparing mains to mains. I am very pleased to say that it continues the trend that this government started a number of years ago when we began our mandate to change - in a positive way - the direction in which the territory was going. It's through budgeting that we've been able to do that with increased stimulus, enhancing programs and services to Yukoners. This budget continues that. As we go forward through the fiscal year, we will be continuing our engagement with the Yukon public and others on the best way to invest in initiatives and areas important to Yukoners, improving the quality of life for all Yukoners.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that's an interesting non-answer to the question I asked. I am not the only one in this territory who wants to know the answer to the question.
Last Thursday, the minister took almost two and a half hours to read a 42-page budget speech. That comes down to $5.6 million a minute or $19 million a page. Before the minister could even clear his throat he was telling reporters outside this House that his budget was already out of date. It's a false budget; it's obsolete; it's expired - and we still don't know what the real budget is.
I will give you an example: the idea of providing debt relief for Dawson City - was it a spur-of-the-moment thing late Thursday afternoon or did the minister deliberately keep this information out of his marathon budget speech? It's one or the other.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, we've employed solid fiscal management principles to the finances of the territory. We don't guess at things. We do our work - the hard work - to determine, to the greatest degree possible, what costs will be. For example, this government has ensured that through financial management we report our liabilities correctly and all inclusive so that we are no longer getting qualified audits. The member opposite doesn't have to take my work for it, the Auditor General, who reviews the books of the Yukon , has certainly confirmed that that is the case here in the territory. As far as something expiring, it certainly isn't this government's plan or vision or sound fiscal management. There is some expiring going on, and it appears that is the NDP's position on the political spectrum.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, the Premier can take those little shots all he wants; we are not going to bother responding to him.
History has a way of repeating itself with this government. There were massive spending warrants just before the Legislature opened. Then there was a budget that was immediately followed by new spending announcements outside the House. Last year it was millions for railway studies and the athletes village. This year it is debt relief for Dawson City - more special warrants and who knows where we are going with that?
Mr. Speaker, some of us in this House care a lot about principles such as accountability, openness and democracy. The minister's cocktail-napkin accounting demonstrates either sheer contempt for these principles or sheer incompetence. My question: should Yukoners believe this minister when he doesn't even bother telling this House his real plans for spending their money?
Speaker: Before the Hon. Premier answers the member's question, I would like to caution members. The Chair fully understands that we are in an election year, and I would like the members on both sides of the floor to please control themselves a little, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite, the leader of the collective official opposition across the floor, has made statements that somehow our accounting and our fiscal management is erroneous. Well, the only answer here, Mr. Speaker, is the Auditor General's response to the territory: unqualified audits and a stamp and seal of approval on our fiscal management. That is what the government set out to do in the start of our mandate, to get our fiscal house in order and change the direction in which the territory was going - a very negative direction to a positive direction through fiscal management and budgeting. That is what we have done. We have invested large amounts of money in the territory to create stimulus, as I said, enhance programs, and as long as this government is in office, we are going to invest a lot more.
Speaker: Before the member asks a question, I just want to remind the Hon. Premier that the leader of the opposition is exactly that - the leader of the official opposition. Please do not refer to him as anything other than that, please.
Question re: Granger-Copper Ridge school
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, to start off Education Week, I would like to ask the Minister of Education a question. In the budget speech we heard last Thursday, it referred to $12.9-million worth of school construction, expansions and renovations. Can the minister explain why there is nothing in the budget for a school that the Yukon Party candidate promised during the Copperbelt by-election last fall?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, there is money in this budget that totals $75,000, and that is basically to conduct Whitehorse area school planning.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, the promise was broken. This government's track record on keeping its promises leaves a lot to be desired, just like its track record on consultation. Families in the Copperbelt area were promised a school before there had been any consultation or any planning. Maybe the candidate consulted the Premier, and maybe the Premier consulted the acting minister, but somebody forgot to consult the minister, somebody forgot to consult the department, and everybody forgot to consult the parents.
Will the minister tell the House if a new school in the fastest growing part of Whitehorse is still part of a Yukon Party plan, or is this one more thing the next government will have to deal with?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It is no secret that there was property set aside for a school in that quickly developing area.
When there is an by-election, everyone in this Legislature knows that in the heat of the moment of an election you are able to present what you as a candidate see. There is no problem with that. I can assure you that this will probably be another big, hot and heavy item in this coming election; however, this government is going to do the necessary school planning phase before there is a concrete decision made.
Mrs. Peter: A commitment was made in this House on that school. We saw the mess this government made in Carmacks because it didn't listen to the people. We saw the confusion in Burwash and Destruction Bay recently because the Minister of Education and the Premier can't get on the same page. After four years there won't be one single new school started and finished by this government - not one. History repeats itself once again. The last time the Yukon Party was in power, not one single new school was built. This minister has six months left to make a difference, so I have a challenge for him. Will the minister make a commitment to meet face to face with school council representatives from across the Yukon to hear their priorities so that new school projects are based on community objectives and not on political expediencies?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This minister is one step ahead of the member opposite's request. I have already met with the school councils from across the Yukon . The very proposal that I mentioned earlier today about Whitehorse school planning was discussed at that meeting. I believe it will transpire from there into the necessary recommendations of the schools in the Whitehorse area.
I would also like to state that the member opposite mentioned the school in Carmacks. That school is progressing quite well, and I might add that now the community has had time to think, they do see the value in that whole school being developed. I am really happy about that.
This government is also in the process of expanding the Porter Creek Secondary School . One only needs to drive by to see the advancement on that infrastructure. The capital projects are going ahead, regardless of what the member opposite's opinion is.
Question re: Canada Winter Games, athletes village
Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the Minister of Community Services on the boondoggle that has become the athletes village. Under the careful financial management of the Yukon Party government, the cost of this project has gone from $3 million to $31 million. These are the most expensive apartments ever built in the Yukon and, of course, they're not even being built in the Yukon ; the units were constructed in Alberta .
The Premier had the nerve to say in last week's budget speech that the project was both on time and on budget, but which time frame and which budget? This project has actually gone $28 million overbudget under the not-so-watchful eye of the Yukon Party government.
Is the minister prepared to be accountable for how badly this project has been managed by the Yukon Party government and admit, today in the House, that the project is grossly overbudget?
Hon. Mr. Hart: When the Premier indicated we were going along and meeting our budget, we are. The village is a project that we took on, on behalf of the host society, after they requested we take over the project because they couldn't complete the project for the $2.9 million they had originally estimated they could build the facility for.
It was obvious, after they attempted to do that, that they could not achieve that process for that value and, as such, we took over the project on behalf of the host society to ensure the games will be a success. Also, we took over the project because we believe that we could get the power through the government to complete the project on time and in time for the games, and that is what we did. We took it on, on their behalf, to ensure the games' success. We hired a consultant who could get the job done, and we got the professional assistance in place to make that happen.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party likes to present itself to the public as a fiscally responsible government. They take great pains to point out the shortcomings of previous governments, but they seem to have a blind spot when it comes to their own financial problems. The Premier was quick to call in the forensic auditors and the Auditor General on other issues, and he quoted the Auditor General again today. In the interest of good financial management and public accountability, is the government prepared to do so again? The athletes village is 10 times over the original budget. It is at least $28 million overbudget. Will the minister put the Auditor General on notice now that Yukoners want this project investigated once it's complete? We want to know how the Yukon Party took a $3-million project and turned it into a $33-million project.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, I will repeat again what I stated earlier. We took over this project on behalf of the host society. There was a value in the project. We are doing what the host society asked us to do and we're doing it based on the value that's there. There is a specific requirement for Canada Winter Games, where we have to provide quality space for the athletes, and we are doing that. The $2.9 million was not even close to getting that particular venue done. In the interest of trying to promote the Canada Winter Games on a positive side, I would like to remind the member opposite that although she likes to quote the $32 million or $30 million, 50 percent of that amount is actually being done by local contractors - fifty percent, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Well, the minister is very defensive about this subject, and the whole Yukon Party seems quite intent on continuing this charade of good money management. The Yukon Party has badly mismanaged this project, to the point where we are $28 million over the original budget. There is $9 million in this year's budget alone to complete this boondoggle. I asked the minister a very simple, straightforward question. Let's bring in the experts to see how we got to this point. Let's bring in the Auditor General. The public is asking that a light be shone on this Yukon Party government and their poor financial management of this project. If the current government won't do it, the next government will. I'll give the minister another chance to do the right thing. The project is $28 million overbudget. It is a financial disaster. Will the minister put the Auditor General on notice to look at how the project ended up costing taxpayers 10 times more than it was supposed to?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will again go back to my first response. We are building the facility under the budget requested, and it's going to be built to that particular budget. It will be built on time, in time for the games to commence next year. We anticipate it will be completed, and we are hoping for an opening ceremony sometime around the end of September. I invite the member opposite to attend that opening.
Question re: Canada Winter Games, athletes village
Ms. Duncan: One of the reasons the athletes village is so far overbudget is because the Yukon Party has refused to use competitive bidding for many of the contracts that have been let as part of the construction. This leads to the government paying more than it should for many items. There are at least 18 sole-source contracts this year alone, including one to an Edmonton firm for $1.7 million to develop a concept design for the athletes village. Why is the minister doing everything he can to send work to Alberta instead of trying to build the Yukon 's economy?
Yukon companies weren't even allowed to bid on that $1.7-million contract. Why is the government treating Yukon contractors like second-class citizens in their own backyard?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will just reiterate what I indicated earlier. On this project, 50 percent of the project is going to Yukon contractors - 50 percent - and it is going out under the auspices of invitation and/or public bidding. Yes, approximately 50 percent is from Outside, but that is what was required in order to get this project underway and to get it done on time so we, as Yukon, can demonstrate to the rest of Canada that we can put on the Canada Winter Games.
Ms. Duncan: There was a very revealing story in the Yukon News on Friday. A representative of the government told Yukoners for the first time why all the work is being handed out without competition. It's because the Yukon Party went back in time and sole sourced $70,000 worth of contracts to the same person who oversaw the construction of the Whitehorse Hospital . It's nice work if you can get it.
There was a poor relationship with contractors then, and there is again now. I asked the minister for an explanation of this six months ago. I am going to ask him again today. Why was all this important work sole sourced to companies outside of the Yukon ? It's more than $2 million of that initial work. Why didn't the minister work with Yukon contractors to try to keep some of this money in the territory? These were fundamental, basic elements of the contract. Why is the word from an old friend from Alberta worth more than the advice of Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We did try to work with local contractors. We did try to put the project together so that we could try to look at completing project work on time, but that wasn't possible. We are working on this project on behalf of the host society and, as I stated previously, we picked it up. It's not like we've had this project on our books for the last three years. We were asked to assist the host society in its endeavour to build an athletes village, because it was fairly evident that it didn't have the money nor the resources to pull it off. We went out; we sought the expertise to get the job done. The big key item here is to get it done on time, and that's the effort that we went through.
Ms. Duncan: It's clear to everyone that this project is a financial disaster. Yukoners are paying dearly for the incompetence of the Yukon Party government. To add insult to injury, a sizable chunk of the money spent has gone to Alberta . Why didn't the minister work with Yukon contractors to try to keep more of that money in the territory? Why did they go back to this old friend? Why was that advice worth more than the advice of Yukoners? Those are questions the Yukon Party has to answer in the public forum.
There are all kinds of contracting irregularities surrounding the projects, some of which I've highlighted. There's a really good way to get to the bottom of this mess and that is to ask the Auditor General to look at it. Put her on notice now.
Is the minister prepared to put the Auditor General on notice, or does the Yukon Party want to leave this sorry mess for the next government to clean up?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In listening to this debate, I think it's important to point out some of the areas being put forward by the learned member across the floor that are incorrect. First, the member makes the case that the original budget - what did the member say? - was 10 times less than the budget now. Well, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, even if you use conservative numbers, at $200 a square foot, the budgeted amount by the host society would not even have built stand-up cubicles for 3,600 athletes. That was problem number one. The budget was 10 times under the amount for the square footage required.
Second, the member opposite calls this a mess. I would challenge the member then to explain why the 2010 Olympics are looking at the very same construction for their athletes village? I would challenge the member opposite: why did the Regina summer games build student residences for their university in conjunction with the Canada Summer Games? Lastly, maybe the member opposite should do a little homework. It was the host society that tested the waters in this territory for Yukon companies and Yukoners to bring forward proposals. They went through that process. None of the proposals that came forward met all the requirements necessary; therefore, the host society engaged the government to assist. We did; it's on time and on budget.
Question re: Tantalus School construction
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Minister of Education. In the fall sitting, I asked the minister about the construction of the Tantalus School and the problems with the unstable ground materials on the building site. The minister said it was not brought to his attention, and he didn't know anything about it. I'm sure he has been brought up to speed on this matter since.
Much of the construction has been delayed for months, but the work has resumed just lately. Is the minister satisfied that the problem with the unstable ground is taken care of?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, during the early stages of the construction, Mr. Speaker, a large pocket of unsuitable, silty soil was discovered in the vicinity of the new gymnasium. The soil is not sufficiently strong and stable to build the school upon; therefore, it must be removed and replaced with compacted gravel.
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, but the minister didn't answer the question. He is not satisfied that this has been taken care of and he said it was the early part of the construction stage. That was well into the last sitting and the minister should have been well aware of this matter at the time.
Now, people in Carmacks are very concerned about the construction of the school on this unstable ground and what could happen to the building in the future. The community warned the government about the site and they were ignored. Nobody wants to see another Dawson City recreation centre. The contract to build the Carmacks school is a cost-plus contract. The minister said the ground materials need to be dug up, taken out and replaced. What is the cost to taxpayers to correct this problem?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member opposite has lived in this country probably almost as long as I have - not quite. We all know that there are possibilities of running into soils that needs to be removed and replaced. That is exactly what is happening in that area. The government has the confidence that this ground is suitable and will be compacted to the required specs to hold this building.
Mr. Fairclough: He didn't say what the cost was to correct this problem.
The government has taken soil samples and has determined, like the minister has said, that there are clay and silt that need to be taken out and replaced. This, of course, drives up the cost of the project. At the beginning, it would have cost $8 million to replace the Tantalus School . It went up to $9 million and then $10.3 million. Now the Premier, in his budget speech, says it is $11.4 million. The government has lost control of this project. There were changes made during construction by the architect and it seems to be a rolling tab. Building in the winter costs more, and the Yukon Party knows that but they went ahead with it anyway, and they call themselves good fiscal managers.
Does the government have any idea what the final cost of the school will be, or is it wait and see?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, the government, right from day one, has said repeatedly that this government will work to the best interest of the children in Carmacks. The best interest is to have a new facility. Mr. Speaker, the building that is presently in Carmacks as a school was fit to be replaced. It was on the work order for many years. It was bumped up because of an emergency issue in the past, and every government on the floor of this Legislature, Mr. Speaker, is guilty of not building a new school when it was needed. This government did take the initial steps to get on with it. And if you go into Carmacks today, you will see that the construction is underway and there will be a new school built.
Question re: Government spending
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Premier on his flawed economic plan. The Yukon Party's economic plan is made up of one idea: spend other people's money. That has been the plan from day one. We have seen the largest budgets in Yukon history under this Premier. Is it because of good economic management? No. It is simply because the Government of Canada has increased transfer payments by $200 million per year. In the last four years, despite these massive increases, the Premier has managed to drain our net financial resources from $70 million down to $15 million. The Yukon Party takes the money from Ottawa and spends it. That is the beginning and the end of the plan. Why has the Premier and this government failed to move beyond this spend-other-people's-money approach to governing?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I believe the leader of the third party, the Yukon Liberals, wants to discuss the finances of the territory, and he has made reference to and is defending the former Liberals' financial record. Let me point out that under his party's watch, the territory only had a $500-million-plus budget, no cash in the bank, people leaving the territory and double-digit unemployment.
Under this government's watch, we have just tabled a $793-million budget, increased cash flow and stimulus, a population growing and the lowest unemployment figures in the territory in decades. The member opposite speaks of a surplus of $70 million, which, by the way, was after five months of this government making sure that that surplus grew by dissolving funds where monies had been stashed by the former Liberal government in all kinds of wonderful areas that did not reach the pockets and hands of Yukoners. Under this government's watch, our surplus is $400 million plus. Does the member want to continue discussing the finances of the territory or move on to another subject?
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, we are trying to compare apples to apples, not surplus that is comprised of the buildings that we know the Premier won't be selling.
Mr. Speaker, this is a government that is operating in survival mode. It has lost two members in the last six months, and a third, the Minister of Education, has publicly declared he will be a free agent. The government is also running out of time. Its mandate is almost up. The Premier is desperately casting about for a lifeline to save his government. He is trying to convince people that the Yukon Party government is responsible for an improved economy, but the reality, of course, is something completely different. Is the Premier prepared to admit what everyone else in the territory knows - that our economy is simply floating on an ever-increasing pile of money from Ottawa?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Now that the member has demonstrated he takes great issue with Yukon getting its fair share of the national wealth - which, by the way, when it comes to equalization, is constitutional and, when it comes to the territory, is based on the territorial funding formula. This is simple arithmetic. If the member opposite takes such great issue, should the member ever be fortunate enough to be elected to this side of the House, he can give the money back. This government won't; it's our fair share.
The member speaks of casting lifelines. That's just what has transpired in recruiting the former NDP member, the Member for Kluane, to join the ranks of the now Liberal/New Democratic Party of the territory.
Mr. Mitchell: We have no issue with receiving our fair share of money from our fellow Canadians. The issue is how we spend it, not how much we're receiving.
The Yukon Party government is a one-trick pony: spend other people's money. Yukoners are tired of the trick. They know the Yukon Party government simply picks up cheques from Ottawa and spends them on friends and pet projects. There is no plan, no long-term vision, no idea how to keep the territory going during the slowdowns that inevitably follow boom periods.
Simply spending every dollar that comes through the door is not an economic strategy.
This government is spent; public confidence has been spent; the money has all been spent. Why doesn't this Premier just admit that he has simply become a mailman who spends every cent he gets from his rich uncle in Ottawa?
Speaker: Before the Hon. Premier answers, leader of the third party, the reference to the government spending money on friends, I think, is a reference that is out of order and I would ask the honourable member not to use that terminology.
You don't have to reply.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I won't even respond to the many, many inferences that the leader of the Yukon Liberals has now opened up when it comes to the financial debate and the finances of the territory - other than to say that there is a fundamental question here. Under the Yukon Party's guidance, vision and plan, as well as its financial management for this territory - under that guidance and stewardship - is the Yukon a better place today than it was when we took office in 2002? Yes. The answer is obvious, Mr. Speaker. It is a better place, unlike the financial management that the member opposite is now trying to defend.
Mr. Speaker, when we took office there was no money in the bank; there was only a $500 million plus budget. There was no stimulus. As I said, there was an exodus of population and double-digit unemployment. The evidence today is quite the contrary. There is a growing population. We just tabled a $793-million budget. There is all kinds of cash in the bank - millions of dollars, Mr. Speaker - and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. The evidence is clear.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Hassard: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask all members to join me in welcoming to the gallery today one of my constituents from Teslin, Mr. Gerry Bruce.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 20: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 20, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie; adjourned debate, Mr. Hardy.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, this has become quite a regular occurrence: the Premier delivers the Budget Address to the Legislative Assembly with a substantial amount of the money already having been spent.
He delivers his Budget Address to the Legislative Assembly on almost the very last day that we can debate any kind of interim supply bill or give any kind of approval from all members within this Legislative Assembly to approve any type of spending for government operations. He delivers a Budget Address that is becoming legendary in its length, but also legendary in its lack of substance. It almost repeats itself year after year. There is very little new substance in this Budget Address. It really begs a question about what this government has been doing for the last three and a half years, going on to four years. We all know - and we've heard the debate today - that the Finance minister is spending other people's money. That's no one's new term; it's one that has been brought forward many times.
I will say this: the Premier is very good at one thing. He is very good at spending other people's money. We have record budgets that we've never, ever seen in our history. I'll give you a couple examples of the size of spending that has happened since the Yukon Party has formed government. Before I do that, I find it very interesting to point out that when they were first elected, they talked about the previous government's spending and the trajectory of spending and how they had to rein that in. But a $243-million increase later, they haven't reined it in; they've gone on a spending spree that this territory has never seen in its history.
Some of the examples are that from 1993 to 2003, the increase in spending in total operation and maintenance and capital was roughly $84,290,000 in 10 years. That was the increase in spending.
From 2003 to 2006, under the Yukon Party watch - they like to use that term - the increase has gone up $242,984,000. Mr. Speaker, 300 times the amount of spending - it's massive. The escalation in spending staggers the imagination.
I asked the Premier last week: where's the money coming from? Where's the money coming from? The Premier didn't answer that question, because if he had to answer the question he would have to identify where the money was coming from. And I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, it's not from the stimulus from the private sector, which is what this government said they were going to do. It's not from there. The increase has come from other sources - other government sources. The federal government has allocated more money into the territory, and I will give credit where credit is due. I believe that the Premier, along with the other two premiers of the northern territories, has done a good job at negotiating some increases. And that's good to see. The pan-northern approach has paid off for Yukon people. I support that, and it would be something that the NDP would continue. It would be a good thing to follow up on and continue to build relations. I also heard - and I have heard this from the other territories - that that wasn't a relationship that existed under the previous Liberal government, so there was a change and that change has paid off in their negotiations.
Again last week there was a debate in the House about money that comes from the federal government and how it gets here. It was really interesting, because I've stood on the side of this House for three and a half years and every time we talk about where the money is coming from and who got the money and that - which for me, I guess, is a little silly.
I've heard the Liberals say that the only way the money ever came here was through the Member of Parliament, and that gets awfully tiring. It's also a disservice to the many people who work in government to negotiate and argue for our fair share in the north.
It's also a disservice to the many organizations, NGOs and individuals who put together those applications and spend many hours lobbying and sweating over trying to get funding from the federal government. No one single person got that money. Every case has to be made. If all it took was to have one person with an "in" just show up down there to get money, can you imagine what this country would look like? Can you imagine it, Mr. Speaker?
HRDC was an example of billions of dollars wasted and lack of accountability. We just had an election in which the Liberals were removed because of a scandal around lack of accountability with money.
I believe the money that's coming to the territory has come to the territory because it has been well-proven by the people who live and work here and make those applications. It has been well-proven by the public service who work for the people of this territory to ensure that proper financing is here. I believe we as politicians play a smaller role than that. The hard work is done in those offices; the hard work is done in those NGOs. We have to learn to recognize those people and stop trying to lay claim to it. The Liberals are notorious for that, and I find that shameful.
Now for the spending trajectory, Mr. Speaker. In 2003, the budget title was "Controlling the Trajectory of Spending". The title in 2004 was "Putting our Fiscal House in Order and Setting a Future Agenda." In 2005, it was "Achieving a Balanced Budget and Building Yukon's Financial Future". In 2006, it is "Building Balanced Budgets - the Way of the Future".
Mr. Speaker, what we have witnessed, very simply, is a spending spree. There is lots of money in the territory at this present time - a wave, as I've called it. This government is riding the wave. It's great - it's great if you catch the wave. It's easy to be a government when there is money. Ask Ralph Klein - the Premier on the way out in Alberta, as he clings to power and doesn't want to let go - ask him what it's like to have more money than you know what to do with, and how hard it is to govern then. Go ask provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I., Saskatchewan - which is doing magnificently, without the blessed resources that Alberta has - how they manage to balance budgets and pay down debt that has been accumulated by other governments before them? Those are the ones that we should be watching. Those are the ones that we should learn from. Those are the ones that we should emulate, because they are doing the tough work, not the ones that have a lot of money. This is a government here that could be planning for the future. I don't see it, Mr. Speaker, I don't see it at all.
$25,000 for every man, woman and child in the Yukon - that's what we're looking at spending in this budget - $25,000. How much of that came from what sources? We should know that as well. Very little came from money that was generated in the Yukon.
If there's a change in the financing, if there's a change in the transfer payments, we will feel it very quickly, because there is not much that will pick up. The private sector hasn't got the capacity at this present time to pick up the slack on that.
Mr. Speaker, in the first couple pages of the Budget Address, a couple comments were made that really made me wonder if the Premier knows what he's talking about. It says, "The 2006-07 budget is our second surplus budget and once again raises the bar comparing mains to mains. We are also forecasting balanced budgets for the next four years." Now, Mr. Speaker, just on that last sentence, I looked at the historical projections that this government made in 2002-03, and then I looked at the projections that they make today, and they're completely different. These projections are completely out of sync. Now, if the projections are so out of sync, how can you forecast balanced budgets for the next four years, if you've already shown that your projections don't match up, if you've been completely wrong? How can you make a statement like that?
But it gets worse. If you turn over to page 2, this is where it really raises some questions about planning and where this government is taking us. At the third paragraph from the bottom: "I have personally asked Prime Minister Harper to consider these recommendations very early in their mandate so that we can prudently plan the Government of Yukon's long-term fiscal future." Now, this is in regard to the territorial formula financing.
Right now the Department of Finance has prepared a brief to the expert panel that was created a couple of years ago. It is an expert panel on equalization and territorial finance. They are taking a look at the whole picture on that.
Now, our Premier, in his address, says he has personally asked Mr. Harper to consider recommendations that have been put forward by the Finance department, and that's great. He goes on to say that the current new territorial formula financing framework, as established by the previous federal government, does not adequately address our long-term fiscal needs. So he is admitting that the funding is not there, as it exists today. If there is no change, the Premier is admitting that it will not meet long-term financial fiscal needs. And yet, in the phrase before, he is forecasting balanced budgets. So it's kind of a hope and a prayer to make a statement like that when, on one hand, you already know that you don't have that security in place and you admit that, but you hope and pray. Are you going to tell people that there are going to be balanced budgets? I think that is a disservice to people. It raises a lot of concerns.
There are a lot of cost overruns as well, when you look at the spending of this government, and it is not hard to identify them. I do not necessarily agree with the Liberals' position that an athletes village can be delivered for - what was it? - $2.7 million or $2.9 million. I think that was a very unrealistic figure, and my understanding from listening to the Member for Riverdale South and the minister was that that was the number the host society had come up with.
Anybody who has been in construction would know that you cannot deliver a facility for $2-point-some million for 3,500 people, or 1,700 at a time in this facility, and still have something left as a legacy. So that figure was not realistic, so the Liberals are taking a lot of latitude in trying to say that's a realistic figure. If that's the kind of mathematics they use, I wouldn't want to see them in government - let's put it that way - because we would have cost overruns of a magnitude like we've never seen.
However - and this is an argument we made this year - these are the most expensive apartments the territory has ever seen. $430,000-some per apartment is what it works out to. In our view, that is outrageous. Something went wrong there - from the unrealistic $2.9-million figure to the $31.5 million - and somebody dropped the ball. My understanding is it fell apart at the Premier's desk. The file sat there, never got dealt with and the contractors who came forward with other proposals were not given a fair hearing on them.
My colleague from Mount Lorne made this case time and time last year and was very clear about that.
Of course, now we end up with an extremely expensive structure going up. Some contractors are crying foul, some are saying it's shoddy work, some are saying there are cost overruns. I'll put it to a lot of people to go up there. No, I am not a fan of modulars - I'll say that right on the floor. I'm from this trade. I build. I like building. Modulars, from my perspective, do not employ as many people or give you the flexibility in your building you need as you're going along to correct mistakes.
That's one reason why you have to take apart certain stuff in modulars to get at it if it's not working. When you are stick building you do that along the way - you make your corrections along the way.
There's not a contractor out there who has not had to go back with changes to be made and not have a list of deficiencies at the end of a job. They know that. They've been part of that themselves. As a matter of fact it was cost overruns - I think - on the multiplex. We could be talking about that as well. There are deficiencies on the multiplex; we could be talking about that as well. Again, it's another contractor, but maybe because it is a local contractor we don't say anything. I don't know; I don't understand the line of questioning. My concerns are around the cost and what happened and what responsibility this government had in that. That's what we are in the Legislative Assembly for - pointing fingers at other companies does not necessarily serve the purpose. The minister didn't make this point, and I think he could have made this point. There might be some companies from Outside that are doing the job. Just like some of our companies go Outside and do work in Alberta or B.C. I know some of them have offices in B.C. and are doing work there. There's a little bit - there is that recognized.
We are not saying only Yukon companies can do the work on every project, but the provinces and the territory should not have the same policy and not allow our companies to go down and do that work. I can imagine they would not want that. Actually I do know that they do get work in northern B.C., N.W.T. - I know some of them do work up there. I don't think we are saying that. But the point I would like to make, and as usual what wasn't mentioned - and it really bothers me - is not once did I hear the Liberals or the Yukon Party mention the workers. All they talked about were the contractors. The contractors may have some legitimate concerns, but if we talk employment let's go up there and see how many people from the Yukon are working. Some of these Outside companies have employed Yukon people. Is that a good thing? We have incentives in place for that to happen; of course it is a good thing.
That should be recognized. As a matter of fact, when an Outside company comes into the territory, I would like to see that they are encouraged as much as possible to employ Yukon people. I like to see Yukon contractors get jobs. But it's not just about contractors of the Yukon ; it's also about Yukon people. It's about training. It's about opportunities for young people for training. It's about gender equality on some of these job sites, or at least recognition for the women to get exposed to training. It's about new technology. It's about our working people able to work on projects that are going to be a legacy - we want that as well.
So, it would be a good idea if the government sent somebody up there to find out who is on the payroll. Are they Yukon employees? People who live in the Yukon ? I know that if I were on that side, I would stand up and be quite proud to talk about Yukon workers. I didn't hear that today.
But there is a cost overrun on that. You could set a budget to cover it so there are no cost overruns. The $31.5 million is overbudget; it's far too expensive for what we're getting. I think the fault lies on the Premier's desk, or a substantial amount of it lies there.
About the school in Carmacks - what is the cost overrun on that school in Carmacks now? I think it could possibly be around $2 million. It could be more. Why? It's because the government mishandled that project as well. Besides dividing the community and creating a tremendous amount of anger so we had demonstrations outside the Legislative Assembly, by basically refusing to acknowledge the rights of the people of that area who are most affected by the building of that school, refusing to listen to them, we ended up with a huge controversy. This school will not be delivered during the mandate of this government.
In other words, four years have gone by and they will not have been able to build one single school. That's a shame.
The NDP has a very good record of building schools, and I would advise members opposite to take a look at how many schools were delivered when the NDP was in government. I notice they get upset when I say that, but the comparison is there: four years and not a single school - half a school, maybe; a controversial school, definitely; cost overruns, absolutely. So there's another couple of million dollars. A government that has a lot of money doesn't think a couple of million dollars in cost overruns is that significant.
I can tell you there are a lot of projects out there, a lot of NGOs and individuals that could sure use a piece of that money. If we have that much money to just casually say it's not a big deal, then we have a serious problem with the accounting or the accountability of the government.
There's the bridge in Dawson City . I'm just talking about money that has gone out there - cost overruns and money being spent - with very little to show for it, or bad planning. I'm only going to be touching on a few of the projects. There are a lot of them.
The non-bridge in Dawson City , the election promise that was made by this government - will there be a bridge? I'm looking across the way; I'm looking for the nods, Mr. Speaker. I don't see any nodding that there's going to be a bridge in Dawson City , but how much has been spent already? $2.2 million, $2.5 million, $3 million? How much has been spent on the P3 policy this government was developing? What has actually been done under it, or do we just spend money and then do nothing, no results at the end of the day?
Well, the bridge is an example of no results at the end of the day, but again, millions of dollars were spent - millions of dollars were spent - and again, there was tremendous controversy, again division within a community, people taking sides, arguing. That's not even talking about the takeover of municipal politics in Dawson City and the finances there and a lack of funding that we expect in a budget to assist Dawson to get back on its feet. It's not in the budget. It's kind of like the promise that was made about the school in Copperbelt, Mr. Speaker.
Now, that was a spur of the moment promise that evolved into a concrete promise that has now disappeared again. It only disappeared when the by-election was over. So in other words, if the Copperbelt people had elected a Yukon Party candidate, we would see something in the budget. But if they did not elect the Yukon Party candidate, it disappears. Is that what we can anticipate for the next election? Because that is the way it is being interpreted out there - don't you dare not vote for us, or you're not going to get the promises that we make to you. But that is what happened. There was a promise made. We heard it loud and clear. We didn't necessarily agree that promises should be made on the back of envelopes. We believe that the government, if they were planning to build a school up there, should have at least consulted the parents, and maybe consulting the department would have helped - they were taken completely by surprise. Maybe doing some studies, maybe having some meetings and moving this thing along properly, talk to school councils - I don't know, whatever they want to use. But they didn't do any of that.
It really was an announcement that came out of nowhere and obviously has gone back to nowhere. A great void of political - how would you put it - what makes people dislike politicians? Actions like that, Mr. Speaker. How can people believe what we say in the Legislative Assembly - a promise that we make - when that promise can disappear so casually, so easily? Why should people believe anything we say when we go to the doorstep? I use "we" collectively, because we all take responsibility for this. I don't point this just at the Yukon Party MLAs. I am sure many of them are honourable people - they do their best. But how does it happen that you can actually stand up and make a promise, you can go and publish the promise, you can go to the doorstep and make that promise, and then, just like that, Mr. Speaker, it is gone? It has disappeared.
How can we expect people to believe in the work that we do in here if we can't be straight with them? If we can't hold ourselves to account? There is a lot of cynicism out there toward politicians. Everybody knows of the poll that was conducted - the one that had us at 16 or 19 percent. We are so far below every other politician in the country in regard to trust. That was specific for the Yukon . We were half of what the next province was. People in the Yukon have lost faith in their elected members, and that's a shame, because I think a lot of people in here really do try their best, and try to honour their word. So, how do we regain that? Well, one way we do it is through a budget. One way is to not read a budget speech for two and one-half hours and 10 minutes later step outside and announce something completely out of the budget - a large, substantial amount of spending.
It just makes the budget that was just read, irrelevant. You can make it up as you want; you can change it as you want; you can walk out the door, walk down the street, bump into somebody and make another promise, but is that accountability? Is that openness?
How do we in here share a vision of the Yukon ? How do we do that? In the structure we work under in the Legislative Assembly, how do we do it?
My title is "official opposition". Frankly, at times I find that title offensive. I have a job to do. If those members were on this side, I'm sure they would do the same job I'm doing, or try to, or do it better. They would oppose more, but how do we go beyond that? How do we actually work together and share a vision to make change when we keep dividing ourselves?
We're on this side; you're on that side. The public expects that; the media loves it. They love the quick little lines, the witty comments but, you know what? Where's the substance behind it? What's a person really saying? What's motivating that person to say it?
We all share the responsibility for this.
I can tell you that I am, and have been, very concerned about the direction of spending. The Premier has a tendency to use the Auditor General as a defence. When we question the spending, the Premier jumps up and says the Auditor General gave a glowing report on the accounting practices. Well, there's a slight difference there. Proper accounting practices - proper numbers at the end of the day - are what the Auditor General looks at and gave a glowing report on. Good for the government for making the change to full accrual accounting.
That's all the Auditor General wanted to see when they qualified. They wanted to see that. That has been done, but that does not mean that the Auditor General is saying that the spending habits and the direction in which the government is going is good. The Premier wants to pull it back to that, and he is confusing the issues here. We question the direction of spending, the amount of spending and in what areas, the distribution of funds, the amount of money that is being spent, and how. We asked the Premier - if he likes to use the Auditor General so much as a defence - to have the Auditor General take a look at special warrants to see if this government has used special warrants appropriately and have the Governor General bring it into the House on the last day. But, of course, the Premier won't do that because he knows what the report back would be. Special warrants were being improperly used. He was actually creating a situation forcing the use of a special warrant, and that's not correct. Special warrants are not meant to be used to make life more convenient for a government or a Premier to avoid scrutiny. They are meant for emergency purposes. When the government needs more money in a hurry and the House isn't in session, yes - they're special. Now they've become a norm under this government; they are used every year, and that could be avoided. We all know there is no reason to use a special warrant if this government would come in at an appropriate time - time enough to bring in an interim supply bill if necessary - to come in early enough when it's still winter outside, and it's minus 20 or minus 30, and we could be in here working and doing the public's work. We should come in before the end of the fiscal year. Other governments have done it. Why is it so difficult for the Yukon Party government to do that? That's the question we've asked.
Why do they hold back until the last day, until springtime, to do this? It is because they can. Basically they can do what they want. They don't have to listen to us on this side or respond to anything we raise.
Mr. Speaker, lack of legislation: that has been a concern for the NDP for a while now - the lack of legislation, the lack of direction, from this government. My understanding is that they are going to bring in a safe communities and neighbourhoods act. Now, I'm not sure, but does that mean that, if we pass it, we will see it up and running this year? Because I know my constituents really would like to see it.
Where I live, downtown, the riding I represent has the highest level of drug houses and has, I would say, the most problems in regard to drug and alcohol abuse - in the downtown core. I see it daily - I walk most of the time through my riding, every day - I see it and I can see it could be prevented. We could go a long ways to dealing with it. I'll talk about the drug and alcohol summit and $2 million in a minute.
But I am talking about the safe communities act - the one that we really pushed for last fall. I would like to thank the government for responding to it and bringing it forward, but my question is: will it be up and running in this year? That's what I would like to know - it's not enough just to bring an act forward. There has to be a will among the members to make this reality.
And it can happen. The government can actually move quickly. I believe it can. In an emergency, the government can mobilize. I think we have been living under a situation where there has been an emergency for quite awhile. That is with drug houses. The threat, of course, is that crystal meth now is a reality in the territory. There are serious alcohol problems, lost youth, prostitution - it's here. I see it.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday, I was out of the territory, and I drove down and through East Hastings . I felt sick from what I witnessed down there, and I've seen it before because I often will drive through there to remind myself of where our society has failed or is not doing too good of a job. I talk to the people at the place I stay. They have a home downtown and it's a B&B there. They are very concerned about many of those issues. What they say is that a lot of governments - and this is not just in Canada , but around the world - have pushed people with mental illnesses out on the streets. They've pulled back from offering support, housing and security for people with mental illnesses. Now they're on the street, and you can see them. It's not just people who are addicted. It's not just addictions down there now, but you're also seeing that. It is a real shame.
We have a role to play here, and that is to look after all the people, or try to, as best we can. There are limits; of course there are limits. There's empowering people and expecting people to have responsibility for themselves as well. We can encourage that and put things in place to help people climb out of situations they're in.
I'm part of an organization - I'm president of it in the Yukon - Habitat for Humanity, and we give a hand up. There are other organizations that also do that. Government plays a huge role around that. That's where I was this weekend; I attended a meeting with the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada.
At the meeting, I was informed there are 1.7 million people living without adequate housing - one of the richest countries in the world and we don't have adequate housing. We didn't have those numbers before in regard to adequate housing. We used to have social housing, we used to have lower-income housing, but the Liberal government in 1992-93 - it wasn't a Conservative government, it wasn't the Mulroney government; it was the Chrétien/Paul Martin government - it was Paul Martin who killed CMHC programs that worked with the provinces and territories to deliver that kind of housing to help people, often those who are the working poor, often those who are just poor and struggling.
The fundamental belief that people should have at least a decent roof over their head - children should. Many of them are families that are living in poverty - 1.7 million people in a country of 36 million or 37 million without adequate housing.
Habitat for Humanity has come along in Canada - this is not a plug for them; these are just the facts. They have this program and they do the work trying to build housing for the working poor. It's one little niche. Do you know how many houses they build a year? When you hear of $1.7 million - 150 houses a year in Canada . That's it. It's all done by volunteers with contributions from businesses and governments. That's all we can do right at the moment.
At the meeting this weekend, we made a pledge to raise that up to 500 in four years. We want to do it. It's a service. It's a tremendous organization, but it's a service. I'd like to thank the government for helping last year with the lot. But Habitat for Humanity is going to need more help if we are really going to make an impact. I think we can make a very good impact in this territory. However, there are 150 houses and you have $1.7 million and the number is growing - it's not a drop in the bucket. The government itself has to make a commitment back to delivering social housing for people, for children, for the poor, for those in need. We used to do it; why don't we do it now? Why have we fallen so far behind? Because the government of the day felt it needed to pay down a debt that they themselves had created. They pulled that money from the social programs; they cancelled that. They went after unemployment insurance. They went after the pension plans. They went after CMHC and other programs. So the poor paid down that debt, or the working people paid down that debt, not a government.
I read this budget and I don't see anything in here with regard to housing, to help those in need. As a matter of fact, what I read - if I could find it again - is that average house prices have been consistently increasing. These are all signs of economic recovery and clearly show the Yukon economy is now heading in the right direction.
Well, I stand here today, Mr. Speaker, to say that average house prices rising is not something that is going to benefit a lot of people. There are a lot of people who cannot afford house prices today. They are getting out of their reach. We are witnessing a debt carried by individuals and families like we have never seen in this country before. Families are working two jobs - they are maxed out. They are working as hard as they can. The debt load they are carrying is massive, Mr. Speaker. It is getting harder and harder to have a roof over your head. I can't see how a lot of families I know are going to be able to afford a house if we keep going in this direction - if the government doesn't intervene with other programs to help deal with lower-income, affordable, social housing.
I will admit this is close to my heart - housing -and I know the minister across the way has got some housing programs and has given money to some developers, but that has not addressed a lot of the people I know who are looking to start a home. That is not helping the tremendous number of single parents out there.
I'm not sure what the figure is today for the Yukon, but I think for the north it is about 24 percent of families that are now single parents, one income. Often it is the woman who is raising the children, and often, still in our society, they are lower paid than the males. There is no way in the world they can afford to raise their children and afford the housing prices if they continue to climb. I stand to be corrected but I remember seeing that the cost of housing has risen 24 percent. We have a realtor as leader of the Liberals and I am sure he has that figure at his fingertips. That is a 24-percent jump in one year. The year before that, what was it? We are not seeing those jumps in wages.
Single parents are struggling to be able to afford a house and one of the problems is that we don't have housing stock which would keep it down lower. Now, there are other costs that drive it up, of course, too. There is starting to be a shift in the interest rates; they may go up. I wonder what's going to happen if interest rates do start to climb? All the people who have borrowed money, have got mortgages and have to renew - and depending on how much they climb, it could be substantial - we could see people trying to get out of those bills. Their incomes are not increasing to keep up with the inflation, and they definitely will not be increasing if we see a rise in interest rates. Now that is speculation on my part, but I have heard that that's the direction it may go and I worry about that. We might find that there are a lot of houses on the market all of a sudden and there is a huge demand for rent again. But even rent has been going up, and it is getting more and more difficult.
There are ways to build houses. There are ways to ensure there is decent, affordable housing for people. The government does have a role - it used to have a role. It used to play a very significant role. It still has a role to play in that area - across Canada - not just here, but there has to be a will to move in that direction. There has to be a vision to move in that direction, and there has to be a desire to make it happen. I don't see this government doing it - it's not in the budget; I see absolutely nothing to help in that area. I know these people - it's just not going to benefit them. No matter what they say on the other side, I know, because I talked to these people. I hear what they have to say. I know the struggles. I'm sure they hear it too.
I talked about lack of legislation, but what about legislation that's ongoing? What about reviews, consultation? This is a government that has failed in that area. The Children's Act review is the latest example. What's happening with that? This was the model. This was the model that the Yukon Party government held up to us. I remember hearing at least half the ministers, including the Premier, say this is the model that they're going to follow for all their discussion papers, all their reviews and renewals. This was the model. Well, I'm asking them to please not use this model, or we'll end up with the exact same results that we have today, where a significant partner has walked away, has pulled back. So if that's the direction they're going in, if that's the style that they're going to use, we're going to see a lot more problems in all the other - well, let's be honest. There is not going to be any more, I suspect, by this government. They're in election mode, and it's winding down, and the clock is ticking now. Maybe that's a good thing. I know a lot of people out there are waiting to be given an opportunity to voice their opinion. How do we do that? Go back to the polls and let the people decide. It should prove to be a very, very interesting election.
So at the end of the day, after we get to the end of the sitting, I will sit here and take a look at all my colleagues in here, all the MLAs elected. Because if I'm fortunate enough to be re-elected, the next time I come into this Chamber, there will be different faces. Some of us will not be here. Others, new faces, will be here. That is the reality of democracy.
That's the one thing that the Premier cannot control. He has to go to the polls at some point. The clock, as I said, is winding down.
Mr. Speaker, there is a whole whack of areas here I want to talk about. There's almost $800 million. Once we find out what figure they have for Dawson , it might be $800 million. But they are planning to spend almost $800 million. Of course, there are good things. I've already identified some of them. The Whitehorse Correctional Centre - it has been four years, and nothing has been done around the facility itself, other than patch and repair and spend over $1 million there already. At least we see a small amount of money to start the process all over again, where it was left off.
Safe communities are something I feel very passionate about, because I see it on a regular basis. The drug and alcohol summit that was held - I'm glad some stuff has come out of that, but I don't know where that $2 million is going. I have no idea. There's nothing identified, other than $2 million is going to drug and alcohol treatment. But on what? Where is it? That was a 42-page Budget Address that could have been more detailed in that regard. There was detail about pamphlets and details about booklets, so why not about the $2 million for drug and alcohol services?
What was missing there? Why no detail there? It worries me.
On education, I've already talked about the Tantalus School being overbudget and behind time. There's no long-range plan for school construction and renovations. It doesn't exist; it's not around. Where are the long-range plans? Where's the vision? Did the government stall on Tantalus School and that was it? It just froze? It was a difficult enough task to get it to where it is to date, so we won't do any planning? Let's patch up some other schools; let's finish the renovations of the cafeteria area of Porter Creek . We heard that announcement last year too. Where's the consultation? Where's that? Where are we at with education reform? There's a $674,000 price tag on that. Where are we on drawing down educational responsibilities? Some First Nations have now started moving very significantly in that area. There's nothing in the budget and no indication of what this government's position is on that. There's still no direction or vision around that. With the relationships with First Nations already shaky, what does that mean? Are they saving it for an election promise?
I think the people of this territory deserve to know what direction the government is going in on the request for drawing down. What about the request from Old Crow in regard to the school board? What is the government's position on that?
I look forward to the minister standing up and giving us an indication - I don't mind the personal viewpoint and I thank him - he does like to talk from a personal perspective. I think it's important that we keep that in mind, that we do have personal positions on stuff. But what is the government's position, because ultimately that is the one that carries the day, as we have witnessed around the Burwash school promise.
The personal desire of the minister and a statement by the minister was in direct contradiction of the Premier. Somewhere in that muddy picture, was the caucus involved in that discussion or not? Did they approve it or not? We probably never will know because there are differing opinions around that.
But out of that we have Burwash Landing expecting a school to be built. Destruction Bay is concerned that the school that they have there will be shut down and no position really being taken because there are differing voices coming out of Cabinet. That doesn't instill a great deal of confidence in the people of this territory when we hear that.
What about the problems within the schools, the programs we often have? I look forward to the minister standing up and talking about child obesity and bullying. Or what about first-aid training for teachers? There was a petition tabled in here last year. I would like to know where the government is on that. I didn't see any money directed - maybe that's in the details as well? We will get into it when we get into department-by-department discussion, but I would still like to hear the minister talk about stuff like that. These are very important to the people of this territory.
As I said, there is $2 million for the substance abuse action plan initiative. What is the plan? What are the timelines? What new personnel are needed? What programs will be available at the community level? I will continue to pursue that and ask questions, just as I did two years ago. There are a lot of areas where that money can go. Maybe $2 million isn't enough to go to community projects for prevention and after-care, treatment camps, counselling for youth, family treatment groups, a transition home for people just out of detox who can't get into treatment because treatment isn't available. There are lots of ideas out there - some tremendous ideas. Are those people being engaged in the discussions on where this money should go? Or was the summit the only consultation that was going to happen? There is a predicted increase of 38 percent in the treatment numbers. Can the Sarah Steele building handle that? Can ADS handle that, or is that where the money is going? I don't see it in the budget - it is not there.
What about health care and social services - in the broader context? What about where the money comes from? The minister made an announcement - I believe it is $4.3 million per year - the total of the health care agreement is $29 million - and it is defined on where that money can go. In many ways, it is not even the Premier's announcement. I wouldn't say it has been decided specifically, but where the spending has to happen and the amounts have already been categorized.
The minister sits across the way, shaking his head. I'm not sure; maybe I shouldn't recognize that this came from another level of government, the federal government. Does the minister have trouble recognizing that? Does the minister across the way have trouble with recognizing that it is only so much per year? Does the minister have trouble with the fact that it has been divided up into three categories? I look forward to his response to that.
Territorial medical travel fund - we do know that that is part of it. Will this government be increasing the per diem for patients travelling Outside for treatment? Is that going to be part of it, or will they still get the paltry - I think it's $30 a day after the third day? Will there be changes there? That has been a concern expressed many times.
We have ongoing issues around ambulances. Where are they going? What type of ambulances? We spent a lot of time in the Legislative Assembly talking about ambulances, and the previous Health minister sole-sourcing them and designing them and, I don't know, maybe even driving them. But I'm hoping that this minister doesn't get that deeply involved in those.
What about the training for ambulance volunteers? The ongoing problem of family doctors - the budget speech talks about one new surgeon and two new family practice doctors - that is a good thing - and the assistance to Xui Mei Zhang to get training. That's a good thing. That will be a tremendous asset for the territory, but the Yukon Medical Association has not even been properly consulted. They have indicated that in an interview about this funding.
Again, it's a failure of this government to work with those experts in the field, those professionals. What about the concept - a concept that's really important and there's a lot of merit for it - of a primary health care centre in Whitehorse ? The Yukon Registered Nurses Association has been advocating for many years for a multi-disciplinary primary health care centre or clinic in the Whitehorse area. I really expected to see something in the budget in that regard, and there's nothing. That could have a significant impact on addressing some of the immediate concerns around health care, but this government failed to move in four years. This is not a new issue; this is not a new idea; this is even being done in some provinces, cities and territories. What's the holdup? Why is this minister not able to see what a good thing this would be? Why isn't it in the budget?
This was the last chance for the Yukon Party government to do something significant in this area, to move forward and show some vision in health care. They didn't do it.
What about social assistance? This is something we've asked this government on a regular basis. We had some very heated debates in the House around people on social assistance. There's no increase again. Guess what? Rent goes up, cost of living goes up, food and basics go up, but it's not recognized by this government if you're poor. It's another area to neglect or overlook.
As a matter of fact, the previous minister blamed the people for the situation they may be in. If you look at the statistics, a lot of them are families. A lot of them are caught in the cycle of poverty that's extremely hard to break out of.
We could do more. We could get more resources and have more people trained to help. What about the clawback of the child tax benefit supplement? Will that be stopped? What about the positions that the federal government is taking? Has this government taken any position on the direction that the federal government is going in regard to health care and social services? Or do they agree with them? Does the minister who is, I would suspect, a former Reform Party member - I'm not sure if he's a new Conservative member - has he or the Premier had an opportunity to address some of the positions or directions that the federal government may be going in?
Childcare is an example - has he sent off a letter expressing the Yukon Party government's position? The minister finds that amusing. I don't. I am concerned about the direction the federal government is going in this area. From their past statements, I am very concerned.
There are a lot of areas to talk about - broken faith, trust, court actions. We asked the question how many court actions are before the government today - individual and group court actions. We never got an answer. What's the relationship of this government with the First Nations individually and with Council of Yukon First Nations? Where is it at right now? If we read the papers, it doesn't look very good. If you listen to the Premier, it's rosy. If we talk to many First Nations, it doesn't look very good. If we listen to the Premier, it's perfect. Where are we at with P3s? What's the latest project that the Minister of Economic Development is working on, or all that money that was spent chasing the P3 dream? Where is it at? Is that just another $500,000 or $600,000 that we can just spend and don't have to be accountable for, don't have to produce anything out of it? We know the Dawson bridge was a P3 project, and look where that took us. It's easy to spend other people's money. What about all those tasks that were given to backbenchers at the beginning? Red tape reduction - what ever happened to that? I never noticed or heard the chambers praising the government for that work in that area. As a matter of fact, I think it fell off the agenda of the government. The Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board - how long have we been working on that one, Mr. Deputy Speaker? How long does it take to move forward on a review? Three or four years - is that legitimate? Well, if I were getting paid by the hour, I guess it would be.
But you've got to produce something at some point. People have got to produce something.
I looked in here and I didn't find anything in regard to the Thomson Centre. I do know there are a lot of issues around that. There are a lot of people who would love to have a say in what that building is going to be used for. But is there any more work being done to it right now? Who is occupying it? What is it being used for? I was looking at some figures just recently and in Macaulay Lodge we are looking at a100-percent increase in the wait-list in one year. I suspect that is indicative of the need for care facilities that we are going to experience. Now I do know this government has moved forward on the Watson Lake one, but they pulled back from the Dawson one. I'm not sure exactly why they did that - I'm not sure if that is kind of symbolic of what they did with the promises made around Copperbelt school. They didn't win the election so no promises exist now. Is it the same, Mr. Speaker, that when there was a Yukon Party minister from Dawson , the Dawson facility was going ahead? Now that there is no longer an MLA or minister from Dawson , the project is no longer really going ahead. It is stalled again. What about - pardon me, I was just corrected. There is no Yukon Party MLA, so all of a sudden that project falls off the list of priorities. That was a promise made that's not going to be realized - again. Four years - what a record.
Haines Junction - what about there? Definitely, a need was proven. Studies have been made. Only Watson Lake is being considered. The reality is that it's only Watson Lake . Why? My question to the Yukon Party - and I look forward to the rationale and explanations around that - is why only Watson Lake . Why not Teslin? Why isn't there one there? There have been requests and concerns about a facility there. Maybe we are figuring on this side how priorities are established on that side by government, and maybe it's connected to what happens at election time and who gets elected. There are so many areas we need to talk about.
Here is something that I was thinking about earlier today. I was doing some comparisons, and I found it quite fascinating. The population in 2005 - it has come up a little bit more - was roughly 31,240. I think it's 31,400 or something like that right now. In 1997 it was 33,519, compared to say 31,400. I was looking at the numbers and thinking about those numbers. That means there were more people in the Yukon eight or nine years ago. Quite a bit more. And yet we seem to have a housing crisis. There is a shortage of houses, and we have 2,000 more people in the Yukon . I'm sure that can be explained, but during that period we spent $451,946,000 in our 1997 budget for 33,510 people. Go forward from 1997 to 2006, and the figure I'm using is 31,400. We are still 2,000 fewer people than we had in 1997, and what are we spending? $793 million, Mr. Deputy Speaker. $342 million more - 2,000 fewer people. Yukon Party figures; Yukon Party governance - fiscally responsible? I don't think so.
You start to do those comparisons, and you have to wonder what the heck is going on over there. There is a lot of waste - that's what it comes down to. There is a tremendous amount of money being spent on projects that don't go ahead. There is a tremendous amount of money being spent on projects that end up in huge cost overruns. There are directions the government is going; they are spending money travelling every which way to promote the Yukon, or not - or selling the Yukon as some of the ministers like to do - even if some parts of it are not for sale - and ultimately wasting a lot of money, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It's called waste. There is a phenomenal amount of money being scattered around with no tangible results, with nothing that is affecting or shaping the territory, other than just spending a heck of a lot of money. We're more reliant on the federal transfers than we have ever been. That's not good government. That's not planning for our future. That's setting us up for a fall, especially if this new conservative government decides to rein in a little bit of the transfers or make some shifts. I do not believe that this government has demonstrated the ability to deal with adversity or to deal with that kind of situation, if it ever arose.
How about the railway? I haven't even got to this lovely $3-million plus, throw-the-money-up-in-the-air-and-watch-where-it-lands railway that this government has chugged down the tracks on. I like that song too - "Since I don't know when, I am stuck in Folsom Prison…"
Sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wanted to complete the song for the Premier along the way, because he sang, "I hear the train a comin'; it's rollin' 'round the bend, and I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. I'm stuck in Folsom Prison….
I'm sorry. It mean, it almost fits well with what we've been witnessing and the spending trajectory and where we're going and where we might end up.
I am glad to see some people laughing here, because it is the last sitting that we're going to have. But $3 million - there have already been studies and reports. But somewhere along the line, the Premier got in his mind that he really had to spend $3 million for another study, another look at this. Every person in here can go back to their communities, or many of the groups they know, or talk to anybody out there and say, "How would you like $3 million?", and every one of them would come up with a list of projects and stuff to do that would benefit the people in that area, that group, or what they're working on - far more than another study. $3 million is a lot of money and we might not see the end of it.
What about the environment? What about the environment? Where is the money to implement the Tombstone Park management plan? Where is the money to study the serious impact that global climate change will have on the Yukon ? It has become a reality that the permafrost is melting, and I think everybody in here recognizes that. It's going to have a major impact on the infrastructure of some of our communities - Dawson City is an example - where buildings will sink, sewage lines and waterlines will slump, there will be a significant impact on wildlife in some areas. We know that is going to happen. What is our involvement? If you're going to study a railway and if you're going to take $3 million for a little study - a huge amount of money - and put nothing toward the environmental health of our territory, that shows you the priorities. You will have a nice paper at the end of the study. I have strong opinions on what it's going to say. I have a feeling I know. I could be wrong in some areas, but I have an idea. I'm not a supporter of spending this $3 million.
There's nothing to balance that kind of spending in other areas that will have far more significant impact on us. Climate change is an example.
What's the government's position on the federal government's move to drop its funding for the one-tonne challenge and other initiatives around consumption and use? What are we doing to inform Yukoners on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What are we doing there?
Maybe the Premier, in his role of Minister of Environment, can spell out what special management areas, parks and habitat protection areas will get planning money. I don't think there's enough there to move this stuff forward.
There's no mention again in the budget of wetlands protection. Mr. Speaker, everybody has virtually agreed that 10 wetlands should get high priority, and another 54 should be considered for protection. So when will this start happening. This has been agreed to and it just never seems to register with this government but we will do a tremendous amount of work on oil and gas. So my question is, where's the balance? All I'm looking for is the balance.
If you're going to promote and open up the whole Yukon for oil and gas exploration development, where's the balance? Where's the protection part? Where's the funding for environmental studies? Where's the planning that's needed - regional planning? Where's the direction in that?
As you try to increase in one area that will have an impact on the environment - say a negative impact - you need to balance it so they can work together to have the smallest amount of damage done.
I f given direction, I think most companies and businesses will do that, but they are getting a different message. The conservation strategy is 10 years old - as many of these strategies are - and it really does need updating and revisiting. We need some leadership in that area, but we don't get it.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to wrap up. There are many other areas that my colleagues and I will be following up on with in this government as we get into general debate. I have only touched on a very small part, but there are a lot of other people in here who are going to talk and touch on them. When we get into departmental debate, we will go line by line and we will look very closely at what's happening. I anticipate 39 more days of discussion with the members opposite, at least. Unless they want to do a 60-day sitting, because they won't be coming back in the fall; we will be going into an election.
The member opposite looks like he is having a heart attack - but I am willing to sit in here and do the public work, if that is the wishes of all the other MLAs. If they wish to have a 60-day sitting, I am willing to be in here, because we are not going to have another chance. This is the largest budget - the most massive budget that the territory has ever seen. I know the Clerks are overjoyed with that and the people in Hansard office will be quite happy with that as well. I know my colleagues, as well. After looking around the room, maybe I shouldn't speak for them. They will decide that in the House leaders' meetings. I wish them well on their debate, but I am willing to and I look forward to everybody else's contributions. As I said, there are some very good things in this budget, but there are some omissions that I am very concerned about and a lack of vision. There is no question it is an election budget, and I don't see the vision for the future in it.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'd like to take a few minutes of the members' time to applaud this budget. Upon taking office, we had our work cut out for us. We went about putting the territory's fiscal house in order, despite what the member opposite may have indicated earlier. We've come a long way since then. I'm pleased to see that we've utilized successive budgets to stimulate our economy. By investing in capital projects across the territory, we are able to promote and develop the private sector.
The Auditor General applauded our accounting practices - and I'll go with the member opposite on this one - as being fully transparent and reflective of the current Public Sector Accounting Board standards. This means that the Auditor General believes our financial statements fairly represent the government's financial position.
I'd also note that we have already been in discussions with her about auditing the athletes village project. Everything we have done on the project to date has been done with her audit in mind. I also understand that she has already toured the facility recently and was impressed with the facility itself and the legacy from the Canada Winter Games. I would also like to point out in a few minutes with regard to the athletes village that a substantial portion of the village is being utilized - and to take some of the comments made by the leader of the official opposition - with all Yukoners in mind, whether they're contractors and/or workers. I'd also like to state that it was this government that initiated the fair wage program that is going into effect as of Saturday, along with asking the Employment Standards Board to review the minimum wage, and it was announced on Friday that the minimum wage is being increased. Now, of course, it has received some mixed reviews. It is either too low or too high, depending to whom you talk.
But, in essence, it has still been a representative process, not to mention that it is to be indexed by the consumer price index on an annual basis. So I feel that although maybe not highlighting the minimum wage, per se, it does provide for an increase. For example, the minimum wage has not been increased since 1997.
On a few matters, I would like to just look over a few of my constituency issues. I am pleased to see that F.H. Collins will be receiving some considerable investments. There is $300,000 toward the work of industrial art wing ventilation, as well as a further $360,000 for the speed skating oval. Vanier Catholic School will receive $300,000 for roof repairs. Education remains an important issue for my constituents, so I am pleased to see $305,000 for school culture programs. A further $674,000 for education reform is good news, and I applaud the government for this investment.
For those students who wish to further their education, we have identified $200,000 for student financial assistance indexing. In conjunction with the Speaker, I have worked at the constituency level to address the issue of crime in Riverdale. We are deeply concerned about providing safe, appropriate alternatives for young people. We have focused on this issue ever since our election in 2002. We have held several community meetings on crime in Riverdale, including one session especially for seniors on crime prevention, which was very well attended. We received lots of positive comments on that also.
As you know from our conversations, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I said several times that finding positive alternatives is a key to preventing crime. Sports and recreation is one of the best alternatives. It has benefits, including engaging young people in constructive and positive relationships and also channelling their energies into physical activities that make for healthier children and youth. I applaud this government for this budget that provides the funds to provide these healthy and positive alternatives.
We met with representatives of the Blue Feather Society regarding ways to help young people. We also met with representatives from other youth and church organizations to find out what activities and/or programs they have to offer. We are focused on providing positive choices for young people, instead of having them milling around the local stores and the plaza, looking for excitement. We all know that, when you have several young people together in a group, it doesn't take long for them to become otherwise occupied.
Being proactive is critical to addressing the issue of finding healthy, positive alternatives for young people. Here in Whitehorse , my colleagues and I have made several investments into improving options for Yukoners. In addition to the work in Riverdale, we have budgeted $200,000 for the youth programs in communities, funded through the contribution for Crime Prevention Yukon.
We have $355,000 for the fund for four Whitehorse youth groups, including the francophone youth group, Comité Espoir Jeunesse. We invested heavily in the areas of sport and recreation, including the new facilities, and improved funding for coaching and development expenses. For example, in addition to our $20-million investment in the Canada Games Centre, Yukon is contributing toward the building of a new ski chalet through the municipal rural infrastructure fund, which is a partnership between Canada , Yukon and the local municipality.
Through MRIF, we're also investing in community centres in Mayo and Marsh Lake .
For those young people who cannot access these facilities due to cost, the Yukon increased its contribution to the kids recreation fund from $60,000 to $200,000 to assist more families in accessing sports and recreation by paying for registration and equipment. Twenty-three sport governing bodies and six special recreation groups that offer programming to keep youth active and healthy in our communities receive funding from the Yukon government. In 2005, about $1 million was awarded in recreation project funding to non-profit groups.
The 2006-07 year marks the fourth year of our $120,000 annual contribution to the Best Ever athletes program, which is designed to support and develop Yukon 's 2007 Canada Games team. In addition to finding healthy, positive alternatives in the sport and recreation area, we are contributing in other areas, like education. We want young people to have education options available to them here, and we are investing in those options now. We opened up more options for students to complete their grade 12. We put $1 million more per year in the Yukon College base funding. We made a substantial investment in Yukon College by building the athletes village, which will be used for college housing after the games. I might add also that one section of the housing will be used for affordable housing. We have invested in making more choices available to students in the trades and technology sectors.
However, providing healthy, positive alternatives is only one half of the solution. The other part is dealing with the existing problem houses. Thus, it is with great pleasure that I speak to this government's investment in the implementation of the safer communities and neighbourhoods legislation.
We have conducted an educational series on crystal meth. This is a highly potent and destructive drug. It means that we are facing a new set of challenges, and I am pleased that we are being proactive on this issue.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I know many of my constituents would like to thank this government for making $7.35 million available for the home ownership program. We also have $2 million for the Canada-Yukon home ownership program. We have $1.7 million to stimulate the private sector housing development program, and $2.5 million for energy efficiency through the home repair program. We have also earmarked $100,000 for the senior housing management fund.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, under health care I would like to talk about what is going on regarding the Yukon's rightful share of the national wealth - especially in the area of health care. I am deeply concerned about appropriate health care for all Yukoners, especially our seniors and elders. I am pleased that this budget speaks to that issue. We have added a surgeon and two general practitioners. Having access to health care professionals when we need them is also very important. We have invested some $345,000 to purchase three new ambulances. We are also investing $750,000 in community nursing station upgrades. I am pleased to see the Yukon earmarking $29 million for the health care agreement, the territorial access fund and the territorial medical travel fund.
I meet with the Golden Age Society on a regular basis, and they don't spare any criticism of us one way or the other. They have indicated to me that housing for seniors is an important issue for them, and we should look at that particular aspect for them.
Under the Public Service Commission, the Yukon is deeply committed to the competent public service. To address the member opposite when he talked about providing credit where credit was due or such words, I think he was implying that the Premier was taking credit for the work of getting money back from Ottawa - our rightful funds. The Premier has on almost every occasion stated that - on every occasion that I have heard anyway - it is through the good hard work of the Department of Finance staff that has resulted in the funding coming back to Canada with regard to the formula funding. I think I would like to emphasis that also.
I am pleased to see that we have introduced a program to recognize public service excellence. We have also invested $1.3 million in the public service initiative. We are providing support for professional development and technical training for employees. We also have a workplace diversity employment office. I am pleased that we have the GradCorps Yukon to facilitate the hiring of Yukon post-secondary students.
I would like to take a few minutes now to look at the Department of Community Services and Highways and Public Works for which I am responsible in this budget. Community Services provides Yukoners and Yukon businesses with the information they need to access government programs and services. The department is strengthening our customer service focus in servicing Yukoners, businesses and volunteer groups in a more consistent and coordinated manner.
The Department of Community Services works closely with Yukon communities and continues to vigorously support and promote community development and capacity building.
The department will continue to focus on community infrastructure development projects that contribute to healthier communities through implementation of safer waste disposal systems and improving access to clean drinking water. This government's continued investment in community infrastructure projects is contributing to rebuilding Yukon 's economy and creating meaningful jobs for all Yukoners.
As tabled, the main estimates show the department plans to spend $50 million in operation and maintenance and $49 million in capital expenditures. These expenditures will have a considerable positive impact in every community across the territory. Operation and maintenance and capital recoveries are estimated to be $3.8 million and $26.4 million, respectively. Revenues from general property taxes and services provided by the department are estimated to be at $7.5 million.
The department's main estimates reflect the commitment of this government to promote the well-being of Yukoners by supporting municipalities and providing municipal-type services and facilities to unincorporated communities. Out of the department's operation and maintenance budget, $22.3 million is allocated for grants and contributions to municipalities, communities, and non-profit groups and/or NGOs. This government continues to support active living and healthy lifestyles by providing the needed funding for promotion, development and participation in Yukon sports and recreation. The operation and maintenance budget provides funding in support of the Best Ever program and the North American Indigenous Games.
This government is vigorously pursuing its commitment to the success of the 2007 Canada Winter Games and the benefits that will accrue to the Yukon , and as we are working with the communities toward that end.
The required capital funding for the final component of the athletes village project is provided for in this budget. Also, I attended the speed skating competition this weekend. I was very impressed with the local participation, as well as the local fan support for that particular event. I was even more impressed with Ms. Doan and her speech to the community. I can only say that in discussions with other people there, they were all getting ready and looking forward to the 2007 Canada Winter Games. She provided a very good insight into what an athlete should and could anticipate as an athlete who attends Canada Winter Games because she did attend three previous games.
Recognizing the valuable contributions that the various non-government groups and organizations provide to communities, this government has allocated funding and contributions to the Association of Yukon Communities, Yukon Volunteer Bureau, Mae Bachur Animal Shelter, Dawson Humane Society, and community library boards. The required level of operation and maintenance funding has also provided for the Emergency Measures Organization and the wildland fire management areas. This government views the funding for these areas as essential investments in maintaining the safety of all Yukoners and their properties and our visitors while they are here in our territory. Since the creation of the protective service branch, wildland fire crews, First Nation contract crews, the municipal and volunteer firefighters are working closer together with greater cooperation in the exercise of their responsibilities.
A considerable number of initiatives and projects will be funded under the department's capital budget. To address the safety of Yukoners and visitors, $100,000 is allocated toward rescue boats, recognizing the increased boating traffic on Yukon waters. In the 2006-07 budget, we are providing for a high-powered rescue boat for the Southern Lakes district and making required upgrades to rescue boats in other communities.
The department has also included $50,000 to assist the Village of Teslin for the purchase of a hazmat response vehicle and protective gear for responders. This is an important investment toward highway safety for all travellers on the Alaska Highway in and around the Teslin area.
The department continues to be diligent in dealing with the required upgrades and improvements to rural fire halls. The tabled budget provides $50,000 for Carcross to commence design for an addition renovation and energy upgrade of the old grader station to make it suitable for use as a fire hall. There is $150,000 for Tagish to construct a two-bay addition to the existing fire hall in order to provide adequate space, and $120,000 for the Golden Horn volunteer fire department for design work in order to either replace and/or upgrade the existing fire hall.
The department has identified $300,000 for the acquisition of a fleet of fire tankers for volunteer fire departments and a program to be better equipped to deal with structural fires and, when required, to assist the wildland fire crews in protecting peripheral community values.
$1 million is being requested for the FireSmart program. As all of us can appreciate, the FireSmart program not only helps communities to reduce the risk of wildfire, but it's also a program that creates employment and opportunities throughout the territory.
Continuing with investments in community infrastructure projects, the Department of Community Services has planned to provide funding for $380,000 for Old Crow projects, consisting of $280,000 for land erosion and control work, and $100,000 for the repair of a community water well and sewage system.
We also plan to provide $232,000 to identify options to implement the Army Beach community water well project.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, $6.7 million is provided for funding projects under the MRIF program. A significant balance is also available for other projects that will qualify for funding under this program. Projects funded under this program include the Mayo community centre, the Marsh Lake community centre and the Mount Sima chalet. $11.4 million is provided for funding significant projects such as the Dawson sewage treatment system, Carmacks sewage treatment and the Carcross and Whitehorse waterfront projects.
The Yukon 's economic growth is clearly evident, as indicated by the real estate market and an increasing demand for new building lots for residential and commercial uses. The department continues to plan and develop land to satisfy the land demand side of the market. To achieve this, the department has budgeted $12.4 million for the development of residential lots and $250,000 for the development of industrial and recreation lots.
I would now be pleased to provide further details with regard to Highways and Public Works. Our progress within the Department of Highways and Public Works last year has been remarkable. This progress is a result of our comprehensive strategy to strengthen the foundation of which the physical, economic and social future of the Yukon is built. Considering that the Department of Highways and Public Works expends one of the largest budgets within the government, I am very proud to say that our objectives in building our territory are on course and greatly contributing to the future of the Yukon .
Mr. Speaker, while I will be tabling a complete budget for the benefit of the House and members opposite, I wish now to present just a few of the budget highlights. This year, my department is seeking approval to spend $71.5 million on roads, airports, technology projects, supplies and services and property management. This budget represents a major investment in Yukon economy and our way of life.
The capital dollars the department spends makes the Yukon a better place to live. It strengthens our communities. It helps families and places money in Yukoners' pockets. The capital dollars in this budget are for services and facilities we all use on a daily basis. The money goes toward contracts that improve our roads, our public buildings and our telecommunications. I would like to remind members opposite of the critical role the Department of Highways and Public Works plays in work that we do in this very Chamber, as well as in activities that take place every day across the territory.
Many of us who came to this Chamber this morning drove on roads and highways engineered and maintained by the department - except me and you, Mr. Speaker. You may have dropped your children off at a school maintained or upgraded by the property management staff within the department. The information technology and telecommunication connections that link our schools, our homes, our communities, emergency personnel, communities and government systems that process drivers' licences, court proceedings and social support payments are coordinated through my department. These are valuable assets to our government and to our culture, and we make the necessary investments to ensure their integrity and longevity are optimized.
Mr. Speaker, my department prints the documents and materials that we use here in the House, materials that are used in the courthouse and throughout our education system.
The department works to ensure citizens have access to materials in both Canada 's official languages. The Bureau of French Language Services provides French training for staff and people. They also ensure the translation of materials into French for our French-speaking Yukoners.
The airports that connect us to the outside world and bring the world to us are managed through my department. We want to ensure the safe comings and goings, a pleasant welcoming environment for travellers, and a comfortable place for people to relax and wait prior to their departure. To those ends we invest in these facilities, including the unseen upgrades to providing the appropriate security detections. Mr. Speaker, I am telling you about the breadth of my department because of the role it plays in the everyday lives and activities of all Yukoners.
The Yukon transportation system, with its developed network of roads, is unique in the north. I am pleased to say we are investing in approximately $57.8 million to develop and maintain our roads and bridges, the foundation of our transportation system. The Shakwak project is a critical component of our work. The agreement we have with Canada and the United States provides the capital funding required to reconstruct key highway corridors between Yukon and Alaska , specifically the Haines Road and the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction to the Alaska-Yukon border.
The Government of Yukon, through the Department of Highways and Public Works, is very pleased with the long-term commitment that the United States government has, and continues to make, to the Shakwak project. Under the Shakwak agreement, reconstruction will continue on the portions of the Alaska Highway . In August 2005, the Government of the United States approved multi-year funding that extends until September 2009. This funding will be used for the completion of the remaining grading work, replacement of the remaining major bridges and commencement of pavement where appropriate on the project.
In terms of employment, I'm very proud to say that the Shakwak project employs between 100 and 150 people during the peak season. Of those workers, 90 percent are Yukoners and 20 percent are directly from the area where the work is being done.
This year, the Shakwak project is good news for all who travel on this section of the Alaska Highway, from the corner north of Haines Junction and on the Haines Road. Local residents, commercial vehicles and tourists will benefit from a safer road and reduced travel time.
Many employment opportunities will also be made available as we continue to proceed with the Shakwak project this year, totalling close to $35 million in new spending for the Yukon .
I will admit that I took a trip to Beaver Creek this year and the road was a little bumpy, I guess I could say, but I got to experience what the average tourist feels when travelling on the road, and I can assure the travelling public that we're doing the best we can to alleviate these areas and reduce the damage that's occurring to some of these vehicles. The Government of Yukon values its partnership with the United States and the benefits that this ongoing partnership brings to both our travellers on the Haines Road and on the Alaska Highway .
The Alaska Highway is the core of our transportation system and the key to the Yukon 's road infrastructure development. The Department of Highways and Public Works will also be seeking legislative approval for other reconstruction projects along the Alaska Highway .
This additional work will be cost-shared with the Government of Canada under the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund. There are several projects taking place under this particular fund, most of them on the Alaska Highway . We will be looking at bridge work on the Lewes River bridge as well as the Teslin River bridge and the Seaforth Creek bridge. These will all be bridge deck replacements and/or improvements taking place on them.
Employment opportunities generated for Yukon through these upgrades will be welcome. Not only is it important to ensure that the travelling public benefits from a high standard road link to the rest of Canada , but it also ensures that the territory's highways and bridge assets remain safe and secure.
Mr. Speaker, to improve our highways for travellers, the department is continuing to implement new methods which will assist in the development of safer and more effective highways for the Yukon . The Department of Highways and Public Works is therefore seeking legislative approval for $290,000 in order to proceed with the implementation of the road and weather information system. This project will provide the travelling public and those who manage the transportation system with improved communication and more timely information, which will increase efficiency and improve safety on our highways.
This project is an excellent example of the blending of technology and equipment. This will allow for new and innovative methods of transportation management, such as the transmission of traffic counts by satellite, relaying real-time road conditions to highway maintainers, automated generation of road-condition reports and other advantages that will improve the operation of Yukon highways.
Mr. Speaker, climate changes have a significant impact on permafrost stability in northern climates. Maintaining stable and safe transportation infrastructure in remote northern areas is a major engineering challenge. Indeed, some of the Yukon 's roads - such as the Alaska and Dempster highways - are seriously affected by the degradation of underlying permafrost.
In particular, the Alaska Highway between Destruction Bay and the Alaska border is underlain with unstable, ice-rich permafrost and is experiencing settlements and cracking as the permafrost melts. This permafrost in the area is relatively warm and easily destabilized. Features have been incorporated in the design to minimize the impacts of the ice melting and the consequent settlements, yet there is not effective technology available to achieve a fully stable highway in this type of permafrost terrain.
We have been in contact with our friends from Alaska to see what they are utilizing on their side of the border, and I can assure members of the House that they are experiencing much the same issues that we are, even though their permafrost is somewhat different than ours as it is a bit colder up in the northern areas there.
Commencing in 2006, a number of test sections will be designed and constructed using various insulating techniques. This work is being done as part of a Canadian International Polar Year project titled, "Preservation of our northern transportation infrastructures" and it will benefit from the input of the permafrost experts in Canada , Alaska , and other circumpolar jurisdictions. These test sections will undoubtedly allow us to better understand the unique characteristics of the permafrost damage, while also giving us the opportunity to develop better solutions for this very important part of our transportation system.
In 2004, the government successfully piloted the HERC initiative for several projects on the south Campbell highway. The intent of the HERC process is to provide opportunities for local contractors to work on the highway projects near their communities and improve our highway infrastructure. This year, the department intends to continue with the HERC procurement method for various projects on the Campbell, Dempster, Klondike and other highways.
The program stimulates contracting methods within local economies. It provides jobs for local firms, keeps the dollars in the communities and generates growth within the communities. These are economic commitments that this government made and is keeping. The total amount in the 2006-07 budget for the Campbell Highway is $1.6 million; $1 million will be dedicated to reconstruction of road targeted between kilometres 16 and 20. The balance of the budget will allow for engineering and design work to commence for the next phase of highway improvements. Not only will this roadwork increase operating safety, but again, Yukon workers and equipment owners will benefit from the employment opportunities that this project will provide.
In September 2005, the Council of Ministers approved the addition of 2,700 kilometres of new routes to the national highway system to reflect the changes in Canada 's population, economy and trading patterns. This review, completed by all federal, provincial and territorial transportation departments, was presented to the council. The report endorsed and expanded the national highway system, has been approved and now encompasses over 38,000 kilometres of key highway linkage in three categories: core routes, feeder routes and northern and remote routes. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that approximately 5,900 kilometres of northern and remote routes and 4,500 kilometres of feeder routes are being added to the national highway system, including the Dempster Highway and the north Klondike Highway to the Dempster junction.
The Dempster and north Klondike highways provide primary access to many Yukon communities, to remote economic activities and resources for Yukon people. This expansion will result in better highway systems that will benefit Yukoners, Canadians and our visitors. Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to announce that the Department of Highway and Public Works will be seeking legislative budget approval for $2.2 million to continue work along the Dempster Highway .
In August 2005, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced that studies were being launched into the development of a more effective link between Skagway and Juneau . This road and the marine highway link would not only shorten the length of time one takes to travel between these points, but would also benefit the Yukon economy as the recipient of new traffic flow.
A final decision on this project is expected by May of this year, and the $45-million budget for this project has no direct link to funding that has been allocated to the Shakwak project. In fact, the money for this project is above and beyond what the United States government has directly allocated to Shakwak.
As minister, I'm very proud that my department continues its excellent working relationship with the State of Alaska and we look forward to continuing the work and improvement of cross-border transportation links.
Mr. Speaker, as you're well aware, for several years the port of Skagway has been the focal point of marine access to the Yukon . This port has been used by mining companies, in particular, to access markets across the Pacific. At the same time it has been used by tourism operators and by those firms bringing supplies into the Yukon . With the downturn of the mining industry in the late 1990s, Yukon 's use of the port diminished. While its use of the White Pass & Yukon Route grew dramatically, Skagway has become in many respects a port with a major focus on tourist traffic, cruise ships in particular. As a result, there have been concerns raised about the prospects to secure port access for the Yukon on an ongoing, forward basis, particularly in light of the growing natural resource sector in the territory. To resolve this, the governments of Alaska and Yukon have agreed to collaborate on a study that will discuss port options for the Yukon . This study will look at both the short- and long-term options for the Yukon . We look forward to the results of this study and the many opportunities that this and other port locations may provide for continued success in the Yukon .
Mr. Speaker, the Department of Highways and Public Works is also responsible for maintaining and upgrading the government's substantial investment in technology. Currently, our IT assets are valued at over $40 million. It is critical to the delivery of the government programs that these assets be maintained and upgraded to ensure our IT resources and systems are available and reliable. Last year, this government made a substantial investment in IT, and again this year I am pleased to say that the government is looking at investing $5.8 million in information and communication assets and services. This will create additional opportunities in the Yukon 's information technology sector and support the work of the Yukon Information Technology Industry Society, also known as YITIS.
The Department of Highways and Public Works itself will invest $1.1 million of this amount to improve the government's central hardware and network infrastructure. It is expected that the Yukon-based IT firms will supply most of the equipment and services purchased through a number of tendered contracts. This will help sustain the growth and development of this important sector.
The Yukon 's air transportation system is our growing connection to the outside world and is progressively bringing the world to us. The Yukon is increasingly attracting visitors from overseas, and the Whitehorse Airport is receiving more and more international and trans-border flights. Our tourism success means that the Whitehorse air terminal building requires expansion for additional Customs space. The Department of Highways and Public Works will therefore be seeking additional funds to improve this space.
Being that my time is fairly limited, I will indicate that we are also, in the IT sector, looking at continuing with our mobile communication system. That is currently underway. We anticipate having a decision on that fairly shortly. We also believe that we will be hitting our 2007 deadline with regard to that program.
Mr. Speaker, through significant investments in our roads, airports, building and systems, my department is contributing to the revitalization of the Yukon economy and creating infrastructure that will open doors to further investment and continued opportunity.
Mr. Mitchell: First of all, I would like to just reassure this House that I will not be speaking quite as long as the minister did in delivering his budget speech the other day.
Before I get into the budget itself, I just want to raise something, and I take this lesson from the Speaker. You have continued to remind us of the importance of being respectful of this House and of its traditions. As part of that respect, I think that I would just like to spend a moment addressing the issue of special warrants and their annual use by this government.
The Premier, in 2004, was asked by a member of the press why he wouldn't call in the Legislature so that the spending, along with the budget for 2004-05, could be dealt with by the elected members of this Legislative Assembly. He asked why he should reconvene a Legislature. The Premier said, "This is a more effective way to deal with this." And, yes, it is effective, but it is also less than democratic and certainly not accountable. It speaks of an arrogance. I would say that for the third year in a row this government has bypassed the Legislature and continued that pattern of disrespect for the role of this Legislature and its elected members.
So my overall thoughts when looking at this budget is that this government is spent - and the public's confidence is certainly spent. The money is nearly all spent. Even the Premier looked spent last week after talking for almost two and a half hours.
The Yukon Party government has emptied the Yukon 's bank account over the last three years. This Finance minister has presented the illusion of responsible and careful planning and spending but in fact what we have seen is ever-increasing spending and ever-increasing completion of the surplus that they inherited.
According to the public accounts - which are audited by the Auditor General and signed off by the Finance minister as well - at the end of the 2002-03 year, there was just under $70 million in net financial resources. I think there was some reference earlier today to $450-million surplus, but as we know, what really matters - apples to apples - is the available resources that the government had on hand to spend. We have gone to accrual financing. We are unlike a business, because a business certainly can refer to their total assets because they have the opportunity and the ability to sell assets from time to time. They can sell buildings if they own buildings; they can sell airplanes if they own airplanes and reinvest that money elsewhere, but it is very, very rare that a government will do that. I certainly don't think the government will be selling this building or the Elijah Smith Elementary School or the new school in Carmacks or very many other assets. So, really we talk about the net financial resources that the government had.
At the end of the Yukon Party government's mandate at the end of this year - according to the projections in the budget - there will be a little less than $15 million left. That's in spite of record increases in the amount of money we get in transfers from the federal government. We get some $200 million a year more now than we did just five years ago. In 2001-02, we got $348 million in transfers from Canada , and in 2006-07 there is $558 million in transfers from Canada .
Now the Finance minister has suggested that, based on some of the constructive criticism that comes from the opposition side, that opposition members are not happy about the increased spending resources we have, thanks to the generosity of fellow Canadians. Nothing could be further from correct.
Certainly we are happy to have the resources here. It really comes down to two things: what are you spending the money on, and what are you doing about the fact that there is basically an economic cycle? As some pretty smart economists have said - and I'm not an economist, but we've heard it said - the only sure thing about the economic cycle is that there is one.
I know that when the Finance minister, the Premier, was speaking at the Chamber of Commerce just a couple of weeks ago and talking about all sorts of things that had occurred over the last few years - increase in mineral prices and therefore mineral exploration, increase in the value of real estate sales, at least certainly the Whitehorse real estate sales. I don't think the price per property outside of Whitehorse has gone up terribly high, but it certainly has in Whitehorse - transfers from Canada . Basically, the first questioner who stood up said, "Well, I think we can all agree that, regardless of who was in government, things would be looking pretty rosy right now in Yukon based on what has happened across Canada." In fact, over the past year, in 2005, the average price of real estate properties that sold went up 20 percent across the country, which is actually the same statistic that we had here. So I think that the questioner was accurate in the assertion they made that things would be fairly rosy, regardless.
I also think that it's a double-edged sword. I've operated as a realtor for a number of years, but the fact that prices are going up is not necessarily only a good thing. It is a good thing for those people who are selling properties and downsizing or moving on perhaps to another jurisdiction where perhaps real estate prices are not as high, but it also prices an increasing number of people out of the market. It makes starter homes, which are now selling for well over $200,000, increasingly difficult for young couples to purchase unless they are dual-income families. I think we should be careful when we recite that statistic because there is a good side and a bad side to it, as there are to many things.
I just want to talk a little bit about priorities. There is $793 million in projected spending, and since there are things that have not been included in this budget, such as the debt relief for the City of Dawson , there will no doubt be additional spending bills and supplementaries, and it will be more than $793 million - that's a lot of money. "Follow the money" is what Deep Throat told the Woodward and Bernstein reporters to do during the Watergate investigation, because the money tells a tale. In this case, I think the Yukon Party government's choices do reveal a lot about priorities and values. Federal windfalls and increased transfers have allowed this government to increase operation and maintenance spending by some $91 million per year since two years ago, not to mention spending the cash reserve down by $33 million from its former $48 million, to what is projected, as I say, to be under $15 million at the end of the year.
Of that $100-million increase in spending power, here is how much this government has focused on funding for Yukoners' health and education over the past two years. Health is up just some $10 million, or 3.1 percent per year. Inflation over the past two years has been about two percent per year, so this is hardly an increase at all, but is just barely keeping pace with the rate of inflation. That's not to mention that federal health and social operation and maintenance transfers were up $5 million, which means that Government of Yukon put only $5 million of its own money into health out of the $100 million plus that they've had available in increased resources.
Education - again, operation and maintenance is up $8 million, or 3.8 percent per year. Again, it's not too much more than the rate of inflation.
In Education, interestingly enough, public schools were the biggest loser, with the lowest increase of any program - just one percent since last year, or lower than the rate of inflation. So that would be the money that we're actually putting in front line for educators in the schools where our kids are receiving the education, the place where it's really most important. Corporate services and administration in Education were up 23 percent and 13 percent per year respectively over the past two years. So again, one percent on the front line, 13 or 23 percent in the rear echelons.
To focus on this last budget, the Yukon Party government is cutting health operation and maintenance by three percent and raising public schools by less than the rate of inflation. That is following the money. That's the truth of where the priorities are.
Now, it would appear to be that when the chips are down, the government doesn't really care about health, social services or education. Where did the money go? Well, the following departments had increases above the rate of revenue increase over the last two years - that is, they've grown their share of the pie. Executive Council Office, the Premier's department; Economic Development for the railway studies and others; Energy, Mines and Resources; and an honourable mention to the Public Service Commission, which grew just slightly less than revenue. Perhaps that's from costs arising from the computer use investigation. We're not certain. Again, the priorities or lack of priorities are clear, and they're certainly not in education and health.
Now, what's not in the budget? Well, we haven't seen the money yet to pay down Dawson's debt and to help that city to restore itself to a sound fiscal status, although we've just heard today that there will be an amendment to the Municipal Act in order to allow for an election sooner than next fall and, also, I believe, to allow that government that is elected to serve for longer than just a few months but to carry forward to 2009.
W e know there have to be additional monies because it has been said by this government all along that they could not hold elections in Dawson until they got to the bottom of the story of where things stood, where the money had gone, what the situation was and could ascertain the money that needs to be provided in order to get Dawson out of that economic fiscal hole.
Surely the Minister of Finance didn't just reach these conclusions over the weekend, so again I would ask, if we could have that announcement today, why was the money not put in the budget for everyone to see? It is already being indicated that this budget is not sufficient to get the job done.
We don't see money for a seniors facility in Kluane. We do know there's some planning money in the budget. We do know there's money in the budget for some additional studies so the Yukon Housing Corporation can take a look at it, but we don't see an amount actually budgeted for a facility, although the seniors in Kluane have been clear for quite some time about the need in that region. They would like to have a facility that would allow seniors to live in their home community with the support of friends and relatives. They would be able to come and go and be surrounded by the familiar scenery, people and facilities of their home communities, rather than having to leave. For too long, that need was being overlooked. Again, we don't see the money; we see the idea. We'll plan it. Elect us again and just trust us. We'll get it done next time. Next time we'll have five years, not four years, so perhaps, since everything has been put to the fifth year, the need was for a five-year mandate instead of a four-year mandate. Maybe that's what went wrong.
Again, there is no money for a school in Copper Ridge, which was promised last year three different times. One time it was by a Yukon Party candidate, who presumably consulted with the Yukon Party and didn't just act in a vacuum, but I would presume would have met with the existing Minister of Education, the existing Finance minister, and wouldn't have been simply making these things up out of whole cloth. Rather, that was a promise that clearly had some backing at the time. That promise was reiterated by the Acting Minister of Education after three days of questioning by my Liberal colleague, the Member for Porter Creek South. Finally, it was clarified that, yes, the need was recognized for a school. To correct it, it's not really a school in Copperbelt but, rather, a school in that whole growing new area of the city, which is partially in Copperbelt and partially in Whitehorse West, which is the riding of the Acting Minister of Education, who made the announcement. It serves half a dozen areas from Hillcrest to McIntyre to Logan, Arkell, Granger, Copper Ridge - not just Copperbelt.
Then the minister himself reiterated it later when we asked questions under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act - information we received indicated that there had been no planning by the department for a new school. The minister said the need was recognized and therefore this government would meet the need. Now, what we're hearing about is a city-wide facilities planning study. I know that many of my constituents are afraid it means that it's a study to see how we can look at where to bus kids so that we don't need to build that school and it will look for capacity elsewhere. I know that no one wants to build buildings that we don't need, but I would suggest that that's not a very satisfactory answer for the people who live in the area.
I know of a case of a family that moved into Granger, moved into a multiple dwelling building at the very bottom of Granger, for the specific purpose of wanting their kids to be able to walk to school, to see the school right out the door and walk straight there. They were moving in from another community and they wanted that comfort level.
They went to enrol in the school and were told there's no room in the school. What you need to do is get up every morning and drive your kids up to École Émilie Tremblay, where they'll then be put on a bus to go in the opposite direction to another school, whereas the kids living in the unit next door can go to that school. So you live next door to another family, but you don't get to go to the same school and then come home and play with the kids next door. It's separating a community instead of bringing them together.
We didn't see money to cover the pension shortfalls at Yukon College or the Yukon Hospital Corporation. Now, I know these are Crown corporations, and some members will say, "Well, that's not the responsibility of the government," but I would suggest that this was a promise actually made just a few months ago by the government, that this situation would be addressed. We don't see the money in this budget. Again, perhaps this will be yet another supplementary spending bill.
The extension to Hamilton Boulevard, which is a safety issue for many people who live in the area of Whitehorse that I live in - these are some of the only subdivisions that have no second way out, and again, this was another campaign promise made by the Yukon Party's candidate in the by-election to move ahead with that. What we see now, finally, is $250,000 for planning, and that's planning three and a half years in.
The jail, again - what we're seeing is planning money. Well, this was being planned four years ago. In fact the ground was being readied four years ago to build the jail when this government took over. They put everything on hold to study it. They've studied it for four years, and I guess we're going back to the future because I understand that now we are going to look at a facility on that site. In the meantime there is money going in the budget for improvements to the existing facility, which, again, is a band-aid solution, which is unfortunate, because, really, the inmates deserve better. They deserve to be housed in a safe building where they can get good programming for rehabilitation, because these are people that will be back in general society in a fairly short period of time.
We do want to make sure they can come back, perhaps better prepared to be productive in society than when they're incarcerated, and it's also not a safe facility for the staff and the workers who are working up there.
Again, I don't see money to keep the Yukon Family Services Association Outreach van operating seven nights a week. That van, which deals with youth at risk and other people at risk - street people, as some are sometimes referred to, and they may not be street people. They may just be people who are out and about on a particular night. But these people are at risk; they are at risk for everything from substance abuse to all kinds of other unsafe situations they find themselves in. In a society as well off as ours, and in a budget that's approaching $800 million, where we can spend millions of dollars studying possible rail links, millions of dollars studying possible bridges, we should be able to spend in the order of just hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep that van operational, seven days a week.
It's really shameful that it's currently being funded by Rotary Club and other volunteer organizations, when it should be funded full-time by this government, and it could be. We're not talking multiple millions of dollars to address that.
I don't see the money in the Environment budget to deal with issues of global warming. We all know there have been some serious warning signals that we perhaps see in our part of the world a little sooner than people do elsewhere, everything from the spruce and pine beetle infestations to changes in permafrost in Dawson .
We know there are changes happening in our climate, and we need to be addressing these things. I don't see sufficient money to address how we're going to deal with reduction of hydrocarbon usage over the long term, in terms of alternative energy supplies.
But there's also good news in this budget, and I think it's incumbent upon all of us as MLAs to also talk about the things that we see that we appreciate, that we think is good news for our fellow Yukoners and that we can support in the budget. There are a number of those things, so I'd like to talk about some of them. The budget does include funding to recruit new doctors. The Yukon Party has borrowed our idea of providing forgivable tuition loans for doctors who agree to work here. We raised it in the last session a number of times; we had motions on the books; we asked it in Question Period. And if we can raise some ideas and see the government side adopting them, well, I think that is the spirit with which this House is supposed to operate.
I see the Minister of Health and Social Services laughing over the fact that we've indicated that we appreciate them taking us up on that idea, but in point of fact, we hadn't heard any talk of that until we raised the idea. It's a good initiative that we can and will support.
There are a lot of other things along the same lines that can and should be done. The idea of forgivable tuition loans is a little bit like farming – you know, you're sowing the crop and, in this case, seven years or so down the road, you get to harvest it. And then, if you continue to sow that crop and plant every year, then perhaps every year you'll get to harvest it.
There are many other things that could be done in the near and medium term toward encouraging medical practitioners - not just doctors but nurses as well as technicians - to have a second look at Yukon , and we would like to see those things done as well. Perhaps incubator clinics are one approach, and by that I mean that the government might have one government-run or funded clinic that would allow new doctors to find it more affordable to practise in Yukon without having to come here and immediately have to come up with the money to buy into an existing practice. That's one idea. I know that last week in an interview the president of the Yukon Medical Association indicated that the minister had not yet met with him to discuss a number of their ideas, and I would encourage the minister to meet with the YMA and see what other things can be done.
Shakwak again - this is not anything in particular this government has done. It is spending other people's money - in this case the Americans' money - but it is good to see that we will have continued highway improvement and it also, of course, does create jobs.
We see $1.2 million in the budget for the Marsh Lake community centre, and that's a good thing to see. The funding for the Carmacks sewer improvements, sewer system - the $4.4 million - we are happy to see that. We are happy to see the additional planning monies of some $2.25 million to complete the Copper Ridge subdivision.
We asked some questions last fall about funding for MacBride Museum . We are glad to see the $400,000 in the Tourism budget for MacBride Museum , which we understand will allow the museum to leverage an additional $300,000 from Heritage Canada and will allow them to go forward with their programs.
Although the question remains open as to how the funds will be used and implemented, we do see that there is some $2 million in the budget for moving forward with the substance abuse action plan. That, together with safer communities -supported on all sides of this House - an issue that was, to give credit where credit is due, first brought forward by the leader of the official opposition. We look forward to seeing legislation brought forward in the next couple of days regarding safer communities. That was a pledge that the government made in the last session, and since then, to bring that forward.
As for being good financial managers, I would have to say that is a bit of a charade. As we heard during Question Period today, the athletes village moved from a $3-million project to a $31-million project. It is hard to understand how that has been good fiscal management. It appears to be mismanagement. The Member from Porter Creek South asked the Premier and the minister responsible today to call in the Auditor General to look at what went wrong with that whole scenario, and the Premier refused to do that today. He said that it had been a save-the-day action. That is a disappointing response.
The Dawson health centre - how much money has been wasted or misspent on this project because we still do not have a new health centre.
The Dawson bridge - several million dollars spent studying it, and we don't have a bridge. Again, there are millions of dollars studying the bridge but not even hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain an Outreach van.
The Carmacks school has ballooned from $8 million to $11.4 million.
There was a railroad study to tell us what we already know - that it is going to require the commitment of the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States to decide that it is in the national interest to build a railroad.
If they decide it's in their national interest, then I guess we'll have a railroad. If not, we won't.
I have reviewed the budget that the Premier presented last week. I don't have a great deal of confidence in the spending plans that have been presented. This one-trick-pony economic plan of spending other people's money is not sustainable in the long term. The plan seems to be made up of one idea: spend other people's money. That has been the plan since day one. Is that because it's good economic management? No. Again, it's simply because the Government of Canada transfers have been increased by some $200 million per year. In the last four years, despite these massive increases, this Premier has managed to drain our net financial resources from some $70 million down to $15 million. This government takes money from Ottawa and spends it. That's the beginning and the end of the plan.
I mentioned before about the economic cycle, and the only thing that's certain is that there is one. In some 35 years in business, I know I have experienced upturns and downturns. We have all seen them. Some years, for reasons that are out of our control, tourism is not as strong as other years. Some years, because of the cyclical price of metals, we don't have as much mining exploration as other years. I know that when I was in business I had to learn to plan to carry forward some of the monies from the better years to look after the years that are not quite so good. I don't know what the Finance minister's background in business was. I know he has been in business, but I would think this would have been his experience as well.
I do know that, when this government came in, there was a $10-million amount that had been set aside as the beginning of a permanent fund. It wasn't very permanent under this Finance minister; it has been permanently wiped out.
So again, earlier today, the minister indicated that money was cached in all kinds of weird and wonderful places. Well, the minister's role model in Alberta certainly believed in setting up a form of permanent fund, and this minister didn't really borrow from that.
What we see is a government in survival mode. It's a government that has lost two members in the last six months, with a third member indicating he's a free agent when the writ is dropped. The government is running out of time. There doesn't seem to be a plan, beyond picking up cheques from Ottawa and spending them on projects here and there in the Yukon and, far too often, on sole-source projects.
I don't see a plan; I don't see a long-term vision; I don't see the investment in Yukon's least fortunate people; I don't see the kind of investment I'd like to see in our children, in terms of educating them or, indeed, in lifelong education for Yukoners. Inevitably there are slack times that follow boom times, and spending every dollar that comes through the door is not an economic strategy.
I can't commend this budget. I am disappointed in this budget and I would like to see a budget that does look after all Yukoners, not only some. I look forward to hearing what other ideas some of our colleagues have on this side of the House for how this could be improved, because it looks to me like it needs a lot of help.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The points made by the member opposite show his lack of financial background on budgets of this size. I appreciate the positive few things he said about them, but there is a lot more to an $800-million budget than what the member opposite talked about.
Going back in history, the member opposite wasn't there at the time. When the government changed in December 2002, we were running on an overdraft. We were paying interest on money to operate the territorial government on a daily basis. This government bit the bullet. This government went to work. This government created the $70 million that the member opposite claims the Liberal government of the day had. He's talking about March 31, Mr. Speaker. That gave us five months to get this economic cycle back on track, and this government did that.
I find it amazing that the member opposite would claim something - well, I don't find it amazing, Mr. Speaker – I'm amazed at the individual. The economics are there. The Auditor General made the report. When we took this government over on December 2 from the previous government - which the member opposite is talking about their expertise in economics - they left us with the Yukon Energy Solutions Centre, the Mayo-Dawson line and, by the way, Mr. Speaker, Dawson City - the thing that the members opposite are talking about on a daily basis. History says, and dictates to us that, when we took over, Dawson City was virtually bankrupt at that point.
When we talk about history and economics, I find it amazing the member opposite would associate the economics of the territory with running a trading post somewhere. That's not what we're doing here. We look at every community in the Yukon .
If you go to Old Crow and see the work that's going on in Old Crow, the wealth that's being created there, the partnership with the First Nation - the government of the day has done that. Go to Mayo. Mayo is another success story in the fact that their community club is being built - not on the last government's watch. There was a lot of conversation about it. Again, it's history. We've made the hard decisions.
The member opposite of the third party, the leader, is recommending that we turn the money back to Ottawa . In the comments today in Question Period, he said to give the money back to Ottawa, that we, as Yukoners and as Canadians, as partners in this federation, somehow are getting resources that we don't deserve.
Mr. Speaker, the irresponsibility of that, the logic of that - that we as Yukoners would not be treated equally as other Canadians are - I find amazing.
The leader of the Liberal Party recommends that we send the money back. I find that amazing.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: On a point of order, leader of the third party.
Mr. Mitchell: On a point of order, I do not believe that anywhere in Hansard will it show that, at any time, I recommended sending money back, and I don't think the member should be putting words in another member's mouth that are not what the member said, or implying something completely different from what the member said.
The record should be clear, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The Hon. Member for Lake Laberge on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I do not believe there is a point of order. There is merely a dispute among members about what was said.
Speaker: The Chair is prepared to rule. What we have here is a dispute over a statement, and from the Chair's perspective, there is no point of order; however, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is putting a little too much rhetoric in his speech, and I would ask him to just pull himself back a little.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I look at our budget today and then I listen to the member opposite's comments on that budget along with the historical facts that he throws into his speech about the warrants and how it is so unusual that our government would use a warrant. They are used across Canada . I read an article in the local paper that said that this is how government works. This isn't a bad thing; this is government making sure that we as a government can pay our bills, pay our employees and move on with governing. We are debating the budget; we are working through that budget, and it's here.
The member opposite is talking about the service clubs and how it's a bad thing to have them involved in the Outreach van and that it's embarrassing to think that the Rotarians would put money into that van and work with the community. I think that's what service clubs are all about. I find it amazing that the member opposite would say it is some kind of thing that a social club, that society, would not be a part of. He gave his dialogue on the pros and cons of the Yukon economy - who should be involved and who shouldn't be involved. I think service clubs have got a place in our community, and I find it amazing that there would be a question that they wouldn't be involved in these kinds of social things that we see in our community.
I'm going back to the budget and going back to a balance on how the money, the resources, are spent through the Yukon, the fabric of the Yukon, whether it's Old Crow, whether it's Mayo, Watson Lake, Dawson City - the question about Dawson City's situation regarding the bridge, the P3, all that conversation that went forward. We're still looking at, as a government, a potential bridge in Dawson . It's still going through the process. It has to go back for the environmental overview. That's going to happen. I will stand up in the House here and say to you in this House, one day a bridge will be built in Dawson . I think the members opposite are worried about who will build that bridge in Dawson , because one day there will be a bridge in Dawson .
Now, as far as the extended care unit in Dawson , that certainly is on our radar screen. That's very important. They showed a need for that, and we're moving ahead with that plan. Now, as far as the Haines Junction situation, we, as a government, again, are looking at that. One minute, the members opposite talked about consultation, and then when we budget for consultation and planning, then it's too much planning, too much consultation. So the naysayers on the opposite side - you can't win with them. You can't win. We had consultation. We put planning money out there, and then all of a sudden you haven't got a building. Well, certainly we don't have a building. We have to consult with the stakeholders, and we have to put some planning money together. We have to come up with a plan, and then we build the building, and that's what we will do.
Now, when we look at the revenues and how the money is being spent, the money that we are going to spend in Community Services, for instance - we've got $8.7 million to complete the athletes village. That, again, is a big debate. That again, by the members opposite, the naysayers - the athletes village. Well, I'll tell you what, Mr. Speaker. We're not building an athletes village. We're building an extended thing at the college for residents and also for some housing for some people who are low-income people.
We're doing that. The athletes will use that building for the two-week period. As for the naysayers there, I stand up here in the budget and look around and say, "Who is ATCO?" This company that came from nowhere - the company that came from nowhere is a local company. It has huge investments in our community. They own Yukon Electrical; they invest all through this territory. They're huge north of 60. Why wouldn't we give that local company the opportunity to participate in a project like this? They are as local as Pelly Construction.
Yukon Electrical has been part of the fabric of this territory for over 100 years. ATCO owns that. ATCO does business in every community north of 60. ATCO is a fine, upstanding Yukon corporation, and I will defend them in this House. As far as I'm concerned, they're a local corporation.
As far as the village itself, the member opposite from the third party, using his math - not my math - insinuates that, somehow, the territorial government came in with the budget of $2.9 million to build this accommodation. Again, in this House, that is not factual.
This government did not come up with a $2.9-million budget; this government addressed the shortcomings of that budget, which was put together by the host society, and said that was not a realistic figure and would not work, that these are the obligations you have to put out there to build and host the Canada Winter Games. These are the obligations the City of Whitehorse signed up for, and the host society, that they would do it.
For the members opposite to talk about $2.9 million being the starting figure - I would remind them that that is not correct.
We could not build anything to the level of our obligation as a community - as a Yukon community - if we were committed at that point to let the games be successful. This government did the hard work, sat down, looked at the project overall - where could we spend the money that we could get benefits down the trail? Remember, Mr. Speaker, the games are only on for two or three weeks - where could that money be best spent?
We are committed to the Canada Winter Games. Unlike the members opposite, we are not looking for ways it can fail. We're not looking for ways we can set it up to fail. We're positive on this, Mr. Speaker. This will be successful because, in its success, we will showcase the north - north of 60.
We, as government today - as a minister here, and as a Yukoner, it's very important to this community to have it successful. We are positive about the Canada Winter Games. The naysayers across there are commenting on how it could fail - all of these things they're very good at. But, at the end of the day, we're going to have a fabulous college. It's going to expand the facility and the housing for the students. We can bring students in from all over the Yukon , and not only as individuals, but with this budget we can bring in their families so their families can have a residence.
So, whatever they say about the Canada Winter Games; whatever they say about the ATCOs of the world; whatever the naysayers say about the success of the games, this government will stand, and this government will stand with the host society and the City of Whitehorse to make sure that those games are properly funded and successful, and that's what budgeting is all about, Mr. Speaker.
It is l ooking at the success of things, not just being negative on everything.
Mr. Speaker, when we talk figures from budgets, we should be factual. This is too important. The leader of the official opposition stands up and he says, "How are we going to get together?" Well, we get together in the House here by being factual, by working on the budget, by highlighting it, saying, "Okay, this is good; that is bad" - and, by the way, projecting a proper financial statement. That's what we need out in the general public. This is our budget, this is our financial statement, and this is where we are going to be at the end of the year.
Our responsibility, Mr. Speaker, is to make sure that we have a solid financial footing. Thanks to our Premier and thanks to the two other territories. They went to Ottawa , they got the ear of the Prime Minister and they moved forward with the extra transfers. Whether it's in health, northern development, or economic development - all those things were created because of the unity of north of 60. The three premiers went together. Again, we have to give credit where credit is due, and that credit goes to our Premier, the Premier of the Northwest Territories and the Premier of Nunavut.
Now, the members opposite will talk about some situation where the economics changed because of our Member of Parliament - because, because, because - and we didn't get it due anyway. I say to the people opposite that you have to give credit where credit is due. Those three premiers walked out of the meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada, stood up and left three empty seats in a row, and at the end of the day, they got the ear of the Prime Minister because of what they did.
I t takes three very, very brave individuals from north of 60 to stand up against the Prime Minister of Canada and do exactly what they did. They did it because it was right, Mr. Speaker. They did it to improve our financial situation in the Yukon , and this shows it today with the resources we have coming in from Ottawa . We are slowly getting our resources in line. We're slowly working at extracting from the federal government some kind of transfer payment that's realistic for our territory. We are two-thirds of Canada . The economics should reflect that. A child with teeth problems in Nunavut is in a little bit more dire a situation than somebody sitting in downtown Ottawa . It has to be addressed, because that child in Old Crow or that child in Nunavut is as important to our society and has to get the same medical attention as all Canadians. Now, it is expensive. So the federal government has to address that.
Thanks to our Premier and the other two premiers, we have the ear of Ottawa . Now, with the government change, I don't think that will change. By doing what those three individuals did, it rang a few bells in Ottawa , and we are getting the ear of the people in Ottawa . They are listening to us and they are working with us to realize at the end of the day - not like the member opposite is talking about, that somehow this money isn't due to us and so we should send it back - not send it back, just tell them not to send it. This government isn't going to do that, Mr. Speaker. We're going to invest in the Yukon . We're going to put $8.7 million to complete the village. We're going to spend $200,000 for the Taku subdivision in Tagish - that's for the second access. $100,000 is for the Carcross town site - that's a second access too.
There's $50,000 for Old Crow water well repairs. We're working with Old Crow to make sure their potable water is potable, that they can drink it, that it's healthy, that we don't get our drinking water situation to the point of no return. We're working with Old Crow on their sewer and their lagoon to make sure it's a proper lagoon. We're serious about this. Again, the health of the community and the health of our children - and if we don't address those issues, they become crises, so we're doing it on an O&M maintenance program so that, at the end of the day, people in Old Crow will have drinking water that is potable and healthy and the sewer lagoon will be a proper sewer lagoon. We're spending money on that.
The $320,000 for a fire hall upgrade in Carcross, Tagish and Golden Horn - we are not only upgrading our fire halls to make them more modern and accessible, we're upgrading the trucks. It's all part of this budget. This is all part of the money the leader of the third party would not accept. This is all infrastructure money that makes our communities better to live in, but it addresses our insurance issues.
The member opposite from the third party understands insurance and understands the fact that if you don't have access to fire protection, you might not get insurance - if we didn't do these kinds of things.
You have to think bigger than that. We're not only addressing the fire hall issues, we're looking down the road at insurance: what's going to happen with insurance; can you afford insurance in Carcross without the proper fire protection, without that money invested in this budget to make sure those fire trucks are there and are capable, and the crews are trained to go out and fight that fire. That is important to us as a society.
The member opposite has to understand that there is more to Yukon than Whitehorse. The leader of the third party seems to ignore that, Mr. Speaker. We are working with all communities in the Yukon to better the situation, whether it's fire protection -
Hamilton Boulevard - the member opposite is talking about that. We've committed a quarter of a million dollars to do a survey, to grub it out and get it ready for construction, Mr. Speaker. It's not planning money. A very small part of that is planning money. That again is not factual. The facts are we are going to put a centre line in; we are going to grub it out, and they are going to get a second access to Hamilton Boulevard. That is in the books, Mr. Speaker. That is part of this budget. It is our commitment to the situation on Hamilton Boulevard, which has been up there for many years.
This government - this government here - in the last three and a half years has taken on more tasks that were undone or not done by previous governments. We've made those commitments.
By our Premier and the two other premiers walking out of the health ministers meetings, they got us our fair share of the national treasury at the end of the day. I would argue with the member opposite - my thing is - we are due the money from Ottawa, Mr. Speaker. It's not a prize. This money is due to us as Canadians. Are we prioritizing how we spend it - are we spending it throughout the Yukon? I think you just have to look at this budget, Mr. Speaker. This budget speaks to Yukon. This budget is a Yukon budget - not a Copper Ridge budget. It's not a Copper Ridge budget. This is a Yukon budget. The member opposite is confining his thoughts.
I'm amazed. I'm amazed at the naysayers from the side opposite, who spent all of this time when we could be spending time being positive, but we're not doing it. But again, it doesn't surprise me, Mr. Speaker. It's what happens in a democratic society. People vote people in. They vote people into opposition. They vote people into government. It's a different thing being in government, Mr. Speaker. We actually have to produce things. And we have to create the wealth to produce them. And we have to be positive.
And when we're elected, Mr. Speaker, unlike the members opposite, we have to represent all Yukoners. And we're doing just that. Dawson City - the member opposite, his party, the government; the last government - it has taken this government two years to get a financial picture so we could go to work and even know what Dawson City owed, Mr. Speaker. And, not like the member opposite, we can't manage knee-jerk managements here. This is a crisis for Dawson City. This is a crisis.
The money that has been spent in Dawson City - by the way, not well, if you read the forensic audit - is a burden on all Yukoners, Mr. Speaker. We all bear the monetary shortfalls of Dawson City. But, in turn, we can't do anything with Dawson that doesn't put Dawson on a sound financial footing. We can't stand up and give Dawson back to an elected council without the financial wherewithal so they could be successful, because Dawson City is brighter than that. Nobody would run to take over a defunct city with all the burdens that they had before this government - not the last government, not the last government.
It got into a situation where we had auditors go in to do a forensic audit. The forensic audit was done, and we're going to work to make sure that Dawson not only has a council, but has a solid foundation. It's all about budgets.
The Mayo-Dawson line - it's all about budgets. Yukon Energy - all these things required these kind of audits which came back so negatively on all Yukoners and on the governments that were running these corporations, or running these projects. The Auditor General, or the forensic auditors, were concerned. The members opposite talk about the Auditor General. They say, "Well, the Auditor General did an overview, and they did this and did that." I'll remind the member from the third party that we're audited every year by the Auditor General. All of the government is audited by the Auditor General of Canada. At this point, unlike the members opposite, Yukon Energy Solutions Centre is going to be audited, along with the Yukon Development Corporation. Hopefully Dawson City will get itself in place where it will have auditors that will audit the books on a yearly basis, to make sure that the problems in Dawson City are not repeated.
At the end of the day, how do we explain Dawson City to Watson Lake? I'm a Watson Laker. How do I explain to that group of individuals in Watson Lake who run a balanced budget and work very hard as council and mayor and community to make sure that, at the end of the day, they don't create a Dawson City? How do we have meetings with them and stand up and say, "Well, just mismanage it and we'll pay it." We'll sweep it under the table, and we'll move on with another day.
Honestly, after looking at the situation in Dawson City from an economic point of view, I don't know how they would have got out of it without this government putting our team to work and saying, "Enough is enough."
Now, we can point fingers at those who did this, but budgets are there; budgets are to be followed and obviously something fell off the tracks in Dawson City. Now this government is going to do something about it. We are not going to be pressured by the naysayers to do anything that is not fiscally responsible. That is not the job of government. Government has to do something that is fiscally responsible, and what is it? First of all, find out where Dawson City is. Do they owe $10 million, $12 million, $5 million? At that point, can we get an auditor to sign off on it? If you can't get an auditor to sign off on it, you don't have factual figures. So when the naysayers go after this government about Dawson City, I remind everybody, we did not create Dawson City. Dawson City came to us as a package. Dawson City was bankrupt, and we bit the bullet and did the right thing for the people of Dawson. But the people of Dawson, Mr. Speaker, didn't know the dire straits they were in. It does not bode well for the taxpayers in Dawson City to find out that they are in hock for X amount of dollars; that they can't run their infrastructure; that they have a community club that somehow cost $5 million, and they don't have a community hockey arena. Last year, it cost $3,000 to put ice in the Dawson City arena. That's because it has no foundation, Mr. Speaker. Whoever engineered that building didn't talk to the people in Dawson. They built a building, and the building does not stand up to the Dawson City permafrost.
This budget will address all those things in tune with this government. When we're looking at my department, the department I work with - it's not my department - Yukon's Department of Energy, Mines and Resources - and I'm grateful I have the opportunity to work with the crew I work with, seeing the optimism in that department and seeing the optimism in the street. It was all created by that department. It was created by devolution; we oversaw devolution. There were some holes in it and some challenges. This government will go to work and address those challenges, but today, on the streets of Whitehorse, are you better off today? Can you get a job in Whitehorse? Could you get a job in Whitehorse in December 2002? Not quite as likely as today.
In three and a half short years, this government, with the help of industry and with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, has taken our exploration dollars from $6 million to what could be as high as $100 million this year. We've taken a declining industry and brought it back.
Any of these naysayers across from us can shut down an industry. They've all had a record of that. It takes this team to put the foundations and the wheels back on our economic machinery to move this thing forward - we did that.
Today we're going to have a producing mine - in the very near future. We're going to have money spent on development: Yukon Zinc, Minto, Western Copper, and Pacifica - one of the largest zinc deposits in the world. There's $20 million being spent there. Are they spending the money on those resources because they have lack of confidence in this government? Would you spend $20 million if you had no confidence in the regulatory certainty of your industry? I don't think so.
It showed when the naysayers were in government. Money wasn't being spent in the Yukon on the exploration end of things. It was being spent in B.C. It was being spent in Alaska. In fact, 75 percent of all the exploration dollars in Alaska is Canadian money. Those are statistics, Mr. Speaker.
We are bringing that money back here. Oil and gas, again, one of the parts of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources: $35 million spent on drilling two wells in Yukon. It hadn't been seen in 40 years. Do you think that the oil and gas industry is here because they lack confidence in this government? That our regulatory house is not in order? Mr. Speaker, they are here because they are confident that we as a government will do the right things, the regulations will stay in place, the goalposts won't change and that we'll work with Yukoners to make sure that all Yukon benefits from that. The Alaska Highway pipeline is getting closer and closer. We are waiting for word from the House in Alaska in Juneau on the Stranded Gas Act.
We are working with industry. We are working with ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and BP. The Premier was meeting up in Alaska just last week with the governments - B.C., Alaska, Yukon and Alberta - to get a common vision of this Alaska Highway pipeline. We're the government - we're the individuals who put the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition together because we understood the urgency of getting the First Nations who are on the route up to date on what's happening. We're the ones who funded that. We didn't have to be told to do that. That was part of the fabric of the Yukon.
That's what this budget talks about. We can go over page by page by page of the good news for Yukon.
This is good news for Yukon. This is why we have spent all afternoon with the members opposite talking about everything but the budget. This budget is good news. This budget started in 2002 when we had an overdraft. By March 31, 2003, we were the ones who had $70 million in the bank. This government had $70 million - not the third party, Mr. Speaker. If they look at the dates, they weren't in power when that Auditor General came back with that report. And then we went to work on Ottawa, and we got our fair share of the wealth so we could create budgets like this, this good news budget. Whether it's schooling or whether it's health - the member stands up and says we took his idea about this tuition, we stole it, publicly stole it. Is that all the member opposite can talk about?
Speaker: Order please. I don't believe the leader of the third party accused the government of stealing. I would just ask the member to be a little temperate, please. You have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I apologize for using the word "stole", but he did claim that it was his idea. Those are corrections you have to make in a budget speech, Mr. Speaker. When he says things like that that aren't founded, you've got to correct him. That's our job as government, and the naysayers throw them at us, and we throw them back.
But, Mr. Speaker, Energy, Mines and Resources - what are we doing as a department in this progressive government? What are we doing as a department? This department, the department that I'm very proud to be the minister of, started out in 2002. We took devolution. I think it was more than double our employees came over from the federal government. We integrated those employees with our team, because Energy, Mines and Resources is a team. Without a team -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, I have the floor.
The member opposite makes light of Energy, Mines and Resources, but I will stand and correct her. Energy, Mines and Resources is a very, very important department in the fabric of the Yukon. Mr. Speaker, I will give the members opposite a bit of an overview of Energy, Mines and Resources, because obviously they are sort of lost about what we do as a department. It's more of a regulatory department. We do work, of course, with industry and on forestry, oil and gas, minerals and land. We work with Community Services on land. We work in partnership with the city and, of course, other communities to make sure we can get land out to the general public. We also work with First Nations on capacity building and, of course, in our partnership - a template like Teslin, where the local First Nation is developing some of their A-block land, and we are developing beside them on some of the public land. That could be a template of how we could move through the Yukon and how we can get out of the land grid. We are doing it.
We are working with the oil and gas in southeast Yukon, of course. We are very, very positive with the Kaska people, and maybe, having the opportunity this coming season or in the near future, we would do more gas exploration and drilling. That will certainly benefit the local First Nation and certainly we have training money involved and are working with them on capacity building for training.
We are working with the NEB to make sure we are not shortchanged on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. When I say "shortchanged" I mean that we are not recognized as a stakeholder in that pipeline.
I would like to thank the department. We have worked very hard on that, and as you've noticed, there are going to be public meetings. The National Energy Board is going to have public meetings here in Whitehorse to make sure that our voice is heard, and that we get access to the pipeline, which is very important for our northern gas reserves.
We are working with the northern First Nations on economic development. We are looking at an overview of what is out there in economic opportunities for northern First Nations. That is a very positive piece of work that we are doing.
Mr. Speaker, I can't say enough about this budget. I'm very impressed with our Premier, the Minister of Finance, and all my colleagues here who worked very, very hard to get this budget out - to realize at the end of the day how we can make the lives of Yukoners better.
I think this budget speaks to Yukoners. I think it does make their lives better, and I don't think there is a spot in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker, that this budget won't reach out and touch - whether it's Watson Lake, Ross River, Faro, Mayo, Old Crow. This budget is going to touch all Yukoners. Mr. Speaker, I stand corrected. It is also going to touch Carcross, Tagish and beautiful Southern Lakes. This budget is a good budget. I look forward to voting on it and moving forward.
Mr. Cardiff: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, it gives me pleasure to be able to stand up at this time of the day and end the pain. It's interesting to note the -
Speaker: As humorous as the member is, I don't think it's appropriate to describe another member's speech as "pain". I would ask the Member for Mount Lorne to gather himself a little tighter there. He has the floor.
Mr. Cardiff: Okay, I will, Mr. Speaker.
It's interesting to note how the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is so enthusiastic about this budget. It's a contrast to what we heard last week - last Thursday - when, quite frankly, the budget speech was read with about as much enthusiasm as you would get - you know, it was about as exciting as somebody reading a phone book. There didn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm on the part of the Finance minister, and I think that was duly noted by members who were sitting in the gallery and the media, and the fact that most of them, including the media, left before the speech was even over.
The other thing to note was there wasn't much enthusiasm for the budget on the part of government members, who didn't appear to be very enthusiastic on Thursday. There wasn't the customary table-thumping for the budget.
It's unfortunate that we have the budget that we have before us. I view a budget as a document that shows the public what the vision of the government is - in what direction the government wants to take the citizens of the territory. It's about the programs and services that the government offers to its citizens. It's about the capital projects that will advance the standing of every Yukoner in the territory in every community of the territory.
What it's not about is re-announcing projects - and there are several examples of that in this budget. Just a couple of quick examples would be the money for the Golden Horn fire hall. That money was announced in the last budget and it was announced in the previous budget. I understand why - I guess it would have been the 2004-05 budget - the money wasn't spent. There was a catastrophic event in the territory with respect to wildfires and the money couldn't get spent because it wasn't there.
But there is an announcement that has been made three times, and finally, hopefully, this time around, it will be delivered. Another one is the land development that this government has proposed. They've basically told the city that it's take it or leave it - $8 million. That has been in every budget since the first time we sat here in the Legislature. That money was in that budget and was in every successive budget. So they're re-announcing money again.
Another one that is dear to my heart is announcing the land use regulations for Mount Lorne. Land use regulations that have been promised by this government time and time and time again - whether it's the minister or the Premier, those announcements have been done many times. So the other thing that I noticed in the budget speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was that it seemed like a review of press releases and newspaper articles from the last couple of months, and in come cases even the past couple of years. I don't really believe that Yukon citizens want to hear the government bragging about its accomplishments in a budget speech. A budget speech is about laying out the vision and the direction. It's not about reliving the past.
The other thing - and I know this has been raised previously, but it causes me some concern, and it definitely causes concern in some of the communities, the groups that I run in - is the timing, the fact that it is the day before the very last day of the fiscal year that the Premier and the government chose to make public its spending plans.
I worked for about 25 years in the construction field and I know, from my experience there, that in the contracting community, at least, the people need to make plans. They need to plan for the construction season. They need to know what materials need to be ordered; they need to know how many people to hire on.
What the government is doing is leaving it until the last minute to share that information with the Yukon public and the contracting community. I think we could be a lot more responsible; we could be a lot more accountable if we were to bring the budget in, in a more timely manner, as has been done by previous governments.
Those are some of the initial issues for me about the way the budget was released. I think the public deserves to be treated better. I think they deserve to have the information prior to when the money will be spent.
The Premier and Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources said, "Are you better off now than three and a half years ago?" In some cases I imagine some of the people may be better off. They may be better off if you're trying to sell a house. You may not be better off if you're 19 or 22 years old, just starting a family and trying to get into the housing market, or even trying to rent. It's quite difficult for young people.
I'd like to look at some of the comments that the Premier made as he read his speech without very much enthusiasm. I'd like to just hopefully give a little bit of direction and some positive comments about some of the things that this government could do. On page 5 of the budget speech, the Premier, again, is bragging that the Yukon has consistently achieved historic low unemployment rates, as low as 4.3 percent - well below the national average.
Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you can get statistics to say whatever you want them to, and I'm sure you are well aware of this. I would challenge this government to analyze the employment figures not just in Whitehorse - analyze the employment figures in other communities. Analyze the employment figures in Pelly Crossing. Tell me what the unemployment rate is in Pelly Crossing. Tell me what it is in Ross River, Faro, Mayo, Dawson, Burwash Landing, Teslin, Watson Lake, because I don't believe this figure accurately reflects the situation - it may reflect the situation overall in the Yukon and it may reflect the situation if you walk through those doors and out on the street. Things are doing reasonably well in Whitehorse. We live in Whitehorse, but we don't represent just the people who live in Whitehorse; we represent everybody who lives in the Yukon, no matter what community they come from.
It is things like that that bother me.
Now, I'll touch on one other issue with regard to statistics, as well, that I think needs to be talked about. It was in a comment that the minister made with regard to literacy. This was widely reported in the media, and I believe the government put out a press release about it, and the fact that the international adult literacy skill survey results show that Yukoners on average have the highest literacy rates in Canada. Now the Premier is using that basically to say the education system is fine, we're doing well, we've got high literacy rates. We know that that's not true. He actually goes on to say in here that the survey also indicated there are other areas for improvement. Well, he's right, there are big areas for improvement.
In an analysis of the results from that survey, you would find out that the youngest of the groups that were surveyed, aged 16 to 25, are not succeeding at the same rates as older age cohorts. The fact of the matter is that while we have the highest literacy rates in Canada, there are some key populations that are not achieving that. They're being left behind. Those groups are First Nation communities, rural communities - people who were born in the Yukon.
We need resources in this budget to address those concerns, to create literacy programs and to meet those needs and give these people the skills to participate in their community. One of the other statistics in the analysis is that one in every three Yukoners is below the threshold for coping with the increasing skill demands of a knowledge society.
Now, once again, you can have statistics tell you what you want them to. The Premier chose to highlight the fact that we have some of the highest literacy rates in Canada, when in fact, it appears that 33 percent of Yukoners have literacy skills below the level required. That's one third of the people. If the Minister of Health and Social Services had one third of the people who were sick, that would be called an epidemic. So literacy is important.
There is funding in here for the workplace literacy project, and we applaud that. Is it enough? Budgets are about priorities. I would just like to highlight the fact that I believe that literacy in Yukon communities is important and something that needs to be addressed.
Some of the other things that are in the budget - the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources went on about how well things are going in the mining industry and all the work that is being done, all the exploration. We need to develop the economy in the Yukon. There is no doubt about that. Earlier this afternoon I tabled a motion in the Legislature about land use planning. There is a process for regional land use planning, and I know that the government received a briefing about that. When you look at the budget and you look at all the money that is being spent on studying railroads and getting pipeline ready to encourage the mining industry to do more exploration and develop more mines, and then you look at the Department of Environment - and this is an example of what I was talking about in the motion: to make regional land use planning a priority by allocating adequate financial and human resources to all departments on the gathering of information critical to successful land use planning.
So, one example in this budget - one example that I can find, anyhow - is $180,000. You can spend millions of dollars on studies for railroads and to get pipeline ready, but only $180,000 for a biophysical land classification and mapping project. Now, I applaud that. Is it enough? Again, Mr. Speaker, it's about priorities.
Land use planning is about communities coming together, looking at the potential of the area that they live in and developing a broad plan for how they want those areas to be developed, so that conservation projects and resource development projects can go forward - hand in hand, hopefully - with good information. That's what we need, and that's what I was asking for in my motion today.
That's one small example of where we think the budget might fall short. The leader of the official opposition asked if there were good things in this budget. Undoubtedly, there are.
We're happy to see that, after three and one-half years of doing almost nothing, there is finally going to be some planning resumed on the Whitehorse correctional facility - something that is long overdue. It is something that the government chose to go out to the public and consult on again. Was there good information gathered in that consultation? Undoubtedly there was. Was there good information gathered in previous consultation and in previous planning exercises? I'm sure there was.
Finally, after three and one-half years, we are finally seeing some progress. Hopefully, this will be one of the projects where funds will actually get spent and they won't get lapsed, and we will see some progress on this.
I heard water mentioned, specifically in reference to one community in the Yukon. I would remind the members opposite that, again, we need to be concerned about all communities and the infrastructure in every community. There are water and sewer problems in many communities, and I think that we need to put more emphasis on the other communities, and it should be a bigger priority. We're talking about, again, the health and welfare of the people of our territory. So, whether it's literacy skills, access to health care, or clean water and a safe sewage treatment system, I believe that those are all things that should have a huge priority in the government's spending plans.
What we don't want to see is more sole sourcing of contracts. Yet, the government actually has put provisions in the budget to allow again for more sole sourcing of contracts. It appears to me that they have allocated close to $1.6 million for sole sourcing in Highways and Public Works alone to the HERC contracts. That is something that has been an issue for the contracting community in the Yukon. It doesn't matter whether it's on capital projects like health care centres or highway projects, it's about value for dollar. I remind the members opposite that it's not their dollars, it's the public's dollars that we're talking about spending here.
Value for dollar is a very important aspect of doing the work of government. When you're doing capital projects, one of the surest ways to ensure value for dollar is to use an open tendering process, or at least a competitive bid process, whether it's by invitation or not. Usually an open tendering process will get you better value for dollar.
Another issue that was touched on in the budget was land availability and land planning. This goes back to what I was talking about on regional land use planning. This government has itself into a bit of a quagmire over land. One of the projects announced in the budget and in the public, through press releases, is land development in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne.
For the minister's information, I attend about 95 percent of the hamlet meetings, and there has been some discussion about land development in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, but there has been one consultation meeting that took place almost a year ago, and some representation at hamlet council meetings. Obviously the members opposite aren't listening to what the residents have to say. I was on the doorsteps on Saturday, talking to my constituents, and the issue came up: "What's the most important issue for you?" and the one gentleman said to me, "The Mount Lorne land use regulations".
Funny, that was the issue he told me about in October of 2002, and I said to him, "Well, you know, I've been pursuing this issue for three and a half years. It has been promised to me, it has been promised to the hamlet council, it has been promised to the residents many, many times. They re-announced it in the budget on Thursday." Are we going to get it? What the Hamlet of Mount Lorne has said to this government is that before any planned development and before they're prepared to sit down and work with the government, those land use regulations have to be put in place. That was the purpose of those regulations - to allow for planned development. So the government, in its rush to make land available, isn't doing the consultation that it needs to do.
I'd like to talk just a little bit more - I'm not sure how much time I've got left.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: I've got enough time to talk about this, then.
They went on at length about being pipeline ready. There's money in here coming from the Alaska government for the railroad study. I'm not sure whether we're chasing rainbows. I believe that pipelines and railroads will be built when the financial case is made, and the people who are going to make that financial case are the ones that are going to put up the money, because they're not going to do it unless there's a dollar in it.
What are the things that governments should be doing? Yes, we should be looking at regulatory regimes. We should be ensuring that the processes are fair, but we should be looking at other things. We should be looking at things like education and training for people in every community of the Yukon to be able to participate in those projects.
We should be looking at ways of dealing with the social costs of projects like this coming through the territory. This reminds me of my reply to the budget speech last year. It seems like we're going around and around on this.
The social costs that we're going to deal with on the streets of Whitehorse or on the streets of any community here in the Yukon with a large influx of people, of workers from Outside is that they're going to bring with them problems, drugs, alcohol problems, expectations that I don't think people in the Yukon are going to be able to live with.
What are we doing? What money are we spending? What money is in this budget to look at some of those things and how we're going to address them? It might be money in the Health and Social Services budget. It might be money in the Education budget. It might be money in the Justice budget, about education of what the laws are here in the Yukon and what's expected of people who come to work here.
Rental rates - the government talks in here about how great it is about housing prices - and they take rising housing prices as a sign that the economy is doing well. As I said earlier, it's fine if you are a person who has a house that you want to sell. But if you are a young person who wants to get into the housing market, or if you are a young person just getting out of school, and because the market is so inflated, you look at the rental market. That was in the newspaper just the other day, about the rental market in the Yukon and how difficult it can be for people who are on low income or social assistance to be able to obtain adequate housing at a reasonable price. What's going to happen if we have this huge influx of people here in the Yukon? There is going to be a shortage of rental housing, Mr. Speaker. What is the government doing to address that in this budget?
I believe our pipeline will come, if it is economically feasible, but I believe government's job is to look after everyone, including those who are least advantaged.
The Minister of Community Services made some reference to the fact that this government implemented the minimum wage and the fair wage and I would just like to remind him that the minimum wage and fair wage were in existence many years ago and it was after encouraging the government - he actually got it right. The minimum wage hasn't been changed since 1997. It was last changed by an NDP government and, in the ensuing time, nothing has happened with the minimum wage.
I don't know that it's entirely correct. It may be the Employment Standards Board's job to review the minimum wage, but it is at the request of the minister that they normally do so, and it took two and a half years before the minister requested that the minimum wage be reviewed. It was at the urging of members on this side of the House that the fair wage and the minimum wage actually did get reviewed. So I'm glad that something has finally happened. Is $8.25 an hour enough for workers? You know, there were some complaints about the fact that it is a lot of money - $1.05 an hour is a big jump. Well, if previous governments had kept pace with the times, we wouldn't be faced with this, but previous governments didn't keep pace with the times and so this is the situation we have gotten ourselves into. This government waited three and a half years to increase the minimum wage.
But, again, let's talk about the least advantaged citizens in our society. At $8.25 an hour, if you work 40 hours a week, you're making less than $20,000 a year. Who can raise their family on that kind of money?
I had another discussion on Saturday with a person about childcare. I'm glad to see there is money for childcare in the budget. Is it enough? Is the Minister of Health and Social Services going to Ottawa to rein in the federal government on its plans for childcare? The important thing about childcare is that childcare is like part of the education system. They're taking our young children and preparing them for the education system. We need to make improvements to the education system too.
I think the most important thing is to recognize that teachers have an education, they're well qualified, and they teach our children, and we reward them appropriately with wages and benefits. We look at what childcare workers are being paid, and it's disgusting. I was talking with this person on the weekend, and childcare workers, with two years - they have a diploma and some course work afterwards - or three years of education, and they have to work two other jobs to make ends meet, to raise their family.
I think that's disgusting, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, seeing the time, I move that debate be adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Mount Lorne that debate be now adjourned.
Motion to adjourn debate on Bill No. 20 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: I declare the motion carried. The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 3, 2006:
Absence of Members from Sittings of the Legislative Assembly and its Committees: Report of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly (dated March 30, 2006) (Speaker Staffen)
Community Development Fund Annual Report (June 23, 2003 to March 31, 2005) (Kenyon)