Wednesday, April 5, 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 Dental Health Month
Mr. McRobb: I am very pleased to rise today on behalf of all Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly in tribute of Dental Health Month. People usually learn the basics of dental health soon after growing teeth, but many people don't practise good dental health consistently through their adult lives.
The Canadian Dental Health Association has reported that approximately one-third of Canadians have gum disease, a common reason for tooth loss in adults. With gum disease, infection settles in the teeth and can later enter the bloodstream and cause serious problems. To avoid this, it is important to have regular dental checkups and nip the problems in the bud.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has stated that, believe it or not, taking good care of your teeth and gums may help reduce your heart disease and stroke risk. There is some evidence showing there may be a link between gum disease and other health problems, including heart disease and stroke, diabetes and low birth weight babies.
We are very lucky in the Yukon to have had the Yukon children's dental program operating for many years, providing preventive work and education early in the lives of our children to avoid dental problems later on in life. Throughout life, healthy eating is important for overall health, including dental health. I'm sure all members of this Assembly strongly encourage government initiatives, such as the one recently demonstrated by the Department of Education, along with Health and Social Services.
They have partnered through the health promotion unit on the Yukon Drop the Pop Challenge aimed at Yukon students from kindergarten to grade 7. For the past school week of March 27 to 31, elementary schoolchildren were challenged not to drink pop and to make healthier drink choices. Congratulations to all those students who successfully took up that challenge.
Without oral health we cannot truly be healthy. Dental Health Month provides an opportunity for us to focus on this vital health area and to educate children and their parents about healthier choices.
In closing, we express our gratitude to our dental therapists across the Yukon and thank them for their continuing commitment to our schoolchildren's health.
Thank you. Merci beaucoup. Mahsi' cho.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Are there any introductions of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I ask the members of the House to join me in welcoming teacher Ms. Wil Cohoon, teaching assistant Ms. Jane MacArthur, and the grade 5 class from Takhini Elementary School. Welcome.
Speaker: Are there any other introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I have for tabling today the statement of revenue and expenditures for the health care insurance program, health services branch, and I also have the Yukon Hospital Corporation's financial statements as of March 31, 2005.
Speaker: Are there any other documents for tabling?
Are there reports of committees?
Are there petitions?
Are there bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 67: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I move that Bill No. 67, entitled Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 67, entitled Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 67 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills for introduction?
Are there notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to work with Yukon First Nation education and literacy groups, Yukon Learn and similar groups to continue improving the literacy skills of all Yukoners.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) studies show that students who are involved in music education succeed more often academically than those who are not in music programs;
(2) there is a lack of emphasis on music education for all Yukon students in our schools; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to expand the music education programs in all schools in Whitehorse and throughout the Yukon.
Mr. Mitchell: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to move forward in a cooperative approach with the City of Whitehorse and other municipal governments to develop and sign land development protocols.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to register with the Government of Canada Yukoners' strong objections to the fact that aboriginal Canadians and northern Canada were largely absent in the federal Conservative government's first throne speech.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a ministerial statement?
Substance abuse action plan
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It is my pleasure to rise in the House today to inform members of the significant and exciting new policy direction our government is taking with the substance abuse action plan. This document was tabled during the last session. The draft Yukon substance abuse action plan was released in the fall of 2005 for targeted review.
Government officials listened and discussed the action plan with members of First Nations, non-government organizations working in the area of substance abuse, community associations and interested members of the public.
The action plan received considerable support from the public and we are confident to proceed with implementation. The action plan is a framework document that will help guide the Government of Yukon's policy responses to problematic substance use in the territory over the course of the next five years.
This is a living document that will be reviewed regularly. The action plan will address new ways of delivering services that respond to the unique needs and circumstances of the people they are designed to serve. The following guiding principles provide a framework for the action plan. They reflect the criteria by which programs, policies, protocols and procedures can be measured to assess the extent to which they support the overall direction of the action plan. There are seven guiding principles in all: the community health perspective, a comprehensive policy approach, partnerships and integration, evidence-based interventions, being culturally sensitive, being gender sensitive and age appropriate, and the final principle is cost-effectiveness.
The action plan also focuses on the following four strategic directions: harm reduction, prevention and education, treatment, and enforcement. These strategic directions reflect the area on which the Government of Yukon intends to focus its efforts over the course of the next three to five years.
Harm-reduction strategies are intended to reduce the health and social problems associated with the abuse of alcohol and other drugs among individuals, families and communities. The goal of prevention and education is to build healthy communities whose citizens are committed to the well-being of all who live there.
Treatment services normally include a continuum of interventions and treatment options that will help individuals deal with their addiction problems, improve their health and prevent the recurrence of similar problems in the future. Enforcement consists of a broad range of activities carried out by regulatory agencies, licensing authorities, police, the courts and other sections in the criminal justice system.
The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act is one way we can use enforcement as a tool in our fight against substance abuse. As you will all recall, on November 14, 2005, by unanimous consent, the government committed to bring forward safer communities and neighbourhoods legislation for the spring 2006 session of the Legislature. As you saw a few minutes ago, the government has delivered on its commitment to bring this legislation forward. The safer communities and neighbourhoods legislation aims to improve community safety by boosting confidence in the justice system and by providing a process for the removal of fortifications that raise public safety concerns.
This legislation is one tool and part of our larger approach to address the social disorder that accompanies substance abuse in the Yukon. It is our intention to have this legislation implemented by fall of this year, and it represents a significant plank in our overall strategic policy approach to combating substance abuse in our communities.
Mr. Speaker, I think from my description today, the substance abuse action plan and its initiatives within that plan, like the safer communities legislation, will give us the policy framework to get started on really reducing substance abuse in this territory. Our government has created a fund of $2 million to implement the Yukon substance abuse action plan. We are now developing plans for allocations, and we will be working with other NGOs, stakeholders and departments to move forward.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, there are many good things in the substance abuse action plan, but unfortunately much of it is still a dream, and there is not a lot of substance to it. The minister talked about the $2 million at the end of his statement, but what it says, Mr. Speaker, is that they are now developing plans for allocations and will be working with NGOs, stakeholders and departments to move forward. In that statement there is no mention of working with the public. I think the public has to be involved in this debate and in the development of the programs and services that will be coming out of the action plan.
The minister also made reference to casting back to November 14 last fall, and the unanimous consent that the government committed to bring forward the safer communities legislation this spring. They've delivered on that, but I'd like to remind the minister that he is very fond of a saying, “Give credit where credit is due." It was only a couple of weeks before that when we on this side of the House tried to do exactly the same thing, and it was resisted by that side of the House.
So they were dragged, kicking and screaming, into that process. I'd like to remind the minister, as well, who really led the charge in the Yukon, who visited communities, who held meetings. It was the gentleman to my right, the leader of the official opposition - the Member for Whitehorse Centre - who held public meetings in downtown Whitehorse and raised this issue, brought it to a territorial level, brought it here to the Legislature, brought speakers from Vancouver who were leaders in the approaches taken in Vancouver.
It's fine for the minister to stand up and blow his own horn but, as I said, he's very fond of saying you should give credit where credit is due, and I believe in this case that should be done.
I think the minister and the government have jumped the gun a little bit on this initiative. There's an allocation of $2 million but, if you look in the budget documents, I don't see any allocations in any of the departments to provide for more treatment services, more staffing, more after-care, more detox, or any of those things that are talked about in this statement.
The minister needs to put his money where his mouth is, put the public's money where his mouth is - I would remind him it's the public's money - and actually deliver on this.
As far as the safer communities legislation, that will be up for debate during this sitting of the Legislature. We look forward to discussing that and seeing what the government actually comes forward with. I hope the government is committed to following through on that and that the implementation of that legislation, the regulations and enforcement of this new law isn't left to the next government.
I look forward to debating the safer communities legislation; I look forward to debating with the minister in budget debate the details of where this $2 million is going, because it appears the minister doesn't have a plan for that.
Mr. Mitchell: We will support a substance abuse action plan and we also believe that credit should go where credit is due, and the credit goes not to the Yukon Party but for the work done by the MLA for Whitehorse Centre. He forced this issue onto the government's agenda and he is to be commended for it.
I would also like to thank all the officials who worked to develop this plan.
Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a substance abuse action plan and also about safer communities legislation. The Yukon Party government should have had the courtesy to provide copies of the legislation to us in advance, so we could at least have read it before discussing this statement today. Yukoners' interests are not being served by this type of political game, and I am prepared to put on record that a Liberal government would show greater respect to the role of the opposition parties and take measures to ensure they receive advance copies of material before the debate starts.
It is interesting to see the Yukon Party talking about procedure and protocols to measure how the new substance abuse program is working. This was the essence of the Government Accountability Act introduced by the former Liberal government. This was the first piece of legislation repealed by this Yukon Party government when it came to office. I am pleased to see the Yukon Party has changed their mind on the importance of being accountable.
We do find it interesting that funding for this program has been put into Executive Council Office. Why isn't it in Justice? Why not Health? It's the Justice minister who spoke to this today. I'm sure the Minister of Justice wanted the money in his budget, but he was probably overruled by the Premier. The Premier wants to be front and centre on this issue and that is why the money is in his budget.
It is too bad that the Premier and the Yukon Party are, once again, putting politics ahead of helping people. It's too bad, as well, that the minister didn't stand up and insist that the money be in his department.
Mr. Speaker, the action plan is just one piece of the puzzle to make our communities safer and healthier for everyone. Another piece may be the dogs for drug-free schools program. Yesterday, members of this Legislative Assembly attended a presentation by a Medicine Hat, Alberta, police officer and his dog, Fiddler, to explain the benefits of this program.
Tonight there is a public meeting at Porter Creek Secondary School to demonstrate this innovative program, and I encourage all members of this Assembly and the public to attend this meeting.
Mr. Speaker, the scourge of illicit drug use, the drug trade and other associated criminal activities are among the most serious threats to our society. As legislators, we must do everything possible to assist our communities and all levels of government to address these problems. As we committed to last fall, the Liberal caucus will support the Yukon substance abuse action plan.
We look forward to working together to ensure that the safer communities legislation is as effective as possible in making all our communities safer and healthier places to live.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that something negative would come out of such a positive thing. However, it did. I still strongly support this initiative.
Mr. Speaker, this side of the House is not too proud to stand up and give credit where credit is due. We do thoroughly appreciate the leader of the official opposition raising this issue. It was never stated on the floor of this Legislature that this was a one-man or one-woman issue, that this was a one-party thing. It was unanimous here that this was a Yukon issue that must be dealt with expediently and in a professional manner. Everyone on the floor of this Legislature has credit due for this piece of legislation, and I thank every member for that.
Mr. Speaker, I would encourage all members to really embrace this bill. I am quite sure the public at large will appreciate this very much. I can assure you that this will be implemented. It's not just something that is going to be tabled.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Porter Creek land development
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Acting Minister of Community Services. Yesterday the Minister of Community Services refused to answer my questions about land development issues within the City of Whitehorse municipal boundaries. I hope that someone over there is going to take the responsibility today, because it was the Minister of Community Services who is responsible for administering the Municipal Act. The City of Whitehorse has an official community plan that was developed over a long period of time, with a great deal of public input. Under that plan, the area in Porter Creek that a private developer now wants to use for a residential subdivision is zoned as parkland.
Did the minister's colleague, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, inform the Minister of Community Services that he was encouraging a private developer to try to get that designation changed, and did the Minister of Community Services give him any advice about why a senior government should respect that community plan, a document that belongs to the people of Whitehorse and to the municipal government?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We certainly appreciate the city's position on the official community plan and zoning bylaw. That is their official plan and their bylaw. There has never been a question about the jurisdiction of the City of Whitehorse on that issue.
Mr. Cardiff: The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is advocating that it needs to be revisited - it is not his bailiwick. The bottom line is that once again we have Yukon Party ministers of a senior government taking a father-knows-best approach to a municipal government - telling them what to do, whether it's traffic circles or whatever.
What was the point of the city having an official community plan if the Minister of Community Services doesn't think that it means anything? Why should the city even have a planning department or consult the public on development issues if the government is going to second-guess them at every turn?
What I'd like to know is if the Minister of Community Services has been in touch with City of Whitehorse officials to offer any assurance that the Yukon Party government does not intend to override the city's authority or interfere in the official community plan.
Hon. Mr. Lang: So much said - but, to remind the member opposite, the community plan is a city plan. The zoning is up to the city. The city manages that part of the government. I, as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, just opened a debate. I would do the same thing for anyone in the Yukon - present their case in front of city hall.
City hall makes the final decision, Mr. Speaker. It's in their corner. All they have to do is say yes or no. We will work with any decision the City of Whitehorse comes up with. The importance of the issue is that Yukoners get access to the council to have their day in court. It has been done. There is a debate going on now.
For the member opposite to politically insinuate that this government is going to change the community plan or the zoning is dead wrong, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cardiff: It would appear from reports in the paper that the minister has hired himself as the project champion of the project. There are some important principles involved here, which members opposite don't seem to understand. One is that the territorial government shouldn't be undermining the authority of duly-elected municipal officials unless there's some compelling reason to do so. They did it in Dawson. Where next?
Our caucus recently held a public forum on land use where people were very clear about a couple of major topics: (1) they don't like backroom deals when it comes to the disposition of public land; (2) they don't want politicians meddling in the process; (3) they want regional land use planning based on inclusive public consultation - the OCP; (4) they also want clear rules that apply to everyone, not rules that are set for friends of the government -
Speaker: Order please. The question, please.
Mr. Cardiff: I will, Mr. Speaker, thank you.
Speaker: Now, please.
Mr. Cardiff: Will the Minister of Community Services tell his Cabinet colleague to revoke the authorization he gave his private developer and to let the City of Whitehorse make its own decisions about implementing -
Speaker: Thank you. You're done.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The member opposite is going on a tangent. There isn't an ounce of truth to the statements he made. I'm disappointed with the member opposite.
Speaker: Order please. It's not within the minister's prerogative to challenge the veracity of a statement from a member of the opposition, so please take that into consideration. You have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker, I used the word “dishonest", and I apologize for that to the member opposite.
I will read a communication that this minister gave to the City of Whitehorse and I will table that communication. At no point in that communication was the question of development involved in the communication. All we're doing is opening the door for an individual to present his case to the City of Whitehorse on a question about zoning and about the community plan - that's all. He had his day in court.
The letter reads - this is a letter that I sent last Thursday to the mayor: “I write with regard to the above-captioned lands." It gives us a legal description of the land. “The Yukon government takes no position on the future use of these lands, as that decision in respect of your official community plan and zoning bylaw is clearly within the mandate of the City of Whitehorse. However, having said that, our government is of the opinion that a debate about the future use of these lands would be in the public's interest."
Speaker: You're done; thank you.
Question re: Thomson Centre repairs
Mr. Hardy: It's an interesting Question Period today.
Yesterday, I asked the Minister of Health and Social Services about the boondoggle surrounding the Watson Lake multi-level care facility. Today I'm going to ask questions about the Thomson Centre - another project that this government has been working on that doesn't seem to get complete. The minister's predecessor took a special interest in this file. In fact, it was his misguided decision to move the residents of Macaulay Lodge from their home that brought the problems at the Thomson Centre into the public eye, and, of course, we know what has happened since then - or has not happened.
First of all, will the minister tell us how much has been spent so far on repairing the Thomson Centre and what the final costs will be when the necessary work is finally done?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I thank the leader of the official opposition for that question. Certainly, the issue of the Thomson Centre and its construction under a previous government created some issues, so the building has caused us problems and necessitated repairs. A considerable amount of money has been invested in that. I do not have the figure right in front of me. I will commit to getting back to the member opposite with that number.
I will advise him, with regard to the end usage that the Department of Health and Social Services and I as minister authorized a report to be done on the possible end uses. There have been a number of items discussed that could be regarding future programs and usages of that facility. I'm expecting that report back probably within the next month. At the time that I receive the report, we will be acting based on that and taking action to utilize the Thomson Centre.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Mr. Speaker, the previous minister was known for making his own decisions about what facilities such as Macaulay Lodge, the Thomson Centre and Copper Ridge Place should be used for. He was very proactive, and of course he was well known for making his own decisions about who should do the work and how it should also be done. We may have some very strong criticisms about how he went about that and what his direction was, but at least things were getting done. At least we saw some work happening in that case, but right now we don't see anything happening under this minister, and that's the stark difference between these two. Four years, and we still don't know what it will be used for. Will the minister tell us what his plans are for the Thomson Centre and how these plans are reflected in this year's budget, or if they are actually even reflected at all in the budget, or are we just going to see another plan that's going to be passed over until the next election?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the leader of the official opposition, Management Board has requested a detailed accounting of the Thomson Centre situation. As I stated to the member opposite, we have commissioned the report from the Health and Social Services side to find out the options for end use. With regard to the cost, Management Board has requested that report.
I would point out to the member opposite that when we're working with the officials and experts in the department, we need to give these people time to do their jobs. We expect that they will do so in a reasonable time, and we have those discussions around how long that will take. I'm not going to snap my fingers and say, “I want you to work 24 hours to ensure that you've got that report on my desk by next week," because I decided that arbitrarily. I hope the leader of the official opposition is not suggesting that.
Mr. Hardy: No, but I would like to remind this minister that he has had four years as a Cabinet, as a caucus and as a party to do something - four years. That is not a snap of the fingers, as the minister likes to say. I know this minister is fairly new at the job, but I'm sure he has found out by now that the Thomson Centre actually belongs to the Yukon Hospital Corporation. Isn't that so? He hasn't mentioned that.
I had a very good meeting with the hospital executive a few weeks ago, and they told me about a variety of possible uses for this facility. It is interesting that he is talking about plans and reports, because I understand that the board sent the minister a plan of what it would like to have done with this building. He hasn't mentioned that as well. Maybe they don't count. Maybe the board's opinions don't count. They own the building, as I understand it.
Has the minister accepted the board's proposal? Has the minister even read the proposal? If so, what will the Thomson Centre be used for? What is in the plan that the board sent forward, and what does he envision?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I reiterate again for the leader of the official opposition that the Department of Health and Social Services is having a review done on the options for the usage of the facility. The department is reviewing the proposal put forward by the Hospital Corporation. There is a requirement for us to do the due diligence. There have been other proposals with regard to potential usage. We are doing an overall evaluation of the most appropriate usage for the Thomson Centre.
The member should also take into account that I took on this post in December, and since that time officials and I have been working together in resolving these issues and working forward to the most expeditious and appropriate resolution possible.
Question re: Porter Creek land development
Mr. McRobb: Let's return to the land issue with the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. Let's talk a little more about this embarrassing deal that he reached with his fellow Yukon Party member.
This good friend of the minister let out to city council his confidential deal with the Yukon Party government to develop 44 lots in the middle of Porter Creek. Yesterday the minister said there was no deal. His good friend, who ran unsuccessfully for the Yukon Party nomination in the Copperbelt by-election, said otherwise. Yesterday, he told the Whitehorse Star that he has come to an arrangement with YTG. That followed his revelation to city council that the agreement was confidential.
We know the minister didn't want this secret deal to get out, but it's too late. The cat is out of the bag. He can deny it all he wants, but his partner in this project has already spilled the beans. Exactly what promises has this minister made to his friend from the Yukon Party?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the member opposite and his humour. I will re-clarify on the floor of this House: there was no deal made with anybody. I have tabled in the House the letter of communication that I sent to the mayor and council, with a copy to the individual proponent, and the government has no proposal on development. I remind the member opposite that the proponent has an opportunity to go to city council for a decision. They have zoning in place, and at the moment it is green space. Now the City of Whitehorse may make the decision that it stay as green space or become a city park. At that point we will work with whatever decision the city makes.
Mr. McRobb: The minister can deny it all he wants, but the Yukon Party government has already helped out its Yukon Party friend. Let's go back a few months to November. The minister's department wrote to the city and said it was prepared to transfer this area to the City of Whitehorse on the basis of current zoning designations. This land is currently zoned parks and recreation, but this week the minister wrote a much different letter. He backed away from the parks and recreation designation and said a debate about the future of the land would be in the public's interest. He also said the government takes no position on the future use of the land. What has changed in the past five months other than the phone call to the minister from the former Yukon Party candidate who wants to develop this land?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, I would like to clarify on the floor of the House that I have tabled the letter of communication. It is a letter that I would give to any proponent out there who wanted to present a proposal to the City of Whitehorse. The City of Whitehorse is a government. The City of Whitehorse will make that final decision. We'll work with that decision. If that decision is for a park, we'll work with that. This government will work with the city on whatever decision it makes, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has a confidential deal with a former Yukon Party candidate to try to develop 44 lots in the middle of Porter Creek. Just five months ago, an official from the minister's department wrote to the city to qualify its interest in transferring this land only if its zoning remains as a park. But the minister has flip-flopped. He now wants a public debate on the future of the land. Yukoners - and particularly residents of Porter Creek - are owed an explanation. Other than pressure from a fellow member of the Yukon Party - he may have cancelled his membership by now, Mr. Speaker - why did the minister change his mind?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, this side of the House isn't in the business of changing its mind. And for the member opposite to play politics with this - I'm surprised. This is an issue of an individual who went before the City of Whitehorse with an idea. The City of Whitehorse will make the decision. The City of Whitehorse will make the decision about what they want to do with that land, and we will work with that decision, whether it's a park or whatever. Then the member opposite says the general public shouldn't have a debate over this land. Why shouldn't the people of Porter Creek be involved in this debate? I ask the Liberal member that question.
Question re: Porter Creek land development
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I, too, have some questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources about his latest intervention into the land disposition process around Whitehorse. This minister has a long history of interfering in land development issues. A couple of years ago, he encouraged the Yukon Agricultural Association to apply for land and told them he could pre-approve their application. He even promised to overrule the Land Application Review Committee for them. He got burned over that one.
Next, he presided over the Fish Lake lot disaster and got burned again. Now he is at it yet again. A former Yukon Party candidate and good friend of the minister showed up at city council Monday night and said he had a confidential deal with the minister to develop some lots in Porter Creek. Mr. Speaker, the City of Whitehorse receives many development applications. They don't all come with a letter of support from the minister. Is this a new policy of the government, or does it only apply to applicants who happen to be members of the Yukon Party?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the leader of the Liberal Party and his history lessons on what this minister did in the past. He was not in the House at the time when the agricultural question was raised. Of course, he hasn't got the facts. The facts were that we didn't override anything; the process took its place and the agricultural application was turned down. I'm the minister responsible for agriculture, Mr. Speaker. I work with the agricultural community, not like the member opposite.
There is nothing unusual about what we have done. This letter is a letter of communication that gives the proponent the right to stand in front of city hall. City hall will make the decision and we will work with that decision, and we will work with Porter Creek to make sure that decision - whatever it is - is acceptable to the people of Porter Creek. We are in the business of working with all Yukoners. This is what we do. This is what government does. We did exactly what we should have done. Now the City of Whitehorse will do what they have to do, and that is to make a decision.
Mr. Mitchell: The minister didn't really answer the question, so perhaps we will try a different tack.
Part of the problem here is that the Yukon Party government has consistently been unable to get along with the City of Whitehorse on land planning issues. Last year, the city was blind-sided by the Yukon government's decision to hand over a chunk of land to Yukon College. When I appeared before city council on an unrelated matter last week, the mayor asked me: if I were Premier, would I sign a land development protocol with the city? Yes, a Liberal government would make this a priority. The city, like many other Yukoners, is already looking beyond this government. The mayor said this morning that he thinks the position taken by this minister is nonsense.
Why does the desire to help a fellow Yukon Party member take priority over a good working relationship with the city? These problems would not occur if the government would sign a land development protocol with the city. Why isn't there one in place?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I would like to answer the member of the Liberal Party, as he goes through life campaigning, day by day, for the top job. With all his background, I think he'll do a very good job on this side of the House. The protocol will be signed; the protocol is in process.
I remind the member opposite that this is not a trading post. This is the Government of the Yukon, so let's treat it like that, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Mitchell: The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has a confidential deal with a former Yukon Party candidate to try to develop 44 lots in the middle of Porter Creek. He has presided over one mess after another as the minister responsible for lands: Fish Lake, the Yukon Agricultural Association, now Porter Creek, his own riding.
The minister is unable to separate his personal interests from his duties as minister. It's time for a change at the top. Will the minister resign?
Speaker: Before the government side answers, the implication that the member has personal business and that he is benefiting personally from anything that happens within the walls of this Legislative Assembly is clearly out of order, and I'd ask the leader of the third party to not do that again, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think it's clear here that it's time the leader of the third party raise the bar of debate. One can only wonder, considering the preambles of the member's question, who is scripting the leader of the third party. It appears there's someone who is desperately trying to demonstrate their cunning.
Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that the insinuations that this member has put on the floor are incorrect. There is no confidential deal; there is no reason why any Yukoner who has an idea or proposal cannot go before the City of Whitehorse and make that presentation. Furthermore, what does it have to do with what political party they may belong to?
Is that member suggesting that any Yukon Party member, citizens who choose to join a party, are now precluded from due process? It's a good thing that member is not leading this territory.
Question re: Tantalus School construction
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Minister of Education. Now, the Tantalus School in Carmacks has been a controversial issue before the final draft design was even drawn up. There were two major public demonstrations outside this building; many meetings with government, with the minister and the Premier, and lots of hard feelings on all sides. That's the way it was left, and this government went ahead in the fall of this year with construction of the school.
Now, in the fall supplementary, like I said before, we saw the price of the school jump up by $277,000 before any work was even done. Now, the cost to replace this school is up to $11.4 million and rising, with no explanation. I asked a question on Monday about this. Now that the minister has read his briefing notes and so on, can the minister explain why the cost of the school has risen so high in six months?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The most recent feedback I've heard from Carmacks is that it was a very good idea what this government did. They really appreciate the blueprints, and they're going to make excellent use of the facility.
I believe that the member opposite was right: it was very, very difficult to build a school in Carmacks. Again, this government has said it before and we'll say it again: children are paramount over everything else. Our best interest was to make sure that there was an infrastructure built for the children, and that's being done.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, it seems that the minister is avoiding this question. This is the second question of the minister I've asked this week, and I think he should be answering it because many of the people in the community want to know. The price has gone up on this school. So, in six months, why has the price risen so high? I would like the minister to just lay it out for the people and for the general public.
They have lost control of this project, and I think the public deserves an explanation from the minister. So, I'll ask that question again and, hopefully, get an answer.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I find it rather disappointing, actually, that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun would be complaining about having a new school in his community. You would think he would be overjoyed. This is something that every community in the territory wants; yet the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is complaining that we are building an $11-million school. What would he prefer: one for $3 million?
Mr. Fairclough: That's the problem we and the public are having with this government. They are not coming forward and explaining themselves clearly about money they are spending - taxpayers' money. I support this school. I said it to the minister many times. As a matter of fact, this school was in the New Democratic Party's five-year plan. But it is three and a half years into this mandate and there still need to be answers from the minister. So, he can't avoid this one.
We want to know why there is an increase to the cost of this school. Just lay it out clearly. There should be about five or six bullets in the minister's briefing notes on this. He could just read them out and let the community know, because it's important that they know why there is such a high jump in the cost of this school. It's not that the community doesn't want it; they want the school.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would suggest that the member opposite get his pen ready because I'm going to read it out. Land acquisition and clean-up, $350,000; planning and design, $550,000; building construction, $9,350,000; construction contingency, $750,000; demolition of old school, $200,000; project administration, $50,000; furniture and equipment, $150,000. The total cost is $11,400,000. One of the unexpected increases that was not anticipated was the soil problem, and that is to be expected in this area, Mr. Speaker. The soil had a problem that is being corrected and the school will be completed.
Question re: Burwash school
Mr. McRobb: This Yukon Party government has a long record when it comes to riling rural Yukoners. People in Carmacks, Dawson City and Haines Junction would all attest to that. In a recent example, the Education minister inflamed the already tense relations between two communities in my riding. He promised a school to people in Burwash Landing. This surprise announcement ambushed people living in Destruction Bay, where the existing school that serves the area is located.
Why did the minister needlessly raise expectations of people in Burwash Landing, while infuriating others?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Maybe this minister, unlike the Member for Kluane, doesn't burn the candle at both ends. I was very plain with the people in Destruction Bay, very plain with the people in Burwash. They are very distinct communities. I was dealing with Burwash Landing and I believe that was a community that was asking questions of me; they were the ones I answered.
Mr. McRobb: The minister's allegation of a motive is clearly improper and unsubstantiated.
As mentioned, the minister's announcement inflamed tensions between the two communities. Within a few days, he sent his deputy minister to Destruction Bay to hose down the brush fires he ignited with his rogue announcement.
The Minister of Education has said publicly that the decision to build the school was not made in isolation. Then he refused to say who was involved in the decision. Here's a quote from what he said: “I'm just going to say that it was not made in isolation. I won't name people that were there."
Residents want to know why those plans were chopped from the budget. Who made the decision to axe the Burwash school from the budget? Was it the Premier? Was it someone else in Cabinet? Who was it? The minister owes us an explanation.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To start with, Mr. Speaker, I think it's important to say on the floor of the Legislature that there was a lot of history here for a school in Burwash Landing. Early in our mandate, when we went to a signing ceremony in Burwash, there was a plea made by the Chief of the Kluane First Nation to the territorial government and to the federal government in attendance that a school was desperately needed in Burwash. Mr. Speaker, there were discussions around the school. There were monies allocated for a school. However, the Chief of the Kluane First Nation did come and meet with the Premier, requesting a different alternative. From that, the monies were diverted to the cultural centre. This Premier has that authority, the chief wanted it. They got it.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, a Liberal government would bring people together from both communities to discuss who, what, where and when. Now, it has been very interesting to watch this episode unfold in the past couple of weeks. The minister went to Dawson City and said there is money in the budget for a school. A couple of days later, the Premier flatly contradicted the minister and said there is no money for the school in the budget. The Chief of the Kluane First Nation said he felt used by the minister and this government. The chief said, and I quote: “We don't want to be caught up in the minister's agenda." A couple of days later, the minister admitted he doesn't intend to run for the Yukon Party in the next election. That's when he said he'd be a free agent. Mr. Speaker, the minister and his political agenda have caused a great deal of tension to people in the communities along the north highway. How does the minister intend to fix the mess he has created, or is he even going to be around to make amends?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that the dissention was there in that area a lot longer than before this minister came along. The Member for Kluane has had 10 years to deal with this issue and has never done it. Now, because this government was prepared to do it, there is an issue here. It's a good thing that we do come out with statements. It brings things to the forefront in that area - something that maybe needs to be done. I have no apologies to anyone for the things that I said and the things that I did in relation to this school - no apologies whatsoever. I still strongly believe that in the future it is in the best interest of the Kluane First Nation to have a school. I would encourage everyone who is a MLA in this government and on the other side of the House to really start looking at the cultural differences. There is a difference here. In fact, the chief from Kluane made the statement that may have been very strong, but it was his opinion that there may even be a form of discrimination here because the First Nation community has got nothing in it.
I listened to that statement, and one has to question why that community hasn't got some more infrastructure.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 568
Clerk: Motion 568, standing in the name of Mr. Cardiff.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Mount Lorne
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to direct Yukon Housing Corporation to adopt a clear definition of affordable housing based on what consumers can actually afford rather than current market value.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to talk a little bit today about the need for affordable housing in Yukon and why this motion is necessary. What we've seen in recent years - and I'll provide some history - we've heard the Premier talk about the economy and what a good sign rising real estate prices were for people. It is good news for people selling on the market, but for young families, for people who are working at minimum wage - albeit increasing - it is hard for them to get into the current housing market. What we've seen this government do is have an affordable housing program where the definition of what is affordable is actually tied to market prices, and market prices have increased dramatically. Wages have not kept up to increases in the housing market. I will be providing some history around how this all came to be.
Affordable housing programs and social housing programs have taken a severe hit in this country over the last couple of decades.
What types of affordable housing are there? There's public social housing, where the government owns the infrastructure and provides affordable housing to people who are at the lower end of the wage scale, in the lower income brackets. There's non-profit affordable housing. We have some examples of that here in the Yukon. We could have had more examples of it, but unfortunately we don't. We also have the ability for the private sector, under this government, to get into the affordable housing market. Those are the ones where rents and the sale price of these units are tied to what the market can bear.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Cardiff: Actually, Mr. Speaker, if I could indulge the House for a moment, I'd like to ask all members to join me in welcoming the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations. Andy Carvill has joined us in the Legislature. It's good to see you here. Thank you.
Mr. Cardiff: What we're discussing is the need for affordable housing and the need to have a definition of affordable housing that is actually geared to income, not to what the market is. We need to think about what the housing needs in the Yukon are - or, for that matter, across the country.
We can look at some of the housing needs just recently in the media. There was a young family who couldn't afford, from what they were being supplied on social assistance, to pay the market rent.
There are many others who are in that situation. Where do they go? Do they get turned out on to the street? Do they have to move to more substandard accommodations? Where do these people go?
We know there are communities in the Yukon where housing is actually a crisis situation. As recently as last year, to the best of my knowledge - I don't know what remedies have been put in place - we had the issues around black mould in some housing units in the community of Carmacks. It's my understanding that housing in other communities around Yukon is in dire need of repair, upgrade or replacement. I think that that's part of affordable housing. It's not affordable to accommodate people in substandard housing and then pay exorbitant costs for health, for social services when they're turned out on the street or they become ill, because their accommodation - their shelter - is substandard. Affordable housing is a very important issue for a lot of people. What do we do with the young people who are out there couch surfing, because they don't have a place to go. We need some sort of alternative in place for these young folks to get a start in life and move on so they can become part of the workforce, and they can get into the housing market and find their own shelter.
Again, it needs to be affordable. I'd like to talk a little bit about the history of how we ended up in the situation we're in today. It was back in the 1970s and 1980s, I believe, when there was quite a lot of federal money and programs that dealt with housing. There was a lot of money. It was viewed as a very important necessity in society for people to have a place to live, a safe shelter where people could raise their families, with the security of knowing they have a roof over their head, can provide food for their family and it's not going to break the bank and they don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or whether or not they have shoes on their feet so they can send their children to school. That was the way it was.
Back in 1991, the Minister of Finance for the federal government, Mr. Paul Martin - actually, he wasn't the Finance minister at the time - headed a task force on housing. He said the federal government needed to take a lead role and that all Canadians had the right to decent housing, in decent surroundings and at affordable prices. After he became the Finance minister, basically, he chose not to implement the recommendations of his own task force when he was in opposition.
In 1993, the federal government ceased funding for all new social housing. Canada is now the only OECD country without an ongoing national housing program. From 1993 until early 2000, B.C. and Quebec were the only provinces that continued to fund new social housing projects.
We then ended up with the affordable housing agreement we have in the Yukon. Back in 1997, CMHC began to devolve federal social housing programs to provinces and territories through agreements signed one at a time. It sounds like a good deal in some instances. There may be some advantages. It gives local jurisdictions some control over a very important issue, but it has to be a priority of those who were in power in that jurisdiction. It provides for public input. It provides for public discussion about what those housing needs are - whether it's social housing, affordable housing home repair. Those are all programs that can provide people with decent, affordable housing so they can provide for their families. So there are some advantages to that devolution of power and those programs.
What needs to come with it, Mr. Speaker, is funding. The federal government needs to provide adequate funding for housing programs for all jurisdictions in Canada so that we can continue to upgrade the housing stock through programs like the affordable housing program or home repair programs or increasing the availability of social housing units. I mentioned, in my response to the budget speech on Monday afternoon, the need to ensure that there is some affordable housing and that we look after, as well, the social housing in light of projects that the government is championing.
Will we have a pipeline? We probably will have a pipeline when the time is right, when the stars are aligned, and it makes financial sense for companies in Alaska and Texas and Alberta to do that. This is one reason why we are talking about this today, Mr. Speaker. Huge projects like that have a great influence on the market. We are seeing changes in the market today where real estate prices and rents are increasing, and people are finding it harder and harder to find affordable accommodation when these projects come through. Mineral prices are going up; mines are going into production. There's activity happening in my own riding at the Mount Skookum mine. I was out there the other day and there were transport trucks with heavy equipment on them going out to the mine. There is more activity taking place. There is going to be more economic activity as long as the mineral prices stay buoyant and up there. If it is decided that the pipeline will go ahead, there will be increasing pressure - not just in Whitehorse but in other communities as well - on the real estate market and on the rental market. That is why we need to think about this now. This is why we need to think about the definition of “affordable housing". What is affordable? Is it the market, so that when some of these projects happen and the market goes up, the definition of “affordable" housing goes up? Our children could be left to pay $1,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. That's where it could go.
That's where it could go, Mr. Speaker. I know young people who are paying $700 or $800 a month right now for one-bedroom accommodations. Where is it going to go? As the pressure increases in the market, as there is more economic activity - people generally think that's a good thing, that there are people out there making money, that there are lots of people out there making really good money.
Take a good, hard look at what's happening in several other jurisdictions. The government is applauding itself for, raising after seven or eight years, the minimum wage by $1.05, to the grand total sum of $8.25 an hour. When some of these megaprojects and the increased economic activity take place and we have workers coming in from Outside to satisfy the needs of the labour demands, they are going to be making thousands and thousands of dollars a month. They are going to be able to afford to get into that market. Those people are at the top of the wage scale.
What about the people who work in the service industry and who work at those minimum-wage jobs? How do they get into a market that is defined as affordable by something that is tied to the market? It is impossible, unless you are going to tie their wages to the market. I actually have some information about that which I may get to later.
A prime example that I'm sure the members are well aware of is a jurisdiction in Alberta like Fort McMurray where apparently you can go and get a job at Tim Horton's serving coffee and you get paid $18 an hour.
That's what the market is, but you can't keep people in those jobs because they can go somewhere else and make more money. Do we need people in those jobs? Do I think they should be making more money? Darn right, I do, but the reality is that there will be people who are in the workforce and aren't making the money so they can afford to participate in an inflated market, whether it be in housing sales, in purchasing housing or in renting housing.
It's not just going to be a problem for individuals; it's going to be a problem for NGOs and for other levels of government. It's going to be a problem in communities along the Alaska Highway and throughout the Yukon.
There are some disadvantages as well to this devolution of social housing programs, I think. Some of that is what I was referring to - liabilities for the improvements. If we have responsibility for social housing and for affordable housing programs, it's up to us. We have the liability as a government and as a society to ensure those improvements that are needed in housing are done.
You have liability for improvements and the potential for losses. There is a certain amount of dependence on low grants from CMHC and the federal government. It's not a perfect thing, and that's why we need to look at definitions of what is “affordable". We need to look at what housing programs need to be out there. Is the public being well-served by these housing programs?
In 2001, an affordable housing framework was proposed. One of the things that came to my attention shortly after being elected was that this affordable housing program money was coming to the Yukon.
The initial agreements where, I believe, reached in November 2001. The one we have in the Yukon was changed once or twice - certainly once by this government in order to allow for the provision of public-private partnerships in the program.
It's interesting that, by 2002, only Quebec and British Columbia had signed agreements on the affordable housing initiative, and only Quebec fully matched the federal funds, and this matching issue in the affordable housing program is something that I take issue with.
We've seen the Premier stand up here, and they brought more money from Ottawa and the budgets have increased dramatically. Yet, strategically, this government hasn't placed a lot of its own money into affordable housing or social housing. I think we're seeing some of that now. But what they did was they took the affordable housing money and, where there were opportunities to partner with local non-profit groups and provide training opportunities for Yukoners, they chose to go in a different direction.
I have a problem as far as the “matching" portion of this program, and that is that they basically took an initiative of a previous government - namely, the Copper Ridge facility, a seniors care facility, which isn't really what I would define as affordable housing. It's not something that is a true - in the true sense of the word - “housing project". There are other examples of where this has happened, namely in B.C., where they did something similar to this.
If housing is truly important, surely this government could have seen fit, in all the millions of dollars that have been spent during its mandate in the last three and a half years, to put some of the taxpayers' money, some of the money that they're responsible for spending, into affordable housing and into social housing, because social housing is about affordable housing.
It's about people who are at the bottom of the wage scale, in the lower income brackets, live on very little and can't afford to pay a lot for rent. Now, in 2003, after two years, the federal affordable housing framework agreement was finally signed off in its modified form, I believe, by the Yukon and other provinces - Newfoundland, Labrador, P.E.I. and New Brunswick. At that time we had the money. Those were the questions I was asking. How come we're not doing something about affordable housing? How come we're not using this money for those people who are really in need of housing? What did we get? We got chalets up in Copper Ridge that are costing people $190,000 now. I don't find that affordable.
Why is this important? And this is something that this government should be able to understand. It's something that they talked about - what is the cost of delivering services, providing services? It has to be cost-effective. A study in British Columbia found that it costs more money to actually provide government services to people without shelter than it does to actually provide them shelter.
It seems a little bit strange that it would be that way. Think about the social implications, the cost of the justice system and the cost of the health and social services network. If you take into consideration the cost and time spent by volunteers in soup kitchens and other organizations, it is an incredible cost to society - not to mention the lost productivity that those people could be contributing to our society.
Not only that, but studies also show that children who are deprived of safe, secure shelter and a healthy environment to grow up in, don't grow up as healthy. They have an increased likelihood of experiencing disease, and becoming - I wouldn't say “non-contributing members of society", but they add costs to the social network, and we see increased cost in the justice system.
So what have we seen across the country as far as affordable housing? Years ago - as I was saying earlier - there were federal housing programs, and provinces and territories participated in them. A lot of homes were built; a lot of good affordable housing projects were delivered across the country.
There have also been some promises made that haven't been delivered on across this country. Just to highlight a few: in 2001, the federal government gave $89 million in one-time capital funds for new social housing over five years to the Government of British Columbia. B.C. completed about 3,400 new units, but more than half the money that was meant for affordable housing, to address the issues of people who are living on the streets of communities like Prince George, Kamloops, Vancouver - the downtown lower east side - Nanaimo, Victoria. This was money that was meant for new social housing, for affordable housing, housing where people could live with dignity, raise their children, and still be participants in society. What did the Government of British Columbia do? They channelled more than half of it into the health care system.
That's not to say that there aren't needs in the health care system, but when we're given money for a certain project, you're expected to pay for it. It's like giving money to your child to get lunch and you expect them to get something healthy. You say, “Go to the cafeteria, get a bowl of soup and a sandwich" and they come back with chocolate bars and pop.
As a parent, you are not too impressed. As a federal government, I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't too impressed - albeit that there are needs in the health care system - that there are monies designated for one use that are spent on something else. That's one reason why - as much as the Copper Ridge facility is needed, the money that was given to this territory - the $5.5 million, under the affordable housing agreement - was meant for affordable housing, and it was meant to be matched to provide affordable housing. If you look at the affordable housing agreement - I didn't bring it with me today - it has provisions for things like social housing for home repair programs and for the provision of affordable housing units. Unfortunately, something that this government could have negotiated in was a definition of affordability that is tied to the market. We all know what the market is like.
I think we need to take a good, hard look at the definition of affordability, and it needs to be tied to something other than the market. I think I've laid out some good reasons for that. I think I've laid out why it's necessary in our society to ensure that there is this stock of affordable housing and good social housing.
Let's look at some of the other jurisdictions.
Newfoundland in 2005 budgeted $40.9 million for 700 affordable housing units to be created or repaired by 2010.
Quebec budgeted $150 million for 2,000 rental units and, to date - that figure is wrong - under the affordable housing agreement, they've built 6,000 of the 6,500 promised units. That's since the agreement was reached in 2001.
Alberta has built a total of 3,150 units,
New Brunswick has spent a total of $45 million on affordable housing as of 2005 - $18 million last year on 245 new units constructed.
CMHC has all kinds of funds as well. I attended a meeting about something that is kind of a hot topic in here these days - land. It was hosted by the city, and it was about how you plan for green spaces. It was facilitated by people from CMHC. I had an opportunity to talk to the gentleman who is the regional manager for CMHC, based out of Calgary. We talked about other programs that CMHC is responsible for - one of them being a shelter enhancement program where funds are made available to provide funding for housing projects targeted to similar situations like Kaushee's - the women's transition home.
But they are also targeted toward the provision of accommodations - albeit temporary accommodations; it's not like you can build apartment buildings with it - like youth shelters, to provide shelters for homeless youth, as they transition into that affordable housing market - whether it be rental or the for-sale market.
Now there is a tremendous need in this city and in this territory - but especially in Whitehorse - and there are several advocates in the territory. There are groups working toward the provision of services to youth and a shelter for homeless youth. CMHC has a pot of money. I had quite a bit of correspondence back and forth with CMHC on this matter - and the allocation for the Yukon was $10,000. I said to him that when I look across the country I look at Ontario, I look at Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, I see millions of dollars being spent under the shelter enhancement program. The allocation in the Yukon was $10,000. I asked, “Why do we only get $10,000?" His answer was, “Because we don't use the money. Nobody is applying." Basically they don't want to put a quarter of a million dollars or a million dollars there, year after year, and have nobody apply for it, so it doesn't get used.
It's interesting: he said it wouldn't be a problem, that if there were proposals that came forward under the shelter enhancement program, more funds could be made available. We know that there is a need for more, that Kaushee's Place is running basically at max. They're maxed out pretty much every day of the month, and every day of the year they have a full house, and there are needs for more second-stage housing at the women's transition home. We hear on a regular basis - you can go downtown and you can see the need. Talk to young people on the street and find out where they're spending the evening. They're spending the evening on somebody's couch. In the summertime they may be sleeping in a car. These are funds that are available - they're available to this government. This government has the responsibility for delivering those services and those programs to the young people of this territory so that they can become secure in where they live, that they don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, so that they don't have to worry about where they're going to sleep at night and they can get up the next day and go out and be part of society. Maybe they'll end up in one of those minimum-wage jobs. But what we're looking for is something so they can grow and advance in society and can move up into some of those other jobs where they can afford to participate in the market, whether it be rental housing or housing for sale.
But there needs to be a bridge in there somewhere, and that bridge is social housing and affordable housing.
What happened in the Yukon with the affordable housing? What have we seen? We've got $830,000 invested for 64 units. We still don't know whether or not there are going to be any rental units in the project in Copper Ridge. I know people have inquired about units for rent and they've been told, “No, we can't make any money on the units for rent, even with a $25,000 subsidy." You would think you would be able to make it pay, but we're not sure. We don't know whether or not that's going to come to fruition or not.
The much talked about athletes village project - I didn't bring my copy of the budget with me, but if I recall rightly, the Yukon Housing Corporation is planning on, I believe, four social housing units this year, which is a vast improvement over what has happened in the past three and a half years of this government's mandate. But we need to invest more money, I think. The government needs to provide that money to the Yukon Housing Corporation for affordable housing and for social housing.
Now, the government saw fit to raid most of what was left of the affordable housing money from the federal government to build the athletes village. I know the minister will stand up and say we put this much money in for this much economic activity. For those of you who are listening on the radio and can't see, it's a small amount of money, and then you move your arms out and you get a huge amount of investment. This is the way the minister would describe it.
The thing is, is it a good investment? I would argue that, at $440,000 per unit, that's not affordable. What the taxpayer is getting - does the college need more student residence space? Darn tootin', they do. They've needed it for a long time. I worked on the original student residence and worked on the college project back in the mid- to late-1980s and had the opportunity to work in the original college student residence. Since then, there was another project led by a local labour group that got money from the government and other agencies to build a project, run a training program and build the other student residence that's there. But there's still a big need for student residence facilities at the college.
Is it a great location for affordable housing or social housing? I think if you listen to seniors and other people who - if you're attending the college, it's a great place to have housing. If you're going to the Yukon Arts Centre, it's a great place. But if you need to do business downtown on a regular basis - the one good side of this may be that this may provide the City of Whitehorse with the viability to actually run bus service to and from Yukon College on a more consistent basis on the weekends and in the evenings, which is what students at Yukon College have been complaining about for years and years and years. If this leads to the improvement of that service for students, who oftentimes are attending night classes - I hope that it does. It's going to be necessary, because all the people who are living in those units are not going to be attending college. A lot of them are going to be working downtown. They're going to need to be able to travel downtown. Not all of them are going to necessarily have vehicles and have that transportation available.
One thing that has been in the paper recently - I touched on this a little bit earlier - is the affordability. It ties in to the affordability, kind of from a different end. It's more of the income side of the equation.
Those are people on social assistance, but they don't receive market-level rent allowances. One person on social assistance gets $390 a month to pay for accommodation.
I just told the Legislature that I know of young people who are renting one-bedroom accommodation, and they are having a hard time getting it for under $800 a month. Rent is in the $700 to $800 range. How do you pay for, and where do you find - I challenge the minister - one-bedroom rental accommodation for a single person for $390 a month? I don't know. Maybe he has some accommodations left over from the veterinary business or he knows some dog mushers or something like that. The reality is, Mr. Speaker, it's darn hard to find anything for rent for $390. It's a fact. Members of my family are out there in the rental market. A family of four on social assistance is provided $640 a month for rent. That's how much money Health and Social Services gives them for rent. Then there is money that is provided for food.
I just explained that I know a young family that pays between $700 and $800 for a one-bedroom apartment.
So, where are you going to find a two-bedroom apartment for a family of four for $640 a month? Or a two-bedroom anything?
It would probably do the government well and those persons responsible for setting the rental rates for Department of Health and Social Services and for those people on social assistance, to check out the back page of the newspaper. The market rents are listed there - on a daily basis in one newspaper and three times weekly in the other newspaper. In communities I am sure that it wouldn't take a long time to survey the rental market to find out what people are actually paying for rent and what's affordable and what needs to be provided. Otherwise people are spending the baby's shoe money - and the money that's provided for food - on accommodation. And what does that lead to? That leads to people living in substandard housing under substandard conditions who are not eating full, nutritious meals, and the children aren't going to school prepared.
If we look around the world a little bit, there are other examples of ways of ensuring that housing is affordable. It's going to tie in, to some extent, to rent that is tied to wages.
So it can be done, and it has been done in the past. In the Netherlands, it has been done for over 20 years. Instead of actually building housing stock and providing it, they provide rental support to people who are in the lower income brackets. It doesn't distort the market; it's targeted to those people who are in lower income brackets.
I know that the minister would like to talk about this. I'll try to conclude this as soon as I can, so that he and others in this Legislature will have an opportunity to discuss some of the ideas that I've presented. I'd like to touch on one other - in Manitoba. It's not just in other jurisdictions. In Manitoba, there's a rent supplement program that assists people to obtain housing in the private rental sector. It subsidizes the difference between the approved market rental rate charged by the landlord and a rent-geared-to-income rate paid by the tenant, so that might be a little more information for the minister and others to respond to.
So what's needed? One way is to tie the definition of “affordability" to income. I've read information that comes out of British Columbia, where the definition of “affordability" is actually tied to a percentage of income.
Obviously, that is going to vary. If you're out there in the oil patch, and you're making lots of money, the percentage is going to be high. But if you're working at a minimum-wage job, the percentage of $8.25 an hour is going to be reasonable, hopefully.
So what should that percentage be? Well, the percentage that's used in other jurisdictions falls between 25 and 30 percent, and I think when you consider all the other necessities of life - and we especially need to think about what's included in that, I suppose, because there are other things that families and providers need to provide for their families. There's food; there's the heat. There's clothing, ensuring that your children have everything that they need to go to school and participate fully in the programs that are offered at that school and feel like they're part of the group. I think that it's very important.
So that would be one way of doing it. You can measure how affordable or not average market rents are by determining the minimum hourly wage a worker must earn to afford a rental unit without spending more than 30 percent or 25 percent - used to measure housing affordability.
I think that's an option. What are some of the other things we need to do? We need to continue to put pressure on the federal government to supply adequate funding to housing programs. We need a comprehensive plan for the whole country. Housing is not just an issue here in the Yukon. You read in the newspapers or you hear on the TV the dire need for housing in other communities across Canada, largely First Nation communities. We have some of those problems here in our own territory but, across the country, we need to put the pressure on the federal government to live up to the agreement that was signed in Kelowna and provide the money. There was money in that agreement, and part of that money was to address the serious concerns we have in this country about housing for First Nation people.
Is it the responsibility of First Nations to take that message to Prime Minister Harper? No, it's not. It's the responsibility of this government to do that. They have to remember that they represent all Yukoners, regardless of which community they live in or what their origin is.
This is really important. I hope the Premier and the housing minister will take this to heart. This is another severe challenge to the people of the Yukon: to ensure that all people are treated fairly.
Should the government put money into the problems we're seeing in Carmacks? Is that a priority?
The Member for Southern Lakes was questioning some of my budget response, about the priorities I have versus the priorities they have. Would I take money out of Highways and Public Works to put into Environment, or would I take money from here to put there? Well, yes, my priorities are different than his. Do I think that repairing housing or replacing housing that is substandard in the communities of the Yukon is a priority? I think it is, and I think this government should think long and hard about it. If they have to go to Ottawa to get the money, if they're not prepared to put the taxpayers' money into this, they should definitely be lobbying the federal government for the money that is in the Kelowna accord, and they should be lobbying for further funds to ensure the housing needs of Yukoners are addressed.
It was interesting - I happened to bump into the Premier in the lunch line-up today and he asked me what I was doing today. I said, “Well, Mr. Premier, it's Wednesday, and today we are going to talk about affordable housing and the definition of affordable housing." He said, “Yes, I saw that. We are going to have to support that motion." So, I am looking forward to that because obviously the Premier thinks that the definition of what is affordable is very important in the housing market.
It's one of the basic necessities. It's like food and water. What is more basic than something to put in your belly? The food that you eat and the water that you need to drink - we could have a motion.
We need to have a motion about the water in this territory and the quality of the water that people have to drink in communities, as well. And maybe we'll do that. Maybe that will be a motion that we bring forward at our next opportunity, or maybe the government will do that.
But shelter is one of the prime - where would we be if we didn't have shelter, if we didn't have a roof over our heads, a place to lay our children's heads down at night and not have to worry about how you were going to pay for it, or whether you were going to get booted out the next day and have to live in the back seat of a car or on the street.
So, I thank the Premier for his indicated support and his recognition of the fact that what is actually affordable is what people can afford. It's not something that's tied to some arbitrary figure that can be inflated by markets that are out of our control. These are markets that are world markets - mineral markets - that influence the economic activity of the territory. There are markets - the price of oil and gas - that will influence whether or not there is a pipeline that comes through this territory. That's what's going to influence the market value of real estate, whether it's for sale or for rent.
It's going to drive the cost of housing for people through the roof. Unless this government or future governments are prepared to raise the minimum wage to some level and tie the minimum wage to that same market, so that people can afford to participate - I don't think that's something that any government wants to do.
I support the government and the increase to the minimum wage, and I would support further increases to the minimum wage. I think anybody who thinks that people on minimum wage don't spend their money locally - that they are on junkets to Bermuda and Cancun and they are spending their money in other jurisdictions - is dreaming in technicolor. The fact of the matter is that it is the people least advantaged - who are making those minimum wages - who are contributing 100 percent of what they make back into our economy. They are not spending it anywhere but here in the territory. I think they deserve to be treated more fairly when it comes to establishing affordable housing rents and housing prices. If we are going to have affordable housing programs in this territory, that definition needs to be tied to what is affordable, not to the market realities.
I think I have made all the points that I wanted to make. I look forward to hearing from the minister regarding this, and hopefully - with the support of the Premier and his colleagues - we will be able to pass this motion this afternoon.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It does give me great pleasure to speak to this motion and comment on some of the things that the member opposite said. I find myself very much agreeing with him on many of the topics - not the least of which, of course, is his comments regarding the Netherlands and other jurisdictions that target percentage of income to rent. He referred to this as being very reasonable. He is correct that most jurisdictions use the 25- to 30-percent range. If in fact he had done better research on that he would find that Yukon uses the 25-percent point which is one of the best - if not the best - in existence.
It is good to hear him praise that and think that we should aim for that, but unfortunately we've been there for many, many years. The Yukon defines affordable housing as 25 percent of the income.
Food, heat and clothing were the three that he mentioned and referred to others. He should be aware of the fact that the rental costs do not include heat. That's covered by Yukon Housing. So, in fact, we're much better already than what he is asking for in the first place. I just wanted to correct the record with that.
The Yukon Housing Corporation's strategy to address affordable housing is based on three distinct and separate approaches. The member opposite's concerns regarding affordable housing really centre around the federal then-Liberal government's affordable housing program. Again, he perhaps is beginning to recognize that this is a federal program that we have to deal with. I appreciate his comments that we should lobby diligently to try to convince the federal government to take a broader view of that and such, and I want to assure him that it's exactly what we have been doing. But it is a federal program. When a federal program is offered, we really have two options. One is to say thank you and work within it and do what we can. The other thing, of course, is to simply turn the money back, which I believe the leader of the official opposition referred to last year in one of his speeches. We're not prepared to give that money back and we're prepared to use it in a very good way.
Let's look at the Yukon Housing Corporation's strategy to address affordability and those three distinct and separate approaches. Let's look at this in a very ordered manner. First is the delivery of social housing based on the social housing transfer agreement, which was signed by Canada and the Yukon in 1998. The second, of course, is the delivery of the Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement, which was originally signed in 2002, and there were some minor amendments in 2004.
Finally, the third approach is by the direct funding of mortgage programs so that Yukoners can afford home ownership.
Now, I'd like to go into these in a little bit more detail, but before I provide further insight into the strategies, I would like to give some background for members of the Legislature and anyone listening. The Yukon Housing Corporation Act established the corporation and provides broad authority for the provision, development, financing and maintenance of housing. In section 9 of that act, under the general powers, subsection D, the corporation makes “grants or loans for the purpose of acquiring, constructing or improving housing".
The Yukon Housing Corporation's vision is to “enhance the quality of life in the Yukon by providing safe and affordable housing choices that respond to the needs of Yukon's residents". Its mission is to improve the quality of housing in the Yukon and to help Yukoners resolve their housing needs. In addition, Yukon Housing Corporation's strategic plan, core strategy 3, states, “Yukon Housing Corporation will address gaps in the housing marketplace with direct programming".
Social housing is housing that is subsidized to assist people in need who can't find adequate affordable shelter in the private market. The people who live in social housing are those with low to moderate incomes. They may be families, seniors, older singles, or people with physical disabilities. People with special needs, such as those with mental disabilities or illness, may also benefit from these programs and access these programs.
The Yukon Housing Corporation currently owns and operates or provides subsidy to over 500 rental housing units in the Yukon - 500, Mr. Speaker. The rent charged for this housing is directly based on the income of the household. Again, I thank the member opposite for saying that's the way we should be going. We are already there and we've been there for a long time.
Yukon Housing Corporation has been able to hold the rent to 25 percent of income when many of the jurisdictions in the country are charging 30 percent. The member opposite is quite correct in giving us that range. The one thing he doesn't point out is that we are already there, and we are at the low end of the range.
On top of that, the Housing Corporation pays all the heating costs, which makes the rent even more affordable.
For those tenants who have little to no income, the rent can be as low as $32 per month, and this includes the heating costs. Perhaps the member opposite can go back and revisit some of his statistics - $32 a month, Mr. Speaker.
As part of the social housing portfolio, Yukon Housing Corporation also has agreements with some private landlords whereby the tenant pays 25 percent of their household income and Yukon Housing Corporation pays the difference between what the tenant can pay and the market rent that the landlord is charging. This has made housing affordable for a number of Yukoners, including seniors who live in private-sector rentals and would be happy to remain there if the rent were affordable.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the member opposite thinks that we should be going this way, and have to again point out that we have been there for some time.
This also assists private landlords in keeping their housing units rented.
Yukon families in the social housing program pay just over $400 per month on average, including heating costs, under the social housing program. Again, that one program averages $400 per month.
Seniors are currently the fastest growing segment of our population, and the pressure to provide affordable housing to seniors is continually increasing.
It's interesting, Mr. Speaker, in talking to our statistics branch, there are two components to that growth in seniors housing. There are certainly those, like you and me, who are probably going to be retiring here and will add to that growing senior component, but there are also - and I believe, if memory serves, the statistics branch says the majority of the increase in seniors in the Yukon are - actually relatives and friends of Yukoners who are moving north to the territory. We have a two-pronged problem there.
But it certainly is increasing. Yukon Housing Corporation provides subsidies to a Whitehorse non-profit society, which allows it to provide affordable housing to 39 seniors households. Seniors are, on average, able to rent good housing, including the heat, for less than $350 per month. Again, I ask the member opposite to revisit his statistics.
The issue of housing for women fleeing family violence is a priority, and Yukon Housing Corporation provides a subsidy for a non-profit organization to provide temporary emergency shelter in a transition home and second-stage apartments for longer-term needs. Once again, the rent in the second-stage housing is rent geared to income - 25 percent of the income, not including heating, to make it more affordable.
Yukon Housing Corporation also provides affordable rental housing to a non-profit society that works with clients who have FAS/FAE. This allows the client group to have safe, affordable housing, which is one of the most significant requirements for them to have a greater measure of success.
The Yukon Housing Corporation has recently expanded its seniors social housing program to Faro. We were very pleased to make that announcement not too long ago. This will provide affordable housing to some of the low-income seniors who want to remain in that community for as long as possible. We have also established the Faro housing board, which will basically look after this and monitor it for us.
The second component of the Yukon Housing Corporation's strategy is to maximize the benefits of the affordable housing agreement. Now again, this is a federal agreement - federal legislation, giving a federal definition. As members will remember, it was unilaterally created by the Government of Canada, and I have been to several federal-provincial-territorial meetings of ministers of housing, where we have taken turns, with each jurisdiction pointing out the inadequacies of this program.
Phase 2 in the Northwest Territories received, I believe, $375,000, and they dubbed it the “affordable house program". I think we only got about $300,000 as well, so we can't do much better in this jurisdiction.
They, being the federal government, decided the scope of that program. The federal government defined the definitions by which the program would be overseen, and the federal government set budgetary allocations. The Yukon government did not.
In spite of the origins of the program, the Yukon Housing Corporation has been able to make it work in the Yukon. I'm proud to say that the Yukon Housing Corporation Board is one of the best and most creative and capable groups I've had the pleasure of working with in three and a half years.
$3.5 million was allocated to offset the cost of the 48-unit apartment building that will temporarily serve as the accommodation for athletes and coaches in the upcoming Canada Winter Games. As the member opposite got into a discussion on the athletes village, I'll come back to that, and let's again look at the real statistics.
A developer is proceeding with the construction of home ownership and rental units that meet the corporation's green home and accommodating home standards. Again, I ask everyone to think about this, that we're not creating a green home standard or an affordable or accommodating standard for right now. It puts that unit into the housing stock for 15, 35, 70 years. However long that is in, it's well insulated, it's accommodating, people who go into it can age in place. It's a major increase in what we have available for our housing stock.
The Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors has also directed staff to work with the community of Haines Junction regarding the housing needs of seniors. During Question Period the last couple of days, members opposite have been critical that there's nothing in the budget for Haines Junction. I ask them to go back and re-read it. They'll find there is a very significant amount of money in the budget for that.
I do realize the members opposite don't like the name of the program. The Member for Mount Lorne has been very vocal over the last couple of years, thinking that the word “affordable" was synonymous with social housing, and clearly it is not. I do think he and they should direct their comments to Canada and not the Yukon, and I was very pleased to hear him today in his speech comment many times that we should be lobbying the federal government on many of these things. I agree with him, and that's exactly what we've been doing. I'm very glad to have his support on that.
In that program, Canada determined, and I quote - since this is the nature of the thing - “Affordable housing means housing that is modest in terms of floor area and amenities, based on household needs and community norms and is priced at or below average market housing rents or prices for comparable housing in a community or area."
For the Member for Mount Lorne, who has had so much difficulty in determining what “affordable housing" means, I will repeat that. “Affordable housing means housing that is modest in terms of floor area and amenities, based on household needs and community norms and is priced at or below average market housing rents or prices for comparable housing in a community or area."
It's nice that we debate today, Mr. Speaker, the definition of “affordable". That is the definition we were given to work with. I do realize that the New Democratic Party has several times alluded to the fact that we should probably have given it back; we weren't prepared to do that. What we want to do is try to put it to use in the best possible way. Since this definition forms part of the operating agreement, just like the 10-year affordability criterion does, it can only mean one thing. If Yukon was not accepting of these definitions, then no agreement would have been signed, and $5.5 million in funding would have gone elsewhere in the country. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, at all these federal, provincial and territorial meetings, there were 12 other ministers responsible for housing sitting there who would have been ecstatic to take that $5.5 million and use it for their own purposes, and I will return to much of that, Mr. Speaker.
In terms of direct lending, Yukon Housing Corporation is also active in helping generate affordable financing for new owners. This is particularly true for young families and those with modest income. And I do have sympathy and empathy with the member opposite and the problems of young families starting out and young people starting out who are trying to get into a rapidly growing market in housing. Over the years I've had many discussions with people looking at coming north for a variety of reasons, and the first question is always, “How expensive is it to live?" The answer is always, “Ben, if you are looking at it from downtown Vancouver, it is cheap as dirt. But if you are looking at it from a small town in central Saskatchewan, it's probably expensive." Everything is relative, and all of it has to be part of the decision matrix.
But I do sympathize with the problem. The average cost of homes in Whitehorse has increased dramatically recently. Of course, this results in a reduced ability of qualified Yukon Housing Corporation first-mortgage and owner-build applicants to pursue homes. The Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors decided to respond to this emerging trend. The corporation provides programs that are intended to increase home ownership opportunities, opportunities for lower income families in the Yukon and other applicants who are unable to qualify for bank financing.
Over the past three to four years, the average price of a home in Whitehorse has increased substantially, resulting in a significant decrease in the supply of affordable houses. We look at Whitehorse in this simply because we don't have statistics readily available on smaller communities, nor for reasons of confidentiality could we discuss those figures. That is a standard statistical problem, one that we ran into last year, I might add, with the number of women above the age of 25 who were on the unemployment rolls. The numbers were so low, thanks to our rebounding economy and the policies of this government - they were so low that we couldn't report on them for reasons of confidentiality. Unemployment in this territory, under this government, has gone from double digits to - I believe right now we're the second best in the nation - tied for the second best in the nation.
But the situation certainly has created barriers for qualified Yukon Housing Corporation first-mortgage and owner-build applicants to own their own homes. It has caused some problems, obviously, with fewer people applying for this because of this problem. In 2001, Yukon Housing Corporation set a financing limit of $160,000 for first-mortgage and owner-build programs. This limit was based on a cost factor calculation determined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
In March 2005, the board increased the financing limit to $170,000 to better reflect increases in housing prices in the Whitehorse area. Housing prices did not level off. In fact, there was another significant increase in property values in Whitehorse, and we were rapidly back in the same situation.
As a result, there was, again, a shortage of homes in Whitehorse priced below the Yukon Housing Corporation's financing limit of $170,000. Although the corporation had numerous clients eligible for mortgage financing, the restrictiveness of the purchase ceiling inhibited these clients from purchasing a home that they could afford, a home that they actually wanted to own. In order to alleviate the barriers to home ownership that are the result of rising property values and construction costs, three changes were implemented by the Yukon Housing Corporation Board. The board authorized the changes in January 2006, including a reduction in the Yukon Housing Corporation financing interest rates, increased amortization periods and higher financing amounts. These changes will assist qualified first-mortgage and owner-build applicants to purchase their own homes, even though real estate prices have risen substantially in the past few years.
The member opposite, in his speech, made it sound like we could actually do something to interfere with the free market. That's something we can't do. We can respond to it - I think the board has done a stellar job of that - but in terms of actually controlling the market and cranking it down, that simply is not possible.
The first change that I referred to allows the Yukon Housing Corporation to reduce interest rates to increase affordability of homes in the current high housing market and promote home ownership for qualified first-mortgage and owner-build applicants. The Yukon Housing Corporation's current interest rate is based on the posted average interest rate for a five-year mortgage, available at the five major banks; however, the banks have flexibility and they don't always charge the posted rates. We all know that. We all go in and negotiate.
The Yukon Housing Corporation has instituted a reduction of one percent below the five major banks' posted rates - one percent below, Mr. Speaker. The Yukon Housing Corporation is now providing financing at rates that are more closely aligned with the bank rates - the real bank rates.
Now, here are some of the benefits of using interest rates. Qualified Yukon Housing Corporation first-mortgage and owner-build applicants will have lower monthly mortgage payments. It makes owning that home more affordable. A lower household income will be required to qualify for equivalent financing, increasing the ability of lower income families to afford their own homes. The total interest charged on the life of each mortgage will be reduced, making home ownership, again, more affordable.
Eligible first-mortgage and owner-build applicants will be able to purchase a higher valued home without increasing the monthly payment amounts, and Yukon Housing Corporation will be able to increase home opportunities as more applicants may become qualified due to the reduced payments.
The second change enables the Yukon Housing Corporation to calculate each client's mortgage financing ability based on an amortization period of up to 30 years. Now, the corporation's previous amortization period was 25 years, and 30 years has been not uncommon south of the border, of course, and in other jurisdictions.
Now, what are some of the benefits of increasing the amortization period? Qualified first-mortgage and owner-build applicants will have increased access to home ownership - again, through lower monthly payments. Eligible first-mortgage and owner-build applicants will require lower household income to qualify for financing, and home ownership will be more affordable as the monthly payment amounts will, of course, be reduced. Eligible first-mortgage and owner-build applicants will be able to purchase a higher valued home, again without increasing the monthly payments.
The final change enables Yukon Housing Corporation to offer qualified first-mortgage and owner-build applicants mortgages to a maximum value of $195,000 to better reflect the value of current real estate. Given the current price range of homes on the Whitehorse housing market, this change will significantly increase the ability of successful applicants to follow through on the purchase of a home.
Again, what are some of the benefits of increasing the financing limit?
Firstly, applicants who qualify for Yukon Housing Corporation financing under the first-mortgage and owner-build programs will have increased access to a wider range of homes including new home construction.
Yukon Housing Corporation will have significantly addressed an existing gap by empowering eligible clients to purchase an affordable home of their choosing. Clients should always have flexibility when they decide on a home to purchase and the neighbourhood in which to live. This is important.
By implementing all three changes at the same time, it enables more Yukoners to access home ownership. I'll give a couple of examples. To qualify for a $150,000 mortgage with an interest of rate 5.5 percent amortized over 25 years, clients used to need an income of $42,772 and carry a monthly payment of $916. With these changes, clients can access that same $150,000 mortgage with an interest rate of 4.5 percent amortized over 30 years, and they can do that with an income of $36,800, not $42,700, and carry a monthly payment of $756, not $916.
Does all this matter, and does it really mean that Yukoners have better access to mortgage funding?
Last week, as an example, the Yukon Housing Corporation received 70 phone calls from Yukoners inquiring about mortgage programs and, in fact, last week alone 10 new clients submitted applications. I submit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is pretty reasonable proof.
I think the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors should receive kudos for not only identifying the impediments to home ownership, but also their decisive actions to help Yukoners - especially low-income earners - gain access to mortgage financing.
By collectively implementing three changes to how Yukon Housing Corporation extends mortgage financing to eligible clients, it enables the Yukon Housing Corporation to realize its vision of enhancing the quality of life in the Yukon by providing safe and affordable housing choices that respond to the needs of Yukon residents. As well, the Yukon Housing Corporation's ability to attain success in its mission to improve the quality of housing in the Yukon and help Yukoners resolve their housing needs will be greatly enhanced. Each of these homes, built to green standards and built to accommodating standards, goes into the housing stock for a much longer period of time. It is not a one-off deal.
The Yukon Housing Corporation is actively addressing gaps in the housing marketplace, with direct programming as stipulated by the Yukon Housing Corporation's strategic objectives. The Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement is also proving to be a success with the construction of new affordable home ownership and rental units built, again, to the green home and accommodating home standards. Of course social housing, our safety net program, helps those in financial need. Again, Mr. Speaker, we do not necessarily have to build a social housing building, but we can utilize the geared-to-income structure to put our social housing clients into private residences or private areas. Building purpose-built buildings for social housing is not something that we really want to get into. This is well-proven in other jurisdictions as not being the best way to do it. And let's look at some of the other programs that we have in here. The increase in house prices has created the gap in the ability, and so the average price in a home has risen from $152,000 - again these are Whitehorse statistics - in 2001 to 200,000 in 2005. In fact, it has gone up from there.
The new financing options that I've outlined - the one-percent reduction in posted interest rates, increasing the amortization to 30 years and setting a higher maximum lending threshold - will make a great dent in this area. $7 million has been allocated in this year's budget for that program - $7 million.
Contributions are continuing to be made to the seniors housing management fund. This budget contribution of $100,000, together with interest derived from green mortgages, brings the fund to an excess of $2 million. We look forward to working with that fund in the future.
Again, coming back to the Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement - the Yukon Housing Corporation's Board of Directors is responsible for approving the criteria for the program and for selecting projects. This is not a political process; it is the board of directors that makes these decisions. We were very pleased and I was personally ecstatic to see that, in April 2005, the board conditionally approved $830,000 for 44 home ownership units and 20 rental units with Falcon Ridge Development Corporation. It's well underway, which you can see if you drive around.
What did we accomplish with that? With $830,000, we created 44 homes, 20 rental units, and we stimulated $23 million worth of construction in the territory, virtually all of that utilizing local contractors, local suppliers and local workers. It's an incredible project. Again, it's the cascade effect that will go down in the future. These are housing units that are well insulated, they meet the green standard, they are equipped for the potential of - I will call them “escalators" for accommodation for aging in place. I urge anybody who is curious or critical of that to go up and take a look at some of these units. I think they've done a marvellous job.
The Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors also approved $3.5 million toward the construction of 48 units at Yukon College, which will be first used during the Canada Winter Games. I'll certainly be spending more time on that, since the member opposite had a number of different questions.
The corporation is very pleased to acquire the 48 units of new, affordable, barrier-free, energy-efficient houses, with an investment of $3.5 million. I will mention, when I get to that project, the benefits that will accrue to Yukon College on that, which the member opposite seems to have missed.
Further announcements are likely this year but they must follow the protocol provision outlined in the Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement, much to the chagrin of the Member for Mount Lorne. It's a federal program. It's a federal program that is controlled by the board of directors, and I think that they are doing a very good job on that.
The joint venture program: under the joint venture program, private-sector developers can access construction financing for new affordable housing developments and for upgrades to existing multi-family homes. Now, the program not only helps to increase housing supply for seniors, and the creation of environmentally friendly new homes, but results in the real economic opportunities through participation of the private sector. In the two previous years, the Yukon Housing Corporation provided fully-recoverable loans - I will repeat that: fully-recoverable loans - through this program to developers who built 10- and 12-unit condominiums in Takhini and downtown Whitehorse - a great stimulus to the economy. I am pleased to say that, in the 2006-07 budget, a provision for the joint venture program has been made in the amount of $1.7 million.
The Yukon Housing Corporation's home improvement programs offer financial and technical assistance to home owners, owners of mobile homes situated on rental property, and owners of rental units, for the repair and upgrade of living accommodations, including energy efficiency and accessibility upgrades.
This includes programs such as the following:
(1) the home repair program: the low-interest financing of up to $35,000 is to address the following home improvement items, such as structural, electrical, plumbing, heating system, fire safety, overcrowding, energy efficiency or, of course, accessibility;
(2) the home repair enhancement program: complimentary, higher interest financing for home improvement projects that are expected to exceed the $35,000 limit under the home repair program;
(3) the mobile home upgrade program, financing for undertaking mobile home improvements: the maximum loan there is 95 percent of the projected future market value of the improved home, less any encumbrance charges;
(4) the mobile home emergency repair program: emergency repair financing to address immediate health or safety issues. If you have any such concerns about your mobile home, please get in touch with the Yukon Housing Corporation right away. In some cases, funding may be made available under the mobile home upgrade program, so I urge anyone listening to please consider that;
(5) the rental suite program: up to $25,000 in low-interest financing with repayment terms of up to 10 years to upgrade an existing rental suite. Technical officer assistance to suite owners includes provisions of design and costing information to assist in project decision making. Under certain criteria, financing may be available for the construction of a new living suite;
(6) the rental unit rehabilitation program: up to $30,000 financing for improvement of residential rental units. Technical officers pre-assess the units for structural, health and safety integrity to identify and assist the landlord in planning for those mandatory repair items within the available loan budget;
(7) the residential energy evaluation for EnerGuide: Yukon Housing Corporation certifies under the EnerGuide program private sector businesses to conduct EnerGuide energy evaluations of residential properties. EnerGuide A evaluations provide high-tech information that could help you decide on your repair and energy upgrade options. Follow-up B evaluations show how your home's energy efficiency has improved after the repairs and upgrades have already been done; ad
(8) the residential electricity management program: low-interest financing for up to seven years for Yukon homeowners who want to change their primary heating system from one using electrical power to a non-electrical one. Program eligibility includes electricity consumption in excess of 1,000 kilowatt hours per month through at least six months in a 12-month period.
The home repair programs have been allocated $2.5 million in this year's budget.
Now, our government is also focusing on seniors housing and seniors housing initiatives. In 2005, the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors approved changes so that seniors above the income threshold who have mobility problems can still apply for social housing programs. In 2004-05 and 2005-06, private sector developers accessed the joint venture loans to build 10 senior-friendly condos in Takhini and four more senior-friendly units as part of the energy efficient 12-plex of condos in downtown Whitehorse.
Last year, Yukon Housing Corporation also retrofitted two vacant staff housing units in Faro - again, to accommodate seniors. As I mentioned before, we're now in the process of setting up a housing advisory board in Faro. If anyone is listening in Faro and has an interest in that board, I'd suggest that they submit an application through our boards and committees, which can be reached by phone, including the toll-free number, and can be reached through our Web site.
To promote aging in place without impacting the rental market, Yukon Housing Corporation included provisions in the rent supplement program for seniors currently in rental accommodation who are experiencing affordability issues but don't want to move.
Another identified need that the Yukon government is addressing is the need for a seniors building in Haines Junction - the elusive one that the members on the opposite side seem to have missed in the budget. The Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors has directed staff to research and analyze different housing options for consideration under the Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement. The Yukon Housing Corporation staff is working directly with seniors in Haines Junction on the building concepts and potential locations in that community.
I was very happy to go over and look at some of the potential sites, talk to some of the residents of Haines Junction and be accompanied by the Liberal, now, Member for Kluane in the Haines Junction area.
Well, the trading deadline has passed, so I guess we're safe with that one.
We're constantly responding to the concerns of Yukoners, and we're constantly striving to improve staff and social housing. The Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors understands that women leaving abusive relationships want priority access to social housing in good repair and in safe neighbourhoods. The Yukon Housing Corporation considers the review of the social housing eligibility criteria a priority, and that review is underway now and has been for some time.
It is anticipated that the options paper will be reviewed by the Housing Corporation Board of Directors at their June meeting. In addition to the issue of providing priority housing to those leaving abusive relationships, the review also includes such topics as residency, assets, age, and incomes of social housing applicants.
As promised, this government initiated this change, removing child support payments in the calculation of a tenant's rent in Yukon government housing units. Beginning back in 2004, the Yukon Housing Corporation began excluding child support payments from the calculation of income used to assess the tenant rents in Yukon's social housing units, so that low-income parents in social housing would retain more disposable income for use in meeting the other needs of their children - again a point that I agree with, with the Member for Mount Lorne. He has some very good points - not many ways for paying for the programs, but he has some very good points and some very good ideas.
We're developing an integrated pet policy for the government-sponsored housing. The issue of allowing or not allowing pets has been around for a long, long time. I am really pleased that the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors has dealt with this issue. At the March 2006 meeting, Yukon Housing Corporation's Board of Directors approved the adoption and implementation of a pet policy, and that pet policy will pertain to all tenants in social housing offered by the Housing Corporation.
The policy will explain what types of pets are permitted as well as tenants' obligations to always ensure that their pet does not negatively affect other tenants.
If people stop and think about this, it is not simply issues of allergies or damage the pets might do. There are issues of someone with a walker or cane suddenly being run down by a dog coming around the corner. It has to do with so many different things.
I was very happy to go to the Council on Aging and talk about this, and during the question period got blasted by several residents who thought they should be allowed pets with no problem at all. I tended to agree with them, on the surface. On the way out I was cornered by two irate tenants who did not want to let those blank-blank dogs into the building because she had stepped into something. You are not going to make everyone happy, but within that context, I think the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors have done a marvellous job in setting up a policy that is workable.
The staff of the corporation is currently developing an implementation strategy on pets and will be able to come out with that over the next month or so. I think it is pretty clear where we are going, but the board has to go through the formalities and do their good work.
We are also working with the federal government, First Nations and community governments to upgrade and construct housing.
In 2004, the Housing Corporation enabled four housing units to be completed in Beaver Creek by acting as a third-party manager between DIAND and the White River First Nation. This project developed First Nation capacity for future projects. The Yukon Housing Corporation and First Nations have completed northern housing assessments of housing stock now in eight communities. We are working very closely with a variety of different governments on that. With accurate work plans in place, the First Nations have been able to access over $3 million in federal funding since 2003.
That brings me to one point that is always a sore point with this portfolio, Mr. Speaker. That is that the federal government defines much of their housing criteria as on reserve-off reserve for our First Nations. In Rupert's Land, we don't have on-reserve or off-reserve, and therefore it puts a lot of pressure on our First Nations and on communities that are primarily First Nation who are unable to access a wide variety of funds and programs. We are hoping to deal with that in the near future and we are hoping that there will be some major announcements coming forward regarding this. For the moment, it is a huge, huge challenge.
Beginning in 2002-03 with the Kaska Tribal Council, the Yukon Housing Corporation has assisted Yukon First Nations with community-wide energy audits and development of comprehensive plans describing repairs required to upgrade First Nation housing stock.
The First Nations have been successful in using these plans to obtain funding for housing from the Government of Canada. Participating First Nations include Carcross-Tagish First Nation, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation, and the Teslin Tlingit Council.
Let's go back briefly - the member opposite, in his presentation, talked about the athletes village - and review some of the history on that and how this dovetails into affordable housing. If we take it back historically to the fall of 2001, the Canada Games Council awarded the right to host the 2007 Canada Winter Games to the City of Whitehorse. That was in the fall of 2001. The awarding of the 2007 games to Whitehorse was based on a bid that was submitted jointly by the 2007 Canada Winter Games Bid Committee and the City of Whitehorse.
Now, the bid package was the result of eight months of planning and preparation by a committee of over 100 local volunteers who did very, very good work. It was based and was conditional on receiving confirmation from the Government of Canada of a federal capital funding contribution. That was what certainly many people looked at and evaluated at the time. That's what the media were really covering.
Confirmation of that capital contribution was received on May 29, 2002, when the federal Secretary of State for Sport announced that the Government of Canada would support the city's bid to host the 2007 games with a capital contribution of $20 million toward the completion of the Whitehorse multiplex facility.
Mr. Speaker, stop and think. Across Canada, for anyone who travels or has travelled or plans to travel, think of any other town of this size that has a multiplex of that magnitude and quality.
I continually have people visiting who are just absolutely amazed at what we have there, so that's a good thing. When we look at that, the bid committee did not propose to build, nor did they budget to build, any sort of permanent housing to accommodate athletes during the games. That was not in the bid package. Rather, the bid committee envisioned that a contractor would - and I quote from the package - “construct, own and remove buildings". The cost for this use was estimated at $2.7 million. This is the figure the members opposite are continually raising in Question Period as a budgeted amount. A, it wasn't budgeted and, B, it wasn't budgeted by the Yukon government.
In fact, when the bid package went in, it was a Liberal government. In all honesty, they didn't put that in the budget either. They had nothing to do with any budgeted amount. It has been referred to as anywhere from $2.3 million to $2.9 million. The reality - I always like to deal with facts - is it's $2.7 million. So that's where it was.
The $2.7-million amount originated in the bid document, not in a budget. It has never been a budget amount for consideration for the athletes village construction project. It was really in the context of a hotel bill for accommodations for the time the athletes would be there.
Contractors and architects were engaged to come up with proposals, and the proposals were wide and varied - “bizarre" comes to mind. They were done in a wide variety of ways that certainly could not be done for $2.7 million. This was becoming more and more obvious as time went on, especially when you consider, if memory serves, that it was more than $2.7 million to clear the site and bring services - the sewer, water and electricity - into the area. Quite frankly, tents from Canadian Tire would have been more than $2.7 million. Let's put this on the table.
It was a good idea and it got us the bid, but it left this government in the position of making a decision. It made us take a closer look at whether or not we were going to try to bail this bid out and work with the host society. We had some of the first meetings on that back in 2003 - so-called think-tank and brainstorming sessions. There were a lot of different proposals. I remember one that had trailers coming up the highway set up, and after the games were over, they were towed out. That has been done in other games. It has been done in other games. Some members opposite in Question Period have referred to other games that did a marvellous job of housing the athletes. Well, they didn't have to tow the trailers too far away. And like the ad that's on television right now - you know, you look at the Turino Olympics two weeks after the event, or Pamplona five days after the bulls have finished. It was a vacant field. They all went back south.
The bills that I saw at the time were in the range of $60 million to bring those trailers in, utilize them and tow them back out again - no legacy whatsoever, just a large bill. We even had one proposal that would barge the trailers up the Lynn Canal, bring them up over the Chilkoot - Pierre Berton could have great fun writing about this story of carrying these things over the mountains - and they would come in with all the equipment and all the personnel to feed and house the athletes. At the end of that, they would turn around and go out. I believe the bill for that was in the range of $24 million. Yukoners wouldn't be involved in it. They wouldn't be working in the kitchens nor doing anything else.
The one thing I find in talking about this that the general public is completely unaware of - with the Canada Winter Games and the Canada Games in general, and certainly within the bid, all athletes must be on a level playing field - no pun intended. They have to all be housed in the same facility. They have to all eat out of the same kitchen. They have to all, for each venue, be transported the same way and this sort of thing - not be scattered around town.
We've had proposals to buy one of the local hotels and utilize that and then sort of scatter the rest around. We've had proposals to look at the cadet camp for part of them and put some of them somewhere else. It can't be done. The bid package is specific: they must absolutely be housed in one location and fed from the same kitchen.
Now, the kitchen that would accommodate 1,800 at a time - 3,600, total - happens to be Yukon College. That is one of the driving forces for putting the facility up there. There weren't a lot of opportunities to look at other options for that. And there wasn't any time to look at that, because this $2.7-million hotel that was proposed in the original bid documents, which never appeared on the budget - unfortunately, by the time we got a hold of it, it was not possible to do much of anything else.
So in October 2004, in looking to the master plan, there was a request for proposal to design and fabricate 100,000 square feet of temporary accommodation space. The second part of that was to identify post-game end users of the facilities to try to get some sort of legacy out of this and some way that it could be financed, because that $2.7 million was, I believe, an estimate of what could be raised by fundraising. It didn't even exist. It wasn't a budget item. It didn't have to exist, really. It was a concept.
That request for proposals closed November 23 - to be specific - 2004, and into December, the evaluation was complete. Unfortunately, of the ones that were reviewed, none of them met the criteria. So we found ourselves back at square one. The host society again approached the government in late 2004, therefore, to propose that we might have some space needs that could be built and that could be utilized as the athletes village on a temporary basis. That is why the building is where it is. That is why it was built the way it was built.
Now the quality in legacy use options - we looked at a number of ways on that. We wanted to get local involvement; we wanted to have that legacy coming out of it. Two things became apparent. One - as the member opposite points out - yes, the college was in need of additional student residences. As he also points out, yes, we are in need of more affordable housing stock. That's also obvious.
So, weighting all of that very heavily on the local involvement, the design team developed a modular strategy to construct suites while utilizing local forces and the civil works for foundations, basements, central cores, roofs, mechanical, electrical, plumbing - all of the things that are involved in that. The expedient and cost-effective approach enabled the project to get underway with on-site work happening concurrently with the modular construction. In other words, we didn't have to clear, run services into it, build the foundation, do all those things and then start building the facility. It could not be done in that time frame. But this method allowed it to go concurrently. By the time the first units were set to be placed, all that infrastructure was in place. It was all done in the winter. Of course, one of the members opposite criticized it for being done in the winter. He didn't mention that it was done in a controlled environment construction plant and that over two-thirds of the project really occurs here in Whitehorse, all using local trades.
Yes, the modules were built in Alberta in the ATCO plant. However, most are unaware that skilled Yukon advisors and workers were working on the ATCO assembly line through the entire manufacturing process. Not all - but many.
As the local work project advanced - we started including obviously the engineers, the expertise for civil, mechanical, electrical design, consultants of applied local-site advisory supervisory personnel to assist in the project completion - all these things allowed us to bring that building together quickly.
Now, the modules that make up the athletes village are built to the highest standard of wooden-frame construction, and they bear no resemblance to the camp trailers that some have tried to liken them to. To be specific, the construction modules are constructed with kiln-dried 2-by-6 exterior walls, plywood sheathing and a continuous commercial quality exterior membrane air barrier with exterior rigid insulation, triple-glazed windows - I might add, supplied by Yukon's own Northerm Windows - 2-by-10 floor joists and plywood sheathing and a superior interior wall construction.
They came up the highway with all the interior finishes, including the doors, cabinets and flooring either in place or manufactured to institutional specifications that were to be put in place here. There were some differences. A right-hand sink might be available to put in here, the left-hand sink wouldn't be available until a few months later and were put in on-site. There was a wide variety of things on that.
Due to the technical requirements for shipping and hoisting, the modules are inherently far stiffer and more structurally solid than conventional stick-frame construction. They came up with drywall. They came up carpeted. They came up with so much of that already done.
What do we get out of that? The northern-most building - the student-family residence for the Yukon College - has 12 two-bedroom suites, and each one is 1,104 square feet. A lot of houses in Whitehorse don't have that square footage. There are also 12 three-bedroom suites, each of these being 1,380 square feet. In addition, there are approximately 14,500 square feet in the basement level.
In the southern building, the Yukon Housing Corporation building has 18 one-bedroom suites, each with 828 square feet, and 30 two-bedroom suites, each 1,104 square feet. The basement there has 21,600 square feet.
Now, that's a total of 72 suites in the two buildings, plus an additional 36,000 square feet in the basement levels. This can be used for a wide variety of things. One under discussion would be the northern research cluster that I mentioned earlier. There's a wide variety of things you can do with that. But during the games, both basements will be used as dormitory accommodation and will be developed for end use after the games. They have even built things in so they can fit bunk beds into the closets. Now, this isn't a walk-in closet, and you're not sticking the kid in the middle of it. By keeping the doors off initially and having it open, it's simply an outcropping of the main room, but it has to accommodate bunk beds. That gives some of these units closets that are huge. They're massive, Mr. Speaker. They are designed to be residential suites, but we can't compare them and we can't compare the construction costs for regular single family dwellings. For example, the basements are concrete construction with walls 10 feet high and 10 inches thick. The concrete foundations are designed to support the three stories of modular construction and to withstand local seismic loading conditions. In other words, as close as we can come, they're earthquake proof. They're some of the best built buildings in the north.
Both buildings are barrier-free design throughout. Both buildings are equipped with automated fire sprinklers throughout, including the basement levels. We don't normally sprinkler residential houses, Mr. Speaker, but these are fully sprinklered. Both buildings are designed to meet the CMHC green home design guidelines for energy efficiency. Both buildings have elevators. In fact, the Yukon Housing building has two elevators - in case one goes down, people don't get stranded. Both buildings will have paved parking lots with electrified parking plug-ins.
I hope that gives a bit of an overview of the buildings, but the one thing that everyone keeps forgetting is what happens at the end of the day? At the end of the games, we have not built an athletes village, we have built a legacy project that includes a marvellous facility for use by Yukon College, and it will generate rent for a building that is completely paid for. There is no mortgage on this building.
The Yukon Housing Corporation building, with its 18 one-bedroom suites, 30 two-bedroom suites, and whatever ends up with the basement, will also be a revenue-generating facility. It will generate rent in a building that has no mortgage. Whether it's one - the member opposite mentions four - or 15 social housing suites, they're available, they're accommodating, they're fully accessible, they're fully paid for, and they can be utilized on a rent-geared-to-income basis very easily. It is difficult to imagine that, under even the most stringent circumstances, this won't still be a revenue-generating facility and, for two weeks, we have an athletes village.
It still leaves us with a bit more money left in the affordable housing agreement. We still have the ability to use a great deal of the things for that. So we still have other projects we'll be looking at in great detail. Haines Junction is one, and there are other projects I'm sure the Yukon Housing Corporation Board is considering and will let us know, from time to time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The Member for Kluane mentions Haines Junction. We're going ahead, and I do thank him for taking me over and giving me a great tour of the village and scaring the heck out of a lot of voters over there. It was an enjoyable trip. It included lunch, and I thank him for that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I think he did. I should probably declare that on my declaration forms, I think.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, who said there's no free lunch? There's one every now and then.
We look at all the major election commitments we've made to Yukon in 2002. We made a commitment to build a sustainable and competitive Yukon economy. I'm hoping we're debating that later this afternoon. We've worked hard to keep that commitment. We've gone from double-digit unemployment during the Liberal reign of terror to the second-best in the country.
We've done all this, and we've done so many other things with the same world mineral prices. We've developed - and are developing - a vibrant economy within the Yukon. It is a lot more than a trading-post economy.
The future of Yukoners looks brighter than ever. We are experiencing some truly remarkable trends.
Our labour force is going up, and while our labour force is going up, the unemployment rate continues to go down. We've gone from the third worst in the country to the second best; with the same mineral prices and with the same worldwide things going on.
These statistics clearly show an economic turn around, and people are talking about the Yukon; wherever I go now, they are well aware of it.
We were looking at mining statistics and some of the surveys that were done that rank various jurisdictions across the world in terms of where it is good to do business. We have gone from the bottom of the page up to the top third, and we've done that in three and one-half years.
We are making national headlines with our surplus budget. We are one of the two jurisdictions in Canada that is not in a deficit position.
Our investment climate is improving, and we did all this without raising any fees. We didn't raise taxes. We've done none of that.
I look forward to the member opposite who on the one hand says that we are finally getting our fair share of federal revenues and federal transfers, and on the other hand says that that creates a false economy.
The businesses have to look at both sides of the ledger - what you make and what you spend.
That is something that the Member for Mount Lorne - and he has some marvellous ideas in there, and I agree with many of them - but what I don't see is an ability to pay for those projects.
People think of the political spectrum as a line from left to right, Mr Speaker. It is in fact a circle, and if you go far enough left you come up right, as one person did, and if you start out on the left and somehow fall across and end up in the middle - I'm not sure how that happened.
Anyway, Yukon is truly an exciting place to be, and I look forward to further debate.
We certainly will be supporting this motion. I am not at all convinced what it accomplishes, but I certainly will support it.
Mr. Mitchell: It was wonderful to hear the Member for Porter Creek North give us his budget speech so that we could hear that early. That was wonderful. We can save so much time when we get to the departments.
The Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement 2005-06 - and we look at the various projects that there were. This concept of affordable housing is interesting. So, last year, we know that they started - part of it was two projects. One was the Falcon Ridge units - 44 home ownership units and 20 rental units - and another, of course, was going to be a seniors facility - affordable housing - but that turned out not even to be affordable by the developer, so it didn't come to pass.
Now, I look at those homes and I think, “Well, okay, affordable housing - that's obviously something that all members on both sides of this House recognize as a need for in Yukon." But it's interesting to see the minister's definition of “affordable". I was looking on the Internet earlier today, and I looked at these affordable houses, and they're nice houses. I want to make something clear: we have no problems with the developer. He's building houses. There seems to be some nice features in the houses. The question is: are they affordable and by whom?
So, you know, they currently have several models available. They range in price right now from $179,900 up to the mid-$190,000s. So, I did a little bit of pocket-calculator math, and I took a look at it. And I thought, “Okay, let's say $175,000" - because that's what the price had been a little while ago - “and take off the five percent down payment." That's generally the smaller amount that people want to pay. You can pay less than that, but the less you put down, obviously, the more your payments are. But five percent is a reasonable down payment, and current interest rates - looking at one of the chartered bank's Web site - 6.45 percent, amortized over 25 years.
Well, on the amount that's being financed, that's $1,109 per month.
That's the monthly payment for affordable housing. The member opposite quotes all the time how great it is the housing market has gone up as if it is something he created - the price of housing in the Yukon going up. The average price of a house this past year in Whitehorse, I think, has risen to $278,000. As we on this side of the House have said, that is a double-edged sword because more and more people are being priced out of the housing market.
$1,109 is the payment. So, then again I took a look at the positive news that came out last week that after many years the Yukon's minimum wage was being raised to $8.25 an hour, despite some grumblings from people that this was too high. I thought, well, affordable housing should be affordable by those people who are making the least amount of money. So, again, $8.25 an hour, roughly 22 working days in a month, eight hours a day if you have a full-time job - and we actually know that many people who are working for minimum wage or close to minimum wage don't have full-time employment. But we will give the benefit of a doubt. $1,452 a month is what somebody earning the new, elevated minimum wage would make. So, $1452 a month is the gross pay for somebody on minimum wage. $1,109 is the price for the principal and interest on the mortgage of the least expensive of the affordable houses, monthly property taxes at roughly $150 a month, monthly strata title fees - we are estimating these because there is a first year fee that's low and then we are estimating $100 to $150 in the future. We'll go with $100. The monthly total for the affordable house is $1,359 in payments, which leaves a huge surplus - and I know this government likes to talk about surpluses - for the low-income earner of $93 a month. That's $93 to pay the hydro bill, or the fuel bill, or perhaps enough money for two bags of groceries, or perhaps a couple of tanks of gas to get to the store to buy the groceries.
So, without arguing over whether we're using the figure of 25 percent down or 30 percent down, because I listened to the debate earlier and CMHC uses one number and Yukon Housing Corporation uses another in terms of the - not 25-percent down, but rather, to correct myself, the portion of one's salary that you can put toward housing, be it 25 or 30 percent. This is 90-some-odd percent. It's not affordable. Perhaps on a minister's salary it is, perhaps on an MLA's salary it is, but it certainly isn't for anybody on minimum wage or even close to minimum wage.
Again, is the housing good quality housing? Probably, it is. There are some innovative features that have been put into it. I have gone through the housing. It's not affordable. I would also point out that these are two-bedroom homes, which means for a family you have one bedroom for the adults and one for the children. If you have more than a couple of children, not only is it not affordable, it's not practical.
So what was the Yukon Party government's other plan for affordable housing? Well, the minister himself raised it, so I'll just discuss it a little bit. That was the housing formally known as the athletes village. This housing has a lot of different names. It was the athletes village for quite some time. Then it became student housing. Then it became affordable housing.
So again, under this agreement, some $3.5 million would go toward the construction of 48 new affordable housing units as part of the athletes village. That's some $28 million more than the first figure that was floated, but the minister was quick to point out that that wasn't their budget figure, it was just somebody else's figure. I listened to the comments, and it seemed like what I was hearing - and I think it's very unfortunate - was criticism of the bid committee. I heard statements like: this was just a number floated by the bid committee; this was just a figure that was good enough to get us the games. It sounded very demeaning toward the bid committee and all of the volunteer work that has been done.
I was disappointed to hear this sort of shift-the-blame kind of discussion, but we know it has gone way over the amount that was originally projected. Again, moving away from the incredible cost per unit of the housing up there, we look at the location of the housing. It's a good location for student housing, so I don't have any problem with the concept that a portion of this housing should be used after the games for student housing. That's a good idea and it will obviously benefit a lot of rural Yukoners if they come in and want to attend Yukon College at the Whitehorse campus.
The other example is affordable housing. Again, I have to question the location, because people who need affordable housing are people who tend to be - as the concept would imply - be lower-income earners. They need to make every dollar and every penny count. What we've done is we've located them, if that's the use, at a location where you really can't walk anywhere except to Yukon College. You can go see an exhibit at the Arts Centre or attend classes, but if you need to get to the grocery store or need to buy other supplies, you've become tied to the need for a vehicle because the transit system just doesn't make frequent enough stops, and there are many hours of every day and on the weekends when it's not running for that to be fully practical for people carrying bags of groceries. I really have to question the location when it comes to being used for affordable housing.
It was interesting: there was an editorial about the games housing today in one of the local papers, bringing in this housing for some $31 million, $32 million or $33 million - the figure keeps changing, but the low figure is $31 million, so we'll use that - to accommodate 3,600 athletes, coaches and managers for two weeks.
So, $31 million for two weeks is going to cost us $8,600 per athlete, because they will each stay within the walls for a week. So, without room service, the article ran, that's $1,230 per night. So, it's pretty expensive housing that way. We've already heard that it's over $400 a square foot for housing. We know it's not affordable by any definition that we've used in the past for affordable housing.
Again, I just don't see how this has been affordable housing by any stretch of the imagination, and I don't see that it's a great location for the affordable housing either.
The cost of $31.4 million for these units, if you do the math, means they are costing some $432,111 each. I just don't understand what yardstick the minister is using when he says this is affordable housing. I want to make it clear to the minister, because I know that whenever we criticize how money is being spent, the members on the government side like to say, “Well, the members opposite just want to send it back. They want to send it all back." That's not the case; it's not what we want to do. We just want to see the money spent responsibly and to the purpose for which it is actually designated.
Some of the other things that could be done with affordable housing - again, we have a need for seniors housing. We did see some proposals come forward from some of the other organizations here in the community for using some of the money for seniors housing, but none of this seemed to qualify. The minister didn't seem to think, I guess, the need for seniors housing was actually all that important, that they could find a way for that to work, in terms of some of the proposals for converting existing buildings, existing hotels, into seniors housing.
So that didn't happen.
We didn't see anything come forward toward addressing the needs of young people or housing for youth at risk - that was for certain.
I'm not sure what else is on the horizon.
There has been talk of using some of this money for some form of seniors facility in Kluane, in Haines Junction. I know the minister went out to Kluane. I know he was accompanied by the MLA for Kluane, who gave him a very good tour and introduced him to the seniors and many other residents.
I've been out there several times over the last year - most recently a couple of weeks ago, as well as a couple of times last summer.
The need that was clearly addressed by seniors was that this money could go toward some form of housing facility that would allow seniors to stay in the community, rather than being forced to go to Whitehorse when they can no longer be completely self-supporting. Instead of seeing some form of in-care facility, some form of assisted-living facility, we are being told that Haines Junction is where we will build affordable housing.
I have to ask what definition of “affordable" will be used in Kluane. Will it be the definition that was used in Whitehorse where some 95 percent of a low-wage earner's - or in this case a pensioner's - income would go toward housing?
I fear to see what the solution will be for the seniors in Kluane and the north highway. Will they too be left with $93 at the end of the day to purchase their groceries or anything else they would like? They will have to make a monthly decision on whether they buy a birthday present for a grandchild or some groceries, or what they will do with the money left over from their affordable housing.
The multi-level health care facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson - perhaps there might have been affordable housing monies that could have gone toward these. Well, I know we're hearing that things have gone off the blocks in Watson Lake. The concept was to attach a new facility to the existing health care facility. They line up so well that apparently they may have to tear down the old and just go with the new because the two are not very compatible.
Dawson - this is a $1 line item because the government can't seem to figure out what they want to do in Dawson. That would be truly affordable housing if we could do it for a dollar, but we know that that's not going to happen.
So, again, I would just like to see a little more realism on the part of the government when it comes to affordable housing, because what I've seen so far is not very realistic. It's about as realistic as tabling a budget and then, an hour later, indicating that there's going to be an election for Dawson. We know that there has to be monies to pay for debt relief when that happens. So, perhaps the budget for affordable housing is just as realistic as the budget that we are debating at the moment, when it comes to what has been included in it.
Now, there are some other things that could have been done with some of the affordable housing monies. I know that in Whitehorse - in Granger - there is a unique format to deal with some of the issues of affordable housing, and that's the Whitehorse Housing Co-operative. For years, the Whitehorse Housing Co-operative looked after its own housing as a co-operative. It's a unique model. What happened is that, a number of years ago, there were some economic problems having to do with former directors. The housing co-operative is now finding itself in the situation where the Yukon Housing Corporation has taken over the responsibility for that co-operative, and there has been some discussion of the possibility that the Yukon Housing Corporation would liquidate the assets to get the co-operative back on its feet.
I know that the tenants who live in that co-operative find that to be a very, very draconian solution. They would like to move forward with the creative living arrangement that they have, which is affordable housing. So I know my time is almost up and there are others who want to speak. I just want to say that, again, I'm very disappointed in the options that have been given to us for affordable housing. I don't think that they're very affordable, and I don't think that they're very practical. I would like to see this minister come forward with some real and new forms of affordable housing that will actually address the need, because the need is there. We know that more and more people have been priced out of the housing market. We know that more and more people are finding that they can't rent suitable housing. We know it is particularly difficult for families. If families have family pets, they're almost always unable to rent housing, because most landlords will take advantage of the tight rental market to turn away people who have family pets. I would encourage this minister to go back to the drawing board and come back with proposals that leave people more than $90 or $100 a month to pay their bills after the affordable housing.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, I would like everyone to help me make welcome Randall Tetlichi. He's from the community of Old Crow. Please help me make him feel welcome.
Mr. McRobb: I have a few comments to add to this motion.
First of all, I was a little surprised that the official opposition would call this motion first and its backup motion second, given the profile it has given the subject of the second motion in recent times.
Obviously it knew the second motion wouldn't get called today, and it wanted to not have that debate at this time. That's unfortunate, because some of us are ready to discuss it.
On the matter of affordable housing, I would like to make some reference to - I'm glad members find my comments delightful, and I'll look forward to their response.
I'd just like to review the matter of affordable housing in a few communities I'm familiar with, and of course the communities I am most familiar with are located in my riding. I have very recently received comments from constituents about the need for affordable housing in three different communities. I'd just like to review those comments and put them on record at this time.
First of all, in Beaver Creek, at the northern part of the riding - actually it's the most westerly community in the Yukon and North America. A lot of people don't realize that Beaver Creek is situated more westerly than Los Angeles. In Beaver Creek, I recently heard concerns about a shortage of affordable housing. There are people who want to work for the highway camp this summer, but they don't have any place to live. This matter is a bit urgent, Mr. Speaker, because these people worked there last summer and had to live in a tent all summer long. So obviously if we have people in the territory - especially those working for the government itself - having to live in a tent, then that should be a strong indicator of a need. Obviously there's a need for affordable housing in Beaver Creek.
Moving down the highway, in Destruction Bay I have also heard a similar concern in recent months from people who need a place to live and people who are looking for availability of lots on which to construct a house. This goes back a few years. It's not a brand new issue. It's one the Premier has heard at every budget meeting he has held in this community. I know that because I've been present for every budget meeting he has held in Destruction Bay. I recall that this matter took a high priority with people from the community at the last budget meeting.
I look over the budget with an eye to an action on behalf of this government to resolving this request and this concern, and I've found nothing. It begs the question: why has the government not responded to the priorities of this community with respect to affordable housing and availability of lots? Why does the Yukon Party continue to ignore the concerns of this community?
Another community in my riding with similar concerns is Haines Junction. A moment ago we heard an account from the leader of the third party about his awareness of the issue. I listened intently and will back him up on what he put on the record as truthful. I can add to it and say that this issue has also been around for the past three and a half years.
I've said countless times in this House that the top priority of my riding was a need for a seniors care facility to be located in Haines Junction. All candidates from all parties recognized that in the past election. I raised it countless times in this House. I raised it with the Premier - the Premier-elect, that was - about three days following the past election, before he was sworn into office, to notify him personally about the top priority. Let's look back at what has been done about it. What is in this government's budget to resolve this top priority? The answer is, nothing.
Yesterday in the budget briefing for the Department of Health and Social Services, I asked the deputy minister and his staff: what is in your department's budget to resolve this request from the region? The answer was, nothing. Well, why has this government not responded to this top priority? It said it would. I am referring to recent statements made by the Premier and others in this government with respect to the seniors facility issue in Haines Junction. Well, again we have another hollow promise, another broken promise from this Yukon Party government, because there is nothing in this budget from the Health and Social Services department with respect to this facility. There is a lot in the Health and Social Services department's budget with respect to facilities in the Premier's riding and the riding of the former Deputy Premier, millions of dollars for facilities in their ridings, but nothing for a facility in the riding of a lowly opposition member.
That raises the issue of fairness. It raises the issue of the appropriateness of how this government spends the public's money. And let's be clear about whose money it is, because this government seems to like to play poker with the money, and it feels like it owns the money - like the money belongs to the Yukon Party government. But that's not the case.
On November 4, 2002, the voters, in what might be looked back upon by future political historians as a moment of weakness, voted in a majority Yukon Party government. And ever since that time, that government has felt as if the budgets belong to it, and it can spend the money as it sees fit.
I know the Education minister is nodding in agreement with me because we know what happened to his promise for the Burwash school. I don't blame him for speaking out, because it's a real pressure cooker being in the Yukon Party Cabinet. We know that.
It's a real conundrum for the Yukon Party Cabinet ministers to try to balance what they see as acting in the public interest with the Premier's own agenda on how he wants to see the money spent. From time to time, we see signs about how the ministers really feel a need to speak out, to let people know what's really going on behind the scenes. I think the soon-to-be free agent Education minister is a recent example of a bit of steam blowing off out of the pressure cooker. Who knows? There might be more steam yet before this government is done.
So, back to the need for affordable housing in Haines Junction. This raises a real question about spending in the public interest when this government has ignored, for four consecutive budgets - four record-spending budgets - the top priority needs of this riding. That raises an ethical issue about governments not responding to the public's need in a fair and balanced way. That, Mr. Speaker, is something that is difficult to draw rules around, to distinguish parameters of governance around, but I think it's something that needs to be considered by the voters and future governments and specifically that is how to best operate in the public interest and to be fair to all residents in the territory, regardless of how they vote.
Now, the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation seems to be dangling a carrot in front of some of us about some possibility there might be some sort of affordable housing for Haines Junction. But we're not getting too much information on what that carrot looks like or how big it is or whereabouts in the garden it's going to be planted. So I'm hoping the minister will be a little freer with the information in the days ahead. Perhaps he's just waiting for the press release to be drafted up. Maybe there's some announcement or maybe a cake to be baked or some ribbons to be bought. I don't know what he's waiting for, but if it's a good announcement, then the wait will be worth it, and perhaps some people will be happy. But if it's just simply an affordable housing block, that doesn't respond to the top priority need of the riding.
Once again, the top priority need was a level 1 and 2 care facility to allow people to remain in their communities longer while receiving care from health professionals.
Mr. Speaker, in the context of this motion, a key word is “affordable". In meetings I've attended over the past three and a half years, with respect to this priority, there has been some discussion about “affordability" and what that means; and if the government simply expects people to pay the going rate, which has been discussed with prior speakers in this debate, then that's really not adequate. It doesn't leave people with enough money to function as parents, as grandparents, and make all the ends meet, because the cost of living in these facilities is rather expensive.
The whole issue of affordability is very much key to the future success of that facility. Now, irrespective of any such facility and any confirmation from the minister, other questions exist. What about care services in the region? What does the government intend to do? Will it merely expand home care? Will it be hiring more nurses? Will it consider bringing a doctor to the community? We do have some visiting doctors already, Mr. Speaker, and a lot of people prefer the approach of visiting doctors versus a resident doctor.
But that's something for the community to work out. I do want to put on record to advise any future government not to make a decision with respect to doctors for the region unilaterally, but to first consult the communities on their preference. I just want to make a note on the record about that.
There's a lot more this government could be doing with respect to affordable housing, Mr. Speaker, but it has chosen to do other things.
It has chosen to spend millions of dollars on a railway study because the Alaskan governor wanted us to. We know the intent of the railroad is primarily for military purposes, and it is important to the Alaskan governor. Because our Premier is such a strong follower of the Alaskan governor, it didn't take too much arm-twisting to get him to follow along and cough up $3.5 million to put toward the railway study that may or may not ever produce anything.
What has this government really done to address the issues of affordable housing? Not much; and we have to ask why. Why hasn't this Yukon Party government taken the opportunity to prove to Yukoners that it really stands for something, that it stands for affordable housing? We all know how fickle the voters are, Mr. Speaker, and the voters in the Yukon have adopted a pattern of throwing out governments as a tradition. The past four governments have been thrown out.
Currently, the theme is the “drive-for-five", so one would have thought this Yukon Party government would have known the gig will be up soon, and it should have done something more to address the concerns about affordable housing.
I think the reason why it hasn't is because the true agenda of the Yukon Party is totally against affordable housing.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I have listened at great length to the Member for Kluane speculating on things. The last comment I believe is clearly across the line. It is not only putting words that were not said into people's mouths, but imputing unavowed motives, which is contrary to Standing Order 19(g), in stating and implying that the government's agenda is contrary to a desire to stimulate affordable housing.
Speaker: From the Chair's perspective, there is no point of order. It is simply a dispute between two members.
You have the floor, Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
It's my interpretation that this government is not a strong supporter of affordable housing. There was even a concept floated early in its mandate that it would sell off the affordable housing stock in the territory. In other words, the Yukon Party wanted to privatize the stock of houses that are currently used for affordable housing. That is something the opposition parties pursued and tried to keep the government from doing.
The Yukon Party was embarrassed to stay away from the true agenda of selling off the affordable housing stock. But it has done very little since then to prove that it really stands for affordable housing. So, I think the record stands for itself and we know the Yukon Party has a long record.
Before my time expires, I would like to introduce something that is known as a friendly amendment to the motion.
I'll hand copies of this out now and read it on the record.
Mr. McRobb: I move
THAT Motion No. 568 be amended by inserting the following after the word “Corporation": “to work with our pan-northern neighbours to lobby the federal government for funding to improve affordable housing programs and".
Speaker: The Chair judges the amendment to be in order. It has been moved by the Member for Kluane
THAT Motion No. 568 be amended by inserting the following after the word “Corporation": “to work with our pan-northern neighbours to lobby the federal government for funding to improve affordable housing programs and".
Mr. McRobb: Well, I don't have a lot of time. I would say this is an excellent amendment. I think all members should support this friendly amendment. It only alters the original motion in a constructive way. Hopefully, all members will be benevolent and accepting enough to -
Speaker: Order please. The member has run out of time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I must say that, given the spirit and intent of the official opposition's motion, as brought forward by the Member for Mount Lorne, it was quite specific in the definition of “affordable housing". The Member for Kluane, in trying to insert his new party into the debate in a constructive manner, has brought forward an amendment that dramatically moves from the specific issue of the Member for Mount Lorne's motion to what is already an initiative ongoing with the federal government across the north when it comes to affordable housing programs. I'm sure the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation can get into great detail on the number of areas and investments that speak to this very issue.
Frankly, there are two very constructive components of the overall motion, including the amendment as tabled by the Member for Kluane. I might say that once the leader of the third party and the Member for Kluane finally got down to being constructive, the amendment clearly demonstrates that. They spent a considerable amount of their time on the floor of this Legislature demonstrating, once again, a propensity to just ignore the facts and so on.
The government side has no problem supporting the motion as amended, though we would like to hear from the official opposition, because I do believe that there was a specific intent from the official opposition and the Member for Mount Lorne to address a definition of “affordable housing".
The government has keen interests in that, and what exactly the official opposition was attempting to do here and what does this amendment mean to that specific? So, although the amendment is constructed, we are already doing that on a pan-northern front. That is part of the northern strategy and it's already included in many programs through Yukon Housing Corporation. It does not, however, address the issue that the Member for Mount Lorne brought forward, and that is adopting a definition of affordable housing.
Now, if I may speculate for a moment, Mr. Speaker, I think what the official opposition is doing here is trying to set parameters in place whereby people are not falling through gaps because of an unclear definition of affordable housing - so on and so forth - and to create goalposts of affordable housing to try to encompass as many as possible who may be in need. That's understood. The amendment, though, would diminish that because it would take us back to what we are already doing in the territory with the federal government in a pan-northern arrangement.
Having said that, I also would encourage the House to support the motion the NDP brought forward so we can engage in debate with the leader of the third party and his economic plan envisioned for the Yukon, and considering the mathematical equating done here in debate on affordable housing, I can assure you it will be a very interesting discussion with the leader of the third party and this proposed economic plan or vision for the Yukon, because arithmetic appears to be missing from that plan or vision.
If the official opposition would do so, I think we'd like to hear from them, because the government side is already unequivocally supporting the official opposition's motion.
What we need to do is hear from the official opposition, if they have any issue with how the specific intent of their motion has been changed by the former member of the official opposition - still the Member for Kluane - now a member of the third party.
Mr. Cardiff: The Premier is quite right. The motion was targeted at something very specific. It was about how you define affordable housing. Does the amendment change the intent of the motion, in my mind? Does it change what it was that the official opposition was trying to put forward? In our minds it does, but at the same time, is it constructive?
Is it a good idea to lobby the federal government for more money for affordable housing? It probably is. It is unfortunate that the Member for Kluane didn't see fit to bring this forward as a motion. It would probably be better than the other motions that they brought forward today - to talk about something constructive that would be good for all Yukoners.
In the interest of moving forward, I would consider the amendment to be friendly, even though it does change the intent of the motion, which was to set parameters around how affordable housing is defined and how we provide that for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I think that it's very important.
This is an issue that does go across the country. I mentioned some of that in my remarks, and it has been pointed out by several institutions that housing is one of the most important things, one of the most pressing public policy issues in the country. That was in a report that was written by the Toronto Dominion Bank, Mr. Speaker.
So will we vote for the amendment? In the interest of moving this forward before we run out of time today and instead of spending time going around and around on something that has already been talked about, I believe that we would be willing to support the amendment.
Mr. Mitchell: On the amendment, well, I am glad to see that the members of the official opposition see that the amendment actually adds to the discussion. Mr. Speaker, you had already ruled that it was in order, and I know the Hon. Premier also indicated that it broadens the motion. I don't think there is anything wrong with doing that. In fact, by talking about working with our pan-northern neighbours, this has been an approach that the Premier has cited in the past as an accomplishment, and he has cited this as a difference between his time in office and his predecessors'.
I will also note that, many times in the past during a discussion of motions in this House, there have been motions and amendments to make reference to the federal government of the day. It just happens that now it is a Conservative government. I know the Hon. Premier has said frequently in the past that it doesn't concern him as to who is in office, that he would work with whoever is in office in Ottawa. Yet recently he has spoken quite differently and made statement after statement that makes reference to how refreshing it is to him to have people he can work with. Considering there's a minority government in Ottawa, that might not be the best possible approach.
I'd also just like to note that the Health and Social Services minister has recently been quoted publicly, saying he now endorses the federal Conservative Party. He had previously been a supporter of the Reform Party, since 1995. He said he was pleased with the results and said that he -
Speaker: The Chair is having trouble connecting the federal political scene with the discussion on this amendment to the motion. I would ask the honourable member to please concentrate on that. Thank you.
Mr. Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The amendment to the motion said “working with our pan-northern neighbours to lobby the federal Conservative government", and I was just getting to the point I was going to make. The Health and Social Services minister has recently claimed he had a long list of friends in the federal Conservative Party that he hoped to use to Yukon's benefit. I think this amendment to the motion will allow the member opposite to make use of those connections to perhaps achieve some good results.
I do think that there is merit to working together with our fellow territories. If we can work together constructively, hopefully it means other than just walking out of meetings, but rather to lobby together and point out that affordable housing is a particularly difficult situation in all of the territories and in many communities. Then perhaps we can get some additional funding and perhaps that will allow us to move forward and get better results than what we've seen so far in the realm of affordable housing.
So, I think that the Member for Kluane's amendment adds to the official opposition's motion. It gives yet another avenue, and I'm fully supportive of the motion, as amended. I think we are better for the amendment.
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the proposed amendment to the motion today. It has been a very interesting debate already, and we've certainly discussed an awful lot about affordable housing in the territory and the situation. We've heard a lot about people's interpretations. We've seen some very liberal interpretations of numbers and mathematics, perhaps broader than they need to be. They are certainly not as specific or as accurate as they need to be.
I did listen with interest to the Liberal Member for Kluane's speech today. When he did get to the end of his comment - his phrase these days seems to be “in the dying moments" - and put forward this new amendment, I just found it kind of curious that the new Liberal member's solution to this problem was to go to Ottawa to get more money.
I believe from the conversations we've been having in the last couple of days, especially around the budget, that is certainly something that the Liberals would not want to do and would certainly oppose.
It seemed that those folks would not want to work in a government where you'd go hat in hand to the federal government to get more money, yet here we see the first action that the Liberals make on this motion is to go back to Ottawa and ask for more money. That's fairly interesting, Mr. Speaker, and I would like some clarity from the Liberal member, maybe in his closing comments, that if indeed the Yukon Party government does go to work with our pan-northern neighbours, which we have a significant history of doing - as demonstrated by the meetings with the Health and Social Services minister, meetings on the northern accord, meetings on northern economic development policy, as well as our relationships with the Alaskans, with the Albertans, with the folks from B.C., and the Economic Development minister's relationship with PNWER and being the new president of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. We certainly have a history of working with our pan-northern partners to work collectively to address the bigger issues that are facing us. It certainly wasn't that way a couple of years ago.
Mr. Speaker, we only have to look at the newspaper headlines from a couple of years ago to see what the relationships with our neighbours were like.
Now, I would like some assurances, though, from the Liberal Party, which has put forward this motion that, if indeed we do go to work with our neighbours and work to achieve additional funding - which is probably likely - that when we do invest it in the territory - and I do need some assurances from them on this - that we won't be accused of spending other people's money, because that does seem to be a theme from the Liberal Party and, indeed, is the matter of the motion that we'll be debating later today.
Well, Mr. Speaker, you've seen the motion and we've all heard it. The Liberals seem to be opposed to spending other people's money, which I understand from earlier presentations seems to be money from Ottawa. Yet, here we see in this amendment that the Liberal solution is to go back to Ottawa and get other people's money. We will get into that in much more debate once we get into this new motion. You know, we are only after what is rightfully owed to the territory - no more, no less - but I do find it very peculiar that, after all of the contributions that member had made, it was in the last moments of his speech where this was suggested.
Now, in general the motion was a good solid one to begin with. I believe that the member from the NDP, the Member for Mount Lorne, had a clear objective and a clear concise motion. It wasn't something that needed to be added on to or confused or convoluted into something else. He made a very good case for it and, as the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation stated earlier, we would be in support of this. This was a good solid motion that had some merit.
I recognize the other member's right to bring forward an amendment to it, when it adds to it, and there is some merit to going to Ottawa to argue for our fair share. Certainly this government has done that in the past and will continue to do that. I would have liked to have kept it clear and concise and kept it with the original motion but, if the Member for Mount Lorne is willing to accept the amendment, then I can agree with that. I think we can all agree with the motion as it was originally presented - and believe that there is some value to the amendment. It's a shame that it had to come about in this manner.
So, Mr. Speaker, if we can just get assurances from the Liberal Party that, when we do go to Ottawa and get our fair share of money for affordable housing and do invest it in the territory, that they won't then stand up in this Assembly or in the media and complain that we have gone and spent other people's money. So, if I can get that kind of assurance, then I think that we can probably go ahead and approve the amendment.
Speaker: Order please. It was the leader of the official opposition's turn next.
Mr. Hardy: On the amendment - as a lot of people in this House have said, there is a feeling among us that this amendment does alter the intent of what he was attempting to do - a direct attempt, I guess. This just adds another layer to it in a totally different direction.
I look at this and think, okay, I recognize my former colleague's attempt here. It's not uncommon. It's often what he did when he was with us, and we used to wonder sometimes what was actually going on there. However, pan-northern neighbours to lobby the federal Conservative government - absolutely, I don't think anybody can disagree with that. I think there is great strength in unity. I believe that there are many things that Nunavut, N.W.T. and the Yukon can accomplish in regard to relations and lobbying of the federal government.
But I have to look at this - for funding to improve affordable housing programs - and I have to question what that means. Does that mean more programs to fix up houses? Does that mean more programs to build houses that are not necessarily identified by whom they are going to reach, but just built and put out on the open market and whoever can get them is fine? Does that mean working in joint efforts with developers? Does that mean retrofit programs?
Does that mean energy programs that were in housing? Does that mean infrastructure? Or does it mean social housing? Does it mean building houses - affordable houses? One thing in this Legislature today is the lack of talk of many people about homes being built for people - lots of programs. There's no question about it. But the government wants to do it with a hands-off approach. They want to see a private sector delivery of most of this. And we're talking about the federal government. It was the Liberal government that killed these programs that deliver housing for people in need. It did not matter what that need was. Paul Martin cancelled - I'm talking about lobbying the federal government. If the government has no intention of ensuring money for housing for people in need - real housing - then we can lobby until the cows come home and it isn't going to make any difference. They'll keep identifying money for little programs - programs here, programs there. Yes, many of them are good programs. I would have to say that many of them are good programs because they were brought in by the NDP, and they've been supported by the Yukon Party government, and I think that's a good thing. They have even got some of their own initiatives. That's a good thing.
But we are still missing the core program. Liberal promises - and I'm talking about the federal government. How do you lobby a government when they have no intention of working in this area?
In 1991, Paul Martin headed a Liberal opposition task force on housing. He said the federal government must take a lead role and that all Canadians have a right to decent housing in decent surroundings at affordable prices. After he became Finance minister, he chose not to implement the recommendations of his own task force.
In 1993, the Liberal government stopped funding for new social housing - cancelled it, killed it. Paul Martin - absolutely.
Canada is now the only country in the OECD without an ongoing national housing program. There is no indication coming from the federal government that we could implement something like that with their support, even matching funds.
Maybe the new Conservative government will bring a fresh view on this. Maybe they will look at the catastrophe of this country when it comes to housing for people in need, Mr. Speaker, because it is a catastrophe now, and it is all because of those cuts 13 years ago by the Liberal government - all of them. They said one thing before they were elected and another thing once they were in place.
It is absolutely upsetting that we witness the situation that this country is in now. We can look at it across the board at those in need of social housing, affordable housing, and we used to at one time believe it would be part of every government budget. The federal government used to play a huge role in that.
That is something we believed we could do, and it was the Liberal government that changed that. They changed it and took it away. Now we have more people on the streets. We have more families living in poverty. We have more families that are living in substandard housing. We know in the north about the mould situation, the health issues, the education issues, the multitude of issues surrounding the fact that there isn't decent housing. You could take that situation, and you can multiply that when we're talking about the First Nation issues around housing and the broken promises there. And it was the federal government - they tried to shift the responsibility on to the provinces and territories without giving them the money to continue the programs that were originally set up and had been running for many, many years to deliver affordable and social housing. The territories - well, the territories and the provinces - initially tried to keep going on those programs and deliver that for their people. But the federal government kept pulling money back, kept cutting programs, kept downloading, and then the provinces and territories tried to pass some of that on to municipalities because they couldn't do it. It just fell right down through all the governments until nothing was being delivered and there was no money - very simple. And yet there are budgets - huge, massive, billion-dollar budgets. Of course, they were all erroneously reported by the Liberal government initially, like a $1.9-million surplus, and then you find it's a $1.9-billion surplus, and then a few weeks later you find it's actually $9-billion or $11-billion or $13-billion surplus, and they could not put another penny back into these programs to address a basic human need: clean, healthy shelter.
So, yes, I have a problem with a Liberal stands up and puts a motion like this forward, because I don't believe it. I have a big problem.
Lobby the federal Conservative government for funding to improve affordable housing programs? How about affordable housing? Why didn't it just end there? Why programs? Why don't we make it exactly what it is? We have a lot of programs right now. We need houses. I heard that from the Yukon Party. They're right - we need houses. We need clean, decent houses for people. They can't afford it now. There are a lot of families living in poverty in the Yukon, living in unhealthy conditions, and that affects their ability to learn and grow. I know exactly where to point my finger on that one.
So, I find this amendment - I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. But do you know what? We should lobby. If that's all it's about, if that's its biggest intent, to go out and lobby some more, well, that's as much as we're ever going to get out of that group. Fine. But I'd like to see a little bit more concrete action. I like the initial part. I like my colleague's initial motion, because it was very clear. But this one is now getting wishy-washy.
Frankly, I don't believe the intent is there, personally. I think it's just grandstanding.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It's a pleasure to be able to stand up here and agree in this regard with the official opposition. The leader of the official opposition made some excellent points in his comments. We agree with and support the motion, as brought forward by the Member for Mount Lorne, and are disappointed that the amendment to the motion brought forward by the newest member of the Liberal caucus, the Member for Kluane, is blurring the motion. As stated by the Premier, what was urged in the amendment to the motion made by the Member for Kluane is something that the government is doing anyway.
If there would have been a way to incorporate it in the motion as a second clause, so as to not blur the original intent and create confusion, but it is disappointing to see it brought forward in that manner and in a poor structure.
Further to comments made by the leader of the official opposition, we recognize where the cuts for affordable housing came from and the fact that there's a need not for programs, but for houses.
Our government has stated very clearly on numerous occasions, and will continue to state and to demonstrate, our commitment to defending Yukoners and standing up for Yukoners in Ottawa, for ensuring that our needs are considered fairly, no matter who is in power, whether that be the current government or the previous government. We have and we will continue to stand up for Yukoners on the national scene.
We did consider amending the amendment to the motion, in a desire to create clearer wording and to not blur the original intent, but recognizing the shortness of time, we have decided not to do so. We would simply urge that another time there be some more consideration given to the original intent of the motion and a way not to blur that intent, if they do indeed support it and are not simply intending to divert it in a different direction.
I also have to note the humorous contradiction between the amendment brought forward by the Member for Kluane in urging the government to go after federal funding, contrasted with the motion brought forward by his leader later on today for debate, urging the government to develop a plan that goes beyond spending other people's money. I have to wonder if the reason the Member for Kluane brought forward this amendment had less to do with a desire to lobby the federal government for affordable housing program funding and perhaps more to do with a desire to see his leader avoid embarrassing himself this afternoon by demonstrating that he cannot back up his motion with anything, and the fact that the government can more than demonstrate that the assertions made by the leader of the third party are inaccurate and, in fact, the Yukon is strong, vibrant, and is growing across the spectrum of the economy and is far from a one-trick pony or economy that is entirely dependent on federal funding.
The Yukon today has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. A record low unemployment was reached and things are indeed brighter today than they were three years ago.
We will vote in favour of this amendment, but with some reluctance. We think that it's unfortunate that the Member for Kluane chose to do this in this fashion, rather than simply bringing forward a motion on his own and calling it - which, based on the comments from members of this House, I am sure he would have gotten support for that motion.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the amendment? The Member for Kluane has spoken.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: On a point of order, the Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, I would ask you to recheck the rules because, clearly, the members on the government side did invite me to wrap up debate and there are a few issues I would like to respond to.
Speaker: There is no point of order, obviously.
Are you prepared for the question on the amendment? Minister of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: And responsible for the Housing Corporation. I recognize the conundrum that you have there, Mr. Speaker, in terms of who's who in here. We are thinking of putting wheels on some of the desks and chairs and perhaps that will help. But anyway, the trading deadline is past so let's hope that it's somewhat stable in the future.
I rise to speak on the amendment - and again I am concerned that it has diluted, it has changed. My problem is I'm not really sure what it has changed because the motion, as originally stated, asks for a definition of something that the federal government has given us the definition of. Now, I know that the chair of the Yukon Housing Corporation's Board of Directors follows these debates with rapt attention. I am more than happy to follow the direction of this Legislature and request that they come up with a definition of “affordable" - although most dictionaries give a very good definition of that.
There are other things we should be looking at and, again, I do agree with many of the things that the New Democratic Party has come up with, and many of the things that they have suggested and that have come on the floor. I am pleased that the leader of the official opposition says that he's going to stay with us until the cows come home. I'm sure that's a large part of our “déjà-moo" over the coming weeks. I had to say that.
Again, I am, I guess, supporting the motion. It makes no sense at all to lobby. It requests, basically, that I do exactly what I've been doing for the last year and a half. I thank the member opposite. I will certainly continue to do exactly that. There is a great diversity of programs. There is a great diversity of situations and problems with those programs. Again, of the 13 jurisdictions, you can probably talk to the 13 ministers and come up with 14 variations of why it doesn't work in that area, to a point where some of the jurisdictions have actually not accessed any of the money. They have been put into a position - with matching funds, for instance. Some of the programs require the province or territory to match the funds, and the reality is they can't. They simply don't have the money. Through the good work of the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors, we managed to take the matching component of this. They considered the construction of Copper Ridge Place as our matching component, which got us the $5.5 million that we can utilize - and again, the good work of this board. But some of the jurisdictions simply could not come up with the money to match the program. They could not come up with a structure. They weren't as creative. There's a wide variety of reasons, and they simply did not access the funds.
So that being said, I do have to agree with my colleagues that we were looking forward very much to debating later in the afternoon the motion by the leader of the Liberal Party on basically spending other people's money. But now that his newest member is suggesting that we go after more of other people's money to spend, I certainly hope this doesn't indicate a rift within another political party. I think the member opposite has had enough experience with that.
Fighting already, and we're only on day four or five - something like that. Hopefully the new leader with reel him in and get him all indoctrinated, and we can get on with this.
Certainly, if the direction of this House is to do exactly what I've been doing for a year and a half - sure, why not?
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the amendment?
Amendment to Motion No. 568 agreed to
Speaker: Is there any debate on the motion as amended?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, we would just indicate our support for this motion and express disappointment with the amendment brought forward. We will vote in favour of this motion as amended but again would express the desire and commitment to ensure that both parts are dealt with separately and work with members in that regard.
With that, we look forward to voting in favour of the motion as amended.
Mrs. Peter: I would just like to put some of my concerns on record today. This motion that was brought forward by my colleague from Mount Lorne clearly speaks to an issue that concerns all Yukoners. I come from a small rural community in northern Yukon. Housing is definitely an issue in my community, and not only in my community, but it's an issue for all communities throughout the Yukon. When we look at the information in some of the reports from across Canada, it suggests that housing is one of Canada's most pressing public policy issues out there.
One in five Canadian households is still unable to afford acceptable shelter. Mr. Speaker, when we look at that information, it really brings to light what we have to deal with in the Yukon.
My colleague brought a lot of historical information before the House earlier that the people who are most impacted from our population are the young people of our country, Mr. Speaker, and also the people who live in poverty and those who work for minimum wage.
If one in five Canadians can't afford shelter, then can you only imagine how this issue impacts the north? When we think about northern Canadians - from the eastern Arctic to villages throughout the Northwest Territories and all our communities in the Yukon - I'll say it again that the housing situation is in crisis. You hear this from all the organizations and from our First Nation leaders.
In the small rural communities, if a person wanted to build a home - if a young married couple wanted to build a home in Old Crow - the cost of one home, one unit, would be at least $220,000.
The highest cost in building that home is flying the material from Whitehorse into Old Crow. For that amount of money, you buy a $120,000 home in Whitehorse or in any of the urban centres across Canada. I believe you could get at least a two- or three-bedroom home with a garage and all the necessities that come with it. Yet, in a small community in the north, for a $120,000 unit, sometimes all you get is just the very, very basics.
So there's a huge difference; there's a huge difference in cost. Who can afford a $220,000 unit in a small, rural community, for a person working only seasonally or a couple only earning minimum wage? That's the challenge that young people and young families in our communities face today. What are we going to do to help solve that problem as a government and deal with the federal government?
This amendment that was brought before the House - we can look at different ideas, but what is the solution? Like the leader of the official opposition said, we had a Liberal government in Ottawa for years, and now we have a new federal government in place. Hopefully, they have the political willingness to do something about this crisis that is happening across our country - to be able to give some hope, especially to the people in the north.
Not only does it affect the young people in our country, Mr. Speaker. Young adults, young men and women in our communities have to stay and share accommodations with their family, with their grandparents, and they make do. If you're able to live in a home by yourself and you're maybe 22, 25 years old, that's a luxury out there for people in our communities, whereas across Canada it's taken for granted. Then we say on the floor of our legislatures how important young people are to our country, and we can't even have basic accommodations for young people in our communities so that they can look forward to raising a family, that they can maybe look forward to a brighter future. But at the cost for a unit right now, such as $220,000, what kind of dreams do they have of ever owning a home, let alone thinking that affordable housing might be available to them in these remote places at that cost? Mr. Speaker, rent for a one-bedroom rental unit in Yellowknife or Inuvik is, I believe, $1,500.
For a one-bedroom rental unit in Whitehorse, I believe it's at least $850. The prices vary from community to community, as I say, if you're lucky enough to have a unit to live in.
Those are the kinds of issues we face in the north, and that's only a small tip of the iceberg. I'm only talking about young people. What about the elders? In my community, we have a long-term vision on how we would like to see the community in 10 years. A lot of our elders right now are sharing their accommodations. How can we help to solve that problem so they can have the quality of life they deserve? They have worked so hard to get us to where we are today.
Those are the kinds of questions that are important at the leadership table, that are important for the leadership in our communities, at the First Nation level. They need partners who have the political will to sit at the table with them and say, yes, these are issues that are important, and do whatever you need to do, either pan-northern or whatever it takes, so people can have the very basics in life.
The list goes on and on. There are low-income families; there are women and children who flee from domestic violence situations, who don't even have a place to go in our communities.
It continues through that cycle, around and around, because they have nowhere to go. They have their small children to worry about, so they end up back in that same situation again because they don't want to leave their small community and end up in Whitehorse and have to make huge adjustments in their lives and displace their children. Those are the kinds of issues that are of concern to our communities.
I am very grateful that my colleague brought this motion before the House and I am absolutely going to support it. If we are not clear about what it is that we need, then it just confuses the whole issue. The federal government in Ottawa cannot tell us in the Yukon Territory, or someone from my community, what the definition of something is, because we live our lives the best way we know how. If it is sharing accommodations and making the best of that, that's what we do. But, in the year 2006, I can't believe we are still dealing with these kinds of issues.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I will end my comments and I will support this motion.
Speaker: Member for Pelly-Nisutlin.
Mr. Hassard: You sound surprised, Mr. Speaker. I've been here all along, listening to the interesting debate. I'll be brief in adding my support to this motion. There's no doubt that the issue of affordable housing is an important one to all Yukoners, as it affects every single one of us. Some of us have more kids than others to put a roof over the heads of, so maybe it's a little more important to some of us.
I would like to thank this government for being what I think of as proactive in its approach to the issue. Being a rural representative, I think I have a bit of a different perspective than perhaps some of the Whitehorse MLAs do. If we look at Faro, for example - if you were to open the real estate guide, it appears that houses there are very affordable. Perhaps I'll take this opportunity to encourage people to move to Faro and buy houses. The price is right.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hassard: That's right. Why live here, if you can live there? It's not just the price of houses. There are many good reasons to live in Faro.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hassard: Yes, it's being pointed out that the MLA from there is a wonderful person.
Mr. Speaker, I believe there are other members in the House who want to get on record quickly as we are running out of time, so I will wrap up and look forward to other comments.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the members opposite, and I appreciate the leader of the opposition bringing up the fact of the many, many years that north of 60 - our relationship with Ottawa, and the commitments that were made from Ottawa and, at the end of the day, those commitments weren't met.
I appreciate that the Member for Mount Lorne wanted a definition of affordable housing.
The Member for Kluane decided, in his wisdom, that he would involve something that we are already doing as a government, and as Yukoners - we are working with Ottawa.
We have a new government in Ottawa, and it is very important that people like the Minister of Economic Development, our Premier and all members of this government, as well as Yukoners, get the ear of the government for housing north of 60.
Mr. Speaker, when the member from Old Crow says housing is in crisis, you don't have to talk just about the Yukon - talk about northern Canada.
The federal government has neglected its responsibilities, Mr. Speaker. Nunavut is 4,500 houses short, and there were commitments made by that government that that would be resolved.
If we are putting people in affordable houses, what about the water? How can people live in affordable houses if they don't have access to clean water?
We hear about northern Ontario communities where people are living in absolute Third World housing situations.
What is the price of a house? How are these people going to live in our community? Where do our youth go at the end of the day? Where is the opportunity for them to own a home? Now, that is a question, and that is something government will have to resolve.
I'm not sure why the amendment was brought forward by the Member for Kluane. Was it because the Member for Kluane wanted to stand up and debate -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I'll take the Member for Porter Creek Centre's request that I do stand up. What I would like to say is that he should be drawn to order because we are no longer speaking on the amendment. We're back on the motion, as amended, and I still can't figure out why he is speaking against the amendment, because he voted for it.
Speaker: There is no point of order. It is simply a dispute among members. You have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Debating the Member for Kluane - I'll save that for another day. I am concerned about the motion. I am concerned that, certainly, we voted for it. The original motion was put forward by a member who sincerely had concerns about the issue, and I admire and appreciate that. The members opposite - as far as this side of the House, we were prepared to discuss the issue and vote on it. We were looking forward, like everybody else was, to the next debate from the member of the third party on economics - a study on economics. But, as the time flies by, we only have five minutes to do that.
But the motion on housing is a northern issue. It's a northern issue, and a big part of it is a First Nation issue. As the Member for Old Crow was talking about, in the community of Old Crow, a home costs $235,000 to build - and most of that is flying in things, as she said, from other centres in order to build the home. In Old Crow, for instance, affordable housing - it costs $35,000 to put a bathroom in a home. By the time you get all of the facilities put together, the bathroom costs $35,000. How can an individual in Old Crow afford that kind of accommodation?
Those are issues. Those are issues that we as a society have to appreciate. We as a government, working in partnership with the government in Old Crow, are addressing some of the day-to-day issues as we work with the Selkirk First Nation, Carmacks-Little Salmon First Nation - all these communities have the same issue. We have to go and continue the good battle to get the ear of the federal government, whichever it is, but at least a credible federal government that will honour the commitments they make. That's where the problem is. It's not that they don't promise things on social housing. They'll stand up and promise the moon. They put figures to it, Mr. Speaker, and at the end of the day they don't deliver, and they haven't delivered for the last 12 years. So our voice has fallen on deaf ears.
Now, as the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin says, we're in a crisis. We've had 12 years of total neglect from the federal government - promises about clean water, promises about potable water, all the buzzwords they come up with, including housing crisis and all of this stuff. How much money was ever delivered on the housing? How much sincere money was put on the table to solve the issue? It was patch, patch, patch. Now, hopefully, our federal counterparts in Ottawa with a new, fresh face on it - it has to be better than the old faces. We got nothing out of them. Let's move forward with this group that's in Ottawa. Let's see what they're made of. Let's see if their commitments are commitments that they will honour, and let's solve this housing issue.
In a perfect world we could solve 100 percent of it. No, but let's pull it out of the crisis stage that it's in now and let's address the question of what affordable housing is. What does society say affordable housing is? The Minister of Economic Development is working with Yukon Housing Corporation. The third party talks about figures of $12.80 left at the end of the month. Those are just figures the third party throws out. The Liberal Party at large always talks figures, Mr. Speaker. The third party is no different than their federal counterparts. They will talk figures. If it's going to take $5 million to solve the issue, I'm sure the third party will stand up and say, “We will give you $6 million." But, in fact, will they deliver anything but conversation?
I live in fear of the situation that we've been in for 13 years, which has been a steady decline of affordable housing in the north, a ramping up of promises, a diminishing production of homes in our communities. First Nations have been working in conjunction with us to move to Ottawa and get these kinds of commitments but, most of all, to get the money to flow. It must be very frustrating for the First Nations to find out that with all of the work they've done for their self-government agreements, the federal Liberal government had no intentions of implementing the agreements. That is a very frustrating situation when it comes to housing.
All these are deals they work with, with the federal government, whoever it is. At the end of the day, they come home and have lots of promises of housing. They talk about potable water; they talk about sewers; they talk about all these issues but, at the end of the day, there is very little delivered in cash, so the job can't go forward. At the end of the day, we hope with the work of our Premier and Economic Development we can jar the federal government off this mark of promises, promises, promises, and can actually get some product out.
It has to be better than the members opposite in the third party - more promises. One member says to go to Ottawa to get more money; the other member says not to go to Ottawa to get more money, that it's demeaning for us as a society to expect the federal government would even honour the commitment that is out there on housing or any other issue.
Let's get this House together. I think the motion has been amended. As a group, we have agreed that we'll begrudgingly accept that, because the debate has gone on long enough today. I question what the third party was doing, when the majority of us in the House agreed that we would go along with the Member for Mount Lorne on the motion, move ahead and try to address the issue he was sincerely trying to put on the floor before the third party got involved and messed it up so we can't.
We agreed to vote for it, Mr. Speaker, because we want to move on. But I still think the amendment that the member brought forward demeans the motion. The members opposite laugh. This is a joke for the third party - housing in the Yukon is a joke. And the leader of the third party stands there and says this is, and laughs about this, Mr. Speaker. I mean, this is not what this House is about. We represent more than your constituency or your special group.
Speaker: Order please. The honourable member must address his questions and remarks through the Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I apologize for not talking to you.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: Yes, and I agree with the member opposite, but the argument or the debate we had today on the motion was about housing. We were sincerely interested in making sure that the motion could be carried forward. We were surprised when the third party came up with an amendment to the motion that would cloud the motion. And then to sit in the House here and turn this motion into a laughing matter, Mr. Speaker - it's just beyond me that we can't get along long enough, we can't stop politics long enough, that we can't agree on a commonsense thing about our housing situation in Yukon.
Again, the third party - it's a side show. This is not a side show. This is about Yukoners. This isn't about politics. This is about a sincere effort to solve an issue that is glaring in our communities, and the members opposite from the third party think this is a joke? Mr. Speaker, why did he make the amendment? I question that. I voted for it, but I questioned it.
At the end of the day, I would like to thank the Member for Mount Lorne for his sincerity in bringing a motion forward. I'm disappointed in the third party that they have to politicize it and even more disappointed with the members opposite for the way they're laughing about and making jest about a very important issue.
Mr. Speaker, due to the time, I would -
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the motion as amended?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 12 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried as amended.
Motion No. 568 agreed to as amended
Speaker: The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:03 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 5, 2006:
Yukon Hospital Corporation Financial Statements (dated March 31, 2005) (Cathers)
The following documents were filed April 5, 2006:
Health Care Insurance Programs, Health Services Branch: Statement of Revenue and Expenditures for the years 1998-99 to 2004-05 (Cathers)
Holly Street lands, Reference Plan 51344 Canada Lands Survey Registration, 25445 Land Titles Office: letter from Archie Lang, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources to Mayor Ernie Bourassa, Mayor of Whitehorse (dated March 29, 2006) (Lang)