Whitehorse , Yukon
Thursday, April 6, 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 World Health Day
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to ask my colleagues to join with me and others around the world in recognizing Friday, April 7, 2006 as World Health Day. This year's slogan for the 56th annual World Health Day is “Working together for health” and is intended to raise awareness and highlight the challenges and work of our health care workers today.
Our health workers, the people who provide health care and support to those who need it, are the very heart of health systems throughout the world. It is no surprise to anyone in this House - indeed, to anyone who reads the newspaper and watches the news - that there are shortages of health care workers globally. While we have been very fortunate here in the Yukon , we are not completely immune from this shortage.
The World Health Organization recognizes World Health Day on a global level. At the local level, we want to recognize the health care workers that we do have here in the Yukon who provide health services and support to our citizens. Like our counterparts throughout the world, we wish to celebrate those who work in health and for health.
Only last week, I announced dollars to be made available to the Yukon under the territorial health access fund and our new health human resources strategy. With this funding in place and our strong partnerships with our health sector, we will begin to work on homegrown solutions for the Yukon . We will take action now for the coming years and we will do that with the caregivers and health providers who are now in place. We will use their stories and their expertise to help us build for the future.
I ask all members to join me in thanking them.
Mr. Hardy: I rise on behalf of the official opposition to pay tribute to health care workers on World Health Day, which is promoted by the United Nations World Health Organization.
This year, the theme of the day is “Working together for health”, in recognition of the contribution to human health made by health care workers. The shortage of workers in the field of health is felt all over the world and is termed a crisis by the WHO. In the developed world, the aging population, along with the cutbacks in training spaces in the health professions, has made it necessary to recruit from the developing world. We have still not met our need.
Worst still, taking trained professionals from the developing world leaves them with even fewer of these important workers. In many countries, the extreme shortages come at a time when HIV and AIDS, and now avian influenza, demand even more workers to deal with the threats to health, and that could come home to roost, Mr. Speaker.
In the Yukon we have debated for some time the problems of recruiting and retaining physicians, nurses and other health professionals for our community. It is a complex issue, but one that is easier to solve than in places like Africa and Asia . Innovative institutional structures such as collaborative clinics, which speed up the diagnostic and treatment processes for patients, should be considered. Imaginative incentives for training and retaining health care workers should be put in place to bring professionals to the Yukon and to keep them here. Creative ideas from health care workers themselves are available and we encourage the government to listen very closely to them.
We take the opportunity to say a warm word of thanks to those health care workers in the Yukon whose dedication and hard work continues to make life a lot better for all of us. Without you, effective prevention and treatment of a disease would not be possible.
I would take this opportunity to draw the attention of the House to the health forum that will take place on Wednesday, April 12 at the Kwanlin Dun potlatch house. It will no doubt have exciting ideas that will be important for all MLAs and the public to consider.
Mr. McRobb: I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to also speak in tribute to World Health Day.
Mr. Speaker, I also prepared a tribute, but rather than simply read it - it's very repetitive - I'm going to reduce it to the part that hasn't been said so far.
I'd like to express our gratitude to the volunteers who contribute to non-profit organizations, such as the Yukon Registered Nurses Association, and for your information, the YRNA will be holding its annual general meeting during the afternoon of Saturday, April 22, at the High Country Inn in Whitehorse . See you there.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: Fellow members, it is my pleasure to introduce the participants of the first Yukon Youth Parliament in 16 or 17 years. These young men and women are our leaders of tomorrow, and it is with much gratitude that we have them here with us today and look forward to listening to them tomorrow.
I would like to have you hold your applause until I do all the introductions. I would like the following to stand up, please: from Vanier Catholic School, Aaron Bielz, Conal Slobodin, James Green, Jason Lane; from Carmacks with their advisor Kelly Beacon, students Terra-Lynn Asp, Zack Cochrane; from Watson Lake with their advisors Greg and Janet Nolan, students Tyler Porter, Amy Labonte, Stephanie Hogue, Trevor Millen and David Paul Harder; from Porter Creek Secondary, advisor Wes Sullivan, student Mike Ennis; from F.H. Collins Secondary, students Peter Lommerse and Elijah Clagget-McIntosh.
Please welcome them.
Speaker: Are there any other introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Reports of committees.
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Mitchell: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to spend part of the substance abuse action plan money to ensure that the community Outreach van is able to run seven days a week.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that, given the substantial business currently before the House, namely the biggest spending budget in Yukon history, added to the new dimension of the two independent members who will also require the time of the House to review the budget, be it resolved that in order to allow sufficient time for the members of this Assembly to adequately review the budget and provide proper checks and balances, the length of this sitting should not be less than 40 days.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then leads us to Question Period.
Question re: Porter Creek land development
Mr. Cardiff: I hope the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources will clear up a few of the loose ends about his behind-the-scenes role in a current attempt to amend the City of Whitehorse official community plan.
Now, the proponent of this project has stated publicly that he had confidential dealings with the minister and even the Premier, as it now turns out. He has also said that these discussions involved an agreement for sale for a nominal fee. The minister claims that he has only authorized this friend of the Yukon Party to apply on behalf of the government so the proposal could have its day in court.
Let's get to the bottom of it, Mr. Speaker. Did the minister or the Premier give any indication that the government would sell this land to the individual in question for a nominal fee if the city agreed to a zoning changed?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The letter I tabled yesterday explains exactly what this government did. The government did exactly what that letter said. There is no development plan for that area. We gave the proponent a letter so that he could go in front of the city council. That's where it stays. The city council is responsible for zoning and for the community plan. We are not part and parcel of that decision-making process.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister didn't answer the question about the sale and the nominal fee. Clearly, there's chaos in how this government makes land use decisions. In my own riding of Mount Lorne , an application for residential land at the end of the Annie Lake Road went through the Land Application Review Committee process. Because of concerns about caribou habitat, the minister's officials moved the proposal to the other side of the road, changed the orientation of the six-hectare lot, and they didn't consult with neighbouring residents when they moved the parcel. They didn't consult with the Hamlet of Mount Lorne when they moved the parcel. In fact, they gave the two sides - the proponents and the residents and the hamlet council - two totally different stories about what they were doing, and that has continued to this day. But the minister has refused to meet with the residents, even though they've asked for that. So what are the rules, Mr. Speaker? Who gets an audience with the minister and the Premier on land issues, and who gets the cold shoulder?
Hon. Mr. Lang: There has been no communication from me to residents of Mount Lorne . This government is open for conversation. Mr. Speaker, we have no communication from Mount Lorne , so the member opposite is wrong on that. That's the long and the short of it. Mount Lorne and the land in Mount Lorne is being handled by the department. That's how it's done, Mr. Speaker, in this government.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, the minister doesn't have his facts straight. I even mentioned it to him outside the Legislature the other day. People just want to be treated fairly, Mr. Speaker. They want a level playing field. They want to know what the rules are. We heard that over and over again at our recent forum on land use. In the Annie Lake issue I just raised with the minister, the minister's officials have actually admitted to both sides that they've screwed this thing up. Now they've told both sides that their only recourse is to hire lawyers and duke it out in the courts. They haven't even responded to a suggestion that it be resolved through mediation. Now, both groups of people - the proponents and the residents - want to resolve this to their satisfaction. They want to see a clear process. Why should these people, who have already spent countless hours jumping through bureaucratic hoops, going to meetings, now be forced to bear the added cost of litigation because this government can't get its act together about one of the most important issues for Yukon people.
Speaker: Thank you. You're done. Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I hope in this House that it's not just idle chatter about what people say in and out of the building. Mr. Speaker, I'm open to any resident of the Yukon who has an issue. My department is open for conversation. If there is a process, our department will follow that process. If there's a mediator in place, I hope my department will take advantage of the mediator. That's what this government is about.
If in fact there is a mediator in place, if in fact the residents of Mount Logan are not being treated properly, then it is my responsibility as the minister to make sure the department follows the process.
If the member opposite says there's a mediator, and if there is one, then let's use the mediator.
Question re: Land use planning
Mr. Hardy: Okay. We are not talking about Mount Logan though.
Now, land use -
Speaker: The honourable member knows full well you cannot bootleg from the previous question. You have the floor.
Mr. Hardy: Sorry, Mr. Speaker. Land use is turning into one of the biggest hot-button issues in this territory. Most of the First Nation land claims have been settled. Devolution has taken place, but we're still struggling with a 35-year-old land disposition regime we inherited from the federal government. As if that weren't bad enough, we have a government that is creating chaos and it has become very evident: rules that aren't clear or consistent, political interference by ministers, decisions made on a case-by-case basis and often overturned, consultations that ignore the wishes of the people directly concerned.
What is the minister doing to fix this mess, or does he not even recognize that the system is badly broken?
Hon. Mr. Lang: As far as the system being broken, two years ago, through devolution, we acquired all the land in the Yukon and the management of that land. We have been working within the rules that were drawn up at the time. The Minister of Community Services did put an outside contract out with an individual to come back to us and see how we could address the issue. Land is a concern - I agree with the member opposite. We are working to put land out there into the public and we will continue to do just that.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, at the public forum we hosted a few weeks ago, people were extremely frustrated about what is happening or is not happening regarding land disposition. First Nations in many parts of the territory have serious concerns that government decisions and processes don't respect their final agreements. Municipal governments find themselves butting heads with this government. Private developers don't know that the rules are. We heard all that.
Families are forced to go through hoop after hoop to get a bit of residential recreational land, so what is this minister doing to provide the proper resources so that effective land use planning at the regional and area levels can take place before too many irreversible decisions are made?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In regard to land use planning, we certainly are working at that very diligently in north Yukon. We are going to be tabling a north Yukon land use plan - one of the first ones that actually got finalized, and then we are working on the Peel, so by the end of the summer, we should have the Peel and north Yukon finished.
Again, Mr. Speaker, the government has contracted an overview of the land disposition process in the Yukon. We are waiting for the final draft. In fact that final draft was committed to this House, and it will be brought to this House before the end of this sitting.
Mr. Hardy: I don't get the sense that this minister understands how serious this issue is. In the Whitehorse area alone, we are seeing development proposals popping up one after another. We are seeing agricultural proposals conflicting with First Nation interests. We are seeing different levels of governments sniping at each other over development issues. This pressure is not going to get any less, Mr. Speaker; it is going to get worse if something doesn't change soon.
Why has this minister not undertaken an open, comprehensive dialogue with Yukon people about how to fix the system, or does this wheeling and dealing Yukon Party have a political interest in keeping things dysfunctional?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, that's our job as Government of Yukon. Our job is to get the land out in a way that facilitates the public need. We are doing that. We have expanded. We are working with Mount Lorne, we are working with Grizzly Valley, Takhini Hot Springs, Ibex Valley; we are in the final drawings of the agreement between ourselves and the City of Whitehorse. We are working with the Village of Teslin and the expanded lots there. We are working with the First Nations on one of the first templates that we can use as a partnership on getting rural residential lots and residential land into the public's hand. So, hopefully that will be successful, and we can move on with land management. Yukon has an urgency for land and we are addressing it.
Question re: Porter Creek land development
Mr. McRobb: I have some follow-up questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources on his latest intervention into the land business. This minister has a long history of interfering where he isn't supposed to and he has been at it again this past week.
A friend of the minister, and a fellow member of the Yukon Party, has applied to city council to develop land in Porter Creek. The minister wrote a letter of support for his friend. The minister said in Question Period yesterday, “It is a letter that I would give to any proponent out there who wanted to present a proposal to the City of Whitehorse.”
My question to the minister: how many such letters has he written, as minister, and would he make them public?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I am amazed at the Member for Kluane. My job, as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, is to work with Yukoners in a positive way. When I said in my communication that the government had no position on the land and that the proponent could go forward with his idea and have his day in court, that's exactly what that letter said. There is no decision there and there is no development commitment. There is no commitment for anything. All he wanted was his day in court with the City of Whitehorse. He has had that day and they have publicly said they are not in favour of changing the community plan or the zoning. That case is closed, Mr. Speaker. The gentleman had his day.
When I watch the City of Whitehorse week in and week out and see the number of people who sit in front of the City of Whitehorse on a regular basis with issues - to think that a Yukoner who has an idea for development is shut out because of just this reason. We solved that issue.
Mr. McRobb: Well, today is the minister's day in court - the court of public opinion, that is, Mr. Speaker - and he isn't doing too well, is he? The minister failed to answer the question. It is very interesting to note that the minister's colleague, the MLA for Porter Creek North, has had nothing to say on this “landdoggle”. In the past he has been very vocal about his opposition to new development in Porter Creek. People are wondering what has changed? Why is that MLA suddenly silent? Mr. Speaker, we can't let the minister squirm off the hook on this matter. Yesterday he said, and I repeat, “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 reality is, Mr. Speaker, this letter is quite possibly the only one of its kind. Again, will the minister table all the letters he has written on behalf of developers?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I tabled the letter; I've done what I was requested to do. The letter is tabled, the gentleman - the proponent - has had his day in front of city council. City council very publicly said that they were not prepared to do what the gentleman asked them to do. Case closed, Mr. Speaker. We move on. There is no development in that area. Nothing of the sort. All that gentleman had was his day in front of city council to put his argument in front of them. By the communication I get, he wasn't successful, so let's move on.
Mr. McRobb: Given that non-answer, I think the court of public opinion will be soon issuing a guilty verdict, Mr. Speaker.
The developer of these lots went to city council and said he had a confidential deal with the minister to make this project go ahead. Details of this secret deal are now starting to become public. For example, the minister's friend told a local newspaper that the Yukon Party government and the minister have agreed to sell him the land for a nominal amount. Repeat - “nominal amount”. In other words, far below market value.
Can the minister tell us exactly how much is “a nominal amount”? Is this backroom price higher or lower than the five bucks it costs to become a member of the Yukon Party?
Speaker: Before the member answers the question here, Member for Kluane, you're liable to cause discord with this line of questioning. You're not making an accusation, but you're making innuendos that, from the Chair's perspective, are liable to cause discord in this House, and I would ask the honourable member not to do that.
You have the floor, Minister of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: For the member opposite, who likes to centre on one very small aspect of this. I represent part of Porter Creek - and specifically Porter Creek North - as does my colleague from Porter Creek Centre. I'm suspicious that the member opposite's colleague from Porter Creek South is in agreement with the residents that development is not a good thing there. It's not something the citizens of Porter Creek support; it's not something we support.
For the member opposite to suggest that these people who have ideas not be permitted to have their day in court, not be permitted to appear before city council, is simply wrong. That would appear to me to be preventing a citizen from a rightful process. We're not going to do that.
To suggest that giving support to an individual to have his day in court with the city is something other than recognizing that person's constitutional rights is simply wrong.
Question re: Outreach van
Mr. Mitchell: I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services on potential funding for the community Outreach van. The van operates only three nights a week because the organizations that operate it don't have enough funding to keep it on the road seven days a week. There's $2 million set aside in new funding under the substance abuse action plan. The community Outreach van seems like an ideal project for some of that money.
What is the minister doing to make this a reality? Will some of this money be used to fund the community Outreach van?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I thank the leader of the third party for his questions.
I'd like to make the member aware that we have had discussions with some of the groups that are involved and partners in the Outreach van, and they have presented their proposals. At this point we are considering it. We have noted to them that it is a matter that we are taking under consideration. I can advise the member opposite that the last time I discussed this with officials from my department was just this morning. It's under consideration; we have not forgotten about it, but we do need to give it its due consideration and review.
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, it's certainly good news that it's under consideration, but I guess it comes down to priorities. These kids are at risk seven nights a week, not just on the nights that the van is available. The Yukon Party government is spending millions to study a railroad that has no private sector backing. So that was something that was under consideration, and the money flowed. Yet it doesn't have a few thousand dollars to help people who are living on the streets or at risk. The government is spending $400,000 to study the possibility of buying a port in Alaska, yet it doesn't have a few thousand dollars to keep this van operating; it's just under consideration. Mr. Speaker, this is a project that helps people who really need it. Why does the Yukon Party government have money for these other projects and nothing but consideration for these people on our streets?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Copperbelt, the leader of the third party, may wish to check his facts on this and note that the Outreach van is run primarily by four organizations, one of them being a First Nation. The three non-governmental organizations involved in this - Yukon College, Blood Ties Four Directions, and Yukon Family Services as the primary agencies involved - are indeed funded to a significant extent by our government, so we certainly are a part of this mix and we certainly fund the organizations that provide supports to the Outreach van.
Mr. Mitchell: I am glad to hear that we are dealing with 3/7 of the problem, but it is a seven-day-a-week problem.
It is my understanding that the $2 million for the substance abuse action plan has been set aside but has not been allocated yet. This is the funding that the Premier put in his department, not in the minister's department or in the Justice department. The money is there for the minister to access. I'm disappointed that it's not in the budget to begin with; however, the minister now has a second chance. I know that his colleague, the Justice minister, is also supportive of this project.
Again, the Outreach van only runs three nights a week, because they don't have enough money. The minister has a pot of money - $2 million - that he can access. Will the minister commit today that he will make it a priority to complete the funding of this valuable service?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, I thought I made it clear in my first response to the leader of the third party. Again, I will state that we are reviewing the request. We currently fund three of the four main participants who fund and operate the Outreach van. We do recognize the work they do. I have indicated to those who have come forward on behalf of agencies involved that we're certainly very interested in this. We are, indeed, reviewing it. As indicated to the member opposite, it is an active topic that we are considering, but I'm not going to make a knee-jerk decision on the floor of the Legislature just to satisfy the member opposite. We give due consideration to proposals and to all factors around them, and then we make those decisions. We are considering this.
Question re: Waste-water regulations
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Premier, the Minister of Environment, on the Yukon Water Board and the Yukon waste-water regulations.
The Yukon Water Board has become the roadblock to timely permitting of mining initiatives and road construction here in the Yukon. Given that the Yukon has two departments of Environment, with the second one being contained in the Executive Council Office - the Yukon Water Board is also in the Executive Council Office, and the Premier is the minister responsible for all three of these areas.
The Yukon also has the most lenient and outdated waste-water regulations in Canada, which is a large part of the problem. My question to the Premier: why does the Premier refuse to adapt updated waste water-regulations and also place timelines on the Yukon Water Board to have the board address matters before it expeditiously?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think it's important we recognize and take note of the structure that has created the Water Board. It's quasi-judicial and falls under the Northern Inland Waters Act - a federal act that we have to mirror through devolution, as the member well knows. However, the Yukon, in time, and I hope in the very near future, will be developing successor legislation - for example, a new waters act.
However, to say we're refusing to deal with waste-water regulations is incorrect. The department is working on those. To say that the Water Board isn't working on being more expeditious is incorrect. The Water Board has reduced its quorum requirement down to three. The Water Board has been actively working with the development assessment process branch or the Yukon environmental and socio-economic assessment branch in how we can further integrate processes when it comes to applications that come forward and decision documents that need to be delivered. I'm also pleased to say that when it comes to certain projects, the Water Board, under the guidance of the chair, has expeditiously gone through their process so we, or I as minister responsible, can sign off water licences.
I think it's fair to say that the board is doing a good job. Under the chair's guidance, the board has shown clearly that it is very keen to make sure the process works.
Mr. Jenkins: The government has before the House a large capital budget, part of which has been known since last year, and that's the Shakwak money. Highways and Public Works is responsible for all the permits for the project, but it will not tender that work until the permits are in place, which I'm given to understand might be as late as June of this year. With a six-week tender closing, that project probably won't even be looked at being awarded until July. This is another initiative of the Water Board that the Premier refuses to address.
Mr. Speaker, the mining industry has many similar experiences. When will this Premier do his job and bring in new waste-water regulations for Yukon and either address the Yukon Water Board's issues or abolish it and refer matters to the YESA branch?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, it appears the Member for Klondike got the same phone call I did today with respect to an issue with the tendering process on highway work. I can assure the member opposite that the government is looking into the matter as we speak.
The second point the member made is to abolish the Water Board. I would suggest that the Member for Klondike had better brush up on the legislative instruments of this territory, like the Waters Act. You don't just abolish quasi-judicial boards that have been put in place in the matter of the public interest.
Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, it is not just about waste-water regulations; it's about how we interact with a new regime, YESAA, how we interact with the Water Board, how we interact with industry and other government agencies and departments.
This government is the first government that has taken an integrated approach. That is why we have been able to improve how we deal with applications and the industry - especially the mining industry, Mr. Speaker.
Let me point out that the evidence shows that a tremendous increase in investment from the mining sector has taken place under that integrated approach. We are looking at a possibility of $100 million this coming season. That's because we are doing the job in ensuring expeditious processes.
Question re: Education forum
Mrs. Peter: Last week in anticipation of Education Week, we sponsored a forum on education issues in the territory.
We went to the public to find out what they think of our education system and how they feel it might be changed for the better. Our panel and audience emphasized that partnerships with the department, parents, First Nations, non-governmental organizations and even students themselves are sadly lacking.
Now that he has abandoned the Education Act amendments he inherited from a previous government, what is the minister doing to create real partnerships involving our schools and our communities in the original spirit of the Education Act?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to, at this time, make the member opposite aware that this government has embarked upon an education reform process, which, I might add, is coming along very well and is going to be covering all of the communities and all non-government organizations and different organizations throughout the Yukon Territory to get the very answers to the questions the member just asked.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Peter: Partnerships mean full involvement, not simply being called upon once and awhile to give opinions that aren't listened to. Partnerships are based on cooperative attitudes and respect on both sides. Unfortunately, what we see too often is top-down decision making, confrontation and the wishes of school councils being ignored and rejected and even schools being announced on the spur of the moment with no consultation or planning.
Perhaps the minister should think about some of the recommendations coming from our forum. One of those was to expand the successful experiential learning programs into all communities. Will the minister do that? Will he see that every child in the system has equal opportunities to learn by expanding the Whitehorse experiential programs to all communities as much as possible?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I can assure the member opposite that this government has not sat idle with regard to education. In fact, I can proudly say that this government has been the first government to really increase the operating monies toward education - probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of $17 million - which covers everything from full-day kindergarten to literacy to post-secondary education, trades and the list goes on. Of course, we are always interested in listening to any concerns or comments that the public may have. This education reform process is going to accomplish just that.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, there are many issues to be addressed in education: children with special needs are not getting what they need; little is being done at the school level to address the problem of child obesity; bullying is still occurring in schools and on the playgrounds; young children are being exposed to drugs and alcohol on school premises; parents whose children are injured or suffer allergic reactions at school are concerned because there's no agreement in place on a way to increase the number of school personnel trained in first aid; Yukon children have the third-lowest rate of high school graduates of Canada. In this Education Week, will the minister take these problems to heart and not use a drawn-out consultation process with far-off deadlines as an excuse for not introducing real reforms?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I can assure the member opposite that this government has taken everything very seriously within the education system. That is why there has been such an improvement right across the board. Home tutoring is another very big issue; full-day kindergarten - again, Mr. Speaker, the list goes on. And, of course, the failed Education Act review that was carried out by the previous government went nowhere. This process is being accepted by members right across the territory. I believe that at the end of the process, the government will have a much better understanding of where the shortfalls do come into play with regard to all citizens in this territory. That is the purpose of this process - to hear from every citizen and not just certain groups.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 20: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 20, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Fentie; adjourned debate, Mr. Rouble.
Mr. Rouble: It's my honour and pleasure today to resume debating this budget. This is a good solid budget that addresses the needs of the territory in a fiscally responsible manner. It doesn't increase taxes or fees. It doesn't borrow or create any long-term debt and it leaves a surplus at the end of the day. That's much more than what could be said for the budgets that we saw just before we took office. Yukoners will remember the budgets before the Yukon Party was elected. The 2001-02 budget predicted a deficit for the year of over $24 million. The 2002-03 budget predicted a deficit for the year of over $41 million. That's not good fiscal management.
The previous government didn't just want to spend all the money the government received - all the money from other people - they planned to spend all the money Yukoners had saved.
I'm very pleased to see that this budget continues to implement the Yukon Party's visions, priorities and principles. The budget continues to call for action to build relations with Yukon First Nations, to build sustainable, competitive economies, to build healthy communities and to improve the quality of life for Yukoners.
Since taking office a couple of years ago, we've worked hard to get the territory back on the right track and to build momentum. I will be the first to agree that the national and international forces have helped to bring about a rebound in the Yukon, but let's give credit where credit is due. The Yukon Party government has played an important role here as well.
I've talked to a lot of folks out there, and Yukoners want to continue this momentum. They don't want turmoil; they don't want navel-gazing; they don't want reorganization. They want to continue on the track we are on and make refinements along the way.
From the responses we've heard so far on the budget, it appears the Liberals want to send the money back to Ottawa and the NDP want to stop any development momentum. I don't think either are good options for the territory - although I must say, the position from the Liberal Party is quite confusing. They've complained that we have received funds from Ottawa, yet yesterday, during motion debate, the contribution the Liberal Party made to the motion in their amendment was to again call for the government to go back to Ottawa to get more money.
Mr. Speaker, what is their consistent position? I don't know.
We just have to look at the positive changes the Yukon Party has made and the issues we've resolved. We no longer have qualified budgets. We now have budgets that are approved by the Auditor General. When we took office, the Auditor General would not endorse the quality of the financial statements because the rules weren't being followed. There was a leave liability that wasn't being booked.
The rules in accounting policies and procedures and generally accepted accounting principles state that you have to book your liabilities. I guess other governments just thought it was expedient to ignore that. Oh, don't worry, that situation will never happen; we don't need to worry about following that rule; we won't book that necessary liability.
Well, the Yukon Party government has followed the rules. The liability is booked and the budgets are no longer qualified.
Mr. Speaker, you only have to wonder what the Liberal government would do with the issues around pensions these days, and whether or not pensions are being properly funded. I guess it would be safe to assume they'd make the same argument: oh, don't worry, that'll never happen; or, a good one is, it's just a paper number, don't worry about it.
This government has gone on the record publicly in saying we're going to work with the various organizations to ensure that pensions are properly funded and that workers' pensions will be there for them when they retire.
Mr. Speaker, capital leases are now funded properly. The previous government didn't fund capital leases. Again, it's another accounting issue, where you have to book the money up front. Previous governments didn't do that. They didn't recognize the liability that they had left for the territory.
The Yukon Party government has paid the balloon payment. There was a balloon payment made for one of the communications infrastructure programs a few years ago. Well, Mr. Speaker, this left a payment that was going to be paid a few years down the road. It's kind of like saying, “I know I need it right now, but I'll give you the money in five years to pay it all off.” Well, again, that was hampering a future government with the liability. Well, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party has paid that debt; it's off the books.
The Dawson-Mayo transmission line - it's up and running.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: It's energized. Mr. Speaker, I'm going to be the first one to agree with the leader of the official opposition - no, I didn't do it. Because if I had done it - well, for one thing, I would have put some financial controls in when the project was started. See, we started off with a project that looked like it was going to have a budget of about $20 million. But all the members on the Public Accounts Committee know, when we sat down and actually interviewed people who had worked on the project, there were no financial controls in place. Mr. Speaker, we asked the question, “Did you compare the actual budget against the proposed budget?” Well, there was no evidence of that.
Mr. Speaker, I can't fathom that. How can it be responsible fiscal management to start a project and then not check and see if the project is actually being funded as it was expected to be funded. Again, a boondoggle project that went way out of control, and it wasn't being watched. Well, it's being addressed now.
Another project - Dawson City. Dawson City. A town so nice you have to say it twice. Mr. Speaker, it only takes a moment to sign your name on a mortgage, but it takes 20 years to pay it off. It only took the previous Liberal government a very short time to write a letter that said, in essence, “We are pleased to increase your borrowing limit by X number of dollars.” Mr. Speaker, there was a community that was going broke. They were running out of funds. Rather than address the problem and do the right thing, what did they do? “Oh, we'll up your credit limit.” Mr. Speaker, you and I both know that the solution to good fiscal management is not increasing your VISA limit. You know, when you're running short on cash, you don't sit there and go, “Hmm, I know I can't make the payment today, but I know what I'll do; I'll increase my VISA limit.” All that does is dig a bigger hole for yourself.
It was the previous government that said the solution to the problem is we'll increase the amount of money you can borrow. Was a cash-flow forecast done before they did this? It couldn't have been because they would have quickly seen they would not have enough money to make the payment at the end of the month.
The business development fund - there's a program that has haunted governments for years. Previous governments put it in place, and others tossed it back and forth, and boy, was this government haunted by it. Did we run away from the problem? No sir, Mr Speaker, we looked it square in the eye and addressed it. We came up with a way that has pretty well brought resolution to it.
Some of the loans were to not-for-profit organizations - why you would loan money to not-for-profit organizations in the first place is beyond me, but that's another fiscal-management issue we can deal with in another debate - and those were written off, and money was collected from those who had a responsibility to pay back the debt.
Mr. Speaker, there have been a lot of issues that the Yukon Party government has been faced with and has tackled head-on, and they've been resolved.
When I started commenting on the budget the other day, I talked about the consultation that had happened. I have been out to my community many times - to Marsh Lake, Carcross and Tagish. The Premier has been out to community meetings. The Minister of Highways and Public Works and Community Services has been out and met with the advisory councils. We've gone out, talked with residents, identified the needs, and this budget has a lot of the solutions to address some of those recognized needs in the community.
I'll start with access to potable water. Mr. Speaker, in addition to working out a long-term, territory-wide potable water strategy, there are immediate steps and actions being taken right now. Funding for the domestic well program, which has been very well subscribed to - that's where people can borrow money to put in their own well - has been increased.
As well, Mr. Speaker, there is money in this budget for the Army Beach well. We had a situation there where arsenic was found in the old well, and it had to be closed down. Now we are looking at rebuilding the facility. The community priorities that have been addressed for this well are a source of potable water, a source of water in the community for fire fighting and a bulk access point so that the water trucks don't have to drive from Whitehorse to Marsh Lake back to Whitehorse back to Marsh Lake back to Whitehorse back to Marsh Lake and back to Whitehorse all in one day. It only makes sense, Mr. Speaker, because right now some of the residents in that community have to make upwards of a round trip of 40 kilometres to get a load of water.
The solution is not fully there yet. There are still issues that need to be addressed concerning potable water throughout the territory, and I am glad to see that there are funds in the budget to address that for the long term.
Roads and upgrading, Mr. Speaker. This budget commits $2.3 million to the start of roadwork construction on the Atlin Road. That is a welcome improvement. It includes funds for access and egress roads for the communities both in Carcross and Tagish. These are important issues. It has funds for deck replacement on the Lewes River bridge and, while this isn't a glamorous project, it is certainly a necessary one and a valid responsibility of government - sanitary disposal, sewage lagoons and the like. The government is looking at increasing the efficiency of the new lagoon in Carcross, and I would like to thank the Department of Environment for the work they have done just this past fall and winter in responding to the situation with the Marsh Lake sewage lagoon, where, for whatever reason, gravel and oil were dumped in the sewage lagoon. This is an incredibly frustrating thing that happened; I have no idea why anyone would do such a thing. Certainly the money spent fixing that and remedying the problem could have been spent on far better projects. It's just a terrible shame to see such an act was done. But I would like to thank the Department of Environment and Community Services and Highways and Public Works for their work in addressing it and remediation of the problem.
Along that line, we unfortunately had another incident recently in Marsh Lake when the recycling centre was burned down. I've had the pleasure of recently meeting with representatives of the Marsh Lake Solid Waste Society to present them with a cheque for $10,000 in order to rebuild the recycling centre.
It's important to remember our responsibilities to reduce our unnecessary consumption, re-use as much as we can and then, ultimately, recycle our resources. We need to divert as much as we can from our waste facilities. Throughout the territory - and Marsh Lake, Tagish and Carcross - we need to look at how we can end the practice of simply lighting fires in our dumps. Just burning away the garbage isn't a long-term solution. There are likely health reasons and health implications - we need to come up with better solutions.
Speaking of fire, volunteer fire departments are a very high priority for the residents in Carcross, Tagish and Marsh Lake. This budget commits $50,000 in design funds for Carcross to upgrade the old government grader station into the volunteer fire hall. It also commits $150,000 for Tagish to construct a second bay at the present fire hall, because it won't do to park the ambulance out in the cold, because it can't fit in the fire hall with the new trucks.
I am pleased to say there's a new tanker truck going into Tagish, as well as a tanker replacement coming to Marsh Lake. Also along the lines of fire rescue, there will be a new emergency rescue boat for Tagish Lake.
We have $5,000 each in the budget for youth programs in Marsh Lake and Tagish. Residents in Marsh Lake will be very pleased to see the completion of the community building in Marsh Lake - that should be happening this June. As the Member for Klondike said the other day, recreation centres are the heart and soul of a community. Now Marsh Lakers will no longer have to park the fire trucks on the street in order to have a community gathering.
Also, along this line, Community Services is working with the Carcross Area Advisory Planning Committee, the curling club and the rec association, to look at Carcross' community needs and what necessary buildings and infrastructure are needed.
Speaking of infrastructure in Carcross, the Carcross waterfront development project is underway and projects have been identified, including the replacement of the walk-bridge, installing docks and waterfront structures. The permitting process for those things is underway right now. It would be a very welcome addition to the community to see that go in.
Also, there is $61,000 for the continued involvement in Destination: Carcross. It's a great initiative that is working at rebuilding the tourism economy in Carcross.
I should add that, in addition to supporting the Southern Lakes caribou recovery program, a moose recovery program is going to be initiated. There is a lot of great stuff going on in the beautiful Southern Lakes.
We've had some good debate in here so far on the budget. Some of the debate has been constructive and some not so constructive - more of the typical, you've-spent-too-much-but-you-haven't-spent-enough nature.
There was a comment made the other day by the leader of the Liberal Party that disturbed me and others. I would like to hear more of his comments on the issue surrounding government responsibilities and the role of not-for-profit organizations, charities and service clubs in our community.
I don't want to mislead people or misquote what he said, so I will quote the whole paragraph from page 5,563 of the Blues: “It's really shameful that it's currently being funded by Rotary Club and other volunteer organizations, when it should be funded full-time by this government, and it could be. We're not talking multiple millions of dollars to address that.”
What is shameful about a service club addressing a need they recognize in the community? Although I'm not a member of Rotary, I believe they take a lot of pride in the work they do in the community. People do it because they believe in a community and they want to contribute. I personally applaud them for their actions.
Mr. Speaker, I don't understand where this came from. Does the leader of the Liberal Party believe that service groups, charities, churches, have a valuable and necessary role in addressing the needs of our community, or does the leader of the Liberal Party believe that the only solution is for big government to be responsible for everything?
Again, when it was brought up today in Question Period, in his discussions on this Outreach van, he also brought up the issue of some of the long-term economic strategies - the railroad and port access. Does he not believe those are valuable things too?
Now, Mr. Speaker, I'm really concerned about this statement. I don't think it's a shame that they were involved. I know where I stand on this, and I want to hear more from the leader of the Liberal Party on this, but I certainly believe that we as individuals have our own responsibilities. We as families have a responsibility. We have a responsibility in our community and our neighbourhood. We have a responsibility as a collective. Mr. Speaker, government isn't responsible for everything. I don't want to live in a place where government is responsible for everything; do you? Mr. Speaker, government isn't the be-all and the end-all.
But back to the budget. This is a good solid budget. As I said before, it addresses the needs of the territory, and it does so in a fiscally responsible manner. We've demonstrated over the last couple of years that we are good, competent quality managers. We're not afraid to look at a situation. We're certainly not afraid to crunch the numbers. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, it's our responsibility to look at all the options, to explore, to challenge what has been done in the past and ask, “Is there a better way to do this?” Mr. Speaker, that's what we do; that's what we were elected to do. That's what I'll continue to do.
This is a good, responsible budget. It doesn't increase taxes or fees, it doesn't borrow or create any long-term debt, and it leaves a surplus. It addresses a lot of the recognized needs in Yukon communities.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Peter: I take pleasure in responding to the budget. In front of me, I have a list of issues concerning my riding, and I would like to speak to those today.
In front of us, we have one of the biggest budgets in the history of the Yukon - $780 million. In our community, we have always stated that our relationship with governments, whether they be territorial or federal, is very important so we can make progress for the people. In developing those relationships, we encourage partnerships; we encourage political willingness, and we also encourage good faith on both party levels. I believe the leadership in my community has always lived up to that.
In past years we have negotiated many projects that have encouraged economic prosperity for our community. It has also encouraged our participating with small businesses in our community.
I look at this budget, and I look at the amount of money that is going into my riding, and I'm very disappointed. Not only because of the amount of money that is allocated to my community of Old Crow, but because I know that the leadership in my community, the people in my community, have always had a long-term vision.
There was a document that was presented to the Yukon territorial government at least four years ago that outlined a 10-year plan that included infrastructure and capital projects that we would like to see happen within the 10 years.
There are plans to address the health and social issues of our community - the housing shortage that is definitely there - and one of the highest priorities for VGFN is in the area of education.
We have projects that were started a few years back. Two of those projects are going to be completed this summer. One is the riverbank stabilization project, and for that we do appreciate the funding that was allocated to us for that project in the last two years.
Last fall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, our community faced a real serious, serious issue in regard to water. There was E. coli found in our drinking water and it caused a great deal of concern for our community members. It was addressed through the very excellent work of the person who worked for the Yukon territorial government at the Yukon government garage in Old Crow, working in conjunction with the Vuntut Gwitchin government services. It was because they addressed that problem as quickly as they could, to make sure our community members had safe drinking water, that it didn't take as long as it could have. We are also very grateful that none of our community members became seriously sick because of that serious issue.
Why I bring that up here today on the floor of the House is because we needed the Yukon territorial government in Whitehorse to respond quickly when that issue was brought to their attention. I believe it is the responsibility of the Yukon territorial government to make sure that all citizens living in the Yukon have clean, healthy water to drink and to meet the basic needs of all Yukoners.
When this issue had to be addressed by our community, the community again united and helped each other, as they usually do. In the spirit of cooperation, it would have been fair in our eyes, I believe, for the Yukon government to share in the cost of that huge undertaking, but we have not seen that to date.
And I encourage the Yukon territorial government to take that into consideration. When I have in front of me a document containing this enormous amount of money and have my community deal with a serious situation like that and not see a fair share paid by the government, that concerns me. Maybe there is a question there - who is responsible for healthy, clean waters in our communities? When do we have a government that will take that on and have the political willingness to step beyond those borders that are always there, those barriers when the health of our people is at stake? That's one concern.
We have another $50,000 to be grateful for that will help us address the Porcupine caribou issue, and that's a long-standing issue - I believe we have been fighting this issue for more than 23 years - we have been travelling to Washington on behalf of the people in Old Crow. The people in Old Crow have taken a clear leadership role in this area, and they have come a long ways. They have taken this issue and made it an international issue. It's only by the help and support also of the grassroots people in the United States that we have managed to win this issue every time.
The Premier, in his budget speech, referred to the wonderful relationship that he had with our neighbour - Alaska - and I know that we do have to have a relationship with all provinces and with all our neighbours. My concern with that is when the Premier takes a trip to the State of Alaska and has with him a Premier from Alberta, a Premier from B.C., I believe they can rally their voices and send a very strong message to the delegation - to the Governor of Alaska - and say, “You know, there is a group of people in the Yukon Territory that is very concerned about a certain area in northeast Alaska. Is there a possibility that maybe we can partner up and come to an agreement and come to some understanding?” Because the Premier is the most senior voice for the Yukon when he travels beyond our borders. That's what the community of Old Crow would like to see and hear - that the Premier be more outspoken in that area.
We talk about our lifestyle - our way of life - and how we would like to live a healthy way of life in our communities, and when our leadership has a long-term plan, it's not only for the community today, it's also for the future - for the children of our families and for our grandchildren.
The garbage site in Old Crow has been another long-standing issue and, right along the garbage site, we have an open sewage lagoon. Those two areas have been a concern to the community of Old Crow for well over 10 years.
For the past six years that I've been here, members of both governments and officials that were in place since then have made trips to Old Crow. They have heard about this issue over and over again. We keep hearing that, yes, we are going to address it and this is going to be done; there are plans in place. To date, there hasn't been any completion on either the sewage lagoon or the dumpsite.
The concern is that it is very close to the river. When a wind comes along, a lot of the material that is at the dumpsite is blown down the river so it interferes with the water and with the environment. There is a lot of plastic and other debris that flies down to the forest. Every spring, people from our community try to clean up that mess; however, it takes a lot of work. It's our responsibility; however, we are looking for more funding so we can alleviate a lot of those problems.
Every spring in Old Crow, the water rises. Sometimes the river is full right up to the level of the bank, and sometimes the sewage lagoon is right at the same water level, so seepage happens, and that's a real concern for us, not only for the fish in that river but for people who might be camped along the riverway who drink that water. There are all kinds of concerns that come with that.
In the Premier's speech, I see he made mention of the sewage lagoon, and they're going to investigate that sewage lagoon. Those kinds of issues are still a very key concern.
Deputy Speaker: I just indicated to the member that she had four minutes left, and I was incorrect. She has 24 minutes left.
Mrs. Peter: Thank you. I didn't think I had been talking that long already.
That's a very serious concern for my community. While I'm talking about the well-being of our community, for the last five years in this House, I have been addressing something that would definitely help us address some of our social issues in the community. I have been asking to have a qualified social worker posted in our community. I will make that case again here today.
That position is still required. We had that position once upon a time, years ago. I'm not certain of the facts of how we lost that position in Old Crow, but I was hoping by now we would have something in place that would give us some indication if this was going to happen.
What disturbs me more, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has several agreements that were signed with governments over the last five years - and I remember specifically one of the accords that was signed was to address some of the social issues in our community - and I believe that is one of the priorities that was listed.
Now this government is in the last few months of its mandate and did make reference to the many memoranda of understanding and agreements that were signed with Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation; yet, what kind of progress did we make?
We are still struggling at the community level. I've always said that we are willing to take responsibility to address the social issues in our community, but in order to do that we need the financial and human resources so that we can move ahead and make some progress - especially in the areas of alcohol and drugs and child welfare. Those are very costly. We need qualified people to help us address those. We have very good people working for our First Nation in the community, but we need more qualified people. We have our young people attending high schools and colleges, but that need has been there for a number of years, and I would have liked to have seen that issue addressed by now.
Another area that was made clear to me as a need in the community when I talked to our community members within the last couple of months is in the area of a qualified home support worker. You know our elders are one of the most important groups of people in our community. Some of them are living out their last years at home. Some of them are out on the land. Some of them are cared for by their grandchildren. Others need to be cared for by home workers. The need is for a home support worker. A qualified home support worker would be able to take care of some of the needs of the elders when they are confined to their home and not able to walk around outside and enjoy their home to the full potential because of some ailments or some of the sickness that they may have. We need this position in place to help make sure that the quality of life for our elders in my community of Old Crow is addressed.
We are the most isolated community in the Yukon, and we have tried and we have succeeded, and we still will succeed, at taking care of the elderly in our community. Our families are still committed to doing that. And yet today, for many young families with their own children to worry about, having time during their day, especially if they're working, is an issue for them.
Like anybody else across the Yukon or across Canada, we require these types of services so that we can help to give our elders the quality of life they so much deserve right now.
Another issue that is still of concern to my community is for an optometrist to come to our community. Again, this has been a long-standing issue. I brought this concern to the attention of the previous Minister of Health and Social Services and to our Member of Parliament. This is a service that most people in the Yukon and across Canada take for granted. We have not seen an optometrist in the community of Old Crow for the last three years. Many people in our community don't have the means nor the income to travel to Whitehorse if they need the service. There is one small outstanding issue that can be addressed by this Yukon Party government in conjunction with the new government in place in Ottawa, so that people can receive the services. It's not only Old Crow that is not receiving this service on a regular basis, but there are other communities throughout the Yukon.
If I were a minister in a government today, I would be concerned about that, especially for the young people in our schools. If they require any kind of eye care right now and it's not being addressed, how is that going to affect their sight and their performance in school in two, three or four years from now?
Is that a concern? Yes, it is. For a government in the Yukon, I think those kinds of services should be priorities for the communities, and if there has to be pressure put on the federal government to move more quickly to address those issues, I think it has to be done.
We spoke at length yesterday to address the issue of affordable housing and, in my comments at that time, I mentioned the crisis that we are in, in our communities, not only in the Yukon, but in the whole of northern Canada: how the people in our communities have to share accommodations with each other and, you know, the very need we have. That's one of the issues that I would hope that this government would take very seriously.
We see some new buildings coming up in the City of Whitehorse and I believe some of the portable housing that's being set up right now - they have plans to move those into some communities later on. But those are just band-aid solutions. We need to have some real plans in place to address this issue.
In my comments, I referred to the young people - the young men and women - in our communities and our society as a whole. What kind of future would they hope for? Are they able to afford homes for their families? Many of them want to get married and have children, but are they able to afford a place where they can call home?
That's hard enough to do in a place such as Whitehorse because of the real estate market right now, and it's double or triple that in our communities, so if the government wants to make some progress in the communities, I would suggest that they look in the area of housing.
When we talk about our communities and government-to-government relationships, which the Premier is very fond of saying since his election, it is very interesting, because I have before me the list of accords, the list of memoranda of understanding and agreements that have been signed between this Yukon Party government and the Yukon First Nations, and that's only from December 2002 up until December 2005. It is quite the impressive list.
It's quite an impressive list, but my concern is: how many of these agreements have been adhered to?
I made reference to one of the memoranda of understanding that was signed with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in the year 2000, when I was first elected. I remember very specifically in that memorandum of understanding; it referred specifically to the social worker position that was very much needed in Old Crow. So I have this list, all these agreements have been signed, but how many of them have brought about any kind of product for our governments?
It refers to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, and then there was a bilateral agreement with the Kaska. There's also an agreement between the Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, the Children's Act review, the consultation protocol and forestry agreements that have been signed, the Yukon forum - which involves CYFN and all nine Yukon First Nations - and the northern strategy.
The northern strategy involves $40 million. I don't have all the information about this agreement or the enormous amount of money that's involved. There is also $27 million involved in the northern economic development fund on which the Premier has an agreement with the Yukon First Nation leadership. There's also the north Yukon economic partnership agreement, which involves the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation and the Na Cho Nyäk Dun. To date, these agreements that are in place - again I ask myself the question: how much progress have we made in those areas when our communities still have these very basic needs?
We have very serious social issues in our communities and we need assistance to move on and to make some progress for the grassroots people.
How much time do we have? I know these kinds of agreements and plans take time. You would think that, within four years, something could have been in place by now. That is our hope.
When we talk about partnerships with governments, our hope is to make that kind of progress. We talk about the Children's Act review and the justice consultation. I believe the First Nation governments agree to these signed agreements, because we definitely want to make progress for our people, especially for our children, the people who are incarcerated at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. We know what condition that building is in and we know how old it is. Yet we are still using band-aid solutions.
I believe the amount of money that was spent on that facility, when you add it all up, was $4 million. I could be corrected on that. Could you imagine what kind of building we would have had by now if they had started in the year 2000?
But it just goes on and on. I know I have at least five minutes left in my presentation and I would like to address other issues.
When we talk about the education reform, we need to address issues that will make progress in our communities. In Old Crow, we are very excited about the initiatives that are being driven by Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Department of Education in regard to cultural and traditional concerns that we've had for a long time, to incorporate some of our cultural and traditional activities into our curriculum and to be able to go out on the land and have the students who don't have those kinds of opportunities to have those experiences and to draw on them. One of our goals is to have our students excited about going back to school, and that could be an incentive that we can use. The school council in Old Crow is in dialogue with the Department of Education to make sure we try to make some progress in that area this year. Also, the school council in Old Crow has sent a letter to the Minister of Education to see if we can take on the challenge of making a change from a council to a school board. Those are the changes and the challenges that we're willing to face in our community so that we can improve the education for the students in our community and make sure that we prepare them more for coming down to attend high school in Whitehorse.
What are the options for those people who are not academically inclined to stay in our communities? When we talk about trades and technology training, those kinds of initiatives that the government has need to be out in the communities, not just based in Whitehorse.
I look under some of the initiatives of tourism and culture. Tourism is one of our key, driving economic initiatives in the Yukon, and the only time that I've seen Air North mentioned in the Premier's budget speech is when he is referring to the number of flights that Air North has to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. That's a Yukon-based small business, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I believe that we need to support Yukon-based small businesses, and I know the Yukon territorial government has an agreement with Air Canada. With those kinds of agreements, we have to make sure that we're fair to all the business throughout the Yukon.
My time is up and I'll have other issues to address.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to speak to the 2006-07 Government of Yukon budget.
I have been very carefully listening to the comments of many of the members opposite and the members on this side of the House - comments about the budget and some of the initiatives that have taken place over the last number of years.
I have to say that all of us have had a very busy time over the last three and some years. For me, as the MLA for Whitehorse West, it certainly has been a real privilege to be able to represent my area residents who reside in Whitehorse West, and it's a real privilege to be able to respond to some of their concerns and work on some of their issues of importance, and to be able to work on behalf of all Yukon citizens in some very critical areas, many of which have been outlined here today.
I just want to go back to a comment that has been stated on the floor of the Legislature here a few times. It's actually a question of whether or not Yukoners are better off now than we were three and a half years ago. According to the former leader of the Liberal Party, we certainly aren't. I beg to differ with the member opposite. I just take a look at a number of factors, and it really comes down to the quality of life in the Yukon, which I believe has. The way of life, in terms of when you look at the economics of the number of individuals who have moved to the Yukon - we have more people who are employed today, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and there is a lot of economic activity compared to a few years ago. Our tourism visitation numbers are up and, compared to many other jurisdictions in the country, we are very fortunate to have that occur. In terms of mining exploration - that's also up. Forestry is certainly emerging as a great strategic industry, and we had a very good announcement coming forward from the minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources the other day that a million cubic metres will be released in terms of harvest.
There are so many initiatives that I'm not really even sure where to start. I wanted to begin with an overview of where we have been, where we've come to and where we wish to go tomorrow.
In his Budget Address, the Premier outlined where we were and where we are about to go, presenting our vision for the future of the Yukon, which is a very good one.
I have heard on my travels around the territory and outside the territory - in Canada and outside of Canada - that Yukon is one of the best places to live. For me, it is the best place to live. It's one of the best places to raise a family. It's a safe community. Do we have problems? Yes, we have problems but, relative to other jurisdictions in the country, we are very blessed to have a very strong social fabric here in the Yukon. It's a great place to meet others and be friends with so many people in your community - the very fact that everyone knows everyone and, if you don't, you certainly know their neighbour, their brother, or their father down the street.
The relationships are very strong here in the Yukon. We rely on partnerships with each other. We rely on partnerships with other governments and industry in order to sustain a very healthy economy and vibrant way of life in the Yukon. It's one attribute that we can all celebrate as Yukon citizens and it instills so much pride in all of us.
I'd like to start out with some of the highlights in my respective departments. I'd like to start with the Department of Tourism and Culture. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Department of Tourism and Culture for all their support over the last number of years, for all their patience in working with each of us, and also for their leadership in working collaboratively and very closely with industry to continue to develop a very strong and vibrant tourism economy.
I will refer to some comments that were made by the former leader of the Liberal Party, and I think there was one comment I was just looking at. She questions whether or not there has been any innovation in the tourism industry - one new program. Have there been any innovative programs under our government and that, no, not one such program has occurred.
I have to really differ with the member opposite again. I think that under this government we have worked so closely with industry, and we have always taken direction from industry. It is market driven, but it is industry led, and it's really critical to understand that component of the tourism industry. As a result, we've been able to work with individuals who are represented on the senior marketing committee of the Yukon Tourism Marketing Partnership. We have taken their leadership. They are a great group of individuals who volunteer their time and provide to the Department of Tourism and Culture the strategic directions for the department over the next year, as well as over the next three to five years through our strategic plans.
I very much appreciate, and I want to thank each and every one of them for their participation and for their involvement and for lending us their expertise over the last three years. Clearly, their efforts have produced some great product and some great results.
One of the innovative, creative programs we have created has been the tourism cooperative marketing fund. This is something that was expressed to us a couple of years ago. It was made known to us by industry that this is a priority, and they would like to see this kind of assistance being made available to industry.
The tourism cooperative marketing fund has certainly been very overwhelming. About $2 million has been invested by government and industry - 50:50 dollars - to promote the Yukon worldwide. As I have mentioned on a number of occasions on the floor of the Legislature, this fund is unique in the fact that we're able to leverage dollars from the private sector, making it a true partnership to promote the Yukon industry throughout the territory, as well as outside the Yukon.
We accept applications from all kinds of Yukon businesses, other respective governments, and tourism organizations - funding to market their products and services worldwide and here in the Yukon itself. We have been very pleased with the results. In fact, I continue to receive letters to continue with this program. It has been very successful and has helped their ability to promote not only their business, but the Yukon at large. Of course, we are always looking to leverage those partnerships because we like to use our dollars wisely and strategically. As a result, we are able to garner those partnerships that will allow us to leverage those extra dollars. This case is a very good example of that.
Another major new initiative is the development of the Yukon tourism brand strategy. I am really quite excited about this initiative, which has been years in the making. It's a product of years of effort and hard work by individuals involved in the tourism industry. This was recognized as the number one priority of the senior marketing committee. As a result, we have contributed a significant amount of money over the years toward developing this new brand strategy. While we have yet to actually launch the new Yukon tourism brand, I can say that I am very excited about it, about the opportunities it will provide Yukon businesses and Yukoners at large. It will instill a sense of pride in all of us and re-emphasize that pride. It will certainly go a long way to leverage a lot of recognition in the marketplace, which is becoming so much more competitive these days.
We have dedicated a couple hundred thousand dollars toward the implementation of the brand strategy. Actually, it's more than that, because at the end of the day it will include dollars to implement banners, to incorporate this and execute this in all our marketing programs and projects. We will continue to work with all our stakeholders, respective governments in the territory, organizations, and businesses alike, to encourage them to use the brand strategy so that we can extend the leverage so much more.
It's one thing if the department lends its execution in all its programs, but it's another thing if we are able to garner additional support through the use of other resources through other respective governments, organizations and businesses, as I mentioned before.
There has been a significant amount of research with respect to the development of the brand strategy. I think it has been a very fascinating process. I have learned an awful lot about the Yukon. I guess one of the things that does instill a lot of excitement within me about the new brand is many of the results that came out of the research - which, by the way, generated over 3,000 inquiries, as well as different leads that we were able to build on - and it shows us what Yukoners' thoughts are about the Yukon. Those are the exact same feelings that are being exemplified by people outside the Yukon and in some of our key international markets, as well as in North America.
So the brand should help to articulate, again, the Yukon and what visitors are really looking for in terms of product. Again, this has been driven by industry. It has been produced by industry, and we will work with industry to implement the new brand. So again, I am very excited about the actual launch, which should occur sometime later on this month.
Another exciting initiative, of course, is the proposed pan-northern marketing initiative for the upcoming 2007 Canada Winter Games. This budget includes $1 million to join with the first $1 million that we tabled in the fall supplementary budget last November. This is a tremendous opportunity. It is really one of the first opportunities for the Yukon to be able to really showcase what we do best and what we all have to offer.
In terms of partnerships, as you know, Mr. Speaker, we've been able to garner great success with our two northern territories. We have been able to implement and initiate a lot of exciting initiatives as a result of our pan-northern working relationship with our two northern territories.
This marketing initiative, this national marketing campaign, is really a great opportunity for the Yukon. It will be emphasizing the Yukon as a great place to visit, and it will be emphasizing the Yukon coming of age. I speak of that - as the chair of the host society also speaks of that - as we are coming of age with the settlement of land claims and the devolution of resources, lands and minerals from the federal government to the territory.
There are tremendous opportunities in the Yukon and those opportunities will only serve to grow in the Yukon as the years go by. We look forward to working with the host society and our two sister territories toward the development of the marketing campaign, and actually seeing the product and hearing about the north and the comments from the rest of the country - and again just being able to place more focus on some of our existing programs to really accentuate what we have in place in terms of tourism product here in Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, we have also been following the lead of the senior marketing committee by way of making increases to some critical areas, such as our Tour Yukon Web site, increases to media relations and travel-trade activities in North America. These increases, which we first made a year ago, are all maintained in our 2006-07 budget.
These increases total a substantial investment in media familiarization tours, both overseas and here in North America, as well as investments in our Web sites. These are all important marketing tools for the Yukon, and they help build stronger linkages to our Yukon operators, not to mention building those bridges between our operators and new media and trade operators and Web sites.
We have seen a great return on investment for every dollar we have invested in media familiarization tours. We have received multiple dollars in return. I just refer to a bit of news on the radio the other day about Tommy Hilfiger, the clothing company that will be holding their shoot for their upcoming catalogue - I can't recall if it's a winter catalogue; it must be - and how they will be employing so many individuals here on the ground, and they are using the Yukon as a backdrop. This is a significant opportunity for the Yukon. Whether it be that or film, it all bodes well exposing the Yukon and raising awareness of the Yukon and all the attributes in a very positive light. We're very pleased to be able to work with interested companies from all over the world and to facilitate their stay here in the Yukon.
Another exciting initiative that we started a couple of years ago is the Yukon scenic drives. The Yukon scenic drives program has been a great investment of dollars. It was a total of $350,000 with the first allotment of money in 2005. It has given us an opportunity to provide marketing tools. Its primary objective is to increase rubber-tire visitation and length of stay in the Yukon.
Of course it incorporates a direct mail campaign as well as Web site development, which is a great Web site - driveyukon.com and people should take a look at it - and significant investment in interpretive pullouts and signage. I really have to emphasis this because sometimes when we get caught up in marketing campaigns, I think that we don't pay far near enough attention to the other components of our campaigns. Of course, part of the scenic drives is also about building product along our highways. That is inclusive of interpretive pullouts and signage. In fact, just looking at the breakdown of interpretive signage, in 2005, because last year's scenic drives campaign was dedicated to the Alaska Highway - the first official drive - we put $155,000 toward interpretive signage and that's an incredible investment. That's the first time that any government in Yukon's history, as far as I can remember, has really increased its investment in signage. Signage is so critical along our highways because - I hate to say it - the better our highways get, the more quickly our tourists seem to want to make a move and make a mile. So, having more attractive pull outs, having more attractive signage for people to get out and stretch their legs, take a walk and learn about the area and the history and the culture in that area - those are all good things and so all contribute to staying another day in the Yukon.
Again, I won't go through the whole list, but I did want to make note that we did significantly provide a great investment there. At the same time we also put $60,000 toward the Klondike Highway in terms of interpretive signage.
As we just recently announced, the Klondike-Kluane loop scenic drive Web site was recently launched, with a further investment of $350,000. We will be incorporating additional dollars toward the further development of the Web site, promoting the region in a manner that reflects local priorities and pride of place. Of course, that will also be inclusive of interpretive signage.
I would remiss if I didn't break it down. For some of the ongoing signage projects - $215,000 will be allocated toward signage along the highway. The Klondike-Kluane loop includes the Alaska and Klondike highways. We are also going to be looking at the Golden Circle route, the Dempster route, and the Silver Trail. We are going to be looking to divert funding toward these respective scenic drives.
It is a significant investment and we are really quite pleased to be able to carry forward this particular program and see benefits coming from it, whether through the marketing campaign itself or through garnering success by having individuals stay longer along the highway, thanks to the pullouts and the signage.
In terms of other good news coming out of this budget, I refer to the arts and culture industry. As we all know, arts and culture are of fundamental importance to the fabric of our society. It helps to recognize the differences and similarities among us and celebrate those traits that make each of us very unique.
Within this budget are a number of different initiatives we're pleased to provide in support of our cultural industries. For example, our government is pleased to continue funding to the Longest Days Street Fair. As many of you may recall, this was a great success last year - it was the first year. I think it received rave reviews, all in all, from the business community and cultural organizations. We will continue to build upon the success of the 2005 Longest Days Street Fair. This year will be even bigger and better, because there's more lead time to prepare and organize for this fantastic event.
It's part and parcel of our commitment to restore and re-invigorate the downtown business core. We look forward to the many products we'll see here very soon from among the many different individuals and organizations that are very instrumental in preparing the Longest Days Street Fair.
In the budget we have also committed $180,000 toward, I guess you could say, a make-over of the Yukon Arts Centre as well. This is a request that was put forward to our offices not long ago. As many of us know, the Arts Centre is going to be a very important venue for the Canada Winter Games in terms of being able to provide cultural spaces for performances and cultural activities associated with the Canada Winter Games. We are very pleased to be able to provide an additional $180,000 toward new signage for the Arts Centre, new paint, new carpet, which we all know is desperately needed. So we're very pleased to come through with that request.
I would also be very remiss if we didn't reflect on the good announcement that the Minister of Education made not long ago in Dawson City, and that was with regard to KIAC, the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. Sorry, I get confused between Dawson City Arts Society and KIAC, which are almost one and the same. The school of visual arts is a very exciting initiative. It is another initiative that has been in the works for a number of years. This budget, of course, builds upon the dollars that fund KIAC, through the Department of Tourism and Culture. We did increase our dollars, I think, from $100,000 to $250,000 a couple of years ago in annual funding for DCAS for ongoing arts programming. With this announcement there is an additional $540,000 in support of the implementation the accredited visual arts program.
When we talk about partnerships, it's great to see that this initiative is a direct result of a very strong partnership involving Yukon College, DCAS and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in. If it were not for that partnership, this project would not have happened today. As I mentioned earlier, we are pleased to continue our support with $322,000 for arts programming, all said and told.
As I mentioned earlier, we are pleased to reiterate our support of the Yukon Arts Centre core operating funding. I would remind members that we boosted their funding by $150,000 last year, and we are pleased to continue this funding. The Yukon Arts Centre has been really a critical mover in initiating a lot of exciting developments here in the city, as well as throughout the territory, one of which is Arts Underground. Hopefully each of us in the House has had the opportunity to take a look at Arts Underground. I've been there many times, and I know the members opposite have also been there a time or two as well. There have been great exhibits going on there. It's a great place to hold receptions, and it's just a great venue for year-round visitors to the City of Whitehorse.
When we talk about the Arts Centre, we are also pleased to carry over an investment of $157,000 toward the Culture Quest we initiated a year and a half ago.
I know that I've elaborated on a number of projects that have been offered through this initiative, but it has given us an opportunity to come up with a number of creative projects, thanks to the many partners, the individuals and the many organizations that have been involved. It has provided great opportunities for our First Nations and our communities, in particular, to celebrate what makes life in the Yukon so very unique.
Another exciting initiative in the Department of Tourism and Culture pertains to heritage. In this budget we are pleased to come through with the remainder of the $500,000 toward the MacBride Museum expansion project. Again, this has been a project that MacBride has had on their books for many years - since the 1980s, I seem to recall. It is one that our government is very pleased to help make happen. MacBride Museum in turn has been able to use that funding and is working to leverage additional funds through the Canada cultural spaces program through the federal government. We hope to have a great announcement in the not-so-distant future with respect to securing those additional dollars.
In terms of other support to the museums, when we were first elected to office, we did take the initiative to listen to the museum heritage community. We were able to listen to their concerns associated with how the spending was being currently delivered through contribution agreements and they were asking for more flexibility in terms of how to spend those dollars. We were able to act upon that recommendation. We actually combined those two funding pots, and we were able to give that money directly to the museums, which bumped up their funding significantly and, most importantly, gave them, and continues to give them, the flexibility they need to carry forward their initiatives.
In this budget we are very pleased to provide an additional $200,000 in support of First Nation cultural heritage centres as well as museums across the territory. It is to be used for small capital refurbishments, exhibit assistance and so forth. This builds upon our new initiative of $220,000 in support of First Nation cultural heritage centres.
Mr. Speaker, I thought I had a lot more time. I am quite disappointed because I did have a lot more to say about Tourism and Culture. I wanted to make note of some significant investments that we have made in the Women's Directorate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Taylor: That would be great. I'm hearing a motion from the member opposite to perhaps allow me more time. I would be happy to take the member opposite's time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, not trying to be deflected too much, there are many good-news announcements in this budget. The mandate of the Women's Directorate is to work toward the social, legal and economic equality of women in the territory. I'm very proud to be able to work with such a dynamic group of women as found at the Women's Directorate. One of our priorities was to reinstate the Women's Directorate.
I was also mentioning the Department of Tourism and Culture because that was one of the first things we did as well.
When one looks at the budget of the Women's Directorate over the last number of years, it has been increased substantially toward generating women's equality projects, toward addressing violence against women and children in our communities, to addressing long-term funding needs for women's organizations throughout the Yukon.
Without going on, because I know I am very short on time in terms of the remainder of my address, I'd also want to speak about the Public Service Commission and again just make mention that there are a number of very good initiatives in the Public Service Commission, inclusive of the continuation of investing in the public service initiative, including the increases to the workplace diversity employment office, which has enabled us to initiate and continue the training and work experience program for people with disabilities to gain work experience, as well as increase support through the Yukon First Nations training corps. Last year we were very proud to be able to add $200,000 to both the workplace diversity employment office and the First Nations training corps, which has helped provide assistance in terms of capacity building and training opportunities for many individuals throughout the territory.
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the dollars that we are putting forward within the Public Service Commission budget for pensions. In employee future benefits this year alone we are looking at $10 million to cover - as I mentioned last fall - employee leave and termination benefits liability, post-retirement and post-employment benefits liability and also our employer's pension plan contributions related to employee buy-backs and so forth.
So again, our continued commitment is that our pension programs are well funded and to ensure that these programs are fully accounted for within our budget - which they are.
I guess I have less than a minute now.
I just wanted to say that it has been a real privilege. This will likely be our last time within the term of this mandate to be able to address the budget during second reading. I'm very proud to support this budget. It has been attributed to the work of many individuals throughout the Government of Yukon. My sincere thanks to all the officials in all the departments and my sincere thanks to my colleagues for supporting this budget.
Mr. McRobb: To start with, I'd like to recognize the hard work done by the several dedicated members of the public service who helped in the preparation of the budget. I personally saw and talked to the Finance officials who accompanied the Premier on the community trips. I know there are probably hundreds of people within the public service who worked on this budget, so I'd like to recognize them.
I'd also like to thank the Yukon Party government for the good things that are in the budget. I think it is important to point out that the budget is not totally bad and the side opposite should recognize that. I know in the past we've been characterized as being totally negative on the budget because we may decide to vote against it. In reality, there might be some deficiencies in the budget or perhaps a show-stopper, such as a bridge in Dawson City, for instance, that might cause us to vote against the budget. I want to put on record that there are some good things in the budget.
That said, my role in here is not to always commend the government. My role is to ensure accountability and to critique the budget - we understand that - and also to try to provide some proper checks and balances. Whether the government listens or not, that's entirely up to it.
To start with, I would like to put on the record some concerns I have about what I see as a continuance of neglecting the proper authority of the Legislature. I guess you can sum it up in one word and call it “disrespect”. I'm a believer in the process and in the forum we members participate in. After all, we're elected by the people to represent them in this Chamber. I believe we should all show respect for the Legislature, but I have some concerns, and I wish to put them on the record.
Let's start with the budget pre-announcements that were made before the start of the sitting. Mr. Speaker, there was a time when budget leaks preceding the tabling of the budget would cause a government to fall. While there's no hard and fast rules around that, I think there's an obligation by the government of the day to show respect for this institution and try to leave the budget for those whose job it is to review and comment on it, and not try to reap some kind of public favour in chosen circumstances and glean good-news stories.
The second concern is the use of special warrants. Mr. Speaker, a lot has been said recently about the use of special warrants and how it basically circumvents the function of the Legislature to review and pass the budget. There are secondary concerns as well. Another concern I have is the delay in the start of the sitting. It's not just with the start of this sitting. It has been the case with virtually every sitting that has occurred under the Yukon Party government since it was elected on November 4, 2002. I have noticed that every fall sitting has started late and gone into essentially the Christmas season. Every spring sitting has started late and gone into essentially the summer season. One has to question why the government has adopted that practice, because we know Yukoners will zone out of the Legislature when it's the Christmas season, and they'll zone out when it's the summer season. So is it the intention of the government to schedule this sitting while Yukoners in general zone out so they may not follow the proceedings as closely as they perhaps would if the sittings occurred at a better time? I think probably a case could be made that that's exactly what's happening.
Another concern is with the length of the sitting. As the previous member said, this could be the final sitting, although there is some speculation this sitting is in fact the penultimate sitting, with the likelihood of a short sitting occurring in the fall prior to the next general election.
Nevertheless, the government House leader informed us today the government side would not be willing to accommodate both opposition parties in their request for a 40-day sitting. The government side will simply stand early next week and say that no agreement has been reached. Under the present rules, that means the length of this sitting will revert to the default number of 30 days. If we look at the parameters of the sitting and the business before the House, one can quickly conclude that 30 days simply isn't sufficient. Here is the reason why: we are looking at the largest ever budget in Yukon history that is currently before us. We need to examine the budget in sufficient detail in order to be confident before we vote. Secondly, we also have to obtain the level of confidence to provide the proper checks and balances. In order for that to happen, there has to be an adequate period of time.
In addition, there is a lot of legislation in this sitting that we have to deal with. Typically, the fall sitting is deemed to be the legislative sitting, and the spring sitting is the budget sitting. We've already seen more legislation tabled in this spring sitting than we've ever had from this Yukon Party government in any fall sitting.
What is there to say about that? I think it indicates that the government probably should have rolled its sleeves up a little higher and done the work a little sooner on a lot of these bills that are now before us in this House. We're going to need time to go through each piece of legislation.
There is another dynamic that adds to the case for a 40-day sitting. That is that essentially there are four opposition parties, if you want to look at the two independent members being on their own.
Each independent member has the ability to critique each and every department in the budget, so that raises the possibility that there won't be time for questioning in each and every department by the official opposition and the third party, let alone the independent Member for Klondike and the independent Member for Mayo-Tatchun. So all told, 30 days simply isn't enough.
Now, is there really 30 days? Let's go there, because this is another factor. If you subtract the first five days of this sitting that dealt with budget speeches and budget replies, that leaves only 25 days. In addition are probably seven or eight motion days. That brings the number down to about 17 days. To deal with all the legislation - easy, seven days. That reduces it further to only 10 days for the largest budget in Yukon history. Well, let's compare that. In the fall, I believe 14 days werespent on a supplementary budget. There were only essentially three opposition parties at the time, if you consider the independent Member for Klondike as one of them.
So we have an extra two parties that potentially review the budget and take up time asking questions. In addition, the amount of this mains budget, as compared to the supplementary budget in the fall, is about 10 times more; yet we have only about two-thirds as much time, so there is a great disparity between the two. I am afraid this will only leave time for the usual, lengthy introduction speeches by the minister followed by one or two questions, and that's it. That's it. Time would be up. So is that sufficient time to analyze the budget and attain the comfort level required in order to vote on the budget? I don't think so.
Is it enough time to develop sound checks and balances and make proposals? Well, it might be, but common sense dictates a negative response to that question as well.
The point is that this government has always shortened the length of the sittings. It has happened before and it is due to happen now, if we can believe the government House leader this morning. I introduced a motion today to clearly put on record the third party's position with respect to the sitting days, and we clearly favour a 40-day sitting. If you look at that, Mr. Speaker, a 40-day sitting would double the time in which all members can address the budget. It's amazing when you do the math. I just calculated that, after all the other business is dealt with - motion days, budget replies, legislation - we are likely left with 10 days. Well, an extra 10 days in the sitting would double the amount of time we have to debate the budget. That's a major difference.
I would urge the government to reconsider its position to disagree with the opposition parties and thereby shorten the length of the sitting.
Another concern is this government has been secretive with public information. As one example, nothing has been clearly said about the seniors care facility in Haines Junction, for instance. I know the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation is anxious to tell us the good news and he is waiting for the cake to be baked and the press release to be done up, but in the meantime we on this side are left with no knowledge of what is really happening. I did learn yesterday there is nothing in the Health and Social Services budget to accommodate this facility. Absolutely zero.
The news so far has been bad. I'm hoping the government will come around to providing some level of satisfaction with respect to that facility, which is really needed in that area.
Another area where this government has been too secretive is in not providing community breakdowns of the budget spending. What are community breakdowns, Mr. Speaker? That's a list of spending, by community, from the budget. For instance, I could get a page that might say Beaver Creek, and it would identify typically six, seven or eight items that are from the budget and will be spent in Beaver Creek.
Last year we asked for it, and finally the government did provide it, and I had the community breakdown by the time I gave my budget reply speech. This year it is different. The government still hasn't provided the community breakdown information from the budget, even though this was requested at the budget briefing held more than a week ago. We know the information is produced at the same time as the budget. It is sitting up there on the Premier's desk with a sticky note on the top of it that probably says, “Don't distribute to the opposition parties until they have finished their budget reply speeches.”
Mr. Speaker, that wraps up my concern that the government is being too secretive with the information.
There is another concern about the government's lack of openness with public information. That has to do with how it stopped the budget handouts - the budget briefing summaries that used to be handed out by the departments during the budget briefings. In fact, it was established last year how this came about.
There was an order from the Yukon Party government to the deputy ministers to discontinue that practice. That is definitely a step backward in cooperation with all members of the Assembly working collaboratively - all the good promises made by the Yukon Party during the last campaign. The four Cs are all broken by this order to cut back on the information provided to the opposition.
Another step back was this government's decision to stop disclosing legislation to the opposition members prior to a sitting. We know that the previous government, and perhaps the one previous to that, would identify the legislation in a sitting for the benefit of the opposition parties prior to the start of the sitting. Well, we don't get that any more. That's another step backward.
There is yet another concern about the lack of openness with respect to providing information. We saw it yesterday during the ministerial statement the Justice minister gave on the safer communities legislation. We were expected to engage in a debate without having first seen the legislation. Why was that? There is no reason to justify that, other than the old game of the government wanting to hoard all the information and not provide it to the opposition parties.
The standard response by us in the opposition is: how can we serve the public's interest if we don't have the information? It all comes down to accountability. How accountable does the government of the day want to be held? That's what it comes down to. If you sum up these concerns, it's clear to see that this version of the Yukon Party, this government, has lowered the bar of accountability.
T here are other concerns, too, Mr. Speaker, but the clock is ticking away, and I do want to get on with some other areas.
Our leader indicated in his budget reply speech how the Yukon Party government is spent; the budget is spent; the bank reserve is spent; the public's confidence is spent, and after his record two-and-a-half-hour budget speech, the Premier was spent too. Well, Mr. Speaker, there might be some humour in that, but as is usually the case, there is sometimes a lot of truth in humour. There is a lot of truth in those remarks, because if you examine the fiscal situation of the Yukon government, here's what you'll see: in the past four years, the Yukon Party government has emptied the Yukon's bank account. Our year-end bank balance has plummeted from a healthy $70-million surplus to an estimated amount of less than $15 million this fiscal year. So much for future prosperity, Mr. Speaker. And where is the contingency? Where is the rainy day fund? And all this, despite having received record transfers from Ottawa. The biggest federal government handouts ever in Yukon history are all gone. Everything is spent down to one of the lowest year-end levels ever. It might be the lowest ever. There is less than $15 million in the account. Well, that's a very small contingency, when you consider the total government budget. If a business operated that way, it would be risking bankruptcy.
Is this out-of-control spending the responsible approach Yukoners want? Well, I don't think so. What's worse, there are several high-priority items that really needed funding and didn't get it. This includes new facilities such as schools, fire halls, nursing stations - including the possibility of a clinic to serve Whitehorse, as identified by the Yukon Registered Nurses Association in a release early last year - seniors facilities, such as the one identified for the Kluane reason. Another one is being studied for the Teslin region. Another one being talked about is in Dawson City, which I understand is still in doubt, and other regions as well - probably in the Southern Lakes region and in the Mayo-Tatchun region too. I've heard there is also an increasing demand there for the seniors facilities.
All these projects were left out of this budget, yet there was a record amount of money spent. The handouts from Ottawa were at a record amount. It doesn't bode too well for the future that we've blown all the money while ignoring these very high priorities of Yukoners.
Something else I want to raise is the realization of the high spending yet the omission of the high-priority projects. The realization of that really calls into question the budget reaction, as reported in the media, from the official opposition, the NDP.
I was bewildered - as probably most Yukoners were when they read in the paper the comments from the NDP leader - that he doesn't know how the government could possibly spend its capital budget, it is so big. A couple of paragraphs before that, Mr. Speaker, it was pointed out how this year's capital budget is in fact less than last year's capital budget. Yet the leader of the official opposition can't understand how it is possible to spend that much money. I think a lot of people were shaking their heads at that remark, Mr. Speaker, because it is possible to spend that much money easily, and more. We know that. I'll speak for my riding, because those are the communities I am familiar with - I'm familiar with the needs of my constituents.
If this government had built that fire hall in Beaver Creek, or that seniors facility in Haines Junction, or if the Education minister hadn't been outwrestled on the school in Burwash Landing, or if there had actually been lot developments and land made available in Destruction Bay and Beaver Creek and other areas - if all these things had happened, the budget would have been larger. I don't have a problem envisioning a larger number. Of concern is how these projects were left out while spending at record levels, and of course the realization of the huge transfers from Ottawa, along with the possibility that those transfers might be reduced in future.
So, I think the comment from the official opposition leader reveals a poor understanding of the territory's finances, and a lot more can be said about that party's inability to address economic issues, but I won't go there.
Even the Yukon Party has come to the aid of the NDP lately, I have noticed. Yesterday the Premier was seen waving his arms in here, and he was apparently excited about a potential left-right reunion. Now, this raises a few eyebrows, of course, Mr. Speaker, but today we saw a few more clues, including how the relationship between the two was further exposed when the leader of the official opposition agreed to pair with the Premier so he can travel next week, even though he has got the numbers on his side in the House, and the independent Member for Klondike stated publicly he would vote for the budget.
I think what it really does is speak to the lack of confidence by the Premier in the security of his own numbers in this House. Now, we already have heard one of his ministers declare his soon-to-be free-agent status. Perhaps there are others as well. Only time will tell, I guess.
I recall a time when the Premier was House leader for the official opposition - the NDP at the time. There was indeed a cosy relationship with the Yukon Party. Then of course he eventually became part of the Yukon Party and a month later he rose quickly through the ranks, and he became leader of the Yukon Party in a landslide one-vote victory. But let's also remember the only other candidate - the Member for Klondike - continued his out-of-territory vacation at the time. So it was not really a hard-fought contest, obviously.
We have witnessed this type of marriage before, and it ended up in quite a mess. This whole budget and all the other extracurricular affairs really are about leadership. Yukoners really want a leader they can trust and be confident in. I believe there is only one choice, Mr. Speaker, and, of course, that led to a change in which party I'm sitting with during this spring sitting. I think it has become obvious to Yukoners that there really is only one choice, and we'll see that materialize in the months ahead. It is becoming obvious that the other parties, the Yukon Party and the NDP have also reached the same conclusion. That's why they're flirting with this rekindling of the old relationship, and that's also why they've been focusing their attacks on the third party, the Liberal Party, recently. We take that attention in good spirit. And let it be said on the record that we won't shy away from being held fully accountable, as others have shied away.
Now, there are a couple of areas I want to mention before my time runs out. Members on the government side have said a couple of things lately that I would like to respond to. One of them is this reference to a trading post. Now, Mr. Speaker, the members opposite have made some vague references to their financial acumen not based on just some trading post.
We're not sure what they meant by that, because no members in our caucus have ever run a trading post, although we've all shopped at a few. Were the members opposite trying to demean Yukon small business? We certainly hope not. Does a business have to be so large that its owner can be robbed of over $200,000 before it qualifies as good experience to sit on the government side?
Speaker: I have been very, very tolerant of the Member for Kluane. You've clearly crossed the line by talking about an individual's private business that has nothing to do with the issues on the floor of this Legislative Assembly. I would ask the member to keep that in mind, please.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your ruling.
Now, we don't want to suggest that every person who sits in this Assembly has to be a successful business person, but certainly we expect the right of reply when our credibility is called into question.
Another concern came up late yesterday during the motion debate. The members opposite seemed to miss the point of our suggestions that we would support a pan-northern approach to requesting the Conservative federal government address their responsibility to support affordable housing in the territories. Looking at the budget, there isn't a whole lot to address that matter.
First of all, the Yukon Party members voted in support of my amendment to the motion. Then, those same members wandered into a confused discussion of how they thought this was somehow in contradiction of our earlier assertion that there was no economic development plan beyond spending other people's money.
Let's look at that. The case I want to make is that there clearly was no contradiction. We have criticized the Yukon Party government - well, it used to be known as the Yukon Progressive Conservative government, but they woke up one fine day and discovered they weren't too progressive, so they removed that part of the label from their name. Then they were so embarrassed about being conservative under the Mulroney government that they deleted that part too. So that's when we saw them re-branded as the Yukon Party, back in 1992.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Yes, we hope they keep the Yukon.
Anyway, we criticized their lack of an economic development plan and their lack of a fiscal plan, beyond spending other people's money, which they have proven they're very good at. We never suggested, as they have tried to claim, that we would send the money back. We never suggested that, and we're surprised it's they who have suggested it. Perhaps that's their secret plan - it certainly isn't ours - but we don't know what their secret plan really is, because it's still a secret, just like a lot of other things I identified earlier.
We suggested, and will continue to suggest on this side - and even the official opposition, their newfound friends across the floor, have suggested this - that their plans for the economy don't go beyond spend, spend, spend. That is very different from our suggestion that we would support the Yukon government in requesting more funding from the federal government to support the critical need for affordable housing.
We on this side of the House do not feel that $180,000 condominiums are very affordable, and we certainly made that case yesterday in debating the motion. But just coming up with an acceptable definition of affordable is not going to put roofs over our heads. We need the funding and, as the government likes to say, we need our fair share.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the real point here is that if the Government of Yukon is going to help the Yukon's economy become self-sufficient, there is a real need for an economic plan. We have seen very little in the way of an economic plan from this government. The whole issue about getting federal support for social housing is minute in comparison. There's nothing wrong with holding the federal government accountable for their fair share of affordable housing as it applies across every other Canadian jurisdiction, but that should not be confused with this government's growing dependency on federal handouts while failing to encourage economic growth within the territory to help our self-reliance in the future. That's the point.
I hear the Premier saying he's going to go after that. Well, I'll be looking forward to that. Let's hear straight from the horse's mouth - if I'm permitted that analogy, Mr. Speaker - what this government will do to encourage self-sustainability in the territory, what it's doing now, because we're almost at the end of this government's mandate. My time is almost up, Mr. Speaker, but so is the Yukon Party government's time. In comparable terms, it's one minute to midnight on the clock. This government has but a minute left in its mandate before an election will be called - in relative terms, that is. We look at what's on the table, the amount of work before us in this sitting, the biggest ever budget, the biggest ever workload of legislation and everything else, and it has all come down to the end of the road for this government, both in terms of trying to get its work in on time. I'm sorry, it is late. The homework is late. The voters at the polls will likely dock some points on the report card of this Yukon Party government, and there are a lot of missing assignments - assignments like the Children's Act review and other reviews. There is no sight of them at this time.
Here we are facing a general election in what could be weeks ahead, or at best six months ahead. In November I believe this government's mandate expires. So we've come down to the end of the wire for the Yukon Party government and I think a lot of people in the Yukon recognize that. They've thrown out the past four governments. They probably see no reason to give this government an added mandate. We are in what's called the “drive-for-five”. A lot of people in the territory are suspect about what's in the budget. They are being careful not to read too much into it.
I'll give you an example. This elders cultural facility in Burwash that the Premier promised people was in the budget. There is only study money in the budget. Well, I can look back - there is a five-year-old study on the Burwash museum that has never been responded to, Mr. Speaker, so just because there is study money, there is no guarantee of building money.
Thank you for your time.
Mr. Hassard: I rise to speak in support of the budget before us today. I would like to start by thanking my colleagues, the many staff and department officials who put many long hours putting the budget together. I would also like to thank the new and improved Member for Kluane for his glowing review and telling us that he was thanking us for the good stuff in the budget. It must have been his time - his short time - as a free agent that helped to clear his mind.
It is unfortunate that he spent so much time talking about the length of the session and how long we would have to debate the budget rather than actually debating the budget. However, that's his choice.
I believe that this budget reflects the needs of all Yukoners from north to south and east to west. A lot of effort has gone into developing a budget that helps to ensure a better quality of life for all Yukoners. As individual MLAs, we tend to focus on our own riding's needs - obviously that's our job first and foremost.
However, that said, when it comes to developing a budget, we have to look at all ridings in the territory. In the budget, we don't find a multi-million dollar capital project for every community, but not every community has that need. But I would like to think this budget has identified the priorities of all Yukoners.
It was interesting listening to the Member for Kluane today and his talk of spending other people's money. I question: whose money does any government spend? Is it not taxpayers' money? What is the purpose of collecting taxes? I believe it should be spent responsibly, but saying that's all we do is a rather absurd statement.
The leader of the third party has some belief that we should not be working hard at getting what is rightfully ours from Ottawa. He almost makes it sound like it's a crime to receive funding from Ottawa. But in the same breath, he will tell us that in some instances we should go back to Ottawa and try to get more funding.
There is no shortage of mention of the fact that they feel the Liberal Member of Parliament has provided us with everything we have; all the good things that are in the Yukon are because of our MP. Our MP does some good things for us, I'm sure. But why is it okay for the Liberal Government of Canada, when they were in power a short time ago, to spend taxpayers' money, to send some of that money to the Yukon government, but then it's not okay for the Yukon government to spend that money? I'm confused by the member opposite's comments. He can't have it two ways.
Now, on that topic, I'm not one to sit back and let the federal government pay for everything we do. I would like to see this territory be more self-sufficient. I believe we have enough resources here in the territory to make that happen, and I believe this government has gone to great lengths to get us going in that direction. It's admittedly not as fast as some of us would like, but there are reasons for that. We, on this side of the House, believe that one of the biggest reasons for that is the many years that previous government spent chasing investment away from this territory.
We've lived through it - those of us who have been here for the last, previous to this government's term, six years. We had a front-row seat.
It brings to mind - and I don't know if I've told this story or if you want to call it a story - my experiences from about 1996 when I was on the Campbell Highway doing some contracting. I was in the vicinity of the gravel pit that is at the start of the winter road into Wolverine Lake. At that time it was a very busy gravel pit - I don't know what else to call it. It was a staging area for helicopters. It was a place for them to pick up loads and a place for crews and trucks and everybody to meet. I assume most things were being flown into the Wolverine property, but I know other mining properties as well that were being serviced from there. It was extremely busy. Every day there were trucks, pickups and helicopters - definitely a busy place. The people I talked to in the area at the time were optimistic and felt good about the economy of the territory and things were, in my mind, generally quite good.
Then, guess what happened? We had a territorial election. I know members from the opposition have told me that it wasn't just that election that caused the turn in exploration in the territory, but it was much more than coincidence that it happened at the same time. Almost overnight the optimism and the attitude of people working in those types of industries changed, and it wasn't for the better. The crews and the helicopters and the trucks just started to dry up. There just wasn't as much interest, and investor confidence was obviously disappearing.
Not just there - this was around the territory, and, in great part, I believe it was due to industry not having confidence in the new government coming into power. It's no secret that was a government believed to be less than friendly toward resource development and, in my mind, it was the beginning of the end. The following four years saw resource development come to a grinding halt in the Yukon. All the while, places like Alberta, B.C., N.W.T. and Alaska were continuing to see a lot of exploration work take place, with mines being developed, and whatnot.
In 2000, we had another territorial election, and to many people, myself included, there was a hope of a turnaround in the economy, perhaps a new direction being sought by government, with industry hoping there would be a change for the better. Instead we got a protected areas strategy and Wal-Mart. I'm not sure in which order they came, but the protected areas strategy was the one that affected most people. I think most people are happy to have Wal-Mart - not all people, but most people.
I'm sure some of the government members of the day thought the protected areas strategy would be a tool to bring certainty to industry, and it did bring certainty: it made most people run. It became a way of removing huge tracts of land from possible development. It was certainty, making sure no one invested, and the manner in which it was presented to the public was a lot less than desirable: here it is, and too bad if you don't like it. Where was the consultation? I guess there was some. I recall a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Teslin where members were being informed of the process. I can tell you it was not a favourable experience, and I'm surprised that nobody was hurt. It still makes me mad thinking about it, four years later.
Now, the government of the day did finally, reluctantly, shelve the strategy. However, in the meantime, any hope of attracting investors was long since lost. But it went downhill from there.
We think back to our Mayo-Dawson power transmission line. Again, I had a front-row seat. Unfortunately, I had to pay for that one. I don't recall a lot of consultation on that project. I didn't live in Whitehorse at that time. Being in Teslin, maybe it wasn't important to Teslinites; I don't know. But there was obviously a lack of interest in looking at the financial reasons for doing it, among other things. I heard the word “boondoggle” from the Liberal benches there the other day. And they would know a boondoggle, because this was a boondoggle.
I would call it a comedy of errors, but it really wasn't that funny.
I don't know where to start, with the cost overruns or the time delays or the trespassing on First Nation land - you have your pick. It was quite an interesting scene. As I said, I did have a front-row seat. Interestingly enough, I was in Dawson a month or so ago for a hockey tournament and - guess what? The equipment is still out trying to get some of the poles to stand up. So obviously it was a great choice of projects to take on and well done.
If memory serves me correctly, I believe $17 million was the estimate, and we're nearing $40 million, I believe. It's not done yet and we still have court cases. It's just wonderful stuff, but that was the previous government, so we've tried to alleviate some of the problems and get things back on track.
I know members opposite are going to cry foul and say that it was all done at arm's length and really wasn't their fault. Unfortunately, they are responsible and we have heard about the political direction given to make that project happen. Talking with people outside the territory - it's talked about in the provinces of how a government in the Yukon went ahead and built this questionable power line.
One of the items in our budget this year was dollars allocated to complete what I call an affordable housing initiative that will temporarily be used to house the athletes for the Canada Winter Games. There has been a lot of criticism of our funding this project. The previous government agreed that the Yukon would be the site of the 2007 Canada Winter Games; they were involved in that decision. I have to wonder: did anyone look at the cost versus the amount of money that came with the games? If they had looked closely - if they had looked at all - I'm assuming they would have seen that this $2.7 million figure for an athletes village was not a number expected to pay for the complete athletes village, that it was merely an estimate. According to the newspaper, the president of the host society was saying it was an estimate to perhaps cover the cost of renting or leasing some space.
I don't know why the government of day didn't try to negotiate some more finances. I don't know if they were expecting each athlete to get a bedroll and a pup tent and fend for themselves - maybe they thought it was the summer games and they could camp outside, I'm not sure. To me, it looks like a glaring error in budgeting. The criticism is coming our way that we are not doing a good job but, in fact, if they had done their job to start with, we wouldn't be here. Maybe there are other things that they had in mind. Maybe they wanted to put the athletes out at the outfitters' camps. They had to close down an outfitting business, so maybe they wanted to use those camps for some accommodations.
There were other businesses that they had shut down, so maybe the sawmill in Watson Lake was to be the place for the athletes to stay: sawdust mattresses - $2.7 million for sawdust mattresses.
Now, I'm not thrilled with the project that we have today. I think most people know that - but, given the situation we were put in, it's the best one we can come up with under the time and financial constraints. I'm disappointed to see the opposition wailing away on what they see as a problem when, in fact, it's a solution to someone else's problem.
My riding has been fortunate to receive some much-needed infrastructure over the past two budgets, and this year is no different.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hassard: The Education minister is reading my mind. I was thinking of a $200,000 allocation of funds for improving the foundation for the Ross River school. I don't know if he read my notes, or what. They are very necessary dollars to ensure a quality learning environment for the students of Ross River. Also in the area of Ross River, the Campbell Highway is receiving $1.6 million to ensure that the residents of Ross River and Faro can travel more safely to and from their communities, as well as hopefully gain employment in those contracts that are taking place.
The development of a replacement strategy for the MDMRS radio system, which includes cellular phone service to Yukon communities, will go a long way toward improving lives of people in Faro, Ross River and Teslin, and the many communities that get it earlier. I believe there are 13 communities expected to get it this summer; hopefully all will in short time. I look forward to the day when I can use my cellphone in all the communities. I'm sure it's a safety issue and a lot of people are pleased to be able to use their cellphone to get hold of anybody they need to.
On the topic of safety, there's $50,000 in the budget toward the purchase of a highway rescue vehicle - I believe it's referred to as a hazmat vehicle - for the community of Teslin, and that's something that has been requested for awhile. The stretch of highway between Watson Lake and Teslin is prone to motor vehicle accidents in the summer. I'm not sure if anybody has narrowed down the reason why. It's certainly not the condition of the highway, but perhaps the distance between larger centres or the long hours of daylight the tourists are unaccustomed to, and perhaps they simply fall asleep - I'm not sure.
Anyway, I know the Teslin volunteer fire department and the ambulance and rescue people from Teslin have indicated to me for a period of time that it's something they have to deal with and they look forward to this vehicle to help them do that.
I know that, in the past, they carried the Jaws of Life in the EMO vehicle and it wasn't the best fit, so a lot of people will be pleased with that allocation of funding.
Teslin people will also have an opportunity to gain employment on some projects: the deck replacement for the Teslin River bridge at Johnsons Crossing, as well as a similar project at Seaforth Creek near Squanga Lake. Both of these projects will be a boost to the local economy while also providing safer travel for all. It's my understanding that the Johnsons Crossing bridge will be three feet wider than it is now. I hope that is true.
The repairs at Johnsons Crossing will complement approximately $5 million already spent on that bridge in the last two years, improving the strength of the bridge and improving the strength of the piers underneath. I know, being a Teslin resident, that a lot of people in Teslin have discussed over the years the condition of that bridge and how much longer it would be a safe bridge. So, I am proud. If we accomplish nothing else in my time in government, I will be able to forever say that I was involved in the repair of that bridge, so that when we are sitting around a coffee shop complaining about government, I will be able to have that on my list of accomplishments.
Well, we have done much more than just for my two or three communities, Mr. Speaker. We have allocated funding for most communities - all communities, I believe.
In Beaver Creek - expand the apron on the airport. I believe that's a $140,000 item and I know again, on the issue of safety, medevacs and all of those good things, I'm sure people there are pleased to see that.
The Chisana caribou herd recovery project was in the newspaper yesterday or the day before, talking about the successes; again, that is funding from the Department of Environment that makes that happen.
We see money in the budget for resurfacing the Burwash Airport runway - hopefully to improve things for medevacs. I understand that it is a fairly busy airport, so it is important that we keep it in good enough shape to use.
Carcross - certainly my colleague from the beautiful Southern Lakes has done his homework. We see that there is a new-and-improved, second access for Carcross. There is money for improvements to the Carcross fire hall, if I understand that correctly, a fairly substantial amount of money for rock scaling, for safety issues on the south Klondike Highway - certainly worthwhile expenditures.
Carmacks - we are working on sewage treatment there. There is a fairly substantial amount of money for that - $4.4 million - and another $6.75 million for the Carmacks school. I think people in that community will be quite pleased with what they see in the budget.
For the Town of the City of Dawson, there are allocations of funding for sewage treatment plant, money for the initial attack well, a refuelling system, fire management equipment and, of course - the Member for Kluane was complaining that we didn't do anything for the seniors care but, as you can see, there is money here to continue to work on that project.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: I'll rise on cue here, because I'm concerned the member is reading from a document that needs to be tabled. I suspect he's reading from a community budget breakdown, the very document I have identified earlier that the government has insisted it won't provide to all members of the Assembly. That's the only explanation for him to read the projects by community. That information is not compiled in any other document, except for a community budget breakdown. As is consistent with the precedents of this House, I ask that that document be provided to all members in this Assembly.
Speaker: Member for Lake Laberge, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: There is no point of order. The Member for Pelly-Nisutlin is simply reading from his notes. The Member for Pelly-Nisutlin is fully involved in the activities in his communities and is a very effective lobbyist for projects for his community. So he is well aware of those projects. It is standard practice that members may read from those notes, including any and all items that they are aware of. Since he is not reading from a community breakdown, there is no need to table his personal notes, I would suggest to you, based on past practice of the House.
Speaker: From the Chair's perspective, the Chair did not hear the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin quoting from a document. He was simply, from the Chair's perspective, reading a relatively well-prepared speech. I'd ask the member to carry on.
Mr. Hassard: Well, can I talk about the Town of Faro?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hassard: Well, having spending my time aggressively pursuing the ministers of this government, I have acquired some information and I will pass that information on. I am happy to say that there will be $75,000 allocated for improvements to the Faro nursing station. I hope the Member for Kluane is okay with that.
There is a tremendous amount of information in this budget and it's not too hard to glean what is relative to our ridings. The members opposite keep saying things aren't better in the territory than they were three and a half years ago, so I have endeavoured to find some facts to perhaps dispel their rumours. The population in December 2002 was 29,960; in December 2005, it was 31,587; an increase of 1,627. That tells me the territory is improving, that things are getting better, that people are not moving away.
The number of people employed in December 2002 was 13,300, and in December 2005 it was 15,600 - an increase of 2,300 people employed. Again, things are improving, the territory is growing, and I'm happy to say that I think we have a bright future to look forward to.
The unemployment rate has dropped from 10.4 percent in December 2002 to 4.3 in December 2005. I think that speaks to a lot of what's going on in the territory. The average weekly earnings have increased; the retail sales have increased. I don't know what to say, Mr. Speaker. Members opposite are missing the numbers.
If they're looking for a reason for why that is, I guess I could read from some of my other notes some of the things done by government departments that are helping to improve the economy. If we look at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources specifically, that department works with First Nations and others, and they're working to implement the new oil and gas disposition process. They continue the implementation of integrated resource management. I don't know - I could keep going and going, but I missed what time I started here.
I just think the future is bright for the Yukon, and I know that the people in the territory are starting to pick up on that. The opposition, unfortunately, hasn't, but that's not really a surprise. I don't know what more I should add. I believe that this budget helps to make the Yukon a better place to live. There are no new taxes, a surplus at the end of the day, and there is no doubt that, on election day, we will be judged. This government will be judged. But not only the government: the opposition parties also will be judged on their performance. I think the general public, when I am out and about - it's not as doom and gloom as some of the opposition members like to make it out to be. I'm hearing things from businesses around the territory that they certainly want to see this government form the next government to ensure that the growth of the territory continues. I'm hearing it more and more.
As for the opposition being judged, I am not sure - it appears that they are joining forces, so I'm not sure who is going to judge which side which way, but that's up to the public to decide. So I would just add that I do support this budget today, as I know it is going to support all Yukoners in the months ahead.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I begin my closing remarks, let me remind the opposition that, immediately upon conclusion of my remarks, there will be a test. So hopefully they are paying attention because, as I've listened to the ongoing debate over the last few days, there seems to be a misunderstanding on the opposition benches with respect to the budget, financial management, the balance sheet, the fiscal framework and all other relevant areas that would create what is a government budget on behalf of the taxpayers of the Yukon.
I think, Mr. Speaker, it's important to us to understand where we are, fiscally, in the Yukon Territory and where we are going. We have to delve in briefly to where we have been. I take you back, Mr. Speaker, to 2002-03, when the Yukon Territory and its government tabled a budget of somewhere in the neighbourhood of $500 million plus. The Yukon was in a very negative situation. Not only was our population depleting - there was an exodus of people from the territory - but we were in double-digit unemployment figures, industry was not even interested in the territory, small business was struggling - struggling greatly, not only to survive but to access capital or to grow or to do anything that is important to an economy and its driving forces.
Much of that can be attributed to government budgeting, because we have to understand that government budgets very much are about economic development and the creation of an environment in any given jurisdiction to foster and grow an economy. Governments must do that through financial management and budgeting, because if they do not, then what the opposition has been pointing out, especially the third party - the dependence on our federal government and others will continue to grow. That is why I am going to delve in to what about our core values in the country and this federation are all about and why budgets are so important.
Going back to 2002-03, the Yukon Territory had very little option, given the financial management of the former Liberal government. We were in an overdraft position. We were not booking all our liabilities. We were receiving qualified audits from the Auditor General. We were pegged as a jurisdiction with poor fiscal management and the telling signs were all around us, as I mentioned moments ago, with our reduced population, an economy that wasn't, and no hope, no optimism.
Mr. Speaker, we were at a crossroads in 2002-03. On November 4, 2002, the Yukon public went to the polls. The electorate said it's time to change. The change that took place was the election of the Yukon Party as government.
From that time forward, Mr. Speaker, we have been dedicated to the plan and the vision to change the direction the territory was going - a change for the better, a change for the positive, a change toward growth through sound fiscal management, a solid plan envisioned and a balanced approach to governance.
Mr. Speaker, from that point, a number of things have changed and a number of things have improved. When it comes to our budgets, in the government's first budget of 2003-04, the Yukon Party implemented restraint to get a firm grip on the finances of the territory so that we could create the options that I speak of. That had to be done considering the financial affairs of the Yukon under the former Liberal government.
We set about doing that by, as I pointed out, re-establishing with the federal government the very important principle, and a core value in this country, of the fair sharing of the country's wealth, which means that not only do individuals, citizens living in the provinces, have the luxury, if you will - the standard of living that they have come to expect through that sharing of wealth because of that core value - but so too do the citizens of the territories have that right to that standard of living. It comes in many forms, whether it be the education system, whether it be health care, whether it be their government investing in stimulus, creating economic growth, and an environment that fosters economic growth. It's about the program and service delivery to citizens across the country, and the core value is critical to that sharing of the wealth.
We, the three territories, made that case. We, by standing firm together, in a very collaborative approach, made the case with the federal government that the territories were not being treated as envisioned by that core value of the sharing of wealth. From there, the finances of this territory have changed and improved, and it has allowed us to get to where we are today - successive record-sized budgets, including the budget tabled here in this sitting, but also hundreds of millions of dollars more in circulation in the Yukon Territory. That is important, because the stimulus I speak of is the fundamental foundation for economic growth. The economic engine in any jurisdiction runs by cash flow. When you have no cash, there is no cash flow, your economy cannot grow and we experience what we did under the former Liberal government.
That is not the case today. Not only is there stimulus, there are advances and improvements in education, health care, justice, the social safety net and the lives of each and every Yukoner. We can safely say with the greatest confidence that the territory has improved. This is a better place to live than it was a few short years ago.
Now, it's going to be very difficult to try to rebut the members opposite, especially the third party, because the only way we can truly have an effective debate, as we should in this Assembly, is by dealing with the facts.
I can understand that the official opposition in this House has certain principles and values that they do not deviate from. There is a great respect on this side of the House for that very fact, and it is much easier to debate with the official opposition because we know where they stand, we understand their points of view and, in many cases, we've agreed with the New Democrats in this House. I think the record of unanimous motions that have been passed for the most part relate to the government side and the official opposition coming together in a collaborative way for the betterment of the citizens of this territory.
That is not the case with the third party and I think recent developments have shown that is not the case. Nobody is quite sure what the core values or principles of the third party are, and as I get into these concluding remarks, I'm going to attempt to point out why that is. But, first and foremost, I have to say that I am shocked that the Member for Kluane and the Member for Copperbelt, the leader of the third party, would use an analogy that the core value that is a demonstration of this federation and the fair sharing of the country's wealth so that all citizens are able to access a standard of living equal to any other jurisdiction - for the third party to label that as a “handout” is shocking, to say the least, Mr. Speaker, but it shows that the third party in this House has no understanding and does not subscribe to the core values and principles of this country, of this federation, whereby we are all equal. We all have the right to programs and services that meet the standard that every Canadian would enjoy.
The reason why we make the stand, as territories, is because there is a unique challenge to delivering those programs and services in the north. One of the unique challenges is the fact that it costs more. That is why the territorial funding formula was created and that is why we stood firm to ensure that the federal government was living up to its obligations and responsibilities to the territories.
Now, with that said, I know the official opposition will disagree on many fronts on where we are investing money. As I said, we respect that, we understand it, and I can say to the official opposition that we disagree with the view and vision of where they would spend money. There's a difference here. This government invests money; we don't spend money. There's an important point to be made here relative to the facts about what is happening in this territory and the statistics that show those investments - not wild spending - are producing results that are reducing our dependence on the federal government, because we are making complementary investments that are soliciting and generating incentives in the private sector for them to invest more. I will list a number of examples in that regard.
For the most part, I understand the official opposition's position. They would invest their spending, for example, on protected areas strategies and other things that were not a positive policy or an approach for budgeting by any government in this territory.
As far as the third party, I'm having trouble even figuring out if they understand a balance sheet and a financial statement. I will point to some areas that lead the government side to draw that conclusion.
Overall, our investments to date have done a number of things that are important, and let me start with the social side of the ledger.
To say that our quality of life in the territory has not improved flies in the face of the evidence when you consider what we have done in investing in education, what the government has done investing in health and social services, the social safety net and other programs that make sense to create a better quality of life for Yukoners.
When it comes to education, under the leadership and dedication of the Minister of Education, we have done some very significant things in improving and enhancing our education system to create that better quality of life. There is no doubt, based on the facts, that the minister's investment in the department itself, with the dramatic increases that he has brought forward, has produced results, beginning with a needs study across the territory in each and every community and school, helping to improve, on a local basis, immediate needs and addressing immediate needs: addressing the issue in Carmacks for a new school where it was needed; enhancing the ability to teach in our schools by ensuring we have the required complement of teachers and other assistants to make our school environments a better place for learning; the creation of the Individual Learning Centre, which is a phenomenal approach to try to bring those who have left the education system back into it again, creating a better quality of life.
There is also addressing the need to look into the future and increase our investments in trades and skills and training in areas important to the territory today and its future as our economy grows, increasing the base grant to Yukon College - which, I might add, contrary to the third party and the official opposition, has even received further investment in terms of facilities that will be used for student residences and affordable housing on the college precincts. I can guarantee you that investment will help us increase and enhance our ability to educate Yukoners, especially rural Yukoners. But overall, there's no doubt our quality of life has improved because of our investments in education.
On the health care front, we have made great gains. It is because we made the case on that core value of the fair sharing of the country's wealth. Today, our health care system is the better for it. There is no doubt that we have challenges but, as the minister recently announced, we are using the fact that we have garnered a much better focus from the federal government here in the north to improve, once again, far beyond where we've been at with our health care system. And under the minister's leadership, recent announcements show that the territorial health access fund will be used to enhance and improve the health care system for all Yukoners, once again creating a better quality of life.
I can go on, Mr. Speaker, but I have a number of points I'd like to touch on: our social safety net is very important to this government and we want to help those who need help.
We've been doing that with our budgets and all you have to do is look - look at the budgets in detail - and anyone who goes through a budget document from this government over the last three years will see quickly how we've managed to enhance and strengthen our social safety net.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the balanced approach is critical also to good governance when we address our environment, huge increases in the Department of Environment's budget and more to come. I can assure you of that. As I have said to our Department of Environment as the minister responsible, this government is not here to dictate what you do; this government is here to promote what you do. If we are to be effective in governance, if we are to be successful in development, we need a Department of Environment that has the necessary resources to be a very integrated part of our development and the building of our future. That's exactly what this government has done through its budgeting.
When it comes to the economy, Mr. Speaker, the evidence and the statistics show clearly that our budgeting and investments have produced results. It's no wonder, through our budgets - three record budgets - that the territory's population is growing. Because it is. As the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin pointed out, there are over 1,600 new residents in the Yukon Territory, hundreds more Yukoners working, historic lows in unemployment, more access to capital for business in the Yukon. Look at the mining industry: to say that our investment in that area, through the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, has not produced results is conveniently ignoring what's happening in that industry.
We've gone from approximately $5 million in investment in the mining industry under the Liberal watch a few short years ago to a projected $100 million this coming season under this government's watch. That's testimony to budgeting and our approach to fiscal management through not spending, but investing, where we can foster economic growth - the mining industry is a shining example.
Tourism is another example whereby our investments are producing results. There is growth in the arts and cultural community. This is private sector investment along with our complementary, compatible investment, creating economic growth in the territory. The film and sound industry - it is this government that created the film commission and the incentive fund. Through that investment, millions more are coming into this territory from that particular economic sector. I think the equation is somewhere in the neighbourhood of, for every $1 we invest, $10 more are brought into the territory from the private sector through this industry. The list goes on.
The point is, our budgeting and financial management is producing real, tangible results of improvement. That is why the Yukon Territory today, because of the financial management of the Yukon Party government, is a better place to live.
I'm trying to get an understanding of where the third party is coming from. It's not clear yet to me exactly what the leader of the third party is actually standing for and what kind of plan he has for the Yukon.
He must have one to have taken on the tremendous responsibilities of leading a political party in this territory with the thought in mind that it could get elected to government. I think that is a dangerous situation, considering what I have heard from the leader of the third party and his newly found colleague from Kluane who is searching for guidance possibly, Mr. Speaker. But whatever it may be, what I've heard from them leaves me very concerned about their abilities when it comes to managing what is the most important part of the territory- and that is its finances and the investment from those finances to make that quality of life for Yukoners even better than it is today.
I say that because the leader of the third party has made statements in the public domain when we have pointed out factual information, like that when we took office, the government was in an overdraft position to cash flow programs and services. When we pointed that out, the leader of the third party made it clear in the public domain that he was not any part of that former Liberal government, yet recently the member has stood on the floor of the House trying to defend that type of financial management that left the Yukon in such a financial mess. Mr. Speaker, the member goes on to say that under the Liberal financial management they had projected - I don't know where he gets the number - a $70-million accumulated surplus. I made the point with the member the other day that accumulated surplus - that is not cash in the bank. That is a year-end booking once all things have been consolidated with respect to the finances of the territory.
I rrespective of that, the member's numbers aren't correct at any rate. I want to do some comparisons, draw some parallels.
The member seems to be defending a financial position of the territory and the management therein as a good thing by citing this surplus, but I ask the member to explain to Yukoners how that can be a good thing when their annual surplus deficit - not accumulated, but annual year-end - was $56 million of deficit. Well, Mr. Speaker, under this government's watch, with hundreds of millions more in circulation, with record-sized budgets - three in a row, under this government's watch - the year-end position of the government, as booked for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2006, is a surplus of $37 million, almost $38 million. The comparison under Liberal fiscal management is an annual deficit of $56 million - no cash in the bank - and, under the Yukon Party government's financial management, a surplus at year-end of almost $38 million, with millions of dollars still in the bank account - I'll leave the choice to Yukoners on who they want to manage their finances.
Overall, the third party has not made the case that they have the necessary planned vision or financial understanding to take on what is a very difficult challenge. I'm very nervous about what the third party actually intends to do, should they somehow get lucky and wind up in the seat of government.
O verall, I think that no matter what may be said from the opposition benches, it's hard not to recognize here in the House and throughout this territory that there has been that change I spoke of. When we were at that crossroads in November 2002 and Yukoners voted for change, this government - this Yukon Party government - has delivered that change. That change has resulted in a number of positive things. It has resulted in an increasing population. It has resulted in historic lows in our unemployment. It has resulted in hundreds more Yukoners working today. It has resulted in a better education system. It has resulted in a better health care system. It has resulted in reforms in our justice and corrections system. It has resulted in a strengthened social safety net. It has resulted in creating optimism once again for Yukoners - an optimism about their future.
Mr. Speaker, we are going forward as a government to continue to deliver on that quality of life I speak of, to make it even better. I commend this budget to the House because it is a budget derived from Yukoners' input. It is a budget derived from sound fiscal management. It is a budget that shows clearly, by the fiscal framework, that we are living within our means because next year, 2007-08, we will be in balanced budget territory. And it is a budget that continues that change that started three years ago, a change for the better.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you 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. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Disagree.
Mrs. Peter: Disagree.
Mr. Cardiff: Disagree.
Mr. Mitchell: Disagree.
Mr. McRobb: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are eight yea, five nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 20 agreed to
Bill No. 18: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 18, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 18, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 2006-07, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Premier that Bill No. 18, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 2006-07, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is a pleasure to introduce Bill No. 18, the Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 2006-07. This act requests spending authority that, in total, is not to exceed $385,557,000 and is for defraying the several charges and expenses of the public services of Yukon, payable for a three-month period commencing April 1, 2006, through to June 30, 2006. The amounts for operations and maintenance are $256,184,000 and the amounts for capital are $129,373,000.
Mr. Speaker, the full details of these expenditures are included in the main estimates and will be discussed and debated during general and departmental debate on the 2006-07 main estimates.
In closing, I move that Bill No. 18, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 2006-07, move quickly through debate, as it is an item that will be further debated in great detail as we go through the many days left in this sitting.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, this is a necessary piece of legislation. In the normal course of events, this would be debated and passed long before what we're doing. We're now at the sixth day of April, six days into the new fiscal year. What we would normally have done would be to have passed this two or three weeks ago. But the government saw fit to delay calling the House back until the second to last day of the fiscal year, and because of that they continued the practice of issuing special warrants in the amount of $257 million.
Now, I think that we owe it to the public and we owe the respect to the elected members of this Assembly to bring items like this forward and have them properly debated in the Legislature prior to the actual monies being expended.
A lot of this money is necessary, there's no doubt about it. Government employees need to be paid on a regular basis. We need spending authority for those types of expenditures but, at the same time, if you look at the capital side of this budget, there's quite a sum of money - $129 million, almost $130 million - in capital expenditures that this government plans to expend before the end of June. They are saying they need spending authority to spend this money.
What's some of that money for? Yes, I'm sure we'll debate it when we get to the mains. There's no doubt about the fact that this will be debated and covered off when we get to the departments and we get into general debate in those departments and probably when we get into lines, but the reality is that the government is requesting spending authority for $130 million at this time on capital projects that haven't been thoroughly debated, and they intend to go off and spend that money without any input - without any discussion - here in the Legislative Assembly. That's what our job is. That's what we were elected to do.
In past legislatures, what we've seen traditionally - which changed under this government - was calling the Legislature back much earlier than the last day of the fiscal year. There was actually progress made on debating the main budget and there was no need to have special warrants issued. The government had ample time to bring forward an interim supply bill, have it debated here in the Legislature - have a discussion on what some of the items in the interim supply bill were - so that the public would know what was being spent and would have a bit of an understanding about what this money was needed for.
Do we need all this money? We probably do. I can remember this being an issue when I was involved at Yukon College. The college traditionally gets its money up front on the first day of the fiscal year, so that the interest can accrue to them, and they receive the benefits of that. There are other organizations, I believe, that do the same. Those are necessary.
Why are we talking about it six days into the fiscal year? There is $31 million in capital expenditures in Community Services. I honestly believe that a lot of those expenditures are probably necessary. They are contained in the budget that was presented by this government. What I don't understand is why the government wants to proceed with its spending plans without full, informed debate where they're held accountable and they can explain what the expenditures are. They would rather explain what the expenditures are after the fact. I don't believe that's respectful of this Legislature. I don't believe it's respectful of the members who sit here, and I don't think it's respectful of the public, because this is the public's money.
I'd like to talk a little bit about what some of the expenditures are. In Community Services and Highways and Public Works, a lot of these capital expenditures involve the contracting community.
I'm fairly familiar with a lot of those people, having worked in construction, both general building construction and, for a short period of time, on the grade and road construction. These companies and contractors have said over and over and over again to many, many governments that they would like to see the government's spending plans well in advance, too, so that they are aware and can make plans for their construction season and can line up the materials. One small example - here we are, any day now. I haven't seen it in the paper yet, and I'm not sure if there are any road bans on, as far as weight restrictions on the Alaska Highway or any of the other highways, but when you're doing a major project - planning for the construction of a building or bringing equipment into the territory to deal with a project - the best time to do that is to do it early, when everything is still frozen. When the roads are breaking up, you have to haul much less material, and it costs a lot more money. It's an added cost to the contractors and companies that are anticipating doing the work, and when they find out too late what work is coming up and what materials might be needed and they're trying to plan for their season, it costs them a lot more money.
By extension, it cost the taxpayers a lot more money because, ultimately, if it's a government capital project, it's the taxpayers who foot the bill and it can lead to cost overruns, which we've seen on several projects.
How much of this money in Highways and Public Works, $58 million - a lot of that money will be recovered, undoubtedly, either from the federal government or from the Government of the United States for the Shakwak project. How much of that money - this is a big issue out there, again, with the contracting community. It's a big issue out there with the public. How much of this money is going to be used for sole-source contracts? A quick look at what the government has presented in its budget in the Department of Highways and Public Works would tell me that there's $1.6 million there for sole-source contracts in Highways and Public Works alone. That's only in two areas. That's on the south Campbell Highway and the Dempster Highway for HERC projects.
We haven't even been able to have the debate as to whether or not HERC projects - the government seems to think that it's a good idea. The government did a study that I'm not sure - I honestly believe that you can do studies, you can collect statistics, you can make them say whatever you want, but if you look deep down in that study - and I'm sure that we'll be talking about this with the Minister of Highways and Public Works when we get into that department in the main budget but, to me, I don't honestly believe that it is good value for dollar for the public.
It's good for the communities that benefit from it and for the few contractors who are the beneficiaries of many sole-source contracts under this program, but the reality is that it ultimately is the public's money. Could those projects have been completed better for less money if they had been tendered as a full package? I know the contracting community, having worked in pretty much every community in the Yukon at one time or another on construction sites, and the reality is that there is an effort made by local contractors, whether it be building construction or road construction, to hire locally, and the benefits do accrue in those communities to a large degree. Local equipment and manpower - it's much cheaper, in my experience, anyhow, for contractors to use people who are situated closer to the project.
Again, here we are. The government is requesting spending authority for large sums of money. The public is not going to have the full picture, and we're not going to have the full picture over here of exactly where this money is being expended before it is expended.
In Justice, there is almost $1.5 million in capital, and it's unfortunate that, after three and a half years - when I look back at the history of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, I actually had the opportunity in the late 1990s to go along on the restorative justice tour that the Minister of Justice of the day was conducting, which was very similar to the process that the Minister of Justice currently has underway.
It was about going to the communities, talking with people about what's needed in the justice system, and what alternatives can be used in the correctional system. I attended a couple of the corrections consultation meetings and, amazingly enough, restorative justice was mentioned a few times at those meetings. It's about alternative sentencing, it's about rehabilitation - all the things that the Premier likes to talk about. I believe that the whole three-year process that we've been through on the corrections consultation, while it has been valuable, a lot of that work had been done previously.
You look again at the work that was done by the government previous to this one - as far as design, there was groundwork installed. Millions of dollars' worth of work has been expended on this facility and to date what we have is a big pile of dirt - the pre-load - and the groundwork in the ground - the services to the building.
It would have been nice to have seen, both in the interim supply bill and in the mains, a bigger commitment by this government to actually replace the facility that has basically been a hazard to the people who work there and who are incarcerated there. I really think that is owed to the people. After this many years, I would have hoped the government could have got a little bit further on that.
Is this money necessary? Of course, it's necessary. It forms part of the budget. Is it fair? Is the method this government is bringing this forward good practice? I honestly don't think it is. I think the citizens of the Yukon expect more from the people of this Legislative Assembly. I think they deserve more openness and accountability and that these types of bills should be brought forward in a more timely manner, discussed fully and debated. I think we should have at least had an opportunity to discuss some of what was in the main budget before we were faced with approving $350 million.
So while it is necessary, what I feel is that, once again, the government has demonstrated its lack of respect and its lack of accountability for the Legislative Assembly. I would have hoped that by now, after this much time - this has been an issue in just about every budget sitting this government has held, except the very first one, I suppose, when they actually did. And it's not that hard. They did it once. Why can't they do it again and follow up with that? It just doesn't make sense to me that they would continue to disrespect the public and this Legislature.
So obviously I believe that the money is necessary. Yes, we're going to go over it after the fact and we're going to ask some hard questions, some tough questions. We're going to hold the government accountable, but it's just a sad way of operating. It's not a very accountable way of operating, and I think that we on this side of the House - I know my colleagues, and I honestly believe, the public - of the people who I have talked to, that's one of the most common questions out there in the public when you're out there talking to the public and you're not here in the Legislature. There are always the two questions: when are you going to go back and sit in the Legislature? Like, shouldn't you guys be in there? Isn't there a budget?
When's the next election? We all know that election is soon to come and we are looking forward to that day. I can hardly wait. It will be a grand day to get back out there on the hustings. I have already started. I've been out talking to my constituents and I have a good feeling - but that's what people ask me: “How come you guys waited so long to go back to work?”
Then I went out last night and they asked, “What's this I hear you are going to take a holiday?” It would be pretty hard to explain why, after being in the Legislature for five days, you would need a holiday, Mr. Speaker. After spending maybe the full 30 days in the Legislature with the members opposite and some of our other colleagues, then you may need a holiday.
That's another thing, in my mind, that disrespects this Assembly and disrespects the people of the territory. I guess all I can say is, what I am hearing is that the people expect more from their elected officials. They expect to see more cooperation here in the Legislature in bringing things forward. The cooperation that was exhibited - it's my understanding we are not going to have to take a break next week because of the willingness of our leader to cooperate with the members opposite on the other side and pair with the Premier.
I think that that shows our willingness to cooperate, but as far as bringing forward legislation, budget bills, in a timely manner, we don't see that type of cooperation from the members on the other side. I look forward to hearing comments from other members of the Legislative Assembly on this, and I look forward, as well, to debating in more detail with the ministers opposite items in this interim supply bill and in the main budget.
Mr. McRobb: There are a couple of issues here that I think are deserving of comment. I want to follow up on something the previous speaker said about the willingness of the NDP to cooperate with the Yukon government with the pairing issue. That raises the question of why the pairing was even necessary, Mr. Speaker, given the support from the independent Member for Klondike toward the budget, and given the government's side has a majority to begin with. I think the real issue is why pairing was even necessary. The government has the numbers. It has more than just barely the numbers, given the support of the Member for Klondike, so what does it really mean? It might really mean that the Premier doesn't feel too secure about the solidarity of his team, perhaps, given the wannabe-free agents on that side of the House. That matter could have consumed a lot of House time and affected the scheduling of this whole sitting.
I really have to question why it was even necessary to begin with.
There is a second concern about it, which is the emerging marriage between the NDP and the Yukon Party. I use that term loosely. We know it's Thursday afternoon, and it's nice to have a little humour in the House after the first week. It would be humorous to think of the relations in terms of a marriage between the NDP and the Yukon Party, but there really is something cooking there. There really is a lot of willingness for them to cooperate.
We in the third party have noticed that we are the target of both of the other parties. There is one reasonable explanation and that could be because they all see us as the threat. That's the logical conclusion, Mr. Speaker.
I can certainly understand why this marriage - it could be a shotgun wedding, but somebody obviously is strategizing all of this. I don't know who. Whoever it is, I don't know if they deserve a raise yet or not, but we'll see how it turns out.
With respect to the supplementary before us -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Pardon me, it's the interim supply bill, Mr. Speaker. Thanks for the correction by the Premier, who I might hasten to add, is always quick to point out when we might misspeak ourselves.
Sometimes that is appreciated. It really relates to the use of the special warrants and the delay in calling a sitting until the penultimate day in March - also, a lot of the other issues of disrespect for the Legislature that I mentioned. Only about an hour and a half ago, in my budget reply speech - and I won't ask for the indulgence of the House to have to repeat all those concerns, because I know they're still fresh in the minds of the members, and that's fine. They don't warrant any special consideration at this time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Special warrants - yes, that's true; a play on words there.
But certainly the use of special warrants has become a trademark of the Yukon Party. I recall in the last election campaign how the Yukon Party made a big deal about the use of special warrants. They were shouting that the sky was falling, and everything else, but what has it done with respect to the use of special warrants? Well, it has used them every year. It has made them out to be a regular practice of the Yukon government and, certainly, it said one thing in opposition and says something else completely different now that it has been in government. The record of the Yukon Party clearly speaks for itself.
So, Mr. Speaker, there is some concern about the use of the special warrants. There is some concern about the issue of respect for the Legislature regarding the timing of the sittings. Motions have been introduced in this Legislature with respect to setting the dates for the sittings, setting the dates for elections, and even bringing back capital budgets for the fall.
The government side has ignored all those suggestions and has continued to do whatever it finds most convenient to suit its own purposes.
Mr. Speaker, that's fine. It's the prerogative of the government to do that. It can ignore all the suggestions it receives from members on this side of the House, and there are no rules to prevent that from happening. But there is the court of public opinion, Mr. Speaker, and this government's day in court is coming soon. One of the pieces of evidence that will be considered duly by the voters is the record of the Yukon Party.
The Yukon Party has a long record, approaching four years now, and there are a number of blemishes on the record that voters will be considering. Certainly how it has relegated the function of this House on several matters - such practices as making common the use of special warrants, Mr. Speaker - speaks loudly to those blemishes.
So I could go on, Mr. Speaker, but I won't at this opportunity. I hope to examine this bill in greater detail as we move into Committee on this bill, whenever that might be.
That's another thing, Mr. Speaker: this government has parted with past practice, where it doesn't do things in consecutive order. Committee on this bill could happen at any time in the next number of weeks. We don't know on this side. Again, that's one of the freedoms - one of the liberties - the government uses. It should be done as soon as possible, especially when you're dealing with an interim supply bill.
It should have been concluded prior to the end of the past fiscal year, so we could be dealing with this year's business solely within the current fiscal year. Again, the government chose not to do that for whatever reasons. I'm hoping the next government, whoever that may be, will raise the bar of cooperation in this House so that all members of the Assembly can approach debate with greater certainty with respect to the scheduling of bills and the House business, as well as greater knowledge of the bills before them. There are several things the government could do to improve the current situation, such as ensuring the opposition members actually have in their possession the bills that are being debated, and have them a period in advance that makes sense and is fair. Obviously, providing a bill five minutes before debate is not fair and doesn't make too much sense. A few days, at least, would be appreciated as a reasonable period of time.
These are a number of items that could improve the function of this House. Certainly we'd be receptive on this side to those improvements, should this government find itself in a position to make those changes. There might be a sitting in the fall, Mr. Speaker. There have been a couple clues lately in reference to a fall sitting. Obviously, if this government goes to the end of its mandate, which is about the end of November, there is time for a short sitting, perhaps, in September or October. That may be what it plans to do. It could bring in a supplementary budget at that time, perhaps some legislation. We do know there is some outstanding legislation that missed the homework deadline. We might see a short sitting in the fall where that legislation is tabled before the House.
It could be a one-day sitting. It's possible for the government to table a supplementary budget and drop the writ at the same time. We don't know; these are all options that the government side hasn't shared with us and will probably consider this information strategic and continue to keep it secret.
I would remind the government that there is a greater propensity for governments in our country to set election dates and - even in the absence of any hard and fast rules - at least identify dates in advance. There is nothing preventing the Premier from saying to us when he gets up again that the election will be on such and such a date - whatever that date might be. I think November 27 is probably the last date possible.
He might even go so far as to say, “Yeah, there will be a short sitting in the fall.” We don't know. These are all possibilities. But it would be nice to know - in terms of legislation - what the government has in mind. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, it would give an opportunity for the government to make amends for its past practice and be more open with advance information to the members of the opposition.
An opportunity is there for the government to reverse its record, if there is another sitting, and we certainly will be closely observing the actions of this government between now and the end of this sitting with respect to its discretion and how it treats all Members of the Legislative Assembly. Certainly if it does improve the situation, I'll be the first to give credit where credit is due.
With that, I look forward to debate in Committee of the Whole.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: After listening to the Member for Kluane, I feel somewhat obligated to make some comments about what was said by that member. I believe it was a poor way of putting issues and comments on record.
The member made reference to the NDP having some kind of a marriage to the Yukon Party when, in fact, I believe that the official opposition did demonstrate good cooperation by pairing with the Premier next week. I believe it was done in good faith, Mr. Speaker. I believe the facts are more in line if we were to say that movement on the other side of the House demonstrates more about a divorce from the NDP and a marriage within the Liberal ranks.
Mr. Mitchell: Interim supply is normally a housekeeping exercise, and we know that it merely provides authority for the government to spend money while the main budget is moving through the Legislature, and we know where the main debate is intended to be. I do feel I have to speak to this for a few minutes in terms of how this has occurred this year. Once again, for the third year in succession, the Premier has short-circuited this routine by passing a special warrant, by going to the Commissioner and asking for spending authority.
So he bypassed this Legislature and basically is now asking members to rubber-stamp a decision that he and his government have already made. I guess it's the old “better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission” approach, but I didn't think I'd see it so frequently in this Legislature.
This isn't just a small amount of money. It's over a quarter of a billion dollars in special warrants, just asked for a signature. That's more than the entire budget was for the territory not that many years ago. So I do think that there's an arrogance to that and it shows what little respect the Premier has for the institution.
The Member for Mount Lorne basically pointed out some of the difficulties with this just-in-time budgeting exercise for the contracting community, and I agree. Previous governments have approached this in different ways. Some governments have tabled their capital budgets in the fall so the contracting community has advance knowledge and can better plan for what their needs would be to have equipment ready in the spring so that they can gear up for the work that they can expect to be at hand. Other governments haven't done that but have recalled the Legislature earlier in the year. We haven't seen either of these approaches from this government. The next to last day of the fiscal year and the last possible sitting day of the week is when we were called in.
Now, this government likes to talk about what they've done. I think we should also look at what they haven't accomplished - the jail. For three and a half years they've continued to plan it. You know, planning is certainly important. Obviously, you don't just rush out and build buildings and put programs in place. It's good to plan, but to what extent? You know, three and a half years, on top of planning that was done previous to that, and we still don't have a new facility. We still have inmates in an aging facility without the modern adequate space and structure for good rehabilitation programs, and we have workers working in unsafe conditions. We've even seen chunks of concrete falling out. It's just good fortune that nobody has really been hurt yet.
Schools - after what can only be described as a terribly divisive consultation process, if it's a consultation process. It was more of an announcement process - you know, “The long overdue new school in Carmacks is under construction.” What we've heard so far is that it's overbudget, and it's behind schedule, and it won't likely be completed on their watch. And there certainly won't be kids in the new school come the end of August or the beginning of the next school year. I've already been told that by the people who are closest to it.
The Children's Act - again, we saw consultation, consultation breaks down, Premier rushes in, consultation is back going again, but we don't have the act.
The Workers' Compensation Act amendments - there was a process of an act review. That process is well behind the original timetable that was previously announced and established. We're not going to see these amendments now, so unless there is a fall session, we won't see them at all.
The Education Act review - well, now we have an Education Act reform process, and it looks like a good process. There are good people in charge. The two co-chairs both have a tremendous amount of expertise and experience. But, again, we are going to be four years in - we're going to be through a full mandate - without seeing it come to fruition. So there's a pattern there, and the pattern is to consult, to talk about, and to postpone, and if something is controversial, if there is the slightest bit of difficulty - if there is heavy lifting involved - then set a timetable for after the mandate. Set a timetable for later so that you can say, “Look, we started it. We're working on it. We're considering it. We're studying it. We're going to consult.”
I guess it begs the question of why does everything that this government undertakes need more than four years to produce?
This incubation period is the longest pregnancy on record.
I just have to say that we have no problem with approving these expenditures. As I said, it is routine to do so and we want there to be spending authority. It provides funding to everything from the Yukon Hospital Corporation to the Yukon College and Yukon municipalities. We know we have to do that - it's the process that we're simply speaking to. The process is important. There is a reason why there are traditions. There is a reason why normally it is elected members who get to make decisions on spending - before the fact, not after the fact.
The Premier was previously asked why he wouldn't call the Legislature in earlier - this was a previous year for a previous budget - so it could be dealt with by the MLAs. His answer was, why should he reconvene a legislature and this was a more effective way to deal with this. It's more effective.
It is effective. It's not very democratic and it certainly doesn't appear to be transparent and accountable to the public. The Premier just goes to the Commissioner and says, “Please sign here,” and away we go. It's that trust-us approach. I think that's a disappointment. I expected more. I really did believe - because I listened to what the Premier says and I know they talked about what a great budget this would be, so I was quite convinced we would see it before the last day, or the penultimate day, as my colleague pointed out in the Legislature. That is the concern.
It's interesting that electoral reform was another process this government undertook. They commissioned a study. They hired a person to go out and study it, and the response we got back, Mr. Speaker, was that there was no interest in electoral reform in the Yukon. That was a couple of years ago and we got told, “There is no interest in electoral reform.” There was perhaps some interest in how the members conduct themselves in the Legislative Assembly - and I think we can all agree there is always room to raise that bar - but there was no interest in electoral reform. Well, it's amazing, after three and a half years of this government - there are huge groups of people running around talking about the need for electoral reform. They hold meetings that fill the room.
So that is an accomplishment that this government has achieved in one term. They have managed to be able to fill a room with people who are saying, “We don't want to get an accidental government again; we don't again want to see a government that doesn't seem to be representative of the people in the way in which we thought that they would be.” So, that is something that they have accomplished in one term, Mr. Speaker, and they can put that on the check list too.
In any case, I just wanted to make those points. There are other things that I could talk about. We'll get to them in the main budget when we discuss different things. The Member for Pelly-Nisutlin was talking about some of the great contracting work, and he was hopeful that there would be some spending that would help small contractors and improve roads in his riding. We are all hopeful of that. It does appear that the majority of the spending under the test program is going to again be tested primarily in one riding. That's the Premier's riding, but if nothing else, the roads will be better there.
There are good things, as I've said before, in the main budget, and no doubt there are good things in the supplementary and we'll have an opportunity to talk about some of those. I've said I have no problem with approving the expenditures, but rather just with the process. That's what I wanted to get on record.
Speaker: If the honourable member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I'll be very brief, given the time. It is an interim supply bill and, Mr. Speaker, this government has provided the Yukon with a style of fiscal management that works. The members opposite take great issue with how this government has managed the finances, and so be it, because the facts speak for themselves. We know that the financial management of the third party is certainly something to be questioned, and I don't want to get into that.
The interim supply bill does reflect expenditures for wages and NGOs, and to suggest that the total amount of capital is required April 1 is somewhat confusing, because you can't spend that kind of money in one day. However, we are ensuring that capital projects that were already happening are ongoing, which is very prudent and, furthermore, we chose to engage with the public on the budgets that this government has brought forward by pre-budget announcements. In other words, we are much more open than former governments or past governments because we use all available tools to contact and engage with the public on what their government is doing.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would submit that the members are incorrect in their assertion that this is the only place that discussion can take place.
This government believes that discussion should take place here, it should take place with the media, it should take place in communities, it should take place on the street, it should take place everywhere possible to better inform the public on what their government is doing. That's what we do, and that's what we will continue to do.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to expand somewhat on why we do what we do when it comes to fiscal management.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you 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. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 12 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 18 agreed to
Speaker: The time being 6:00 p.m., this House stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 6:04 p.m.