Whitehorse , Yukon
Wednesday, April 19, 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.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask all members in the House to help me welcome my daughter Crystal and her friend Marie. Congratulations to both these young ladies for graduating from university with a bachelor of science degree in nursing.
Speaker: Are there any further introductions of visitors?
Returns or documents for tabling.
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 113: Introduction and First Reading
Mr. Mitchell: I move that a bill, entitled All-Party Committee on Appointments Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the third party that a bill, entitled All-Party Committee on Appointments Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 113 agreed to
Bill No. 114: Introduction and First Reading
Mr. Mitchell: I move that a bill, entitled Yukon Ethics and Accountability Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the third party that a bill, entitled Yukon Ethics and Accountability Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 114 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to take immediate measures to increase the income and social support of families in poverty by eliminating the territorial government clawback associated with the child tax benefit supplement for social assistance recipients.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to first complete its energy policy with meaningful public consultation before making any arrangements to proceed with projects related to coal mining or electrical generation from coal in the territory.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to implement a program of refunding tuition costs for those Yukon post-secondary students who commit to returning to the Yukon for a certain period of employment after graduation.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to respond to the shortage of skilled trades workers in the Yukon by immediately funding and implementing programs of training for construction and mining trades in the communities outside of Whitehorse .
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a ministerial statement?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Land development
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, it is now public knowledge that some Yukon contractors have been using multiple corporate entities to get around new disposition rules for building lots. In fact, some are using two or three different companies in order to buy more than the allowable maximum of 20 lots per builder. Can the minister responsible tell us when he first became aware of this problem, and what he is doing to fix it?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, the process is that lots that are available are first put out for the public, and any lots that haven't been taken up by the public are offered to building contractors.
Mr. Hardy: Officials of both the lands branch and Yukon Housing Corporation have obviously been aware of this situation for awhile. I asked the question of the minister; he didn't answer the question, so I am going to try again. It's too bad the minister hasn't been very proactive on this file since the new land disposition system came into being last fall. Perhaps it is because there is so much confusion in this government about who is actually responsible for land use matters. We've watched that bounce around over there. In any case, there are obviously some inequalities in the new policy if small builders are being squeezed out by contractors with bigger pockets - and that's what we've heard. What steps is the minister planning to take right away to make the playing field more level for contractors and for people who want to build their homes?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I have a simple answer. The only person confused is the member opposite. The process is very clear on how lots are dealt with in the territory. Again I remind the member opposite that the general public has access to lots. Any lots that are left after that are available to contractors. If, in fact, at the end of the day, the contractors don't take the other lots, then of course those lots are always available to the public. So it is a very clear process, Mr. Speaker, and it shouldn't be clouded by comments like the member opposite's.
Mr. Hardy: My comments are not clouding it at all. The member opposite is not even listening to the question that is being asked.
There are small contractors who are not able to gets lots, while bigger contractors are getting the majority of them. Think about that.
Over the last few years, we've seen a new trend develop with far more developed lots being bought by contractors than by individuals - far more. Last year's figures were quite remarkable: 13 lots going to individuals, 116 being bought by contractors. If larger companies can use a flaw in the policy to acquire multiple lots, they can easily manipulate the price of home ownership in a market that is already hot. It is not up to the Home Builders Association or the real estate industry to set public policy. That is the government's job.
What is the minister doing to make sure would-be home buyers don't take an unnecessary financial hit because of this flawed policy?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, the policy is not flawed. The contractors are limited in the number of lots they can buy. Also, they have to build within a 12-month period. If an individual buys a lot, they have two years to build. A contractor, who is limited to the number of lots he can buy, has one year to build on the land, so it's not flawed. How the process works is very clear. Our job now is to get some lots out there, and we're working on that.
Question re: Land use planning
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, land use is one of the biggest hot-button issues everywhere in the Yukon . Unfortunately, this government is not helping matters. In fact, it's adding to the confusion. According to the government's organization charts, we have at least two ministers who are responsible for land use and disposition. According to what we hear in this House, there might be only one. What minister is ultimately responsible for land use decisions in the territory, or is it a free-for-all, as some people believe?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To remind the member opposite, Energy, Mines and Resources is responsible for overseeing land use planning in the Yukon . Now, that is an independent agreement between ourselves and First Nations about how we'd move forward and have land use planning in the Yukon . It's not a free-for-all. How the process works is very clear, and it is working.
Mrs. Peter: If the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has the last word on land issues, I have a problem with that. This minister's main job seems to be pushing development projects - oil and gas, pipelines, mines and forest management. He's also responsible for agriculture. All these activities have the potential to clash with other uses of land, such as habitat protection, ecotourism, not to mention traditional economic activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing.
If the minister recognizes the potential conflicts involved in his role, how does he intend to resolve them, or does he simply buy into the Premier's vision of log it, mine it and pave it?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again I correct the member opposite. The land use planning is under the Umbrella Final Agreement. It's independent of this government. And if the member opposite is truly interested in it, I will make an arrangement so she can have a briefing with the council to see exactly how land use planning is dealt with in the Yukon .
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, we've had our briefing, thank you very much.
We've already had a few discussions in this House about how this government likes to push people to take court action instead of dealing with them in good faith. A number of First Nations have either taken this government to court over land issues or are seriously talking about it. The Ta'an Kwach'an, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Kwanlin Dun and Little Salmon-Carmacks are some of the First Nations that have expressed their frustrations with this government over land matters.
Instead of risking even more court battles over land, will this minister make a commitment now to provide the resources necessary to fast-track the land use planning process in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the First Nations' final agreements?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I guess that's exactly what is happening: the resources are in place, we're moving ahead with land use planning, it's under the Umbrella Final Agreement and it's working. This government has put out more work through the council, independent of us. It's actually working.
This has been on the board for 10 years and this government is turning out two or three land use plans. That's quite a few kudos for the three years we've been in office. The last governments didn't turn out one land use plan and spent half the resources.
Question re: Health care professionals, recruitment and retention
Mr. McRobb: I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services. About three weeks ago, the minister announced a major new initiative. It was something called a health human resources strategy. This is supposed to address the shortages of health professionals in the Yukon . Approximately $12.7 million has been identified for this program in the next five years.
This strategy is supposed to address the shortage of nurses in our territory. Can the minister tell us how many nurses we are short in the territory today - in particular, what is the present shortfall? How many more nurses will we need in five years?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would point out to the Member for Kluane that, in comparison with other areas of the country, the Yukon is actually doing fairly well in terms of the number of nurses we have. It is an ongoing challenge and that number does change on a yearly basis and from month to month. There are also seasonal demands.
It is an issue that we do not have the staffing complement we would like to have; therefore we are pursuing more. Due to the growing demographic over a certain age that is and will be occurring over the next several years, we anticipate an increasing demand. We are currently working on that and getting a full assessment in all areas of the health care sector of what we anticipate those demands to be.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, I didn't hear any numbers. The minister didn't answer the question. I asked how many more nurses we would need to cover our current needs and the shortfall in five years. It's a simple question. I am sure the minister knows the answer. If he doesn't, he can refer to his briefing note.
As mentioned, the minister announced this plan three weeks ago. Let's have some fiscal accountability here. This government is going to spend $12.7 million of taxpayers' money over the next five years to recruit new health care professionals, including new nurses. In fact, in the minister's own words, he said, “We need to make sure we have a full range of health professionals to ensure that when Yukoners need those services, there are people here to provide them.” Exactly how does the minister plan to spend this money, especially with respect to addressing issues related to retention and recruitment?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane obviously did not listen to the coverage of the press conference, or perhaps the coverage did not include all the details that I outlined at that time. As I stated at the time, we are working on those areas of physician recruitment, as well as nurses and other professionals. We are going to be discussing it with the professional organizations - the YMA, the YRNA and the appropriate bodies for each program. We are going to have that discussion before we fire the forms out. We hope to have it in place, on the ground, forms available, in early to mid-summer. We are going to do these organizations the courtesy of having a discussion with them on the details before we send the forms out and tell them that they had better like it because that is what it is.
Mr. McRobb: Well, still no numbers, Mr. Speaker. Obviously, the minister still hasn't found his briefing note.
Now, we all agree there is a shortage of health care professionals in the territory, particularly doctors and nurses. The minister has announced a great deal of money to try to address this issue. It appears the money is being allocated, but this government has no idea how it will be spent. Again, can the minister provide us with some detail on how this money will be spent, especially with respect to retention and recruitment?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, as we outlined before with regard to physician recruitment in particular, we have two components of the initiative. We have one portion of debt repayment in exchange for service in the Yukon offered to any graduate of a Canadian medical school. We have a second component specific to Yukon students, assisting them in attending a medical school, which is, of course, particularly of benefit to those of limited means who might not be able to afford to go in the first place. We will provide them with a bursary to assist them in attending.
I will reiterate for the member opposite that we are going to discuss the details of these programs with the relevant professional member organizations and professional associations prior to announcing the details. We are doing it out of courtesy to them, and we will do so. It is our intent to have a discussion with them. I have tried to clearly articulate to the member and to the public what the basic parameters of the program are and give them a timeline of when we expect it to be on the ground and in place. I would urge the member to be patient. We are going to do the consultation and have the discussion with the professionals in these fields to determine if perhaps they have some specific ideas in their field about where they would like us to tweak the program a little. We are going to open up that discussion with them and make the appropriate decisions based on that. We will be announcing it and hope to have this in place, on the ground, in the next few months.
Question re: Health care professionals, recruitment and retention
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Does the minister want people raised in the Yukon who get nursing degrees to work in the Yukon ? It's a yes-or-no question.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Well, the simple answer to that is, yes, of course we do. Again, I point out to the member that the health human resource strategy - some $12.7 million over five years that we have announced - is aimed at attracting, first and foremost, physicians - that is the area of the most pressing need right now - but also nurses and other health professionals where we have an existing and anticipated shortage. We do want to ensure, as much as possible, that Yukon students in all these fields come back to the territory, and we want to assist that. The member needs to have a conversation with the member to his left, who just stood up and seemed to be criticizing the $12.7 million that we're spending on health and human resources.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, I got a note yesterday from a Yukon woman who was quite upset after listening to the minister talk about all the good things he says he is doing to recruit and retain nurses in the Yukon. This woman, who is a constituent of mine, was raised here and recently graduated as an A student from the University of Alberta School of Nursing. She owns a house here and wants to live here. She tried to find work here and was turned down. She picked up the phone and was offered full-time employment by two hospitals in British Columbia . So much for this government supporting Yukon residents who want to work here. They are, in fact, being turned away.
Mr. Speaker, this young woman is moving away from the Yukon . Why is this happening under this minister's multi-million dollar plan to recruit health professionals?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Perhaps the member would wish to provide me some details on this. I cannot conceive that the version of the facts that he presented can be accurate. The department is certainly -
Speaker: Order please. The Minister of Health and Social Services knows full well that you cannot question the veracity of another member.
You have the floor. Please don't do it again.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It was not my intention to question the manner in which the member brought it forward. However, I do suggest that the information he presents is not likely to be accurate.
The department is making every effort to attract these professionals and we are working -
Speaker: Sit down. You're done, thank you.
Speaker: Before the honourable member asks his next question, Minister of Health and Social Services, contain yourself. You know exactly what I'm talking about. You have the floor, leader of the third party.
Mr. Mitchell: This minister just doesn't get it. There are unhappy Yukoners out there. They are unhappy that this Yukon Party government is running around telling people that they're busy trying to recruit nurses. There are two people in the gallery today - and these are just two examples. They were raised here, they just got nursing degrees, they were A students and now they're heading Outside to work. And there are others.
The minister says he has a health human resources strategy to address the shortages of health professionals in the Yukon . He's spending some $12.7 million to recruit them. Why don't we start with the easy ones first? I'll make it easy, in response to the minister's question to me: I'll give the minister their phone numbers.
Can the minister explain why this is happening and what he's going to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: We are doing something about it. We have announced the health human resources strategy. We are implementing it. If there have been issues with individuals who have been turned away, I would urge them to come forward to our office, to my office, and we will happily put them in contact with the senior officials in the department and get this matter resolved.
We are doing our utmost to attract these professionals and we certainly want them to come here to the territory, and welcome them here, particularly students from the Yukon who are returning.
Question re: Land application process
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources. There's a land use application to cut logs and build a cabin in a very high-risk zone in the Magundy River area. The wildlife and the ecology in this area are sensitive to this type of development, according to the regional biologist. This land use application has raised red flags with many people. The RRC, the renewable resource council, reviewed this land use application and said no to the activity. The regional biologist also disagreed with it. In addition, Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation said no and the elders said no, and they all said no for good reasons.
Despite all the local objections, the Yukon government said yes through their regional resource office. Why did this Yukon Party government overturn the local decision and give approval to this land use application in the Magundy River area?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. I'm not privy to information on that transaction so I couldn't answer his question on the floor here today. But if the member sent the information across, I could get the information back to him.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I'm sure that minister does know something about this application, and I know the Premier does too. But it does seem that the local voice is not being heard by this Yukon Party government - the locals said no, the government said yes. This Yukon Party government doesn't seem to like to follow its own process. They signed a consultation protocol with the First Nation but that doesn't seem to have much weight with this government.
Now the Yukon Party government needs to do some damage control. So, this question is to the Premier: will the Premier sit down and talk with the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, the elders, the renewable resource council and the regional biologist to resolve this matter? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again I have to repeat - the government is operated by individuals. If something has been done that's not appropriate, then we would like to be informed about that. But as far as that application is concerned, I have no background on it. If the member would send the information over, I could answer the question.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, that minister is not paying attention to the matters out in small rural communities.
And the government does know about this. The regional resource office would never make a decision like this unless it was pressured to do so by the higher-ups. This is a problem, and if you follow where the finger points, it probably points right to the minister's desk.
There are two agricultural applications in the Carmacks area, one near Klusha Creek. The First Nation objected to these also, but the government approved them anyway. The Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation wrote a letter to the Premier on March 14, requesting a meeting with him. The First Nation wanted a response from the Premier within two weeks. There was no response from the Premier. The letter also stated that the land application infringed on First Nation rights. I would think this is an important matter for the government.
Is this government content to have this issue dealt with in court, or will they resolve this matter government to government?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Court is always the last action that any government would like to see. Courts are being used. Courts are used all the time in deciding disputes. So I don't limit the fact that individuals go to court, corporations go to court and governments go to court. I remind the member opposite to put the facts in front of us, and we can address the issue.
Question re: Residential school survivor compensation
Mr. Mitchell: I have another question for the Minister of Health and Social Services. It has been reported recently that the new federal Conservative government is reneging on payments to elders who were residential school abuse victims. In a CBC interview this morning, a Whitehorse lawyer, who represents 300 survivors in northwestern Canada , said the new federal government has a different view of the agreement in principle from the former government. She said the Conservatives think elders shouldn't receive any money before other survivors. There are a number of elders across the country who have been waiting for the early payment, she said. The latest that we understand is that there isn't going to be an early payment. What is the Yukon Party government doing to assist these people in getting the money they deserve?
Speaker: Before the Hon. Premier answers the questions - leader of the third party, please direct your remarks through the Chair and wait until I recognize you.
Hon. Premier, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have become aware of this issue as recently as the member opposite has. The new federal government is obviously a government that makes its own decisions; we don't dictate to it. I will be meeting with Minister Prentice this week and so will Yukon First Nations. This is going to be an issue - the issue of mission schools and all that goes with it.
However, as I understand the facts of this particular circumstance, the federal government is not reneging on these payments whatsoever, and wants to make the payments in full. Apparently, there is some court challenge involved here with respect to this issue. Other than that, I have no further details. But we will be pressuring the federal government in all instances to live up to its obligations and responsibilities to the Yukon First Nations and all aboriginal Canadians, as we have here in the territory and at the national table, through the Council of the Federation.
Mr. Mitchell: I appreciate the Premier's concerns, but I would like to remind the Minister of Health of some things that he said during the recent federal election campaign. We all know that he had been a supporter of the Reform Party since 1995, and now he endorses the Conservatives. He said he was pleased with the results of the recent federal election. “I'm hopeful that there will be intent to deal with northern issues,” he said. He claimed to have a long list of friends in the federal Conservative Party he hoped to use to the Yukon's benefit to advance the territory's concerns. It's time for this minister to call his friends in the new Conservative government. Would the minister commit to calling one of his many friends in the Conservative government and support our Yukon elders in this very important matter?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite can talk all he wants about individuals who are former members of certain parties. We see evidence of that across the floor.
The new federal government was elected by Canadians. The member opposite may not like what Canadians have done in their decision at the polls, but that is the way it is. We, as a government in this territory, are going to work as constructively with the new Conservative government in Ottawa as we did with the former Liberal government in Ottawa in meeting the interests of Yukoners at the national table. We will continue to do that no matter who is elected in Ottawa to federal office.
Unfortunately, the member opposite doesn't recognize that that is our role and continues to favour a partisan approach to federal government involvement in this territory. We know where that leads us. Under the former Liberal government: double-digit unemployment and neglect across the territory. There was a very poor fiscal arrangement. There was no acknowledgement of fiscal imbalance. That's all changed today under this government's watch and under a new Conservative government in Ottawa.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, I might as well address the comments to the Premier, since he'll be answering.
Mr. Speaker, the former federal Liberal government did promise a speeded up system to help get payments to elderly survivors. The new Harper Conservative government, in a very disheartening decision, is going to hold back on those payments. The Premier makes statements about partisanship. He has not been shy in criticizing the former federal government, or in his praise of this new right-wing federal government. He will be meeting soon with the new federal Minister of Indian Affairs. Will he commit to using his influence - the influence of his office - in a non-partisan way, to plead the case for our elders, many of whom may never live long enough to see any payment?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, unlike the member opposite, we put Yukoners' interests first, not partisan self-interest.
Speaker: My inference from that comment was that the leader of the third party is concerned about - I've lost my train of thought. Don't do that again. You know what I'm talking about.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I will try to assist the matter. I was merely trying to reciprocate in the context, as the member opposite's question was put.
Now, if I may continue, let's talk about these issues on the federal level. It was the federal Liberal government that cut five percent out of the gross expenditure base in this territory. It was the federal Liberal government that committed, in the election of 2004, to have affordable housing, clean and safe drinking water and affordable drinking water for all aboriginal communities across this country by 2008. It was the federal Liberal government, through our MP, who committed support for a railway feasibility study. It was the federal Liberal government that committed to many things but delivered none. That's not what we're doing; we're delivering.
Question re: Weather station
Mr. Hardy: I know I'm not allowed to refer back to questions from those two.
The weather worldwide is becoming increasingly erratic due to global climate change. Here in the Yukon, residents and tourists are especially vulnerable to this trend. The air is heating up both outside and inside this Chamber. We need accurate and timely weather forecasting because this knowledge can literally help to save their lives. We just had a huge snow dump a few days ago.
Many Yukoners were rightly upset and worried when a previous Liberal federal government converted the Whitehorse weather station to an automated one that sends its meteorological data to B.C. for analysis. They pleaded with Ottawa to reconsider this move because of its detrimental impact on land-based economic and recreational activities, including road and air travel.
Will the Premier promise to raise this important issue when he meets with the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development this week?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Unfortunately the minister will only be here for five days and all the issues the members opposite expect raised cannot be done in the short time the minister will be here, but we certainly raised this issue when this whole initiative was taking place here in the north. We were unsuccessful, similar to our fight when it came to Bill C-68 - another masterful stroke by the former federal Liberal government, further impeding northerners' way of life.
However, I don't want to go into those issues. What I want to point out to the member opposite is that there is a much bigger and broader issue here with weather and climate change and global warming, and that is something of great concern to us. We are watching and are very concerned about what has transpired recently under this new federal Conservative government, which has yet to demonstrate what their plan is with respect to dealing with climate change, especially the impacts we are experiencing here in the north. They are stark; they are visible. We want to know what they intend to do.
Mr. Hardy: I remember very much the battles that were fought to try to get the former Liberal government to not remove the weather station from here and not take important jobs away from the Yukon Territory. Unfortunately, they didn't listen. I remember that battle very well, and that is why this issue is before us today, because there is a different government.
Interestingly enough, I don't necessarily agree with his position on Kyoto and climate change; however, at least during the election campaign, the current Prime Minister seemed to recognize how important it is for people who live in extreme environments and remote communities to have access to accurate forecasting of storms, cold and floods. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to reinstate the staffed regional weather station in Gander, much to the delight of people from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Will the Premier make a point of reminding the minister on Friday that the Yukon is in a similar position to Newfoundland and Labrador and that we should have a staffed weather station as well? The building is there; we can do it.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I do accept what is a noble enterprise by the member opposite, and his concern is very valid, and his ideas have great merit. Let us congratulate Gander and its citizens, where there is actually an airport - it is a port of call, if you will, especially for emergencies. So, it only makes sense to restore that kind of reporting and data gathering in a place like Gander, considering the worldwide use of that particular airport.
What we are focusing on, and what the new federal government has clearly articulated, is Arctic sovereignty. I would urge and encourage the member to recognize that within Arctic sovereignty these kinds of initiatives do play a role - so too does investment in community, investment in infrastructure, and of course it is much more than a couple of icebreakers.
These are the things we are working on with our new federal government, and we intend to carry forward with these initiatives to ensure Yukoners' interests are met, and we can maximize and accrue the benefits to our citizens, as we should.
Mr. Hardy: Almost two dozen federal jobs will now be returning to Gander. That's the reality - thanks to lobbying efforts of the community leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador.
When the staffed Yukon weather station was closed down, it had been operating since 1942 and employed 12 highly qualified people, who were providing an invaluable service - as well as the families they had here.
Nunavut is also asking Ottawa to replace its automated regional weather stations with staffed ones, because it believes that people are simply more reliable and dependable than the machines that they have.
If the Premier doesn't make the Yukon's case with the minister this week, will he undertake to do so at the first opportunity, to ensure that Yukoners get the same level of weather forecasting services as those living in other northern jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I'm really glad the member brought this point up about the same standard of services that other Canadians across the country enjoy. That is exactly what has transpired in today's Yukon with respect to, for example, the recent expert panel's recommendations for dealing with the fiscal imbalance in the north. And that is also why the three northern territories made a stand in Ottawa in 2003 to get the then federal Liberal government to understand that Yukoners deserve an access to those standard levels of services that other Canadians have in place.
The member talks about, I believe, a dozen jobs. We're very concerned and are sorry for those who lost their jobs with that federal Liberal decision, and the many Yukoners who lost their jobs under the former Liberal government. In fact, the former Liberal government reduced the unemployment rate by shipping people out of the territory - they were moving.
Under this government, however, 1,000 new jobs have been created. There are 600 fewer people unemployed than there were in 2002. Unfortunately, we couldn't put the weather people back on the job line, but 1,000 other Yukoners are back at work under this government's watch.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
M OTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 515
Clerk: Motion No. 515, standing in the name of Ms. Duncan.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Porter Creek South
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to conduct its affairs according to the highest ethical standards.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we often begin our remarks by saying what an honour and a privilege it is to rise on behalf of our constituents, and in all the speeches I've given in the Legislature, I like to recognize what an honour it is to serve the people of Porter Creek South and to have served them for almost 10 years.
Ten years ago, I started door knocking in Porter Creek South. I set out to make a difference. I went door to door against two opponents. I certainly mean no disrespect to one of them. The other, I would like to say, was a very tough political opponent, the incumbent for the riding. When I started out going door to door, I set a standard - and I said it to every member working for me - that the forthcoming election campaign was not about the other guy, not about what he had done or not done. That would have been quite a discussion as there had been an issue as to where the individual had sat in the House. I said, no, it's not about that. It's about me. It's about who I am. It's about what I'd like to do. It's about why I'm setting out to make a difference. And if I was asked once, I was asked a thousand times: “Why are you doing this?”
I note that some members find that somewhat humorous - it's because they have been faced with the same question. I have a very dear friend who lives in the Member for Kluane's riding and just recently advised me that politics is a particularly nasty profession. Politicians are not regarded particularly highly. I was asked again, “Why are you doing this?”
Today that's what this motion is about. It's about ethical standards. I urge the Government of Yukon - and perhaps, Mr. Speaker, I should have focused more on the Legislative Assembly, focused on the political level, not the public service level, although, in my discussion and preparation, I do talk about public service standards and some legislation that impacts on the public service.
But the focus is about us. It was prompted by looking back at my own time in this House and also by the release of the Centre for Research and Information on Canada's Portraits of Canada last year.
In answer to a question, “Generally how would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of provincial political leaders?”, Yukon scored dismally: one-fourth of what Nunavut scored - 16 percent on an approval rating. Nunavut got 67 percent and led the country. We were the lowest.
I look back at some actions in this Legislature where motions such as Motion No. 481, a motion of urgent and pressing necessity, unanimous consent has been disallowed. Mr. Speaker, you have reminded us of the Standing Orders today in Question Period, and they indicate that, when we speak, we're not to accuse anyone of doing anything unethical. In all my remarks I will endeavour to abide and respect that rule of the House.
From time to time I will criticize behaviour, which I believe falls within our standing rules. I believe it is absolutely important that we talk about this.
It's not about us; it's about our behaviour. We have to “hang a lantern on this problem”, in the words of some political advisors. Canadians and Yukoners have a low opinion of politicians and their ethics. If we don't deal with this, if we sweep it under the rug and don't talk about it and say, “Well, it doesn't exist. No, it's not me; it's everybody else”, we aren't doing our job, and I believe we should. Although the job - as we used to call it, “Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition”, which includes all this side of the House - is to oppose, oppose, oppose, in today's Legislature I believe it is also incumbent upon us to come forward with suggestions. Our caucus has tabled two bills today, and I intend to talk about them and other suggestions this afternoon.
Mr. Speaker, I would especially like to say that it is a privilege to stand here on behalf of the people of Porter Creek South. I appreciate the opportunity and my colleagues' attention as we talk about what is a very difficult subject. Ethics is about who we are, and it's not an easy subject. It is important that we talk about it.
Ethical standards: what are they? It's important that we define what we are talking about. It's about walking the talk. Members are likely all aware that I have not only stood on my feet and encouraged and supported life-long learning, but I have enrolled and have returned to learning through Yukon College. The course I am taking is delivered through the University of Alaska Southeast - through Yukon College. I make reference to this because one of my current texts in a course I am taking talks about the idea of ethics and public administration. Although it is from an American context, ethics know no political or international boundaries. I would like to draw members' attention to the fact that America has something called the Ethics Reform Act. This reform and the ethics legislation came about in part because of the well-remembered Watergate crisis, the issues and the actions of politicians.
In fact, the idea of this legislation is that it's “watchful-eye” legislation, and it deals with fairness, accountability and whistle-blowing. The need for this watchful eye and an open government came about because of the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate investigation. There is a bill, as I said - the most recent promulgation of this kind of watchful-eye-type government is the 1989 Ethics Reform Act. I would encourage members to have a look at that.
I did a quick search of a database using the phrase, “politics and ethics”. There were hundreds of thousands of references. Some of them, the members might find of interest: the quest for public service ethics, individual conscience and organizational constraints. There is one called “ethics in public service for the new millennium and public money management, trends in 20th century United States government ethics”.
This one truly intrigued me, and I intend to review it at a later date. It's called, “Ethics, integrity, compliance and accountability in contemporary U.K. government-business relations”. It is subtitled, “Till death do us part”. It's from the Australian Journal of Public Administration.
That database search - textbooks aside - what do we mean by “ethics?” What do we mean by “ethical standards”? It's a “gut-level instinct”. That is the best definition. It's a sense of honesty, integrity, doing what you say you will do, ensuring the whole picture is painted, not a portion of the picture. It is walking the talk.
That is my own sense of a gut-level instinct definition of ethics and ethical standards. Nonetheless, for our discussion this afternoon and for this formal place, I wanted a more formal definition. For that, I went to a Canadian source, which is a textbook that was a gift to me. It was called The Responsible Public Servant, and it's by Kenneth Kernaghan and John Langford, and I apologize if I've mispronounced a name.
This particular excellent reference talks about efforts to promote ethics in the organization, supported by rules and regulations. These rules and regulations have a tendency to focus very narrowly on avoiding conflicts of interest and misuse of public property. The legal approach to ethical standards seems to be, to date, limited in financial and regulatory laws.
My current textbook in the discussion of ethics says that these sorts of rules and focusing on the financial and focusing on the regulatory does little to inspire an orientation toward public service and that deterrence and legislation aren't the answer.
Nonetheless, it is important that we have rules and that we tackle this subject. Again, in The Responsible Public Servant, the authors focus their conversation and their discussion on ethics of conflict of interest. They say that the primary reason for concern about conflict of interest is the reduction of public trust and confidence in the integrity and impartiality of government. Members of the public are motivated by a genuine commitment to high ethical standards in government.
And they also make the very interesting point that public expectations regarding ethical standards of government officials have become much higher over the last two decades. I'm thinking back to my own many years ago at university and discussions of political science. Ethics, conflict-of-interest legislation, were not nearly as high a priority as they are in current textbooks, in current references.
Modern-day versions of our Canadian government discussions, our public administration texts, highlight conflict of interest, highlight ethics. It has become a debate in Canada and throughout public administration circles. If members will accept my argument that ethics and discussion around ethics has been rooted in conflict-of-interest legislation - it seems to be where we govern behaviour and we focus on the financial and public use of property - then I would remind members of our conflict-of-interest legislation and, in fact, my argument is supported in the preamble to our act, where the preamble says: “Whereas in democracies, elected officials are expected to conduct themselves ethically.” Our conflict-of interest legislation demands a high ethical standard of us, and all members live up to this legislation. We have, as a Legislative Assembly, over the years strengthened this act. I can recall working with the former Member for McIntyre-Takhini and the former Member for Porter Creek North, both government leaders, on this particular issue, strengthening our act. We receive annual reports from the Conflicts Commissioner, and frequently, in the past our Conflicts Commissioner has made recommendations that we make changes to our act, and we have done this.
Some of the changes have been implemented, some have not.
We introduced two bills today from the Liberal caucus. One recommends changes to the conflict-of-interest act, which addresses an issue that has been the subject of much debate in this Legislature and the subject of much public debate. The amendment addresses the issue of whether or not an elected member of government should be part of a Cabinet if they are in arrears to the government - can't owe money and make decisions.
The amendment to the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act addresses that particular issue. It has been the subject of much debate, publicly and in this Legislature. I would encourage members to review the bill and I am encouraging members with this motion to move to a higher ethical standard, to put that higher standard in our conflict-of-interest legislation.
It was also suggested the conflict-of-interest legislation be amended to further encompass whistle-blower provisions. I would like to talk this afternoon about whistle-blower legislation in terms of the ethical standards.
Yesterday in this House, the leader of the official opposition said the Liberal government had two years to introduce whistle-blower legislation and did nothing. That is not in fact correct. The whistle-blower legislation was tabled and there was discussion of it in the public media on April 17, 2002, during the Liberal government's time in office. The legislation was tabled per the Conflicts Commissioner's advice to me. Unfortunately, that piece of legislation had inadequate consultation with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, for which the minister publicly apologized, and the bill was subsequently withdrawn. At the time, we were the first in Canada to introduce whistle-blower legislation and whistle-blower provisions.
Like the discussion of ethics, the discussion of whistle-blowers has moved substantially since 2002.
In November 2004, Saskatchewan passed amendments to their Labour Standards Act. It is my understanding that the Province of Manitoba has similar whistle-blower legislation. Unless the NDP caucus believe it's only NDP governments that have managed to successfully pass this, I would point out that the Alberta Liberal caucus first proposed whistle-blower legislation in 1998 in their legislature. That legislation was defeated. The former member of the House of Commons from Manitoba, the former Minister of the Treasury Board, Reg Alcock, introduced during a Liberal government's time the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. I have not updated myself on recent progress of it, but the point is that it is important in talking about ethics and what we do as members of this Legislature - part of ethics is painting the whole picture and telling the whole story.
The whole story of whistle-blower legislation is that it has been introduced under a Liberal government. The NDP tabled a bill to deal with this issue. At that time I noted that legislation is a starting point. No one party in this Legislature and no one individual has a lock on good ideas. We should have examined the NDP legislation, just as we did with the Liberal proposal for grandparents' rights, the Liberal proposal on the domestic violence act, and the amendments brought forward by the Yukon Party during another time in opposition on the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act.
Unfortunately, during that debate, the current government, the Yukon Party, wanted only to examine government legislation. The benches opposite forgot the fact that it is not unheard of for legislation to be brought forward in this House by the government that requires amendment, that is not the best it can be. I am making reference to the family maintenance orders enforcement act, which was legislation that caused a great deal of difficulty in the legal community and was debated in this Legislature at the time. The NDP government would not hear of amendments. In this instance, with whistle-blower legislation, the NDP brought forward legislation and the Yukon Party government absolutely would not have it debated.
Now, there has been a steadfast refusal to move an all-party committee on to the whistle-blower legislation. That is the current argument that's put forward, and much has been made of the fact that we have - and I personally have - on behalf of the Liberal Party in the past, said, no, we wouldn't participate in an all-party committee on whistle-blower legislation. I took this position for two reasons. It's not necessary to have an all-party committee, number one, on whistleblower legislation; and number two, you can hardly expect one all-party committee to succeed when we haven't been able to move on the other one. If we're going to talk about whistle-blower legislation, it's important that we talk about all the facts surrounding whistle-blower legislation. It has been introduced in the past; it has been withdrawn. There has been a suggestion for an all-party committee; there has been a draft bill brought forward.
The highest ethical standard, I believe, would have us debating that bill before this government calls an election.
I'd like to speak about the issue of all-party committees, and the all-party committee on appointments. Mr. Speaker, again, this feels a bit like “back to the future”. A motion that there be an all-party committee on appointments is one of the first motions I made in this Legislature as a member. I made one, and almost on the same day, the former, former, former Member for Riverdale North - now a resident of Marsh Lake - also brought forward a motion. They were remarkably similar. I believe we had added another committee. Essentially, the three of us worked together: the Member for Lake Laberge was on the government side, and the Member for Riverdale North and me. This was a delay. Essentially, it ended up in such a convoluted process that the committee couldn't function.
In the interim, during that lack of movement on the all-party committee, the then leader of the Yukon Party, the Member for Whitehorse West, and I, as leader of the third party in the House at the time, successfully worked together to appoint the Yukon's first Ombudsman - to select, recruit and appoint. So, while there was this great obfuscation going on about the inability to move on an all-party committee and a lot of “he said-she said” going on in the public, members of this House quietly managed to work together to appoint, in an all-party way, a very important officer of the House. So we demonstrated that it could work, but publicly we couldn't come to that conclusion.
During our term in government, our government changed the rules - amended the Standing Orders. There are two things I'm particularly proud of - we eliminated the night sittings, which I believe was a benefit to members and those who serve the members, as there was very limited public attendance; and in the Standing Orders, we established the all-party committee.
Unfortunately, the third party member did not participate, and that committee was unable to meet and move forward. Now, the order is still in our Standing Orders. Although there has been a change in government, and the commitment was made in the Yukon Party platform to move forward on an all-party committee on appointments, it still hasn't happened. And the highest ethical standards have us walking the talk - doing what we say we'll do. Why has it stalled this time?
Good question, Mr. Speaker.
In order for it to not be mired further in political rhetoric or public dispute between members, we have again brought forward a constructive suggestion, moved it from standing order to a piece of legislation. Now, I'll be the first to admit the legislation is not perfect. It doesn't deal with the issue of independents in this Legislature. That would have to be recognized because, for one reason or another, at some point in the life of a government, there have been independents. We would have to recognize that and deal with it, but at least let's have the debate and pass it.
It's a constructive suggestion to move. We're a very small jurisdiction. Every party has pledged their support and promised they will deal with the all-party committee on appointments, and it just doesn't seem to happen. I recognize that a Legislature cannot impose good behaviour; we can, however, at least record it.
Mr. Speaker, we hear from our constituents on a regular basis. Some people believe that public meetings are an answer; others prefer the door-to-door; others are very fond of electronic communication with their constituents. We all hear from them. And we hear about Question Period.
Mr. Speaker, I believe you have heard many of these comments and we've all heard, as politicians, that it's not about Question Period, it's about message period, from some of the more seasoned politicians in Canada. It's not the kind of behaviour that we want to emulate.
It's a difficult thing in this particular environment. Question Period is the time when the public sees us, and what does the public often see? The kind of behaviour that we wouldn't tolerate on a playground. In this I'm referring to the idea of when someone taunts someone on a playground and others are cheering. Here we see taunting back and forth and, on occasion, thumping of desks and laughter.
I'm not accusing any one individual, nor am I saying that any one individual in this House is blameless. We all share in this, and we all have to make this a better place to be. No employer would sanction one employee saying something destructive to another. As I've said, we don't tolerate behaviour on the playground where everyone cheers and eggs someone on who belittles someone else. Why do we allow it to happen in here?
Mr. Speaker, you as the Speaker have called us to order, and we are all at fault in this. I'm not saying that anyone to one degree or another is responsible. A former member once said to me that, “I don't know what it is about this place. It must be this high ceiling; it sucks our brains out or something.” It was a quote, Mr. Speaker.
The fact is you can't manage other people's behaviours, but we have to try. We wouldn't sanction it if someone else did it, so why are we allowing it to happen?
And we need to encourage debate. I think of the motion brought forward, Motion No. 481, I believe it was. It was a motion of urgent and pressing necessity to deal with a fellow member. It was a motion brought forward, and the members opposite would not give unanimous consent to debate that motion. It was refused debate, and there was great delay in calling a by-election on the part of the government. We need to move to a higher standard, we need to allow public debate when it's called for, and we need to ensure there is no delay in calling by-elections when they are necessary.
Members have heard me reference an article I have come across in my reading. I have shared it with some of the members in this House. It's called “Toxic Organizations: Welcome to the Fire of an Unhealthy Workplace”. There were far too many things listed in that article, Mr. Speaker, that I looked at this Legislature and went, check, check, check - far too many. Among them on the checklist is that “toxic organizations have interpersonal relationships [that] are driven by manipulative and self-centred agendas.”
We have to aspire to a higher standard. How do we fix this? How do we change this? One of the other elements of the toxic organization is the inability to change the behaviour in the workplace.
We need to do a better job. As one member from across the way has reminded me today, the next government will be elected for a five-year term - a maximum of five years. That's a very long time, in some instances. If we can do a number of things as a Legislature for the next Legislative Assembly, let it include that we set a higher standard.
Another element to the suggestions I've brought forward today in terms of a higher standard is the amendment to the Elections Act, that members who are convicted of corrupt or illegal practices under the Elections Act cannot serve. It's a very straightforward amendment. I'll just make sure I have the exact reference.
That is an amendment to the Elections Act and it's section 4 of the bill we have tabled today.
Going back to this idea of the definition of ethics, I've made several references to textbooks, Canadian and American, and some laws that are on the American books. In my leisure reading, interestingly enough in the parenting section of Canadian Living this month, there's a discussion about ethics. The psychologist, Ron Clavier, notes that, with regard to ethics, morality changes from generation to generation but ethics are universal and unchanging, such as: never treat anyone in a way you would not want to be treated; avoid the “do as I do” trap; good parental modeling will ground your child in ethics - an interesting point that that should appear.
Good modeling and avoiding the “do as I say, not as I do” trap is also about accountability.
Another parenting tip that was passed on to me was the belief that your most precious possession is your signature. You sign something - you sign cheques - it's your debt. If you sign on the dotted line for a loan or mortgage, that's yours, and it belongs to you.
The Government Accountability Act that the Yukon Liberal government tabled in this Legislature and passed required signed accountability statements from ministers and deputy ministers. Their signatures on financial documents were tabled in this Legislature. The minister was accountable for the taxpayers' money and for the results it achieved.
Time after time, budget after budget after budget, we tell the Yukon public how many students we bus to schools and how much it costs - and we don't tell them how many students pass math. We don't tell them how many - necessarily - students dropped out. We don't commit that we are going to ensure that so many kilometres of road will have BST or be paved or reconstructed.
It's not signed off by the minister and tabled in this House - not any more - because the very first act of the Yukon Party government was to repeal the Government Accountability Act. The very first action by the Yukon Party government was to repeal the Government Accountability Act, and every single member opposite, including some who sit on this side now, voted in favour of repealing that act. They never even gave it a chance, Mr. Speaker.
Now, the party that they are most closely affiliated with - what's the federal Conservative government's first action going to be? They're going to introduce accountability.
We have spent hours in this House talking about accountability. I would have appreciated it, as a taxpayer, as a member of this House, if the members opposite, the Yukon Party, had given that accountability act a chance - amend it, give it a chance. Their first act was to repeal it. Now, one of the acts they kept included governance statements, but we haven't seen the governance statements.
A quick word about the federal initiative on accountability, as well, is that the accountability provisions and interest under the new accountability act of the federal government also includes provisions for government whistle-blowing. The federal Conservative government has rolled in accountability and whistle-blowing into one piece of legislation. Today, I talked about our suggestions for dealing with ethics, accountability and the all-party committee on appointments.
What I have tried to do in outlining these points is to talk about ethics as a whole. Ethics in public administration is rooted in conflict-of-interest legislation. It is in accountability, it is in the standards we set. We have an excellent Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act. It has been strengthened, it could be strengthened more, and we could demonstrate a higher ethical standard by including the provisions in the bills that we have put forward, the amendments to the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act.
I believe we need to talk about this issue because of the opinion - as I've noted by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada's Portraits of Canada - how would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of the provincial political leaders? The Yukon scored the lowest in the country. We have to talk about this, and we have to raise the ethical standard and the bar.
Yukoners, and Canadians as a whole, have a low opinion of Yukon politicians - Yukon and provincial political leaders. We need to talk about it, and we need to deal with the standard we aspire to with the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act and our behaviour in the Legislature. We need to do what we say we'll do and finally move on this all-party committee on appointments.
We've come forward - not in a manner that casts aspersions on any one individual, because that would be outside our Standing Orders. We've come forward with some positive suggestions. We've dealt with the ethical issues that people have raised with us. A large one - a matter of public debate - is the issue of outstanding money. We've brought forward a constructive suggestion: amend the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act. We've brought forward and walked the talk on the appointment of an all-party committees and all-party committee on appointments. It has to be done. It has been promised; let's deal with it.
I'm not going to go on at great length much longer. I would just like to say I encourage all members, as members often have before, to talk about how we can improve the Yukon Legislative Assembly, how we can say to our constituents that we have done what we set out to do, which is to make a difference. We can all strive each day in our own behaviour to do it. We can also do it by clearly and publicly stating our support and our willingness to discuss changes to the bills that bring strength to them.
We put our changes forward in a bill called the Yukon Ethics and Accountability Act because there are a number of changes that we have proposed that all deal with this subject of ethical standards. The ethical standards, in our view - raising those ethical standards - say that anybody with an outstanding debt to the Government of Yukon can't be a Cabinet minister, that anyone convicted of an offence under the Elections Act can't be a candidate for election. We've also talked about an annual reporting process, by the minister responsible, on administration of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. That has been the subject of much debate in the Legislature as well.
We've also talked about accountability. We need to ensure that the Minister of Finance provides the public with an accountability plan as part of the annual budget. We've brought forward legislated creation of an all-party committee to oversee these measures.
I've also spoken about whistle-blower legislation, and that has also been addressed in the bills today. There are other measures that my colleagues will speak about later this afternoon.
Before I provide the floor to the other members in the Legislature, I'd like to recap the points that I've tried to address this afternoon. The motion has urged the Government of Yukon to conduct its affairs according to the highest ethical standards. If there is any doubt left in any member's mind, my references and focus in this debate are not on Yukon's public service but the Legislative Assembly itself. And if members wish to amend the motion so that it is more narrowly focused to the Legislative Assembly, so be it. I believe that Yukon's public service does absolutely adhere to the highest of ethical standards.
In my discussion this afternoon, I'm urging the Yukon Legislative Assembly to raise the ethical standards that are currently set for us. I've suggested that by talking about ethics. What are they? Ethics are rooted in our conflict-of-interest legislation, in the Financial Administration Act and in other pieces of legislation. In this bill, we've raised the ethical bar saying ethics and accountability - we can raise that bar by amending the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, by amending the Elections Act, and by amending the Financial Administration Act.
I also have spoken about whistle-blower legislation, and some of the background to what has been introduced in the House. Whistle-blower legislation isn't considered in all the public administration debates part of this discussion. I believe we should.
There are bills before the House; we could move forward on whistle-blower legislation; we could act on it. We could debate the bill, and I encourage members opposite who have not granted unanimous consent so we could have debate on another motion to reconsider that action and move forward and have a debate on legislation, even though it may be brought forward by another party. I would encourage all members to have a look at the suggestions we have brought forward, to consider raising the bar and moving to a higher ethical standard.
I believe very strongly we should do this. We should make these amendments and we should model the behaviour and move forward on these suggestions and with the debate. I may have an opportunity to address some concerns later this afternoon and I look forward to it. In the interim, Mr. Speaker, I look forward to members opposite and my colleagues' debate on the motion I have brought forward.
Mr. Rouble: It is my honour, privilege and pleasure to rise today to speak to this motion. First, I would like to thank the Member for Porter Creek South for bringing this important matter to the Assembly in such a respectful manner. Values and ethics are certainly a topic of interest among many people. Our values and ethics are guidelines for our decision making. They are our criteria for success. When we consider making practically any decision in our lives, we focus in on our core values and our ethics, and they help us to stay on the right track. They are the difference between right and wrong.
It is difficult to debate ethics. Indeed, it's hard to debate the subject without calling into question another's ethical standards. Even the phrase, “We need to raise the bar on ethics,” suggests that people's current ethical standards are far too low. With that, we would then get into a debate about whether someone's standards, morals and actions are better or worse. Are they a good person? Are they a bad person? Are they an evil person? That's what it gets down to with ethics and morality.
This would naturally lead to a discussion about every possible questionable action that anybody ever took - every transgression, every speeding ticket, everyone's past.
W e could get into this big debate of, “I'm better than you because, well, there was this time when so-and-so got into a bar fight.” I'm glad to see that that level of debate certainly hasn't happened here today, that we've actually walked the walk of rising above all that, that the debate hasn't degenerated into an I'm-better-than-you or you're-worse-than-I-am finger-pointing and mudslinging exercise.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: Unfortunately, I hear the phrase “not yet” from a member across the way, which really does dishearten me. I think we're on the road today to having a good debate and agreeing to a good direction. I certainly believe it's something that we can all agree to. I think it's something that all Yukoners want us to work toward, and I hope that we have the support of all members and that all members take the high road in the debate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: Across the way, Mr. Speaker, I hear the phrase “We're watching.” That's a really important one, to remember that we are being watched. We are being watched. The cameras might not be on right now, but the press is in the gallery watching us. Hansard is recording everything we say. It's being broadcast on the radio and on the Internet, and the public has an opportunity to listen to us, to watch us, to evaluate us. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, the voters in our community are our watchdog. They're our moral, our ethical, our standards watchdogs. They're the ones who made the decision to send us here, and they're certainly the ones who will make the decision to keep us here or to remove us.
Mr. Speaker, those voters elected us for many different reasons. It could be based on our individual personalities, our individual beliefs, our affiliation with a party, a particular platform, a particular stance on an issue, our experiences, our past. It's the voters who measure the capacity, the competence, and their level of faith that they have in the candidate, and they make the decision. Based on that individual's actions and performance, they make a decision to send them back or to send them in a new career direction.
Indeed we do need to remember that we are being watched, that we are accountable to someone. What we say and what we do certainly isn't without a strong level of accountability. That's the job of the voters - to ensure that they have the representation that they want, that reflects their values, their opinions, their beliefs and their positions. That's what makes democracy a great system.
We also have our justice system. If laws are broken, there are penalties that must be paid for that - whether that be a speeding ticket or something of a much more serious nature. With that comes a different justice system: due process. All Canadians are entitled to due process. We don't have one special legal system for one portion of society and another for politicians. We have our legal system that holds us accountable for large transgressions of the law. In our Assembly, we have our conflict of interest legislation, which the Member for Porter Creek South discussed earlier. It disallows members and ministers from getting into situations where they would benefit personally from a decision out of their control. We have steps in place to prevent us from getting into a situation of conflict of interest. I think all members in the Assembly know the process they have to go through if they feel that this piece of legislation has been breached.
Mr. Speaker, we in this Legislative Assembly are accountable with criticism back and forth, from one side of the House to the other. That is a normal practice in our Assembly. We certainly don't always agree on issues. We don't always agree on a position. We have different ideological backgrounds, but we have the opportunity in here to debate, to say, “No, I don't agree with you.” Just by saying, “No, I don't agree with your position on that issue,” doesn't mean that it is, all of a sudden, a moral argument or an ethical argument. It just means that I don't agree with you.
W e can have those differences of opinion in here, and those are healthy to have. It's healthy to have the constructive criticism. It makes the whole process better; it makes it more public; and it makes it more accountable to people, because we have to explain the rationale and the logic behind the decisions made.
Now, Mr. Speaker, as I said at the beginning, the whole issue of values and ethics has become a very important topic for debate in recent years. We've seen major corporate structures fall apart due to lack of governance and to people dealing in an unethical manner. I don't think that the leaders of some of the corporations that we've seen go out of business in such a huge fiasco would share the same values that we as the elected leaders in our community share.
Values and ethics have been something that the federal government has looked at quite extensively. They've created handbooks; they've created guidebooks; they've created codes of conduct. One of the things they've done is recognize some of the core values that the federal government feels are common throughout all public servants and throughout all government. Those core values include democratic values, professional values, ethical values and people values.
I would suggest that we in this Assembly share a lot of those very same values. We got involved in politics because we believe in serving our public. That's our whole reason for being here - and to help to steer the government ship in the direction and philosophy that we as individuals and we as parties agree on.
I think we can agree to a lot of these common values, and that might be a good place to start - to say, “Hey, can we agree that, yes, these are our core values that we as legislators should have?” We can use those as our guidelines and our criteria for success when we're making decisions.
Mr. Speaker, I am getting beyond the scope of the motion here. As I said, I was glad to see that this debate didn't take a turn down that slippery slope of finger pointing, and that instead we have taken a high road. I know that I've personally made a commitment to my constituents to try to raise the level and quality of debate in this Assembly. I've tried to do it through debate, through my position as Deputy Speaker, but it is certainly our actions that speak louder than our words. We can't go up to the top of the building and yell, “I am ethical” and expect people to believe it. Instead, it is a bit of a challenge when you open up a debate on ethics and immediately you are on the defensive. If we were all to stand here and say, “Of course I'm ethical”, you raise the spectre of doubt, which is unfortunate. As the Member for Porter Creek South said, it is an important topic that needs to be discussed openly, but it is a challenging one to discuss without being on the defensive all the time.
As the member of the third party has said - it might have been her intention to focus the motion a little bit more on the Members of the Legislative Assembly rather than the Government of Yukon. I can see that as being a positive change, because as soon as you raise the question of ethics, you are immediately challenging others' current ethical standards. I don't think it was the intention of the Member for Porter Creek South to question the current ethical standards of the public service. Unfortunately, that might be one of those unintended consequences that come about when you try to open up a subject like this.
I don't think that's the intent and I don't want to go there in debate. That not the purpose right now. If there was an amendment to refocus the motion on just the Legislative Assembly, I think that would be helpful. It would eliminate the fear of offending others, for one thing, and it would also highlight the debate on our standards and our performance.
The only other thing I could see adding to this motion - it is pretty well a motherhood statement, that this House urges the Government of Yukon to conduct its affairs according to the highest ethical standards - would be that this House urges the Government of Yukon to continue to conduct its affairs according to the highest ethical standards. That would certainly recognize the members who have gone before us and the current members who are operating at a high ethical standard.
I will agree with another thing the Member for Porter Creek South said, and that's that we can't manage others' behaviour. In my role as caucus chair, I certainly know that to be true. As Chair of Committee of the Whole, it's often a challenge to encourage all others to follow the rules.
One of my favourite condemnations, if you will, is to remind members in this Assembly to act in a manner that Yukoners expect of us.
There is a certain level of behaviour that Yukoners expect of us. One of the best situations I found in here is when we have schoolchildren in attendance. When there are 10, 15 or 30 students in the room, it encourages us all to behave that little bit better and not act inappropriately or embarrass ourselves in front of the other young people.
Also, to that end, I am glad we have the young pages with us in the Assembly. With the youth here, we have a responsibility to be role models for them, to show them that adults can behave in a responsible, appropriate manner, and that the antics in the Legislative Assembly don't always degenerate into yelling matches that do nothing. Instead, when we are here presenting our different opinions, arguments and criticisms, we are doing it in front of young people as well.
I can certainly agree with the member that we can all aspire to a higher standard. Is there a common standard that we can all aspire to? I don't think so. I think ethics and morality and individuals' performance - a lot of that - is driven from within. There has to be a desire from the individual to get better, to be better, to behave better.
Would it be appropriate to say that we all have to attain the level of Ghandi in order to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly? While that may be a great thing, it would certainly be a challenge to find enough candidates. Do we need to aspire to a higher standard? Certainly.
One of the similarities that I would like to point out, though, between what the member is discussing and what we looked at earlier in this Assembly, is the legislative reform document. There was a lot of discussion over the document that Ken McKinnon produced looking at electoral reform. One of the conclusions that he came up with was that it was really legislative reform that the electorate wanted, and that people have a higher level of expectation of the performance of members in here.
I think it would serve us all well to go and give that document another look and look at what we can do as individuals to accomplish a lot of that legislative reform as well as look at what we need to do to reform some of our ingrained and legislated structures, our rules, our regulations, our Standing Orders. I think we need a debate in here about whether or not it's the rules of debate that need to be discussed - the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. We could certainly take a look at some of these things. Maybe the committee known as SCREP could get together and discuss if there are other legislative reform areas that we need to address that would encourage healthier debate. Indeed, maybe we could even get SCREP to take a look at Wednesdays and what happens in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesdays and how we could change our practice in here to better serve the needs of all Yukoners.
So there are steps that I think we can take as individuals to upgrade our own performance and our own appearance. There are things that I think we can do as members of this Assembly through SCREP or another body, maybe House leaders' meetings, to elevate the level of debate. There are things that we can do, other steps for legislative reform, which would elevate the quality and calibre and the performance of members.
As for changes to legislation - well, we heard about some of the bills that were tabled today. I look forward to second reading when we can hear more about them and what else is in there, which I expect we'll get to in the due course of the Assembly.
So, are there actions that we can take as individuals to act more ethically - to raise our own bar? Certainly. Are there things that we can do as members of this Assembly, collectively? Certainly. Should we look at legislating some of those? Well, we'll hold off on that debate for another day. Can I endorse a motion that says “that this House urges the Government of Yukon to conduct its affairs according to the highest ethical standards”? Of course I can. How could anyone here oppose that, other than with the argument that, when you make a statement like this, it challenges the current ethical standards and practices. And, as we all know, due to the fact that we were chosen as representatives by the citizens of the Yukon to be here, and as our Standing Orders and our practices in this Assembly indicate, we are all honourable members and we are all expected to behave in that manner. We are all expected to do this already.
So, can you legislate what you're already expected to do and have any difference? I'm not sure that's much benefit. One of the comments in the Workers' Compensation Act review was that someone wanted to see it legislated that the act had to be followed. They wanted to see a law that said, “You have to follow the law,” which, to me, sounds quite redundant. You are already expected to do it. One more law won't make much difference.
We have a standard of duty to ourselves, to our party, to our community, to our church, to the Yukon people. The bar is set pretty high, Mr. Speaker. We all need to continue to keep reaching for it.
I would like to thank the members for their attention today. I know that this is an area where it is easy to get into the “he said-she said” type of debate and to demonstrate that so-and-so is much higher on the food chain by pointing out all the criticisms in the past. I trust it won't degenerate into that. I have hope and confidence in the Assembly that we can simply agree to this quickly and move on and deal with some of the other important issues that are on our agenda today.
Thank you for your attention.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I would like to also speak on this motion. I'll be short in my response to it. I would like to thank the Member for Porter Creek South for bringing this forward. It is a discussion I think we've had in this House - a debate in the public about ethics, not just here in the Yukon but throughout the rest of Canada. Certainly that was an issue in the federal election.
It's more about elected members than what all of government does and how they go about doing their business. I think that if it is the belief in this House that this motion should be changed to that, I'm not going to move to amend this motion, but I heard somebody else speak to this already. I think that is important, although I would like to mention a few things.
One example is in how government does things - it could be departments and so on. People really feel that departments at times should be elevated to the level at least of having the knowledge behind them when they are making decisions.
One example would be in regard to the land claims agreements. I've said before in this House that I felt the land claims agreements - the Umbrella Final Agreement and final agreements - really changed the way in which Yukon goes about doing its business forever. It's true - we're setting up processes that are followed in the final agreements.
Sometimes these are not always liked by department people and we find ourselves going through a longer process than we want to see happen. In that regard, the different departments could raise the way in which they deal with the public to a higher standard. I do think this motion is basically talking about elected members and the way in which we go about doing our business and representing our constituents.
I remember - maybe you do too, Mr. Speaker, if you listened to the debates in this House 10 or nine or eight years ago. I only remember one person being kicked out of this Legislature. He was not listening to the ruling of the Speaker at the time. That person did get kicked out of the Legislature. It just happened to be a Yukon Party MLA at the time. I thought I would point that out.
And there were some pretty descriptive words being used in this House. I'll give an example, and I hope I don't get ruled on it, but there was one that was used quite often by the Yukon Party with the answers that were provided by the NDP, and it was this: “That's a bunch of BST.” That was allowed in this House.
Have we improved things in here since then? I think so. And a lot of the improvement is noticed because of the Speaker and what is being allowed, people being called to order and so on. It would be interesting to dig up how many times members are being called to order in this House. Sometimes we feel that we should be given a little bit more leeway in our questions and our responses to the ministers and so on. At the same time, we want to see control. So I guess we can't have it both ways.
I know the general public out there wants to see better ethics being put forward by their elected members. In speaking with some of my constituents and people here in Whitehorse, they talk about this Legislature. Some of the students talk about this Legislature and the MLAs, and they say sometimes that they're acting like a bunch of kids. It might seem that way to those who are watching Question Period, for example, or the hour that is being broadcast over the air. It might seem that way, and some people really disagree in the way business is conducted in this Legislature. Others like it. They like to see the debate in this House. Some have compared it to, for example, the Northwest Territories. Things are pretty calm in that Legislature and it's not as heated as it is here.
Then you look at the House of Commons and they, too, are referred to as a bunch of kids playing in the Legislature. So, that is the image that is put on every elected member. How do we clean that up? I think it's an individual thing. Everybody has to look at taking the high road and respecting one another in this House. That's very difficult to do when you are guided by your constituents - whether it's answering questions or moving forward in a certain direction. That's a very difficult task to do.
If this motion is amended and gets passed and is looking at improving ethics of elected members in this Legislature, then we all have a job to do on our own. There is nobody who is really going to control that. What do you take back to your constituents at the end of the mandate? If they like how things are being done, sometimes you get voted back in on your own account.
I would like to thank the member for bringing this motion forward. I would like to hear from others on how they would like to see the bar of ethical standards raised and how they would go about doing this. I think that all members should look at this with some seriousness. I think they need to be taking some answers back to their constituents. All of us need to do that.
With that, I am looking forward to other comments on this motion. It will be interesting to see whether or not this will be amended to look at the elected members and how they conduct themselves in this House and in their ridings.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It's a pleasure to rise in the House today. I've appreciated hearing the comments that have come forward from members opposite today and from members on this side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, ultimately, ethics begin and end with ourselves, with looking in the mirror. We will be judged by the people who surround us, whether we're members of the Legislature or simply a member of society. We will be judged. But ultimately, I personally believe that ethics come down to looking in the mirror and, in the morning and at night when you look at yourself - it's hard to hide from yourself in the mirror - whether you honestly believe that you conduct yourself in a manner that's appropriate in life - not just in your job, but in life, in your behaviour, and how you perform, how you interact with your family, friends, colleagues and, in cases such as the Legislature, where you might not always enjoy working with the people who surround. That's a fact of this Legislature and this House - each and every MLA is elected to represent our constituents, and we come forward to the House and we learn the reality that it's not always easy to work in a democracy. It is not always a pleasant business, and there can be a significant amount of strife and controversy among us with the partisan nature of our Legislature and our democratic system.
As I said, ethics begin and end with ourselves. When I ran for election, one of the things I ran on and stated to the people who are now my constituents - when I asked them to vote for me, I promised a few simple, tangible things. It had been brought to my attention by people before I decided to run that they had complained about their current MLA at that time and the one previous. I'm not going to personally engage in criticism of those two individuals, but it's no secret. Members know there was a feeling by the people of Lake Laberge that the two previous MLAs had not been available or accessible.
I made the commitment to do certain tangible things to change that, and I think I've done a good job. Ultimately, the people will judge me based on that.
Mr. Speaker, the commitments that I made were very simple ones: I committed to holding public meetings, to be available to the public, to stand accountable for how I was performing and how I was representing them, to being accessible, to answering phone calls, returning phone calls, acting on their concerns and working to represent them. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I think I can say I have done a good job. The public will judge me for that, and that is ultimately something we all have to face and address - how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves.
Mr. Speaker, all of us have the obligation when we take this job to work to the best of our ability. We have the expectation on the part of our constituents - the hope - that we will display high ethical standards, that we will act in their interests, that we will represent them, that we will stand for their interests above our own interests and the interests of our party. Of course, independents do not have that same situation, but I am sure that their constituents have the same expectation and hope - that they will stand for the interests of their constituents above their own interests and their position in the Assembly.
One thing that was expressed by my colleague, the Member for Southern Lakes, in reading the motion as it is worded, “urges the Government of Yukon to conduct its affairs according to the highest ethical standards” - who can disagree with that? Does anyone disagree with that? Of course not. It is something that is expected of all of us. It's expected of every member in this Assembly that we act according to high ethical standards or perhaps, considering the regard that politicians are held in some quarters of the public, it is more of a hope than an expectation. It is certainly what the public wants us to be here to do. They want us to be acting ethically; they want us to be representing them and to be working in the best interests of our constituents and for Yukoners as a whole.
What is a bit disappointing in this is that it is unfortunate that, as stated by my colleague, there always seems to be the implication in a debate on ethics that someone is not acting ethically, and that detracts rather dramatically from high-level, principled discussions when there seems to be the overt or subtle finger pointing going on toward someone. So we have to look back at what we have done. How have we dealt with things?
Our government - this side of the House - is the first Yukon government to fully book the territory's liabilities in accordance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and as recommended by the Public Sector Accounting Board. We changed to full accrual accounting to do so, as per the recommendations of the Public Sector Accounting Board, and the Auditor General has been quite complimentary of the changes that we have made to more fully reflect the government's liabilities, which had not been done before.
We've discussed before in the House issues with previous governments - I'm not going to say who; they know who they are - such as the Connect Yukon project that left an undisclosed liability to Yukon taxpayers years down the road. There were issues such as the Mayo-Dawson power line, which went dramatically overbudget, from the $17 million originally projected to the current, most recent figure and still not resolved, being somewhere in the neighbourhood of $38 million.
Those are issues that point out the importance of disclosing all the liabilities. Another item, and an important one, was that previous governments capped the employee leave liability at $30 million for the purposes of its consideration and interaction with the Taxpayer Protection Act. If that had not been done, the Taxpayer Protection Act would have been triggered and an election would have been called. But for the purposes of the act, they considered it at no larger than $30 million, and therefore the act was not triggered.
When it came in, we recognized the full employee leave liability cost which, at that time, was approximately $42 million. It had previously been understated by approximately $12 million.
This issue of the Government Accountability Act has been raised by the Member for Porter Creek South. The act was put in place by the Liberal government under her premiership. This has been a debate that we could engage in all afternoon, if we wished, on how the perceptions of the former Liberal government differ from those of the Yukon Party, when in government. I'm not going to criticize the member's intent in bringing that act forward.
We took the position that it did not improve accountability, and statistical data being removed from the budgets and replaced by what we felt to be ineffective and empty words was not a positive thing. We made the change; the member can disagree with it. I know she does disagree with it, but to suggest we changed it because we didn't want to be accountable is not a fair assertion.
We had a different view of the best way to state the government's plans in the budget, state the current situation of the government and to provide the most accountable disclosure of the territory's situation to the public.
Another thing our government took on is initiating the collection of unpaid loans that were owed to the Yukon government. The evidence of where that has led and what has resulted is very clear when anyone looks around at the seating of the Legislature today.
We did attempt to bring forward and implement the standing committee on appointments to boards and committees and the whistle-blower committee. I would simply say to members opposite that they should recheck their facts and take a look in the mirror prior to standing again and stating that we did not attempt to reach agreement with them and that they were fully cooperative, because I do not believe that is in any way, shape or form an accurate representation. We did make attempts and we did not feel there was an interest on the other side to proceed.
It is the obligation of all members - I think my colleagues in the Yukon Party have done a good job of working to represent constituents, act in the interest of Yukoners and stand up for the rights and freedoms of each and every individual. Again, as was noted, it is difficult to get into a debate on ethics without criticism or implied criticism.
Even suggested terms such as “raise the bar” imply that someone in some way, shape or form is not acting ethically. That is something that people have to consider. One thing I would point out to all members is that when we engage in that debate and do imply that, it in fact lowers the public perception of the Legislature. We should all think about the appropriateness and ethics of that when we get into a discussion on ethics and imply that somebody else is not acting ethically, because each and every one of us is an individual and each and every one of us is hopefully acting in an ethical manner, and we are certainly expected to do so.
It is very frustrating to stand here in the House and have, on almost a daily basis, the opposition attacking the ethics of members of the government. It's not something that's new to this Legislature; it has occurred before. But I don't think it gives credit to our institution, and I have to pose a question that everyone may wish to mull over: when did the opposition's job turn from debating and critiquing policy to criticizing ethics, making personal attacks and suggesting that somebody is not acting with the best intent? Oh, it's done, of course, in a way that gets through the Standing Orders, but we know what it means.
Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the wording of the motion. I certainly have no disagreement, and have no problem with it, but I do note that the mover of the motion, in bringing it forward, did not resist firing a few little barbs at members of the government based on her version of events that have taken place in the past three years. We do not concur with their version of events. That's not a news flash to anyone, but if the intent was to stay on the high road, then that is not staying on the high road in this debate.
Members opposite like to criticize us. They don't like to talk about things like the Mayo-Dawson power line, the Energy Solutions Centre or Dawson's debt. They don't like to talk about the previous government, which had three candidates running for the party in the last election that had received six-figure sole-source contracts. They like to criticize our contracting policy; they don't like to acknowledge theirs.
Also, the debate frequently descends into comments that not only criticize us and suggest that we acted in a manner that was inappropriate, but suggest that members of the public had some sort of cozy relationship or inside deal, which is not only an attack on our ethics, but is in fact an attack on their ethics, their reputations, and can damage their ability to make a living.
Mr. Speaker, I would prefer to keep this debate to a higher level and thus resist the temptation to get into a debate over who has engaged in behaviour that's unethical, who has done this and who has done that. If members wish to do that at a different time, I'm more than happy to again get into listing criticisms of the way members opposite behaved in government, in contrast to how we behaved. Again, the issues here are important; ethics are very important.
I think we have to recognize that, ultimately, it comes down to individuals. Focus on ethical standards begins and ends with individuals, and each and every one of us, as MLAs, have a duty to tell the truth and act according to a high ethical standard.
With that in mind, I propose the following amendment.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move
THAT Motion No. 515 be amended by deleting the words “to conduct its” and replacing them with the words: “and all Yukon MLAs to conduct their”.
Speaker: The motion is in order, and it reads: It has been moved by the Minister of Health and Social Services
THAT Motion No. 515 be amended by deleting the words “to conduct its” and replacing them with the words “and all Yukon MLAs to conduct their”.
The minister has three minutes and 44 seconds left.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, as I noted in introducing the amendment to the motion, the intent in this is to add to the motion. We resisted the temptation to get into words such as “continuing” or getting into issues such as that. The intent of this is not to politicize the debate any more than it has already been today regarding the issue here to stick to the principle of the motion, which I would assume and hope is something that all MLAs can support - that we urge the Government of Yukon and all Members of the Legislative Assembly to conduct their affairs according to the highest ethical standards.
And, Mr. Speaker, it is only a motion. It's unfortunate that no matter what law you pass, there are people who will break it. No matter what standards you set, there are people who will find a way around them. That is the reality of society. There is no perfect situation. There is no magic wand. There are ways, if we look into situations such as the recent federal Liberal sponsorship scandal, the Gomery report, the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General and their review of the process there - they noted how, not because of lack of rules necessarily but because of a determined effort to subvert the rules, it was possible through people both at the political and bureaucratic level and within the corporate community to subvert the intent of ethical standards and to expend hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money in a way that did not produce value for dollar.
Ultimately, each of us has to answer to ourselves and, as MLAs, each of us has to answer to our constituents, the people who elected us. They should - and hopefully they will - hold us accountable for how we have behaved, note how we have acted, treat us fairly but also firmly when necessary.
Voters expect us to tell the truth. That extends as well to not clipping the facts and repeating them in a manner designed to create an impression contrary to the truth. They expect us to act with decorum and to exercise that in the House. That is something that unfortunately does not always occur. There are very few MLAs in the House who can claim innocence in this regard. Most of us at times have made a remark across the floor, and it is not appropriate for any of us to do it - but most MLAs have. We need to take a look at that.
We should always re-evaluate ourselves, take a good look in the mirror, be our hardest critics and, ultimately, when we look at ourselves in the mirror and when we answer to the voters at the ballot box, be proud of what we have done and act in a manner that our mothers and our fathers would be proud of and that our constituents will respect and will recognize.
Ms. Duncan: I have listened with great interest to the Member for Southern Lakes, the Member for Lake Laberge, and the Member for Mayo-Tatchun. In speaking to the amendment, I believe the Minister of Health and Social Services, the Member for Lake Laberge, has captured the point I made when I initially rose to speak, which was that this motion was focused on the matter that is under our control - our behaviour as Members of the Legislative Assembly. The Member for Lake Laberge has brought forward an amendment that focuses on and includes Yukon MLAs to conduct their affairs according to the highest ethical standards.
I appreciate the amendment. I have no difficulty with it. I do have some difficulty with the remarks that the Member for Lake Laberge made. Were I to be drawn into them, I would not be living up to what I have suggested we all try to do, which is to have the highest ethical standards. We can't stand on our feet and say we are not going to talk about such and such, and then proceed to talk about it. This motion that I brought forward is focused on the highest ethical standard, and I came forward, not only with examples that are a matter of public record, that apply to all of us in the House, and I said that nobody in the House was blameless. I said that, but both the Member for Southern Lakes and the Member for Lake Laberge insisted that the motion was interpreted as a need to defend, and say that somehow there was an accusation or somehow there was a suggestion that there hadn't been the highest ethical conduct.
The fact is, I brought forward suggestions to raise the bar, because we can always move it higher. It's a critical point the Member for Lake Laberge made that, at the end of the day, we have to all look ourselves in the mirror and say, did we do the absolute best we could today on behalf of the taxpayers?
Without a shred of doubt, I know that members who sat over there previous to the members who now sit there went home and said that, both in my government and in the NDP government. People did the best they could with the best information they were presented. And to stand day after day after day and criticize people for having done the best they could demeans everybody in here.
Highest ethical standards means talking about what we do. We will have the best conflict of interest legislation in the country. We will amend it. We will strengthen it. We will add to it. We will raise the ethical standard, move it even higher, by saying, no, you cannot serve in Cabinet if you owe money. That's a matter that has been public debate day after day after day in this House. We came forward and said we can respond to what the public has said to us, raise the ethical standard and change the conflict-of-interest act this way.
Now the Member for Lake Laberge has strengthened the motion by focusing it on MLAs and what we can do. We've said you cannot do in the suggestions we brought forward in my speech and in the bill that we tabled today. We didn't come forward with hollow, empty vessels of criticism. We came forward with specific examples that have been brought to the public debate, which have occurred in the life of this Legislature, and said that here's how we can all do better.
That's an important discussion to have without being defensive. It's an opportunity to take a good hard look at who we are, what we do on behalf of the public and how we could improve it. Nobody in this House is blameless. People have said things across the floor they regret; we've all lived through Committee of the Whole debates. There are only a couple of us who have lived through Committee of the Whole debates, prior to the current Chairs, that were personally difficult to endure. They weren't directed at me personally, but I invite members to take a look at Hansard, take a look at what the previous Minister of Community Services endured, and the one previous to that.
There are a few of us who remember 12 days of larvicide debate. It's not funny.
We can raise that standard, if we look at the rules, improve our existing legislation and legislate, once and for all, the action that no party - because of one party or another - seems able to accomplish.
The motion doesn't point the finger at anybody. It says, let's deal with the issues the public has brought to us; let's raise the ethical standards.
The Member for Lake Laberge has brought forward an amendment that strengthens it, and I appreciate that. I support the amendment. I have no difficulty with it. I invite all members to support not only the amendment, but the discussion - hard as it may be. And it is a hard discussion, because it's a long, hard look in the mirror. It's a hard discussion to have.
Everyone has done things in their life they would like to re-do, made decisions they would like to revisit, but the point is being able to stand and recognize when you've made a mistake, apologize for it, admit it and move on.
It's not about belittling the other guy or girl across the Legislature. It's about - what have we done today to make the Yukon a better place to live?
So, I'd encourage members to have a full and thorough debate of the amendment and of the motion and to further examine the bills that were tabled today. And I would encourage them to be called for debate. In my discussion earlier, I encouraged a full and thorough debate of the motion that was brought forward by the NDP. We need to do better, and I think by passing a motion like this, as it's amended, and having a discussion, we can.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the amendment? Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Speaker: I think the ayes have it. I declare the amendment carried.
Amendment to Motion No. 515 agreed to
Speaker: Is there any debate on the main motion?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that this debate is very important. Ethical behaviour starts with the individual. It is up to each person to develop a code of ethics within. One must develop boundaries and moral standards with which to govern their spirit. One must create a good set of ethical standards. This is important. It's important because it's very easy to do harm to someone that you cannot take back.
I believe that the traditional knowledge, values and beliefs can play a very important role here. I say that because through the eyes of the Creator, everyone is equal. Everyone must be treated with respect and care.
It is our traditional belief that our Creator gave us all two eyes, two ears and one mouth. That is so we can look twice at things, we can listen twice to what is being said, and we speak once. This is so we do not harm others with our comments. Spur-of-the-moment comments can create damage to the individual who is receiving them. Verbal comments that I am talking about can do severe damage mentally, spiritually and emotionally. We all have to believe that once you say something, it instantly becomes history and no one can successfully take it back. The damage is done. To point fingers and insult or criticize one another is not good practice.
Many people across the country watch the first hour of the legislative sitting every day, so we must not be poor examples of behaviour and respect. We must keep in mind that young people may be watching us. Therefore, we must set good examples because these young people may become our next political leaders, and we surely want all leaders to be respectful of each other and the citizens at large.
There were some incidents over the last three years that could have been corrected but, like I said, it's all history. I think the most important thing about that is that one can learn from it.
If one believes that ethical standards are not important, I would really question why one would be in the Legislature, because your behaviour and your moral standards really do indicate to others across the country who are interested in politics that maybe this is the way it is, that maybe politics is a way you can criticize and disrespect other people and not have to be held accountable for it. I don't believe that. I think everybody will be held accountable at one point or another for comments they make.
An elder once said to me that you have to earn respect; it is not a given. The more people you show respect to, the better harmony you will have in your family and your community. I believe that because, in our family, we had 18 children, and if anyone disrespected our mother, you would have to watch out for 18 people. We were spread right across the country so, at some point in time, you would confront one of us with your comments, or whatever you might have said about our beloved mother - who is now deceased - or father, or aunt, or uncle, or daughter or son. It goes right down the chain, and whenever somebody is really disrespectful, whether verbally or otherwise, it can create some severe problems within society, let alone a community or family.
Anyhow, I do speak in support of this motion, and I thank the Member for Porter Creek South for bringing it forth. Thank you.
Mr. Mitchell: I, too, welcome this opportunity to address and share with all members my thoughts and my convictions and my vision for this territory on this most important and fundamental issue.
I also take to heart the words spoken just before me by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini about the damage done when the words are uttered, basically. I know I'm paraphrasing and it's not as poetic as it was stated, but I think he has cautioned us all or advised us to be aware that once words are uttered, you can't simply pull them back in. They're out there, and they have lasting effect. That's good advice, Mr. Speaker.
A great deal of work and effort has been done by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on this topic. The OECD groups 30 member countries that share a commitment to democratic government and the market economy, and a good portion of my remarks will be based on their research and findings.
This issue is not unique to Yukon, nor to just Canada, but in fact it is crucial in any democracy, whether it be the United Kingdom, United States, France, or developing African or Middle Eastern democracies. I believe that most people would prefer to be and be seen to be honest and respected for their personal integrity by themselves and by their families and by their peers and their friends. If this assumption is correct, and I believe it to be, then it provides the starting point for an ethics management system that has the potential to make progress into ethical misconduct, keeping in mind the fact that transgressions can be as much the result of misunderstandings and misperceptions than of any deliberate or outright intent to misbehave.
An ethics-based approach should essentially be preventive and, therefore, a much preferred route than one that relies on the big stick of enforcement and prosecution. A well-intentioned government is much to be preferred to one that operates in fear and apprehension, and where individual initiative, however well intended, invites investigation and possible censure.
So ethical codes must be of a nature that public servants - and that's what we all are, because we often refer to the officials as public servants, but we need to remember that that's what the elected members first and foremost should think of themselves as being - are not turned into poverty-stricken missionaries or be as poor as church mice because, in the past, we have put out all kinds of aspersions or attacks over the years - not necessarily recently, but over many years - in this Legislative Assembly about people's private business affairs.
So the rules have to allow for people to have actually made a living before they get here and to continue to have other investments, and they shouldn't be so harsh or impractical as to frighten would-be leaders from assuming leadership roles.
Increased concern about the decline of confidence in public administration across the country and internationally about corruption has prompted many governments to review their approaches to ethical conduct. To assist these processes, a set of principles has been developed by the OECD to help countries review the institutions, systems and mechanisms they have for promoting public service ethics. I'm going to speak to these somewhat in the spirit of the amended motion, where the Member for Lake Laberge has included all MLAs. It's good for us to remember that we're all held to these standards.
The principles are not sufficient in themselves, but they provide a means for integrating ethics management into the broader public management environment. Elected public servants need to know the basic principles and standards they're expected to apply to their work and where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie. A concise, well-publicized statement of core ethical standards and principles that guide government and all MLAs - for example, in the form of a code of conduct - can accomplish this by creating a shared understanding across government and within the broader community.
The emphasis here should be on a broad statement of principles. These statements should be broad-based and not just resemble legislation or simply be a list of prohibitions and restrictions. The core values should be the focus. These are higher values than the minimal thresholds prescribed, for example, by the Criminal Code, by the laws.
The legal framework is the basis for communicating the minimum standards and the principles of behaviour for every elected and non-elected public servant. Laws and regulations could state the fundamental values of public service and should provide a framework for guidance, investigation, disciplinary action and, if necessary, for prosecution. This is the converse of the above.
When legislating, the aspirational aspects of a code can be stated to reinforce the values being protected by the laws and regulations. Public involvement, debate and input should contribute to the development of the necessary judgemental benchmarks and skills enabling public servants to apply ethical principles in concrete circumstances.
Training facilitates ethics awareness and can develop essential skills for ethical analysis and moral reasoning. Impartial advice can also help create an environment in which public servants are more willing to confront and resolve ethical tensions and problems. Guidance and internal consultation mechanisms should be made available to help all public servants apply basic ethical standards in the workplace.
A code without a mentor or an ombudsman is a rudderless boat adrift on a sea of temptation. Our public officials need to know where and to whom to turn when they are confronted with potential difficulties, and these people need to be persons in whom they have trust and in whom they can confide in confidence. So, the roles of the Ombudsman and the Conflicts Commissioner, which was brought forward a number of years ago by a former government, are good ones, and we need to strengthen those roles - all too often we perhaps don't pay enough attention to the reports that are tabled each year by those officials.
Non-elected public servants also need to know what their rights and obligations are in terms of exposing actual or suspected wrongdoing within the public service. These should include clear rules of procedures for officials to follow and a formal chain of responsibility. Public servants also need to know what protection will be available to them in cases of exposing wrongdoing. Here, I think, again, if we are able to move forward at some point with good whistle-blower legislation, that will also strengthen the ability of officials to bring forward instances where they think wrong is being done or people are being treated unfairly, without being in fear for their livelihood, which is often the case. It's unfortunate when that happens.
A core value of public service is commitment to the law and the rule of law. That is of higher value than any duty to superiors, colleagues or subordinates. Likewise, it overrides any claim to loyalty on the part of the political party in power. Ideally, any official should feel compelled to go outside the system if necessary in order to draw attention to wrongdoing, rather than be afraid of doing so.
It is important, therefore, that a mechanism for complaint be credible and trustworthy so that public servants can use them without feeling exposed to reprisals by more senior staff to whom they may be reporting, and effective so that staff will use them, confident in the belief that their complaints will be taken seriously, not just ignored.
Political leaders are responsible for maintaining a high standard of acceptability in the discharge of their official duties. Their commitment is demonstrated by example and by taking action that is only available at the political level; for instance, by creating legislative arrangements that reinforce ethical behaviour and create sanctions against wrongdoing by providing adequate support and resources for ethics-related activities throughout government, and by avoiding the exploitation of ethics rules and laws for political purposes.
Unless political leaders demonstrate high standards, they have no moral authority upon which to draw when they wish to reprimand others who step out of line.
There 's a saying that I recall from my youth, that the fish rots from the head, and experience certainly suggests that where the behaviour appears or is seen to be incorrect, similar indiscretions can be fostered among subordinates. It's sort of a sad variation of peer pressure.
It's important, therefore, that political leaders clearly articulate their unqualified support for and insistence upon high ethical standards. This starts, of course, with the Premier and works its way down. The public has a right to know how governments apply the power and the resources entrusted to them. Public scrutiny should be facilitated by transparent and democratic processes and supported by access to public information. Transparency can be further enhanced by measures such as disclosure systems and recognition of the role of an active and independent media. Were there to be a corrupt administration, they would wish to shield their shortcomings by denying access to information, so the provision of a means for information and the rights of access are important antidotes to this malaise. The greater the transparency, the fewer the problems.
We need clear guidelines - clear rules - defining ethical standards that should guide the behaviour of all elected officials in dealing with the private sector, for example, regarding public procurement, outsourcing or public employment conditions. Increasing interaction between the public and private sectors demands that more attention should be placed on public service values and requiring external partners to also respect those same values. Elected public servants should be accountable for their actions to this House and more broadly to the public. Accountability must focus both on compliance with rules and ethical principles and on the achievement of results. Accountability mechanisms can be internal to a department as well as government-wide. Mechanisms promoting accountability can be designed to provide adequate controls while allowing for appropriately flexible management. Corruption and inefficiency will always flourish in an environment devoid of accountability. So in this regard, again, the Office of the Ombudsman has a particularly potent role to play. Mechanisms for the detection and independent investigation of wrongdoings are a necessary part of any ethics infrastructure. It's necessary to have reliable procedures and resources for monitoring, reporting and investigating breaches of public service rules as well as administrative or disciplinary sanctions to discourage misconduct.
The Premier should exercise appropriate judgement in using those mechanisms when actions need to be taken. Mechanisms need to be fair and trustworthy. They should protect the innocent and the naive just as they should detect and punish the culpable. Penalties, where applicable, should be proportionate and should be consistently applied. The sanctions regime, which is idiosyncratic, will be viewed as untrustworthy by MLAs, and seriously undermine efforts to raise and protect ethical standards in general.
Mr. Speaker, I have made reference several times to a code of ethics, and I would like to speak briefly on what that code of ethics might encompass. A code is an accumulation of ethical values. A framework of values includes respect for the law and the system of parliamentary government, respect for persons, personal integrity, diligence, and economy and efficiency.
The obligation of integrity could be expressed in the following terms: in recognition that public office involves the public trust, an elected public official should seek to maintain and enhance public confidence in the integrity of government and to advance the common good of the community the member serves. Having regard for these obligations, an MLA should not improperly use his or her official powers or position or allow them to be improperly used, and should ensure that any conflict that may arise between the official's personal interest and official duties are resolved in favour, always, of the public interest.
An MLA should disclose fraud, corruption or mal-administration of which the public official may become aware. In practice, this obligation requires that elected officials should not, for example, disclose official information improperly, should not abuse the powers or resources available to them as officials, should avoid any conflict between personal interest and official duties. Where conflict cannot be avoided, then such conflict should be resolved in favour of the public interest. The obligation also requires officials to avoid conduct that could undermine public confidence in the government or the system of public administration - for example, failure to disclose to a relevant authority known fraudulent or corrupt conduct or mal-administration by any other member or government official. We have to always hold ourselves and our peers to the highest standards.
Diligence in performing our official duties: members and officials should exercise proper diligence, care and attention and should seek to achieve high standards in public administration. In practice, this obligation requires that officials should, for example, provide a fair day's work, observe procedural fairness or the principles of natural justice.
Requirements of good administrative decision making take all reasonable efforts to provide high standards of service to clients, act in accordance with relevant duty of care requirements, avoid negligent conduct, provide expert and comprehensive advice to ministers and seek to maintain high standards of public administration. So, it's an interaction and a continuum between the elected members and the officials, and the higher the standards we hold ourselves to, the better we can expect to be received by the people who work in government.
In Canada, a number of provinces and the federal government have introduced posts to provide guidance on ethical issues to parliamentarians and senior public officials. These positions have various titles - “Ethics Commissioner” in Alberta; “Integrity Commissioner” in Ontario; “Conflicts-of-Interest Commissioner” in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories and Yukon; “Commissioner of Members' Interests” in Newfoundland or “Ethics Counsellor”.
These offices all recognize that, in the area of ethics, there are two major risks when relying wholly on a strictly legalistic system. First, holders of public office can often forget what truly ethical conduct actually is in the real world of public life and, instead, may defend themselves by dwelling on what they believe to be the legal technicalities of words and concepts.
Secondly, rules are often extremely detailed about matters that should be self-evident to anyone with sound moral judgement, leaving the average citizen with the impression that those appointed to public life have no moral sense or compass whatsoever. When this happens, it can do more to corrode public confidence than to enhance it.
Canada's federal government is taking the approach that assumes that MPs in public offices - office-holders - do want to take ethical actions. It assumes they do want to earn a higher level of respect among citizens. For this reason Canada has chosen not to take the other major approach to ethics - that is, rigidly codifying ethical behaviour through a series of “thou shalt nots,” but assumes that parliamentarians will naturally want to hold themselves to the highest standards.
So, the Canadian approach to building and managing an ethics structure turns on avoiding possibilities for conflicts of interest well before the fact. The focus is on working with people based on the assumption that they do want to do the right thing.
The federal Ethics Counsellor's office deals with potential conflicts of interest and other ethical issues for those most likely to influence critical decisions in the federal government. It covers all members of the federal Cabinet, including the Prime Minister. It covers their spouses and their dependent children, members of ministers' political staff and senior officials in the federal public service.
Of course, this does not replace the role of police, prosecutors or judges when it comes to suspected breaches of the criminal law. Rather, it deals with the grey areas of situations that could realistically appear wrong to citizens without ever being illegal.
I have spoken of the philosophical, in general terms, of what we should be looking for when we talk about ethics and accountability, and when we talk about holding the government and all MLAs conducting our affairs to the highest ethical standards. Perhaps the number one way we can raise the bar in the public's eye is to consider how we act in this Assembly - members on all sides of this House if we believe the public would approve of our behaviour - whether we are in opposition, asking questions of the government, or on the government side, responding.
I include all of us in these comments because I don't think any of us deserve an A grade all the time in this regard. Too often, on both sides of this House, we resort to the easy quips and the cheap shots rather than behaving in the manner we should as public servants. Perhaps this is because we are a very small assembly and we know each other all too well. Nevertheless, the public expects better of us all.
The issue of ethics in government is broad and complex, and I'm not standing here today to point fingers or dwell on the past. Yukoners are well aware of past desecrations or transgressions, and they will sit in judgement at the appropriate time, every so many years - and that is fast approaching. What is more important here, Mr. Speaker, is that we commit to move forward on this issue and regardless of our political affiliations, to resolve to address this issue in the most expedient manner, so that all Yukoners can pride themselves on the manner that their elected officials go about their daily business.
I am certainly supporting the motion of the Member for Porter Creek South, my colleague, as amended by the Member for Lake Laberge. I would encourage all members of this House to do likewise, as we will all be beneficiaries in the months and years ahead.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would like to get up to support this motion also. As the member opposite from Porter Creek South indicated - I was interested in hearing about her first running for election. She indicated that many people asked her why she was doing it. I would like to assure her that that was also the question asked of me on several occasions when I first decided to run.
I also ran my campaign, as I called it at the time, based on myself, based on the issue of the party versus going after the incumbent and utilizing, shall we say, derogatory information that was available to us. But I also felt that I avoided all references to these issues at the door when I was doing my door-to-door campaign. I instead looked at emphasis on getting myself recognized by the constituency, listening to the issues and referring to the party's platform when I could. That was the main issue of going out to the public.
But, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to go through a few issues with regard to ethics in government. I would like to begin my comments by spending a few minutes talking about the definition of ethics. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what ethics means. For some people, ethics are high level, abstract principles by which one ought to live; for others they are carefully worded rules that cover very specific situations. I think, Mr. Speaker, we've heard a little bit on both aspects of those today.
Ethics is a study of principles, values and rules. It is a branch of philosophy concerned with evaluating human action. Some scholars distinguish ethics from morality. In this respect, they define ethics as what is right and wrong based on a reason. Morals, on the other hand, define behaviour as right and wrong based on a social custom. This means that one's social and cultural background influences one's perceptions of what is ethical.
This point should not be forgotten too quickly, as those with very limited background tend to see things from only one perspective - their own customs and background. People have studied ethics for the millennia, as it was considered to be of critical importance to understanding the customs, behaviours and practices of one's neighbours and oneself.
Great philosophers struggled with determining what ethical behaviour was. I think we've seen examples of that here today also. To guide them in determining what was ethical, they questioned what the goal or value of ethics was.
Under this exploration, two major schools emerged. One asserts that actions are ethical if they benefit the community overall. This school of thought is often associated with the teachings of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius. Its strength is in putting the needs of the community - the collective - first and foremost. The goal of ethical behaviour is to build the community.
When practitioners of this philosophy are confronted with a decision between what is good for the individual versus what is good for the community, they will decide for what is good for the community. This focus on the community spills over into other areas as well. People define themselves, and are defined by others, by a group or community to which they belong. The emphasis is placed on what makes one like the others in one's group. One's sameness and one's neighbour is what matters. However, this model has some weaknesses. It can limit an individual's ability to self-determination, and it can limit one's initiative.
It can also lead to an individual's right being ignored or trampled upon. As well, determining what is good for the community is often the decision of a community's leader. Ethical teachings based on the model may be used by leaders to maintain their power. Societies built on the ethical model are sometimes very authoritarian, and power is consolidated in the hands of very few key leaders.
A few years ago, Mr. Speaker, in 1989, we witnessed the aberration in this philosophy in the practice in Tiananmen Square. According to the BBC report from that time, several hundred civilians were shot dead by the Chinese army during a bloody military operation to crush a democratic uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The government had warned it would do whatever was necessary to clamp down on what it described as social chaos. The BBC also reported the suggestion that the Communist leader personally ordered the deployment of troops as a way of showing off his leadership. Because they perceived the pro-democracy protests as a threat to themselves and to their society - hence the language of “social chaos” - those in power felt it appropriate, felt it ethical, to use force. I think we in this Chamber would agree that such force was not ethical.
The other school of thought that has emerged is one with emphasis on the individual, the person, as a focus of determining what is ethical. The goal of ethics is to defend the individual. In this sense, behaviour is deemed to be ethical if it is for the good of the individual. The strength of this model is that it focuses on doing what is right for the individuals. The emphasis is personal freedom, personal choice and personal responsibility. The belief is that each individual prospers, and benefits flow to the whole community. The weakness of this model is that society's focus becomes individually focused. Ethics are established for an individual versus the community as a whole. The emphasis is placed on what makes us unique or special within our group.
Given these two competing views on what is ethical in some cases, determining what is the ethical thing to do is not always clear, which is why it is the focus of so much discussion. Throughout the years, philosophers, jurists and leaders have attempted to distil their thoughts into short, easy-to-remember statements to help guide people in their daily decision making. Probably the most famous aphorism is the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
In Canada we have developed our own guide to ethical behaviour. It's called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In it, we as a nation have declared that everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: the freedom of conscience and religion; the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including the freedom of the press and other media communications; the freedom of peaceable assembly and freedom of association.
In addition to this section, most Canadians are familiar with section 7 of our Charter, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and the right not to be deprived thereof, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The Charter spells out what we as Canadians hold important. It defines what the goal of ethics is.
Our ethical behaviour is shaped and guided by this document. It attempts to balance the two different perspectives of what is ethical. It asserts individual rights while recognizing the larger social context in which each individual Canadian lives.
We have since witnessed several court cases that explore this balance. My point is that Canadians, as a nation, have debated and argued about what the highest ethical standard is. We have expressed our collective understanding in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it is this document that must drive how we handle hard cases.
Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “Any person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”
And Mr. Speaker, I'm happy to hear the leader of the third party state in his long speech previously that in his code of ethics it's important that the law of the land be adhered to. But sadly, a member was charged with a criminal offence and, prior to any court hearing and evidence, members presumed him to be guilty and demanded that he be expelled prior to his day in court.
Now, I know the Member for Porter Creek South indicated we were trying to keep to a higher level, but she did bring this up, so I feel compelled to at least respond to it.
The position was that he did not fully respect the Ombudsman's position, so I think it's important that we deal with that particular situation. They wanted this government to set aside the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They rejected the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, they had no ethical compass to guide them; yet they complained that we were the ones who were out to sea. I find the members' opposite approach cavalier in this particular instance. It alarms me that, because the guiding principle of ethics seems to be whatever they think is politically expedient, dismissing the constitution of what is politically expedient can lead to situations like, in the grandest extreme, of Tiananmen Square, which I referred to earlier.
We on this side of the House, and as the member opposite indicated, do what we think is necessary each and every day to ensure that, when we go home, we feel we have done the best job based on the information that we have at hand and that we have constantly throughout our mandate ensured that particular rule is being followed.
We also talked about whistle-blower legislation in the House here several times. I believe this type of legislation would provide a mechanism for public servants to ensure they can expose wrongdoings in a safe manner. I also believe that is an important element that should be looked at.
But with regard to this, I am in support of this particular motion today, Mr. Speaker. I think we can all aspire to a higher standard here in the House; however, as some people mentioned, what is a higher standard?
How are we going to enforce it? I think that the member opposite also said - and several members indicated in the House - that it's a little hard to legislate behaviour. I think this was also stated by members on both sides of House. We've all been guilty of sinking down to the lower standard and fighting back or defending ourselves with the same action that we received in this House - regardless of what side we are on. That's human nature, Mr. Speaker. We see it on the national scale in the House of Commons. There is a higher standard there. I recall when I was in the House that it was hard to hear myself think during Question Period in the House of Commons. It's a very difficult place to enact, shall we say, civility, in any great manner. I'd like to say that we in the House all have a responsibility to all Yukoners to bring up our level of performance.
I think each of us has to look in the mirror at the end of each day and assess what we have done. “Did I answer the questions correctly? Did I provide him with at least a response to what he was asking?” If I can answer that in a legitimate way, then I feel I have done my job. I can also talk to my constituents and say that I responded appropriately in the House. Conversely, I think that members on the opposite side asking questions have to ask themselves that same question. Can we look at it? Yes we can.
In conclusion, I think that the big word for us is “perception”. Perception is one of the few words in the dictionary that takes a whole page for its definition. There are many definitions of what it is, and I think that is what we are looking at here - the perception of higher ethics in the House, and we have to look at it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Peter: This is a very interesting motion and one that I'm happy to speak to, as amended. When I think about ethics and what ethics mean to me, as a person, I think about the words “integrity”, “accountability” and “responsibility”.
I've listened with interest to all the comments made in this House this afternoon in regard to this motion. I appreciate those comments yet, at the same time, I have to chuckle a little bit to myself.
I've been in this House now for six years, representing the riding of Vuntut Gwitchin. I've been very honoured to do so. I've said that on many occasions to the people in my riding, and I mean that from the very bottom of my heart when I say that to my people.
When I think about ethical standards, I have to think way back in history to where my people came from and what they represented and the expectations they had of themselves. They held themselves to the highest expectations, not only because they had to live in harsh conditions, but they had to take care of one another.
The people from my riding didn't always live in the community of Old Crow. They were a very nomadic people. They had to travel wherever they could to get food, whether in the summer, winter or spring. Wherever the caribou travelled, they travelled there. In the summers, they would camp along the Porcupine and Crow rivers. They would live in small groups of families. If they didn't take care of each other and one of their family members went astray or wasn't taking their full responsibility to make sure the family would survive in the winter, then that person definitely wasn't pulling their own weight. They weren't being accountable; they weren't being responsible.
I n this group of people, there would be elders; there would be small babies; there would be teenagers, young adults - you know, all ages. So when I think back to the leaders that I have been blessed to have witnessed leading our people in our community, I feel very proud, and I can talk about that with a lot of pride, because they were the ones who role-modelled leadership at its very best.
When I think about highest ethical standards, I think about people who work hard to reach their goals. I think about people who are unshakable in their values, and I think about people who want to make a difference for those around them. These are people who persevere under extreme pressure and yet hold on to what is true to them and who do not give up for just a little bit of glory, maybe a little bit of limelight. When I think about highest ethical standards, that's what I admire. Those are the qualities that I admire. I saw that all around me as I grew up in my community, not only from my mother but also my aunties and my grandmothers.
So, I came to expect that of myself. It wasn't always that way. There were times when I faltered. There were times when there were hard lessons to be learned. But perseverance, too, is another term we can use with that.
When I first was elected and came to be one of the members of this House, I held this place and all who were in here to such a standard. I guess sometimes I was surprised, and sometimes I thought, well, that is something that I would never fall into. Like everyone else, I am very passionate about some of the issues I address in here on behalf of my riding.
So, yes, I've made my mistakes. Yes, I have sometimes used words that are maybe a little harsh or aggressive, but I always remember who I represent when I walk through those doors. When we talk about the highest ethical standards, we in the official opposition believe that every government should conduct its affairs according to the highest ethical standard.
I t should go without saying that taxpayers and the citizens we represent deserve nothing less than that. Then we have a motion that is brought into this House, and some of the comments that I heard this afternoon I agree with. Why should we even have a motion that questions our ethics in this House? It should be my responsibility as a person to make sure I have that code of conduct as one of the highest priorities. And if I don't, yes, that should be a question for me.
As someone would say, look in the mirror.
So when we take a little closer look at this motion, there are immediately questions that it raises. And when we look back on the history, the past five or six years in the Legislature here, I've witnessed a few situations that definitely question ethical beliefs.
And a few of those situations - the first one that comes to mind that I found to be of a very serious nature: is it ethical for a Premier to wait for four full days before offering an apology to members of a visible minority group who have been deeply hurt by racist comments made at a public function by a senior government official? No, it's not. Is it ethical -
Speaker: The Chair may perhaps be losing the theme of the honourable member's debate, but I don't believe it's in order to challenge a member's ethics. We are all here serving the public and our constituents in the best form that we can. I may have misunderstood the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. But, if not, please carry on, but just keep that in mind. Thank you.
Mrs. Peter: I was referring to some situation that I have witnessed in here which speak to the motion that is in front of us - the motion, as amended - and it refers to all Yukon MLAs and their conduct to the highest ethical standards. The situation that I would like to refer to just makes my case that, when we walk through the doors of this Legislature, it is our own personal responsibility on behalf of the people we represent, on behalf of the people who elected us to represent them in this House, to behave in the most responsible way that we believe we can.
I heard one of the members mention earlier that, when they first decided to run for public office, they had to question themselves - or the people in their ridings questioned them - on what they believed in, and how they would conduct themselves once they came into office. Those are the same questions that I had to ask myself.
Recently in history - we can look around this room to the changes that have taken place, to people who have changed their political affiliations. Yet, is it fair to the people who have elected them as an MLA of a certain political party?
The leader of the official opposition introduced a bill just recently speaking to that very issue - that if a person wanted to change their political affiliation, they would have to sit as an independent or go through a by-election before they were able to make their change.
When we talk about ethics, do we use that term too lightly? We have a responsibility to the constituents who voted us in here.
This motion, as amended, speaks to the conduct of all MLAs. There are bills that have been introduced by my colleague, the leader of the official opposition, and we believe very strongly that we need these pieces of legislation in place so we can stay true to our constituents who voted for us. Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce a friendly amendment to the motion.
Mrs. Peter: I move
THAT Motion No. 515, as amended, be amended further by adding, after the word “standards” the following: “and to demonstrate their intention to do so by immediately adopting the principles embodied in Private Members' Bills No. 104, No. 106, No. 108 and No. 112.”
Speaker: The amendment is in order.
It has been moved by the Hon. Member for Old Crow
THAT Motion No. 515, as amended, be amended further by adding, after the word “standards” the following: “and to demonstrate their intention to do so by immediately adopting the principles embodied in private members' Bills No. 104, 106, 108 and 112.”
Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, you have four minutes.
Mrs. Peter: The amendment makes reference to a few bills that have been introduced by the official opposition. I will make reference to Bill No. 106, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act.
One of the conditions that is very important is that no minister shall be appointed or remain appointed as a member or alternate member of Management Board if the person owes money to the government. We've seen examples of that in the past few years, and the public did not appreciate that. We have brought that issue to the floor of this House many, many times. It was a surprise to me that this issue was a priority for Yukon people for years.
Another bill that the motion made reference to is Bill No. 108, and it's the Legislative Renewal Act.
This act speaks to forming a special committee of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, with an equal number of committee members from each recognized political party that would conduct public consultations with people throughout the Yukon on various issues. One of the issues mentioned is a code of ethical conduct for members within the Legislative Assembly. These examples of forward-thinking by the official opposition tell you where our values are at and what we believe in, not only as a party but as a people. There is not a question for me about where I stand on a lot of the issues that we bring forward, and I'm very proud of that.
I spoke earlier about the history, about where I believe some of our ethical values come from, and each of us holds that. We also referred to Bill No. 112 - I am sure you all have a copy. I know my time is up right now, and I appreciate those comments.
Amendment to Motion No. 515 negatived
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the motion, as amended?
If the honourable member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think there are some points that have to be made with regard to this motion. It begins with a question. I share the sentiments of the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. Why are we even debating this? I say that because this motion, as brought forward in its original context, implies that the people of this Assembly are conducting themselves in an unethical manner. If you think about this, the Member for Porter Creek South has tabled this motion because there is an issue with respect to the ethics of the members of this institution. I have a great deal of problem with that because, if that is the case and we use the simplest definition of ethics, which is, “the study or philosophy of human conduct,” that would then dictate that, if someone in this Assembly is acting unethically, they are then guilty of wrongdoing. It requires more than an insinuation or suggestion to make that accusation of wrongdoing.
The point that should be made here begins with the question: why are we debating this motion?
But in the spirit of trying to engage in debate, the government side has amended the motion so that it's more reflective of this institution and not government. Because there's another issue here, and this point is important - if we make the suggestion that the government must raise its ethical standards, we are a mere 10 people in government on this side of the House. There are thousands more in the Government of Yukon today that this motion suggests should raise their ethics. And I, for one, take exception to that.
I have no reason to believe that there is wrongdoing in government. I don't believe officials in any department are conducting themselves in contravention of the law, of regulation or policy. Should those incidents occur, they are dealt with through a litany of legal mechanisms, policy and regulatory regimes that ensure that the executive arm of government can address the matter.
But it is not done through idle conversation. It is not done by suggestion. It is done by presenting the burden of proof. We must always understand that individuals who work within the confines of government are doing so - and we must give them all the benefit of the doubt - in accordance with the law and all the ethical standards, integrity and professionalism that we must bring to this office. Why do I say that? Because the station of the office dictates that.
So, Mr. Speaker, the government side has amended this motion that we need not have debated today because of the suggestion that there is an ethical question within government. We amended it so that it includes all MLAs, because we're talking now specifically about the institution - that is, the 18 members in this House. We make no accusation on this side of the House; we make no insinuations, and we are not making suggestions. We are merely trying to engage in debate in a manner that allows this House - this Assembly - to move on, so that we can deal with the public's business.
Mr. Speaker, I go further to point out that it is a difficult step to take to suggest that there are ethical issues in the course of debate in this institution when we are dealing with the British parliamentary system and all that goes with it. It's called politics. Always, in the parry and thrust of politics and debate, whether it is in preambles to questions or in discourse of debate, there are going to be inferences drawn and suggestions made. That is part of a system that has evolved over centuries.
I would encourage us to recognize that what we should be debating in this House is not an issue of ethical standards, but it is about raising the bar of debate in this institution so that we are more constructive, more cooperative and we reflect the public interest and the public's business in this institution in a much more meaningful way. Unfortunately, it is at times difficult, but I want to reflect on some positives that we have witnessed - some examples that we have witnessed over the course of this mandate here in the House.
In the first instance, I speak of the many, many occasions where unanimity was evident in this House with respect to the public's business through motion debate and agreement - with cooperative amendments coming forth from both sides of this House to achieve those unanimous decisions in support of better governance, in support of improving services and program delivery to Yukoners and many other examples.
That's one area that I think is very critical so that we all have a better understanding that it's about raising the bar and the level of debate. It is not the question of ethics, because if any one of us is going to be accused of unethical behaviour, any one of those individuals who may be accused has the right to due process. That would mean that the accuser must present the burden of proof, and those accused can defend themselves through due process in the appropriate institution, and we all know that can't happen in this House because of the integrity and the level of professionalism and ethics we must bring to this Assembly. So I would suggest that if members opposite - and I will not single out any member - believe that there is an issue here with ethics, they must make that accusation outside of this Assembly, present their burden of proof and allow the individuals so accused and implicated to defend themselves in accordance with our values as a society and our system of justice. Beyond that, let's raise the bar of debate, taking our lead from examples of unanimity on many occasions where we have jointly and cooperatively pursued better governance and better services to Yukoners. And let's move on from there.
Let's talk about these all-party committees. Mr. Speaker, how many attempts have been made to engage with the members opposite on structuring said committees, even in light of the fact that we have a number of them today that are created by our Standing Orders? Now we have another example of a positive. And I think the reason that this has worked is because there is a collective view with respect to public accounts and what we do with taxpayers' money.
It's not our money, it's not a department's money, it's not the opposition's money, it's not this institution's money - it's Yukoners' money. It's the taxpayers' resources. And how we manage them, how we invest them, how we deal with that issue is critical to us all.
And that is why the delivery of public accounts under this mandate has worked. It has been a collective, and we have been given, I think, a clear demonstration by the highest office that oversees the taxpayers' resources, the Auditor General's office, that that indeed is the case here - another example of how we can continue to raise the bar of debate. The reason we have been able to accomplish some of those things, Mr. Speaker, is because we have all brought to the table the highest of ethical standards, integrity and professionalism.
Now, let's go on from there to reflect on some of the other areas. I ask some questions here. If the members opposite want to make changes to this institution, why is it that they do not then convene the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges? Would that not be an appropriate course?
I say this, Mr. Speaker, because if we give the benefit of the doubt to the presenter of the motion, I think that's what the member is actually suggesting - that we all go to work on improving and increasing the level of our engagement here in this Assembly.
There are other boards and committees that are collective - the Members' Services Board, for example, has met and collectively agreed on any number of things, but those are all essentially outside of the parry and thrust of debate.
And I suggest that what we have done here today has deflected to a great degree what the real issue is. I say to you, Mr. Speaker, the real issue is not ethics nor the standard therein at all. It is our conduct here in the Assembly. It is all about how we individually conduct ourselves during the course of debate. Beyond that, there are all kinds of areas available to any member here who wishes to pursue an issue if they believe that there is unethical conduct taking place by anyone. And I urge them and encourage them to do so - not in here. Let's raise the level of debate. Do it outside of this House: make your accusation, lay your complaint at the appropriate agency and let due process determine the outcome.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: It has been an interesting afternoon, listening to all the preceding speakers say what they did about this motion and the amendments. All the while, I was asking myself, well, what was the tone in here going to be like, because given the proximity to an election and the fiery substance of debate, practically anything could have resulted this afternoon. But I'll commend all members for keeping the debate within civil parameters, at least on most occasions. I certainly will try to do the same.
A lot has been spoken about the philosophy and meaning of ethical behaviour, so I don't plan to revisit that. I would rather spend my time addressing some tangible items. I want to identify some things that are essentially doable by all of us in here and our successors, because I don't imagine all of this will be accomplished prior to the next election and I would also imagine not every one of us will be returned after the election.
The committee called SCREP has been mentioned several times, and I want to focus mainly on this. First of all, the acronym SCREP stands for the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. I can explain my hesitancy in recalling that because it has been so long since SCREP had a meeting - not as long as the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is about 28 years, but it is getting there. It is well over two years since SCREP has had a meeting. Mr. Speaker, this has been so, unfortunately, despite your references to the use of SCREP to deal with various matters in the time since the last meeting. I know you can think of several of your rulings that referred matters to SCREP, because it is ultimately up to all members in this Assembly to change the rules that govern the members of the Assembly. That's fair.
What isn't fair - and this isn't just my opinion. It is an opinion held by the now Premier and the now independent from Klondike when he was Deputy Premier, and the leader of the third party. I am going back four years. That opinion is as follows: the government should not hold a majority on the SCREP. I want to talk about that, and I have talked about it on previous occasions during this 31st Yukon Legislative Assembly.
The problem is nobody really wants to even go to a SCREP meeting. Why is that? Well, the reason is because the government side has a majority on SCREP, and once a meeting has been convened, the government side can pass any changes to the rules that it wants.
Of course, people on the opposition side do not agree, and for good reason. People in here are reluctant to even hold a meeting.
The previous position I alluded to was that the membership between the government and the other parties should be equalized. That's my position. I don't know, for the record, the position of the Yukon Liberal Party on this, but if given an opportunity, I will certainly make this representation to the leader. I believe the membership on SCREP should be equalized. The reason would be, first of all, so that members from all sides would feel comfortable in convening and attending a meeting to discuss issues. These are issues that should have been dealt with long before now.
Secondly, it can be presumed that only the good ideas will be passed, because good ideas will need support from more than just one side, if you consider one side being the government or the opposition side. Presumably only the good ideas would get passed, and I'm in favour of that.
What has happened in the past four years - and I could refer to the minutes of SCREP that clearly prove this - the two members I mentioned expressed their concern with the membership, the inequities regarding the membership at SCREP and chastised the previous government for not changing it.
Now, what has happened since the election is that both those members have refused to do anything. Until recently, we were talking about the Premier and the Deputy Premier - supposedly the two most powerful people in this room besides you, Mr. Speaker. I'll expect a little bit of time for that compliment.
Anyway, what has happened here is, I suppose, ethically there is an argument that a position was advanced when in opposition and then, when in government, there was a reversal of that position. It is all for the advantage of one's position at the time.
So what I'm proposing is that somebody deal with this somehow, try to make SCREP a functioning committee because there are a lot of rule changes that should be discussed. The fact is, we haven't seen a rule change in several years in here. I tabled a motion last week that recommended one rule change, and that's the use of laptop computers in here following Question Period every day. The exclusion was made for Question Period so the ministers couldn't be e-mailed their answers or, vice versa, questions to the opposition members and so on. This would make the use of the laptop computer more practical and, unless I'm wrong, we might be the first jurisdiction in the country to adopt this.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Alberta has? Okay. Well, one of the first jurisdictions - one of the last, says the Member for Porter Creek North. Well, then, it's about time we did something about SCREP, if it's getting that bad.
Now, Mr. Speaker, one of the rules is that we can't refer to a member's absence.
I'm going to try to address this in a context. I believe the use of laptop computers would greatly enhance the presence of members in this Assembly during the sitting hours. When we're in budget debate, it's quite common that there are, maybe, only three members present out of 18. This might go on for four hours out of the five-hour sitting day - maybe two or three members present. I've seen it in here for countless number of days.
Probably the majority of times that I've been absent can be explained by me having to do some functions in my office on the computer. Let's get to the crux of it: could that work be done in here? The answer is simple: yes. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, the use of laptop computers following Question Period every day could greatly enhance the presence of members in this Assembly. Presumably that would improve the relevance of the Assembly and help get everybody on the same page because, if we're present, then we tend to hear what each other is saying a lot more, even though we do listen on the radio in our offices.
I think the situation at SCREP is fundamental. If we want to try to address the tangible items - and I think I've hit the nail on the head - the real issue here is the membership of SCREP and the reluctance to change it. I think the membership has to be equalized in order for changes to happen.
Those are some matters for members to contend with.
I know one of the other issues is the new agreement that governs members that was brought in by the previous government. I believe this was done in good faith but it hasn't worked very well, because there is a lot of room for the government of the day to interpret those rules in a way that gives it advantage and is not for the general good of the public. The primary rule change was limiting the sitting days per year to 60 days and the whole way that is carried out. Essentially, it has changed the whole strategy in the House of members trying to cooperate. I have spoken to this on several previous occasions. Mr. Speaker, I know that some of them are probably fresh in your memory. Essentially, I believe it was a well-intentioned new agreement but, in practice, it hasn't worked out very well. I will just allude to that.
The way it used to be, the opposition would basically threaten to hold the government in this Assembly for a longer period of time if the questions weren't answered and material wasn't provided and if there wasn't at least a certain level of cooperation on the information flow, and so on. I recall this.
Our House leader at the time, the former Member for Faro, would come back very perplexed after one of these House leader meetings and he would mention that we have to hand over this study and that study, and the minister has to buckle down and give straight-up answers, otherwise the opposition is going to hold us in here for another two months.
Boy, that sent a chilly message. But you know what? It worked. It worked - the information flow increased, and the cooperation increased. It was better.
But what has happened now with the limited number of sitting days is a completely reverse tack in strategy by the government side. And what we see repeatedly during budget debate - go back, Mr. Speaker, into every Hansard - we see the minister stand up and talk for 20 minutes, the maximum amount allowed under our rules. A question will be asked by an opposition member, and we'll get another 20-minute speech, and so on and so forth - a 20-minute speech that may not even pertain to the question asked.
After awhile, we get frustrated and give up and say, “What is the use?” The government side knows it doesn't have to have compunction to respond or to improve the information flow, to provide material or anything. To them, the game becomes “beat the clock”. It's like ragging the puck in a hockey game - because on a certain day, at a certain time, the buzzer is going to go.
So, it's not in the government strategy to complete the budget - or complete anything. It's to the government's benefit strategically to waste time - to try not to get through the budget and then accuse the opposition side of not doing its job properly in getting through the budget. Well, that's what it has come to, Mr. Speaker.
Today we've had quite a sombre mood in here, based on ethics. I will give the other members this: I believe my concerns on these two issues are being listened to today. And that's an improvement, compared to previous occasions when I've voiced concerns about SCREP and the new agreement.
I will give members my acknowledgement that they are listening today - at least I feel they are.
Mr. Speaker, we owe it to our successors in here to try to do our best, to not only represent our constituents and Yukoners to the best of our ability, but also to make the necessary changes to our working environment that will provide for others to do that in the future. And we're not getting it. With SCREP dysfunctional and with potential abuse toward the agreement on the sitting days, we're not getting it. So those are two areas that it's possible to change for the better. I can't do it myself, Mr. Speaker, so I would call on others to also recognize these two areas as something we can work on together to improve.
Anyway, I know I have some more time remaining, Mr. Speaker, but I will limit it to this.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I have sat here for the afternoon too, sort of waiting to see where things would go and how the debate would move. It seemed to start well, with a few misgivings. When the Member for Porter Creek South cited examples of ethical problems from the United States and Watergate and somehow missed all the Canadian and Yukon examples, I began to get a little bit nervous. A number of things have come up on this. I was kind of glad, actually, to see the level of debate stay fairly high, and then all of a sudden we seem to have come back down to a diatribe against the government as opposed to the motion, which is actually asking all MLAs to hold to a reasonable ethical standard. I don't want to get into the debate on the philosophy either. I think we've had enough discussion on that for the afternoon, and we can all look that up in the books and find out where we're going with all that. I'm happy with the amendment. I think that is a better approach and it's a better way of doing things, to look at all MLAs and not to turn this back, as the previous speaker did, into a government sort of thing.
Some members have spoken about when they first ran for office, and I was in an unusual situation in that it was effectively a newly constituted riding with no incumbent. At the time, I made the decision to run on my own steam and see what happened. I had the rather interesting view of the world to be asked by two political parties to stand as their candidate.
They had a few choices there with me. The instant reaction that I got from a lot of friends was, “Why in the world would you do something that stupid?” At the time I was very idealistic and said I wanted to get into public service and wanted to do some work - everything will go well and everyone will treat others with great respect. The problem is that is something that I didn't find - and being the recipient of a number of accusations. The Premier referred to there being good methods and ways of doing that, like taking it out of the House and making the accusations publicly so that people can defend themselves - it is a good thing.
The first occasion was standing up for the residents and constituents of Porter Creek North for the use of a local park, which my home happened to bound on. Somehow, writing on Legislative Assembly stationery and identifying my position and everything else was construed as a conflict in some members' eyes. I took that to the Conflicts Commissioner, who found no conflict whatsoever.
I'm pleased to hear the new leader of the Liberal Party refer to the Ombudsman's Office and the Conflicts Commissioner's Office, and I believe the quote was, “We need to pay more attention to their reports”. I hope he prints that and puts it on the walls of everyone downstairs.
The next was commenting that people should look at vaccinating for West Nile virus; a disease that we thought might not come into the Yukon, but could, and we had good vaccines available for some of the veterinarians.
Again, I was accused in this House and in the media of being in a conflict and, once again, the Conflicts Commissioner saw no conflict at all. He drew the analogy of a minister of health who might be a dentist and made the comment that people should get regular dental checkups.
Interestingly enough, to this day, our Department of Health continues to put out literature on West Nile virus, and now there's the possibility of avian flu coming in. There isn't a vaccine against that for poultry or anything but, as the leader of the official opposition liked to put it, it may still come home to roost in the Yukon.
While everyone enjoys the wonderful beauty of the swans and migratory birds coming into the Yukon, those in a scientific community look at it as something quite different, so that is a real problem.
The third one was, of course, getting a constituent into the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Mr. Speaker, as you may remember, that is a regional school that requires each jurisdiction in its region to come to the table and help support the college. That support does not go to the student. The support does not in any way look after that seat. It simply allows the person to go there. All schools in North America are regional. If you are from Manitoba, you are required, for instance, to apply to the western college. If you apply to the Ontario college, you will have your application returned. If you apply to the Atlantic college, you will have your application returned. You can apply to Quebec if you are francophone or, interestingly enough, if you are willing to become francophone. I know two students who actually went there speaking not a word of French and, through the policies of the Université de Montréal, with which it is affiliated, they learned French while they did their professional degree and were accommodated graduated in French. So, that option exists.
But if you're an anglophone from the western provinces or the territories, you have no choice. I think everyone will remember that I fought for this; I fought for my constituent, who would have no opportunity to go to her chosen university in her chosen profession at all unless I took that fight up.
Ironically, the student was pilloried by a number of members opposite, was pilloried in the media, who called the college, who called the dean's office, who harassed her at home, who harassed her at her apartment. People ask, will she come back to the Yukon? I doubt it. I know that if my community treated me that way, I would take that as a pretty clear message not to come back. But she is in college. She is in university. She is now halfway through that degree. I am very proud of her and the fact that this government has come to the table - we will support one student per year in that program, should a qualified student exist, apply and be accepted under the rigid standards of that university.
This all went through the Conflicts Commissioner, and it was officially filed by a member of this House. For those who aren't familiar with the legislation, a member who is accused and found innocent does have the right - in order to keep down malicious filings - to put a motion on the floor of this House, which would basically go after that person and could actually go as far as challenging their seat. I'm not prepared to do that, of course.
I don't think it was an ethical question to take the position that some of the members opposite did. I think it was opportunistic. I think there were a lot of things going on at the time that a lot of people on the opposite side regret. As the CBC philosopher Rick Mercer put it a couple of weeks ago: “I realize it takes a lot of chutzpah for a Liberal to talk ethics in Canada in the last few years.”
But having said all that, I do have to agree with the motion. I have to praise the Member for Porter Creek South for putting it on the table. I take it as a bit of an apology and I completely support the motion. I think we can all raise the debate on both sides of the House. We can all raise the whole level of discussion. The only thing that I ask on that, Mr. Speaker - and you've been very good about this - is please don't stifle the humour of this House.
While I make comments about the Member for Porter Creek South, no one in this House has a better sense of humour, sometimes. It's really quite enjoyable - usually, with a very pointed tongue, with that humour. And I hope this House never steps on that because that's what makes it an interesting place to work in.
Having said all that, I certainly support the motion as amended, and I do want to give other members a chance to speak to it.
Speaker: If the honourable member speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Ms. Duncan: I rise to close debate on this particular motion. There has been a lot said this afternoon. At the beginning of my remarks I noted that perhaps I should have worded the motion so it was directed solely at members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. I had not and did not because, in the discussion of ethics, we often talk about administrative law, and some of the recommendations that I was going to speak to in bringing forward constructive suggestions also included members of the public administration, which is why it was labelled “Government of Yukon”. I also said quite clearly, quite emphatically in my opening remarks, that I in no way ever questioned the public service of Yukon. I am very disappointed that some members this afternoon suggested that that is why this motion was brought forward.
I indicated that I was more than prepared and quite willing and looked forward to, if members wish to further delineate the motion, having it read “Yukon MLAs”. The Member for Lake Laberge has done that, and I was pleased to support the amendment. I was surprised, then, that subsequent members stood up and suggested that the intent of the motion was other than what I had said.
The other point is that there are many who have spoken this afternoon that somehow read that, because I was encouraging a debate about ethical standards, I was somehow calling into question ethical standards.
What I said very clearly on the record was that we had to have this debate because the public has come to us repeatedly. Number one, we have this issue of the report from the independent Canadian institute - the correct reference I gave earlier - which rated by Canadians - and it's a statistically valid survey, an independent organization that rated provincial political leaders in the Yukon the lowest in the country, four times lower than our colleagues in Nunavut.
Mr. Speaker, that is an urgent issue for the public. We are the only ones who can address that, and we can address it by debating a motion in a high-minded manner. I believe it is an urgent debate.
Just yesterday, I took time to assist one of my colleague's constituents with a constituency issue, which necessitated me leaving the office. We had a brief discussion in her office. This was a private sector individual. The first thing she raised to me was the issue of outstanding monies and Cabinet ministers being in arrears - the first thing that individual raised.
How do we deal with it the next time? We deal with it by amending our legislation, by saying no, we can't have that happen again. The legislation we chose to amend, or the way to deal with it, was to amend the conflict-of-interest act.
The Premier made references to the conflict-of-interest act, saying that if someone had a charge to make, do it outside the House, that there are mechanisms for it.The Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act is a good one. We have strengthened it in the past; we could strengthen it again. That was the substance of my motion.
There were no accusations levelled at anyone. There are two issues in public debate where we could raise the public's view of the ethical standards of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and members by making two legislative changes. I didn't come forward and spend the afternoon suggesting members were less than ethical. I came here with constructive suggestions and ways that I believe we could address a very real issue.
Now, I appreciate that members have supported it. I also appreciate, in the waning days of an Assembly, as ours is, prior to an election, that there is going to be the odd - “barb” isn't quite the word I want, Mr. Speaker. But there will be the odd “parry and thrust of debate” - I believe is the term used by the Premier. “Parry and thrust of debate”, in the highest of British parliamentary standards, focuses on the policy. It doesn't focus on the people, and it's not personal. It's about the policy. It's what went wrong - why has the government made a policy that denies health care to newly immigrated babies? Why has that policy decision been made by the government? That's the parry and thrust of debate.
Why make the policy decision? It's on this floor that the government side has to answer for their policy decisions. They have to answer for how they respond and we all have to answer for how we ask the questions.
The Premier said, well, we must raise the bar of debate. I've asked the members of the Assembly to raise the ethical bar this afternoon, to give consideration to constructive suggestions that have been brought forward. The other point I made was that in raising that debate, it's allowing the debate to happen. And with all due respect to the Member for Riverdale South, the suggestion was made that the motion was brought forward prior to issues outside of the Legislature concluding. In fact, the issues had concluded - that is in my understanding - it was an issue of urgent and pressing necessity and the debate should have been held is my argument.
When another matter of urgent and pressing necessity had been brought forward, the government side of the day disagreed with the motion but they allowed the debate to continue. That was my point.
Perhaps I wasn't clear enough, Mr. Speaker. I know I'm not nearly as eloquent as many members of this Legislature. I spoke from the heart this afternoon about why I ran for office 10 years ago - because I wanted to make a difference. Many people asked me, “Why on earth are you doing that?” - just as they asked the Member for Porter Creek North. And they've asked all of us, because politics isn't seen by Canadians as an honourable profession. It's seen as, in the words of a political philosopher whom I can't recall at the moment - but I'm sure the Deputy Clerk will remind me of who it was. He referred to life as “…nasty, brutish and short” - politics can be that way.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Thomas Hobbes, I am advised. Thank you very much to the Deputy Clerk - the Clerks who keep us apprised of the correct references to such items. Because “All that is necessary for evil … is for good men to do nothing” - and good men and women. And that means all that's necessary for laws to not reflect what we as a society want them to reflect is for all of us to stay at home, not put our name on a ballot and not bother to go out to the polls and vote.
I did both those things, and I'm glad I did. I also believe that it's my responsibility to make sure that the laws we pass, the debate we have and the way we conduct ourselves is the best it can be. The way I am suggesting that today - I believe I have tried to focus the debate. I believe it is a necessary debate; I have tried to focus it on the issue of ethical standards and how we present ourselves. It is up to each of us, I agree. It is up to each of us to look and ask, “Did I do the best? Did I ask that as constructively as I could have? Could I have chewed my tongue a little longer before I issued that jibe across the political floor?” Maybe we should. Certainly, we try. There is an opportunity to try again - to try again tomorrow in Question Period, to try again when you answer the questions, to try again when you ask.
I thank the members for their support for the motion. I appreciate the amendment that has been brought forward by the Member for Lake Laberge. I thank members for listening to what I had to say this afternoon. I have tried to make the point, and I do believe very strongly that we need to work even harder at presenting to the Yukon public that their politicians, their Legislative Assembly, is striving even harder to be the best we can be, to treat each other in a more civil manner, and to set a very, very high standard for those who seek to hold office in this place, and who will seek re-election - or not - in the next general election.
Again, Mr. Speaker, thank you for your time, and I thank members for their support.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the motion, as amended?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 13 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion, as amended, carried.
Motion No. 515 agreed to as amended
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:39 p.m.