Whitehorse , Yukon
Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure today to rise on behalf of the House to pay tribute to National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, which is the week of April 23 to 30. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage Yukoners to make their wishes regarding organ and tissue donation known to their families, that participation is crucial in ensuring that organs and tissues are available to those who need them.
As well as public participation, health care professionals also play an important role in organ and tissue donation. Out of every million Canadians, only 15 are organ donors. Canada's organ donor rate ranks in the bottom half of the countries in the Western world where transplants are performed.
More than 3,500 Canadians are waiting for transplants, and nearly 150 of them die each year waiting for a transplant. Canada has some of the best transplant technology in the world, some of the most highly skilled surgeons and some of the most prestigious hospitals, but we don't have enough organs donated to save lives. Too few Canadians decide to become donors and too few talk about their decision with their families.
I am pleased to say that Yukoners have stepped up to the plate. Since the introduction of our donor program in 2000, almost 4,400 people have made the very personal decision to be donors. By doing so, they may someday give one of those 3,500 Canadians desperately waiting for transplants a second chance - the chance to be healthy again, to watch their children and grandchildren grow, to go back to jobs they love, and to enjoy all of life's simple pleasures.
We have worked diligently to ensure all the processes are in place should there be an incident in the Yukon that results in or requires a donor. I would like to express my gratitude to all Yukoners who have registered as donors and let their families know their wishes.
Statistics tell us that nearly 98 percent of all kidney transplants, 90 percent of liver transplants, and 85 percent of heart transplants are successful. Being a donor is truly giving the gift of life.
Speaker: Are there any other tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I'd like the members in the House welcome Heather MacFadgen from the Human Rights Commission.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Reports of committees.
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Notices of motion.
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT the Yukon Legislative Assembly, pursuant to subsection 17(1) of the Human Rights Act, appoint Lois Moorcroft and reappoint John McCormick to be members of the Yukon Human Rights Commission.
Mr. Mitchell: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to work with non-government organizations, including the Anti-Poverty Coalition, to establish a permanent food bank in Whitehorse .
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the ability to receive a university education at a degree-granting institution based in the Yukon would benefit many Yukon and other northern students and their families;
(2) access to higher education not only provides social and cultural benefits to a region, but it also provides direct stimulus to the economy;
(3) the success of the post-secondary fine arts programming at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture demonstrates that specialty areas of study can be established in the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to work with Yukon College, First Nation governments, the business community, labour organizations and Yukon people in general to identify practical options for the establishment of a degree-granting university in the Yukon that would provide programs of particular relevance and value to students from the Yukon and other northern circumpolar regions.
NOTICES OF MOTION for the production of papers
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion for the production of papers:
THAT this House do issue an order for the return of a document recently submitted by the Yukon government to the Pembina Institute of Appropriate Development in regard to the impact of future gas developments on northern Canada.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Meadow Lakes Golf and Country Club land development
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, once again we have a proposed land development in the City of Whitehorse all tied up in controversy because the Yukon government can't seem to keep its fingers out of the works. This time it is a parcel of Crown land that was leased to a private developer for one specific purpose: to be the back nine of a golf course. Now the developer wants to see houses built on that land and the ball is once again in the city's court. It sounds pretty familiar to me, Mr. Speaker.
But this situation is actually more complex than that. Apparently the Kwanlin Dun First Nation gave up its claim to that land because the Yukon government insisted it would be a golf course.
My question is this: did the government policy change after Kwanlin Dun was talked into abandoning its claim, or did the minister simply fail to make it clear to the private developer that a residential project was not in the cards?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The government is not in the habit of second-guessing individuals. The individual who is putting this development forward has all the rights in the world, and the city is going through the process. The member opposite forgets that individuals do have the right in the territory and in the City of Whitehorse to put these proposals forward.
We can't pick and choose who we give these rights to, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cardiff: It sounds like they second-guessed the First Nation in this instance, Mr. Speaker. Once again, the government has put a private developer into a very awkward position. Developers put a lot of time, effort and money into planning projects of this kind, and surely they should be told up front what it is they can do and what they can't do.
The problem seems to be that the government either doesn't have a land development policy at all, or it doesn't know how to implement it. Who ends up carrying the can at the end of the day, Mr. Speaker? Is it First Nations? Is it city council? Is it private developers, or is it neighbours who find themselves knee-deep in a murky process that shifts like quicksand with every new proposal?
When is the minister going to get serious about developing a consistent land policy so we don't keep seeing an endless parade of conflicts, controversies and chaos?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The member opposite is wrong again. The government doesn't choose who goes before the City of Whitehorse. This individual has gone before the City of Whitehorse. The process in the city is taking place. The territorial government is watching that process, but we don't have an input into that process at this point, Mr. Speaker. The individual has the right to do exactly what he's doing. He is following the process. The OCP is in place for that and the proponent is doing just that. Again, it's a developer with an idea who is putting a proposal before the city. Understanding where the member is coming from on their feelings about developers, this is a process that the city has placed in front of the gentleman, and the man is going through it.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I feel sorry for both the developers and the First Nation because of the process they've had to go through and what has happened to them. There is something wrong with this picture. We've got a minister responsible for land development inside municipal boundaries who can't speak, because his golf cart is parked too close to the fairway. We've got another minister who practically lives on the 17th green and is faced with a three-stroke penalty from his own department, for clear-cutting without a permit. Now I've heard of goofy golf, Mr. Speaker, but this has got to be ridiculous.
Will the minister take his head out of the sand trap, chip his ball out of the rough and level the greens for all the poor duffers who want to play by one clear set of rules? In other words, let's come up with a policy.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am compelled to enter this debate because the Member for Mount Lorne has, in his attempt to create some levity, missed the whole point. There is a plan and a policy. It's called the official city plan.
Let me also make the point that the official opposition would preclude Yukon citizens, citizens of Whitehorse , from going before the City of Whitehorse with a proposal to request that the city consider the OCP and possible changes. This has nothing to do with the First Nation's land claim. It has nothing to do with what any individual out there in the City of Whitehorse may view as an idea that they want to present to the city. It has to do with the official opposition actually missing the point. The policy is there; it's an official city plan.
Let me make another point. More and more private sector individuals are stepping forward with development initiatives. Here we have the official opposition saying that nothing is happening, that it's all dependency on the federal government. Why, then, is our land developer stepping forward with development? Why is private sector construction like Canadian Tire proceeding? Why is the mining industry projecting over $100 million of investment this summer if it is total dependency?
The official opposition misses what's going on in the Yukon.
Question re: Economic opportunities for Yukoners
Mr. Hardy: I will stay with the question I have, which is for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. The reclamation of the former Anvil Range mine site in Faro, at which I was very fortunate to actually have worked, will cost millions and millions of dollars over the years. Yet there are still many questions about how much Yukon communities, Yukon workers and Yukon businesses will benefit from that work. Under the mine's court-appointed receiver, a great deal of economic benefits from cleaning up the mine site were going outside the Yukon . What is this minister doing to reverse that process and how much of the work is now being done by Yukoners, including First Nations in the area?
Hon. Mr. Lang: It's very clear on our closure plan that we're working in partnership with the Selkirk First Nation and the Kaska First Nation and, of course, the Town of Faro and the territorial government. That group will be putting together the closure plan and, I think, probably also the workplan on how we're going to close the Faro mine. It is a large job. The federal government is funding us to the tune of approximately $9 million to $10 million a year now for maintenance; and we are putting the closure plan together in partnership with the First Nations and the Town of Faro. Out of that closure plan will come a plan on the actual closing of the mine.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Mr. Speaker, some jobs are being created for Yukoners in Faro. That's a fact. I know that over the years, many people and this territory have benefited tremendously from the mine in Faro. But a full reclamation will require a much larger workforce for many more years to come than what we are seeing presently.
Now, surely this government should be doing everything it can to make sure Yukon people and businesses get the first benefits from that work. One Yukon company is working up here with indigenous Yukon seeds that they've developed for commercial seeding and reclamation applications. Now, this company has an international reputation for its northern seeds, Mr. Speaker, but they can't get a foot in the door when it comes to selling seed to the Department of Highways and Public Works for highway corridors.
In his role as minister responsible for agriculture, what is the minister doing to persuade his colleagues in the Highways and Public Works department to use locally grown products instead of buying seed from Outside as they have in the past?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, as the individual responsible for agriculture, I work with all individuals in the Yukon to maximize the agricultural benefits to all Yukoners. I am not privy to that information. We do the best we can to maximize the profile of Yukoners. The corporation the member is speaking about should address this issue with the agriculture branch.
Mr. Hardy: I hope that the ministers responsible for the departments will take calls from all businesses and not just direct them to departments. Maybe I should ask the minister responsible for highways and not the agriculture minister. The highways minister's department's lack of support for local business is showing up in another area as well. For several years the underbody plow blades and other equipment used on Yukon government snow-clearing trucks were fabricated and installed here in Whitehorse. That is not happening now. The department recently imported 10 trucks from Edmonton with the underbody plows, headache racks and other equipment already installed, thereby denying local businesses that work and local employment for people. Why is a government that is supposedly friendly to business, and committed to stimulating the private sector economy, adopting policies that put Yukon manufacturers at a disadvantage?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, we tendered that equipment out to conclude the underbody plows, as the member indicated, and it was felt that we could get a better return for our equipment if it was done in conjunction with the actual purchase of the equipment itself.
Question re: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Mr. Mitchell: I have some questions for the Premier. On the news today, the Government of Alaska intends to crank up the offensive on plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The Alaska Legislature is planning to spend $3 million in an attempt to convince Americans that opening ANWR to oil drilling and development is a good idea. Has the Premier called his counterpart in Alaska to register the Government of Yukon's strong opposition to this type of expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This government articulated on a consistent basis our position with respect to protection of the critical habitat of the Porcupine caribou herd on numerous occasions with the Governor of Alaska, with prime ministers, with the President of the United States in Washington before the national press gallery. We continue to represent that position, Mr. Speaker, and we're also assisting the Vuntut Gwitchin in their efforts.
You know, to date, we've all been very successful by maintaining a cohesive, collective approach to this here in the Yukon. We won't play politics with the issue, Mr. Speaker. We will continue to support Vuntut Gwitchin. We will continue to make the case on protecting the Porcupine caribou herd.
Mr. Mitchell: I don't think I heard an answer to the question, but I can tell you that the Alaskans and the Americans are playing politics with it.
Mr. Speaker, we all know about the Premier's working relationship with the government. Sometimes friends can disagree. This is one of those times when we disagree, and the governor needs to hear about it and to know why.
Will the Premier phone the governor to express Yukoners' concerns that drilling in ANWR threatens the existence of the Porcupine caribou herd and the Gwitch'in way of life? Why is the Premier so reluctant to take a strong stand on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I could only respond by asking why the leader of the third party is so reluctant to listen to what's going on in the territory. Successive governments have worked collectively with the Vuntut Gwitchin and others on this very important initiative. I just said to the member opposite that, to date, we've been very successful. Those who promote drilling in the critical habitat have been unsuccessful. Surely the member must recognize that what we're doing is working. We will continue these efforts, because that is our position and that is our commitment.
I don't know how many more times I can relay this to the governor. I've said it so many times, he has almost fallen over in a heap. I can't keep repeating it, other than what I'm doing here today. On every occasion when I see the governor, I express to him Yukon's position. Will that ever preclude us and Alaska from working in areas of common interest and mutual benefit? Never. On this one, we disagree and have made it clear.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, I'm glad to hear that the Premier has been so forceful that the governor has almost collapsed into a heap. It's quite an image.
Mr. Speaker, apparently he has risen from the heap, because the Alaskans are going on the offensive. They've hired a company called Pac-West Communications to go out and convince Americans that drilling in ANWR is a good idea. They're spending $3 million on this campaign. This is, of course, something Yukoners strongly oppose. So I'm encouraging the Premier to pick up the phone and once again stand up for Yukoners' interests. Mr. Speaker, the Premier also met recently with the new Prime Minister of Canada. Did he raise the issue of ANWR with the Prime Minister, and did he ask the Prime Minister to reinforce Canada 's strong opposition to drilling in ANWR with President Bush?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The short answer to the member's question is yes, that's exactly what I raised at 24 Sussex some weeks ago, encouraging the Prime Minister to adhere to the 1987 agreement, which a former federal Conservative government entered into with Washington. The agreement is clear about the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd.
Now, with respect to the Alaskans and this governor, we take no issue with a governor or a premier or any leader of a government from any jurisdiction standing up and presenting their case and representing what they believe to be their citizens' interests. That's what we do here in the Yukon. But again, for the member, we don't agree that drilling in the critical habitat should take place. We've articulated that time and time again. We'll continue to resource the Vuntut Gwitchin. We will continue to be there in support. We will continue to pressure the federal government to live up to their obligations. To date, all these years that this initiative has been ongoing, we have been successful. There has been no drilling. That's a good sign.
Question re: Nurse shortage
Mr. McRobb: It was disappointing yesterday to watch the Health and Social Services minister point his finger at previous governments. This Yukon Party government has been in power for four years, and it is high time it started to accept responsibility. These health issues are serious and they deserve serious attention, so let's try again.
We know the emergency room at the Whitehorse General Hospital has experienced a 24-percent increase in the number of patients admitted in just the past two years. The emergency room is now trying to cope with high traffic levels. This has consequently increased the waiting time for Yukon patients from about half an hour to two hours - and even four hours on occasion. What is the minister doing to improve conditions at the emergency room?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, the Member for Kluane's reflection on Hansard from yesterday doesn't seem to have much in common with the Blues, the draft version of Hansard, which is a little interesting.
With regard to the member's question - again, I must point out to the member opposite that we fund the hospital through a bulk contribution agreement. That agreement has increased to $25 million under our watch from a previous level of $20 million. That is an increase of some $5 million, which, for the member opposite, is 25 percent. We are working with them, and we will work with them to address any new issues as they come up.
As is the nature of the Department of Health and Social Services, within the health care field the issues evolve and change and come up on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and we deal with them at that time. That's what we will do.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is crying the blues instead of doing something to help Yukoners. We learned that hospital staff have requested funds for a third person on the 11-to-11 shift. This additional person is required in the emergency room because of the increased number of orphan patients who cannot find a family physician. This would also be an excellent opportunity to practise nurse mentoring. Hospital staff were disappointed to learn of the minister's rejection of their request. This minister recently announced big spending plans to supposedly improve Yukoners' access to health care; however, in practice, conditions are getting worse, not better. Why did the minister decide to reject this necessary request?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I don't know how many times I need to say it to the Member for Kluane. We do not review the requirements of the Hospital Corporation on a position-by-position basis. We provide the hospital with a bulk-funding amount. The hospital CEO and the board have jurisdiction over deciding whether to increase positions, maintain the level, reallocate or decrease. That is their jurisdiction.
We have an agreement with the hospital for services to be provided. They provide those services. How they deal with hiring and allocation of employees within that is entirely within their jurisdiction.
I again reiterate to the member that we certainly did not turn down a request from the hospital. We have, in fact increased the funding to the Hospital Corporation, and with regard to any needs that may come up on an ongoing basis, we will review those as time progresses.
The number the member has quoted with regard to emergency room visits is the one element of his commentary which is in fact correct. They have told us that there has been a significant increase in the early part of this year in emergency room visits. That is a matter we are reviewing right now, and we will discuss it with the Hospital Corporation. If it is necessary to discuss additional funding requirements, we will certainly discuss those. Our government remains committed to addressing demonstrated needs where they exist.
Mr. McRobb: Yukoners have lost trust in this Yukon Party government. Not long ago, it announced plans to resolve the orphan patient issue, but that's precisely what's driving the increased workload at the emergency room. It announced that waiting times for Yukoners to access health care professionals would shorten but, in fact, waiting times in the ER have lengthened.
This government recently announced a strategy to address the shortage of health professionals but we learned how, in practice, it won't even hire two local grade A nursing graduates. This list goes on and on.
Mr. Speaker, when this government was elected, we heard the mantra of “can do, can do”. After four years, all we hear is “can't do, can't do”. Why is this?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It's extremely difficult to engage in a meaningful debate with the Member for Kluane when his statements are so riddled with inaccuracies. This is very frustrating.
The Liberal Health and Social Services critic stood on his feet yesterday and called the health human resources strategy a luxury. He called planning for the future to address anticipated shortages and to deal with the current shortages of family doctors a luxury. Clearly the Liberal Party does not support the health human resources strategy. Clearly the Liberal Party does not support taking action to improve Yukoners' access to family doctors in a meaningful and sensible manner.
Question re: Dawson City forensic audit
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Community Services about the City of Dawson. The Deputy Minister of Community Services is on record saying, “We must teach Dawson a lesson.” It would appear that the wool has been pulled over this minister's eyes, and despite having over three years to sort out Dawson's municipal situation, this minister has failed to do so. In March 2005, the results of the forensic audit were known, and yet this minister has failed to initiate any civil action to recover any of this misspent taxpayers' money from the former mayor, city manager and the treasurer. I'd like to know why this minister has not proceeded civilly to recover this misspent taxpayers' money, and why does the minister now want to abdicate his responsibility and off-load this decision to a new mayor and council?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike is certainly making a point here that is relevant to the situation Dawson City has found itself in. I can assure the member opposite that all these issues are being fully considered. But let me also remind the Member for Klondike that there is actually a criminal investigation going on right now with respect to what transpired in the City of Dawson. Our purpose here, unlike the Member for Klondike, is not to attack people. Our purpose here is to find a solution. We have tabled in this House an act to ensure that a mayor and council is elected in Dawson City on or before June 15. That would dictate that we as a government will have a financial plan and be addressing the issues on or before June 15.
Mr. Jenkins: The $10.5-million structurally defective Dawson arena, designed and engineered by FSC is another project where Yukon government officials were responsible for a lot of the decisions through the project management team. This arena project has yet to be cleaned up and will be off-loaded to a new mayor and council. Why is the minister refusing to clean up this project? Is it to protect his officials, the project management team or FSC?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, in the first place, let me comfort the Member for Klondike. We are not going to off-load anything to the City of Dawson.
I can, to some degree, enlighten the member opposite. We as a government have already stated publicly in the City of Dawson that we recognize that past governments made decisions that put Dawson in the financial position it finds itself in today. We are going to make sure that those liabilities are not left with Dawson - another example that we are not going to off-load.
The Member for Klondike has on many occasions brought forward suggestions, recommendations and advice over the last three and a half years that have to some degree vindicated the direction we took with Dawson City. We thank the member for that. We are very grateful for his input because it has led us to where we are now - very much at the point where we can finally resolve the situation for Dawson, not by off-loading but by uplifting the City of Dawson back to solid financial footing.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, that lack of decisions has led me to where I am today: criticizing a government that I was a proud member of at one time.
Now, YTG and the City of Dawson are under court order to treat the Dawson sewage. The court order reporting date was conveniently changed from early June until after the latest date for Dawson's municipal election of June 15. This also gives all the appearance of this minister's off-loading this project to a new mayor and council. Where this minister appears to be going is to deliver a financial package that addresses Dawson 's debt load and increased operation and maintenance costs, and then call a municipal election and hope Dawson 's problems go away.
I am seeking the minister's assurance that he will address three other areas along with the debt issue: the civil recovery of taxpayers' money from the former mayor, the city manager and the treasurer; a civil action against FSC for the structurally defective arena; and a safe, affordable sewage treatment system. Will the minister provide that assurance?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, first, Mr. Speaker, let me point out to the Member for Klondike that there are 200,000-plus other reasons why the member may be on the other side of the House.
More importantly, Mr. Speaker, we are not going to off-load issues on the City of Dawson . We are going to do exactly the opposite. We're going to bring forward a financial plan that will put Dawson on solid financial footing into the future, not just today.
Secondly, we recognize there are capital projects in Dawson that are in deep trouble, and we are going to address that with the City of Dawson and not limit it to what the member opposite is proposing. But there are other options that we will address. The point is we are going to do that with the City of Dawson . We're going to do it in a manner that reflects all responsibility in regard to the issue Dawson faces. More importantly, we believe in Dawson City. We believe in the Klondike. We are going to ensure that Dawson is back on the mainstream of Yukon's radar screen, as it should be. That's what this government's going to do, and we intend to do it with the Member for Klondike .
Question re: Yukon College, post-secondary economic benefits
Mr. Hardy: Yukon College injects about $22 million each year into the Yukon economy, while employing about 650 people full-time and part-time. This is a tremendous boost to the economy of Whitehorse , as well as some of our smaller communities with satellite campuses: for example, Dawson City, Watson Lake, Teslin, Mayo, and there are other examples. Now, according to a cost-benefit analysis recently done on the economic impacts of the college, the overall rate of return on the government's investment in Yukon College is in the order of 8.5 percent per year - not bad; not bad for investing in the future of people. Does the minister recognize that expanding post-secondary educational opportunities in the Yukon will pay huge dividends in perpetuity in all kinds of ways?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This government certainly does realize the importance of post-secondary education. That's why we increased the base grant by $1 million. That's why we increased the training trust funds up to $1.5 million. Of course this government is aware of the value of training citizens in the territory and will continue to support that initiative.
Mr. Hardy: Certainly this government does deserve some congratulations in increasing the base funding, and as well for recognizing those training trust funds that the NDP had initiated years ago. I would like to give him credit in another area, and that is the funding for the first-year, post-secondary fine arts program at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture in Dawson City . I am quite willing to do that, but it is really only a very small start. They could do so much more to help Yukoners and their families if they could pursue a broader range of post-secondary education without having to leave their home territory. This government has had four years to do a lot more.
My question: Will the minister make a commitment to work with Yukon College, the business community, First Nations, labour organizations and other interested groups and individuals to identify options for establishing a university in the Yukon that can offer programs that would have a special relevance and values to northern residents?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for the support on the initiatives that have come forward for education. There have been both pros and cons going through my office with regard to a university. Some people are interested; others say we don't need it. This government will continue to always seek the best interests of the citizens of the territory when it comes to education and post-secondary education. I believe we have done a good job of that to date, and we will continue to do so.
Mr. Hardy: I'd like to say that there's no such thing as a poor university town, at least none that I know of. Directly and indirectly, universities create thousands of well-paid, green jobs that don't impact very heavily on the environment. They also attract thousands of students from other parts of Canada as well as from other countries, and we know the benefits of that.
This translates into all kinds of spinoff economic benefits for local businesses and residents. Yukon could be on the cutting edge of education and research in the north if we put our minds to it and if the will is there. It's time to take the next step. New Democrats support creating a Yukon university - our convention this past weekend confirmed that.
Can the minister indicate whether or not his government also supports this important step forward in our evolution?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: As I stated previously, there was some discussion around it. The talk is certainly active about a university and whether it's viable. I know there has been a lot of discussion around the economic benefits of having a university here. Of course, it's something that won't be built and implemented by the end of this mandate; however, it should be known that this government does support post-secondary education. We always have. For example, we just recently put millions into securing and protecting the pension of Yukon College staff - that's another example of what the government's commitment is to post-secondary education.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Unanimous consent re Bill No. 110
Speaker: Point of order, Member for Klondike .
Mr. Jenkins: I would request unanimous consent to call at this time Bill No. 110, Yukon Smoke-free Places Act.
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been denied.
Notice of government private members' business
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I rise pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7) to identify the motions standing in the name of government private members for tomorrow, Wednesday, April 26. They are Motion No. 639, standing in the name of the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, and Motion No. 662, standing in the name of the Member for Southern Lakes.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07.
I understand the department under debate is the Department of Justice.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 20 - First Appropriation Act, 2006-07 - continued
Department of Justice
Chair: We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Vote 8, Department of Justice.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to speak to the Department of Justice's 2006-07 operation and maintenance and capital budget. I would like to tell you about some of the work the Department of Justice is undertaking to maintain an open and accessible justice system, reform the correctional system, and keep our communities safe.
Mr. Chair, it will come as no surprise to the members of this House or to other Yukoners that I will begin my remarks by focusing on the correctional system. In this capital budget, we have identified $1 million for redeveloping the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. The correctional infrastructure project involves the planning and design phase for a new correctional centre.
For 2006-07, the target will be to provide drawings and technical specifications to the point of readiness to tender for a standard stipulated-price general contract construction project. A project manager will be assigned to this project. The manager will work with the corrections consultation action plan to develop a new facility. Correctional reform is a government priority. It is also a priority for me.
Many of this government's plans and initiatives in the area of justice are related to correctional reform. Why has this government chosen to make correctional reform a priority? Why are so many plans and initiatives related to correctional reform? There are several reasons that we have focused on correctional reform and those reasons are linked. So, let me explain, Mr. Chair.
We want to help individuals in communities build the capacity and courage to change lives. We know the Correctional Centre needs to be a safe and secure place in which to live and work, and we know we need a new correctional centre. A correctional centre is an important part of the correctional system, but is not the only part.
It would have been easy to build a new jail and walk away and say, “Look what we did.” It would have been easy to say to those who work and live there, “It is over to you now. You have a new building. Now you deal with the issues while we focus on other things.” We could have done that, and we could have left it at that. There may be people who think we should have done just that, but we decided to take a different approach, a broader approach. We wanted to know what programs and services are needed in a new jail and in the community. We wanted to understand the issues facing inmates, other offenders, victims and families and communities. We wanted to know where First Nations' governments, communities and non-government organizations could fit in correctional reform. That is why we decided to make the replacement of the jail a part of a broader imitative - the reforming of our correctional system. That is why we undertook the corrections consultation and made it part of our investment in correctional reform. I am proud of that decision. This was a very comprehensive territory-wide public consultation. One hundred and sixty consultation meetings were held. The corrections consultation project team held public meetings and also met with chiefs and councils, mayors and councils, First Nations, staff and inmates at Whitehorse Correctional Centre, workers in government and non-government organizations and other groups and individuals.
Twenty major issues were raised during the consultation. These issues were the need for offender accountability, rehabilitation and healing; after-care, follow-up and support for offenders dealing with addictions and other traumas; the need for alcohol and drug treatment in the Correctional Centre and in communities; the need to develop community capacity and infrastructure for delivering correctional programs and services; the need for user-friendly information about courts and justice processes; the need for counselling services in the Correctional Centre and in communities for offenders, victims and families.
There are family needs when a family member has been in jail and is released and returned to the family. The inmates have needs, as well as offenders with FASD. There is grieving and healing from residential school and other traumas. There is potential for land-based programs and camps. Inmates and offenders with mental health issues have needs. Prevention and early intervention programs are important. There is a need for adequate probation services in communities as well as funding for community-based programs and locally delivered correctional programs and services.
There is the issue of staff and volunteer recruitment, training and support, and there is a need to increase the number of First Nation workers in the correctional system. Transition planning and re-integration are important, and there is a need to start it as soon as inmates enter the Correctional Centre.
Victims have needs - from the time a crime is committed through to the time the inmate returns to the community, programs and services should be provided at the Correctional Centre.
We have the plan to respond to those issues. The corrections action plan includes eight guiding principles, five key priorities and 29 recommendations.
The principles that will guide this plan are partnerships, a continuum of programs and services, inclusion of Yukon First Nation culture, traditions and practices, use of evidence-based practice, innovation in programs and services, development of community capacity, a focus on healing, accountability, and security and support for prevention and early intervention programs.
The key priorities are building a new facility, developing and providing facility-based programs and services, developing and supporting community capacity and developing and providing counselling support and after-care. There are 29 recommendations. Some are focused on the Correctional Centre. Most are focused on what needs to happen in the community. Not all the recommendations can be implemented immediately or all at once, but we can start now to take the steps that will move us toward them. I am pleased with the consultation process and the corrections action plan that was developed. I know that we have a great deal of work to do. The real work is only beginning, but the plan has given us the foundation for that work.
Mr. Chair, the corrections consultation was co-chaired by Yukon government and the Council of Yukon First Nations, and I am pleased with the partnership. The corrections consultation slogan was “Moving forward together.”
The Yukon government and First Nations did that throughout this consultation and we will continue to do that through implementation planning. At the Yukon forum on April 3, this government and First Nations endorsed the corrections action plans, principles, priorities and recommendations. We also endorsed the implementation framework. I believe the system will change as a result of the work started through this consultation and our shared belief in the value of moving forward together.
Some things I look forward to seeing are the following: a shift in our approach to working with inmates and offenders serving their sentence in the communities; an approach that brings together healing, rehabilitation, accountability and motivation; inclusion of First Nation cultures, traditions and practices in correctional programs and services; the use of compensative assessments to help identify inmate needs as soon as an inmate enters the Correctional Centre; strong links between programs and services in the Correctional Centre, in the community and in places of transition; easily accessible local service and support for victims; an emphasis on services and support for families when a family member is in jail and when that person returns to the community - we know these can be very difficult times for families - and the development of community capacity for program delivery. These are just some of the things that are possible when we focus on the correctional system and not just the facility.
It is clear that some initiatives must be taken in the meantime while the new correctional centre is being planned.
Initiatives that have been taken include enhancing programs for offenders by providing such programs as group counselling program for substance abuse, small engine repair, industrial first aid at Yukon College campus and related programs. Additional mental health staff have been added to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre to improve the conditions for inmates suffering from mental health problems. A new administrative trailer was added to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre in response to staff concerns that the existing staff area was inadequate.
Before I leave my remarks on correctional reform, I would like to acknowledge those Yukoners who participated in this consultation. They were willing to address some very difficult issues. They are the many voices for correctional reform, and they have been heard through the consultation. The involvement of all those individuals clearly stated that things have to change within the correctional system.
Correctional reform is not the only priority in the Department of Justice. We are responsible for public safety and security. It is our mandate. It is also a moral responsibility. People need to be safe and to feel safe. They need to know that something can be done to improve safety. We have responded with the safer communities and neighbourhoods legislation. With this legislation we have a new method for dealing with certain illegal activities that threaten community and neighbourhood safety. It is a reasonable and practical response to a problem that has been hard to address in other ways and that will not just go away.
I would like to thank the leader of the official opposition for really working on this issue, because it was a main target of his in his riding, and he did focus in on this area. All parties on the floor of the Legislature became involved, and all agreed that this was a piece of legislation that needed to be developed. I thank all members for that.
This legislation was developed following consultation with the public, First Nations, community associations, municipal governments and other agencies. It will provide government with a new tool for responding to certain illegal activities that make neighbourhoods and communities unsafe. It will do this by targeting the activity that makes a neighbourhood unsafe; activities like producing, selling or using illegal drugs, prostitution, solvent abuse, and/or the unlawful sale and consumption of alcohol. The legislation allows a member to file a confidential complaint that a property is being used for these activities. It allows for the investigation of the complaint, and it provides options for responding when the investigation is completed. These options range from working with the landlord to stop the activity from occurring on the property to applying to the Supreme Court for a community safety order.
We will focus on stopping illegal activities from occurring on the property, and we will work with others to consider the needs of women and children who have to leave the property because they are affected by an eviction order. A total of $225,000 in the existing budget was reallocated for the start-up costs associated with the implementation of the safer communities and neighbourhoods legislation and to offset costs associated with increased Canada Winter Games security.
Through the corrections consultation, we heard that communities wanted to build their capacity to deliver services locally. We heard that many front-line workers and volunteers want easily accessible training for responding to the issues that affect their community. This is not just a Yukon issue; there is a chronic shortage of qualified justice workers in northern Canada.
One way of meeting that need would be through a northern institute of justice. A northern institute of justice would help train new and existing staff so they would be better equipped to provide justice programs and services in a northern justice system. To start addressing this issue, the Department of Justice has $35,000 in the 2006-07 operation and maintenance budget toward a feasibility study. The study will determine whether the institute could be created. It is being conducted by the Yukon government.
Yukon's partners in this study include the other northern jurisdictions. Within this government, the departments of Justice, Education and Health and Social Services are involved in the study. The study will include revenue and expenditure projections and enrolment estimates. It will recommend one or more models of delivery and examine possible revenue sources for capital, operational and project costs that might be relevant to this initiative. The institute would provide quality training for new and existing justice workers in such areas as corrections, probation, addictions counselling, child and family services, ambulance services, transportation inspection, fire fighting, conservation and environmental protection.
In this budget, we have funding to provide counselling to children who witness domestic violence.
Witnessing violence has short- and long-term negative effects on children's social, emotional and cognitive development. In a more traditional manner, it will damage your spirit.
Many parents in violent families believe they have protected their children from the violence, but studies show that 80 to 90 percent of children are very aware of what has been happening. There's $50,000 per year for five years from Justice Canada to fill a gap in services to some of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. This money was made available after the Yukon Department of Justice successfully lobbied the federal government for funding.
It is true there are supports in the community for children; however, these supports are not usually involved until court proceedings have been completed and there's stability in the home. Therefore, some children are not receiving support and services when they need them since some of these families never reach the stability stage.
There are several issues I can continue with this afternoon but, seeing as how the time is running close, in closing I am pleased with the initiatives and look forward to working with Yukoners to continue the work we have begun to make the correctional system more responsive to offenders, victims and families, address substance abuse problems, improve neighbourhood and community safety, find new ways to provide training and support community-based workers, provide timely counselling services to children who have witnessed family violence, and to respond to some of the other needs I have identified today.
I also look forward to discussing these initiatives with the members of this House and to answering questions.
Mr. Cardiff: I'd like to thank the minister for his opening remarks about the budget of the Department of Justice. I'd also like to put on record that we support the corrections consultation. We also supported the corrections consultation that took place back in the late 1990s, which was more focused on restorative justice and programming that needed to be in the corrections facility and how we could better meet the needs of communities in dealing with things like probation and counselling and violence in communities. I hope that some of the work that was done back then was also taken into consideration. I know that there was a lot of work done.
I would like to refer the minister to the press release from April 11, 2006 , announcing that the corrections final report had been tabled; the action plan and the strategy were endorsed. I would particularly like to ask the minister about the comment that was made by the minister. It says, “The corrections consultation action plan lays the foundation for correctional reform,” and that's a good thing - “while the implementation framework reflects how the Yukon government and Yukon First Nations will work together on implementing the plan.” So I'm assuming that there is an implementation framework and I would ask the minister to make that available to members on this side of the House and to the public. Would he do that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: We will comply with the request from the member opposite. Let me begin by noting again the outstanding work that was done by the correctional consultation project team: Barb Joe and Brenda Jackson on behalf of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and Sharon Hickey and Joanne Lewis on behalf of the Department of Justice.
When the final report of the corrections consultation was brought forward to the Yukon forum for consideration and endorsement, the Premier described the corrections consultation as some of the finest work ever completed in the territory. Both the process that the project team followed and the content of its final report set it apart from recent government policy-making processes. The process that was followed by the corrections consultation serves as an example of how to engage citizens in a complex public policy debate.
Over the course of 18 months, the project team talked with Yukoners about the criminal justice system. The project team travelled to each Yukon community twice during the consultation process. As I mentioned earlier, they held a total of 160 meetings with Yukoners. The team listened attentively to the concerns of citizens and compiled hundreds of pages of notes and comments from those meetings. On many occasions the consultations were emotional as members of the community recounted their personal stories of how they became enmeshed in the justice system. Throughout it all the project team members treated all those who wished to speak to them with respect and dignity. Based on the results of the consultation, the project team prepared a final report, and the final report was enthusiastically endorsed by the Yukon government and the Council of Yukon First Nations. It charts a new course for the Yukon correctional system.
Again, I can assure the member opposite that these individuals were part and parcel of the whole process of looking at correctional reform and they will remain as part of that team in developing and continuing with the action plan on what is involved with the development of a new facility. They will have input to the process as it continues from this date.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for committing to provide the implementation framework; I appreciate that. We look forward to receiving that so we can have a better understanding of just how we are going to move forward, as the consultation was entitled.
I would like to ask a couple of general questions. This one came out of the corrections consultation - I asked the minister this last fall, I believe. One of the recommendations now in the report is that the Corrections Act needs to be reviewed. Does the minister have a plan and a timeline for doing that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: A part of the correctional framework is to look at and review the legislative and regulatory environment. So the answer is yes. And reviewing that act will take place this fall.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that answer. There are a lot of recommendations, and I think we'll probably visit a few of them over the course of the next few hours, just to get the minister on record for where he is going.
On the opening page of the minister's department, page 13-2, there are departmental objectives. One of those objectives is to work toward an effective and responsive correctional system to manage offenders in ways that promote rehabilitation and ensure public safety. I know that the corrections consultation has lots of recommendations, but what I want to know is this: here today, how is that objective being met at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, for starters?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: To start, I'd like to say that I am very pleased with the amount of programming that has become active at the correctional facility in Whitehorse . I know there is a lot of demand for different programming, some of which will really be focused on within the implementation of the framework agreement. This government has, in the last year, introduced significant improvements to inmate programming at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Last fiscal year, we added $120,000 to fund First Nation programs at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. The goal of this initiative is to increase the amount of First Nation cultural training and teachings of traditional crafts, and it will bring First Nation elders into the centre.
As I stated before, I was recently at a graduation of a carving program at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. It was actually quite rewarding to see how a traditional carving programming had created a very positive outlook among some of the inmates who were involved. I know these young people had very high spirits. Comments were made to me such as, “This is the best thing that ever happened at WCC.” I heard comments like, “I never knew I had a gift like this to be able to produce carvings like this.” I think one has to actually go and witness the work that was done to appreciate it. It was quite phenomenal to see individuals, who had never carved in their lives, produce such fabulous work.
I believe at least three of those young people gave me business cards they had already established, indicating that they intended to go into full-time carving when they were released. It's programs like that that will change people's outlook on life.
I heard several good comments about the small engine repair course, for example. In fact, that specific program had such a high interest that WCC had to run it twice. It was filled to capacity. I could continue to talk about several of the programs that have taken place in WCC. We added another $50,000 to begin developmental work on stable, long-term housing and support for offenders with FASD.
That may not sound like a really big thing. Those individuals are having difficulties with managing their everyday life. They're involved in the corrections system and don't really understand all that's involved with corrections. It's quite common - maybe not common knowledge to everyone, but most people who work with FASD individuals know they have a hard time dealing with consequences, for example.
One may go to the correctional facility for a year for stealing a skidoo. They could walk out of the facility and do the same thing the next day.
So the government understands those things, and we need to be aware of that. Last year we allocated $100,000 toward the intensive bail supervision program. This program will provide intensive supervision to high-risk offenders who are on bail. The goal would be to keep them in the community or out of Whitehorse Correctional Centre and productive while awaiting the outcome of their charges or while on a community disposition. Again, that may not sound to the average person like something that's of significant value, but it is to that individual who is having a very hard time to honour a bail supervision order, for example.
So the list goes on, and like I said earlier, I can continue to go into each one. But I think I'll mention this other one that I feel is quite important. It's one where we have increased the resources available for mental health and physical health services for inmates, which also includes building a secure medical room for inmates. Again, this is a very significant step on the path to rehabilitation of inmates. I know from experience working as an advocate and in the field that mental health counselling is always very difficult to get. To have it available right in the facility is a real plus. I believe that it again demonstrates that this government is interested in trying to change that revolving-door syndrome for inmates. It is critical to have an intervention of some sort. Otherwise, without an intervention, a person would never be aware that there needs to be changes. They'll continue the same pattern over and over until there is a process in place that can intervene and help that individual seek understanding of why it is they're in Whitehorse Correctional Centre repeatedly.
The government has also taken up the training of staff, which is very important. We are also working to improve conditions of staff who work in the facility. We recognize that working as a correctional officer in the administration of a jail can be very stressful. That was one of the reasons why, in discussions with the department, I recommended that we immediately look at providing a staffing lounge outside the WCC where they can actually walk into an environment where they can look out the window, as opposed to being locked in a little room in the middle of the building where there is a staff lounge.
Those are steps that this government and the department have taken to ensure there is some balance here. We realize that inmates need to have certain conditions. They need to have programming but, at the same time, we also realize that the staff members are equally important and they must be given the opportunity to be able to work under those stressful conditions.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that information. He provided a lot of information about how the correctional system is responding to and managing offenders. He talked about several programs for the inmates and some training for the staff and the provision of a staff lounge outside the facility. All those things are good.
I would like to say that my concern around programming at the Correctional Centre came to light recently because of reports in the media of inmates taking the government to the Human Rights Commission, of all things, because of a lack of programming. I think it's programming in areas like addictions counselling, anger management and things like that that need to be made available. Maybe the government needs to provide an opportunity for AA meetings to be held for offenders in the correctional facility. The staff and inmates have a fairly close relationship. The health and welfare of the inmates affects the mood in the facility; therefore, it affects how the staff members do their jobs. Likewise, if you have an unhappy staff at the correctional facility, that reflects on and has an impact on how inmates behave.
It is my understanding that in the past there has actually been for the most part, a fairly good relationship between inmates and staff there. I would like to compliment the staff at the correctional facility for the hard work they do, working in some really stressful and tense situations, and in conditions that haven't been all that great. I thank the minister for the improvements that have been made for inmates and for staff. I just feel that we could have moved faster on this to make the living and working conditions better for both inmates and the staff.
I'd like to give the minister an opportunity to respond to my comments. Specifically, I would like to know if there are any plans for increased addictions counselling - things like anger management and maybe having AA meetings held in the facility for inmates so that they can move forward with their lives.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for his questions. Mr. Chair, let me say I cannot address the specific incidents raised in the media. It is clear that the individuals involved are contemplating legal action; therefore, I do not want to jeopardize the case by commenting specifically on the matter. I can say, however, that officials in my department received the letter of complaint last Tuesday. They immediately began to look into the matter. The director of corrections and the superintendent of Whitehorse Correctional Centre have met with the chair of the inmate committee, and I believe that some changes have already been made.
I recognize that there is room for improvement at our Correctional Centre. That is why our government has decided to take a two-track approach. We are trying to improve the living conditions for inmates and the working conditions for staff today, and through the corrections consultation we are planning for the future.
The member opposite did mention some of the different programs, like AA meetings. Those services are provided. I am still a very firm believer that a lot of programming develops over years of service, and there is always room for improvement in any organization in how things are done and, if they work, for them to do some evaluation as to whether or not they were effective, and if not, why not, and make changes accordingly. That's quite common.
Over the past two years, we have worked hard to ensure the offenders receive appropriate training when they are serving a sentence at WCC. WCC has a number of programs that directly address the root causes of crime. For example, the substance abuse management program is offered four to five times per year and helps offenders come to terms with their substance abuse issues.
Commitment to change is a program to address criminal thinking and behaviour and how to change them. A variety of volunteers offer programming for inmates at the centre, including Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.
In addition to these programs, WCC also offers academic and vocational training. The following seven programs will be delivered by the Yukon College campus at WCC. I think this demonstrates the variety of things that are actually happening at WCC.
For example, we had the introduction to log building. It was a very creative program and one the inmates took to very well. There was initial attack fire suppression training - that one helped some of the inmates when they were released to go out on jobs that dealt with forest fires. The introduction to welding was another well-attended course. In fact, when I toured the welding course program one young fellow was really doing exceptionally well in welding, and I commended him for his ability to have such a steady hand and run such a nice bead in such a short time.
This young fellow was also very artistic in mind, so he was able to visualize something and build it. I looked at some of the things he built and they were quite impressive.
Another big program that went over very well was the introduction to wrangling and packing. Again, this kind of a lifestyle really fits in with the First Nation people because you are on the land. All the time that you're out packing and wrangling horses, whether it's on a guided tour trip or whether it's with an outfitter, you're always connected to the land. So this is another very impressive course for a lot of the inmates that were in Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
Something I'm not proud of as a First Nation person is that a very high percentage of inmates are First Nation. I certainly have a keen interest in trying to change that. I don't want to see First Nation people locked up. I want to see them being able to develop their skills and their abilities to be self-sufficient in this world. I believe this justice reform process that just took place gives one a very good snapshot of what it's going to take to change the justice system and what it's going to take to change the revolving doors of the facility for a lot of citizens in this territory.
Mr. Chair, we will continue to provide these services to offenders in order to address the factors that lead to their criminal behaviour. I believe that is going to be part of the solution of addressing a lot of the issues and criminal activities that take place within this territory.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to thank the minister for that answer and commend him for going to the facility and interacting with those people. I know the minister is a welder and I know how rewarding it is to actually work with some of those kids and teach them some skills. I had the opportunity myself - not at the correctional facility, but through a couple other activities I was involved in - and it is pretty rewarding. It is great to hear there are young folks out there who are excelling at some of these activities.
I'd like to ask some other questions about corrections and community justice. In the Yukon Party platform during the election campaign, there was a commitment to support restorative justice initiatives such as circle sentencing. The government has had three and a half years. I would like to know how this government has supported community restorative justice initiatives. What I'm really looking for is what the government is doing to support communities and the people who participate in community justice activities in communities. It requires a lot of work and it also requires some training. If these activities are going on in communities, a lot of it is done on a volunteer basis.
I will probably have some other questions for the minister along these same lines later on, but if he could briefly tell us how they are supporting these initiatives in communities and how they are supporting the volunteers and the people in the communities so they don't burn out, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: For a number of years, the department has consistently supported community justice initiatives such as circle sentencing. The department has financially supported a number of community justice initiatives. I know from experience in working within the Kwanlin Dun justice system, both as a counsellor with the government and as an adult support worker within the justice system, the Yukon government has consistently supported these programs for a number of years.
It wasn't uncommon for the government to even send someone from the Justice department to give them advice on different initiatives they might be dealing with, or the expertise on how to deal with an issue that might be a little more complicated than anticipated. There has always been that expertise and advice and assistance. The Government of Yukon expects to provide just over $400,000 of in-kind and financial support to nine community justice projects. With the anticipated cost-sharing under the aboriginal justice strategy, it is estimated that over $870,000 will go toward supporting community justice projects.
The Yukon Department of Justice believes that by supporting community justice projects, it is helping communities develop local solutions that may be more effective at resolving conflict in ways that promote healing, reconciliation and respect. The Department of Justice is committed to working with communities and the aboriginal justice strategy to support the ongoing work of the community justice projects.
Whether it's this government or other governments, you must continue to encourage the federal government to be a part of a lot of the initiatives that take place in the Yukon . Quite often, the federal government is quite cooperative in wanting to deal with justice issues and proactive rather than reactive to a lot of the issues within the justice system - and rightfully so. It is a great benefit for governments right across Canada to come together and try to deal with the justice issue in such a manner to minimize the number of victims that are produced through criminal activities. So again, the Yukon government has always provided a lot of support to different communities, different NGOs, and we will continue to do that in the future.
Mr. Cardiff: I am glad the minister is giving his support to things like community restorative justice, mediation and conflict resolution in communities. I think it is important that we find less confrontational ways of dealing with some of these issues that come before us and come before communities. If that can be worked out, it is valuable.
Like any system, it's great that it's out there, and we need to do that work, but we also need to know whether or not it is working. I am wondering if there has been any sort of evaluation of these community restorative justice programs. Has there been an evaluation, and if so, is it available? If there is no evaluation of how this works, is there an evaluation planned, and when might that be coming, and if there isn't an evaluation plan, why not?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I just want to give a brief insight into what we're talking about when we talk about community justice projects. Dena Keh Justice, through the Liard First Nation, for example, is a community-based initiative that promotes community-based justice through facilitating diversion processes based on the family group conferencing model.
Then we have the Haines Junction Community Justice Committee, which was one of the first community-based justice projects established. Again, they have taken a lead role in the Yukon in establishing a justice project that bridges the native and non-native communities by providing services to First Nation and non-First Nation youth and adults in Haines Junction.
We have the Kwanlin Dun community social justice project, which provides various supports to offenders and victims who are in the mainstream justice system using circle processes and other culturally appropriate forums. I believe this particular program was recently evaluated and is still in the process of being evaluated.
Then we have the Southern Lakes Justice Committee, which is a non-profit society that was formally established in 1992 and incorporated in 1996. They work with both young offenders and adult offenders who must apply to the Southern Lakes Justice Committee to be considered and accepted for the justice processes.
A good example of community involvement is the Peacemakers diversion project. This is run through the Teslin Tlingit Council. The Peacemakers diversion project provides traditional alternatives to the mainstream justice system holding Teslin Tlingit Council members accountable to their respective clan and to their communities.
We have the Old Crow Justice Committee through the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. The Old Crow Justice Committee has received funding since 1999, and they deal mainly with liquor prohibitions - matters referred to them either by the RCMP, Crown or courtworkers.
There's the Ross River Justice Committee through the Ross River Dena Council. The Ross River Justice Committee has received funding since 1998.
So, as I stated before, a lot of these different community justice initiatives have been funded for a number of years through different governments.
Ross River has progressed slowly in its work as a justice committee, and they provide a community-based justice support and, at times, alternatives for offenders to the mainstream justice system with diversion processes for both youth and adults.
We looked at the Dawson Community Group Conferencing Society. Again, Dawson Community Group Conferencing is a non-profit society and has received funding since 1998. It is an alternative justice process that uses facilitating diversion processes based on the family group conferencing model and receives referrals for both adults and youth from the RCMP, the Crown, the school as part of their school disciplinary system, and from the community.
We have a number of community justice activities in Whitehorse. The Department of Health and Social Services is a partner in the Whitehorse community justice projects. In Whitehorse, there are three community justice initiatives: the Kwanlin Dun community justice program, the Tän Sakwäthän First Nation youth diversion project, and the Youth Justice Panel.
It's just a good demonstration of just how many there are. There are probably 11 different community-based programs that are running. At the present time the Yukon government and the federal government are currently working on an evaluation of various community justice projects. We anticipate that the evaluation will be completed in the fall, at which time I would see no problem with sharing the evaluation with everyone in the territory.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister listed somewhere between eight and 11 different projects or programs that fall under the community justice restorative justice programs. He indicated there was one that was being evaluated. Is the whole program being evaluated? It would make sense to me that if you have that many projects going, it would be good to find out what is working and in which communities, and to share those best practices. What works in one community doesn't always work in the other, but you can learn through those evaluations and we can make the system work better for many communities. I only heard the minister indicate on one that there was an evaluation that was going on that would be complete this fall, but he listed a whole bunch of different programs and initiatives happening in many different communities. I would just like to see the program evaluated as a whole, and I know that requires a bunch of smaller evaluations or evaluations of individual programs. What I'm looking for is this: in the big picture in the Yukon - I'm not talking about land - and what happens in corrections and justice in communities, can we share that with other communities? Are there some things that some communities are doing better than others and can they be shared to the advantage of everyone in the Yukon ? That would be the purpose of that overall evaluation.
If the minister can answer that, I would be pleased.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In response to the member opposite, it is true that there is one being evaluated right now by the Kwanlin Dun First Nation community, I believe. We have to be appreciative of the fact that each community is different. Each justice initiative in each community will be different; therefore, I believe they will all have to be evaluated separately.
The process has started, and I believe the intention is to eventually do an evaluation of all these different justice programs throughout the territory - within the communities and in the Whitehorse area. That is a good thing, because that's how a program becomes strong -evaluating it and correcting the weaknesses in the program and providing support for the strengths.
The member opposite did touch on a very important area, and that is the sharing of information. I believe that that is how a community and the territory will grow very strong - to be able to share the successes with each other - what worked and what didn't. For example, the safer communities legislation being mirrored from other provinces was a plus for the Yukon, and it can be a plus right across Canada. Though on a smaller scale, the different community justice programs can also mirror each other when things are working well.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that and look forward to seeing that evaluation in the fall. I'm encouraged by his willingness to see that sharing of information among communities, to make things move more smoothly and make things better in every community in the Yukon .
I asked this before, but maybe I just didn't get all the details from the minister. I understand the support the government provides for community justice committees, but can he point to specific areas of training that are being offered? Are there conflict resolution courses being made available in communities? I know they're made available at the college through the Justice Institute of British Columbia. Are those types of programs being made available in communities - like counselling training - to support the groups that are doing this work in the various communities throughout the Yukon ?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, in response to the member opposite, I can share with the member that over the last two or three years, the department has been doing joint training courses with courtworkers and different people who work within the justice system. However, the bigger picture that this government is looking at is capacity building.
Next to building a new facility tomorrow morning would be the need to build capacity within the Justice staff. I believe Minister Cotler, when he was up here, said something very interesting, and it applies to the Yukon and right across Canada - was the overrepresentation of First Nation persons in the correctional system and the under-representation of First Nation persons who work within the justice system.
Right now, again I take the member toward the proposed northern institute of justice because that is critical to being able to deal with all the shortcomings of the different justice workers in this territory. Adequate training is important. I believe the days of actually being able to just take people off the street and train them in the facility may have worked in its time, but it is now time to look into it a little further and to make the necessary improvements of, again, looking at northern institute of justice, because that is where we are going to be able to really support the staff within the Justice department.
As I stated earlier, in other areas, this project has a budget total of $218,000 for the current and next fiscal year, which includes federal, territorial and departmental contributions. This initiative is taken very seriously.
The three territories want to work in collaboration on this issue. We also had a request from Labrador to be a part of this, so it's something the Yukon has initiated and the rest of the northern territories are right on board with it and see it as a real value, similar to how the Yukon does.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister talked about building capacity and the Department of Justice staff. What I was actually questioning is that it's the people in communities, the volunteers who work in the communities with the people who travel around with the courts.
In a community context, there are consequences. There's healing and there are consequences and there are things set up through community justice, through some of the circle sentencing, and there needs to be monitoring. Even if it's done through the conventional court system, there is monitoring of conditional sentences in communities.
We live in Whitehorse and have adequate resources here to do that type of monitoring, but is some of that monitoring done in communities by volunteers?
Does the department send people out to do that and participate? Surely there are people in communities who are doing some of this work: participating in circle sentencing and doing some monitoring and assisting in the counselling of some of these people. That's the idea behind the community justice committees. It is my understanding that they were comprised of volunteers with support from the Department of Justice. That's the type of training that I was asking about - more so than what the minister was talking about. He was talking about training for staff. I like the idea of $35,000 being spent for a feasibility study of a northern justice institute -- I think that's probably money well spent. I know that the college does do some justice programming in the northern studies program. Criminology courses are part of the curriculum at the college, but a northern justice institute sounds like a good start to maybe getting some programming that will lead to the northern university that the leader of the official opposition was talking about today. I view the northern justice institute as a positive thing, but I would like to turn the minister back to community-based volunteer training, which was where I was going. I would like to know what the Department of Justice is doing in communities such as Mayo, Carmacks, Faro, Ross River and Old Crow.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I point out for the member opposite that one of the areas of concern for all people in the territory is that we have a very sparse population here. There will be some programs in some communities, but they're not all going to match those of the City of Whitehorse, for example. However, that doesn't stop people in the community from becoming involved and being a part of the solution within their communities.
First Nations, for example, in every community, I believe, play a big role in justice. I believe the mayors and councils are quite interested in what's happening within their communities in the justice area. There are a lot of individual citizens who are actively involved in justice issues.
I can speak from experience on that issue. I was involved as an advocate for many, many years - not a paid position, but volunteering my time to work with some of the individuals who were constantly in conflict with the law. The government does bring all of these workers and volunteers together annually to do some program training. So it's not like they're totally left out in the cold.
Again, I believe a lot of the individuals who are really interested in this area have taken it upon themselves to come and get some training that would benefit them in their home community, because eventually this does lead to a job, especially within First Nations. If a First Nation person is interested enough to take some training so that they can come back to their community, in some instances it may be on a volunteer basis, but it does improve the chances of one getting a full-time job working in the justice area, whether it's as a support worker for victims or an adult support worker for the courts or monitoring those individuals who do have a conditional sentence. I know, as a community worker in Kwanlin Dun, part of my job was to monitor some individuals who were on conditional sentences.
It is basically a community effort. I believe the government could probably do more. I wouldn't say it's 100 percent perfect, but the attempts are still there to keep people involved in training who are working in the justice area.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that answer. In some communities, there are volunteers who are doing this monitoring. He said they get together once a year. They work in the community justice system. Some of them are counsellors, some fulfill various tasks supporting the community through this process, and some training is provided.
He said we could always do better, and I agree. We can always do better.
I'm glad the minister actually picked up on something I mentioned in my volunteer tribute the other day. I said that volunteering can actually lead to employment, because you can learn a lot. Volunteering, in some ways, is training in itself. I've learned a lot through volunteering to teach kids through Skills Canada and Women Exploring Trades and Technology. I've learned what works and what doesn't work.
It has actually been good for me to do that volunteer work. I don't know if it will ever lead to any employment, but there's always hope. You never know what will happen after this career is over.
What I'd like to know is regards those people who are in communities and who freely give of their time to support their communities and to work with the people in their communities - what is the government doing to formally recognize them? I think that they play a valuable role in our communities. They fulfill a very necessary void where government can't be there all of the time to do these things. I think that it is important that the government recognize them in some way, whether it is through an honorarium or whether it is done through the local project. Does the government recognize these people in some way?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, some of the workers who are in the communities are paid workers. For example, the community justice coordinators are paid positions.
I believe one of the strengths of the communities and of those involved in working in justice is the fact that they recognize their own community workers. They recognize their own people for what they do. I know I've received a couple of certificates from the justice program at Kwanlin Dun for my contribution to volunteer work within the program. I've also been recognized for my work as an employee. Sometimes I think it is not so important what the government does; what's equally important is what the people in the community do to recognize the individuals. I take my hat off to them. I know of a few different communities who do have special recognition nights for people who have contributed to the community.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to ask the minister some questions about probation and probation services. I have asked some of these questions before, and I guess the object here is to see how much progress has been made since the last time we had an opportunity to discuss this. In order to try to move this along a little bit faster, I am going to try to ask a few questions at the same time.
I would like to ask about probation officers and if we currently have any First Nation probation officers on staff. If the minister has numbers of how many probation officers we have and where we are at as far as gender equity and representation by First Nations, I would be interested in that and whether or not the government has any kind of affirmative action program for probation officers. How many probation officers are there working in communities? If there are not, how are people who are on probation served in communities and how regular is that service?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The answer to the first question of the member opposite is yes, we do have a First Nation probation worker. Of course there could always be improvement in this area. In a sense, it's very difficult to pick someone to be a probation officer. Of course, they have to have the interest, which again leads to the northern justice institute and its importance.
Quite often with First Nations, a lot of us don't even know what we want to do to start with. There are several reasons why that is. It's quite common for people to become interested in a trade, for example, or a profession by working with the individuals. I believe the interest is here in the Yukon for First Nations to start getting involved with working in the justice area. It's a matter of being able to provide that infrastructure for the training to take place.
I guess that was the basis for all the discussions around the northern justice institute and the importance of being able to initiate that and get it started.
The other question the member asked - and I think I may have already answered it - focused on the training aspect and the capacity building. I won't go over exactly the same thing I just stated, but it's important to note that the government of the day does recognize that capacity is a problem in the communities. I guess the ideal situation would be to provide full services in every community, like what is provided in Whitehorse, but that's not feasible.
However, that's not to say there can't be improvements in that area. Whether it's this government or another government, there have to be improvements in that area. There's no way around it. One must ensure the safety of everyone in the territory - not only in Whitehorse, but in every community.
Yes, there is room for improvement.
With regard to probation workers in the communities, there's one part-time in Dawson and one full-time in Watson Lake. As it stands right now, other probation workers make regular visits to the other communities that need their services.
The government is trying to meet the demand the best it can right now.
Mr. Cardiff: I don't think much has changed, from my recollection. I'm not working from the notes I had from the previous session, but it sounds pretty similar to the last time.
It's important for the safety of communities that people on probation are monitored. I don't know if there are other ways of doing it, or whether or not you can involve the RCMP in some of these activities to ensure breaches of probation are caught.
The next question I have for the minister is this: does he have any statistics on charges being laid for breaches of probation? What is the recidivism rate for breach probationers? On average, how many times do they breach their probation? I'll leave it at that for now.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: We don't have statistics of that nature with us here, but we will see if we can obtain that information.
Mr. Cardiff: On average, in Whitehorse , I imagine that a probation officer can visit on a fairly regular basis. Maybe what we need is a breakdown of what happens in Whitehorse and what happens in various communities. I would like to know with what frequency probationers are visited by a probation officer. I know it is probably different from one community to another, but what I'm looking for is an average of how many visits probation officers make.
I have one other question regarding probations. I have raised this before in the context of the tragic situation that happened in the Northwest Territories . Have any new measures been taken for the security of probation and parole officers here in the territory when they are visiting and, if so, what are those measures? I found out that we do have First Nation probation officers, and I am assuming that we have female probation officers as well. How is the government providing for the safety of these people when they are making their visits, and specifically when they are checking up on parolees who have a violent history?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: For the information of the member opposite, probation is done case by case, based on the order, so it would be very difficult to say how many visits were done in a community, for example. The safety of probation workers is paramount for this government, and it should be for any government. We know that a very tragic event happened to a probation worker in the Northwest Territories, and that sparked the department to really review policies based on how probation workers deal with the very high-risk clients and what the security risks are. The department looked at some of the policies and reviewed the policies with regard the safety of the probation worker.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that. I was specifically looking for what actions are being taken. Are we sending two people to the door? Are we sending them with a police escort?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, that all hinges on the assessment of the individual who is going to be visited. Security is number one. If the individual is a very, very high risk and has the potential to do harm, then one person is obviously not going to go to a secluded place to check on that individual. There will be necessary steps taken to ensure the safety of the individual. Again, that's going to hinge on the assessment and the risk assessment, whether it's a very high-risk assessment or a minimum assessment. So it's going to be a judgement call based on the individual.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to ask the minister some brief questions about the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. There were a lot of recommendations in the corrections consultation dealing with the Whitehorse correctional facility, but one of the top recommendations was to build a new jail as soon as possible. So the first question I'd like to ask the minister is this: can he tell us how much money is in the budget? We were told there was $1 million, I believe it was, in the budget. How much of that is going to actually go to the design of a new facility? And at the end of the day, are we going to have a design for a facility where the ground can be broken next spring? Are we going to be able to get to the tender stage soon so that we can move ahead with this project?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Aside from one staff position as a project manager, the rest of the money will go toward the design of the infrastructure and the implementation of the recommendations.
A building advisory committee has already been established and has had a preliminary meeting. The building advisory committee will be composed of representatives from the Department of Justice, including staff at WCC, the CYFN and other First Nation representatives, and community members.
As you know, Mr. Chair, our government has allotted $1 million to begin the process of replacing WCC. The building advisory committee will review the recommendations from the corrections consultation and develop concrete design options for a new correctional centre.
We do not want to simply build a warehouse to house offenders, and this was the reason we embarked upon the corrections consultation. The building advisory committee will be asked to think creatively about how best to build a new facility so it reflects the recommendations and philosophy of the corrections consultation final report.
Mr. Cardiff: It looks like we're a way from seeing a facility or facilities being built. It looks like the minister will basically wait for the building advisory committee to bring forward their recommendations as to what should be built. I'm not sure the minister will be able to answer a lot of these questions, because he's probably going to defer to the building advisory committee, but here we go.
I'm going to ask a number of questions. I'll try to go slow and the minister can make notes.
What I would like to know is whether or not there has been a decision made on where the new institution is going to be located. Has there been a decision on whether or not there would be a separate remand unit? What are the minister's thoughts - has there been any decision given to using land-based programs in conjunction with the programs that are offered at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member answered his own question. It will be directed to the building advisory committee and to the group that is coming back with options. Even the location is something that will be coming back as a recommendation. I believe the individuals working on this project will be able to provide good, solid recommendations on all of these areas that the member opposite just raised.
I believe that the goal at this time is to start the design by fall.
Mr. Cardiff: I'm glad I was able to answer my own question. That's always helpful.
Can the minister provide the terms of reference, the work plan and the timelines that the building advisory committee is working under?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe I could take the member opposite's request under advisement, and I will add, though, that this is all going to be covered in the implementation framework plan.
Mr. Cardiff: If the minister could provide the names of the community people and officials who are on that building advisory committee as well, it would be helpful.
This is something that I'm not sure the minister or the government would leave to the building advisory committee, although you never know, they may. I would like to know whether or not the minister or the government is considering using a public/private partnership arrangement for the building of a new correctional facility?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: That's kind of far down the road. We basically haven't reached that stage to even talk about P3s or how it will be constructed.
Mr. Cardiff: That seems a little hard to believe. We're talking about a facility that's likely to cost - well, we don't know what it's going to cost, but probably in the neighbourhood of $20 million. And the minister is saying the government isn't thinking about where the funding is going to come from?
This was supposed to be the party that had a vision and was planning for the future of the Yukon , and they're not giving any consideration as to where they're going to pull $20 million from? We know they can pull $3 million out of a hat for a railway study; we know they can pull money out of the hat for all kinds of things. I'm not saying these things aren't needed - pension plans and all that are definitely needed and you need to have the money, but they don't put the money in the budget.
I hope they're doing more serious planning about where the money is going to come from. This is a substantial piece of money we're going to need to build this facility. We saw what it cost to build the athletes village, and the government managed to find money to do that. In a lot of ways, that seemingly came out of nowhere.
We're looking at $20 million or better for a new correctional facility, and the minister isn't looking down the road at the future plans of the government for where that money will come from.
I don't know - maybe he is leaving it to the next government to find that money and making commitments for future governments, but it seems to me that he should be thinking about that down the road. To say that is something they are going to deal with in the future - I would think he would now be making his case for the need of that to the Minister of Finance.
I would like to know a few things about programming currently available at the jail. I know the minister provided some of that information earlier and I know he will respond to the funding issue. I would like to hear from him on that, but I would also like to hear from him about programming that is currently available at the correctional facility. He talked about that.
I'd like to know specifically what counselling or treatment is referred by corrections officers for inmates returning to their communities. These are people who are in the correctional facility but are returning to their communities. I am just wondering what role corrections officers play in recommending counselling or alcohol and drug treatment and what programming is made available to inmates and whether or not the success of that is monitored by officials at the correctional facility.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, I'd like to start out by making some comments to respond to what the member opposite said - that the government is going forward with no plan on monies and how to build the infrastructure. Well, I believe it's a responsibility of the government of the day to be able to put a budget together, and we have demonstrated over the past four years that we are capable of doing that - for example, the capital projects like the building of a new Carmacks school, like renovations to the Porter Creek Secondary School. I mean, these are multi-million-dollar projects that are being constructed, and to be able to say that, two years from now, the government will put exactly this amount of money into something would have to wait until that particular time. I believe that it would be virtually impossible for any government to second guess and to try to estimate a cost of an infrastructure that they have not begun to design yet. A lot of those costs are going to be directly connected to the infrastructure that's going to be recommended for construction. So until that time comes, which will definitely be in the next mandate, the government will have to deal with that cost when it arises. I'm quite confident that the government will be able to provide the funds necessary to build an infrastructure, keeping in mind that, say, for the sake of argument, the infrastructure was going to cost - well, say, $12 million, it's going to take three and a half years to build. That's $3 million a year that has to be budgeted toward that final cost.
It will be covered one way or the other. It is a given that if you are going to build infrastructure, you will be putting up the monies to do it. That was just a hypothetical example - it's not the true picture - but it is basically how it is going to be constructed. The money will be allotted for it, and that's a given, one way or another.
With regard to people who are on probation and going to communities, we have to understand that if they are on probation, the mental health worker at Whitehorse Correctional Centre is able to be a part of the treatment and one of the probation worker's resources.
We also have to realize that sometimes when a person leaves Whitehorse Correctional Centre, they no longer have any commitments to anyone and they are free. We want to keep that in mind.
Mr. Cardiff: I have one more question on the funding arrangements for the new correctional facility. Is the government making any representation to the federal government or requests to the federal government for assistance in building the new correctional facility?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I had the opportunity to go to an architect in Ottawa and sit down and talk to them about a correctional facility. I was quite impressed by all the different samples he had to show me of what a correctional facility could look like. It was very rewarding, because in my mind I always thought a correctional facility was only one building built in one design right across Canada. However, he proved to me that there are innovative ways to build a facility. I was really impressed with the different styles and the different kinds of facilities that would be built to meet certain conditions.
So it's not just a given that you have to build a big warehouse and lock people up. They proved that through their design system. The discussions we have had with the federal government indicated they were prepared to offer technical advice. Further down the road there is going to have to be some more in-depth discussion with the federal government, and I believe that will take place.
Mr. Cardiff: So the minister is indicating that the architects work for the federal government. He said he went to Ottawa and met with architects and that the federal government has agreed to provide technical advice, but what he's also saying is that future governments may want to approach the federal government about some sort of shared funding arrangement to provide for a new facility. Is that what I heard him say?
The minister also mentioned earlier that he met with the previous federal Justice minister. Did he make any representations to Mr. Cotler about the need for funding for this facility?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In my earlier comments, I stated that I had met with individuals in Ottawa . Their responsibility was to work with architects and to come up with innovative designs for correctional facilities, and they offered to give the Yukon government advice on a design that would meet the needs of the Yukon .
The member mentioned different ministers we talked to in the past. They are no longer in government, so it will take a whole new series of discussions about corrections with this new government.
I want to also state that corrections falls under public safety, not justice. If my memory is correct, Stockwell Day may now be the individual with whom we'll have to have discussions on this issue.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for pointing that out.
I would like to go back to the programming. The minister indicated earlier that there is money in the budget for support for offenders with FASD. I am wondering what is currently being done for those who are addicted and have substance abuse problems, and for those who are mentally handicapped or mentally ill. Is there special programming available for them?
The other thing I would like to know - it could be across the board or specifically related to these other categories of inmates - whether or not the staff at the correctional facility or people in Justice encourage the families of inmates to become involved with the rehabilitation plan for inmates?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, at the present time a Management Board submission has been developed to request funds for a community court. The community court is going to be responsible for dealing with those individuals who are diagnosed with potential FASD for FAE. It is going to deal with anyone who may have mental health issues.
The family court will deal with individuals who have drug and alcohol addictions, so we aren't waiting totally for the implementation of all the recommendations. We are actively moving on some of those recommendations. The government and the Department of Justice had already started this process before the recommendations were even given to us, because the government did see a need to address this issue in a different manner. I know one of the strong recommendations from the consultation committee was to begin looking at ways to have family involvement, as the member opposite mentioned. That is going to be part of the process of the whole justice reform - to start addressing some of those specific issues. There are numerous recommendations for those areas.
Mr. Cardiff: Is this the recommendation about the problem-solving court then? Is that what we are basically talking about when he talked about the family court? Is this the same as the problem-solving court?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: What I talked about was the community court. This was an issue that was brought forward sometime back through the problem-solving court. The name has just changed from problem-solving court to community court. The family involvement has really surfaced from the consultation committee's meetings and tours of the communities. A lot of the communities and citizens in Whitehorse felt that there had to be more family involvement and innovative ways to reunite families and give support - even family members giving support to other family members.
It's an initiative that is going to be part of the planning for the new facility.
Mr. Cardiff: I remember tabling a motion asking the minister to look into a problem-solving court and report back to the House prior to this sitting, and the motion was removed from the Order Paper because we ended up in the sitting and the minister didn't respond. I'm glad to hear that something has been done on this. I'd like to know what amount of resources has been put toward the family court, or problem-solving court. What type of resources is the department putting in that area?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I will make that amount public knowledge after it has been approved by Management Board.
Mr. Cardiff: So that's money that's not in the budget. Again, the government is spending more money. We can look forward to a special warrant on probably May 25 so they can pay for all the other things that aren't in this budget.
I'd like to ask the minister one more question specific to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and that's about staffing levels. There has been a lot of controversy of late - and I've talked to the minister about this - on the staffing levels at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and the shift schedules. I hope the government - whether it's the minister's department or the Public Service Commission - can get together with the representatives of the employees and work something out that will be beneficial to all.
My understanding is that part of the problem is that there are staff working at the correctional facility who are not considered full-time employees. That's part of the problem. We are using casual or on-call auxiliaries to fill positions at the Correctional Centre. The problem is that they do not receive the full benefits. They do not accrue holidays or get all the benefits that a full-time employee would get, such as sick days, a pension and things like that. These things don't accrue at the same rate. In some instances, they don't accrue at all.
What is being done to ensure that there are more full-time people employed at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre? This isn't just something that is only happening at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. This government has had a tendency to do this in several departments through attrition. The workforce is disappearing. They are replacing them with more entry-level people and employees who are not full-time employees and do not have the same benefits as other employees. I think this is important. I think that in an institution as important as the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, we are looking for employees who are happy in their jobs and feel that they have some stability, are appreciated and have all the benefits. I think that the institution will run better, and the inmates will be better served if we have more full-time people working there.
I am not saying that there isn't a role for on-call auxiliaries to come in for backfill when there are illnesses or if people are away for training or holidays, but the object should be to recruit and hire as many full-time positions as possible.
So, what is the minister doing? I asked this question before last spring, and I am interested in comparing the answer he will give me this year to the answer given to me last year.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The department is working hard to reduce reliance on auxiliary on-call positions. I am told that we are in the process of converting three auxiliary on-call positions to indeterminate corrections officer positions. It is our hope this will also assist us in improving scheduling patterns and getting the kinks out of the new schedule. The government realizes that we need to fill those permanent positions. In the same breath, we also realize that there will probably always be the need for auxiliary on-call workers at the correctional facility.
Mr. Cardiff: It's good to note there is some movement in this area and that they are moving toward hiring more full-time people. I hope that will address some of the problems. I don't have all the staffing figures for the facility, and I don't profess to know what is best for the facility, but I do know that from what I've heard when talking to people who work at the facility, there has been some abuse in the past of the use of auxiliary on-calls. I hope the minister is steering the department in the right direction to stop that and ensure there are an adequate number of full-time employees at the correctional facility.
I'm going to move on from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, and I would like to ask the minister some questions about policing. Could the minister give us the current value of the contract with the RCMP?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The contract is valued at $12,073,000.
Mr. Cardiff: In the documents that were provided by the officials at the briefing - and I thank them for that; it was really helpful to us - there were some RCMP contract increases. Some of that was to do with First Nation policing and the tripartite agreement between the Liard First Nation, the federal government and the territorial government. I am wondering what the minister's view on this is.
This is the only agreement of its kind in existence here in the territory. I don't know about other jurisdictions. I'm wondering if the minister supports the expansion of this type of policing agreement whereby self-governing First Nations have the ability to participate in policing decisions.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to state to the member opposite that this is an excellent way to work in collaboration with First Nations. However, under the current government policies, we cannot expand on this any more.
Mr. Cardiff: Is that under the current territorial government or federal policy?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It's under the federal government policy framework; however, the Yukon government is actively working to have that changed so we can expand, but that has yet to take place.
Mr. Cardiff: I encourage the minister to continue to do that. I think it's important that communities play a role in how they're policed and that the community's expectations are communicated, because I believe there is a role for the community to play in the policing in their community.
A similar question for the minister is this: given the federal government's reluctance to proceed in this way, are there any plans to establish an independent police commission here in the territory to provide for public input into policing issues?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: There are no plans at this time for the police complaints process, but this was raised at the police review that took place for the three territories. We have yet to get a report from that review.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, that leads to my next question. Where is that review? I believe it was promised in February. I recall hearing from the person who did it that it would be available in February. We are now well into April. April is almost finished and we have yet to see the results of that policing review. I understand that it is a kind of pan-northern approach and there are other jurisdictions involved, but it seems to me that, if it was promised in February, we are well behind where it was supposed to be.
I have one other question with regard to policing that I have raised with the minister before. I am just wondering whether or not the department monitors the use of Tasers by police officers.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to the police review and the reports, it is a federal process and we have no control over it. The federal government is in charge of the contract. There has been a switch in government. The Yukon government is equally interested in seeing the results of that review. The Yukon policing review is being led by a consultant provided by the federal government and completed with the assistance of Yukon's Department of Justice.
A report summarizing what was heard during the Yukon policing review is expected to be released in the late spring of 2006. We are anxiously awaiting that report.
With regard to the Taser guns, the government doesn't monitor the use of them, but we could have discussions with the RCMP about the use of taser guns in the Yukon and perhaps get back to the member opposite.
Chair: It's the normal time for our mid-afternoon recess. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We will continue with general debate on the Department of Justice.
Mr. Cardiff: I have a few more questions to do with court services and judges. I am just wondering if there is any sort of planned training - or if there is a training regime in place - for Yukon Territorial Court judges to bring them up to speed on best practices, especially when dealing with things like addictions and family violence? We passed some changes to the Family Violence Prevention Act, and I will have a few questions about that later. I am just wondering if there is any training provided to judges.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The answer to the overall question is yes, they do get training. They get regular training through the National Judicial Institute. They get one month of leave per year for training. They also quite actively work with the DVTO to learn about addictions. And I believe Judge Lilles has always been very active in trying to look at things differently and understand addictions and how they relate to, and correspond with, criminal activities.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that answer. That's good to know.
In the budget there was - I'm not sure if it was an increase, or I think it might be a new initiative, the family law information centre. It's not a duplication of services, but it's my understanding this is largely to do with maintenance enforcement and other aspects of family law. I'm just wondering whether there are any plans to expand this.
I'm going to try to combine this all into one question here.
I guess my thoughts on the matter are - if it's looking at the information, it is actually an enhancement to the maintenance enforcement program, to provide resources to individuals dealing with those types of family law issues.
We have another office or organization - Yukon Public Legal Education Association - and it's located at the college. I'm wondering if there are economies of scale, and the fact that there are some other aspects of family law - like divorce, or access to custody issues, grandparents' rights issues - and whether there was any thought given to expanding the family law information centre. Why isn't this considered part of the YPLEA office - or combining the two?
I think there are some advantages to having the YPLEA office at the college, but I also think that there is some advantage to having the YPLEA office located closer to where the public can access it. I'm not saying that the college isn't accessible but, for some people, it is not as accessible as it would be if it were located downtown - closer to where the courts are located and where people would be going for that information. It might be more accessible to people who are using the court system if it was located downtown.
I've tried to roll that up into one question combining information about the family law information centre and YPLEA.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: That question went around the block a little bit there. This is a new program. It started by having some citizens off the street come into my office for discussions with me around some of the complications they were running into with regard to understanding how the justice system really worked and how they could have access to the whole process. They were having difficulties trying to understand the legalities on their own.
This program developed from that. It is a new program. There is a good possibility it will grow in the future just because of the nature of it. With regard to YPLEA, there are some financial benefits to having it at the college. For example, the rent is free, and that's a plus to help out with that particular initiative. A lot of phone calls are dealt with through the college.
I think that's basically all I have to say about that particular issue; it's a financially viable option.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to thank the minister for that answer.
Looking at the budget of the legal education office, the government spends approximately $85,000 a year on that. I believe that is the figure. That is what my notes say, although I don't have that right in front of me. It is the figure that I recall. Looking at the recoveries from the Government of Canada, we get $70,000 back. The Government of Canada is largely funding this initiative. I think that there is some value to making the services more available to the public. The office is not an 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. operation, five days a week. I am wondering whether or not there is any appetite on the government's part to supplement these amounts and increase the level of service to the public. It is quite important.
I see the advantage of having it at the college. There are students at the college who are enrolled in criminology courses. It could be used as a resource for them as well. I am not sure whether or not that actually happens. It does make sense that it would be helpful to them to be able to access information like that for their studies. I am just wondering whether or not the minister has any thoughts about increasing the Yukon government's share and expanding that organization.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At the present time, this falls under access to justice and that involves legal aid, courtworkers and YPLEA. At the time the negotiations are completed, it can be determined how much funding would be going to each one of these initiatives. Until that negotiation process is over we won't be able to say whether or not there can be more funds put into YPLEA.
Mr. Cardiff: That leads into the next question I have about revenues. If you look at the 2004-05 actual revenue from Canada and what we are forecasting for 2005-06 and the estimate for 2006-07, there is a reduction of about $80,000 for legal aid. I know there is an access to justice issue. There has been a bit of a strain put on the legal aid system in the last year or so with the number of high-profile cases that actually required legal aid.
The minister indicated that there are negotiations going on. I am just wondering if the minister could update us as to the status of those negotiations and how close we are to completing those negotiations with the federal government and whether or not we are likely to see that funding reinstated.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: For the information of the member opposite, I would say that all legal aid contracts across Canada have expired, and all provinces and territories are working hard to get the federal government back at the table to negotiate this funding agreement. This is a priority over the next few weeks for this government.
Mr. Cardiff: I'd like to ask the minister a question about the substance abuse action plan and the safer communities legislation. This is a question that came up in the briefing and I'm wondering if the minister has given any thought to this. This is also a budgeting question about money that's not in the current budget.
I had the opportunity to attend the information session that was held at the High Country Inn earlier this year with regard to the safer communities legislation. Officials who were there from Saskatchewan and Manitoba indicated there are some start-up costs with regard to capital equipment and that some of this includes monitoring and listening devices, photo surveillance equipment and that type of thing, as well as vehicles to put that in. It doesn't appear in the budget that that money has been allotted.
My recollection is that the enforcement unit under the safer communities legislation - or the inspector or director - would be started in the fall. How do they intend to start this up without having all the infrastructure in place? Does the minister have more solid figures around what it's actually going to cost? We weren't able to obtain that information.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The department is working very hard at this time to produce a Cabinet submission to be approved for the capital costs and the operating costs for this safer communities legislation.
Mr. Cardiff: I'm sure that we'll be hearing more on this from the minister as developments occur. I'm sure there will be a press release or funding announcement or, if nothing else, we'll be able to find the details in a special warrant soon to be delivered.
I'd like to ask the minister just a few questions around the Family Violence Prevention Act. We had the opportunity last fall to debate amendments to the Family Violence Prevention Act, and I'd like to know what changes have resulted statistically - what has changed since we made those changes to the act last fall? Has there been any change in the use of the Family Violence Prevention Act?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It is much too early to really be able to tell what changes may have occurred to do with the act. Quite frankly, there should be a year or so given before we look at whether or not any changes have occurred.
Mr. Cardiff: I am sure we had this discussion when we were debating that piece of legislation. I know there are issues of privacy for the clients around this, and we talked about whether or not anything has been done in this area as far as client satisfaction goes. I am wondering about the experiences of the people who use this legislation - and that could include the RCMP - but mostly the people who are applying for the emergency intervention orders and those people who are being served the emergency intervention orders. How well is this working? I think it's important to evaluate it and see just how well it's working.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, we do not track the individual clients who use this, but we do know, through the family violence prevention unit, there are a number of individuals who may use it, and we do have meetings with the RCMP to look at any kinds of improvements that might be available.
Mr. Cardiff: Does the minister have any statistics on the recidivism rate for violent offences by males and by females after family violence prevention unit counselling? Is there any sort of follow-up as part of the process after the counselling?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The DVTO did have an evaluation. What came of the report was that the reduced recidivism rate was very successful. We can give a copy of that report to the member opposite, if he so chooses.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for the offer and look forward to receiving that.
I have another question regarding the Family Violence Prevention Act. During our discussions last fall, I wanted to try to broaden the act a little bit. I understand what the intent was - there was some clarification provided in the amendments, and there was the idea of including psychological and emotional abuse as grounds for making the protection orders or the emergency intervention orders. What I was looking for, I guess, was to try to broaden the range of the act - how it would be applied to people other than family members. It specifies in the act that for the emergency intervention order you pretty much have to be cohabiting and in a relationship with the person that you're filing the complaint against.
What I would like to know is what the minister is doing. What I was looking for is - there are situations where people are being abused - whether it's men or women or elders - and a lot of the time it is psychological and emotional abuse that they're suffering.
In the case of elders - these are people who have raised families and contributed to our community and the economic, social and cultural wealth of our territory - they are not being treated fairly. Sometimes it is by family members, but not direct family members. The act does not provide for that. I am wondering what the minister is doing through the Department of Justice to address some of the concerns I had last fall.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At the present time, the government is giving this some time in order to monitor it. We need to see how these changes are working in practice to determine if we have to broaden the scope of the act in the future.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to enter the debate. My colleague from Mount Lorne has asked a number of questions and has very thoroughly debated them with the minister. I won't repeat all of those questions; however, I do have some follow-up questions on some of the areas that have not yet been covered.
For example, in the budget before us there is an allotment to the Yukon Utilities Board. It is a nominal amount - $100,000. Usually the cost of a general rate application hearing is, as I understand it, in the neighbourhood of $750,000. Is the $100,000 intended to be - and let's make this multiple choice. Is it intended to (a) be a place marker in case of a general rate application; (b) fund the whole rate application; or (c) be strictly for the ongoing activities of the Yukon Utilities Board?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The answer to that multiple choice is “a”.
Ms. Duncan: Now I have to review the Blues, Mr. Speaker. I thank the minister for that moment of levity.
I take it that the minister is simply dealing with the Yukon Utilities Board, and I won't delve into the general rate application. We will save that for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
I've been doing a fair amount of reading lately on whistle-blower legislation. A number of provinces - Saskatchewan comes to mind - used amendments to their labour standards acts as the vehicle by which they introduced whistle-blower protection.
The Minister of Justice is responsible for all the legislative drafting that goes on; however, he isn't necessarily the sponsor of the bill. Does the minister have any role to play in the Yukon Party government developing - or not - whistle-blower legislation? For example, is the department looking at it as an amendment to the labour standards act or is there any legislative draft work going on at the moment?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In response to the member opposite, I would say that if the minister responsible brings it forward, it will be reviewed.
Ms. Duncan: Even though it has in some provinces been considered part of the Employment Standards Act - the Employment Standards Board is under Community Services now. Can I ask the minister whom his department would consider to be the sponsoring minister, then? Would it be Community Services, under labour standards, or the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: With regard to whistle-blower legislation, as the Member for Porter Creek South is aware, it's a matter that we feel is absolutely critical to be dealt with by an all-party committee.
With regard to our position on where that legislation should fall, we were not ruling out any option. As the member is aware, we've had discussions in the past about the all-party committee on moving forward on whistle-blower legislation. Unfortunately, we have had our issues in reaching a collective agreement to move forward with that. If and when we are able to do so and move forward with all three parties involved, we would be prepared to consider what the most appropriate options would be for putting in place whistle-blower legislation, including where that act should fall or whether it should become a portion of another act.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to thank the Minister of Health and Social Services for that answer. I appreciate him jumping into the debate on that.
Safer communities legislation - it's anticipated that it will be passed this session. We have some committee work to do on that as yet. I don't have the bill in front of me, Mr. Chair. Could the minister advise if it's intended that the safer communities legislation - assuming it's passed this session - be proclaimed prior to the election call? Therefore, would the funding, limited as it is to date in this budget, be expended on this legislation?
The reason I'm asking these questions - just background for the minister - is that when we went to the safer communities legislation presentation in January - and I again publicly thank the other provinces for loaning us their expertise - I did ask the following question: how much would be an estimate to fund the necessary infrastructure under the legislation? The investigator requires some technology tools, and there is a substantial cost - office, personnel and technical, a vehicle or access to the fleet vehicles, for example. I thought I heard the minister say there was some money in this budget for safer communities legislation.
From the briefing, I understood there was going to be an application for money under the substance abuse action plan money that's in Executive Council Office.
So, is there money in this budget for safer communities? How much is it? And is it anticipated to be spent as soon as the budget and the legislation is passed, provided the legislation is to be proclaimed?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: There is $104,000 within the existing budget to start the process. The department is actively preparing a Management Board submission to cover the rest of the costs.
Ms. Duncan: How is the $104,000 anticipated to be spent and what is the anticipated additional amount required to see the office up and fully operational, say a year from now? That's when the money would have to be spent. The minister mentioned a Management Board submission. I understood from the briefing that additional money was to come from the substance abuse action plan, so it won't require coming back to the House for that money unless the Management Board submission is for a supplementary instead of through the substance abuse action plan.
Could he clarify where that additional money is coming from, how much it is, and how it's anticipated to be spent?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: At the present time, there's no figure for cost established, but the department is actively working on pricing out the cost of the legislation to be implemented. One thing I can guarantee is that this legislation was brought forth in good faith and all parties are involved and it definitely will be funded.
Ms. Duncan: In deference to the minister's last comment, to ensure it is funded is our role in opposition. We absolutely support the legislation. I was at the public meetings. I asked the specific question. It is not doing our job as legislators to simply pass the legislation and not ensure that the government puts the resources in place to make it happen. That is why I asked these same questions when it came to the adult decision-making legislation. It was the same instance there. The minister and government have to make sure that the resources are there to carry out the intent of the legislation. It is our job in opposition to ask the questions and make sure they are there.
At the public meeting, when I asked about it, the initial cost estimate from the other provinces was about $500,000. The individual from Saskatchewan also pointed out that the legislation worked very well in rural Saskatchewan, as it does in rural Manitoba. There is a cost, of course, to the rural implementation of this legislation.
I appreciate that the department is still working on it. Do we have a ballpark estimate for the Yukon experience at all? Is it less than $1 million - more than $1 million? Can the minister be a bit more definitive than that he is still working on it?
Again, I would like to ask the minister how the initial $100,000 is going to be spent.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I can assure the member opposite the price is less than a million and more than a thousand. I have to say that I don't believe any government would go through the process of developing legislation with no intention of funding it. Obviously, this legislation is very dear to the hearts of everyone in the Yukon, and it is an all-party initiative that was brought forward. The government intended to fund the legislation, and I've given the member opposite the guarantee that it is going to be funded. That's about all I can do at this point in time.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it isn't all the minister can provide at this time. How is the initial $100,000 going to be spent? That's the first question. The second question: is the additional money coming from the substance abuse action plan monies set aside in Executive Council Office, or is it intended to come within a supplementary request? Which pot of money is the additional money coming from, and how is the initial funding going to be spent?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The $104,000 is basically for start-up costs and the rest will be obtained through a Management Board submission.
Ms. Duncan: A Management Board submission to what? The safer communities legislation or a supplementary budget? Management Board is going to meet - they dispense the money. The member opposite is a part of Management Board. Is the Management Board submission a request for money under the substance abuse action plan or is the Management Board request for supplementary funding for the Department of Justice?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, I will confirm to the member opposite that this legislation will definitely be funded. Through the Management Board submission we will get authorization from the Cabinet to cover the costs, whatever that might be. At this point in time, we don't really know exactly what the cost is, but when we do, we will be applying to Management Board to have that money put forward to cover this legislation.
Ms. Duncan: The minister - I don't understand why the minister is refusing to answer this question. It is very straightforward, and it's fundamental to the debate in this Legislature because we are approving, in this budget, the $2 million under the substance abuse action plan. We are not approving a supplementary budget, unless the House leader intends to bring us one in the next few days. So, it's important to me, as a member of the Legislature, and it's important to the listening public. We're voting on this legislation. Are we or are we not voting on the resources at the same time? Or is the next Legislative Assembly going to vote on the resources?
It's an important question, and I would appreciate the minister answering it. Is the money to come from the substance abuse action plan - monies that are set aside in a separate department - or are they going to apply for supplementary funding for the department? The minister has no doubt - and he's a member of Management Board - that he's going to get the money. I'm willing to accept that he won't give me further information as to how much money he's looking for. I'm not willing to accept that he won't identify where they are getting the additional money - or even where the request is going to be made. If they're not going to request it under the substance abuse action plan, then simply say so.
But the minister has a responsibility to answer this question. We're voting on the legislation; we're voting on this budget before the end of this session. It's highly unlikely there will be another session of the Yukon Party government. Where do they intend this money to come from?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The member was correct when she stated that the people in this Legislature will approve the legislation and it will go forward. I believe it is my job to get a cost figure together and take it to Management Board. It is the collective decision of the Management Board as to where the money will come from. It is not up to me alone as minister to tell the Finance minister where he should get the money for anything. The Finance minister and Management Board will make a decision. As I stated earlier, I can guarantee that this legislation will be implemented this fall and the financial part of it will be covered.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in the time that I have, I am not going to belabour this point with the minister. I find it unfortunate, to say the least, that the minister would not respond to that question. For a Yukon Party that promised - let's see - consultation and collaboration with members of the Legislature, that was a straightforward and simple question that was not only well within the realm of this budget debate, but also within the minister's portfolio and responsibility, both as Minister of Justice and as a member of Management Board.
It is truly unfortunate that such a straightforward question could not receive an answer this afternoon in Committee of the Whole debate.
The information was available, and all the ministers opposite have touted and made reference to this substance abuse action plan. If there is not enough money left within that plan to fund something as important to this Legislature as the safer communities legislation, and the minister has to go back for a supplementary to his budget, he should be willing to tell the Legislature and the Committee of the Whole. If that information is not revealed to us, we could find at the end of the debate on this budget that we've spent that $2 million in the substance abuse action plan 15 different times under all the different departments. I fail to understand why the minister won't answer that straightforward question. Where is the money coming from? There is a Management Board submission being prepared.
The minister talked a great deal about a number of initiatives in the department and he recently tabled the crime prevention and victim services trust fund. In that annual report, in their note to the financial statements, under contingent liability of that fund, page 7 of the report and note 6 to the financial statements, it indicates there's a reserve balance of $2 million. It also notes that part of this money - $825,000 - is federal Criminal Code fines and that there is not an agreement between the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada on these funds.
In other words, at any point in time, there's $2 million set aside in the reserve fund and, because there's no agreement between Canada and the Yukon, at any point in time Canada could say that $825,000 of that belongs to them and they would like it back.
Is this on the agenda for discussion with Canada? Are we working on reaching an agreement with them? Are there any initiatives in this regard or is it simply languishing?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In relation to the first part of the member opposite's debate here, I would say that once the dollars are approved for the safer communities legislation, I will make a note to the members opposite exactly where the dollars came from.
With regard to the victim services trust fund, there has been a verbal agreement with regard to these funds. The department is actively working on getting something formalized.
Ms. Duncan: The note to the financial statement says there is a verbal agreement; I was aware of that. However, it says there is not a known written agreement to legitimize this practice, and there may be a liability to the government. So the government has initiated discussions - what does the member mean by that? Has he written to or signed a letter to his federal counterpart saying, look, let's standardize this and deal with it, as opposed to having a note on our financial statements?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, we have an agreement in principle by both legal counsel from both sides, and it's merely the process now of formalizing it.
Ms. Duncan: Is the agreement in principle in writing, or is the minister making reference to this verbal agreement? Is there a written agreement in principle between the two governments?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: That's part of what is taking place right now - to get that agreement in writing.
Ms. Duncan: I would take it, then, that's part of the federal-provincial ongoing work that's being done at the officials' level. I appreciate that information.
The minister, in his other capacity as Minister of Education, is well aware of the Fraser Institute, which is not without its critics - put it that way. The Fraser Institute has recently come out with a report about Yukon schools, but there was also a report about the RCMP, and it's called Bureaucrats in Uniform: The Politicization and Decline of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It's not a very flattering report.
There were also several reports in Canadian news magazines, such as Maclean's, about the RCMP. A number of these articles have made references to federal underfunding of the RCMP and also concern over the ability of the RCMP to perform police services for provinces and, presumably, the territories as well, and to have the resources to be able to carry out all of their mandate.
My question for the minister is if this is on the federal/territorial/provincial ministers meeting agenda. Is it an agenda item? Has the minister made representations about the underfunding of the RCMP? Is there a concern about the resource level? There is a concern at the provincial level - particularly in small towns in British Columbia, as it was referenced in the Maclean's article. I don't have it at my fingertips, but it was a concern about the ability to staff and police small communities.
I am wondering if the minister is aware of these issues and what representations he has made on them. Has he done any follow-up?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: As you know, Mr. Chair, the Auditor General released a report on contract policing in November 2005. As outlined in the territorial policing service contract, the Yukon pays 70 percent of all costs for contract policing, so it is important to work with our contracting partners to ensure we get the best value for money. This report reflects the national picture of policing. The issues addressed in this report reflect national issues with contract policing throughout Canada , not just in the Yukon .
Among other issues, the report examined whether or not the RCMP is meeting its contract obligations. This report concluded that the RCMP generally does meet its contact obligations with regard to staffing. Some of the specific concerns identified in the Auditor General's report include the following: minimum standards of policing; the ability to backfill members on extended vacation or sick leave, especially in smaller detachments; the difficulties in maintaining standardized certification training; coaching of new graduates. Officials in the Department of Justice have met with senior RCMP officials at M Division to discuss each of the recommendations in the Auditor General's report.
On the specific issue of staffing levels, M Division advises that they are currently appropriately resourced. It is true that staffing levels at M Division have not increased over the past 10 years. Nevertheless, we have been told by M Division senior officials that they have sufficient staff to ensure the safety and security of Yukoners as well as ensure the safety and security of individual RCMP members.
There are 171 full-time equivalents employed in Yukon M Division - consisting of 118 regular RCMP members, three special constables, 20 civilian members and 36 employees in the public sector, which is equal to 30 full-time equivalents. These totals include division headquarters staff located in Whitehorse who provide enforcement of federal statutes, executive orders and protective policing services, and divisional administrative services. M Division is actively working with Department of Justice officials to develop a business case to clearly define the present standard of policing and to present options to refine service and resource levels.
The Yukon , after Northwest Territories and Nunavut, has the highest per capita number of police officers in Canada . With respect to some of the other recommendations in the Auditor General's report, M Division advises that they do not allow for long-term vacancies and that they are able to ensure that all new members receive the necessary field coaching. M Division has made significant progress in achieving compliance rates for all mandatory training, and this will continue to be a top priority of M Division training.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, as you can see, the Auditor General report that the member opposite was referring to was for Canada as a whole. We have carefully considered this report and discussed the report with senior RCMP officials here in Whitehorse and concluded that, while there is no doubt room for improvement, by and large the RCMP are sufficiently resourced.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for that thorough briefing note. I would like to be very blunt in my question to the minister. I wasn't referring to the Auditor General's report. I was referring to news reports, as well as other reports by non-government organizations. These reports state such things as: “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is Canada's national police service” - exactly what the minister said. “It's an organization of excellence.” - 84 or 90 percent of Canadians agree with that statement. But we're having news reports after news reports, and the Auditor General's reports, that are all telling Canadians that our national police force is underfunded.
We, in the Yukon , are on a 70:30 cost share. Let me bluntly ask the minister this question: in light of these news reports, are we going to get more money from Ottawa for the RCMP - and has he asked?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: As the report stated, M Division in Whitehorse believes they are adequately funded at this point in time. I would just say to the member opposite that this is a nationally funded organization and, right now, the contract with the Yukon goes until 2012. Negotiations are actively underway already for the upcoming contract.
Ms. Duncan: Are all the other provinces on a 70/30 cost-share as well, or does it vary from province to province?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: All provinces and territories that have agreements with the RCMP are 70:30.
Ms. Duncan: The current government has made several statements about crime and issues around criminal justice. When the current Government of Canada responds to this national outcry that our police force is underfunded, I would lobby the minister to ensure that the Yukon receives additional funding as well, in spite of the current situation where M Division believes they are adequately funded. If there is a national response, I would encourage the minister to not refer to his note that says, “We are all right, thanks,” but to ensure that we also get the additional resources.
The last question I have in this particular area of the Department of Justice - and then perhaps we could get through this part of the budget - has to do with the Human Rights Commission. There is no increase to the funding; however, we heard complaints in Question Period that it is anticipated that they will have more work to do. Does the minister anticipate an additional funding request from the Human Rights Commission?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would remind the member opposite that the Human Rights Commission is an arm's-length agency from Justice, and they report to the Legislature. I'll leave it at that.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that; however, they are funded through the Department of Justice. I'm just looking for the exact reference. They are a line item in the Department of Justice, I do believe. The funding amount was $489,000, and it doesn't show an increase. It's the same amount as 2005-06.
What I heard the minister say, then, is that given they are an arm's-length organization; he has not yet received a request for additional funds by the Human Rights Commission. Is that correct - he hasn't received a request yet?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I want to note for the member opposite that this government did increase the funding in 2005-06. We are working with the commission to discuss any funding issues that may be of concern to them. Seeing the time, Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Edzerza that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
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 stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:57 p.m.