Whitehorse , Yukon
Wednesday, April 26, 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 Administrative Professionals Week
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, as the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission and on behalf of all members of the Legislature, I rise to pay tribute to Administrative Professionals Week.
It is indeed a privilege to be able to pay tribute to those who serve on the front lines, delivering important public and private sector services for all Yukoners. The importance of administrative professionals in our day-to-day lives cannot be overstated. If you have ever had the benefit of speaking to someone with a smile and who wishes to help, you've come face to face with an administrative professional.
Without administrative professionals, our oil tanks would not be filled because schedules would not be kept, appointments at our health care providers could not be made, and access to the multitude of Government of Yukon services would not be possible. Just think, applications for the many programs offered by the Government of Yukon, whether that be FireSmart, community development fund and so forth, would not be made possible without administrative professionals. Yukoners would not be able to access these and many other important initiatives.
Administrative Professionals Week has become a major workplace observance. More than 475,000 administrative professionals are employed here in Canada. The event is celebrated worldwide, and we in the Yukon are especially pleased to pay tribute to administrative professionals for the valuable work they provide day in and day out.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
In recognition of Rotary Music Festival
Mr. Hardy: I rise to pay tribute to the Rotary Music Festival, which is celebrating its 38th year beginning last Friday, April 21 through Saturday, April 29.
Initially the Whitehorse Music Festival was established in 1969 by a committee of the Whitehorse Choral Society, including Margaret Ball, Del Doerksen, Henry Klassen and the late Joe Dendorfer.
As the festival grew, the Rotary Club of Whitehorse got involved and provided assistance, and by 1975 took over sole responsibility of the festival. Over the 38 years, the festival has grown from having 60 participants to about 1,200 participants today.
Mr. Speaker, music has a very powerful attraction to human beings. Some pieces provide inspiration, some pieces remind us of friends or family long past. Music can be emotional and bring us to tears. It transforms us, and who among us has not jumped up and danced and moved around when the right song gets us in the mood. It is something that touches us deeply.
Today's popular music has become, unfortunately, very deeply commercialized and that is regrettable. Less talented musicians with the right image, backed by huge global entertainment companies, are sold in music stores around the world. The mixed bag of globalization means that as the cultural distances close, we may be losing touch with the more authentic local scene, so let's thank Rotary Music Festival for providing a venue for Yukoners and for the amateur - after all, music isn't only the purview of the professional. Let's thank them for supporting the people's access to music, for fostering love of music, love of playing music in our youth, for unleashing young minds on creative self-expression.
Here's to 38 years of good music, and to quote a Canadian musical icon, Neil Young, “Long may you run.”
Mr. Mitchell: I rise today on behalf of my colleagues in the Legislature to pay tribute to the Rotary Music Festival. This year marks the 38th annual Rotary Music Festival. The festival was a two-day event when it started so many years ago, with about 60 participants and one adjudicator. Today the festival runs from April 21 to 28 with some 2,000 participants and an array of adjudicators from across Canada, with the gala concert on Saturday, April 29, at the Yukon Arts Centre.
The festival is a major event for our territory and a major event in the musical lives of the participants. Each one gains experience in public performance and a professional critique of their work. The participants are from many Yukon communities with performances that include piano, vocal, choral, bass, woodwind, string and guitar, and styles ranging from renaissance through contemporary to jazz, folk and pop.
Over the years, many participants have gone on to successful musical careers. Perhaps the best known examples are the members of the Peters Drury Trio.
We would like to thank the Rotarians who take the lead in organizing this event each year, and the dozens of other volunteers who make this event such a success. Every year the Rotary Club of Whitehorse and the Rotary Music Festival award a number of bursaries to a number of the participants. These bursaries help to support these students in their continuing music studies.
I urge all Yukoners to take time out of their busy schedules to take a moment and enjoy the performances of the many talented participants. By purchasing a festival program for $5, you not only get unlimited entrance to all the events, you also help support this great festival and all the participants.
For the final gala concert, juniors perform at 6:00 p.m. and seniors at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. Adult admission is $10 for one concert or $15 for both; students and seniors, $7 for one concert or $10 for both. Tickets are available at Hougen's box office and the Arts Centre box office.
Congratulations to all the individuals and groups who are participating. We wish you well in your future endeavours and thank you for sharing your talent with us.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker – Monsieur le Président:
Nous avons le plaisir et l'honneur, aujourd'hui, d'accueillir ici, à l'Assemblée législative, des visiteurs enthousiastes et passionnés.
Si nous pouvons souhaiter qu'ils se passionnent toujours plus pour la chose publique, nous pouvons déjà profiter de leur passion pour la langue française, qui contribue à l'enrichissement culturel du Yukon.
Monsieur le Président, distingués membres de l'Assemblée législative:
Permettez-moi, à titre de ministre responsable des services en français et à titre de francophile, de vous présenter la classe de troisième année d'immersion française de la Whitehorse Elementary School et leur institutrice, Madame Lacroix.
Le succès exceptionnel du programme d'immersion française au Yukon est une chose dont nous devrions tous être très fiers.
Et je crois que nous devrions, tous ensemble, offrir nos plus chaleureux applaudissements à nos visiteurs.
Please join me in giving Ms. Lacroix and her class a warm hand of applause.
Merci beaucoup. Thank you very much.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to welcome in the gallery several people: my wife, Emmy; and also John Pattimore, who is the lands management coordinator for Ta'an Kwach'an; Geraldine Pope, who is the manager of lands and resources for Ta'an Kwach'an; and Rosemary Gill, who is the executive director for Ta'an Kwach'an. I'd like all members to join me in welcoming them here today.
Speaker: Are there any other introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the highlights of The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada 2002, which was released today by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Most specifically I'd like to draw people's attention, when they look at it, to the total health costs attributable to tobacco in the Yukon as well as in Canada.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling a letter from Ta'an Kwach'an Council to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources in regard to the application for Lone Wolf Outfitting.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Minister of Health and Social Services to provide a detailed breakdown of spending for the territorial health access fund, the primary health care transition fund and the medical travel fund.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the need for food banks and soup kitchens on an ongoing basis is a national disgrace that demonstrates the failure of governments at all levels to live up to their obligations to ensure that all citizens have the ability to live in dignity and in security;
(2) food banks and soup kitchens should exist only as a temporary response to unusual economic circumstances, not as a permanent part of Canada's social safety net;
(3) in a privileged society such as Canada, where governments have repeatedly recorded massive budget surpluses, it is possible to eradicate poverty if the political will exists to do so;
(4) many children, seniors, single-parent families and others live in conditions of poverty or financial hardship in communities throughout the Yukon, not just in Whitehorse; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to refuse to accept food banks and soup kitchens as a normal part of Canadian society and to take immediate steps to implement policies that respond to the reality of poverty in the territory while working to implement a comprehensive and effective anti-poverty strategy that will eradicate the conditions of poverty in all Yukon communities.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Economic opportunities for Yukoners
Mr. Cardiff: Yesterday my colleague from Whitehorse Centre asked the Minister of Highways and Public Works why equipment that has traditionally been made and installed in the Yukon is now being imported from Outside. The minister's response was, and I quote: “…to get a better return for our equipment if it was done in conjunction with the actual purchase of the equipment itself.”
Now, is the minister suggesting that work that was done previously by Yukon manufacturers isn't up to snuff, or is there another way to translate the minister's answer into simple English?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The Department of Highways and Public Works supports local purchase, including the purchase of locally manufactured products. In the case of these trucks, the contract was bid and awarded to a Yukon company who chose the supplier of the components and attachments.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister has the opportunity to specify where the accessories come from. Let's see if I've got this right. The minister is saying that importing 10 trucks from Edmonton , with all the underbody plows and other equipment already installed, was done to save a few bucks. Obviously, we support using taxpayers' money wisely, but it's a bit of a shock to hear the minister suggest that there's a new Yukon Party policy to put the bottom line ahead of local benefits. That's not how they handle other situations, where money seems to be no object.
Why is there one standard for rural contractors under the highway equipment rental contracts program and a different standard for Yukon manufacturers through the department's purchasing policy?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The department will continue to tender to Yukon businesses that may either directly manufacture or access locally manufactured products in the contracting for various products. Locally manufactured products are supported through the rebate program and the business incentive program. We're looking for the best value for all Yukon taxpayers when it comes to the purchase of products and equipment.
Mr. Cardiff: The Yukon Party game seems to have more than one set of rules, depending on who the players are - or maybe it's who the referee is. Two years ago, the HERC program was created to give contractors in rural Yukon a boost, and contractors on the Premier's home turf have done very well under that program. Southeast Yukon has also cashed in on this government's addiction to sole-source contracting, but other communities aren't doing so well.
Where are the rules to support business people in communities like Ross River, Pelly Crossing, Beaver Creek, Carcross or Teslin? Why is the minister exporting Yukon tax dollars to Edmonton, where the economy is booming, and ignoring opportunities that put money to work right here in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'll reiterate what I said earlier. The Department of Highways and Public Works is looking at tendering all products locally to Yukon suppliers, where they obtain their manufacturing, either locally or from Outside. We're going for the best value for the dollar to be provided by our department, as well as to provide the best services for all Yukoners.
With regard to the HERC program, I would also like to remind the member opposite that we have provided HERC facilities throughout the Yukon this year and in the previous year. We are looking at the whole aspect of that program, which is to provide benefit to all Yukoners outside the Whitehorse area to ensure we can get the small business operator operating in the Yukon , especially in our rural areas.
Question re: Affordable housing
Mr. Hardy: The Premier was quick to hop on the wagon of affordable housing yesterday after the Globe and Mail reported a leak from the upcoming federal budget. It is clear to us that the Premier is attempting some damage control after the mess his government has made of the affordable housing issue so far. The Premier is now talking about a made-in-Yukon investment plan to address housing needs, particularly for First Nation people.
Is the Premier now admitting his government's failure to reach an agreement with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that would have made truly affordable housing available to Yukoners when it had a chance to do so?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The affordable housing program, I would remind the member opposite, is a federal program and defines “affordable” within that. We have had great struggles with getting his colleague to understand that the affordable housing program - and the intended definition - is a federal one. He has at one point suggested he would rather give the money back - we have put it to work. For instance, $800,000 invested into Falcon Ridge generated over $23 million of work in the Yukon. It generated jobs in the Yukon, and at other times in the House people have referred to the fact - recently, as a matter of fact - how we need to keep jobs within the Yukon.
He continually confuses social programs with the definition of the federal affordable housing program.
Mr. Hardy: At our convention this weekend, I told a little story about three envelopes in a safe that one outgoing Premier passed to an incoming Premier. The first envelope has been opened and the statement says to blame Ottawa . This government squandered the opportunity to address the housing needs of seniors, single parents, and others with limited financial means. The current affordable housing deal with CMHC has been a dud. One project collapsed completely and another one is going completely sideways. Yukon Housing Corporation has not made either affordable housing or social housing a priority. In fact, I could argue that it's going in the opposite direction. Now the Premier assures us that all is well and this new cash injection will fix everything.
Why should we believe the Premier when his own housing minister has shown no understanding that low-income families don't stand a chance in the current housing market and that this so-called “affordable housing” is simply not affordable?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It would appear that the member opposite is suggesting, among other things, that we interfere with the private sector and the private market, and that is not something we are prepared to do.
Again, Mr. Speaker, when you look at ways that this has been used and may well be used in the future, in a variety of different ways - for instance, for seniors housing in the community of Haines Junction. Now, I do realize that the member opposite seems to have moved that particular riding off his radar screen, but that's another example of how this money can be utilized.
By utilizing part of it in the building at Yukon College, it allows us to create a large number of affordable housing initiative homes that are senior friendly, that will have double elevators, that will be wheelchair accessible, and that may be used in the completely different program that the member continually confuses this with - the social housing initiative. There are problems with some of the federal social housing programs, and I certainly want to assure the member opposite that we are working on that.
But again, the affordable housing program is a federal program and, unlike some members in this House, I'm not prepared to give that money back. I'm prepared to put it to work in the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: I wish it were being put to work for the people who most need it, but under this government it's not. Let's not fool ourselves, Mr. Speaker. The Yukon has some of the worst housing stock in Canada , both in Whitehorse and in rural communities. That's a fact. Many, many people are living in substandard accommodation and paying far too much for it. With a huge spike in housing and heating costs, more and more families are finding it impossible to get decent accommodation they can actually afford.
By not taking action, we're continuing the cycle of poverty. And it's not only a housing issue; it's actually a social justice issue. Will the Premier make a commitment to set clear and achievable targets, such as timelines, to state who is being targeted to benefit from this, and set measurable performance indicators to see if any goals are being met - and affordability, identifying what really is affordable for people who don't have much? I expect the Premier to stand up now.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think we have to put some clarity to this issue the leader of the official opposition has just brought forward. Firstly, there are a number of initiatives here in the Yukon Territory that relate to affordable housing. That includes the housing inventory that the Yukon Housing Corporation has today and the number of social housing units that are made available to those in need. There are also programs within Indian and Northern Affairs Canada that are earmarked directly for Yukon First Nations. Some of those programs are vis-à-vis obligations under the final agreements.
Now we have achieved even more. Across this country we have been successful in getting the federal government to invest in an affordable housing program nationally, and the Yukon is the recipient of a significant investment that will be earmarked for affordable housing for First Nations and in the public housing area.
The government is offering First Nations to go to the Yukon forum and jointly develop an investment plan for this housing investment in the territory.
The member makes the point of the deplorable housing conditions in Yukon . Why then, out of this housing trust, is $200 million allocated to Nunavut? That would suggest the housing needs in Nunavut are much more severe than they are here in the Yukon . So along with provinces and our sister territories, the Yukon has successfully gained in the housing area for affordable housing needs in Yukon .
Question re: Porter Creek land development
Mr. Mitchell: In a March 29 letter to the Mayor of Whitehorse regarding the Holly Street lands, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources said, and I quote: “I write to advise that the Yukon government, as the landowner, has afforded its consent to …” - Mr. Speaker, I will not mention the name of the individual - “… to bring forward such an application for the city's consideration.”
On Tuesday, April 25, 2006, in this House, this same minister said we can't pick and choose who we give these rights to. Will the minister please tell members which is the government's land policy: we do give consent, we don't give consent, or we only give consent to some applicants?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Certainly, the letter from me went to the proponent, giving him the right to present his case to the city council. That's the long and the short of it; that's it. He had his day in court. They have discussed the issue, and now it's with the City of Whitehorse to make a decision.
Mr. Mitchell: I don't believe that the question was answered, because, as I said, on April 25, the minister indicated a different direction.
Mr. Speaker, I am very concerned with this escalating situation. This government has had nearly four years to develop a made-in-the-Yukon land use policy; yet today we are in awash in a sea without direction, not even a compass. Land is very much in demand, but I'm seeing neighbour pitted against neighbour, community pitted against community. This is not healthy; this is not responsible governing.
Will the minister stop waffling and produce a land disposition policy or simply admit that he doesn't have one?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, when we acquired government, the leader of the third party's government had put a freeze on land.
We're working with the City of Whitehorse and the municipalities. We're working with Community Services. We're doing what we can to get land in the hands of the general public. We're doing exactly what the member opposite wants us to do, except we don't have a land freeze in place like that party had when they were in power.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Mitchell: If the minister would like to give me a history lesson, I would be happy to provide him one as well. He is talking about a land freeze, pre-devolution. With three and a half years into this mandate, all we still hear is that everything that is wrong was wrong before they got here. Well, why haven't they fixed it? That was why they got elected - to fix it.
Mr. Speaker, the minister has had a report that this government commissioned on land dispositions. He has had this report since November 2005 - nearly six months. Can the minister name one single initiative that he has taken as a result of the many recommendations contained within the report? And I don't just mean putting it on a shelf.
Hon. Mr. Lang: To correct the member opposite about the facts - which we do on a daily basis - the fact is that we had a draft put in front of us - not a final. If the member opposite understands what a draft is, that's exactly what it is.
We are working with the municipalities and we are getting ahead with land management in the Yukon . We did lift the land freeze that the other government had in place, Mr. Speaker, and that is a history lesson.
Question re: Porter Creek land development
Ms. Duncan: I also have some land questions for the government. There is another mess in Porter Creek that this government is smack in the middle of. Last fall we discovered that the Yukon Party government was working on three deals for a section of land in Porter Creek. All at the same time, they promised the land to the college, to the City of Whitehorse for a subdivision and to residents as a park. Having made these commitments, the government then decided it was time for consultation.
I recently received a letter from the Premier on this issue, saying these consultations had been extended into April, although there was no public campaign advising the public that the consultations had been extended, and April is almost over. When will the government be making a decision about this land in Porter Creek South?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We did commit at a public meeting to extend the public consultation. We're doing that and we're working out the plans. As soon as we have the plans in place, we'll inform the House about the extension, but there will be an extension on the consultation, as agreed to at that public meeting.
Ms. Duncan: There's a simple reason why the Yukon Party keeps getting caught in these messes according to a draft report that the government paid for in November 2005. The report said there's no overall clear direction with respect to the land disposition. There's no vision; there's no strategy. It also said policies are lacking. Now, aside from this report and the bungling by the government, most importantly, we have residents who want to know what's going to happen in their neighbourhood this summer. Is it a park? Is it going to be given to the college? Is it going to be a subdivision?
When are residents going to find out and, Mr. Speaker, most importantly, how are the residents going to be involved in this decision - residents of Porter Creek as well as residents of the City of Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I'll repeat myself for the member opposite. That's what the consultation will decide, and that's what we committed to do.
Ms. Duncan: Unfortunately, the minister isn't listening to the question. I've received a letter from the Premier that says that their consultation will be extended, that they'll review the results and make a decision as soon as practicable. I've asked the minister when that decision will be made. When will the decision be made on the land and, secondly, how will that decision be made? Public consultation has been extended until the end of April, we've been told. What then? The Premier also promised residents a public meeting this spring.
Could the minister please elaborate? He's got a draft report that tells him the direction for residents is missing. When is the decision going to be made, how is it going to be made, and how will residents be involved in that decision - not just residents of Porter Creek but residents of the City of Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, the Premier wrote a communication to the member opposite. We have committed to extend the consultation on the McIntyre land. We are putting together a plan to do exactly that. There will be consultation; there will be people involved not only in Porter Creek but also Takhini and the other stakeholders in the area to resolve this issue. The process will be extended. We committed to do it, and we're going to do it. So as soon as the plan comes out on how we're going to do the consultation - in other words, the map ahead - we will inform the member opposite.
Question re: Outfitter concessions
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources. Now, the Yukon Party's big game outfitter land tenure policy has created quite a stir with Yukoners. Many wilderness tourism operators and First Nations are concerned about the implications this would have down the road. Lone Wolf Outfitting is the first to test this new policy, and in doing so many red flags were raised. Ta'an Kwach'an Council wrote a letter to the minister strongly recommending that the minister stop the current application review process and commence a discussion with the First Nation on this issue. Does the minister agree with Ta'an Kwach'an Council's recommendations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I will take the question from the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
As the member well knows, the federal government for years was working with the outfitting industry on this very issue. The existing concessions that are in the Yukon are third party interests that have been there for, in some cases, decades. All the issues that relate to a policy with respect to leases are on existing sites, main camps and so on. This is not ownership, by any definition, and all these are tied to the concession licence itself, which means that if the concession licence is cancelled or turned back in, they forego the leases. If the licence is transferred, the leases are transferable with the licence. This is not a land grab. This does not add anything new to what's already on the land base. This is simply tying some sanctity of tenure to an existing licence - in this case, an outfitter's concession licence.
Mr. Fairclough: It is new, Mr. Speaker, and the Premier is treating this matter lightly. Now, the department should be inspecting sites before giving any leases and licences on land, and on the Lone Wolf application this was not done. Ta'an Kwach'an requested more time to review the application and to have the opportunity to do joint site inspections. That was reflected in a letter to the minister on March 17 of this year. The minister didn't bother to respond to this important letter.
Now, Ta'an's April 21 letter, which I tabled today, is one the minister cannot ignore. Ta'an feels that the process does not reflect intergovernmental collaboration. Where is the government-to-government consultation, Mr. Speaker? If the review continues, Ta'an wants to work with this government to do everything possible to have the Lone Wolf application reviewed properly. Will the minister work with Ta'an and other First Nations on this matter?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That's exactly what we do. An assumption is being made here by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun that a review is not taking place. Of course, any application is subject to review within all the regulatory policy and legal frameworks that the government must operate within.
With respect to any individual First Nation, there is an ever-growing and improving government-to-government relationship, and the examples are many. It begins with how we are dealing with land under the final agreements, and it's called “land use planning”. We all know that the land use commission - finally, under this government's watch - is actually up and running and conducting a land use planning initiative in north Yukon, and we will continue that process.
But so, too, it is important that we engage with individual First Nations on specific areas, as we have done, even with Ta'an. Recent examples are the number of mitigating measures brought forward to another application - proof positive that we are doing our work and have every intention of ensuring that First Nation governments are involved in what happens in this territory, as we committed to do.
Mr. Fairclough: I happen to disagree with the minister on that one, because this Premier and the minister could not answer letters to the First Nation. Where is the government-to-government relationship here? When it comes to consultation, they feel they haven't been consulted on this policy.
Now, there is a growing concern with the wilderness tourism operators. They don't want to see the minister just rubber-stamp these land applications. First Nations and the wilderness tourism operators feel that it should be mandatory for all these applications to go through the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Act process. This is a serious matter, Mr. Speaker. If the government wants to work with the First Nations, they should do the right thing. So will the minister do the right thing and refer all big-game land applications for leases and licences to the YESAA process?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: For the member's benefit, this is not something that is not already on the land base. It exists today on the land base. In simple terms, the footprint is on the land base. The concession and licence that go with the concession are valid. That's very important, because all that is happening here is that a lease is being tied to the concession licence with respect to the footprint that exists on the land base today. As far as consultation, it is clear in our consultation protocol where we must consult, how we must do that - we follow that diligently in all matters. There will always be this issue of whether or not we consulted enough. We hear it from the members opposite continually. One day, we are not consulting; the next day, we are not making a decision because we are consulting - as the Member for Porter Creek South pointed out regarding McIntyre lands; we are consulting. So, we can't have it both ways.
This is nothing new; this is all part of what has been on Yukon's land base in many instances for decades.
Question re: Medical travel allowance
Mr. McRobb: Back on March 29, the Health and Social Services minister called a press conference to announce plans to improve Yukoners' access to health care. We've since learned that lineups at the emergency room have gotten longer, not shorter, since the Yukon Party took office.
He also announced plans to attract graduates of Canadian medical schools and promote Yukon students. Yukon grads found out last week just how good those plans are.
My question today is on another announcement he made on March 29. Why is the minister not yet allowing people who travel Outside for medical care to have access to the new medical travel fund? What's the holdup?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate the question from the Member for Kluane, even though once again, unfortunately, it's filled with inaccuracies.
I would point out again, with regard to the hospital, that we have increased the contribution from the previous level of $20 million to $25 million a year under our watch, plus an additional $10 million in one-time capital contributions to the hospital. The health human resources strategy will give us the ability to work in areas with medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, radiologists and speech language pathologists to enable us to attract and retain them.
I would again point out to the member opposite that our current and pressing need in that area is with regard to physicians. As far as the member's question regarding medical travel, I'm pleased to inform the member that, not five minutes before I came into the House, I signed off on the press release, which will either be out later today or sometime tomorrow, announcing how the government is implementing the medical travel fund, and those increases will be effective July 1.
Mr. McRobb: Well, isn't that interesting: five minutes before Question Period, and the minister finally puts out a press release on the medical travel fund - no heads-up to the opposition. It's another case where the minister is trying to catch the opposition off-guard. He knew he was overtime on this issue because, back at the beginning of the month, he said there would be an announcement within a week or two. It's more than three weeks later.
The minister may have provided details on this fund but will he tell us now how it will improve the amount of subsidy to Yukoners who currently get nothing in the first three days?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, with regard to the member opposite's comments, as noted at the press conference when we announced the health human resources strategy, we did announce at that time that we would be making an announcement on medical travel. In answer to questions from the media, I said that I expected it would be about two weeks down the road - it was about three weeks down the road. Delays do happen within government processes. We are working with hard-working employees in the department who also have other things on their plates as well, of course, as we have work within our own offices. So it was a week late, and I hope that the member opposite is not too upset about seven days.
With regard to the issue raised by the member opposite, I am pleased to inform him that the medical travel supplement for Yukoners travelling outside the territory will be increased from $30 per day to $75 per day. It will kick in on the second day, rather than on day 4.
Mr. McRobb: That's quite interesting, Mr. Speaker. I want to put something on record. This Yukon government has been Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to federal largesse. Previous governments had to cope with budget cuts and make do without big windfalls that are only possible due to a huge budget surplus at the federal level. Let's be clear about that. Let's all understand that.
The minister has obviously made a decision on this. We look forward to seeing that decision. For some reason he has exempted the first day of medical travel, and as most Yukon patients go down for one day, what other benefits are in this fund that Yukon outpatients can realize? Can he tell us that or do we have to wait for the press release to arrive at our desks?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I'm disappointed to hear the Member for Kluane referring to this as “largesse”. Our government, through the hard work of the Premier and ministers and officials, has gone to work with the federal government in identifying our needs and noting the ones that are not being met.
I would also remind the member opposite of history and finances and urge him to take a look at past levels of funding to the Yukon and recognize that we are only now getting back up to the levels we were at pre-1995, when the former federal Liberal government balanced its budgets on the backs of the provinces, including cutting the health and social services transfer and cutting the territorial funding formula by a five-percent base. We are working now to regain that level.
With regard to other areas where we are using the medical travel fund, I am pleased to note that we have increased the travel supplement for Yukoners within the territory from 18.5 cents a kilometre to 30 cents a kilometre; and for the first time ever, this will be provided to Yukoners living in rural areas who do not live within a community.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS' Business
MOTI ONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 639
Clerk: Motion No. 639, standing in the name of Mr. Hassard.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to utilize the territorial health access fund to increase Yukoners' access to family physicians and other health professionals.
Mr. Hassard: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to an issue that I believe affects all Yukoners. It is no secret that health care has been a much-discussed topic both in and out of this Legislative Assembly, and whether it is at the federal or territorial or First Nation level, it has been a priority for all governments.
In September of 2004, our Premier and the two other territorial leaders utilized a pan-northern approach and negotiated with the federal government for additional funding to address unique northern health care needs. As a result of that 2004 first ministers meeting in Ottawa, monies have now started to flow. The Government of Canada committed $150 million to the territories under three agreements. Over the next five years, Yukon will receive $29 million under these agreements. Of that $29 million, the Yukon will receive $4.3 million per year for five years under the territorial health access fund.
This money will be used to reach three goals, all designated to help us continue improving health care access and services. The first goal is to build self-reliant capacity in Yukon. To help achieve this, the government will create a health human resources strategy, which will help us meet the growing demand for doctors and other health care professionals in the Yukon.
I am sure that all members in this Assembly, at some point in the last three and a half years - some have been here longer, obviously - have had meetings with constituents who have raised concerns about access to health care. I think that across Canada, it is a well-known issue. We have heard many times that we in the Yukon are more fortunate than perhaps other jurisdictions in Canada.
The cornerstone of the strategy will be improving access to primary health care for all Yukoners. A physician resource component is a key element of the overall strategy, and we will work with the Yukon Medical Association on a physician recruitment strategy. In advance, however, we should know that this government is committed to introducing an initiative to financially support Yukon students interested in pursuing medical training. We will also work with other health professionals to make sure we have the right mix of people to provide services in Yukon. This includes the recruitment of a variety of health professionals to the north, including nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists and lab technicians.
We also want to focus on ensuring that the tools are in place to ensure our service providers can do their jobs. This includes current standards, protocols and regulatory requirements. We want to make sure our activities are based on the most current information. We will also invest some of these funds in strengthening community-level access to services. Obviously, being from rural Yukon , that is a priority for many of us in this Legislature.
We are working at both the local and national level to plan and implement a nurse information line to support the Yukon HealthGuide and the Web access that provides residents with health information.
As well, we plan to increase dental health services, both in the schools and for travelling adult services.
We wish to improve support for individuals with mental health issues, including exploration of housing supports and increased support for independent living and counselling at the community level. We also want to make sure that Yukon residents have the information they need to make good, informed health decisions, so we will continue our work in the areas of healthy lifestyles, healthy eating, tobacco reduction and sexual health education.
We anticipate more work on palliative care initiatives at the community level that will focus on maintaining individuals in their homes and communities as long as possible.
Of note, later next week, I will be attending a meeting in Teslin to have discussions with the seniors group there. This was one of the key issues when, three and a half years ago, we were going door to door. And it's a little bit surprising, when we start adding up the years, that it has already been three and a half years. For one thing, many of our citizens are getting older and the demographics of the territory - yes, including Members of the Legislative Assembly - are changing. It was one of the issues that hit home the most when we were campaigning - the desire by rural people and people in Whitehorse, I'm sure - to stay in their homes as long as they could. So, hopefully next week, the Health and Social Services minister and I will have an opportunity to meet with the group in Teslin to discuss their concerns and priorities.
The second funding agreement signed with Health Canada is for a medical travel fund, which will see $1.6 million a year flow to the Yukon for five years.
And finally, we have signed an agreement for an operational secretariat fund, with $10 million over five years going jointly to the three territories. This fund will support a number of pan-northern projects. It will also pay the costs for secretariat support to the territories for work being done under the various funds.
Access to care is a particular challenge in the north. We will continue to work with our partners to address our unique challenges in ways that make sense here.
We are working hard to provide Yukoners with good access to sustainable, high-quality health services. These funds will help us with that goal. We would like to thank the federal government for these funding contributions, and I look forward to seeing good work happen that will serve Yukoners well. Now that these funds are flowing, it is time to put them into action.
Mr. Speaker, I have been fortunate not to have personally required medical attention, medical care - I'm not sure that is all on my part - other than the odd hockey injury perhaps. I have, however, had family members who have spent time at Whitehorse General Hospital and who have gone to local community nursing stations. Although we are always looking to improve upon what we have, in most cases when I talk to people and in my personal experiences, we are blessed with a health care system in the territory that, in my mind, is better than most. Obviously, we don't have the large hospitals and access to all the services that we would like, but given the number of people in the territory - a relatively small number of people - I think that we are blessed to have what we have.
I'm sure that there will be a lot of debate today over what has been done wrong and what could have been done better. There is no doubt that we can always do better, and I think that we are trying to do better. However, I hope that the members opposite do recognize the work that has been done and, rather than strictly criticize us, I hope that they can take some time to give credit where credit is due.
I'm not going to go on at length about the motion. I know the Health and Social Services minister will add some information. Obviously, he's closer to this issue than the rest of us, but I think he will provide some more details. I think the motion is self-explanatory, so I look forward to debate, I look forward to support from all the other members and I'm going to sit down now and see what others have to say.
Mr. Hardy: The motion that has been brought forward today is one that always has relevance in the sense of health care for the territory. There is not a person in this Chamber, I would say, who does not appreciate the fact that there is money coming forward to increase services to the people of this territory.
I can assure the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin that it is appreciated on this side that there is more funding available for health access, for building capacity for self-reliance to provide services within the territory, for strengthening community-level access to services, for ensuring Yukon residents have the education awareness tools to make informed, healthy decisions. That is a given. I think every government works very hard in this area, except for the previous federal Liberal government, which removed a substantial amount of money from the health care system. We all know they did that. It was intentional. It wasn't something that was done knee-jerk. It was an attempt to systematically put the health care system in Canada under crisis so changes could be made. That is my view. I think it wasn't a very up-front way of doing it.
Because of that - and this happened in the early 1990s - the situation around Canada got more difficult. Provinces had to take up more of the slack in delivery of health care throughout the country, and the territories also had to pick up that slack.
Meanwhile, there were tens of billion-dollar surpluses that were being reported every year by the Finance minister. The Finance minister would instruct the Ministry of Health to make cuts to the provinces and territories - to cut back on program delivery and services. Then the Finance minister would inform the other ministries, such as housing, to make cuts in those areas. And we all know what happened to the CMHC program in, I believe, 1993 - which was in direct contradiction to the statements made by that Finance minister the year before when he praised that program.
These cuts had a very significant impact on all these programs that are so beneficial to those on fixed incomes, seniors, and to those on a limited income - to those that most need the government to be part and parcel of delivery of programs to ensure that they have a quality of life as well. It wasn't an impact on those who are middle class or wealthy. It really was targeted at those who have the least ability to spend their money in the way that they wish, but found that every penny was going to health, food, shelter, raising children or just trying to get by. First Nations, of course, also suffered under those kinds of cuts. And no one should forget what happened during that period because it was quite devastating for all the provinces and territories and for the people who live there.
These cuts affected medical schools, nurses training at universities, and training of other health professionals. Cuts to transfers to universities were also part of it, and I truly believe the Finance minister did not know what he was doing when he made these cuts or how significant an impact it would have 10 years down the road when trying to get back to what we had.
Meanwhile, there were billion-dollar surpluses coming out every year. So what does the Liberal Finance minister decide to do with those billion-dollar surpluses? Not reinvest back into health, other than piecemeal, but give huge tax cuts to those who are already doing well. Before they were defeated, the proposal in their last budget was a $4-billion tax cut.
Fortunately they were a minority government and the NDP was there to challenge them on that. That $4 billion was adjusted to go to those who need it in our society. Without that, we would have continued to see crisis situations in the health care around the country. Meanwhile, there were tens of billions of dollars surpluses every year and tax breaks for those corporations and businesses and individuals who really didn't need it. They weren't necessarily crying for it; they were doing quite well. The economy was doing quite well. From my perspective, that is the Liberal way. It's there on record and we've witnessed it on far too many occasions.
Mr. Speaker, based on statistics, Canada is going to be short 116,000 nurses by 2011. There are waiting lists for people to get into training because there are not enough seats provided. There are shortages of nurse educators.
Half of the physicians will soon be women who often have childcare and other family demands to deal with so, in adjusting their work schedules to meet those demands, their availability in the workforce may be slightly less because of that, and rightly so. They have a life to live, and families, and women take that very seriously.
Nurses are aging and retiring earlier because of the hard, physical work that is involved. We have the problem of many nurses in Yukon who are hired as casuals with no benefits and unpredictable working conditions. Some do like the flexibility, but the opportunity for permanent positions should be increased to continue to attract a long-term, stable workforce. We have heard this. That's a situation that is not just with the nurses but is also with a lot of the other professions - social workers, caregivers. The government has a tendency to rely too much on auxiliary and non-permanent positions, and people wonder why they look elsewhere. They want some stability in their lives too. That's a situation that has to be dealt with.
My problem with the motion is not the way it is worded or anything. It's the fact that it is a motion that urges the Government of Yukon to utilize the health access fund to increase Yukon's access to family physicians and other health professionals and, basically, that is what the health access fund is going to do. It's almost redundant. We are debating something that is going to happen, or has already been negotiated with the federal government in that transfer. We are talking about something that has been poured - it's like a foundation, Mr. Speaker. I'm from the construction industry and I know the mover of the motion is too. It's like we poured the concrete, set it in the forms, and it has hardened, and now we are going to talk about the concrete.
It has already been poured; it has already been set. So our comments are to urge the government to do what they're already going to do. I'm not sure exactly what we're debating here in that sense. I can think of a lot more issues that the members from the back bench could bring forward. With all due respect to the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, I believe there is a multitude of issues in his riding. He has a chance to give his colleagues, his party of choice - the government - some direction or put on the table some debate that would have significant impact for his constituents, something that's not being done or something that the constituents are asking for and have been asking for, for a long time - something that's already going to happen. To me, it's a golden opportunity lost. It's a golden opportunity lost for that member to speak for his constituents in that regard.
And what could the MLA for Pelly-Nisutlin have done? What could he have talked about, Mr. Speaker? Housing. Mr. Speaker, Ross River - we could talk about health, and we could talk about the conditions in Ross River, for instance. There are such serious conditions around housing that affect health. This motion could very easily have addressed those and at least put the flame to the feet of the ministers to take issues around housing seriously. I'm not talking about just building new housing. I'm talking about existing housing, in which water tanks freeze, toilets split down the middle, sewage systems crack and split. I'm talking about very serious health issues within a community. So serious, that often seniors have to be moved out of their homes until something could be done, because of unsafe and unhealthy conditions. I'm talking about mould in these houses and buildings. The funds are not there to address it; this government could be addressing that.
I already talked about housing a little bit in my question. It is an issue that I have - a very big issue that I feel very passionately about. The basic necessities of life are something I feel very passionate about, especially when the government has funds to do something.
Drug and alcohol issues, again, are connected to health issues. Today I tabled a report, The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada 2002, which very clearly talks about the social cost of substance abuse - it is estimated at $39.8 billion. That is massive.
Ross River, Faro and Teslin have issues around this. The member could have brought that forward - about the lack of funding for groups trying to make positive changes in all three of those communities; about an issue that we brought forward a week ago when we identified nursing shortages. In the case of Ross River staff, there is one full-time and an auxiliary, when available, when there should be two full-time staff in Ross River . There is the same problem in Teslin.
Of course we can always talk about jobs in all the communities and the need for government investment. That's another area that could have filled out this motion more. It could have been an opportunity for an MLA or any of the backbenchers to bring forward this issue and challenge their colleagues around this. This is where we could have that debate.
Their colleagues may not like it, but it is what we are here to do. They may have to defend their decisions, but they have to defend them in the Legislative Assembly and not in a caucus room. The backbenchers have a role to play, and that is to be a voice for their constituents - not just bringing forward motions that are an opportunity to congratulate themselves on what they're already going to do, or to recognize that the federal government has an agreement in place with them that's going to do this, this and this.
How much flexibility do we really have? The motion doesn't address that.
My problem is that we have a great opportunity. Wednesday can be a fabulous day. I know it has been referred to in derogatory terms, at times, but for backbenchers and for opposition members it is a great opportunity to put issues on the table for debate that will have an impact in the territory, that can either address a community - if that's the direction an MLA wants to go in - or a broader issue, such as a smoking ban, affordable housing, the future possibility of a university in the territory, legislative renewal, safe communities - the list is endless - that we could debate that would have a significant impact, because it's not being done at the moment or being taken seriously enough. We need that debate to raise the consciousness of it and challenge each other and maybe, together, come up with something better for the future that many people in the territory are asking for. That's our opportunity and it can be great, but not if it's just used to recognize what's already happening and going around the block.
I have absolutely no problem with a motion like this. I can bring forward a friendly amendment if I want, and that's not a problem. I have no problem with that, but it's a motherhood statement - it's something that's already happening, so of course I'm going to support it. But it doesn't take us anywhere if it's already set in concrete.
There are so many other issues facing the territory - health issues - that we could be talking about, and not just about a territorial health access fund, but the fact that this ministry has the largest budget. A tremendous amount of money is being spent throughout the territory. How is that money being identified? What direction is it going in? How much money is being spent on the preventive side? Are we looking at alternative approaches? Are we looking at many of the suggestions coming forward from organizations that work in this field - collaborative clinics? There are so many.
Mr. Speaker, I am quite eager to share a list of ideas the government of the day might want to pick up on. But we do have some very significant problems. Much of the debate has been around physicians, orphan patients, and all that stuff, but we are also lacking in specialists. Only 10 percent of doctors in the Yukon are specialists. Across Canada , it's almost equal - well, I'm not sure about the other territories, but in the provinces. And we need specialists to address issues in Yukon.
We have a very expensive system trying to deal with it, and that is long-distance consultations, visiting specialists and travelling patients. We have this crossing over, and I think everyone in here would love to see more specialists call the Yukon home. It is a challenge that we have to face and how do we get there. Offering doctors money, which was one of the ideas of the Yukon Party government, has already been recognized by the Yukon Medical Association as not going to mean a thing.
We need a more creative approach to the problems we face. One of the best ways to deal with the rising costs is, of course, to invest in our children at a younger age - food, adequate housing, education, active living and engagement in community activities. The return on that is amazing, but the return is 10 or 15 years down the road. It is not one of these things you can stand up and immediately say, “We did that and this is the result. We bought this piece of equipment and therefore now we have this.” We need to invest up front with a long-term vision.
I'm going to go through some suggestions I have for some of the problems that we face. I hope the members opposite take note of the following: develop a multi-disciplinary health centre and have a pilot project set up to do that. That suggestion came from the Yukon Registered Nurses Association in 2001.
The previous Liberal government heard of it. The Yukon Party government, of course, has heard of it. The minister has heard of it. Whether the minister likes to say he's only new on the job or not, he's very familiar with this. I know he has met with them and talked about something like this, and it's not a new idea. This clinic idea has been done elsewhere. Yet from 2001 to 2006, nothing has been done, other than announce more money being spent in different directions. So obviously somebody is not taking it seriously. Yet I think the registered nurses have brought forward a very, very doable suggestion that would have a good impact.
A clinic like this would coordinate occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists, physicians, social workers, dieticians, registered nurses, mental health workers, and I think it would go a long way to dealing with issues that we face. Emphasis on preventive measures and education - that was a recommendation in the Romanow report. It has been out there for quite awhile now - more attention there. More home care is required - especially in communities - rather than institutions. Again, another Romanow recommendation.
Partnering with universities to have physician and nursing medical practicums here - that can be done. The will is there. Mentoring systems for new graduate nurses, something that has been talked about and talked about. Still, after three and a half years, nothing.
Attracting medical students during summer holidays show lifestyle advantages of living in the north. There is a lot of talk from Tourism of branding and getting people here, about slogans and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on that. But we also need people to live here, not just visit. Somehow, maybe that could all be tied together and not individual departments doing their own things. Maybe the good suggestions from the Tourism department could be used to help with marketing or to help attract new doctors, nurses and other health professionals to the Yukon.
Establishing distance education programs for medical professional development - for some of these things there have been little bits and pieces done, but we need to do a lot more. Other suggestions include encouraging local students through more bursaries, guaranteed employment, securing more funds for professional development, and reviewing and increasing permanent nursing positions in the hospital and in health centres. There are many suggestions.
I will give you some more: encouraging training more nurse practitioners and making regulations for them allowing a scope of practice equal to their abilities and training. Let them work to the extent of their training.
Emphasizing quality of life and human resource policies in negotiations and in recruitment - actively facilitating foreign-trained health professionals to become established in the Yukon and obtain hospital privileges. I would like to thank the government for the support for Xui Mei; that's a good step forward. That's the kind of thing we need to see more of.
Hiring more nursing aides, cleaners and housekeepers in the hospital to relieve the nursing workload - just going out to the seniors facilities to ensure the workers in those facilities have the support they need.
Another suggestion is to assist with housing needs of professionals - that's a big issue. Many come up here and can't find a place to rent. Or if they do, it's in one of the places - more of us are familiar with them - that are fairly run down and can create health issues themselves with mould and so on. We need to look at what kind of housing is needed to attract professionals. A lot of them are just starting out in their career and are carrying a huge debt load from their training - a debt load that has increased substantially over the years, partly because of the massive cuts the federal Liberal government brought in on universities - of course we were then forced to raise tuition levels substantially.
All of this ties in, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When you look at it, all of this ties together. You can't separate one issue. When you start to look at a cut here and how it affects other areas 10 years down the road, and you start to put the pieces together and you realize that we're now paying the price and struggling today for what happened during the 1990s - the training, the lack of professionals, and not just with the health care professionals and practitioners, but also in the trades. All of those cuts are coming home to roost.
Now there is a huge scramble out there to try to meet the needs. But it originated by a very short-sighted action of a government that meanwhile was accumulating massive, massive surpluses. Now we're paying the price for that. We're struggling to deal with these issues. And that's a fact. No matter how people want to defend or twist or turn around this one, that is a fact. Every single report points to that.
These are just suggestions: offering low-interest loans for mortgages; offering overhead; debt relief; promoting and supporting more First Nation health care professionals and paraprofessionals; using a case management approach between health care professionals, especially for chronic cases; supporting research into and accessibility to alternative medical processes and treatment; assisting First Nations health through training opportunities, affordable housing, preventive programs; recognizing and supporting volunteers in the health field. These are suggestions. I put them on the table. These could have been part of the motion as well.
As I said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so much of this is interconnected.
I would really have liked to have seen a motion that was speaking more to what we need to work on, what we need to expand on, and identifying issues, not just urging the government to do something they're already going to do, basically. It's an agreement with the federal government.
As I think most of us in here know, this money that's needed for the territory is because there are expensive costs to deliver health care in this territory - travel, distances, specialists, flying patients out, the unique health issues that are facing the north and, in some cases and in some areas, will probably get more extreme. There are the pollution levels, the contaminated sites and soils, global warming - these all have an impact on health. We only adapt so fast. If the changes within our environment are moving along ahead of what our ability is to adapt, absorb and deal with them on a physical level, then we're going to see some serious issues. They're already starting to arise.
There are many concerns about the very high diabetic rate in the north, especially among First Nations. There are concerns in certain areas about women's health, such as thyroid problems, which are significantly higher than down south. There are many examples of health issues that seem to be at a level greater than in the south. Those are challenges and expenses that have to be absorbed by a territorial government. Those are what have to be negotiated with the federal government so it recognizes them, and the federal government has a duty to ensure it contributes enough money for those issues to be dealt with. Again, it's all connected. Cuts in one area affect another. You can ignore one problem now, but it will often surface a few years later somewhere else.
Our life expectancy in the north is shorter than down south. Why is that? There are many things we need to look at. We want a good quality of life up here. Our communities have fewer services than the main city, Whitehorse. How do we ensure that there is a good flow of information and support and that people are attracted to work in the communities? What kind of support is needed to make the quality of life there so that they actually want to work in the communities and not be in Whitehorse or Vancouver or Outside? These are huge challenges.
Mr. Speaker, this was possibly the last motion that this member may have a chance to bring forward. I was hoping to see something that was more direct, more challenging for the government, which he is part of, to live up to.
I would suggest that this government wants to increase Yukoners' access to family physicians and other health care professionals. I would suggest that the territorial health access fund has the means to help in a certain way to do that; therefore, the motion, to me, is a little redundant in many ways, although it deserves debate, because it was brought forward by a member. It's just that there are so many other issues that could have come out of that riding, so many other challenges.
I heard the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin talk about the meeting that he will be having with seniors and the challenges they will face there. I would have liked to see a motion like that brought forward. The member opposite identified that as a concern within his riding. That would have been a great motion, because it is something that is not already identified under the territorial health access fund, but something that he is going to be meeting with his constituents about and looking for ways to address - possibly directing the government of the day to invest in seniors accommodation so that seniors can stay in their riding longer - challenging the government to spend, put it in the budget and move forward on something like that in Teslin, or possibly Ross River or Faro. W e could have debated the merit and cost of it, and the member could have stood there and spoken from the authority the meeting would have given him.
Saying that, I support this motion, of course. At this present time, I don't see any reason to amend it. It's pretty straightforward. It's something I feel, like I said, is being done. I won't call it a pat on the back, but other than allowing us to speak about the broader context of health and what more can be done, I'm not sure what purpose there is for us to debate it at this present time.
So with that, I will sit down and listen intently to other people's comments.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the leader of the official opposition. It's interesting to note that his comments demonstrate once again that the disagreement we have with them is generally in terms of the needs on the economic side of the ledger and dealing with the economy, providing access and freedoms to Yukoners and in improving their economic prosperity. Then, with regard to the social side of the ledger, we find ourselves in the position often of reaching agreement, obviously, with the NDP on some of the issues on social services, social concerns and, of course, health care with regard to the needs that are out there. There are differences, sometimes, of course, in planning and in the priorities that would be identified, but I do appreciate the comments that came forward from the leader of the NDP.
With regard to his concerns and the suggestion that perhaps we didn't need to debate this motion and that the plans were already set in concrete - I believe that was the term he used - by the federal government, I would point out to him that the territorial health access fund was actually provided with the requirement that we fund three broad goals. In fact, we could have simply chosen to fund just one of those goals and develop initiatives under that. Those goals were building capacity for self-reliance, strengthening community level access and expanding the education and awareness of Yukoners so they can make informed health decisions.
Once we had those broad goals in place, we went to work on identifying how we would do so and what the needs were out there. We have listened to the comments of Yukoners, of course, and their concerns, and we also listened to the front-line service providers and professional organizations that represent them.
With regard to the programs we will have in place shortly to attract doctors - those being debt repayment in exchange for years of service provided to graduates of any Canadian medical school, and the bursaries provided to Yukon students to assist them in attending medical school - we did this in part based on recommendations of the Yukon Medical Association.
At their last annual general meeting, the YMA had moved a motion urging us to consider providing debt repayment to graduates of medical school. As I previously stated to members opposite, it is a suggestion I've personally been hearing from constituents for the past three years. I recall it at some point before then. It has been years in the making and years in discussion within the public and is an idea that is not only sound but is seen to be sound by a large number of Yukoners. To this point, we've had very positive feedback from Yukoners and from many within the medical profession with regard to that initiative.
Now, I would hope members recognize the challenges that we're facing in health care, and I have heard comments from the previous speaker with regard to that. I appreciate his recognition of the fact that we are dealing with high costs and increasing costs, a current shortage of doctors and anticipated shortages in other fields.
We do have issues, as we have discussed on an ongoing basis, that some of the other professions within the medical field experience shortages or difficulty recruiting individuals. The issue of nurses within communities has been a challenge for years. As I have stated, we would prefer to have full-time staff for the purpose of stability in those positions, and the funding is certainly provided for that, contrary to the understanding of some members of the third party. The funding is available; we simply have not been able to hire the people for that, but we are able to staff that with auxiliary personnel. It is a goal that the department is working toward - to try to provide full-time staff.
Again, I would just point out that this program, as I said, is due to the money, first of all. It was because of the work of our Premier and the premiers of the N.W.T. and Nunavut and their success in laying out the argument on the federal scene with the Prime Minister that per capita funding does not address our needs in the north due to our sparse population and large land mass, and their historic recognition provided from that, that there is a need for base funding. This is the base funding, and the plan for the territorial health access fund is how we are expending it.
Now, we have talked significantly about the issue of doctors and other professionals under the health human resources strategy. I'd like to talk about a few other areas that we will be spending the territorial health access fund on.
These include identifying areas that prevent people from working collaboratively and developing plans to reduce those barriers. We will be doing further emergency preparedness planning, and that is with regard, in part, to areas such as concerns around a potential influenza pandemic at some point in time and issues such as other communicable diseases. The territorial health access fund workplan also includes money for the risk-management quality assurance activities to improve consistency of practices and ensure that there are up-to-date standards, guidelines and protocols for all facilities. Planning and implementing the nurse information line - we intend ultimately to have that available in all communities, but that will be a multi-year project. It also includes plans to enhance dental service availability within communities, including for the children's dental program, improve the supports available for mental health and assist with counselling, independent living, and increasing housing for people who have mental health problems. We will also be allocating money toward early identification with a focus on providing that support to people afflicted with mental health issues at an early date.
There is also money allocated to improve the supports to those with tuberculosis to improve the patient outcomes, and we will also be responding to other priorities that have been and no doubt will be identified in discussion with community stakeholders and the health professions. There is also investment in palliative care and the phased implementation of services available to Yukoners at the community level. There is also an investment in healthy living, health promotion, including campaigns and education to individuals.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in regard to the comments from the leader of the NDP, I do appreciate his comments and suggestions and his indicated support for this motion. I am pleased to see and thank the leader of the official opposition for the support for this strategy. I am pleased to see that the NDP recognizes the need for health care improvements in a manner similar to what we foresee and hear in talking to Yukoners. That is in stark contrast to the Liberal Party whose Health and Social Services critic has referred to this program as a luxury. It's disappointing to hear.
We have a current shortage in some areas, and we have an upcoming shortage in certain professions that we must act on now. We must make the investment. We must establish the initiatives and do the planning. Rather than waiting for a crisis to occur, we are taking the steps to address this. We are taking the steps to expand recruitment and retention initiatives in partnerships with the professions involved and to avert a crisis rather than waiting for one to occur.
It is absolutely critical, in my opinion, that we take this action now rather than waiting for five or 10 years down the road - the average age of Yukon's nurses is 47 years old. Many will be retiring within the next five to 10 years, and in fact that is pretty similar to the situation across Canada. We need to take action in nursing, primarily, in the mid and long term, and members are well aware of the current shortage of family physicians. That is our first area and first priority where we will be moving under the health human resources strategy to implement it because these things do take some work on the part of officials.
We will be implementing that quickly and moving forward to follow up as quickly as we possibly can with other areas. It is our intent to get this money on the ground and put to work absolutely as quickly as we possibly can, with the due diligence being done to construct the programs in a manner that's most appropriate.
The position recruitment and retention initiatives, as stated, are in two areas: the debt repayment in exchange for years of service for graduates of any Canadian medical school to attract and retain them in the territory, which is far preferable to a loan structure, in that we are provided with the security that we have not provided money prior to the service they provide us. This has been an issue in other areas of the country with loan programs where, if the individual the contract is with chooses to leave the jurisdiction, it is often far too costly to chase after that person to be worth the taxpayers' money being spent on that. With debt repayment in exchange for service, if an individual does not fulfill their contractual obligations and leaves the territory, we would simply not provide any further money to that individual and the taxpayers would thus be protected.
With regard to nursing, as I outlined to the Yukon Registered Nurses Association at their AGM last weekend, the initiatives could simply mirror that which we have announced for the physician recruitment, or it is certainly available that we could allocate that money to other areas. One area nurses have identified for a number of years is the desire for mentoring programs within communities and within Whitehorse , and that is one of the possibilities that officials will be discussing with them. We are prepared to make that investment and resource the strategy, after the discussion with them.
We certainly have had the concept - that being one of them - with which the department and I have been working. Prior to announcing something as a fait accompli or the program that will be in place, we are going to have that discussion with them and seek their input and advice.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre, the leader of the official opposition, has raised the issue of the interdisciplinary clinic collaborative practice model and noted the fact that the Yukon Registered Nurses Association suggested this some time ago, back when the previous government was in office. All I can say to the member opposite in regard to that initiative is that I certainly appreciate the action the Yukon Registered Nurses Association has taken in regard to that. We are working with them and trying to assist them in their discussions. They are having a meeting on May 12, I believe, regarding this issue. As I stated to the registered nurses, this is an area where we certainly recognize the potential benefits through that type of delivery model. Our only concern is that we want to be sure that any initiative or changes that we implement to Yukon's health care delivery structure are supported by the front-line workers. We do not want to go down the road of the Northwest Territories when they made a significant change to the structure of health care delivery through the purchase of a number of clinics and the change from a fee-for-service model for positions to a contract-payment model. That resulted in a loss of 20 doctors within the period of one month alone for them, and they have still not - as of the last information we received - managed to return to the previous staffing levels they had prior to that change.
We don't want to implement a good theory and find out it's a disaster. We want to have the acceptance and broad consensus among health care delivery personnel, the front-line providers, that any initiative is one that will work. This is a discussion that needs to be had. The YRNA has taken a leading role in this and I commend them for that action. I think that having the professionals lead the discussion is of tremendous benefit and, as I stated to them, we want to work with them and are firmly behind them in their efforts to move these discussions forward. We hope to be able to see a situation where there can be discussions and agreement among physicians, nurses and other health professionals - physiotherapists, for example - in areas where we can work together and improve the collaborative interrelationship and the delivery. We certainly recognize the tremendous potential in that regard.
These things do take time. The previous speaker, the leader of the official opposition, made the suggestion that I'm no longer a new minister and can't fall back on that excuse, Mr. Speaker. I certainly have no intention of falling back on any excuse. We are working, and we intend to deliver the goods and the product.
In the short time that I have been in, our government has announced initiatives such as funding Autism Yukon to assist those parents in having a more active role in the delivery of therapy to their children. We have the health human resources strategy and the other initiatives under the territorial health access fund - of course, the announcement today of the medical travel fund initiatives, the increase in the medical travel subsidy that is provided to Yukoners who are forced to travel outside of the territory for care. That was previously available only on the fourth day and thereafter, in the amount of $30 per day. We have increased that to $75 per day and have implemented it on the second day of travel.
And in answers to questions from members about why not implement it on day one, that is due to the fact that - although this is $1.6 million per year - we are still dealing with limited funds. Quite frankly, we do not have the financial resources to expand as much as we would like. We are trying to make the most effective investment of the dollars, and in this case we believe it would be better to create a greater increase on the second and subsequent days, rather than spread it out to the first day, because a significant number of Yukoners are able to travel out and return on the same day. And although there may be costs involved, there is a considerably greater ability for people to do things - of course, with airfare being 100-percent covered - and they may not even be faced with any additional meal charges or other costs while they are Outside. In some cases they are, and we recognize that is an issue, but we are trying to invest it where it is most effective.
Of course, other areas - the funding of the hospital foundation and resourcing them to ensure that Yukoners' donations for hospital equipment go to hospital equipment and, as well as the bridge funding for the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon that we have provided, and are continuing to provide.
Mr. Speaker, I believe I am running rather short of time, so I will have to truncate some of my comments that I wished to add in here. I would like to conclude by noting that the Yukon and Canada - and in fact the world - are facing problems with ensuring adequate health care providers for their citizens. This is a problem that is expected to increase in coming years. We are firmly committed to moving forward, to making the investments and to doing the planning that is necessary to attract individuals now, to retain them, to create a working environment that is sustainable and effective for individuals. We want to ensure that it is a good work environment that Yukoners are provided with in these fields. With regard to another suggestion that was made by the member opposite, that -
Speaker: Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank my colleague, the leader of the Liberal Party - the leader of the third party in the House - for allowing me to take this particular point in the roster of debate. I asked for this, because I was quite disturbed with the comments that were coming from the leader of the official opposition in his presentation this afternoon. After three and a half years of listening to those comments and similar comments from members opposite, I have reached the point where enough is enough, and I'd like to make sure that the facts, as I know them to be and all members should know them to be, are put on the record.
The motion before us is that the House urge the Government of Yukon to utilize the territorial health access fund to increase Yukoners' access to family physicians and other health professionals. Much has been said. I believe there were also some comments made that many other motions could have been brought forward.
The Member for Pelly-Nisutlin made a choice to bring this particular motion forward, and I will not venture to criticize that. It is important, in his view, that we discuss this and I believe this discussion, as well as other suggestions, should be put on the record and that is a good use of the House's time.
There has been discussion about funds and money and Finance ministers in the debate this afternoon, and I would like to elaborate on that particular point for all my colleagues in the House and the listening audience. The finances of the territory are often discussed in this Legislature, and this particular fund is much touted as the work of the Premier. There has been scant attention paid to the whole issue of the territorial funding.
I'd like to remind members that the kind of funding the territory enjoys today started in 1985 with a very prominent and very proud Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament for the Yukon, who was also the Deputy Prime Minister at the time. He worked very hard convincing his Treasury Board colleagues that the territories should no longer have to travel to Ottawa, cap in hand, to ask for a yearly budget, that there should be a territorial formula financing arrangement.
That negotiation and lobbying was a success, and the arrangement was instituted for both territories in 1985. At that time formula financing also included a perversity factor. Yukoners are very proud people and we want to stand on our own - not have to make that journey to Ottawa, cap in hand, to have that money - to be able to manage the territory's finances, to “cut the apron strings” as some editorialists put it at the time.
Fast-forward to difficult times in Canada in the late 1980s and 1990s. We had a very able - agreed upon by all parties - Finance minister in Paul Martin, and under his watch - as the current Premier likes to use the term - Canada became one of the strongest of the G-8 countries. Thanks to that financial stewardship.
The problem with that financial management is that during his term in office, in managing the difficult financial times that Canada found itself in, the territory endured a cut to our financing. That cut was to the base. In addition to the cuts to the health and social services transfer, the cut was to the base financing. The territories were hit harder than the Canadian provinces - of course we had been joined by a third territory by that time. They were very, very difficult times. We started to see an improvement in the territory because of the improvement in Canada 's finances.
As Premier at the time, I was the first of the northern premiers to go to Paul Martin, as Finance minister, and say that we had been the hardest hit. The previous Finance minister had not met with Finance Minister Paul Martin on that issue.
I did not stand in the House and endlessly state that to my then NDP opposition - a difference, Mr. Speaker, that I would like to note. We met with Paul Martin. We met with the Finance officials. We met in Ottawa, and we met again here in Whitehorse. At the time, the Finance minister agreed to make a $42-million payment to the Yukon. His last words, as he walked out of the Cabinet room upstairs, were, “And I hope I never have to hear about the base cut again. This is the deal.” And that was the deal we were offered.
Yukon achieved that, thanks to the work of the officials and thanks to the work at the political level. We achieved that on behalf of all the other territories. Our Finance officials were the longest serving of the three territories. Their work and the political work achieved for all the other territories lump sum payments as well, although the base was not restored.
I'd like to talk about the health milieu at that time, Mr. Speaker. At that time, we were beginning to feel the effects of a severe medical professional shortage in this country. Why did we endure that? In part, because provinces had made cuts to universities and cuts to spaces. That was one part of the problem. Another part of the problem was regular vaccinations, for example - vaccinations being a good example. The flu vaccine is an excellent example. The cost of the flu vaccine doubled overnight - doubled overnight. There wasn't a Health minister in the country who wasn't regularly anywhere from $7 million to $20 million or $30 million over their budget. We had a crisis on our hands in this country in health care, and it was the number one issue for Canadians. It still is.
Those problems weren't the fault of one particular politician or one particular political party. Much has been said about that in this House, and it's not correct.
I realize to the public it sounds like so much “he said-she said”. The fact of the matter is that there were a number of factors that were causing the health care crisis in Canada , and finger pointing wasn't helping to resolve it.
Former NDP Premier Romanow performed an excellent public service in his review of health care in this country with his public hearings, his presentations and his report. I might add that former Premier Romanow when he was here, following the Yukon's presentation, did make note to all the officials and the politicians present that, of all the presentations he had heard in the country, Yukon's was among the finest.
To return to my point about the funding, the current Premier and current Finance minister and members opposite are very proud of the Finance minister and the Premier for walking out on the Prime Minister. They're very proud of this, and tell us endlessly. They're very proud that they are apparently the only government that has ever cooperated with the two other territories.
After three and a half years of listening to it, I've had enough. The Yukon Party is not the only party to have ever cooperated with the other two territories, and they are not the only party to have ever achieved money from Ottawa. I as a Yukoner - a very proud Yukoner - am not proud of a premier who walks out on a prime minister.
I am not proud of a Yukon Finance minister who tells the rest of the country, and signs off on a report that says that Yukon's cost of living is 40-percent higher than southern Canada and says that we don't have control over our land and resources. We achieved the devolution agreement. He signed off on that report. It has been shared in this House. Those actions I am not proud of - I don't agree that you have to exhibit that kind of behaviour to achieve a just and fair settlement on behalf of Yukoners.
If the members opposite have any doubt that previous governments have not cooperated or been able to achieve financial success on behalf of the Yukon and all of Canada, and they do not wish to accept that $42 million was enough - no; we needed more - I will concede that point, but I don't agree on how it was achieved. We are also on record a successfully encouraging the then Finance minister with regard to mining exploration and mining incentives for the rest of the country.
My point is that other governments have worked very hard for funding for this territory, including special initiatives similar to the territorial health access fund. In response to the remarks, it is time for the Yukon Party - and members on this side too - to talk about how they have managed or would like to manage the territory's finances. It's time that the record be accurately reflected in our Hansard, and that the achievement of $42 million on the Canada health and social transfer be recognized, that the milieu of health care in Canada be recognized. It's time that the members opposite and members on this side cease their disparaging remarks that reflect on the achievements of others, and talk with Yukoners about what they would do - what they've done in the last three and a half years, and what they'd like to do.
With respect to health care in the Yukon, I would remind the members in the Yukon Party that when it comes to funding for provinces and territories, the Yukon does very, very, very well in funding for health care and other initiatives. Pat Binns, former Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament in the 1980s and now Progressive Conservative Premier of Prince Edward Island, would very, very much like to have our territorial formula financing, even though we have sustained a cut to base.
I can also tell members that Yukon's health care, in spite of the challenges, is second to none in this country. I recently had the good fortune to travel with a young woman who was flying from Ottawa to Vancouver to assist her relative who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Fortunately, her relative, who was aging, had saved enough of her own personal resources to be able to hire care.
Were that individual a resident of the Yukon, she would have been very well looked after. She wouldn't be dependent upon relatives flying from thousands of miles away to assist her or on her own financial resources.
The Member for Pelly-Nisutlin spoke about the care his relatives have received in the Yukon . Mr. Speaker, it's second to none - second to none in this country. And we have to recognize that and appreciate it, and recognize and appreciate that we have substantial resources with which to manage it. I'm not saying there aren't challenges. There are significant challenges, and recruitment of medical professionals is one of them, and of family physicians in particular.
We do, however, have very, very, very good care. The Minister of Health and Social Services in his comments today announced the health travel fund. Are we still insisting that those who have relatives in the federal government - they might be Yukon taxpayers, but if they have a relative working in the federal government, we are insisting the federal government pay for travel Outside. That's your first call. Whether you're a Yukoner or not - and I speak from personal experience, and I don't think it's right. Yukoners were given this financing. We worked hard to get this financing, to pay our own way, to be strong Canadians. We need to think like Canadians. We need to act like Canadians, and we need to appreciate that we are a contributing member of Canada . We'll manage with what we have. Yes, we'll work with more. Yes, we'll ask for more. And we'll deliver. We will continue to deliver good health care for Yukoners, and we'll look to improve it as well.
Mr. Speaker, I have a short period of time. I would just like to summarize and say Yukoners have all worked very hard on the territory's finances. I appreciate the additional funding that has been received in the territorial health access fund. I would encourage the current government to make good use of it and to attract the additional physicians that we require, to follow up on suggestions and to encourage everyone in their debate this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, to focus on suggestions and to let the previous records speak for themselves, as opposed to speaking of them disparagingly.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the members' time.
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and pleasure to rise today in support of this motion. It is an important motion, one that is top of the mind with many Yukoners. It is also an area that is frequently debated in this Assembly. There is hardly a Question Period that goes by that does not involve questions or comments or positions for the Minister of Health and Social Services. In fact there are often areas of a lot of criticism. Some of it is founded in reality, and others seem to be more of a political nature that often enters the debate in this House.
I understand the role of the opposition is to oppose, and the role of the government is to defend. I think what many Yukoners want us all to do is to recognize what are the issues of importance to Yukoners and what are the reasonable, responsible solutions that we can implement that will address and resolve them. Criticism for criticism's sake does not do anyone any good, and neither does needless self-congratulation, but when being faced with a constant barrage of criticism, it is often moments such as this - during motion debate - when the government has the ability to put current programs, current reality, the current situation and future plans on the record - and to say yes, there are issues out there and this is a way that they are being addressed. This is certainly one of those times, Mr. Speaker.
As a member of the Yukon Party, I'm very proud of the accomplishments in the Department of Health and Social Services that have been made in the past few years. There has been a tremendous investment made in the department; there has been encouragement of some very interesting and very needed programs; there has been a refocus - a change of focus, if you will - to ensure the health and social services needs of Yukoners are being met.
We have a lot of good news stories that have come out from not only this minister - I'll give credit where credit is due - but from the previous Minister of Health and Social Services. While I don't agree with everybody and I certainly didn't agree with the previous Minister of Health and Social Services on every issue, there were a lot of good things that came out of the department at the time. Of course, there are other issues that were still being addressed.
I'm very proud to see the record of the Yukon Party in regard to Health and Social Services. When compared with other records, I think it will stand up quite favourably. There's always more that can be done in Health and Social Services, but we are taking substantial steps forward. We only need to look at the budgets to see how important Health and Social Services has been and is to the Yukon Party. The budgets have grown from $70 million in 2002-03 to $91 million in the budget being discussed today. That certainly demonstrates a substantial commitment to Health and Social Services.
We only have to look to the hospital's budget, which has grown from $20 million to $25 million, to see that there's a substantial commitment to the health and emergency needs of Yukoners.
We don't have unlimited funds to do everything all at once and there are other national, international, demographic and technological forces at play. Hardly a week goes by when we aren't faced with a new and better drug or a new and better technique.
Of course it's always a challenge in a jurisdiction the size of ours to incorporate all those advancements as soon as they hit CBC Newsworld or the pages of a newspaper.
But we have an obligation to provide Yukoners with the same level of service that other Canadians can expect. That is one of our rights as Canadians: we are all to be treated equally. We have certainly gone to bat for Yukoners. The Yukon Party has taken steps to gather their fair share from Ottawa - what some in here call the “largesse” from Ottawa . We have taken steps to ensure the territories receive sufficient revenues to provide our citizens with reasonably comparable levels of public services. That is one of our responsibilities as politicians, as legislators, as leaders in the government, because Yukoners deserve to have the same level of health care service as other Canadians have. I am proud to say that in many areas we are already better off than in other jurisdictions in Canada.
We just have to look at the new benchmarks that were recently announced at a national meeting with all of the health ministers. Our waiting times are typically less. We have the highest number of doctors, per capita, in Canada. Our cost for services is very low. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we don't pay a monthly medical or medicare fee. We have heard from the Member for Porter Creek South about other issues where we are already a leader.
I certainly know that in my own situation. I only have to look at the living situation and the assistance provided to friends and folks I know in our extended care facilities or those receiving home care services, and compare that to the treatment other relatives of mine receive in Ontario. In some cases, relatives are spending their pension cheque and all their savings on all their health care needs.
If we only look to some of the situations here in the Yukon - well, it isn't always a positive situation being in an extended care facility, but it's certainly a better situation than I have seen in other jurisdictions.
Now, Mr. Speaker, in many cases we have a very good situation, but we need to look to the future and look to the situation that we have here in the Yukon . In the Yukon, we have our own priorities. Top of mind with that is access to family doctors. We also have to face the reality of ongoing staffing difficulties, to staff difficult-to-staff positions. We have issues with rural health care and nursing care in our communities. Another significant factor in the Yukon is the cost of travelling Outside for services. I think we can all agree in here that these are the Yukon's priorities - at least I hope we can all agree on these.
Mr. Speaker, the first person to respond called some of these statements “motherhood statements,” but I think we need to come to an agreement on some of these motherhood statements so that we can all agree that we're on the same page, that these are indeed the priorities of Yukoners, and then I think we can agree about the strategies for implementing them and make some decisions that, yes, that is a good area to allocate budget funds to. We'll leave the operational issues to those folks who are responsible for them. That is another issue that is often criticized in here, but one that's often well outside of the area of responsibility and area of control of the ministers responsible.
So I'd like to see us all come to agreement on this motion and agree that yes, indeed, these are the priorities and these do need to be addressed.
In a previous debate, about a year ago, we discussed health care and health priorities. At that time, the Yukon Party put forward a list of eight priorities and said these are issues that need to be addressed. At the time, the NDP proposed to amend it by adding 37 other top priorities.
Given the changes - I'm not sure if that was the NDP's position or possibly a Liberal position, but the challenge was in how to deal with 45 top priorities. You can't. That's the whole issue of examining it to identify what is a priority. What is an issue that rises to the top? We aren't here in a debate on the entire health care budget, or the whole budget from the Department of Health and Social Services. That will come in due course during the budget debate where I'm sure we will have the opportunity to spend hours, if not days, debating each line item of the budget - where indeed many of the priorities that were raised by the Member for Kluane are addressed. I think he will be very satisfied when he takes a look at it to see that of the 37 other issues that he raised, many of them are having action taken on them.
What I would like to focus on is that we have issues important to Yukoners. I'd like to see agreement that, yes, this is an issue that we need to focus on and take action on.
The territorial health access fund, which the Premier negotiated with the cooperation of the other territorial premiers, is being used to create a health human resources strategy. I think these are great steps forward.
This health and resource strategy will be the cornerstone of improving access to primary care for all Yukoners. It will include a physician resource component, and the Yukon territorial government will work with the Yukon Medical Association on a physician recruitment strategy. I know that will come as great news to a lot of folks. The number one issue that I hear about on the street is the shortage of doctors. I know I hear it on the street, at meetings, and in my own home. Certainly, my wife will be happy to hear that the government is taking action to bring more doctors to the territory and, with any luck, we'll find additional doctors that can fall in love with the territory as much as the rest of us have and commit to staying here.
I'd like to hear us all agree that, yes, this is an issue that all Yukoners agree is a priority. And what I'd like to hear, Mr. Speaker, is all members agree to this motion and say, “Yes, this is an excellent strategy for addressing the issue at hand.”
The issue we're trying to debate today - and I'd like to thank the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin for bringing it forward - isn't how we can come up with one magic bullet for resolving all health care initiatives, because it's simply impossible to do that in one motion, but how we can address one particular issue.
I think that this new health human resources strategy and its other components in the territorial health access fund will go a long way toward addressing this. But it is just one step. Again, I hope we don't get into a debate about why we don't add other priorities to it because, yes, I know we can add 37 other items to this list. We've been through that debate before. It didn't lead us anywhere. But let's have, hopefully, a fruitful debate here today and come to agreement on this one issue.
I know the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, as he has spoken and introduced this motion, felt very strongly about this issue. He has discussed this around the caucus table, and the whole Yukon Party caucus has gotten behind this issue. It was unfair to level the criticisms at him in the way the leader of the NDP did. The leader of the NDP came up with a list of the other things the member could have talked about, instead of talking about the motion at hand.
Part of the role of a backbencher is to bring forward issues of importance to all Yukoners. Could we all stand up and spend days, if not weeks, talking about our own constituency issues? Of course we could. When is the most appropriate time to do that? I feel I have received a better response by sitting down one-on-one with the ministers responsible and working through issues and having the government take steps to address them, rather than taking up the entire Assembly's time debating them.
I could spend hours talking about the different issues in Carcross, Tagish and Marsh Lake that affect education, tourism, economic development, health and social services, the environment, community services, energy, mines and resources, but I think that's best served by sitting down with those ministers and delivering them as I did when I first took office, with a letter identifying the priority issues I have in my riding that I would like the minister responsible to work on, then sitting down with them afterward and asking about the progress on the issues.
We have all seen the progress on that. We only have to look back to the budget and the different budget speeches to see that we are making progress on the issues. But, if the leader of the official opposition would like to sit down and go over with me all the issues that I have and that I work on, if he has a few hours or days to kill once we adjourn the House, I would be more than happy to entertain him. I will even toss the offer open to the leader of the Liberal Party. If he wants to sit down and go over the issues, hey, we can do that too. The only way I will ever get them addressed is if everyone knows about them and we take steps to deal with them.
We as backbenchers do have a responsibility, not only to our constituents, but also to the Yukon Territory. One of the most significant issues being brought forward today is health care. One of the issues we most often discuss - and there is a lot of criticism coming from the opposition benches about it these days - is the issue of medical professionals, and a solution has been tabled for that.
I would like to thank the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin for bringing forward the issue. It creates a forum where we can bring light to the issue and to the solution.
I think that all members can agree that it is an important issue and that this is an effective way to deal with it. I would encourage all Members of the Legislative Assembly to support the motion as tabled.
Thank you for your attention, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Mitchell: I'll just respond to a couple of things quickly that the Member for Southern Lakes mentioned in his remarks. First of all, I'm happy to sit down any time with the member, either during session - although we know that we're all quite busy - or afterwards to talk about any issues in the member's riding. If there is anything that I can do to assist the member in addressing those issues, I'd be more than happy to do so.
Actually, as the member knows, from time to time, especially the further we get from the sometimes partisan atmosphere of this House, we do have those conversations, as we do with almost all of us from time to time out in the public and in our travels. So I'd be more than happy to carry forward on those discussions.
One comment that the Member for Southern Lakes made in his remarks was - I think he said it's the job of the opposition to oppose, and then went on to say it's the job of the government to deal with the issues. I don't really see it that way or agree with it. I think it's the job of the opposition to question the government and hold them accountable. When that means opposing because we have a real disagreement of an approach or philosophy or of a government program, then we'll do so. When we can see common ground, then we shall also do so. On more than one occasion, I have commended the government for coming forward with solutions, and I have made reference to and commended the official opposition, such as during the debate on safer communities, for the contributions that they have made. I will continue to do so.
Now, the motion for the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin reads: “THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to utilize the territorial health access fund to increase Yukoners' access to family physicians and other health professionals”. Well, Mr. Speaker, I do find this quite interesting. I believe that the leader of the official opposition asked why we're debating this today.
Last week we debated a motion regarding ethical conduct in the Legislature, and I think the Premier stood up and said, “I don't know why we are even debating this.” That statement probably spoke volumes, but we could say the same thing about this motion: why are we debating it?
Members of our caucus and the official opposition have repeatedly asked for action on this topic. We have made numerous suggestions, and too frequently the government ministers have responded by saying, “Why didn't you do this when your party was in government?” Or, Mr. Speaker, they have said it is all the fault of the federal Liberal government and the difficult decisions they had to make over a number of years to get Canada's finances under control.
Those are decisions, I might point out, that have allowed, both the past Liberal federal government and the current Conservative federal government - non-partisan, Mr. Speaker - to increase the funding support to the provinces and territories. The Canadian economy is currently, I believe, the strongest in the G-8, but members of the government caucus and the official opposition like to gloss over that when they talk about how great things are in Yukon - it's thanks to the federal government's ability to provide much-deserved funding support.
I find that ironic, because the government likes to say it came into office here and had to get the territory's finances under control in order to be able to do good things on behalf of Yukoners. That, I believe, is what the Government of Canada had to do over a number of years. Yes, there were painful decisions made. There were funding cuts because Canada was in a very difficult situation in terms of its deficit and its debt. Hopefully those days are behind us.
Regarding what has happened, the Premier likes to say we don't give him any credit for having played a role. Well, I do give the Premier credit. He has gone, and continued to work along with his colleagues from the other territories and provinces, to make the case to the Government of Canada that the territory and all the territories are small jurisdictions and that strict, per capita funding does not always work when you are a territory of some 31,000 or 32,000 people.
It doesn't work when there is needed infrastructure to count heads. So, the Premier has made gains there, but I would like to point out that he'd sometimes have us believe that he has been a one-man band - that he's sort of playing the harmonica, the drums, the keyboard, and simultaneously walking out on the Prime Minister in order to get increased funding support. That just isn't so, Mr. Speaker. The base was laid over many years by all his predecessors, from all three parties in the Yukon, and by the officials who have continued to do the hard work and help make the case for all the elected members and premiers over the years - and, yes, even by our Member of Parliament, although I know that seems to really bother the government side and sometimes the official opposition.
To the issue at hand, we have made many suggestions on how to address the physician and health care professionals shortage in the Yukon. I spoke about some of these ideas, such as the forgivable tuition loan program for family practitioners, when I ran for the Liberal leadership last year. I spoke about this issue within my party and in the general public. My colleague, the Member for Porter Creek South, tabled a motion during the fall sitting of the Legislature urging the former Minister of Health and Social Services to examine new incentives, including forgivable loans for medical students to help relieve Yukon's shortage of health care professionals and, in particular, family physicians.
Last month, at the Liberal annual general meeting, policies in support of forgivable tuition loans were passed by the assembled Liberal members, so I am pleased to see the government taking the action that they've taken. I would point out that last December during Question Period - I think it was December 6 - I asked the then acting Health and Social Services minister - and Mr. Speaker, you'll have to be a little tolerant with me here because we've been through several Health ministers. We had the former Health minister, then we had the acting Health minister, and now we have the current Health minister. But it was the then acting Health and Social Services minister, the Member for Porter Creek North, whom I asked about how the government was planning to address the doctor shortage, and I offered a positive suggestion. I think I said I was offering it as a suggestion - that the government implement a forgivable tuition loan program for doctors.
The then acting minister suggested it was a national problem, not a Yukon problem, and that such a program would take years to have a positive effect. He reminded me of how it would take four to six years to produce a doctor. We don't often get to respond to some of the comments that are made by the government - especially if they make them in the final supplementary to a question, so I will take the opportunity today to remind the member opposite that I don't really need the member to remind me to produce a doctor. Our family actually has produced a Yukon-born doctor - our daughter - so we know just how expensive it is and how long it takes.
I phoned my daughter, the doctor, the other day, and told her how we were finally going to see a forgivable-loan program in the Yukon and that it would help address the shortage. I mentioned the acting Health minister's comments about how long it would take to have an effect in Yukon . Her comment was simple: why should it take so long? In the U.S., where she is now living, the forgivable-loan program there is used to attract physicians who are completing their residency, to practice in under-served areas. It's neither four years nor six years, Mr. Speaker; it's one or two months. Complete your training, commit to serving in an under-served area, and that jurisdiction makes the contract with the new doctor to reimburse the tuition costs retroactively.
I offer that suggestion to the new Health and Social Services minister from another Yukoner who is about his age, that there are ways of putting these programs into effect that don't require someone to make the pledge when they are in their first or second year of medical school - in fact, most doctors are graduating with heavy debt burdens. We can make this program work in a way that doctors, who are completing their residencies, will see it as another incentive to move to the Yukon , and hopefully, as the Member for Southern Lakes said, learn to fall in love with the lifestyle and the Yukon , as the rest of us have, and stay here.
I would point out that it's not going to help my daughter, because her husband's occupation will not currently allow them to move to Yukon, but it might help other young doctors to move here and it won't take six or seven years.
There are other things that could be done. We could put an incubator clinic in place, run by government, where new doctors can begin their practice without having to pay the large cost of starting or joining a private practice. It's done in other jurisdictions, and not as a different model of paying our doctors - I think the Health and Social Services minister pointed out in his remarks that, in some cases, trying to employ the doctors directly has not been a successful solution - but rather as another option so there are different options that will make it easier for doctors to start their practice.
Another possible approach would be to look at the use of nurse practitioners. In many jurisdictions, that helps take the load of primary care, the initial intake, off the shoulders of the family physician. In particular, in a case like Yukon, where we have a shortage of family physicians and not that many specialists, that can be another approach that will help to allow the doctors time to extend to additional patients, by not doing the initial intake. That can work in conjunction with the programs the Health and Social Services minister has announced.
Mr. Speaker, there has been some discussion of nurses. We heard last week about Yukon-born nurses who have come back to Yukon and not been able to find employment in Yukon. We need to fix that. I recognize that the government is not a direct employer of nurses; I recognize the Yukon Hospital Corporation is at arm's length; but there are things the government can do and incentives the government can provide to the hospital to make it more desirable for the hospital to employ Yukoners who come back. There can be additional funding provided to the hospital specifically if they increase the number of Yukoners they have employed.
Because once again, while we still haven't in recent years exported a single tonne of zinc or copper, what we are exporting right now, are several Yukon nurses. Those are not the exports that we want to be known for, for sure, Mr. Speaker.
My colleague, the Member for Porter Creek South, noted in her remarks the excellent quality of medical care that we enjoy in this territory and that we are better off than many jurisdictions. I think we all should and do acknowledge this. In my almost 35 years in the north, I have certainly been fortunate to enjoy what can only be described as first-quality medical care, and I am very appreciative and my family is very appreciative of the high quality of care that we have enjoyed over the years. Although I have spent some 20 of those years in Atlin, the doctors were Yukon doctors, and they were largely treating our family in Yukon. So I view it all as Yukon medical care.
Three years ago, with the retirement of my family doctor, I found myself in the position of being an orphaned patient. Mr. Speaker, having lived in the north a long time, my whole adult life, I know most of the physicians who practice here. I know most of the doctors in the territory. I didn't just arrive yesterday or last week from elsewhere in Canada or perhaps as a recent immigrant to Canada. So if it can happen to me, Mr. Speaker, and it did, then it must be even more difficult for newly arriving residents who don't have the connections in the community that perhaps my family enjoys. So the problem is real.
When I speak to my constituents, not just during the election last year, but whenever I speak to my constituents, whenever I run into them on the street or visit them at the door, it's an issue that comes up again and again. I spoke awhile ago to a constituent who was a Yukoner who had resided in Alaska for a number of years getting his Ph.D., and who returned to Yukon and found himself in that position, and he was dealing with walk-in clinics. I certainly don't mean to disparage the medical care that he was getting going to walk-in clinics, but this person happened to suffer from type 1 diabetes and really would benefit from and should have continuous medical care from one physician and not be dealing with the physician of the day, and so that's a problem.
The current and former president of the Yukon Medical Association have both spoken about this problem, and they've talked about physician burnout and the exhaustion factor that is occurring among our physicians. We have a couple of things occurring, which are demographic problems. One is that the average age of our physicians has continued to go up over the years because there is a cohort of doctors who arrived here in the early 1970s and have continued to stay here and practice medicine. As they get older, I think the long hours become more difficult. Another changing demographic is among the more newly arriving physicians, which may be a little misleading, because we tend to look at physician numbers. Compared to the one, I believe it was, female physician who was practising in the territory when I first came north, there are now quite a few female physicians. That's a change in demographic, and obviously, since I mentioned that my daughter is a physician, it's one that I'm pleased to see. My family physician - once I was able to find another family physician - is a female physician. But, due to family demands, quite a number of the female physicians choose to share a practice, so they are not necessarily working full-time. There is perhaps a need for even more physicians than we might think.
In closing, Mr. Speaker - I know the Member for Mount Lorne and other members would like to be able to address this motion. The Member for Southern Lakes said he hoped we would all be supportive of this motion and that it would pass this House. I agree with him on that.
Too often in this House there's a political game that occurs on motion days. As the members here know, it has given rise to the unfortunate moniker of referring to “wasted Wednesdays”. I don't think any of us should be thinking of them as wasted Wednesdays because these days are an opportunity for the members, if they choose to do so, to address important issues, issues that should be important to the members of this House and to all Yukoners.
As the Member for Southern Lakes pointed out, it's one of the rare opportunities for the government private members to address issues that are important to them. So I thank the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin for taking this opportunity, which may be the only one he has during this session, to address this issue. It is an important issue and I'm glad he brought it forward.
There will be no attempt from members in our caucus to amend or change the motion. I'm sure there are a lot of ways in which it could have been worded, but the current wording is something we can and will support. I look forward to hearing more details from the Health and Social Services minister as to the additional programs and the details of even the programs he has announced - the bursary program and the tuition repayment program. In the good faith with which it was offered, I hope he will take a look at the suggestion I made today that it doesn't have to be strung out so we're waiting five, six or seven years to see the results. If the Health and Social Services minister would like to informally sit down and discuss these issues, as the former Health and Social Services critic for the Liberal caucus and as someone who feels strongly about these issues, I would be more than happy to do so in a non-partisan, non-political way, but in a problem-solving way, which, as many members have said, is the way we should be looking at these issues.
With that, I commend this motion to the House and thank you for taking the time to listen, and leave way for other members.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I rise today to support this motion. I commend the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin for bringing the motion forward. As the member opposite indicated, this is an important issue for all Yukoners. A member of the opposition indicated it may have been redundant, but let's face facts, Mr. Speaker; we have been questioned many times on this particular subject by members opposite. I think this motion demonstrates that we are moving ahead, and we are going to get things at least underway.
One of the goals of any government is to care for its citizens. We are committed to ensuring that Yukoners receive the best possible health care and hospital care available. I am amazed at how much progress has been made in the last century in dealing with medical services for all Canadians and for that matter, all humanity.
In researching this motion, I was reminded of the great accomplishments Canadians have made in medicine. We have a long history of producing high-quality medical professionals - be they doctors, nurses or other specialists who have made an international impact. Some Canadian doctors have made tremendous contributions in the treatment of diseases - for example, Banting and his associates, Best and Collip, are forever associated with the discovery of insulin. Many other Canadian doctors have been involved in cancer research and research in other diseases. My point is that we as Canadians have a long and proud tradition of excellence in the field of medicine.
However, we have a challenge in front of us, especially here in the north. Our great legacy in medicine and the excellent training they receive make our doctors attractive to other nations. Add to the fact that a large proportion of our health care workforce will reach retirement age over the next few years, in addition to the demographics of Canada, means that more and more Canadians are reaching retirement age and are placing greater demands on our medical services.
I recognize that this is a nation-wide issue. I recognize that, despite the fact that Yukoners have the highest per capita ratio of doctors to residents anywhere in Canada , the reality is that we need more medical professionals. And, as the members opposite indicated, as well as our own colleagues, we have situations in the Yukon where residents have been, or currently are, without medical practitioners for their needs. We're hoping, Mr. Speaker, that this particular motion will lead toward reducing that number.
The reality is that we are competing for the doctors. We are not only competing globally, but we are competing with other Canadian and international jurisdictions. We are competing among ourselves - we're competing with the Northwest Territories, we're competing with Nunavut, and other northern jurisdictions that have the same difficulty we have in trying to attract medical professionals.
To compete, we need resources. But we not only need resources in the form of funds; we need resources in the form of opportunities or ways in which to possibly attract young Yukoners to come back to the Yukon to practise their profession. More importantly, we need a reason for these professionals to come to the Yukon.
By using our pan-northern approach, we have been very successful in presenting a united and compelling argument with the federal government on the per capita funding and why it doesn't work for the north. I think the fact it was utilized in the health program with the federal government demonstrates that this is a very important element in getting funding for the medical profession. What it really demonstrates is that it is applicable in all aspects of northern living. Whether it be housing or infrastructure, all these items are important to us. They were all previously based on per capita funding. We have demonstrated that the per capita funding does not work for the north.
Because of our unique challenges we face here in the north - the small size of our population relative to other jurisdictions, in addition to the vast distances between our towns - assessing highly specialized medical facilities sometimes just isn't possible or practical. We do, however, have a close working relationship with British Columbia and Alberta , and through our agreements with them we have been able to ensure that Yukoners can access these facilities and receive appropriate and, in many cases, timely medical care.
However, we recognize that we have some obstacles to overcome in terms of getting access to the same standard of care, especially in terms of high tech equipment and specialists that people in southern Canada take for granted. As a result, Canada committed $150 million to the territories. Over the next five years, the Yukon will receive $29 million under these agreements. The Yukon will receive $4.3 million a year for five years under the territorial health access fund. We will create a health human resources strategy that will help us meet the growing demand for doctors and other health professionals in the Yukon. My colleagues have already stipulated many of those issues.
Through the consultation with health care professional groups, short- and long-term initiatives will be developed to address access to health care. The approach that may work for recruiting doctors may not work for recruiting nurses or other medical professionals. We committed to implement programs and incentives that will attract and retain health care professionals in respective communities.
The territorial health access fund represents our follow through on this commitment. We are working with each profession to develop recruiting strategies that will work for them. For example, we work with the Yukon Medical Association on the physician recruitment strategy. Some of these solutions could be the paying of student bursaries for Yukon students or assisting with the paying off of debt in return for years of service. In other cases, it could be things like working with foreign-trained doctors to accommodate the skills that they bring.
Mr. Speaker, the members opposite came up with many suggestions, and I commend them all for the suggestions they brought forth to the House. I believe all have merit in hopefully attracting the medical profession to the Yukon. I don't believe any one party has a lock on the options that will enhance our medical opportunities of bringing the medical profession to the Yukon.
I think what we have to do, though, is to look at marketing the uniqueness of the Yukon as a niche item in order to attract medical professionals to the Yukon. As I stated earlier, we're competing with everyone globally as well as with our neighbouring jurisdictions in trying to attract medical professionals to the Yukon . I think we have to come up with a solution, some sort of idea that will be attractive and bring the medical professionals to the Yukon. Once we do come up with something along those lines, I think we'll be able to be very successful at attracting young doctors and/or medical professionals to the Yukon .
I am pleased that the government is committed to introducing an initiative to financially support Yukon students interested in pursuing medical training. I think it's important that we grow and develop our own. Goodness knows, Mr. Speaker, our kids have the education aspect available here in the Yukon, and if we can enhance that particular training, I think it's all the power to us.
We will also work with other health professionals to make sure we have the right mix of people - like nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists, lab technicians - to provide services in the Yukon. We also want to work on ensuring the tools are in place to ensure our service providers can do their jobs. This includes current standards, protocols and regulatory requirements. We will also invest some of these funds in strengthening community-level access to services. We are working at both the local and national levels to plan and implement a nurse information line to support the HealthGuide Yukon and Web site access which provides residents with health information.
I would like to note that we have installed a high-speed Internet to all Yukon communities. We also want to make sure that all Yukoners have the information they need to make good, well-informed health decisions.
Mr. Speaker, as you know, one of the positive changes in the last 20 years in the Yukon is that many of our seniors and elders choose to remain in the Yukon after they retire, instead of moving south. This means that we are seeing an increase in the demand for palliative care here in the Yukon. For some seniors, especially those living alone and those with mobility issues, a semi-independent or an assisted-living facility is required. Other seniors take great comfort in living in familiar surroundings. They are looking for other forms of support. We will focus on maintaining individuals in their home and communities for as long as possible.
Access to care is a particular challenge in the north, and we will continue to work with our partners to address our unique challenges in a way that makes sense here. We are working hard to provide Yukoners with good access to sustainable, high-quality health services. These funds will help us to reach that goal.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health and Social Services indicated in a press release that there is a secondary funding agreement under the medical travel fund which will see $1.6 million a year for five years flow to the Yukon. This agreement means that Yukon residents who must travel to another community to receive medical treatment will now receive more money and will receive it sooner. Through this program, the government will increase the travel subsidy from $30 a day to $75 a day. It will become effective on the second rather than the fourth day of travel. This will help defray some of the costs for those who have to come to Whitehorse - or those who have to go south - for treatment. I would like to congratulate the minister and the Department of Health and Social Services for accomplishing the first increase in this program subsidy since it was introduced almost 10 years ago.
I'm pleased that we are working to establish a multi-level health care facility in communities where feasible and as per our commitment. By making more facilities available in places like Watson Lake , I hope that Yukoners living outside of Whitehorse will be able to live longer and healthier lives in the community of their choosing. I'm pleased that the Minister of Health and Social Services is reviewing his options on providing multi-level health care facilities in rural Yukon. I encourage him to continue his good work on that particular front.
I would also like to point out that this program applies to Yukoners who must travel within the territory for medical treatment. That means rural Yukoners who travel by car to Whitehorse will also see an increase in their travel support, from 18.5 cents to 30 cents per kilometre. These changes will take place, as I believe the minister indicated, on July 1 of this year.
Mr. Speaker, I wholeheartedly agree with this motion, and I urge all members of this House to support the same.
Mr. Cardiff: I am glad to be here today to speak to this motion. The motion talks about using the territorial health access fund to increase Yukoners' access to family physicians and other health professionals. I think it's important to note that the bulk of the population, and the bulk of pretty much everything that goes on in the Yukon , is centred here in Whitehorse .
We need to remember, when we're talking about access to family physicians and other health professionals, that there are other communities - far-flung communities in the Yukon - where this is actually an even more important issue than what we face here, living in Whitehorse or even living close to Whitehorse. It's in those communities, I think, where this is almost a crisis, and we need to do more for people who live in those smaller communities - the people who have a difficult time accessing health care - especially when you need that access in an expedited manner. It's when you can't wait to see a doctor; you need to see a doctor right now, or within the next day, and you have to drop everything and travel hundreds of miles to Whitehorse to see a doctor. It's those communities that I really feel for.
In construction, I worked in several of those communities. I have actually had the opportunity to avail myself of some of the facilities in communities such as Ross River, Destruction Bay and Dawson City. I have either attended those facilities due to minor injuries or illness when out on the job or I have taken other people to use those facilities. The people who work in those facilities need to be commended. No matter which community, the response was always heartfelt and concern for the well-being of whomever it was who needed assistance. We were dealt with in an expeditious manner. All the help that could be rendered, was rendered.
The people who work in those communities need to be commended because they often work in tenuous circumstances. Often, they are the only health care provider in the community. They are on call 24/7. They really could use some relief. They need respite from the stress of being in those positions. That is one thing that the government could look at when it considers access to health care for Yukoners.
I'd like to talk about a few statistics. I recall the previous Health and Social Services minister mentioning that we had the best doctor-patient ratio. I would refer him to an item from last fall, where there was actually a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information that revealed the Yukon actually had more doctors per capita than the national average. Apparently in 2004 we had one doctor for every 512 people, and that seems like maybe not enough doctors, but we have to look at where the shortages are.
What that one doctor for every 512 people equated to was 195 per 100,000 population. The national average is actually 189 doctors per 100,000 population. So we are slightly above the average. Can we do better? Yes, we can.
One of the other things the report cited was the lack of specialists, and there's a lack of specialists across Canada as well. The report cited areas such as dermatology, neurology, psychiatry, radiology, ophthalmology and urology.
The problem when we don't have specialists is that what we see is family doctors picking up the workload. A lot of the work falls back on the family doctors or the GPs, and that's probably why people are having a hard time finding a family doctor - or that's one of the many reasons why you may have a hard time finding a family doctor. They are finding themselves in a situation where their workload is increased because there aren't the people to deal with those specific problems.
I think there are some gaps where we can make a change, and I would encourage the Health and Social Services minister to look at ways to attract these people to the Yukon to provide the services that Yukoners need, especially in some of these specialist areas. It seems that medical problems are becoming more and more complicated as the technology gets better and people's expectations get better. I'll talk a little bit later about this, but I think we could probably do a lot more to relieve the stress on the doctor situation or the medical situation - access to medical treatment here in the Yukon - if there was more of a focus on things like prevention. I speak personally from experience. I know that I could certainly use a dose of prevention when it comes to my health regarding help in quitting smoking.
The leader of the official opposition tabled this report in the Legislature today that talked about the cost of addictions to the health care system. The figure is staggering to say the least. I will just read a couple of paragraphs. It states: “Measured in terms of the burden on services such as health care and law enforcement, the loss of productivity in the workplace or at home, resulting from premature death and disability, the overall social cost of substance abuse in Canada in 2002 was estimated to be $39.8 billion.” That's $39.8 billion, Mr. Speaker. It was broken down into different categories. It represents an estimated cost of $1,267 for every man, woman and child in Canada .
Tobacco accounted for $17 billion, which is almost half of that. Could we do more? Well, darn right we could do more. One of the things we could have done this week - in fact as recently as yesterday - was debate the bill about smoke-free workplaces that was brought forward in the House by the Member for Klondike . We would have been willing to do that. Is the bill perfect? Probably not. Is any piece of legislation perfect? I don't believe so. I believe that there is always room for improvement. We could have debated that bill and made improvements to it. We could have done something positive in the lives of working people and provided some encouragement. We could have done something in the way of prevention.
It's kind of ironic how the Minister of Health and Social and the critic for the third party weren't willing or prepared to debate a motion or a piece of legislation that would have actually had a positive benefit on the health of Yukoners. I find that disturbing, actually. I think it would be a valuable piece of legislation. It's not perfect and it's not the perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction to help people down that road and to save the health care system in Canada and especially in the Yukon, so we have more resources and there is less strain on the medical system. There are things we can do to prevent people from getting ill and needing to access the health care system.
There are other ideas out there. I heard members on the government side asking for ideas. This is our opportunity to put some of those ideas forward.
Access to medical professionals doesn't just mean going out and recruiting more people, necessarily. I think working conditions and opportunities can do a lot to attract people to the health care profession and to live here in the Yukon , which is a beautiful place. How often have we heard stories about people who have come here for a visit or came here to spend three months or six months, and, like myself, have ended up being here - well, it has been 29 and a half years this month, I believe.
So, we need to attract those people and have the facilities and working conditions where they can live and do their jobs. I think that if we make it a more attractive place to live and work, it will benefit the health of all Yukoners.
So, one of the areas of health care access where there could be some improvement is in nursing. I'll cite a few statistics as well. Nurses are aging and also retiring earlier. I don't think that retiring earlier is necessarily something that's only happening with nurses. I think that's happening in a lot of different areas.
In 2004, there were 305 registered nurses with the Yukon Registered Nurses Association. Below the age of 40, there were 94 and over the age of 40, there were 211, so we're looking at a large number of them retiring. There were 158 who were over 45. Many nurses in the Yukon are hired as casuals, with no benefits and unpredictable working conditions. This is what I was talking about earlier - we need those working conditions so the job is something that is attractive to them. Some of them like flexibility, but the number of permanent positions should be increased to attract a more long-term and stable workforce.
The Yukon Registered Nurses Association's partial definition of “primary health care” is “coordinating, integrating and expanding systems and services to provide health, sickness prevention, health promotion by all disciplines and best use of all health providers to maximize the potential of all health resources.”
They also passed a resolution at their AGM to encourage the development of a multi-disciplinary health centre and lobby for a pilot project in Whitehorse . This is something I think the minister could take to heart.
I'd like to just briefly go back to the fact that we need more health care professionals in the communities, but Whitehorse is growing. Part of the reason it's growing is because the services and jobs for people aren't in the communities; yet we still require those health services in the communities. What it's doing is putting more pressure on Whitehorse , because there's more population based in Whitehorse .
The idea of a health centre or clinic that was open and accessible to people 24/7 would make sense.
I'd just like to quote an article from a little over a year ago. In conjunction with this centre, the idea was it would involve an array of health care providers, such as nutritionists, drug and alcohol counsellors, physiotherapists and nurse practitioners. People wondered why nurse practitioners couldn't do more in the health care field.
If the minister recalls, it was only a couple of years ago that we passed the Health Professions Act. I believe that would be the vehicle for allowing nurse practitioners to actually do more work. It was said that nurse practitioners can't because the Yukon has no regulations in place to govern nurse practitioners, although the legislation does exist.
So if a nurse practitioner wanted to set up an office in Whitehorse, there needs to be some regulatory process. So there is one more idea where the Health and Social Services minister, in conjunction with his colleague, the Minister of Community Services - who has the authority over the Health Professions Act and the registrar in charge of the regulations and all that - could attract nurse practitioners to take a more active role in providing medical services here in the Yukon and attract other nurse practitioners to come here and maybe provide those services, as well, and increase the number of health professionals available to Yukoners.
So, in short, I think the minister needs to be creative. He needs to think about the communities as well, and try things that are new and not just rely on the old standard practices. He needs to look at other methods of health care delivery and areas.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the members' debate this afternoon on the use of the territorial health access fund. Of course, the motion is: THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to utilize the territorial health access fund to increase Yukoners' access to family physicians and other health professionals.
I guess the debate around the room today is how, in the medical world, we can best facilitate meeting the demands that are on the shoulders of health care professionals in our territory.
I commend the members opposite for the debate this afternoon. Some of it was a little bit of politicking, and I guess that comes with any of our debates, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the leader of the third party's comments. Half of the motion was debated. It seemed like an apology for the inaction of the federal Liberal Party. That doesn't seem to be what this motion is about. The motion is about what is happening here in the Yukon.
Of course there are always fingers pointed at us for not doing enough, not being proactive, not consulting and then consulting too much. All those issues come up with government on a daily basis.
I would like to make something very clear not only in this House but everywhere in the Yukon . The simple action of three premiers - not taking any of the three out and saying one is better than the others - from Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon, who stood up to the giant that was the federal government, will probably go down in history as one of the bravest moves north of 60. It certainly wasn't done when the Liberal Party was in power. It certainly wasn't done by previous governments. I think the Yukon Party, made up of a mosaic of our community, has a bit of a heads-up. We don't represent any national party. We don't have to apologize for the Liberals in Ottawa. We don't have to make excuses for the federal government in any way.
What we have to do is work with the government that is in power at the time. That is our job as Yukon Party government. The Yukon Party is a cross-section of Yukoners who have Yukoners' concerns at heart and our Premier, through his leadership with the other two territories, brought home the resources so we could do just what we are talking about today. We are talking about the territorial health access fund - quite a substantial transfer of wealth from Ottawa to the territories.
Yesterday there was another announcement, Mr. Speaker, on housing - $50 million being transferred into the territory to answer some of the housing deficiencies we have in our jurisdiction. Again, it is not a per capita amount of money, but part of the national wealth is coming where it should, and that is in the territory. The most important thing, if we have done nothing on this side of the House at the end of our three-and-a-half, four-year term, is we can stand up and say to Yukoners that on health care, housing, all of the issues that are happening in the Yukon, the one thing that this Premier has done is stand up and say per capita funding doesn't work.
The debate has been in this House for many years that per capita transfers don't work. We're not Toronto, but we have a Premier who actually stood up to the federal government and said enough is enough on this transfer of wealth - equal share of wealth in Canada - that we should not be second-rate citizens in Canada because of where we live.
Now, the plan on health care is that we have issues with nurses, we have issues with the doctors, and we have issues with buildings. The member opposite was talking about rural Yukon and how we can address those issues and those shortfalls.
I think probably, as one of the members in this House who has lived longer in a rural residential area than in the City of Whitehorse, I understand the doctors in outlying areas and the work and the pressure we put on them. The doctor in Watson Lake was on call 24 hours a day for 17 years, Mr. Speaker, for a community of 1,500 and the surrounding area.
I don't think anybody in this House, or anybody in the Yukon, understands what being on call is, until you walk 24 hours in the shoes of that medical individual. That means that when you go home for dinner, you're on call; that means if you go out for dinner in the evening, you're on call, and on call for 17 years. Now, Watson Lake was very lucky to have that kind of medical support in the form of the doctor and, of course, that reflected in the whole system there because we had a great hospital, full of great nurses, right down to the cleaning staff. The whole community worked together to minimize the impact of being in a community in the Yukon without all the facilities they have here in Whitehorse . But we did that.
And I agree with the member opposite - how do we address those issues? And how do we, working in unison with the Minister of Health and Social Services, keep doctors? How do we encourage our own? I think, if I'm not mistaken, approximately six to seven of our youth are out at medical school today. In fact, the daughter of the doctor in Watson Lake is going to graduate from medical school in Ireland.
I would bet that she will come back to our community to practise her profession. That's what we want to see, and I think that's what our Minister of Health and Social Services wants to see. How do we address that and keep them in our community? For one thing, we could make them welcome - that would be a start.
We have a great territory, Mr. Speaker. When you think of the issues across Canada in the health industry - and it is an industry - in the Province of Ontario , almost 50 percent of their budget goes to health care. They have the same issues we do in every community in Ontario : how do we keep help? How do we keep standards? How do we address the technology that is moving ahead? We buy technology one day and the next day it's obsolete - these are all things that have to be done to keep ourselves abreast of the medical needs in our hospitals. I think the resources that our Premier got from Ottawa to address the health care system we have and the plan that the minister put forward on how we're going to address the plan down the road is a step in the right direction.
Again, it doesn't answer all the questions because, at the end of the day, all the questions will not be answered. We can say to Yukoners that we have more doctors per capita and all of these things - in fact we do, because statistically if you add up the doctors and the head count of the communities, you would say we have X amount of doctors and there are so many per patient. Well, are they full-time doctors, Mr. Speaker, or are they sharing practices? That, again, is another issue in hospitals where the issue is full-time employees and part-time individuals who want to come in and share a practice - in other words, nurses go in and share shifts so they can be home with their families. Those kinds of things are explainable. If you have a family and a husband who is working and you have the opportunity to work 10 or 20 hours a week, you might do that. That brings in the extra money so you can do the extra things that your family demands you do as a family unit. At the end of the day, do the doctors do the same thing? When my doctor retired, I was introduced to two doctors. Two doctors took my doctor's place. Are they sharing the practice? Are they here for a lifestyle? Their lifestyle gives them the flexibility to share the practice and also take advantage of the lifestyle the Yukon has to offer.
It's not that we're competing - I guess we are - but this government or any government here has to work with the situation we have. I think that the minister has done a commendable job of putting the workplan together. I think we have done a commendable job of addressing the shortfall the hospital had when we took office 40 months ago. We have increased the funding. The minister has done that. The growth in that budget - again the member opposite is correct in that it is one of our bigger budgets. How do we address that? I think that we, as a government, have done an exceptional job, first of all, in raising the resources so we could do it. Regardless of what we wanted to do, if we didn't have access to the resources - in other words, if our Premier had not gone to Ottawa and raised the resources and the profile of this issue to the powers that be in Ottawa and got that per capita thing behind us, we wouldn't be in the situation we are today. That situation is that we have some resources. The resources are flowing from Ottawa. The department is working. The department heads - the Department of Health and Social Services - are working very positively to answer the questions about the nursing and doctor shortages. These are all things that have to do with the general running of the hospital.
I remind the members opposite that they tend to insinuate in the House that, somehow, we staff the hospital and there is some forum outside of the hospital's jurisdiction where we as politicians have some kind of a secret staff which staffs the hospital. That's not the way it works.
We transfer the money to the hospital board. The hospital board is a very capable group, and they manage the Crown corporation, which is the hospital. At the end of the day, if they are short of resources, we are open to discussions. I imagine the minister would be in contact with that group on a monthly basis anyway, Mr. Speaker, to make sure that the shortfalls or whatever can be addressed.
Because of the high profile of the department and the necessity of the department, it touches everybody in the Yukon. It is a very important department for us to concentrate on and try to address its shortfalls. This will address the shortfalls. As a government, we will commit to Yukon to make sure we maximize the money we get so it minimizes the impact the individual has when they come to the hospital, or that we open doors for them to get their own doctors. We open closed practices so that other doctors are available.
You know, if you have ever worked around a physician, it's very important to understand that a day in a physician's life is hard to describe unless you spend a day with a physician to find out exactly what kinds of pressures are on those individuals. I understand they are trained. I understand that they spend a very long time academically to get into that position. I understand there is a question out there that doctors do this or they make that - you know, innuendo out there about doctors. But I think everybody should walk in a doctor's shoes for a 12- or 24-hour period or however long it takes to get the job done.
Whether it's in a maternity ward, in surgery or whatever, our doctors work extensively until the job is done, and that's what they're trained to do. They're trained to a very high professional level. I understand the fact that we have an older doctor population and, on a national level, don't seem to accept the number of doctors that we're going to need seven or eight years down the road.
For example, my neighbour's son in Whitehorse applied - very highly academically rated, he was a science major in university; he did very well - and he had a very, very hard time being accepted to the medical universities in Canada. They don't seem to be accepting the number of individuals we need to get the job down the road. That's not something that we can debate in the House here. That's an issue that Canada has. Are we accepting enough youth to balance the retirees? At the end of the day, will we have a balance of doctors as we go through the demands we have in our community?
Mr. Speaker, I think the motion is a good motion. When the leader of the official opposition said it was a sort of motion that didn't really have to be a motion, I think that's debatable. I think it is important that we understand in the House that motions are brought forward by individuals - backbenchers here on this side of the House - that they feel are important, and I don't want to diminish that.
I would like to compliment the member for bringing this forward. I think it has been a useful debate today. I think it is something the Yukon debates on a daily basis - individuals on the street. There is a concern out there about our medical situation, and every family is concerned about that, and we as politicians should listen to our constituents or to Yukoners to make sure that we can address their issues. It is not always money, Mr. Speaker, but the money here will go to a very solid overview. It will work with the issues at hand - on a daily basis we are addressing issues like the travel money that individuals need to go out to B.C. and Edmonton to get further medical attention.
All those issues this government is going to address. I have to compliment the minister for bringing forward that monetary improvement for that travel. It's the first time there has been movement on that for 10 years. We brought it up to date. Have we done enough? No. But are we going to do more? We certainly are. I think the Minister of Health and Social Services has done a grand job of addressing these issues - taking them and putting them to work - and listening to the professionals. We can debate this in the House, but it has to be done at the professional level.
Again, I say, Mr. Speaker, that you have to walk with a doctor for 12 or 24 hours to understand what the individual goes through. For us to consult and work with them at the professional level - to see what the work force in our medical departments need and how we can best fit in and partner with them - is very important.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: The member who just spoke mentioned that we can debate this in the House. I want to start off by talking about that because, over the years, I've wondered if “debate” is really a proper name for what we do in here. I've come up with the conclusion that, no, it's not the proper name. Because to have a debate - even an unprofessional debate, never mind a professional one - one who speaks must be provided an opportunity to rebut, and possibly rebut again and again, as arguments are put forward.
I'd like somebody to identify for me when such an opportunity is available to anybody in here.
The answer is that there is never a time for debate. On motion day, as you know, Mr. Speaker, each member can speak only once, except for the mover of the motion. So the members can't debate. All that ever happens is that the member gives his or her perspectives or views if they are up to speaking to a particular motion. Sometimes the motion may not be worth speaking to. The member may feel that he or she has already put their comments on record on a prior occasion and that that will suffice. Perhaps the member is too busy on that occasion attending to constituency needs or whatever and is unavailable.
There are a lot of things in the mix, but let's never call it debate. I believe that that word is misleading, because it doesn't properly represent what takes place in here. I think it points to a greater problem in that we do need to look at legislative renewal. We have talked about this over the years - how we can better spend our time in this Assembly, and how we can better involve all members of the Assembly and not just members of the governing side or the side that happens to call the motion.
These are all matters for someone to examine at a future date. It is obviously too great an issue for me to go into at any length today. We certainly wouldn't be able to debate it today, because there is no opportunity that can be classified as debate, so there we go.
This motion today is basically motherhood and apple pie. I can't ever imagine anybody voting against it. It's rather benign. It just basically urges the Government of Yukon to continue to make progress on one of its main responsibilities, which is health care for Yukoners. There is nothing controversial about it. There is nothing really remarkable or new or innovative about it. It's just another wasted Wednesday, I guess, Mr. Speaker.
I hate to use that term because not all Wednesdays are wasted. I believe that some motions are very valuable to have for discussion - note the word “discussion” and not “debate”. Some motions are valuable to have discussed on the floor because it's the only opportunity all members can use to engage in speaking to a particular subject and maybe broaden their comments to relate to some other issues they have on their minds.
Not every Wednesday is wasted, and probably not all of today will be wasted either. I will try not to waste a full 20 minutes. I will try to keep it to about half that.
There are a few things I want to get on the record. First of all, I heard some members mention nurses and how important they are. I agree fully. As a matter of fact, nurses across the territory - and the caregivers and doctors - deserve more praise and recognition than we can possibly give from this Legislature. Some of us know that, because we have seen the outstanding jobs they do. The service beyond the call of duty is really part of what these health care physicians deliver on a day-to-day basis across the territory, from Watson Lake to Old Crow, from Beaver Creek to Ross River .
In my riding of Kluane, Mr. Speaker, there are three nursing stations presently - one in Haines Junction, another in Destruction and another in Beaver Creek. I've known pretty well every nurse over the past decade, and they all fall in this category of really doing an outstanding job, and sometimes in adverse conditions. Of course, in a small community, everybody comes to know the nurse. That can have its advantages as well as disadvantages. I suppose one of the outcomes is the nurse gets called any time of the day or night - on a Tuesday night or a Sunday night, it doesn't matter, it seems. They get called, and they know this. And they go down and open up the nursing station and attend to the patient. In the larger city, Mr. Speaker, this is unheard of - absolutely unheard of.
Like politicians in the Yukon, I guess - we have a fairly low ratio of constituents per MLA - the same could be said of our nurses in the rural communities. Virtually everybody in the community comes to know the nurse, as they do their MLA. The level of contact here really is quite extraordinary and it's really what makes the Yukon one community.
I would like to make sure I give some kudos to the nurses and health care workers and the doctors.
There are some recent issues I want to briefly touch on. One of them is that we know there is a shortage of 10 community nurses. These are full-time positions that are currently staffed with auxiliaries, and there is a red flag to this, Mr. Speaker. I think the Yukon should be trying to hire as many full-time nurses as possible. I believe there is a great opportunity, as identified in the past couple of days in Question Period, to introduce a mentoring program for nurses in the territory. Like the minister says, the average age of our nurses is 47 years, and many will be retiring in the next few years. Let us not be oblivious to the future. Let us look at what is down the road.
I know the health care station in Haines Junction is an example of where there are some 20- and 25-year nurses working at that facility. Some have retired, and some will be retiring and it will be a huge transition. If the government provides the support for them to mentor a new nurse trainee for a period of time, then we will see the transfer of a lot of their knowledge and experience to our upcoming nursing staff. There are plenty of other favourable arguments that the nurses have made about this that all make sense and are something we should be doing.
The minister today sprang the surprise announcement of the medical travel benefit increase. It's all part of some new programs the government is unveiling, which stem from a major transfer of funds from the federal government.
As mentioned earlier today, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this transfer of funds would not be possible if not for the huge budget surplus at the federal level. We are taking advantage of that here in the territory. This government is very fortunate to be in government at a time when these huge transfers are taking place. As mentioned earlier, the previous governments had to deal with cutbacks. They had to make do with less money.
I believe it was in 1995 when the federal government of the day asked all the provinces and territories to share in budget cuts that it deemed necessary in order to rein in the deficit trajectory. That was essentially the cause of a $20-million reduction to our base funding for health care in the territory. Back then, it represented something like 15 percent of the total health care budget. Imagine that today. Our health care budget is almost $200 million a year. Imagine having to do without $35 million in funding in this budget in the area of health care. It would be traumatic.
That's what the government of the day in 1995-96 had to contend with. That is what governments since then have had to contend with. It's only in the last few years that the federal government has realized a huge surplus and funds have started to flow back.
That has created the topic of today's discussion, the territorial health access fund. This is essentially built from extra monies transferred from Ottawa that were part of the budget surplus. And that's all documented. That's not my point of view; that's all documented; that's simply fact.
So, the government has, at its luxury, a lot of additional money. We don't know yet how the money will be spent. I guess that's an area of concern. The government, it seems, is unveiling announcements on a weekly basis, and sometimes more frequently, about how it is spending money to resolve issues like the medical travel. These announcements are being made outside the Legislature, and they're being made without any advance knowledge to the non-government members in this Assembly.
This has been a matter of debate before, and I thought the government got the message that that practice was frowned upon. But, obviously, it hasn't got the message, and it's continuing to show disrespect for this Assembly by making those announcements outside the House. That's a problem.
Another problem is that it's bringing the announcements just before Question Period starts - you know, probably hoping to catch the opposition off-guard on its questions. We just saw an example of that this afternoon when I asked a question about the medical travel fund that was overdue.
I guess another concern is actually how the money is being spent. We wonder who is making the decisions. Take the medical travel issue, for one thing. Only some of the issues were addressed. We wonder who was consulted in that decision, how many factors were considered in making that decision, and so on.
We can go through all the announcements and make pretty well the same comments. We are sure there will be more announcements in the days ahead that fall under the same type of comment, and that is that these decisions are made unilaterally by the government behind closed doors, and they are announced outside the Legislature at a very politically opportune time, trying to catch the opposition side off-guard. There is a problem with that.
When the government announced these funds and programs, why didn't it give out more of a detailed list of which programs and services it would be announcing in the weeks ahead? Why didn't it announce how much money it would be assigning to each of those and some basic parameters of what the decisions would involve? Then we can have some meaningful discussion in here about it. There is nothing healthier than some discussion from all sides, but we are not having that because of the unilateral approach that has been taken on the spending of these monies. So, that's a bit of a problem.
Another point is that I can't help but notice that the government is making spending announcements to last over the next five years. How does that work when there is an election to be held sometime in the next five or six months? Obviously, the government is sending out a spending plan that far outdistances its mandate. It seems that it's the same old game. Governments like to do that. They like to spend money for the next government, just in case they're not re-elected. It makes one wonder about what happened during the years the government was elected.
When we look at issues like medical travel, this issue did not just pop up today. We have been asking questions about this for three years. The money didn't just show up today. The extra money has been flowing in for three and a half years.
I know that during the budget briefings, the departmental people were asked about what was happening with the monies transferred from the federal government. The answer would always be the same - that they haven't been allocated yet, that the file is on the minister's desk.
What is happening now is that this government has kept this money under wraps for the whole duration of its mandate. Then, just before the election, it's spending the money in the hopes of gaining - I hope this isn't a motive, Mr. Speaker. Is it?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: It could be? All right.
It has the appearance of - no, I can't say that either. I guess there's a lot we can't do in here. Let that be a warning to people who want to get elected because they actually want to do something. They had better realize that they can't come in here and debate anything, because there's never an opportunity for debate. They can't say what they think, because most of that is ruled out of order. They can't make all the points necessary, because their time will run out.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, my time has run out.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I wish I could respond to some of the remarks made by the Member for Kluane, but I'm going to stick to the motion at hand. I would like to thank the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin for bringing forward such a very important motion to the floor of the Legislature. I think when it comes to health care, this is probably the most important issue on Yukoners' minds, on Canadians' minds. Certainly it has been said that if you don't have your health, it's certainly felt. I am certainly very appreciative of the delivery of health care that we have here in the Yukon. Over the last couple of years, I've actually had the opportunity to utilize the health care system - one, through expecting our son, and one through a recent sickness in our family.
It never ceases to amaze me just how many very qualified, how many very professional health care individuals we do have here in the Yukon. That said, there are problems with health care clear across the country, clear across North America and on the broader scope. Certainly the shortage of health care professionals is not something that is pertinent only to the Yukon, but it's something that is clearly felt across the world.
It's due to a number of reasons - demographics, an aging population. Clearly there are more occupations to choose from. There is a whole litany of reasons behind the shortages that we face here today.
In going door-to-door in my constituency over the last couple of years, a number of concerns have been raised with me about the inability to obtain a family doctor. I can very much appreciate those concerns. There's nothing worse than not being able to have your own family doctor in the Yukon - a person who will sit down with you and who will actually become familiar with your personal files, who has the records of your family health history. But that is not the case, sadly, with a number of Yukon residents, and that is something that we are working toward addressing.
I think that it is really important to go back a couple of years to when the three northern premiers did sit down with the federal government. They said that this is not enough, that if you are looking at funding on a per capita basis, it is not going to work in the Yukon, it is not going to work in the Northwest Territories, and it is not going to work in Nunavut. We have unique circumstances; we have unique needs. There is no question about it.
I think from that meeting, the first ministers meeting in Ottawa, a couple of years ago - it was at that time when the three premiers made their points very eloquently and very strongly and took no for a non-answer. As a result of that, the Government of Canada did commit to a sum of money - $150 million to the territories - and that is money that is now starting to flow in the Yukon .
We will receive about $29 million under these agreements over the next five years. There were three main agreements. I know that members opposite and members on our side of the Legislature have spoken of them. But, of course, we're talking about the territorial health access fund, and that which we will be receiving - $4.3 million a year, for five years.
And herein lies the whole rationale for negotiating a health access fund: to develop a health human resources strategy to look at the trends, at the proportion of the health care work force today. The fact that they will be reaching retirement age over the next few years is of dire concern.
That is why we are going to be working with our stakeholders in the health field to develop short- and long-term initiatives that address immediate access to health care delivery, now and in the future.
Some of these initiatives will be used to enhance existing recruitment initiatives for access to family physicians. Examples include adding student bursaries, assisting with paying off student loans and mentoring medical students. There has been some debate about mentoring being made available for the nursing professions as well as international medical graduates.
Certainly this funding comes at a very important time in Yukon's development. The Yukon is becoming a more and more attractive place to live and raise a family, but we need services to go along with that added growth. Meeting the needs of Yukoners when it comes to the delivery of health care services is a priority for our government. I am really pleased to see funding being made available and flowing to the territory, and that we are now going to work toward some of these initiatives and building on some of the successes we have seen over the last number of years.
The territorial health access fund, as it was described by the Minister of Health and Social Services, will go toward a number of activities. Again, it gives us flexibility in discussions with health care stakeholders in terms of changing circumstances and trends, as I mentioned earlier. These dollars flowing to the Yukon will enable us to further develop strategies. It will enable us to put actions in place and implement the plan properly. Again, we will continue to work with our stakeholders in meeting some of these challenges.
Members opposite have alluded to mentoring in the nursing profession, dental health, enhancing services available to rural Yukon, or mental health - again, that has been a concern that has been raised in my constituency, the need for added mental health services and improving supports available in our own community.
Tuberculosis has been identified as another issue in the Yukon that we need to continue to work toward addressing and toward providing support to patients with tuberculosis.
Again, in terms of providing preventive health care, such as providing support to home care delivery, we know that it is by far the least expensive option in terms of providing health care to Yukoners. I know personally that we would all much rather stay in our homes as long as we can instead of having to go to the hospital or having to go elsewhere. We are fortunate, though, to have stellar facilities in the Yukon and the services available that, should the home care option be no longer available, there are places to go to. But again, an emphasis on home care in the Yukon is critical, and we need to continue to find creative ways to deliver home care services in our own communities as well.
I was really pleased to hear about the news pertaining to the medical travel fund announcement that the Minister of Health and Social Services issued earlier today. This will undoubtedly assist many Yukoners. I just had family members who were Outside for a couple of months, and there is no question that the costs do add up after a long period of time when you have families staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.
The increase from the current $30 to $75 per day is definitely an improvement. Is it the best? I think there is always room for improvement, but it is important to note that this is a significant enhancement to the fund. It will be received very well by Yukoners. The very fact that the subsidy will kick in on the second day, instead of the fourth day, will be felt as well. I have spoken with constituents on a number of occasions when their personal experiences have been raised with me - individuals who have chronic illnesses that require them to go outside the city to obtain specialized services, and how these costs add up. When you are making a trip on a quarterly basis, these routine trips all add up. This will be of great relief to my constituents as well.
For those folks who are living in rural communities and have to come to Whitehorse to obtain services that aren't readily available in the communities themselves, it is great to see that there is going to be an increase in their travel support. Just seeing the kilometre rate increase from 18.5 cents to 30 cents per kilometre is welcome news. With the rising cost of fuel these days, these are all supports that help offset some of the burdens that we all feel these days. It's also great to hear that, for the very first time, those Yukoners living in rural areas who don't necessarily live right within the communities will also be eligible to receive this support as well.
I think these all build on some of the needs that have been expressed by Yukoners for many years. Increasing the money available to Yukoners for medical travel was an issue that was identified by the three northern territories at the time they sat down with the federal government a couple of years ago. We are really pleased to see funding being made available for this as well.
As I mentioned, I think that while we can be very thankful for what we have here today, we continue to look to tomorrow and see how we can improve services.
I would be very remiss if I didn't mention the Copper Ridge continuing care facility that is actually in the middle of my riding of Whitehorse West. I have had the opportunity to make a number of visits to the continuing care facility, and I've always been welcomed with open arms. The staff are stellar. They go out of their way to ensure that individuals residing at Copper Ridge Place are made welcome and that Copper Ridge Place is their home. They do everything in their power and ability to ensure that this facility is, in fact, their home - a home to many individuals.
We were very pleased to come forward with additional funding - I believe it was a year and a half ago, if not a couple of years ago - of almost $2 million that saw the opening of 12 new beds in Copper Ridge Place, as well as seven new beds in Macaulay Lodge, I believe it was.
Again, it's great to see this within this budget. Outside of the territorial health access fund there are monies identified within the budget to ensure that these beds are fully staffed and that services are provided to these individuals residing in Copper Ridge Place.
I did want to take the opportunity just to recognize that we are very fortunate to have what we have here in the Yukon, right across the territory - in our communities and in the City of Whitehorse. Again, while recognizing the strengths we have and the successes we've been able to garner over the years, we have a long way to go. Health care delivery - the pressures upon our system are going to continue to build in the country.
Again, by continuing to build on the planning that has been done, doing more planning, working with our stakeholders and recognizing that we do have unique needs here in the Yukon, we will be able to proceed and meet the health care needs of our residents.
I know that I am running out of time. I did want to take one opportunity to speak to the leader of the official opposition's referral to the use of Tourism in helping us recruit physicians. I am pleased to say that, as part of our development of the Yukon tourism brand strategy, we will be collaborating - in fact we already have been collaborating - with all the departments, and specifically the Department of Health and Social Services, using our brand. We have been incorporating within our own campaign strategies the ability to appeal to Outside residents about how the Yukon is a wonderful place to live, raise families and work. Where else would you be able to step outside your office and see such a wonderful landscape as we are able to do here, in and out? Well, not particularly in this building.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to address this very important issue. I would like to thank the members opposite as well for their support of this motion.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, I'm happy to put my comments on the record in regard to the motion that's before us this afternoon. When we talk about health care - health care delivery in Canada costs a lot. When we think about health care delivery in the north, the cost is extreme and the challenge is great.
Like the member before me said in her comments, we are unique. I remember when our Premier travelled to Ottawa and he and the two other northern premiers walked away from that table and it was shown all across the country on national news. Everybody across Canada had to pay attention to what just happened. If that was the only way we could bring attention to our cause in the north, then that certainly did it.
Anyhow, health care is one of the most important issues in the Yukon right now. Coming from a small, isolated community in the north, Mr. Speaker, I know there are many challenges that our communities have to face. My colleague, the leader of the official opposition, tabled a report today, The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada 2002, and one of the lines is that the biggest single direct cost associated with substance abuse is health care.
When we talk about health care, there is a broad range of issues that come to mind. When I think about a small, isolated rural community like mine, I can think of very specific issues that we have to contend with - not only on a daily basis, but a regular basis. Some of the issues are pretty harsh, and some of the issues are very painful for patients or people who suffer from certain ailments.
One area that comes directly to mind is dental care. Up until recently, we weren't receiving dental care on a regular basis, and there was a time when we didn't have a dentist coming to our community to service the adults in Old Crow. That left people with a lot of problems. Travel couldn't be covered for people to go from our community to Whitehorse to receive the kind of service that they needed. It was extremely important for the Minister of Health and Social Services, both territorial and federal, to know that those kinds of needs are there. When we talk about prevention and healthy living and how we take care of ourselves so that we don't become such a high cost to the health care system, we need to start thinking in that way and to change that attitude. It is coming around slowly because we have been receiving those types of services in our communities now, which is very much appreciated.
However, it took awhile to get there, and there were a lot of people in our communities who had to suffer. The only services they acquired were for reacting to a crisis they were in instead of preventing and saving their tooth - the tooth had to be pulled and they had to be sent back home. It probably didn't need to get to that point. When we're talking about $4.3 million a year over a five-year period, some of those services, I'm sure, could benefit from this type of money so the communities could benefit from these services on a regular basis.
Another area in health care services is in mental health. When we think about healthy living, we think about the holistic approach to our lives. In our communities we are trying to encourage and educate people to think in that fashion, so we start in the school system, so the young children are starting to have the attitude that, yes, if I get enough exercise and rest, and if I eat well, then I have a better chance of living a longer life or performing better in school.
In my community, we are trying to promote that kind of healthy attitude and thinking. It has taken a few years but there is a program in place now. On a positive note, it is slowly but surely coming to a place where we would like to be.
On the other hand, you have to take a look at the isolation of our community. And with isolation, we have a high cost of living. So, if we want to promote healthy living, healthy eating and have healthy, responsible community members, then we have to think about what kind of food our young people are eating today. You don't have much of a selection - I mean, we do have a selection, but you pay the price for it. If you purchase three oranges at our local store, that costs at least $7. If you buy a dozen eggs, you are paying at least $5. If you want to purchase three bananas, you're paying at least $6. If you want to have vegetables as part of your diet, then again you have to pay a high price for the food that's going to benefit you, as an individual.
So, all these different issues have a domino effect. If we can't get the healthy food for our young children, then what are we feeding them so that we don't become a high cost to the health system?
Something that I feel very passionate and strongly about, Mr. Speaker, is home care for our elders. The past few years, a few of our elders had to be sent either to Dawson or to Whitehorse so their families could have some respite from caring for the elderly in their home.
With regard to the family, it affects everyone when one has to make a decision like that. An elder is sent away from their home and it causes everyone anxiety. At the same time, it's supposed to be a rest from taking care of a loved one.
This is not only very stressful for the family, it is doubly stressful for the person who has to be away from home for any length of time. It is quite an adjustment for the person with regard to the diet they're used to, the language they are used to using, and the feeling of always having their family and grandchildren around.
With regard to the money that the minister has announced - the money that will be available to the Yukon over the next five years - those are the types of things I encourage the government and the next government to do, as well as listen very closely to where the needs are. When we're talking about people throughout the Yukon , we have to think about the grassroots people in the communities throughout the Yukon and not just Whitehorse and areas close to town. People in our communities live under tremendous challenges in all areas. We talk about poverty. We talk about people hoping to have access to affordable housing. We need to get some ideas in place.
The First Nation governments have signed several agreements with this government and with the Liberal government over the last six years. By now, one would think that something would be in place to address some of these issues.
That's the frustrating part for people out there - you know, we're always hearing about all the money that's coming in from Ottawa; we're introducing the biggest budgets in the history of the Yukon, and yet the people in our communities are not seeing many of the benefits of this kind of money that comes to us. The people I talk to in the communities are wondering where all this money goes. If we want to strengthen the services to rural communities, like the mover of this motion said in his comments, then when is that going to happen? I believe the three ministers walked out of that meeting with the Prime Minister for a reason. It's for the people of the north; and we, the people of the north, need to see some of the benefits of this type of money. In my community, again, Mr. Speaker, we haven't had optometrist services for the past five years. What about the young people who need the eye care and some of the elders who need that type of care when they don't have opportunities to come to Whitehorse to receive those types of services?
Mr. Speaker, I know I have only five minutes left, but I would just like to touch on another area.
The mover of this motion referred to palliative care, and we know how important that service is to families.
A lot of these services that we hear about, we know are so important to people. As people become elders, we think about the best way we can care for seniors and elders in our communities and how we can offer a quality of life so they can be comfortable in that time of their lives. I believe they deserve every kind of service that is available. Unfortunately for us who live in the small rural communities, we don't have those kinds of luxuries. I don't believe I've ever seen anyone from palliative care come to my community. If you mentioned palliative care to someone in my community who is a senior and an elder, they wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about. Yet it's a very important service that is offered to people here in Whitehorse and in some of the surrounding areas. That's sad; that's very sad, because our elders have given us most of their lives, and they paved the way for us so we can have a better life today. When we cannot offer them services that will give them a quality of life today, that is pretty sad. When we can talk about huge amounts of money like $4.3 million for the next five years, then that is definitely not fair.
Mr. Speaker, I know my time is up, and I would like to say that I support this motion that is before us today. Hopefully, our communities can benefit from the funding that is proposed.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: There are a number of things that have come up in this - I'm not sure whether we call it a debate or a discussion, according to the Member for Kluane - but a lot of different things have come forward on that.
Just before I lose my train of thought, one thing for the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin - certainly not meant as a barb or anything else - but in all seriousness, a very active group, probably mostly in Whitehorse I have to admit, but available to get involved in the communities, is Hospice Yukon - q quite an amazing group to work with. I am sure they would absolutely love to get involved in some of the communities. I'm suspicious that even a reasonable proposal to bring people up to train or to start something similar in small communities is something that might very well be looked at with great interest by the community development fund, or our “slush fund” as some members opposite like to call it. It would be a very good use of something like that.
First of all, I would like to echo the thoughts of some of the earlier speakers - it seems to have dropped off a bit in later speakers. But having been the recipient in the last few months of the hospital and our health care system, I have to go very far out and say that it is an incredible organization with incredible people. They are sometimes, as the saying goes, hoisted on their own petard. The turnover rate at Whitehorse General is, I believe, if not the lowest in Canada , certainly among the lowest. I was told that it was the lowest. When I spent some glorious time in the emergency room, one of the nurses told me that they had taken up a survey of the various nurses and staff on their own in the emergency area. They came up with a total level of experience within that hospital of over 600 years. I believe that. People don't tend to leave, so jobs don't tend to open very frequently there. The jobs are definitely under the purview of the hospital and not of this government or any government. It really is an amazing comment on how good that group really is.
I have a bit of a different way of looking at things from other people in the House, having worked in a medical school for 17 years. Much of that was consulting to a variety of hospitals and finishing out my career for three years at a fairly senior level at the second largest hospital in the world. Toronto General Hospital - or as it's known now, The Toronto Hospital - is a tertiary care facility. We did have some primary care responsibilities, but people were referred to referrers who were then referred to us, so we dealt with a slightly different level. We were the recipient, in many ways, of some of the problems that have evolved in the health care system.
I always watch with great humour shows like ER or Grey's Anatomy, and while so many things do not happen in one episode - that's a little silly - ironically, I can assure you that, for the most part, those things do happen. Few things in the world are worse than provincial or territorial politics. University politics are a close second, and hospital politics make this look like a cakewalk. Most of the people in those episodes, I can name them in our institution, and I know them all quite well.
I can remember going into Toronto Western Hospital when we first amalgamated. I got off the elevator on the wrong floor, and I walked into a ward and thought I'd gone through a time warp. I went into a fully stocked ward, all the beds were set up and made, there were nice lounges, there were magazines in the lounges, the nursing station was set up, there was the odd coffee cup sitting around, and there was not a living soul on that floor. We had a complete and totally equipped surgical ward, and not a single surgeon, patient, intern or nurse on the floor. We couldn't afford to staff it.
There were a lot of problems with that. I remember also walking on to that floor one day to show someone and waking up an intern in one of the beds who found that spot was a nice place to curl up because everybody knew it was a completely empty ward. It was a great place to hide. He was kind of shocked when a couple of us walked in.
But when you look back at that historically, there was a political decision made to begin cutting health care on a federal level and moving that over to the provinces and territories. I leave it to history to determine if that was a good decision or bad decision. From my perspective, it wasn't very bright, but that's a personal opinion.
It moved the responsibility to the territories and provinces, which then had to come up with the funds. We had to cut housing programs. We had to build some pretty cheap housing, which is tending to fall apart now.
What a surprise. We tended to do a lot of things to cut the bills, because more and more had to go into health care. One figure that I saw that came out of one of the federal think tanks was that the federal Liberal government had cut, over time, over $25 billion in health care and put that onus on to provinces and territories. Again, I leave to history to judge the sanity of that choice, but that was what happened.
With a reduction in the number of beds and a reduction in, therefore, the number of patients - it tends to go hand in hand, now, doesn't it? But with that reduction, another think tank - and while politically you'd love to blame this on a politician, as everything else is always blamed on a politician, but I'm suspicious that it probably was a think tank - looked at all of this and said we have too many doctors; we don't need that many doctors; we don't need that many nurses. So they made, again, what was supposedly a rational decision at the time in the early 1990s to cut the number of students in medical schools and to cut the number of students in nursing schools and to not develop nursing schools in some of the community colleges.
At the same time, for all the right reasons, many of the nursing programs became four-year bachelor programs and not two-year community college programs. Many of these graduates ended up in administrative positions, and I think a lot of the nurses I knew who went through for their bachelor of nursing found that they spent more time filling out narcotics registers than they actually did working with patients. When some of that was going on in the discussion here, I remember some time ago - again, back in the 1990s - when within the Yukon itself there was a major cut of certified nursing assistants, of CNAs. A friend of mine was front and centre in the charge on that, that it's the CNAs who work with the patients. And, Mr. Speaker, she's right, and cutting the number of CNAs was really not a good decision at the time.
It again cut patient services quite dramatically. There were a number of other factors on that. I will go out on a limb here and try to phrase myself without getting myself into too much trouble. Historically, in many of these professions - certainly my own, but within human medicine, dental school, and that sort of thing - it was very much a male-dominated area. In my class I believe we had eight women graduate, and that was an absolute record. Now it runs over 90 percent women, and the medical school classes are going much the same way, for all of the right reasons. A good chunk of these graduates want to have a life, they want to have a family, and they want to have children. They are not going to work the obscene and ridiculous hours that the physician in Watson Lake worked - for 17 years he was on call for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I have a bit of an insight into that but I only did it for two years. You don't go to movies because the chance of finishing a movie is pretty slim. When I did it, you just had the old VCR and you hoped it worked recording the movie, because you were watching the movie on TV and you never finished it either. You couldn't have a drink and you couldn't go to a party because chances are you'd be called out of it. You couldn't go very far. We had a little code with the answering system, that I was on a horse call down in the beautiful Southern Lakes, and that meant that I was off the air for about an hour, but if something happened I would certainly hear about it. Physicians can't really do it that way. That was just one way I tried to deal with it. My heart goes out to the physician in Watson Lake, who did that for 17 years.
Consequently, you have a growing number of physicians graduating on a percentage basis - actually a smaller number graduating - who want to work part time. They are not too keen on going into an area where there is on-call work. They want to be able to go home at 5:00 or 6:00 and be with their families. They want to be able to share a practice, as a couple of the speakers today have said.
All of that makes perfect sense, except it further lowers the number of physicians available and the nurses available. Consequently, we get ourselves further and further into trouble on the whole thing.
Another thing that is a factor here - and again I scratch my head. I will give you a statistic that was given to me by the former Minister of Health and Social Services - and I leave the accuracy to him but I am suspicious that it is quite accurate. In a territory with a population of 31,000 people, we have nearly 41,000 health care cards. You have to start thinking about that; that's a little scary.
Because we have such excellent services in so many ways - and we really do - it comes to the fact that people shop to come here. If you retired in Ontario or Nova Scotia or New Brunswick or Saskatchewan, and you have your recreational vehicle and you are down in Phoenix, Arizona for the winter and you have to come back to Canada to keep your residency going, why would you go back to any of those jurisdictions when you can come to a place like the Yukon, have a wonderful summer and almost double or more your benefits? You will have better drug benefits. You will get better medical care. You will get better everything. Consequently, that is adding a huge challenge to us.
I had a wonderful conversation with our statistics director some time ago. A statistic that kind of caught me off-guard - we always refer in this House to the aging population. It's true, people do tend to retire and stay here; they don't immediately take off and leave. But the biggest increase statistically by far is older parents and older friends and people retiring who are simply coming here for the lifestyle and for the better care.
Consequently, we run the challenge every day - and certainly I run the gauntlet with Yukon Housing Corporation - of someone who was born and raised in the Yukon and retiring here when they turn 80 and wanting social-assistance housing or a seniors facility. I've had some fairly hot discussions with people who have just brought their mother up from Ontario last week and are demanding a space on an equal basis with that person who was born and raised here.
Technically, they are right, but I have a real problem with doing that. It's another huge challenge that goes with it. I can say this now: when you are dealing with senior citizens, you are dealing with a group that is going to require more health care. Do you differentiate between the people who require that care? In other words, do you put more restrictions or do something with that person who is going to put more demands on the health care system, rather than someone who is 32 years old without a health care in the world and won't have one for the next 20 years? How do you make that determination?
One of the programs I was involved in - and thank goodness I was never in the position of making this decision; the people I worked with were and it was a constant source of discussion - was the lung transplant program. Two patients who are in desperate need of a lung transplant. The initial lung transplant program was funded by and was integrally involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Association. Patients with cystic fibrosis need those lung transplants a lot earlier than a senior citizen.
As the program developed, the single lung developed into the double lung, which replaced the heart lung. Now we had a cystic fibrosis patient or an emphysema patient with a perfectly healthy heart. We did not want to take that healthy heart out and put in new lungs. However, if there are two patients who need this, do we differentiate between the smoker and the non-smoker? We had concerted discussions and everyone would have an opinion on this, that if someone were a smoker, they simply were not on the lung transplant list. If they weren't going to take care of themselves, we weren't going to waste that vital thing, especially because this week, I believe, Mr. Speaker, is transplant week. Lungs are very fragile, and for accident victims and this sort of thing, the lungs are the last organ likely to be transplanted because they are so fragile. So while you may have more hearts, you may have more kidneys, you have corneas - and all of these are in short supply - lungs are in incredibly short supply.
That leads, of course, into the whole debate. The Member for Mount Lorne had made a comment about smoking. Was the smoking bill that's on the floor perfect? No, it isn't. I'd like to see it perfect, and I'd like to support that sort of a thing.
Does someone who is a smoker have the same right to go in and put those demands on the health care system? I don't know. I was a heavy smoker for enough years that I'd like now to say no, but maybe that's sour grapes; I don't know. But I've known chest surgeons and lung surgeons who also smoked. There is no easy answer to any of that, of course.
With all of this, what we're really looking at with the territorial health access fund - sort of the three broad goals, which are to build capacity for self-reliance and provide services in-territory. This all goes back to the proper things. I mean, it's easy on one side to say, well, if you have a problem that requires you to be close to the services, then really you should move close to those services. If you have something that requires you to be right next to a tertiary care hospital, then maybe the Yukon isn't the place to be living.
That's easy to say until you come from a small community, and it's easy to say until you come from a small community that has a huge and rich cultural background. Then it isn't an easy decision.
The second one is to strengthen community-level access to services, and I think there are a number of ways we can do that. As the debate continues, if I take off my ministerial hat and leave my personal and MLA hat on, I'm a huge supporter of nurse practitioners. They are extremely talented people. They are not simply nurses, and they could make a huge difference to our health care system.
And then, of course, what I've been talking about more recently: the third goal is to reduce reliance on the health care system over time. I can remember getting into a real good argument with a fellow a couple of years ago, who was absolutely incensed that the City of Whitehorse had charged someone for not wearing a helmet while they rode their bicycle. Their point was, “If I'm riding my bicycle, I should have the right not to wear a helmet.” And I said, “You know, you're right. You shouldn't be made to wear that helmet, as long as you sign a guarantee that when you fall, and you crack your head open, I don't have to pay the medical bills for the rest of your life.” And you aren't either, Mr. Speaker. Suddenly, he didn't really want to talk about that an awful lot more.
The problems right now with the so-called nursing shortage and such, Mr. Speaker - I don't think we don't have a nursing shortage in the territory. We certainly are looking at one in the future. When you look at the average of age of a nurse, which is 47, you know that in about 10 years we are going to have a huge problem. But when the leader of the third party mentioned that his daughter is a graduate physician and doesn't work here, for the lifestyle, because of her husband, I am suspicious that we have not looked at that part of the equation with any great alacrity. We have to look at that whole thing. The idea of an incubator clinic and of physicians coming in - think about it, Mr. Speaker: physicians don't need a huge office and they don't need all the supports that a dentist does, for instance. So, again, it's a nice idea but it hasn't been thought out completely. But it should be part of the matrix.
With that, thank you very much for the time. I will pass this on to my colleagues.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he'll close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Mr. Hassard: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank all members for their comments today. I am not sure that we agree 100 percent, because there are a lot of different ideas out there. I think for the most part what I heard today was that we agree in general that improving health care for Yukoners is a worthwhile debate, and I'm glad that we have had it. So thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 15 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 639 agreed to
Speaker: The time being 6:00 p.m. , the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following document was filed April 26, 2006:
Lone Wolf Outfitting – Leases and Licenses, Application 2006-0321, letter re: (dated April 21, 2006) from A/Chief Ruth Massie, Ta'an Kwach'an Council to Hon. Archie Lang, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources (Fairclough)