Tuesday, May 2, 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 North American Occupational Safety and Health Week
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of all members today in the House to recognize North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. North American Occupational Safety and Health Week is a continent-wide event spanning three countries - Canada , the United States and Mexico. It highlights to public, government and industry the importance of increasing understanding, raising awareness and reducing injuries and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community.
The goal of North American Occupational Safety and Health Week is to focus the attention of employers, employees, the general public and all partners in occupational safety and health on the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community.
We were reminded this past Friday at the Day of Mourning ceremony of the incredible toll that preventable injuries were taking on individual Yukoners, on our communities and on our economy. North American Occupational Safety and Health Week is an opportunity to continue to focus on what all of us and each of us can do differently to keep ourselves and each other safe.
The theme for this year's North American Occupational Safety and Health Week is “Review. Refresh. Revitalize.” Now is the time to review our workplace and work procedures to check whether we have the right tools for the job and are doing our jobs in the safest way possible. With that knowledge, we can “refresh”; that is, revise, update and adopt best practices to keep ourselves and each other safe. “Revitalizing” is about breathing new life into our awareness of, and support for, safety and health, both in the workplace and at home. It is about improving openness, dialogue and positive attitudes so that safety is always top of mind, instead of something we take for granted until a tragedy happens.
North American Occupational Safety and Health Week is also the right time to consider the safety of young workers, many of whom will soon be starting summer jobs. Young workers are up to six times more likely to get injured in the workplace, often in the first weeks on the job. The responsibility for keeping an eye out for their safety belongs to all of us.
Finally, North American Occupational Safety and Health Week is an important time to recognize that workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths are preventable. Based on recent history, we would be able to say that several hundred Yukoners will be injured in the workplace between now and the end of 2006.
If we all do our part, we will instead be able to say that 2006 is the year those injuries didn't happen. Instead of hoping for fewer workplace injuries, let's use North American Occupational Safety and Health Week to begin actively preventing them.
In recognition of Hepatitis C Awareness Month
Hon. Mr. Cathers: On behalf of all Members of the Legislative Assembly, I rise today to acknowledge the month of May as Hepatitis C Awareness Month. It is estimated that hepatitis C infects almost 240,000 Canadians, many of whom don't know they are infected. In the Yukon about 400 people are infected. We don't know how many people may be infected of whom we are not aware. Hepatitis C virus was first identified as such in 1989 and has been a health threat since. It is a sneaky opponent, and although some people may experience symptoms such as fatigue and jaundice following initial infection, many others have no symptoms at all. Those newly infected individuals are at risk of liver damage and liver cancer and can unknowingly still pass it on to others.
Those most at risk include people who received blood transfusions prior to the onset of screening for the virus in 1990, and people exposed to contaminated needles through tattooing, acupuncture and intravenous drug use. Health care workers are also at risk as are individuals who may have received inoculations in developing countries.
Risky behaviour such as unprotected sex with an infected individual can also transmit the disease. Some folks are diagnosed with hepatitis C and do not know how they got the disease. For 15 to 40 percent of these people, that source of infection is simply unknown. Hepatitis C infects three times more people than does AIDS and is responsible for one-third of all liver transplants; however, treatment can clear the virus from the blood in 50 to 80 percent of infected individuals. We cannot rely on treatment alone, and prevention through education and awareness still remains our best defence against hepatitis C transmission.
Together, government, health professionals and members of the public need to learn about the risk factors and the value and practice of healthy behaviours and share that information with others.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
In recognition of Mental Health Week
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of all members in the Legislature to remind Yukoners that the first week of May is also National Mental Health Week.
In the time it takes to do a few sets of push-ups - and, Mr. Speaker, I have a mental image of a sergeant saying, “Drop down and give us 10” - the Canadian Mental Health Association wants Canadians to try their new mental health meter. It is available at this Web site: www.cmha.ca. It is available on line and is an introspective tool. It is a positive approach to help people understand what it means to be mentally healthy and encourages the improvement of mental fitness.
It's one thing to look after your body; just don't forget about your mind. Practise mind and body fitness.
I would encourage all Yukoners to visit the Canadian Mental Health Association Web site and, during this first week of May and throughout the year, take control of your health and take care of your mind.
In recognition of International Youth Week
Mrs. Peter: I rise on behalf of the House to pay tribute to International Youth Week, May 1 to 7. Perhaps it is because most of us are parents who, when we speak of youth, too often look at the problems. We want to protect our children and give them a healthy and productive future without homelessness, without substance abuse, without literacy deficits.
Today I want to take this opportunity to remind us of the good things happening with youth. At our education forum last month, we were inspired by a program in Winnipeg schools for youth that keeps them in school to graduation. Based on sports, the program fosters a sense of belonging in the school and the larger community. It promotes mastery in academics, arts and sports; it encourages generosity and builds independence.
The success of this program is based on youth role models - youth leading youth. The director of the program said that young people have the ability to create and influence change in a way none of us can.
In dealing with the social conditions some Yukon youth find themselves in, we need to build on the energy, inspiration and achievements of Yukon 's young people. There is plenty of evidence that the resources of our youth are out there. More of our young people are graduating from high school, college and universities every year. Youth leadership was confidently displayed in the recent Youth Parliament.
Youth commitment to discipline in sports has resulted recently in prizes in skiing, swimming and weightlifting. Their talents are well shown in music, dance, film, writing and broadcasting. Yukon youth have travelled internationally and have worked with charitable organizations in the Third World, coming home to relate their experiences to us.
First Nations have long recognized the contribution of youth by having them as an instrumental part of decision making in their governments. Past Yukon governments have helped to empower young people by starting community-driven youth initiatives such as the youth investment fund, the youth leadership training program and various other education, training, recreation, culture and employment programs.
At a time when many young people feel that traditional government structures have no relevance for them, here in the Yukon we can and must do more to involve youth directly in key decisions and activities when their interests are affected. The saying is true: our youth is our future. We look confidently toward that future, continuing to work hand in hand with our Yukon youth. Together we can face our mutual challenges with heart and hope.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the 2004-05 Yukon College annual report and audited financial statements, per section 16(2) of the Yukon College Act.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or 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. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) not-for-profit arts organizations and artists are the backbone of a $39-billion cultural sector of the Canadian economy;
(2) the cultural sector accounts for between five and eight percent of the total Canadian labour force;
(3) in today's business-oriented environment, the role of the entrepreneur is well understood and rewarded with such things as grants for research into new technologies and tax breaks to encourage the development of new consumer products;
(4) any decreases in federal government spending on arts and cultural industries are certain to have significant adverse impacts on individuals and communities across the country, including the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to strongly support the arts and cultural industries by continuing to fund proven programs and introducing new ones that promote the overall development of the arts as a means of enhancing the quality of life of all Yukon people while helping to build a sustainable economy.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Budget estimates and spending
Mr. Mitchell: I have more questions for the Premier on the now outdated budget we're debating this spring. The Yukon Party government made a number of announcements in the past few weeks that involve spending money that is not included in this budget. These commitments are easy to make, and they cost this government nothing. These bills will have to be paid someday, most likely by the next government.
The budget the Premier tabled last month left Yukoners with net financial resources of $14.7 million and a current year surplus of $8.98 million. Since that time, the government has added $4.3 million for Dawson, $1.25 million for Yukon College, and there are millions more that may be needed for the Hospital Corporation. That $14-million projection released only a month ago has obviously gone down. What is that number today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The issue of fiscal management for the now leader of the official opposition appears to be somewhat troublesome. The numbers the member quotes from the recent budget tabled, which is hardly outdated - we're only on day 32 of a new fiscal year - are the beginning numbers of said fiscal year. We've had this discussion on the floor of this House many times to try to get the member to understand how government finances work. All through the fiscal year before us, variances will be tabled and reported as required, and that's an ongoing, normal process by the government - in fact, any government that is conducting its finances in the appropriate manner.
Furthermore, any of these commitments that relate to pension funds for employees and the situation with the City of Dawson is non-discretionary money. That means, in simple terms, it's a basic expenditure by government now and into the future. It's non-discretionary, so there's no issue here whatsoever. We're very pleased that, through our efforts at improving the finances of the Yukon, we have been able to create these kinds of options to deal with these challenges bequeathed us by past governments.
Mr. Mitchell: On this side of the House, we understand all too well what these numbers mean, and we do wonder what's going to have to be cut and removed from the promises previously made in the budget to pay for them. Yukon taxpayers should be very concerned about what's unfolding this spring with respect to the territory's bottom line. The Yukon Party government is out making multi-million-dollar commitments, and they're keeping them off the books. If they were on the books, we would probably have an accumulated deficit.
Yesterday, I asked the Premier about one of those unfunded promises that he's making, and he admitted that he has no idea how much it will cost Yukoners. We've now taken on responsibility for the Dawson recreation centre. The Premier said yesterday that there are no finite numbers on these projects. In other words, Yukon taxpayers are on the hook for a big bill and the Premier has no idea how much it is. All these new commitments have probably dragged us into the red. Will the Premier table a fiscal update so Yukoners can judge for themselves how much all these off-the-books commitments will cost?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite has just brought up an issue in Dawson City with respect to what was intended to be an arena, which began its construction under past governments. I'm sure the member opposite knows full well what those numbers are - millions spent and there is no arena. It's a failed project. Even civil action through arbitration was involved in this matter, Mr. Speaker. And it is that member's party, when in government, that made the decision to allow Dawson to overextend its debt limit. Of course they know the numbers - they created them. We're fixing them.
Mr. Mitchell: This Premier seems to be looking continuously in his rear-view mirror, but he needs to look forward. The Premier is essentially saying, “Trust me, the books are okay.” Well, after three and half years, Yukoners don't trust this government. They want to see the books for themselves. The Premier is operating with a blank cheque book in writing up millions of dollars in new promises - almost every day. He said yesterday he has no idea how much some of these promises are going to cost. The budget we are debating says that we will have $14.7 million in net financial resources. That figure is now completely outdated because of recent commitments made by the government. The open and accountable thing to do would be to update the public regarding the new numbers. The Premier is refusing to do so, and the government wonders why only 16 percent of Yukoners think that they are ethical. Will the Premier table a fiscal update so Yukoners can judge for themselves how much all these off-the-books commitments will cost?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, what's getting very outdated is this member's assertions in expressing to Yukoners a clear lack of knowledge of government finances and bringing up the ethics question. I don't want to read this into the record, but what the member did here a few days ago on the floor of this House in misquoting the Ombudsman's Office speaks volumes of that member's ethics.
Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, the numbers tabled in this budget are correct. They are the annual surplus as booked. Let me add this: if the member opposite thinks that this government is doing something untoward with government finances as we do our books, then the member should direct that question to the Auditor General who has stated here recently that that is simply not the case in this territory. Our finances are in good shape. Our bookkeeping and fiscal management is one of the best in the country. There you go, Mr. Speaker, another demonstration of the member opposite's lack of - I won't say the word.
Speaker: Before the honourable member starts here with the next question, I would just like to remind each side that each side has different perspectives on the way the accounting procedures work and on the way the Legislative Assembly works. To challenge each other's ethics is not permissible. I can't see a clear case, but you're both getting awfully close to it, and I would ask you not to do that.
You have the floor, Member for Porter Creek South.
Point of order
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, could I respectfully request your ruling. Perhaps you may wish to consult the Blues. The Premier has stood on the floor of the House and accused the Member for Copperbelt of misquoting another individual. I would respectfully suggest that such a statement implies motives, and I would ask that you review the Blues on that particular comment and give us a ruling at your leisure.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: I will do that.
Question re: Land application process
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Acting Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. It is evident that a new land policy is not ready and that we will continue to function under our pre-devolution guidelines. Can the minister explain to the House whether the government is still using the old off-the-shelf policy and, if not, what is it using when dealing with land development requests that fall within municipal boundaries?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I thought I heard the member say we are still acting in a pre-devolution environment. Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but devolution has occurred. It came into force and effect in April 2003. The members opposite should know that we had to mirror a number of acts, such as the Lands Act, the Waters Act, the Quartz Mining Act - all part of the devolution deal - as we agreed to do. This is not pre-devolution whatsoever; it's frankly post-devolution, Mr. Speaker.
Furthermore, the member opposite should also know that when it comes to land issues inside municipal boundaries, there are definite requirements that must be undertaken by the municipality. The Municipal Act provides for a number of things: adoption of the official community plan; the municipalities can enact legally binding zoning bylaws to regulate the use of private and public land and have the ability to exercise subdivision approval for private and public lands, including entering into development agreements and the ability to regulate and manage all roads and streets.
This is a very detailed and complex set of regulatory requirements that are incumbent upon all municipalities.
Mr. Fairclough: We're talking about policies that this government is using that are pre-devolution. This is a lack of direction and it is totally out of control and unacceptable. Members on this side of the House at first believed this was a situation unique to Whitehorse, but last weekend at the AYC's AGM, we heard from every part of the territory. This is not a local Whitehorse matter.
This morning on CBC Radio, they reported that, “The chief administrative officer in Watson Lake says a similar situation is unfolding there. He says that, against the town's wishes, the government permitted a developer to prepare a site for construction before the land sale even took place. He says the project does not fit within the official community plan and cannot go ahead. He says the government now has to make good on its mistakes.”
My question is this: will the Premier get off the government's ridiculous position and admit there is no acceptable policy and give a date as to when Yukoners can expect to know what the rules are?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: For the first thing, Mr. Speaker, I'm not going to accept verbatim the Member for Mayo-Tatchun's view of any particular issue with respect to land because, frankly, one of the things that's happening in today's Yukon is there are actually people now trying to apply for and access land. That wasn't the case under that member's watch, who was the guru of protected areas that pitted Yukoners against Yukoner in a very difficult situation -
Speaker: Order. The Hon. Premier knows full well the member is the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun. He's not a “guru” of anything.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I struggle to find an adjective for the protected areas initiative - such a folly for this territory. Mr. Speaker, let me start listing the many legal and regulatory and policy regimes in place in this territory. It begins with the Yukon Lands Act, the Yukon Territorial Lands (Yukon) Act, land use regulations, Area Development Act, area development plans, area development regulations, Subdivision Act, Yukon Municipal Board and all subdivision appeals therein, the Highways Act, Placer Mining Act, Quartz Mining Act, Environment Act and regional land use planning. There are many more, and I'm sure the member has another supplementary on this matter.
Mr. Fairclough: I sure do, but it would be nice if the Premier could answer the question for a change here. Now, Mr. Speaker, the town administrator for Watson Lake clearly indicated on the CBC story that the town would ask the Yukon government to - and I quote, “foot the bill” for yet another foul-up, Mr. Speaker. So will the Premier come clean and tell this House how many more of these horror stories taxpayers will have to pay for before he fires the minister and develops a land use policy in consultation with municipalities and all interested Yukoners.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, who has been moving across the political spectrum, has hit the operative word - “story”. We're not here to deal with stories, Mr. Speaker; we're here to deal with the realities of access to land. I'm going to repeat again the long list of instruments that are used and necessary to guide us on those issues. It begins with the Yukon Lands Act, Territorial Lands (Yukon) Act, land use regulations, Area Development Act, area development plans, area development regulations, Subdivision Act, the Yukon Municipal Board, Highways and Public Works Act, Placer Mining Act, Quartz Mining Act, Environment Act, regional land use planning, YESAA, agricultural policy, rural residential application policy, commercial industrial policy, lot enlargement policy, trapline cabin policy, big game outfitting policy, land pricing appeal policy - it's a wonder Yukoners even try to apply for land.
Question re: Youth strategy
Mrs. Peter: The positive contributions that young people make to Yukon life are almost impossible to measure. Youth are actively involved in sports and recreation, cultural pursuits, academic achievement and a variety of volunteer organizations. And, of course, young people have a tremendous impact on our economy, both as workers and as consumers.
The Youth Parliament that was held here a few weeks ago is an excellent example of the thoughtfulness, commitment and public spirit of our youth. Why has the Premier not recognized the knowledge and abilities of Yukon youth by including youth representatives on government boards and committees?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, you know, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has just brought forward a very interesting concept. But let me first respond to the member by saying that it was a great and distinct privilege for me to be able to participate with the Youth Parliament that you yourself, Mr. Speaker, seized the initiative on and ensured that the youth were getting more engaged in the evolution of responsible government here in our territory. So, it was a great experience in terms of my experience, and I'm sure that the youth who participated also had a great experience.
Secondly, we as a party and as a government encourage youth to involve themselves at all levels of the fabric of the Yukon Territory. Now, that is why we do such things as the Yukon grant; that is why we are implementing many programs in Yukon schools to clearly show Yukon students, Yukon youth, the many options and opportunities that are available in this territory; that is why we are, as a party, always encouraging youth to join our party. We've probably got one of the youngest presidents of any political party in the Yukon.
I would like to discuss further with the member this concept of boards and committees.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, the Premier just said that youth is an interesting concept. The Premier used to be part of a government that did recognize what youth have to offer and did appoint young people to boards and committees. It is disappointing that the current government doesn't seem to recognize the value of getting youth perspectives on public issues. This government is well known for all the various consultations it has started and hasn't finished - the education reform, the Children's Act review, the correctional reform, et cetera, et cetera. Young people have a direct stake in all these issues. Why was the voice of youth not included in any of those public consultations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, Mr. Speaker, let me correct the member opposite in getting outside of the context of the debate. I have never said, nor has this side of the House, that youth is a concept. The idea of appointing youth to boards and committees was the concept, and it's the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin who brought it up.
However, just off the top of my head, there are many boards and committees that come with what are very significant liabilities and responsibilities that may not be best dealt by having youth appointed to those boards and committees. But we do have many other initiatives where youth are involved - the youth leadership program. It is this government that substantially increased investment into youth groups to better involve youth in what is happening in Yukon society. It is this government that focuses in on programs such as arts to expand on youths' talents and abilities. It is this government that created the new approach to the school - the Individual Learning Centre where we are bringing youth and others back into the school system to better involve them in the Yukon and its future. It is wrong to say we are doing nothing. We are doing a great deal.
Mrs. Peter: NDP governments introduced many innovative programs to empower young people: recreation and culture programs, education and training programs, the youth leadership program, employment incentive programs, and the list goes on.
The Individual Learning Centre was a good imitative by the current Minister of Education but, apart from that, there has been almost no recognition of youth issues under this government or the previous Liberal government.
Why hasn't the Premier made it a priority to implement and expand the Yukon youth strategy that was begun under the NDP?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the short answer to that is because we saw that strategies needed much more and we began investing in youth to get some real advancement for the youth in this territory to be involved or become more involved in the daily issues that face all Yukoners. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, involvement of youth is very constructive because they bring such a different focus to issues, so at all times we will engage with our youth.
Let's look at some real, tangible examples about youth and the demonstration of that between the two sides of the House. I believe it's fair to say that a majority of the Yukon Party executive is under 30 years old. We have two of the youngest MLAs in this Assembly today - a tangible demonstration of what this government and this party think of our youth.
Question re: Economic development and the environment
Mr. Hardy: I am shifting topics a little bit here. The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment has a very clear mandate. Its role is, “to help ensure that the economy and the environment are managed in a harmonious way and raise public awareness of sustainable development issues.” The council has been an important bridge between government and the Yukon people. It has done first-rate research on various issues and a good job reviewing government policies and providing impartial assessments of how those policies are implemented.
Why has the Premier allowed the council to languish at a time when economic decisions are being made that could have an irreversible impact on the Yukon 's environment?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I think it's certainly unworthy of the member opposite to claim that we have allowed the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment to languish. Is it not the case that their annual reports continue to come forward? Is it not the case that we continue to support the council? Of course that is the case, and that is hardly a definition of “languishing” anything.
Furthermore, the member has made a comment about the Yukon environment being in danger. I would disagree vehemently with the member opposite. The Yukon environment is not in danger, because this government has chosen to take a balanced approach. It may be in danger long term because of what is going on globally, however. We in this territory need to address that, but we also have to address our needs here in the Yukon to build a future. That means that part of that future has to include an economy.
I just listed off a litany of regulatory, legal and policy mechanisms that ensure that any development that takes place in this territory is done responsibly, and we continue to maintain our responsibilities and obligations under all these laws.
Mr. Hardy: Let's look at the facts, Mr. Speaker. The Council on the Economy and the Environment has not held a single meeting for over a year. The last one was in February 2005. That's a fact. There are vacancies on the council that have existed for months. That's a fact. This government hasn't moved to name any person.
Either the government is letting the council wither and die through neglect, or it's deliberately trying to phase it out. And this council does offer a balance and a balanced voice that this government really needs to hear.
Given the low regard this government has for the environment, it's pretty easy to conclude that the neglect is deliberate, because that balanced voice would have been heard by now. Did the Premier move the council from the Department of Environment to the Department of Economic Development as part of a policy decision to render the council ineffective?
Speaker: Before the Hon. Premier answers, leader of the third party, the use of the term “deliberate” seems, from the Chair's perspective, to imply intent. And I understand that's not what you're trying to do, but I would just ask you to be careful with that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, we're not letting any council that is relevant to the Yukon 's daily issues and its future languish or simply fade away - not whatsoever. Nor are we ignoring the environment. In fact, we place a tremendous amount of focus and priority in Yukon's environment and that's why we are doing what we do with respect to the Department of Environment - all the assessments we must do in terms of anything that may happen on the land base. It is this government that has implemented YESAA. This particular instrument was all about a balanced approach to what's happening in the Yukon 's environment and overall in the territory, and it includes a social assessment.
This government and this territory have advanced our abilities to deal with a balanced approach to development and conservation of our environment. And furthermore, it is this government that finally established boundaries for Tombstone , finally established the boundaries for Fishing Branch, implemented the management plan for Fishing Branch, and withdrew the land for Kusawa Park . We are protecting our environment.
Mr. Hardy: In listening to the Premier, I had hoped he would be concerned about this council. It's an extremely important council. A previous NDP government set up the Council on the Economy and the Environment in 1989 and it was the first legislated round table of its kind in Canada . I was very fortunate to be a member of this ground-breaking council. I know the good work that that council did. A tremendous group of people came together from around the Yukon and contributed to guiding government - and future governments, I would have hoped.
It's an excellent tool for advising government and encouraging NGOs, businesses and individuals to adopt practices that will further the goals of sustainable development. Last May, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources said, “We are going to utilize that council more than the previous government had. They are an important part of the Yukon and we are going to be using them.”
Will the Premier set the record straight and acknowledge that his government has no intention of allowing the council to give Yukoners a voice to ensure that future developments in the territory are environmentally sustainable?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This government will use all instruments available to ensure that development in this territory is not only responsible but sustainable. That's exactly what we are doing. I don't want to be repetitive in listing off all those instruments, but there's much more than the council. There are many legal, regulatory and policy requirements that ensure that, and some are brand new, such as YESAA.
When the member stands up and speaks of NDP initiatives and what they meant to the economy of the territory, I can only ask the following question: why, under the most recent NDP government, was there double-digit unemployment? Why was there a protected areas strategy that drove investment from the territory?
Let's fast-forward to the Liberal government's watch. The only way they dealt with the double-digit unemployment figures was to get people to move out of the Yukon and reduce the population, which certainly had a bearing on the formula for unemployment. That's not what this government has done.
We have single-digit, record unemployment lows. We have a growing economy and a growing population because we've taken a balanced approach.
Question re: Dawson City bailout package
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Government of Yukon for Dawson 's bailout package that was recently announced, and let's look at it.
Debt forgiveness amounts to $3.43 million plus $1 million in capital. That addresses the debt issue as recommended by the supervisor, Andre Carrel, over two years ago. In addition, Community Services spent some $3.899 million directly on Dawson . That totals $8.329 million. Dawson 's books show some $22 million spent on capital in the community. We're just over $30 million, and yet we are hard-pressed to find $5 million of assets in Dawson. All this money was spent under the ever-so-watchful eyes of Community Services who provided the majority of these funds, primarily under a Yukon Liberal government. $1.25 million to $1.5 million can be attributed to the spending habits of previous mayors, city managers and treasurers. I'd like to know what steps the Minister of Finance has taken to ensure that this type of obscene, reckless spending does not occur again under the blind eyes of Community Services.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, you know, Mr. Speaker, I want to be very constructive with the Member for Klondike, but I would encourage the member to not attack officials and employees and people who aren't in this Assembly to defend themselves.
But the member has hit the nail on the head. The past Liberal government created this mess, and we've been getting ourselves out of it for some time now. Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, I think the member opposite has to recognize more than just what he has articulated with respect to the package. It excludes these problems from Dawson 's fiscal framework so they can get on with their affairs while we resolve the problems bequeathed us by the former Liberal government in their fiscal mismanagement.
Mr. Jenkins: The Premier's press release on Dawson states the recreational centre and the sewage treatment system will be excluded from Dawson's financial framework. However, the Yukon government will work with the City of Dawson to resolve these matters to ensure Dawson 's families have facilities they can be proud of and use. I'd like to know from the Premier how he intends to deliver on these commitments. Will it be through the Department of Community Services once again?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, it won't be through some other province's or territory's department that has responsibilities for these matters. It will also include working with a new mayor and council, which must be elected on or before June 15. As a government, we feel that is very important because, after all the processes we had to go through appointing a trustee, standing down a mayor and council, conducting a forensic audit - there is a criminal investigation going on as we speak, Mr. Speaker - putting together all the information and making a decision on a fiscal package - before the member stands up and says it took too long, I want to point out that this had nothing to do with time. It's not how long it took; it's what it took to resolve many of these problems for Dawson City . Much of what we did as a government was under the direct recommendation and advice of the Member for Klondike who, so conveniently in walking a few short feet across the Assembly, has changed his mind.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's look at the sewage treatment. That's what we are looking at right now. On one hand, Dawson has a memorandum of agreement signed by the trustee that legally obligates Dawson to fund costs for waste waters, and it's a significant cost. On the other hand, Dawson has a press release from the Premier stating the sewage treatment system will be excluded from Dawson 's financial framework.
Will the Premier cancel the legally binding memorandum of agreement and replace it with one that follows what the Premier says he was going to do in the press release, and do so prior to calling a Dawson municipal election?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The only thing this government cancelled - and we'll stand by it - was the direction Dawson was heading in - thanks to the past Liberal government. Now we have Dawson set and established on solid financial footing, and we're going to deal with the matter as expeditiously as possible.
I do not want to take at full value what the Member for Klondike is saying, because it took three and a half years to convince him that he owed the taxpayers some $200,000.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. Before the House proceeds to Orders of the Day, the Chair will rule on a point of order raised on Thursday, April 27, 2006.
Speaker: During second reading of Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 2005-2006, the Hon. Premier said the leader of the third party had during his speech, “criticized all those hard-working Yukoners, Yukon contractors, by saying they are not capable, that they went and mushroomed the [athletes village] project by some $20 million.”
The leader of the third party rose on a point of order and said he had “made no such reference to any of the workers or any other employees.” He said his remarks “questioned the financial stewardship and management of the government.” Further, the leader of the third party said he “made no reference to the quality of the work or the efforts or the good intentions of the workers, and I don't believe that that should be said or put into the record.”
The Chair's review of the Blues presents a difficulty. The Chair's role is to apply rules and established practices related to parliamentary procedure; however, to decide between the versions of events presented by the Premier and the leader of the third party would require a determination of fact - something that is beyond the Speaker's purview. Strictly speaking, therefore, the Chair must rule that there was no point of order but a dispute between members.
However, the Chair would also remind the House that this is not the first time members have raised a point of order regarding the manner in which their words are reinterpreted by other members. On April 3, 2006, the leader of the third party raised a similar point of order in regard to the reinterpretation of his remarks by the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. At that time the Chair ruled there was no point of order but cautioned the minister about putting too much rhetoric in his speech. The Chair would issue a similar caution to the House at this time, as it is evident that this practice is leading to disorder.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: On a point of order, the leader of the third party.
Mr. Hardy: In giving your statement, I would appreciate it if you make it clear that when you say “the leader of the third party”, it was the former leader of the third party and not the current leader of the third party.
Speaker: Excellent point. Thank you very much for clarifying.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, May 3, 2006, and they are Bill No. 112 and Motion No. 668.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I give notice of the following motion to be called tomorrow, Wednesday, May 3, 2006. It is Motion No. 634, standing in the name of the Member for Copperbelt.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We will continue with Vote 2, Executive Council Office.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 20 - First Appropriation Act, 2006-07 - continued
Executive Council Office - continued
Chair: We'll continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, with the Executive Council Office, Vote 2, and general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, as we were debating the Executive Council Office yesterday, much discussion occurred with respect to the department and all of its facets. But we closed on a discussion about the substance abuse action plan and the fund set up in the Executive Council Office. As I relayed to the members opposite, because there are so many line departments involved in delivering on substance abuse action, it only made sense to begin with a fund set up in the corporate oversight department for government.
Mr. Mitchell: I thank the minister for completing his answer. There was some discussion yesterday with the Minister of Economic Development. He rose to speak to some of the topics of global warming, and we had talked about the possibility that was expressed at the AGM of the Association of Yukon Communities, where municipalities had indicated that they had interest in perhaps adopting a Yukon-designed One-Tonne Challenge because they wanted to move forward with this kind of program, despite the fact that it had been cancelled at the federal level.
I haven't had an opportunity to study the budget announcements in great detail today, so I don't know what new alternatives have been brought forward at the federal level. But the Minister of Economic Development sounded like he was perhaps doubtful if there is a reality to global warming. He talked about there being ebbs and flows and ups and downs in any kind of cycle and that our corporate memory only goes back decades or a few centuries.
That is correct, but I think that there is some fair evidence that the planet's memory, if you will, goes back longer than that.
If the minister is interested, I could put him in touch with some of the people from the Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research, who have been doing research since around - I am responding, Mr. Chair, to the comments that were made yesterday by one of the members opposite who talked about global warming and we were talking about the One-Tonne Challenge, so that's the connection. It seems pretty straightforward. There is research in the ice cores nearby showing quite dramatic changes in the climate, and I'll leave it at that. I would be happy to contact the member opposite and give him the contact numbers. The memory goes back a lot further than our own memories.
I do have a couple of additional questions. I wonder if the Minister of Executive Council Office would table annual costs of Outside travel and inside travel for ministers. If he doesn't have that information available today, I would be quite happy for him to submit that later as a return. I would ask what the successor resource working group is currently working on. Is that perhaps forestry legislation? I would like the minister's comments on that.
Finally, there have been some comments - and this was directly out of debate yesterday - in regard to relationships. The minister responsible for the Executive Council Office had quite a lot to say about relationships with First Nations, and he made reference to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. He indicated that in the majority of cases it is First Nation individuals who are placed in our correctional system and that the purpose in reforming the system is to recognize that in many cases the sentencing of individuals need not always be incarceration. I agree with the member opposite on that. It's a very good point; there are other alternatives that we need to be looking at. Nevertheless, among the recommendations in the substantive report that the minister referred to - and I think he said that we shouldn't be judging it by its size, but it was sizable - is a recommendation that construction should proceed at that very location.
It is agreed that it's not about building warehouses. Interestingly enough, the Minister of Justice in previous debate referred to the previous plans of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre as a Cadillac version and that was one of the reasons it was halted. I think when we find that people need to be incarcerated for a period of time, they deserve to have a facility that is safe and affords them the opportunities for training, rehabilitation and programming, as well as being safe and conducive to a healthy working environment for the employees. I don't think that was a Cadillac version.
Basically, I have asked most of what I want to ask. I will let the minister answer those questions and leave time for others to enter into the debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: With respect to travel, those reports are always tabled. They will be tabled in the Legislature. In the past I provided that information in writing to the opposition benches.
With respect to the working group for successor legislation, on April 19, I wrote to the leader of the third party, now the leader of the official opposition. I've copied the letter to the former leader of the official opposition, now the leader of the third party, outlining successor legislation, the working group's activities and funding, so the member already had the information in writing, but he chose to ask the question on the floor of the Legislature.
Furthermore, the member then went on to imply that a member on this side of the House simply doesn't believe there is global warming. Well, that would be entirely incorrect. We Yukoners - all of us - recognize and live with the impacts of global warming on a daily basis.
Some of the examples are as follows: melting permafrost and what it's doing to buildings and roads; the Arctic regions and what's happening there - very stark, very vivid; the largest spruce bark beetle infestation that we know of on the North American continent - another visible, clearly vivid and stark example of climate change and global warming. I might say, though, with respect to the spruce bark beetle, there are other areas of decision making by a number of past governments that contributed to the extent of the infestation. The Member for Kluane was one of the loudest proponents of not addressing this issue through harvest prescriptions in the region.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, we have to correct the record right now. That member happened to be the forestry commissioner for the government at the time. I didn't play a part in that decision; it was pre-devolution. This was under the control of the federal government -
Chair: Order please. As we are all aware, there will be different opinions expressed in this Assembly, and those positions may be entered into debate. Raising a point of clarification is not a point of order, but members will have an opportunity in general debate to present their position on the issue.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: What I'm doing is drawing a parallel here that's critical to the position of the now leader of the official opposition. When the Member for Kluane was a member of the New Democratic caucus, as he was for so long, there was tremendous opposition from the Member for Kluane for any prescription harvesting to deal with the beetle-kill, whether deadwood, greenwood or otherwise. Then the Member for Kluane goes on to ensure the government of the day burned $4-million worth of diesel versus using hydro, which contributed to global warming.
Chair: Order. I believe this issue has been discussed in the past and the Speaker has ruled on it.
I'll remind members that the topic of debate is currently Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We're on the Executive Council Office. While the Chair appreciates there is a wide range of topics to be discussed in the Executive Council Office, I would encourage and direct all members to debate the matter at hand.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In drawing the parallel to the leader of the official opposition's comments about this side of the House and our understanding of global warming, I think I've done that and pointed out there is a problem on that side of the House with respect to climate change and global warming, in terms of the overall issue.
I think it's fair to say that the Executive Council Office and its undertakings are extremely critical to the operations of the corporate structure of government on a daily basis. That said, there is also great value in what the Executive Council Office does with directorates such as the Youth Directorate. I believe the Women's Directorate is a flow-through mechanism with the Executive Council Office.
There's a very broad range of what the Executive Council Office does in terms of great value to the Yukon, and I'm sure the members opposite clearly understand that that is the case.
With respect to the debate yesterday and now this afternoon, I think, Mr. Chair, that heading into line-by-line - should that be the choice - would probably be the most logical approach to take, given that there isn't a whole lot left to discuss in general debate on the Executive Council Office, considering the great variances and broad-ranging discussion we've had for the last two days.
Mr. Mitchell: I'll ask a question relating to the Executive Council Office. It's very direct, and it comes from the briefing we just got from the department. We noticed that there was a decrease in Cabinet office O&M of 1.0 full-time equivalent position for senior advisor/First Nations relations, due to retirement. Can the minister tell us if there are plans to replace the person in this position with a new individual, or has this already occurred?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, there's no intention to replace that person. The individual in question did retire - reached that point that many strive for. Retirement is a great thing for those who dedicate themselves for so many years. The individual's work allowed us to set many of our foundations in place. The individual was also involved in helping with capacity issues for First Nations, and we've been successful in some of those areas. So what we have today in terms of Cabinet structure will remain.
Mr. Mitchell: Recognizing that no doubt the individual is enjoying his retirement, we can all strive for that or perhaps even help each other along. But I would wonder if there aren't yet many, many issues in the continuing relationship with First Nations, including capacity issues, where that position might be of value. Is the minister indicating that he sees no need to carry forward with such a position?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is no need for the position because the individual in question did their work in ensuring the government's direction and utilization of all it has available to it improving this relationship between the Yukon government and Yukon First Nation governments. But it's also important to note that this government has also utilized the executive assistant position to the Premier's office so we set up a direct liaison between the Premier's office and First Nation governments. This is not a statement that says all is well. This is a clear demonstration of a job that was performed and delivered on. The government has from that process more productive approaches with all its departments, starting with the Executive Council Office, in dealing with First Nations.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, it's quite nice to be able to stand up after four hours of listening to the official opposition and the minister go back and forth, talking about Question Period the day before, who said what, quoting each other or not quoting each other, talking about One-Tonne Challenge - I would assume we'd be talking about that in the Environment portfolio, but I guess this is a catch-all for some people - talking about issues that obviously are more appropriate to be discussed in other departments with other ministers and talking about and positioning for the election. Basically, they're filling a lot of air time and not being very direct in a lot of the questioning.
I won't be long, and there might be some redundancy in the questions I asked, because at times I did kind of stop paying attention to the questioning when it would go on for 15 minutes. Sometimes I wasn't exactly sure what department we were in, because the question, which almost never materialized, seemed to wander all over the place. A lot of it was really about, interestingly enough, Mr. Chair, other departments and about what the Liberals did or what the Liberals didn't do and the accusations made back and forth.
But there were questions answered that I had considered asking, and there are questions that I'm sure I'm going to ask that have possibly been answered. If the minister has some tolerance and is brief, I will move along fairly rapidly.
I'll start with one of the most significant parts of this department, which is land claims and implementation. It's very significant and very important.
Could the minister give me the current status of outstanding claims, please?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, I will endeavour to touch on where we're at with this issue but, in doing that, we have to go back to what transpired. We got into a situation here in the Yukon where MOUs were signed with First Nations - not final agreements and not self-government agreements, but MOUs on standing down on negotiations. As it turned out, it was simply standing down on the federal government's overall involvement, and the Yukon government was left to conclude some of the issues that remained. We did that on a very successful basis, which is demonstrated in Kwanlin Dun First Nation signing off their final agreements, and Carcross-Tagish First Nation concluding their agreements. We also had the Kluane First Nation agreement conclude under this watch.
Once that whole process is done - for the leader of the official opposition and third party - there is no further federal mandate to continue. In that regard, we have continued to impress upon the federal government that there's unfinished business in the Yukon and it's their responsibility and obligation that the unfinished business be addressed forthwith.
I would encourage all members in this House - on both sides - to recognize that we have a common purpose, a common objective, and a common voice to keep pressing the federal government - albeit that it was the federal Liberal government that stopped this process; now there's a new federal Conservative government which, by the way, was the original federal government that actually signed off on the claims process and agreed to it so many years ago - and impress upon Canada the need to immediately move to structure a new mandate and conclude the unfinished business in the Yukon.
I should also relay to the member opposite that in our recent visit with Minister Prentice, the Kaska Nation clearly demonstrated to the minister their willingness to get back to the table. So, coupled with the Yukon's commitment to do so, the Kaska Nation's commitment to do so - I can't speak at this time for White River - I think it's clear that Canada must quickly move to structure a new mandate and conclude the unfinished business.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister opposite for that answer. It's along the lines I was going with a few other questions, and I will follow up a little bit on that.
The current correspondence - has there been any current correspondence with the new government? The minister referenced the fact that the Kaska are interested in getting back to the table. It's my understanding that the new federal government has indicated that they are also interested in getting back to the table. If so, what role has the government played up to this point in trying to bring them together - if they have played any role at all? And have there been any negotiations in trying to bring this about, so that we're moving forward once again on this claim?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Let me go back to recent history. The federal government corresponded with the White River First Nation and laid out terms that reflected the fact that the federal government did not believe that the White River First Nation was ready to continue. That is somewhat of a different view from what we as a government take. The obligation here is to settle. If the federal government believes that a First Nation is not ready, then the federal government should act immediately to provide what is necessary to assist any First Nation to build a capacity and create the environment for readiness to conclude.
With respect to the Kaska Nation, the Kaska Nation has taken the federal government to court. There is policy issue whereby Canada - at least under the past federal Liberal government - said that they would not negotiate when there is litigation. But that changed significantly in the Northwest Territories when the former federal Liberal government, while in an environment of litigation with the Deh Cho, did negotiate with the Deh Cho a fiscal package with respect to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. I think that clearly demonstrates a precedent that the policy should not be applied in the Yukon or elsewhere in the country with respect to litigation and negotiation with First Nations.
What we're saying is that, regardless of the issue of litigation and whether or not the discussions around abeyance have been successful, the federal government has a precedent where they will go to a table and negotiate on matters that they are obligated to with respect to First Nations. That's the same approach we would like them to take in the southeast Yukon in the Kaska traditional territory.
That's the message delivered and we'll now have to allow the minister to respond on these matters. We will be continuing to press the case. There are a number of options. Of course we can continue to write letters to this minister. I have not directly corresponded on this issue - I have discussed it with him. But there are other options, such as convening a meeting in Ottawa with the First Nations that have unsettled business, along with government representatives, to sit down across the table from the minister and possibly other Cabinet ministers to discuss the matter of how we intend to proceed.
Mr. Hardy: I'd really encourage the work along those lines to see if we can advance this claim and get the parties involved back to the table and working together.
I find it quite shocking what the minister just said about the treatment in the N.W.T. - the different approach a former Liberal government used in the N.W.T. and how they have treated the Kaska in southeast Yukon. Depending on the economic opportunities in existence, it sounds like the former Liberal government was willing to waive or alter or - I can't say “double standard” - have a different set of standards applied, depending on the territory, the First Nation group, the opportunities available. That is not justified nor is it fair. All I can say is thank goodness I'm not a Liberal.
Now, when we look at this, I hope that the minister opposite and the department, which is the Executive Council Office and the land claims implementation secretariat portion, which makes up 42 percent of this department - 42 percent, very significant - is putting as many resources as possible in trying to move very quickly with a new government to emphasize how important it is for the future of the Yukon to sit down with the Kaska and work with them.
Now, I also remembered the debate - and I am sure the minister opposite is very aware of this - about the difficulties that the former leader of the Liberal Party had with the transboundary agreements and concerns that the Kaska have in that area. Well, I would like to put on record very clearly that that is very typical of a position of “We know best because we drew the lines, and therefore we divide how First Nations will interact.” When I'm referencing “We drew the lines”, of course I'm referencing the fact that there are lines drawn in N.W.T., Yukon, B.C and Alberta, when the people themselves, the First Nations, were not part of that line drawing and, of course, interacted with each other and were part of the same structure that crossed over those boundaries.
Now, I believe we have to respect the traditional values and traditional linkage that exists with the First Nations in the negotiations and not try to impose the lines that were drawn without their input in creating the territories and provinces. It's incumbent upon us to reach across those lines and find ways to make things work. That's a position that very clearly separates us from the Liberal position, where they feel, no, recognize the lines that were drawn by the explorers, I guess we could say, coming into traditional lands.
My hope and my concern for the future of the Yukon is that a lot of effort is put in at this initial stage of a new government to try to see if they will approach the negotiations with Kaska in a more enlightened manner - one that is obviously more respective of how they have also done their negotiations in the Northwest Territories.
The White River negotiations - or non-negotiations - are a very significant concern of course, because there are no municipal councils in that area - that is my understanding. There is a lot of need to have some recognition of their claims and assurance that money still flows to that area and programs can still move forward, and that they are treated with the respect that is due the White River people as well as the communities that exist in that area - specifically Beaver Creek. We've been hearing a lot from that area over the last month or so - from people out of Beaver Creek who have been very concerned about the lack of representation and lack of money flowing to that area - and also very much the concern about lost jobs. It is a small community and any job that is lost in that area is really felt by the community itself.
There are also concerns around land availability.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: There is a rumour that that is true. For some reason, they call the NDP. There are very strong concerns about land availability, housing availability - especially for people who are trying to work up there, for government even. They are having a hard time finding land and accommodation. I am not going to wander into other departments. I will go specifically to Yukon Housing Corporation or some other department that is more specific along those lines. But these are concerns that I want to put on the table right now. This is what we have been hearing, and it is very significant.
One of the problems, of course, is that without a council it's difficult to get your voice heard. I was just at Association of Yukon Communities and recognized that for this region.
I would also like to encourage this government to move as quickly as possible to work with White River and the federal government to try to find a way to move it forward, because I also believe they have the capacity, with some assistance - definitely financial and personnel assistance - to move forward on their legitimate claim, because I think everyone in the Yukon wants to see it go forward.
More specifically, could the minister give me a breakdown of the allocation of money with respect to the negotiation and implementation? It's estimated at $8,757,000. It makes up 42 percent of the Executive Council Office. If the minister doesn't have the information at his fingertips, I would appreciate it if he could make that information available to us over the next week or few days.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I listen with great interest to the member's comments with respect to representation on the north highway, and I would share his sentiments.
The dollar value that the member speaks of has to do with the land claims and implementation secretariat, as I understand, and it's a total of $8,757,000. The allotments are toward personnel. There is an “other”, which is operating costs of some sort. Transfer payments and the total recoverable on this matter, I think, is a large percentage of the total expenditure from the federal government, as it is still their responsibility and obligation to deal with these matters.
This will be ongoing - the numbers do change in terms of the dollar values, depending on what gets expended in any fiscal year. In some cases, there are surpluses or lapses that will be dealt with in the new fiscal year. In other cases, expenditures flow to our obligations with respect to boards and committees that are created by the agreements and the Umbrella Final Agreement. There are also other expenditures like the land use planning commissions and council. Overall, the majority of expenditures directly relate - these days at least - to the implementation of the final agreements. A great deal of that is a recovery from Canada .
I could give you the total recoveries right here on the floor if I have it at my fingertips. It's important that we recognize how much of this expenditure is directly flowing from the federal government and that it's living up to its responsibilities. I want to make a connection here to the nine-year review and what is going on within that process. It is this government and First Nation governments that were able to convince the federal government that they must put adequacy on the table in the nine-year review so that when they create a new implementation mandate for the agreements here in Yukon, the adequacy issue will be dealt with.
The Auditor General has clearly pointed out that the federal government has signed and entered into agreements but it is short changing the implementation of those agreements with inadequate resources. Not only have we pointed this out in the nine-year review, the Auditor General has certainly pointed it out as well.
I think it's fair to say, with respect to recoveries, that we would be forecasting $3,921,000 of implementation from Canada and $1.1 million from heritage, which is for aboriginal languages investment in the territory. The total is $5,021,000 recovery from Canada to deal with implementation and aboriginal languages.
Mr. Hardy: Thanks for the answer on that. There are a couple of significant increases under activities: land claims and implementation secretariat. It's a 15-percent increase. First Nations relations shows a substantial increase of 142 percent. Could he just indicate what those increases are?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The increases are directly related to three particular areas. First, there's a $484,000 increase to cover new personnel costs associated with YESAA implementation activities in departments. There is a group housed within the Executive Council Office that is directly involved in making sure YESAA is being applied appropriately and efficiently, as it was intended. This includes six FTEs.
The next item is an increase of $344,000 to cover personnel and other costs associated with land claim implementation activities in departments. That is relative to our obligation in implementation. There's a $249,000 increase to cover transfer payment costs for boards, councils and land use planning commissions. This primarily reflects the anticipated - and I say “anticipated” - new costs for the Kwanlin Dun and Carcross-Tagish First Nations renewable resource councils, which will shortly be established.
Mr. Hardy: Thanks for the breakdown, but I just need one more clarification, if the minister doesn't mind, and that's under the First Nations relations. What part of that falls under that 142 percent? I'm not exactly sure which one was which in the numbers he mentioned.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Under personnel for First Nations relations, Mr. Chair, costs have increased by $185,000, reflecting the transfer of the policy and First Nations relations officer, which is a filled position, and the establishment of a new analyst and project officer through redeployment of a vacant position from the land claims implementation secretariat. So that encapsulates the $185,000 increase.
Mr. Hardy: Moving on a little bit here, the next question I have is about the drawdown. We are obligated to enter into these negotiations, of course, with any self-government. Where are we at? What's the government's position right now? Are there any negotiations happening in regard to drawdowns - more specifically, what has been articulated by some First Nations around education and childcare? Have there been formal requests? Is the government in negotiations? What stage are we at around this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, as the member would know, the government's obligations and responsibility are that if we receive formal notice from any self-governing First Nation, there is the right to occupy this authority. To date, there has been some formal indication from First Nations, and we've had two formal meetings so far and a third is expected sometime this month.
If it hasn't been held already, that's information that would have to be updated, no matter what. But also, there is the education reform process that is being done in partnership with First Nations. And, though we would always honour our obligations under the final agreements, there is a great interest by many First Nations in the reform process as it relates to the public system and how it can better serve and reflect First Nations' culture, needs and language.
So, there's actually another process ongoing that has to do with the public system. But, no matter what, we are obligated to negotiate this area, a PSTA, with respect to occupying this authority by all self-governing First Nations, should they choose to do so.
Mr. Hardy: Has any First Nation formally chosen to do so - made a formal request?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, there has. Na Cho Nyäk Dun have agreed to negotiate a program service transfer regarding this area. As I said, two formal meetings have been held and a third is expected sometime this month, if it hasn't happened already.
Mr. Hardy: So, I'm under the understanding that Na Cho Nyäk Dun is the only one that's made a formal request to date - and I want to include both education and childcare. I just want to get an understanding of where we're really at - what formal requests have been made and not the other discussions, possibly, because there is always a lot of positioning that's being taken. But where are we at as a government - the formal request. Is it only Na Cho Nyäk Dun, or are there others that have now entered into the process or some form of process, both with childcare and education?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I think some of these areas are dependent upon the First Nation government's approach. The Na Cho Nyäk Dun discussions are the only formal discussions we are having. There has been another indication of intention to negotiate by Little Salmon-Carmacks but, as far as I know, there are no discussions at this time. Kwanlin Dun First Nation has provided notice of intention that it wishes to negotiate transfer of programs and services related to education and child welfare, though there are no formal PSTA negotiations at this time.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for the clarification on that. It makes it a lot easier to move along and understand where everyone is at in this process. I can assume that the First Nations will be exercising their rights in this matter and, of course, any government has to oblige that as per the agreement.
In Question Period today we were talking about the Youth Directorate. Is any work being done with regard to a shelter? Are there any negotiations with any NGOs? Is there any kind of engagement at all? Has the government started to consider the need for shelters?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, we undertook a process with a number of the representative groups for youth here in the territory and in Whitehorse and we are at the point where we have a proposed framework that identifies a range of service enhancements to address gaps. This actual proposal is under review by all related government departments so that appropriate analysis can be done on the recommendations that came forward. I think it is critical that we recognize the increased availability of resources for the youth - not only the youth groups that we normally invest in, but also the francophone community and its youth who are getting a direct investment now on this government's watch.
Mr. Hardy: Would the minister make available those recommendations that have been brought forward?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This was a document that was created by youth groups. I think the lead on this was the Youth Directorate. It's an internal document right now. Much of it is discussions of individuals. We won't just simply make a public document out of this until we get to the point where we can re-engage with the youth groups to discuss with them the recommendations and analysis that came out of it and see if we move forward to a final report.
This is much about being in draft form. We'll have to see what transpires through the analysis. That's not to say that, on an ongoing basis, a tremendous amount of effort and attention is being paid to youth in the territory.
Mr. Hardy: Does the minister have any timelines in regard to this report and maybe a final on this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, I do not have any timelines that I can express to the member opposite today. In some cases, these matters have more than timelines. In many cases, they're ongoing. Something like the substance abuse action plan will be very difficult to apply timelines to. We have to implement initiative by initiative, but it's definitely an ongoing process.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Mr. Chair, I'd like to convey to the minister that it would really be beneficial for us on this side of the House to understand what issues and recommendations are being brought forward by the consultation action of this government at some point. I would hope that would be information that's shared for all MLAs, because it's extremely important that, as we are all tasked with representing our constituents - recognizing that our constituents include the youth - that we understand what their concerns are, what direction they would like to see a government go in, and what they think they need in order to do proper representation. If that kind of consultation is shared, I believe it would raise the level of debate in the Legislative Assembly and may even help us find common ground to move forward and support whatever government of the day is in power.
So those are my recommendations in that regard.
Now, the minister mentioned the substance abuse action plan, and I'd like to applaud the government for moving forward on this and allocating $2 million in this direction. It has consumed me, to a certain degree, in the last few years - the last two years specifically. When I embarked on this substance abuse issue, I looked at the four pillars approach. In Vancouver, at the first meeting we had, we brought up Libby Davies, the Member of Parliament and a councillor back then, who, along with other people, initiated an approach to try to deal with the substance abuse that was happening in that area of Vancouver East Side.
I brought her to the Yukon, and that meeting was packed. We were turning people away at the door because the room wasn't big enough. It was obviously something people felt very passionately about and wanted to be engaged in. It led to the substance abuse forum and drug and alcohol forum that the government put on. Out of that now is the substance abuse action plan and money allocated. Out of that is also the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, which is again another initiative from the south. The four pillars and safer communities are all very good initiatives, and I am very pleased to see the government was willing to move in this direction.
I have a funny question here that I have to ask. It kind of goes back to what was going back and forth between the leader of the official opposition and the minister, when there was a lot of time taken but very little said or questions asked. Listening to that, would I get better answers by applying this to Health and Social Services and asking the questions within that department? So much of what we are doing rests within that department and so much of what has been identified in the substance abuse forum itself naturally falls under Health and Social Services. Instead asking questions and have the minister say that we should wait until the Health and Social Services minister comes up because he will have more information, maybe we can just cut to the chase. If that is the place, I will be quite happy to ask my questions in that area.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the content of questions and debate will always be reflective of vision, plan and a demonstration therein, and I couldn't agree with the member opposite more in his statement that the debate has been fairly empty, I guess, of vision and plan, other than the government side continued to try to bring the now leader of the official opposition back on track. We continue to try, and it now appears the member opposite, the leader of the third party, is going to try to do the same in the best interests of the House and the public interest, of course.
With respect to the member's question, there is so much of this that is inter-related among a number of departments, but if we begin with the substance abuse action plan core elements or objectives of prevention and education, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement, then we have to take those and apply them- depending on what the initiative may be - to the department that would be the lead on it. For example, if it's enforcement, in all likelihood that would be solely within the purview of the Department of Justice. If it's in prevention and education, there could be a cross-corporate initiative between the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Services. If it's in the area of harm reduction, that one is very hard to define explicitly to any one department, because it could be in Education, it could be in Health and Social Services, and it could be in Justice, depending on what kind of programming may be implemented, for example, in the corrections sytem.
The member's question would be relative to asking Health and Social Services in areas of treatment and education - that would be good. There are obviously questions that could be asked of the Department of Education and of the Department of Justice in the overall context of the substance abuse action plan.
I would assume that a majority of what will be required in the area of treatment will definitely be housed in Health and Social Services, because that is the lead department involved today. As we enhance and improve treatment, in all likelihood that would be the department that would carry that out.
In other matters, there could be a number of variables that would dictate what department may lead. In fact, there may be a number of departments involved in one initiative, but there also may be instances where one department - like Education - would take on a program or initiative where we aggressively target education in our schools, for example. That would be solely housed with the Department of Education.
Depending on enforcement and what we're applying, we have to recognize that enforcement also includes the RCMP and the courts. In all likelihood, the Department of Justice would be solely involved in that particular objective of the substance abuse action plan.
We will have to work through this as we go forward, because there could be initiatives that dictate the number of departments involved, or one department, depending on what the initiative we're trying to implement is really all about.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister. It did help me to formalize how we - my colleagues and I - are going to formalize our questions around this. Mr. Chair, it is one of those “left” ideas that define a leader maybe going too far left. It's one of these left ideas that may make some people nervous that we are actually talking about drugs and alcohol and trying to do some significant things. The safe communities might be too left for some groups as well and it might drive them out of - I don't know where it drives them. They go somewhere. I don't think they know where they are at yet, but we'll find out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Mr. Hardy: I hear the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
Chair: Order. Mr. Hardy, you have the floor, but the Chair is having difficulty hearing the speaker. If we could reduce the chatter in the Assembly and as well focus on the matter at hand, which is debate on the Executive Council Office.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you. I keep hearing the chatter from the back - something about “rise above it”. I won't reference some of the newscasts and what has been said.
However, we are going to approach this department by department. The four pillars, the four areas, do help us define how we can question. The minister can convey to his colleagues that there will be questions coming from the third party in regard to this area, and we hope that the appropriate ministers will recognize and be prepared to answer questions about the substance abuse action plan, safe communities, and stuff like that.
I am pretty well going to wrap up here. That was a big section of what I wanted to ask. I just wanted to get some clarification. There are a couple of areas I want to touch on. The portfolio, of course, includes internal audits. What is the current status of what is being worked on at the present time? Could the minister give us that answer?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have to make a comment on this whole issue of substance abuse action and any initiative therein. There are no partisan political boundaries on this matter so, just for the member opposite's understanding, this is not an issue for the government of left or right because it is an issue incumbent on all of us to address regardless of our political persuasion.
Recent days have clearly defined on the political spectrum the left and the right, which is a good thing - it's probably better for the territory - but there are individuals now on the opposite side of the House who have demonstrated that they're not quite sure - left or right. That is problematic because that again demonstrates this issue of vision and plan for the Yukon Territory .
I am going to go off a little bit here on what it means. It means that without a vision and plan there is this tendency to try to come together as a group and maybe in that there will be a collective that comes up with something. But that's pretty iffy for the Yukon and its future.
What I'm demonstrating here is that there has to be a vision and plan in this area of substance abuse. It has been put together, and I will openly admit that this vision and plan is not a plan and vision overall that this government came into office with. It was developed in conjunction with a tremendous amount of work by many, many individuals, departments, officials, experts, stakeholders, but also with the opposition benches. It is fair to say that the Member for Whitehorse Centre played an integral role in pursuing this initiative, and collectively this vision and plan have come together to deal with what is a major social ill.
So I just wanted to stress the point that never can we allow partisan ideologies into areas where there are absolutely no political boundaries. This is one of them, to be sure, and we all have a responsibility and a role to play to improve in this area as best we can, and this is going to be a challenge ongoing, I am sure. But we feel a lot more confident in the tools we now have available to move beyond what was. If we couple it all together with the substance abuse action plan, safer communities legislation, willingness of this Legislative Assembly, this institution, to further guide by policy government's direction - correctional reform is important. All these matters coming together reflect an ability now for Yukon to better address this particular social ill for the benefit of not only Yukoners now, but for the benefit of the territory and its citizens long into the future. It certainly will help create community well-being, healthy and vibrant communities, and a citizenry that is definitely able to better manage this particular area and situation.
It's to the credit of many that we are at the point we're at, but I want to caution everyone that there is a long, long way to go. What we're doing here now, with this budget and some of these measures, is taking further steps in meeting this challenge. I'm very pleased to say, though, that those steps are, quite frankly, a leap from where we were.
Mr. Hardy: I did have a question.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Hon. Premier, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I was totally enraptured with the issue of what we're dealing with here collectively and omitted to respond to the member on internal audits.
Chair: Order. If this is a matter of debate, when the member next has his turn he can add the information, but it's not a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Now that we have that technical glitch out of our way, I will respond to the member opposite.
The completion of two audits that were started in 2005-06 - audit of contributions across five departments of government - the final report is expected early 2006-07; audit of Pharmacare and extended health benefits - field work was completed January 2006, and a final report will be issued in early 2006-07; conduct an audit on contracts across government - this audit was deferred in 2005-06 and will likely begin in September of this year.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for finally getting around to the question I asked. He is correct and I apologize to anybody who may take offence. Everybody played a role and hats off to everybody in the Legislative Assembly for trying to bring forward and work on an extremely serious issue that faces the Yukon and, in many ways, is growing.
We have new drugs showing up; we have more serious concerns around prescription drugs; we have serious alcohol problems in our communities. A lot of neighbourhoods are really struggling to deal with the fallout of that, which can be crime, violence and lost opportunities for people and their lives - whether it's starting at a young age, middle age or senior age - if they become addicted or caught up in the world of substance abuse.
Every member in this Chamber has contributed and, because of that, this is one of the few initiatives that will move forward.
I have a couple more questions. They're pretty brief, just like the one just before, concerning an internal audit. Are there any results of the red tape reduction review the government initiated quite awhile ago? Where are we at with it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This red tape thing has been an ongoing discussion by successive governments for the last decade. Red tape is always a problem. Given what's going on in today's Yukon, we should change it to pink. I think we've reduced by policy to some degree what could be defined as this red tape issue. That has certainly allowed us to expedite development and growth in certain areas. I want to stress responsible development, by applying the many mechanisms we have available and all the tools available to ensure we do so in accordance with protecting Yukon's environment, conserving Yukon's environment and wildlife, limiting the impacts of development, but also ensuring we can progress and allow development to happen to the benefit of Yukon now and into the future.
I think, overall Mr. Chair, there has been some movement. Discussion continues on how best to approach it, but we are also limited by the number of legal mechanisms in place. I would submit to the member that one of the steps that is very much before us - now that devolution has occurred - is the fact that we will be proceeding with the development of successor legislation in a number of areas that may reflect more of a homegrown or Yukon-made legal framework that addresses this issue to some degree.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister tell me how many court actions are pending with this government at the present time?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, I could not, Mr. Chair. It's my understanding that court actions for government have been ongoing. If we want to get down to this particular issue we should probably go back through the course of the Yukon government's history to get a determination. It's not a measurement of government, frankly, nor a measurement of what the government is or isn't doing. It's a right of individuals, corporations, First Nation governments - any and all - to avail themselves of due process. In some cases, a choice is made to do so in the courts. We encourage all, should they decide that is a necessity for them, to do exactly that and take an issue that is important to them to court.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, I don't disagree with the minister opposite. Every government has had court actions against them. My question was very simple. How many are being applied presently? If the minister wishes to, I would be quite happy to receive that in writing at some point down the road.
Saying that, those are all the questions I have for this department.
Chair: Are there any further questions in general debate? Hearing none, we'll move on with line-by-line discussion.
Mr. Hardy:Mr. Chair, I request the unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all lines in Vote 2, in both operation and maintenance and capital expenditures, Executive Council Office, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 2, Executive Council Office, cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. Hardy has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 2, Executive Council Office, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $20,243,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $794,000 agreed to
Executive Council Office agreed to
Chair: This concludes Vote 2, Executive Council Office. The Chair understands we're now continuing with the Department of Economic Development, Vote 7.
We will move on now with general debate on Vote 7, Department of Economic Development.
Department of Economic Development
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Chair, it is my great pleasure today to present the Department of Economic Development and discuss some of the projects we have been working on and developing and where the department is going in the coming year.
I have to go back to my previous wonder at the previous government's feeling that the best way to promote economic development was to disband and to scatter the Department of Economic Development. It seemed to make little sense to disband the one department that could take a look at where we want to go and perhaps even look at the things we have at our fingertips to get there. But I haven't been able to make an awful lot of sense out of that, and certainly many Yukoners are still scratching their heads over this less-than-wise decision.
With that in mind, our government made the decision to bring the department back and to give it a strong mandate to look at the big picture and to determine where we wanted to go. Since the Member for Copperbelt enjoys my love of Lewis Carroll, one of my favourite quotes - and I see him smiling there - is, “I don't see how he can ever finish if he doesn't begin”.
We started the long process of looking at the big picture and where we wanted to go and tried to focus on the long-term view and look at how we can attract Outside investment. We have to look at the global picture and how the Yukon fits into it. In the new world of integrative trade, according to the Conference Board of Canada, Canada is the most dependent of the G-7 nations on international trade. Canada is also one of the most prosperous nations in the world. I submit, Mr. Chair, that these two facts are very definitely connected. We are looking at very serious population growth, there will be an increase in world purchasing power - these are all givens - and there will be an explosive demand for natural resources and the growing innovation in technology.
These are fairly immutable facts. The Yukon has a number of advantages in the world market on that. It makes every bit of sense to take advantage of that capability. We're strategically located: we sit between Alaska and the Lower 48 states with port access to Asia. We have rich resources. We're a much more attractive trading partner than Ontario or Atlantic Canada and most of the United States. When you consider the congestion of ports in Los Angeles , Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver and others, we remain very attractive.
We have a huge abundance of natural resources, the most of which is the very environment we live in. If you put into that resources like zinc, lead, copper, coal, molybdenum, tungsten, silver, gold and all the rest, there's so much more there. We have a distinct people advantage. We have skilled and adaptable residents and First Nations that see the benefits of economic development.
We look at the pathway from vision to action, and we must consider Yukon 's risks and, of course, the constraints. We must always consider our environment and what we leave for our children. That is absolutely a given.
We have to consider the pressures on health, education, social services, land access and housing stock. We must be aware of our human resources, and not only their quality but also their limitations. We must be proactive rather than reactive. We can't simply react to what happens but we have to plan carefully for each step. In the words of Lewis Carroll, “Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.”
Growth planning is critical and it has to be done carefully. But the former Liberal government disbanded the very department that was doing this - that was their vision.
So what's the final strategy? Population growth plus emerging markets gives a strong demand - the major resources in the right location with good people to extract them with care and diligence and give us a good supply, and this global demand and Yukon supply will give us Yukon economic prosperity.
It's an interesting comment on the state of the economy, Mr. Chair. When I went up to the airport the other night, on what I thought was a relatively average day, even within all of the regular, long-term, overflow and double overflow parking, there was not a single parking spot left at the Whitehorse Hospital. I have to admit, I just put it in four-wheel drive and just made my own parking spot. But it's a comment on the state of the economy and what the Department of Economic Development is doing at the present time.
This is our vision in the development of a proper infrastructure and support industry - we can generate wealth and a quality of life that we can be proud of. We need to promote and we need to facilitate business and industry, and we have to develop that capacity and growth. We stay on top of our policy and regulations to keep Yukon a good place to invest in and a good place to do business in. We have already come from one of the poorest places in the world in which to do business to one of the best, and we've grown significantly in our global status.
We've done this with the same world mineral prices and the same world economy as everyone else. We have no difference in all of that, but why have we moved up from the bottom of most of these categories to the top or close to the top in all of them? The mineral prices and an upswing in the world economy have certainly helped. But to say that this is solely responsible for our -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: And yes, Mr. Deputy Chair, if I said “hospital”, I apologize. I certainly meant the airport.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, the first version the Member for Copperbelt mentions on that - certainly, we can get into health care on that. And having been the recent recipient of Whitehorse General Hospital 's services, I think it's among the best in the world. But, anyway, we'll get sidetracked on that.
About four years ago, when the rest of the country was benefiting from rising mineral prices and an upswing in the world economy, the Yukon was flailing. Now, four years later - or three and a half years later - we can take advantage of the same world factors as the rest of Canada, because we're making sound decisions and encouraging investment and growth in our economy. But we have to continue to develop our research and innovation potential. We have to continue to develop our economic infrastructure - fibre optics and transportation come to mind. We had a marvellous presentation today on the Canada-Alaska rail link project at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon and looked at how well we are advancing with that. We need to see partnerships and linkages with the private sector, First Nations, regions, communities, our citizens and all levels and all orders of government.
So what are the next steps? We do have to develop discussion papers for our enabling factors as each new initiative and project comes on-board, and we have to evaluate them carefully and see how they fit into our overall strategy, and we have to collaborate with those partners. But we have to, at the same time, increase and continue to increase our focus on small business and how we can help small business accomplish what they need to do in the overall plan. Too often, traditional institutions are quick to point out the problems and why a project can't proceed. Our department, our business and trade branch, our strategic industries branch and our regional development branch all will emphasize how it can be done, rather than why it can't be done. We have an exceptional staff, and I have every confidence that they will do this well.
Continuing on, I'd like to describe in some detail some of the initiatives we've undertaken in order to meet our government's objectives, which in turn will improve the lives of Yukoners for generations to come. I'd first like to touch on an emerging industry, one of which we have placed a high emphasis on, and for good reason, as it's proving to be a very profitable one. I'm referring, of course, to the Yukon 's film industry.
As you may know, Mr. Deputy Chair, 2005 was a banner year for Yukon film production. Yukon had a record year for film production due to incentives from the Department of Economic Development and favourable weather - at least when we get the snow, we certainly have ways to put it to use. Film production generated $4.1 million in 2005, compared to $2.5 million in 2004.
I would remind the House that the film industry leverages almost $10 for every $1 invested - very good return on investment.
The dollar figures have risen dramatically, demonstrating film as a viable and growing contributor to Yukon's economy. More of our people are working in film and on more new productions. It was quite amazing, while knocking on doors during the last election, to find how many people in Porter Creek North are involved in the film industry. We have things like $262,000 spent by Coyote Films while in the Yukon , and they employed 21 Yukon residents while shooting a commercial for Land Rover.
Whisper Productions spent a total of $265,000 while here and employed 42 Yukon residents on a feature film production, now titled Hellion.
Mad Films shot an AIM Trimark commercial, with a projected total spending of $120,000 and employed 21 Yukoners. Yukon had the great privilege of playing Finland for that particular commercial.
We shot five different productions from England, putting 56 Yukoners to work. We can go on and on about some of the various things we have done. The film incentive funds were fully subscribed, as we would expect them to be this year.
We still have a few challenges with continuing North Town, and we can get into that in debate, if there is an interest. But, certainly, in the first part of the episodes, in a budget of $3.3 million, $500,000 of which came from the Government of Yukon's film development and film production funds, the six episodes were shot in Carcross, Dawson City, Haines Junction and Whitehorse. That was a good injection into our economy.
The first ever International Yukon Film Festival will take place from June 21 to 25, in Whitehorse . And the seventh annual Dawson City Short Film Festival has just recently concluded, running from April 14 to 17.
The Big White , a Robin Williams film with Holly Hunter and Woody Harrelson and our own local actor, Eric Epstein, was shot in the Yukon in April 2004. That will be screened at the International Film Festival.
The festival organizers have begun to receive confirmation of national and international producers, broadcasters and media who will be attending and creating networking opportunities for Yukon filmmakers. The sound recording program also completes the promised suite, so to speak, of supported programs available through the Yukon Film and Sound Commission. That was developed in consultation with Music Yukon.
Funded by the Department of Economic Development and administered through the Yukon Film and Sound Commission, the program reimburses 50 percent of specified costs to a maximum of $5,000 for professional sound recording costs, and professional demos are eligible up to $2,000 worth of assistance.
In its first year, 2005-06, there were a total of 27 applicants. An outside jury of music professionals awarded $43,136 total to 15 Yukon recording professionals.
The music scene remains a vibrant one, and it certainly demonstrates the government's commitment to foster growth and success in our creative sound and film industries. I believe there was a motion earlier today calling on the Yukon to support the arts community. It should be pointed out to everyone that the Yukon arts community is alive, well and vibrant. On a per capita basis, the Yukon supports our arts community to the highest level in all of Canada. In some cases, compared to some jurisdictions, it's almost an order of magnitude higher.
We are very, very pleased to support the arts community while we are doing everything on our economy at the same time.
As I mentioned previously, we have to be proactive rather than reactive in our thinking, and growth planning is critical and is something we have to look at. I mentioned before the rail feasibility study. It continues to generate great interest from communities, companies and organizations throughout Canada and Alaska. We look forward to their reports; they are in phase 2 right now and we look forward to the reports that should be due in the month of June.
That was presented at the 2006 Cordilleran Roundup in Vancouver, as it was at lunch today also. Stage 2 is moving along at a good clip.
The results of stage 1 will cap the most comprehensive research of northern railway prospects since the 1942 U.S. government survey conducted during the construction of the Alaska Highway . I know members opposite like to quote previous studies, but I think 1942 is getting a little bit elderly. The results of the market analysis will be quite interesting and quantify the existing market for transportation from Alaska to northern B.C. through the Yukon. It will quantify potential future markets, including resource development, pipeline construction and passenger traffic, and estimate potential rail revenue from those markets.
Again, going back and looking at some of the historical parts of that is not something that makes a lot of sense right now.
The results of the technical analysis will assess the technical feasibility of building and operating that railway over various routes in Alaska and British Columbia. They will research alternative modes of transportation and routes that are, or could be, available to shippers and to develop life-cycle costs for all the various alternatives.
The completed study will provide sound economic and engineering information to build a business case for investors. If the business case cannot support rail construction right away, the study will nevertheless provide a comprehensive body of knowledge to support future transportation planning in the north. It's an excellent exercise, although we have a feeling it will be one that will make every bit of sense.
Over $1 million in contracts were awarded last fall for the first stage of the study, and I am happy to point out that 45 percent of that dollar value went to Yukon companies.
Another initiative in our planning for the future is the port access study. Changes in the global economy are opening up many economic opportunities for Yukon , particularly in resource development. Secure tidewater access is a prerequisite to the viability of any resource development programs in the Yukon. Work is being done now on the inventory and capacity analysis, forecasting demand analysis and environmental analysis - a most critical part. This work is being done closely with the rail link study so that they run concurrently with each other. Once completed, the study will be grounded in economic realities and provide enough objective and quantified information to enable public and private investors to take a serious look at developing port facilities and related transportation links. The study will be completed by June 30, 2006 . All of this will dovetail into transportation corridor studies and the transportation corridor working group of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, or PNWER, and presented to our neighbouring jurisdictions this summer at the PNWER summer meetings in Edmonton .
I could continue with some of the programs, but I am sure that some of the members opposite will have more individual questions on individual programs and such, and I certainly look forward to providing the information as necessary.
Mr. Mitchell: I'm pleased the minister didn't disappoint, at least in one aspect, which was that he was able to come up with another Lewis Carroll quote. I knew he would rise to the challenge. I never doubted him for a moment. I'm glad we provided sufficient time for him to do so.
I'm also glad he made some references to the big picture in his statement so we know he's a big-picture thinker. I would point out, when he talked about the Yukon Film and Sound Commission, we had a Yukon Film Commission for a number of years and a number of governments over the years have worked toward seeing that commission improve and have greater successes. I'm sure he would agree that that has been a multi-year and multi-party effort, and I think it has been a good one.
We are pleased about that. We look forward this summer to seeing more episodes of Northern Town. I did have the opportunity in Dawson City three weeks ago to see the first episode, which was very well received at the Dawson International Short Film Festival. I'm not sure when we'll get the chance to see The Big White, but we'll no doubt enjoy it when it's finally released.
Again, the minister has raised some issues regarding how everything from his perspective was heading the wrong way prior to his being elected and serving in this portfolio, and he indicated that, despite economic things having turned elsewhere, they weren't turning here. I think that's something we should speak to for a moment, because there were actually signs even before this government was elected. Retail sales had certainly turned - I think it was around 2000. They had started increasing and that's usually a harbinger of things to come.
As the minister probably knows, people tend to start spending more money at the retail level before they start rushing out to buy $200,000 or $300,000 homes.
So, these economic cycles are fairly powerful and long-standing, and I certainly hope that the minister wouldn't be suggesting that he was at the helm of the ship, as the captain, and had turned the cycle single-handedly, because I think these cycles are a lot bigger than all of us.
As far as mineral prices go, they have been rising fairly consistently for some time, although we know that the curve moved up dramatically over the last year or so. I don't think that the minister really should be taking credit for a resurgence in mineral exploration. Over the past 35 years, I've watched mining exploration increase and go the other way. It has happened to governments of many different stripes because these forces are bigger than all of us.
I look forward to the first new mine opening, hopefully in early 2007. I know that Sherwood Copper is looking at a stripping program this year - pre-stripping and getting mine-readiness - and that's very exciting news. But that is something, I think, that would be proceeding - and indeed, the president and CEO of Sherwood Copper have said that this would be occurring - regardless of who was in government, based on the record high copper prices. So I think it's something we have to be careful of when we start wanting to take credit for the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
Now, speaking of Sherwood Copper, it brings me to some things I'd like to ask about. The minister spoke about the rail studies, the port studies and the port access study. Again, on the rail study, I guess I would ask a couple of things. One: has the minister's department - or the minister, for that matter - asked British Columbia to participate by helping to fund the rail study - the Canada-Alaska rail link - because he's repeatedly including them. In his just concluded remarks, he talked about connecting to British Columbia, so obviously British Columbia would have a vested interest in any possible corridor.
With the rail and port studies, has White Pass participated in those studies, and if not, why not?
Speaking of railroads, I am wondering if the minister has apologized to White Pass' CEO - I won't name him, but he did express a couple of strong opinions and concerns regarding the statements. I think he said, “I do not see any plans where it has even been said that it is for sale.” Regarding the railroad, he said, “I find it totally inappropriate that a minister of a government would delve into the affairs of a private company.”
That was following the minister's public announcement that he had gone to China and shopped the railroad around, so to speak. I am wondering if the minister has spoken to that individual and apologized for making public statements about a private company.
Similarly, the port access study that the minister refers to - is Alaska paying anything for that? How much in total will this cost the taxpayers by the time we are done? What about any mining companies that might stand to benefit from the results of the studies or from any possible negotiated agreements with any of those ports - in particular, Alaskan ports? Have we asked them to and, if not, why not? I noticed that actually some of the mining companies are proceeding on their own. Sherwood Copper Corporation, which is the first mine that we expect to see opening, announced they had entered into a cost reimbursement agreement with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Agency - AIDEA - whereby that agency will fund a feasibility study for the use of the port of Skagway, Alaska, for the export of their copper-gold concentrates from the Minto Copper gold deposit. If Sherwood Copper were to make use of the facility, there would be some reimbursement.
So I'm wondering why the minister is undertaking to do his own study. Did he not contact the first mine that looks to be opening under the minister's three and a half years in government to see if they were doing something on their own rather than doing it separately? So that's something I'm sure the minister might have some interesting comments on.
I think that I've left enough out there for now. Rather than me going into a long soliloquy, I'll give the minister a chance to respond with or without Mr. Carroll's assistance.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, that was a good list, and, yes, let's look at some of those. The Member for Whitehorse Centre mentions an early increase in retail sales. I'm very pleased that he noticed that Wal-Mart opened about that time. Even the media in Whitehorse reported that much of the activity in the retail sector was actually coming from the State of Alaska. Cars were selling briskly in the Northwest Territories. We did see an upswing in retail sales. But in terms of interpreting that as a major statement and a major thing in the economy of the Yukon - that's questionable at best.
The member opposite mentioned Sherwood Copper, an excellent company. Certainly, that probably would have proceeded, although we think that it proceeded much more easily. Let's look at the exploration side of the mining industry, which went from $6 million this year to likely in excess of $100 million. That is something that is brand new. That is working on ground that wasn't explored before and certainly would not have occurred without better certainty, although I know the members opposite don't like the word “certainty,” so I'll apologize for using that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, one likes to have certainty, and it's kind of nice when it comes loud and clear. I will try to avoid that word.
With the ability to go out and look for something and develop a business plan - develop a land-based business - it's nice to know that there is a degree of ability to develop the land and have control over one's assets. It was that essential flaw in the protected areas strategy - the so-called YPAS - that made no sense. It left a lot of people with an inability to really have any knowledge of what they were working with. By doing away with that and providing a better business environment for people, exploration went from $6 million to $100 million. That is the significant part.
The member opposite refers to the rail connecting to British Columbia. I think if one looks at the bigger picture, which I think shows the definite way of looking at things, I don't see it as building a rail to British Columbia. I know that the member opposite does; it's what he said. We look at it as building a rail to Los Angeles, to Halifax and to Miami. It completes the network from sea to sea to sea. It brings the north into the trading network of all of North America .
The member opposite sees the short term and sees that we are building to British Columbia . Again, there's a very essential difference in terms of looking at the whole thing.
The member opposite continues to refer to mineral prices and world economy and so on, but those higher prices are not alone. There is a whole package that we have to look at. At each point we must look at all competing jurisdictions. We have to look at the ability for the Yukon again. List after list indicated that we were among the worst jurisdictions; now suddenly we are among the best jurisdictions.
We did it using the same mineral prices. We did it with the same worldwide things. It was Economic Development and this government that undertook a strong marketing investment strategy and investment attraction.
Going back to film, it was a real pleasure to meet and have dinner with a production crew out of Los Angeles. The opening line when I met them at the airport was, “You did a familiarization tour, or so-called fam tour, and I'm here because of that. We were here before; we saw what the Yukon has to offer; we fell in love with it and we're bringing the production back here.” It's those sorts of investments that will make a huge difference.
The member opposite asked specific questions. Let's look at the port study for right now. That port study will come out at around $400,000, plus or minus a little bit - but it will be approximately $400,000. All mining companies will benefit; all manufacturing companies will benefit. It has an impact right across the spectrum within the Yukon.
It has a much broader mandate than the studies the member opposite refers to - who were stakeholders and who were and are being consulted. It has a much broader aspect and does not simply look at Skagway. It looks at Haines; it looks at Hyder; it looks at Stewart; it looks at Prince Rupert . It looks at all the various ports and how they can be utilized for us.
In terms of the rail study, yes, White Pass & Yukon Route has been very much involved in this whole process. It has been a stakeholder, has sat on committees, has attended all the meetings. The member opposite refers to one particular event that I'd like very much to address. While in China on one of our trips, we spoke with China Rail, which is an agency of the federal government, to bring them up to speed in terms of what is happening with the rail study and with potential investment and what we're trying to do.
We are very happy with that. They have offered assistance where they can on that. It is a relationship that will come in handy down the road. But at the time, I was approached by a private company who said, “We understand that the White Pass railroad might be for sale. We have an interest. Would you talk to people and get us an understanding on where they stand on that?” For the member opposite, had he bothered to do his research, he would have found that what was reported was that China Rail was a private company. It is not – it is a government agency. The approach was made by a private company and in fact on September 28, 2005, Tri-White Corporation, which is, to read the first part, and then I will be happy to table this for the member opposite - Toronto, Ontario, September 28, “The Board of Directors of Tri-White Corporation today announced a strategic initiative to address the future of its significant investment in its wholly owned subsidiary, White Pass & Yukon Route. The investigation into the potential for the asset could include the sale of all or part of this business.” That's their own press release. If the member opposite had bothered to do his research, he would have noticed this issued eight months prior. He is eight months too late, Mr. Chair. In terms of quotations that were put into the press at that time, I have to scratch my head and wonder. If someone doesn't want people to think they are for sale, they should refrain from issuing international, worldwide Web announcements that they are. I will table that for the member opposite.
Again, I don't want to try to blow this out of proportion. It was a strategic choice on their part but, if they announce that they are for sale and we are approached by a private company that asks me to talk about that, I'm happy to try to put the two groups together. If they choose not to come together, that's their choice. And if others want to make points that aren't based in reality, I guess it's also their choice to do.
Mr. Mitchell: If we're going to be correcting the record, then I will respond to the minister's comments and simply say that I was aware; I did talk to senior employees of the White Pass Corporation, who told me about Tri-White Corporation's study. The way the employees of White Pass described it, they were looking at all their assets and investments and that they would look at every possibility, which could include - as this document the minister has tabled says - the sale of all or part of this business. They made no decision to actively sell it but, rather, to value the asset and determine what its value was in their portfolio within their holding corporation, and determine what their future vision for it would be. It was not we who criticized the minister for his statements, but rather the head of White Pass & Yukon Railroad.
They were the ones who said, “Yes, we would consider the asset.” And when you consider an asset among the things you might do, it could be that eventually you would decide you might want to sell it. But they did not have any conversations authorizing this minister to deal with private or public agencies and be their facilitator. I'm sure that there might be many companies that might want the minister's assistance and, if they ask for it and it seems appropriate, we have no issue with that.
They felt it was inappropriate that a minister of government would publicly made pronouncements about their future. It had a real effect on their employees and how they viewed the stability and security of their employment. They expressed their outrage. Again, I will ask the minister if he has spoken to that individual since? I don't want to name the individual, but the minister knows who I am talking about. Has he apologized for his actions and tried to improve the relationship?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, the member opposite refers to this as a “Tri-White study”. I'm sure if we look in the dictionary, we will find that an internationally released press release does not constitute a study. Again, and I quote, “The investigation or the potential for the asset would include the sale of all or part of this business, a strategic alliance or partnership or other restructuring of the asset within Tri-White Corporation.” For the member opposite, I have read the entire sentence, not just part of it. I will table the document all in one motion.
I know that he's not used to dealing with it in this way. I have spoken to White Pass. I was asked if I wanted them to apologize to me. My response was no. The record is there. It will be corrected in due course. If people don't want something to be thought to be for sale, then they shouldn't announce it on the worldwide Web. I wasn't out there selling it. I was asked by a private company, who saw it on the Web, to put the two companies together. That's all there was to it.
The real study has been an interesting exercise in putting all this together. The real study, of course, comes out of the original rails-to-resources bill that then Senator Frank Murkowski put together a number of years ago. It allowed, I believe, $6 million U.S. to form a binational commission to look at a market analysis and technical analysis for the construction of a link, linking the Alaska railroad, which currently runs - with a few diversions - from Anchorage to Fairbanks. It is in the process of setting up a spur to Delta Junction.
My understanding is that spur is right now in an environmental assessment study - EAS, in the Alaskan language - and they expect to hopefully be laying rail by part of that route or have the whole thing going possibly by later this summer or early in 2007. But our study is completed. Its estimated cost right now is about $5.5 million, shared equally by Alaska and Yukon.
Before the member opposite throws the questions out - British Columbia is at the table - not financially, but they certainly are at the table. Canada is also not financially at the table but they also are in the discussion.
I know the member opposite is conflicted on this. Again, we see the great divisions within the Liberal Party to try to come up with a consistent position on this. It's difficult when there don't appear to be any Liberals within the Liberal caucus these days. They are all refugees from other parties. We still have the desks moving around.
Chair: Order please. There is no need for insulting comments such as what we just heard in debate here. I would ask all members to rise above that type of behaviour and to not personalize the debate. There is enough content with the matter before us. There are many topics of conversation and debate of interest there, and I would ask members to focus on Vote 7, Department of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To get back to our railway discussion, let's look at some of the things that have come out on this. I refer back to November 28, 2005 , to our federal government Hansard, and I quote - and this is all on the federal register: “I hope the hon. member will support a major project for Canada in my riding. She has probably heard me mention the Alaska railway link, joining the railway that is already there with the great Canadian railway network, which would be a great expansion of railway in Canada. There is a study going on now to see whether it is feasible economically, socially and environmentally. Hopefully she would be in support of this, and for one of the reasons she mentioned, which is the environmental aspects of rail.” That was by the Hon. Larry Bagnell, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources.
Later in the debate - again, and I quote: “The railway is, of course, environmentally friendly.” And that's one of the things, Mr. Chair, that I certainly agree with Mr. Bagnell on.
Later in the same debate, again: “…I have two magnificent rail projects in my riding. One railroad goes through Alaska and it is one of the most successful railways in North America . A project is under study now which I have been talking to members of Parliament about for years. I have been asking for that railway to be joined with the rest of the Canadian railway system which would go through my riding of Yukon.”
Also about an hour later, in the federal Hansard, and I quote: “The railway symbolizes some of the things that our party stands for. We will be fighting for a vision of Canada in the upcoming election. The type of Canada we want to see is what we will be fighting for in the election.”
So we're very pleased to have the federal Liberal government support on the rail study. We think that our Member of Parliament has a vision that is certainly in agreement with ours and that looks at the big picture. We have to look at all the various things that will come out of that rail study - could be tourism, could be container traffic. The port of Anchorage , for instance, is five sailing days closer to Vancouver - closer to the market than Vancouver.
By the time a ship gets to the congested ports - the horribly congested ports, I might add - of Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles and such, and waits a couple of days to off-load that container and get it on a railcar, with a railway such as this, we could have that product in Chicago or Halifax before it comes off the ship under other circumstances.
In resource extraction, there was a very flawed and limited study done in 1992 that looked at mineral extraction from the Yukon. Looking at it in that sense - not looking at any of the Alaskan potential, not looking at the tourism, not looking at the container traffic, not looking at any of these other things, but simply looking at the extraction of Yukon resources. And I would remind everyone, Mr. Chair, that at that particular time, Sherwood Copper wasn't there, Pacifica wasn't there, Wolverine wasn't there. Tagish Gold, the molybdenum deposits down around Atlin - all of these various products were not there when that study was done. We can't rely on that study either. It is as outdated as the 1942 World War II study.
It is essential that we do that study right now. It is essential that we integrate, as we have, with regular meetings, attendance and consultation with White Pass & Yukon Route and work with all the various stakeholders on every point with this. And I'm pleased to report that the Alaska-Canada rail link has done, and is doing, a very good job at bringing all stakeholders into the tent.
Mr. Mitchell: That was certainly an interesting series of statements by the minister. He mentioned the “big picture” and that the rail link wasn't just to British Columbia, but it was to interconnect throughout the continent. I think it mentioned rails to Miami . Perhaps he would like to ask Governor Bush for a funding commitment, too, because no doubt the governor is excited about the work he's doing.
Now it is kind of interesting how the minister likes to pick and choose when he quotes from our Member of Parliament and when he likes to be critical of him. When it seems to support his case, then he is happy to trot that out. I would point out that he is really making our point on this side of the House for us. If a rail link is going to occur, it will no doubt be as a result of the governments of Canada and the United States deciding that it is in the joint national interest to have one - as they did during wartime with the construction of the Alaska Highway. Nobody was concerning themselves with whether it was economical or whether it would pay off immediately, but rather it was a necessity.
If the Government of Canada decides that it is a Canadian priority, that would be a big step. That, I believe, is why our Member of Parliament was speaking to it in the House of Commons. I would hope that the minister might agree that, regardless of the results of any study we do in Yukon, surely we are not going to undertake constructing a several billion dollar rail link in terms of funding it through any sort of territorial finances. It can only be done by the private sector or by the two national governments.
The private sector has not yet indicated a tremendous interest. Certainly the existing CN network has not, to my knowledge, expressed a huge interest - nor have the other potential private players. That would be what we are trying to say. It is a reversal when the minister talks about the good things that it might be. If they were to build a railroad, would it increase traffic to and through the Yukon? Of course it would. Would it reduce freight rates? Certainly it might. That doesn't make it so.
If someone were to build a space port in the Yukon, no doubt we would have heightened activity. I don't think that just because we would want it to occur means that suddenly the Johnson Space Center or Cape Canaveral will be replaced by one in Yukon. I think that that is the point we have tried to make - not that Yukon wouldn't benefit from it, but rather why we are spending our money when we are not going to be the decision makers.
Going back to White Pass, the same individual - the president of the company - also said that White Pass had signed an memorandum of understanding with the government just four days after this Yukon Party government was elected in November 2002. He indicated that that was to work together on a number of fronts, including Yukon access to port facilities and the promotion of tourism along the Skagway to Whitehorse corridor. He indicated that he just did not feel that this had all been done. Can the minister provide us with an update as to whether or not he is moving forward now with the commitments to White Pass in terms of promoting tourism along that Skagway to Whitehorse corridor?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I will try to talk over some of the chatter here.
Again, the member opposite is critical and is cherry-picking from quotes by the Member of Parliament. He obviously wasn't listening to it. It would be a great expansion of railway in Canada. It is environmentally friendly. Railways symbolize some of the things our party stands for - two magnificent rail projects and references to the environmentally friendly part of it. That's definitely a big part of it. Our Member of Parliament is right on with that. That's certainly what's there.
The member opposite has stumbled into a very good point. In U.S. legislation, there is a program called the railroad infrastructure fund, or the RIF, as it's referred to. The RIF has been somewhat poorly utilized but it does allow railroad expansion and construction, to the benefit of the United States. Having checked what the status is of that if the railway is outside the United States but still for U.S. benefit, opinions are not officially in at this point but seem to be overwhelmingly that, yes, this could be worked in much the way Shakwak project allows U.S. funds to come in, build, rebuild and maintain the Alaska Highway, which is really for the Alaskan benefit.
The RIF was recently increased to $35 billion. Consensus of the U.S. Department of Transport seems to be that we likely would be able to access that.
I would agree with the member opposite that this is not something Yukon is going to build; it's not something the State of Alaska is going to build, although they have indicated they would like an equity position in that.
The member opposite makes the comment the private sector has no interest. The private sector is waiting for the study. Why would they show an interest before the study is complete? That's what the study is doing, showing the business case. Only an idiot would jump in and try to develop something while the study is ongoing to prove whether or not it's a reasonable project.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Leader of the third party, on a point of order,
Mr. Hardy: I'm actually not sure if he was referring to businesses. If business decides to do their own study, is he referring to them as “idiots”, or is there a particular person out there who he thinks is an idiot? I don't think the minister meant it in that way, but I don't think it's a word that we would want to be using in this Legislative Assembly.
Chair: Mr. Kenyon, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Since the member opposite made the comment that no one has shown interest and no one has come to the table, the reference is therefore there are no idiots. No one has come forward to do this - with good cause. It's not a comment on any individual. But I do understand the Member for Whitehorse Centre's comment.
Chair: The Chair has heard this, and there seems to be a rather circuitous argument going on. If there are no idiots, then we don't need to use the word “idiots”. So, I'll ask the member to refrain from using such derogatory slang and encourage him to stay within the boundaries of the decorum in our Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Chair, we'll put that one away with the word “guru”. There are no such people.
I agree that we have to show the value of -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Hardy, on a point of order.
Mr. Hardy: If I allow that comment to pass, the way I heard it is - and I'm sure that the minister didn't mean it this way - a reference that girls and idiots are of the same ilk.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Oh, sorry, gurus. Are gurus and idiots of the same ilk? I've never understood those two words as being in the same category.
Chair: Order please. I don't believe there is a point of order. I don't believe that the debate would be further served by identifying other words that have been ruled out of order in this Assembly.
The matter for discussion is Vote 7, Department of Economic Development. The Chair has many thoughts on this, and would love to participate in this debate, but I will leave it up to members here to debate and delve into the content of the bill before us.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I think I can speak for all of us that we would love for you to join in the debate, but I have to admit it is so nice to see the Member for Whitehorse Centre smiling.
I won't continue on this. It is just that there is a way to look at the study. The study proves the availability, the reasonableness of a business case. It is poorly advised to then say that the private sector isn't involved. The private sector is definitely a recipient of the study, and the decisions will be made at that point in time. I won't even begin to discuss the Member for Whitehorse Centre's comment about space ports. Let's leave that one alone.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Hardy, on a point of order, which as we have discussed several times today is not an opportunity to raise a point of fact, but to raise a point of order about whether the rules of debate have been followed.
Mr. Hardy: On a point of order, I am allowed to talk. I would want to ensure that comments made in this Legislative Assembly are not attributed to me when I have not made them.
Chair: Obviously there is no point of order here. In Committee of the Whole all members have an opportunity to speak.
Is there a reason why members are debating and shouting across the floor when the Chair is speaking?
During Committee of the Whole all members have an unlimited opportunity to speak for up to 20 minutes at a time. This gives members opportunities to debate the facts as they know them and to put forward their position or - in the term that is often used - to “correct” the facts. That is an opportunity that the member will have when we return from our recess in 15 minutes and continue debate.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and general debate on Vote 7, Department of Economic Development.
Mr. Mitchell: I hope the recess has had a positive effect on all the members present.
Last November, my colleague, the Member for Porter Creek South, asked some questions regarding the Red Line train. Actually, she asked them of the Minister of Community Services and Highways and Public Works, and he did, at the time, respond by saying that actually this agreement was with the Minister of Economic Development's department. Perhaps the Minister of Economic Development can provide us with an update as to whether anything is currently being done, besides storage, of this Red Line train, and whether it is going to be put into use or if there is anything occurring with White Pass regarding the use of that item. I think there was some $50,000 expended to purchase the asset.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: No, actually the dollar value is off on that. There is the story: the purchase of the railbus was $420, 000. The railbus itself - the so-called Red Line - has a matching car with it, but the matching car wasn't part of the purchase as far as I know. The main thing at the time was that the railbus purchase was done for future use. It is something that would be useful for small local charters. It would be potentially useful on the waterfronts since it is narrow gauge and would match what is on the waterfront. It is self-propelled, which means it would have the ability to tow other cars, something that the current waterfront trolley does not.
When we purchased the railbus, that facilitated rail upgrades to Carcross from Bennett Lake. It supports the goals of Destination: Carcross, which is a long-term economic development plan for the Carcross area. The idea was to draw tourists to Carcross, thus allowing White Pass to complete rail upgrades to get Bennett into the mix.
The main thing with that, too, is that it created 37 seasonal jobs. The money to do that went directly back into the community and employed 37 people over the course of the summer to finish the track. We were pretty pleased to do that.
The railbus itself is worth four or five times the value of what we paid for it, so it was a good deal in general, but the main things to remember are that it immediately created 37 jobs and completed the track into Carcross. We are pleased with what happened with that, and now we have open options in terms of what we are going to do with it in the future.
Mr. Mitchell: We'll look forward to seeing it in use, when and if that does occur. Again, we certainly look forward to seeing the expansion of the passenger service into Bennett and beyond.
Moving to a different form of transportation, there was the announcement several weeks ago that would involve this minister's department regarding the possibility of developing a manufacturing facility in Watson Lake for the manufacture of airplane floats. I know there is a company that has bought at least the rights to use the name of CAP and perhaps some of their tooling facilities or patents - we're not really sure about all of the details. I know it's not the original company that used to manufacture the floats. When it was announced, there was talk about economic and tax incentives that would help to make this possible.
We're past the recess, and we're dialling the rhetoric down. I'm just looking for a factual update on whether there has been any progress or additional news to report on that possible economic development proposal for Watson Lake. I know that the community could surely use the facility and the jobs. Perhaps the minister could tell us that.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite is right. This is an incredible piece of news and certainly has the potential to bring a very good industry to Watson Lake. The Watson Lake official community plan allows for aviation activities like float plane repair and manufacturing to occur on airport lands. The airport itself is located on Commissioner's land and is administered by the Department of Highways and Public Works - hence the bit of confusion there. Highways and Public Works does offer long-term leases for air-side parcels of airport land used for aviation purposes, and they typically start in the five-year plus range with possible renewals of an additional five years.
The Department of Highways and Public Works has only been offering for awhile leases of up to two years plus a possible renewal of two years on ground-side lands adjacent to the waterfront. The short-term leases are meant to allow aviation-related activity to occur but, at the same time, respect other long-term stakeholder interests in the area until we do a more detailed airport development plan.
A World War II hangar is of main interest here, as well as the fact that it is a good airport, good runways and a lake right on it that can be utilized. The World War II hangar is owned by a corporation that leases the airport land beneath it from the Department of Highways and Public Works. The current lease terminates on November 30, 2006. The proponent of the float plane business has approached the Department of Economic Development about leasing that World War II hangar for a two-year period before considering purchasing it. The department officials indicated to the proponent of the float plane business that there are no administrative barriers that we know of to the sublease or sale of that hangar. The current aircraft float business proposal is not directly affected by the proposed aircraft development plan and may proceed with or without an approved plan in place, interestingly enough.
There are a number of incentives available. We are working our business and trade section, and strategic industries are working with the proponent of that to look at existing tax incentive programs that could be available to CAP YUKA Aerospace. They are the same incentives that are available to any eligible business that qualifies - specifically the Yukon's small business tax incentive credit and the Yukon research and development tax credit. We were approached, I believe, by the company, and we're very happy to get involved in this, and we are working with them to do a more detailed business plan as we would with any potential Yukon business.
The small business investment tax credit is personal tax credit that reduces Yukon income tax for eligible investors who invest in eligible business corporations and making qualified investments. It's intended to create jobs and promote economic growth and expansion in the Yukon by reducing financial risk for investors in Yukon companies. It may also repatriate some of the substantial capital Yukon people have invested in southern companies through their registered retirement savings plans.
The Yukon research and development tax credit is a refundable corporate and personal income tax credit of 15 percent or 20 percent for eligible expenditures incurred by corporations after June 30, 2000, or by an individual after December 31, 2000. This program is administered by the Government of Yukon's Department of Finance and also by Revenue Canada. Again, these programs are available to any individual. There is nothing special about this, but we're very, very pleased to have this company looking at Watson Lake. It will bring significant employment, and it's a perfect location for them, with the hangar, a good airport and a good lake right there. So as I say, they are working with our business and trade branch and with our strategic industries branch.
Mr. Mitchell: I was actually at the airport on Saturday and right opposite the old hangar. I believe it's the last surviving World War II hangar in the territory, at least along the ferry route that was used during lend-lease to transport aircraft to the former Soviet Union. There is some fascinating history there. I have enjoyed flying in and out of that airport previously when I was a private pilot.
Again, the location is certainly advantageous. We hope that something productive will happen for Watson Lake . Can the minister provide us with any information? When a company such as this comes forward, what sort of vetting does the department do in terms of trying to judge the financial strength of the company, the expertise that the company employs, the ability of the company to actually fulfill those commitments and obligations and move forward with such a project? Is that occurring now, or is that something that has already occurred? Can the minister provide information on that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, the vetting of the company has been done already. We are working with them on the business plan. We have looked at the patents and the stability of the company. Certainly, the things the company has said have complemented the pro-business attitude of the Yukon government and the tax incentives that we have available. It makes it an extremely viable operation.
We're pleased they've come on-board with this. As I say, they have the hangar which, if it's not the last, it's one of the last - I'm pretty sure it is the last. The hangar, paved runways, the lake with the ramp, the Alaska Highway and a ready, willing and excellent labour force looking for jobs there, so we're pretty pleased with the combination being put together on that.
Mr. Mitchell: I'd just like to ask a few questions regarding P3s, public/private partnerships. I know there was some discussion last fall about the contracts with Partnerships B.C. I think the minister pointed out at the time, in regard to the line of questioning occurring with the Member for Whitehorse Centre, that it involved more than just the potential bridge in Dawson, but rather the possibility of using that model in other ways.
I had some interesting discussion with the president of the Yukon Federation of Labour about their views on P3s recently, and also when I addressed their AGM. They stated quite strongly they didn't envision any scenario where P3s might move ahead.
Can the minister tell us more about what was gained from those contracts and whether there are any plans now to use that model in any way?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The P3 concept is something that has become more and more popular and more and more acceptable in governments around the world. It's a different way of doing business, and it's something that we need to look at with due diligence. We're certainly exploring all the ways we can possibly use public infrastructure and capital assets with P3 partnerships.
In the past, we have held a series of public information sessions to provide information, answer questions and hear feedback on public/private partnerships and other project funding options. The policy is approaching completion, and we hope it will provide a clear framework for the Government of Yukon to use in identifying, evaluating, selecting and entering into partnerships where there is an acceptable business case. It's the business case that is the essential part of that.
Basically, the traditional procurement, where the government purchases and operates capital assets and infrastructure with taxpayers' money, is not always the most efficient option. Governments are developing more innovative ways to fund this. Public/private partnerships and other unique funding arrangements are used, as I say, through larger jurisdictions throughout Canada and the world.
We're working to put the necessary checks in place to ensure the various partnership options. We need to improve the ability to leverage resources, to finance projects that are necessary to meet the infrastructure and service needs of Yukoners, and we need to maximize the economic and social returns from government investment by ensuring that government services are delivered in the most economical, effective and efficient manner.
We need to create opportunities for private sector growth and contribute to the overall economic development by harnessing resources in both the public and private sectors. We need to create increased services for Yukon residents and, of course, we need to provide flexibility in the timing of large-scale capital projects. And that, of course, is a huge, huge challenge given the magnitude of some of the projects that we've had to get involved in.
Basically, there are a number of characteristics that are associated with public/private partnerships. We would require long-term contractual arrangements. We need to share both risks and rewards. That is only reasonable. It should be involving a joint investment. There needs to be clearly assigned responsibilities, and there needs to be a system of delegated authority and control.
I think we've seen quite dramatically, in some of the projects that have gone on in the past few years, what can happen when that authority and control is blurred and long-term contractual arrangements are not clear. It is a scene for disaster, so these things must be clearly laid out.
We will continue to work closely with Highways and Public Works, Community Services, Finance and other departments as necessary to get involved in the process and bring it all together. Out of this whole structure, what it comes down to is that the business case has to be there. That is always the most important thing.
Mr. Mitchell: I am a great believer in efficiency and saving money, but I would have a couple of comments on that. The first, as the case was made to me by the Yukon Federation of Labour at their annual general meeting - and more recently by their president - is there is a real concern on the part of unionized employees that the government not be looking at replacing current government employees, who are members of the collective bargaining unit, with private sector employees. There is a concern about those jobs. I hope that the minister can provide some information regarding whether or not that is being incorporated into the policy as a prime concern.
We have a unique situation in Yukon where the biggest employer is the government. So it also affects the private sector because those government employees do have disposable income and those are the people who are buying recreational vehicles and new trucks, cars, furniture and so forth. Those dollars also flow back to the private sector. That is one concern I would like to see the minister address.
Secondly, I'm not certain about the philosophy behind it in that, if you're going to take a project and have it built by the private sector and leased back to the government - the public sector - then that private sector company is obviously doing that to make a profit. One of the significant costs they have to look at is the cost of capital.
Generally speaking, depending on the size of a project, governments can either self-finance the project if they have the resources over a series of budget years or, if they have to borrow the money, no one can get a better rate of interest than a government. In fact, when the private sector has a government contract, they rush to the banks and even private sources of money and say, “Look, this is almost as good as gold; it's a government contract.”
Generally speaking, they can't do better than the government on that basis. Then they still have to build the profit into the mix. Perhaps the minister could provide me with some additional thoughts on where they're going with that policy and whether it's addressing those two issues.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: There are a number of interesting statistics and interesting twists to this. Again, I don't think he is quite getting what a P3 is.
British Columbia, in the last four years, completed $3.6 billion of P3s. That was done with no union layoffs, no union losses - nobody lost a job over that. It has worked well for them. Again, it has to be the business case. We are learning an awful lot in terms of those projects and other projects that are nearing completion.
Again, to look at the principle and the most critical parts of that, the five points to remember include that you must have a long-term contractual arrangement. That contract clearly lays out job problems - job losses, job gains - and protects union members, protects tradesmen.
Second, there also has to be a sharing of risks and rewards. The member is right. The private sector is going to want to come out of it at the end of the day with some sort of a return. Profit is not a four-letter word, contrary to what some people think on that. If they are willing to share the risk, then that is only fair. There have been P3 cases in other jurisdictions where, at the end of the day, the project came in beyond what was expected. The government didn't pay that loss; the private sector did. That's part of the contract and part of why those contracts have to be tight.
Third, it should be a joint investment - financial, time. Whatever the investment is, it has to be jointly done between the two.
Fourth, it has to be clearly assigned what the responsibilities are. Everybody has to know what those responsibilities are and what is in that contract.
Finally, the system of delegated authority and control - everyone has to know what they're doing and what is coming out of that.
The government often gets better interest rates but not necessarily in certain circumstances. Again, depending on what is in that contract and what is in the so-called life-cycle costing, it can involve simply a design. It can be a design/build contract, it can be a design/build/finance contract, or it can be design/build/finance contract and then actually running it at the end of the day. It's quite possible, depending on the nature of that contract, that a public/private partnership would design it and build it using the government for the financing and the government for running it.
On the surface it might make more sense for Highways and Public Works to do the maintenance of a bridge at Dawson and it would make little sense for a company from a more distant jurisdiction to come up and plow it or anything else, so there would again be a protection of jobs on that. It might be to design, in a sense, and finance and run it but have the government build it. All these things are negotiable within the contract and all of them have to look at the end of the day to analyze and do the business case for that net economic value. They have to look at what the business case is, and sometimes when you look at it there isn't a business case. That's when you actually have to make the decision that, no, it's not a reasonable approach.
You can't get married into the P3 model any more than you can, before looking at it, get totally divorced. Under certain circumstances it will work. The challenge sometimes is to put this all together and do something where the private sector can assume some of the risk, take the chances with making some of the gain on it and not affect the jobs. The model works in many circumstances, and that's what we're looking for.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, I know that the head of the Yukon Federation of Labour indicated to me that they had very strong feelings about it, and I did say in response that I'm not willing to say absolutely no to the concept of P3s. I know that that's a commitment he would have liked to have heard, and I'm not going to make it. What I did say is that someone would have to demonstrate to me why there was an overwhelming case on a case-by-case basis to consider one. I'm not a huge fan from what I've seen to date, but it remains to be a possibility, and I wasn't going to rule it out. I know that my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, has a different view and I'm sure will express that when he asks his questions.
The minister made some comments before regarding it being hard to tell the difference in views between the parties, and I guess that's one, that I won't rule it out but, rather, will be very sceptical about seeing the case made and be concerned about the impact on jobs.
The time being late, I know there are other members who want to ask questions, so at this point I will let them have that opportunity, and I may have further questions to ask.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be able to stand up and ask just a few questions on Economic Development. It's nice - going back three and a half years, I did congratulate the government on reinstating the Department of Economic Development. The Liberals had cancelled it or abolished it or whatever word you want to use, Mr. Chair. The NDP had it and had felt that there was some justification to have a department specifically for economic development, and obviously the Yukon Party also agreed with that. I know the Liberal leader has indicated that there are some differences between the parties and differences between each of the leaders. One of the differences is the NDP believed in an Economic Development department and the Liberals did not.
That would be one of them. Another one is the P3s that was brought up. The Liberal leader just sat down and indicated that I had a different opinion than he did and referenced the Yukon Federation of Labour president on quite a few occasions from a private meeting that he had with him. I find that interesting - using him, based on a private meeting.
The Yukon Federation of Labour has a very strong position regarding P3s. Part of that is because history has shown that when a government starts to move down a line of public/private partnerships, the well-paying jobs of union members are often one of the casualties. It's not just what the Liberal member was talking about with respect to public servant workers, which he seemed to be focused on, but also all the private sector workers that happen to be members of unions or associations and have representation.
We can't forget that there are other unions in the territory that have very strong opinions - valued opinions, I would say - about any direction the government may go in. And it's not just the public servants and their union, but also the private sector unions. And although they share many common values and many common goals in their history, and they work very closely together, the Yukon Federation of Labour president speaks on behalf of the large group of unions, and not just one specific group.
I would just like to remind the Liberal leader about that when he references labour's voice.
My understanding, of course, around P3s is that the Liberal leader indicated that he would use them where they felt it was appropriate, just like the minister opposite has indicated: there are five criteria to meet before he would use them. We actually know a bit of the history of both the Yukon Party and the Liberal government. They did try to move in the direction of P3s. The failed attempt by the Yukon Party government with regard to the Dawson City bridge is one example. The Liberals' attempt to privatize portions of health care delivery is another example. Those are the facts.
When a person is not really clear about where they stand and what they feel about something - they leave it kind of vague as to whether or not they may do something - we have to look a bit deeper into the history and look at the direction they have actually moved in. We can look at it federally. We can look at the Liberal government's record in British Columbia. It's very obvious there. We can look at the government's record on the east coast, where they signed massive deals around building schools and running the facilities. There was quite a fiasco and cost overruns and so on. That is another Liberal record that is very obvious.
So when a leader stands up and says it's open, it makes it difficult to figure out what is and what isn't. I believe the Yukon Party has been fairly clear. They want to do P3s. They attempted to do a P3 and it wasn't successful. I wasn't planning to start my few questions on P3s; however, that's where the Liberal leader left off, so I thought, okay, we can start there.
I'm sorry if I sound like I'm repeating a question already asked, but I was out of the Legislative Assembly for a bit. If the minister indicates a question has already been asked, I'd appreciate it if he would answer it for me. I do apologize if I'm making him repeat himself.
Are there any P3 projects on the books at this present time?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It certainly has been an interesting day. I know it's inappropriate in this House to refer to someone's presence or absence; I'm not sure if that holds to your own. It probably doesn't; it has been that kind of day.
I appreciate the member of the official opposition and his comments on meeting with the president of the Yukon Federation of Labour. I've had similar meetings. We agree on a number of things; we disagree on a few. A lot of it has been educational. I've known him for a long time and consider him a good friend.
In historical terms, we haven't seen job losses. In fact, if anything, more projects have been done and more infrastructure created and, in many cases and many areas, it has created more employment and more stability of work and better development of some of the trades and skills.
So, it's quite the opposite on that. I realize that not all might look at the same statistics with the same eye. Basically, when we look at all these projects, we have to look at them with an idea of the net economic value and where it's going and what happens.
The member opposite referred to a failed bridge. I would remind him that it is anything but failed. I have no doubt in my mind that at some point it will be built but, at the present time, it is not feasible. The P3, if anything, worked perfectly because it showed that at the present time it's not feasible. Primarily on that is the deferral, not due to the P3 model, but the horribly inflated instruction costs due to the heated economic structure in western Canada . I have discussions with house builders in town who have seen 45-percent increases in their drywall from the time they ordered the drywall to the time they get it to the site - crazy, crazy scenarios. Certainly within the contracting community, you put out a call for bids and no bids come back. Nobody wants it because they simply have too much work.
Of course, what happens in that case is you put the bid high and if somebody wants to bid that, fine but, for the most part, it doesn't get done. I think when things settle down we will certainly be coming back to that.
The bridge can be done in a variety of different ways. The former leader of the Liberal Party, of course, is well documented - I've read all of that into Hansard - as supporting the bridge and speculating on the fact that it may be a toll bridge and that we could start charging tolls for people to go across the bridge. I don't like that idea. I don't think that's a really good way to set it up, but that was originally proposed by the Liberal Party in the past. I am hoping that wouldn't be in the future.
I do agree with the leader of the third party on one thing. The Department of Economic Development, which looks at promoting business, looks at using the P3 model, looks at the economic viability of developing business cases, et cetera - again, I continue to scratch my head over why the previous Liberal government thought the best way to promote the economy was to wipe out the Department of Economic Development, and I am very pleased that we have come back to a meeting of the minds with the NDP on that. We do certainly hope that with the movement of NDP members into the Liberal caucus, they will maybe change the Liberal caucus' mind. Let's hope they retain those thoughts. I wouldn't bet on it, but we can certainly hope so.
To the present time, to my knowledge, Economic Development is not a procurement department on anything. We can't necessarily speak on all projects within government, but certainly we are not aware of any P3 projects being proposed at the present time in our department.
Mr. Hardy: Is there still an ongoing agreement with Partnerships B.C. to continue some work in this field or other fields?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, I can't speak for all departments but, within Economic Development, we're not aware of any projects or continuing discussions with Partnerships B.C. They are an excellent organization, and I suspect we will be back talking to them in the future - but at the present time, no.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I thank the minister for the nice, clear answer. I know there has been work on the situation around ports, access, stuff like that - very significant work that needs to be done if we want to realize growth in the territory. Especially if the activities within the non-renewable sector continue to grow, of course, transportation links become extremely important. We do know, just as the Department of Economic Development was canned by the Liberal government, they also canned the work that the NDP had been doing in trying to procure port access - another short-sighted move on behalf of the Liberal government when they got the reins of power.
I do also know that this government has been approaching it in some manner or other. The Premier has indicated that there have been discussions with the governor in Alaska and their departments and people. Can the minister give me an update on that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, there is an active port access strategy study ongoing right now. The value is somewhere, I believe, in the $400,000 range. Basically, secure tidewater access is a prerequisite to the viability of many resource developments in the Yukon . We need a study that's grounded firmly in economic realities and provides enough objectives and quantified information to enable public and private investors to take a serious look at developing port facilities and related transportation links.
We'll have a strategy and somewhere to go with that. We are working jointly with the State of Alaska , and it's being directed by bilateral committees that are involving industry, government, the City of Skagway , Haines. Proposals were out - I believe the call was somewhere around January 10. KPMG was involved and was the lead consultant responsible for producing a final report. Gartner Lee has been involved, and there are a number of other studies. They are working in conjunction with the Alaska-Canada rail link study. It's critical that these two studies go hand in hand. There is an awful lot of overlap between the two projects as well. So, again, it's a good reason for putting the two groups together. In fact, their offices are side by side, so we can get good value for putting them together on that.
There is the participation of Energy, Mines and Resources and Highways and Public Works. Economic Development is the lead on it. We're looking at getting some good information out of it. As the member opposite knows, there is a variety of ways of doing this, from speculation by previous governments that we should simply buy port access, buy facilities and buy land, as opposed to negotiating agreements and such with existing facilities. These are the sorts of things this committee will look at and them make decisions with good, hard business facts.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for that answer.
The funding to pay for the port access study - is that part of the funding that was negotiated in regard to the rail feasibility study?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I believe at the present time the money is coming out of Economic Development. It is more of a medium-term look. As some of these mines come on-line, even if it's about road access to get the product down there, we are going to need that access.
I think a lot of people in the Yukon, especially those who are new, are not aware that most if not all of the product that came out of the Faro mine went by truck to Skagway and from there on deep-water ships to Korea . We have a very good, long-term capability and track record of getting a product out of that port to Asia . It's important in the medium-term that we get that going before a railway is complete.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, I remember very clearly the trucks that used to drive up and down the highways hauling the concentrate in various forms. I think the last one I remember seeing was what people used to call cupcakes, bombing up and down the highway. The Liberal leader calls them muffin trucks. There was a variety of names for that last configuration, but there were other configurations before them, as well, and those are the ones I remember most as a child. Those trucks hauled for a heck of a long time. My father was one of the truck drivers who used to do the hauling and benefited from the activity of that very significant mine and the impact it had on the territory's growth.
We still don't have a mine up and running yet but there is always hope that will happen soon.
I am going to switch and just bounce around with some questions. We don't have much time left so I would like to get them out.
How many businesses or individuals have been using the Yukon small-business investment tax credit? Does the minister have a number for that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: In general, under that program, individuals who are accessing the program deal with banks, not with the department, so that's not a figure that we would have close at hand - perhaps Finance would. It's something that is done between the proponents and the banks.
Mr. Hardy: Okay, I will try to find that answer in another forum.
There was $500,000 set aside, as I understand it, to help with the filming of the next several installations of Northern Town. Last week there was an announcement that CBC wasn't going ahead with it, which is a shame. It was a benefit, not just in the wages that were paid, but also the tremendous amount of training that was available. The second series, of course, would have probably been able to use more local people in many aspects of filming that.
What happens now? What happens with the funding? Does the department have any idea what they should be doing? Is there any chance of influencing that kind of decision, recognizing how important it is for diversifying our economy?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: That was certainly news that we weren't really happy to hear. In general, there is an audit coming of what we've done so far and we'll have a full breakdown on that. On the other hand, the good news is that, for the money that won't be used on that from our various funds, we have a lineup of people who want to use that. There is no problem putting that to work.
One of the challenges we've had is that the Film Commissioner has done too good a job. We have a long list of projects and we can put that money to work immediately.
Mr. Hardy: I guess that leads to another question. It's an interesting story in that the CBC has indicated they don't plan to move forward with, I think, the next six instalments. They did six and I think they were planning to do another six this summer. Yet, if you listen to the producer in his interviews, he indicated there still might be some opportunity there. Of course there's a tremendous amount of hope. Maybe it's not a fair question but, if the uptake on Northern Town is high - this summer, for instance - and public response is very, very good, I've heard there's a chance CBC would immediately initiate six more instalments.
If that money has already been spent helping other development proposals in this area, what would be the situation then? Would the department recognize that with a promise that was made in this regard, they would have to find that money somewhere else or would they be in a situation where they would say, “Sorry, you missed the opportunity. You have to wait for the next window of opportunity in the next budget?”
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I think the easy answer to that is if somebody is standing in front of you with their hand out for a major investment in the Yukon, we are certainly not going to say no or give them a hard time. The money that is sitting there can easily be used on other projects, but if Northern Town was to suddenly reappear on the horizon, certainly we would like to talk to them.
In my previous life in the south, I spent an awful lot of time with a wide variety of people involved with CBC, and whenever something is announced, I wouldn't put a bet on it. We are keeping those sorts of options open.
Mr. Hardy: I appreciate that answer. I am sure that people would love to see this project go ahead again.
Cold climate innovation centre - among other things it would research the development and commercialization and export of sustainable, cold-climate technologies and related solutions for cold-climate regions around the world. We all recognize that could be a great wealth generator and create a real centre here. But knowing and meeting with some of the proponents of it, I know it does depend on a substantial amount of investment and, without a doubt, federal funding would be needed. The feds have funded other areas - specific innovation centres across Canada - and there has been a substantial amount of investment in that. Could the minister give me an indication of what the status of this centre is? What work is being done by the department? Where does the minister feel it is going at the present time?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The government has certainly supported the feasibility study on the northern innovation cluster for Whitehorse and has contributed about $137,050 - I'm not sure where that $50 came from - anyway, roughly $137,000.
The “cluster,” for those who aren't familiar with it, is a research development and commercialization centre for the export of new and innovative products and services. There is one in Regina - there are a number of them scattered around, usually heavily supported by the National Research Council, or NRC. In the north, the concept is to look at a northern concern - that is, cold climate, cold weather - and it has a wide range of applications because, while we're looking at keeping the cold out, on the equator they're looking at keeping the cold in. So, for the most part, it's exactly the same technology.
The joint industry and government feasibility study is somewhat completed. The next step will be development of the business case, and we are now in the process of having someone from the private sector look at private sector investment. As I say, there is one in Regina, there is one in British Columbia, there is one in Edmonton, and one in St. John's. They deal with things like fuel cells, oil seeds, grains and fish.
The feasibility studies steering committee was made up of the National Research Council, which has been to Whitehorse a few times; Energy, Mines and Resources; Yukon Housing Corporation was involved; INAC; the Yukon Chamber of Commerce; Skookum Construction, Pelly Construction, and Northerm, representing the private sector - there were individuals from those private groups.
So, now we have to look at the details on this. The budget for the project director is projected to be between $150,000 and 200,000. One of the possibilities would be to utilize space in what is usually referred to in this House as the athletes village.
One building is student housing. The other building is Yukon housing - so-called affordable housing.
The basement facilities are divided up into dormitory rooms. What we've done is ask that those partitions remain. They could be used as offices for the college or for a northern innovation cluster. We are keeping our options open on that. It's slow.
The money isn't flowing out of the National Research Council as quickly as we would like, but it does appear to be moving along.
Mr. Hardy: I appreciate the briefing on that. It's good to hear. I know that there are a lot of people who think that this will have a tremendous impact both for jobs and solutions for cold-climate situations. We could become a centre for that. When one thinks about it, it also fits in well with the idea of a university. There is a natural fit, depending on how we can get the federal government to support such a move. There is no question about it that it will not be cheap or cheap to run. Research needs to be done to justify having it.
I will move on to a different topic. There doesn't seem to be any funding allocated for the Dempster corridor stretch in the Economic Development plan, but it was mentioned in the budget highlights. Why not and, if there is any, how much will it receive?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We are looking at getting that set up. Until we negotiate what the terms of reference and everything else are, the budget really isn't set on that, and it would likely come within our strategic industries funds, which are basically in there and set up. So that's likely where the money lies: in strategic industries.
Mr. Hardy: Now, the rail feasibility study, everybody knows where I'm at on that. There's no question about it; it's very clear. I don't waffle. It's funny, because I'm probably the only one in this room who has worked on a railroad. I could be wrong. Like anybody who has ever worked on a railroad, I have a tremendous passion for them. I feel very, very attached to them, and without a doubt, would love - love - to see the development of rail transportation through the north.
However, I think there have already been studies done. As the Liberal leader indicated, I haven't noticed the private sector showing a great degree of interest in this, even if I don't necessarily buy the position of the minister opposite when he says that you have to have a feasibility study done by the government before the private sector will initiate or move forward on any project. It doesn't make sense.
That would pretty well stall a substantial amount of activity by the private sector, if all he did was wait around for feasibility studies done by government. There were some studies done but not all of them have come out positively. We've been around this debate many times. I think we all know where we stand on it. The money is being spent, that is recognized, whether we have a different opinion or not.
$1.7 million for the completion of the rail feasibility study - if the minister could help me, I would really appreciate this. It's my understanding that there was a $3-million commitment by the territorial government and a $3-million commitment by the U.S. federal government. It wasn't Alaskan money, per se; I think it came from the federal reserves. That is the way I understand it.
There was also a commitment by the Liberal MP that this money was pretty well guaranteed from the federal Liberals. We all know that was not completely accurate, because no money has flowed yet. No money has flowed from the federal Liberals and the federal Liberals are no longer around. Now we are dealing with the federal Conservatives. Maybe they have a different approach, I don't know.
If the minister could help me on this, it is my understanding that $1.7 million has been spent. Can he tell me about that? I don't need a tremendous amount of detail unless he wants to supply it. It's his choice. If he wants to send something over in the next few days with a breakdown, that is fine. If there is $3 million committed, where are we at with that money? I believe it is in U.S. funds. When will that maximize and what will it give us in the end? How much is left in it and how much longer will the feasibility study continue? Will that eat up the whole $6 million that was pledged?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: No particular order on that - I'm not sure about the exact breakdown to the dollar by any means - but the Yukon, U.S. and Alaska also have money in this. It's a joint sharing, so it gets a little confusing, because some of the federal money on the U.S. side routed through the University of Alaska. On paper, it looks like University of Alaska money, but it's really federal money. It gets a bit crazy.
In terms of the current government, the previous Liberal federal government was very clear on a political level that they supported this and that the money was forthcoming; however, once those political meetings were over, they seemed to disappear rather quickly. So, nothing has come about on that.
We are in touch with the new, so to speak, Conservative government. One of our benefits is that the Yukon Party has no affiliation with a federal party of any sort, although some people like to try to make it look that way. The reality is that we have no ties to that government any more than anyone else. We will certainly be going after that government with gusto to get them to the table.
The reports are due by the end of June. We will assume that most of the work will be done at that point in time, but given life's little realities, the chances of something going a little bit longer than that is always there. So I can't totally say with surety.
In terms of stakeholders and private interest within the study, without getting back into our word wars, in fact there are three private railroads represented on the various committees - private railroads. So the private stakeholders are very, very well involved in the studies. McQuarrie North America - McQuarrie is actually, I believe, an Australian firm - is evaluating the private financing and its global experience. They are one of the principals that put the railway across the Australian continent a few years ago - a massive, massive project. So we are very pleased to have McQuarrie onboard. Ernst & Young Orenda, as well, is looking at approaches to looking for value for the money measurement of public infrastructure financing and looking at those things.
And I do notice on the list, to correct myself before, while Economic Development isn't working with Partnerships B.C., I see Partnerships B.C. on the list for the Alaska rail study, which is its own separate group. So there is an involvement there, just to correct that record.
On that, I was just sort of chuckling at the member's comments about muffin trucks and that. I knew several people who had all the tourists along the highway convinced that they were actually gold - that they were pots of gold being sent down. It's amazing the number of tourists that actually believed that - great fun.
Anyway, that's one thing I wanted to put on the record - that there certainly are private sector stakeholders involved in the rail study, including three private railroads.
Mr. Hardy: Okay, just to remind the minister - I did put out a few questions, and he missed one and that is this: where are we at on the money, on the spending? My understanding is that $1.7 million has been spent - $1.7 million has been spent from the territorial investment part. How much has been spent from the U.S. side? How far does that take us into the study? My understanding was that the agreement was three-and-three U.S. - $3 million and $3 million. So, if this phase, up to June, only costs, say, $1.7 million and then there's another $1.3 million that's going to a second phase following it - I really don't have a clear picture on how the spending happens and what we get for each stage.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Basically it is going to come pretty close to $5.5 million U.S. for the study completion - which will be roughly the end of June. Again, the Alaska-Canada rail link group is a private group. While we contribute to the funding and everything else, they run their own offices, so I don't have access to exactly where they are on that, but it is roughly 50:50. Yukon contributed $1.7 million to the study in 2005-06 fiscal year. Alaska appropriated about $2 million U.S. for 2005-06. In our 2006-07, I believe $1.8 million has been allocated to the study, of which $1,150,000 has actually been received from the Government of Alaska and $650,000 allocated by the Yukon government.
As I mentioned before, Canada and British Columbia are very much participating in the study but they are not contributing financially at this time.
One of the interesting challenges with some of the federal money - because the U.S. federal money is in there - some of that money initially went to the University of Alaska. It becomes difficult for the University of Alaska to put money into a Canadian corporation. What they have done is transfer some of the money into the Yukon as a government-to-government transition, and then we have funded it. When you look at the numbers, that's where you are getting confused. Not all of that is coming out of our budget. Some of it will show up in revenue - if that's confusing, my apologies.
I'm certain that the Alaska-Canada rail link is private and, while we fund it, they are running the show. I invite the member to go over and have a chat with them because I am sure they would be very open with this great study.
Mr. Hardy: I have to agree with the member opposite that there is no question that when you try to figure out the trail of money and the convolutions that some governments have to go through because they don't want to be seen to be maybe having the money go directly to another country - I hate the word “funnel” for some reason. “Funnel” always makes me think they are trying to hide something or do something illegal. I don't think there is anything illegal here. I just think they are trying to find ways within their system to possibly avoid criticism and questions.
I think it is very hard for the public - and that's why I am asking the questions here. Let's get them on record and get some clarification around something like this. It's a substantial amount of money and we have been very critical of this expenditure because, at the end of the day, we feel that a feasibility study was not necessary when there were already studies that were brought forward, including a federal study that indicated there just wasn't justification to do it at the present time.
It might be in 10 years. In 10 years we could be doing another feasibility study if we follow the history of governments. Every time there's an opportunity to move forward there are a bunch of studies that have to happen. There seems to be an acceptance that, like brandy, after five years, one has to change, even if the brand you have is very successful. The gurus out there - that's a good word and I am using it in a positive sense - in the advertising world say that even though there's a perfect slogan and it's really working, it has to change. Truthfully, that also seems to mean, from a consultant's perspective, that some of these studies have a shelf life. People are getting tired of seeing study after study after study. I have heard the members opposite question the number of studies that sit on shelves and are not looked at. Some of them are still relevant today but might have been done five, 10 or even 20 years ago. Some of them are still relevant.
We on this side of the House have also indicated that, at times, we study things to death. Sometimes the public is expecting us, as elected members and leaders within our community, to take more positive action and move forward, based upon common sense, past studies, the expertise we have within our departments and some relations with the private sector to move forward on these.
When the public hears of $6 million U.S. being spent on feasibility studies, of course they get quite nervous, because that is a substantial - substantial - amount of money. I don't know what that breaks down into in Canadian dollars, but it is pretty substantial. Now, of course, we do know that the Canadian dollar continues to climb. It's over 90 cents now, I believe, and there is fear around that and how that is going to impact the Yukon and a lot of manufacturing and travel and all that stuff. It has its pros and cons, too.
From our perspective, I guess we've been highly critical of this study. But now that it's on its way, I guess what we're looking for is - and we're getting there. I will put this on the record - without a doubt, I get my updates from the Alaska-Canada rail link office or whatever, and that's good. I'm very pleased around that.
But I do have some other questions around that. For instance, constituents have asked me this question and I asked this awhile back - last year or the year before. There is a 10-member advisory committee for this. The Premier is a co-chair and the governor is a co-chair. This advisory committee is made up of civic, government and business leaders. I do not know - and most of my constituents and people who have asked me about this don't know - who those people are that are on the advisory committee. Who has actually been named on the advisory committee? I think the First Nations have representation and, of course, the civic government and business leaders do, I would assume.
I know the minister has indicated that business - I'm not sure if on the advisory committee there is representation from the rail companies.
He did mention the one in Australia. It was interesting to read about that. Just the other day, I was reading about the train coming through, with lots of excitement and all that. I can imagine that if there was ever a train that came through Whitehorse - not just the trolley - there would be a phenomenal amount of excitement.
Another concern is how transparent this study is. How involved is the public in this study? How much does it involve the identified routes along the way and the communities that it would impact? Is the advisory committee travelling? Is the advisory committee soliciting responses from the various communities that would be impacted by work - the building of the rail link? What impact would it have coming through a community? Are there opportunities for jobs? Is there an identification of the benefits for local people? Is that level of consultation happening or do we have to wait for a feasibility study?
Now, I'm not sure where the minister is on this. It's kind of funny: when you're talking to people in the public, they will often go directly to ask what kind of impact it will have on their lives. I'm not sure if the feasibility study includes the impact it's going to have on Joe Public. I'm not sure what kind of impact it points to on a small community that may be along its route. I haven't, and I stand to be corrected quite happily, but I'm not sure if the communities that are closest to the route, or even if the route would be considered to include a community, if there would be a slight deviation to benefit a community as a stop or whatever. There are always benefits, and there are always jobs when you move along with something like this.
I'm not sure if the advisory committee has - pardon?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. The time being 6:00 p.m. , the Chair will report progress.
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 6:00 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:02 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled May 2, 2006 :
Yukon College 2004-2005 Annual Report and audited Financial Statements (dated June 30, 2005) prepared by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (Edzerza)