Wednesday, May 3, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: We have the honour of having the instructors, coordinators and participants of the women exploring trades and technology program from the college. I would ask the House to help me welcome Betty Irwin, program coordinator for the women exploring trades and technology program. With her is Lynn Standing, president, and Craig Jarvis, director. I would like to welcome the following course participants: Clair Rudge, Diane Johns, Isabelle Boucher, Janelle Hardy, Jennifer Johnson, Jolien Sheldon, Katie Benjamin, Kiera Kucherean, Santana Kohler, Susana Valera-Perez, Tabatha Chaisson, and Velvet MacKenzie.
This 16-week course began on March 13 at Yukon College . These students are spending two weeks at each of the five trades: welding, pipefitting, carpentry, electrical and general mechanics. They also learn tool and industrial safety, rigging, hoisting, first aid and personal development skills. This course will not only open new doors for employment, but will also produce much-needed workers in our trades sectors, where nationally and locally we are suffering from a trade shortage.
Thank you for coming here today, and good luck in your studies.
Speaker: Are there any other introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. Mitchell: I have a letter to table for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources regarding potential land conflicts.
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. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to investigate the possibility of developing a made-in-Yukon, One-Tonne Challenge, climate change initiative, as requested by the Association of Yukon Communities.
Speaker: Are there any other notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Kelowna accord implementation
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Premier regarding the federal budget.
During the recent election campaign, a member of the Conservative Party said that the Kelowna accord was written on the back of a napkin and that a Conservative government would not honour it. Then Prime Minister Harper turned around and said they supported Kelowna accord. We found out the truth yesterday as the Conservatives scrapped the accord. It was nowhere to be found in the new budget announcement yesterday. The $5-billion deal has been abandoned by the new government. It is time for the Premier to stand up for the incredibly shrinking Kelowna accord and stand up for Yukoners. Has the Premier contacted the Prime Minister to express Yukoners' disappointment over this short-sighted decision?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have to point out that the leader of the official opposition has made an inference here on, I would say, whether the federal government is extending the facts or the truth to Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I think the member opposite should have done a more thorough job in critiquing the recently tabled federal budget. To say the federal government has not advanced closing the gaps in areas such as housing is simply incorrect. The evidence is in the budget. There is significant expenditure in that regard, and also the Yukon has recently announced a $50-million northern housing trust, which we will go to the Yukon forum with and, with First Nation governments, develop a joint investment plan to build houses where they are needed in First Nation communities and in all Yukon communities.
Mr. Mitchell: There goes the Premier, once again defending the Conservative government instead of standing up for Yukoners and Yukon First Nations.
There is quite a difference between $50 million and $5 billion. Money for housing does nothing to address the other issues that were included in Kelowna, such as education and health care. The Premier needs to set aside his partisan affiliation and stand up for Yukoners. They want to see this accord honoured.
Premier Klein said today he liked the commitment given by the previous government to First Nation people. Premier Doer of Manitoba said the same thing. My question for the Premier is simple: what is he going to do about it? When is he going to stand up for Yukoners and tell the Prime Minister that shrinking and scrapping the Kelowna accord is unacceptable?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, Mr. Speaker, I have to stand up and say that the member opposite is getting a little ahead of himself. “Shrinking” and “scrapping” the Kelowna accord is simply not what's happening in this country.
This federal government - by the way, I agree with Premier Klein and Premier Doer and all the premiers across the country - recognizes that there are gaps in education, health care and housing. Economic opportunity is the first step. We all agree. Closing those gaps is also a consensus across the country, and it includes the federal government, and they are moving toward closing those gaps. They have done so with housing across the country. In fact, they are also addressing water issues across the country. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in this budget that will flow to Canadian First Nations.
Mr. Speaker, there is also another important point. This federal government is taking a different approach by ensuring accountability and looking at other possible measures to ensure we meet the needs of aboriginal Canadians. Some of the examples of that are already in this federal budget.
Mr. Mitchell: First Nation leaders across the country have been voicing their displeasure with the decision that the Conservatives in Ottawa have made. We want the Conservatives in Yukon to stand up for what Yukoners want. Yukoners supported the Kelowna accord. This Premier supported the Kelowna accord. It is now gone and it is up to the Premier to show some leadership and try to get it back. This should be a top item on the Premier's agenda - telling Mr. Harper that he got it wrong. What steps is the Premier going to take to try to revive the Kelowna accord?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The country is advancing in dealing with First Nation issues. Most importantly, here in the Yukon we are a shining example of that.
The member opposite is expressing a view that somehow there is a partisan linkage here. Let me point out to the member opposite that long ago the Progressive Conservative Party in the Yukon disconnected itself from the federal Progressive Conservative Party and renamed ourselves the Yukon Party - a party for like-minded Yukoners who put Yukoners' interests ahead of all else. That is what we are doing here with respect to issues for Yukon First Nations.
The member opposite is raising a concern that is not there. The issue of Kelowna is the gaps in the areas that are most critical in this country in dealing with aboriginal Canadians' issues. That's exactly what the federal government is committed to doing, not only during the election campaign, but it started to deliver on those commitments in this budget.
Let me point out that the former federal Liberal government made a $5.3-billion commitment that was not in the federal budget. At least this government has put some money into the budget toward meeting those gaps. Now we will be very diligent in ensuring that they continue with the commitments and close the gaps on issues that are so important to aboriginal Canadians.
Question re: Childcare funding
Mr. McRobb: I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services on another item that was left out of the Conservatives' new budget yesterday. I'm referring, of course, to funding for the national daycare program. This is another item that has been scrapped by the new Conservative government.
Shortly after the new government was elected, the Health and Social Services minister said he had a long list of friends in the federal Conservative Party whom he hoped to use to the Yukon's benefit to advance the territory's concerns. Well, Mr. Speaker, this is a big concern.
Has the minister called any of his friends in Ottawa to register the Yukon's opposition to the Tory reverse-Robin Hood approach in cutting the national daycare program?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It gets very frustrating here in the House to consistently respond to members of the opposition, in particular the Member for Kluane, to lay out the facts for them and provide them with information and then have them go on asking questions as if they had never heard the answers. I have stated several times this session on the floor the efforts I have made in lobbying the new federal Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, the Hon. Diane Finley. I noted our concern with their plans related to childcare and noted the preference of the Yukon childcare community.
Again, I point out for the member opposite that the Conservative government has identified this as one of their top five priorities and have made it very clear they will be holding to those five priorities, whether anyone likes it or not. They consider that their mandate and that is the determination they have made, whether we agree with that or not.
I would like to remind the member opposite of what we have done in supporting childcare in the Yukon, and that is, in part, an increase of over 30 percent to the direct operating grant to Yukon childcare and family day homes.
Mr. McRobb: Another question unanswered, Mr. Speaker.
The Health and Social Services minister spoke about this issue here in the Legislature only a few weeks ago. He said he travelled to Ottawa recently, at taxpayers' expense, to raise Yukoners' concerns with the new Minister of HRSDC, who is responsible for this, to make her aware that - and I will quote the minister: “We certainly did have a preference for the known structure, and there were already plans to be spending it.” In other words, he agreed that the previous government had set up the right program. The federal Tory minister, his friend, listened to the case he put forward and rejected it, as announced yesterday.
So, Mr. Speaker, I guess the member opposite doesn't have as many friends in Ottawa as he let on. The budget has been announced, the childcare deals have been scrapped - so much for friends in high places. What is the minister going to do about this?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would point out to the member opposite again that he is, once again, bringing forward inaccuracies to the floor of the House. We state here that our government was happy with the -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The Hon. Member for Porter Creek South, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health and Social Services has just said that the Member for Kluane brought inaccuracies to the floor of the House. The member opposite knows full well that: (a) that is likely to incite discord, and (b) that you cannot accuse another member of bringing inaccuracies, or that would be the same as uttering falsehoods and is out of order.
Speaker: The Chair feels there is a point of order. Carry on. You have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It was certainly not my intention to accuse the Member for Kluane of deliberately bringing forward inaccurate information. I was simply having a debate over the facts of the matter.
Speaker: The point of order has been ruled on. Carry on.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Again, I would like to correct the record for the member opposite. I notice that the previous federal Liberal government failed to honour their commitment to provide base funding in addition to per capita, and we regarded their action with the early learning and childcare funding program as a breach of their commitment.
Mr. McRobb: The minister failed to say what he would do about it. He didn't answer the question.
On election night, this minister could hardly contain himself. He was overjoyed that his federal Conservatives had become government. He said he had a long list of friends in the federal Conservative Party whom he hoped to use to the territory's benefit to advance the territory's concerns.
The minister admitted he has met with members of the childcare community and discussed their concerns. He said “the childcare community - the childcare providers and Childcare Association within the Yukon - is very frustrated and disappointed with the plan as outlined by the new Conservative government regarding childcare.” That was a quote.
Mr. Speaker, it's time for this minister to stand up to his federal colleagues and do what is right for children. What actions is this minister going to take?
Speaker: Before the member answers, I am going to ask the Member for Kluane not to personalize debate. From the Chair's perspective, he is making these questions more personal than the Chair perceives they should be. Please be cautious of that.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would point out to the Member for Kluane that we on this side of the floor, the Yukon Party, represent Yukoners regardless of who is in power in Ottawa . We present the same position to the former federal Liberal government as we do to the new Conservative government. We do not run based on any issues such as “friends” as suggested by the Member for Kluane. Perhaps that is the way the Liberals conduct business; we represent Yukoners; we are here. We have increased the funding from our government to childcare by over 30 percent in the direct operating grant. We have clearly articulated our position to both the previous Liberal government and the current Conservative federal government that the funding provided to childcare is inadequate.
Question re: Federal budget
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Premier. Yesterday's federal budget included $500 million for the people of Northwest Territories to address the social and environmental impacts of the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline. The Yukon is also anticipating a gas pipeline along the Alaska Highway, and I know - with women in trades here today - there would be great hope that they would be able to work on such a pipeline. So far there seems to be little federal or territorial recognition of the need to deal with the social and environmental impacts on our territory, and that seems very similar to the former Liberal government's treatment of the Yukon in this regard. I hope the new Conservative government does not duplicate the lack of support displayed by the former Liberal government in regard to this pipeline here. Are we going to see a cheque similar to that given to the Northwest Territories, and if not, what is the Premier going to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I think we have to begin by putting this into context and recognizing that only one application for a pipeline project has been put in by the producers. That application has been tabled with the federal government, and that is the Mackenzie Valley project. There is no application or proposal tabled by the producers for an Alaska Highway pipeline project. With that said, the federal government is pursuing the impact study. This budget shows clearly that they are living up to their commitment to ensure that the Mackenzie Valley pipeline goes ahead, but they have also made the commitment that they intend to ensure that the Alaska Highway pipeline goes ahead; therefore we will continue our work in investing in the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, doing what we are doing with the State of Alaska, Alberta and British Columbia in a common strategic plan for the project. We have already tabled with the federal government that we expect fair and balanced treatment. We expect equitable treatment from the federal government with respect to the Alaska Highway pipeline project, not only on regulatory application and impact studies, but investment for Yukon First Nations.
Mr. Hardy: Apart from the general lack of attention to the north in the federal budget, one thing that concerns us most is the cut in funding for environmental programs. We know the Yukon Party's track record on the environment. It is very clear. This is one of the last jurisdictions in Canada without a plan to implement the Kyoto Accord. What is this Premier doing to get the message through to Ottawa that the territory needs financial support to meet serious and very unique environmental challenges?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, we've made the case on this particular matter over and over again. I think we have to recognize, though, when we state there is nothing in this budget for the north that we're going to require some time here to go over the very long list of examples of initiatives within this federal budget that are going to benefit Yukoners.
Let me begin by looking into the tax measures - GST and personal income taxes. The steps taken in the federal budget will benefit Yukoners. Small business tax initiatives in the budget will benefit Yukoners. Corporate taxes and the initiatives there will benefit Yukon companies. Apprenticeship and tradespeople - there is a credit deduction for those. Students and credit deduction - again, Yukoners will benefit. Eliminating the double taxation of large corporation dividends that could have a benefit for Yukon. Extending the mineral exploration tax credit for flow-through share investors at 15 percent is going to benefit Yukon with a significant increase in mining exploration. Fishing and forestry workers - capital gains exemption. Fitness - there is an exemption there. These also will benefit Yukoners. Seniors are getting a benefit in this budget, and so are the arts and cultural and charities communities, to name but a few.
Mr. Hardy: Well, it's interesting to listen to the Premier defend the federal budget. There are a heck of a lot of shortages out there, and there's a massive amount of money. Once again we're going to witness massive, massive surplus budgets, and that money could be put to use today.
There is another area of great concern to us - the federal government's failure to recognize the financial plight of post-secondary students. Our young people should not have to start their working lives with a millstone of debt around their neck. Many students find themselves $25,000 to 50,000 in debt by the time they graduate.
We are also very concerned about the huge shortages in trades. Great jobs are available for those that are trained, and that investment should have happened.
I'll ask the question, Mr. Speaker. In his next round of discussions with the Prime Minister, will the Premier make student financial assistance and debt relief a priority topic?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I want to be clear with the leader of the third party. This is not a defence of a federal budget; this is a representation of the areas of benefit for Yukoners within the budget. We are providing full disclosure in this regard. We're not going to get into political debate, which can be very charged - I'm sure you're aware of that, Mr. Speaker - on what the federal government is doing. Our interest is the public interest here in the territory and we are articulating that there are many areas of benefit for Yukon.
There's more than what I have listed. There's another $11.1 million that will be flowing into the coffers of Yukon over and above the $52.6 million in the Bill C-48 trust fund. That's a sizable investment for a territory of some 32,000 people. That again is benefit.
I did express to the leader of the third party that in the budget there are benefits for students with respect to federal income tax on all income from scholarships, bursaries and fellowships. There's a textbook tax credit and there's an expansion of eligibility for the Canada student loans program by reducing the parental contribution required.
These are steps in the right direction. Have they resolved the problem by creating the absolute solution? No, but it shows they're working toward that end.
Question re: Youth strategy
Mrs. Peter: Yesterday I asked the Premier a number of questions regarding youth empowerment. I'd like to pursue that with him again today. Perhaps I'll get more concrete answers.
Has the Premier given any direction to the Public Service Commission or the Department of Education to develop mentorship programs for young people within the Yukon government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am glad the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin brought up this particular issue of mentorship. I want to first step outside the confines of government and its corporate structure to announce, with great pleasure, that there is an initiative called the “dreamcatcher initiative” wherein some of our schools - for example, in Carcross - there is a program of mentorship linking young Yukon students with professionals across the country. It could be in the legal field, in the trades, in the arts, in music - but it is a tremendous program, and we are certainly mindful of its usefulness and benefits over the longer term.
Secondly, under our investment in public service, there is an initiative through the Public Service Commission in mentoring Yukon students who are coming back to the territory, for example, from college or university. We are delivering in this area. We want to do much more, however, so I am very interested to hear from the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin on what ideas the third party has.
Mrs. Peter: Perhaps the Premier and the two ministers involved would consider looking more into this area. We often hear from young people who don't understand how our political or government systems work. There is one teacher at Vanier Secondary School who brings his students to observe the Legislature every year. Then he assigns them to learn more about parties that are represented here. This is an excellent initiative, and we applaud Mr. Jud Deuling for doing this.
Does the Premier agree that Yukon students would be better equipped to participate in democratic processes if our schools provided more targeted education about how our political and government systems work?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the member's point is extremely relevant to the future of the Yukon . Engaging our youth of today will better prepare our leaders of tomorrow. That is why things like the Youth Parliament initiative took place right here in this Assembly a very short time ago. That expresses that very view - that this is a critical area of our society and our fabric, and we must do more. Secondly, we also applaud the principle in question and how Mr. Deuling is dealing with his students with respect to the democratic process and how that relates to Yukon and the evolution of responsible government.
Furthermore, I would remind the member that we are in an educational reform process, which includes curriculum, and I would leave any detailed response on this matter to the Minister of Education, who can shed further light on to what possibilities we can build into our curriculum and our public school system to address this very important issue.
Mrs. Peter: Many young people are very aware of what goes on in this world. They are intelligent, informed, open-minded and concerned. They want to make a difference, and they want to have a voice. When young people are given the responsibility of making important decisions, they usually choose wisely. It is no good telling young people that they are leaders of tomorrow if we don't trust them to make responsible decisions today. If our school curriculum included more effective civics instruction, would the Premier support an initiative to lower the voting age to 16 in territorial elections?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am going to have to say to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that our government has not given any consideration whatsoever to lowering the voting age to 16. However, I would undertake to discuss with the member why this has been brought to the floor of the Legislature, because I'm kind of interested in what has precipitated this approach. I would remind the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that continually expressing to the youth of today here in the Yukon that they are the leaders of tomorrow, the contributors to this territory and its future, is essential because we want young people to recognize that as they go through elementary and secondary and post-secondary education, choosing and considering career paths. We want them to understand that they will be the leaders of tomorrow, and we will be passing the torch to them.
If we constantly do this, each and every day, it adds to our ability to engage with our youth. We have to do more; we all admit that. I will continue to engage with the member on her ideas. I think some of them are very good.
Question re: Lawsuits against government
Mr. Mitchell: I have a question for the Premier. On Wednesday, November 30 of last year, the Premier rose in this House and, in responding to a question concerning an individual's employment rights versus their right to access the justice system, the Premier replied that there is no policy linking hiring to pursuing a lawsuit against the government; rather, the government upholds the right of individuals to access the courts.
Can the Premier reassure this House that this is still the policy of this government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Of course, what government in any capacity would preclude a citizen's right to access due process? That's not to say that individuals, through collective bargaining, representation by unions or other matters, have assigned and agreed to a certain process. However, access to justice and due process is fundamental. No government in any shape or form can preclude that access.
Mr. Mitchell: I am glad to hear the Premier say so.
In a recent case heard in the Yukon Supreme Court, the sworn affidavit by an employee of the Yukon territorial government said - I quote from the court document, Mr. Speaker: “I subsequently learned about citizen X's legal action when a story in the newspaper appeared sometime after the May 26 meeting. I was shocked. I expressed my dismay to employee X. I told him that citizen X could not expect to sue his employer and then be considered for future jobs.”
I will file the documents, Mr. Speaker. This flatly contradicts what the Premier said. What is the policy? Is it the Premier's statement of November 30 or is it that of the employee who was following a directive of this government?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the first instance, this side of the House is somewhat concerned about quotes coming from the leader of the official opposition, considering the issue around a letter from the Ombudsman that was clearly - we can look into Hansard - somewhat different than what was articulated by the member.
However, I am not going to prejudge or second guess or challenge the courts in their decisions. That does not change the fact that any government must adhere to the right of all its citizens to access due process.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, that's why I filed the document in its entirety, and I would refer the Hon. Premier to clauses 7, 8 and 9 of the affidavit.
Again, Mr. Speaker, on December 14, 2005, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said in this House: “As I've stated on the floor of this Legislature on a number of occasions - and I'll reiterate it again for the members' opposite information - there is no policy linking hiring to pursuing a lawsuit against the government. Rather, the government upholds the right of individuals to access the courts.” Well, court documents don't back up that statement.
Do Yukoners have the fundamental right to seek a judicial review on a government ruling without fear of being discriminated against? Will the Premier please state the government's policy on this matter? And will he inform all Yukon government employees as to what the policy is?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I'm really glad the member did table the document he quoted from earlier in his question. That will provide some comfort for all of us - that we know what we're dealing with.
Secondly, the policy hasn't changed. That is the policy - period. That is a fundamental right - full stop. And if the member has an issue with a court ruling, I think the member should then be contacting the court.
This government is not going to interfere in the justice system. There have been many examples of the member opposite alluding to the fact that interference should take place. We're not going to do that. There is a fundamental right for all citizens to access due process, and that is the policy.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would just like to ask for the indulgence of the House to invite members to join me in welcoming my constituent, James Grattan, who is also a parent of one of the pages that is serving us today, Ryan MacKinnon.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
BILLS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT BILLS
Bill No. 112: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 112, standing in the name of Mr. Hardy.
Mr. Hardy: I move
THAT Bill No. 112, entitled Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the third party
THAT Bill No. 112, entitled Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, be now read a second time.
Mr. Hardy: It is an honour to address the other Members of the Legislative Assembly, all MLAs in this House, about a bill that I think is extremely significant for the future of this territory and the future of democracy in this territory. It also is one that is designed, in its simplicity, to try to re-establish some form of faith or belief in politicians - in the relationship between voters and politicians. As you know, Mr. Speaker, politicians in the Yukon have been under a lot of scrutiny over the years, and there are a lot of questions about our ethical standards and our accountability back to them.
This is an extremely simply amendment to the Legislative Assembly Act. I'm going to read it because I think its simplicity is what makes it successful. It says, “The act is amended by adding the following section immediately after section 20: “20.1 A member who (a) is elected with the endorsement of a political party; and (b) ceases to belong to the caucus of that party during the term for which that member was elected must sit in the Legislative Assembly as an independent and is to be treated as such for the purposes of this act and all proceedings in the Legislative Assembly during the remainder of the member's term.'”
Now, Mr. Speaker, this is a problem being addressed across this country. As a matter of fact, this is a problem that has arisen not just in Canada but around the world, and other countries are looking at how to deal with it. There have been different approaches, but what it boils down to, very simply, is floor-crossing legislation and trying to get some kind of ethical standard around that or to prevent it, basically. It's very simple. In India, they have taken moves in that direction. In South Africa, they have looked at it. We are seeing within Canada bills being brought forward or being debated or being discussed at the federal level as well as at the provincial/territorial level. There are reasons for that, very simply.
I would like to say very clearly that this is not about parties at all. It's about the rights of voters - that when they place their vote with a person running for a political party or as an independent, that will be respected. If there needs to be a change, if that member feels that they can no longer work within the confines or work with their colleagues that they had pledged to run with and work with, there is an option. But that option always has to be back to the voters.
We are here in the Legislative Assembly to serve the voters of this territory, to serve the people of this territory. We're not in here to serve ourselves or to try to enhance - or we should not be, Mr. Speaker. I stand corrected. We should not be in here to try to enhance our own personal persona.
It should be incumbent upon us to respond to our constituents and all people of this territory. When that trust is given to us under a party structure for that term - whether it is two and a half years or four years, or even possibly five years in the next term - we should honour that trust. We should also honour the trust of the colleagues that we run with or sit with. When you run for a party, you also make a commitment to the party. It's a party based on their principles and values. It's a commitment to serve that party, work with that party and share ideas with that party. Those principles and values are what you convey back to the constituents who voted you in. When you run, you have the support of that party.
There are three parties in the Legislative Assembly at the present time. We have different principles and values. Many of them are similar but there are some differences. We made a commitment to the party, just as we made a commitment to the constituents in the riding we represent. They are completely intertwined; they are linked. People vote for us, for who we are, our history, our record in the community, the work we do, what we stand for, and our background - whether it's a business or social background. People vote for us because of the party we run with. They believe in the principles and values of the party. Sometimes it's a combination. We rely upon a party to help us in the election.
If there's a point when we're no longer able to work within that party structure, if we can no longer go to conventions, stand up and speak there because we don't share the values of all those people, if we no longer feel we're part of that party or that our values have changed, as an individual - because rarely does a party's direction change, or their principles or values; that's done at a convention; or perhaps you never agreed with them in the first place; you ran for the party because you thought you could be elected under them, because they might form the government; whatever the reason - there should be a mechanism in place that ensures the vote that was entrusted to you with all those combinations is still respected. There are two legitimate, ethical options.
It is recognized across Canada and around the world that there are two legitimate options that still respect the vote of the people. One is to sit as an independent until your term is up, represent your riding as an independent - and you can do that well. We've had good independent representation in this Legislative Assembly in the past. There are examples next door, in the N.W.T., where there's good representation from independents.
Then you can speak specifically and totally from your constituents' view, if you felt the party was restricting your voice.
Or you can resign your seat, go back to the people, put it before them in an open, honest, fair, recognized, legitimate manner, where they once again have the chance to vote for the options in a by-election.
There's nothing wrong with a by-election. It has been done in the past. There is one example I'd like to use. I might use a few, but there is one example I'd like to use, because I found that there was an accountability that really struck a chord with me, and it was a Liberal who did it: Sheila Copps. When she ran - and I could be wrong on the date - 1993 or 1997 - she told her constituents that her party's position was that they were going to scrap the GST. That was in 1993. She was very clear; she took it to the people. She told the people of her riding that that was what was going to happen. She made that pledge; she made that promise. When they were elected, the Liberal government reneged on that promise. They did not scrap the GST. Sheila Copps felt that compromised her vote and her relationship with her constituents, and she resigned her seat, thereby forcing a by-election. She took it back to the people and let them decide whether she should continue as their representative. She ran as a Liberal again, but she allowed the people to have the say and the voice. Of course, they voted her back in, because I think they looked at her as somebody who was accountable for what she told them on the doorstep. They looked at that and saw ethical conduct. They voted her back in, and she went on to represent that riding over the next, I think, two or three elections - three elections, I believe it was. That was a politician putting it on the line to the people in an open and accountable manner on a very clear issue that she ran on.
There are other examples - Keith Martin, who was a Reform MP. When he found he could no longer work with his colleagues for philosophical reasons, he went and sat as an independent. He didn't point fingers or make all kinds of accusations. Once the election was called he ran under another party banner and was duly elected. My understanding is that the riding respected that position and that type of action, and they considered that ethical.
There have been some concerns raised about this bill, but I can assure you this bill will be passed in Canada. I think it's going to be something that comes across Canada. I know a similar bill is before the Manitoba Assembly. My understanding is that they haven't started debate on it, but that is going to happen there. At the federal level there are a lot of discussions.
There have been some concerns brought up about it. Does this bill force an MLA to abide by party discipline? Absolutely not. Each and every person in here is a strong individual - every single person in here - with strong opinions. In no way, shape or form, is this a disciplinary bill. This bill really is for the people, to guarantee we are not going to switch or jump to another party halfway through or immediately after an election.
It's a people's bill. Does it give the leader more power to control, to discipline? Absolutely not - because you can still sit as an independent, or you can go to a by-election. Where is the discipline, if you can still walk from the party if you feel like you have to?
For every leader, one of the most difficult things to deal with is when people leave your party. But that is a right that is still protected. What it does - on the opposite side, when we speak of leaders, and I'm speaking of leaders of parties; every single one of us is a leader in here; we're leaders within our community, and we're expected to act in a certain manner - when we're talking about a leader of a party, what this bill does is limit the opportunity of the leaders of the other parties - of any party - to offer enticements for people to leave their allegiance of where they're at, to betray their colleagues, to offer a bribe - whatever; it doesn't matter - to try to get them to fundamentally break that promise to the people who elected them, to come over. It removes that ability.
And Mr. Speaker, there is no question that has been happening in the Legislative Assembly, probably more than we have ever seen in the last few months. And do any of us actually agree with leaders behaving in that manner? Maybe one does, but I don't think so.
There are temptations put in place - put in front of people - that are very hard to say no to. Leaders have the ability to offer certain things - promises of Cabinet positions, promises that there will be no nomination meetings in the riding they are in, thereby shutting out another democratic process - a promise - all kinds of promises.
Leaders have the ability to make promises. That preys upon weakness within people and should not be how politics in this territory is conducted. It shouldn't be. The public doesn't want us to do that, doesn't expect us to do that, and we shouldn't act in that manner.
Sir Bernard Crick wrote that politics is ethics done in public, and I agree with that. We are judged by what our actions are - not just in the Legislative Assembly but also how we deal with each other here and outside, how we conduct ourselves in the communities and how we treat people. That respect is essential.
Mr. Speaker, you've worked very hard to bring in a sense of decorum, as every Speaker before you has tried. I know you've worked very hard to bring decorum into this Legislative Assembly. We all know what we heard on the doorstep during the last election. We heard what the people said. When we were first elected, we talked about that. The voters wanted an improvement in decorum in here.
In order to have an improvement in decorum, two things have to happen. There has to be respect for each other and that respect has to be shared. It's not one way. You can't point at somebody and say they don't respect me; meanwhile, you're doing something yourself. Respect starts with you. If that respect isn't there, it's hard to have decorum - proper and good decorum. There has to be another thing as well: trust. There has to be trust among all of us, that we are here doing the public good, first and foremost, that we're here for the people of this territory, first and foremost. The bills we pass, the motions we bring forward, the debate we have on this floor is being done for the people of this territory, not for us, not even for our parties - for the people of this territory, first and foremost.
And when the quest for power exceeds that or trumps that, then you have a problem with that person individually, and possibly even within the party. Of course, if we have an election, we will lay out our platforms and we will debate each other during that campaign, and people will go door to door and present themselves and present their party and the platforms that they run on. Or, if they are running as independents, they will do that as well. But I hope that it's not a finger-pointing campaign. It's not constantly finding fault with the others but presenting a positive alternative to what is presently there, a vision of where the territory could go if given the chance by the Yukon Party, by the Liberals or by the NDP. I hope that's what we present. I hope we can rise above petty party politics. Unfortunately I don't have a great deal of trust at this present time in the Legislative Assembly.
Now, when this bill was first introduced and read, there were comments that this was a sour grapes bill. That's the immediate reaction. It was put down like that - it's a sour grapes bill.
What it is about is restoring public trust in the political process. That's what it really is about. We talked about this last fall. We have - the NDP, with my colleagues, my previous colleagues and my colleagues today - talked about this and it's on record, but we have brought the legislative renewal act forward because we recognize Bill No. 108, we recognize there needs to be change in the Legislative Assembly if there is going to be change in how we work and deal with each other, if we're going to share some responsibility in the future of this territory.
That was to create a special legislative committee that in consultation with Yukon people would establish a code of ethical conduct. It would identify duties of the Premier and ministers, as well as define roles and qualifications for Cabinet ministers. It would establish fixed opening dates and provide greater participation from all private members.
We brought in Bill No. 112, Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act. That's the one before you today. We brought in Bill No. 106, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, again to deal with certain situations that we were facing. That was in regard to debts.
We have raised motions - Motion No. 603, on March 30, that said this House shall immediately develop and adopt a code of conduct for members and ministers that includes a provision requiring any member who leaves a political caucus or a political party under whose banner he or she was elected at the previous general election or by-election to sit as an independent member until the general election or to resign his or her seat and seek a new mandate in a by-election at the earliest possible opportunity.
Motion No. 589, in December 2005, stated that this House urges the Government of Yukon to bring forward legislation that would prevent an MLA from ignoring the wishes of his or her constituents by changing parties, crossing the floor or joining another party without first sitting as an independent until the next election or by resigning their seat and running in a by-election. That was five months ago.
We brought it forward because we've been hearing concerns from the public. Those were something the NDP agreed with. We also had been approached by an MLA who wished to join us and we took a position. We talked about it among the caucus - there were five of us - and we talked about it with some staff members and with the executive council of the NDP. We had meetings, and it was agreed, just like the ethics and accountability in government bill - the seven points that Ed Broadbent brought forward for the federal government.
We agreed there has to be a proper way to do this for any MLA, one that ensures the dignity and respect for the person wishing to do that, ensures and recognizes the rights of the voters and one that, as much as possible, does not discredit another party for the gain of the party that has been approached. That is not good politics. Of course we are in a race and will continue to try to form the next government, but that doesn't mean that we have to throw aside all ethical considerations. We have to present the public with something. That's why our answer was that we believe you should sit as an independent or resign and have a by-election. You can seek the nomination if you so wish when a nomination meeting is called in that riding and, if you are fortunate enough, represent your party of choice in the next election. But allow the people to have that choice, and not any little polls, not any wandering around talking to certain people. Do it in a democratic fashion, which is a vote - a proper vote. That's what democracy is built on, isn't it? It is allowing people to vote. When you don't allow people to vote, you remove democracy. It is not complicated; democracy does not have to be really complicated. What is complicated is the action of the individual or of people when they are faced with situations that may challenge the democratic belief.
Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of issues surrounding politicians in the territory and abroad. The Centre for Research and Information on Canada recently published a report called Portraits of Canada, 2005 . Some of the findings were very revealing.
Yukoners were surveyed, and 81 percent thought political leaders do not tell the truth or keep their promises - 81 percent. What's happening with this institution? What's happening with what I consider a very honourable profession - a politician - when 81 percent of the people out there already don't believe we tell the truth, or that we don't even keep our promises? I mean, 81 percent - we've got a serious problem.
Only 16 percent of Yukoners surveyed thought territorial political leaders had high honesty and ethical standards - 16 percent. We have a serious situation here, and we're all responsible, including me. I take complete responsibility for everything I say and everything I do. And if something I've done is unethical, I'll take that responsibility and I hope my constituents cast their judgement on that. They already have once. They have a few times. I have not won every election I've been in, and my losses have taught me more than my wins, to be frank. It has definitely humbled me, and it has definitely made me realize how important it is to respect - always respect - the voters, always respect the constituents and never, ever act independently of them.
That's what we've got to remember. Does this bill force an MLA to support a particular leader? No, it doesn't do that. All it does is say, “If I change my mind about my party or my leader, I have an ethical responsibility to sit as an independent or go back to the people who elected me in the first place for permission to represent them with a different party. You're going back to ask permission in an open and fair vote. It has been a long time coming. We do have rules already governing us, and this is an amendment to the Legislative Assembly Act to make it a little bit clearer, to give a little bit more comfort to the voters out there that this kind of stuff will end. This would be the first step, maybe in turning that tide for that 81 percent who don't have any trust in us, who think we lie. This might be one of the first steps that we in here today can make to try to re-establish a sense of dignity and honour with these positions that we have been entrusted with. I feel very honoured to represent people. I never want to break that honour or play games with it. I feel very honoured to be a member of a party, as I think every member in here is, and to have public debate, to have conventions, to hear the concerns expressed and to shape platforms.
You know, Mr. Speaker, there's a writer from Haines Junction. I will read just one sentence: “When a politician takes on an air of indispensability, the people suffer.”
That's so true. We are not bigger than the people out there; we are not more important than our constituents; we have to trust that our constituents know what's right. They will cast their ballot; they should be given the opportunity, if we are making a significant change, but we do need to stop the floor crossing. We need to give them a reason to believe in us again so that 81 percent will change.
I'm not going to talk much longer. There are a lot of people who want to speak. I'm very interested to hear what will be said. There's a member here who loves to use sports analogies. I like listening to her. She reminds me how important sports are at times. She and I, and I'm sure other people in there, have been very involved in sports at various levels - higher level competition, at the recreational level, as coaches and as members of the executive of a sport. I believe right now she's president of one of the sports - no? Okay, but I do know the other day the member stood in the House and talked about some of the achievements of the swim club, which are very significant and something to recognize and be very proud of.
I know sports are a huge passion in her house, and I know sports are a big passion for many people. There are people in here who play hockey, are in recreation, play baseball and that. Let's start at the professional level. Let's take a look at that.
You're playing a game against another team at a professional level - say it's the NHL right now, since we're in the playoffs. Halfway through the game, one of the players on the ice stops, pulls off his sweater, skates over to the other bench and jumps over it and tries to grab a sweater from that team. The captain on that team asks what he's doing. The coach asks what he's doing. I can't touch you. You know why? There are rules in place. There is no way in the world, at any professional level, anyone can switch teams in the middle of a game. They can't switch teams in the middle of a season unless, within that trading period in which one gives, the other one gives, and they make out a deal, and that trade happens. But you cannot do it because there are rules in place.
In sports there are rules. In recreational hockey in Whitehorse - guess what - you cannot switch teams. Why? You can't meet privately with somebody behind the arena and cut a deal and then come for the next game and be in another uniform. You can't do it at a recreational level, because they put in rules. It's very simple - there are rules to protect all teams and all players.
But when we get into the Legislative Assembly it is not a game in here. The trust of our constituents is extremely important. The people who voted us on our teams and put us in these positions have no protection whatsoever. We have no rules. Recreational hockey, recreational baseball - name the sport; name the activity. It is not allowed, because it's unethical and it would destroy the system. Ultimately, it destroys the system. It destroys the faith and beliefs, and it undermines everything.
Why is it so hard to have it in here? Why can't we have a standard at least as high as a recreational sport or the professional sports?
There is my one and very rare sports comparison. I don't often enter into those ones.
I hope people support this; it is for the people. I hope people in the Legislative Assembly support this. It is for the voters, for the people in the ridings. It is an assurance that, if you have to move, you will come back to them. If you don't come back to them right away, at least you will sit as an independent so that you can represent them totally without any party manoeuvring that happens. It will stop the leaders from offering incentives and preying upon the weakness of each and every member in here.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my discussion with respect to the bill - Bill No. 112 - by stating that the government's side will be allowing in second reading a free vote on this bill - in order to decide if we should move the bill through second reading into Committee. I will be supporting moving the bill through second reading into Committee, and I will now briefly provide the rationale on why I will do this.
First, let me repeat: the government benches are entitled to a free vote here. It is each member's decision on how to proceed with this bill. I will be voting in favour of moving this through second reading into Committee because there has to be the discussion.
I'm not here to oppose or endorse in any way, shape or form the bill as it is before us. I am here to say that more discussion must take place. The reason for that is there has to be an understanding in this Assembly so that the public will also understand what has transpired in this particular regard, given the recent movement in this Assembly.
I'm doing this because of personal experience on how the Yukon Liberal Party conducts its business. There is an issue here that is fundamental to the standard of the station of this Assembly, this institution and the offices we hold - there is an issue here. That standard is about ethics. So what the discussion has to bring forth is transparency on what has gone on. Was there recruitment or enticement, were there offers, or are there IOUs out there to create a scenario where members of this House have made a decision to defect or join another party?
Speaker: I understand the dilemma that the Hon. Premier is facing, and I have stepped in on previous occasions when I believe it was the Member for Mayo-Tatchun who was discussing an IOU. His was a more specific issue. However, the Chair is not entirely comfortable in where this may be heading, and this is simply a cautionary note. You have the floor, Hon. Premier.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me just strike from the record “IOU” and express it this way: what process transpired here to create the scenario that we are discussing today vis-à-vis the bill? And I say this because of personal experience. At a time when I sat as a member of this Assembly, there was an issue of recruitment by the Yukon Liberal Party and I want to know if that is what has transpired again, because there is a fundamental issue here if that is the case.
It's one thing for an individual of this House to make the decision of their own accord, within their own mind, that this is not a party or situation they can continue with. That's a decision made by oneself, but if there are other factors involved in this decision, the discussion must take place because that is where the bar is definitely suited. It is at the standard where these types of approaches should not happen. That is a fundamental issue in this matter.
I do not preclude any member from making a decision on their own accord on what they might want to do with their political future. That is the business of each and every member. I will also say that on the political spectrum there is clarity on the far left, the extreme, and on the far right, the extreme, and there's a tremendous amount of overlap between those two extremes when it comes to ideology, principle and vision of how we must conduct ourselves and govern.
Beyond that, I want to hear this debate, this discussion. I want this discussion to take place; I want this to happen; I believe it's fundamental and should happen. This bill is the impetus now to engage in that debate.
There's not much point in me going on at great length. I have nothing more to add, other than that I will support the movement of this bill through second reading and into Committee so the discussion and debate can take place. I would encourage the leader of the official opposition and all the members of the official opposition to table in full detail what has transpired in this matter. Then we can get on with the public interest, as far as governing this territory.
With that, I will leave it to the rest of the members of this House in terms of their view and position on the bill. Mine has been made clear; it's on the public record. At the risk of being repetitive, the government side is on the record in terms of overall position. We will conduct a free vote on this side of the House.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, some pretty strong statements have been made here today, and I've bit my lip more than once, but I felt I'd leave it to you to make your rulings and not stand up and question some of the comments that have been made. Comments have been made about inducements, offers, bribes and recruitments, which I find quite offensive. But I will be quite clear - or try to be - with my comments and my beliefs about this bill and its intent, because I do oppose it, as it's written, on philosophical and ideological grounds.
Now, we all know that the real reason behind our debating this legislation today is because the leader of the third party wants to chastise his former colleagues. He wants to say some strong things to me, and he wants to chastise the Member for Kluane and Member for Mayo-Tatchun, because they asked their constituents to provide direction about their political future in advance of the general election.
Speaker: From the Chair's perspective, the honourable member is imputing motives to the leader of the third party. I think that's out of order, and I ask the honourable member not to do it.
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, it's a little difficult to find this line because -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Mitchell: No, I'm not. I'm looking to see what I can say. We'll move forward, and I'll try to see if I can express this. In fact, to set the record straight, the NDP leader expelled two members from his caucus. But apparently they should stay on a short leash, because while they no longer sit together as a caucus, there appears to be some attempt to continue to determine their political future - their ideological beliefs. It appears as if we've almost got “thought police” and in some sort of Orwellian Newspeak, only one person can be the arbiter of ethics and only one leader can be ethical.
That has been the statement. Well, we know that the leader of the third party, the NDP leader, has talked to a member of the governing party and that mutual discussions were held about the possibility of another member joining that caucus.
We know that because he has told us that it is so. In that case, the discussions were held, and the event did not take place. This is a very fine ethical line that he would like us to draw.
I think a little history lesson should be in order now. Throughout our parliamentary history there have been many MPs and MLAs who have changed party allegiances and crossed the floor - a term that was coined in the British Parliament. The first floor-crossing in our federal government history was that of Stewart Campbell, who in 1868 left Nova Scotia's Anticonfederation Party to sit with the Liberal Conservatives of Sir John A. Macdonald. Mr. Speaker, we all should be able to tell right from wrong without a guidebook or rule book to tell us what our every action should be.
Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said, “The sheriff has gone to join the rustlers when Jack Horner joined the Liberal caucus in 1977.” And I believe that this characterization would fit David Emerson perfectly. He presented himself as a candidate to stop the Conservative Party from coming to power but turned around and was sworn in -
Speaker: If a member wishes to quote or cite from documents that contain unparliamentary language or does not adhere to proper form, the member must paraphrase the offending portion so that it conforms to the rules and forms of this Legislative Assembly. If the honourable member were to use that terminology to describe a member, it would be clearly out of order, and so I just ask the honourable member to restrain himself.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Porter Creek South, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I see a conflict in our rules. My understanding is that our rules, our Standing Orders, indicate that we will follow parliamentary procedure and that we will follow it, where Beauchesne's shall apply and rulings in the House of Commons apply in our House as well. That's one part of our Standing Orders. You have cited another one, saying if a member is quoting from a document - my understanding and the leader of the official opposition's understanding is that he is quoting from a Hansard of the House of Commons. So which rule then applies, Mr. Speaker? Do we follow the House of Commons' rules, which we say we're going to do in the Standing Orders, or do we follow the rule that says we have to paraphrase?
Speaker: Allow me to consult with my Table Officers.
Speaker: There is no point of order. Standing Order 1 says, and I quote, “In all cases not provided for in these Standing Orders or by Sessional or other orders, the practices and procedures of the House of Commons of Canada, as in force at the time, shall be followed, so far as they may apply to this Assembly.” In other words, our Standing Orders have precedence over the House of Commons' Standing Orders.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Mitchell: I will therefore ask that the remark be removed from the record if you can do so, Mr. Speaker.
Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker expressed his extreme disappointment when a member left to join the Liberal caucus. Now, a lot of what we discuss has to do with recent events in Vancouver, with David Emerson. I understand that, because I was equally disappointed in how that activity occurred because he presented himself as a candidate to run for one team, he campaigned strongly and then turned around and was immediately sworn in as the new Conservative Minister of International Trade. I think Mr. Emerson did betray his constituents' wishes and he joins the ranks of other well-known defectors who crossed the floor in the House of Commons, specifically against the wishes of their constituents.
In recent years some members of Parliament have crossed the floor because they have had completely differing ideas from their parties. Jean Lapierre did not think that the Liberal Party was doing a good job of representing the people of Quebec , so in 1990 he left the Liberals to sit as an independent. Then he joined Lucien Bouchard when he created the Bloc Qué bécois.
Many MPs have crossed the floor for what has been perceived as personal gain, as in the case of both Jack Horner and David Emerson. They were wooed across the floor from the Progressive Conservatives to Pierre Trudeau's government, and the other from the Liberals to the Conservatives, with the promise of a Cabinet post. In Conservative Alberta, Horner was not re-elected when the Trudeau government fell in 1979, and I wouldn't bet too much on Mr. Emerson either.
A more recent example was Belinda Stronach. She was a very high-profile Conservative who had helped form the new Conservative Party and had run for the leadership in 2004. Even though Ms. Stronach was unhappy under Stephen Harper's leadership, her motives for joining the Liberals were, in the opinion of some, self-serving. If this is an example of a defection helping to save a government from falling, her timely switch just prior to a non-confidence vote in the House was instrumental in helping Paul Martin's minority government remain alive.
She was rewarded with a senior Cabinet post; however, unlike Mr. Horner, she was re-elected when she ran again as a Liberal this past January.
I do think the recent change of colours by Mr. Emerson smacked of pure opportunism. His defection was not due to his political differences with the Liberal Party. It was his attempt to hold on to power. To my mind, he campaigned under false pretences; he attacked the Conservatives at every sign of weakness and created the illusion of a strong Liberal, someone who could keep a Harper government accountable, as the majority of the constituents of Vancouver Kingsway wanted. At his victory, he told party supporters he was going to be Stephen Harper's worst nightmare.
As I previously stated, Emerson is not the first to cross the floor for the chance at power, but I think Mr. Emerson displayed a total lack of loyalty toward his party, and he showed that by not having the courtesy to meet with Paul Martin before or after he defected. I think he has no allegiance to any political party or ideals; that's why I was shocked that Prime Minister Harper accepted him into his caucus.
When we compare that to the actions of my colleagues, the members for Kluane and Mayo-Tatchun, we see the complete opposite in the actions and their reasons for them.
Mr. Emerson campaigned hard as a Liberal until January 23, and then immediately changed allegiances for the pay raise, the chauffeured car and the power of keeping his Cabinet position. He did cross the floor, and then he moved to sit with the new government, although technically, the government crossed and he stayed in place.
The members for Kluane and Mayo-Tatchun did not cross the floor. They were in opposition to the Yukon Party government, and they remain in opposition to it. They moved from official opposition status to independent status, and then each in turn made their own decisions about whether or not to join the Liberal caucus. And our caucus made its decision whether or not to welcome them.
What personal gain did they receive? There was discussion about this earlier. None, for there was not any that we could give. The leader of the NDP, the leader of the third party, exclaimed at the time that he didn't understand why they would do this. He said, “We were leading in the polls. We were poised to form government.” Well, if that were the case, Mr. Speaker, then these MLAs were clearly taking a great risk. They were moving from perhaps a likely future Cabinet position into the unknown, yet they did so anyway - at great personal risk.
How did they conduct themselves? Yes, they did approach me and asked if joining the Liberal caucus might be an option. “Yes,” I told them, “It might be.” But they would have to consult their constituents, and I would have to ask my party.
What did they then do? They delivered a letter to their former leader, informing him of their plans to consult their constituents about their political future, in advance of making any decisions or taking any action. They met with their former leader and expressed their concerns and those of some of their constituents about their political affiliation. Then each, in their own way, commenced the consultation process, as they had promised.
And their leader, the leader of the third party, the NDP leader, expelled them from the caucus. So they were then, by his actions, independent members. They had no guarantees that the Liberal Party would accept them. In fact, we had yet to have those discussions with our full executive and to get their endorsement to either accept or not accept both MLAs into our caucus.
Mr. Speaker, forcing an MLA who is at odds with his or her party to sit as an independent would, in fact, contribute to disempowering that member as well as that member's constituents. In particular, when we were perhaps weeks and certainly no more than six months from the next election, there would not likely have been any by-election scheduled. In my riding of Copperbelt, we experienced a situation where we had an MLA who was no longer able to represent the riding or his constituents.
The bill before us today would have that same effect on any MLAs late in a term who decided to resign so they could join another caucus. It would decrease representation, not improve it. It would leave people without a representative if no by-election were to be called.
I hope some members will agree that this bill is somewhat surprising in suggesting as it does that we as members of the House should support a bill that would force us to be silent when we disagree with the leadership of our party for fear of forcing a by-election or being forced to sit as an independent.
Perhaps the leader of the NDP felt that this sort of legislation should be there to strengthen a leader's hold on dissenting members of a caucus, but I believe that using legislative methods to limit dissent is truly undemocratic. We have many rules and many laws that address the conduct and responsibility of a member of this Assembly. The political parties, however, are not defined as being necessary or existing in the process. They are an overlay, if you will, a construct that has been created by people of similar beliefs who feel they can be more effective in this Chamber by working in concert. We can no more legislate those political and ideological beliefs than we can legislate members' religious beliefs, nor should we attempt to do so.
I think it comes down to the ethics and morality of each member whether they decide to change their political affiliation. Those decisions must be made for the right reasons and they must be defendable to the voters, not the leaders, because it is the voters who are our employers.
Not the parties, not the leaders, it's the general public, the voters, who employ us and who make the final decision. Every few years, the voters have their say. They can see the differences between the actions of a David Emerson and the actions taken by my colleagues. They will be the judges.
Mr. Speaker, a much better orator than I once said, “Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others change their principles for the sake of their party.” I would suggest that the members for Kluane and Mayo-Tatchun chose the former, and the leader of the third party with this legislation would have us require the latter. Mr. Speaker, that orator crossed the floor not once but twice in his career. He was a much greater statesman than any of us can ever hope to be, and he led his nation through the most difficult of times. The quote, as you know, Mr. Speaker, is from Sir Winston Churchill. I would challenge any member here to question his ethics or his service to his country.
Clearly the issue is not a simple one. It is a match of conscience versus opportunism, and the electorate will ultimately have the final say. I do not believe that this bill is the right approach, and I will vote against it.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, it gives me pleasure to rise today to discuss this. I think this is very important, and it's actually a pleasure on a Wednesday to see so many members here, listening to this debate. I'd just like to say a few words. The leader of the official opposition has said a lot of things about what went on, and I don't believe that this actually is the place to discuss those issues.
What we're talking about is on a broader scale. We're talking about elected members' relationships with their constituents. I'm not going to speak on this for a long time either, because I believe this is important and that other members have things to say about this. I'm sure there are other members who would like to speak to this and give their points of view, because I'm sure there are varying points of view.
I commend the Premier for allowing a free vote on the government side of the House. I think it bodes well that all of us here have the opportunity to vote with our conscience, to talk with our constituents about what they feel about this type of legislation.
It's interesting, because shortly after the recent incidents transpired, I had the opportunity to attend community events and had people approach me, commending our leader, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, on his strong leadership and the stance he took. That's not what this debate is about, however. This debate is about the principles, the beliefs and values we present when we go door to door. There can be several analogies.
When I was going door to door, I likened it to a job interview. It was a 31-day job interview. I was presenting myself, my beliefs and my values to the residents and the constituents of Mount Lorne .
They knew where I stood. For the last three and a half years, they have known where I stand and that I am proud to stand there. We don't always agree; I don't always agree with my constituents, but I'm honest with them. I've had constituents call me and take a position and ask me if I can do something about this. You have to tell them; you have to be honest with them. You have to say, “I understand what your concerns are but, fundamentally, I don't agree with you. If you don't want to vote for me during the next election, that's fine; I can accept that.”
That is something I can live with. It's that trust and that honesty that we need to establish and maintain with our constituents. It's how we represent ourselves to those constituents when we're going there during that 31-day job interview.
There has been some discussion about whether or not there is the need for party politics in the Yukon. Some people think it would actually be better if we were all independents without a party affiliation. I believe there is some value to having a party affiliation and that value is that you work with people who share common beliefs, values and principles. You have the opportunity to gather together to talk about your vision and the principles that should guide you, whether it's left, right, centre or straight up.
You would have an opportunity to gather with those people. And recently, we had that opportunity to gather as New Democrats and have those discussions. That's what guides the party, whether it goes left or right. It's not the leader. The leader provides leadership. It's the people who hold those beliefs and values.
We have thorough, open debate about important issues - about issues like what should happen around forestry policy. What should happen around the taking down of education - the devolving of responsibilities for education or health and social services to First Nations? Those are important issues to Yukoners, and they are important in every community in the Yukon.
Those are the things that a party structure gives you the opportunity to do. It gives you the opportunity to have those discussions, to come out with one position and go forward. It's up to the leader, and we as members of that party, to do that. That allows us the ability, when we go door to door, to say what it is that we believe in. And I think that that's important. That's what the voters want to know. They want to know what your beliefs and values are - that's how you come up with a platform.
I believe that that trust being established with the constituents is very important, and is something that we should not betray. It's not something we should go back on. It's really hard to change the principles, beliefs and values that you believe in.
I don't understand how people can do that. I don't have an understanding of how that could happen, but if you are able to do that, I think you owe it to the people you represent - to all your constituents - not a select few where you go and selectively talk to people. I think you owe it to your constituents if you are going to change your values, your principles and your beliefs, to go back to the electorate, to resign your seat and ask the government to call a by-election and ask your constituents in that manner.
The other opportunity is to sit as an independent. I believe that that is another way. If you are struggling with the values, beliefs and principles of the group of people that you associate with, then maybe you need to sit as an independent member and, over the course of a long period of time, talk to every constituent in your riding and wait until you have the opportunity to go back to the polls and consult in a democratic process.
I would like to give an opportunity to other members - as time is getting short - for everybody to have their say. We don't want to preclude anybody from having an opportunity to speak on this today. I look forward to hearing comments from other members.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: It's rather surprising that the free vote doesn't inspire too many words from the members opposite. I would like to begin by establishing the critical point here today, which is that there is no viable connection between what this bill tries to accomplish and recent events involving members of this Assembly.
I will try to get to that in more detail later, time permitting. Some members are trying to draw that connection but it is wrong to do that. The NDP members have lost 40 percent of their caucus - their most experienced members, including their only member with previous Cabinet experience. Instead of sulking over their loss and trying to legislate it from recurring, maybe the NDP should re-examine its own procedures. I will try to get to that later in more detail.
Simply put, this is a sour-grapes bill. Bill No. 112 is wrong for several reasons. Here are five.
First, it is undemocratic. Why should a duly elected member be forced into sitting as an independent member simply because another MLA doesn't want that member in caucus? This point cannot be overstated. I have heard it expressed by several constituents following the NDP leader's actions - or shall we call them “extreme moments” - some two months ago?
Second, the mover of this bill has already set a bad example of this bill's own requirements. Just last month, he invited the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun back after expelling that member from his caucus. According to the language of the bill, there is no provision for a member to return. The bill only provides for the banishment of a departing member to independent status. Since it would be impossible to allow a member to return, the mover of this bill would be in violation of his own bill. How realistic is it for the mover of this bill to expect other MLAs to abide by this act when he himself cannot do it? It would be about as unrealistic as several of his other recent decisions.
Third, the very purpose of the presence of MLAs in this Assembly is to represent their constituents. Forcing someone to sit as an independent is to reduce by force the representation of all constituents in that MLA's riding. It would be wrong to impose such measures on Yukoners who deserve and have a right to equal representation.
What if it's necessary for an MLA to leave caucus in order to better represent his or her constituents? For instance, what should happen if a leader of a party to which the MLA belongs does not give adequate consideration to issues of importance to the MLA's constituents? What if the MLA strongly objects? What recourse would the MLA have other than to be wilfully relegated into political purgatory, as this bill would require? In another scenario, what if the party to which an MLA is elected elects a new leader who takes a party in a different direction, one that was not campaigned on and one that does not have the support of the MLA's constituents? Would it be right, then, to banish the MLA into political purgatory for defending his constituents?
This bill also fails to provide for those Yukoners who vote for the person and not for the party. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that in rural Yukon, the number of voters who fall within this group may, in fact, be the majority. In such cases, those voters want the MLA to represent them in the best way possible, even when the party gets in the way.
Fourth, what if the party to which an MLA is elected in effect breaks its own constitution? What if an MLA determines that such actions lead to significant moral issues and continuing problems to his or her constituents? What if such factors had caused an MLA to want to wash his or her hands of that party? In such cases, why would it be the departing MLA who gets punished when the punishable should be those who were involved in breaking the constitution? Precisely, Mr. Speaker, this bill is unjust.
The fifth and final point why this bill is wrong is because it doesn't provide for any consultation with the constituents of the MLA before the MLA and, therefore, the constituents are relegated into political purgatory.
Obviously this bill is undemocratic for many reasons. A case in point is when the NDP leader had his extreme moments two months ago. He insulted the constituents in the ridings of Kluane and Mayo-Tatchun by not waiting for the results of the consultations being carried out by their MLAs.
Why could he not stand to wait to hear from the people? I don't know for sure. Was he afraid of what they would say? Was it simply power-tripping? Did his failure to fully understand the situation -
Speaker: Order please. I understand this is a passionate debate and I'm trying to give all members as much latitude as I possibly can but, clearly, when one member accuses another member of “power-tripping”, that is not within the realms of our Standing Orders and I would ask the member to respect that.
Mr. McRobb: Did his failure to fully understand the situation result in what was a knee-jerk reaction? Or was it simply another case of putting party before people? Much more can be said about why this bill is wrong, but that's not possible due to the short time allotted to me this afternoon.
In the past two months, the mover of this bill has presented to the public a confused account of recent events. This has naturally caused some confusion among members of the public about what really happened. In addition, some media reports have furthered the confusion, resulting in yet more confusion. Confusing the events is not being responsible or fair to the parties involved.
Let me use my remaining time to clarify the situation for those who choose to know the truth. Some day, Mr. Speaker, this might be helpful to those considering similar rules to understand the background of a real case example. I present this abbreviated chronology.
(1) During the past three years, the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun and I have been subjected to a stream of public dissatisfaction about the direction the current NDP leader was taking the party; this compounded with our own concerns to the point where we needed to do something about it.
(2) We decided last summer to do the honourable thing and try to deal internally with the leadership issue at the NDP's fall convention, known as territorial council. That attempt was thwarted when the NDP broke its own constitution and article 6, which requires this convention to be held in the fall of each year. The leader informed us only after it was too late to do anything about it. By then, we were already into the fall sitting of the Legislature.
To add insult to injury, the leader told us it was too late for the party to deal with leadership issues because it was already too close to the next election, even though at the time most people thought it was still a year away.
(3) In the next few months our dissatisfaction with these events led us to greater levels of frustration. In fact, we reached the point where we felt we had to do something to improve the situation. The MLA for Mayo-Tatchun and I are devoted to our constituents and we put their interests first. Remember, the easy option for us both would have been to do nothing.
(4) On the evening of February 19 we met and decided upon a course of action that would be honourable to everyone involved. We wrote to the leader expressing our concerns about his leadership and also stating we would be consulting with our constituents about our future political options. This letter, which I will table now, closed by requesting a meeting as soon as possible. That meeting occurred the next morning. We spoke openly and honestly about our concerns and intentions. The NDP leader expressed no reservations and no concerns about our plans to consult.
(5) A week later we set out to consult with our constituents. I mailed out a letter dated February 27, which I will also table now, while the MLA from Mayo-Tatchun chose to discuss the matter with his constituents rather than writing to them. My letter was later published in the Whitehorse Star. Many people told me that they liked the letter and felt it was ground-breaking in that it brought unprecedented power to the people. Never before in people's recollection could they recall a situation where an elected representative wanted to know how they wanted to best be represented - even if it meant that member changing his political affiliation.
(6) The next day, February 28, the NDP leader changed his view of my plans to consult my constituents and expelled me from his caucus for asking people what they wanted.
He didn't seem to understand that the exercise may not have led to a change. He didn't care enough to wait until my constituents had responded before considering his options. He acted in the extreme by expelling me from caucus. Even though he knew the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun was doing the same thing, he decided to treat him differently and not to expel him.
(7) On March 2, the NDP leader was embarrassed publicly into acting with some consistency and removed the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun from his caucus.
(8) We continued to consult our constituents. As stated in a letter sent to my constituents dated March 22, which I will table now, I had heard from a good cross-section of people who overwhelmingly supported me to join the Yukon Liberal Party, which I did on March 16. For the record, fewer than 10 percent wanted me to remain with the NDP. The MLA for Mayo-Tatchun decided to sit as an independent until he reached the same conclusion, joining the Yukon Liberal Party on May 1.
Those are the relevant events. Given these facts, it is fair to conclude that the actions taken by the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun and me were honourable, fair, open and honest. We both feel we did the right thing in all respects. There is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to make us want to wind back the hands of time and redo.
If this Assembly wants to consider changing the rules to reflect the public interest, the members' time may be better spent examining the existing unrestricted powers of a leader to expel members, even when their actions are so honourable.
How does the NDP characterize these events? Well, in the most distasteful way, of course. First off, the NDP leader chooses to call our actions “floor-crossing” and “party-hopping”. Those terms simply are wrong and do not apply to our case. The only decision made by the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun and me was to go from a non-party independent status to the Yukon Liberal Party. It was the NDP leader who forced us out of his party. It was not a decision we took ourselves. Therefore, there was no floor-crossing or party-hopping. In fact, the last person in this Assembly to cross the floor was the current Member for Klondike, who did it last November 28. And the last one to party-hop is the Premier, the Member for Watson Lake, who did it four years ago this month. Interesting indeed, isn't it, Mr. Speaker?
The NDP leader has also characterized us as acting unethically. Well, the facts say otherwise. History should accurately cast his actions in that bad light, not ours.
Let's test this case with a few rhetorical ethical questions.
(1) Did we act ethically toward the NDP leader? Yes. We involved and informed him directly of our plans and he had no problem at the time.
(2) Did we act ethically toward our constituents? Yes. We fully involved them in the process leading to our decisions.
(3) Did we act ethically toward Yukoners and this Assembly? Yes. We abided by the laws of Yukon regarding the conduct of MLAs, and we believe our actions serve the public interest and were conducted in the public trust.
(4) Did we act ethically toward the NDP? Yes. We did the honourable thing by waiting to deal with our concerns internally. It was unfortunate to later discover the opportunity we were waiting for had been cancelled, which violated the party's constitution.
(5) Let's consider another angle: would it be ethical to run as a candidate in support of a leader who has lost your respect and trust? I think not.
(6) Could it be ethical to run as a candidate to help a leader who has lost your trust and respect, be elected as Premier and who would form a government with a mandate lasting up to five years? I think not.
(7) Would it be ethical to run for a leader whom you knew had dismissed the priorities of your constituents? I think not.
(8) Finally, would it be ethical to simply do nothing, instead of trying to improve the situation? I think not.
Mr. Speaker, as you can see, there is no shortage of ethical substance to support our actions. We acted honourably, openly and fairly to everyone. To the contrary, look at what approach the Premier decided upon when he party-hopped from the NDP to the Yukon Party four years ago. He notified the NDP leader at the time, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, and called a press conference announcing his change on the very same day. There was nothing open or fair about his approach. Now his own history doesn't stop him from criticizing us. There's a word for that sort of flip-flop, but it's not allowed in this House.
The NDP leader has compared our actions to that of David Emerson, the disgraced MP who defected from the Liberals to the Conservatives in early February. Personally, I was appalled at what Emerson did, and there is no comparison between us and Emerson.
There are five aspects to Emerson's actions that are opposite to our actions.
(1) Emerson defected from a party he was elected under. It was not us who made that decision. We did not defect.
(2) Emerson defected to a party he so vocally criticized up to and including election day. Not the case for us - we saw virtue in the Yukon Liberal Party and lots of promise in its new leader.
(3) Emerson defected very soon after an election. Again, we did not defect. The relevant comparison is recognizing that the timing of our consultations was within six months of a general election. At the time, in fact, the next election was rumoured to be only two months away, so we knew the voters would soon have the opportunity to express themselves, unlike Emerson.
(4) Emerson conducted negotiations with the receptive party in secret. We were completely open, honest and fair, and we did not negotiate.
(5) Finally, Emerson gained from his transition, which has already been put on the record - and my time is almost out. Our cases are so different. Anyone who perpetrates this indefensible position is only confusing the issues.
Mr. Speaker, in closing, this bill should be defeated for the following reasons: it is undemocratic; the mover of the bill cannot even abide by it; the bill diminishes the representation of constituents; it unfairly restricts options for those who choose to avoid tyranny; and finally, it fails to engage constituents on matters leading to a change.
Mrs. Peter: I am very happy to speak in support of this bill that is before us. Listening to the comments that were made in this Legislature this afternoon in regard to this bill has been very interesting. It definitely needs the kind of debate that is coming out. People have the option to voice their opinions.
I just want to say that I will give a little bit of my own history, Mr. Speaker. I first decided to run in my riding of Vuntut Gwitchin, which is one of the smallest communities in the Yukon. It is very isolated. We had only 196 voters, and that was in 2000. It took me a lot of years to make a decision. I had to definitely question myself a lot, because I saw the position of MLA as being very honourable. It goes way back in our history, especially with some of the people who ran and held this position before me. I held these people in very high regard. That still holds true today.
When I speak about holding this position in high regard, I think about our beliefs and our values, especially for those of us in our First Nation communities.
I can only speak from my personal experience of the people who I was very blessed to have taught me in my life while growing up. I remember very well the leaders that we had in our communities and how they conducted themselves - how as leaders they took their responsibilities very seriously.
Mr. Speaker, in First Nation country, as First Nation leaders, when you give your word, that word is your honour. In this day and age we are losing those very values that our communities were built on - sometimes by the conduct of leaders or by not taking your responsibilities too seriously as a community member. We have always had a democratic process in place in our communities - before we had our own governments, or other forms of government became a part of our life - and we are very proud of that history. We have to introduce bills such as Bill No. 112 so that we can have some form of honourable conduct in place and give respect to the voters who put us in this position; then I believe we have to really think about where our responsibilities lie.
It starts becoming questionable if I think that I can move around so very easily and not have respect for the people who voted me in as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for my riding, and especially under a certain banner. I take that very seriously.
Every time I walk through that door, I never forget who put me here. My conduct in this Assembly reflects that of my people. The bill that's before us today spells out very clearly a process, a very simple process, that can be followed. I have been approached by other parties to join, and it was out on the radio waves and throughout the territory. But when that happened, Mr. Speaker, the first thing that I did was go to my leadership and my community. I spoke to a few elders in my community. I definitely spoke to my family. It was right out in the open. That is how it should be.
It happens all the time. But when it comes right down to it, we have to remember that the people who matter the most in this whole process are the voters. The trust that our people put in us to speak on their behalf in this Legislative Assembly - I will use an example that is very near and dear to my heart. That example is how the Gwich'in people in north Yukon, the Vuntut Gwitchin, have addressed the Porcupine caribou issue. We were asked by our elders in 1988 to address that issue and educate the people of the world about what is happening with us and how we are going to be affected and impacted if decisions were made for development in the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. They asked us to take a leadership role. They asked us to do that in a good way. They asked us to do that in an honourable way with respect for everyone we speak with.
That example can be used because they asked us to be in leadership roles and to perform in that manner. The bar set for us, in our communities and the riding that I represent, is set very high, and I respect that. And if we have to bring bills, such as the bill that is before us today, to remind people why we are here - it doesn't tie you down to one political party if your ideas change.
This is a simple process that one can follow - an honourable process that asks you to at least respect the voters that put you where you are right now.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I'll end my comments and that will give other members an opportunity to respond.
Speaker: If the honourable member speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was hoping that perhaps some of the Yukon Party members would get up and speak to this bill. If they felt it was important, then they should be speaking to this bill.
I would like to say a few words to it. I can't help but think that the leader of the third party is putting this bill forward not to really improve things on the floor of this Legislature, but it is pointing a finger and it is pointing the finger at me and the Member for Kluane. That speaks a lot about ethics and so on.
The Member for Kluane raised a number of really key points, and I'm hoping that the leader of the third party is taking them seriously because, in the end, what this is all about is representation of our constituents and whether or not we did the right thing by going to our constituents and asking them what direction we should be taking.
But I do want to back up a little bit, Mr. Speaker, because the leader of the third party is bringing forward amendments to the Legislative Assembly Act, and he is really directing the Assembly to penalize any MLA who leaves a party they belonged to when elected. Part of the problem is there is a lot of talk out there in the general public about a non-party system like the Northwest Territories has. There is a lot of interest in having independents run for that purpose in hopes of everybody getting elected, of course; but also there are people who vote for independent members knowing that they are flexible to where they can go in this Legislature. That was said to me many times at the doors of the many people I have spoken to over the past couple of months.
I think that's important to point out also.
Also, the leader of the third party has some motions in this House that I suppose came forward before the bill. I want to read one section of it. It is point 4 on this motion. It says that leaders of recognized political parties do a disservice to electors and to the integrity of the political process by allowing or encouraging MLAs to change political affiliation without first securing the mandate from their electors in their constituency.
I would say that what I have done and what the Member for Kluane has done is exactly that. You go out and talk to your constituents and you get their direction as to what they would like you to do. It has also been pointed out here that the leader of the third party - and he has admitted to it in his opening remarks - was engaged in debate, negotiations or talks with another MLA from the government side. He is bringing forward a bill that I guess he is violating already. What does that say for the member bringing forward this bill?
Let me tell you about that, because I think it was important. The leader of the third party can correct me if I am wrong, but I remember an incident that happened during the last sitting. The member from the third party, the leader of the NDP, came into caucus all smiles and with a little spring to his step.
He had some news for us, and here was the news. We all watched it, and I've never seen this look on that member's face before. I haven't, because it has always been business, but he had something for us - and what he had was a discussion with a member from the government's side about coming over and joining the NDP. What do you think of this? We can get some momentum if we had another member join the party. That is how it was, and I couldn't believe it wasn't me who spoke up right away. It was the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin who had some problems with that. I could see, in slow motion right now, the smile on the face of the leader of the third party turn upside-down. That's where things were left. How else can you best describe that? I'm sure all the members would agree. Now he is bringing forward a bill that says you don't do that; don't do what I have done.
The other thing, Mr. Speaker, is that things did not end there. Further discussions did take place between the two. I think that there are a couple of good words that could describe that.
Also, the mover of this bill, the leader of the NDP, says we all have different principles and values - the different parties all do. He also said that many of them are similar to each other, and he is right. I think there are a number of them that are really easy to list. We all want better education, good health care for the people in the territory; we want safer, better communities. We agreed on this floor on a number of bills. We've talked about fighting alcohol and drugs - all three parties have done that.
I don't think anybody is going to walk away with those principles if they went to another party. I certainly won't, Mr. Speaker. All the principles that I've brought forward in this House, from the day I was elected, I will bring forward to represent my constituents.
Another thing is - maybe this would be of interest to the rest of the elected members. When I went out - and I thank the Member for Kluane for laying out the way the events took place, because that's exactly how it went. The first day on the road was to talk to people, being open and honest about it - whether or not I was going to run in the next election; what would you like me to do? Do you want me to run as an independent, as a Liberal or a New Democrat?
Day 2 was when I basically got fired from caucus. Then the other violation that the member has with his own bill right here is that he's engaged in wanting to bring me back over to his party - or he says so in public anyway.
I think it's important to note that, after being kicked out of caucus, things do change dramatically in the debate you have with your constituents, and they were open with me. This is the interesting thing - and I've told all the media this too - people were open in their discussions with me, whether it was on the street, in the store or wherever. There was no political background for them to guide their discussions. It wasn't like that.
I think it would be very good if every member of this House went out to their constituents and were right open with them about their discussions of politics, because it might open people's eyes a lot. It has with me, and I definitely got some really good feedback on it. It was a very worthwhile event and job on my behalf. It sometimes happens like that on the doorstep when you're campaigning, but people know which party you're affiliated with. So that was very good.
066a I know that the leader of the third party may rebut a lot of the things we say here. He doesn't want to personalize it. He wants this bill to go forward, basically, I would say, for the future, but some things have to be said. I said to the media that the leader has taken the party further to the left. The leader has said that himself, Mr. Speaker, and he said it in a victory speech on September 21. That is not where the party was before, wanting to go away from the centre and further to the left. He also had taken away what I have said and campaigned on in my riding over the last several campaigns and elections. So it does make a difference. I know that the member may have good intentions as to keeping some order, but this bill does give a lot of power to the leaders. You're out, and it does take away your ability to represent your constituents when that happens. If you end up as an independent member, it does take away your ability to respond, say, in this House. And one example that I could use is responding to ministerial statements. You can't do it; it's the parties that do it.
I heard the comments of the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin and the Member for Mount Lorne in the newspapers. After an action taken by a leader that puts a member into an independent position, and then have comments come out from members opposite that are hurtful to the riding, those are damaging. I have to say this because I go back to my community and that's the first thing that comes up: those comments. They're not damaging to me; they're damaging to them, because that is how the riding and constituents are treated. That's a big difference here.
I can take political pressure from members opposite and the third party - I can do that. I've taken a lot of that over the years. I've been an elected member - not just in this Assembly - for 16 years. I have lots of experience, and I've had a lot of people make comments to me on this matter. When discussions had to take place with our constituents, they all gave the big thumbs-up that that was the way to do it.
Now, who's the boss on how you conduct your business? The leader of a party? The Premier? The Legislature? Or is it your constituents? In the end, it will be your constituents. They want to hear from you, and you go back and talk to them and get direction.
I know the Member for Mount Lorne says to talk to 100 percent of the people, but that's almost impossible. You can't even do that in election campaigns.
You can get a pretty good percentage, and I think if MLAs are having problems in their party, why not let them leave? If they are not doing any good where they are, why not let them leave?
I heard the Premier - the only one from the government's side who has spoken- say they would like it to go to Committee for debate. I would like to hear some debate from the government side. It is important on their part to give some opening comments, or are they all willing to take this bill clause by clause and debate it? I would think that is how it is going to be done - that is the only way I can see it. In the end - if it goes into Committee, that is what I would like to see from the government's side - a little debate from them.
The Premier has a lot of answering to do on how he conducted himself in hopping from one party to another. That is not what took place with the Member for Kluane and me. I can't help but feel that the leader of the NDP is pointing fingers, and he is pointing fingers at us. This is the message that he wants to send back to our ridings. It's all politics here, and it is being played on the floor of this Legislature, and I would hope that others would think a little more deeply about this. If they really want to see some improvements, take it to the people. Put it to a referendum on electoral reform and look at that a little more closely.
That's where debate should take place. If we want to improve decorum in this House, it's up to each and every individual to do that. Using a bill like this to point fingers is not right. Thank you.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I am rising - I understand that there are no members of the government side wishing to rise at this point in time.
Mr. Speaker, every member comes to this place from a unique perspective. We all come with, dare I say, baggage of one form or another. It is sometimes useful to share that perspective, and I'll do that in a moment. But I have learned in my years in this Legislature - I've listened to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin speak on many occasions, and she uses the phrase “to speak in a good way”, and I truly believe that that's what each of us tries to do, and that's the best way to put it. So to quote her, I am going to try to speak on the subject before us this afternoon in a good way. And make no mistake, Mr. Speaker, this is as difficult a debate and as tough a subject as we debated in the ethics discussion that I brought forward a few weeks ago. This is a heartfelt, passionate topic for people and it's important, and I share the appreciation that others have made earlier - the number of members who have chosen to engage in active listening or active speaking on this particular debate. I think that is an important point that should be made this afternoon.
Those points being made, as I said, every member comes from a unique perspective and sometimes it's useful to share that perspective, and I'd like to share my own and speak personally. We've spoken a lot about party labels, and as someone who is often labelled by the editorialists and various letters to the editor as having another party affiliation, I'd just like to share my personal experience.
I was a very proud member, in the 1980s, of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. My artifacts include the lovely buttons, the “Hill Seats Blues”. That was the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
As the manager - now the term is executive director - of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce for a number of years, I felt very strongly, very personally, that the person holding the position should be apolitical, and I was. I was not a member of any party at that point in time, nor was I a member for two years afterwards. The former Yukon Party leader - the former Member for Porter Creek North - and I have different accounts about the way our conversation went when he asked me to run for the Yukon Party. But there has been enough of the “he said-she said” discussions in the Legislature this afternoon. I'm not going to get into that.
Suffice it to say that I did not run for the Yukon Party. I did choose to run - I was approached and chose to run for the Liberal Party in 1996. It was a difficult choice at the time, in terms of a woman seeking political office. It's a difficult choice I had to make. It's a difficult choice my family made. It didn't matter which party I ran for. It was a difficult choice - to choose to run for office.
I looked and listened and discussed it with my family at length. Why was I running? Because I'm passionate about this place; I'm passionate about this community, and I want for my children the same opportunities my husband and I had growing up in Yukon .
I would like to make a difference and leave this community a better place. I thought the place to do that was the Legislature.
Having publicly announced my decision to run, a former member of this Legislature - several members ago, the Member for Riverdale South - labelled me a “political opportunist”. Why hadn't I chosen to run for another party? Therefore I was an opportunist. I've noticed there's a real difference - this is my own opinion. I believe First Nations culture - and First Nations I have met and worked with in the Yukon - very rarely, if ever - I can't remember a time when I've heard a First Nation person speak disparaging of a former First Nation leader. As a leader, you are afforded respect, whereas I noticed many times non-First Nations don't seem to hesitate to criticize former members or people who have sought office.
That being said, I was running Porter Creek South in 1996 three days after having had my son, and on our fifth wedding anniversary, the election was called. I ran in the riding as a Liberal, because I absolutely believed in the values and work of the party and in the people I was working with at the table and the leader. They were all people I could work with. We shared similar values and were working toward a common cause: the Yukon and life for our children in the Yukon.
I'm not saying other parties weren't doing that; I'm saying I had something in common with the leader of the party and the executive and the other members of the party and the membership and the other candidates. We had something in common, and our party affiliation was among the things we had in common.
That being said, I ran against two individuals - but one in particular. Time after time after time at the doorstep I was met with, “He promised us he wouldn't cross the floor. He promised us he would stay as an independent.” For me the election wasn't about him; it wasn't about his record; it was about who I was and this is what I could offer. That being said, it was what my constituents were saying to me - very, very clear direction.
Move forward in time and I was the leader of the party; I was on the government side when three members stated that they believed differently and, Mr. Speaker, I could go on at length about that, but I would say there has been quite enough of the “he said-she said”, as I said before. Three members left our caucus and, as leader of the party, I take responsibility for that. It was a caucus decision and, as a leader, I enacted other decisions, I had private conversations, and I acted on other caucus decisions. I also accept full responsibility for that.
This brings us to party politics in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker. There we were. I was leader of a party in this Legislature, and there were private conversations held and they will remain private.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun has mentioned this - that there is often a question about party politics. I can't begin to count the number of times that I've been asked why I am with this party, not with that party, nor with that party. Party politics in the Yukon doesn't help. We are too small. There isn't a caucus in this Legislature since party politics in 1978, I would suggest to you - if only the walls in the caucus offices could talk, Mr. Speaker - that hasn't experienced one form of difficulty or another with members becoming independent, changing allegiances, choosing to run for another party. Every party in the territory has had these issues. Others nationally and others provincially have had these issues.
Is there a problem with party politics in the Yukon? It certainly has its challenges. I think I have the experience and, may I say, the battle scars to prove it, Mr. Speaker. That being said, I appeal to all members that we are not going to turn back the clock to pre-1978. We have party politics. It was a decision made then. We are stuck with them.
I do believe we should have a debate as to how we can make it better in the future in that - I will just throw out an idea for the public record - maybe we should be electing the ministers of something, as in sort of the old executive committee days. Maybe then we'd have some kind of debate about if this is the right program, as opposed to, “This is what my party tells me I have to say today.” We can still have the party politics because, rest assured, those ex-com members were members of a political party. Whether they wore it or not, they were members of a political party.
Now, I am just throwing this out for discussion. That being said, the bill before us is about requiring someone who runs for a political party to stay with that political party.
Given the perspective I come from - and I have outlined it for members - I say in all frankness to all members that we cannot legislate good behaviour. We can't legislate desired behaviour. We can put in a preamble to a bill that this is the conduct that we all aspire to. We - “we” being all members, Mr. Speaker - can put in a bill that we all aspire to absolve ourselves of all conflict of interest. In fact, that is in our conflict of interest bill. It's in the preamble. The preamble doesn't have the same force and effect. The preamble of any bill does not have the same force and effect as a legislated provision, such as section 21, as the bill proposes. It doesn't. To the best of my understanding in debate on bills, it can set out our desires, but it can't be said that a person has violated section XYZ of the act, because it is the preamble.
The bill doesn't work for me, as a member of this Legislature. As a legislator, I don't think it's the best we can do. I do not believe that we can legislate the behaviour of individuals any more than human resources management can manage the behaviour of other people. Can one lead by example? Yes, one can do that. Can one do personnel evaluations? Yes, one can do all those things, but ultimately we all have to answer to our own conscience, to our family, and in this case, to our constituents.
I don't have the right to sit in judgement of anybody else's actions, Mr. Speaker. I can't say that the MLA for any particular riding has done or not done their homework. What I can say when I go to the voters in Porter Creek South and my constituents is, “Here's what I've done, here's what I believe in, here's what I aspire to do.” There has been much discussion about two members in the House this afternoon. They have to answer to their constituents. They believe they have done that. That's what should happen, Mr. Speaker. I am not going to criticize that or condemn it.
We are back to my main point. The point I'd like to make is this: party politics - we're stuck with it. We can't turn the clock back. That's not to say we can't make it better. I believe we can. That's a debate for perhaps another forum, perhaps another day. Mandating good behaviour, or what constitutes good behaviour, ethics - we have a conflict of interest act and we have a code of conduct in that act. It's the responsibility of the government leader/Premier. In two and a half short years, I didn't amend it. I'd like to recommend to the current Premier - although time is too short at this point, that it should have been done and we should have been working on that. I would like to debate things like that - because I share the leader of the third party's concern about the view of politicians held by Yukoners. I'm very concerned about that, and I've said it before in the House. That being said, I do not believe that this amendment is going to impact upon that and that it is the appropriate course to deal with what is expressing concern for all of us, which is the concern by Canadians and the views of Yukoners about the ethics of politicians.
We all answer to our own constituents and our conscience and a greater authority - a higher power, if that is what each of us so believes. We're individuals, and we're also members of parties. We're people who came here, and we were elected here. It's an honour to serve the people. In so doing, I do not believe this amendment is an appropriate way to reflect our strong beliefs about the ethics and the conduct of members.
So, that being said, Mr. Speaker, I welcome a debate in Committee of the Whole. I'd like to hear what members of the governing side have to say. The Premier has indicated a free vote. I'd like to hear that. And if it's Committee of the Whole where we have to hear that, so be it. I look forward to it, if they're not going to speak this afternoon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to put my thoughts on this on record, and I thank the members for listening to me this afternoon.
Speaker: If the honourable member speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Mr. Hardy: I won't be long. It's interesting - just to pick up from what the last member said. She emphasized a few times that you can't legislate good behaviour of individuals, and yet, as I said, this very rule applies in sports and everything else. What it's about is protecting the voters. That's what it's about. That's all it's about - protecting the voters' rights, their trust and where they place their vote. It's about protecting your colleagues. It's about protecting people in here. It's about challenging leaders on how they act.
There has been a fair amount said. A fair amount has been omitted. First, I would like to say that I really don't think the two members should flatter themselves and think that this bill is all about them. It's not. This is a bill that's being brought forward in Manitoba. They didn't cause the one in Manitoba. This is being brought forward at the federal government level. They didn't bring that about.
They really shouldn't flatter themselves. We looked at what's happening Outside and recognized that it has some merit for us up here. We could be ground setters; we could lead the way, actually. It's an ethical move, but it also speaks to the voters on how we will conduct ourselves in certain situations. We have those rules and we need those rules. We really do, because things happen that can often tempt us to act in ways that can be questioned. That's how we end up with 81 percent of the Yukon population not believing anything politicians say - because of actions they find totally disrespectful or unworthy of supporting.
There have been comments. My colleagues and I have been very consistent on not targeting or attacking people. As you heard from my two colleagues, they very clearly stayed on the bill; yet there have been personal attacks made by some other members here. I didn't want that to happen. The bill is not about that.
There are also huge omissions in some of the storylines that have been told. Though it is very tempting to fill in the huge omissions and correct some of the perspectives that have been put before us, I'm not going to do it. I'm not going down that path, because that's just falling into more of why people are so disillusioned with the people they elect. It's not easy to just take this and not be able to correct the record or respond to personal attacks.
It's probably the right thing to do, so I'm not going to do it, Mr. Speaker.
However, talking about some of the points that have been made - and I will be brief because I think everyone will want to engage, once it gets into Committee of the Whole. We are leaders and we are responsible for how we act. We should not point fingers at other people who bring that about. As I said before, I will take total responsibility for everything I say and everything I do. If I offend someone, I apologize. If I do something wrong, I apologize and try to correct that. I have, in this Legislature, said some things in the heat of the moment for which I have been ashamed. I have apologized, whether through a written apology or trying to catch the person later. That's the human side of us. Those are things I think we all try to work on to improve in our lives in order to be better people and hopefully to be better politicians. I think everyone in here tries.
On this whole thing about floor-crossing, one of the things that jumps out and that this bill speaks to are the leader's actions. Stephen Harper offered something to David Emerson. It's a fact. David Emerson accepted. Everyone wants to focus on David Emerson being bad and everyone else who crosses the floor being good. No, that's not it. That's singling out David Emerson and making him a scapegoat for his actions, but everyone else is free and clear. I'm sorry; the leader had a responsibility as well. Stephen Harper had a responsibility. He is living with that responsibility. There was a backlash within his own caucus. There has been a backlash across the country.
He has taken that responsibility and he defends it; so be it. Paul Martin offered something to Belinda Stronach and, without a doubt, Belinda Stronach accepted. Whether one approached the other or not doesn't matter; the fact is the offer was there. We all saw the tangible results and the fallout of that.
The leader of the official opposition offered something to these two -
Speaker: The honourable member, the leader of the third party, will remember that I corrected the leader of the official opposition with regard to implying that something happened. I would ask the honourable member to use the same restraint as the leader of the official opposition. Thank you.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Hardy: I withdraw that comment.
In every case, leaders have offered something. There is no question about it. You do not have two and a half months of negotiations, especially when you even call them “negotiations” -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Leader of the official opposition, on a point of order.
Mr. Mitchell: I have tried to be very patient today because I think it's important that people have an opportunity to express themselves. But I have said repeatedly in public that I did not have negotiations. The leader of the third party would like to say there have been negotiations. I would suggest that that is not what occurred. I had discussions with members who came to me and I would like the record to show that. I do not believe he should be saying something he does not know and imputing motives.
Speaker: Member for Whitehorse Centre, on the point of order.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I have been in the Legislative Assembly for quite awhile listening to a lot of members from the member's party indicate their version and their position, without responding, and allowing him to do that. Their interpretation, including about things they weren't even at, such as a convention - I did not challenge that. That is their right to present their position.
Speaker: The Chair understands that there are conflicting versions of the same instance, and that is perfectly acceptable. From the Chair's perspective, there is no point of order.
You have the floor, leader of the third party.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. But leaders do that when they enter negotiations. I was a negotiator; I did that for 20 years - negotiations, discussions. Discussions aren't always about how clear the sky is and are we going fishing tomorrow. They are about people getting down to significant issues. That, Mr. Speaker, is what this bill addresses. It tries to remove the preying upon people's weaknesses - that is possibly one way to look at it - desires, views and stuff like that. That is not good politics, and that is not the politics that we have practised. We have said no when we have opportunity because we govern ourselves by a certain code that is identified not just within caucus, but by the executive and by convention, and by council, by the way, which is in the fall - not a convention.
My own wife told me that she received notes from the Prime Minister when she was a Member of Parliament, including her colleague sitting beside her who succumbed to those notes and did cross the floor and join the Liberals. She ripped hers up. That happens.
I want to make it very clear that we have an opportunity to bring forward an amendment to the Legislative Assembly Act that clarifies - at least for the voters - so that when we go to the doorstep in an election and they say, “Well, you know, what's all this floor-crossing? How can I believe that if I vote for you and vote for that party that you represent - how can you assure me that you are going to stay there?”
We've already had people crossing floors. We've had this and that happening. What is the assurance? What you can do is say, because I can't do it; I will have to come back to you. That is the way it's going to be from now on. You can remove that from the play because I can guarantee you, on the doorstep, we will be asked how they can trust us. If they place their vote in us, can they trust us to stay at least for that term or, if not, sit as an independent?
I know the Member for Mayo-Tatchun said that he had been approached or had talked to people about creating an independent allegiance or something like that - I'm not sure exactly what the title was. Well, that's an option. Run like that. You don't have to join another party. You can do that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. But if that is the case, so be it. Good. If people want to run as an independent, do it. Nothing is stopping a person from doing that during an election.
So I am hoping there will be support for this amendment. We will be able to assure the voting public that no more of this floor-crossing, and all that stuff that happens, can happen any more. If somebody is no longer able to stay with the party they are with, there is a proper procedure but, ultimately, they go back in a proper manner, which is a by-election or back to the vote, which allows all members and all voters within that riding an opportunity to cast their opinion and their choice at the end of the day, and that is what it's really all about, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Disagree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, we have 14 yea, one nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 112 agreed to
Speaker: Bill No. 112, entitled Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, has now received second reading and, pursuant to Standing Order 57(4), the Standing Orders for consideration of Committee of the Whole pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(2), the third party designated Bill No. 112 as the first item of business today. The leader of the third party is therefore entitled to decide whether the House should resolve into Committee of the Whole for the purpose of continued consideration of Bill No. 112. I would ask the leader of the third party to indicate whether he wishes the House to resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Mr. Hardy: I'd ask that the House now resolve into Committee of the Whole for the purpose of continuing consideration of Bill No. 112.
Speaker: Pursuant to the request of the leader of the third party, I shall now leave the Chair and the House will resolve into Committee of the Whole.
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. 112, Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: The Member for Porter Creek South, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, before we break for the recess, if I might - could you just refresh my memory? It has been quite some time since we've had a debate where it's an opposition-sponsored bill. Where does the opposition sit - the third party, in this case. Do they take the government side and we ask the questions, or are we going this way?
Chair: There is no point of order. Members will stay in their own chairs. However, members should be reminded that in Committee of the Whole members will be recognized if they are in a chair other than their normal chair.
Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order.
Bill No. 112 - Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act
Chair: We'll continue now with Bill No. 112, Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, general debate.
Mr. Hardy: The amendment before the Legislative Assembly is very simple. It is an amendment to be added, as it states, “by adding the following section immediately after section 20: “20.1 A member who (a) is elected with the endorsement of a political party; and (b) ceases to belong to the caucus of that party during the term for which that member was elected must sit in the Legislative Assembly as an independent and is to be treated as such for the purposes of this act and all proceedings in the Legislative Assembly during the remainder of the member's term.””
I look forward to any debate in regard to this amendment.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I will speak in support of this amendment. Our traditional belief is that everyone is different and everyone must be responsible for the decisions they make. It is the individual's responsibility to create a respectful life pathway for themselves while on this earth.
I have heard members of the opposition make mention of a member in government talking to an opposition party. I wonder who that culprit was? Was it the wild member from Pelly-Nisutlin or Porter Creek Centre, or maybe the timid member from beautiful Southern Lakes?
Chair: It is inappropriate to add adjectives to the title of MLAs.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: No, referring to the beautiful Southern Lakes is entirely appropriate; however, referring to a member as “wild” is out of order.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I got carried away in the heat of the moment, Mr. Chair.
Let's talk about individual rights. We all have them. How we exercise them is important. We must exercise them with respect. Now, there are individual choices. Whatever choice one makes must be lived with. Once one takes an action, choice becomes history.
When does one give up or diminish individual rights, or does one feel that they never lose those rights? As politicians, we must question our individual rights. I believe that we do give up our exclusive rights when we put our name forward as a candidate. We are agreeing to become public figures. When we are successfully elected by a large group of citizens to represent them, we must honour their choice and we have diminished our rights to personal decisions.
Mr. Chair, I take full responsibility for the path I have led throughout my life. Would I have done things differently? It is quite possible, but I recognize that my past is history and I can no longer change it.
Today, Mr. Chair, I take responsibility for the decisions and choices I make, and I don't feel I have any apologies to make to anyone in the Legislature, or else I would have done it already, if I offended anyone.
I certainly hope that I don't have to discipline myself to the point where I have to stop being friends and not talk to others for fear of being disciplined. I have friends in every camp, and I will not let politics change this now or in the future. I will do my best to maintain respect for everyone, and I will continue to do the best possible job that I was elected to do. I do look forward to hearing other comments from other members, and I think that in the future a lot of citizens in the territory who run as candidates in an election should not feel threatened by any rules or regulations that may come about. I think this regulation is all right. There is no threatening thing about it. It sort of lays down the ground rules a little bit clearer. I have respect for that.
Mr. Hardy: I appreciate the remarks made by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. I also appreciate the support that he is offering to this. I think what he has articulated is very true. It goes back to comments I made earlier about what he has also identified, which is respect. Respect, though - as I say, we need rules in place sometimes to ensure that respect is also enforced. I respect each member's right to be in each of the parties they are in. As everybody knows, I've approached no one to cross the floor to join the NDP, because it's a fundamental belief of mine that, when you run under a certain banner you honour that until change can be made in a proper fashion, which is generally through a by-election if you can't finish out the remainder of the term. Go back to the polls and allow people to make the choice.
There should not be any person in here - even leaders - or any enticement or anything that comes along, or dissatisfaction, that violates that trust that the voters have put in them. No leader should encourage that kind of situation. I'm hoping this one amendment removes that so it's no longer a question any more. There are proper procedures if a situation arises where the person or persons can no longer work within the group they are with. They can still do what they wish in a sense of sitting as an independent or going back to a by-election. That is, to me, the respectful manner in which we should all act.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, there is purpose behind what it is we do today in moving the amendment brought forward by the leader of the third party to address this particular issue here in Committee. It is still essential, given all the information that is out there already - whether it be statements by the Member for Kluane, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, the leader of the now official opposition, the third party or what is in the public domain as recently as today's newspaper. I refer to a citizen's letter to the editor, which has raised the level of concern about what transpired on this issue - that is suggesting that there was a process going on here. That is what we are attempting to address and, on the government side, that is first and foremost its purpose: to have this debate, because it is time for full disclosure.
Mr. Chair, I want to express to the sponsor of the amendment to this bill that, apparently as far back as December of last year, there was a situation obviously evolving where the leader of the now official opposition stated publicly - and I will quote a statement from the media: “At that point, Hardy already knew McRobb was” -
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Sorry about the names, Mr. Chair: at that point the individual already knew that that individual was in discussions about leaving the party, said the leader of the official opposition.
That is why we are here to ask the questions.
My question to the leader of the third party, the sponsor of the amendment to the bill: is it the case that there is knowledge of a process that was ongoing, which would certainly shed light on this to some degree, that this was much more than simply what has been put on the record here today by the two individuals who have switched sides?
But there was something else ongoing with respect to this particular issue. Given what I just recited from the public domain and statements made by the leader of the official opposition - then the leader of the third party - could the sponsor of the amendment shed some light on this particular issue?
Mr. Hardy: Okay, I'll answer that question. There was no knowledge, of course, that meetings were happening with the leader - I'm trying to figure out the best way to put it because we keep going “the previous, the now, the official opposition, the leader of the third party”.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Member for Copperbelt or Liberal leader? Would that be appropriate? Liberal leader - is that fine? That's clear.
There was no knowledge of that at all. And that's substantiated by the fact that that was said by the two members publicly - I did not know that these negotiations were happening. That is also on record in the public domain. The leader of the Liberal Party made the statement - I'm not sure what he bases it on. Maybe it has been taken out of context. I'm not sure exactly what the reasoning behind that is.
I can assure you that if I had been aware of these meetings, the action that I had to take because of that would have happened a lot sooner. There would not have been - these members would not have been part of platform development, I can assure you, because those are confidential meetings that involved many people. They also would not have been involved in in-camera meetings in caucus, because that would have been a violation of trust.
My two colleagues, as well, were not aware of it.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, that raises the issue considerably, given the fact that the now leader of the official opposition made this statement in public. One can only assume that the Member for Copperbelt did know about some sort of process that was ongoing. Otherwise, why would the member have made this statement to the public? Any statement that we make in the public domain must be factual and substantiated. It cannot be just idle conversation on matters of the public interest. Considering the debate we're having here this afternoon, there is much about the public interest.
Given that statement, it is now looking more and more like we will have to debate this issue in-depth. It is not an issue of an individual making a decision on their own. It is something they believe in. It is a fundamental, principle-based decision that they can no longer represent or reflect -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Mitchell, on a point of order.
Mr. Mitchell: The Member for Watson Lake is imputing motives and thoughts on the decision-making process of other individuals. He should not be doing so, as he has no knowledge thereof. He is leaping to logical conclusions by so doing, of which he has no knowledge.
Chair: Mr. Fentie, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Certainly I am not leaping to conclusions. I am trying to find out what has transpired here overall, so that we can make an informed decision with respect to this amendment. That is what debate is all about.
Chair: From the Chair's point of view, the Chair did not hear any motive being imputed or avowed to another. The topic of discussion in debate today is the Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act. I'll ask the members to focus on the legislation at hand.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, the amendment at hand is much about this situation and what has transpired. So going back to my comments, there are a lot of peripheral issues that go with this situation. First and foremost, I think we have to establish some fundamental areas here that are absolute and we all know.
It is a fact that the now leader of the third party, based on principle - when knowledge became available, and I'm assuming and I'm sure, knowing the Member for Whitehorse Centre as I do, that the member would have substantive reason to make a decision to expel, firstly, the Member for Kluane. That expulsion did take place, even given the fact that that would reduce the official opposition's research capabilities and so on. It's obvious that the leader of the third party came to a place where he felt that this was the decision in the best interests of his caucus. In retrospect, I can to some degree understand how the member got to that decision, because there has been a lot of discussion out there in the public domain with respect to what has been going on. There has been some discontent with members of the then official opposition's caucus. There has been feedback even coming our way, but I can assure the members of this House we did not engage or respond to any of those issues that were brought to the attention of the government side.
Something definitely transpired beyond the issue of expulsion. Given the fact the leader of the official opposition, at that time back in December, clearly stated that the now leader of the third party already knew the Member for Kluane was in discussions about leaving the party, the government side and I are asking: discussions with whom? Because a decision to accept an expelled member from another caucus does not come easy. It takes time; much has to be dealt with - or should be. There has to be discussion about what a particular member may bring to the caucus; what is the impetus for even engaging in the discussions? Is there reason, through taking on an expelled member from another caucus, that would contribute to the public interest?
We have to also address the fact that resources are available to an opposition party in making a decision like this. Furthermore, I have to put on the public record that, in debate on second reading, the leader of the official opposition made a statement that was left unclarified about the party executive and their decision. Then I'm somewhat confused on how the vote transpired, because it was clear throughout the course of the debate, and even before we started this debate today in the Assembly, that the official opposition would be opposing this amendment. Now the official opposition has changed their minds. That's interesting.
That's interesting because then it says to me that possibly the debate we've had to date in second reading shows there might have been a mistake here by the official opposition, then the third party, to have changed their mind. These are the kinds of things that we have to engage in so we all know where we stand on the issue. It's critical that the official opposition provide more clarity on where they stand on all issues, not just this one but virtually every issue before us and before the Yukon Territory and its public. This is not a situation where, if we are saying individuals should have choice, if that position is followed through, there should not have been any discussions whatsoever.
We are of the understanding that there were discussions, even by the member's dissertation here in debate, by saying that there had to be discussions with the party executive. That can only lead to the fact that there were already discussions ongoing with an expelled MLA. If that is the case, were there other discussions going on with the Member for Mayo-Tatchun? What we want to do here, at least from the government's side, is get into a very informed debate, because this amendment before us is about the Legislative Assembly Act. If we are going to proceed with amendments to that act, it has to be (a) in the public's interest, and (b) it must address the situation of this institution. To do that, there has to be full disclosure.
Maybe the leader of the third party, who definitely stood by principle and made a decision, could shed some light on this issue to this side of the House on what transpired when the member became aware? Was it indeed about the correspondence that he was provided? Or, were there other avenues through which the member was starting to receive information? How long ago was this taking place? These are all very pertinent issues to the debate. We should have that discussion. My question then is this: can the leader of the third party shed some more light on what has transpired here over the last number of weeks or months?
Mr. Hardy: I have been very, very reluctant to enter into any kinds of discussions involving the internal problems that have existed with the former members. I will touch briefly on it. I am not going to dwell on it. I want to remind everybody in here that this act was not brought about just because of this. Of course, it does have some role to play, because it has brought into question, once again, the conduct of members once they are elected.
The response we've had from the public has been one of huge disappointment - that we don't have a system in place that allows a better procedure as to what happens when something like this arises.
You know, it's not easy to remove somebody from your caucus. You are making a decision - especially when many people out there consider that you have the opportunity to form government - to remove two people from your caucus when you know it is going to create very significant waves and put your leadership into question, along with the direction of the party and the support the party has.
All the questions have been raised. However, the quest for power and the position, beliefs, structure and principles of one's party can't be seen and should not be in conflict. We need to move forward. If one gets elected and forms government, the public needs to know that the principles that have brought one to that point are still intact and that one still abides by those principles and values. Even when difficult situations arise, one must fall back on those principles and make decisions based on those core values within and those shared by one's party and colleagues.
I made a decision to protect the party. I made a decision to protect my other colleagues who were subject to this. Negotiations with another party leader to cross the floor, which had been ongoing in secret, as has been admitted, but were part of no letter or conversation, are a tipping point. At some point, one has to say that they have been having private meetings, talking platform, and over 180 in-camera private meetings in the last three years. That is a substantial amount.
You share a lot of information. You are friends; you are colleagues. You hope that there is a trust that has been built up in those meetings. When you find out that that trust has been violated, you have to make a decision, and my decision was to support and protect my two colleagues and the party. I took the action of first dealing with one of them and calling the other and talking to that person on the phone to get clarification. We did have a discussion, and my understanding at the end of the conversation - and if the member wants to put his own thoughts forward on it, that's his own prerogative, but I'm not going to talk about the conversation other than - as he said today, going back, and it's in Hansard, and this is very correct. This is what he told me - going back and talking to his constituents about whether or not he should run again. It's a very legitimate question. I said - and I said it to everybody and I've always said it - that's a very legitimate question. I agree with that Member for Mayo-Tatchun that that's a legitimate question that you should ask your constituents - am I doing any good? Should I run again? There's nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, the following day, after many, many calls that were never returned, on the news the member confirmed that he was doing exactly what the other member was doing, in that he presented an option to his constituents, which did not include the NDP. It doesn't leave much choice, really, does it?
As well, I found out that they were engaged in discussing crossing to the Liberals. The interesting thing - a lot of people may not talk about it, and I notice in the point-by-point chronological sequence of events it wasn't talked about. But the discussions with the Liberal leader had been going on for months. That has been said publicly too. I wasn't aware of it, and obviously my two colleagues weren't aware of it. The party wasn't aware of it. You know what? That's not your constituents first. That is talking to other parties about switching before going back to your constituents - totally unacceptable.
Mr. Mitchell: I find some of today's conversations and discussions quite fascinating in how words can be manipulated to seem to mean many different things. The Member for Watson Lake -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: The Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Chair, the comments made by the leader of the Liberal Party, the leader of the official opposition, in suggesting that earlier today members were manipulating words to mean many different things certainly seems to be in contravention of our Standing Orders under Standing Order 19.
Chair: While the Chair did hear that phrase, there was no attributable motive; it wasn't specific to a particular member, so there wasn't an accusation levied against a specific member in this Assembly about uttering a deliberate falsehood. That being said, the line is very close.
Mr. Mitchell: I guess words may be understood or interpreted to mean different things by different people. Perhaps a less pejorative way of saying it is that people hear things and they don't always understand the intent of the words spoken. In any case, there seems to be an awful lack of information. The Member for Watson Lake said he wanted to hear more information, and I will try and explain a couple of comments he was quoting from the media. That's always a difficult thing to do because, as we know, we give interviews - we all do - and only parts of them make it into the public record.
When I said that I believed that by late December - I may have been mistaken - that the leader of the New Democratic Party would have known there had been discussions that occurred - not negotiations, but discussions - that was said because I understood from the Member for Mayo-Tatchun and the Member for Kluane that they were going through a process of soul-searching and consultation as to what they wanted to do going forward, and that involved having discussions with friends and relatives. That was the process they would go through and then they would decide where to go from there - which might have been to do nothing. If the advice they received from friends and neighbours was that they should try and resolve whatever differences they had with the party and the leader where they sat, then presumably that would have been what their actions were.
The Yukon being a small place - we recently heard discussions of there only being two degrees of separation - I presumed that the leader of the third party would have probably heard of those discussions because clearly these members, when they talked to supporters, were talking to people who had supported them and, in some cases, were perhaps even members of the New Democratic Party in so doing.
So, that was the process they went through. You know, there has been some discussion today regarding things such as recruitment and inducements, honouring of trust and all sorts of things - there must have been something offered or some benefit derived, or why would people do so? This is speculation, and I think it's unfortunate speculation.
Now, there is only one promise that the leader of the third party or, for that matter, the leader of the official opposition, could ever offer to anybody who was considering joining the party, and that would be to clarify the rules regarding nomination processes in their respective parties - and the parties do differ on that. It's my understanding, after checking with people who have spent some time in the party, that the tradition has been - and it's not a rule; it's a tradition, because it's not set down anywhere as “you must” or “you shall not” - that the tradition within the Liberal Party over the years has been that sitting members do not have to go through open nomination meetings unless a leader of a party says that they should. There is no fast and set rule regarding that.
I was asked that question, and I answered that question, and that is the only thing that I could have - it's not even a promise, but rather it was a response to the question of what the rules would be and how it would work. If the answer had been different, the results might still have been the same. I really have no way of knowing. But it was a question that I could get an answer to.
As far as the rest of the situation, as we've said, when the members approached me, they did say they were giving a lot of thought to their political future. They've said so publicly, they've said so in this House, and it has been in the media. And they did indeed suggest that they were considering all options, which included whether or not they should run again.
If they run again, should they run again under the banner they were under before? They expressed increasing concerns about what they felt was the direction that particular party was going. If they were to run again, should they run under another banner? If not, should they run as independents? They were truly looking at all their options and all the things they should consider.
In the discussions we held - again, they were discussions, not negotiations - we discussed what that could mean. They basically said that they felt - and I concurred - that the best way to do this, although tremendously difficult with such a small territory as ours, would be to go out and consult with constituents. They need to talk to the people who elected them and, for that matter, to some of the people who did not vote for them. They may have voted for different individuals or different parties, depending on their reasons for voting. They need to ask for their advice. They need to ask how those people would be seen. In that process, they felt that in order to cast the net wide enough and consult with a meaningful number of people - and not just three or four close friends or family members - they would eventually reach the point where it would be an open secret. There would be public knowledge of it.
I told them that that was what would happen and that they would likely face all kinds of difficult questions and discussions in the media, that people would impugn their motives, that they were embarking on a very difficult path. In fact, I cited some of the examples of when people had crossed the floor, or moved sideways, because there has been no floor-crossing here. If we are going to speak on record, we should speak accurately. The fact is that crossing the floor has traditionally meant moving to or from government.
That has been the tradition that it meant, because you do, in fact, have to cross the floor to get from one side to the other. So I know that the leader of the New Democratic Party, the leader of the third party and also the Premier have used this term a lot, and I think it's inaccurate and we should stick with what the tradition means.
In fact, the Hon. Premier did much the same a number of years ago and, when asked about it in this House, jokingly he said, “Well, I saw the light.” He saw the light, and he no longer was comfortable sitting as a New Democrat, which he had done for some number of years. That was the banner under which he ran. That was the political endorsement that he had at the time. He had sat as a backbencher, together with the Member for Mayo-Tatchun and the Member for Kluane, in a former New Democrat government, and I believe together with the Member for Whitehorse Centre as well.
So clearly, he must have made some determination that that was not where his belief structure was or that that was not where his political future was. We've never suggested that there might have been any personal benefit because, again, he wasn't moving to government; he was simply making a decision to sit with a different caucus. We took that at face value. I certainly did. I haven't suggested that it was because he saw that it might be a better future in terms of his future standing in this House, but rather that he disagreed philosophically and ideologically. Perhaps he felt that the party where he was sitting had moved too far to the left, as he has suggested at times that the party had moved far to the left. Perhaps he felt that it no longer represented the best interests of the citizens of Watson Lake . That might have been another reason.
For whatever reason he chose to - I won't say “cross the floor” because I believe that, at the time, the Yukon Party was the third party, being led and represented solely then by the now independent Member for Klondike, who was then the party leader of the third party. We have to struggle to keep things straight because they have happened frequently and in different ways over the years. I think we should all pay attention to the fact that these are not new and novel events, not only around the world - I cited some examples earlier, including Sir Winston Churchill - but they have also happened here quite frequently.
I know that a number of years ago a former Yukon Party government was a coalition government. There were two independent members who ran specifically as independents and represented themselves that way to their constituents, and then when government was formed by a minority government under a former government leader, one of those members became the Speaker and another became a Cabinet member. Later, those positions were changed and the member who had been the Speaker eventually also became a Cabinet member, so there was a lot of shuffling of chairs and moving about, as we've heard around here.
Again, sometimes one would think that, had they only been available in such a convenient size at the time, perhaps a GPS or locator beacon might have come in handy. Nevertheless, those people expressed their free will to do what they felt represented their ideological beliefs.
I don't know what process of consultation they - the two former members who were elected as independents and then served with the Yukon Party; I believe they had previously been members of the Yukon Progressive Conservative Party and, at least in one case, the Yukon Party - went through before they decided to join the government.
They went through a process. There was a third member who had been an independent and didn't go through that process. She stayed on the opposition side. A lot of people go through a lot of decision making and, generally speaking, we are not supposed to ascribe motives and impugn the motives of members here, but I have heard some discussion today that circles around that and comes perilously close to crossing the threshold.
The member asked what sort of discussions were held. As I said, these members were having discussions with their constituents. The questions they asked me had to do with questions of philosophy and party positions to ensure that they would in fact be happy and comfortable in joining this caucus. They needed to be certain of that too, and they made it clear to me when they first approached me that they had not made any pre-determined decision as to what they wanted to do. Rather, they simply wanted to explore the possibility and give greater thought to it and make sure the decision they made was a well-thought-out decision and one that would serve their constituents in the best possible manner. Those are some of the things that went on.
I do think that this legislation - and the Member for Watson Lake expressed, I believe, some surprise or curiosity at why, despite having said that I oppose this bill philosophically and ideologically in its present form, the rest of my caucus would vote to bring it into Committee.
It was because the member himself said he thought this House would benefit from extended debate - continued debate - on the topic. He thought it was in the public interest. He thought that it was important for all members to have an opportunity to ask questions about the legislation - presumably, as we do with all legislation - to see if it can be improved, make certain that it's well thought out and, in point of fact, I'm not certain why we had to get into Committee to do that, because there was an opportunity in second reading for every member in that caucus to speak. Every member could have spoken to it, but none of them chose to. They chose to simply call the question. They sat there, they didn't rise, they apparently had no questions that came to mind at that point, although their leader thought they should have questions. Their leader, the Premier, thought they must have questions because he knows that they are thoughtful people. He knows that they are legislators who want to make sure that we pass good legislation in this House, as we did with the safer communities legislation.
But none of them rose, so we had two choices. We could either say we think there are flaws in the legislation in its current form and vote against it, or we could vote to move it into Committee and see if some of the members - I see the Member for Lake Laberge looks eager to speak to the legislation. I know he usually has a lot to add to the debate.
There are some things that do concern me about the wording of the legislation. It's not very lengthy - it mentions that (a) is a member who “is elected with the endorsement of a political party” - that's 20.1(a), and (b) “ceases to belong to the caucus of that party during the term for which that member was elected.” The way it's written, it sounds almost like that would be an act of God. I'm not sure what they mean by “ceases to belong”. I would wonder, and I will address this question to the sponsor of the legislation and, when my time is up, he can answer it: does it not matter to members present - does it not matter to the sponsor of the legislation and does it not matter to other members - whether a member has left voluntarily or has been removed against their will?
There are certainly no rules or legislation regarding the reasons a leader can use in deciding whether or not to remove a sitting member from the caucus. It is a judgement call that every leader will have to make. This legislation now suddenly says that the results of that act will be significant to the member and to their constituents. They will suddenly not have the same opportunity to rise in debate. They will not have the same number of questions in Question Period. They will not have the same amount of caucus support. This would mean that a member could find themselves removed from a caucus against their will, to both the detriment of themselves and their constituents.
I question that because I think there are obviously two different ways it can occur: a member can choose to leave or be expelled. In this case, I should make it clear that the member has been expelled. My understanding is that, in the case of the Premier, when he left the New Democratic caucus, he did so voluntarily and eagerly and quickly joined another caucus. So, I think there is a fundamental difference there that should be reflected in the legislation.
The time being short, I will allow other members to express their -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Mitchell: Yes, thank you for the guidance from the experienced Member for Kluane.
Does the sponsor of the bill feel that -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Mitchell: I can turn in any direction I want, as long as I direct the question to the Chair.
Does it not matter to members? I would wonder if the sponsor of the bill can tell us whether it matters to him. If not, why not - whether they have chosen to leave a caucus voluntarily and then to sit as an independent or not, joined another caucus or have been removed from a caucus, which could be for all kinds of reasons, perhaps even capriciously. We do not know.
Some Hon. Member: Mr. Chair -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Yes, Mr. Chair. I would like to refresh your memory of the House rules, Mr. Chair. We're debating a bill, and I believe it's back and forth. A question was asked to the mover of the bill. It's not up to another party member to answer the questioner. The procedures of this House are such that it's back and forth until the member's time has expired -
Chair: Thank you. Mr. McRobb, if I can refresh your memory of Standing Order 17(2), when two or more members rise to speak, the Speaker, or in this case the Chair, shall call upon the member who, in the Speaker's opinion, first rose. When the Chair looked to see who next wished to speak, I only saw one member standing and recognized him.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Yes, Mr. Chair. Thank you for recognizing me and introducing me. I'd like to rise on another point of order. This point of order is such that the person asking the question of the mover of the bill had not completed his questioning. He was waiting for the mover of the bill to stand up and defend his own bill, but the mover of the bill didn't do that because he has something worked out with the Premier to ask questions -
Chair: Order please. Now, it is entirely out of order for a member to impute motives.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. There are Standing Orders in our Assembly that are designed -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order has been called for. As all members know, when order is called for, that means we shall have order here. Members shall stop their chit-chatting.
We have all agreed in this Assembly to abide by the standing rules. They are here to facilitate the debate, to allow us to properly and vigorously examine an issue. If members have issues with the Standing Orders, there are mechanisms to deal with those. However, the Chair has noticed in recent days members using an opportunity to raise a point of order inappropriately and, instead, to raise a point of fact in order to put something on the record. Frankly, this habit needs to come to an end. If we are to have any kind of meaningful debate in here, we need to follow the Standing Orders.
It is the Chair's responsibility to ensure we have order and decorum in here and to acknowledge and identify the speakers. We have an unusual situation today. We also have many speakers who want to participate in and contribute to this debate and we have a very limited amount of time to do so.
Let us continue on with debate. Mr. Hardy, you have the floor.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, Mr. Chair. I have two things: it is my prerogative to sit and listen to comments made in regard to this bill and if I wish to hear comments made by the leader of the Liberal Party, as we debate this bill, and allow other people to also stand up and make those comments before I respond, it is totally appropriate to do that, so I can gather the questions that are being asked and address them in maybe a more collective way without having people jump up and down.
Chair: Order please.
The Chair was a bit confused with where debate was going and if it was a point of order that you were wishing to raise. Currently, the last speaker who was recognized before this discussion about the Standing Orders arose was Mr. Fentie.
Mr. Fentie, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I feel it is important that I encourage all members to recognize that we are here in an institution that is to represent and conduct the public's business, and I need not go any further.
Mr. Chair, I am quite flattered that the leader of the official opposition changed the official opposition's position by taking the government's lead to move this amendment into Committee. It's very flattering that the leader of the official opposition would do so.
But I also heard in the leader's comments that there were discussions happening. I think the leader of the official opposition phrased it in this manner: that he advised the individual with whom the discussions were taking place that this would become public knowledge when they contacted their constituents and get feedback from their constituents, so we now know that there were discussions ongoing. It then moved from that particular process to where it did become public knowledge and expulsion took place. And here we are today, which is, I think, quite significant, because it is all about this amendment that we are debating. The question is this: is this a choice made by an individual or is this something different?
First off, a statement was made about quest for power during the proceedings of this debate, and I find that interesting also. I am hoping that the leader of the official opposition, the newly elected leader of the Yukon Liberal Party, is not going to follow the same course that the Yukon Liberals have in the past in this territory.
I must relate a story of personal experience about what happened to me as a sitting MLA in this Legislature when the Liberal Party was the former government. I arrived at my home in Watson Lake on an Easter weekend, having left Whitehorse . There, camped in my driveway, were three individuals. There were two Cabinet ministers and a Cabinet office assistant, Mr. Chair. They were there to ask me, to request of me, to consider joining their government as a minister of infrastructure, as I recall the discussion. This is not news to this Assembly. This is public knowledge. I bring this up because that is why we are having this debate. It is all about this amendment and it is all about the continuous repetitive approach by the leader of the official opposition with respect to the standard of ethics that we must uphold in this Assembly.
Mr. Chair, I also want to comment on democratic process. Democratic process is very important here. I understand that there are party constitutions, but there has been great criticism levied at this.
Chair: Order please. As has been discussed several times by the Speaker, questioning the personal ethics of another individual -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I have made no accusation of any individual in this House with respect to their ethics. I have said that we must uphold the highest standard of ethics here in this Assembly. That was my comment.
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on the point of order.
Ms. Duncan: On the point of order, I would invite the Premier to review the Blues. That is not what I heard him say. I heard him mention the current leader of the Liberal Party and he made a reference to ethics at that point in time. It was not the House ethics; it was the Liberal Party. I would invite you, Mr. Chair, to review the Blues.
Chair: I shall.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: A great criticism has been levied with respect to decisions made by government - for example, the recent by-election in Copperbelt. The government side maintained that we would uphold and adhere to democratic process, and that meant there was a nomination held in a riding.
Now, I understand there are party constitutions and that, here in the Yukon , the Liberal Party does not require nominations to be held. I understand that, but it does pose the question of why, then, is there some issue for the leader of the official opposition when other parties, by constitution, hold nominations for any riding in the territory? I think this is an important point because some parties would require a nomination to seek and run in any riding in the Yukon. Obviously, others don't, but it is part of the democratic process, Mr. Chair, and so too is the debate we are having today on the amendment.
So now -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Member for Porter Creek South, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Yes, on a point of order, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much for recognizing me. We have discussed many times in the Legislature the issues around ascribing motives to individuals and suggesting that is out of order. We've also discussed many times - all of us - holding democracy and that process, which got us to this place, in the highest of regard.
I would suggest to you that it is not a leap of logic, therefore, to suggest that when a member stands and accuses other members of not upholding a democratic process, that would be ascribing a motive and casting aspersions on another's character or the character of the party. I would invite you to take that point of order under advisement, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Debate will not be served in this Assembly today by having chatter back and forth off microphone. Debate will only be served if we can focus our attention on the Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, Bill No. 112, which is the matter before us. I would encourage members to focus their attention on this piece of legislation. The Chair appreciates that there is a great breadth and depth of information regarding this subject out there. However, I encourage all to focus on the act at hand.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, the act at hand, or the amendment before us, is about democratic process. Now that I have absorbed the pearls of wisdom from the official opposition, I will endeavour to -
Chair: Order. It will not benefit this debate to personalize matters, and I would encourage all members not to do so.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Now that I've absorbed the comments, I want to move on to another statement made that I have changed parties, and, yes, I did.
First, I think it's quite clear here that there are some differences with respect to what we're dealing with. Frankly, I think - and the leader of the third party may or may not concur - that the New Democrats were probably glad to get rid of me, because there was always a clash in our purpose and approach.
I actually thought, in the best interests of the New Democratic Party and in the best interests of the Yukon and in the public interest, the best course of action for me to take was to leave the New Democratic Party. In doing so, I challenged the leadership of the Yukon Party. I did so because I had a belief that there was a different way to approach governance in this territory. I laid out that belief, plan and vision through the course of recent history, and here we are today.
With respect to that whole process, the question of whether I should sit as an independent never arose at that time. It does show that there has historically been change in the political spectrum. That's inevitable here in the territory, and it always has been. There have been independents in this Legislative Assembly who have joined forces with the government, although I doubt frankly that they necessarily had to become members of a party. They sat as independents, but I could be wrong and stand to be corrected.
I think our discussion today is fundamental. There is a reason why the third party brought this amendment forward and there are reasons why we should have the debate so that the public has full disclosure on what has transpired. With respect to others, there is already knowledge and full disclosure. We now know, and I will repeat briefly, that there were discussions going on and there was advice from the leader of the official opposition to an individual that, in going to their constituency, this would become public knowledge. Subsequent to that, I am assuming the discussions were happening in the constituency. It did become public knowledge and there was an expulsion.
Mr. Chair, is the leader of the third party today recognizing the fundamental democratic issue with the amendment and what it may mean to that very important principle, the freedom of choice? It is not so much about the process, as I am alluding to this fundamental principle. There could be issues with process on what transpired, but in the member's view, is the fundamental issue of choice as part of our democratic beliefs in this country captured in this amendment?
Mr. Hardy: It's nice to get up.
Both previous speakers did go on for a substantial amount of time correcting what was said and what wasn't said, and what was assumed and what was announced publicly as a fact but then turned out to be an assumption. It gives me a headache listening to this extremely defensive reaction. The amendment brought forward is more than ever necessary, I feel, after listening to the debate up until now. At least it would address this and we wouldn't have to be dealing with floor-crossings, enticements, or whatever people want to call it - it doesn't matter; the public knows what it is. The public knows very clearly what has been going on and what is happening.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Mitchell, on a point of order.
Mr. Mitchell: I think that there has been a fair bit of patience shown today but Standing Order 19(g) states: “imputes false or unavowed motives to another member”. I think “enticements” would certainly qualify. It imputes that -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Mitchell: Well, it's being said here. Talking about enticements being offered has been circled all around. I think that it's time that we brought some order to the debate and said what can and can't be said.
Chair: The debate this afternoon has been very wide-ranging and has covered numerous different areas. Many different issues have been raised. Many different phrases have come forward - as the member has just said, there was the use of the word “enticement” and I believe I heard the word “bribe” used earlier.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: I've given the member an opportunity to present his case, and I'd appreciate a moment so that I may make the ruling.
The Chair is in a bit of a difficult situation on this, as the Chair cannot determine the facts or rule on the veracity of the facts put out. That's not the Chair's role. Different members will present the facts as they see them. There are specific rules in our Standing Orders, though, against imputing false or unavowed motives to another.
The Chair is having a lot of difficulty today, in that members have been coming very close to ascribing motives to others, whether they be false or whether there be some validity to them. But the question of validity is not one that the Chair can rule on.
I'll ask all members to keep in mind our Standing Orders and to stay within them and to also recognize that if there is a substantive claim that a member wishes to make, he or she may make such a claim, but in the proper manner, which is not to enter into it casually in debate.
Let us continue.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate your attempts to try to get us to stay focused on this. I will watch you very closely, and if you feel I am wandering a little bit, please give me some direction and I will try to pull myself back.
There were a couple of questions asked, and I will answer those questions. But I also want to address both of the speakers before me. They took a tremendous amount of liberty in what they said.
I just want to make one point, recognizing what was said by the Liberal leader, and that is about the nomination process or non-process that they have decided to follow or they follow because of tradition or something like that - I'm not sure if it's policy or if it's just tradition or whatever. However, the point possibly is a recommendation to the Liberal leader, although I'm not exactly sure if he's going to take it. I would like to remind him that neither of the new Liberal MLAs ran as Liberals in the last election; therefore, the Liberal constituency has not had an opportunity to nominate them as Liberal representatives, and they may want to consider that as a possibility to bridge some of the democracy that we talk about.
There is a lot of chatter in the back, Mr. Chair, and it makes it difficult to talk in a more direct manner when that continues. However, we will forge ahead.
I really wish people would focus on the bill in front of them. More than ever, I really wish the Liberal leader would get a handle on his colleagues, because it's difficult to talk.
Chair: The Chair recognizes that many speakers today have had challenges in speaking because of the extreme amount of extraneous chatter that is going on throughout the entire Assembly. Once again, I will ask members to behave in the manner that all Yukoners expect them to behave.
Mr. Hardy, you have the floor.
Mr. Hardy: More than ever, the bill before us, the amendment to the act, as far as I'm concerned is being reinforced by some of the debate we've heard today. There has been a history in this Legislative Assembly, and even outside this Assembly, of people moving from one party to the other. The public is not impressed. The response we've received from all ridings - all ridings - is that the public wants an end to this. They don't want to see it happen again. They don't want to see us come into an election this fall or spring, whenever it is called, and find ourselves in a situation where two parties may be very close and you find members all of a sudden shopping themselves and changing the voting priorities of those ridings. No one wants to see that.
This bill would address something like that. It would prevent that kind of action from happening. It doesn't serve anyone well. It doesn't serve the public or the Legislative Assembly. I know that this is a touchy issue with some people. My hope is that people would rise above it and look at the fact that this is a people's bill. It is a voter's right. This is a guarantee to the voter that this will end.
This might be really good for all parties in that before somebody runs for a party, they will look very, very closely at the constitution, bylaws and policies of the party. They will meet with the leader and they will discuss and debate. They will meet the other colleagues they may run with. They will look at the past history of the party. They will make sure before they run that they are comfortable in that environment, and that they can see themselves being part of it for the next however many years that term would last. Maybe an amendment like this would make due diligence happen, so there are no problems down the road.
The former Liberal leader, when she was in government, dealt with a very difficult issue.
When three members leave your party and cross the floor and sit as whatever - independent, it doesn't matter - they have left your party and put you in a minority situation. That is extremely difficult, and I had a tremendous amount of compassion for that leader - a tremendous amount. I could not imagine what she would have been going through - and her colleagues - the sense of - and I don't know, Mr. Chair, can I say the “sense of betrayal” that they may have felt? I think that is legitimate to say that. If I'm wrong, please just tell me; I'll find a different word - the sense that they would have felt about that.
I can assure you I was in the public then. I was not a member of the Legislative Assembly; I was a member of the public. I had a construction company. I felt at that time that I was finished with politics; I was moving on with my life.
Mr. Hardy: I was not part of that. I was not in here, so I was looking from the outside in. Now, maybe I had some experience in the Legislative Assembly, but during that period, there was no floor crossing when I was in. I didn't have an awareness of that kind of action that was happening. However, as a public member and with many people I knew and talked about it with, when that happened, I can assure you, there weren't many people who said what they did was right. There weren't. But there was a great deal of compassion for the party that it was done to, and there was a tremendous degree of compassion for the member. I did articulate that. I think it was even on a golf course - it was on a golf course, at a fundraiser, actually. I didn't see myself coming back into politics.
I didn't see myself coming back into politics, but no one likes to see that kind of stuff happen. Somehow that has to end. We have the ability to end that in here. We have the ability to put that aside and make it no longer part and parcel of the actions of leaders and members, and shuffling around and floor-crossing.
I have respect for all parties. I have read many of the policies of the other parties. I have looked at the other parties. Many, many years ago, when I decided that I was going to support a party, I remember my wife and I actually going and phoning the different parties and talking to the people in them and meeting with different people who supported the different parties. I remember this very clearly - going to a couple of evening meetings with the different parties and asking to see what they stood for and what their principles were. We went through a process to make that decision about who we were going to support. We were quite young when we got married. We did go through that process, and we made our choice, and we've lived with that choice.
It hasn't always been one that we've been overly pleased with, in the sense that the party hasn't done what we want or the leader hasn't done what we want, but that was a commitment we made, through thick and thin, and we've stuck by that for 30 years now.
I'm very proud of the party of which I am a member. I hope and expect that the other members are very proud of their parties. We do contribute to this territory. We all contribute in our own way. We have all now been in government. I am asking for us to put the party politics aside a little bit. I am asking for the members to not take this so personally. It is happening elsewhere in Canada . As I said, it's not just what happened here two years ago, five years ago or eight years ago when other people did this. I am asking that we put an end to it.
A small amendment like this can address this one area. As I said, we can go back to the people when an election is called. If they question us around this, we can say, “No, it can't happen any more.” If I can no longer live under the party or leader, this is what will happen, so I will be extremely careful and can make a pledge that I will come back to the voters.
So this is a bill for the voters, and we have the ability and we have the means to make this happen and remove, at least from the voters' fear, that after the next election, we'll see more floor-crossing over the course of the years. The public is just so unbelievably tired of it. I don't know if people are in contact with the public out there - I'm sure you are, but what I hear and what I feel is we have to stop this stuff. We really do. And if we can't stop ourselves from doing it, then we should have some guidelines to make sure that it stops.
Businesses have it, sports teams have it, and other governments around the world have now brought it in. Canada is looking at it. Provinces are looking at it. We can make history in the Yukon . We can move forward. We can do something that's for the people directly and put ourselves aside. This is going to come forward again. I want it to come forward again. I hope that people want this debate to continue. Stop going back on the history stuff, and let's look at the future for the new people coming in down the road, so something like this will be in place, because it will make everything better in here and it will make us work better together if we know this is in place.
We will not suspect somebody is trying to entice somebody else over. We will not feel that bitterness when it happens. We may be able to have more respect for each other in here, so I ask people to rise above this a little bit and take a look at that.
I want to close these comments - my answer, by the way, was that this is a people's bill. It really is the people's choice; we should go back to them. I want to close with a comment - the Liberal leader used a comment of Winston Churchill. I'm a proud Canadian and I look very deeply to what Canadians - our past political leaders - have said. Ed Broadbent is one of the people I look toward as an ethical leader. I will just read the first point from his ethics package that he tabled in the House of Commons, and which Stephen Harper has recognized as something that is of great value, and I believe many Liberals have also recognized that.
“Democratic accountability should mean no MP can ignore his or her voters and wheel and deal for personal gain; no MP should be permitted to ignore the voters' wishes, change parties, cross floors and become a member of another party without first resigning their seats and running in a by-election.”
The mood is out there, it's across this country, and it's in the territory, and I think we can do it, if we would just rise above this a little bit.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It's a pleasure to rise in the Assembly today, and I sincerely appreciate the Member for Whitehorse Centre bringing forward this piece of legislation. When we're elected as members to this Assembly, those of us who run under a political banner are elected - partially, some people vote for us because of who we are as an individual, some vote for a party, some vote for a combination of the two. I think, in fairness, no one of us can stand here and say what combination that was based on.
If the Member for Whitehorse Centre, the leader of the third party, had brought forward something that prevented a member from leaving a caucus, I would have had to be against it because it would have given too much power to the party leader, in my view. But I believe that this is a very appropriate balance, in that if the directions of a leader are going down a road that do not meet the needs of the constituents, a member still retains the full ability, as they must have, to walk out and to represent their constituents, but then sit as an independent.
This removes the question of whether or not there were other arrangements going on and whether or not it was of personal benefit to the member.
Chair: Order please. The time being 6:00 p.m. , the Chair will now 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. 112, Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, 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., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:01 p.m.
The following documents were filed on May 3, 2006:
Conflicts Commissioner advice to Hon. Archie Lang, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources: letter (dated May 2, 2006) from Arthur Mitchell, Leader of the Yukon Liberal Party to Archie Lang, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources regarding (Mitchell)
Alford, Dominic (Petitioner) and Government of Yukon (Respondents): affidavit re: (Mitchell)
Political options, letter (dated February 20, 2006) re: from Eric Fairclough, MLA, Mayo-Tatchun and Gary McRobb, MLA, Kluane to Todd Hardy, Leader of the Official Opposition (McRobb)
Political options, letter (dated February 27, 2006) re: Gary McRobb, MLA, Kluane to Kluane riding constituents (McRobb)
Political options, letter (dated March 22, 2006) re: Gary McRobb, MLA, Kluane to Kluane riding constituents (McRobb)