Whitehorse , Yukon
Thursday, May 4, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of Speech and Hearing Awareness Month
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Today I rise on behalf of the Assembly to recognize the month of May as Speech and Hearing Awareness Month here in the Yukon and across the country.
This is the one month of the year when we focus on the importance of early detection and prevention of communication disorders and work toward building public sensitivity to the challenges faced by individuals experiencing such problems.
One in 10 Canadians has a speech, language or hearing problem. These problems may be as a result of injury, overexposure to heavy industrial noise, a disability, a voice disorder or, quite possibly, an untreated ear infection. Imagine a life being unable to understand what people are saying to you or being unable to express your thoughts and feelings. Imagine having to constantly having to ask people to repeat themselves, not understanding what is expected of you or how to behave. Image the frustration, fear and anger. For many people this is a fact of life. We probably all know someone who never seems to quite get what we say, who asks us to repeat ourselves or constantly watches us as we talk. Maybe they turn up the radio or television beyond what we would consider normal. Possibly these people have a hearing problem and may not yet even be aware of how this hearing loss has impacted their behaviours.
In Yukon we have some very dedicated individuals serving our hard-of-hearing citizens through our continuing care branch, through therapy services at Whitehorse General Hospital, the Child Development Centre, the Department of Education and as well within the Department of Health and Social Services in our hearing services.
Hearing services provide audiology services and hearing tests to all Yukoners free of charge. We have been able to accommodate all patients transferred in from the local business, which closes its doors recently.
Speech language pathologists work alone or as part of a team to help individuals of all ages communicate effectively and to eat and swallow safely. The role of speech language pathologists is to identify, assess, treat and help prevent language, speech, voice, fluency, cognitive and other related communications disorders. These difficulties may be caused by a variety of health problems - for example, stroke, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, genetic disorders such as cleft palate, hearing loss, learning disabilities, delayed development and, in rare cases, unknown causes.
All our speech and hearing professionals are dedicated to helping support our citizens. We need to continue our support as a government and as individuals.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
In recognition of Emergency Preparedness Week
Hon. Mr. Hart: On behalf of all Members of the Legislative Assembly and all communities, I rise today to recognize Emergency Preparedness Week. This annual event highlights the importance of being better prepared for emergency situations that may threaten the safety of Yukon people, property and the environment. We here in the Yukon have been extremely fortunate in that traditionally we do not suffer from disaster-scale events such as the hurricanes that brought devastation to the Gulf Coast and Mexico. We are not threatened by tsunamis, but our neighbours in some Alaskan communities are, and we have plans in place to assist them if such an unfortunate situation occurs. The Yukon is within an active earthquake zone, and we must be prepared for the impacts from these in our planning, although they are rare.
Our most typical real threats come in the form of large forest fires and damage from seasonal flooding. Recent history has also demonstrated that we must now also be prepared for the possibility of terrorism attacks, and looking to the future, there is the possible threat of a global influenza pandemic.
We live in an uncertain world, Mr. Speaker. Emergency Preparedness Week is a specific time of the year when Yukoners are encouraged to develop their family and business emergency plans to help keep their families, themselves and their businesses safe from the impacts of an emergency situation.
I urge all Yukon families and businesses to create their own emergency plan. This year every Yukon household will receive a copy of the national emergency planning guide in the mail. The front cover of this year's national emergency preparedness guide states boldly, “72 hours … Are you prepared?”
The 72-hour planning period is becoming the international standard because of what has been learned from recent disasters. If a large-scale emergency happens, it may take emergency workers some time to get to those who are impacted by the event. Priority is given to those in desperate need, typically those who are closest to the affected area.
Recognizing that each emergency is unique unto itself, the guiding principle is to encourage our citizens to be as self-sufficient as possible so that those who require help urgently receive it first, and those not dramatically impacted can sustain themselves until help arrives.
This step-by-step booklet provides all the information required for a family to develop their own emergency plan. It takes a short time to develop an emergency plan, and this investment can mean the difference in how well people will cope with emergency situations.
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who stand at the ready to protect our communities, property and our lives. The RCMP, our local volunteer firefighters, wildland firefighters, ambulance and emergency medical technicians, the community search and rescue organizations, St. John Ambulance, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, CASARA - Civil Air Search and Rescue Organization - and the community emergency measures organizations are all focused on some aspect of maintaining the safety of Yukoners and our visitors.
These organizations each have mandated independent jobs to do; however, when the alarm bells ring, they work as a team to respond to the situation.
In a small jurisdiction such as Yukon, we do not have a large number of emergency responders. The people we do have are dedicated and passionate about their role to keep the public safe from harm, and we are grateful for the great work they do.
We learn something new from every crisis event and update the processes, procedures and planning toward improvements in the overall response. The power outage Yukoners experienced last January influenced a number of changes related to the loss of power in winter climates. These new updated procedures were tested very effectively during the recent one-hour power outage experienced just last week.
The January power failure also demonstrated the value of neighbours working together to ensure the safety of all in the community. We all have a role to play for ourselves, our families and the communities we live in. During Emergency Preparedness Week, I encourage all Yukoners to plan for their own safety, the safety of their families and to also consider the people they live near and how we can make our communities safer for all people during times of crisis.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any other tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It is my pleasure to introduce to the Assembly today the Hon. David Krutko, MLA for Mackenzie Delta and minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation. He is in our gallery today.
Mr. Krutko was first elected in 1995 to the 13th Assembly, re-elected in 1999 to the 14th Assembly and acclaimed to the 15th Assembly in 2003. Mr. Krutko was elected to serve in Cabinet on June 1, 2004
As a member of the 13th Assembly, Mr. Krutko served as the chairman and member of a number of standing and special committees. During the 14th Assembly, Mr. Krutko held the position of Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committee of the Whole. He also served as Deputy Chair of the Rules Committee and was the Speaker of the 15th Assembly prior to attaining ministerial posts as the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.
He is an exceptionally busy man. He has worked as negotiator on the Dene/Metis land claim agreement and was senior negotiator on the Gwich'in and Sahtu agreements. He served as vice-president of the Metis Nation of the Northwest Territories , vice-president of the Mackenzie Delta Tribal Council, now the Gwich'in Tribal Council. He was the president of the Fort McPherson Metis local, president of the Fort McPherson Hunters and Trappers Association, councillor for the Fort McPherson Indian Band, now the Tetlit Gwich'in Council, and councillor for the Hamlet of Fort McPherson, director of the Mackenzie Delta-Beaufort Sea Regional Planning Commission, member of the Gwich'in Land and Water Board, member of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board - I did say he was quite busy - director of the Metis Development Corporation and co-chair of the Northwest Territories Tourism Training Group. He has also worked in the oil and gas industry in the Beaufort Sea and Normal Wells through the 1970s and 1980s. Somewhere in all of this time, Mr. Krutko also had four children.
I would like to ask the Assembly to help me in welcoming him.
Speaker: Are there any other introductions of visitors?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling of returns and documents, I have a report of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly on travel expenses of members of the Assembly during the 2005-06 fiscal year.
Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Canada to address its fiduciary responsibility for meeting the gaps in First Nation housing, education, economic opportunities and healthcare; and also urges the Government of Yukon to work collaboratively with Yukon First Nation governments at the Yukon forum to develop a joint investment plan for Yukon's $50-million portion of the $300-million northern housing trust recently announced in the 2006 federal budget.
Mr. Hassard: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges all Yukoners to travel to Faro from May 5 through 7 to see, first-hand, the unique migration of sandhill cranes, which represent virtually the entire western Alaska-Siberia subpopulation of sandhill cranes, as well as to attend the sheep-viewing cabin and Faro recreation centre to hear lectures on Fannin sheep.
Ms. Duncan: I'm pleased as the Member for Porter Creek South to give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon, in the interest of accountability and transparency in public funding, to have the Yukon Lottery Commission appear annually before the Legislative Assembly to discuss with members the annual report of the commission.
NOTICE OF MOTION FOR THE PRODUCTION OF PAPERS
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion for the production of papers:
THAT this House do issue an order for the return of a document from the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources to his officials of the Yukon Energy Corporation referred to on occasion as the letter of protocol for the current year.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Government of Yukon has been very slow in recognizing that the spread of hepatitis C in the Yukon is inevitable and has not adequately funded organizations dealing with the prevention and control of this disease;
(2) the cost of treating one hepatitis C patient requiring a liver transplant can be $1 million of health care funding;
(3) the control of the spread of hepatitis C in Yukon is possible with a proactive program of prevention and counselling;
(4) the Blood Ties Four Directions organization is presenting a plan to counteract the spread of hepatitis C in the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to fund a study presented by Blood Ties Four Directions to determine the feasibility in the Yukon of a project recommended by the Hepatitis C Council of British Columbia for the prevention and control of hepatitis C.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) much of the soaring costs of health care across the country can be attributed to the costs of drugs;
(2) governments in the past have compounded these costs by allowing pharmaceutical companies a great deal of freedom to establish prices and patents;
(3) generic drugs are available that cost much less than the drugs now being prescribed; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to examine the possibility of using generic drugs in the territorial chronic disease drug program.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the disinterest of youth across Canada in voting in elections illustrates the need to reach out to them and to educate them about the electoral process;
(2) young people in the Yukon show interest and skills in governance as demonstrated by the presence of the pages in our Assembly and the recent Youth Parliament;
(3) today's youth should have the opportunity to take an active part in our democracy; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to establish a compulsory course in civics at the senior high school level and to consider lowering the voting age to 16.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the youth of the Yukon continue to demonstrate leadership, creativity and discipline;
(2) young persons are not fully represented in decision making in the Yukon;
(3) the positive role of youth in the Yukon should be recognized by government; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to recognize the positive contribution of Yukon youth by seriously considering special youth representation on territorial boards and committees and by establishing youth mentoring programs in government departments.
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) young Canadians from the country's highest income families are 2.5 times as likely to attend university as those from low-income families;
(2) half of youth from families in the highest income brackets pursue university while only 19 percent of youth from the lowest income families do the same;
(3) students with Canada student loans graduate owing an average of $20,000 in debt;
(4) the responsibility for supporting post-secondary students lies not only with the federal government but also with the Yukon government; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to examine the role it should play in assisting lower income, post-secondary students to attend college and university and also urges the federal government to focus on student debt relief as opposed to student debt creation.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
Before the House proceeds to Question Period, the Chair will rule on a point of order raised by the Member for Porter Creek South.
Speaker: Last Tuesday during Question Period, the leader of the official opposition said the Premier's refusal to update the public regarding government spending had contributed to a situation where “… only 16 percent of Yukoners think that they are ethical.” In response, the Premier said, “ … what the member did here a few days ago on the floor of this House in misquoting the Ombudsman's Office speaks volumes of that member's ethics.”
In raising the point of order, the Member for Porter Creek South said the Premier had accused the leader of the official opposition of misquoting another individual. The Member for Porter Creek South expressed her view that an allegation of misquoting constituted an attribution of false or unavowed motives. This, as members are aware, would be in contravention of Standing Order 19(g).
In reviewing the Blues, the Chair was unable to determine that the Premier had attributed any motive to the leader of the official opposition. There appears to be a dispute about the leader of the official opposition quoting from a letter, whether a misquote had occurred.
For the Chair to assess if the quote was accurate or not would require a determination of fact. That is beyond the purview of the Chair.
For further reference, however, any suggestion that a member had deliberately misquoted an individual would constitute an allegation of deliberately misleading the House. As members are aware, this would be a violation of Standing Order 19(h).
The Chair would also comment on the exchange that brought this point of order forward. At the time, the leader of the official opposition and the Premier made statements that suggested a lack of ethics by the other. That is not in order. If members wish to discuss ethics, they should do so in the context of debate on a bill or a motion that addresses that issue. In any other context, or a negative reflection on a member's ethics, it will be considered out of order.
We will now proceed with Question Period.
Point of personal privilege
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of personal privilege.
Yesterday during Question Period, I read incorrect information into the record, and I would like to correct it now. During the question about the rights of employees to file legal actions against the government, I incorrectly attributed the following quote to the Premier: “There is no policy linking hiring to pursuing a lawsuit against the government. Rather, the government upholds the rights of individuals to access the courts.” This was in fact said by the honourable Member for Whitehorse West. The correct quote, the one by the Premier, was as follows: “If the leader of the official opposition is asserting that this government in any way, shape or form, because of the hiring policy, diminishes the rights of individuals to access justice, I can assure the member opposite that if that is the case we will immediately look into it. Because this government would never, ever support any such hiring policy and if there is one, which I highly doubt there is, we are going to look into the matter immediately.” I apologize for the error.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Thank you. That now brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Land application process
Mr. Fairclough: On May 2, I asked a question of the acting Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources concerning a piece of land in Watson Lake. The Premier replied to my question stating, and I quote: “Furthermore, the member opposite should also know that when it comes to land issues inside municipal boundaries, there are definite requirements that must be undertaken by the municipality.”
This morning, in a CBC Radio report, the Mayor of Watson Lake said, “The government ignored the town's objections a couple of years ago. The town objected at the time to the location.” So can the minister confirm that the Town of Watson Lake's objections were ignored when leasing the land for a waste disposal site?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, in July 2004, the town agreed to the land use application. The member is wrong when he says the Town of Watson Lake wasn't involved. They were involved. They agreed on the land use application, but the lease was not agreed to.
Mr. Fairclough: Those were the mayor's comments, so that comment from the minister is directed to the mayor.
This lack of policy and this government's perpetual state of denial are not only hampering development in the territory, they are causing dissention within communities. The owner of this development said that he operated in good faith and believed that he was following all the steps. I am trying to address a very serious problem here, and that problem can be fixed, in part, by the minister taking responsibility and telling this House when Yukoners can expect an acceptable land use policy in place.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The land use application in Watson Lake was accepted by both parties - us and the Town of Watson Lake. The issue before us today is the lease, and the lease will not be issued by this government unless the Town of Watson Lake agrees to it.
Mr. Fairclough: The construction of the building has already started, Mr. Speaker. The Mayor of Watson Lake said, “It is more complicated now, because the business has spent more than $100,000 preparing the site. The government could cover the costs of relocating this business.”
Earlier this week, the town manager of Watson Lake made similar remarks. Is it the intention of this government to pay part, or all, of the $100,000 in costs incurred by this developer? If so, are they also considering the costs of the Whitehorse developer who said publicly that he had run up a tab of $30,000 in attempting to develop the Holly Street property?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In addressing the Watson Lake issue, the town agreed to the land use application, but it made it very clear that if in fact it became permanent and a lease was to be issued on that location, it would have to be moved to a more remote area. We were very clear with the proponent at the time. We will work with the city on their city plan, and nothing will go ahead unless the city okays it, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Carcross train service
Mr. Mitchell: My question is for the Minister of Economic Development. In November 2004, the Yukon government announced that it was acquiring the Red Line train from White Pass for $440,000. At the time, the Minister of Economic Development told the Legislature, “Our purchase of the equipment and the White Pass' plans to finish the upgrade of the rail to Carcross will see charter rail service into Carcross this summer. That's wonderful news, and the good news doesn't end there. Regularly scheduled trains are to begin in 2006 under the banner, ‘Destination: Carcross'.” That was in the summers of 2005 and 2006.
We all know that the train did not run into Carcross last summer. Can the minister confirm that there are no plans to run this train into Carcross this summer either?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The railbus, or the Red Line, as some people refer to it, is currently in storage. It was purchased from the White Pass & Yukon Route, who leased the train back from the government for one year, for $20,000, but they have not renewed that lease. It has been used for charter service, but it has not realized the potential at this point that the White Pass & Yukon Route had wanted. It's a private company, Mr. Speaker. Again, we don't run the trains; they do. We will work with them to get what value we can on that, but it's a decision of a private business as to whether the trains come in at this point in time. We have no doubt they will in the future.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, it may be a private company, but it is the Government of Yukon that purchased the train for $440,000, and it has not left the station. It sat in a shed in Carcross all last summer; it will sit there again this summer. I know the minister is proud of the fact that 37 people worked for a few months on a track that no train has run on; but if there was no train to run on it, there would have been no reason to upgrade the track. Mr. Speaker, under this plan so proudly promoted by the Premier and the Yukon Party government, 3,600 tourists were to have rolled up to Carcross by train in the summer of 2005. The Premier was only off on that number by 3,600 people. When is this train going to leave the station or are we just stuck with a $440,000 paperweight?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Actually, it is $420,000; $440,000 less the $20,000 for which it was leased back. Virtually all that money went to seasonal employment for 37 citizens of Carcross and the beautiful Southern Lakes. The money was channelled directly back into the community. If the member opposite is suggesting that it was a waste of money to support 37 workers in Carcross, I guess that is coming from the member's party who saw the best way to develop the economy was to completely wipe out the Department of Economic Development. I think we get a good picture of where the member opposite is coming from - what his vision of economic development is. We shouldn't have done it; we should have left the 37 people on social assistance. I think that is perhaps what he is intimating.
Mr. Mitchell: First of all, Mr. Speaker, we have no knowledge that these 37 workers were on social assistance, and I don't think the minister should be making those statements.
Of course we support economic development in Carcross, or in any community for that matter. What we don't support is paying over $400,000 for a train that has sat in a shed for the past two years. We don't support the Premier and this minister telling people that 3,600 tourists will roll into Carcross by train when there are actually no tourists on this train to Carcross.
Raising people's expectations is not fair. People in Carcross were promised something and this government has not delivered. The government purchased a train car for over $400,000 and it has been in a shed ever since. When will this train be used for something other than collecting dust?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: First of all, the estimates, numbers and such were White Pass & Yukon Route's estimates; they weren't ours.
Secondly, the value of the train is significantly higher. The value of that train is probably well over a million dollars. Although we can't guarantee it at the present time, it will probably be used on the waterfront; it will be used as a trolley. It's self-propelled and has the capability of towing cars and being used for a wide range of things if the trolley system goes all the way out to the Kopper King area or up to the Utah yards or Schwatka Lake . All these things are being looked at as possibilities.
It was a good deal. We purchased a million-dollar asset for $420,000, which went directly into the pockets of the citizens of Carcross.
Again, is the party that considers economic development such a low priority that they completely wiped out the Department of Economic Development, and the member opposite has referred to the millions and millions of dollars that have been invested in the community development fund as a slush fund. I think we have a good insight into where the member opposite would take us.
Question re: Federal budget
Mr. Hardy: Yesterday I asked questions regarding the federal budget and the Alaska pipeline, the environment and the students and the debts they often carry, and how that budget wasn't addressing those. I'm also concerned about the funding for the 10-year accord that came out of the First Ministers Conference in Kelowna last year that the federal budget didn't recognize. The Premier of British Columbia says he intends to keep pressing to see the Kelowna accord honoured. Our Premier was present when the accord was signed. Will he be joining the efforts to make it become a reality, as the B.C. premier is?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Of course we're joining efforts. It's the position of the Council of the Federation; it's a unanimous position held by all provinces and all territories.
I would hope that the leader of the third party is not suggesting that there is no investment in this federal budget with respect to dealing with the gaps that aboriginal Canadians face: things like water, housing, education. Those areas have been well-identified, and we have agreed that those are the areas that we must focus on nationally, so I hope the member is not suggesting that. Although we're not here to endorse the federal budget, we're here to make representations on what's in it that will benefit Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: The motion that the Premier read in earlier today indicates that there are a lot of gaps. There is a lot at stake if this accord is allowed to fall by the wayside. The Kelowna meeting with Canada's First Ministers and aboriginal leaders was a very historic event. If the commitments made there don't pan out, this will create even more distrust between First Nations and the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says the Harper government's failure to deliver represents a black eye for Canada internationally. We already know what has been written in the international courts about Canada's treatment of First Nations. It hasn't looked good.
Is the federal funding guaranteed for housing and other infrastructure that the Premier announced last month? If so, does he consider it an acceptable substitute for the Kelowna commitments in terms of meeting the housing needs of Yukon First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, the issue of guarantee - this is a federal government bill, it's called Bill C-48 and it gives force and effect to this investment. We all know, as announced, that there is a significant portion of the bill that has been dedicated and ear marked for north of 60. Nunavut , the N.W.T. and the Yukon Territory are all going to receive investment toward housing, public transit and other areas that are housed within Bill C-48.
Also, I think the member opposite should be well aware of the fact that the then federal Liberal government, with respect to Kelowna, made commitments that were over a five-year period. We have a budget here before Canadians, as tabled by the new federal government, that - at least from all the information we've gleaned out of the budget - certainly addresses gaps that aboriginal Canadians face.
Mr. Hardy: I don't disagree with the Premier when talking about announcements and money being promised. Year after year after year it's the same money being promised, and we are expected to believe that. The former Liberals were notorious for doing that. I don't want to see the new government do it. I think their feet have to be held to the fire.
We had some concerns when the Premier announced that $50-million package on April 25. Our biggest concern is that this government doesn't seem to understand what the word “affordable” means. We are also very concerned about this government's track record when it comes to honouring commitments to First Nations.
First Nations know what the problems are when it comes to housing. They know what they need in their communities. They've built up training and expertise to deliver housing. Why is the Yukon government acting as a financial funnel for housing money from Ottawa to First Nation governments? Does the Premier not agree that it's time to recognize the ability of First Nation governments to manage issues like this on their own?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, I couldn't agree more. But let's first begin with what is in the federal budget. If you consider the $450 million for water, housing on reserve, education, socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families, the $300 million for provinces for off-reserve aboriginal housing, and the $300 million for the northern housing trust, one then could conclude that just in this budget alone there is in excess of $1 billion being invested to address the gaps that aboriginal Canadians face.
Secondly, I couldn't agree more with the leader of the third party about Yukon First Nations governments' role. That's why this government has convened the Yukon forum for May 12, where the Yukon government and Yukon First Nation governments will develop a joint investment plan for this fund so that we can realize houses being built across the Yukon in all communities and especially address the needs of Yukon First Nations.
Question re: Film industry
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. Last year, a six-part television series called Northern Town was shot in the Yukon. By all accounts, it was a successful venture that provided employment for a number of Yukon people and put a lot of money into our economy. We know this because the minister stood up and talked about it at length. Seven more episodes were supposed to begin shooting this summer, but that seems to have fallen through. Has the minister made any attempt to persuade the CBC to follow up on this project so that Yukoners could derive the economic benefits from it as soon as possible, instead of having to wait another year?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, I agree with the member opposite on that too - that it was disturbing, at best, to find that the project had been cancelled. But again, it was the CBC that cancelled it. Our Film Commissioner and her staff are working diligently with CBC on this. My understanding is that the project is not dead, that it does have a possibility of coming alive again.
As was discussed in debate the other day, should the money that we would put into that project not be utilized in that project, there are a number of other projects and other places where we can put it. So there will be activity. We're very sure of that. But I'd still like to see this program go.
Mr. Hardy: I'm going to put a couple more angles on the table, because there are some serious issues that are facing this industry. Tourism operators are already anticipating a significant impact on their business this year from a combination of two factors: soaring gas prices and a stronger loonie in relation to the U.S. dollar. There are predictions it will be at par by the fall.
There is no question that these two factors will also affect other sectors, including our fledgling film industry. Will the minister tell us what impact a 90-cent dollar will have on film and television production in the Yukon over the next year, especially when it's combined with gas prices of $1.20 per litre or more? Has his department done that math yet?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The Film and Sound Commission is certainly looking at all aspects of this. However, I would remind the member opposite that, in general, most of the people coming north to work on these productions don't drive - they tend to fly - and certainly the fuel prices have an impact on the flight, but we're somewhat more concerned about the influence on rubber-tire traffic.
But there is an influence on the film industry. For instance, last year we generated $4.1 million in economic activity and, the money we put into the Film and Sound Commission and into these projects generates nearly $10 back for every dollar we spend out. So we're very happy with that and with the number of people working on this.
I suspect there will be an impact. We monitor that. If the member opposite has better information on where the Canadian dollar is going than the rest of the world, I'd sure like to know it. But I agree that it is a concern.
Mr. Hardy: I have been watching the Canadian dollar go up-up-up, and there are some benefits to it, but we definitely know there are a lot of drawbacks, especially when one of the incentives for any filming to be done in Canada - not just in the Yukon - was the difference between the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar. That had a phenomenal impact. It has always been talked about; it will have an impact here.
The benefits of film and video production to the local economy have been very well documented. The Yukon's film and video industry is still relatively junior, but it has really shown a great deal of promise. But it is still vulnerable. However, this is an extremely highly competitive industry where a few price points here or there can made all the difference in terms of what location is selected. What additional incentives or other support programs is the minister considering to make sure the Yukon can successfully compete for productions in light of the two factors I mentioned earlier?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: There are a number of things within the film incentive programs that are offered by our Film and Sound Commission. One of the most notable, of course, is that it is a fairly immediate injection into the industry. It is not something where they have to wait a long period of time. That gives us a competitive advantage.
Another competitive advantage that we have is our environment - our snow, our wilderness, the AIM Trimark tire advertising that was done not that long ago that made Fish Lake look an awful lot like Finland, et cetera, et cetera. We have a lot of competitive advantages in that there is not an awful lot of snow in Vancouver. My concern is not only all the things that the member opposite mentions, but also the impact of global warming. We might end up having to send some of the film activity further north to the Northwest Territories , but the way we are going, they may have the same problem. It is the immediate cash injection and the amount of support that we are able to give the film industry. The biggest problem we have right now with our Film and Sound Commission is that they are doing such a good job that they are keeping us so busy we don't have a chance to really stop and think about it. We are very, very pleased about that.
Question re: Power outages
Mr. McRobb: Last week, Yukoners were left in the dark by yet another power outage. This time the outage was caused by yet another squirrel. Power was knocked out for 12,000 customers in all the Whitehorse area and several communities, including Teslin, Carcross, Carmacks, Faro and Ross River. Essentially the whole Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro grid was knocked out by a single squirrel.
I know the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation has lots of experience dealing with squirrels, and we're all champing at the bit to hear his advice.
Why is it, in this day and age, the main Yukon electrical grid is so vulnerable to attacks by members of our small-game community?
Hon. Mr. Lang: That was an incident that happened in the power grid. There was an incident with an animal that caused the outage. Yukon Electrical went to work and solved the issue. The power was out for approximately an hour - in some areas it was 15 minutes to an hour - so they did their job.
Mr. McRobb: It sounds like another shell game to me, Mr. Speaker. Obviously the minister's experience with squirrels is paying big dividends to Yukoners. Let it be said there are no cobwebs in his attic.
Under this minister's watch, Yukoners have been left in the dark too many times. Of course, I'm referring to these continuing attacks by members of our small-game community. In addition to representations from the squirrel family, raven and gopher delegations have had an equally darkening influence on our electrical grid.
When does the minister plan to share his knowledge with his energy officials to try to prevent blackouts caused by small-game attacks in the future?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, we don't make light of situations that arise on the grids. We take them very, very seriously, and we work with the companies involved. It is an issue that happens. It's an issue with management, and it is an issue with all sorts of things that impede the process of getting power to our customers. Unlike the member opposite, we do take it seriously, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: These frequent power outages, along with the power spikes and brownouts, are getting people really browned off. This reality is amplified in today's world of digital electronics which are so susceptible to damage. There is also an economic cost, especially to members of our business community whose tills are rendered inoperable in times of power outages. It seems that everything nowadays comes to a grinding halt.
Each year, the minister sends a letter of protocol to his officials, identifying the priorities they should work on in the year ahead. Can the minister tell us if this year's letter addressed this issue, or will his inaction continue to knock out the lights of Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, Mr. Speaker, we do not make light of these kinds of incidents, and we do not make light of the corporation that does it. The people who work for Yukon Electrical Company Limited and Yukon Energy Corporation are very sincere, hard-working people. For the member opposite to make light of their daily endeavours is not fair to the workforce. If the member opposite has a complaint, be serious about it and we will address it. But we certainly are not going to answer questions from across the floor that make light of the workforce at Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Electrical Company Limited.
Question re: Economic strategy
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. It has been two years since this government published its economic strategy called A New Direction: Building a Sustainable and Competitive Yukon Economy. Since then, we were entertained by the presentation of Pathways to Prosperity: an Economic Growth Perspective, 2005-2025. In both documents, we were told that the new direction is to focus on the big picture and to take the long-term view. Will the minister tell us what has been done in this government's mandate that focuses on the big picture and takes the long-term view?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Certainly, as I had mentioned before and as expressed in the document, one of the long-term pictures is to utilize world population, local population shifts, demand for minerals, availability of resources here, and to develop an economy within this area, and particularly into the Asian community and into the Pacific Northwest. There are a number of different ways of looking at this. But to simply look at it through a very local and restricted point of view is poorly advised at this point in time, as, in our opinion, would be the silliness, for want of a better term, in developing the economy by destroying the Department of Economic Development. We need these people to be looking at the long term and where we're going in as much as 25 years.
When the rail project comes through - and that's one thing that we're looking at, with the port access study: transportation corridors are being looked at by our government and the governments of Alaska, Alberta and down into the State of Washington - there are just so many different ways that we could look at that. There is a challenge, but we have to look at this overall view.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that information. Hopefully, I can provide some direction for him.
The new direction paper states that we need to diversify the economy to offset the pronounced cycles of most resource extraction and secure more sustainable long-term, year-round activity. Pipelines and mines are finite and do not respond to the need to be sustainable and diversify the economy. With ever higher prices for fuel and the stronger dollar, even the old standby of tourism will no doubt be taking a big hit this summer, in spite of our new slogan.
Here is an idea that shows new direction, is sustainable, diversifies the economy, focuses on the big picture and takes the long-term view. It may be a little left-wing for some people, but how about this one: establish a Yukon university. What economic analysis of the costs and benefits of a Yukon university have been done by the Department of Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: In conjunction with the Department of Education, we have looked at a number of different programs, not limited to things like English as a second language, which would have some e-capability here, and various immigration programs.
We are very well aware of the fact at all levels that with all the major projects, particularly the gas-line projects, we don't have the capacity - nobody has the capacity. We need to train. We need to provide the workforce and house the workforce, and we need to be realistic that the workforce isn't going to be able to work on multiple projects at the same time. This involves education, and it is certainly something that needs to be looked at. As I said, it is being looked at by our government, by other governments, and by the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, who should all be coming together to look at it as a regional problem.
Mr. Cardiff: Studies have already shown us the very positive economic impacts brought to the Yukon by Yukon College. The University of Northern B.C. is an excellent example of positive economic benefits of a university in a rural community.
Current demand globally for university programs far outstrips the supply of seats that are available. University programming with a unique northern focus and increased research opportunities would attract students from far and wide and, at the same time, provide opportunities for Yukon post-secondary students with close-to-home options.
A university brings all kinds of economic benefits. Imported students and staff expand the population and contribute to the economic diversity and sustainability of Yukon society. The private sector and foundations spend money on research, and well-paying employment opportunities will also be made available to Yukon residents.
My question is this: will the minister direct his officials to stop dreaming about railroads, bridges and pipelines and do some real economic planning by working with Yukon College -
Speaker: Thank you. You're done. Your answer, please?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: First of all, I'm so glad to hear the member opposite coming out in such vocal support of the student residence that's under construction at Yukon College and being so much in favour of our initiatives, such as the northern research cluster and working with the National Research Council to look at cold-weather and cold-climate research. There are a number of things on that.
We always have to look at the big picture, to go back to that, and we always have to look at all these things and how they go.
I have concerns, for instance, that the member opposite, on May 1, referred to the Ombudsman, and I quote from Hansard, “His report at the end of 2004 referred to a culture of secrecy within government.” What was not put in there was the rest of the interview that that came out of, where it says the Commissioner didn't think the problem stemmed from a direction to be secretive coming from the ruling Yukon Party government. He indicated this is a problem that has been going on for years, not just under the current regime.
So we have to -
Speaker: Order. I simply don't know where the minister is coming from, in terms of quoting another document in response to the question. I can appreciate you have parameters. However, the time for Question Period has now expired. We'll proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 67: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 67, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Edzerza.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I move that Bill No. 67, entitled Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice
THAT Bill No. 67, entitled Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, Mr. Speaker, this bill is surely one of great importance for everyone in the Yukon Territory, and I am pleased to rise today to speak again on behalf of the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.
First, I would like to thank all members of the House for passing Bill No. 67 unanimously. Mr. Speaker, while speaking to Bill No. 67 in these past weeks, there have been a number of questions put to me relating to the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act. I would like to take some time to provide answers to questions that were raised in the House on April 13, 2006.
I will begin with what the total implementation costs will be - what is the expected annual cost of implementing this legislation? At this time we are planning for equipment and start-up costs of $100,000 and annual operating costs in the range of $340,000, based on current estimates for an office with two investigators and one registrar.
Does the minister intend to review the success of the act and provide that information to the public? At this time, the department plans to review the legislation within a two-year time frame. Manitoba conducted a two-year review, which indicated that the legislation was being used far beyond initial expectations.
Will legal aid or other funding options be available to landlords who find themselves incurring costs related to court proceedings? Based on the experience of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, we expect that most investigations will be resolved informally by working cooperatively with landlords, not through the formal court process. Further, based on their experience, we do not expect that there will be high involvement of lawyers.
Another question is about landlords being put in a position of incurring costs and loss of income due to the shutting down of a property. We must consider the position they find themselves in with ongoing mortgage obligations and other commitments. It is true that landlords may incur some loss of rental income in the short term; however, most properties can be available for re-rental in a very short period of time - less than one week - based on the experience of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
It is also true that removing tenants who are conducting the specified illegal activities generally has a positive effect on property values for the property. Removing these activities from the individual property and from the neighbourhood has a positive effect in both social and financial terms. In Manitoba 's experience, landlords who have suffered intimidation from problem tenants have welcomed the assistance provided by this act.
How will information be shared between the RCMP, who may be undertaking criminal investigations, and the director, who may have undertaken an investigation under this act? There will be a formal information-sharing protocol between the RCMP and the Department of Justice. The director responsible for the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act is also responsible for policing, and all efforts will be made to coordinate the work between criminal and civil investigations.
Are there any Charter or other legal issues that may prevent the RCMP from sharing information with the director and the department? To date, there have been no Charter or other issues raised in either Manitoba or Saskatchewan.
Would the minister commit to publishing a report in 18 or 24 months on how often the act has been used and what the full implementation costs have been and suggestions to improve the process or the act? The answer is yes, the department will consider review and evaluation options, including the possibility of this information being made available on the Department of Justice Web site.
Does a First Nation have an opportunity to begin an action under this legislation? Again, Mr. Speaker, the answer is yes. A First Nation government can be a complainant.
There were also concerns expressed regarding enforcement of the legislation in small communities and the unique challenges that investigators may face. While we agree that there will be some unique challenges ahead of us, we are confident that we will be able to come up with appropriate Yukon responses. Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have successfully conducted investigations in very small communities, whether or not RCMP or other police are present in these communities.
Another question to me has been about whether or not financial resources will be available to support the implementation and administration of this legislation. The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act is a high priority for this government and for the Department of Justice. We are currently planning for the financial resources. We expect it will be funded through the funds set aside for the Yukon substance abuse action plan.
I would also like to clarify the issue of complaints being filed confidentially, compared with anonymously. Complaints are not filed anonymously but, rather, confidentially. A complainant must provide their name and contact address to the office, but this information can never be revealed. If a matter proceeds to the court process, complainants are required to appear in court. All court matters are dealt with by officials.
This is an important issue, as it speaks to the safety and willingness of community members to come forward with a complaint.
There was a question put to me during Committee of the Whole that I was not able to provide a definite answer to at the time. I would like to respond to that question now.
I was asked if, during the drafting process, the new Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act was cross-referenced with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Ombudsman Act. During the drafting process, legislative counsel did ensure that the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act conformed with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Ombudsman Act. There were no adjustments necessary to conform to the Ombudsman Act.
Key provisions of our Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, relative to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, that were considered include the following:
Subsection 1(4) established that the director and staff are a law enforcement agency. This is a key to exchanging information with the RCMP.
Section 32 assures complete confidentiality for the complainant. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act does not assure absolute confidentiality.
Section 27 established for the director the right and power of access to information that he or she needs and the ability of the director to disclose information for the administration of the act and to other agencies for law enforcement purposes. The latter is a very important point, because experience elsewhere has shown that when intervention under the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act is justified, there are often grounds for intervention under other laws. These other laws could include public health and safety regulations, provincial, territorial or municipal building codes, electrical protection codes and fire protection codes. This section assures that the director can pass the fruits of his or her investigation on to other enforcement agencies for them to use for their mandate.
In developing this legislation, the government has planned for it as a broad and comprehensive strategy to prevent the abuse of drugs and reduce the harm associated with substance abuse. This will be accomplished in cooperation with the RCMP, municipal governments, First Nation governments, other Yukon departments, and non-government agencies. The development and implementation of the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act has been - and will continue to be - about collaboration and communities.
We have listened to community members express their concerns, and we will continue to work with community members as we proceed with implementation. There will be new resources provided during implementation, and we will use these resources to facilitate the development of partnerships, both in and out of government.
Communities have gathered to express to government their fears of leaving their homes, of not getting a good night's sleep because of traffic to and from certain houses and of being the target of thieves who need money to buy drugs. This has been an important collaboration. This way of working together must continue. It has been a leading factor in getting to this point today.
Members of the Legislative Assembly who have witnessed the collaborative process we have been through in passing the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act will know that this type of approach is the best way to work on behalf of Yukoners. With this collaboration, I am confident that we will see a decrease in the number of alcohol- and other drug-related problems in our communities. The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act allows for a flexible and responsive approach to complaints of certain illegal activities that are regularly occurring and adversely affecting a neighbourhood.
The government is making a commitment to work with our communities to make it clear to owners and occupants that such activities will not be tolerated in the Yukon . Yukoners want to see action being taken on reducing the harm of alcohol and drug abuse and, with initiatives like the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, this is what we have delivered.
We are committed to working with Yukoners to build strong communities that support individuals and their families. As I've said previously, the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act adds one more tool to our toolbox, helping us to get where we want to be as a society.
It is our intention to bring forward other initiatives in the near future that will add still more tools to the toolbox to reduce the harm created by substance abuse. We have been proactive by setting aside $2 million to fund initiatives that will make our communities safer and our population healthier.
Thank you for helping us create the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I will be fairly brief. We've said most of what we wanted to say at first and second reading and during Committee. First of all, I would like to thank the minister for reading off that series of questions and answers, because it did answer virtually every question that we in our caucus raised regarding details of how this would work, that we had some issues with or at least some uncertainty about. We never had any doubt that it was a good approach. So I thank the minister for taking that approach. It's nice to see that in this House, and it's nice to see that today we are discussing an issue on which I think we can all agree.
I've already said that the Liberal caucus believes that this act is a good idea and an idea whose time has certainly come, and that we certainly support the minister and the government in tabling this legislation. I've also already said that I thank all other members - including the work done by Member for Whitehorse Centre and his caucus - for raising these issues and raising the profile, the work done by the minister and, most of all, the work done by the officials and the departments for their hard work in bringing this legislation forward quickly, (a) so that we could discuss and debate it in this session; and (b) more importantly, that it can go into effect sooner rather than later and help to do its ultimate job, which is to make our communities safer.
Now, as the minister has stated and restated in his remarks, this act will not be the be-all or the end-all to addressing the problems of substance abuse and other criminal activities besides substance abuse - that is the one that first comes to mind, but we know there is illegal gambling; there are instances of prostitution - there are other things that go on that hurt our community in general and hurt neighbourhoods in particular. This will help. It won't be the end, and I'm sure members on all sides will bring forward other good ideas.
Again in the substance abuse action plan, which the minister has referenced, we have already seen some good ideas come forward. We've seen the dogs for drug-free schools initiative brought forward, and members have encouraged the government to use some of that money to pursue this plan, which has been successful in Alberta . It appears to be a good approach.
We have all heard complaints about the revolving door of criminal activity that occurs in particular houses - people are arrested, the RCMP attempt to do their job, yet the activity goes on. The Member for Whitehorse Centre has spoken to it on numerous occasions as being a plague upon areas of the downtown core.
We have heard from the Member for Mayo-Tatchun; we've heard from other members that it exists in smaller communities. When I've been in Carmacks, I have seen the signs when you enter Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation land, says, “Drug dealers beware - you are not wanted here.” That is an example of a community taking action right then and there and saying enough is enough - the community is fed up and it needs to do something about it.
I know that near my own neighbourhood in Copper Ridge - not actually technically in my riding, but within a chip shot of it - we've seen a number of houses that were being used as grow houses this past year, this past summer. The RCMP, through good investigation and probably through the proactive action of community members letting the RCMP know of a suspected problem, were effective in shutting down a number of those locations and hopefully letting all would-be perpetrators of these kinds of activities that Whitehorse is no longer open for these activities. We don't want it done by locals and we certainly don't want it done by Outside criminal elements or by organized crime.
In talking with members of the RCMP, I know they are aware there is an element of organized crime that perhaps mistakenly thought the Yukon was easy pickings, that we were unsophisticated up here and they could bring their patent formulas from other locations up here and have their way. That is not going to be the case, because Yukoners are going to stand up for other Yukoners and their communities and they are not going to allow that to happen.
That's what this legislation is about. It's about empowerment and allowing communities, instead of sitting back and asking, “When will the RCMP be able to deal with a particular situation,” or phoning the RCMP and wondering - since they have limited resources and have to always pursue what they think are the strongest and most serious cases first, when they will do something.
I know that a few years ago, in my former home in the Granger subdivision, I came out one morning to find that, in a fenced yard, someone had come in during the night and removed an expensive and fairly new outboard motor from our boat. They did it with tools, by cutting gas lines. They had to have the right size sockets and wrenches there; they didn't just come and steal something that was laying about loosely; it was planned. I was told by the RCMP who came that they needed my police report to file a criminal complaint, but that I could forget about ever seeing my motor again because it would be long gone and sold for whatever amount of money it could produce to finance other criminal activity, to finance the drug trade.
This happens in all neighbourhoods. It's not only in the poorest of neighbourhoods; it's not only in the city, but also in the communities. Yukoners have had enough. It bodes well for this Assembly acting at its best, as it should, as 18 citizens on behalf of their communities and constituents, who were able to accomplish this and do something that will hopefully make our communities better, which is why we're elected to be here.
With that, I want to commend this bill to this Assembly. I will be voting for it, as will my colleagues, as will no doubt all members of this House.
Mr. Cardiff: I will be brief. I think it's pretty obvious from the previous discussions around this particular bill that there is unanimous support for it in the Legislature. There have been some questions. I thank the minister for responding to the questions today that were asked during second reading and Committee of the Whole. I'd like to thank all Members of the Legislative Assembly for supporting this initiative, an idea that was brought forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, through his hard and diligent work. I'd like to thank the officials for working diligently and bringing this forward in a fashion where we could deal with it at this spring sitting so it can go into force.
I'd like to extend my thanks and offer our support here for seeing this bill pass third reading.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I was extremely brief in my comments when it was being debated. Predominantly, my comments were to thank people in the Legislative Assembly for a job well done, and thanking the officials for very much fast-tracking this and the minister for making a promise last winter and fulfilling that promise this spring.
However, there is one thing I have tried to hold to through all of this, and that is compassion. They're not aliens; they're human beings. The people who have found themselves in this life, who unfortunately are having a really bad impact on our neighbourhoods, on our children - many of them are children themselves still - are still human beings.
There are houses I can go to in the downtown area - and I have gone to for many, many years. They're the drug houses. I knock on the doors. I talk to them. It has been about this but it has also been campaigning. They're human beings. I remind myself to see them and what they were like when they were two years of age and three years of age and five years of age, when they played, when they ran, laughed. There was a certain period in their young, young lives when they had little dreams. I'm sure the dreams weren't to become drug addicts. I'm sure the dreams weren't to sell drugs, destroy neighbourhoods, inflict pain on other people.
Like all of us as kids, I'm sure they dreamed. They wanted to be part of something. Maybe they didn't have the upbringing many of us have been fortunate to have. Maybe they didn't have family support. Maybe they grew up in a family where alcohol and drugs were the norm. Maybe there was no food on the table because of that. Maybe there was violence. Maybe there was sexual assault by relatives or strangers who came over to party, or maybe they were exposed to other elements. They're human beings. It's too easy to point fingers - it really is. That's the easiest thing to do.
I work with a lot of youth and have for over 30 years now. I know you have as well, Mr. Speaker, and we've talked about this and how we have helped so they don't end up in situations we're dealing with, with legislation like this, so they don't become part of that problem, which is so destructive for a community or society.
That's a greater solution than this. That's a far greater solution. Instead of finding fault and making accusations, if every one of us tries to find a way to reach out to somebody, to some child who may be going down that path or may have a tendency to go down that path - if we reach out and see if we can be their beacon of hope, if we can show them a different way, if we can help steer them down a better path, that will have a far greater impact than this.
I've had lots of things stolen from me. I live downtown. That's all right. It's part of owning stuff, in the end, I guess. No one likes it. I understand what the member before said about it, but I have to remember that their lives might not have been that great. Mine has been good. I can give something and I continue to try to.
I had a friend who used to come to my door. I grew up with him. If I said his name, some people would probably recognize it. I grew up with him, and he was a hard-working young man. We played together a lot. Somewhere along the line, he became addicted to drugs. Then, one day I found out he was going to the most notorious house in town - everybody knows it. That became a regular pattern of his life: find money to go there to get his fix.
At some point, he started coming to my house. I would see him all the time. At one point about seven or eight years ago he started to knock on my door. My wife and I would come to the door. We both know him - she knew him as well as I did. He was a good friend at one time. He would stand there and ask for help - “Do you have any food?” - and we would give him food. “Can you lend me $10?” We would give him the $10. It's all right. He was our friend, and he is our friend. I knew I couldn't get him off drugs, at the stage he was at, so I was willing to sit and listen to his stories and struggles.
Interestingly enough, he put himself in the hospital a few times. Then, one day, he disappeared and I don't know where he is. I haven't seen him for two years now. I've tried to find out where he is, but I don't know. He has gone missing.
My neighbour, she's dead now. Drugs were a huge part of it, obviously. The druggies moved in there and started activities, and she ended up dying in there - an accidental death, or whatever they classified it as. And on regular occasions - and when I say “regular”, I mean “regular”, Mr. Speaker; I can drive home tomorrow night, and there will be five or six or 12 or 20 young people in the park, right at my house - my house is here, the park is there - laughing and talking and standing around drinking, passing the bottles and what else? I don't know. Sometimes I go over and chat with them. I always tell them, “Don't make me call the police.” Other than being there, I just remember one thing: they were children one time. They were like me. In many ways, they still are. Remember the compassion that we all should have, and be very mindful of that, because it's very easy to get angry, and it's very easy to create laws to punish, but it's a lot harder to forgive. It's a lot harder to remember that there's a human being there and we may be able to help them.
That's all I want to say. That's why this is a good bill, because it's going to help all those others around who are trying to live their lives and be part of society and not be affected by the activities of those who have found themselves in this situation and are a part of this activity. But that doesn't mean they're not human beings. That doesn't mean that our job is over and we've pushed it away. We all can do more individually, as well as through the groups we support and work with.
Speaker: If the minister now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Speaker, this bill is about empowering citizens, neighbourhoods and communities. It's about protecting the innocent, the ones who aren't involved with these activities. It's meant to minimize the fear, not create fear - fear of something happening to your child in the community while walking home from school. It's about being concerned for the safety of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They must be free of the fear that they're going to have a very difficult life.
Mr. Speaker, this legislation will continue its work long after we are all retired and beyond our life on this earth. If used correctly, it could only get better in the future. There will be growing pains, but fortunately as this document matures over the years it can be amended to address unforeseen issues that may arise.
I listened to the leader of the third party, and what he said is right. This will not solve all drug issues in the territory, because of the reasons that he stated.
Something that we must keep in mind is that this is reality; this is real. It is a fact that some people deal in drugs in a small way, but some become very wealthy from dealing in great quantities. The serious issue, we must keep in mind, is that these individuals do not care whom they destroy or how many they destroy for the sake of money - that's reality. I know there is a compassionate side to everything; however, it has been stated on the floor of this Legislature many times that, “It is up to the individual.” The individual who has hard times also has options to change and become a healthy person. My honest belief is that, for the most part, there is not one person on the face of this earth - unless of course there are some very serious medical reasons why - who cannot find the will to change behaviours that are destructive to himself and others. You can change; you need to find the will to do it. Again, I want to thank all members, because all members of this House today will be remembered in the future for passing this legislation and for being concerned about every citizen in this territory.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 16 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it.
Motion of third reading of Bill No. 67 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 67 has passed this House.
Bill No. 66: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 66, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Hart.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, I move
THAT Bill No. 66, entitled Act to Amend the Securities Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Community Services
THAT Bill No. 66, entitled Act to Amend the Securities Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As members recall, this bill provides for mutual recognition of security legislation in other provincial and territorial jurisdictions and delegation of Yukon's authority to those jurisdictions to improve the way capital is raised in Canada and to make the securities regulatory system work better.
The provincial and territorial ministers have agreed to establish a passport system that will provide a single window for access to market participants across Canada , which will permit them to comply with a single set of laws and deal with one regulator.
Ministers responsible for securities and regulations from Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut signed a provincial-territorial memorandum of understanding regarding securities regulations. The memorandum of understanding provides for meaningful and timely improvements to the current system toward a single window of access to capital markets in participating provinces and territories.
The council of ministers' goal is to develop a provincial and territorial framework that inspires investor confidence and supports competitive and innovative growth through efficient, streamlined and cost-effective securities regulations. The Yukon has taken a lead role among the smaller jurisdictions on securities reform. We were the first of the smaller jurisdictions to sign a memorandum of understanding and we have taken an active role in the regulatory reform process.
Canada and the Yukon need a modern and practical securities regulatory system that serves the needs of investors and provides for local oversight and administration. Amendments to the Yukon Securities Act will help to ensure Yukon 's continued revenue and regulatory authority for securities regulation in the territory.
Mr. Speaker, we believe this is the best approach for Yukon investment opportunities for the future. I ask for the support of all members to ensure the continued benefits from generated revenue and to ensure the continued local administration of our securities regulations.
Mr. Mitchell: Just briefly, we supported this legislation in second reading and in Committee and we'll certainly be supporting it today. I agree with the minister that a pan-Canadian approach in the interests of clarity and uniformity is a good approach. We did have a few questions in second reading for the minister and in Committee of the Whole. The one concern we expressed was that Ontario, which has a great deal to do with securities, considering the stock exchanges and such that are located there, had not yet signed on, and the minister assured me that, since they were hosting the next ministerial meeting, it looked like that would be resolved. I encourage the minister in his efforts to make it unanimous - 13 instead of 12 of 13. This legislation will be a benefit to the public interests.
Mr. Cardiff: I, too, will be brief. I would just like to say that we support this piece of legislation. I would like to thank the officials for their hard work on this initiative and for the very extensive briefing and explanations that were provided to us, and we look forward to voting on this.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite - the leader of the official opposition - we are holding our meeting in Toronto next month, and I hope to have good news for him. There is an extreme amount of pressure from all the other jurisdictions to bring Ontario onside, and I believe that we will do so.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 16 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 66 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 66 has passed this House.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We'll continue with the Department of Economic Development.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 20 - First Appropriation Act, 2006-07 - continued
Department of Economic Development - continued
Chair: We will continue now with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We will continue general debate on Vote 7, Department of Economic Development.
Mr. Hardy: I do remember where we left off. I was talking about the wonders of a train. However, knowing that there are so many departments to come, with so many other people wanting to debate them, I'm not going to be much longer, but there are a couple of areas I do want to talk about.
I believe we can talk about the rail link project until the cows come home. However, I don't think we'd be getting much farther down the track if we did that.
I'm going to shift a little bit, and it's partly to do with the questions we've been asking during Question Period and a question that my colleague, the Member for Mount Lorne, had asked, and I'll put it in two ways for the minister: has the government in the past done any economic analysis on the formation of a university in the Yukon? And if not in the past, has the government looked at, in any way, the possibility of one being developed here, or has the government considered it? So it's just a broad catch here.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: If we were asked to, I am sure we would take a look at something like that. However, it falls under the purview of the Department of Education. My own thought on that is that there is an extremely good possibility of using the economic benefits to develop English as a second language, for instance, and we certainly had many, many discussions about that - or to look at things that would involve graduate degrees or masters of fine arts, such as the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. In terms of a university, the infrastructure that would be necessary and the impact on Yukon College - that's really the purview of the Department of Education.
Mr. Hardy: I am assuming that there have been no studies within government that the minister is aware of. The way I look at this is not just as an education issue - no doubt it is significant - but I am asking about the economic impact it would have. Possibly what could be looked at would be the studies in towns and cities in North America, for example, where a university has been established and what the results have been economically - the spinoffs and diversification of the economy, the impact on the growth of small businesses, the diversification of businesses, the opportunities for outlying regions, all that stuff. I think there are a fair number of studies out there already on the impact of universities when they have been brought about in a smaller area. I'm not talking about huge cities; I'm talking about places a little closer to our size or as close as we can get.
I would be very interested in something like that. I'm not sure if the department has anything along those lines. Here's a really strange request that is not often asked and, Mr. Chair, it's not bending the rules at all. It's a request that, if the minister felt really generous, would he be willing to inquire about getting copies of any studies that have been done on the impact of universities, where they've been set up in towns of similar size or reasonably close to ours? Would he make that available for me and my colleague, the critic for Education? It really is a passionate interest of ours. Both the Member for Mount Lorne and I sat on the Yukon College Board of Governors. I did many years ago for a few years, and of course my colleague sat on the board for quite a few years and was also the chair of the board. We have this very fond attachment to the college, as well as to the possibility of looking at a university, for instance. If the minister would be so inclined, I would appreciate it. He can answer that. I will give him a question, though.
Along with the idea of a university is what we've been talking about, and he mentioned it today, and that is the innovation cluster in the Yukon, a Yukon cold-climate innovation centre. I have been briefed by the Chamber of Commerce and one of the chairs and people on it. I don't know if I'm allowed to say names in here. I always stumble. I struggle around this: should I say a name or not?
Anyways, it is the former president of Skookum Construction. I met with him last year and we had a really good meeting. They gave me a lot of information around it and, to be honest, I thought it was a great idea.
There has been a change in government, of course, and I'm wondering if there was any kind of commitment previous to this idea. Is there anything that Economic Development has been working on in this area? Where are we at with it in relation to bringing something like this forward?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The innovation cluster certainly is something that we've been looking at with great interest. We have a feasibility study going on right now that is going to cost around $137,000. The whole idea of a cluster would be to bring a group of like-minded people with like-minded problems together in a single place. They exist in British Columbia, Regina, Edmonton , St. John's; they deal with fuel cells, with oil seas, with grains, with fish.
This idea is to look at the cold-weather aspects and put one in the north. In discussions with Nunavut and Northwest Territories , they have been somewhat supportive of the idea, and something like this could be tied into higher education. University would be one way of looking at it, to my mind. To expand Yukon College and use the existing infrastructure for something like that would be something that is worthwhile.
The idea of a university certainly has its own set of problems in that we recognize there are university towns of small populations. The problem is they tend to have a lot around them. I'm sure the member opposite would agree that we tend to have a lot of nothing around us. It's quite a different situation. So, could we bring people in for that? Yes. Now we are back into housing situations and problems. There are a lot of permutations in terms of how to promote that.
But if there are any existing studies, I would be more than happy to take a look at them and have our staff and analysts take a more careful look at them.
Just because I don't tend to think it's a good idea doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a study out there that might change my mind. So, yes, absolutely.
Mr. Hardy: If there are any studies that are okay, would the minister be willing to share them with the third party - the third party today but who knows what tomorrow.
I have been reading some things around the innovation centre, and a lot of the ones that have been set up have been set up in conjunction with universities. I'm going to read the Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Cluster Feasibility Study Final Report and just stay on this topic a tiny bit longer: “Over the past few decades, Canada has fallen well behind the rest of the circumpolar world in its investment in research, innovation, economic development, and knowledge-linked infrastructure in its northern regions. Of the eight nations in the Arctic Council, Canada is the only nation without an accredited university located in its northern regions. Even Greenland, Denmark 's lightly populated northern territory, has a small, degree-granting university. The other six nations - Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation, and the United States - not only have substantial universities in their northern territories, but have also established university-level technical institutes, research centres, industrial research parks and a number of institutions designed to facilitate innovation and commercialization. Greenland , in addition to its university, has a number of small government-linked research organizations.
“In contrast, there is no university in Canada north of 55 degrees, no major research institute, and no industrial innovation centre. Of the three territorial colleges, only Yukon College offers limited access to degree programs through partnerships with southern institutions.”
It speaks volumes to me that we are in a very good position to move in this direction, in a small way, possibly, and that's why I do encourage the minister to keep an open mind and maybe direct his department to take a look at this a little closer.
The question with these innovation clusters, if the case is that they are connected to a university or some other institution in almost every example - if the government is interested in moving down this line, it almost goes hand in hand that we have to look at how we create that link and expand the possibilities in order to ensure that the investment that we have put into this would be successful. If I could hear the minister's opinions on that, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We have great fun with these new chairs in the House to try to see each other, so I'll wave a flag here from time to time, although that would be a prop, I guess, and we can't do that.
Certainly, it makes sense to put something like an innovation cluster with an institution of higher learning. My concern is basically with Yukon College, which does have some partnerships and programs, and to now try to promote KIAC up in Dawson , in terms of fine arts and everything else. What the member opposite proposes would seem to make three institutions of higher learning, all in a population that is pretty small. I wonder if that is a good use of resources, and my concern is that it could definitely impact on other programs - in particular social programs - and that worries me. However, certainly if there are other things - one thing that the member opposite might be familiar with but has forgotten for the moment is the so-called CANARIE - I'll have to check on that. We have access to that research development through universities and through Yukon College. It's a federal program. It involves very, very high-speed Internet and that is one of the reasons that one of our priorities has been to complete the fibre optic link to the south.
Something like 98 percent of our population has access to high-speed broadband, as opposed to the Province of Ontario, for instance, with 62 percent. We've really developed quite an amazing system here. By completing that fibre optics, suddenly with the CANARIE program, we can go live with video conferencing all over the world. It allows health care, better transmission of speciality programs for that and could very much have an impact on the recruitment of doctors and nurses. It could have an impact on partnering with the University of Northern British Columbia in terms of training nurse practitioners - a very special breed and very different from a nurse. It could have an impact on degree-granting courses that could be bringing students closer to the specialized teachers who would be required, particularly for the higher level programs. There are so many different ways. We actually saw a demonstration of CANARIE; it is working. We were entertained by a band from Newfoundland, and we could actually chat live in real time with the band leader and some of the students, and listen to the music.
We're looking at those sorts of things in terms of the infrastructure that could be utilized to perhaps expand KIAC or Yukon College, creating a third institution of higher learning. As I say, if there are studies out there, if there's any information that's different, I certainly will share any of that that I get, and I hope the member opposite will share with me.
Mr. Hardy: I absolutely will, as I'm doing right now.
As I do through the questions I'm asking you, I am also sharing my ideas and dreams for the future of the territory.
It was interesting - I was in Dawson talking to some of the people with KIAC. They are trying to create a degree-granting, four-year arts program up there. In order to do that, they need - and want, as best as possible - a link with a university. When I asked, “Well, what are you looking for? Maybe a university in the Yukon?” They thought that was fabulous and that it would work great. Everybody has different views and the more information we get, the better decisions we can make.
I am going to shift off - I only have a couple more questions. As I said, we have a lot of work to do ahead of us, so I don't want to spend a lot of time just going around and around on one or two issues.
$61,000 was set aside in the budget for Destination: Carcross. What is the status of the big resort that was once planned for Carcross? Does the minister have any update on that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We are revisiting the business plan. We do have people who are looking at that project. My information is that the First Nation involved has put the project on hold for the time being. We are continuing to look at it and consider it in the overall plans, but the ball is really in the First Nation's court.
Mr. Hardy: So, my understanding is that the project has just been stopped or shelved. Did they modify the project at all to possibly make it more feasible? Does the minister understand why it has been put on hold?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, the project is certainly not dead, but they are revisiting the business plan. They are looking again at their options. The Department of Economic Development is involved, and I understand it is providing funding and support to help them develop that business plan. We are still working on it. I certainly hope it isn't dead. It looks like it is just sort of languishing for a short period of time and will rise again from the ashes.
Mr. Hardy: How about the new owner's plan for the renovations of the Carcross Hotel - that heritage building? Have there been any discussions with the minister at all about that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, my understanding is that that's all with the heritage branch of the Department of Tourism, and we've not had any involvement as yet, although we'd certainly be happy to work with business plans and such if asked.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you. I won't go into questions about the train coming into Carcross and the leader of official opposition considering that a paperweight. As I said, I'm extremely fond of trains. I'm sure we could find a use for it if the first idea was not realized. The trolley, for instance, out here that chugs by - it was an NDP government that recognized the dream of some Yukoners and invested in that. I remember some of the criticism about that trolley. I was on the government side at that time. There was criticism from the Liberals and the Conservatives, who were on this side, about that investment, but now there are a lot of people who recognize the value of that trolley and what it adds to the City of Whitehorse. So sometimes you do have to invest in something and believe that it's going to be successful.
I've already asked the questions, of course, today in Question Period in regard to the Canadian dollar, the impact it has, especially around the film industry. There is no question at all, the film industry will be affected as the dollar rises. If it gets to par, that impact will probably be felt. The film companies will often cite the low Canadian dollar as an incentive to do the filming in Canada .
In some of the regions, such as Toronto and Calgary and a little bit in Vancouver - Vancouver is starting to feel it - they're well established, but the Yukon is a unique market and, again, we have to market it as best we can. Just as a caution - I've already asked the question - I hope we're looking at ways to keep that attraction up here and keep the film industry growing as much as possible. Maybe the minister has more information, now that he has his people with him, and could fill it out a little bit. If that's the case, what is the government doing about it and what actually can be done about it?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: For the two parts of that and the two things we touched on, first of all, in terms of the train, the member opposite hits on one of the main reasons that was done. We had an asset that was worth $1 million or $2 million, depending on the valuation you look at, and we got it for $420,000. The money immediately went into Carcross for wages for seasonal employees to complete the track. We have already gotten good value from that. The whole idea attached to that is it is narrow gauge and it will run quite nicely on the downtown track and expand the trolley system in the future.
We're not there yet, in terms of the expansion, but we will be in a number of years and, at that point, we would be looking at a huge investment for a self-propelled trolley that could carry more passengers, for instance. I think a lot of people in Yukon don't realize that the one that's on the waterfront right now came from, I believe, Brazil, so that gives you an idea of where these things have to come from. This one is sitting there and it's connected by track. As the track is approved, we can actually bring it into town.
It was an incredibly good investment. Some things we wanted to do with it haven't advanced as quickly as we wanted, but even what we've done so far is an incredible investment. If we invest in something and it doesn't work out, we could turn around and sell it for a very substantial profit, so it's still not a bad investment.
In terms of film, we certainly have been working on that. We have expanded the film funding from $175,000 two years ago, up to $750,000, or three-quarters of a million dollars, now. It leverages almost $10 return to the territory for every dollar spent, so that has been very, very good. We are sponsoring the International Film Festival that will be coming up and will also bring people in to showcase what we have to offer here.
We have been very, very good in terms of marketing and attendance at other film festivals. That has brought in quite a number of things. As I said before, if the member opposite has any idea of where the American dollar is going, I think we'd all like to know. But it does have an effect and it is a concern.
Snow has been a big attraction here. We can get into climate control and global warming and everything else.
Also, we have the attraction of the very, very long days here, so the film companies can work and take advantage of the light. We have been placing ads. We produced a document to actually go out to the film industry to market. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I had the great opportunity to have dinner one evening with a film crew, combined from Los Angeles and Vancouver . Their opening line, before we really got into any of the discussion, was: “We came up on a familiarization tour. You brought us up, you flew us around, you showed us where it is. We aren't up here looking at whether or not we want to come; we are here picking specific sites. We are filming here.” In fact, they did, shortly thereafter.
We have been very, very aggressive. We have people lined up to utilize that funding so, if we have a problem along the way, there is always someone lined up who would actually jump into that.
It is an extremely competitive market. That was one of the things that I got peripherally involved in before I came to the Yukon - working in the film industry. I had the great pleasure of working on a CBC four-hour movie called Glory Enough For All, documenting the history of the making of insulin, and in the episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Littlest Hobo, the Shaw Festival Theatre in 1984.
It was one of the parts of my career that I really hated to leave, but I certainly have no regrets in moving to the Yukon.
The film industry is certainly there and is competitive and, as things shift, Vancouver will move up in the scale and suddenly move back down again. Toronto, where we did some of the filming, had the advantage of a large, grounds-enclosed psychiatric facility that was pretty well downtown. So we had a building facility, studio space, grounds, and some of the most amazing films were shot there. They could literally step outside the walls and they were in downtown Toronto .
We utilize what competitive capacity we have - and with longer light and good programs that go to the producer rapidly. They are not programs that will see a financial advantage to the producer years down the road. They see these funds fairly quickly, and we compete with where we can on that, and so far the worst problem that we have had is that the Film Commission is doing too good a job - and that's a great problem to have.
Mr. Fairclough: I only have a couple of questions for the minister. One of them I would like to ask is in regard to First Nations and all the memorandums of understanding that have been signed by them and the different projects. Before we get into that, I want to ask about the trade and investment initiative that government once had. Where is it? I haven't seen any line items at all in this department other than trade initiatives and there are no monies on that line item.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: That initiative and those programs fall under the business and trade branch. There have been a number of different things that have been done through the enterprise and trade fund. We've been working with the north Yukon business advisor program. Things that have been involved - just to highlight a few for the member opposite - have been things like the microloan program for $98,000, which is actually a transfer of funds to Dana Naye Ventures to cover administration costs of their microloan program. That's the only loan program that I know of that we're getting into. I think governments of all political stripes have shown that we're not very good in the loan department, so let's sort of leave it at that.
The trade and market development program of about $200,000 provides assistance to business learning to develop new markets in all business sectors by conducting business forums, workshops - we've done this a number of times. As well, the project supports entrepreneurial development events, familiarization tours, as I've mentioned before, investment trade missions. We've had a wide variety: not only our going out to solicit business and investment, but to highlight that to people coming into the Yukon.
The business incentive program, or BIP - a little over $1.1 million provides rebates under the business incentive policies to maximize employment opportunities for Yukon residents and companies. There is the enterprise trade fund of $600,000, and that provides export marketing and business development support for small and medium-sized businesses. I'd like to highlight that, in that we do assist anyone with a business idea. We can provide assistance with developing the business plan. We do have some funds available to allow legal advice for the people who are putting proposals together for the more conventional programs, accounting advice and business plan preparation. As of March 17, 2006, the enterprise trade fund has approved $377,418 for the 2005-06 budget. That includes funding for 117 private enterprises, for projects ranging from marketing strategies, attendance at conferences and events, catalogue and CD production for the sound industry, participation in trade missions, operation expansions and other activities.
The enterprise trade fund is designed to enhance the ability of Yukon businesses to generate sales of Yukon products and to expand beyond the existing markets. It was developed to stimulate and support the growth of Yukon business activity through market expansion and business development.
For anyone who is listening, we might as well get the information out, and I thank the member opposite for the question. Applicants are eligible for up to $50,000 toward marketing and business development, and up to $10,000 toward the development of business plans and professional development opportunities. The first intake started in August 2004 - once we managed to get the Department of Economic Development reconstituted and back up and running after its untimely demise. I don't believe there are any intake times; applications can be submitted at any point in time.
There are a number of different things that can be done through there. For instance, we participated as a gold sponsor for $50,000 for the Opportunities North conference and trade show, which happened here in September 2005. That included displays at a number of shared trade show booths with a very heavy First Nation participation. There was the familiarization mining investment tour, or fam tour, and we saw good product coming from that. The trips to Asia have been very good and show good promise in the relatively near future to see some major investment coming into the Yukon . We've been very pleased with that.
We also host incoming consular and trade commission officials, such as the Indonesian Consul General, the Vancouver Consul General for the People's Republic of China, as well as extensive meetings with the former Consul General for the People's Republic of China and, currently, the Ambassador with Foreign Affairs; the Trade Commission from Belgium and the British Consul General. We've had Shenxin Copper Group from Shanghai, China ; we've had KOTRA, which is Korean, and we're meeting with the Korean Consul General. So we're looking at a wide range of all these things.
We also participated in the arts centre in Vancouver, which provides space to exhibit Yukon products and investment opportunities. They forward investment leads to us and offer boardrooms and meeting rooms for government and Yukon businesses involved in export and investment attraction. If any government agency or any private company would like to get access to this, it is a place to work while they are in Vancouver. It is a boardroom to utilize for their meetings, it is a place that has a nice theatre for large presentations, and all of this is available to anyone if they want to contact us on that.
Also, at the Meet the North in Edmonton next week we are sponsoring eight First Nation corporations to attend at our expense. These programs all exist. I am just sort of outlining some of the other areas where they have been placed.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. I know there used to be a line item just saying “trade and investment”, and since the department has been up and running it is something else now. It was one that a lot of businesses around the territory were very interested in.
The minister also mentioned marketing. I know this department has to work in conjunction with Energy, Mines and Resources. Is this department doing the marketing for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: In general, I suppose the simplistic way to look at it is yes. We work in conjunction with Energy, Mines and Resources and with other departments, agencies, et cetera, throughout the Yukon government. The simplistic way to put it, I suppose, is that Energy, Mines and Resources is more of a regulatory body, and we're more of a marketing body for it. We have taken the lead initiative with the Asian markets, which have been our biggest push and initiative to date. We are looking at some pretty impressive results from that in the coming months.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. I'm looking at the program objectives under policy and planning. On the third bullet, the program objective is to monitor and evaluate economic trends and issues and opportunities affecting Yukon . Somewhere else there are also objectives regarding working with communities in economic development. I'm wondering if the department has a breakdown or if they can provide graphs on these trends to this side of the House. I know that this is a difficult one. Can he do it by community? Obviously I'm interested in the communities in my riding, but I'd like to see where activity is starting all over the territory. Of course, we should be able to see that in graphs. What initiatives are being put forward to try to increase these economic initiatives in the communities? I ask this question, because earlier I mentioned First Nations and so on, but the department is obviously working with the communities and First Nations on this matter. All the information that has been gathered by the department should be, I guess, information released to all our partners.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Actually, some of that isn't as difficult as the member might think. Our Pathways to Prosperity document certainly gives a lot of information in some of the graphs and charts on that. We do a community report, and I'd be happy to send a copy of that over. We don't have it with us, but that certainly is something. We have a very good chart for the community development fund, which I can refer to and give statistics from. It's also within the community development fund annual report, which I tabled about a week or two ago. If the member opposite has that, great. If not, I can certainly provide that or blow-ups of this.
For instance, three percent of the CDF approvals have gone to Beaver Creek, one percent to Burwash Landing; Carcross probably makes more sense at $21,000; Carmacks, which I know the member is more interested in, is $48,855; Dawson got $151,850; Haines Junction, $56,000; and I can keep going through on this for the total of the community development fund. It's in the document I tabled and I can get more copies.
We are also working through business and trade to fund any individual community programs and to work with them on the business plan and business development. That has been one of the great successes of the business and trade branch.
It's the same thing with the community development fund. When I read out all those various numbers, these are ways government, First Nation governments and non-profit organizations have come to us with ideas - some simply with an idea that would benefit the community and some that would actually give infrastructure for something a little further. I do realize the schism at the moment in the member's party when his leader refers to the community development fund as a “slush fund”, but I'm glad to hear him at least intimating that there is good value to the fund. That was one reason we were very pleased to re-create it.
There is money available through that. The next intake is, I think, May 15 for tier 1 and tier 2. We're happy to entertain any ideas from any communities or anyone who's listening, and if the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has any ideas, we would be very pleased to look at them.
The regional economic development, or the regional planning branch, is another. That is one point of its organization that has been controversial. Some people feel that putting a regional economic advisor into the community would be the way to go.
The problem would require a number of additional people and it would remove them from many of the resources that they would have to really work within the field. Our decision has been to have these people based out of Whitehorse, where the real resources are, but expect them to rack up some pretty impressive frequent-driver miles. So they spend a lot of time in the communities and actually can utilize that to bring some of the communities together on joint projects. So far, that has been working quite well.
I hope that gives a better overview of what we're doing.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. The point he just brought up in regard to economic development officers is one that has been raised with me in the communities and throughout government as a whole in looking at devolving some of the positions down into the communities and trying to boost up the communities, because what is happening right now - and we see the numbers are growing in Whitehorse - is that a lot of the community people are moving to Whitehorse for work and for housing. Those are pretty big. If there were one new position, say, to the community of Pelly Crossing, Mayo or Carmacks, it would be huge. It's a big thing to the community. So that's a suggestion. The minister wanted some suggestions, and that's one of them. I do have lots of suggestions for community development fund projects, but usually they are applied for through some type of organization. I brought this one up before in my comments many times in regard to Stewart Crossing. There are some things for kids that could be done there that would benefit that small community. One is a slide hill; the other is getting the centre up and running as a place for the kids to go.
Governments are spending a lot of money on capital projects. I look at this budget and I see there is a fair amount of money being spent in my riding. I don't have the breakdown here but I think it's probably around $15 million - quite high. There's $11 million for the school, $3.5 million for the sewage system in Carmacks, and there are monies in Mayo too - about $3.5 million or something like that. That's a lot of money. When it's being spent for projects like this, it is economic development and is putting people to work and benefiting the community in many ways.
A school pays off in the long run, but the program objectives include working with First Nations. They are partners in economic development, or so says the government. This department is the focal point for First Nation economic development.
I'm wondering if there are guidelines put in place that are different from what we've had in the past for government monies being spent on projects in communities that focus on economic development and putting people to work, with First Nations and communities?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite makes some very good points. A lot of what we try to do - the community development fund, for instance, which is certainly not a slush fund, has tried to work with First Nation corporations, as well as non-profit organizations and that sort of thing, to strengthen the communities and such and to also strengthen capacity development. This has also been a real push within the business and trade section.
So, for any kind of local or regional development, it's that capacity development that is going to make the biggest sense. There are just so many ways that can be utilized. I am certainly glad to hear the member opposite has some ideas about that, and we look forward to getting them because there are a lot of ways we can work with that.
He has a good point in that when you look at some of the small things within the communities, it can make a huge difference in the smaller communities and regional areas. For instance, as Sherwood Copper opens, much of the employment can go to the communities in that direction. You'll see a huge investment potential to those communities, which will perhaps be out of proportion in the other direction from Whitehorse . Mines that will come on-line in the future that are being planned - from Wolverine to Pacifica Resources at Howard's Pass, Mactung, molybdenum deposits, Tagish Gold, and on and on - are things that will certainly have an impact on Whitehorse, but they will also have a huge impact on the communities in the immediate area.
It was interesting to find the number of people employed from Ross River last summer, for instance, with the emerald operation at Regal Ridge, which was something that was a very, very pleasant surprise up there.
The other thing, too, is that I'm so pleased to hear that the member opposite is seeing the benefits of something like the CDF and such, and I certainly hope he has similar discussions with his new leader about the $420,000 to buy the Red Line rail car. That $420,000 immediately went primarily to the Village of Carcross - a massive impact. It would be a shame to simply slough that off as an investment. It was an investment in the people of Carcross, and a very good one.
Mr. Fairclough: What the leader of the official opposition was getting at is they would like to see it up and running - that's the same as the minister - and they want to see this train being used.
As far as the community development fund goes, I know the member opposite keeps bringing up the slush fund because it was mentioned sometime. I'm in full support of it and so is probably every MLA in this Legislature. It is one with which we could be proud to say we've taken care of some of the communities' priorities, big or small, or one we may not even think would be a priority but is something they're putting forward and have no other way to fund it. That's why the community development fund was so important.
Since it was developed, it survived the Liberal Party and the Yukon Party because it was that important. I see it as that too. I could tell the member, though, that when the CDF was developed, it was called a slush fund by the Yukon Party. I just find it ironic that the same language is being used. It's just a difference of where you sit in the House. We went through quite a lot of hits on that at the time it was developed. I think we can both agree that the community development fund is a program that is well liked by all of us.
The reason I asked about the guidelines being used for government money that's spent in communities is I want to see people working. Right now, I'm watching a big project going ahead in Carmacks - the school - which the minister well knows was very controversial.
It is going ahead and being built, and those are government monies. The community has worked to try to do some training with its members to get them at least working.
In the first few months since they started the work in November, there have been very few, if any, local people working. Some heavy equipment operators were hired. I think there were three First Nation people working there. Two of them disappeared quickly, and there was only one left until probably sometime near the end of February. It was really sad to not see people working - that's what I am getting at. We need to find a way - governments and First Nations - to ensure that we do have employment in the communities.
I know what the minister is going to say. I have seen a lot more people working there. I've seen the walls go up. There is a floor that's in place. I know there have been delays and so on. It just doesn't seem good enough that we have the people who are capable of building this school but we don't have them hired on to the project. What we have seen is a construction company come in and subcontractors come in to do certain jobs. At one time - maybe the minister can tell us how he is monitoring this - there were complaints - and I know this is in a slightly different department - that the labourers were getting less than what the government would normally pay. I think in these contracts they all have to be paid what government pays for labourers, which is about $18.80 per hour, and I think people were getting $14 per hour. So it is a big difference and people left because of that - First Nation people and non-native people.
I asked the Minister of Education to check into this. I don't believe I've got an answer from him, but this is about economic development and putting people to work. I'm just wondering if the minister has some comments on that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I certainly agree with the member opposite that it has something to do with economic development. What it doesn't have anything to do with is the Department of Economic Development directly. So I have to refer to whom is employed - how many and rates of wages and such. It probably has more to do with Highways and Public Works and others. Education - I'm not even sure where they would come in on that. While we promote business and this sort of thing, we don't build things.
Last year, an interesting statistic is that the Department of Economic Development contributed almost $500,000 to First Nation applicants. Within the northern economic development programs and the strategic industries, now known as TIP - and I can't remember what “TIP” stands for - that's another $23 million. That investment plan will be done jointly with Council of Yukon First Nations, and we're working with them on that. There is also a component in there that could be utilized to assist small business in communities. So we're going to wrap that in, and we're going to do it in very close consultation with Council of Yukon First Nations and with other First Nations who are involved with Council of Yukon First Nations as appropriate, of course. I don't mean it otherwise. But in terms of the individual questions about, for instance, the Carmacks school, other than saying that it's probably the hardest $10 million that anyone ever had to give away, with all the discussion around that, we're so glad to see that the school is going up and that the community seems happy with that. Much of the final use will be at their discretion.
Perhaps the member opposite isn't aware or just has momentarily forgotten - the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation was just funded through the community development fund for a river cleanup project that will employ some students and this sort of thing. I really want to commend the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation for being the leader in all of Yukon in terms of the river ranger program, I think it is. They have the equipment to do this, and they have the expertise. We hope that they expand that expertise into other First Nations along other bodies of water.
If the community development fund can be utilized in that sense, in my mind that would also be a very good use. For those who aren't familiar with that program, this isn't simply river cleanup. To a degree, it is cleaning up for tourists, but it's also identifying sites along the river bodies that have cultural significance. That could be gravesites, old villages, or any one of a wide variety of possibilities for mapping these out and developing a body of knowledge.
It goes back to the traditional government way, which would be to hire a helicopter and go out to collect information. My own preference would be to work with the First Nations who are already on the land. They already know the lay of the land and what's out there, and to utilize them to document this. It's a good program, and I hope others get involved in it. There's a good example of the program that has been put to work.
I can see a lot of other potential things, for instance, in trying to preserve languages and recording, talking with elders. There are just so many ways it would develop that community immensely, and there are funds available for that sort of thing.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister is right. I know the community has worked hard, because it is their route of transportation too. The community development fund did go a long way, and I believe it funded others, like the cleanup of the telegraph wires, and so on, which were a danger to wildlife. They did a lot of work over the last years to get that done.
I didn't really hear an answer about the guidelines being used to hire and work with First Nations in regard to economic development on these big projects. That's what I'm interested in, and I want to see if it could be impressed upon the contractors to ensure local people are being hired.
It's sad to come into town and see all out-of-town workers working on a project when there are unemployed people there. That's the issue I have with that. I know a lot of community members have come up to me about that too. If the minister can elaborate on that, I would appreciate it.
The other thing I wanted to talk about - and the minister did raise this one - is in regard to the Minto mine. I think there are about 60 people working there right now. It's probably going to slow down and wait until the ice goes out now, but they've had an ice bridge and got a lot of equipment in and did quite a bit of work this winter. That has actually put a lot of people in Pelly Crossing to work, and a lot of them are taking the training - women too - in regard to things like heavy equipment operators, and so on.
I see a lot of people quite excited about that. It's good to see that again, because the community of Carmacks has always had some type of mining around it, right back to the old coal mine they had, which employed a lot of people, and of course Faro was after that.
That's another one. There is another one that will put a lot of people to work, and I know there are partnerships signed by this government with Pelly Crossing and Ross River in regard to the Faro mine cleanup. There will be a lot of money spent there. There are also others. One of the things I'm hoping would come out from an initiative by this government is the power line grid connection between Carmacks and Stewart Crossing. I think the First Nation is interested in undertaking some economic development initiatives with the government. I hope this doesn't slip out of their hands and that the government puts some effort into ensuring they're fully involved in this.
I know they are involved in the program or the project as it is designed through government, and I'm interested in that because the start-up construction date the government has put forward to the community is this time next year.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I'll try to attack some of those points - not necessarily in order here. For the primary question, again, the Department of Highways and Public Works is the main contracting body. They issue the contracts. They issue the parameters of the contracts, and so I simply don't have the information on that and have to defer to the Minister of Highways and Public Works.
There are a number of other comments that I really want to make on that. I didn't realize it was up to 60; I had heard 40, but they are growing so rapidly in terms of the number of people working up at the Minto mine site, I don't think a lot of the people in the Yukon are aware of the fact of how advanced that project is. That is exactly why we are promoting mining investment because that is a very long-term thing that is going to employ a lot of people in the area. It could very definitely - if not pay for the grid system going up there - it could very definitely pay for a large part of it in conjunction with the citizens of the area. There is just so much that can happen there.
One of the criticisms that comes occasionally is that we don't need a mine - we don't want the boom and bust of a mine. The idea of having a single mine - I agree that is probably a concern - but when we look at the Sherwood Copper investment into Minto; when we look at Wolverine and the lead-zinc and selenium there; when we look at Pacifica Resources, which will be largest lead-zinc mine by a factor of up to 10 - at least five times larger than Red Dog in Alaska, which is the largest in the world right now and it would easily go as high as 10 times - if we look molybdenum, if we look at Cantung with a possibility of Mactung, we look at Tagish Gold - if we look at all these things, that is where we start avoiding the boom and bust of a mine.
At the same time, when we start to look at the diversification in terms of the film industry, when we look in terms of manufacturing of other products and, as the population base starts coming up and things become more equitable to do, we start branching out very rapidly.
I had the good fortune of meeting last week with the senior vice-president of TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. to start talking about the pipeline project from their perspective and about the railway project and such. Just to give people an idea of things to think about, with the railway project and its construction - I'll say “when” it goes rather than “if” it goes - all of a sudden we have the increase in ability to pull out resources, potential containers, traffic, potential tourism. There are just so many different ways that can go if the study proves that it has merit. That's what the study is all about.
The gas pipeline is an interesting one because, once the construction comes through - our projection right now is that the Alaska gas pipeline will be the largest, or pretty darned close to it, construction project in history. It will be massive. But I think most people don't realize that once that pipeline is in place - it will likely be underground - the entire pipeline will probably be run by about 50 people. The construction draws huge investment and huge economic activity. After that happens, that's not where the jobs are. We know that. A lot of people are sort of expecting the opposite, but the reality is that's not where the jobs are.
Where the jobs are is - now that pipeline is here, we can branch off. We can put natural gas into homes; we can reduce the fuel cost for heating homes. We potentially could have natural gas in vehicles. Once that natural gas is there and at a cheaper rate - because what we are negotiating and what we seem to be negotiating is that we only pay for the part of the pipeline we use. In other words, the natural gas coming out of the fields of Alaska would be cheaper in Whitehorse than it would be in Alberta. So we have an ability to draw that off, so you have cheaper power for the mines and for cogeneration plants, and that may change how electricity is generated in the territory.
All of this is speculation. All these are things where we can go. That's where the jobs are. If we can provide cheaper power all of a sudden, even more mining operations - which are marginal at the moment, even with the significantly higher prices - would suddenly become very viable and very cheap to do. So those are the sorts of things that we're looking at.
The challenge with all of that, however, is the fact that we are very, very aware in this and all other jurisdictions, all governments, of capacity. We just don't have the people to do it. So when someone says, well, we should build the pipeline at the same time as the Mackenzie pipeline - we're going to be lucky if we can find people to build either. It will be difficult to find those people to build it. To build both at the same time is not likely to happen. And you put the railway on top of that - people aren't there.
It was interesting. When we were in Edmonton last week and we met with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, once all the introductions went around, the very first thing out of the president's mouth was, “Can you weld? If you can weld,” he says, “I'll put you on a plane right now and start you at $100,000.” I think a lot of our educational system, as well, has to come to grips with that. For a lot of kids, it's not what they want and not what they need - to go through a highly academic program. They might want to go back into the trades. We had the women exploring trades and Technology in the House the other day. Gender is completely irrelevant when it comes to welding. When it comes to a lot of the different trades - carpentry and electricians and everything else - there are huge benefits and huge employment opportunities in this. So we have to look at everything from where we're going to house the people, how we're going to recruit them, how we're going to train them, and how we're going to ensure that they can work within their own jurisdiction, and hopefully a lot of that is going to be within the communities.
The other part I wanted to mention on that was in terms of the business incentive program. This is the one way that our department does have an involvement with projects and mines and this sort of thing.
We transferred the business incentive program and its budget from corporate services to the business and trade branch. That's relatively new, so I want to inform the member opposite of that. That was effective April 1, so that has only been within the last month.
The program's objective and mandate effectively remain unchanged. The goals of the business incentive program, or BIP, align with those of the business and trade branch more, which is why we relocated it there, and it promotes activities related more to Yukon small and medium business enterprises.
We basically look at that in a variety of different ways. There is a business incentive review committee; they recommended the full program continue; we extended it to youth; we are doing internal studies on it and the budget in 2005-06 is $1.1 million. Without getting into a lot of the details, this is a supplementation program that promotes the hiring of Yukon workers. So, all of a sudden, rather than trying to set up rules and regulations involving workers from the Outside - because, as the member opposite knows full well, the social union framework agreement, or the SUFA mobility agreement, says that any Canadian has access to any Canadian job. It says if a welder here wants to go to work in Quebec, they could simply move and go to work. We don't have any welders from Alberta who want to come to the Yukon, unfortunately. We're going to need to figure out how to get them here, but I doubt they're there now.
If you have a tradesman from Alberta or British Columbia who wants to come up, we can't deny them that job, so the approach we've taken is that we will give a business incentive to the contractor or to the mine or whatever to give them that extra boost to hire the Yukon worker. As I say, it was $1.1 million in the budget last year. The program seems to have worked well and seems to be working well; therefore, we want to continue that program.
Mr. Fairclough: I realize that the Yukon has lost a lot of its skilled workers. Some of them have gone to other jobs. I know that in my community there are miners - people who have worked in the mines a long time - who have gotten a full-time job and are not willing to go back into that industry. It means that the younger people need to be trained. I guess that's what I'm getting at.
The reason why I have been asking about government money is that in the objective it says that this regional Economic Development department is to be the Government of Yukon's focal point for First Nation economic development. Whether the other departments have money to spend on other projects, I would think that this department would steer and guide them through this in order to develop partnerships with First Nations. That was my main reason for asking that question, as well as, of course, to put people to work. When we have these projects, we don't see as many of these local people working as we should.
With regard to mining, we have the Minto mines. We have the one that used to be called Carmacks Copper, but is now Western Silver. That could be up and running shortly too. They need to do a lot more public relations work. These are the kinds of activities that can have a huge impact on the community.
When BYG was up and running - a small outfit that employed 80 to 110 people at any given time - it had a big impact on the community. There was a lot more activity going on and more people looking at investing in the community.
There is another huge deposit or mining outfit that hasn't done a lot of work lately, but it's the Casino properties. That one needs to have a decent road to get the ore out. If they're looking at it today, they're probably going to make good money on it, but 10 or 12 years ago, they were looking at taking out five times the ore per day that Faro did, so that was a lot of ore - just to make ends meet.
With the price of copper and gold going up, this would make the project that much more viable, but the road is quite a long way. Firestone Tires has a property near Casino mines. It's just off the Casino Trail. They've been working at that all year and all winter too. There is a lot of potential for mining in and around that. I haven't heard anything about Redell lately. I think that's pretty well gone. It's too small an investment.
I know there is an increased interest in BYG; they've done a lot of drill work and have found the ore body goes down forever. If they were ever to do a mine again, it would be an open-pit mine, rather than going underground like they did before. I know they did a little high-grading in an open pit.
If you look at it, you can see a lot of potential impact in those communities. I haven't mentioned the others, like up around Keno and Mayo. There's lots of activity there too.
When the renewable resource council starts looking at these, and the First Nations and communities start looking at these, they want to ensure they're ready and trained, because sometimes these things happen really quickly. That's the reason for asking the question about the guidelines for guiding other departments, like Energy, Mines and Resources, when it comes to economic development in small communities.
I'll just leave it at that - that's my final question.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I have just a couple final responses to that. In the Department of Economic Development, while we tend to promote the mines, it's Energy, Mines and Resources that really works with the mines and regulates them, but we are working with Energy, Mines and Resources on a mining training strategy. I'm very well aware of the fact that the training aspect is going to be a huge part of it.
Just a couple statistics to throw out so the member opposite is aware - the regional economic development fund has put out about $178,000 through Yukon communities to assist with capacity development and regional economic development planning. It has committed a further $120,000 in programs that haven't started or haven't been completed yet. Much of that has been with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation and the Kluane First Nation. It depends on who is involved. There will be others involved, and there have been others in the past. The regional economic development fund itself is about $450,000, and applications can come in at any point. So again, we certainly would be happy to look at those things.
I tend to think that we are on the edge of a major boom in the economy. All these projects are getting right up to the edge. The member opposite has hit on a very good point. Our job, in many respects, is to be ready when these things happen. He's quite right that, when they happen, they happen somewhat explosively in many cases. So our job is to be there, to have all the groundwork laid, to have everything set to go, such the rail feasibility study, where we need to give the data to the private sector for them to make the determination or to propose where a road might go and do it in such a way that it has little or no impact on the environment, as is possible. Working in conjunction with YESAA is a new factor that's going to be challenging in some respects, but I tend to think it's probably going to be pretty good, because it's a single doorway; it's a single way to look at this.
But the challenge is to be ready for all this when it happens. I really, really encourage especially our youth to look at the trades as a viable option. Again, most of these trades have no gender barrier. The opportunity for someone to go into a trade right now and make an exceptionally good living, have good financial stability and a good future for them and their family is there.
I remember a cartoon that someone gave an old roommate in university. It shows the older couple sitting in a chair with the insurance agent hovering over them, and the caption says, “This policy is in case he wants to become a writer or a poet.” We all have to follow the paths where our lives lead us. For anyone looking at a career, for God's sake, look at the trades, because they have some incredible potential.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, we will go into line-by-line examination.
Mr. Fairclough: I request the unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all lines in Vote 7, Department of Economic Development, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 7, Department of Economic Development, cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. Fairclough has requested the unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all lines in Vote 7, Department of Economic Development, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I believe there is unanimous consent.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $6,748,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $10,405,000 agreed to
Department of Economic Development agreed to
Chair: We are moving on to Yukon Housing Corporation.
Do members wish to have their regular 15-minute recess now?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I believe that there is unanimous consent to take a break now. We shall do that and reconvene in 15 minutes with Yukon Housing Corporation.
Yukon Housing Corporation
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We'll continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation. We'll begin with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It's my pleasure to introduce the 2006-07 operation and maintenance and capital budgets for Yukon Housing Corporation. The corporation's 2006-07 budgets consists of $12.5 million in operation and maintenance expenditure, of which $9.9 million is recoverable, and $15.9 million in capital expenditure, of which $13.7 million is recoverable.
The 2006-07 budget tabled for the corporation is slightly higher than the forecast for fiscal year 2005-06 in terms of total gross and net basis. The corporation's primary mission is to improve the state of housing in the territory and help Yukoners resolve their housing issues. To accomplish this, Yukon Housing Corporation offers choices for safe and affordable housing that significantly contribute to improvement in the quality of life for Yukoners.
The focus of Yukon Housing Corporation programs and services is not limited only to achieving a better quality of life for the citizens in the territory, but also toward improving Yukon's economy, strengthening relationships with First Nations, contributing toward a healthy environment and practising effective program management.
The Yukon Housing Corporation continues to provide effective, courteous and professional services to Yukoners every day. The staff of the corporation prides itself on quality customer service and is there to assist its clients with all manner of program inquiries, ranging from our funding programs to requests for detailed information on any number of issues related to housing technology.
Mr. Chair, the budget tabled provides opportunities for Yukoners to access funding at affordable interest rates to purchase or repair homes. A total of about $10 million is allocated for these programs and will generate employment and business opportunities throughout the territory.
To respond to the needs of an increasing seniors population, the corporation is continuing to contribute to this government's commitment to improving the seniors' living environment. To that end, this budget includes an annual contribution toward the seniors housing management fund. The seniors housing management fund was established with the objective of funding major housing initiatives for seniors once it grows to a significant amount and when the time is right. This budget also provides funding for the seniors home and yard maintenance program, which, aside from accommodating home mortgages and home repair programs, enables seniors to access assistance for general maintenance of their homes. These are further examples of this government's commitment to our seniors.
Through the Yukon Housing Corporation, this government continues to provide social and staff housing throughout the Yukon. The appropriate level of operation and maintenance funding is allocated in this budget for these programs.
Also, capital funding is provided in the amount of $2 million for supportive and affordable seniors housing and $400,000 for renovation to social housing units.
The levels of operation and maintenance and capital funds toward social and staff housing programs contribute not only to providing safe and comfortable housing but also to creating economic benefits in the rural communities. Mr. Chair, I'm pleased to point out that the 2006-07 capital budget has provision for the joint venture program in the amount of $1.7 million. The corporation has established and continues to have good working relationships with the private sector in the housing industry. Under the joint venture program, private sector developers can access construction financing for new, affordable housing developments and for upgrades to existing rental properties. This program helps to increase the Yukon housing supply for seniors and to create of environmentally friendly new homes while stimulating real economic opportunities and job creation through participation of the private sector. We only have to look at the athletes village project to see the benefits of this approach and the benefits it provides to our economy, the housing market and ultimately the people who will live in the facilities.
The Yukon Housing Corporation's programs and services are achieving positive results, but we can't do it alone. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge a few of the other participants who work with us to create positive solutions for Yukon 's housing needs. Beginning with the board of directors of the corporation, members of local housing associations, the Whitehorse Housing Authority and the corporation staff are all instrumental to such positive outcomes.
There are many examples related to Yukon Housing that have successfully utilized government funds to leverage private sector spending. The most obvious example of this is the projects in progress under the Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement. The Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors is responsible for approving the program criteria and for selecting projects for funding.
In April 2005, the board conditionally approved $830,000 for 44 home-ownership units and 20 rental units with Falcon Ridge Development Corporation. This leveraged over $20 million in private sector funds being injected in Whitehorse 's economy from our investment of federal dollars, employing Yukoners on the project, and purchasing supplies from local businesses. The leaders of both opposition parties have sort of indicated that this is a problem. Actually, I believe the figure is closer to $23 million in private sector funds that have come in on the $830,000 investment. I would suggest that it was a very good investment.
The Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors also approved $3.5 million toward the construction of 48 units at Yukon College that will first be used during the Canada Winter Games. The corporation is very pleased to acquire these 48 units of new, affordable, barrier-free, energy-efficient housing with an investment of $3.5 million. Further announcements are likely later this year, but we must follow the protocol provisions outlined in the Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement, much to the chagrin of some members opposite, but we are required to do that.
Another program which helps leverage private sector spending is the joint-venture program that I mentioned a moment ago. Under the joint-venture program, private sector developers can access construction financing and, as I mentioned, for upgrades to existing multi-family homes. The program not only helps to increase housing supply for seniors and creation of environmentally friendly new homes, but it results in the real economic opportunities through participation of the private sector.
In the two previous years, for example, the Yukon Housing Corporation provided fully recoverable loans through the program to developers who built 10- and 12-unit condominiums in Takhini and downtown Whitehorse. I am pleased to say that in the 2006-07 budget a provision for the joint-venture program has been made in the amount of $1.7 million.
The recent increase in house prices has created a gap in the ability of lower income people to access home-ownership financing. We are very, very aware of that. The average price of a home in the Yukon has risen from $152,000 in 2001 to around $200,000 in 2005. We have addressed this somewhat by implementing new financing options within the existing home-ownership programs to assist low- and middle-income earners to access home ownership. This will help young families purchase their first home and hopefully stay in the Yukon .
Changes here include a one-percent reduction in posted interest rates, providing longer amortization periods of up to 30 years, and setting a higher maximum lending threshold of $195,000. $7 million has been allocated for this in this year's budget.
Our major commitment in 2002 was to build a sustainable and competitive Yukon economy and, by utilizing the funds in these ways, we certainly have added to that. We have our challenges with that in terms of employment and finding people to do the construction, but I have every confidence that other programs outside of Yukon Housing Corporation will add to that and we will be able to continue to utilize the federal funds and some of the new funds that have been announced as being available this past week.
With that, I commend the budget to the House, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fairclough: I only have a few questions in this department, although they may lead to more. I asked the question of the minister in the previous department about trade and investment. I know when this was an initiative by government that Yukon Housing Corporation had a really big role in trade and investment, and it has done a lot of things to encourage businesses in the Yukon in the past. I haven't seen or heard of any new initiatives brought forward. I will give an example to the minister, if he would like: working with the private sector in housing and looking at even mobile units being built here and shipped elsewhere and trying to put housing units in the big containers.
I think it was one house per container, and they were shipped off pre-built. There was a lot of potential in Chile, for example, and even in Russia. But I think some of these things fell apart. Local business was right into this because it would have employed a lot of people in the past. I haven't seen this initiative brought up to any big level since. I know a lot of people out there are looking at this. One example of business shipping housing out is Yukon Alaska Log Homes. That has been really successful, and I know that this department could really play a big role in encouraging local business to expand and hire local people outside of the territory. I'm just wondering if I could get comments from the minister on that.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Many of the initiatives in the programs that the member opposite refers to, which sort of ended up in Yukon Housing Corporation after the untimely demise of the Department of Economic Development - once that department rose from the ashes, we were able to transfer those back into that department. So, the programs are still there. But the member comes up with some interesting points there.
We have had meetings, and will continue to have meetings, as early as today actually, that will look at some of the things he's alluding to. I tend to think that there is potential in that, and it's those sorts of areas that we will be exploring in the coming months and years.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. There is a lot of potential there. The one company that was looking at building in Chile had contracts lined up to build schools. It was massive. It would have put a lot of people here to work, whether they were going down there for awhile or building the units here. It was really interesting. I know that kind of business could thrive here.
So, I thank the minister for showing an interest in that. I think it is an area where the Yukon is diversifying the economy in the building sector. A lot of people were looking into the technology that goes into building homes here in the territory. They are high quality and could be anywhere in the world. I thank the member for that.
Last year or the year before - I think it was even during the last sitting - about the Yukon Housing Corporation's home show. It was really successful. At that time, the trade show was shut down. Are we now a part of the trade show or is the department looking at putting on its own home show? It was very successful and a lot of people really liked it. I think that when one looks at the building boom in the territory right now, it could be something that the department puts on separate from the trade show.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, in no particular order, we are involved in the trade show. There are some resource issues in terms of how many people we can put into a trade show and a home show. There are a lot of things we look at, but in general, it's good. We're heavily involved in the trade show this weekend. It's a good thing. I was up there yesterday, watching them set up. There's a lot of benefit to that.
The member alludes to something that other members in the House seem to miss, and that is if we do look at shipping homes outside of the territory, one of the things that would greatly aid in the viability of such a program would be to containerize pre-built homes and put them on a railroad. That's definitely one of the aspects and one of the pieces of the puzzle. It's the hundreds of little pieces like this that add to that rail study and may heavily influence it. That would make a lot of sense. You could put it in a container on a railroad in Whitehorse ; it would be in Anchorage and then Korea in a relatively short time - or into Chile or Mexico or Thailand, or wherever. We have a huge Asian market there and huge housing problems. That's part of what we could get involved in, very definitely. So, yes, we're definitely looking at that.
Mr. Fairclough: Skagway is not that far off, and I think that's the route people are looking at. I'll just leave that one. The minister knows the interest that we have. I think we have a huge potential up here. It could have all kinds of spinoffs - like sawmills and so on - if we were building homes and shipping them from here to a market close by. We certainly haven't had that type of activity here in Whitehorse, to any major degree, for awhile.
I wanted to ask about the green mortgage and the senior management fund. Green mortgage - is that still going? I looked through the department lines, and I didn't see any there. But it was to go toward senior housing and the senior management fund.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It's part of the home ownership program, and, yes, it's definitely in there. It's an integral part of that. On the other comments, I completely agree with the member opposite. Skagway is part of the puzzle. Again, I'm so glad he sees the benefit in the port access study that will potentially dovetail with that sort of a thing. Truck them down and put them on there, or if the railways integrate with each other - there are so many possibilities. Right now, of course, the track doesn't come all the way in. It ends at Carcross, but as that continues, that could be a definite part of it. So these are all pieces of the puzzle, and it's all part of the big picture that we have to look at.
Mr. Fairclough: Yukon really missed out on securing land in Skagway when we had the opportunity. I know it's from the very party that I am with right now. We did miss out, but we've had four years of the Yukon Party, too, and we probably could have got something there. It's too bad the NDP didn't get it either. No one seems to have gotten this piece of land, and we all had best intentions and we still all have best intentions. I am hoping we do because the mining industry, for example, is where we will be looking - to getting ore out there.
I would like to ask about the home ownership program. The green mortgage money is in that line item. What kind of money are we looking at, and is it flowing into the senior management fund?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The amount of money involved in that is about $310,000 that goes into the senior housing management fund. That's an annual contribution that will be used when projects come available.
On the other point, I have to almost object that the member opposite is stealing my jokes, but we realize that the port access - I think, on all sides of the House, whether it's buying a dock down there or securing access to the benefit of both without putting out that capital investment. That's what the port access study is trying to look at and that's what it's trying to come up with. We will see what happens with that in June. That report will be made public and, who knows, maybe that was the best option and we will all have egg on our faces. It remains to be seen.
Also, on the green mortgage, there is $100,000 in the capital budget that will take part in that. Within the affordable housing program, one of the requirements we put on it is the green mortgage insulation package and that sort of thing. We are coming up with homes that are very cheap to operate or very environmentally friendly - much less in terms of greenhouse gas emission, much less demand on electrical services, et cetera. It's all part of the package.
Mr. Fairclough: I did see it as a line item here. I'm just trying to see if I can flip back to it. $310,000 was what the member identified. I heard the minister say in his opening remarks that we're waiting for this fund to build up so that we can fund projects. I'm wondering if he can give me an explanation about that and what kind of monies we're looking at.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Right now the fund sits at approximately $2 million. As I say, there is an annual contribution to that, and the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors will be looking at projects as projects come available and meet the funding.
We look forward to the good work of the board of directors, which has done really good work so far in terms of some of the things they've come up with and a great deal of creativity.
So, yes, $310,000 this year, and the fund sits at about $2 million.
Mr. Fairclough: I agree that the board of directors do good work, and they should be commended for that.
I was wondering if the department and the board had a project in mind with respect to the seniors fund - this $2 million plus?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The criteria haven't been set yet by the board and haven't gone through Cabinet, so we don't have any concrete plans on that. But as the fund grows, the possibilities of things we can do with it grow as well. So we're really looking forward to being able to utilize that.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the minister give me a little bit more detail about the seniors housing - particularly the two places where the seniors housing complexes have been built - in Watson Lake and the potential one in Haines Junction? Can he give me an update on those projects? Will they be completed this year? Will we see lapsed funding?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: First of all, the Watson Lake project is quite easy. It doesn't have anything to do with the Yukon Housing Corporation. That is all through Health and Social Services. It's housing at a higher level than we are involved in.
In terms of the Haines Junction facility, we have looked at several sites. We have had some consultation, and we will have more with the Village of Haines Junction government. There will be much more involving First Nations, as well as those up the highway. It will, of course, also involve Burwash Landing, Destruction Bay and Beaver Creek.
It makes sense, and our staff is working directly with the seniors in Haines Junction and consulting them on various concepts and potential locations. One of the potentials, of course, is to actually put it close to or near the nursing station and use it in such a way that it would allow a wider range of services to both the nursing station and to the seniors who are there.
One of the things that has come up in this House is the involvement of the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake and their projects. In fact, much of what they do are funded services. If we had the right facility, Haines Junction seniors could take on some of the responsibilities and take over these services as well. That is something we are looking at, and we are going to have to talk with them about it.
We expect to tender the design of the building later this spring. We are anticipating the design to be complete this fall and starting construction probably in the spring of 2007. We look forward to a fairly quick building time, subject of course to the fact that it's going to be hard to get tradespeople at that time. We are trying to dovetail it into the overall game plan.
Basically, and to give the member opposite some of the background on this, in the fall of 2004 an independent, third party, community needs assessment was conducted to study the need for a multi-level care facility. The Department of Health and Social Services was very much involved in that and presented the result of the study to two community meetings in May of 2005. The study determined that the community did not yet justify construction and operation of a multi-level care facility, but it did to commit to revisiting the issue of the multi-level care facility in three years' time. Instead, what the study suggested was that most of the community's current needs could be met through an increase in home care services and, as a result, a full-time home care nurse was added to the services provided in Haines Junction.
During last fall's community tour, the Premier reiterated that a level 1 or 2 care facility, such as the ones in Dawson and Watson Lake, isn't feasible right now. He indicated at that time that a seniors housing project is a possibility with normal home care services provided from the community to the seniors, and he gave direction to the government and to Yukon Housing Corporation to engage in discussions with the St. Elias Seniors Society and other community members.
Those meetings took place in December of 2005. Representatives from Yukon Housing Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services met with representatives of the St. Elias Seniors Society and the Champagne and Aishihik elders group. A second meeting was held in the Village of Haines Junction shortly thereafter and under discussion was a seniors housing project that could accommodate independent apartments. Common areas could be included to serve other needs, such as the home care visits, personal care services, social activities - as I say, taking on more responsibilities in the mould of what Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake did. This all has to come out of consultation with the seniors group in terms of what they want to do and how much responsibility they want to take on this.
But at both meetings, people were very receptive to proceeding with the Yukon Housing Corporation project and agreed that it would meet their needs, apart from their wish to have an on-site staff person available to provide 24-hour care. That's one of the major things that is not feasible at this time. That need has yet to be demonstrated, but assurances were given that the community support, such as home care, would be available to residents in a seniors housing project.
The Housing Corporation received a fax from the Village of Haines Junction on December 15, 2005, expressing their appreciation for the opportunity to meet. I'm very pleased to have received that, and it contained a motion passed at the December 14, 2005, Haines Junction council meeting, and the motion reads as follows: “Be it resolved that the Village of Haines Junction notify Yukon Housing Corporation of its desire to work with that department in pursuing all avenues toward providing services to the area's senior citizens, which services would include but not be limited to local accommodation for seniors.”
The letter goes on to say that the municipality looks forward to a successful, cooperative effort between Haines Junction and Yukon Housing Corporation on behalf of the seniors. So, based on those consultations, this government is proceeding with the next steps - I gave the timelines a moment ago - and, with the assistance of Haines Junction, a site is in the process of being finalized. It is close to the health centre. It allows for barrier-free accessibility. It's large enough to allow for expansion of the structure at a future date - that's important, because we know the population is going to grow, or at least we certainly hope that the political climate allows it to grow.
The next step in project development will be to enter into the design process, and that, as I mentioned, is coming up. It will see a design team consulting with the seniors and the elders of Champagne-Aishihik. I would also like to certainly extend those to others - the White River First Nation, the Kluane First Nation, as they're very much part of this - and, again, the village itself.
The final design of the building will hopefully be completed this fall; construction is in the spring of 2007, as I mentioned. We're very pleased to see this project starting to come along.
Mr. Fairclough: I believe this is an issue that more and more people are talking about in the communities. Other communities have also expressed an interest. I hope the department will take that seriously. There's a community where, if a seniors housing facility was built, probably the whole community would have been there, and that's the community of Keno. I think the average age is 65. People are moving out of that community now; three people left last year. They're in Mayo, Carmacks or Whitehorse. You can see the population is aging in these communities and a lot of the people are not leaving.
Maybe the minister could look at this seriously. For example, I know the First Nations have always looked at providing housing for the older people in the community. They looked at something called granny suites, which were mobile enough to move around beside their children's places, but it still gives the seniors their privacy and the ability to do things on their own. If the minister can do that, I would appreciate it.
The other question I have is in regard to the pet policy. Can the minister let us know what's happening with that? Will we have an announcement soon? What's the scoop?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member doesn't disappoint - I had a feeling that would come up.
The pet policy has certainly been revised, and we're now in the process of meeting with particularly the seniors but, of course, it's a much wider range. As the member well knows, it's a hot topic at the best of times. For every person who wants a pet, there is somebody else next door who has an allergy and doesn't want the pet. Or, someone likes to take the dog for a walk, but unfortunately, the dog goes around the corner and runs down somebody with a walker. So, it's always a hot topic.
At the March 2006 meeting of the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors, they approved the adoption and implementation of a pet policy. The pet policy will pertain to all tenants in social housing, involving all of Yukon Housing Corporation, and the policy will explain what types of pets are permitted, as well as the tenant's obligations to always ensure that the pet does not negatively affect other tenants - and that's more of a challenge than you would expect, Mr. Chair. Yukon Housing Corporation staff is currently developing the implementation strategy so they can effectively advise all tenants, and we should have that in place in the next month or so.
There is background to this whole thing, and I won't bore the member opposite, who is probably very familiar with it, anyway, because it has gone on for a number of years. But we're looking at a number of different things. For instance, if the pet happens to be a dog, should that dog be on the first floor? Is it reasonable to put it on the third floor? And that may initially involve some people moving or wanting to move. I've already stated publicly and stated to the residents at various meetings that I've had with them that, if we have to make modifications - for allergies, for instance, or this sort of thing - that we will do it. We'll accommodate wherever we can with that.
Again, the fun part of this job is, no matter when you think you've seen the most bizarre thing possible, you come to work the next morning and something makes yesterday look pretty boring.
I'm sure that we will have challenges on that. But it is reasonable for social housing and staff housing to be equal in that. There is good documentation and studies that show that pets are a soothing and calming influence. People deserve to be able to bring their pets with them into those facilities.
Mr. Fairclough: Is it possible to have that policy sent over to us? I know that you're working on the implementation of that policy. I was wondering if the department has also done an analysis on the cumulative effects of having pets in homes - the costs to the Yukon Housing Corporation on damage and that type of thing. Was that part of the plan to implement the policy?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, there has been a lot of work that has gone into this. In terms of actually doing a study on that, no, it was, I suppose, among other things, my direction not to go that route. There are so many permutations on this. For instance, if there is a damage deposit imposed, it is not done on someone's children. Again, why would we do that for social housing with people who are probably the least likely to be able to put down a damage deposit? It makes no sense.
There has been damage from pets. It has been a concern of certain people within the corporation. There has been damage from children. That's potentially a problem and concern for other people. The bottom line is that people should have the right to do this. There are good studies to show that it is a good thing for seniors. They deserve the right to have the pets in there. It is one of the social things that we will just have to live with.
Mr. Fairclough: I know that has been an issue for many years and I am hoping it could be resolved, particularly for the seniors. I, myself, am allergic to pets so, when I walk into a home that has a pet in there, I feel it almost immediately.
I guess I have a couple more questions. In regard to new housing units for social housing, how many are being built this year and where? If the member opposite doesn't have the information, it can be sent to me. If there are any new units at all - I didn't see them in the stats here. Also, how many vacant Yukon Housing Corporation units do we have?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: That actually is an easy one. Other than the Haines Junction facility that we're looking at, we're not building any additional social housing, and that's for a good reason. That's not the game plan or the direction that we have gone: to custom build a social housing facility. There are benefits in some areas and in some communities but, at the present time, they are simply not there.
For the record, just to correct something in Hansard the other day - again, this is a constantly changing target, so I will look at where the target was at the time. The Member for Mount Lorne referred to a couple of statistics and I just wanted to correct those. He referred to a - and I quote from Hansard - “promised 25 assisted care units.” Actually, the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors provided conditional approval to a private sector developer interested in building a supported-living project, not a care facility. There are differences. That, in fact, was later cancelled by the developer.
He also stated that there are 60 seniors in Whitehorse and 30 throughout the territory on waiting lists. The reality at that point in time - again, that's a constantly moving target - was there were 73 on the waiting list with Whitehorse Housing Authority, of which 32 are seniors and, in the rest of Yukon, there are 11 on the waiting list and only one is a senior. But again, that's not meant critically. As I say, that's a constantly changing target.
I do have a vacancy report here, in terms of communities. And just to hit a couple that I know are near and dear to the Member for Mayo-Tatchun's heart, Carmacks has 18 units, with all 18 active; Destruction Bay has none; Mayo has 19 in total, of which 16 are active, two are vacant and one is under repair. If the member opposite is interested, I'd be more than happy to send over the vacancy report dated March 31. Again, it's a constantly moving target. So, I'm not sure how much value it is, but I'm happy to provide it.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. The other question I have is an important one that has been raised with me. It's about 25 percent of your gross income for rent. This really becomes a catch-22 for a lot of people who cannot save up the down payment for a home, but would like to build one. This has been in place for a good long time now, but it wasn't before. There was always a cap.
Has the department looked at maybe looking at this issue again to think about putting a cap on rent in the social housing units?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite is correct. The benchmark we use is 25 percent of the person's income. We should note, however, that in the rest of the country it is 30 percent. Yukon is actually the lowest in the country and it gives us a lot of flexibility on that.
There is a cap, because there is the potential for someone staying in social housing and taking places that would be best used by other people. For example, in the Northwest Territories, where many of their clients pay nothing for their social housing, what has occasionally happened is that someone who is retired and getting a good pension will go into social housing where they pay nothing and pocket the rest, and this has become a real challenge for their government. No matter where you go, there's always a challenge. That cap of 25 percent is the lowest in the country.
Another thing we have done in this budget is raise the threshold for mortgages and lower it by one percent - it makes sense. The reality is, as anyone knows who has gone for a mortgage, that one can shop around and get a bit better than the rates that are published. So, why would we hang on those published rates when so many people don't actually pay that. We dropped the mortgage rate by one percent and we have extended the amortization period to 30 years from 25. That drops the monthly payments quite significantly for a lot of these people. Hopefully, we will get some of these people back into the home ownership plan.
With the rise in housing costs, there is another challenge. The Member for Mount Lorne has been vocal about that. He is quite right that as the price of housing goes up, it creates another set of problems. It is one of the side effects of our rapidly growing and successful economy.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I was more wondering whether the department was looking at a cap in dollar terms, not a percentage. It used to be like that before, similar to what the Yukon government staff housing has. It has a cap, and I'm wondering if the department is going to look at this again. While the minister is answering the question, can he say whether or not people living in Yukon Housing units and have 25 percent of their gross income going toward the rent, if their kids are employed, is their income part of that and, if so, why?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I'd have to take a closer look at that. I'm not familiar with any such case, I've never heard of any case, but anything is possible. My understanding is, no, the income of children and this sort of thing would not factor into that. In fact, we made a policy decision a year or two ago that child support payments would not be factored into the income. That goes to the child; that does not go to the single parent. So it again makes every good sense to factor that out of the decision.
Mr. Fairclough: There was a cap in Yukon Housing Corporation before - dollar wise - and I think it was between $600 and $700, but it is not there now. We encourage people to build their homes, and I know the corporation would like to do that. I was wondering if they would examine a program for those who are in Yukon Housing Corporation units - if they entered into agreements with the corporation to have that rent lowered until they get the amount of money needed for a down payment on a home. We are encouraging people to move into their own units; that's what we are trying to do, but when we keep the 25 percent so high, there is no way that people are able to save enough for a down payment on a home. I would like to ask the minister to consider that, and maybe get back to me in writing. I understand the home ownership program myself.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: At the June meeting of the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors, they will be looking at social housing criteria and we'll get some direction from them at that point in time. I believe there was a cap in the past; there isn't right now. In discussion with a number of people over the last year, there was talk about the 25 percent, and then when they started to add up what they make - and some of them with very substantial government pensions - they say well, gee that's more money than I make now. The point is yes, if it is, you shouldn't be in the social housing program; you can find adequate housing elsewhere. Those are the sorts of issues that they are going to have look at.
If someone truly is low income and needs the support, they should be the ones getting that support, not someone who just wants to lower their rent. It's a challenge. Some of the problems in the communities, I understand, are that they will be in social housing and suddenly get a well paying job, particularly in the rural communities, which suddenly puts them well over that. Housing takes on new meaning in many cases in the communities, and we understand the challenges of that.
Those are the sorts of things the board of directors will be looking at next month.
Mr. Fairclough: Then I'm hoping that the corporation also looks at - we brought this up before - providing social housing for that very purpose, rather than running this as a business. We are actually making money off these units.
Anyway, I will leave that for now. The other one - I think I've asked this question before, and I can't remember what the response was - is in regard to settlement land and on-reserve financing for a person to own a home. I'm not sure if this is part of the home-ownership program, but the department was working on this. I'm not sure exactly where it went. Maybe the minister could fill us in.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Before I answer the question, there is just the one comment that I have to correct for the record. When the member says we are making money on some of these units, I would say he obviously hasn't seen the expense side of the accounts. We certainly are not making money on these units.
This is sort of like someone who, one time, during an argument well outside of this House, said that the government taxes tobacco and therefore it's just a money grab to support health care. They haven't realized the massive amount of money necessary to support the problems that tobacco causes. To equate the two is ill-advised, at best.
In terms of on-reserve, off-reserve, the member has made a good point. The federal government, in many of their programs, has always differentiated between on-reserve and off-reserve. In Rupert's Land, in the Yukon and elsewhere, we don't have reserves or off-reserves. In many cases, we have not been able to access the funding. For instance, in a First Nations community where the citizens are renting from the band but would like to upgrade their home, they cannot get conventional mortgages unless there is some sort of an agreement where the band takes responsibility and fiscally guarantees that loan. There are ways around it and people can be creative, but in general it's not an easy thing to do. We have tried to work with some First Nation governments to do that.
I would remind the member opposite that on-reserve is the financial responsibility of the federal government, not the territorial or provincial government. That really is a challenge.
The Yukon Housing Corporation has assisted - and will assist - First Nations upon request by providing technical expertise and new housing initiatives. We have worked with several of the First Nations. We worked quite closely with the White River First Nation and built some units there. We have also worked to support the setting up of mortgage lending programs on settlement lands. Again, that takes some creativity, but it's not an easy thing to do. We are very well aware of those. I have written to the new minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, seeking clarification on how the Government of Canada will address the housing needs of Yukon First Nations. We tend to agree with the First Nations that there are huge problems.
I have invited Minister Finley to visit the Yukon so that we can show her the successes we have achieved, as well as some of the - shall we say - challenges that remain.
We are also working on, hopefully within the next month, a trilateral meeting with Minister Finley in Yellowknife, Minister Simailak of Nunavut and Minister Krutko of the Northwest Territories so that we can lay out some of our concerns.
In looking at this, Yukon Housing Corporation has also taken a very active role in identifying issues for the First Ministers meeting on aboriginal issues. We participate in working groups; staff members at all their meetings are raising issues of land tenure on settlement lands. It is unclear at this point in time how the new federal government will deal with the housing needs of First Nations. I don't have any clearer crystal ball than I think the member opposite has, but we will continue to work with provincial and territorial counterparts to try to come to a reasonable conclusion.
As we've said before in the House, one of the benefits of the Yukon Party is that we have no affiliation with any national party, and we can go after the Liberals, we can go after the Conservatives. We'll go after either when going after is necessary, and we'll hold their feet to the fire to produce.
Mr. Fairclough: That's a good one. I don't have any more questions in this department. I thank the minister for his answers. This is always a nice department to deal with. You can put a request in for a lot of money in this department, knowing that you're going to get it back. That's why it's so healthy-looking in its return in revenues. So I'd like to thank the minister for his questions and thank him for being nice and calm. It's nice to have that. It's a big difference from yesterday - let's put it that way. Thanks.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Certainly, calm questions get calm answers, and it's a pleasure to actually get some of those questions because it does appear that the member opposite has a good understanding of some of the challenges and some of the things we're trying to accomplish. Again, I certainly thank him for the support on the railway and the port access study - or at least the slip that he might support it.
Chair: Is there any further debate?
Mr. Cardiff: I do have a few questions in Yukon Housing Corporation. Now, where to start - maybe I'll start here, seeing as this is current.
The minister was critical of my statistics, but this is what I heard today. I'd like to know about the $50 million that the federal government recently promised or committed in the budget for housing here in the territory. I'd like to know a few things about that money. It was kind of billed as affordable housing money. That was my understanding. So, my first question is this: are they going to apply the same criteria to the word “affordable” - and what is affordable housing - for this money that they applied to the last $5.5 million that the Yukon was eligible for?
And the other question I have - today, just at 12:30 p.m., the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation was on the radio. Apparently he told delegates this morning that the Government of the Northwest Territories will be matching Ottawa's $50 million.
My question would be: does this government have any intention of providing any form of matching funds for this money?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, the member opposite said that he would like more information on that $50 million. I have to say to him - so would I. It has just been announced, and there are a lot of reports coming out about what the terms of reference might be, but the reality is we don't have any firm direction on that as yet. They are billing it as a housing trust; they are billing it that we have a great deal of latitude in how we can use it. We hope that is accurate, but at this point I have no concrete information.
Also, I was certainly not being critical of those statistics, merely correcting them. As I say, it's a moving target; it's moving every day, so I just wanted to bring the member opposite up to speed on that.
In terms of the $5.5 million on affordable housing, that was a separate program and the definition of “affordable” within that. We were very much restricted in how we could use it. It is always arguable in terms of whether it is good, bad or indifferent and could it be utilized in another way. The reality is it was given to us with very strict guidelines and we had to conform to them or not access it. That too was a matching grant, and my information is that there were provinces, at least smaller provinces, that weren't able to match it and had to turn those funds back - or at least they were in danger of having to do that when I spoke to the relevant ministers. We were very fortunate in the Yukon Housing Corporation being very creative at the time and matching the funds with the Copper Ridge Place so that it freed us up to be able to do a wider range of programs with it.
Let's say there is $50 million. We are waiting for the announcements with bated breath, as well, to find out what it is.
The division is really $300 million. Actually, in terms of what comes to the territory, it is much wider than that when one adds up all the different programs. In terms of housing, it is a $300-million offer. There is $50 million to Yukon , $50 million to the Northwest Territories and $200 million to Nunavut . Nunavut is in very desperate shape in terms of housing. They really do require the additional help on that. The Northwest Territories is also in fairly desperate shape to try to come up with some housing. They made a decision within the Northwest Territories to match it from within their budget, because they have such drastic needs. We have needs - there is no doubt about that - and many serious needs, but we are not in a league with the other two territories.
Will we match the $50 million? No. Will we contribute other funds into that as it develops, once we know what that is? Yes. Our challenge with that right now is that some of the biggest needs are within the First Nations; however, that is not all of the needs. There are needs in many other areas. In terms of the funds that go to the First Nations, we do not want to remove the responsibility of the federal government to provide for housing on First Nation lands and in First Nation communities. That is something we have to be very cautious with. This is why we are taking this to the Yukon forum and discussing it directly on a government-to-government basis with the assembled chiefs to come to some agreement. We need to try to use some creativity to not only generate housing, but also employment out of this. The possibility of working with the Northwest Territories on that is something we are just beginning to discuss.
Mr. Cardiff: I just wanted to get a clear indication from the minister of just what their commitment was going to be with regard to this money. I'm not sure if I'm totally clear on it. But when we return to this department on Monday or Tuesday, or whenever we get back here, I will review exactly what the minister said. I did hear him say that they weren't going to match it but they would contribute. That's a positive, because housing needs in many communities of the Yukon are in a desperate state.
The minister also mentioned the desperate state of housing in Nunavut, and I don't disagree with him. I haven't been in many small communities - I think I've been in one or two - in Nunavut , but the other added cost, of course, is the short shipping season. The cost of transportation in any area of Nunavut to get supplies or modular units is far greater than it would be for us here in the Yukon.
I can understand the difference in the funding. So I'm not going to go on about that, but I have some questions for the minister.
I'd like to thank the minister - last fall, I asked for some information regarding housing units and the protocol agreement, and I received that at the end of February. In the protocol agreement, it states the minister's role is as follows: “The minister will clearly articulate government's priorities and policy objectives to the board.” It says it's the government's priorities and policy objectives. So, if he could briefly outline or table that - and can he tell us whether or not those priorities and objectives of the government would take precedence over those of the board? If there is a conflict between them, how is that resolved?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, I've met with the board a number of times. It has been a very impressive group to work with, actually. So far, I have to admit that we've been on the same page in a lot of this and, in fact, the board has come out with some very creative and good ideas to do this, and I've supported them.
At this point in time, we haven't really come to any point where there has been a challenge between the minister and the board. We have worked together on it, and we found it to be a good relationship. I think it is interesting, as I mentioned in a press conference some time ago that, in working with all of the various departments, there is always casework. There is always constituency work. There are always problems. I think with all of the Yukon Housing Corporation right now, there is one. That has to be a record for the government. It has been a pretty incredible group to work with.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister didn't answer the question. I asked him to outline or table the government's priorities and policy objectives for the Yukon Housing Corporation and he didn't do that. He didn't explain what happens if the priorities of the corporation and the government are different. So if he can't do that, maybe the government doesn't have any written policies on the Yukon Housing Corporation or any priorities for them. I don't know exactly what's happening there.
The protocol agreement also states that the minister will review and approve the corporation's annual and multi-year plans developed to implement the strategic direction of the corporation. Maybe he can answer this question: does the minister or the board actually develop that strategic direction or do they work together? I would have thought it would have flowed out of those priories and policies that the minister didn't want to talk about. What happens if the minister doesn't approve the corporation's plans?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The Member for Mayo-Tatchun is smiling, and I think he understands what is happening here. I certainly apologize to the Member for Mount Lorne for not going through the corporate objectives and everything else, which are clearly provided in the budget, but if he is going to be critical, then I am more than happy to go over those in great detail.
The primary objective, of course, is to assist people to meet their housing needs, to help the housing marketplace work better by furthering the self-sufficiency of communities, industries and people, by (1) providing social housing to serve the changing needs of clients; (2) providing staff housing to meet Government of Yukon departmental needs; (3) supporting Yukoners to repair their homes, improve the energy efficiency and accessibility of their homes and protect the environment, which is a very big part of that; and (4) supporting Yukoners to become home owners and improving the accessibility and energy efficiency of our housing stock.
One of our big challenges, of course, is that, as the health care funds dwindled from the federal Liberal government and it became more and more the responsibility of provincial and territorial governments, one of the victims of that, so to speak, was other departments. Housing was certainly a big victim of that.
There is a large amount of housing stock out there that really has some serious repair issues. Repairs are definitely part of it - (5) assisting seniors and people with disabilities to meet their housing needs; (6) playing a leading role in educating and transferring technology to the Yukon housing industry and to the general public; (7) building community and industry capacity; and (8) increasing the availability of affordable housing in the Yukon for seniors and people with special housing needs. Special housing needs are, of course, a wide range of accessibility. Seniors are certainly a big part of that, as well as people with physical and mental challenges we have to accommodate.
Of the various program objectives under repair and upgrade, the primary program objective is to offer preferred interest rate loans in order to facilitate changes to existing homes by improving the availability of affordable choices for safe, healthy, energy efficient and accessible housing that meets the needs of Yukoners.
One of the examples that we saw of this when we were going through the buildings up at Yukon College is simply cabinetry within the kitchen. The height of the countertops is actually adjustable so that if someone moves in that needs a wheelchair-accessible height, simply with the matter of a couple of screws you can drop that, put on little silicone and, bingo, you've made it wheelchair-accessible. That has been a major part of the repair and upgrades as well as the new construction.
Under home repair, one of our objectives is to address specific health and safety issues as well as deficiencies with foundations, plumbing, heating, electrical and mechanical systems, and overcrowding due to family size - something that is very much a concern - and specialty features for occupants to promote independent living. I can remember the first assisted-care living facility that I went into in the south and going through the apartments with all of the beautiful cabinetry, and none of it was wheelchair-accessible. When I went through the rooms, all the cabinets were in fact empty - nobody could reach them.
Under home repair enhancement, one of our major program objectives is to offer loan financing when a home requires repairs beyond the limits of the home repair program. Just to go back to some of the previous ones there, the board recently made a decision to increase the level of mortgage to $195,000 and to drop that one percent in interest rates and increase the amortization schedule to 30 years, which drops the monthly payments and allows some people to access homes a little bit more equitably.
On the mobile home front, one of our program objectives is to assist Yukon owners of mobile homes located on rental pads to repair their residences or perform emergency repairs. This looks after everything from a leaky roof to flooding or improving insulation and looking at all of that.
In energy management, one of the things that we promote right across the board is the green home initiative, energy efficiency, increased insulation - anything that would remove the problems we have in the north in terms of energy efficiency to reduce the cost of maintaining that home because, of course, when we look at programs that will allow low- and middle-income earners to get into their own home, that doesn't make a lot of sense unless they can afford to operate the home once they're in it.
That's always a major, major part, whether we're building the Canada Games Centre, which seems to be costing a lot more to run than a lot of people anticipated, or a home where people can get into an affordable home and then find that they can't afford to keep the place running.
So the green home capability is certainly a big part of the whole thing. In terms of some of the other program objectives, under home ownership we need to respond to the housing needs of Yukoners by helping eligible clients obtain home ownership. These are some of the programs that we look at with that. We assist eligible Yukon residents by offering the mortgages, including the green home mortgages that I've been referring to, which have enhanced energy features, and the accommodating home mortgages, which have increased accessibility features - again, a very critical part of that. An important part of that, too, in some of the things - particularly the Falcon Ridge development, where the entire first floor is self-sustaining. The second floor can be used. It can be used for kids or relatives coming home, or it can be used for storage. But also, in building those homes, the stairwells are reinforced so they can actually utilize a wheelchair lift or something like that and get people upstairs and allow people to age longer in the home.
Seeing the time, Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Kenyon that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. on Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled May 4, 2006:
Travel expenses of Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly 2005-2006, Report on (dated May, 2006) (Speaker Staffen)