Whitehorse , Yukon
Monday, May 8, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Withdrawal of motions
Speaker: The Chair wishes to inform the House that Motion No. 681, standing in the name of the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, will not be transferred from the Notice Paper to the Order Paper as it is outdated.
Also, Motion No. 683, standing in the name of the leader of the third party, will not be transferred from the Notice Paper to the Order Paper at the request of that member.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Are there any introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Rouble: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges Yukon College to consult with industry and First Nations to identify priorities for training that will allow Yukoners to take advantage of current and future employment opportunities.
NOTICES OF MOTION FOR THE PRODUCTION OF PAPERS
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion for the production of papers:
THAT an appropriately edited independent report commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Services regarding matters of child welfare policy was released to members of the media without also being made available to duly elected members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly;
THEREFORE this House recommends that the Minister of Health and Social Services make said report available for the scrutiny of elected members immediately.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Kelowna accord implementation
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Premier. The Premier was a signatory to the Kelowna accord, along with other territorial and provincial leaders and the federal government. The fate of that accord and the honour of this nation are now on the line. This is a time when we must stand together and stand tall. My question to the Premier is this: in light of the federal government's intent to scrap the Kelowna accord, what immediate initiatives does the Yukon government intend to take to get this historic agreement back on track so that Yukon First Nations and all Canadian First Nations can finally move forward to address their issues in the spirit of trust and mutual respect with the Government of Canada?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I would caution the leader of the official opposition about jumping to conclusions, such as scrapping something, which is a little out of context. Nobody has scrapped anything. The commitments to the gaps that exist across this country, which aboriginal Canadians live with each and every day, have been made. The new federal government is obviously embarking upon a different course to deal with those gaps. As I relayed here last week in the House, there's significant investment in this federal budget to address the gaps that we know exist in terms of what First Nations face in housing, education and other matters. This is across the country - on-reserve and off-reserve.
Let me just point out that those very issues of on-reserve, off-reserve and investment have been changed with this budget. There are now significant resources being invested to deal with these issues for aboriginal Canadians who reside off-reserve.
Mr. Mitchell: On Friday last, the Vancouver Sun reported the B.C. Premier as saying, “We cannot stand passively by and let this product of unprecedented consensus and collaboration wither and die for lack of Crown commitment.” These are strong words for a premier who does not make a habit of fed-bashing.
My question, Mr. Speaker, is this: has the Premier had any discussions, since the federal budget was tabled, with any of his counterparts across the country about working together to convince the Government of Canada to restore the $5.1 billion promise made to aboriginal people last November in Kelowna?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This position is a position of the Council of the Federation. That is consensus. Across the country there is agreement, and that is exactly the way each jurisdiction will pursue this matter; however, this government is not into fed-bashing either. We are going to work with our provincial counterparts and our sister territories and the federal government to advance in these areas to ensure that we deal with the gaps that exist: economic opportunity, health care, education, housing and clean water. Steps have already been taken to do exactly that.
Where we go from this budget and beyond is the important thing, so our government's focus is beyond what has been invested to date in the federal budget that was recently tabled in Parliament.
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, on May 3, the national Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, said he was disappointed the Conservative government rejected the accord, despite all the work put into it by aboriginal leaders, the provinces, territorial governments and Ottawa. He said he's willing to meet and discuss implementing measures that “will improve quality of life for First Nations, but this budget does not appear to offer much.” B.C. Grand Chief Ed John, spokesman for the First Nations Summit, the largest aboriginal organization in British Columbia , said in a letter to the Prime Minister, “Your government has reneged on this historic multi-government agreement and has proceeded to unilaterally implement its own plan to address our issues without any consultation with us.”
Mr. Speaker, it's imperative that we speak clearly and loudly. Members on this side of the House will stand in support of a clear and decisive stand in support of our First Nations and all aboriginal Canadians. Will the Premier give us his clear and decisive undertaking to do just that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, we already have. The position that we have taken at the Council of the Federation, the position that this territory, this government, has taken long before a consensus was reached at the Council of the Federation has been clear, and that has to do with on-reserve/off-reserve policies of the federal government. We have advanced in this area. We have also got commitment to deal with gaps we know exist.
What is really remarkable, though, is that there was a federal Liberal government in office for 13 years and it is strange and ironic that, upon the cusp of a federal election, these commitments came forward.
I think the member opposite has to recognize the tremendous amount of work that has been done by the territories, the provinces, representative First Nation groups across this country to get to where we are today. We're not scuttling anything. In fact, we view this as a way forward, and we can build on what has been invested already this month with the federal budget.
Question re: Children's Act review
Ms. Duncan: On Friday the Department of Health and Social Services issued a media release and a censored report reviewing a child's death in the territory. The independent report on this terrible tragedy reportedly contains 114 recommendations for government. It should be made available to the members of the Legislature, and I trust the minister will do that soon. Many of the reported recommendations refer to the Children's Act. The review into the act was not going at all well under the previous Yukon Party minister.
Would the current Minister of Health and Social Services provide the House with an update on the review - specifically, when will the Yukon Legislature see a revised Children's Act?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: As I have previously stated in the House, the commitment and the offer that we have made is to work with the Council of Yukon First Nations to move forward, and of course with individual First Nations on the policy forum under the Children's Act review and then ultimately, jointly, inform the legal drafts person. It is our hope to have this ready for our fall session of the Legislature.
Ms. Duncan: When the Yukon Party took office there were two extensive reports with recommendations regarding child welfare services. One was by Professor Anglin and the other by the Child Welfare League of Canada. At least one of the recommendations between those reports and the new report is startling similar. The Child Welfare League said, in 2002, to hire child welfare policy staff. A number of the recommendations from the recently released report relate to policies of the department. Policies should be in place, even though the act review is underway.
In the first two years in office, I repeatedly asked the former Yukon Party Minister of Health and Social Services about the implementation of recommendations from these reports. Clearly, the Yukon Party did not do the hard policy work of government under his watch. What is underway under this minister? Are child welfare policies of his department under review as recommended four years ago and as recently as two months ago?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would like to make the Member for Porter Creek South aware that a significant amount of the policies in this have direct connection to the issue of the act review. If an act changes, it may change the policies. There has been review work done with regard to the policies.
I would also like to point out to the Member for Porter Creek South and make her aware of some of the increases we have made in staffing within the department to assist the people there in doing their jobs. The child protection and family services unit in 2004-05 had 8.5 social worker positions; in 2006-07 we have increased this by 4.5 FTEs, for a total of 14 social worker positions.
There has also been an increase of five FTEs - full-time equivalent employees - for child protection and family services family support team, from 2.25 in 2004-05 to 7.5 in this fiscal year. In addition to that, since 2004-05, we have added one social worker position to the permanent children-in-care team.
Ms. Duncan: I draw the minister's attention to another recommendation of the independent report released on Friday. The report recommends the Children's Act should include a provision for mandatory reporting to family and children's services of suspected child abuse and neglect, and there should be protection for good-faith reporting.
The Education Act, under both duties of the principal and the teachers, says that either of these “shall” report to the proper government official responsible for child welfare that a child is in need of protection. That seems to me to be mandatory reporting.
How can we require, in law, mandatory reporting under the Education Act if there's no requirement under the Children's Act? Will the minister make this consideration for change to the Children's Act a priority for the Children's Act review committee, or could this recommendation come forward in advance of the Children's Act legislation?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member, I believe - in fact, I know this is one of the issues being considered with regard to the Children's Act. The recommendations that were released on Friday by the department, I would point out to the member, are primarily operational matters so they will be dealt with by the department officials. I will be working with them on that with regard to any areas that fall within my purview. We certainly take this matter very seriously and we will be acting based on the recommendations in as timely a manner as we possibly can.
Question re: Children's Act review
Mr. Cardiff: It has been almost two years since the tragic death of a seven-week-old girl in Dawson City . The Department of Health and Social Services commissioned a Manitoba specialist to conduct a review of that death. Apparently the report was completed a few months ago but it was only released last week. The report identified some serious shortcomings in how the department handled this case, even though the officials knew the baby was at high risk.
Is the entire report now public or are some parts being held back? If so, will the minister tell us why?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would make the Member for Mount Lorne aware and would stress that the majority of the recommendations within this report and the issues relating to this are operational matters. The report was commissioned by the department. The independent review was commissioned to have a completely independent assessment of how the department had performed and whether there were any areas where performance did not meet current policies or areas where policies needed to be updated. It is an independent report.
I would advise the member that it is my understanding that there was a small part of it that contains highly confidential information and that was the reason it was not reported. This is a departmental matter and the decision was made by the department, and I fully support that.
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, according to the department's news release, the reviewer found that some important aspects of service in this case didn't meet the requirements of the Children's Act or the department's own policies and procedures. The report apparently contained 18 specific recommendations, and they included such things as mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect, a child abuse registry and more services to teen parents. The deputy minister has said that the department will now be acting on the recommendations, but he didn't specify how.
Have any changes in procedure already been put in place since this baby's death, and when will the rest of the report's recommendations be implemented?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would mention to the Member for Mount Lorne, as I have stated previously to the Member for Porter Creek South, that we have made some increases within staffing, particularly to identify the needs that have been addressed there. There had been a notation previously that we have had high case loads, and that is why we have provided the increases in social work complement within child protection and family services - increased it from 8.5 positions to 14 social work positions that are contained in this fiscal year, and increased by five employees the social workers within child protection family services family support teams from a level of 2.25 to a level of 7.5 positions. As well, we have increased since 2004-05 the social work support and the permanent children-in-care team by one social work position.
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, this is the fourth sitting of the Legislature since this little girl's death. There are several things the government could have done in the meantime, such as creating a child abuse registry or making it mandatory to report suspected abuse or neglect. Meanwhile, the minister's review of the Children's Act has been bogged down by personnel changes and other delays. Did this minister or his predecessor give the department any direction regarding changes in legislation or policies to help prevent further tragedies, or has he been waiting for the Children's Act review to wrap it up?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member, I would advise him that the policies and the operation procedures within this area are matters that the department is continually paying attention to, and we review and update them as needed. The recommendations of the report were done. Again, this was an independent review. The department will be acting based upon the recommendations, and I assure the member that the department officials will be acting upon the matters within their purview. In any areas that fall within my purview, I will be working with them, and I will act upon those recommendations and take action as needed.
Question re: Local advisory council funding
Mr. Cardiff: I have a question for the Minister of Community Services. Under the Municipal Act, local advisory councils are the nearest thing that unincorporated areas in rural Yukon have to municipal government. Recently, the department produced a new funding policy for local area councils that contains some pretty strict conditions about what government money can and cannot be used for. Will the minister explain how this policy came about and what the rationale is for it being so restrictive?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The new funding agreements have gone out for the LACs, and basically it's a case of allowing for accountability for the monies that government is providing these groups that are acting on our behalf. The issues with regard to how the funds can be spent have been identified. Again, it's for ensuring that the funds are utilized for government-approved events for which we provide the funding to that LAC board.
Mr. Cardiff: The problem for local advisory councils is that the new policy came right out of the blue. They weren't told about it. They weren't consulted. They weren't given a chance to provide input into how the policy would affect them. They were simply handed the policy and told to sign a letter accepting it in exchange for their annual operational grant. This was done at public meetings. One person described it as “an offer we couldn't refuse”.
Why did the minister choose to insult, rather than consult, the local advisory councils in the development of this policy?
Hon. Mr. Hart: These regulations have been in effect for some time, but the member opposite will understand that, recently, the Auditor General indicated to us that it's important that we identify where our funding goes, how it's obtained and how the government funding is spent by these groups. That is the main reason why we're going forth with the changes. We're identifying these things up front for the LACs to ensure that funds we give them on behalf of the Yukon people are spent in an appropriate way.
Mr. Cardiff: It seems a little ironic that these councils have a mandate to provide advice to the minister on matters of local concern, yet the minister didn't want their advice on how their annual operating grant should be spent. That's the “father-knows-best” approach. It pretty well guarantees that hard-working volunteers who want to improve things in their communities probably won't be too interested in sitting on local advisory councils.
Where's the incentive if they are only there to do the government's bidding? Will the minister go back and consult with LACs about developing a funding policy that provides the necessary accountability but doesn't take away any incentive for councillors to try to improve the conditions in their communities?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I indicated previously, these rules and regulations have been in effect for the LACs for some time. We are acting on the recommendation of the Auditor General to ensure that the funds provided to them are accountable and open and transparent. That is what we have sent out to the communities. Some of these communities have not reviewed it in the past but, in essence, we are going to go out and have some discussions with some of these groups to ensure that we can follow through with their funding.
Question re: Carcross train service
Mr. Mitchell: I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development on this government's purchase of the Red Line train from White Pass.
Two years ago the minister and the Premier were telling everyone who would listen that this train would bring 3,600 tourists per year into Carcross. Two years later that train is bringing zero tourists into Carcross. This is a train that taxpayers paid $440,000 for.
Last week when I asked the minister about this project, he said that virtually all that money went to seasonal employment for 37 citizens of Carcross. He went on to say that all those workers were on social assistance. Can the minister back up that statement? Is he saying that everyone in Carcross is on social assistance or does he actually know for a fact that all 37 people hired to work on the track were on social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I certainly gave that as an example. I certainly did not imply that anyone or all or any percentage was on social assistance. But the reality is that that train, worth many times the price that we paid for it - virtually all of the money went into 37 seasonally employed workers and promoted Carcross.
I suggest that the member opposite consult with his two newly found colleagues who have stated in the House many times how important anything is in the rural communities. $400,000 to inject into Carcross was a huge thing at the time. We still have an asset worth many times what we paid for it. We still have the ability to use it in the future. It was a win-win situation.
Mr. Mitchell: The minister made some pretty strong comments about the community of Carcross last week. He said that the government hired 37 people to upgrade the track and he implied that all these people were on social assistance, yet he's unable to back up that statement today. I think, Mr. Speaker, that the minister owes the community an apology.
When the minister wasn't busy implying that everyone in Carcross is on social assistance, he did mention the value of the train that the government has purchased. He claims that the taxpayers got a really good deal on this train. Did the government get an independent valuation of the train before they bought it, and will he make that valuation public?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: For the member opposite, I believe the statement was, “Would the member opposite prefer that people be on social assistance?” Certainly the implication was not that all of them are or that any percentage of them would be, but again, I ask the member opposite to consult more closely with his newly found colleagues, who I hope aren't going to continue in the march to Ottawa to become number 13 in the race for the leadership. They have made some very good points in this House, that any kind of an economic injection into a community is a very major thing.
We got something that was worth many, many times the value, which was $440,000, I believe, with $20,000 being leased back to White Pass - so $420,000 - which immediately went into the community. It's a win-win situation for all and something that we're very pleased to have done.
Mr. Mitchell: I'll remind the minister that he's the Minister of Economic Development, not the minister of eBay. We bought a train for $440,000 and put it in a shed, hoping that it'll increase in value. I wonder how many nights the community Outreach van could have run on the $440,000 that this government has spent on a train that has not left the station?
Mr. Speaker, this train is sitting in a shed in Carcross. Does the minister have any idea when we might use it for something other than collecting dust? Again I'll ask: did the government do a valuation of the train before they bought it? Will he make that valuation public?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I would remind the member opposite that the money was not simply transferred over to the good people of Carcross. What they did with it was they upgraded the track into the town of Carcross, opening a wide range of possibilities in the future. That wide range, of course, is dependent on the White Pass railroad and how they use it in the future, but that is now an option that is available to them. It upgraded the track. It opened a whole range of economic possibilities. It injected about $400,000 into the town of Carcross , into wages. It leaves us with an asset worth many times what we paid for it. It can come into Bennett. It can be used down to Whitehorse, to be used on the waterfront. It opens a whole range of possibilities. In the meantime, all the money went into the pockets of people in Carcross.
The idea of an Outreach van - I support the member opposite that that's a valuable thing, but I would suggest that his argument is really not germane to the point.
Question re: Writer-in-residence program
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, the writer-in-residence program at the Whitehorse Public Library was established in 1989 to give established Canadian writers an opportunity to work on their craft while assisting local writers. An impressive list of well-known writers of fiction, poetry, plays and non-fiction have spent periods of up to three or four months in the territory. During their residency, they not only coached local writers but also travelled to rural communities to give public readings and meet with writers and other local residents. Some, like short-story writer and novelist Patricia Robertson, enjoyed their residency so much that they decided to make Whitehorse their home. Can the minister explain why the Whitehorse Public Library has not offered this tremendous program in recent years?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The writer-in-residence program was established in 1989 to provide professional Canadian writers with an opportunity to work on their craft and to assist local writers in Whitehorse as well as the rest of the Yukon. This residency usually lasted three to four months each year and was based out of Whitehorse Public Library and included visits to other community libraries. The program was funded through matching dollars from Canada Council for the Arts. The funding for this program was cut in 2001, prior to this government taking office.
Mr. Cardiff: Many Yukon writers have benefited from the writer-in-residence program by going on to publish books or produce plays. The list includes Al Pope, Patti Flather, Peter Steele, Eleanor Millard, Erling Friis-Baastad, Mitch Miyagawa, Mike Reynolds, and that's just a partial list.
Some of the works written by these Yukoners have received national acclaim and have gone on to help put Yukon on Canada 's literary map, but they've also helped lure tourists here from near and far. In the wake of yet another successful Yukon Writers Festival, will the minister guarantee the Whitehorse Public Library the funding it needs to take advantage of matching funds from the Canada Council for the Arts, so it can reinstate this important program next year?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I've said, this program was funded through matching dollars from the Canada Council for the Arts, which was cancelled in 2001. Since then, we have offered this writer-in-residence program as our library budgets permit it to happen. If the funding comes from the federal government for this program next year, we'll look at matching those funds.
Question re: Hamilton Boulevard extension
Mr. Mitchell: I've risen before on this matter, Mr. Speaker. The matter of the Hamilton Boulevard extension is one of great concern to the increasing number of residents who use that road as the only access to their homes.
Last December 7, I asked the Minister of Community Services when this project would be completed. His reply was, “We took the action.”
The action is a long time in coming. Can the minister update this House today and tell us the date the road will be completed?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with the City of Whitehorse on the extension of this important access out of the Granger area, and we continue to work with them on that particular aspect. In fact, we have an application before us from the City of Whitehorse on that particular route.
Mr. Mitchell: As usual, promises are in ample supply from the members across the floor. Unfortunately, words are not what we now need. We need action.
In February 2005, the Yukon government announced they planned to apply to MRIF - the municipal rural infrastructure fund - to help pay for this project. It is now some 14 months later. What we see in this year's budget is not the millions of dollars necessary to build a second entrance to the fastest growing area in Whitehorse; we see $250,000 for brushing, centre-line clearing and planning. What is the status of the MRIF application, and when will the road be built?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, I don't know if the member opposite actually heard my first response at all. MRIF requires the collaboration of the municipality and the governments, both federal and territorial, for making applications for funding for a project.
In this particular case, the City of Whitehorse is the main proponent for this particular area, and we require an application from the City of Whitehorse to proceed through the MRIF process. We did not receive an application from the City of Whitehorse for the Hamilton Boulevard extension because they had some difficulty in getting some engineering work done prior to our first call in November of last year. We had some conversations with the city about that, and they have since submitted an application for the new deadline in August of this year.
Mr. Mitchell: The government must be using the same script writer for this project as they are for the new school for Copper Ridge. I recognize the same lines and the same theme which is, “We are working on it.”
Again, I say that this government is in the fourth year of a mandate and still, on very crucial matters such as these two, we haven't seen the vision or the plan, and we have certainly seen no action. As the last few remaining building lots left in Whitehorse come up for sale this fall in Copper Ridge, the matter will only get worse. People will get more disillusioned and upset with this government's inability to get anything done.
Mr. Speaker, enough already. Will the minister simply commit to a date and more toward it or admit this government has once again dropped the ball? Stop blaming municipal governments or other governments, or former governments and, like the school, admit they have no real concrete plans with the timelines attached.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The member opposite read in his first preamble that we only had money in there to do centre-line work. Is that not moving? Is that not ground dirt moving somewhere along the line? I don't think the member opposite really understands what MRIF is about. MRIF is a collaboration program of all three levels of government - municipal, federal, territorial - and they are all required to go through the process.
I, myself, cannot just willy-nilly approve the project to go ahead. It doesn't happen that way. There is a process involved that requires the other two components of government to go through the process, evaluate the projects and get them through.
I can tell the member opposite, as I stated here previously, that we are in support of this project; however, due to some circumstances beyond the City of Whitehorse 's control, they were unable to get the application to us before the last cut in November. But they have since submitted their application, well in advance of our cut-off of this year. We are in that process. We are negotiating with the City of Whitehorse on ways of improving the application so we can get it through the process and get the Government of Canada's approval on this project after the closing date this August.
I look forward to the member opposite turning the dirt. Maybe he can stand by and we will give him a shovel to help out.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We will continue with Yukon Housing Corporation.
Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will 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
Yukon Housing Corporation - continued
Chair: We'll continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation. We'll continue with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To review some of the items and such that Yukon Housing Corporation has put into housing, we got a bit of a surprise this week with the announcement of a $50-million intake from the federal government. In that sense, historically, we've put approximately $31 million into new housing at the college, split between Yukon Housing and the affordable housing programs, and student housing within the college, which can be utilized in a wide variety of ways.
There's also an additional $5.8 million that has gone through affordable housing in things like the athletes village, the Falcon Ridge project - utilizing $830,000 to leverage $23-million worth of activity and economic development with Whitehorse and the whole Yukon. We also have the home repair loans, which will be a little over $24,000, but utilizing $1.47 million. Some of that funding will be allocated to the Haines Junction building, which will be for seniors housing, which is in the design phase at this point in time.
I see the Member for Kluane grinning on the other side of the House. I think this is good news there. We'll be working on that with the community of Haines Junction and with the First Nations in Haines Junction and up the north highway.
We also have in our capital budget of 2006-07 $15.958 million - actually, a net of $2.234 million, which will break down in a wide variety of ways. Home repair loans will go in at approximately $2.67 million. Some of these are recoverable, of course, so the numbers aren't going to totally match up for anyone at home who is adding up the numbers here.
The home ownership loans - $7.35 million. Industry and community partnering - $1.95 million. Social housing programs will account for just short of $3.5 million. Staff housing - $191,000. Central services - $303,000.
We have also created four new social housing units in Faro by converting out-of-service units into social housing units for seniors and are just in the process now of creating the Faro housing board, I guess, for want of a better term, that will be forming to oversee these. We also maintain over 500 social housing units throughout the Yukon on an ongoing basis and provide technical assistance to First Nations on an ongoing basis for issues like indoor air quality, capacity building, et cetera.
So we're looking at a wide variety of programs that Yukon Housing gets involved in. I hope that gives a better idea of the overall picture.
Mr. Cardiff: I have a question for the minister coming out of last Thursday's debate. The Member for Mayo-Tatchun was asking questions about the seniors housing management fund. So there are a couple of things: there is $310,000 as money going into that seniors management trust fund, and there is $100,000 in capital going out. I understand the $310,000 going in, but on page 18-7, there is $100,000 in capital expenditures in the seniors housing management fund.
Another thing the minister mentioned was that the balance of this fund is $2 million plus. The fund was created in 1999 by the board. My understanding of it was that Yukon Housing Corporation has traditionally had excess revenues at the end of the year. Rather than putting it back into general revenue, the idea was to create a trust fund for seniors housing. That was the idea behind it, and I would have thought that there would have been criteria developed at the time, or in the ensuing years, for the use of that money.
During debate on Thursday, the minister said that the criteria have not been set yet by the board, and they haven't gone through Cabinet, so we don't have concrete plans on that. Then he went on to say, “As the fund grows, the possibilities of things we can do with it grow as well, so we are really looking forward to being able to utilize that.” I would hope that the criteria that are going to be developed - seeing as how this is the seniors housing management trust fund with $2 million in it - will be developed in consultation with seniors groups. Over the last few years we have seen projects like Falcon Ridge which, to the best of my understanding, a lot of seniors weren't interested in purchasing or renting - if you can even rent a unit up there. It is my understanding that there weren't going to be any rental units.
But seniors weren't interested in that type of housing. We heard loud and clear over the last few years groups like the Legion and other groups that represent seniors like the Golden Age Society talk about the need for seniors housing downtown. There is seniors housing downtown, and some of it is in ill repair. It would be good if these groups were consulted so that, before the government or the Yukon Housing Corporation goes out and spends $2 million, we ensure it meets the needs of all seniors, not just here in Whitehorse. We heard this morning about the seniors in Old Crow and how that community thinks it is important to keep seniors in their communities, in their own homes for as long as possible so they can contribute to the community and be part of the community and be leaders and mentors for young people in the community.
So, $2 million doesn't go very far. I'm sure the minister knows that it's not going to go all that far. Therefore, the government is going to need to top that money up. You're not going to build very many units anywhere for $2 million.
I would like some assurance from the minister. I would like some clarification on the $310,000. I understand the $310,000 contribution. I would like an explanation for the $100,000 in capital being spent from the seniors housing management trust fund, because it was my understanding that it was a trust fund and it was supposed to be there for a specific project down the road, which would have some criteria set for that project.
According to the minister, the criteria haven't been set. I would like to know if there were criteria set back in 1999 or 2000 when this fund was created. Where have those criteria gone? We need some guarantee that the new criteria will involve the public, specifically senior citizens. I'm not talking just specifically here in Whitehorse, but throughout the territory.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I'll try to deal with the long list of questions and apologize ahead of time if I miss one of the many.
In general, the member opposite is looking in the wrong column to find that $100,000. The $100,000 going out goes into the fund. It's an expenditure into the fund. It's not an expense from the fund. He's reading the wrong column on that one.
We realize, of course - what can you do for $2 million? I realize the member opposite and I do differ in a few ways on how to do it. The traditional way of putting $2 million out for a building would be one way to look at it. I would rather utilize and look at other mechanisms - for instance, $830,000 put into a program to leverage $23-million worth of construction at Falcon Ridge. That's an example of being able to take a small amount of money and leverage it into something much more.
In general, the member is quite right: the senior housing management fund was established under section 7 of the Housing Corporation Act to provide for the future needs of Yukon seniors. My understanding is that that was basically to not allow the funds to just simply flop back into general revenue. The Government of Yukon approved the establishment of that fund in October 2000, which would mean the discussion and decisions made on that fund in effect happened - before the Member for Mount Lorne throws it out, it did happen under an NDP government.
They didn't set the criteria either; neither did the Liberal government intervening in the two change any kind of criteria; nor have we. Criteria change and criteria change on a daily basis - on a week-to-week basis. All stripes of government have agreed, it would appear, that it is best looked at by the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors when the decision is made that there is enough in the fund to make a significant difference.
The fund receives Government of Yukon funding through an annual appropriation - an appropriation equal to interest revenue generated by the corporation's green mortgage program and interest revenue earned on monies held within the fund. Again, that is why it is not a set or exact dollar value. Our best thought at this point is the $100,000 that would be appropriated to go into the fund. We are anticipating at this time approximately $219,000 of interest revenue earned on the green mortgage program and interest revenue earned on monies held within the fund of about $31,000. Those are rough estimates.
Of course anyone with an investment knows these days interest rates are flexible at best, and it is never really too good to try to predict where that is going to go. The corporation has not yet secured any kind of Government of Yukon approval on the parameters for the operation of the fund, and there have been no payments out of the fund. That's left with the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors and their good decisions at the time that happens.
Before, also, the Member for Mount Lorne asked - I could sort of see that one coming - if the Haines Junction facility is not considered to be part of this. That is totally within the affordable housing and other programs. It is not part of the senior housing management fund.
It was created as a mechanism to begin funding the cost for future expenditures and to assist seniors. As I said, it keeps it out of general revenue. The seniors population is recording steady growth, and the fund will be an important source of funding to meet anticipated demands. The latest figure that I have, as of March 31, 2005, is that the balance of the fund is $1.684 million. I understand that we could be up, closer to $2 million, by the end of this year. So we're certainly hoping that we can put that to good use at the time. We're not planning any expenditures until the board looks at this. The money is only deposited into that management fund account. Once the Yukon Housing Corporation has developed a management plan, it will be sent to Cabinet. It will become the framework that details the processes to be used for allocations. Once funds begin to flow, they'll generate positive benefits both socially and economically. But at this point in time, no government has set any firm parameters.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I thank the minister for that. My hope is that the minister will encourage the board to work with seniors around the territory to ensure that this fund meets the needs of senior citizens, because that was what it was created for - to help them with their housing needs. The challenges that they face in their twilight years are something all of us are going to have to face at some point in the future.
I have another question to do with seniors housing, as well. I'm just wondering how the corporation is assisting seniors groups to build new housing, such as the efforts that the Legion is making. Is the corporation providing any financial assistance to the Legion, any in-kind assistance, and does the minister have any information on that project?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: First of all, before I get into that, certainly we meet with the Council on Aging on a regular basis. The last time was less than a month ago. They have been very good and wise people to talk to on this and to speak for their membership.
Many of their members have indicated that they would like to be downtown, although I must remind the member opposite that the studies, while not complete or extensive, show that in fact we cannot say the majority wanted to be downtown; it was just a large number. There was also a large number that wanted to be in other areas. We have to look at all that and at some point do a much more detailed study, not just simply an advertisement to fill out in a newsletter, which is what that study consisted of.
Last year, as most people know, the Royal Canadian Legion in Whitehorse was looking at the possibility of developing the Riverview Hotel - old-timers like me would know that it was previously known as the Regina Hotel - into a seniors housing project. The project had some difficulties, and we have since awarded $75,000 from the community development fund to study the feasibility of establishing a seniors housing complex.
In February, as part of their detailed market analysis, the Legion conducted information sessions in Watson Lake and Whitehorse where they received a great deal of positive feedback and a number of applications. The Legion plans to hold similar seminars in Haines Junction and Dawson City , so they are looking at the much wider range on this.
The Legion has approached the Yukon Housing Corporation during its current feasibility study to discuss the possibilities for financial assistance for the project under the joint-venture program - another program from which they could benefit.
The Legion is developing a business plan to operate that facility in Whitehorse that will provide independent living accommodations as well as meals to occupants. No other landlord in Whitehorse provides this type of service, so the Legion needs to confirm the feasibility of this approach. This is part of the market analysis and business plan that they really have to work out.
The joint-venture process would require the Legion to put in a request, and we'll present that proposal - if and when they do - to the Yukon Housing Corporation Board, after we undertake a financial analysis. We're working very closely with them at every level to try to keep this thing moving.
The Legion applied for assistance. This started under the Canada-Yukon affordable housing agreement, but the application for funding was not selected by the board of directors. There were some problems with it, and that's one reason we've asked for, and assisted in, the funding through the community development fund to develop a better market analysis and a better business plan.
The Legion has continued to pursue the concept whereby they will purchase the existing hotel in downtown Whitehorse, upgrade it and provide a supported-living environment, which would include meals. This goes a lot further than what we're projecting in even the Haines Junction facility or in some of the other facilities in existence.
The Legion is working on that business plan to provide a complete financial analysis of the project. This is essential and most essential in order to go to the private sector for some of the funding. We're helping them provide what they are going to need to do that.
As I mentioned before, they may come back to Yukon Housing Corporation for assistance, but currently any assistance is limited to the fully recoverable joint-venture loan program and through rent supplement agreements for individual tenants.
We're assuming that they will need assistance in the range of $1.5 million to $2 million. Again, I have to wait until that financial plan, business plan and market analysis are in place to know if it's a worthwhile project. The concept is there, and I wish them every bit of luck, and we'll do whatever we can to help move it along.
Mr. Cardiff: I'd like to ask the minister some questions about social housing. Some of this was covered last Thursday, and I'll try not to go over too much of it again, but I'm just wondering - they are using affordable housing money to build a student residence. And, yes, I think it's a good idea to build the student residence at Yukon College. I think there is a need for housing, as it will make education much more accessible to people, whether they are residents of the Yukon or whether they're edutourists or people coming to take advantage of the programs that Yukon College offers or other programs that they can access.
But the unit that is going to be run by the Housing Corporation - the minister hasn't been totally clear with what is going to be happening with that. There has been some talk that it's going to be affordable - they're using affordable housing money, so I'm assuming that it would be affordable housing units for rent. There has also been some talk that some of this may be made available as social housing units. There are people on waiting lists for social housing - basically housing that is geared to your income level. I'm just wondering if the minister can clarify exactly what the Housing Corporation's plans are for social housing? In the capital expenditures line, under social housing, there is almost $3.5 million in capital expenditures in social housing.
Whether the minister wants to give me a breakdown now or wait until we get into line-by-line, I would be interested in exactly how that $3,489,000 breaks down. Could he just do that and let me know what is going on as far as the project at the college in social housing and affordable housing?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To correct the member opposite, there are two buildings at the college. The one that is designated for a student residence is not part of the affordable-housing package. That is totally separate. The $3.5 million of the affordable-housing project actually goes to the second building, or larger of the two buildings, and it allows us to move ahead on that. It will become affordable housing rental once we finished. There is a possibility that some usage of it might be for social assistance housing, which is geared at 25 percent of one's income - 25 percent being the best deal in Canada, really. Most other jurisdictions require 30 percent, so our 25 percent is actually a pretty good deal. Again, we do not include childcare support payments in terms of calculating that, so it's very good for single parents.
In general, both buildings, however, once completed, and the students having moved out - we refer to it as an athletes village, but the reality is it's only going to be used as an athletes village for two weeks. After that, it becomes a Yukon Housing Corporation building and a student college residence. The student college residence part of it will be utilized any way that the college wants. One way I would suggest they look at it would be to bring in people and families from the communities and train people for the large number of jobs. As our economy completely takes off, we are going to need tradesmen and this might be a great way to get them into town with their families without disrupting family life, and get them trained and out on some of the many, many very well-paying jobs that are available now and will certainly become available in the future.
In terms of the Yukon Housing building, we have the same situation. The building is, in effect, mortgage-free once it is done - so either one of the two buildings could in fact become a revenue centre. It could become a revenue centre for the college; it could be a revenue centre for the Yukon Housing Corporation - again, depending on how the board utilizes it. It could be a marvellous deal for everyone involved.
The stories that have been coming up in terms of budget - I just want to dwell on that a little bit. It has been claimed by a number of members opposite that it was a $2.7-million budget. The reality is there is a lot misinformation out there on the history of the project and the budgets and processes that were followed in creating the long-term accommodation facilities. We've provided information to the members opposite; we've provided information to the media. But to just review that in case anyone missed it, the $2.7 million was not a budget, nor was it anything that came out of the government. It was an accommodations budget by the Host Society to house the athletes, and it was not realistic as we all know. So once that was determined and it was determined that there was a bit of difficulty with the whole thing, the Host Society came to the Yukon government to ask for some assistance in this matter.
But really, where did that $2.7 million come from? It would be very much like the Member for Porter Creek South taking a group of Girl Guides on a trip to Dawson City and budgeting for accommodation while in Dawson City. The $2.7 million was to house athletes in much the same way - it was to utilize other facilities or other programs. It was not to build anything, and that was really the basic problem, because among other restrictions that we had, the Canada Games national committees have their own set of rules and guidelines.
In effect, all athletes have to be housed in the same facility, all have to eat the same meals from the same kitchen. It must be an even playing field, so the option of putting them out into different hotels or, say, bringing up trailers to house the athletes and taking the trailers out again - the estimate that I saw was $13 million and we would end up with absolutely nothing. So it was a very, very good deal that came out of, really, a lot of community-based planning. The host society had all the best ideas and best-laid plans, et cetera, et cetera, but if we look now at what we're doing with this, we will come out of it with a legacy project. It leaves beautiful facilities basically paid for. The Member for Mount Lorne went through them with me, and I think his mouth was open as much as mine was. It's very well built and very well done.
We're looking at this as a possible standard for building within the communities, for building within Northwest Territories and expanding this whole thing. That's the game plan. In terms of housing and affordable housing within that building, some of that could be social housing, because the rent is based on 25 percent of your income, and some of those units could be utilized for that. None of them are designated for that exclusive use, and that's the difference. This is not a building that is built for social housing. It's for use in a wide variety of ways, at the discretion of the board of directors of the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mr. Cardiff: I did tour through the buildings with the minister and other Members of the Legislative Assembly. It is a beautiful building; they are both beautiful buildings. I think there's some question on the cost, and I haven't been going on about $2.7-million budgets for quite some time, but $31 million is a lot of money and we'll wait and see what the final price tag on that project is.
I'd like to ask the minister something else about social housing and housing trends in general. In other jurisdictions, in places like Europe and some other areas, there's a move away from building housing stock for social housing. The other option is to provide rental support. This way, it doesn't distort the construction market so much and it is targeted to support people who are most in need. It eliminates that whole idea of building ghettos and the stigmatization, I guess, of social housing. I'm sure the minister would like this idea: it encourages the private sector to build rental units and, at the same time, it takes the onus off Yukon Housing Corporation to do the maintenance and upkeep.
I'm just wondering. This is an idea I struggle with, to some extent. We need some way of ensuring the levels of rent are affordable for people and that it's more geared to income, which is what the social housing program is, but this government doesn't seem to be that interested in building more social housing units. I don't like the idea of them all being in one place either. They need to be scattered throughout the community; that's what makes the community a community, where we have an opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life and all levels of income. We learn from each other; we learn what our strengths are and we learn what our faults are, and it gets away from that.
This is something that may be worth exploring in the short term, while there are people who are struggling to find housing for their families that they can afford.
Is any thought being given to moving from building houses to giving rental support to people who are in need?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Not only giving thought to it in the future, but we've actually been doing it for a long time. That's exactly what I'm talking about: supplement the rent - the so-called rent supplement program - for people in houses and rental units in a diverse area, because we don't want to create ghettos. That's one of the problems in creating a social housing complex or something like that: you have a built-in potential problem that you don't want to get into.
Of course, the rent on this program is still based on 25 percent of the income, not including child support, as I mentioned before - we did that a couple of years ago and removed that from the whole picture - and then Yukon Housing Corporation pays the difference so the tenants don't see that.
We have implemented, as well, seniors to be in this, so that seniors who want to age in their own homes, their own rental facilities - again, it's geared at 25 percent of their income. We pay the balance. So, yes, I agree with the member opposite. It's a good idea, but we've been doing it for some time.
Mr. Cardiff: So the minister and the corporation have some experience in this. What I'd like to know, then, is how you ensure - because I've heard stories of this from people who are in these kinds of situations. If you're on social assistance or you are being subsidized by the Yukon Housing Corporation for your housing, sometimes it is viewed by landlords as an opportunity to spike the rent a little bit or not include all the utilities - so to make the tenants pay for utilities, whether it's oil or electricity. This doesn't seem to me to be very fair, especially for people who are low income or are on social assistance. How does the Yukon Housing Corporation police that? Because it's not easy to police. You can't be monitoring everybody's rent in Whitehorse on an ongoing basis to know whether these people are being treated fairly or not.
If they are viewed by some landlords to be on the dole, or whatever you want to call it - on social assistance or being subsidized - it just seems they are being taken advantage of. At the same time, the landlords would actually be taking advantage of taxpayers' dollars because it is taxpayers' dollars that are being used to subsidize this housing. Can the minister tell me what kinds of rules and checks and balances they have in place for that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We certainly do use a lot of care and diligence in terms of selecting some of the landlords and we do monitor this on an ongoing basis. The member opposite is correct that this is something that is difficult to police. But we certainly do review it. We look at individual cases. We have no knowledge at this time of there being anyone who is pushing the numbers there, but we would sure like to know about it if the member opposite has any specific information.
I have asked the board to review the criteria and the process, and that is something they will be working on over the summer for exactly the reasons the member opposite suggests.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister, in his remarks last Thursday, said that the board would be working on criteria for social housing this summer - at the June meeting, I believe it was. We were talking earlier about the criteria for the seniors housing management trust fund and we have criteria being worked on for social housing. When that criteria and information becomes available, could the minister make that available to members on this side of the House as well?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I believe they are going to be looking at this at the June 8 and 9 meetings of the board. As with most things, there will be some time periods after that to put it all together and go through the approvals. Once that is available, I will be happy to provide it of course.
Mr. Cardiff: I look forward to receiving that information from the minister. It would give a good indication of the work that the board does. I know that it is an onerous task at times to go to these board meetings. You struggle with a lot of different information and you have a mandate to provide service to the public, and it is the public Yukon-wide. But it would be good to see just what comes out of both those initiatives.
I would like to ask the minister what Yukon Housing is doing - we just heard - I asked him on Thursday as well about the $50 million that the federal government has promised largely for housing. We know that the state of housing in our communities is far below the standard that it needs to be. We hear horror stories about plumbing freezing up in various communities, and people not having running water. We all know about the winters in the Yukon and how long and cold they can be. But to go without plumbing for an entire winter because your plumbing froze up, and with no money to fix those houses because the First Nation government doesn't have that kind of money - they haven't received the kind of money they need.
This looks like an opportunity to at least start down the right path. I asked the minister on Thursday about this, and he actually indicated - and he has indicated in the media - that no, the government will not match the $50 million, as they are in the Northwest Territories, but that they are willing to put some money into this.
What are the plans of the minister, the government and the Yukon Housing Corporation for assisting First Nation communities around the Yukon with their housing needs? The federal government is stepping up to the plate here with a substantial amount of money, and I believe it's time that, as a territorial government, we also do our share.
The minister could let me know what the plans are for that. We need to have safe, healthy communities. Many of our communities around the Yukon are comprised of mostly First Nation people and the housing needs there are tremendous. We need to do whatever we can do to improve that. We can't leave it just up to the federal government. We need to do our share here, as well, in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite has hit on a couple of very good points on this. There is a wide range of housing needs in the Yukon. They are certainly worse in the Northwest Territories and they are an order of magnitude worse in Nunavut. The member does have to remember, however, that the $50 million was in the Northwest Territories' budget to start with, so it's not that they have come forward to match anything. The reality is that it was there before the federal government announced theirs - they are in that much need.
At the beginning of today, I reviewed various things we have done and are putting in our budget, which also brings us, although not up to the $50 million, probably not that far off.
The one thing the member opposite mentions - and he is dead on - is that many of the severe problems are within the First Nation communities. The problem is that the Government of Canada has responsibility for First Nation housing - they have all along - and we are not about to absolve them of that. We are not about to do anything that would allow the federal government to dodge the bullet, so to speak. They are responsible and will remain responsible.
That being said, there are a great number of things we can do to work with the First Nations. There are a number of ways we can leverage money. There is just no end to the possibilities. To that end, we will be meeting with the Yukon forum, with the assembled chiefs of the First Nations, the Grand Chief, and our Premier and Cabinet, to go over all the possibilities and work together to arrive at the solutions we need. But our challenge right now is to solve those problems in such a way that the federal government won't be able to simply walk away from their responsibilities. They have been very clear over the years that they want this responsibility; we are now clear that we would like them to keep that responsibility.
Mr. Cardiff: We see this with other funds that previous federal governments have made available, whether it's the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund, the municipal rural infrastructure fund or the new deal money - the gas tax money. I think where part of the problem is - I don't know that it's a problem, but it's about treating the intended recipients of the money with respect and ensuring that they get their fair share.
We heard today about the residential schools and the class-action suit and the amount of money in that settlement. One legal firm was going to get $40 million. Now, I know somebody has to represent the people in the class action suit, but here we have the government trying to right a wrong, but at the same time we're providing an incredible source of income - if we had just resolved some of these problems at an earlier date, we wouldn't be faced with these outrageous legal fees. In the case of the gas tax money, the money was meant for municipalities and rural areas. The only way they can flow it is through the territorial government. The municipal rural infrastructure fund, by its very name, is about municipal rural infrastructure. Yes, there is a partnership, and the federal government and the territorial government and the municipalities sit at the table and decide how this money gets spent, but what I don't think needs to happen is a lot of this money being chewed up by things like administration.
If we have identified what the problems are - to use the minister's phrase “to get the best bang for the buck” - I guess we make sure the majority of the money goes where it's needed and doesn't get wrapped up or eaten up by administration or political negotiations. It's about ensuring the money is spent where it needs to be spent.
If the minister would like to comment on that, that would be fine. I'd like to either give him an opportunity to confirm what he said earlier or provide some clarification. On page 18-3, I mentioned the $3.489 million in social housing. I thought I heard the minister say that was affordable housing money. I had asked for a breakdown of where that money is actually being spent. He can do it now or he can do it when we get to the lines. If he wants to do it now, maybe we could clear the lines and move on to another department shortly.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: One thing I would certainly agree with the member opposite on is, when you look at figures like that, I think we both went into the wrong profession, but that's another story.
We will be looking at all these priorities at the forum. I don't want to get into any detail, because it's unknown at this point. It depends upon what comes out of the forum. We have the same concerns: it's very frustrating, for instance, to be told that you have $30 million for northern economic development, but we're going to take $3 million off the top for administration and keep that in Ottawa . When I made the suggestion, at a number of different meetings, that we would rather see the administration done in Whitehorse and those jobs be created in Whitehorse and employ people from within Whitehorse - I say “Whitehorse”, but I mean Yukon, obviously - employ Yukoners and work with Yukoners, we were told very quickly that, no, that wasn't going to happen.
The $30 million announced becomes $27 million and so on and so on. You can imagine how that sort of goes.
I have the same concerns - that the amount announced is going to be utilized in the proper way. Our challenge is to get it to the people who need it, obviously, but to do that in such a way that we don't remove the federal government's legal obligation to look after that. It will take some creativity, and I have every faith that the forum will come up with something that will be satisfactory to all concerned.
In terms of the number that the member opposite mentions on page 18-8, which is to provide the acquisition, renovation, construction and upgrading of social housing units, the supportive housing in there at $1.689 million is actually toward the Haines Junction facility. The others are repayment of long-term debts - so those are all bank charges of $1.1 million - and into the affordable seniors housing, $300,000; renovation and rehabilitation of existing stock, $400,000. So the bulk of that figure really is for Haines Junction and long-term debt and bank charges, if that makes it any clearer.
Mr. Cardiff: One of the other housing needs identified in Whitehorse - I don't know what the situation is in other communities, per se, but I suspect that this happens in other communities as well - is where there are young people who, for one reason or another, aren't living at home. Whether they are sleeping in a tent or going from one friend's place to the next, better known as “couch surfing” - it is an important issue for society to ensure our young people have safe, healthy, adequate housing.
If there are valid reasons why they aren't at home, then, at some point, society needs to step in and help these young folks out.
There was a study done in B.C. that found that it costs more money to provide government service to the homeless than it does to those who are housed, even when the cost of providing affordable housing is included. These aren't necessarily youth, but if they are homeless and they are youth, the cost of providing services to them is more. Studies also show that housing deprivation during childhood and early adulthood contributed to severe or moderate ill health and increased the likelihood of experiencing other diseases or respiratory illnesses. This equates to higher health care costs.
There have been some proposals - in Whitehorse at least - to try to address the issue of youth homelessness. They had brief success here in Whitehorse but unfortunately the funding was not able to be maintained. I think it's important. There is other people's money, as the leader of the Liberal Party likes to call it, and it's called the shelter enhancement program, through CMHC.
I actually talked with the gentleman, the western region director, when he was up here doing a consultation with the city about green spaces and building community. I asked him about it, because the information I received through our Member of Parliament was that the allotment for the Yukon was $10,000 a year. I thought that didn't seem like very much money for a shelter enhancement program.
The money in this shelter enhancement program is designed to assist with building women's shelters or housing for youth at risk. I believe it's on a temporary basis, but the reality is that that's what we would hope that a youth shelter would provide - on a temporary basis, to provide them an opportunity to get on their feet and to get back into society and get out into the job market. Now, it may not be fast enough for CMHC because it does take time.
But I think it is an important issue, and housing is in the minister's purview. I believe a youth shelter would be something that Yukon Housing could look at - trying to bring that funding together from CMHC. The government could bring some funding to the table, as well, and maybe we could see something positive here in Whitehorse , and maybe in other communities on a smaller model. So I don't know if the minister has given much thought to a youth shelter, but I'd be interested in his thoughts.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: In general, the member actually makes some good points. Before I get side-tracked on that from our previous discussion, there was roughly $1.6 million on the social housing budget that actually reappears in operation and maintenance as a recovery. I think he's aware of that. So it's not strictly an expense. It comes right back to us.
In terms of shelters, I tend to agree with the member that it's something that should be looked at. In our system it's looked at by Health and Social Services, not by Yukon Housing Corporation. So, if asked by Health and Social Services, we would certainly give them whatever assistance we could, but clearly the responsibility is theirs. As with working specifically with youth, the Youth Directorate and Executive Council Office, under the Premier, look at that. Again, we would provide whatever assistance we can, but it's not something we are tasked with at the present time.
To switch hats back to Economic Development, one thing we utilize the community development fund for, which the official opposition refers to as a slush fund, is we put $77,000 into the Blue Feather Youth Centre to ensure that people would be working over the summer - youth services workers - for a specific project. It perhaps has nothing to do directly with a youth shelter, and that's unfortunate, but that's not the mandate. But it does keep youth workers working in that area and gives them what support we can with that. I would suggest it's a very good use of funds at that point.
Mr. Cardiff: I understand what the minister is saying. I was glad to see there was some money flowed through the community development fund. To say the Department of Health and Social Services has to come to Yukon Housing Corporation and ask them, or the Premier through Executive Council Office has to come to Yukon Housing Corporation - I think good ideas can come from any department, and hopefully departments are working in collaboration with each other to address some of these serious needs in our society.
I've raised it with this minister, who sees the Minister of Health and Social Services and the Premier on a far more regular basis than I do. Maybe he could bring this up with them - the fact that there is this shelter enhancement money available. I was actually told that the reason they put $10,000 in as an annual allocation is because there hasn't been any uptake on it. Basically - I can't remember which department it is - you put $1 so you have something to put there.
The federal government puts $10,000 there on an annual basis, which never gets used. We know there is a need for a youth shelter. We know there is a need for more second-stage housing here in Whitehorse for the women's shelter. Those are needs that have been identified, and it would be good if the Yukon Housing Corporation and the minister would bring to the attention of the Minister of Health and Social Services the fact that these programs are out there and we could access some of that money and address some of those needs.
I only have a couple more questions I would like to ask the minister. I would like to know what the Yukon Housing Corporation is doing on the Whitehorse Housing Co-operative. There was a report, apparently, giving the Yukon Housing Corporation direction on how to proceed.
The way that housing prices have been rising - I don't have all the details at my fingertips. I am trying to do this from memory. My recollection is that there was a mortgage on the property that the housing co-op members were basically paying the interest on and maybe paying down the principal somewhat.
But the idea was to keep it sustainable and to make it affordable for people who wanted to live there. That was the way that it was done, and the mortgage is based on what the property is worth.
Since I have been asking the minister these questions, real estate prices in Yukon and in Whitehorse have gone up dramatically.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: The Member for Kluane can ask questions when I am done. The point I was trying to make was that these properties are actually worth a lot more than what they were mortgaged for. There are a few things Yukon Housing Corporation can do, but I would like to give the minister an opportunity to tell me what he is going to do before I try to put words into his mouth - or what the corporation's intentions are.
There was a report, and I would like to know if it's available. We would like to see a copy of it. I am sure that the residents of the cooperative, who I think are feeling a little beleaguered these days, would probably like to see a copy of the report and to hear first-hand what the corporation's intentions are with regard to the Housing Corporation's oversight of that project.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To sneak up on that list of questions again, certainly the departments are working together on the homelessness problems and couch-surfing problems. There is an interdepartmental working group that Yukon Housing sits on. They meet regularly, as far as I know. Certainly, we put the information out there and offer the support where we can, but the fact remains that we're not the lead department on it.
The shelter enhancement fund - the $10,000 - I think is a good example of why per capita funding does so little in the territories. We have a meeting next week on that very fund, and we'll be asking more direct questions on that. I don't know where it's going at this point in time. I'm suspicious - but only suspicious - that it's probably tied up with the existing shelter in Whitehorse, but I don't know the mechanism it uses, so we'll get more information on that and find out what's happening with it.
In terms of the Whitehorse Housing Co-operative, they have experienced a number of serious setbacks, and their long-term viability, I think, is certainly in question. We've been working with the co-op members on options to look at and to consider for the future. There are 12 units in there. Twelve are solely members of the co-op, and 12 are actually Yukon Housing units that we rent to help give them that stability. So really, at this point, the onus is on the co-op to demonstrate viability in their capacity to manage. They've been asked to review rent levels, to determine what type of additional revenue can be generated, and we're reviewing all the long-term maintenance and long-term capital costs that would be involved in that.
In response to a request from the co-op, we've agreed to obtain quotes on the various costs. We've also agreed to have the quotes in the proposed long-term operating budgets reviewed by a third party to determine the long-term financial viability of the co-op. The board of directors has reviewed this, and they've asked for more options. As those options come together, they then have to be presented to Management Board for direction. Once all of this is complete, the board has seen it and dealt with it, and Management Board has dealt with it, we would then likely be releasing it.
Mr. Cardiff: I think the minister got some of those figures wrong. He said there were 12 units - 12 were owned by co-op members and 12 of them were rental units. I think it's six and six. I'm glad we're not all up on our figures sometimes.
The thing is that you have six people there who are in units that they technically own - or did own. I think it wouldn't be fair, in light of the value of those properties when they were first obtained - if the Housing Corporation were to collapse the co-op and sell the units, it would be an incredible disservice to the people who worked so hard on that project and some of them have been there through thick and thin. I don't think it would be fair to them if the corporation sold them off. It could reap a huge profit, and the people who have invested many years of their lives into that project would be left with virtually nothing. I don't think that would be very good.
The minister and I have talked outside of the Legislature, and he indicated his support for the concept of housing co-operatives as a good way to meet the housing needs of people and to keep housing affordable. It was the co-op itself that was, at one time, providing units to rent.
Hopefully, we can work with these people and see a positive outcome for everyone on this project, because I think that, as I said, with the recent increase in housing values, I find it hard to believe that these units aren't worth a lot more now than they were when the mortgage was first taken out on them.
I only have one other question for the minister. The corporation has many loan programs. They have home repair loans, mobile home repair loans, energy management loans and mortgage financing loans. I'm just wondering what the record is on collecting all the loans and mortgages that the corporation is responsible for. What is the record of recovering those monies? Is there any allowance for writing off bad debts in any instances?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Actually, yes, the member is quite right. There are 12 units - six and six. Obviously, there is a slight addition problem there.
I will give some background of some of the problems that we're really facing with that. In October 1998, as part of the social housing transfer agreement, CMHC transferred the administration of the project to Yukon Housing Corporation. They also confirmed that the Yukon Housing Corporation was liable for the mortgage payments in case of default. So, while we got an asset, we got a very large liability at the same time.
The president and vice-president of the cooperative both resigned, effective November 15, 2003. There have been a lot of issues such as, but certainly not limited to, arrears, including mortgage payments, overexpenditures, unauthorized expenditures of funds provided by the stabilization fund, tenants staying in local hotels, payments to contractors and local businesses. This has been a very troubled organization.
Currently - or at least the last numbers that I have - there is a mortgage in the amount of $1.325 million, which includes $31,000 in arrears. The stabilization fund is prepared to provide $295,000. This is a loan that ultimately the co-op will have to repay. My understanding is that's a loan simply to do repairs and such that are necessary at this point in time. Because that is strictly a loan, it leaves us with approximately $1,620,000 of outstanding liabilities that are still sitting there.
There is our reservation - the associated risk to the co-op and the Yukon Housing Corporation, to the government, and ultimately to the people of the Yukon. We would ultimately have to accept a loan and the risk associated with those loans.
While the current recoveries can offset current expenditures, it's not clear how the co-op could afford any further indebtedness, and therein lies the problem. It is approximately 15 years old. The proposed loan from the stabilization fund is for another 20 years. Therefore, the homes would be 35 years old when the loan is repaid.
Specific concerns include long-term maintenance, capital repairs, replacements, such as shingles, refrigerators, stoves, hot-water tanks, furnaces, windows, flooring, cabinets - we can go on with all the various things that any home would have. We are starting off with something that is a difficult situation at best on an aging building, and we need a business plan to see how that will go forward. Ultimately, if we can work with that and it works - which is certainly my preference - that would be nice. But if it doesn't work, the Yukon taxpayer is left with a huge debt.
That's something that we have asked to get a good review on and look at that. So that's what's perking, and they have asked for more information from the board. It will eventually go to Management Board, and we will take a look at that.
In terms of loans - and this is all in numbers of files and not, I believe, by dollar value - it would appear, without boring the House with details right now, that 2.9 percent of our outstanding loans are in arrears for a total of 33 individual loans. The breakdown on that is eight in the home ownership program, two in home completion, six in home repair. It is broken down in a variety of other projects, but 33 for a total of 2.9 percent are in arrears.
Mr. Cardiff: I have no further questions at this time, so the Member for Kluane can proceed.
Mr. McRobb: I have some questions, but I am going to reduce them because I think everybody in here should realize that with the remaining days left in this sitting, minus the motion days - that leaves about six days. When you look at the departments that are not completed, such as the Department of Health and Social Services, Highways and Public Works, Environment, Education, Community Services, Energy, Mines and Resources, Public Service Commission, Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Liquor Corporation, it is easy to conclude, Mr. Chair, that we are not going to get through everything. I have been very patient during the fireside chat for the past hour and a half, and I want to invite the minister to give snappy answers to snappy questions.
Given the federal Conservative government's recent cuts to environment programs - I understand the EnerGuide is one of them - can the minister tell us the impact this will have on Yukon Housing Corporation programs?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Not much.
Mr. McRobb: Can he delineate?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: My understanding is that we had not really implemented the program to date. My understanding is that the data that is there to date is still very useful and will be followed, but we hadn't started working on that program yet; therefore, the effect is not very much.
Mr. McRobb: All right, I understand there is virtually no impact on Yukon Housing Corporation programs from the federal government cuts.
My second question is this: I understand the board is re-investigating affordable housing options. I believe the project is the old boiler plant on Range Road . What can the minister tell us about that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The short answer, basically, is that the proponent of the program withdrew on their own. They have indicated that they may come back to the table and require some help, but at this point in time we've had no further discussions - or substantive discussions anyway.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I had understood they had come back to the table. Is the corporation looking at district heating options for any of these facilities, any of the ones that are contemplated?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: That's a private proposal. The member would have to ask the developer that question.
Mr. McRobb: So the minister doesn't know. The final question deals with the Haines Junction facility. It has been reduced from a level 1 care facility to an assisted-living facility. I've heard some different numbers. I've heard $1.6 million, $1.9 million. Can the minister just nail down the amount and tell us how many suites it has? I know the figure 10 was being used a year ago. I understand it's fewer now. He also mentioned the people on the north highway would be consulted, including the Kluane First Nation and White River First Nation. Can he tell us how that's being done?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The facility that is proposed in Haines Junction - the number, in fact, is $1.47 million, and it is independent living. It is not a care facility, per se - a very large difference. 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 presented the results of the study to the community at two meetings in May 2005. The study determined that the community need did not yet justify construction and operation of a multi-level care facility at this time, but it did commit to revisiting the issue of a multi-level care facility in three years' time. Instead, the study suggested 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 has been added to the services provided in Haines Junction.
During last fall's community tour, the Premier reiterated that a level 1 or level 2 care facility, such as the ones in Dawson and Watson Lake , are not feasible right now. He indicated that a seniors housing project is a possibility, with normal home care services provided from the community to the seniors, and he directed the Yukon government to engage in discussions with St. Elias Seniors Society and other community members.
Those meetings took place on Tuesday, December 13, 2005. Representatives from Yukon Housing Corporation and from Health and Social Services met with representatives from the St. Elias Seniors Society and the Champagne and Aishihik elders group. A second meeting was held with the Village of Haines Junction.
Under discussion was the construction of a seniors housing project that could accommodate independent apartments. Common areas could be included to serve other needs, such as home care visits and personal care services and social activities - depending on the priorities of the seniors in the community.
At both meetings, people were very receptive to proceeding with a Yukon Housing Corporation project and agreed it would meet their needs, apart from their wish to have an on-site staff person available to provide care 24 hours a day. That need has yet to be demonstrated, but assurances were given that community supports such as home care would be available to residents in the seniors housing project.
Yukon Housing Corporation received a fax from the village on December 15, 2005 , expressing appreciation for the opportunity to meet with representatives from Yukon Housing Corporation and Health and Social Services. The fax contains a motion passed at the December 14 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 the Yukon Housing Corporation on behalf of seniors. Based on this consultation, the government will proceed with the next steps in exploring a housing project for seniors. With the assistance of the Village of Haines Junction, a site has been finalized. The location is close to the health centre and allows for barrier-free accessibility by seniors, and it is large enough to allow for expansion of the structure at a future date. The next step in project development will be to enter into a design process. That is a process that will see a design team consulting with seniors and elders from the Haines Junction area, as well as the Village of Haines Junction. When I say “area”, I do mean the First Nation communities of the north highway.
Later this spring, Yukon Housing Corporation will develop the terms of reference for the design and then issue an actual tender. We hope - we always hope - that the final design of the building will be completed in the fall of 2006, with construction commencing in the spring of 2007.
We know that this is an interest to the senior citizens of Haines Junction and the entire north highway, and it has been an interest for a long time. We are looking forward to continuing to work with all the people of that area.
The site selected is a site close to the health centre. It gives us more flexibility, we think, in terms of home care and response time. It is large enough for barrier-free site accessibility as well as to allow for future expansion.
This won't come out until the design comes out, but we have looked at probably the four- to six-unit range, but that will be determined as the design goes forward.
That's roughly an overview of what we are trying to do there. As I said, more will come out as the consultations go ahead. We are very pleased to be proceeding with that project.
Mr. McRobb: I don't think the minister heard me when I invited shorter answers because he read, essentially, the entire page 6131 from the Blues that I had already read before coming in here this afternoon - so very little was gained from that lengthy, time-consuming answer.
To top it off, Mr. Chair, he didn't answer the question about how he intends to consult the people on the north highway, including the Kluane First Nation and White River First Nation.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Everything is always perception, obviously, and as you have stated many times, Mr. Chair, it is all in how you look at things. From my perspective, nothing was gained from that lengthy and time-consuming question because the member had the answer in front of him, but I am happy to read it if he wants to ask the question again.
Consultation will mean going out and meeting with the First Nations, meeting with the communities and talking with their elders' councils and all of the usual things with that. That is an operational matter of the Yukon Housing Corporation and their good work. I have every faith in the world that they will do a marvellous job of this.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, we will proceed with line-by-line examination.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would request the unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all lines in Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation, cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all lines in Vote 18, Yukon Housing Corporation, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $12,558,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $15,958,000 agreed to
Yukon Housing Corporation agreed to
Chair: I understand that we'll be going on to Community Services, which is Vote 51.
Department of Community Services
Hon. Mr. Hart: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for allowing me the opportunity to present the 2006-07 operation and maintenance and capital budgets for the Department of Community Services. During my response to the budget, I have provided some of the expenditure highlights of the Department of Community Services that we are pursuing in the upcoming year. Although dollar amounts are important, I'd like to think it's equally important to mention our approach to improving the quality of life in all Yukon communities.
Our party ran on a platform of working together so that we would achieve a balance between the economy and the environment; we would practise good government and we would achieve a better quality of life. Within these three broad themes, we have made great progress.
With respect to balancing the economy and environment, we have been able to partner with Canada and local municipalities to target infrastructure projects that will improve the quality of life and economic opportunities for Yukon communities. We are bettering our quality of life by improving and increasing our stock of core public infrastructure by investing in areas such as water, waste water and cultural and recreational facilities.
Using MRIF, we have been able to undertake projects like the pump house and well in Watson Lake, sewer lines in Faro and Teslin, and sewer and roadwork for Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. These improvements, while unseen and unnoticed, are vitally important. It is infrastructure like this that keeps our environment safe and clean and promotes public health and safety.
We have also negotiated arrangements with Canada that provide funds for infrastructure projects and programs that are beneficial to the environment. For example, we can invest in buildings that will be more energy efficient or we can partner to build roads that will reduce travel times and thus reduce greenhouse gases.
We're also practising good government. We have also partnered through MRIF to build community centres in Mayo and Marsh Lake . Gathering places help unite our communities, but these recreation centres go beyond being simple gathering places. They also provide places where young people can be engaged in positive and constructive activities and relationships. It is important to me that we find ways to provide positive alternatives for young people, especially teenagers. These community centres help achieve that particular aspect.
By working in partnership with our federal and municipal counterparts, we are practising good government. We are able to leverage additional capital and we are able to support local trades and workers.
The MRIF and CSIF programs are vitally important for improving the infrastructure in our communities. As was said a number of times during this debate, this money is not a gift; it is a realization of the responsibility of the federal government because Yukon citizens are no less deserving than people living in Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta or Nunavut.
We are working with our federal partners in delivering government services to all our citizens and we're using the same inclusive partnership approach with our local governments when plans are developed on how to invest these funds.
In partnerships, through working together to do better for mutually beneficial goals, we have identified the goals here in the Yukon with communities by working together with the MRIF program. Some of the goals are to provide better sewer and drinking water systems and recreation centres that help contribute to healthy lifestyle choices and provide meeting places in the community for local governments and citizen communities together for the future. We also are investing in waterfront projects to make our communities more attractive for both residents and visitors alike, investments in fire halls and firefighting equipment to keep our communities safe and, of course, the training and protective gear to keep our firefighters safe.
We are very proud to be working with a wide range of parties in making the 2007 Canada Winter Games a reality. These games will be a turning point in the future of the Yukon . No other event will showcase the north, and specifically the Yukon, more than the 2007 games. It is an opportunity hundreds of other Canadian jurisdictions would love to have. We recognize the value of this opportunity, and we are doing our utmost to optimize the outcomes and benefits. We are already benefiting, as witnessed by the creation of the multiplex facility, which Yukoners and some visitors are using in a number of healthy ways. This facility has become an important recreation centre in a very short period of time, and it will remain an important part of our community for years to follow.
The games have also provided us with another new legacy development. In December 2004, the host society came to us with a problem, a problem that we turned into an opportunity to create much-needed housing for Yukon people. I'm very pleased with the progress on the athletes village, and I believe the people who will be living in these facilities following the games will also be happy.
But I expect there will be more passionate debate about these facilities in the future, because once the public gets a look at these facilities, I expect there will be a rush for the apartments with what some say are the best views in the city.
Mr. Chair, we have worked with our partners to maximize our spending power. We have found ways to leverage contributions toward positive outcomes. This approach is not just for the athletes village project. We are doing the same with the Village of Teslin and helping them acquire the hazardous material truck. Community Services has included $50,000 toward the purchase of this important safety apparatus, because it is a needed investment in safety for travellers on the Yukon-Alaska Highway.
We recognize that budgets are tight and being frugal is important for local governments. We respect their diligence in being good money managers, and we are pleased to work with them to advance projects in their communities.
There are some very positive projects underway in our communities this season, which will add value on a number of levels. Some of these projects include $380,000 for Old Crow projects, consisting of $280,000 for mitigating land erosion from the Porcupine River and $100,000 for the repair of the community's water well and sewage improvement system. There is also $232,000 for construction of an Army Beach community water well project; $100,000 for the Carcross area, primarily for a second access to meet the traffic safety needs of a growing community that is looking to the future; $250,000 for the Hamilton Boulevard extension, and $100,000 for the improvement of various community roads.
$6.7 million is being provided for funding projects under the MRIF program. A significant balance is also available for other projects that would qualify for funding under this program. Projects funded under that program include the following: the Mayo community centre; the Marsh Lake recreation centre; the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations subdivision development; the Mount Sima ski chalet; Teslin's force main; Watson Lake's sewer expansion; Selkirk First Nation's piped water system; Faro's piped water system; Liard First Nation BST for community roads; and the City of Whitehorse's Takhini north reconstruction.
$11.4 million is being provided through the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund for funding specific projects such as the Carcross and Whitehorse waterfront projects.
I'd like to let members know that we have made application to Canada for sewage projects in Dawson City and Carmacks. Our share is in this budget, and we are awaiting Canada 's response.
We are moving ahead with Carcross and Whitehorse waterfront projects, as they had been approved previously by Canada . These projects will provide the improved infrastructure the communities require. These projects will also create jobs for rural Yukoners and add value to their local economies.
Under the department's O&M budget, $22.3 million is allocated for grants and contributions to municipalities, communities and non-government organizations.
Beyond the infrastructure investments, we are investing in the valuable contributions that various non-government groups and organizations provide to the communities. We have allocated funding contributions to the following: the Association of Yukon Communities, the Yukon Volunteer Bureau, Mae Bachur Animal Shelter, Dawson Humane Society and community library boards.
Community Services is also making some calculated investments in our computer systems, so that we can provide improved customer services to Yukoners. And from the feedback Yukoners have provided us, they like what they've seen so far.
Last December, Yukon was the first Canadian jurisdiction to launch BizPaL, a digital business tool that helps business people to access information on all permits and licences required to begin or upgrade business ventures. It has been well-received and supported by the business community as an innovative service that was long overdue. Every Yukon community is now available to the world's business and industry sectors through BizPaL.
Mr. Chair, I'm very pleased to advise this House that the BizPaL pilot project has recently been launched, and it is already drawing attention from the international resource community.
BizPaL is now much more than licensing and permitting. It has been expanded to help natural resource businesses by providing information on other kinds of approvals and government requirements beyond permits and licences, such as letters of approval, certificates, registrations and agreements.
Working with Energy, Mines and Resources, BizPaL Plus system was recently demonstrated to a truly global audience at the GLOBE conference in Vancouver. This conference, which was attended by approximately 10,000 people from up to 70 countries, provided the ideal venue to promote this emerging new service.
Discussions with people from Canada and other nations involved in the regulatory end of permitting and licensing were enthusiastic about this breakthrough technology of which Yukon is clearly one of the global leaders.
While you may not want to start a mining operation, you may still drive an automobile, and our investments in information technology are providing additional value here, also. Yukoners can re-register their vehicles on-line, which has proven to be very popular with our rural citizens. Carcross now has motor vehicles services because of our improved digital capacity, and we'll be announcing another rural community coming on-line for motor vehicles services in the next couple of weeks.
We are making the capital investments that result in positive assets and services, contribute to healthier communities through implementation of safer waste-disposal systems and improve access to clean drinking water.
We are also focusing on keeping our communities safe from harm and we are continuing our programming of upgrading the equipment and large assets of our volunteer fire departments. $50,000 is for Carcross to commence design for an addition renovation and energy upgrade to the old grader station to make it suitable for use as a volunteer fire hall; $150,000 is for Tagish to construct a two-bay addition for the existing fire hall in order to provide adequate space; $120,000 for Golden Horn volunteer fire department for design work in order to either replace or upgrade the existing fire hall. The department has identified $300,000 for the acquisition of fleet fire tankers for volunteer fire departments in a program to be better equipped to deal with structural fires and, when required, to assist wildland fire crews in protecting peripheral community values.
Mr. Chair, as the tabled main estimates show, the department plans to spend $50.5 million in operations and maintenance and $49.6 million in capital expenditures.
These expenditures have a considerable and positive impact on every community across the territory. O&M and capital recoveries are estimated to be $3.8 million and $26.4 million respectively. Revenues from general property taxes and services provided by the department are estimated at $7.5 million. The department's main estimates reflect the commitment of this government to promote the well-being of Yukoners by supporting municipalities and by providing municipal-type services and facilities to unincorporated communities.
All the projects and programs that I have outlined serve to support our commitment to achieve a better quality of life for all Yukoners. Through our efforts, Yukoners have improved access to higher visibility infrastructure like sports and recreation facilities, and we have made substantial contributions to the programming for activities in those new facilities. By building this kind of infrastructure, we provide the facilities that help communities grow and develop together.
We also have improved water, sewage and waste-disposal services, which are often unseen but very important. Providing these kinds of services, which are sometimes not that glamorous, also helps to build communities. This is the stuff that makes people's lives simpler, cleaner and more comfortable.
We have taken important steps in upgrading our emergency services, including funding for improvements to facilities and equipment. We remain committed to keeping Yukoners safe. Mr. Chair, Community Services also helps Yukoners through our consumer and corporate affairs branch. Consumer services' primary goal is to create and encourage a fair, efficient and improved marketplace for business and consumers. Consumer services ensures that professionals are qualified to be licensed pursuant to Yukon legislation, fosters business and consumer confidence in the marketplace and administers a regulatory framework that contributes to a competitive Yukon economy.
I would like to highlight that we are working on several initiatives in this area, including fair wage, minimum wage and graduated drivers' licences. We are also working in concert with other territorial and provincial governments to develop new security legislation that will protect investors while at the same time reducing the redundant regulatory burden placed on businesses that wish to operate in more than one Canadian jurisdiction.
We have made it easier for Yukoners to access government on-line. I am pleased that the BizPaL program has been so successful, and the new improvements are being provided to our rural communities in a progressive fashion, such as with the motor vehicle services provisions. In reviewing our deliverables, such as I have identified above and in the previous budgets, I am pleased with our progress to date. I would be pleased to expand further on these items and other positive investments the Department of Community Services will be making from this budget and answer any questions the members opposite may have.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for those details about the department. I think I've heard it a few times already. I do have some questions in this department - not a lot. I would like to try to get through the department as quickly as I can. I know this is a department that plays a key role in many of the communities, and some of them would like to see more input from this department in their communities. I've brought up some issues during almost every sitting about my riding and a number of things that I think the department could have been addressing. I haven't heard the minister list them, and some of them haven't even been mentioned at all. I guess maybe I can start with that. We had some briefing notes provided to us at the departmental briefing. It has a breakdown of communities through Community Services in capital.
Some of the communities aren't listed there at all. I know we have, for example, a territory-wide - which would probably see some smaller amounts of capital going into some of the communities.
I did hear the minister mention clearly that the department does provide municipal services to unincorporated communities. One of them that is not on this list is the community of Pelly Crossing. I would like to know from the minister what services they are providing. What is new in this budget, in capital, that is going to the community of Pelly Crossing?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with Pelly on their sewage system, along with the federal government. But just to be on the other side, we have provided funding through MRIF for the water system in Pelly .
Mr. Fairclough: That was for them to do the beginning work of that project, and so far I haven't seen it reflected in here. In the overall government budget to Pelly Crossing, I think they have something like $280,000 going into that community. It's a drastic decline from what they've seen in the past. I know there is much work to be done.
I want to know - this could be in Highways and Public Works or in Community Services, but I've brought this up before. There are several roads in the community of Pelly Crossing that they've been asking to have chipseal done on. The government did one section of it, and they did the wrong side. The argument now is that the present road, which connects to Pelly Farm as it's on that side of the river - whose road is it? Is it the First Nation's road, or is it the government's road? Really, in this department, does it really matter, since the Department of Community Services provides municipal services to unincorporated communities? So, why hasn't that been reflected in this budget? And because we haven't seen it, are there any plans to do road improvements in the community of Pelly Crossing?
Hon. Mr. Hart: With regard to that question, when we get to the Department of Highways and Public Works, I will be happy to respond to the member opposite's questions directly related to roads.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I believe that it is in this department. Highways and Public Works does do some work, but I've asked the minister this before in this department and in his opening remarks, he said there are various road works that this department is doing in some of the communities. That's why I asked the question. I'm surprised that it has been bumped to Highways and Public Works. Maybe the minister can clarify that before I move on to the next question.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The funding we have in roads is for upgrades to existing roads throughout the Yukon that we're handling on behalf of unincorporated communities throughout the Yukon. With regard to Pelly Crossing, we're also looking at the gas tax as a possible way and means to work with that community to improve its facilities.
Mr. Fairclough: So once again, Mr. Chair, this department is not doing any road improvements to the community of Pelly Crossing. I've been asking for that for awhile, and so have they. Too bad, because that community is probably one of the fastest growing communities in the territory. It's the second newest in the Yukon, and they have certainly seen some vast improvements as a community over the last 15 years.
The minister said that they provide municipal services to unincorporated communities. Can he give us a list of those communities, and can he say whether or not it includes Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, which is a doughnut in the community of Carmacks and is not part of the community at all - bylaws don't apply and so on. They are in fact an unincorporated community according to the definition of this government. What I want to know is this: how much work is this department doing with that unincorporated community, and can he provide that list of other communities?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, Little Salmon-Carmacks is a self-governing First Nation on its own land, and they have responsibilities they take care of on their own property. That is the jurisdiction of the federal government in conjunction with the First Nation, and how they get their work done is up to them. They are the government in charge on their property.
Mr. Fairclough: This is a real interesting one, Mr. Chair, because the minister says they are unincorporated, and they provide services to these unincorporated communities. It has been said before that they are unincorporated. It is a First Nation, and they do pay taxes. I understand that they are a First Nation, and they do things on their own. In the past, governments have provided monies to the First Nation to do things like road improvement and that type of thing. It has been the same with Pelly Crossing - they've done the same thing. Are we heading into something new here because First Nations have final agreements? If they are unincorporated, then the First Nation does the job because they are a First Nation, and the government is basically moving away from providing improvements unless otherwise agreed to by the First Nation. Is that how it is going to work now?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Considering a few items, this is a self-governing First Nation. They have issues. As he mentioned, governments in the past have provided some assistance to First Nations in conjunction with the community that's involved. We have several First Nation communities in the Yukon that have signed agreements, and if these projects are done in collaboration with all parties, then chances are we will negotiate service agreements with the First Nation to see if we can provide that.
As of yet, we haven't gone to that stage. They are a self-governing First Nation, and right now providing support is under the purview of the federal government, especially in the area of housing, sewer and water. We are working with several of these First Nations in trying to alleviate the difficulties they're having with sewer and water. We will continue to assist them in that area.
Mr. Fairclough: I do have questions in regard to that, but first, does the minister consider this First Nation - being they are excluded from the boundaries of the community of Carmacks - a community?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation is located very close to the municipality of Carmacks. By its closeness, it's associated with the municipality and its needs.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister is dodging that one, Mr. Chair. I would like to go back to the Association of Yukon Communities AGM in Watson Lake. There were lots of discussions about land and the fact that government has sold a piece of land to a developer without consultation with the Town of Watson Lake. I would like to know, first of all, why this took place, and what the government is going to do to avoid this type of costly direction that they have gone in.
Hon. Mr. Hart: To respond to the member opposite's question the best I can, the question he is asking doesn't relate to this particular budget. The authorization is actually under the purview of Energy, Mines and Resources. Also, I would like to inform the member opposite that I'm not allowed to discuss land issues, as per the advice of the Conflicts Commissioner.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, can the minister then table the advice that he has received from the Conflicts Commissioner regarding his land conflict?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Does the member opposite not think I have that? Regardless, I will table the letter tomorrow.
Mr. Fairclough: It is in regard to an issue raised by the Association of Yukon Communities, and that's why I've asked it. I hope I don't get bumped to another minister who says they are in conflict and cannot answer the question in regard to land and it ends up being the Premier answering all the questions. It becomes frustrating for us on this side of the House, and it's frustrating for the municipalities to be asking questions and not getting any answer because the minister is in conflict.
I couldn't see why the minister - or this government - could not have sent somebody down to Watson Lake to answer these questions, since they were provided with advance warning of what the questions were. So, they cannot say that they couldn't predict what the Association of Yukon Communities was going to ask.
The other thing, Mr. Chair, that the minister didn't answer is this: how is this department going to avoid these types of things in the future with respect to land sale without first consulting with the municipality and looking at the community plan? How could this have happened? And is the minister going to refer this question to another minister? If so, which one? And I'd like to flag that so I can ask a different minister the question.
Hon. Mr. Hart: All land-related questions are handled through Energy, Mines and Resources.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I see the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is here, so I would like for that minister to answer the question. If the minister hasn't been paying attention, I'll repeat it again: regarding the land sale that took place in Watson Lake to a developer, this land sale took place without the municipality's full knowledge and it doesn't go with their community plan. I see there is consultation taking place, so I'm just going to pause for a moment.
How will this government avoid this type of problem in the future? What's the cost to government to correct this problem?
Hon. Mr. Lang: There was no land sale - never was and will not be, unless the Town of Watson Lake agrees with it.
Mr. Fairclough: Then this is a conflicting message we're getting. The go-ahead was given to develop before a sale took place. Let's go on that one first. The government gave the go-ahead to the developer to start developing the land before the sale took place. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Lang: As far as the facts are concerned, the member is incorrect. The city was part and parcel of any decision-making on that particular piece of land in the Town of Watson Lake, and they will be in the future.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister didn't answer the question. The mayor and CAO of Watson Lake is saying otherwise, so who is correct here: is it the minister or the mayor and CAO of the Town of Watson Lake? They're saying something different from what the minister is saying. They're saying that the go-ahead to develop this land took place before the sale even happened and it didn't coincide with the town's municipal plans. Is that correct? How will the minister avoid that in the future?
Hon. Mr. Lang: That is completely incorrect.
Mr. Fairclough: Then the minister should be giving the correct version, if he has one in front of him, and be clear that we and the minister know what the mayor and the CAO of the Town of Watson Lake are saying.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, Mr. Speaker, we are in contact with the mayor and council of Watson Lake. What the member opposite is saying is not correct. He is completely incorrect regarding this particular issue in Watson Lake.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister is saying one thing to me. I am going on the words of the mayor and the chief administrative officer of the Town of Watson Lake. That is what they said. Maybe the minister can clearly lay out his version of the events.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The Town of Watson Lake government issued a land use permit for the firm that the member opposite is talking about. The proponent has applied for land. He is working with the Town of Watson Lake. The land will not be disposed of unless the Town of Watson Lake agrees, and the town plan is followed.
We are not doing this in unison. We are working with the Town of Watson Lake on this issue. I would say to the member opposite that this is moving forward. Hopefully, the proponent and the Town of Watson Lake can agree. If they agree, we can agree with the land transaction.
Mr. Fairclough: Perhaps the minister can tell us who gave the go-ahead to the developer to start developing this piece of land.
Hon. Mr. Lang: It certainly wasn't the territorial government.
Mr. Fairclough: It wasn't the territorial government, and this person has spent over $100,000. Mr. Chair, I don't think anyone would go ahead and develop a piece of land at such a cost without prior approval from this government.
Does the minister have a letter that was sent to the developer stating this? Why is it being said? Why is the mayor and council saying this and the minister is saying something different?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The proponent, through the news media - through whatever media - dictates $100,000. This government did not authorize anybody to spend that kind of money on that particular land-use permit. Mr. Speaker, the process is working. We are working with the Town of Watson Lake. If the Town of Watson Lake feels comfortable with this proponent doing this land transaction, we will work with that proponent.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, it certainly sounds like the minister was working with the proponent, Mr. Chair, and approval was given.
This minister appears to be very defensive on this matter, and it is with good reason. Someone spent $100,000. The Town of Watson Lake does not want this development to take place because it doesn't coincide with their municipal community plan, and someone is out $100,000. The finger, Mr. Chair, points back to the minister and to the government giving the go-ahead to develop this piece of land. Now the minister is denying this on the floor of this Legislature.
Then can the minister answer this: how is his government going to avoid this type of thing happening again?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, Mr. Chair, there is no issue in Watson Lake, unless the member opposite wants to create one. We are working with the Town of Watson Lake within its town plan. If in fact the proponent and the Town of Watson Lake have a request to change the zoning of the area, then we will work with the town and the proponent to transfer the land but, until that happens, nothing will happen in Watson Lake.
Mr. Fairclough: Oh, man, Mr. Chair. Maybe the minister hasn't been keeping up on the events that have been taking place over the last couple of weeks. Maybe he ought to talk to the Minister of Community Services on this matter, because it has been raised, and it was raised by the mayor. It has been in the media. The minister can't say that there's nothing wrong here, look away, say that everything is all good, like they've done so many times in this House. It is a problem and it's sticking to the minister.
We're not getting anywhere with this minister, Mr. Speaker. I'd like to ask him about land in regard to outfitters, but that minister is going to be referring to another minister to answer that question because of conflicts.
I would like to ask about the wildland fire protection. I would like to know which communities have evacuation plans in regard to wildfires and which ones are developing plans. Can the minister answer that question first?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I don't have that right at my fingertips, but I could provide that to the member opposite at a later date.
Mr. Fairclough: I asked that question for a number of reasons. As the minister knows, this discussion has taken place in Carcross in regard to an alternate route for people in subdivisions, and so on. This is also an issue with people in Granger - another exit route - and I'm talking about Hamilton Boulevard . Since these communities are on top of a hill, the questions have been asked today. I know the minister says there's an application from the city. Although this has been going on for a number of years - this government has been in power for almost four years now - we haven't seen this develop yet. Is the minister concerned with that? Can he tell us what the department's plans are when it comes to emergencies for that section of town here in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Hart: That particular area of town is the responsibility of the City of Whitehorse emergency preparedness process. That is their jurisdiction. As the government, we do not come in to the situation until requested by the municipality - in this case it would be the mayor.
To respond to several of his questions, we work with all communities. We are currently working with Tagish on their emergency preparedness plan. We work based on the demand from the communities and the unincorporated municipalities throughout the Yukon . We work on them based on their application to the process, with regard to emergency preparedness.
I indicated earlier we're also working with the federal government for further education on being prepared for emergencies - fire, flooding, extreme cases of earthquake, for example. That's currently underway.
For example, we anticipate having that program commence later this month, once we work with the federal government on getting that information out on a continuous basis to ensure the people in the Yukon are getting prepared to basically survive for a period of approximately 72 hours.
With regard to our other areas, we are working with several of our volunteer fire departments on updating and training to assist with wildland fire management, should it hit their area. In the fall of 2004, the government commissioned an independent review of the 2004 fire season. The review panel made its final report public in May of the following year. In general terms, the panel concluded that the Yukon 's fire management operation worked well and the policies were generally sound. The panel made a number of recommendations, however, that would help strengthen the program even further, and Community Services has reviewed these recommendations and we are in the process of implementing some of them and looking at further improvements to enhance the safety of all Yukoners.
Mr. Mitchell: I thank my colleague, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, for allowing me to ask a few questions on this subject while it has come up, because it has so much relevance to my constituents and I get asked these questions almost daily.
I'm hoping the minister can provide some answers to some questions, based on the questions and answers we had during the fall session. At the time, regarding a question about the completion date, the minister indicated that our memorandum of understanding states that the completion of the facility - meaning the road - would be in 2008. But, until such time as we see the application, we can't provide the member opposite - being me - with the exact details.
Considering the minister's answers today in Question Period to questions about this, I'm presuming that he has now seen an application, or at least been briefed by department officials on the nature of an application, that's going in jointly. The city, I believe, is the applicant, but it's a joint funding application. Is this 2008 date still on the table, or is everything pushed back because we've gone through another season without significant construction occurring?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned during Question Period today, we are in receipt of the City of Whitehorse's application for the extension of Hamilton Boulevard. However, our call date is sometime in early August - or August 1, I've been informed now. If work commences this fall on the route, and if the application is approved through the process, then I anticipate that we'll still be able to meet the deadline of 2008.
Mr. Mitchell: Okay, just for some further clarification - in the budget speech, the Premier read that there was $250,000 in this year's budget having to do with planting, centre-line and brushing work relevant to this application. Regardless of the progress that will or will not be made on the MRIF application, and whether or not it's favourably received by the Government of Canada, is this particular work going ahead this year?
Hon. Mr. Hart: To respond to the member opposite, we can't commence any part of the project until we get approval for it.
Mr. Mitchell: Just to be clear, the statement that there was $250,000 for Hamilton Boulevard for planning, centre-line and brushing work - and I believe that the minister suggested earlier today that he was looking forward to inviting me to turn the first shovel of dirt - if the MRIF application has not been accepted - or rather, has not received a favourable disposition - this $250,000 would lapse. Is this correct? Is this portion of work that the Government of Yukon is looking at funding tied to that application's success or lack of success?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are looking at trying to leverage a substantial amount of money from the federal government through the MRIF program. We don't want to jeopardize that funding for this project. We are awaiting approval for this project. If approval is obtained, we have no reason to believe that we will not be able to spend that $250,000 in this year's budget - none whatsoever.
If, as the member opposite indicates, this project doesn't go ahead, then the government on this side may have to sit down and have another look at how it gets it. We realize that an extension will have to be provided for that community. We will be looking at it once we get the decision.
Mr. Mitchell: Yes, because the minister said last fall that the main focus for this particular project is to provide the second egress out. We certainly know that there is a safety issue and not just an issue of convenience involved. Last year, when we were discussing this topic, the minister indicated that the actual route was identified but that there was some further clarification that will have to be obtained from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation regarding where it comes out in relation to their land. Has that discussion occurred, and is there an agreement in place or are these discussions ongoing?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have identified the specific route we wish to go through in that particular area. We are still dealing with the First Nation in question on that particular aspect.
Mr. Mitchell: I'm wondering if the minister could elaborate on - when he says “we're still dealing with the First Nation”, he indicates that the route has been identified. Is this an issue of trade-offs, or is it just an issue of what the legal status of how this agreement is done to allow the road to go through First Nation lands? I'm wondering if the minister could give us some more details on exactly what he means by “We're still having the discussions with the First Nation”?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Basically, it's on both those issues. Our preferred agreement would be to have an agreement from the First Nation so we could advance. We don't consider that a showstopper, but we are trying to work with them on both issues to see if we can come up with an arrangement whereby we could look at assisting them with a route to enable them to develop their land also.
Mr. Mitchell: I do recognize that this road will also have some benefits for the First Nation because of the access that it provides to two parcels of land that they have selected. Can the minister put any additional time frames on this? This being May and the minister being hopeful that by August 1 we will have a decision on the MRIF application, does the minister anticipate finalizing these discussions and having a memorandum of understanding with the First Nation by that time? If that's not possible, would it be the minister's intent to move forward with the alternate route that the minister indicated was possible, or would this be something that might cause the minister to defer the project - perhaps until next year - in order to try to achieve the preferred route through discussions with the First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, as I stated, we are trying to work diligently with the First Nation to get an agreement whereby we can have a consensus on the route to go through the subdivision. However, failing that, we are looking at August 1 being our deadline to get this situation rectified because we would like to have the land situation settled prior to the application going forth to Canada.
Mr. Mitchell: If this road were to go forward, it would - as well as providing a second access and egress to the Copper Ridge-Granger-Logan-Arkell area - also potentially make some additional land available for residential housing, which, as we know, has been a difficult thing to achieve in recent months or years in terms of finding locations that don't have one objection or another raised.
I know that the First Nation has the possibility of developing some form of leasehold-lot tenancy on its land, and I know that they would still have to work out a policy.
The minister indicated in the fall that there were some additional lands under the control of the Government of Yukon that might become available but that we recognized there are constraints on the amount of land that might be usable due to slope, due to the actual rock conditions, the cost of infrastructure. If either minister is not able to answer these questions, I am curious whether there has been any particular number of lots identified by the department that might become developable once this road goes forward.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will respond to the questions directly about, basically, the infrastructure for the area and leave the land development side to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
There is a very limited amount of land that is not First Nation land in that particular area that we'll be going through. However, besides that, the terrain is not very conducive to services and would be very difficult in some areas - in fact, we may not be able to develop some portions just because of the cost in that particular area.
But there are a number of small pockets that we could develop in that area. But, again, I would leave that up to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Mr. Mitchell: Yes, I'm wondering if the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has an answer that he might provide in terms of the potential number of additional lots that might come available under the auspices of the Government of Yukon once the road was completed.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I think, in answering the member opposite, a road is certainly very important and that, of course, is the first thing on our list because of the safety factor - access to the growing subdivision. And we would certainly look at land in that area once the road is up. But, as the minister just said, the terrain is very expensive. It has lots of rock, so a person would really have to analyze the whole area and, once the road is in place, we'll be able to do that but there are no plans on the table adjacent to that road at the moment, but we would certainly look at it down the trail.
Mr. Mitchell: I'm wondering if the Minister of Community Services could provide any details on the alignment that the road would take at the intersection with the Alaska Highway being close to Lobird road and McLean Lake road and so forth. What is the realignment proposed to look like?
In particular, I've had some questions asked by a couple of constituents who have landholdings in that particular area and have concerns that a potential change in the current alignment of McLean Lake Road could impact access to their own land. I'm wondering if the minister could just sketch that out for us, so to speak.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'll try to respond to the member opposite's question. We have consulted with many of the people in that area with regard to where the route is going to hit the Alaska Highway. It is intended the route will come out across from Robert Service Way . Yes, there will be some alterations to the McLean Lake Road but, as with any development we do, we're not planning on impeding anybody's access to their route.
Mr. Mitchell: I know in one case it's a landholding that's not currently being occupied, but I'll just make a point of telling the constituents that their concerns would be looked after in terms of any access.
While we're talking about subdivisions and road developments, I did ask the minister some questions last fall having to do with the Whitehorse Copper development, and there were concerns that had been expressed about one of the access points having to do with at least the local belief that there was a bit of a microclimate in the area and that the particular dip on the highway was prone to freezing conditions. I understand that some research or studies were going to be undertaken to look at whether this did create particular problems and whether there had to be any other mitigation done. I'm wondering if the minister can respond to whether there has been any proposed changes or any additional information regarding that access point along the Alaska Highway.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite about the microclimate down at the bottom of the hill, I think that that has been resolved. According to the department, there is no such problem. This road is the second access for that development. The argument about not having the second access would create the same thing we have now in the Granger and Copper Ridge area. Without a second access, it leads to exactly what we are going through now.
The engineering department has covered all the questions about climate. Access roads, traffic flow and all those other things have been done.
Mr. Mitchell: I thank the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources for that answer. I do understand the value of having more than one access road to the subdivision. I am certainly not arguing the merits of that; rather it is whether or not the particular issues that have been discussed a fair bit by local area residents - people who are more familiar with those climate conditions from driving it daily than I am - have been addressed. In fact, one of the residents who raised it with me is a neighbour of the minister's on Fox Farm Road . He mentioned that he had seen vehicles lined up in the ditch there on a number of occasions. The minister might be familiar with that.
Is there a timetable now for when all this will be proceeding in terms of that second access? Can the minister provide us with some details about it? Presumably there are acceleration and deceleration lanes. What is the nature of the controls at that intersection? Is it just a stop sign and warning? Or is anything else anticipated?
Hon. Mr. Lang: To clarify for the member opposite, with the second access would come the kind of maintenance that would be demanded on that access. So, I think, from an engineering point of view, it would probably enhance the road in that dip because of the maintenance that would be demanded on such an access. In answering the member's question about when that access would be in place, it wouldn't be this building season. We are pushing ahead and putting as many lots in place as possible because of the demand, but the second phase - part and parcel - would be that access.
Mr. Fairclough: I'd like to continue with some of the questions I started out with. Regarding wildfire protection, and the Department of Community Services as a whole, are there any positions within this department, and particularly in fire protection, that the department is looking at decentralizing to communities?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We're following the recommendations that are provided in the independent review, as I indicated earlier. Part of those reviews will be looking at adding some additional staff in our rural areas, specifically to the high-risk areas. We're looking at those particular areas and we anticipate putting some staff in there this year.
Mr. Fairclough: I take it that's in fire protection - the minister has identified. Is that fire protection? Yes, he says. There is one particular position, and I'm not sure what name it is - it is with the tanker base - the person who is on top at the tanker base. The position is here in Whitehorse, but the person who has that position is from the community of Carmacks. The way I understand it is that he can do the job in that community and it would not have any major effect on the operations - or any negative effect on the daily operations around the territory. I would like to know if the minister can look into this matter - and if he needs clarification as to who it is and so on, I can give him that name later - but if he can look at possibly having this position run out of the community of Carmacks. If he can look at it over the next little while, I would appreciate that.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated earlier, we are following the recommendations that were done in the independent review as closely as we can. We are trying to provide the best possible safety for all Yukoners during the fire season, and sometimes that includes having our main staff all in one area so that we can coordinate things quickly if we have to. However, if the member opposite would provide me with that particular name, maybe I could have the department check out the position and see what we can do.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that. I don't believe that this in the recommendations, but this question has been raised about looking at the possibility of the community of Carmacks being one of the main communities for directing traffic for fire suppression.
I know, for example, that if one wants to get a bomber out to Haines Junction, it's quicker to do it from Carmacks than from Whitehorse. I am not sure if this is part of the review the minister is talking about, but it would be interesting to see what it is. If the minister could table that, I would appreciate it.
The other thing is with regard to the devolution transfer agreements. The Yukon Party believes that the firefighting money in this agreement was insufficient. I know that there's a clause in this agreement that allows the government to go back and negotiate for more. I would like to know if this government has done this or is in the process of negotiating more money for fire suppression.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have been in discussions with the federal government on this particular issue. We have indicated to them that the funding provided is insufficient. That was fairly evident in the 2004 season. We anticipate moving along with the new government, once it gets established, to try to reopen our agreement. We need to look at improving the cost relationship with Canada.
Chair: We have come to our normal time for an afternoon recess. Do members wish to take a 15-minute recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, in Vote 51, Department of Community Services.
Mr. Fairclough: I guess we're following process here quite closely. I'd like to ask a question in regard to land. The protocol for giving out land in municipalities - I would like to know what it is, is it going to change, and whether or not the department is following that process.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, we certainly are working with the City of Whitehorse to update our protocol, but we are following the existing protocol.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, it has been pointed out that this is an issue with the Town of Watson Lake and other communities around the territory. So, is the minister and the department working with other communities to ensure that we follow proper process like we do here in the House?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Chair, we do follow the municipalities' community plans and we work with the communities on those plans.
Mr. Fairclough: I didn't ask that question. I'm talking about the protocol and so on. I see the minister is being briefed. I expect to get a slightly different answer this time.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, we work with the municipalities within the communities and also work around their community plans. We work with the municipality if they need land or have ideas. We follow the community plan that has been put together by the municipalities.
Mr. Fairclough: Then what would the minister say to the members of the Association of Yukon Communities who are asking for a clear process on this matter. It has been brought up in Watson Lake and the government has been addressed about it. They would like to know if there is a clear process or policy that they can follow. Is the government working on one now that they have seen that one is needed?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answer to the member opposite, we are working on a protocol with the City of Whitehorse. We are nearing completion on that. We will also work with the municipalities and get clearer policy if they feel that we should move forward on it. We will take the lead from the communities and work with them on it.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, this is important. It has been identified. I would like to know when the minister expects to come up with a clear policy.
Hon. Mr. Lang: We're working on finalizing the protocol with the City of Whitehorse . That should be done within the month, and then after that, we would move forward. If any of the municipalities outside of Whitehorse feel that they would like a clearer policy, we'll take the lead from them and go to work with them to address their issues.
Mr. Fairclough: Within a month, a policy will be worked out with the City of Whitehorse , and there's a commitment from the minister, I guess, to work with the other municipalities around the territory. It has been identified. The minister said he'd commit to it. But they identified a need for a clear policy. So, would the minister take that initiative and work with the municipalities and come up with one soon? I think if a template is being made with the City of Whitehorse, it wouldn't be hard for the minister to come up with one for the rest of the territory.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Certainly we will work with the municipalities to do exactly what the member opposite has requested.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, we're moving along here in Committee of the Whole, Mr. Chair. I'm wondering how that question would have been answered in Question Period - interesting.
Regarding the local advisory councils, the question was asked today about their budgets and the fact that they don't have the control - it's all laid out as to what it should be spent on. Is the department looking at giving the control to the local advisory councils to spend the money as they see fit?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned in Question Period, the LACs have specific items for which the funding is to be utilized. We have been asked by the Auditor General's office to make all of the funding accountable through our non-governmental organizations, and we are in the process of doing so. We have provided each of our local advisory councils with a contribution agreement that identifies what the funding can be used for and, for the member opposite, we have even increased some of the funding to some of those local advisory councils to assist them in their endeavours.
Mr. Fairclough: There are a couple of items identified here that have large amounts of monies going toward them. One of them is the Mayo recreation centre. I would like the minister to give me an update on that and tell me if in fact this recreation centre is on time and on budget and, if there are any changes, what they are. If he can do that, I'll ask the next question.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, we had some adjustments prior to commencing the project, but we are on time and on budget and heading forth. I also plan to attend Mayo after the session is over to help break ground on the new facility.
Mr. Fairclough: Can the minister tell us what the completion date is to be for the centre?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, I don't have the exact date, but we are looking at completion of the facility in early spring.
Mr. Fairclough: I am hoping that happens. We have had the government commit to some of these things. It just didn't turn out that way. I will bring one up in regard to the Carmacks school where people were supposed to be working all winter but it didn't happen. Now, the project is just getting on its way. It has walls up and a floor, and so on. I am hoping this happens in the community of Mayo. They have had their rec centre down for this winter - their curling rink and so on. For next spring - that means they are not going to have their curling rink up and running in time for their annual bonspiel. That is two years in a row they will have gone without.
In regard to the Carmacks sewer plant - the mechanical plant - it has changed slightly in design since this time last year. I would like to know, again, if there are any problems with the construction of this project. It is identified in the budget now. Can he give us an update on it and when we expect the completion date of this particular project and whether we are looking at the same amount of money?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'd like to assure the member opposite that we have been working very closely with the mayor and council in Mayo on the new recreational facility there. They have been very encouraged with the process they are going through right now. They are well aware of the schedule and they have been truly involved every step of the way on that process. In fact, they've made some suggestions on ways to save money, which were incorporated into the original plan.
They understand that it will take awhile to get to completion. In addition, we're looking at not operating in the middle of winter, construction-wise. In fact, part of the process will be shutting down during the wintertime - the heavy cold period - in order to save time and money. In essence, we're still looking at getting a good portion of the project done and completed on time for early spring.
With regard to Carmacks, we submitted an application to Ottawa and we're awaiting approval from Ottawa under the Canada strategic infrastructure fund. Once that item comes in, we'll be able to provide the member opposite with an update and some initial scheduling and work.
Mr. Fairclough: When does the minister expect that to happen? Is the response from Ottawa in August, like the others?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We've been working with federal government officials at our officials level but, unfortunately, until such time as we get approval from Ottawa - I can't push the arm there fast enough. We're anxious to move forward on this project, as the member opposite is. Once Ottawa gives us the okay, we'll be able to move forward.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister is more involved in this than the rest of us in this House. Does he expect all to go well? Does he expect a delay or any problems from Ottawa ? Can he relay any of that? Does he expect everything to go well and we can see construction this fall?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'm anticipating I'll meet the federal minister next month in Vancouver . Hopefully I'll have an answer prior to that but, either way, I should be able to provide the member opposite with an update on that particular issue.
We are working with the Village of Carmacks on that particular outlet. There are circumstances that may happen in the next little while that may reduce the cost of that facility, depending upon what happens on a national scale.
Regardless, we are moving ahead with our original concept. If the other issue comes through, it will result in substantial savings for everyone. We anticipate that, in the meantime, we will go ahead with the original application and wait for that.
Mr. Fairclough: The way things go sometimes with Ottawa, things may be slow. This project could be delayed. There is that possibility it could be delayed another year.
We will continue with the community of Carmacks. The First Nation has a project with regard to water distribution - the low-pressure water system - along with Pelly Crossing. They've gone through the initial plans and have money for it. Again, this government is working with them on this project. I would like the minister to perhaps give us an update. When can we expect to see this construction take place? What are the timelines on that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with Canada to resolve the design issue and refine the project application. As the member opposite indicated, we are working with the proponents to resolve the situation in Carmacks. I can't provide him with any details. We don't have the exact details with us.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, I think the minister may know the potential construction dates on this project. They have been working with the community for awhile. I know that it's all dependent on money from Ottawa. This is a bit of a problem, because I believe that the way the project was designed, it didn't quite fit the criteria through MRIF. Now, this is a bit of a problem as to whether or not we will see this project go ahead.
Maybe the minister can explain a bit more in regard to that, because First Nations are running into these types of problems. I know that municipalities would like a similar project. They're just behind a little bit. They're putting their sewage system first. But the whole community - it looks like it's going to be on this low-flow water distribution system. So maybe I can give the minister an opportunity to answer that question.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated, we're still working on the design and development for an application that's appropriate for that particular area. If the member opposite remembers, the situation in Pelly Crossing was very similar. The application for approval for that particular system was reduced substantially after consultation with all parties involved, and they are now proceeding with that particular water process with regard to Pelly Crossing. In Carmacks, we're also looking at, again, a system that will be realistic cost-wise, and we're hoping to get to that area shortly.
Mr. Fairclough: I asked the minister to keep me up-to-date on this project because I know it's important. The First Nation has tried to keep me up to speed as to what they're doing also. It's important for the community. I would like to know if the minister can give us a full list of the MRIF projects and the CSIF projects also. If he can provide that in writing to me, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, I can provide the member opposite with a written list of who got what under both programs.
Mr. Fairclough: I'd like to go back to the community of Dawson City with respect to the sewage system and what they should have, I guess. Can the minister give us an update on that? We've identified some monies in this year's budget to go toward this sewage project - I think it's $2.5 million. When can we expect this to be completed? And, with the lack of a municipality right now, it's all in the hands of the minister at this point. I understand we're having an election and so on shortly, but the minister and the government are making these decisions. So, I'd like the minister to give us an update. After all, I believe we're in violation of the water licence at this point. So, can the minister can give us a detailed update on the Dawson sewage?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are not in violation of our Waters Act with regard to Dawson City. However, Dawson's sewage system is in a bundled package with Carmacks, and it is in Ottawa under the CSIF. We're awaiting the same process as we are for Carmacks.
Mr. Fairclough: We're doing a lot of waiting for Ottawa to give monies to the territory for some of these projects - ones I believe should have been taken care of before.
I know the Member for Klondike is going to ask questions regarding this, so I'm going to leave him to ask the detailed questions about the Dawson sewage.
I would like to know about the $3.4 million though - the bail-out money for the municipality. I would like to know how it's funded. And because there is no municipality - no mayor and council in place - I would like to know some details as to how it's flowing and when and so on.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We will be doing some administrative work with regard to Dawson . We will take care of restructuring the debt as per the agreement and then the write-off of the debt will take place, so there is no actual money transfer taking place in that particular aspect. We will write off the entry for Dawson City and move forward.
Mr. Fairclough: I'll leave that one for the Member for Klondike to ask more questions.
In regard to the athletes village, Mr. Chair, this project has ballooned in cost, and we are looking at a substantial amount of money to build the athletes village. I would like to know: now that we have made some progress on this, what is the budget today? Has it changed? Has it increased? Decreased? Can the minister give us an update on that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have committed $29.8 million to the project for work on that facility. We are moving along. We are very close to schedule. The member opposite will know that we put the last apartment in place seven days before the contract indicated it was going to be in place. Our projects are moving forward. We hope to be within our original estimate of $31.4 million. Currently our indications are that we should be at that level.
Mr. Fairclough: That's a new number, Mr. Chair. I thought the target was 33 but what the minister is saying is they are coming underbudget slightly.
Those are most of the questions I wanted to ask the minister.
There is another one in regard to the 2007 Canada Winter Games. I would like to know what this minister has done. I know there is a committee dealing with the games, but what has the minister done to involve the surrounding communities outside of Whitehorse in these games?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As the member opposite knows, the host society is in charge of all the events with regard to the Canada Winter Games. They have met with all the communities throughout the Yukon. Their involvement in the Canada Winter Games will come in the form of the cultural and recreational aspects of the games. No particular sporting event will be held outside of Whitehorse.
Mr. Fairclough: So the minister hasn't done anything. It's too bad, because I think the communities could really have offered a lot if they were involved at the beginning.
In regard to the transit fund, there is $781,000 in the budget. I would just like to know what that was for.
Hon. Mr. Hart: That money was allocated through Canada through the gas tax. We will be entering into an agreement with existing transit holders.
Mr. Fairclough: I would like to know what the $130,000 gas tax fund is for.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Chair, the money in the gas tax fund, to which the member opposite refers, is our portion of the planning process for the gas tax. The rest of the money is held in a trust fund for the other municipalities.
Mr. Jenkins: I just have a few questions about the financial package for Dawson City that I would like to pose to the minister.
In the Premier's April 28 press release and subsequent visit to Dawson, he indicated that there was a $3.43 million immediate write-off. Have the immediate write-off and the $1 million in capital been approved by Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The issue of the write-off has been approved through Management Board. With regard to $1 million, the amount has been approved subject to the new mayor and council bringing back a priority list with our back capital items to that amount to be undertaken.
Mr. Jenkins: So for the record, the minister confirmed that both the $3.43 million in the immediate write-off and the $1 million in capital have been approved by Management Board? Have I got it correct?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, in the Premier's April 28 letter, this $3.43 million is going to be an immediate write-off. The letter that everyone received in the mail today, dated May 4 from the Minister of Community Services, addressed to “Dear Resident of Dawson City” spoke of an immediate write-off of $3.43 million in government-held debt. Just what is “immediate” and when is this going to take place?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated earlier, we have some legal aspects to go through and we have some work that has to be done by the Department of Finance with regard to getting this done. But again, as stated previously, it will have no effect on the new mayor and council. The work will be completed and done before the election is held.
Mr. Jenkins: I am not looking at the effect on a new mayor and council, I am looking at the effect on the City of Dawson. Have any of the long-term debt obligations of the four debentures been debt-serviced this year by the City of Dawson ?
Hon. Mr. Hart: No, they have not.
Mr. Jenkins: There is going to be a rollover and a consolidation of $1.5 million in debt over 25 years, which results in interest payments to the government at four percent, which amounts to approximately $900,000.
I would like to refer the minister to the City of Dawson's financial statements, capital assets. Capital assets are charged to operation and then capitalized and amortized through equity and capital assets, as follows - there is a schedule of the assets. Things like the recreational complex are 25-year straight line. It is on the books for $10.5 million.
Just how does the minister intend for the City of Dawson to reconcile their class of assets with the loan repayment schedule? It's basically consolidating the cable system, which has an effective life, and the amount of time you borrow the money for and pay it back is going to far exceed the effective life of the asset that you have. How is that going to be reconciled? It won't have an initial impact; it will have an impact down the road.
This goes back to the need for a uniform accounting system. If you look at Mayo, which is going to receive a new community centre, they will not carry any of the costs on their books, other than the land they contributed. It's the government that has the class of assets and it will probably be done by way of a grant on the books. Yet, every community is different, and this points out the need for a uniform accounting system for municipalities so you can compare apples to apples.
You certainly cannot do that today. And there are going to be problems down the road when the effective life of the class of asset is zero, and yet there are still payments to be made for another 10 or 12 years. Does the minister have a suggestion as to what is going to transpire? On the surface, it looks very good, Mr. Chair, but the devil is in the details.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The member opposite brings up an important point, which we realize - through several other municipalities, as each municipality is a little bit different. We are currently working on a standardized system. We are working with the Province of Alberta right now on trying to come up with guidelines for all our municipalities to operate under the same financial guidelines, shall we say, and still allow them some flexibility on, for example, their own individual projects.
But we are currently under that process. We are working with the Association of Yukon Communities on that particular aspect. They have indicated support for that particular process. One of the changes coming up under the act will probably come in that form. We have received indications from some CAOs from the municipalities that they would like to see this type of accounting that the member opposite indicated. We have been working on it, and we anticipate, as I said, something coming this fall.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what does the minister propose the City of Dawson do with a recreation centre that's on the books for $10.5 million and has a value of - well, whatever you could get for it, which is not very much.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We will work that out with the auditors down the road, and with the new mayor and council, as was indicated in the Premier's announcement.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister has been in the driver's seat for two years. This is something that should have been addressed. The slate should have been wiped clean for a new mayor and council to take over. I'm disappointed that the government and officials have not addressed this area. These are the opening balance statements which, by the way, are qualified. The only part of this audit that is unqualified is the City of Dawson audit for the last fiscal - the statement of revenues and expenditures. The opening balances are certainly well qualified and well documented in the preamble to the financial statements and the auditor's report and letter.
It is another area that should have been cleaned up by the department before turning the city back to an elected group. This is going to be an issue that they have to wrestle with and address. It just puts an onerous burden of responsibility on a new group of officials. I would like to know why the department hasn't addressed this area.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The situation in Dawson, as he is well aware, has been there for some time. In regard to our package for Dawson City, we indicated that we would separate the capital funding, and the Yukon government commits to work with the City of Dawson to identify and resolve the outstanding issue of the recreation centre with the new major and council, and we will continue to do that.
In addition, we will work with the auditors to address the situation the member opposite brings forward and have it resolved in the future with the new mayor and council.
Mr. Jenkins: It looks like we have the icing on the cake, but the cake is without substance.
Mr. Chair, let us look at what the Government of Yukon - the Department of Community Services - spent in the City of Dawson while it was under their care and control: $3.899 million. Could the minister provide a breakdown of the $390,000 of those funds that were spent on legal fees through Miller Thomson, and is that in addition to what the City of Dawson spent?
In addition to that, on G.J. Bull and Associates, engineered-related contracts for what I would assume was secondary sewage - there is another $240,000. In addition to that, there is CSIF funding of $261,000. That would bring the total cost of what was spent on secondary sewage and related activities there to over half a million dollars.
We have a couple of plastic bins and a tarp next to the screening plant to show for all this activity. You add this all together, just on administration, travel, trustees - they were the least expensive part of the whole component. A significant amount of money has been spent.
Can the minister confirm - I know it has been spent - what this $390,000 for legal fees was for and what all the money on secondary sewage was spent on?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I don't have a detailed breakdown of the $390,000 to Miller Thomson, but I would be more than willing to provide a letter to the member opposite with a breakdown of the costs.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the other issue is of secondary sewage. Would the minister commit to providing the breakdown of the over half a million dollars that was spent in-house on G.J. Bull and Associates, engineer-related contracts and CSIF? There was basically $240,000 on one account, plus another $261,433 on another.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, I would be more than happy to provide him with a breakdown on those costs also.
Mr. Jenkins: I do have a concern that, after all this money was spent to see what the government has purchased, we really don't have anything to show for it on both of these accounts. We know we spent another basically half a million on a forensic audit. We haven't seen the outcome of that, but we're not going to go there at all.
Could the minister confirm that the principal in Doddington Advisors Inc. is still on the payroll and still receiving amounts for his involvement in the subsequent investigations?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have done - he calls it a couple of barrels. But we have completed testing of an irrigated lagoon in Dawson City as part of our review and research with regard to a sewage system there.
With regard to Mr. Doddington, I can inform the member opposite that he is on retainer to us while the RCMP uses him as part of their investigation, and only when he attends to the Yukon on that matter.
Mr. Jenkins: The legal costs through Miller Thomson - is this anything to do with the procedure for the government to proceed civilly against the former mayor, city manager and treasurer?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Miller Thomson provided us with legal advice on a number of topics with regard to Dawson City. I am not really at liberty to say to the member opposite what they were specifically for.
Mr. Jenkins: Is the Government of Yukon proceeding civilly against the former mayor, the former treasurer and former city manager in Dawson City? There was a great expenditure of the taxpayers' money and it has been pointed out in Doddington Advisors Inc.'s report that is not a proper expenditure of the taxpayers' dollars. It led to the appointment of a trustee to oversee the City of Dawson. Will the Government of Yukon be recovering those tax dollars from these individuals, or is it just another matter that is going to be swept under the rug, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are not proceeding with a civil suit against the three members. There is currently an RCMP investigation underway with regard to the individuals, based on the audit report. I can tell the member opposite that the RCMP is actively working on this file. We have been advised that it's not pertinent for us to move ahead with a civil suit on this matter until the RCMP has completed their investigation. That is because, in many cases, it involves the same material the RCMP is working with right now. Our advice is to await the results of the RCMP investigation and then we can pursue it further.
I should tell the member opposite that we also indicated in the process with the citizens of Dawson that we will negotiate with the mayor and council on this particular issue.
Mr. Jenkins: They will negotiate with the new mayor and council on whether or not to proceed with this civil matter. That leaves the community very uncomfortable. It would appear that the government is abdicating its responsibility. Part of the responsibility of a trustee is to recover misspent funds. Why is the minister abdicating his responsibility and trying to put that back on a new mayor and council? That appears to be totally unfair.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I stated that we are awaiting the results of the RCMP investigation, based on the auditor's report. When that is complete, we will work with the new mayor and council on what they want to do with the project. If, in fact, the new mayor and council are unhappy with proceeding against the three people, then the government will look at assigning that debt over to us and we will proceed on this civil matter if they do not.
But, of course, we won't know what's going to happen until such time as the RCMP investigation is complete and we know where we're going to go.
Mr. Jenkins: So, in the interim, we do nothing. Mr. Chair, that doesn't leave a very comfortable feeling to those who may be seeking political office in a community. You are charged with the responsibility of making a determination as to whether you should proceed civilly against a former mayor and city officials. That was clearly the responsibility of the government when they appointed the trustee, though it's another area that should be cleaned up - just like the financial statements - and it hasn't been done.
Closure has to be brought to those areas. Why hasn't the government addressed this area? And don't blame it on an RCMP investigation because one matter is a criminal matter and the other matter is a civil matter. Why does the minister not want to do his job and leave this open-ended?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I stated in the House several times since the member has been over there with regard to this question. We have received legal advice with respect to our movement on this particular file, and we are following that advice. We have also had consultation with our solicitors and have been dealing with the RCMP, and they have indicated to us that if we were to proceed civilly, which we could do - as the member opposite indicated - there is that possibility. But it would require us to utilize all the information that we currently have with the RCMP in their investigation.
Our issue is that we should allow the RCMP investigation to complete because, as I indicated earlier, they are actively working on this file. They have indicated to us, and all our indications are that they have been conducting interviews, both in Dawson and here in Whitehorse . We anticipate something coming from that investigation shortly. It's of no use to upset that apple cart in the interim, until we get it. Once we do - once that is in place - we will proceed with a new mayor and council on where we go with this particular file. If the mayor and council are uncomfortable with this particular file, we will look at having it addressed and assigned to the Government of Yukon.
But until such time as we see what the results are from the RCMP, that is what we will do.
Mr. Jenkins: So, do nothing - that's the minister's answer.
Just the fact that the Doddington Advisors' report was tabled in this Legislature should tell us all something. It should tell us all something. I have been advised by independent legal counsel that I should not be raising these questions outside the walls of this Legislature. That should also tell you something. There is an issue and this is a matter that should be cleaned up by the department, by this minister, and he has not done so. That leaves me with a great deal of discomfort.
We are not going to be able to move much further forward on that issue. But the other issue that Dawson is faced with is the issue of the secondary sewage. Again, I would like to know why the doors are completely closed in
Community Services to any other type of sewage treatment system. Anyone I have been in contact with has told me that the doors have been closed in their face as to alternate secondary sewage treatments, sewage treatments systems that have been proven in other jurisdictions.
The member opposite, the minister, can laugh about it, Mr. Chair, but this is an inordinate amount of money that has been spent in Dawson City the last number of years.
By my count, there has been $22 million spent. If you add in this bailout package, plus the money that the government has spent, we're approaching $30 million in Dawson City - $30 million, of which we have a $10-million recreational complex that you can probably get 10 cents for. We spent an inordinate amount of money on secondary sewage treatment when there are systems out there that will do the job and do it quite well in the peak periods of the summer months when Dawson is not meeting the effluent discharge standards. So I'm disappointed in that count, Mr. Chair. The government has taken over the responsibility for that.
Earlier in this sitting, I tabled a copy of the memorandum of agreement between the Government of Yukon and the City of Dawson on waste-water treatment. That agreement, I'm sure, was drafted by the Department of Community Services, and the trustee was instructed to sign it by the minister. It reads in part, under section 6: “ Yukon shall have the sole and unfettered control for the management and administration of the project, including any and all tendering and selection of successful bidders, contractors, proponents, engineering firms, capital finance requirements for the design and construction of the project.” This would also extend to all regulatory reporting approvals and court reportings.
Then, under Dawson 's responsibility, it says: “Dawson shall assume, subject to such Yukon programs as may from time to time be in effect, the full cost of the ongoing operation and maintenance cost of the project upon completion.”
Now, I know the minister doesn't like to get into details, but given the save harmless agreement that is in here - Dawson shall save harmless and indemnify Yukon, its officers, employees, contractors and agents from all claims, liability and demands arising under this agreement, with such indemnity surviving the expiry or termination of this agreement - that is a pretty iron-clad agreement.
The minister said it can be amended on the mutual consent of both parties, but it survives everything. It was signed by the minister on February 14 of this year in the presence of E. Magnuson, witness. It was signed by the City of Dawson and the trustee in the late fall.
Mr. Chair, why does the minister on the one hand say that he'll assume the responsibility for secondary sewage and, at the same time, maintain this memorandum of agreement that is clearly binding on all parties? Can this be set aside at this juncture and allow the community some flexibility - just take over clearly and unequivocally the responsibilities for secondary sewage treatment?
To date, this is another capital project on which approximately $9.5 million has been spent for in-house engineering by the City of Dawson, and we have yet to see anything come to fruition. In fact, we will probably spend more on legal counsel representing the Government of Yukon before the courts than we will on design and engineering in a short period of time.
Will the minister stand aside this waste-water treatment agreement and take over - clearly, totally and unequivocally - the responsibilities for secondary sewage? Don't burden a new council with this onerous responsibility.
Hon. Mr. Hart: It is because of our concerns with regard to the O&M that we put significant effort into the design and construction of this sewage facility in Dawson . If the member opposite recalls - it is not that long ago - in the original concept for Dawson, the O&M was substantially out of line. There was no way the City of Dawson could afford it.
In essence, one of the reasons for our documentation is that it is similar to other jurisdictions and municipalities with which we have agreements. It is also very similar in scope to what is being done. Whether it is in Mayo or Teslin, it's still a legal document that provides for the service to be completed and, hopefully, on time, with the concurrence of the individual municipality.
We will be consulting with the citizens of Dawson on any final issue with regard to secondary sewage there. We have been consulting with the citizens of Dawson right up until now, in fact, in public meetings and open houses with regard to the planned sewage system for Dawson City . We are working hard to try to find a reasonably priced facility.
The member opposite says that we have closed the doors. If the member opposite figures that we have closed the doors, I would like to show him all the people who have indicated that they can provide secondary sewage for Dawson City. We could probably fill this whole room with the reports we have received in the last 10 years about how to solve the problem in Dawson City.
Does that mean we have the door closed? I don't think so. We have gone out and gotten independent advice on all the systems that had been provided to ensure that we are going down the right road. We did go out and do that. There are lots of reports here that indicate they can do things for Dawson City.
If the member opposite wants to bring something forward to Community Services and he says they can be fit and done, fine, bring it forward - bring it forward; show us it can be done and we will do it there. In the meantime, we are going forth with what science gives us, what the best experience has given us from inside and outside the Yukon, and we are following up on that particular aspect.
In addition, we are hoping that we may be in a position to ease the pain somewhat, depending upon what happens nationally. If it goes well for us there, there will be substantial savings with regard to sewage for Dawson, as well as for Carmacks. We are exploring that opportunity.
In the meantime, we are going down the path that allows us to meet the conditions and requirements of the court action that we are dealing with in reference to Dawson City.
Mr. Jenkins: What I am pointing out can be done without this agreement in place. This does place an onerous burden, unknown to the residents of the community, on them. You only have to look at Schedule B, project description, where it clearly says that the preliminary construction estimate for an aerated lagoon system is $14.7 million. The preliminary operation and maintenance costs for this facility are estimated at $321,000 per year. Once a detailed design is completed, a more accurate estimate of the anticipated capital and operation and maintenance costs will be developed.
But if you look at it, it says the new facility will have a force main. It is proposed to be located in the Callison area, in the Klondike River valley, approximately 3.5 kilometres upstream from Dawson. The exact location of the facility remains to be confirmed. The facility will have the capacity to treat all waste-water produced from Dawson , outlying rural septic and holding tank waste-water. Waste-water from Dawson will be pumped to the proposed aerated lagoon via sewer force main, and the treated effluent will be returned to the existing screening plant by gravity and be discharged through the existing outfalls in the Yukon River, and then we're going to UV treat it at the end.
Well, that's interesting, Mr. Chair, in that it's a force main out there, but it's going to gravity-feed back. That's impossible, Mr. Chair, in that there's a river crossing there. It has to go across the Klondike River again, so it's going to have to be force main in both directions. All you have to do is take the temperature of the water - or the water in the screening plant - and know how much temperature loss there is in insulated Sklar pipe over that distance, and you'll find you have to heat the effluent also.
But even if we take the minister's own anticipated O&M cost of $321,000 per year, and divide it by the number of sewer connections, that works out to an additional $600 per year for this type of treatment for every household. Couple that with what we're now paying and it is totally out of the ballpark.
I applaud the minister for looking at other ways of saving costs within the community by perhaps heating potable water, but that is the potable-water side. This is the waste-water side.
There are a lot of issues there, and the document that binds any new mayor and council is this waste-water treatment document. Will the minister take out the onerous parts of this and assume total responsibility for the waste-water treatment before handing it back to a newly elected mayor and council? Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I am having a hard time trying to decipher if the member opposite really understands what we have provided the City of Dawson. If that is indeed the case, then he should accept part of the blame.
We have provided the citizens of Dawson with a very positive financial package - a plan - to put in place for Dawson . It allows them to move forward. We have, for example, taken into consideration all the requests from the advisory committee with regard to moving forward in Dawson, and we have met even more than what they have requested. We have met the conditions that were put forth in the previous supervisor's role with regard to Dawson and, again, even exceeded those.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite would have you feel that nothing is happening with regard to Dawson sewage, but I have indicated 10 years of study have gone into trying to come up with some magic plan for the Dawson sewage system. There is no magic plan.
We are working with Yukon Electrical to find some ways that we can improve the situation for the potable water, as the member indicated. Yes, we are continuing to do that. But let's not lose sight of the fact that we're making every effort that we can to reduce the operation and maintenance expenses required for this sewage facility.
Now, it's a requirement under the law that they are going to have this sewage facility. It has to be done. We have to put something in place. Now, we're not committed to covering the operation and maintenance costs for the City of Dawson . We're committed to bringing in a secondary sewage facility at a very reasonable cost to Dawson City. That's what we've been tasked to do. It has not been an easy job. The member opposite knows that. He keeps coming up with this panacea that will make it all go bad and go away. There are certain rules - legal aspects - that we have to go through, to get from point A to point B, and we're working through that process. Now, it's not fast in some cases because the law doesn't move very fast in some cases.
We are doing it as fast as we can, given the parameters we have been given. As I indicated earlier, the first package for Dawson City was not acceptable. The O&M costs were $750,000. We were successful in pleading with the judge to not make us go through with that particular secondary sewage plant.
We are working with Environment Canada on a secondary plant for Dawson City. We are working with Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans to ensure that whatever facility we put in Dawson is going to meet all the environmental requirements for Dawson City.
We are not going to be allowed to put any plant or facility in place that is going to harm or deceive any citizens of Dawson with regard to where it is placed. We are going to have to meet all the conditions required by Environment Canada, as well as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We are going to have to do that and we are going to have to discuss the proposal with the citizens of Dawson regarding what will happen to their sewage system. It is going to be their sewage system.
This government has provided a substantial package for the City of Dawson. It is a very good package that will provide the new council with a new place from which to move forward. We are working very hard on that. I anticipate that we will be able to move forward on this issue with the new mayor and council. I am hoping to be one of the first guys there to hand over the keys to the new mayor and allow him to take control of the municipal affairs of the City of Dawson.
In view of the time, Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress.
Chair: Mr. Hart has moved that we report progress. Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been 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 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. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:57 p.m.