Whitehorse , Yukon
Thursday, May 11, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Withdrawal of motion
Speaker: The Chair wishes to inform the House that the Motion for Production of Papers No. 43, standing in the name of the Member for Porter Creek South, has been withdrawn from the Order Paper as the documents being requested have been provided to the members of the House.
We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any introductions of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Few people in the territory have done as much in working with youth in the City of Whitehorse. I would ask the members of the Assembly to join me in welcoming Vicki Durrant who joins us in the gallery today.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have for tabling documents from the Conflicts Commissioner as well as letters to my deputy minister regarding the Conflicts Commissioner's comments.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Reports of committees.
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act assists local citizens to take action against illegal actions such as trafficking of drugs and alcohol in neighbourhoods;
(2) recommendations from the Liquor Act review were strongly in favour of larger fines and other firm actions to limit the bootlegging of alcohol;
(3) bootlegging of alcohol in small communities such as Pelly Crossing is undermining community healing actions and is creating extremely negative social conditions; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to make it a priority to immediately begin a consultation with First Nations, the Yukon Liquor Corporation, the RCMP and social agencies to determine what action can be taken immediately and to immediately implement the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act and the recommendations in the Liquor Act review that deal with bootlegging.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Government of Yukon has paid $440,000 for an asset known as the Red Line train that was intended to provide passenger service to Carcross;
(2) the acquisition of this asset has already provided some welcome employment opportunities for residents of Carcross;
(3) if and when the Red Line train becomes operational, it will provide many more opportunities for tourist-related employment in the Southern Lakes area; and
THAT this House urges the Minister of Economic Development to work with the community of Carcross, the Carcross-Tagish First Nation government, the White Pass & Yukon Route, tourism operators, labour and the business community to seek the most appropriate use of the rail bus known as the Red Line train in the Carcross area.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Government of Yukon has not acted on important recommendations made over two years ago in the report by David Barnes about the death of Emily Sam;
(2) the Government of Yukon has had the report titled A Review of Child Welfare Services to Samara Sky Olson for over two months and has made no movement to implement its 18 recommendations; and
THAT this House urges the Minister of Health and Social Services to immediately implement the following seven recommendations from the recent report into the death of Samara Sky Olson and implement the report's other 11 recommendations as soon as possible:
(1) provide for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse and create reporting provisions that ensure the well-being of children takes precedence wherever possible over other guarantees of confidentiality;
(2) create a multi-disciplinary child abuse committee that would be charged with reviewing incidents of child abuse, including serious, non-accidental injury to children sustained during incidents of family violence;
(3) create the position of child abuse coordinator or specialist to ensure that all family and children's service staff, including management, have access to an individual with specialized training in the investigation and treatment of child abuse and neglect;
(4) create and operate a child abuse registry to ensure that persons convicted of child abuse are not later given authority over children as teachers, daycare workers, youth leaders or through other positions of trust allowing access to children;
(5) ensure that new workers within family and children's services receive competency-based, core child protection training before assuming responsibility for a child welfare caseload;
(6) ensure that the policy and procedure manual for family and children's services is provided in a searchable, electronic format;
(7) develop interdepartmental protocols for shared information about children believed to be at risk.
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. Mr. Speaker, yesterday in this House, I attempted to gain unanimous consent to discuss a matter of urgent and pressing necessity. I was disappointed to see that members of the government side quickly turned their backs on the opportunity to address the issues that were going to be covered in the Kelowna accord. They turned their backs on Canada , Mr. Speaker.
I was also disappointed to see members of the third party remain silent and refuse to take a stand and so lend their support to the government side. However, I would like to give the Premier an opportunity to respond directly. In light of the voices we are hearing from all across Canada on this very important issue, will the Premier take some constructive steps to help revive the accord before the moment is lost and we all take a giant step back in time?
Speaker: Before the Hon. Premier answers, the leader of the official opposition indicated that members of this House turned their backs on Canada. I think that's an inappropriate statement, and I'd ask the honourable member not to do that again.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, one can only wonder the impetus of the leader of the official opposition regarding his approach to this matter, considering what is actually transpiring now in Canada, with the federal government's significant investment across the country - in all provinces and territories - to begin dealing with the gaps that exist. They have been recognized and agreed upon, and the commitment to deal with those gaps has been very important to all of us, through the Council of the Federation, at the federal government level, which is evidenced by the investment in the federal budget and most importantly in the north, where some of the most pressing needs are.
Our purpose, Mr. Speaker, is to move ahead with what has been invested now to address some of the many pressing issues here in Yukon, in the north and across the country, and that is to address closing the housing gap. I also want to point out that the federal government did advance the issue of the mission schools, and I believe there is some $2.2 billion addressing that matter in this federal budget.
I can only surmise here, but maybe the leader of the official opposition is mixing support for Canada versus the former Liberal government in Ottawa.
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I was very careful in my initial question not to even mention the federal government and one party or another, because that is not what this is about.
The current immigration minister, Monte Solberg, stunned and angered aboriginal leaders when he said that his government would not honour the accord. In a radio interview in Saskatchewan, Mr. Solberg said that the agreement was something that the Liberals crafted at the last minute on the back of a napkin. That statement outraged millions of Canadians. Mr. Speaker, there is an old saying that goes like this, “If you aren't for me, you're ‘agin' me.” Is the Premier for the principles enshrined in the accord or “agin” them? “Agin” what they stand for and “agin” the very document he is a signatory to?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I thank the leader of the official opposition for giving me the opportunity to express, once again, and to clearly articulate how much we support the commitments made toward addressing the gaps that exist for aboriginal Canadians in this country.
We in the Yukon , for example, specific to our issues, are moving ahead. We are going to make significant steps in addressing the housing gaps here in the Yukon with the housing trust that has been provided by the federal government. This is a golden opportunity - I have to phrase it that way. We have now some tools to do something to address something that has been in existence for a century. I think the former Prime Minister admitted that. This is 100 years old and we failed to deal with it. We are today, and that is in conjunction and in partnership with provinces, territories, the federal government and, most importantly, First Nations across the country.
Mr. Mitchell: I agree with the Premier that we have for too long failed - for more than a century - to deal with these issues. The Kelowna accord was the product of an unprecedented government-to-government collaboration. It was agreed to by the Prime Minister of Canada and all premiers, including the Yukon Premier, as an article of good faith and as a contract to rebuild hope, trust and confidence with aboriginal people across Canada.
This Premier has to ask himself, who is he representing? It should be the people of this territory, including the approximately 25 percent who are First Nations. For the last time, Mr. Speaker, will the Premier at least permit a motion to pass this House supporting the accord so Canada can see where we as a people stand on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There's no need to debate a motion on the floor of this Assembly but there's a great need to begin investing the resources that have been provided to address the gaps that exist in the north for First Nations here in Yukon and across the territories.
Furthermore, the member misses a very important point. The leader of the official opposition, in his support of the former Liberal government's approach to this, refuses to recognize that the former Liberal government had an on-reserve/off-reserve policy. It's this government that led the charge two years ago in Yellowknife , when we tabled the fact that the federal government must change a very unworkable, archaic policy of dealing with First Nation people who choose to live off reserve. Obviously that is something we experience here in the Yukon.
Today in the federal budget we have hundreds of millions of dollars addressing that very fact - an investment for First Nations across the country who live off reservations. It's a great step forward. We support aboriginal Canadians in addressing their needs, as we should, and we'll continue to do so. Furthermore, we again repeat: an opportunity has been provided and we will build houses here in Yukon.
Question re: Liquor Act review recommendations
Mr. Fairclough: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. The minister and the Premier received a letter this week, a cry for help, actually, from the community of Pelly Crossing. This is a community that has been plagued by bootlegging over the years, and it continues to be a problem today. There were a number of requests made of the minister in the letter, and I'd like to ask a couple of them here today.
The writer of the letter, the social director of the Selkirk First Nation, has requested that the minister consider prohibiting the bulk purchase of alcohol to individuals without a licence to sell liquor. This would stop people from driving to Mayo or Dawson or Whitehorse , buying a truckload of alcohol and selling it in Pelly Crossing.
Will the minister consider such a ban?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I did, in fact, receive that fax yesterday afternoon. This has been an ongoing problem. It has been an ongoing problem not only in Pelly Crossing but also in several other communities. Certainly, I will be asking the Yukon Liquor Board, whose purview it is to look at bulk purchasing, although there are some difficulties in terms of where you draw the line and where it interferes with reasonable social responsibility.
The other thing, too, is I will be asking the board to consider looking at the situation a bit more and asking the inspectors to look at it a bit more. I am more than happy to sit down with the RCMP and discuss options and solutions regarding that. I agree with the First Nation that this is a major problem.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, he didn't say whether he would consider the ban, Mr. Speaker. I'm glad the minister has read the letter.
A second request from Selkirk First Nation was to increase the penalties for bootlegging. This was a recommendation made in a review of the Liquor Act done by the previous government. It was recommendation 35. A new Liquor Act would significantly raise all fines and penalties for bootlegging. This is a recommendation, Mr. Speaker, that was made four years ago, and it is being made again today. Will the minister consider moving ahead on this recommendation to assist the community of Pelly Crossing?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, the member opposite makes reference to me considering a ban. The ban would be coming out of the Yukon Liquor Board. As I mentioned before, I will be asking them and have asked them to take a look at this critically.
In terms of the Liquor Act, there have been a number of concerns about that. There have been a number of problems that have come up that basically could be looked at within regulations, and that has been the approach in the past couple years in terms of looking at the ongoing regulations and how we can work with that. I do agree with the member opposite that there are some difficulties with that at the present time. We've bumped into a couple of walls along the way. So certainly, in the spring of next year, we will be reviewing the act and revisiting that legislation.
Mr. Fairclough: After their mandate is finished, Mr. Speaker.
The Yukon Party has refused to move ahead with a review of the Liquor Act, and has refused to increase penalties for bootlegging. It has been in government now for over three and a half years, and this is simply not a priority for this government. The final request of the Selkirk First Nation is a meeting with all stakeholders to discuss the overall issue of bootlegging in the community. This would include officials from the Yukon Liquor Corporation, the RCMP, the Selkirk First Nation, the Northern Tuchone Council and community members.
The minister has done nothing to address this issue to date. Will he at least attend a meeting to hear the concerns that are being raised?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As I said before, I certainly would be happy to sit down with the enforcement agencies that are involved in that as well as the groups that are most affected: the First Nations, communities and anyone else on that. In terms of considering a ban or penalties or anything else, that either comes out of legislation or out of the board, not the minister's magic wand, unfortunately, as the member opposite knows well.
In terms of looking at the Liquor Act, and opening it up to review it, the member opposite says, “after our mandate,” but I think he is being a bit overly optimistic.
Question re: Children's Act review
Mr. Hardy: All week, we've been questioning the Minister of Health and Social Services about a review into a baby's death in Dawson released nearly two weeks ago. We have urged the minister to make sure the recommendations in that review are acted on without needless delay. The minister's response has basically been to hide behind the department or the Children's Act review, or use it as an excuse. Unfortunately, the Children's Act review is way behind schedule and may never be completed by this government.
In 2003, the review of another child's death called for improvements in how the department conducts risks assessments. What changes, if any, did the department make in its risk-assessment procedures, between that death in August 2002, and the death in Dawson in 2004?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do appreciate the concerns coming from the leader of the third party and recognize the importance of this matter; however, I would urge him to take a more careful look at the requirements that face us in dealing with any matters within this purview. There are requirements, for example, with regard to the motion tabled by the member earlier this afternoon, urging us to move forward on certain areas. It did not take into account the fact that, as noted in the review, these are areas that have to be dealt with through legislation and through the Children's Act. I would point out again to the member opposite that we are proceeding forward with the Children's Act review. We're working with CYFN and First Nations on this, and we will do this in as quick a manner as we are able.
It is also important that we make the right changes and that we encompass both the need for quickness in this area and the need to ensure that it is right.
Mr. Hardy: There have been two deaths in three years with this government being in power. It's a concern on this side. Both reviews identified problems with the risk assessment procedures. In the Dawson case, the department was aware of historical factors that would certainly suggest that this little girl faced a very high risk. There are many different kinds of risk assessment used by social workers in different jurisdictions. According to the Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare, the number of items included in risk assessment ranges from six to over 40.
Would the minister provide a detailed written description of the risk assessment tools his department currently uses, how it compares with practices in other jurisdictions and what specific improvements his department is currently considering?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, I have to point out to the leader of the third party that a significant proportion of the matters within the area of the recommendations from this child's death are operational matters, and the department will be doing their due diligence in coming forward with their recommendations in that regard.
I am very disturbed by the suggestion from the member opposite, who has mentioned a certain number of deaths under the government's watch within the past few years - I'm sure the member is not suggesting that those of us in the elected government are responsible, because obviously we do not deal with day-to-day matters within child welfare. I certainly hope that he is not criticizing the hard-working people within the department who do care very deeply about these matters.
Mr. Speaker, this is an area that has tremendous responsibility, and there are always very significant areas that have to be considered in this regard. Child protection versus the rights of parents and families - we are dealing with significant rights of guardians in this regard, and these are areas that have to be dealt with very carefully. It is always a balancing act, and it is something that must be taken with the greatest amount of seriousness and concern and consideration.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I wish the minister would listen very closely to the question I asked. I was asking for some information that he could make available about risk assessments.
Now, I'm sure the minister realizes that there was a media report today, indicating that an employee directly related to this case was dismissed at about the time the review was received. I realize the minister can't and won't respond on a personnel issue. I won't ask him that. However, there are legitimate policy questions the minister has a responsibility to answer.
One of those concerns is the level of child welfare core training that is provided to front-line workers in this department. Perhaps the minister will also provide a detailed description of the core training tools the department currently uses for social workers and social service workers.
But my question is slightly different for the minister. What is the minister doing about the fact that the Yukon is one of only three Canadian jurisdictions where social work practice is unregulated? Now, does this government have any plans to correct that situation?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Concerns regarding the risk-assessment process was one thing the leader of the third party raised. That, and another element of his question, are two areas being reviewed right now. They are recommendations in the report, and they are being reviewed within the department. They are operational matters.
With regard to his notation about regulations pertaining to social workers, it is a matter that has been brought to my attention. We certainly will be moving toward ensuring we take whatever steps are necessary to protect the people operating within the field. They require clear policies that protect the liability of individual workers and ensure that the government fulfills its responsibility and ultimately fulfills the most important goal - protecting children under the purview of family and children's services.
Question re: Dawson City social worker
Mr. Hardy: I need to follow up with the minister on the same subject. The minister said this week that the department is increasing its staffing in family and children's services. There is no question this is badly needed. The caseloads workers are carrying are horrendous. This is one of the most stressful forms of work in all of government. I think we can all recognize that, as the topic of today points to.
I'd like to start by asking the minister a very specific question: why has the social work position in the Yukon's second largest community been left vacant for the past two months, especially considering the fact that the Dawson worker also serves Old Crow, where the need for a full-time social worker has already been identified by the Old Crow MLA?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again I would point out to the leader of the third party that I respond to operational matters, and I provide the support that I, as minister, need to in order to assist the department in fulfilling their requirements. They bring forward to me the issues of concern. We have acted on this. I'd point out again to the member opposite that in 2004-05, the social work complement within child protection and family services was 8.5 positions. In 2006-07, this has been increased by 4.5 full-time employees, to a total of 14 full-time social worker positions. We have also increased child protection and family services support team by five FTEs, from a previous level of 2.25 to a current level of 7.5. So we've increased by five and a quarter, actually.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the member's specific concern about the level within the community, the allocation of those workers within the area and where they are placed is the area of greatest need as assessed by the department. If there are vacancies within the department, which do occur from time to time, those are addressed as quickly as possible.
Mr. Hardy: Well, we hear a different story, Mr. Speaker. I mentioned earlier that the Yukon is one of only three jurisdictions where the practice of social work is not regulated. The other two are Nunavut and N.W.T. It's hard to get a clear read on how the Yukon compares to other jurisdictions in terms of the number of bachelor and master level social workers in relation to population, community size and the distance that they have to cover. We owe it to our children to make sure that the highest qualifications and standards of training are a requirement for family and children's services workers. We owe it to them to ensure that practices that have proven the most successful elsewhere are adapted to the Yukon's very unique circumstances.
Can the minister tell us how the Yukon compares nationally and what he is doing to make sure the necessary resources are in place to ensure that child welfare services in the Yukon are second to none - and not just give a list?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do recognize the concerns of the member opposite. One thing we do take as a matter of great concern is ensuring we have consistent policies and the consistent application of those policies throughout all areas of the Department of Health and Social Services. They must be at the highest level.
I would point out to the member that we have a lot of very dedicated social workers within the community. I hope he's not implying that they are somehow not up to par. We are confident that they do a very good job. We recognize the concern that has been identified by them, as well, that they would like regulations pertaining to the field to ensure more consistency, and it is an area we will be acting on.
I appreciate the member's concern. We will be doing our best in moving forward. Again I point out to the member that we have acted to increase the staffing within the social work field, beyond what was in place before. We recognize the heavy workload that is placed on some of these individuals and want to ensure that it is at an appropriate level and the people are able to do their jobs and meet the needs of Yukon citizens.
Mr. Hardy: I want to make it very clear, because I take offence to the minister suggesting that I would imply that our social workers are inadequate or that I'm criticizing them in any way, shape or form. I'm actually married to one. I can assure you that I know the stress they work under.
The Yukon is not the only place where children in government care have died, and it's a tragedy whenever that happens. Children are not only a precious gift, but they're also the most deserving of care and nurture in any community. The independent review of this death in Dawson identified 18 specific areas where action is needed. Many of those actions can and should be taken right now. We can do it.
There is no guarantee at all that the Children's Act review will be anywhere near completion before the next election, so the minister should stop using that line.
Will the minister direct his department to take immediate action on the seven items identified in the motion I just tabled and provide a concrete action plan with timelines for implementing the remaining 11 recommendations, where they can be brought forward as soon as possible?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again I stress that I do appreciate the concerns of the leader of the third party and his desire to see action as quickly as possible.
Again I have to point out to the leader of the third party that he has to take a look at the requirements that the government is faced with due to the Umbrella Final Agreement and the consultation protocol.
Some of the seven areas that he identified that we should move forward on are areas that we must consult with First Nations on. It would not be appropriate for us to break the consultation protocol and immediately implement legislative changes or regulatory changes in some of the areas identified by the leader of the third party. We must follow our obligations and our commitments to First Nation governments and work with them.
I point out to the member that I am sure that First Nation citizens and First Nation governments are as concerned as we are and have just as much desire to ensure the protection of children and children within the government's care as well as children within troubled homes.
I would point out to the member that we are very sincere and dedicated toward moving forward as quickly as possible to reach the right outcome. We are certainly optimistic that that is the case with First Nation governments because they are concerned about this too, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Business loans outstanding
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Premier, the Minister of Finance.
Last year the Government of Yukon entered into an arrangement with Dana Naye Ventures to collect a number of outstanding loans. Many valid questions have been raised about why an outside agency was being used to do something that the government itself could have done. The public was led to believe that these loans were sold to Dana Naye Ventures, which would receive 85 percent of what it collected beyond an initial $300,000. Now it appears that some of these loans were never in fact assigned to Dana Naye Ventures and that Dana Naye is providing a collection service as an agent of the government.
Will the minister clarify the relationship between the Department of Finance and Dana Naye Ventures and explain why different loans have been given different treatment? Was this a business decision or was this a political decision?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the member opposite knows full well the relationship between the government and a financial institution - in this case, Dana Naye Ventures. They are acting as a collection agency. They are dealing with delinquent files that over the period of many years have failed to make good on their liability to the Yukon taxpayer. That is what is transpiring.
Furthermore, the member asked why the government didn't do this themselves. Well, in the better part of 15 years, these delinquent files remained delinquent, as the Member for Klondike, who was involved in this collection process, will well know.
I think, all in all, it's this government that has advanced this particular problem that has encumbered many governments in the past. We are now progressing very positively in the collection of these monies. In conjunction with that and Dana Naye Ventures, we have set up a risk-capital fund with these collected amounts for Yukon small businesses to access.
Instead of government lending money, which obviously government is not good at, given the delinquencies of these files, it is a financial institution lending the money.
Mr. Jenkins: When this arrangement with Dana Naye Ventures was first announced, many people had serious concern that the deal was not in the best interest of Yukon taxpayers. I'm sure the minister is well aware of advice from his own Deputy Minister of Finance, indicating that Dana Naye Ventures has a huge incentive to pursue these loans and stands to gain millions from this deal. That doesn't even take into account the amount Dana Naye would realize from interest on unpaid balances it would agree to finance.
My question to the minister is this: why did the minister enter into an arrangement that gives Yukon taxpayers a paltry 15 percent on the dollar when his department turned down offers that would have put hundreds of thousands of dollars directly into the territorial coffers?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, my first response to the Member for Klondike is that I'm not going to buy into his calculations.
Secondly, until collection proceedings began, the Yukon taxpayer wasn't receiving one penny of these monies that were owed to the Yukon government. Today the Yukon government, through its agent, is collecting on delinquent files. That's what we set out to do all along, and that's exactly what's happening.
So as far as the Member for Klondike and his issue, one can only wonder if it's related to the fact that there was a repayment made by the member himself.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, there have been a number of offers - very substantial offers - made by a number of individuals who have loans to the Government of Yukon. All these offers have been totally rejected by the Government of Yukon. Why is that? Why will the government not come to arrangements with some of the outstanding debtors that currently exist? Why does the Government of Yukon insist that everything now go before the courts for a decision?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike has just made the statement - “everything” going before the courts. That's not the case. Many individuals, many corporate entities, were making good on these loans and are making their instalments as they should and have agreed to do. There is no reason to have those files placed in the hands of a collection agency. It's the files where no attempt whatsoever was made for repayment.
And with respect to offers, we all know what transpired here, Mr. Speaker. It was the “or else” syndrome, and the government “or else” based on the offer from the Member for Klondike .
Speaker: The time for Question Period has elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Motion No. 689
Clerk: Motion No. 689, standing in the name of the Hon. Ms. Taylor.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Tourism and Culture
THAT the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly be amended, effective the next sitting day after this motion is adopted, by replacing Standing Order 2(1) with the following: “2(1) The time for the meeting of the Assembly shall be 1:00 p.m. on each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday unless otherwise ordered. The normal hour of adjournment shall be 5:30 p.m.”
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I am pleased to speak to this motion. I am also pleased to join with my colleagues, the Member for Porter Creek South and the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, in support of the motion before us.
Mr. Speaker, my remarks will be somewhat short but succinct.
To begin, I want to emphasize that this is not a government initiative; rather, this is an initiative that is being brought forward by the three women legislators. We have chosen to use a government motion as the mechanism for providing the Legislative Assembly the opportunity to debate this item of business.
Over the last number of weeks, the Member for Porter Creek South, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin and I have had occasion to meet a number of times. What was initially a discussion about the formalization of a women's parliamentary chapter of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association soon became a discussion of “what if” and what benefit could accrue from coming together to discuss issues of mutual importance.
From these discussions evolved what we have identified as a non-partisan caucus of women members. Almost immediately we recognized there was common ground. The first piece of common ground was our role as caregiver, parent and grandparent, and our shared frustration with the sitting hours, specifically the 6:00 p.m. adjournment.
From there it was proposed that we put forth a motion to amend the existing Standing Orders to reflect a change in the normal hour of adjournment from 6:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The motion that we are presenting today speaks to this very change. If passed, the change would be effective the very next sitting day, that being Monday, May 15.
The motion before us speaks to a number of things. It speaks to the recognition of the importance of family and making accommodation for family while serving the people of the Yukon .
As legislators within this Assembly, our priorities lie with our constituents - those we represent and those who elected us. As spouses, parents, grandparents and so forth, our priorities also lie with our families. This motion speaks to this very matter, and that is making accommodation for family while achieving our obligations as legislators.
The proposed change - albeit a relatively small change - will mean something different to all of us, whether it is making your daughter's game, whether it is spending time with one's grandchild or, in my own case, being able to spend an hour with my son before he goes to bed. The common element is family. The motion pays recognition to those employees who are also charged with the responsibility to monitor the proceedings of the Assembly. I speak of individuals who work for government, in the Legislative Assembly, in our caucuses and throughout the public service. This change will also enable many of our employees to go home a bit earlier, enabling them to also spend time with their families.
Mr. Speaker, this motion also speaks to the recognition that we can and should make better use of our time in this Assembly. Yukon-wide I believe there is sentiment that we as Members of the Legislative Assembly can accomplish much more if we choose to work collectively and in the spirit of collaboration. There is no question in my mind that we can work better as an Assembly to make more efficient use of our time. That is not to say that some successes haven't already occurred. One only has to look at the progress, not to mention the time that has been realized, as a result of working together on the delivery of tributes. Mr. Speaker, it is incumbent on all of us to focus our debate and to make best efforts to use our time - the public's time - wisely.
Yukoners expect it from each of us, and deservedly so.
I believe there are other changes that can be made to the Standing Orders that would enable further efficiencies to this Assembly. It is my sincere hope that this will happen. The fact that three members representing all three political parties came together to discuss the what-if proves it can be done and changes can occur.
Until that time, I believe there is an opportunity for all of us to put our best foot forward, to work more collectively and to use the time we have left available during this sitting more effectively. It's up to us to make it work.
As has been expressed by my colleagues, this is a small change but it is one that will have a very real and immediate difference in the Legislature and on the many lives of those who work in this and other government buildings.
Ms. Duncan: It is truly a privilege to speak in the Assembly today, along with my colleagues, the Member for Whitehorse West and the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, as a member of the non-partisan women's caucus of this Assembly and as the Member for Porter Creek South.
The motion itself, as my colleague has indicated, is about a relatively straightforward amendment to our Standing Orders. It is about far more than words on paper. This motion is about women, women politicians, and fundamentally about women politicians making a difference in our ways of work.
Women politicians in Yukon life have made a real difference. I would especially like to make reference to some of our former members. Joyce Hayden, the former Member for Whitehorse South Centre, from 1989 to 1992, in an article, entitled “Recognition and Respect: the Transitional Role of Women in Public Life”, published in the Canadian Parliamentary Review in 1991, talked about attending in 1990 a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Barbados. She called herself a “rare bird” at the conference - “an elected, white woman parliamentarian”.
She also wrote, “At lunch, in the space of just one hour, three senators and I formed the nucleus of a women's caucus.” Interesting, isn't it, Mr. Speaker, that that article I just referenced - given to me by the able staff of the Assembly - was written about a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference and it is the regional Commonwealth Parliamentary Association formation of a women's caucus that prompted you to call the three of us together. The regional CWP will be formalized this summer, as I understand it.
Just when we were thinking we had indeed come a long way, I remind members that the Canada Elections Act of 1890 read: “No woman, idiot, lunatic or criminal shall vote.” Just last year this Assembly voted to allow those who are incarcerated to vote in territorial elections.
If you'll permit me a short story, Mr. Speaker, there were a number of T-shirts with that particular quote printed on them, and our family friend and another former member of this Legislature, Flo Whyard, gave me one of those shirts. Unfortunately the only size she could give me was an extra large, so the T-shirt happened to fit my husband. It was perhaps an unfortunate coincidence that - on my very first election campaign - we showed up to pick up my nomination papers from the returning officer, and my husband happened to be wearing that T-shirt.
When Ellen Fairclough was elected as a federal member of the House of Commons in 1957, according to this quote she was asked by her bridge club friends, “And who is taking care of your little boy?”
Looking back, when we think how far we've come, to another story from my first election campaign, Yukoners know the 1996 election campaign began on August 28, three days after my son, Craig, was born. I faced the same question as Ellen Fairclough: “And who is looking after that little boy?”
To say embarking on that campaign with a two-year-old and a newborn, even with a supportive family and extended family, was a simple decision to make or an easy path would be uttering something completely unparliamentary. The women in management research program, partially sponsored by the CIBC, in an article entitled Women in Politics: Braving It, quoted Dianne Cunningham, an Ontario MPP as saying there are at least three compelling reasons why more women who are thinking about politics seriously don't pursue the option. There is the question of how to balance work and family.
One of my maiden speeches in this Assembly was to offer tribute to another former member, and the first woman to lead a political party in the Yukon, Conservative Hilda Watson. The basis for my tribute included a conversation with Hilda's daughter. I asked her how her life was affected by mom being a politician. I was mightily reassured, and I have gone back in my mind many, many times to the conversation. Her answer: “Politics? Well, that's just what Mom did.”
Yukoners are very glad her mom did politics. She made a difference in her community. That's the reason why, as difficult as the choice might be at times for women, we run to make a difference.
Dianne Cunningham said in the same article I quoted earlier that the overwhelming reason women go into politics is they sincerely want to make a change.
Mr. Speaker, women in politics is a subject I'm very fond of speaking about, and I am quite emotional about it, as you can tell. I believe it's not only women who go into politics to make a difference. All of us do. And we come to this desire from a slightly different perspective. Some of us in this Assembly are grandparents. Some of us have grown children. Some have babies. Some have tweens, and some of us are yet to be blessed with the greatest of teachers. All of us are part of a family unit of some kind.
Being part of a family in today's fast-paced society, it seems to me, is often about being on the move.
We all seem to be in our vehicles, or on our feet or our bikes if we are environmentally conscious, going to something. I have been very fond of saying that I know it has been a bad day when I have had three meals in my car. We have programs like Head Start; we have fast food chains; we have high-speed Internet access. All this movement translates into issues of time and into ways of ways of work, into programs like work/life balance, like healthy living.
The Legislature, and we as legislators, are not unaffected by this. How do we balance our role, being part of a family, and we walk the talk of balancing our hours of work.
Our Standing Orders, Mr. Speaker, are part of that. We wouldn't tolerate any Yukon employer not offering or recognizing a new parent by offering maternity or paternity leave. Yet our Standing Orders don't recognize that situation. Our hours of work, part of the Standing Orders, have a very interesting history. They have varied over time.
In my time here we have sat Monday through Thursday, 1:30 to 5:30 and returned on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:30. Our government, after some work with House leaders, eliminated the night sittings and added the missing hours by changing the Monday through Thursday sitting time from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. That change to the Standing Orders, among others - and there were some others in there - took months and months and months of negotiation. In the end, members voted against it and then quietly, off the record, thanked us for ending the night sittings. We must remember, Mr. Speaker, that those night sittings also were changed because we had the advent of television that had originally been put in place to allow the public to come and see us at work. That was in the days before the public was seeing us nightly on television in our communities.
The Standing Orders still need substantial work, there is no question. However, in this Legislative Assembly for this legislative session, for one reason or another, there hasn't been the political will to make the changes until now.
By now, all members know the story of the formation of the non-partisan women's caucus. It goes back to that Commonwealth Parliamentary Association I mentioned at the beginning.
I talked about women politicians. We have faced some unique challenges. Combining motherhood and politics is just one of them. We also have something in common. There are too few of us in legislatures throughout Canada and in the House of Commons.
We Yukon women came together. I am very proud to be part of this group and I express my regret that we didn't do it sooner.
When we met, we expressed some things that I spoke of today that we all share, as members of this House - being part of the family and wanting to make a difference in our community. The immediate idea of dealing with the hours of work became our common ground, as the Member for Whitehorse West has pointed out.
We could recognize everyone in this House in our role as part of our fast-paced society - which, I might add, is increasingly dealing with the ways of work to accommodate the fast pace. We could make a difference to our immediate community, the Legislature, by changing in a non-partisan way, the hours of sitting.
In discussing the motion, we ensured the effect on all concerned would be beneficial. As I said, Mr. Speaker, I will be the first to admit the motion isn't perfect. We could do more. There are lots of things we could do in our Standing Orders.
The motion, if passed today, requires all of us to focus our debate. It's not about getting off of work a half-hour early; it's about instilling discipline in our debate to ensure the public's business is accomplished within a period of time that recognizes the work/life balance we encourage all citizens to seek.
I am asking all of my colleagues in this House to join with us and support the motion. Thank you.
Mrs. Peter: It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of Motion No. 689 today. For the first time in history, three women from three different political parties chose to let down some barriers and acknowledge and recognize that we have some common ground.
The first piece of common ground is our role as caregivers, parents and grandparents. One of the greatest challenges for women in politics is to find a balance between making accommodations for family with dignity and pride while serving the people who elected us. We care about our families, Mr. Speaker; we care about their future; we care about their health.
I speak with many women from throughout the Yukon and always encourage them to consider politics as an option. Since the story was printed in the paper on Tuesday, women from across Canada are watching us with great interest. Yesterday I even received an e-mail from Newfoundland, where they are waiting and watching.
I hear concerns about the hours we keep, that they are not family-friendly, and the reality of the atmosphere we work in does not appeal to women. No one knows the interests and priorities of women better than women. Women's voices are essential in all walks of life. Nothing will happen if we just think about changes that need to be made. We need to make that change happen, which is what we're trying to do here today with this motion.
I encourage all members to vote in support of this motion today.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to commend the women for bringing this motion forward. It clearly demonstrates an ability to remove barriers and for people to work together.
We know that traditionally women have great responsibilities on this earth. Traditionally they have always been held in very high esteem by First Nations and the community because of their ability to remove the barriers that keep one from feeling compassion and other sensitive feelings that a lot of people never even develop in a lifetime. They also have the responsibility of nurturing the spirit that is sent to earth: providing shelter, love and safety for that spirit until it matures into a full-grown baby and is delivered to this earth. They do have the caring instinct, I believe, that is needed in government. I believe quite strongly that they are very well-grounded and help to keep men somewhat in line.
The importance of this motion also reflects on the fathers. This also gives the father a chance to have some time with their children or their grandchildren. That is as equally important as for the mother, so everyone will benefit from this motion. As adults, we do know that sometimes a 10-minute discussion with another adult can mean life or death. That is a fact. Children are no different. An extra half an hour, 10 minutes, 15 minutes with the mother or father could make that child's day.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Mitchell: I would like to start by commending our colleagues, the newly formed women's caucus, for what they have accomplished in so brief a time in bringing this motion forward today. I know that when each of them came back to their respective party caucuses, questions were asked and I know there was internal discussion in every caucus about pros and cons and whether or not there were other things that could and should be done and how the public would perceive it. Each of these three MLAs has spoken movingly here today but also within our respective caucuses about how they could make a difference and start with this, rather than trying to do all things.
I know that it's often said - if I can be permitted to be a little gender specific - that there is too much testosterone in this Legislature. I know that's true, and it's true of many MLAs, myself included. It's good that we have some members here that are able to look at a bigger picture and talk about the families - not just the families of the 18 people who sit here on any given day, but, rather, the families of the hundreds and hundreds of other people who work within government who are also tied to their desks and their jobs as a result of the support that they provide to government and to the people of Yukon. They, too, find that they're not home with their families because of the hours that we set here. We're setting their hours as well.
I do know that we've heard talk about how difficult it is and how long it has been difficult for women to serve as legislators here in Yukon and across Canada. In Yukon and in Canada, we're well behind what we see internationally, in the other countries, in terms of the proportions of women candidates and women legislators.
I know the other leaders have probably experienced some of the same things I have when I talk to prospective candidates, both men and women. They raise various issues: family; compensation if they're working in the private sector or government and receiving good wages; and the uncertainty of the future of this occupation. It's both interesting and sad that almost universally - and I have talked to some couples who both were considering running for office - the men speak about their professional careers and not being certain if they want to break the career path they've been on, or not certain that the compensation package will be sufficient. The women speak about their families and the age of their children; yet, they're couples; they're both raising these same children.
So clearly we have not gone so far in this supposedly emancipated age that this distribution of concern is being looked at equally. It still too often falls to the women in our families to worry about the families and the children. This is one step we can take; it has been mentioned there may be others. If this allows more families to spend their time together in the evenings, whether it be at dinner or attending sporting and cultural events as a family, not just for the legislators but for all the workers who work for the Government of Yukon, then this will be a positive step. I support my three colleagues in this and thank them for bringing it forward.
Mr. McRobb: There is a very special day coming on Sunday, so I'd like to begin by wishing a Happy Mother's Day to our three women members and all mothers across this territory of ours.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this motion in the spirit of also wanting to make this a better place in the future. I will support the motion because of the good it will accomplish. I believe this motion will also allow those who are tied to the hours of this Assembly, including government workers, support staff and contractors, to better support those who rely on them, including their families. Further, I believe it will especially appeal to the women in our society who may be interested in becoming involved themselves at the political level of territorial government. If this leads to a more gender-balanced legislature, it is a good thing.
Mr. Speaker, as you would know, I have taken an interest in the rules of this House and on occasions before I have expressed my frustration with some of them. Because this may be the last opportunity I have to address these concerns, I would like to put some of them on the record.
First of all, I am concerned about making what is an uncompensated reduction in the total time each year this Assembly sits. The Standing Orders of this Assembly currently require members to sit a maximum of 60 days per year. The hours of the day are from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The motion before us would reduce this five-hour day to four and one-half hours per day. The accumulated annual reduction would be 30 hours, which equates to the loss of more than six full sitting days each year. Personally, I would be more than willing to suit up for an additional six or seven days each year to compensate for the sitting time lost. We must recognize that our responsibilities as legislators have increased in recent years.
With record-size budgets to review, a never-ending list of legislation to deal with, greater responsibilities inherent with devolution of our natural resources, increased requirements to respect government-to-government relations with our First Nations, and other transfers of responsibilities from the federal government, I believe it would be responsible to increase the number of sitting days in the year, not decrease them.
The evidence of this need is before us now. We need to look no further than the Order Paper to see there is still a lot of work to do in the remainder of this sitting. There is less than a full seven days left, and two motion days pares us to five days. It could take a day to deal with the three pieces of legislation awaiting passage through Committee of the Whole. The total remaining time left in which to review the budget is approximately four days.
Most of the budget remains yet to be reviewed. In fact, there are about seven line departments remaining to be debated and those comprise the bulk of the spending in the budget. Anything left at the cut-off time of 5:00 p.m. on May 24 will escape the scrutiny of the House.
There are a few factors that have led to this situation. First, we have had to deal already with several pieces of legislation that could have been brought to this House last fall. After all, we know the spring sitting is a budget sitting, not a sitting to deal with lots of legislation.
Second, the government side chose to disagree with the opposition parties in that a 40-day sitting was necessary, so the sitting length defaulted to 30 days pursuant to section 75 of our Standing Orders.
The third reason is we've had to accommodate the time requirements of the independent members who, on occasion, have spent hours asking questions.
But there is another reason that we all know about but few of us will admit.
Ministers often give lengthy introductory speeches for their departments and in response to questions. In some cases, these speeches have been repetitive to the point where some ministers have stood for 20 minutes and read from Hansard what they had said the day before. The underlying reason for this lack of productivity can be found in the new rules brought in about four years ago. Specifically, the rule that capped the number of sitting days in the year has fundamentally altered the dynamics of this House. It was formerly up to the House leaders to decide when a sitting should end. In order to conclude a sitting, the government of the day would have to show some cooperation with the opposition parties, often having to provide them with information such as certain studies or reports the government had previously refused to share, or by committing to be more cooperative in debate by using the time available more productively.
All that has changed, Mr. Speaker. Fixing the length of a sitting has ruled out any need for the government side to cooperate with the opposition parties. For the government side, the strategy has changed from “Let's cooperate and get out of this sitting” to “Let's rag the puck and chew up the limited time available to the opposition to ask questions and hold us publicly accountable -
Speaker: Order please. Sit down.
It is the Chair's opinion that the Member for Kluane is imputing motives in his dissertation, and I would ask the honourable member not to do that.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I wonder if these new rules serve the public interest - of course not. They must be changed. We need to get this Assembly back on track, get everybody aboard and head to a destination we can all agree is in the public interest.
This can only be done through a cooperative effort. The cap on the number of sitting days is a major issue that, unfortunately, is further compromised by the motion before us. In response to this concern, I understand the rationale would be to invite future members to open up the Standing Orders, following the next election, to address other matters. But that would be like opening the proverbial can of worms.
Opening up the Standing Orders would be seen as the opportunity to raise dozens of other issues on the minds of current and future MLAs. This list is sure to also include issues related to private members' day - a.k.a. “wasted Wednesday”; the introduction of statements by private members; a longer Question Period; shortened speaking time limitations; improved rules for decorum; and last but not least, allowing the use of laptop computers in this Assembly, which would not only increase the productivity of the elected representatives, it's bound to also increase their attendance following Question Period each day.
I suppose the real question is this: how likely would it be for the next government to review the Standing Orders? What approach would be used for the review, and what would be the timing of such a review? Of course, my concerns would be alleviated if the Yukon Liberal Party were to form the next government, but that question will be decided by the voters sometime later this year.
Now that I have the attention of all the members, let's examine for a moment the approach that might be used to review our Standing Orders. Currently, there are two approaches used: today's method of bringing a motion to the floor of the Assembly, and the other more dreaded option - SCREP.
The Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges is the go-to vehicle for such matters, but that vehicle has been stuck in the mud for some time now. In fact, SCREP hasn't met in more than three years, and for good reasons. You see, Mr. Speaker, SCREP has a fundamental problem. The voting membership is skewed in favour of the government of the day; therefore, any rule changes that pass through SCREP require the support of the government's members. On the other hand, any changes brought forward supported only by opposition members are doomed to failure. The agendas are so polarized that the committee has become redundant; therefore, the rules are in gridlock. There is only one way to fix this situation, and that is to equalize the representation on SCREP between the two sides.
This position was one advocated by the Premier and his former deputy prior to the last election and has been advocated by others in here, including me, since that last election.
With a balanced representation on SCREP, only the good changes will get passed, because they must then meet with support from both sides. My concerns about this motion and how it interrelates to other matters would be greatly mitigated with a functional SCREP to deal with other rule changes.
I want to commend the women of this Assembly for bringing forward this motion today and for demonstrating their ability to work together and cooperate beyond party lines on an issue important to them. I invite them to redeploy their alliance for the betterment of this Assembly, and bring forward a similar motion in the near future that balances the membership on SCREP.
Mr. Jenkins: First, I would like to thank the women in our Assembly for getting together and bringing forward what is a very worthwhile motion. Personally, I don't believe it has gone far enough. To change the hours of our sitting from 6:00 to 5:30 doesn't give anyone the opportunity to flow into the mainstream of life here in the Yukon. I believe it should be 5:00 - a sitting from 1:00 to 5:00.
There are a number of ways we can address the shortfall of time, because that would be a 20-percent reduction in our sitting time versus a 10-percent reduction - 15 hours on a 150-hour sitting - which is not very long. We can add some days to the end or we can take Committee of the Whole debate out of the time that we spend in this Legislature and deal with it separately.
Really, if you look at opposition ranks and the government ranks, and if you look at the people from the press, the focus is on Question Period and holding the government accountable - whether you're in opposition or whether you are part of the government of the day, that is the focus. The government of the day has the business of the government to conduct as well as the time spent in this Assembly.
Virtually everyone in this Assembly has family and wants to spend time with their family. For those of us from rural ridings, it is the additional burden of travel and that travel time that weighs heavily on us and is not even factored in.
So I would like to suggest that we, as a Legislative Assembly, charge the three women in this Assembly with examining this area and look at bringing back a very worthwhile proposal that I'm sure would cut through party lines and serve the people of the Yukon very well, as well as this Legislative Assembly, by maintaining the same number of sitting hours but over a longer period of time, shortening our day to perhaps four hours - 1:00 until 5:00. Because let us also look just outside of this Assembly at the people, the Table Officers, the Hansard staff. Through this motion we are asking people like our Hansard staff to take a 10-percent cut in their wages. Let's not forget that they're also family members - mothers.
Mr. Speaker, if we're going to do it, let's do it right. This is a good start. In my opinion, it doesn't go far enough.
The previous Liberal government brought in what is commonly known as the guillotine. That does bring discipline to us here, in that we know how much time we have to debate the various departments. We know how many bills are going to be tabled in the first five days of the sitting, and we have to budget our time accordingly. There is also the other issue that no one really speaks to, because everyone here as elected officials hopes to make a positive difference, and is very much interested in serving our constituents who put us here, Mr. Speaker.
The issue that has to be addressed very quickly is the issue of remuneration for those who are elected and that should somehow be factored into the equation - not for us sitting here today, but for the next Members of the Legislative Assembly. It should be dealt with, and it should be part of this package.
I only have to look at my own situation. When I was a member of Cabinet I received an additional $20,000 a year. Coming from rural Yukon, I was required by legislation to be a resident of Whitehorse and that allowed me only 24 trips a year back to my wife and family and my home community of Dawson, vis-à-vis 48 trips a year for a private Member of the Legislative Assembly.
It also precluded me, as a rural MLA, from the per diem for meals and incidentals because I was a Cabinet minister. So it's a disincentive to be a member of a government and a member of Cabinet, financially. It is, because you give up $20,000 of taxable income as a Cabinet minister and, if you spend the time here, there's another $35,000 to $40,000 in travel and remuneration one receives.
So there's a whole series of areas that must and should be addressed. The time we spend in this Legislature and the time we want to spend with our families is extremely important.
There has never been a more opportune time with Mother's Day coming up this weekend to recognize the importance of the family unit and the role that women play in our society and, indeed, the role that women play in this Legislature.
I think it is an area where, if we as legislators charge the three women in this Legislature with coming back with a proposal that addresses all of these issues, and before the end of this sitting, we will all be in very good stead - and probably in extremely good hands. If you look at any approach that males and industry and business bring, it is usually a financial overview that is usually cut-and-dried, hard-and-fast, whereas if you bring in the women element, there is the issue of family, compassion - there is a whole series of other skill sets that are brought to the table that, by and large, are absent from you and me, Mr. Speaker.
I am in general support of this motion. I believe it is a good start, but I believe that we can do much better, and we can do it very quickly, because I don't want to ask anyone who serves this Assembly to take a cut in pay - like our Hansard staff, like our Sergeant-at-Arms. I don't believe that is fair.
We, as legislators, have a duty and a responsibility to represent our constituents. Historically, the number of sitting hours have been set out, and that has not changed - the number of sitting hours per week. It has been rearranged so we start a half-hour early and finish half-hour from when I first began in this Assembly.
I could go on, but I'd like to hear from my colleagues to see if there is an appetite to look at this motion once again and bring something back that addresses a whole series of issues, not just getting out a half-hour early so we can be with our families. Let's look at the purpose of this Assembly and the reasons why we are here. Let's look at ways we can reconfigure our time here so it does allow us to be with our families more frequently.
Let's look at perhaps taking out Committee of the Whole - and that whole debate - and putting it in another venue, like the federal Parliament does. There are a great number of ideas out there.
I thank the women in this Legislature for bringing forward what has opened the door to what I see as being a very good opportunity for us to move forward and leave the next Assembly with better working conditions, a better wage and benefit package, and better hours for all of us, so we can spend time with our families.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I'm going to be very brief. First, I am fully in support of the motion, but I just want to provide some rationale for why that is.
That begins with applauding the Member for Whitehorse West, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin and the Member for Porter Creek South for first and foremost forming a women's caucus for this Assembly. I think that is a very significant initiative that these members have undertaken, and I encourage them to continue their collaboration, as they have, and a demonstration of that is the motion we are debating today.
To me, this is not about hours of the day or days of the sitting. It's about the significance of the women's caucus being formed and the fact that we have an opportunity here, through this collaboration, to encourage more women to seek office. If we're truly going to make this Assembly a more representative place, a more functional and constructive place, it will have to include more members from what is a very large constituency in this territory, and that is Yukon women.
My encouragement here is not to charge the women's caucus with anything; it is to encourage them to continue to make the most of this cooperative and unanimous approach to making things better here. I also think their whole purpose was to make things better overall with respect to women being able to come to the decision to seek public office and be able to represent public business here in this institution.
To the three members of our Assembly's women's caucus: a job well done. I encourage you to continue with your caucus. I really look forward to the day when there will be more members of the Assembly's women's caucus for the Yukon Legislative Assembly. It can only serve us well and can only bode well for the Yukon Territory and its future.
Mr. Hardy: Since the other two leaders have stood up and put their positions on the record, although I wasn't planning to, I completely support my colleague in the work she has done, as well as the other two. I feel, just so there are no misinterpretations, I had better as well. With my silence, people can say a lot of things about what that silence meant.
This is a great thing, a great day. This is wonderful - three people from three different parties got together, put aside those differences and came forward with a motion, brought it forward to the Legislative Assembly, knowing full well that some of their colleagues may not support it. Having the courage to do that speaks volumes about the quality of people we have elected here today - the three women especially.
The job that we do is not a regular job. There is a misconception out there among members of the public that we only work when the House is sitting, and we only work from 1:00 until 6:00 . A few years ago, I was at a party with a bunch of people, and there was a lawyer sitting beside me. There was talk around some judge's ruling. I turned to the lawyer and asked what he thought of that? He looked at me, and he said, “I'm not working right now. I'd prefer not to talk about my job.” That was fine. So a minute later - and it was honestly a minute later - he turned and asked me a political question. I was an elected member, and I said, “You know, I'm not working right now either, so could you respect my space as well?” He looked at me, and he said, “Oh, that's right.” Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are expected to be working. When we go to the grocery store, people come up to us and ask us - whether it's political questions or about their own personal issues or involvement, they constantly expect us to be on the job, on duty. If you go to the hockey rink, you go to a music festival - everywhere you go, you have to be on.
That is our job. That is what is expected of us. If we don't like it, we shouldn't be in politics because people expect that of us. That is the reality of this job, so the hours in here are not the end-all of what we do, and I think people need to realize that occasionally. It's nice to get a break, by the way.
The last point I want to make is that I have the unique position of being married to a woman who was in politics as well, so I have seen it from a few different angles. I can assure you that it is extremely, extremely hard for a woman who has children to be away from those children - to love their children, to love their family. In their view that is the single most important priority in their lives - to make that sacrifice for what they believe they can do for the public. Anything we can do to make that transition a little bit easier, to make this place a little bit more welcoming, to make the job a little bit more humane, we should do. I applaud the three women in here for a job well done. Let's move forward.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: It is always interesting in all these debates to be listening to the points made by everyone in the House, especially when they do speak from the heart. I find there are a lot of individual things that I certainly agree with. First of all I, like the others, have to commend our fellow MLAs for coming together in proposing this motion in recognition of the importance of family. The workplace is certainly evolving over time and many employers are now recognizing the need to be more flexible and accommodating to employees, to support the needs of families and single parents - both male and female.
I had a number of surprises when I started getting involved in territorial politics. One of the things I saw at the door is that I probably ran into as many single men as I did single women who were raising a young family. That was skewed a bit because of the number of men who were working outside of the territory and the horrible economy at the time. But if you remove that from the side in terms of just single parents, it was fairly evenly distributed.
I don't know if it is any different than a lot of the others, but it wasn't quite what I expected.
I think all employers try to accomplish the flexibility with a flexible work schedule for employees, including such things as flex-time, of course, and working from your home, deferred leave - there are all sorts of ways of doing that.
I was really pleased to be at the trade show this last weekend and run into one of our employees from Yukon Housing Corporation, who was actually quite surprised that, in order to accommodate family situations, she would be, without question, offered alternative work schedules. We do what we can to do that.
We have to allow employees to spend more time with the family, take classes in the evening, further an education, travel - whatever the priorities might be. I always feel sorry, in talking especially to young people - people shouldn't choose a profession, a trade or a job of any sort in order to make a living, to have a life. What they do for their living should really be a part of their lives. It's that blend that we should all strive for.
We've all experienced times in our lives where we've had to struggle and juggle our families, our education, our jobs, and do everything at the same time. There are many people in both public and private sectors who experience the huge challenges on a day-to-day basis.
As we make these sacrifices, of course, and accomplish a goal, or just to survive, they are choices that we make. We base our decisions on facts, weighing out the options and coming to a conclusion based on those facts.
I had a number of very interesting discussions with the leader of the official opposition when he first entered the House, on the effect on all of us of our jobs, our professions. When we go into public service, there is a major, major effect. That really has got to be one of the things you consider at the time.
I agree with the Member for Whitehorse Centre, in terms of things that affect your life - one thing, since being appointed minister, is our many witticisms. Our Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources once said that you have no concept of what it's like to be a minister until you're appointed, and then it's too late.
You're already in deep trouble on that. I don't go shopping much any more. I can't get down a single aisle of a grocery store without someone stopping me and wanting to talk about a project or a housing situation, right down to complaining about the price of beer. It happens all the time. There's an effect from that. I can only imagine what members from rural communities go through when they go home, because they're much more liable to go through this. I really wonder about the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, who is in a very small, tight-knit community and probably hasn't had a really private moment in the years she has been in this House. She's nodding, yes.
This is something that most people don't consider when they go into public service.
There are a number of other things that come up as we talk about this. There are also the problems and sacrifices you make when you go into this. One of the running jokes - but stories, so to speak - is that the position of Minister of Economic Development has virtually become the designated traveller of the government. My association with PNWER - the Pacific Northwest Economic Region - as the vice-president this year has put me in touch with legislators from all the northwest jurisdictions, as well as a number of other jurisdictions as we travel.
I had dinner one evening with the person who holds a similar position for the State of Washington , as their designated traveller. His ex-girlfriend - notice the way I phrase that - made the comment of why would anyone in the world want his job or mine. They don't even pay us enough to cover the divorce. And that's true. The travel is nice sometimes but, when the clerks at hotels in various cities can call you by your first name when you walk in, when you get home and your wife meets you at the airport with a name tag, that's a fairly strong hint that the travel is not all it's cracked up to be at the best of times.
So that is something that I think a lot of people have really missed. The other thing that the Member for Whitehorse Centre mentioned - and, boy, do I agree with this 110 percent - that people will look at you and say, “Oh, the House rose last week. Gee, do you get the summer off? What are you going to do with the summer while you have it off?” Most people don't realize how precious little, other than the debate of the House - how little actually happens while the House is sitting, because this is where we are. We can't go to meetings; we can't get out to the communities. We have to sometimes make extraordinary arrangements - for instance, I really want to thank, again, the leader of the third party and the Member for Whitehorse Centre for pairing with me next week in order to go with PNWER to Washington to lobby on some very, very important issues that will affect tourism and will affect our economy. Without that pairing, it's quite possible that I wouldn't be able to make that trip. So I certainly want to take the opportunity to thank him for that.
The Member for Kluane, other than getting a little bit robust in his speech, does make some very good points. We can make more efficient use of time in here. I talked to members from previous years. We used to do two or three tributes a year. Now we do two or three tributes a day, and each party has to be seen to be doing their own tribute. We can waste a huge amount of time, sometimes even a half hour a day, in paying tribute to very worthwhile causes. I mean, I don't want to denigrate any of the causes. It's sometimes very good to get up and talk about the Girl Guides or the Boy Scouts, or high blood pressure or hypertension month. But is this the best use of our public time? There is a major problem with that.
The Member for Kluane also mentioned some of his problems with it, and I do have to disagree with some of them. He made the comment that it was time that was perhaps not best used for independent members to speak. While I can understand where he's coming from as he rolls around the House looking for a home, independent members have every right to speak. They have every right to express their opinions and to express the concerns and values of their constituents.
I would have to disagree with that. The speeches -
Speaker: The Chair is not particularly comfortable with the minister referring to another member as “rolling around the House looking for a home”. The Chair feels that is inappropriate and I would ask the honourable member not to use that terminology.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Sometimes the longer speeches do give out a great deal of information, but I do agree with him that some can be a little bit much. In terms of the fixed length of the sitting, again through my experience with PNWER, we had some interesting discussions. Some jurisdictions go on and on and on, and the sittings can go 100 or many more days, and I'm not sure if they accomplish any more than we do. The State of Idaho, for instance, sits every second year. That is perhaps the other end of the spectrum. I am not really sure that this is the way to go, but certainly that is the way they do their business. There are a number of ways to do it.
The Member for Klondike - I have to agree with many of the things he said. One of the things in terms of pay scales - I think there are many of us in this House who have taken severe pay cuts or experienced severe problems with our former jobs or professions. Perhaps reducing the amount of sitting time comes a little bit more in line with the salary, but that is something that also has to be looked at. It is rather interesting that in the entire debate over the Member for Klondike and what happened over the last couple of years, that he is actually making more money as an independent MLA than he did as a minister. There are so many things in terms of pay scales and equity that have to be looked at.
To get back to the individual motion, I think everything there is done with the right thing in mind. I agree with the Member for Klondike that it doesn't go far enough. I remember knowing someone in a previous life down south, a woman who chose the school she went to, chose the profession that she trained in, and made her job choices afterward because of the extreme shortage of women and, therefore, that would ensure she would be getting the best job in preference to all of the men.
I don't agree what that very much. I have to go back to so many things where we can say, “Yes, there is a job inequity. Yes, there should be more women.” All of those are very obvious, but I do have problems with solving one social injustice with another one. We should make the place more family-friendly - male or female. It bothers me that this is becoming a bit of a gender issue. We do make a lot of accommodations; we do have the ability - other than those 60 sitting days - over the rest of the year to adjust our schedule, much more so than most people in the private sector. We have come a long way from what some people have referred to as the 1950s mentality, and that is a good thing. Forty-nine percent of the workforce of the Yukon is made up of women. That is a good thing.
In terms of the motion at hand, I do support the motion that will allow all elected members - both male and female - to be adjourned from the Legislative Assembly at the hour of 5:30; however, I do have a problem, as the Member for Kluane mentioned, with the half hour of debate that we lose each day - 30 hours a year. The Member for Kluane somehow suggested that we go up between 27 and 31.5; his math is a little bit off, but his thoughts are certainly right. We should make that up by extending - doing something. I still think that the House, with its problems, is going to have problems, but it should be looked at.
The Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges is perhaps one way to look at that.
The motion itself seems to have become a gender issue. Gender is not the way to go with this.
One of the things that has amazed me, in just one final point, Mr. Speaker - I talk to other MLAs. As one MLA mentioned, he can get up to 10 calls or letters a day from constituents. I'm sometimes lucky if I get one a week. I don't know if that's a factor of Porter Creek North, where more and more of the issues are municipal. But on this particular motion, I have had more communication than probably the top seven or eight issues that we've had to debate in this House, virtually all from women, interestingly, and virtually all - if not all - asking me not to support the motion.
Again, I support the idea. I don't think it goes far enough. I hope that we look at it more in the future. One of the things that drew me to run in a federal election some time ago was the ability granted by that party to support your constituents and that no party or party leader could tell you what to do. I would like to commend our Premier at this point for allowing a free vote on this.
With those things said, while I support the idea of the motion, I find that I have difficulty in supporting it as put forward.
Speaker: If the honourable member speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, I thank all my colleagues for standing up in support of this very important motion. Much has been said here today, and I think we three women legislators were hoping for some short but succinct messages here. With that said, I very much appreciate hearing from the majority of members in this Legislature.
There have been many points raised this afternoon, and some I would like to take a couple of moments to speak about. I would also like to say that I'm responding in large part on behalf of the women legislators, and it isn't just the Member for Whitehorse West responding to some of the matters that have been raised.
The Member for Porter Creek South, in her remarks, commented on the long history of women in politics in the Yukon. One only has to look at the history books to see that Yukon has a very proud history. That said, there's a long way to go. One only has to see that three members of the 18 who currently sit in the Legislature are women. It's just over 16 percent. Although we're not the highest, we're not the lowest for number of women in the Legislature, and we do have a way to go.
This motion is all about working toward providing a climate that's conducive to a more representative workplace. It is a relatively small change that is being proposed. There is the very fact that we three members got together, despite us being women and representing all three of the political parties in this Legislature. We came together and parked the politics at the door and talked about issues of fundamental importance to us. I think that speaks volumes; it doesn't happen too often.
Ironically, it happened to be three women. We are all in agreement that this is not about gender; it's not about just women; it's about family, and family takes into account men and women.
This motion will certainly affect all of us in the Legislature, regardless if we are a mother, a father, a grandfather, a grandmother, an uncle or an aunt. I think that this motion is wide-reaching. It certainly is not our intention to make it a gender issue.
That said, the very fact that three of us have come together does speak quite a bit about the collaboration that was meant through this motion. There was a considerable amount of discussion. It wasn't a decision made at one particular meeting; there were a lot of discussions over the course of the last number of weeks about how we could make some positive changes for the betterment of the entire Legislative Assembly.
There were some discussions about the hours - that was one of the most important issues that we did talk about - and there were some discussions about making it from 1:00 to 5:00. There was a great amount of consideration given to a number of options, and there is some reasoning behind the matter of moving the hour of adjournment by half an hour.
Just in response to some of the members opposite, I mentioned we felt - as the women legislators - that we wanted to present something to the Legislative Assembly that could be supported by all Members of the Legislative Assembly - something that would work for all of us.
I think we've all identified that it is a relatively small change and something we could all work together on. Moving the hour from 1:00 to 5:00, for example, which was raised as a possibility - there was consideration given to the guillotine clause, as we've come to know it, and how that may be impacted. It would have been impacted if we had moved it to 5:00 p.m.
Again, we opted for that smaller step as a beginning. We felt it could be supported by many of our colleagues, yet make a very real, significant and immediate impact for all legislators. We also talked about possibly introducing this after the sitting for future sittings. We talked about possibly moving this motion to a couple of days before, but it was also felt by us that we wanted to lead by example.
Yes, I think there is a genuine thought by all of us in this Assembly that there is so much more we could do by improving the Standing Orders, by looking at efficiencies and how we conduct our business. There is a general concurrence among members that there are so many different areas we could look at, but our purpose here is not to look at the entire Standing Orders; it is to look at just this one small change. To me, the very fact we did come up with this change and are bringing it forward for debate here today proves that changes can occur. It may not have occurred through SCREP or through another entity, but it did occur and we did propose it and we are here today debating this very change.
I would like to leave members thinking that this is an example of what can happen when you do get together and you park the politics at the door. I think that we're all guilty, myself included, of sometimes perhaps abusing our privileges in this Legislature, taking the time to respond to questions. I'll be the first one. I think from here, with this change, if adopted and supported, that we need to put our best foot forward. We need to make the best efforts possible to realize the efficiencies in the Legislature. I certainly think that we can do that.
Certainly, by all means, I think that future Legislative Assemblies have the opportunity, and I certainly hope that we or whoever is elected to form the next Legislative Assembly, will look at the Standing Orders, and we'll take a look at, for example, the times allotted for responses, perhaps even look at our breaks, how long we're taking on our breaks, look at the sitting days. These are all issues to be debated and to come up with. So I certainly concur with members opposite.
I also just wanted to make note, as has been raised by my two colleagues, that we also took into consideration the possible impact upon our Hansard staff, the individuals who work to transcribe these legislative proceedings day in and day out. The motion before us, certainly, was not to impact the Hansard contract and, in fact, it will not. There will be no negative impact upon our Hansard staff as a result of this.
We wanted to ensure that did not occur, and that will not occur, to be very clear.
Again, I would like to thank members for their support. I think we've come a long way in a very short time. Like the members opposite, the only regret I have is that we didn't come together earlier.
I thank everyone for their support. I look forward to hearing the vote at the end of the day.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 15 yea, 1 nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 689 agreed to
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. The department currently under debate is the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There is unanimous support. We will take a recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 20 - First Appropriation Act, 2006-07 - continued
Department of Energy, Mines and Resources - continued
Chair: We will continue now with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and general debate on Vote 53, Energy, Mines and Resources.
Mr. Cardiff: Just to go back to where we were the other day, on May 9, I asked the minister a series of questions and I'll just quickly repeat them. I asked him about the integrated landscape plan for the Kluane region, if that was available and if he could make that available to us, and whether or not that integrated landscape plan was subject to an environmental review - if he could let us know that - and whether or not he had an idea of what the financial return to the public would be from this one million cubic metre cut in the Kluane region and what the stumpage fees would be - whether they would be like normal stumpage fees or if is to some extent a salvage project or whether there would be a mixing of stumpage fees - and what the timing of this cut would be - whether it would be a seasonal cut that only took place in the winter or which seasons that would be.
I had one other question that I didn't get to. One of the other questions I did ask, though, was about consultation opportunities in the Kluane region.
The other one that I would like to ask is whether or not there was sufficient money allocated for research and monitoring of this cut - whether that would be paid by the proponents or whether it would be done with taxpayers' dollars - and who would actually do the research and the monitoring work on whether or not the one million cubic metre cut over the 10 years was actually doing what it was intended to do in curtailing the spruce bark beetle?
I will sit down and await the minister's answer.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, those were many questions on the Haines Junction issue.
The special forest management plan - it was recommended to the government by the RRC some time ago. We jointly approved it - ourselves as the territorial government and our partners, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
The integrated landscape plan - the draft plan is prepared and is awaiting approval by government. There have been months and months of consultation on that issue. Of course, the next one would be the development and harvest plan, which we haven't started yet, but that is the third step.
The salvage opportunity - again you asked about the beetle kill - it is a salvage opportunity. We are waiting to have interest shown so that we could answer some of the questions about the economics of it. We are laying out some of the wood - some of the cuts would be laid out by us in conjunction with industry. Once the proponents are in place with the bidding process, those issues would be addressed at that time.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister answered a few of the questions and actually raised a few more. The integrated landscape plan is still in process and it hasn't been approved by government. I am just wondering whether we are moving ahead faster than we should in the actual plan, and the cutting of the timber, by the sounds of it, isn't finalized either.
The minister also didn't answer the question regarding whether or not it was going to be a seasonal harvest, whether it would be a winter cut or if these activities would be going on year-round - because that presents some risk as well. And there is the monitoring of the success of this cut to ensure that what we are doing and the science the department is using around controlling the spruce beetle and protecting against fire is working. So it's about researching and monitoring of the project. Who is going to pay for that? Will it be paid for by the proponents or the taxpayers? And who is going to actually do the research and monitoring? Will it be industry, the government - the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, the Department of Environment - or a private contractor?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite about the cut in the Haines Junction area, we certainly would look at both concepts. Either we will lay the wood out, as government, and of course that adds value to the wood - in other words, there would be a cost to that - or, if the proponent came forward and said they would work at laying it out - both ways would cost the proponent resources.
We're open to dialogue on that. We will be overseeing the management of the forests and the management of the cut. As well, forestry would be looking at where the cuts would take place and the amount of cut that would be allowed in the landscape available to the industry.
One of the questions was if we would be working to address the cut. We will be doing that. With the urgency of the beetle-kill - the last time the member opposite and I met and we were discussing this, we talked about the questions on the beetle-kill and whether the forest is more prone to fire with or without the beetle. There is a debate about that. One of the biggest things we find in forests in the Yukon is that it is the wood on the ground that is really affected by forest fires.
The member opposite talked about the wind and the needles and all that, which ends up being a fire hazard on the ground. As we know from two years ago, most of the fire that caused the devastation in Kelowna was caused by people not firesmarting in the forest around them. The problem wasn't thinning the forest out; it was all the dead wood that was built up in that forest over the last 50 years and wasn't firesmarted to make sure that kind of fire didn't start.
As a government we are working with our partner, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, to address those issues, and the urgency of where the forest is harvested will be a decision made by forestry in conjunction with the Environment department and the First Nation to make sure we minimize the fire threat to the communities around Haines Junction.
Mr. Cardiff: I am not positive that the minister has answered all my questions. But in the interest of time - and I will review what he says in the Blues tomorrow morning, and we'll see whether we got the answers that we needed.
I would like to move on and talk briefly about land issues. The minister is responsible for several things in the land disposition and, as well, he is the alternate for the Minister of Community Services. I would like to first ask the minister about the draft report from last November on land dispositions, land application review processes, and planning linkages done for the Department of Community Services, but it was also done for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
I'm going to ask two questions. When does the minister expect this final report? Because this was a draft report. And one of the short-term recommendations by the author of the report was that locating all land dispositions in one area could be expected to vastly improve the internal information and communications issues, as well as improve services to clients of the government desiring land.
This would bring about some changes to the land disposition process, something that I think, in light of what has transpired in the last few years and especially in the last few months, needs to be addressed. So the questions are these: is there some movement to locate all the land disposition functions and planning functions in one area of government, and when does he expect a final version of this report will be available?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We talked about seasonal cut. I didn't answer that question for the member opposite because of the many questions he asked.
I guess the cut question would be answered - it is project specific. Of course, there are all sorts of questions about the environment, and other issues that have to be addressed. In a perfect world, we would like to look at a cut that would be consistent through the seasons. In the north, it mostly is done in the winter. But if there was an opportunity for individuals to go out and harvest and do their work on the land in the off season, we would, of course, look at that in conjunction with all the issues that would come with that proposal. Of course, there would be other departments involved in that decision, to make sure that it's consistent with the forest management plan and all the other issues that go along with the permitting process.
As far as the land disposition issue, the actual draft report that the member is talking about was commissioned by Community Services. It wasn't commissioned by Energy, Mines and Resources. But, because of the situation that I find myself in now, answering for that specific part of that portfolio, what I will commit to do for the member opposite - I have a list of things my department brought forward on how we could act on that draft to consolidate and answer some of the questions. What I would commit to do is send that over to the members opposite.
Hopefully the final draft will be brought forward within the next month, and then we can look at it. But we have done some work on it - both in lands and Energy, Mines and Resources - to try to answer the questions that the member opposite has asked. I will commit to do just exactly that and give that overview of what we are doing at the moment to minimize what the member is talking about in the disposition of land.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that. I look forward to receiving that information. I'm sure the minister will make the final report available as soon as possible, as well.
There's one other land issue. It would be scary to think, but I could probably go on for the rest of the day, just asking the minister questions about land just in Mount Lorne, but I think I covered a lot of that off previously, some in another department, and I've covered it off over the last three years.
One thing that really disturbs me in the City of Whitehorse is the unavailability of land. I know it's a big issue for the city and a big issue for residents. It was in the paper again last night that there are only three lots and there will be some lots coming available.
What I find really disturbing is the practice - my understanding is that, over the last few years, the government has allowed contractors to consolidate their land holdings to a large degree. So contractors with - for want of a better word - deep pockets or access to money have the ability, through numbered companies or whatever, to hold the majority of the lots that are vacant. If you drive up behind Copper Ridge right now, there are serviced lots there available for building but they're held by a few contractors. There are smaller contractors out there who are being approached by customers and asked, “Do you have a lot? Can you supply me with a lot and build me a house?”
They can't do that, because there are a few - and I stress a few, a small number, less than half a dozen - who hold a number of lots - over 100 lots. It's the policy of the government to make those lots available to contractors, but I just think it would be better if we could hold some lots back so that they are available to, number one, the public, because of where we live. I mean, we promote through Yukon Housing the concept of building your own home. I think sometimes we need to think about that. We need to think about ensuring the tradespeople have work too, and that houses are built to a certain standard by skilled tradespeople. But it's about making the lots available on an equitable basis. It doesn't seem to be that way when very few people hold over 100 lots in the City of Whitehorse right now, and there's a big demand for it, and they basically are controlling the housing market by holding those lots.
I don't know what the minister is prepared to do about that. Can they review that policy - there are lots coming out this fall, apparently - and ensure that lots are made available for the public and that a certain number of them are held back so that when the public wants lots they're available and so the small contractors don't get shut out of the picture, because they can only afford to purchase so many lots at a time? They're working on cash flow and they don't have access to a lot of capital, but they do have a demand. There are people out there who want to do the work.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I just want to remind the member opposite that we are in Energy, Mines and Resources. I understand the overlap, but we have a lot of work to do here in Energy, Mines and Resources.
I will answer your questions on land issues. Land issues are a big challenge out there. We all understand from a municipal point of view how much of a challenge it is. This government is committed to finalizing the protocol with the city, which will be done hopefully within a period of time. I would say that in the next week to 10 days we will have an agreement between the City of Whitehorse and us - then, in turn, go out to the outlying areas and work with them on a protocol to modernize our access to land for all Yukoners.
The government has a policy in place that when there is a block of land available, the first kick at the can, per se, is the individual who would like to buy a lot. His obligation is that he has two years to build on it. The next to be allowed is industry. They can buy up to 20 lots - anywhere from one to 20. They only have a window of opportunity of one year, so it is not a thing where you can bank the land for five years. They have to do improvements within 12 months. There is a difference of obligations between the individual proponent and industry. I think what we are committed to is getting more land out there so that the issue isn't who has the land; it is that there is land available for the general public, whether it is an individual who wants to build a home or a construction company that wants four or five lots - or up to 20 lots. We certainly don't encourage people to hold hundreds of lots. I'm not quite sure that is a reality, but if they do, they have gotten around the system. The system is in 12 months you have to put improvements on the land and move forward.
Another thing we have done in the lands branch in the Department of Community Services in the last three and a half years is related to the regulations we have. We put in place regulations for the Ibex Valley, Mayo Road and the Hot Springs Road , and the regulations for Mount Lorne are getting finalized.
This government, in three and a half years, has taken all those regulations and got them at least in a position where we can discuss them. There has been a discussion about regulations for some of these for 10 or 13 years. I take my hat off to the Department of Community Services that they can get these things finalized and move ahead.
I hope that answered the member's questions.
Chair: Before the debate continues, the Chair seeks a point of clarification from Mr. Lang. What I thought he said when he started his comments was “the first kick at the can”.
Is that correct, Mr. Lang, that you said, “the first kick at the can?”
Hon. Mr. Lang: Yes, I agree with that statement.
Chair: So, the record shall reflect that you said, “the first kick at the can”.
Mr. Cardiff: I am not going to go around on this for a long time. The fact of the matter, and what I was referring to, is that there are people who are getting around the rules in some ways. It's my understanding that there are construction companies who have bought lots and they are getting around the rules and they hold more than the 20-lot limit. So, there is a loophole. It can be done through numbered companies or however. I don't know how the department can monitor and look after that but, hopefully, they can find a way to do that, because it would allow for more equity in the system and in the market and it would be beneficial to consumers, I think.
I'm going to move on, though, because our time is limited today. I'd like to ask the minister a couple of questions related to energy. The Energy Solutions Centre is now in the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, and I think I heard the minister say that they're trying to get it up and running. I'm wondering if the minister could make available the workplan, what the mandate of the Energy Solutions Centre is going to be and what resources it is going to get.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you for asking the questions on the Energy Solutions Centre. It was dissolved or put over to Energy, Mines and Resources in January 2006. It was only fully staffed in March, and we're drafting exactly what the member has requested. At the moment, it isn't finished, but as soon as it is done, it will be public information on how we're going to move forward with the Energy Solutions Centre.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that. So my understanding is that when it's done, we'll see the workplan. I would appreciate receiving that, and I'm sure the Member for Porter Creek South would as well.
There was a question asked the other day about the long-term energy study that's due out soon, and I look forward to receiving that. I think that was promised in the House as well. There was an item the other day about the minister at a meeting, I believe in Winnipeg, and there was a memorandum of understanding signed between the western provinces and the territories. I'm just wondering if he could make that available as well.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I'd like to go back to the 20-year plan that's coming out of the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation. I remind the member opposite that we don't dictate the time that comes out. According to the individual at the corporation, he predicts it will be out within the next month. I look forward to seeing it, as well as the members - and of course you will get a copy. But I would remind everybody in the House that one of the obligations we have is to go out for public consultation as soon as that draft is out - or the 20-year plan.
When we see the 20-year plan, that's a concept the corporation has. After that, there will be a workplan put together on how we consult with Yukoners to make sure Yukoners are comfortable with that plan.
As far as the agreement between the energy ministers, that is public information and I will get a copy of that to you and the Member for Porter Creek South.
Mr. Cardiff: One other question I have - and I know there will be lots of other questions asked about this. The minister will get lots of questions today, and I will move on here.
With regard to where the Alaska Highway pipeline project is, there's a lot of work going on - feasibility and working with industry and hopefully with First Nations. Where are we at with regard to assessing environmental and social impacts on that project?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We certainly are working on the ground here with the Alaska Highway pipeline. As we all know, the Alaskans - according to the press this morning - are going out to their consultation, and there will be a 45-day period of consultation in Alaska . Then, of course, the House has to decide on those issues. Our Premier is working with the federal government.
The federal government has appointed the Minister of INAC, Mr. Prentice, who is going to be in charge of this file. That individual is tasked with not only the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, but an overview of the Alaska Highway pipeline. Of course, we have to do just what the question is; we have to work on the regulations. At this time, the only plan we have in front of is the NPA, so there are all sorts of questions on whether it is going to be greenfield or the NPA - and how is the NEB going to be involved. All those questions are going to have to be addressed, and the federal government is going to have to address them - hopefully in partnership with us - but they are going to definitely take the lead on this issue. We will be working through Energy, Mines and Resources and the Premier's office to make sure that we are kept abreast of any decision that is made regarding the Alaska Highway pipeline that will impact the territory.
I have talked to the new minister of NRCan, and he has committed to us as Yukoners that we would be involved in any decision he makes pertaining to the pipeline. That was good news. Also, the Premier met with the INAC minister, Mr. Prentice - and maybe you should ask the Premier the question - but I think he got the same answer: we would be involved in any decision that would impact us as a jurisdiction.
How that process is going to work: in answering that, it is another issue that has to unfold. I think this would become a lot more urgent on the federal government's radar screen, understanding the issues they have with the Mackenzie Valley pipeline - I think the Alaskan situation, as it unfolds, will become a more urgent decision, not only for us but for Ottawa and then Washington, D.C., to address the issues. Certainly our obligation here is to Yukoners to make sure Yukoners are involved and informed and that we move forward with the federal government on any decision that has been made. We commit, as a government, to keep abreast of the issue and, of course, keep Yukoners informed. I know that people feel there are big gaps of silence on the Alaska Highway pipeline, as other issues are addressed with the Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
As we go down the trail in the late fall, it's going to become more and more urgent for us, the federal government and, of course, industry. The Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is working in the communities doing some foundation work. That will bode well when the final decisions come, but their work is far from being done.
The Premier has made it very, very clear to the federal government that this will need some resources. We are looking at a template, which is the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. The federal government has committed half a billion dollars for the socioeconomic overview of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and the Premier is adamant that we be treated exactly the same as our neighbours on the issue, because this will be a big social and economic issue for our territory.
So I commit as the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources to keep the House notified. We as a department are monitoring daily, weekly, monthly what is happening in Alaska . Until they resolve the Alaska question, the other questions will not be answered because there will be no need to answer them. If this issue in Alaska does not pass their House, then there will be no Alaska Highway pipeline. We are funding the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. We funded it with half a million dollars so far. As we move along, that's going to be more and more expensive, and the federal government is going to have to come to the table and talk to us about how the funding will flow to make sure everybody in the Yukon can participate in some way, to answer some questions that are going to be brought forward over the next four or five years.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for the answer. Again, there was a lot in his answer, and I'll review what he said in the Blues. I have a question regarding the Mackenzie gas project. I know that the government is participating in the NEB hearings. They have a strategy. I'm just wondering if there is some sort of assessment - if the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is working with the Premier and the Department of Environment - of what the impacts might be, because one of the stated goals of this government is to ensure that gas in north Yukon doesn't get stranded and that it will have access to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline project.
But there could be some huge impacts in the north. We have the government of the day, the Premier, standing and quickly saying that we're behind the Gwich'in people in protecting the core calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. Much of the gas development and the pipeline that would get that gas to the Mackenzie Valley and tie into the Mackenzie Valley project would be in the Porcupine caribou summer territory, for want of a better word.
I'm just wondering what types of assessments have been done. Have they looked at the impact that projects like that could have? Because, if you look at oil and gas development in places like Alberta, and the impact it has had on their wildlife, habitat, and particularly on caribou herds, in some respects it has been devastating.
It is walking the talk. On one hand, we are telling the Alaskans and the Americans that we need to protect this area for the Porcupine caribou herd, but at the same time, are we prepared to open up and affect that very same caribou herd through development here in our territory?
I am just wondering what the minister's response to that would be. What work is being done to assess those risks and put in place mitigation measures and to work with the people of north Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I guess in answering the question, the Yukon government now is concerned that the NEB and, of course, the joint review panel in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline address the issue that we're not shut out of that process. We've been working very hard on that issue.
As far as looking at what would happen down the road if, in fact, there was the opportunity for gas development in north Yukon, that, of course, would be addressed jointly by us and our First Nation partners. So a lot of those issues would be addressed at the time, and certainly the northern First Nations would be involved in the process, in YOGA and the other processes that are in place. But I think the urgency now is to make sure that our resources in north Yukon - that we have the option of access to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
Remember that the urgency of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline going first was the argument that we didn't want to strand Canadian resources, Canadian gas. At this point we're just reminding the NEB and the JRP that we are part of Canada and that we should have to be taken when those decisions are made. But as far as resolving the issues in north Yukon - in other words, the process of hooking up, environmental overview - all of those will be addressed as we move forward in partnership with the northern First Nations to make sure we address the issues that the member has talked about, because it is an issue. The Porcupine caribou herd is an issue for all the Gwich'in people in Canada and the United States - Fort McPherson , Aklavik, Old Crow, Arctic Village and Fort Yukon . They all utilize that herd for the benefit of their communities.
In partnership with the First Nations, we would make those decisions down the road, when it would be more appropriate to make them.
Mr. Cardiff: I have a few more questions. I would like to ask the minister a few more questions. Some of them have been asked before. I am just wondering what the minister's position is on something. There has been some talk previously here in the Legislature and in the public about coal-bed methane and projects in north Yukon as well. There is a desire to tap into coal-bed methane, which is a big concern to me. People who live in those areas are also very concerned. I would like to know the minister's position on coal-bed methane and whether or not he or his department have received any requests. Is there exploration happening with coal-bed methane? Have there been any requests for leases? I would like to know exactly where we're at with this.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Deputy Chair, the question about natural gas and coal has been left after devolution. It was not addressed. There is no exploration for the product at the moment.
We as a government are moving forward with trying to get some regulations in place, but it will not happen overnight.
We have to understand the urgency of the questions that are out there on the handling of the natural gas from coal, but it will still be something down the road the Yukon government will have to address, because it is there. How do we regulate it and how do we move forward in managing that resource for Yukon? At the moment, it is not a priority of this government. It is certainly something that we are aware of. There is no exploration at the moment. Natural gas from coal will become more of an issue if in fact there are pipelines to pipe the product to a customer, but at the moment, as we know, there is no access to market in any way.
With everything that has been going on over the last two and one-half years since devolution, we have just felt that it is not something that we have to work with. We felt, as a department, as a government, that we have higher priorities at the moment to resolve than the question about the regulations on natural gas from coal. It doesn't mean that the oil and gas department isn't working on fleshing out ideas or looking at different jurisdictions, because the task will have to be addressed by the oil and gas branch in the Yukon government, in light of the fact that there are no regulations.
Who owns it? With a coal lease, there was some conversation with the federal government before devolution that they gave these people recognition of that resource. Well, that is a commitment made by the federal government. How are people who get a coal lease - if you were to go to north Yukon and stake a coal lease - do you own the natural gas from coal?
No, but how do you define what natural gas from coal is? Those regulations are very important so we can do just this: we can manage the resource. If we were going to put a moratorium on natural gas from coal, we have to recognize it's there. If we don't have regulations in place, how do we take the next step?
We're aware of it, as a government and as a department. The urgency isn't as urgent now without the access to market but, as we move into the oil and gas industry and get access to market, the governments in the future will have to put some regulations in place.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that answer. In his next response, if he could just indicate if there's any time frame for these regulations - or he could indicate even with a nod of his head. Could he give us an idea of what the time frames for those regulations would be?
I'd like to ask the minister a couple questions related more to mining. There's a lot of talk about new mines opening up. I could ask questions about type 2 mine sites and what's going on there. I know there's a plan being worked on and being put in place for Faro and that there's an office just across the street. Hopefully, we will be moving ahead with some of the other mine sites that need to be cleaned up. But does the minister feel comfortable with these new projects that are coming on stream, that adequate securities will be put in place to address the environmental liabilities of these projects?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, yes, I do feel comfortable that, with the new regulations in place for closure and reclamation, we are going to address the issue. It's a big concern for all Yukoners - all Canadians - that we don't get ourselves into a Faro situation again. We have been working hard on those regulations to make sure we have the resources in place when the time comes for the closure of the mine to make sure the mining companies have a commitment - financially and physically - to do the right thing and move forward with the closure of the mine.
We all know that mines open and mines close. That's the nature of the industry. We, as a government, or as Yukoners, have to make sure there is a minimum impact on individuals in the Yukon when that day arrives - whether it's one, five, or 10 years from now. We are addressing those. I have full confidence in the department that those regulations for closure and reclamation are the right way to go, and we are moving forward on that basis.
Mr. Cardiff: I have one more question for the minister and then I would like to turn the floor over to my colleagues down the way here.
We heard in the Public Accounts Committee what happened with the Mayo-Dawson transmission line and how things didn't go as smoothly as possible in all respects and there were problems with contractors. If I remember correctly, there were also some conflicts with the First Nation around the routing of the power line. There is now talk of a power line to service a new mine, Sherwood Copper, and I am assuming it would probably also service the Western Copper project if that came on stream, and there's talk about it running to Stewart Crossing.
But I'm just wondering whether or not all the conflicts and all of the i's have been dotted and t's have been crossed with the First Nations, whether it be the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation or the Selkirk First Nation or any other First Nation whose land this proposed power line would cross, whether or not all of that work has been done, and if it hasn't been done, could the minister ensure that that will happen? It was my understanding that there were some conflicts on the proposed routing of this line. I'm not sure exactly what stage it's at, but I just wanted to ensure that we respect the First Nations and their land as we cross it. The projects will accrue benefits to all Yukoners, but we're using their land for this project, and I just wanted to ensure that everything is in place to alleviate any concerns.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, the issues about the right-of-way from Mayo and Dawson -one of the issues was that the right-of-way was approved but they didn't build the power line on the right-of-way. That was a big issue, and that issue had to be addressed because the corporation that was doing it didn't understand the urgency of staying on the right-of-way. They thought if they had a right-of-way they could go anywhere. But I think that the members in the corporation now have addressed the issue of right-of-way. Has the Mayo-Dawson line been resolved? No, it hasn't.
The corporation is still dealing with the contractor and trying to get some resolution to the money that the corporation says we owe, and vice versa. That is an ongoing issue. As we all know, the Mayo-Dawson line was a very badly managed project. When we look at the Carmacks-Stewart Crossing extension, it's going to take more than one day to make that decision. We have some resources in the budget that give the corporation the flexibility to go out and talk to the First Nations about the conceptual plan for an extension. That extension would involve a right of way through some of the First Nations lands.
The member opposite talks about working with the First Nations. We have no avenue at our disposal to cross First Nation land without access approved by them. In other words, we are not only committed to consult with the First Nations, when we cross their land we have to get their blessing. This issue between Carmacks and Stewart - and, as you mentioned, there is a potential customer in the Minto Mine. Western Copper is a bit further down the line in production plans than Minto; however, we still need a customer base to justify extending the line from Carmacks to Stewart.
I imagine that when we get the 20-year plan from the corporation, part of that 20-year plan will be the potential expansion of the line. I imagine that in the future it will happen.
There has been no decision made by this government to extend the line to Stewart Crossing, and it certainly won't be made unless we have a customer base that can justify it. Not only do we need a customer, we need one that has some length of time of being in business. Those are all issues that could come back and haunt a corporation if, in fact, we were to extend the line and then find out our customer base didn't exist two years down the road.
Those are all issues the corporation has to make decisions based on, but we as a government are committed to work with the corporation and Yukoners to make sure we don't repeat what happened between Mayo and Dawson. The argument that the Mayo-Dawson line was worth it because the price of diesel went up - and it makes more economic sense at the moment - is a weak argument when we could have done it for a third of the price. The price of diesel would still have gone up and we would have had a more solid base in the corporation.
The argument out there is this: would it not make good business sense to tie the northern grid and southern grid together? That would make sense, but without a customer base between Carmacks and Stewart, are Yukoners willing to expend the money to do that? I don't think it's good math and it doesn't make good economic sense to do that on the basis that we'll have a management tool between the two hydro systems we have. In addressing the issue, within the next five or 10 years, I can see the expansion in the mineral field in that area might justify doing just that. With any kind of negotiations of the Energy Corporation, we would like to resolve the Mayo-Dawson line with the contractor so we can move forward. A lot of time is expended on those discussions, which have been going on since I was elected three and a half years ago.
It has been going on so long that the proponent - the individual, the contractor - has moved from Calgary to Toronto . So not only do we have the issue about negotiating the pros and cons of who owes what, we have a corporation that has moved to Toronto. It has been a long time. I look forward to the day I can stand up and say the Mayo-Dawson line has been resolved.
Mr. McRobb: Let's continue with this line of questioning about the transmission line, because it was last December when this government announced it wanted to pursue this line, and it would pay for the line itself - it wouldn't be the ratepayers who paid for it. I'm picking up different signals today from the minister.
I want to start by asking him this: what is the latest estimated cost for this project?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, all the discussion was just that - discussion. There was no decision made. We had some interest shown by a mining company. We had interest shown to the corporation. The corporation talked to the mining company. There were some resources put together to discuss if, in fact, the government or the Energy Corporation was going to make a decision, how would the routing of the line go, and of course the corporation had to address First Nation issues.
As far as making a decision on what it was going to cost, all those figures would be guesswork until we resolved the issue - if we go the next step and put a business plan together for the line - but first of all the corporation has to resolve the issues of the First Nation. They have to resolve the issue of customer base and do a feasibility study on whether or not this thing is economical.
Then this government will address the shortfall by the Yukon Energy Corporation if, in fact, a decision is made by the Yukon Energy Corporation to do just that. We certainly will keep the member opposite in the loop if any discussions go on. The next step is to put some costs together - understanding that costs seem to change by the hour as far as contracting is concerned. I think it's premature to expect us to come up with a price for the line from Carmacks to Stewart when, in fact, no decision has been made. Whether it's feasible to build it from Carmacks to Pelly is an issue. But, first of all, we have to do the work on the ground to make sure the First Nation issues are addressed and whether or not we can get the blessings of the First Nation to cross their selected land. That is the first thing.
Then, after that, we have to analyze the business plan, which has to incorporate a customer. The question that needs to be answered then is, what involvement will the customer have in this? There is some money available in our transactions with Canada that could complement something like this. Are we willing to spend that money on this issue? That hasn't been decided. Of course we have Management Board to make those decisions, but I can tell the member opposite that we are a long way from making the decision whether we are going to tie in the line from Carmacks to Stewart. Of course, the Yukon Energy Corporation has to come back to us and say, “Yes, we have access to the right-of-way, and this is what the First Nations expect and this is what the business plan is going to be.” Then we will address it at that time. All these negotiations involve a lengthy process.
Mr. McRobb: Well, not so fast. The minister is trying to skate away from this one. Let's look at what has been done so far. He has hired a project champion to champion this project and some of the mining projects along the route of the power line. It is also my understanding that this same person, in his role as chair of Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Development Corporation, has been holding meetings in communities along the proposed route of the transmission line - and in particular with the First Nations, though I am not sure if he's had any public meetings - about the transmission line project. This work is being carried out, but the minister wants to skate away from it.
We know that there are other ongoing matters. There is project planning underway. There are some maps available on the charted routing of the transmission line and so forth. There are various load and demand scenarios, and so on. There is probably quite a bit already on this project.
One of the first things one would assume is available is an estimated cost. That is always available. I think that there was an estimated cost available 20 years ago. Back in 1996, when the Yukon Party promised it, there was a figure bandied about. I think it was $19 million or something. There is always a figure available. I am not asking the minister for something firm that has been officially provided in a final report. We all know how reports work. A lot of the consultants are asked to provide a draft report, and that's as far as it ever goes. That way, the minister never has to provide the draft report, because there is never a final one.
I think the minister could go quite a bit further in satisfying our information requests on this. I think he should start with giving us the best estimate for the cost of the line.
There was talk previously about how this financing would be put together and how it wouldn't cost ratepayers anything and how the Yukon government was going to pay. So I would like to hear more from the minister about that. After all, this is probably the last chance we'll get to ask him, and it's his last chance to give us the information before the next election. And if we didn't ask him, and if he didn't provide it, there would be something wrong with the chain of accountability, Mr. Chair. I know the minister wants to be fully accountable, so this is his opportunity.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The Member for Kluane is priceless. The question about the champion and the Minto mine is a question that answered itself. The individual the member was talking about hasn't been on that file for over a year, so the member is wrong in his statements about the champion doing two jobs. He's not doing two jobs. He's working with the First Nations doing his job. My job as minister here answering the questions on the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation is to give factual figures, not throw out figures, because the member opposite would use those figures to dress me down when the actual figures arrived. The job I have is to report on the information that the Energy Corporation gives me. They have been resourced to do exactly what the member opposite has asked for. And when the job is done, he will get actual figures, and then we'll take a look at those figures. As the power line moves forward, we will be able to address whether or not the figures were correct.
Hopefully, the figures that the member is asking for will be closer to the mark than the power line that the last Liberal government built between Mayo and Dawson - that Yukoners will hopefully address that issue.
The member opposite can feel safe that we as a government will come up with the figures on a timely basis when the decisions are made to move forward with the power line. The member opposite is saying that a power line is going to be built. I'm saying to the member opposite that we are looking at the concept of building a power line between Carmacks and Pelly and then Pelly to Stewart - just conceptual plans, no firm figures.
At the end of the day, the resources we gave the Energy Corporation are to do just that. Is it viable to build a line between Carmacks and Pelly? What will it cost? Where will that cost come from? Will it be on the backs of the ratepayers? Will it be some form of partnership with the territorial government, and then in turn what would it cost to tie the line between Pelly and Stewart? That is all a conceptual plan, and I hope to have data in front of me in the near future - which would mean anywhere from here to next year.
Mr. McRobb: I think the minister is losing his opportunity to be fully accountable, as I know he really wants to be. This could be his last opportunity as a minister to be fully accountable too, as he might not ever make another appearance in this Legislature for a budget review. We know an election is coming up. I know he wants to be remembered fondly in here, and he tries hard, and we are more than willing to give him that extra opportunity so that he can go that extra mile.
This is a timely time for him to do that. We are not getting much information. This is not like the original announcement last December when the government announced it was making a bold step. It wanted to see this project built, and it would save harmless the ratepayers and so on. Here we are several months later, and it looks like we've taken a step or two backwards. I am a bit concerned about it. We know that there is ongoing work on the projects and discussions with First Nations and so on.
The minister doesn't want to give a final estimate of the cost until the project is built. That is reminiscent of the former Minister of Health and Social Services when he refused to give me an estimate for the cost of the new health centre in Dawson City. He said, and I quote, “We will give you that when all the receipts for construction have been tallied.” We are getting the same answer from this minister. It's like they don't want to take any chances and give a number until they know exactly what it is. That's not what estimates are all about. At budget time we deal with estimates. Practically everything is an estimate.
It is in that context that we are asking him for the latest estimated cost of this line. I want to know more about how the government is going to contribute to this line. I noticed that there wasn't much in the budget to build a transmission line. I would like to hear the minister's comments about when the financial contribution from the Yukon government would take place. It sounds to me like it will be at least the next government. What we had late last year was a Yukon Party government on the way out making a commitment for future governments. It's like so many other things we see happening. This government likes to spend other people's money.
I'd like to hear from the minister about the latest estimate for the cost of this line and who is going to pay and how much will the government pay?
Hon. Mr. Lang: For the member opposite: talking about leaving bills, you've joined the right party.
When this government took over, the Mayo-Dawson line had gone from $19 million to - who knows? We are not going to leave the next government with that kind of a millstone around their necks. We are going to look at planning and we're going to put figures out there that are realistic. By the way, the Yukon Energy Corporation doesn't stop planning because of government, because of an election. It is independent of us, and they are doing their due diligence to move forward. But the member opposite has joined the ranks of the Liberal Party of the Yukon , which left this government with the Mayo-Dawson line not done. The contractor left the site. All these issues were resolved by this government.
Hopefully before the end of our sitting here, before this government moves forward into the next election, we can resolve the issue with the contractor the Liberal government picked to do the Mayo-Dawson line.
So, when the Member for Kluane talks about costs and hidden costs, he should look around at his caucus and point some fingers at hidden costs: millstones that the taxpayers and the ratepayers are paying today because of a decision made by the Yukon Liberal Party. It has been three and a half years and we haven't yet resolved them.
The member forgets where he sits.
The same member - I remember when we wanted a public inquiry into the Mayo-Dawson line; requested it because of what the Liberal Party had left Yukoners. How 12 feet changes - move over 12 feet, and we go from a public inquiry to “Oh, that's old news.”
This government is not prepared to make and is not going to leave any millstone around Yukoners - whether it's taxpayers or consumers of hydro power - any decision that is going to be a millstone around the next government. We're going to come up with actual figures. It might not be this government. It might have to be the next government. But the Yukon Energy Corporation is putting those figures together. I am not going to push them up against the wall so that they're forced to come up with figures that aren't realistic. I want actual figures, and any government would want actual figures. Then, at that point, we can address the member opposite's issue about who is going to pay for what, when and how much.
But as far as me throwing out figures on costs on the Carmacks-Pelly-Stewart Crossing line, that's not my job, Mr. Deputy Chair. My job is to give actual figures and work within those actual figures, if in fact we move forward and build the line, understanding that this government only has five more months and that government moves in a very slow way.
I would predict that the Yukon Energy Corporation will move ahead, do their business plan, look at all the issues - First Nation issues, customer issues, costs and all of those things that have to be done - and that government will make a decision - it might be next year; it might be never. But at the end of the day, for the Member for Kluane to debate this and waste our time in this House on issues of pie in the sky - it's a waste of time.
Let's not have a public inquiry on the last power line. Let's move ahead - it's old news, according to the Member for Kluane. Let's move ahead with the debate here today, look at real figures and real issues that I can address.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Member for Porter Creek South, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on a point of order and in response to the minister, who stood on his feet - and has repeatedly stood on his feet - and said, first of all, that as minister he's not responsible for the corporation, that they are their own distinct entity and they make decisions and they are supposed to make the decisions, and then he stands and points the finger across this floor and says that Liberal government made XYZ decision.
I have had enough. The Auditor General's report was crystal clear about what decisions were made by the previous government, and they were within the ministerial decisions. The issues lay with the management. Ministerial responsibility, which I also fully understand, was taken. That responsibility was taken and acted upon.
For the minister to say that we can't make those decisions because those are the responsibility of the corporation, and then to blame others for actions of the corporation and say it was that Liberal government - the minister needs to make up his mind.
The minister has certain responsibilities - we understand that.
I would very much appreciate the minister taking a deep breath, as I will, and let's focus our answers here. We're talking about a possible project of the government. There's $450,000 in the line item. The Member for Kluane is asking reasonable questions about how that money will be spent, in reasonable general debate of Energy, Mines and Resources, and what plans are available.
The minister's responsibility - whoever the minister of the day is in a period of time - will be to sign off - yes or no - the decision to build the line.
Thereafter, the minister does not have the authority or ability to interfere in the decisions. The minister should understand that. So I would appreciate it if he would stick to the subject.
Deputy Chair's ruling
Deputy Chair: Order please. There is no point of order. There was merely a heated dispute between members.
As we have reached our customary time for a break, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We will take a five-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I will leave the balance of the energy questions to my colleague. I would like to return, however, to another issue. I apologize to the minister because this is a land question; however, when I sent a note to the Minister of Community Services during the Community Services debate, he recommended I wait for the minister. I do have a couple of issues I would like to clear up with regard to land matters while the minister is here and on the floor to debate.
Specifically, I would like to deal with Porter Creek land issues. McIntyre Creek is in this area. There is a project on the books by the Yukon Electrical Company Limited, as opposed to Yukon Energy Corporation. The idea is on the books for future use of McIntyre Creek. There are decades-old public utterances - I don't think it amounts to much more than that - that commits part of the land to Yukon College. There is a pressing need in the City of Whitehorse for lots and there are residents in the area filing not one, but two petitions in this Legislature that ask for that particular area to be protected.
The minister has said in response to land issues raised earlier this afternoon that they were going to finalize a protocol with the City of Whitehorse either next week or within the next 10 days. There are also ongoing discussions. There is a public Web site to be opened for feedback on McIntyre Creek until the end of April.
Can the minister please provide me with an update, some timelines for the status of this particular piece of land? I would appreciate it if that could be as specific as possible so that I can send it out to my constituents.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite - the McIntyre Creek question - when I had a constituency meeting in my riding, the Premier and I committed to put that out for consultation. The department is working on the process to get the consultation out there to address exactly the member opposite's concerns. We are aware there have been a lot of concerns about that piece of land - whether it is private citizens, the college, First Nation issues or heritage issues. Also, with this consultation, there was a Yukon Electrical issue. The issue about the land will not be resolved until we do further consultation to make sure everybody - individual or corporate identity - has a voice on what their concerns are for the area. On the dates, I would say to the member opposite I will send to her office the outline of the consultation process as soon as I get it back on my desk.
Ms. Duncan: The minister will forgive me, but the consultation process as outlined was given to me by the Premier and that was just before it started, some months ago. That consultation process was that the government would go out and there were a series of public meetings scheduled. I'm trying to recall off the top of my head the dates, but early March -before we came into session - rings a bell, although I stand to be corrected.
So there was this consultation process. Residents, the city - nobody was happy with that. People could respond electronically - via the Web site - and the ability to do that was extended, I think, from March 10 or 15 to the end of April. In between that, there was the public meeting the minister spoke of that I also attended - his constituency meeting. The Premier said that if the residents wanted another meeting, they could have one. The suggestion was also made that it be facilitated by non-partisans, that perhaps the government officials and politicians could stay out of it and let the other interested parties reach a solution at that public meeting.
So I'm confused. Is the minister talking about a public consultation process, such as what we already have underway in McIntyre Creek? Is he talking about another public meeting that they're looking to set a date for? What precisely is the process that is going to happen to help us as a community resolve what is going to happen with that land?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Understanding the dynamics of the land question and the McIntyre Creek question, it not only involves Porter Creek , but there's Takhini and people who utilize the greenspace there. I'm not going to quote word for word what the Premier said at our meeting. I would have to look back at my notes. What I'm saying to the member opposite is that there will be no decision on that area until this minister has a consultation package in front of me on how the process is going to work. At that point, we will go ahead with that consultation.
So I've committed to my constituents that we are going to have some public consultation. How that is going to unfold I have to get from the individuals from Community Services. I'm not sure how an independent auditor or independent overview would be and how productive that would be and how we would pick that individual, but I will ask my department if, in fact, that was something the Premier said in his conversation. I can't remember that statement. But we are going to move forward with the consultation, understanding that we are in the process of working with the city on a protocol. That protocol hopefully will be put to bed in the next month. I can report to the House here that we've had some productive meetings on how land will be managed inside the city boundaries. I look forward to working with the outlying areas, municipalities outside of Whitehorse , on the same form of protocol. We can work from that template. It won't necessarily be exactly the same but, at the end of the day, I think we should modernize our protocols and move forward.
As far as the McIntyre Creek situation is concerned, nothing has changed. I haven't talked to the officials lately, but I will update the member as soon as I know exactly how that public consultation will be. I am committed to having that public consultation in the community. That's very important because the community is the one that is going to be affected by any decision that is made on the McIntyre Creek subdivision. I will, of course, work with the city, as it is my obligation as the minister. It is their jurisdiction, but I am sure the city would like to resolve this, as well as everybody in this House, and certainly the citizens in Porter Creek and Takhini who utilize that greenspace as part of their lifestyle in that area.
I'm very concerned that would change. I am committed to working with the community and the consultation and the city to resolve this. If it's going to be greenspace - I think the biggest issue we have, from what I hear from public consultation, is not the fact that we don't want neighbours. We don't want the fact that we talk about greenspace, which is, in fact, not greenspace - it's an inventory for future development.
So the resolution of the fact - if, in fact, we make greenspace, if that at the end of the day is what is decided. Of course, it may not be this government that makes that decision. But how do we make sure the people in Porter Creek and Takhini can go to bed knowing that it's not another question about - greenspace is just a nice buzzword for potential further development. Those are questions I've had at the door - how we protect ourselves from that line of reasoning.
If I followed the city - I don't live within the cable, so I don't watch the city issues every Monday night. But, if what I hear from the city is true, they're looking at some way of addressing the greenspace question sincerely and knowing that at the end of the day we can resolve this grey area of decision making. We are not alone in Porter Creek . We had the same problem in Riverdale - those people and, of course, the individuals who stand up and complain, are painted with a brush that's not fair.
As a landowner, I understand when I buy a home on a greenspace that I sometimes pay a little bit of a premium for that. To find out that it's not a greenspace, and that somebody is going to be building next to me, changes the whole dynamics of my investment. Well, is that fair to the proponent? I say no.
I'm concerned about it. I'm not going to rush into this, as a minister. I mean, if I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of Porter Creek and the Takhini citizens. I'm committed to doing that. I was elected by those individuals to do just that. I think I'm going to go into the meetings, I imagine, with an open mind because I have to work with other governments. But, at the end of the day, I do represent a Porter Creek constituency, which is Porter Creek Centre, and they have some concerns.
I fall on the side of my constituents because I understand that concern. And that concern is: how do we define greenspace? Is it “hinterland,”? Is it “greenspace”? If we're going to put some concept of park together for that area, what would it be? I mean, all of those issues, because of the complications of the overlapping responsibilities of the territorial government and the city government - how do we define the park? Who owns the park? Who maintains the park? What is the park? All those questions would have to be answered.
In answering the member opposite, I will definitely get back to her on how the protocol is going to go forward - or, the consultation. And, of course, once the protocol is blessed by both parties - in other words, the city and the territorial government - that will be a public document. We will certainly work with the City of Whitehorse to resolve the land issue inside Whitehorse .
This government has certainly worked very hard to get the regulations in place for outside of Whitehorse and we're moving ahead with lot development in Grizzly Valley . We're putting together lots on the Takhini Hot Springs Road. Ibex Valley, McGowan's lands - all those things are on the radar screen. It's urgent we get lots out there so we can take the pressure off individuals who want to build homes and those who are in the contracting business. Those are all issues. We have to keep a healthy industry going and they have to have a pool of lots so they can move forward in the building industry - and individuals who want to build homes and live in our community. These are all issues that have to be addressed.
I commit I will work with Community Services and get that protocol in place and have it across to the Member for Porter Creek South.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to address a couple of points made by the minister. First of all, there's one particular area on the map. I'm talking about the Porter Creek land and the McIntyre Creek-Yukon College-Takhini-Mountainview Road-Alaska Highway area. I'm talking about that area.
There's one particular part of the City of Whitehorse official community plan that over the years - and I've been a member for the last 10 years or so - has been changed from greenspace to FD, or future development. That's the area that has people very upset because that wasn't what they reflected when the official community plan was discussed with the public. That wasn't what they said at the public meeting. They wanted it as greenspace. It didn't end up that way in the community plan and, when they went to ask the city, quite legitimately, to make a zoning change, they didn't have the opportunity to speak. That was really unfortunate because that point seems to keep getting lost in this debate.
The minister is quite right. It is the area behind Almond Place, Walnut Crescent and parts of Ponderosa Drive, which are in my riding. Residents bought those houses with the idea that that area would remain as greenspace. That is the concern that the minister reflected.
I would like to just say a word about greenspaces in our city. The minister mentioned Riverdale. The difficulty is that Riverdale has Chadburn and Schwatka and Grey Mountain. Those areas are never going to be developed. Porter Creek and Takhini have nothing. Granger, Logan and Copper Ridge are backed by a greenspace, but Takhini and Porter Creek have that small area that lies between them. Otherwise, they're in their car, driving to greenspace. That's the issue. That is why it is different.
I appreciate that the minister has recognized that the label that's attached to some who speak out against having a lot development in that greenspace as having some kind of not-in-my-backyard syndrome is not the issue. It is about whether or not we are a wilderness city. If we are, we need to have access to that wilderness for all the neighbourhoods.
That being said, I just want to ask a couple of questions on the record. While this process of consultation is ongoing, has the minister or has anyone in the government transferred any land or offered the college any portion of the land? Has any of that been under discussion and, if so, will it be transferred while these consultations are taking place?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I tend to agree with the member opposite on the issue of greenspace and Porter Creek's lack of that. I mean, Crestview has a definite greenspace. Porter Creek seems to me - and I've lived there my whole life - we've always been a poor cousin to other communities that surround Whitehorse .
Understanding the issue about Riverdale, when we talk about Grey Mountain and all this, don't ever say never, because never is a long time, and we have to be very conscious that governments change and demand is there. But as far as the college is concerned, it is an issue of conversation, and the conversation has been going on for 30 years that the college would be in a situation to get some endowment lands.
Now, the college's point of view was that they got 900 acres, the whole greenspace. They weren't unrealistic about discussing the endowment lands but in a perfect world, from their side of the table, they looked at all that greenspace and thought, well, that will be great. No. Why not? Ask for the whole pie, and you might get half of it. If you ask for half, you're only guaranteed a quarter. So they're just doing their job.
But our problem as a government is that, as a government, we have to take a look at the college and say, yes, previous governments made verbal commitments to you on endowment lands, but what are endowment lands? Are we setting up the college to be a development corporation? Are we going to utilize the land as education - in other words, that we need the college, as the vocational trades grow? You know, with road building and the conceptual plan of what we're trying to do with the college - that land could become an education tool.
The college does use a lot of that land for some of their programs. Today they do, so in the negotiations we never committed to the college - we committed to address the issues of endowment lands. They are stakeholders in this consultation like everybody else.
But, at the end of the day, the government of the day is going to have to decide how much land will be endowment lands and what will the college be allowed to do with that land, because I am not quite sure Yukoners or Whitehorse residents are prepared to have the college - now I know that happens at UBC, that they have access to resources through their land that they acquired many, many years to and that is a stream of revenue for the University of British Columbia. But I'm not quite sure - the answer that any government could sell the position that this land is available for development. In other words, we are just moving it over to the college. The college would subdivide it and enhance the budget of the college by the sale of land, understanding that our government - the government of the day - has put another million dollars into the base funding of the college and we are meeting the demands at the moment that the college addresses, so I am not sure there is a need to set up a landholder through the college.
That's one of the issues, so now we have the college that has to be addressed as a stakeholder; we have the First Nations - they have land selected on the highway across from the Kopper King. I'm not sure if that is where you are talking about where the zoning was changed without consultation - in my mind I can't picture it. The Member for Porter Creek South was talking about some zoning issue and, without a map in front of me, I can't address that.
Kwanlin Dun has land selections there. We have the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council and the college. We have Yukon Electrical Company Limited now. We have, of course, the stakeholders in the communities, which consist of Porter Creek and Takhini. All those stakeholders will be consulted on this. Of course, we have the City of Whitehorse.
I, as the minister, am not going to stand by and ram something through - because of the lateness in our mandate - that people in Porter Creek are not comfortable with. The people in Porter Creek are very open to dialogue. They have been open to dialogue since day one on this land issue. That was many, many years ago. They have been waiting a long time to define exactly what this greenspace was going to become. Porter Creek individuals were the first ones - whether it was in Porter Creek South, Centre or North - who brought this issue forward and were concerned about it.
Now we have other stakeholders. The college has to be addressed, as I said to the Member for Porter Creek South. That concern has to be addressed. Yukon Electrical Company Limited seems to have some kind of hold on the water. There is a fish farm and all these things that we have to balance, as government. We can discuss this in the House. There is a concern about Porter Creek not having greenspace. They don't have the same access to the wilderness as do the other communities of Crestview, Riverdale, Golden Horn and Granger. Those subdivisions have access to this lifestyle that we all enjoy.
I will inform the member opposite on what is happening in a timely fashion, so that she will be informed of any decisions made. But I am concerned about the consultation - that it's a sincere form of consultation and that we don't ram anything by the Takhini residents and Porter Creek residents such that, at the end of the day, they are not comfortable.
Ms. Duncan: The minister and I are on the same page on a number of items. My specific question was this: have there been any transfers of land to Yukon College? And the minister is saying no. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It's part of the consultation. I understand that.
The minister doesn't have the format for the consultation, so he can't give me a time frame right now on the floor of the House. I would just put on the record that the minister said that Porter Creek residents have expressed their concern and have been involved in this from day one. Yes, they have, and the reason they were involved was because concern was expressed by residents about the transfer of land to the college and about college endowment lands - what it meant.
It's not that they don't appreciate being a good neighbour to the college - they do. And that area, as a learning environment, is very, very well used by Jack Hulland School, Holy Family School and Porter Creek Secondary School. There are classes that bike there every Thursday afternoon. Well, they aren't biking in the wintertime, but they're using that area as a learning place.
I don't want to spend all afternoon on this point. I just want to say that it's about being good neighbours as well. Residents were concerned when they raised this issue of development and about the college becoming a land holder and a development corporation. That is not what the college means to a lot of my constituents and residents of Porter Creek. That is a learning environment, so that is the concern.
The minister says that nothing has been transferred to the college and that we are still in consultation. I would just say to the minister that in the last year and a bit that we have been discussing this, I have walked that area quite regularly. There have been a number of changes. There is already a clear-cut that there didn't used to be. There is more access and greater use of the area as a snow dump. It's incremental, but it's there nonetheless. In order that the public can feel that there is genuine consultation, there has to be a period of time when there is less intrusion in that particular area. It's in part an issue of the area being loved to death. There are so many trails that we are wearing out parts of that area. It's an ecological concern as well.
I would just like to raise this concern with the minister. From his comments I will presume - as opposed to assume - that there will be no decisions taken, no lots developed there this summer and no land transferred to the college. I am going to presume that. If the minister would like to confirm that on the record, I would appreciate it.
Would the minister also endeavour to find out for me what the plans are for the development of the Porter Creek lower bench?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I'd like to address the Member for Porter Creek South on the issue of the college endowment land. Nothing will be transferred until all this consultation is done, and at that point, everything that is going to happen there will happen at the same time. So we're not going to piecemeal one against the other, and that's not what the plans of this government are. As far as the City of Whitehorse, on the lower bench, I've just heard through the grapevine that the lower bench has always been an issue - it has always been out there - but that the city is going to move forward with some plans on doing some development down there. I haven't got any communication from the city at all as the minister.
We will certainly work with the city and try to resolve anything we can with them.
On the plans on the lower bench, there were reasons to believe that the sewer system has an issue and that they were addressing that because of winds or something - the lagoons we have down the river sometimes have an issue. They were working on that. There was talk about 2,000 lots down there or something. I can't picture that, myself, because I don't have that kind of a mind that can look over the hill and visualize 2,000 homes there. But that seems to be a figure that has been thrown out for what potentially could be down there. I have been told that that involves greenspace. So I guess they will come forward with a plan that is going to say, 100 lots here, or we're going to grow into this X number of lots over a period of time. We'll work with the city and, of course, Porter Creek will be involved in those decisions too, hopefully, because it will affect Porter Creek and Porter Creek citizens because that area is utilized by Porter Creek citizens.
There are always going to be conflicts in the sense that, how do we address all of the issues for everybody? As far as the greenspace is concerned, your concern about access to the McIntyre Creek land and how you see it changing - I think the issue is probably motorized vehicles and skidoos in the winter, and that changes the dynamics of our whole community.
Those are things that have to be addressed. If we move ahead with greenspace in that area, I would like to see a no-motorized vehicle policy or something in place so we could police certain areas of it. We have a big group of skidooers out there and four-wheelers who enjoy the sport, but we can't get people in the habit of utilizing something for something - we can, but it is not good karma to then disallow them to do it.
So as we move forward with the McIntyre Creek issue, we have to address the motorized vehicle access and do it when the door opens the first day instead of resolving it five years down the road where you create all this animosity between residents and the users and the motorized users.
Ms. Duncan: It wasn't the motorized vehicles I was talking about. Could I just have the minister state for the record that it is unlikely to, or we will not, see any lot development in that particular area this summer until such time as the consultation process is complete?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I will commit that the consultation will occur once we resolve how it will move forward. I am not going to commit myself again to an unknown. I am committed to do the consultation and work positively with the Porter Creek and Takhini residents to make sure we resolve these issues. I am not going to commit to how the consultations will work out in the end. Hopefully it is thorough and will involve all Porter Creek and Takhini residents and all the stakeholders. At that point there will be some decisions made. Hopefully, all those decisions are agreed to by as many of the stakeholders as possible.
Ms. Duncan: Let me put this another way: does the minister anticipate that those decisions will be made by September? Will it take longer than that?
Hon. Mr. Lang: They will be made after this thorough consultation process is completed. In view of the nature of where we're going with the consultation and with all the stakeholders who are going to have to be involved, I would say to the member opposite that it will be a large job. It will take time. I'm not going to say that it will take until September. We will work diligently to ensure that all the stakeholders and concerns are heard, as a government hand-in-hand with the City of Whitehorse, and that all the questions the Member for Porter Creek has raised are answered as well as they can be. However, I will not commit to not doing something when I don't know where that consultation is going to take us.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, Mr. Chair, I'd like to focus on some of the other areas of the minister's portfolio. There have been lots of other questions about other land in the City of Whitehorse area. But outside of the City of Whitehorse - for example, the availability of cottage lots is this minister's responsibility. Are there plans for cottage lots to be made available this summer for residents of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In addressing the question about cottage lots - and it certainly does fall under this department - we're working in one spot with the Teslin Tlingit First Nation on a cottage lot proposal on Little Teslin Lake. That would involve - I don't want to throw out a figure but, between the First Nation and ourselves, we are both going to put lots out and it's going to form a partnership. I think the recreational lots - I think there's going to be, in partnership with the First Nation, maybe 18 - is that a figure?
Anyway, don't hold me to that figure, but we are working on that concept plan, and it's moving ahead very positively.
Ms. Duncan: The uptake on cottage lots available at Destruction Bay was quite significant. Are there plans for elsewhere in the Yukon, other than Little Teslin Lake?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Teslin, right now, is a work-in-progress. We are certainly looking throughout the Yukon to get Yukoners access to cottage lots. I understand that on the north highway they were successful. We certainly are moving positively and working with our partners to try to resolve the demand for the recreational lots. Again, it's another land issue and we will have to work with our partners to make it a positive experience.
The Teslin Tlingit opportunity is there. This will potentially be a template on how we and First Nations can move ahead and have a stream of revenue for both governments and also solve an issue, which is access to recreation land for Yukoners.
Ms. Duncan: Could I just have the minister briefly describe - briefly - the process. For the public record, the process involved the Land Application Review Committee, LARC, or FTLAC - the Federal/Territorial Land Advisory Committee - and we have YESAB, the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board, and we have the minister with responsibility for land in the territory.
In layperson's terms, how does the process work for lot development or land applications?
We also have the Land Use Planning Council mixed in there, too, which is trying to do land use plans throughout the Yukon. So, we have a number of different bodies - some of them still in existence, some of them new, some of them trying to get plans completed. Could the minister make sense of that process for the public on the public record, please?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We're going to put this in layman's terms so Joe Blow citizen can understand the land process in Yukon.
The land use commissions or councils are working from north Yukon down. That doesn't mean dispositions on land don't happen. The land use commissions work within the mandate of the Umbrella Final Agreement. We have north Yukon finalized. We're working on the Peel, and we're moving down, and it has been a very positive experience up until now.
As far as the LARC, LARC has been discontinued on the level it was because of the YESAA coming into effect. YESAB does most of the work that LARC did in the past. It is independent of us as a government. Sometimes that's a positive thing, and sometimes I imagine there are some negative things in the process. But that's how things work. Things aren't always positive.
As the minister, I feel that with YESAA it has been very positive, and under very stressful times these individuals have gone to work - and really, there are to be complimented on how quickly they were up and running with such a mandate to actually do that. Now, how do we address the issue about the land that falls between us and YESAA obligations? That is an issue that we in the department have to address. We have to address that, because there are certain land dispositions that don't have to go to YESAB.
We are working on how we are going to address that internally. So it won't be LARC, but it will be something similar - a parallel situation.
Another question is - the YESAA board is set up as a decision-making body. How do people appeal that decision? Is there an appeal process? Those are questions that we have to move ahead on because, at the end of the day, the minister of the day has the authority - because the YESAA board is an advisory group, the minister of the day either signs on or signs off. That, in my mind, as the minister, is the very onerous responsibility of picking a winner. And that's where I'm concerned with the YESAA board - how do we as a government set up some form of - is there a way that somebody can appeal a decision?
There are always decisions made that people aren't comfortable with or feel that they weren't treated in a proper fashion. We will get those individuals in the office questioning a decision. Without an appeal process, how do I address the issue without having the responsibility of overriding a decision that I'm not comfortable doing?
So, those are all issues, as we move through the YESAA process and move through resolving the LARC issue. As a layman, these are concerns I'm putting on the floor here that, as the minister, I don't think, in the YESAA regulations, they thought about - or, maybe they did, but they didn't resolve the issue of appeals and how they would work. It is an advisory board. So, it advises the minister of the day on decisions.
The minister sits on the decision - I think the minister has a period of time that he can sit on a decision. I think it's 30 days. Over a time period, the minister has to sign off on a decision or not - or, I guess, send it back or deny it, which is within the power of the minister of the day.
Those are concerns that the government and I, as minister, have. They are things that YESAB and the individuals who are working there are handling. They are very positive individuals. This is going to be a growing thing and reflect how we handle things. I have to compliment them on the work they have done. It is a very tedious task - setting up the offices. I think that there are six jurisdictions where they have offices. There is the complicated procedure of staffing the offices. I guess staffing an office is one thing, but staffing it with qualified people in these communities is another, and they have done that. I look forward to working with them, moving forward and answering the questions I just put on the floor.
Ms. Duncan: Just to clarify, YESAB, the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board, is an advisory board. They are not a decision-making board. They are an advisory board. The final decision rests with the minister. What I heard the minister say is that his concern is that there is no route of appeal for the ministerial decision. “Welcome to government” is the response to that. That's the issue, and this is what control over land and resources means. It means that Yukoners will be making decisions. Instead of writing endless letters to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to appeal a land decision, we are appealing to our neighbour - the minister making the decisions. There are pros and cons to that.
I appreciate the minister's concern about an appeal process, and I look forward to finding out what develops in that particular area.
Also related to the issue of land is agriculture - not only is it an issue, it is part of our economy. Agriculture is a land issue, it is an economic issue and it is also a policy issue.
In April 2006, the minister's department released the Vision for Yukon Agriculture: 2006 Yukon Agriculture Policy. Has this document been finalized? I have a document that I was able to pull off. Is it the final document, and was this Cabinet-approved or ministerial only?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In going back to the YESAA process - just to clear out a few things that my learned friend brought forward - as minister I can either approve the decision, I can vary it or I can deny it. There is that flexibility. The time frame differs according to the project size. Those are a bit flexible, so there is a timeline. It is dictated by the project; I can approve or vary or deny an application.
Understanding that I agree with the member opposite - welcome to government - anything is better than waiting for Ottawa to answer a land question, which we have all been through for the last 100 years. I think that YESAA is a vast improvement over what we had in the past.
As a government - and YESAA - we are all Yukoners making decisions for Yukoners. I think that is positive.
As far as the agricultural policy, that was a Cabinet document passed by Cabinet and it was not I who signed off on it - it was a Cabinet document.
Ms. Duncan: There was substantial public consultation on this particular process. It went on for quite some time. The concern I have is about the agricultural subdivisions. I had a quick read of this and it seems to me that this policy, as approved by Cabinet, says essentially the same thing previous policies said, in that agricultural land is for agriculture. You can't subdivide agricultural land to build a little community or for residential lot development. The only exception to this is that if you aren't planning to farm the land yourself or use it for agricultural purposes, you can subdivide so another homeowner on the same property could farm or something under your direction.
That's the way I read the policy. Is my understanding correct?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Are we talking about the old policy or are we talking about the new policy?
Ms. Duncan: I'm talking about how the old policy for subdivision of agricultural land has been carried on into this new policy. You cannot subdivide agricultural land for residential lot development, save and except if you are in a situation where you have to have another residence so you can fully use the property for agricultural purposes. Other than that, you don't subdivide.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the question, the consultation went on for seven years on this change to agriculture. What the homestead question was about was how can people retire on their farm without selling the whole farm - this subdivision concept has to go through Community Services too.
It can only be a one-time subdivision. It has to stay as agricultural land. The individual has to have owned the property for 10 years and it must be the size acceptable to the area. In other words, if it's on the Takhini Hot Springs Road-Pilot Mountain area, it has to be no less than three hectares. So what the industry was trying to do was keep the people in their homes as long as possible and also farm the land so a neighbour could, in essence, buy or extend their farm, and the homestead individual could live in their house, but the zoning would still be agriculture and the individual could extend his time in his home.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I appreciate that and what the minister has enlightened on that particular policy. Those subdivisions - or the policy refers to it as spot land applications for commercial purposes, subject to environmental, land use and resource interests. Would a spot land application fall within that narrow group the minister was talking about before that might not go through the YESAA process or other form of review?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Maybe, in answering the member opposite, I would say to you - my learned friend and I, putting our heads together and deciding on what the question was - the question that she asked would be reviewed. Those spot applications would be reviewed in 99.9 percent of the cases.
Ms. Duncan: Okay, I won't tax the minister any more with obscure questions like that. I was trying to make sense of the policy for someone walking in off the street looking at it and listening to this debate.
Related to agriculture and what is going on in the agricultural portion of the minister's portfolio, I understand work is being done on a - “travelling abattoir” is probably the wrong term for it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mobile abattoir - that's it. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. On the mobile abattoir, when might we expect to see that happen? It will increase farm-gate sales, as I understand it.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In addressing the member opposite, I guess going back and thinking about some of the questions that she broached this afternoon, the important part about the subdivision, that we can't lose sight of, is that we want to maximize the use of the land and keep the land in the hands of people who are going to farm it. This will be a tool that individuals can use, and they don't have to sit on 160 acres and not have the land farmed because, in actual essence, there is no law that says you have to farm it. But we would like to keep as much land in the hands of active farmers as we can.
The abattoir is a mobile abattoir that has been purchased, and the contract is out. It's being built as we speak. We're hoping to see it in August of this year.
What the abattoir will mean in the surrounding area is that the farmers - and we have quite a mosaic of farmers out there: buffalo farmers, elk farmers, hog farmers and beef farmers - will be able to use the mobile abattoir as a tool to get into the market. They haven't had access to the market because they have not had an abattoir.
The abattoir at Partridge Creek in Dawson worked very well for northern Yukon. It didn't work as well for individuals from this area, because not only was the distance a question, it was stressful to the animals to take them up there. There was the cost, as well, which we understood as a government. We funded it for many years. I am sure that the member opposite remembers the $10,000 or $15,000 a year that we paid as a government to ensure that our product was handled in the proper fashion.
We are looking forward to this. I think with this abattoir you will see an expansion in the agricultural industry for red meat production. We do go through a lot of red meat in the Yukon. Most of the customer base is here in Whitehorse. We are all a bit more conscious of organic red meat. That is what our industry will turn out. I think that we will be quite surprised to see how the industry will grow at the end of the day. It will give us the flexibility with the mobile abattoir to know whether or not it works.
The abattoir is mobile, as it says. Down the road, as we maybe would grow into a permanent structure, we can sell the mobile abattoir or we can move it to north Yukon or whatever. After the many, many years that industry has been working on this concept, I am very happy to be the minister to be able to announce that we are going to go to work and make this work.
Ms. Duncan: The mobile abattoir is an asset the Government of Yukon will own, as I understand it then. Will the operation of the mobile abattoir be publicly tendered or put out for some form of competition? How will the operator of the mobile abattoir be selected? That's based on the assumption, if you will, that the Government of Yukon is going to own this asset.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The member is right. We are going to contract an operator over the next five years. We are certainly going to be very conscious about that contractor, because it's going to be very important that we maintain a very high standard to make sure the abattoir works and is acceptable to the market. That means the Whitehorse market or the surrounding area.
There is a learning experience for industry. Abattoirs have specific obligations, and those specific obligations are health issues. We will be very conscious that whoever contracts this job is qualified and, second of all, they follow through with all the obligations that will come with operating an abattoir. You have the same obligations in a mobile as you do in a stationary abattoir. We have to be conscious of that. The more discipline we put on that contractor, the more the abattoir will be accepted by the local population. That has been the issue up until now. The gate harvest of game is what it is called. In the Whitehorse area you can fill your deepfreeze with locally grown product.
You can buy buffalo, elk and cattle. The market is there. You can buy chickens. What I'm saying is this is going to be a bit of an obligation, because we're hoping to get into the stores and be able to sell the product to the consumers through another third party. So there will be some obligations, and we're committed to work with the contractor and the industry to make sure everybody is very well aware of the standards that have to be maintained by that abattoir.
Ms. Duncan: What I heard the minister say is that there is going to be a rigorous publicly tendered contract, with some very strict conditions of operation for the abattoir that we're going to own. Just for the record, I was sitting on this side of the House, in opposition, when the NDP government built the abattoir at Partridge Creek Farms. They were told by the opposition they were putting it in the wrong spot, but they chose to do that - another argument for how the Legislature could work better if somehow the legislators had greater input into some decisions.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In addressing the member opposite, we certainly don't want to point fingers at each other, not today, on who said what to whom. We're a little bigger than that, Mr. Chair. But what I'm saying to you is that farm gate is one issue, and then this will be inspected meat. That's a very, very important thing, and it is a very specific job. So whether or not it will be tendered is one thing, but whether or not there is a large pool of individuals out there who are qualified to do that inspection is another question.
We are going to work with the individuals who are qualified, and hopefully it will be a public contract that brings these people out of the woodwork and shows us that they are qualified, but it will take an inspector - a qualified person - to run the abattoir. Whether that is a meat cutter or whether that is a course somebody goes on to address this issue, it is going to have to be addressed.
Ms. Duncan: I am going to have to go back and review the Blues, but what I heard the minister say earlier is that this is going to be a publicly owned asset. It is like years ago when we bought additional facilities and equipment at the airport to handle the big jets to help increase our tourism industry. Here we are buying a plant to help increase our agricultural industry - that is what I heard the minister say - and we own it until such time as it is deemed to be sold.
In the short time we have remaining, I would like to finish up one other area of the minister's portfolio, and that is an area that the Member for Mount Lorne has raised, and that is forestry. Could the minister advise the House of the status of the forestry legislation?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I'm going back on the abattoir again. On the floor here, I don't want to make any situation that isn't clear to the member opposite.
There have been discussions - it's just discussion at this point - that at the end of the five years of managing the mobile abattoir, the government would look favourably, depending on its success, at having the Agricultural Association take over the management of the abattoir. They would be a natural, as long as it grows into projections. So, those doors are open to the Agricultural Association. But that would be a minimum of five years down the road, because it's going to take five years to get it up and running, have it running at a certain standard, and moving forward with the concept of the abattoir.
The responsibility of management will fall on the government. In five years, we'll open dialogue with the Agricultural Association. There is some opportunity there - if they see an opportunity they could work with, we would look at transferring the asset to the association. So those doors are open to the association.
As far as the succession of the forestry regime goes, we have been working on it and now have the group together to move forward. It is all part of the devolution transfer agreement. They are all commitments we have made as government. The Member for Porter Creek South's government also made the commitment to move forward on this successor legislation. We are doing that. I can report to the member opposite that it is moving forward. It has been positive. We have had some hiccups in the process but, like anything else, we just take one step at a time. We are looking forward to getting this behind us as soon as we can.
Ms. Duncan: In general terms, could the minister elaborate on what those hiccups are? Has the consultation process been delayed for one reason or another? Are we saying that there are issues around stumpage fees? What are some of those problems in developing that successor legislation?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In consultation with my learned friend, we have to understand that this is the first out of the gate of successor legislation. The challenges have been there, but they are not impossible. As we move through this legislation, the next will be a little bit easier. It is a learning experience for both us and the First Nations in terms of government-to-government relationships. It has been challenging. I would imagine that if we talked to the First Nations, they would stand up and say the same thing as I am saying.
The challenges have been met. We are moving forward. We are looking forward to doing this legislation in the next four or five years to cover the things that we have committed to do under the devolution transfer agreement in terms of managing the resources of the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: I haven't heard an answer about the time frame we are looking at for legislation. Is it the fall session 2006, fall 2007? What is the progress of the legislation? When might we see legislation?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I can say to the member opposite, according to my notes, that we are looking forward to substantial progress - that's good news for the House - on the new statute over the course of 2006. We're moving forward and probably, if I were going to say when it would be brought to the House, I imagine it would probably be next spring. That, again, is just a guess. I think, as we move forward in this Legislature, next spring is doable.
Ms. Duncan: Just for all the public servants who were listening to that answer, we will hold that out as the minister's best guesstimate and not demand to see something in the spring of 2007. Who knows who will be asking what minister what questions.
The time is fairly close to 6:00 p.m., but I will just ask a couple of other quick questions of the minister. There was a lengthy discussion about the spruce beetle kill in the Haines Junction area with the Member for Mount Lorne, and I share the minister's concern about the devastation in that particular area. In fact, he referred to it as “epidemic proportions,” similar to the pine beetle kill in British Columbia. Have we sought disaster relief funding from the federal government to help deal with the spruce beetle?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Yes, I thank the member for that question. Our Premier has gone before all the Premiers in Canada and asked to have the beetle kill in our jurisdiction, and also the beetle kill in B.C., looked at as a national disaster. It doesn't mean to diminish anything in the Haines Junction area. It just means that we would be looking at a 10-percent responsibility, and the federal government would look at a 90-percent responsibility.
But in turn, we as a government and as a department and the individuals who run the department on a day-to-day basis have been in contact with Ottawa, realizing that there was $100 million - half a billion dollars over five years - to address the pine beetle situation. So we are pounding on the federal government's door to see how they are going to address this issue.
Understanding that the beetle kill situation arrived from Alaska through Parks Canada, through the Kluane National Park; Kluane National Park did not manage the beetle kill when they realized the beetle kill was coming through their jurisdiction. Of course, now it's at a stage where it's a national issue, because it will soon consume a big part of the boreal forest in this part of the world.
So to say that we're not getting any response from the federal government would be wrong. They have been supportive but, as we all know about federal governments, they're supportive of everything an individual asks for, but when it comes to writing the cheque, they sometimes drag their feet.
But our Premier is very aware of the scope of the disaster that is happening in that area. Champagne and Aishihik First Nations are very, very concerned. They have worked with us on a forestry plan that both governments - both forestry departments - have a forestry plan that involves a million cubic metres of wood over the next 10 years. They really are putting on the pressure for us to move forward and address the issue.
We have a solid partnership with the First Nation. They understand the dynamics of the situation because they live it every day, and we as a government and a forestry department are very concerned about what we are talking about. But it is going to take more than talking on this floor to resolve this issue - this is a huge issue. Until we get help from the federal government in some form, whether we get it from the Natural Resources Canada department or DIAND, we are going to be hamstrung with the resources it is going to take to resolve this. We had put the million cubic metres of wood out there on to the floor to make sure we could get some contractors out there to bid the job. The contracts for harvesting come up in July - we would be ready to put the bids out in July.
Hopefully we will get some take on the bids, because we have to move forward in a small way to resolve the issue of the beetle kill in north Yukon.
Seeing the time, Mr. Chair, I am sure we all want to go home. I move that you report progress, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Mr. Lang 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 by Mr. Cathers 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 Whole has considered Bill No. 20, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and 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.
The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following document was filed May 11, 2006:
Meadow Lakes Golf Inc. – land development: communications re (dated March 21, 2006, March 27, 2006, and March 30, 2006) between Hon. Glenn Hart, Minister of Community Services, Marc Tremblay, Deputy Minister of Community Services and David Jones, Conflict of Interest Commissioner (Hart)